Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Sauerkraut Christmas Card

A few days before Christmas I received the most remarkable Christmas card I've ever been sent.  The front of the card had a very pretty B&W fiber-based print of a front porch covered with Christmas decorations.  I'm always a sucker for a nice photo, and this was an especially nice one, but I've received a similar Christmas card my friend Daniel almost every year for the past twenty years.  It was the inside of the card that really surprised me.  It read:
Are you waiting for the sauerkraut recipe?
1 head cabbage:  1 tablespoon kosher salt.
Shred, salt and press the cabbage into a crock.  Top with plate and cabbage stone.  Wait 4 weeks <76  degrees F.  Above 76 the cabbage gets soggy.  Skim as needed. 
Sadly, my husband threw away the card in a post-holiday clean-up campaign.  Luckily, I had started writing this blog post before the card met it's unfortunate end so I at least have the recipe.  It's not enough for me to feel like I can make my own sauerkraut using this recipe alone, but it did inspire me to start digging through the digital files to see if I could find any other information regarding Daniel's sauerkraut making enterprise.

I've been taking photographs of my friend Daniel's sauerkraut making process for about a year now.  I started when he was on his second batch and continue to shoot photos whenever he invites me over to try a new batch.  I even have a video of the "smashing" of the cabbage into the crock, complete with an audio track of Daniel's more detailed instructions.

Disclaimer:  This video is for entertainment purposes only.  Although Daniel has provided an excellent (and entertaining) sketch of the process, it would be challenging to actually make sauerkraut safely without additional information.  Please consult federal guidelines for safely producing sauerkraut.  Here's a handy link from the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences to get you started and a few photos to make your mouth water.

There's also a final photograph meant to convince you that you do need to be careful when making sauerkraut.  Foaming sauerkraut is not for the faint of heart or sensitive of nose.
Sauerkraut and Brussels sprouts being scooped out the crock, March 2011.

Pickled Brussels sprouts in the kitchen, March 2011.
Delicious kielbasa sandwich made with Daniel's homemade sauerkraut, 2011.

Seeing foam grow on the surface of the pickling liquid is a good reminder to be cautious when making sauerkraut, 2011.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Best Party Entertainment Ever

Panini press waiting for business, Jan. 2012.
Over the weekend I attended a party where the entertainment was... a sandwich maker, otherwise known as a "panini press".  It had a place of prominence next to the drinks and when I commented on it, my friend Wendy did her best Vanna White impression and said, "it's the entertainment!"

Of course, we all knew that my friend Wendy herself was the real entertainment.  She's recently back from Ethiopia where she conducted research on medieval manuscripts courtesy of a Fulbright Grant and had amazing stories to tell us about her trip.  Most of us Angelinos haven't heard much about her adventure because she moved to the East Coast several years ago to take up her post as a professor at Princeton.  Since she moved, her LA friends are always excited to have an opportunity to see her.  Wendy's friends come from all over the world and are an amazing bunch of people.  Luckily, they're also the sort of people who know good food and good entertainment.  This party had multiple hosts-- Genevieve came up with the great idea to bring the panini press.  A second host, Bharati, is also a friend of this blog who has offered many useful comments, especially in the field of mushroom identification.

I know it seems crazy that the party entertainment would be a panini press, but it's amazing how fast people will flock around a potentially dangerous heat source when given the option.  And of course, hot sandwiches are always delicious.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Backyard Mushrooms: A Casualty of the Wind Storm

Mushrooms growing in the cracks in our concrete pathway, late November 2011.
I was just about to write a post showcasing the beauty of our inedible mushroom crop when the winds hit Los Angeles in late November.  Amazingly, the winds didn't finish off the mushrooms, but the following heat wave did.  I knew I should simply file away these photos and move on to other topics, but after a month of looking at these photos in my "blog stuff to sort" folder, I found I just couldn't bring myself to do it.

I love these photos not simply because I love looking at pictures of mushrooms (although I do.)  I love them because I am fascinated with the many varieties of mushrooms that thrive and die in our backyard.  There's always something exciting about going to the backyard and discovering a new and unknown variety of mushroom growing there.  This feeling is much like watching a black and white print develop in the chemistry.  As many times as I've printed photographs from a negative, the moment that the image first appears in the developer tray is always exciting.  It's a moment of promise and of excitement that doesn't last long.  Most often, this feeling drains away as I realize that the photograph has faults that can only be corrected by reprinting.  In the backyard mushroom watch, this feeling rarely lasts more than a day or two as the mushroom crop is killed off by a heat wave or the stomping feet of an exuberant toddler too fast to deter from a mission of destruction.

Phallus Impudicus, 2011.
Our backyard has been host to Phallus Impudicus (a Stinkhorn species) and Inky Caps (a Coprinus species).  Both of these mushroom species were identified by my friend Bharati, a known fungus-lover.  I suspect that the mushrooms shown in the photos posted here may be one or two varieties of Inky Caps, but I know so little about mushrooms, especially the inedible kind, that it's impossible for me to say.  What I can say that is that mushrooms are a resourceful and mysterious life form.  They are a seemingly delicate species, sprouting quickly and dying even faster with the slightest change in temperature or humidity.  I've lived in this house for several years now and in that time we've seen a number of different mushroom species and they always seem to pop up in different places in the yard.    I suppose this is a round-about way of saying that what I like best about mushrooms is their unpredictability and their capacity (dare I say determination?) to find a hospitable spot to grow.

Mushrooms growing in my backyard, late November 2011.
I also love mushroom hunting, even if it's only for photographic purposes.  As a mushroom ignoramus, I would never trust my powers of identification enough to eat any mushroom I find myself, but I do enjoy the "search and reveal" qualities of a mushroom hunt.  When I was a kid my grandfather would go on walks through the foothills of the Alleghany Mountains behind his backyard and come home with a brown paper bag full of mushrooms.  As I remember, he found mostly Morel mushrooms and although I didn't like eating them at the time, I did love looking at them.  (We weren't allowed to touch them much because he didn't want them bruised before dinner.)  I loved the fact that my grandfather, who cautioned me against eating wild mushrooms myself, knew enough about them that he could not only determine which mushrooms were edible, he also knew when and where to look for them.

Mushroom hunting embodies a number of qualities I find appealing-- the excitement of a quest and a great reward that comes with a threat of death that can only be overcome with confidence and certain knowledge.  I don't know what it says about me that I don't possess any of these qualities, at least not in relation to mushroom hunting.  Perhaps it is the fact that I lack them so completely that I find the idea of mushroom hunting appealing.  Or maybe I just read too much.