Sunday, March 13, 2016

Look At Me...I'm Old But I'm Happy

As I spent last week working on my take-home final exam for Master Food Preservers and preparing for graduation night and the presentation of ceremonial aprons, I’m even more excited than I was at the start, more than five weeks ago.  I’m so looking forward to the growing season so I can try some new sauerkraut.  

I have never been a fan of sauerkraut and generally thought it was a perfectly crappy thing to do to a perfectly good hot dog (or corned beef on rye).  Several classmates were already experienced in fermenting sauerkraut and Jeffrey brought some for me to try, promising not to take offence if I winced and even gave me a napkin to … purge into should I feel the need.  As it happens, fresh (I use the term loosely) sauerkraut tastes NOTHING like the noxious stuff that comes in a can.  It actually tastes like cabbage.  With a kick.

A few years back I fell in love with a cabbage salsa served at a (now defunct) Mexican restaurant here in Eureka and made a decent attempt at replicating it though it wasn't quite right. Now, I have begun wondering if it was actually fermented. 

I did some online research and found a number of spicy kraut recipes that added jalapenos so I jumped in and started my first batch of kraut...with a few jalapenos tossed in. Now, I wait for the bubbles, showing me the fermenting process has begun. Soon, my kitchen should smell like....well, like the kraut should be aging out in the barn. If it turns out, I plan to make more this year when my Bayside Park Farm CSA share is overflowing with cabbage. I also pickled a few jars of asparagus this weekend while they're in season. With new skills acquired, seasonal abbondanza is anticipated greatly.

I recommend the Master Food Preserver program highly. The State Ag Extensions make these programs available as a way to get the information out to the people.  There is a Facebook page that you can follow to keep up on upcoming classes and demos. The Master Gardener program works similarly.  Ours was a fun class with awesome fun people. Though I’m not much for public speaking and waxing eloquent in front of a crowd, I’m looking forward to maintaining my certification by sharing the information I now posess. Food Security is more than just a buzzword around here and I hope to help people to recognize that feeding their families well IS possible, no matter the income. Taking advantage of gleaning opportunities and planting just a few vegetables in the summer that can be preserved to last through the off-season can greatly expand your food budget. PLUS, it’s fun and few things are as satisfying as a collection of jars filled with a rainbow of foods that you have canned yourself.  

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Gitchi Gitchi Ya Ya Da Da

Today's adventures in Master Preservers...we entered the realm of "Fruit Spreads and Syrups" and twice today got to break into groups and create.  The kitchen at the Eureka Co-Op was filled with the smells of lemons, ginger, strawberries and the sounds of crashing pans, timers and laughter.  My group made "Quick" Lemon-Ginger Marmalade. I'm not sure about the "quick" (thus the quotation marks) since much time was spent separating the membrane and seeds but the end results were worth it. I've never been a huge fan of marmalade, probably because commercially created versions are sticky sweet but this version was SO flavorful. I can't wait to recreate it in my own kitchen.  Most of us had some experience with water-bath canning but it's good to correct and adjust our processes and even understand the reasons we do what we do. 

While we made our Lemon-Ginger Marmalade, other groups made a Mango Salsa and Apple Pie filling. The smells were heavenly.  I feel as if we dirtied EVERY bowl and pot in that kitchen on the way to finishing these three projects. After washing the mountainous pile pots and pans followed by a brief lunch break, we gathered in new groups for another project.  This time I worked on a low-sugar blueberry freezer jam (the jury is still out on the flavor of this particular recipe) while the other two groups created Fig Jam with dried figs and Strawberry-Kiwi Jam. Again, the fragrance was so heavenly, we couldn't resist poking our heads into the projects the other groups were working on.  I have plans now to expand my repertoire beyond my beloved blackberry jam and have my sites set on marmalades.  I know exactly what to do the next time I see a great deal on lemons!

This course is so fun, I'm not even sad in giving up my coveted Saturdays. I'm learning so much and am well on my way to being a much more confident canner. Monday evening, we'll do some pickling, including a chutney which is another step outside my comfort zone.  Somewhere in there, I need to conjure up a homework assignment for a class presentation (we each have to do two) and, after the great jobs done by this morning's over-achievers, I have some work to do.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

We Be Jammin'

Since starting the Master Preserver Course, Clostridium botulinums has become part of my vocabulary. Nasty nasty botulism, as opposed to the fun kind of botox the Hollywood types have injected into their skin to smooth out wrinkles (who the HECK thought THAT was a good idea?!) is “an anaerobic, spore-forming rod that produces a potent neurotoxin.The spores are heat-resistant and can survive in foods that are incorrectly or minimally processed…..”.  Yikes!  And the capper?  “Most of the 10 to 30 outbreaks [of foodborne botulism] that are reported annually in the United States are associated with inadequately processed, home-canned foods". (straight from the USDA’s Bad Bug Book).  Ugh! I'm a bit of a rule-rebel but even I can see some rules are based in logic.
After just two class meetings, I have learned that the method of jam-making my mom taught me is “open kettle canning” and, “We don’t recommend it”.  Well, crap!  I haven’t killed anyone but I’ll have to reteach my kids the proper way, instead of Grandma's way. I have also learned that I really SHOULD be removing the canning jar rings when I store my canned product away.  Why?  Any schmutz left under the ring from the canning process could contaminate the ring and cause it to not seal the NEXT jar properly. Not only that but the ring will keep me from noticing a seeping jar which, if not sealed properly, could begin to nurture those nasty little Clostridium botulinums spores, all hidden behind a ring that APPEARS to be sitting pretty on the shelf.
Oh well, I hope to regale y’all of my adventures learning (and, in some cases, relearning)  how to safely and properly “put foods by”. The course will keep me busy for a month of Monday nights and Saturdays, freezing, canning, pickling and dehydrating in order to save the season's harvests. After that, I will be expected to put in some volunteer time proselytizing in the name of safe food preservation, because the recipes and processes recommended by State Cooperative Extensions are vetted..scientifically tested to contain proper processing times and procedures.  I will be available to entertain at a kitchen near you in order to put in my time. It looks to be a fun group I am learning with and learning from.  Look out pickling cukes...I’m comin’ for ya!

Friday, January 22, 2016

No More Three-By-Fives

Hoping I would see the world with both my eyes

Seems like the drearier our Humboldt weather is, the more enthusiastically the interwebs explode when the sky is airbrushed with a glorious rainbow, jaw-dropping sunset or wondrous sunrise.  If you follow Twitter or Facebook or Instagram, your feed is painted the fanciful shades of a blue-gray sky brushed by the sun with pinks and oranges.  Whether with the ubiquitous smart phone or a billion-dollar DSLR, we struggle to get THE photo, the one everyone sees and “sighs…” and shares with the rest of the digital universe.  But sometimes I just can’t get THE photo.

The fabulous sunrises we have been blessed with this season, while visible and awe-inspiring, are impossible to commit to digital “film” from my house without the web of powerlines that cross the sky.  Try as I might to use those black lines in an artistic way, they just undermine all of my efforts to record the perfect sky. The houses don’t darken enough to be the perfect silhouettes.  I pull off at the Humboldt Hill vista point to catch the view on the way to work, but the sun’s effect was hidden behind the trees.  I pulled to the rear of the parking lot at South Bay Elementary School south of town but, by then, the sun has climbed beyond a point where the clouds were the fiery orange they had been just fifteen minutes before.   

Today I finally overcame
Trying to fit the world inside a picture frame

Well, I probably didn’t really OVERCOME the urge, but have come to the realization that sometimes I need to just stop.  And enjoy.  Without the camera…..and, like this John Mayer song, trying to enjoy it with BOTH my eyes.  

Oh, it won’t be easy.  I’ll still dodge through traffic after work, trying desperately to get to the perfect spot to photograph that stunning sunset I can see from the highway during my evening commute.  Or I’ll text the boss from the ‘T’ on the north spit, to let him know I’ll be a bit late while I try and capture the red rubber ball of a moon as it sets in the morning.  But sometimes, when those things don’t look promising, I will just sit and enjoy those few fabulous moments.  With both my eyes.