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Real Food
Savor the flavors of everyday real food, fresh from the garden or stored on your pantry shelves.

Dried Mushroom Primer and a Chicken Recipe


Dried mushrooms are a cook’s friend when there’s no time or ability to go grocery shopping for fresh mushrooms. I have kept dried mushrooms as long as10 years without a worry of food spoilage. Not that I’d recommend keeping them that long, but I got carried away and bought two pounds once and they lasted me much longer than I thought possible. That was in part to me gifting some of them to my mother-in-law who re-gifted them back to me 9 years later. The mushrooms were still dry and delicious.

Dried mushrooms come in many varieties. My favorite are chanterelles, Maitake, porcini, and portabella. The flavor of dried mushrooms is a bit stronger than fresh mushrooms and are best suited for soups, stews, and sauces. I’ve also ground up dried mushrooms in a spice grinder and incorporated them in homemade pasta with excellent results.

Full of Vitamin D

Mushrooms, both fresh and dried, are an excellent source of vitamin D and potassium. At a mushroom talk at Phillips Mushrooms in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania I learned that if you take fresh shitake mushrooms and place them gills up in the sun, the amount of vitamin D increases significantly. What a tasty way to get a dose of vitamin D!

Using dried mushrooms couldn’t be easier. In most cases it’s best to soak them in water or wine for around ten minutes before using. If your dried mushrooms are raised at an indoor farm, you don’t have to be concerned about grit in them.

If they were wild mushrooms growing in the forest or field before being dried, you still need to soak them, then after 10 minutes give them a gentle stir to let the grit settle on the bottom. Next, take a fork, or slotted spoon to remove the mushrooms, leaving the grit on the bottom of the bowl you soaked them in. Use all but the bottom of portion of the mushroom liquid to add flavor to your dish.

Where to Buy

Dried mushrooms were once a rarity in stores, but nowadays, I see them in most grocery stores I shop at. If you can’t get them at your local grocery store, consider ordering them online. They are easy to ship and very lightweight.

An ounce of dried mushroom typically will cost about $7 to $10 plus shipping costs. I get almost all of my dried mushrooms from Phillips Mushrooms, the largest purveyor of specialty mushrooms in the United States. In the past I’ve also bought from Oregon Mushrooms, but that was when I had to order dried mushrooms online.

Melissa’s dried mushrooms are in some grocery stores throughout the US for another source. All three of these suppliers have a large selection of dried mushrooms but Philips and Oregon Mushrooms have medicinal mushrooms as well.

I like using dried mushrooms for slow cooker recipes like this lamb version I posted on my food blog in 2013. Chicken, pork, beef, and lamb all work well with dried mushrooms as long as there is a significant amount of liquid in the recipe. Another favorite way to use dried mushrooms is in Chinese hot and sour soup, which uses shitake. Cooking with dried mushrooms is usually a low-fat method as they don’t need the butter or oils used often in the cooking of fresh mushrooms.

For confident or beginner cooks, try this delicious and easy chicken and mushroom soup recipe to get started using dried mushrooms. This recipe also works well with pork chops if desired. The prep time is about 15 minutes and cooking time one hour.

Baked chicken with dried mushrooms


  • ½ ounce dried mushrooms
  • 1/3 cup dry red wine-merlot, cab franc, syrah, or similar
  • One 10.5 ounce can Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup
  • 2 T half and half, whole milk, 2% milk, or almond milk
  • ¼ t dried thyme
  • ¼ t onion powder
  • ¼-1/2 t garlic powder
  • ¼ t ground white or black pepper
  • Pinch of saffron
  • 2 pounds chicken legs, or thighs


1. Break dried mushrooms into dime-sized pieces and place in a small bowl.

2. Add red wine to dried mushrooms and let soak for 10-15 minutes.

3. In a medium sized mixing bowl add mushroom soup, half and half, thyme, onion powder, garlic powder, pepper, and saffron. Mix well with a spoon and set aside.

4. Pat chicken legs dry with paper towel and place in a baking dish. I like to use a Le Cruset cast iron or a ceramic baking dish.

5. Add red wine-soaked mushrooms to mushroom soup mix and stir to combine ingredients.

6. Pour mushroom mixture over chicken and coat each piece with the sauce mix.

7. Cover and bake for 60 minutes or until internal temperature of chicken leg reaches 165 degrees.

Serves 2-4

Note: I recommend serving mashed potatoes, baked potatoes, or sweet potatoes with this dish.

Kurt Jacobsohas been a chef for 40 years and, after being schooled in the U.S. Coast Guard, he trained in many restaurants under both kind and maniac chefs. Kurt is starting his seventh year of container and raised-bed organic gardening in his backyard. For this and other published stories, check out his travel blog, Read all of Kurt's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts.

Chili Recipe for a Quick Meal made with Homegrown Produce

Simply Organic Chili

Everything my husband, John Ivanko, and son, Liam, have been doing for the last two decades has prepared us for now. We know millions of Mother Earth News readers have been on the same path, with sustainability, self-reliance, a focus on the local economy, community networking and many other facets of homesteading. From steps we took to build up our emergency preparedness to completely powering our homestead with solar energy and meeting nearly 90-percent of our food needs from what we grow on our farm, we’ve prioritized health, the environment, small business, and following our passions that are in various ways captured in our books and Mother Earth News articles that we’ve authored over the years.

But we’re always learning more, trying something new, making new connections, and, as of late, using the abundance of time -- resulting from the covid-19 pandemic lockdown -- to try new recipes, make cheese for the first time, and clear out barns and sheds to recycle scrap metal and get paid a little for doing so. While knocking out a much more involved batch of buttery croissants (another first), we discovered that eating simple meals with homegrown, organic ingredients has just been made simpler, with Simply Organic seasoning mixes, marinades and simmer sauces.

Simply Organic, an all-organic brand from Frontier Co-op, offers an extensive selection of certified organic mixes and simmer sauces as well as spices and seasonings. Since 1976, the Iowa-based Frontier Co-op has been operating as a cooperatively owned wholesaler of natural and organic products. Among the dishes we savored on our front porch for our daily family dinner was chili made with the Simply Organic Chili Mix, the recipe for which is found below.

We sourced the organic hamburger for this recipe from the pasture-raised beef operation of Brattset Family Farm, a 290-acre grass-based grazing farm, located within the rolling drumlin fields of Southeastern Wisconsin. Brattset Family Farm produces 100-percent grass fed and finished beef, certified organic and Animal Welfare Approved. Like many homesteaders, we’ve cultivated strong connections to other farmers to supply us with what we don’t grow or raise ourselves, including eggs, pork, broilers and beef. Homestead resilience thrives when local networks are abundant and strong.

We’re also flying through our frozen vegetables from last year’s harvest, thanks to Simple Organic madras curry, coconut curry, Korean barbeque and tikka masala simmer sauces. We just defrost, strain or drain, dice and cube and then simmer our vegetables with the flavorful sauces. Given our busy growing season, Simply Organic products let us turn out quick, tasty meals.  We used some of our frozen onions and peppers for the chili recipe.

Additionally, our family has tapped into the booming local food hub movement as restaurants and food distributors reinvent themselves during the coronavirus pandemic. For some fresh produce while we wait to harvest our first crop of asparagus, we’ve ordered organic boxes of fresh produce, delivered directly to our farmhouse, from Parrfection Produce’s Driftless Direct. Instead of idling their farm and food distribution warehouse when demand was largely cut off by the Wisconsin Governor Evers’ “safer at home” declaration that shuttered many restaurants, Parrfection Produce launched Driftless Direct to supply families with fresh produce. For over a week, we enjoyed their organic beets, gold and fingerling potatoes, gala apples, spaghetti squash and sweet potatoes that came in the box delivered to our doorstep. We turned an add-on order from Driftless Direct of two avocados into a quick and delicious guacamole with Simple Organic’s Guacamole Mix Sauce.

We continue to prepare for a protracted economic decline resulting from coronavirus, welcoming the opportunity, when the time comes, to help transform what the new normal could be: localized, community-centric, decentralized, sustainable, organic, small-business-focused, green and solar powered. We hope that the mounting debt will not be our nation’s undoing. Meanwhile, we’ll keep savoring family meals on our front porch, discussing the next big challenge on the horizon: climate change.

Simply Organic Simple Chili Recipe

Servings: 4


  • 1 can (15 ounce) pinto, adzuki or kidney beans
  • ½ cup yellow onion, diced
  • ½ cup bell pepper, diced
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 package Simply Organic Mild Chili Seasoning Mix
  • 1 can (15 ounce) diced tomatoes


1.  Cook beans, drain and set aside in a bowl.

2.  In a large saucepan, saute onions and peppers until soft, set aside in bowl.

3.  In a large saucepan, thoroughly cook ground beef. Drain, returning beef to pan.

4.  Add cooked onion and pepper, diced tomatoes, beans and contents of seasoning mix packet to ground beef in pan. Mix until combined. Bring to simmer for about five to ten minutes, stirring a few times and adding some water as needed to retain moisture and achieve preferred consistency.

5.  Serve with your favorite chili toppings. (We top our chili with Organic Valley Sour Cream and our own fresh garlic chives.)

Lisa Kivirist, with her husband, John D. Ivanko, a photographer and drone pilot, have co-authored Rural RenaissanceHomemade for Sale, the award-winning  ECOpreneuring  and Farmstead Chef cookbook along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by renewable energy. Kivirist also authored Soil Sisters. As a writer, Kivirist contributes to MOTHER EARTH NEWS, most recently, Living with Renewable Energy Systems: Wind and Solar and 9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living. They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son, Liam, and millions of ladybugs. Read all of Lisa’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts.

Quick and Easy DIY Milk Kefir


Getting started with fermentation can be intimidating for many people, but it can be so easy, especially if you begin your fermenting journey with a simple recipe like milk kefir. Originally hailing from Eastern Europe, kefir is a cultured dairy product similar to yogurt, with a tangy flavor and creamy texture. It has a thinner consistency that yogurt, however, lending it well to smoothies and sauces and even making it drinkable if desired.

Is Kefir the Same as Yogurt?

The main differences between kefir and yogurt, besides their thickness, are the organisms that are used to culture the milk and the process by which they are fermented. Different strains of bacteria and yeasts are employed in these two processes, making them so unique in how they are made, their microbial composition and even their flavor. Most yogurts are made with a starter culture of previously-made yogurt and the cultures are thermophilic, meaning they must be incubated in a warm environment for fermentation. By contrast, kefir is mesophilic, meaning the cultures can ferment milk into kefir at room temperature, without any need for incubation. The heating and incubation process keeps some people from trying their hand at yogurt-making; for those folks, quick and easy milk kefir may be a preferable ferment to try.

The starter cultures for kefir are much different than those used in yogurt, as well. Kefir cannot be made by adding a bit of already-fermented kefir to some milk to begin the culturing process (also known as "backslopping"). Instead, you need what are referred to as kefir "grains," which are actually a kefir SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast). This is more similar to the starter culture used for making kombucha, where the SCOBY is added to the medium, sweetened tea in kombucha's case, to begin fermentation. This is in contrast to "backslopping" as used in the process of yogurt, or even sourdough bread, making.

The kefir grains, which are actually not grains at all, are called this because of their appearance. Where a kombucha SCOBY is a large, disc-shaped pellicle, kefir grains come in a group of smaller pieces, resembling cauliflower-like grains. I think they most look like large curd cottage cheese, both in texture and opacity. The structure and gelatin-like texture of these "grains" come from the microbial activity of the cultures, which emit polysaccharides such as kefirin (named for kefir itself), holding these cultures together in a sort of matrix. While you cannot spontaneously make these starter grains at home, you can easily buy them online from sources like Cultures for Health or Kombucha Kamp. Alternately, you may find a friend or neighbor already making their own kefir, and they can give you some to start your own batch, as the grains do grow and multiply as you produce more and more batches of homemade kefir.

Is Kefir Good for You?

Nutritionally, kefir is a fantastic food to include in your diet. Because it is a fermented food, it is rich in beneficial bacteria and yeasts, which have been shown to benefit digestion, immune function, and more. The microbes that ferment the milk into kefir reduce the lactose content of the final product, rendering it more digestible for some who are sensitive to lactose in most other dairy foods. Kefir, like other milk products, is also a great source of calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, B vitamins, trace minerals and fat-soluble vitamins if whole milk is used.

I like to use it similarly to yogurt, simply in a bowl for breakfast, often with a drizzle of raw honey or some fresh fruit. I also put my kefir in salad dressings, marinades, quick breads, oatmeal, and any creamy sauce in which you might normally use cream or yogurt. If you make your kefir with heavy cream instead of milk, you have yourself a perfect creme fraiche substitute or pancake topping with a bit of raw honey drizzled in! I am sure you will find your favorite way to use your homemade kefir after you have made a batch or two as well.

How to Make Kefir at Home

The basic method for making milk kefir is this: add fresh and active kefir grains to milk in a glass jar, top with a lid, and let sit at room temperature for 1-3 days to culture. That is it! You will know it is done fermenting and ready to use when the milk has thickened and has a tart, tangy flavor. The kefir may just begin to separate, with a layer of thin, yellowish whey floating on top, which is totally ok. That is another sign it is well fermented and is not a sign it has gone bad, simply shake or stir it up and you are good to go. Mold, on the other hand, is a sign of unwanted microbes; in this case, strain and toss the kefir, rinse the grains, and start over.

Once fermented, pour the kefir through a mesh strainer to collect the grains. These can go right into another jar of milk to start your next batch of kefir, or can be stored in the fridge in a bit of milk until you are ready to make another batch. Stored this way, your grains can remain dormant and healthy for a few weeks until used again, or can be fed a bit more milk to keep them well-fed and happy.

Your strained kefir can be used as-is, or stored in the fridge for several weeks. Similar to the kombucha-making process, you can also put your kefir through a round of second fermentation. This adds more effervescence and tang to your kefir through further fermentation, done in an air-tight vessel for an extra 1-2 days. A second fermentation step is not at all necessary, but some people enjoy it for the different flavors and textures it provides. You can add fruit or other flavors to the vessel during the second fermentation to make this ferment all your own. I like additions such as: strawberry or banana puree; cinnamon and a bit of vanilla; or even turmeric, ginger, and honey. These could also be added to flavor single-fermented kefir just before serving, rather than adding in the second fermentation step. Whether doing first or second fermentations, all you need is some good quality milk and a few tablespoons of healthy, active kefir grains, and you are well on your way to super healthy and delicious milk kefir.

Recipe: Milk Kefir

Yield 1 quart

Prep time: 5 minutes; Fermentation time 1-3 days


  • 1 quart whole milk (can use raw or pasteurized milk)
  • 2 Tbs fresh, active kefir grains (not freeze-dried)


  • 1 quart-sized glass jar
  • 1 non-reactive jar lid (I use BPA-free plastic lids)
  • Mesh strainer


1. Pour milk into a glass jar. Add the kefir grains and stir well.

2. Place the lid on the jar and let sit on the counter, out of direct sunlight, at room temperature.

3. Ferment the kefir at room temperature for 1-3 days until thickened and tart, just beginning to separate. If your kitchen is warmer, than room temperature, this will happen faster; cooler temperatures will cause a slower fermentation process. Check it regularly for signs of fermentation, as time will vary from place to place.

4. Once fermented, pour the kefir through a mesh strainer and into another glass jar, in order to remove the grains, then set them aside. Transfer the prepared kefir the fridge for storage, where it will keep for several weeks.

5. Start a new batch of kefir with the grains right away, or store in enough milk to cover them for up to 2 weeks until using them again. Your grains will grow and multiply as you prepare more batches of kefir; all you need to make a 1-quart batch are 2 tablespoons, so any extras can be used to make multiple or larger batches of kefir, or can be stored in the fridge. There may be someone near you looking for kefir grains so, if you have extras, see if you can share with a neighbor ready to ferment!

6. If doing a second fermentation, put the prepared kefir instead into an airtight vessel, such as a flip-top bottle used in beer brewing, with flavoring additions of your choice or leave plain if desired. Let sit at room temperature for 1-2 more days until effervescent, being careful when opening in case of overflow due to being under pressure. Once fermented a second time, store in the fridge for up to several weeks.


Arslan, Seher. “A Review: Chemical, Microbiological and Nutritional Characteristics of Kefir.” CyTA - Journal of Food, vol. 13, no. 3, 2014, pp. 340–345., doi:10.1080/19476337.2014.981588.
Prado, Maria R., et al. “Milk Kefir: Composition, Microbial Cultures, Biological Activities, and Related Products.” Frontiers in Microbiology, vol. 6, 2015, doi:10.3389/fmicb.2015.01177.

Laura Poe is a Registered Dietitian and traditional foods instructor. She homesteads in Wisconsin where she regular contributes to Edible Madison. Connect with Laura at Laura Poe, RD, for private practice appointments (distance consults available), upcoming classes, newsletter subscriptions, and more. Her nutrient-dense recipes can be found on Laura’s blog, Brine & Broth, and you can see what she has been cooking and creating on her Instagram @brineandbroth. Read all of Laura’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts.

Making the Most of Emergency Food Boxes or Food Banks


Shelves At A Food Pantry; Photo by Maryhere on Morguefile

Many people who've never sought food donations are doing so now in these difficult economic and problematic food-supply-chain times. In order to put food on the table, there may be little choice but to seek assistance from local food pantries.

It can be emotionally upsetting to accept a "dole." And, knowing how to make the most of emergency groceries can be an even bigger challenge. Many people simply aren't used to planning meals for several days at a time. Some aren't used to cooking "from scratch." Thus, that odd collection of foodstuffs you receive in an emergency food box, or pick from the shelf at a food bank, can be confusing and bewildering.

This post will give you suggestions for creating delicious, nutritious meals without adding more stress to your life. Just think positive: you've got food, much better than the alternative. You'll make it.

What Food Will I Get at a Food Bank?

Let's get started. What food will you receive? A typical food pantry will usually have in stock some or all of the following items, and food box contents will be similar:

  • Canned vegetables and legumes: green beans, peas, corn, beets, tomatoes, kidney beans, garbanzo beans, navy beans, etc.
  • Canned tomato/pasta sauce
  • Dry oatmeal or other dry cereals
  • Cooking oil
  • Flour
  • Sugar
  • Dry spaghetti and other pastas
  • Rice
  • Canned tuna or other fish products
  • Soups and broths
  • Beef stew
  • Canned chicken or other meats
  • Mayonnaise
  • Bread (or voucher for bread)
  • Corn meal
  • Biscuit mix
  • Milk, margarine, cheese, and other dairy products (or vouchers for these)
  • Eggs
  • Dry beans, split peas
  • Fresh or frozen meat (or vouchers for these)
  • Peanut butter


Communal Cooking Big Stainless Pots; Photo by VerticalStripe on Morguefile

Tips for In-Person Food Bank Shopping

Food banks themselves often have supplies of fresh vegetables and fruits, too. It all depends on what's in season and what the food bank has received in donations from local supermarkets and farms. Some food banks may offer limited amounts of plant-based foods, including tofu, grains, garden-style burgers, or items made from textured vegetable protein.

If you prefer a plant-based diet, you should be able to find items that work for you, although the choices may be limited. Either way, a bag of russet, gold, or red potatoes and 2 or 3 pounds of onions will be very helpful, so try to score some of them. Never turn down a can of potatoes, sweet or white; these can be chopped and fried like hash browns, or cut up and added to stews and soups. They store well for long periods of time, too.

Use the above list to help you select items best for your dietary and nutritional needs. Also, bring your own list of what you need, and jot down other special items you'd like to have if available.

Example: If mustard and ketchup are "musts" in your diet, and the food bank doesn't have them, they are usually cheap enough to buy at dollar or discount outlet stores. Ditto with baking powder, baking soda, salt and pepper, spices, and dried herbs, which are often sold for just a dollar each.

Using a Food Box Donation

If you can't go to a food bank and must work with what's in a donation box, check out the contents and make a list of them to help with planning meals, finding recipes, etc. (Enlist other family members to help with this if you don't live alone.) Think about how much food you typically purchase and consume in a week. Do you usually buy pre-packaged fresh or frozen convenience foods and microwavable items to consume? What's in the food box that can be used to create similar recipes?

Don't be overwhelmed or discouraged at the sight of those cans and bulk food items. With a bit of imagination and creativity, you can stretch that food out enough to feed you (and others) in your household for several days. Try not to overeat because of stress--that goes for everyone in your household. Think flavor and taste rather than huge portions!

Spend some time figuring out how to eat as normally as possible while being flexible and cooking everything yourself. Example: are there ingredients to whip up a pot of chili, soup, or stew? What about pancakes and muffins? Of course, don't be afraid to turn to others for help. Reach out to others by phone or e-mail; ask for cooking tips and recipes for food preparation and cooking.

Complete meal plans and recipes are also at your fingertips online. A simple Internet search will lead to millions of recipes and instructions on exactly how to cook anything — and, I mean anything!

Your Meal Planning and Cooking

What are your usual eating habits — two meals a day, or three? Snacks or not? Do you prefer a light breakfast, or a hearty one? Do you usually skip lunch and cut to the chase with dinner? If you're stuck at home all day, you will likely rethink your options and may change your eating habits in the process.

Okay, let's think dinner, what to make? Hint: rather than serving whole potatoes and thick slices of meat at a meal, think “small pieces” — chopped, diced, and shredded proteins, fruits, cheese, and vegetables. Countless people survived the Great Depression and WWII by creating tasty casseroles, stratas, soups, and stews. These one-dish meals offer enough variety and nutrition to keep both hunger and boredom at bay. If you eat them, eggs, cheese, and milk are great sources of protein and can be used in a huge variety of ways. Plant proteins and egg substitutes can be similarly used.

Search online or plunder older cookbooks for economizing meals such as this one for an egg souffle strata. Start with 12 to 15 slices of bread, torn into smallish pieces and placed in a greased casserole dish. A mixture of milk, eggs, seasoning, a bit of chopped ham or  cooked sausage or plant protein, chopped onion, chopped vegetable (broccoli or peas work well and the photo below even makes use of Brussels’ sprouts, which store for weeks), and a bit of shredded cheese, is poured over the bread. The dish is baked for about 40 minutes (at 350 degrees Fahrenheit), depending on the dish size. This is a great, filling breakfast or dinner meal, and will serve four hungry people or more, especially when served with a green salad.


Egg And Brussels Sprouts Casserole; Photo by Lebensmittelfotos on Pixabay.

What about making soup or stew from scratch? Think broth. Chicken, beef, and vegetable broths are usually available for 50 to 60 cents per can at the supermarket, if the food bank or donation box doesn't have any. Broths add flavor as well as volume when used in soups and stews. To make homemade soup or stew, start with a pot of fresh water and a can of broth, and start gently boiling a mixture of cut-up vegetables (canned or fresh). Add precooked meat scraps of chicken, pork, turkey, or beef if you like. Never put raw meat into the pot; instead, raw meat scraps can quickly be cooked in a fry pan or nuked in the microwave. Then toss them into the pot with the rest of the stuff.

Hint: meat and veggie scraps can also be used to make your own broth first; simply add them to boiling water and simmer for about an hour. Strain off any fat before using. Add preferred seasonings.

A can of commercially-prepared stew can be stretched to make a hearty meal to feed more people by simply adding water, broth, more vegetables, beans, and meat scraps. The same thing is true with canned chili. Add a can or two of kidney beans, tomato sauce, garlic, onion, and maybe some ground meat (beef, turkey, chicken, or soy/vegetable protein if available). Hot dogs or sausages such as bratwurst can also be added. Try sprinkling chopped onion and/or small shreds of cheese on top of the chili when serving it for visual appeal and more flavor.

What about something to go with the soup or stew? If you have corn meal, flour, soda, baking powder, two eggs, and some milk, delicious corn bread is just a few minutes away. A boxed mix will serve, too. Biscuits, crackers, or bread will also round out these one-dish meals. Suddenly, that one meager can of chili or stew fills a big pot and everyone's tummy! Bonus: leftover corn bread is great for breakfast, too.

Be Creative

Add "wilting" fresh vegetables (celery, cabbage, carrots, broccoli, etc.) to canned or frozen vegetables, or add them to rice or noodles for stir-fry meals. Lunches and dinners can also be soups, salads, sandwiches, or pancakes--really, whatever you have the ingredients for that sounds good.

When cold cuts and sliced cheese aren't available, chopped meats or fish or hardboiled eggs mixed with mayonnaise and a bit of chopped onion or pickle can be stretched even further by adding chopped celery or shredded carrot. Plop these fillings between bread or serve on lettuce or other greens for a healthy, tasty salad. Don't stint on the seasonings! Fresh or canned fruit can flesh out the meal, and maybe add a homemade cookie or other treat if you have some.

Don't be afraid to stretch your taste buds and can-do attitude in the kitchen. Here's to better times, and Bon Appetit meanwhile!

Mary Moss-Sprague is a certified Master Gardener and Master Food Preserver in Corvallis, Ore., and author of Stand Up and Garden: The No-digging, No-tilling, No-stooping Approach to Growing Vegetables and Herbs. Read all of Mary’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts.

Mind Your Mother: Start Homemade Wine Vinegar for a Classic Vinaigrette

Homemade Red Wine Vinegar Jars

I’ve been making my own vinegar since 2008, ever since I met up with some food blogging friends at our local farmer’s market and was handed a small plastic bag that contained a blob of something that looked like a piece of pale liver. My friend told me to just add any leftover wine I might have to it and in a couple weeks, I'd have wine vinegar!

It was mother of vinegar, or mère de vinaigre, as it is called in France. Mother of vinegar is a substance composed of a form of cellulose and acetic acid bacteria that develops on fermenting alcoholic liquids. It is similar to a SCOBY, or the Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast used to grow kombucha, but the acidity in vinegar kills off the yeast that is a part of a kombucha SCOBY.

I raced home from the farmer’s market and put “Mom” in a half-gallon canning jar topped with a piece of cheesecloth and then opened a bottle of wine. It felt a little bit odd (but not unheard of) to start drinking at 10:30 AM on a Saturday, but I had to do it for Mom. I poured her some in her crock, and poured myself a glass. Why not? Cheers! Now, whenever I open a bottle, I always make sure to pour Mom a glass, too.

If you don’t have a friend to give you some vinegar mother, you can use any brand of natural apple cider vinegar (such as Braggs) that contains the mother.

I use my homegrown vinegar for cooking, including my famous vinaigrette (recipe below). You can use this vinegar just like you use all other wine or cider vinegars, except for canning. Canning requires a consistent acidification. Homegrown will likely vary, so it’s not safe for canning.

Red Vinegar Mother Bacteria In Bag

Homemade Wine Vinegar Recipe


• A large jar. A half-gallon canning jar or recycled pickle jar works well

• Cheese cloth, muslin or other fabric

• Rubber band, string or canning ring to secure


• 1 cup (or more) of wine. Wine can be red, white, or of a fruit variety.

• 1/4 cup vinegar mother or natural apple cider vinegar with the mother.


1. Pour the wine into a clean, glass jar and add the mother. Cover the jar with fabric.

2. Leave the jar undisturbed in a dark place at room temperature for 3 to 4 weeks, checking regularly to see that a vinegar mother is growing on the surface. It will look like a gelatinous translucent disk that will form layers over time. You should begin to smell vinegar after a few weeks, and can taste it every week or so to monitor the fermentation.

3. The beauty of making your own vinegar is that you can make it as sour as you like it. For me, it’s at least after about 2 months. I always give “Mom” a splash of wine whenever I open a new bottle. When my jar is full, I strain it and put it in a wine bottle topped with an olive oil top for all my cooking needs.

4. You can save the mother to begin a new batch, and separate a few layers of mother to share with your friends and neighbors, just like we did when I got mine 12 years ago.

Mom’s Best Vinaigrette Recipe

In our house, we don't like bottled salad dressing very much. Besides being lots cheaper to make, homemade dressings taste better, too. We like our salad dressing tart and lighter, and so we use a 75-to-25 ratio of vinegar to oil. This recipe uses dried herbs from my spice rack, so I can always make it whenever we need it.


• 3/4 cup red wine vinegar

• 1/4 cup olive oil

• 4 to 6 cloves garlic, crushed

• 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

• 1/2 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper

• 1 Tablespoon dried parsley flakes

• 1 teaspoon dry mustard

• 1/2 teaspoon dried basil

• 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano


Combine in a jar with a lid and shake. Refrigerate for at least a day before using. Bon appétit mère de vinaigre!

Cynthia Hodges loves cooking and the lost domestic arts of home canning and sewing — those skills they used to teach in home economics. She’s been keeping her home economics blog, Mother’s Kitchen, since 2006. Connect with Cynthia on Facebook at Mother’s Kitchen and Michigan Inspired. Read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts.

Let Your Pantry Improve Leftovers: Recipes for Frittata, Tacos, and Easy Dill Pickles


We had snow the other day here at Lazy Dog Farm. Not much, mind you, just enough to dust the grass and make me thankful I didn’t put any of my plants out in the garden yet. The weather has been up and down all week here - sunny and warm, cold and windy, with a freeze warning or two just to spice things up. We’re still plodding on with our garden preparations: drilling fence posts, digging trenches for the burrowing critter fencing, drawing up plans for our new raised beds and ordering the supplies we need to expand our operation.

We’ve had some crazy changes here in general with the state-mandated lockdown now being extended to mid-May. We’re not traveling like we once did, we’re not dining out and we’re appreciating what we have in this place like never before. We’ve also dealt with job losses and career changes, physical loss of connection with friends and family, and just the stress of uncertainty. It’s been a roller coaster ride since March, but it’s also been the sea change we’ve desperately needed in our lives. Priorities have shifted, ideas about the future and our lives have changed — it’s been wild, but in the best way possible. To a house full of introverts, this time out of time has been a season of joy as much as pain.

Better gluten-free breads. I’ve been trying to use up everything I have as best as possible, which has resulted in some awesome meals and some real culinary disasters. But I’ve also started really learning how to bake using gluten-free flours where before I tended to rely more on mixes and chalk the “lead loafs” of bread up to gluten-free baking and not to my inexperience and bad flour combos. But all that has changed this week and I’ve dedicated some of my free time to learning how to mix flours that work for lighter pastries and breads, as well as learn the techniques to make light, fluffy breads and cakes be born.

New ferments. We’ve also started keeping critters — OK, we started learning how to ferment all manner of things as a fun and useful activity. We are now raising a sourdough mother, dealing with dill pickles in the fridge, and our beer, cider, cheese and root beer making kits are on their way. We decided that some of the things we really enjoy we could be making ourselves now that we have so much time on our hands. It’s been a rewarding science project and we’re also looking forward to all the tasty things we’re slowly bringing to life. Fermentation really is about patience, a sorely needed attribute around here. We’re all very results-driven and want our satisfaction now not later. These little projects are teaching us all the value of slow food and delayed gratification.

Make good use of leftovers. I thought this week I’d share a few of the recipes I’ve made with some of the slow food items and leftovers in the fridge. Most of the veggies and greens in the recipes can use whatever you have in your pantry or fridge. They’re easy, quick and delicious — just the sort of thing to make when you’re tired of cooking, want to be doing anything else, or just want to use up what you have left in the fridge.

Leftover Vegetable Frittata

We had some wilted asparagus, some tomatoes going pruney and a few peppers that needed used up. We also needed a tasty Sunday morning breakfast that wasn’t sugary. The result, a delicious, fluffy, crispy frittata that demanded seconds.


  • 6 eggs, whisked to a light yellow color
  • 2 cups veggies (I used asparagus, peppers, onions and tomatoes)*
  • 1 tbsp spices (I used tarragon, thyme, fennel and lavender)*
  • 1 tsp minced garlic (about 2 cloves)
  • Salt and pepper to taste


1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit

2. In a cast iron pan (or oven and stovetop safe pan) on medium heat, cook garlic and veggies until softened.

3. Add spices to veggie mix and stir to combine.

4. Add eggs, stir a few times to combine all ingredients.

5. Place pan in oven and bake for 15-20 minutes or until eggs have set and top has a nice golden color.

6. Remove from oven and allow to sit for 5 minutes to cool slightly. Serve with lightly dressed salad greens or avocado.

Notes: I added some leftover ham, diced. Bacon or any other meat could be used here as well. 

Any spices will work here. For a “Mexican” flavor, add cumin, chili powder and oregano. For “Italian”, add basil, oregano and red pepper flakes. 

You can also add cheese after removing from the oven - I sprinkle about a cup or so over the top and allow the heat to melt it. You can also add the cheese about 5 minutes from the end of baking.

Easy Refrigerator Dill Pickles

These are still a work in progress. They take about a week to ferment and be ready to eat. I didn’t have fresh dill this time, so I used dried. I will update next week once they are done as to whether the dried dill worked.


  • 2 cups cucumbers sliced or cubed (the small pickling ones work best, but I used seedless English ones this time)
  • 2 cups hot water
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • Handful fresh dill (I used about 4 Tablespoons dry)
  • 8 garlic cloves (I used about 3 Tablespoons minced)
  • 5 black peppercorns


1. Clean and scald a 1-quart mason jar or other lidded glass container (do not use metal).

2. In jar, combine hot water, vinegar, salt and sugar. Secure lid and shake until completely combined.

3. Add cucumbers, dill, garlic and peppercorns.

4. Secure lid and shake gently to coat cucumbers. Make sure they are submerged in brine.

5. Place in refrigerator for one week.

Notes: These pickles will keep 4 to 6 weeks in refrigerator if you use a clean utensil each time to remove them. No fingers! I shake my jar about every other day just to make sure it combines.

Potato Tacos

Ok, so I know these sound weird, but hear me out - these little crispy potatoes will convince even the most diehard meat person to enjoy veggie taco Tuesday. We recreated the flavors from one of our favorite taquerias to create our own riff on our favorite to-go lunch.


  • 2 large potatoes, cubed small 
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2  teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin (more if you want a really bold flavor)
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 Tablespoon light cooking oil (or more to coat potatoes)
  • Salt to taste

To assemble the tacos:

  • Corn tortillas warmed in a pan and stored in a clean kitchen towel (to keep warm)
  • Cilantro
  • Chopped onion
  • Salsa verde or whatever you like on a taco (the verde is the best flavor combo IMHO)
  • Sharp cheddar (optional)


1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. In a large bowl, combine ingredients and toss to coat

3. On a large baking sheet, spread mixture out into a single layer.

4. Bake for 20 minutes or until potatoes are golden brown and crispy. Toss once halfway through to keep from sticking and crisp all sides.

5. Remove from oven and assemble using your taco ingredients.

Notes: We also will do these “Americano-style” with lettuce, tomato, red salsa and cheese. You can’t go wrong with toppings, and a little sliced radish is nice if you have on hand.

Dana Gnad is a freelance writer and photographer with over 20 years of experience in technology. She has spent most of her life living on various homesteads — off-grid, urban, and everywhere in between. Currently camped out on 30 acres in the suburbs, affectionately known as The Lazy Dog Farm, she is working on her first book and dreaming of a life on the sea. Connect with Dana on Facebook and Instagram, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts.

Finding Quality Meats During The Coronavirus

Pop's Old Place cows 

Pop's Old Place Lineback beef

You probably started to hear about food shortages in the middle of March like many of us did. But when the Smithfield pork processing facility in Sioux Falls, South Dakota closed in early April, consumers were given a first glance at how a significant meat shortage might unfold.

Joel Salatin, a famous farm writer from Virginia, has warned for years how the industrial meat machine was bad news. On April 14th, Joel posted on Facebook about Smithfield and the hazards of the US relying on the big meat producers. What Joel didn't cover was where to buy pork, beef, lamb, and chicken that's not from a food factory.

Even though most of us are ordered to shelter in place, we still have options where to buy meat and veggie products when the supply chain breaks down. There are over 12,000 small farms in Maryland and 44,000 in Virginia, selling some of the best natural meats and produce money can buy. If you search the internet for a place to buy meats, veggies, and eggs away from the crowd, you might be surprised at the choices where you live.

One of the best sources is your local farmers’ markets. Search for a market close to where you live and look at the farmer's market website's Vendor list. If the farmers market is closed, check their vendor list for small farms currently offering home delivery or onsite farm stands.

A quick search should yield several places selling beef, pork, chicken, lamb, and produce for your family’s needs. Another good source to find vendors in your area is where farmers’ markets, small farms, and other sources of farm-fresh foods are available.

Those of us that live in the Baltimore and DC area have many excellent choices for clean, quality meats and veggies. Maryland has lots of farmer’s markets and small farms to choose from. Here are some of my favorite sources for meat and veggies.

Flying Plow Farm, Joppa, Maryland

I usually buy their organic veggies at the Havre de Grace Saturday market. They go to other area farmers’ markets and sell at their farm Saturdays 9-12 and Tuesdays 3-5. Customers should pre-order online for pickup at the farm, farmers' markets, or home delivery if you are in their service area to avoid being disappointed.

Third Way Farm, Havre de Grace, Maryland

Customers that know about this local farm have a source for year-round produce, meats, and eggs. Third Way Farm offers a CSA (community supported agriculture), an onsite farm stand open Wednesdays/Fridays from 2:30-6:30, and they attend the Havre de Grace Farmers Market on Saturdays in season. I love their veggies, pork, eggs- from pasture raised chickens, and micro-greens. They also sell lamb, but I haven’t tried theirs yet.

Baltimore Farmer's Market, Downtown Baltimore, Maryland

This is the big daddy of Maryland farmers' markets. I go every year for plant starts in spring, and meat, veggies, fruit, and flowers the rest of the April-November season. Check their website for an extensive vendors list and updates on a revised opening date. My favorite vendors are Catspaw Organics, Albright Farms, and Two Boots Farm.

One Straw Farm, White Hall, Maryland

I found One Straw Farm at the Bordy Vineyards Thursday market about eight years ago. I love their high-quality organic produce and the knowledge they share when I ask questions about growing veggies in my backyard. I haven't tried their pork yet, but plan to do so soon.

If you are in their service area, consider signing up for their CSA, or find them onsite Thursday through Sunday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. at their White Hall farm stand.

In season find One Straw Farm at several Baltimore area farmers markets like the 32nd Street Farmers’ Market and the Kenilworth Farmers Market.

Anne Arundel County Farmers' Market, Annapolis, Maryland

The Anne Arundel Farmers’ Market has been in business since 1981 and operates year-round. Serving the south-of-Baltimore region, they have a wide variety of vendors like Cabin Creek Heritage Farm selling woodland pork, pastured poultry, heritage beef, pastured rabbit, meadow lamb, and microgreens. Windermere Farms sells mushrooms; Good Luck Farm has plants, herbs, and greens. Several other vendors sell things like honey, strawberries, fruit, and dairy products.

Delmarva Peninsula

Pop's Old Place

This farm has been awarded the Century Farm designation due to 100+ years in the same family. Pop's Old Place sells grass-fed Randall Lineback beef, a rarity, Katahdin lamb, and Mulefoot pork. All of the animals are raised on site, as natural as possible, and I can tell you the taste is excellent.

They welcome farm visits so you can see how the animals are treated. Browse the freezers in the farm store or order ahead of time and get a half or whole lamb like I do. Some customers come from the DC area knowing Pops sells some of the best meat money can buy. Pop’s is open on weekends from 1-2 and by appointment.

Easton Farmers Market, Easton, Maryland

This creative farmers market has changed the way customers buy products during the pandemic. Offering a drive-through method of buying makes it easier for social distancing. Buy seafood, veggies, craft kombucha, meats from Breakaway Farms and Apple Ridge Farm at the Easton Farmers’ Market.  This shopping trip might be a fun option for a Saturday outing. Check their website for updates, information on pre-ordering, and products offered before you go.

Your Area

Wherever you live, there probably are options for quality meats and produce not in a grocery store setting. It may take a bit of searching, but I believe you will find a healthy source for meats and veggies that will help small farmers during the pandemic. With most restaurants closed or operating at a much lower capacity, small farms have lost a big chunk of their business and could use some help to get through this mess. By helping small farmers you can help yourself to high-quality meat and produce that tends to be better than what you get from grocery stores and keeps you away from crowds. Stay safe and sane. This virus will pass.

Kurt Jacobson writes about travel, food, wine, organic gardening, and most anything else from his varied professional life. His articles appear in Alaska Magazine, Fish Alaska Magazine, Metropolis Japan Magazine, Edible Delmarva Magazine, North West Travel and Life Magazine. Kurt lives in the Baltimore, MD area with his wife, dog and cats. Kurt’s articles also appear on several websites, including,,, and several others. Kurt is a regular contributor to writing about Alaska, Colorado, New Zealand, Japan, and the Mid-Atlantic areas. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts.

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