Category Archives: productive home

Fermentation Elation – A Productive Home Post

So! Erica, over at NWedible, is doing a Productive Home Weekly Report thing, and has invited people to chime in with their own productivity reports.
I’m… not totally fussed about tracking productivity. It feels a bit like giving myself a performance review. BUT, if I think of it as an opportunity to brag about the awesome-fun-cool stuff I’ve been doing/planting/harvesting/cooking/baking/canning/fermenting/etc chez moi that I’m really excited about… it gets a whole lot easier.
So here we go.
 
There’s been almost no rain for the past month, which is not a great situation. The garden is looking pretty crispy, even in the back yard where I’ve been watering every day. Also, I’ve come to the conclusion that my soil is depleted enough that it needs some major-by-my-standards remediation. Meaning that – when the heat breaks, and provided I’ve got a spare $20 kicking around – I’m going to try seeding the non-garden parts of the yard with white clover in an effort to at least get some nitrogen back into the ground.
But, for now, I’m relying on my garden for herbs, greens (mostly “weed” greens), and rhubarb. Which is about as productive as it’s able to be right now.
As seen in earlier posts, I’ve been out collecting service berries (see below), as well as wild greens that don’t grow in my yard. But most of the productivity at our home is happening inside the house.
 

 
Inside the house, things are going quite well:
Earlier today, I blanched a bunch of grocery store zucchini (there are another 8 or so in the fridge yet to do) and put them in the freezer, in a silicone muffin tray. I also froze (on a cookie sheet) the last of the service berries, and transferred the latest batch of my fermented wild greens (a litre and a half!) to the fridge, in mason jars. Oh, and I re-bottled the cider that I started fermenting at Winter Solstice.
I put it back in the plastic jug, with a little more bread yeast and some maple syrup for food, to do a technically-third ferment, because it turned out VERY dry and VERY still, and I wanted something fizzier and a little bit sweeter to bring to my mom’s tonight.
Which, I guess, brings me to: I’ve been making booze.
Cider, see above, but also I started a batch of honey-wine a couple of weeks ago, just after Summer Solstice (as seems quite appropriate) and, while it’s a little more ginger-y and a lot less service-berry-y and rose-petal-y than I had been aiming for, it does smell like something I would actually want to drink. So I’m calling it a win. (Here’s hoping it still smells that good after it’s had six months to age in the back of the fridge). I also made ginger beer, which is marvelously fizzy, and which I’ve been drinking heaps of in the hopes of scaring off the sore throat I woke up with this morning. (Seriously… My body’s been kind of a weird barometer these past few months, so I’m hoping this is due to a major pressure change in the night, and not to me getting sick, and that we’re actually going to get some solid, steady rain. Which we badly need!)
I’m thinking I’m going to try making rhubarb country wine – maybe even rhubarb-chokecherry country wine – in another couple of weeks, around Lammas. My goal is to put up a bunch of tasty drinks that I can serve at my Winter Solstice party at the end of the year. 😉
 
In other fermentation news (apparently this is A Thing in my house, now): I’ve made two batches of sour dough bread. I’m still working out the slightly trial-and-error (in my case) process of figuring out how long to cook the stuff, but I’m thinking that third time will be the charm, and cooking it for about an hour and a half should result in some good, tasty, fully-cooked bread that is also easy to cut with a normal bread knife. (I over-baked it and ended up with a very thick crust which, sure, my wife thinks is great, but which I find tricky to do for stuff like sandwiches).
 
Anyway.
Right now? Right now, I’m preparing to do my first experiment in home-dyeing.
I’ve got black beans (which, in theory, will give me a nice blue) soaking on the counter and, on a shelf, I’ve got an old plastic ice cream bucket filled with a mix of water, vinegar, and shredded aluminum foil, in which I am soaking a cotton crop top that I’d like to make bluer than it currently is. (Currently, it’s a kind of faded, greenish pastel turquoise which, while okay, is not ideal).
In theory (in theory) the vinegar will leach some of the aluminum into the water and will mordant the cotton (the vinegar doesn’t really work as a colour fixative for plant fibres, though, I need to use salt for that) so that it will better take up the eventual dye, giving me both a more even AND deeper colour of blue. No idea if it’ll work, but it’s (probably) not going to hurt, so I’m giving it a go.
 
Oh. And I’m knitting a tank top. This is old news, but I’m starting to do the cabling (for shaping) and am knitting in the round and, while it doesn’t look like a shirt (or even a tube) just yet, it’s much closer to being a shirt than it was even ten days ago, so I’m happy about that.
 
 
TTFN,
Meliad the Birch Maiden.

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Eat From the Larder Challenge 2018 – End of Week Four / End of Month Wrap-Up

Hey!
So it’s May! Well into May, by the standards of a post that I theoretically should have written a week ago, but here we are.
Eat From the Larder Month is OVER! YAY!

Rappini (I think) – front, left.
Peas (for sure) – right, back-left.


Much like the last time I did this challenge, I’m not feeling the press to go out and stock up on groceries because we’re still doing just fine for food.
Part of that, of course, is that I made the decision to continue buying eggs and milk (and coffee and tea) through the month, as needed, but a lot of it is just… I have a big kitchen, two freezers, and enough storage space that I can house a considerable amount of food supplies at any given time.
The other reason – which is a recent development – is that the perennial garden veggies (along with a TONNE of daikon radish seedlings) have been waking up and getting big enough to harvest. So I’ve been able to add dandelion greens, nettles, Vietnamese garlic, and chives to our meals. I made Pasta (Mostly) Primavera for Beltane Dinner, and it was lovely. It also used up part of my last bag of frozen peas AND a bunch of frozen zucchini (I still have some left), which was nice.
 
Stuff I made during the final week (and a couple of days) of April:
Bread (it’s been really good to get back into that habit)
Vegan brownies (that need to have some mashed beans added, but were otherwise delicious)
Soup ft home-made stock, “wild” garden greens, and glass noodles
Alfalfa sprouts! (A couple of friends gave me seed packages for sprouting, and I finally got around to try it!)
Strata ft home-made bread and Vietnamese garlic greens, along with cheddar, parmesan, and a slice of our (March) Meat Of The Month Club prosciutto
 
Things I’ve Learned This Year:
1a) While I’m happy to make vegan food (or vegan “adjacent” food, as is sometimes the case) every now and then, for pot-lucks or because I feel like it or something looks like it’ll taste good, the thought of cooking it because I “have to” due to not having any animal protein available is just awful. It feels like some kind of weird culinary punishment for not planning well enough in advance. I know that’s messed up, and I’m not knocking anyone else’s dietary decisions, but holy moly do I ever NOT want to eat a diet that is so heavily dependent on beans and grains. Maybe that’s just due to one lousy experience with whole oats early on in the month, but it’s really, really sticking.
1b) I need – or at least want – to buy another half-pig from a local farmer who raises their animals kindly. (And would be open to trading some of said pig, pound for pound, in exchange for duck, roasting chicken, beef, moose, or deer – but not sheep or goat, because they’re hard to digest for Some Reason – so that everybody gets Extra Variety in their freezer). I feel a lot less crappy and hypocritical when I’m eating animals who were raised under good and humane conditions, and I’m very sure I’m not going to stop eating animals, so that’s my option.
2) We still go through a pound of cheese per week.
3) I loooooooooove yoghurt, and am so freaking happy that I’m able (or that my instant pot is able) to do so now. 😀
4) Barley remains my favourite whole (and also polished) cooking grain. Baking grain is still polished, all-purpose wheat flour, hands down, but barley is a queen when it comes to long-cooking dishes. Chewy. Drinks a lot of water without getting mushy. Takes of flavours reliably. Hearty and filling. Easy to get ahold of. Grows well in Saskatchewan, so it doesn’t have to be imported, even though it would be nice if Ontario grew more of it.
5) I will probably not be putting up vast quantities of crushed tomatoes this September. I have so many pints still to go through. While I’m happy to continue using them them up over the next few months, the tomatoes I finished were from September 2016. I still have something like 18 pints of crushed tomatoes from last September to use up, and that’s not likely to happen. I suspect that this year’s preserving goals will be more along the lines of blanching and freezing (and maybe drying) All The Things to make including them in dinners that much easier. Doing vinegar-pickled (so water-bath-canned, rather than lacto-fermented) root veggies and blanched-and-frozen root veggies AND greens, will most likely be my priority, rather than crushed tomatoes.
6) I hate, I hate, I hate austerity. I talked a bit about this at the end of Week Two, but good grief. I made a really great stew, and we ate it for a week, and we were both just so sick of it by the time Friday rolled around, we could barely stand to look at it. I think about all those jars of tomatoes, the pounds and pounds of sunchokes still in the freezer, and I just think “Eugh. I don’t wanna” (which, okay, with regards to the sunchokes, isn’t entirely out of line, given what they do to my wife’s stomach, but I don’t want to waste them either).
 
…I’m not saying that the practice isn’t a good one. That figuring out how to make the same six ingredients taste interesting and palatable for many days in a row isn’t a good idea to do while the safety net is in place. It is. I’m saying that I hate it, and that if I learn (and re-learn and re-learn) anything from this exercise, it’s that my food storage plans MUST include a LOT of variety and, frankly, a lot of convenience food – if, by “convenience food”, I mean stuff that gets made in bulk, in advance, (pressure canned mashed winter squash, chick peas, stewing beef, and pumpkin seed butter, big bags of dried kale and culinary herbs, dry sausage that I can keep in a jar on the shelf and chop up to get a lot of flavour from a very small amount of ready-to-go meat, vast quantities of frozen greens, peas, and already-chopped winter veggies, cider-pickled carrots, rutabagas, and beets) so that when I have to make dinner (that basic skill of resilience that Erica talked about when she first devised this challenge), I can make something fast and healthy (or at least healthy-ish) and lush-tasting without having to think about it.
 
Stuff I was overjoyed to find in my freezer, and which made life easier and more delicious:
Zucchini
Peas
Rainbow Chard
Other frozen greens (kale, wild greens mix)
Butternut Squash
Broccoli
Cauliflower
Sausages
Pork chops
Pork shoulder roasts (two of them)
 
Three of these are pork products (see above re: Get another half a pig). Of the rest, I can definitely grow and/or wild-harvest the rainbow chard and other greens and can probably grow (and definitely acquire for cheap, when in season) the summer and winter squashes. Peas, broccoli, and cauliflower are way more likely to be bought pre-frozen from the grocery store, but they are wonderful too.
Additionally: Frozen OR jarred-pickled peppers of various kinds have been an excellent addition to one-pot meals, and I was really glad to have both on hand. Also, while this year has not been a good year for stuffing ourselves with sunchokes, I maintain that having pre-prepared starchy tubers available in the freezer OR on the shelf (pressure-canned or water-bath-pickled with vinegar) is a great way to make myself eat them. I have determined that I’m far more likely to incorporate a spoonful of salty lacto-fermented beets or half a pint of vinegar-pickled rutabaga than I am to peel and dice them fresh for inclusion. With that in mind, I think it would be wise for me to stock pressure-canned (yes, I know you lose nutrients) and/or frozen root veggies even when they also cure well and will keep for a long time without any prep at all.
 
Anyway. Those are my thoughts. We’ll see what I carry forward. As generally happens at this time of year, I’m more excited about planting veggies and harvesting wild greens (totally going to lacto ferment some dandelion greens in short order) than I am in worrying about too many sunchokes still left in my freezer. I’ll figure something out, I’m sure. For now, off to eat sprouts, pick greens, and probably roast a chicken.
 
TTFN,
Meliad the Birch Maiden.

Eat From the Larder Challenge 2018 – End of Week Two

I have totally bought groceries this week.
Sure, some of it was the stewing beef for a meal I’m making a friend.
But a lot of it was just being too tired to cook in the evening (and so eating the lovely fried egg sandwiches my wife made for us) and then not packing the yoghurt for lunch.
 
Which has me looking at why I’m doing this challenge.
I mean, yes, the whole point is to eat through as many preserves as I can swing, and remind myself that I know how to cook Real Food from scratch, so I’m not (I’m NOT, dammit) going to beat myself up for deciding that I’m not willing to starve for this when I can drop $3 and keep me in discount muffins (which I hid in my temporary desk drawer) for the better part of a week.
But it does have me thinking about Voluntary Austerity.
Both in the sense that Ms Sugar talks about in her book about Glamour Magic – where it’s a tool for making deals with gods and a means of upping your own intensity (which gets you Noticed by humans and non-humans alike) and getting clear on your goals. (Uh. I think). And also in the sense of “doing more with less” in order to prove a point, reach a goal, or learn a new habit… which is more what this challenge was about when Erica came up with it, years ago.
 
Readers? This will come as no surprise to anybody, but: I HATE austerity.
 
Calamity Jane, over at the Apron Stringz archive, has a whole THING about austerity. I can recognize and respect the goals of using less, being less stuck on the materialistic/treat cycle, being more production-oriented than consumption-oriented. I am those things, most of the time. But I want my “use less stuff” to be pleasurable, rather than a demoralizing grind.
I want to look at my larder and say “Okay, I’m limited to what I’ve got here. Let’s make some magic” rather than “Okay, I’m limited to what I’ve got here. Ugh. This is gonna be so gross…”
 
Case in point, and part of what got me thinking about this stuff: I have a tendency to hoard food. I look at the pork shoulder in my deep freeze and go “I should save that for later, when we might not be able to get another one” rather than going “I should cook this and make a week+ of delicious stew and stir-fry dinners with the vast quantity of left-overs it’ll generate after the initial braise”.
Which means I “save” the food I want to eat, and aim to try to make stuff that I only sort-of want to eat, just to get rid of the less-tasty stuff first.
Largely because of this tendency, I made the mistake (“mistake”) of cooking whole oats (rather than, say, potatoes) early on in the week. Whole oats are great. They cook in 20 minutes (uh… in theory) and they’re chewy like short grain rice. But they’re a bulk food buy and, like buying brown rice in a big sack, sometimes there’s chaff mixed in with the grain. Either that or they take longer than 20 minutes to really cook through.
Frozen turkey, that I’d cooked and put in the freezer six months ago, cooked with oats, red lentils, carrots, pickled sunchokes, cabbage and a mix of chicken stock and white wine. The flavour was excellent. But the mouth-feel of the oats-and-lentils was AWFUL, and did not improve with time.
I ate that stuff for three days, and I am not happy about it.
 
Look. I want to be able to make delicious dishes that feature grains and beans heavily. I want to incorporate whole oats into our household diet in at least a semi-significant way, because eating Ancestrally, is both a good way to connect with your beloved dead (especially the ones far back enough that you never knew them in life), AND a good way to give your body what it needs, by eating what YOUR body would have been eating 1000 years ago and learning to get the best out of.
In my case, that means oats & barley, lots of different wild greens (nettles, dandelion, wild grape leaf, plantain, sow thistle, garlic mustard, wild mustard, wild amaranth, garden/sheep sorrel, etc), bread with oats & rye in it (I am totally sticking to wheat though, because I know how to do that reliably), lots of different bramble-berries (red & black currants, raspberries, blackberries, gooseberries, rose-hips, hawthorn berries, and their relatives), kale & turnips, lots of different kinds of meat (everything from fish & shellfish to cattle & pigs, to deer & elk, to rabbit & duck), and tonnes of dairy.
 
Anyway.
With that in mind (uh… ish), I’ve been cooking with wine and whey this week, as well as lots of frozen kale. Which is the other thing I’ve been reminded of, and am resolving to Do Better At this summer: Frozen greens (and fresh greens) are basically the best thing ever, and I need to be on top of growing them from scratch, and freezing batches of them on the regular.
To that end, I started 17 chard seeds (and 3 snow-pea seeds) in peat pots today. They’re old seeds, but I’m hoping they all germinate. I want to have chard starts already growing when I go out at Beltane to rake over the raised beds and dig out any further quack grass that might have tried to start in the past month.
 
This week’s menu has not included much of what I had originally planned out, but HAS included:
Home made bread
The above-mentioned turkey-lentils-and-oats casserole
The above-mentioned giant pork roast (the left-overs of which will feature in a lot of next week’s meals, I suspect, as 3/4 of it is in the fridge and ready to be treated like an ingredient)
A chick-pea stew (made, in part, for a friend who’s having a rough go) – which WAS delicious, fyi (Maybe the answer to my problem is to just stick with barley, rather than oats? I’ll try it and see, next week!), and used up a litre of crushed tomatoes.
A beef stew (made, in part, for a different friend who just got out of the hospital) – it was also delicious, albeit a lot spicier than I personally like (My wife was like “This is how food should be!” to-which I responded “My lips are tingling, this is not a good time!”) My friend, however, makes her own hot sauce from carolina reaper peppers (which I gather make Scotch Bonnets look like Jimmy Nardellos), so she’ll probably enjoy it, even if she finds it a little tame. It used up a litre of salsa, too, which was a help.
AND
Home-made yoghurt – I mentioned trying out my instant-pot last week, and the yoghurt function does, indeed, make yoghurt. Very mild yoghurt, with a lot of whey, at the default setting,but still tasty. Will try to culture it for 10 hours instead of 8 next time, but for now I have almost-drinkable yoghurt that, if I think it out with some berry juice (from thawing frozen berries), I basically get “yop”, and it’s lovely. No sweetener required.
 
We’ll see how next week goes. For now, I think I need to bake a thing – probably a double-batch of rhubarb muffins – so I can bring some to my friend, along with that beef stew and a loaf of bread.
 
 
TTFN,
Meliad the Birch Maiden.

Eat From the Larder Challenge 2018 – End of Week One

So. Week One has come and gone, largely without a hitch.
Which is a good thing, because Week One is the easiest week of the challenge and should go without any hitches at all, especially given that I’m doing this challenge on “easy mode”. However it’s also a not-so-good thing because there was, in fact, a hitch.
I got an unexpected extra half-day of temp work this past week (YAY!!!), and duly packed myself a lunch for the hour-long commute between my morning modeling job and my afternoon office job (inter-provincial busing is, uh… special), woke up to an inch of sleet on the streets and, in the rush to get out the door to catch a substantially earlier bus? Big surprise, I forgot my lunch at home.
So I bought my lunch on Wednesday.
Bit of a disappointing beginning there.
BUT!
Beyond that, things have been going fine.
 
My pre-planned meal ideas are working and proving to be at least a little bit versatile.
There’s now enough room in the freezer (thanks to the litre of frozen sunchokes that I thawed out and started fermenting – see below) for me to stock-pile an extra loaf of bread, which means we’ve been eating home-made all week, and nothing has gone moldy (yet), which is fantastic. I’ve made five loaves of bread (we’ve eaten three of them, the other two were made yesterday, along with pancakes and cupcakes).
The previously-frozen sunchokes are fermenting nicely. At least that what it looks like. I’ll start using them in cooking… probably around about Week Three.
The reconstituted mushrooms… don’t seem to be bubbling all that much, but nothing smells weird, so I’m holding off judgement for another little while. I did take the opportunity, once the sunchokes started bubbling, to add a little more of the sunchoke brine to the mushrooms, in the hopes that it’ll help it to take off. We’ll see what happens on that front, but hopefully this time next week, I’ll be telling you that my mushrooms have started to bubble.
The slight up-tick in vegetarian-adjacent dishes (I say “adjacent” because the stews and similar aren’t really vegetarian. I’m still using animal fat and bone stock to cook this stuff, even if the protein is coming from beans and grains) isn’t hurting us any, even if they do leave me feeling a tad hungrier than the same dish with a little bit of tuna or diced pork thrown in would do[1].
I’ve made chocolate chocolate-chip cupcakes and filled them with choke-cherry curd. This didn’t work out quite like I expected – it’s not like putting a dollop of cheesecake batter in the middle of a cupcake, and the curd just kind of got absorbed by the rest of the cake. But it was delicious, none-the-less, and I have no regrets.
I’m remembering to reach for pearl barley, polished rice, and whole oats (oat groats) rather than pasta, as my current go-to carbs, but will need to start pre-soaking great northern and/or black turtle beans soon-ish because, while I’ve got plenty of jarred chick peas and a a few meals worth of Spare Lentils[3], I’m going to run out of those pretty quickly.
 
Which brings me to: I have an instant pot.
Yes, really. A while back, an absolute sweetheart of a friend straight-up bought me an Instant Pot because I mentioned that I wanted to try making yoghurt in one, and they decided they wanted to do something nice for me.
(You guys. My friends are fucking amazing. Did I mention? Holy moly!)
You want to know what an instant pot can do, aside from make yoghurt? It can “pressure soak” beans. Basically, this is the same as bringing dry beans to a boil and then letting them sit, covered, for an hour, before rinsing them and cooking them in new water for the standard cook time. It just takes a lot less time. Which, if you’re staring down a chili dinner, and the tin of beans you thought you had turns out to have been used last week… Is a gods-send.
 
Today, however, I’m using it to make yoghurt. First time out of the box (finally).
Seriously. I’ve tried making yoghurt at home in my parents’ 43-year-old yoghurt maker and… it doesn’t work. Possibly because it’s just a very, very old heat-sleeve that goes on the fritz a bit. Or possibly for Arcane Reasons that I can’t figure out. But the yoghurt I’ve managed to make has been desperately watery unless I add a thickener, like extra powdered milk, and that messes with both the flavour and the texture. Good for cooking, but not very great for breakfast[4].
Fingers crossed that it lives up to its reputation, because I’ve got lots of frozen fruit available, and I’d love to bring pints of fruit yoghurt for lunch on at least a couple of days during this coming week of temp work.
 
Anyway.
Meals for this week have included:
– Braised pork chops with root veggies (carrots, onions, sunchokes), red lentils, cabbage, and dried cranberries
– Pasta with tuna, frozen peas, and cheese sauce (this is a regular at our house, and will continue to be so)
– Turkey stew with pickled root veggies, whole oats, green lentils, and crushed tomatoes
AND
– Chickpea stew with green lentils, pearl barley, crushed tomatoes, dried cranberries, cinnamon and curry powder
 
Meals Ideas for the coming week include, but may not result in:
– Veggie Stew 2 ft a significant amount of vegan (bean-based) sage pesto and, therefore, probably frozen squash, frozen cranberries, and some pre-soaked great northern beans, along with maybe pot barley or, if I have any left, some wild rice (unlikely). This one will probably also have a splish of either white wine or cider vinegar thrown in.
– Pumpkin/Cauliflower “curry” (jar of chick peas, fried onions, frozen pumpkin OR frozen cauliflower florets, quinoa, frozen greens… maybe some coconut milk, and curry powder).
– Stir Fry of onions, reconstituted (non-pickled) mushrooms, shredded cabbage, and marinated firm tofu fried and added to a mix of white basmati rice, red lentils, and frozen greens. This will probably also involve some grocery store hoisin sauce and/or Terrifying Hot Sauce, since I’ve got it.
– Some sort of black bean veggie chili, of which I’ll be making 2-4 extra servings for a friend who’s just got out of the hospital. Some of my frozen winter squash is going to end up in here, along with a couple of pints of crushed tomatoes.
 
 
TTFN,
Meliad the Birch Maiden.
 
 
[1] I really don’t understand how the addition of 1C or less of meat to a generous four serving meal (which works out to a maximum of two ounces of meat per serving) lets me feel sated and keeps me from feeling dizzy or hollow when the same meal, minus that 2oz of animal protein, leaves me hungry enough to get stomach cramps, even when I’m deliberately mixing beans, grains, and fats to make sure that the vegetable amino acids are bio-accessible to my non-herbivore digestive system[2]. It’s weird, especially since other folks do BETTER on a beans-and-grains heavy diet, rather than getting sick more easily under those circumstances. But that’s my body for me.
 
[2] Although my non-herbivorousness has more to do with not having a stomach that can get protein from grass & leaves than it does with needing to remember to add fat to anything (whether that’s beans+grains / nuts & seeds, OR extremely-lean meat like rabbit) to be able to get protein from PROTEIN.
 
[3] One of the ways I up both the amino acids and the fibre content of a stew, braise, or other pot dish is to do 1/3 quick-cooking (no soaking needed) lentils to 2/3 grain of a similar cooking time –> So 2/3 C pot barley or long-grain brown rice to 1/3C beluga black lentils, or 1/4 C red or green lentils to 1/2 C pearl barley, oat groats, quinoa, or white basmati rice.
 
[4] Having grown up on yoghurt made in the above-mentioned 1970s-era yoghurt-maker, I’m aware that it will be grainier, and a little bit thinner, than the stuff I get as my live culture starter from the grocery store. That’s not what I’m talking about.

Eat From the Larder Challenge 2018 – Kickoff (beginning of Week 1): A Productive Home Post

So, normally (for a given value of “normally”), I’d hold off posting anything more about Eat From the Larder Month until the end of Week One. BUT I’ve been doing a bunch of “productive home” stuff today, and I wanted to talk about it in the context of starting this challenge off.
 
It being only April 2nd, and yesterday having been Easter Dinner at my mom’s place, we aren’t exactly noticing anything yet on the “I’m not buying groceries” front. So this is more about planning and routine maintenance than anything else.
 
I spent a small chunk of the other day – while at the laundromat, no less – writing up meal plans (or at least “meal ideas”) based on what I thought I had on hand. Of course, to the shock of nobody what-so-ever, there are things I thought I had that I don’t have, and things I thought I was very nearly out of that are highly available. For example, I have NO frozen broccoli, but a LOT of frozen peas, to work with in the freezer. I have more tinned soup than expected, but a significant margin, but pretty much no ground meat (so I can cross “meatloaf” off my meal ideas list).
One of things I have that I wasn’t expecting is, as it happens, soup bones. I thought I’d used them all up, last batch, but NOPE. Turns out there’s a whole other bag of them in the freezer. Which is good, since the batch of stock I made the other day is… on the watery side, and I’d like to be able to boil it down a bit more without having feeling like I should be hoarding it instead. It’s nice to have the option of making more.
 
I made notes about which nights I need to cook something quickly that can also stretch to feed four people – I’ve got seven days of temp work coming up (thank you all the gods!), and know myself just well enough to know that pre-planning those meals, at least a bit, will make my life a LOT easier when I’m frazzled from working multiple back-to-back days of 9-5 (which is not how I usually do).
 
Thanks to a small heap of slow-but-steady spring cleaning that my wife and I have been doing, my kitchen is a lot more functional than it has been. Which feels pretty great, I have to tell you.
Consequently, I’ve got three loaves of bread (not to mention a trifle – which is an easy way to use up the last of a very, VERY stale cake I had lying around) just out of the oven and have been taking care of the ferments this morning:
 
I decanted the kombucha and set up a new batch (and put some of the older kombucha mothers in the compost, because it was getting so that there was more SCOBY than beverage in my fermentation jar, tbh). I’m kind of wondering if I can make vinegar (like, say, red wine vinegar or something) using a kombucha mother. I mean, vinegar is a zillion times less expensive than the alcohol it’s made from (probably because the wine or brandy or whatever you start with doesn’t actually have to taste good, it just has to be fermented enough to function) but I’d kind of like to try making it anyway. Maybe if I ever make cider from wild-harvested apples (six months away at the most unreasonably optimistic of possible attempt-dates), part of it can be re-fermented into vinegar, just to see if it works.
 
Transferred the last of the pickled as’kebwan’/sunchokes to a 2C mason jar in the fridge, and re-filled the fermentation jar with big chunks of blanched-and-frozen (still frozen) sunchokes from the freezer. I have SO MANY, you guys. We’ve been going easy on them, for Tummy Reasons, but it means I have something like 8+ litres of frozen sunchokes on hand and I just… I’m not sure how to get through them all. So I’m trying to ferment them (I used the old brine from the original raw ferment, so it should be inoculated with the right bacteria already, even though the veggies themselves have been killed off by the blanching), just because it will help deal with the inulin and make them easier to digest when added to stews, braises, and pot-roasts. I really hope this works out, you guys. O.O
 
I set up another fermentation experiment. Specifically, I’m trying to do lacto-fermented mushrooms. The main purpose for this is to make adding mushrooms to dinners quick and easy while relying on the dried shiitakes (or, well… something kind of like shiitakes) that I pick up by the Huge Bag every couple of years from the Chinese grocery store up the street. I find, if I just reconstitute them, they don’t always work so well, so I thought I’d try lacto-fermenting about a dozen of them (reconstituted, rinsed, and well-drained) with some thyme, just to see if they work well when added to savoury dishes. Seriously, this is why I lacto-ferment stuff, most of the time. It’s to get “annoying to prep” stuff – like beets, which are kind of messy when you peel them – into a state where I will reliably use them in stuff instead of just avoiding them because they’re messy/dirty/tough or whatever. I’m considering pre-slicing a bunch of carrots and just storing them in a big Tupperware of water in the fridge, for exactly that reason.
 
The plan for tonight is to make a turkey stew using already-cooked turkey from the freezer, plus a bunch of root veggies (some fermented, some not), some crushed tomatoes, and a splish of shiraz. Between that, the trifle, and the bread (I’ve eaten my way through half a loaf already, tbh) we should have a good dinner.
 
But First: I’m having a hot bath. It’s been too long, and I want the heat to soak back into my bones.
 
 
TTFN,
Melaid the Birch Maiden.

Fire Burn and Cauldron Bubble – A “Productive Home” Post

Erica, over at NWedible, is doing a Productive Home Weekly Report thing (or was – it’s been a while for her, just as it’s been for me), and has invited people to chime in with their own productivity reports.
I’m… not totally fussed about tracking productivity (as you may have noticed). It feels a bit like giving myself a performance review. BUT, if I think of it as an opportunity to brag about the awesome-fun-cool stuff I’ve been doing/planting/harvesting/cooking/baking/canning/fermenting/etc chez moi that I’m really excited about… it gets a whole lot easier.
So here we go.
 
The thing I want to show off? I recently tried fermenting apple cider.
My sister sent me a fancy fermentation crock for making sour kraut and other brine-pickled veggies. The crock itself broke in transit – as happens sometimes when you ship something by bus across four provinces – but it came with an airlock which, tbh, I’m rather more excited about than the jar.
I had a whole jug of grocery store sweet cider left over from Winter Solstice, a recently acquired package of bread yeast, and NOW a shiny airlock! 😀
What could go wrong??
 
Remarkably? Just about nothing. (I feel semi-confidant saying this, for reasons you’ll learn shortly, but I’m still knocking on wood about it).
 
So. I know that, when fermenting beverages, it’s ideal to use something like champagne yeast, which can survive a high-alcohol-content environment and keep right on eating sugar – which is what you need if you want to get wine-levels of alcohol in your drink (12%-15% – I have no idea what the right fermentation terminology is on this one, so I’m just going with what tends to be written on the bottles). However I’ve had “apple wine”, and it tastes like apple cider with too much alcohol in it (easy alternative: Heat some up and then add a shot of spiced rum or cinnamon schnapps or something).
I was going for something more like “what people drink when they don’t like the taste of hopps”. Something with the 5%-ish alcohol levels of “alternative-to-ugh-beer cider”.
Which bread yeast can do just fine.
 
So I tipped half a teaspoon or so of fine bread yeast into the mouth of my cider jug, filled up my airlock with water, and packing-taped it to the mouth of the jug (they are the same size, and this is way easier than drilling out a hole in the middle of the lid, so that’s what I did).
I sat the already-starting-to-bubble cider in a glass baking dish, so that if/when things spilled over a little, I wouldn’t have a mess on my hands (this was a good idea – there wasn’t much spillage, maybe a teaspoon or two over the course of a couple of weeks, but it would have been sticky and gross if I hadn’t given it a spill-dish), and put the whole thing somewhere out-of-the-way.
 
And then I waited.
 
While I waited, I did a few other things on the Bubbling Cauldron front. Namely, I reorganized my chest freezer and, in the process, pulled out the leaf lard and the stock bones that came with Sir Francis Bacon, our (half of a) Large Black pig whom we put in the freezer in 2015.
 
To that end, I put up about a gallon (only a gallon – I didn’t use all the bones, because I want to be able to do this again sooner rather than later) of soup stock earlier this week and, more recently, finished putting up about three litres of rendered lard.
Re: Lard: I put the rolls of leaf lard into my slow cooker and heated them up on the “keep warm” setting. once it was warm enough to melt, I ladled the liquid fat into silicon muffin trays and let it solidify in the fridge (or in a snow bank, outside) before putting it into tubs in the freezer. We’ve still got some spicy shmaltz (uh… chicken fat for cooking with, it’s a Yiddish word, iirc, the same way English has tallow and lard and maybe lanolin – although I’m not sure if lanolin applies to ALL sheep fat or just the stuff that comes off the wool) in the fridge right now, so it’ll be a minute before I start using this lard to fry onions and otherwise cook savoury stuff on the stove, but it feels good to have it done.
 
I’ve also topped up the salt water in my sunchoke and beet pickles (and skimmed the mold off the surface of the water – it’s fine, that’s the whole point of keeping everything submerged in saline, the mold can’t actually grow in that salty & airless an environment), and decanted my kombucha (which I’ll have to do again later today, along with checking the sour kraut in the fridge and… doing something… with the kefir grains, because the cream they were in is definitely kefir cheese by now, and I’m not at all sure what to with it at this point).
 
Anyway. A couple of weeks have gone by, I’ve done some stuff – making stock and rendering lard – that make me feel resourceful and competent and, incidentally, give me extra free stuff with-which to cook. The boiled bones and the crackling left-over from making lard will go out to the compost heap for feeding the crows and/or anyone else who happens to come by.
It’s been long enough that I decided that today was the day to transfer my somewhat fermented-smelling cider to a different jug.
 
I’d hung onto the plastic jug from the sweet cider I mulled and served at Solstice, originally with the plan to use it to make mead (in much the same way, fyi, and that’s still the plan, even if I end up decanting it into old wine bottles that I re-label with a sharpie), so it was definitely the right size to take on a jug’s worth of the same stuff, only recently fermented.
 
I strained it through the sieve I use for decanting my kombucha – which probably means the whole thing is still full of dead yeast, even if I think I managed to keep most of it from sluicing through – and it was quite fizzy going into the new jug.
 
I haven’t tried any of it yet. I want to give it a month or two[1] in the fridge for a second ferment, I think it’s called, much slower (and less-likely to overflow for that reason) and a little bit gentler. I’m hoping it will clear the Slightly Funky smell underneath all the apples and sparkles – I’ve done a slightly-fermented tissane drink by filling an old wine bottle with sweet hibiscus tea and dropping a few grains of bread yeast in, and then letting it sit in the back of the fridge for literally a year. It works. AND there’s a Slightly Funky smell that happened at around the six month mark, so I’m not worried about catching that scent in my cider right now. I just know I need to give it a little more time to even out.
 
Anyway. That, right there, is what I’ve been doing for the past two weeks. I’m excited and hopeful, and looking forward to trying to make mead (ideally with a little bit of pomegranate molasses and some choke cherries thrown in – for tannin, in the second instance – and in time for me to be able to serve it next Winter Solstice).
 
Time to put laundry and books away.
 
TTFN,
Meliad.
 
 
[1] Or more, we’ll see. This might be the kind of thing that waits until Beltane, rather than Ostara, to hit the table, though wouldn’t it be great to serve apple cider pressed at Autumn Equinox half a year later when the days and nights are hanging equal again? I think that would be a lovely connection-point, like summer-honey wine served at Midwinter.

I’m Almost Forty – A (not so) “Productive Home” Post

If you’re wondering why I picked that title, it’s because I’m turning 38 this Tuesday. Now You Know.
 
Anyway.
Erica, over at NWedible, is doing a Productive Home Weekly Report thing, and has invited people to chime in with their own productivity reports.
I’m… not totally fussed about tracking productivity. It feels a bit like giving myself a performance review. BUT, if I think of it as an opportunity to brag about the awesome-fun-cool stuff I’ve been doing/planting/harvesting/cooking/baking/canning/fermenting/etc chez moi that I’m really excited about… it gets a whole lot easier.
So here we go.
 
As you may have noticed (or not) I haven’t done one of these since, oh, mid-July. I haven’t been hugely productive on the home-front in the intervening almost-four months.
I put my kefir grains in the fridge, in a pint jar of cream, to slow them down because I finally admitted to myself that I don’t love my home-made dairy kefir and, while it’s good when it’s thick enough to use as a sour-cream substitute in baking, it’s mostly a lot runnier and I just wasn’t going through a litre of the stuff every 4-7 days so… I’ve put it into hibernation mode and am hoping that the slower pace will let me keep feeding it (rather than letting it get over-fermented, moldy, or infested with fruit-flies… all of which have happened over the past summer) without getting “overwhelmed”.
I haven’t made bread (or much other baking) from scratch in a long time, either. I think I made cookies a couple of times, and that’s about it.
I… oh, heaven and earth, I think it’s actually snowing outside. O.O
 
Okay.
So you wanna know what I have done?
I pulled in as many green tomatoes as I could swing (a couple of weeks ago, when frost started threatening), and TODAY I dug up my jerusalem artichokes (as’kebwan’), which are now sitting in a full (if small-sized – ~2 gallons) recycling bin on my kitchen counter, waiting to be washed, blanched and frozen (that’s tomorrow’s job).
 
I put up something like 2 dozen pints of crushed tomatoes (Labour Day weekend, or there-abouts). Made choke-cherry curd, choke-cherry relish, and goblin fruit jam (also heavy on the choke cherries, big surprise).
 
I packed all the Supplies from Unholy Harvest into rubbermaid bins (which my wife then moved to the basement – hurrah, I have my main floor back and it feels so good), which was a good thing because our basement got 5″ of water in it during a big rainstorm earlier this week. (It’s fine. It’s a concrete floor on top of limestone, so the water just seeps in, no sewer contamination involved, thank goodness. And my lovely wife got the sump pump running in short order, so everything’s dried out pretty well).
 
I spent a canning day with a friend in Gatineau, making strawberry-rhubarb jam (last weekend, or maybe the weekend before?) while also pressure-canning eight pints of chick peas (my first time using a pressure canner, and I suspect I’m hooked. Looking into a membership at the Ottawa Tool Library so I can borrow the one they have on the shelves and do this multiple times per year).
 
I started a couple of new knitting projects this week as well. The first is a “safety shawl” (neon pink and pale turquoise stripes, the turquoise is going to have glow-in-the-dark beads looped into it) for walking after dark in Winter. The goal is to speedy-knit this using big needles and twisted (double-wrapped) stitches, so that I can have it done before next New Moon. The second is a cotton tank top. Which starts out looking like a really skinny cotton scarf and gets built upon from there. That one’s not the priority project, but I’m still excited about it.
 
Beyond that? Lighting my altars, making offerings at Samhain (and finally freaking switching the wreath on my door to “autumn leaves” instead of “tulips and lilacs”…), working on glamour magic stuff, getting a bit back into the swing of doing Fabulous Friday Dinners. Checking in with a lot of people. Re-homing furniture and small appliances to people setting up new places. Having breakfast with my mom. All sorts of stuff.
 
Anyway. My lovely wife is home, so it’s time to throw some dinner (left-over braised chicken thighs with root veggies, dried cranberries, and garden kale) in the oven to heat up, so off I go. 🙂
 
 
– TTFN,
– Meliad the Birch Maiden.