Fermentation Festival Comes to Portland


I realized this week that I’m not alone in my fermentation fetish.  Being a fan of Sandor Katz, I received an email from him detailing his whereabouts and I was excited to discover that not only was he coming to Portland, but there was a whole free festival centered around fermentation and community.  I don’t think the event planners realized how big of a turnout it was going to be and neither did I.  I only know a few people who are interested in fermenting and the rest of my friends just consider it part of my quirkiness.  But the funny thing, it’s not weird and out there, it’s the way things used to be.  Eating used to center on preserving the harvest and making food last.  So many cultures have fermenting and culturing as a base of their food history and as the world gets more Westernized, there is a fear of it’s loss for not only history’s sake but for our health as well.  I won’t wax on regarding the health benefits of fermented foods but in a nutshell, it’s proven to support the immune system, aid in digestion and creates a conscious bond with our food and in doing so, our place on earth.


The festival only lasted 2 hours but it was a crowded one.  Luckily this type of community was as excited as me and patient enough to wade through the masses of people to sample each other’s ferments and chat a bit.  I do wish it was a little less crowded or in a bigger venue because I would have liked more time to talk to the people sharing their home ferments but I felt like once I grabbed a sample, I had to keep moving through the room.  There was a lot of kefir, sauerkraut and kombucha to sample and I got to try a few new things as well.  I tried an Earl Grey Kombucha which was divine and now I feel inspired to branch out with my kombucha batches.  I’ve been doing solely green and Oolong bases and adding in some fruit simple syrups for the second ferment.  I think this event was eye opening because fermenting is very personal and it was great to see people making their own variations, like a batch of sauerkraut that had grated fresh turmeric root in it, making it a bright yellow.  The tastiest kefir I had was a pina colada kefir, which must have been a coconut water kefir with pineapple juice.  It was refreshing and delicious and a nice way to introduce culturing to the general population.


The extreme end of the introduction spectrum was the natto,  which is soybeans fermented with a bacteria called Bacillus subtilis. I had only heard of natto and how gross it is.  I considered buying the bacteria when I stocked up on tempeh starter but was scared of natto and this business of refined palates and obscure Japanese flavors.  Well, I am proud to admit that I tried it and it wasn’t as disgusting as I anticipated.  It was sort of nutty in flavor and phlegmy in texture.  They served it on nori, which I didn’t like but I think it would be good in fried rice or mixed with other things.  Perhaps natto will make it on my list of things to make at home, but I know I’m not in a rush to make it.  My current fermenting counter space is relegated to sour dill pickles, which I’m really excited about.  A friend from college was making them last time I visited her and I got to try them and they were delicious.  I love the idea that it’s just cucumbers, salt and water and time does the rest.  Expect an upcoming post and photos of my sour adventures.


The highlight of the festival was getting to meet Sandor, who was so sweet and nice.  He seemed a little overwhelmed with the crowd but he definitely took time to talk to people and answer questions.  I was worried about the amount of surface mold on my pickle crock and he gave me the reassurance that I needed.  He brought a crock of “kraut-chi” to share and I was lucky enough to try a bite before it ran out.  It had cabbage, okra, peppers, mung sprouts, Nasturtium and more.  It was the ultimate example that you can ferment anything!  There were some home brews there as well, which were fun to try.  There was a spruce ale, a local wine and hard cider (which ran out before I got to try it).  Other highlights included a fruit kimchi, gingered carrots and brined garlic.  It was a fun time and I can’t wait for more fermenting events because it was obvious that this city is ripe and ready for it.  I am not alone!

A saucy evening: Quick Tomato Sauce Recipe

Lazy Italian Dinner: Fried Dough, sauce & Almesan

I am addicted to cookbooks. I love trying new recipes and write in the margins any changes I make. I even have my own rating system. But I don’t follow other people’s recipes for sauce since I am Italian.  I can’t share my grandma’s secret recipe, but I have developed my own favorite which is quick and easy and tastes better than anything in a jar.  And it’s mucho cheaper than jarred sauces and you can choose whether or not you want high fructose corn syrup in it or not.  I like to make sauce when tomatoes are ripe, but since that limits me to one week out of the year in Oregon, I settle for canned tomatoes which doesn’t feel like settling at all in my eyes. Canned tomatoes are far superior than any winter supermarket greenhouse gassed globe that is called a tomato. The nice thing about canned tomatoes is that they are harvested and processed when they are at their peak so your sauce will have flavor and not taste like crap.

I have the recipe below but please remember that it does change depending on what I have in my fridge and how much time I have. I prefer to simmer my sauce 30 minutes but if my stomach is rumbling 15 will do the job, which is usually when the pasta is done cooking. I like my flavors to be simple: garlic, oregano and parsely. But feel free to experiment and add marjoram, onions, mushrooms, kale…you get the picture. I tend to add only enough juice from the can to make it the consistency that I like. I hate watery sauce and you should too. I have no idea how much salt I use, probably more than you want to know. I would go easy and keep tasting the sauce until the flavor pops out. I wish I could be more helpful with the salting but I can’t. Ask your grandma to taste your sauce and she’ll know if it needs more salt. Some people add some red wine vinegar to their sauce but I think tomatoes are acidic enough and do without that step.

Finished tomato sauce

Quick and Easy Tomato Sauce

Yield: 1 quart of sauce (enough for 4 pasta servings or a lot of pizza)


  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 5-8 cloves garlic, minced (I like garlic)
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 – 28 oz cans plum/Roma tomatoes (the Muir Glen Fire Roasted are awesome)
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • sea salt to taste
  • (optional) a handful chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
  • (optional) a handful chopped fresh basil leaves


  1. Heat oil in a large saute pan over medium high heat.
  2. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and saute for 30 seconds or until the garlic starts to become golden.
  3. Add tomatoes, (if whole, crush with your hands) and oregano and stir.
  4. Lower heat to medium low and simmer for 15 minutes.
  5. Add parsley and basil and simmer for 5 minutes more.
  6. Place 1/3 to ½ of the sauce (depending on your own personal desires) in a blender and puree. Return pureed sauce to saute pan and stir to combine.
  7. Cool sauce and store in an airtight container for up to a week or 3 months in the freezer.

Veggie Garden

Fava Beans

A garden’s first year is always filled with trial and error. I converted a patch of weeds in my backyard this spring into our garden. There were a lot of onions in the ground but I’m not sure what kind or if they were even edible. There were a lot of weeds and a few things worth keeping: frog belly plants and shasta daisies. Everything else went. I decided not to rent a tiller this year and do it all by hand. Luckily it’s not a big space so it only took a day to weed and bury the compost (it’s not fully composted) and put new fresh compost and peat moss on top. I always have high expectations for my garden but this year will be a good lesson in patience for me. So far, my fava beans are the shining stars in the garden with the leeks. I also am growing peas (slow moving), carrots, chiogga beets (still in the ground), kale (starting to get ravaged by some insect), bok choy (de-leafed by something, don’t think it’s going to make it), salad greens and rhubarb. This week I’ll be putting some beans, squash and cucumbers in the ground now that the soil is warm enough. I love growing food; I find it very satisfying (the process and the harvest). Obviously growing up with a gigantic vegetable garden tended by meticulous parents set some groundwork for my desires for food in the backyard. I’m trying to grow more NW crops this year, as my attempts to grow my favorites from my parents CT garden didn’t do so well out here in my first garden in Seattle. We just don’t get those hot humid days that nightshades like! So I’ve given up on tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, okra and soybeans. At least for this year. I’m excited to grow a lot of beans for drying for winter stews. My main bean is going to be cranberry beans because they dry well but they also cook up in about 30 minutes fresh. No crock pot beans this summer!

Sprouts for All

Fenugreek, Puy Lentils, Alfalfa

I don’t remember how young I was when I started sprouting but when I moved out of my parents’ house, the sprouting trays came with me.  My earliest memory is interviewing my elementary school principal for the school newspaper (was I 8? 9?) and on his desk was a mason jar full of alfalfa sprouts.  I remember being so fascinated that he was growing food in his office.  The nice thing about sprouts is that you can do it anytime of year, but spring tends to remind me to sprout more often.  Especially when my peas have just sprouted in the garden, I remember to keep on sprouting in the kitchen. Sprouting is extremely easy and anyone can (and should) do it. Store-bought sprouts are expensive and have less nutrients than freshly sprouted seeds from your counter top. Plus you have a variety of sprouts to choose from at home, unlike the salmonella ridden alfalfa and mung in the cooler section.

Sprouting is not rocket science, yet people are always amazed that I have a tray of sprouts at any given time. It is a natural process, the germination of a seed to become a plant. Sprouts, though tiny, are nutritional powerhouses. Different seeds contain different properties but as a whole they provide antioxidants (anti-aging), phytochemicals (disease prevention) and are high in bio-photons (meaning a high energy life force, read anything about raw diets and this can be described further). So, chlorophyll, vitamins, minerals and protein all in an easy to digest crunchy sprout. I can continue describing how healthy they are, but doesn’t the world already know? Let’s discuss how easy it is to make…at home.


For any plant to grow, we need a seed, moisture and eventually sunlight. For sprouting purposes, please buy organic because you don’t want pesticides concentrated in a sprout to enter your body. The best place (and most affordable) to get seeds for sprouting is the bulk section of a grocery store or natural foods market. Then you can buy a tiny bit and see how it goes.  Some bulk areas sell sprouting “mixes” which are a mix of seeds but I think it’s overpriced and the simple fact that not all seeds sprout in the same time period, I would rather buy them and sprout them individually and mix later when they are all at their peak.   Sprouting is not an expensive investment.  I think it’s even one of the most affordable food sources in relation to nutrition.  Most seeds, beans/legumes and grains are sprout-able. Wheat berries sprouted become wheat grass. Lentils tend to be my favorite legume to sprout because they have a mild taste but great crunch. Alfalfa is the most well known sprout and is the most versatile. Radish seeds are nice and spicy and are a favorite of mine as well as fenugreek. I’m not crazy about buckwheat but that’s because I’m too lazy to remove the hull before eating so it’s sort of a rough texture. The list goes on and on…but it’s time to talk about the process.

My sprout trays

I have lovely sprouting trays that have indentations on the bottom and all I do is fill the tray and it has it’s own draining system, leaving behind just enough water to keep the seeds moist to sprout. I’ve seen larger versions of mine as well as a whole plethora of other sprouting systems. The easiest method with materials that everyone around the world can access is the old glass jar with cheesecloth tied to the top. Each seed has it’s own ideal soaking time for sprouting but honestly if you don’t soak it long enough there’s a good chance it will still sprout.


The method with the jar is easy: Soak seed in water. I use about a tablespoon of sprouting matter per tray. In a quart mason jar I would also put about a tablespoon, or enough to make a thin layer of seeds along the side. The last thing you want is too many seeds becoming a rotting, stinking mess. Drain off water, rinse and drain well. Place cheesecloth (or linen or whatever) over the top, secure with rubber band and store jar on it’s side (just in case there’s too much water left behind the seeds won’t rot in it). At least twice a day, fill jar with water and drain. You might not even need to take off the cheesecloth, just turn it upside down over the sink to drain. Within a few days to a week (depending on temperature/humidity) you will have lovely sprouts. You can eat them once a little tail has grown or give them more time to develop it’s first leaves; it’s up to you. Before storing, I give them a final rinse (some people like to rinse off the hulls but I’m lazy and don’t mind the extra fiber) and put them in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.

Salads are better with sprouts

Remember, sprouts don’t have to be boring. Most people thing their only place is on salads but you can throw some on top of a stir-fry before eating, add to sandwiches, even soups. I’ve been throwing mine in my smoothies lately with good results. Here’s a list of sprouts, soak time and my comments for your convenience.

  • Alfalfa (neutral flavor, not too crunchy): I honestly don’t soak these but I’ve heard 1-6 hours. They will sprout in a day or two.
  • Quinoa (similar in taste/texture to alfalfa, perhaps a bit less crunchy): Soak 2 hours.
  • Lentils (my favorite! Nutty, crunchy and a little bit spicy): Soak 8 hours  Red, green, yellow, French.  They are all good.
  • Radish seeds (spicy little sprouts): I don’t soak them but you can do 2 hours if it makes you feel better.
  • Fenugreek (smells like curry, great crunch, moderate spice): Soak overnight to 12 hours
  • Wheat and Spelt Berries (great at any stage, more chewy than crunchy): Soak overnight to 12 hours
  • Mung Beans (neutral flavor, great crunch): Soak overnight to 10 hours.  I can’t get mine to look like the store ones, I think you need to keep them out of the light completely.
  • Buckwheat (the hull can be papery.  I prefer to soak and dehydrate buckwheat for granola instead of sprouting.  Don’t use Kasha, I think it’s already cooked.  I haven’t tried hulled buckwheat):  Soak 30 minutes.
  • Clover (similar to alfalfa, but more “delicate” tasting): I don’t soak but my guide says 6 hours.
  • Chia (is a disaster.  It becomes a gelatinous mess like flax does).  I soak chia overnight and throw the whole thing in a smoothie.  I have not experiemented further.  It clogs up my sprouting trays.
  • Flax: same as chia, but I don’t sprout it.  I prefer it just ground and added to smoothies or in baking.
  • Broccoli Seeds (great for salad, small sprout, neutral taste): Soak overnight
  • Chickpeas (are fun to sprout.  Raw hummus!)  Soak 48 hours.
  • Peas (fresh and crunchy) Soak overnight to 12 hours.

This is only a partial list of what I have sprouted.  I think the best compilation of a sprouting guide is in Vegan World Fusion, which has a lot of recipes that uses sprouts or soaked things if you want to enjoy some delicious raw food.

Vegan Pierogis, hooray!

Sauerkraut and mushroom pierogis

I grew up eating pierogis. I’m not picky about them. I love my grandma’s the best but I am happy to eat any pierogi I can get my lips around. My favorite pierogi was always the potato and farmer’s cheese but I’m finding that I now have a special place in my heart for mushroom cabbage pierogi. It’s a really nice flavor combo and when I recently made pierogis I didn’t have cabbage but a ton of sauerkraut. Yay! Sauerkraut is even healthier and tastes awesome with mushrooms (this time I had portabellos on hand which made it extra fancy). The dough is from Isa’s new upcoming Brunch Book, which is awesome and everyone should buy it. Now. Pre-orders are allowed. This woman veganized pierogi dough and it’s every bit as luscious as non-vegan dough. Just when I think I can’t get more impressed with her skills, she makes pierogis available to the masses. The dough was easy to make and I ran out of ap flour and ended up making a second batch of dough (because they are so good) with half whole wheat flour. With the whole wheat flour it was a little harder to roll out and a little less tender but still delicious covered with caramelized onions. If you are serving these to omnivores that have had pierogis before, use AP! Only weirdos like me will accept and devour the whole wheat ones.

Gravy for Breakfast

Tofu Scramble

I made it all the way to the North Quadrant with some friends recently to check out the famed Gravy. The wait was long and their area to wait fits 4 comfortably. We were mostly outside braving the windy day. When we finally sat down to order I was a little shocked at how expensive it is to eat here. The place is always crowded and it’s a quick turnover, so obviously the cost isn’t keeping people away. I’m still amazed at how much people are willing to pay for breakfast, the most inexpensive meal of the day…but it is fun to have breakfast with your friends when you are past the age of slumber parties but still miss sharing that hazy morning feeling while eating a plate of grease. I grew up in the land of the diners where my norm was 2 eggs, homefries and rye toast for a price well under $5. Seeing the same thing in Portland for close to $10 I can’t justify ordering that dish so I’ve been enjoying trying out the vegan options that most eateries offer. I’d love to do a biscuits and gravy roundup but most places don’t offer vegan biscuits let alone vegetarian gravy but I digress.

I orderd the tofu scramble and customized it myself with mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, vegan sausage and fake cheese. I got the hash browns which looked so good on everyone’s plate. I thought my meal was good but not anything wonderful. It was pricey but the serving size was monstrous. I got 3 meals out of that plate so the price worked out to be a good deal. The mushrooms were cooked well and the tofu was crumbled and seasoned nicely. I wasn’t impressed by the cheese and have pretty much given up on fake cheese. I think it would have been better without the random rubbery strands in my scramble. I was honestly disappointed by the hash browns. The ratio of crunchy to mushy was not close at all. I like the Waffle House hash browns where it’s mostly crispy bits of potatoes but at Gravy it was the opposite. I just don’t like the texture of the inside of a hash brown.

Vegetarian B & G

The vegetarian biscuits and gravy were good. Not amazing, but I am VERY picky about my biscuits and gravy. So far the only b & g that I would eat again and again are the biscuits and white bean gravy in the Vegan with a Vengeance cookbook. I find that most places when making a vegan gravy load up on the flour and oil and it just tastes like a roux. Gravy’s gravy was not the case but it was unique on it’s own. They throw a mismosh of vegetables (kale, peppers, mushrooms) which is nice to get some veggies with breakfast but it felt out of place. I want sausage or tempeh or mushrooms. Earthy, hearty flavors that make winter bearable. Carrots? No thanks. The gravy had a good consistency and was seasoned well. And it was an amazing ratio of gravy to biscuits. It was perfect, gravy for every last bite of biscuit. But I just didn’t love the gravy. The texture of the biscuits was great, but I don’t think it’s too hard to make a vegetarian biscuit with all that access to buttermilk and crisco. I want to see an awesome vegan biscuit offered somewhere other than my kitchen.

Oatmeal Brulee

A friend ordered the oatmeal brulee which she adored. Who wouldn’t love caramelized sugar on top of oatmeal? She could only eat half of the bowl, as is the case with oatmeal. The fruit ratio in the oatmeal was a little lacking but she was happy and full with no complaints. I hate to be a complainer or a picky eater but I have my opinion and here it is. Overall, their food is great and the dishes are interesting (I still want to try the sweet potato pancakes) but I wouldn’t order the scramble or the b &g again. With all the breakfast/bruncheries in town, I wouldn’t rush back to Gravy due to their long wait line and cost. The atmosphere was cheery but the door was open most of the time, causing an intense cold draft that made dining uncomfortable.

Anyone ever heard of Grainaissance?

Decadance without the sugar

I sure haven’t but their drinks are amazing. It’s not all watery like rice milk is which has always disappointed me. I’m not looking to drink cream, but this “shake” is extremely satisfying to consume. Apparently Grainaissance has been around since 1979 and operates out of California but the thing I love the most about this drink is not that it is free of corn syrup, refined sugar or even cane sugar. It’s the pure fact that there’s no added sugar at all! This magical concoction is brown rice…fermented! So the sweetness comes from the carbohydrates in the rice being broken down by Koji, which is the same stuff (correct me if I’m wrong) used to make sake. But this tastes much better than sake and for something with such simple ingredients and feels so pure and unrefined, I’m impressed that it tastes so good and not all granola-y like some brands of hemp milk out there (Living Harvest excluded-they are the only ones that make hemp milk right). So I suggest trying one next time you have a sugar craving. I feel an at-home experiment coming on…

Love for Get it Ripe and her Raw Pudding

Smooth and creamy, with all the fat

I recently couldn’t wait anymore. I wasn’t sure what I was waiting for, time to go through other cookbooks, a birthday, pure procrastination? I gave into temptation and bought Get it Ripe and I am really enjoying it. I had to have it because Jae sounds just like me. Or who I think I am. She knows how to grow food, cook food and is a holistic nutrionist (the latter of which I am not, but I am fascinated with nutrition). The first half of the book is nutrition and advice and information about veganism and she talks in such a non-judgemental manner that it’s a pleasure to read (although being yelled at by the Skinny Bitch girls made me laugh). The second half of the book is recipes that I look forward to making. I have a number of cookbooks for different reasons, like VWAV is my comfort food book. I’m not sure where Get it Ripe stands yet but it’s definitely winning a place in my heart. The Southern Bowl dish with chipotle black eyed peas and maple mashed sweet potatoes made me swoon. The raw pudding was a fun adventure. My only advice is to get an avocado that is ripe, NOT overripe. My pudding had great texture and flavor but the old avocado aftertaste was not cool.

Hummus Among Us

Party food

I’m not much of a hummus maker or eater (gasp!). Although I do enjoy hummus and the many variations that it can inspire, I find that when I make it I’ll eat it once and it will invariably rot in the back of my fridge. It’s definitely a snack food or sandwich spread, which leads us to the fact that I am not a snacker or much of a sandwich maker. Perhaps when I have kids I’ll get into the hummus groove since those creatures eat so much. But I did make the pictured hummus. We’ve got the peanut sesame hummus from ED&BV and it’s unbelievably amazing. Well, I could believe it because you can’t go wrong with the flavor combos. The creepy looking one in the back in an improvised white bean garlic rosemary hummus with tahini, lemon juice and salt. Pretty basic but the roasted garlic gave it a nice smoothness to contrast the woodsy rosemary. Making homemade hummus is easy and fast (if you have canned beans) and is always welcomed at parties. At least the ones that I attend.

Burgerville has impressed me

Fast food with no shortcuts

I ate fast food. Granted I had a coupon from the Chinook Book for a 2 for 1 veggie burger, so like most good girls exposed to a Depression-era mindset from their grandparents, I used my coupon. Expecting a generic veggie burger mass produced and lacking flavor, I was shocked and impressed. Burgerville is what fast food should be. They are only located in Oregon and Washington and have a huge emphasis on local products and a lot of menu items change due to the seasonality of food available. After ordering the “Harvest Burger,” I asked the cashier (who was also the manager) if the burgers were vegan. Expecting a laugh or sneer or pure indifference, I was greeted with a big smile and “Yes, and they’ll be soy-free in a few months as well.” What rabbit hole had I fallen into? I was also treated to a story about how they used to source Gardenburgers but there was a scandal last May and now they are sourcing their veggie burgers from a Lake Oswego (local) company and it’s full of rice, beans and veggies. Hooray for a chain supporting the local economy and providing a higher quality meat-free option! It’s served on a bun with all the fixings and to get it vegan just ask them to hold the mayo. I was even more impressed because it was served with a fresh leaf of Romaine lettuce and the bun was toasted. I can now say good-bye to my teenage years of ordering cheeseburgers at McD’s without the meat and extra pickles.

Local veggie burger

They also offer local sweet onion rings and the milkshakes change with the season as well. I wish they would offer vegan milkshakes because the dairy ones are more than a meal. I can’t imagine how many calories are in them, but they are delicious, even if my stomach disagrees.

Other veg*n menu items that I have not tried: Spicy Anasazi Bean burger (contains egg whites, comes with chipotle mayo), apple slices, fries, salad (comes with cheese, I’m sure they make it to order), sweet potato fries, walla walla onion rings (not sure what’s in the batter, I’ll ask at the next visit), Yukon Gold fries. And there will be a next time, since I have another coupon!

Edited to update that both the Harvest Burger and Anasazi Burger are vegan AND gluten-free AND soy-free.  I contacted the burger makers (Chez Gourmet) and received the ingredients and nutritional info.  Possible allergens: potato starch and yeast extract.