Why Vegan Recipes?

I plan to begin updating this site more regularly and with some great recipes for things I’ve made for the family. Time has been scarce of late, with the holiday whirl and bustle, and the drain it has made on my energy and strength. Some of my recipes will be labeled “vegan” and I wanted to explain why…

Why…would a dedicated meat-eater post vegan recipes, especially for the baked goods she eschews, on her site? Because two of my three children cannot eat eggs or dairy, and if I’m going to bake them a birthday cake or give them treats, I have to bake without eggs or dairy, or risk them coming home with red, inflamed mouths and cheeks and deal with diarrhea for a day or so after they eat such foods.

Our youngest had eczema as an infant that failed to respond to many treatments, including creams and antibiotics and antihistamines. We had him tested for allergies and it turned out that milk, eggs, beef (related to milk allergy), peanuts, and cats were his problems. So we turned the cat outside and stopped feeding him milk and didn’t introduce any of the other allergens, and he’s been fine since. Our middle child has had chronic diarrhea for months, so I took her in for an allergy panel too, and it turns out dairy and eggs affect her, too. Within days of removing dairy (eggs don’t make up a huge part of her diet), her diarrhea resolved itself.

So I bake vegan, and cook some vegan dishes because they taste good. As my husband says: vegetarian food is great! Just add some meat to it, and you’ve got a meal.

 

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It’s Not The Gluten

My regular doc went on a three-month long holiday to Mother Russia in mid-October. I was still having some GI issues and constant aches and pains, and trouble sleeping, so I went back to the doctor for a consult. I normally take medical matters into my own hands but the chronic fatigue and pain were something I couldn’t hack. The doctor I saw listened to me with the appearance of due seriousness, which was comforting. At least he didn’t laugh in my face and tell me when my kids got older it would get easier, or that “I’m getting old, get used to it.” He said my concerns that food was my problem are not overwrought and that he’d order an allergy panel for me, but…I’d have to start eating a SAD diet again, meaning gluten and dairy and more sugar than I’m used to consuming.

So I did, though I was concerned. I started with an ounce or two of bread a day (about one slice from one of my country loaves, or two slices of packaged sandwich bread). Some days I had no bread but a small serving of pasta or couscous. I kept this up for 30 days, the standard time you eat the stuff before you go have tests done. I had a blood test, urine test, and skin panel done, and waited patiently for the results and consult. I also had a glucose tolerance test, something I haven’t done outside of being pregnant.

RESULT: no celiac or gluten sensitivity, no dairy allergy (though lactose intolerance is not ruled out, you test that by elimination/introduction), excess protein excretion in urine, all other labs like thyroid function and white cell count, hemoglobin, and vitamin/mineral levels look great. My blood sugar spikes to the 300s when bolusing glucose on an empty stomach, then immediately plummets to around 35-40, and doesn’t stabilize fully at the three-hour mark. Wild glucose swings have always been a problem for me, but I never knew how serious they were or how to assign meaning to them.

So what’s wrong with me? Maybe it is my lifestyle, or the fact that I’m not moving as much due to being in pain most days, or (and!) that my blood sugar is out of control. Some mornings I wake up and wonder: who broke into my house and beat me with a stick all night long? I don’t get restful sleep, and my little one, who is 16-months old and mostly weaned, still wakes up once or twice a night and fusses so hard I have to nurse him back down to sleep.

I don’t like that my other doctor laughed off my concerns, and I’m glad that the new doc took me seriously enough to order some tests, but I still don’t know what’s going on except that I need to get more rest, reduce stress as much as possible, and eat less protein, and definitely less sugar/carbs (how much less is the new discovery). Truthfully, when I look back over the food logs I keep (I jot down what I eat every day, but don’t strictly measure portions or count calories), I was eating enough protein to keep a grown male lion satisfied. Probably on the order of 200-300 grams daily, well more than a woman my size needs to eat. Perhaps that explains the poor digestion and GI upset. I know sugar is not my friend, but I think I was confusing wheat-based products, which offer a lot of carbohydrate to the body, with the poor blood sugar regulation I was experiencing. It wasn’t the gluten, it was the carbs from bread which I (admittedly and sometimes unabashedly) overconsume. Get me started with bread in the morning, and I won’t stop all day…

It’s nice to know I can bake my bread again and eat it too, in small amounts. My kids will certainly appreciate having their morning toast back – I don’t buy bread from the store, as I prefer to bake it myself, but I was not baking it too often because I was afraid of the Big G issue for me, and the kids. But I do know that I have to watch my blood sugar and really be careful about my responses to certain foods, and I must be conscious of my portions regarding protein. Well, regarding everything, most especially carbohydrate.

Natural Bodycare: Toothpaste and Deodorant

Hello!

Today’s recipes are not for food, though you could certainly eat these things if you were so inclined. For over two years I’ve been using a variety of homemade toothpastes and deodorants. I just don’t trust the chemicals, fragrances, flavorings, abrasives, and necessary-or-you’ll-lose-your-teeth fluoride additives in commercial products.

I’ve finally settled on two recipes that work wonders in their respective duties as toothpaste and deodorant. You may have to invest a bit in purchasing a few specialty items, especially for the toothpaste, but it’s worth the cost. You’ll only be using a small amount of each item for a batch, and each batch lasts about one month, depending upon how many people in your family are using the stuff. I am the only one using the deo, and my kids use the toothpaste with me but use such a small amount. I find myself making the toothpaste a bit more often than the deodorant. One of these days I need to do a cost per batch analysis to see what I’m saving (or not) by making my own. Whether I’m saving money is of no matter when I consider that my teeth are cleaner and I’m not slathering my teeth with industrial waste products. BONUS on the fluoride front, we have well water so we’re not drinking it either. Win.

The toothpaste recipe comes from Katie at Wellness Mama. I remember her recipe differently but when I went to my bookmarks to search for it, the page was missing. I wrote it down in my notebook when I made it the first time so I could make notes on substitutions or additions when tweaking it. Here is the recipe I’ve settled on that works beautifully and tastes great. I found all of the specialty ingredients, like xylitol powder and calcium carbonate, on Amazon, and since I’m a Prime member I received free shipping so the prices were a bargain compared to what my local HFS was charging.

Homemade Toothpaste, Fluoride Free

  • 5 T Calcium Powder (NOW Foods makes a great, affordable product)
  • 3 T Xylitol crystals (again, NOW Foods is good)
  • 2 T Baking Soda
  • 1 T plain, tea tree, or peppermint castile soap (Dr. Bronner’s is easy to find in your average grocery store)
  • 1 tsp vegetable glycerin (optional, but helps texture to stay soft and spreadable)
  • 10 drops of grapefruit seed extract (optional, but preserves it longer)
  • 10-15 drops of flavoring oil of choice (peppermint, cinnamon, orange are all good)
  • 3-5 T melted and cooled coconut oil, to desired texture

Mix all of your dry ingredients together in a bowl. Starting with three (3) tablespoons of melted coconut oil as your base, stir in the glycerin, grapefruit seed extract if using, flavoring oil if using, and castile soap. Stir this well and add it to the dry ingredients, and mix to form a paste. If it is too thick, add some more coconut oil a teaspoon at a time until you have your desired consistency.

Et voila! Toothpaste. I store mine in a 6 oz. mason jar with a tight fitting lid, right in my bathroom closet. No need to refrigerate. When it’s toothbrush time, just scoop out about a pinto bean sized dollop with the end of your toothbrush, give it a little water and brush away.

Since I’ve started using this concoction, my teeth have never felt cleaner and I’ve even noticed them getting a bit whiter. I’ve used peppermint oil, cinnamon oil, a combo of peppermint and vanilla, and orange oil to flavor various batches. The cinnamon is my personal favorite, and my kids love the orange. As long as you are using food-grade oils to flavor it, the possibilities are endless. I think I might try to do a tutti-frutti for the kids next.

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As for deodorant, the recipe is simple: coconut oil, baking soda, cornstarch. Coconut oil is a natural anti-microbial and provides an emollient base. Baking soda absorbs odors, and cornstarch absorbs moisture. You’re allowing your body to sweat, as it ought, and not subjecting your skin to toxic aluminum salts, parabens, alcohols, and silicates.

I add a little fragrance oil, grapefruit seed extract, and glycerin to mine for the same reasons as the toothpaste recipe above: aesthetics and a pleasant scent, preservation, and smoothness. None of these are necessary but they are nice to add to the mix.

Homemade Deodorant

  • 1/2 cup coconut oil, melted and cooled
  • 1/4 cup baking soda
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1 tsp. vegetable glycerin (optional)
  • 10 drops grapefruit seed extract (optional)
  • 10-15 drops of your favorite fragrance oil (optional)

As with the toothpaste, mix your dry ingredients together in a bowl and stir in the coconut oil. If using the optional glycerin, etc., stir them into the coconut oil before you add it to the dry ingredients. That’s it! I store mine in a small mason jar, just like the toothpaste, at room temperature in my bathroom closet. To use, scoop out about 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. (I use an old spoon for the job) and spread on your underarms.

This stuff WORKS. I spend a lot of time chasing children, doing housework, gardening, cooking, and blogging when I get the time and can gather my thoughts. I’m almost always on my feet, day in and out, every day of the year. In summer, when working in the garden or playing takes up most of my waking hours, I can work up a sweat that soaks my shirts, and never, ever get stinky. My underarms sweat, as they should, but the cornstarch does it’s job and keeps me reasonably dry, and between the baking soda absorbing odors and the coconut oil inhibiting bacterial growth, I stay fresh smelling as well.

You can also use this on your feet, if you find yourself plagued with foot odor. In fact, make a second batch just for your feet, scented with a double dose of peppermint oil. It will give your feet a little lift after a long day. It works the same way. I generally combat that issue by simply forgoing shoes, but even I must step into a grocery store now and then and wearing shoes is inevitable.

I’ll be back with food soon, promise! Husband now has six deer in the freezer and we’ve saved the whole front shoulders from the last two he shot. I plan to braise the whole shoulder and do a pulled-venison BBQ. If it’s a success, I’ll share the knowledge.

Cheers.

Cookbook Addiction

Between my Kindle and the collection of family recipes my mom gave me when I was wed, and my own obsessive-compulsive drive to buy cookbooks wherever I find them, I own over 100 cookbooks. Easily over 100. Possibly closer to 150. It’s been a long time since I’ve counted.

I read cookbooks like novels. I seldom cook actual recipes out of them. Mostly I use them for inspiration for whatever I plan to fling into the pan/pot/oven on any given day. These days, I’m strictly gluten-free, almost strictly paleo (cheese, you bedevil me), and definitely eating low-carb enough to be in ketosis (day four, and 5 lbs. gone already, whoopee!).

I have several paleo cookbooks and have bookmarked thousands of paleo recipes and blogs (or recipes I want to modify for my LCP plan). I have my own notebook of recipes I have made and should really be blogging about when I find the time to do the food justice.

But I cannot stop myself. I just had to order one more. I’m very excited for this because Nom Nom Paleo is one of the best sources for paleo recipes around. I find it especially informative because Michelle regularly covers the topic of how to feed Littles a paleo diet without going crazy.

I’m still fighting that battle. Grilled cheese sammies are a menu staple around here, despite my efforts to eradicate that greasy yellow goop called “American cheese”. Baby steps. It will happen. My husband now understands why I no longer bake bread or keep any bread or wheat-based foods in the house. The GF pasta I buy is indistinguishable from the wheat stuff, and I’ve perfected GF pizza dough for everyone else to enjoy while I have my meat and salad (trust me, I prefer my meat and salad, I’m not missing anything).

I hope to be back to writing more regularly soon. Husband shot a very nice deer on Thanksgiving morning, bringing our tally to five so far this year. Plenty of roasts, steaks, ground, and stew meat to play with. And this time, he saved me the liver so I can make pate.

The Devil You Know

I know, I know. I owe the follow-up “Part II” post on Sauerkraut.

Want to know what I’m going to say? Look for a change in color from “bright” to “faded” and for obvious bubbles on top of your kraut. The kraut should be slightly crunchy, not too salty, and have a sour tang like you’d expect from sauerkraut. If it doesn’t have one or all of those properties, it’s not done yet and you should check it every 5-7 days for “doneness” and taste to your liking. If the liquid level is not above the kraut when you check it, add a few tablespoons of water to the jar and pack down the veggies until everything is submerged again. Always keep kraut/fermented veggies completely submerged and you can’t go wrong.

But today I need to talk about something I’ve been unwilling to admit to myself: I have a problem with wheat.

I’d like to think I do not; that I can eat sourdough country bread and flaky pie crusts and crisp pizza and chewy tartines with abandon. But I cannot.

I’ve done trial where I’ve eliminated gluten for a few days or weeks and always, ALWAYS, I’ve felt better. A lighter, less bloated, and more sane version of me. And since I felt good, I figured a slice of pizza wouldn’t kill me. And it doesn’t kill me, or make me feel bloated and sick — at least, not immediately. It takes an overnight to do that. I wake up the morning after some pizza or pasta or a sandwich and feel irrationally hungry, and not only willing and able but unstoppably capable of eating past the point of physical fullness and still wanting more, more, more.

It’s not a carb thing, because I’ve restricted carbs and done a “wheat fast” and not restricted carbs and done a wheat fast, and the one common factor is wheat. No wheat, no uncontrollable hunger or bloating or fatigue and joint pain in the days following a wheat/gluten binge.

I would wake up in the middle of the night, unable to get back to sleep, and scratch to the point of bleeding at my inner-elbows and the backs of my thighs, my belly, and my upper back. My feet would be so tender upon placing them on the ground at wakping that I’ve needed to perch on the edge of my bed for a few minutes before I could take even a few stulted steps toward the door. It was as though my feet, my lower legs in general, could neither feel the ground nor respond to the command to take a step, and I suffered great pains for forcing the effort.

So I eliminated gluten once again from my diet. Reluctantly. Kicking and screaming and clawing for a slice of pizza or a taste of baguette, or some delicious apple pie, or gravy, or an apple cider doughnut from our local orchard’s annual Autumn Festival (all of these tempted me this past weekend).

The last time I ate gluten food was this past Friday night (September 27, 2013). I had some pizza with my husband and felt satisfied and happy for a few brief hours, only to have it turn to torture later that evening, as my belly grew several inches and my body swelled with bloating, and the usual joint pain and tingling came back. I swore that night that I would give up gluten for good. It’s been a scant three days since and already, I feel so much better.

I’ve lost 2.5 lbs. of scale weight from Saturday morning to this morning. My stomach feels normal and generally I feel light. The joint pain and tingling often takes a week or longer to go away, so I can’t report any improvement on that, but I did sleep well last night and feel less sluggish and foggy today.

I know the Devil that has been tormenting me, and it’s name is gluten.

Periodically, I have issues with a crippling anxiety that leaves me fearful of even walking down the steps from my bedroom to my kitchen. I’m afraid to drive, or leave the house in general. Shunning gluten means my anxiety evaporates within days and I feel not only normal, but energetic and capable again. It appears that some psychiatrists are conducting research on this phenomenon, but doctors are either ignore of it or not willing to entertain this knowledge in relation to what ails their patients. My own doctor laughed me off when I told her I wanted tests for celiac disease and/or gluten intolerance because my symptoms aligned with what some celiac/gluten intolerance sufferers have exhibited. She said I read too much and that my lifestyle is what is making me tired. I’ll just have to wait until the kids get older and go to school, then I’ll get some sleep and have a life of my own, and feel better. HER WORDS, not mine.

I don’t trust doctors, so I don’t know why I thought I’d get any answers from her.

So I proactively went gluten-free, 100%. No cheating, no regrets. I’ll bake bread for my husband and the two children who don’t seem to have an issue with gluten, and gluten-free bread or pizza for the Little Guy and me. My husband thinks the g-free pizza crust I make is just as good, or better, than the regular wheat crust I make. I’ve made muffins and quick breads that are g-free and no one notices. I can do this, with some planning and willingness to fling more than a few experiments into the trash.

I’ll continue to report on my progress. In the meantime, does anyone want several pounds of whole hard red winter wheat berries and a flour mill? I bought them in the hope of making 100% whole wheat sourdough bread, but it appears that I cannot tolerate even that. They’re up for sale, if you want them. Cheap!

Old-Fashioned Sauerkraut, Part I

When I was young, no family picnic, party, or other gathering ever happened without a huge pan of kielbasa and sauerkraut. It’s a rule of Polish entertaining. No cabbage, no sausage, no party. The sauerkraut usually came from a can, and chunks of kielbasa were sliced into it. The whole thing went into the oven until it was thoroughly warm, and we devoured it by the plateful with lots of spicy Kosciuszko mustard, pierogi, and rye bread spread with butter. It’s a wonder I made it out of the eighth grade weighing less than 200 pounds.

Actually, I find it helpful to eat more carbohydrate foods these days. I have to face the fact that weight loss is not going to happen right now. I lost five, then six, then ten pounds without even trying while eating low-carb, but something in my body just resisted all of a sudden. Without packing the junk food into my body, or eating bread, or cookies or chips or lots of over-fatty foods, I gained nine pounds back. My appetite is soaring and even though I’m eating healthy foods, I am eating too many of them. The reason appears to be my EBF strategy. I breastfed the girls for a year each, also, and was slow to lose weight during those times. As soon as each child was weaned, I got pregnant again, so I was always about 10 lbs. over where I started the first time. So now I’m 30 lbs. over where I want to be and no closer to losing any of them than I was the first 10 I started off with. I suppose once Little Man is weaned I can get down to the serious business of Losing the Fattitude, but for now my body wants to keep playing beached whale with itself and no amount of prodding seems to be working to get it to snap out of it. Prolactin is a bitch and won’t be smacked down.

Instead of saying “fuck it” and giving in to a chocolate chip cookie carnival, I’ve doubled-down on keeping healthy foods in the house. This includes bread, and potatoes, and rice, but I limit my servings of them to two or three portions a day, never at the same time, and always in the evening, when I find I have a higher tolerance for carby foods after workouts, chasing kiddies, digging garden beds, and trying to summit Mount Laundry have depleted me. I sleep better after a meal that includes some starch. I know this goes against conventional carb-loading dogma, where you eat your carbs in the morning or before a workout to fuel your body and burn them off during the day…it doesn’t work for me. Evening carbs work better for me.

Some of the healthiest foods we can eat are fermented foods. Think of foods like yogurt, cheese, wine, beer, kefir, sausage, and pickles*. Yes, all of those are fermented foods, or used to be, before the advent of commercial canning processes and vinegar-pickling became common. (*The pickles you buy in the jars of your supermarket’s condiment section are vinegar pickled and not fermented, so don’t offer the probiotic benefits of fermented pickles. Ditto for canned sauerkraut and canned or jarred pickled beets).

Probiotics has been a term used in yogurt marketing for years. Good bacteria, necessary for a healthy digestive tract and immune system, abound in yogurt with “live, active cultures.” People on antibiotics are encouraged to eat yogurt to repopulate their intestines with these good bugs, on which we rely to do a host of things for us: they break down cellulose; release, synthesize, or ionize vitamins and minerals so our bodies can use them; send immune precursors into the blood stream to recognize and protect against diseases; and colonize our intestines in sufficient quantity to drive out any bad bugs or yeasts which would otherwise o’er take our corporal forms and rotteth our flesh.

Yogurt is not the only food that has these probiotic benefits. Kefir, similar to yogurt, is a milk product fermented by both bacteria and yeast. Cheese is cultured with certain bacteria (and sometimes molds) to start pre-digesting the sugars and proteins, which forms the basis of cheese, the curd. Wine and beer are well known – the sugars are fermented by yeast, which produce carbon dioxide and alcohol as by-products of the fermentation cycle. Vegetables can be fermented as well, by the action of naturally present and ubiquitous lactobacilli in our kitchens, on our hands, and on the vegetables themselves.

Cabbage and other cruciferates are naturally perfect fermenters. They are low acid, low-water, sturdy veggies that hold up well under the digestive action of bacteria. Real, old-fashioned sauerkraut is not a cooked food, but a fermented one. Cabbage and salt are left in an oxygen-free environment for a few weeks at room temperature, until the magic of the bacteria turns the mixture into something tangy, slightly bubbly, and full of the “good bugs” we want living in our internal ecosystem. It is also very high in vitamin C, and sulfur, which is wonderful for keeping the skin clear.

I first learned that sauerkraut was made this way when reading The Foxfire Book of Appalachian Cooking. One of the passages describes a method involving two men shredding cabbage into a huge barrel, salting it, and then taking turns dancing in the barrel, using their feet to mix and mash the cabbage, before covering the barrel and weighting down the lid with a stone to keep it all submerged for keeping as a food for winter.

I am not so intrepid as to use my feet to mix my kraut, but neither am I clinical about the process. Some of the innoculation of good bugs happens when you use your bare, but clean, hands to do the mixing, and I encourage you to do the same when you try this recipe.

You will need some special equipment, including:

  • 2 (or more) quart size mason jars and their lids (widemouth jars are best)
  • a food scale, preferably one that measures in grams
  • a large bowl, about six quart size
  • Kosher or canning salt – don’t use iodized table salt or sea salt here, as they can contain ingredients that will disrupt your fermentation process
  • a sturdy wooden spoon or wooden cocktail muddler
Ingredients:
  • one large head or two medium heads of cabbage, red or green is fine
  • salt, 2% by weight of prepared cabbage

The basic process is to remove the dirty or wilted outer leaves of your cabbage, quarter and core it, and slice it into very fine ribbons. Weigh the shredded cabbage, and measure out 2% of that weight in canning salt. Place about 1/3 of the cabbage into a bowl with 1/3 of the salt, and use your hands to crush and mix the cabbage and salt together, until liquid is dripping out of it (the salt will draw the liquid out of the cabbage and produce the moist, salty environment the bacteria love).

Add more cabbage and salt, 1/3 at a time, until all is mixed together and very wet. The cabbage will look a bit wilted but still have crunch and be green.
Clean your canning jars and lids with hot soapy water, and rinse well. You don’t need to sterilize the jars, just make sure they are clean and have no particles of other foods or oil in them. Begin filling the jars by packing as much cabbage as possible into them. Then, use a wooden spoon or muddler to pack the cabbage down as far as it will go.
And then pack it even farther down. And farther still. You want to eliminate as much airspace as possible and are aiming to cover the cabbage with liquid. Once you’ve packed it down, add more cabbage and keep packing, until you have about 1/2″ of headspace in the jar, and the cabbage is completely submerged.
Cover the jar tightly, label it, and make a note on your calendar to check it in about 14 days. Place the jars in a cupboard or other place that is dark and room temperature, and go about your business until its time to taste it.
I made these batches a few days ago. Here is what they look like fresh packed; I’ll take photos at the two week mark to update, as the appearance will change considerably:

You’ll notice what looks like something orange in my sauerkraut pics above: those are carrots. There is also onion in the green cabbage mixture. You can really go in any flavor direction you want, as long as you follow the rule of 2% salt by weight of cabbage, and the process of packing, packing, packing that kraut into the jar.

I had 3 kilos of cabbage, which filled four quart sized mason jars. I made one batch of green cabbage with carrots and onion, and a second batch of red cabbage with carrots, apples, and ginger.
Why do I specify measuring in grams? Because it’s a base-of-ten system by which is so easy to measure, divide, and multiply. You can calculate percentages in your head and get an instant measurement. For any math-challenged people out there, here’s how you get the 2% by weight measurement:
weight of cabbage in grams x .02 = weight of salt in grams
To use some real numbers:
1000 g cabbage x .02 = 2 g salt
My actual numbers were:
1498 g cabbage x .02 = 29.96 g salt (round up to 30)
If you’re going the hoo-rah America is teh Beszt route and think that using the metric system is only for Europhiles and chemists, then here is how you do the measurement for ounces:
weight of cabbage in ounces x .02 = weight of salt in ounces
DUH!
But if you have a scale that only measures in pounds, you have to multiply by 16:
weight of cabbage in pounds x .02 = weight of salt*16 = ounces of salt to use
or
.75 pounds cabbage x .02 = 0.015 * 16 = 0.24 ounces of salt (round up to 1/4 ounce)
See how easy that is? Basic third grade math that we’ve all probably forgotten by now. You’re welcome for the refresher.
Here are a few basics for adding other vegetables and seasoning to your kraut:
  • choose fresh, unbruised fruits or vegetables.
  • the firmer the flesh, even in the very ripe state, the better
  • the lower acid, the better (tomatoes and strawberries don’t ferment well on their own)
  • wash and peel everything you plan to add to your cabbage
  • don’t make the addition of other fruits or vegetables more than 1/3 of your mixture
Here are some of my favorite combinations, I’ve made them all at some point in time or another:
  • Red cabbage with shredded apples, carrots, and/or ginger (1-2 tablespoons of fresh ginger, grated, or 2 teaspoons of dried)
  • Red cabbage with shredded apples and beets, or just apple or just beets
  • Green cabbage with 1 tablespoon of caraway seeds (this is traditional)
  • Green cabbage with shredded carrots, onion, and turnips
  • Cabbage with kale, garlic, and jalapeno peppers
  • Cabbage with red chiles, ginger, garlic, and shredded carrots
EAT THIS STUFF RAW! Cooking it negates the probiotic benefits you will derive from it. If you want it warm, gently heat it to about 95 degrees (Fahrenheit, or 35 C). Eat it as is, or as a condiment on hot dogs or for rich sausages and roasted or grilled meats.
Part II will be the update on how to tell if your kraut is ready to store and eat, troubleshooting your kraut, and other things to do with it.
Enjoy!

Cherry Balsamic Vinegar

My life, everyday. Even the suck-y ones.

“Once when I was a kid, I was mad on cherries…[I]found a silver mejidie and pinched it……..bought a basket o’ cherries…began eating it…till I was all swollen out. My stomach began to ache and I was sick…[and] from that day to this I’ve never wanted a cherry. I couldn’t bear the sight of them. I was saved. I could say no to any cherry. I don’t need you anymore and I did this same thing later with wine and tobacco. I still drink and smoke, but at any second, if I want to, whoop! I can cut it out. I’m not ruled by passion. ~ Zorba the Greek, by Nikos Kazantzakis

Much like Alexis Zorba, I try to conquer my many desires and demons. I lay awake at night wondering when I will have my fill of bad behavior and finally become good. Perhaps, when I’m old like Zorba, that day will come and I will be free from Earthly passion.


But that is not this day. For all my tortured passions and worries, I choose to see life as that proverbial bowl of cherries. I have to, otherwise my anxiety would consume me. It’s been trying to devour me since I first took breath, and I’ve been able to outrun it some way, some how, sometimes by my wits but more often with bad behavior, which only reinforces the anxiety. I decided to stop feeding the beast and instead enjoy my life, but it is hard work and starts with the conscious daily decision to be happy and find joy in everything.


It’s cherry season, a brief window where the first warm rays of spring sunshine are concentrated into juicy, fleshy bites of sweetness and smiles. My children love them and eat them by the bowlful, when I let them. I buy them up, three or four bags at a time, and bring them home to do the tedious work of stemming and pitting them, one by one, for eating fresh or freezing for future use in pies, smoothies, or ice cream (and if you’ve never had homemade, fresh cherry-vanilla ice cream, I’m so sorry. The next time I make it, you’re invited to come try a scoop).


The cherries themselves are worth the effort it takes to prepare them for eating without breaking your teeth or swallowing a random pit (which won’t kill you, certainly). However, looking at the mass of pits in the bowl frustrates my frugal nature, and I hate to get rid of all those bits of flesh and juice. Whenever I can I try to reclaim or reuse the odds and ends leftover from cooking: bits of chicken skin and flesh from trimming a bird get saved in a broth-bag in the freezer for the day I make stock, and the same goes for vegetable trimmings. What cannot be reused in food prep becomes compost for the garden, and next year when I have a laying flock, those scraps will become chicken feed. I scatter spent coffee grinds in the garden, as they deter slugs and borer beetles, and eggshells get broken up into the compost bin to add calcium to the soil. I have more ideas for how to use apple and pear cores and peelings, but at the moment I have enough fermentation projects going on to attempt making my own vinegar. In a few months, maybe, we’ll get that project started.

But cherry pits, what to do with them? As it turns out, vinegar is exactly what you do with them. I suppose they could be saved until a sufficient quantity accumulated, and then a primitive wine could be made to turn into a cherry vinegar. I find it far easier, faster, and immediately gratifying to make an infused vinegar from them.

The first time I encountered an infused vinegar was when I was about 12 or 13, I think. My uncle had a few corked bottles of liquid with garlic and herbs in them, sunning on a windowsill. When I asked, he explained he was making herb vinegars and oils. I’d never heard of such a thing! At that time, I was discovering my now firmly established passion for herbs and food. My mother bought me some books on the culinary and medicinal uses of herbs. It opened up, if only a crack at that time, a door to the place I now happily inhabit as a home cook, gardener, and no-name food writer.

The idea to infuse balsamic vinegar with the leavings of Spring’s bounty of cherries is not original, nor mine. I got it from Thomas Keller’s fabulous cookbook Ad Hoc At Home. The process is very simple: save your cherry pits, bits, and juices (no stems, please) and very gently simmer in balsamic vinegar, let cool, and bottle.




I’ve adapted the original recipe slightly, adding some cinnamon and a feather-light kiss of honey to draw out the cherry flavor. If you are using very expensive, very high-quality balsamic vinegar, you can probably skip the honey. I find that excellent balsamic vinegar already has a fine enough flavor and needs no infusion. Buy a lesser quality balsamic vinegar for this purpose. You will improve it’s flavor and add variety to your pantry.

You will need a sauce pan that holds 2-4 cups of liquid comfortably, a wooden or stainless steel spoon, a fine sieve, a funnel, and a bottle for your vinegar (I used the original vinegar bottle, since I was using the whole thing for the infusion). This recipe is easily halved, or doubled.


Makes ~2 cups or ~500 ml vinegar
Ingredients:

  • ~1.5 to 2 cups of cherry pits, bits, and juice (pit cherries into a bowl for this purpose)
  • 2 cups or one 500 ml bottle of balsamic vinegar
  • one 3-4″ cinnamon stick
  • scant teaspoon of honey, optional
Place the cherry pits and bits into the pan with the cinnamon stick and pour in the vinegar. Bring to a very gentle simmer – as soon as you see the surface bubble a bit, turn the heat down and let sit on the stove for about an hour. Remove from heat, cover, and let cool completely. Once cooled, strain the vinegar into a bowl or large measuring cup. Stir in the honey until it is dissolved.

Pour the vinegar into your bottle (a funnel is almost critical here) and cork or cap tightly. Use as you would balsamic vinegar, in salad dressings or tossed with steamed vegetables. Cherry balsamic vinegar is delightful on fresh strawberries and pairs wonderfully with salads or sandwiches that feature bold, flavorful cheeses like aged Parmesan, hard Provolone, Roquefort or Gorgonzola. Pour 1/2 of a cup into a small saucepan and reduce it by half, and pour it over grilled mushrooms or asparagus. Or try it as a marinate for pork or beef, and serve a cherry-rosemary sauce with the meat. You will not be disappointed.

Infused vinegar is very easy to make, and the flavor combinations are many. Some others I’ve made or would like to try include:
  • Balsamic Vinegar and dried figs
  • White Balsamic or White Wine Vinegar with pear and star anise
  • White Balsamic or White Wine Vinegar with apricot or peach, cinnamon, and/or bay laurel
  • White Wine Vinegar with orange, clove, and allspice
  • White Wine Vinegar with rosemary and juniper berries
  • Cider vinegar with cinnamon sticks, clove, and allspice

Really, the combinations are endless. If using a fruit and white vinegar combo, I would suggest adding the slightest touch of honey. The intent is not to dominate the vinegar with sweetness, but to draw out the fruity and spicy notes enough to pronounce the flavor above the acidity of the vinegar.


Enjoy!