Growing Food

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I love growing food. Love. It.  There is nothing that gives me more pleasure than seeing the food I have grown, grace our plates at meal time.  And while this time of year requires a lot of physical demand (Who needs a gym when you are working 6 yards of compost and mulch into the soil?), the rewards are definitely worth the effort.  The perennials are already popping up, and the cold tolerant vegetable seeds are in the ground.  We are not far away, friends.  I can almost taste that strawberry rhubarb crisp now.

But perhaps the most rewarding of growing my own food, is sharing this passion with others.  I have the absolute pleasure of working with the students of Cathedral of St. Peter School in their school garden for the forth growing season.  And as I worked with students last week in the garden, I was reminded of why this project is so very important.  Many have lost their connection to the food they eat.  They view food as coming from the grocery store and have no idea how it is grown, or the work that goes in to growing it.  Working with these students allows them to connect with their food, see how it is grown, and become an active participant in that growth process.  Our garden project enables students to try new foods, and learn about the importance of consuming healthy foods and how that translates into fuel for our bodies and minds.  Most importantly, our school garden work illustrates how to be stewards of God’s creation, and to value and cherish all that the Earth and God provide for us each and every day.

IMG_2542Happy 2016 growing season, friends!

Our Undervalued Friends

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Oh, the dandelion.  She is so often picked, sprayed and just plain despised by so many.  What did this little lady ever do to deserve such harsh treatment?  For in fact, it is her ability to pop up everywhere and withstand the harshest of treatment that makes her so wonderful!

Our little dandelion friends act as a detoxifier for our liver; are high in calcium, iron, magnesium, vitamin A and vitamin C; help tone the kidneys; and restore a general vitality to our bodies.  It is for all of these reasons, that we try our best to harvest these beauties when we can and take advantage of all their undervalued greatness.

Last week the girls and I needed to clear our strawberry and asparagus bed of weeds, and there were lots of dandelions.  So we picked and picked, trying our best to keep that lovely taproot intact.  Then we rinsed those little gals a lot.  (I think we ended up doing about 10-12 rinses to get all of the dirt off.)  We then chopped up the roots, stems, crowns and some leaves and placed them in 1/2 gallon mason jars.  Next we boiled apple cider vinegar and poured the boiling vinegar over the dandelions inside the mason jars.  We placed the capped jars in a cabinet where they will stay for 3 weeks.  After that time, we will strain the vinegar through a fine mesh strainer and refrigerate the vinegar for use over the next several months.  This vinegar is great in salad dressings, but we also take shots of it when we feel a bit under the weather, or when we feel we need a pick-me-up.

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***Important note:  Because so many people spray dandelions with poisons chemicals, it is of the greatest importance that when picking dandelions to consume, you only do so in an area where you are assured they have not been spayed!  I don’t even pick the dandelions around the perimeter of our property just in case a neighbor has sprayed their yard and some of those nasty chemicals may have leeched over the property line.

Patience

Things have been tough lately, friends.  As you may have noticed from my lack of presence in this space, I have been finding it hard to articulate exactly what it is I have been feeling.  And because I try to keep this blog filled with positivity, it has been difficult to come into this space with the honesty I try to present here.  Over the course of the last few months, the void of life without my mom has been growing to depths I never thought possible.  I guess I never anticipated what it would be like to raise my children without my own mom by my side.  Even when we lived in Champaign, she was just a phone call away, and now, well, she is not.  It feels as if I am on an island, on which I am alone and unable to navigate.  I am just lost.

My mom always talked of seeing signs of her own deceased parents in her natural surroundings.  The turkeys crossing the road were signs from her dad, and the blue birds perched on her bird bath was her mom stopping by for a quick hello.  Well, I had been grappling for these same signs of her, but as I looked out my window all I seemed to see was the dreariness that is February and March in the Midwest.  I grew weary, for I could see no signs of life, nor signs of my mom.

But last week, something seemed to have shifted with the thawing ground and the warmth of the sunshine upon my skin.  I felt like I may be turning a corner.  I saw glimmers of my mom in the cardinal resting upon the chair outside my window while I drank my morning coffee.  I sensed her excitement as my girls assembled the fairy garden she gave them.  And I could feel her presence beside me Friday afternoon as I peered into the soil of my garden perimeter and spied her blackeyed susans pushing up through the surface of the blackness.  Perhaps I just need to have patience, and although I now know I will never feel completely whole again, maybe I will be able to heal just enough to see the color of life push its way through the darkness.

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Finding My People

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As I’ve grown older, I have come to learn that putting on airs and trying to be someone I am not to fit in, is just not worth my time.  While I have always thought of myself as an independent person, there was always that small part of me that really cared what others thought.  Trying to seamlessly slide in and out of varying versions of myself in order to better fit in was something I often tried, and it just became, well, exhausting.  And really, now that I am in my mid-thirties, I have neither the time nor energy to keep up that charade.  And I have got to say it has become quite liberating as I have slowly shed that desire to camouflage with everyone, and instead just be only me.

The interesting thing I have noticed about making this mental decision is that I have learned that no matter where I am, I can find my people.  Each person is unique of course, but isn’t it funny that there are people out there, in all parts of the world, who share similar thoughts, beliefs, even dreams?  And when we take a moment and stop trying to impersonate someone we are not, we can see more clearly those people around us with whom we naturally fit in.  Our people.

This past week I had the pleasure of spending time in Florida with my husband’s family and it was so fascinating to me that although we were over one thousand miles from home, I was able to find my people.  I found myself at a farmer’s market a couple of times while in Florida where I brushed arms with moms buying their week’s worth of produce and ethically raised meat from local farmers to bring home to their families.  I chatted with two women about the importance of nourishing our bodies with soul satisfying food and how that can really make all the difference in life.  I listened in on two twenty-somethings as they chatted about which hand-dyed, hand-spun yarn they were going to buy so they could fashion a cute scarf to help them brave this “cold” Floridian weather they have been having this winter.  And I spoke with a local artist about how she crafts beautiful vessels that are both functional and gorgeous.  These are my people, and although there were hundreds of people present in these situations, by dropping the veil I held in from of my face for so long, I was able to see not only these people clearly, but also be reminded of who I am and how I fit in to this great big world around me.

Vegan Soap Recipe

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Friends, I am so very excited to share with you my vegan soap recipe today!  It is a recipe I have been experimenting with for several months now, and at this point I am very happy with the way the soap is turning out.  I also worked with Brazilian clay this go round, and I am thrilled with those results as well.

This soap recipe has been a gradual evolutionary project for me.  When I began making soap many years ago, I used a melt-and-pour base to which I added essential oils, herbs, and other fun things.  I then moved on to making my own cold-pressed soap using a combination of lard and coconut oil.  My struggle with making this type of soap was that at times when I did not have access to lard from a pig in which I knew the farmers that raised it, I was using lard purchased from the grocery store.  I had a hard time with this because I am so careful to consume (and feed my family) foods in which I feel confident in its raising/growing, and here I was, making soap that would go be lathered onto the largest organ of our bodies (our skin!) and I didn’t know where it came from.  I started to seek an alternative for our family during those months when we did not have access to local lard, and this is the result of those efforts.  I hope you enjoy!

Vegan Soap Recipe

5 cups distilled water

12 oz lye

12 cups organic unrefined coconut oil

Essential oils of your choosing (if desired)

Brazilian clay of your choosing (if desired)

*Before you get started, please know that making soap with lye can be very dangerous.  You MUST be sure you are wearing proper gloves and eyewear at all times, and you must be in a well ventilated room!  (I never, ever make soap when my children are awake.  It is not worth the risk of having them underfoot in any way.  I normally make soap very late at night after my household is asleep.  I open all of the windows in the kitchen, turn on all of our ceiling fans, and then begin.) 

Step 1:  In a large stainless steel bowl, carefully stir the lye into the distilled water.  Stir continuously until all the lye is dissolved.  (This mixture can rise in temperature to almost 200 degrees, so again, proceed with caution.)  Allow the lye-water mixture to cool to 75 degrees.  This can often take several hours.

Step 2:  Warm the coconut oil in a stock pot until it becomes liquid.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool to 80-85 degrees.

Step 3:  In a very slow and steady stream, carefully add the coconut oil to the lye-water mixture while stirring constantly.  (I often have my husband help with this process.  I slowly stir the lye-water mixture while my husband ladles in the coconut oil.)

Step 4:  Once all the coconut oil has been added, I use an immersion blender to get the soap to reach trace phase (the consistency of a thick honey).

Optional Step:  If adding essential oils, blend the oils in at this time.  And if adding clay for coloring your soap:  mix a tablespoon of clay with .25-.50 mL of your chosen essential oil.  Partially mix the clay into the soap mixture so it streaks.

Step 5:  Pour mixture into soap molds.  Cover with plastic.  I then place lots of old beach towels on top of the plastic wrap to help insulate the soap.

Step 6:  Allow your soap to remain insulted for 3-4 days.  Then remove the soap from the molds, cut the soap (if necessary), and place on a cooling rack.

Step 7:  Allow your soap to cure on the cooling rack for at least 2 months before using.

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Early September in the Garden

As fall quickly approaches, the end of the gardening season is just around the corner.  But with everything going on in our garden, one would never know it.  So, for now, we are just so very grateful for all that our garden provides for us.

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As I mentioned last Tuesday, our tomatoes are in full swing right now.  That means lots of canning is taking place around our house.  This year I am attempting something new after reading my favorite blog.  I am roasting my tomatoes and basil with a bit of garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper in a 450 degree oven until the tomatoes begin to brown.  I then let it cool to room temperature, scoop the mixture into quart jars, and freeze them.

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On a fun tomato note, last year I grew Mexican Midget tomatoes and Green Zebra tomatoes in our school garden.  At the end of the growing season, my students and I tried a little experiment.  We picked about 3 tomatoes from each plant, sliced them very, very thin and left them to dry out on a coffee filter.  Once the tomatoes were dry, I stuck them in my file cabinet until this past March.  Then, using our class pet’s castings (Yes, we had worms as a class pet!) as a base, we placed the coffee filters (with the dried tomato slices on them) on top of the compost.  We then coated the dried tomatoes with a thin layer of compost.  Once mid-May hit, we transplanted the small tomato plants into our school garden and I also took some home.  Above is the result of our experiment:  some Green Zebras (left), some Mexican Midgets (right), and a nice cross pollinated version (middle).  And the result of this cross is just delicious because it is sweet like a Mexican Midget, but also has a tang to it similar to the Green Zebra.  Science is so fun!

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Our milkweed has begun to go to seed, and with my daughters’ current obsession with Little House on the Prairie, we are drying the seed pods and then plan to use the wispy, silky fibers to stuff a small doll.

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For the first time ever, we are growing pumpkins.  And they are actually growing!  I cannot express my excitement when I went out to weed the other day and found this guy nestled in among the gourds we are also growing in that same space.

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The cucumbers are currently out of control.  And truth be told, I have no desire to can pickles this year.  At all.  I am hoping my sentiment changes because I am not quite sure what do to with all of these guys that are currently sitting in the middle of my kitchen table.

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We are so incredibly fortunate to still be in the midst of our second round of berries.  This has been a truly prolific year for us and berries.  Yum.

 

 

A New Look

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With all of the change in my family lately, I have tried to take a step back and really look at my life a bit more carefully.  Time goes by in a simple blink doesn’t it?  And when I really stopped to think about it, I have been writing this blog for almost four years now.  And when I looked at the format of this space, and the picture that was its backdrop, I realized the little girl peering into the water has grown up.  And my other daughter, who was too tiny to even be found on the dock in the picture, is now just as tall as my oldest, and she cannot be found anywhere else but beside her sister.

So, in keeping with my mantra to try new things, I hope you like the new format of Making of a Home.  And I thank each of you for visiting this space, which I have come to hold so dear to my heart.

Dietmeier Apple Pie

Every time we gathered at my grandparent’s house in southwestern Wisconsin, homemade apple pie could be found at the center of the dessert table.  (Yes, there was always a dessert table.  It was amazing.)   My grandma and grandpa took turns making this family favorite, but it always tasted the same:  deliciously tart, yet creamy, with a hint of cinnamon underneath a crunchy sugar-layer.  To me, this pie is the quintessential fall dessert, and now that we have made the first one of the season, it seems that fall is truly being ushered in.

(The pie recipe is the same as my peach pie recipe that I shared here, and I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as you did the last.)

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Dietmeier Apple Pie

I make my own crust (recipe found here).  Place the crust in a pie plate (I love using this Stoneware pie plate because it does not burn the crust, and it looks great table side.)  Then I fill the crust with tart sliced apples.

Add about 10 tiny dollops of butter on top of the apples.  Then create a mixture of 1 cup sugar, 4 tablespoons flour and 1 teaspoon cinnamon.  Scoop this mixture over the apples and butter so the entire pie is coated.  Then add just a touch (about 1/4 cup) of water to the pie.  (Just sprinkle it over the top of the sugar mixture.  This creates a delicious custard-like consistency when it bakes.  Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes and then reduce the heat to 325 degrees and bake for an additional for 45 minutes.  Allow to rest at least 30 minutes before serving.

Enjoy!

*A note about all my recipes: I use all organic ingredients, local when available. I use non-homogenized milk, and all of the dairy we use is from animals raised on pasture. I also use oils that are non-GMO verified. All our meat is raised locally on organic feed, and our beef is grass-fed, grass-finished. All our spices and cane sugar are fair-trade certified and purchased through a cooperative.

Late August In the Garden

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As summer wanes, and the expansive days of summer fade before our eyes, I am beginning to feel that same briefness in the garden.  While we still have a great deal coming out of our garden, and the tomatoes are finally beginning to come along, I feel a pull towards the space inside our home.  At this time of year, my body grows weary from all the hours spent out in the garden.  And while I still adore being in this space, I look forward to the days of nestling in with a cup of coffee, good book and some crocheting.  I often think this is why God gifted us with the seasons.  They allow us time to recharge our minds and bodies before venturing out again.

This past week in the garden has been quite bountiful.  Our second round of strawberries are still coming in the door, along with our long-awaited raspberry crop.  The tomatoes are starting to ripen and we have been eating them fresh off the vine, most of them never even making it over the threshold.  The lemon verbena liqueur that I mentioned a couple weeks back, is now completed and I look forward to the cocktails and baked goods we can make with this citrusy elixir.  More herbs are being dried, and beans frozen.  But perhaps our greatest delight of the week has been our apples.  As I shared before, the Japanese beetles have devoured the leaves of our apple trees.  We reached a point this week that there were more dead leaves than living and I feared if we didn’t pick our apples now we may lose them.  So pick we did.  And pie we made.  It was a great week in the garden.

Mom’s Summer Cucumber Salad

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From the time my mom was given her diagnoses, her constant mantra was, “Please make sure you continue to tell our stories.” It was so very important to her that the stories of our family remain alive in our hearts and continue to be told and retold, even after she was no longer with us. During one of my vigils by my mom’s bedside, I assured her that I would indeed continue to tell her stories.   I assured her I would not only share them with my girls, but with anyone and everyone who would listen. Because it is in our sharing of stories that I believe we truly get to know one another, and strengthen the bond that brings us all together in this great big world of ours. And to be honest with you, so many of my memories and stories seem to revolve around the sharing of food while sitting at a table with those we hold dear to us. I have loved sharing my family’s food stories in the past in this blog space, and it is my absolute pleasure to continue. Today I am thrilled to share with you the story of my mom’s summer cucumber salad.

While growing up, when the days seemed to stretch on forever, my sister and I felt compelled to stay outside all day long, riding bikes all over our neighborhood. It wasn’t until the sky began to turn rosey in the west that we would finally venture home, red-faced and exhausted. We would walk into the house, greeted by a cool blast from the air-conditioner, and find my mom setting the table in the kitchen. On these types of hot nights, instead of heating up the kitchen with lots of pots and pans on the stove and in the oven, my mom would always have a series of cool, fresh dishes waiting for us. My very favorite of these dishes was my mom’s cucumber salad. It was always so cool and creamy, yet tangy and fresh. It just tastes like summer.

Mom’s Summer Cucumber Salad

4-6 medium cucumbers

1 white onion

1 cup sour cream

¼ cup apple cider vinegar

1 teaspoon dill weed

salt and pepper to taste

Whisk together the sour cream, apple cider vinegar, dill weed, salt and pepper. Thinly slice the cucumbers and onions. (I use mandoline to accomplish this task because it leaves you with thin, consistently-cut produce.) Pour the sour cream/vinegar mixture over the cucumbers and onions. Mix until combined. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Enjoy!

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