Cook what’s there, from the garden to the back of the fridge Roasted potatoes with fennel, green beans, and old cheese

My cooking generally strikes a funky balance between super fresh things from the garden and whatever is about to grow hair in my fridge. I’ve enjoyed making food so much more since letting go of a strict adherence to recipes and learning to cook with what I have. The recipes I share are seasonal, adaptable, and non-judgmental.

Last year a friend traded me seed potatoes for strawberry plants. I have never grown potatoes because I was sure they would be covered in diseases and get eaten by evil pests, which would then proceed to eat the rest of my garden. Besides, I Knew For A Fact that eating potatoes was like shooting refined sugar straight into your veins. I threw the nightmare nuggets into a bucket of straw and ignored them for three months. The handful of (pink!) potatoes they grew (no diseases!) were delicious, so this year I dedicated a 3×8 bed to Terra Rosa, Purple Majesty, and Amarosa fingerlings.


Now comes the reckoning. I have a ton of potatoes that need eating, but mashed potatoes is about all I’ve ever made.

I didn’t take any pictures of the prep because I thought it would be a horrendous failure. I don’t even know what to call it. After eating it reheated for the second night, the fennel, parsley, and garam masala seem the most important from a flavor perspective, but substitute whatever you need to!

This takes about an hour and a half to cook, but not that long for prep.

What You Need

  • ~3 lbs potatoes
  • 1 fennel bulb
  • 1 head of garlic
  • 1 bunch of leafy greens (chard, kale, sweet potato greens, Asian greens, spinach, arugula, whatever you have or can get)
  • 1 bunch of fresh parsley
  • 1 lb green beans
  • ~8 ounces of cheese of some kind
  • olive oil, salt, garam masala, citrus juice of some kind
  • tinfoil, casserole dish at least 9×13

What You Do

I kinda sorta peeled the potatoes where the skin was rough or there were eyes. Slice the potatoes about 1/3 inch thick, grease a big casserole dish, and lay the slices out. Preheat the oven to 350F. Peel the cloves of a head of garlic and drop them in whole amongst the potatoes. Chop the fennel and distribute it across the top.


I harvested this just in the knick of time before it separated and went to seed.

In a bowl, mix 1/4 cup olive oil, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp garam masala (the ingredients are common so if you don’t have this you might be able to make it, which I’ve done in a pinch), a splash of lemon or lime juice. Or cider vinegar if that’s what you have. I had a nearly disgusting container of chévre in the fridge that I whisked in. Cream cheese would work fine, or something else fatty and creamy, or nothing. Pour this over the potatoes evenly. I then layered the top with pre-sliced cheddar cheese. I ran out so there were gaps. Any cheese is fine, though less if it’s a salty hard cheese like parmesan.

Cover tightly with tin foil and stick it in the oven for about an 1:15.

I shredded a pile of chard and some fresh parsley and set them aside to mix in at serving time. I like my greens just wilted so usually mixing them with hot food is enough. The beans are Cherokee Trail of Tears, which are an excellent multi-purpose pole bean for green beans, soup beans, or drying. Frozen green beans are a fine substitute. I roughly chopped the beans and sautéed them with a little butter just until their green deepened.

Fill bowls with the fresh greens and green beans and just add in the potatoes when they are done, and mix.

Just to be safe, take a last look in your fridge to see if anything else is fermenting back there that needs to be used. I found a bunch of sliced manchego that sat out all day at summer camp in my toddler’s lunch (because he only eats things that are crunchy and therefore only likes cheese that is hard and thank heavens for Costco). I pried apart the greasy mess and crumbled it on top of my bowl once everything else was combined.

Voilá! Of course I forgot my husband can’t abide goat cheese, but he ate it anyway, which is saying a lot. My children won’t touch it, so I get it all to myself!

Growing ginger and turmeric in the home garden an easy crop for new and seasoned gardeners

It’s the first week of June–the perfect time to plant your own ginger and turmeric! These two are some of the hardest to get truly fresh anywhere other than your own garden and are also expensive. I have a bad habit of wanting to grow everything, even if it’s far flung, but this was one of those that turned out lovely. I’ve been growing my own ginger and turmeric for three years and it’s easy and satisfying. They are pest and disease free plants that don’t even need full sun.


turmeric from the garden, ready for eating or preserving

As long as you have a decent summer (probably Zone 7 and up), you can get a good crop in one season outside. The pros overwinter it in a greenhouse (by nature this is a tropical plant so letting it get cold is a no-no), but it works fine to plant around the time you’d put sweet potatoes in and then harvest before the first frost.

Ginger and turmeric like humidity, moisture, good drainage, and filtered sun. If you have spots in the garden too shady for full sun crops, these will be happy there.

Conventional turmeric and ginger rhizomes may be irradiated, which makes them hard to propagate, so buy organic or from a farmer.  Our local natural grocers carry both, as does a vendor at our local farmer’s market.

What you need

  • healthy (not shriveled or moldy) organic ginger and turmeric rhizomes with lots of happy “eyes”
this ginger isn't perfect, because i'm not perfect and i was busy with other parts of life and left it in the fridge too long. but if it has a nice eye like this it'll do.

this ginger isn’t perfect because i’m not perfect and i was busy with other parts of life and left it in the fridge too long. but if it has a nice eye like this it’ll do.

  • a sharp knife
  • large pots or garden bed with rich, well drained soil (3:1 organic potting mix and compost works well for pots)

What you do

  1. Cut the roots into pieces at least one inch long with at least one eye, ideally two. It’s tempting to cut them too small because they are so expensive, but if none of them sprout you lose the investment anyway. Eight ounces of turmeric provides 20-30 eyes, ginger a little less because usually the roots are fatter.oh look, i said that and then i still cut them too small. oh well, i did this last year also and they grew anyway.
  2. Plant them 3x their length deep. They are slow starters so give them a month to show above ground. I often add hardwood mulch to keep down the weeds while you wait.
  3. Keep them well mulched, weeded, and watered.
  4. To harvest, gently loosen the soil with a digging fork as late in the fall as possible before first frost.
  5. Separate big rhizomes from those too small to be useful. Repot the small ones in a large pot and put it somewhere out of the way. Water about once a month and next spring you can jump start planting with these little buggers.

    rinsed, with roots, and ready to be processed

    rinsed, with roots, and ready to be processed

IMG_20151017_200212097Wash harvested rhizomes and eat fresh, without peeling. They’ll last a few weeks in the fridge wrapped in paper towels. To preserve longer, cure by leaving out for a day or two inside, then store in brandy. This also gives you turmeric/gingered brandy to flavor soups and sauces or take as a tonic for colds.

But wait! Don’t compost those green stems. They are lovely dried or fresh in teas or soups, or sautéed fresh with veggies.

The Farm’s tofu dip: an old spring recipe revisited

When I got married I had my mother in law make a batch of this amazing tofu dip and pack it up for me with cucumber slices. I knew I wasn’t going to get to eat much of the mouth watering Allen and Son barbecue as we made the rounds, talking to our loved ones.

No, we aren’t even close to vegetarian, but this is my favorite dip. It has become lunch many times as I chase wild children and can’t stop to make food, and it keeps forever in the fridge (several weeks, you’ll see why). When I made my most recent batch we were all recovering from months of nasty colds and I realized it’s also a tremendous immune boosting food, when made with the fresh ingredients listed below.

I had her write the recipe down for me and she told me it was from her old The Farm cookbook. This has become a family favorite in the springtime when the snap peas are in full swing. This version is more nourishing and less sweet; I’ll explain the substitutions as I go. It’s just about the easiest thing I make.


even delicious with the sliced cucumbers your toddler spits back out–see above

What You Need

  • One pack of firm tofu, which is about 2 cups (I get a sprouted organic tofu that is still only a few bucks at the HoFo)
  • One smallish onion or half of a big one (I found some long forgotten perennial bunching onions in an overgrown corner of the garden and used one of those!)
  • As much garlic as you like (the original recipe called for 2 tsp garlic powder but I use 3 big fresh cloves)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4-1/2 cup olive oil (love me some Costco EVOO…and I usually end up using closer to a cup but start with less to get the consistency as you like it)
  • 2 tsp soy sauce (I use more like 2 table spoons)
  • 1/4 cup vinegar (the original recipe calls for white vinegar, who knows why. I use spring tonic when I’m lucky enough to have some of what my mama makes me each winter in good cider vinegar, but plain cider vinegar is also delicious)
  • A handful of fresh herbs. This isn’t in the original recipe and it’s fine plain, but I like to toss in a handful of something–basil, thyme and oregano, whatever is growing in the yard. It makes a pretty green color and spices it up a bit.
  • The original recipe calls for a pack of stevia, which I leave out because I am a savory kind of gal.

What You Do

  • Put the liquidiest and mushiest ingredients in the blender first and just dump it all in. Blend until it’s smooth. I break the tofu into chunks but if you have a good blender it really doesn’t matter.

If my toddler leaves any snap peas for the rest of us, they are perfect for dipping.

Happy spring!

Dandelion Rosemary Shortbread

We are finally in the thick of real spring. There are no more frost warnings, no more chilly nights. I’ve closed the screen curtains on the porch as the babies sport the first pink welts of the season. Every rain washes the world clean of chalky yellow pollen and gives us a few days respite. I’m no longer caught off guard by shade where there was none a few days ago; the trees have fully leafed out, but are still fresh, super bright green.

In the garden, this is the time of year I’ve been holding my breath for as I weed and mulch, water, harden off, and plant. There is a week every year, around the start of April, when all of a sudden things that were just inching along finally get moving. I harvest lettuce, spinach, herbs, and strawberries every day and try to keep up with the slugs.  The peas are taller if you look away for a minute. The carrots finally look like more than sprouts. You can almost see things growing if you stand still long enough.


It is salad season, our favorite time of year perhaps because it is so short lived. Just a few happy weeks of enormous bowls of garden greens before the lettuce bolts. But I’m not complaining. It wouldn’t be special if it lasted forever, and when the lettuce is gone it’s because it is time to harvest peas and potatoes, with cucumbers, basil, and tomatoes not far off.

This recipe was made for this kind of moment. You can’t make it except when the dandelions are blooming.

It’s also quite possibly the most satisfying baked good I’ve made in years because I know nothing about shortbread, did the whole thing with a toddler underfoot, and it was still fast, simple, and came out yummy the first time around.

I modified this recipe to use the ingredients I had on hand and speed things up, as well as be slightly less sweet (the original recipe is sweeter than traditional shortbread). This version is not GF but easily could be, as you’ll see. The honey, imo, is what makes this absolutely rock. Something about how it combines with the butter. My kitchen has never smelled so good.

What You Need

  • fresh Rosemary (2 T)
  • Dandelion blossoms (1/4 cup)
  • flour (2 cups)
  • salt (1/4 tsp or “a pinch”)
  • fresh ground pepper (obviously optional, 1/4 tsp)
  • sugar (1/3 cup)
  • honey (1/3 cup)
  • butter (2 sticks, one cup)
  • a flat cooking surface
  • a mixer, unless you like creaming butter and sugar by hand

What You Do


Go outside with your toddler and pick a bunch of dandelions (avoid the roadside and people’s RoundUp-ed yards). Two big handfuls should do it. This was the most fun. He kept bringing the mature seed heads and blowing them throughout the garden. Super helpful. I just remind myself every flower I pick is a few hundred fewer seeds for him to spread.

Use a pair of scissors to snip the bloom from the stem. It doesn’t actually matter if some of the sepal goes in. I use kitchen scissors to cut up the fresh rosemary too. Chop it all up with the scissors. I do it in a tall ramekin…it’s how most “fine chopping” happens around here. Looks like leafy green vegecide.

Preheat the oven to 325 and prepare a baking surface. I used lard on a cast iron skillet, but it’s not like this thing moves around so use whatever.

Blend the butter, sugar, and honey on low/med-low until creamy. I used sucanat and honey that had crystalized into a big lump because that’s what I had. If you want it more savory still, drop down to 1/4 cup of each. I let it mix for a good long time as I was worried about my wonky ingredients. Didn’t seem to matter. I also used salted butter because I love salt and that’s what I had. Heathen, I know.

Add in the chopped plant matter. I put in an extra pinch of salt and some freshly ground pepper. Add the flour slowly. I used sprouted white wheat flour. The original recipe called for rice flour. Use what you’ve got, didn’t seem to matter in the slightest. Well, I can’t vouch for coconut flour. That might make it mess-upable.

As soon as the dough is smooth, scrape it out onto your baking surface and shape it into a circle about 1/3 inch thick. Slice it with a sharp knife however you want the finished shape to be. A different recipe I read said to score it with a fork so I did.

IMG_20160424_114226802_HDRBake. The original recipe said 20 minutes or until just golden. But I didn’t use rice flour, dropped the cheese entirely, did not chill the dough or cut it into cute little circles. Mine cooked for approximately 30 minutes plus some time on the hot cast iron after and came out perfect. I think the sucanat takes longer than white sugar to do nice things and the sprouted whole wheat flour may also have made it take longer. It was fine, only an hour after the toddler should have started nap. He made a game of jumping off his rocker onto the floor. As an excellent mother, I suggested it would be safe as long as he jumped onto the rug instead of the concrete, then went back to baking.

I let it cool for maybe 10 min in the skillet, but didn’t want the bottom getting soggy so as soon as it seemed firm I dragged it carefully onto the drying rack. Voilà!


Climate change gardening: Tips for planning ahead

In the past two decades our USDA hardiness zone has shifted from zone 7 to zone 8. That’s an enormous change. Despite the Bush administration USDA’s attempt to muffle the information, the Arbor Day Foundation published real maps using the same data and you can see what an enormous movement we are talking about.

It is pretty much guaranteed that our food supply will continue to experience pressures from a rapidly changing world climate (wikipedia has a nice summary with article links). It’s also quite likely the rate of change will pick up, perhaps in unexpected ways.

While many of us garden to save money or get outdoors, with a nod to self sufficiency or local food movements, figuring out how to garden for climate change is a different mindset. It’s not as simple as expecting it to be warmer a few years down the road. It means planning for greater variation, greater disease and pest pressure as plants and soils try to adapt, and building connections to the people in your area who are really good at what they do so that you have the resources you need, when you need them. Luckily a lot of what decreases the environmental footprint of my garden and makes it more resilient will make it cheaper and more successful, whether or not the climate creates new challenges.

Nowadays many of us live in cities that are densely urban with little green space. You can’t do any kind of major gardening under these circumstances, though there’s a lot you can do in pots and in community garden spaces…but that’s another post.

Start small but start now

I’ve been passionately gardening for a decade. My mother is a skilled and experienced gardener, as are many of my friends and neighbors. I still experiment in disastrous ways and make mistakes every year that cost me money, time, and harvest. Probably the biggest things I’ve learned from all this are be organized, keep notes on successes and failures, ask advice from local experts, and don’t buy anything that with a bit of creative thinking you could make, borrow, or substitute.

I watch new gardeners make the same mistakes I did with great gusto and zero interest in hearing people tell them to be more conservative. I was also deaf to words of wisdom at those same stages in my gardening journey. Give yourself time to figure it out, especially if you worry that at some point it will need to be something more than a hobby.

Don’t put off gardening for years because your space isn’t just how you want it, your neighbors might object, or you don’t have time or money. When someone on your local listserv says “I have extra such and such plants if you’ll come get them,” go get them if you think you might have a place and a use. Grow what you can in the space that you have and work on developing the site bit by bit.

Don’t invest too much at the edge of your hardiness zone

This is a classic gardeners’ dilemma because everyone wants to do as much as they can for as long as they can. But there’s a reason southern food culture revolves around sweet potatoes, sorghum, beans, watermelon, okra, blackberries, and dark leafy greens (chard, beets, turnips). These are crops that tolerate hot summers and dry spells while staying fairly disease resistant in our humid climate. These are crops homesteaders could grow reliably before the advent of chemical farming; they are crops you can grow that way now.

If you are going to tinker at the low edge, do your research and do it from multiple sources. Nurseries are inclined to tell you a broader hardiness range than is realistic. If no one is doing it in your area, maybe you’ve hit upon the world’s best-kept secret, but more likely old timers have tried it and figured out it didn’t work.

When I wanted to grow raspberries, all kinds of sources told me their varieties were everything-resistant and happy in my zone. Then I dug into the always-awesome NC Cooperative Extension resources (all available online, often with separate commercial and home gardening publications) and found that certain types of raspberries would be way more high maintenance with our humidity and disease issues (which will get worse as the planet warms, not better). So I emailed a small local biodynamic berry farm down the road and asked my neighbors what raspberry varieties worked for them. Caroline was the only one they’d had consistent success with, they said, and gave me advice on how to manage it.

I wanted to plant a cherry tree and several well recommended local nurseries claimed their interesting and funky sweet cherry varieties could be grown, with a little effort, up to zone 9. I let those exotic and enticing varieties sit in my cart for a few days while I bummed around online reading people’s experiences growing cherries in the south. Sweet cherries, and even the more curious varieties of tart cherries, just didn’t produce well here and were plagued with high maintenance disease issues, especially if they weren’t grafted onto very particular root stock. I don’t know anyone with sweet cherries. I ordered the classic, low maintenance, heat tolerant Montmorency tart cherry. And I still might be pushing it. In 10 years I may feel I shouldn’t have been planting cherries at all.

Raspberries and cherries are borderline too cool for my garden reality, but I think I’ve found varieties that work. Still, these are my side experiments, not the work horse plants of my garden. For that I focus on what I know works.

The temptation on the warm side is just as dangerous. Most of the things we can’t grow in zone 8 because it’s not warm enough are things that can’t tolerate freezing at all, or buckle in an extreme cold snap. While the winters may be getting milder and shorter on average, extreme weather and broad swings are becoming more common. I’ve had success growing ginger and turmeric as annuals and overwintering the roots inside. I do the same with my key lime tree, bringing it inside for the winter.


ginger and turmeric. large roots were preserved in brandy, small ones repotted to overwinter, and the greens dried for tea and soup.

Plants like malabar spinach are new to this part of the world but thrive in our climate. I love trying a few new things every year, but as always–do your research and choose low maintenance plants that fit your garden ecosystem. Otherwise you waste your time creating an input-intensive system (water, fertilizer, pest and disease management) that will only become harder to maintain as resources become more constrained.

Plan for a quasi-closed system

We didn’t realize how far we were from this until a few years into it when I actually started paying attention. And I don’t suggest this in an apocolyptic kind of way (though deep down I lust for the elusive 90% self sufficiency just like the best of ’em), but rather in terms of thinking about the ways in which we contribute to an unsustainable system and may find ourselves, at some point in the middle future, with less access to things that have previously been easy to get.

Be frugal for when it matters. Learn to take care of your tools. Most tools have a lifetime guarantee–take them back if they break and any store will replace them. But start taking proper care of them now. Use bamboo for garden stakes, trellises, or chicken runs instead of buying a bunch of nasty pvc or investing money in lumber. The impulsive, unplanned DIY purchases are the kind of things that keep a million Home Depots and Lowes in business. Some things you have to buy, but not as many as you think. Especially when you are mucking around and experimenting and don’t know what you are doing, the mistakes can be cheap or very expensive, you choose. I’ve had plenty of both.

One of the big ways to better steward the environment and stop hauling in garden inputs is to become self-sufficient in water and soil amendments. A few years ago our family installed 1350 gallons of rain water cisterns. IMG_4827

Every summer we have dry spells where we come closing to tapping both of the big 550 gallon tanks. But we use well water and I neither want to put more pressure on the aquifer than necessary, nor worry about my food supply when we have intense heat and drought. It also means I can let my kids mess around with the hose as much as they want without stressing out about the waste. If I had unlimited time and money (and county inspectors who would look the other way), I’d have full house gray water systems. But this is close enough.

When we have trees taken down, we have them chipped on site. Usually this saves the tree folks money too and so makes the job cheaper. There’s a few year’s worth of mulch, right there. We mow our clover yard and bag the clippings to feed the hens and use as green manure in the garden. I plant rye and vetch cover crops in my beds to build up the soil without fertilizer and protect the soil without mulch.


two beds planted with rye and vetch, a pile of green manure, and some hardwood mulch mountains


planting basil directly into dying cover crop (no till)

Keeping chickens has been the best way for me to become less dependent on buying compost and fertilizer. Livestock manure is a crap shoot, depending on what cocktails of drugs and feed people are giving their animals. Municipal compost loads I’ve used in the past have had all manner of unspeakable things in them, not to mention everyone’s RoundUp-ed yard waste. But mostly the issue is how to produce fertilizer on site. If you are really ambitious, eat a clean diet, and it wouldn’t ruin your marriage, humanure is how the world did this for a long time before we forgot how. It’s clean and plentiful, but it takes time and space.

Plant disease-resistant perennials

Every year add a few low maintenance perennials to your space. Every year they will take less work, you’ll know more what you are doing, and you will be closer to harvests. Low maintenance perennials will begin to form the backbone of your garden. Three years ago I planted persimmon trees, herbs, comfrey, and perennial onions. Two years ago I planted strawberries, rhubarb, blackberries, raspberries, elderberries, hardy kiwi, nettles, and jerusalem artichoke (the latter two in pots to keep them from invading). This year I am adding globe artichokes and fennel. Every year I have more food of my own, in my own backyard, that only requires some weeding, watering, mulching, and harvesting.

Learn about foraging wild edibles, pass-along plants, and seed saving

At this time of year, my new lettuce isn’t ready to eat, if I’m lucky I have some spinach, but because I didn’t take care of my overwintered tender greens during a cold snap, I don’t have much. Yet because there are dandelion greens and yellow dock in the yard, I can still put together dishes with nourishing greens. It’s easy to learn online about wild edibles. Ask the old timers in your neighborhood. Dandelions will probably be the last thing to go when the apocalypse comes.


dandelion greens and roots

Plant things that folks around you are giving away, or that can be divided. Pass along plants are the best. They are tried and true. Your neighbors and (new) friends will teach you about what has worked for them. Things that are fussy or hard to grow don’t make good pass along plants, so you will  end up with a collection of useful and adaptive plants (though still do your own research…don’t go letting some friendly looking stranger convince you to plant their extra running bamboo).

Some seeds are easier to save than others, so start slow. I keep garlic, ginger, turmeric, and sweet potatoes to replant each year. I’ve found sorghum, kale, radish, beans, peas, lettuce, and cilantro to be easy and reliable savers. I try saving a few new things each year, decreasing my dependence on purchased seed.


coriander and radish seeds

Understand microclimates

Pay attention to the microclimate of the space that you have and make appropriate choices. When we moved out of town we kept our urban garden space. It was a farm a century ago and the soil was magnificent. Plus, the climate in town was a good 4° F warmer than out in the country on our sloped land. I started my little orchard there with two persimmons and two pomegranates–these were trees that could withstand drought and that were not picky about harvesting times. I chose them for these qualities because I knew caring for a garden not in my backyard, with two kids under foot, would not be a daily affair. I couldn’t afford to baby these trees.


fuyu persimmon and ‘wonderful’ pomegranate

But I didn’t take into account that we’d have two back to back winters with 5° F cold spells. The persimmons were the right choice–they are disease resistant, tolerate drought and cold, and can hang around waiting to be harvested until I have time to visit. The pomegranates were not. Like my beloved figs, they die all the way back to the ground in cold snaps like that. While they like hot weather and don’t mind our sometimes dry summers, they do not like being cold. While my 3 year old persimmons gave me an excellent first harvest this year, there’s been nothing close to fruit on the pomegranates.

This was the perfect example of naive expectations about climate change. I thought “it will be warmer!” but didn’t think “we will have bizarre highs and lows.”

In contrast, I knew planting rhubarb in the south was iffy. The experts said 25% might make it through the summer. I chose a north facing slope of a berm that runs across the bottom of our sloped yard. It’s in partial shade during the summer and cooler air flows down and pools at the foot of the berm. Instead of 25%, I’ve had 80% survival. Knowing your microclimate and using it wisely can make all the difference.

Choose multi-use plants

Get the most bang for your buck and avoid waste by growing plants with several usable parts, and use them!

Sweet potatoes are an easy crop requiring little care. They are one of my favorites because their growth smothers weeds and their greens are delicious at a time when most of my leafy greens are suffering heat stroke. Sorghum is also a new favorite. It’s incredibly drought and poor soil tolerant. The seeds make a delicious gluten free flour and the stalks produce molasses (even with just a small patch and no press you can do it like this). Elderberry flowers and fruit can be used to make food and medicine. Comfrey makes excellent forage and mulch, and the leaves and roots are center pieces of basic herbal medicine. Herbs attract and feed beneficial insects and are used for seasoning food and making teas. I use my lavender, rosemary, and sage to make anti-bacterial cleaning supplies with vinegar. Raspberries are delicious and the leaves are edible, historically used for teas during pregnancy.


sweet potato beds with my first experiment with sorghum in the background


first elderberry harvest. seeds and stems are toxic, always process properly


sorghum. maybe the prettiest seed ever


sweet potato slips rooting


last year’s garlic


comfrey root and leaf, just dug

If you need to plant big trees, plant something with useful wood, bark, and nuts. We don’t eat the nuts from the mature walnut and hickory trees shading our house, but the squirrels do, which keeps them out of our garden. And we could eat them. Black walnut tincture is also a useful anti-parasitic for animals and people, and externally for treating ring worm and skin yeast infections.

Roses have edible petals and the hips are wonderful in tea and rich in vitamin C–the rosa rugosa variety is best at producing these. There are tons of options, just please don’t plant boxwoods and crape myrtles when a thousand useful and edible options exist. Just google “edible landscaping” for ideas.


Start small but start now. Get to know your neighborhood gardeners and farmers for plants, help, and pooling resources. Don’t invest heavily in exotic or high maintenance plants; choose varieties that are disease resistant and can tolerate variation in climate. Try to wean yourself from buying and shipping in resources for your garden. Learn to make mulch and compost with what you have. Start eating seasonally and from plants that thrive in your region. Learn about caring for your soil. Learn about the microclimate you are working with.

The best part of all this is it turns out all the things that decrease the carbon footprint of your garden and make it more resilient and abundant in a less certain future also make it cheaper and less work. Who’d’ve thunk it? 😉




lemon poppyseed muffins (GF, no dairy, no sugar, whatever!)

I love muffins but am committed to real food and low sugar cooking for my family. This leads to a lot of experimentation. According to the grownups, this is the best muffin I’ve ever made. According to the 5 year old, it needed more sugar (but that’s an easy fix). The lemon peel was what really made it.

To be useful, I think recipes need to be flexible. My sister is allergic to everything under the sun except vegetables and meat and some nuts. These lemon poppyseed muffins can be modified in several ways to be gluten free (for people with celiac), gluten free (for people who are just not into gluten), grain free, nut free, egg free, etc. I’ll give directions for all the substitutions. If it feels like pancake batter, add some more of your flour. If it’s starting to feel like bread dough, add some liquid. Easy peasy. Baking should be fun. Eating should be more fun.

What You Need

  • wet stuff
    • 2ish cups sourdough starter (or soymilk, milk, whey, eggnog, water, whatever you got). Sourdough starter is my favorite liquid for baking and adds an amazing flavor to things. The souring process also breaks down gluten protein, so unless you actually have celiac sourdough starter is worth trying.
    • peel of 2 lemons (if you don’t have a good blender, this should be the equivalent amount of actual zest, and consider organic lemons if they are an option, since you are actually eating the peel)
    • 1/3 cup olive oil (liquid fat of some kind)
    • 4 eggs (1 egg is about 3 tablespoons of liquid, if you are going to sub chia seeds at a rate of 1 tablespoon ground chia seed per egg, you’ll need to make up the liquid…however, keep in mind that normal quick bread recipes only need an egg or two and I use a lot to load these up on dense nutrients, but also to accommodate the coconut flour versions of the recipe, so you don’t necessarily need 4 eggs worth of ground chia seeds)
  • dry stuff
    • 1 cup almond meal, 1 cup sprouted sorghum flour, 1/4 cup arrowroot starch OR for GF: 1 cup sprouted sorghum flour or almond flour, 1/2 cup coconut flour, 1/4 cup arrowroot starch OR for grain and nut free: 1 cup coconut flour, 1/2 cup arrowroot starch (and be ready to adjust the liquid a bit if it needs it, maybe throw in a few more eggs OR everything goes: 2 cups regular flour (sprouted! whole grain! white!)
    • 1 tsp baking soda (the sourdough starter carries some weight in this interaction, so maybe add 1/2 tsp of baking powder if you aren’t using sourdough)
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 3 tsp poppy seeds

*If someone in your home needs them sweeter, add 1/3 cup honey or a few mashed bananas or, heck, sugar if you really want it. Just pay attention to your batter consistency and add a pinch more dry stuff if needed.

What You Do

  1. If you are using cast iron, go ahead and put a dab of fat and put them in to preheat at 350F, then move on to the rest.IMG_7293
  2. Put all the wet stuff in the blender and run until the lemon peel is combined. You don’t want to emulsify your oil, at least maybe you don’t? So don’t overdo it. Mine looks like this.
  3. Mix all the dry stuff in a bowl. No need to sift, just mix with a fork.
  4. Add the wet to the dry and mix with the fork until no lumps remain. No need to beat, just get everything wet. This picture should help you have an idea of your batter consistency if you tweak the recipe with substitutions.IMG_7307
  5. Even if the oven is preheated, let the cast iron stay warming at least 10 minutes, then pull it out and swirl the fat around to cover the bottom of each tin. Fill each one about 2/3 and put them back in the oven for 25-30 minutes or until done. They should pop right out with a knife. Remove from the cast iron right away and set out on a drying rack. Very good with butter, or peanut butter 🙂

Sourcing notes

Here’s where I get the ingredients, if you’re looking.

Sourdough starter: There’s no excuse for letting this amazing stuff go to waste. I put it in everything or feed it to the hens if it’s not a baking day. 365 brand organic AP flour and my filtered well water. Sometime I’ll do a sourdough post.

Lemons: organic lemons by the sack from the HoFo. Whenever I use lemons (like for elderberry gummies) I put the peels in the freezer for occasions like this.

Olive oil: Costco has the best deal for quality organic olive oil. This article is handy. I make lots of pesto, salad dressing, tofu dip, salves, etc so blow through it at a frightening pace. That’s also where we get baking soda (lot of volcano making around here), organic chia seeds, and a lot of other stuff. Costco rules, and you can order their things online or from Amazon if you don’t have one near you.

Eggs: I’ve got my own little flock of 8 hens and I make a sprouted whole grain organic supplement for them, but in winter have to buy eggs while the ladies rest. Eggs are tough. All layers are supplemented with grain, even pastured ones, so organic is important for me. I love my local farmers but very few feed organic (except these awesome folks). So I usually suck it up and buy Vital Farms pastured organic eggs at Whole Foods. But definitely ask around in your area and see if someone does both, it’s worth checking.

Almond meal: The only place I’ve found organic is here, but have used Bob’s Red Mill in the past. I also use their arrowroot powder (though I have a hankering to try growing it myself). To save some money, try just getting some coconut flour at a natural grocer or online and skipping almonds altogether. They aren’t awesome for the planet anyway, though all these things have their issues.

Salt: Years ago I started cooking with the dirt cheap and dirty Redmond salt I use in my chicken feed. You can get it cheaper at ag supply stores, but natural grocers carry it now as well.

Sprouted flour: In some areas you can find good sprouted flours locally, but often they are conventional. Still, see what’s in your area first. I have loved these folks and get all kinds of sprouted flours from them. And if you’ve been googling, no, sprouted sorghum seed is not full of cyanide (that’s just the stalks under very particular conditions).





Immune boosting elderberry gummies

IMG_7358Winter can be a wonderful time for home projects, snuggly down time, working on the indoor to-do list (leftover from last winter), garden planning…but once I became a parent it was flu season, first and foremost. Once you get your ingredients, this is a simple and fast recipe for immune boosting gummies that are perfect for everyone in the family. When the toddler gets a runny nose or we know we’ve been exposed to something icky, I start handing these out at every meal. They are also totally customizable in terms of ingredients, as long as you maintain the ratios of liquid:gelatin (about 1 cup: 6 tablespoons).

What you need:

  • gelatin (here’s what we use)
  • elderberry juice (see discussion on sourcing below)
  • raw honey
  • a lemon
  • a persimmon (or other fruit or berries)
  • ginger and turmeric
  • a good mixer (we use a vitamix but anything heavy duty should work)


Benefits, Sourcing, and Substitutions

Elderberry has long been used for immune support in northern Europe and now allopathic medical studies also support these findings (here’s a synopsis). While it’s not often found on grocery shelves, the organic Biotta brand can be easily ordered for you at any natural grocer, and probably some conventional ones as well (just ask at customer service, it’s sold by UNFI and they supply pretty much any store that sells natural products). It is shelf stable and keeps well in the fridge once opened, so split a case of 6 bottles with friends, it’s about $7 a bottle and lasts a long time. This is something I like to always keep on hand since it is concentrated and can be taken straight for colds and flu.

You can also check a local farmers market or ask local farms, sometimes people sell elderberries and you can make your own. Here in the NC piedmont region, Honeysuckle Tea House sells them in season, frozen and dried. You can also grow your own or harvest them wild, if you are confident of proper identification.

But if you can’t find elderberry juice just substitute blueberries.

Fresh ginger and turmeric can be found at most natural grocers and Asian markets. Ginger is one of the central basic ingredients of food-based immune support and turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory. Peeling them is a pain. I do it in large batches and preserve in brandy so it’s always on hand. Organic turmeric is hard to find, and what most grocers have is irradiated (which mattered to me because I was trying to sprout it). I’ve gotten it at farmers markets and more reliably from Azure Standard. Starting a few years ago I began growing it myself, and that’s what I used here.

Asian persimmons are around at farmers markets and natural/specialty grocers in fall, but the only reason it’s in here is because I have Fuyu persimmon trees in my garden and a fridge full of fruit at this time of year. They are high in vitamin A and C so fit the recipe well. Often native persimmon trees can be found out and about if you know what to look for.

If you don’t have persimmon, just use an orange, grapefruit, or berries.

I was in a hurry (snot already everywhere) so didn’t add many ingredients, but why not? Add some broccoli or kale or leafy greens if your eaters can handle it. A bit of cilantro would have been delicious. You could mix in a powdered probiotic after letting it cool a bit.

What You Do:

  1. Blend the items that can be heated up:
    • Peel the lemon and remove seeds, add (freeze the peel to use for zest later!)
    • Rough slice the persimmon, remove any seeds (often there are none) and add (there’s no need to peel them, just remove stem parts)
    • Add 1/2 cup of elderberry juice


  1. You should have 3/4 to 1 cup of smoothie-like liquid. Pour most of it into a small sauce pan and turn on med-low
  2. Add 5 or 6 tablespoons of gelatin (depending on about how much liquid you ended up with) and whisk well. Small amounts of liquid heat up fast so keep it moving.
  1. Simultaneously, add a fat piece of ginger and one of turmeric to the little bit of liquid you left in in the bottom of the blender (about an inch long piece of turmeric, a bit more ginger unless the strong flavor is problematic), along with a smidge more elderberry juice, blend well (this needs a little longer as you really need to liquify the chunks of root, maybe 45 seconds in a Vitamix)
  2. When the mixture on the stove seems well melted, remove from the heat and add the ginger/turmeric blend
  3. Add 3 to 5 tablespoons of raw honey, depending on how sweet you want it to be (3 was good for the grown ups, 5 makes the 5yo happier), and mix thoroughly
  4. Pour it into a glass or stainless steel container, or cute silicone molds if you like. There’s no need to grease anything, pop it in your fridge for a few hours (lid off to let condensation out, otherwise the top will be sticky) and you’ll be ready to go. They’ll be solid at room temp and last several weeks in the fridge.

Happy flu season! April will be here before you know it.




hodge-podge crepes: holiday edition

This morning the baby woke me up at 3:30 am. His elder brother smelled my absence and came tip-toeing downstairs 15 minutes later. At 6:30am he got grumpy so we made crepes.


What you need:

  • 4 eggs
  • about 2 cups of leftover eggnog
  • 1 cup of his leftover raspberry yogurt from yesterday
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup very old sprouted blue cornmeal
  • 1/4 cup coconut flour

…some fat (here we used lard, but other times we use coconut oil, butter, or bacon grease) in a skillet and you are ready to go.

He requested his in the shape of a tornado but got Mexico without the Yucatan or the Baja Californias, plus Texas. He put raspberries on his, I rolled mine up with cream cheese in the middle. When my husband came down he put yogurt and maple syrup on his. We make crepes a lot, but these have been the best to date. It’s definitely the nog.