It’s still hot, but the weather is expected to break soon and I’m thankful to have had a bit more energy the last couple of days. I don’t like feeling lethargic- I enjoy life so much more when I’m motivated, inspired to try new things. I can fulfill my obligations without too much trouble, but I want more than that out of life. Each day should bring a little something extra, not just getting by. Sometimes I run out of steam and do only the minimum, but I’m thankful when that low mood passes and I get back to normal.
I have a new interest in fermented foods. Several years ago I read a book by Sandor Katz, The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved, and then over time I kept hearing about the benefits of fermented foods- sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha. It seems you can ferment almost anything, and I love the relative simplicity of it. We’ve had a fair amount of skin issues in our family- overall we’ve been blessed with good health, but my third child was born with multiple food allergies and sensitivities and bad eczema. He has since outgrown all of it except for a tree nut allergy, but it was an eye-opener for sure, realizing how easily food could heal or harm. A true food allergy is such a frightening thing- knowing that a tiny piece of a nut can kill someone. My oldest has severe eczema and it breaks my heart that I can’t do much- he’s an adult, has lived independently for many years now so it’s really up to him to try to cure himself; but still a mother’s heart always wants to fix things.
I’m no scientist, and I make my choices pretty intuitively, but the research about the importance of healthy gut bacteria and the human microbiome is compelling. I’ve written before about how I eventually learned that I couldn’t do it all- everything takes time and there are only so many hours in a day, only so much money in the budget. The biggest secret to a happy life, for me, has been figuring out how to live within my means, both literally and figuratively. For many years, the needs of young children were so pressing that it took all my resources just to stay afloat, to be there for my kids, to do the basics and no more than that.
But now I’m ready for more- slowly, but it’s happening. The days are opening up, time is becoming more fluid and I can think about hobbies again. The extra stuff. We got a pet, and I actually love having him rather than resenting the fact that another living thing needs me. I’m still not much of a gardener- all I have now is a tiny patio and I can’t even keep the weeds out of the bark mulch. But I read a ton, and I write, and I’m learning to make sauerkraut and my own soda. Once I perfect these two things, I’m looking forward to new projects- pickles, kefir, kombucha, cheese (not a fermented food, but sounds fun to make, especially with the good farm milk we get delivered).
I’m on my third try with sauerkraut now- I’ve looked at a lot of recipes and websites online, but prefer Sandor Katz’s straightforward method. I have little use for anything too complicated or fussy in the kitchen- I’m a home cook to the core. I enjoy reading about food, both cookbooks and blogs, but when it comes to actual cooking I don’t really follow recipes. I cook intuitively, guided by years of experience and research. Maybe if I’m baking, I might follow a recipe. Maybe.
The first batch of sauerkraut was way too salty. I didn’t measure the salt or weigh the cabbage, so it’s not a big surprise. It’s a little tricky because you really need enough salt to get the fermenting going, but not too much. The next batch I had a special crock for, with a plate that fit perfectly into it to weigh it down (found by my husband at the thrift store- it’s not easy to find a plate of an exact diameter!). You can buy fancy fermenting crocks for a lot of money, but I’m always a bargain hunter. My crock was about $20 at Ace Hardware.
The second batch tasted fine, but the liquid evaporated over time and I didn’t replace it with salt water. We ate some, and then I threw out the rest. It was good though, and I think I’m slowly converting my family to the idea that it is a real food- not just something to put on hot dogs. This batch is doing well, and I added liquid yesterday to make sure that the cabbage stays submerged while it is fermenting. I’m still confused about how long to let it ferment- weeks or months? I guess it’s flexible- I had some today and it was good, so we’ll just keep eating it until it’s gone.
My method for making fermented soda relies on yeast instead of a starter or “bug” as it’s called. I bought some champagne yeast online, and for $6 I got enough yeast to make soda for years. So far I’ve made fruit juice based soda- grape, orange, cranberry blends. You can make soda by juicing whole fruit, but that’s not exactly economically feasible for me (and I don’t have a juicer). I’m not interested in making root beer because I don’t really like it and it seems fairly complicated, but I am interested in making good ginger ale. My first batch was a failure- way too gingery and not sweet enough, but I’m making another bottle right now so hopefully it will taste better.
Making homemade soda is not necessarily cheaper, definitely not cheaper than buying regular corn syrup based soda. But I think it’s cheaper than buying expensive “natural” sodas, and I love the fact that I can make soda that tastes more “dry”- not so sickeningly sweet. So far, my youngest loves all of the ones I’ve made, and my true soda lover (Jesse) is not too impressed. When I make one that he really likes, I’ll know I’ve figured it out.
So what else is going on… I’m reading a book about Hemingway and his four wives: Mrs. Hemingway. I’m enjoying it very much- a perfect read for long summer days. I read The Paris Wife and liked it, and this book is a good companion to that one. The funny thing is, I don’t think I’m a big fan of Hemingway’s books, but I enjoy reading novels about him. This is one of those realizations I’ve come to as I’ve gotten older- that I don’t have to like someone just because they’re a great writer. I can like what I like, and it doesn’t really matter what others think. I still think it’s important to at least be exposed to classic literature, and have no regrets about the many years I spent reading these kinds of books, but my opinions have evolved and matured over time. I do have The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton as a potential read by my bed, so if I’m inclined to work a little harder I may try that. I loved Ethan Frome and The Age of Innocence, and it’s been a while since I’ve challenged myself with a book.
We also got some good news, and it came at a perfect time. A homeschooling friend gifted us with some tickets to Rockygrass, a huge annual bluegrass festival that happens nearby in Lyons Colorado. We can take the kids, and even have backstage passes. So we’ll be going to that on Sunday, and I’m so excited about it. Tickets are sold out months in advance, they’re expensive… it’s just not something I would normally do, but I’m thrilled to have the opportunity. It’s been a long time since I’ve been to anything like this- my deadhead days were over so long ago it feels like another lifetime, and I’ve not been the sort of mom to drag my kids to hippie festivals. So it will be a treat for all of us, and I’m just struck once again by the idea of serendipity, the fact that people are good and generous and sometimes nice things happen when you least expect them.