Archive forMarch, 2012

Fermentation Fervor

Last week I randomly stopped by Sandor Katz’s website (author of Wild Fermentation and The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved) and was shocked to find he had an upcoming event scheduled in DC. So I immediately ordered a ticket and last night after work, I headed to Chinatown…

… to the synagogue

… and spent two and a half hours listening to him speak. Unfortunately, I didn’t lug my big camera with me and my phone is inexcusably terrible at taking pictures. But I tried to get some pictures because I knew I was going to want to tell you how great the talk was.

Sandor and a cabbage.

Sandor is a fountain of fermentation knowledge. He just rattles off the Latin names of various bacteria as if he’s reciting the alphabet and he’s very inspiring. I think even more than all the facts and scientific stuff he went over, my big take-away from the session was really just his attitude. I’m a very laid-back, relaxed cook and I don’t do a lot of measuring, but I have always calculated an amount of salt to use in my sauerkraut and other pickles based on the weight of the vegetables. Sandor, however, says you don’t have to bother with all that measuring nonsense. You just chop up some vegetables – however you want, or you know, don’t bother chopping them – and add as much salt as you feel like and put it in a jar, or some other vessel. Then when it tastes good, you eat it. And that’s that. To prove how simple a process this was, he made some sauerkraut while talking to us, without even thinking about it.

We also got some samples, including of a prior batch of his sauerkraut, so yes, I’ve tasted Sandor Katz’s sauerkraut and it was tasty! We also got kimchi, pickle juice, and beer.

If Sandor should make an appearance near you (and who knows, with a new book due out in a couple of weeks, maybe he will), I definitely recommend checking it out. Buy a ticket in advance too, because this event sold out and there was a line down the block to get in. Which I thought was pretty awesome. I didn’t realize until last night just how big a deal Sandor was. It was kind of interesting to be in a room with so many other people that share my interest in this stuff, even if I am terribly shy and of course didn’t talk to any of them. I often feel very isolated, but it turns out that whenever I venture out into the world in pursuit of one of my interests, whether it be wildlife or fermentation or whatever, there are plenty of other people around, even here in Northern Virginia, that are into it as well. Who knew? Anyway, the class was great and I can’t wait to get a bunch of jars of various things bubbling away…I’ve been lazy lately and this talk was exactly what I needed.

Once the class was over, I walked down 6th St NW towards the metro station …

… which is on the left corner of this picture.

Hopped on the Red Line at Gallery Place …

… and transferred to the Orange at Metro Center. I have a lot of bad things to say about DC, and even a lot of bad things to say about the Metro, but I DO have to say that the stations are nice and it’s very clean. That’s because they’ll arrest you for so much as finishing a candy bar on the escalator (no food allowed) or drinking anything, even if you’re handicapped! And if you are handicapped, you’ll need something to drink because you’ll be stuck underground forever because the elevators NEVER seem to be in service. I think they are a little overzealous in some of their policies, but it is probably the cleanest metro I’ve ever been on. It also has a particular smell that I forgot about until last night, and surprisingly, it’s not the smell of urine like the New York subway – I don’t even want to KNOW what they’d do to someone they caught urinating there – it’s not a bad smell at all. It’s just how the DC metro stations smell – I think it’s all that concrete or something – and you forget about it when you no longer have to ride it every day and then do so again after a long time. I had to wait a while for my train, which is why I have so many pondiferous thoughts about the metro’s odiferousness.

In addition to wondering why I’m talking about how the DC metro smells, you’re probably wondering why I’m being so fartsy-artsy with the black & white photos. Well, I mentioned a whole ago that I’d been taking some pictures with an infrared filter. I had a lot of fun with that, but it’s kind of a pain because of the very long exposures. The long exposures were part of the fun, but they aren’t very conducive to spontaneity, and I was thinking I wanted to get some fun IR pictures while we are in France and the Netherlands in May, and I might not always want to be carrying a tripod with me. Soooo, I found a camera that had been internally converted to take only IR pictures. With this modification, you can use the camera normally, so exposure times are normal, and you can see through the lens on the viewfinder, even auto-focus and all that good stuff. But every picture you take will be infrared-only, so this probably isn’t something you want to do to your only camera. But I found a used camera that already had the mod, AND the camera was one I was interested in anyway, a Panasonic Lumix GF2, which is a micro 4/3s camera, which means it’s really tiny but takes SLR-quality photos and leaves me with complete creative control, which is a must for me because I only use the manual settings.

All the pictures above except the colors ones of Sandor (which were taken with my phone) were taken with the new camera. None of them look very strange because they were taken in the city and things like buildings don’t reflect a ton of infrared light, especially at night. So those end up looking very normal once they’re converted to B&W. Things look a little different out in nature (or my yard) during the day. No, it didn’t snow (the weather’s been awesome and this is a particularly beautiful spring, I’ve found) – grass just reflects a lot of IR light.

We have a bunch of bamboo in our backyard. I keep maintaining it’s going to attract pandas, but so far we haven’t had a panda infestation that I know of.

I’m hoping to take some shots someplace other than my yard this weekend! None of these pictures were altered in any way other than being converted to B&W using Picasa, by the way. In fact, if anyone out there has any recommendations for a good RAW editor for Linux (I use Ubuntu) PLEASE let me know! I tried to get Lightroom and Photoshop working with wine, but it was a no-go. I don’t want to spend much time at all post-processing – I’m on a computer all day at work and I tend to keep away from it at home – but I am interested to see if I get better images working with the RAW files.

I try not to veer too much off topic on this blog (though somehow I’ve decided cats and raccoons are totally on topic), but at the risk of boring some of you, I might post a few. There’ll be more food next time, though, I promise! Quite likely fermented food!

Oh – one final thought. Any vegan tips for Nice, France? Mark has swapped out Marseille from our itinerary for Nice, which I’m cool with because Nice looks très belle, but I’m not as sure about eating there. Speaking of France, though, je lis les romans français! I read the English version of Julien Parme in about a day, and it kind of irked me in being SO like The Catcher in the Rye. It’s practically the same book 60 years later and in Paris. Putain. BUT the French version is perfect for my skill level and much more enjoyable. I bought a few other short, easy-seeming modern French books as well, but if anyone wants to suggest some more, I’m all ears. My reading skills are definitely way up, but my listening and speaking skills are pretty lousy. Story of my life – that’s true my English as well! But I’m hoping subtitles magically appear under everyone’s face when they speak in France. French subtitles are fine. My tutor said I’m out of luck with that. Putain.

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I started this post – which isn’t even very long – three days ago and I’m only now finding the time to finish it. What’s more, I ate this dinner a week ago! I’ve always written up and published posts the same day as I’ve eaten the meal in the past. Unfortunately, that’s how busy I’ve been lately. The good news is that after a slump of a couple of months, I’m getting excited about cooking again so you should be seeing more from me. Of course, on the other hand, it’s about to be baby wildlife season which means the small amount of free time I have now is about to go away. But there’s good news there too because baby wildlife season means tons of pictures of baby raccoons – and maybe, JUST MAYBE (cross your fingers!), baby skunks – to share.

Enough blabber. On with the food. One of my favorite Indian dishes is saag, or spinach and mustard greens, but it’s often made with paneer, which is cheese, in restaurants, which means I can’t have it. What’s a girl to do but make it at home, right? Here’s what I did.


All the “1/2 tsp”s below? Yeah, I just wrote “1/2 tsp” as a guess. I didn’t really measure any of the spices.

10 oz spinach, chopped fairly well
1 small bunch mustard greens, chopped fairly well
1/4 cup onion, finely chopped
1 heaping Tbsp grated garlic
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
3 dried chili peppers, lightly crumbled, or 1/4 tsp dried chili flakes
1/2 tsp brown mustard seeds
1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp asofoetida
dollop vegan plain yogurt or vegan sour cream
salt to taste

Heat some oil in a large pot or skillet (a wok would work well) over medium heat. Add the mustard seeds and stir a bit. When they start to pop, turn the heat down and add the fenugreek and cumin seeds and cook, stirring, until the fenugreek is beginning to brown, then add the turmeric and asofoetida, then the onions, chilis, garlic, and ginger. Cook until the onions are translucent. Add the greens, in batches if you have to, letting some cook down a bit before adding another handful. Add a little bit of water if seems a little dry. Reduce heat, cover, and cook until the greens are soft. Salt to taste. Stir in a dollop of sour cream or yogurt (this is optional but adds a little bit of creamy tang that you’re not getting from the paneer that is so often added to this dish).

Here is the saag with some perfectly cooked basmati rice (thank you, rice cooker!).

Also served with chana masala and some naan. Yummy and makes for a good lunch the next day or two.

I came home well after dark most nights this week. Leaving work after the sun has set is always depressing to me, but it gets better when I come home and see this:

The fat one is Torticia and the prim one is Gomez. 🙂

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Black-eyed Pea Stew

Ugh, I have never gone this long without posting! I need to get back into the swing of it, or just start cooking more interesting things! I will try to be more consistent. Anyway, I nab fresh beans any time I see them, and I happened across some fresh black-eyed peas this weekend, so today I cooked up a spicy stew that seemed worth a post. Here’s what I did:

Black-eyed Pea Stew

1 leek, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 small or part of a large sweet potato, chopped
1 large tomato, chopped
1 jalapeno, minced
about 6 large cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1/2 tsp celery seed
10 oz fresh black-eyed peas
4 cups vegan broth or bouillon (I used “chicken” flavored bouillon)
2 tsp liquid smoke
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 Tbsp filé (optional, for thickening)
2 cups or more spinach (collard greens or chard would be even better but I was working with what I had on hand)

Chop the leek. I include some of the green bit so it doesn’t go to waste.

Mince the jalapeno.

Chop the tomato.

Mince or press the garlic and chop the carrot, bell pepper, and sweet potato.

Rinse and pick over the peas. You can also used dried black-eyed peas, which you don’t need to soak (though you can). Your cooking time will just be a bit longer.

Heat some oil in a Dutch oven, then add the leeks and celery seed. Cook for a few minutes.

Add the bell pepper, carrot, sweet potato, garlic, and jalapeno. Cook for another few minutes.

Add the broth or water and bouillon, tomatoes, black-eyed peas, liquid smoke, smoked paprika, and if you are using it, the filé. Bring to a boil and cook until the sweet potatoes and peas are soft.

Add the spinach and cook just for a minute or two (a little longer for collards or chard).

I didn’t have enough rice in the house, so I cooked some barley in some vegetable broth as an accompaniment.

Serve with a crusty bread!

I also served with avocado, because I serve everything with avocado. The avocados are shown atop the stew here, but I really smooshed them on pieces of bread to eat them. This was a nice, smoky, spicy, wholesome meal.

So, I spent part of my absence in LA, where I attended Fortinbras’ graduation. Yay for Fortinbras! The car rental place gave me a free upgrade to a Jeep Wrangler, which was a ton of fun and made me happy because I usually miss having a convertible when I’m there. Fort meant to take a picture of me in the Jeep because he said I very unexpectedly looked “perfect” driving it (he thought I’d be dwarfed by it as I’m so “tiny” and ordinarily drive a very tiny car), but we forgot. In fact, I lugged even more photography equipment than usual out there yet managed to take far fewer pictures than usual. It was more a trip to just be with friends, and Fort’s family, than sight-see, though, and it was really nice. One new thing we did do was drive down to San Diego, which is about two hours south of LA. This is La Jolla, which I learned on this trip is how you spell the place I formerly thought was spelled La Hoya!

This kind of looked like Greece to me, not that I’ve ever been to Greece.

We saw a gorgeous sunset there.

Okay. Time for a story. Lately it seems like all my trips end up taking on some sort of eerie literary significance. Have any of you read 1Q84? My story contains no spoilers, but it’s a little more interesting if you are familiar with it. I was driving a Jeep full of friends to La Jolla on an absolutely gorgeous day, sitting in typical southern California beach traffic, when from the passenger seat Fort exclaimed, “Some woman just got out of a cab into traffic and started walking down the highway!” To which I responded, “That’s the beginning of 1Q84!” Which it is; the book begins with a girl named Aomame, who is a passenger in a cab sitting in heavy traffic on a Japanese highway, getting out of the cab (with the encouragement of the cab driver) and walking across traffic to a nearby set of emergency stairs. Fort watched his woman walk away, and that was the end of that conversation.

We finally made it to the beach, just before sunset, and I took the pictures above. We stayed until the sun was completely set and the moon was high in the sky. I aimed my camera at the moon and snapped this picture:

That is NOT what I saw in the sky. What I saw in the sky was the bright white blob you see in the photograph. I did NOT see the second, green moon. If you have read 1Q84, you know why this picture is weird. In 1Q84, some people, including Aomame, become aware of a second, duller, greenish moon hanging in the sky a little lower than the regular moon. Most people don’t see the second moon. I have no explanation for the appearance of the green moon in the photograph. A second picture I took a short while later also contained the green moon. A picture from the exact same perspective taken by a friend did not contain the green moon. It must be some sort of lens flare – it looks like it may be a mirror image of the real moon – but it was strange it appeared just a couple of hours after another 1Q84-like event. Creepy, huh?!

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