squash sauce

With temps nearing 100 today, I’m keeping things in the kitchen simple, focusing all efforts on soaking up the last flush of summer.

This means my blender is seeing a lot of action: the family-sized green smoothie it makes every day, followed by a giant batch of butternut queso.

My garden didn’t yield any butternuts this year, but there were plenty at the farmers’ market. This sauce is easy to make with both fresh and frozen butternut squash, so I snatched several up to prep and freeze later this month.

squash sauce


Butternut queso

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This is one of those recipes that was born of not-in-the-mood-for-anything meals + staple ingredients. Items are grabbed from the pantry, tossed into the blender, and the rest of the meal figures itself out. If using a medium/large butternut, the neck portion will yield 2 to 2 1/2 cups cubed squash. The concentrated sweetness of dried tomatoes rounds out the flavor of this sauce and lends it a hint of color. We go easy on the garlic, but mine is a homegrown variety, more pungent than what’s found in most markets. This tastes good with a dash (or three) of smoked paprika; sadly, my family is too wimpy to handle such a thing. Sometimes, I sneak in a few dashes of ground chipotle – just as much flavor, but less discernible heat. You’ll notice I don’t add any oil or butter – this isn’t because I’m avoiding fat; the sauce is rich enough without it (especially after the flavors have melded in the fridge for a few hours). Some similar recipes on the web include Earth Balance, and I’m sure throwing in a knob would taste good to some palates, but we enjoy it without.

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2 cups 1/2-inch cubed butternut squash
1 medium yellow-fleshed potato, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 cloves garlic, or more to taste
4 thumb-sized sundried tomato pieces (preferably not oil packed)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon tamari
1/2 cup raw cashews, either pre-soaked/drained or pulverized in a spice grinder
1 cup nutritional yeast flakes
1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt, more to taste
a few grinds white pepper, more to taste

Combine the squash, potato, garlic and sundried tomatoes in a large, wide pot. Add just enough water to cover and bring to a low boil. Lower to a simmer and cook until the potato and squash are fork tender, about 10 minutes. Taking care not to burn yourself, transfer the contents of the pot to the blender. Add the lemon juice and tamari, and blend until smooth. Add the cashews, nutritional yeast, salt and pepper, and blend again until smooth. Add additional water if necessary to make the sauce thinner, if you prefer. The sauce will thicken slightly when cooled.

Prep time: 10 minutes | Cook time: 15 minutes | Yield: about 3 cups


Pre-garden tour // five minute miso cashew chèvre

I’ve been meaning to give a garden tour for ages, one of the entire grounds. It’s a lot – my gardens and beds are spread out over 15 acres, and every time I think about it I get overwhelmed. Until I finally realized that I don’t have to do it all at once, and then I got excited! Starting next week, with my kitchen garden, I’m going to give you mini tours of this wee little farm I love so much.

The recipe I’m sharing today pairs really well with a lot of things growing in my kitchen garden right now, both sweet and savory.

kitchen garden cross sectionThe corner of my kitchen garden, home to sprawling herbs, many pots of various sizes, and full of hidden frog and lizard burrows.
kitchen garden toad and frog Most of the pots offer temporary housing to seedlings or plants while I decide on their permanent places of residence. They are also home to many a burrowing toad; Nina made a temporary dwelling for a couple of toads we found in a pot while transferring plants. After everything was put back in order, we released them back into the garden.
kitchen garden VastraThis photo of Vastra was taken a few weeks ago – the bed of greens behind her is now completely overgrown, despite us cutting salad greens every day. I leave a ground cover of chickweed year-round, so that when the girls jump their fence and make a beeline for the garden, they’re distracted enough that we can catch them. Don’t feel sorry for Vastra! She and her flock has a very nice fenced in dwelling, which I’ll show you during an upcoming tour.
tangy cashew chevre w. radishesA dark rye tartine with homegrown radishes and chive blossoms.
tangy cashew chevre lunch prep
tangy cashew chevre lunch tartinesTartines for lunch, left to right: last night’s radish leaves and a pepper from the farmers’ market; radish leaves and chive blossoms; homegrown strawberries and mint.


Five minute miso cashew chèvre

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This reminds me of chèvre – delightfully tangy, with a hint of sweetness that is only detectable when you aren’t looking for it. It’s a soft cashew cheese, one that isn’t cultured that I like to make while I wait for my cultured cheeses to hurry up already. I make it in small batches in my mini Cuisinart, which has graced my many kitchens since 1995. I don’t bother soaking my cashews; it’s such a small amount that they turn to powder with just a few pulses of the blade. When Nina wants to get in on the action, I let her pulverize the cashews in a spice grinder – not necessary, but very gratifying. And truth be told, even faster than the food processor.

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1 cup raw cashew pieces
1/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon shiro miso
2 tablespoons water

Add your cashews to the food processor and blitz until powdered. Add the rest of the ingredients and blend until smooth. Add additional water if necessary – you want the texture to be similar to whipped cream cheese. Will keep in the refrigerator for a week or so.

Prep time: 5 minutes | Yield: about 1 cup

You say potato, I say focaccia

Baking is how I decompress at the beginning of most days. Does that sound weird? I tend to wake up with a jumble of ideas spilling out of my head and an annoying level of Morning Person energy, but instead of waking my husband up to discuss whatever revelation I’ve had about whichever film we watched the night before that resulted in an hour-long post-film conversation until we collapsed into bed, me still jabbering away until I fell asleep mid-sentence (which is finished, of course, as I awake) – well, instead I just let him continue sleeping, and I channel this energy into my favorite wooden mixing spoon. It must be exhausting to live with someone like me! They deserve a muffin.

Under the Dome-potato focacciamuffins and whatnot always reside under the dome of this cake stand // hilariously enough (to me), Under the Dome is the only novel by King I have not read // if you’re a King fan, hurry up and get a copy of Doctor Sleep and read it and then let me know because I’m going crazy not having anyone to talk to about it!

On weekdays, it’s muffins or cookies and sometimes even a cake. If I can mix it up before the oven finishes preheating and shower in the time it takes to bake, it’s fair game. On weekends I get a little more creative. I have the time to experiment with pastry dough, with anything that begs to be stuffed or layered, and lately – yeasted breads. In fact, most weekends begin with two rounds of focacce.

potato focaccia+new hatautumn hiking essentials for my munchkin vegan (also a Morning Person, yay!): bamboo wrist warmers, linen/cotton hat, wedge of tomato-kissed focaccia

I’ve baked a lot of bread by ratio, dutifully taring my kitchen scale before the addition of each new ingredient, confident that the outcome will be essentially fail proof. But you know what? Failure can be fun. Most of the time I prefer to bake by intuition, with minimal measuring of ingredients and all caution thrown to the wind. I’m a fly by the seat of my pants baker at heart, and it serves me well.

potato focaccia extreme closeupyeast + potatoes = magic

Potato focaccia

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This is a really wet, sticky dough, and I only make it with a stand mixer. If you decide to make it by hand, just remember that you want the dough to be somewhat sticky. Also, the potatoes used in this recipe should be waxy and creamy (yukons), not dry and fluffy (russets). Do not use baking potatoes, they have an entirely different water and starch content that does not work well in this bread. Also! You will need to reserve your cooking water, and it will need to be lukewarm – not hot – when you combine it with the yeast. To speed things up I often put my reserved cooking water into the freezer to cool it down while I’m whipping the potatoes. If you get busy and leave your cooked potatoes to hang out for an hour or so, that’s okay too! This is a very forgiving recipe. As long as you don’t kill your yeast by using too-hot water (105 degrees), you’re good to go.

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3-4 medium yellow-fleshed or red-skinned potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 Cup reserved cooking water, divided
2 1/2 teaspoons (or 1 packet) dry active yeast
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
4-5 Cups white spelt flour
Olive oil
1-2 tablespoons tomato paste
(optional) fresh minced herbs or chopped olives

Combine the chopped potatoes with a generous amount of cold water in a large pot and simmer until fork tender. Do not drain.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the cooked potatoes to the bowl of your stand mixer along with 1/3 cup reserved cooking water. With the paddle attachment, whip the potatoes until creamy. A few lumps are fine. Set aside until both the whipped potatoes and the remaining reserved cooking water have cooled.

Switch out the paddle for the dough hook attachment. Add the remaining 2/3 cup cooled potato water to the mixing bowl, allowing it to pool on top of the potatoes. Sprinkle the yeast and salt into the water; the yeast should start to look creamy after a couple of minutes. Add one cup of flour to the mixing bowl and mix on low until fully incorporated. Continue adding flour one cup at a time until you’ve added four cups total. Continue adding flour in quarter cup increments until your dough starts forming a sticky ball around the hook; it will look a lot like taffy, or a glob of melted marshmallow. Increase mixing speed to medium and let the dough hook knead the dough for five minutes. You may need to stop the mixer once or twice to scrape the dough off the hook.

Drizzle a thin stream of olive oil around the inside perimeter of the bowl. Using a silicone spatula, work the dough into a large ball by sliding the spatula around the edge of the mixing bowl where it meets the dough, using the spatula to coat the dough ball with oil as you turn it. Cover with a tea towel and leave to sit in a warm spot for 60-90 minutes, or until the dough has doubled in size.

Lightly oil two 9-inch round cake pans. Using your best estimate, put half of the dough into each pan. If you need to pinch some from one pan and transfer it to the other, no problem! The dough is very forgiving. Using a silicone spatula or lightly oiled fingers, stretch the dough along the bottom of each pan until it reaches the edge and forms an even layer. Allow to rest for fifteen minutes.

Use your fingers to make dimples in the surface of the dough. Cover and allow to rest for another 45 minutes.

Twenty minutes before your dough is finished with this last rise, set a rack in the bottom position and preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

When the oven is heated and your dough has finished rising, it’s time to add your topping. Mix the tomato paste with a few drops of oil until it is slightly thinned. Gently brush the tomato mixture over the surface of the dough. Sprinkle with fresh herbs or olives, if using.

Place both pans on the bottom rack of the oven and immediately decrease the temperature to 375. Bake for 30 minutes or until the loaves are golden on top and pulling away from the edges of each pan. Carefully remove each focaccia from its pan and transfer to a cooling rack. This bread may be sliced immediately as long as you use a sharp serrated knife.

Total time (mostly inactive): 3 ½ – 4 hours | Bake time: 30 minutes

Second breakfast / late night snacks / movie+book notes

I’m not a straightaway breakfast person, whether I’m up for work before dawn or a bit later on the weekend. Years and years of running first thing in the morning reinforced this behavior, but I also think it’s because I can’t fall asleep with an empty stomach. Which means I wake up with a semi-full stomach, I guess? Or at the very least, no rumbling hunger pangs.

My first breakfast is usually a smoothie with espresso blended in, or if I’m in a really big hurry (or feeling really full), I fill a jam jar with a scoop of chocolate Vega protein powder, a couple ounces of espresso, top it off with almond milk, give it a shake and bam! first breakfast.

banana pudding overnight oatssecond breakfast, in a jar: banana pudding overnight oats // a tester recipe for Kathy Hester’s current cookbook-in-progress

Jump ahead a couple of hours and I’m ready for second breakfast. On work days, it’s fresh fruit + either chia pudding or a jar of overnight oats. On weekends it’s always something broiled on toast.

a classicsecond breakfast, on toast: this classic never lets me down

I could do an entire blog devoted to things on toast, because it’s also what I have every night right before popping in a movie or cracking open a book.

Speaking of which, I cannot help but share a few titles of things I’ve recently devoured.

Film (first time viewing):
We Need to Talk About Kevin: This movie is not for everyone, but if you can handle it, you should watch it. It’s extremely uncomfortable to watch, but handles the subject matter in an entirely new (to me) way. Most reviews don’t do this movie justice; they seem to imply it’s a shock-seeking amalgam of horror and drama, which is true of many films in this newly emerging genre. Yes, the subject matter is horrifying – but the director’s approach to this topic, the editing, cinematography, set and costume design, and acting make it difficult to label as any one type of film. If you read the novel, forget everything from that experience. (But you don’t need me to tell you that, because we all know that cinematography and the written word are two entirely different media, and a director and an author convey their own interpretations of material. Ahem.) If you didn’t read the novel, here’s my attempt at a synopsis: this film is about a family – a mother and son, mostly – and a patchwork of present day events, real flashbacks, and recollections filtered through the mother’s point of view, all swirling around and leading up to a specific event. It’s a study of nature vs. nurture, exposing many questions without offering any definitive answers. I watched this without knowledge of what the event was (although you have a pretty good idea early on), and had read the novel so long ago that by the time I realized it, I was able to ignore anything book-related and immerse myself in the film. Almost no violence is actually shown on screen, but the tension and dread leading up to a few scenes and played out through the actors’ body language and facial expressions revealed more than a thousand audible or visual shocks could.  Oh yes, and it stars Tilda Swinton, Ezra Miller and John C. Reilly.

Films (repeat viewings):
Fright Night (2011): Colin Farrell, an actor I’ve grudgingly come to appreciate, gives this remake an equally campy and creepy turn. I first watched this to see David Tennant in leather pants; I rewatch it because Farrell’s vampire scared the shit out of me. In an otherwise campy-in-all-the-right-places movie, he’s quite good.

Super 8: So my personal opinion is that everything in this film after the alien is revealed and starts snatching people up is totally overblown, typical J.J. Abrams Spielberg worship schtick, but up until that point? One of my favorite movies ever. The dialogue and behavior of the kids is straight out of It or Stand by Me – one of the coming-of-age friendship scenes not involving murderous demon clowns or dead bodies near railroad tracks. (The real hallmark of King’s writing.) I really, really wanted to watch this with Nina, but my husband reminded me that not only does she already know enough curse words without seeing a pack of tweens saying ‘shit’ in every other sentence (although their dialogue is pretty fucking funny, and realistic from what I remember of my childhood), but also that the alien might give her a bit of a scare.

Books (first time readings):
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler: I think this novel is better the less you know (sort of like Little Bee). If you really want to read a review, though, the one from the NYT Sunday Book Review is quite good.

Sharp Objects, by Gillian Flynn: Dark and disturbing (think V.C. Andrews crossed with Jodi Picoult); very predictable but in the most delicious, disaster-rubbernecking sort of way.

spin dip (not) on toastdestined to be a second breakfast on toast

Oh, and I was going to share one of my favorite things to eat on toast. There is a baking dish of this particular spinach artichoke dip in my refrigerator at least once a month. It works as a quesadilla filling, as a stand alone appetizer with chips, and most importantly, broiled atop a slice of sourdough with a healthy dusting of smoked paprika.

spin dip on toastthe ultimate second breakfast, even better as a midnight or movie snack

Spinach artichoke dip

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I tested this dip a couple of years ago for Allyson Kramer’s first cookbook, Great Gluten Free Vegan Eats, and it quickly became the dish I bring to every party. The original has a cashew cream base, which unfortunately a friend of mine can’t eat. Instead of looking for a new recipe, I came up with this.

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2 tablespoons vegan mayonnaise
1 6-ounce container plain Greek vegan yogurt
1/2 cup nutritional yeast
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons minced chives
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon fine grain salt
2 cups of packed chopped spinach leaves
1 can of large artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
additional salt to taste

Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Stir together everything except the spinach and artichoke hearts. Fold these last two ingredients in, and add additional salt if needed. Transfer to a small baking dish (no larger than 9″ square) and bake for 25 minutes, or until bubbly and starting to brown. Allow to set at least five minutes before serving.

Yield: 1 pan

Prep time: 15 minutes | Bake time: 25 minutes

Brown bagging it + the easiest, laziest cookie recipe ever

Nina brings her lunch to school, which probably comes as no surprise. I make it while she eats breakfast and watches a few minutes of her favorite tv show (if she’s ready for school in time – tv is the best motivator ever). Her lunch includes something in her thermos 3-4 days a week, which I prepare on the stove and then transfer immediately to keep it hot.

vegan kid lunch (1)blueberry coconut yogurt, blanched tofu, pecans+dried apricots, Veggie Booty, veggies+pasta tossed w. olive oil+nutch // most of the veggies are on the bottom; she always thinks there’s more pasta overall based on what she sees at the top // I pack it into her thermos when it’s slightly more firm than al dente, since it will soften a little in the thermos

It probably sounds time consuming, but it isn’t! Not as long as we stick to a schedule. Here’s our morning routine:

0545    I get myself up and ready for work (sometimes hitting snooze until 0600 because dudes, short hair! short hair!)
0610    N’s alarm goes off (she hasn’t learned the art of snoozing – yet)
0615    N is at the table, and if she hasn’t told me what she wants for breakfast, I get to choose it for her
0630a  N finishes breakfast, gets dressed, brushes teeth and hair, makes her bed, (cleans the stables and sweeps the chimney, ha ha ha) and with time left over watches the brothers Kratt
0630b  I start her lunch, have my breakfast, finish getting ready for work (eyeliner and picking out shoes – because short hair!)
0700    Feed the (non-human!) animals
0715    In the car to drop her at school on my way to work

This routine was ignored maybe two or three times last year by Nina. The solution? I got in the car and left without her. (Evil laugh.) (Her dad drove her instead.) (Tough love can fun.)

vegan kid lunch (2)veggie chips, spelt sourdough pb+? (j/banana/chocolate hazelnut spread), a sliced peach; not pictured: yogurt + chocolate almond milk

The thing that always, always, always messed up our routine? Preparing my own lunch. I’m not in the pack-it-up-the-night-before camp, because my lunch ends up tasting stale or gross and I just end up buying something else, then feeding my uneaten lunch to my hens when I get home. The solution was ridiculously easy. I stock my work refrigerator with enough greens and various proteins to provide a week’s worth of giant salads, and only bring from home some veggies and a small jar of whatever easily reheatable leftovers I set aside from the previous night’s meal. Sometimes I bring rice and guacamole, sometimes a curried vegetable biryani. Having a couple of different proteins at work gives me an excuse to indulge in something my family doesn’t have that often (smoked tofu) or that I want to try before serving it to them (Beyond Meat). Also, it gives me an excuse to take a mid-week field trip to Whole Foods when I need to get out of my office. Win-win!

2013041814696my lunch = a casserole dish-sized salad topped w. whatever favorite plant protein was on sale at Whole Foods that week
vegan kid lunch (3)prep time for N’s lunch: 5 minutes // pita bread pb+j/etc, carrot sticks, yogurt w. frozen fruit (to keep it cold!), unshelled pistachios hiding in the monkey bag

If I have a little extra time (especially on days Nina takes a sandwich^^), I’ll also whip up these cookies. I make a small batch, so that my husband doesn’t feel bad about eating all of them five minutes after we leave.

lunch-sized cookiesall packed up, room for a cookie

Anything goes chocolate chip cookies

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These come together very quickly – I start preheating my oven before I even get out the mixing bowl. I’ve discovered that they also bake well in a countertop oven. I use whatever flours are on hand: millet, sorghum, brown rice, oat. I don’t bother with starch, since they’re so tiny. For those of you who aren’t gluten free, they also work well with spelt flour.

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Large scoop (2-3 tablespoons) nut or seed butter
2 tablespoons maple syrup
splash (~1 tablespoon) of almond milk
a few drops of vanilla or almond extract
small pinch of baking soda
small pinch of fine grain salt
2 tablespoons quinoa flour
2 tablespoons almond meal
1 palmful of semi-sweet chocolate chips

In a small bowl, mash the nut/seed butter, maple syrup and milk into a slurry. Add the extract, baking soda and salt and mix thoroughly. Add the flours and chips and mix one more time. You’ll want the dough to be stiff, but not unmanageable. If too stiff, add another splash of milk. If too wet, add a pinch of flour.

Spoon walnut-sized portions onto a parchment-lined baking tray and bake for 12 minutes. No need to space them very far apart, as they will not spread. The cookies will be soft and cakey, firming up as they cool.

Yield: 6 cookies

Prep time: 5 minutes | Bake time: 12 minutes

Garden update + our house toast

So, when the rain came in and drowned a bunch of our plants back in June and July, Nina and I decided to start a bunch of new plants, knowing they might not grow at all, and they certainly wouldn’t get big enough to flower. Then this happened.

eggplant.bloomIt only took seven weeks, but my eggplants bloomed!
Thai.peppersSame goes for this Thai chili pepper.
oh pumpkins.too little too late!Don’t get me started on these pumpkins. At least they survived the squash borer infestation. . .

Now we’re boo hoo hooing that these plants are in bloom, but will probably not have time to fruit. We knew this might happen, but still. It feels so unfair! (Excuse me while I play my tiny violin of self-pity.) Of course, my freakshow watermelon patch has taken over our property.

watermelon.invastionEven the chickens are spooked because the vines are spreading so fast. Good to know global warming is good for something.

There were also some rosemary shenanigans, but I’ll save that for another garden update.

This weekend, Nina came down with the annual back-to-school virus. Because of course we had a jam-packed weekend. A long overdue museum visit, a birthday party, shoe shopping, fancy cookie recipes and maybe a pie. None of it happened.

Here are the highlights of our weekend of forced relaxation: big bowls of simple chickpeas simmered with garlic and fresh bay leaves; elbow macaroni smothered in nutchy sauces; apples dipped in homemade maple sunbutter; baby watermelons. We’ll do anything to halt the invasion. Basically, a lot of comfort eating. We watched Short Circuit. (A good thing; Nina loved it.) My attempts to show her Super 8 were foiled. (Also a good thing; it would have scared the bejeezus out of her.) I finally read Joyland, cover to cover. (Loved it.)

baby.hybrid.watermelonWe planted seed we saved ourselves and ended up with some hybrids.
hybrid.wedgeReally wishing I’d kept track of which two varieties produced this melon.

There was also a lot of toast. This toast, a couple of times a day. If we were a restaurant, this would be our house toast.

TOAST!coconut.cinnamon.sugarCoconut, turbinado sugar and cinnamon.

Select your favorite toasting bread. Lightly spread each slice with coconut oil. Sprinkle liberally with a pinch of turbinado sugar. Dust with cinnamon. Broil until fragrant and toasty.

It’s been a busy summer.



We camped our way to the Upper Peninsula, stopping in Chicago to catch a Cubs game before spending nearly two weeks on lake Superior.



There was a bear cub sighting, a killdeer nest, and ten straight days of sand and sun.




zucchiniWe returned home to find out it rained every single day we were out of town. My kitchen garden? Completely overrun with basil and shiso. My vine garden? Completely overrun with melons. Even my zucchini and patty pan plants survived, despite the annual squash bug plague.

pearsPears are in season. Tip of the iceberg. I suspect a few pear recipes may make an appearance once I get out from under these knobbly green pomes.

blueberry_oatshakeThe past five years we forgot to net our blueberry bushes, which made the local deer happy. This summer we finally got around to it, and have been picking berries every day for over a month. Most of them go straight into Nina’s mouth; any stragglers she leaves behind make it into the kitchen. She has recently declared herself a superhero-in-training*, and we came up with this shake to keep her healthy and strong.

Blueberry superhero oatshake

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This is more milkshake than smoothie, packed with all manner of things a growing superhero needs (…antioxidants, protein, fiber…). An equal amount of rolled or steel cut oats can be substituted for the groats, and 2 tablespoons cashew or peanut butter can be substituted for the raw cashews. If you don’t have a high-powered blender, there will be little flecks of oats and cashews in your shake. To avoid this, simply pre-grind the cashews and oats to a powder with a burr grinder before blending with the rest of the ingredients. I often combine everything in a large mason jar and pop it in the refrigerator before I go to bed, then blend it right in the jar with my immersion blender in the morning.

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1 large handful fresh blueberries
1 small handful baby spinach
1/2 Cup sprouted oat groats
1/4 Cup raw cashews
1/2 to 1 Cup almond milk
1 teaspoon blackstrap molasses

Blend until smooth, starting with 1/2 Cup milk and adding more if needed to reach desired consistency.

Yield: 1 superhero or 2 mortal servings

Prep time: 5 minutes

*Awesome Girl. Is anyone even a little bit surprised?