In the Living Kitchen

Musings, memories, meals in the making.

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It’s the little things…

photo-16This post is really about tempeh. I promise.

Our household is in that place where when we feel like spending a little extra beyond our monthly bills, we do a 3-4 month budget projection. Inevitably, it turns out there isn’t any extra, and that is clear when the mortgage is due 3 months into the future.

I don’t want to paint the wrong picture. I am not suffering in any real way. Chinese takeout once or twice a month, yoga class once a week, a beer or two every so often. Plus, we are paying our mortgage! It’s fine. But how I covet things. Don’t let the fact that I only have 5 pairs of shoes* (3 of which are 8 years old) fool you. I covet shoes. And other apparel. Kitchen towels. Appliances. Organic sheets. Things.

When I was little, my family didn’t have much. I think it must have been pretty hard on my folks having three young kids always asking for stuff, but never really being able to provide. Instead of saying no, they got in the habit of saying, “someday.” We’d plan on these half promises so much that our parents would actually take us to the store to look at and pick out the things that they would buy us someday. I have very fond memories of a three story Victorian doll house, the polished miniature dining set, intricate curtains, iron bed, rotary telephone, and patterned rugs that I adored, examined, obsessed over, and never owned. I went to Hobby Lobby every week one summer just to look at the doll house that I would own someday.

photo-15So, yes, I will admit it, I get depressed when there isn’t any extra, because I like to think that someday I’ll be able to buy stuff. This cycle is in my blood. True to my upbringing, the best cure I have found for this gloom is Home Goods, the discount home goods store. Everything at Home Goods is either a factory second or an over stock. I always enjoy myself the most at Home Goods when I go in resolved not to buy anything. That’s always when  I find a gem, like I did on Sunday evening. I was walking around, scrutinizing every slightly rejected item on the shelf, as usual. I was in the kitchen section, where I always begin, when I spied a three tiered cooling rack.

For about 3-4 months, I have been making tempeh. The problem is, the incubator, an old mini-fridge outfitted with a light bulb and a thermostat, only has two tiny shelves, and therefore I can only fit 2 batches of tempeh in at a time. The bottom shelf is plexiglass, and there is no circulation. To remedy this, Sam placed our turkey roasting rack, which we no longer have a need for roasting turkey, on top of the plexiglass shelf to help with air flow, but it makes the tempeh wonky, and sometimes the tempeh incubated on these shelves has patches that haven’t “tempehed.”

This post really is about tempeh!

So, there I am in Home Goods, looking at what normally I would think is a worthless piece of crap, that I spied for no reason at all on the bottom shelf, and all I can think of is how this three tiered cooling rack might solve my tempeh problems. I show it to Sam, thinking he is going to tell me its way too big, since I have terrible judgement when it comes to that sort of thing, and he nods his head pensively. There is hope.

I shell out the $9.99, which might take its toll in March, and the entire ride home all I can think of is that this rack is going to be way too big, and we are going to have a three tiered cooling rack that I am going to have to store it in the basement.

When we get home, I grab the rack, open it, pull the incubating tempeh off the shelves, and slide the rack in. It fits perfectly. This thing has made me so

*OKAY. Yes. 5 pairs of shoes is a ridiculously silly way of proving my point. I know. But I still want new ones.

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A Day in this Year


Chocolate stout cake with brown sugar frosting. The frosting wasn't perfect, but I suffered through it anyway.

I start this song-birdy Sunday off unlike any other day in recent memory. Out of bed at 7:00 am (I usually wake up at 4:45 during the week and reserve weekends to lounge around in bed until 8 or 9), not coffee but tea, making several weekend plans for March, April, May and June (unheard of in the past four years), and thinking about the work I will do in the small garden plot I am installing at work.

My mind doesn’t quite know how to wrap itself around the fact that I am not planning, worrying, plotting and thinking about the farm that is no longer in my care. I checked a non-farmy book out from the library a month and a half ago and never opened it before I returned it over-due. I still plan on attempting to read a work of fiction, however I have already started reading a book about growing winter greens.

I wonder, how I am coping with this new space in my brain? I am trying to fill it with niceties, but something else is creeping in. It is clear that this limbotic, seemingly still moment in my life, the year I turn 30, has made it clear that there is some major stirring within, a stirring I cannot even fathom, a stirring that is quite scary, ancient, dark, and necessary. Farm work took up those happy little spaces in my brain that had tortured me so long, and now, well, now there is room. Nature abhors a vacuum.


I guess writing is the key coping mechanism. Perhaps urge is more apt. This writing, just this writing, so far. I ordered a book called “Writing Down the Bones,” a sort of workbook I guess. Another urge. Gravitate towards the things you thought might heal you way back when, when the wounds were almost certainly fatal.

Ah. And I realize the other elephant in the room of coping is running. Yes running. Nothing else quite like the bone shaking addiction of running. As I write, I am resisting the urge to run today since I know my body can’t handle it 7 days a week. Yes, I know. I don’t quite cope, I beat myself into submission. Here’s to trying!

So, I have also made a lot of cakes, eaten a lot of cakes, and run, a lot, eaten more cake. And written once.


Mexican Hot Chocolate Birthday Cake: Cinnamon scented four layer chocolate cake with chile ganache between the layers and whipped coconut cream frosting on top.

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A dress, a dress, a dress

I am planning a wedding, my wedding to be exact, and it’s not as easy as thought it would be. I was in denial about the whole thing for a while. Not about being with Sam, no! I have been in denial of how difficult making something exactly what I want it to be is. And this something is a big celebration with lots of somethings needed to make it perfect. I always picture things perfectly but nothing is ever as perfect as pictured.

Right now the something I am working on is the dress. What fun is a wedding without getting all gussied up? Okay, there’s the friends, the music, the food, but if ever there were an excuse to dress up, your own wedding is the place. I have never been one to plan much ahead, or do anything in advance, so when I was looking at dresses every so often on the web 8 months before our wedding, I thought I was on top of the ball. When I was thinking about when to go dress shopping 6 months before our wedding date, I thought I was golden. I thought, why not wait until I am at my “farming weight” to buy a dress so it won’t need to be altered so much? That would put me in July, 3-4 months before our wedding. Apparently not a good idea. So after a few gasps at this news from friends and acquaintances, I made some appointments and am going dress shopping in 4 days.

The whole commercial-cultural-bridal-craze notwithstanding, I can understand where the custom of finding a dress 6-8 months prior to the wedding day comes from. A quality, handmade garment takes time. On top of that, I would like my dress to be made of ethically sourced, sustainably manufactured materials, which, when you pair that with style, is rare. Is this my form of being a “bridezilla?” Asking people, “Who made this? How much do they get paid? Where is the material from? What’s it made of? Does it contain toxic chemicals?” Or rather, shouldn’t this be my attitude every single time I spend a dime? I admit to falling off the wagon when necessity outweighs price or availability, but perhaps it should take 6 months to shop for anything?

Plus, there’s the white thing to boot. Here’s the thing, I don’t really want to wear white. I am not pure, I am not a virgin, why misrepresent? Turns out, a white wedding dress is actually a quite arbitrary wedding tradition. While most people think it’s a symbol of purity (ahem) it’s not. Or at least, that’s not why the tradition started. Which, you would think would make it okay with me. So, I admit it, the five-year-old inside of me who was raised to think that her only value in life would be to serve god, get a husband and have children always pictured a white dress. And while I sometimes coo (silently) at some of these dresses I am seeing, I really am trying to rebel against that little five-year-old me, even though I am fulfilling her “happily ever after” fantasy, after many promises not to.

Besides, what’s the point of buying a beautiful dress that fits perfectly if you will never wear it again? I was recently told that it used to be custom to wear your wedding dress to a dinner party soon after being wed. Because your wedding dress was just a dress. What happened to that custom? Well, I could tell you my theory, but this has gone on long enough.

I decided that I need a place for this wedding stuff, and for a while, this is going to be it. For about 3 months I haven’t spoken about it to any one. But we are planning some really amazing stuff! An awesome band (or maybe two!)! Practically handmade invitations by local artisans! Kegs of home brew for the big day! Home-grown vegetables for the food! Home-grown flowers too! Vintage table cloths! Paper lanterns every where! Pies, oh my, pies!

(Although, I must say, I find it awesome that my fermentation posts are getting so many hits. Keep fermenting!)

Lastly, here is Sam’s vegan chocolate birthday cake. His favorite foods? Chocolate cake and pizza. Oh, that guy.

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Greens, Roots and Eating

I feel like starting off by saying, “I’m back folks”, although I think that would be silly and out of place.  I am back, from farming, from the 2010 season and from my other blog.  I have a ton of food posts I am dying to write, although some of them might be a bit out of season since I have been saving them up since June.  Oh well.  I always knew I’d be one of those “promising to write” bloggers.

Frosted Cold Frames

We did a stellar job making sure we have some good greens and roots this winter.  Three cold frames full of greens; 100 feet of kale, 25 feet of raab, and 10 feet of chard in the field; and some spinach, cabbage and mustard scattered about.  Not to mention the potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, celeriac, radishes and parsnips.  There’s more, but you should just wait for the post titled “My Winter Pantry.”  I might not have made money this year, but I sure am going to eat well.

Sam is working two jobs now, and comes home at 8 every night.  I, on the other hand, work the total of half a job, and have been home all day.  So I have taken up the task of obsessing over dinner.

Here’s my stellar menu plan for this week:

Linguine with Vodka Sauce and Garlic Greens*

Mole Poblano Enchiladas (homegrown black beans!)

Cabbage Gratin with Potato Galette

Braised Tofu Soup with Buckwheat Soba and Seaweed Salad*

Leek Quiche with Potato Crust

Mushroom Stroganoff with Roasted Parsnips

(*already eaten)

I always make enough to serve for lunch the next day, which has made life considerably less stressful.  Sam and I both hate waking up in the morning and making lunch before heading off to work.  Sam will just eat bagel chips all day, which is a sin, and I will go hungry, so skimming lunch portions from dinner is really the best solution for everyone involved.

Since I have had a very tiring day of sleeping in, watching sleeping kitties, browsing seed catalogs and facebooking, I have only the energy to post a very simple parsnip recipe.  I won’t even put it in proper recipe form.  But oh my is it delicious.

Roasted Parsnips with Maple and Lemon

4 servings

Preheat oven to 375.  Peel and cut 2 pounds of parsnips into chunks.  Toss with 3 TBS grapeseed oil, juice of half a lemon, zest of half a lemon, 2 TBS maple syrup, salt and a dash of nutmeg.  Spread on a parchment lined baking sheet and roast until golden on the outside and creamy on the inside, about 30 minutes.  Turn them at least once during the roasting process and do not burn!



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No Time Season.

(Yeah, no time at all which is why I am writing this post!  All photos were taken specifically for posts I never wrote.)

I wish I had some sort of recording device hooked up to my brain so that my thoughts could be transcribed in this here blog while I am working.  Okay, not all of them.  A lot of the time I am just worrying, giving myself an ulcer and all that.  But sometimes, my mind mulls over quite interesting topics, such as the theory of special relativity (fellow Johnnies will appreciate that), the ethics of eating locally, and lately I’ve been thinking a lot about Plato, modern feminism and herbal salves.

But alas, at the end of the day, I come home, realize that I will be back at work in eight hours, feel the need to eat dinner even though I am falling asleep, and go to bed.  All thought save the farm one flee.  I have three books on the nightstand: Breads from La Brea Bakery, Heavenly Bodies, Earthly Hair, and Healing with Whole Foods.  I wish I could say I have made progress with any of them, however, I fall asleep after reading one page these days.  (The bread book is, so far, awesome, in that the breads I have made from it have turned out well.  I keep it by my nightstand because the two times I have used it I have had to set an alarm for 3:00 AM in order to ready the dough for its second rise.  You got to understand, these recipes must be followed to the letter!)

I have spoken to other laborers about this, and we all agree, work begets thought.  My mind is hungry for topics, but I can’t muster the energy to give it any new stuff (hence the constant worrying).  I can say this though, I do have these moments when I feel one with my work, when there seem to be no thoughts in my brain, just observance of the task at hand.  It doesn’t last long, but it’s quite refreshing, akin to jumping into the pond.

I will be spending time now writing posts ion my CSA blog, since the season begins June 1.  There will be recipes galore and farm news and so on every Sunday.  So I think I will probably just be posting goofy pictures of my culinary exploits on this blog.  Or maybe writing haiku poetry.   Or perhaps that device will materialize and I will start writing a novel while toiling in the field.  You never know.


Frugal Fridays

When I was admiring the strong beet seedlings last week, I began fantasizing about the full grown, first late-spring beets: medium sized, sweet, with delicious leafy greens.  Then I realized that I still have beets stored in our basement.  I have been eating beets for months now.  That really took all the fun out of spring beets.

Add this to the fact that we still have butternut squashes and a freezer full of preserved food, and I decided to take action in the form of a challenge:  To not purchase any food for as long as we can take it, a minimum of two weeks.

We are officially on day 5.  Normally, we would have gone to the store on Sunday, but we have been trudging right along.  Our meals have been a mixed bag.  For instance, I would not wish tonight’s dinner on my worst enemy.  Weird frozen udon noodles with frozen (over ripe) green beans topped with hot dried chilies (the best part) and a strange sauce made with an even stranger fermented black bean sauce (that basically came in a jar, why did I ever buy that?) .  Most of the foods in our house that are still in the freezer or condiments that we still have after months are items that flabbergast me now.  Like frozen (over-ripe) greens beans.  I know now that I enjoy pickled dilly beans so much more than frozen green beans.  The proof is in the pudding, we have been out of dilly beans for months and still have 5 or 6 bags of frozen green beans to go.

On the plus side, I found a bag of frozen, sauteed fennel (score).  One last bag of roasted, diced eggplant (very nice).  We now have enough room in our freezer for the six gallon-sized bags full of tomatoes that have been housed in a friend’s freezer.  I am putting tomatoes in everything.

Some meals feel like cheating, like when we had black beans and rice for dinner.  Others are glorious:  kale and seaweed over soba noodles.  I am actually looking forward to getting down to the wire, when we really are almost out of food, and have to be really creative.  After all, we won’t have a good supply of spring greens until the very end of May.  This challenge has already forced me to rethink feeding my food cravings at all times.

Update:  Since I wrote this on Friday and am posting it on Sunday, I can add that Sam was excited that he might be able to buy cereal at the store today, since our challenge has lasted a week.  “Cereal?” I replied, “Cereal?  This challenge is not over!  You do not need cereal!”  I must be firm.


The Day We Picked Dandelions: A Prelude to Wine

Now that last week is over, and the rain is watering in seeds, seedlings and onion plants today, I can relax a bit.  Sam and I had quite the stormy affair last week, not the romantic kind.  Last year, we had all kinds of blow-outs that all stemmed from broken expectations, full schedules and the stress of the season.  This year, starting in the winter, we planned certain perimeters and schedules that we thought might help the tension caused by running a small farming business together.  It’s actually funny to me, looking back on all that planning, and all the planning we always do.  We are like two busy little relationship bees, building a hive of security.  We are so eager to fix our issues that sometimes we miss the whole point, and it inevitably comes in a thunderstorm and knocks the whole hive over.  Every time.  And still we never see it coming.

We have been planning on making dandelion wine for months now, ever since we had a vintage bottle of Jay and Polly’s dandelion wine that blew us away with deliciousness.  Yesterday was the day we had planned on the arduous task of picking 5 gallons of dandelion petals for the wine.  Yesterday also began with a nice little argue fest, the forth argue fest day in a row.  After an hour or so of tense arguing, I told Sam to go pick dandelion flowers by himself.  It’s funny how fast feelings of anger and urgency diffuse once the setting changes.  It took me 10 minutes to recompose myself once alone, and I spent the next couple of hours running errands around town and taking in the beautiful spring day.  I held the awareness of our rocky week together in the background of my mind, not quite sure what to think of it, but not quite uncomfortable with it either.  I pulled up the farm when all my errands were complete, singing, “I’m a man-man-man eater” loudly along with Neko Case, and spotted Sam sitting silently in a patch of dandelion.  (Sam later told me he was a little worried for his safety by my song choice, I told him I had been listening to it on repeat.)

I joined him with my yellow pot and he showed me his seasoned technique for de-petaling the dandelions.  After all, he had been doing it for two hours.  We moved from spot to spot around the farm, chatting every so often, but mostly silent.  At one point, we were in a nice patch and I noticed that the dandelions were big, fat, and had full, pollen filled manes.

“I read somewhere that dandelions were brought here by settlers for their beauty,” I said.

“Yeah, I read that too,” Sam replied.

“I feel like I am seeing these dandelions for the first time today, as I am ripping out their petals.  They really are beautiful.”

“Yeah, I was just thinking the same thing.”