Red Wine Vinegar

Do you remember boredom? I can recall a time, so long ago, usually mid-summer-vacation, whining to my mother, “I’m boooooooooored. There’s nothing to dooooo.” (This was probably followed up with, “Take me to the liiiiiibrary.”) I think the last time I was bored was when I was ten. Sometimes I miss being bored. I hardly even get time to read any more. Most of my reading lately is done on the treadmill, although my brother recently caught me reading a book while brushing my teeth and found that hilarious for some reason. (Is that not normal?)

Anyway, I am TOO BUSY. Ironically, though I haven’t posted in a while, I have been cooking a lot, and even doing some experimenting, which should be perfect for post ideas, except most of my experimentation has been so experimental that I don’t remember what I did once the food is done (a lot of it has been fermented, so there are usually several days or more between putting it together and the final product). I need to remedy this because I’ve actually made some pretty good stuff that I’ll never be able to recreate. Shame on me.

One thing that takes a lot of waiting time (but about zilch active time), but is so simple I can’t possibly forget what I’ve done, is making vinegar. I love vinegar and am becoming a bit of an aficionado. Types of vinegar I keep constantly in stock are: apple cider, rice, malt, tarragon, sherry, Chinese black, balsamic, and of course distilled white. But perhaps my favorite is red wine vinegar, which I often use in salad dressings and various other dishes. We’ve converted almost exclusively to boxed wine these days so I no longer have leftover bottles of wine as I did when I started my crock of vinegar (at the time, Mark wasn’t yet a wine drinker so I had to drink the bottles by myself), but I’ll still sometimes pour myself an overly ambitious second glass of wine that I can’t finish before going to bed, and my reluctance to waste it (or gulp it down without savoring it) was part of the impetus to start making my own vinegar. The other part was just the dearth of high quality wine vinegars in the shops.

I don’t really have a recipe for the vinegar. All you need are wine and a “mother”. A vinegar mother is a strange-looking, slimy substance comprised of cellulose and beneficial bacteria that converts the alcohol in the wine to acetic acid. Some commercial vinegars (frequently apple cider but sometimes wine) contain some of the mother, which you can save and use to make your own vinegar. (You would want to make the same type of vinegar as what you found the mother in, however, so if you want to make red wine vinegar, you’d look for a red wine vinegar that had some mother.) You can also order a mother online, which is what I did. (Unfortunately, I don’t recall from which site.) Or if you know someone who makes vinegar, they can share with you. In fact, part of the reason I’m making this post is to offer my mother to you. (My mother of vinegar, that is…although you can make offers on the mother of Renae. JUST KIDDING, MOM.)

Other than wine and a mother, the only other thing you need is a gallon crock or jar. Because light is damaging to the bacteria, I suggest the crock. I had one with a spigot, which allowed me to have vinegar on draught, but first the spigot got clogged (presumably with mother), and then it leaked, so now I’m using a regular pickling crock, purchased from an antique store and sanitized in the dishwasher. It’s covered with a porous fabric (cheesecloth works great).

To start off, pour a bottle of wine into your crock. Add the mother. Cover with cheesecloth or something similar, securing it with a rubber band. Stow somewhere out of direct sunlight for about 3 months, occasionally tossing in a cup or so of wine. Every few weeks, check the growth of new mothers, removing any large, thick, old mothers and keeping maybe a quarter cup or so of young mother.

This is what my crock looked like today, maybe a month or so since I’ve last checked the mother. I just washed my hands thoroughly, reached in and removed the old mothers. Don’t forget to do this periodically: I once neglected my crock for so long that ALL of the wine had converted to mothers – layer after layer of mother and no vinegar. I had to save the youngest mother and start from scratch. Fermentation occurs faster in warmer months, so check more frequently in the summer.

I usually scoop out all but the youngest mother and put it in a strainer over a measuring cup for a few minutes, which catches the dripping vinegar, which I return to the crock or bottle. This picture gives you a better idea what a mother looks like. These aren’t too old: older ones are thicker pads (usually about 1/4″ thick) the same diameter as the crock.

What to do with the discarded mother? Share it if you can – as I mentioned, I’m willing to send mine (any time I have it available) to anyone the United States (sorry, international friends; it doesn’t seem like a Customs-friendly item). Otherwise, it’s great for your compost pile.

The vinegar is ready when it tastes ready. I know, I’m so precise. This is usually about 3 months. Once you have a crock going, all you have to do is periodically feed it more wine and you’ll have a constant supply of vinegar. When fishing out old mothers, I’ll generally remove a small bottle’s worth of vinegar, in which I’ll also include a little of the mother, and then I use that for cooking and salad dressings.

And that’s my “recipe” for red wine vinegar.

A couple of you asked me to keep you updated on my mangy fox, whom I’m planning to treat. I got the medicine he needs from a local rehabber, but I’m having a bit of a problem building a feeding routine with him. The problem is you need to dose the fox during the day, because if you put food out at night, the chances of the fox eating it are at best unknowable, and probably pretty slim. Around here, if I put out food after dusk, it’ll be scarfed down by raccoons within 5 minutes. The fox doesn’t stand a chance. So I need to establish a daytime feeding pattern with the fox. To do that, I need to put food out during the day and then watch to make sure the mangy fox is the animal that eats it. The problem is that I am almost never here during the day, and since it’s practically winter (lovely 70-degree temps this week notwithstanding), I don’t make it home before dark even on the best of days.

What is a girl to do? Install a surveillance camera, of course. (That’s normal, right?) Now, I didn’t buy the camera JUST for the fox. We have a lot of wildlife in our yard and Mark and I have been talking about getting a camera for a long time. I don’t know why I’m so obsessed with knowing who is in our yard at all times, but I can tell you that the wildlife and birds we have here (a surprising amount for our suburban home) bring me a ton of joy. So I should totally be spying on them…that’s my conclusion. And now that I need to monitor this fox, the time just seemed right to take that final step towards crazy animal person and buy a wildlife camera. I had to decide which kind to get; basically I had to decide between a wireless security cam I could monitor over the internet and on my phone, or a “trail cam” that I could leave outside and periodically cull pictures and videos from an SD card. I chose the latter because it just seemed a lot easier. Most wireless security cams aren’t meant to be set up outside and most require an external power source. And I can’t put an infrared camera inside to take pictures through glass for night photography. Unfortunately, the market for the type of camera I chose seems to be hunters and the instruction manual for the camera even assumes I’m planning to murder the animals I’m photographing. So between buying a hunter’s camera and actually purchasing chicken from Whole Foods (to feed the fox, not me! And yes, it was hard.), this week I’ve felt like someone is going to revoke my vegan card. But believe me, after this week I’m only more vegan than ever. (I am going to have to get more used to the whole dead – and living – animal as food thing though; our raccoons don’t usually eat anything too gross, but once I start working with raptors it’s going to be a whole other story…)

Anyway, the camera is all set up and I dealt with the whole chicken thing, and now I wait. This morning I managed to NOT TURN THE CAMERA ON when I left for work, like a big dummy. I guess it doesn’t matter since the chicken I put out was still there when I got home. So I’ll try again tomorrow. Once I see the fox eat the chicken for a couple of days in a row, I’ll inject his next serving with the first of three weekly doses of the medicine. And by then I should see his fur starting to fill out. So I don’t have much real news on the fox front, but I DID get some pictures last night I can show you.

There were really no surprises. THIS is definitely NOT a surprise!

We have tons of raccoons. If you live in North America, you probably do too!
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This is an opossum. We have a lot of those too. Everyone always says they are ugly – it's like no one can mention the word opossum without the word ugly – but I like them anyway. (I'm actually permitted to rehab opossums as well as raccoons, although we didn't take any in this year.)

Skunks make me super happy! They are shyer than the raccoons and opossums, so I don’t see them as often, but when I do I’m thrilled, although I know they are out there every night prowling around. I intend to rehab skunks in the future.

THIS is a fox, but not the right fox. This is my healthy fox. He’s very pretty. I’m always glad to see him, of course, although I don’t want him eventually eating my mangy fox’s medicine. It won’t hurt him (if anything it will kill any worms or parasites he might have), but I want the mangy one to get it.

And guess who showed up at 5:14 a.m.? Mr Mange. COME BACK DURING THE DAY AND EAT THE STUPID CHICKEN, MANGY FOX.

More updates as they happen…and perhaps even recipes that are actually recipes and not “pour a bottle of wine in a crock, add some bacteria, and voila!”.

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Sauerkraut Stew

Okay, I bet some of you are hoping I never go on vacation again. Good news: I have a recipe and a mere four pictures today! (Bad news: we have a week-long mountain escape planned in a few weeks, but I can’t imagine that will overtake my blog for a month afterwards.)

First of all, Happy Bloomsday! It’s mid June and although so far weather on the East Coast has been cycling from unbearably hot (Memorial Day weekend) and super-nice (this week), I decided the other night that I was making a stew for dinner. Honestly, it was a pretty wintry dish, but I eat soup year-round and I won’t apologize for it! Also, I had some sauerkraut that needed to be eaten. And I missed the farmers market last weekend so I didn’t have many vegetables and was totally lacking in inspiration. I suppose you could say my lack of inspiration inspired this stew.

Sauerkraut Stew

12 oz vegan “beef” (I used Gardein Beefless Tips, but TVP chunks or any seitan would work, and I think Soy Curls would have been excellent.)
1 medium onion, chopped (instead of this, I used pearl onions)
2 large carrots, chunked
2 stalks celery, chopped large on the bias
1 large or 2 small/medium potatoes, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
4 cups vegan “beef” broth
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
2-3 cups sauerkraut
1 tsp dried thyme
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Heat some oil in a Dutch oven over medium high heat. If you are using regular onions cook them for a few minutes. (If you are using pearl onions, skip this step and just add them with the other vegetables.) Add whatever “beef” you are using and brown it, then add the garlic and fry for a minute or so. Then add the rest of the vegetables and fry for a minute or two. Add the tomatoes and use their juices to deglaze the pot if necessary. Add the “beef” broth, sauerkraut, and thyme. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for about half an hour or until the carrots and potatoes are soft. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Mark and I top almost all our meals with some form of hot sauce, and I naturally assumed I’d add some to this stew, however, it was so delightfully perfectly sour, with a small kick of heat from the pepper, that I didn’t want to ruin it with hot sauce, especially a vinegar-based one. You’ll want to add the sauerkraut in accordance to your tastes, depending both on how sour your sauerkraut is and how sour you like your stew. Mark took one bite of his and said simply, “I approve.”

Guess what we haven’t had in a while? A raccoon update! We have, I think, 27 babies right now, and most of them are very healthy; several have overcome great hardships like being burned in a chimney and being chomped by some unknown predator. What we need is help! We really don’t have enough volunteers. Anyone in Northern Virginia interested in cleaning (or building) raccoon cages….and feeding little faces like this?!

Meet Tobias. He’s a real sweetie and one of my favorites.

This is not Ulysses; I believe it’s Unity, however we do have a Ulysses and I’m not telling whether or not I put Guinness in his formula today for Bloomsday! (Alright, I’ll tell: obviously I didn’t.)

Remember Emmy, the awesome surrogate mother who is raising five of our babies for us? Here she is during Memorial Day weekend trying to beat the heat by hiding under a deck. You never know where you might find a raccoon at the sanctuary! She was probably a lot cooler than me.

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Making dumplings from sauerkraut-making leftovers

Guess what? I’m going to talk about FOOD! No cats, no raccoons, no sewing, no infrared pictures, just food, like in a real food blog! (Actually, I think cats are considered a normal part of food blogs.) How many of you figured it would take me a week or two to get around to the food I’ve been promising in my last two posts? In all fairness, I wasn’t planning to make a post tonight, but I got part-way through making dinner and thought, “this would be a good post; I’ll have to remember to do one next time I do this.” But then I thought, well, why not do it THIS time? It’s really more a suggestion than a recipe though.

See, I was all hyped up from the Sandor Katz class and making a couple kinds of sauerkraut. (It’s a good thing Sandor convinced me I don’t need to weigh my salt because my scale is on the fritz, which is terrible because even if I don’t need it for sauerkraut, I NEED it for bread. ACK!) I don’t know about you, but when I make sauerkraut, or really any time I use my mandoline, I end up with a bunch of little nubbies – the ends of vegetables I can’t slice on the mandoline without slicing my fingers along with them. Because I was making cabbage-based sauerkraut/pickles, I thought it would be smart to use those leftover pieces in wontons or dumplings, which I’d been planning to make this week anyway, because Mark moved a package of wonton wrappers from the freezer to the refrigerator.

My Sandor-inspired sauerkrauts:

I don’t have pictures of the first couple of steps because, like I said, I didn’t think to turn it into a post until a little into the process. But what I did was take a scant cup (because that’s what I had) of TVP and reconstituted it with an even more scant cup of boiling “beef” broth (I used Better Than Bouillon) by placing them together in a bowl and covering with a plate for a few minutes.

Next, I took the scraps I had from making sauerkraut: both green and red cabbage, some carrots, and daikon – about 2 cups worth – and put them into a food processor/chopper along with a few cloves of garlic and some roughly chopped ginger and processed until of a minced consistency. I ended up with somewhere between a cup and a cup and a half of minced vegetables. I also chopped a couple of scallions and assembled some shaoxing wine (sherry is a good sub), soy sauce, and toasted sesame oil:

I heated some oil in a cast iron skillet, then added the contents of the food chopper (i.e. the veggies) and cooked them down just a little, then added the TVP and cooked it all for another 3 or 5 minutes. I tossed the scallions into the mixture, then I sprinkled it with some of each of the soy sauce, shaoxing wine, and (less of the) sesame oil. Just a bit, you don’t want it to be soggy or even all that wet; you just want to add some flavor.

This is the exact moment I decided to start documenting – I didn’t even do my neurotic cleaning-as-I-go before I snapped the picture: look at that mess! I’m moving it from the skillet to a bowl so it cools down faster.

A close-up:

Next I found my trusty wonton press:

To fill the wontons or dumplings, a rounded tablespoon measure is perfect …

… or a small cookie dough scoop is perhaps even more perfect:

Put a round wonton wrapper (watch the labels; these aren’t always vegan) onto the press:

Plop the veggie/TVP mixture into the middle, …

… brush a little water on the edges of the wrapper, and squeeze the handles together. Look, it’s the Easter bunny!

Voila, a perfect wonton! Or dumpling. Or whatever you want to call it. Tasty stuff in a wrapper.

Keep on truckin’ until you’ve gone through all your filling. Don’t worry about making too many; these things freeze beautifully. I made about 3 dozen.

You have your choice of cooking methods from here. You can steam them, or boil them for a couple of minutes, or add to soup, or bake them, or steam/pan-fry them as I did. I followed Bryanna’s pan-fried dumpling method in Authentic Chinese Cuisine. I’ll show you pictures without writing out her entire instructions because Bryanna is extremely generous with her recipes and you should buy her books, and this one in particular is great. Basically you just fry on one side for a bit …

… then add some water and steam for a few minutes.

Make a dipping sauce of your choosing; I always just mix up some soy sauce, black or rice vinegar (they’re quite different so aren’t interchangeable, but both are nice in their own right), a few drops of toasted sesame oil, chili-garlic sauce, and some chopped scallions. I also served the chili green beans from Authentic Chinese Cuisine:

(Gomez is in this picture. Sigh.)

Don’t cook any leftover wontons you have. Instead, arrange them in a single layer without touching on a tray and put in the freezer until solid (this only takes 15-20 minutes, which is good because unless you have a gigantic freezer, you’ll have to do it in pretty small batches), then plop them all into a freezer bag. When you want to make them, just start to so as if they were freshly-made – no need to thaw. I’m excited to have stored some of these because with baby wildlife season coming up, I’m going to be having some late nights when I come home starving and these are going to get devoured.

Next, to show you how serious I am about staying on topic, tonight’s bonus picture is NOT of cats, NOT about travel, NOT of raccoons, NOT related to crafts, NOT taken with an infrared filter, and is FOOD! I don’t know why, but when I chopped this cabbage in half this evening, I was struck by its beauty. I can’t decide if the core reminds me of a woman dancing, Ganesh, or the tree of life, but I was moved by it nonetheless. Moved enough to spend 45 minutes with a tripod trying to get what I saw to show up in a photograph. Not sure I succeeded, but this is me demonstrating to you that in addition to all the other things I celebrate in life, I celebrate food.

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Miso Follow-up, Miso Soup, and Chili-Miso Noodles

Some of you may recall that a year ago, I made miso. The year’s fermentation was over a couple of weeks ago but today was the first chance I had to check out the results. They were a bit surprising.

Six months ago, I took a sneak peak to see how the miso was progressing, so I was expecting the miso to look nearly the same as it did then, and taste maybe just a bit mellower. Here’s what I found:

The label on the crock tells me it’s ready.

Hey, there’s my small molcajete! (I tend to use my molcajetes as weights just as often as I use them for grinding.)

And the plate the sushi place near Luke and Lanet’s gave me!

I didn’t find any soy sauce like I did at six months, but what’s this? The miso looks much darker.

Removing the plastic wrap proved my eyes were not deceiving me: the miso really had turned from yellow to brown.

At first I was disconcerted by this unexpected color change. But it didn’t smell strongly or bad: just pleasantly of miso. So I tasted a little bit and it tasted good…really good. I also remembered that I originally followed two recipes from different sources: the instructions GEM Cultures sent me, and the recipe in Wild Fermentation, and that though the two had been nearly identical, the former had called it “yellow” miso and the latter “red”, so I’d been very confused as to what to call mine. And at six months, it sure looked yellow. But I guess what happened is I made red miso.

This is how much I have:

I’m going to let some of it age even further by keeping it in a cool place in the basement, but out of the fridge.

It’s MUCH better than it was at six months. The texture is very much improved. You can still see the koji, which makes it appear to not be perfectly smooth, but it feels really nice. It’s like a very, very soft clay. I’d venture to say it tastes better than the red miso I have from the store. (It’s also darker than the red miso I have from the store.) I wish I could describe it better than just saying it tastes like…miso. It’s mellower than it was at six months, but much more complex. At six months, I still thought the store-bought stuff tasted better. This – this is pretty good stuff.

To celebrate, I made miso soup for lunch. I may already have put miso soup up here somewhere, but well, if I did, this post is better. I don’t measure anything. This makes about two servings.

Miso Soup

Put a 4″ inch piece of kombu in two cups of water in a saucepan.

Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes.

Keeping the heat on medium low, remove the kombu (you can eat it if you want) and add 1/2 teaspoon or so of dried wakame. I also add a splash of sake and a splash of rice vinegar, but both are optional.

Add some diced tofu. Fortunately I just made a batch today, as it would have been a shame to stick store-bought tofu into miso soup made with homemade miso!

Put a few tablespoons of miso in a small bowl – how much depends on how strong the miso you’re using is – and add some of the hot water from the pot, about 1/4 cup. Whisk together.

Pour the miso into the pot and add some chopped scallions. You’ll commonly see it advised not to let the soup boil after adding the miso because boiling kills the beneficial enzymes. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but scalding hot miso soup isn’t nice anyway, so keep it just under a boil until you’re ready to eat.

I also made Chili-Miso Noodles by cooking some udon, and whisking together 2 tablespoons of miso, 1 tablespoon of chili broad bean paste, a couple splashes each of rice vinegar and mirin, and about 1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil, heating this mixture briefly, and stirring into the noodles, then garnishing with scallions.

A very miso-y meal.

I know some of you are suffering with me in the mid-Atlantic region, which was hit with two blizzards/near blizzards in a span of four days. We’ve enjoyed several years of mild winters and Virginia in particular does not budget or prepare for much snow, so this has been crippling. The federal and county governments have been closed for days and many side streets are impassable, even those that have been plowed. Four-wheel drive vehicles seem to be doing okay on our street, but neither Mark nor I can even get our cars out of the driveway. There’s a good 4″ of snow on the road – all the plow did was sort of push it down, not push it away – and Mark had to help the mail man get his truck out of an intersection the other day when it got stuck. (It just so happened that I’d made Mark lug home kitty litter from Wegmans, which was convenient timing for the mail man!) I’ve been walking up to Wegmans on good (non-actively blizzarding) days for exercise and to get lightweight things, but we won’t be driving anywhere for several more days. The street is hard to walk on because in most places, the snow is not compacted down, so you really have to trudge. And where it is compacted and smooth, it’s icy. Basically I AM MOVING TO AUSTRALIA. Or if that’s impossible, California, even if I am pretty sure they’re due for a huge earthquake. Anyway, I haven’t taken too many pictures, because I’m just sort of disgusted with snow, but here are a few from the first storm.

Mark’s been, bizarrely, excited about shoveling. Which is fine with me! He looks like The Little Shoveler Who Could in this pic.

This is my car. I had to go out at 3 am during the first blizzard and wipe it off because it’s a convertible and I don’t want the heavy snow to break the top, so this is just what snow was added to it until the next morning. By the end of the day yesterday, the level of snow was higher than the hood of the car; it looked like I’d driven into a bank of snow.

This is the side yard. If you look carefully, you can see this is a fenced area. Inside that fence is the pool. Thinking about the pool during this weather makes me very sad. Especially since my swim classes have been cancelled all week so I haven’t been doing any swimming.

I hope everyone else who’s been affected by these storms has been staying safe and warm. Unlike my poor friend Nona, we’ve had power the whole time, and we can both work from home, so we’re faring better than many people and I’ve no right to complain. Except I opened my last bottle of red wine last night and once that’s gone, I may have to complain. I think instead of juice and other healthful things, tomorrow’s trip to Wegmans is going to have to involve the wine store.

I’m sure my Canadian friends are going to laugh at me again. But I’m REALLY over snow. And they’re predicting more on Monday.

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Miso Check-in and Tofu Mayo

Some of you may recall that back in January I made miso. It takes a year to fully ferment, but you can try it after six months and my six months were up on July 19th. It dawned on me today that July 19th is not, in fact, weeks in the future, but in the past. WHERE HAS THIS SO-CALLED SUMMER GONE?? Anyway, the anticipation was killing me. Had I been incubating something horrible for the last six months or was there really, truly edible miso in that white crock??

Several scenarios sailed through my head, but what I was not expecting was to remove the weight and find…

a dark liquid covering the plate. (Those lighter-colored things on the right are the pattern on the otherwise gray plate. This picture is a bit of an optical illusion.)

It dawned me, however, that what that liquid was was soy sauce! Indeed, I think it is, because you make soy sauce from soy and koji as well. It was pretty salty (I was real brave and tasted it) and there wasn’t much of it, so I just drained it off, removed the plate and the plastic wrap, and discovered this:

Miso! I think the parts that are grayish are really just indentations from the plastic wrap, and the circle is the indentation from the bottom of the plate the weight sat on. Nonetheless, I’ve read that the top layer of miso isn’t very good, so I scraped it away …

… and removed some of the good stuff with a spoon.

It’s real miso! It’s not gross! I’m as surprised as you are, trust me. To taste it, I heated a small amount of water to just under boiling and stirred some miso in. This is the most basic miso soup you can make.

It tasted fine, so I removed a little bit to use now, then packed the rest of it back down …

… covered with fresh plastic wrap …

… put the plate back on it (here you can see the pattern that looked a bit weird under the soy sauce), and the weight, and sealed it back up to wait another six months.

Here’s the bit I reserved; I’ll think of something fun to do with some of it this week. I have plenty of commercial miso, but I’m dying to see what mine tastes like in every day use!

Next up, last week when I mentioned using xantham gum as a thickener, a few people were interested. Lou asked me about using it in tofu mayo so I figured I’d try it and see. So this is for Lou.

I started with Bryanna’s recipe, using 5/8 tsp Indian black salt (which I use when I want something to seem “eggy”…and also because I bought a ton of it at the Indian grocery yesterday and I have more than I can store), one tablespoon canola oil, one tablespoon apple cider vinegar, and one tablespoon lemon juice. After tasting it, I thought it was too lemony (which is weird, I love lemon, which is why I used it, but it was a little overly “bright” for mayo, I thought), and I added maybe half a tablespoon Dijon mustard at Lou’s suggestion. I liked it much better then. Here’s the texture, with no thickener:

It’s a bit hard to see, but although it’s creamy and somewhat thick, it is a little runnier than real mayo is (I think – it’s been ten years or more since I’ve used real mayo!).

I started adding xantham gum by the 1/8 teaspoon, blending it in thoroughly using the food processor (really, it’s a Sumeet Asia Grinder, but for this purpose, it’s a food processor). To my surprise, 1/8 and even 1/2 teaspoon did nothing discernible to the texture. Finally I added what made a full teaspoon of xantham gum, blended thoroughly, and let it sit about five minutes. I don’t know if the change in texture is really apparent in the photos, but it did become more mayo-y:

I think I can therefore report to Lou that she may like the results if she wants to play around with her mayo recipe using xantham gum. This may actually be closer to a mayo texture than Vegenaise is, although I consider Vegenaise a pretty perfect product.

I wouldn’t ordinarily use this amount of mayo in the two weeks that Bryanna says it’s good for, so I may be turning this into my coveted ranch dip this week. It’d be really great if I could make the ranch dip guilt-free because it’s really, really good, but it’s not really, really good for you. I’ll keep you posted.

Remember the book pillow I made? Brachtune sometimes does this completely adorable thing where she sleeps with her head on it, but yesterday I found her apparently under the impression it’s a computer!

Also, I was able to use the pool all weekend – woo! The website I use for weather has been predicting intense hail and thunderstorms all day, but in reality it was warm and sunny and gorgeous – perfect pool weather – and I’ve yet to see a hint of hail. Not that I’m complaining! Thunderstorms are predicted for the rest of the week, however. It’s incredible the number of thunderstorms we’ve had this summer. Thursday night, Mark, Fortinbras, and I saw the National Symphony Orchestra perform Carmina Burana, one of my favourite pieces of music, at Wolf Trap, during a violent thunderstorm that lasted the entire show, rain beating down around us and lightning filling the sky. Although I felt sorry for the hardy souls on the lawn, it was actually a pretty cool way to experience the concert, and the performance was excellent. I really do like thunderstorms – I may have been the only bride on the planet to hope for thunderstorms on her wedding day (didn’t get my wish) – and I appreciated the one Thursday night, but I’m begging the weather gods to let me continue to use the pool!

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American-made Japanese-type American-style Pickles

I’m a big fan of tsukemono, or Japanese pickles. Actually, I’m a fan of pretty much anything pickles. But particularly Japanese pickles because they are often quick to make and quite tasty. I have a couple of tsukemono books and this recipe, from Quick and Easy Tsukemono, called Kyuri Amazu-ae, or Sweet Cucumber Pickles, is purported to be “a Japanese version of Western dill pickles”. It also says it reduces “spices and sourness”, although in my opinion, though it doesn’t contain dill, it tastes very much like an American pickle. And therefore happens to taste awesome.

I tripled the original recipe. If you want to just try it out before making a large batch, feel free to halve or third it.

American-Style Japanese Cucumber Pickle (Kyuri Amazu-ae)

15 Japanese-style cucumbers (small, thin ones with few seeds)
5 Tbsp salt (or 5% the weight of the cucumbers)
4 1/2 cups rice vinegar (I just used one bottle)
3/4 cup sugar
4 pods dried chili pepper
3 bay leaves
2 small sticks cinnamon
handful black peppercorns

If you have a scale, weigh the cucumbers. When I’m gathering weights for salt percentages for fermentation, I tend to use grams, although it doesn’t really matter what scale you use.

Measure salt in the amount of 5% of the weight of the cucumbers. (If you don’t have a scale, use the volume measurement above.)

Slice a sliver off the end of each cucumber. I did this on both ends, but mainly you’re concerned about the blossom end, which contains enzymes that can cause softening.

Slice each cucumber in half lengthwise.

Place the cucumbers in a pickle press if you have one, or a crock into which you can fit a plate and a weight.

Stir the salt into a cup of water.

Pour the water over the cucumbers.

Apply the lid of the pickle press and screw as tightly as you can. Alternatively, place a plate on top of the pickles and add a weight to press them down.

Let sit for 12 to 24 hours. The water level is higher because water has been extracted from the cucumbers.

Drain the cucumbers and rinse well to reduce saltiness.

Let the cucumbers dry.

Place all of the remaining ingredients into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer until the sugar is dissolved and then allow to cool.

Place the cucumbers into sterile jars and pour the marinade over them. Top off with water if necessary.

Refrigerate. The pickles will be ready the next day and keep for several months. The book says they keep several months at room temperature, but I would and do refrigerate them. The Japanese are fond of eating pickles with both rice and beer, and I can attest both are fine choices. I always add a tsukemono or two to my Japanese-themed meals. This particular pickle, however, is particularly fine with just about any meal and is shown here with the rather American veggie burger.

Now I’d like to share with you a great feature of the tsukemono book from whence this recipe originated:

I love their description of their German-style sauerkraut: “Versatile pickle you can fix with in ’emergency'”. It’s hilarious on so many levels. First off, what exactly constitutes a pickle “emergency”? I’d imagine it involves a friend unexpectedly showing up at your doorstep in dire need of a beer and pickle. What’s strange about this, though, is the books contains many – in fact, mostly – so-called “instant” pickles: those that are ready within an hour or so, all of which would be much more effective at relieving a pickle emergency than sauerkraut, which according to the book takes at least a week and according to me takes at least three weeks. Second of all, what does “fix with” mean? And thirdly, why is “emergency” in quotes? Mostly, though, I love this quote for introducing me to the concept of a pickle emergency, which is something I encounter a lot around here because we’re always running out of them.

In other news, Brachtune saw the vet today and I was extremely pleased to learn she’s gained half a pound. She still weighs half as much as she used to, but when you are six pounds, gaining half a pound in two months is GREAT, so I am very, very happy. For a kitty who is very close to or possibly more than 17 years old, and who might have cancer, The Toonse is doing very well. And therefore, here is a picture of her enjoying great dinner party conversation the other night, when I served an Ethiopian feast and managed to not take any pictures other than of the cat and my friends wearing tiny top hats.

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I decided to take my love of fermenting things to a new level and make miso. Because I’m insane. Really, though, it’s pretty easy if you can find koji, which is rice that has been steamed and mixed with a certain kind of mold spore. The hardest part about it is you have to wait up to a year to eat it. This will be by far the longest I’ve ever fermented anything.

You can make your own koji if you can get the mold spores. I have some and I’ll probably try it at some point, but I decided to use pre-made koji the first time around. As with most of the cultures I use, I purchased it from GEM Cultures.

The next thing I needed was a crock to make the miso in. The directions that came with my koji instructed me to use a 1 1/2 quart straight-sided crock. All I really have are jars, so I had to find something else with a mouth as wide as the sides. Off to the thrift store with me, again! I found this crock, which was perfect:

Then I was on my way to making miso!


2 cups dried soybeans
1 cup soybean cooking water
1/2 cup sea salt
2 1/2 cups koji (available from GEM Cultures)
1 Tbsp unpasteurized miso (If you can’t find this in stores, GEM Cultures sells it. You can also omit it if you have to, but apparently it really helps your miso along.)

Soak the soybeans in plenty of water overnight. The next day, boil them for 4 to 5 hours or until quite soft, being sure to add water as necessary.

When the soybeans are done …

… drain them, reserving the cooking liquid.

Add one cup of the soybean cooking liquid to the soybeans and mash. I used a blender but I think potato mashers are pretty common.

Here are the mashed soybeans in a bowl.

Add the salt …

… and stir it in thoroughly.

When the soybeans are cool enough to touch, add the koji and the unpasteurized “seed” miso. If you’ve made miso before, you probably didn’t pasteurize it, so you can use it as the seed miso. I ordered some from GEM Cultures in lieu of searching for it in stores because most of the writing on the miso I buy is in Japanese.

Stir very thoroughly again.

Next prepare your crock. I got the idea to rub the sides down with salt from Wild Fermentation, which I read about on Cyn’s blog and realized I needed to own. So what I did was bring water to a boil in the kettle, pour it into the crock to sanitize it, then pour it out without drying. Then I set it on its side and sprinkled the sides with salt while rolling it. It wasn’t the most even of jobs, but I figured it was better than nothing (which is what the other instructions I had indicated for the sides of the crock).

Press the miso firmly into the crock, making sure there are no air bubbles. My knuckles got tired so I used a potato masher for a bit.

Tigger then appeared on the scene to investigate.

Smooth and level the miso.

Sprinkle the top fairly generously with salt. You’ll be removing this layer before eating so don’t worry about it being too salty. Particularly concentrate the salt around the edges.

Cover with plastic wrap, pressing it down onto the miso and up the sides of the crock.

Find a plate that fits just inside the crock. This plate is particularly appropriate for this application because not only does it fit the crock perfectly, but I acquired it from a Japanese restaurant.

Place a heavy weight (at least a pound) on the plate. I forgot to go out rock-hunting today so I used my small molcajete. (I’ll probably go find a rock and retrieve my molcajete!)

Cover the crock, with a lid if it has one, or with a heavy piece of fabric tightly tied around the top.

Label the crock! This seems like a step I’d skip, convinced I would magically remember the date, and then later kick myself about for being so stupid.

Place somewhere out of the way. Here it sits next to my fancy new sauerkraut crock (that I got for Christmas), in which is brewing a new batch of sauerkraut, in a spare bedroom that is inexplicably but handily very cold.

Soon I’ll have a whole row of crocks with things bubbling inside them. I am the mad fermenter!

Check back in 6 months when I try it the first time, and then in a year when it’s fully matured!

Update, July 26, 2009: See results of the six-month check-in.

By the way, Tigger says hi.

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