Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Fermenting and End of the Microwave

Now that we are settling in on our boat-as-home I want to share some of the ways I will be making real food here. At first glance, it might seem that I am operating under some disadvantages on the boat: our galley is small by kitchen standards (though quite spacious compared to other boats), my equipment is necessarily limited, and it can be quite cool here (no insulation and we are in the Pacific Northwest) which can make fermenting tricky. Over time I will share tips and strategies that I believe are making me more creative and resourceful as a cook, things that are applicable anywhere and might especially help any of us who have small spaces or limited resources.

Today, for Real Food Wednesdays (hosted this weed by Ann Marie at Cheeseslave), I want to show you what I am doing about fermenting--and what happened to the microwave.

When we took possession of Whale Song last summer it was the repository of kitschy nautical clutter, conventional cleaning supplies and scented candles, disposable and plastic kitchenware and a huge microwave. In the first 24 hours I managed to basically de-clutter, but that microwave remained, mocking me, who stands for things authentic, not rushed and nuked into submission. It was installed in a such way that removing it seemed more of a project than I had time for on a vacation, so I made myself forget about it until our return last month. Instead, we used it as a cabinet for tea.

As we were moving in and I was looking for places to put everything I might need to live, not just camp on vacation, I decided to rip the thing out. As a storage cabinet, it was a huge waste of space--not something one needs on a boat, or anywhere really. After wrestling with molding and screws and the sheer size of the hulking contraption, I followed the cord and discovered that there is an outlet in this new cabinet above the fridge that I had excavated. Hmm. Power in a large storage space? A seed was planted . . .

After a couple of weeks here my kimchi and water kefir schlepped from Miami had run out. I had gone through a huge jar of pickled turnips, a gift from Joy, my neighbor on the pier. I had bought some kimchi from the Korean woman at the farmer's market, and while it was good, it wasn't as tart as I like. It was high time for me to put up some ferments. I gathered some makings for sauerkraut and kombucha and got going. But where would I put these things to ripen? Last summer I had jars arrayed across the helm--a passable solution, but now Sammy is using this as a home for her dollhouse.

The gaping hole above the fridge called out. I put a wire shelf in it to accommodate small jars and installed the kraut (topped by stones from the mouth of the Elwha River) and my huge vat of kombucha. It was warmish (from the fridge) but would it be enough in this cool climate, next to the external wall of the boat? At least the helm in summer got sunlight during the day. Joy suggested a heat lamp for the space, plugged into that convenient outlet. My husband pointed out that there are bulb sockets that plug in, to be had for pennies at the hardware store, so off I went to
Swain's, which Has Everything. And yes, they had such an outlet, for a mere $1.38. The bare bulb threw off a lot of heat: I was in business!

I have since added a thick curtain made from scraps to keep the heat in and a thermometer to gauge the temperature--it has been quite warm, in the 80's F, so I may have to use a bulb of lesser wattage. And my ferments are SO happy! The kombucha has a healthy new mama growing (last summer it took weeks to do anything) and the sauerkraut, purple cabbage flavored with cumin and mustard seeds, may be the best I have made. In addition, I have made beet kvass (sparkly!) and spicy mint chutney (from Nourishing Traditions).

I am so excited to try new ideas for ferments now that I have a perfect setup--maybe even better than what I had in Miami. I can opt for slow, cool, fermentation, or I can add more warmth for those things that are craving it. And with the incredible offerings at our farmer's market, I know there will be plenty of material.

Join me in Happy Fermenting (and now we all have incentive to get rid of the microwave!)


millie said...

What will you do in the winter? Won't you be cold on that boat?

Linda said...

You are the savviest woman I know!! I am sure that everything that is happening there is all to make you even more sea proficient. I love your blog posts, as they are so inspiring!!

Justine said...

Millie--are you asking about us, or the ferments? We have heaters on the boat, and a thinking of getting some better ones. I have been collecting comforters and wool blankets at thrift stores since we were in Miami. For the kids' bunks and the windows, we are planning to insulate with bubble wrap inside. I will make heavier curtains for the winter . . .

I hadn't thought about more heat in the fermentation chamber, but perhaps I will line it with foil, to reflect the heat back into the space. Rick found some bubble wrap sandwiched between layers of foil, something we are considering. Any other ideas are welcome!

Linda--thanks for the vote of confidence! It's been a big learning experience, that's for sure.

millie said...

Yes, Justine, I was asking about you. I'm not worried about the kimchi. It is traditionally fermented underground in Korea, so it can work without much heat.

I hope you all can stay warm this winter!!!

Justine said...

Ah, thank you for your concern! I think we stay warm, at least inside. It will probably be an adjustment though, after 11 years in Miami . . .

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