on holiday

I started cooking a few weeks ago, and I guess I never stopped. I know, I know – I’m always cooking; but this was different. It was Monika Day, and the menu was extensive.

 lemon cakeolive oil lemon cake // recipe testing for Allyson Kramer


In case you’re wondering, Monika Day is my birthday. Not as in “oh, it’s my birthday, la di da, we’re going to eat cake for a week and make special meals and have all kinds of fun!!!” We’re much more selfish than that in my house. Your birthday is a bona fide holiday – no school! No work!  Nina was born on New Year’s Day, which sort of set the precedent. Why on earth would I let her have all the fun?

chili mac+picklechili mac with a giant lacto-fermented garlicky, gingery pickle spear
summer's last gaspthe last of our summer garden, harvested the night before our first big frost
end-of-summer hashend-of-summer hash lettuce wraps // the rest of the baby ‘looms were roasted
candied herb pepitascandied herb pepitas // fresh oregano and rosemary from the garden
umami bowlumami bowls // sticky rice (warm, not hot) with white miso, toasted sesame oil, tamari, Thai chili flakes and scallions
shallots+sweet peppersvinegar-pickled shallots and sweet peppers to go with homemade pretzel dogs
olive oil lemon cakemore lemon cake . . . I made it three times in one week
pickles pickles picklesLacto-fermented probiotic pickle spears to accompany all manner of sandwiches, soups & chilis; sweet zucchini relish for Chicago-style dogs; spicy anise & Szechuan pepper pickle slices; the aforementioned shallots & sweet peppers. I stopped only because I ran out of things to pickle.

Probiotic pickles

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Every batch of probiotic pickles I make starts out loosely following this Sandor Katz recipe, and then I vary the add-ins based on what I’m craving and have on hand. I usually make two half-gallon jars at a time – I just eyeball how many cucumbers will fill each jar, I never bother weighing them. I make the brine really salty to start (about 5%), then once the pickles have soured to my liking I pour off some of the brine and replace it with fresh filtered water before refrigerating them. I like to use small, knobbly pickling cucumbers. The variety I use depends on which of my saved seeds successfully sprouted, followed by whatever seeds looks good at my co-op or local hippie/hipster nursery in the spring. And then if squash bugs destroy my vines, I hit up the farmers’ market.

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To make the brine:
Dissolve 1/4 cup pickling or kosher salt in 5 cups filtered water.
Repeat as necessary depending on how many jars of pickles you’re making.

In each half-gallon jar I layer at the bottom:
4-5 large rinsed strawberry leaves
6 large cloves garlic, peeled
1/2-inch knob of fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
2 teaspoons dill seeds (fresh or dried)
Large pinch Thai chili flakes
Pickling cucumbers, enough to tightly pack into the jar

Pickling steps:
Rinse the cucumbers and slice off the blossom ends.
Layer items in bottom of each glass jar.
Pack cucumbers tightly into jar; large cucumbers may be halved.
Pour in enough brine to cover; you want to keep the cucumbers completely submerged. I use a heavy rock (pre-boiled to disinfect) to keep the cucumbers down.
Cover top of jar with a double layer of coffee filters or cotton cloth; secure with rubber bands.
Place jar in a dark, cool spot for fermentation to occur. Check the jar daily – if too much brine evaporates, add more brine or filtered water. If any sort of growth appears on the water’s surface, skim it off.
Taste the pickles after 4-5 days, and daily after that until they are soured to your liking. Move them to the refrigerator to slow down fermentation.

Yield: 2 half gallon jars

Prep time: 30 minutes | Fermentation time: 4-5 days, longer for a more sour pickle


Setting the mood

I wish I were out of doors – I wish I were a girl again, half savage and hardy […] I’m sure I should be myself were I once among the heather on those hills.

exploring our woods and pond, not unlike Catherine exploring the moors

Despite temps in the high 80s and days spilling over with bright white sunshine, autumn is just around the corner. I love this time of year for so many reasons – skinny jeans and opaque tights tucked into knee-high boots, stocking up on yarn to knit up scarves/hats/arm&leg warmers, the smell of decaying leaves and wood fires.

But mostly, I love it for the books and films it puts me in the mood for.

This is the time of year when I first read The Historian and A Discovery of Witches; when I always re-read Into the Wild, Time Traveler’s Wife, and a few shorts by King or Barker. I check out new novels friends describe as “dark in the best way possible.” I plan and view – sometimes for and by just myself – film festivals ranging from Kubrick to gothic horror.

{Film favorites the first half of this month: Jane Eyre (2011); Wuthering Heights (2011); The Awakening. Oh, so much to say about these films! Perhaps a review post is in the near future.}

In my autumn kitchen, there are apples and winter squash piled up on the table; yeasted and slow-rising breads in the oven; a pot of oatmeal for breakfast every morning and teacakes under the cake dome every night. Familiar grains are revisited, new ones explored. And always, always, a jar of uttapam batter bubbling away on the counter.

uttapam.batterbubbles! bubbles!
uttapam+souputtapam is the perfect side for a bowl of soup or stew


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In a roundabout sort of way, dosas are to uttapam what crepes are to pancakes. Over the years I’ve modified SE Katz’s dosa recipe from Wild Fermentation, changing a couple of ingredients to suit my tastes, and decreasing liquid to keep the batter thick. I usually fill these with chopped onion and cilantro, but have also been known to stuff them full of all manner of things à la the pudla craze. I like to measure my batter out 1/4 cup at a time, mixing in the filling for each uttapam directly in the measuring cup. Depending on ambient room temperature, humidity and organisms present in the air, each batch of batter will ferment a little differently. As soon as your batter tastes good to you, move it to the refrigerator to slow down the fermentation process. I prefer to use a tall glass 1/2 gallon jar for my batter.

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1 1/2 cups uncooked basmati rice
1/2 cup cooked basmati rice
1 cup dry red lentils
1/4 cup plain, unsweetened coconut kefir or yogurt

{suggested filling per uttapam}
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon chopped onion
pinch of salt
coconut oil, for the skillet

Fermenting the batter
In a tall bowl or jar, combine your rice and lentils and cover completely with water. Seal tightly and leave to soak for 8-12 hours.

Strain the rice and lentils, and return them to the jar. Add the kefir or yogurt and use an immersion blender to grind everything into a thick, smooth batter. Small flecks of rice and lentils is fine, but the batter should not be chunky. Add water only if necessary, a tablespoon at a time.

Cover the top of the jar with a piece of gauze or cheesecloth, secure with a rubber band (or lid ring, if using a canning jar) and leave out at room temperature to ferment, anywhere from 24-56 hours. Check after 24 hours and every 8 hours after, until the flavor suits you. It will be sour, and the batter will expand and rise substantially as it ferments.

Making the uttapam
Prepare enough filling for however many uttapam you want to make. Heat a cast iron skillet over medium heat, and rub with a small amount of coconut oil. While the skillet is heating, measure out 1/4 cup batter. Drop your filling into the measuring cup and fold in with a small spoon. Pour the batter into the skillet; it should be the consistency of pancake batter. Cook until crisp and golden on one side, about five minutes; flip and cook through.

Yield: 3 Cups batter

Prep time: 5 minutes | Fermentation time: 1-3 days | Cook time: 10 minutes


There are only so many things a mother can sneak into her daughter’s smoothie before suspicion is aroused. Blackstrap molasses? check. Steel cut oats? check-check. Greens? Not on your life. Not so much as a piece of granny smith apple peel, let alone anything leafy, have made it past Nina’s discerning eye. Fortunately, her voracious appetite for all things pasta lends itself the perfect Plan B: pesto.

I didn’t sell her on pesto right away; Nina has yet to develop a fondness for garlic, something I can hardly conceive of making a pesto without. She does, however, enjoy the subtle garlicky kiss of fresh chives, which make a decent substitution. Couple that with her unbridled delight in seeing all manner of things get stuck in my braces every night at dinnertime, and a pesto lover was born. I quickly upped the ante and managed to come up with a nutritionally dense pesto she loves.

Unlike most foods, this tastes best right away, rather than after the obligatory flavor melding that most recipes benefit from. Despite it’s being raw, the distinct cabbage-y, brassica-ness of the kale emerges after a couple of days. This also happens if you heat it up, for instance when used in a grilled BLT – however: when tempered with vegan mayo, a thick slice of just-picked tomato and your favorite version of bacon, nothing could taste better. (Have I confused you yet?)

Kale pesto: chock full of hippie goodness

2 bunches kale leaves
1 small handful fresh chives
1 large handful basil
Juice of one lemon
2 T white miso
6 T olive oil
1/2 C hemp hearts
Salt to taste

Rinse and pat dry all of your greens. De-rib your kale leaves and cut into thumb-sized pieces. Place half of the kale plus all remaining ingredients into your food processor and pulse until a paste begins to form. Add the remaining kale and additional oil or lemon juice, if needed. Pulse to desired pesto consistency. Keeps for up to one week in the refrigerator, especially if you add a thin layer of oil over the top. Freezes well.

Yield: 2-3 cups

Prep time: 15-30 minutes (depending on your kale de-ribbing abilities), Cook time: n/a

Not for the faint of heart

We did a fair amount of camping this summer, mostly on the return leg of a mid-summer road trip.

My husband’s birthday landed on the weekend before Nina started kindergarten, and so to celebrate both of these milestones, we drove out to Stone Mountain. Three days of hiking, camp fire cooking, star gazing, and Nina’s first proclaimed boyfriend. (I see an interesting year ahead of us.)



When we camp for more than just one night, there are two things I never leave home without: cold-brewed coffee and granola. Lots of stick-to-your-ribs, sustained energy-supplying granola.


Stone Mountain is a great rock climbing destination, but Nina’s a bit too young for that yet.  Luckily, the base is scattered with boulders of every shape and size. While Mar set up camp, Nina and I hiked to the mountain’s base and did a bit of boulder hopping.



On day two, the three of us hiked up to the summit. It was swarming with Cub Scouts, one of which was the current love of Nina’s life. At the top of this beautiful mountain, though, she was 100% Daddy’s Girl.




This granola – it’s not for the faint of heart. It has quite a bit of oil, which gives it an icy sheen and makes the larger bits shatter between your teeth with a very satisfying crack. It’s perfect for a day-long hike, as a post-run snack, or sprinkled sparingly over yogurt for breakfast. I don’t recommend it for mindless munching, though. This is not that kind of granola.

I’ve been making Heidi Swanson’s granola from Super Natural Every Day for a couple of years, and it morphed into this recipe. As long as one stays close to this ratio of oats : add ins : sweetener + oil, it can easily be changed to accommodate whatever’s in your pantry (or on sale in the bulk bins) without any trouble.


Stone Mountain granola

3 C rolled oats
3/4 C raw sliced almonds
3/4 C raw hulled pumpkin seeds
1/2 C unsweetened coconut chips or flakes
Large pinch kosher salt
1/2 C coconut oil
1/2 C maple syrup
1/2 C dried fruit, optional

Preheat the oven to 300 F/150 C degrees and position a rack in the center. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine the oats, nuts, seeds and coconut and mix thoroughly. In a small saucepan, whisk the coconut oil and maple syrup over low heat until the oil has completely melted, then add to the oat mixture. Stir until everything is well coated. Spread out in an even layer on the baking sheet, then sprinkle with a generous pinch of kosher salt (no need to mix in). Bake until golden brown, about 45 minutes, stirring once at the halfway mark. Upon removing the granola from the oven, stir in dried fruit, if using. Once cooled, store in an airtight container; this will keep well at room temperature for a week.

Note: My favorite fruit to add to this are dried cherries or apricots, cut into bite-sized pieces.

Yield: about 6 cups

Prep time: 5 minutes, Cook time: 45 minutes