on holiday

I started cooking a few weeks ago, and I guess I never stopped. I know, I know – I’m always cooking; but this was different. It was Monika Day, and the menu was extensive.

 lemon cakeolive oil lemon cake // recipe testing for Allyson Kramer


In case you’re wondering, Monika Day is my birthday. Not as in “oh, it’s my birthday, la di da, we’re going to eat cake for a week and make special meals and have all kinds of fun!!!” We’re much more selfish than that in my house. Your birthday is a bona fide holiday – no school! No work!  Nina was born on New Year’s Day, which sort of set the precedent. Why on earth would I let her have all the fun?

chili mac+picklechili mac with a giant lacto-fermented garlicky, gingery pickle spear
summer's last gaspthe last of our summer garden, harvested the night before our first big frost
end-of-summer hashend-of-summer hash lettuce wraps // the rest of the baby ‘looms were roasted
candied herb pepitascandied herb pepitas // fresh oregano and rosemary from the garden
umami bowlumami bowls // sticky rice (warm, not hot) with white miso, toasted sesame oil, tamari, Thai chili flakes and scallions
shallots+sweet peppersvinegar-pickled shallots and sweet peppers to go with homemade pretzel dogs
olive oil lemon cakemore lemon cake . . . I made it three times in one week
pickles pickles picklesLacto-fermented probiotic pickle spears to accompany all manner of sandwiches, soups & chilis; sweet zucchini relish for Chicago-style dogs; spicy anise & Szechuan pepper pickle slices; the aforementioned shallots & sweet peppers. I stopped only because I ran out of things to pickle.

Probiotic pickles

§ § §

Every batch of probiotic pickles I make starts out loosely following this Sandor Katz recipe, and then I vary the add-ins based on what I’m craving and have on hand. I usually make two half-gallon jars at a time – I just eyeball how many cucumbers will fill each jar, I never bother weighing them. I make the brine really salty to start (about 5%), then once the pickles have soured to my liking I pour off some of the brine and replace it with fresh filtered water before refrigerating them. I like to use small, knobbly pickling cucumbers. The variety I use depends on which of my saved seeds successfully sprouted, followed by whatever seeds looks good at my co-op or local hippie/hipster nursery in the spring. And then if squash bugs destroy my vines, I hit up the farmers’ market.

§ § §

To make the brine:
Dissolve 1/4 cup pickling or kosher salt in 5 cups filtered water.
Repeat as necessary depending on how many jars of pickles you’re making.

In each half-gallon jar I layer at the bottom:
4-5 large rinsed strawberry leaves
6 large cloves garlic, peeled
1/2-inch knob of fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
2 teaspoons dill seeds (fresh or dried)
Large pinch Thai chili flakes
Pickling cucumbers, enough to tightly pack into the jar

Pickling steps:
Rinse the cucumbers and slice off the blossom ends.
Layer items in bottom of each glass jar.
Pack cucumbers tightly into jar; large cucumbers may be halved.
Pour in enough brine to cover; you want to keep the cucumbers completely submerged. I use a heavy rock (pre-boiled to disinfect) to keep the cucumbers down.
Cover top of jar with a double layer of coffee filters or cotton cloth; secure with rubber bands.
Place jar in a dark, cool spot for fermentation to occur. Check the jar daily – if too much brine evaporates, add more brine or filtered water. If any sort of growth appears on the water’s surface, skim it off.
Taste the pickles after 4-5 days, and daily after that until they are soured to your liking. Move them to the refrigerator to slow down fermentation.

Yield: 2 half gallon jars

Prep time: 30 minutes | Fermentation time: 4-5 days, longer for a more sour pickle