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Cheesemaking in the Democratic Republic of Congo


The lush hills of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s North Kivu province are best known for armed groups clashing, but they are also home to a number of small dairy farms producing fine cheese.

The consequences of the violence continue to have devastating consequences for local populations in parts of Masisi territory, where as recently as the summer of 2014 some residents lost their homes and were forced to relocate to IDP camps.

Yet, these dairy farmers and artisanal cheesemakers, have not only survived the recurrent fighting, but astonishingly – prospered. (*The farmers still live in/on the edge of poverty.)

Known simply as Goma Cheese, the Congolese version of Dutch Gouda is popular throughout the country. Though not part of the traditional diet, the cheese fills in for a variety of Western dishes – pizza, sandwiches, lasagna…

A fan of the cheese since my first trip to the DRC in 2014, I traveled the 48 miles of bumpy road west from the North Kivu capital Goma through the Mugunga area to one of the farms.

The farmers and their families live where they work, in huts and homes by the “factory” – a building with several rooms filled with nothing more than a bathtub, buckets, and some metal molds.

Belgian priests first started making cheese here in the 1970s. Then the country was known as Zaire and ruled by a dictator. Tutsis (an ethnic group often associated with dairy farming and as the victims of the Rwanda Genocide) resided in the area. It was almost two decades before the bloody attacks truly began.

Today, during periods of calm, NGO workers and the few Congolese who can afford it, spend a weekend at one of two farms that also operate B&Bs. The cheese (you buy a whole round) costs $4 on the farm, $5 or so in town, and between $10-20 as you begin to travel to towns west of Goma (Kisangani, Kinshasa). For $10-20 you can enjoy cheese and coffee (I highly recommend this!!).

As you can see in my pictures, the cows (a variety of African and European) graze on steep pastures with a UN base below.

On the road from Goma to the farm – note the volcanic rocks from the 1977 eruption. Black earth is everywhere!




That’s a UN base you see in the background! They are everywhere it seems.





A cheese mold



A farmer’s home


The farm we visited offers horseback riding to guests. My friend B and I both tried it, but found the horses a bit wild so I got off pretty quickly and she had one of the farmers lead her around a small field.


The view we had while eating cheese and sipping coffee!!!


Lodging for overnight guests (offered seasonally and during calm times).

Honey for Sale

Folks, my little bee business is growing!  The Honey Exchange in Portland, Maine is selling my honey! This is the second year I have had a big enough harvest to sell and thanks to the Exchange’s owners – Phil and Meghan Gaven – I am learning all the ins and outs of what is needed to sell honey. Eyeballing for instance only goes so far and that’s not far enough for getting all the jars of honey (and there are many) to oh say have the same amount of honey in them. Common sense? I guess not. So, I bought a scale. Then there are the labels – not just what it is (pure raw honey), but where it is from and weight. Little, but important details that make the honey legal to sell and shelf ready for Phil and Meghan. *You are supposed to have your contact information on the label, but I am thankfully able to get away with The Honey Exchange being the point of contact – I am a bit of a private person and strangers calling up to order honey would (a) freak me out a little and (b) take up way too much time…

My uber talented designer friend J made the labels up = I do not have to use those boring store bought ones that read the same or purchase blank labels and write in the info – my handwriting is not for the faint of heart. Besides, this way I was able to put a favorite quote and some information about my beekeeping on the label – that stuff I love to share.

My friend and honey client Winky Lewis then took the prettiest pics of some honey I dropped off on her doorstep the other day – something else I love to do – egg and honey deliveries!!  To all those friends who have said sweet things about the honey and to all those who have purchased some from The Honey Exchange THANK YOU SO SO MUCH FOR SUPPORTING LOCAL!!!!!!!!!!!! ox


Sam Chapple-Sokol and Culinary Diplomacy


Culinary Diplomacy (as defined on Sam’s website) is the use of food and cuisine as instruments to create cross-cultural understanding in the hopes of improving interactions in cooperation. That’s an academic way of saying using food to get along with people, to talk with people and to get to know them better.

Sam is a research consultant and culinary diplomat and has worked on academic courses at American University and George Washington University, as well as for Le Club des Chefs des Chefs the Club of Chefs of Heads of State. When I met Sam he was finishing up a gig as a pastry chef at The White House. Now he lives in San Francisco, another great international food city in America.

When we talked last, Sam had just participated in a panel on culinary diplomacy at the IACP conference (the International Association of Culinary Professionals not to be confused with the other IACP – the International Association of Chiefs of Police).

Sam has always cared about food. He grew up cooking with his parents (his mother took Chinese cooking classes, his dad practiced home cheesemaking), who encouraged him to be adventurous in the kitchen. While never thinking about it as an academic pursuit, he was interested in the role of government and food. When getting his Masters at Tufts School of Law and Diplomacy, he took one diplomacy class and on whim asked the professor if he could write his final paper about how food and diplomacy are related. The professor encouraged it, and he soon came upon the work of Paul Rockower (who introduced us years later).
*Paul focuses on gastrodiplomacy (for brevity purposes how the “common” people like you and I connect via food, not diplomats or national leaders). Here is a link to one of his articles – he’s a great writer and mind. Enjoy.

Back to Sam…he came across some chefs including Bill Yosses, the recently retired White House pastry chef.  Ultimately he found little on the subject. Further motivation to learn and talk about the subject of culinary diplomacy.

Sam stays informed via Google news alerts for “culinary diplomacy” and Twitter. He believes the subject is becoming more and more accessible. Referencing U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s engagement earlier this spring with the US State Department’s Culinary Diplomacy program.


Sam shared a recipe with us from his time in Somaliland where he made friends with a couple of women who started a café – Canadians who arrived before the civil war, left, and went back when things were safer. They serve Somali food, but also American-Canadian food.

Bariis Iskukaris (Somali Rice with Spices) – recipe found on The Somali Kitchen blog.

Our conversation ended with the idea of how fascinating disapora culinary diplomacy is – when you have not grown up in the place you are originally from what food is home to you?

**For those interested, following is Sam’s letter to The New York Times on Culinary Diplomacy and the 2015 World Fair pavilion:
Next year will bring Expo 2015, which is set to take place in Milan, Italy with the theme “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life.” It is an important and timely topic around which to center the Expo, in part due to the current social popularity of food – see for example the explosion of television, social media, and publications devoted to the topic – and more importantly, due to the heightened attention paid worldwide to issues of nutrition, agriculture, and food sovereignty. Countries and companies are going into high gear to prepare for the Expo, anticipating the opportunity to show off on a global stage. 142 nations and regions, representing 88% of humanity, plan to be there.
The theme and location make Expo 2015 a site ripe for culinary diplomacy. I’ve defined it as “the use of food and cuisine as an instrument to create cross-cultural understanding in the hopes of improving interactions and cooperation,” or more colloquially as “breaking bread to win hearts and minds.” Every nation and region with a pavilion is being given an extraordinary chance to showcase its unique contribution to the world’s cuisine, as well as its own approach to solving global hunger. From Switzerland’s towers of non-replenishing Swiss food products showing the effects of consumption on supply to China’s focus on “super rice,” each pavilion will reflect its nation’s culinary heritage while also focusing on the theme of “feeding the planet.”
The United States, for its part, has submitted a proposal for its pavilion, “American Food 2.0.” A partnership between the James Beard Foundation, The International Culinary Center, and the American Chamber of Commerce in Italy, the pavilion will be built on the pillars of diversity and responsibility. Its stated goal, according to a White House Press Release, is to “use state-of-the-art digital media and other novel approaches to showcase American leadership and innovation in global food security, agriculture, and cuisine and lay the seeds for enhanced trade and investment between the United States and Italy.” The pavilion itself will take the form of an iconic American farm building – a granary – and will lead visitors around the 50 states on a journey “from farm to table,” to discover “the rich cultural, scientific, and culinary tapestry” that makes America America. There will also be food trucks, central to the new American culinary landscape, traveling throughout Milan to increase the range of the pavilion.
Not much else has been publicly announced about America’s offering at Expo 2015. The current plan is a very strong start. I applaud the planners’ intention to touch on culinary tradition from each of the 50 states (though I assume it will stay away from the snarky generalizations propagated in Deadspin’s much-circulated ranking of each state’s food highlights). Focusing on the recent return to the ages-old concept of “farm-to-table” will show off American culinary values of the 2010s, including our newly rediscovered appreciation for farmers. Food trucks, too, though maybe seen as a fad, are an important aspect of the current culinary landscape.
Beyond the strong start, though, I look forward to seeing more thought put into planning. It would be fascinating, for example, to encourage American states to interact with Expo-goers more directly, thereby engaging in paradiplomacy. Paradiplomacy refers to the engagement by sub-national areas – regions, states, cities – in international public diplomacy efforts (see here for a longer discussion on the concept from political scientist Stefan Wolff).
Encouraging states to show off regional barbecue varieties, agricultural uniquities, and historical preferences, as well as various approaches to feeding their own and other hungry people, would go far to display our richly nuanced nation whose culinary and agrarian differences greatly surpass the sum of its parts. Although the plan does include the intention to highlight each state, my worry is that seeing states through a national filter will bring out only stereotypical takes on foods, instead of more rich local narratives being broadcast. American food, we know, is not hegemonic – and we shouldn’t portray it as a single entity.
This is also an opportunity to take a critical look at some of the American food trends that have gone global. While many Americans may not be particularly proud of the far reach of McDonald’s, KFC, and Starbucks, it may be fascinating to look at each of these American food institutions’ origins – and their spread. Why are Americans deeply associated with burgers and fries – where did this dish come from? What is the history of fried chicken, and its unique place in American culinary tradition? What of the first, second, and third waves of coffee appreciation, and where does Starbucks fit into that? Furthermore, how does America’s coffee consumption affect the economies of coffee-producing nations, and can we work to make that relationship more equitable? It would be enlightening to investigate these questions through a critical lens, as long as we don’t mythologize and aggrandize (or, gasp, get sponsorship from) the multinational chains in question.
A final idea. We are a nation of immigrants, generations of whom have come to the US and brought ingredients, recipes, and techniques from their homes. Expo 2015 presents an opportunity for us to look back and draw the connection between new and old worlds; through stories and tastes, visitors could discover their own nation’s impact on American cuisine. Furthermore, showcasing the cuisine of indigenous Americans, like the work of the brilliant Mitsitam Café at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, would teach Expo-goers about traditional American foods, about which most people, including Americans, know unfortunately little.
These are just a few thoughts on where the American representation at Expo 2015 could go. We will see how plans change when different cooks start stirring the pot, including which corporations choose to foot the $45 million bill. The US Pavilion at Shanghai Expo 2010, with sponsors including Pfizer, Boeing, and PepsiCo, was generally regarded as a poor representation of our nation. Let’s try to do better this time, and show off something our country does well: food.

Culinary Diplomacy : Cuba


The second post in DM’s culinary diplomacy series focuses on that Caribbean island Americans now frequently refer to as “post-Fidel Cuba” or “a future vacation spot.”

I’d say Cuban cooking, at least as I know it, is one of my favorites cuisines – pile on the fried plantains (more more!!), avocado salads, Adobo Chicken, Frijoles Negros, Yucca Fritters, and for drinks yes please to daiquiris and mojitos. Mmmm.

The idea of walking through Havana’s streets and eating at recommended paladares (privately owned small restaurants – some are in resident’s apartments…) is up there on my dream travel list. That said, all the complications involved in traveling there have prevented me from seriously thinking about going – until a few months ago when President Obama’ made his historic “Charting a New Course on Cuba” speech.

Along with all the goodness insinuated in the U.S. re-establishing diplomatic relations and opening an embassy in Cuba rhetoric, was a bit about the lifting of certain barriers permitting some Americans to travel there.

In bars from Orlando to Manhattan, members of the American tourism industry were likely ordering another round – of Mojitos for everyone. After 50 plus years (some) U.S. citizens could again travel legally to the land of jazz and salsa, classic cars, cigars and brightly colored buildings and no one was wasting any time gearing up the American tourist invasion.

Now, here’s the zinger, travel is still illegal for the average American unless you fall into one of a dozen categories including: have family there, are a journalist, attending a workshop or professional meeting, participating in a competition or humanitarian project, or want to study there (with an institution).

What these categories do is provide a legal loophole for solid (think Smithsonian) and not so on the up and up (depending on your ethics meter) tour companies to take those American citizens who have several thousand dollars to pony up on a ride through Havana on an educational tour.

This brings me to a small troupe of successful Miami chefs, few with Cuban connections, who are promoting food tours to Cuba. At first I thought that’s great, but after reading a few articles from Miami outlets and checking out one chef and the agency he’s partnered with I think it’s a big stunt – a gimmick – certainly nothing I would want anything to do with. When people with no connection to a place (one chef’s grandmother is supposedly from Cuba, but all his training comes from England, Japan, and Wolfgang Puck – seriously??) are suddenly called “culinary ambassadors” that makes me laugh and groan.

Here’s the tour company’s description, check out the words I underlined (more groaning on my part):
“Join our ‘ambassador’ Chef, Jamie DeRosa (of the award winning Tongue and Cheek restaurant in Miami), as we explore Cuba via its cuisine. This trip will allow you to see the sights and enjoy the flavors of all that Havana has to offer. It will feature visits to organic sustainable farms with an authentic, organic farm-to-table meal, and will culminate in a collaborative cooking event between Chef DeRosa and one of Cuba’s top Chefs at the #1 restaurant in Havana! This trip is a first of its kind and will fill quickly!”

Um, seriously?? There is no denying Cuba’s agricultural practices are positively advanced, but I find the agency’s use of the terms “organic” and “sustainable” followed so closely by “authentic” suspicious –  is it  just trendy marketing speak? Groan. Organic farm-to-table – double groan. Who says this is the #1 restaurant and how about letting Cuban chefs do all the cooking/teaching – they’re probably 100% more interesting and “authentic” than a guy who has made his career working for a chef (Wolfgang) best known for his chopped salads and frozen aisle meals. Just saying.

This is where the use of culinary diplomacy as a form of marketing lacks greatly. It becomes a cheap tool in the hands of a creepy salesperson.

Want to create something meaningful and “authentic” dig a big deeper folks. As someone who has participated in a number of culinary education programs what would impress me is involving folks who live in Cuba or have a long history with that country.

Take Smithsonian Journeys Cuba trip – you meet with Cuban scholars, visit a training and advisory center for future Cuban entrepreneurs, visit the National Museum of Fine Arts with one of the country’s historians, meet with farmers and members of the community at a local urban garden, meet a local journalist, attend a local community block party, visit a former sugar mill town and with a historian tour the town and meet inhabitants and so on and so on. No gimmicky terms – this is the real deal. I’m not much for tour groups, so you won’t find me on it – but it sounds cool doesn’t it!?


Culinary Diplomacy

cooking making plantain bread

cooking cleaning rice

eating plantain


This is the first post in a semi-regular series called Culinary Diplomacy. Sam Chapple-Sokol, a culinary diplomat, defines Culinary Diplomacy as  “the use of food and cuisine as an instrument to create cross-cultural understanding in the hopes of improving interactions and cooperation.” Sam was involved in the U.S. State Department’s Diplomatic Culinary Partnership as an organizer for the Club of Chefs of Heads of State held in the U.S. in 2013. He, and a gentleman by the name of Paul Rockower (a gastronomist) are responsible for introducing me to the field.

At its best, food is about rituals and beliefs being passed on from generation to generation. People in places where there is a strong food culture (like Italy or Vietnam) identify with who they are and what they are greatly through food.

For last summer’s Kneading Conference,  I organized the panel “Culinary Diplomacy: Culture Defined Around the Table.” Through that process I learned a lot more about what Culinary Diplomacy means to different people – how food and drink have shaped some people’s perceptions of the world and defined how they look at foreign cultures.

(I hope to interview Sam and Paul, and each of the panelists from that KC event for this series).

You might think with a last name like “Kitchens” I know something about food. I do, but man is the road of learning long – and tasty – and I have miles and miles to travel.

Growing up my father traveled a lot to Southeast Asia and the Middle East. He brought his love of the dishes he tried home and thus I grew up eating a lot of Asian and Lebanese food.  Somewhere along the way he introduced me to Ethiopian food, a favorite – do you know how amazing it is how few people in America realize what an extraordinary food culture there is Ethiopia?? DE-licious! Anyhow, I have always been aware of the beauty of different cultures, because – most likely – of food.

When you travel you realize how intimately related history, geography, and food are.

When I first visited Kinshasa and Kisangani in the Democratic Republic of Congo, two urbanized areas along the Congo River, I discovered them through food…

Last spring sitting close to the dirt, no more than 20 meters from the Congo River, sharing a home cooked meal with a Congolese fisherman I learned details about the region’s history you don’t find in news articles and books. I didn’t have an agenda, I was just curious about his life and about the food his wife was preparing. The yellow of the plantains, the crimson red palm oil in the stew, his hands, her strong arms, the glow of pride and love in his eyes when he looked at his wife and youngest son.  I was noticing everything around me and sharing in an extraordinarily unique and intimate experience created around eating.

When his wife lowered a basin of water and handed me a bar of soap I used it, passed it on, and washed my hands – wiping the water off on my pants. I followed the others, tearing off a piece of the thick chewy yellow bread and scooping up mouthfuls of the rich fish stew.

He saw my sincerity and welcomed my interest and let me “in” responding frankly to my questions. We were simply having a conversation while the meal was prepared. An everyday thing that takes place everywhere. I learned more about the region and his tribe in those hours than I could ever have imagined. The meal we ate with out hands was rich and unforgettable.

Making Holiday Candy with Felicia Buck in Aroostook County

candy buck home

candy hard cinnamon

candy hard boiling

candy hard breaking up

Can you believe we are already one week into December?!  Time for Americans to consume a ridiculous amount of desserts. These are not your everyday convenience store bought treats, but rarer homemade ones like fruitcake made by your great-aunt and fudge by a friend from farming country way up in northern Maine.

Felicia Buck is married to Brent, a 2nd generation potato farmer who has run Buck Farms with his two brothers since 1998. They live in Mapleton in the heart of Maine’s potato country.  Growing up Felicia’s father hated Christmas. “He loved the music and cooking,” she said. “He hated giving gifts, decorating, shopping, and did not want to do Christmas cards. He grew up very poor, so they did not have a lot and Christmas didn’t mean the same when you could not give gifts.” Her mother loved Christmas, and because Felicia’s father liked the food part, Felicia said her mother always made sure there were all kinds of treats. “If there was a school thing we’d make the sugar cookies, the hard candy, go around caroling and deliver food to the neighbors,” she said. “Now a days people don’t do that as much.”

With the help of her friends Darcey, Kelly, Bethany, and Heather she has created a new holiday tradition making irresistible treats.  For the past five years, Felicia has opened up her home for a day of candy making.  Last year I joined the group’s sugariest and had a ball.

The following recipes from Felicia (Hubbard) Buck are meant for you to enjoy in private (that’s right!) or share with your co-workers or family. Fa la la la la, la la la la… sugar rush here we come!!!

Hard CandyLorAnn Oils Regular Batch
**You will need a candy thermometer for this recipe.

2 cups granulated sugar
2/3 cup light corn syrup
¾ cup water
1 tsp LorAnn Gourmet Flavoring (flavor selection here online and you might be able to find in a drug store or Walmart)
½ tsp liquid food coloring
Powdered sugar

Combine sugar, corn syrup, and water in 2-quart saucepan. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Bring mixture to a boil without stirring. When syrup temperature reaches 260, add color. Do not stir; boiling action will incorporate color into syrup. Remove from heat at 300 or when drops of syrup form hard, brittle threads in cold water. After boiling action ceases, stir in flavoring. Avoid rising steam when stirring. Pour syrup into lightly oiled candy molds or only greased cookie sheet and score with knife to form bite-size pieces. When cool, break into pieces and dust with powdered sugar to prevent sticking. Will keep a few months if stored in an airtight container with confectioners sugar.

Felicia’s notes:
• If you want to create purple try mixing blue and red, but for a real purple you will need to buy purple food coloring.
• The flavors are intense, and when added to the pot it turns into a strong enough vapor that you will probably want to open a window or two.
• Use old cookie sheets you don’t care about as they will get scratched up. Mark the bottom of each “candy” pan with an “x” or store with holiday decorations so they are easy to find.
• Really butter the sheets or the candy will stick to them.
• If you can, take the sheet or molds into the garage or onto the porch where cool air will help facilitate the cutting process by making the candy cool and thus harden faster.
• Use a pizza cutter, not a knife, when first scoring during the cooling process.
• Dip the pizza cutter in butter so it will not stick.
• Simplify the powdered sugar process by having a bowl of confectioners sugar ready to toss the broken pieces into.
• If gifting and/or just for your own purposes, separate the different flavored candy into Ziploc bags – otherwise one flavor might take on another flavor. If this is not an issue for you, disregard.

candy turtles in making

Felicia’s Turtles
12 ounces (or smaller bag) of unwrapped soft caramels, cut in half
6 oz (about 1.5 cups) toasted pecan halves
5 ounce bag Hershey Kisses

Cover a cookie sheet with aluminum foil. Place pecan halves flat side down in rows. Place one (half) piece caramel on each. Cook six minutes at 350. Remove from oven and immediately place a Hershey Kiss on top of each. Let cool.

No Fail Chocolate Fudge from Felicia’s friend Heidi Currier who got it from a member of her church – Felicia’s daughters’ favorite holiday treat
2/3 cup evaporated milk
2 Tbsp butter
1 2/3 cup sugar – Felicia prefers Domino vs. store brands
½ tsp salt
2 cups marshmallows
1 ½ cup semi-sweet chocolate bits
½ cup nuts

Mix evaporated milk, butter, sugar, and salt in sauce pan and let boil for 4-5 minutes, stirring constantly. Take away from the heat and add marshmallows. Stir until melted and then add chocolate bits and add nuts. Pour into 8 inch greased pan.
Put in fridge to harden so you can cut up. Will keep 2-3 weeks covered in fridge.

And, while you’re at it…homemade peanut butter cups – because the only thing that might be as good as nuts/chocolate and whiskey is chocolate and nuts (ground or not). **Recipe on card in last picture.

candy peanut butter cups

candy pb recipe

Making a Gingerbread House with Patricia Moroz

gingerbread village

It so happens that I love Christmas. Especially here in Maine, where every coastal town is like I would imagine Santa’s workshop to be. The interior of Maine, well that’s a place along the lines of how I would picture the North Pole. I’m not interested in the holiday sales or the pastries, but I enjoy dressing up for holiday cocktail parties, the colorful balls of lights hanging outdoors, decorating my own tree – while sipping eggnog and watching classic holiday films, and sending out holiday cards.  I also really like gingerbread houses and here goes total honesty – snow globes. Is it terrible that one of my most treasured possessions I brought back from Paris is a snow globe with a polar bear in it purchased for $12 from a children’s shop? For the longest time I’ve wanted one and when I saw this one it seemed worth the trouble of transporting it (really it’s not that big – about the size of a baseball) back home in my luggage. Aren’t I a bit old? Oh, heck it’s just so fun. Now though, to gingerbread houses…I haven’t gone to the trouble of making my own, because I have been gifted one the last couple years by pro cake designer Patricia Moroz, owner of Starlight Custom Cakes in Rockport, Maine. In the future though I can definitely see making one, wouldn’t that be fun?

Moroz has been Mid-Coast Maine’s authority on gingerbread houses for years, creating 100 – 150 gingerbread houses annually for a sale to benefit the Rockport Garden Club and at one time decorating the Camden Opera House’s holiday window displays.

Last year she shared her tips on building a gingerbread house with me for a post when blogging for the Portland Press Herald. This year, I’m sharing her tips with you…

Gather the family, pour the eggnog, and get ready to unleash your inner Frank Lloyd Wright. No architecture degree needed. To design your house or barn, search online for free gingerbread house or dollhouse patterns. Also check out Pinterest for pictures of gingerbread houses (these could come in especially handing when decorating).

Day One – Bake the pieces for the house(s).

Gingerbread House Dough – Patricia Moroz of Starlight Custom Cakes
Her gingerbread recipe is considered to be a “construction dough” which means that it is technically edible but is not one that you would really love to eat because it will be hard as stone.

Wet Ingredients:
¾ cup vegetable shortening
½ cup molasses
½ cup corn syrup (light or dark)
5 Tbsp warm water

Dry Ingredients
5 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp ground ginger
½ tsp salt
¾ cup granulated sugar

1. Combine the “wet” ingredients in a mixer bowl (using the paddle) and mix well for several minutes. Depending upon the humidity and type of mixer you are using, you may have to add a little extra water in order to give the dough a “Play Dough” like consistency. Just add one Tbsp at a time until you achieve this.
2. Mix together the “dry” ingredients in a separate bowl.
3. Change mixer paddle and attach a dough hook. It is very important to use the dough hook when mixing wet and dry ingredients.
4. Add a few cups of dry ingredients to the wet mixture. Mix until all ingredients have been combined using the dough hook. Add small amounts of water (a Tbsp at a time) to dough mix, as needed. The dough should have the consistency of thick Play Dough. You should be able to roll a ball of dough in your hands without it sticking or without it being so dry that it is cracking. If you cannot easily roll out the cracks, then your dough is too dry and you need to add more water. If you add too much water, then you will need to use extra flour on your roller and hands when rolling the dough out.
5. Once mixed, place dough in a plastic bag and let sit on counter for an hour before rolling out to use.
6. Preheat oven to 325.
7. Roll dough onto parchment paper cut to fit the size of your baking pans and use a template of the house or shapes you wish to create. Remove excess dough from the parchment paper instead of lifting the gingerbread. Cut windows, doors, or any openings with a knife before putting the house pieces in the oven to cook.
8. Bake pieces at 325 F until edges are light brown (approximately 15-20 minutes depending on your oven, check after 10 minutes and then every few minutes). Even if the pieces are a little underdone, they will dry hard and be usable. Set aside until cool and ready for assembly and decorating
9. Baked pieces should air dry overnight (at least 24 hours) on parchment paper counter or table. Do not wrap in plastic or refrigerate.

Patricia’s Notes
This construction dough bakes exactly how it is placed into the oven and does not puff up like softer doughs, which is why the windows and cut outs come out so clean.

If you were making a barn, you may want to cut out a square shape in the upper level like many barns have for the loft area. All cut outs would happen before it is placed into the oven to be baked. You can also make doors and trim pieces etc. and bake them separately and glue to the large house pieces after all has been baked. Any impression that is left on the cutout pieces before they are baked will show up on the final piece so if you want a wood impression, you can simply use a knife to make light slices in the gingerbread or a brick pattern etc. People should use their imagination and look to see what they can find around the house.

Buy a cardboard circle for cheap at Walmart or a art supply store, or make one at home reusing thick cardboard. Glue two to each other and cover in foil. Put house on top and then decorate. *Just cut to size of house making.

gingerbread detail

Day Two – Decorate the house(s).

Royal Icing (the “glue” or “cement” that holds the pieces together)
2 lbs. Confectioners sugar
6 level Tbsp of meringue powder (egg white powder – can be found at Michaels Arts & Crafts or Walmart) *Patricia prefers Wilton
6 Tbsp water
Add food coloring if you want a color other than white.

Mix the ingredients for at least 10-15 minutes using a mixer. The longer you beat it, the thicker it gets. If too thick, add a Tbsp of water at a time till get consistency you want (a thick peanut butter consistency). Icing should be ready when it holds a peak.

Tips from Patricia Moroz on Creating a Gingerbread Farm
Fencing – One could use pretzels, crackers or actually cut strips of gingerbread and bake just like you would the actual house pieces.

Animals – Can be made of gingerbread. Use cutters or just trace a pattern. Cut the gingerbread about a quarter inch thick and then can be decorated after baked and attached to the board with royal icing. Most people cover the board after the house has been placed on it with royal icing. This would be a good time to sit the animals where you want them because they will dry into the icing and will never come off again! Cookie cutters can be found at baking stores online (e.g. Beryls, Pfeil). However, to save time and money, you can trace them from a book or image and cut them from a pattern without a cutter. One way for first timers to figure out how to make pigs, chickens, etc. is to use some clay books (e.g. Modeling Clay Animals: Easy-to-Follow Projects in Simple Steps by Bernadette Cuxart) as guides. They are available at craft stores and will show you step by step how to make a pig figure, chickens etc.

If someone wants very colorful animals and figures, they can always purchase a small container of fondant and color portions using cake coloring paste (hobby stores, Walmart, and the above mentioned online sources). If you buy white fondant, you can color by mixing with cake paste colors. Keep in mind individual pieces once shaped can be glued together just by using a dab of water, fondant stick to fondant with just a little moisture.

Animals can be attached against the house with a couple dots of royal icing behind each piece (animal) or put at the bottom and stick onto the board and it will stand up.

Trees – Patricia’s trees are made of chocolate and sugar, but to simplify things for the homemade/fun with the family experience just use sugar cones (ice cream cones) and waffle cones for larger trees. Cover with green icing, texture however you might want to, and glue on any decorations. When the base for the house is being covered with the royal icing, you can simply place the trees where you would like them into the royal icing and they will dry in place. Sift some snow onto them once they are dry.

Snow – When sifting confectioners sugar onto the house, be sure to use a fine sifter and wait until the royal icing is dry to the touch. If you use a sifter that has larger pores, it will dump the sugar on much to heavy. If there is too much in a spot, just use a soft paint brush to brush it to where you want it.

These houses are made for the season, but can keep for a number of years. Store in a cool dry place for them to last as long as possible but really, enjoy it for the season and make a new one the next season. Do not try to preserve with a spray lacquer. It will turn the white parts yellow and you never know when a child or someone will sneak by and break a little bit off for a nibble.

Do not use candy canes as part of the decoration if you want to keep the house. According to Patricia, as soon as they are opened and glued onto the house or base, they will start to melt within about two weeks or so.

Food books I’m excited about this fall


Classic Palestinian Cuisine by Christiane Dabdoub Nasser
There is something that draws me to the cuisine of ancient cultures. How did the cuisine evolve, what were the influences… A couple recipes I am excited to try from this book: Cauliflower Stew and Apricots in Syrup (doesn’t that sound like the perfect winter night dessert!?).
Oh, and my friend Nancy Harmon Jenkins wrote a wonderful article about Palestinian food for Saveur earlier this year – here’s a link.

Pomegranates and Roses: My Persian Family Recipes by Ariana Bundy
My friend “M” has been teaching me about the Assyrian Tree of Life from the Zoroastrian religion, which I have learned unsurprisingly had an impact on Persian cuisine.
This book has me excited to roll up my sleeves and make some Persian food, especially because she doesn’t make the cooking intimidating. Next up I am making Baghali Ghatogh (Fresh Broad Beans with Dill, Garlic and Poached Eggs).

A Simple Feast: Year of Stories and Recipes to Savor and Share by Diana Yen and the Jewels of New York
This past summer when Yen’s book came out I was sent a copy of her book and did this Q&A for the Huffington Post (check out the recipe she shared for a Raspberry Eton Mess).
What don’t I want to make from this book? So far I have made the Roasted Turkey, Manchego, and Fig and Onion Jam Sandwiches and the Double Grilled Cheese and Ham Sandwiches. This holiday season you better believe the Hazelnut Hot Chocolate is happening! What I like more than the recipes is how they are grouped – into cute “themes” for lack of a better description – like Brown Bag Lunch, Snow Day, and Tapping Maple Trees.

At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen: Celebrating the Art of Eating Well by Amy Chaplin
This was another book that was sent to me and what a beautiful surprise. Thank you Steven!! I dare you to read the introduction describing Chaplin’s childhood in rural New South Wales, Australia and not want to know what this woman is doing in the kitchen. I can always use more help eating healthy so I really appreciate the “In the Fridge” section, which gives ideas of what to have on hand when I need to make a fast meal (fermented vegetables, goat cheese, miso, nut butters…). There are so many yummy sounding soups and salads Chaplin describes, that will be served up this winter when I need that extra healthy something. p.s. Natalie Portman (Padme) and Liv Tyler (Arwen) are big fans.

Brown Sugar Kitchen: New-Style Down-Home Recipes from Sweet West Oakland by Tanya Holland
I was in San Francisco a few weeks ago and got to eat at Brown Sugar Kitchen, and folks the best food (there) is in Oakland. There can be a wait of an hour or two, but during that time you get to drink coffee or a mimosa and eat pastries and meet the coolest people – I won the lottery with the family I met from Oakland (who has been eating at BSK since it opened 8 or 9 years ago). Still bummed I did not get to make it to their Oakland Raiders fish fry party. Man, that would have been fun. Anyhow, back to the book – well, I’m a biscuit girl so there’s that recipe for Bacon-Cheddar-Green Onion Biscuits, plus the book’s cover with the plates of fried chicken and waffles, and then there was that night the Sweet Potato-Kale Hash just hit the spot.

Tasting Whiskey: An Insider’s Guide to the Unique Pleasures of the World’s Finest Spirits by Lew Bryson
After reading an advance copy of Bryson’s new book Tasting Whiskey, out this November, I wanted to learn more about tasting whiskey so I organized a tasting at the Portland Hunt & Alpine Club – details here. FYI, Bryson is Whisky Advocate‘s managing editor.

Whiskey Women: The Untold Story of How Women Saved Bourbon, Scotch, and Irish Whiskey by Fred Minnick
Came out last fall and I picked up a copy at Omnivore Books in San Francisco. Fun read, really interesting. I just learned about women who were distilling at home being arrested for witch hunts in the sixteenth century and some seriously cool cloak-wearing, whiskey-making women in Ireland in the 1830s.


Sean Brock is the stuff of Southern food dreams and he is coming out with his first cookbook!! Heritage, which happens to have been photographed by my favorite lifestyle/food lensman Peter Frank Edwards, is due on shelves October 21. Brock is best known as the James Beard award-winning executive chef of Husk in Charleston and Husk in Nashville. What I tend to geek out about when it comes to Brock is his work with David Shields and Glenn Roberts (the latter is the owner of Anson Mills, in Columbia, South Carolina – I’m fond of their grits), who are resurrecting the food grown and served in 19th century Carolinas and Georgia.
Read about his “food genius” in this terrific article from The New Yorker.
And, whose mouth isn’t watering over this…an excerpt from his interview on the James Beard Foundation’s blog describing some of the recipe content…
My sister’s chocolate éclair cake, my Grandma’s stack cakes, the way I roast a chicken at home, verbatim Husk recipes, verbatim McCrady’s recipes. There’s a great cocktail chapter. All the desserts are family recipes—they were good at those. The Husk cheeseburger’s in there. My deviled eggs, pimento cheese, fried chicken…. all the standards.
**If you want to learn more about the influence of rice and African culture on the economy and households of the Old South look no further than Carolina Rice Kitchen: The African Connection by Karen Hess.
I’m so excited for you, because I found a copy of the Food & Wine article on one of Sean Brock’s trips to Senegal.
Oh, and I included Husk in my recommended eats (of course!) after I visited Nashville.  Happy reading.

Husk Nashville White Lily Biscuits with Black Pepper & Sausage Gravy at Sunday brunch Husk Nashville.

What I’ve been up to

Morning, everyone! Ready for another post? I’m adjusting to regular posting again. It feels so good. Last night, to celebrate and because cool weather is settling in, I made sticky buns and sweet potato kale hash from Tanya Holland’s soul fulfilling Brown Sugar Kitchen cookbook.

A couple weeks ago I spent a few days in San Francisco, taking daily walks through places like the Presidio and checking out the goods at the Ferry Street Building. I went to Omnivore Books (bookstores and libraries are musts for me when visiting a place) and that’s where I saw the BSK cookbook and learned about Holland’s famous chicken and waffles. A couple days later I ate at said place, but ordered the BBQ Shrimp & Grits with a biscuit (topped with homemade pineapple jam). Quick note – the best food in San Francisco seems to be in Oakland and that jam is a MUST!!

Since I have not been blogging, I have been doing a million and one other things: freelance writing work, beekeeping, backyard chicken rearing, and preparing for a sort of secretive, potentially life changing thing I’m doing in the next few weeks. (no, not getting married or adopting or anything medical). More on that secret thing in a few weeks.

Fall is arriving like an old friend one hopes will stay for weeks not days. With whispers of colorful leaves falling slowly to the ground and cool windy kisses at night that have you shutting the windows…This is the season when I eat more apples and just about anything pumpkin related, wrap myself in blanket on the sofa in front of football or baseball (the latter is something I’m getting back into), soak in the bath, and drink mugs of tea.

Before the morning gets away from me, I wanted to share with you a few links to stories I did while not blogging.

maine farmland

A profile of Long Grain restaurant in Camden, Maine for Maine Farmland Trust’s first annual magazine.


Huffington Post:

Tasting Whiskey

Q&A w/ Joe Conway, author Get Back Stay Back: 2nd Generation Back-to-the-Landers in Maine

Gourmet Doughnut Food Truck in Portland, Maine

Q&A With Diana Yen, Author of A Simple Feast (including a recipe for Raspberry Eton Mess)

Special Surfer Nights in Kennebunk, Maine

Hop Farming in Maine

Potluck Parties and a Q&A with Author Ashley English

Q&A with Kate McCarty for her book Portland Food: the Culinary Capital of Maine

Growing Soybeans in Northern Maine

A Report on Climate Change and Flooding in the Northeastern U.S.

Gunpowder Rye Whiskey: A Nod to the Past 



Borlaug Institute Program Offers Optimism and Stability in Democratic Republic of Congo

Cocoa Is Playing a Positive Role in the Democratic Republic of Congo  (IMAGE above provided by Theo Chocolate)

and then I am also wrapping up my Portland Press Herald/Maine Today blog “The Root

Alisa Carswell’s hometown restaurant

alisa + Meg black balsam

Photo of Alisa (in the back) and her partner Meg by their friend Audra Ayn.

A few months ago I started thinking, I need to find a designer who can make Delicious Musings a place where I want to spend time again. I am so in awe of what the lovely Ashley English does with her space Small Measure, so I reached out to her for a recommendation and she pointed me in the direction of Alisa Carswell.

Blogging for me is an intimate experience, so I really needed someone who would get me – without really necessarily knowing me – and take what I wanted and grow it. Alisa did that and was an absolute joy to work with. Funny, smart, patient…all the qualities one would want for a designer. And, she listened! She paid attention to what I was saying and through a series of conversations and emails got ideas and then went back to her space in Asheville, North Carolina and got creative.

Because I love food, I thought what better way to share a little bit of Alisa with you than to give you a taste of her hometown. When I asked her to send information about her favorite restaurant and what she orders there, she not only sent me a great description – she even gave us a recipe!! Thanks Alisa, for EVERYTHING!

(from Alisa)

My favorite restaurant in Asheville is just around the corner from my house. King Daddy’s chicken and waffles! It’s run by some of my favorite clients on the planet. John and Julie Stehling. The reasons I love King Daddy’s are many, but the main thing is Julie & John’s commitment to local food & the community. The food is amazing & the service is the best there is.

My favorite dish to get there is Gluten free Chicken and a vegan gluten free waffle.
I have ceilac and it’s so hard to find any restaurants that have a dedicated gluten free fryer! King Daddy’s also makes amazing sweet potato hush puppies and I love them with a side of BBQ sauce to the get the party started!

My favorite thing to make at home is stuffing for Thanksgiving dinner. I love the tradition of Thanksgiving. I love that it’s a holiday that involves eating and (for us) watching lot of great football! My Meg loves my stuffing more than anything else I make and she gets so excited as I only make it a few times a year. I love seeing her so happy about stuffing!!

My favorite Stuffing recipe :

• 2 tablespoons of olive oil
• 2 large sweet onions, finely diced
• 2 cups of celery, finely diced
• 1 cup red pepper , finely diced (I prefer Jimmy Nardello Italian | Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co or pimento peppers if I can get them)
• 10 oz of fresh button mushrooms (I prefer to use chicken of the woods mushrooms, but they are very hard to find in Western North Carolina in November.)
• 1-2 cups of veggie stock (I use edward & sons vegan gluten free not chick’n bouillon cubes. I prefer cubes over stock as it is a richer taste.
• 2 Tablespoons chopped fresh sage (I grow fresh sage, so yummy in fall/winter dishes)
• 8 cubes bread crumbs. I use gluten free ones from whole foods, easy and quick. Any day old gluten free bread chopped into cubes and toasted would work!
• 1 cup toasted walnuts
• 2 eggs lightly beaten
• grey Celtic sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste.
• 1 cup of parmesan cheese (optional)

1. sauté the onions, celery and peppers with a 1/2 teaspoon of salt, when onions turn clear, add the mushrooms, sage, more salt and pepper and sauté for about 2-3 mintues, then deglaze with veggie stock.
2. Add cooked veggies to a large bowl filled with bread crumbs and walnuts and enough to veggie stock to soften (make moist not soggy), then add lightly beaten eggs, and stir to combine.
3. Transfer mixture to a large, greased (I use earth balance to make the edges nice and crispy) baking dish and bake at 400 degrees until the top is a little browned (30-35 minutes). Don’t over cook it so it stays nice and moist.

Enojy with a side of mushroom + brown gravy!

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about this blog

About Me Sharon Kitchens and Delicious Musings. Welcome and thank you for visiting my blog. I write about all the things I enjoy - Culture, Food, Photography &Travel. Read more on my about page.


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