...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.


On Top of It

3 cubic yds. of mulch is always more than I think when
I order it.  But we were able to put a nice 2-3 inch layer
down to help retain moisture during another
potentially hot, dry summer.
By now I'm doing my best to look at the bright side of all this rain and gloominess over the last two weeks (with more to come next week, apparently.)  The upside is that I've been forced to wait to plant vegetable seeds.  The ground's been too wet and I don't particularly want to crawl around in the rain to do so.  We've taken this opportunity to work on the careful choreography that is preparing the garden for the season.  Normally, when we have the first rush of warmth in March and the ground thaws, I'm in a tizzy to get radishes, peas, arugula, and other leafy greens seeded.  That burst of excitement is always temporarily tabled as I realize I must first spread last year's compost onto the garden then scrub out the tumbler before filling it with the winter basement compost.  Then I must procure any additional organic topsoil I need to either top off the raised beds or cover up any spread compost that's not completely broken down.

The work is done for today.

We also took advantage of the one potentially sunny day last weekend to have our biennial 3 cubic yards of bulk mulch delivered (it wasn't as sunny as originally predicted and on April 12 I was pitching mulch in 3 layers of clothing with little snowflakes falling.)  But now s eeds are started indoors and Ben even rigged up the grow lights in the garage inside of the odd bay window with a blind that's there.  We still aren't quite sure why the original owner installed this window, but the bay between the awning and the window makes a perfect spot for seedlings.  With the light on a timer, it's a pretty low-maintenance set-up thus far.

The glow from the garage reminds me of early parts from the movie "E.T."
Ben's building a new passive solar upper awning for the front of our house and our replacement recycled soda bottle outdoor rug arrived this week (the last one had a good 7-year run although with the way it was disintegrating, B would have rather gotten rid of it at least 2-3 seasons ago.)  So we're pretty much ready to roll.

It feels good to have all of that base work under our belts.  I did plant some greens yesterday in the partially shaded end of our original raised bed.  As I defined the nine rows for green stuff I tried to strike a balance between the excitement I feel at this point in the season--really craving lots of greens--and the anticipated overwhelmed sensation we'll feel in a couple of months as we deal with a bottleneck of baby lettuce, frisee, mesclun mix, and Asian greens.  I would rather err on the side of bottleneck and just plan to do a helluva lot of green juicing this spring and summer and give the surplus to friends and neighbors.

Indoor projects include sewing, a new knitting project, spring cleaning, and making homemade gummy vitamins.  V has been religiously taking her "Yummi Bears" every morning, but I recently learned that I could make my own.  I found this goofy Jell-O bean mold at a thrift store last year and after making one batch of Jell-O beans for Easter I realized why someone had discarded it (Oh yearh, P.S. I, admittedly, forgot to lightly spray the mold as indicated.)  It makes the perfect portion size for gummy vitamins.  I added Vitamin C powder--which I buy in bulk at the natural foods co-op and sometimes use as an anti-browning agent (if not plain lemon juice) when preparing canned peaches in the summer and for keeping avocado mayo and herbal oils (like basil oil) from turning drab green.  I also added probiotics and local honey.  With an unsweetened, basic juice (or homemade juice if you can) these gummy vitamins might now only be just as tasty as the store-bought kind, but probably much cheaper.  I have yet to do the math.  V likes them so that's all that matters.

At least this goofy mold is good for something.

Homemade Gummy Vitamins--no packaging waste either
Kid-tested, Mother-approved.


Rain Rain Go Away

I've been thinking this week how I wish we had a cistern on our property to collect all of this rainwater to use during what will likely be a drier than average summer once again.  Fortunately my husband got our rain barrels up last Sunday when we found a few hours to start getting the yard cleaned up for spring.  But the barrels quickly filled up and are already in overflow mode.

On a positive note, some of my brassicas have germinated and I hope to start more seeds this weekend. I planted peas, arugula, and radishes on Monday just before the rain.  Don't know if they'll rot before they germinate, but we'll see.  We were hoping for that one sunny day this weekend to spread compost and shovel mulch, but I am feeling slightly pessimistic that the weather will cooperate.

On another positive note, the video from a recent student project at Milwaukee Area Technical College has finally been posted.  I was thrilled to be featured in "Home Sweet Homesteading" along with my colleague Gretchen from Milwaukee's Victory Garden Initiative.  Enjoy...and keep smiling if you can.  The rain can't last forever (I don't think.)


Introducing Spring...

Louise Erdrich's beautiful bookstore where I found a book that's rocking
my local food world.
It's supposed to be 55 degrees F here today and I'm just giddy.  There's laundry in the machine right now that I'm planning to hang completely outside today.  We hang a lot of laundry in our basement all winter so it's really the thrill of the peaceful calm of hanging wash on the line in the morning that excites me today.  It's my therapy.

My daughter's on spring break this week and yesterday we finally started some seeds--mostly brassicas.  She played in the composted potting soil, planted a crayon garden, and helped me make labels for my seed starting containers while I prepped the egg cartons I use to start seeds.  I realized I'm not as far behind as I thought I would be.  Whew!

Upon returning from an awesome 4-day getaway to Minneapolis with my husband, where we ate and walked until we dropped, I was really looking forward to a home-cooked meal so I've jumped right back into cooking this week.  If you've been following this blog for any length of time you know that this time of year that I get a little squirmy because I'm trying to use what local food we have left in the pantry and cellar rack.  I've certainly bought plenty of food at the grocery store this winter, but when it comes to what we can buy locally my farmers are still providing winter squash, onions, carrots, beets, rutabaga and the like since ours have run out.  Last night I pulled a butternut squash out of the cellar and came up with this recipe.  I'm trying to run with my urges lately--I knew I wanted to make something with the squash, but I also wanted to incorporate some oats and other supplementals for a nutrient-packed crust.

Winter Squash Crumble (Gluten-Free)
As you can see I made some jam yesterday too.  We finally ran out so I
grabbed some frozen berries and made a batch of freezer jam to get us into
strawberry/rhubarb season soon.
Serves 6-8

I served this as a side dish.  It's not too sweet, but something about it tells me that I could also throw a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream on top and have it for dessert.  It's one of those dishes that will get kiddos to eat squash--in case that's ever been a problem for you.

2 lbs. winter squash like butternut, acorn, kabocha, peeled and seeds removed
Salt and black pepper to taste, just a little
1/4 t. ground cinnamon
4 T. unsalted butter
1 T. olive oil
1/4 c. pure maple syrup

Crumble Topping:

2 T. jaggery powder (a little more info here and see note below), brown sugar could be substituted
1/2 t. ground cinnamon
1 t. salt
4 T. all-purpose gluten free flour
4 T. gluten-free rolled oats
2 T. chia seeds,
2 T. hemp seeds
2 T. flax seeds
6 T. cold butter, cubed

Preheat oven to 375F.  Grease a 9x9 glass baking pan.  To cut the squash, either slice thinly (1/4" thick) or cube evenly (1/2" cubes).  I sliced mine quickly via the food processor.  The slices were more irregular, but it doesn't matter when it's all put together.  Toss the squash with salt, pepper, and cinnamon and set aside.  In a small saucepan, heat the butter, oil, and syrup.  When it's melted, toss with the squash and pour into the prepared baking dish.

Don't bother with layering the slices like a gratin.
Combine all topping ingredients except the butter.  Mix well.  Cut in the butter either by hand or with a pastry blender.  Sprinkle on top of squash and place in oven.  Bake about 35-40 min.  Test with a knife for doneness.  If you can pull the knife out easily, the squash is cooked.

Generous topping packed with nutrients.
It was good.
Note:  jaggery can be found in solid or loose form.  I purchase it at an Indian market, but it can also be found in solid form as piloncillo at Hispanic markets.)

Speaking of cooking by urges, I found this lovely book, The Flavor Thesaurus at Louise Erdrich's Birchbark Books on our trip.  It

's going to change my world this summer as I cook from the garden and farmers' market.  I often stand there with a couple of random veggies/flavors in hand wondering what I can make.  This book offers a lot of leads to being more creative with flavor combinations.