Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Fermented Pickles


I have made refrigerator pickles before, but this time, I wanted to try my hand at fermented pickles. 

 Fermentation does not =alcohol, Sourdough bread is fermented. Fermentation produces those healthy bacteria we refer to as probiotics. Fermented foods have a plethora of health benefits.

Fermentation also helps stave off spoilage. Before people knew about probiotics, they knew that fermented foods last a long time. Before refrigeration, this was critical to survival. Now, in the age of global produce trade, it's still convenient and cost effective. I bought a half case of pickling cucumbers for $20. That's about 20-30 pounds of cucumbers. We ate about a third fresh, I pickled 15 quarts, and I lost a few to spoilage :( The salt and vinegar I used are negligible. That's a lot of food for $20. 

I used the instructions in Every Step in Canning: The Cold Pack Method, a free e-book available from Amazon and the Gutenberg Project. Originally published in 1920 as a pamphlet for housewives, I had to make a few adjustments. For instance, I used canning jars instead of a crock or wooden tub. I screwed my lids on instead of sealing my jars with paraffin, and I moved my jars to the refrigerator after they finished fermenting. I suppose, in theory, refrigeration is technically unnecessary, but I found that 2 additional days on top of the fridge made my pickles slightly more sour than I would prefer. I have room in the fridge, so in they went. They should be able to hang out in there indefinitely. I'm hoping to hold onto these until next spring. 

First, lets talk about cucumbers. 

Pickling cucumbers are smaller and firmer than garden cukes. The pickling process softens them a bit. While these raw pickles are much crisper than ones you find in the store or homemade heat-canned pickles, they do still need to be quite firm to hold up to the process. Garden cucumbers are better suited to a refrigerator pickle. 

Other veggies besides cucumbers will work well in this preparation. Watermelon rind, radishes, green tomatoes, green beans, turnips, carrots, and anything of a similar texture will work. I have only used cucumbers, but I do plan to do this with watermelon rind this summer. 


Alrighty, let's get started. 

First, wash your cucumbers well. If they come from a grocery store, they may have a wax coating. Scrub that off. Yuck.

Next, slice them, quarter them, or whatever. If you have a LARGE container, such as a glass gallon jar, you may leave them whole. Smaller jars won't hold whole pickles.

A word about containers. You want something stable. There is vinegar involved here. Metal and plastic are no-nos. Glass, crockery, even "non-pitchy wood", whatever that means, are fine. When in doubt, go with glass. 

Wash your containers. There is no need to sterilize as in canning. Just soap and water. 


These pickles are sliced the long way, and a sprig of dill rests at the bottom.


Next, pack your jars. If you wish, put a sprig or two of fresh dill in the bottom of your jar, or whatever spices you wish. You don't need dill or pickling spice. Most "dill pickles" in the grocery store have no dill. They are just plain pickles. My first batch was plain. They are quite flavorful all on their own. 

Then lay the jar on its side. Pack the cucumbers firmly into the jar. When the brine goes in, everything will loosen up and shift around a bit. You want them to stay in place.

                                               



Leave a bit of room at the top. The pickles must be completely submerged. If one piece sticks out, the whole jar will spoil. 

Brining solution

Now it's time to mix the brine. 

To one gallon of clean, filtered drinking water, add 1 cup vinegar and 3/4 cup salt. You can use whatever kind of vinegar and salt you like. This is a very mild brine. It's NOT a pickling solution. This solution alone will not preserve your pickles. The vinegar in this brine will only protect your cucumbers until the fermentation can kick in. It's just a booster. 

I chose raw, organic apple cider vinegar, mainly for the antifungal benefits. It's the only vinegar approved for Gem's Candida Diet. Because these pickles have no sugar, and no additives or preservatives-or dyes, did you know most pickles have yellow dye? Why?!!?-they are safe for Gem, and anyone else on a variety of special diets.

Choose your salt wisely. The salt will concentrate in the pickles. My kids reported that the pickles I made were very salty. (They still downed a quart for lunch, so they weren't bad, just saltier than expected.) Pickling salt is a low-quality salt. It has a strong flavor. I would recommend using a good-tasting salt with a flavor you prefer. I used an inexpensive sea salt

You will need half as much solution as the volume of your pickle containers. One gallon of brine will fill 2 gallon jars, or 8 quart jars. 


Fill the jars with brining solution to the tops. Make sure that the pickles are completely covered. If jars aren't packed tightly enough, the cucumbers may float to the top and spoil. 


Place the lids loosely. Don't screw them tight yet. Label them with the date. 


Place the jars in a safe, warm place. Heat speeds fermentation. I put mine on top of the fridge. This is my usual fermenting area :)  You can see my kombucha and my oil infusions up there as well.
In a day or two, you should see a few bubbles if you gently shake the jars. There's no sugar in here, so it won't get fizzy. Leave them up there for about a week. 

After they are sufficiently fermented, check the tops for scum. If any has formed, skim it off. Screw the lids on tightly. Move the jars to the refrigerator, a root cellar (if you don't live in Louisiana and you have one), or eat them up right away. 







Friday, April 11, 2014

Sushi Fried Rice



Our lunches are often thrown together from this and that, whatever I find in fridge and pantry. The results are often rather impressive. 
Today is one of those days. 
D brought home sushi a couple of days ago. I had leftover rice in the fridge. I tossed together the leftover dipping sauce and wasabi with a few pantry staples and -voila!- Sushi Fried Rice. 
Fried rice is one of my go-to recipes. It's much easier than you might think. The extra toppings turn a basic dish into something special. 

This is more of a process than a recipe. I didn't measure anything. It's all a matter of taste. I'll walk you through it. 

1. Heat a drizzle of oil in a skillet. 

2. Add diced onions. Saute lightly. Scootch them to the side. 

3. Beat an egg or two. Drizzle the eggs into the hot oil. Scramble. Scootch them over with the onions. 

4. Add the cold, leftover rice. Cold rice works best here. Other grains can be used in place of the rice. Quinoa is very good in this dish. 

5. Stir together the rice, onions and eggs, frying lightly. 

6. Pour dipping sauce or soy sauce over the top. Add a bit of wasabi. Stir well. 

7. Shred some carrot and sliver some pickled ginger and kale, if you have it. Fold those in. Heat through. 

8. Remove from heat. Spoon into bowls. Top with shredded nori and a sprinkle of sesame seeds. Serve. 



Sugar free, low carb oat bran-flax porridge





Gemini is on the Candida Diet to help his tummy feel better. He is doing very well, but unfortunately, his favorite breakfast of "eatsmeal" is contraband. 
Luckily, this breakfast is an excellent replacement.

Heat 1 cup of water to boiling.

Add 1/2 cup oat bran and 1/4 cup flax meal.

Stir constantly until thick and creamy.

Remove from heat. Spoon into a bowl.

Top with coconut milk, butter or substitute, and a half packet of stevia

He likes it. 







Thursday, March 27, 2014

Vegan sushi-How to make sushi at home







Earlier today, I posted about Vegan Fried Eggplant. I mentioned that it was meant to be used in sushi. 

Here's the sushi. 

Yum. Sushi.


First- definitions.

Sushi does not = raw fish. At all.

Sashimi is raw fish. Sashimi is sometimes used to make sushi, but not always. 

Sushi is a broad term which refers to a variety of tasty little morsels, usually (but not always) including rice, Nori seaweed papers, and fish, shellfish, egg, fruit and/or vegetable toppings/fillings. Some are cooked, some are not. Soy paper or thinly sliced cucumber (or, I'm sure, many other alternatives I haven't seen yet) can be used in place of the nori. Nigiri does not require any wrapper at all. Nigiri is essentially a block of rice with a slice of fish (usually raw) or some other topping, on top. 

The rolls that we often refers to as sushi, and which I show above, are called Maki, meaning log. Maki can be filled and sometimes topped with any number of ingredients and sauces varying widely depending on where one lives. In Japan, choices are limited and deeply traditional. In the US, we can get a little crazy.

The title of this post is Vegan Sushi. I used only nonanimal-derived ingredients. Sometimes we use cooked seafood, or eggs. I NEVER use raw fish. Never. D eats sashimi. I try not to watch.

Later in the post I will make grain-free, low carb, and raw sushi. Sushi can easily be gluten free. Just check your ingredients before you begin. Soy sauce is the big offender here. 


All right. Now that we know what we're doing, let's get started.

First, we set up our assembly station. 


The rice isn't here yet because it's still cooking. We'll handle that in a minute.
Clockwise from top left, we have a serving tray, cucumber ribbons, steamed asparagus, halved, carrot ribbons,the fried eggplant from earlier, nori,a sushi mat in a zipper bag, avocados, a small cutting board and a small, sharp, serrated knife.

You can use anything you like here. Real Japanese sushi is limited to seafood, pickled vegetables, eggs, and a few soy products. But we aren't in Japan, so we can use whatever we want. Here in Louisiana, some popular choices are fried crawfish, fried shrimp, cream cheese, crab, krab, local fish, strawberries, pineapple, oranges, jalapenos, cucumber, carrots, and fried tempura breading, called "crunchies". No joke.

Let's talk rice. 
Sushi rice that you can buy in the store is NOT Japanese sushi rice. It is illegal to import or export rice to and from Japan. Rice is sacred and traditional and not to be played with. At all. It is serious business. 

Sushi rice in the US is probably from California. It's an imitation, and in my opinion, not a very good one. So pretty much, use whatever rice you want. It doesn't really matter. Technically, sushi should be made with short grain rice, but I use local medium grain rice, and it works okey doke. Minute rice or anything out of a box should NOT be used. Cook some real rice. 

Traditionally, hot sushi rice is dumped into a large, flat, wooden bowl and paddled and fanned with paper fans to cool. I don't have a wooden bowl, so I use a stainless steel one. Use what you have. 

Woo wee! Look at that steam coming off that rice. 
Sushi rice should be seasoned with palm sugar, soy sauce and rice vinegar. I like to squeeze in a little wasabi paste, as well, but that is cheating. It should be added to the finished rolls. I don't mind.  Adding it to the rice lends the flavor without burning my children's lips off. 



Wasabi is a root, similar to a horseradish. If you can get fresh wasabi, grab it up. Store it in the freezer. Grate it into your rice. Lucky you.
For the rest of us, wasabi comes in powder or paste. Powder can be reconstituted into paste. I buy paste.
Check the package for the word "sauce". If it's there, put it back. It's mayonnaise that has been seasoned with wasabi. You don't want that.
If you can't find wasabi, or don't care for it. no loss. Just don't use it. 



Black soy sauce or sweet soy sauce is soy sauce which has been sweetened with palm sugar. I keep some in the house because it's dangerously delicious. Regular soy sauce and brown sugar will work, too. 



Rice wine vinegar has a light, clear, sweetish flavor. This one is diluted to 5% concentration. If you buy it from a regular grocer, it will probably be stronger. Use less. You don't want your rice to be acrid. 
If you don't have rice wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar is ok. 



This was 4 cups of uncooked rice. It's a really big bowl. Use about this much sauce. You can't see the vinegar, but it's in there. A little less than the other two.


Fold the rice over and over until sauces are evenly distributed and rice is cool. 

Now it's time to assemble the rolls. 

Sometimes we assemble at the table. I let the kids take turns choosing what goes into each roll. This is great fun for the kids, and wholly exhausting for me. Today, I preassembled. 

My production assistant





This is my sushi mat. It's made of little bamboo rods woven together with string. The zipper bag keeps it clean. When we're done, I wash the bag, and put it back in the drawer till next time.
The sushi mat is nice to have, but not necessary. I only use it when I'm having trouble. You can make rolls without one if you don't have one. If you do, use it. It might make it easier. 

I don't know my nori is half sheets instead of the usual square, but well, there it is.
Lay a single sheet of nori out rough side up. 


Use a rice paddle or large, flat wooden spoon to spread the rice on the nori in a thin layer. This is where the long-vs-short grain rice varies. Short grain rice is softer and stickier. 


Pro tip: Slice the avocado in half. Twist it like an oreo. It will come apart cleanly. Score the flesh all the way to the skin. 


Use a spoon to scoop out one slice at a time. 

To remove the seed, stick the tip of the knife into the seed and pop it out. 

Back to sushi making. 


Layer up some fillings in the center. 


Flip one side over the top and squeeze gently, tucking the end in on the opposite side. 


Open it up, and you should have something like this. 


Flip it around and do it again with the other side. You should now have-taa-daa!- a maki sushi!


Slice it carefully. Press the two ends towards each other and lift the whole thing. Place it on the tray. 

Repeat with lots of fillings. 

Cucumber

Asaparagus

carrots





A word about fillings: 

Keep it small. Thin slices, julienne, shreds, matchsticks, ribbons. Smaller is better.

Sushi is meant to be eaten in one perfect bite. Be mindful that your rolls are not over filled. 

Looks good.



Now, lets talk about gluten free, grain-free, low carb, raw sushi. This is easier than you think. 

Nori is generally considered to be raw because it is cooked at a low temperature. If you would rather, substitute raw kale leaves in their place. Use raw fruits, veggies, nuts and butters for you filling. 

For everyone else, leave out the rice. 

No rice


The process is the same, except that the rolls won't stick quite as well. The sticky rice does that. 



We don't slice these. Pick them up and eat them whole. For these, I do prefer the smaller nori sheets. I find the extra fillings...filling. I can only eat one or two of these and I'm stuffed. 


Pretty

Wasn't that easy?


















































Vegan Fried Eggplant



 I love fried eggplant. It's hearty and meaty, and it makes one heck of a burger. But I don't like making it with eggs. 

This batter is light and crispy without that heavy, eggy, soggy texture. 

I cut these guys into strips because they will be going into sushi rolls tonight. Normally the eggplant is sliced into rounds, battered, fried and topped with cheese and sauce, or served in a sandwich. You might find that you want to try serving these in some other manner. Go for it.

Eggplant is the meat-loving vegan's best friend. It happily takes the place of a variety of meats in many different dishes. 


To choose a ripe, not-over-ripe eggplant, look for a smooth, dark skin and firm, slightly spongy flesh. 



Ingredients:

1 large, ripe eggplant

Flour of your choice, approximately 2 cups

Cajun seasoning, salt and pepper, or other seasoning of your choice

1/4 cup water per 1tbs flax meal, adjust as needed

 A large amount of cooking oil for frying. I used coconut.


Heat 1 inch of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Do not allow oil to smoke.  

Wash and slice eggplant. Set aside. 

Stir together flour and seasoning in a shallow dish. Start with one cup flour. Season to taste. 

In a small bowl, combine water and flax meal. Let sit for a few minutes. It will thicken. Add enough to make 2-3 inches. If you find it is too thick, add more water. If it's too thin, add more flax. It will continue to thicken while you cook, Add more water as needed.
The thicker the flax mixture, the heavier the batter. Adjust to your taste. 



Dredge eggplant in flax mixture, followed by flour mixture. 


Fry in oil till lightly golden brown. Turn and fry on other side. 

It's messy, but it's worth it.




Remove to a cooling rack on a baking sheet. 

Yummy. 

These sticks are great for kids to dip into ketchup or ranch dressing. 

1 medium-large eggplant made 2 of the trays shown above. 



















Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Mid-year Homeschool Update



At the beginning of this year, I laid out our plans. We changed almost everything. At least, that's what I thought. I was wrong. 

We have now scrapped most of that. We are on to better and different things and we are SO HAPPY. 

Here's a brief list of what we started with and where we are now. 

Grammar: First Language Lessons is on hold for the 7yo and scrapped entirely for the 11yo. Aries will pick up FLL2 next year (maybe. We may be outgrowing it), Sagittarius starts KISS Grammar  this week.

Imitation in Writing was a big fail. Too rigid, too critical, too demanding, no fun. Sagg chose to do Write This Book instead. He read the full Pseudonymous Bosch series and wanted to finish with this. It turned out to be an excellent experience for him. He enjoyed it, and no longer HATES writing. Two similar resources we will use are Writing Strands and NaNoWriMo Kids workbook. But not till next year. 

Sagg is loving Life Of Fred for math. He does still enjoy Khan Academy, but we have found CK12 Braingenie is a better resource for focused skills practice.
Aries enjoyed LOF Apples, but we set it aside to work on Funnix Math. He will return to Fred after he completes Funnix.

Funnix offers free downloads of their Phonics, reading and math programs in December. I downloaded it on a whim. Aries needed a little extra skills practice, and while Explode the Code was OK, he wasn't loving it.  He LOVES Funnix. LOVES like he has never enjoyed school before. 


We changed out our reading list from Ambleside Online to Mensa For Kids. Shorter, but more modern, more fun, still high quality.

History is still Story of the World. Always and forever. 

We are using Countdown to Logic and loving it. Fun, challenging, but easy enough for my 7yo to join in. 

English From the Roots Up is going well. It's a little fun bonus that Sagg does once a week. 

The biggest change this year is in our schedule. After talking with friends over the summer, I set aside our long-lived rotating schedule (history on Tuesday, Science on Wednesday, etc). We switched to a block schedule. History for a month. Science for a month. Art/music/poetry/creative writing for a month. I LOVE this change. We cover more material, dive deeper, and immerse ourselves in the subject fully until it's finished. 

This month, we are learning Japanese using Mango, free from the library. Aries asked to learn Japanese so that he can watch anime without translation. yesterday was our second lesson. This morning he greeted me with "Ii denki desu, ne?" I think it's working. 

In addition to continuing all of the above, I am adding some new elements. 

Charlotte Mason style composer, artist, and poet studies, and Nature Journals.

A Writer's Workshop  


Little 4 yo Gemini is teaching himself to write his letters. We started Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading yesterday. I hadn't planned to start this early, but he is asking and asking and asking and asking for it, so why not. 

The major shift this year has been away from scripted, prepared lessons toward more free-flowing, spirited, DIY type of lessons. In my earlier post, I asked, "Where is the love?"

It's here. We found it. 











  

Loose Parts Playground


A hose reel, assorted bricks and stones, a stick, and wire mesh shelving. Black smith shop.


Not long ago, I started seeing mention of Loose Parts Playgrounds.  As I read the descriptions of giant blocks, boards and spools, it occurred to me that we have many of those elements in our own back yard. I have since made an effort to have them more accessible to my children. We will continue to add pieces as we come across them.

Everyone loves a cardboard box.

The concept behind a loose parts playground is simple. Instead of, or alongside, traditional playground equipment, provide children with large, heavy building materials that they can use to build life-size constructions.




Kids love blocks. They love to build, to create, to design. These materials allow them to build on a large scale. To build things they can walk on and climb into. Unlike tiny Legos and unit blocks, they can interact with their creations using their entire bodies.



Many of the pictures and descriptions I have seen are composed largely of specifically designed large scale toys, or carefully landscaped play areas. They are beautiful. And pricey. But we have built our collection out of scraps salvaged from our property and our home improvement projects.


Scrap wood- minus nails, screws, or obvious splinters- becomes a ramp, a bridge, a door, a wall. Assorted sized and shaped bricks are huge, weighty blocks, building muscles and increasing awareness of ones position in space. And boxes. We all know about boxes. 


Bottom line: Scraps+creativity= loose parts=fun.