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.


  1. Emily Said,

    April 1, 2012 @ 8:37 am

    Love the pictures and hearing about all the technical camera settings and such! So interesting to hear about the DC metro food restrictions, as the Parisian Metro is so lax on such things (and has the cleanliness level to go with it).

    I studied abroad in Cannes so I was often in Nice on the weekends. Definitely don’t miss Fennochio’s ice cream and sorbet shop: all the sorbets are vegan (except for a few obvious ones like those based off milk chocolate candy bars) and there are TONS of flavors. Each time I went I had to pace down the tubs for at least 5 minutes making up my mind on which 3 or 4 flavors I wanted. The weird flavors are a fun risk too, like Avocado, Lavender, or Pink Peppercorn.

    Also, don’t miss out on the regional specialty socca. It’s so rare vegans get to take part in authentic French culinary traditions, after all. Here’s a link with a few good places: http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2008/06/the-best-socca/

  2. Suburban Snow White Said,

    April 1, 2012 @ 11:12 am

    Wow. These photos are like something from a fairytale!

  3. Jes Said,

    April 3, 2012 @ 12:40 pm

    Wait, wait, wait–you didn’t take a camera to the Sandor Katz event?! Renae!!! For shames! 🙂 In all seriousness though, I’m so jealous of you catching him, I’m going to have to keep my eyes peeled for any new DC/VA dates he might put on the calendar. No suggestions for Nice, but I’ll tweet you a few for Paris. My reviews are taking forever to get on the blog. Oy.

  4. renae Said,

    April 3, 2012 @ 5:29 pm

    I know, I know…and I carry the camera literally everywhere I go “in case I need it”, too. Any thoughts are Paris are appreciated – it sounds like you had an amazing culinary time from your tweets!

  5. Josiane Said,

    April 3, 2012 @ 11:42 pm

    It sounds like the fermentation event was pretty inspiring! There’s certainly no chance that Sandor Katz would come here, but I’ll keep my eyes peeled for similar-ish events held by someone passionate and knowledgeable about fermentation – that would be a fun thing to try.

    It’s great that you can read novels in French! No specific recommendation comes to mind at the moment, but I’ll keep it in mind and will email you when I think of something.

  6. Zoa Said,

    April 4, 2012 @ 5:01 pm

    You have bamboo in your backyard? Wow, how cool is that. Once again, I am in awe of your photos…the infrared camera is a neat idea!

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