Saturday, September 20, 2014

Fast and Light: The Santanoni Range

Our typical strategy for hiking ADK mountains is to pack in, establish a base camp, hike some mountains, and pack out.  The upside to this approach is that I get to sleep in the woods.  The downside to this approach is that sleeping in the woods = larger pack = harder, longer duration hike.  It's like big wall climbing - as soon as you haul, everything gets harder!

We decided on a different approach for the Santanoni Range:  fast and light.  We'd hike the ~15.5 miles with ~4,900 feet of elevation gain over 3 trail-less summits in one day.  It worked fantastically well, and I think I'm going to push for this approach more in the future.

6:12 a.m.:  We hit the trail, headlamps blazing.  First ones to sign the register today.  Ate homemade breakfast bars while we hiked.

7:11 a.m.:  Dangerous bridge.  Someone needs to start a hipster band with that name.

7:53 a.m.:  Dave sees the fork in the trail and tries to eat it.  (TRAIL BETA:  this is the start of the Santanoni Express.)

8:16 a.m.:  Yes, the start of the Panther Brook trail does cross right over the top of a beaver dam.  (TRAIL BETA: As you're hiking along the blue trail, there are two trail bypasses.  Take the first one.  Don't take the second one - bear left on the old trail instead of right on the newer trail.  Look closely for the path across the swamp.)

8:17 a.m.:  I am not expecting views today.

9:49 a.m.:  Times square trail junction.

10:54 a.m.:  Couchsachraga!  That wasn't as bad as I expected.

12:12 p.m.:  Back to Times Square.  Turn left for Panther.

12:28 p.m.:  Panther Peak.  RAWR!

12:29 p.m.:  We are pretty darn muddy.  Yeesh.

 1:38 p.m.:  We zing across the ridgeline to Santanoni.  Really cruising now.

1:45 p.m.:  Down the Santanoni Express.  

2:00 p.m.:  I know we cross Santanoni Brook right before the Express joins the blue trail.  I hear rushing water a knee-crunching, soul-destroying hour before reaching the blue trail.  Fake out!

2:38 p.m.:  I engage in an extended verbal dialog with the trail in an effort to get it to end.  I offer it food in exchange for ending.  I also threaten to pee on it if it doesn't end.

3:03 p.m.:  The trail ends when I threaten to have Dave fart on it.  Works every time.  We're back at the blue trail.

3:04 p.m.:  We realize we have a shot at completing the hike sub-10 hours.  Now we're really cruising!

3:41 p.m.:  We are not tired enough, so we trail-run the last 1.8 miles along the jeep road.

4:03 p.m.:  Laughing and gasping for air, we tear into the parking lot 9 hours and 51 minutes after we left.  Excellent marriage advice:  marry someone of equal crazy.

4:04 p.m.:  We notice the guy who signed in right after us, and who passed us about 5 minutes down the trail, finished in 7 hours and 10 minutes.  Mike from Clifton Park, you are a beast!

P.S.  40 down, only 6 to go!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

A Gardener, Not a Chef

The trick with fermentation is to remember that you are a gardener, not a chef.  A chef can control ingredients, preparation techniques, the heat of the pan, the length of cooking, the presentation of the meal.  The gardener creates a set of conditions and waits to see what happens.

And sometimes this happens:

That's a "bloom."  The conditions weren't quite right to make any mold/ fungal spores die off on their own.  Garden failed this time.  This is only the second "off" batch of anything I've made, and it's a good lesson to share.

Some people say that you can scrape off the top layer and eat the rest.  I don't recommend doing that, because the filaments of the fungus can sink pretty deep.  Yick.  The cabbage will go in our compost heap, which eventually feeds our garden.  The rest of the equipment will get washed in very hot soapy water before storage, and again before the next use.

What caused the bloom?  I think there was too much "headspace," or too much distance between the cabbage and the top of the jar.  More oxygen to be displaced by carbon dioxide means a longer period of time before anaerobic conditions are established.  And anaerobic conditions are the key to tasty, consistent results.  More on the science of lacto-fermentation next time!

Monday, September 8, 2014

How to Make Real, Traditional Sauerkraut at Home

This post is for my Mums, who said she is interested in making sauerkraut.  We make it all the time with consistently awesome results:  salty, tangy, crunchy, tasty "cooked" cabbage that tingles your tongue and makes your tummy smile.  Here's how.

This entire process can be summarized as follows:
1) Shred cabbage.
2) Add salt, vigorously.
3) Let it sit.

Any time this starts to feel complicated, refer to the simple process above.  Everything else is just detail.  Yes, there are a lot of pictures and words in this post, but hey, it's my blog and I'll write if I want to!

Every German hausfrau (housewife) making sauerkraut and every Korean uhmoni (mother) making kimchi will have their own recipe.  This is how I do it, but don't be afraid to experiment to find what works in your kitchen.  Fermenting food is like gardening.  In our gardens, we create the conditions so veggies and flowers thrive, while weeds languish.  In our kitchens, we create the conditions for certain bacteria to thrive in our food.  The microbes do the cooking, not us.

Let's get started!

  • Roughly 4 lbs of cabbage
  • Roughly 2.5 tablespoons of salt
I use green cabbage, but a Korean uhmoni will use Chinese cabbage.  They're both fine.  I've heard that red cabbage makes amazing kraut, too.

I use pickling salt, which is not iodized and does not have anti-caking agents.  Regular ol' table salt works fine - no need to buy 5 lbs of canning salt.

  • A large bowl
  • Cutting board
  • Large knife
  • 1 half-gallon mason jar
  • 1 DIY airlock
The German hausfrau uses a very large mandolin in place of the knife and cutting board.  Sometimes I'll use a food processor if I'm feeling lazy.  More on that, plus the DIY airlock, later.
  • Optional, recommended:
    • Kitchen scale
    • 1 canning funnel
    • 1 cleaning rag and white vinegar
Step 1:  Clean Up

Clean up to reduce the number of bacteria that might contaminate your food or compete with the microbes you're cultivating.  But not too clean - no antibaterial handwash, no chemicals on the countertops.

Wash your hands.

Wipe down your counters with a vinegar/water spray.

Good enough.

Step 2:  Weigh Your Cabbage & Calculate Your Salt

Remove the outer leaves.

Chop into quarters and remove the core.  Weigh each quarter, noting the total weight.

No kitchen scale?  No problem.  Weigh your cabbage at the grocery store.  Write down the number.  Reduce the salt in your recipe slightly, to account for the fact that you'll discard the core.  Done!

I recommend using ~4 lbs of cabbage, as that amount fits perfectly in a half gallon mason jar.

Step 3:  Shred, Baby, Shred

Shred your cabbage.

I think slicing the quarters very very finely with a sharp knife makes sauerkraut with the best texture - nice n' crunchy.

But sometimes you get lazy and just want to finish with the food processor.  Use the most coarse shredding attachment.

I like doing half-and-half.  The sliced cabbage makes a great texture, and the processed cabbage makes a ton of brine.  I wouldn't do it all in the food processor, due to texture concerns.

You could also use a mandolin, or if you can find that German hausfrau, ask to borrow her kraut board.

In the end, you'll have this:

Step 4:  Salt It

Figure out how much salt you'll need based on the magical ratio of 3 tablespoons of salt for every 5 pounds of cabbage, cores removed.  Use algebra or this handy dandy chart:
  • 1 lb cabbage = 1/2 tablespoon plus 1/3 teaspoon salt
  • 2 lb cabbage = 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 lb cabbage = 1 tablespoon plus 2.5 teaspoon salt
  • 4 lb cabbage = 2.5 tablespoon salt
  • 5 lb cabbage = 3 tablespoon salt

Don't go too crazy with exact measurements.  This is art, not science.

Sprinkle the salt over the shredded cabbage.

Step 5:  Punch It

Mix the salt into the cabbage, thoroughly.  While you're at it, punch down the cabbage, breaking and bruising it.  This releases more brine, improving the fermentation conditions, and improves texture.

As you mix and punch, your cabbage will get limp and juicy as the plant cell walls break down and the salt draws out brine.  Your cabbage now looks like this:

Step 6:  Pack It

Use your optional canning funnel to pack the half gallon mason jar full of delicious salty cabbage.

After every few scoops, press down on the cabbage firmly, compressing it into the bottom of the jar, below the level of the brine.  Press down again and again as you pack the jar.

In the end, you should have lots of cabbage packed into the bottom of the jar, with a nice layer of salty brine floating above it.

Take your vinegar rag and wipe down the rim, neck, and outside of the jar.

Add water to the fermentation airlock, about an inch on either side of the bottom of "U" shaped trap.  Screw on the airlock using a wide-mouthed canning band.

This airlock is a used wide-mouth mason jar lid, a piece of coat hanger, a small rubber stopper with a hole in it, and a short section of food-grade tubing.
  1. Drill a hole with a large drill bit in the mason jar lid.
  2. Stuff in the rubber stopper, then stuff the tube into the stopper.
  3. Twist the tube in a loop and secure with wire.
  4. Add water to half the height of the loop.
Easy DIY airlock:  gas can escape the jar without letting oxygen in.

Step 7:  Wait

Put the mason jar in a corner where it will sit at room temperature, undisturbed, for about a week.  Thereafter, you can keep it on the counter at room temperature (faster and easier) or continue its ferment in a cooler place, like a root cellar or the door of your fridge (slower and more traditional).

And here is where the magic begins!  The fermentation process produces carbon dioxide, which pushes up the column of water in the airlock until bloop a little bubble of carbon dioxide escapes.  If you don't see some blooping by day 2, your airlock probably has a leak - fix it ASAP.  The blooping peaks around day 3-4, depending on temperature, and may continue as long as day 7.  By the end of the first week, your kraut will have morphed from bright green to straw yellow.

Let your kraut sit for 3 weeks.  DON'T open the airlock during that time!  If you do, you will destroy the oxygen-free (anaerobic) environment you painstakingly created with your airlock and will encourage the growth of the not good bacteria and molds.

Many people like to ferment their kraut at least 10-12 weeks.  When Dave worked on the farm, we had some ferments go even longer, and they were delicious.  Now, I usually go about 3 weeks, because the kraut looks so darn tasty sitting on my counter.

At the end of the fermentation, screw on a regular mason jar lid and store the jar in the fridge.


I'm going to take pictures of the jar as it ferments.  Exciting!  Stay tuned for Part II:  How and Why This Works (With Pictures!).

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Months of Plenty

There was plenty of summer left after we returned home!

Set up garden beds, built deer & rabbit fencing, mulched and composted, built ADK bridges over the inlet and outlet streams, and a zillion other little things:

Did some work inside the house, too:

But there was still plenty of time for wildflowers and hammocks, climbing trees and weeknight campfires:

Birthday parties and goat roasts:

Went back to work, fully embracing the fact that I really, truly, absolutely am not an indoor cat:

And to top it all off, a sport climbing "herd" trip that didn't get rained out:

The first few leaves in the back woods are turning yellow.  There is a hickory directly across from my window; I can't wait for it to turn brilliant.  It will.  I know it will!  First autumn in our home.  Still finding all of the new things.

By all standards, this was an epic summer.  And for the first time in long time, there's nothing big on the horizon.  No Peru, no New Zealand, no trip around the world, no homelessness, no career change, no Nicaragua, no wedding, no home buying, no road tripping.

Just wildflowers and gardens, campfires and hammocks, birthday parties with funny hats and virtual candles, goats on fire, and the happy hum of my treadmill.

And slip n' slides.  Definitely slip n' slides.

(Come find me, adventures!)