notes from caveland

so, i’ve been following a modified paleo diet lately, just stripping down to the basics to reset my system, and at about 2 weeks in, i feel like i’ve settled into a stride. it’s a bit weird not to have some of the comfort go-to’s, but a little sleuthing and experimenting has led me to some pretty good finds. here are some little pick-me-ups for anyone kicking the sugar habit, off gluten & grains, or avoiding dairy [for the record, i’m also off legumes, which includes peanuts & soy].

rose water and orange blossom water
rose water and orange blossom water

fruit salad dressed with rose water – your sweetest dessert treat is fruit on the paleo plan, but that doesn’t mean some nice cave-person from one cave over wasn’t, uh, distilling rose water for you to dress it with. ahem. while distilleries aren’t exactly ancient technology, rose water has no added sugar and imparts a deliciously fragrant perfume to your fruit salads.

soda with lemon & orange blossom water – sure, soda with lemon is a go-to [and very easy if you have a soda stream], but dress it up & live a little! orange blossom water is a sweetener-free addition to soda and tea [and cocktails for when you return to the future].

homemade aioli
homemade aioli

homemade aioli – if you’re pro-mayo and trying to eat paleo, it’s a great opportunity to try your hand at homemade mayo. i like thomas keller’s whole-egg aioli recipe, which is easy to whip up in a blender. awhile back i made a huge batch of sugar-free smoked chili pepper sauce, but you can easily use what you find at the store to spice it up into chipotle aioli or dijon or whatever you like.

sweet potato and golden beet chips
sweet potato and yellow beet chips

baked root vegetable chips – one of the great ironies of this diet is that you can eat guacamole, but not most conventional chips. i decided to try my hand at baking chips from sweet potatoes and beets, and found they’re easy and satisfying to make! they come out like terra chips [most of which also have no added sugar], and the fun part is you can season them any way you like. try soaking in lemon, lime or vinegar and then sprinkling on a mix of spices and salt. use a dehydrator, or bake in a low oven, turning often as they dry and curl. the chips will shrink in size, so cut the roots diagonally if you like larger chips. beets shrink up quite a bit, and are best for snacking on a satisfying crunch, but sweet potatoes are large and sturdy enough for salsa and guacamole.

sesame flax crackers
sesame flax crackers

flax seed crackers – i’ve experimented with these in the past with mixed results, but after a spin through the raw section at whole foods, i was inspired to revisit my efforts. i came up with a combination i really like, using flax seeds, shredded coconut, almond meal, sesame seeds and crumbled hijiki seaweed soaked in a mixture of coconut aminos, sesame oil, ginger juice and water, seasoned with salt and cayenne pepper. spread it to .25″ thick on oiled aluminum foil and bake on low heat to dehydrate. i baked mine above 105º so it’s not a raw food, but it’s light and crunchy with a cayenne kick.

rutabaga carrot & apple salad

rutabaga carrot apple salad
rutabaga carrot apple salad

i was wandering around the farmer’s market last week, thinking about how i’d written about so many different foods that what else could i experiment, and then i saw some rutabagas and realized i’ve never even had one. from what i’ve read, these weren’t the finest examples [the best advice is to pick smooth, unblemished roots, and the ones i found had cracked ridges around the tops], but i thought i’d take them home and do a little experimenting.

i can see why they’re only preferred in desperate, world war famine times. they’re sort of neither here nor there, and often served in a group with a selection of other root vegetables. one reason may be its natural bitterness which comes out with cooking. i decided to try my hand at baking my own root vegetable chips, and while sweet potatoes and beets turned out nicely, rutabagas are not a good choice for this.

this brought me back around to eating them raw, which is quite nice. they’re crunchy, lightly sweet, full of fiber, and taste fine on their own or with your favorite dressing or dip. since i love shredded salads, i thought the taste would work well with some carrots and apples, and a light vinaigrette.

rutabaga, carrot & apple salad

1 rutabaga
1 large carrot
1 fuji apple
1 tb roasted walnut oil vinaigrette dressing

break out your julienne mandoline [or super chef knife skills] and shred up the rutabaga, carrot and apple into a mixing bowl. prepare your favorite vinaigrette, or use the one i suggested [i’m way into this roasted walnut oil lately] and drizzle it over the top. mix well to coat, season with salt & pepper and enjoy!

spring garden 2012

garden spring 2012
garden spring 2012

i think it’s my 4th season with my little terraced garden that i built into our back wall & fence. in past years, i’d cram as much as i could into this space, hoping for the best, but i’ve had to learn [through repeated broken delusions] that this spot gets only 3-4 hours of full sun as it passes overhead to shine between our building and back fence. this means that, no matter what i do, i’ll only get about 5 tomatoes in this space, and if i plant zucchini, it will shade everything in the same terrace. the lower containers often have dappled shade from a nearby avocado tree, and are best for greens. i think i’ve finally accepted this and chosen a realistic selection of veggies for the space i have.

flowering arugala
flowering arugala

for one thing, this probably means that any fall gardens i plant are for winter greens only. some of the lettuces come up, but many don’t until early spring, which was the case with this arugula i forgot about. time to harvest that for salad and start over. the lemon balm i planted to confuse pests was not only easy to grow, it spreads easily too! i left babies in each location, but harvested the bulk and made a large quantity of tea.

upper garden, spring 2012
upper garden, spring 2012

leaving the compost to really break down all winter worked well. i turned it over and dug out the black gold to incorporate into each garden bed and container. i also let some of the garden stay wild. tomatoes from last year are flowering early this year and even have a few fruits, so i’m leaving them to see how they do. there’s also some spreading greek oregano that’s so soft and succulent, i left it as another pest deterrent even though it’s more than i’ll ever need. last thing i did is add potted mint to move around as needed. since pests are looking for their preferred plant’s attributes, scented herbs and bulbs [like onions & garlic] tend to confuse them, protecting the plants organically. this year i might try some bird feeders as well, see if i can get birds to eat some of the unwanted bugs.

what i planted this spring:

apache peppers – i hadn’t heard of these before, but since they came in a 6-pack and do well in containers, i bought them. they can get up to 80,000 scoville units in heat.

basil – there’s never enough basil, which is why i started with 2 plants, italian basil and lemon basil, and figured on planting seeds for a subsequent crop later in the summer.

bush beans – i’ve never really tried these and don’t exactly have high hopes based on my pea-failures, but i have the seeds and the trellises…

chamomile – i have never been successful with chamomile from seed, so i bought a plant. it likes full or partial sun, so it’s going in the partial container.

chives – if you think you can’t keep any plant alive, please try chives. i put them in a sunny container, ignore them, and they reseed themselves every year. i think my current batch has finally exhausted itself, so i decided to start over.

lacinato kale – if you like kale, you can’t really go wrong with a 6-pack of tuscan kale. they grow all year in southern california, and if you pick it fresh, it’s so tender you can enjoy it raw in a way you can’t with even farm-fresh kale that’s traveled.

leaf lettuce – i’m going to see how many crops of leaf lettuce varieties i can go through in the partial-sun containers.

lemon thyme – just as it sounds, lemon thyme has a lemony flavor and scent. i can’t think of a time that i’d object to this, so i skipped regular thyme and went straight for lemon [i’ll plant thyme seeds instead].

mexican zucchini – the description of these is that the skins are a variegated lighter green, which i’ve seen at the farmer’s market. i think they’ll be pretty, so i got 2 for good pollination.

micro-greens – though you don’t have to buy a pack of seeds called “micro greens” to do this, i did, and i think they’ll work out perfectly in my partial sun containers.

pea greens – my sunlight doesn’t do so well with full peas, but i’ve since learned that they’re fine to grow in containers just for the shoots & tendrils, so i’m aiming for those this year.

purslane – i harvested seeds all last summer & fall from the wild purslane that sprung up around my property, so this year i’m planting up the hanging full-sun containers on the front porch to take advantage of this amazing superfood.

scallions – what i wrote about chives goes the same for scallions. it’s so nice to grab some green onions from the front porch.

glazed purple sprouting broccoli

purple sprouting broccoli
purple sprouting broccoli

i’ve been seeing the rapini in the farmer’s market lately and wanted to get my hands on some to work with it more, but then i saw this nice table of mixed young green and purple broccoli sprouts and and had to have it for the color alone. this isn’t actually rapini, but purple sprouting broccoli, which is a variety of broccoli that comes in with purple buds and lots of smaller stems. they’re very cute and do well lightly cooked to retain their crunch.

i also recently got some toasted walnut oil after tasting some and loving it. the bottle has this vinaigrette recipe on it, which i made for topping this dish, and it’s really delicious.

glazed sprouting broccoli & caramelized red onions
glazed sprouting broccoli & caramelized red onions

glazed purple sprouting broccoli & caramelized red onions

1 red onion, sliced thin and cut once crosswise
1 lb purple sprouting broccoli
1 tb butter or ghee [i used ghee]
1 tb white wine vinegar

place half the tablespoon butter or ghee in a frying pan and melt over medium heat. add the sliced onions and tablespoon of vinegar, sauteeing until browned on edges and soft in texture. remove from the pan and set aside.

layer the broccoli in the same pan, place the remaining tablespoon butter or ghee over the top, and add about a quarter inch of water to the bottom of the pan. cover and steam on low heat about 8 minutes or until al dente.

arrange broccoli and onions on a plate and serve. optionally, drizzle with your favorite vinaigrette [mine was toasted walnut oil, balsamic vinegar and dijon].

friday fun

Michael Pollan’s Food Rules from Marija Jacimovic on Vimeo.

a great find from awhile back: stop-motion animation of michael pollan explaining some of the negative spins on organic farming–in food of course. aside from being innovative, this video is incredibly cute. take a look! & thanks to for the link.

pea shoot, radish & apple salad

pea shoot salad
pea shoot, radish & apple salad

i’ve been trying to work pea shoots into my life ever since i tried this kohlrabi slivers and pea shoots with sesame dressing. though you can cook them, i’m not all that into the wilty texture in comparison to the fresh crunch of the raw shoots. i thought i’d whip up another shredded salad today and i like this one just the same. i guess it’s time to plant a container of them outside to eat every day!

pea shoot, radish & apple salad

1 large handful of pea shoots
4 large radishes, julienned
1 granny smith apple, julienned
1 tb sesame oil
1 tb rice or white wine vinegar
1 tsp sesame seeds [i used black and toasted]
1 tb toasted pepitas

use a mandoline/julienne slicer or your expert chef knife skills to cut the apple and radishes into matchstick slices. roughly chop the handful of pea shoots into 1″ pieces. toss everything in a salad bowl, adding the oil, vinegar, sesame seeds and pepitas. toss to mix and coat through.

creative inspiration


palomino branding
palomino branding, image:

a stunning brand & identity for palomino restaurant & bar in seattle by superbig creative, complete with these letterpressed gift cards. see the set at


cool people printing
cool people printing, image: has started a new tumblr: cool people printing, full of nothing but cool people keeping the art of printing alive!


menus for chez panisse
menus for chez panisse, image:

speaking of food and cooking and printing and letterpress, patricia curtan, who loves and does all of these things has released a book of nearly 4 decades of work for chez panisse in menus for chez panisse. it looks like pages of beautiful typography, illustration and printing, i’m very curious to take a look at this book.

garlicky balsamic brussels sprouts

brussels sprouts at the farmer's market
brussels sprouts at the farmer's market

i grew up in a house where brussels sprouts were not served. this is simply because the mushy-ness of my grandmother’s brussels sprouts [and all her vegetables, really] was legendary, and so scarred my mother that, for years, she believed them to be a nasty vegetable that could not be served any other way. so naturally, my general assumption was that they weren’t so great, which was pretty easy to do during my supermarket shopping years, since they’re not exactly popular there either.

but then one day, i think i convinced myself that if it was a naturally grown vegetable, it couldn’t be inherently bad. i asked around to my midwest friends who ate them a lot more often and heard of these great quick-sauté preparations, leaving them crunchy and flavorful and i got hopeful. better yet, i bought some and tried it out. i’ve grown to love the larger family of brassica vegetables and look forward to trying out new flavors with them.

this garlicky sauté isn’t exactly unique, but it’s very simple and tasty, and allows for a side dish for most any main dish flavor profile.

garlicky balsamic brussels sprouts
garlicky balsamic brussels sprouts

garlicky balsamic brussels sprouts
about 24 brussels sprouts
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tb olive oil
2 tb balsamic vinegar
2 tb water
salt, pepper & additional balsamic vinegar to taste
optional: juice and zest of one lemon

wash brussels sprouts and drain on a dish towel. add oil, vinegar and water to a frying pan over medium heat, heat through and add brussels sprouts to the pan. cover and let the water lightly steam through the brussels sprouts 3 minutes. uncover, turn up the heat to medium-high and sauté brussels sprouts until they are lightly browned in spots. season to taste with salt, pepper and more balsamic if you like. or zest it up if you have lemon around!

stinging nettle pasta with lemon pepper feta

stinging nettles
stinging nettles

as i was saying last week, we never got much of even a southern california winter this year, so springtime greens are in the markets early. i’ve read about stinging nettles over the years, but never foraged for them or bought any. turns out, it’s not something you do on a whim, since stinging nettles have earned their name from tiny barbs that break easily and dispense histamines and irritants to the skin, it’s best to have gloves, shears and a bowl or bag to collect them with.

so why bother, if they’re so potentially annoying? the irritants are disarmed after a quick blanching, leaving behind a spinach-like green full of vitamin a, c, iron, potassium and calcium, without the oxalic acid in spinach that prevents absorption of many of the nutrients. after you trim the leaves from thicker stems [again, with gloves on] get a pot of salted water to a rolling boil, throw in your cut leaves for a minute or 2, and then dunk in a bowl of cold water. let them drain completely in a colander and you’re ready to either pack them up to freeze or use as a cooked green.

i saw some suggestions to purée and make pasta or gnocchi, so i thought i’d try something similar. i also used the opportunity to try out half-white / half-rye egg pasta, and i like how it came out. one thing you might notice, there is a faint fish-like smell to cooked nettles, but they don’t taste fishy. however, if you’re on the fence about this, make something that compliments it, adding smoked oysters or anchovies.

making nettle pasta
making nettle pasta

nettle rye pasta
1 cup all-purpose white flour
1 cup rye flour
2 eggs
2 tb olive oil
1 bunch nettles, leaves blanched, puréed & drained

set up your pasta ingredients in a mixing bowl, spreading the flour to line the bottom of the bowl, cracking the eggs & pouring the oil in the middle with the nettles. use a fork as you would to scramble eggs, and scramble lightly, scooping up a bit of flour on each turn, mixing through, and continuing to incorporate flour until you have a loose crumbly dough. once the fork is no longer truly effective, use your hands to incorporate the dough fully and knead until smooth. let the dough rest an hour in the fridge and then roll it out and/or shape it as you like.

when cooking, note that fresh pasta only take about 2 minutes to cook in boiling salted water.

nettle pasta with lemon pepper feta
nettle pasta with lemon pepper feta

nettle pasta with lemon pepper feta
1 nettle pasta recipe, above
3 oz feta cheese
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 tb olive oil
1 tsp pepper, or to taste

bring a pot of salted water to a rolling boil and add the nettle pasta. it will soften up rapidly, stir gently to cook through. after 1-2 minutes, strain out the pasta in a colander, and then place in a mixing bowl.

shake up the lemon juice and olive oil in a dressing bottle or jar and pour over the pasta and toss to coat. incorporate the lemon zest and pepper with the feta cheese until mixed well. place servings of pasta in serving dishes and top with the lemon pepper feta.