Sauerkraut Meditation

What do you do when your nonstop-talking grandson comes to visit?

Play piano and sing.

Get on the treadmill at 1.5 miles per hour for three or four minutes, four or five times, between Tonka Truck races.

Read picture books aloud, Wordy Birdy Meets Mr. Cougarpants three times and Ninja at least twice.

Eat scrambled eggs and raisins.

And while ns-t grandson watches Sesame Street for his meditation, you make sauerkraut for yours.

Here is my simple kraut-making method:

Wash head of cabbage,  Cut into quarters, cut out core, then cut each quarter in half.  Slice each eighth thin, salt, and mash with a wooden masher or whatever tool you have available.

For one head of cabbage, use 1  1/2 tablespoons sea salt.  As you pound the salted cabbage, it releases its liquid.  Pack into wide-mouthed jars and press until liquid rises above the solids. I’ve found a typical three-pound head of cabbage needs two wide-mouthed quart jars, each packed about a half to three-quarters full. This prevents spillovers.

Use weights—glass or unglazed pottery, or a cleaned rock, if that’s what you have—to hold the cabbage under the liquid.  Put lids on the jars.  Either you will need to release the gasses each day or use lids with a gas escape of some sort.

Start tasting the kraut after the third day.  When it is to your liking, refrigerate and enjoy, usually in 3-10 days.

Winter Salads

I love summer salads, especially if I have freshly picked tomatoes and other garden goodies.  But what’s an old girl to do in winter when tomatoes have all the flavor of just-washed socks?

Well, create winter salads, of course.

Start with fall veggies, especially those that store well.  Chopped red cabbage is my favorite salad base.

Sprouts are a good fresh addition in winter.  Broccoli and radish sprouts add a flavor kick.  Bean or alfalfa sprouts have a milder flavor.

Beets are always on the menu here.  I canned several dozen pints of honey and spice pickled beets over the summer. I also like just plain canned or frozen beets, especially dressed with spice and a flavorful olive oil.

It might seem redundant, but homemade sauerkraut makes a good addition, too.

Starting with the chopped greens (or red) base, there are a lot of options.  This is one of my favorites: chopped red cabbage, homemade sauerkraut, chopped canned beets, and sharp cheddar.  I add seasonings and some small sardines on the side.

Before you judge, consider that this salad has everything—fresh veggies, an acid (it can be vinegar, tomato, or kraut), a sweet (beets, apples, grapes, cranberries), protein (cheese, sardines, ham, leftover roasted chicken), and a savory.

My favorite seasonings are Loaded Bagel from Spices Etc. and Fox Point from Penzey’s.  Chopped onion and flaked salt work well, too.  Onions, like beets and cabbage and potatoes, are a winter staple.

It may be cold outside, but with a little thought and spice, you don’t have to do without flavor or salad.

PS: A new planting of onions are growing in the garage.  I’ll keep you posted.

Winter Greens

I had great plans to grow cabbage and lettuce in my garage this winter, but here it is the first day of winter and I haven’t planted a thing.  Fortunately for me, the food system is still intact.  From the local grocer, I have a ready supply of red and green cabbage and, for the finicky man, iceberg lettuce.

And I’ve sprouted broccoli seeds on the counter top.

I’ve been sprouting seeds for decades.  Even in a studio apartment, one can have fresh sprouts.

I’ve tried half a dozen different sprouting methods, including stackable trays, cloth bags, and screened jar lids.  This year I added a new type of lid, Masontops Bean Screens.  Don’t let the name fool you.  The holes on the wide-mouthed jar tops are small enough for any type seed.  The hard BPA-free plastic design allows for easy rinsing, draining, and aeration.  I like the Bean Screens so much, I gave away my perfectly serviceable plastic screen lids.  The Masontops are all I need, although I may need another set of them.

I love the spicy flavor of broccoli sprouts.

“Too spicy,” says the finicky man.

He has finally agreed to try other types of sprouts, so I’m picking up alfalfa seeds and red clover. I’m mixing up my own salad mix, too.

We eat a lot out of the canning pantry in winter.  I’m glad to have the jars of fruits and vegetables.  But with sprouts, I still get raw, fresh veggies and the feeling that spring will come again.

Now, how big a field would I need to grow my own sprouting seeds?  And is it too late (or too early) to plant onions in the garage?

Waste Not

I didn’t grow up during the Depression.  I have enough to eat, comfortable shoes, and the right coat for the weather, so my habits aren’t from want.  I’m not sure where it comes from, this aversion I have to wasting anything.

I recycle paper, cardboard, glass, tin cans, and the food garbage in my kitchen.  I’m experimenting with new ways to compost.

I give stuff away to people who might have a use for it…or who might just be throwing it away for me. I frequent the thrift stores, but not to buy.  They know my name when I drive up with the contents of yet another cabinet or closet, and they don’t bother to ask if I need a receipt.  I’m not doing this as a tax write-off but as an obsession to waste not. I have a list of takers, including a place in Tulsa that recycles cloth.

My man thinks recycling is inefficient.  It may be. But he doesn’t complain when I use every bit of a whole chicken: frying chicken legs, thighs, and wings; making a casserole or chicken salad from the breast meat; and making broth and soup from the carcass and remaining bits.  He probably doesn’t realize that I skim the hardened fat from the broth and use it for sautéing. Now, if I could just figure out how to dry the bones and grind them up for the garden!

Instead of questioning why I try to use all the bits, I want to get better at it.  And in case you’re wondering, the hallways in my house are clear. This isn’t hoarding…unless you count books…but using, sharing, and giving.

What are some of the things you use, and how, that most people toss to the side?

Knowledge and Cheese

In my twenties, when I was writing cooking columns for a weekly newspaper and had access to good, rich Jersey milk, I made cheese.  And butter.   I learned the latter skill from my grandmother, and I’ve passed it on to several groups of elementary students.  The cheese-making skills came from books and experimentation.

Now, because I have access to good local cheeses, it has been a while since I felt the need to make my own. I wasn’t sure I remembered how, so I decided to spend a Monday afternoon getting reacquainted with the skill.  My instructions came from Claudia Lucero’s One-Hour Cheese. I started with a quart of whole milk from our village grocery store and a recipe called “First-Timers Cheese in 5 Steps.”

The recipe requires only milk, vinegar, and salt.  I added Penzey’s Sunny Paris seasoning (shallots, dill, and other lovely tastes). I followed the easy directions, and it was as easy as the name implies.  In twenty minutes, the man was tasting what I’d created.

Lucero’s book has a list of necessary tools, but this easy recipe requires only a 2-quart saucepan (I used stainless steel), a bowl, a slotted spoon, and measuring utensils, of course.

The tasty curds were lovely on our dinner salad.

My next experiment will be to make cheese using whole powdered milk.  Will it coagulate?  Will it taste as good?

Why now?

  1. If there are disruptions in the food supply, wouldn’t it be nice to know that your food storage can produce real cheese?
  2. And because I’m reading Will Bonsall’s Essential Guide to Radical, Self-Reliant Gardening and I came across this tiny treasure of wisdom:

“Reliance on self-reliance…presumes that you have an ample supply of every necessity and that other survivors (who will all be in the same boat) will let you keep it to yourself. (Should you even want to, considering that you will all need one another’s help?)”

Desperation and greed both make grand entrances when times are hard.  There is less desperation and less danger if we work together in communities, when we invite the wanderer to be part of the community.

More important than sharing your supplies will be sharing your knowledge.  It is the one thing you can never have too much of.  It is the thing that marauders can’t take from you so long as you are alive.  And your supply of knowledge isn’t diminished when you share; it grows.

How Can We Help?

My experience living through the Oklahoma wildfires of 2015, though scary as hell at the time, and still unsettling to think about, is nothing compared to the hell that Californians are going through now.  I had my truck packed, my cat caddies and dog leashes ready, and time to get away.  The ash fell on us, but my family lost nothing but sleep and security.

We can still see the scars around us, and the new homes of those who had insurance.  Drought, high temps, wind, and human negligence caused the multiple fires.  Droughts have gotten more frequent and more extreme here in the center of the continent, but the real apocalypse has started in California and Puerto Rico, along the Gulf coast of Texas and Mexico, in Indonesia and Japan, on the east coast of North America, in vulnerable places around the world.

As the man-made calamities gets more calamitous, I’ve come to realize the flaw in my ready-for-anything plan. I’m not.

Sure, I have stored food. I have a garden, canning skills, and chickens.  I have a source of water and my beloved Big Berkey water filter.  These things only work if I don’t have to evacuate.  Or if I can take them with me.

I’ve devised all sorts of plans to stash canning supplies, jars of canned foods, and camping gear in a trailer if we have to evacuate.  I have a bug-out bag.  In fact, after reading Hatchet (by Gary Paulsen) with my fourth-grade reading lab boys, we all had bug-out bags, hatchets not included.

It’s time to come up with better bug-out plans. The first order of business is a plan to communicate with family, friends, and neighbors.  It’s also time to let go, mentally, of things that aren’t important and to secure backup for the things—bank papers, account numbers, insurance information—that will make recovery easier once the people we love are accounted for.

Meanwhile, is there a resource on the west coast that could pair groups of us here with needy families there?  Let’s make sure the people who have lost everything can rebuild.  How can we help?

Cleaning Up My Act

If you live in the country, and you don’t bicycle into town or own an electric car that you charge with renewable sources, or if you haven’t learned to be entirely self-sufficient right where you are, you probably have a sizeable carbon footprint.  That includes me.

I can feel self-righteous because I use no poisons in my garden.  My chicken pens and runs are treated with DE, diatomaceous earth.  I rotate in the garden, leave wild patches to invite in insect variety, and plant extra.  Electronic gadgets discourage rodents, and horse apples (Osage orange, the fruit of the bois d’arc) deter insects.  I compost and recycle.

I plant crops for bees and butterflies.  I buy local. I eat grass-fed beef and eat yogurt from grass-fed cows.

And I drive hundreds of miles a month.  Even the recycling center is fifty miles away.

I’m part of the problem. I may have traded in my lovely gas-guzzling truck for a Subaru, but it isn’t enough.

How does one live “far from the madding crowd,” and still be part of civilization?  I started a poetry reading a few miles from my farm, but the poets often drive in from afar, at least as far as I have to drive to attend their readings.

It doesn’t help that my small town doesn’t have rural mail delivery.  Or a library.  Oh, I can get mail delivered, including boxes of books, if I’m willing to make a post office even farther from the farm my home PO.

I raise chickens, but I don’t raise their feed.  I buy from two milling companies within a 50-mile radius of the farm.  Neither supply organic feed, at least feed I can afford.  I pick up organic millet from the Oklahoma Food Cooperative when it’s available, but I have to drive 45 miles for the pickup.

Maybe I can decide to pick up mail and other items I need from town no more than once or twice a week.

Perhaps I can fence in enough land to let the chickens graze and grow supplemental crops.  I need millet and turnip greens and a good hay pasture.  And a good tractor.  Wait!

What is a worried person with a big footprint to do?  I need answers.