Saturday, January 31, 2009
As it turns out, my mom is addicted to fermenting too. She's not so big on spicy stuff, but instead opts for a slightly more bizarre (and, in my opinion, more fascinating) method of consuming those healthy microbacteria: kombucha tea.
You may have heard of kombucha tea, but if not, it is a fermented sweet tea created using a 'kombucha culture.' It is said to afford many beneficial health properties, especially digestive health, but also such diverse effects as relieving arthritis, helping with stress and insomnia, improving eyesight, clearing up the skin, and even enhancing the sense of smell! Clearly there is a small psychological component to the consumption of a drink indentified as a promoter of general well-being. While I'm not sure that I believe kombucha 'sends lupus into remission' (a claim on one website), I do believe in its digestive benefits, and am inclined to trust a drink that has been consumed for thousands of years by many different cultures. It is believed to have originated in China around 212 BC.
A couple of nights ago my mom demonstrated the process of making kombucha.
The first step is to get the kombucha culture. It is often called the 'mother,' and frequently referred to as a mushroom (in Japan kombucha is referred to as kocha kinoko, 'mushroom tea') , though this is not officially a mushroom, but instead a culture composed of bacteria and yeast. You can order these cultures online, or ask around your community, since every batch of kombucha generates extra, usually discarded. It's pretty nasty looking -- a slimy, white circle, often even thicker than the one my mom had (she told me this was an unusually flimsy).
Putting the 'mother' aside, she takes a big wide-mouthed glass jar and pours in a large amount of green tea, already brewed. Most kombucha recipes recommend adding sugar to the tea, as food for the bacteria. The bacterial process that creates kombucha is in part dependent on the reaction between the culture and the chemical composition of green and black teas, so other types of tea are less effective in creating the drink.
She adds a small amount of tea from the previous batch to get the process going. This reminds me of how yogurt is made: milk is heated then mixed with a tablespoon of yogurt, essentially seeding the milk with bacteria that turn it into yogurt.
After stirring, she adds the kombucha mother!
The mother floats inside while the bacterial conversion takes place. It takes 5-7 days. Then, you can remove the 'mother' and peel it apart into two disks, discarding one and keeping the other for a future batch. Kombucha seems to encourage people to keep making it: if you don't immediately make more, the 'mother' will be wasted and you'll have to go to a lot of trouble to get another one from someone else.
I guess I forgot to mention what kombucha actually tastes like: it's kind of like a combination of vinegar and green tea. I admit I was a little grossed out by it at first, but the health properties are intriguing and the vinegary taste is cool and refreshing once you're used to it. You can buy flavored kombucha teas at Ellwood Thompson's or other healthfood stores to see if you like it, but of course making your own is way cheaper. Check out a recipe online if you'd like to make your own. Wild Fermentation, my favorite fermentation book by Sandor Ellix Katz, also has a recipe. Good luck, and happy fermenting!
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
A great quote from the NPR site, where a small excerpt from Food Matters is posted:
"At first, I simply eliminated as much junk food and overrefined carbs as I could, along with a sizable percentage of animal products. All this turned out to be easy enough, for a couple of reasons. One, when I did allow myself to eat meat, or dairy, eggs, sugar, or bread made from white flour (usually at dinner), I ate whatever I wanted, and as much of it as I wanted. And two, I started to lose weight, quite quickly—a big boost of positive reinforcement." View the entire article here.
He is exactly right. Eating should be a pleasure, and it certainly is when we enjoy at intervals the things we are most fond of, instead of beating ourselves up over eating them at every meal. And besides...in my own journey down a similar path of diet and food philosophy, I have come to enjoy the whole, simple foods sometimes more than the sugary, fatty, starchy ones (though I do love me some cheese and pasta). For me, an important part of so-called 'conscious eating' is in establishing a deep understanding of how foods affect you -- mentally, physically and spiritually. I am reminded here of a book called If the Buddha Came to Dinner: How to Nourish Your Body to Awaken Your Spirit. Some of this book is based on Ayurvedic diet practices, but it is very enlightening in its contemplation of the spiritual aspects of cooking and eating. Consciousness is always a big part of it.
Anyway, the best part of Bittman's book is he includes recipes of his own. Here is another NPR article where Bittman and NPR's Melissa Block make some delicious beet pancakes and a frittata. Yum. This guy sounds like a great cook. He even makes oatmeal sound tantalizing..
If your farm is not on this list, let us know!
Ready to join, or just doing research for next year? Here are all the CSA in the Richmond area we know of...
Faith Farm: Meat, Eggs, Honey, butter, homemade pasta
Rural Market CSA: A CSA combining products from a handful of our areas best producers. Meat, honey, produce, eggs...
Dominion Harvest : Home delivery with a wide range of products.
Sunday, January 18, 2009
Last winter I made my first real acquaintance with beets. I had never considered eating them until I tried one sliced and roasted. Delicious! My RFC co-blogger Erin taught me how to cook beets just right: cut them up into bite-sized pieces, drizzle and coat them in olive oil, then roast in the oven at 400 until al dente. Now that the yearly love affair with tomatoes, sweet pepper and squash has come to a temporary close, it's time again to start enjoying beets.
It seems like most people, like me, tend to overlook beets as a culinary option. Perhaps they were forced to consume stewed beets from a can as children, or in general are repulsed by anything that is squishy and red. Or maybe some people have just forgotten about beets. In any case, they're worth a second look. In addition to being one of the most vibrantly colored winter vegetables (sometimes I just get sick of orange, though butternut squash, pumpkin and sweet potatoes are all delicious), they are incredibly good for you, with the usual quantities of cancer-fighting nutrients and anti-heart disease agents folate, manganese, potassium, dietary fiber and Vitamin C.
The best way to eat beets is as part of a salad. They provide a delicious textural counterpoint to greens, fresh fruit and nuts. I love the flavor so much, though, that I will sometimes just serve them as a stand-alone side dish. Other ways of cooking beets include baking, stewing, or pickling them, or adding them to vegetable juice mixes.
On the grower's end, a compelling aspect of beets is their hardiness and versatility as a garden vegetable. They are a perfect illustration of the concept of what I'm calling 'garden root cellaring.' This is how most people extend their garden harvests on into the winter: plant vegetables towards the end of the season, so that they are generally large enough to eat by the time the temperature turns cold. As the winter days go on, most cold-tolerant plants will fall into a kind of winter-induced stasis, refusing to grow but also refusing to die. As you are ready to eat them, you can gradually harvest these vegetables one at a time, leaving the rest inside the ground, waiting inside a cool, natural 'root cellar.' My beets are a bit small because we planted them in early October, which means they had less time to strengthen and get big before the frost. Still, they are surviving, and, of course, delicious! The Southern Exposure Seed Exchange catalog, in its handy guide to planting dates, recommends that us Richmonders plant beet seeds between August and September 7th for a winter harvest, and March to April 15th for a summer one (you can keep planting them all the way through mid-May, though hot and dry weather may result in a tough and stringy root). This said, you can get beets at the farmer's market during the first half of the season or so, but they always seem to come into the spotlight in the winter, when the range of vegetables narrows to only the ones that happen to also be cold hardy.
If you're growing beets for the first time, or plan to, here's a tip for checking the size without pulling up the whole root: just scrape the dirt at the base of the plant and feel the top of the root with your fingers. You can estimate the size this way, and won't waste beets by pulling them up too small.
My beets are thriving, in spite of those pesky weeds...I guess I forgot to mulch -- oops! I'm positive my beets would be bigger if I'd been more vigilant.
Let's not forget beets are in the same vegetable family as swiss chard, meaning that their leaves are also delicious and full of nutrients. Beet greens can be treated the exact same way as collards, chard, tatsoi, pak choi or spinach -- sauted with garlic and olive oil, added to salads or incorporated into soups. So, if you get the chance, give beets a try: they're easy to grow (remember: this is my first year of gardening!) and absolutely delicious to eat.
Thursday, January 15, 2009
While your on their site, sign up for their mailing list and get their garden e-news letter.
Monday, January 12, 2009
Obama still hasn't named a Secretary of Agriculture, which is one of the most important appointments in the Cabinet, overseeing a $94 billion budget that directly affects not just farmers, but public health, the environment, animal welfare, and so much more. For years this post has been held by shills for "Big Farma" and pandered to those corporations like Cargill, Smithfield, Monsanto, and Archer Daniels Midland with massive lobbying clout. As Nicholas Kristof wrote in his NY Times column yesterday, "Obama's Secretary of Food?", appointing a reformer to head the USDA would send a "powerful signal" that U.S. food policy was finally about to become more palatable.
Kristof linked to a petition at www.fooddemocracynow.org that asks Obama's transition team to consider six candidates — all experienced, viable names of people who are ready and willing to serve — for Secretary of Agriculture who could potentially mend our broken food system. Already, after only six days, 36,000 people have signed the petition, including Michael Pollan, Alice Waters, and Bill Niman, and the Obama transition team appears to be paying attention. But for some reason, the current names still being floated in the media are not those of reformers at all.
Dave Murphy, a sixth-generation Iowan and the petition's organizer, tells me that he thinks if we can get the number of signers to 100,000 over the next few days, the pressure to choose someone from the sustainable agriculture and food community — not Big Farma – would be too immense to ignore.
Please consider signing the petition, blogging it, and/or forwarding this message to your personal networks and any list-servs you are on.
Visit www.fooddemocracynow.org now to sign.
Saturday, January 10, 2009
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
My basic recipe follows. I change the spices and fruit and nuts, but the rest is as easy as, well, you know... It is really good with yogurt.
Heat together over low heat, stirring until viscous and blended.
3 Tbs coconut oil
1/3 C brown sugar
1/2 C honey
1 cup quick cooking, toasted oats
1 cup 5 grain cereal, (I use Old Wessex Ltd, available at Trader Joe's, but you can use more oats if you can't find it)
1/2 cup nuts and spices to taste (see below)
Mix well. Spread mixture in a thin layer on a cookie sheet. Bake at 325 degrees for 20 minutes, then stir. Bake 15- 20 minutes longer, until brown. Stir again. Let the cereal settle in warm oven. Break it into bits, add 1/2 cup of dried fruit and store in an airtight container.
Here are the combinations I have tried so far:
Dried cherry, pecan, anise and cinnamon
Dried apple, walnut, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice
Dried mango and ginger with almond
I have also taken to adding milk. spices and dried fruit to leftover rice and eating it for breakfast. It is strangely familiar and satisfying.
2 cups cooked rice
enough milk to cover rice
1TBS fresh ginger
1TBS sugar or honey
pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg
1/4 cup dried currants
Stir it up, let soak overnight, and eat in the morning.
January 14, 2009
Time: 7:00 pm
Program: General Meeting
Host: Falls of the James Group
Location: Science Musuem of Virginia - Discovery Room, 2500 West Broad Street Richmond Virginia.
Contact: See our Executive Committee link under the contact us section in the nav bar above.
Program: "The Region's Local Food Network"
Speaker Anne Darby and Jonah Fogel With the Richmond Area Food System Network Come hear how pioneers are reviving the regional food network, restoring value to fresh foods and revitalizing small farms and farmers.
This meeting is free and open to the public.
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
Join the Humphry Calder Community Garden! Our next meeting is this Thursday (8th) at 7:30 pm at the Humphry Calder Community Center (414 N. Thompson Street). We are also taking a limited number of reservations at $50--to guarantee that you will get a plot the first year.