Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Sweet on Sauerkraut—Low-carb and delish.

Mouth-watering braised spareribs with homemade sauerkraut, cauliflower "mashed potatoes" AKA cauliflower faux potatoes, and one of the season's last dense, sweet, and colorful San Marzano tomatoes.
 I'm not sure you could buy this combo anywhere for any price. See below for faux potatoes recipe and how to braise spareribs with sauerkraut.
Who grows up eating sauerkraut these days? I did. Ya. Back der in Nor' Dakotah, den.

I remember dark, cold winter days with dankness seeping up from the cellar, where laundry (washed in a wringer/washer) took three days to dry. Pork and sauerkraut simmering on the stove made everything right. As a child, I wasn't shy about sucking the marrow noisily from pork ribs and lapping up the sauerkraut juice when eagle-eyed mom wasn't hovering. I didn't know sauerkraut was good for you. I only knew that when cooked for hours with pork and served with richly buttered mashed potatoes, it was heavenly. But then I grew up with German/Scandavian heritage in the deep midwest where meat, potatoes, and kraut were winter staples. My parents didn't make their own kraut, but they sure loved whatever they bought. I have no idea if it was teeming with lovely bacteria. I only know that when it was on the table, words were not spoken and slurping was acceptable.

When PK and I first grew a garden back in the 1970s, cabbage was one of our first crops, and making kraut, one of our first projects. Somehow with kids, jobs, etc. etc. kraut-from-scratch disappeared from our to-do list.  This year, however, it made a comeback, spurred, in part, by the fact that fresh kraut resides in small jars with huge prices in the millionaires-only section of supermarkets. Like $6-8 bucks for a pint? Canned kraut is cheap, but canning zaps the fermentation benefits.

Sauerkraut, and other  fermented veggies, are rich sources of bacteria advantageous to our guts and other parts. You can look it up. Fermented grapes make wine, which everyone knows is a magic elixir, fermented milk/cream, makes yogurt, a gut boon if there ever was one, and fermented cabbage makes sauerkraut, a delectable tangy treat that will have you thumping your chest. You should see PK's chest from all that thumping. Bruised and swollen!

Sauerkraut is a low-carb treat with only 6 carbs per cup. That makes for a hearty meal of kraut, pork ribs and faux mashed cauliflower potatoes at only around 12-15 carbs per heaping plate.

It all starts with volleyball-sized cabbages, which we started from seed in the spring and harvested in July.
We weighed the cabbages and sliced them into thin rounds with a super-sharp knife.
A Mercer. Thank you, Lanny. Then we salted the shredded cabbage with non iodized salt.
How-to link for making sauerkraut follows. 

Nearly four months later, I'm removing fermented kraut into cold-storage jars.

It's perfect sauerkraut. Crunchy and tart. 

A half gallon on top, and a gallon on the bottom in our garage refrigerator.

Here's some gross stinky stuff, including mold, that was skimmed off the top.
Don't worry. Stinky moldy stuff is part of fermentation. Skim as much as possible.
With this batch, I also scooped out any kraut that had turned soft, which was on top and around the perimeter.
Despite our efforts to keep everything submerged, the edges were somehow exposed to air.  

Our outside "kitchen" for messy and/or super-heated projects. Here PK slices  cabbage for  fermenting in a crock while our Four Wheel camper glowers in the background wondering when the hell we'll go camping!

Want to make your own kraut? It helps to have homegrown fresh cabbage, but sauerkraut can be made from any fresh cabbage. See this for directions.

Braised spareribs and sauerkraut
1 rack of spareribs
half of a large onion
one medium-sized apple
1 quart (or more) fresh kraut

Cover the spareribs with foil and bake at 275 for an hour. Drain the fat and juices and set aside. Cut the ribs apart and brown in a large skillet. When browned, add half of a large chopped onion and a cored apple cut into pieces. Cook and stir for a few minutes, then dump the kraut into the pan and cover. (Add the juice back from the fat and juice drained after roasting the ribs.)
Cook covered over low/medium heat until the rib meat is falling-apart tender. Remove the cover if liquid is too much.
Serve with mashed potatoes or, if you're a low carber, cauliflower faux mashed potatoes.

Cauliflower faux mashed potatoes
1 head cauliflower cut into flowerets
half and half or whipping cream

Cut the cauliflower into pieces. Place into a pot and cover with lightly salted water. Boil until tender.
Remove from heat and drain thoroughly. Apply butter in the quantity that pleases you. Ditto salt.
Drizzle with half and half or whipping cream. Smash with a fork or an immersion blender. Add cream to desired consistency.
To ramp it up a notch, scoop into an oven-proof pan, mix in a dollop of sour cream, and bake at 350 for a half hour. Remove from oven, cover with grated cheese, and return to oven for five minutes.

Love that kraut!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Life is But a Dream

As sometimes happens, I write posts and they languish in the "drafts" file. I ran across this tonight. Although it's dated, I kinda like it. Especially now that summer is but a dream.
Noah, 2, works on his water-front construction project at our Labor Day camp.

I was lounging in my REI camp chair at Juniper Lake in Lassen National Volcanic Park on Labor Day weekend, book in hand, grandson Noah engaged in construction not far away. The pristine lake was calm, blue and clear. Lassen's peak jutted on the horizon. Along the shore, a smattering of happy campers shared our experience of near solitude. We were off the grid for Internet and cell phone service and outside airline flight patterns. Quiet, quiet, quiet.

On Labor Day weekend. Near solitude. Peace. Only 18 tent-camping sites and a couple of group camps. No potable water. Pit toilets. A rough gravel road not recommended for trailers or RVs. Perfect.
Sun-seeking friend, Laurie, soaking in early-morning warmth. For her, perpetual life in the sun is but a dream.
She's almost got it nailed, though, now that she's become a rainbird, not the sprinkler, but the person who escapes Oregon's winter rain for southwestern sunshine.
A canoe or two sliced the still waters. Far from shore, a raft of exuberant kids sang "Row, row, row your boat, gently ......." Their singing and laughter skittered across the lake like a skipping stone imprinted with Be Here Now. One day they'll remember how it was on this gilded day in the American West. How lucky we are to have wilderness and these moments. For millions of people across the globe, a day like this is an unattainable dream. So many can't imagine the luxury of an entire lake of clean clear water and several days of leisure time with family and friends with ample fresh food and the added bonus of nobody trying to kill or rape them or steal their children.
The family here and now: PK, MK, Heather, Noah, and Quinn. Photo credit : Laurie Gerloff.
Son Chris is off in the Arctic doing backflips off of glaciers. 

Back to Juniper Lake and the raft of children singing/shouting Row, row, row......from perhaps a half mile across the lake. The kids on the lake helped. But the real deal was the grandson's chirruping in the morning and his parents—our eldest son and his wife—lovingly tending to him and to one another. Their little family reminds me of our little family years ago, when PK and I were the harried parents and our sons were the heavy construction toy guys. The long weekend was a series of full-circle moments. I'm still smiling. Row row your boat......Life is but a dream—if you're really lucky. I am grateful for good fortune, good family, good friends, good (yet entirely detached ) universe.

How do you act when your life is good? I'm not taking my extraordinary fortune for granted. I've lived long enough to know that a split second can alter lives and create a vortex of misery. I am recognizing that I, and my family, have been spared a lot of grief so far and blessed with so much. I will grab the bliss for as long as I can. And enjoy "life is but a dream" until, and if, a slide into another reality becomes inevitable.

Which it will. Shit happens. People get sick, fall upon misfortune, die. Things change.

Thinking again about blue beautiful Juniper Lake. It hasn't changed in hundreds of years. It was the same when my father, now dead and buried, and my 96-year-old mom, now losing her memory, eyesight, hearing and dignity, were born. And it was the same when their parents were on the earth and their parents before them. Long after I'm gone, it will be there sparkling in the sun, and I hope the park service doesn't put in dump stations and pave the road for RVs. It will be the same when grandson, Noah, is an old man and  his grandchildren pipe across the clear waters, "row row row.....life is but a dream."

And it is. And a fleeting one at that. Enjoy it now.

Watermelon enthusiasm. Talk about enjoying the moment! 
Taking a break from taking a break at Juniper Lake.

Mt. Lassen as seen from Juniper Lake. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Hair Dye. the Fall Garden, and the Cruel March of Time

Note to readers: Many of you contacted me earlier today to say several photos on this post were blacked out. Maybe Blogger thinks it obscene to publish photos of a young person alongside her older self? Whatever. I hope the photos are there this time around. Thanks for letting me know. Mary K.

The corn is dead, rattling in the breeze. That sunflower on the left doesn't look too chipper either.
The birds have about finished it off.

Fall is a tough. I spend so much time in the garden that I identify with its cycles—not so different from human cycles, except the garden is on fast forward. You plant the seeds and get all excited when they emerge from the warming soil. You water and coax and soon they burst forth with flowers, roots, fruits, vegetables. They're good for a few months, but then senescence—natural aging and decline—takes over and it's quickly downhill. You can prop em up, water, fertilize and admire. But nothing stops the process. Before long, they'll form an involuntary vegetative-state support group and that'll be the end of it. 

Here's an Italia zucchini plant, ravaged by squash bugs but STILL producing fruit.
It'll cling to life until the first frost. But its huge-leafed youthful magnificence? Gone.
The perennials, such as the glorious rose bush, the faithful asparagus, the young berries and the aginig but reliable apple trees, will rest for the winter and surge forth in spring. They're amazing. I don't identify with them, however. I only feel kinship with those poor annual bastards facing imminent demise and they don't even know it. Maybe that's a good thing. Without knowing, there's no threat of being in denial or, heaven forbid, trying to hide the fact that you're approaching the inevitable. And that you aren't quite as fabulous looking as you once were. 

Which brings us to hair dye. I colored my hair for decades. (To younger readers: You reach a point when decades is the appropriate word when quantifying your past. You will not believe how quickly this happens.) I started in high school, took a few years off for being a hippie, and went back on the bottle in my 30s. In recent years, I've struggled with whether to continue my relationship with Clairol. I'll go without for a few months and then can't stand the grey and do another treatment. PK says, No, no no! Get over it! But I'm not quite there yet.

The juicy July garden bursting with life.

More July juiciness. It is difficult to go out there without being overcome. It isn't just the colors and the vitality, it's the birds and insects and the wonderful promise of so much botanical exuberance. And it smells so great.
Me in the summer of my life, high school grad on the left, college grad on the right. Bottle blonde and proud of it.
Juicy! Let it be known that my hair for the college photo is the best it ever looked in my entire life.

Here we come to fall with the crone look, uncombed(but colored!) hair.
Almost 50 years since high school graduation. 
I'm wise enough to acknowledge the inevitability of my personal "garden cycle." But I'm not strong enough  to at least try to postpone the drooping, the sagging, the furrowing, and the greying. Hence yoga, bicycling, careful eating, mirror avoidance—and hair dye.  I won't be botoxing and I am repelled by the idea of draining thousands into "having work done." But I'm still vain enough to deny grey.
So I'm back on the bottle. Not that most people would even notice.  My hair is naturally grey/white.  With coloring, it is white/blond. It's weak and silly, I know. But next time you see me, how about keep quiet if you think I look brassy, OK?  If you'd like to talk about the cruel march of time, however, I'm here for you. More garden photos and musings follow, if you like.