Archives for the month of: November, 2013

Local, Seasonal DIY Potato Starch, Because Why Not?

Ah, what is that disgusting grey sludge in the cute vintage sugar bowl, you may ask?

I celebrate Hanukkah with my children every year, hoping to keep them somehow connected to traditions that are about history and community, So every year I make latkes, fried potato cakes of shredded potatoes, generally, with onion and egg and S and P and a binder like matzo meal if possible, flour if not. (You could make them fancier of course.) Simple but a bit labour intensive, and yummy with sour cream, sauerkraut, and home-made applesauce.

(To my “blog followers”: this use of apples is another kind of apple-as-savoury on that list I am generating ūüôā )

You can never make enough latkes– people and yourself will always eat more.

There’s something every year I look forward to when I grate the potatoes: letting the shreds sit in a colander, to release the excess fluid, then letting that fluid sit so the starch settles into powdery starchiness. For years I wondered what it was, then I realised in its obviousness: Potato Starch. The liquid on top oxidizes and gets darker, and this year was especially black because the potatoes were so fresh, I didn’t peel them first. You pour it off. The fluid wants to escape to the top, and you keep pouring. Eventually you have powder dry enough to store.

I like this starch. From my latke making it forms ¬†maybe two inches in a jam jar and will be used as a sauce thickener in gravies and Chinese stir-fry sauces, in place of cornstarch (or corn flour, as it’s called in the UK). ¬†A by-product, therefore a little bit of a don’t-have-to-buy product, which is a good theme for Black Friday/Saturday. ¬†And, a minor self-sufficiency, home-steading skill!

If I ever had lots of green potatoes (inedible) I might try this starch making as a salvage- operation.  I wonder if any of the alkaloid toxins would remain?

Thanksgiving Pie

We had our family-and-friends Thanksgiving feast not on Thanksgiving this year, but last Saturday. Beautiful, and hard work, and I’m glad to have done it, because a holiday of gratitude is a tradition to honour. And yet, while as a foodie I get really excited by all the chatter in the blogosphere about The Meal, the lavishness, excess, and gluttony sit uncomfortably. There’s something disgusting about eating to overfulness, on a personal, physical level as well as the obvious political ramifications– and so many hungry in our communities, our countries, our globe. I think next year I will work harder for a food aesthetic that feels harvesty and celebratory yet simple, with an enough-ness to the gratitude. ¬†Is “ample sufficiency” the phrase I’m seeking?

And there’s the history of this holiday, the violence, which I’ll leave alone for this moment– the kind of history that is on my mind, filled with sadism of the White Victor towards the natives, horrendous– doesn’t quite match the instagrammatic filters of sugar-glistening pastry and home-sweet-home nostalgia. ¬†But had to say — I’m me LOL!

The pie I made for our feast: ¬†a beautiful Apple and Salted-Caramel Pie from the new cookbook from the Four and Twenty Blackbirds Pie people in Brooklyn–which recipe I found on the internet. ¬†It came out really well even with my substitutions (pear scrap-vinegar instead of lemon juice), though quite wet and way too sweet for my taste — and I was reminded how if I can keep internalising intuitive approaches to baking as I have cooking, I’ll be a better and better baker. ¬†In other words: I want to reduce my recipe reliance– in other words, to use recipes for ideas but not to need them, or rather, to be able to do without them.

So here I go trying to explain this, because I think it’s useful to articulate, and the next day. with the conscious intention to learn from doing, I actually made a better pie of my own invention, and I learned principles from it that I now can grow with. ¬†I want to have this as a reference for the future.

To start with, I had extra dough, and I had found this, and it was indeed perfect “Perfect Pie Crust.”

Though “perfect” (a concept I dislike) is as much about technique (very light handling) and letting the dough rest between mixture and rolling, as anything else. ¬†Oh, freshness of butter maybe!

I used a combination of flours: local wholemeal (not strong) which I love for baking,¬†¬†Gluten Free White Flour, Cheap White Flour, Expensive Organic White Spelt. I always mix flours, usually to a browner effect, often with almond meal, or chestnut flour, or maize, or buckwheat– and I’ve learned to feel free doing this. ¬†You get used to feeling of moistness how much cold water you need to add — add very little, then add a little more. ¬†And if it’s too wet by unfortunate miscalculation, you can roll out the dough with a little extra flour to compensate– and don’t stress– it will still be good enough. ¬†Because you are liberated from the idea of Perfect with the idea Beautiful and Creative. ¬†Eventually, your doughs will have the right fat/wet/dry balance just from experience.

(Here’s the link to advertise some wonderful, relatively local Welsh flour: ¬† )

So the intention was to make an apple pie:I cut up apples, meaning, removed damaged skin, cored, all the ugly bits (am still working through boxes of windfalls that by now are really needing to be used)– and had a nice bowl of apples. ¬†I added a happy tablespoon of cinnamon, a scant quarter cup of sugar, ¬†and maybe two spoons of flour– of course could be ground almonds, or cornflour, or teeny tapioca pearls– but a thickener. ¬†And I let it sit to see how much water would come out. ¬†The extra flour mattered this time. ¬†Wet is best if syrupy in pies. ¬†How’s that for a dictum?

Then the brain wave came to add the leftover cranberry-orange sauce, sitting right in front of me in a glass jar I’d meant to put in the fridge. ¬† This is the¬†cranberry sauce I most like making– the one I learned through all my childhoods, Thanks Mom!, printed on that plastic bag packet– mix a pack of cranberries, two organic oranges, a quarter cup of sugar, for a tart, invigorating, raw “relish.” ¬† So mixed it with the apples, rolled out the bottom layer of the dough, put the fruit in, and covered with a sloppy looking lattice, then rolled the last of the dough into hearts to decorate and disguise my lazy handiwork.

I felt proud of this pie because it was my own. ¬†And not too sweet, slightly tart, slightly sour, a beautiful colour, and I gave it to a good friend who is having a challenging time– hoping she’d eat it for breakfast, because pie for breakfast is love. ¬†The love is part of the non-recipe recipe. ¬†I hope this all makes sense.

And there’s a dessert post, if a little convoluted, in advance of American Thanksgiving, for the friend of the friend who asked.

Human Remains, Worms, Art

I have a long-term, low-effort project that I think may never reach fruition, but it doesn’t matter. Instead of throwing out, I throw stuff with partial organic (decomposable) composition into my compost bin. This would be things like old socks no longer mendable or wearable, strange bits of textile that belonged to kids’ toys, old, horrendously over-worn underpants, plasticised paper — you get the idea. I’ve had the wish to harvest it at the end of composting cycles, at which time we use all our lovely muck in pots and beds, and make some kind of assemblage called “Human Remains” exploring what would remain of human material culture after time and micro-organisms get to it. There are fragments like polyester nets from said socks, the cotton happily rotted, elastic bands from panties male and female, strange plastic forms– assundry unidentified rotting objects.

The problem is that my husband usually does the heavy dirty job of emptying the compost, and I always forget to ask him to remember, and then it all gets spread or dumped somewhere, then I forget to go a-searchin’. I’ll keep putting the stuff in, but maybe the idea of the project is a good as the project itself (isn’t that one of the banes of conceptual art?).

I’ve misplaced a piece I did find, that I intended to photograph to post. I wondered what it was. Maybe a piece of sock? Maybe a layer of netting around a ball? Don’t know.

There was another project from waste that I never did do (see the eggshells in a recent post for one I did do). A thousand years ago, on a New York City balcony, I had a worm bin, and fed those beloved and peaceful, peaceable pink worms my kitchen scraps– an early vermiculturist was I.

Can you imagine the raised surface of lines on a cantaloupe melon — almost a vermiculated patter (how’s that for etymology moving around things? — just looked it up to find the official meaning — “a pattern made to resemble the track of a worm”). Photo above.

The rind of those melons lay on top of the layers inside the dark bin. The worms don’t eat the food– they eat the microorganisms that break down the food. What dissolved first on those rinds were the lower levels, so that all that remained were the raised, vermiculated patterns, and when I held them up, light shone through, as if lace. Lace from rotting canteloupe.

I wish I had at least photographed these. (They were so beautiful! Very Kiki Smith in a way). Or used them to make prints, or sewn them together to make a curtain, that in time itself would decompose. So many meanings I could have played with.

I still could do. Vermiculture is fun, could set some worm bins up. Easy to do. Wetted, shredded wrung-out newspaper as bedding. A bin with a holes on the bottom for air and excess water to escape. Add worms. Add small amounts of food waste (coffee grinds, carrot peels) — not too much because any heat generated is unappealing to worms — keep moist not dry, and cool not cold or hot. The worms reproduce. They eat. They poo– the poo, or “casing,” is your reward. They like the dark, so keep an opaque maybe plastic but lightweight sheet over the top. When you open to have a look, they will burrow deep, away. You love them more than they love you.

The cycle of matter and rot is inspiring, in which the fertility of rot begets new matter.

Then of course there’s the idea of all the destructiveness of human beings, and the soothing thought that “Human Remains” wanted to explore, that somehow maybe there’s a time when our influence will be inert. Hey, have you read The World Without Us? It’s an incredible piece of scientific-futurist-imagination-research, what it all looks like when people are gone. Ever since reading it, I’ve enjoyed the thought that head lice as a species will go extinct several hours after we do– at last, we can get rid of them! ¬†

PS I went to have a look for “human remains” in the raised bed where George smoothed the compost. ¬†I found a piece of silver tinsel. ¬†Please Birdy, in the spring, take this tinsel in your beak and weave it in your nest.

Less is More

Here’s a household tip: If you have a dishwasher and use tablets, you can cut them in half so a box lasts twice as long. A friend described this long ago as “a green ritual.” It’s money saving, primarily, yet I also dislike using these chemical things– even the natural ones (ie biodegradable) come to us from a dysfunctional, polluting, wasteful industrial economy.

Some friends like dish washing, and I think I would too, the hot sudsy water, the pleasure on the hands, but just in my life there are so many dishes! all the time! never ending! And my husband the energy calculator reckons that if you do your washing up little by little, and if you use hot water, then dishwashers, if you have one, are more energy-efficient. I can only believe him. In our last house,with a solar hot water system, the hot was plumbed into the dishwasher. Before doing this, my mister had rung around to various dishwasher manufacturers to enquire why they all recommended installing the machines to the cold pipe, and heating the water in the machine, not the household system; no one could think of any reasons. So when we had solar hot water, we ran the dishwasher. Loved it. I believe the same appliance is still in that house, a decade later, working fine.

We don’t have solar now, but we still reckon the dishwasher is more efficient, and we do, for what it’s worth, buy our electricity from a renewable producer. Say what you will about the grid system, but this is the best choice we feel we could have made for the moment.

And here I am about every 6 weeks chopping up tabs in half– and then sometimes running cheapo vinegar through the appliance too. All is working fine, so wanted to share this handy household tip.

Vegan Chicken Soup

Vegan Chicken Soup: that’s not actually an oxymoron. I come from Chicken Soup Culture and I can promise you this. Because chicken soup is about the chicken, yes, but it’s also the way it makes you feel when you are ill — hot, steaming, clarifying, herbally, salty, peppery, a broth with kick and comfort.

The New Laurel’s Kitchen was the vegetarian cookbook that I really grew up with, the way many people like me used The Moosewood Cookbook. This was a book with almond butter cookies and wholemeal rolls and lots of salads with shredded carrots and nutritional advice, and you could imagine happy families sitting down together for happy meals. Laurel made “Golden Broth” with yellow split peas, turmeric, onions, garlic, salt and pepper, and she recommended this as a vegetarian substitute, with noodles et al, or plain. Which was close but no cigar.

Fast forward the years –I made a discovery as a fermenter. I like to lacto-ferment cauliflower, with carrots and garlic, ginger, onions, mustard seed, black peppercorns, kalonji, turmeric– the flavours of an English Piccalilly. When the texture gets too soft, and it’s less appealing as a pickle, there’s still the brine rich in healing probiotic bacteria, and the preserved vegetables.

Boil some red lentils. Add more ginger if you like. When soft, add your fermented vegetables. Top off with the brine, cook for as little as possible to preserve its nutrient, or just don’t worry. Puree if you like, and dillute to taste. If you had fresh dill , that would be lovely. Parsley too. Fresh Pepper. A matzoh ball, were you inclined. What you get is not Chicken Soup but it is chicken soup, somehow. The slight sour adds that healing je-ne-sais-quoi and this works for me. (Brine from Lacto-ferments really improves most soups — more recipes to come!) A magic, secret formula that you might not be able to guess.

(The brine from this fermented Piccalilly, rich as it is in anti-inflammatory turmeric, once functioned for me as a miracle pain relief from a terrible tooth problem. I intended after to make this Piccalilly to always have on hand.)

By the way, I’m not vegan. ¬†I’m not even vegetarian. ¬†But I do strive to eat meat rarely, and this is a soup I’d choose on its own merits, not just as a substitute.




Eggshells. Strong protective miracle substance. I often find them uncomposted, in my compost. I know it’s possible to throw them in with bones — chicken bones, meat bones, fish bones — and a little lemon juice or vinegar, as in bone broth, and get all those good minerals, especially the calcium, for your soup.

But I have these new raised beds, and they are filled with leaf mould, and general kitchen compost, and I know from my gardening class that soil is wonderful when rich in organic matter but also needs minerals. That is the basis of earth.  I like the idea that as much comes in a closed loop as possible, so calcium from used egg shells seems great. My instructor Emma told me a tip: save them until you turn on the oven for some other reason, then bake them, so to easily crush them, then add those pulverised shells to your soil. Of course they are also useful to deter slugs.

Was it nearly twenty years ago that I spent some time making these mosaics with eggshells? They are giant collages that speak of an unfolding process, the being in the making, an endlessness (there is no possibility of “end,” — there can always be more) and journey. I was interested even then in using the “waste” from my kitchen, and eggs were so rich a metaphor for fecundity, and fertility, as I wished for then, yet shells nonethess delicate, and crack-able. ¬†Each application of a new piece was both a breaking and a remaking, and an attempt at repair and healing.



The days are getting colder and darker, and I’m feeling ever aware that for so many people now, in Britain, the issue really is to eat or to heat. How can you face the cold when you are hungry, what’s it like to be hungry when you are cold? I am warm as I write, ¬†and probably had too much to my supper.

I believe in the possibility of food systems, and energy systems, that can deliver an ample abundance to people without trashing ecosystems or creating injustice. I have been thinking a lot about how we can address hunger in our communities, in ways that speak to creating the worlds we want to live in — a new Eden, a renewed sense of co-creating and agency, a new sharing…. Recognising that building resilience isn’t about the future, and a fantasy of future need, but about this moment here — we have arrived at this moment now. What we don’t take care of now, we won’t take care of in the future. What we care about now will define who we are. People concerned with local food must be concerned with local hunger NOW. So I am trying to really figure this out in my mind, and communicate it and actuate it with as many people as I can. I was really happy to find this blog above as a great focus.

(ps hope you are able to tell which bits I’ve “reblogged”¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†¬†vs my own comment)

Can Cook - The Food Campaign


‚ÄúOvercoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice‚Ķ.Poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. YOU can be that great generation.‚ÄĚ

Nelson Mandela

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