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Color me Pickle: How to Eat Your Summer Favs All Year Long

Aug 26 2:28 pm

By JJ Gonson

 

pickles

Pickles come in every variety...just like 'Villens!

Ahhhh, pickles!  Them briny harbingers of summer time. Diced into potato salad, stacked on plates by hamburger-laden grills, and dawdling deep in the depths of spiced tomato-based adult beverages. Pickles are everywhere, well loved, and, happily, very easy to produce for your own delectation.

Before you get down to the process of pickling, it is key to understand that there are many, many different items that fall under the pickle category. To make pickles, some cultures use age, some use antimicrobial spices, some use pressure. You could spend a lifetime exploring the possibilities of corning for preservation.

The word ‘pickle’ describes a sour bath in which one soaks vegetables to preserve them for eating later. This bath includes a high percentage of acid, (equal to a PH below 4.6) usually in the form of vinegar, and leans towards tartness in flavour, although in some cases a lot of sugar can be added to make a sweet pickle, like those used for pickle relishes and bread and butter chips. Vinegar pickles, whether cucumber, pepper, carrot or any other vegetable, can be put into sterile jars and sealed by boiling in water, to be kept on the shelf before eating, as they have a PH level high enough to keep dangerous bugs at bay. This form of canning is convenient, but the result is not going to be fresh and crunchy, and therefore, vinegar pickles are soft. We throw the word about wantonly, but the truth is: if there is no vinegar, technically speaking, what you are eating is not a pickle.

A very crunchy and saltier ‘pickle’ is actually more likely to have been brined, or made in a salt water bath, rather than vinegar. This bath will slow down decay, but these veggies have to stay refrigerated or they will rot. Since they don’t keep forever these are often referred to as “quick pickles”, and will produce something flavored more like a traditional Kosher Dill, rather than the sour classic spear style of pickle.

For centuries, many cultures have harnessed anaerobic fermentation processes to create a combination of the salty and sour. Fermentation usually starts with just salt, and the water from the vegetables themselves create the brine. As the vegetables break down, they sour, and the result is wildly varied, depending on many factors: the food you are fermenting, the air temperature and humidity, the amount of salt, etc. Fermentation occurs in a controlled environment, and the resulting pickles are removed to cold storage when they are ready, where they will last for a long time. Fermenting cucumbers is a little tricky as they mold easily, but sauerkraut and kimchi are less challenging with very satisfying results, and are a good place for the amateur fermenter to start.

I can only caution, once you jump into the world of pickling, it can become an obsession. You may end up losing counterspace to lines of sterilized glass jars and your kitchen may take on a lingering scent of vinegar. I would like to comfort you with the reassurance that you will make many friends. Everyone loves a pickle!

 

Here are a couple of basic recipes to start playing with:

Classic Kosher Dills

Adapted from How To Cook Everything by Mark Bittman

The easiest snack in the world to make!

  • Add 1/3 cup of Kosher salt to 1 cup boiling water.
  • Stir to dissolve the salt in the water and add ice, stirring until it stops melting, and the brine is cooled.
  • Pour over whatever veggies you want to brine - cukes, green beans, fennel…. with a handful of dill or fennel greens and a couple of cloves of garlic, broken but not mashed.
  • Weight the brining veggies so that they are completely submerged in liquid and let it sit at room temp for 24 hours, then refrigerate.

If the “pickles” get too salty after a few days, pour off the brine and replace it with clear water

 

 

Sauerkraut

From Alex Lewin/How 2 Heroes

Ingredients

  • ¼ of a cabbage (400 gm) or more of cabbage (green, red, or a mixture)
  • 8 gm (1½ tsp) sea salt

Special Equipment

  • 1-pint mason jars
  • digital kitchen scale
  • large mixing bowls

How-to

  1. Quarter the cabbages. Discard the cores or keep them and use them, as you like
  2. Weigh the cabbage
  3. Measure salt equal to roughly 2% of the weight of the cabbage. (Metric measures make this easier.) Alternatively, as in this video, measure 1½ tsp of salt per 400 gm (¼ cabbage). Too much salt will slow down the fermentation, and result in an overly-salty product; too little salt will increase the likelihood of mushiness or even putrefaction
  4. Slice or shred the cabbage using a large chef ’s knife, a shredding attachment on a food processor, or whatever tool you like
  5. Place the cut cabbage in a large mixing bowl, adding salt as you go. When everything is in the bowl, mix and squeeze the mixture with (clean!) hands for a minute or two, until the cabbage has started to release liquid
  6. Pack the mixture as tightly as you can into 1-pint mason jars, leaving at least an inch of space at the top of each jar. Close the jars, and store them at room temperature, away from sunlight
  7. Once a day, open the jars and pack down their contents so that the liquid rises. If the liquid does not cover the cabbage completely after two days, add brine to cover. (The brine should be 2% salt by weight. Use filtered water; the chlorine in municipal tap water kills bacteria—that’s why it’s there!)
  8. Make sure to keep the cabbage covered with liquid thenceforth, otherwise your sauerkraut may discolor, dry out, or even become moldy.  If you don’t leave enough space at the top of the jars, some of the liquid may leak out as the fermentation progresses. This is an inconvenience, but not a cause for alarm
  9. Taste the sauerkraut after a few days four days, and periodically thereafter. Depending upon ambient temperature, your taste, and other factors, the sauerkraut may be “ready” after 4 days, or after 4 months, or some time in between. When you decide it is “ready”, or slightly before, put it in a refrigerator or a cool cellar, or bury it in the ground. The cooler the environment, the slower the subsequent fermentation

Variations

  1. Sea salt contains healthy trace minerals. Prefer sea salt over kosher salt. In any case, do not use iodized table salt, and do not use salt containing “anti-caking agents.” (Check the list of ingredients.)
  2. Use a mixture of green cabbage and red cabbage to make pink sauerkraut.
  3. Herbs and spices may be added when making the sauerkraut. For instance, you can add a teaspoon or more of caraway seeds per pound of cabbage. (Or fennel seeds, or anise seeds. Toast them first if you like.) On the other hand, making unseasoned sauerkraut gives you added flexibility; you can always season your sauerkraut a la minute.
  4. Precise kitchen scales can be bought inexpensively over the Internet. A digital scale with 1-gram resolution is very useful for cooking and baking. 0.1-gram resolution can be useful, too, when working with spices, for instance.
  5. On sandwiches, food-processor-shredded sauerkraut works well. On its own, hand-cut sauerkraut is crunchier and perhaps more interesting.

 

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How to Throw a Wedding Somerville Style

Apr 05 12:40 pm

By Megan Amundson

Reception at Precinct

When you think about your special day, you may imagine a wedding ceremony on the beach. Or in the mountains. Or maybe at a country club. Have you thought about a local wedding? There are plenty of businesses in Somerville more than happy to make your wedding day special, and they shouldn’t be overlooked.

Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name.

Your life isn’t an 80s sitcom, but sharing your special day with businesses you already know provides security. You know they’re good and they know you’re a repeat customer. They want to make you happy! When my husband and I got married in Somerville at the end of February, we worked with a number of local businesses. And in return, those Somerville businesses did everything they could to make our day special.

 

Getting Married in Somerville

Our goal was an intimate, low key wedding with a larger reception to celebrate. For the day to be meaningful to us, we hosted our wedding in the ‘Ville with local businesses we like so our family and friends too could experience our Somerville community and all it has to offer.

The Night Before

The festivities began Friday night with a dinner at the Foundry on Elm for 16 of our guests traveling from out of town and our families. We had made a last minute change to the Foundry after frustrating dealings with a restaurant  in Cambridge that caused us to cut our losses and relocate back to Somerville. We couldn’t have made a better decision.

Dinner at Bergamot

The Foundry squeezed 16 of us in with only three days. As great as the food was, given the circumstances of how we ended up at there, what I remember most was the attentive service. They dedicated at least three wait staff to our table, including the manager, were exceptionally responsive considering we were there at the busiest time of the week, and we never felt rushed. The staff made helpful recommendations for wine and starters that made everyone happy and ordering for 16 stress free. In the end, they made it possible for us to focus our attention on our families meeting for the first time.

Our Wedding Day

We started our wedding day by getting our home ready for the ceremony in our living room. Bow Street Flowers on Beacon Street outdid themselves with three large bouquets that we used to frame the ceremony and the formal pictures in our bow window. In my conversations with Shelley at Bow Street, I provided her with an idea of what I was looking for with the hopes they she could translate it into something beautiful, and we weren’t disappointed. She even provided a bouquet, which I hadn’t ordered, as a personal touch. For our toasts after the ceremony, we drank champagne from the Wine and Cheese Cask, which is always a favorite in our household.

From the ceremony, the wedding party walked to Bergamot for a wonderful meal. The staff went out of their way to make the meal special, including a customized print menu and multiple servers working the table. The owner and the head chef had sat down with us in advance to accommodate food allergies and plan a three course meal that had all of our guests raving. The duck in particular was talked about for the rest of the evening.

Bow Street Flowers

From our dinner we moved on to Precinct in Union Square for a larger reception in the back room. A new chef had just been hired a month before our reception, and under his guidance our appetizer order became much more interesting and tasty. In addition, the walls had been recently painted and new furniture had just been ordered. Ronan, the general manager, had worked with us for weeks to make sure the room looked just how we wanted, with candles and flower petals on tables and a special place for the cake and DJ on stage. The staff did an excellent job navigating the very full room with wine, champagne, appetizers, and cake. They went so far as to provide a basket for cards, which we had forgotten to set up, along with a staff person to watch the entrance. Ronan did a fantastic job thinking of all the things we hadn’t.

 

Looking Back

Our wedding day lasted only one magical day, but the relationships we developed with local Somerville business owners will last much longer. I appreciate the hard work they put into making our wedding day special, and they can count on my business in the future.

Photos: Leise Jones Photography

Somerville Local First: Not Your Average Internship

Mar 30 3:17 pm

by Katie Riedman

From Northeastern University to the streets of Somerville

From Northeastern University to the streets of Somerville

Spring has finally arrived—despite the occasional snow flurry—and that means several things for all the Northeastern University students in the Greater Boston Area. First, it means spring semester will be over in one month (until we go back to summer school)! Second, a good majority of us are spending more time stressing out over our March Madness Brackets than exams and homework. And lastly, it means interview time for the Fall Cycle of Northeastern Co-ops. As I am currently on co-op, only one of these three things is applicable to me—March Madness Bracket— but I’m here to offer a little supportive advice to all the prospective co-ops out there.

I remember shifting through endless pages on the Northeastern co-op website, finding the perfect internship only realize it was for work study only or secretly in Santa Monica, California. Yes, it is true that finding a co-op that screams your name is hard to come by, but I’m here to give you one piece of advice: during your internship search, don’t discount part-time unpaid positions. I know what you’re thinking; my parents won’t pay for my Netflix account while I’m on co-op so I need to make some income. Well I have a solution: put down the remote and tighten that money belt because the amount of real life hands on learning you can gain from a co-op such as the Marketing Intern Position at Somerville Local First is much more valuable than being able to watch all six seasons of Lost.

SLF - Not your Average Internship

SLF - Not your Average Internship

The three co-op/internship positions SLF is offering for the Fall 2011 co-op cycle will be sure to challenge your perception of what a job should be like. The unique unstructured nature of this co-op encourages you to make it your own by setting learning objectives and closely working with Joe Grafton to learn and be involved with things that interest you. Rather than watching the clock count down till 5, you will be involved to something you’re passionate about. For example, my first day at SLF, Joe asked me to prepare five goals I would like to achieve by the end of my internship. One of them was to learn more about blogging and how it is an effective marketing strategy. Well here I am writing my second blog. Additionally, through this co-op, I’ve been able to develop my own work style, contribute to projects that I’m proud to call my own, and get invaluable hands on experience that no pay check could replace.

So as you’re applying, keep this in the back of your mind and think about what you’d like to gain from your internship. And if you feel like a position with Somerville Local First is calling out your name, find the co-op listings and more information on the Northeastern co-op website or apply by sending your resume and cover letter to Joe Grafton at [email protected]

Eating at Home in Somerville

Feb 16 10:48 am

Bagels at True Grounds

Winter blues getting to you leaving you too down to cook, but short on cash? Check out Community blogger Abbe Cohen Dvornik’s ways to “eat out” without actually “eating out” Somerville style. It just might be what the doctor ordered:

With snow, slush and cold — and a new baby — complicating family trips to a local restaurant, we’re eating at home a lot. Most of the time, this works great for me, since I discovered some time ago that cooking is one of the things that keeps me sane. But even a person who loves to cook can use a break, and that break isn’t always for dinnertime pizza delivery.  We bring all sorts of things home from Somerville restaurants to add to the variety in our meals.

Recently I found some smoked whitefish in the fish section at Market Basket and it ignited a small craving for a bagel with whitefish salad, so I brought it home.  It was easy enough to figure out how to turn it into whitefish salad (mash the fish up with a mix of mayonnaise and sour cream – or Greek yogurt in a pinch) but I wasn’t about to start making bagels from scratch, and I don’t love supermarket bagels.

Fortunately, we live right around the corner from True Grounds, who in addition to their great coffee, offers all kinds of delicious toppings on tasty bagel (theirs come from Bagel Land in Winchester.)  But if you want to stay home, like I did,  maybe you can send out an obliging family member to bring some fresh bagels straight to your dining room table to be topped with the delicious things in your own fridge. Also, if you happen to get lucky, their day old bagels are one of the best bagel bargains in Somerville at $2 for a half a dozen.

Our favorite winter items at Wang’s come delivered right to our door – check out the “soup noodle” section on the back of the menu.  We usual order Peking Meat Sauce Noodles or Da Lu Noodles, but they’re all interesting.   You get a quart of soup with tasty seasonings and plenty of thick rice noodles. One order is easily a meal for two, leaving room for your favorite appetizer.

For sandwiches, there are times we like to get takeout from any of Somerville’s sub shops, and times that we make PB&J or bologna sandwiches at home. But when I get bored of making the same old sandwiches at home,  Sessa’s in Davis Square will slice me up some nice Italian cold cuts – different kinds of salami, capicola, proscuitto, and more. Pair it with some good bread (also available at Sessa’s), a jar of pickles, cheese, and onions and you can have a classic Italian sub at home in less than the time it takes you to call for delivery.

The views and opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of Somerville Local First, its board or staff.

A Somerville Psychotherapist’s Guide to Keeping Sane While Managing a Local Business

Feb 02 11:33 am

Running your own local business is no easy task. Between the long hours and the hard work it’s quite easy to lose sight of yourself while focusing on your business goals.  That’s why we invited local psychotherapist and SLF member Ruth Faris to share her advice to business owners on how to prevent yourself from losing steam. Read Ruth’s story and find out ways you can recharge your own batteries once in awhile:

Ruth Faris

My dining room table is littered with receipts as I organize for meeting with my tax guy….and oh yeah is it part of my gas bill or my electric bill that I get to deduct?

More snow is coming, again, and its me that has to get out there to shovel, and no one is going to call to tell me ‘stay home, don’t worry about trying to get in,’ and if I want to take time off later this week for yet another chiropractor visit for this aching back, I have no bank of sick time to use.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Nothing at all, really; I’m self-employed, and very happily so for most of the time. But yes, there are special pressures that all of us on this brave adventure feel. My business is probably pretty different from most of yours; I am a clinical social worker and I have a private psychotherapy practice. I have a cozy office that I had  built into my home  in 1985 (after doing therapy out of a spare-bedroom-turned-office for a year or two). Its a pretty simple operation: just me, and my clients who come for sessions.  I do my best to help them feel better, live better, achieve some of their goals. I truly love this work and feel myself  privileged to do it, right here on my tiny Somerville street.

Of course, its also ‘just me’ who cleans the bathroom, spreads the snow melt, spends an awful lot of time on the phone with insurance companies. I have important outside support from a group of  other therapists that has met bi-weekly for over 25 years, to consult and guide each other through difficult and confusing issues.

Another huge support is my billing service, people who I have never met but am in constant communication with; how else to navigate the complicated requirements of each insurance company? And yes, you might hear me complaining about how I have to run downstairs to pull up the rugs just in case the rain floods in yet again, or how one of the insurance companies reduced payments by 15%.  But, there is no doubt that I love being self-employed and happily go through these difficulties as part of the package….’part of the price of doing business’ as they say.

I know that every small business has its own version of  hassles and joys, but one  thing we surely have in common is the need to keep ourselves steady and healthy and balanced through it all. We are the ones responsible for our own well-being and this is one task that cannot be delegated.

Your responsibilities are many and never-ending: inventory and staff management and payroll and insurance and so on… forget any one of these at your peril. But, how often do you think about taking care of yourself as one of the items on your daily ‘to do’ list? Do you have ‘scheduled maintenance’ for yourself just as you do to keep your vehicles, computers, and other equipment in good working order?

There are some basics of self-care and stress-reduction that we have all heard a million times: sleeping and eating well, getting exercise, having some amount of fun and ‘down-time’ ….  there are books and blogs and CD’s and entire industries set up to tell us how to do that.

Taking self-care seriously is as at least as  important to your bottom-line and success as any other upgrade or improvement you are planning for your business this year.   What this self-care will look like for you, I’m not sure; for me, its daily yoga; long walks; thrift store shopping; appreciating the humor in life; and so forth.

It would be great to hear from any of you who care to tell us how you deal with stress day to day, and how you take care of your SLF-business and yourSELF in the process!

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