“Cooking up Magic”

A beautiful slice of life from a devoted witch, mother, teacher, and cook:

These are the magics born in each moment.  The Witch Herself the Center and Circumference clad not in robes or draped in jet and amber but in the t-shirt she slept in, a pair of sweat pants and a dishcloth tucked into her waistband.  She stands at the kitchen counter as an altar.  She wields a steel butcher knife for an athame and a wooden spoon as her wand.

Read Cooking up Magic and send out a breath of thanks for that which sustains you today.

Buttermilk ice cream

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I’m back from camp and a last-minute experiment turned out to be a massive hit.

Ingredients (for about 1.5 quarts)

  • 2C (500ml) Heavy cream
  • 2C (500ml)  Buttermilk (use a good buttermilk, ideally something that’s made locally and nicely cultured)
  • 3/4C (150g) Sugar
  • 1/2-1t (2-5ml) Vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
  • Pinch salt


Combine all of the ingredients. Chill the mixture then freeze in an ice cream freezer. Serve straight from the machine, or scoop into a pan and set in a cold freezer to firm even more.


(Unlike the nectarine sorbet, this doesn’t require adjustments for home vs. professional equipment.)

The Meat CSA

It started, innocently enough, when our regular CSA (Eating With the Seasons) offered some grass-fed beef. The results were extraordinary and we kept an eye out for future offerings.

Then they mentioned that Morris Grassfed Beef was offering “split halves”. That’s half a side of beef, delivered all at once or in 4 equal packages CSA-style. We opted for the whole thing — about 100 pounds — and stashed it in a freezer in the garage.

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It’s fantastic. Now I know that some people find grass-fed beef to be too “gamey”, but that appears to be a problem when it’s left to age too long. (All those wonderful Omega-3 fats go rancid quickly.) The Morris people age it for 14 days which is the optimum age.

(By the way, the hamburgers are made with about a pound of ground beef, 1t of Penzey’s BBQ 3000, and a little salt and pepper. Make 1/3lb patties, grill to medium rare, and don’t forget a napkin.)

My first taste of this reminded me of beef from my childhood (in the 1970’s) before factory farming had become a big thing. It’s also shifted our household cooking to be more like the cooking when I was growing up — meat was an accent to the meal, with a meat-centric meal being a special “Sunday dinner” occasion. We’re not really buying outside beef, but choosing when to pull another package of something from the freezer — mindful that once the single brisket is used for onion roast, it’s gone.

Ambar, being the silly sweetie that she is, started looking at other options via Craigslist — whole pigs, pasture-raised lamb, etc. She finally proposed we buy lamb from a fellow who raises them on his walnut orchard (as weed control) then finishes them on organic almonds. We took delivery yesterday.

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Her first bite of Parmesan-crusted Lamb Chops was a Tex Avery moment — her eyes grew huge and I bet they would have popped right out of their sockets if they could. The flavor on these is amazingly mild and sweet; we both noticed a hint of almond.

Parmesan-Crusted Lamb Chops

Take 8 lamb-chops, ideally pounded thin. Grate about 1/2C of good parmesan into a bowl. In another dish, beat 2 eggs. Take a plate and spread about 1C of fine bread crumbs on it. Heat about 1/4″ of vegetable oil in a fry pan on the stove.

Sprinkle the chops with the parmesan, pressing the cheese into the chop. Then dip into the egg, drain off the excess, and dredge in the bread crumbs. Fry in the hot oil — thin chops until golden, thicker chops until a rich golden brown. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper before serving.

Lamb chops are best served medium rare.

(I served these with some zucchini steamed with Penzey’s Sunny Paris seasoning and tossed with butter, mashed Yukon Gold potatoes, and a good glass of Pinot Noir.)

P.S. I’m off to cook at Witchlets in the Woods in the morning. Watch for new posts when I get back!

P.P.S. To give you an idea of cost, we’re averaging $6/lb for the beef and $5/lb for the lamb. With factory-farmed lean ground beef at $3.50/lb, offset by our shift in consumption, we’re paying somewhat less for groceries these days and definitely eating better.

Adventures in low-sugar cooking: Nectarine Sorbet

The cooler summer weather means we’re getting stone fruit far later in the season than usual. The peaches are more tart than sweet, but the nectarines have been perfect! It was time to show them some love.

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I had an abundance of nectarines, and with Witchlets in the Woods coming up (where I help cook), it was the perfect time to begin experimenting with sorbet and ice cream recipes for this year.  This recipe calls for cooking the fruit briefly, which activates the pectin and makes the result surprisingly creamy.

Nectarine Sorbet

(Adapted from David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop)

Yield: About 1 quart


  • 1 1/2 pounds Nectarines (white, yellow, or some of both)
  • 1/2 C sugar or just under 1/2C Agave Nectar
  • 1/2t-1t lemon juice
  • Pinch ceylon cinnamon (optional)


  1. Cut up the fruit into small pieces, leaving the skin on. (Omit the pits.) Combine fruit and about 2/3C water in a saucepan and cook over medium heat until the fruit is soft, about 10 minutes.
  2. Take fruit off the heat, add sugar or agave nectar. Let cool, add lemon juice (and cinnamon, if using) and puree. Chill thoroughly before freezing.
  3. Freeze in an ice cream maker as usual. If your ice cream freezer isn’t especially cold, stir in about 2T water at the start of freezing.

There are a couple of unusual things about this recipe: One is the use of agave nectar: this is a fabulous low glycemic index sweetener (which means it won’t affect your blood sugar as strongly as refined sugar.) I find the result to be a bit cloying, so I increased the lemon juice a bit and added some ceylon cinnamon to offset the sweetness. This is a mild, sweet cinnamon and used sparingly enough that it doesn’t call attention to itself but makes the nectarines stand out more.

The other unusual aspect is this has relatively little water, which makes it much more difficult to freeze properly. Many sorbets begin with a 50/50 mixture of simple syrup and fruit puree. In those, there’s plenty of water available throughout the freezing cycle. In this sorbet, you run the risk of most of the water freezing into tiny ice crystals at the start and pushing the freezing point so low that it won’t set up fully. Adding a bit more water early on can prevent this and/or you can freeze this to the consistency of soft-serve ice cream then pack it into a shallow pan and stick into an especially cold freezer to finish hardening

(I served this, soft and creamy, right from the machine last night and it was a big hit.)

Summer Salads #3 — Tomato, Basil, and Zucchini

When Ambar brought home a Zucchini plant from the nursery (“we’re only planting one this year”), it turned out to be three plants all intertwined. So, we’re getting about a zucchini a day. I’ve been sautéing it, adding it to frittata, and baking it but it’s still the green Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

Then I ran across this lovely post from Michael Ruhlman:

I like zucchini.  Julienned and sauteed in butter it’s a simple summer side dish.  Add some nuts, herbs and a vinaigrette to zucchini you’ve salted for ten minutes and it’s a revelation (raw zucchini salad). 

That inspired me to try grating and salting zucchini for a salad and wow — it’s wonderful.


This is essentially a bread salad without the bread. The zucchini picks up all of the flavors and brings them together harmoniously.


  • 1 pound zucchini
  • 1/2-3/4 pounds tomato, cut up
  • 1 small red onion, finely minced
  • 1 small bunch of basil, washed and leaves minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Olive oil
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Juice of 1 small lime (optional)


If the zucchini is fresh from your yard or the farmer’s market, soak for about 10 minutes in a bowl of water to remove the dirt from the skin. Grate using the large holes on a box grater, toss with some salt, and let rest about 10 minutes. Pour into a colander and squeeze out the excess liquid (zucchini should be relatively dry.)

Return the zucchini to a bowl, add tomatoes, basil, onion, and garlic. Season with salt and pepper, dress with oil and vinegar (and lime juice, if you have it.) Let sit for about an hour to give the flavors a chance to blend.

This salad would be wonderful with some fresh mozzarella or ricotta salata.

Everything I Needed to Know I Learned in the Kitchen

I was thinking about how the kitchen is such a metaphor for life:

  • Salt is like enthusiasm — add at the beginning and the middle, but reserve some for the end.
  • Keep your tools sharp; pay attention as you use them.
  • When you’re hot, sweaty, and exhausted, stop to appreciate the sauce you’re making.
  • If it lacks flavor, try reducing.
  • Always kiss the cook, especially if it’s you.


Summer Salads #2 — Balela

It started with an email from Ambar:

I vote Balela for dinner



So I pulled out a can each of cooked chickpeas and black beans, dumping them into a colander and rinsing first; minced a quarter of a red onion, three cloves of garlic, and some parsley; cut up a tomato; and mixed the whole thing together with salt, pepper, olive oil, and lemon juice. Then I stuck it in the ‘fridge and let it sit for a while to blend.

Now, when I’m feeling fancy, I might add some lime juice or a bit of white balsamic vinegar, and this time I even sliced up a couple of scallions. But really, that’s over the top.

P.S. If your mother taught you to clean your plate, a piece of crusty bread does a wonderful job with the leftover dressing.

Paging Dr. Maillard

We interrupt your regularly scheduled salads to bring you a bit of food science. The Maillard reaction is the one of the ways foods turn brown when you roast them (along with caramelization.) Oh, as in roasted garlic (done in a hot, dry pan)…

roasting garlic.JPG

…or when you let Zucchini sauté until brown spots appear (here aided and abetted by a touch of balsamic vinegar added at the end.)

balsamic zucchini.JPG

Both of these pick up sweetness and a depth of flavor that’s hard to get in any other way.

The garlic, by the way, went into a batch of crushed Yukon Gold potatoes (boil potatoes whole, with skins on. Remove from water, crush with a fork, and mix in good olive oil, salt, pepper, roasted garlic, and a bit of mild cheese. Top with a bit of shredded basil if desired.)

crushed yukon potatoes.JPG

Simple, easy, and delicious.


Summer Salads #1

With the temperature climbing over 100°F daily, we’ve turned to cooling summer salads here at Sagehenge*. The first salad I have to share is the incredibly tasty, cooling, and simple “Mediterranean salad”:

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  • 3 Cucumbers, peeled, quartered lengthwise, and sliced thinly
  • 8-10oz of cherry or grape tomatoes, quartered
  • 1/4-1/2 red onion, sliced very thinly (“shaved”)
  • Red wine vinegar or white balsamic vinegar
  • Olive oil
  • Salt & pepper
  • Ricotta salata or Feta cheese (optional)


Combine the first three ingredients, dress with oil and vinegar, season with salt and pepper. Let sit for an hour before serving (or up to 3 days, refrigerated; may need a touch more salt after sitting that long.)

Serve with crumbled cheese (optional).

– elfin

* “Sagehenge” is the new name for our house.


“Back to the land”

Maira Kalman’s essay is amazing.