DIY Celebration

Obviously, I’m a huge fan of growing and cooking food myself. Recently, I’ve also developed an interest in crafts- particularly knitting. I’ve now made a few scarfs and have my sights set on successfully completing a reusable bag made from plastic bags

One of the most fun aspects of my new hobby is how many other people I’ve found to be interested in DIY crafts. DIY is “do it yourself”, which according to wikipedia became trendy in the 1950s with an emergence of people undertaking home improvements and other small craft and construction projects as both a creative-recreational and cost-saving activity. Since starting to knit, and becoming aware of DIY projects, I realized how many other people I know are interested as well. What fun!

If you are thinking about starting a DIY project and learning new ideas about what you can build and make yourself, check out this great event in DC tomorrow at ACE Hardware.

ladies night no raffle low res

Cheesecake: A year in the making

Last December (2011), I tried to make a cheesecake for my boyfriend’s birthday. After I started mixing together all the sugar and cream cheese, I felt unsure about the mixture and consistency. I left the bowl on the counter to take a look online for photos of what it was supposed to look like! As I scrolled through the recipe online, I heard a loud THUMP/CRASH. The entire bowl – with the mixer-  fell off the counter and into my dog’s water bowl. My roommate ran in when she heard my “Ooohhhh MAN!” and found me on the floor next to the water-cream cheese-sugar puddle trying to keep the dog from licking it all up. In the end, we settled for an instant cheesecake with a homemade crust.

Flash forward one year to December 2012, despite all my nervousness, I tried again. And the result was amazing! Cheers to Smitten Kitchen and to second-tries.

Cheesecake1 Cheesecake2 Cheesecake3 cheesecake4

New York Cheesecake (from Smitten Kitchen)

What You Need

Crust

  • 16 graham crackers/8 ounces – finely ground 
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Filling

  • 5 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
  • 5 large eggs
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Fruit topping

  • 10 ounces frozen fruit – I used blueberries but the recipe calls for cherries 
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup water

What You Do

  1. Stir together crust ingredients.
  2. Press crust onto bottom and up the sides, stopping one inch shy of the top rim, of a buttered 9 1/2-inch springform pan.
  3. Put pan into the freezer so it quickly sets.
  4. Preheat oven to 550 degrees (or as high as your oven will go).
  5. Beat together cream cheese, sugar, flour and zest with an electric mixer until smooth.
  6. Add vanilla, then eggs and yolks, one at a time, beating on low speed until each ingredient is incorporated.
  7. Scrape bowl down between additions.
  8. Put springform pan with crust in a shallow baking pan (to catch drips).
  9. Pour filling into crust (springform pan will be completely full) and baking in baking pan in the middle of the oven for 12 minutes or until puffed. (NOTE: Watch your cake because some ovens will top-brown very quickly and if yours does too fast, turn the oven down as soon as you catch it.)
  10. Reduce the temperature to 200 degrees and continue baking until cake is mostly firm (center will still be slightly wobbly when pan is gently shaken), about one hour more.
  11. Run a knife around the top edge of the cake to loosen it and cool the cake completely in springform on a rack, then chill it, loosely covered, at least 6 hours.
  12. Place all ingredients for the fruit topping together in a medium saucepan.
  13. Bring to a boil.
  14. Once it is boiling, cook it for an additional one to two minutes then remove from heat.
  15. Cool completely.
  16. Remove side of pan and transfer cake to a plate.
  17. Spread topping over chilled cheesecake. 
  18. Enjoy the fruits of your labor 🙂  It is hard work, but worth it!

Sprouting sprouts @ home

Since I became interested in growing my own food, I have been curious about sprouts. I love them! I buy them all the time. But, until recently I was never able to grow them myself. I worried about e. coli, all the rinsing, getting the right container, etc. Maybe it was laziness, I just don’t know what kept me from just giving it a shot. I’ve been hoarding different types of sprouting seeds and have read plenty of instructions and blog posts about it.

Finally, I’ve sprouted my own sprouts – and I love it.

A new year and it is time to fulfill a resolution from 4 years ago! I purchased a very cool jar from Mom’s Organic Market that has mesh on the top to make it really easy to rinse the sprouts. Equipped with the right container, I overcame another obstacle: disinfecting the seeds. All you need to do is soak the seeds in a 2% bleach solution (ie 1 tsp bleach to 1 cup hot water) for 15 minutes.

First I tried a “sandwich mix” – but I didn’t like that the different seeds had different sprouting times. My second attempt was with alfalfa sprouts and it was wonderful. I’m also planning on trying broccoli sprouts, radish sprouts, and more! It is so much fun to do and these sprouts are tastier and much cheaper than the ones you can buy in the store.

Here is the step by step process:

Sprouts!

What You Need

  • Jar
  • Seeds (I suggest finding sprouting seeds – I used organic seeds from Botanical Interests)
  • Water
  • Towel (I used this to keep the sprouts from direct sunlight until they sprouted – but not necessary)
What You Do
  1. Measure 1.5 tablespoons of sprouting seeds.
  2. Disinfect your seeds by soaking them in a 2% bleach solution (1 tsp bleach to 1 cup hot water) for 15 minutes.
  3. Rinse well!
  4. Fill jar with enough water to cover seeds three times their depth with cool or room temperature water.
  5. Let soak overnight (8-12 hours).
  6. Pour off water and rinse with cool/room temperature water.
  7. Shake the jar gently to spread out the seeds.
  8. Away from direct sunlight (this is where I used by towel), let your jar sit.
  9. Rinse the sprouts 2-3 times a day by filling the jar and draining well.
  10. Harvest your sprouts when they are 1-2 inches long – it usually takes about 4-6 days.
  11. If you let your sprouts drain thoroughly, you can store them in the refrigerator in your produce drawer!

Sprouts

ROOTING DC: Saturday, Feb 23, 2013

Rooting DC is a free, all-day gardening forum that aims to provide education about food production and consumption, to cultivate health, and to preserve the environment from which we receive our nourishment. The program consists five tracks:

Start It – Gardening basics
Grow It – Honing skills, workshops and container gardening tips
Eat It – Cooking and food preservation
Teach It – Learn how to share your knowledge
The Big Picture – Growing into the broader landscape of food

Hope to see you there! Here are the conference details:

Where: Wilson High School, 3950 Chesapeake St. NW
When: Saturday. February 23rd 9:30am – 4:30pm (Doors open at 8:30am)
Registration: FREE – Register here

For additional information, check out the Rooting DC website.

 

Enjoying the Fruits of Fall’s Labor: Jellies!

I’ve been thrilled with the canning I did in the fall throughout the holiday season – using the jellies as homemade gifts for friends. But, with the cold weather today, I was feeling particularly thankful the preserved bounty.

Here is a recipe I’ve been meaning to share. This tomato-basil jelly was the biggest hit of the canned jelly gifts this season.

Tomato-Basil Jelly (from Better Homes and Gardens)

*Makes 5 half pints

What You Need

  • 2 1/2 pounds fully ripe tomatoes (about 5 large)
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons snipped fresh basil
  • 3 cups sugar, divided
  • 1 1.75-ounce package powdered fruit pectin for lower-sugar recipes

What You Do

  1. Wash tomatoes. Remove peel, stem ends, cores and seeds. Finely chop. You should have 31/2 cups.
  2. Place tomatoes in 6-quart kettle and heat to boiling.
  3. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 10 minutes. Measure again to 31/2 cups and return to pan.
  4. Add lemon juice and basil.
  5. In a small bowl, combine 1/4 cup sugar with pectin.
  6. Stir pectin mixture into tomatoes and heat to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly.
  7. Stir in remaining sugar and return to a full rolling boil. Boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and skim foam with a metal spoon.
  8. Ladle into hot, sterile jars, leaving about 1/4-inch head space. Wipe rims. Place on lids and loosely tighten rings.
  9. Process in boiling water bath for 5 minutes and cool on wire rack. You should hear the distinctive ping as lids seal. If any lids don’t seal (check by trying to depress lid with a finger. If it resists, jar is sealed), reprocess or simply store jam in fridge to be eaten right away.

 

Winter Wonderland in the Garden!

The weather has been crazy. Warm, cold, warm. Through it all. My cool-weather vegetables have been thriving. Of course, I’m not sure how they will rebound from the freezing cold weather this week. But here are some pictures of the broccoli and broccoli-rabe growing in my backyard. Still growing are also kale, collards, radishes, and some of the more hearty herbs.

I was thrilled to harvest the broccoli-rabe and use it in a pasta dish last week. It was amazing!

Wintergarden5

Making Sauerkraut

“You are really going back to nature”, my mother told me in response to my excited announcement that I was going to try to make sauerkraut. I thought I went off the deep end with my vegetable garden, at-home composting, and sprouts. But, for my mom, sauerkraut-at-home was the sign.

When Deb provided me with two beautiful heads of red cabbage from Willowsford Farm and a challenge to make sauerkraut, I was intrigued and a bit perplexed. I read Alton Brown’s recipe and many other blog posts about fermentation. I wondered aloud about botulism and whether or not it would smell up my kitchen, forcing my roommate out of the house. Then, I found Wild Fermentation! and Sandor Ellix Katz’s recipe for sauerkraut. Amazed, I got started the same day as my first attempt at growing sprouts at home. It was a great day!

All you need to make sauerkraut is cabbage (and other vegetables if you want), a little salt, and a container to put it in. I couldn’t believe that was all it takes. I went on a mission to find a food-grade container to make the kraut- I went to the market and asked for an old plastic container which was used for tofu. I brought the container home, washed it, and disinfected the it with bleach. I’ve since learned that this container is WAY TOO BIG for the amount of cabbage I had on hand. You can use canning jars or other types of containers as well.

Here is what I did:

  1. Clean and disinfect container.
  2. Chop cabbage in small pieces and add salt.
  3. Put cabbage in the container.
  4. Cover with a plate and some weights (I used water in jars).
  5. Cover the container and store out of the way.
  6. Wait, look, taste, and wait…

I realized that my pantry was very cool and that the fermentation process was taking longer than I expected. So, I moved the container to my dining room in the corner. When the container was closed, there was no odor from the developing sauerkraut. But, I was still feeling unsure about the process.

Coincidentally, I was already signed up for the Future Harvest Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture (CASA) conference last weekend – including a pre-conference workshop with Sandor Ellix Katz himself! WILD FERMENTATION! The class was wonderful and I was able to pick up a signed copy of The Art of Fermentation. Some important take-aways from the class:

  • You really cannot get botulism from sauerkraut
  • It is okay if your sauerkraut has some mold on the top – just remove what you can and don’t worry about the rest
  • Fermentation is the oldest and most important method of food preservation
  • Making sauerkraut really is that simple! and it is fun
  • You can ferment any vegetable – and way more food items
  • The sauerkraut you buy at the store has been pasteurized, so the best way to get the health benefits from fermented foods is to do it yourself – ensuring that the good-bacteria in the food are still alive when you eat them!

Emboldened from the workshop and the conference, I went home and tasted my kraut. Of course, I found some of the white-mold on the top.

Ick. I removed as much as I could and realized how important it is to use an appropriately sized container – to avoid contact with the air as much as possible. The result of the fermentation was not too bad. It definitely tastes like kraut. I packed the sauerkraut into two smaller jars, moved one to the refrigerator and I’m going to keep letting the second one ferment on the kitchen counter to see how it tastes over the next week.

I am eager to try again. I will make sure to really smash my cabbage before putting it into the container to make sure all the water comes out. I will also use smaller containers to reduce contact with air (or WAY MORE CABBAGE). Plus, next time I’ll try adding in some other vegetables like carrots, onions, and garlic.

Here is the recipe from the master, Mr. Katz!

Sauerkraut (from Wild Fermentation)

What You Need

  • Ceramic crock or food-grade plastic bucket, one-gallon capacity or greater
  • Plate that fits inside crock or bucket
  • One-gallon jug filled with water (or a scrubbed and boiled rock)
  • Cloth cover (like a pillowcase or towel)
  • 5 pounds cabbage
  • 3 tablespoons sea salt

What You Do

  1. Chop or grate cabbage, finely or coarsely, with or without hearts, however you like it.
  2. Place cabbage in a large bowl as you chop it.
  3. Sprinkle salt on the cabbage as you go. The salt pulls water out of the cabbage, and this creates the brine in which the cabbage can ferment and sour without rotting.
  4. Add other vegetables. Experiment.
  5. Mix ingredients together and pack into crock. Pack just a bit into the crock at a time and tamp it down hard using your fists or any (other) sturdy kitchen implement. The tamping packs the kraut tight in the crock and helps force water out of the cabbage.
  6. Cover kraut with a plate or some other lid that fits snugly inside the crock.
  7. Place a clean weight (a glass jug filled with water) on the cover. This weight is to force water out of the cabbage and then keep the cabbage submerged under the brine.
  8. Cover the whole thing with a cloth to keep dust and flies out.
  9. Press down on the weight to add pressure to the cabbage and help force water out of it. Continue doing this periodically (as often as you think of it, every few hours), until the brine rises above the cover. This can take up to about 24 hours, as the salt draws water out of the cabbage slowly. NOTE: Some cabbage, particularly if it is old, simply contains less water. If the brine does not rise above the plate level by the next day, add enough salt water to bring the brine level above the plate. Add about a teaspoon of salt to a cup of water and stir until it’s completely dissolved.
  10. Leave the crock to ferment.
  11. Check the kraut every day or two. NOTE: Sometimes mold appears on the surface. Skim what you can off of the surface; it will break up and you will probably not be able to remove all of it. Don’t worry about this. It’s just a surface phenomenon, a result of contact with the air.
  12. Rinse off the plate and the weight. Taste the kraut. Generally it starts to be tangy after a few days, and the taste gets stronger as time passes. In the cool temperatures of a cellar in winter, kraut can keep improving for months. In the summer or in a heated room, its life cycle is more rapid. Eventually it becomes soft and the flavor turns less pleasant.
  13. Enjoy. NOTE: Make sure the kraut is packed tight in the crock, the surface is level, and the cover and weight are clean. Sometimes brine evaporates, so if the kraut is not submerged below brine just add salted water as necessary.

Good luck and have fun.

Food and Farm Books to Pre-Order for 2013

As each chilly January day is ever-so-slightly longer than the last, I’ve found myself not only counting down the days until spring, but also the days until two incredible books publish and get into my library, mind and heart: Michael Pollan’s Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation (Release date April 23, 2013), and Forrest Pritchard’s Gaining Ground: A Story of Farmers’ Markets, Local Food and Saving the Family Farm (Release date May 21, 2013).

The Amazon.com summary of Pollan’s Cooked reveals that the book will explore the four classical elements of food and cooking – fire, water, air and earth – seemingly in the deep, co-evolutionary style of  The Botany of Desire. Pollan dedicates sections of the book and of himself to understanding the human relationship and dependence on the “primal magic” of fire, the “art of braising,” the transformation of grain and water into bread via air, and the genius of fermentation. All of which encourage we readers and food system reformers to continue our quest to bring our meals back to the basics.

“…Cooking, above all, connects us. The effects of not cooking are similarly far reaching. Relying upon corporations to process our food means we consume huge quantities of fat, sugar, and salt; disrupt an essential link to the natural world; and weaken our relationships with family and friends. In fact, Cooked argues, taking back control of cooking may be the single most important step anyone can take to help make the American food system healthier and more sustainable. Reclaiming cooking as an act of enjoyment and self-reliance, learning to perform the magic of these everyday transformations, opens the door to a more nourishing life.”   – Amazon description

While I hope each year welcomes a little more kitchen and cooking time into my personal food journey, the heart of my education and energy takes place on the farm. Lucky for me and all my fellow farmer friends, Forrest Pritchard, author of Gaining Ground and pioneering farmer at Smith Meadows Farm in Berryville, Virginia, captures the spirit of those experiences and lessons in his blog posts and speaking engagements. Just this weekend, he ignited applause from an audience of farmers at the Future Harvest conference with a pivotal comment during the panel discussion “Down a New Path  – Stories of Change and Transition.”

“We could be considered niche farmers… Or we could be considered early adapters in a new paradigm.” – Forrest Pritchard

A recording of the discussion will be airing this week on the Marc Steiner Show and the Gaining Ground is set to be released May 21st. Until then, Pritchard and Smith Meadows’ free-range meats can be found at several DC, Maryland and Virginia farmers markets.

‘Tis the Season…

…for Compost2theMoon to remind you about some simple ideas to help make the holidays greener!

  • Get a real tree. Ideally, one grown locally as opposed to say… shipped to a Home Depot near you. Not only will your home smell like lovely pine without any artificial sprays or candles, but you are contributing to a business that is good for the planet. I know, I know: Instinct dictates that cutting down trees = bad. But that isn’t exactly the case in the business of Christmas trees because higher demand = more trees planted.  Christmas tree farms are a big business. We’re talking about 56 million trees bought each year that grew and absorbed carbon dioxide for 5-16 years before getting tied to the roof of your car. Read all about it a previous post, “Purchase the Pine, People.” (By golly gosh, those are some cute sisters in that picture!) Of course, purchasing the tree – roots and all – to be replanted after the holidays is the absolute greenest of the green but not everyone has the land for that.
  • Re-use ribbons, gift bags, paper, baskets, jars and everything else from last year. If you didn’t hang on to them, be sure to do so this year! Simply pack them away with holiday decorations and you’ll be amazed at how little you have to purchase next year.
  • Make your own gift tags from last years holiday cards. This is our FAVORITE tradition. If you don’t think you’ll have time to make them on your own, feel free to donate them for next year’s re-purposing promotion. Email me for details and mailing address.
  • Buy local! Supporting local artisans, small business, farmers, grocers and organizations is a great way to keep wealth in the community and reduce the footprint of large manufacturers and shipping. For great gift ideas in our region, check out Foodshed Magazine’s 2012 Holiday Gift Guide.
  • Give food! Yummy holiday treats rarely go to waste.
  • Consider purchasing gifts that give back through organizations like the World Wildlife Fund. Not only will you be donating to an important cause, you’ll get on the mailing lists for similar organizations that send out holiday-themed return address labels and wrapping paper made from recycled materials (and a request for a small donation).
  • As far as online shopping, Amazon is one of our favorites because of their eco-friendly, frustration-free packaging. If you can’t find what you are looking for on there, be sure and sign up for an account on your favorite sites so that you can save items in your cart until all your purchasing is complete and can be sent in a single shipment. Save yourself the shipping fees and save the packing materials and shipping miles.
  • Brighten your home and tree with LED lights and be sure to put them on a timer. If you aren’t fond of the bright-white, grab a colorful strand instead.

If you’ve got any tips for the season, please tell us about them in the comment section.