Maybe it started when I was a kid, learning to do long division. I made up simple problems and practiced, over and over. One of my sister’s friends, observing this, either saw an opportunity to nurture my emerging geekiness or wanted to get rid of me (I suspect the latter), so she made up a big problem with lots and lots of numbers. “Try this one,” she said, laying down the gauntlet.
“I can’t do that,” I said. My voice trembled and I felt a churning in my stomach. “I’m just a little kid.”
“Of course you can,” she said. “Just do the same thing you’ve been doing, just more times.”
Turns out that she was right; dividing a big number was exactly the same as dividing a small one. Thrilled with this new discovery, I spent far more time than is healthy for a young girl practicing my problems, making them bigger and bigger. I know, I know, I was a weird kid.
I’ll get to the sauerkraut, I promise.
In my 30s I decided to pick up embroidery. Did I try a simple flower to start with? Of course not. I bought a Noah’s Ark kit, complete with a literal boatload of animals, a rainbow, and a smiling, bearded Noah with his family. I drove myself crazy with that thing.
When I moved to Port Townsend, I saw many women around town with their knitting and decided that I wanted to knit, too. I’d learned at my grandmother’s knee, but hadn’t done much in, oh, a few decades. So of course, I started with a skirt. A lot of cussing and crying went into it, as I’ve written about on this blog, but I finished it.
That same year, I decided to can tomatoes. Fifty pounds of them. A friend gently suggested that I could have started with ten pounds, but I was having none of that. I wanted enough tomatoes to last the winter. After all, canning fifty pounds is the same as canning ten, right? You just make more batches. I stood on my feet in the kitchen for two days straight, but by God, I got my canning done. Cussing and crying? Of course.
When I first started working with a teacher to learn to use a spinning wheel, she looked at my first, tense efforts and said, “Ah. Overachiever.” Of course, that didn’t stop me from staying up late at night to practice, with more cussing and crying along the way.
These are habits that I’ve lived with for nearly fifty years (I’m assuming that I wasn’t born this way, but I might be wrong). Can an old dog learn new tricks? Can I find the balance between curiosity and chaos?
I figured out that if I work on a simple knitting pattern, I can watch television and chat with my hubby at the same time.
Which leads me to the sauerkraut.
I’ve taken an interest in food fermentation. This relationship has built slowly over time. I’ve made my own yogurt off and on for years, and I prefer the taste of homemade yogurt to even the best store-bought stuff. Last year, after buying a bottle of kombucha (fermented tea) in a store, I finally felt like I’d found something to help me break my long-time addiction to a certain diet cola. While I haven’t entirely gotten “clean,” the kombucha helps. Since a 16-ounce bottle costs about $3.50 in the store, though, I decided to start making it myself as a practical matter. I don’t make fancy flavors, just the straight stuff, and I continue to be amazed at the fizzy carbonation that occurs on its own.
Now I’m ready for the next step. I’ve bought a few books on food fermentation because I’ve heard about their health benefits. Plus, it’s a cool way to preserve food.
The books all say the same thing: start with sauerkraut. It’s easy, they say.
I don’t even know if I like sauerkraut. I remember eating the canned stuff as a kid, and I was NOT impressed. However, now that I’m eating garden-grown organic foods, I’ve discovered that I like carrots, radishes, and all kinds of foods that I thought I hated. So…this week at the market I bought myself a couple of kohlrabi, which, I’m told, makes a nice sauerkraut, and it’s now on my kitchen counter fermenting away. I took a little taste this morning, and it’s coming along nicely.
As much as I love to learn, and as much as I enjoy playing “mad scientist” in the kitchen, what I am most proud of is that I’m learning to simplify. I don’t have to pick the most complex projects to start with, and I don’t have to try all the recipes at once. I can allow myself the adventure of trying something new without putting myself straight into overwhelm. After years of yoga and meditation, I have finally found some peace in a little Ball jar of sauerkraut.
Of course, the staggering number of tomato plants on the deck might suggest otherwise…