Tag Archives: lacto fermentation

Book Review! Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen

This book is amazing!  I got it from the library, but am seriously considering buying my own copy:  such is the radness contained herein.  Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen also wrote The Urban Homestead, which I dug, and I think this book is even better, or at least a fantastic follow-up.  In the intro to Making It, the authors talk about how The Urban Homestead was basically a book of ideas, and they wanted to follow that up with a practical toolbox.  I’m all for this line of reasoning — we need broad and inspiring visions for the future every bit as much as we need the nuts-and-bolts skills for how to get from here to there.

Coyne and Knutzen have a pretty epic urban homestead from the sounds of things, but many of these projects will also be completely within reach for folks who live in apartments and are just starting to learn how to garden or compost or become do-it-yourself makers of stuff.  I like how approachable they make the process of learning:  the book is organised into five sections:  day to day, week to week, month to month, season to season and infrastructure.   Each individual project gives you a very clear idea of the time commitment you’re making by taking it on.  If you’re working from the day to day section, you can start with what the authors describe as “gateway projects that may addict you to a more homegrown lifestyle,” such as homemade oil lamps that take five minutes to make, simple homemade tooth powder, styling gel (just flaxseeds and water, amazingly enough!), and the like.  Week to week tackles anything from easy one-pot meals to old-fashioned vinegar-based sodas like the adorably named switchel to basic sewing skills.  Month to month will school you on indoor gardening, tinctures, cloth menstrual pads and many other handy things.  Season to season contains more ambitious projects like soap-making, saving seeds, and how to espalier.  Basically, this book will inspire you, but also give you the practical tools and instructions needed to turn that inspiration into concrete results.

If you’re feeling inspired already, but your copy of Making It hasn’t appeared o the library hold shelf, I would recommend checking out Coyne and Knutzen’s blog, Root Simple.  They are mega frequent bloggers, posting anything from cool random DIY links to more involved tutorials or descriptions of their projects.  Definitely worth adding to your list of places on the internet machine to check out from time to time.

My initial quick browse through Root Simple turned up some inspiring and varied projects that I wanted to share:  Our New Earth Oven and How We Built It, Ditching the “Flushie” for a Composting ToiletHow to Roast Your Own Coffee in a Stovetop Popcorn Maker, and 3 Things To Do With Citrus Peel are all pretty totally fascinating, clearly presented, and look really fun to work on.  

Book review: Make the Bread, Buy the Butter by Jennifer Reese

The subtitle of this book is “What You Should and Shouldn’t Cook from Scratch — Over 120 Recipes for the Best Homemade Foods,” and while lots of the recipes looked delicious (and the few I tried were exceedingly popular in my household), my favourite part of this book was the commentary about what foods are worth cooking up at home, and what foods should just be purchased instead.

Jennifer Reese is a funny and articulate writer, but more importantly, she is a dedicated do-it-yourself-er who sets out to try homemade versions of just about anything she can think of.  I think most of us who try to live sustainable city lives can relate to her struggles to figure out where to draw the line in terms of self-sufficiency.  In this book, she balances cost, effort and taste when deciding which foods are best made at home and which can be left to specialists.  Each recipe is rated based on the amount of hassle it takes, the tastiness of the results and a cost comparison between store-bought and homemade.    Here’s a sample of Reese’s scientific analysis of homemade vs. store-bought potato chips and orange-apricot conserve:

Orange-Apricot Conserve:  “Make it or buy it:  You can’t buy this jam.  Make it.
Hassle:  In the dictionary under “hassle” there should be a line drawing of a woman standing at a sweltering canning kettle, lifting out jars.
Cost Comparison:  You can’t really compare this with store-bought jam, as there is no product on the market like it.”

Potato chips:  “Make it or buy it:  Buy it.
Hassle:  I went through a box of Band-Aids and half a roll of paper towels one night because I didn’t heed warnings about mandoline safety.
Cost Comparison:  Homemade chips cost about $0.40 per ounce.  Lay’s classic potato chips:  $0.60 per ounce.”

I was stoked that Reese really spares no effort to thoroughly research her decisions.  She keeps bees, unsuccessfully experiments with keeping ducks in her laundry room, cures her own meat, makes her own hot dogs (verdict:  not worth it, in case you were wondering), makes a ridiculous amount of different cheeses, and keeps chickens and goats (“If rather than a lush green garden, you want your outdoor space to resemble a Third World village, I suggest getting some chickens, who will methodically denude the landscape of every blade of grass, low-lying weed, and wildflower.  And if you want to ride yourself of shrubbery and small trees as well, get goats.”).  She lives in a regular suburban neighbourhood, so her experiments are relatable for lots of us city dwellers, and I like her enthusiasm and willingness to experiment.  You get the sense reading this book that she is trying out all these different techniques for getting her food because she is excited about doing it, not because she wants to write a gimmicky book.

In all, you should grab this book at the library, as it is rad!  I liked how fun it was to read, and how useful the recipes are, but I also really appreciated reading about someone else’s internal battles over how to be sustainable and self sufficient, yet still realistic and sensible about what you can fit into your life.

On a similar note, I recently came across this article called The Homesteading Hypocrite.  The woman who wrote it discusses her battles with balancing her ideals with the inevitable messiness that is real life.  She talks about finding herself in situations that feel hypocritical or ridiculous (i.e. being too busy in the garden to have time to cook dinner, so having her partner pick up sushi), and struggling to live a life that conforms to her ideals but is still realistic.  I really dug her honesty and willingness to admit that sometimes we all fall short of our intentions.  It’s so much better to face up to this fact and decide where to go from there, rather than pretend that we’re all doing a perfect job of fulfilling all of ideals and ignore the parts of our lives that still need examination and work.

Fantastic Fermentation

I’m in the throes of putting together a fermentation workshop for an awesome high school group next week, and the recipe research has gotten me all amped up on taking on m0re of my own fermentation projects in the near future.  I would love to hear about any fermentation experiments any of you have been working on (whether successful or not), but for now, here is a bit of info on lacto fermentation, as well as some resources for learning more.

What is live-culture food?  Why is it so good for me?  To make live-culture food, you encourage lactic-acid-producing bacteria (lactobacilli) to colonize your food and convert its starches and sugars into lactic acid.  The lactobacilli themselves enhance the digestibility of food, increase its vitamin levels, and produce many helpful enzymes.  As well, lactic acid (the byproduct of the lactobacilli) is a natural preservative because it lowers the pH of the food, making it a less hospitable environment for harmful bacteria.  So, not only are you producing good bacteria, but you’re driving away the baddies at the same time.  Oh, and it makes your food taste delicious.

How do I make fermented food?  There are various different ways to convince your foodstuffs to ferment, but they can be loosely grouped into two categories:

1) Leaving it out and allowing it to accumulate microorganisms (e.g. sauerkraut, pickles, ginger beer)

2) Using a starter or inoculating it with an active culture (e.g. tempeh, yogurt, kombucha)

Here are two simple recipes that I think are great introductions to how easy and delicious lacto-fermentation can be:

Crème Fraiche (a cross between yogurt, sour cream and whipped cream:  try it on desserts or swirled into soup)
-500 mL heavy (whipping) cream
-2 Tbsp buttermilk (or commercial crème fraiche, or crème fraiche from a previous batch you’ve made)

  1. Mix cream and buttermilk together, and put in a jar.  Cover with cheesecloth or loose plastic wrap.
  2. Leave in a warm spot for about 24 hours.  It is ready when it is thick and has a slightly sour, nutty taste.
  3. Chill before using.   It will keep in the fridge for 7-10 days, where it will keep getting thicker and tangier.

Ginger Carrots (a simple and tasty ferment — a great way to get some basic techniques down)
-4 c grated carrot
-1 Tbsp grated ginger
-1 Tbsp salt
-4 Tbsp whey, water or lemon juice

  1. Mix all ingredients together.
  2. Pound with a meat mallet or potato masher until the carrots start to release their juices (about 5 minutes).
  3. Put carrots in a jar, ensuring that the vegetables are covered by the brine, and that there is about 1” of headspace at the top of the jar.
  4. Cover the jar and leave it out for 3-7 days (taste as you go to see when you think they’re ready).  Once it tastes right to you, seal the jar and put it in cold storage.  It should keep for at least 6 months and keep tasting more and more fermented and tasty.

Resources: 

My two favourite books for fermentation recipes are Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz (check out his website as well), and Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon, both available at the library.  Wild Fermentation is solely fermentation recipes and is a bit more casual and free form in style, and definitely encourages lots of experimentation, which can be fun.  Nourishing Traditions has a lot of various kinds of recipes (not just ferments) and  is subtitled “The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats”, so expect a bit of rhetoric along those lines, but all the recipes I’ve tried are solid.

I also like checking out the Pickling section on Punk Domestics, which is updated regularly and has a wide variety of cool recipes.  A blog called Nourishing Days has a good series on Fermented Food For Beginners that is a good read.  Cultivated Cultures:  Exploring Fermented Foodways is a blog by a guy who received a fellowship to travel the world for a year exploring fermented food traditions (which I am max envious of).  If you’re looking for a source of cultures such as kefir grains or kombucha, GEM Cultures is a great place to look.  I highly recommend the links section on Sandor Katz’s website, which has an incredible array of fermentation resources.