Stacking Functions Garden

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Darning socks.

Well, it’s now come to darning socks.  I’ve been throwing every pair of socks that develops a hole onto a big pile in the basement.  Now I want to wear them, especially the wool ones.  Sandal season is over.  I need socks!


I have no idea if I did this right or not.  Needle, thread, and sewed up the hole nice and tight.  That’s it.  I wore a pair to work today and they were perfectly comfortable.  I feel kinda weird writing about it, but this is not something I ever would have done until money became so tight.


Only one thing to note: watching a foreign film and sewing simultaneously doesn’t really work.  Anyway, there you go Christina, finally something to tag with “sewing.”

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Sauerkraut: new method a success


A couple weeks ago we bought a huge cabbage at the farmer’s market.  Usually we keep our ferments covered tightly, opening the jars about twice a day to let out accumulated pressure.  Because this was such large batch of ‘kraut, I decided to try the Sandor Katz method of fermentation: leaving the cover off and weighing the vegetables down with a heavy weight to hold them under the surface of their liquid.  It looked like this:


We let them ferment for a little over a week, and it was barely any effort at all.  I got one out and tasted it a couple times just to make sure it was getting sour.  We did get some foam on top, which we just scraped off when we added covers and transferred to the fridge.  No dreaded mold to report.

There was only one part of this that was a big mistake: I placed the jars in a metal 9×13 cake pan to catch any overflow and save my hutch from water damage.  Unfortunately, the acidity of the liquid that overflowed from these jars pretty much ruined my cake pan.  It is covered with rust now on the inside, and I can’t scrub it off.  Should have used a glass one.

If we don’t give these away as Christmas presents, this should be enough saurkraut to last us the entire winter.  Theoretically.

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Fall happenings

Couple of random things going on today.  First:


Adam made a very local pie: he used raspberries and apples right from our yard (via the freezer for several weeks).  It is with great sadness that I report we have now eaten all of our frozen raspberries.  And it’s only Oct. 24.  It’s going to be a long time until July.  It was still a pretty great run though.   I’ve never eaten that many raspberries in my life.



My mother-in-law found a really great deal on pumpkins near their hometown in central Minnesota and picked us up two giant jack-o-lanterns and 5 really nice little pie pumpkins.  So I’m following the advice from the Root Cellaring book and storing them in a cool, dry place.  We have a spare bedroom that is just a storage area right now, so we don’t heat it in the winter.  It stays about 50-60 in there, so it should be perfect.  Not that those jack-o-lanterns need to last long, anyway.

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Book review: Root Cellaring

rootcellaringRoot Cellaring
The Simple No-Processing Way to Store Fruits and Vegetables

By Mike & Nancy Bubel

Note: the subtitle of the newer editions is Natural Cold Storage of Fruits and Vegetables.  I got the 1971 hardcover edition from the library, so my version had some awesome 70s lettering on the front.  (Same art, though.)

I was on the library website looking for something else when I saw this book.

This is a very simple book, and a quick read.  It has three main parts:

1) Overview of vegetables that store well in a root cellar, and what their ideal conditions are

2) Descriptions of many, many different kinds of root cellars and other related cold-storage options

3) Recipes

The authors were so jazzed about root cellars that they traveled around the U.S. taking pictures and drawing diagrams of interesting set-ups they found.  They only touch on the greater philosophy behind root cellaring once or twice:

“Home canning has been common practice for something over 100 years, freezing perhaps 40 years at most.  We consider these technologies to be conveniences, and of course they are.  Now, we have no wish to turn back the clock.  We’re very glad to be living here and now.  But haven’t we been missing out on a truly basic convenience —  the practice of root cellaring — in our preoccupation with jars and lids and blanching kettles and freezer bags?  It’s as though we’ve forgotten briefly, almost momentarily, considering the long sweep of human history, how to make use of natural rhythms, how to sensibly meet and participate in each season of the year, how to put natural cold storage to work for us.  Now we need root cellars again.  Perhaps, in a way, more than ever.”

I think I pulled one of the only philosophical paragraphs in the entire book.  The rest is given over to discussions of how real people are doing this.  Here’s one example that really struck me:


In this example, some city-dwellers built a little box into one of their basement windows.  The box is big enough to hold two refrigerator-crisper drawers of vegetables.  They open the window on fall nights to let in cold air, but during the winter the temp stays just right.

I love simple solutions like these.  The Bubels also provide photos and plans of root cellars they’ve come across, which comprise: drawers built into stairs, improvised crawlspaces, an old buried milk truck, a really beautiful HUGE buried stone cellar, a combination root cellar and smokehouse, and many others.

Basically, an optimal root cellar needs a cold air intake, a source of humidity, and a stale air outlet.  But because different vegetables thrive in different conditions (and they have a detailed list in the book), you can tweak your cellar to your circumstances.  For example, perhaps you only want to store pumpkins and winter squash?  You’re in luck.  Those are best kept at 50-60 degrees F and moderately dry, 60-70% relative humidity.  You could easily achieve this in a cool basement room and call it your root cellar.

The recipe section has some gems, too.  Some great ideas on CSA box cooking can be found here — simple recipes that call for things like celeriac and salsify, turnips and rutabagas.  There’s also a section on fermenting and pickling.  They have a really nice way of explaining the benefits of lactic acid (which fermented foods are rich in):

“Lactic acid, like yogurt, buttermilk, and acid fruits, helps to dissolve the iron in iron-rich foods so that it can enter the bloodstream.”

This makes sense at so many levels, because since I started fermenting I’ve noticed that the most iron-rich foods are the ones that taste the best in combination with some type of fermentation.  Examples?  Pancakes made from wheat flour soaked in buttermilk.  Steak with fermented banana peppers on top.  Sausages and sauerkraut.

Naturally, this book has inspired me to think about whether we could have a small root cellar.  We don’t produce a ton of stuff, but even having some extra kraut storage-space during the winter would be nice.  I already have a spot in mind: there’s a closet under the basement steps that always stays pretty cold in the winter anyway, and right now it is literally filled with old junk.  I am going to investigate it this winter to see how cold it really gets, to gauge how much work it would be to change it into a real cellar.  Add that to the list of to-do’s for 2010 I guess…  Damn that list is long already.

UPDATE, July 23, 2010: I’ve just purchased this book and am drawing up plans to convert our basement closet into a root cellar.  Hope we can get this done by September or so. Looking at this book again was like seeing a friend after a long absence.  (I feel that way about a lot of books, though.)

UPDATE, Feb. 1, 2011: No, we never got around to making a root cellar last year.  Instead we bought a small second-hand refrigerator and set it up as our pickling fridge!  So wrong, and yet so wonderful.  I have not abandoned hope, though.  I WILL get my root cellar, someday!

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Different fermentation method

We’re making a new batch of sauerkraut right now, and it’s our biggest batch ever: 5.5 quarts.  My normal method, while the kraut is fermenting, is to keep the jar tightly sealed, and open it about twice a day and let out the built-up gas and push down on the cabbage a bit.  If you don’t do this, the lids can literally blow right off, from the pent-up gas.  It’s happened to me.

No problem when you’re making one quart, but with five it starts to be a burden to open each one twice a day.  So I’m fermenting these the old-fashioned way:

kraut1I have a plastic jug filled with water holding the cabbage under the surface of the liquid in each jar.  Air bubbles can easily escape, and I pretty much do absolutely nothing except wait for it to get sour enough.  I have the jars sitting in a cake pan in case they froth over a little bit.  (Can you see the froth on the right-hand one?)

We’ll see how this goes… it’s been going for 2 days only so the smell is not a factor yet.  It might get bad though.  I have it in a very cool spot in the dining room so this is going to be a long, slow ferment.  I’m also keeping a flour sack towel over all of them to keep out dust, dog hair, etc.


We’ll see if I get mold, a common complaint when people ferment with this method.  It’s nothing more than a nuisance; you just scrape it off and throw it away when you’re transferring your kraut to cold storage.

Update, 10/29/2009: It turned out great!

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Continuing down the path towards becoming a total fermentation maniac, I tried a new one this week: sauerrüben.  It’s just like sauerkraut, except it’s made with turnips instead of cabbage.

I think I finally realized the whole purpose and meaning of turnips.  I’ve cooked with them occasionally before, and was uninspired until now.  But something magical happens to turnips when they are fermented.

Sauerrüben can be eaten just like you’d eat sauerkraut: with meat or mashed potatoes, or on top of pizza.  I think it would be especially magical on a roast beef sandwich.  It tastes like a mixture of sauerkraut and horseradish.  WOW.

Here’s how I did it:


Grate some turnips.  The number that you do is immaterial.  (That’s Adam’s hand; he lost a couple fingertips in an accident as a child.)


Place the grated turnip in a bowl and salt (with a good quality sea salt) liberally, a good 1-3 T. depending on how many turnips you grated.


Put it into jars and set out overnight with a weighted insert to hold the turnips under the surface of the liquid that the salt draws out.  In the morning, put the covers on the jars and ferment for another 2-3 days.  Open your jar twice a day and press down your sauerrüben to release the gases that build up (or follow whatever fermentation style you prefer).  Taste it at least once a day.  When it tastes good to you, it’s done.  Transfer to the fridge.


Here Adam served a dollop of it on the kids’ plates next to their ham and mashed parsnips.  Dinner tasted like a holiday feast.  The kids went wild for the sauerrüben and even drank the extra juice out of the half a pint jar that we finished.



Parsnip harvest time today, and a beautiful 60 degree day it was, with sunshine.


You can’t pull parsnips out like you do with carrots; they are so big that the top would break off before you could pull the whole thing out.  Instead you must loosen the soil around the parsnip with a fork, then pull it out.


I ended up pulling a whole row.


I’m disappointed.  They are significantly smaller this year than they were last year.  Last year we had at least 6 meals out of our two rows, and this year it will probably only be two.  I’m not sure what went wrong.  I planted them in a different location in the garden, and I’m wondering if this location gets a tiny bit less sunlight than where I had them last year.  It’s also possible that they suffered (like all garden plants) from our very strange cool and dry summer.  Not sure.  Here they are all cleaned up:


Three of them were nice, about the size I expected.  The rest were more like large radishes in size, with lots of strings and “legs.”  Anyone have any ideas how this might have happened?  I’m at a loss.

We cooked them up and made mashed parsnips.  Really delicious.

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Making permaculture plans (but not for Nigel)


I have been so inspired by the book Edible Forest Gardens (by Dave Jacke & Eric Toensmeier) that I’ve been sketching and brainstorming about what we could do with our backyard, now that we’ve eliminated our problematic trees.  We’re nowhere near consensus on what we should do (or what we will be able to afford to do), but it’s fun to brainstorm.

I am inspired by many aspects of permaculture, but one of the most simple/profound is the concept of “stacking.”  Stacking refers to stacking functions: any element (plant, structure) that we put into our landscape ought to fulfill at least two functions.  The more functions you can stack on a single element, the better.  So planting something that looks great, but does absolutely nothing else?  Well, from now on I’m going to think twice about it.

Here are some examples of multiple-function plants, and their functions:

Dill: looks nice, attracts beneficial insects, edible (3!)
Apple tree: provides shade, looks pretty (esp. in the spring when in bloom), provides food
Trellis over your deck: provides shade & support for vines (plant useful vines like pole beans and you stack another function on)

I totally think “looks nice” is a valid function.  So I’m drawing up plans… lots of plans… coming up with ideas on how I can turn my backyard into a productive, enjoyable landscape.  Stay tuned.  Can you think of other good examples of stacking?

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Adam’s bike shop

Well, necessity has bred even more creativity around here. Adam has spent most evenings the past couple months teaching himself how to put bikes together. My 1980 Schwinn Worldsport keeps breaking down in one way or another, so he’s been slowly replacing components on that while at the same time building me a new single speed with an old Gitane frame that my friend CJ found in the trash:

bike1It’s so cool!  I can’t wait to ride it.  He just has a couple of things left.  He did some part swapping between his Peugeot, my Schwinn, and the Gitane, and ended up getting new chains for all three bikes, but got away with only 1 new wheelset.  He’s been getting a lot of vintage/gently used parts from eBay.  Here’s his Peugeot:

bike2And just so my old faithful Schwinn doesn’t feel left out, here’s a pic of it:

bike3That handlebar tape is relatively new, as is the rear wheel and the brakes.  I absolutely love cork handlebar tape; it’s very cushy and comfy.  I can’t wait to have two functional bikes!  Just in time for winter.  😦


Bicycle safety: the bottom line

When it comes to bike commuting, there is a lot of really great advice out there about how to stay safe.  But there is one simple way to boil that all down, and greatly increase your safety:

Design a bike route that you would never, ever drive.

What does this mean? Let me show you my bike route, to illustrate (click on map at right to enlarge).  The gray line represents my former bike route, and also the way I take when I drive my car to work.  It follows Park Avenue, a one-way street with an on-road bike lane in south Minneapolis.  Portland Ave, a one-way street 2 blocks west of Park, is the route home in that case.

Park and Portland are VERY busy roads.  Most suburbanites and all Minneapolis-ites know them as a very quick way to get through the south side when 35W is clogged.  These streets have a speed limit of 35 mph, and it’s not uncommon to get passed on your bike, very closely, by cars and trucks going 40-45 mph.

So what’s so great about my new route (in blue on the map)?

By biking on mostly residential streets, I minimize the number of cars that I come into contact with — cars don’t take these streets because it would be ridiculously slow for them.  For a large part of my ride, I’m cruising down tree-lined residential streets, saying hello to people, and watching out more for kids running around kicking soccer balls than for cars.  I only go through a handful of stoplights (mostly in and near downtown); however, I do have countless stop signs.  But because most of the intersections I’m crossing are minor, I can do a “California stop” (car drivers do it too, so don’t even start) and be on my merry way.

It sounds like a much slower way to ride, right?  Actually, it takes the exact same amount of time as my former ride (around 20-25 min), but it is different.  My overall speed is slower, but I stop less often and for shorter amounts of time.

I devised this route over a period of a couple of weeks last summer, partially out of a desire to ride past Powderhorn Park and see the lake every morning.   I ride right down the middle of the road, eliminating any risk of being doored, reducing the risk of hitting a pedestrian crossing the street, and ensuring that any of the slow-moving cars that I meet or that come up behind me definitely see me (I move to the side to let them pass immediately).  I ding my bell the entire way through the one or two dangerous intersections.

This summer was the first time that I biked an entire season, morning and night, on the new route.  And I had the fewest number of close calls that I’ve ever had.  I still had a couple, but overall fewer.  And my rides quickly became the most pleasant part of my day.  I’ve always loved riding, but now, well, I love it even more.

What do you think, readers?  If you ride, do you stick to residential streets, or are you one of those crazy bikers that I see riding down Lyndale or Cedar Avenues?  Bike paths?  I wish there was a quicker all bike-path way for me to get to work, but my current schedule doesn’t permit the extra half-hour each way that it would take.