Pickle School with the Austin Learnshop

Earlier this year I joined a hippy work space collective. I’ve been freelancing for two years now, and working from home breeds madness. Going to cafes is expensive, and I have a medical condition where I need to be coldly ignoring lots of people before I can do any work.

As an added perk, sometimes my office holds events for its members. Last month I attended Austin Learnshop‘s pickling workshop. I currently live in a household that is at the whim of a kombucha scobie, so pickling seemed like something I could probably incorporate into my lifestyle.

The class was led by a young pickle entrepreneur named Sheena, of Sheena’s Pickles Facebook Page fame.

Sheena’s Pickles: A Brief History

Sheena got into pickling right before one “broke-ass Christmas.” She spread pickled cheer throughout the land, and forever after her pickles were in high demand. Sheena’s fridge is continually packed with pickles, and the hordes of wailing pickle-gobblers are never far from her door.

She also makes jams.

“Any questions?” she asked before we began. Some Paranoid Patty asked about botulism. Sheena explained that botulism only forms at very high temperatures. You only need those kinds of temps for canning – jarring doesn’t get hot enough for that kind of freak funk to form.

Pickle Ingredients

At each table the picklers had an array of flavoring agents at our disposal. Sheena warned us to go easy with the jalapeño: “I don’t want you all shitting fire.”

Sheena passed out latex gloves and warned the gentlemen in the room about the dangers of mixing spicy peppers and penises. Women also put on gloves, who knows why.

(Don’t be naive. In case we wanted to touch penises later.)

We were free to paint our pickle canvases in shades of carrot, green bean, okra, and zucchini. Johnson’s Backyard Garden, an organic farm in Austin, provided all of the vegetables.

Eli, one of my co-workers, sank into a deep depression once he learned that there was no cucumber. He looked at his zucchini, betrayed. “This isn’t cucumber?”

I sharply reminded him that Sheena had specifically announced cucumbers weren’t in season. “Weren’t you paying attention?”

Another woman at our pickling table was more compassionate. Mary kept handing Eli odds and ends to add to his jar, in hopes of cheering him up.

There there. Have a carrot.

Pickle Pout

He pouted for the duration of the class.

“I thought we were making REAL pickles.”

Eventually someone pointed out that Eli’s vegetables were too short for his jar, which increased his sorrows by tenfold.

(I stuffed my jar perfectly. Everyone noticed.)

Dry Jar

For my veggies I tossed in mostly carrots and green beans, along with a couple of okra. Then I threw in some zucchini, so as to not hurt the zucchini’s feelings. I also chucked in a couple of sprigs of fresh dill, slam-dunked a small clove of garlic from the 3-point line, and catapulted in a few hearty pinches of seasoning using a tiny, medieval trebuchet.

Trebuchet

For those of you all who thought pickling was just taking a nap while your cucumbers soak in vinegar: You think you grown, but you ain’t.

There is an arsenal of special pickling tools. Continue reading

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Let’s Talk Turkey, Porky.

Thanksgiving morning found me extra bossy.

“It’s time to go running,” I told my roommates. I run a tight ship. If you live with me, expect to follow a vigorous exercise routine, or get pantsed. My girl-roommate, Erin, planned to make two pies and something with Velveeta, and I wasn’t about to let her get away with it.

This was the Thanksgiving I got to know Velveeta. It was also one of the best Thanksgivings. Unrelated.

Broccoli-Velveeta casserole has a special, Ritz cracker-topped place in my roommate’s heart, enshrined by decades of family tradition.

She made sure I paid attention while she assembled the components.

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Go ahead, get in there.

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This was also the year I learned about pecans.

There is a pecan tree in our yard. I would not have known this, had a bunch of people not come to our door asking if they could gather the stray pecans.

If our pecans fall on the sidewalk, people stuff them in their pockets, glancing around to see if someone is about to chase them away with a broom. I’ve come home several times from the gym to find the same gold-toothed old man eyeing the nuts, trying to make his grocery bag inconspicuous.

“You like nuts, mama?” He asked me. Continue reading

How ’bout some booch?

My new lifestyle in the hip part of town came with an unexpected upside.

The MOTHER.

A previous tenant somehow obtained this slimy bastard from the good people of Wunder Pils, a local kombuchateria.

In the world outside of Austin, you probably don’t think highly of slimy disks of yeast, because you don’t know the FIRST THING about kombucha. What, do you also not have a tattoo of an owl on your side boob? Gross.

Kombucha is a fermented tea, and drinking it takes you to a new level of unbearable food nerd. Making your own kombucha makes it easy for other people to draw a lot of other unsavory conclusions about your lifestyle, and they are all 100% correct.

 

Kombucha Mother

Frequently Axed Questions

EWWW WHAT IS THAT?

It’s a disk of bacteria-infused yeast, floating in a jar of room-temperature sweet tea. This slimy clump is called a SCOBY, aka The Kombucha Mother. “Scoby” is a cute abbreviation for Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast. The scoby itself gets larger every week. It feels how you have always imagined a breast implant must feel, only it peels apart into thin layers, much like a Pillsbury biscuit.

NOTE: You may have heard vinegar starters referred to as a “Mother of Vinegar.” They look just like a scoby, so until recently I thought they were interchangeable. Luckily, there was never an emergency that required me to make vinegar from scratch, because if there had been I would have made a complete ass out of myself.

What does it taste like?  Continue reading

Thanksgiving and The 5 Stages of Turkey

We’re at the 1 week anniversary. Now that we’ve gotten some distance between ourselves and Thanksgiving, I feel ready to talk about it.

As should anyone after Thanksgiving, I have spent the subsequent days fasting and meditating on what I could have done differently. Fasting is easy once you see what congealed gravy looks like. In its refrigerated form, it reveals its true colors and forms a thick, 70s-nightmare-orange crust. It’s the food version of taking home what you thought was a satisfying beauty and waking up next to a greasy transvestite, wearing a really ugly orange hat.

Turkey, turkey, turkey. What the fuck is your problem? For years, people have quietly accepted that white turkey meat is edible only with the addition of cranberry sauce and/or gravy. All the time, effort, and expense, for a meat that hobbles around on sauce crutches. Next year, I will be doing my part to bring this sham to an end by preparing a tasty, cheap, reliable chicken. DOWN WITH TURKEY!! Look into the eyes of the man in the lower right-hand corner. He has definitely planted a bomb in the turkey, and I don’t blame him.

Freedom_From_Want

DENIAL. I will be the one person, I told myself, who makes a juicy masterpiece of turkey on their first try. Oh, the arrogance. I thought I had the answer, relying on Gordon Ramsay to show me the way. Ramsay’s habit of bouncing on his toes for emphasis when he speaks fills me with confidence.

The way was paved with butter.  First, you must loosen the skin. Meat is terrifying!

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Stuff the lemon, butter, garlic mixture under the skin and squish it around. Yes, there are still tiny bits of feather clinging to the skin. Stop crying and SQUISH IT. Continue reading

Plumpling Dumplings

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On our dumpling spirit journey, this encouraging soy bean man acted as our shaman.

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I was recently seized by the urge to make dumplings. The last time I made them I was at a Chinese New Year party, invited by my half-Oklahoman friend. The other half is Taiwanese, which I think explains the dumplings.

Dumplings are a good thing to make in a group, because they require lots of tedious folding, best done while drinking and making fun of the rice wrapper-folding incompetence of your neighbor. I haven’t yet formed a circle of people in Austin who I feel comfortable inviting over to handle raw meat, so Max and I put aside a couple hours and threw ourselves into it. I imagine that’s how the first pioneers felt when they finally arrived in Oklahoma, unloaded their wagon, built their little cabin, and set about making dumplings for the first time. Continue reading

Shepherd’s Pie

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I got these gigantic green beans at the farmer’s market. I was going to put them in a shepherd’s pie, using Max’s mom’s recipe. After marveling at their massive size, I tried one. It sucked. It wasn’t sweet or in-season tasting at all. It was a mushy, dirty mess. I wonder if it was even really a green bean at all. DID YOU LIE TO ME, HANDSOME, PAUL RUDD-RESEMBLING FARMER’S MARKET EMPLOYEE?

Betrayed.

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Continue reading

Nifty Coleslaw

Inspired by the vinegar coleslaw served at Ruby’s, I looked at some recipes on the internet and cobbled together a delicious Frankenstein of a coleslaw recipe.

I used cabbages and an onion I got at the farmer’s market near East 6th street.

Slaw:

  • 2 small green and 1 small purple cabbage, all sliced as thinly as you can manage
  • 2 carrots, grated
  • 1 yellow onion, minced
  • 1 jalapeno, minced, with the ribs removed. See safety precaution below.

Dressing:

  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • Sploop of olive oil, carefully drizzled into vinegar while whisking up a storm
  • 2 powerful squeezes of honey
  • Juice of 1 lemon, de-seeded, for crying out loud
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • a few hearty grinds black pepper
  • 1/2 tbsp each: mustard powder, celery seed, kosher salt

Here all the ingredients, arranged in a beautiful still life.

I am an artist.

Art

While you must remove the white, fleshy innards of the jalapeno, feel free to scrape some of the seeds in for added heat (heat that will build if you leave your coleslaw a-chillin in the fridge). But be warned: These seeds contain the demon capsicum, which can burn your hands, and any part of your skin you might touch afterward (Gentlemen: The kitchen is a sensual place where anything can happen, but don’t put down a spicy pepper and immediately whip it out. Capisce?)  Wear gloves when you handle hot peppers, or ziploc bags fashioned into makeshift gloves. Wash your hands before you do anything, especially anything with eyes or contacts.

I don't have to wear gloves because I am a witch

I don’t have to wear gloves because I am a witch.

Continue reading