Monday, February 23, 2015

Eddie's Kraut Pounders and Pestles- Heirlooms in the Making

Several weeks ago I published a tutorial for making quart jar kraut (and TONS of ways to eat it), and it got a great response from my readers. There is just something about sauerkraut that so many people get, no matter what their heritage, whether they grew up with it or learned to love it later in life. Luckily, it's one of the easiest ways to get started with fermenting (not to mention, it's one of those things that tastes so much better when it's homemade rather than store-bought)!

In the kraut post, I mentioned how handy it would be to have a tool for beating up the cabbage and for pressing it into a quart jar. Well, guess what? One of my homesteading friends turned a hobby into a business--and this new business features the most beautiful kraut pounders you'll ever see! I could not be more excited to be introducing you to this friend and his new woodworking venture.

Eddie has been fiddling around with woodworking for a very long time. He recently began to experiment with making kraut pounders because his wife, Jo--the other half of the Homestead Chronicles, one of my favorite websites--had learned to make sauerkraut. Jo and Eddie are a phenomenal team when it comes to homesteading. When one of them gets an idea or learns something new, the other is right there helping and supporting, and in this case, coming up with a nice handy tool. If there has ever been a couple to look up to as a true team, these two are it!

When word got out that Eddie had starting making wooden pounders and pestles, the interest was immediate. Everyone fell in love with the idea of a kraut pounder made especially for them--me included.

With a little nudging from friends, the two turned Eddie's experience and his eye for beauty into an online shop. This is a brand new business run by two of the kindest people you would ever hope to meet, and I'm so excited to introduce it to you!

See this video of a kraut pounder being fashioned, by Eddie's own hands!

Of course I HAD to get my hands on one of these pounders; I have been learning to ferment food, and sauerkraut is one of my favorites.

Here are a few reasons why I instantly fell in love with my Kraut Pounder:

1. The craftsmanship is outstanding. 

It's obvious Eddie has passion and real talent for woodworking. The details are simply gorgeous, right down to the meticulous finish (which you get to choose). When you order, you have several choices to make this pounder your very own unique tool: the type of wood you want, the size, the level of ornateness, and the finish. *note: like any wooden kitchen tools, you will want to take care of the pounder by keeping it conditioned, especially in that first year. Each time it looks a little dry, you'll want to apply another coat of finish. With time, the tool will become well-conditioned. In my case, I chose CLARK'S Cutting Board Oil (affiliate link), an all natural mineral oil with lemon and orange oil--which works well for any wooden kitchen tools you may have.

2. I'm supporting a small business.

This is becoming so important today. Many of us love supporting small and local businesses over large corporations. When you support a small business like Eddie's, the product is made with care and the customer service is outstanding. I've had a few questions about how to care for my pounder and Jo came back with answers almost immediately.

Simon loves sauerkraut, too.
This pounder is an instant heirloom that I can pass on to him one day.

3. I now have a handcrafted heirloom.

I've started calling this pounder my 'instant heirloom'. I have talked to other people who have ordered one of Eddie's kraut pounders and they agree--one woman even told me that her daughter has already asked her if she'll be inheriting the beautiful wooden tool! Handmade tools seem to go hand-in-hand with rediscovering food preservation techniques our grandparents knew. Watching my sons show interest in learning these techniques is so gratifying--the idea of having an heirloom to pass down with the knowledge is the icing on the cake.

The pounder gets that brine squeezed out with ease.

4. It really works!

Now, here is the BEST part. Having a pounder actually makes kraut even simpler. More fun, too! When I've made kraut before, I used my hands to massage and squeeze the salted cabbage, and also tried using a wooden spoon and the bottom of a jar to roughen it up a bit further. Nothing really worked the way I wanted it to. The pounder is well...just MADE for this job! I got more brine, more quickly by using my pounder. In fact, in my kraut tutorial I suggest making backup brine in case the cabbage doesn't release enough of its own liquid, but by using the pounder I got plenty of brine to cover the kraut. The pounder also makes squishing and pressing the cabbage down into the jar much easier.

Here's a quick 20-second video of me using my kraut pounder.
This thing gets the job done like nothing else!

Head on over, right now, to see Eddie's store

What a great gift for the homesteader in your life....
OR, what a great gift for yourself!

Don't forget to also go and visit Jo and Eddie's homesteading site: Homestead Chronicles. There is a wealth of information to be found, and it's just a fun place to hang out!

DISCLOSURE: This post may contain affiliate links. I'm eligible to receive a small commission whenever a product is purchased through these links. Click Here for my full disclosure!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Winter as a Blank Slate

One of the littles with our mini snow shovel,
digging a path on the sidewalk next to the side garden.
Our property ends at that little sidewalk--yes, there
actually is a garden smooshed up there against the house! :)

Winter blues can set in heavily around this time of year for those of us in cold and snowy climates. Our gardens are bare, the world outside alternates between frozen and just plain wet--but always frigid--and some days the sun never comes out. Many people become very depressed in the dead of winter and for good reason. The Ojibway Indians called the month of February the Hunger Moon, as their food stores from the summer and autumn dwindled, game could be difficult to find, and fresh food was only a distant memory. Though I have the treasured ability to get fresh vegetables year round from the grocery store, my heart hungers for my own veggies. Hunger Moon is the last leg of the winter marathon; we know that the chill will be gone soon, and that suddenly it will be warm and green once again, but getting to the end means focusing hard, with steel resolve. Our physical survival may not be at stake like it was for the Ojibway, but our mental and emotional endurance can be challenged in very real ways.

Though the snow is oppressive, and the bare branches on trees are dismal, there is a really great aspect to winter, and a huge incentive for walking around and quietly observing your little homestead.

The landscape has been wiped clean! A clean white canvas lies before you, and vivid images emerge; of garden beds, and pots, and spirals, all filled and lush with green growing food. And flowers, too, of course! If you are like me and working with a small suburban lot, where every inch of space has potential, the clean slate is very encouraging and exciting. When living on a little lot, there is no such thing as wide open spaces...yet, when the snow erases all the imperfections below, the space seems so much bigger.

Projects start to form in my mind every time I go outside in the winter snow. The layout of new beds, additions to old growing areas, and novel ideas come alive in my head like no other time. In summer it's sometimes overwhelming to make new plans. My backyard has several areas that always become wildly overgrown, remnants of a previous owner's landscape dreams that now have become a nightmare to keep at bay (*note to self: never, ever, ever plant decorative vines. EVER). In winter, however, the vines are dead, unwanted wild shrubberies are bare and it's easy to visualize cutting them down for firewood. Everything looks so bare and clean and easy to manipulate.

Come join me on a photo walk! I took my camera out on a frigid but beautiful February morning, and my creative juices started flowing. Each photo below has an area or two circled, and you get to peek inside my brain to see what I think should happen in those circles. :)

With snow covering and weighing down these behemoth shrubs,
it's easier to imagine ripping them out and putting garden spaces there.
I am TIRED of maintaining them,
they are overgrown,
and some nice edible landscaping could be the start of a front-yard paradise! still my beating heart!
Looking out from the front of the house:
the 1/6 acre empty lot.
My unrequited love, of which I dream daily...
one day perhaps it will contain the little orchard and sprawling gardens I see in my mind.
Still gotta work on the VERY stubborn neighbor who owns it. :)

South side garden-against-the-house (our property ends there).
 Someone once mentioned the potential for vertical growing against the nice big white expanse of that wall,
which gets very warm and sunny,
and I've been coming up with various ideas ever since.
Backyard from the far south corner. 
We had potato towers and we grew in straw bales
along the fence to the right (south)...the evidence is nearly erased by the snow!
Oh, and that little brown shed? It WILL be a chicken coop! But not yet.           

Another view from the south corner. The ONE open space in the yard.
I plan to add two or three raised beds in this open space....
but still leave some room to play in.
Been mapping out various ideas, over and over!

The other corner of the yard. Compost bin.
We need another matching bin next to it to make faster and easier compost.
In winter the bare branches of the half-dead shrubbery next to it looks
much easier to deal with--we'll remove it and build another simple pallet bin.

The other circle shows the end of the brush line that extends across the whole back fence,
which I'll get to in a minute.

The north fence in the backyard has some potential.
More brush to cut out, and narrow beds can go along the entire length.

Looking down into the corner of that fence, you can see some clues about things
we've been working on. There's a bean teepee, an upturned wheelbarrow (nice effect, eh?),
and in the very corner, our leaf mold pile contained with wire fencing. Along the back of the house
are various containers and a garden bed made of a pallet (easy easy way to get a quick garden bed made!)
I love this little space between the back of the house and the shed.
Since it is mostly shade, I've been experimenting with shade-loving plants.
Last summer the cilantro went crazy back here,
so I'm going to try lettuce, spinach, arugula...just lots of greens.

The circle on the left shows an old playhouse we have really outgrown.
It makes me sad to think of letting it go, but this could really open up some growing opportunity.
The circle on the right of the photo is a ridiculous tree we've cut out several times
 and it keeps coming back...
it needs to go.
In summer it gets overwhelmingly overgrown and completely in the way.
By the way, the medium sized tree trunk in the middle-ish of the photo--
that is our beloved mulberry tree!

View from the back door--the shrub line all along the back fence
has been slowly dying through the years. It's great for privacy and I've resisted
 the idea of cutting it all out.
But last year hubby mentioned replacing it all with edible stuff (like blueberries or hardy kiwi or grapes, etc),
and I thought 'genius'!
I'll be honest though...this project seems huge and scary.
We don't have a lot of power tools, and it may not look like it, but there is 
a lot of gnarly stuff growing there.

Finally, the back patio. The wall faces south and gets tons of light each day.
A gutter is right overhead.
I'm thinking of a system of Earth Buckets for this spot.
(click here for Earth Bucket instructions!)

Actually getting these projects started? Much less, finished?! Ohh, that is the hard part! Dreaming is fun...doing takes discipline. I know that I'm going to have to prioritize what I want done the most, so I don't jump in and make a bunch of messes that never get completed.

Things will be picking up indoors as I start the garden's seedlings, and start making plans for summer (a very, very busy time for my daycare). Life in all other areas never seems to slow down (don't we ALL know that). Can't I just be a full-time gardener and homesteader...please??? ;) Finding the time and the motivation to make these ideas come alive will take some will power, especially when the snow melts and reveals all the imperfections in the yard; the vines--oh shoot me now, the vines. The overgrowth, the pesky unwanted plants. If I can commit to taking care of the cleanup before everything starts exploding with green, then hopefully I can expand and evolve some areas around this little homestead into valuable growing spaces!

Stay tuned, and please share: What have you imagined in your blank slate this winter? Do you have a project or two in mind for your garden this spring?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Overheard in the Kitchen: Simon Explains Water Kefir

Simon posing for me with his grape-flavored water kefir.

If you are the major proponent of change in your home (read: troublemaker) and are looking for a way to drag the rest of your household along with you, it makes sense to help them get there the same way you did. Help them try small steps. Watch the steps work. Watch your family members learn to love it. --Dasiy Siskin in Little House in the Suburbs

Monday, December 22, 2014

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Kohlrabi Hotsticks

This has to be one of the simplest ferment recipes ever; perfect for newbies!  It only has 4 ingredients: kohlrabi, water, salt, and red pepper flakes.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Leftover Turkey Nachos

Confession: On Thanksgiving, I don't really love eating turkey.

It's true! Leftovers, though? I am all over those!