Archive for the ‘Real Food Challenge’ Category

“Mom” is Mei, my mother-in-law. After literally decades of resisting to teach me how to cook like the old country (China), she up and calls me so she can come over and show me how to make lo bak gao, Chinese turnip cakes. Who knows how her mind works.

I picked her up and brought her home, where she was aMAZED to find out that we have rice flour. Yes, Mom, Chinese people live here, of course we have rice flour.

You have to understand that my mother-in-law is VERY old country. She does not hold with new-fangled inventions like vegetable peelers to peel the lo bak (daikons or Korean radish). “Take off too much! Scrape with knife! Is better!” She also wouldn’t let me use my grater, instead insisting that I chop the lo bak with a knife because “too much cleaning up.” Of course, then she criticized the size of the pieces– too big! Yes, Mom, if you let me use a grater to, um, grate the vegetables then they get, how can I put this…,um, grated.

My mother-in-law does not let anyone in very often. It is very difficult to get her to talk about the old country, where she lived through two wars, may have been a bartered bride (we’re a little unclear on this), and spent many years as a refugee. But every now and then she decides I need to learn something, and we get to sit and work together. The stories come out, and she answers questions about China and her childhood.

Sadly, her lo bak gao is not very good. I now know why. She wouldn’t let me salt the water (but then complained that the finished product needed salt). She wouldn’t let me grate the vegetables. She used hot water to create the batter (this makes it sticky). She let the batter sit too long (ditto). Here is the modified recipe:

Toisanese Lo Bak Gao (Turnip cakes)

1 large Lo Bak, Daikon, or Korean Radish
1 Chinese sausage (This is a very fatty, sweet, pork sausage. Get these in Chinatown. The ones from the specialty market are not the same)
1/2 c. pork, any cut, cubed
1/2 c. each rice and corn flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups cold water
Salt to taste

Peel and grate the lo bok. Boil until soft in a large pot of SALTED water. Drain and set aside. (I may do a test to see if I use this water for the batter, if that helps the texture of the finished product– someone experiment with this for me!) Cube the pork and sausage, and saute in a large pan in a tablespoon of vegetable oil. Add the lo bak and saute until very soft (pictured is the cubed lo bak–this is not cut small enough). The lo bak should be well coated with the oil and drippings from the pork and sausage.

Oil or spray a square or round baking dish, and fill to halfway with the lo bak mixture. Set aside. Mix the flours, salt and cold water to form a thin batter; pour over the lo bak until just covered.

Steam until firm, about 15 minutes. I use a vegetable steamer from the Chinese market; you can also steam them in a wok with a steamer insert, or just rig a large pot or frying pan.

Allow to cool. Cut into slices or slabs and eat as is, or you can brown it a little by frying it lightly in oil for a minute or two.

We had left-over lo-bak mixture and used it the next day over rice with a little soy sauce. Delicious.

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The Food Diet

I spoke to a young woman today who was on, let me see if I can remember this, a “High Protein, High Fiber” diet. (Ah. A quick google search indicates that this, apparently is the Livestrong diet.) As restrictive diets go, it’s not too bad. The list of foods is deep and flavorful, and introduces people to important concepts like “whole” and “fresh.”

But it’s a Diet Capital D, and if we know one thing about Diets, it’s that no one sticks to them.

So I am introducing my own special diet. This diet requires zero will power, and you don’t need an expert to tell you how to follow it. I expect to turn up on Oprah and Tyra, and I’m working on the brand image.

It’s called the Food Diet. And what you eat, get ready, is….


The Would-Michael-Pollan-Or-Your-Great-Grandmother-Recognize-This-As-Food type of food:

Fruit, in the original packaging (i.e. its own rind)
Bread (from the bakery, please, and made today)
Meat (and yes, including Chicken skin, pork chitlins, and marbling.)
Sweets (you heard me)
Snacks (Yes, snacks. Do I look like the type of person who would skip the snacks?)

If it comes in a bag with a lot of writing on it, it’s probably not food. If you can’t combine it with a couple other things to make a third thing it’s probably not food (for instance flour+sugar+eggs+butter=cookies. Try doing that with Flaming Hot Cheetos.). Anything in a box (with a lot of writing on it) that you combine with water or milk to make a third thing is probably not food (for instance, instant potatoes).

For that matter, if it says “instant” it’s not food. I’ve been trying to figure out exactly what is meant by “instant oatmeal.” Not sure how much more instant you get than just regular oatmeal. What are they doing to that stuff that it needs to be labeled “instant?” I’m thinking of starting my own brand of Instant Fruit! (Xanstant Fruit, maybe?) It looks like, um, fruit. Just add chewing.

If it’s in a superfluous package, it’s not food (think McDonald’s apples). Any meal product (as opposed to snack or dessert) that lists sugar or high fructose corn syrup as an ingredient is not food. (For instant, major-label bread.)

You get the idea. You don’t need a list of “acceptable” foods. When you’re on the Food Diet, if it’s food, by the above definition, then you can eat it.

The best thing about this diet is that it means you can eat anything. Potato chips (provided they’re made from sliced potatoes, and cooked in oil.) Popcorn (just throw popcorn in any paper bag, and zap it for under 2 minutes–sorry Orville, ALL popcorn is microwave popcorn). Cookies. Fried chicken. Spaghetti.

As always, eat with moderation. Take time to prepare it. No eating standing up.

That’s it. Tell Oprah she can call my agent.

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It’s the first of our Challenge in a Challenge weeks! This week and next we (mostly) learned about one-pot meals. Soups, stews, cassoulet, and casseroles! One pot meals may or may not be created in only one pot, but they seem to all be warm and comforting, perfect for this time of year.


MNLocavore has a very important post to read, all thoughts of actual recipes aside. She brings up the theme that comes up again and again–local food is still an urban, and largely middle class, phenomenon. Even highly motivated, educated rural, small town, and suburban eaters will struggle with this. Even farm families will struggle with this. The larger food system simply does not support locally sourced food, and the barriers to small merchants providing this sort of food are enormous. Read it. Then think about what you can do to help make a change.  Her one-pot post (pea soup) is here as well, and again, well worth the read.

Sanborn Sanctuary, which actually does appear to be a farm that has managed to meet our criteria made a scrumptious looking “overcooked ham” and some split pea soup. I’d love to hear more about local food issues among farms in their area! The internet-wide conspiracy to get me to make noodles is afoot, with Rubus Raspberry (note the new URL and the stylish new look!) making chicken alfredo with, yes, homemade pasta. Our Happy Acres made a one pot meal (chili) and some sweet potato gnocchi, which look amazing. (Also– is it my imagination, or did you grind your own flour?).

Lotta folks missing in action! As soon as you dig out, send us some recipes!


This week’s ‘one pot meal’ challenge didn’t stop Methylgrace from using just about every pot in her house, it seems! I love how she turns a simple soup into a day long affair with an arsenal of pots, pans, cookie sheets, cooking methods and culinary magic. I’m also jealous that she had chicken feet in her stock. Some might cringe at the idea of boiling up chicken feet for consumption, but they have some of the most concentrated gelatin and tons of other healthful properties.  Farming mom made one of my favorite one pot meals: fritatta. She used her yard eggs and a bunch of other delicious homegrown and/or locally sourced ingredients. Her hubs may have coined the meal ‘egg pizza’ but she and i know fritatta is much better for you than most any pizza could be. She baked her fritatta in a cast iron pan and made a ‘crust’ of sorts of potatoes: a technique i usually use too! I just got some cast iron for Christmas, so i’ll try my next ‘egg pizza’ in cast iron! Bee Creative had a nice wander in some enchanting snow and supped on some tasty garden-soup for lunch. Snow definitely makes soup taste that much better!



Not From a Box’s Teresa is detoxing for the next couple weeks so her entry in the challenge is a very austere beet and roasted garlic soup from Whole Living. It sounds so good and I have all the ingredients on hand, I’m making this as I type!

Julie from D.I. Wine and Dine made something I could also relish–a vegan curried vegetable pot pie–yum! She loves the ability to pan fry or bake in her cast iron skillet and decided for the challenge to do both. Most of her ingredients were local, except of course the coconut milk that makes the dish vegan. She wonders–does anyone know if coconut milk or dairy has more of an environmental impact?

Over at Stoney Acres, Rick has been exploring potato recipes, with a Baked Potato Soup and Baked Potatoes Stromboli, for which he graciously shares the family dough recipe. He says in general they are having trouble sourcing local pasta and meat. But for this meal was able to use 100% local ingredients. These sound like satisfying meals for winter days!

Toni from Itsjusttoni’s decided to make a family favorite—Potatoes and Cheese—using many homegrown SOLE ingredients instead of a box mix they have used in the past. She’s amazed at the selection of local cheeses she can find in Mexico, which sound mouth-watering. You know the resulting dish was a triumph when someone asks “is there leftovers?”

Lynda over at Cortina Creek Farms made a wonderful Chicken and Failed Dumplings A’ La Lynda Lou out of an “ornery old bastard that wouldn’t quit bothering the hens.” Although I’m a vegetarian, I (Sage) may be sending Lynda a couple of my roosters to re-educate! And in my opinion having too many dumplings is not a failure Lynda!


Jennifer here, bringing lots of news from the “Midwest” group. I’ve got a few one-potters to share that sound super nourishing, and some meals that just look darn good. This week I’m starting with Dog Hill Kitchen who ladled a gorgeous bowl of Sausage and Greens Soup. She even included her homemade apple and anise sausage! If you have the chance, you should check out her walk-through of making sausages. Small Wonder Farm keeps on impressing me that she can pull off so many local meals considering the number of allergies she has to work around. Her one-dish meal was a beef pot roast with carrots, potatoes, and garlic (mmm, garlic!), and served with peaches straight of the canning jar. Not to be outdone, the previous day she served up another local meal with one of my favorite dishes: German Potato Salad. If any of you are familiar with Shapiro’s Deli in Indianapolis and the recipe they use, head over to Small Wonder Farm and give her some advice. 20-Something Allergies also has a lot to contend with but she still manages to pull it off with a well-rounded meal. Roasted chicken was prepared to optimal crispy skin deliciousness. But it gets better: brussel sprouts, green beans, and potatoes each prepared with duck fat were served as sides.

The Local Cook has been working on a Back to Basics series on her blog, but she still has time to cook up a really great looking dish. Lamb steaks were plated with collards cooked in garlic and served with a baked potato and herbed butter. She makes a good point about cooking locally, “start where you are” and use what local ingredients you have access to. Lastly is Mother’s Kitchen – serving up her week 7 meal. Not only did Cynthia get my attention with her lemon-y whitefish, but she served it with pickled brussel sprouts (say what?!) and Potatoes Anna. Now I know my goal for this week: to find local fish!


Next week the “East” Contributors will be sharing the results of their One-Dish Meal. To stay current with other challenges be sure to visit the Dark Days tab at the top of the blog.

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If you’ve followed me here on Not Dabbling, you may recall my experience last winter with “harvesting” a pig (vivid butchering photos). Our intent was to get as much product out of the animal, but being our first adventure in such a large butchering job we lost a lot of said product. One of the things I was really looking forward to from our harvest was lard. Animal fats are becoming recognized more and more as a healthier fat than some vegetable, nut, or seed oils that quickly go rancid, oxidize, or contain high amounts of omega-6 fatty acids. Unfortunately while we were busy butchering, the rendering lard got forgotten about and we lost the entire pot.

Pork and Duck lards

Since we moved, I’ve lost my local source for fresh rendered fat and have begun to make my own. It’s really a simple process and supports the nose-to-tail way of eating. Most butchers will carry pork fat for lard or beef suet for tallow, and generally it’s pretty inexpensive – especially compared to gourmet nut oils. You can also save fat from trimming meat and store it in your freezer for up to three months before rendering it. Rendered mutton and deer fat is also called tallow, and then there is duck and goose fat which comes from rendering the skin and underlying fat on a bird. We’ve recently had duck, and from just the trimmings I averaged about 3/4 cup of rendered fat from one bird. If I hadn’t seasoned the breasts and legs so heavily, I would have been able to save much more fat. Plus there’s the tasty chicharones or fried (traditionally pork) fat and skin that are the result of rendering.

rendering fat

Whether you’re making soap, salves, candles, schmaltz, confit, or using it in place of hydrogenated shortening, rendering fat is a pretty simple process.

  • Cut the fat or bird skin into 1 inch cubes, removing as much meat as possible.
  • Use a heavy bottom pan and add about 1 cup water. The fat doesn’t need to be covered with water as long as you stir it often. I like my dutch oven for this process, but if you have a small amount of fat an iron skillet or heavy pan works just as well.
  • Start at medium high. This gets the water nice an hot which starts the rendering process. If you didn’t have the water at the beginning you’d likely begin frying the fat too soon, and the fond stuck to the pan would probably burn before you could extract all the lard. Keep stirring every few minutes so that the fat doesn’t brown prematurely.
  • As soon as you see oil on the top of the water, turn the heat down to medium low. Continue to stir every ten minutes or so. You can use a lid at this point, especially if you have a lot of product. After about 30 minutes the water you added will have cooked off and the cubes will begin bubbling.
  • The cubes should begin to brown within an hour or two depending on the amount of water inside the product. When they are completely browned and the bubbling slows down, you can remove them with a slotted spoon and set them on a plate to drain. I like to use a platter and fold a towel underneath so the plate rests at an angle. I give them a little squeeze with the back of my spoon to get as much extra oil out of them, then use a rubber spatula to scrape all of the precious oil into my pan.
  • The lard or tallow gets strained through cheesecloth or a paper towel and poured into a glass jar. The cracklings or chicharones get returned to the warm pan and are allowed to get nice and crispy. You may want to use a splatter screen for this part since any skin left on the fat will “POP” right out of the pan! It’s finally time to let these drain on a cloth and sprinkle them with salt or crushed red pepper. The remaining fat in the pan will be more like bacon drippings and can be used to flavor foods like beans or greens or to be used like schmaltz.
  • Store your lard in an airtight container and it should keep for a few months at room temperature without spoiling or oxidizing. You can also keep it in the refrigerator, which is what I like to do just for baking convenience.
  • An optional method is to cover the cubes completely with water an allow all the fat to render out over medium to medium high. Remove the cracklings and brown in a separate pan if you like. You can then skim the fat off the top of the water, an easier process done once it’s cooled completely and solidified. The resulting product may have a higher smoke point and a slightly more neutral flavor.


A few little factoids about rendered fats:

McDonald’s previously to use 93% beef tallow to fry their french fries until they switched to 100% vegetable oil.
Tallow can be used to make candles.
Lard and suet have a higher smoking point than vegetable shortening (which you shouldn’t be eating anyway thanks to the hydrogenation process) and are better for frying. Lard begins smoking at approximately 190 °C (374 °F), suet/tallow at approximately 200°C (400°F), while hydrogenated vegetable shortening smokes at 165 °C (329 °F).
Coconut oil is a great substitute for animal fats in general cooking and baking, but high heats require a refined coconut oil which is no where near as healthy as the unrefined stuff. Unless it’s unrefined, you should probably skip it.
Using fat was one of the first ways to preserve food. It’s now a delicacy that we refer to as “Confit”, and it can be sealed and stored for months.
Most commercial lard is hydrogenated.
Lard gives pastries a better, flakier texture than butter.


Do you use rendered fat in any form as a regular part of your diet?


I can also be found at Unearthing this Life where I blarg about food, motherhood, and dream of one day returning to rural living. I’m also on Twitter, and Pinterest, and a smattering of other places on the interwebs.

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Since our last recap, we’ve had the Solstice, Hannukah and Christmas. Who did a SOLE meal for the holidays?


What I (Xan) found was that elaborate meals do not lend themselves well to by-the-book SOLE. I made two holiday meals–one for friends and one for family. There were lots of imported components: ginger and lemons, salmon, crab. Last night, finally, I managed a fully-local meal (okay, there is a little lemon in this), making Julia Child’s Mushroom Soup with homemade baking-powder buscuits.

I did a lot of baking for the holidays- quiche, pie, and traditional Greek cookies called kourambiethes, which I’ve made pretty much every year since I could stand up. My daughter makes a bouche de Noël every year; this year she recruited her brother to help. Today I’m baking again, with a traditional New Year’s bread from my Greek heritage. Instead of a coin, because I don’t trust coins to be toxin-free, I put a dried bay leaf in each loaf. One will go to my son, one to my daughter, and one as a hostess gift for a New Year’s Day party.


Just like most people, the holidays for us are full of good food and good company. I’m lucky that my mother shares my opinions of food because I (Jennifer) have eaten plenty of good stuff over the last few weeks between both of our houses. I’ve used locally raised beef and locally grown wheat to make some really fabulous hamburgers and pizza. I topped the pizza with homemade mozzarella from our milk share and some bell peppers I froze at the end of summer. Homemade mustard, while not completely from this region, was superb on our Christmas roast alongside a tall glass of truly local and homemade hard cider.

My butcher also offers whole chickens – which make a really, really awesome Skillet Rosemary Chicken. Potatoes, garlic, and shallots were saved from the last days of the farmers market, and I stashed bunches and bunches of rosemary before my move from Tennessee. But my favorite dish over the past few weeks has been braised brussel sprouts with bacon. These are so incredibly yummy that I could eat them alone as a meal. Come back tomorrow for the recipe!


Don’t forget to see what our “Eastern” contributors have been cooking up for the holidays!

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Good, Better, Best

What would I buy if I didn’t have the privilege of buying raw milk from a local farm? I was thinking about this the other day when I poured myself a glass of milk. Luckily, we have another small local dairy that has pastured cows and they use low temperature pasteurization for their milk, no homogenization. When the cows at the local farm are dry in the winter and I have no raw milk (yes, they’re 100% natural let the cows go dry in the winter), I purchase cream line milk from Hartzler’s Dairy in Wooster, OH. I also love that their milk comes in glass bottles, I return these to the store when I get more milk. It’s not as good as my raw milk, but it’s better than regular old grocery store milk. If I didn’t have this dairy to purchase from I’d probably buy Smith’s milk at the grocery store, they’re a larger dairy, but still fairly small and local. A lot of their milk comes from small local organic farmers, and they sell milk without antibiotics, hormones and other baddies. But I’d use this milk sparingly if ever because it’s pasteurized at high temperatures and homogenized.

You might be wondering why I wouldn’t purchase organic milk instead. All the organic milk available locally is ultra pasteurized and homogenized, neither of which I like. Most of it comes from huge dairies and I don’t know how the cows are treated, I’ve heard bad things about the cows from Horizon Organic. I’d rather not drink milk, than drink grocery store milk. Once you’ve tasted the goodness of raw milk, you’ll never be able to drink regular milk easily again. The cream line milk we get is good, but it still tastes boiled to us. It also lacks the depth of flavor our raw milk has. You may not realize that raw milk from pastured cows is kind of like wine. The flavor changes throughout the season depending on what the cows are eating, how much rain there is, and other factors. When the grass is growing lushly in spring in fall, the milk is sweet, the cream is extra thick, as yellow as the sun and there’s a lot more of it. When the cows are eating hay in late winter the milk is mild, lighter, there’s less cream and it’s almost white. There are times of the year when the milk has a slightly grassy taste, in the fall I notice that it’s extra sweet and the cream makes superb butter.

The truth is that I would go way out of my to find raw or lightly pasteurized cream line milk and would drive quite a piece to get it if needed rather than purchase a homogenized milk product. And of course, I always drink my milk whole since milk fat contains so much healthy goodness, especially from pastured cows! This is one area where I will seek out the BEST, sometimes if needed I’ll settle for BETTER, but GOOD doesn’t even cut it for me in this area.

So what are some Good, Better, Bests you can think of? Are there any areas you’ll settle for Good when you can’t get the Best?

I can also be found at Chiot’s Run where I blog daily about gardening, cooking, local eating, maple sugaring, and all kinds of stuff. You can also find me at Your Day Magazine and you can follow me on Twitter and on Facebook.

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This last weekend I purchased a bushel of Fuji apples. One of my absolute favorite apples. Ever. My intent was to store them in our cool basement since they’re such good keepers. (For a good list of apple varieties and their qualities visit pickyourown.org)

Instead I’ve been going mad for baked apple goodness. Sunday I made these:

apple dumpling

Apple dumplings that are knock-your-socks-off good. The key to such a good flavor was the boiled cider – also known as apple molasses – that I made. Just a little bit imparts an amazingly intense flavor. Sure you could buy it online and have it shipped, but if you have the opportunity you should try to make it, especially if you can get local apples!

So because I couldn’t get enough of that yumminess, I had to make something more…. but better for me.

Enter Apple Dumpling Oatmeal.

I prepared this last night before bed in 15 minutes, and it was ready to go for me this morning. You could alternatively prepare this in a dutch oven, or on the stove top if you don’t care to leave a crockpot plugged in all night. I’ve given you three options! Just bring your appetite. This is a stick-to-your-ribs kinda meal. The kind that makes you want to get outside and get something done. That, or help yourself to seconds…

apple dumpling-inspired oatmeal

Apple Dumpling Oatmeal

Makes 6-8 LARGE portions

  • 2 medium cooking apples, peeled, cored, and diced
  • 1-1/4 cups steel cut oats or thick rolled oats
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 rounded tsp boiled cider (lick the spoon!)
  • pinch salt
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1/4 cup sugar (brown, raw, or sucanat), honey, or syrup
  • 1/2 cup raisins, dried cranberries or cherries (optional)
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)
  • (if you don’t have access to boiled cider, substitute 1 cup cider for 1 cup water, then get to the store and pick up some cider and boil it!)

Dutch oven:

Preheat oven to 400F. Meanwhile add ingredients to dutch oven on the stove top, bringing them just to a boil. Cover and put in oven. Immediately turn off oven. In the morning you may need to add some liquid in the form of milk or water, and to reheat on the stove just a bit.

Stove top:

Add ingredients to medium saucepan, and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Cover tightly and lower heat to medium-low, stirring occasionally. It’s done when your oats are soft and apples are no longer firm.

Crock Pot:

Add ingredients to crock pot and turn on low. Let cook at least 6 hours. Stir gently before serving.


Top with a drizzle of fresh cream(and maybe some maple syrup) and enjoy it while it’s still warm!


You can find Jennifer at Unearthing This Life where she’s currently focusing on autumn and homeschooling.

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I was in Austin, Texas last week getting certified as a Square Foot Gardening instructor (I’ll put up a mini-course in a couple of weeks!)

And I have to tell you, if you’ve got to go somewhere while trying to eat unprocessed, Austin is the place to go.

First of all, it’s got the Whole Foods mother ship, and I do mean Mother Ship. That place is immense. I’m no fan of Whole Foods, much less of retail tourism, but this place was pretty cool.

It’s immense, easily three or four times the size of any Whole Foods I’ve ever been in. I loved the mix-it-yourself trail mix bar, and the bulk offerings:  heirloom beans, unusual grains, and different types of rice, as well as an enormous bulk herbs and spices section.  The flavored sugars alone took up as much room as the spice section in most stores. Since I don’t go into Whole Foods very often, I don’t know if these things are standard, but I’d be surprised if other outlets had so many of each of these things. (Yes, I thought I had pictures, but they don’t seem to be on the camera, so you’ll have to take my word for it.)

We pretty much ate our way through Austin, and because I was traveling with hard-core vegetable gardeners (Motto: don’t get between me and my eggplant) we sought out restaurants with a reputation for responsibly sourced food.

There is a huge market farming community around Austin, apparently–a staff member from the Sustainable Food Center told us that there are nearly 200 farmers within 50 miles of the city supplying their farmers markets. I believe in Chicago we’re drawing from a much much wider area, especially if you’re looking for meat and flour, so this was fairly impressive, especially considering it’s nearly a desert. (A real desert, not a food desert.)

One of the neat things about Austin eateries is that they all seem to have not just vegetarian but also vegan options. Here’s where we ate dinner, on various nights:

Foreign and Domestic: Loved the concept of an evolving menu based on seasonal, locally available ingredients, but the food was not quite there. I got the Summer Squash Tofu, which was essentially green clay on succotash. The succotash was good, but the “tofu” which I thought would have at least the texture of tofu, looked and tasted like that green stuff that you stick flowers in to make them stand up.  Other people had a lightly crusted fish. The fish was fine, but the crust was chewy. The appetizers fared better-I had an amazing brioche stuffed with caramelized onions with a side of peach butter. Unfortunately, it had apparently been baked in a drinking glass, so that the top had risen over a straight shaft. Yes, folks, it looked like a penis. VERY uncomfortable to eat this among people I didn’t know very well.

Tokaba had this amazing drink–a habanero margarita, but the food was apparently not very memorable, because even looking at the menu I can’t remember what I ate. Of course, I did have two of the margaritas, which may have had something to do with it.  What was really nice about this place was the huge outdoor seating. How novel to eat outdoors in October.

The Black Star Co-op is a member-owned pub featuring beer from local breweries. They don’t allow tipping because they say they pay their workers a living wage, so they don’t need to tip, but I think it might be more that no one would tip because the service is so terrible. The beer is fantastic though, varied and unusual, and I had a beet-and-spinach salad, again, locally-sourced, that was fabulous.

Guero’s is the Pizzeria Uno of Austin, as far as I could tell. Uno’s is the place that all the tourists go because the restaurant has managed to position itself as the place to get Chicago pizza. Consequently all the tourists go home complaining about how terrible Chicago pizza is.  Guero’s is loud and crowded, I’d say the food is poorly presented except that if they have the remotest concept of presenting food it’s news to me.  They have terrible beer. This supposed best Tex-Mex in Austin is not quite as good as the little family-owned taqueria down the block here in Chicago. Of course, we have a larger Mexican population in Chicago than they do in Austin, and here in Chicago they’re actually from Mexico, as opposed to fourth generation as seems to be the case with the Austinian Mexicans (also the owners of this place are named “Lipincott” which last I heard is not a very common hispanic surname).  The waiter did, however, look up factoids on armadillos for us.

We found all of the above ourselves, just researching Austin eateries. The last place we ate, Mother’s Cafe and Garden, was the suggestion of a native, and it was definitely the best place we ate at.  I had a stuffed poblano pepper that was just amazing.  The place is vegan and vegetarian, roomy and friendly and they were the only place we ate at all week that hadn’t run out of chocolate cake.

And yes, I went to Texas and did not have barbecue. Sue me.

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Indian Summer

Here in the Midwest we’ve had a late blast of summer weather bringing with it Indian summer. We should be thinking of a sweater to fight off the chill, and instead we’re spending days on the beach and keeping our windows wide open. It’s been absolutely gorgeous, in a bright yellow and warm orange kind of way.

What could be better than an autumnal ice cream as a cool treat?

I’m not talking pumpkins here. I mean a tasty and mildly spiced ice cream that hints at the cooler days that will be upon us soon. Something a bit mellow – like these warm days.

honey cinnamon frozen custard

Honey Cinnamon Frozen Custard

made in a 6 cup (liquid) capacity ice cream maker

  • 4 cups milk
  • 1 cup cream*
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1-1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp cardamom (optional)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup honey mixed with 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  1. In a large saucepan, heat milk, cream, 1/3 cup honey, cinnamon, and the optional cardamom. Bring to 160° F. Meanwhile, whisk the eggs in a medium size bowl.
  2. Add small amounts of heated milk mixture to eggs, whisking the entire time. Once you’ve added about 1/3 of the mixture to the eggs you can add the egg mixture to the heated milk. Cook over medium for about 10-15 minutes, or until the mixture begins to thicken.
  3. Put custard in the refrigerator to chill completely. Once this is as cold as it can get without freezing, it’s time to churn in the ice cream maker. In the last two minutes of churning, add the honey and cinnamon mixture so that it forms a swirl in the custard instead of combining. This last part may be easier to do after the custard has set up in the freezer for about an hour.
  4. Freeze for 2-3 hours before serving.

*I used my raw milk that I’d previously skimmed the cream from. If you’re using whole milk you can omit the cream for a lighter ice milk texture. Substitute 1 cup milk for the cream.

Honey Cinnamon Frozen Custard


Jennifer can also be found at Unearthing this Life where she blargs about almost everything from raising chickens to homeschooling to opinions about food.

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Sincerely, Emily asked about my homemade hot chocolate recipe last week. I had been planning on writing a post about how I do it this winter, but figured it would be fitting today – after all we are participating in October Unprocessed.

Being a Real Food person and avoiding things that come in bags, packets and boxes when it comes to things I eat – I do not use those little packets of powder to make my hot chocolate. Sure they’re supposed to be instant, but making it from scratch really doesn’t take any longer and isn’t any more work and it’s much healthier.


The ingredients in my homemade hot cocoa: RAW MILK, 80% DARK SOY-FREE CHOCOLATE (cocoas, cane sugar, cocoa butter, bourbon vanilla pod)

It’s this simple:
heat milk until desired temp, about 150
add chocolate to taste (use whatever kind you have that you like, dark chocolate, chocolate bars, chocolate chips, etc)
mix with whisk until chocolate is melted, pour into cup and enjoy

There are some folks that use powdered cocoa, I’ve tried that before, but I really hate all the chalky cocoa at the bottom of the mug, and I always feel like it’s grainy and gets stuck in my throat. If you do like to use cocoa and are looking for a great source for organic cocoa, look no further than Mt Rose Herbs. I keep some soy free dark chocolate on hand and simply add a few squares, sometimes I add more chocolate if I want it really chocolaty, sometimes less. On occasion you’ll also find me adding a cinnamon stick, cardamom pods, or some other warming spices while warming the milk. Every now and then I get a little crazy and add a few drops of vanilla to my mug too, which really enhances the chocolate flavor. It really is that easy to make hot chocolate from scratch!

What do you think hot chocolate with or without marshmallows?

I can also be found at Chiot’s Run where I blog daily about gardening, cooking, local eating, maple sugaring, and all kinds of stuff. You can also find me at Your Day Magazine, and you can follow me on Twitter and on Facebook.

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