Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Localise it!

I thought I'd give you an update on how my sauerkraut is progressing.

This is what it looked liked freshly chopped and salted.

The cabbage has been fermenting in a salty brine for a little over two weeks.

And here is how it looks now!

I sampled some and it tastes just like sauerkraut is supposed to! But because the cabbage is from last year's harvest and has a lower moisture content, and the temperature is quite cool in my place, the fermentation process is happening more slowly. This means the texture of the kraut is still quite crunchy, so I'm going to continue letting it ferment for another week or so.

I couldn't resist taking out two cups though, to make this delicious sauerkraut soup, which cooked the crunchy kraut to a perfect texture.

I brought the soup to my monthly locavore potluck meeting.

Oooh! Which reminds me, I've been attending once monthly potlucks for locavores! Last night was my second meeting and it was just as fun and informative as the first.

Everyone brings a dish made with as many locally sourced ingredients as possible, we enjoy a lovely meal together, drink tea and share our stories, information, goals, plans and advice for local eating.

Last night one of the attendees explained her various methods for sprouting seeds and I also learned that Bread and Sons Bakery in Ottawa, sources their ingredients locally and organically when available. I will definitely be stopping by when I am next in their neighbourhood.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Sauerkraut and Sun Oven

Based on the information I read here, some other research and a helpful comment from a reader, about the origins of my crock and its glaze, I determined that in all likelihood, it has a lead free salt glaze. Just to be on the safe side, I did a lead test anyway.

I'm happy to report that the swab didn't turn pink or red, which would indicate the presence of lead. (Health Canada isn't a huge fan of home lead test kits, but I'm willing to take my chances with my old crock, figuring my odds on lead exposure can't be any worse than this or this. Here's hoping that folks back in the late 1800's had more sense than we do now.)

With that out of the way, I gave the crock a good scrubbing and set myself to making my very first batch of sauerkraut. I had a long talk with my Oma on the phone and she explained to me how she used to make sauerkraut. I also followed these instructions. And here's a good video.

I used a stone to weight down the plate. Of course I gave the stone a good scrub, soaked it in vinegar and sterilized it in boiling water first! If you don't want to do this, a glass jar filled with water will also do just fine.

I covered the crock with a towel and set it aside to start the process of fermentation, pressing down on the stone weight every few hours to help draw the water out to create the brine. After 24 hours there was not enough brine to cover the plate, so I added about five cups of salted water. I'll keep checking on it every few days, and if all goes well, I'll have delicious and nutritious sauerkraut in two to three weeks!

And in other exciting food news, I've officially taken the Sun Oven out of hibernation! It was such a mild and sunny day on Saturday, I thought, "What the heck, I'll just set it up and see what happens." I wasn't really expecting to be able to cook anything in it, but when the temperature went to 250 degrees in about 20 minutes, I prepared some parsnips to steam. As it was already well into the afternoon, they only got about three quarters done, before I lost the sun and had to bring the parsnips in to finish on the stove.
But today I was ready and set the oven out early this morning with a jar of water inside to help preheat it. (I made tea with the hot water.)

The oven maxed out at at 275 degrees, which was more than enough to cook these beets all the way through! Here they are, fresh out of the sun oven and steaming in the snow.

Monday, March 9, 2009

What a Crock!

(Update: A reader kindly left a comment reminding me of the dangers of lead and other metals that were frequently- and sometimes still are- used in the glazes of many ceramic, stone and earthenware items. These are not food safe! I completely forgot about this potential danger. Darn. I'm going to do some more research and see if I can get a lead test kit, but until then, there will be no sauerkraut in the crock for me...)

Two girlfriends and I made a day trip to Perth on Saturday, stopping at flea markets, antique shops and thrift stores along the way. I was really pleased to find some good items.

I'm baking more, and have been short on bowls, but not anymore! I fell in love with these two pyrex bowls that I got a charity thrift shop, along with an embroidered table cloth (not pictured).

I'll be using this enamel pot in my sun oven.

I'm so thrilled to have found this stone crock.

The first thing I'm going to make is sauerkraut.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Crochet Your Own Reusable Mesh Produce Bag!

A few people asked for a step by step tutorial for the reusable produce bag I made from a mesh onion bag and some simple crochet. Here it is!

(If you're not interested in the tutorial, but you do like free things, please scroll to the end of the post to read about a giveaway!)

I find that onion bags work very well, being large enough to repurpose into a reusable bag. With a pair of scissors, snip the bag open as close to the metal clasp as you can.

Choose your yarn! Look for something sturdy, but not too thick. Because you don't need a lot of yarn, this is a good project for using up the odds and ends you have lying around. Crochet cotton works really well, but for this bag I was inspired by the colours in my fruit bowl and went for this blue yarn I have.

Take a look at the mesh bag. See the holes in the mesh? That's what you'll be crocheting into. Don't worry too much about keeping everything perfectly even and in line, because in the finished project, you won't really notice the odd skipped hole, or if you need to move up or down a row to find a hole that hasn't been cut.

Make a slipknot in your yarn.

Pull the knot through a hole in the mesh with your crochet hook.

Chain stitch (see video tutorial below) into the holes, all around the mesh bag.

Continue around a few more times, using a single crochet stitch (see video tutorial below). I went around three times in total.

To create the first handle, *chain one, turn, single crochet into the next three stitches (or as many stitches as you want to make your handle wide) and repeat from * around, until you reach the desired length of your handle.

Cut your yarn, leaving a long enough piece for attaching the handle and fasten off.

To create your second handle, make a slipknot and pull through a single crochet stitch wherever you would like your second handle to go. I just eyeballed where it should go relative to the other handle, but you can get your measuring tape out if you like.
*Single crochet into the next three stitches (or as many stitches as you made your first handle), chain one, turn and repeat from * around until you reach the desired length of your handle. Again, I just held one handle up to the other, to see that they were the same length, but feel free to measure more precisely!
Cut your yarn, leaving a long enough piece for attaching the handle and fasten off.

With a yarn needle, tapestry needle, or any needle with an eye large enough for your yarn to go through, sew the other ends of your handles onto the crochet edging of the bag. Weave in all your loose ends, fasten them off, and Bob's yer uncle, you now have your very own reusable, mesh produce bag!

Just a final thought on the handles. I like mine long enough that I can tie them together, to close the bag and secure the produce. Feel free to adjust your handles to suit your preference, keeping in mind that with heavy produce and depending how much give your yarn has, the handles will stretch when the bag is full.

Here's what it looks like completed and in action!

Ok, so I've seen many bloggers who do giveaways and have always thought it was such a wonderful idea, however I haven't done one myself, because, well, mostly I worry that nobody would want what I have to give away, and I simply couldn't handle the rejection!
But today I'm going to take that risk and offer this bag and the first one I made, to some lucky, random person who actually wants them, or just doesn't have the heart to see me rejected. ;) So if you'd like these two bags, leave a comment and I'll announce the recipient on Friday!

For beginners or those who need a refresher on some of the basic crochet stitches, check out these two videos below. And of course feel free to ask me any questions you have, or to clarify something, if my instructions aren't clear. Enjoy!