A Shrub that Looks Nice

Every time I hear a reference to the trendy drink syrup called a shrub,” a high-pitched British voice interrupts my brain mid-thought and says, “Brrrringg me a shrubberrrry….one that looks nice.”

I always have to stop myself from saying it out loud, because if you haven’t seen The Holy Grail (I mean the cinematic, not the biblical one), you might think I’m nuts.

So what’s a drink shrub? It’s an old-fashioned sweet-tart-fruity syrup that was originally a way to preserve an abundance of fruit with sugar and vinegar. It’s also sometimes called “drinking vinegar.” A shrub is basically equal parts good vinegar, seasonal fruit, and sugar. Some people add herbs and spices to make things a little more interesting. You can mix your shrub syrup with soda water for a great, not-too-sweet homemade soda. It’s also a great base for creative cocktails.

I myself am jumping on the shrub wagon rather late. The impetus is the 38th Annual Symphony of Food, Wine, & Art, for which I am organizing and conducting a series of artisanal food demonstrations. The idea is to take the best products made locally and showcase them in creative ways. It’s a great opportunity to talk about the importance of using good ingredients whether you make them yourself, DIY Delicious style, or buy them from a local artisan. Case in point: if you’re going to drink vinegar, it better be good vinegar.

The event is Sunday, June 23rd from 3 – 6pm at the Rohnert Park Community Center. Tickets are $45 and available here. That will get you tastes of lots of great food and wine. Highlights include award-winning sandwiches from The Farmers Wife using Harley Richter Meats. Yum.

Here’s what I’m doing:

Back to the shrub:

I didn’t know how to make a shrub so I turned to this recipe in Serious Eats. I started with the excellent black currant vinegar from Sonoma Vinegar Works, and a mixture of local blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries. But you could use stone fruit, melon, or other fruits. You could infuse aromatics like ginger, celery, or cucumbers, and of course, as I mention, you could add spices or herbs. Being my first time, I kept it simple. It was easy, fun, and it’s damn nice looking. You should try it yourself. Now where’s the vodka?

Posted in DIY, Uncategorized, book events, community, from the market, fruit | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Haphazard Strawberry Jam

I’ve always been a by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of home cook. When I’m not working and thus don’t have to write down or follow a recipe I am happy not to. Last weekend, I set out to make strawberry jam. I knew just what I wanted…the purity of fruit without too much sugar; a spoonable preserve with a fresh, not-too-cooked flavor. I usually try to do as little as possible to jam and use as little sugar as I can get away with. These goals can conflict because long cooking and more sugar both help to thicken the jam, as does pectin. A lot of people don’t like to use pectin because it is considered an unnatural additive and it can over-jell the fruit and make the jam grainy. For this reason, I generally don’t use pectin. But I also don’t like to cook the jam too long because it loses its fresh flavor, and I like to cut the sugar considerably from the usual recipes. Some recipes call for more sugar than fruit, which is just wrong.

I have good luck with low sugar, no pectin plum and blackberry jam because those are higher pectin fruits. I’d never made strawberry jam, so , for the first time, I decided to experiment with adding pectin so I could use less sugar and not cook the crap out of the perfect fruit I’d procured. There was part of a box in the house from someone’s previous experiment–not really enough. So I did what I always do: looked at a bunch of different recipes and figured out a haphazard ratio and tried it out.

Here’s the ratio we ended up with, though we made twice this amount. This is where having a good friend comes in handy.

5 cups strawberries
2 1/3 cups sugar
Barely a teaspoon of pectin
old vanilla bean that I pulled out of my vanilla sugar

We hulled the berries, and smashed them up with a pastry blender, stirred in the sugar and vanilla bean and then cooked them until foam started rising to the surface. We skimmed it off and continued cooking maybe 10 more minutes and then filled the jars and processed the jam.

What we got was a bright flavored, jewel-like strawberry jam, somewhat loose and spoonable into yogurt, while a little drippy on toast–just the way I like it.

PS: 1 flat of strawberries yielded a lot of jam. something like 22 pints! Yowza.

Posted in DIY, Uncategorized, from the market, fruit, pantry staples, preserving | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Antipasti-Style Calamari Salad

When done right, calamari can be a seductive, tender, delicately ocean-flavored vehicle for bright, pungent, spicy, and otherwise bold flavors. For example, I love the Thai-style calamari salad with fish sauce, lime, cilantro, chilis, and garlic in Paul Johnson’s Fish Forever.

One recent night though, I had a craving for traditional southern Italian (or American) antipasti flavors in a calamari salad.  It was easy enough to make up on the fly. The hardest part is cleaning it. Instructions here.  The important thing is not to overcook it. Literally a 60 second dunk in boiling water does the trick.

This recipe makes enough for a side dish or appetizer for two

3/4 pound calamari

1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley

1 teaspoon capers

About 1/4 cup chopped olives of your choice

1/4 bulb of fennel, sliced thinly

1 green garlic or 1 small clove of mature garlic, chopped finely

About 1/4 cup diced tomatoes, or halved cherry tomatoes (if not in season, use equivalent of canned tomatoes

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1/4 cup olive oil

A pinch of pepper flakes

Salt to taste (if needed)

Clean the squid using the instructions here. Make sure to rinse well.

In a medium bowl, combine the remaining ingredients. Set aside.

Bring a medium pot of salted water to boil. Add the cleaned calamari. As soon as the water returns to a boil, turn it off and cover it for one minute. Drain and rinse calamari in cool water. Shake off excess water and add to the bowl with the dressing.

Stir well and let sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes, or up to one hour before serving. May be refrigerated and brought to room temperature before serving. Taste and adjust for salt.

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Chickpea and Salmon Salad with Spring Vegetables

Usually I’m planning at least four meals ahead in the part of my brain especially reserved for such musings. However, once in awhile, I find myself sitting at my desk, starving and uninspired at 12:30 or so. On one such occasion I raided the pantry and the vegetables from my CSA box to create a light, quick, high energy springtime salad. It has plenty of protein from chickpeas and canned salmon and lots of flavorful, seasonal veggies. Brown baggers can whip up this highly portable salad the night before or early in the morning before work and forgot about relying on the local takeout. Makes two generous servings.

1-12-oz can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1-6-oz can of wild salmon

4 radishes, thinly sliced

1 small turnips, thinly sliced

1 spring onion, thinly sliced

1/2 of a celery rib, cut in half vertically and sliced thinly on the diagonal

1 carrot, cut into julienne or grated

Green garlic, tahini, and lemon dressing from this post

2 large handfuls of salad greens, washed and dried

1/2 an avocado, sliced

1 sheet of nori, toasted over the gas burner for 30 seconds until crispy, and cut into strips

Chopped parsley and cilantro

In a large bowl, combine the chickpeas, salmon, radishes, turnips, onion, celery, and carrot. Toss in the dressing and season to taste with salt and pepper. Pile the greens onto two plates (or shallow bowls), dividing them evenly. Top with the dressed salad. Garnish with avocado, nori, parsley, and cilantro. Serve immediately or refrigerate (separate from garnish and greens) for up to 2 days. This salad travels and keeps well.

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Lamb with Pistachio, Feta, & Preserved Lemon “Salsa”

I created this recipe for a couple of different friends who sell local lamb and wanted some new recipes to share with their customers. Below you’ll find instructions for a small sirloin roast and also for sirloin chops, but you can make this salsa and use it on roast leg of lamb, rack of lamb, or whatever cut you like.  I think it would even be good sprinkled over lamb stew. It’s also great on sandwiches made with leftover lamb.

Pastoral Plate is the meat CSA and buying club that I’ve been ordering chicken, beef, lamb, eggs, and other goodies from. Run by Jonathan Lewis, who personally visits all the farms from which he sources, Pastoral Plate is a great source for local meats in San Francisco that I highly recommend. They’ve also been selling a killer sheep’s milk feta that would be great in this recipe, but any good feta will do.

Casa Rosa Farms is run by my friends Rachel and Anthony in Madeira (whose house in Oakland I used to live in). They raise gorgeous California Red sheep and just started selling their organic olive oil and meats at the Kensington Farmers’ Market and the Alameda Farmers’ Market. If you like videos of adorable lambs, fan them on Facebook.

To accompany my lamb, I cooked up a little farro and tossed it with steamed broccoli rabe, golden beets, and a super light blend of tahini and plain yogurt. It was fantastic with a glass of rosé on a recent warm night.

For the marinade:

Make a paste of

1 garlic clove pounded with salt

1 teaspoon Ras el Hanout spice blend

1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper (or mild cayenne)

A little olive oil

A few drops of sherry vinegar

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Spread over roast or chops and let marinate for a day in the fridge

If making a roast, preheat oven to 200 degrees and remove roast from refrigerator. Heat a skillet over medium high heat and add a little olive oil. Brown the roast all over and transfer to the oven. Roast for about 2 hours until the temperature inside is 140 degrees. Remove from oven and let rest before slicing.

While the roast cooks, prepare the salsa:

For the salsa:

1/4 cup finely chopped lightly toasted shelled pistachios

1/4 of a preserved lemon (rind only) rinsed and chopped finely

About 3 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese

1 green garlic, chopped finely (or one small clove of mature garlic if green garlic not in season)

1 generous handful parsley leaves, chopped finely

A few mint leaves, chopped finely

A few glugs of olive oil

Freshly ground pepper

Combine all the ingredients, adding the olive oil last, until the salsa is chunky but spoonable.

If making chops, prepare the salsa before you start cooking. Grill them over a medium hot fire to desired doneness or cook them in a hot non-stick skillet with a little olive oil.

Serve slices of the roast or whole chops with the salsa spooned over. Sorry about the blurry photos. It was dark! But I promise it tastes good, even if it doesn’t look so great.

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Amazing Brown Rice Bowl & Real Food All Year

I took one bite of this salad and shouted to the empty room, “It’s like Café Gratitude but with pork!” I kind of couldn’t believe how good it was. Seriously. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, Café Gratitude serves up some mighty fine cooked grain bowls with various healthy items tossed in. This one owes no particular allegiance to any one cuisine. In fact it’s kind of a mess, but who cares? It’s a tasty mess.

Eat this for lunch, and this healthy, hearty dish will keep you all revved up and working throughout the day. Eat it for dinner with a glass of red wine and you won’t feel at all guilty about packing in a little ice cream or chocolate with your favorite HBO or Showtime series.

Speaking of healthy food that’s amazingly tasty, I want to tell you about a new book by my pal Nishanga BlissReal Food all Year was written from both a gastronomic and a Chinese medicine perspective, weaving in Western nutrition information and seasonality. The book does a great job of explaining each season’s connection to our bodies and organs and offers seasonal recipes to help you incorporate traditional, whole, seasonal, and local foods into your diet. Follow the suggestions in this book and you’ve got a tasty, healthy, and joyful way of eating.

Back to the rice bowl.

Here’s what’s in it:

Freshly cooked brown rice

Lemon tahini dressing with green garlic

1/2 bunch of kale, steamed, per portion

Shredded cabbage and carrots

Spring onions

Toasted walnuts


Toasted nori

Crispy leftover roasted pork from a leftover boneless sirloin roast, sliced thinly and then fried in a cast iron pan until crispy

Here’s how I made it:

1. Cook brown rice however you do. I used a rice cooker

2. Meanwhile chop one green garlic (green and white parts) super finely and whisk together with a big dollop of tahini, freshly squeezed lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper, and enough water to make it a nice consistency (all to taste).

3. Steam the kale and squeeze out excess water. Chop

4. Shred the cabbage and carrots

5. Put the warm rice in a bowl and drizzle some dressing on top

6. Toss the steamed kale and the cabbage and carrots in the dressing

7. Fry the pork until crispy

8. Top the rice with the dressed kale, cabbage, and carrots

9. Add the onions, walnuts, avocado, nori, and pork

10. Eat

Posted in food sustainability, from the market, healthy, hearty | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Farro, Lentil, Porcini, and Greens Soup

With more rain in the forecast, I wanted to share this hearty, healthy soup that I created recently. Lately I’ve been enjoying cooking down the pantry (my version of spring cleaning) and utilizing the vegetables from my beloved Eatwell Farm CSA box to make simple meals. This one was inspired by a recipe in the Zuni Café Cookbook that used leftover farro cooked with porcinis to make a porridge-like soup. Quantities are somewhat loose as I didn’t measure. Feel free to double this, as it’s better the next day.

Keeping quarts of homemade chicken broth in the freezer (made from a mixture of roasted carcasses and fresh heads, feet, and necks from Soul Food Farm birds) makes delicious soups come together fast. Feel free to use store-brought broth or water, and you’ll still have some winter comfort in no time. I also keep guanciale in the freezer so I can cut off chunks when I need it. No need to defrost. If you don’t have it, no worries, this soup would still rich and wonderful without.

Serves 4 to 6

1 cup farro

A handful of dried porcini mushrooms

1/4 olive oil, plus more for serving

3 tablespoons diced guanciale

1/2 of a yellow onion, diced

2 celery ribs, diced

2 small carrots, diced

2 garlic cloves, chopped fine

1 quart chicken broth

1/3 cup lentils

1 bunch kale, chard, spinach, or 2 big handfuls of braising mix

Grated Parmesan at the table

Cook the farro in boiling salted water until firm but tender, about 45 minutes (can be done a day or hours ahead) Drain and set aside. Meanwhile, soak the porcinis in about a cup and a half of warm water.

In a large, heavy soup pot, warm the oil over medium heat and add the guanciale. Cook, stirring, until translucent and beginning to brown. Add the onion, celery, carrot, and garlic, lower heat, and cook until the vegetables are soft and fragrant, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Drain the porcinis, straining and reserving their soaking water. Add the broth, lentils, greens, drained porcinis and their soaking water, and cook until lentils are tender, about 30 minutes. Add the farro and salt and pepper to taste, and continue to cook to allow flavors to meld, about 10 minutes. Serve drizzled with olive oil and topped with grated Parmesan cheese.

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7 Simple, Seasonal, (Nearly) One-Pot Meals

After a flurry of inspiration and posts over the cooking holidays, I’ve been remiss about updating my blog lately. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been eating (and cooking!), it just means I haven’t been cooking anything I’d consider to be necessarily ground-breaking. But yeah, I cook and eat every day, as we all have to do. Here I share a smattering of recipes that indicate the types of dishes I make on regular ole weeknights from common ingredients. The types of dishes that I eat and enjoy thoroughly, but I don’t really talk about much. I originally did this post for Ecosalon, and I’m happy to share it here. Enjoy!

1. Smashed Potatoes and Garlicky Kale with an Egg on Top

20 minutes

1 large or two medium potatoes

2 – 4 tablespoons olive oil

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1 bunch kale, chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

Grated Parmesan or Pecorino (optional)

1 over-easy egg (optional)

Put the potatoes whole into a steamer basket and steam until tender. Meanwhile heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet, add the garlic and sauté gently. Add the kale and stir to coat. Add a little water, cover, lower heat and cook kale until tender, stirring occasionally. Add the potatoes to the skillet with the kale and smash them together with a potato masher. Add olive oil, salt and paper, and grated cheese to taste. Serve hot with an egg on top (if desired).

2. Spinach and Rice Soup

20 minutes

2 tablespoons olive oil or butter

1/2 onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, chopped

1/3 cup white rice

1 bunch spinach, washed

1 quart broth (chicken or vegetable or bouillon based)

Salt and pepper to taste

Grated Parmesan or Pecorino (optional)

In a soup pot, warm the olive oil or butter. Add the onion and garlic and cook until soft and fragrant. Add the rice and stir to coat. Add the spinach and sauté until soft. Add the broth and lower heat to a simmer. Cook until rice is tender, about 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with grated cheese on top, if desired.

3. Warm Chickpea Salad with Salmon

15 minutes

This one is free form. Add any selection of vegetables you like in your salads. Use any dressing you like, or make this one as directed. Stir in Harissa paste or pesto if you have it, or not if you don’t.

1 can chickpeas, drained

1 can wild Alaskan salmon

2 generous handfuls of salad greens or arugula

1/2 cup of sliced radish, grated carrot, avocado, roasted peppers, or any other vegetable you have (optional)

1 garlic clove, smashed with a mortar and pestle

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Gently warm the chickpeas in a small saucepan as you prepare the rest of the ingredients. Make a quick dressing with the garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil. Combine the warmed chickpeas, salmon, salad greens, and vegetables in a medium bowl. Toss with the dressing and season to taste with salt and pepper.

4. Lentils and Sausage with Greens

45 minutes

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 of an onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 cup lentils

2 cooked or smoked sausages, sliced

1 bunch kale, chard, or spinach, washed and chopped

Paprika or smoked paprika to taste

Lemon juice to taste

Salt and pepper to taste

Warm the olive oil in a medium pot. Add the onion and garlic and cook until soft and fragrant. Add the lentils and water to cover by one inch. Bring to a boil, lower heat to a slow simmer and cook until the lentils are tender, about 20 minutes. Add the sausages, greens, paprika, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook until everything is warmed through and the greens are tender. Add the lemon juice just before serving and correct seasonings.

5. Seasonal Vegetable Coconut Curry Stew

30-40 minutes

2 tablespoons vegetable or coconut oil

1/2 onion, chopped

2-3 cups cubed orange squash, root vegetables, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, mushrooms, or combination of any

1 can coconut milk

Good quality red or green Thai curry paste to taste

Salt and pepper to taste

Cilantro for garnish

Heat the oil in a large soup pot, add the onion and cook, stirring until tender and fragrant. Add the vegetables and the coconut milk and enough water to cover. Bring to a simmer and cook until the vegetables are nearly tender. Add the curry paste and salt and pepper to taste. Continue to cook to blend flavors and until vegetables are the desired softness. Serve over white rice garnished with chopped cilantro.

6. Warm Roasted Sweet Potato and Sausage Salad

20 minutes

1 large or 2 medium garnet sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces

2 to 4 tablespoons olive oil

1 or 2 cooked sausages

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

2 teaspoons pure maple syrup

1 teaspoon grainy mustard

2 green onions, sliced thinly on the diagonal

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Salt & Freshly ground pepper

Toss the sweet potatoes in 1 tablespoon olive oil with a little salt, and put them on a baking sheet. Roast in a preheated 400 degree oven for about 15-20 minutes or until soft and beginning to crisp and brown. Halfway through the cooking time, slide a spatula underneath the potatoes to loosen them and flip them over gently so they don’t break apart.

Meanwhile, cut the sausages into bite-sized pieces and brown and warm them in a skillet with a little bit of oil. In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, maple syrup, mustard, and a tablespoon or two of olive oil.

Toss the cooked sweet potatoes and sausages together in a medium bowl. Add the green onions, parsley, and dressing. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve warm.

7. Chilaquiles

10 minutes

2 eggs

2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon vegetable oil

1/2 a red onion, peeled and sliced

3 or 4 corn tortillas

3/4 cup of your favorite red or green salsa

Leftover beans, shredded chicken, beef or pork (optional)

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Sprigs of cilantro, crumbled cheese, diced avocado for serving

In a large bowl, beat the eggs until smooth and add salt and pepper.

Stack the tortillas and cut them into eight wedges.

In a large cast-iron skillet over medium heat, warm the 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil. Add the onion, and cook until soft. Increase heat to medium high and add the tortillas. Cook, stirring occasionally, until brown and crispy. Pour in the salsa, and stir to blend. Add leftover meats or beans (if using). With a wooden spoon or spatula, move the tortillas and salsa to one side of the pan, add the teaspoon of oil to the other side and pour in the eggs. Scramble the eggs for a few moments until nearly cooked. Stir them into the tortillas and mix together. Serve immediately garnished with cilantro, cheese, and avocado.

Posted in Food and Drink, Latin American, from the market, healthy, hearty, seafood | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

A Christmas Food Story: Father’s Nuts

Last Christmas I posted about orevnitza, the Serbian bread we eat at Christmas…What I didn’t mention was that there’s a back story to orevnitza from my childhood. A story about foraging (or stealing), mortification, and class difference. I wrote it down about ten years ago and never published it. When I finally went public with it at a reading during October’s Litquake event,  I was gratified that people seemed to enjoy it, and vowed to post it here.

Father’s Nuts

It was mid November in 1975, I was 11 years old, and my parents and I were going to get the walnuts for the orevnitza, which is our Serbian family’s Christmas bread that my mom made every year. We set out in our 1974 brown four-door Toyota Corolla from Southeast Santa Rosa where we lived, toward Glen Ellen on Highway 12. It was the kind of day that causes harvest time visitors to sell everything, quit their jobs and move to Sonoma County.  It was warm. The leaves on the oak trees glistened in the sun. The vineyards were showing their fall colors. The light was muted and dreamy. A perfect fall day.

Orevnitza is a barely sweet yeast bread rolled out and then spread with a mixture of ground walnuts and dates and then rolled up jellyroll style. When it’s finished and sliced, it looks kind of like a babka. And making it really was a production that lasted over several evenings. The first evening we’d all sit around the kitchen table and crack pounds and pounds of walnuts. Our hands would ache, the table would be covered in walnut dust, and our mouths would be sore from eating so many of the tannic walnut meats.  The next evening, we would toast them in the oven and then chop them up in the little glass nut chopper.  The chopper looked like a big beer glass, with a metal lid that had a plunger stuck through it.  At the bottom of the plunger were four little blades arranged around the shaft in a circle. The nuts went into the glass and we took turns pushing the plunger down and twisting it by hand until the nuts were chopped finely. This went on forever since only about a cup of nuts could fit in the jar at a time. (the food processor really was a great invention)

Then the weekend would come and my mom would make the dough and set it to rise. After it had risen for a few hours, my two sisters and I would be called in to punch the dough down. We loved this for some reason. It was kind of like being a member of a firing squad because we’d all pound our fists into the dough at the exact same moment, and never know whose fist deflated it.  Once my older sisters moved out, I got to do it by myself, but only for a while. My mom found a short cut recipe that she said was just as good, but it really wasn’t.   Even as a kid, I could taste the difference in the new recipe, which only required one rise, and was not punched down.  After another rise, the dough was rolled out, the filling spread on, and then it was rolled up and arranged into a snail shape where it sat again to rise for a couple of hours under a kitchen towel. Finally it was baked, and would emerge from the oven golden brown, crusty, and aromatic.  My mom always made two…one to freeze or to take somewhere as a hostess gift and one for us to eat.  We ate thick slices at all times of the day and night all through the holidays.  After a couple of days it would get a little stale and then we’d toast it and eat it with lots of butter slathered on top and melted. And that’s still my favorite way to eat it.

My parents were quirky about the way we spent money, which was why we were headed out to the country to pick up walnuts off the ground, instead of going to the grocery store like other people. Though I don’t remember wanting many things that I didn’t get as a kid (except for designer jeans, a canopy bed, disco lessons, and the airplane for stewardess Barbie) my parents often behaved as if we were destitute.  They both grew up during the depression and had an attitude about money characteristic of people growing up during that time…or so I’ve heard.   They were the kind of people who clipped coupons and read the sales ads, and then would spend all Saturday grocery shopping, hitting several grocery stores all over town to make sure they got the absolute best price on everything.  If a store was out of an advertised item, they’d get a rain check, and you can be sure they’d go get the item later in the week. My parents prided themselves on their ability to save money …or better yet, to get something for nothing.  It was their recreation.

Walnut gathering was not an activity I would have volunteered for, as I was the type of kid who much preferred to stick my head in a book than to interact with the family. I had reached the age where I often stayed home alone during the Saturday grocery shopping marathons. I was probably only along that day because my parents felt we needed a family outing, and convinced me to go.  So, I leafed through a book, and daydreamed in the backseat as we pulled into a little road off the highway that led to someone’s farmhouse, set in the midst of a walnut grove.  My parents pulled over, and I sat in the car, most likely in a pre-adolescent spoiled brat gloom.  I couldn’t understand why they were taking walnuts off of someone else’s property.  They assured me it was ok, because they weren’t going to take them off the trees, but just off the ground.  The walnuts would just lie there and rot otherwise.

My parents eagerly leapt out of the car, paper bags clutched tightly in their hands.  Their bent, scurrying figures retreated farther into the walnut grove, and I sat, enjoying my book, until a shiny new dark blue Mercedes came up the road in a tear, raising a cloud of dust.  The Mercedes stopped right behind our Toyota. A well dressed thirty-something dark haired woman flung open her car door, jumped out, in full fury, and screamed at my parents:  “What do you think you are doing?  Those are my father’s nuts!” Time stopped.  I ducked down in the back seat to avoid being seen; She waved her arms. She was having trouble catching her breath. The dust from her sudden stop swirled around her combining with her nearly visible anger to create a strange vortex. I’d never experienced anything like it. I remember thinking she looked like a cartoon character. Throughout the scene, I kept poking my head up over the seat an inch to see what was going to happen.  My parents froze for a moment, and even looked a bit sheepish. This didn’t last long. They quickly regained their composure and attitude.  They stood up straight, looked at each other, looked at her, and laughed.  They laughed at her anger and at her double entendre.  I think they even repeated:  “your father’s nuts?” breaking down into giggles again.  From the backseat, I could hear insults being flung back and forth, but I was much too embarrassed to come up for air.  Things died down and my parents got into the car, with the nuts they had already taken, but no more, and we drove off.

As we drove home, my parents kept up their bravado and hid their mortification with a dissertation on class, although they wouldn’t have described it that way: “Who does she think she is in that shiny new car?”  “What are a few walnuts to her?”  “How selfish and petty.”  Of course they told the story to everyone they knew.  Someone finally saw fit to point out that walnuts are routinely harvested off the ground, not off of the trees, so really, they were not just scavenging, but stealing. For years the story was retold, with my parents cast as poor but resourceful people trying to get ahead through the bounty of the land, and “that woman” playing the part of a rich heiress along the lines of those horrible people on the TV show Dallas.  Though they wouldn’t admit it, the incident cured them of their gleaning tendencies.  From then on, the walnuts for our holiday orevnitza came from the store.

Get the recipe here.

Posted in DIY, Food and Drink, breads and pizzas, foraging, holidays | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Turkey Chile Soup with Rice and Winter Squash

I first made this soup a couple weeks ago with a small, Soul Food Farm stock bird. I used a technique I use often that provides me with a light but full flavored broth to freeze and use for soups and also a good amount of shredded chicken meat to use for enchiladas, tacos, salad, what have you. Basically I simmer a whole chicken with aromatics for about 15 – 20 minutes and then turn the flame off and cover the pot for 45 minutes or so (depending on the size of the bird). It finishes cooking and comes out tender and succulent, not like you’ve boiled the crap out of it.

Anyway, today I’m recommending you just use whatever broth you have, or make a broth out of your turkey carcass and use it to make a turkey version of my chicken soup. You can even use some fried tortilla strips to make a classic tortilla soup. But the day after Thanksgiving I want something light, spicy, warming, and hearty. And I want to skip the fried stuff.

If making the broth from your turkey carcass include a couple sprigs cilantro, one celery rib, two crushed garlic cloves, onions, and some whole cumin seeds and peppercorns. Reserve all but 6 cups of broth for another use. This recipe will make 4 to 6 servings

4 dried chiles (anchos, New Mexico, guajillos, or whatever you like)

6 cups chicken or turkey broth

Add about 1 – ½ cups diced orange squash (I used red kuri)

1 cup sliced cabbage

1/3 cup white rice, Arborio or white long grain

2 cloves chopped garlic

1-1/2 cups shredded turkey (or chicken)

Salt and pepper to taste

For serving:


Feta or queso fresco


Cilantro leaves

Fried tortilla strips (optional)

Remove the stems and seeds from the chiles and slit them down the sides so they open up flat. Toast them briefly in a cast iron pan over medium heat until they are fragrant but not burned. Place them in a bowl and pour in hot water to cover. Weigh them down with a small plate to keep them covered. Let them sit for 20 – 30 minutes while you prepare the remaining ingredients.

Put the broth in a large soup pot and bring to a simmer. Add the squash, cabbage, and rice, and simmer on low until rice is done and squash is tender (about 20-25 mins). As soon as the chiles are soft enough, puree them in a blender or food processor with enough of their soaking water to make the mixture pourable. Add it to the soup whether the rice and squash is tender or not. Continue to cook until all the vegetables are tender and the flavors are blended. Add the shredded turkey and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve immediately, garnishing each serving with a squeeze of lime, a crumble of cheese, some diced avocado and cilantro leaves.

Posted in Latin American, Uncategorized, healthy, hearty, holidays | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment
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    The recipes and images on this site belong to Vanessa Barrington. Feel free to link here and if you’d like to use a recipe or image, please ask permission first. Thank you.