Hi, I’m Elka!

I’ve spent the last few decades doing all of my baking of the family’s breads, cakes, and pies in a rustic, solar-powered kitchen with a hundred year old woodstove. Standing at my porcelain sink, I gaze at a river flowing beneath ancient volcanic cliffs. Ravens preen in a nearby crag. Skunks waddle up to greet me at the compost pile. Besides baking and my usual days full of tending, I’ve been harvesting wild greens and acorns, canning preserves, and doing some teaching too. I also love to slow down for tea time, any time of day!

Recently I’ve also become a student of our handmade horno (an outdoor wood-fired bread oven made of clay) and been reveling in the joys of our (fairly) new outdoor kitchen. I love to bake, stir, chop, and wash dishes with the wind on my face and my feet on the earth. I love cooking with fire, with rain drumming on the tin roof above me! And several of the wild plants that I harvest grow only a few steps away from the stove! 

For me, cooking with wild foods is not an occasional hobby, it’s an everyday part of my life. The plants and other foods I use the most grow all around me, and are mostly very common weeds. Every single week foods like stinging nettles, lamb’s quarters, dock, grape leaves, and london rocket mustard make up about half of our vegetable consumption. In the colder months, we cook with frozen, pickled and dried greens we put up whenever they’re plentiful. We try to use and shell at least a few pounds of acorns every month, and incorporate them into everything from tea to breads, butter, stir-fries, chocolate desserts and gnocchi.

My greatest cooking influences are my beloved family members, with all their very distinct tastes and preferences, as well as my own. I tend to gravitate towards things involving butter, interesting cheeses, lemons, bell peppers & chiles, rosemary, figs, masa, parsnips and olives.  I’m an enthusiastic eater (to say the least), and one of those people who can be easy to please… if you know what I like, that is! It’s my theory that a lot of folks are similar in this way.  I often love to quiz new acquaintances about their particular likes and dislikes before I attempt to feed them.

I’ve been fascinated by cookbooks for many years. But, not just any cookbook. Among my favorites are old epicurean texts, Pelligrino Artusi’s The Art of Eating, James Beard’s American Cooking, Patience Gray’s Honey From a Weed, Ed Brown’s Tassajara books, Magnus Nilsson’s Faaviken, Paula Wolfert’s The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean, Rick Bayless, Viana La Place’s Unplugged Kitchen, Richard Sax’s Classic Home Desserts, Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem, and Claudia Roden’s The History of Jewish Food.

I love gathering inspirations from all over the world as well as this country– especially the cuisines of New Mexico and Mexico, the rural Southeast, the Eastern Mediterranean, Russia & Ukraine, and the Celtic and Nordic cultures. I’m especially interested in cultures with rich traditions in food preservation, and in the use of wild foods, root vegetables, cured meats, beans, legumes and grains. Of course there is practically no food these days that doesn’t come with a health warning or ethical problem attached to it, but eating these foods helps us to keep our diet as varied as possible here in our rather hermit-ized lifestyle– miles away from our nearest neighbors, seven river crossings from the nearest road, and many miles from the nearest whole foods or ethnic foods store.

I’ve been writing a cookbook now for close to twenty years, and really and truly it is officially “almost finished”! 🙂 Talk about a labor of love!

In this blog I would like to give you a taste of the foods that give our family comfort, as well as sustenance, entertainment, and inspiration. Every day foods, real foods. Traditional foods, with my own personal twist, or maybe one suggested by a family member. I also love trying and figuring out new gluten free recipes and dealing with other dietary limitations creatively. But most of all, I love creating foods that taste like “Home, Sweet Home” in every single bite. 

You don’t have to live in an enchanted canyon, far away from the rest of the world and all its shiny markets, to have an enchanted kitchen. All it takes is some time spent putting love and attention into everything you chop, stir and touch…and truly caring about your ingredients, and whomever you’re feeding. Wherever you are, even if your kitchen is a camp stove in the middle of a parking lot, and the only person you’re feeding is yourself.

May you be nourished!

Thanks for stopping by!

Love, Elka

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7 thoughts on “Welcome to Our Kitchen!

  1. I am so excited to have found this wonderful blog ~~ reading this one is truly inspiring and is getting me excited anew to trying out different foods (we all get into our ruts!). I would LOVE to see some PHOTOS of your kitchen and you standing at that porcelain sink, it would add so much to reading about it. Hugs!

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      1. I am glad that I can actually inspire you, the kitchen diva extraordinaire! Thank you for reading the comments and taking the time to respond, and with so much kindness!

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  2. I have a question about fermenting/yogurt making re: the ‘room temperature’ instructions so many cookbooks make, what is considered optimal room temperature? I live in a very summertime hot and humid state and hate to use the air conditioning too much, am afraid that bad bacterias will take over any pickling or kraut or yogurt, how do you make sure that your cultured foods are totally safe once done?

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    1. Temperature needs for pickling and yogurt are different. Yogurt must be kept at about 110 degrees for, usually, 4-6 hours. I describe my method to accomplish this in my post on Cream Yogurt. For sauerkraut or cucumber pickles, kimchi, etc. an ideal kitchen temperature would probably be about 75 degrees, but I’ve made kraut and pickles in a warmer kitchen than that with no problem. I would venture to guess that if your indoor kitchen temp gets really hot, though, like in the high 80s or 90s or above that you might have fermentation get a little too out of hand. Sandor Katz, my fermentation hero, suggests using a little extra salt if your kitchen is hot in the summer, or putting your kraut, etc. in a cooler spot like in the doorway of a cellar. I have a pantry that stays cooler than the actual kitchen that I move my kraut to as soon as it starts to get bubbly, then let it ferment there for at least another few days before I move it to the fridge. The presence of salt and other good-for-you bacterias impedes the growth of harmful bacteria. Mr. Katz says he has never heard of anyone getting food poisoning from fermented foods. This doesn’t mean it’s impossible, but highly unlikely. In my experience, even if I’ve inadvertently let something get too sour by leaving it in a warm kitchen too long, it can still be usable. If there’s mold on the surface, or a layer of mushy stuff at the top of the jar or container, I just scrape it off, and rinse the kraut in fresh water. If it tastes fine after rinsing I just use it normally. If it tastes ok, but just slightly odd, then I use it in something cooked. Too-sour kraut (within reason, of course) is great cooked into lentil soup, or stir-fried with some onion, balsamic vinegar, and a smidge of brown sugar.

      As to telling if your yogurt is safe to eat– as long as it’s gotten cultured (thick), it’s safe! Even if it finishes culturing while you’re asleep and the water it’s been sitting in is no longer warm, it’s fine. Just put it in the fridge and it will get even thicker. Scalding the milk/cream before culturing it will kill any bacteria that might want to compete with the yogurt culture, although it’s not strictly necessary to scald it if your milk/cream is fresh and been handled properly. I mostly scald mine because I like how it makes the yogurt thicker.

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