Secret Ingredients: Ona’s gingerbread houses

The secret ingredient that makes every recipe better is a story. In this first installment of our Secret Ingredients series, a shared recipe for gingerbread used to make gingerbread houses turns into a memorable Christmas experience for a family.

By Alan Miles

We have a lot of recipes at our house. Besides shelves full of cookbooks, there are notebooks, folders and card boxes overflowing with handwritten ones. But we have only one recipe that’s framed and hanging in the kitchen. Ona Yoder’s recipe for gingerbread houses is singled out in commemoration of a person and a Christmas my family never forget.


Ona Yoder in one of her many blue dresses.

Ona Yoder

Ona Yoder was our nearest neighbor when my wife, Karen, and I rented a farmhouse in the Iowa countryside in the 1980s. Ona was in her 80s by then, unmarried and still living (by herself) in the same house she had been born in. She grew up with farm-girl responsibilities when the family raised almost all their own food, made their own clothes and cut their own wood. As far I could tell, she owned only blue dresses. She said things like, “Oh my gracious!” and, “Well, I’ll be!” and peppered her conversation with endless homilies like, “Clear moon, frost soon.” And Ona was humble and generous to a fault. Continue reading

Sleeper Spices: Grains of paradise

Frontier Grains of Paradise

By Tom Havran

Wake up your palate and expand your cooking repertoire with spices you may not have experienced before. In this installment of our series highlighting “sleeper” spices, learn about the unique seasoning and spicing capabilities of grains of paradise — and get tips for using it to awaken your next cooking endeavor.

What it tastes like: With the most romantic name in all spicedom, grains of paradise warrant their illustrious title with their vivid, peppery flavor. Even though the flavor is reminiscent of black pepper, this exotic West African spice is actually distantly related to cardamom. It has an aromatic, volatile, slightly citrusy flavor and creates a pungent sensation on the tongue. People who find the taste of black pepper too sharp and unvaried may prefer the more suave, lingering heat of grains of paradise.

What it looks like: Whole seeds are brownish-black, 1/8-inch wide, irregularly shaped and grain-like. Continue reading

5 tips for eating consciously at the holidays

By Kailee Meskimen

As the holiday season comes into full swing, our awareness of healthy habits is clouded by an endless succession of tantalizing treats: creamy spiced eggnog, boats full of gravy, piles of mashed potatoes and slices of pie. An abundance of shared food is a given at holiday gatherings, but eating it consciously and still celebrating the bounty doesn’t have to be overwhelming.

small plates-2

Rather than depriving yourself of festive food and drink or feeling guiltily about over-indulging, stick to these five simple tips during holiday celebrations to keep ravenous behavior at bay and fully enjoy each bite. Continue reading

9 tips for using baking flavors and extracts

By Tom Havran

Liquid flavors and extracts are essential ingredients for successful cooking and baking. For example, the whipped cream topping on your pie or the icing on your sugar cookies wouldn’t go over so well if all you had to flavor them with were great chunks of diced vanilla beans. But how does all of that intense vanilla essence get into the vanilla extract that you do use in your whipped cream?

Extracts have greater flavor than the sum of the plants that are used to make them and flavors are a slightly different ingredient altogether. To use them properly, learn where they come from and how they’re made in our Baking Flavors and Extracts 101. Once you’ve grasped the basics, keep these important tips in mind. Continue reading

My organic living “Aha!” moment: Learning the benefits of eating well and sustainably

By Liz Hopkins

My organic living “Aha!” moment was when I was hired as the chef at Frontier’s employee cafe.

I didn’t really have a sudden moment of revelation when I fully realized the value of eating organically. Instead, I gradually learned about the benefits of eating well and eating sustainably. I converted over a period of years from a meat-eater to a vegetarian committed to buying organic whenever I can.

But even though there wasn’t a moment of sudden realization in my progression, there was that definite turning point — when I was hired to run the employee café at Frontier. I’d worked in hotel kitchens for many years, but when I started at Frontier Co-op, I found for the first time a sizable group of people who appreciated natural food and preferred to eat organically.


Learning on the job

The new job was definitely a learning experience — natural ingredients replaced the highly processed ones I was used to, and the nutritional value and wholesomeness of the food moved front and center. Efficiency was still important, but it didn’t trump food quality in the Frontier Café.

My outlook — and my skills — changed. I enjoyed the experience of learning to cook with whole grains, dried beans, seasonal produce and the like. It was easy converting familiar recipes to more natural versions, and it was fun to experiment with the almost unlimited seasoning palette of the spices Frontier sells. I felt great about the food I was making at work, and soon I was cooking the same way at home. Continue reading

How to eat consciously with gratitude


By Tom Havran

Feasting. Throughout history, humans have enjoyed transitory moments of bliss induced by the sensual enjoyment of superlative food. The food might be humble and rustic or sophisticated and composed, but when it’s beautiful and delicious, something remarkable occurs. Our eyes, noses, taste buds and minds elevate the base experience of merely eating to rapturous and rare heights of joy where gratitude finds the space to flow in.

This phenomenon creates the mental space necessary for our minds to open to the whole story of the food we’re eating and the path it took to give us such pleasure. Eating good food consciously with a sense of gratitude not only turns mere gratuitous consumption into a grateful repast, it gives us profound insight into ourselves and how our minds work in relation to food.

Hunger and faith

I was raised by a father who is a skilled butcher and a mother who is a skilled cook. They both marshaled their talents to nurture a large family, all of whom participated in the raising, killing, cooking and eating of all kinds of animal and vegetable life. On the farm, I raised pigs, cows and chickens from their births on, growing fond of them in the process. I cared for and even loved these animals, then participated in the horrors of their deaths at slaughter and subsequently savored their flavor at the table. Experiencing the whole process, I learned where food comes from, but more profoundly, I understood that getting it to the table involved a continuum of tenderness and caring through pain and death, to tenderness and caring again during shared meals. How was my mind able to hold this? Continue reading

Sleeper Spices: Fenugreek

Wake up your palate and expand your cooking repertoire with spices you may not have experienced before. In this installment of our series highlighting “sleeper” spices, learn about the unique seasoning capabilities of fenugreek — and get tips for using it to enhance your next cooking endeavor.

Frontier fenugreek

By Tom Havran

What it tastes like: Fenugreek seed has a raw, nutty, moderately bitter flavor and a pungent aroma. Dry-roasting the seeds in a hot pan helps decrease the bitterness and transforms the raw, nutty flavor into a mellow, maple syrup-like sweetness.

What it looks like: The yellowish-to-tan seeds of fenugreek are small (1/8-inch) irregular rectangles. They are in fact little beans, as fenugreek is a legume. Continue reading

Homemade lip balms, lotion bars and body butters

homemade lip balm, lotion bar, body butter

By Charlynn Avery

I look around myself in the kitchen. Pots, pans, glass measuring cups, a digital scale, essential oils, beeswax and a whole lot of oil take up all of the available counter space. The music flows and the aroma of cocoa butter fills the room as I am immersed in one of my favorite activities — experimenting with new DIY body care recipes.

A simple solution to dry skin

My goal on this particular occasion was to create my own lotion bar to travel with. As a frequent traveler who doesn’t like to check a bag, I have my liquids all under control with the exception of lotion. Prone to dry skin, I have been moisturizing my skin since I was a child, and lotion or a skin care oil is something I cannot live without. Natural oil is my preferred method of moisture these days, but flying with the quantity that I need is a hassle and (can be) messy. A simple solution was introduced to me several years ago by a dear friend. We were traveling for a month out of the country and didn’t want to check bags, so she made lotion bars — whoa! What a perfect solution.

I spent a few years after that purchasing others’ lotion bars, and finally made it a priority to make my own. I found the process to be so easy and, in addition to making body butter and lip balm for several years, I now have a new item to add to my bag of natural skin care tricks. Continue reading

Trade out the take-out: Spaghetti squash pad Thai recipe

spaghetti squash pad thai recipe

By Sara Mallicoat

One recent evening with the kids in tow after a few errands, my husband convinced me to go out for dinner. We chose a place that was fast and, of course, had something my toddler-aged boys would eat. I was the last to order and after realizing my husband got something my boys would enjoy as well, I got a meal I crave, but rarely eat (especially now with a less spicy menu to accommodate the toddlers at home) — spicy pad Thai. It was tasty, but I felt so guilty eating it — I did not want to know how many calories I had just ingested!

I’m always trying to introduce my boys to new cuisines that let the vegetables shine — some go over well, others flop! One night I was inspired to develop this tasty spaghetti squash “pad” Thai recipe while chowing down on another spaghetti squash pasta dish. The squash replaces the rice noodles traditionally used, but we kept the name kid-friendly and called it “Peanut Butter Noodles.” It was a hit!

This meal comes together quickly if the spaghetti squash is already cooked, but if it’s not, I use the roasting time to play with the boys before making dinner!

Spaghetti Squash Pad Thai (or Peanut Butter Noodles) Continue reading

Sleeper Spices: Fennel Seed

Wake up your palate and expand your cooking repertoire with spices you may not have experienced before. In this third installment of our series highlighting “sleeper” spices, learn about the unique seasoning and coloring capabilities of fennel seed — and get tips for using it to awaken your next cooking endeavor.

Frontier Co-op fennel seed

By Tom Havran

What it tastes like: The flavor of fennel seed and its close cousin, anise seed, are often described as licorice-like, which is actually backward. Since extracts of both are used to flavor licorice (usually in much greater quantities than licorice root), the taste of the candy should be described as anise or fennel-like. The constituent most responsible for fennel’s taste is anethol — it provides a volatile, vegetal sweetness that has a slight warming sensation.

What it looks like: Whole seeds look like ribbed, fat little parenthesis symbols, greenish tan in color. (They should not have any of the dried stem, or “whiskers” attached.) Ground fennel seed is a brownish, granular powder that has a slightly damp, oily texture when fresh. Continue reading