...Growing, Building, Cooking, Preserving, Crafting...

2006 began our urban homestead when I broke ground on a garden, which now includes perennial fruits, flowers, & many vegetable varieties. We dream of solar panels, keeping bees and hens. Until then we'll continue growing and preserving our own fruits and vegetables, building what we can for our home, cooking from scratch, and crafting most days.


The Homestead in Winter

Someone is making plans to eventually get urban hens.
The holidays are mostly over so I want to get my blog back on track to include more about what many of you originally came here to learn--cooking, preserving, gardening, etc.  An FAQ about the urban homestead is "what do you do all winter?"  Before I learned about the ins and outs of the daily lives of farmer friends I always guessed that winter was a time for them to kick back and relax.  I couldn't have been more wrong.  I would never compare our modest gardening operations in the city to the scale or effort of my rural farming friends, but there are similar patterns during the "off-season" and simply sitting on one's behind is hardly in the plan.

Winter does mean a kind of "hibernation"--especially after the whirlwind that can be the holidays--and I have found myself wishing to crawl into a cave and sleep for months and months.  But while I don't exactly go completely down for the count until spring, I do experience my own torpor.  In winter I find more time to read, knit, sew, bake, plan--gardens, menus, things to preserve, class schedules, travel agendas--and catch up with friends over coffee.  As on a farm, winter's also the time to clean and repair my equipment.  In fact, I just picked up my sewing machine this morning; it's all ready for another 1000 miles.  Winter is also the time to assure that gardening tools and canning equipment are in good working condition.  

Homestead-wise, winter also finds me managing our basement vermicompost bin, sketching out my dream garden for the spring, and making arrangements to get advice in pruning our fruit trees, as well as getting out to enjoy the Wisconsin winters--ice skating, sledding, and hopefully even some skiing or snowshoeing this year.  

One thing I'm most excited about is garden planning and seed starting for 2013.  Having some morning solitude while V is at school will give me a little space and time to plan more logically then act as early as the ground can be worked again in spring.   The second thing exciting me most is the travel plans we're making--a few jaunts both near and far for spring and summer, which we hope to execute in the most sustainable ways currently available to us.  We've found pleasure in making camping reservations and saving dates and spaces for a few of our annual warm-weather weekends.  There's so much hope and excitement this time of year though it's also important for us to meditate on the quiet(er) we'll have until spring.

This winter will be the first downtime I'll truly have had since my daughter started school.  First semester I was getting into a new groove, then there were the holidays, and now I've finally caught my breath and know where I want to go mentally and physically.  My favorite day of the week is Wednesday when I often find time to read, blog, craft, thrift shop, or just sit quietly and drink coffee all morning (that last one is still a dreamworld to me...I mean really, can anyone see me sitting in one place for an extended period of time?  Sounds like the making of a New Year's resolution.) 

As I mentioned in a previous post, we are still celebrating some winter holidays.  Last weekend we explored Twelfth Night and Three Kings Day.  We made a King Cake (or in this case a Rosca de Reyes) and took down the decorations.   Though I wished I'd had time to pour some surplus wassail on the roots of our apple trees I did not, in fact, make time for the drunken revelry of Tudor England when they used to douse the orchard with alcohol, leave wassail-soaked toast in the branches for the birds, and shoot off their guns to ward off evil spirits.  I would however like to try playing snapdragon some year.  Sounds like a wild and crazy way to begin the carnival season when everyone lives a little excessively all the way through Mardi Gras.  

Dough after the first rise
Rolling up the filling--Brandy-soaked Dried Cranberries with Almonds
Cut, shaped and ready for the second rise before baking
Studded with halved homemade preserved cherries and baked till golden
Along with some Shakespeare it'll make the perfect adieu to the holidays
To get the winter cooking ball rolling again I'm sharing a favorite gratin recipe that I just tweaked this week using beets and turnips instead of the potatoes, parsnips, and turnips for which the original recipe calls.  

Beet and Turnip Gratin (Gluten-free)
Peeled Beets and Turnips ready to slice
Makes about 8 servings

Once baked and creamy, the turnips and beets will be indistinguishable in both flavor and color, but you won't be disappointed.  I use a hand-held slicer with a ceramic blade.  Such a tool is invaluable and can be purchased inexpensively at an Asian grocery.

Oil or butter to grease the baking dish
1 T. butter
2 T. gluten-free flour (or AP flour)
1/2 c. vegetable broth (or chicken stock for a richer dish)
1 1/2 c. milk or cream
Salt and pepper
1/4 t. grated nutmeg
1 lb. turnips, peeled and thinly sliced
2 medium leeks or 1 sweet onion, thinly sliced
1 lb. beets (I used red, but golden beets would also be beautiful, but note that they begin to discolor if not used immediately)
Grated cheddar, parmesan or your favorite melty cheese (optional)
1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese or other hard cheese
1/2 c. ground gluten-free crackers, cornflakes, or breadcrumbs (or regular breadcrumbs if you prefer)
2 T. chopped fresh parsley

Preheat oven to 350F.  Grease gratin dish (or any deep casserole dish with butter or oil); set aside. Heat butter in saucepan until foam subsides.  Add flour and whisk a few minutes.  Add broth/stock and stir vigorously until well incorporated.  Add milk/cream and whisk until mixture returns to boil.  Simmer a few min.  It should have the consistency of a thin white sauce (a little thicker if you use cream vs. milk).  Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.

Arrange a layer of turnips in the bottom of the gratin dish.  Sprinkle with some of the leeks/onions and a  little salt and pepper and additional optional shredded cheese, if desired.  Add a layer of beet slices and more onions.  Seasoning in between all layers and proceed with the remaining ingredients.  Pour sauce over, cover, and bake 30 min.  Mix cheese, bread crumbs, and parsley.  Sprinkle on top and bake 30 min. more uncovered.  

Let the layering begin.  Don't forget to season w/ s&p between each layer.
And layering.
Cheesy, bubbly goodness in the end.

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