Fermented Things Friday: Easy Homemade Sour Cream

Thanks to this Mother Earth News article, I have successfully made homemade sour cream, and thus Fermented Things Friday can return, after a long hiatus, during which I *gasp* threw away my kefir grains, and have my kombucha scobys stacked up in a veritable high-rise, and just await the energy to want to ferment more things again! This was an easy entry back, and a delightful and tangy spring treat. What’s more, it was made….

…In about 2 seconds (plus fermenting time).

It is seriously so easy, my children could do it. And come to think of it, I will teach them, so they could do it.

But first, “Why would a person want to make sour cream?” If you are asking, I will answer from my own perspective.

I just get sick and tired of seeing a long list of ingredients in my sour cream, when I know what sour cream is (should be) made of. Cream. Cream that has soured, and thickened.

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My first batch of homemade sour cream. Ingredients: cream, and vinegar to start the souring/culturing process!

Just as in this post from a few years back on chowhound.com, I don’t like the thickeners and weird things added, but was feeling lazy about doing anything about it. Well, after 2 seconds work and some fermentation on my countertop, I have sour cream made of cream once again.

I also think, and I think this blog attests, that I’m one of those weirdos who gets satisfaction from doing traditional things in a traditional way, and knowing that, even if my supermarket down the street explodes, I might still be able to feed myself. Rah!

Basic method:

Fill a clean glass jar with 1 c. of cream, and add 1/4 c. white vinegar (or, already prepared sour cream). I let it sit with a napkin over the top, held in place by a canning ring, for about 48 hours. I kept checking to see if it was thickening, or gelling up. It stayed fairly ‘milky’, though did thicken somewhat. After 48 hours, I plopped it in the fridge, where it cooled and thickened up very nicely!

The difference in taste between homemade and store-bought for me is – my homemade has a tangier bite to it, and is perhaps slightly less thick and gelled. I would imagine that over time, as I continue to make the soured cream in this method, it might gel more and loose a little bite. The neato thing is, after my first batch, and moving onto my second, I didn’t need to add the vinegar. I just topped up with some cream (and no, I didn’t measure) and then left it out. I left it out half as long this time also, before putting in the ‘fridge. So far, I’ve used it with my Wildtree spices to make a potato topped, and to make a dip for tortilla chips. Both were gobbled up, which I would equate with success.

This process does make me wish I had local organic heavy cream available, but alas, I do not. Many of the organic brands are ultra-pasteurized, making them perhaps unsuitable for this task. So, I’m using a locally available regional-based brand of heavy cream for making this, and will call that good.

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You can tell a bit in this picture, I think, that the cream has really thickened. It ‘traces’ when you stir it and let it drip into the jar, that is, you can see the lines where it has dripped, maintained on the surface.

Give it a try, and let me know what you think!

Update: I added pictures, and, wanted to give an update on subsequent batches….My third batch of the sour cream was really runny. I’m not quite sure why! I left a little bit, maybe 2 Tbl. in the bottom of the jar, and then added more heavy cream (country style) and 2 Tbl. of white vinegar. The resulting sour cream tasted the most like ‘boughten’ sour cream of any of the batches! Success! I will try the next batch without adding any vinegar, and if I get the runny problem again, will consider continuing to add between 1 and 2 Tbl. of vinegar to each batch, with the residual sour cream from the last batch left in the jar to help get things going.

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I won a book! ‘Vegetable Literacy’ by Deborah Madison, and review

Wow, now I can never again say, “I never win anything!” 😉 Following along with Margaret Roach’s gardening blog (horticultural how-to and ‘woo-woo’), I regularly enter the giveaways for the wonderful goodies, many of them books. And, right before Easter, I won a book!

picture of cover, Vegetable Literacy, by Deborah Madison

Tempted as I am to devour the whole book in a day, I’m instead taking my time and reading the ample chapters just one at a time. The book, Vegetable Literacy, by Deborah Madison, features a beautiful picture of garlic scapes on the cover (and I was sort of impressed with myself for knowing what they were, as a year ago, I would not have known!), and includes many pictures inside as well, of the delicious recipes she puts forth, each tucked neatly into her ‘family’ chapters – families of vegetables, that is. *One recipes I’m especially eager to try is a carrot cake unlike the traditional ‘American’ version, made with yellow carrots, and drizzled with a lemon ricotta sauce. The picture is breath-taking. As much as I love words, I’m a sucker for good, tempting pictures of food as well.

Madison groups vegetables and herbs by their family classification, and in the beginning of each chapter, talks about growing habits and conditions, a little bit of history at times, and the characteristics of the family — many members of which can be diverse even within a family group. the key, as she points out, came when she threw a handful of seeds into an un-used bed, mid-season in her garden. “I didn’t take time to label my plantings, believing foolishly that I’d remember what I had planted and where. I noticed that the seeds were all round and looked pretty much alike and when they came up the cotyledons were round and fleshy, and the true leaves, when they emerged, looked similar to one another. Similarities are what characterize related plants, after all, and there they were” (from Chapter 5: the Cabbage Family: The Sometimes Difficult Crucifers).  She then takes each vegetable and herb at its turn, telling more about its history or cultivation, popular varieties, and then, the recipes!

This books makes me take a deeper look at vegetable pairings to cook with, and also encourages me to make herbs an important part of my garden in the future. The herbs represented in each family have wonderful and unique recipes, maybe more impressive to me because, while I’ve definitely grown in using herbs, I still have a lot to learn! I will have no shortage of new recipes to try with the help of this book.

I also appreciate learning about some “old” vegetables and herbs that are uncommon in this day and age. While Madison readily admits that some of these oldies aren’t necessarily the “goodies” (and therefore it is no reason they’ve fallen out of fashion, due to such factors as taste or difficulty in preparation), some deserve to be rediscovered. On my list for further reading and review, inspired by this book, are Jerusalem artichokes, and chia seeds.

Lastly, what I have appreciated about this book is its approachable nature. While Madison is no doubt quite knowledgeable about gardening, this journey occurred more lately in her life, and so there is an aspect to her writing that suggests we’re on this learning journey together. I enjoy that, and it makes me want to read more..

Thanks to Margaret Roach at ‘A Way to Garden’ for the book, and of course, to Deborah Madison for writing it!

Book Review: Urban Homesteading, by Rachel Kaplan with K. Ruby Blume

I am both amazed and delighted by the growing number of similar books on the public library shelves dealing with the topic of doing traditional things (such as homesteading, farming, and the like) in the urban setting. As much as I sometimes yearn for a simpler, country life, with the way the world is, cities aren’t going to disappear anytime soon. And, its soothing to the soul to interact with the dirt and the living things wherever you find yourself.

So, that, really, is at the heart of this anthology, Urban Homesteading, by Rachel Kaplan, with K. Ruby Blume (founder of the Institute for Urban Homesteading).

Using what you have, treading lightly, living simply and traditionally — and yet in a modern way that doesn’t villify the city, but explores the vast range of things you can do to connect with your little square of earth. When you homestead, you build a home, in a frontier wilderness, doing things that have not been done before, clearing land, creating interdependence among fellow homesteaders, and employing a DIY-attitude.

In my opinion, the book is a good reference, and piqued my interest to research some topics further, such as growing my own mushrooms — that was probably my favorite article within the book. Of the concepts presented that were new to me, one thing I really resonated with and want to explore further is the concept of an urban homesteading ‘guild’, called a Homegrown Guild. This is a concept that author Rachel Kaplan has come up with through her non-profit homesteading education program, Daily Acts. This really made sense to me. Whether in the city, or in the country, we’re not meant to be independent islands, but interdependent social beings. We’ve each been blessed with differing skills and gifts. A new-fangled guild like this would pair a diverse set of people with a diverse set of skills together to help and support one another — the commonality being the shared vision of urban homesteading. Very cool.

Other topics covered (in the very wide range) included: choosing, caring for, and harvesting your animal friends, engineering greywater systems, and, of course, a lot about growing you own food in your yard.

As I’ve blogged about before, I sometimes feel torn about where I belong – out in the country, or in the heart of the city. However, I do know that cultivating my little patch of urban wilderness has brought joy into my life, and I’m heartened that this growing movement reaches more and more each year. People are curious – people want to connect, not only with dirt, but with each other – people want to recover lost knowledge – people want to slow down. This book encourages all of those good things. Definitely worth a read, to be inspired, and to be emboldened to take the next step, wherever you find yourself on the journey.

 

 

Book Review: Anthony Eglin’s English Garden Mystery Series

On the library online catalog, I searched ‘Garden’ (surprise, surprise), but was actually, well…..surprised,…to note that the search also brought up some fiction.

First on the list I selected a book by Anthony Eglin, titled, ‘The Lost Gardens’. *I didn’t realize this was actual the second book in his five book series, but it turned out not to matter much.*

I was definitely engrossed in these easy yet enjoyable reads, and I quickly devoured the series, which includes the titles:

The Blue Rose

(aforementioned) The Lost Gardens

The Water Lily Cross

The Trail of the Wild Rose

Garden of Secrets Past

 

I was intrigued, even before reading the book, at its description of it being a ‘cozy mystery novel’, a phrase I hadn’t ever heard, not being a big ‘mystery genre’ reader. If you’re interested in what this refers to, click here: http://www.cozy-mystery.com/Definition-of-a-Cozy-Mystery.html

Retired botany professor, recent widower, and crossword puzzle aficionado Lawrence Kingston becomes involved in amateur sleuthing with the first novel, The Blue Rose, in which a young couple purchases a country home with extensive, and overgrown and neglected, gardens, discovering the unimaginable, and impossible: a true blue rose.

Kingston’s help and advice is sought by the couple, and as word slowly gets out, the amazing situation turns dangerous as greedy plant breeders queue up, some resorting to thievery or even murder, to get the here-to-fore thought-impossible rose specimen.

Not only does the mystery twist and turn, but non-fictional aspects drew me in to this, and each, story — plant lore, facts, and information were really interesting, and have definitely enticed me to learn more about various historical aspects of gardening, including the famed English formal gardens and kitchen gardens which were described beautifully in the books.

Entertaining yet light, I greatly enjoyed each book, and wish there were more than five! I would be hard-pressed to pick my favorite, though I think if forced to choose, The Water Lily Cross stood out as being unique among them, and being a bit more dramatic than the rest.

If you, like me, need a break from non-fiction how-to’s about composting, give these a try.

Book Review, Not New: Little House in the Big Woods, by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Ok, I know I’m going against the grain here, but I’m kind of good at that. I’m today reviewing a book that has been around for awhile….

But, I can’t believe I had never read it, until now!

Little House in the Big WoodsWe read Little House in the Big Woods, the first in the Little House series, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, for our homeschool ‘Morning Basket’ read-aloud. Since probably everyone in the world had read this as a 6th grader, I won’t give you a summary of the story, but rather share some of my reflections on the story. *In case you’re wondering, Morning Basket is morning reading time. We focus and begin our school day this way. We adopted this practice this fall, and I think it is great! We’ve read some great books, altogether, doing this.* 

To me, the book showcases the importance of family and simple amusements of times past, the joys and challenges of frontier homesteading,  a few how-to’s that made me curious to learn more, and also reflected a tension between living in the city versus the country, and discussed the changing role of technology…themes that are all still very relevant today.

Family, and Simple Joys

I loved reading about the interaction of the family. I appreciated that the story was told from Laura’s point of view, though not in the first person. My boys cracked up about her repeated comments about her ugly brown hair, and her sister, Mary’s, golden locks.

Pa’s fiddle and his evening stories were memorable, as was Ma’s calm reaction when Laura ripped her pocket after collecting too many stones during their trip to town.  I loved the care and devotion that was shown between Pa and Ma, and how they encouraged and honored each other in their speech and actions. Beautiful.

Memorable, too, were the large family gatherings at Christmas with Aunt, Uncle and cousins, and the maple sugar/dance party at Grandma and Grandpa’s house.

Frontier Life and REAL Homesteading

If I lived in Laura’s time, I would be dead.

A sobering thought.

As I pulled my last bag of blanched broccoli from my deep freeze I thought, “Wow. I surely didn’t put up enough for winter!” and also, “The Ingalls’ didn’t have a deep freeze, either.” Epic fail.

Seriously, the sheer amount of work, ALL. THE. TIME. really made me think about the little I actually do, and the many things I take for granted. If I HAD to ‘put by’ all my food to survive the winter,…..well, we’d all be a heckuva lot skinnier.

I really have respect for those who have homesteaded before me, and have had to work so hard.

How To’s

I enjoyed reading about cheesemaking, maple syruping, and the various recipes described in the book. Granted, Laura was writing as an adult, looking back on her childhood, but the description she gave to hunting, various kinds of preserving and cooking, and even games and amusements provided a very entertaining way to learn about her life.

Technology, and City/Country tension

Striking to me was Pa’s reaction to the threshing machine. He was excited to get so much work accomplished in such a short amount of time. He was all for ‘progress’, and the thresher made his life so much easier. However, even with this new technology, there was still a communal aspect to the work. I think that too often, we’re all stuck behind individual machines, so our labor-saving devices also separate us from others. Part of the beauty, to me, of so much of this book was that, even though the work was hard, everyone pitched in, and maybe even had a little fun. Maple sugaring, for example, was a group project and brought people together.

I also reacted to Laura and Mary’s first visit to town. They had never seen two houses together, much less a store. … How amazing to think on that for awhile. I had to smile when I read of Laura’s confusion on seeing wash handing out on bushes in front of a house in the small town, even thought it was not “wash day” (as the Ingalls’ had a specific day for each of the household chores).

Even in this small aspect, that someone might wash their clothes on a different day than her family, opened up the world to her, and introduced her to the concept that there are different ways to think about things (even something as necessary and somewhat mundane as laundry).

Again, how could I have missed reading these? I look forward to ‘catching up’ with the rest of the series, bit by bit!

Review: The Kitchen Diaries, by Nigel Slater

The Kitchen Diaries: A Year in the Kitchen“Well, well, it’s Nigel Slater, buying a bag of frozen peas,” the woman said to him archly, in her British accent (I would presume, as Nigel lives in London). He sheepishly  pays for his purchase and slinks out, trying to remain anonymous.

Why would anyone make fun of a man for buying a bag of frozen peas? Maybe if that same man also touts the benefits of fresh local foods, cooking simply and beautifully to bring out the foods best flavor, living and eating seasonally — and also happens to be a famous writer and columnist for the London, “Observer”.

At the point that this little blurb appears in the book, I had become so interested in involved in his story – as Slater shares his simple kitchen diary, what he made, how it tasted, and some special notes – that I laughed out loud. Truly, it was a bit out of character for him to do this. But also, it really shows, I think, the approachable nature of this book, for me. It is summed up by the first line of the book, really:

“Right food, right place, right time. It is my belief — and the point of this book — that this is the best recipe of all. … This is the food of the moment — something eaten at a time when it is most appropriate, when the ingredients are at their peak of perfection, when the food, the cook, and the time of year are at one with each other.”

Sound a little too lofty? Well, its really not. His recipes are delightfully simple, and what makes this more than a cookbook (and therefore, an interesting page-turner from start to finish) are the narratives that string together the diary.

Arranged by month, here is a sample from January:

January 11 – Onion soup without tears – I do love the classic onion soup, simmered for hours in a deep iron pot, but if I’m honest, I hate making it. Onions make me cry at the best of times, but slicing enough for an entire pan of soup is more than I can handle. 

Or again, from June:

June 21 – An homage to yogurt – I  cannot remember a day when I didn’t eat yogurt. It is as much a part of my life as mineral water, salad or coffee. Sometimes I buy the Lebanese variety, so white and dense you could spread it with a knife. Other times is has to be the delicate French sheep yogurt that comes in glass pots the size of an egg cup. Mostly is it British goat yogurt from the healthfood shop … The only yogurt I will not eat is the mild, bland, sweet stuff the supermarkets excel at. Yogurt disguised as a dessert. 

At this point, you are either requesting the book at your local library, or thinking, “What? Yogurt?” I was telling dear Hub’band about the book as I was reading, and telling him how much I loved reading this type of book, and he looked at me indulgingly and loving and said, “Yes, I know you do.” 😉 (Which was a beautiful moment in itself, both of us admitting we have differences where books are in question, at least, books about food, but we can still be supportive listeners to what the other is interested in!)

The other take-away from the books, for me, is actually a kind of sadness that we don’t have the great variety of artisan-made cheeses, meats, etc, in local shops that we can walk to. Much of the books details his DAILY shopping trips, in which he can walk a short distance and be at different markets, some ethnic, some farmer’s, buying when he needs for the next day or two. For a mom with a family of 6, I shop once every two weeks, and make a menu plan for that amount of time. I can walk to one local store, but its not my store of choice. That style and kind of shopping outlined by Slater just doesn’t quite exist here.

However, the books, besides giving me several new recipes to try, has also encouraged me in my first Food Goal of 2013 (remember that post where I said I don’t make resolutions? Well….a goal is different from a resolution. So there. My blog, my rules.) — Explore the local ethnic markets and shop there more regularly. Not only does spreading out my food dollar help local people, it also helps my family to further broaden our horizons of good healthful eating! I just read in the local paper that a Russian food store recently opened here – perhaps that will be my first stop!

If you read it:

The Kitchen Diaries, by Nigel Slater. Published 2006, Gotham Books (a trademark of Penguin Group USA).

Other cookbooks by Nigel Slater: Real Fast Food; The 30 Minute Cook; Appetite. Among others.

New Year’s Resolutions – Or….Not…

Close-up of Icicles

I don’t get too excited about New Year’s Resolutions. Here in the frozen Midwestern tundra, it iss cold, sunshine is almost at its lowest point, we’re not as active outside, — all this adds up for no desire, and no follow-through-ability with new goals, especially challenging ones like, “Eat Less.” (That is counter-intuitive to winter. Just sayin’.)

But some aspects of turning a new calendar page do get through to me, if only for me to hone in on my thought process and answer the question for myself,  “What do I want Winter to be?”

Winter, for me, is typically a time to do much reading, thinking about next year’s garden, doing some household organizing, and getting more sleep. Because all of the above makes me sleepy, too. It is a calm part of the year, a resting up before spring bursts forth.

The time of spring always brings with it newness and change, and this year will be no exception. In my own little family, in my own little urban landscape, in my own little corner, there will be some big changes afoot as well. So, this winter, I’m especially committed to the calm and restorative winter that I’ve enjoyed (last winter wasn’t quite the same as previous winters, as I began my home-based business with Wildtree Herbs Inc.).

I look forward to sharing with you what I’m reading, taking you through a few organization projects going on, and sharing with you some garden plans. But, just want you to also know that my posting schedule will be more limited, again, to harness the calm. I do love to chronicle what I’m doing, but – you know what? – in winter, the energy is just lower. Its different. I don’t have the ‘drive to blog’ as I do in the spring and summer. So, I thank you for continuing to follow along, and I enjoy you comments, and reading your blogs as well.

Enjoy the calm, and the quiet. Rest up, and read a bit. I’ll see you here and there the next weeks, for a bit of everything, little bit by bit.

What do you want YOUR winter to be?