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Every time your BMG (BNG?  Bad Nonna Genny for today’s recipe?) walks up to the front door, she’s bombarded with a cloud of basil ambrosia.  But she knows it won’t last forever.  Soon she’ll be wailing and gnashing her teeth and rending The Boy’s garments (what?  They’re not as cute as hers) because she can’t get fresh basil anymore.  But she will be encouraged to know that, despite the lack of basil ambrosia in her life, despite the fact that she seems to have reverted to speaking of herself in the third person, there is basilage to be had, and it’s as close as the freezer.

Pesto, peeps!  During the summer I make a fresh batch every week, which is about as long as it takes for the monster plants at the front door to become unwieldy again.  Then I drop it by tablespoonfuls onto waxed paper sheets, roll up the paper, bag it, and stick it in the freezer.  By the end of September, I’ve got rolls and rolls of pesto like herbaceous green button candy, and it sees me through until the next year’s plants kick into SEARCH AND FUCKING DESTROY mode.

I keep the pesto on the thick side–easy to spoon, and it stays concentrated so I can use it however which way I like.

SOME EXAMPLES OF HOWEVER WHICH WAY I LIKE:

*Folded full-strength into some softened butter for rolls
*Dropped into soup or stew for quick seasoning
*Thinned with a little pasta cooking water and tossed with your favorite noodles
*Under my arms–all-natural deodorant! (“Is she joking? I hope she’s joking.”)
*Creamed into mayonnaise and adorning a BLT
*Thinned out with some vinegar and drizzled over a salad
*As a cool hipster-y lip gloss (“Where is she going with all these body product jokes?”)
*Spread thinly onto a pizza crust in place of red sauce
*Whisked into scrambled eggs
*Layered in a tomato and mozzarella pie, topped with a biscuit crust
*As an all-natural, scented lube! (“Oh dear God.”)

Okay, so would you like to know how to execute this most marvelous and simple yet impressive feat of domesticity, or would you like your Bad Nonna Genny to give you increasingly more suggestive uses for pes–

–Oh, you’d like the recipe?  Okay, then.

5 Minute Pesto Buttons
Makes about 8 buttons, each button equal to approx. 1 1/2 tablespoons pesto

Go Get:
2 cups packed basil leaves
1/4 cup nuts (pine nuts are traditional, but I’ve used walnuts, almonds, pecans, sunflower seeds, etc. with great results–today I started with slivered almonds)
1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano Cheese (BNG is never without it, parmesan is a good substitute)
2 cloves garlic, peeled
Salt ‘n Pepa (the hip-hop duo from the ’90’s, not the seasonings.  Okay, fine, I meant the seasonings.)
olive oil (this isn’t exact, but it’s usually around 1/4 cup)

Go Do:
Okay, now toss those basil leaves into the bowl of your food processor.

Now add in the garlic cloves, a few shakes of salt and pepper, and cheese.

Now toss those nuts into a dry skillet, turn the heat to medium, and agitate things around until it’s all toasty–shouldn’t take more than a minute, and they’re usually done when you start to smell them.  Observe!

Now drop in those nuts and give the food processor a few good pulses until everything’s all macerated.  Now start the motor running and slowly drizzle in olive oil through the feed tube in the top.  You should see things start to form a paste.  You can add a little more if need be, but I’d just take off the top and check before you do that, just to make sure the oil’s being incorporated.  When things form a loose paste, you’re done!  Check it for Salt ‘n Pepa (the seasonings, not the ’90’s hip-hop duo), and adjust accordingly.

Now put out a sheet of wax paper and drop the pesto by rounded tablespoonfuls onto the sheet, about 2 inches apart.  Lay another sheet of wax paper on top, lightly flatten the pesto mounds into thick, flat buttons for easier storage, and gently roll it up.  Pop the roll into a bag, stick it into the freezer, and rest easy, misfits.

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(Psst…if you haven’t signed up for my subversive cross stitch giveaway yet, do so now!)

When your Bad Mama Genny and The Boy lived in the New York City place, we frequented the occasional Jewish deli.

Fine, the SLIGHTLY MORE THAN OCCASIONAL Jewish deli.  What can I say?  I’m a half-Jew.  Making me a Cashew.  Fun, little known fact about your Bad Mama Genny, misfits.  Oy vey!

In any case, these fine establishments almost always carry the elusive, the beautiful, the mouthgasm inducing…SOUR PICKLE.  These are totally different from vinegar pickles–they’re sour because they go through lactic acid fermentation, which gives them a unique flavor profile, makes them easier to digest, and grants them special probiotic superpowers.

I am all about superpowers, misfits.  Just this weekend, The Boy’s mom taught me how to crochet.  She was in town for a funeral, which is pretty much as good a place to learn crochet as any other.  There were no sour pickles at this funeral, but someone did chip a tooth, so that was exciting!

It was me.

Oddly enough, there are those who think the most valuable thing in the pickle crock isn’t even the pickles–it’s the garlic.  In fact, lacto-fermented garlic is something of a folk remedy for its probiotic and antibacterial properties, as well as its ability to repel strangely moody, pale man-boy mouth breathers with names that rhyme with Schmedward.  So basically, this garlic IS SOME VALUABLE SHIT.  And, um, just in case you were worrying that this recipe wouldn’t include enough of that fine and funky garlic?

Yeah, I think we’re pretty well covered here.

Y’know, naturally-fermented pickle brine was also once a precious commodity and cure-all.  But historical misfits wouldn’t stop at applying it to cuts, bruises, and rashes–they used it on wrinkles, too, which is just. so. sexy.  Of course, people don’t do this anymore, but I say, why pass up a perfectly good opportunity to torture the people you love?  In fact, the next time The Boy walks into the room, I plan to toss a bucket of cold pickle brine into his face.  For love.

Naturally.

Make up some naturally-fermented pickles with your bumper crop of cukes, lovey loves.  Because the BMG is worried that you may not be colonized by sufficient numbers of foreign bodies.

Colonizing you with foreign bodies.  It’s one of the things I do best.

Lacto-Fermented Garlic Dill Pickles
Makes 1 gallon pickles

Go Get:
3 1/2 lbs. pickling cucumbers, washed, with blossom end shaved off (that would be the non-stem end)
6 Tablespoons sea salt
1 rounded teaspoon calcium chloride (optional, for crisp)
3 heads garlic, peeled and smashed with the side of a chef’s knife
1/2 cup whey (extract whey from yogurt like so) (wanna do this the vegan/dairy-free way?  See this post.)
2 large bunches dill weed
2 Tablespoons coriander seeds
2 Tablespoons dill seed
1 Tablespoon peppercorns
2 teaspoons mustard seed

Go Do:
Start with a clean, 1 gallon container–a pitcher works well for this.  Pile in the cukes, layering them with the dill weed, garlic cloves, and spices.

At this point you may be wondering if my manicures are EVER unchipped.  The answer is…no.

Reposition any cukes you have to in order to keep them several inches below the top of the container.  Now mix 8 cups of lukewarm (not hot), filtered water with the calcium chloride (if using), salt, and whey.  Stir and pour over the pickles to thoroughly submerge them.  If you need more liquid to cover, add additional filtered water.  Now place an open Ziploc bag over the crock (open side up), and fill with enough water to weight the cucumbers down and keep them submerged.  When you have that right, seal the bag, cover the whole thing loosely with a towel, and let sit in a dark, room-temperature location.  Check the pickles for sourness each day.  Mine are usually at optimal sourness in 1 week, but your results will differ based on temperature and environment.  Once they’re where you like ’em, refrigerate the batch to slow fermentation and enjoy!  They’ll keep for about a year, and usually longer.

Note: If a little mold develops on top, don’t worry–this is normal.  Just skim it off, rinse and replace the bag, and keep on fermenting, lovey doves.

Note Again: Pickled garlic turns blue sometimes.  It’s normal.  We all get blue sometimes, right?  Well, this is a totally harmless chemical reaction and you can (and should, and MUST) still eat the blue cloves.

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Monitorpop at en.wikipedia

Hey, there, sugar donuts!  Today, I’d like to draw your attention to a comment left on this post by The Other Girl:

Hi Gen! As I prepare to plant my tomatoes, I have to ask what you use as a growing medium in your pots? One could spend a small fortune on potting soil and a lot of the commercial mix has chemical fertilizers added – something I’m guessing you shy away from.

This is a great question that I’ve gotten multiple times via my Twitter, text, and private message.

Seriously, people, as I mentioned here, you have nothing to lose by leaving these messages as public comments.  The Gen Person will not allow anyone to tease you on Her Almighty Comment Board!

I answered The Other Girl’s question in the comments section, but I’d like to post it for you here. It includes a basic and relatively inexpensive recipe for a homemade tomato mix, should you not be into expensive pre-made mixes or some of the involved processes I get myself into.  And I get myself into a lot of involved processes ’round here.

Here’s my answer:

Hi, The Other Girl!

If you’re buying a ready-to-use potting mix, I like the ones by Happy Frog and Fox Farm’s Ocean Forest Blend (both are, yes, pretty pricey). The Ocean Forest has been giving me GREAT results…it’s natural, with organic plant food materials in the mix, along with microrhizae (a beneficial fungus) that colonizes along the plant’s root structure and aids it in nutrient uptake. This year I’m really big on symbiotic relationships and beneficial bugs, so I’d try that if you’re looking for a ready-made thing. In some of my larger containers and the raised beds I built for my mother, I made a layered mix that turned out very well. It was a layer of pine straw (acidifier, soil lightener, drainage, etc.), then “organic” cow manure (well-rotted), then a light and fluffy very basic soil mix, with healthy amounts of bone meal, blood meal, and microrhizae mix turned into it (Espoma is a good brand for these). Then I repeated the layers and topped the whole thing with more straw for mulch. Put your stakes/cages in, dig your hole, crumble some eggshells into the bottom, and put in your plant, with a few of the bottom sets of leaves under the soil line. Then fill and firm the planting hole, make a mix of epsom salts and lukewarm water, and water the tomato thoroughly. The tomatoes I’m putting through this process are LOVING it. Every day they look bigger. And that’s saying a lot, consider the storming and fluctuating temps we’ve had.

Hope that helps, and keep me posted! Let me know if I can help with anything else!
Gen

So while you can make it more complicated than that, this is a great and simple way to start your tomato plants off right.  So they can grow healthy and strong and eat their metal cages and then cause you to have fear feelings.

I like having fear feelings caused by overzealous tomato plants.  But that’s just who I am these days.

What are your tomato secrets?  Are there any super special soil recipes floating around out there?  You KNOW how I feel about sharing recipes…

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When you’ve got a head cold to beat the band…

(whatever that means)

And you haven’t left the house in five days…

(so you greet The Boy at The Door like you’re an overly-excitable golden retriever)

And you don’t care if you obstruct half of the finished photo with the lurking shadow of your pasty, mouth-breathing self…

(Sexy.)

Focaccia is there to provide you with a project.

Now I’m not saying you should jump at the chance to bake for loved ones when you’re all sick-like.  But since my ILLLLNESSSSS came from The Boy to begin with so he’d already had and beaten and built up immunity to this OH MY GOD THINNNGG, I felt comfortable with passing the disease around all willy-nilly.

I’m scientific like that.

If you’re looking for uses for your sourdough starter, Your Bad Mama Genny can’t think of a better one.  Probably because I’m stuffed up and can’t think at all.  You might be able to think of better ones.

So what I’m saying is, focaccia is an excellent use for your sourdough starter.  Most excellent, indeed, my precious, precious mofo’s.

If you have access to some greenhouse cherry tomatoes (<raises hand>), even better.  If not, hang onto this recipe until tomato season, or do a variation.  I love red onion, sea salt, and rosemary on focaccia.

Focaccia.

FOCACCIA.

I’m woman enough to admit that I Googled to make sure I was spelling it right.  And now I’m flaunting it.

FOCACCIA!!

Oh, sweet mother, FOCACCIA!

Can you tell that I’m still sick?

Moreso than usual, I mean.

 

Sourdough Polka Dot Foccacia

Go Get:

1 cup PROOFED sourdough starter
1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
1 Tablespoon sea salt
1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
2 1/2 to 3 cups white flour
1/2 cup olive oil, plus some for the cookie sheet
1/4 cup sliced garlic
1/4 cup pecorino romano cheese, grated
several sprigs’ worth fresh rosemary leaves
coarse sea salt for sprinkling over the top (approx. 2 teaspoons)
Approx. 2 cups of cherry tomatoes–in varying colors if you can swing that (alternatively, try thin slices of red onion or even leeks)

Go Do:

Mix the sourdough starter with the water.  Gradually add in half the flour and mix until blended.  Toss the salt with the remaining flour and mix into the dough.  Sourdough starters vary in consistency, so be a doll and make sure this holds together in a tacky, but not sticky, dough ball before you go on with the recipe, mmmkaaaay?  Mmmmmkaaaay.

Mix the dough well before transferring to a lightly-floured surface.  Knead that sucker.  Knead it good.  Knead it ’til it’s a wee bit elastic.  Then stop kneading already, Jesus.

Preheat the oven to 350.

Oil a cookie sheet.  Spread the dough out onto the sheet until it’s a roughly half-inch thick rectangle.  Use your finger to make little polka-dot indentations all over the dough.

In a small saucepan, heat the olive oil and garlic over low heat until the garlic is cooked (approximately 5 minutes).  Your house will smell like a freaking dream.

Let the mixture cool slightly, then spoon it evenly over the focaccia dough.  Press the cherry tomatoes into the dough at random (or hell, in an organized pattern.  That’s okay, too.  I just have to wonder why you’re trying for organization when you have a the bubonic plague (OH WAIT YOU DON’T HAVE THE BUBONIC PLAGUE THAT’S JUST ME.)  Now sprinkle the salt and rosemary leaves and walk away, leaving your focaccia in the warm kitchen.

But don’t, like, walk off for good.  Come back and check every so often, ‘kay?

When the dough has doubled and mostly swallowed your cherry tomatoes (so cute!), stick the whole thing in the oven and bake for 30-40 minutes (I started checking at 25–I suggest you do the same), or until deeply golden.

Remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle immediately with Pecorino-Romano Cheese.  Let cool until  you can handle it (but it’s still warm), then cut into squares (only as many as you’ll eat that night.  The rest will stay moist longer if it’s in a solid slab).

Enjoy the admiration of your friends, lovers, and associations for which you have positive regard.

Sneeze a lot.

The end.

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Those of you who follow my writing career (All of you, right?  RIGHT?!) know that I’ve written quite a bit on the topic of urban homesteading.  And if you’ve been hanging around this blog for a while, you know that a big part of urban homesteading is creative food-growing.

But let’s be real for a moment.

It’s time to face facts.  For most of us in this fine country, the garden is loooong gone (::weeping sounds::).  But homesteading isn’t just about growing.  It’s about self-sufficiency.  In some circles, it’s about returning to the “old ways” of doing things.  It includes making many of your own goods, cooking and preserving a bit more from scratch than just about anyone you know, and making do with whatever you can re-purpose.  And truth be told, there’s still plenty you can do to keep the misfitty mojo flowing.

And it is extremely essential to keep the misfitty mojo flowing.  You know how you keep the water tap dripping ever so slightly in some parts of the country (MINE!) to keep the pipes from freezing up and becoming useless?  Yeah, it’s kinda like that.  This has been a public service announcement from your Bad Mama Genny.

Here are some of the things I’m working on.  Why not try a few yourself?

1. Prepare the garden beds and containers for next year.  So all the dead plants have been pulled and you spend entire mornings looking at those barren containers/patches of earth and sobbing your little heart out (No?  You don’t?  Uh, me either!…).  Let’s get it started for next year!  Why not try your hand at lasagna gardening?  You’ll be layering moistened “brown” and “green” layers of compostable materials and topping the whole thing with finished compost or rich soil.  Then you just keep the whole thing moist and let nature do its work.  Come springtime–voila–beautiful, black gold ideal for planting.

2.  Make some countertop kefir!  Get started with this lady –she REALLY knows her stuff.

3.  Why not grow mushrooms in a cool, dark corner of your little homestead?  This winter I’ll be growing shiitakes and oyster mushrooms!  Then I’ll be trying this OMG recipe for Creamy, Buttery, Chive-y Caviar-Like Mushrooms or, heck, even this Mushroom, Jalapeño, and Cilantro Salsa.

4.  Make some homebrew, dudes!  Right now The Boy’s got Bourbon Pecan Pie Ale and Gingerbread Pumpkin Pie Ale on tap in the old refrigerator he converted to a kegerator.  Now or soon-to-be bubbling away in our fermentation room:  Hard Apple Cider, Whiskey-Spiked Christmas Porter, and Ye Olde English Bitter.  We’re also considering putting up some mead made with local, raw honey.  (Have you ever eaten raw honey?  Ohmygoodnessgracious, you haven’t?!  GO.  DO.)

5. Cure some meat!  Why not try your hand at duck breast prosciutto or even–gasp!–an entire ham?

6.  Churn your own butter!  Simply leave some heavy cream on the counter for 12 hours to sour, pour it into a jar that’s big enough to still be 2/3 empty, and shake!  It’ll get super thick and heavy and then…BAM!  A hunk of butter sitting in a pool of buttermilk!  Press the resulting butter with a wet wooden spoon to squeeze out all the buttermilk, wash it under cold water ’til it runs clear, press it again, and then mix with a bit of fine-grain salt.  The Boy, The Brother, and I did this one recent Saturday night (shut up) and the fun was off the hook.  I think The Guys really liked flexing their muscles, and we all liked spoiling our appetites with fresh-baked bread slathered with soft, just-churned butter.  Not sure what to do with the leftover buttermilk?  I’m judging you right now, because if you don’t think of biscuits and pancakes immediately upon acquiring buttermilk, you must not be “ONE OF US”…

::heavy breathing::

–Alright, so that was unsettling and I promise not to do it again.  For at least a few days.  Or more like, 12 hours.  6 hours.  3?  ::heavy breathing::  Okay, well, guess you’ll have to take the BMG just as I am.

What was I saying?

Oh, yes, you can freeze buttermilk.  Just do it in small increments (1/2 or 1 cup) so you can take out just what you need for your recipe.

7.  Make cheese!  You may remember my ricotta recipe , but you can also experiment with mozzarella, farmer’s cheese, kefir cheese, or even some homemade cheddar!

8.  Ferment some sauerkraut, the natural way.

9.  Got a bin of green tomatoes on hand?  Use them for making relish, or let them turn red and cook up a batch of this Sweet & Savory Tomato Jam. (The tomato jam is delicious, but I prefer mine a little less sweet.  If you do, too, and you’re not planning on canning it, I’d halve the sugar.)

10.  Tell me you went apple picking.  I go every year–just wouldn’t be fall without it.  And it just so happens to be the way you and I got to know each other.  Did you know that pectin, that stuff that sets jams, jellies, and preserves, occurs naturally in the peels, stems, cores, and seeds of apples?  Recently I froze my harvest with a dry-pack method and SAVED THE PEELS AND CORES to make a beautiful pink apple jelly!  Everything else went into my sugar-free pink applesauce. 

11.  Scoop up the last of the tomatillos from the market and make some salsa verde to freeze.

12.  Roast some winter squash and freeze it in 1 cup increments for pies and muffins!  I seem to be doing this weekly, as I just haven’t met a punkin I didn’t like.  So you probably know the typical method for roasting pumpkins: chop ’em in half, scoop out the seeds, roast in a 425 oven face-down until they’re super soft, food-process the pulp.  But how about putting that slow-cooker to work?  Put the halves (or quarters, or eighths…you may have to cut them down to fit) into the stoneware, add a splash of water, cover, and slow cook on high until tender.  Save the seeds…

13.  And then roast those seeds!  Rinse ’em off, toss them with a bit of olive oil and sea salt, and roast at 375 until they’re toasty and crunchy, stirring occasionally.  When they’re done, eat ’em as they are, sprinkle a handful outside for the squirrels to enjoy (yes, I AM that much of a softie, but only when they’ve STAYED THE EFF AWAY from my garden), or turn them into brittle candy!

14.  Eat your greens.  At this point, your fresh produce consumption has already dropped, and you need to compensate by boosting your diet with nutrient-rich food.  Enter kale, chard, and the multitude of other cold-weather greens that are now sweeter and more tender thanks to a little frosty weather!  Try this raw kale salad–I  actually like it better without the bread crumbs–or make this delicious Chorizo, Chickpea, & Sweet Potato Soup (I added kale).

15. Try your hand at homemade laundry detergent.  You’ll feel like a frugalista.  Did I just say “frugalista”?  Excuse me while I go kill myself.

16.  Knit something!  The 6-Hour Afghan (free pattern at Lion Brand’s website; you’ll just have to register as a member.  Search “6 hour afghan”.) makes an awesome gift (for someone who will appreciate it!  Remember, non-knitters have a limited capacity to understand all the time, money, and effort that goes into knitted projects!).  It’s also easy enough for a beginner to tackle, and comes together so satisfyingly fast, you probably won’t even abandon it halfway through!  Not that anybody I know regularly abandons knitting projects halfway through…

Anyhoo, when I was new to knitting, I churned out two of these babies–shades of purple for Mom, shades of pink for Aunt Pat–and true to the claims, each took less than 6 hours.

17. Research some breeds of miniature livestock and plan for the day when your urban homestead has a wee bit of land to play with.  Don’t you just LOVE the idea of a miniature jersey cow wandering around your backyard, grazing on your lawn, mooing every now and then for a milking?  I bet your neighbors would think you’re just the bee’s knees!*

*Your neighbors will probably not think you are the bee’s knees, they will probably try to gas you in your sleep, and also, I just said “the bee’s knees.”  The bee’s knees.  There, did it again.*

18.  Check out some chicken coop building plans if you fancy a d.i.y project, or consider asking for one of these for Christmas!  Then plan your flock on this fantastic site.

19.  Review your garden notes from this year (you did make those, right?) or sit down to pen your observations, hopes, and plans for next year’s plot while it’s all still fresh in your mind.  Nothing like dreamin’ bout Heirloom Tomatoes (you must read this book!) to get you through those cold, lonely nights.  Also, The Boy is good for that but you can’t have him ’cause he’s mine and stuff.  Get your own The Boy.

20.  Start a countertop sprout farm!  No soil, light, or hard labor necessary!  Of course, you do run the risk of pining after some seriously kiff sprouting equipment.

Those are just a few of the projects we’re involved with this year–what are you up to?  Will you be trying any of these?  Have any suggestions of your own?

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