...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.



Hanging them up after a crusty 15 years?  Not exactly.
It's a new week, nearly summer break, and the vegetable garden is in.  Change and growth are in the air!  Aside from the weekly and seasonal shifts, the LeForts are facing much change these days.  My husband is moving forward in his marketing career and taking on more responsibility in the workplace.  Our daughter will finish another year of public Montessori school and be a K-5 (going to school all day next year!)  And I've completed just short of seven years as the pastry chef at a local restaurant and boutique hotel, "retiring" from 15+ years in the restaurant world.  All of us are ready for the next great adventure.

I've been thinking critically about my next chapter for many months and with the aforementioned family changes there seemed like no better time than now to make the leap.  Change is never easy and often a bit scary, but in terms of my transition it's also very exciting.  I hope to continue shaping--even more than I've been in the last few years--the quality of life I want for myself and my family.  The stars are aligned and I'm ready to get started.

The first question I get is "what are you going to do now?" To be honest, it won't be incredibly different.  Many friends and colleagues and former co-workers have no idea that I've been teaching cooking and food preservation classes for the past decade or more (I guess that's why I need to spend more time on marketing!)  I'm continuing down that road, but expanding my offerings at different venues in metro-Milwaukee.  I'm also going to add more private preserving clients to my freelance gigs.  I'm hoping that you'll be able to find my preserves for sale in a local restaurant or two soon.

The second question I get is "how does it feel" or "does it feel weird?" [not to be in my restaurant job anymore].  I really won't know that answer until tomorrow morning when I don't have to wake up at 4  or 5 AM to "go make the donuts" for the first time in seven years. I purposely greatly decreased my hours at this job once I became a mother, but it'll still feel strange not to drive down the lakefront two mornings a week, watch the sunrise, go through my six-step morning opening routine in the kitchen (stove, hood, dishwasher, floor mats, silverware soak bucket, panini machine/toaster), push through afternoon exhaustion, then get to bed early the nights before a shift.  At least part of that time will, of course, be shifted into disciplining myself to promote my classes and events and working to prepare for them all.  But I'm also hoping to enjoy more personal time, gardening, and time creating new meals and edibles to keep my family healthy.

The thought of having time to breathe a bit and enjoy summer break with my daughter is very exciting.  But the thought of feeling listless brings some anxiety.  I've always thrived when busy; I'm kept on task when I have deadlines; I feel purpose in life when I have a job to do.  With my new "you get out of it what you put into it" setup I am anticipating some emotional ups and downs.

But I'm also looking forward to increased flexibility--to spend more time with my extended family, my child, my husband, my friends--and the potential for professional growth via travel and continuing education.  And I'm hoping to READ more!  I make it sound like I'm retiring.  (Ha!  If only!)  I'm merely shifting gears to work towards quality of life goals.  I'm constantly reminded that life's too short.  This change will be many trade-offs, but if I don't give this a try now, then when?

I hope I see many of you this summer, whether at one of my classes, at a concert in the park, at the farmers' market, or around the neighborhood.

Peace to you all and enjoy the remains of spring and the school year.


Spring Cleaning and Voluntary Simplicity

All a girl needs is a puddle
A couple weeks ago my daughter and I were watching my childhood 8 mm films that have been converted to DVD.  I was hoping to show her the footage of my sister 30+ years ago playing the very same violin on which my daughter now plays.  I cried through those clips as well as many others of our fairly simple life in the 70s and 80s: homemade matching holiday outfits, ice skating on the neighborhood pond, Christmas gifts my parents bought at rummage sales, washing doll clothes in the summer and hanging them on a kid-height line, backyard birthday parties w/ character cakes made by my dad, saving/reusing the wrapping paper from gifts, homemade haircuts, and family bicycle rides.  It occurred to me that even though times and kids are very different in 2014 my daughter is also enjoying many of these simple pleasures.

The last 12 months have been an experiment of sorts.  An experiment in how much we can comfortably handle in terms of scheduling, workload, extracurriculars, and personal possessions.  Between the busy-ness of last summer--freelance work, travel, other work, day camps, and the constant family activity during this difficult, long, dark winter I've come to a crossroads.

Not knowing how much time my independent consulting work was going to take in its first six-month season, I had a rude awakening as I watched my overambitious garden lie neglected and overgrown for a good part of last summer and fall.  But I enjoyed getting paid well to do something I love (preserve local food) so I renewed my informal contract for this year.  Therefore, the garden plans have to be simplified.

We're also in the process of simplifying our daily and weekly extracurriculars list.  Of course, the summer has plenty of camps scheduled here and there; since I work mostly freelance, I have to find creative ways to get work done while my daught's on break.  But we're also allowing plenty of blocks of free, unscheduled time.  We've tried to pare down to whatever activities and events are most worth our time, energy, and money and leave the rest open for play (especially outdoors!)

We've also learned just how many material possessions we can live without.  Apparently I'd been hanging on to a ton of "stuff" that I hadn't used or cared about in months and years.  I've had great motivation to pare down and stop organizing, dusting, caring for, and storing things I really don't need.  (Thanks to this gentleman for the encouragement!)  Every time I get a postcard in the mail for a charity truck in our area I schedule a pickup and move at least 5-7 bags/boxes out the door.  Tomorrow is round two of family spring cleaning and I'm hoping to come up w/ at least 3 more boxes to donate (after the 12 boxes that just left a couple weeks ago.)  It feels incredible to live with less!

I'm determined to continue paring down and make my professional life more efficient, streamline my garden plans and (for now) zone in on the homesteading activities that are most important to us instead of trying to "do it all" and either feel overwhelmed or turn into "one hit wonders"-- schedule less, remember that some of the most exciting activities happen during unstructured play time, and move even more possessions out of this small house.

It's so cleansing!  Here are a couple of the quotes that have motivated me lately:
"A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone."
I found this one particularly relative--
"Simple living is not about abandoning luxury, but discovering it in new places. [These masters] of simplicity are not just telling us to be more frugal, but suggesting that we expand the spaces in our lives where satisfaction does not depend on money. Imagine drawing a picture of all those things that make your life fulfilling, purposeful, and pleasurable.  It might include friendships, family relationships, being in love, the best parts of your job, visiting museums, political activism, crafting, playing sports, volunteering, and people watching." --From YES! Magazine Dec. 2013  

Also occupying my time this winter is a new plan for cooking and food preservation classes--including a new web design.  Please stay tuned!  And thanks for following.


Happy Valentine's Day

Sharing the love this week with homemade Valentine's for school and a big icy public heART.

I love helping V make Valentine's for her class.  They're never perfect, but
so beautiful just the same.
Had just enough watercolor paper left for these bookmarks

I was recently included in a group of Art Moms from V's school.  They've been making this brutal winter a little more fun by adding public ice artwork to random places in the neighborhood.  For Valentine's Day we all worked hard for a couple of weeks freezing juice, Kool-Aid, what-have-you to make this mosaic-looking heart.  Spread the love!

Getting the ice blocks there by whatever means possible--
even sleds!
After walking off the shape we all got to work walking carefully around the
perimeter only and strategically dropping the colored cubes.

Ice mosaic! 
Our group is called "Popsicle" and here is our tag for this project. 
Spreading the love!

Our fearless leader (and local artist) at center.
We all contributed different shades of red and pink
Brightening everyone's day as they approach the on ramp at Oklahoma and 794.


Baking up Memories

Lucille's Cooky Bible
There have been some busy bakers in our kitchen over the last two weeks.  Somehow it's taken me over 10 Christmases to fully delve into my grandmother's cookie books and dedicate some of our holiday baking to her.  She was a cook for a living and a baker in her spare time.  And she would make what seemed like pallets full of homemade treats around the holidays to complement the bowls of store-bought fairy food and red, white, and green gumdrops and other candies on display at every end table (it's a wonder how in the world great dental health runs on that side of the family.)  As a grade schooler, teen, college student, young adult it was a sugary wonderland.  As I've stepped back several years, I now understand why my sister and I felt compelled to perform high-intensity dance routines (including full-on toe touches) in the living room.  Yikes!  Sugar rush!

As I've gradually gone through my Gram's boxes of recipes in the last decade since her death I've been delighted to see that she saved recipes, made notes, and added dates just like I do.  (Must be the German gene for careful record keeping about which I've heard so much.)  She also added housekeeping and moneysaving clippings.  This was all clearly from an era when people had more time on their hands--or at least fewer of the distractions we have these days. The moment I cracked the cover of her Betty Crocker Cooky Book (the publishing date is not to be found because the inside cover and other pages with possible indicators are plastered with clipped recipe, but circa 1960 is a good guess) there was a rush of memories.  My grandmother's handwriting, the dates she made these cookies, and the washed out vintage photos of things I'd eaten growing up all sent me into nostalgia mode.  Wow!  The last thing to do is prepare some of these goodies and taste the memories as well.
Recipe clippings plaster the inside cover.  
My Gram's handwriting
Handwritten on the inside back cover.
My Great Grandma's Sugar Cookie Recipe, which I
successfully converted to gluten-free this year.
My Great Aunt Irene's attempts.  She's still around to tell.
Jim Dandies--definitely making this blast from the past.
V went through these books with me (including the annual Wisconsin Electric holiday cookie book w/ energy-saving tips) and picked out what she thought "looked" good.  We came up with a diverse list of cookies, bars, and candies to prepare this season, though we may be entirely too ambitious.  But I thought I'd try to uphold the tradition of making way more than we could possibly consume before the next sweet holiday in mid-February.

Vintage packaging ideas
Vintage ads from the Milwaukee Sentinel, 1965
V's at the perfect age to start grasping baking, the physical work anyway--I'll teach her more about theory later.  Last year she helped stir chocolate over a double boiler and pound peppermint sticks for the ever-addictive peppermint bark, but this year's she's really embraced the detail work of batch baking.  Her patience and skills in helping mix the dough have improved greatly from last year and--maybe it's a Montessori thing--she loves the repetition required for preparing cookies to go in the oven.  She's able to focus fairly well on the intricacies of putting tiny thumbprints and dollops of jam in the center of mounds of sticky dough.  Cutting out shapes is her specialty.  And eating dough, licking the beaters is her favorite.  We still have some decorating to do this week, but I'm confident that no matter what amount of frosting and sprinkles gets caked onto these cookies, they're going to look beautiful.  They may not be as precise and consistent as Lucille's, but the taste memory will be present.  It seems we're establishing a new tradition so we can work on perfecting recipes and techniques over the next decade plus.
My list 2013, her list 1999--note that she admits to
supplementing w/ some from a church cookie sale.
The next generation of bakers at the helm 
Detail work
She stuck in her thumb...
Using our homegrown/homemade gooseberry jam
A little taste for the baker--note the mess around her mouth in every pic.
Gluten-Free Chai Spice Cutouts
My Great Gram's Sugar Cookies
It would pain her that I made them gluten-free, but I
was happy w/ how they turned out
…Lay them straight
More photos to come as we pound out the last few batches this week.  Of course, we're not going to eat all of these ourselves.  We'll put some out when company comes this season, but we also intend to contribute some to the pool of cookies for bus drivers and crossing guards to be put together at school today.  Next week we're hoping to make our way around the block delivering to certain neighbors.  Better to share, especially when it's sweet treats.