I pickled that! Lacto-fermented cucumber pickles with crock

How was your summer? I know it's not officially autumn yet, but with kids back in school and the weather turning cool, summer vacation is definitely over.

One of my firsts this summer (in addition to buying a kayak and taking a table saw class) was making my own batch of pickles. I followed this Homemade Dill Pickles recipe & video from Food Wishes. It was his first time making pickles and they seemed to turn out fine, so that inspired me to just jump in and give it a try.

I bought half a bushel of pickling cukes from the farmer's market program at work, which turns out to be a LOT of cucumbers. I sorted them out to find the ones of perfect pickle size, and we ate or gave away the rest.

I also ordered a bunch of dill, and added flowering tops from my own dill, since Food Wishes explained this may help the pickles stay crunchy. (Does it? I don't know! But mine were crunchy at the end so it must have worked, right?)

This is 4.7 pounds of cucumbers.

SALT is one of the other main ingredients in lacto-fermented pickles. With the lacto-fermentation method, the pickles are completely submerged in a flavored brine and left to ferment in a cool dark place. No boiling or canning required. And no vinegar.

Here is the brine after the salt dissolved. This pot includes 9 cups of water, too much salt (which I'll only find out at the end), garlic, peppercorns, coriander seed, and bay leaves.

My spouse took a sauerkraut class last summer (as you do), and I got him this cool and HEAVY crock as a gift. The pickles are the first project to get crocked. 

So I layered in the cucumbers and brine, noticing that if you don't purposely add the garlic cloves in the layers, they'll be left all lonesome at the bottom of the brine pot. (I ended up kind of squeezing them down the sides.) I also noted all the seeds and peppercorns float on the top, and wasn't sure what that would mean for potential bad bacteria. But I just carried on! 

The crock comes with two weights that hold the food down. While I was confused that the weights are unglazed (if they have no glaze, do they soak stuff up that can never be unsoaked? I still don't know the answer, and I did search for it online), they were super handy for keeping the cucumbers well under the surface of the brine. Oxygen is not your friend when it comes to lacto-fermenting.

Here's the crock with cover on.

I made these pickles during the hottest time of the summer, so I put the crock inside a cooler at the bottom of our basement stairs. Once it was settled in the cooler, I put the crock lid back on. Then I shut the cooler and I left it for 7 days. (Well, I did peek now and then.)

The big day finally arrived! I lifted the lid. A white foamy stuff had appeared, and evidently the cucumbers got softer since the weights are now completely under liquid. 

Per the recipe, I just removed the white part and discarded. Looks good so far.

Here's the reveal... they look like pickles!

We tasted the pickles right away, to check for crunch and pickled-ness. They were good! They were also QUITE salty. Not unbearably salty, but I would say unnecessarily salty. When I make these next time I'll cut down on the salt.

I stored the pickles in mason jars and placed in the fridge. 

My recipe, adapted from Food Wishes

4.7 pounds cucumbers, washed with stems trimmed down
9 cups of water
8 T kosher salt (I used 9 T and that was too much, so my next batch will be 8 T)
9 cloves of garlic, peeled
2 t peppercorns
2 t coriander seeds 
4 bay leaves
4 cloves
dill leaves & flowers

Heat everything but the cucumbers and dill in a large pot while stirring gently. Turn off heat once salt has dissolved.

In stoneware crock, put a layer of cucumbers, some dill leaves/flowers, and a few cloves of garlic, then ladle in brine to cover. Repeat this layering until you reach the top of the crock. If there is brine left, make sure that at least the spices have been added to the crock. (You can keep extra brine in a jar and add it to the finished pickles, if needed.) 

If any cucumbers are sticking above the surface of the brine, remove cucumbers until the remaining ones are completely covered. I left about half an inch of liquid and then placed the weights on top of the submerged cucumbers.

Cover and leave in a cool dry place for a week. (Fine to lift cover and check top of brine, but I avoided disturbing the pickles until the end of the week.) After a week, lift the top and skim off any white bubbles/scum—discard. Remove weights and test one pickle by cutting it in half. I was looking for whether there was an "al dente" section in the middle where the cucumber still looked raw, but my cukes had completely pickled. I supposed if they had not I would have put everything back in for a few more days.

Divide pickles into clean jars and pour in brine to cover (you can also use the extra brine from the beginning, if you kept it). I also put some garlic cloves and some dill in each jar.

Even though family members agreed these were salty, they still disappeared very quickly. I'll definitely be making these again the next time I come across 4.7 pounds of pickling cucumbers.

Easy peasy caesar salad: just 4 ingredients!

A few years ago I became obsessed with salad kits—you know, bags of pre-cut veggies packaged with smaller bags of toppings and dressing. So easy! Pretty tasty! Much crunchy! And the veggies are already washed and cut, which are chores that I detest. I also found that my family members seemed to like the organic Caesar salad kit. So I started to pick one up about every week or so to get some easy greens into our menu.

But after buying about 20 or 40 salad kits over time, you start to wonder... is this really worth it? There is a lot of plastic packaging involved. And I couldn't help but notice that with a Caesar salad, there are only 4 ingredients that make the magical combination:

Romaine lettuce


Parmesan, grated

Caesar salad dressing 

Surely I can do this myself. Right? So one day I skipped the salad kit and bought the individual ingredients instead. I steeled myself to wash and cut the Romaine lettuce. Then all I had to do was put everything in a large bowl and toss. 


Perfect with many things, like pizza!

This is soooo easy, and I feel better about not buying so much plastic. I got pre-grated parmesan several times, but recently invested in a block of parm that I grate with a microplane right when I'm making the salad.

Of course, if your family doesn't mind delicious umami, you can also pass some chopped anchovies to sprinkle on top. So there are FIVE ingredients in this salad if you want to get salty about it.

Oh yum.

Do you have an easy peasy salad that you make? Feelings on salad dressing that isn't homemade?

Cape Cod Vacation 2019, including Edward Gorey

We went back to Cape Cod! I enjoyed my closeup photos of barnacles from our 2018 trip, so I tried a few more closeups this year.

Moonscape, or seashell sitting in the sun?

The smell of beach roses is the smell of summer.

LOBSTER ROLL. This is from Arnold's Lobster and Clam Bar in Eastham, where we also played our first family game of mini golf.

We also visited the Edward Gorey House in Yarmouth. It was delightfully weird.

I'm so glad my children got to be exposed to Gorey's oddness and oddities. The author & artist lived from 1925-2000, and he purchased this house in 1979, moving there a few years later. He had a fantastic imagination and was a true eccentric.

Our kids were given a Gashlycrumb Tinies Scavenger Hunt to amuse them on their visit.

My daughter did a great job finding evidence of each of the 26 children's untimely demises (here a bottle of lye on a windowsill, there a box of tacks on a mantelpiece).

We saw Gorey's raccoon fur coat (one of them), which he stopped wearing later in his life because of his devotion to causes of animal welfare. In his will he established a charitable trust for animals, and specified that it include not only the usual cuddly animals, but also bats and invertebrates.

In Gorey's kitchen Dracula is right next to Craig Claiborne.

The last waffle of the millennium (presumably from December 31, 1999) is preserved on the kitchen wall.

The fantod, a figure sewn and stuffed by Gorey, can be arranged into any letter of the alphabet.

Gorey liked to collect things, like large clanking rings, cheese graters, potato mashers, and thousands and thousands of books.

He also liked to have a lot of cats around--preferably 6, as he said 7 cats was too many.

The Doubtful Guest is out on the lawn.

Shchavel Borscht (Sorrel Soup)

Did you know that I spent a month in the USSR when I was 12 years old? I went there with my parents on some sort of academic exchange of my dad's. For most of our time there we stayed in a dorm room at Moscow State University (MGU), which was available because it was summertime and the regular school year had ended. The university had turned off the hot water for some reason, so I got used to taking freezing cold showers. We also went to then-Leningrad and stayed in one of the most sumptuous hotel suites I've ever seen, but that's another story.

Before our trip, my father taught me how to read Cyrillic, and this came in handy for things like reading menus, identifying which subway station we were in, and transliterating large Soviet signs (such as "Slava Trudu" which means "Hooray for Work"). I remember pyramid shaped paper containers of whole milk--you tore off a corner to pour or sip, and the inside of the paper was coated with yellow cream. I remember having the best ice cream I've ever tasted: it was always vanilla, and wrapped in a crumbly chocolate coating. We saw opera and ballet performances, ate caviar on toast at the top of the Kremlin, attended a real Soviet circus, walked around the pastel colored Gum department store, drank sugary hot tea from glasses with metal handles, and went to the VDNK exhibition (similar to a state fair). The main thing I remember about the VDNK was the water vending machines that were standing out in the hot sun, where thirsty people could drink from a shared glass that was chained to the machine. It was June, and all of Moscow seemed buried in drifts of cottonwood fluff.

This is a long way of saying that I can remember a little Cyrillic, and when I see a word like "Shchavel" I know that the first 4 letters of that word are one character in Cyrillic: щ. Shchavel is the Russian word for "Sorrel," which I was looking up because somebody had given me a sorrel plant last year and it was looking rather ripe for the picking in the corner of my garden. 

At first I thought I'd make a French sorrel soup from my plant. But when I found this Valentina's Corner recipe for Shchavel Borscht, I knew I had to make that instead. Admittedly while saying SHCHAVEL BORSCHT as many times as possible in what I imagined to be a deeply authentic Russian accent. щавель Борщ!

Sorrel is the genus Rumex, which makes it a relative of docks. The sorrel leaves are somewhat fleshy. They have a slightly piquant taste when raw, surprisingly similar to wood sorrel (which is a different genus and looks like a spindly-stemmed shamrock with 3 heart-shaped leaves).

I washed and chopped my Shchavel leaves. According to Valentina's Corner, this is really a Ukrainian soup. I don't know a lot about Ukrainian cuisine but I have noticed this country knows how to find nutrition and healing from the plant kingdom. (For instance did you know that "Chernobyl" is the Ukrainian word for Artemisia vulgaris, aka mugwort or wormwood?)

Essentially the Borscht is a chicken and potato soup that has been lightly flavored with sour cream and ketchup.

The lightly lemony sorrel gives it a bit more tartness, but it is not super sour or at all bitter.

Add a dollop of smetana (sour cream) to each bowl of Shchavel Borscht. Ready!!

Are you a Borscht person? Until I found this recipe I thought that Borscht had to have beets in it, but not so. It just needs to be sour. Na zdorovie!

Veggie-Packed Ramen Stirfry, Kid-Friendly!

I love when my children teach me things. As they (and I) grow older, I rely on them more and more to be my experts in technology, song lyrics, dance moves, and things people said several days ago. I am particularly grateful when they have ideas about food. This past week our middle-schooler came up with not one, not two, but THREE dinner ideas (chicken Alfredo pasta bake, cottage pie, salmon patties with rice), and I gratefully added them all to the weekly menu.

Recently she also taught us a recipe that she learned at an after-school program, and it has become a staple in our household. This ramen stirfy is simple and delicious as only rich, salty noodles can be, and it's packed with fresh crunchy veg. It's also easy to make (get children to help!), taking just a little longer than it takes to boil water. Make it vegetarian or vegan if you want. Check this out and maybe give it a try!

Stirfry ready!


Peanut or canola oil
1 t pureed ginger (buy a tube or grate your own)
Packs of ramen (any kind with flavor packets)--1 per person
1 cup (or more) broccoli and/or cauliflower florets
1 cup sliced carrots
1 cup water
2 T soy sauce
1 T toasted sesame oil
1 t bouillon base (chicken or vegetable)

Note: This is one of those "meanwhile" recipes where you have to do two things at once—boil ramen and work the stirfry.

First, put on a large pot of water to boil. When it comes to a boil, add the noodles from your ramen packets (keep all of the flavor packets).

Follow the instructions for how long to boil the noodles (probably around 4 minutes).

Then drain and set aside—it's OK to rinse in cold water. You may also want to oil the noodles a little so they don't start to stick together while they wait.

MEANWHILE, start the stirfry. Heat a glug of peanut or canola oil in a large flat pan (or a wok if you have one). Add the ginger and stir.

Next, add carrots (feel free to add oil as needed), and stir for a few minutes.

Add the broccoli & cauliflower (if using). Stirfry for another few minutes until the broccoli is turning brighter green.

As the vegetables cook, prepare the secret elixir that will tie the whole dish together.

Combine 1/2 cup water, 2 T soy sauce, 1 T sesame oil, 1 t bouillon base, and all of the ramen flavor packets. Stir together well.

This batch had both broccoli and cauliflower. 

Finally, add the cooked noodles to the sauteed vegetables, and pour the sauce over all. Gently stir and fold to combine. I like to use tongs for this to avoid mushing the noodles.

Our family pretty much inhales this dinner and it's gone in about 2 minutes. I think it's proof that ramen flavoring makes everything taste amazing. Why is that?