StoryCooking Audio Postcards:

Thank you for listening. I want to share with you snippets of my kitchen life. These recordings are inspired by the ones I exchange with my family on a daily basis. They live in Brazil. We trade audio messages (via WhatsApp) instead of texting or talking on the phone. It’s a simple way for us to drop into each other’s days, and maintain some steady contact. 

My mom tells me she just got home and cooked green bananas and I tell her I am having garlic pasta for dinner. It is not formal, not attached to any particular point where we left off last time. These communications are a stream of conscience and come from a desire to connect, I guess. 

The kitchen is a place I piece together life daily. The kitchen is home base for me, the place I digest all the things that happen, all the thoughts that occur. This is my thinking spot, and I welcome you to join it.

This morning I told mom I was having cereal. She messaged me back, “I want to sell the apartment.” I followed up with a call. 

I have intentions of writing a long letter, or say I will call every night, or save the topic for a heart-to-heart talk for when we see each other, but these slices of life segments are so essential. I can’t save it up for big grand moments. Love is everyday stitching– would we grow apart if we did not share these mundane moments? Would we lose our stories if they don’t get repeated back to us? 

We live apart but we echo each other. I hope that these ones I speak and write to you connect us – even though we are strangers – in a similar fashion. 

Today’s vignette: Borscht

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1/2 cup of sourdough

Day 55

Living With January

New Year evokes such possibilities and I can’t negate its appeal. For some it is a powerful opportunity to start fresh and set goals. In the past years, I came to change the way I turn the calendar. I want to see how January unfolds, blending from December in a fluid timeline with very soft edges. 

I try to slow down the transitions and not say goodbye from old anything or hello to new anything. I want the old to be like a sourdough starter or an existing fermentation brine kicking in the process of a new ferment. I want to add new recipes to my old recipe book instead of starting a new one. I want to let things ferment and develop from the old, and with the new, together. I want new ideas to be like seeds we plant in Fall to harvest in Summer. Life is full of mystery and wishes that I chase, hoping I can endure winter’s harshest days in the dark, hoping life will be sweet and bright at harvest time.

I think of how fermentation cultures slow down when we live at lower temperatures. Living in the Northern hemisphere, January is cold and gray. The days are slow and sleepy. I take these examples also as an invitation of how to live with the season. Being in the presence of nature’s daily transformation is a wonderful fuel, and a reminder that slowness is a powerful speed. 

When I don’t race, time can flavor, digest, stain, mature, mark itself on my days and what I touch.

Maybe winter months are intended as a rest from color and brightness, but oh how I crave the sun. I wish I could do photosynthesis in my own body. One way I incorporate these thoughts in my daily life is by surrounding myself with reminders that I am in a process. I am a process. Even the still is moving. The still picture on my phone from last year’s tomatoes is moving me. The leafless branches of trees are holding to their buds and making future summer fruits. 

In January, I bring in the colors, make small inside gestures against the white covered snow fields. I love to sprout and get a burst of greens from seeds into my plate, or to a bowl to admire in the center of my table. I love to regrow the ends of beets and romaine lettuce in little dishes placed on my windowsill. I love to chop carrots with purple cabbage and ferment them in salt brine on my counter. Seeing them shine in the glass, potent purple and red, breathing their cabbagey perfume of digestion! I love to roast orange butternut squash and add to everything we make. I love to save water from cooking beets to make sourdough bread.

I hope you are finding your way through time, too, and welcoming February with me.

Sourdough Cinnamon rolls made with Roasted Squash Butter

Dough:

1/2 cup fed sourdough starter (you can also use refrigerated starter I talked about here before — meaning a starter that was fed and was moved back into the fridge to ripe over the course of several days.)

1 cup liquid (water, I used whey from making greek yogurt)

1/4 cup Squash Butter (squash butter made by blending roasted winter squash to a smooth puree)

1 egg (or you can sub with 1/4 cup of winter squash puree)

3 – 31/2 cups flour ( 3 cups if using all whole grain, 3 1/4- 3 1/2 if using all sifted)

1 ½  tsp salt

Cinnamon Sugar Filling Paste

½ cup softened butter of choice

½ cup brown sugar

2 Tbsp cinnamon

Cream Cheese Frosting:

¼ cup cream cheese

¼ cup soft butter

¼ cup maple syrup to taste or a combination of blended sugar and syrup to flavor.

Instructions:

  1. In a bowl, combine fed sourdough starter, water, egg, squash puree, flour, and salt. Knead the dough well, 4-6 minutes.
  2. Place the dough in a greased bowl and cover.
  3. When you think of it or if you are around, do a few sets of stretches and folds to help develop the dough. I usually start this dough when I get home from work mid afternoon. 
  4. Before going to bed or when the dough has risen 30 to 40 percent  ( no need to let it double but look for bubbles and smooth, not tearing dough, giving us a clues that it is developed) If your house is cold, this cold, this process could take longer. 
  5. In a small bowl, combine softened butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon to make a paste.
  6. Roll out into a rectangle about 1/4 inch thick.  
  7. Add butter and cinnamon-sugar filling to the dough and spread the best you can up to the edges.
  8. Roll the dough up to a log and slice to make 11 rolls on a 10 to 11 inches greased baking pan.
  9. Cover them and place the in the fridge overnight for a cold retard or proofing your sourdough rolls at cold temperatures
  10. The next morning, take the rolls out while you preheat the oven to 425F and bake them for 20-25 minutes or until the rolls are lightly browned or internal temperature of 190F. 
  11. EDIT to add: During the winter months it may take a while for them to puff after we take them out of the fridge. You can leave them out on the counter for a couple hours before baking depending on the temperature of your house. When you bring them out to room temperature completely, you may cut back some of the baking time so they don’t dry out too much. So check on them.

Last photos of the Fermented Cinni rolls made with all winter squash puree instead of butter and egg in the dough.

1/2 cup of sourdough

Day 54

Happy New Year !

It is cloudy here in Maine and I haven’t seen the moon today.  Crescent is the phase of the moon I love because it reminds me of growth. The moon is such a gift to us! Our cultures attach symbols and traditions to it. Maybe I am a selenophile ( a person who loves the moon – I should remember this word for the next word game).  I do look for her daily and sometimes chase moonrise photos.

We use so many markers of time to help us make sense of the world around us. I just finished my Christmas cards though my friends and family will probably not get them until mid January. I feel the sentiment in them is constant and is traveling towards them. I am giving myself time and permission to be in a different timeline. It is especially a good feeling when so much of what we do has to fit in a schedule that often doesn’t include our input and can’t accommodate how we move in the world.

I sometimes feel like my body is relying on a sundial to understand time. I haven’t seen the sun today either. I still associate January with summer vacations because I grew up in the Southern Hemisphere.  

I spent part of my morning putting away the corn we grew and dried and saving some seeds. We made tamales this past weekend. I used to associate corn with summer, but now it is winter fuel. It is the taste of summer and light that carries me through.

I would like to invite you to see how I cook/think/feel about time and food. I have submitted some Brazilian recipes like corn kvass, fermented rice cake and my multipurpose sourdough and fermented digestive cookie videos to https://cultures.group . The annual membership includes access to any event in 2022 and 2023, including all the Salt and Ceremony amazing sessions and associated videos, and the video archives from now until the end of 2023.

Fermented Cornmeal Lime Crescent

1 stick of butter, soften

½ cup of sugar

2 eggs 

½ cup squash levain (equal parts in weight of whole roasted blended squash, sourdough starter and flour)

1 cup of cornmeal

¼ tsp coarse salt

Zest of 2 limes.

Preheat the oven to 400° F. Lightly grease cookie sheets, or prep with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper.

In a bowl, by hand or with a mixer, cream butter, sugar and sourdough starter and beat well. Add cornmeal and salt.

Let the dough ferment at room temperature for the day. Transfer to the fridge for several days to continue fermenting if desired. When ready to bake, fill a pastry bag (or make a parchment paper piping bag or cone)

Use a 2A tip and pipe half crescent shape. Or make other shapes as desired. Bake 400F 10 minutes

Winter Ferments for Ukraine

A gathering to learn about winter fermentation & kindle hope for Ukraine as people face a harsh winter.

My photojournalist friend Kevin Wexler recently started posting poignant reminders in his IG Notes every day, that the Russia-Ukraine war is not over: “War day 309.” 

I am not forgetting. I repeat to myself. I do not want to forget the fact that wars around the world are devastating families, lives, cities, and culture. 

Daily life struggles compete with the complex hurts around us.  Wars that are far from us retreat from our attention  and leave us feeling paralyzed, feeling that there is not much we can do.

In my last blog post I wrote that, at some point, a culmination of actions can be felt or observed in the world around me and inside the world of me. I do not want to be numb and alone in these feelings. I do believe small daily actions make a difference in the lives of all involved in the process.

Would you join us in putting our feelings, thoughts, hands and money together towards warming people this winter? 

Ellie and Amy will host a class and get-together to make Winter Ferments. We will be making food, and kindling love. Bring a poem or short story to share. Ellie will read Clarice Lispector, Ukrainian-born Brazilian novelist and short story writer. Amy will read about breads made in times of war.

January 14 from 10-noon EST

This is a donate what you can class and donations will go to razomforukraine.org 

Register: Winter Ferments for Ukraine

1/2 cup of sourdough

Day 53

Holiday cookies are such a beautiful intersection of, and expression of love, craft, personal history and culture. I have tasted many cookies this past month as cookies greeted me from every direction: at a cookie exchange, in-deliveries from near and far, and lovely spontaneous offerings in hallways from co-workers opening the metal tins they carried. 

Each person has a story behind keeping these cookies alive in their lives. Most of the cookies start by combining everyday ingredients like flour, butter, eggs, sugar but add the most noted & overlooked ingredient, of time. Oh the small balls, each one rolled in powder, the little corners dipped with sprinkles after letting the chocolate dry just enough. Some were pressed with stamps and others had layers. There were cookies made with beer, fragrant spices, adorned with preserved jams, local and fresh flour, frosting, dried fruits, finely chopped nuts or homemade extracts…

I marvel at the cookies I didn’t taste. I got to admire pictures of recipe cards texts from friends. Studying snapshots of handwritten notes was like meeting people who have been traveling through time, from Christmas to Christmas, greeting each generation and finally being present with us. Being present with me. 

I take a bite. Nice meeting you I say. Thank you for coming to my home and into my life. Thank you for bringing me some gentle sweetness this time of the year. Thank you for revealing a bit of you to me. I am never sure what to give someone for special occasions and though I am a big fan of cakes and pies, I have learned to love food that travels with ease and some can even get better with time. 

“Ginete Cookies” were the gifts I remember receiving as a kid from my vovó Antonia, my mom’s mom. She would send us “petas” as well. Both are made from tapioca starch, typical flour of the area. There were no phone calls and family visits for the holidays – not because the feelings were lacking, just that travel and calls were impossible. She lived very far from us, in a village called Sucesso, in the interior of the Northeast of Brazil. I would get a letter once in a while. She didn’t know how to write, but she would dictate to someone who could help. As a child it took me a while to understand why she wrote, “and she is asking to tell you…” The letters were short, but let us know she was well and she was thinking of us. I was young, but I wrote back knowing that my letter would have to travel for days in the care of a friend or relative, tracing back the cookie’s journey. I now make those cookies too and so thankful to connect with her through them. 

Rugelach cookies were a new-to-me cookie this season. I have made similar doughs and pressed into mini cupcake pans and added all kinds of fillings. I really enjoyed taking my time with rugelach, fermenting them and reading the different methods of how people shape their cookies or little horns as my husband calls them. I had such high hopes for my first try. I wanted them to be whole wheat and rye and be filled with jam made from fruit from a friend’s tree, but they were too thick. So I started dreaming again and made them again. I looked for new methods, new fillings. How can I get them to hold all the filling? Practice I think, make them again I told myself. They are festive, fussy, fun with endless possibilities. I can see myself making them over and over again. I wrote down my notes here for us.

My Instagam friend Annie Levy @kitchencounterculture, who loves to make them, sent me a message when she saw some of my pictures: “Put those in my tomb for the eternal afterlife!!!!!!” she said. 

Fermented Rugelach 

1 1/2 cups of flour (all wheat or mix in rye) 

¼ cup of butter, soften

¼ cup of cream cheese or other cultured cheese, soften

2 tbsp sugar

¼ tsp salt

½ cup starter

Jam: raspberry, apricot, cherry jam

Filling: chocolate shaving, chopped nuts, seeds. finely chopped dried fruits, etc

Beat butter and cream cheese together until fluffy. Add sugar, starter and salt and beat until combined. Add flour, beating until it cleans the bowl. Scrape dough and form 3 discs. Let it ferment at room temperature for the day and then transfer to the fridge to chill and/or continue fermenting for an extra day or so.

Roll out each cold dough disc onto a lightly floured surface to about ⅛-inch thick. Spread a thin layer of jam on the dough round leaving a 2-inch clean edge. Sprinkle a couple of tablespoons of filling over the jam. Cut the dough into12 edges, using a pizza cutter.

Roll the rugelach gently from the wide to the narrow end. Curve the ends to form a crescent shape and place the cookies on a parchment or baking mat lined baking sheet.

Brush the cookie tops with the egg wash, sprinkle with coarse sugar if desired.

Bake 400° F for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack. Sprinkle with a dusting of powdered sugar.

1/2 cup of sourdough

Day 52

What if we could watch the process unfold to the smallest of actions?  What if we could play our lives in slow motion mode? That would feel overwhelming.

I don’t see my cells dividing and my hair turning gray. Everything is moving and I am moving. I am not able to zoom in and hold my gaze to see the transformation, but I do see I have changed – I am changing yet a portion of me is still there, the same.

At some point, A culmination of actions can be felt or observed in the world around me and inside the world of me. Because I’ve moved so frequently as an adult, I often think of collective actions and collective memory. My slate has been wiped clean so many times, yet some thread of me continues. How? Who? What remains?

How do I know what I know? And why do I focus on that right now in my life? Is it easier to appreciate the details in our world if things are moving slowly? Or maybe when things spin so fast I  can snatch a little piece of me, of time, that becomes clear.

We move differently in this world at different points. There are lessons I learned in a flash and others that I will be working through my life.

I guess that’s why I love to work with wild yeast. It is a material that is alive and familiar yet full of surprises and mysteries. It is affected by time like I am, andwelcomes different ingredients, methods, hands and journeys. 

There is a lesson on waiting and a lesson on contemplating with each bake if I am able to give my attention – and I want to.

Microorganisms that travel in the air, in my home and in my body get transported to the sourdough starter that waits and receives it. And this ferments flour and becomes levain; then I wait for the levain to ferment the cookies. I wait for the flavors to develop. To our eyes we may see nothing happening until it enters our bodies and we taste it and it becomes part of us. 

I share these cookies with others, like I am a maple tree watching seeds fly away, and they enter other bodies, other lands, passing through & becoming part of us, not in the past or future, but now.

Fermented Chocolate Crinkle Cookies

½ cup cocoa powder

4 tbsp butter room temperature

½ cup sugar

2 eggs

1 1/2 cups sifted Maine wheat flour 

½  cup squash levain (sourdough starter fed)

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

Homemade powder sugar to roll made by blending sugar on high speed blender to a fine powder.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease cookie sheets, or prep with a silicone baking

mat or parchment paper.

Mix cocoa powder, butter, sugar, egg and levain, by hand or with a mixer.

Add remaining dry ingredients and mix until well incorporated

Chill the dough for at least a couple hours or overnight.

I let it ferment for 2 days on the counter, room temperature under 70F. Then moved to the fridge and let it ferment for more than a week.

Scoop 1 tbsp size balls, roll into homemade powdered sugar. 

Bake 350°F for 9-11 minutes.

When baked, the cookies had a richer fudge chocolate taste and notes of raspberries that I can’t explain but delightedly noticed by all members of our family.

1/2 cup of sourdough

Day 51

I enter my kitchen, the clock reads 3:55pm. I look outside and I can’t see the garden. I am not ready for it to be night, to be dinner, to be the end of the day. I am not ready for it to be so dark and so still. I am not ready for the last cup of tea and to go to bed. 

I gather my starter from the fridge, turn my oven on and set the butter on the counter. Is this today or yesterday? Was I here? Yes I was. Yes, it is me here right now again. I have the cookie sheet, the baking mat, sugar and flour. 

The past three years, around the first week of December, my body and I have embraced this new routine – woman-made sunshine hour. There is no sun. It is not perfect, but we came to an agreement. It is not because it is the holidays and I like to bake. It is a construct, a discipline, a rescue mission, a mission to salvage myself. For some it may be their hour in the gym, but for me, this time I capture is about creating space where I am.   

I watch daylight reduce to a bit more than a third of the day. This year’s winter solstice we will only have  8 hours and 46 minutes. Life speed and time is so relative for all of us, how we experience it and feel it. While I am in my time warp on Earth, astronauts at the International Space Station are witnessing 16 sunrises and 16 sunsets in 24 hours! How did I just learn that? Where we are has an impact on our bodies, our rhythms. I always wonder how it would be to live on a mountain top. I lived by the ocean for a season and loved it.  My sourdough baking was different. The dough sprinted through the day, even in the fridge, and I baked late in the evenings. 

Our concepts of time are personal. Even inside my household, my loved ones live differently in their days. Whatever your sense of time and self, I give you my example in these shrinking days. 

Today’s bake is a fermented black and white dough, a request from my youngest kid. It is a slice and bake. But you could use it as a base for cut out cookies. 

Sourdough (Fermented) Black and White Icebox Cookies 

This dough can be used for cutout cookies.

2 ¼ cup of wheat flour (mixing ½ cup of other flours like cornmeal and buckwheat are super tasty)

½ tsp of baking powder 

½ tsp coarse salt

½ cup of butter

¾ cup of sugar (½ if desired less sweet)

1 large egg

½ cup of sourdough starter

2 tsp vanilla (I used peach pit extract I made last summer)

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (180C) and prep trays with a baking mat, parchment paper, or lightly greased.
  2. Cream butter and sugar.
  3. Add the pre-ferment and mix until well incorporated.
  4. Mix baking powder and flour.
  5. Add flour to the butter mixture.
  6. Take half of the mixed dough and add 3 tbsp of cocoa powder.
  7. Roll out the chocolate and vanilla doughs separately, into a rectangular-ish shape about the same size.  Stack the dough on top of each other and roll the dough away from you to make a log.  Wrap in parchment paper for put in a container.
  8. Let the dough ferment on the counter for a day then move the dough to the fridge to continue fermenting for another week. Then, I like to move it to the freezer to make it easier to slice the cookies. This dough can be used for cut out cookies and I also prefer to work with it cold.
  9. When ready to bake, slice cookies. Bake 350 F 11-12 minutes

If cutting shapes, and you would like to decorate the cookies. Here is a simple royal icing we like to use: 1 egg white, 1 tsp lemon juice, 1 ½ cup of powdered sugar (made by blending sugar on high speed blender)

1/2 cup of sourdough

Day 50

I am looking at an old photo of the sourdough mother my friend Phyllis made and gave to me 9 years ago. She passed away two years ago and baking with this starter is like we can meet in a land that is not here or there. We can meet outside of time because I can touch something she touched that is alive in the past and in the present.

I don’t get to talk with her everyday, but I am so thankful I can still be connected with her through what she shared with me.  We tried to make a calendar together once. We planned activities around baking for others. Her voice lives on in hundreds and hundreds of emails we shared with ideas around food, family, faith, and living. The emails are like mixtapes I can listen to and celebrate our friendship.

Her emails and photos don’t make me as homesick as to think of the day she gave me this starter. Maybe because today I can look at it as an early parting gift we could have not thought of. Inadvertently, she gave me a way to keep going, a way to keep on baking my emotions and feelings into it. Baking bread is not like reading in the past. Bread answers in the moment. 

I am still baking with her. She started this culture with pineapple juice and I remember being in such awe as I baked a loaf then as I am tonight.

Tonight’s bread was Laura Valli’s “no-recipe” 100% rye sourdough. I used whey instead of water for the liquid levain. I have been wanting to make this bread for a long time. I love she explained women in Estonia, including her mom, pokes 3 holes in the bread and let it rise. We will know it’s ready to bake when they are “barely visible” maybe I grew a little impatient in this cold Maine morning. I can’t wait to cut it tomorrow. Thank you Laura for the inspiration.

Radio Bread

Stopping by to share that my friend Amy Halloran and I were both on the radio last week. Amy was on WAMC Northeast Public Radio Flour Hour talking about all things flour, from Election Cake to Brown Bread.

I got to join a discussion hosted by Maine Public Radio “Maine Calling” on bread baking in Maine and talk about being a “bread doula.” 🙂

Let me know if you have bread questions. You can reach me here or on Instagram.

1/2 cup of sourdough

Day 49

This year I have been reflecting on time and sourdough. I have been fermenting baked goods in ways I have not done before – to see what happens when I let different ingredients linger a little or a lot. 

Each kitchen and cook has a rhythm. As I work, I often wonder if recipes and methods are born when we try to meet our needs, our tasks or when they meet us. In my kitchen, both. 

I’ve learned that when I am focused on what I can do during a particular “time slot,” I am focused on a particular outcome. But the beauty of fermentation and working with microorganisms is that they remind me that time is relative and fluid. Time is the ingredient that can develop a project into a new story. 

The pathways are not set. And as we humans pass through times, we may not remember or be able to hold on to lessons from previous generations. Since progress, whatever that is, is happening, earlier lessons probably wouldn’t  even fit us anymore. However, some of the microorganisms we don’t see may remember everything for us.  We can relearn from them, or learn with them.

When I ferment, I give myself permission to be, not just to do. I can observe, accept or reject and work with the outcomes. The open formulas I use are not product-oriented. Instead of perfection, I seek connection with the process, and try to link myself to the opportunities for growth that my ingredients hold. 

Here the fermented wild apples rye bars sheltering the last blueberries and grapes of the season.

Fermented Wild Apples Rye Fruit Filled Bars

Mix all ingredients and let ferment on the counter for the day. If longer fermentation is desired, continue fermenting in the fridge for several days. 

2 cups flour ( wholemeal rye, wheat or we love all cornmeal or a mix of flours. For GF version, use GF starter or just ferment your favorite flour with milk kefir. )

½ teaspoon of salt

1 stick of butter, softened

¼ cup sugar

2 eggs

¼ cup of sourdough

About 1 cup of grated wild apples, if desired

2 tablespoons of milk kefir or whipping cream.

Split the dough into 4 pieces.

After fermenting, divide the dough into 4 parts.

Press a thin layer of dough into two loaf pans, lined with parchment paper, or greased with fat.

Fill the bars with jam or fruit preserves and cover with more dough. I use us my fingers to flat 2 inches pieces and lay over the fruit. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Sprinkle some cinnamon and sugar and bake. It will even out in the oven as it bakes.

Bake 350F for 35 minutes until golden. Let it cool completely before cutting into bars.