Yeah, I think I have a winner.

I'm totally in love with my new kitchen pet.

Okay, so I haven’t established a routine with my new kefir yet, but I’m having a lot of fun playing around and trying new things. I already learned that a second fermentation on the counter will result in curds and whey, but that was awesome because it made it easier to strain and tomorrow we will have a cream cheese fruit dip with apples for a great snack :). I’m loving how flexible this is, that I can pretty much make any dairy product with it (I’m going to get an ice-cream maker for it before Summer comes), and there’s such a wide range of smoothie flavors to play around with.

I have a neighbor who was born in the Ukraine, he’s pretty much American but his family still talks longingly of rye kvass and kefir, I’ve had to learn to pronounce it “kee-fear” even though my local health food store calls it “kee-fur” or he gets all angry stalwart Ukrainian on me.

I liked making sauerkraut, but after two batches of it I was so sick of it that I couldn’t bring myself to eat it anymore. It seems that may be an occasional treat, I really would like to try it on a burger. If I get a jar to make a smaller batch in that will refrigerate, that might be best. The ginger bug for sodas is out of my budget for something to keep up each day, though I do find that it’s so easy to start up that I can enjoy it occasionally. I hated dilly carrots, and I’ll find out soon about pickled onions.

Kvass burger.

I did like the beet kvass though. So, that might end up being a regular thing, especially since the pulp was great in meatloaf patties. It looks like my kvass routine will end with juicing the veggies after fermentation and using the pulp in meatloaf, crackers, and breads. With some tweaking, I hope to bring the red meat part of my patties to as low as possible while still including it in our diet for variety. I’ll share when I do figure out, but it might be a couple of months as my kvass factory won’t be nearly as full blown as my kefir factory. For now I’ll tell you that above was about half pulp (beets, carrots, and ginger), half meat, with one egg and a handful of quick oats (because I had no stale sourdough but I would have preferred that).

Anyway, so as far as probiotics go, it looks like I’ll be focusing on kefir with the occasional kvass and even more occasional experiment with a new vegetable pickle. Also my grains need a name. It’s something I’m chewing on.

By the way, check this out. Remember those tiny plants I posted pictures of on my birthday just a couple of weeks ago?

Gettin' my spring in my step.

Growing right along. Next to them is a bit of mint and dill, cuttings from some rather wilted herbs at the store that may not root well (being so far past their prime) but hopefully one or two will make it. I bet the mint does, that stuff is seriously hardy. I’ll tell you more about this little window some other time. Right now I need to go wail and whine and lament that my ink pen is throwing a tantrum when I want to draw.

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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.

Rotten Rotters, and Blogging Blogger Reading About Rotten Rot

Well, reading and blogging about fermentation anyway. I don’t know if you noticed, but I’m slowly getting information pages, more graphics, and some book reviews on that navigation bar above my banner. Right now I’m happiest about the fact that I did my first interview. A tiny little mini-interview, but an interview all the same.

This still being a brand-spanking new hobby blog with only a handful of traffic, I didn’t want to bother him overly much, but my review of The Art of Fermentation includes a snippet from the voice actor Sean Crisden. I became curious about what kind of effect the experience of performing the book had upon him, and he was kind enough to reply. This encourages me, I might start trying to do interviews more often.

Meanwhile, in the kitchen, the fermentation thing is doing it’s bubbly, tasty, tangy thing. I’ve been playing around and learning quite a bit.

I’ve learned that I don’t like dosas. This is a sad thing for me to say, our diet is lentil and rice based pretty much. I would have liked to have found a new way to prepare them, and it’s very seldom that I say I don’t like something.

I learned that I love fresh cabbages and beets. This was a shock. I thought I disliked them. Turns out that I just don’t like canned beets, or my grandma’s overcooked cabbage (don’t worry, she can’t figure out the internet past Facebook, my secret’s safe here). If I hadn’t been playing around with kraut and kvass, I never would have realized how tasty they are.

I also learned that I don’t just like raw cabbage, I like love lust sauerkraut. I knew I liked it, but naturally fermented… well I’m going to need more things to make it in. What I thought would last a month lasted only a little more than a week. My first batch was in a gallon jar with a smaller jar inside of it holding down a trimmed plastic coffee can lid. Normally I hate plastic. I do what I can to avoid it, but I’m not above reusing it if it’s already in my home. I’ll do anything I can to avoid throwing it away. My hatred has a lot more to do with the environment than health (but I definitely won’t reuse plastics labeled #1).

Which is why I shocked myself when I bought my new toy.

Japanese pickling box for kimchi, here with sauerkraut to be.

In my defense, as a reusable object it’s built to last and at least isn’t disposable. BPA, lead, and DEHP free, comes in several sizes, and the inner lid keeps your vegges under the brine perfectly. So I caved and bought plastic to ferment in.

 

Kimchi pickling box in action

I mean, look at that. That’s kraut with grated carrots, I just salted and mixed it up, then put it in the box. After a few minutes, I pressed down on the inner lid and the brine came up with no massaging. I closed the airhole on the lid and now it’s in an anaerobic environment that is doing a lot better job of keeping vegges down below the brine than my hand cut lid did.

Now here’s the deal, my jar setup that I had ended up with kraut that was kind of rubbery and squeaky to eat. I massaged it a lot to get the brine out, I’m hoping that with less massaging and this box, and a thinner cut, I’ll end up with a better texture. Personally the taste more than made up for the texture for me, but I know I need to fix that before I try serving it to anyone else, or to get any chance at all of getting it into my son’s belly where I want it.

I’ve heard that pushing the veges under the brine is anaerobic, but a true anaerobic environment will get a better texture. So, I’m giving it a shot. I’m on a limited budget (in fact I had to give up coffee for the month to afford this) and this was a less expensive option than some of the airlock lids. I’ll compare the result of this batch to my jar experience and decide from that if I will invest in more of these boxes or look at other options. No matter what, this was a lot easier to get everything under the brine. Seems easy to reach in and taste as well, and easy to store compared to a jar with an airlock on it, I can stack these.

I’ll see though. If the result isn’t that much better than my jar setup, that won’t justify expense and environmental costs in my eyes. It would have to be something I know I’d be thrilled with my whole life if I’m going to buy another. I won’t regret this one though, I’m happy with it I just don’t know if I want to keep buying more.

In the meantime, my jar is going to make some pretty little beet kvass for me :).

 

Star kvass with beets, beet greens, carrots, and ginger

I put the beet greens in with my kvass, because this woman did, and she looks like she’s having fun. Possibly way too much fun. Anyway, she seemed to enjoy her results and I didn’t have to figure out what to do with the greens. Also, carrot stars because now my counter is all pretty. It makes me smile when I walk by. That’s ginger on top of the carrots, leftover from ginger ale making below.

I admit, I’m also curious. I’ve seen pics by bloggers with pretty little pickle jars, but not too many of the finished product get posted. I know pickles get cloudy and full of sediment, things change color and the whole jar looks like a vegetable graveyard full of pickle zombies. I kind of want to see what happens to this. I’m envisioning a monochromatic landscape, with lighter stars, looking like a watercolor where they only had a tube of magenta.

In a couple of days I’ll probably run the vegges through the juicer, I’ve been wondering what I’ll do with the pulp. I might throw some marinara in it and call it pasta sauce. I guess I’ll taste it and see.

Speaking of my juicer, it turns out that carrot and apple juice tastes very nice when a ginger bug is added to it. Even my son liked it and he hates carrots (I’m so hoping he’ll like the kvass). That pulp went into pancake batter and it was yummy.

Oh yes, my ginger bug jug has a new toy as well.

Hard ginger ale to be.

Now I can make the adult-only version of ginger ale with more confidence. This jug has some honey in it, but it’s otherwise only ginger with no other flavors. I’ve discovered that if I simmer my ginger root twice when making wort for ginger ale, what’s left is still worth dehydrating and saving with some decrease in spice but still worth powdering to flavor things. Or maybe keeping fresh in the refrigerator and adding to certain meals or soups (or that star kvass next to it).

This is very good news for me, as it means I use less ginger in my ginger ale and I manage to have something left over to cook and bake with, ginger is rather costly to me and I’d like it to last as long as possible.

What do you do with your leftovers? Like here I’m looking at what to do with kvass juicer pulp and spent ginger. I’ve heard of using beets from kvass in soup, but I’d love to hear more suggestions. If you have a recipe that’s suited toward using up all of the vegetable in various stages in any kind of ferment, avoiding waste or maximizing nutrition, do share.