Friday, October 30, 2009

Spicy! Nature’s Cures for Winter Chills

Most recent article on Elephant is up!

Check it out here. Hope you like the photo, it's my own work.

Even this morning I gave two co-workers two different types of herbal teas, and had some myself as well.

One had bronchitis and was coughing up a storm. I gave her some Earl Grey tea with slices of fresh ginger, which she said smelled divine ("And I can't smell anything right now!")

Another had an upset stomach/digestion issues so I gave her my favorite blend of mountain mint, sweet basil, and fennel seeds.

I drank this tea the other day after having a really irritated stomach from eating too much oily and spicy mango-lime chutney. The menthol in the tea really helped as a relaxant, and the fennel always helps my stomach issues as well.

Although I'm not the type of herb-loving person who believes that plants are a complete cure-all, I do believe that for general daily maladies, herbs are a very refreshing and delicious pick-me-up for improving your all around health.

Plus hydrating yourself with warm tea is always a good idea in the winter months!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Winter Garden Means Indoor Ginger

Indoor Garden, originally uploaded by baltimoreDIY.

It's getting cold out there. Especially since my ginger, sweet basil, and ancho chilies are more warm-weather plants, I had to bring my little porch garden inside. Good thing my file drawer/garden box is more lightweight than it looks.

Wow, do the pepper plants look huge indoors! I'd guess they're about three feet tall. And the peppers are still growing on them, which is very exciting.

Ssh, don't tell the other plants, but I think the ginger might be my favorite. It's so exciting each time a new sprout pops up from the soil, telling me that the ginger is happily taking root and spreading. Perhaps in late December I'll do a little digging around and make some spicy candied ginger for a mid-winter treat. Yum!

The ginger is a little hard to see because the sweet basil is flowering and hogging the picture in the front. The frond-like plants with lots of side leaves are the ginger. You can see two of the main leaves, and there are several more smaller leaves that have sprouted as well, hidding somewhere behind the basil pots and in the midst of the giant pepper stems.

What are you doing with your garden (indoor or outdoor) over the winter?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Spontaneous Fermentation

The October Foodmakers potluck was educational as always. We had a brief discussion and taste test, where several members brought a pickled and/or fermented food and gave a little background on the item.

I always pick up new and fascinating foodmaking processes at the potlucks. This month was no different: one new member, Aaron, brought his own homebrewed beer and talked about the process of beer making and spontaneous fermentation.

Here is the Wikipedia entry on the topic:

Beers of spontaneous fermentation are ales that use wild yeasts, rather than cultivated ones. All beer was once brewed this way, but by the Middle Ages brewers had learned to crop the yeast from one brew and use it in the next. Only in a few isolated regions were wild yeasts still used. The best-known region where spontaneous fermentation is still used is the Senne Valley in Belgium, where lambic is produced.

Aaron described monastaries where shallow pans of beer are set out in the rafters. The beer then ferments from the wild yeasts that have been living up in the rafters, feeding off the beer over the ages.

Of course, you can't control the taste of the end product as much this way, which explains why this isn't a very popular beer making method. But I find the idea of living cultures very fascinating, and I'm glad there are still people continuing this tradition.

Aaron said that Allagash is supposed to be creating a room for spontaneously fermented beer. To inoculate the space with the appropriate yeast, the room is sprayed down with beer. Can't wait to try it, if they do make this beer!

Our second food adventure was the tasting of Japanese Nuka Bran Pickles. Basically, a paste is made from water and bran powder. Vegetables are then left to sit in the bran paste to ferment. As the bran paste gets used over time, microbes from the vegetables begin living in the paste, making it more and more microbially dense, thus creating a stronger pickle.

Unfortunately, I don't think many people were a big fan of the taste. The bran paste was very strong, and the pickles took on a greyish color. Of course, it was still fun to try such a unique food.

The book Wild Fermentation has a recipe if you'd like to find out more about the bran pickles, or fermentation in general. The Amazon link for the book is here. The recipe in the book calls for the addition of beer or sake to the bran paste, along with ginger and seaweed. I'd probably try the bran pickles again with this recipe.

The rest of the pickles were fairly normal.

We had a delicious kimchi made from young daikon radish which was an absolutely gorgeous mix of colors in pure white, bright red, and dark green. They were a delicious mix of spicy, sour, and just a little pungent without being too strong. I think daikon kimchi is even better than the standard cabbage version of kimchi. (Growing daikon radish is also a really good way to naturally aerate compact garden soil.)

I brought pickled watermelon rind (the recipe can be found here.) By now the rind has been sitting in the gingered sweet and sour brine for several weeks and has picked up the perfect flavor. The light pink watermelon flesh and nearly translucent rind is quite aesthetically pleasing as well. Very palate cleansing, and a great party food.

Can't wait for November, when we'll be making cider with a homemade cider press. Stay tuned for details!
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