‘The Hands-On Home’ book review

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My first experiment in vinegar making

My pre-ordered a copy of The Hands-On Home by Erica Strauss finally arrived last week. I regularly stop by Erica’s blog Northwest Edible Life because I enjoy her writing style and humour, so I expected I’d like her book. Well, this was not the books I was expecting! I thought I’d be getting a floppy cookbook, instead I got a tome like the fluid mechanics textbook I used for years to hold up my computer monitor, and it’s pretty enough to go on the shelf with my pretty cookbooks. Likely it’ll join the pile of cookbooks that live on my kitchen counter that I refer to all the time (a pile my neat-freak husband kindly hasn’t tried to put away).

The Hands-On Home is more than a cookbook extending into preserving, cleaning and self care with recipes fitting into each category. The book is broken down by season, so I started by trying out a couple of fall recipes.

Cambazola went on sale last week and there was a red cabbage in the fridge, so I decided to try ‘Red Cabbage with Cambazola’ first. I was perfectly prepared to try a new recipe by choosing a day my husband was late getting home from work and my toddler was grumpy and hungry (she snatched most of the apple for the recipe right out of the bowl before it even made it into the pot). I had no red wine, and if I did I likely would have poured myself a glass instead of cooking with it. The cabbage was quickly ready and served beside some left over pulled pork harmony was restored to my house.

The second recipe I tried was ‘Curried Butternut Squash Soup with Caramelized Apple and Cider Cream.’ Without a real excuse I skipped making the cider cream, laziness I guess, the soup would look pretty with it. This soup was a simpler squash soup than I normally make (tomatoes and coconut milk tend to find their way into my invented squash soups). The recipe had curry in it, and I prefer my squash to be curried. Like the cabbage, the soup was quick and easy to make – and it was tasty enough that it will likely be making a weekly appearance until my 67 kg squash pile runs out.

I’ve also started up a batch of ‘Cores and Scraps Fruit Vinegar.’ I finished my dried apple blitz about a week ago, so I didn’t have any apple peels to use, so I used quince peels instead (I’ve made quince paste and quince jam and have piles more quince I need to think of some way to preserve, any ideas?). I have no idea how quince vinegar will turn out, but I like experimenting. Yogurt and mayonnaise are both on the agenda to make over the next few days.

I already cook most my meals from scratch using a lot of homegrown produce and I’m a big fan of leftovers as they make my life easier. For a while now I’ve been pondering how to extend the leftovers concept into shelf stable, pantry staples ready to slap together for a weeknight dinner. Every time I look into store bought options I fall into a rabbit hole of complexity. Where did it come from? Do I recognize the ingredients? Is the can lining dangerous? Where was it made? How far did it travel to get to the store? and on and on. Since I trust what I grow and make I think I’ll finally have to get a pressure canner (the idea of them scare me). The Hands-On Home has recipes for canned meat and beans which look simple enough for me to start with – but not until I finish water-bath canning this year’s fruit harvest.

Finally, I was impressed with Erica’s discussion of cleaners. I’m now clear on when to use an alkaline based cleaner or a acid based one and I’m likely to remember now. After I use up the cleaners already in the house, I’ll try making my own. Erica has even inspired me to start thinking about cleaning up the bug mausoleum that’s been amassing in the light fixtures – a couple of my lights magnify the silver fish within creating quite a horror show effect.