Wednesday, February 23, 2011

March Kimchi Workshop

The March canning workshop will be a little change of pace--instead of canning, we will learn a different skill: making kimchi. Kimchi is a spicy, tangy, and delicious Korean fermented cabbage mix.
The class is appropriate for any level of fermentation enthusiast. During the class, you will learn how to make kimchi, get started on a batch, and have a chance to talk about other fermenting projects. You will take home a container with a gallon of kimchi, jars in which to store the finished kimchi, and instructions/recipe.

$30 will cover the materials and ingredients.

Because of the limitations of the available space, I am capping this workshop at 6 people. You must reserve your space in the workshop through purchasing a "ticket" through the PayPal link (you do not need a PayPal account to buy). Also, RSVP to me to let me know you're coming.The workshop is on Sunday, March 20th from 1:30-4:00 PM, and will take place in my own South Knoxville kitchen: 969 E Moody Ave., Knoxville, TN 37920.

Please bring a cutting board and a knife to the workshop.

Please email me if you have any questions, or if you would like me to give you directions. I look forward to seeing you at the workshop!

Dessert at a Moment's Notice

Canning has changed the way that I look at food in several ways: for one, I am more used to having food around. And even if what comes out of a jar isn't the centerpiece of a meal--the sauces, condiments, jams, and pickles have become indispensable in the every-day. Multiple times a day, I open jars--either something from the pantry or something in the fridge--to add to a meal. Canning has also made cooking easier, with some of the decisions about ingredients made months prior, at the moment of canning conception.

When I got a craving for dessert on Monday night at 9:15 PM, I knew that I could turn to the pantry to provide for me. I plucked a jar of apple-cranberry relish, and looked at it for a few seconds before declaring that it would be just right in a galette. In fact, The Millennium Cookbook has a recipe for something very similar to this. I used their recipe for a walnut pastry crust, plopped down some apple cranberry relish, and thirty minutes later, we had (an albeit late) dessert. If it's been a while since you've had a galette, I highly recommend it: it's easier than a pie, less messy than a cobbler, and still a great platform for the fruit filling.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

February Canning Workshop

Last Sunday's canning workshop was another great success. We made red-onion/red wine relish--a wonderfully simple condiment made with just that, red onions, red wine, and balsamic vinegar. As I was preparing for the class, collecting ingredients, and typing up the recipe, I kept being almost slightly embarrassed at teaching something so simple. After teaching a class on marmalade (a notoriously difficult thing to make properly) last month, and one on mincemeat--with its impressive list of ingredients--the month before, the onion relish seemed too unchallenging. But as the class began, and I started talking about acidity necessary for water-bath canning, the caramelization of onions, and possible ideas for using the relish, I realized that I just may have chosen this relish for its simplicity. As the relish comes together, there is a subtle playfulness among the ingredients: the sweetness of the onions and wine; the complex acidity of the wine and vinegar; the flirty pepperiness of it all is quite nice. And the simplicity of the relish allowed me to focus on more aspects of canning, as I wasn't just focusing on supervising the process of what we were making. I got a chance to channel a little Julia Child, too, as I talked about the importance of quality ingredients, and demonstrated (unintentionally) how to recover from a minor mistake when canning.
I love teaching these workshops not only because I get a chance to share canning with others, but also because of the group of people that comes together. We had some great discussions about growing food--both successes and failures. Sunday was the perfect day to spend canning: it was a warm day, and the hum of imminent Spring was in everything.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Steadfast Little Collards

It's February, and although just a few weeks ago I was posting about how cold it is, and how good soup is on a cold day, it is now warm. At nights, the temperatures hover above freezing; during the day, it is warm enough to almost wear short sleeves. And so, I've taken the cover off the collards, and there they were. I sowed the seeds for these collards sometime in September, and by November, the leaves were big enough for us to eat for a meal. They're planted in a large drawer, which doesn't really allow them that much room, but they seemed to be doing so well when it got cold for the winter, that I just covered them with a bedraggled scrap of plastic, pinned the plastic down with stray bricks, and all but forgot about them until a couple weeks ago. And they're doing just fine, aside from a few spots eaten away by the persistent slugs.
Yes, the collards are growing out of a large drawer. The garlic, Egyptian Walking Onion, and oregano (above) are also in drawers, albeit smaller ones. (The other two in this location are empty for now, but I think they will make good homes for herbs in the near future.)

There is an abandoned school on our street--just on the next block; the building has been standing vacant since the '80s, and we started exploring it shortly after we moved into this house. One of the more interesting rooms in the building is a large home-economics classroom--it has three stations, each with a sink, counter space, and empty spaces where the ovens used to be; one of the stations has an old dishwasher, even! Directly beyond the classroom is a storage area, with shelves and drawers. On one of our exploratory visits to the school, it occurred to me that the drawers would make great make-shift raised-beds, and we started taking some of the drawers to our back yard. They're not very sturdy once filled with dirt and exposed to "the elements," but we don't expect to be living in this (rented) house for all that long, and they will suffice for our purposes.

Part of the reason for scavenging is that we just can't afford to pay for all the supplies for our small garden: we've bought tools, and some materials, and dirt, but the drawers have certainly helped out. Another reason for using found materials is that, as Katie declares in the latest Urban Land Scouts blog post, "I believe that thrift is a virtue and waste is a sin." The school is becoming more and more unsafe as it succumbs to the destruction of nature and pot-smoking vandals (and scavengers like us). There was some construction going on there over a year ago, but stopped almost as soon as it started; the building is destined either for slow decomposition or demolition. And the drawers are materials that would otherwise be going to waste...

And the collards seem to like it fine in the drawer; I sowed arugula in the drawer adjacent to it, and it's coming up quite happily, although the sprouts are too little yet to even photograph.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

What Lies Ahead

Today I accepted a position for the 2011/2012 term at Beardsley Farm.

I have volunteered at Beardsley on and off, starting last August. I sought out the farm when I was between jobs--a little discouraged, unhappy, and in need of productive work. I didn't know then how much the work of Beardlsey would inspire me and give me purpose. Beardsley works to connect communities through organic food and education; this is an action in which I believe very strongly, and have been trying to nurture it in my own small way(s). I know that the work there will be both challenging to me (just in terms of physical labor), but also something that I can be passionate about.
My term there doesn't begin until August, but I'll certainly be at the farm volunteering before then, especially as the weather gets nicer and spring finally comes around. I encourage you, too, to see the place and to give your efforts. I'll be sure to post more about it in the future!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Kimchi Love

We're relatively new to fermenting--I think that we made our first batch of Kimchi last October. Ever since we started fermenting, we have been in love with it. Previous to making our own, I wasn't very keen on store-bought kimchi; there are few kimchis out there that don't have anchovy paste, and the ones that are vegan were fine, but nothing I ever got very excited about. The flavor of home-made kimchi is just so much...cleaner. It's tangy, and sour, and salty in all the ways that I appreciate; and maybe it's because we control the duration of fermentation and the ingredients, I don't know. Once we made kimchi, and saw how incredibly easy it is, we expanded into sauerkraut, fermented pepper hot-sauce, and kombucha. There is literally not a day that goes by that we don't consume something that is a product of home-fermentation.
I've been talking to a few folks around town about a kimchi workshop for March (in stead of the regular canning workshop), and I think that by next week, I'll make that decision. I hope that circumstances line up, and that the workshop can happen, as I would really like to share kimchi-making with others.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Eating Animals

I read Jonathan Safran Foer's book Eating Animals over a year ago--shortly after it was first released--but have been thinking about it since then, on and off, and was reminded of it again recently. It wasn't anything specific that reminded me, but I was thinking about the ways in which an argument becomes compelling, and I was reminded of Foer. Foer does not advocate for veganism, but what he does do is open a conversation (or a mindset or a framework) in which veganism becomes a meaningful stance to a greater number of people. He examines the kinds of relationships that people have with food--with meat, specifically--and he traces those relationships to their origins, both in terms of conceptualization and production. Foer exposes the kinds of activities that make meat production possible on the level demanded by the population of the United States. He is not the first to do this, as many are quick to point out; in fact, he does not discuss anything that is beyond the scope of such authors as Gary Francione or Michael Pollan (I know that these two are rather different in their perspectives, but they are useful in this illustration specifically because of their differences). As I was reading Eating Animals, I kept trying to pinpoint the exact factor that made the book different from others I'd read on the same topic--I thought that it was somehow more compelling, more convincing, and more capable of inciting people to re-write their own outdated and harmful relationships with food. I could see how the book could encourage people to either refuse to eat meat altogether or consider more seriously the origins of meat and the ramifications of continuing to consume it.

The looming question, nonetheless, was always "why is Foer so compelling?" As a vegan, I find Gary Francione's books and opinions to be clear, straightforward, and quite convincing. I like Francione's insistence on vegan education and consistency (of beliefs and practices) as major ways of enacting change; Foer, on the other hand, presents himself as someone who often wavered in the ethics of food choices, and oscillated between being an omnivore and being a vegetarian. However, when speaking to others about veganism, I am more likely to mention Foer, not Francione, despite the fact that I disagree with several of his points.

This week, as I was reading through Carl Dennis' Poetry as Persuasion--the section on political poetry, specifically--I realized exactly what it is that makes Foer's voice more effective--it is not only Foer's willingness to speak more for himself than for the overall cause, but also his recognition of the limits of his position. Dennis maintains that this is an element necessary for effective political poetry, lest is become propaganda. Foer does not impose limitations, but opens possibilities for dialogue, as I mentioned earlier. Carl Dennis also argues for "a greater openness to the world" rather than a "subjective agenda." Foer, in his empathy with the great variety of people--from animal rights activists to "livestock" farmers, does this, too. I certainly do agree with Francione in my own personal beliefs in practices--that veganism is the moral baseline; but people have to first stop to consider food at all before stopping to consider the ethical implications thereof. Thankfully, based on the recently-passed Dietary Guidelines, people are starting to reconsider food. And this is a step in the right direction, indeed.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Starting from Seed

Until last September, I viewed seeds as a type of magic, or novelty, or a little of both--they were something that others could bring to life, but not I. They were things that had too many requirements to bother with, and I was never patient enough with them to see the return on my efforts. And then, I planted some collard seeds, and by November, there was enough for us to have as a side for a meal. And those collards have actually survived the winter, battling the slugs, the cold, and my neglect--and in a few weeks, there'll be enough to eat, again. So I'm glad to finally give starting from seed a chance.
Yesterday, there was an exchange of seeds at The Birdhouse, and it was so good to be around people who were as excited about seeds as I was--although I understand, mine is a newcomer's joy. I was glad to see so many people with so much faith in seeds (their magic, their life)! The picture above is the first Sturon onion seedling; since then, I've had four more sprout. I keep them close-by, on my work-table, and watch as they unfold their spindly little greens. There is nothing more beautiful to me now. Last night, when I was trying to fall asleep and could not, I imagined that I was a restless little seed, waiting for spring.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Lentil Soup

This is a pretty crummy picture of some really great soup that I made last weekend--we ate it for lunches over the course of the week. The soup is seriously the easiest soup I have ever made: it involved about 7 minutes of hands-on time, and most of that time was spent cutting up vegetables, and me figuring out that we didn't have any "regular" lentils. Instead, I used a combination of French lentils and red lentils--the red lentils fell apart completely over the course of cooking, and thickened the soup. This was also the first time for me to use home-made boullion, which is incredibly easy to make, and really saved the soup, as I didn't have any stock on hand. The recipe comes from Cubit's Organic Living, a great blog, and the supplier of several of my seeds. If you're planning a garden, you should see if Cubit's has anything for you; I've had nothing but great experiences with them.
But about the soup--I'd forgotten how nice it is to have soup when it's cold outside. And distributing the soup into pint mason jars makes it very easy to take along for lunch when we're getting ready in the mornings.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Liqueurs, Continued: Home-Made Orange Liqueur (or Triple Sec)

It's still winter--even in Knoxville, there is a steady chill, despite the few warm days last week. But it's the last stretch of winter, and in all my internal impatience for spring, I like to perform the actions of patience--the very patience that I will need to use in bringing little plants to life from seed. Making flavored liqueurs takes a kind of patience, as it takes time for the liqueur to mellow; and there's just something nice about making the liqueur now, but not drinking it until June (when it will be warm, and we can drink margaritas in the moderate heat of early summer). (Making liqueurs, however, is a lot less labor-intensive than I had ever anticipated, so maybe not at all like growing little seedlings...)

After beginning the process for limoncello (and a small batch of lime-oncello), I kept coming back to the idea of an orange liqueur--something like triple sec, but less sweet, and with a stronger orange flavor. I also wanted it to be less potent than the limoncello, which will be about 40% alcohol when it's finished. And after looking up a few recipes for home-made triple sec, I was ready to try it. I do want to say that I changed the proportions of the recipes that I looked at, as they had in mind something all too sweet and syrupy. I imagine my orange liqueur retaining some of the bitterness of citrus, and some of the complexity. Here is what I used:
  • One liter bottle of Tvarscki 100 proof vodka
  • Seven large citrus, a mix of cara cara oranges and minneolas
  • two and a half cups of sugar
1. Peel the citrus with a sharp peeler and deposit the wide strips into a glass container.
2. Juice the citrus and measure at least 3 cups of the juice. If your citrus is less juicy than what I had, supplement with water until the liquid is at 3 cups.

3. Deposit the juice (or juice and water) into a medium pot with the sugar. Bring just to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring often to dissolve the sugar. Skim any foam that may form on the surface of the mixture.

4. Allow the juice and sugar mixture to come to room temperature; once you're completely sure that it's cooled, pour into the jar with the peels. Add the contents of the bottle of vodka to the jar.

5. Place the jar in a cool, dark place and let it sit there for 4 months.

6. After 4 months, strain the peels out, and bottle the liqueur. It will get more and more mellow as it ages, but should be quite good after the 4 months of waiting.

Some notes:
I had a half-gallon jar, but it wasn't quite big enough for everything. About half a cup of the juice/sugar mixture didn't fit into it, so I reserved it, freezing it, and will add it back to the orange liqueur once we've had some of it. This is why it's better to add the vodka to the jar later, as it doesn't matter if you have a half cup of vodka left over. I'm sure you'll figure out something to do with it, although if you're using Tvarscki, I recommend NOT fixing a martini with it.
Or, alternatively, you can split the liquids between a few jars, instead of using a larger vessel--just be sure that everything is distributed evenly between the jars/bottles.

The quality of the vodka absolutely does not matter in this recipe. In fact, it's better to make it with the cheap, strong stuff--the higher alcohol content means a higher level of flavor extraction. And besides, it will mellow out quite a bit, and will taste great. The blueberry liqueur that I made last year was made with Tvarscki, and there is no way anyone could ever detect anything cheap about that liqueur.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Banana (Peach Butter) Bread

I am a person who was brought up to firmly believe in the importance of breakfast. My family would gather at the table promptly and sullenly, and eat breakfast no matter what--and no one ate breakfast alone, either. It wasn't an on-the-go affair--we all sat down and ate breakfast together, always.

Even before I got married to M., I would make muffins, or quick breads, and surprise him with the food for breakfast. At the very least, I'd make sure that we had some cereal. My favorite days are when we can have a leisurely breakfast of toast, scrambled tofu with vegetables, and hash browns from scratch (with a good bit of home-made hot sauce all over everything). But the leisurely breakfast only occurs a few times a month, which leaves many more mornings unaccounted for. And although we don't make as big a deal of it as my parents did, we have a good breakfast every day. Recently, I made some fantastic cocoa hazelnut granola, which we have been enjoying quite thoroughly--especially with some cherry soy yogurt (chocolate and cherries for breakfast? yes!). And as that is now running low, yesterday I made a banana bread that I adapted from several different recipes. I know that banana bread recipes are ubiquitous. I know. But this banana bread has several qualities that make it outstanding, in my opinion: it's both sturdy (sturdy enough to hold up to buttering, or Earth Balanc-ing), and delicate. It can incorporate a wide variety of flavors, too: I've tried making it with everything from apple sauce to jam, to peach butter. (Peach butter was a fantastic experiment from last summer, but it's something we haven't been eating fast enough for some reason. I can also imagine this banana bread with something like blueberry butter, too!) That, and it'd just delicious, and easy. And not too sweet. It's a recipe that I keep coming back to, over and over. I haven't gotten bored with it yet. Here it is:
  • 3 very ripe bananas
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 3/4 cup soy milk
  • 1/3 cup peach butter (or applesauce, or...whatever)
  • 2 tablespoons agave syrup
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups flour (I use white whole wheat, but a mix of that and all-purpose would work, too)
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1(+) teaspoon cinnamon
  • dried fruits and nuts of your choice, up to 3/4 cup, combined (I used dried cranberries and walnuts in the most recent batch)
-Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease an 8"x4" bread pan.
-In a medium bowl, mash up bananas with a fork or a potato masher. Add the liquid ingredients and sugar; stir to combine and allow to sit for 3 minutes to sour the soy milk.
-Combine the dry ingredients, except the fruit/nuts, in a large mixing bowl, and stir to distribute the spices and baking soda/powder.
-Stir the wet ingredients into the dry until everything is well-combined, and fold in the fruit/nuts.
-Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake for 50-60 minutes.

And that is all.