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Posts by Sarah Gilbert

Sarah is working to eat more slowly, sustainably, and inconveniently, and it’s a lot of work, rift with bright sparks of joy and some of the most amazing meals of her life, eaten at a dining table in her in-process 1912 home in Portland, Oregon, while her three small boys climb and run around her and her husband slowly learns to celebrate fermented foods and honey-sweetened treats.

She is a freelance financial writer and former professional blogger; she keeps chickens; and she’s a beginning urban farmer. For Sarah, “convenience” is no longer a good thing.


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Sarah Gilbert is a freelance financial writer; she keeps chickens; and she’s a beginning urban farmer. She lives with her three small boys and husband in Portland, Oregon, and keeps her own blog, Cafe Mama.

Making Molly’s soup my soup

Unpacking “A Homemade Life”

By
March 9, 2009

Molly Wizenberg, the blogger behind Orangette, has a food memoir out: A Homemade Life. The book is, as the jacket would suggest, about death as much as food; it is billed as a “coming of age” story, and she writes of growing up through a series of recipes. Chocolate chip-bourbon pie made in the memory of an aunt who died too young, a gooey celebration of her baking prowess, is a sweet, if spare, memory. I do not eat sugar, and I know I will not make this pie. Much of her early writing is this way: full of sugar and high school.

Continue reading Making Molly’s soup my soup »

Sarah Gilbert is a freelance financial writer; she keeps chickens; and she’s a beginning urban farmer. She lives with her three small boys and husband in Portland, Oregon, and keeps her own blog, Cafe Mama.

Hoping for change

Will there be progressive improvements in the Obama kitchen?

By
January 19, 2009

I do not watch "60 Minutes," but I am giddy with delight when I see the video online: Barack and Michelle in their own kitchen, cooking with Malia and Sasha.

I want to know more about this new President and his wife, and the first thing I want to know is: Are they friendly to sustainably grown, organic foods? Is there any way, despite the corn-connected Secretary of Agriculture candidate, that Obama’s administration will begin to stem the tide of genetically modified crops and the united states of monocultures that we’ve been building, lo, these last 60 years?

Continue reading Hoping for change »

Sarah Gilbert is a freelance financial writer; she keeps chickens; and she’s a beginning urban farmer. She lives with her three small boys and husband in Portland, Oregon, and keeps her own blog, Cafe Mama.

More or less

What do we “deserve”?

By
January 13, 2009

Great charity was given and received this past Christmas, some of it to my family. Growing up in a household in which the bills were always a stretch and frugality was, not fashionable, but the only reality we ever knew, I have seen the boxes dozens of times.

The good ones have a ham and a turkey; a can of olives, the kind you can put on your fingertips; and brand-name canned vegetables and cranberry sauce. They have two of everything: two boxes of stuffing, two packages of cake mix, two cans of green beans for casserole. A hefty bag of white sugar, maybe some luscious spongy dinner rolls, canned pie filling, fruit cocktail. Oranges or, for the truly extravagant givers, a box of clementines.

Continue reading More or less »

Sarah Gilbert is a freelance financial writer; she keeps chickens; and she’s a beginning urban farmer. She lives with her three small boys and husband in Portland, Oregon, and keeps her own blog, Cafe Mama.

Cooking in my mother’s kitchen

My food, 52 weeks a year

By
December 5, 2008

I have read many sprightly missives from the local-foods and “green” columnists and bloggers of late, reminding us true believers that, while visiting family, we must suspend our demanding ways, we must love the people and (silently) hate their ways with recycling and corn syrup. We must honor the truth that, well, we do right the other 51 weeks of the year.

That is not my practice. “I feel like you’re one-upping me!” says my mother. I am staying with her and my dad for a week, along with my sister, Jenny, and her husband and baby daughter, visiting from Panama. “I always worked so hard to make you children nutritious food.”

Continue reading Cooking in my mother’s kitchen »

Sarah Gilbert is a freelance financial writer; she keeps chickens; and she’s a beginning urban farmer. She lives with her three small boys and husband in Portland, Oregon, and keeps her own blog, Cafe Mama.

The church of local food

A religious experience at Wordstock

By
November 13, 2008

He had such kind eyes. Not the eyes of an imperious chef. And I, who had never eaten in his restaurant but felt that I knew him and his oeuvre so well, had made one of those connections that an audience member can sometimes make with a speaker. I know this because when I speak, I find them, someone whose gaze is comfortable to meet. A simple understanding: one is there to listen, the other to hold forth, and both of you are in the same room, metaphysically speaking as well as, yes, literally.

Continue reading The church of local food »

Sarah Gilbert is a freelance financial writer; she keeps chickens; and she’s a beginning urban farmer. She lives with her three small boys and husband in Portland, Oregon, and keeps her own blog, Cafe Mama.

The generosity of the new economy

Freezer for jam

By
October 13, 2008

It is time to pick up that freezer.

I have nearly reached the capacity of my refrigerator’s built-in freezer; it is stuffed with quart jars of berries and many individually-wrapped packages of sausage. I am budgeting several Kookoolan Farm “green” chickens for my next paycheck, so I’ll need the room, and I’m about to start roasting the end of the summer’s produce to freeze. And I finally have plenty of jam.

I am trading the freezer for a jar of jam, and as a jar seems hardly sufficient, I’m planning to bring at least three or four pints. Blackberry sage, for sure, and perhaps blueberry lavender. Strawberry marjoram, then, and something new and special. I’ve been tossing recipes for green-tomato jam around in my head, and maybe I’ll come up with one that’s really out of this world, so good it will stand Mes Confitures on her stylish French head.

Continue reading The generosity of the new economy »

Sarah Gilbert is a freelance financial writer; she keeps chickens; and she’s a beginning urban farmer. She lives with her three small boys and husband in Portland, Oregon, and keeps her own blog, Cafe Mama.

‘The autumn of my tomatoes’

Sarah trades one kind of work for another

By
September 30, 2008

It is fall, and it is resplendent, hard to wrap my head around the concept of soft steady rains, cool mornings, sundown before 7 p.m. when the farmers’ market and my own garden are overflowing with still-ripening tomatoes, the last of the peaches, heady with their ripe scent, and still a procession of blueberries, zucchini, peppers.

I cock my head at the local organic acorn squash at the neighborhood produce market, amazed that it is their time. I cannot imagine, but the day will come — it could be only weeks away — when these begin to fill my meal plans.

Continue reading ‘The autumn of my tomatoes’ »

Sarah Gilbert is a freelance financial writer; she keeps chickens; and she’s a beginning urban farmer. She lives with her three small boys and husband in Portland, Oregon, and keeps her own blog, Cafe Mama.

‘Sourdough fever’s got me’

Making starter at home

By
September 19, 2008

I know I often get caught up in the moment, transported by a good feta cheese or a particularly sexy kind of leafy green. But who knew how thrilling a bowl of bubbling fungus would be?

I have not even baked my first loaf before I’ve caught the fever. So it can’t be a case of substance abuse (unless the yeasty fumes are getting me high). The book I’ve been turning to for recipes for berry honey wine, brined pickles, and kombucha — Wild Fermentation — is the one that’s got me all worked up about sourdough.

Continue reading ‘Sourdough fever’s got me’ »

Sarah Gilbert is a freelance financial writer; she keeps chickens; and she’s a beginning urban farmer. She lives with her three small boys and husband in Portland, Oregon, and keeps her own blog, Cafe Mama.

Preserving summer

The pressure’s on

By
August 22, 2008

It’s 12:45 a.m., and my kitchen counter is splattered with the sweet juice of pounds of Bing cherries. I hope my neighbors can’t see in, because it looks as if I’ve just chopped up a murder victim. And I have the crazed look in my eye of a killer; it’s my third batch of jam of the night, and I still want to get the kitchen cleaned up so tomorrow’s berry-picking bounty will be easy to process.

I am tired, but I press on, exulting when I get the proportions just right. I’m making jam without sugar, and my first batch of cherry-honey jam is marked with “super sweet” on the lid, and I don’t really know what I’m going to do with those six neatly sealed half-pint jars. Perhaps it should be “honey-cherry jam.” I was replacing 6 cups of sugar from my recipe, and thought 2 cups of honey might do. The resulting purple spread was so cloying I almost choked.

Continue reading Preserving summer »

Sarah Gilbert is a freelance financial writer; she keeps chickens; and she’s a beginning urban farmer. She lives with her three small boys and husband in Portland, Oregon, and keeps her own blog, Cafe Mama.

Giving up Rachael Ray

For good?

By
July 28, 2008

It wasn’t the fault of Rachael Ray’s paisley scarf. I had given her up before the brouhaha even began. In fact, it had nothing to do with any scandals or raves involving the Food Network’s roster (I enjoy Ray and adore Ina Garten, and have a typical foodie crush on Alton Brown, though I confess Sandra Lee makes me want to scream). It was my son Everett, for whom the presence of a television as the focal point of our living room was causing enormous issues.

One day, he and I had a huge blowup that ended with me calling Comcast and cutting our television services off entirely. As I waited on hold, I bit my lip and thought, “Iron Chef”? “30-Minute Meals”? “Barefoot Contessa”? What will I do without you? It wasn’t meant as a punishment, but for my husband and me, it felt very much like one.

Continue reading Giving up Rachael Ray »

Sarah Gilbert is a freelance financial writer; she keeps chickens; and she’s a beginning urban farmer. She lives with her three small boys and husband in Portland, Oregon, and keeps her own blog, Cafe Mama.

About sprouting

Granola be gone

By
July 11, 2008

When someone wrote on an email listserv that Sally Fallon, the evangelistic cookbook author of Nourishing Traditions, had strongly recommended a ban on all cold cereal (including granola), I bought the book largely to find out what, exactly, Fallon had been thinking.

Granola — made in my own oven with Northwest-grown organic oats, local hazelnuts and walnuts, and Portland wildflower honey — is one of my little victories. I’d convinced Truman, my stubborn three-year-old, to eat this for breakfast, and I was far too proud of this accomplishment to dismiss it on the word of some wildly opinionated author.

Continue reading About sprouting »

Sarah Gilbert is a freelance financial writer; she keeps chickens; and she’s a beginning urban farmer. She lives with her three small boys and husband in Portland, Oregon, and keeps her own blog, Cafe Mama.

Sustainable on a budget?

Order starts with a clean kitchen

By
June 5, 2008

It is a great blessing that, when I come home from Monique’s workshop, my kitchen is sparkling clean.

My sister (the youngest one, the only sibling of five not to have had babies in the past year and therefore prized for her freedom to babysit) had used bleach on the sinks to get them white — Monique would have frowned — but I certainly wasn’t going to niggle over the method of such unexpected delight. After tonight’s “inspiration” (a cynical soul might call it “unrealistic bar-setting”), a clean kitchen was exactly where I wanted to start.

Continue reading Sustainable on a budget? »

Sarah Gilbert is a freelance financial writer; she keeps chickens; and she’s a beginning urban farmer. She lives with her three small boys and husband in Portland, Oregon, and keeps her own blog, Cafe Mama.

Shared asparagus

Roasting is her method of choice

By
May 30, 2008

I am not pleased with my husband this Saturday night. He has been emotional and unreasonable, and I am tired of being the “big” one. I have just put the two older boys to bed, after quite the energy roller coaster, and I need to carve out some Zen in my night.

I go to the kitchen, cleaning what’s dirty, left over from a too hectic Saturday, delivered pizza poking at the corners of my angst. There, on the other side of the box, is my farmers’ market bag; I’ve left one of the bunches of asparagus I bought in it, and an errant leaf of red lettuce. I’d planned to make it earlier in the afternoon, but things — pizza, messes, arguments — got in the way.

Continue reading Shared asparagus »

Sarah Gilbert is a freelance financial writer; she keeps chickens; and she’s a beginning urban farmer. She lives with her three small boys and husband in Portland, Oregon, and keeps her own blog, Cafe Mama.

Green garlic on pizza

The mother of invention

By
May 21, 2008

I ran out of garlic, and I panicked a bit when I realized that the stinky white bulbs were entirely out of season. I walked the winter farmers’ market back and forth a few Sundays before I accepted that there was none to be had. I bought a bunch of Copra onions, and handfuls of shallots, and I made do.

My husband, who rebels against my totalitarian local-and sustainable-foods regime (I’ve had to give up on mayonnaise), bought a couple of heads of garlic in February. Though I protested, I used them slowly, rationing.

Continue reading Green garlic on pizza »

Sarah Gilbert is a freelance financial writer; she keeps chickens; and she’s a beginning urban farmer. She lives with her three small boys and husband in Portland, Oregon, and keeps her own blog, Cafe Mama.

Mostly green

Of peanut butter and paper towels

By
April 30, 2008

I do wish they hadn’t started with the paper towels.

I was at an “Eco Party” put on by a local do-greener organization, the Northwest Earth Institute. We had printed out checklists about our green habits. The first few questions were making me feel warm and accomplished: Do you have a reusable shopping bag? (Yes! A good dozen of ‘em!) Is it with you when you need it? (Yes! I even made a bag that holds other bags. From an old shirt and tie that I bought at the Goodwill Outlet. You can’t get much more reduce-reuse-recycle than that!) Which of the following have you not purchased in the past two years: paper plates, coffee filters, paper napkins, disposable cups (ooh, I’m on a roll), paper towels . . .

Continue reading Mostly green »

Sarah Gilbert is a freelance financial writer; she keeps chickens; and she’s a beginning urban farmer. She lives with her three small boys and husband in Portland, Oregon, and keeps her own blog, Cafe Mama.

Share some rapini

Write the governor

By
April 14, 2008

At the farmers’ market, I have already purchased a big bunch of collard raab when I see the tiny booth with its precious microgreens and less-than-mainstream varieties. I come in for the jewel-like pickled peppers, but then I see a hand-lettered sign, in cursive, saying “cima di rapini.” You say it “cheema,” and I’m transported.

I can’t pay for it quickly enough; it has hard flowering buds like the other raabs, but its stems are pale green and slender, like a daffodil’s. And its Italian name has me swooning. Cima di rapini. I say it over and over again to myself as I walk away, my market bag straining my back with, now, $96 in greens, bacon, cheeses, little carrots, bagels, a chicken, eggs, Portuguese sausage, bounty galore.

Continue reading Share some rapini »

Sarah Gilbert is a freelance financial writer; she keeps chickens; and she’s a beginning urban farmer. She lives with her three small boys and husband in Portland, Oregon, and keeps her own blog, Cafe Mama.

Bread alone

Baking on a Friday night reconnects me

By
April 7, 2008

We are all making bread.

Something has overcome us. A few months ago, if you were to come up to one of us and ask about bread, you might have gotten a referral for a great local bakery. For some, sure, it’s been a year or two of the fever. But for me, for many of my friends, my friends’ friends, around Portland and the country and as far away as Canada and Paris and New Zealand, bread is a new passion; we have only recently come to this place where, on a Friday night, all we can think about is bread.

Continue reading Bread alone »

Sarah Gilbert is a freelance financial writer; she keeps chickens; and she’s a beginning urban farmer. She lives with her three small boys and husband in Portland, Oregon, and keeps her own blog, Cafe Mama.

Giving up sugar for Lent

Back on the wagon again

By
March 28, 2008

In the end, the first sugar I had eaten in seven weeks was a sour cherry turnover.

My neighborhood coffee shop, Gladstone Coffee, serves breakfast treats baked by the owner’s mother. She makes a delicious chocolate-orange scone, and Everett, my five-year-old, goes on and on about her lemon bars. Before I’d given up sugar for Lent, I’ll admit to often feeding my family with the shop’s pastries on a weekend morning. Truman, the almost-three-year-old, is partial to the oatmeal-chocolate-chip cookies, and Monroe, now eight months old, will nibble anyone’s crumbs hungrily.

Continue reading Giving up sugar for Lent »

Sarah Gilbert is a freelance financial writer; she keeps chickens; and she’s a beginning urban farmer. She lives with her three small boys and husband in Portland, Oregon, and keeps her own blog, Cafe Mama.

Making yogurt

I’m not special

By
March 17, 2008

My mom is shaking her head at me. At least, that’s how I imagine her; she’s actually thousands of miles away right now, in Panama. My little sister Jenny is about to give birth to grandbaby number 8, and Mom is there to help.

My mom grew up on a dairy farm in central Oregon, outside of Madras. My grandparents had already rented the land to a younger family by the time I was a little girl, so I never got to milk a cow myself. But still, my four siblings and I grew up emotionally close to the land, with a highly developed sense of where food comes from. When we visited Grammy and Grampy, we would play in the mint fields, jumping over irrigation ditches and finding frogs among the plants.

Continue reading Making yogurt »

Sarah Gilbert is a freelance financial writer; she keeps chickens; and she’s a beginning urban farmer. She lives with her three small boys and husband in Portland, Oregon, and keeps her own blog, Cafe Mama.

Dreaming of Appalachia

A career change inspires a garden

By
March 7, 2008

One of the more seasoned managers in my group had announced, that morning, that she was leaving AOL. Now we were eating an expense-account dinner together at a strange restaurant in Loudon County, Virginia — made from four grand old homes, picked up off their foundations and mushed together — and I was discovering how much I loved her.

Though I’d often found myself on the other side of the debate with her over work stuff, I knew from our very first conversation that we were birds of a feather when it came to food. I “met” her over instant messaging a few weeks after I got my chickens. She and her partner had just been given a few chickens to keep on their upstate New York farm.

Continue reading Dreaming of Appalachia »

Sarah Gilbert is a freelance financial writer; she keeps chickens; and she’s a beginning urban farmer. She lives with her three small boys and husband in Portland, Oregon, and keeps her own blog, Cafe Mama.

Learning to eat without pre-prepared food

‘Paucity is the soul of breakfast’

By
February 26, 2008

I’ve been coming up with taglines.

My favorite so far is “Privation is salvation.” But I also like “Have not, use not,” or maybe “Have not, waste not.” It all has to do with my pantry.

When I set out my borders for my family’s local-eating adventure, I allowed everything already in our pantry or refrigerator. The problem was that my husband and I excel at the fine art of pantry stocking. Our freezer was packed with big, big bags of corn dogs and corn-fed chicken breasts. There were curious spice blends and soup cans hiding behind corn-syrup-packed fruits and sauces and marinades. I wondered how long I’d had this little jar of mustard? I counted back at least 10 years.

Continue reading Learning to eat without pre-prepared food »

Sarah Gilbert is a freelance financial writer; she keeps chickens; and she’s a beginning urban farmer. She lives with her three small boys and husband in Portland, Oregon, and keeps her own blog, Cafe Mama.

What price time?

Catching yeast in the air for sourdough

By
February 14, 2008

Price, I’m slowly learning, has very little to do with what’s on my grocery receipts.

I have so many of them, my favorites the old-fashioned cash-register receipts from Limbo and Pastaworks that say little more than “produce 3.87, meat 9.82.” They’re folded up and stuffed into a dresser drawer; some are crumpled up in the bottom of every pocket and market bag; more are flattened out and shoved into a file drawer in my office.

“Grocery 2@2.35” is what I bought tonight, two little packages of organic stone-ground whole-wheat flour from Bob's Red Mill. I’d go out there and buy a 100-pound bag, as Harriet was going to do, but I’m not driving and, really, I only had $7 to spend. And $2.30 of that I had to save for bus fare.

Continue reading What price time? »

Sarah Gilbert is a freelance financial writer; she keeps chickens; and she’s a beginning urban farmer. She lives with her three small boys and husband in Portland, Oregon, and keeps her own blog, Cafe Mama.

How 10 tortillas helped me believe in myself

Yes, we can

By
February 11, 2008

Someone is telling you “no.” It’s a little voice in your head. It has been there for so long it’s indistinguishable from your true voice. No, you can’t do it. Can’t cook French onion soup the way Lipton’s does. Can’t make jam as good as Smucker’s — it has to be good! Can’t put a dinner on the table for a family of four without the help of Tyson’s and Hamburger Helper and the jolly Green Giant. Ho ho ho.

You don’t have time. You don’t know how. People won’t eat your creations. People will say you’re ridiculous. You’ll alienate your spouse. Your mom never taught you; you can’t possibly plan ahead for a few days’ worth of dinners. You have a black thumb, and you burn things.

Continue reading How 10 tortillas helped me believe in myself »

Sarah Gilbert is a freelance financial writer; she keeps chickens; and she’s a beginning urban farmer. She lives with her three small boys and husband in Portland, Oregon, and keeps her own blog, Cafe Mama.

Say yes to real food

A roasted free-range chicken browned in real butter has got to be good for you

By
February 4, 2008

“Poultry skin is a no-no!” trumpets AOL’s welcome screen, under the heading “10 foods you shouldn’t eat.” The first food on the list is chicken pot pie, “whether it’s homemade, fast food, or store-bought.”

I work for AOL, and part of my job is angling to get stories promoted on the welcome screen. I know the drill: The typical reader is highly self-conscious, worried about (among a huge list of other things) her weight. This is making it easy for her, putting it in a list. Best of all, she can feel good that she’s avoiding these “diet dangers.” I also know that, by and large, the writers who create this content are not scientists; in fact, even a scientist could not say for certain whether poultry skin, or butter-and-chicken-fat-laden chicken pot pie, is truly a danger to your diet.

Continue reading Say yes to real food »

Sarah Gilbert is a freelance financial writer; she keeps chickens; and she’s a beginning urban farmer. She lives with her three small boys and husband in Portland, Oregon, and keeps her own blog, Cafe Mama.

Excuses, excuses: Eat local wherever you live, on whatever your budget

By
January 28, 2008

People sometimes say that my local-food project is inspiring them to bake bread, eat potato-leek soup (since it’s so totally in season!), or shop at the farmers’ market. But way more often I hear some variant of “I can’t do that here,” or “I can’t do that on my budget.”

“Here” has been everywhere from Florida to New Jersey to Minnesota. And though I honor the torture of tight purse strings, I’d be willing to bet half the budgets in question are no smaller than my own. I hate that you are not living in the Pacific Northwest, where so many farmers and market owners are reinventing the meaning of “the Western diet.” If I could, I’d pack you up and move you here, myself.

Continue reading Excuses, excuses: Eat local wherever you live, on whatever your budget »

Sarah Gilbert is a freelance financial writer; she keeps chickens; and she’s a beginning urban farmer. She lives with her three small boys and husband in Portland, Oregon, and keeps her own blog, Cafe Mama.

Going local: Feeding her kids on waffles and frustration

By
January 23, 2008

“Mom, can we get Eggos?”

That’s my oldest son, Everett. He’s five-and-a-half, and he can spot a logo from across the street. We’re trying to cut down on his TV, but on Saturday, I was letting him watch a cute Disney movie about a girl who saves an old estate from would-be subdividers.

Eggos now come with a spy-decoder doohickey. I decided it was time for the talk.

“You know, sweetie,” I said, working up to it, “if they have a commercial on TV for food, it’s not that good for you. They spend all of their money making advertisements, instead of making the food good and getting quality ingredients. Do you understand?”

Continue reading Going local: Feeding her kids on waffles and frustration »

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