Versatile Sourdough – Bread, Cake and Pretzels


One of my latest kitchen experiments has been baking with a sourdough starter. I have been baking all our breads, pizza doughs, pastries, cookies, cakes, etc from scratch now for over 2 years. One of the many ways in which I vote for better food with my money daily. Not only is baking from scratch cheaper than buying, but most recipes whether bread, cake, or pretzels, three of the recipes I am going to share with you today, have under 10, and more often, under 5 ingredients, no preservatives, corn syrup, or weird chemicals. I challenge you to find that at your grocery store!

I had also heard that many people with gluten sensitivity (not Celiac) did better eating baked goods made from true fermented sourdough than baked goods leavened more commonly with yeast. I waited until our big move to experiment with sourdough, as once you have a starter, you have to feed and maintain it to keep it healthy and alive. So now, besides 2 dogs, a cat, 10 chickens, kefir – both dairy and water, kombucha, and yogurt, I have added sourdough culture to my feeding schedule! I can’t say with certainty if it is the sourdough or the spelt flour I have switched to that allows me to enjoy breads and the like without feeling like I have a hangover the next day. I still eat all of these things sparingly, although my dear husband, who is a major carb addict, seems to be enjoying his daily bread without any side affects. It took eating this kind of bread, for him to realize that he was having a bit of a problem with the other kinds.

Anyway, sourdough is extremely versatile, and not all sourdough starters are created equal. You can try to capture your own, or you can purchase one. I decided to start by purchasing one from Cultures for Health. Several weeks later, I got another one from Erik a friend who sells hand roasted coffee at our local farmers market. He traded me sourdough starter from Ischia, Italy and kombucha for some Viili culture. I think I got the better deal.


I started experimenting by baking bread from the book Baking with Sourdough by Sara Pitzer, from Storey Publishing and then tweaked it a bit, to make it more to our liking. After I figured that out, I started playing around with various herbed breads, which is how I came up with the Za’atar Spice Bread Ring.


After I had that under my belt, or better yet, in my stomach, I wanted to try something I had never heard of – Sourdough Chocolate Cake, from the same book, which I also tweaked. This cake was really fantastic and probably one of the best chocolate cakes I have ever had. We are not big cake eaters in this house, so I can affirm that it froze well, and also lasted in the fridge for about 2 weeks. I am sure you could have a lot of fun with this recipe, including making various kinds of icing. Roberto liked spreading nutella on his, and I enjoyed mine plain or sometimes with a schmear of almond butter.


Most recently I tried making Sourdough Pretzels, all the same ingredients (except honey in place of sugar) but tweaked the method a little bit to allow all the flour to ferment. The pretzels turned out being more like pretzel shaped bread, than actual pretzels. I got a lot of helpful suggestions on facebook like adding sparkling water or lemon juice for better rising. So I think I will have to try again. Although Roberto likes them, since he can grab one, kind of like a roll to have with meals, without needing to slice anything.

I have continued on experimenting with making sourdough spelt pizza dough, buckwheat pancakes and crepes, as well as muffins. The pizza dough, pancakes and crepes have become staples in our house (look for these recipes soon), while the muffins still need some work. But the wonderful thing is, each week I have to feed my starter, which means at least once a week I should bake something and so I am trying to keep creative. I have been yeast baking free for almost 3 months! I definitely encourage you

to try your hand at it too. If you would like to try and catch your own starter, my blogging buddy Michelle over at Big Black Dog has a great post about it!

I am going to share THREE recipes with you today. For one, I want to show you just how diverse sourdough is – it is not just for bread! And also because my mom is coming to visit for a few weeks, and my posting rate may be a bit slower these next few weeks – so I wanted to keep you busy while I on vacation! 🙂

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Thistlemoon Meadows Homestead Update

Happy Summer to everyone on the Northern Hemisphere!


(I really want to thank our very dear friends Amber AKA Valley Writer, and Mr.ValleyWriter of Adventures in the Pioneer Valley for the beautiful Thistlemoon Meadows sign – here is Amber and I standing behind it! You can check out her post about her visit to Vermont, Visit to the Land of the Locavore, here.)

I have really enjoyed doing these weekly homesteading picture updates, so this is going to be a new regular feature of this blog. We had thought about starting a garden blog, but then decided that gardens and farm animals have everything to do with food – so why not just post about it here! It is going to be really helpful next year to look back at the pictures  and posts to see how the gardens are doing in comparison.

Chicken Tractor_collage_600

(Clockwise: The flock in their new home, Roberto in the beginning stages of the build, Jenn painting the tractor, middle stage of the tractor, you still need to eat when you are building, Jenn with the flock in their new home!)

We celebrated Summer Solstice in two ways. The first was by finishing a project that we worked on for about a week, from design to getting materials, to building – WE BUILT A CHICKEN TRACTOR! Yep. Our first real construction project, on the homestead, which was prompted by the chicks growing so darn fast!!! We will be building them a coop later in the summer – something bigger, with nesting boxes, and insulated for winter, maybe when my dad comes to visit in August (Dad, if you are reading this, get ready!!!). But we decided on a chicken tractor for now, this way, they have a big space to grow into over the next few months, and then once they are full grown, a few at a time can go out to pasture in it. Sadly though, one of the chicks seems to have hurt her leg, the same day. We did a lot of research on what it could be, and how to fix it, and tried a few different splints and braces which just seemed to make her despondent. Unfortunately it seems that she will either continue to adapt to it (she is doing just fine with it right now), or she won’t and it is probably a genetic pre-disposition.

The Flock_3weeks_collage_600

(Clockwise: chick with hurt leg, the flock on one of their outdoor adventures, big bird on top of the feeder, the flock on one of their outdoor adventures)

The rest of the flock is doing great, even our litter runts. With the bigger space, they are having a blast running around and trying to fly, including our injured one. She is just as wild as the rest, which bodes well for her spirit. We have been letting the birds out a few hours a day on sunny days to get used to being outdoors. Two of our birds have started to become very friendly, and when we open the door to the tractor, they come running over to say hi. We pet them under their beaks and on their chests, and they love it! The injured one has been very good natured, and even started falling asleep in my hands, as we were working on her legs. So keep good wishes for her to continue to adapt, she seems to be a fighter!


(Clockwise: Tomato/Eggplant/Pepper bed, Cucumber/Turnip/Radish/Lettuce bed, All the beds, Potato and Bean field, Currants)

The second thing we did was make our rounds through the gardens and “orchard”, taking pictures. We have already started harvesting lettuces, and it looks like we are just days away from harvesting radishes and currants (only about 3 berries though…). The potatoes and beans, our main crops are going like gangbusters and so far the neem spray and garlic/rosemary/mint infusion have been keeping the critters at bay. Hopefully this weekend we will install fencing, then we can sleep like babies at night.

Hope everyone has a great weekend!

Smoked Trout Chowdah

smoked trout chowder chowder

It seems a little strange to be writing about a chowder recipe when it is sunny, bright and about 80 degrees outside. But we have had some cooler temperatures these past few weeks, and a lot of rain. These conditions are perfect for a nice big bowl of chowdah and so that is exactly what we had.

The inspiration came when we got our seed potatoes delivered from Seed Savers a few weeks ago. Some of them had not quite gone to seed yet, and so in true Leftover Queen fashion, I decided to use them to make several batches of potato puree, as well as some delicious homefries for breakfasts and for lunch one day a quick German Potato Salad. Call it practice for harvest time. I left one of the pint jars of puree out, to make a batch of potato leek soup, until I picked up some smoked trout at the grocery store, and a plan started to come together in my mind!

This chowder was delightful, and certainly something I will be making again, as we will have copious amounts of potatoes (75 feet of plants) to eat this fall and winter! It reminds me of something you would eat on the coast of Ireland, or one of the Herbridian islands of Scotland, especially because we enjoyed bowls of it with delicious crunchy oat cakes and slices of cheddar alongside.


1 pint of potato puree
2 c. water
¼ cup cooked, cubed potatoes
4 small garlic cloves, minced
¼ c. sliced leeks
¼ cup sliced fresh oyster mushrooms
¼ cup green peas
¼ cup spinach or other dark greens
juice of one ½ lemon – save the other half
olive oil
salt and pepper
4 ounces smoked trout, shredded


In a large pot combine the potato puree and water, until it is well mixed and has a uniform consistency.
While this is happening, in a skillet sautee the potatoes, garlic, leeks, mushrooms, peas and greens in a nice drizzle of olive oil. Once the veggies are soft, put them in the pot with the puree and mix. Add the lemon juice, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Then crumble up ½ of the smoked trout and mix into the chowder. Cook all together for about 5 minutes. Serve with slices of lemon (Preserved lemon would be amazing with this) and the rest of the trout, divided evenly on top. Serves 4

The “ThinkFood” Project!


I have been sitting on a very big secret for a while now, but I am excited to be able to reveal it to you today!  One of my very favorite recipes, the new and improved version of something that I eat nearly every single day of my life, will be featured in a fantastic new cookbook – ThinkFood. I can’t tell you what the recipe is yet, you’ll have to be surprised. I will tell you though that my brain healthy food is the incredible edible egg.


I adore eggs. In our household we eat about 12-14 eggs a week, for breakfast (and sometimes dinner), in baking, desserts and ice cream making! We love eggs so much, and believe that they are such a quick, inexpensive, versatile and substantial form of nutrition, that we got our own flock of layers to keep us in eggs for a very long time. I will be posting soon about another egg variety I was able to sample recently! Like I said, eggs are an incredibly good source of healthy fat and protein. Both things every brain loves.

Thinkfood is a cookbook featuring 50 delicious, original, brain-healthy recipes, each created by a different food blogger. You can sign up for the Recipe of the Week program to receive  and preview a tasty new recipe from the cookbook. It will be delivered to your inbox every week—free! With each recipe, you will receive information about the blogger who created the recipe, with exclusive cooking tips, and information about the science behind the brain healthy foods and nutrients in the recipe!

A physical version of the cookbook with all 50 recipes and beautiful, full page photographs, will be available for purchase at the end of July!


ThinkFood is a cookbook sponsored and published by Posit Science and features 50 brain-healthy recipes from bloggers around the globe, including snacks, appetizers, sides and salads, main course and desserts.

The goal of this project is to take an integrated approach to brain health that includes brain training and brain healthy eating. Brain health and health in general are subjects that I am very passionate about. There are very few people today who are not affected by brain diseases and issues, either by having them, themselves or knowing someone that does. My dear Nana  lost her battle with Alzheimer’s disease, over 10 years ago, and I am dedicating my participation in this project to her memory.


My cousin Michelle w/ my Pap-pap and me with Nana.

So please sign up for the Recipe of the Week Program and you will start receiving delicious brain healthy dishes. I think we could all feed our brains a little better.  Each blogger and their recipe will be featured over the next 50 weeks. I will be sure to let everyone know as the date for my recipe to be featured approaches!

Swanky Beans and Franks


Life has been a bit hectic lately, which means that many nights, after coming in from the garden at about 7:30 PM, I need to get dinner on the table – we are hungry and don’t want to wait too long. These are the moments where sometimes I want to just crawl into bed, and forego dinner all together. Sometimes we say to hell with it, and go to one of our great local eateries. But you can’t and really don’t want to do that every night, and we find ourselves in this situation at least 5 nights a week.

This is when my kitchen forethought and planning really pay off. I like to make sure that I have beans and usually grains in the freezer that have been pre-soaked and partially cooked. Things I can just pull out and throw in a pan in a pinch. I also have a variety of fresh veggies always on hand – whatever looked good at the farmers market, or local market that week. Plus, some kind of animal protein that is quick to cook like sausages, or skirt steak, or doesn’t need to be, like good quality non-nitrate cold cuts or canned fish.

In this case, I had some Christmas Lima Beans from Rancho Gordo ready, some huge and meaty portabellas, and some nice British style Bangers we got from the local butcher. So I decided to make a nice adult version of Beans and Franks.


I sauteed the beans in some olive oil and then added some diced fresh portabella mushrooms, onions and garlic. I de-glazed the pan with a little red wine and seasoned everything with some thyme, salt and pepper. Then I added some nice fresh, local spinach and stirred until it wilted. I served it with half a link of British Banger and some nice goat cheese crumbles. It was quick, satisfying and really delicious.

How Does Your Garden Grow?

I am excited to see growing things popping up everywhere! It is amazing to be seeing the beginnings of the fruits of our labors thus far!


From the top, left to right: apricot tree, chestnut tree, yellow raspberry bush, wild strawberries, currants

Bottom, right to left: elderberry bush, Roberto planting the first potato, (top)potato and bean field (75 feet of each), (bottom)blueberry flowers, lettuces, Jenn playing in the trenches

And the peeps? Growing by leaps and bounds in just their first week of life! We already had to upgrade their living quarters!

The Flock_collage_600

Top, from left to right: Peeps new digs, peeps at one week old, (top) peeps, (bottom) Rhode Island Red eating her first mosquito – GOOD GIRL!

Bottom, from left to right: Not our chicks, but our resident birds bundles of fluffy joy, Arwen – the fastest developer, she may be a he, and if so shall be re-named Elrond, (top) a Barred Rock at one week, (bottom)Penguino a Silver Laced Wyandotte at one week, a Rhode Island Red looking pretty!

Hope everyone has a great weekend doing whatever you love to do best!

Roasted Chickpeas – 2 Ways


From Chicks to Chickpeas! Well I am finally back with a recipe. In fact I have many to share with you over the coming weeks. I have been cooking a lot since we moved. I mean it is hard not to when there is so much beautiful food available. However, as you can see from my most recent posts, I have been a little busy, and not really in front of my computer as much. Which is actually good in many respects. Also, I have so many other things to share with all of you, besides the food I am making, so sometimes it is hard to know what to post first! Ah, the life of a food blogger is so darn tough 🙂

We have obviously been very busy lately and due to that, it has been good to prepare some quick foods, that you can just grab a handful of when you make a mad dash back into the house from the garden for a forgotten item or two. This is one of those snacks – packed with protein, completely healthy, crunchy and delicious. Such a satisfying snack on so many levels. I have seen roasted chick peas out in the blogosphere many times before and have always sworn to myself make them soon. Recently I was inspired by Cook Local’s version which reminded me, I needed to make them!

I always tend to have soaked, partially cooked and then frozen chick peas in the freezer. They are one of my favorite beans, and basically as convenient as canned beans when prepared ahead like this. One of my tricks of making your own convenience foods, saving time and money, and the taste? About a million times better.


I really wanted to use Ras el Hanout – translated to mean “head of the shop” – as in the best spices, to spice half of the roasted chickpeas. I hadn’t used my mortar and pestle in a while, and really was looking forward to toasting all the aromatic spices beforehand in my cast iron skillet. This is my version of aromatherapy. So I dry fried my Ras el Hanout, and then added some coriander, cumin and blood orange salt from D’Italia to create my spice mix for batch one.

The second batch, I was looking for something a little more Southwestern. I absolutely adore the Mexican mole spice and lime coconut salt from The Spice and Tea Exchange. So decided to combine them and add in a little Calabrese hot pepper powder that I got from Sausage Debauchery.

Both versions turned out really well, and in the end I actually mixed the two up, and they complimented each other beautifully. So if you are looking for a quick, delicious and satisfying snack that packs a crunch AND that you can spice up any way you like, this is the treat for you!


4 cups al dente cooked chickpeas
3 TBS olive oil
Salt and seasonings of your choice

Ras el Hanout Spiced Chickpeas

2 heaping tsp of Ras el Hanout spice mix
1 TBS ground coriander
1 TBS ground cumin
blood orange sea salt to taste

Mexican Mole Spiced Chickpeas

2 TBS Mexican mole spice mix
¼ tsp Calabrese hot pepper powder
Lime coconut salt to taste


Preheat the oven to 400 F. In a large bowl, mix chickpeas with olive oil to coat then mix with spices.
Spread spiced chickpeas in a single layer on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet and roast for 30-35 minutes, stirring once or twice, until the chickpeas are golden brown! Enjoy!

We Have PEEPS!

Jenn and peeps

We have PEEPS! Now it is really starting to feel like a homestead around here!

Roberto making bridges

Not that it hasn’t been homesteady all along. I mean we have been working on our garden for the past several weeks, and that is actually really going well. This past weekend we planted spinach, chard, mache, 2 kinds of carrots, 2 kinds of beets, 3 types of onions, nasturtiums, green peas, lettuces, turnips and radishes. Also sage, rosemary and dill – oh and the ever present marigolds. Garden gems for the organic gardener! Not to mention blueberry, raspberries, elderberry, lingonberry and currant bushes. As well as apricot and chestnut trees. We also have tomatoes, peppers and eggplants growing inside right now. We are doing a companion planting garden, and are really excited to see the tops of beets already emerging, as well as onion starters sprouting and either radishes or turnips starting in less than a week. My stepdaughters were here last weekend and even got in on the action. Thanks Rachel and Gwen!

Roberto and the girls_planting

I joked on facebook earlier that today I connected with my Irish roots earlier, by digging 75 feet worth of potato trenches by hand. Good hard work that will hopefully yield hundreds of heirloom varieties – over 8 different kinds. Those will be going in the ground tomorrow. Then this weekend the hot plants – tomatoes, peppers, cukes and melons. Probably squashes if we can squeeze them in.


It has been non-stop work since we got here 6 weeks ago. But it is so nice to see how much we have accomplished – all for an important end -FOOD.

But today was the day I have really been waiting for!!!  My first livestock! A recent passion that has just been growing since we got out to the country. I placed my order for peeps 4 weeks ago – just weeks after arriving. I was not  messing around. I got 3 different varieties – Rhode Island Reds, Barred Rocks and Silver Laced Wyandottes (which I was told not to expect, so I only ordered 2) I ended up getting all, including the Wyandottes, but not the rooster I had ordered. We were expecting them tomorrow, but they arrived a day early. So we spent a rushed hour putting the final touches their brooder, where they will stay for the next 3-4 weeks, until it is consistently warm enough for them to be outside in their coop that we have yet to build. Just another project to do here on the farm!


When you get peeps, you have to show them how to drink water by dipping their beaks into the water. When we got them home, they enjoyed the first water and food of their lives, having been born yesterday morning, immediately packed into boxes and shipped out. So we really are raising them by hand. Such a privilege. I hope they enjoy their life at Thistlemoon Meadows!