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Under Construction

under construction

I have largely stopped doing things that scare me, and over the last few months I have found that (irony alert!) quietly terrifying. I realize that this is, by its very nature, a problem of a privileged person, so there is definitely an important element of perspective and awareness that needs to be ** here. Still, after living in an environment of non-challenge and change, I am way past due to actually take responsibility for the situation. Now, there will probably be some closer-to-home solutions to this that will ultimately carry more weight and meaning in the long run, but as a personal jump start (think Cher slapping some sense into Nicholas Cage in Moonstruck) I am off on a little travel adventure for the next couple of weeks: to chat with and learn from people I’ve known for ages, people I have only known on the internet, and people I just haven’t met quite yet. I’m going to spend a lot of time on Amtrak trains. I’m going to see parts of the country I’ve never seen before and learn something about public transportation in four new-to-me metropolitan areas. I’m going to get terrifically lost. I’m going to try not to cry in any public restrooms, but no promises!

horoscope 2014

The 2014 tarot cards suggested a challenging year ahead. Guess this is my
way of going out on the field to meet it.

Meanwhile, I have been running some small-scale, totally safe experiments here at home that I thought I might share as a “getting off on the right foot” send off. First up, this terrific stitch from the Purl Soho blog. (I want to cast on pretty much every pattern they post, and have even picked out a new project to take along on my trip.) The finished look of this slip-stitch pattern is almost a kind of woven material, at least more than any traditional knitting I have ever seen. It’s not terribly complicated once you get the rhythm down, but will take a bit of time to complete—a.k.a. consider starting next year’s xmas scarf gifts now!

woven knits

I have no actual expertise in natural remedies, but I sure do love reading about the possibilities. When the husband was feeling flu-ish and asked if I had any “potions” to help him out, my research led me to elderberry syrup. Considering there were even some studies/scientific evidence for its usefulness posted on WebMD, I decided to try it out. Not being a controlled experiment, I can’t say it worked…but with both of us nearly down for the count and then quickly back on our feet, it didn’t not work.

elderberry syrup

And finally, the polar vortex and the general unrelenting darkness of this time of the season weighing hard, something bright and healthy to eat seemed to be called for. Cauliflower is one of the only banned vegetables around this homestead but, as a result, those alterna-pizza crusts fare poorly in these parts. However, this butternut squash version (with a kale pesto instead of spinach and whatever toppings I can dig out of the fridge) is sure to be a repeat order.

Of Vegan Cheese, Paleo Pizza, and the Best Laid Plans

Vegan Cheese

I had grand plans this past week, but you know what they say about plans. Instead, life events have me reflecting on everything I still don’t know, as well as everything I want to get much better at. Some of these skills are basic: Listen more, talk less. That kind of thing. Maybe I need to meditate; maybe I just need to pay attention.

Ultimately, however, I’m reminded how much education requires not just doing, but doing again. I actually pulled out my violin the other day, mostly to look it over and make sure the wood was handling the stress of radiator winters and high humidity summers as gracefully as possible. I thought about putting on the new strings I had ordered, but ended up just closing the case. Still, the message from the past was clear: once upon a time, I dedicated years to perfecting what I offered the world. I don’t do that any more and it bothers me. Even more perplexing: I’m not sure where I’d pour that dedication, even if I manged to dredge it up.

JCPenney sewing machine

So meanwhile, I will learn and I will practice. Next to my violin was my sewing machine, so I decided I might as well begin there. It was my mom’s–a beast of a thing, metal, from JC Penney, that I adopted when she gave it up. It took me three tries before I remembered how to wind a bobbin and thread the thing correctly. (Helpfully, I have found a chart explaining tension that will not require me to actually read the user manual!) But after an hour and some serious eyebrow scrunching, I had a new tote bag for the market! If the stitching was a little uneven, well, I will use large kale leaves as a distraction. The pattern is both easy and lovely, available from Craft Buds here.

Market Tote Bag

I’ve also been trying to spend less time at my desk staring at a blinking cursor (I have nothing to say, and I am saying it) and a lot more outside, chatting with the neighbors and making faces at their baby, getting filthy and mosquito bit in the garden, sitting on the porch with the cat patiently observing the passersby. So it was that I picked up this simple dishcloth pattern to mindlessly work in the evenings. Mindless knitting actually leads to concentrated thinking in other areas, I find–my own kind of mandala. After I finished a handful of rows, I realized I was looking at the same pattern my Aunt Helen would knit when we camped up at the lake in the ’80s. Seekers (of nostalgia or introspection or just a simple washcloth pattern) can find this one featured in an Artful Homemaking post here.

Knitted dishcloth

At the end of the day, I can tell you that vegan cheese is not the answer you think it will be. Part of the aforementioned grand plan–before the freezer broke and things started to slide–was a cauliflower crusted pizza with vegan cheese. Gluten free! Non-dairy! Paleo! (I think?–So hot right now.) I mentioned this to my mom, and she just laughed (at me? with me?). I considered how far I had moved from anything she would ever consider making in her own kitchen. That wasn’t necessarily a good or bad place to be, but it was something I thought warranted some personal consideration. The pizza ended up going into the oven with real cheese, though that was still a bridge too far for my cauliflower-despising spouse. And the vegan cheese attempt was…interesting. At first, I thought it simply wasn’t for me, but I let it stick around in the fridge for a bit and finally decided it was definitely odd but strangely addictive. Much like the cauliflower crust pizza, it was about managing expectation, trying something a little crazy, and then just going with it. So I’m going to practice that.

Vegan Cheese

Well, the sentiment at least. Not the vegan cheese making; that’s definitely not my calling. If you want to try it for yourself, the recipe is here. (A proportionally smaller–but plenty big–and agar powder vs flake version of this one.)

Bon Attempt*: Dishes to Try (and Try Again)

Pickled Turnips

So, things have been going in Wonderland Kitchen, they just haven’t been going “OMG, I totally have to tell you about this ah-maze-ing cookie recipe I just invented” great. That, or they’ve been going “this other person’s recipe is awesome and I posted about it last year” (so repeat as needed).

I’ve also been doing a good bit of cooking for real people beyond my husband (or unintentionally for my cat, when my back is turned, the little sneak!). It seemed rude to stick a lens in a guest’s face during an 8 a.m. breakfast, but in hindsight I’m feeling less shy, so beware future visitors!

Anyway, this being Sunday, I thought perhaps a little confession time was in order–air the laundry and wipe off the counters for the week ahead–and so in no particular order, some recipe takeaways for when the CSA first slams back into the rotation and houseguests make last minute visits. What have you been cooking as we slide into summer?

A Reminder that You Can Pickle For Tomorrow What You Can’t Consume Today

Turnips with Beet

Since the crisper drawer was already bursting with greens, I picked up a couple bunches of these white turnips and pickled them according to David Lebovitz’s recipe. Here I thought I was innovating, but hardly! I did however get distracted and ended up with an overly salted and garlic-y finished product. Will have to try this one again, because the beet slices resulted in an amazing brine. And I do have a soft spot for pink food.

A Reminder to Prep Guest Breakfasts Ahead of Time

Granola and Refrigerator Oats

I’ve posted about this Little Blue Hen granola before, which I like especially because it includes an abundance of nuts and seeds with nary a spec of dried fruit in sight (though I’ll cop to offering the guests a handful of DIY raisins at their discretion, because come on). I also like to make little cups of refrigerator oats before heading to bed (I substitute kefir for the milk and yogurt) and then just pass out the jars and spoons in the a.m. Haven’t had an unfinished portion yet.

A Reminder to be Brave with Your Summer Soups

Spring Asparagus and Broccoli Soup

I have been having a lot of luck lately with those “use up five things from the in-house stock” on the fly dinners, and this has been especially helpful now that there’s a lot more produce around. As we crawl towards the end of the week and another pick-up looms, sometimes the stuff just needs to be used up. That’s how I ended up with asparagus, broccoli, and spring onions in a soup pot, simmered with just enough veggie broth to cover, and then pureed with the last of the dill and the remaining 1/4 cup of cream in the bottle. A light spring soup, tasty both hot and cold.

A Reminder to Double the Doctor Kracker Knock-Offs

DIY Seeded Crispbread

Fair warning that these are very crisp crackers, but they are just like the ones that come eight to a box in the grocery. If your family is as addicted to them as mine, you have come to the right place for the knock-off recipe. But be sure to hide a few for your own eating: this was the lone piece of cracker left in the bag when I went back to take a picture and have a snack.

A Reminder to Not Burn Your Hand When Baking Life-Changing Bread

My New Roots: Life Changing Bread

This is the pre-baked look of My New Roots’ much-discussed Life-Changing Bread. The first loaf I made with really beautiful Bob’s Red Mill oats and specially purchased hazelnuts and thought it was a neat breakfast item but not necessarily life changing. The second time I was way more chill about it, just used the walnuts and the somewhat crappier instant oats I dug out of the pantry, and also tossed in all the seeds left behind in the bag of the above-mentioned seeded crackers. Aside from the accidental seering of the back of my hand on the oven while flipping the bread over, I’m enjoying the second batch even more. I keep it sliced and frozen and simply defrost a piece each morning in the toaster.

A Reminder That Not All Baking Need Exhaust Your Patience

Joy the Baker: Sweet Berry Lime Cake

Short version: I needed a cake for company, and I had about an hour to make it happen. Joy the Baker to the rescue!

A Reminder That Sometimes the “Failures” Are Still Pretty Tasty

Tomato Basil Popovers

I always have excellent results with this King Arthur popover recipe, so I used that as the base when–for some reason–I started dreaming of breakfast treats flavored with tomato. My first effort included 1 tablespoon tomato powder, 1 teaspoon onion powder, a handful of chopped basil, and about 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. They were good, but not quite what I’m looking for just yet and I lost most of my usual pop (I’m guessing the weight of the cheese didn’t help). A work in progress.

A Reminder That Not All Failures are Failures If You Adjust the Frame

Cottage Cheese Fail

I got it into my head after the cream cheese making that DIY cottage cheese would be no. big. deal. I researched a few available recipes and thought things were going pretty well, but my curds didn’t survive the straining process. I’m guessing I didn’t cook my curds long enough. Proper looking curds or no, the cheese still tasted fantastic and I used it like a rich ricotta on toast and pizzas with much success. The curd skills will come another day. There were also fresh peas at the market, which meant it was time again for smoky tahini peas!

Peas and Cheese Crostini

*With apologies to Bon Appétempt, whose kitchen antics are funny and whose dishes look awesome. However, as I have never eaten at her house, it’s her blog name that I’m particularly enamored with–so much so that I felt only minor guilt in kinda stealing it for the title of this post! That acknowledged and confessed, onward into the kitchen…

DIY Tomato Powder/Paste/Instant Soup

DIY Tomato Powder/Paste

Admittedly, February is probably the least sensible time for a Mid-Atlantic resident to deal with tomatoes. Still, with pretty much everyone I know battling some form of cold/flu/sinus travesty and I myself popping cough drops and drinking mugs of broth for the past couple weeks, I started daydreaming about DIY instant soups free of questionable additives and shocking sodium content. Being a vegetarian, these thoughts leaned towards vegetable-based options rather than chicken and noodles, and the dehydrator I was gifted over the holidays this year suggested all kind of possibilities.

The best course, it seemed to me at the time, would be to start with dehydrated tomato powder to which I could add other seasonings. The local grocery’s produce section offered a depressingly unripe and waxy selection of the fruit, so I settled on some decent-looking plum tomatoes, figuring I’d at least get the most flesh for my dollar that way. I swallowed the $2.29/lbs. price tag; it would have been $3.99/lbs. if I had selected organic fruit.

I cored and de-seeded (but did not peel) two pounds of tomatoes, slicing them in 1/4-inch rings and fitting about a pound per tray in my dehydrator. Unlike the garlic drying, the smell that filled the kitchen was much less overwhelming. Ten hours later, I had a lovely looking pile of perfectly crisp tomato slices, and after popping most of them in the blender I had…1/4 cup of tomato powder. In my heart I had known all along this was an August project, when tomatoes are available by the bushel for under $20. Clearly the math on this DIY project was not really going to work out at this winter rate. I would be much better off buying it.

However, the concentrated flavor of the powder was amazing and not to be wasted. I can see adding this to all kinds of soups, sauces, dips, and dressings, kneading it into bread dough, or sprinkling it on top of pizza along with some garlic powder. And for those concerned about acidic tomatoes and BPA in packaging, it’s a great way to store a large quantity of the former within a small pantry footprint and have “just add water” access to everything from tomato paste to tomato sauce and juice.

Do you use tomato powder? What are your favorite applications?

DIY Tomato Powder/Paste

Tomato Powder: The Method

Wash, core, slice, and de-seed plum tomatoes. Spray dehydrator racks lightly with oil and evenly spread out slices. They can touch but should not overlap. Dehydrate at 135°F for five hours and flip slices. Continue dehydrating until completely crisp, about five hours more.

Allow slices to cool completely and check again to make sure they are completely crisp. Then, using a blender or coffee grinder, reduce the slices to a powder. If grind is uneven, sift powder though a mesh sieve and regrind larger chunks. Store in an airtight glass container in a cool, dark place. Rehydrate portions of the powder to desired consistencies as needed.

The Verdict

I loved the tomato powder itself: versatile, storage-efficient, and delicious. However, it doesn’t make sense to DIY this project in any quantity without access to fresh local tomatoes in bulk. Until then, I will either wait or purchase powder online, where even organic options are available for about $20 per pound.

DIY Instant Tomato Bell Pepper Soup

DIY Instant Tomato Bell Pepper Soup

Note: I experimented with both instant nonfat dry milk and dry whole milk and–when powders were pre-mixed–couldn’t prevent either milk type from curdling upon heating. Non-dairy powdered coffee creamer did work, but a read through the ingredient list pretty much negates the DIY effort if keeping hydrogenated oils and artificial additives out of the soup is a motivator. However, using only the vegetable powders made for such a rich and tasty broth, I didn’t find myself missing the cream.

All of the vegetable powders and dried herbs can be made using a dehydrator at home. Diced onion and rings of de-seeded red bell pepper can be dehydrated and powdered in a similar fashion to the tomato powder above.

2 tablespoons tomato powder
1 teaspoon red bell pepper powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder (or more to taste)
salt and pepper to taste
pinch of dried dill, parsley, or basil (optional)
1 1/4 cups boiling water

To make single-serving portions, measure vegetable powders and spices in proportions above into sealable plastic bags. When ready to serve, add 1 1/4 cups boiling water and stir until all powder is dissolved.


This recipe and post were created for my “DIY vs. Buy” column on Serious Eats.

August’s Pleasure: Tomatoes on Toast


The closing weeks of August generally find me living on a steady diet of tomato sandwiches, and this year is no exception. Sometimes I pair thick slices of bright red fruit with a generous schmear of kale pesto, sometimes I go classic with some mayo and salt. I almost always toast the bread, except for when it’s the first slice off a fresh loaf and I just can’t wait that long.

Tomatoes of August

I know more and more people are giving up gluten products. I’ve cut back a bit from my carb-rich diet, but I’m still committed to bread. I do try and make my own as often as I can, however, favoring whole wheat flour and add-ins such as sunflower or caraway seeds. What I usually don’t have is a lot of time and patience for super-involved recipes (aside from the times that I do). For an everyday bread, I don’t want to heat milk or make extra dishes. I want to measure it all into the bowl of my stand mixer and just let the dough hook do the work. I want it to finish five minutes later with the bowl neat enough to just pull out the dough, spray in a touch of olive oil, and it’s set for reuse as the rising bucket.

That said, I was bored with my standard recipe, and so I went cruising on the internet, as people do, for something new and exciting. I stumbled across Manly Housekeeper’s adaptation of a King Arthur recipe that sounded exactly like my kind of action. And indeed it was. On my second go, I decided to have some fun and braid it rather than rolling it into a loaf; it takes about a minute more to do but I think really adds something fun to the presentation. On the second rise, the dough expands into the edges and corners of the loaf pan, so it’s still completely suitable for sandwiches, just with a fancier top. This is definitely optional, but highly recommended. One caution I will give with this recipe is that my rising times were rapid. That may just be because of the muggy August heat of Maryland, but keep a close eye on your progress.

Harvest Grains Whole Wheat Bread

Harvest Grains Whole Wheat Bread
only slightly adapted from Manly Housekeeper’s recipe due to pantry stock

3 1/2 cups (17.5 ounces) whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp. instant yeast
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 T vital wheat gluten
3/4 cup seed mix such as King Arthur’s harvest grains blend
1/4 cup wheat bran
1 1/2 cups water
3 T vegetable oil
1/4 cup maple syrup

Measure all the dry ingredients into your mixing bowl. Combine the liquid ingredients in a measuring cup or small bowl, whisk together, and add in with the dry. Mix until just combined and then let sit for 20 minutes.

When the time has passed, continue kneading by hand or by hook about five minutes, until satiny and elastic. Lightly grease your bowl with olive oil, place dough at bottom and turn several times to coat surface with oil. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and leave to rise one hour.

Turn dough out onto the counter and gently deflate. Divide dough into three equal portions and roll each into a 16-inch log. Braid together and place in a lightly greased 9 1/4 x 5 1/4 inch loaf pan. Reuse plastic wrap to loosely cover pan and let rise again until dough crowns over pan top about an inch (mine took 45 minutes, but it could require double that).

About 15 minutes before final rise is complete, heat over to 350°F with rack in the center. When dough is ready, bake uncovered for 20 minutes. Then tent bread with aluminum foil and bake 20 minutes more.

Turn loaf out of pan immediately and cool completely on a wire rack. Slice and enjoy, topped with whatever you like best (which would be tomatoes). And keep a careful eye on any suspiciously lurking pets.

Tomatoes and Toast

Summer Simple: Tomato and Cottage Cheese


Admittedly, this is not actually a recipe, but I had completely forgotten about how much I love eating this simple summer dish. Growing up in Ohio, we had a garden overflowing with beautiful tomatoes each August, and burying them under cottage cheese often made for an easy lunch. Still, somehow the image most deeply seared onto my mind is of the ones I ate with my grandparents in the cafeteria at the Canfield Fair, line upon line of these bright red fruits stuffed and served on small paper plates, ready for the claiming. (Can you even find a fresh vegetable to eat at the fair anymore?)

Tomato with Cottage Cheese: The Cut

Tomato and Cottage Cheese

1 ripe tomato
1/2 cup cottage cheese
salt and black pepper

Core tomato and slice into wedges top to bottom without fully cutting through the fruit (leave about 1/2 inch at the bottom). Plate and nudge open wedges, sprinkling a bit of salt over top, if desired. Stuff center of tomato with cottage cheese and top with ground black pepper. A chiffonade of fresh basil or a few snips of chive would certainly not be amiss sprinkled over top of these beauties, but my family was never so fancy.

Tomato and Cottage Cheese