Monday, July 21, 2014

Bon Nuit, Mon Petit Chou

You would not believe to hear me speak it, but I took French from third grade until sometime in high school. Thanks to the rigidness of the Finnish education system and the novelty of French as a first foreign language (usually we start taking English in third grade), or perhaps just to my own brand of learning through experience and not rote, my vocabulary and conversational skills are about the level of a two-year-old that's oddly fond of colloquialisms and adverbs.

One of my all time favorites, just happens to be the endearment:"My little cabbage." There's something so much sweeter about it than "honey", or "dear", or "sweetie"…I mean, who has affection for cabbages, a vegetable often considered pedestrian peasant food, paling in the light of zucchinis, arugula, eggplant, heirloom tomatoes…

Admittedly, cabbage revival must surely be on it's way since the trend-vegetable status moves on in the brassica family from kale to kohlrabi, but still comparing your beloved, or dear child to a cabbage? Not the most obvious choice, yet perfect. After all, cabbage is an excellent choice for salads, soups, ready to be stuffed and baked, sweet, yet savory. It's also chock full of vitamins and minerals and has some serious impacts on one's cholesterol especially when consumed raw.

I come from a cabbage-eating people. Root crops, cabbage, and rye were the staple foods of my people for untold centuries. Growing up, I had a certain adolescent dislike for it, considered mundane, boring ingredient, but these days it makes me think only of comfort foods, the signature finnish cabbage dishes.

This summer I was really proud to grow four big, beautiful green heads of cabbage in our own garden. I swear, I could practically hear my ancestors cheering me on, except for the fact that it would not be a very Finnish thing to do. Maybe nod not-entirely-disapprovingly?

Growing cabbage for me is like putting money in the bank, because we have it often in the from of sauerkraut, or rather fusion sauerkraut-kimchee: regular cabbage with some of the kimchee spices and additions of our own. This recipe is cobbled together from my friend Callie's fermentation classes, Nourishing Traditions, Wild Fermentation, imagination and many odd experiments. It's one of the most consistent homesteading things I do, making this dish, and we eat it at almost every breakfast on our tortillas, and sometimes…our oat meal.

There's been a lot of articles popping up on the healthful effects of fermented foods, soI hope I don't have to extol their benefits for anyone, but if you're curious there are plenty of resources online to learn more about the wonderful things they do to your digestive system. Trust me, you're gonna love this recipe:

You will need (at the very least):
one largish head of cabbage

Some mason jars (preferable 1/2 gallon and quarts)
something to pound with (not metal)/ a wooden spatula

fresh ginger
fresh turmeric
garlic (not too much-it tends to slow down the fermentation process a little as it's antiseptic)
red pepper powder
a few green onions
a few carrots

for the busy/lazy fermenter (that'd be me!):
or juice from some kraut you had before

Cut up your cabbage in half and then chop it into strips from each side of the stem, or whatever way you cut cabbage. Put in a bowl (preferably) a flat-bottomed one. Sprinkle some salt on it. How much salt, you ask? Enough to taste. Stir and let it sit, white you go gather your other ingredients, or watch a movie, or weed your garden. After a while you'll notice that the cabbage starting to sweat. That's as good a time as any to start pounding.

You're trying to brake the integrity of the cabbage, as well as squeeze some juice out of it. So pound hard. Think, spices in a mortar. The more you pound the faster and better the fermentation process, but, fear not, if you have somewhere else you need to be, there's a short cut. You'll still want to pound a spell, though. Alternatively to pounding, you can also use your hands to "massage" the cabbage.

When it's good and soggy-seeming, add your other ingredients: grated carrots, finely chopped spices and garlic, green onions cut to strips. Mix in the red pepper, add more salt of your can't taste it (the salt helps it not go bad while it ferments, but too much can stall the fermentation process). Stuff in jars. Depending on what you've got to pound with, a spatula might work good in the jars.

Here's the tricky part: in order for your kraut not to go bad and grow nasty molds, you'll need enough liquid to cover it. Most of the time, my pounding efforts don't quite yield that much so I top it off with either juice left over from kraut we had, or…kombucha! This does raise the price of your kraut slightly, but it speeds up the process and helps guarantee the right result. Fermentation that is. Another way to do this is to make a salt brine, which is what you do for a lot of other fermentation projects.

Put the lids on the jars, but don't screw them on! Set in a nice warm (but not hot!) spot. Check your kraut daily and press down any floaters. In a day or two you should have a nice bubbling action and a delicious smell of…farts filling your kitchen. Trust me though, it's so worth it. After it's clearly fermenting you can start tasting it. Once it's to your liking put it in the fridge, the cold will stop the fermentation process.

Like all my recipes, this one is to-taste and the measurements are not that exact, but you know what? It's really hard to mess up fermenting cabbage. In case you think you've managed such a feat, here's some trouble-shooting tips:

"It's not fermenting! No sour smell, no bubbly-action."
-Make sure you didn't put in too much salt. If you think you did, no worries, just add some more cabbage until the ratio seems more pleasant. You can also "inoculate it" with kombucha.
-Is it too cold in your kraut-spot? Make sure your kraut is warm, but not too warm.

"There's icky mold on top! I'm throwing this away!"
-Don't do it! Just skim the mold off the top. I promise you, anything under the surface is fine.

There you have it. Personally, I can't think of a better way to ground yourself than making some lacto-fermented products. Let me know how it goes...

Ps. I also know a poem in French about a crab named Balthazar who lives on a black beach on the shore of the Sea Of Malabar, but sadly, it has never been pertinent...

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Mountain Sound

Last weekend, I went up to Mt. Baker, or Komo Kulshan, to celebrate some birthdays under the Super Moon, with a coven of rather wild witchy women.  Watching the moon rise up in purple haze, as we drove through the valley, and hitching itself to the peak of this mountain, the second of the twin giants that dominate our Eastern horizon, I was reminded again by how mysterious and magical mountains and rivers are to me.

Coming from the land of flat, monotonous landscapes and gently rolling, wooded hills, I'm forever awestruck by the rugged white peaks to whom the clouds cling onto, their steep sides and, steep precipices and boundless views.

I doubt I'll ever get used to it. This aspect of my home state is something I continue to be amazed by. Not just how much natural "wilderness" there is here, but also how varied it is.  Within a couple of hours driving range from our ferry-landing there are two different mountain ranges, the wild shores of the Pacific Ocean, the high desert of Eastern Washington and a plethora of rivers great and small...

There are different climates and micro-climates, rain shadows and banana belts and places where the rain never seems to seize. There are strange dichotomies, like the one we encountered on hour short hike at Artist's Point: record snow and more or less nowhere to walk without gear, but the air so warm you could hike in snow in shorts and a tank top.

There's also an endless variety of flora and fauna, similar species that are subtly varied depending on their altitude, being born and dying, flowering and fruiting, waking up and going to sleep earlier or later in the season depending on where they are.

Everywhere I've been here, I've encountered species that are new to me, familiar critters in unfamiliar places. I'll probably never really know this land within its arbitrarily drawn borders, that contain Avalanche Lillies and Huckleberry patches, and Jays and loud loud Ravens.

This is a state where, given enough time and rain, everything here turns green. It's a thought that occurs to me often in the seemingly endless weeks of midwinter downpours.

You can taste that rain, each time you eat the landscape, feel it when you dangle your feet in snowmelt.

It's the state of water, a land of clouds, Washington, and as a friend pointed out on the river bank on Sunday on its mountains, that water meets the other three elements, the earth from which they push up from, the air which their peaks reach and the volcanic fire that continues to bubble and boil inside them. Magic.

How was your weekend?

Friday, July 11, 2014

My Cup Of Tea

If you read my last post, you'll hopefully pardon these short and sweet entries, just covering a little piece of this hectic summertime.

This one is actually inspired Jessica over at The Ma Books, a bit of a must-read for every mom sick of all that glossy mothering blogs full of expensive baby things and toddler apparel. As for us non-mothers and child-free types, I personally love peeking into the lives of mothers and others, different from my own and this collective blog is a great place to do that.

Yesterday she published a post calling all readers to show off their finest mugs and tell the stories of their coffee habits.

Lucky for me, I already had this post lined up, because ever sense Andrea, another blog-friend posted about her coffee/ tea mug collection, years ago I'd thought it would be a fun thing to do.

I have a lot of coffee/ tea mugs. Small ones, big ones, ceramic ones, porcelain ones, hand-made ones mass-produced ones… Most of my cups and mugs were either secondhand finds, or made by friends with pottery skills and I love them all, maybe a little too much…

My current favorites are pictured above, including two in my budding collection of herbal themed cups and a cup from Mali that says "SIS" on the one side and "Simply Incredible Sister" on the other. So corny, so sweet…

We also use a lot of 70s-style "no spill" mugs, because none of our cars have upholders. A couple of years ago, a potter friend actually made me one, and I think if I had to pick it would be my ultimate favorite. But then it's so hard to choose...

The right beverage in the right mug really sets the day going nicely. Though I love coffee, I'm first an foremost a tea-drinker and in the course of an average day drink anywhere between four and ten cups of tea. Since I was a teenager I've always had a cup of green tea in the morning, a ritual much more important to me than having coffee ever was.

Throughout the day, I like to have Earl Grey with milk, or honey, because the delicious, pungent smell of black tea always makes reminds me of my aunt, and makes me feel calm and grown-up, and like I'm dabbling in something slightly decadent. Rooibos, oolong, mate, chamomile, nettle, tulsi…the list of teas, herbal and caffeinful, is endless. I also like mint tea for a little pick-me-up, although its effects are greatly lessened by coffee drinking.

Speaking of which: coffee, though delicious and ritualistic, isn't always good for everyone. In fact, I would say that it's one of the great legal addictive drugs of our culture. In my early twenties and in college, I suffered from a great deal of anxiety, nightmares, tight muscles, teeth grinding and it wasn't until my thirties that a massage practitioner friend pointed out that many sensitive people are extremely sensitive to caffeine. She had me quit all caffeine, including my daily fix of green tea and once my system was cleansed, I was really able to tell how sensitive I really am to caffeine and generally don't drink it on a regular basis. I kid you not, a cup of coffee most often makes me anxious and depressed in the afternoon, causes my shoulders and jaw tense up and gives me weird dreams.

This summer though, I've discovered that these effects are greatly mediated by the tiredness of the allergy season and am back on the coffee wagon, at least for a few months. One cup a day is plenty though. I prefer to take it with fresh goat milk, maple syrup and maybe a little bit of coconut oil.

Are you a tea drinker, or a coffee lover, or a little bit of both?

Monday, July 7, 2014

All Gratitude And No Joy

…is about how I summed up my feelings about summer in general and this moment in particular in an email to a faraway friend today.

I'm grateful to be making money, but sick and tired of working every damn and day and how busy the island is. The same gratitude goes for Charlie's business, I glad they're keeping busy, working hard, but very aware that the other side is that I never see him.

I'm also grateful for my family and friends, of community, but sometimes I wish I lived somewhere else all by my lonesome. With so many events and occasions ahead, July is already a month written off in advance, full with no empty spaces available.

(Awesome tote from Epicenter!)

I'm grateful for my garden, and the amazing abundance in which things are growing, but I'm exhausted by the weeding and the hand-watering and the prospect of putting up produce.

(Wonderful amulet gifts from kind and generous strangers ♥)

I'm grateful for my health, but tired of all the effort I need to be putting into keeping my body nourished and well-oiled and stretched and exercised.

I'm grateful for the long days and short nights, but weary of the equally long hours of work, short hours of sleep.

As discussed before knowing something is not the same as feeling it.

When there's no time or space to enjoy the good things in life, I still feel grateful to have them, to be part of them, but I don't feel the joy.

Overall, when I'm tired and weary and over-worked and thin of patience,  I have to remind myself to stop, to relax to watch and listen.

In the summer, my joy sits under the leaves, hidden but fat, like a berry, or a squash, waiting to suddenly get big and be revealed.  It hides in flowers as a neon-yellow bumble bee, and hums outside the windows as a hummingbird.

It appears suddenly at twilight in the warm air not cooling, or a sudden misty rain shower right before it's time to water.

It wanders through the yard as fawns and turkey chicks, as curious chickens testing the fruit trees and their tiny, bitter fruit.

In a room full of people, it suddenly fills everything with the golden late-afternoon light, moving us all away from our schedules and into the present.

It hides somewhere between saying yes, and saying no, often invisible, always hard to find, but appearing frequently enough to assure me that it's still there, waiting patiently for this hectic, expectation-laden season to be over. And for that, I'm grateful.

(The single most joy-making thing in my life right now: 14 wild baby turkeys wandering through our yard!)

How's your summer going? Joyful, I hope?

Saturday, July 5, 2014

A Commercial Brake

Other than my sidebar, I don't really ever advertise my etsy shop here, but knowing that there are some vintage lovers reading, I'm hoping it's okay to give you a heads-up about some good stuff coming in right now. I've been hoarding summer frocks and am letting go of some personal treasures as well. If vintage is not your bag, I hope you happily skip this Fireweed&Nettle preview:
This July, we'll be stocking amongst other items: Gunne Sax dresses...

...Oaxcan embroidery...

...Flutter-y India cotton...

…and classic 90s florals…to start with.
And since many of my favorite customers are also readers of this blog, I thought I'd offer you a special discount at check out: just type in readerlove to get 20% off your purchase!