Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Chasing down a sunny spring in California

I do not think that it is coincidence that I take off for a trip to California each year around the same time. Just as winter comes to a soggy end the first hints of spring push up through the soil, I become impatient for sunshine and go off in search of it.
California poppies along a busy street corner

Bad ass city of Oakland

a soft Cowgirl Creamery cheese and spring radishes for snack

Farmer's market find - mild and tender boy choy blossoms for our dinner's salad

an afternoon spent at the San Francisco aquarium

Pier 39's barrels of salt water taffy

Before departure - last chance for an ice cream bar and suntan!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Welcome to Food-Soil-Thread's...
3rd weekly Urban Homesteader blog party! 

Please feel free to add a link from your blog to the gallery below.

This is where the three words of my blog find a home together: eating whole foods, digging in urban soil, and stitching together a homemade life: I am an urban homesteader. Let's see what you've made, grown, cooked and sewn...

a basket from last year's garden

I am not particularly technologically inclined. If you know how to make a badge for us to use for our weekly Urban Homesteader blog party, I would love to hear from you! If you are interested in reading more blogs about a homegrown life, you can check out the weekly blog hop at Sustainable Eats or see the Radical Homemakers website. 

A request: please link to recent posts on your own blog that are related to growing food, reducing unnecessary consumerism, sustainable living and good old fashioned homemaker skills. Can't wait to see what you have to share! 

Monday, March 28, 2011

Locally sourced Carbonara pasta with wilted greens

The warming weather of this week promises a wider variety of local foods coming soon, but for those eating S.O.L.E. (Sustainable, Organic, Local, Ethical) foods this winter, its not spring yet.

This week I had bacon, fresh linguine, eggs and braising greens to turn into a delicious dinner. Carbonara is one of the simplest pasta dishes to make and is so satisfying, but you do have to pay attention to a few small details to get it right. I like to make wilted greens to top my Carbonara and make the meal complete with a hearty vegetable.

Although I love the flavor and texture of fresh pasta, interestingly I found that I prefer the way dried spaghetti picks up the egg.

Carbonara with Wilted Greens
Serves 2

Heat a large cast iron pan over medium high heat. Roughly chop a 1/4 pound of bacon and add to the hot pan. Cook until the fat has rendered and the bacon is beginning to crisp.

Meanwhile, heat a large pot of salted water to boiling.

Add some hot water to the serving bowl that you will be using and allow the water to heat the bowl. Pour out the water. Crack two eggs into the warm bowl, whisk together, and allow to sit at room temperature while the rest of dinner is cooking.

Finely grate a 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese.

Remove the bacon to a small oven-safe dish and keep warm in a warm oven. Discard all but 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat. Wash 2 large hand fulls of wilted greens (any kinds of kale, chard or beet greens) and then add the greens to the bacon fat in the same pan that you cooked the bacon in. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and a dash of red pepper flakes if you like a bit of heat. Cook on medium heat for about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, when the water boils, add 1/2 pound of dried spaghetti and cook according to the package directions. Have a colander ready in the sink.

As soon as the pasta is cooked you will move very quickly to finish the dish. Time is of the essence because the heat from the pasta will cook the egg and you do not want to lose any heat from the hot pasta.

Moving quickly, drain the pasta and add immediately to the bowl of whisked eggs, folding the pasta into the egg a few times. Add the hot bacon and the grated cheese to the pasta, turning again a few times. If everything went well, your pasta will be coated in a slightly creamy sauce with bacon studded throughout. Congrats! Top with the wilted greens.

I used fresh pasta here and added the bacon on top, but I prefer dried pasta

If the egg looks like scrambled egg clinging to the spaghetti, then you probably used too much pasta or you got nervous and added it back to the pan and cooked the egg. It will still taste good anyway, and you can add heavy cream to make it wetter.

If the egg looks raw and runny, then you probably took your time draining the pasta and it wasn't hot enough, or your eggs were too cold. To save it, Heat up the bacon pan again and quickly dump the pasta in, give it a quick stir and take it back out again.

SOLE Notes: Hempler's nitrate-free bacon (WA), Steibrs' organic eggs (WA), fresh Cucina Fresca linguine (WA), organic braising greens (OR), all thanks to Spud.com

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Making an earthquake disaster preparation kit

A few months ago, I started my 101 goal project. I left the last goal blank because I knew that I would think of something later that I would wish I had included. Last week, I was talking with a few friends around the dinner table, telling them that when I went to the movies recently, every single trailer played beforehand was a story of world annihilation. I get home and the news is full of stories of politic unrest spreading around the world. All of this turbulence in the world shows up in my dreams and worry sets in. A few days later, the earthquake and tsunami in Japan hit.

I was impressed with what I heard about Japan's level of preparation for natural disaster. Not just on a national scale, but on an individual level too. I realized that worry was a pretty useless reaction to watching countries crumble - politically and literally. Useless... unless I can turn the worry into motivation to prepare for possible disaster, even while I hope it doesn't ever come. So, I filled in that last goal on the list: make a disaster preparation kit.

I found help from a few websites:

the well organized and visually appealing 72 hours website, which outlines what you can do to prepare in each important category.

bucket and a bag: easy to store, grab and go
The Red Cross, which has excellent value on preparedness products as well as great information. You can make a donation to support their work while you are there too!

Lastly, Amazon.com was the easiest place to shop for such a wide array of things and saved me from running all around town to dozens of different stores. Most of what I bought did not require paying for shipping either.

I have decided to organize my kit in this way:

All my food stuff is in a 5 gallon bucket with a tight fighting lid and a handle. Not only will this prevent pests and water from damaging my supplies, but it makes it easy to carry and a sturdy bucket has its own uses. Home Depot sells these bright orange buckets and lids for under $4. It is recommended that you keep enough food and water for 3 days.

This is what I learned about food and water supplies:

  • One gallon per person, per day, is considered good preparation, but 16 ounces per person per day is the absolute minimum.
  • The water from your water heater can be used in an emergency.
  • Store low-sodium food, so as not to make your thirsty when you are low on water.
  • Things that last nearly forever in storage: instant coffee, tea, bouillon cubes, honey, rice and pasta.
  • Look at the expiration date on dried and canned food and be sure to choose things that will last for more than a year. 
  • Choose foods that you eat normally. Not only will this be more comforting, but it will also make it easier to rotate out your emergency food every year or two with fresh supply, without allowing it to go to waste.

I keep a "mobile kitchen" in an old wine box that I use for camping. I have tidied the box and am now storing it with the disaster kit. It includes a cooking pot, butane stove with extra fuel, candles and matches in a mason jar with lid.

Etón American Red Cross ARCFR160R Microlink Self-Powered AM/FM/NOAA Weather Radio with Flashlight, Solar Power and Cell Phone Charger (Red)The remaining supplies will fit into a duffel bag with water sensitive items, like documents and the radio, in a dry bag. The duffel bag includes:

    Gerber 01471 Suspension Butterfly Opening Multi-Plier, with Sheath
  1. Red Cross self-powered radio with flashlight and cell phone charger with a spare charging cord for my cell phone and a list of important phone numbers (the list should include an out-of-state emergency contact!). I love this thing - it has the option to recharge by the solar panel on the top or the hand crank on the side. 
  2. Photocopies of our passports, children's birth certificates, and other important documents. It is also recommended that you keep some cash, in small bills, with your emergency supplies, as well as recent photos of each family member in case someone is missing.
  3. A lanyard with emergency whistle and extra house key. For children, this can also include a laminated card with their name and emergency contact information.  
  4. A comprehensive first aid kit and face masks for poor air quality or illness. 
  5. Plastic sheeting, duct tape, rope, folding knife, work gloves, and multi-purpose tool 
  6. Gear for bad weather such as a warm sweater, thick socks, rain poncho. Also, a wool or micro-fleece blanket or packs of emergency blankets are important. 
  7. Hygiene safety items such as hand sanitizer, Dr. Bronners soap, toilet paper in a ziplock bag, water filter or water sanitizing drops. 
  8. Don't forget flashlights and extra batteries!


I have also made a very small version of the full kit, to keep in my car. I realized while putting it together that it will likely come in handy many times for much more routine "emergencies" like playground scratches, forgotten sunscreen, and depleted diaper supplies!

Kidde FA110 Multi Purpose Fire Extinguisher 1A10BCLastly, I just bought two safety items for my house: a little wrench to keep next to the gas meter in the case that I need to turn off the gas at its source, and a new fire extinguisher.

If this feels overwhelming to you - take a step back. You have many of these things around your house already and many of us have a little extra cash from a tax return. Lastly, if you would rather not build your own disaster kit from scratch, you can always buy a pack from the Red Cross. They have unbeatable value on kits ranging in price from $10 to $70 and you can add your items as necessary.

An ounce of preparation is worth a pound of cure!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Urban homesteader blog party!

Welcome to Food-Soil-Thread's second weekly Urban Homesteader blog party! 
Please feel free to add a link from your blog to the gallery below.

This is where the three words of my blog find a home together: eating whole foods, digging in urban soil, and stitching together a homemade life: I am an urban homesteader. Let's see what you've made, grown, cooked and sewn...

a basket from last year's garden

I am not particularly technologically inclined. If you know how to make a badge for us to use for our weekly Urban Homesteader blog party, I would love to hear from you! If you are interested in reading more blogs about a homegrown life, you can check out the weekly blog hop at Sustainable Eats or see the Radical Homemakers website. 

A request: please link to recent posts on your own blog that are related to growing food, reducing unnecessary consumerism, sustainable living and good old fashioned homemaker skills. Can't wait to see what you have to share! 

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Winding down the dark days of winter challenge

Now that winter is coming to a close tonight, it doesn't seem so long and dark in reflection. But then, my disposition is much rosier once the sun doesn't start setting until after dinner.

At the start of winter, I took on the call to complete the weekly Dark Days of Winter challenge to eat one Sustainable, Organic, Local, Ethical (SOLE) meal every week and post about it, from mid November until mid April. The best thing about the challenge is that it made me think about the origins of all of my food. Checking to see where my groceries were grown has become habit and I have gained a greater appreciation for eating in season every day of the week.


Limiting myself to what is available locally in the winter has an Iron Chef quality to cooking that I quite like. Rather than deciding what I feel like eating and then buying the ingredients with no attention to season, cooking locally takes what is available and forces some creativity in the kitchen, although I have not been perfect by any measure.

Today was a lovely last day of winter - the sun was out, no coat was necessary, and the family puttered around the garden together all afternoon. Although I will miss the weekly Dark Days challenge, I can't say that I have any problem trading it in for eating from my garden.

On a sad note, I have recently heard that Thundering Hooves family farm has "ceased all operations." They are the meat supplier that Spud uses and I have enjoyed quite a few beef meals in the last few months. By chance, I learned the news while cooking a beef barley soup this week. The beef, of course, was from Thundering Hooves and the black barley was an heirloom grain given to me by Annette from Sustainable Eats. A delicious fair-well anyway.

SOLE Notes: ground beef from Thundering Hooves (WA), onion from Anderson Organics (WA), organic canned tomatoes from Muir Glen (CA), organic chicken broth, organic mushrooms (BC) all from Spud.com

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Urban Homesteader happenings

Welcome to Food-Soil-Thread's first weekly Urban Homesteader blog party! 
Please feel free to add a link from your blog to the gallery below.

If you are interested in reading more about the history of "urban homesteading," I have rounded up a few links to share with you. Here, Marie writes about the many generations of rural-suburban-urban homesteaders in her family. Then there is the website of the Dervaes family, whose two decade project of turning their urban city lot into a prolific farm is impressive, but who have also created a lot of controversy by trying to trademark the term "urban homestead" even though the term precedes their work. You can read a short reference to the history of the term as well as a synopsis of the controversy here

This is where the three words of my blog find a home together: eating whole foods, digging in urban soil, and stitching together a homemade life: I am an urban homesteader. Let's see what you've made, grown, cooked and sewn...

a basket from last year's garden

I am not particularly technologically inclined. If you know how to make a badge for us to use for our weekly Urban Homesteader blog party, I would love to hear from you! If you are interested in reading more blogs about a homegrown life, you can check out the weekly blog hop at Sustainable Eats or see the Radical Homemakers website. 

A request: please link to recent posts on your own blog that are related to growing food, reducing unnecessary consumerism, sustainable living and good old fashioned homemaker skills. Can't wait to see what you have to share! 

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Are you an Urban Homesteader?

Are you an Urban Homesteader? 


If you fantasize about a few acres, but make do with your own slice of urban soil...
If you pretend the humm of the freeway is a river flowing just over the next hill...
If you would rather make something new than buy something new....


...then I welcome you to drop by every Tuesday to see what other urban homesteaders are doing and to share a link from your own blog if you have one.


This is where the three words of my blog find a home together: eating whole foods, digging in urban soil, and stitching together a homemade life: I am an urban homesteader. Let's see what you've made, grown, cooked and sewn...

Starting next week you will find a Linky Tool here every Tuesday for you to link your blog to the week's Urban Homesteader blog party! Come back and browse the gallery of links to see what your fellow Urban Homesteader is up to - see you on Tuesday!


I am not particularly technologically inclined. If you know how to make a badge for us to use for our weekly Urban Homesteader link-up party, I would love to hear from you!



Wednesday, March 9, 2011

SOLE Food: handmade Gnocchi for dinner

I have been thinking about my soft little gnocchi clouds that I made with Chef Lisa last week. I am a little scared to make them myself, but one only learns through practice. I have been looking for more recipes that use potatoes and eggs, since they are easy SOLE (Sustainable, Organic, Local, Ethical) ingredients to find in the winter, so gnocchi will work perfectly.

I have invited a few friends over for dinner and plan to serve these tonight with a very simple tomato and cream sauce. My guests are bringing the salad, the dessert and the wine, so I can concentrate on the gnocchi. My son will be pulling on my leg, opening the cupboards, and pouring his juice on the floor and otherwise  helping me, so I have that on my side.

The other chef in the hat of Seattle 

SOLE Notes: organic potatoes (WA), cage free eggs (WA), organic tinned tomatoes (CA), organic shallots (WA), organic half & half (WA) for my gnocchi dinner are from Spud.com

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Outlook Inn on Orcas Island

After a treacherous icy drive up I-5 and then a much calmer rainy ferry ride, complete with impromptu performance by Bellingham bluegrass band Pole Cat, we arrived on Orcas Island. A meandering road brought us up one side of the horseshoe shaped island, through fields of woolly sheep, frozen ponds and sleeping vegetable gardens, dropping us off in the town of Eastsound at the crux of the island.

When we pulled into the parking lot of the inn, I had a moment of worry. Eyeing the wind battered annex buildings, it reminded me of a slightly better version of many of the thousands of beach front motels that line the Pacific Coast. It brings to mind my mom's favorite story about me as a pudgy three-year-old: Staying the night at a beach front motel during one of many trips between Seattle and Berkley, I noticed the bathroom's crevices lined with mildew, and announced to my parents, "Now I know the difference between a Motel and a Hotel: In the motel, the bathrooms are just a liiiiiiiitle bit dirty."

A few minutes later, I was swiping the key card and stepping into a beautiful suite overlooking the water. Remodeled in 2007, this is my kind of luxury room - upscale without frill, romantic but not sappy. Any doubt I had melted as I turned on the fire, took in the view and drew a bath in the jetted tub.
Can you see out of the window? That's the water!


Perched atop the water, at the entrance to town, the Inn is only one block away from Allium on Orcas, the top notch restaurant mentioned this year in the New York Times. Allium's chef and owner, Lisa Nakamura, is in the process of opening the doors downstairs for Lily, a small spot selling locally made ice cream, hot cups of clam chowder, fresh rolled sushi, and gift baskets of local products. 


If the location, the beautiful rooms, and the chance to eat at Chef Lisa's restaurant is not enough to entice you, maybe a special discount will tip the scale? The owner of Outlook Inn just announced the best deal on the island - $150 for one night stay at the Inn and a $100 credit in the on-site restaurant, New Leaf Cafe. A second night can be added for another $100. You must book your room by Tuesday night - March 8th at 8pm! The deal applies to reservations from now until May 20th, 2011. The cafe is open Thursday through Monday, and I recommend their halibut chowder! You can reserve your room by calling 1-888-OUTLOOK.

If you want a glimpse of what you will be getting on a sunny spring day, sitting on the balcony of Allium and eating a leisurely lunch, you really should check out Kelly Cline's photos. It was her blog post that first made me obsessed with the need to get out to the island to eat at Allium. Enjoy the trip!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

a lesson from Allium: gnocchi from Orcas Island

The snow dusted coast of the San Juans

Another blogger told me once that the reason she blogs is because it gives her access to experiences that she would not otherwise have. That really resonated with me. Life is all about savoring and collecting experiences. A blog is just a very public way of declaring my interests and sharing my experiences with others. By sharing myself in this way, I am sometimes invited to see (and taste) things that I otherwise may never have had the chance.

A crossword and a ferry ride to really get away

I have written here before about the friendly and generous Chef Lisa Nakamura, who often answers my cooking questions for me on twitter and inspired my raw beet and roasted balsamic vegetable salad post last month. She is the chef and owner of the new Allium on Orcas restaurant, perched alongside a cove on Orcas Island in the San Juans. Open less than a year, Allium has already been mentioned in the New York Times as one of the places to go in 2011. A woman who has found her passion, you can find her in the kitchen every single day that the restaurant is open, cooking for island locals and tourists alike.

Allium's brunch fresh out of the oven

I added visiting Lisa's restaurant to my list of 101 goals and my husband and I decided to make the one-night trip our first vacation without the baby (another goal of mine). Lisa saw that I had also listed "learn to make perfect gnocchi" to my goal list and she very generously offered to teach me her method. She offers a daily gnocchi on her menu and I had heard about how good they were. When I told her the date that I would be out on the island, she told me to knock on the back kitchen door in the morning for my lesson. I almost skipped all the way there in the morning!

opening soon: Lisa's new venture will sell local ice cream and gift baskets

I am not going to give you a verbatim recipe here, lest my description fails you and you think the fault is with the Chef. The thing about gnocchi is that they are almost always chewy and dense, when they should be like warm, delicate clouds. Watching Lisa, I realized I had been doing every step wrong. I had been making a kind of mashed potato/pasta dumpling hybrid. Here is what Lisa does differently:



  • When I arrived, Lisa was pulling hot baked potatoes from the oven. "Mashed potatoes are too wet for gnocchi," she says, adding that they key to the potatoes is working them when they are still piping hot.
  • She uses egg yolks only - discard the whites - "one yolk per potato, plus one for good luck."
  • All that flour that I was using? She uses a fraction of what most recipes call for. 
  • The "kneading" of the dough was really just a quick and light folding of the dough a few times. 


From here, her process begins to resemble what I have seen in other recipes: we rolled out long snakes of dough, cut them into pieces and rolled the pieces into little balls. Using the back of a fork, Lisa rolls the gnocchi down the tines to create ridges that will help hold the sauce later.


I was shocked when the gnocchi bobbed to the surface of the simmering water within a minute of being added to the pot. My former gnocchi took forever to cook and these barely warmed up before they were done and ready to be fished out with a slotted spoon.


Lisa has a bowl of ice water ready to halt the cooking process. She says that at this point, the drained gnocchi can be frozen for later use. If you are ready to eat them right away, you can begin making a pan sauce. Lisa began with oil and white wine, adding the gnocchi, then bacon, mushrooms, reduced chicken stock and cream.

rolling the gnocchi to create ridges

We chatted while the gnocchi simmered away for a few minutes and then I was brought out to the empty early morning dining room, to watch the view of diving seabirds and choppy waters and eat my perfect bowl of gnocchi.
into a hot pan and ready to build a sauce


I think it was the best breakfast I have ever had. It was a meal of experiences - beautiful flavors made with someone I was honored to be cooking with, enjoyed while taking in a dramatic view of winter forest meeting stormy sea, and with the knowledge that my sweet husband would be waking soon and waiting for me to return to our perch above town.


Bon Appetite and happy travels...