Stacking Functions Garden


Fermentation Workshop


Wednesday night I had the honor of taking a fermentation class taught by none other than Sandor Ellix Katz, of Wild Fermentation fame!  It was very cool, and I have never felt so jazzed about sauerkraut in my entire life.  He talked about a lot of things from his book, and answered a lot of questions, including two of mine.

First, I asked him what’s the deal with yogurt recipes that recommend buying commercial yogurt to use as a basis for home yogurt-making.  Basically, to make yogurt, you bring milk to a boil, then stir in a small amount of yogurt, then keep it at about 110 degrees F for at least 7 hours (up to 10).  The bacteria in the yogurt you added multiply, and now you have a new batch.

Well, you would think “HEY! I never have to buy yogurt again” because you could just use a little of your previous batch to innoculate your next batch.  But most of the recipes I have found say to buy a small container of commercial yogurt to innoculate your next batch.

People, we finally have an answer to this months-old question. Katz said that American commercial yogurt makers include strains of bacteria that do specific things, such as make the yogurt thicker and smoother.  If you keep using the same batch over and over again, these strains will eventually get weaker and classic yogurt bacterias such as the acidophilus group get stronger.  Your yogurt might end up being kinda runny and/or not have a great texture.  It will still be good for you, just maybe not as pleasing in appearance and texture to our American palates.

As for myself, I’ve gotten into a rhythm with my yogurt-making that I think I will probably maintain despite this revelation.  I buy a 6-oz container of Cultural Revolution yogurt for about $1.25 every time I go grocery shopping.  It’s whole-milk and unflavored, and just the exact right amount, so that makes it really easy.

Since I started using this as an innoculant, and also switched to non-homogenized milk, my yogurt is definitely a little more runny.  But we stir it up good, and add a little honey, and it is delicious!

The other question I was going to ask, but didn’t have to because he covered it anyway, was what is the deal with covering fermenting kimchi/kraut/etc.?  You may remember from my last post about making kimchi that I was super confused about this.

Well, the deal with fermenting foods is this:  because it has been done in so many different places for SO long (pre-dating the written word, for Pete’s sake), there are many “right” ways to do this stuff.  If you’re making a small amount, like the recipe I posted that made 1 qt, you can just put the standard canning lid on, as long as you make sure you open it at least once a day to let out accumulated pressure, and press down your veggies manually.kimchiinprogress

Or you can do like we did and put a piece of cloth on top so that air can get out but flies can’t get in.  OR you can weight the kraut/kimchi down with a heavy weight to hold the veggies under the surface of the liquid (this is more of a classic method and works especially well when you’re making very large amounts).  The gist is: there are multiple right ways, and worst-case-scenario if you get it wrong is that it might not taste super awesome.  But even that is a matter of individual preference.  You also might get scums/molds, but they are not dangerous and easily dealt with.  The powerful good-for-you enzymes will annihilate any bad bacteria that might find its way in, so things like botulism simply aren’t an issue.

The right amount of time for fermenting is also wide open.  He said it could be 3 days, 3 weeks, 3 months, or 3 years depending on the temperature of your house and how sour you like your kraut.  We fermented our first kimchi for about a week, during pretty warm weather, and it got real sour.  Our second batch we only fermented for about 3-4 days before moving it into the fridge.  Upon tasting it a couple times, it seemed a little too salty and not sour enough for me so I got it back out last night to get going again.  I’ll probably put it back in the fridge tomorrow.

He also talked about all kinds of fun and exciting things like making mead, which we are going to try shortly here now that our one glass carboy is freed up from the beer-making that Adam and his brother were doing last month.

So if you’re still reading (which would really surprise me) you might be wondering “what’s the deal with fermented foods anyway?”  Why are they so good for us?  Several reasons.  For one, humans consumed them in large quantities, for millennia.  It’s only in the last 50-100 years that we gave up these rich sources of B vitamins, beneficial enzymes and probiotics.

Secondly, just at the precise moment when we gave these up, we also started an all-out assault on bacteria on two fronts:  first, and most importantly, we started giving antibiotics in large quantities to meat animals which we then eat.  All these excess antibiotics build up in our food, our water, and our bodies, creating a beautiful, bacteria-free blank slate on which new harmful bacterias can grow and proliferate.

So we’re getting sicker, and more often.  And how do we deal with that?  Exactly the opposite of how we should: with antibacterial soaps and prescription antibiotics.

Now more than ever our bodies need good bacteria on our side, and eating fermented foods is a really great (and delicious) way to accomplish that.  Do I sound like a true believer or what?!  I was so jazzed that I came home and ate a big bowl of kimchi right after the class.

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Adam’s Recipe of the week: Zucchini Lasagna

lasagnapieceSo, my big challenge for the week was trying to figure out something to do with the giant zucchinis in the fridge. I also wanted to use ingredients that we had on hand…the result was quite delicious.

3 large zucchinis sliced thin the long way (or 1 jumbo!)
1 T. olive oil
1 T. Butter
1 large onion diced
2-4 cloves garlic minced
1-2 T. fresh parsley
10 oz. roasted red pepper, diced
1 c. yogurt cheese* (or ricotta)
2 eggs
1 c. bread crumbs
2 c. mozzarella  cheese
1 c. parmesan cheese
salt and pepper
1 recipe pasta sauce* (or 1 jar store bought)

Slice zucchini and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Leave rest while you prepare the other ingredients:zucchinisliced

In a large saute pan heat olive oil and butter over medium heat, add onion and cook until soft. Turn off heat and add garlic, red pepper, and parsley:lasagnafilling

In a large bowl mix together the yogurt cheese, 1/2 of the mozzarella, 1/2 of the parmesan, eggs, red pepper mixture, and a pinch of salt and pepper.

Assemble in a 9×13 cake pan. Start by spreading 1/4 of the pasta sauce an the bottom of the pan, sprinkle 1/4 of the bread crumbs, cover with 1/3 of the zucchini slices and 1/2  of the red pepper cheese filling. Repeat (sauce, bread crumbs, zucchini, red pepper mixture, sauce, bread crumbs, zucchini). Cover with the remaining sauce and bread crumbs, and the remaining mozzarella and parmesan cheeses. I then added some fresh basil and oregano and another pinch of salt and pepper to the very top. Bake at 350 covered for 20 min., uncover and bake for an additional 10 min. (or until cheese starts to brown). Let stand for 10-15 min. to set.lasagnafinishedI baked this one on the grill, because I hate turning on the oven in the summer. Just make sure you don’t have the flame directly under the lasagna.

*Yogurt CheeseyogurtcheesePour plain yogurt into a colander lined with 2 layers of cheese cloth and let drain into a bowl for 2-6 hour (or overnight). The result is a nice thick cheese like yogurt. Use in place of cream cheese or ricotta.

*Simple pasta saucepastasauce

1 T. olive oil
1/2 onion
1-2 cloves garlic
1 can diced tomatoes 14 oz. with some of the liquid drained (or 2 whole peeled and diced)
2 T. fresh herbs (here I used basil, oregano, and thyme)
Pinch of salt, pepper, and sugar

Saute onion in olive oil over medium heat until soft. Add remaining ingredients and simmer stirring and squashing tomato chunks with back of wooden spoon for about 10 minutes until slightly thickened.

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New header & a great reference website

It was about time I updated the header to reflect more of what’s going on around here right now, at the height of a glorious Minnesota summer.  Left to right: Rowan picking strawberries, my raspberry hedge, my hollyhock/strawberry/asparagus area next to the rain barrel, a ginger bug, and Anneke eating an onion.

I have a new batch of ginger beer that is very close to being done, but I am going to hold back on posting about it until I know for sure whether it was a success or not.  We did make it to the bottling stage this time; but we tasted it last week and it was still very flat.  Will try it again soon.

In the meantime, check out this blog, The Simple Green Frugal Co-op.  It’s my new favorite, so much useful information and updated frequently by a group of different writers.  I also added their RSS feed to the right of this page so you can I can see what they’re up to at all times.

Also, I am going to meet Sandor Ellix Katz Wednesday night!  He of fermentation fame!  I need to start writing down my questions.  Gotta go…

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Mini garden update

butterflyvisitorLook at this neat visitor that we had in our garden yesterday!  We think it was most likely a “Tiger Swallowtail,” according to our insect book.


That is not a lemon!  It’s a cucumber.  I planted an heirloom variety this year called Boothby Blonde cucumers, that get kinda fat and yellow.  They are absolutely delicious.  The flavor is very delicate and sublime.  They definitely don’t taste like a supermarket cucumber (which to me, tastes like water with skin).

giantzukesFinally, a goof.  I neglected to check on my zucchini plants for at least 4 days, and look what happened.  GIANTIFIC zucchinis.  Not even sure if these are edible anymore.  I put them in the fridge, and Adam is talking about making a zucchini lasagna where he’ll use slices of these (sliced the long way) instead of lasagna noodles.

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Recipe: chocolate zucchini cake with raspberry sauce


As long as we’re on the subject of my Grandma Rensenbrink, here is her recipe for zucchini cake, which I made tonight.  The raspberry sauce addition was Adam’s excellent idea.

Chocolate zucchini cake:
1/2 c. butter, softened
1/4 c. coconut oil (or other neutral oil)
3/4 c. sugar
1/4 c. honey
1/2 tsp. salt
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 c. buttermilk
2 1/2 c. flour (I used a mixture of white and whole-grain barley)
4 T. cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. soda
3/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cloves
2 (very generous) c. grated unpeeled zucchini (2-3 med. size ones)

Mix all ingredients together, pour into greased and floured 9×13 pan.  Bake at 325 degrees for 30-35 min.  I reduced the sugar by quite a bit and substituted honey for part of it.  I also used freshly-ground barley flour for just under half of the flour it called for, but I think any mild-tasting whole grain would work fine (spelt, for example).

Raspberry sauce
3 c. fresh raspberries (or frozen, thawed)
1/3 c. sugar
1/3 c. water
1 tsp. corn starch

1. Press raspberries through a strainer with the back of a wooden spoon to remove (most of the) seeds.
2. Whisk corn starch into strained raspberries.
3. Combine sugar and water in a small sauce pan and bring to boil over medium heat.
4. Add raspberry/corn starch mixture and return to boil to thicken.
5. Allow to cool.  Makes about 2 cups… we should have leftovers for ice cream this week.

Optional variation: substitute 1/3 c. maple syrup for the sugar/water mixture if you like.

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Garden update, Grandma, and camping

Garden update for Friday, June 24:
1. We pulled out the green bean plants.  They were pretty much done, and according to the U of M Extension service, midsummer is when you should plant fall-harvest crops, so we decided to put in a couple rows of beets for this fall.  They seem to grow pretty quickly.  We might have to eat them a little bit small, but they’ll be tasty.  We should hopefully have a nice fall harvest of beets, kale, and of course parsnips.

2. Our corn is now dying.  Adam had staked it up and then we got more wind and it broke in more places, even though the stakes seem to still be holding it up.  I just hope it can stay upright until we harvest those pole beans, but that could be a while.

3. We should have tomatoes in just a couple weeks!  I am also going to try and order an extra several pounds of tomatoes from our CSA or from a farmer’s market and do some canning.  I’m really feeling a need to lay down some good eats for the long winter months.  Seriously, when did I become my grandma?


This is a picture of her when she was right around my age, vintage 1940s, holding her 6th child (my uncle Bob).  I wish I could go back in time and talk with her about gardening and preserving, among other things.  She died just a couple months ago at the age of 102, and is one of my inspirations.

We have a few very busy weekends coming up.  This weekend we are going camping, just Adam and me, while my friend (and Rowan & Anneke’s former nanny) Tracey stays here with the kids.  Have a great weekend; I’ll be back Sunday night.

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CSA Week 7


These boxes of produce get more exciting every week!  Not that I minded that much when it was 8 different kinds of leafy greens, but variety definitely is the spice of life.  Today’s box, before splitting:

2 bunches carrots
1 little container gooseberries (they look and taste a bit like red grapes)
1 big bunch of fresh oregano
Quite a few zucchini (7?  8? I forgot to count)
6-7 potatoes
1 bunch red beets
2 heads green leaf lettuce
1 bag mixed salad greens with pretty nasturtium blossoms in it
3 cucumbers

I gave most of the zucchini to my neighbors because we have quite a bit in our garden as well.  I may have to hunt down my grandma’s chocolate zucchini cake recipe.  Anyway the salad green mix is already down the hatch.

Standard CSA info:
What is a CSA?
Where do we get our CSA from? Food 4 Thought.
See all of my CSA posts