Monday, August 1, 2016

Making More Booze Than We Can Drink

A pretty picture of the makgeolli all bottled up before I ended up spraying half of the contents down the drain.
Although we've had an uptick in productivity from our garden, we're still by no means growing enough veggies for our daily use. So far, this has been fine because we usually do dinner out 3 times a week. Also, we've made our front yard look like a prison compound by caging off all our edibles to deter deer. It's working, although I just hate the way it looks - no French potager garden for us. Instead, we have what I would describe as a somewhat efficient, American ugly garden. Perhaps I'm being too harsh, but I'm still bitter about the limitations the deer put on our yard. About the 10th time they came nibbling our greens, I had enough and we bought rabbit fencing and fenced the whole damn yard in. 

While we fail at gardening, we excel at making booze (I realize that it sounds like the second part of the sentence sounds like the reason for the first part of the sentence). We have more booze here of the homemade variety that we can possibly drink. Last week, after reminiscing on the terrific Korean dive bar scene (delicious Korean street food and booze make Korean bars kick ass in comparison to their American counterparts), I attempted my first batch of makgeolli (Korean sparkling rice wine). Nevermind that we have at least 15 gallons of beer and wine fermenting already. What's another 5 gallons?
Perpetual spinach, amaranth, and bok choi
Remember my last post where I said that my husband and I seem to work in parallel rather than in series when working on projects together? The same thing happened here. This started out as my project, but since it involved making booze, the boy (who has made hundreds of batches of beer) had set ideas on how I should go about making booze. While I was out in the front yard piddling in the garden, he dove into the project. And since he is known for his lack of moderation, he started us off with 6 pounds of rice. 6 pounds of rice!!! I was going to use 5 cups of rice for my first batch. 
By the time I realized that we were going to have gallons of potentially crappy makgeolli, I had to keep going since the ball was in motion. So far, I've bottled it up, sprayed one bottle all over the kitchen after checking it, then sprayed 3 bottles into the sink with a tool over them to prevent more blow outs. The fermentation was still too active when I bottled them, so the fear was that the glass growlers would all explode. Dare I say that this tops the "molten beans on the ceiling" incident of 2001?
Straining the rice from the rice wine
Sesame and I are onto our 3rd round of Canine Circus school. I dig it, she digs it, and it makes us both communicate better. It sounds like couples therapy, which in some way, I guess it is. 

Sesame at her happy place
Other random notes to share that won't fit anywhere else: watch Stranger Things on Netflix. It reminds me of the Goonies and X-Files all wrapped up into one. Winona Ryder is excellent! Read We are Water by Wally Lamb. This is the first non-dystopian novel I've read in some time, and I couldn't put it down. I'm currently reading another Wally Lamb novel, The Hour I First Believed, and although it's good, the subject matter (Columbine shootings) makes it hard for me to read in big chunks. Something always disturbs me and I have to put it down.

Also, I may have another knitting pattern out soon! If anyone feels like test knitting a small cowl, drop me a line.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Starving Urban Homesteaders

At one point, I think I said I'd like to grow 50% of our vegetables. At this point, it's safe to say that the percentage is closer to 1%.  The list of forces working against me are, in no particular order, as follows: deer, hungry caterpillars, slugs, wind, fog, neighbor's unleashed dog, under watering, overwatering, and human error.
My beautiful plant starts, before they were consumed by the wild
With any luck, I will be able to have at least 1 purple jalapeƱo, some ground cherries, and purple and green tomatillos. It would take a miracle for us to get any sunflower seeds since the deer took a liking to the sunflower leaves. And, thus far, I've harvested 3 round squash, some tree collards, maybe a pound of yellow snow peas, and a few cups of cilantro all over the course of 6 weeks.

At first, the boy and I thought a great way to make us up our gardening game would be to not buy vegetables so we'd be forced to grow more and better vegetables. This has resulted in us both going a little crazy due to lack of vegetables and fruit, save for the occasional sungold tomato that we cut in half and share. We are breaking our store-bought vegetable and fruit fast today because we believe being malnourished is detrimental to our work and to our health.

The one time we came really close to having a substantial amount of nourishment, this time in the form of fava beans I planted in March, the boy ripped up the garden to add terraces. We find that we don't work so much together as in parallel, and this results in other similar instances of things happening in orders that are not ideal. The proper order would have been to build the terracing, amend the soil, plant the beans, water beans, and then enjoy the harvest. Instead, what happened was plant the beans, amend the soil, install a rain water catchment system, water the beans, and then rip them out right as they are producing beans to build retaining walls.

How are your gardens growing this year? Got any tips on growing in the fog, deer proofing a yard that won't make it look like a prison compound? You do? I'd love it if you leave a comment!

Zoolander Sesame and the boy's homemade chair
In other news, since the boy has had a few weeks off, he's a restless force around the yard and house (see previous paragraph with fava bean incident). After another one of my 12-hour work days, I came home not to the side yard terraced but to a homemade chair made with coastal redwood branches from our yard and our neighbor's yard. You see, our neighbor hates the 80-year-old tree in our yard, the one that was there 65 years before he decided to buy his house next door, and he gives us crap about that tree's existence pretty much every time we talk. For the past 10 years, our neighbor has thrown branches of our tree that fall into his yard back into our yard. Is it an asshole move? Yes, especially when we are in the yard or our dog is in the yard. So, in the spirit of making lemonade out of lemons, the boy made a bench with some of tossed branches and gave that to his brother as a wedding gift, and he made me this throne last week. We joke about selling these artisanal chairs for thousands of dollars because it seems like something that would piss our neighbor off more than our tree.

Awesome Korean bar in LA's K-town
Over the 4th of July holiday, I spent a few days in SoCal. Although I would never move there unless under extreme duress, LA has some good things going for it. Take Koreatown, for example. There is no equivalent in California, I'm sure. The Korean bar food at Dan Sung Sa in LA made my mouth sing even as my old ears were ringing from all the noise. Did you know that there is such a thing as corn cheese? Neither did I, and now it's my mission to seek out all version of it in the Bay Area. There is another Korean bar in Oakland, also called Dan Sung Sa but commonly known as Porno Palace, that I want to visit soon so I can eat more corn cheese.

Monday, May 9, 2016

And the Gardening and Kitchen Experiments Continue...

It's been roughly two months now since I decided to revamp the garden, and I'm finally happy with its progress. During the first month, since I'd let the front yard atrophy for a year, I was weeding, hacking back bushes, and pulling ivy.  Also, I'd never been happy with the previous landscape design, and I wanted something that was more functional (more vegetable gardening space), yet not an eyesore. Since my only choice for a food garden is to have it in the front yard, it gets tricky. 

For those of you not in California, we're in the midst of a drought. For me, this means that anytime I use water in the garden, it has to be for edibles 99% of the time. The succulents, once established, can be watered once a month. We put in a rain barrel system and it's been unusually rainy, so all this gardening I'm doing now hasn't used city water.

Chinese Dunce Caps are branching out!
I've added three more vegetable gardening areas, either by wall or by tearing out the previous, inedible landscaping, and now I'm in the process of growing green manure and clearing out yard waste (old scrap wood) around the house. It's amazing what you can put out for free, sometimes with the help of Craigslist or the homestead hookup list, and the creative things people use what I would normally throw away is astounding. For example, the guy who picked up the old oak scrap leftover from taking apart 3 wine barrel planters is going to turn the wood into biochar.

My favorite succulent, the dinner plate aeonium
I have a tray of succulent leaves I've culled from the new plants. Now, 6 weeks later, I have succulent babies! Once they're a little bigger and they've used up all the nutrients in the mother leaves, I'll put them outside because the front yard is still has bare spots that need some erosion control.

Yesterday, I ordered a grow light setup online, mainly because when I grow most seedlings outdoors they're wimpy! This is what I didn't see before when I was lured by all the exotic seed packets that were all under $3 - there's a hidden cost!  The best grow light reviews, not surprisingly, are from people growing weed. It took me awhile to sort out what type of lights I should use and what would fit into our tiny house without looking like an eyesore.

The boy has mentioned several times that the cost of the vegetables we grow better be more than what we've put out, but I can stifle that conversation by pointing out his various toys in the garage that will never yield anything useful for us to both enjoy.

The collard and kale trees are recovering from the slugs. Favas are going well!
Sesame is back in Canine Circus School, and she likes to use school time to catch up on her sleep. If you want to see some adorable and impressive dog tricks, follow Canine Circus School on Instagram. You may even see some action shots and videos of us, that is, when Sesame isn't sleeping through school.

Circus School is the perfect place for a nap

Hiking it
Back in October, I started fermenting a jar of habaneros. 6 months later, I blended the fermented habaneros with lime juice and some of the brining liquid. It's good! Wicked hot and a little tart. Between this and the homemade Sriracha, I don't think we need to buy commercial hot sauce anymore.

The habaneros are finally ready to become hot sauce
I also brined some eggs for 40 days in preparation for making joong. Joong, at least in California, is usually described to those unfamiliar with it as "Chinese tamales" - I love how Mexican food is so prevalent here that I can use a tamale as a descriptor and people shake their heads in recognition. The reasons joong is likened to a tamale is because it's sticky rice mixed with a salted egg yolk, beans, and various pork products all wrapped up in a bamboo (traditional) or banana leaf. I've been using banana leaves because I have them on hand for making tempeh.

Brining eggs
I used this recipe for brining the eggs, but for my next batch, I'm going to add a splash of rice wine and star anise per this recipe. The previous attempt was good, but the flavor was a little flat. It still tasted better than what I get from the Chinese markets, and by using my own eggs I know that the quality is better, but I think a seasoned egg yolk will be delicious. This time, I have a dozen eggs I traded with friends. The boy makes beer, and our friends use the spent grains to feed their goats, chickens, and turkeys.

Finished yolk!
The hardest part is waiting for the yolks to be finished, but since making joong is a lot of work (nothing hard, but a lot of preparation), the 40 days gives us enough time to recover.

Until next time, blogosphere! I notice that a lot of bloggers I follow have moved to Instagram, and that's where I spend the bulk of my social media allotment. So, follow me there if you'd like to see more pictures of Greaseball, Sesame, or be bombarded with succulent and garden photos.  My user ID is sungoldtomato.

Monday, April 11, 2016

2016 Garden Shakedown

In February, one of my client's landscaping was overhauled with drought-friendly plants. Mostly succulents and grasses. The colors of the succulents, purple and dusty blue, made me pause every time I passed it. I started reading up on succulents, and discovered that they are low maintenance, have very little water needs once established, are relatively cheap, and are easy to propagate. Succulent obsession in 3, 2, 1...

Ground zero of succulent obsession
Now, a couple months later, I overhauled our front yard to include a ribbon of succulents along a previously boring stretch of soil. I decided that plants in the front yard garden had to either have low water requirements, or they had to feed me. Anything that got in the way of those two goals had to go. The only exception to this rule was the grass, shown below. Although it barely needed water, it was blocking sunlight to my food garden, so I spent a month chopping away at it and filling all our green waste bins to capacity. Now it's gone and a lovely Meyer lemon tree (aka my cocktail ingredient tree) is in its place.

Once I start getting into something, I start seeing it everywhere and I can't stop talking about it. Sempervivums, echeverias, crassulas, and aeoniums fill my dreams, along with kale and citrus plants.  I subscribed to Design for Serenity's Facebook page because there is a daily "Succulent Tip of the Day." 

My succulent garden is itty bitty because I'm cheap and because I have a number of propagation experiments going on, the most exciting being a tray of leaves I am misting once a week.

I repurposed several rocks I found in our front and back yards, and I made one terrifying trip to American Soil for rocks and clay soil amendment.  The trip was terrifying because I had a hatchback full of rocks and at one point I made a sharp turn and thought I heard my car window break (nothing was broken, but I can't figure out where that sound came from). I also had to drive my car into tight spaces and drive backwards while avoiding forklifts and an audience of (probably indifferent) people milling around. Oh well, part of learning new things is feeling like an idiot, so I should be used to that by now.

Sesame has been very patient with my new hobby, and I even try to incorporate training drills ("STAY!") while I play in the dirt.

This installation looks like a tombstone. What it needs is a big spiral aloe in the front of it, but see the part above where I state that I'm cheap. Those dark aeoniums were from the backyard and part of Mingus's pee garden. I really miss that dog.

I was constantly slipping on this sloped area to the food garden, so the boy and I created some traction by putting ledge stones leftover from our fireplace remodel. I interspersed elfin thyme (cutest name ever!) between the stones. Hopefully, the thyme will spread so it will look less like the steps have a disease. Landscape architect, I am not.

I've been told that this gardening period of mine is more pleasant, aesthetically speaking, than my tempeh period. I freaked a lot of people out with pictures of moldy beans, but hey! It's food! It's good food, but not pretty food.

My patch of Chinese garlic chives is back, as and my Richmond Pride collard tree is thriving.

Some yellow snow peas, squash, and snap peas are starting to gather steam.

Since my collard tree is doing so well, I'm propagating cuttings for it. These collards were so, so sweet during the winter, and they were great to have when nothing else in the garden was ready to eat. Therefore, I must have more! 

If I can grow 90% of my vegetables, I'd be so happy. This year, I'll settle for 50%. The boy and I made two new gardening areas in the front yard, and I'm currently green mulching them (refer to the part where I am cheap) instead of bringing in bags of good soil. I am determined to make this clay soil usable! 

Gardening is not for the faint-hearted, though. I think I've freaked myself out a few times by lifting rocks and finding disgusting things. Like this, for example. What is it? Eggs? If you know what they are, can you please leave a comment and assure me that they won't kill me? I started a few internet searches trying to ID these, but got grossed out by images and had to stop. 

When I discovered these disgusting white round things, I put the rock back down and went back in the house. It didn't help that I also unearthed slugs and some salamanders along with these weird globs. It took me about 15 minutes to venture out again to take a better look at them. They're not giant egg sacks, but tumors or something else gross on roots.  Maybe they're anemic radishes. If I can eat them, I don't think I will. Oh, man. I have to stop writing about this because I have goosebumps.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

T A N D E M O N I U M ! ! ! !

Tandemonium resting outside the auto parts store - we needed windshield wipers

At the end of January, the boy and I decided that all our exercise deficiencies could be solved by purchasing a tandem bike. You see, we live up a wicked-steep hill, and even a small trip to the store involves trudging up said hill. So, the new rule was that farmers' markets and grocery stores had to be reached by tandem bike.

In the back of my mind, I knew tandem bikes were perceived as dorky, but it wasn't until a Prius pulled near us and shouted "TANDEMONIUM!!!" that I realized just how far from cool we had become. We looked exactly like what we are: a middle-aged couple riding a ridiculous tandem bike.

However, the bike isn't ridiculous! It's amazing and amazingly practical! Not only are we becoming stronger, but so many chores we once did are now exciting. Buying toilet paper? So much more fun when you have to figure out a way to strap it to the bike and ride it up versus head out in our boring old car to do the same task. So far, the bike has over 200 miles on it from us riding around doing chores.

Wearing a bike helmet necessitates a new hairdo that won't be wrecked post helmet. I learned this hairdo from a 12-year-old on YouTube
 A high mileage road bike, the tandem is not. We decided one day to have brunch somewhere far away, and we clocked 54 miles that day. By the end of that day, we were hurting! The seats were uncomfortable, and worst, when were around mile 48, we started getting passed by all the "serious bikers, " those decked out in spandex and aerodynamic helmets. Most of them felt the need to say something to us. And because I was hangry and sore, it took all my might not to bite their heads off. One guy suggested that we were in the middle of a date, and he asked me where our bottle of wine and baguettes were hiding.  Others suggested that I didn't need to pedal, or that I was already not peddling. I grimaced, which I think they took for a smile. To be fair, though, see the picture of us below. Dorks. The ladybug hat with the Nutcase label doesn't help, although I love it dearly.

Could this be why people think we're dorks?
Stokers get very little respect. Everyone thinks I'm along for the ride, as if I'm a child on a bike trailer. It's not a passive position, because if I'm not paying attention, I could lean the wrong way and throw us off. Peddling when we have to go the same rate and the boy is in control has also been something we're working on smoothing out. Standing up to pedal when the bike shifts into an extremely low gear and the crunch noise happens meant that we needed to learn when to tell each other what's going on.

The first time we bombed down the hill, I demanded a cyclometer so I could see just how fast we were going so we could quantify how fast/slow is reasonable. The boy sort of understood the intent, and after the cyclometer was installed, he informed me that I scream when we go over 33 miles per hour. I've gotten better, and my current scream speed is 37.

The day we loaded the tandem with toilet paper
The bike has also been an excuse to hit happy hours around town, and to drink lightly during said happy hours since there is a hill to be conquered to get home. (I highly recommend happy hour at La Marcha in Berkeley.) Although we need these rains and I'm hoarding the rain water for my garden (see all the rain barrels on my IG account), I'll be happy to hop on the saddle again when the weather dries out.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Foraging the Bay

Herring season is here! Since the boy struck out catching any herring (timing is everything, and we were out of town at the height of the local herring spawn), we decided that a consolation prize would be herring eggs. 

Herring eggs on seaweed

We now have a jar of brined herring eggs, and they are rad. Not surprisingly, they're crunchy, slightly salty, and mildly fishy. It's their crunch that makes me want to sprinkle them on everything I eat. I even mixed some in with mashed potatoes the other day.

Brined herring eggs - they should last a few weeks refrigerated

Still, as pleased as I am with our consolation prize, I wish he was able to score some herring. I had dreams of making pickled herring, but that is not to be. Our salmon supply is almost out, and I've become accustomed to having fish a few times a week. Even better is that I don't cook or clean any of that fish since this is the boy's thing.

If you'd like to chase herring, the best way to keep track of the spawns is by checking the CDFW's herring blog: The herring come to the Bay Area from November to February, and the chase is on when they get here because, as mentioned earlier, timing is everything. We were in town a few days after the big spawn in Richmond, and we didn't get squat.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Happy 2016!

Diwali Cow
Happy New Year!  Although it's been awhile since I've nurtured my blog, there have been many things happening that are worth documenting. Sadly, Instagram is so, well, instant that once I post something there, I feel like it doesn't need mentioning again.  But, as I found out last night when I wanted to make renkon kinpra for a dinner party, Instagram has it's downfalls. It's not searchable, and it's not the right format for more than a few sentences at a time.

Cow and dog on Goan beach
Last November, I spent three weeks on a food tour of India. What this trip did was make me and the boy go on an Indian cooking spree that still hasn't fully ended - and I hope it never does! It also made me hungry to visit the country again, because I only visited a handful of cities (Dehli, Agra, Bijapur, Udaipur, Jaipur, Mumbai, Goa). The regional differences surprised me. For example, even if I spoke fluent Hindi (one of India official languages), there would be people who wouldn't be able to understand me. To an American, that's such a strange concept because I can speak English anywhere in the USA and it would be reasonable to expect that the person I'm talking to also speaks English. Not so with Hindi in India. I met a women born and raised in Mumbai who couldn't speak any Hindi, but she spoke fluent English.

Since the trip, I've been immersing myself in Bollywood movies and music, Indian history (I finally broke down and watched the movie Ghandi, and am watching every food show on India that Netflix instant streaming has to offer. The more I learn, the more I find that I need to learn more. There's serious talk about going to India again this year, this time Southern India, and taking mostly cooking classes and maybe a few yoga classes. 

Remind me to tell you one day about how I almost tipped a raj - luckily , the crisis was averted by dumb luck.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Tempeh for the People

Tempeh pan fried with chorizo seasoning
I've been on a tempeh kick for the past 3 weeks. And, as you may have figured out by now, when I get into something, I *really* get into something. So far, I've made 3 batches of tempeh, one with soybeans, another with soybeans and adzuki beans, and another with soy/adzuki/mung beans. All three have been delicious!

If you've every looked into making tempeh yourself, believe it when you read that fresh tempeh is nothing like the stuff you buy pasteurized and packaged in the stores. Fresh tempeh smells nutty, slightly sweet, and mushroomy. When cooked, which is the only way to eat it, the nutty flavor is intensified. I'm experimenting with different additions to my mixes, so far adding different beans. I want to try a batch with added sesame seeds and peanuts (not together, though).

For my first batch, I followed the known methods carefully, incubating my tempeh in a perforated plastic bag. It turned out delicious and was a good confidence builder.

For my second batch with adzuki beans and soybeans, I pressure cooked the beans together. This was a mistake because while the soybeans stayed firm, the adzuki beans disintegrated. Still, not wanting to throw away anything, I forged ahead and mixed in the tempeh starter, Rhyzopus oligosporus. I also used glass containers with no holes during incubation. The mycelium took off! I was so glad that I didn't dump that batch over a perceived mistake.

When you don't use a plastic bag to tamp down the mold,  it begins to look a little gnarly.

However, just cut the tempeh crosswise and you'll get the familiar form factor. I like how the jar made this batch of tempeh round, perfect for burgers.

My third batch took longer than 48 hour to form because I filled an entire jar to the top with the bean mixture. After 2 days, only the top half had enough mycelium, so I cut off the good part and put the rest in a shallow stainless steel try. The change of container gave more oxygen to the tempeh, and it finally took off. So, if you don't use a perforated container, only fill the tempeh mixture a 2-3 inches high so moisture evaporates instead of condensing in the container.

Delicious tempeh sandwich
Between the tempeh I'm making and the fish the boy is catching, we really don't have a need to buy meat. It's pretty cool! 

So far, I've made a Rueben marinade and a traditional, Indonesian marinade of salt water, ground coriander, and crushed garlic. Both were delicious.

Tempeh hasn't really taken off in the US, although at various times, optimistic vegetarians predicted that tempeh was going to be the next big thing. One optimist lives near me in Lafayette, CA, and he co-wrote The Book of Tempeh (an excellent read). I think one reason that DIY tempeh hasn't taken off is because people get grossed out by mold. When I posted mold pictures on Facebook and Instagram, there wasn't a favorable reaction. What I though was cool, others thought was spoiled and gross. Does this look any worse than mold-covered hanging sausages, blooming cheese, or a dead meat animal? To me it doesn't. It's the reality of food. 

Lately, I've been thinking of tempah as tofu's wild, tastier, cousin. I love tofu, especially fresh tofu, but it's a bitch to make in comparison to tempeh. Plus, it's mild. Tempeh, depending on how long you ferment it, can have a blue cheese funk.

If you want to make your own tempeh, I got my starter from Cultures for Health.

My blog posts are infrequent, at best, so if you want to see what I'm up to, follow me on Instagram. My user name is sungoldtomato.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Preserving the Catch

Once a week, the boy has been kayak fishing. For the most part, he isn't catching that many fish and we can eat what he catches within the span of a few weeks. Recently, however, he brought back a ridiculous haul of rockfish and ling cod from Half Moon Bay. It was time to learn some different ways to preserve fish.

My first experiment was salted rockfish, fashioned after Spanish bacalao. I layered a couple of fillets with salt, and then let them rest in the refrigerator for 48 hours.

After a brief rinse, I dehydrated them at 145°F for 10 hours, at which point they were leathery. For now, I'm storing them in the freezer in a plastic bag, but I have a stainless steel airtight box on order that will hopefully be a plastic-free solution to storing the dried fish.

I have yet to cook with the salted rockfish, but I'll report back when I do. Hopefully, my NorCal bacalao will turn out delicious.

The second fish experiment was cured salmon. The boy's kayak fishing partner caught a 10-lbs king salmon off of Bodega Bay, and he was kind enough to share the fillets. We ate some right away with herb butter, and I chose one filet to cure with salt, sugar, peppercorns, parsley, and dill. I had to weigh the salmon down to press out the excess liquid.

It's good! I have a huge chunk of salmon to cook with or to enjoy as is - such a luxury. Usually, I don't even buy cured salmon because the local, wild-caught stuff is expensive (I spied it at $24/lbs at Whole Foods), so it's going to be fun figuring out different ways to use this. If you have a favorite recipe with cured salmon, please let me know!

Since we ran out of paper towels, I decided to put together a jar of rags that we can use in place of paper towels in an attempt to waste less. So far, this has been an easy transition with minimal complaining from the other occupant of this place, but nothing really disgusting has gone down yet (no puking animals). I have a feeling the second that one of us has to deal with something gross, we may cave and the paper towels will reside on the counter once again. But, for now, this works and is minimal effort.


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