Thursday, April 30, 2009

muffin memories

I went to the market the other day, armed with a full wallet of my doughy dollars. I hit some of my usual vendors and scored asparagus, carrots and some greens. Getting some eggs, the vendor reached in for a few and then gave me tangerines in exchange. Sweet! I thought about some carne, but Ted was nowhere to be found. Then, thinking of creamy items I decided to try my hand at trading for some yogurt. I made my pitch and was offered a most fair bargain. As I was stuffing my ceramic cups into my bag, making a mental note that I should trade for more yogurt in the future I heard something most delightful: "Would you like to try a sample of some of the milk we use for the yogurt?"
Hell yes!
Uh, I mean, sure, I'd love to try some. (Geez, I hope they like the muffins.)

After getting home, I took a closer look at the jar. It had a nice ring of fat around the top. A touch yellow and chunky, it spoke of no homogenization and light pasteurization. It was past the kid's bedtime, so unless I'm making hot cocoa, it is not likely I'll be getting into it tonight. One more look at the cream and I tore the top off, getting splashed as the hunks of cream cannonballed into my glass. I enjoyed a mighty glug. Suddenly, I'm five again. Racing my elder sister to the front door to get to the milk first so that I can eat the creamy plug with a spoon. All by myself. (And yes, I did used to get milk deliveries to my front door as a kid. Not that I'm that old, just that 30+ years ago, I lived in rural Sonoma County.)

This, is that milk. Or rather, represents what today's could be. Grass fed, local, served from glass. Only problem, this was a sample. Now, in theory, it could be, like, in the realm of possibility that this could maybe, like someday be an item at the market.............until then, I'll be baking up batch after batch of muffins, bringing them to market every week, hoping and praying for the possibility to trade for some more of this milk.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

wild beer at the track

Like, duh, I almost forgot. I still gotta talk about the wild beer(s) that I started with the fruity dregs of the wild winter mead. First mentioning it there, then procrastinating more, without thinking or trying to tease, I mentioned it again as being the "other gallon" during the sourdough blonde post. Sheesh, with only a few bottles left, I better talk fast, so, here goes:

So, picture us transported back in time to the fruity dregs of the mead. I poured a gallon of cooled wort into my carboy containing still actively fermenting fruit and whatever remained of the mead. I added an airlock, gave it some shaking to aerate the whole thing and sat back. By the next day it was a foamy beast, happily breeding millions and millions more of my friends. On day two I siphoned out the liquid component into another fermenting vessel and put the top back on. When I saw no more activity, I bottled it. Then, as you can see here, I gave it a try along with some of my first sauerkraut. The beer was super fruity, but also crisp and dry, with only a hint of sour. I immediately wished I'd brewed far more. Next time. The kraut? Crunchy still, with great flavor, but a tad salty. Needs some washing with fresh water. Enough though, let us get back to the beer, or more importantly, the yeast that makes it happen.

My sourdough starter is at least three years old. Surely, this is domesticated, but, at what point did it become so? For that matter at what point does anything become domesticated? I would still call this post-mead, fruity tasting beer wild, but what about after I culture the yeast from it and add it to another batch? Because I did just that. Then I brewed a much bigger beer in every sense. More hops, more malt, darker color, bigger batch, just to push the limits and see what this yeast could do. I figured that if it could ferment a 10% alcohol mead, then it could do a "big beer" (9%). I'm this yeast's biggest fan and cheerleader, we just scored big AND we were playing at home, again, so, what the hell, huh?

The "big" beer started fermenting like a champ. There was vigorous convection in the carboy and things were proceeding along better than expected. When it gave the first signs of slowing down I took a gravity reading to figure out how close to done we were. It smelled dee-lish, but, the reading only came up half-way there. Crap. I covered up the carboy and left the room to go scratch my head somewhere else. It hurt with the beginnings of thinking that I might have introduce another yeast if I couldn't revive this one. The wild yeast cheerleader in me felt ashamed. I consulted my brew buddy and he recommended I go get a cold one from the fridge before I think about it anymore. Solid brewing advice from someone I can always count on.

After a few days of wondering what the hell happened, I broke down and went to the home brew shop. I got enough ingredients for a gallon and a half batch, and with sunken shoulders bought a "professional" yeast to do the job. I figured I could get this beer going and then add my half done beer to it. The beers were similar enough that the overall blend would be alright. But wouldn't you know, the half-done beer had a mind of it's own. As I was boiling up my new batch, I noticed a few bubbles that weren't in it a few hours ago. Huh? New activity? I finished brewing batch 2, pitched my yeast, and checked on the naughty little yeast in batch 1 again. Yep, a little jet lagged perhaps, but certainly back on the job after a week of time off.

Weird things happen, and sometimes you just have to accept that despite their seeming oddity to your own familiarity, really are firmly planted within the realm of normal. Like here at racetrack. If rocks blowing across a muddy lake bed are within the bounds of normal, then why can't a yeast wake up when it senses competition? (And talk about weird, click on the picture and notice how the track in the foreground aims toward the rock in the distance and seems to have made a correction to avoid a collision!)

Anyway, to finish the story, the yeast pulled it's shit together and finished the job, all on it's own accord and sense of time. Then I stepped in and dry hopped the hell out of the two gallons or so, managing to bottle it in time to enjoy hauling out to one of my favoristist places, here at the track. In perfect conditions, with the last light casting long shadows across the playa, bringing out the finest of textures (despite the poor photography and severe lack of mega-pixels), we chose a table to enjoy the brew.

Wow! Big and red, a touch sweet and yet totally hoptastic, this beer is crazy! After a long day of hiking in single digit humidity conditions, it was more than enough to warm the tummy and get the brain contemplating the bigger questions in life:
What am I here for?
How do the rocks really blow across the mud?
How does a single cell organism, sense competition and alter its behavior?

Who knows. But I'll think of this view whenever I think of this brew.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

ferment change

Ever wanted to know more about urban agriculture?

Do you like fermented food and drink?

Wanna help out the most amazing non-profit ever?

Well, tie it all together and race on down to the Humanist Hall this Friday the 3rd for an experience that will leave your mind full, your taste buds delighted, and your contact list swollen with folks who practice urban agriculture, advocate for food justice, and work with putting backyard gardens into homes in West Oakland. Or hey, if just wanna talk to someone who practices the ancient craft of fermentation, come on down. Oh, and if you bring a fermented food to share, you could win a prize. Last year's event was a hit, and this year's promises to be even bigger, with satellite events throughout April (Check for updates at the blog).

See you there!

(Talk to me at the event, tell me what the hell is going on in the photo above and receive a bread related prize!)