Saturday, April 16, 2011

DIY: How to make sauerkraut

I'm Russian, and so have a deep appreciation for all things canned, pickled and otherwise preserved. Every year we make tons of preserves for the winter ahead. The following is my grandfather's (and his mother's before that) recipe for making sauerkraut. I note wherever applicable all possible modifications. Hope you give it a shot and enjoy it!

Here is what you'll need to get started:

- Knife and cutting board
- Large mixing bowl
- A container to ferment cabbage in, such as a large pot or a bucket (we use a 5 gallon bucket from local cafeteria that they buy boiled eggs in). If you want to use a glass jar, make sure it is one that you can fit your entire hand into and also the weight mentioned below. Wide mouthed containers are best.
- Some sort of lid for above container (our bucket comes with a lid, very convenient! but so does a pot)
- a plate a little smaller in diameter than your container
- something really heavy to 'press' the cabbage. Grandpa uses a rock, we use the weights from Husband's dumbbells inside multiple plastic bags
- Jars for storage

For each head of cabbage you'll need:

~2 carrots (optional but I really prefer carrots in my sauerkraut)
~1 tablespoon pickling salt (any salt without iodine will do)
caraway seeds (optional, I don't use them but some people like the flavor)
I would suggest picking cabbages that are as 'white' as possible, avoid greener looking ones. We've used purple cabbage in the past, and personally I didn't like it as much, but it does have a nice color!

I would do at least three heads of cabbage to start with. If you like how your kraut turned out, you can always make more.

Preparing the cabbage:

- Peel the first few leaves of the cabbage and wash it.
- Cut the cabbage. This can be done almost any way. Some people like really thin short strips of cabbage, others like larger chunks, or longer strips of cabbage. The flavor is not affected, but larger pieces will be more crunchy. Do not include the core in your cut cabbage mix (however, my grandpa likes to stick a core or two into the final pot with the cabbage and let it sit there and ferment). Cut all three cabbages and place them in your mixing bowl. (If you are doing a bigger batch like 6-12 cabbages, I would still only do about 3 cabbages at a time, it makes the mixing more manageable).

- Grate the carrots on a large grater. If doing 3 cabbages, you'll need about 6 carrots. Carrots add a touch of color and also a touch of sweetness to your kraut. If you don't like carrots in your kraut however, it is not necessary. Place grated carrots in mixing bowl with the cabbage.

- Add the salt. (Make sure it does not contain iodine!!!) This is possibly the trickiest part. The salt will draw out the juices from the veggies but it will also prevent the sauerkraut from spoiling while it's fermenting. In essence it will create an environment conducive to fermentation of your kraut by non-harmful bacteria. On the other hand, you don't want to over salt your cabbage as it will make kraut that's too salty. I've found that the ratio of 1 tablespoon of salt to 1 head cabbage is about right. HOWEVER, not all cabbage heads are created equal! If yours are rather small, then a tablespoon of salt will be too much! What I would recommend, is that you mix in about 2.5 tablespoons of salt first for your 3 cabbages and then if it's not too salty, add the remaining 0.5 tablespoons.

- Add caraway if using. I don't use caraway so I am not sure what a good amount would be. Try sprinkling it on till you like the looks of it, probably about 1 tablespoon per cabbage.

- Mix the cabbage and carrots with your hands, scrunching it a bit as you go. If you don't scrunch the cabbage, it will be a bit firmer and cruncher later, but the scrunching gets the juices flowing. If you scrunch too much and turn the cabbage to mush, the kraut will be non-crunchy/soft/limp. It will still taste good but be sort of flaccid. So I just scrunch a bit as I go. I do not see too many juices at this stage yet so don't scrunch till it's actually 'bleeding'.

- Taste the mixture, the saltiness should be pleasant but obvious. Add more salt if you feel it's necessary, add more cabbage if it's too salty. My ratio of 1 cabbage to 1 tablespoon should guarantee a good taste.

- Transfer the mixture into your fermentation container. If doing more than a 3 cabbage batch, repeat above steps for the rest of the cabbages and give everything a good mix once all the batches are in the fermentation container.

Note: some people add whey to the mixture. Whey contains live lactobacilli and shortens the time it takes to start fermenting. I do not use whey, but if I understand correctly, the appropriate amount is 4 tablespoons per cabbage.

Preparing for fermentation:

- By now you have placed the mixed salted cabbage into your fermentation container. The container should have a lid but it does not need to be air tight. Fermentation will produce gases that will need to escape. The fermentation itself is anaerobic (without oxygen) but the juices will keep the reaction submerged and away from air so don't worry about the air entering the pot.

- Press the mix down with your fists. You should notices some juices starting to form. Take your plate and place it upside down over the cabbage and push down. The plate should be smaller than the container's diameter, with about an inch around the edges. It will keep the cabbage down but allow juices and gases to escape from around it's edges. If doing this in a jar, you may use a small piece of tile or wood for the same purpose.

video of Husband scrunching and mixing, doesn't always play for some reason...

- Place a weight on top of the plate. We usually place our weights in a small mixing bowl and then on top of the plate, but we use a large bucket and have the space to do this. The lid of your container should be able to close so don't stack things too high. The weight needs to be heavy enough to keep the cabbage well compressed and the juices above the plate.


- Leave your container/kraut at room temperature to ferment. Cool fall temperatures are particularly conducive to fermentation. Hot summer days may raise the temperature too high and let your cabbage spoil. Cold temperatures will slow down the fermentation process. A temperatures in the high 60s low 70s is perfect.

- The cabbage will now begin to ferment. The salt will keep bad bacteria from growing/spoiling your cabbage in the first few days. Then the lactobacilli bacteria will have produced enough lactic acid to keep the cabbage from spoiling for the rest of the year. These bacteria are probiotic, very good for your digestive system, and the product is delicious to boot!

- Fermentation will produce gases and your kraut will start to bubble and foam. Once, or better yet twice a day, open up your container's lid and push down on the weight to release the gases. Husband takes out the weight and the plate, pokes the mix with a long knife, then places the plate down, pushes on it really firmly to let the gases out, then replaces the weight. You may also poke around the edges of the plate and not pick it up. You may see a white/milky tint to the juice. This is the lactobacilli and totally normal and good.

- The cabbage is to be kept in this way, poked several times a day, until all the bubbling has stopped. This may take anywhere from three days to a week. You will notice a smell of kraut, which sometimes smells perhaps a bit like fart. The cabbage should NOT smell putrid though. Granted we all have different definitions of putrid, but it will not smell sour, it will smell rotten if something goes wrong. Really, unmistakeably rotten. I've never had kraut NOT work out but I've smelled the kraut-gone-bad of others and it is definitely nasty. You'll know.

- At the end of this fermentation period (3-7 days) the kraut is done. At this point we transfer the kraut into glass jars, pressing it down (but there is no need to beat it up or compress it unreasonably), add some of the juice on top and close the lid. The process is NOT sterile and should not be. The lactic acid will keep the kraut from spoiling. After this we store our kraut in the fridge. If you have a cellar, it's even better. You want a dark cool place for ultimate kraut storage. You may eat the kraut right away, but it will only get better/more sour with time.


Baby Quilt: Part II - Finished!!!

Baby quilt is now officially finished! For inspiration and starting materials check part I.



front detail

back detail

work 'station'

Thursday, April 14, 2011

It's Adrien Brody's Birthday!

Sexiest man alive turning 38 today. I have no idea what he is holding in this picture but it's ok, I'm too distracted by the rest of him. Sigh.....

I think it's supposed to be a chihuahua actually... Aaaww...

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The 2012 Budget. Sigh.

With the 2011 budget finally (hopefully) behind us - and surprisingly without a government shutdown - it's time now to argue about the 2012 budget. Arguably, the budget is the very reason Republicans and the Tea Party took control of the House in 2011, as people became more and more concerned over government spending. I'll admit that my understanding of economics and the budget is dodgy at best, so this here is my attempt to understand what has been happening and what the best way forward is.

One thing that we hear a lot about is that there is a great budget deficit. This graph illustrates the federal budget deficit by year as a percentage of GDP.

Also, very handily this website by Stephen Bloch breaks the budget down by year AND by the party that controls the House and Senate at the time. Both charts seem to suggest that the current increase in budget deficit was down from $1.89 trillion in 2009 to $1.65 trillion in 2010. Good but still pretty huge.

So what caused the current budget deficit? It appears that the breakdown of the deficit causes looks like this:

When Bill Clinton left office, there was a surplus. Almost immediately it was reduced by $291 billion due to the stock market crash of 2000, the 2001 recession and the safety net spending and reduced tax revenue during the 2002-03 jobless recovery period.

Then came the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003. Theoretically, tax cuts in a booming economy would stimulate said economy, which in turn would increase tax revenue, thus paying for themselves. And certainly the CBO in 2001 was projecting a surplus for 2008 equal to 4.5% of domestic product (instead we got a deficit of 3.2% of GDP). Then came the spending increases, especially during 2001-03, which were mostly military and homeland security spending, particularly the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Together, the Bush years added $673 billion to the budget deficit.

When Obama and the Democratic controlled Congress came into power in 2008, instead of repealing Bush's tax cuts and ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, they extended them. That's an additional -$283 billion. So much for their radically liberal ways...

Finally came the economic crisis/recession that started in 2007. The decline in revenue and the increase in safety net spending (that's Medicaid, unemployment benefits and food stamps), so called automatic stabilizers (transfer payments, consumption expenditures) were a big part of this particular deficit.

The bailout, stimulus and other Obama programs contributed relatively little to the deficit.

click on image to enlarge. image source

It was news to me, by the way, that the bailout is now considered to be paid back and actually turning a profit for the tax payers. Too bad none of those bankers, CEOs and rating agencies were made to pay for causing this huge crisis, but that's a rant for another day....

So now we have a huge budget deficit (though it does appear to be going down a bit), but most economists aren't too worried about this short term, recession driven deficit. They figure more spending now on these safety net programs and on job creating fronts will level this whole mess out on it's own as the economy improves. In fact, running a deficit right now is the most appropriate action, according to Keynesian school of thought. It's the long term, so called structural deficits that are a problem and a cause for concern. That's the deficits that are "projected to exist in coming years — even when the country is at peace, even when the economy is growing, even when unemployment falls. " Primary culprits are Medicare and Medicaid, but there is also Social Security and infrastructure spending (and of course the interest payments on the debt, which only increase with the debt). Here is a view on the breakdown of spending in 2011:

A more in depth graphic for the 2012 budget proposed by the White House would have this breakdown:

click on image to enlarge. image source

Alternatively check out the NY Times version which color codes spending increases (green) and decreases (red):
click on image to enlarge. image source

The Independent Medicare Advisory Board that was established by the health care reform act might help (source. For an opposing view check out the Christian Science Monitor).

IMAC is a 15-person board of independent experts chosen by the president, confirmed by the Senate, and empowered to cut through congressional gridlock. IMAC will write reforms that bring Medicare into like with certain spending targets. Congress can't modify these proposals, it can't filibuster these proposals, and if it wants to reject them, it needs to find another way to save the same amount of money.

Mind you the CBO is now revising it's estimate as to whether or not the health care reform will cut the deficit over the next 10 years. In fact, the 2012 budget is getting pretty bad reviews from the CBO altogether (source).

The White House's goal is to reach a point where the budget is balanced except for interest payments on the $14 trillion national debt. Such "primary balance" occurs when the deficit is about 3 percent of the size of the economy, and economists say deficits of that magnitude are generally sustainable. But CBO predicts that the deficit never gets below 4 percent of gross domestic product. That means that by the time 2021 arrives, the portion of the debt held by investors and foreign countries will reach a dangerously high 87 percent. And, as a result, interest costs for the government would explode from $214 billion this year to almost $1 trillion by decade's end.

The big, all encompassing, $2 trillion dollar question is how do we fix the future budget deficit? The budget proposal by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan would cut almost $6 trillion over the next 10 years in spending. Oddly (or perhaps not so oddly, considering that he is a Republican), there aren't any major defense spending cuts in this budget, but it does plan to repeal the affordable health care act and create block grants for Medicaid. Medicare (which would be privatized) recipients would go from paying 27 cents for every dollar of their care to 61 cents by 2022. While the Ryan budget does cut federal spending dramatically, it basically shifts the costs to states and individuals, especially when it comes to things like federal, civilian and military retirement, food stamps, Supplemental Security Income, parts of the earned-income and child-tax credits, and most veterans’ programs. So while the rich get a tax cut, those who can't afford health care and food have to pay more. But it does balance the budget...

I have not yet found a budget plan that I like. Certainly it seems to me that cuts in defense spending are in order, as are higher taxes (or at least closed loop holes for corporations). But I cannot escape the eventuality that Medicare/aid and Social Security will have problems in the future. (I wonder if universal healthcare would have helped at this point?). But for those of you opposed to tax hikes, let me leave you with this little nugget - Bank of America and GE, two American companies that received bail out money from us, and that had tax benefits of $1 billion and $5.4 billion respectively in 2010, paid zero dollars in federal tax. That's loop holes for you.

And then there is this quote that I thought was rather interesting:

As estimated by the New York Times, even if we were to eliminate welfare payments, Medicaid, Medicare, military spending, earmarks, social security payments, and all programs except for entitlements, and in addition stopped the stimulus injections, shut down the education department, got rid of a number of other things and doubled corporate taxes on top of all of this, the budget deficit would still be over 400 billion.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

CNN interview with Michael Scheuer

Michael Scheuer, a former CIA counterterrorism analyst, was on CNN the other day. His opinion is that we will be arming the Libyan rebels, something that Obama have been saying they won't do, and his concern is that the rebels are primarily Muslim insurgents. In other words, we'd be arming those with whom we have beef in the Middle East. I hope his assessment is incorrect, but I have to say that it makes the most sense.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

US solar industry value grows 67% in 2010

Since I'm on a renewable energy kick lately, here is some good news from Solar Energy Industries Association and GTM Research. In the last year the US solar energy industry value grew by 67%, from $3.6 billion to $6.0 billion.

This growth made solar the fastest growing sector of the energy industry, and a pace-setter for the country's economy -- whose GDP grew less than 3%.

The research points to four major catalysts for the industry's 2010 growth: renewal of the tax incentives offered in the 1603 Treasury program, completion of significant utility-scale projects, expansion into new markets, and reduction in cost.

While China is still the 'leading financier of clean energy' and the 'global manufacturing hub of the solar industry', I hope the US will give it a run for it's money, so to speak. I think we can really capitalize on the green energy market - manufacturing and innovation back in the US - what a lovely thought. And saving the planet in the process.


I'm having a hard time formulating an opinion on our involvement in Libya. On the one hand I understand that Qaddafi was killing his citizens and using mercenary forces to do it. But are we then also going to get involved in Yemen, Syria and Bahrain? And are we only getting involved here because Libya is rich in oil, and Darfur, for example, isn't? That is an inexcusable double standard. And what about the cost? Each one of the missiles fired costs $1-1.5 million dollars. Aren't we supposed to be broke over here? Aren't we cutting the funds to WIC (food for women, infants and children who can't afford it) and Head Start? It's bad enough we are still in Iraq and Afghanistan (why are we there? I don't even remember anymore....) Plus part of me feels that people need to fight there own battles (which is why Egypt was such a heart warming example). You never know if the rebel you are supporting now ends up being Osama bin Laden. Oh wait, didn't that happen once or twice already? Would appreciate your thoughts...

Petition to end subsidies to nuclear companies

So I've decided I'm against nuclear energy. It is not necessary (see my renewable energy post) and when shit goes wrong, shit goes terribly wrong as we are witnessing now. It's disconcerting to be pregnant and to be told that the rain in my town is radioactive (and it will be raining for two weeks), and that the milk is now getting contaminated, not to mention the veggies.... Here is a petition to ask Obama to "discontinue taxpayer subsidies, including $36 billion in loan guarantees, for the nuclear industry." Feel free to sign if you are so inclined.