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Why I Ferment (and why you should too)

Last year, I got started with fermenting. I started small. It began with home brewing kombucha, a fermented tea, and expanded to sauer kraut in an amazing crock my grandma gave me for my birthday.

I had heard an an interview on NPR with Sandor Katz who had just published and new book called The Art of Fermentation the year before, and was intrigued. I did a bit of poking around, remembered that the friend who taught me to brew kombucha had mentioned a book called Wild Fermentation. After I looked it up, and realized it was by that same guy who had caught my attention so strikingly on the radio, I decided to pick up a copy.

You should do the same! Even if you don’t ferment!

Wild Fermentation is so much more than a cookbook. In it, Sandor Katz offers his expertise in getting you started. It’s less a cookbook and more of a helping hand. He gives quite specific recipes, but encourages the reader like a friend would, to go out and find your own ferments.

What really connected me to his style of fermentation, though, was the spiritual aspect of it. Yes, fermented foods are full of probiotics. Yes, they have lots of readily absorbed vitamins and nutrients. Yes, fermenting is a practical way to preserve a garden harvest. But for me, thanks to Mr. Katz’s gentle guidance, it’s also about connecting with other living things.

When you allow foods to ferment wildly, that is, to pick up the natural flora and fauna in your own space, what you are doing is forming a partnership. You’re not going to the local brewers’ supply and buying a strain of yeast. You are offering a comfortable home and hoping that new friends take up residence. You can’t make them grow. You can’t put them in the jar yourself. You have to close your eyes, reach out your hand, and wait for the microorganisms to reach back.

The last chapters of the book especially moved me. In those chapters, he talks about life, death, and social change, and he draws a comparison between wild fires and fermentation. Like Katz, I’ve seen the detestation of fires, although not a close as he has. I will never forget watching the fires burn down out of the mountains and down to the sea when we lived in California. The change in the landscape is dramatic and undeniable, painful, and destructive, despite the new life that rapidly rises from the ashes.

But, as Katz says, there is undeniable change in fermentation also. Flavors become stronger, foods become more nourishing, spoilage slows or ceases. It makes me think of Nonviolent Communication and how we can peacefully create change through partnerships without tearing everything down to ashes.

I’m back to fermenting here in the Midwest and I will certainly be posting more about that. I’m learning new techniques, and revisiting the old, and I will definitely be sharing that with you more. In the meantime, go get a copy of Wild Fermentation and get inspired!

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My No-Fail Falling Asleep Trick

Sleep when the baby sleeps.  That’s what they always say. But really, how hard is it to just turn out the lights and fall asleep?

There’s always something to think about. Something to worry about. I found myself falling laying awake for what seemed like hours after Katie was snoring away.

When she was brand new, I developed a little trick to help myself fall asleep, and I want to share it with you in the hopes that it will help you guys get some much needed shut-eye also.

I call my trick Alphabet Animals. Okay, I know. It sounds dumb. But it really works.

The trick with this is to engage your brain with something that is just interesting enough to keep you from thinking about that fight you had with that guy on the internet or the giant pile of laundry in the washer that you forgot to put in the dryer and is probably going to stink in the morning. But it has to be boring enough that it doesn’t stimulate you and keep you awake.

Simple alphabet games can be perfect for this provided you pick a topic that doesn’t wind you up. Initially, I was doing alphabet gratitude, but since I grew up in the South, the gratitude morphed to guilt and I found myself staying awake feeling bad about random things. Not helpful. So I switched to animals. I rarely get past K. Which is good because K is a tough letter at 10:30 at night.

I’ve got some pretty specific rules that I follow when I play this game. I’ve got to name actual, specific animals. A for ant, b for bear, c for cat does not cut it. They’ve got to be more unusual animals. And some nights I pick a theme like marine animals or birds.

I happen to know a lot of animals, so this particular theme works for me. What can I say. I mostly only watch nature documentaries on TV. You might know more book characters or food items or celebrities. Pick a theme that works and go for it.

Here I go!

A is for arapaima.
B is for banana slug.
C is for chinstrap penguin.
D is for dusky dolphin.
E is for elephant seal.
F is for frigate bird.

…..
*yawn*
…..

G is for giant Pacific octopus.
H is for Humboldt squid.
I is for ichthyornis. (I cheated there, but I is a hard one)
J is for …..

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

*Please do be aware that trouble falling asleep can be one of the signs of postpartum depression. If this is a constant thing and you are having other indicators that PPD is staking a claim in your house, please do contact your healthcare provider right away.

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2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 37,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 14 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

My dear friend Paris

Dr. King, Love, and Nonviolence

It seems appropriate that on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I was reflecting on love and nonviolence.  Dr. King did, after all, reshape an entire country nonviolently because of his love for his fellow human beings and the tragedy of segregation that separated us and limited our ability to fully love one another as people.

I mentioned previously that I intend to start reading Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg.  To be honest, getting through the first few pages was a real struggle.  When I read his words, I found myself thinking, “What about me? What about my needs?  I’m not a doormat.”  There were several times that I put the book down and just walked away after reading only a few paragraphs.

As I progressed (slowly) through the chapter though, my thoughts evolved from, “What about me?” to “Hmm, so I can use this to get people to do what I want?”  And then I felt horrible because, really, doesn’t that seem pretty manipulative?  And that’s not who I am at all.

But I stuck it out.  As I got to the end of the chapter, the puzzle pieces began to fall into place and I realized what I am getting myself into.  This isn’t a book to learn a different way of talking so you can move through life more easily.  This is a complete shift in how you think, feel, and respond to others.  This book isn’t about dealing with other people.  It’s about inner change.

To be honest, that scares me a little.  I don’t want to lose who I am.  In a lot of ways, I am a fighter.  I’ve got a stubborn spirit, and I believe in standing up for what’s right even if that means ruffling some feathers.  But then I think of my friend Paris who stands up for what’s right every single day and who inspired me to learn more about this whole nonviolent communication thing, and I go back to the quote I posted the other day from Dr. King:

Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars… Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

Paris truly loves the people around her.  She surrounds herself with love.  She doesn’t do it to get people around her to change.  She just truly and honestly loves her fellow people.  She manifests that love by reaching out and empowering other women to nurse their babies.  Yes, really.

My dear friend Paris
My dear friend Paris

Look at it this way, what is a more basic act of love than nourishing a baby at the breast?  When you do that, you are flooded with love hormones.  It’s hard to be angry while you are nursing.  And that place of love is where Paris builds a sisterhood.  We are all sisters in motherhood.  We all go share so many experiences.  And there is a tremendous power to change the world when so many loving women come together.  We gave birth to our babies.  We feed them with our bodies.  We are physical manifestations of the divine.  We certainly can change the world with our love.

I am so grateful to count Paris among my friends.  It is people like Paris and Dr. King and Gandhi and others who shape anger into love and create peaceful and lasting change.

 

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Is Fresh Bread Every Day Possible?

When I saw lessthanperfectmama’s post called The Lazy Girl’s Guide to Bread Baking, I knew it was time for a bread post. A year ago, if you had asked me, I would have told you quite emphatically that I do not bake.  Not bread, not cakes, not cookies. No baking.

Then I got interested in learning some basic homesteading skills. I downloaded a book called The Weekend Homesteader to my kindle, and the first project that grabbed my attention was bread making. I tried it a few times, and it totally worked! Good bread! But I couldn’t get the crust quite right.

Then I found a recipe for a no knead bread on Pinterest that looked like it would give me the desired results by baking in a Dutch oven.

And it did! I had a loaf with a crispy, leathery, strong crust. It was amazing! And the family raved. But it required planning ahead and an overnight rise, and planning ahead isn’t something I am super wonderful at.

I can’t remember how I stumbled across the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes technique. I think I must have heard rumblings over on Pinterest. I got a copy of their book (a real copy, not an ebook), and gave it a shot. The ease and success blew me away.  Suddenly, I was making loaf after delicious, crusty loaf.  Then pizzas.  Then cinnamon rolls.

The idea behind the ABin5 technique is that you make a very large batch of dough, enough for four or so loaves, and store the dough in the fridge until you need it.  So you’ve just always got dough laying around to whip into something.

Here is the ABin5 master recipe, as posted on their blog.

If you’re interested in trying the technique, start here.  The key to success with this recipe is the gluten cloaking, what they call it when you shape the loaf.  It’s hard to describe, so I’ve included a video of one of the authors givinga gluten cloaking demo.  The trick really is to handle the dough as little as possible.

The books suggest that you bake the bread on a hot pizza stone, but after doing this for a year, I really do find that I prefer to bake it in a dutch oven.  When I turn on the oven to preheat, I just pop in the dutch oven to preheat as well.  I preheat for a full 30 minutes to make sure the dutch oven is hot.  I shape my dough onto a piece of parchment paper, and then just drop the whole thing, paper and all, into the dutch oven after the 40 minute rest period.  Halfway through the baking time, I take the lid off the dutch oven to let the crust brown.  The results are consistent and perfect every single time!

It’s hard to complain about having fresh bread all the time.  It warms the house during the cold winter, makes everything smell good, and it’s good food for my family.  I’m still learning to master the whole grain recipes.  I’ve not had good luck with those.  The loaves come out dense.  But my grandma bought me a scale for Christmas, so I am hoping that weighing the ingredients will provide a more exact measure and improve the texture of the finished loaf.  I will certainly keep you posted.

All in all, I really recommend the ABin5 books.  I have every single one, and I love them.  The naan recipe in the flatbreads book not only makes amazing naan, but also fantastic pizza crust!  The English Granary Bread in the original book is a family favorite, and the Limpa bread is amazing!

You might have noticed the Pinterest pins in this post.  I’m excited to let you know that Knocked Up – Knocked Over is now on Pinterest!  You can click here to follow me.  I’ve got a bread board with some of my favorite bread recipes and I will be adding other boards for gardening and various other things as well.

Knocked Up – Knocked Over

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GARDEN PLANNING FOR 2014: SFG Design and Companion Planting

Thumbing through seed catalogues is both fun and overwhelming.  It’s got me alternating between pulling my hair out and rubbing my hands together with glee.  It’s hard not to feel in over your head if you’re starting your first real garden in a completely new climate, and you’re not sure what to plant, when and where.

Luckily, square foot gardening (SFG), which I talked about in my previous garden planning post, makes things much easier.  It’s just a matter of mapping out your squares!  And that’s exactly what I have been doing over the last few weeks.

A simple google search found a wonderful online SFG planning tool, which has been easier than graph paper for the time being.  It’s called the SFG Planner, and it allows you to draw your beds  and plug in what you want to plant  It even tells you how many plants per square to put in.

I started making my list of what to plant, and I really did stick with the advice to plant what you will eat.  This coming year, I will be planting:

  • Tomatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Peas
  • Cauliflower
  • Radishes
  • Swiss Chard
  • Broccoli
  • Romanesco
  • Parsley
  • Marigold
  • Hot peppers
  • Garlic
  • Strawberries
  • Bush beans
  • Carrots
  • Basil
  • Nastutiums
  • Cilantro
  • Lettuce
  • Watermelon

Seems like a whole lot in a very small space, but with the creative use of trellising for the vining crops, we can go vertical and gain lots and lots of space.

You may also notice that the plants I listed above are not all vegetables and fruit.  I’ve included several culinary herbs and a few flowers, but they all have a use.

They are all companion plants!  That is, they will help the other plants by repelling pests and helping to improve the soil.  For example, marigolds drive away any number of pests.  Not only that, but marigolds are… calendula!  Which is a wonderful healing herb with many uses for children.  Nasturtiums also repel pests and the flowers are good in salads.  Radishes repel cucumber beetles, and lettuces and nasturtiums improve their flavor and texture.  Basil makes tomatoes tastier.  And the list goes on!

Having my gardens laid out in squares makes companion gardening easy and allows me to plant friends close and keep enemies (like strawberries and broccoli) separated.  Mother Earth News has a concise and easy to read article on companion plants that I used as my main reference in deciding where to put everything: An In-Depth Companion Planting Guide.

I still haven’t settled on the specific varieties that I will plant, but for the time being, this is a general look at how I will plant my garden in spring:  SFG Planner – Design Square Foot Garden online 

Have any of you started garden planning?  What’s going in your garden next year?  Have you had good luck with companion planting?  I’m eager to hear about your experience!

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Pressure Canning, Pressure Cooking

Wildflower Farm posted this week about making and canning stocks and soups, and it got me thinking again about pressure canning. I’ve seen people pressure can. I saw my grandmother do it when I was a child. But I’ve also heard the old family story about her blowing the top off the pressure canner and sending scalding pea soup searing across the kitchen. She was lucky to be out of the room when it happened.

My other grandmother gave me a water bath canner and the Ball canning book last year, but I have only used it once. Until now, I haven’t had a garden big enough to can anything, and buying mass produced veggies at the grocery store to can just seems a little beside the point. That said, with the water bath canner, I am limited to acidic foods like fruit jellies and tomato sauces. We do not mess around with botulism.

And yet, I have in the past toyed with the idea of getting a pressure cooker/canner. They’re great for making soups quickly, and I’ve got an Indian cookbook with lots of recipes that call for a pressure cooker. And it would allow me to put up things like green beans and other non-acidic foods for winter. And I would certainly never ever can something like soup or stock in anything but a pressure canner.

But how do you decide which pressure cooker to get? The ones that are in my price range are all made in China and I have no idea if they are of good quality. The pressure canners I have found that are made in the US are all made from aluminum, and I am not comfortable at all cooking in aluminum. They would be useful for canning only, which is pretty limiting.

So what do I do? Does a quality pressure cooker exist out there that doesn’t terrify me and would work as a cooker and a canner?

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Apple Cider Winter Fondue

What is better than having fondue on a cold winter evening.  It’s sort thematic or something isn’t it?  Snow, skiing, the Alps, and so forth.  Yodeling.

Okay, there are no Alps here in the Midwest, and I didn’t plan far enough ahead to rent a pair of cross country skis for neighborhood transportation during the Great Snow of 2014, but it was plenty cold, and when I saw the cheeses already shredded for me in Trader Joe’s, I grabbed them!  I may have even yodeled quietly with excitement when I saw that bag of cheese there at the store.

So we made it home, and then the snow came and we were stuck.  That’s when I realized that I didn’t have any of the other ingredients for fondue.

Bread is an easy fix.  I can bake that myself.  But I usually make a traditional emmenthaler or gruyere fondue which calls for white wine (sometimes I make it with beer for a creamier end result), garlic, the cheeses, and an optional splash of kirsch.

I was out of wine.  Out of beer.  Out of garlic.

Oh boy.  We were in trouble.  I’d already set the expectation with the kids and the husband that it was going to be a fondue night.  I’d already baked the bread.  Their mouths were practically watering.

So I did what any good chef does when faced with an impossible recipe and a bunch of savage, hungry faces.

I improvised.

An you know what?  It was pretty tasty!

So my Post Polar Vortex gift to you is my Seat of the Pants, Desperation Fondue.  It is a sweeter fondue that a traditional emmenthaler fondue, and would be wonderful as an appetizer with some of those long crackers that have the herbs and cheese right on top. Something salty and herb-y to counter and compliment the sweet creaminess of the cheeses.

If you don’t have black garlic, don’t let it stop you!  Just substitute regular garlic.

Apple Cider and Black Garlic Fondue

  • 8 oz shredded emmenthaler
  • 8 oz shredded gruyere
  • 1 cup unfiltered apple cider
  • 2 cloves black garlic, chopped
  • 1 T finely minced or grated red onion
  • 1 T apple cider vinegar, or white vinegar if you don’t have ACV on hand
  • Black pepper
  • Salt

In a sauce pan, combine the apple cider, garlic, and onion and bring to a gentle boil over medium heat. Reduce to a simmer.

Begin adding cheeses one handful at a time, stirring after each addition until the cheeses are melted.  At this stage, you will need to watch the heat carefully and adjust it if the cheeses begin to boil or if they are not melting quickly enough.

Once the cheeses are added, mix in the apple cider vinegar and a few grinds of black pepper and sea salt.

Transfer to your fondue pot and enjoy with bread, apples, rolled prosciutto, and garlic and herb crackers.

Have you ever found your pantry to be bare and made up a recipe?  How did it turn out?

I never, ever would have had the guts to wear a yellow sweater before!

Post Baby Fashion Crisis

Okay, let me be really clear.  This isn’t a fashion blog.  I’ve never been good at fashion at all.  But I have been stressed about the way I dress and the way I feel about the way I dress recently, so that’s why I’m writing about it.

I’ve always just worn jeans and t-shirts, with only a little variation.  My work “uniform” varied little from what my husband wears. Khaki or black slacks, a button up shirt (non-iron if you please), and flats.  Now that I’m not working, I find myself wearing jeans that are either a size too small or a size too big, an old t-shirt from high school (you read that right), yoga pants, or just a plain old nursing tank top that probably has milk or spaghetti stains on it somewhere.

One afternoon, I found myself going out on a date with Juan wearing a long sleeved t-shirt, a black maxi skirt, my faithful red Toms, kelly green knee-socks, and my red ski parka.  I felt ridiculous.  Was this how low I had sunk?  Bless him, Juan had the grace to tell me that I looked beautiful no matter what I wore, but regardless of how he saw me, I didn’t feel good about myself.

It’s not that I’ve never noticed fashion.  There’s always been certain looks that I’ve admired.  I’ve just never thought, for whatever reason, that I could pull it off.  I’ve always been attracted to pretty dresses and skirts that have a vintage-y feel. Like Amy Adams in The Muppet Movie or like Mary Margaret (Ginnifer Goodwin) from Once Upon a Time.  But I also like more modern looks, like Clara Oswald from the past season of Doctor Who. And don’t get me started on steampunk stuff.  That Victorian-science-fictiony-adventurous mish-mash of awesomeness is just so, so cool.

But how do you turn all of that into a style?  Honestly?  I have no idea, but you know what?  I’m old enough and confident enough that I want to start wearing clothes that make me feel good about myself, that are fun, and express my personality much more honestly than a ratty old orchestra shirt from 1997.

A friend of mine has been giving me fashion advice lately, and her idea was to think of dressing thematically.  That idea has really helped me feel more self-assured in what I am choosing for myself.  She’s kind, but honest, and not at all afraid to say, “Okay, you know, I really don’t think that’s going to work for you.”  Everyone needs a friend like this.  Someone you send a quick selfie to and say, “What do you think?”

Another thing that has helped me figure out some outfits is Polyvore.  It lets me shop at home and play with multiple pieces from different stores without having to brave the anxiety-inducing mall.  I can play with an entire outfit, all the way down to shoes and accessories.

Having these outfits put together ahead of time really helps me to find what I want when I actually go to the store. This way, I end up with a full outfit instead of a jumble of individual pieces that I don’t know what to wear with what.  I also feel a lot more confident in my ability to, well, dress myself I suppose. I don’t worry too much about finding the exact same things as I put into the Polyvore collections, but it gives me an idea of what kinds of things I can put together.

Having these pictures to go off of gives me the ability to quickly dig through the clearance racks or go through TJ Maxx or Marshal’s or other discount store to see if they have something in the shape and/or color family I am interested in at the moment.

Below are a few examples of pictures I put together for myself to shop from.

Fall into winter into spring

More winter

 

Winter Outfit
 
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This kind of pre-shopping helps boost my confidence.  I will never be a fashionista.  And frankly, I’m not interested in becoming one.  But I do want to feel good about myself when I go out in public, and I finally am finding the confidence to dress the way I want to dress.  Is my body perfect post-baby?  Nope.  Will some people look at me and think I’m a little weird for wearing quirky outfits.  Probably.  And I don’t care.
My advice is this: Dress in a way that makes you feel good about yourself.  Screw everyone else.
I never, ever would have had the guts to wear a yellow sweater before!
I never, ever would have had the guts to wear a yellow sweater before!

trying new things and enjoying the old

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