DIY Alfalfa Sprouts

During winter I feel wrong buying nice fresh lettuces. They can't be in season, can they? So I tried a DIY lettuce substitute straight from my childhood--homegrown alfalfa sprouts.

Through the mists of time I remembered my mom always used a tablespoon of alfalfa seeds. She had a fancy Biosta Sprouter, and before that some Sprouting Strainer Lids (basically plastic mesh tops that fit mason jars). Having none of these, I used a mason jar, cheesecloth and a rubber band. I found the alfalfa seeds in the bulk section of the local food co-op.

Alfalfa seeds in jar, covered with cheesecloth secured with elastic

I put the jar on the sink like the bean sprouts I made in the past, and watered them daily by filling the jar and then pouring the water out again. The cheesecloth got a little funky-looking in the process, but the resulting sprouts were fine.

My alfalfa sprouts were ready in about 5 days. I removed them from the jar and put them in the fridge to stop the growing and keep them fresh. Before refrigerating, I like to hold them loosely under running water to rinse away some of those little brown seed hulls.

Then I store them on a paper towel (the rinse water makes it wet, which is good) in a plastic takeout container.

An egg salad sandwich with sprouts--no lettuce!

P. S. When I was in grade school the other kids picked on me for the alfalfa sprouts my mom put in my sandwiches. "Ew, WORMS!" I just rolled my eyes.

P.P.S. On second thought, I guess lettuce is OK if it's locally grown, like the stuff at the Winter Farmer's Market.

Favorite Songs of 2010

I divided this list into two sections, as seemed natural: "regular new" and "smacks of the 80s." Also I'm trying Soundcloud this year so you can just listen right off the page. (Give it a few secs.)

Regular New 2010 Songs

Subliminal Message: Happy Birthday
This band is from the town where I live. That is remarkable because Brattleboro, Vermont only has about 12,000 people. Yet I did not discover Happy Birthday through word of mouth, or at the bar, or at a show. I found them the way I find everything--on the Internet. It was only after I picked this song for my radio show that I learned they're from like, down the street. Anyway, I love the glides (glissando)--that thing where, like the beginning of "Rhapsody in Blue," the notes swoop from low to high, sounding a bit like a classy siren going off. Nice.

Happy Birthday - Subliminal Message by subpop

Let's Get Out of Here: Les Savy Fav
A song about going home together. "I just want you to want me right now." It's like a grunge ballad--sweet but still rockin.

Les Savy Fav - Let's Get Out of Here by Wichita Recordings

Boy: Ra Ra Riot
This band from Syracuse was also on my 2009 list (remixed). I just love their sound I guess--joyful, propulsive, perfect pop. Very crisp guitar lines, nice strings, beautiful pogo-sticking from the bass & drums. This song always makes me smile. No idea what it's about.

Ra Ra Riot - Boy by Arts & Crafts

Real Life: Tanlines
This is like club music gone psychedelic, plus tabla. I love it. The lyrics play to my drippy nostalgic side: "You might think I'm still that way. It's only natural. It was a past life thing, it was a past life thing. It wasn't anything at all." I also love the apparent shout-out to Missing Person's "Destination Unknown." You guys are awesome.

Tanlines - Real Life by musicmule

Bang Bang Bang (f. MNDR & Q-Tip): Mark Ronson
MNDR & Q-Tip are a great pair on this track. It is super catchy, with a very pleasing stutter-synth that is a real earworm. I don't know what MNDR is saying but her attitude is so cool that I sing along with her anyway. "Shake it to morella!" Or whatever.

Bang Bang Bang (Feat. MNDR & Q-Tip)- Mark Ronson by kmdskier

Landscapes: Gregory and the Hawk
Sweet, quiet vocals from Meredith Godreau and some instrument I can't quite identify. Hammered dulcimer? Some gamelan thing? Wait, is it a KOTO? No matter, it's lovely. Her voice makes me want to hang out with her, maybe get some tea.

Gregory and the Hawk - Landscapes by FatCat Records

Shutterbugg: Big Boi
This song got me running again after baby. I'd cue it up on the iPod and go. It is not even close to electro-pop. Big Boi's rapid rapping, the goofy "buh-buh-buh-buh" bass, the foul language--all great to get you up and moving and singing. Sasha Frere Jones calls it "sparkly and irresistible" and he is correct.

Big Boi- Shutterbugg by darkbloom

Loxtep: Annuals
They're from North Carolina, but this song has a fabulous Latin vibe (besides being quite beepy, which is how I like it). "Your line around my neck keeps pullin' pullin'"... and then the pretty children's chorus!

Annuals - Loxtep by IndieHearts

Songs that Smack of the 80s

Your Woman: Cats on Fire
They're Finnish! This cover is amazing, yet with kind of a classic sock-hop sound and lyrics. "I could never be your woman," explains the lead singer. "Why did you play me that way?" Except I'm pretty sure the lead singer is a guy. Apparently this is also true of the original version by White Town (1997). The guitar on this really slays me, it sounds like if Johnny Marr is playing the balalaika. Too delicious.

Cats on Fire - Your Woman by joolsjoyce

Not In Love: Crystal Castles
What better way to make your song sound authentically 80s than to get the guy from The Cure to sing for you? Robert Smith's voice immediately transports me to cold teen Novembers of mild misbehavior and pining to be grown up. This is one of several songs here with lyrics that make me sentimental like a 3-hanky movie: "And we were lovers, now we can't be friends." (The Internet tells me this was a Platinum Blonde song from 1983. BACK IN THE DAY.)

Crystal Castles - Not In Love (Feat. Robert Smith) by Posh Magazine

The Mall & Misery: Broken Bells
The team of Danger Mouse and the guy from the Shins (OK, I know his name, it's James Mercer) formed Broken Bells and released a like-named album in March 2010. It's as good as you might expect. (That is, very.) This particular song starts out a little bit twangy country, then a sweeping string section comes in after 30 seconds, and only after almost a minute does the beat and all the rest kick in. My favorite parts--the little soap bubble pop sound in the background during the verse. Best of all, the raw and twangy Joy Division guitar thing that shows up. Egad!

Boo, the Soundcloud track got taken down, so here's Youtube.

I Can Change: LCD Soundsystem
Do you like Yaz? Gary Numan? How about Flock of Seagulls? If so, then you will love "I Can Change." This song is almost too 80s even for me. But not quite! I can take it!

LCD Soundsystem - I Can Change by IndieRockReviews

I also really liked:

Living Days: Let's Kiss (Youtube)
I Feel Bonnie: Hot Chip f. Bonnie Prince Billy (rcrdlbl)
O.N.E. (XXXChange remix): Yeasayer (The Fader)
A Million Miles: Don Diablo (SoundCloud)
Summer: Atypicals (Bandcamp)
Julius: Starf••ker (Myspace)
Tom Cruz: Plants & Animals (KEXP)
Dissembler: Woodhands (Spinner ***extra stars for video that makes me homesick for Toronto)

Brattleboro Winter Farmer's Market abuzz

In Brattleboro, Vermont, we are lucky because the indoor Winter Farmer's Market starts up downtown right after the outdoor Farmer's Market ends in October. The Winter Market is organized by Post Oil Solutions and runs from November to March on Saturdays, 10am to 2pm. There you'll find agricultural products, artisanal crafts and baked goods, plus hot ready-to-eat food and live music. The market is in the River Garden space at 153 Main Street.

I stopped by the busy market today and took a few snaps. It's so hopping there around lunch-time that it helps to move with the "traffic" of people shuffling counterclockwise looking at the stalls and products and chatting with the vendors. There are many other vendors and products there besides those pictured of course--this is just a sampling.

Crates of vegetables greet you at the front door of the River Garden

Dwight Miller Orchards syrups, vinegar, and jams (left), apples (right)

Amazing Planet Farm squashes and pickles (left) and eggs (right)

There are tons of crafts and gorgeous handmade items at the market, like this jewelry

Handmade creations (above and below) by Dandelion Design--such cute stuff!

Fairy house (background), acorn people and gnomes

Susan Dunning's gorgeous hand thrown pottery

Want food NOW? There's plenty of delicious prepared food, like this
African spinach dish with rice and fried plantains

African Chicken Stew with Peanut Sauce


As far as I can tell, this stew is "African" because it contains peanuts and exotic spices... like cumin. Perhaps it's as African as calling something "American" because it contains cheese and ground beef. Nonetheless, this slow cooker stew is very delicious. (And it also uses up chickpeas!)

The stew originated because I made the "African Peanut Sauce" on page 299 of Terry Blonder Golson's cookbook 1,000 Lowfat Recipes. To make the sauce, start with onions & garlic sautéed in oil, then throw in a bit of curry powder and ground coriander, then stir in a large can of crushed tomatoes, some peanut butter and some chopped roasted peanuts. Cook together and you're done.

But I made a mistake. Instead of crushed tomatoes, I added a can of puréed tomatoes. Horrors! The result was VERRY tomato-y. I could tell the tomato taste would overpower and wreck whatever slow cooked stew I wanted to make. I did not freak out! Instead I divided the sauce into 3 portions and froze two of them. Then I made my stew--here's the recipe.

  • 3-4 carrots, cut into chunks
  • 1/2 can (15 oz. can) of chickpeas
  • small onion, chopped
  • oil for frying (such as canola or olive)
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 6-8 chicken thighs cut into chunks (or 2-3 breasts in a pinch)
  • dashes of ground cumin, ground ginger, and cinnamon
  • 1/3 recipe of peanut sauce described above
  • 1 T peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth (or water is fine)
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • salt
  1. Put carrots and chickpeas in the slow cooker.
  2. Fry onion in oil until aromatic, then add garlic.
  3. Add chicken thighs and stir them around until they are cooked on the outside. Add spices and stir together.
  4. Add sauce, peanut butter, and broth. Cook together briefly, stirring until peanut butter has been incorporated. Pour into slow cooker.
  5. Cook on High all day (about 8 hours). I like to stir it halfway through if I'm home.
  6. About 1/2 hour before serving, add the lemon juice. Salt to taste.

We have this with whole wheat couscous and greens. Serves 4.

Chickpea & orzo salad

I have a lot of chickpeas and have been trying to use them up. Hummus of course. Also Molly Wizenberg's Curried Lentil Soup is an unexpected and delicious vehicle for chickpeas. Handfuls thrown on a salad are nice. But I still have more chickpeas. Here's a recent invention.


cooked orzo (1 cup dry)
crumbled feta to taste
cooked kale (maybe 1/2 cup)
15 oz. can chickpeas
dressing made of lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, olive oil and dried basil
salt & pepper
chopped red onion (save for garnish)

If possible, let chill for at least 4 hours. We passed this with the chopped red onion so folks could add as much onion as they wanted (or reject it, as in the case of our smallest diner).

Any favorite uses for chickpeas? Also, do you prefer to call them garbanzos?

Sourdough for Busy People: Master Recipe

Do you love fresh sourdough, nice chewy sandwiches, crisp delicious toast? Do you like to bake but find you have Very Little Time? Please consider my Sourdough for Busy People. With this recipe, sourdough can be made regularly, quickly, and easily. I figure the whole process takes about 12 hours from start to finish. (That's fast!)

What I've come up with is actually a combination of 3 recipes or systems. The ingredients and measurements are from my mother's "Tried and True for 20 Years" recipe. The kneading ritual is from SourDom's helpful tutorial on The scoring and baking (and a few other tips along the way) are from Peter Reinhart's excellent book The Bread Baker's Apprentice.

So first, I figure out my schedule. The kneading/rising/baking time takes about 3 hours. Before that, figure on about 8 hours to wake up the starter. This means that if you want to knead and bake at night (say from 6 to 9pm), you can prepare your starter in the morning (by 10am at the latest) and you'll be good to go. Or if you want to bake in the morning (a nice weekend ritual), prepare your starter the evening before and leave it overnight. Then you can knead/bake from 9am til noon. Sometimes I write myself a little timeline, like this:

8am: Prep starter.
5:50pm: Prep yeast
6:00: Combine yeast with other ingredients. Cover and let sit.
6:10: Knead briefly. Cover and let sit.
6:20: Knead briefly: Cover and let sit.
6:30: Knead briefly. Cover and let sit.
7:00: Knead briefly. Cover and let sit.
7:45: Punch down. Shape. Cover and let sit (proof).
8:25: Turn on oven to 500˚.
8:30: Uncover and score loaves.
8:30: Bake at 500--mist every 30 seconds 3 times.
8:40-ish: Turn loaves in oven, turn down to 450˚.
8:55 (approx): Done! Let loaves cool one a rack for at least an hour before eating.

That's it! OK, here are details.

Prepare the starter

As mentioned, do this at least 8 hours before you'll start to mix and bake. To prepare the starter, I take it out of the fridge and if I have an hour or so to spare, let it come to room temperature. Then I scrape it into a bowl (there is 1/2 cup of it) and combine with 1.5 cups of flour and 2 cups warm water. Cover with a towel and leave it. If it is very cold or hot in your kitchen, you can put it in your oven for a more even "room temperature" experience. Just remember it's in there. (I write myself a note.) (See very bottom of post for starter recipe.)* I use All-Purpose flour for this step.

After 8+ hours

Remove starter

This is a simple step, but very important. When you're ready to mix, knead and bake, the first thing you do is take out 1/2 cup of starter from your bowl. I use a glass 1-cup measure and just scoop out or pour 1/2 cup into it. Put it in a dedicated starter crock and stick it back in your fridge for next time. If you miss this step, you'll have no more starter for next time.

Prepare the yeast

I just use regular active dry yeast, such as comes in a packet like Red Star or Fleischmann's. Recently I found that our coop sells this type of yeast in bulk. I figured out that 2.25 teaspoons is the same amount as one packet. I put the yeast in the same 1-cup measure I just used for removing the starter (I don't wash it). I add 1/4 cup warm water from the tap and let it sit for 5 minutes until at least some of the yeast is dissolved.

Mix ingredients

While the yeast is dissolving, I start pouring the dry ingredients on top of the mixed starter in the bowl. I put in 3.5 cups of flour. 1/2 cup is White Whole Wheat, and the other 3 cups are bread flour. (I used AP flour for this for many months, but I find the bread flour is really better. Go for it!) Also add 1 T salt. Mix in dissolved yeast mixture and stir everything together. It doesn't have to be mixed well yet--a ragged dough is fine. Cover it with a towel and let it sit for 10 minutes. The idea is that gluten (the structure strands) starts to form when the flour and water get acquainted. Just let it do its thing!

Knead briefly 4 times

According to SourDom, just knead for 10 seconds at a time. Sometimes I get carried away and knead a little longer. Do the kneading 10 minutes apart 3 times, then wait half an hour and knead one more time. How exactly? Here's what I do:

Spray a countertop or other smooth surface with oil. (Spray oil seems like an odd ingredient, but Peter Reinhart recommends it and I do find it SO handy. If you flour a surface, you're changing your flour ratios.) Dump the ragged dough onto the area. Knead for 10 seconds or whatever.

Still life with spray oil and dough scraper

Then, oil a new bowl and plop the dough in. Spray the top of the dough too if you like. Cover with a towel and let sit for 10 minutes. (You could also just wash your first bowl, dry and oil, then plop the dough in for however long is left of your 10 minutes.)

After 10 minutes, do it again. You can re-oil the bowl before plopping the dough in again. Or not.

After 10 minutes, do it again. You'll find the dough is starting to look a lot smoother and be more stretchy when you knead. Perfect.

After 30 minutes, knead for 10 seconds one more time. You're done kneading! Put it back in the bowl and cover.

Let the dough double

I give it about 45 minutes. I let it rise until the dough touches the bottom of the towel that's covering it. This is an imprecise measurement, but it's the way my mom did it (or that's how it looked to me).

Divide, shape, and proof

This recipe will make at least two loaves. There are many different ways to shape and proof each loaf--just doing it on a counter or baking sheet, using a brotform (rising basket), using a baguette pan, using a towel or piece of canvas to hold the dough up, and so on. I have a double baguette pan and two brotforms (one round, one oblong). I find this recipe makes one baguette and one loaf from either brotform. Or it could make two small baguettes and one small round loaf. This time I decided to make an oblong loaf and one baguette. Whatever you decide, here's what to do:

Dump dough on oiled counter. Dimple it with fingers to "degas" some of the air bubbles. Cut it with the scraper, guesstimating sizes needed for individual loaves. Shape each loaf by kind of tucking it into its own center. (It's kind of the gestures you'd make if you were rolling a shower cap into itself starting at the outer edges and tucking everything equally into a small mushroom shape.)

Spray surface of loaves lightly with oil and cover with towel. Let loaves rise--"proof"--for 45 minutes.

Loaf in (oiled and sprinkled with cornmeal) baguette pan is seam-side down. Loaf in (floured) brotform is seam-side up.

Same loaves after 45 minutes.


After the loaves have proofed for 45 minutes, turn on the oven to 500˚ Fahrenheit. When it's getting close to heat, I carefully tip out the brotform loaf onto a baking sheet that's oiled and sprinkled with cornmeal. (Parchment is easier, but I ran out.) Now the seam-side is down.

Then, score all loaves. I use a boxcutter for this. A sharp knife will also do. I like to put diagonal slashes on long or oblong loaves. A round loaf gets an "x" shape.

Bake 25 minutes

Here's my method, adapted from Peter Reinhart. Set oven racks low and high in the oven. Place loaves on racks and mist with water for about 5 seconds. Then close oven for 20-30 seconds. Open and mist again. Close oven for another 20-30 seconds. Open and mist again. Set timer for 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes, rotate loaves. Turn oven down to 450˚ and bake another 12-15 minutes. I found from trial and error that 15 minutes in my oven was too long (the bottoms turned black--almost burned). You want a loaf that is clearly golden-brown and baked through, and that sounds hollow-ish when tapped on the bottom, but is NOT dark brown or burned looking.

Wait! Don't slice 'til cool. It's still cooking in there!

That's it!

I hope if you try this, or even just read the recipe through, that the directions make sense. Let me know! I'd love to hear what works for you, too!

*One way to make starter:

Mix up slop that includes yeast and leave it sitting out for several days. Ideally it should look a bit bubbly with a layer of clear liquid on top. My mother's recipe is just to combine 1 cup of flour with 1 cup of water and 1 packet of yeast. Use 1/2 cup of this for batch #1.

Crock with starter

Mini Pizzas and the Cold War

Mini foods are always more enticing than full size, no? Our preschooler asked me to photograph the dinner we made together today. You can pretty much guess the 5 ingredients: English muffin (lightly toasted) topped with marinara sauce, mozzarella, pepperoni (sliced into interesting triangles) and black olives.

Last night I watched The Russia House for, like, the seventh time. Each time I see that movie I am confused by the spy stuff. But I keep coming back and getting different things out of it. With novel by John LeCarré and script by Tom Stoppard, it has some great lines. This time I paid attention to Russell the CIA guy (Roy Scheider), who is complaining to his British Intelligence counterpart about how notebooks smuggled out of the Soviet Union detailing their military ineptitudes will have a chilling effect on the brisk trade of the arms race.
The trouble is, a lot of highly paid favorite sons are in danger of having their rice bowls broken and going hungry, all on account of these goddamn notebooks. The Russian military effort is stalled, the American military effort is stalled. Their rocket motors suck instead of blow, their ICBMs can't get out of their kennels, their scientists can't do solid fuel for shit... Our customers don't like to hear that.
It got me reminiscing about the Cold War--seems so long ago. Seems like the favorite sons figured out a new game fairly quickly though.