try this at home: make yogurt

My friend Kristen tweeted about yogurt the other day, which got me chatting, again, about making my own. Making yogurt is my most beloved soap box kitchen topic of all time, next to my general obsession with supporting local farmers. She said she wanted to make her own, so I decided to revisit the topic again here (I grabbed a post from last year and spit-shined it for y’all).

A quick aside: Are you listening to the Happier podcast? It’s by Gretchen Rubin and guest-stars her sister, and it’s a fun way to get an inspirational boost to establishing better habits. They open with a “Try this at home” segment that I love, so my post title is a nod to their show because this post felt very advice-y along those lines.

Back to yogurt. The first time I made yogurt, it was after reaching a tipping point of friends cheering me on and reading the Urban Farm Handbook, which I recommend checking out if you like to tinker with local food. A year into my experimentation, my favorite food radio show the Splendid Table covered yogurt-making, and since then I’ve perfected my technique.

Warning: you will lose some milk in this learning process, but if you look at it as just that—a process—you will likely lose less sleep about how the finished product turns out. The longer I make it, the closer I get to 100% success. Virtually the only thing that ever goes wrong now is that I forget I’ve made a batch and leave it in the cooler too long, but you’re probably less of a space cadet than me, so you’re good. Give it a try, and let me know how it goes!

p.s. Don’t forget to stick a piece of key lime pie on it every now and then.


homemade yogurt
makes 2 quarts
  1. 2 QT (1/2 gallon) whole milk (NOT ultra-pasteurized; see notes below directions)
  2. 1/4 c. (4 Tbs.) plain yogurt with active cultures, at room temp. (NOT containing pectin; see notes)
  1. large heavy-bottomed pot
  2. thermometer
  3. two clean quart Ball jars or three clean spaghetti jars (sterilization isn’t necessarily, washed in the dishwasher is fine)
  4. whisk
  5. 2 c. liquid measuring cup
  6. igloo cooler
  7. bath towel or blanket
  8. a few rags or dishtowels
  9. oven mitt
  1. Remove the starter yogurt from the fridge and let it come to room temperature during the next steps.
  2. Starting with clean jars, place them on top of a rag in your pot. The rag keeps the jars from jangling around enough to annoy you and/or crack. Fill the jars with milk, leaving 1-inch headspace at the top (the yogurt you add later will take up room). Fill the pot three-quarters full with water.
  3. Put the pot on the stove. Add the thermometer to the milk. Heat over medium-low, stirring milk once or twice, until the milk is at least 180ºF, preferably 185ºF. This will take a good hour or so. It is important not to heat the milk too fast, both for the risk of scalding and because fast heating leads to grainy, odd-textured yogurt. You aren’t heating the milk to kill any bad bacteria; the heating process just gives you a thicker yogurt. In fact, the longer you leave it at 185º, the thicker the end product will be, but even if you take it off the heat right away, it should be plenty thick.
  4. When the milk is 185ºF, you can either remove the jars from the pot to a dry dishtowel on the counter, or just turn the heat off and let them cool in the water (option #2 takes longer, but I do it when I’m home all day because it produces the best texture to cool slowly). Cool the milk to 115ºF. (Note: If you use jars, putting them in an ice bath could cause a crack.)
  5. When the milk is 115ºF, pour 1 c. milk into measuring cup and add 2 Tbs. tablespoons of yogurt (for a spaghetti jar, one Tbs. will do the trick). Whisk to combine, then pour milk back into jar and whisk again. Repeat with second jar.
  6. Screw on lids and place the jars in a blanket or towel-lined cooler. Tuck the jars under the towel like a baby taking a snug nap, and leave the jars in the cooler for at least 6 hours; I leave mine for 7-10 hours, depending on what time I notice the cooler sitting there. The longer you leave it, the tangier it will be. Transfer the jars from the cooler to the fridge to cool completely; it will thicken a bit more as it cools.


  • Starter yogurt: I have never bought any “yogurt cultures” that are sold specifically for making yogurt at home. I began my batches with commercial plain yogurt (up here we have a delicious brand called Maple Hill Creamery, but Fage works well too). Look for a brand with just milk and active cultures, i.e., no artificial thickeners like pectin. Read the labels. Now I just make sure to save a 1/4 cup of my last yogurt before starting anew. You can also freeze a bit of yogurt as a back-up in case you forget to save it; the freezing process does not kill the active cultures.
  • Milk: Ultra-pasteurization is a process that heats the milk to an extremely high temperature very quickly, which results in a more shelf-stable product. The problem is that the heating process also changes the whey proteins so that yogurt will not set up properly. Simple pasteurization is what you’re looking for. We use whole milk from a local farm; because it doesn’t travel far, it is even cheaper than national brands of organic milk.

read * hear * say * see * eat {8}: morning glory muffins

read * hear * say * see * eat {8}
I hung on every word of this NYT Motherlode story.

I’ll be honest; it’s been a tough week. But it’s been good too, and I hope you’ll enjoy some of the things I encountered this week. And feel free to share your own finds in the comments!


  • A prison inmate wrote a persuasive essay in the NY Times about why more prisons should have education programs.
  • I loved this interview with Marian Cannon Schlesinger, via The Atlantic.
  • I’m reading Gretchen Rubin’s new book Better than Before and planning to review it officially soon, but for now, I’ll just tell you I’m enjoying it and taking notes. I’m also reading old posts of hers (like this one about abstinence versus moderation) to gain insight in how she came to decide to write the book. When I read Gretchen’s definition of habit, I was reminded of this Brain Pickings post from a few months ago about the difference between routine and ritual.
  • I had not read the Food Babe website prior to this week; here’s a NY Times article about her. I’m interested in a trend in the harsh judgment people (particularly moms) get and give each other over how/where they acquire health information. Do you have thoughts on this subject?


  • This American Life: I waited a few months to listen to the two-part Cops See It Differently series because I was waiting for a time in which I could listen to both hours in a row. I’m glad I did, but it was as hard to hear as I imagined it would be. Still, I recommend it highly.
  • Superfan alert! On Point interviewed Mary Norris, famed copy editor at the New Yorker.
  • NPR: Fun story (to read or hear) about doppelgangers meeting each other and finding out they have tons in common, except ancestors.


  • Maybe you’ll accuse me of burying the lede, but if you follow me on Instagram you might already know: We’re moving to Atlanta this summer! I found this article listing spoken-word venues in the area. ATL friends, do you have a favorite place you’ve been for a reading?



  • The Splendid Table: Pozole verde, via Diana Kennedy, and Buddhist nuns teach Eric Ripert
  • Have you ever heard of a Morning Glory Muffin? Next to lemon ginger scones, they are my favorite treat at our local café. I decided to look up a recipe and seem to have discovered the original one from a restauranteur in Nantucket. They are basically the carrot raisin bran muffins I’ve been making for years, except a better moniker and one majorly delicious addition: coconut. I adapted my recipe (see below) to feature the new ingredient.

morning glory muffins
makes 15 muffins

3/4 c. white whole wheat flour
3/4 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 c. flax seed meal
3/4 c. oat bran (or Bob’s Red Mill Cereal)
1/2 c. packed brown sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups shredded carrot (or: zucchini, summer squash)
3/4 c. chopped and toasted nuts (walnuts, pecans, or almonds)
1/2 c. raisins or dried cranberries/currants
1/2 c. shredded coconut
3/4 c. milk, buttermilk, or thinned yogurt
1/2 c. applesauce (or: grated apple, mashed banana, or crushed pineapple)
squirt of molasses
2 Tbs. maple syrup
1 tsp. vanilla
2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1. Preheat oven to 350 degF. Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl, making a well in the center. Add carrots, nuts, dried fruit, and coconut.
2. In a medium bowl, combine wet ingredients, stirring well with a whisk. Add wet ingredients to dry, stirring just until moist (lumps are okay; don’t over-mix). Grease muffin tins or line with paper cups; spoon muffin mix evenly in the cups.
3. Bake for about 15-20 minutes until it passes the toothpick test. Cool 10 minutes in the pan, then cool completely on a wire rack. I like to eat mine smeared with butter or coconut oil.
4. Store up to three days in an airtight container, or wrap individually in foil or wax paper and freeze in a ziplock bag.

read * hear * say * see * eat {2}

This is my bi-monthly list of stuff I found online that I like. I promise never to tell you I “curated” it. Please share in the comments whatever you found that you liked!


  • Toot toot! (that’s the sound of my horn) I wrote an essay about marriage for the Good Men Project. Will you check it out and maybe leave a comment? The only comments now are someone who pretty much thinks I’m a dick, and my wine-enthused reply.
  • Meghan Daum’s The Unspeakable: and Other Subjects of Discussion is so blazing in its honesty that I have to put it down and read something lighter in between essays. Acerbic, poignant, raw: those words might not make it sound pleasant, but it somehow manages to be.
  • A new column in The Rumpus about love started off with a bang. “…everyone I know feels like they’re walking on unsteady ground. Falling in love with someone, building a life, working toward something we may or may not achieve. Shelley_03We are always throwing ourselves into the unknown, hoping that things will work out, that we’ll be happy, that our story will make sense in the end.”
  • Ann Patchett’s new book is getting great reviews, but I am starting with one of her earlier publications, Truth & Beauty: A Friendship. It’s fantastic so far.
  • I can’t exactly explain my fetish with 1850’s lit, but every now and then I like to pick up a book from that era and flip through. Maybe I just like to see if I can figure it out. This week at the library I grabbed Oliver Wendell Holmes’ The Autocrat at the Breakfast Table, a collection of essays from The Atlantic, which I think he helped start (?). I skip through the sluggish parts and find that no matter where I open the book, a passage catches my eye, especially this description of rowing on the Charles River: “When I have established a pair of well-pronounced feathering-calluses on my thumbs, when I am in training so that I can do my fifteen miles at a stretch without coming to grief in any way, when I can perform my mile in eight minutes or a little less, then I feel as if I had old Time’s head in chancery, and could give it to him at my leisure.” If that doesn’t make you want to get out on the water, then I just don’t know what.


  • If you have been listening to Fresh Air a while, I think you will agree with me that Terry Gross is so totally gaga for Bradley Cooper. Do you remember that scene in You’ve Got Mail when Meg Ryan watches Greg Kinnear fawn over his interviewer? It’s just like that! Smitten, I tell you. Maybe it’s because he’s from Philly? The dude is super smooth, I’ll give him that much, calling her “Terry” at every opportunity. (Her interview with Ann Patchett is also a must listen)
  • Alec Baldwin interviewed Sarah Jessica Parker. It’s the interview I wanted ten years ago, and just like after S&TC, I was sad when it was over.
  • Just in time for Valentine’s Day (which a friend of our family once famously called ‘VD’), check out the episode of Death, Sex, & Money where Anna compiles all the footage about love. I’ve also listened to each of those interviews in their full length; they are all great.




  • Our snow menu features heavily in Pioneer Woman comfort recipes like mac & cheese and cinnamon rolls (but whoa baby, back off on how much sugar you sprinkle on the dough if, like us, you don’t have a monster sweet tooth).
  • I’ve perfected my cocoa recipe over the past four years. I added it below. I tend to like it better than mixes, which often add yucky powdered milk for some reason. Keep in mind, everything in moderation. 😉

the perfect hot cocoa
serves 8

1/3 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 c. white sugar
pinch of salt
1/3 c. boiling water
3 1/2 c. whole milk
big splash of vanilla extract
1/2 c. heavy cream, whipped until stiff with a bit of sugar and vanilla
whiskey as desired


  1. Combine cocoa, sugar, and salt in a large saucepan. Whisk in boiling water and bring mixture to a boil, while stirring constantly. Simmer 2 minutes, then stir in milk and heat until hot but not boiling.
  2. Remove from heat, add vanilla and whiskey at will, pour into mugs, and top with whipped cream. Note: I make this recipe for the four of us to have twice and put away the extra in a mason jar in the fridge. The chocolate will settle at the bottom but mixes back in once heated again.

winter potluck salad

winter potluck salad - heirloom mothering
After much ado, I finally got a good holiday photo! You were a fun year, 2014.

I have a few articles lined up to appear elsewhere, and I’m excited to tell you more about them when they go live starting next week!

(Gah, I hate when writers tease like that, sorry).

For now, I’m taking a break from words and getting straight to the goods. I made this salad for Nate to take to a Friendsgiving last weekend. When he returned home with the empty bowl, he reported it was a big hit. Which I knew already, of course. I realized when reviewing it that I’d made enough changes from the original post to share it with you again. I changed its name from “resolution salad” to “winter potluck salad” because it needed to be bumped up earlier in the rotation. It’s perfect for a winter potluck because so many dishes are heavy, and this is a refreshing sight to behold on such a carb-loaded table. Plus, it is oh so adorably festive with the red and the green. I’m making it again for a potluck I’m attending next week.

Cheers & happy holidays, y’all! Hope your winter parties are all smash-hits. xoxo j

winter potluck salad - heirloom mothering

winter potluck salad
serves 8

2 c. farro
1 c. dried cranberries or seeds of 1 pomegranate
large handful (about 1/2 to 3/4 c.) flat-leaf parsley, chopped (basil or mint works too)
1 c. edamame beans, defrosted & shelled (optional)
1 c. pecans, chopped & toasted
1 c. soft crumbly cheese, like goat or blue

Citrus Vinaigrette (from Bon Appetit):
3/4 c. light oil (I like grapeseed & sunflower, but olive oil works)
1/4 c. vinegar (I prefer white or red wine)
zest and juice (2-3 Tbs.) of 1 clementine
zest and juice (2-3 Tbs.) of 1 lemon
1-2 tsp. salt, plus pepper to taste
1 shallot, minced finely or grated


1. Cook the farro according to your package’s directions. I put a big pot of water on the stove, salt it well, let it come to a boil, drop in the 2 c. farro (don’t bother washing it, you can skip that step), and cook it for about 25 minutes. Taste it to be sure it’s al dente. Then drain and rinse well with cold water to cool it off faster. Let it sit in your colander while you do the next step.

2. Toast your pecans while the farro cooks, then let the nuts cool. If you’re using frozen shelled edamame, take it out now so it can defrost. Crumble your cheese and set it aside.

3. While the farro cools, add all your dressing ingredients to a small mason jar and shake well. Taste for salt and adjust as needed. Pour slowly over the cooled farro, cranberries or pom. seeds, parsley, and edamame in a huge glass or ceramic serving bowl; go light with the dressing at first because you won’t need to use it all now (but it’s great on arugula later). You’ll be surprised how much the farro soaks up; I usually end up with about 1/4 c. left. Toss salad, and let it chill in the fridge covered with plastic wrap for at least an hour.

4. Meanwhile, if you’re bringing the salad to a potluck, put the nuts in their own container, ditto the cheese. You will want to toss those in at the last minute, or else your cheese will dissolve into a pink mess, and the nuts will be soft. Just trust me.

gerunding {+ Cuban black bean soup}

It seems I am always in the middle of something. Reading. Knitting. Cooking. Writing. Editing. Eating. I like to have lots going on. A recent -ing I’m doing is volunteering with a local project to feed kids who go hungry when school is not in session. I offered my public health business planning services, and so far the experience is gratifying, challenging, rewarding, and all-consuming, the very best gerunds a volunteer project can offer. Although the operations are focused on offering boxes full of fresh food, I haven’t taken part yet in that side of the process. I figure someone has to clear brush upstream so our boat can sail on when we reach that wild unknown future, so I’m keeping my focus on the horizon.

I chose to jump into this project now because I’ve finally got the time to give; pretty soon I’ll be needing a new raison d’être. Maybe I should have had the time last year, especially since I cut down on doula-ing, but kindergarten was a baffling jump from pajamas to the big leagues. It was like trying to climb out of a ball pit while wearing roller skates. And then like magic, my morning calendar became wide-open this fall with kid #2 in pre-k, so I shopped around for a valuable way to spend my newfound bounty of hours. I do a lot of writing, of course, but it’s a self-focused activity, and I get tired of being in my own head. When I turn my attention to this project, I jump into the flow of a task that will accept as much effort as I have to offer. It’s a rabbit hole of usefulness.

Have you heard of the concept of filling each other’s buckets? Vivi learned about this idea at school, and I borrowed a book from the library to fill the gap between what she learned and what little I knew about it. Now I use the bucket analogy to explain many scenarios from tattle-tales to compliments. I even see it as a useful exercise for my adult brain and find myself picturing my bucket filling and emptying as I hold open a door for someone or am honked at in traffic. Actually, in that latter vision, I see myself pouring my bucket on the honker’s head, which may not be what the author intended.

This hunger project fills my bucket with gratitude for all the ways I’m cared for in my life. As a doula, I see the types of care that are essential to making people feel supported, particularly in times of stress. Their need for food should be met, of course, but what about the next meal? Humans seek predictability and find relief of knowing we will be granted future sustenance; we are striving in this organization to meet a goal of sustainability. People want support, but we also long to be understood, to be valued, and to be useful. This project gives me outlets for all of these basic drives, and I hope part of our long-term strategy will be focused on giving our community those outlets as well.

I haven’t shared a recipe here in a while, and since I’ve been focused in this post on comfort, I knew just what I wanted to share. If I had to pick a food that I find both comforting and that can be shared among big group, this Cuban black bean soup would be at the top of the list. My favorite meal in Miami, apart from Cuban sandwiches, is black bean soup. It is velvety and smoky and fills you with warmth. And did I mention it’s easy?

This recipe was adapted from The Kitchn. I made few changes to the ingredients, just more salt and spices, but I did change the cooking method. I much prefer cooking it in the oven than on the stove top. The taste is just as good, you don’t have to worry about scorching the bottom of your pot (good news if you’re as easily distracted as I am), and you can leave the house if need be.

Cuban Black Bean Soup

Serves 8

1 pound dried black beans (a must; I would not make this with canned beans)
1 onion, finely chopped
1 green bell pepper, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 ham bone or smoked ham hock
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tsp. to 1 Tbs. salt
1 tsp. each of ground: cumin, Smoked paprika, and black pepper
1/3 cup white or cider vinegar (optional)

To garnish:
Sour cream
1. The night before cooking the soup, rinse beans, removing rocks and ugly beans. Place beans in a Dutch oven or soup pot and cover with plenty of cold water. Soak overnight.

2. In the morning, preheat the oven to 300ºF. Drain the water and refill the pot until the water is one inch above the beans. Stir in the chopped veggies, garlic, ham hock, salt and pepper, spices, and olive oil. Add 2 teaspoons salt and black pepper.

3. Bring to a boil over high heat. Skim foam, reduce heat to low, and cover. Bake in the preheated oven for 4 to 5 hours. Check and stir every 2 hours or so until the beans have broken down to create a creamy, thick soup; the soup should coat the back of a spoon.

4. Taste soup and add salt as needed (mine needed at least another teaspoon). Remove the ham bones/hock and any fat and break up any large pieces of ham with a fork. (I’m sure Cubans would tell me this next part is not optional, but I’ve made it both and without vinegar and like each version. If you don’t use vinegar, be sure to serve the soup with vinegar or hot sauce on the side). Stir in the vinegar and simmer for an additional 15 minutes, uncovered.

5. Serve by itself or over rice and garnish with sour cream. I like to freeze what we don’t eat in QT mason jars. It reheats beautifully.


notes on the {soup +} salad days

My cousins Kate and Sara, on opposite sides of my family and at opposite ends of the country, got engaged in the same week! In my excitement I decided to write them a letter.

salad days - heirloom mothering
Me (right) with my cousins Jeannie & Kate (one of the two betrothed)

How can I tell you about my marriage without sounding like I expect you to follow my advice? I don’t. So let’s begin there. I am not going to tell you how to run your marriage because the only way to do it is the one you carve out. If we can agree on that, then we’ve just about covered what I wanted to divulge.

I married young. I didn’t know that then, and Nate probably knew less about it than I did. How else can you explain a twenty-two year old man trading in his beloved gold Honda for an engagement ring? He may not be a smart man, but he knows what love is. Is that how it goes?

Thing is, Nate is a smart man. I’d like to tell you his intelligence was why I picked him, but in truth, it was his red sideburns. He was different; my kind of different, whatever that was. He sang bits of boy band tunes out loud in a room filled with testosterone. He wore brightly colored shorts. When he laughed, his face turned the hue of the brightest shorts, as though he were both delighted and embarrassed at his own amusement.

notes on early marriage - heirloom mothering
Feast your eyes on the redness of the sideburns.

We celebrate ten years of marriage next month. A decade in (well, thirteen if you count the pre-marital years), he’s still the same guy. We’ve both grown up a lot. He is more kind and I’m more patient, or maybe I’m more kind and he’s more patient. In any case, it works. I think it works mostly because during the occasional flash flood of contempt, we bridge the gap with compassion, acceptance, conversation…and, if I’m being honest and a little crass (close your ears, Grandma), sex. Finding time for sex was probably our biggest post-baby accomplishment. So there you go. Sorry Grandma.

notes on early marriage - heirloom motheirng

I’m not sure I’d alter much about our early marriage. We experimented, and for the most part our experiments produced heady results. Some of our best risk-taking has been with food. We both love to eat, which could explain why our first dates were so good. Put a plate of food in front of me, and I’m going to eat it; odds are I’ll like it too. Nate is the same, only even more so. Your thing doesn’t have to be food, but find something you can share and get to work tinkering.

At the beginning of our marriage, my dad gave us a gift card to Olive Garden with a large sum on it. I can’t remember the exact amount, but I recall it paid for at least ten trips to the restaurant. Given we were a broke grad student and a broke university administrator at the time, we appreciated this gift and our ability to skip an entry into our little blue accounting book. When we needed a pick-me-up, particularly in the bone-cold Wisconsin winter, we’d head over for soup-salad-breadsticks and stuff our faces full.

Our tastes have matured some since the {Olive Garden} salad days, but I treasure that period of our lives. I try to capture my gratitude and hold onto it, even now that we can splurge more. What is that platitude, If you’re not grateful for what you have, what makes you think you’ll be happy with more? It’s something like that. [Speaking of platitudes, have you seen this website where they turn fake platitudes into posters?]

The late summer farmer’s markets in Boston overflow with fresh shelling beans (cranberry beans) and kale, so I decided to try a new recipe as an homage to early marriage. I settled on pasta fagioli, and I’m glad I did. The dish highlights the texture of the fresh beans, and each bite takes me back to the early days. I am grateful for those memories and this husband. Here’s to many more years!

[Notes on the recipe: I tweaked this recipe and am happy with the results. I might add more spice and more meat next time, maybe hot Italian sausage? But this simple version gets the job done. You can easily remove the bacon and substitute water for chicken stock if you’d prefer a vegetarian version. I can’t vouch for what would happen if you remove the cheese and go vegan, though. I froze a big batch for the dead of winter, when we’ll replicate those old frigid Wisconsin days with plenty of frigid Massachusetts days to come.]

pasta fagioli with shelling beans

makes about 2 quarts


4 pieces of bacon, diced
1 small onion, roughly chopped
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 tsp. fresh rosemary, finely chopped
5 garlic cloves, smashed and minced
5 whole tomatoes from a can, crushed by hand
salt and pepper to taste (I like to substitute TJ’s 21 seasoning salute for pepper)
2 c. fresh shelling/cranberry beans (3 lb in shell) or 1 c. dried beans, soaked overnight (cannellini can be substituted)
2 bay leaves
2-3 QT. chicken stock
parmesan rind (you can get this cheap at some cheese counters if you don’t have a frozen one on hand), plus 1/2 c. grated
2 c. small pasta (I used cavatelli shells)
1 bunch kale, stems removed & discarded, chopped (Tuscan is very pretty in soup)
1/4 c. fresh parsley, chopped
olive oil


1. Saute bacon in Dutch oven over medium heat until the fat has been rendered. Add onion and cook 2 minutes until softened. Add pepper flakes, rosemary, and garlic, and saute 1 minute. Add tomatoes; cook 2 more minutes. Add beans, salt and pepper, 2 qt. chicken stock, bay leaves, and parmesan rind. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and cook for approximately 1.5 to 2 hours until the beans are tender.

2. Uncover and remove bay leaves and what’s left of the rind. Bring soup to a boil and add pasta; add more stock as needed. Cook 3 minutes, then add kale and cook 5-6 minutes longer, until the pasta is al dente. Add the remaining stock and/or water if it’s too thick and season to taste.

3. To each bowl of soup, add fresh chopped parsley, grated parmesan, and a drizzle of olive oil. A squeeze of lemon juice is also nice.

a breakfast dream deferred {+ spiced granola}

I weave recipes into stories of life and motherhood because, in my family, food is what living is about. My own mother will readily proclaim that my grandmother didn’t cook well— “the bottom of a rubber-soled shoe” is how she likes to put it. Yet when describing her childhood memories, Mom never fails to mention the delicious brown bread, the cream cheese-and-walnut, and peanut butter-banana-butter sandwiches her mother made with love.

I could make jokes about my vegetarian mom’s cooking too, like the blood-raw steaks coated in salt and just barely warmed up in the toaster oven or the brown sugar-coated refried beans. But in the same breath, I would tell you that the most prominent smell in my childhood home was bread, and my mother was famous within my family for her big salads. Most days, there is nothing I’d rather eat than bread and butter and a big salad.

When I ask my paternal grandmother about her mother’s cooking, she has similarly ambivalent memories of the quality of the food. But listen to her describe standing on her tippy toes to sop up her mother’s potlikker with a piece of bread, and you’re whisked away to a lifetime ago, smelling the sauce and feeling the love in that room.

If I were to go back in time to when I was a child and tell my relatives that I would go on to write about my love of food, they would be confused to say the least. I didn’t start out loving a variety of foods. My grandma likes to joke that little Elijah Wood in this scene in the film Avalon was me as a child–“I hate when food touches!” But what I have loved as long as I can remember is the ritual of food. When I was young, baking was a skill I observed and enjoyed playing pretend with obsessive zeal. Even so, somehow I didn’t develop baking skills to take with me in my adult-esence phase of life. My mother, the aforementioned expert bread baker, and my paternal grandmother, whose pies were legendary, both invited me to learn from them. It just didn’t take.

Mom & Me, 1984ish, Texas
Mom & Me, 1984ish, Texas. I am pretend-baking and cleaning, my typical play activities at four-years-old.

In my thirties, I have rediscovered a love of baking, especially and perhaps even solely breakfast goodies. Ain’t life grand. My repertoire of homemade breakfast foods extends from the healthier yogurt and granola to the more hedonist biscuit or scone with jam. Nate and I happen to share a weirdly specific desire to learn to ferment, so I imagine someday my breakfast treats will involve drinks like kefir and kombucha. Nate hopes to learn how to smoke and cure meats, which in my dream culminates in adding homemade lox and hickory-smoked bacon to the menu.

The menu for what? you might reasonably ask. For as long as we’ve been together, the hubs and I have harbored hopes of opening our own business. In recent years, the business is coming more clearly into focus to becoming a bed & breakfast in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I would love to grow most of our own food and trade wares with the locals, Kingsolver-like.

Going on ten years of marriage this October, we haven’t yet put down a deposit on that B&B. But I don’t consider it a dream unrealized. It’s just been deferred for some unspecified time down the road. Meanwhile, I consider this time spent tinkering with recipes to be great preparation for my second career. For now, I rely mostly on others to provide my food, but I’ve learned to seek local ingredients when possible and practice patience when learning to bake.

To that end, I’m sharing a recipe for grown-up spiced granola, which is not quick, but it is easy and so satisfying to gather, stir, smell, and taste. And with minimal natural sugars and oils, I daresay it’s healthy too. I was inspired to make it because I grew tired of saccharine-sweet, oily granola that was nearly all oats.

If you’re looking to slow down and hoping to add something to your breakfast repertoire or create a unique thank-you gift, perhaps you’ll give it a try. I call it “grown-up granola” both because it involves whole toasted nuts, a no-no in my preschooler’s eyes, and because it isn’t as sweet as the recipe I make for them. I also believe that food as fussy as this granola should be shared with those who appreciate it most. Won’t you come eat it at my bed & breakfast in twenty years?

spiced granola for grown-ups - Heirloom Mothering


grown-up spiced granola

makes 20 cups, if I added correctly


10 c. old-fashioned rolled oats

5 c. nuts, whole or coarsely chopped (whatever you like: almonds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, macadamia nuts, cashews, pumpkin seeds, pecans, walnuts, pine nuts)

3 c. coconut flakes, unsweetened

2 c. dried fruit (cranberries, raisins, cherries)

1/4 c. olive oil

1/4 c. coconut oil

1/4 c. maple syrup

1/4 c. honey (note: as is, this granola is not very sweet. Add another 1/2 c. honey to sweeten it)

2 tsp. vanilla extract

2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 1/2 tsp. coarse salt

1 tsp. ground ginger

1/2 tsp. ground cardamom

1/4 tsp. fresh ground nutmeg

1/4 tsp. ground cloves


1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Toast nuts on baking sheets covered in parchment paper, rotating every few minutes, for approximately 10 minutes or until nicely browned. Transfer them to the largest bowl you have.

2. Toast coconut, rotating at least once per minute for about five minutes until lightly browned. DO not leave the oven during this step! The coconut will burn quickly if not monitored closely. Add it to the big bowl.

3. In a medium bowl, toss oats with spices and salt. Mix oils, syrup, and honey in a glass measuring cup and heat in the microwave quickly to loosen the honey. Whisk together, pour over oats, and stir to combine.

4. Cook oats on two baking sheets (again, lined in paper) for approximately 30 minutes, stirring every five minutes or so, until browned. Add to the nut mixture and stir together. Let cool for an hour so the mixture dries before storing it. I keep mine in the freezer and sprinkle it on yogurt, and I also love the giant glass canister for the counter ‘cuz this here granola is perty. To guild the lily, I like to top it with some bubbly meyer marmalade.