Saturday, August 16, 2008

Salty and strange addictions

Recipe: Multi National, Multi Mineral Sauerkraut

I am prone to fascinations. Fetishes. Strange addictions.

Colored glass items, mainly cobalt. Vessels, especially glass, especially carafes, the 50’s type with graceful shapes and gold or silver foil paint on the outside. Stainless steel and cast iron pots and pans.

I’ve had to make agreements with my husband that if it doesn’t fit in the cupboards, I can’t get it. If I do get it, something has to go.

He has to check with me before recycling any different style bottle or jar. And I’m disconsolate when he forgets. ‘Where’s that little square jar? Where's the tall soda bottle with the plastic lid? I only bought it because I was going to keep it!’

My latest fixation is salt. It’s been growing for a while.

I was first introduced to alternatives to Morton’s in India. Certain Hindu holidays require specific types of fasting, and often only certain types of salt are permitted in these fasts. I still have a couple hen's egg sized salt crystals in jars high up on my spice rack. One is black and sulfurous smelling, and one a beautiful pink. I’ve had them for at least 14 years, and I never knew what to do with them. I’ve put them on altars, smelled them, held them up to the light. I always related to eating them as a religious practice that wasn’t my own, but the aesthetics of the crystals were fascinating to me.

Black hawaiian salt was offered to me at an altar I adorned a couple of years ago, and after the ritual, when the altar was taken down, the salt was not gathered, cast on the earth. I was sad. I wanted that salt.

I purchased a Himalayan pink salt crystal candle holder awhile back. It adorns our dining table, and I catch my kids licking it fairly often.

You must be living under a (salt) rock if you haven’t heard of gourmet salts as the latest rage. Himalayan pink (which is probably the pink crystal high on my shelf), Black Salt (probably the sulfurous one), Celtic Salt, Coarse Salt, Flake Salt, Fleur De Sel, French Sea Salt, Grey Salt, Grinder Salt, Hawaiian Sea Salt, Italian Sea Salt, Kosher Salt, Organic Salt, Sea Salt, Smoked Sea Salt, Table Salt.

I’d been reading about the depletion of the minerals in our soil, leading to the depletion of minerals in our food supply. And I’d been pricing trace mineral supplements for the family. Yikes. I’m not sure I can face adding another supplement to the lineup on the counter every morning anyway. Not to mention the hint of mutiny from the kids whenever something is added to the list.

Besides, nutrition is best in the form of food. Gee, what an idea. I’m interested in finding ways to throw the jars and bottles away, thank you. Not my beautiful vessels, mind you, but the vitamin bottles.

And there’s a piece about our bodies being of the earth. Bones, flesh, hair, nails, pieces of earth. What more natural thing to do than eat the earth. These are the missing pieces of our food, the colors, flavors, aromas in these salts.

But I haven’t figured out how to get them all in our diet. There are different minerals in all the different types of salts, and I’m sure we’re depleted of all of them as a race, unless you’ve been blessed to grow up in one of the rare areas of the earth where there are large humic shale deposits, and all of your food was grown where you live. Ha. Likely.

Suddenly the five pound bags of white sea salt I’d been buying as a healthy alternative to iodized is just oh so yesterday. I still use it to brine my poultry and salt my pasta water, because in those cases most of it ends up down the drain.

Part of the challenge is I want convenience, too. And I’ve got repetitive stress issues, so I haven’t pulled the whole crystals down off the shelf to use with a grater. I don’t like numb fingers in the mornings. And I don’t have an endless budget with which to buy salt grinding apparati.

Slowly, slowly, I’m working new types in. Real Salt from Utah is a staple. It’s finely ground, comparable to table salt. I use it most times when I need more than a sprinkle, and when I need it to dissolve completely and quickly. In veggies, cooking for crowds, and baking. Pinkish grey, it leaves a slightly gritty residue that I’ve gotten used to in my pickles. Chewing earth.

I have a black ceramic grinder on the dining room table filled with Celtic sea salt, moist and grey. Also a shaker with Real Salt.

On my kitchen counter and shelf over my range I have decorative glass jars (vessels again) of coarse ground Celtic sea salt, Real Salt, and regular sea salt. An electric grinder (with a light!) pilfered from my mother, (a gadget freak) of Himalayan pink.

In a bin in the pantry I have a few ounces of Hawaiian black. I had to get it, after losing the sack full gifted me a couple years ago. I haven’t figured out how to incorporate it yet. I think I need another grinder.

I envision a row of ceramic grinders gracing the dining room table, with elegant labels denoting the part of the earth and the color of the mineral inside.

Maybe I’ll begin to use a mixture of two or three different salts in my pickle ferments. I’ll give you a recipe for one now! Making it up off the cuff, let me know if you try it.

Multi National, Multi Mineral Sauerkraut
gluten free, dairy free, salicylate free, egg free, low carb, GREAT for candida

1 medium head cabbage; green, purple, or mix of the two
1 tsp Real Salt from Utah
1 tsp Himalayan pink salt
1 tsp Celtic sea salt
or whatever mix pleases you

If you are already familiar with making kraut, have at it with your favorite method. If not, I offer one method here, but know that there are many methods, and all have their merits.

Shred your cabbage. I like to cut it in quarters, cut off the core pieces, and either slice the quarter pieces as thin as I can with a large chef’s knife, or pass the pieces through the slicing blade in my cuisinart. Sometimes the pieces need to be cut down a bit to fit into the feeder tube of the cuisinart. I don’t recommend actually shredding it, but some people like their kraut that way.

Place the cabbage into a stainless steel or glass bowl and scatter the salt into it. I’d recommend breaking the salts down to a fairly fine grind before using if possible, although coarse might work just fine.

At this point you have a choice. Most people either massage the salt into the cabbage until the cell walls start to break down and release their liquid, or pound the mass with a wooden mallet or other suitable tool until the liquid is released. (This last method is not recommended with a glass bowl.) I have repetitive stress injury however, so I just toss the salt through the shreds, cover the bowl with a kitchen towel, and leave it for a few hours. When I come back, there’s already a bit of liquid in the bowl, and with a minimum of massaging I’ve completed the process.

Stuff the cabbage into a mason jar - it should be just about a quart. Have an extra pint jar available in case your cabbage was bigger or denser than average. Make sure to add all the liquid in the bowl, including the minerals that have separated out of the dissolved salt. Push the cabbage down firmly with your fingers or a spoon, until the liquid rises above the level of the vegetable. Seal the jar(s) and put in a warmish, darkish place for a couple of days. Burp the jar(s) and taste. When you get the spicy zing! on your tongue, the kraut is fermented, although it is fine to leave it on the shelf for a few days more for a different flavored product. Burp it occasionally (burst jars are no fun, and they do build up pressure), taste it, and when you feel like it’s done, put it in the fridge or cool storage. Eat it immediately or store for a while for the flavor and texture to mellow. Fresh kraut is usually very crisp and squeaky on the teeth, aged is softer.

If your kraut seems dry, you can add brine to it - about 1 tsp salt of choice per cup of filtered water.

Experiment with more or less salt, depending on your taste. Some salt is required, to inhibit the growth of nasty bacteria, and allow the growth of good probiotics.

Enjoy! Eat it along side meats, mix into salads, or munch all by itself. You now have a multi mineral food based supplement!

Now, if I could just get my kids to eat it.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The chicken, the whole chicken, and nothing but the chicken.

Recipe: Potato Pancakes

For a while my husband and I were talking about moving into town. We live off pavement about two miles, about 23 miles from town, and because of how schedules (don’t) work, find we’re making an average of ten trips to town per week. And that doesn’t count in trips to see my family or friends on the coast occasionally.

Generally we’re talking about an average of $600 - $800 in gas a month at current prices.

And we found that our recent stint as ‘refugees’ from the wildfire smoke here in Northern California, when we stayed with my family who live in a quiet town a ways south of us, that the kids loved it. Loved being able to ride their bikes on the street and play with neighborhood kids two houses away, walk to the grocery store.

Actually, I loved it, too. Unlike the kids, however, I wanted to come home.

Because we have this house. We built it. We visioned it, designed it, birthed it. There are sacred scriptures, sacred objects, photographs of saints and holy people inside the walls. The menu and prep list I created to feed the Dalai Lama is in the kitchen wall to the right of the range, I know exactly where it is, behind the drywall, all marked up as the prep got done with various colors of highlighters.

A lot of love and intention went into this house. Not so easy to leave, we found, as we explored the idea.

So the question became, how can we stay?

This is all a long prelude to what I did yesterday.

I learned how to kill and dress out chickens. I figure at $17 a pop for organic chickens, four chickens a month, 8 - 10 dozen organic eggs a month at $4 each, we could definitely save some money there.

But my husband was very clear that he would be doing no killing, thank you. And I’ve got this quirky thing, that I touched on in my last blog entry, about having the courage to truly step into where I stand in the food chain.

So I offered to help our local meat guy at his next scheduled kill day. He agreed, and offered to give me all the information I wanted on the economics and other how-tos of the process.

I suspected I’d be okay with it. I feel fortunate that my spiritual teachers have not been the ‘practice and your life will get easier’ types. I’ve always gone for the ‘practice and your life will get more real’.

Real isn’t easy or nice. It’s just real.

And real, in my understanding, says ‘humans are omnivores’.

The whole thing really felt like adding the logical missing steps of preparing chickens that I’d learned years ago in the catering business. I knew in my bones the anatomy of a chicken, where to cut for various cooking applications - but I knew the anatomy of a chicken without head, feet, feathers and innards (unless you’re referring to the little paper bag in the body cavity of store bought poultry).

Well, now I know it all. (If you’re squeamish about these kinds of things, you might want to skip the next paragraph or four. Or nine.) I know that a chicken feels different when you pick it up by it’s feet, the weight is different in your hand. And, they’re warm when they’re alive, warm and dry. They’re really not very bright, not a predator instinct in there, unless you’re a bug. But they do want to live, it’s obvious. I can’t say there’s no struggle when they’re hung upside down, and their main blood vessel cut in their throat. I think, if we do move forward with the idea of raising our own, I’d probably invest in the poultry cones I’ve heard about, they keep the wings hugged to their sides. The birds were obviously calmed when I held their wildly flapping wings to their bodies. They didn’t always flap, some were just calm and probably confused.

I know that after being bled to death, they’re dunked into hot water to loosen their feathers, about 130 degrees is ideal. Then they’re plucked. He has a mechanical plucker, a rotating wheel with stiff rubber fingers whizzing around that sends the feathers flying. I’d be plucking them by hand, a somewhat more laborious prospect, but doable.

I know how to cut off the feet and heads, where to slit to get into the body cavity, I know to not feed the chickens their last day of life so their first stomachs are relatively empty and easier to remove. I know to carefully cut the liver and heart away from the dangling intestines and other organs, so as not to pierce the gall bladder. I accidentally nicked it a couple of times and violent green liquid spewed all over my hand and the liver I was holding. ‘It’s bitter’ he said, ‘and I’ve seen it stain skin.’ Put everything is ice water as soon as it’s done being ‘processed’.

I know to rinse, rinse, rinse. Clean the sink and buckets with peroxide to start and to finish.

And I know that there’s a smell to the warm flesh and organs. It’s different than the smell of a cold chicken on your kitchen counter, it’s musty. And pervasive. Not bad, not very strong, but a bit intense nonetheless.

It stayed with me all the way home, even though I’d rinsed off as well as I could. I figured it was in my clothes, on my hair, I’d gotten sprayed a couple of times with blood and other effluent. When I got home, we chucked the ten chickens we’d purchased into the deep freezer, and the two bags of feet and bag of heads (for stock), and bag of livers and hearts (for sneaky organ meal additions) into the fridge. I drew a deep hot epsom salts bath.

After soaking a little while I added Hauschka Lemon Bath, because I could still smell it. I dunked all of me under, getting my hair wet in preparation for washing.

When I came up there was a chunk of something swirling in the water near me. Looked like something from one end or the other of a chicken’s digestive tract.

You’d think that after killing and dressing out 6 or 8 chickens I wouldn’t be too concerned about a little nugget of reminder from the actions of the day. But that little squishy thing quickly dissolving in the hot water that my body was soaking in was far creepier than anything I’d encountered at the kill. I’m fine killing a chicken, but not bathing with any part of it. Maybe a feather would be okay.

When I got out it was time to start dinner. We weren’t having chicken.

We had Potato Pancakes, and they were yum!

Here’s the recipe:

Potato Pancakes
gluten free, dairy free (if you use the coconut oil to fry), salicylate free, sugar free, but NOT low carb

2 1/2 pounds yellow potatoes
1 yellow onion
3 eggs
1/4 cup gluten free sourdough sponge (or flour of choice)
1 T chopped flat leaf parsley
1 T chopped fresh marjoram
1 t chopped fresh thyme
mineral salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
ghee or coconut oil for cooking

Grate potatoes and onion in food processor, or by hand if necessary.

If you have time, toss the potatoes and flour (if not using sourdough) with a couple tablespoons of lemon juice or whey and let sit for 8 or 10 hours to enhance digestibility. If you’re starting more last minute, proceed to the next step.

Mix all the ingredients together.

Heat a griddle or large, well seasoned cast iron frying pan over medium high heat with some ghee or coconut oil. Place spoonfuls of the pancake mixture on the heated pan and flatten slightly. Keep an eye on the heat, you may have to turn it down if they're browning too quickly. Turn when golden brown on one side, and press down a bit with a spatula. Add a bit of ghee or coconut oil if necessary. When golden on both sides, place on a plate in a 200 degree oven until all pancakes are done and you are ready to serve.

We ate them with creamy goat cheese sandwiched between two at a time. (Except for my youngest boy who can’t have dairy, and he rolled up his hot dogs inside.) They’d be good with creme fraiche, yogurt or straight sour cream, too. Green salad, chicken sausages for the adults, and chicken hot dogs for the kids.

I guess we had chicken after all.