self sufficiency



If married life were a stone crock, filled slowly and methodically with the vital ingredients that eventually transform a food from raw to fermented — wholesome, nutritive, and new — then Mark and I just started chopping the cabbage that will one day, God willing, become sauerkraut. Likening marriage to sauerkraut may very well be the worst analogy I have ever conjured, but if I have learned anything in my twenties it's that you have to do whatever works. Thinking of marriage in food terms provides a measure of calm for my aching heart. As I have relied so heavily on my husband's strength of heart when I feel anything but strong, it seems the best I can do is offer food sustenance. 

The truth is I have hardly felt myself since returning from The Vacation About Nothing. The foremost thoughts that fill my brain are deep feelings of longing for my family, most especially for my sister who is becoming a nun. (At first I wrote 'feelings of loss' but quickly corrected to 'feelings of longing' because this is not death; this is not true loss). I have sobbed with abandon at night on my husband's chest, quietly wept in the middle of the work day, and cried joyful tears during moments of peace in the Mass. I know the proper words are forming in my heart and will make their way here, but today is not that day. Instead, today is a day for writing a bit about the fermented Meditteranean pickles we made a few weeks ago. They take 20 minutes to prepare and will carry you through a month in the refrigerator. No matter what the month holds, you will have pickles.

Throughout our summer blog posts, we peppered in mention of Lehman's Hardware, a truly exceptional homesteading / off-grid hardware store back home in Ohio. They sent us a 3-gallon stoneware fermentation crock for putting away food for the winter sans refrigerator. Three gallons of anything is a seriously hefty portion, so we decided to practice with a 1/2-gallon of something that would not get us sick if we screwed up. (Although, a few years ago I made a questionable batch of sauerkraut that sat on the counter for weeks and my dad still ate the whole thing in one go.). This recipe calls for the cucumbers to spend three to four days on the counter and then — once they are up to your pickled liking — place them in the fridge. You could even scale down to a pint jar if you have just one cucumber and not ten, like we did. Refrigeration acts as a preservation method rather than using a hot-water bath or pressure canning. Avoiding use of the stovetop was a very important consideration for us in the camper. An average pickle benefits greatly from zesty Mediterranean spices, something I learned from Yotam Ottolenghi's cookbook Jerusalem. Really, the world is your pickle oyster.

makes 1/2 gallon jar

5-6 sliced cucumbers, not too seedy
1 bunch fresh dill
1 T. dried dill
1 T. dried coriander
2 bay leaves
7 cloves garlic
1 t. dried fennel
1 t. salt
6 or so cups of water, for brine


—Sanitize your jar by filling it up with boiling water and allow to sit for a few minutes. Dump the water just before filling with ingredients.
—Bring water and salt to a boil. This is your brine.
—Meanwhile, fill your jar with spices first, then sliced cucumbers. I was liberal with spices, and frankly could have added more. 
—Slowly and carefully pour the brine over the cucumbers, leaving about 1 inch of headspace. 
—Set pickles out on your counter and taste one on the third day. If you want them more pickle-y, leave out for another day. Otherwise, store in your refrigerator for up to a month (or so).





I love beer. It fascinates me, everything about it: the vast array of styles, ranging from crisp, light pilsners to thick milk stouts; the various combinations of ingredients and techniques associated with each, always centering around the same basics—water, malt, hops, and yeast; and the rich history, which includes the world's oldest continually valid food and drink regulatory law, the Reinheitsgebot. Speaking of history, did you know President Carter effectively legalized homebrewing when he signed H.R. 1337 into law in 1978? Needless to say, when it dawned on me that I could brew my own, my first thought was, "Sign me up." 

Now, before I make myself out to be some sort of beer guru, I should explain that brewing beer is actually quite simple. How To Brew author John J. Palmer sums it up best:

1. Malted grain is soaked in hot water to create fermentable sugars.
2. The malt sugar solution is boiled with hops for seasoning.
3. The solution is cooled, and yeast is added to begin fermentation.
4. The yeast ferments the sugars, releasing carbon dioxide and ethyl alcohol.

5. When the main fermentation is complete, the beer is bottled with a little bit of added sugar to provide carbonation.

That's it—people have been doing it for thousands of years, literally. Of course, the art & science of brewing has advanced much over the years, especially in recent decades. Without the craft beer revolution that has turned America into Mecca for suds & hop heads, I would have never given any more attention to beer than what is demanded by a bland adjunct lager with fewer than 100 calories (Hint: It rhymes with "mud geyser"). But after years of developing a palate for Berliner Weiss and Trappist Ales alike, touring breweries, and consulting resources like BeerAdvocate and RateBeer, my desire to brew at home became too much to ignore.

Still, it took awhile for me to actually dive in. But with the help of a teacher (pictured below, with beard) and an investor (also pictured below, with flaming hat), I finally did it. We held our inaugural Wayne Co. brew day at the end of January, bottled the beer on Fat Tuesday, and cracked it open just in time for our farewell to Ohio. 

A few weeks in the making (and a few days in the drinking), I would consider our first effort a great success. We brewed an India Pale Ale, the style that made beer "click" for me four years ago. As I will do for all future Down Homebrews, I have profiled "Fat Tuesday IPA" below.

Fat Tuesday IPA

Style: American India Pale Ale (IPA)

ABV: 5.5%

Hops: Chinook.

Malt: Irish Stout, Caramel 60, Wheat, Honey.

Overall: A nice, aromatic, and highly drinkable IPA;
an encouraging first effort. The lower alcohol content
seems to bring out a more distinctive hop & malt character, resulting in a well balanced beer.

Appearance: Pours a hazy sunburst orange; topped with a pillowy, bright paper-white head.

Aroma: Notes of pine and citrus; very hoppy.

Taste: Hop forward, with a juicy, floral character; somewhat spicy, herbal; balanced by rich, toasty malt profile and a bit of honey sweetness.

Mouthfeel: Medium, smooth; nice, crisp carbonation and relatively low alcohol content for an IPA.




8 o' clock rolled around and the idea of staying home—clad in pajamas and sheltered from the late November rain—sounded awfully good. Alas, I had scheduled the 2nd Annual Christmas Tree Chop, and even in my sleepy, warm condition, I recognized that I would regret a cancellation. With coffee & cocoa thermoses, a bag of mini donuts, and a brother who sharpened his hatchet just for the occasion, we set off.

Picking out the Christmas tree has always been my favorite act of the holiday season—more than Cookie Day, Christmas Eve dinner, or crafting my family's "Star Chart." Even now, knowing what I do about the (un)sustainability of commercial tree farming, I'm fully willing to acknowledge that it has always been a magical day. I have long prided myself on choosing a tree with perfect sap content, plumpness, and moisture retention. The major difference between recent years and years past is that I always used to pick our tree from the discounted section at Lowe's. In truth, it didn't even matter that the tree was coming from a big box store where the trees had certainly been shipped from far, far away; it was still total magic. 

Now, my family makes a day of it—spending 3x the amount of money for a locally-grown tree that must be chopped down by hand. It's special. It's festive. It's an investment that I budget for in advance. It errs on the side of sustainability, and it keeps the money in our local agri-tourism economy. I do love the rural life. And as a result, there's a beautiful Canaan fir (with great sap content) sitting on my sister and brother's stoop.