Ferment that!

IMG_0507Summer inspires me to be out-of-doors as much as possible, planting too many tomatoes and ignoring the vast array of weeds. This summer has been no different and yet everything is different. I am now working closely with farmers and producers and getting my inspiration from the farmers markets and my wonderful housemate. This season we are successfully making our own yogurt and Kombucha weekly. We are eating so much from the garden.

I have always been intimidated by fermentation..i know..throw stuff in a pot and let it ferment..what could be more simple? i dont know?! I am starting with Kombucha.  I loved the stuff from the first time i tasted it. That tart green apple, vinegar sweetness with a slight fizz..I knew i was drinking something wonderfully pure and packed with b-vitamins and happy belly creating probiotics. Kombucha has been around for centuries and is thought to relieve arthritis, depression, anxiety, gal bladder misfortunes and increase liver function. It could also not be easier to make.

IMG_0710 So why do we limit ourselves and what we can obtain because of insecurities? I recently told a friend that I was the most optimistic person he would ever meet but with the largest bag of self doubts..i think getting older just makes that bag bigger and more easy to bare..i dont want that bag anywhere near me anymore!  so I have been shedding a few pounds of these doubts with a wonderful jar of Kombucha each day.

We used a simple black tea recipe and created our scoby (aka Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast) from a pre-existing one..easiest method.

To make your own, you will need:

  • A gallon size glass jar
  • a little less than 1 gallon of brewed sweetened tea cooled to room temperature
  • 1 Kombucha SCOBY (we got ours by buying a good, already-made Kombucha at the store and just poured it into our cooled tea
  • a square of cheese cloth and a rubber band
  • In your glass jar, prepare the tea with 1 cup organic sugar in 1 gallon of your favorite brewed black or green tea. I know people who use flavored teas as well..your choice. Make sure that tea is completely cool before going on to next step.
  • add your kombucha from a store bought bottle, or settle your newly acquired SCOBY gently onto the liquid surface. Some of them will float and some will sink…dont worry. Eventually it will float and expand.
  • Cover the jar with the cheese cloth and secure with a rubber band.
  • Place in a warm location around 70-75 degrees and let sit from 5-30 days. We just put in on the kitchen counter. Depending on your preference it will be less sweet and more potent the longer you leave it. We bottle our Kombucha about every 7-10 days and let it ferment a little more in the fridge to add the fizzies.
  • Pour your Kombucha into smaller jars and refrigerate.
  •  Every 1-2 batches, the scoby will have a baby that can be used to make other batches or given away. (see photo at bottom of post)


I photographed my SCOBY growing..it was fascinating! IMG_0474 IMG_0495 IMG_0498 IMG_0546 IMG_0712 IMG_0713this last photo shows the baby scoby that can be detached and offered to someone else who wants to make their own Kombucha!


Summer Charms of the Elderflower

IMG_0448Yesterday marked the the tenth anniversary of my mom’s death. I always feel it looming but i had forgotten the date until I was sitting outside with a wonderful book and my morning tea. A friend had given me “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed while i was in Italy but i just wasn’t ready for it yet. I knew it was going to be a tough read about loss and strength and personal growth. I was doing enough of that on my own, on the other side of the planet. But i packed the large hardback in my precious small space and carried it home. This week i cracked the spine and haven’t been able to do anything else. Listening to that inner voice sure can be powerful. I was so ready to read this book! So sitting in my backyard, feeling somewhat at a loss, I remembered that it was June 17th. And without a second thought, burst into tears. It actually felt good and clean.IMG_0444 I’ve been home officially three months now. I have an intense but good job and am so happy to be back in my house. I have an awesome housemate, 2 cats, a dog, 5 hens and lots of little things popping up in the garden, many of which are also weeds. So barely noticable bit by bit, I am feeling settled. I am trying really hard this summer to pay more attentions to details and moments and less about planning the next moment. I want to relish being home this summer and the weather has been truly perfectly wonderful!IMG_0252IMG_0451IMG_0330My recent projects have included many hours clocked into the farmers markets, with my local Slow Food office and at home nesting and rebuilding. So far i have planted the essentials and enough tomatoes to make paste for the winter months but my biggest score was my elderflower tree. After traveling to Ireland a few years ago, i could not get enough elderflower and I wanted it all the time in everything i ate. Coming home I researched and planted 2 trees. This spring i was graced with the most beautiful flowers. Every morning I walked outside to inspect their progression. I knew they needed to be picked at just the right moment for the best sweetest flavor. Elderflower syrup all summer long.IMG_0370

So here it is my jar of golden goodness. And HERE is a great step by step if you want to do it as well. I left enough blossoms on the tree to make elderberry cordial in the fall. IMG_0398

It was either this or polygamy…

candleI have been home for six weeks. In this time I have lived in three homes, recovered from jet lag, been on seven dates, submitted countless resumes, hearing back from three with two interviews. I got my dream job without resume or interview.  I have bought a bike, a car, a bed,  eaten hundreds of tacos, found a roommate, got a new phone number and started running. I recently heard back from date number five, being told rather casually that he is now exploring poly relationships and although i didn’t seem like the type of girl who would be interested, give him a call if i was. I’m not.

So I woke up this morning and had a somewhat startling epiphany. I have been home for only six weeks (!!) and in that time i have not stopped moving, pushing, pressing forward, afraid to slow down and afraid to be alone. I am on a quest, searching for something but not know what that is exactly. God forbid i slow down long enough to find out.. I need to slow – the – hell – down. Trust my instincts. I need to start work inwardly. I need to stop looking for something to calm my rattles that is outside my own self. I need to put down the phone and pick up my running shoes more often. I need to learn how to ride my bicycle in the city without terror.

Not able to sleep, the 6am sunshine pulled me outside, doing something active, something to celebrate the weather. I was also curbing a bit of a panic attack. Full moon anxiety? I had made a very definite decision to move forward, on my own at my own pace..alone.  I went to breakfast with a friend and realized that I am okay with this hiatus. I have earned it. All of these needs listed, the one glaring pattern I am seeing, is time. All of these wonderful needs will only take time. These are not things that will be easy nor quick. They will take time and patience and strong will. They are also things that will quiet my head.

As i am moving back into my green bean, I stopped by my favorite shop and bought a new candle that smells like other worldly things; beets, and moss and pine needles. Polygamy is not for me. I don’t need to share that much.

Too much good?

IMG_5944I have had a very difficult time writing since I returned. Emotions are running high and intent on testing my limits. I have too much time on my hands.  I am meeting people and making connections that actually leave my body humming and exhausted. After a very successful meeting and the possibilities of a promising date, I was concerned that my body could not take any more good…strange to feel, I know, but doors are opening and light is flooding in.  I have grown mistrustful of too much good. I know that with those highs come their yang…Is it possible to have only good things happen? There must be balance and with so much wonderful,  I have experienced such disappointment and spent innumerable wakeful nights restless with my own doubts.

I often laugh out loud. I argue with myself about the musings of my juxtaposed life. By day, I am moving forward like I’ve been shot from a canon. I am limitless. By night, I am alone with my thoughts and the ever-present danger of too much access.

So here I am, restless, confused but full of much gratitude and humility. I suppose this is life. This is being part of life and not just an observer of its goings-on. More than one friend recently told me that I am too open. I allow myself to be too vulnerable and available. I need to learn to be present yet less available emotionally. I struggle with this idea. Yet I doubt I can be anything less, or is it more? I am this self, aware of my faults and unaware of my limits. I have been back for a short time and have not stopped running. I can only hope that I am moving toward the good. I will remain vulnerable and open.

Blessed Are the Cheesemakers

IMG_4421Everything is fluid movement, orchestrated in the silent chaos of stainless steel and curd. The noise is deafening in intervals of transition between space and necessity for more space.IMG_4765I spent two months on a farm in West Cork making cheese, challenging my muscles and my patience with things new and incomprehensible. I could feel this world around me slowly unfold into patterns of routine. I was discovering my temporary place in this well established dichotomy. The curds have made my hands soft. Washing them has made them dry and papery looking. New bruises, scars and scrapes mark their surface with my daily lessons. I look at them now with admiration.IMG_2203Weekends lent themselves to experimenting in the quiet space of the dairy. I wanted to see if I could make my own cheeses using the methods I was learning. Small scale. My friend and co-experimenter, Gemma, tried our hand at this mysterious transition of milk to cheese.

IMG_4764The process of cheese making is a simple function of nature doing its thing. Yet as we know anything nature does that looks simple, is  highly complex and layered with chemistry. We wanted to know about each. How does the simplicity of milk transition into its unique intricacies? Cheese is a lesson in patience and observation.
We begin by pulling milk from the morning, slowing bringing the temperature up to add starters and our rennet.IMG_4857IMG_4859testing the PH levels to make sure our acidity rises a bitIMG_5098

Bubble wrapped for warmth and a rest IMG_4860in the quiet moments of rest we are researching and making notes…lots of notesIMG_5093it’s working. The rennet has solidified the curd and separated from the wheyIMG_4862Now it is time to cut the curd, stir it and test it for consistency…just a little more heat and another restIMG_4863 IMG_4865 IMG_4867filling the mold where it will be turned twice and then left to press overnight.  IMG_4870IMG_5103 IMG_4873next day calls for a nice soak in the brine bathIMG_4771followed by a series of days turning, washing and caring for this little one as the rind slowly turns from white to pale butter yellow. with soft pink rind leading to a final thin coat of white mold…IMG_4951
IMG_5095 IMG_4952IMG_5462 IMG_5469 Now i must confess that although this cheese began as a Gubbeen it very much became a Mooney-Boniface. I am not disappointed. This was such an experience of process and experiment. It is incredible to use the same milk, starters, rennet, brine and wash and come up with a completely unique cheese. The aroma was pungent and mushroomy The texture was delicate and creamy. The flavor was nutty and slightly acidic. I think for my first wash-rind from start to finish it was a lovely cheese. We savored every last bite.

Buy a ticket!

IMG_5163Between moments of terror at the idea of have a mere 10 days to complete my thesis,  making cheese, cutting up pigs, learning knife making, absorbing every single moment of Irish life, I have been cooking…really wonderfully cooking, like i haven’t cooked since I was back in Portland. It feels extraordinary. I have been developing new biscuit options for Gubbeen and finding success. People who know how to cook like my cooking! I seem to be having a mad affair with Irish butter and..this seems to be a good relationship.

Being surrounded by all of this great food, inspires me to bake, roast, fry and harvest. I have made pork roasts, gumbo, wild green salads with cashel blue dressing and valentine’s day cupcakes for the ladies in the dairy. I walk down to the dairy with my pitcher to collect fresh raw milk and over to the hen house to get a couple of eggs, a duck egg, if i am extra lucky! This never gets old to me…in the blowing sideways rain and in the dark where i inevitably trip over something in the barn.  I dont have my beautiful kitchen aid or my copper pots and confection oven. My pantry of always-ready supplies has been narrowed down to “what can i borrow, beg and steal”, or buy down at the Spar. My oven doesnt work so i pack up my supplies and head to my neighbor’s flat where her gas range has six options… 0-6…? What i realize is that nothing inspires me more than finding solutions to what could be frustrating dilemmas and succeeding. My favorite moment thus far was discovering how to cook down beets to tint my frosting. it worked beautifully!

IMG_5349So again, i am at this crossroads of figuring out what i want to be when I grow up. My mentor here believes i should open a cafe/shop, live above it ala Alice Waters and create. I always dreamed of a little cafe where the locals have their own coffee cup and a hook to reserve its place.  Every day since I was a little girl I make a wish when i see the clock hit a double…being a romantic, I inevitably wish for a certain someone to adore me. To my surprise, last night at 19:19 i squeezed my eyes tight and wished for a job that I will be passionate about…i did that again at 12:12 today and at 08:08 two days ago…perhaps this is my clock-watching fairy kicking my ass and telling me to stop looking at the clock. Reminds me of the joke where the guy prays to win the lottery until god smacks him upside the head and says GO BUY A TICKET!IMG_5134

Perhaps i am closer to my ticket…

“Do what you love, love what you do”

IMG_5068As many of you know, I am living in Ireland making Gubbeen Cheese. After a furiously fast six weeks, I realize two things; i have learned a great deal about cheese production and the difficulties and passion that is necessary to do this for a living, and that I have barely skimmed the surface…no pun there, i swear…maybe.

There are some remarkable cheeses made here in Ireland and there are these pioneers who began this industry in the 70’s out of necessity and a massive love of cheese. Before all the bureaucratic nonsense regulating the dairy industry, most people had a few cows and had excess milk. What better way to fix that then to make cheese! These people were self starters, learning from each other and any text they could get their hands on. Most had traveled to Spain or France and learned from other small producers.

IMG_4991This last weekend Gemma and I took the big white van and headed over to visit Cashel Creamery in Tipperary. The land here has been farmed for centuries, being some of the most rich fertile and sought after soil in all of Ireland. We met up with Louis Grubb for a tour and to see how this large production creamery makes it’s world famous cow and sheep blues. We were lucky enough to arrive for production and see the curds pressed into their molds. Blues are inoculated with penicillin to create the beautiful blue ribbons of mold. Each cheese is turned in it’s mold for 24 hours before being brined, poked with long needles to inject spores deep into the center and then hand turned for several days.

IMG_5009 IMG_4998IMG_5001 I was curious if the aroma of the blue was going to knock me over but the curing rooms were rich and nutty. Beautiful cheeses!!

IMG_5007Armed with our gifts of Cashel and Crozier, we spent the night in the town of Cashel visiting the infamous Cashel Rock and a 12th century Abbey. the weather was cold, wet and windy with moments of sunshine so we were lucky to be the only people wandering through the ruins…

IMG_5057 IMG_5051 IMG_5021The next day, we drove back to  County Cork, past Cork City and out onto the Beara Peninsula. WOW! This area is historically known for its copper mines and as we wrapped around infinite inlets and winding roads, we became more and more entralled with the land. The jagged rocky earth could not have been more different from our last visit and I was mystified how a cow dairy survived in this place.

IMG_5078We past the cemetery, and turned onto what we hoped was “the next tarred bouderain”. Apparently this just means bitty narrow road with tufts of grass growing out of the middle. What we did learn is that these roads were built by the farmers to move their dairy cows from field to milking parlor. Most of the cows could maneuver over a mile up these lanes, through their pastures, past other open pastures and turn at the appropriate drive to arrive in time for milking. Brilliant!

IMG_5064We did the same and arrived at Milleen’s farm to meet up with Norman and a very fussy goose. Norman and his wife Veronica raised their family, learning to make cheese and teach cheese making classes in their farm house high above the sea. Their production could not have been more different from Cashel. They were producing from about 15 tons of milk a year in one room of their kitchen. In the early 70’s, Veronica decided to make cheese because her single cow was producing more milk than she and her family could consume. gabhair00003Using “The Cheeses & Wines of England & France with Notes on Irish Whiskey” written by John Ehle from North Carolina, Veronica started experimenting with soft washed rind cheeses and now produces one of the most exquisite cheeses produced in Ireland. She also taught Jeffa Gill of Durrus  who in turn, produces her own wonderful and successful cheese.

IMG_5072 IMG_5073We sat in the kitchen of their farmhouse, listening to stories about the mishaps and success of making a farmhouse cheese while sharing bits of cheeses and Gubbeen Salami. I had a momentary love affair with their irish Setter. With regrets, we said our good-byes and headed out to explore the peninsula. We could not have asked for a more wonderful experience. Gemma was armed with several remarkable contacts in New Zealand and I am hoping to get out to Montana this summer to make cheese with Veronica!

IMG_5076 To say the least, thank you so much to both Louis Grubb and Veronica and Norman Steele for taking time to share your stories and cheese with us. It was an experience I will never forget and one that has inspired me greatly!IMG_5082