Yay, it’s mah birthday. I’m buyin’ myself kefir :).

My birthday is always a special day for me. Although I don’t actually care about the birthday part of it. I care about the groundhog part of it. Mostly because asking a groundhog if spring is coming reminds me of the other day it is.

It’s Imbolc, a Pagan holiday that celebrates the coming of spring, the time of year that we honor that cows begin lactating and seedlings germinate. I like playing with my houseplants, I like foraging, I like warmer weather and longer days, I like spring being near and the season of hope and joy and youth that it represents, love, frolicking, all that. So, it’s one of my favorite holidays. Sure, the actual spring solstice is nice too, but Imbolc means its soon to be here, and I love having something to look forward to :). Festival meals usually include dairy and sprouts.

This means two things for me:

1) Time to plant my seeds, and I get to do it in a way to honor my religion! Oh. Dang. This year I already planted my seeds, because they had to be in the refrigerator for a month, and I wanted them in the ground by April (after I let them get started here). Usually I don’t have seeds, but I can at least propagate my houseplants. This year I’ve already planted some ginger root already and some dandelion roots to grow those as houseplants (we’ll see how that goes), so that part all came early this year. So far the dandelions are growing like weeds ;). I only planted them a couple of days ago. I planted the ginger about a month ago.

 

Spring is settin' forth to spring

2) In my area, the dandelions are starting to become visible out on the lawns as well. Foraging season begins :). No blooms yet, but I’ve already added the greens to some soup (obviously where I got the roots for planting). This year I’m gonna ferment the flowers too, maybe not the traditional dandelion wine way, but in a ginger bug soda. I also have a small sample of the roots pickling, so I get to try those in a couple of weeks. More foraging is peeking out, chickweed and henbit are both very prolific in my apartments and I’m starting to see signs of them. Since I didn’t get to forage (here at least) last year because I thought they were spraying, I will really enjoy the fact that they actually aren’t, and all because of my weird ass.

Anyway, this year I’m going to celebrate the dairy part as well (the purchase of it anyway). My son and I are lactose intolerant, but I can eat cheese and yogurt. So I risked drinking a quart of kefir to see what would happen, and since I didn’t explode that widens my possibilities some.

After much deliberation (between yogurt, kefir, and kombucha), I shall add kefir to my kitchen pets. There’s going to be so many things I can make now.  Dips and cream cheese will pair well with Bob’s children. Sourdough Bob has given me more flatbreads lately, and crackers (kind of tired of bread for a bit). I’ve been thinking about trying pitas, or returning to pretzels. All of those (and bread itself) will go great with dips and spreads made from my kefir :). It will be nice to have dairy in the house that won’t um, make my home less hospitable to company.

Bonus, my super picky kid loved the kefir. He actually doesn’t remember reacting to milk and keeps “correcting” me saying he’s not lactose intolerant, he just hates milk. He is though, and I’m looking forward to us both being able to consume more calcium and b12 on a regular basis.

Only I get to buy the kefir culture with my birthday money from Grandma (thanks Grandma!) which means I won’t have it in my hands for a bit. Sigh. The planting came early and the dairy comes late. I’ll be at a loss for what to do today. Well, I might splurge on more store-bought kefir, and put some sprouts in with dinner. I wish I knew some Pagans to go run around in the damp grass all barefoot with. Oh well.

How have my kitchen experiments been going you ask? So far, still experiments. I think I’ve made some serious progress with how to handle my ginger bug (I’ve had a problem with too much sweetness, fermenting too fast or too slowly, how to handle spent wort, stuff like that). Still working on that too though, but I’ll let you know more soon I’m sure. Anne-Marie of The Zero-Waste Chef pointed me at an Alton Brown recipe for candied ginger for my wort, and that turned out fantastic. In a few weeks I should know more of what I’m doing here, so I’ll let my tiny corner of the world know about it then.

 

Candied ginger from ginger left over from making ginger ale. Waste not!

Remember the kvass?

Pretty just never really lasts, does it?

I really did enjoy those pretty stars for a day or two, but I hoped I’d end up with a pink monochromatic watercolor with little light stars on a dark beet background. You can’t even see the stars! Anyway, most of the recipes I saw said a day or two for kvass, so after about three or four days I still wasn’t getting a hint of tang or bubbles. I juiced it and it was way too salty, and very inactive. So, I went ahead and put it back in the jug, minus the fiber from the veggies, and watched it for a week. Nothing, really.

I tossed a pinch of Bob the sourdough king in there (poured out a cup of kvass, whisked him in, and added it back to the mix) and the next day it was really active. The day after that it was very pleasantly tangy (made me smile with delight at the tang) but still way too salty. Next time I’ll try 1% brine instead of 2%. Also, the recipes said a day or two, but then I ran across other recipes that had a much longer time frame. So, I’ll still play with this one for a bit and see how it goes. I might even do stars to make me happy for a couple of days :).

Or flowers. I totally wasted some money on vegetable cutters back when I did bento, and I hardly used them because I had to get a wide enough carrot to use the cutters on, and all that slicing into rounds and punching out flowers wasn’t worth the effort. I was hoping that if i put flowers in my son’s soup, he might eat the carrots. He didn’t. We’re still working on getting beta-carotene into him, though he does like the purée in soup.

Anyway, I ran across a YouTube video that made the pretty carrots so much easier. Check her out at about 1:03. The rest of the video is cool too :).

By the way, the pulp from the juice after I ran the kvass through the juicer? Excellent in sourdough crackers. The crackers weren’t quite perfect in texture just yet, but the flavor was great and I see a lot of potential here.

Oh, and one more thing about fermentation that I’ve learned: I hate Rejuvelac. No matter how I flavor it. That is all.

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Sourdough Aebleskiver Recipe (With a Super Amateurish Video!)

I wanted to post this the first week in December, as I hear this is a popular Danish holiday food. However, it turned out that making a stop motion animation super low-budget video is a lot more effort than one would think. I had fun with it though, I laughed out loud at how cheesy it was more than once. I do wish I had a better microphone, but I’m quite happy with the graphics. Yes, you heard me. I actually like how it turned out.

You will need an aebleskiver pan, and a pastry brush. You will need to know how to make clarified butter or ghee. You need a sourdough starter and if you don’t have one yet, I had great results with the pineapple juice starter (scroll down for a day by day breakdown). You need to know how to fold egg whites into batter, and if you don’t believe me about the necessity of whipping the egg whites, you should. Take a look at 2:30 on the same video, he’ll show you. In aebleskiver, that puff on flipping the pancake translates into the aebleskiver becoming nice and round.

If you don’t want to follow my recipe and would rather not do sourdough, there are plenty of recipes for aebleskiver online (or check out the book Ebelskivers by Kevin Crafts). You’ll still need everything else but the starter though.

My recipe for aebleskiver (makes between 18 and 25 ‘skivers):

2 cups (500g) sourdough starter
2 eggs (separated)
1 tsp (7g) salt
1/2 cup (125g) water or milk (if using powdered milk add 1/8 cup or 15g powder)
2 Tbsp (30g) sugar
2 Tbsp (18g) oil, ghee, or bacon drippings (in addition to the ghee to oil the wells)
1 tsp baking soda

These really are a wonderful treat, I haven’t yet found anyone who didn’t prefer them to pancakes. They go fast, but if you wish to make a large amount of them, they do freeze well (or so I hear). I keep my extras in the refrigerator and warm them up at about 300°F in the oven, they don’t hang around long enough to need freezing in this home.

This recipe is nothing more than my usual sourdough pancake recipe, but I do have a cookbook full of seriously tasty looking recipes (that I mentioned earlier). I’ve made a few of his recipes, including lemon poppy seed and peanut butter and jelly. The chocolate chip ones are good as well, though I found it works better to dump the chips in the center as a filling and not to mix them into the batter. One of these days I’ll try more of his suggestions (especially garlic bread with a mozzarella filling and a mariana dipping sauce).

I’ve also seen recipes around the web that suggest fillings such as jam, flavored cream cheese, nutella, custard, and various berries. I’ve heard of people making muffins, cake or brownies in them as well, though I don’t know if they used the stove top or the oven. I’ve heard that cake balls made in this pan are good to dip in icing.

You certainly don’t have to just make aebleskiver in this skillet. This is what happens when you hand me two boxes of Jiffy cornbread mix. One of these days I’m going to make a more savory cornbread from scratch and make these filled with cheese. I’ve also heard of making popovers in this skillet, hush puppies, jalapeno poppers, crab cakes, salmon cakes, and meatballs. If the thought of meatballs appeals to you, try doing a search on kofta recipes (there are so many versions from various cultures, I just don’t trust myself to pick one out for you!)

Cornbread aebleskier

The list of other foods that can be made in this skillet is probably way beyond my ability to list. Perhaps if I was an avid student of worldwide culinary culture, I might be able to tell you more. For one thing, aebleskiver may be the same thing or just very similar to poffertjes, I’m not entirely sure.

When I purchased mine, I browsed through the comments on Amazon and quickly saw that several cultures have their own versions of round breads, often made in very similar pans. The Japanese have takoyaki (filled with octopus, tempura, pickled ginger, and green onion). The Vietnamese have bánh khọt, which isn’t a round bread but can be made in this pan, and it looks like it would make an excellent appetizer that would serve as a conversation piece for us uncultured Americans, with rice flour, coconut milk, saffron, shrimp, pork, mung beans and a dipping sauce (here’s another page with a different recipe that includes beer, and a video).

Thailand has kanom krok, which is a coconut bread with rice flour and may include onions, corn, or cilantro as a filling. Several Indian recipes include bonda (with black pepper and curry in the rice flour and dipped in a coconut chutney),  ponganalu (filled with onions or corn and dipped in peanut chutney), and unni appam (which looks good and includes rice, banana, coconut, and sesame).

There is a Tamil (India, Sri Lanka, and South Asia) dish called kuzhi paniyaram that uses the same batter for dosa and idli, which is super fabulous news for me as my new copy of Wild Fermentation totally has this fermented lentil/rice batter given as a recipe, and a large part of my diet is already made up of lentils and rice. I already was thinking of making dosas soon, but knowing that I can use my nifty aebleskiver pan for my new fermented food kick is giving me quite a thrill. It’s nice to be so easily entertained, it really is.

Plus, if you have a super fancy grocery budget (can I come over for dinner?) I hear that the escargot pans are similar (though usually made of copper). I hear you put butter and perhaps a bit of garlic in the wells and sautée the little snails. I’ve never tried them, but I tend to be fairly adventurous with my foods and would certainly like to sample the recipe, though I doubt it will be in my near future.

Anyway, as you can see, this pan is no more a “one trick gadget” than a muffin tin is. Sure, I mostly use my muffin tin for muffins, but I’ve also made potato stacks in them and I know there’s a popular trend to use muffin tins for a variety of tiny casserole-type foods. And yes, I’ve only made aebleskiver and cornbread in my little skillet, but I know the potential is there to make more if I wish to break out of a culinary rut (and I so will be making trying that kuzhi paniyaram soon).  Get you one of these pans, use it, enjoy it, and your family will thank you for it :).

Related pages:

The Care and Feeding of Cast Iron

Ebelskivers: Danish-Style Filled Pancakes and Other Sweet and Savory Treats by Kevin Crafts.

The Health Benefits of Homemade Pumpkin Spice Blend

It turns out that winter spices are probably some of the most appropriate things to use in all of our seasonal treats. Pumpkin spice turns out to have many winter related benefits. Allspice, clove, and nutmeg all soothe pain from indigestion, gas, and overeating. That’s a nifty thing to put in meals designed to encourage people to eat until their buttons pop off and they pass out on the couch watching football.

Ginger and cinnamon help to boost circulation, bringing warm blood to cold hands and feet. They also soothe achy joints that flare up in cold weather. There is also some anti-inflammatory action in this blend to further reduce joint pain (and other pains).

During cold and flu season, this blend boosts immunity, but if you do get ill these spices may help you recover quickly and reduce some symptoms (like fever, sore throat, cough and nausea). Plus this blend can have a tonic effect upon the system, helping the body to break down and remove toxins while supporting organ function.  There are anti-oxidant properties as well.

Pumpkin Spice: this recipe tries to lower cinnamon amount and rely on ginger as a base for a safer winter herbal boost.

Mix 1/8 tsp nutmeg, 1/2 tsp allspice, 1/2 tsp clove, 1/4 tsp cassia cinnamon or  1 Tbsp Ceylon cinnamon, and 1 Tbsp ginger (powdered – use 1 tsp if using Ceylon cinnamon). Note: Don’t give your pets treats with this spice mix in it. Both cinnamon and nutmeg may cause your pet harm.

Why yes, there is something odd about this recipe. Most pumpkin spice recipes are cinnamon based, and  this recipe is mostly Ginger, depending on what variety of cinnamon you have. Confusing, I know. Or, perhaps you’ve heard this one before, about how grocery store cinnamon actually has a toxin (click the “side effects” tab).  Safe levels are said to be lower than what we typically eat, especially in our baked goods.

I’m not sure where I stand on the issue right now, but I do plan on keeping my cinnamon levels low until I get my hands on some Ceylon cinnamon. Ceylon is a different plant in the same family and has microscopic levels of the toxin (much safer). Therefore this spice mix is Ginger based, with an alternate version for Ceylon users. This makes it more similar to gingerbread, it’s kind of a hybrid.  Try to use this in recipes that call for cinnamon instead of using pure cinnamon.

I have information pages up on ginger, cinnamon, allspice, clove, and nutmeg; these pages should be looked at for individual cautions, drug interactions, and uses. My pages will be kept up to date to show my studies and experiences. Also, if you are curious about herbalism but haven’t gotten into it yet, the herbalism page may help.

And now that we’re done with the business part, here’s the bits that I saved for the end so people who didn’t feel like reading could move on with their busy lives.

October and November are harvest months that turn cold. The family (and sometimes it feels like the entire village) gets together and stuffs themselves silly before the lean winter times begin. Celebration of plenty becomes a celebration of each other, a time to reconnect with family members that you never have the chance to see in your busy life. We also tend to look at other harvests. Giving thanks often means looking at what we have nurtured and tended to in our lives, what have we “grown” that we enjoy the results of now.

There can also be a spiritual aspect to the winter solstice, across several cultures and faiths. There is a reason for this, it’s a time when we all need each other and our faith. The sun moves further away from the earth in autumn, and the nights grow long. Without the sun to stimulate serotonin levels, depression becomes far more common, and we long for the sun.

Thankfully the winter solstice is the halfway point. The sun then begins its journey back to the earth and the days get longer. The cold times are halfway over. That is something to celebrate, and celebration with shared feasts means the family celebrates their bond with each other through the difficult times. We lift each other up through the long nights, and cherish the creation of lifetime memories through gifts, food, and drink. We feast despite the lack of growth around us and put our worries aside.

Once upon a time, winter meant death. Hunger and illness were harder to fight against. If you ever wondered why we celebrate the birth of Jesus in the winter when he was born in spring, consider this: when the solstice happens the sun is at an apparent standstill for about three days at its furthest point from the earth. On the twenty-fifth of December, the sun begins to return to us bringing hope, joy, and light. Seems about right to me.

I know, I know. You came because I drew a colorful picture of a popular spice mix, what’s with all the preachy? Well,  I have problems getting through winter. I like to remember what the holidays mean while I sip my pumpkin spice tea or cocoa.

Also, this spice mix has a scent to it. Scent has strong associations with memory. I let the scent bring me associations of people coming together to feast, and all the bonding and nurturing that brings. Even during the holidays when “my family” will mean just me and my son, or when it means the family gathering might contain some drama, and I may have to face some sad facts about who is no longer with us, I can still let the best parts of what this holiday should be wash over my mind with that scent.

Sometimes my holiday experience doesn’t quite fit the way it should, so sometimes this scent is a reminder of what to strive for when my family isn’t making me feel especially generous. Then the scent of this spice is motivation.

I like to think the warmth of the sun does not go away in winter, that it comes inside to my home and heart, and is shown through generosity, togetherness, and above all: food. Food with lots of baking. Warm fresh breads and pies made with my hands to tell my family that I love them. This makes winter better for me, and I hope that if you struggle with winter that maybe you can find a way to let the scent of this spice bring your sun inside to your home and heart as well.