This year in an attempt to expand our fall/winter garden harvests and experiment with new foods I planted salsify and burdock root.  I’m glad I did because the parsnip seed I planted and relied on for winter roots the last two seasons failed to germinate this year.  It was a good lesson in seed vitality.  I learned that seeds like parsnip and rutabaga have a shorter seed life than most  other foods I grow.  In the future, I’ll make sure I don’t use seed that is more than two years old if I want to grow parsnips and rutabagas in my fall and winter garden (which I do).

Anyway, since I took a risk planting seeds for foods I hadn’t tried before, and they grew well, we have lots to choose from in the garden even though the rutabagas were a total failure and only a couple parsnip seeds germinated.

Salsify is a root similar to a parsnip, but with a more mild taste.  I’d read it is known as the “oyster vegetable” because it tastes similar to an oyster, but I didn’t find that to be true.  I’d also read it tastes faintly like an artichoke heart, and that seems like a more accurate  description.

This is what it looked like when I harvested it out of the garden.

Once I cleaned them up and washed off the soil, they looked like this.

I peeled the salsify and they secreted a white, sticky liquid unlike any other vegetable I’d prepped before. It was easy enough to wash off with some soap and water, but is was strange.

I knew I wanted to roast the salsify roots based on this recipe and wrap them in the home-cured pancetta we’d made this fall.  That recipe may have even been the reason I ordered salsify seeds in the first place.  All year long I bookmark and flag recipes I want to cook with our garden produce.  Often it is these recipes, and the promise of good food on our plates, that provide the motivation to grow our vegetables.

The pancetta we made turned out really well!  I’m realizing we’d never had good pancetta before now, but our home-made pancetta is flavorful, salty and delicious.  It paired perfectly with the mild salsify.

I wrapped a small piece of thinly sliced pancetta around each salsify root and roasted them until the roots were tender and the pancetta was crisp.

Tyler and I sat down at the table and ate this new root with our fingers until the entire dish was gone.  It didn’t take long.

Unfortunately, this was all the salsify we grew this year so one harvest equaled one meal.   I’d like to try growing it again next year because I like having a diverse array of crops to chose from throughout the darkest days of winter.  The burdock I mentioned earlier is still in the fridge, but will hopefully make it onto our menu this week.


We bought a pig.  A whole pig. That’s a lot of meat.  And because we like food projects we told the butcher we wanted all the scraps, organs and leaf lard.  We knew we wanted to make sausage with the scraps instead of having the butcher make all the sausage for us.  That way, we could try some recipes in the Charcuterie book we’d purchased earlier this year.  We made hot Italian sausage, sage and ginger breakfast sausage, chorizo, as well as pancetta, guanciale, and two types of pate.  I’m sure we’ll highlight some of these meat projects in the months to come as the Dark Days progress.

When we received our meat, I didn’t know what we’d do with  the organs including the liver, heart and kidneys.  All I knew was that I didn’t want the butcher to throw them away.  For the past three years I’ve become more and more involved with where my food comes from, how it’s raised and what I chose to spend my food dollars on.  I’m a big proponent of “nose to tail” eating.  It makes economic and environmental sense to me.  It respects the animal you chose to eat.  I just hadn’t actually done it.  So, since we were grinding all those pork scarps for the sausages anyway, I figured it was a good time to decide what would become of the organ meat.

First off, we didn’t didn’t eat the kidneys.  Based on an experience I had with my husband and brother-in-law (hi Ryan!) a few summers ago at a lamb roast celebration in Canada, I wasn’t interested in trying them.  That’s saying a lot because I’ll usually try almost anything once.  It annoys me when I hear people says, “I don’t like xyz”, when maybe they just haven’t had it prepared the right way.  And who knows, maybe I’d like kidneys if they were prepared well, but based on Tyler and Ryan’s description (rusty pipe) and the look on Tyler’s face, AND the fact that I did cook them and our cat wouldn’t eat them; we didn’t eat the kidneys.  But I digress.

What did we do with the pork liver and heart?  We made meatballs.

We made a British dish called Faggots with Onion Gravy from The River Cottage Meat Book .  It is an excellent book about what to do with the bits and parts you’re inexperienced cooking with.  I was nervous!  I wasn’t sure I’d like liver and heart meatballs.  I like liver pate to a point, but it has a strong flavor and I can’t eat too much of it.  So the thought of eating liver and heart meatballs (there’s sausage and bacon and spices in them too, but c’mon!) was challenging.  Eventually I thought to myself, “Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall is a meat expert and I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t at least try this, Who who knows, maybe I’ll even like it.”.  They were wrapped in bacon after all.

So I ground up the liver and heart and, I’m not going to lie, it was kind of gross.  Liver has a slippery texture and a strong smell.  The recipe warned that because liver is so juicy, as it goes through the meat grinder it might squirt.

I’m not selling this very well am I?

Well, I just powered through it.  I tried not to get turned off by the texture.  I tried to think about how the pig we purchased had a good life and a humane death and I was doing my part to not be wasteful with the meat that pig had provided us.

In the end, they were tasty.  Tyler and I both liked them.  They tasted a bit like liver, but it wasn’t overwhelming.  Plus, like I said, they were wrapped in bacon instead of caul fat, as the recipe had called for.  We thought the bacon was a good choice because in our house we like to say, “Either you like bacon or you’re wrong.”  I totally stole that from a Facebook post someone linked to a few weeks back, but I love it.

There were a lot of steps to this recipe and I’m sure most of you won’t make it.  But if you find yourself with 8oz of fresh pig’s liver and a pig’s heart, email me and I’ll send you the recipe.

The onion gravy consisted of classic stock reduction.  I reduced 2 quarts of homemade beef broth with a half a bottle of red wine until it was thick and glossy.  I caramelized two onions from Nate of Frog Song Farm and added them to the reduced stock. 

I boiled two pounds of organic, WA grown Russet potatoes with one pound of celeriac from our garden until they were tender.  Then I drained them and added some butter and milk.

We also enjoyed a simple cabbage salad adapted from a recipe in A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenburg.  I shredded some green cabbage from the garden and dressed it with lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and lots of fresh ground pepper.

It felt good to like this dinner because not only did it taste good, it pleased me to eat something I wasn’t sure I would like.

Welcome back to the 5th annual Dark Days Challenge!  This is the 3rd year I’ve participated and I’m excited to hear over 100 people are taking part in the challenge this year!  It’s inspiring to read about what other bloggers are growing, cooking, sourcing, and learning about their local foodsheds.  I’ve talked before about what local means to me so I won’t explain it here again.  Before I tell you about our first meal, I’ll summarize where some of our food comes from.

We have a year-round garden in both the front and back yard.  In the back, we have about 1,000 sf of  annual growing space.  I’ve divided that space into five main rows and rotate what I grow each year based on plant families (brassicas, legumes, alliums, roots etc.)

The five main rows in our backyard kitchen garden (late-July)

Aerial view of the backyard garden from the orchard (late-July)

Frontyard raised beds (late-July)

Strawberry Mountain (mid-June)

In the front yard, we have four raised beds (4′ X 10′) and one octagon shaped bed we call “strawberry mountain”. I rotate what grows  in the four raised beds each year too.

Early in February 2011, we installed an irrigation system in the backyard to water the five rows I mentioned earlier.  Each row has its own water valve which connects to a soaker hose.  In the PNW I’ve found I don’t use the irrigation all that often, but it’s nice for those rare consecutive days of heat or when I’m starting seeds in the middle of summer for the fall/winter garden  and I need to keep the soil moist.   We also planted a mini-orchard in the backyard which consists of five fruit trees.  We have a 5-way plum, 5-way Asian pear, a pie cherry, a 4-way sweet cherry and a Gravenstein apple.  We’re planning to add a couple more apple trees this winter to pollinate the Gravenstein.

2011 was the third year I had a large kitchen garden.  Each year I learn a bit more and build on my successes and failures from the previous year.  At this point, almost all of the veggie produce we eat comes from our 1/8 acre city lot.  We’ve learn to shop our garden instead of the grocery store and plan our weekly meals around what needs to be harvested.

We have three backyard chickens who provide us with eggs for most of the year.  My husband built a fancy coop in 2009 the same year we began our food journey.  We hope to get two more chickens in the spring of 2012.

Our mini-orchard won’t produce fruit for a couple years, so most of our fruit comes from the Farmers’ Market.  We buy it when it’s in season and eat it fresh, can it, or dehydrate it for later.  I didn’t grow potatoes or onions this year and I haven’t mastered growing citrus yet (if I ever will?!) so those items we buy at the grocery store.  We usually choose organic.  Most of our cheese comes from Costco because of the great prices, and they carry Beecher’s of Seattle.  I like buying our milk from Twin Brooks Creamery because it’s available at QFC right up the street, but that doesn’t mean we don’t shop at Trader Joe’s.  I want to learn how to make cheese and I’m going to try to make yogurt this weekend.

I like making bread and try to keep a loaf in the freezer so I’m one  step ahead.  (Editor’s note:  Brittney’s homemade crackers are awesome, even though she hasn’t made them in a while.  I miss them dearly almost every day.)  I’ve been experimenting with whole grain flours, spelt, rye and emmer, but I have a lot to learn!  I want to get a grain grinder and source my grain locally.  Until then, I usually buy Stone Buhr flour which is local or King Arthur flour which isn’t local but is employee owned and committed to quality.

Our freezer is full of pork from the pig we purchased from Pastured Sensations this year.  We’ve been really pleased with it and have experimented with making sausage, guanciale, pancetta, and pate.  I’m even going to render lard.  We have geoduck in the freezer from our annual geoduck dig in May and we have some salmon Tyler’s uncle Rob shared with us from his fishing trip.  We’re down to one chicken in the freezer and I’m looking for a source for next year.  So what we don’t grow ourselves, we try to source locally.  We’re very conscious about our food choices.

I think it goes without saying that I love to cook.  Feeding my family (Editor’s note: That would be me!)  with what I’ve grown fills me with immense pride and satisfaction.  For me, the connection of growing our food from seed and watching it mature until it’s ready to be harvested for a meal comes down to cooking with the best possible food.  Real food.  It’s also about self-sufficiency, reducing our dependence on the corporate food system, supporting local farmers and sharing my knowledge with others.

The Dark Days Challenge has taught me so much.  I’ve “met” so many people through it that have introduced me to new possibilities from what to grow, where to source, or what to read.  I’ve also connected with friends in new ways because of food.  I love that.

Laura was the one that really encourage me to take the first step.  By reading her blog I was encourage to suppress all the grass in my backyard and turn it into a vegetable garden.  Now that garden feeds us year round.  I hope I can encourage others to take the first step too.

Usually when I’m planning a meal, I focus on one component that I’m eager to make.  Once I’ve got that figured out, I build the menu from there.  Usually, (but not always) I start with the main dish then I add a vegetable, side, and a salad to complete the meal.  I like to include something green, so that we have a well rounded diet.  This meal on the other hand, started with the salad, and it was not green.

I’ve been interested in celeriac for the last year or so.  That knobby, ugly vegetable that most people have no idea what to do with.  When I purchased the celeriac for this recipe, the woman at the checkout counter asked in an accusatory tone, “What is this exactly?”  It made me laugh to imagine myself trying to find the weirdest looking vegetable to bring through the checkout line just to stump the checker.   “Celery root,” I replied.   I didn’t want to confuse her by saying celeriac (sə-lĕr’ē-ăk’.)

Once you peel off the knotty outer layer, you find a celery like vegetable that is delicious roasted, mashed or minced.  I didn’t grow any celeriac successfully in the garden last year, but I hope to this year.

The salad inspiration came from Molly Wizenburg via Bon Appetite.  It’s a salad comprised of celeriac, fennel and apple mixed with a hazelnut oil vinaigrette.  I happened to have hazelnut oil in my cupboard (and it’s made in WA!) so I felt compelled to make it immediately.  It sounded like the perfect dish for a winter evening.  We also had some halibut in the freezer that isn’t within our 100 mile radius, but it was wild and from Alaska and I feel good about eating it.  More and more I’m realizing that yes it’s satisfying to make a meal from ALL local ingredients, but more often than not, if I know where my food came from and the majority of it fits my definition of local, that’s good enough for me.

Anyway, we did have some freshly dug parsnips from the garden and that would be our vegetable.  I drizzled them with olive oil, sprinkled them with salt and pepper and roasted them at 400F for about 20-25 mins.  Wow!  If you aren’t growing these at home, you really should try.  They are so sweet and perfect.  I love them.

As you can see, it was a very monochromatic meal.  Everything we ate was a shade of white,  and boy was it good.

I didn’t always like beets.  I can remember being 10 years old or so and missing out on an after dinner movie because I wouldn’t finish my beets.  The rest of the family got to go into the living room and watch the movie.  I can’t recall the title, but I think it had something to do with cycling.  I sat alone at the kitchen table with my cold, canned beets.

When I was in my 20’s living on my own and cooking for myself, I still didn’t think I liked beets.  And really, I don’t think it’s fair to compare those store-bought, canned beets to home-grown or Farmers’ Market beets.  Back in the 80’s I don’t think  fresh beets were even available for sale in the grocery store.

I like beets now.  A lot.  You might say I’m a beet advocate.  I make beet hummus, a recipe  I got from Not Without Salt, and bring it to parties to watch so-called “beet haters” come around.  It’s worked on  almost every finicky beet eater I know (except for Peter.  hi Peter!).  I’m still working on him 🙂

My favorite type to grow is Bull’s blood beets.  They are an heirloom variety grown specifically for their deep, red leaves.  They look  beautiful planted with chartreuse colored lettuce, you can use the leaves in salads when you thin your beets, and the beets stay sweet even when they get as big as a baseball.  I find them to be an all-around great variety.

Fresh beets are completely different from those canned beets from my childhood.  I think roasted beets are best.  It brings out their sweetness and how can you not love their color?  It’s amazing!  The wine colored vegetable has a special place in my heart.

That’s why I liked this pasta.  The first time I saw it my jaw dropped and I thought, “I’ve got to make that immediately!”  The premise is simple.  You grate about three beets and saute them in butter.   Once they’ve cook down you add some pasta that is 3/4 cooked.  Reserve some of the cooking water and add it to the beet/pasta mixture.  The pasta will take on the beautiful fuchsia color of the beets and look stunning.   Finish cooking the pasta until done, add some leeks sauteed in butter and top with  crumbled goat cheese.

You’ll have a vibrant magenta, green and white dish.  A striking color palette that is not only inviting, but delicious.

Among other things, I’ve also been trying to perfect the art of making crackers.  When I tell some people this, they roll their eyes and say that making crackers is just too much work.  For some, maybe it is.  For others, (if you’re still reading, you’re one of the “others”) it isn’t.  Sure, making crackers takes more time than going to the store and buying a box of crackers, but buying them doesn’t give you the satisfaction of making them yourself.  And if you make them, you know exactly what the ingredients are.

Some people really enjoy making things from scratch.  I am one of those people.  Knowing that I created a meal, snack, beverage, whatever it may be, from ingredients that I combined makes me happy.  I like knowing what goes into things.  Crackers are now some of those things.

It WASN’T a success right out of the gate.  No way.  The first crackers I made tasted like cardboard.  Not even the birds wanted them.  Believe me, I tried.  I researched  a recipe.  I bought spelt flour (something I hadn’t purchased before) and followed the instructions to a tee.  It was a failure and they weren’t edible.  So I tried again.

The next batch of crackers were better, but still I felt I could improve them.  My goal was to make Breadfarm quality crackers, or at least get as close as possible.

After making a lot of crackers now, I think I’ve got it.  I use a combination of all purpose flour, whole wheat flour and semolina flour.  I use a recipe from this book as my guide,  and I add things like caraway seeds, fennel seeds, onion powder, poppy seeds, coriander seeds, pepper, sesame seeds and dehydrated onion flakes as my variations.  I’m very happy with the way my crackers are turning out these days.  So much better than my first attempt.   But that’s the way with most things isn’t it?  Keep trying until you find out what you like.

I mix all the ingredients up in my Cuisinart.  Then I chill the dough in the fridge for a half an hour.  Next I divide the dough in half and roll out 1/2 on my Silpat mat.  This is really a key step because it allows you to roll the dough very thin (important for a crisp cracker) and you don’t have to worry about transferring the crackers onto a cookie sheet.  It’s very easy to pick up the whole mat, put it on a baking sheet, and straight into the oven.

Once I’ve rolled the dough thin enough to cover the Silpat mat, I’m ready to prick the dough with a fork.  Don’t forget this step.  If you do, you’ll get air bubbles under your crackers and they won’t bake evenly.  Once you’ve pricked the dough with a fork you’re ready to slice the dough into actual bite sized crackers.  I don’t get too complicated with this step.  Just eyeball it, and lightly cut them into strips.  A pizza cutter works great.

After I’ve got my crackers cut into little squares I mist them with water and add a little coarse kosher salt.  Then I pop them into the oven at 375 for about 15-20 minutes.  Just watch them so they don’t get too brown.

When they look done I take them out of the oven and let them cool on a baking rack.  I used Washington flour, my backyard eggs, and herbs/spices to taste.  There are no preservatives or hard to pronounce ingredients.  I make them about every week and a half to two weeks and we don’t have to buy crackers from the store anymore.  Success!

Another post!?  Well, I’m trying to make up for some lost time.  Really, we’ve been eating local meals, I just haven’t been posting about them.  This meal was mostly local.  I’m counting the salmon as local because it was hand carried back for us by Uncle Rob on his fishing trip to British Columbia last summer.  It was in our freezer and pairing it with pesto sounded like a good idea.

After foraging nettles last spring, I made a big batch of pesto out of them and froze it in ice cube trays.  Those nettle cubes are easily added to boiled pasta for a quick mid-week meal.  Nettle pesto has a very similar taste to the traditional basil pesto, but since the nettles grew wild it seemed like a perfect match with our wild (semi-local) salmon.  The nettle pesto recipe is based on this one and spring is the perfect time to be scouting out your favorite nettle patch.

To go with our salmon, I used up the last of our storage potatoes from the garden.

I boiled them until they were soft and then added them to a hot pan with butter, parsley, salt and pepper.  To round out the meal, we made a salad of mache and claytonia from our winter cloche.