...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.


In a Rush to Relax

The homestead thus far.  With all this rain, it's a jungle
out there.
As we've scrambled around this week to prepare for a Memorial Day weekend outing in nature a recurring thought has crossed my mind.  It seems that before every escape, no matter how near or far, we rush through the week making lists, running errands, getting supplies, and working ahead till we come to a screeching halt at our temporary relaxation site where we need an entire 24 hours (at least!) to unwind before we can really settle into the quiet, calm, unscheduled beauty of it all.  This is a topic covered a bit in Zero Waste Home, a book I mentioned in my last post.  If we all didn't have so many possessions to manage, organize, maintain, and store then wouldn't we have more time to just enjoy life?  I'm hoping to find some time in the great outdoors this weekend to really ponder that question.  And I'm hoping the feeling of taking it slowly and enjoying the journey will last once we start our routine next week.

The last week and a half have found me outside quite a bit more.  We've had some gorgeous weather which allowed me to get V and a friend out in the woods as well as really zone in on my garden.

Girls being girls.

My early seeds have sprouted and are well on their way.  I can nearly taste the salad greens and have already used many herbs.  Last year we didn't do much with the garden because we'd just come off of our kitchen remodel and were drained in many ways.  I guess now I'm making up for that lack of garden expansion.  We've incorporated a lot more perennial foods this year.  We replanted asparagus (for the third time, which will be a charm, right?), planted a Nero Aronia bush (which I THOUGHT I read was a.k.a. chokeberry, but now I'm not finding that information) which should fruit this first year, planted a variety of hops (the gateway crop for my husband to join me in urban homesteading)--our trellis/hops crop a few years ago was ripped down in a wind storm so here's to a second try, started some hardy kiwi (also planted for the third time--another charm), added more rhubarb, and put in more strawberries to join the golden raspberries, elderberries, gooseberries, thornless blackberries, red currants, grapes, sunchokes, tart and sweet cherries, and heirloom apples already in place.

Sink full of muddy, soaking sunchokes.
Mt. Hood hops beginning to vine towards the trellis.
Three-year-old blackberry bushes join our
already prolific 6-year-old bushes.
Grapevines really starting to leaf out this week.

Enterprise apple blossoms

Sunchokes already proliferating

Red Lake Currants

Original rhubarb patch

Strawberries and Golden Raspberries on the ground
and new strawberries in the raised bed

The big project this week was to finally--after 3-4 seasons of procrastination--dig up our parkway (or as some call it "hell strip") and plant edibles.  I chose some sturdy rhubarb, red and green cabbages, broccoli, flowering kale, and perennial lovage.  I currently have it blocked off with a little garden edging (in white, which I'm not crazy about), but am hoping to keep dogs off of it at least until it's more established.  I knew I was taking a risk when I did this--the city can also tromp on it without notice or compensation if they need access.  It's a risk I'm willing to take in the name of food production.  At least I won't have to drag my rotary mower to the front now.  There's a tiny strip of grass on the north side of our front steps that I also hope to turn into edible space someday.  For now I can trim that with a manual hedge trimmer.

After--I'm not crazy about the white edging, but it works
until I find something better.  At least it's a temporary visual
for dogs and people.
The path I created from some pieces of busted concrete we had from a
pathway project in the backyard a few years ago.  Creeping thyme will
hopefully fill in the cracks in a couple of seasons.
I'm also having fun with more container veggies this year: determinate tomatoes, peppers, and mixed brassicas.
Lacinato and Red Russian Kale, Red Orach, Treviso
Radicchio, and Baby Mustard greens add color and
texture to the front stoop. 
V's upcycled clementine boxes with chamomile, nasturtiums,
radishes, bachelor buttons amid some little ceramic
friends we found at a church rummage.  We'll see what
actually has enough depth to grow.
And just some other unique odds and ends this year:

Potted Curry plant, French tarragon, and Italian parsley
Arugula, radishes, and peas on a trellis
upcycled from my neighbors' broken and
discarded drying rack
V wanted to grow some popcorn near her
garden.  We'll give it a shot, but only under
protection from the birds.
View from the greenhouse
We're looking forward to the beginning of summer and relaxing a lot in our backyard sanctuary.  Everyone have a safe and happy holiday season.


Still Life

My favorite seasonal still life.
Life is good.  I really have nothing serious to complain about.  But again today my husband and I were discussing how much of a time suck the "life maintenance" items on our lists can be.  Of course there's laundry to do, groceries to buy, gardens to tend, housecleaning to do, dinners to cook.  I'm not talking about that life maintenance (because I truly enjoy doing ALL of those things), but it's the scheduling and bill paying and organizing and trying to keep up with world events and social media, etc. etc. etc.  I'm reading Zero Waste Home right now which I referenced in a post a couple of years ago.  It's good to have a refresher course.  We have a long way to go to achieve "zero waste" at home despite how other school moms tease me on the playground at pick-up about my lack of garbage.  But what I find interesting in Bea Johnson's story is how once her family began pairing down their belongings and waste, they eventually found more time for enjoying the beauty of life and each other.  We're striving for that.

In the meantime I have kiddos to thank for helping me slow down now and then.  V is good at reminding me that sometimes I need to take time out to dance or watch the grass grow.  This past week she had a friend over after school.  I always welcome playmates not only because it's good for her as an only child to practice sharing her space and toys, but also because it usually means they can keep each other occupied while I get some things done around the house.  Well, on Tuesday they just couldn't seem to get along on our home turf so I had no choice but to take them off premises to the playground at the lakefront.  Just walking a couple of blocks on a beautiful day seemed to calm them a bit.  After playing on the jungle gym they decided they wanted to throw rocks into the water at the beach.  While they were doing so I had no choice but to sit quietly, observe, and help them find some cool rocks to take home.  Part of me felt antsy and anxious because I knew I had a big to-do list at home, but part of me realized that THAT was all I really needed to be doing right then.  It was all that mattered.  My husband would forgive me if I didn't get dinner started on time, my garden would forgive me if I didn't get a seed in the ground that moment, and my fridge would forgive me if I didn't replenish its supply of homemade condiments.
Finding skipping stones, fossilized rocks, sedimentary,
"volcanic," writing rocks.

We even found a fresh water crab claw
So much work to do writing in the sand, washing/painting
rocks, skipping stones.
I'm hoping this summer V and I strike a balance between scheduled and unscheduled time.  I'm excited about sitting in the yard reading a book while she has fun styling my hair with a million clips, watching her jump through the sprinkler while I enjoy a glass of water, taking our artist kits to the park and painting under a shady tree, and sitting outside in the evenings on weekends with my husband just talking and listening to music.  Let us do more of those simple things this summer (and NOW) and just be.

Stop and smell the cherry blossoms.


Clearing the Larder

After one long winter, we're finally getting some spring weather though it's been in small doses.  I suppose it's best to eeeease back into it.  Although we do have some rows of visible veggies popping up in the garden--salad mix, arugula, radishes--the delayed onset of warm weather has given me one last chance to empty my larder from the past season.  The last jar of dilly beans was consumed on Monday, canned tomatoes are long gone (though I still have one gallon freezer bag of our garden toms), onions and potatoes are sprouting on the cellar rack, and dried tomatoes and herbs are dwindling.  Had it not been for the batch of freezer jam I made a few weeks ago from some frozen local berries, we would have been way out of sweet preserves as well.

This time of the year is always challenging for eating locally and I certainly can't say that the majority of our diet is from nearby right now, but we are still managing to find our fair share of local veggies--either  properly stored winter crops like onions and squash from our CSA farmer or hoop house grown greens like lettuce and spinach that they've grown this spring.  It's been a slower week around here so I've had more time to cook beyond my handful of go-to recipes.

Sunday night found us with a couple pounds of regional grass-fed organic ground beef so along with some stuffed Greek Burgers I prepared Greek Potato Salad with a rainbow of potatoes I had in the larder from our CSA farmers.

Rainbow Greek Potato Salad
Serves 6-8

I added sweet potatoes for color and bulk, but one could use just regular potatoes.

2 c. scrubbed and cubed salad potatoes in a variety of color--purple, pink, yellow, white--1-inch pieces
1 c. peeled, cubed sweet potatoes, 1-inch pieces
Kosher salt
1/2 c. lightly packed fresh parsley leaves
2 T. extra virgin olive oil
1 T. red wine vinegar
1/2 c. crumbled feta cheese, divided
1/2 c. chopped kalamata olives
1 c. diced celery
1/2 c. sliced scallions (white and green parts)
1/2 t. salt, or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Cook cubed potatoes in highly salted water 15-20 min. or until tender; drain and spread on sheet tray; cool to room temp.  Place parsley, oil, vinegar, and half the feta into food processor.  Cover and process until finely chopped.  In large bowl, combine potatoes, olives, celery, scallions, salt and parsley-feta mixture.  Grind pepper on top, toss until combined.  Chill or eat immediately.

Colorful, steamy potatoes alongside an onion, dill pesto, spinach, and feta mixture I stuffed into the burgers.

And last night I finely had the time and patience to try a slightly more tedious recipe I'd had in my "Recipes To Try [Soon]" folder for quite a while.  The beautiful winter spinach was from Springdale Farm and the roasted red peppers were the last of our non-sharp batch from last season.

Spinach Roulade with Red Peppers and Ricotta
Serves 4

The last of our sweet roasted red peppers from 2012
Adapted from The Adaptable Feast.  Despite how this roulade looks as you're rolling and baking it, once you slice into it, there's a great chance it will look beautiful.  If using frozen spinach, thaw completely and drain before using.  Fresh basil is an unseasonal indulgence here.  One could substitute 1/2 the amount of dried, but the flavor of fresh basil really brightens the dish.

1 T. grapeseed oil
2 t. minced garlic
10 oz. chopped spinach (or Swiss Chard), fresh or frozen
4 eggs, separated
3/4 c. grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 t. salt, plus additional
1/2 t. ground nutmeg
1 heaping cup (about 10 oz.) full-fat ricotta cheese
2 T. minced fresh basil
2 T. minced Italian parsley
1/2 t. lemon zest
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 c. roasted red peppers, or jarred, cut into thin strips
4 c. warm marinara sauce (optional)

Preheat oven to 425F.  Line 9-by 13-inch rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or silicone baking mat, spray with nonstick cooking spray.

Heat oil over medium heat in large saute pan.  Add garlic and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Add spinach and cook until wilted (if fresh) or all liquid has evaporated (if frozen), about 3 min.  Drain spinach in fine-mesh sieve and squeeze to remove excess moisture.  Combine spinach, egg yolks, 1/2 c. Parmesan, 1/2 t. salt, and nutmeg in food processor and pulse until combined.  Put back in sieve and place over large mixing bowl to drain additionally while working with egg whites.

In medium bowl, whip egg whites with pinch of salt until soft peaks form (this can also be done with electric beaters or mixer.)  Pour off any additional liquid from spinach mixture and place mixture in bowl.  Gently fold a quarter of egg whites into spinach mixture, then fold in remaining egg whites.  Spoon mixture gently onto prepared baking sheet and smooth with rubber spatula.  Bake until roulade base feels firm when touched, 12-15 min.  Invert onto a parchment lined cutting board, remove pan and allow the roulade to cool for 30 min.

Pour off any excess liquid from ricotta and discard or save for another use.  Combine ricotta, basil, parsley, lemon zest, and remaining 1/4 c. Parmesan in medium bowl.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Spreading the filling
Reduce oven temp. to 350F.  Carefully peel top layer of parchment paper/silicone baking mat from roulade.  Spread cheese mixture evenly over roulade, leaving 1/2-inch border on sides.  Blot peppers dry with paper towels and distribute evenly over cheese mixture.  With long end facing you, use bottom piece of parchment as guide to tightly roll up roulade as you would a jelly roll.  Carefully place roulade seam side down on baking sheet.  (Unbaked roulade can be stored in fridge, wrapped tightly in parchment paper, for up to 1 day.  Unwrap and allow to sit at room temp. for 40 min. before baking.

Bake roulade until heated through, about 25 min.  Slice into 1/2-inch-thick slices with sharp serrated knife, and serve with warm marinara, if desired.

Didn't turn out too bad
In other homestead news this week, Ben found time to complete and install the passive solar awning for our upstairs.  Our hemp awning finally disintegrated so he wanted to match the lower awning our contractor installed a few years ago.  I'm not sure we'll plant anything to reach the top awning this year, but the bottom awning will hopefully finally serve it's purpose with our choice of prolific, vining morning glories in the window boxes.

B hard at work
Backyard hens are still on the horizon for us, but we got some practice this week as we brought V's classroom chicks home for a day.  It was a slight circus trying to wheel them home via the bike trailer, especially across a busy street, but we made it and they fared well.  They are pretty darn cute even though they poop A LOT!

Carmel, Carmel, Blackie, and Sun.
The yard is really starting to pop this week with buds on the cherry trees, sorrel, chives, leafed out berry bushes, rhubarb.  I do believe spring is finally here!