Tag Archives: preserves

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.

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New Year New You 2016 (…and 17): Week 19 – Concrete Things

I’m doing Miss Sugar’s New Year New You Experiment in Radical Magical Transformation (again) because I find it’s a really good way to kick my own ass into getting things done. You should try it!
 
It’s been a little over eight months. I never, strictly speaking, finished my 2016 New Year New You practice, my Queen of Cups Project remains on-going. None the less, and even though a project like this is more likely to last years than to be easily wrapped up in one turn of the seasons, I still feel a bit like I’ve left a loose end flapping.
So here we are.
It’s been a whirl-wind of an almost-year. Body Time, to link back to the last post I made about this project, remains a work-in-progress BUT I keep getting better at it. I’ve pushed through tears and overwhelm and… actually been able to engage my body and FEEL THINGS, physically speaking, that I’ve been having trouble with for years. So that’s a big plus. 😀 Got a better handle (ish) on where my boundaries are and what I can do to feel like I’m taking care of myself, staying in control of a situation (not “driving off a cliff”, so to speak), and not just willfully setting myself up to get hurt.
Go me. 🙂
 
Instructions: This week’s prompt, over-due as it is, asks what (concrete) thing I can do to make my life better.
 
Tarot Card: I’m inclined to lean towards the six of fire, partly for its success connotations, for the boost of a (relatively) easy win, but mostly for its sense of abundance.
 
See, what I’m doing this week – this weekend, as it happens – is putting up 40 lbs of tomatoes for the winter. I’m just doing crushed tomatoes this year, nothing fancy, though I miiiiiight throw in some winter savoury from the garden (passion, sensuality, and sex, if you were wondering) and minced garlic (hella protection + more passionate, sexual stuff… I’m noticing a theme here). Assuming I boil off 10lbs worth of water, this should net me a little over 18 pints of crushed tomatoes, though it might be more than that. I admit, I hope so. The closer I can get this to $1/pint, the better. 😉
Canning tomatoes won’t change my life. I’ve done it too many years in a row for this to be earth-shaking. But it will make my life easier and happier in concrete ways – both right now (I like canning – shocking, I know), and over the next 12 months or so when a couple of days worth of effort (thank the gods for my food processor…) back in September will make the vegetables portion of our meals that much easier.
So that’s what I’m doing.
Wish me luck!
 
 
TTFN,
Meliad the Birch Maiden.

Mid-July: In Which Everything Goes To Hell – 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 some planting, a tiny bit of harvesting, and a little bit of… building?
 
I rescued three cucumber plants and a zucchini from Certain Death in a neglected loblaws garden center… about a week ago. I transplanted them, plus one of my pre-existing but too-heavily-shaded-by-beans-and-radishes cucumbers and a couple of my probably-pumpkin plants to:
A new in-ground bed that I put together by piling up bolted mustard stems, overlaying them with some newspaper, and then emptying a bag of soil on top of everything.
They seem to be… mostly not dying? Which is sort of what I was going for. One of the (very small…) cucumbers is flowering, as is the probably-a-pumpkin (you can see both below). The zucchini occasionally tosses out a male blossom as well. I’m hoping that, by August, they will be blooming with the lady-flowers and starting to hint at bearing fruit.
 

Cucumber plants plus something that is probably a pumpkin, but might be a zucchini.  You can also see the bottom of the trellis I put up over the weekend.  We'll see if it holds and/or if anything manages to climb it.

Cucumber plants plus something that is probably a pumpkin, but might be a zucchini. You can also see the bottom of the trellis I put up over the weekend. We’ll see if it holds and/or if anything manages to climb it.


 
So there’s that.
 
I’ve given my daikon-radish “fence” a major haircut, so that the beans and eggplants and everyone else in that bed can actually get some light. This is less of thing for the Ground Cherries, which can handle a bit of shade (though my particular plant is probably getting too much from the tomatoes to produce much fruit. We’ll figure it out).
My jalapeno has three little peppers starting on it.
My eggplants have, between the two of them, three fruits developing.
My yellow bell pepper is… Let’s say I’m not holding my breath on that one…
But my tomatoes!
It’s been magnificently rainy this summer, and kind of on the cool side, so pretty much everything is moving slowly. I’m used to getting my first ripe cherry tomatoes, oh, about two weeks ago, and as of now, they’re all still green.
Which is fine. They’ll get there. Even if I’m bringing them indoors in October and letting them ripen next to an apple in the kitchen.
And look! This is my first year growing beefsteak tomatoes! I have… ANY! 😀
 
Beefsteak tomatoes, at the slightly-yellowish-green phase of edging towards ripening.

Beefsteak tomatoes, at the slightly-yellowish-green phase of edging towards ripening.


 
I’m pretty sure I’ve got at least one roma tomato, too, and the Big Tomatoes are in the ground, rather than the raised beds, so they’ve actually got enough root depth and aren’t getting themselves sick with blossom-end-rot and what-not. Hurrah! 😀 (Not that I’m counting my tomatoes before they’re ripe, or anything, but I’m hopeful, y’know?)
 
In further squash news: Danger Squirrel and company have eaten most, possibly all, of the waldham butternut and golden-zucchini seeds I planted, many months ago. But this bruiser that came up in the compost heap is, I’m fairly confident, a Fairy Tale Pumpkin:
 
Fairly confident that this is a Fairy Tale Pumpkin growing out of my compost heap, as squash are wont to do.

Fairly confident that this is a Fairy Tale Pumpkin growing out of my compost heap, as squash are wont to do.


 
Fairy Tale pumpkins are great, in that they are HUGE, and they finish ripening off the vine (like: harvest it when it’s dark green, streaked faintly with orange, at Samhain, but don’t cut it open until the rind is a milk-chocolate brown, around Imbolg). BUT they are not so great on flavour. Like ponca butternut (an ancestor of waldham butternut) and any zucchini you’ve ever left too long on the vine, a lot of their size is water. So they’re not great for things like pie or baked veggie side dishes where the squash flavour is something you care about. But they’re excellent for adding to braises and stews where the extra liquid will be soaked up by barley (for example) and the otherwise mild pumpkin flavour will be augmented by whatever else you’re cooking with it.
 
In other news!
My raspberry bush is FRUITING!!!
My raspberry bush is fruiting!

My raspberry bush is fruiting!


 
The friends who gave it to me warned me that it hadn’t fruited in all the years it had been in their yard. I said I was willing to give it a shot, as they wondered if being near other raspberries – like the ones in the alley behind my house – might encourage it to fruit.
That wasn’t what did it.
What did it was a big heap of bone meal dumped around the roots of the plant. Turns out, there was fruit (ish… proto-fruit) all along, it just needed some phosphorus and calcium to help the fruit develop into something that could actually ripen. YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY!
😀
 
So I harvested a couple of raspberries from my own canes today. Hopefully more will follow.
Beyond that, I haven’t been harvesting a whole lot. There have been garlic scapes, the occasional bit of chard, a heap of snow peas(!!!) and the last of the radishes. Oh. And a sprig of mint for hibiscus iced tea. But that’s been it. I think there will need to be a kale salad in my near-future, though, as the Cavalo Nero is getting bigger, and could do with a trim.
 
IN THE KITCHEN there has been… not a huge amount of activity, honestly. And a bunch of stuff that didn’t work.
I tried to make a sour dough starter. Which started beautifully, but died very quickly, in spite of regular feeding. I think I must have been doing it wrong. (That said, if I can make a chef from scratch every time…? That wouldn’t be the end of the world…)
 
I wound up making “by any means neccessary” bread, using 1 tsp dry yeast + a cup of kefir and… you guys, it’s not good. Like, “it makes great toast” levels of not good. It looks beautiful, and smells awesome, but it tastes like, well, like a fermented milk product (which is not what I look for in a sandwich-canvas) and tends to get soggy REALLY easily.
 
Speaking of fermented milk products… my kefir got fruit flies. In the worst way. I had to toss the entire batch, plus about 1/4 of the actual grains, because I wasn’t able to separate them from the corpses of fruit flies gone to their fermented-dairy graves.
On the plus side, the grains I was able to save are still alive and kicking and making kefir, so I can keep churning out coffee cake and scones until the heat turns up in these parts. So there’s that.
 
The Ex is coming by in two weeks to collect all the stuff they’ve been storing in our basement (among other places), so my wife and I have been moving some things around. Our antique kitchen table is now The Bird Stand (it looks good there, and it means it’s not blocking the washer and dryer… not that the washer and dryer are hooked up or anything… >.>) and we are sorting out where to store all the bird food and bird toys and such-like. It’s a work in progress.
 
Which… So is the rest of the main floor. I know this section is about what’s going on “in the kitchen”, but our front room (when we moved in, it was – briefly – my wife’s workshop, and it’s been a never-quite-defined half-storage room ever since she got her own shop) is currently the staging area for both The Ex’s stuff and a bunch of items we’re holding for a friend who’s getting divorced and will need help with furniture and other stuff when the time comes. When that’s all been taken care of, we’re going to turn everything around in there, so that my desk is facing the window and the bistro set I’ve been referring to, somewhat hopefully, as “the dining room set”, will be moved into a more accessible area, so that we can actually, y’know, dine at it.
The living room is looking better than it has in a while (hurrah!) though there are still things that need touching up. The birds are fed and watered and have had their cages cleaned (and, in Fiona’s case, some of her stuff has been moved around… though not by very much. I don’t want her to get bored…), and the vacuuming actually got done, albeit not by me.
 
The kitchen, to drag this back onto the topic at hand, is still a mess. Moving the table into the living room means I’m out about six square feet of “shelf” space, and the counter is feeling the pinch (and, consequently, I am feeling the “Augh, I don’t know where to staaaaart!” that I feel whenever there’s no clear space to put something down).
I’m continuing to use up my crushed tomatoes and my salsa (I made SO MUCH last summer), but I have a LOT of preserves still to go through. Crab apple jam, pear and pumpkin butters, chokecherry-plum relish, jalapeno jelly, a jar or two of pickled beans (they’re lovely on sandwiches, but see above re: soggy bread), and a LOT of gifted preserves (delicious gifts, mind you) from other folks. I need to do an inventory, and I need to put up shelves. This might or might not be the summer that happens, but it needs to happen. I have too many empty canning jars and nowhere for them to live. Too many (Ha! Meaning two, at the moment!) fermentation projects on the go. It’s time to add more storage to the kitchen.
 
 
Anyway, so yeah. Not a whole hell of a lot going on in terms of house-hold productivity this week, but that’s where things are at. Did I mention I had a grease fire (small, put out quickly and easily with baking soda) AND boiled a pot dry today? I did. “Productive Home”, indeed. :-\
 
 
TTFN,
Meliad the Birch Maiden.

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.

Chocolate-Pumpkin Coffee Cake (No Eggs)

So, it’s Beltane. I’m out of eggs. And bread. And company is coming for dinner tonight.
Thank goodness I’m home today. 🙂
 
I mean, okay, yes, technically it’s May First, and even if I’d been doing the Eat From the Larder Challenge this year (I didn’t), it would be fine for me to skip out and get some groceries, it’s cold and rainy and I Don’t Wanna.
 
So I went hunting on The Internet for vegan coffee cakes that I could mess around with, in order to make an easy dessert that I could adapt to feature sour-milk (or kefir, in my case, since I have an over-abundance of the stuff – oh, darn) but that would hold together without any eggs, and without my having to macgyver an egg-substitute out of peanut butter or similar. The below recipe draws heavily on this Chocolate Pecan Cranberry Coffee Cake which, itself, looks really lovely.
Here’s what I came up with, using the above-linked recipe as a starting point:
 
~*~
 
Chocolate-Pumpkin Coffee Cake
 
INGREDIENTS
 
¼ C margarine
1 C pumpkin butter (or other fruit butter)
1 C kefir (you can sub with: sour milk, yoghurt, whey, vegan “milk” with some vinegar in it… whatever’s around)
1 tbsp vanilla
½ C granulated sugar
+
2 C flour
¼ C cocoa
1½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
+
½ C chocolate chips
½ C dried cranberries
¼ C crumbled walnuts
 
 
DIRECTIONS
 
1) Preheat the oven to 350F
2) Grease a 9″x9″ cake pan
3) Mix the first group of ingredients together in a big bowl
4) Add the second group of ingredients and blend (you can use a fork for this) until smooth
5) Add the third group of ingredients and mix (lightly) until well-distributed[1]
6) Scrap the batter into the cake pan (it will fluff up really fast)
7) Bake for 1 hour OR until it smells done and can pass the fork test[2]
8) Allow to cool (and set) for a few minutes before cutting into squares and serving
 
~*~
 
So there you have it.
I like to make coffee cakes using fruit butter in place of at least some of the sugar. Partly because it makes things slightly less overpoweringly sweet, but mostly because it makes for a velvetier, moister crumb (AKA: helps keep a cake with dried fruit in it from being Too Dry) while also letting me stuff some extra Plant Stuff into our eating. 🙂 Plus it helps act as a binder, which mitigates the No Eggs situation.
 
As a side note, I can’t help smiling a little that the pumpkin butter I made at Samhain is being baked into the cake I’m making on Beltane. Hello, Year Gate, nice to see you again. 🙂
 
 
TTFN,
Meliad the Birch Maiden.
 
 
[1] It’s May Day, after all – Fair Distribution Of The Tasty Bits! 😀
 
[2] NOTE: When I say “bake for 1 hour”, I mean “That other recipe says ‘bake for 1 hour’, and so this SHOULD work fine, but my cake is still in the oven, so we’ll see if this works”. Thence: Fork Test + Use Your Nose. Always good to have more than one way to tell. But I’m assuming that it will take about an hour.

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!