New Shoots

I am often caught up in thoughts about how we cling to our beliefs about food and are resistant to change. My undergraduate thesis focussed on food and our motivation to change our eating habits; and since then, I have been fascinated by our attachment to beliefs about consumption and what people think we “should” be eating and drinking. As I write I am listening to q, and one of the guests has just shared that he is on a “cleanse.” The idea that certain foods are deemed “dirty” and others “clean” largely goes against the notion of a balanced, grounded, and even feasible, approach to eating and enjoying food. People are so divided over what we should be eating and drinking – for health, the environment – but I think it is crucial that no matter what standpoint we come from, we care about food, have conversations, and attempt to keep ourselves open so that we do not become too rigid in our beliefs and habits.

Despite being keenly interested in eating local when possible and paying attention to how my food is grown and gets to me, I was, and remain, very much in love with wines from all around the globe. I’ve not been impressed by our Ontario wines, and have come around to the idea that this might have to do more with me dogmatically sticking to my belief that we don’t create the most fantastic wines rather than any real understanding of Ontario viticulture. And so I’ve happily set off to change my mind about Ontario wines.

I won’t cease to enjoy imported wines, as I have too much fun exploring different wine growing regions and grapes, but at least I can say that I have a new found interest in local wine. And as I should! The idea of “house wine” has become somewhat muddled, but I like the traditional view that the house wine is representative of a local terroir and vintages that thrived, hence the lower price. House wines have, unfortunately, become seemingly synonymous with terrible wine that the restaurant wants to move. In the same spirit of bringing back ‘real’ house wines, I think I should do a little more exploration of our local fermented grapes.

Maybe in the future I’ll get into a bit of tipsy talk, but there are some knowledgeable wine writers out there, so with that I’ll leave you with a cheers to the latest Pearl Morissette Ontario riesling.

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The garlic bulbs planted in the fall are growing alongside some two year old grape vines. 

Sourdough, Starts and Stumbles

It seems to me that a natural extension of my interest in fermenting would extend to sourdough and bread-making. My dad likes to remind me that I wasn’t always as health-food conscious as I am now; at potlucks as a kid I would pile my plate high with fresh Portuguese buns and ciabatta, and a bit of the other foods, but just to flavour the buns. And my interest in bread has not waned, though I appreciate a ‘heartier’ loaf these days over the ones I would have coveted when I was younger. As I have travelled I have had the great pleasure of coming across a handful of memorable breads; there was the freshly baked croissants and morning breads in a small village in France; the bread a grandmotherly Italian woman prepared at a bed and breakfast in Bruges; the long-fermented rye from a bakery in Dublin; the Slow Food-famed bread for which I trekked across Berlin; the old-fashioned dense pumpernickel from Ottawa; and then most recently the natural fermentation-leavened loaves from the CSA here in London, whose knowledgeable baker graciously allowed me to witness his process for a day.

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Berlin, Slow Food Bakery, 2015

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Yet despite my keen interest in tasting the bread, I always felt intimidated by the seemingly magical process that I knew looked so simple but involved much finesse. And this intimidation was not squelched when I witnessed the wood-fire baking process, though my interest in trying to bake my own loaf was certainly piqued. So I began to read and read and read, but could never quite work up the courage to begin my own bread-making. However, over the holidays when my family came to visit, we did a few Ethiopian meals that were based around fermented flatbread, injera. My aunt and uncle came bearing their spice blend berbere that seasoned most of the dishes that were piled on the injera. Despite the wonderful toppings that were coming together we had neglected to start the fermentation of the flatbread, a lengthy and crucial aspect of making traditional injera. As a family we decided to experiment, as we do, and tossed some old kefir whey into the batter to speed things along. And later, after shaking the batter on the pan, waiting for the edges to curl, then steaming the top by putting a lid on, we somehow ended up with flatbread resembling the taste, texture, and look of injera, even if we still had a ways to go. Subsequent attempts were not quite as successful, but no less experimental, as cousins joined with other dietary requirements, prompting me to do a mix of teff and buckwheat instead of teff and red fife. There’s something to be said about just giving it a go, and troubleshooting later. It can be a fun way to learn about the mechanics of it all, even if it means you try a few less-than-perfect dishes in the meantime.

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Injera, third time around.

So I had eased myself into fermenting flours by starting with the flatbread first. I’m not much of a measurer, which isn’t so bad when you’re nurturing a sourdough starter…mix flour, water, wait, add, mix, wait…and then add more, salt, mix, wait, bake! And my first attempt wasn’t a complete failure. Actually, I was pretty thrilled, and figured things could only get better. So with one sort-of success behind me I felt confident that my next loaf would no doubt succeed. But it didn’t. It fell. Very flat. Even so, it was still edible and deliciously sour. So despite my two somewhat polarized attempts, I’m envisioning years of home-baked bread and experiments before me. Plus, another wonderful perk is that you can make these pretty phenomenal savoury sourdough pancakes using the starter (a tip from Katz) and grate in any root veggies and pile on the krauts, kraut-chis, kefirs, and what have you. So there’s a silver living despite taking one step forward and falling (haha) back.

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Fall Fermenting

It seems to be that this is the time of year for fermenting. There is such an abundance of root veggies and cruciferous wonders that they need to be fermented lest they join the compost pile. Besides the kale (which I’ve heard so many fermenting horror stories about that I don’t feel the need to nurture my own disaster), I’ve been experimenting with mixing most CSA veggies into a kraut-chi. I think the process of experimentation in this manner is exciting, as each person will have particular inclinations toward some fermented foods and flavours over others. Fermenting feels like such an intuitive endeavour -mix veggies with salt and wait; and so I have, as jars of radish, carrot, fennel, peppers, cabbage, and turnip line the side table.

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A ferment that is quickly becoming a favourite is the hot pepper sauce. It was simple enough -ferment peppers with garlic and salt and leave it for at least a month, checking for whether surface mould needs to be skimmed off. At the end, simply blend it until it reaches the desired consistency. It’s so lively and fresh tasting, with more flavour than many bottled hot sauces that seem to just have kick and not much else. But beware….the hands get to stinging once you’ve had them massaging the pepper for a time…but worth it? Yes.

I find that undertaking fermenting projects can be so fulfilling; it’s like mental yoga, for you get lots of time to think and connect with your thoughts as you methodically prepare ferments. Like cooking, it can be a regular way to maintain balance, and also a great way to connect with community. Well some family members may beg to differ, as much as I love a great kim(kraut)chi, I’ve driven many family members out of the room when I open a jar….or even if I just open the fridge containing an improperly lidded jar! My cousin suggested that if you eat it the smell doesn’t bother you as much, so that’s become my encouragement. My smellier mixes are the ones where I’ve chosen to use black salt, a himalayan variety known for its sulphurous odour. Delicious, maybe, but rather pungent.DSC06606 DSC06577 DSC06580

 

 

 

Last weekend, lots of us convened to make cider from apples that dad and I have been picking for weeks. We all worked to mill the apples into pomace, then to press the pomace into juice. By the end, we had over 20 gallons, lots of which will be fermented into hard cider, but some of which is being enjoyed fresh and sweet. Again, like the mead, we will do some wild fermentation style and then some other jugs with added yeast.

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I’m headed off for a month, and am looking forward to returning and tasting some ferments that I hope have transformed for the better.

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Sibling Meadery

I can’t quite believe how long it’s been since I last wrote. I must admit that this post has been in my drafts folder for quite some time now, as evidenced by how long my mead has been fermenting since then! I have had many moments where I had a sudden inclination to sit down and write, yet somehow the thoughts haven’t been funnelled onto the page as easily as I feel they arise (or as easily as mead is funnelled into jars ;-).

Though I’ve certainly had time for relaxing, I’ve not fallen to ‘decrepitness’, as my dad amusingly put it. Early rising, cycling the hectic roads of London, reading, cottaging, various little undertakings, and lots of fermenting projects and cooking with the family have kept me on my toes. Instead of trying to delve into all those endeavours, let me ramble on about one in particular -making mead.

There is something that strikes me as very communal about fermenting foods and drink. The communities of bacteria, cultures, yeasts…yes, that is certainly the beginning. But the sharing and love involved in fermenting is likely why I feel that it is such a communal undertaking; you’re working with communities of bacteria so that you may feed your own community and share with those around you the fruits of your fermenting ventures. As Sandor Ellix Katz aptly says in A Cultural Revivalist Manifesto, food is a “complex web of relationships” and “fermentation is one way in which we may consciously cultivate this web. This is a daily practice of cultural revival.” Maybe that’s partly why I have resisted paying for milk kefir grains since I’ve returned, since sharing grains and SCOBYs seems so much closer to the ethos of fermentation, and if you merely buy the starters then there is no expansion or connections made. But I digress, that may be a tangent for another post.

My brother and I began our mead making adventures when we discovered a big jug of dark honey that had been kicking around in the basement. Though we weren’t sure the quality was good enough for daily use, we figured it would be perfect for our initial attempt at making mead. We had two little carboys, so instead of making one batch and splitting it, we decided to do a more traditional wild ferment in one and then add a more commercial yeast to the other. Walker put cinnamon and a bit of chai tea in the yeasted mead, and I put a couple cups of rose petal tea into the wild fermented mead. My dad later started his own mead with raspberries, so we will hopefully have quite the tasting at some point. I’m delighted to report that they all got to bubbling, and the yeasted mead has now been bottled. I’m leaving the wild fermented mead to bubble a little longer before I rack it (move it into another vessel) to see whether it will then start to bubble again after stirring up the yeasts. I’m looking forward to giving it a bit of a taste when I rack it, but until then I’m contented listening to it bubble, a sound a fondly remember from my childhood and my dad’s yearly beer-making.

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Berlin, Take Two

I arrived back in Berlin and was hit with how happy I was to be there. It’s such a cool place to be, and yet I know I’ve only just scratched the surface. It was the end of my holiday, which had started in Prague with Dresden in the middle; Berlin seemed a suiting place to end my journey, as I knew it would be a good combination of solitary time but also time spent with friends and meeting new people. Visiting with friends proved just as wonderful as I anticipated -rooftop picnics, urban foraging (courtesy of http://mundraub.org/map, which directs you to free food), sitting along the Spree, and lots of wine and wonderful food. I was also introduced to others whose company we enjoyed -refugees who shared stories that were difficult to comprehend and new words we were eager to learn, and other travellers who shared their own stories of adventure and thoughts about the world.

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My time alone was important as well, as I feel I’m reflecting on my own experiences, and have grown comfortable with being solo. I have come to a new appreciation of solitary time, and was grateful to reclaim some of it in Berlin. I could have spent an entire day at the Käthe Kollwitz museum; though she had a profoundly sad life and experienced much loss, she seemed to remain hopeful and maintained an appreciation for life and energy. I felt drawn in to her work in a way that made it difficult to tear myself away from some of her prints and drawings. There is a quality to them that kept me rooted to the spot. Kollwitz is a remarkable woman, and I found her views on pacifism interesting, as she said it is not about waiting, but “work, hard work”.  And the fact that she worked very hard and advocated for hard work was evident. Her ability to express depictions of and fight against social inequality were impressive and moving, and will certainly stay with me.

Though Berlin was a haven for someone interested in sustainable food movements, Dresden surprised me for its own innovation and projects. An especially amazing place is Lose (http://www.lose-dresden.de/), a food store that avoids waste by having customers fill their own re-usable containers with food instead of purchasing packaged goods. I was giddy with excitement, and loaded up on hemp hearts in my travel container as I inquired about the difficulties the owner faced when she opened and what it has been like for her since then. It’s such an exciting concept, and one that raises my hopes as well as many questions.

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I enjoyed Dresden, with its very disparate areas on either side of the Elbe. I landed myself in a really cool neighbourhood that had a bohemian and lively vibe, even late at night; it was bursting with veggie restaurants, market stands, coffee shops, and bars. The atmosphere was energetic yet easy-going, and it was amongst the little shops and brightly graffitied buildings that I had some of the best organic rye bread…until I had some in Berlin from SoLuna Brot und Oel…100% rye with sunflower seeds…with a deliciously sour taste.

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And, in this reverse narrative, I will end with Prague, where I couchsurfed with a woman who teaches at a kindergarden where I was lucky enough to visit! I was in the Vinohrady district, a welcome change from the old town which was packed, though of course still holds its own charms. The streets in Vinohrady were steep and cobbled, making the city an unwelcome one for cyclists, but charming for ambling pedestrians. I was pleasantly surprised to discover the booming health scene in Prague, and even more impressed by the raw food dinner I had at a restaurant close to my host. It is a city with a seemingly unlimited amount of stunning views, and brimming with many treasures to discover, such as the many cafés with incredible coffee and little food hideaways….like Vrsovicky Zahradni Klub where there’s a little bar with funky music, organic produce from a local farm, and various events bringing in artists from nearby.

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Berlin, Take One

Lately I have been reflecting on the connections we make while travelling, and the friendships that sometimes develop. I have met people in Dublin who I now consider very dear friends, and some that I believe I will stay in touch with throughout my life. There is something very special about meeting someone who you feel you have known much longer than the brief period that you have known them. One such friend is someone I met at a dinner in Dublin that was raising money for a local charity. We talked as if we were old friends just reunited, and since then we have been very close.

I have also had a couple recent couchsurfing experiences that introduced me to some amazing people…in Berlin, I stayed with a fellow veggie who was a fantastic cook with a great outlook on life. We shared food, stories, music, wine, walks, drinks, and relaxing moments in the park. It is amazing to arrive in a new city and begin learning from a local about the food practices, the co-ops nearby, food advocacy initiatives, and the challenges as well as pleasures of caring about your food and where it comes from. My host introduced me to “food sharing”, an initiative that links people to restaurants, bakeries, and various food-producing places around the city that have excess food they have no use for. While I was in Berlin I had the pleasure of sharing a vegan meal with my host and her friend that was sourced from such a Food Sharing restaurant that had loft-over food from a brunch. It was incredible…to eat good food of course, but also to become aware of such a fantastic program!

I also heard tell of public fridges in Berlin where food from Food Sharing is dropped off, and where all sorts of people can go and benefit from the bounty. I was bowled over by the simplicity of reducing waste in such a way, and though I had a host of questions, it seems to work, and that is such a wonderful thing to behold.

It was special to visit a city and feel like I was visiting  friend instead of being in a new city on my own for the first time, as I was. Berlin is a city full of relaxing parks, colourful graffiti-ed buildings and walls, a wonderful slow food culture, and, I feel, is a city to discover as a leisurely pace; so, I will return!

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Seasonal Eating and Eating Seasonally

Eating for the seasons conjures memories of fall harvests of squash and pumpkins, winter root veggies, spring rhubarb and fiddleheads, and summer berries and sweet corn. Of course, eating seasonally signifies something different to every culture and person; when I questioned one of my flatmates, he talked of potatoes in the winter, kale and lettuce in the summer, and picking blackberries as a kid during the warmer months. Though we might all have different ideas of what ‘seasonal food’ is, I think that the same underlying values of celebrating local food that has had few miles to travel is what underlies this instinctive way of eating.

Yet I cannot help but expand on what seasonal eating means. Though it is June here, it certainly feels a lot more like an Ontario fall than an Ontario summer, so I’ve found myself drawn toward my own ‘traditional’ fall foods than summer ones. Maybe this isn’t so much seasonal eating as it is intuitive eating, but it has had me mulling over the different motivations we have for the foods that we eat…beyond the regular health/ethical/environmental motivations that I’m usually pondering!

So, here you are, two very different ‘seasonal’ meals that have blossomed from my musings:

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Lentil soup with seasonal spring/summer nettle and Irish seaweed.

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Stuffed butternut squash, the roots of which can be traced back to wanting satisfying and hearty foods during chilly and blustery fall days…that tend to crop up every other Irish summer day!

Terra Ferments

I’ve been thinking a lot about settling in to new places and becoming comfortable with new living routines. For me, a big part of adjusting to being in a new place is finding new foods that I like and new food sources. I always relish the thrill of discovering a new produce farmer, or foods that have been produced locally, especially the ones that have been created with an eye for sustainability and the interconnections between our food, the environment, and the many beings on this earth. There’s also a joy in settling in to a place enough to be able to begin tackling more food projects, such as ones that entail dehydrating, soaking, sprouting…or all of the above. When I left Canada I also left behind little jars of fermenting food and cultures that I hope are still thriving; but since arriving in Dublin I haven’t been up to my regular fermenting speed. Most of that has been because I’ve been moving around so much, but now that I have flatmates that tolerate my composting, bean soaking, and constant cooking of often unheard of foods, I have been delving back in to the world of fermenting a bit more.

I’ve never made milk kefir, likely because I rarely have dairy, but since I’m working at a health food store that sells raw milk, and am working with people who are all sharing cultures, SCOBYs, and water/milk kefir grains, I decided to give it a shot. And I can say that I’ve had success! For some reason, the less I fuss about my ferments, the more successful they seem to be. So I just let the grains do their things, and enjoy the fruits of their labour.

Here is a happy little pile of kefir in an old sauerkraut jar…

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