Food Fridays: Cool Cucumber Soup

13 08 2010

First of all, I would like to update you on last week’s experiment of fermented zucchini relish.  I let it ferment for about 4.5 days out of the fridge and the rest of the week in the fridge.  The outcome: PURE DELICIOUSNESS!

It tasted a little like salsa, which seemed strange as there were no tomatoes in it.  I ate it tonight with my dear friend BloodBeard on a beautiful omelette.  Between the two of us, we finished about 2/3 of the batch.  So, needless to say, it was a total hit and I will make more again.  YAY!

This week, has been lovely: super hot during the days and cool at night.  The day time heat inspired me to cook less and try more cooling foods.  As I am rather abundant in the world of cucumbers these days, I decided to try something that was mentioned in the book “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” by Barbara Kingsolver (who is one of my inspirations in life).

Searching on the net I found a wonderful Martha Stewart recipe (of all things… really!).  I changed it around a bit and omitted the roasted beets because there was NO way that I was having the oven on 400 for 45 minutes.  Not even a little bit.

Here’s what I made

Meme’s Cool Cucumber Soup:

2T olive oil (for frying onions)

1 small and one medium onion, diced (you could use two small I’m sure, but I didn’t have any)

1 cube ground, frozen garlic scapes (you could use 2 cloves, or 6-8 fresh scapes too, but this is what I had around)

4 1/2 cups of sliced cucumbers, fresh from the garden if possible

1/2 cup water

1 organic lemon

1 1/2 cups non-homogenized, whole, organic yogurt (this is so freakin’ yummy!)

Instructions:

1. Saute onions and garlic (in whatever form you have it) in oil until translucent and soft, about 5 minutes.  Let these cool.

2. In a blender, whiz up yogurt, water, cucumbers and onion mixture.  I put the yogurt and water in the bottom of the blender because it allows for easier blending. This may need to be done in batches, depending on the size of your blender.

3. Put this mixture in a bowl in your fridge for at least a couple of hours.  I did mine all afternoon.

4. Add lemon juice and serve.

5. Bask in the refreshing tang of cool cucumber soup.

I fed this to three other people who all loved it.  It was not such a hit with little A, but she’s a little picky these days.  What can you do?

This, in all, took about 15 minutes to prepare and lasted me, and my friends, about four meals.  It is such a cool, refreshing snack too.  Did I mention it was cool and refreshing? 😉  because it really is!

In:joy this summer’s heat!

Blessings





Foodie Fridays: Fermented Zucchini Relish and Traditional Cucumber Pickles

6 08 2010

Before we left for the great North, we harvested our garden and I traveled the highways with a huge bag of pickling cucumbers, a bag of zucchini and a couple mason jars.

I love the bounty of summer and I intend, this year, to preserve it more than ever before.  And, so far, I’m well on my way to that.  I am also trying to avoid the new, commercially inspired methods of preservation: canning with lots of sugar, pickling with vinegar, dehydrating with sulphites etc.

Last year, I was introduced to a magical book called “Nourishing Traditions” by Sally Fallon.  It changed the way I looked at food, and inspired me towards more traditional foods and methods of preparation.  One of the big changes is fermentation, which is incredibly exciting.

Fermenting foods, rather than preserving them in vinegar, enhances the nutritional value, populates your belly with amazing beneficial bacteria and tastes pretty delicious.  I started my experiments last summer in fermentation and, after reading “Wild Fermentation” by Sandor Katz, I was inspired to experiment even more!

Having discovered, last year, on the last week of pickling cucumber season at the farmer’s market that, indeed, fermented cucumbers are the most delicious pickles ever to exist.  Unfortunately, it was the last week, and I only got to experience one jar of the delicious tang of those lovely cukes.  I pledged that I would not suffer the same fate this year and planted three hills of pickling cucumbers this year with a vow to ferment as many as possible.

Curcubits, the family that squash, zucchini and cucumbers are a part of, are a prolific family, as I mentioned before.  They like to shoot out babies as fast as they can, and bless us with their bounty.  So, not only am I overwhelmed with pickling cucumbers, but also zucchini.

I like picking zucchini young, while they still have that tender flavour that melts in the mouth.  Too big and they become tough and watery, not really good for much other than zucchini bread, or, zucchini relish.  So, I decided that I would try some fermented zucchini relish with the one zucchini that evaded my eyes and grew past the tender point, and a little end of a zucchini that I had.

I started with the pickles and decided to add some garlic this time, from my dad’s neighbour’s garden.  HUGE bulbs (!) all organically grown and gifted to me (thank you Ralph).

The next thing you need to do is wash the cucumbers. Make sure all the spikey parts are off and that there is no left-over blossom clinging on to the end.

Now, because I live with a small person, who is generally not going to eat an entire fermented pickle, I cut the pickles into slices.  I also find that this makes it more efficient for space, as you can fit more sliced cucumbers into a mason jar than whole ones.  But, there is no reason you have to slice them, I just prefer to.  I also cut off the end, but, again, as long as they are clean and not with stem, you can put them whole into the jar.

After I sliced them, I stuffed them in a jar, in a clove of garlic and an oak leaf.  I have heard that oak leaves, cherry leaves and grape leaves can help fermented things from getting too mushy due to their high tannin content.  So, I threw one in, because mushy cucumbers are yucky. The oak leaf is not necessary either, but I thought I would see what difference it makes, versus my non-oak leaf cucumbers.

Next, I mixed cold water with about two tablespoons of salt into a pitcher, mixed and poured over the cucumbers until they cover the jars by about 1 inch.  It is important to note that, whenever you are working with ferments and water, your water must be non-chlorinated.  I am very lucky to be at my dad’s where non-chlorinated water comes out of the tap, but most of us either have to leave the water out for 24 hours, or boil it and let it cool, to allow the chlorine to evaporate.

Now, when I did this at home, I used smaller jars on top of the bigger jars as weights, to keep the cukes under the brine, but I don’t have those here, and they are really not necessary.  It’s good to check on them every so often while they ferment on your counter to ensure they are under the brine, otherwise they start growing lactobacillus on the top and it looks kind of gross, though is still edible. So, I just put the lid on, left it loose and put it on a corner of the counter, where they will ferment until I leave.

After cleaning up from the pickles, I decided to try zucchini relish.  I have never made regular zucchini relish before so I was at a bit of a loss as to where to start.  Luckily, the collective consciousness…errrr.  internet, exists, and I asked Google and was gifted with this beautiful post to work from.  I have no tolerance for spicy things, so I knew I was going to have to change the recipe to accommodate my personal tastes.  In the end I worked with this:

1 large-ish zucchini (use as many as you want)

1 chunk of red pepper

1 small spanish onion, fresh from the neighbour’s garden

1 clove garlic

mustard, chinese five spice, and all spice

Salt

I scooped out the seeds from the zucchini and cut the garlic, onion and peppers into chunks.  Then, I threw them in the food processor with the grating attachment on it, because, well, it’s SOOOO easy and fast.  You could do it by hand if you feel so inclined.

I then added the salt until it tasted nice and salty and flavourful, about a tablespoon.

I also added in a couple of oak leaves, to keep the texture firm.

Then, I ground up the spices in a mortar and pestle.  As I didn’t really know how much to use, I eye-balled it and am hoping for the best.  You may have noticed that this is how I cook, as there are no real amounts to this recipe at all. This is how much I used, for a reference:

I then added that to the mix and put it all in a plastic yogurt container, pressed on it until the juices come up over the top.  I would use a weight, but I don’t have one.  Weights make life better in ferments, but are not necessary.

In the end, I ended up with three litres of cucumber pickles and a yogurt container of relish.  I will let them rest on my counter until they are bubbly and then I will move them to the fridge (if you have cold storage you can use that instead) and eat them on all the most delicious things I can think of.

I am excited to give you an update as to how they all actually taste.  MMMMMM!!!

And, a special thank you to Dad and Sara for letting me use their fancy new camera.  I forgot mine at home and am glad that I could use theirs to make this post more interesting.

Blessings!





Transitioning away from Oil Dependency – Part 2

8 06 2010

Today we’re going to look at action! YAY!

This is my favourite part.  We’ve decided we want to do something and now we actually get to do it.  How exciting!

In his book, Plan C: Community Survival Strategies for Peak Oil and Climate Change, Pat Murphy outlines three specific areas that we, as individuals, can focus on to drastically reduce our carbon footprint (80-90% reduction from current usage, which is inline with global targets of 350 ppm CO2 concentration in the atmosphere).

The three areas are: food, transportation and housing.

Today, I will focus on food.  First, because I LOVE food and secondly, because food is something that every one of us can start changing NOW.  This is more focused on consumer choices, rather than lifestyle choices like gardening.

Here is the run down of things you can do, in case you are the kind of person who doesn’t want to read a 1000 word post today…:

1. Choose local foods and eat in season

2. Stop eating factory farmed meats.

3. Buy organic

4. Cook from scratch

5. Eat at home

One of the major ways to reduce our oil consumption is to choose local foods and eat in season.  This isn’t to say that you can never eat chocolate again, or that mango smoothies will never again grace your lips.  Eating locally and in season means spending the majority of your food dollars within a 100 mile, or less, radius.

Localizing our foods and eating in season is useful for many reasons.  First, it reduces the need for highly oil dependent transportation of goods, like transports and airplanes.  In Canada, the average fruit or vegetable travels 3800 kms to our door step!  OUCH! This is a Hellman’s advertisement, that outlines the current situation in Canada:

It may seem cold in Canada, but we do have the ability to grow a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, herbs, grains, legumes and berries here.  Besides tropical fruits, we can grow most things here.  If we have the proper greenhouse we can even convince oranges, lemons and avocados to grow here!  So, climate is really not a barrier.

The best place to find locally grown food is at your farmer’s market.  There are hundreds of farmer’s markets across this country (and in America, for that matter) that offer farm-fresh, seasonal produce.  One word of caution: a lot of vendors at markets, posing as farmers, just come and resell imported produce.  Ask if it is imported and where the farm is, if you can visit and if the answer is yes, it usually means that all the produce was grown locally.  Failing that, you can ask your local grocery store to stock local foods.  More and more grocery stores are seeing the local food demand increase and, as a result, are finding ways to supply that demand.

Eating with the season keeps us in a really wonderful alignment with the natural cycles of the Earth and increases the nutritional value of our foods, as it is coming as fresh as can be to our tables.  We get to experience the incredible juiceness of fresh strawberries and eat them in abundance and not again (unless frozen or canned) until next year.  It gives us a real appreciation for the foods when they come.

The next thing we can do in our food choices is to stop eating factory farmed meats. Again, this is not to say that you can’t enjoy the nutritional benefits of eating healthy meat.  Just not factory farmed meat.

Pat Murphy estimates that the sole movement of eating local, organically raised, pastured meats can cut our carbon emissions (and hence oil consumption), in the area of food, by 50%!  WOAH!  you don’t even have to go vegetarian for that. 🙂

The reason being that the majority of carbon emissions and oil consumption in regards to our meat does not come from the animals themselves, or even transporting them.  It comes from the masses and masses of corn and soy that is grown to feed these animals.  The majority of farm land in North America is devoted to growing feed for animals!  This adds up to a lot of petroleum through the use of pesticides, fertilizers, heavy farm machinery, processing energy and then transportation to the farms where it is fed to animals who were not created to eat these high protein foods.

Local, pastured meat can be a little harder to find and a little more expensive.  If you want to continue eating meat (which I truly recommend, at least in small quantities), then look at going in with other people to buy a large quantity of meat.  This saves money and allows farmer’s to have a more stable source of income.

Another thing you can do, is buy organic.  Organic practices do not have large petroleum inputs of fertilizer and pesticides.  Buying from small-scale operations, you will generally avoid the use of large machinery as well, further saving fossil fuels.

Once you have purchased all of this beautiful, local, seasonal organic food, the next thing you can do is cook from scratch.  Removing processed foods from our diet is not only cheaper, healthier and tastier, it reduces the consumption of oil.  If you think about the amount of energy that goes into making a processed cookie: shipping the grain/sugar to the factory, grinding it, refining etc then shipping it to another processing plant where it is combined into cookie form, then wrapping it into a package that must be disposed of, THEN shipping it to a grocery store where you drive to and buy it, bring it home and consume it.  It’s a massive amount of energy, compared to buying the raw ingredients yourself and making it in your home.  It also reduces the amount of plastics that are in your life, another petroleum product.

Cooking from scratch may take more time, but it saves on money, so think of the time you’re using as money you’re saving.  🙂

There are many more ways that you can reduce your energy consumption through your food choices.  But, as I’m nearing 1000 words on this post, I’ll limit it to the major choices above.

Remember to start with what you can manage, and continue to move in that direction.  Though I’ve been working consciously to go completely organic and local for years now, I am not yet totally there.





always ask and other lessons from stinging nettle

17 05 2010

Today, little A and I went down to the river (to pray) to gather nettles.  We were excited to see how much they had grown in the last couple of weeks.

When we got to the nettle patch, I was surprised at the size of the nettles.  Two weeks ago, these little creatures were not more than 6 inches high.  Today, many of them were three times that.

Now, it is my humble opinion that if you are going to decapitate anything you should always ask, nettles being no exception.  Most plants are actually quite gracious that way, and freely offer their tasty leaves to eager hands and mouths. Nettles, especially, like to be asked.

So, walking into the nettle patch, giving thanks for their generosity in helping me build my body, I started to pick. And every time I asked consciously, the nettles didn’t sting me.  And every time I asked, didn’t listen to the answer and picked anyways (usually through distraction) I got stung.  Needless to say, nettles are a fantastic journey in mindfulness.

As an aside, I must say that before I entered the “forest” I gave an offering to it of sacred herbs.  Some place offerings at the specific sites, to specific plants.  Most of the time, I feel drawn towards offering to the larger area, as it is just as important as that one patch.

Picking stinging nettles with a two and half year old, super curious being is a very interesting game.  In one way, I certainly did not want little A to get stung.  I don’t enjoy it too much and I thought it might be an overwhelming sensation for her. On the other hand, this is how children learn and a nettle sting isn’t going to hurt her in the long term.  The former belief seemed stronger as my mother is visiting tomorrow and I could just hear her saying “and you let her pick nettles with you?!”  ;P

However, little A was more curious in the wild raspberry canes growing around the nettles than the nettles themselves, though she did touch a few just to prove to be that they didn’t want to sting her.  Thanks nettles for teaching me faith. 🙂

One of the patches that I go to is being overgrown by garlic mustard, which is a pretty invasive species, though quite delicious.  The nettles were telling me that they wanted a little space from the mustard so I went to pulling out some garlic mustard.  There was quite a lot of it there, as garlic mustard is a pretty efficient reproducer and grower, much like dandelions.  As I pulled I asked the garlic mustard to come out of the ground and leave some room for its friend nettle.  It was quite cooperative and after pulling about 50 plants, I got distracted and starting pulling without asking.  So, what happens?  I step, with my bare feet, on a nettle plant!

Now, this may seem inevitable to be stung on the feet when going bare foot in a nettle patch, but it’s never happened to me before.

I stopped pulling out garlic mustard and left the rest of the patch alone.  I felt a little embarrassed.  :blush

When we finished picking nettles from a couple other spots on the trail, we turned back towards the baby car (read: stroller) to head home.  The nettles were in a plastic bag and little A was very adamant about carrying them.  Once we got to the baby car she wanted to cuddle with them and “keep them safe on her lap”.

She discovered a hole in the bag and decided to pet the nettles that she loves so much.  Coming again to the place of indecision, I told little A that nettles could sting her so she might not want to touch them.  “No, mama,” she said, “nettles no sting me.” And she continued petting them inside the bag.  And she was right; she didn’t get stung.

Another lesson of nettles: children are very good at bending the laws of time and space.

As I’m pushing little A home she finishes cuddling the nettles and starts to “play a game with them”.  She’s kicking them and laughing and telling me that nettles are funny and playful and they like to play with her.  She says she’s made a new friend and they make her laugh.

Next lesson from nettles: everything is alive and interacting in glorious ways with us always.  Children are so wise and perceptive to pick up on it. As I age, I am glad to have little A and nettles to remind me of the magic in all things, especially the wild.

Tomorrow morning we will eat nettles for breakfast!  Delicious!  And I will hold inside of my body, to create my cells out of, all the lessons that I received today.

Aho.





Packing, foraging and stitching

19 04 2010

Today, I started the Great Packing.  I reserved a van for May 3rd and told the landlady that we would be out by then.  The move, now, has officially begun.

I realized that I know why I was putting off this move, more than others before it.  While I was packing, a huge thing was on my mind: “Is this going to my house, or his house?  Do I need one of these?  Should we make a list of things that we don’t have duplicates of?” and, perhaps the hardest “How the heck am I going to do this whole financial independence thing?”

It’s much more pleasant to just ignore these things, and procrastinate on packing and just go outside and forage.  Which is what I ended up doing.  To my credit, it was a pre-planned adventure.

I gathered with three other women, who were all more knowledgeable about wild plants than I, and with little A, we walked down to a river path with a great nettle patch.

I learned so many plants today!  The first one we encountered, growing in someone’s lawn, was garlic mustard.

Garlic mustard has a nice spicy flavour and can be used in salads and in pesto.  It can also, apparently, be dried and used as an herb in cooking.  I find it quite delicious!  It is also an invasive species and takes over native plant habitat in North America.  We picked and ate a bunch, and little A really loved it. 🙂

Our “guide” also informed us of the process she goes through to honour the plants that are offering their leaves to us.  She recommended we give an offering (tobacco, cornmeal or reiki were her recommendations) to complete the energy exchange.  She also recommended, which I already do, that we ask the plant if it would like to give of itself.  I usually find that leafy food plants are pretty willing to part with their leaves, as that is what they are here to do: be primary producers!

We next came across stinging nettle, which was what I was really interested in learning how to harvest.  Little A and I drink nettle ta almost every morning and I was super excited to find out that we can harvest nettles locally!  YAY!

Stinging nettles are incredibly nutritious: high in vitamins C and K, and high in calcium and iron.  They also act as a cleanser and an alkalinizer in the body.  Nettles are best harvested for food in early spring.  They can also be dried for tea for later in the year.  In food, nettles can be used instead of spinach, as they have a similar taste.  Tonight, we put our nettles in a pasta dish and they were delicious!! Chris even ate them.  Little A liked eating the raw leaves, but you have to be pretty careful to get the stingers out.  I got stung quite a bit, and though it was painful at first, my body easily aclimatized to the stinging.  Apparently, the sting induces an immune system response and boosts the immune system.  Apparently the stings are also good at treating arthritis, though I don’t really know how that works…

We searched for wild leeks, but found none.  We also found motherwort, yellow dock and burdock.

And, I got to strengthen bonds with some of the most amazing women I know around these parts, which was a real blessing.

I feel so happy that little A is able to have these experiences of learning the plants, being with the Earth, sharing with wise women and growing up connected.

Finally, when I came home, I made dinner and worked on my stitching.  I started a new project, which is a mother-tree-birth-goddess.  I’m really excited because this is a piece that I created myself and am designing the stitches for myself!  WOOHOO!  It feels like real creativity.  I think this will either be a wall hanging or a journal cover.  It’s so much easier to stitch on regular fabric.  Velour is really hard to embroider on.  I would definitely not recommend it to anyone for their first project.

I was going to show you a fairly bad photo of the current stitching, but my computer is on the fritz.  So, you will all have to wait for a much better picture later this week. 🙂





A frying pan, a guitar and the challenge of mindful mothering

25 03 2010

Where to start?

Breathing maybe? In and Out slowly.  The key to moving through the world mindfully is breath.  When I hit a wall, I breathe and it somehow seems to disappear.

I have been playing my guitar more and more lately, getting really excited about creating community song circles of different varieties: folk, spiritual, kids… Today, little A was playing a song she wrote on the guitar and left the guitar on the floor and then proceeded to climb (or try to climb) onto a coffee table to read a book.  The result was that she fell back onto the guitar she had left, and cracked the guitar fairly seriously:

So, I breathe, put the guitar away and search the internet how to repair guitars.  Metal rulers and wood glue?  I don’t know if this is something I can do and still have a nice sounding guitar.

Patience gets low. Breathe and move on.

My instinct is to retreat away from her, so that I can calm down by myself, regain my bearings and then come back to her all shiny and new.  However, in mothering, I rarely get that opportunity.  Her instinct is opposite: be as close to mama as possible and fill up on mama’s love.

Mindful mothering seems to me to be about finding space in total attachment, finding order in the midst of chaos and finding breath instead of panic.  Mindful mothering is the art of non-attachment to things but total attachment to a little human(s).  It is a balancing act that seems impossible to me sometimes, but really, its just inevitable.

So, today, I get yet another lesson in the art of mindful mothering, doing my best to be present, engaged and loving to the little being that chose me as her mother (a total honour that is!!).

And today, I give you a lesson in the art of (re)seasoning cast iron frying pans.  I have a little cast iron frying pan that is perfect for frying two eggs – one for little A and one for me.  It is also great for crepes, small amounts of left-overs and frying one onion.  Chris uses it to heat up little A’s “cream” (local, organic goat’s milk) at night.  It often gets left in the sink, soaking, and then scrubbed with soap.  It had come to the point where it needed some serious attention in order to keep functioning as a pan.

Cast iron frying pans are amazing little (and sometimes big) creatures.  They increase your intake of iron just by cooking with them! Also, they are non-stick, after several seasonings, and, with proper care, only get MORE non-stick.  Who needs teflon, when you can use cast iron?  The other great thing about cast iron frying pans is that most people don’t know how to care for them, and so dump their rusty old ones at thrift stores, to be picked up for a couple bucks by one happy customer!

The thing about cast iron is care.  Like anything in this world, if you want it to stick around, you need to care for it properly: the Earth, your body, your clothes, cast iron frying pans… Seasoning is key, as is proper washing.

Luckily, both of these are quite easy to accomplish.

To (re)season a pan:

1. Preheat your oven to 350F.

2. Wash your pan (new or old) with warm soapy water.

3. Dry out your pan completely and add some vegetable oil, lard, shortening or beef tallow.  I used olive oil because that it what I had and sometimes I feed vegetarians, but generally it is not the best optioon.  Canola, sunflower, safflower or coconut are much better options for vegetarians.

4. Rub the grease into the entire pan, inside, outside and sides.  I used a piece of old kraft paper from an old paper bag full of holes, but you could also use newspaper or paper towel.

5.  Place your pan, upside down, in your oven with a baking sheet below it to catch the drippings. (there’s no pan in this picture, but I added one later….)

6.  Set a timer for 1 hour.

7. Turn off the oven and open the oven door to let pan cool.

8.  Take out your beautiful newly seasoned pan!

9.  Repeat several times if you want to get a really nice seasoning.

Now that you have a wonderful new pan, you will need to care for it properly, in order to continue to have a beautiful, non-sticking surface.  Do not wash your pan in soap, or if you feel you must, wash it with a small amount briefly and rinse.  Dry out your pan immediately with a towel.  Heat up an element and put your frying pan on it.  Once it has heated a little, add a little oil/lard and swirl around.  Remove from heat and wipe out the excess of oil with paper towels or newspaper.

Also, never put really cold things, or cold water into a hot pan.  It will cause it to crack.

Enjoy!

(now, after little A’s dad is about and I have had three minutes to myself, finished this post and breathed, I feel much better)