Stuff. Things. Junk.

Wanda Jackson

1 part big-haired southern belle
1 part riot grrrl pipes
2 parts rhinestone accessories and leather fringed outfit
—-yields rockabilly legend Wanda Jackson

her latest album was produced by Jack White. Check it out on NPR first listen while you still can.

Crocheted dress guards

Screw knitting a hat. I’m gonna make some of these babies! My granny-inspired bike bling will be the envy of every bike on Mt. Pleasant street. Not a knitter/crocheter? Simeli dress guards are available here for purchase.

Making sauerkraut

For my February fermentation adventure I will be making sauerkraut. Tja!! Sehr lecker! I figured I better track down the necessary equipment now since the fermentation process itself can take several weeks. Unlike some of my other epicurean pursuits, fermentation requires relatively little equipment. However, the stuff I need (bacteria and large containers) are not items I have on hand.

Step one for making sauerkraut is finding a 5 gallon food safe container to hold the kraut while the anaerobic processes work their magic. I was totally lusting after this stoneware fermentation crock from Harsch, but decided a significantly less pricey food grade plastic bucket would do. If fermentation becomes a regular thing for me, I’ll invest in the good stuff, but for now I want to avoid the being the foodie version of a fat 50yr old guy who buys a sweet Italian racing bike, rides it for a month then leaves it in the garage. To that end, I got this bucket for $16 from High Gravity Homebrewing.You can probably find a similar bucket at your local hardware store, just  be sure it’s food grade!

The FDA requires plastics used in food packaging be of greater purity (no dyes and no recycled plastics) than plastics used for non-food packaging.  One reason for this is that foods that are highly acidic or that contain alcohol or fats can leach plastic additives from the packaging or container into the food. Food grade containers have protective barriers that prevent this sort of contamination. Many, but not all, food grade containers have a triangle on the bottom around the number “2” indicating it’s made from a type of plastic called HDPE. However, not all HDPE containers are food safe so be sure you only buy one that’s labelled “food safe.” On a related note, you should also never store food in a container that has been used to store detergents or other chemicals.

More on sauerkraut in 5-7 business days! 

Making kefir bread

In keeping with my tradition of making New Year’s Resolutions that challenge me to learn new and interesting things, I decided to spend 2011 learning about food fermentation. In addition to expanding my culinary horizons, I’m learning about an ancient practice that could have some incredibly useful applications to modern day problems involving food security and the environment. Each month I’m working with a different type of fermented food and this month it’s all about kefir.

Now that I’ve learned to make kefir, I thought I would try my hand at cooking with it. I stumbled on this recipe for kefir bread and gave it a whirl last night. As is often the case when I cook, I improvised with the ingredients I had on hand because I was too lazy to go to the grocery store. I ended up using half whole wheat flour and half regular and the recipe turned out just fine. I think the whole wheat flour gives it more texture, plus it’s better for you!

This bread was SUPER easy to make and it turned out really well! There is approx 10min of hands on time; the rest of the time the bread just sits there and makes itself (seriously can it be any easier?!) Also this is a great way to use up extra kefir. Since making kefir is a continuous process, I sometimes end up with more on hand than I want to drink.

My bread came out soft, fairly dense, and has a slightly sour taste from the kefir. It’s easy to slice which is important if you want to use it to make sandwiches. I had some this morning with some Brummel and Brown’s yogurt butter and rasberry jam - Yum! I think it will be super tasty with some melted cheese on top for a snack too.

I have little to no bread-making experience but given how easy this was, I think I will be making more of my own bread in the future. Besides being easy, its also cheap! I got 3 loaves of homemade bread for the cost of 1 store-bought loaf.

Behold the quirky comical genius that is Lunchbreath

I’ve been loving Lunchbreath for over a year now and am happy to discovers/his rad art is available on etsy!! However my excitement is tempered by the fact that nothing is currently for sale. Still, you can enjoy s/his hilarious work here.

My foray into fashion blogging

I wrote for a blog that isn’t this one. Does that make me a blogger? Probably not. But anyway, here are two fashion posts I wrote for local D.C blog Dandies & Quaintrelles in advance of the fall Tweed Ride. This event is a TON of fun and I’m already looking forward to it’s summer counterpart, the Seersucker Social. I really enjoyed researching and writing these posts and look forward to writing more along the same lines for the StuffThingsJunk style file.

What to Wear to the Tweed Ride: A Guide for the Dapper Dame
Putting it all Together: Various Takes on the Tweed Aesthetic

Eating locally out of season

Worried about meal monotony come winter? Not a fan of root vegetables? Here are two options for a committed locavore who wants to add variety to meals during the lean winter months

1) Cannning. Here are some recipes and a how-to guide.

2) When your garden or local farmer’s market is overflowing with goods in the spring and summer, freeze the extras for later. Here is a handy guide for freezing greens, and another useful blog with info on freezing other types of food. You can also check my blog archive for a random freezing tips.

January’s fermentation experiment: making kefir

What is kefir? 
Kefir is a fermented milk drink that originated with shepherds of the North Caucasus region, who discovered that fresh milk carried in leather pouches would occasionally ferment into an effervescent beverage. It is prepared by inoculating milk with kefir grains. Traditional kefir was made in animal skin bags that were hung near a doorway; the bag would be knocked by anyone passing through the doorway to help keep the milk and kefir grains well mixed. Kefir has health benefits similar to yogurt and is excellent for digestion.

How to make kefir

  • Purchase kefir grains online. I got mine here. Be sure to follow instructions for re-hydrating your grains if they have been dehydrated for packaging and shipping by the seller.
  • Place grains in clean glass jar. One website suggest adding 8oz milk for every tablespoon of grains, add 7-8 ounces of milk but I didn’t measure anything and my kefir turned out fine. I used a large mason jar filled about 3/4 full with milk on top of the kefir grains.
  • Cover the jar loosely (I use a paper towel secured by a rubber band) and place at room temperature, away from direct sunlight.
  • Kefir will form in 12-48 hours. It will have a thick consistency similar to drinkable yogurt and it should smell a bit yeasty. If the smell is rotten then something is wrong. If your kefir has separated into curds and whey, it has been sitting too long. 
  • Strain the kefir using a colander with very small holes to separate the grains from the kefir. Cotton muslin bags, such as the type health food stores often sell as reusable tea bags, can be used to contain the kefir grains if you find that straining is too messy or difficult when you are working with small grains.  If using this method it is very important to ensure the bag stays submerged in milk as the bag will attract mold.
  • You can return the kefir grains to the jar used to culture your batch and start the process all over again to make a new batch. Put your new batch of kefir in a sealed container and refrigerate for up to several months.
Two approaches to making kefir
  • Double fermentation First ferment in the usual way by adding the culture to the milk and leaving for a period of time, 12-24 hours is the norm. Then strain out the culture and leave the kefir out to ferment more slowly for another 12-24 hours before putting it in the fridg
  • Continuous fermentation Store your kefir in a large jar but don’t put it in the fridge. As each new batch is ready it’s added to the existing kefir in the main storage jar and then the lid goes on. The kefir will continue to ferment (it’s a live food remember) and will get very sour and fizzy. If you feel inclined to try this you must always use a jar with a rubber seal that will allow excess pressure to escape, otherwise you run the risk of explosions!
Caring for kefir grains
  • A cooler temperature slows the fermentation down and makes a thicker kefir too. Some people like to ferment their kefir in the fridge, leaving it for 5 days or more to compensate for the much slower fermentation process.
  • Keeping your kefir grains in the fridge regularly can disrupt the yeast/bacteria balance necessary for the kefir grains to function properly make the kefir grains less efficient and reliable. 
  • Spare culture can be stored for a time in a jar in the fridge with some milk. The fermentation will slow right down and you can store them for a few weeks this way. It’s a good idea to rotate them with the grains you’re using for your regular kefir making so that they get a chance to warm up and restore vitality to their microflora.
  • To take a break from making kefir for a week, put the grains in the same amount of milk you use to make a batch of kefir and put them in a sealed container in the fridge for a week. If you need more than a week off, be sure to change the milk each week. Don’t do this for more than 2-3 months.
  • Kefir grains can be stored long-term by drying them.  Simply rinse the kefir grains with filtered water to remove all milk residue.  Lay them on a piece of unbleached parchment paper and set them in a safe place.  Kefir grains will generally dry in 2-5 days depending on room temperature and humidity levels.  Once the kefir grains are completely dry, they can be stored in a zip lock bag in a cook dry place or the refrigerator.  If possible, package the dried grains with a small amount of dried milk powder.  In this state, kefir grains will generally survive at least 12 months
  • The biggest danger with leaving the kefir grains in the same milk for more than 48 hours is that they will generally begin to starve which damages the kefir grains.
  • It is not necessary to rinse kefir grains between batches unless you suspect they have been contaminated.  Kefir grains often work better if they are not rinsed.
Additional notes
  •  If you are culturing multiple products (e.g. different varieties of yogurt, buttermilk, kefir, Kombucha, etc.) be sure to keep a distance of at least several feet between cultures so they don’t cross-contaminate each other.  Over time, cross-contamination will weaken the culture.
  • Kefir which cultures at room temperature for longer than 48 hours can have a laxative effect. 
  • Kefir and kefir grains should not be stirred with or stored in metal other than stainless steel.
  • Kefir sticking to the grains is normal and does not present a problem.  Just remove large quantities and don’t worry about smaller layers of kefir that remain on the kefir grains as they go into fresh milk.
  • The easiest way to find the kefir grains is to first stir the kefir well with a wooden or plastic spoon—you want to homogenized the kefir and break up the coagulated portions.  Next, pour the kefir though a fine mesh strainer and gently work the kefir through using  your fingers (be sure your hands are washed and rinsed well as both foreign bacteria and soap residue can wreak havoc on kefir grains).  This process should allow you to locate the kefir grains as well as homogenized the kefir.
  • During the culturing process, kefir will generally go through three stages: Liquid milk, thickened liquid (generally the consistency of cultured buttermilk or liquid yogurt), thicker kefir (almost a yogurt consistency in some cases) and finally separated into curds and whey.  How quickly the kefir moves through the various stages is a function of several factors including room temperature and the ratio of kefir grains to milk.  Kefir that has separated is simply kefir that has over-cultured.  It is generally safe to consume over-cutlured kefir provided it looks, tastes and smells okay.
The above information and much more can be found here and here and here and here.

Is compromise a founding principle of our democracy?

          There was some controversy last week when Congress kicked off it’s session with a reading of the Constitution on the House floor. The debate was over which version to read: the original document, or the amended version, in which portions of the original (ex. the 3/5 clause) which were superseded by amendments (the 13th in the case of the 3/5 clause) are not read.
          I think there are legitimate points to be made on both sides regarding the significance of the original text, the value in remembering injustices like the 3/5 clause, and the strange hypocrisy of Republicans, some of whom are committed to repealing the 14th amendment, choosing to read the amended version. Personally I am all for Congress reading the Constitution, and I don’t find it particularly odd that they would read the version on which courts and legislators currently rely. But I won’t get into all that in this blog post. 
          I actually have a more tangential observation to make. The mention of the 3/5 clause got me thinking about compromise. At the time of ratification, slavery was a major issue, as was how to count slaves for purposes of taxation and congressional representation. The debate was intense and it came down to this: do we compromise our principles in order to form a nation, or do we hold our ground? Ultimately compromise prevailed. Less than 100 years after our nation was founded, the 13th amendment was passed rendering the 3/5 clause moot. Of course it was another 100 years plus of civil rights activism before citizenship had any real meaning for African Americans. It took over a hundred years to correct the evil wrought by compromise, yet that struggle has brought us closer in line with other values, ones of freedom and democracy on which our Constitution and our country were formed. So then, is compromise as integral to the function of American democracy as our more esoteric notions of liberty, justice and the pursuit of happiness? 
          I would encourage our elected officials to think about that question. The idea of compromise was anathema to the 2010 Congress and I don’t foresee chances for agreement improving as the newly elected Tea Partiers ride into town on promises to stand their ground on matters ranging from guns, to healthcare, to earmarks. The fact that newly elected House Speaker John Boehner’s proclaimed agenda is one of opposition rather than issues is pretty telling. Compared to the 3/5 compromise, finding common ground on issues like healthcare and same sex marriage seems like a cake-walk. Yet our elected officials (read: Republicans) wave the Constitution and call upon the legacy of our founding fathers, as they themselves refuse to make the sort difficult compromises our founding fathers made to form this country.
          As an admittedly stubborn and opinionated person of principle, I understand the difficulty of working with those with whom you vehemently disagree. But when our elected officials talk about the principles of our founding fathers, I hope they will remember one of those principles is compromise, and that this country wouldn’t exist without it.

Giffords shooting discourse misses the mark

           As much as I dislike Sarah Palin, and find her crosshairs graphic and gun-totin’ lingo is objectionable, I don’t blame her or the right-wing media for the Giffords shooting. Jared Loughner opened fire on those people because he is a total fucking nut job, and because he was able to get a weapon.
          Why can’t a crazy just be a crazy shooter? Why must this random event be a commentary on society and the state of political discourse? Every few years a wack job pops up and tragically opens fire on innocent people. And each time people try to explain it by looking at the failings of society.
          Sure, society and politics contribute in part to these events - after all, crazed gunman are able to carry out their sick ambitions because firearms are practically given away like candy in Walmarts around America (in Virginia they voted NOT to restrict mentally ill persons from getting weapons after the VA Tech shooting -seriously). So yes, society and political factors may allow for crazed gunman to make good on their intentions, but I don’t think society necessarily creates these crazed gunmen. SOME PEOPLE ARE JUST CRAZY.
          There have always been crazy people and there always will be. So instead of blaming right wing media and Sarah Palin for actions of the mentally disturbed (and I say this as one who loathes both Palin and right wing media) why don’t we focus on fixing the problem that is actually of our own making - laws that allow guns to fall into the hands of the violent and mentally disturbed. Along the same lines, see this excerpt from an interview with Professor of Political Rhetoric Martin J. Medhurst: 

"Obviously, this whole discussion has arisen out of Saturday’s shooting of Congresswoman Giffords. Do you see any connection between the violence that occurred over the weekend and the violent political rhetoric we’ve been hearing in the past two years? And can those connections be found historically?
The question has always been: What is the nature of the connection? Is it a causal connection? We have over a half-century of research on violence and media for example and over a half-century of truly exhaustive research. And there has been almost no correlation between portrayals of violence in the media, whether it’s television or film, and the increase of violence in the people who view it.
I would say as far as we can tell there’s not a causal connection here. Now, is there a correlation between the amount of violent, emotional rhetoric in circulation and the propensity of people who are not quite all there to engage in violent action? Maybe, but I don’t know how you would ever prove it. It’s hard to know what is the cause and what is the effect.
Right. They might share an underlying cause without necessarily causing each other.
Yes. The one thing we do know that can be validated is the psychological condition of these people. The one thing that you see that holds constant is that these people have psychological problems. Whether it was the culture or the rhetoric or a particular statement or the time of day or what that actually set them off, we will probably never know. The fact of the matter is they have psychological problems. Normal people do not react to this kind of metaphorical violence in a violent way.”

Dear Hiring Manager:

Dear Hiring Manager:

Thank you for your letter of January 11th. After careful consideration, I regret to inform you that I am unable to accept your rejection at this time.

This year I have been particularly fortunate in receiving an unusually large number of rejection letters. Given the quality and diversity of institutions which have failed to recognize my substantial talents, it is impossible for me to accept all refusals.

Despite your outstanding record and previous experience in rejecting applicants, I find that your rejection does not meet my current career needs. Thusly, I refuse to accept the legitimacy of your decision and look forward to seeing you Monday when I show up for work.

Best of luck in rejecting future applicants.

G. Forcewinds

New Year’s Resolution 2011: The Year of Fermentation

I wasn’t sure what bizarre thing I would resolve to do this year, and then I stumbled on an article in the December(?) issue of the New Yorker that touched on the subject of food fermentation. It peaked my interest enough to consider devoting 12 months to exploring the subject and trying my hand at fermenting various foods. I plan to blog about my adventures. Knowing pretty much nothing about fermentation, the how-to, history, or benefits of it, I think step one is to do a little reading on the topic. I ordered Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz (one of the people interviewed for the New Yorker piece) from Amazon. In the meantime, here are some fun facts about fermentation found on the world wide web… 

Random facts about fermentation

  • Fermentation is the process of converting carbohydrates to alcohols, CO2, or organic acids using yeast, bacteria or a combination thereof under anaerobic conditions.
  • The science of fermentation is known as zymurgy. Louis Pasteur became the first zymologist in 1854 when he connected yeast to fermentation.
  • Natural fermentation precedes human history, but humans have been doing it themselves since ancient times
Reasons to ferment food
  • Enrichment of the diet through development of a diversity of flavors, aromas, and textures in food substrates
  • Fermentation allows you to preserve food which enhances food security (I suspect developing nations could benefit from this)
  • Biological enrichment of food substrates with protein, essential amino acids, essential fatty acids, and vitamins
  • Elimination of antinutrients (natural or synthetic compounds that interfere with absorption of nutrients)
  • A decrease in cooking times and fuel requirements (yay for the environment!)

80s Video Dating Montage

Road Trip

Two days after New Year’s, I turn 30. My birthday and New Year’s are my least favorite holidays. Given that I’ve neither found love nor achieved a respectable measure of professional success, I am particularly dreading it this year. My sense of doom loomed large as December crept on, and I decided the only reasonable course of action would be to disappear by myself for a week to some exotic foreign land where I iphones don’t work thus rendering me ignorant of the calls people would forget to make on my birthday, and making me unavailable to attend birthday gatherings which would inevitably be poorly attended since people are still out of town, or recovering from the holidays or whatever other lame excuse is traditionally offered.

Just as I was considering the pros and cons of island getways and European towns, a friend familiar with my distress suggested a road trip. Actually he is more of an acquaintance, but what began as a gchat conversation somehow has turned into me and said friend/acquaintance doing an 8 day tour of the American southeast including stops in New Orleans, Austin, Decatur Georgia’s Waffle House musuem, various monuments to Elvis, and several Civil War battlegrounds. Given that my friend is a film producer, it’s possible that the emotional travails and raucus moonshine-fueled redneck encounters along the way will be captured on film, possibility to be presented at some future film festival as a tragi-comic portrait of a women on the brink of middle age, or possibly a roadside murder mystery? Yikes. I better pick up a handy souvenir at the Spear Hunting Museum along the way, just in case.

Another classic from my tome of bad-dating stories

I met a guy for drinks over the weekend. I won’t go into the spotty history of his behavior prior to said date, but let’s just say he has the communication skills of a rhinocerous and should have known he was on shaky ground insofar as my willingness to go out with him again.

We agree to meet for drinks at a wine bar Friday night. After arriving an hour late he orders something pink and bubbly (rose, seriously?) and proceeds to try and defend the notion that Iran is a democratic regime. Not being one to shy away from discussion of politics and/or religion, I engage.

Taking the more widely accepting and factually-based point of view, that Iran is an fact an authoritarian regime led by a crazy man and not a democracy, I point out that Iran’s current leader was “elected” through fraud and intimidation and has since imprisoned/exiled/tortured dissidents. Seeing as how free elections and freedom to dissent are cornerstones of democracy, I felt I had made my case. My date however gave me a disgusted look and said “Just stop talking. There is nothing worthwhile coming out of your mouth right now.” How’s that for flirtatious banter? Check please. I left, walking home in silence. Though I declined his offer to accompany me, he did so anyway and alternated between apologizing and angrily attempting to find fault with me.

The next morning I woke up to find an email from him saying simply “last night was awful.” Umm yeah it was. I was annoyed that I had allowed this individual to have such a toxic affect on my mood, one that lingered well into the afternoon. I ultimately sent him a polite and to the point message saying that it is important to me that my relationships have some measure of mutual respect, and that I would prefer not to see him again. He responded: “YOU ARE TOTALLY FUCKING MISREADING THIS. And I think you know it.” Like I said, a really great communicator. Nothing screams emotional maturity like typing in all caps and avoiding personal responsibility for insulting another person. Delete.

Moving right along….

On the upside, this tragedy left my Saturday night open for the possibility of new romantic entanglements. And  indeed the Retro Ski Party Gods smiled on me that night. As it turns out, some men find purple spandex and turqoise mock turtleneck sweaters from 1985 sexy…okay it was probably the spandex he liked despite the sweater. At any rate, I met a nice boy (attractive too! a rare and wonderful thing here in DC) who walked me home in the rain and didn’t even try to take advantage of my rather intoxicated state by inviting himself upstairs. He did however kiss me and tell me I was pretty, which I thought was very nice of him considering I was drunk, soggy from the rainy walk home, and wearing hideous neon clothes. We are having dinner this week and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that he doesn’t turn out to be a defender of authoritarian regimes, suffer from manorexia, have narcissistic or socio-pathic tendencies, identify as Republican, engage in post-breakup stalking, lie pathologically, have man-boobs or unaddressed back hair issues or otherwise resemble my previous dating debacles. One can only dream.