Archive for October, 2009

Day of the Dead: a time to celebrate life

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As a child, I loved deliciously spooky Halloween and the end of the deadly summer heat. As an adult, I came to prefer Dia de los Muertos, the Mexican holiday of skulls and death which is one of the most life-affirming holidays that I know of. Day of the Dead celebrates the wild abundance of life, and our dead friends return in our memories to enjoy it with us.
I always enjoy decorating my house for the season, but this year it has a special poignance: we have bought a new house with more land for my gardening and this will be our last autumn on the 1/8 acre homestead. So no winter garden this year, and I’ve let a lot of things go to seed so that I have enough seed for my new garden-to-be. My various fermentation projects are being shut down, with enough starters saved so that the new house will be enlivened with the same cultures that fed us here. My lovely dwarf fruit trees will have to be left behind, but I look forward to starting over with more room, and I have another few weeks to enjoy the old garden and write about the vegetables that have done best and provided the most return for my very limited space.
So, over the winter my posts will concentrate on food made from our farmers’ markets, which now run all winter, and new sourdough and fermentation projects as I get them going. In the meantime, I’m filled with gratitude for everything that this little city lot has grown for us, and I’m more convinced than ever that connection with any piece of ground no matter how small is good for body and spirit.  

So get some decorative vegetables and grinning skeletons, remember your biological and spiritual ancestors, and celebrate the beauty of the season. It’s nearly Day of the Dead, so live and love deeply.

Kitchen Staples: Injera

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Flatbreads are a handy kitchen trick to have up your sleeve for times when you don’t want to bother with raised breads or they won’t suit the meal you have in mind. Since they don’t need to rise, they are not gluten-dependent and make a great vehicle for a variety of whole grains.
The Ethiopian flatbread called injera is made from a fermented batter that give it a frothy texture and a charming lightly sour flavor. Traditionally it’s made from the tiny grain called Teff. Of course it’s good with Ethiopian food, but I love it with many Indian dals as well as with salads and grilled meats. It serves as your table utensil; pieces are torn off and used to scoop up whatever you’re eating it with.
In this country most recipes are bastardized versions that don’t involve any fermenting. Some add vinegar to get the soured flavor. But why not just do it right? I keep a sourdough culture around and find plenty of uses for it, and it makes injera as well as it makes standard breads. You can always capture your own starter, but I like the South African starter from sourdough fanatic Ed Wood, at It does a great job of souring and leavening whole grain flours. You can use commercial yeast instead but the flavor won’t be as good. Every homestead, urban or otherwise, needs a good sourdough starter around, so consider starting one now, but if you don’t want to bother, I include directions for commercial yeast. In my next few posts I’ll include some recipes that are good to eat with your injera.
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