Giveaway: The Art of Fermentation

Last week, I promised an exciting giveaway was in the hopper. And tell me — do I deliver, or what?

I would enter this giveaway, if I could.

The winner, who unfortunately cannot be me (did I say that already?), will receive a beautiful, brand-spanking-new copy of The Art of Fermentation, by Sandor Katz.

This is the bible of fermentation, friends. This summer I borrowed a copy from Suzanne, just long enough to read up on my beloved half-sour pickles, but returned it before she could hold it against me in our friendship and also before I could read it cover-to-cover (and yes, I would totally do that, on a Friday night — because that’s how exciting or shockingly anti-social my life is, depending on your age and personal obsession level with fermentation).

If you have any interest in making/understanding fermented foods — everything from cultured veggies to kombucha to yogurt to tempeh — seriously, I think he covers EVERY. THING. — then you want this book.

The only caveat is that, if you win, you have to let me borrow it.

(ok, not really — just if you live in Indianapolis)

No, really, I’m totally lying. You don’t have to ever show it to me, you just have to let me call you with all of my fermenting questions.

Enough, seriously — you really don’t have to do anything. Except fill out the form below (for real this time).

I’m rooting for YOU.
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To enter this giveaway, simply fill out and submit the following form before Friday, September 21, at noon EST. The information goes directly to Chelsea Green Publishing, and you will automatically be added to their e-newsletter list (unsubscribe any time). One entry per person; the winner will be selected at random by the publisher, notified via email, and the book will be shipped directly from Chelsea Green.

[This giveaway is now closed : ( ]

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I am super-grateful to the folks at Chelsea Green Publishing for agreeing to and facilitating this giveaway. I’ve received nothing in exchange for hosting, just the burning jealousy joy I’ll feel for the lucky reader that wins! Also, Kaitlin — you rock!

Grocery Budgeting, 101: The Basics

In another life, I was a teacher of fresh, eager college students. For most of my very short teaching career, I had the immense pleasure of teaching a group of fiercely-talented burgeoning designers — the kind of kids you really didn’t have to teach at all. They were competitive and eager, which made it easy to come into class the first day and tell them that if they did enough to get by in my class, they’d make a C. That B’s and A’s were hard work, and I wasn’t giving them away (insert my scariest mean face, pretty much the opposite of this one in the Indy Star where I was caught at DigIN with food falling out of my open mouth).

This is how I approach the subject of grocery budgeting, too. There are levels of how much work you can do — and the fantastic thing about living in our plush western world is that you can choose how much you want to do. This goes for me, too — and on any given month, I make anywhere from an A+ to a resounding, thud-like F! when it comes to staying within our food budget.

So, today: the bare minimum. Do these things alone, and you’ll be facing solidly in a direction of staying within your real-food budget.
Continue reading “Grocery Budgeting, 101: The Basics”

Grocery Budgeting 101

The first time I had a grocery budget was during the summer of 1992. I was in summer school, living solo in a dreary on-campus dormitory. I had a mini-fridge, a microwave, and a set amount of cash in my bank account that had to last all summer. I would go to the grocery store on Sunday night, and buy my food for the week: my budget was $20. I remember apples, tuna fish, and bagels as regular items on a list that rarely changed due to its budgeting and belly-filling dependability.

A decade later, I had graduated to a full-sized refrigerator and started a family. It was a few years after I’d been managing the cooking, grocery-shopping, and most household budgeting that I realized one day: a college degree in home economics really does sound useful.

(I should admit to not previously having much respect for that line of study. I never even took Home Ec in school — to me, it was a semester of brownie-making and apron-sewing. And those things were so… simple. Who needed a class to learn how to make brownies when you can just follow instructions on the back of a box? said my 14-year old know-it-all self.)

But trying to keep a family fed with nourishing food that’s as high-quality and local as possible on a limited budget is really bleeping hard. It take time, knowledge, organizational skills, flexibility, and resourcefulness.

Anyone who says it is easy is lying through their teeth.

I did a little blurb at a cooking class last week, taught by my friends Alex & Sonja at A Couple Cooks. My assignment was to talk a bit about budgeting and feeding a family. Only a few of the almost 20 students actually had children — but many of the budgeting tips I offered could be helpful to anyone, not just those feeding larger households. This is a subject that comes up often in conversations with friends — how do we stay in our grocery budget and still eat well?

To have that conversation, we should start with a question: what’s a good amount to spend on groceries? In conversations with a random assortment of friends, I’ve discovered that families in what I would consider to be similar economic lifestyles have a vast range of grocery budgets. On the low end, a married mother of two has a budget of $450/month (that’s about $28/person a week, a good 20 years after my poor-college-student-summer budget of $20/week). And I have plenty of friends who spend $800/month or more for families of five.

Michael Pollan, in his book In Defense of Food, points out that, in 1960, Americans spent 17.5% of their income on food. Today, we spend just 9.9% (you can see the whole quote in this post, where I first publicly sighed over the ubiquitous grocery budget). As a culture, we expect to spend less and less on food, any yet we are also less and less healthy. The stats beg some questions, both culturally and individually: what should be our goal when it comes to providing food for our family? What should we sacrifice in order to eat well? In what battles do we stand firm and hold our ground (because we can’t win them all)?

Fully realizing that this is not a one-size-fits-all topic: over the next couple of months I plan to share a few of the practices we’ve put in place to get the most for our food money. But I would love for this to be a conversation that carries over to comments and Facebook — so think about your own grocery-buying habits, your budget if you have one, and your priorities when it comes to feeding yourself and those in your care. The more tricks we have up our sleeves, the better job we can all do when it comes to bringing home the (literal) bacon.

So today, I ask: what is your priority when it comes to setting your current food budget?
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Ready to tackle the basic steps that will help keep you in-budget? The next post in this series covers them!

Tip Tuesday, no. 4

Green smoothies are all the rage, right? All over pinterest, in the to-go mugs of lululemon moms everywhere. They’ve been one of my favorite breakfasts since I went grain-free and my standby granola went by the wayside.

Most smoothie recipes call for grabbing a bunch of fresh leafy greens and grinding them to liquid with some other yummier items (bananas or other fruits). This is what I did most of last summer, pulling straight from our garden, where our little patch of kale was prolific for many months.

But then I kept reading things about raw greens* containing chemicals that can worsen the effects of hypothyroidism. My thyroid has lately tended to be slightly weak — so while I loved getting my greens in my morning smoothie, I thought it best not to eat them raw every day.

Solution: cook a batch of kale, puree it down in a blender or food processor, and freeze it in ice cube trays. Once frozen, pop out and store in a zipper bag. When it comes smoothie time, just grab a cube and stick it in the blender with the rest of your ingredients. You get your serving of dark greens, but they’re cooked to inhibit those goitrogens.

If you drink green smoothies every day, you might consider keeping these kale cubes in your freezer to alternate with raw green smoothies (of course you could do this with any green, I just prefer kale). Perfect for those days you’re clean out of fresh greens — the flavor is still mild, usually overcome by fruits, and you start the morning with a serving of veggies.

* Goitrogens are not present in lettuce greens — so eating all the salad you want doesn’t effect thyroid function. It’s the sturdier greens, including spinach, along with cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower.

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Looking for a great way to add immunity-supporting probiotics to your smoothie? Check this Kid’s Probiotic Smoothie — it’s for grownups too (delicious with kale cubes added)!

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This post was linked up to Simple Lives Thursday.

No way. Whey.

You may have noticed that there’s a lot of mention here, in these parts, about whey.

No, it’s not the protein powder. It’s the stuff of Little Miss Muffet.

You remember her — she sat on her tuffet (questionable action), eating her curds and whey.

Now, I’ll stop here, and admit that the first time I made mozzarella cheese (no eye-rolling — it’s remarkably easy, I’ll tell you all about it sometime), and realized that I was actually stirring a pot of of two ingredients that completely flummoxed me during my formative Mother Goose years, I was delighted. But that delight quickly fell way to further confusion, because the whole point of cheese-making is that you remove the curds from the whey — you don’t eat a bowl of them together.

Now that I’m thinking about this again, I’ll probably lose sleep tonight.

Anywhey.

See? There’s no end to this.

So what is this mysterious liquid of Miss Muffet and her curious arachnid? Whey is the liquid that separates from milk solids when making yogurt or cheese or other cultured dairy products. When making cheese, this separation occurs in dramatic fashion when acid is added to the milk. With yogurt, it requires a little more time, and often requires straining (though sometimes yogurt separates on its own in the container — that liquid in your yogurt cup? yep — it’s whey). It’s full of enzymes, beneficial bacteria, and lactic acid — and is good for digestion and nutrient absorption.

Whey is used in all sorts of lacto-fermentation. Many folks put it in their cultured vegetables — I use mine in bread-making, overnight-soaking of grains and legumes, fermentation of fruits and homemade mayonnaise, and lately in making beet kvass (a fermented beet beverage, my new favorite). I always have whey in my refrigerator — which is pretty easy to do, since it lasts in a jar for about 6 weeks.

One of the greatest things about whey-making day is the byproduct of this method: yogurt cheese. It’s the consistency of cream cheese, though more tart — and with a little honey, vanilla, and cinnamon added, it makes a fantastic probiotic dip for fruits and crackers. I have at least two children who gobble this stuff up — and the third gets mocked by the whole family when she doesn’t. It’s fun times.

Oh, and greek yogurt? It’s nothing more than strained yogurt — just like what we do here in this process (you’d just stop after the first straining step, when the yogurt is very thick but still creamy).

So get off your tuffet and give this a try. Helpful hints: my favorite cheesecloth is this brand — and I’ve been using and washing the same cut-off 18″ square now for about 6 months, so it’s worth the tiny extra investment. Also, if you’re not into sweet dips, then by all means just use some chopped garlic, fresh herbs, and sea salt for a lovely savory dip. I’m sure Miss Muffet and her voyeuristic spider would approve.

 

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How I live grain-free

There’s a recurring conversation I’ve been having for almost a year now. It goes something like this:

Me: Oh, thanks for offering. I’ll have to pass on that lovely cookie/cake/sandwich, because I’m on this diet where I don’t eat any grains.

Normal person: Oh, you mean like gluten-free?

Me: Well, yes — but a step further. I don’t eat any grains at all, which means I can’t eat most “gluten-free” foods. In fact, I don’t even eat rice.

Normal person: NO GRAINS AT ALL? Oh em gee, what do you eat? No pasta, no bread, no RICE? I wouldn’t last a day on that diet.

And, you know, I get it. It is unorthodox, for sure — and I was totally one of those people who said I could never go gluten-free, much less grain-free. But, here I am. With the exception of a cheat bite here and there (and my now-allowed single piece of sprouted-grain Ezekiel bread each day), I’ve been grain-free and starchy-vegetable-free for almost 9 months. How do I do it? And more specifically, how do I do it when the rest of my family still eats many of the things I don’t?

Well, there are a few tricks up the hungry, resourceful sleeve of the grain-averse. Here are a few of my go-to replacements for things that were once our staples:

  1. Squashes: great replacement for pasta
    The beloved squash, both winter and summer varieties, has been my flavor vehicle for countless meals over the past year. One of our favorite winter-time meals is a Classic Italian Meat Spaghetti Sauce. When I make a batch, I cook a pot full of pasta for my family, and roast a spaghetti squash for myself. The sauce tastes just as good on squash as it does on pasta (a good douse of olive oil and salt is in order).  In summer months, zucchini serves the same purpose. One of my favorite ways to eat it is by steaming zucchini ribbons (recipe below) — last week I had the ribbons topped with pesto, chicken, and fresh cherry tomatoes for a light and filling dinner (but olive oil and good parmesan are also elegant toppings).
  2. Cauliflower: a good substitute for rice or potatoes
    Cauliflower is another non-starchy vegetable that can mimic a classic. A shepherd’s pie is legal for my diet if I use puréed cauliflower in place of the mashed potatoes (with butter and salt, my husband couldn’t even tell the difference). For dishes that call for rice (like our beloved Coconut-Lime Fish Curry or Red Lentil Curry) I mash steamed cauliflower with a fork until it’s a similar consistency as rice.
  3. Greens: replace almost anything
    I’ve discovered that you can go a long way with simple “meal salads.” I’ve long relied on grain salads as lunchtime workhorses — so these days I just throw everything on top of a big pile of lettuce greens instead. Nuts, seeds, fermented vegetables, cubed chicken, avocado, boiled eggs — this is a king salad that will keep you full until dinner. Greens are also the solution for taco night — my family reaches for taco shells, and I fill my bowl with greens.
  4. Grain-Free Crackers: keep a stash on-hand!
    I’ve been known to sneak a baggie of my Grain-Free Crackers into a dinner party or book club. I don’t want to miss out on that cheese plate or dip, and a cracker certainly helps. I also love these for a quick lunch of smoked sardines or egg salad — the crackers give the exact crunchy vehicle necessary in dippy situations.

Believe it or not, I’ve grown so accustomed to these replacements, it will honestly be hard to go back when I wean off my diet. If you currently live grain-or-starch-free, what have I missed? Are there other nourishing, belly-filling foods in your arsenal?

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Tip Tuesday, no. 3

Do you have a favorite trick in the kitchen? One that, each and every time, leaves you pleasantly surprised that it actually works? Today’s tip is right up there with my all-time faves — and every time, I walk into the kitchen afterward and think, “wow, it really worked.” It’s like the movie Groundhog Day, where I am Bill Murray and my supporting actor is a Lodge skillet.

Today’s tip: frozen meat thaws more quickly when set in a cast-iron pan.

Something about heat transfer, and conductivity, and blah blah blah seventh-grade science. If you’re like me, you never might not always remember to transfer meat from the freezer to the refrigerator a day or two before you plan to cook. No worries — just grab your cast-iron skillet, set it on the counter, and plop the frozen rock inside. Flip it over after an hour or so, when the underside feels thawed, and let it continue (it helps to remove thick paper wrapping or styrofoam, as long as the meat is still tightly-wrapped in plastic or foil).

As a bonus, the skillet contains any pesky meat juice leaks.

I don’t know the exact increase percentage in thawing time, so I’ll just say it’s an unofficial good bit faster than thawing on a counter or plate.

If you don’t have a cast iron pan, this alone is reason enough to buy one (I have a few Lodge pre-seasoned and a couple thrifted ones as well).

Because this totally works.* Surprisingly, every time.

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*granted, it’s not light-speed or anything. It still takes a few hours, so don’t expect to pull out frozen chicken an hour before dinner and still serve chicken. Also, don’t let it sit out all day — because it thaws more quickly, it’ll come to room-temperature more quickly, leaving it at questionably bacteria-friendly temps for too long. Moral of the story: pay attention. Chances are, you will be, since you’re likely in a hurry anyway.

This tip was shared with Simple Lives Thursday, via GNOWFGLINS.