Category Archives: preserves

I’m Almost Forty – A (not so) “Productive Home” Post

If you’re wondering why I picked that title, it’s because I’m turning 38 this Tuesday. Now You Know.
 
Anyway.
Erica, over at NWedible, is doing a Productive Home Weekly Report thing, and has invited people to chime in with their own productivity reports.
I’m… not totally fussed about tracking productivity. It feels a bit like giving myself a performance review. BUT, if I think of it as an opportunity to brag about the awesome-fun-cool stuff I’ve been doing/planting/harvesting/cooking/baking/canning/fermenting/etc chez moi that I’m really excited about… it gets a whole lot easier.
So here we go.
 
As you may have noticed (or not) I haven’t done one of these since, oh, mid-July. I haven’t been hugely productive on the home-front in the intervening almost-four months.
I put my kefir grains in the fridge, in a pint jar of cream, to slow them down because I finally admitted to myself that I don’t love my home-made dairy kefir and, while it’s good when it’s thick enough to use as a sour-cream substitute in baking, it’s mostly a lot runnier and I just wasn’t going through a litre of the stuff every 4-7 days so… I’ve put it into hibernation mode and am hoping that the slower pace will let me keep feeding it (rather than letting it get over-fermented, moldy, or infested with fruit-flies… all of which have happened over the past summer) without getting “overwhelmed”.
I haven’t made bread (or much other baking) from scratch in a long time, either. I think I made cookies a couple of times, and that’s about it.
I… oh, heaven and earth, I think it’s actually snowing outside. O.O
 
Okay.
So you wanna know what I have done?
I pulled in as many green tomatoes as I could swing (a couple of weeks ago, when frost started threatening), and TODAY I dug up my jerusalem artichokes (as’kebwan’), which are now sitting in a full (if small-sized – ~2 gallons) recycling bin on my kitchen counter, waiting to be washed, blanched and frozen (that’s tomorrow’s job).
 
I put up something like 2 dozen pints of crushed tomatoes (Labour Day weekend, or there-abouts). Made choke-cherry curd, choke-cherry relish, and goblin fruit jam (also heavy on the choke cherries, big surprise).
 
I packed all the Supplies from Unholy Harvest into rubbermaid bins (which my wife then moved to the basement – hurrah, I have my main floor back and it feels so good), which was a good thing because our basement got 5″ of water in it during a big rainstorm earlier this week. (It’s fine. It’s a concrete floor on top of limestone, so the water just seeps in, no sewer contamination involved, thank goodness. And my lovely wife got the sump pump running in short order, so everything’s dried out pretty well).
 
I spent a canning day with a friend in Gatineau, making strawberry-rhubarb jam (last weekend, or maybe the weekend before?) while also pressure-canning eight pints of chick peas (my first time using a pressure canner, and I suspect I’m hooked. Looking into a membership at the Ottawa Tool Library so I can borrow the one they have on the shelves and do this multiple times per year).
 
I started a couple of new knitting projects this week as well. The first is a “safety shawl” (neon pink and pale turquoise stripes, the turquoise is going to have glow-in-the-dark beads looped into it) for walking after dark in Winter. The goal is to speedy-knit this using big needles and twisted (double-wrapped) stitches, so that I can have it done before next New Moon. The second is a cotton tank top. Which starts out looking like a really skinny cotton scarf and gets built upon from there. That one’s not the priority project, but I’m still excited about it.
 
Beyond that? Lighting my altars, making offerings at Samhain (and finally freaking switching the wreath on my door to “autumn leaves” instead of “tulips and lilacs”…), working on glamour magic stuff, getting a bit back into the swing of doing Fabulous Friday Dinners. Checking in with a lot of people. Re-homing furniture and small appliances to people setting up new places. Having breakfast with my mom. All sorts of stuff.
 
Anyway. My lovely wife is home, so it’s time to throw some dinner (left-over braised chicken thighs with root veggies, dried cranberries, and garden kale) in the oven to heat up, so off I go. 🙂
 
 
– TTFN,
– Meliad the Birch Maiden.

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New Moon – Frost Moon Begins (Scorpio Season)

Hey, kittens,
 
Apple Moon crested just as Unholy Harvest was kicking off, and now it’s two weeks later and here we are. Over thanksgiving weekend, I was part of a Leather Covering Ceremony, hosted a bunch of lovely out-of-town guests, had a long heart-to-heart with a friend from south of the border, and (wait for it) baked two turkeys. One of them, I striped entirely for parts, and the other (while some pieces are now in the freezer as well) has been supplying our dinners with protein since it came out of the oven. Cash allowing, I’m going to do this again in late December, because having some pre-cooked, pre-shredded/diced critter in the freezer has saved us a LOT of trouble when everyone is hungry, including the cook, and there’s not a lot of time or brains to pull something filling together.
 
Right now, the bones of those two turkeys, plus a couple of chicken carcasses and – I think – maybe a ham bone(?), are simmering on the stove to make what I hope will be an excellent, thick stock. I’ve also got my steamer full of diced eggplant (going in the freezer) and a bowl of green tomatoes waiting to be turned into chutney. (There was a rumour that the temperature was dropping to -3C last night, so I pulled all my tomato vines down. It doesn’t look like we got a real frost, BUT I don’t mind being that much closer to having the garden put to bed, so).
 
I had a bit of a zucchini emergency. Not the kind where you have too many and need to foist them off on your friends (alas! One day!) but the kind where you (meaning I) stock up on late-season summer squash just before the house-guests descend upon you (me), and then ignore them for two weeks, having left them on a shelf in their grocery bag, rather than putting them in your (my) already over-stuffed fridge. >.>
Four zucchini rotten enough to be poured into the compost heap.
Granted, four yellow summer squash are just fine, and all of the eggplant and garlic in the same bag is salvageable. BUT that’s why I’m freezing one-cup portions of blanched, diced eggplant right now, and making pickled garlic in the next 24 hours.
 
In less great news: I did not get the job I applied for. I was apparently a strong candidate, which is good to hear, but not the best fit. I’ll live. And, with any luck, something better will come along quickly. But right now – between the supply back-up at the harness factory and the teachers’ strike at Algonquin – my employment front is looking a little bit sparse. So, fingers crossed that the phone starts ringing soon. At least I picked up a new reception client, which is helping! 🙂
 
On the more Woo end of things:
I finally picked up candles!
I stopped making beeswax candles …a while… ago, because my wax-melting pot has a teflon coating, and teflon off-gasses something that will kill birds. And we have four little birds in our house, and I want them happy and alive. So no more candle-making until I find myself a cheap and serviceable steel pot with a spout.
I’ve been filling my candle tins with oil, most recently (I’ve also used bacon grease), but find that it tends to set off the smoke alarm. SO! I got a bag of big tealights that should do the trick in the mean time, and my gods will be a little bit better fed.
 
As I said in the subject-heading for this post, it’s Scorpio Season – or will be as of Sunday (though the new moon is, itself, moving from Libra into Scorpio this coming Thursday, and both Mercury and Jupiter are dipping into it already).
Chani suggests that this lunar cycle is a good time to “shake loose from our lives what keeps us out of balance” and urges us to “stay with the desires that may have been tucked away for fear of being judged, rejected or abandoned”.
Her horoscopes for me say:
Rising: “Creativity is its own reward. It is no means to an end. It is the entire journey.”
Moon: “I take the invitation to understand myself in new ways, envisioning new possibilities for my own resilience. Envisioning a new way of understanding how to utilize all have been given. Envisioning inventive ways in which to get my needs met. Meeting myself where I am at.”
Sun: “I know that parting with the past is a process. I know that taking steps forward sometimes means I need to revisit what has held me back. I know that revelations take time to adjust to. New feelings need time to connect to. Learning what to do with what awakens within me is an ongoing practice. I’m allowed to be learning.”
 
Liz Worth suggests that we “use this New Moon to set an intention for kindness and compassion, but try to turn it on yourself first”, and offers a tarot spread on the subject of balance and honesty.
…Which I haven’t done, but which might be a good idea. That said, I HAVE been playing with my Silicon Dawn tarot, trying to get to know it a bit (it’s one of the Weird Decks that has a bunch of extra cards and has switched some of the elements around) while also trying to sort out, well, problems I’m not sure how to solve (nothing major, just… unfamiliar territory). I’m enjoying the deck.
 
~*~
 
Movement: A lot of walking. A lot of walking in heels (not even very high heels) resulting in my hip and lower back being more than a little annoyed at me. None the less, looking forward to dancing on Saturday night. Also looking into the (slim) possibility of snagging a pool membership for the local community center, so that I can hit up the hot tub on the regular and do some low-impact exercise while it’s cold.
 
Attention: Strictly speaking, I’m not paying as much attention as I should be. I’ve been cleaning out old (expired) supplies today, clearing out rotten food from the kitchen, and generally trying to get on top of the mess of my house… and it’s not going well. It seems like I’m knocking something over or otherwise getting things a bit messy every time I turn around.
 
Gratitude: The unexpected tax refund that will cover our November rent. My wife (just generally). My wife telling me she’s nuts about me and reminding me that kindness is a decision that someone makes, it’s not just something that people do auto-magically, and that she knows I make that decision consistently (which was really good to hear). Friends who bring me squash soup and home-made lasagna, or chocolate and fancy cheese from far-flung locals. Friends who tell me I make them feel welcome, or that I’m really dedicated, or that I make the world a better place. Hot baths. A functional furnace. Neighbours who bring me vegetables. The local sex shop that (re!) stocks my chapbooks. Chocolate with sea salt. Small good things every day. ❤
 
Inspiration: Right now? Not tonnes. Though I’m still using astrology, tarot, and the wheel of the year to inform my poetry. I’m looking forward to hitting up a local reading series tomorrow night, so that I can try performing my work again (first time in TWO YEARS!) and see… how people feel about it. How I feel about it. Fingers crossed my stuff goes over well!
 
Creation: Still working on my femme glosa project. Also composing non-glosa formal poems (a sonnet and ghazal, so far) with the intention of submitting them to a magazine at the end of the year. Plus all this canning that I’m doing at the moment. >.>

Full Moon – Tomato Moon Crests (Full Moon in Pisces)

On Monday, I put up 14 pints of crushed tomatoes. I’ve got another 20 pounds of tomatoes (probably another 14+ pints of sauce) on the go as I’m writing this. 🙂
As planned, I’ve included garlic (from my next-door neighbour) and winter savoury (from my own garden) in the mix, plus a handful of rosemary (dried, from a shop) just because it fits nicely with both the flavours and the intentions I’m blending into this batch.
Technically I’ve been getting ripe tomatoes (cherry tomatoes) for the better part of a month now, but these days I can go out and harvest a mix of beefsteak, cherry, and roma every 3-4 days. (Which didn’t stopped me from buying 40lbs of roma tomatoes from the farmer’s market last weekend, I don’t mind pointing out. Our garden tomatoes are almost all for fresh-eating – right up until the frost hits and I need to make a mammoth batch of chutney, at any rate…)
 
Sarah Gottesdiener, over at Little Red Tarot, has some insightful stuff to say about Full Moon Energy:

When the Moon is full it is reflecting the maximum amount of the Sun’s light. Something within us is stirred. For some, this glare from our subconscious is too strong—we shirk, spiral into shame, are overcome by emotion. Our energy sapped by disillusionment, bottle set adrift in the ocean with no message for the finder.
For others who know what they want, who are clear about their purpose and core, this time is excellent for further illumination. Now can be the time to come back inside, away from the noise and distractions. Any messages or inspired illuminations spark the fodder for later external manifestation. Write down, dance out, paint any and all inspirations that come through around this time.

 
A good time to do a tarot reading, radiomancy, dream interpretation, or any other divination you’re inclined to use, then? Yes, probably[1], in my case with regards to working through the rituals and experiments in Miss Sugar’s Glamour Magic.
Hoodwitch has some suggestions on The Point of It All:

Full Moons mark the end of an emotional cycle, and this cycle has been a biggie for most people personally, and most certainly for the world as a whole.
So let’s get spiritual! Wanna know what the point of life is? It’s really simple. It’s love.
Wanna know what it’s biggest enemy is? It’s fear, in all its crappy forms.

 
Their horoscope for me says: “Your freedom is hinging on your willingness to yield it, Scorpio. Making use of your choices can be a radical act when your anxieties, situation, or relationships tell you to be less intense or more OK with something” … than you actually are. Femme wisdom if ever there was some.
 
Chani suggests: “This week marks the beginning of a six week journey of getting more familiar with your potential to influence your peers, your community and future collaborators.” With a side-note of, basically, “write your damn book”. I’m working on it, okay? Okay.
 
On a related note, Liz Worth encourages us all to “Write in your journal, hang out at an art gallery, or do something that will help you to soak up some inspiration” …and offers a tarot spread on the subject of spirituality and intuition, as a way of connecting to all the Pisces energy.
 
Over in my little world, I’m about to spend a week+ on my own. Trying to arrange a few hang-outs and meet-ups with people, so I don’t go squirrely while my lovely wife is out of town. (It’s her birthday today, fyi. I have fancy potatoes to bake before she gets home, and a charcuterie platter to set out).
 
~*~
 
Movement: Ha. Lots of standing and chopping, what with all the tomato sauce. A little bit of walking, but not tonnes. Will be throwing knives with a friend this weekend, though. 🙂
 
Attention: Paying attention to anxiety levels (and what seems to stir me up, and what seems to calm me back down), and also to… just how people respond to me when I’m out and about. I have Very Gay Buttons on my purse now, and I’m curious to see if that changes how I’m received in any way.
 
Gratitude: 40 lbs of tomatoes and a food processor(!!!). The farmers’ market vendor who remembered me from last year. My wife thinking I’m a babe and also being patient with my weirdo, emotional brain. Seeing my wife wearing cute dresses! 😀 A garden full of chard, tomatoes, rhubarb, kale, and herbs. Femme poets who ask me about my femme poetry project. A shop up the street where I can get ethical animal products that are semi-cheap ($3 for liver mousse counts as cheap for me, though $3 for crackers does not) and where I can try the odd free sample of wine-cured beef or guancale. Cheese merchants who let me try every cheese in the shop, after telling other people that “I can’t do any more free samples today” (I think it helped that I walked in waving money around). New tarot cards AND a new novel coming in the mail. A variety of different kinds of paid work, so that I have an income quilt rather than all my eggs in a single basket. Reality checks that are gently given and seriously needed. Survivor music. Friends & beloveds who lend me their ears. ❤
 
Inspiration: All the poetry. So much poetry arriving in the mail. 😀 Also: Kesha’s new album.
 
Creation: I am managing to write 1-2 poems per week, which I’m happy about. Some of them aren’t great (yet), but they’re written. Drafts still count. 😉
 
 
TTFN,
Meliad the Birch Maiden.
 
 
[1] As a side note, I finally got myself a copy of the Tarot of the Silicon Dawn. It hasn’t arrived yet, but it’s due to do so in the next 24 hours. Silicon Dawn is… not a traditional deck. I’m not talking about the art, either. I mean that there are 99 cards in this deck, rather than 78, there are duplicate cards, “99 of X” minor arcana cards, and “void cards” for every suit. Now that I’m more familiar with traditional (…ish) meanings for the cards, I’m looking forward to exploring this one and having some fun with it.

May Long Weekend in the Garden – A “Productive Home” Post

So! Erica, over at NWedible, is doing a Productive Home Weekly Report thing, and has invited people to chime in with their own productivity reports.
I’m… not totally fussed about tracking productivity. It feels a bit like giving myself a performance review. BUT, if I think of it as an opportunity to brag about the awesome-fun-cool stuff I’ve been doing/planting/harvesting/cooking/baking/canning/fermenting/etc chez moi that I’m really excited about… it gets a whole lot easier.
So here we go.
 
IN THE GARDEN there has been sprouting and there has been planting! Of both seeds and starts! And there has also been (a tiny bit of) harvesting! Because perennial food crops are fantastic!
 
PLANTED:
I picked up some starts from the local Home Hardware (I’m not choosy). Purple basil, peppermint (I seriously managed to kill my peppermint last year – possibly due to drought, or possibly due to poor management – so I’m trying again), Lebanese cucumber, yellow bell pepper, and yellow cherry tomato. I got them in the ground early this afternoon, along with planting some golden zucchini seeds. We’ll see if they come up.
 
I’ve got scarlet runner beans and butternut squash, along with a “perimeter fence” of daikon radish (I’m hoping the long, thick tap-roots that develop will help keep water in, and invasive runner roots out, of the in-ground bed where I grow my cucurbitas and all my nightshades) planted as seeds, and have some probably-butternut squash coming up from compost-seeds already, which is nice. My rainbow chard is popping up all over, and I spent part of this afternoon transplanting it into more orderly rows (yeah, I’m doing rows… ish. I want my chard to have lots of room to get big and gorgeous and start thriving). My kale – which is, in theory, the Tuscan Black variety (Cavalo Nero) – seems to have sprouted, too, which is nice. I’ve been thinning out the self-seeded mustard greens a LOT in order to give the chard and kale some room to grow. Mustard, I’ve decided, makes a lovely “baby green” for salads, but isn’t something I love as a cooking green, partly because it bolts so darned quickly. It makes for decent sprouting broccoli when it bolts, though, so I’ll have to leave some to mature. 😉
 
The as’kebwan’ (sunchokes) are starting to sprout (again – I dug up a bunch earlier, as I needed to get the last of last year’s harvest out of the ground, once it had thawed – they’re great, by the way, and finding their way into a lot of stew and “potato” salad).
I have no idea if my (new to me) raspberry bush is going to flower this year. Or any year. But fingers crossed?
 
READY TO HARVEST / HARVESTED:
I have tonnes of rhubarb (and sage, and winter savoury) ready to harvest. Along with some frozen rhubarb left over from last year. Uhm. So, as I’ve previously mentioned, I need to make some pies. Or at least a Rhubarb Cafloutis or a crumble or shortcake or something. It makes a great coffee cake (I use the recipe in Company’s Coming “Muffins and More” for cranberry coffee cake, and just use diced rhubarb in lieu of cranberries) and, now that I have eggs in the fridge again, I may just go that route as it packs easily for lunches.
 
The sage has been getting picked and chucked into braises, fairly frequently, but I haven’t been doing a whole lot with the savoury. The dandelion greens and Vietnamese garlic (the tops, not the roots) have been getting added to pastas every so often, but (weirdly?) I’m concerned about using them up too quickly (or at least before the garlic starts to scape).
 
OTHER:
I turned the compost (first time!) and edged the in-ground beds (front and back). I’m happy with how the compost is doing. I put stuff like pizza boxes and newspapers in the compost heap in order to add carbon to a pretty “green stuff” heavy heap (at least I think it’s heavy on the green stuff, as it’s mostly spent coffee grounds, old tea bags, egg shells, and veggie ends) and its rotting into oblivion along with everything else, which I assume is a good sign.
Also, there are wriggly worms in the compost (and even in the raised beds!) and the soil in the back yard’s in-ground bed (which, until Wednesday, the compost heap was sitting directly on top of) is dark a relatively easy to turn – unlike the dirt in the rest of the yard, which is pretty compacted and mostly supports stuff with deep tap-roots, like dandelions.
 
 
IN THE KITCHEN there has been baking and fermenting!
 
FERMENTS:
I’m drinking a LOT of kombucha lately. Partly because I’ve been home, sick, this past week, and drinking Lots Of Fluids has been a significant part of the bill, and partly just because it’s hot out now, or reasonably so, and I’m wanting cool bevvies, rather than hot ones (at least when I’m not hacking up a lung. Appetizing, I know). So I’ve been topping up my kombucha bottle a lot more frequently. NOTE: This makes for a less sharp kombucha which, with my love of the sour stuff, isn’t really what I’m going for. It’s still good, it’s just “lighter” than I like. I continue to cut it with a cup or two of lightly sweetened, long-steeped hibiscus (raspberry/pomegranate/etc) tea, as I like how that works out.
 
I’m continuing to make dairy kefir. My wife won’t touch it in terms of using it as a yoghurt substitute, but she likes it fine in baked goods, so I’m using it a lot in pancakes and coffee cake and similar. Even in bread (see below). I’m making Very Small Batches, and hoping I can get back to the stuff I was making in winter, where it would separate really evenly into curds and whey, and I could get super-thick “kefir cheese” (more like yoghurt or sour cream) that way, while using the whey in things like bechemel sauce or briases. Today, I made chocolate popsicles using (1) chocolate chips, (2) coconut milk, and (3) kefir. They probably won’t be solid until tomorrow, but they should be VERY delicious (and not overly sweet, which is a help when you want something refreshing on a hot day) if the liquid mixture is anything to go on.
 
I (finally) drained my sour kraut crock and packed the fermented cabbage (which is crunchy and done, but also salty AF, holy moly…) into some big mason jars and put it in the fridge. Time to start using this stuff on sandwiches. (Conveniently, I have some beet-and-bean spread sitting in the fridge that will work really nicely with this).
 
Speaking of sandwiches… I tried making a sour dough starter. It.. was not that? successful?
I separated out into Kinda Brown Water on top, and sludge on the bottom. Except, when I drained off the water, it was actually pretty bubbly and fermented-looking. So… It sort of worked? Maybe?
Basically, I poured the entire ferment into my most recent batch of bread, along with 2tsp of dry yeast, so while it was doing its thing, I don’t actually know if it was lively enough to lift a whole new batch of dough.
Yeah.
I’m learning to make sour dough from books like Michael Pollan’s Cooked, and I’m not too quick on the uptake. I don’t usually (yet) start making my bread dough the night before I actually want to bake it, and I’m realizing that if I want to do sour dough, that’s how it’s going to go. Or else I’m going to be starting the chef – like maybe making a chef from equal parts kefir and flour and water, which I’ve done, but am not entirely sure about (my wife liked it. I wasn’t too keen on the texture, which was a lot denser than I’m used to, but it was flavourful and made an acceptable sandwich, so it did the job) – at breakfast, and baking the bread after dinner. This is, by the looks of things, a bit of a slower process than the “only takes 2 hours” version using dry yeast woken up in sweetened warm water. So we’ll see. I’d like to keep this up, just because it would be nice to not need the dry yeast, eventually. But, for now, I’m really glad I have some on hand.
 
BAKING:
The entirety of this week’s baking has been the above-mentioned bread and rhubarb coffee cake. There are a couple of chicken legs baking in the oven right now – although that’s more like a “confit de poulet” than a “baked goods” kind of thing. It’ll be dinner along with some left-over potato salad (not made with sunchokes, or even at home, but left over from a catered lunch at a place where I was temping) and some wilted greens (as in: dandelions and garlic greens. I want that sorrel to successfully germinate even more now… Hm… a little lovage wouldn’t hurt, either…). Big Plans for this weekend include a new batch of bread (made with dry yeast, I have zero doubt), a further rhubarb Thing (maybe muffins), and cookies or cornbread. Probably not both.
 
 
GENERAL HOUSEHOLD STUFF:
Put together a care-package for someone who helped do the C-16 rally on Parliament Hill the other day. (Pasta, crushed tomatoes, salsa, tinned tuna, tinned soup, and 2L of pumpkin-coconut-lentil stew that I made with the stuff I had lying around).
I haven’t been gleaning a lot yet this year. I’ve got dandelions growing in my raised beds, so we’re just harvesting them like any other intentional crop. The the local fruit trees (my favourite cherry, plus tonnes of serviceberries) will be fruiting in about six weeks, and so will the red currants, and I’ve been watching their progress with GREAT interest. (The alley raspberries are about to flower, though they’ll take a little bit longer to fruit). I’m hoping the garden will keep us happily in greens all summer (and fall, and into the early winter…) with lots to spare for the freezer, so I’m not worrying too much about foraging for wild greens right now.
Went grocery shopping! I’ve been on “milk and eggs only” for 3-4 weeks, after a fairly lean winter. We’ve run out of a few things that I’ve been putting off replacing. It’s really nice to have cooking oil, mustard, mayonnaise, chocolate chips, and a bunch of other “not 100% necessary” things again. Plus I bought chicken. 7 chicken legs for $10. I have no idea if that’s a good price or not, but I’m really happy to have 3 meals for two + a chicken leg for some evening when I’m on my own over here, sorted as the greens start to come in. There’s still a lot of dry-goods to replace (particularly flour, but also honey and some basic baking things), and I want to re-stock on chicken and fish in one big go, though I suspect that will happen at Costco or similar, rather than ordering another half a pig. (Yet. We’re still finishing our first one). We’ve got a gallon of maple syrup due to arrive some time this coming week, which I’m looking forward to. I want to try using it more frequently in my baking.
As per usual, I’ve been offering the first slice of every new batch of bread to my gods and ancestors + Anybody local who wants to partake. Now that I’ve got the compost turned (and regularly watered – thanks to the neighbours who are okay with me using their hose), I can use it as an offering place for more stuff, should I happen to have it. The compost heap makes a great offering altar, just because it’s got All The Things in it – heat and wetness, earth and air, and movement, and change, all going on at once. If I manage to successfully make mead (hello, summer fermenting project), some of it will be going in there.
We turned the heat off. (Technically this happened a week ago, but close enough). It’s been wonderful to sleep with the windows open again!
I moved the fig tree outside. My landlord’s husband and I stood outside, drinking coffee and chatting about gardening. He said the fig tree needs a bigger pot (again), and that going around the edges with a big knife will help keep it from becoming root-bound. Which, admittedly, it might already be. But… we’ll see. It’s not technically ours, we’ve just been babysitting it for two years.
 
ANYWAY. That’s the state of the garden and the rest of the household for the moment.
 
 
TTFN,
Meliad the Birch Maiden.

Sour Kraut: The Adventure Continues!

So, back in the summer, I learned how to make sour kraut at a Queering613 workshop. (It was a tonne of fun, and I made a few new friends, which was also pretty great). We’ve been eating it for months, because I made a big jar off it, and it was time to top it up a couple of weeks ago.
 
I transferred everything to my spiffy Fermentation Crock (a gift from a pottery-making friend who is just as DIY as I am, if not more-so), topped it up with salt water and fresh cabbage, and let it sit for a week or so.
 
Woops.
 
Reader, I let things get mouldy. O.O
 
Now, if you’ve been reading this for a while, you know that I am generally not a “Throw It Out, It’s Ruined!” kind of gal. I have scooped out the spoiled stuff (which was above-water-level, as is to be expected[1]) added a cup of filtered whey (from my last batch of kefir – see, I told you I’d mention whey in a follow-up post) and 2tbsp salt dissolved in some filtered (boiled and cooled, actually, which seems to be working just fine, at least when it comes to making kombucha) water and… we’ll see if this works.
Fingers crossed.
 
I hope it works. I don’t want to have to compost the entire batch, and I do want to be able to serve sour kraut with perogies in the near future, plus use it to make sandwiches (it goes really well with garlicky hummus, and I think it would be good on a roast pork sammie as well) when my wife and I are working in the shop.
 
I’m really interested in continuing to make fermented veggie pickles. I’d like make some rutabaga & beet pickles (like you eat with shawarma) and to try lacto-fermenting as’kibwan'[3] using either a recipe like this or just working it the way I do my sour kraut (similar to this). I’m interested in using diced chard and kale stems (which I typically dice and freeze, and then chuck into stews and braises) to make a chunky, crunchy kraut for sandwiches, too, that I could also chuck into stir-fries or braises in lieu of needing to add vinegar for “brightness”. I’m even thinking about trying to make fermented hummus using whey and maybe kombucha-vinegar (instead of lemon juice)… just for the heck of it, really.
I mean, we’ll see if I do any of this. But it’s on my mind, and they are things I’d like to try.
 
 
TTFN,
Meliad the Birch Maiden.
 
 
[1] Sour kraut is an anarobic[2] ferment, so it’s only good (or safe, for that matter) to eat if you’re keeping it submerged. Which is why fermentation crocks often involve a weighted lid that fits inside the crock, rather than on top of it.
 
[2] Meaning “needs to be kept away from air” in order to ferment properly. Kefir is an example of an arobic ferment, that needs air circulation to properly do its thing.
 
[3] I have yet to dig my sunchokes – which are maybe called as’kibwan’, or something close to it(?), in Anishnaabemowin (local indigenous language – I figure it’s an indigenous-to-the-area plant, might as well use its real name) – out of the back yard, though it’s warm enough to day that I can probably do so. I admit to be a bit nervous about storing my (current) favourite root crop. I don’t (yet) have a bucket of sand that I can stick them in, so I’m looking at blanching-&-freezing and pickling in the interim.

Adventures in Cheese-Making, Part Five: Kefir (this time with kefir grains!)

So I’ve started making kefir.
Kefir isn’t technically a cheese (although, strictly speaking, none of the cultured dairy I’ve made, including the ricotta, has been “cheese” because none of it has involved any kind of rennet? Who knows), but it is a cultured milk product that is vaguely related to yoghurt, so I’m putting it under this heading.
Why Kefir? My wife, who is generally not a fan of anything less cheese-like than old cheddar or a fairly firm blue, asked me this the other day. It is, after all, basically just milk that’s Gone Off in a very specific way. Here’s (essentially – I’ve expanded it a little bit) what I told her:
 

So, I love yoghurt. I love it on pancakes. I love using it instead of sour milk to make coffee cakes and muffins and stuff. I love it as a base for a creamy salad dressing for winter veggies[1]. I love it with maple syrup and frozen service berries as a breakfast. It’s fantastic. It’s also expensive as fuck. Plain yoghurt that isn’t full of thickeners, but also isn’t Organic, runs about $3/kg. A kilogram of yoghurt, at my house, lasts about 2 days, if I use it as a breakfast food. Longer if I use it as a topping or a dressing, but it’s primarily a protein source and major meal component, when I have my druthers. I’m not down for spending $10 a week on yoghurt. But I’m buying a $6 gallon of milk every week anyway and, over the summer, I was having about 1L of every gallon go bad on me. So I thought: Why don’t I make yoghurt?
Except that, every time I try to make yoghurt[4] all I get is a skiff of yoghurt floating on top of a litre+ of whey. Not helpful. That, or I thicken the milk with powdered milk (not cheap) which gets me yoghurt, yes, but it gets me chalky yoghurt that I don’t want to eat as a breakfast food.
So I decided to look up mesophilic[5] dairy cultures and try my hand at those.

 
And try, I did!
My first attempt was actually using powdered “kefir starter” which… works. Ish. But the kefir I got wasn’t very thick. Basically, a powdered starter will only ferment the milk up to a certain point, and that point was a little runnier / more watery than I liked.
But then! A friend of mine arrived at my birthday party (about 2 weeks ago) bearing a jar of milk for me. Floating in the milk were a few tablespoons of kefir grains happily getting their ferment on. 😀
Woohoo!
So, as they say, it was on. I set the jar down on top of my chest freezer (warm, out of direct light, not likely to get knocked over) and let it do its thing for a few days. The kefir grains did their job fantastically (maybe too fantastically?) and I wound up over-fermenting things just a little bit.
This isn’t the end of the world, especially if you’re wanting thick kefir to begin with, but it did mean that – after I poured off most of the whey (kefir totally separates into curds and whey, fyi – it doesn’t mean something’s gone wrong, that’s normal and your kefir is okay) – I actually had trouble separating the curds, which I wanted to use in lieu of chevre, from the kefir grains (which you have to strain out, so that you can ferment more milk).
 
Kefir grains, by the way, are a SCOBY. They’re like the weird jellyfish/pancake thing that develops in, and creates, kombucha, but rather than being a jellyfish/pancake, a kefir SCOBY is dozens (or more!) of translucent little blobs like tapioca pearls[6].
 
So I bugged my fermento/DIY friends on FB and they all gave me suggestions for how to handle this little problem.
What I ended up doing was the easiest option possible.
I transferred everything except the poured-off whey (more on that in a follow-up post) into a larger jar – the one I’d first fermented sour kraut in, as it happens (don’t worry, I washed it VERY well to avoid flavour-crossing) – topped that jar up with milk, and let it sit, covered in a clean dish cloth, for another few days.
After enough time had passed that my ferment was starting to separate, I poured off some of the whey, but kept some in the jar. I shook everything up a little bit, and then tried straining the grains again.
 
Behold!
 

Using a plastic mesh strainer (kefir, like other SCOBYs, doesn't do well with metal equipment) and a plastic funnel to strain kefir into a 1L mason jar.  Mesh strainer contains clumps of kefir grains, which will be reserved to make the next batch of milk kefir.

Using a plastic mesh strainer (kefir, like other SCOBYs, doesn’t do well with metal equipment) a plastic funnel, and a wooden spoon to gently strain kefir into a 1L mason jar. Mesh strainer contains clumps of kefir grains, which will be reserved to make the next batch of milk kefir.


&nbs;
Suffice to say, it worked.
What I ended up with, once I’d strained the kefir into a clean, 1L mason jar, was about 3C of drinkable fermented milk. (If I want something more like a cheese, I would need to ferment my kefir longer, drain off more of the whey, and put a little more work into pushing the curds through the strainer to separate them from the kefir grains).
 
Which brings me to: So, How Was It?
 
It was. Fermented. It was really fermented.
See, I’ve been drinking a lot of those 1L bottle of “yop” style kefir that you can get at the grocery store. I love them, they are delicious. But they’re also pasturized. Meaning that, yes, they’re not fizzy. But, more to the point, they’re not actively boozy anymore.
That’s pretty relevant.
Especially when you’ve (mixed it with some maple syrup and (fake) vanilla extract, and) packed it as your lunch f
or a day of modeling. In a high school. For an exam.
>.>
Yeah.
I’m a light-weight, but I didn’t think I was that much of a light-weight. O.O
 
I’ve since learned that Kefir isn’t a “beginner” pro-biotic ferment like Sour Kraut. It can give you headaches and digestive issues for the first few days, if you’re not used to it, and it’s… wise to start slowly. So maybe my having started with 2C of the stuff had something to do with why I was dizzy. Then again, maybe the kefir, alone, wasn’t enough food to cover an afternoon of physical labour and rapid changes in planes/levels (lots of 30-second poses) and I should have brought nuts or other carbs with me as well. Not sure.
Regardless, the very definite alcohol smell threw me for a loop.
That said, I’m still enjoying it. (Felt weird about having it on school grounds, which I’m pretty sure is Not Allowed, mind you). It fizzes on my tongue like a weak mimosa, if that helpful for giving you an idea of what the ferment level is. 🙂
 
Beyond that? If you have Texture Issues, kefir may not be for you. At least not as a beverage. (As a beverage: Shake it well, but not TOO well, because even after straining the grains and a lot of the whey out, and storing it in the fridge, a jar with a lid screwed on will be under pressure! Let the gas off every 1-2 days or so to avoid exploding jars). It’s grainy. Tiny curds suspended in liquid. Not smooth like the grocery store stuff (I don’t know how they get it smooth, but I suspect it involves some kind of thickener like carageenan). You might enjoy it as a cheese spread though, maybe blended with garlic and thyme to be used a bagel or as a topping for beets, or else sweetened and baked into a torte or even used as frosting for red velvet cupcakes.
 
I’m currently drinking the last of my first batch of kefir, while my second batch ferments away in its jar on top of the freezer. I look forward to incorporating kefir (and kefir products – like strained soft cheese, or using the whey to kick-start other fermenation projects) into our meals. 😀
 
 
TTFN,
Meliad the Birch Maiden.
 
 
[1] Combine diced raw apples and steamed diced celeriac, toss with plain yoghurt plus some prepared mustard and ground nutmeg. Serve. It’s amazing. Also works for khol slaw with carrots and cabbage. Also works as a cheaper-than-goat-cheese topping for boiled beets and/or perogies.
 
[2] Possibly because I was drinking iced herbal-fruit teas (no milk), rather than hot chai (which I put milk in), and that was just enough of a change for me to lose a litre every week to spoilage[3].
 
[3] Not the end of the world. I can use gone-off milk to make coffee cakes, same as I use yoghurt. But I don’t necessarily want to be baking in August, either.
 
[4] Which is thermophilic, meaning that you have to heat the milk up and keep it at a fairly consistently warmer-than-room-temperature, but cooler than the “keep warm” setting on my slow-cooker, temperature while the culture is doing its thing.
 
[5] Meaning that the culture does it’s thing at room temperature.
 
[6] Which you can also use to make water kefir, coconut milk kefir, and, in a neat twist, even grape juice kefir (apparently). A friend of mine has heard tell of fermenting grape juice kefir for a day or two specifically to stain the SCOBY grains purple so that they’re easier to see. I haven’t tried this, myself, but I’m kind of curious. Could I make a cherry-berry “country wine” cordial using kefir grains? Inquiring minds want to know!

Green Tomato Chutney 2016 Recipe

So, I’m about to run out of the house to do laundry, but I wanted to get this down. I finally got around to making my green tomato chutney (after, what, a month of saying I was going to get to it?), and put it in the slow-cooker to do it’s thing while I’m out this afternoon.
The recipe is a little different from last year’s, because I have slightly fewer tomatoes (my mistake – I waited too long, due to having run out of canning jars, and the first batch I harvested went moldy), and slightly different ingredients on hand, and also because my garlic basically dried to the hardness of cashews in the fridge, but here’s what I did:
 
 
Green Tomato Chutney 2016
 
~10 C green cherry tomatoes (halved, if they’re bigger than your thumb-nail)
8 garlic cloves, rough-chopped (very rough… um…)
1 yellow onion, diced
5 apples, diced
 
1 C cider vinegar
1 C kombucha vinegar (yep, I totally trying this out)
3 C white sugar
 
¼ C prepared mustard
2 tbsp salt
1 tbsp nutmeg
1 tbsp ginger
1 tsp ground cumin
20 grinds of black pepper
 
 
DIRECTIONS
Put everything in the slow-cooker and set it on “low”. Let it do it’s thing for 24 hours and see where everything is at. If it smells tangy and zippy and tastes good, turn up the heat ’til it’s bubbling. Sterilize some 1C jars, can and process in a boiling water-bath for 10 minutes. Allow to cool (listen for the “plunk” that tells you the jars have sealed properly). Let sit for at least a month before opening to allow everything to get even more flavourfully mixed.
Enjoy!
 
I have no idea how many jars of chutney this will make, but I’m guessing about 6-8. Fingers crossed!
 
I’m glad I got around to doing this. Green-tomato chutney is a really great way to get tasty, edible veggies into your system over winter, it adds a lovely tangy flavour to pork, turkey, cheese, and even tuna sandwiches,and it lets me get a second harvest from my cherry tomatoes (some of which are sitting in a bowl, with an apple, ripening indoors) after the season is well and truly done.
Green tomatoes from the garden + onions & apples (both pretty inexpensive, if you buy them, and apples can often be found on urban trees either growing wild, or planted so long ago that the current owners don’t know what to do with all the food that’s suddenly available) make for an inexpensive preserve that let’s you use free bounty and “hard luck harvests” to make something delicious.
 
 
TTFN,
Meliad the Birch Maiden.