Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Book Review: Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz

I can't say enough good things about this book. It was easy to read (I power read through this in about 3 days), informative, and interesting. I picked up the e-book for my Kindle on a recommendation from a friend, because I had posted on Facebook that I was interested in learning more about fermentation, and really wanted a good book to get me started. This book has so many different fermentation recipes, that it's going to keep me busy for a while.

Let me go into a little more detail about the recipes, since there are so many of them in this book. First of all, there is a huge variety, not only are there recipes for traditional favorites like fermented pickles, but there are also recipes for Ethiopian dishes. There are bread, beverage, vegetable, and anything else you can think of fermenting. The best part is that, as he explain in the book, you can do most of these fermentations with little more than a food-safe sterile container, and salt water. I currently have a batch of vegetables/fruits on the counter fermenting away in a brine solution, and I am very anxious to see how they are turning out but I want to give the ferment a few more days.

I think one of the more important things that I need to stress about fermenting is that a lot of people are going to tell you how dangerous fermenting foods can be. Well, this is true, but from my experience thus far, it's also really easy to avoid any problems. Thing is, anytime you talk about canning or fermenting, someone somewhere is going to bring up the B-word, Botulism. Yes, that is a very dangerous bacteria, and yes it does love to grow on foods, but the key here is hat botulism LOVES a low acid, low oxygen environment. So how do we prevent this B-word from getting into our ferments? Well, the main thing to keep in mind is airflow. There are a lot of sites I've seen that talk about putting a lid on your ferments, and that scares the crap out of me, as a beginning fermenter, I am not versed enough with airlocks or any of that to trust myself with lidded ferments. However, covering the lid of the jar with cheesecloth and securing it with a rubber band is just the trick. The airflow stays at max, and you don't have to worry about depriving all those good little bacteria of the oxygen they need to thrive. Another issue is light, which is why I keep mine covered. I have previously used fabric bags (again something breathable) to keep my jars in the dark, but recently, I've started crocheting covers. Whatever you choose to do if you're using glass containers (my personal preference) this is what I suggest. Keeping things submerged in the brine is the last major piece of this puzzle. But of course I am simplifying.

So if you're interested I suggest you do your research, until you feel comfortable giving it a shot. Once again, I highly recommend the book "Wild Fermentation" as it will be a great guide as you get into this wonderfully fun food science experiment. Also use your nose and taste buds to guide you. You're going to know when a food is bad because it will smell bad, and it will taste bad. Botulism will give things a distinctly unpleasant mildew-like odor. Always be cautious, but trust me once you start fermenting you'll see how easy it is, and you'll get hooked. Pretty soon you'll end up like me and you'll have an entire shelf full of fermented goodies that you're not consuming fast enough.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Autumnal Harvest Soup

I love Autumn, not only do I get to break out my sweaters, but it's also the best time to make soup. Not just because the weather gets a little chilly, but also because there are so many fantastic things available at the farmer's market that make for good soup. Also this year I am once again participating in the Juniper Hill Farms CSA. They are fantastic, they deliver to my worksite, which is awesome, but I can also customize my picks from week to week. Earlier this summer, I was able to get a canning package of beets from them, and now I have canned beets sitting in my cabinet, just marinating in goodness, waiting to be eaten!

But I digress. Autumn is soup weather, and one of my favorite "recipes" is something I call Autumnal Harvest Soup. It changes slightly from year to year, but the point is that it clears out what I need to use up, and makes one heck of a tasty soup. I also notice I tend to make it around the time of the Autumnal Equinox. So here's this year's recipe, all the ingredients were purchased at either the farmer's market, or received from my CSA:

2 leeks (white parts online, sliced really thin)
3 carrots (peeled and sliced)
1 butternut squash (peeled, seeded, and cubed)
4 cloves of garlic (chopped)
2 medium apples (peeled, cored, and cubed)
4 potatoes (peeled, cubed)
2 quarts of stock (I used vegetable, but I've also used chicken)

Basically toss all of the ingredients in a slow cooker, turn it on high and then walk away for a few hours. Anywhere from 4-6 hours. Then take your immersion blender and blend it all up. Or carefully put small batched in a blender and blend until the soup has an even pureed consistency. Then grab some bread, or make yourself a grilled cheese like I did, and ENJOY!

You Ferment For Me...

Although, it's been a long time in the making, I've recently started really getting into fermenting foods. I made a batch of pickles last year, and while I really enjoyed their taste, they were soggy, they were not spicy, and the recipe I was following suggested water bath canning! Let me tell you a little something about fermented foods, and then we'll discuss why I was so angry about the canning process. First of all, fermenting is not new, it's been used probably as long as agriculture has been around in order to preserve foods. Mostly it consists of putting a lot of something in a brine and just letting it sit there until it pickles itself. It's really tasty, and once you've had a fermented pickle, those lifeless things you buy in a store just never taste quite as good. I say lifeless because fermented pickles are teeming with life, bacterial life that is! I know, some of you may be put off by the thought that there are bacteria living in fermented pickles, but they are the same beneficial bacteria that are living right now in your guts. These guys help digest food, keep you healthy, and there needs to be a certain amount of them in your guts in order for you to feel good (it's often referred to as your intestinal flora, or gut flora).

So why should you be concerned about keeping the bacteria in your guts happy? Well, there has been recent evidence that suggests that gut flora being in an imbalance may make you fat! (http://www.naturalnews.com/046618_gut_bacteria_obesity_prebiotics.html). So we should not only welcome more probiotic foods into our diet, but prebiotic foods as well (so eat those fruits and veggies!). However, the fermenting stuff I am about to introduce is probiotic, so enjoy the pictures, and since this my new obsession prepare to hear much more about it!

So this is the recent the most recently finished fermenting project. I tried making sauerkraut for the first time ever! It was incredibly simple and it tastes amazing. Not to mention the crazy color because I used half green and half red cabbage. It looks pretty amazing, it's a bright magenta color! However, I made a 2 gallon crock, and now I am faced with having way more kraut than I know what to do with. I have just been eating forkfuls of it here and there. But then I hatched a scheme to get some of it out of my house, I am hosting a Reuben dinner party! I will definitely be posting pictures, as I am incredibly excited to get my friends together and enjoy a ton of fermented goodies! We will all be filled with beneficial gut flora after that party!

This was the previous fermenting project, pickles. I was trying to make them spicy and picked up a pickling spice from the co-op, but next time I am going to add more peppers to the mix myself. It was still pretty good, and a huge improvement over last year however. The secret I have learned is tannins. Though some people put naturally harvest grape leaves, oak leaves, or mustard leaves in their pickles, I didn't have access to any of these things (well, access to any I was sure were pesticide/chemical free) so I put a few pinches of black tea in there from a tea bag that had busted open, and viola! They are crunchy, and a couple of pinches was enough to keep them that way without altering the flavor. That is a gallon sized mason jar that I fermented these guys in, and they fermented in a week! We had a very hot very humid mid-August here, so they were sped along in their natural processes!

Last but not least this is the current experiment in my gallon jar. You can see the cozies I crocheted for this jar, and my half gallon jar. One of the important aspects of fermenting is that they need to be kept out of direct light. But since I like keeping an eye on my projects, I wanted to keep them on the counter in my kitchen, hence crocheted cozies! I took green tomatoes, onions, ground cherries, carrot, and a jalapeno and tossed them together. I made some brine and put a jar on top to keep everything submerged. This is something that I am super excited to break out and try soon, they have been fermenting close to two weeks now and this is the first time I've just flat out gone my own way in fermenting and tried something completely new. I am by no mean an expert, and I did a ton of reading and research before I even started fermenting anything at home. I'll be posting some book reviews very soon about books that had fermenting recipes in them, for those of you interesting in undertaking this adventure as well.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Permaculture Certification Here I Come!

I just have to share how unbelievably excited I am to begin this course. I have taken so many online courses because they were filling general education requirements and I had to take them, but this one is filled with people who want to be there and are excited to learn and share what they have experienced. This is going to be a really fun, and I am looking forward to learning as much as I can while taking this course!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

It has been too long my friends!

There is a lot of news, and a lot of stuff has been in the works. I can't believe how long it has been since I have posted on here. I really regret such a long absence. On the upside, I have some wonderful topics to blog about coming up, as I have been up to some interesting things (fermenting, canning, experiments galore!). However, first I'll have to take a minute to talk about why I've been gone over a year.

Well to begin with, I'm a single mom, and that doesn't give me a lot of time to do anything, and I work and have recently also returned to college. So that's a lot of work in itself. One of the most exciting things is that I am now enrolled in an online certification program for Permaculture Design, so expect some wonderful things to be going on with that soon. But on top of that, I've moved back into town, and have had a few life upsets. Although not all of them have been negative, I'm no longer working overnights, and that has been immensely positive not only for my health, but also for my life in general. However, on the flipside of that, since I am now sleeping on a regular schedule again, I am also getting 6-8 hours a night, and that's cutting into my free time. I was seriously skipping sleep, and getting about 2-4 hours here and there every day, it was a really unhealthy cycle.

Also, and not to bum everyone out, but a few days after I posted my last post, a very dear member of my family passed away somewhat unexpectedly, and it was really difficult to deal with. It still is sometimes, but that kind of killed my energy level, and I began just focusing on the day to day. It's taken me a while to get back into my hobbies (and we also throw winter, and a ton of other random life events in there), and really generate anything I thought was interesting enough to post, but I am back, I am ready to share, and I may even throw in some crochet stuff here and there.

So I'm back, and I am excited to get back on this blog! If there are things you want to see let me know and I will do my best to accommodate!