Have dough. Will travel. Groundhog Cookie dough, that is.

I planned a weekend away, visiting a friend in Philadelphia. The trip to the city coincided with one of my favorite country holidays: Groundhog Day. So, when I packed my overnight case, I filled a quart container with Groundhog Cookie dough and brought along a cookie cutter.Rolling PinJPG

Alas, when I arrived, I found out the house was without a rolling pin. Some cheapskate hint from readings past floated into my mind. “Use a wine bottle,” it echoed. To be sure, there was no shortage of wine bottles…but the cleanliness issue was batting about in my brain. Then I remembered. This spicy molasses cookie dough is full of butter and can be sticky. The recipe suggests rolling the dough between sheets of plastic wrap. Perfect. So was the wine-bottle-turned-rolling-pin and the fragrance of spicy molasses cookies baking in the oven.

Spring Creek Homesteading’s reskilling classes have been the highlight of my return to State College. This past weekend, my mom and I took a class on making sauerkraut and kimchi. The two fellows who taught the class bubbled with enthusiasm for the whole lacto-fermentation process as they shared other homemade fermented goodies, such as sour dough bread and Parmesan cheese, as well as their private stock of sauerkraut and kimchi. The lunchtime tasting was a plus, but the best part of the class was getting our own chopping board, sharpened knife, glass jar, and oodles of vegetables for hands-on training. It is so simple!

Our teachers explained that good bacteria, called lactobacillus, are everywhere. When you submerge chopped vegetables in a brine, the salt kills off the bad bacteria. Then the good bacteria converts lactose and other sugars in the food into lactic acid, and this acidic environment preserves the vegetables, gives them their tangy flavor, and boosts their nutritional value.

My mom and I chopped one green cabbage, one red, a few carrots, an onion, and several cloves of garlic, and placed everything in a large bowl. We added a few grinds of black peppercorn and a pinch of caraway seeds. Then, I just started kneading and squeezing the whole chopped salad. We weighed the mixture—about three pounds–added the appropriate amount of salt for preservation (about 2 Tbsp.), and stuffed everything, including a large amount of ever-present, airborne “good” bacteria, into a large glass jar. I pressed the vegetables into the jar, first with my fists, then a wooded spoon. Soon a good inch of briny liquid covered the mixture.Confetti

The only thing left to do was to put a weight on top of the chopped vegetables to hold them under the liquid so they could ferment naturally at home, in peace. Special sauerkraut crocks have plates that fit over the chopped vegetables, sinking them under the brew. Our instructor showed us how to use a piece of plastic held down by a rock, or, as an alternative, suggested filling a plastic zippered bag with water to weigh the vegetable matter down. I decided to re-purpose some flower arrangement glass marbles my mother had at home to keep our vegetables submerged. As we went around the classroom showing off our batches of kraut, each one had its own personality: there was the finely shredded, traditional green cabbage variety; a chunky, carrot filled kraut; and our colorful confetti concoction.

With the lid placed on loosely, so the fermentation gases can escape, our jar of vegetables is brewing away in a closet. In three or four weeks it should be ready for tasting, and when placed in the refrigerator will provide a good pickled salad to promote healthy digestion.

Remember the pink ravioli heart? Well, Fasta and Ravioli Co. came up with a three-course Valentine Dinner Special for home celebrations. I’ll be treating my mother to cheese ravioli appetizers, squid-ink striped lobster ravioli, and, for dessert, ricotta-chocolate gnocchi. I dropped my mom and nephew Leon off at a ballroom dancing class while I scurried home to photograph the Fasta meal. It’s still frozen, but beautiful enough to give you the idea.

HeartsToo Local: My mother and I have had a number of Centre County Master Gardener meetings in Room 317 of the Willowbank Buildiing in Bellefonte, the conference room for Centre County Cooperative Extension. I knew the building formerly housed Centre Community Hospital, but the other night I found out that Room 317 was the old delivery room. I was born in that room…but better yet, my mother gave birth in that room FIVE times. Makes sitting through a two-hour meeting seem like a piece of cake! Or a bowl of sauerkraut. Laurie Lynch


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