Words | Web | Woad http://simoneparrish.com knowledge management, good Web content, duck confit, odd bits of beauty, general nerdliness, and the Oxford comma. Fri, 21 Jul 2017 21:41:58 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.1 Real Headlines that Sound Like Mad Libs http://simoneparrish.com/2017/07/real-headlines-that-sound-like-mad-libs/ Fri, 21 Jul 2017 21:22:32 +0000 http://simoneparrish.com/?p=841 Continue reading Real Headlines that Sound Like Mad Libs]]> I forgot I had started this post until the osprey headline. I’ll keep adding new ones at the top as I find them. There is nothing erudite here; these just all cracked me up.

May 28, 2017: Osprey rescued after toe caught in clam. Photo courtesy of Thomas Krueger, who posted it from his local paper. Online news story is here, but the print headline is so much better. No automatic alt text available.

April 18, 2017: Bewildered Beaver Becomes Accidental Leader of 150 Curious Cows

September 8, 2016: Errant Cannon Fire from Niagara Deflates World’s Largest Rubber Duck

July 12, 2016: US government plans to use drones to fire vaccine-laced M&Ms near endangered ferrets

Knowledge Curation and Design: Gardens, not Stained-Glass Windows http://simoneparrish.com/2017/05/knowledge-curation-and-design-gardens-not-stained-glass-windows/ Thu, 04 May 2017 17:01:27 +0000 http://simoneparrish.com/?p=1096 Continue reading Knowledge Curation and Design: Gardens, not Stained-Glass Windows]]> “It’s a garden, not a stained-glass window” is a metaphor I came up with to talk about knowledge management, content management, ongoing curation and database management, and iterative design processes. I think I started using it about ten years ago. A few different people have recently told me how much this concept has helped them, so I’m putting it here on my blog for intellectual property/attribution reasons.[1]

Many ideas in U.S. corporate culture come from industry and manufacturing. Objects and processes in a factory, mine, or construction site have to be perfect in some ways—they have to fit in a specific slot and happen at a specific time, or other things will go badly wrong. This interchangeable parts/assembly line/standardized processes way of thinking has created efficiencies and opportunities for expansion beyond the wildest dreams of the artisanal producer.

But this industrial mindset also (in my opinion) warps our way of thinking about other kinds of work. In my professional milieu (focused mostly on knowledge management and web content strategy), many things can’t ever be perfect, or finished. I used to find this frustrating. I like finishing things: making something polished, and checking it off a list. I used to feel panicked letting something go when I knew it could be better.

We also live in a time when few things are made to last. A stained-glass window in a Gothic cathedral had to be as perfect as possible; it was made to last a thousand years, unchanging. I used to feel the same way about my work—that it would be a permanent reflection of me, or of a moment captured out of time.

Then the metaphor came to me: These are gardens, not stained-glass windows.

This metaphor encapsulates and summarizes a lot of other thinking—from “the perfect is the enemy of the good”; to artistic or aesthetic traditions that acknowledge transience and imperfection (Arachne’s hubris, wabi-sabi, the apocryphal-but-appealing imperfect stitch/Persian flaw/humility square); to Seth Godin’s “Ship!” concept.

Recognizing that you need to constantly change things doesn’t mean you failed in the first place. A garden is never “finished.” You plan, and you plant, and you tend. Dig up weeds, or leave them be. Carry water, or wait for rain. Become the mother of mantises. Some things grow better than you expected (make a bigger bed for them, next year). Sometimes things don’t go well; your soil has an invisible pathogen, and all the cantaloupe plants turn to rot. A tree next door dies, or your neighbor builds a new fence, and the light in your garden changes. You have an early hot spell, and all your lettuce bolts and turns bitter. Maybe the people you are feeding suddenly become allergic to eggplant, or decide they don’t want to see another turnip until next year.

So, a small practical example: You worked hard on that user manual. You took every function into account, organized it in a way that made sense to you, and crafted the instructions carefully. But your work is not done: Watch to see how (or whether!) people use the manual. What challenges can they still not solve themselves? What questions do they still ask? Check your readability; are your sentences too complicated? Do you use words they don’t know? Check your information architecture: Do people not understand your category names or chapter titles? Maybe they don’t want a 300-page reference book at all. Maybe they want a “Top Five Tips” sheet.

Another: You made a website. People used to come to the homepage and click through the navigation to find what they are looking for; more often now they come to a specific page from Google or Facebook. They look at one thing, and they leave. Do you try to force them through the homepage—make them come through the garden gate, walk past the things they don’t want, dig for the things they do? No. You change your page aliasing, check your metadata, submit a sitemap for crawling, make sure your site search works well. Or you push new posts straight to social media. This delivers your goods to the people who want them—sometimes before they are even inside the gate—wherever they are coming from.

Your audience changes, or they want something different. The environment changes. Information changes. You can—and must—adjust to those changes. That’s how we tend the garden of human knowledge. That is the process that creates culture. It’s what knowledge management, writ large, is for. It’s how we survive, thrive, and build a better world.

[1] Like everything else on this blog, I’m offering the metaphor under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Sharealike license. This is my metaphor, my meme, my idea. You can use it, if you want, as long as you say it it is mine, and you’re not trying to make money from it. More details on my Fine Print page. [Go back up to reference point.]

Children’s Song: Green Grows the Mistletoe http://simoneparrish.com/2017/05/childrens-song-green-grows-the-mistletoe/ Tue, 02 May 2017 00:55:50 +0000 http://simoneparrish.com/?p=890 Continue reading Children’s Song: Green Grows the Mistletoe]]> [Edit: I’m updating this post on May 1, 2017, significantly enough that I’m going to re-post it with a new publication date.]

I wrote this in January 1999, as a nursery rhyme for my then-baby godson Aiden. Its tune and structure are borrowed from “Green Grow the Rushes-O,” which dates back to at least the mid-1800s. It’s traditionally sung as a call and response, but that’s totally optional. I sing it by myself all the time.

I posted the lyrics as a Facebook note in May 2013, and moved them to this blog in August 2016. At this re-writing, in April-May 2017, I am grieving Aiden’s untimely death. In considering whether I could sing this at his memorial gathering on April 29, 2017, I was worried about choking up. I started experimenting with Garage Band so I could sing along with myself to get the song back in working vocal memory. During a day of practice in the car, I realized I was often dropping in little bits of harmony, so I recorded those as a separate track. I’ll probably do another more-polished version with more harmony lines eventually, but this one’s OK, and at least it’s complete.

Green Grows the Mistletoe, Take 3 with improv harmony track, April 25, 2017 (see P.S. for Take 1…)


I’ll sing you one, o
Green grows the mistletoe
What is your one, o?
One Great Wheel a-turning, and ever more shall be so

I’ll sing you two, o
Green grows the mistletoe
What is your two, o?
Two, two, for day and night, spinning round and round, o
One great wheel a-turning, and ever more shall be so

I’ll sing you three, o
Green grows the mistletoe
What is your three, o?
Three for the Morrigan
Two, two for day and night, spinning round and round, o
One great wheel a-turning, and ever more shall be so

I’ll sing you four, o
Green grows the mistletoe
What is your four, o?
Four for the sacred quarter-days
Three for the Morrigan
Two, two for day and night, spinning round and round, o
One great wheel a-turning, and ever more shall be so

I’ll sing you five, o
Green grows the mistletoe
What is your five, o?
Five are the points on an apple-star
Four for the sacred quarter-days
Three for the Morrigan
Two, two for day and night, spinning round and round, o
One great wheel a-turning, and ever more shall be so

I’ll sing you six, o
Green grows the mistletoe
What is your six, o?
Six is still a mystery
Five are the points on an apple-star
Four for the sacred quarter-days
Three for the Morrigan
Two, two for day and night, spinning round and round, o
One great wheel a-turning, and ever more shall be so

I’ll sing you seven, o
Green grows the mistletoe
What is your seven, o?
Seven returned from Caer Sidi*
Six is still a mystery
Five are the points on an apple-star
Four for the sacred quarter-days
Three for the Morrigan
Two, two for day and night, spinning round and round, o
One great wheel a-turning, and ever more shall be so

I’ll sing you eight, o
Green grows the mistletoe
What is your eight, o?
Eight for the kinds of poetry**
Seven returned from Caer Sidi
Six is still a mystery
Five are the points on an apple-star
Four for the sacred quarter-days
Three for the Morrigan
Two, two for day and night, spinning round and round, o
One great wheel a-turning, and ever more shall be so

I’ll sing you nine, o
Green grows the mistletoe
What is your nine, o?
Nine for the woods on the Beltane fire
Eight for the kinds of poetry
Seven returned from Caer Sidi
Six is still a mystery
Five are the points on an apple-star
Four for the sacred quarter-days
Three for the Morrigan
Two, two for day and night, spinning round and round, o
One great wheel a-turning, and ever more shall be so

I’ll sing you ten, o
Green grows the mistletoe
What is your ten, o?
Ten, for Brigid and her maids
Nine for the woods on the Beltane fire
Eight for the kinds of poetry
Seven returned from Caer Sidi
Six is still a mystery
Five are the points on an apple-star,
Four for the sacred quarter-days
Three for the Morrigan
Two, two for day and night, spinning round and round, o
One great wheel a-turning, and ever more shall be so!

* “Except seven, none returned from Caer Sidi” is a line in Robin Williamson’s version of The Spoils of Annwn, a poem attributed to Taliesin.

**I don’t know where this came from, so it might be totally without documentable basis, but I have the lore in my head that bardic poetry has eight purposes: Arbitration, blessing, cursing, worship, prophecy, remembrance, praise, and mockery. (This one is blessing, worship, and remembrance.)

P.S. Here’s Take 1 because Franklin asked for it. It’s a partial take and ends with a funny mistake. (I would have re-recorded it anyway, because I wasn’t warmed up and was trying to sing very quietly/not disturb neighbors late at night, so I’m not pleased with how long it took me to find the tuning/breathing.)

Sassi Saucier vs the Terpenoids (Anniversary Edition) http://simoneparrish.com/2017/03/sassi-saucier-vs-the-terpenoids-anniversary-edition/ Sat, 25 Mar 2017 03:31:34 +0000 http://simoneparrish.com/?p=1037 Continue reading Sassi Saucier vs the Terpenoids (Anniversary Edition)]]> This piece was originally published as a three-part note on Facebook, March 21-26, 2014. Facebook’s “Memories” feature helpfully reminded me of the anniversary.

Part One

Where does this tale begin? The struggle with the Terpenoids only lasted a day, but the roots of the story go much deeper. I can’t tell every tale starting with the universe that came before it, though. It would help if you knew me, a little—that I approach cooking from sacred and social and scientific perspectives, and that for me it’s only partly about eating, and feeding others. It’s also about taking pleasure in technique, and honoring what has come before: the struggles of various collections of molecules to find joy in the processes of survival and creation.

So, without heading all the way back to the cookpots of the cosmos, I guess this starts on March 2nd, 2014, with the “short ribs and rainbow carrots” incident. Or maybe around Christmas, with the bone broth.

I don’t follow a “lifestyle diet” or “way of eating” (which is sometimes abbreviated by online discussants as “WOE”), like Paleo or GAPS or Feingold. I was on the Zone for a while, years ago, and started to be evangelical about it, but there was, in the long run, too much precision to maintain (for me). For the past few months I’ve been trying to address some deeper stress-related issues, and I’m following doctor’s orders which include eating quite a lot of protein. I’ve been reading up on ways to get more protein, and several paths of inquiry in that direction featured bone broth.

The Grandmothers perked up at that phrase. (The Grandmothers are a collection of ancestral entities who hang around the back of my brain making helpful suggestions, like “Maybe you should eat more hazelnuts,” and “You know what’s good for you? Mushrooms.” and “What do you mean, you don’t have any duck fat in the house? It’s October! Do you want us all to starve??”, except they mostly speak French.) They liked the sound of bone broth, and they had been pleased with the Christmas sauce this year which was based on an oxtail stock. I’ve been making a slow-cooker full of broth every couple of weeks since Christmas, experimenting with cuts and combinations. The best flavor so far was from a combination of beef short ribs, chicken wings, onion, celeriac peel (I was roasting the celeriac for another dish), quite a lot of parsley, and rainbow carrots—a thing I didn’t know existed, but which presented themselves all proud at My Organic Market a few weeks back.

Rainbow Carrots! These are not the terpenoid vector. Those come later.
Rainbow Carrots! These are not the terpenoid vector. Those come later.

I wanted oxtail, but couldn’t find any. Short ribs brown gorgeously, and the meat has many textures all in one bite (which I like), and their bones are tasty, but they don’t have a lot of gelatin. I bought the chicken wings hoping for a better gelatin balance (wings = many joints in small space, and joints usually carry gelatin), but it didn’t work out. The flavor of the broth is intense and exactly what I want, but the mouthfeel is watery. I want more density on the palate—slippery, like silk charmeuse. There should be hints of unctuousness.

I’ve been holding that perfectly-flavored broth, re-boiling it every few days to concentrate it more and keep it wholesome. I bought some oxtails on Sunday, intending to make a high-gelatin batch to add to the perfect-flavor broth. At the same time, I bought a bag of normal carrots. Unassuming, uniformly orange, organic carrots. Little did I know they hid a terrible secret. I was about to be overwhelmed by Terpenoids.

Part Two

The carrots were the problem.

I started the high-gelatin stock on Wednesday—well-browned oxtail, carrots (not browned, and un-tasted, alas, alas!), garlic, peppercorns, a little salt, filtered water to cover, slow cooker on low. When I got home on Thursday, I could smell it. Something wasn’t right. There was a hint of phenol in the aroma, and a note of hot potting soil. It was distressing. (I know what hot potting soil smells like because sometimes I sterilize it in the oven for potting particularly fragile or mold-vulnerable plants.)

I’m sure you are familiar with Bad Carrots—the ones that taste like soap and aluminum. The charming World Carrot Museum explains that these flavors are caused by an overbalance of the proportion of terpenoids to sugars in a carrot’s flavor profile. Genetics, terroir (all the climate and soil/geology and water characteristics of where the carrots grew), and storage (e.g., too long in cold storage, or close to apples) can all promote a high proportion of terpenoids. My sister Michelle says that the Holyoke Loam terroir in Massachusetts where she lives, while famously fertile and good for many things, grows disgusting carrots.

The stock was terrible. Spit-it-out awful, with a lingering aftertaste of burnt soap. The oxtail joints had absorbed (or at least been coated in) that awfulness as well. I was briefly despondent and posted for help on Facebook. Useful suggestions flooded in. I was grateful, and calm, and I made a plan: (1) Physical Removal, (2) Re-Balancing, and (3) Layering More Flavors on Top. (This was the approach championed by Jill, Omie, and Seth, who have my thanks.)

Don’t bother Googling this topic yourself. Mitigating the soapy taste of Bad Carrots is not something that a lot of people have discussed online in any detail (beyond “Carrots are sometimes soapy-tasting! Gross!”). Almost all of the easily-found references on “neutralize terpenoids” and similar searches find resources intended for professional cannabis growers, for whom terpenoids are apparently desirable. The one useful thing Google could find for me: Terpenoids are lipid-soluble.

As such, presumably the terpenoid compounds would be largely held in the grease layer of the stock, in the particles of fond, and in the oxtail—particularly the fatty layer on the outsides of each joint. I scooped out all the solids from the stock with a slotted spoon, discarding the offending carrots. I strained the stock through a cheesecloth-lined sieve into a glass bowl, and set it in the fridge to settle. I rinsed the oxtail joints, poured a little olive oil over them, and put them in the refrigerator as well. I also put some Aleppo pepper (a rich, medium-warmth, flaked red pepper from Penzeys) in some sherry vinegar to infuse. All this happened on Thursday evening.

Sherry vinegar, Aleppo pepper, shallots, celery, onion: If these don't work, I'm abandoning the effort.
Sherry vinegar, Aleppo pepper, shallots, celery, onion: If these don’t work, I’m abandoning the effort.

On Friday, I poked around the Internet looking for recipes that would (a) use the oxtail and stock, and (b) add several other layers of flavor. I started with a recipe for Oaxacan black bean soup (no idea if it’s authentically Oaxacan; it’s from Cooks.com, which anyone can contribute to). I’m not an orthodox recipe-follower, but the heat and earthy profile of the spices in this soup seemed like a good direction.

(1) Physical Removal: I skimmed the solidified fat from the chilled stock. I poured the skimmed stock from its bowl into a saucepan. In so doing, I noticed a thick layer of silt at the bottom of the bowl—fine particulates that hadn’t been caught by the sieve. I stopped mid-transfer and tasted that layer. Horrible. Massive terpenoid concentration. I removed as much of the silt as I could from what was in the saucepan.

Cloudy silt along the edges of this saucepan of gelled stock is FULL OF TERPERNOIDS.
Cloudy silt along the edges of this saucepan of gelled stock is FULL OF TERPERNOIDS.

I also tasted a tiny bit of the skimmed fat—also horrible, validating the “lipid soluble” approach. I poured boiling water over the oxtail joints, and then poured off the water + the olive oil that floated to the top (carrying terpenoids with it). The oxtail meat still carried hints of terpenoid, but much milder (tasting “mostly like meat” instead of “mostly like Band-Aids and copper”). Then I carefully tasted the clear, nicely gelled stock: Yes, the terpenoids were still there and still intrusive, but dramatically reduced. There was hope. More work would not necessarily be in vain.

(2) Re-Balancing: It’s not that the terpenoid flavors had to be annihilated. There are terpenoids in all carrots, and thus all stock (well, stock that I make, because I always use carrots). It’s just that these were so badly overbalanced. I wanted to tip the scales, re-building the sweetness that should have been the carrots’ primary contribution.

I sliced an onion and two shallots, and set them to caramelize with a little bit of duck fat. (An article from Slate about how long it takes to caramelize onions was a comfort—and since my initial writing, it has become an amazing example of the limitations of Google Search.) After ten minutes I added a dash of agave nectar and a half-teaspoon of salt.

Rebalancing: Caramelizing onions and celery, building sweetness.
Rebalancing: Caramelizing onions and celery, building sweetness.

After another 20 minutes, I added 2 cups of very finely sliced celery heart. Fifteen minutes later, when everything looked and smelled well-caramelized, I added the stock. I simmered it for ten minutes and tasted it very carefully. Success. The “Oh horrible, horrible” had been balanced out to “Nice hints of earthiness”.

(3) Layering More Flavors on Top: When the onions went in the pan, I shredded the oxtail meat and set it to marinate with the Aleppo-pepper-infused sherry vinegar, plus some cumin, coriander, and dried orange peel. When I tasted the re-balanced stock, I also tasted the marinated oxtail. Success here as well: Bright top-notes, good meatiness, and a supporting earthy note—the carrot-terpenoids playing nicely with the cumin. The meat went into the broth along with a can of refried black beans.

The soup I never would have found without the Terpenoid Incursion.
The soup I never would have found without the Terpenoid Incursion.

What is on my stove now is quite a respectable soup, which I’m looking forward to eating, maybe with some pan-brown queso blanco on top, a squeeze of lime, and some of my brother-out-law Matthew’s homemade hot sauce.

Terpenoids are conquerable. It takes work, but in this case was entirely worthwhile, because (a) Victory for Science, and (b) the Grandmothers are pleased with me for not wasting the oxtail. There’s only one on a whole cow, after all, and with spring coming on it’s time to switch to lamb.

Part Three


Total victory.

Black bean and oxtail soup: Caramelized onion, shallot, celery, cumin, coriander, orange peel, Aleppo pepper, sherry vinegar, homemade oxtail stock (terpenoids removed).

Soup of the evening, beautiful soup!
Soup of the evening, beautiful soup!

Garnish: Avocado, lime, Serrano pepper, shallot, and crisp-fried farmstead mozzarella (which is half Jersey cow milk and half goat’s milk and quite wonderful, from Keswick Creamery via the Takoma Park Farmer’s Market).

We’ve moved far beyond “respectable salvage / dinner’s not totally ruined” to “I really hope I can duplicate this without going through the same degree of hassle next time.”

If I had a bistro, I’d put this on the menu.

Blogging about Commas http://simoneparrish.com/2017/03/blogging-about-commas/ Wed, 22 Mar 2017 02:03:00 +0000 http://simoneparrish.com/?p=1034 Continue reading Blogging about Commas]]> My site description says “knowledge management, good Web content, duck confit, odd bits of beauty, general nerdliness, and the Oxford comma.”

While I *use* the Oxford comma on this blog, I am not sure I have really blogged about it, per se. My brother-in-law Seth  called me on this the other day–and then a lot of people read this news story and told me it made them think of me. I’m quite proud.

I am a staunch, steadfast proponent and defender of the Oxford comma. None of the arguments against it make sense to me, when weighed against the arguments for it. I’m not going to try to convince you, though. You can do that for yourself. (Just Google “Oxford Comma” and be amazed at the nerdery and vitriol.)

Lynne Truss’ lovely Eats, Shoots & Leaves calls the comma a “grammatical sheepdog” that “tears about on the hillside of language, endlessly organising [sic] words into sensible groups and making them stay put.” Ms. Truss acknowledges the pro vs con argument and advises “There are people who embrace the Oxford comma and those who don’t, and I’ll just say this: never get between these people when drink has been taken.”

Funny examples:

Times when a comma (not always Oxford) made a difference in the outcome of a court case:

Sassi Saucier, Cookie Butter, and Magic Bean Water http://simoneparrish.com/2016/12/sassi-saucier-cookie-butter-and-magic-bean-water/ Thu, 22 Dec 2016 04:24:37 +0000 http://simoneparrish.com/?p=982 Continue reading Sassi Saucier, Cookie Butter, and Magic Bean Water]]> TL;DR: This is complicated, even for Sassi. Simplified individual recipe links (which won’t work until after the “Continue reading” jump): Cookie Butter Shortbread (Vegan) | Sticky Pumpkin-Cookie Butter Blondies, Maybe? (Vegan) | Hazelnut Meringue Cookies (Vegan!!!)

The Saga of the Pumpkin Noisette Fancies

When it comes to holiday baking, I have a mission: Bake something delicious for the two vegans on my team. Bake sales and dessert buffets are sad for vegans unless someone is looking out for them. I’m a militant omnivore, but I like to take care of my people, and I like the challenge of baking without eggs or dairy products.

I don’t bake desserts very often. I like to, and I have good technique, and the creative combinations I think up usually work pretty well. But having lots of flour and sugar in the house isn’t the best idea for my blood lipids. Things I like to bake tend to involve a lot of active time, oven-watching, and making an overflowing sinkful of dirty dishes (and then having to wash them). I don’t often have the wherewithal. But I certainly do enjoy the excuse of a holiday party to bake something impressive. Previous forays have included no-bake hazelnut drop cookies, chocolate-peppermint cupcakes, and chocolate-coconut cupcakes. (I might get around to writing up that last one, eventually. They were good. “A triumph,” according to one taster. But this year was all-new.)

Inspiration, Part 1: Pumpkin and Cookie Butter

Have you tried cookie butter? It is pulverized spice cookies (“speculoos“) mixed with palm and canola oils, with a bit more sugar and some emulsifiers. I am hesitant to write more about it. I can’t, in good conscience, recommend that you try it if you haven’t already. Cookie butter is not a good nutritional decision, no matter what kind of orthodoxy you subscribe to. (It’s shockingly easy to be vegan and still eat food that will stop your heart.) I wouldn’t go as far as the anonymous author “D.C.” on the useful blog Eating At Joe’s, who says “Would I buy it again: I would fight you for the last jar if I had to. I would gouge your damn eyes out.” But I get where D.C. is coming from. Cookie butter is horrifying and beautiful.

A jar of Trader Joe's Speculoos Cookie Butter
Trader Joe’s Speculoos Cookie Butter (image is linked from Trader Joe’s website)

{Digression: Trader Joe’s also sells cookie butter sandwich cookies, which are butter cookies with cookie butter in between. Not enough cookie butter in between, though, so I made an improvement: Two butter cookie/cookie butter sandwich cookies, with more cookie butter in the middle. I did this once. I am not proud. [Well, I am proud of being able to write the (entirely grammatical!) expression “butter cookie cookie butter sandwich cookie cookie butter sandwich cookies.”] End digression.}

Also this year, I started adding pumpkin [footnote 1] puree to Greek yogurt as a snack. I get bored of plain yogurt, and most flavored yogurts have too much sugar or artificial sweetener or (gag) modified food starch and gelling agents. (I like jellied things that a lot of people don’t, such as aspic, but I don’t want my yogurt to even hint at gelatinousness.) Pumpkin puree is smooth and slightly sweet and full of vitamins and fiber. So, it has taken on a new versatility in my head, and I’ve been looking for places to use it. I should acknowledge that Trader Joe’s also has something called “pumpkin pie spice cookie butter,” but I did not see it until this concept was well underway. (Plus I couldn’t have used it, because it isn’t vegan.)

Inspiration, Part 2: Magic Bean Water

Some time ago, I read about aquafaba—a newly-coined term [footnote 2] for the soupy-slippery brine from canned or cooked beans (particularly garbanzos/chickpeas). It seemed bizarre and nigh-miraculous. With my vegan team members plus a nephew and at least two friends with allergies to egg whites, I am always on the lookout for egg alternatives. But I never thought I would be able to replace egg whites in something as fundamental as meringue.

I’m delighted to be wrong.

I had seen pictures. I had read the FAQ. It still didn’t seem real. I tested this out at Jeanne’s house (while Adam and Colin were also visiting, and using Jeanne’s sister-in-law Kate’s KitchenAid mixer) on the weekend of December 10-11, 2016. I drained the liquid out of two cans of chickpeas, poured it into the steel bowl of Kate’s KitchenAid, attached the whisk, put in 1/2 tsp of cream of tartar, and turned the machine on. Adam and I, heads together, watched the meringue build up in volume, and turn opaque. I added sugar, slowly; the mixture turned glossy, and held a soft peak. Adam looked at me in slightly accusatory wonder and whispered, “Shut. Up.”

Smooth, glossy meringue in a steel mixer, forming perfect peaks on the whisk.
Smooth, glossy meringue made of chickpea brine (!) in a steel mixer, forming perfect peaks on the whisk.

This is some Rumpelstiltskin-level alchemy, right here. Spinning straw into gold seems frankly more plausible, since I’m pretty sure “spinning straw into gold” is a metaphor for making linen from flax.

Aquafaba meringue does seem to take slightly longer to whip to peak stage than egg whites, but not agonizingly so.

I took a third of that meringue and folded it into a combination of pumpkin puree and cookie butter, which produced a somewhat-too-wet but completely edible pudding-ish layer (“Shut the *hell* up!”)

Pumpkin-cookie butter batter
Pumpkin-cookie butter batter, unpreposessing but serviceable.

I mixed another third of the meringue with hazelnut meal and cinnamon; this produced a collapsed, thin, but beautifully crisp and tasty dacquoise. (I might be using that word incorrectly. A traditional dacquoise is a cake, of which the meringues are one element. Too bad. I like saying it.)

Collapsed but delicious dacquoise
Collapsed but delicious crispy hazelnut meringue

The last third of the meringue went into a Pyrex container which I held in the fridge overnight to see if it would shrink (slightly) or weep (not at all), and then baked it plain the next day. It held up beautifully, and kept its height.

All three aquafaba tests were revelations, in their own way. I tweaked the recipes mentally and started working for real on Dec. 11 for an office holiday party on the 16th. (Hilariously, neither of my vegan team members ended up coming to the party. I saved them some.)

Inspiration, Part 3: Entremets

Sometime in the summer of 2016, I clickholed my way to a post in which Scott Bryan, entertainment editor for Buzzfeed UK, described trying to execute all the technical bakes from The Great British Bake-Off [footnote 3]. The post made me sick with laughter, and in August and September I binge-watched three seasons of the show. One episode featured a patisserie item called an “entremet” (ehn-tra-MAY)—which literally means “a thing that is placed between other things,” and functionally appears to mean “a highly creative, tiny, fiddly, fancy cake with many layers of different textures.” An entremet is not what I ended up with, being as I bake so seldom that I had to borrow a jellyroll pan from my sister to execute this week’s extravaganza. But they were definitely the inspiration for my small three-layered treats.

What I did end up with was these:

Pumpkin Noisette Fancies
Pumpkin Noisette Fancies

They are cookie butter shortbread bites with a layer of pumpkin-cookie butter filling, topped with hazelnut meringue. (I am so fancy. I wave my fancy flag.) If you can stick with me, and you have three evenings free in a row, or a weekend with nothing else going on, they might be worthwhile. I’m really not sure. They are delicious, but totally impractical. Keep in mind I’m perfectly happy to make a relatively simple stew over four days, and I *still* think this is a ridiculous process. To replicate it, you would have to make a batch of too-thin shortbread, and then use the crumbs from that to make the middle layer, which goes on top of a second (thicker) batch of shortbread. I am not telling you to do that.

However: The shortbread on its own is dead easy and fantastically delicious. And the meringues are lovely, and worth trying just for the mind-blowing way the aquafaba actually turns into meringue despite being not at all made of eggs. The pumpkin filling is quite nice as well, but would be fairly pointless on its own, I think. [Unless you made it into little individual puddings with a crunchy-crispy topping, like a gingerbread crumble. Or added some more flour or cookie crumbs, some liquid (almond milk? apple juice?), and some baking powder to make a sturdier, less sticky blondie-type object.]

Here’s What I Did (or “How to Do”? Narrative Verb Tenses are Tricky.)

Sorry about the verb tenses. Some of this was written while it was happening, and other parts were retrospective. (We still haven’t gotten to the follow-able recipes. You can skip this rambly part if you want.)

Day 1:
(1) Pumpkin: Open a 16-oz box (the shelf-stable carton kind) or a 15-oz can of pumpkin puree. Set in a strainer in a bowl, and leave in the fridge to drain overnight. I got 1/3 cup of liquid out of the pumpkin this way.
(2) Buy whatever ingredients you don’t have. For me this was cookie butter, flour, sugar, and margarine (Is “vegan margarine” redundant? I used Earth Balance Original and was pleasantly surprised by the lack of off-flavors and strange aromas that I’m used to in ersatz foods. The chocolate-peppermint cupcakes had a cream cheese frosting that, no matter how much peppermint oil I put in, still tasted like “vegan cream cheese.” I was not a fan.)
Day 2:
(1) In a small skillet or saucepan, cook down the pumpkin liquid to 1 T (it’ll darken and get syrupy) and add that back into the puree.
(2) Aquafaba: This gets a little complicated, and is the primary reason I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to replicate this treat precisely. My first/test batch was from 2 cans of chickpeas. Unfortunately, I didn’t write down the brand or precisely measure the liquid (methodology fail!!). It was clear, not cloudy, and two cans yielded about a cup. Second/”real” batch: I had 3 cans of organic chickpeas from Trader Joe’s, which together—all three cans—yielded less than 2/3 cup of liquid. The liquid was full of hulls and particulates, and there was a lot of gel left clinging to the chickpeas. Aquafaba is heat-stable, so I rinsed the chickpeas well and poured the rinsing-water through a sieve into a small nonstick skillet with the drained brine to cook down. Three cans’ worth of chickpea goop plus about 1 cup of rinse-water (hot from the tap), all reduced down to 3/4 cup, then strained through 8 layers of cheesecloth. When this was chilled it was an almost-solid gel. I added warm water to bring it back to 1 cup and whisked it with a fork until it was more or less the consistency of egg whites. It was still cloudier than the first batch, but I had strained it really well, so was feeling fairly confident.
Day 3:
(1) Hazelnuts: Toast some hazelnuts (I only need 4 oz, but I toasted 8oz)–spread a single layer in a roasting pan and toast at 300 degrees for about 40 minutes, stirring every 10, until they are deep golden and the skins start cracking off when you stir (or until your smoke alarms start bleeping, which luckily I know how to deal with since the Lamb and Pumpkin Stew Incident). Most recipes for dacquoise call for blanched hazelnuts, but I can never find them (maybe it’s a U.S. vs U.K./France issue? Or maybe I haven’t looked very hard.) Rub off their skins once they are cool. Some people say to do this in a tea towel but that’s much messier than just using your hands.
(2) Make cookie butter shortbread: all-purpose flour, Earth Balance Original “buttery spread,” cookie butter, sugar, Ceylon cinnamon, cardamom, and salt—I used fine grey Celtic sea salt because (a) I am so fancy and (b) it’s a bit coarser than table salt, and I wanted little sparks of perceptible saltiness in the shortbread. {Digression about salt: I don’t use Kosher salt much since I heard it described as “the fluorescent white light of salts.” My go-to salts are fine grey Celtic and Maldon. I briefly considered using applewood-smoked salt, but decided to limit the variables a bit. End digression.} I like Ceylon cinnamon (aka “true cinnamon”) better than cassia-type cinnamon, but use what you have. Rub it all together until it resembles coarse damp sand. With the above proportions, the shortbread wasn’t quite holding: a squeezed handful fell apart at a poke. I added a little more Earth Balance and cookie butter–you want a squeezed handful to hold together confidently, but to crumble when you pinch it. I spread out the…mixture? It’s not really a dough or a batter…anyway, spread it out evenly and then press it down firmly into a parchment-lined 13×17 jellyroll pan. I intended to cut this into 1-inch squares while warm. (Tip of the hat to Loving It Vegan, who adapted a recipe from Epicurious.) Baked at 300 degrees for 30 minutes (it’s a very thin layer…)
Catastrophe!!! Well, not total: The flavor is DELICIOUS but (a) it needs to be twice as thick, and (b) I need to dock it before baking so it will slice neatly into squares. (Docking creates perforations that act like expansion joints in a bridge, making the shortbread less crumbly and better-behaved.)
Undaunted! Decide to buy more cookie butter and margarine and try again tomorrow—and use some of the catastrophic cookie crumbs as a mix-in with the pumpkin layer, maybe? (That will make this recipe impractical to replicate, but whatever. In for a penny, in for a pound.)
Day 4:
Stop at Trader Joe’s on the way home for more cookie butter and Earth Balance—except they are out of Earth Balance!!! No margarine at all. In the whole store. And I don’t have time to go to another store. Try not to panic. Look for an alternative. Find highly-refined coconut oil which claimed “almost no flavor or aroma!”, which usually would not be a selling point, but seems a good fit for this use (I only need a bit).
Make shortbread, Take 2: Doubled the recipe (ended up needing to use only about 3T of the coconut oil) and carefully docked it into squares before baking. I made 1.5″ squares, because 1″ seemed stingy. Hindsight: 1″ would have been fine. Success! Took 55 minutes. It’s done when it’s golden, slightly darkening at the edges, and feels solid when you press it.
Make pumpkin layer: Drained pumpkin, 1/2 cup cookie butter, 1 c shortbread crumbs from yesterday (this is the least practical bit: I seriously do not expect anyone to make a batch of shortbread just to make this layer. BUT if you make a double-batch of shortbread, and make it before you make the pumpkin layer, then you could sacrifice 1/4 of the shortbread for the pumpkin layer. OR, ooh, get some store-bought vegan gingersnaps, crush them up, and use 1 cup of crumbs. That could be great.) 1/2 c aquafaba, 1/2 tsp cream of tartar, 1/2 cup sugar, 2 tsp vanilla extract (the real thing). Baked at 375 for 35 minutes in a 9×13 parchment-lined Pyrex until pulling away at the sides and cracked on top. Let cool on the stove for 20 minutes; flip out of pan (easy, like a champ), peel off the parchment (also easy), and cut the result into 48 little squares. (I had 48 shortbread squares, a couple of which were crumbly failures and one of which was sacrificed to quality assurance testing.) The pumpkin squares are smaller than the shortbread ones, but I’m OK with that. They’ll be jaunty.
Day 5:

Originally I had been contemplating a single layer of dacquoise, but then realized that cutting it would be problematic. Meringue is shattery. I decided to make individual kisses instead. My guess as to why the test-dacquoise yielded such a flat result is that if you use too fine a grind, the oil from the hazelnuts collapses the structure of the meringue. Plus adding cinnamon seemed like it could be microscopically bubble-popping. I hand-chopped 4oz hazelnuts and mixed them with 1T cornstarch before adding to the meringue.

Hand-chopped hazelnuts
Hand-chopped hazelnuts
Then I scooped the mixture into a piping bag, and piped one perfect kiss before the tip clogged. Oops. I guess I need a bigger plain-end tip for my piping bag (I really don’t want to chop the nuts any more finely despite it being an excuse to use the kick-ass mezzaluna that Denise gave me). Made little drop-cookies instead, using a half-teaspoon measure as a scoop and a normal teaspoon as a spatula. Those have been baking at 250 degrees for almost an hour; they aren’t quite firm to the touch yet and I’m waiting for them to golden-up a bit.
Day 6
Take things to the office, all layers wrapped separately, and stack them before party-time. As I was stacking, the treats seemed huge–too much of a commitment for a person trying to sample several desserts from the buffet. (I’ve had this problem before with full-size cupcakes.) The shortbread squares broke fairly neatly in half; the pumpkin layer needed a paring knife. The meringue broke more messily–some snapped easily into neat halves; others crumbled a bit more. Not winning awards for presentation, I’ll admit.

Quality Assurance Testing

All those caveats about how impractical this is, and how I don’t think anyone should make it? I take it all back.
Pumpkin Noisette Fancies
Pumpkin Noisette Fancy, Mark 1
This is definitely not the entremet-object in my original vision, but it is what I wanted it to be. It’s an unusual little bite, with harmonious flavors and interesting textures. Not too sweet. Complex without being challenging on the palate. Also, a crowd-pleaser.
Yes, it’s ridiculous. Six days. But really, I think it could be executed in two days (as long as you didn’t have much else to do), especially if you had more than one borrowed jellyroll pan. I’m going to call it worthwhile, if (a) you find fiddly baking fun on its own merits, and (b) you think “shortbread, cookie butter, pumpkin, and hazelnut meringue” sounds like a pretty good combination.


Vegan Sean says “Your desserts! So good! What are you calling these again? Did you make the recipe up yourself? That shortbread…I am going to resist eating them all so I can bring some home for my girlfriend.”
Vegan Shannon says “I dub these ‘Pumpkin Noisette Fancies!'” (So it is now written, and so shall it be done.)


I just caught myself thinking “So, the meringues get soggy fast when they are in contact with the moist layer–but would they get soggy if I dipped them in chocolate, or put them under a layer of ganache or buttercream?” Apparently, the aquafaba-entremet vision is as-yet unfulfilled.

The Follow-Able Recipes

 These still require some tweaking and/or improvisation, but:

Cookie Butter Shortbread

This makes a lot—48 1.5-inch squares in a 13″ x 17″ jellyroll pan (the kind of cookie sheet with a raised rim all the way around). Smaller batches work fine. I leave the math and adjusted baking times to you.

  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp cinnamon (preferably Ceylon, but use what you have)
  • 1 tsp cardamom
  • (Optional: You could try other spices if you like, like maybe a hint of cloves or nutmeg or ginger.)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2/3 cup cookie butter (plus maybe another tablespoon or two)
  • 1 cup Earth Balance Original Buttery Spread or other spreadable (not whipped) margarine (plus maybe another tablespoon or two)
  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
  2. Line a jellyroll pan with baking parchment.
  3. Measure dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl and whisk with a wire whisk or fork to combine evenly.
  4. Add cookie butter and margarine.
  5. Toss dry ingredients over the shortenings, and rub/toss between your fingertips until mixture is the consistency of slightly coarse sand.
  6. A handful of it, when squeezed, should hold together firmly, but fall apart when you pinch it. (If it falls apart with just a gentle poke, add a tablespoon or two more of each shortening and work through.)
  7. Spread the sandy mixture evenly in the pan and press down firmly, particularly in the corners.
  8. Dock into whatever size squares you want—i.e., poke a grid of holes with a fork.
  9. Bake for 50-55 minutes, until edges begin to darken and the center is firm to the touch.
  10. Allow to cool in pan for 10 minutes, then slide a broad spatula under the parchment and slip the whole sheet of shortbread onto a clean cutting board. Cut into pieces along the docked lines.
  11. Try not to eat them all at once.
Sticky Pumpkin-Cookie Butter Blondies, Maybe? (Vegan)
Start these the day before you want to bake them!
  • Pumpkin puree: A 15-oz can or 16-oz box
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup cookie butter
  • 1/2 cup aquafaba (the liquid out of a can or two of chickpeas)
  • 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup cookie crumbs (either from shortbread recipe above, or try gingersnaps or graham crackers or something)
  1. Put pumpkin puree in a sieve; set sieve in a bowl; and refrigerate overnight.
  2. Open your cans of chickpeas to check whether the liquid needs straining or concentrating (if it’s cloudy or has hulls in it, it needs straining).
  3. On the day: Line a 9×13 baking pan with baking parchment.
  4. Preheat oven to 375.
  5. In a small skillet, cook down the water that came out of the pumpkin to one tablespoon–bring to a boil, then reduce heat and let it cook down, watching carefully after the first 10-15 minutes (it will darken and get sticky)
  6. In a medium mixing bowl, mix pumpkin syrup, pumpkin puree, vanilla, and cookie butter until well-combined. (You can microwave the mixture on low power for a couple of minutes to make mixing easier.)
  7. Fold cookie crumbs into pumpkin mixture.
  8. In a large bowl, whip the aquafaba with the cream of tartar (either in a stand mixer or with a hand-held mixer) until foamy. Add the sugar one tablespoon at a time, and continue whipping until firm peaks form.
  9. Fold one-third of the meringue into the pumpkin mixture and mix until evenly combined; then fold in the rest of the meringue more gently.
  10. Bake at 375 for 35-40 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (the mixture will be pulling away from the sides, and the top will be cracked; this is fine.)
  11. Flip out of pan onto clean cutting board and cut into however many squares you want. (A pizza cutter works very well.)

Hazelnut Meringue Cookies (Also Vegan!!)

Start these the day before you want them.

  • 1/2 cup aquafaba
  • 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 oz hazelnuts
  • 1 T cornstarch
  1. Day before: Check your aquafaba in case it needs straining/reducing.
  2. Toast hazelnuts for 30-40 minutes in a 300-degree oven, stirring every 10 minutes, until the skins start to crack off and the nutmeats are deep gold.
  3. Cool. Rub the hazelnuts between your hands to remove most of the skins.
  4. Day of: Chop the hazelnuts medium-fine (most pieces the size of aquarium gravel or the candy called Nerds).
  5. Put the chopped nuts in a small bowl, sprinkle the cornstarch over them, and stir to combine. (You’re trying to coat the nut granules with starch.)
  6. In a large bowl, whip the aquafaba with the cream of tartar (either in a stand mixer or with a hand-held mixer) until foamy. Add the sugar one tablespoon at a time, and continue whipping until firm peaks form.
  7. Gently fold chopped nut mixture into meringue.
  8. Preheat oven to 250 degrees.
  9. Line a baking sheet* with baking parchment and either pipe or drop by rounded 1/2 teaspoonfuls. (*You could probably get two baking sheets’ worth out of this amount, but I had an Incident with the clogged piping bag so I’m not sure.)
  10. Bake at 250 for about an hour, until slightly golden, fragrant, and firm to the touch.
  11. Cool on pan for 5 minutes, then slide parchment onto a wire cooling rack (cookies will continue to crisp as they cool, and make charming crackling noises as they do so).
  12. When completely cool, peel them off the parchment and store in an air-tight container (they hold well for at least a week this way).


I commend the 3% of people who will read these. Bravo.
[1] You may have heard that store-bought pumpkin puree is “actually squash.” This isn’t strictly true. Most of it is apparently a cultivar  called “Dickinson field pumpkin,” which shares the species Curcurbita moschata with several other cultivars whose fruits are called “pumpkins” or “squashes” (or, fantastically, “Korean Zucchini.”) [Go back to reference point.]
[2] As far as I can tell, this word was coined by Goose Wohlte in March 2015. His cooking blog, with meticulous methodological notes, is at Goose’s Vegan Cookery. I find his  molecular gastronomy approach to vegan sunny-side-up “eggs” both abominable and admirable. [Go back to reference point.]
[3] This is called “The Great British Baking Show” in the U.S., because apparently Pillsbury has trademarked the term “Bake-Off.” [Go back to reference point.]
Data: Singular or Plural? http://simoneparrish.com/2016/12/data-singular-or-plural/ Thu, 08 Dec 2016 02:25:48 +0000 http://simoneparrish.com/?p=977 Continue reading Data: Singular or Plural?]]> Over the years as a writer and editor (and interrupted linguist), I’ve mellowed quite a bit. From a young age through my late 20s, I was a strict prescriptivist/pedant: “These are the rules; I am going to follow them, and I am going to get an A!” Gradually I’ve shifted toward descriptivism: “All usage is in some stage of flux; I just want to write clearly for my audience, so I can convey ideas as accurately as possible.”

But there’s one usage about which I am adamant: “Data.” Is it singular, or plural? The answer I accept is “Ask your audience.”

Here’s my argument:

(1) Are you speaking or writing Latin? “Data” is plural.

(2) Are you speaking or writing English? Ask yourself: How does my audience expect me to treat “data”?

(a) “Data” is neither singular nor plural in essence, but a mass/uncountable noun (like “furniture” or “traffic”–or “audience.”) Nevertheless,

(b) If you are writing or speaking to an audience of scientists (especially social scientists, but not computer scientists), you should use plural verbs and markers with “data”–otherwise, they will consider you unsophisticated, and possibly think less of your expertise. (I don’t think that’s a fair leap to make, but it’s a fact of life.) 

(c) If you are writing or speaking to a general audience and/or computer scientists, use “data” with singular verbs and markers. Otherwise, your audience is quite likely to think you are being pretentious. (If you *want* them to think you are pretentious, have at it. Just be aware of the effect this choice can have.)

(d) If you don’t know enough about your audience to make an informed choice, rewrite the sentence to avoid having to use “data” with a marker of grammatical number.

The argument that “data” is the plural of “datum” holds no weight with me, because:

(i) I can’t remember the last time I heard “datum” (rather than “data point”) in common parlance; and, more importantly,

(ii) English is not Latin. Once English has accepted a word from another language, the grammatical rules of the root language no longer control that word. “Opera” in Latin is the plural of “opus,” but in English “opera” is most frequently used as a singular noun. Most people use “agenda” in English as a singular noun as well–“Do we have an agenda?” “Hold on, I’ll send it to you.” 

Come at me.

How I Woad: Using Woad for Body Painting http://simoneparrish.com/2016/07/how-i-woad-using-woad-for-body-painting/ Sun, 24 Jul 2016 15:09:45 +0000 http://simoneparrish.com/?p=843 Continue reading How I Woad: Using Woad for Body Painting]]> …and for dyeing, in a modern reenactment context. (This is mostly about body painting, but if you like you can skip down to the bit about the colors you can get using woad as dye.)

Caution: Woad can cause allergic reactions and irritate eyes and other sensitive areas. Your use of any techniques or instructions herein is at your own risk. Be sensible.

I’ve been using woad as a body-painting pigment for nearly 20 years, in the context of an Iron Age Celtic reenactment/living history group. I’m writing up my experience for use at an Arts & Sciences class at Pennsic XLV.

Pennsic is an event of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA). My group, Clanne Preachain, is an independent “non-Kingdom ally”—many of our members are also SCA members, but I’ve never been a card-carrying SCAdian. I will update this post after Pennsic with photos (and possibly more measurements) from the hands-on portion of the class.

Michelle Beck, with woad, in firelight at the Aerie of Tir Thalor, Pennsic XLIII (used with permission)
Michelle Beck, with woad by me, in firelight at the Aerie of Tir Thalor, Pennsic XLIII (used with permission)

These are my notes about how I adapted woad lore and research for use in the modern reenactment context. My goal here is to share what I do—not to convince you that insular Celts and/or Picts definitely, for sure, really did use woad as body paint and/or tattooing pigment. (Maybe they did. Maybe not. There are strongly differing opinions and contradictory research.) But “The ancient Britons painted themselves with woad” is traditional lore in England. I learned it as a child, as “part of the rich tapestry of our island story” (as P.G. Wodehouse might put it). If anyone wants to argue about this during class, we can—but putting that question to rest is not my primary goal.

Master Vortigern (Danny Hansen) with woad by me, 2014. Photo by Master Ursus (Tim Tyson), used with permission.
Master Vortigern (Danny Hansen) with woad by me, in Anglesey camp at Pennsic, 2014. Photo by Master Ursus (Tim Tyson), used with permission.

The most useful summary of sources (including many of the controversies over translation and source reputability) and techniques that I have come across is Gillian Carr’s “Woad, Tattooing and Identity in Later Iron Age and Early Roman Britain” [see note 1]. I read the paper some time ago, but it was recently brought to my attention again by Laurah Jurca, who is the motivating force behind me teaching this class (and who has made this “Woad Map” handout with a lot more information).

Clanne Preachain is not a reconstructive archaeology group; we strive for a tribal, mythopoetic, and artisanal authenticity from a practical, modern standpoint. For example, we do much of our cooking on braziers, but our Pennsic kitchen also has a propane camp stove. Sometimes we cook things we gathered, grew, raised, or hunted; sometimes we go to Costco. I bring my woad kit and a drop-spindle to events, along with pharmaceuticals, dental floss, and whisky.

Preachain accumulated a great deal of experience with woad as body paint before I joined in 1997. The group had tested several techniques. Mixing mediums included egg whites, water, saliva, beer, and beef fat—none of which were ideal in our context (for hygienic and aesthetic reasons). Some practitioners used brushes for application; others used cosmetic grinders, fingers, or charcoal smudge sticks.

Cosmetic grinders from the British Museum
British Museum: Bronze cosmetic grinder, mortar component. 2001,0801.1, AN821342001. Image from museum website used under standard Creative Commons terms of use.

These approaches had many drawbacks in our modern reenactment context. Typically, in our group, many people want to be painted within quite a short time, so a bulk grinding technique is necessary. The designs need to dry quickly. Most of our events take place in much warmer climates than insular Celts would have had to deal with, and some materials spoil too rapidly in the heat. I didn’t like the smudge sticks as an implement (both for their modern appearance and the quality of line). I tried several different approaches before settling on my current techniques and materials—and I encourage you to do the same. Here’s what I do.


  • Kit containment: You’ll want a basket, a box, or at least a pouch to keep your kit in. (Pouches tend to mash brushes, though. Mashed brushes are hard to paint with.)
  • Powdered woad pigment: The Limner’s Guild booth at Pennsic has carried pure Scottish woad for years (and the new management assures me they will continue to do so). Woad should be available from the Guild’s website shortly as well. Other sources include the Woad Center and All About Woad (both in the U.K.). {Tangent: If you want to grow your own woad, excellent instructions for extracting woad pigment (“indigotin”) from the leaves can be found on the “All About Woad” site’s Woad Extraction page. I have never extracted woad myself. Woad can be grown successfully throughout much of the U.S., but check with your local agriculture extension service, as in some places it is classified as an invasive. My sister Michelle Parrish is a natural dyer and master weaver, and has many posts on her blog about her adventures growing and processing woad. [Side note from the tangent: I am intrigued by this “Ancient Blue crystal woad,” which is a stain as opposed to a surface pigment—it’s made by interrupting the extraction process before the pigment precipitates. It’s derived from indigo, not woad (same pigment, different plant), and I haven’t tried it.]}
  • Mortar and pestle: I tried a museum reproduction cosmetics grinder (very similar to the one at top right in the museum photo above); it worked very well, but only on tiny amounts of pigment at a time. For the number of people and the scale I usually paint at, it wasn’t enough. I eventually settled on this “mushroom” style. Most stone or ceramic mortar and pestles (mortars and pestles??) would work, I think, but I imagine the tactile clues to a perfect grind would be different.
Mortar and pestle, made of marble; the pestle is shaped like a mushroom.
Mortar and pestle, made of marble; the pestle is shaped like a mushroom. This image comes from Amazon.com, https://amzn.com/B00X3KTPPA . I’m not trying to get you to buy anything; this is just for proper image attribution.
  • Whisky: It’s not documentable to Preachain’s period (which is just pre- and post-Roman contact among the insular Celts), but high-proof liquor is my favorite mixing medium/solvent. I use whisky. There is evidence of distillation in Mesopotamia as early as the 2nd millennium B.C.E, but nothing documented for the British Isles until the 15th century A.C.E. Alcohol evaporates quickly off the skin, so the pattern sets quickly—important to our context of “Everyone get woaded and go somewhere together!” I think whisky’s slightly resinous quality does nice things for the paint consistency; vodka hasn’t worked as well for me. Alcohol also evaporates out of the woadbowl before any noticeable nastiness develops. It leaves something quite similar to ink-cake, that can be re-used just by adding more whisky. What not to use:
    • Ammonia. Don’t do it. Despite persistent and passionate rumors to the contrary, it does not make the woad stay longer on your skin. It could irritate your skin very badly. And it’s nauseating to paint with.
    • Wine, beer, and other alcoholic liquids with residual sugar get sticky and itchy on the skin, attract insects, and can mold or turn to vinegar in the bowl. Not desirable.
    • Egg white and egg yolk flake off the skin once dry, and foul the bowl quickly unless you rinse it out frequently, which wastes an awful lot of woad.
    • Saliva on its own is loaded with potential ick.
    • Water is OK, but drippy to paint with and takes a long time to dry (which is fine if you’re lazing around painting all afternoon; not so much when everyone is trying to get out the gate).

      Me, with paintbrush, painting one kinswoman while having my hair done by another.
      Me, with paintbrush, painting one kinswoman while having my hair done by another. Photo by Derek Nestell, used with permission. (I also enjoy and am slightly embarrassed by the jumble of modern and period-appropriate stuff in this picture.)
  • Powdered rosemary: Optional. A pinch of rosemary in the grind takes the edge off woad’s pungent, wet-dog odor, toning down the more objectionable notes. Adding it into the grind, not the mixing bowl, ensures that it doesn’t affect the coverage quality. If you’re at Pennsic, Auntie Arwen and Brush Creek Wool Works might carry powdered rosemary. I get mine from Penzeys. Another woad-painter I know used to put a couple of drops of lavender oil in her woadbowl for the fragrance, but I didn’t like what that did to the coverage quality (for me—her woad was always beautiful). Now one of my campmates is anaphylactically allergic to lavender, so it’s not an option.
  • Gum arabic: Optional. A couple of years ago (2012 or ’13, I think?), Johann Blau (a longtime SCAdian and armorer of some note) was watching me paint, and asked if I ever use fixatives. I said “Like what?” He said, “Well, my mom is a limner, and she uses gum arabic.” I got some at the Limner’s Guild and tried it. It works well: A bit in the painting-mix makes the coverage smoother and less apt to rub off accidentally. Gum arabic is documentable to antiquity as a trade good in North Africa and the Mediterranean—not very likely to have made it to Britain, but not impossible. I just read that gum arabic is insoluble in pure ethanol, so though it seems to dissolve well in the woadbowl, I’m going to test different batches—one with the gum added as I have been doing, and one with the gum dissolved in water first (hoping to get that test done during the first week of Pennsic). EDIT: I did, in fact, test this out, though I failed to document it thoroughly. I took two small corked glass vials. Into each, I put 1/4 tsp of gum arabic. To one I added 2 tsp water; to the other, 2 tsp of whisky. I corked both vials and shook them up thoroughly. The gum dissolved readily in the water, forming a very slightly cloudy liquid. The gum did not dissolve right away in the whiskey; it formed a little stubborn glob. I shook the vial every 8 hours or so, and after about 36 hours the gum had dissolved fully. So now I carry a little gum-mixing-vial in my woad kit, and mix it down with whiskey, and add about 1/2 tsp of the solution to my woadbowl. I’ll try to get better measurements/proportions/photos next time…
  • Woadbowl: I don’t like to paint straight from the mortar, because it’s heavy, and I have tendon problems in both hands. The painting-mix is a little bit sticky, and can make the next grind clumpier and more difficult if you make the mix in the mortar. For your woadbowl, find something non-porous that fits your hand comfortably. Ceramic or glass cups, small bowls, or scallop shells work nicely. (The one I use is from Maggie the Potter at Feed the Ravens.)
  • Storage jars/vials: Up to you. I use small corked clay jars from Dancing Pig, corked glass vials from Bitty Bottle, and a birch box from Feed the Ravens.
  • Brushes: Cosmetics grinders have been put forth in the scholarly literature as all-in-one grinders and applicators, but I didn’t enjoy them as an artistic tool. They don’t offer enough control for the kinds of designs I was after. I have tried a lot of brush types. My favorite: the Winsor & Newton Squirrel Mop series. My not-very-deep inquiry suggests that the Egyptions, Greeks, and Romans used squirrel brushes for painting and cosmetics, but I don’t have research to support that (yet). Squirrel mops are widely available at art supply stores and online. I like the look of them. With their wire-wrapped goose-quill ferrules, they aren’t obviously modern from a few feet away. I use size 000 or 00 for faces, and size 1 for larger body pieces. They hold a lot of color, and the line quality works well for my style of painting—I don’t feel like I’m fighting the brush to get the line I want, most of the time. Oddly, squirrel mops are not featured on Winsor & Newton’s USA/Canada site, but they are on the UK site and on Amazon.com.

    Winsor & Newton squirrel mop brushes
    Winsor & Newton squirrel mop brushes
  • Chopstick or scraping stick: There’s a fair amount of scraping and chipping of dried woad involved in this process. Using your brush handle is tempting, but the chipping wears the handles down and makes them prone to splitting. I have a special carved stick that I got from Feed the Ravens. A wooden chopstick with a tapered shape would work fine.


I have found woad pigment for sale in two forms: Chunks, and powdered. The chunks take longer to break down, but even the pre-powdered form is not fine enough for my liking. The grains clump and leave visible streaks. I developed a wet-grinding technique to overcome this. It is best learned in person; the clues to a correct consistency are tactile. I start with a packet/5g of woad powder in the mortar, and add a pinch of powdered rosemary. Then I take a sip of whisky and spit it into the mortar. I could measure as I do this, I guess…but I think the saliva is important. (If you aren’t comfortable getting a little bit of my spit on you, I’m not the painter for you. This is a tribal-identity activity we’re talking about. Friends and family.) Grind carefully—the mixture oozes and blurps over the edge of the mortar easily. At the beginning, you can feel/hear the grittiness of the grain size. After about 10-15 minutes (?) of grinding, the mix changes and takes on what I call a “silky pudding” consistency—the grittiness feels suddenly gone. At this point I scrape the paste into a holding jar. It’s very concentrated, and it doesn’t matter if it dries out.

Mixing into Body Paint

Put about 1/2 tsp (?? I’ll measure, next time…) of paste into your bowl and add a bit of gum arabic. I measure the gum arabic with my brush—about an inch of gum along the brush handle. This would be easier with photos. [EDIT, 2017: Following last year’s experiments, I now use a gum arabic/whiskey solution which I prepare in advance instead of the powder.] Then, take a sip of whisky and spit it into the bowl. Mash the paste into the whisky with your stick, then mix with your brush until smooth. You’re going for a consistency between ink and poster paint. Test it on your hand to check the coverage quality. I’m sure that’s a personal preference.


Advise first-time woad recipients that woad can cause allergic reactions, and that if they get more than a tiny bit itchy or have any other allergic symptoms they should wash the woad off, take some Benadryl, and seek medical assistance as necessary. (I have painted hundreds of people, and have seen two instances of allergic reaction–one immediate, and one that didn’t emerge until the next day.)

Don’t paint above someone’s eyes during the day or on a warm night unless they know what they are getting into. Woad in your eyes stings.

This process will not stain skin, but it can be difficult to remove completely all at once. It can typically be removed with a baby wipe or with soap and water. Woad comes off oily skin more easily than dry skin. The woad can get rather deeply into some people’s pores, and take a couple of scrubbings to remove. It will rub off onto your bedding (or your partner) if you go to bed with it still on—but in my experience it washes out quite easily. (It generally won’t stain fabric permanently unless you use a mordant and/or dip the fabric/fiber in the woad vat before the color has precipitated out.) I have seen woad designs stay on skin for as long as four days before the detail is all rubbed out, leaving a dove-grey shadow. If you re-paint the same design in the same place for several days, or just one day with a lot of sun exposure, you can get woad tan lines/shadows.

A by-appointment piece for the Warlord of the Free Company of Anglesey, another non-Kingdom ally, in 2015. This piece took about 90 minutes.
A by-appointment piece for the Warlord of the Free Company of Anglesey, another non-Kingdom ally, in 2015. This piece took about 90 minutes. Photo by Amy Ripton, used with permission.

Sunscreens and makeup can make the woad bead up and not stick well. I am considering some tallow-and-beeswax experiments for daytime use (thinking that a lip balm/wax pencil kind of texture might work better than the alcohol suspension over sunscreen and makeup, as well as on oily skin). But grease never dries all the way, making it more likely to smear and get on other things. Maybe a chalk powder over the paint to set it? [EDIT, 2017: I’ll do more experiments…]

The design style is completely up to you. I started with freeform doodles, then got more serious with typical La Tène motifs from coins, stonework, and metalwork. I have gradually developed a personal style that works with musculature, bone structure, and light. I think it’s recognizably “Celtic,” but I can’t make any claims to documentation (except for “Get out the gate!!” woad–for that I tend to use simpler patterns, very much like those on the coins in the research paper cited above).

Bonus! Woad as a dye plant: Much more than just blue.

As noted above, my older sister Michelle Parrish is a natural dye expert. Years ago, when Preachain was still doing public living history demonstrations at Celtic festivals, Michelle made me an amazing gift: A sampler of hand-dyed, hand-spun wool, with a key to the plants, insects, mordants, and processes she used to dye each sample. Fifteen of the samples—ranging from a pale green through many shades of blue and a couple of rosy-pink-taupes—are colors derived at least in part from woad.

Hand-spun, hand-dyed wool samples by Michelle Parrish of Local Color Dyes
Hand-spun, hand-dyed wool samples by Michelle Parrish of Local Color Dyes

Key: I started typing these out, but they’re very difficult to parse. Here’s a tiny, hard-to-read photo of the key. When I have time I’ll try to do a mouseover image map of this. [EDIT: Mouseover image map is beyond my skills, sorry.]

Descriptions of the dye plants/insects and mordants used to produce the colors in the sampler above.
Descriptions of the dye plants/insects and mordants used to produce the colors in the sampler above.

I think Michelle would want me to note that many of the red samples are dyed with cochineal, which the Celts would not have had (as it originates in South America). However, another insect, kermes, produced the same color and was a common Mediterranean trade good in antiquity. It’s comparable to the switch from woad to indigo as primary source of blue. (Woad and indigo both produce “indigotin” pigment—it’s chemically identical, but it’s more concentrated in the indigo plant and less labor-intensive to extract.)

[1] OXFORD JOURNAL OF ARCHAEOLOGY 24(3) 273–292, 2005; © Blackwell Publishing Ltd. 2005, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main Street Malden, MA 02148, USA. The copyright terms of this paper are such that I may not link to it from a public website or distribute it via listserv. I am allowed to email single copies for personal use, though.  Go back up to reference point.

Web Writing for Beginners: Simone’s Top 10 Tips http://simoneparrish.com/2016/07/web-writing-for-beginners-simones-top-10-tips/ Fri, 01 Jul 2016 20:42:27 +0000 http://simoneparrish.com/?p=823 Continue reading Web Writing for Beginners: Simone’s Top 10 Tips]]> Approx. 5-minute read | I’ve received a lot of requests for these tips, most recently on the email list for the Global Health Knowledge Collaborative. This is not a formal work product yet, so it doesn’t have my project or organization branding on it — it’s what I think, based on more than 15 years of writing on the Web. EDIT, 10/6/2016: It is a formal work product now! Read a slightly more serious version for the knowledge management context on The Exchange (K4Health’s Medium publication), or download a 2-page abridged-for-print version from K4Health.org. 

Consider Your Audience

1. Think about your readers.
 Before you begin writing, put yourself in a reader’s shoes. People read on the Web to find solutions to problems, get information, be entertained, or be moved or supported emotionally. What are you trying to convey? Is it useful, interesting, motivating, or energizing? Make reading worth their time.

2. Be careful with jargon. Jargon and abbreviations can be useful shortcuts with the right audience. With the wrong audience, they are actively alienating. Jargon and abbreviations can also be hard to translate, if translation is a concern. Use plain language and spell out your abbreviations.

Jargon tangent: I recently did an informal survey asking friends how they felt about “thought leadership”—an expression I hear quite a bit in my professional sphere. 78 people responded. 10% felt neutral or grudgingly positive. The other 90% felt negative: They found it pretentious, confusing, or Orwellian.

People react to the phrase "Thought Leadership" with words like "Unease", "Orwellian", "Not down with it."
People react to the phrase “Thought Leadership” with words like “Unease”, “Orwellian”, “Not down with it.”

Write Well

“Writing well” is a huge undertaking —far beyond the scope of this tip sheet. The tips below are the pieces of “writing well” that are particularly applicable to writing for the Web. They can be especially helpful for people who are used to writing in a more academic or specifically-professional style (e.g., reports to a particular funder, papers for a known group of experts).

3. Find your own voice, and use it.  Within whatever style guide you might be held to, express your own ideas or build an argument from your own perspective, but in words your readers will understand. Imagine reading your piece out loud: Does it sound like you? If you read it aloud, would people listen? Readers recognize authenticity when they see it.

4. Condense your sentences.
 Check your writing with a readability tool (like this one). Keep your average sentence length down (15–20 words is a reasonable range, depending on your target audience). Vary your sentences — break up long sentences with short ones. (Write music.) Even people who have the patience to read a 40-word sentence on paper may give up after 20 words on the Web.

5. Watch the details. This includes proper grammar and punctuation. Check your spelling. Small mistakes will distract some readers from your ideas. (Imagine grit in a salad. Is the salad still good?) Also, double-check sources and quotations. It’s tempting to illustrate your point with a supporting aphorism from a famous person, or a quote from a colleague—but make sure they really said it. A misattributed or inaccurate quotation can be a big embarrassment.

Web Writing Specifics

6. Don’t paste from Word. Word is full of background formatting code that does not play well with most websites. If you wrote your piece in Word, copy and paste it into a plain-text editor (like Notepad or TextEdit) before putting it into a website content management system (CMS). Yes, you’ll have to re-do all your links—but that’s much less work than cleaning out incompatible code. If you must write in Word, and you’ll be sending your work to a content manager for publishing, it’s polite to include the URLs of any embedded links, so the content manager can reconstruct the links when s/he strips out the formatting.

7. Be conscious of length. 
This tip used to be “Keep it brief.” Experts used to recommend 300 to 700 words as a guideline for blog posts . Over the past ten years, with the rise of Twitter and mobile, very short-form writing became popular — but then there was a backlash in favor of more in-depth writing. It’s not uncommon now to see online posts of 3,000-5,000 words. If you think your piece needs to be longer, consider turning it into a series or a different type of publication. It’s a good idea to put an estimated read time at the top, and/or a summary of the key message of your post (some people call this the “TL;DR” — “too long, didn’t read”). Here’s a tool that calculates read time.

8. Make your piece scannable. Most people don’t actually read on the web. They skim through a page, looking for headings, keywords, and bullets that interest them. Would a reader still learn something from your piece if they read only the first few words, and skimmed through the highlights?

9. Make links meaningful.
 Links stand out — so make them mean something. A link to a video of a cute kid racing an otter is more meaningful and scannable than one that says to click here — even though they both go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n9APqLA2YKs. (Don’t use bare URLs like that on a web page; they are not meaningful to humans, and they clutter things up.) Meaningful links are also an accessibility issue for people with disabilities. Many people with impaired vision use a “screen reader”—a device or app that literally reads website text aloud. In some modes, the screen reader only reads header and link text — it skips all the paragraph text until the user asks for a paragraph. Imagine the difference between hearing “a recent study about injectable contraceptives…today’s statement by the World Health Organization”, versus hearing “click here … here … click here.”

10. Write a good title. If someone were to try to find your piece with a search engine, what would they search for? Are those words in your title? Are they in your piece? Search engines tend to rate things more highly if the words in your title are also in your text. (Read my colleague Liz Futrell’s To Click or Not to Click: The Art of a Good Title.)

Sassi Saucier and the Potluck Revelation (Two Summer Salads, Good for Potluck) http://simoneparrish.com/2016/06/sassi-saucier-and-the-potluck-revelation-two-salads-good-for-potluck/ Thu, 09 Jun 2016 02:52:08 +0000 http://simoneparrish.com/?p=809 Continue reading Sassi Saucier and the Potluck Revelation (Two Summer Salads, Good for Potluck)]]> Originally posted as a Note on Facebook, June 7, 2014. (I’m gradually moving my oeuvre from there to here as other life priorities and the material tolerances of my arm tendons permit.)

TL;DR: Don’t make boring things for potluck.
Skip to the recipes:
Watermelon, Feta, Watercress
Vaguely Southwestern Roasted Vegetable Salad

We had a potluck at work recently. I signed up to make a salad, and then I specified: “Watermelon, watercress, feta cheese, red onion.”

I had a moment of nervousness about that. In my 20s, I thought potluck food had to be “safe”—something I could count on most people being OK with. I think I underestimated other people’s palates, or undervalued my own. I would bring basic salads, or interesting but not terribly challenging cheeses.

At some point I realized that I should just make something I like. If I like it, other people might enjoy it—and if not, I can bring home a few portions of something I will be happy to eat, instead of something boring. I think it was a vaguely Southwestern roasted vegetable salad that did it, circa 2004. My coworkers ate it all. There was none to bring home. The watermelon salad last week would have all been eaten if I had brought a different serving utensil; tongs weren’t the best. A pair of salad servers, one of which is spoon-like and one more runcible, would have worked better. (And word-nerd bonus: I just realized that a runcible spoon could accurately be called “a serving spork”.)

Two Summer Salads, Good for Potluck

I don’t know how many servings either of these make. Maybe 8? 12? Or 20? Depends on how many other things are on the potluck table.

I. Watermelon, Feta, Watercress

Prep time: 20-30 minutes depending on your knife skills


  • A chef knife that you like
  • A paring knife that you like
  • A cutting board
  • Colander
  • Tea towel
  • Measuring implements
  • A small covered one-cup container (like a single-serve yogurt container)
  • Salad bowl (4 qt)


  • ¼ of a smallish seedless watermelon–the kind that’s the size of a slightly squashed playground ball. Not the size that would take up a whole front seat of your car. I’ll take a picture. (In the picture, the cottage cheese container is there for scale.)

    A quarter of a smallish watermelon, a red onion, a lemon, and a lobe of shallot sitting pertly on a cutting board.
    A quarter of a smallish watermelon, a red onion, a lemon, and a lobe of shallot sitting pertly on a cutting board.
  • ½ a normal-sized red onion, sliced very thin
  • 1 lb of feta cheese (I buy it as a single block, in brine)
  • 3 bunches of watercress (on Thursday I only used two, and the watercress all got eaten, leaving unfulfilled watermelon and feta at the bottom of the bowl…)
  • Juice of 2 lemons (They were small somewhat wizened ones that had been in my crisper drawer for a while. I didn’t measure, but I imagine they yielded about 1/4 cup of juice between them.)
  • 1/3 cup? Lots of glugs of decent extra-virgin olive oil. (I used my second-best.)
  • OPTIONAL: Drizzle of super-fancy olive oil (my fanciest olive oil is the most grassy/peppery I could find.).
  • Salt
  • Pepper (do I have to say “freshly ground pepper”? When I say “pepper,” I always mean “freshly ground black pepper” unless otherwise specified. I use tellicherry peppercorns, usually.)
  • Dried herbs that you like. I used pinches of oregano, herbes de Provence, savory, chervil, and shallot pepper (all from Penzeys). You could probably get away with 1/2 tsp of “mixed herbs” and 1/2 tsp of oregano, if your spice collection isn’t so fancy.
  • Half a shallot (one whole lobe—see picture), minced as finely as you can stand.
  • 1 T finely minced mint stems (I realize this is a weird ingredient, so you could use a small sprig of mint—stem + 3 leaves. I had the mint stems because I was using the leaves in another recipe, but thought the stems might add some spriteliness to the salad without being all “MINTY!”, which they did.)


  1. Slice the onion as thinly as you can stand, and put it in a salad bowl.
  2. Dice the feta, and put it on top of the onion.
  3. (Optional: Drizzle a little bit of your fanciest olive oil over the feta, and season with a little pepper and a pinch of oregano.)
  4. Dice the watermelon into 3/4-inch(ish) dice, and put it on top of the feta.
  5. Make dressing in a little covered container (I used a Pyrex ramekin with a lid; an empty yogurt container would work fine): Squeeze the lemons, pick out the seeds; add the mint stems and shallot; add the oil and all the herbs you like. Put the cover on and nestle the container down into the watermelon.
  6. Twist most of the stems off the watercress, wash it, and wrap it in a tea towel. Put that on top of the watermelon.
  7. You can cover the whole thing with plastic wrap (or a lid, or a waxed cloth, or what have you) and put it in the fridge overnight if your potluck isn’t until the next day.
  8. At potluck-time, tear the watercress up (just twist the bunches in half), shake up the dressing and pour it over, and toss well.

II. Southwestern-ish Roasted Vegetable Salad

Prep time: 45 minutes? + at least 4 hours of chilling-time

You probably want to make this a day before your event, because it needs to chill. I just realized this is vegan-friendly. (I don’t often cook in a vegan way on purpose, as you might have guessed from my obsession with duck fat.)


  • A chef knife that you like
  • A paring knife that you like
  • A cutting board
  • Large prep bowl (3-4 quart)
  • Whisk
  • Roasting pan or baking sheet
  • Measuring implements
  • A small covered container (like a single-serve yogurt container)
  • Garlic press (unless, like Anthony Bourdain, you hate them, in which case employ your raw-garlic-puree-technique of choice)
  • Salad bowl (4 qt)


  • 3 zucchini (6-7″)
  • 3 yellow squash (6-7″)
  • 1 red bell pepper (or a couple of roasted red peppers from a jar)
  • 1/2 a red onion
  • 1 cup frozen corn kernels, thawed and dried on paper towels (I guess you could use fresh corn, but you don’t need to)
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 1 T ground cumin, divided
  • 2 tsp dried oregano, divided
  • 2 T olive or other vegetable oil (doesn’t have to be extra-virgin)—I’m calling this the “neutral oil” below.)
  • 1/4 c apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 c extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic–pressed, or minced/mashed to a paste with a pinch of salt. (I use a garlic press, but I understand there are people who consider that an abomination.)
  • 1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • Optional: Chopped fresh cilantro and lime wedges


  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Dice the onion into 1/4 inch dice. In a small sauté pan, cook the onion over medium-high heat in 1/2 T of neutrally-flavored oil for about 5 minutes. Sprinkle on a pinch of salt, some pepper, and 1 tsp of cumin. Cook 5-10 more minutes, until it’s dizzyingly fragrant and starting to be brown on the edges (a tiny bit of char is not the worst thing ever at this point.) Scrape out into a salad bowl.
  3. In the same pan with the other 1/2 T of neutral oil, cook the corn over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until it’s brown and a tiny bit sticky. This takes a while, maybe 15-20 minutes?
  4. Multitasking: While the corn is on the stove, you’ll cut and roast squash, and roast the pepper.
  5. Optional/use your own judgment: If there’s fond (sticky brown stuff) in the pan when the corn is done, use the 1/4 c cider vinegar to deglaze the pan real quick (take the pan off heat, avert your face*, pour vinegar in, swish around and scrape up the bits); pour that into the salad bowl with the onion. [*You do not want to get a faceful of vaporized vinegar. It’s not nice.]
  6. Cut the squash into bite sized pieces and put them in a large bowl. Drizzle 1 T of neutral oil over them, and toss with your hands. Sprinkle on 2 tsp of the cumin and 1 tsp of the oregano. Spread out on a baking sheet or in a roasting pan and pop in the oven for about 20 minutes (? maybe 15, maybe 30, depends on the squash and your oven…) It’s done when you can pierce it with a fork without a lot of effort.
  7. If you’re roasting your own pepper, do that while the squash is in the oven: I like to put the pepper straight on a gas burner and turn it with tongs until it’s black all over, and then stick it in a paper bag to cool for a while—then the skin just rubs off. Or you can do this on a grill outside, or under a broiler (maybe?). Or just use roasted peppers from a jar. Either way, cut into 1/3-inch strips and set aside.
  8. In the salad bowl (where the sautéed onion has been waiting): Add the vinegar (unless you used it to deglaze the pan in optional-step-5, above, in which case it’s already in the bowl…). Whisk in the oil, the garlic, and the rest of the cumin and oregano. Taste for seasoning (and most likely add some salt and pepper).
  9. Put your roasted squash, red pepper, browned corn, and rinsed black beans all in the salad bowl. Toss so the dressing coats everything.
  10. Refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight.
  11. Optional: Add a handful of chopped fresh cilantro and a squeeze of lime juice right before serving. For potluck, it’s thoughtful to leave these on the side and let people add their own—there’s that “soap-tasting” cilantro problem for some people. (You can’t please/accommodate all the people’s food preferences/allergies all the time; just don’t be mean.)