Raspberry Cordial

This is a quick post to let you know that an excerpt from my book-in-progress, Botany, Ballet & Dinner From Scratch, has been published by Culinate. It is being featured on their web site this week and you can read it here. It’s about me, my dad, my ex, and a dusty bottle of homemade cordial. I hope you enjoy this true story, and I also hope you click on the link for the recipe that accompanies it. You can make the cordial from fresh or frozen berries and it is pretty fabulous if I do say so myself. Works with blackberries, too.



The Best Bread You Never Had

sourdough bread with fennel and red onion saladI was going to share my recipe for great chewy, tangy sourdough bread, but I can’t. I was going to post my no-fail recipe for buttermilk soda bread with a delicate crispy crust and moist cake-crumb interior, but I can’t. I had every intention of sharing what I’ve learned about making homemade crackers, but I can’t. It’s not that I don’t know how to make all of these things now because I do. And it’s not that I’m a mean old tease. It’s that the skills the recipes depend upon don’t translate well in the virtual world. They are hands on, messy, physical reality. And they depend on local ingredients.

When I first found out, to my surprise, that I could get locally grown and milled wheat flour I had every intention of blogging my baking discoveries. I knew there would be a learning curve: The texture of my locally grown and milled flour was different from the standardized all-purpose and whole wheat flours I was used to. For yeast bread, I had to get used to working with sourdough starter in place of commercial yeast. But I was confident that my breads and muffins would eventually be consistent and good enough for me to share the recipes with you.

This week I made my fourth-in-a-row great loaf of sourdough bread, and I thought,”Aha! Now I can post the recipe”. But then I realized that I’d used a full cup of flour less than I had last week, and half a cup more than I had the week before that. The rise time had been an hour less than it was last week (maybe my apartment was warmer?), but still several hours more than in the online recipe I’d originally used. Instead of watching the clock, I’d depended on looking and poking and smelling to signal when I’d added enough flour and when the dough was fully risen. It was as if an archetypal grandma was peering over my shoulder telling me when it was right.

Most of us, myself included, did not have a grandmotherly kitchen guru showing us when the dough was just right. So how did I get these skills? And is it worth it?

1. I made a lot of mistakes. My first loaves of 250-Mile bread were leaden doorstops and a sense of humor was a mandatory ingredient. I experimented a lot and kept track of what worked and what didn’t. Eventually I wasn’t experimenting much anymore because the results were consistently delicious.

2. Yes, it is worth it. Not only is the food amazing, but I’ll be using the skills I’ve learned for the rest of my life.

I wish I could peer over your shoulder and show rather than tell you what those skills are. Nevertheless, I’ve decided to share some recipes with you after all. Here is the buttermilk soda bread recipe.

Buttermilk Soda Bread

It is a riff on the one in Joy of Cooking’s 75th Anniversary edition. It will be different if you are using different flours and honey than what I’ve got, but still, I think, consistently good.

And here is where I started for my sourdough bread, although I also referenced Sandor Katz’ Wild Fermentation. You’ll still need to experiment, but these instructions are a good starting place.

And here is that Apple Nut Muffin recipe I promised some of you.

P.S.–If you’re in NYC, stop by the Good Food Now! summit. Lots of locavores, and I’ll be giving a workshop on Eating Local Throughout The Year.


Not sure what this is about? Read Getting Ready for the 250-Mile Diet and The Rules

Scouts Wanted! The Locavore’s Guide Is Up And Running

The Locavore’s Guide to NYC is a directory of locally grown and raised ingredients organized by product. It will help you find which local foods you can get when and where in New York City. This is the guide I wish somebody else had already put together because it would make my 250-Mile Diet so much easier.

The Guide is very much a work in progress. I’ve barely made a dent in adding all of my notes, and most of those are centered around my CSA and the two farmers markets most convenient to me. Eventually, I want The Guide to include local food resources for all five boroughs of the city.

Towards that goal, I am sending out a call to Scouts everywhere. Think of The Guide as a sort of Zagat’s for locavores. If you’ve spotted a hard-to-find local product somewhere in the city, email locavoreguide@localfork.com to let me know.

I am excited about this project and very grateful to Local Fork for giving The Guide a home.

Not sure what this is about? Read Getting Ready for the 250-Mile Diet and The Rules


Spice of Life

I ran out of black pepper a month ago. What is in my pepper grinder now is peppergrass seed (Lepidium spp.), or sometimes a mix of the seven kinds of chile peppers I grew and dried this year.

pepper grinder

But let’s get back to that imported black pepper (Piper nigrum). Why should the fruit of a vine that grows on the Malabar Coast be so ubiquitous in our food, and almost always paired with salt?

Well, back in the days when sailing ships ruled the trade routes, spices were great cargo because they didn’t spoil, didn’t weigh much, and were worth a lot of money. The food the sailors ate during those voyages was often preserved by salting. Imagine sitting down to a meal of salt-preserved fish served with a dry cracker—bit hard to get down. But black pepper, besides being tasty, has the medicinal property of causing salivation, which makes heavily salted food more palatable and easier to digest. So anytime folks got ready for a long journey they made certain to include a ration of black pepper to go with the salt-preserved food. Hence the familiar pairing of salt and pepper.

I was actually happy when I ran out of black pepper. Now, I thought, I will really find out what here tastes like. No more taken for granted seasoning in the background of every savory recipe. Now I’ll have to pay attention. And it’s true, I am paying more attention to what those peppery notes actually do (besides making me salivate). If it’s a similar flavor I want, I’ll stick with that peppergrass I mentioned. If it’s a bit of burn I’ll go for the chile peppers. But sometimes I’ll reach for the spicebush berries instead.

These are dried spicebush berries:


The field guides usually recommend using spicebush berries as an allspice substitute, but I find they have a much more complex flavor that includes a citrus-y note and a peppery taste as well. I like using dried, ground spicebush berries in savory dishes as much as in sweet.

What other “unusual” spices am I using? (And isn’t it weird that something from the other side of the world seems usual and something that grows here seems unusual?) Well, there’s the wild ginger (Asarum canadense) that I told you about before, and I long ago stopped using commercial bay leaves. Instead I use Northern bayberry (Myrica pennsylvanica) leaves.

Northern bayberry

These are all spices that the indigenous peoples around here used, but which the European settlers ignored. They are native to our Northeastern woodlands—truly what here tastes like.

So now you’re thinking, Great, Leda, but I can’t get any of those wild local spices. Well, actually you can. For starters, you could sign up for some wild edible plants classes next year and learn to identify them for yourself. For the gardeners among you, it is not hard to find mail order nurseries stocking wild ginger, Northern bayberry, and spicebush plants. And last but not least, you can mail order dried spicebush berries from Integration Acres. That doesn’t help me this year because they are outside of my 250-mile radius—I did my own collecting this year. But I’ve ordered from them in the past and the quality of their service is excellent. Just be aware that they call spicebush “Appalachian allspice”.


Not sure what this is about? Read Getting Ready for the 250-Mile Diet and The Rules