The Surprise of Wonderful Sorrel Pesto!

Okay, so I’m not a slave to recipes. In fact, most of the time, when I’m in the kitchen, I’m riffing on old themes, drawing from memory of what has worked for me in the past. And I’m trying new things that may have been inspired by something I saw on Parts Unknown, Anthony Bourdain’s wonderful new show on CNN that is part documentary, part travelogue, part food show. Or, I’m mining my mental databanks for ideas gleaned from my insatiable appetite for reading vintage cookbooks snagged at a variety of thrift stores, garage sales, estate sales, library sidewalk sales.


So a couple days ago, I realized that I had a bumper crop of sorrel, a new plant I was trying out in my own backyard garden. Now, I’ve eaten sorrel maybe two or three times at the most in my life. It’s kind of a rare, seasonal, fleeting herbaceous treat usually found in French restaurants and nowhere else. But I thought, I like sorrel. It’s like a delicate, piquant, lemon-heavy spinach. And it’s delicious in soup, with potatoes, and with creamy sauces. Plus, I learned that it is a perennial plant. And I thought, “Why not plant something once and never worry about having to plant it again? That suits my lazy soul.”


So, I had this bumper crop of sorrel, a statement that in the past I was pretty sure I would never say in my life, but now I was saying it. What on Earth was I going to do with it? And then it hit me — pesto. Sure! Why not? I’ve learned from all my reading and watching and thinking about food that anything green and leafy tends to make a tasty pesto. I’ve made the usual basil-pine-nut pesto many times, of course. I’ve made a pesto from parsley and walnuts. So why not sorrel pesto?


I realized I had a whole jar of plump dried pepitas in my kitchen cabinet. These are hulled pumpkin seeds, which reveal a delightful shade of green underneath the usual tough, white hulls swathing whole pumpkin seeds. I toasted about one and a half cups of the pepitas in a dry cast-iron skillet until they were lightly browned and nutty smelling. Be careful not to walk away from the stove, and keep stirring, or things can go from raw to burnt in a flash.


I placed them in my food processor and added two cups of fresh, washed sorrel leaves, about a half teaspoon of Hawaiian alaea sea salt (again, I’m experimenting, and I dig that crazy pink color!), a dash of pepper, and about a 1/4 cup of organic olive oil. I did not add any garlic, although you can if you want something more pungent. Me, I decided to let the lemony sorrel and nutty pepitas shine through without being overwhelmed by the garlic.


I pulsed the whole mix for about ten seconds, to lightly blend. Then I turned the food processor fully on and as the blades turned, I drizzled in about another 1/2 cup of olive oil through the open top. 


The result was this grainy, verdant, succulent, nutty-smelling, unctuous, lemony, indescribable mixture. The total recipe produced about 1 1/2 cups of the pesto. All week long, I’ve been spooning some on my morning eggs. I smeared some on top of Copper River wild salmon that turned it ambrosial. And tonight I made organic fusilli pasta and mixed the pesto through. I’m so glad I decided to grow a perennial plant. Now I can enjoy this pesto over and over and over just by walking out to my own garden and harvesting what I need. I hope you’ll either plant your own pesto or seek it out in a store. You’ll be glad you did.


A Frozen Yogurt Recipe for All Seasons

I’m not exactly an instant-gratification person, but I’m also not a slave-all-day-over-the-stove person. I don’t mind making good food from scratch, but I also don’t have a place in my life for complicated recipes. Well, when I figured out that frozen yogurt was one of easiest things — not to mention one of the tastiest things — in the universe, I was hooked! What’s even better is that because you make it yourself, you know exactly what’s in it. Nothing weird. Nothing owned or created by Monsanto. No fillers. No preservatives. As Michael Pollan puts it, there is nothing in this frozen yogurt that your grandmother would not recognize.


Fortunately, a friend gave me a neat, little Cuisinart ice cream maker as s gift. Unfortunately, until recently, it languished in the back of the kitchen cabinet for years. Why? Seriously, why? Now that I have discovered how easy frozen yogurt is, I don’t know why I let the ice cream maker gather moss and lichens in the cabinet. This machine cost $50 about twelve years ago. Make the investment!


So here is the basic frozen yogurt recipe that you need to make part of your regular life. Take one quart organic yogurt and set aside. You can use Greek yogurt, which produces a very rich and creamy product. Or you can use regular yogurt. I find that even nonfat yogurt tastes great. Clean and chop one pint to two pints very ripe seasonal fruit. Tonight I made a mixture of organic raspberries and organic strawberries. To the fruit, add 2/3 cup of organic sugar.


Mix the fruit and sugar thoroughly and let it rest in the fridge for an hour. You can even use a potato masher to get the mixture extra soft and syrupy. Mix the yogurt and fruit mixture together. Fire up the ice cream maker and pour in the yogurt/fruit melange. Let it churn for about 20 minutes. Scoop it into bowls.


At this stage, the yogurt should be hard enough to hold together but still a bit soft. You can scoop the remainder back into the yogurt container and pop it into the freezer for future enjoyment. You may find that the yogurt gets too hard to scoop once it’s been in the freezer. No problem! Just let it sit out for a few minutes before you are ready to scoop. 

The great thing about this recipe is that you can experiment with any kind of fruit. Are ripe, luscious peaches in season? Do it! Want to throw some walnuts in there? Go for it! It’s your frozen yogurt. Live the dream!

You have arrived! The annual Greenwood Avenue neighborhood garage sale in Oakland's Glen View neighborhood

Queen Flea: Epic Oakland Garage Sale is Resale Paradise

Queen Flea is a regular feature on Holly’s Homestead. It’s a series of posts focused on resale shopping, including garage sales, thrift stores, flea markets, estate sales, and dumpster diving and curbside salvage when those blessings reveal themselves. Nothing is better for the planet than reducing our consumption, particularly when we are avoiding cheap stuff made by abused workers in developing countries with no environmental regulations. Seriously, why would we want to be a part of that sad system? Especially when you consider that stuff made in the “olden days” was crafted well, designed to last, and more aesthetically pleasing. Sure, count me in!


Queen Flea is also the name of the new television series I am developing through my media production company, Golden Poppy Productions. For more information about the show and its status, check out our website. We’re completing a demo reel now and hope to sell the show concept by the end of the year. Please stay tuned!

Today’s resale shopping for me was the Greenwood Avenue multi-family garage sale in the Glenview neighborhood of Oakland. Every year for 14 years (according to one neighbor), the neighborhood has gathered in early May to do a group garage sale. The sale stretches for blocks and even incorporates the neighbors on at least one side street, Fleet Avenue. It’s truly an extravaganza.


But that’s not all, almost all of the sellers have a “free” box with items they deem not worthy of asking any cold, hard cash for. I beg to differ. I scored a grey cotton cardigan and a nifty pair of multi-color sunglasses with a kind of tortoise-shell-like patina from two different free boxes. Thank you, kind people!


And not only that, but the entire sale is dotted with refreshment stands. Two kind ladies shouted out to me, “Free mimosas!” I was over there in a flash, giggling my head off. And they poured me a 16 ounce glass of mimosa “home brew” that I sipped while perusing their clothing and shoes. Other neighbors had a waffle iron rigged up on the sidewalk, and they were making fresh, hot waffles with whipped cream!


Further down, I caught a glimpse of “Cafe Neutrino” tucked in a garage of one house on Fleet Avenue. A young man with a retro hairdo called to me from the garage to where I wandered, stunned, across the street. “Would you like an espresso!” Turns out Eric and Rick live here and have their impromptu Cafe Neutrino as a friendly neighbor contribution. They weren’t even selling anything. Rick made me a fabulous Cappuccino using his far-out, Italian, Steampunk-like espresso machine. Eric said, “Yeah, if we turned those steam jets around it could probably take off.” 


And the stuff for sale at the different houses was great. Artwork, garden supplies, furniture, knick-knacks. I bought an old advertisement from US Steel (headquartered in my birthplace of Pittsburgh, PA) that says, “It Happens in the Best of Bathrooms,” showing a little girl giving her doggie a bath in the sink. I snagged that for $3.00.


But my big score was hard to believe. I found an Underwood typewriter, probably from the 1920s, for $25. The man of the house said, “My wife is pricing things too low.” And in reply to my inquiry, “How much for the typewriter?,” the wife said, “Oh, I’m going to have to be strict on the typewriter.” I said, “Okay, go ahead. How much do you want?” “$25,” she said. In response to which I pounced, because I’ve been seeing typewriters like this going for much, much more. It’s in perfect condition, has all the keys, even has the original ribbon. When I looked it up on Etsy, I found several, going for as much as $185. Score!


Join me next for a Queen Flea adventure when I visit the Marin Outdoor Antiques Faire — tomorrow, in San Rafael. It’s the French Market, and I plan to dress the part, and shop the part. Yes, reducing your carbon footprint and saving the Earth can be this much fun!

Today's harvest: sorrel, parsley, and bay leaf, all from my own backyard.

Today in My Garden: Sorrel, Turnips, Radish Sprouts!


Today's harvest: sorrel, parsley, and bay leaf, all from my own backyard.

Today’s harvest: sorrel, parsley, and bay leaf, all from my own backyard.

I’m feeling optimistic about my garden even though the climate has been a bouncing ball for the past two years. It was rainy and 65 degrees yesterday. By Tuesday next week, it will be as dry as a hyena-gnawed bone and 90 degrees plus here in Oakland, CA. Yow! How’s a gardener supposed to plan for that? It’s not easy, but I plan to adapt to climate change.

We are under a voluntary 20% water reduction order here in California, and I suspect that by the summer, this could turn into a mandatory requirement. Still, I hope to garden. I’ve got a pond that still has some water left in it from our scant winter rains, which I am bailing and using around my yard. I’m saving all the rinse water every time I wash veggies and saving all the water from when my shower is warming up (insert bucket under tap). And I turn off the water between soaping and rinsing. Chilly, but saves some gallons! And we’re using all the bucket water to flush the toilet, and not flushing every single time. I know, TMI! But, hey, if I don’t share my techniques, maybe there’s a reader out there who won’t think of that idea. So take what you can use, and skip the rest.


Over the winter, my garden became a tangled wasteland of overgrown cabbages and weeds. After several days of weeding, I finally returned the garden to a state of quasi-domestication. Now, I can actually walk between the beds again. After preparing the beds with some organic fertilizer and some compost from one of my two compost bins, I was ready to plant. My first plantings included Chantenay carrots, White Tokyo turnips (sweet petites!), Parris Island romaine lettuce, French Market radishes, and White Spear onions. All heirloom varieties, because that’s all I will plant. So far, everything has sprouted. So much so that I had to start thinning today, a job I dread, because I hate to kill those hopeful little sprouts. But if I don’t thin, those radishes and turnips will be all deformed and gnarly.


The good news is that some of the plants I’ve put in are perennials, meaning that now that they’re in, they’re in for the long haul. This includes sorrel, a plant I used to view as elusive, like a rare bird, something that could only be glimpsed, but not possessed. Until now. I discovered that you can buy seeds and plant it.


So I planted some sorrel in the fall, and now, my sorrel plants looks like Fukushima-area transplants. Yikes! Well, I guess I need to get those leaves into a pesto. Yep, that’s my plan. I’m going to make a pesto with the sorrel leaves, organic olive oil, toasted pumpkin seeds, and some salt and pepper. Easy peasy. I used to think of pesto as being a strictly basil-based concoction, but now I put anything green into the food processor with some form of nuts or seeds and some oil. Let the gourmet dining begin!


So give sorrel a shot. You’ll be glad you did. You’ll never have to plant it again. That’s the kind of gardening I could get used to.

Farm-Fresh Eggs and Leftover Fried Rice for Breakfast


I love leftovers. And I love fresh food. Sometimes, okay, maybe quite often, I like a good mash-up of the two of them. Recently, my friend Linda Kahl, a super-suburban farm girl in Walnut Creek, CA, gifted me with six spectacular eggs produced by her flock of free-range, organic chickens. Oh, these eggs were more beautiful than any you could find in a store. There were beige ones, brown ones, and even a couple green ones. 

Too lovely for words! But not too lovely to eat. I had a pot of leftover fried rice sitting in the fridge (which I had of course made fresh myself a couple nights before). I was foraging for breakfast, moving the pot of rice side to side on the fridge shelf looking for something good to the left of it, to the right of it, behind it, and then the idea hit me. I cracked one of Linda’s free eggs on top of a bowl filled with two scoops of the rice and then microwaved the whole thing for about seven minutes. Pulling the steaming, savory concoction out of the microwave, I added a small dab of sambal oelek, a Malaysian hot sauce I keep in the pantry. Sambal oelek is hard to describe. Hot but not too hot. Slightly sweet. Slightly savory. Deep. Let’s just say that with a fresh-brewed cup of coffee and this bowl in front of me, I was in a heavenly state starting my morning. Just goes to show you that you have plenty to work with right now. You just have to see it in a new way, and you will invent an endless array of delights.

Escargot = cooked snails (photo by Craig Hatfield: By Craig Hatfield [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons)

Garden Snails As Food — Can’t Beat ‘Em? Eat ‘Em!

Mmmmmmm! Snails! Yes, I really did write that. Last night, I went out to dinner with my husband and some friends at Cafe Claude in San Francisco. Cafe Claude is a French restaurant located on the charming alley, Claude Way, bound by Kearny Street and Grant Avenue near San Francisco’s Union Square. You really feel like you are going to Paris, and last night when we went out, there was a thick fog over the whole city that produced a very noir atmosphere. Dashiell Hammett, where were you? Once inside, we took a look over all the delectable French-style offerings on the menu. We had given our order to the waiter, and at the last moment, on impulse, I said, “I’ll also have the escargot!” Our friends at the table gasped. Literally. I think they were slightly jealous. Or repulsed.

A little while later, the waiter reappeared and laid this beautiful brown ceramic tray down in front of me, where nine tiny indentations had been filled and were topped with mini caps of puff pastry. Cafe Claude’s version of escargot includes lots of unctuous butter, garlic, Pernod, parsley, shallots, anchovy, the aforementioned puff pastry. Oh, yeah, and snails. They were delicious, and slightly chewy, like really rich clams.

The whole experience was so wonderful that it reminded me of my time in my garden in the wet months, when the California winter rains fall, and the snails come out like extras in The Walking Dead, looking for, not brains, but my leafy greens. They decimate my leafy greens. Any tender, little sprouts that are around are devoured.

Oregon Sugar Pod II peas and Rolande beans sprouting up!

Peas and beans are irresistible to snails!

So, invariably, every winter, I find myself bent over double in the garden at night, a headlamp strapped on my head illuminating the slimy army crawling all over the ground. I raise the wooden stick I’m holding in my hand, and I bring it down — SMASH! SMASH! SMASH! — all over the snails. They have no known predators, so I have to be the known predator. If I don’t, my crops are toast. I feel terrible about exacting such carnage. I’ve been trying to find a way to turn my enemies into my meal. That way, at least their deaths aren’t in vain, their killing not wanton. The Claude meal gave me some hope. Hope based on garden snails as food. After all, most garden snails in California are Helix aspersa, the edible snails that are the centerpiece of French culinary arts.

Helix aspersa looks beautiful in the rain.

Helix aspersa looks beautiful in the rain.

Recently, in Book Zoo in Oakland, where I live, I discovered this great, slim, plain, 74-page book — Escargots: From Your Garden to Your Table, by Francois Picart — an apparently self-published 1978 guide about how to raise and cook snails by a guy who started a snail-raising business in Santa Rosa, CA at that time. The book is simply brilliant, giving the history of the mollusks as food, describing how to build a pen to raise your own, talking about how to prepare them for use as food by feeding them a special diet for two weeks, giving instructions on how to cook them — there are even recipes!

Helix aspersa mating. Oh, boy, more snails!!

Helix aspersa mating. Oh, boy, more snails!!

I also found some great advice and warnings on the website Eat Your Weeds, by Green Deane, a guy who is a real expert on eating weeds and foraged stuff, including snails. He made me pause with this warning about eating wild snails:

“These common little creatures aren’t too bad unto themselves, but some of the land crawlers especially in warmer areas have parasites, one of which they can get from rat feces. That parasite, normally infecting a rat’s lung, goes from your stomach to your brain, crawling there over time — yes, crawling there — and causes your brain to swell. That big head folks have accused you of having will come to pass and kill you.  Thorough cooking will kill the parasites.”

Yeah, he said brain parasites. Oh. I think I’m going to do a little more research before I become a snail rancher. But in the meantime, I may dream of Cafe Claude’s escargot, so beautifully, thoroughly cooked.

(Note: Featured image at top of post by Craig Hatfield: By Craig Hatfield [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons)



Cranberry Chutney with Pinot Noir

My dear friend, Veronica Zolina, is a mild-mannered attorney by day, fighting for the rights of her clients, many of whom are low-income people who have been batted around by the system most of their lives. Veronica puts everything she has into the fight for each and every one of them. It’s hard work, and of course, when you’re working this hard, you 1375847_10202187536993703_2066712638_n

also need to play just as hard. In between writing briefs and preparing for trial, Veronica spends lots of time in her kitchen, where she has always been a really talented, self-taught chef. She posted this recipe for cranberry chutney with Pinot Noir on Facebook, and I asked her permission to post it here. This is what every aspiring urban homesteader needs to be able to whip up in the kitchen. It’s so simple, but so incredibly decadent. Yes, there are other recipes for cranberry sauce with Pino Noir on the Internet, but none equals a recipe made lovingly by a friend’s own hands. Veronica writes, “MMMmmmm….Cranberry apple orange chutney. Made with lovingly hand-picked Provincetown cranberries, local farm apples, and pinot noir. The ‘recipe’ is pretty much freehand; besides what’s listed above, I used lots of orange zest and dashes of cinnamon & cloves. And of course sugar, to taste.” Translating Veronica’s recipe to quantities and measurements you can imitate, I would recommend one cup of washed, raw cranberries, one-half of a juicy orange, two finely chopped apples with peels on, half a cup of pinot noir, half a cup of sugar, and the aforementioned cinnamon and cloves. I would also add a half cup of water. Simmer it gently for about 20 minutes, stirring regularly, until 1394253_10202187537073705_577425551_n

all the berries have broken down and the liquid has mostly evaporated. This would go great with the Thanksgiving turkey! And you could certainly double or triple the volume. Or add more Pinot Noir if you’re that kind of person — like I am. Of course, I joked with Veronica that she probably cooked this up with a glass of wine in her hand like Julia Child. But she beat me to that comment and posted the same comment on her own before I could hit “post” on Facebook. Thanks, Veronica, for a simple and inspiring fall recipe!

Really love your peaches, want to shake your tree.

This Peach Freezer Jam Is Easy as Pie!

Recently, a friend went to the farmer’s market in San Francisco and brought back a crate of gigantic, juicy, aromatic peaches to split with me. I hauled my 10 pounds of peaches back home. Now what to do with them? There was no way I could eat them all out of hand, although I did scarf down several that way within the first 24 hours.    

Ball RealFruit Pectin makes great freezer jam.

Ball RealFruit Pectin makes great freezer jam.

I remembered that I had a jar of Ball RealFruit Instant Pectin that came with a nifty recipe for freezer jam. That’s the ticket! No cooking. No canning. Safe, quick, and easy. The jar includes a recipe table for different kinds of fruit, and it gives the proportions to use depending on how much jam you want to make. Ball also makes a super awesome automatic jam and jelly maker that is on my wish list. The proportions for the freezer jam for every 8-ounce half-pint of jam are: 1) 1 2/3 cups prepared fruit, 2) 2/3 cups granulated sugar, 3) 2 Tbsp. Ball RealFruit Instant Pectin. 

First I washed the peaches, then peeled off their fuzzy jackets.

Chop them into tiny bits of juicy goodness.

Chop them into tiny bits of juicy goodness.

Next, I chopped the peaches mighty fine, mixed them with lemon juice, and let them sit for 10 minutes.

Fresh, organic lemon juice.

Fresh, organic lemon juice.

Next I stirred my sugar and pectin in a bowl. Then, I added my peaches and stirred the mixture for 3 solid minutes.

Pour a little sugar on me.

Pour a little sugar on me.

Finally, I ladled the jam into clean glass jars, leaving at least one inch of headspace to take into account the expansion of the jam in the freezer.


Now I have several jars of peachy-good peach freezer jam in my freezer. Whenever I need (want) peach jam on my breakfast toast, on my pancakes, on my freshly baked pumpkin muffins, I pop open a jar. Preserving food was never so easy.

Enough to get me through the winter...or next week.

Enough to get me through the winter…or next week.

Meyer lemon peel can be stored for about a week and used in many dishes.

My, My, Meyer Lemon Peel!

You know how a ray of warm autumn sunshine feels when it falls on your upturned face? Yeah,  heavenly! Well, that’s what Meyer lemon peel feels like when it hits your tongue.

So a-peeling!

So a-peeling!

If you have never tried a Meyer lemon, now is the time! It’s not like other lemons, such as the common Eureka lemon, in that it has the tenderest skin imaginable, more like baby calf’s leather than lemon peel. So tender! The Meyer lemon was brought to the U.S. in 1908 by Edward Meyer, who worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and who picked up some specimens on a trip to China. The Meyer lemon is thought to be a cross between a common lemon and a mandarin orange. The juice is good, too, slightly less biting and acidic than common lemon juice, but it’s that tender, aromatic peel that steals the show, hands down. Whenever I get my hands on a Meyer lemon, I immediately take a paring knife and gently peel off all of the skin. I put the slivers of skin in a glass jar and store it in the refrigerator. I then use the juice of the lemon in cooking, or in a homemade cocktail — seriously, try putting some Meyer lemon juice in a Screwdriver or a Cosmopolitan, or just about any other fruity mixed drink and you will experience magical new dimensions in flavor.

Meyer lemon peel adds a bright note to any green vegetable.

Meyer lemon peel adds a bright note to any green vegetable.

I then turn to the jar of peel whenever I am cooking greens, zucchini, broccoli, potatoes, or anything that could use a brighter note. I finely chop a piece of peel and add it to the dish at the very end to avoid cooking away the delicate, fruity, floral notes of the Meyer lemon peel. Most recently, I cooked up some kale and Swiss chard from my garden, and then I dressed it with aromatic olive oil, salt, pepper, and Meyer lemon peel. Yes, I would like some seconds! Oh, thank goodness I have a whole jar of peel! 

A marinade for all seasons makes a meal all that more special.

A Marinade for All Seasons

It’s good to have go-to recipes in your arsenal. Stuff you know how to whip up without exhaustive reading and recipe adherence. For me, one of my main go-to recipes is this marinade. I use this for beef, chicken, tofu, fish, vegetables. As with all of my “For All Seasons” recipes, once you have the basic formula down pat, you can riff endlessly off of this, creating delicious variations until the cows come home. Continue reading