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Experimentation with Fermentation! Part 2

My maiden name is Guenther, and my dad’s side of the family has a pretty German heritage, but somehow or other I don’t think I ever tasted sauerkraut until I was an adult. Most likely my mom, who is all Irish, didn’t fancy the stuff. So it just wasn’t something I ever ate as a kid, and I must have therefore figured it was a “yucky” food, and never sought it out. Until one day I was visiting some relatives on my own after college, and they had sauerkraut as a side dish. I enjoyed it from the first tentative bite! It was like pickles, sour and salty and a bit crunchy. I started buying it at the store from then on – not religiously, but when I remembered it as a flavorful condiment.

After learning more about fermented foods, recently, I have decided that homemade sauerkraut is the next project!
And not only that, but I decided I first needed to make my own ceramic crock to ferment it in, being that I am a potter, after all.

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My first attempt at a handmade fermentation crock

Now that I had a crock to ferment in, here’s the process I followed for homemade sauerkraut!

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Chopped Cabbage and Salt

I filled a huge bowl with chopped cabbage. Just one head, about 2 lbs. One head of cabbage was more volume than I expected! But then I added sea salt, probably about 3 teaspoons (I didn’t measure), and started squeezing the buhjeezus out of it.

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Massaging the salted cabbage

This got the cabbage all coated with the salt, and already it started drawing the water out. After walking away, and then coming back to repeat the massaging process every 10 minutes or so, the cabbage really started releasing its juices.

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Cabbage juices pooling in the bowl

After an hour of this, I felt the cabbage was sufficiently reduced in volume and wilted enough to start packing into the crock. I tossed in a teaspoon of caraway seeds (because Michael Pollan added some to his in Cooked), and then into the crock it went, handful by handful.

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Pounding down the cabbage

I used a cocktail muddler to really pound down the cabbage. This forces out the air, packing it down, and it gets the water to continue squeezing out of the cabbage. The cabbage juice (or brine) needs to be at a level above the solid cabbage; this protects the kraut from exposure to air, which can cause it to mold (bad).

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Weights to keep the kraut submerged below the brine level

Once I felt I’d pounded enough, and the cabbage was sufficiently juicy, I topped them off with two half circle ceramic weights I’d also made when I made the crock. These will keep the kraut from floating to the top and getting moldy. The bacteria that transform the cabbage in to sauerkraut prefer an oxygen-free environment, so that’s the environment I intended to create.

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Adding water to the moat creates an airlock

The photo above shows my little helper Ethan, pouring the water into the reservoir around the crock lid. The water will let CO2 out (it’ll “burp” to release pressure), but won’t allow any air to go in.

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My kitchen helper

Look how proud he is, helping Mama. Nevermind that he spilled most of the water on the counter, haha. By the way, how is it possible that this kid is two-and-three-quarters already?? Obligatory observation on how time flies.

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And now we wait…

So that’s it! Now my pretty little crock will live on the kitchen counter for a few weeks, and hopefully it will produce a yummy, probiotic sauerkraut!

And out in my studio I’m working on improving my design. Swing over to my Jadeflower Ceramics Etsy Site – I’ll have crocks like this (better, even!) for sale in my Etsy shop.

Here’s to my continuing fermentation adventure! Bye for now!

 

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Starting my Spring “garden”

Every spring I have such great hopes of an apartment Deck Garden, but some years I just drop the ball entirely and don’t get my seeds started in time.

Not this year though! (Well, I’ve made a start, anyway)

I had a couple of cardboard egg cartons that I didn’t want to toss, and thought, “why don’t I turn you guys in to seed starter pots?!” Much more economical that buying those peat-pots, which are great, but any time I can use something I have on-hand, I’m gonna.

So, not that an idea this simple needs a step-by-step….I’m gonna do just that!

empty egg cartons, separated

So I took my lovely egg cartons and cut the tops off at the hinge. I also removed the little flappy bit at the front. Originally I was thinking I’d use the carton top as a tray, but changed my mind, as you’ll see.

egg cartons with dirt!

So logically, I took my cartons out to my deck, where I have a bag of dirt left over from some other planting project. I discovered that along with the dirt inside, it also had a whole colony of these teeny annoying fungus gnats! *Scoff of frustration*
Well, right then and there, I knew i wouldn’t be bringing my seeding pots back inside – I didn’t want to expose my indoor plants to these little pests!
So taking my chances that these stupid bugs will disperse once the dirt is out of the closed-up bag and not harm my seedlings, I went ahead and filled my egg cartons with dirt and sprinkled in my seeds.

I’m starting slow, but plan to plant more seeds. Right now I’m just starting with LOTS of basil, and some fun decorative greenry and chinese lanterns (we’ll see if they sprout).

So I’m leaving my seed pots outdoors – it’s well past the danger of frost here. And just to give my seeds a little bit more security/cover I decided to use the egg carton lids as…well, lids.

egg carton seedling pots - lids on

Not very attractive, I know! But perhaps the added cover will act like a slight greenhouse when the sun shines and will warm up the seeds, and they’ll think it’s time to grow.

If anyone else wants to try out the egg-carton method of seed pots, and you don’t have the problem of pests in your soil, you can definitely do this indoors until your sprouts are ready to transplant. Just be sure you have a water-proof tray underneath, because the cartons will absorb the water and get pretty soggy. You don’t want to damage your furniture!

The absorbent nature of the egg cartons will make sure your soil stays nice and moist, incase you forget to water them for a couple of days…I’m sure this will be the case with me!

Hopefully in the next couple weeks I’ll be seeing something like this:

Basil Sprouts picture via House No.8

pretty basil picture from here!

Fingers crossed. I’ll let you know how it goes!
Anyone else getting their planting on? What do you plan to have in your garden this year?

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Homemade Everlasting Vanilla

Here’s a great DIY project that any baker will appreciate. And it makes a fabulous gift, too! (In fact, this was part of my thank-you gift to my lovely bridesmaids)

Homemade Vanilla!

This project is so easy, it’s amazing more people don’t make vanilla themselves. I guess the most difficult part of the whole process is collecting all your supplies (and really, it doesn’t take that much effort to find the stuff). And if you’re giving vanilla as a gift, you need ample time to let the ingredients sit (I’m talking weeks, or months!) So you still have time to do this for Christmas! 😉

Anyone who bakes regularly knows how essential good vanilla is. And how expensive the real stuff is! This homemade vanilla will never run out, so long as you have vodka on hand to replenish the bottle. The vanilla beans just keep infusing the alcohol!

SUPPLIES:

homemade vanilla supplies

  • Vodka (the cheaper the better)
  • Whole Vanilla Beans (two per bottle)
  • Glass Bottles with tops

I found my vanilla beans on Ebay, and searched around for the best deal. I found these cool “Boston round” bottles at an online supplier called Specialty Bottle – lots of bottles to choose from! (But you can find bottles from lots of sources – be creative!)

The method is very simple! Take your vanilla beans (2 per bottle) and with a sharp knife, slit them down the middle, length-wise, part way (don’t cut them entirely in two). This will allow the vanilla to infuse much quicker and easier than whole, intact beans.

vanilla beans, bottles, vodka

Insert the beans into your bottles, and fill the bottles with vodka (using a funnel makes this easier). Cap the bottles tightly and store them in a cool, dark place (like a kitchen cupboard) for several weeks. Every so often, check on their progress, and give a gentle shake. Your vanilla will slowly turn light brown, and eventually, it will be a beautiful amber color, and smell like…well, vanilla!
The longer your vanilla infuses, the darker and richer it will be! And any time you use some, just add in more vodka, and it will never run out! Not too shabby 🙂

Homemade vanilla!

For a fun touch, add a printed label and a bow.
M & I modified an awesome label designed by EatDrinkChic that originated here. Another great vanilla label can be found here. And here’s a great resource for blank vintage labels you can customize!

If you’d like the exact label that M & I created, you can download it here: Vanilla Labels

Above all, have fun with it. Happy crafting!

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Birdie sneak peak, updated!

A little while back I showed you a pair of cute little birds I had made out of clay. Well, they’re all finished now, fired and glazed!

However, they are really little – only about 1.5 inches tall. And my master baker uncle (who is making our wedding cake) told me that, despite being adorable, a cake topper needs to be larger than that because otherwise they’ll just get lost visually.

So I decided to put my little birdies on a platform, to make it a whole set-piece rather than just the two little actors.
Here’s what I came up with:

(Aren’t they cute??) Now my teeny birds are on a 4″ diameter platform with a cute arching trellis  to give it more height.

I don’t have step-by-step pictures of how I made this topper, but this is the basic way I did it:

My supplies were – a 4″ diameter round foam disc (about 2″ thick), green fabric, white lace applique trim, silk flowers (green and white ranunculus), floral wire twigs, and my birdies.

I took my bare foam disc and wrapped it tightly with my light green fabric, securing with my hot glue gun. On the under side of the disc, I glued a 3″ cardboard circle to cover up the fabric edges.

Now that I had a fabric base to work with, I trimmed the circumference with my lace, which also folded over the top edge.

Then, on top of the lace, I hot-glued the individual silk flowers around the top edge of the base, keeping them tightly spaced.

Next, I made two small holes in the fabric on either side of the top of the base, to place my wire twigs. I just pierced the foam with the ends of the twigs and played with the bend and curve until I liked the shape the twigs made.

All that was left was to put my cute little birdies in their new home! Ready to be placed atop a beautiful wedding cake! ^_^

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Up-cycled pantry containers

I inherited a love of re-used glass jars from my dad. If you go into his garage, the workbench is rife with all sorts of mis-matched jars and containers filled with nails, screws, pencils, hardware, this and that. Despite the noble cause of recycling (and we love to recycled in the Northwest), we must also remember to reduce and reuse!

Glass jars are beautifully functional; they don’t stop being great containers once all the jam is used up or the pickles all eaten! Over the last year I’ve amassed an eclectic set of glass and plastic lidded containers. With just a tiny bit of effort, I’ve turned them into a set of pantry containers for all my dry bulk food stuffs!

Here’s a great example:

coffee bean jar

I had this fantastically huge glass jar (from Costco – marinated artichoke hearts-yumm!) and I just couldn’t bear to toss it in the recycle bin. After getting the label off with warm water, patience, and a little GooGone, all I needed to do was make it match my other containers. In order to keep the contents from being a mystery, I give the lids a chalkboard surface. Then I just chalk on what’s inside!

chalkboard lid

I’ve written about making things into chalkboards before, in this post. But my lovely fiance found something even better than what I had been using. Instead of a brush-applied chalkboard paint, he found a spray-paint version! (He found this for his own project – making a chalkboard surfaced guitar body. Aren’t we a creative bunch??)

Krylon Chalkboard spray paint

Now, having this stuff in spray-form is so much better, because you get a beautifully even and flat surface. No brush marks. No need to sand between coats. And it’s so much quicker to apply. Two thumbs up to M for finding this ^_^

So all I needed to do to make my lid a chalkboard surface was to tape off the edge of the lid (because I like the gold with the stripes, haha), leaving the top of the lid exposed.
Then, going outside where it’s nice and ventilated, and using lots of newspaper as a backdrop, I just sprayed on a nice even (and not-to-thick) coating of paint. After about an hour I went back out and did another coat. Two was all I needed.

After letting it dry for a day (just to be sure), it was ready to go!

So I can feel good for reusing a perfectly good storage container, and I actually really like my mis-matched set of chalkboard-topped jars. My dad would be so proud 🙂

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DIY Sewn Bench Cushion

Most people who are not from the Pacific Northwest have no idea how beautiful our summers are. Summer in Western Washington is in a word: ideal. The temperature ranges from the seventies to mid-eighties, the humidity is very low, everything is lush and green, and the mosquitoes are few. This is why we chose to have an outdoor summer wedding – because we know how gorgeous it will be, and we want to share that especially with our out-of-state friends & family (local folks already know how good they have it, haha).

This means getting my parents’ yard to idyllic condition will be key. Slowly but surely we are planning our course of action. Not many things can be done far in advance, but I’m tackling the little things that can.

One small detail is a wrought iron bench, which sits under some shady boughs at one end of the property. I want to make that spot inviting. I had found a very cool length of upholstery fabric at a thrift store that I didn’t know what to do with, and my mom suggested a comfy bench cushion. Genius!

This project took very little time and was also very cost effective. Here’s what I did:

First, measuring is important. The benchseat measured 48″ long by 18″ deep. And I wanted a thick comfy cushion, so I decided 2″ thick would be good.

To get the fabric cut to the correct lengths for this end result, I would have two panels of fabric measuring 51″x21″
(Take your length and add 1.5″ to each side – the .5″ is for seam allowance)

Next, pin your 2 panels together, good sides facing each other, and sew all the way around, leaving about a 6″ opening so later you can turn it inside out and stuff it.

Once you’ve sewn the perimeter, put your hand inside the corner and lay it flat – this is how we get square corners. Here’s a little diagram I whipped up:

(you may need to click to enlarge the diagram!)

Here’s what your square corner will look like:

square corner detail

Once all four corners have been squared off, turn the case right-side-out, and you are ready to stuff it! ^_^

When your cushion has been filled (I used about 52 oz of poly-fil) the opening needs to be sewn closed. I just did this by hand – pinned the two layers together and then stitched with a needle and thread.

So at this point, I had a big mound of a cushion, so to tame it, I sewed three buttons to pinch the pillow down.
And the buttons just happened to be 3 of my own design and crafting, so it’s extra special 🙂 You can check out more of my ceramic buttons at my Jadeflower shop!

button detail

So there you have it! I can’t wait to bring my finished cushion home and try it out on that bench. Oh my mama will be so proud 😛 haha
Maybe some coordinating throw pillows are in order, too!

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Petticoat Update!

So, as I mentioned on Monday, I had plans to sew myself a petticoat, to go under dresses, skirts…and perhaps a wedding dress…

And now that it’s Friday, I’ll let you know how it went! Well, first thing – I followed the tutorial by Sugardale, almost exactly, and now I DO have my very own handmade petticoat!

Second – it was a pain in the patootie to make, hahaha! No seriously, I thought I could crank this thing out in a few hours. Turns out I needed about 7 hours to sew this garment! I confess, I am not an experienced seamstress, but even if you are, this is a time consuming project.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love the way it turned out (pictures below). But for anyone thinking of doing this, expect to spend some quality time on it.

The thing is, there is just so much material. First, measuring for yards and yards. Then tracing your lines with Fray Check (important! fraying edges are no fun!). Then cutting out all those yards and yards of fabric. And we haven’t even begun on the sewing machine!

Anyways it is really fun to see a garment start from this:

petticoat materials

To this:

measured and cut fabric

To a finished product:

finished petticoat

Isn’t it sweet! Definitely worth the effort. 🙂 It’s not a hugely dramatic petticoat – it’s pretty understated, but just gives that little bit of extra bounce and lift to certain dresses.

no petticoat..............................................with petticoat!

The fabric I used is crinoline, which has some stiffness to it, but it’s not nearly as structural as, say, tulle; so this kind of petticoat is ideal for dresses and skirts that are also of a light fabric (so the petticoat isn’t weighed down too much). Hmmm, very much like a dress I’ll be wearing this summer… 🙂 No previews for that dress though! That one is a surprise. 😉

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