Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Fallow

Since last fall, things here have been... how to put it?  Things have been life changing.

There has been a lot of adjusting, hope, and frustration.  Worry, despair and small comforts.  Like a warm, sunny day in the middle of winter, a lot of little things bring joy.  The arrangement of beautiful  seedlings sprouting through the soil, the calmness that daily toiling brings.  These things inspire.

But still... it's been a challenge and I find I've needed a lot of time to myself in order to recover.  Emotionally and physically, I feel used up.  Like a field that's been asked too long to grow crops, I need time to be fallow.  To let weeds grow and not feel the pressures of producing in the world.  A fallow state of being is restorative.  The more I live, the more I feel that our culture has lost the acceptance of fallow state - both for land and for people.  Acknowledging and fully accepting that people need fallow time, makes the restoration smoother.  But forcing back on track before the recovery is complete, leads to future fragility.


So that's what I've been doing lately.  The drama of people and events has been much calmer since the winter solstice, so I've had time to be fallow.  I concentrate on daily toil - wake up, feed chickens, compliment sheep, tend the garden, prepare simple but beautiful foods.  Focus on small joys, like a burning red sunset or the way the light and shadows play against the surface of the water as it is stirred by the wind.


I've also fallen out of step with the world of people - even more so than I was before.  I don't know if this is will end well, as humans are social creatures and we need people for emotional and physical support.  But it is as it is, and it will change with time as I emerge from my fallow state.

Already, I don't go to the movies and I haven't eaten out in almost 15 years (except at select places where I know the cooks can accommodate my diet).  Since New Years, we don't have cable TV and I'm hardly ever on the internet these days.  I'm much more interested in spending my time doing things than dreaming of doing things.  My sensitivity to ink and paper has lessened, and with it my use of the library has grown with great vigor.  When I do read, it's usually books rather than webpages.  I've even taken to eating meals at the dining table - when I can find space between the pile of books on cooking and the pile of books about growing food for cooking.

What this fails to cultivate is the skill to talk to others.  No smartphone, no apps, no movies, no tv shows, no restaurants, no multiplayer video games - no one's interested in my latest adventure with pulling new life out of a sheep's lambhole, or my latest squash breeding plans, or exciting new recipe conversion where I took a traditional Italian chickpea pasta stew and made it in a pressure cooker in under 20 min instead of the usual 4 hours.

What's there to talk about with people?  I don't understand half of what they say, and I suspect they feel the same about me.  I don't share a common frame of reference with most people.  Sometimes that makes me glad.  The world is worrying me - or more to the point, the values of the people in our culture scares the pants off me.  I don't know where I fit.



But all that's bla... boring.  Uninspiring.

If you have read this far, what you are really interested in is if I'll be keeping my blogs going.

The answer is that I don't know.

Often I think that the internet is overfilled.  Like crops overgrown with weeds and cannot get enough light or nutrients to produce a harvest.  Sometimes weeds can restore a field, other times they are damaging, choking out the plants that nourish us.  Only the few plants on the edge of the field, where they have space to spread and soak up sunlight - only those plants do any good.  What good could I possibly add to this overcrowded internet?

Then again, I also enjoy sharing things that inspire and enlighten me.  The internet is always willing to soak up my contribution.  Like tossing a penny in the fountain - everyone does it, and one penny more or less makes no difference.  Yet, we still reach into our pocket for a coin to cast into the water.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

New Years Day, No-Soy Miso Club

The inaugural meeting of The Victoria New Years Day Miso Club didn't go exactly as expected, but it was a great deal of fun.


Two types of Soy Free Miso were made:

One gallon batch of One Year Chickpea Mugi Miso

  • 1 kilo dry chickpeas cooked with kombu
  • 500g Mugi (barley) koji cultured with spores from GEM cultures
  • 200g Salt
  • 1 Tbs South River Chickpea Miso
Stored in a cool place, my garage, protected from temperature extremes.  To be opened Jan 1st 2016.


Mashing chickpeas



About 1.5 ltrs, 2 month Lentil Mugi Miso
Stored in my pantry at room temperature.  To be opened last week of February.

For both misos, I used the instructions in The Art of Fermentation by Katz.
.

I'm a bit nervous about these, not just because it's my first time making a year long miso.  But because the koji grew on the barley with surprisingly enthusiasm.  Instead of stopping when the barley was white, I let it grow olive in colour, which means the koji mold was getting ready to produce spores.  Some people seem to think it should be great when used, others seem to believe it will impart an unpleasant flavour to the miso.  We shall see.

The other thing I did differently was to line the miso vat with a huge, food safe plastic bag.  Now I strongly dislike using plastic with my food, but this time I decided to try it because I was curious to learn if it actually makes the miso better.  We put the miso in the plastic lined vat as per usual, then press it down well to remove any extra air, then tie the bag tightly before weighing it down.  Like they do in this video.


The other reason I did this is because I don't know if there is any lead in the glaze of the crock I'm using, and I didn't feel comfortable having the food touch it for a whole year.


On re-watching the video, I realized I also made my miso a wetter than they did.  Hmm,  I'll make dryer miso next time.


Affordable (a very rough estimate):

Chickpea Mugi Miso
$7 for the chickpeas
$3 for the barley koji
$1 for salt, kombu, &c.
Total $11 for one gallon

Lentil Mugi Miso
$1.25 for the lentils 
$1 for the barley koji
$0.75 for the salt, &c.
Total: $4 for about one quarter gallon

Of course, it doesn't need to be this expensive, there are more affordable sources of beans and barley.  Mine was this much because I bought many of my ingredients locally, or when imported, from small, family run grocery stores.  

Traditional and Transitional, these two go hand in hand.  Both rely on locally sourced materials and skills you can practice in your own home.

As for allergies, these recipes are flexible.  You can use any bean you like, almost any grain you like, and there is even miso made without beans, and miso made without rice.  Most of the recipes are in The Book of Miso.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Getting ready for Miso Club

The first rule of Miso Club, we talk about Miso
The second rule of Miso Club, we love making miso

Tomorrow will be the inaugural meeting of Miso Club.  I've invited a very good friend over for what I hope will be the start of a long and happy ritual, New Years Day Miso Club.  The idea is that since red miso takes about one year to make, or longer, then we would get together every New Years day and make miso, then when finished, dig out the miso we made the year before and enjoy it.

Also, winter is the best time to make red miso.  Sweet miso like I've made before can be any time of year, but red miso, that's made in winter.

To prepare for miso making, I've been making koji barley.  This is barley grain that has been blessed with koji mold.  Yes, mold.  Mold is awesome.  What it does is it transforms the starches in the grain into sugars which can then be fermented into miso paste.

It takes three days to make the koji barley.

Day one, soak and steam the barley, then incubate it at about 90F for about 24 hours.

barley getting ready to steam

steamed barley is like a giant rubbery lump
and must be separated out before adding koji spores

wrapping up the barley to keep it warm while the mold grows



What I learned is that after 12 hours, the koji grain begins to produce it's own heat and the challenge quickly changes from keeping it warm to keeping it cool enough without getting too cold.  Thankfully koji is a loving teacher and can survive well outside the 'ideal' range.

Day two of koji growing, mixing the grain up every couple of hours, separating any clumps that form, then spreading the grain to abut 1 inch thick (the instructions said two inches, but this was far too hot) then wrapping it up again.


day two, spreading the barley out into an even layer


I should have stopped at the end of day two when the grains were mostly white with mold and a few yellow patches.  But I kept going because the instructions said to.  The morning to day three, all the grains were yellow and starting to spore - which is okay apparently, but not as sweet smelling as day two.  Next time, I'l stop when the grain says to, not when the instructions tell me.

Now I lay the grain out in a thin layer to dry and cool a bit before storing in the fridge.

The barley I'm working with is pot barley, the koji spores came from GEM cultures in the US.  I have tos ay, the koji spores worked like a charm,  I followed the recipe included with the spores.



The next step in preparing for tomorrows miso making is to soak the beans we will cook up tomorrow. Instead of soy beans, we will use chickpeas, sweet delicious chickpeas.  I toyed with the idea of making a lentil miso with local red lentils, but after this week's kitchen failure, I decided to use a bean I know and trust.



Some books about making your own miso at home
The Book of Miso by Shurtleff and Aoyagi
Wild Fermentation by Katz
The Art of Fermentation by Katz
The Miso Book by Belleme


Affordable:
2 gallons of miso will cost me
$14 for the chickpeas
$6 for the barley and koji spores
$2 for the salt
unknown for the electric bill, let's guess $3

Total of about $25 for two gallons of artisan made red chickpea barley miso.  This is totally awesome since the same miso sells for $36 for roughly 1/8th of a gallon in the stores (if I did my math right, that's $576 if I were to buy 2 gallons in the shop).

Next year it is my great hope to grow some if not all of the ingredients for New Year Miso Club, or at the very least, source as many ingredients locally as possible.  Maybe even some local sea salt.

Transitional and Traditional - funny how these two go hand in hand - miso can be made from locally sourced materials, excepting possibly the koji spores.  The Art of Fermentation by Katz has instructions on how to capture your own wild koji and to create koji starter when you already have koji growing.

Soy-Sub:  I'm making a soy free version of red miso.  Any bean can be substituted for some or all of the soy in miso making.  By making miso at home you can have complete control of every single ingredient



Monday, December 29, 2014

Kitchen Failure - where I demonstrate what not to do when making miso paste

I hate to admit this, but sometimes I try something and it is a total disaster.  I suppose it's one of the side effects of being human, but alas, I wish it wasn't.

I also wish I was the kind of person who would quietly hide my failings somewhere dark and dank, where no one would think to look.  Bury failure under a damp pile of leaves, with only worms to whisper its nasty story too.  Maybe, if ignored, the horrible result would decompose into the soil, bettering the dirt so that new, and more successful things could thrive.

However, that's not what I want for this blog.  The goal here is to write about my culinary journey and share it with my four (or is that five now?) readers what I've learned.  Maybe some of it would be useful to someone some day.


This Kitchen Failure is especially embarrassing because I've recently been crowing about how easy and foolproof it is to make miso paste at home.

And it is easy to make miso at home, unless...

...unless you branch out and try some terribly outlandish thing and then it's a gamble.

Growing confidence with how incredibly yummy my standard chickpea miso recipe is getting, I decided to try a 'let's toss all this old stuff from the back of my cupboard miso' recipe.  I went directly against expert advice, but I had to do it.  I had to know if it would work or not.

It's not.


What did I do and what went wrong.


I used 1 pound of each adzuki and black beans (dried). Soaked and cooked them together.  MISTAKE: they cook at different rates, I should have treated them separately then mixed together when cool.  All of the adzuki beans were cooked to mush and some of the black beans were slightly raw inside.

To this I added 1/2 lb of pearly barley (dry weight), soaked and boiled until soft.  MISTAKE: using grain that hasn't been inoculated with koji spores.

The Koji rice and salt were as per usual.  MISTAKE: I didn't add extra salt to account for the additional volume of the barley.

Covered the miso with soaked kombu rather than plastic wrap.  Although this is different than my normal procedure, I don't think we can blame the kombu for this failure because some of the extra batch I fermented in a different jar also turned putrid. Besides, kombu was the pre-industrial clingfilm of Japan.

Fermented for three weeks.  Mistake: in small letters because I really should have waited for four weeks given how cold the house has been.

The results.


When I uncovered the miso a sour rotten smell like sour beer and compost assaulted me.  Miso should be sweet and salty, not sour and certainly not smelling of rotten barley.

Yep, rotten barley.  As in the pearl barley I added without inoculating it with koji first.  I'm feeling this is the main source of my failure, over confidence and ignoring a thousand generations worth of knowledge.  There is a step I could have taken to get the koji growing on the barley - without having to buy koji mold spores - but I was eager to get things done and didn't want to wait an extra day.

What did I learn?


I relearned that grain needs to be altered before fermenting, like malting or using koji, or even soaking in a sourdough sponge.  Without this alteration, the sugars in the grain aren't available and things go sour fast.

I learned that I really should try smaller batches when experimenting with outlandish miso mixes.

I also know that even though I'm down in the dumps about my current failure, I still plan on making miso this New Years.    In fact I'm very excited about it.


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Happy Holidays

Happy Holidays from us at the farm.

This is what it looks like on the farm today.