Lard (How to render Pork Fat)

I’m not normal.

You know how I know this?

Because, even though I just came back from Cape Town, I feel the urge to tell you about rendering pork fat into good ole’ lard.

Because, when I’m stressed about writing and can’t seem to find the right words for a couple projects, the only thing that makes my fingers fly off the keyboard typing are these words, which will soon describe nothing of importance, unless you find fat important (I do).


Because, when I saw the huge plastic bag hoisted up from behind the counter of the butcher shop, the plastic bag that not only contained pork bones for a broth but also sheets of pork fat and skin, I clapped my hands with joy.


Because, I happily, attentively, patiently waited for over a day for my pork skin to cook down in the slow cooker, eventually ladling the residual product into small glass jars like a mad scientist.


Because, instead of using olive oils and coconut oils and whatever other “healthy” oils are available, I choose to use my own, homemade lard.

Because, the word “LARD” is as funny to me as the word “FART” but also sexy in a way that farts are most definitely not.

Because, I couldn’t wait to take pictures of pork fat cradled in a small wooden spoon.


How to render pork fat into lard

According to Paleo guru and our new household hero Robb Wolf (or rather, an author on his website),

Leaf lard is from the interior of the animal near the kidneys and back fat is from, well – the back of the pig, between the loin and the skin. If you purchase back fat it will almost always have a little bit of red meat layered with the white fat while leaf lard tends to be more purely white in color through and through. Both types of fat are delicious and versatile but back fat does often have a richer flavor that may arguably make it somewhat less suitable for a few particular purposes such as certain desserts or baked goods.

Most recipes instruct the use of back fat, and I agree with this. I had to actually pick through my pile of scraps to find the ones with the most fat, but hey, this is Africa.

If you ask for back fat from the butcher in the states, you will most likely receive your pieces, nice thicky fatty pieces with a thin layer of skin. Still, no matter how thin this skin, it will seem as thick as leather when you try to cut it at home. Therefore, ask your butcher to cut it for you into small pieces, even minced, if possible, as opposed to doing in online. Especially if you’ve got dull knives, and dull kitchen shears. Trust me, these fingers I’m typing with were nearly gone on several occasions.

I’ve also read online that the smaller the pieces, the more fat you’ll get off of the skin.

Anyway, on with the instructions:

  1. Start with any increment of pork fat, but at least a pound, up to 5-6 pounds (or really, as much as your crock pot can handle), cut into pieces.
  2. Pour a small amount of water, about 1/4 cup into a crock pot. This will prevent the skin from sticking to the bottom, but does not need to be an exact amount.
  3. Place your pork skin and fat into the crock. Set on low to medium heat and let the crock pot work its magic.
  4. If possible, check the crock pot once an hour or so, stirring if possible, to ensure even cooking of the skin.
  5. The fat will slowly start to melt into a puddle of oil. My lard took over 10 hours to render, but just keep your eye on it. It helps to spoon out the fat as it cooks down, straining through a fine-meshed sieve as you go.

This Lard will keep on the counter top if you prefer as such, but can last several months in the fridge.This rendered fat also freezes extremely well!



How to make coconut milk (a.k.a. the most delicious milk on this planet)

I’m about to go pick up a rooster (true story!).

While I’m out wrestling with a cock and trying to get it from Point A to Point B without him pecking me to death, here’s a little more on the subject of coconuts. Coconut week, it’s glorious!


Today, a quick lesson on coconut milk. If you’ve grown up in a coconut-deprived place like the U.S. and like me, are completely new to the idea of coconuts, listen up: coconut milk is NOT coconut juice!

Coconut juice is the clear, watery liquid that is stored inside the coconut, the thing that you see island castaways gulping down in the movies. Coconut milk is a whole different thing, made from immersing the rich, fatty flesh of the coconut in water, soaking for some time, then extracting or straining or pressing the soaking liquid. Instead of me going on and on about the upsides of coconut milk, click on over to OdeWire, who gives a great summary on some of its uses and benefits.


Now, more importantly, how to make coconut milk:

What you’ll need:



  1. Place coconut meat, coconut juice, and hot water in a high-speed blender. Blend on high speed for 45 seconds. (I love our Blendtech!) Alternatively, you can use a regular blender, or simply chop up the coconut into relatively small chunks and allow the meat to soak in the water overnight.
  2. Let the mixture sit for 2-3 hours. After this time, swirl liquid around, and pour into a sieve lined with a cheesecloth set above a bowl. Drain.
  3. Gather the four corners of the cheesecloth together, and squeeze all the liquid out of the milk. Trust me, you’ll want every. last. drop.
  4. Store in the fridge, will keep for a couple of days. The fat will separate to form a layer at the top, so make sure to shake a few times before using.

Try not to drink all of it right away, too, because it’s awfully good with some braised greens…(do you sense a recipe coming tomorrow?)

Also, if you’re interested in buying the most AMAZING coconut water on shelves in the US, I urge you to buy C2O, which can be found at your local Whole Foods Market or ordered to your home on Amazon. The DiploMan and I imported 9 cases here with us in our shipment…and we’re already halfway through.

An extremely wordy post about date flakes.

Wow. Three weeks flies by pretty quickly. I’m dropping back in again, with the hopes that you haven’t totally lost faith in me and my increasingly-sporadic rambles.

But the exciting thing is, in my absence from blogging, I’ve developed so much (SO MUCH!) that I want to share on this blog, ranging everywhere from pack out anticipation, to new work projects, to recent trips across the states, to upcoming trip ideas, to new ideas in general. Excuse this little bit of word vomit, I took one of these this morning. So now, where does one start?

shields date flakes

I know, let’s start at the beginning. Sometimes the beginning means at the header of a page, sometimes it means at a marked starting line, but today, my beginning is starting with breakfast – as many of your mornings do too, I gather. (Caution: If you’re not into wordiness right now, I’d suggest you skip to the bottom, because admittedly, this is a very long entry with a lot of fluff in the middle).

Every morning I wake up hungry- this is a staid fact in my life- which means I have some assemblance of a breakfast every morning. It’s usually more simple than anything fancy, meaning that I generally avoid turning on the stove to make breakfast. I make my slice of toast, or juice, or bowl of oatmeal, and then eat it, in front of my computer, simultaneously checking emails and letting my mind wander to things such as the breakfast routines of other people. You see, it’s a bit of a yearning of mine to have the same breakfast every morning, like many of you claim to do. Fresh yogurt and homemade granola with beautiful fruits every morning is the preferred staple, but I’d get down with a slice of hearty-grained toast with peanut butter too, and seriously even just half a grapefruit every morning. As long as it’s every morning. Though I so desperately want for one of these routines, and have tried so hard in the past for weeks at a time to turn myself into an everyday-same-breakfast-er, I’m never committal enough, nor sure enough, nor decisive enough, nor have planned ahead enough, to have one single item for breakfast every day. It really is one of my desired goals though, and there – I just shared with the world one of my embarrassingly superflous, and highly unnecessary goals in my life.

date flakes- in the bag

Recently part of my breakfast has been a green juice, which has been made semi-routine-ish thanks to the addition of our shiny new *expensive* blender. And interspersed here and there, particularly if it’s cold and dreary out, I’ll heat up a big bowl of oats. If you too like to encounter a bowl of steaming hot oatmeal in front of your face in the AM, I am highly suggesting the addition of date flakes, or date crystals. The name date flakes sounds a bit gross, and look just slightly less so, but I promise you they add a world of flavor and complexity to an otherwise simple bowl of hot oats.

And here, is where the point of this blog post actually starts (I warned you earlier of wordiness, so you can’t fault me for that now).

I first tasted date flakes in Palm Springs, where date flakes have been a raging fad since the 60’s. By now, it can be stated they have outrun their status as a fad and are turning more into a local staple, something for tourists to seek out should they find themselves in the California desert. In Palm Springs, where a date industry has created a name for itself, date flakes are mostly used in hybrid milkshakes, or rather, frozen-yogurt health shakes created from the hippie-bohemian types that tend to frequent Palm Springs.

After consuming one of the aforementioned date shakes, I told myself I would go home and make a date shake every day to satisfy my sweet tooth. However the act of purchasing and drinking a date shake in Palm Springs and making a date shake in your blender at home, somehow, somewhere, presents a large gap of disconuity, where your date shake at home tastes nothing like the one you had in Palm Springs. This phenomena happens often with hamburgers and hot dogs, as well as with milkshakes in general, and sometimes Chinese Food and other types of ethnic foods.

Which leaves you with a lot of date flakes you anticipated on making shakes for in your pantry, to be used now for what….?

date flakes - in the hand

The answer is oatmeal. I previously would always add brown sugar in my oatmeal, but this has since changed. Date flakes are hard and crunchy out of the bag, but when heated in oatmeal become melted and soft and become one with the oats (yes, I just said “become one with oats“). They add a heightened complexity of sweetness that plan old sugar or honey does not, and since they’re natural, they’re infinitely healthier than processed sugar.

I’m excited to try to sprinkle these date flakes into a banana or zucchini bread WHEN I GET AN OVEN AGAIN, but in the meantime, these little candied pieces of dates are absolute heaven in my semi-routine breakfast bowls of oatmeal. Shield’s Date Garden is one of the more famous companies who sell date flakes out of the Palm Springs area (and who also offer online ordering), but any other brand you might find would probably be fine. I’ve yet to ever see these at any Whole Foods or health store on the East Coast, so I’d recommend ordering online. Also, sorry for that photo of my extremely dry hands. Winter here in DC is killer.

Oatmeal with date flakes

  • 1/2 cup old fashioned oats
  • 3/4 cup – 1 cup water
  • 2 tsp date flakes
  • accompaniments: blueberries, peaches, and/or walnuts, cashew nut milk or soy millk.
  1. Rinse oats once under cold water and drain. Add up to 1 cup water. Heat in microwave for 1 minute, then add date flakes. Heat for another 1 minute, watching carefully as the oats will have a tendency to overflow (if it does, take the bowl out and stir, then continue heating).
  2. Add accompaniments as desired. If you’re feeling crazy, add a pinch of salt to your oatmeal!

Shields Date Flakes - closeup

I’m also excited because date flakes and oatmeal with soy milk fits into my plan to go Gluten Free for a few weeks. I’m telling you, I’ve got a lot to say since I’ve missed blogging for a few weeks. But there’s more research and planning that needs to be done for that, so for now we’ll leave it as yet another silly and superfluous goal I’m setting in my life.

Smoked Tofu Stir Fry

A version of this article will be popping up over on Honest Cooking in a few days. But I couldn’t resist sharing it here, first!!

smoked tofu stir fry recipe

Several months ago, while in China, I waxed poetic about the virtues of good, smoked, baked tofu. I shared an excellent recipe for tofu stir fry over on Honest Cooking- it was easy, tasty, fast, and fresh.

Now I’m back in the U.S., and the ideas of easy, tasty, fast, and fresh food can be found EVERYWHERE around me. I’m elated!

smoked tofu_top view

Since I’ve gotten a job over at Union Market, I’ve found myself exposed to a number of folks who are bringing back the artisan foodways of yesteryear. From farmhouse dairies, to homemade preserves, to in-house curing of meats, to family oyster farms and local bakeries, small business have come forward to provide and promote a small scale production of quality, local, and tasty provisions. And this is not just happening at my local market, but all over the city, too. In fact, it’s happening in cities all over the U.S..

But back to the offerings at Union Market: Neopol Smokery is part of this wonderful artisanal movement. Based in Baltimore, Maryland, their provisions feature a variety of smoked fish, but also extend to smoked spices, herbs, and most intriguing to me – smoked tofu.

smoked tofu+cross sections

I brought a cube of Neopol’s smoked tofu home with me last weekend. This isn’t your typical, store-bought, mild-flavored, densely packed smoked tofu. No, it’s a grill-marked, heavily scented, rich and smoky tofu, weighty, but pillowy and then firm, all at the same time. Slicing off a raw piece at home, I deemed the intense smokiness beckoning to be accompanied by other earthy, umami-rich ingredients such as mushrooms and leeks. The tofu, somewhat bland on its own, desired a kick of flavors that could easily be lent from soy, ginger, and mirin.

leeks, ginger, and mushrooms

Now, both as a writer and a cook, I shoot for variety in my work. But sometimes, when I come across something so good and so fresh and made with some much love and care, variety just gets pushed to the sidelines. So here it is, another recipe for a smoked tofu stir fry.

**For all my friends who have got a smoker in your backyard, I encourage you to try making your own smoked tofu. I know not everyone has access to Neopol’s amazing treasures. Of course, the store-bought stuff is a fine enough substitute….and that’s not said with any amount of snuff or anything…

tofu stir fry with leeks and mushrooms

Fresh Smoked Tofu Stir Fry

  • 1 medium leek, greens and whites, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 cube smoked tofu, approx 8 oz., thinly sliced
  • 4 oz. mushrooms, any variety (cremini & hen-of-the-woods used here), chopped/sliced into small pieces
  • 2 Tbsp. mirin
  • 1 Tbsp. soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. sesame oil
  • 1 small nub ginger, finely minced (approx 1/2 tsp)
  • 6 oz. ground turkey
  1. Heat a bit of vegetable oil over high heat on a large skillet or wok. When oil is hot, add garlic and leeks. Saute for 3-5 minutes, or until leeks are soft.
  2. Lower heat slightly to medium high. Add tofu and mushrooms. Let cook for 3-5 minutes, turning occasionally to saute. Don’t stir too vigorously, or the tofu will break up. You want the tofu to brown on the sides and the mushrooms to become soft.
  3. Mix the mirin, soy sauce, sesame oil, and ginger in a small bowl. Add to the stir fry, and sautee. Add the ground turkey, and cook until turkey is well done, approx 5 more minutes.
  4. Serve, hot, accompanied by rice.
If you love spicy fare, this dish would do well with the addition of a couple of chili peppers or a teaspoon of hot sauce.
Yield: 2-3 servings, as a main dish



Have you ever experienced the feeling where you just know you’ll like something, even before you try it? Like, you know it so positively that you’d be willing to bet anything on it?

That was how I felt about za’atar.

Za’atar can be found at any natural foods or gourmet grocery store in the states, and is a lovely Mediterranean blend of sesame seeds, sumac, salt, and a bevy of dried herbs- usually Thyme, Marjoram, and Oregano. I’ve heard so much about this spice blend in the last few years. Along with ramps and rhubarb, za’atar is a darling in the eyes of a food lover.

I’m dreaming of the day I can finally grill a whole fresh fresh fish when I am back in the States, in my non-existant grill I own, in the large suburban backyard that I don’t have. In my dream kitchen, I will drizzle the grilled fish with a generous amount of olive oil and a heaping dose of za’atar before perfectly blackening it on my grill. Until then, to fulfill these fantasies, I smuggled brought back a small packet of za’atar with me to China. I bought it without ever tasting it, but completely knowing what to do with it and knowing that I would love it.

So far it hasn’t disappointed me. It has made its way into a lot of my dishes these days- chicken drumsticks, omelets, even tofu. No fish though- I still don’t really trust the fish here.

Za’atar is also very fun to say, and difficult to keep typing correctly. Za’atar. Za’atar. Za’atar!!!

My favorite has been this combination of asparagus (chives) and za’atar. Which after a quick roast in the oven, subsequently get placed in a mean, green, summery salad. Yum.

You really should try it, too. I think you’d love it.

Roasted Asparagus with Za’atar

  1. Trim or shave the base of the asparagus. Line baking sheet with foil or nonstick mat. Sprinkle a generous amount (1-2 tsp.) of za’atar over asparagus and add a generous amount of olive oil. Add a pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper.
  2. Roast at 350F for 15-20 minutes, or until asparagus are slightly darker and wilted.
  3. Serve as a side dish, or on top of a salad (with lots of feta cheese and mint!!)