Archive for October, 2008

Lively Pets in our Kitchen

Saturday, October 25th, 2008

A few months ago, I wrote about the sad demise of our water kefir. Now, after a good deal of chasing around, I’m happy to say that we have a healthy colony of water kefir once again.

Several of Rebecca’s pets

I went on a wild-goose-chase trying to find some water kefir grains from sources in New Zealand. It seemed that everyone was having the same problems: the grains had become sluggish and were failing to reproduce. Finally, I gave up and imported some water kefir from Australia. This was expensive and took a very long time! When the dried grains arrived (back in early August), I had to reconstitute them and tend them carefully for several weeks before they were up and running properly. I’m happy to say that all the effort and expense has paid off. We’re enjoying delicious water kefir drinks and I’ve already shared spare grains with a number of people. They are reproducing like crazy! Our old grains were certainly never this lively! I feel confident that the water kefir will remain healthy this time, as I think I’ve got a much better idea of how best to tend the culture. I’m having fun experimenting with our spare grains, making different flavoured water kefir sodas using honey and different kinds of herbs.

It’s very satisfying to look up at all the live ferments brewing, fizzing, and multiplying on the kitchen shelf. We like to call them our pets! We now have milk kefir, Caspian Sea yoghurt, kombucha, water kefir, traditional ginger beer plant (this is similar to water kefir grains), a 2 year old wild sourdough starter, and a ginger beer bug. What a lineup!

If anyone would like to share any of these “pets,” please contact me via email. If you live locally, you could get them off me when we are in Kaitaia. If you live in another part of New Zealand, I could send them to you overnight via Courier Post, though I do charge extra for shipping.

Coming soon: More details on how to keep a healthy water kefir colony.

Kefir Cheese Experiments

Sunday, October 12th, 2008

We had lots of jars of left-over kefir lurking in the fridge. I decided that the time had come to try some interesting cheese experiments. My goal was to make a dry “parmesan”-style grating cheese as well as a piece of hard kefir cheese to coat with wax and age in the fridge.

Dry Parmesan-style grating cheese

I started off the cheese making process by straining the kefir through a fine cotton cloth. After 24 hours, I put the whey in a jar to use for making lacto-fermented vegetables, soaking grains etc. The remaining curd was nice and thick. I mixed some sea salt into the curd until it had a nice salty savoury taste.

Next, I had to find a way to press the curd. After some deliberation and assessment of equipment options, I ended up wrapping my little pattie of curd in a piece of muslin and putting it in the bottom of a colander. I used an inverted saucer as a chaser to press down on the curd. After trying several different weights, I settled on a plastic bag full of water. This makeshift cheese press didn’t look very pretty, but 24 hours later I was pleased to find that the curd looked pretty well pressed.

Experiment One: Dry Parmesan-Style Grating Cheese
I broke the pressed curd into small pieces (roughly one inch cubes) and set them to dry on a wooden cheese board on the bench. I have to admit that certain two-legged rats in this household (Kevin and I!) found these little cubes of curd quite tasty and had trouble leaving them uneaten on the bench. I turned the pieces each morning to ensure that they would dry on all sides. I also wiped them every couple of days with a cotton cloth dipped in salt water. This was to stop any mold from growing on the surface of the cheese before it could dry completely. After about a week, the pieces of curd had dried all the way through. They were very hard and smelled very cheesy and pungent! I ground them up in the food processor and mixed the resulting powder with beaten eggs to make stracciatella soup. Kevin and I both found this delicious, but if you are looking for a mild cheese experience I advise you to look elsewhere! We have wrapped the leftover bits of cheese in paper lunch wrap, and are storing them in a jar in the fridge.

Experiment Two: Aged Kefir Cheese
For this cheese, I left the pressed curd in a big piece. I dried it on the cheese board for a few days, turning it and wiping it with salt water to keep the surface clean. Once the surface had hardened up a bit, I coated it with cheese wax and transferred it to the fridge to age. We are planning to let this cheese age for at least a few weeks before trying it, so I can’t yet tell you what we think of it! I’ll be sure to report on the outcome when the time comes.

Please note: I have extra kefir grains if anyone would like some. They are free to anyone who can pick them up from Kaitaia. I charge to ship them to other parts of New Zealand.

Spring Gardening Frenzy

Friday, October 3rd, 2008

With the soil warming up and winter rain over, we have been hurrying to prepare the garden beds for spring planting. There is a lot of weeding and clearing out to be done. Mulch and compost need to be spread. New batches of compost need to be started. We are moving ahead with all these tasks, even as I plant seeds in trays and punnets and transfer the first seedlings into the waiting soil. Mizuna, lettuces (“deer’s tongue” and “half century”), shungiku chrysanthemum, multiplying spring onions, red cabbage, calendula, mustard lettuce and New Zealand spinach all seem to be thriving. Sadly our tat soi has fallen victim to slugs and birds. I guess I’ll plant some more. I’ve also planted out the best bulbs from last season’s onion crop, in hopes that they’ll sprout and run to seed. This is my first attempt at saving seed from bulbing onions, so I hope my timing is right.

Baxter bush cherry tomato seedling

The first tomato seedlings, “Baxter’s Early Bush,” already have their first true leaves and will soon be ready to transplant. Pepper, zucchini, amaranth, and more tomato seedlings are poking their heads out of the soil.

Most of the tomato varieties we are planting are the same as last year: Money Maker, Russian Red, Humboltti and Green Zebra. The Green Zebra suffered from extreme neglect and didn’t fruit well last year. I’m determined to give it a fair trial this time around, since the few fruit we did get from it were beautiful and delicious. I have to pay more attention to staking and removing laterals, since it’s an indeterminate variety. Humboltti, a small yellow cherry tomato, fruited prolifically and stayed disease free last year despite almost total neglect. We are growing it again, since it is tasty and easy to grow, although it seems to split rather too readily. Baxter’s Early Bush Cherry Tomato is a new variety for us. We are hoping to grow some of these in containers in a warm spot, in order to have an early crop of cherry tomatoes and save space in the garden.
I saved seed from Black Beauty Zucchini the season before last. To avoid crossing with the Austrian Oilseed Pumpkin (also a Curcurbita pepo), I planted a late zucchini crop after we had harvested the oilseed pumpkins.
We are planting two varieties of amaranth this year. We have grown the leaf amaranth before. It’s an attractive coleus leafed variety called “Tampala.” Grain amaranth is a new crop for us. We are excited to be trialling a variety called “Pygmy Torch.” It is meant to be very ornamental and can produce a prolific grain crop in the right conditions. I have sown the grain amaranth in trays, and plan to plant it out in the garden at 8cm spacings as per the advice in an old Koanga Gardens seed catalogue.