Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Getting ready for Miso Club

The first rule of Miso Club, we talk about Miso
The second rule of Miso Club, we love making miso

Tomorrow will be the inaugural meeting of Miso Club.  I've invited a very good friend over for what I hope will be the start of a long and happy ritual, New Years Day Miso Club.  The idea is that since red miso takes about one year to make, or longer, then we would get together every New Years day and make miso, then when finished, dig out the miso we made the year before and enjoy it.

Also, winter is the best time to make red miso.  Sweet miso like I've made before can be any time of year, but red miso, that's made in winter.

To prepare for miso making, I've been making koji barley.  This is barley grain that has been blessed with koji mold.  Yes, mold.  Mold is awesome.  What it does is it transforms the starches in the grain into sugars which can then be fermented into miso paste.

It takes three days to make the koji barley.

Day one, soak and steam the barley, then incubate it at about 90F for about 24 hours.

barley getting ready to steam

steamed barley is like a giant rubbery lump
and must be separated out before adding koji spores

wrapping up the barley to keep it warm while the mold grows

What I learned is that after 12 hours, the koji grain begins to produce it's own heat and the challenge quickly changes from keeping it warm to keeping it cool enough without getting too cold.  Thankfully koji is a loving teacher and can survive well outside the 'ideal' range.

Day two of koji growing, mixing the grain up every couple of hours, separating any clumps that form, then spreading the grain to abut 1 inch thick (the instructions said two inches, but this was far too hot) then wrapping it up again.

day two, spreading the barley out into an even layer

I should have stopped at the end of day two when the grains were mostly white with mold and a few yellow patches.  But I kept going because the instructions said to.  The morning to day three, all the grains were yellow and starting to spore - which is okay apparently, but not as sweet smelling as day two.  Next time, I'l stop when the grain says to, not when the instructions tell me.

Now I lay the grain out in a thin layer to dry and cool a bit before storing in the fridge.

The barley I'm working with is pot barley, the koji spores came from GEM cultures in the US.  I have tos ay, the koji spores worked like a charm,  I followed the recipe included with the spores.

The next step in preparing for tomorrows miso making is to soak the beans we will cook up tomorrow. Instead of soy beans, we will use chickpeas, sweet delicious chickpeas.  I toyed with the idea of making a lentil miso with local red lentils, but after this week's kitchen failure, I decided to use a bean I know and trust.

Some books about making your own miso at home
The Book of Miso by Shurtleff and Aoyagi
Wild Fermentation by Katz
The Art of Fermentation by Katz
The Miso Book by Belleme

2 gallons of miso will cost me
$14 for the chickpeas
$6 for the barley and koji spores
$2 for the salt
unknown for the electric bill, let's guess $3

Total of about $25 for two gallons of artisan made red chickpea barley miso.  This is totally awesome since the same miso sells for $36 for roughly 1/8th of a gallon in the stores (if I did my math right, that's $576 if I were to buy 2 gallons in the shop).

Next year it is my great hope to grow some if not all of the ingredients for New Year Miso Club, or at the very least, source as many ingredients locally as possible.  Maybe even some local sea salt.

Transitional and Traditional - funny how these two go hand in hand - miso can be made from locally sourced materials, excepting possibly the koji spores.  The Art of Fermentation by Katz has instructions on how to capture your own wild koji and to create koji starter when you already have koji growing.

Soy-Sub:  I'm making a soy free version of red miso.  Any bean can be substituted for some or all of the soy in miso making.  By making miso at home you can have complete control of every single ingredient

Monday, December 29, 2014

Kitchen Failure - where I demonstrate what not to do when making miso paste

I hate to admit this, but sometimes I try something and it is a total disaster.  I suppose it's one of the side effects of being human, but alas, I wish it wasn't.

I also wish I was the kind of person who would quietly hide my failings somewhere dark and dank, where no one would think to look.  Bury failure under a damp pile of leaves, with only worms to whisper its nasty story too.  Maybe, if ignored, the horrible result would decompose into the soil, bettering the dirt so that new, and more successful things could thrive.

However, that's not what I want for this blog.  The goal here is to write about my culinary journey and share it with my four (or is that five now?) readers what I've learned.  Maybe some of it would be useful to someone some day.

This Kitchen Failure is especially embarrassing because I've recently been crowing about how easy and foolproof it is to make miso paste at home.

And it is easy to make miso at home, unless...

...unless you branch out and try some terribly outlandish thing and then it's a gamble.

Growing confidence with how incredibly yummy my standard chickpea miso recipe is getting, I decided to try a 'let's toss all this old stuff from the back of my cupboard miso' recipe.  I went directly against expert advice, but I had to do it.  I had to know if it would work or not.

It's not.

What did I do and what went wrong.

I used 1 pound of each adzuki and black beans (dried). Soaked and cooked them together.  MISTAKE: they cook at different rates, I should have treated them separately then mixed together when cool.  All of the adzuki beans were cooked to mush and some of the black beans were slightly raw inside.

To this I added 1/2 lb of pearly barley (dry weight), soaked and boiled until soft.  MISTAKE: using grain that hasn't been inoculated with koji spores.

The Koji rice and salt were as per usual.  MISTAKE: I didn't add extra salt to account for the additional volume of the barley.

Covered the miso with soaked kombu rather than plastic wrap.  Although this is different than my normal procedure, I don't think we can blame the kombu for this failure because some of the extra batch I fermented in a different jar also turned putrid. Besides, kombu was the pre-industrial clingfilm of Japan.

Fermented for three weeks.  Mistake: in small letters because I really should have waited for four weeks given how cold the house has been.

The results.

When I uncovered the miso a sour rotten smell like sour beer and compost assaulted me.  Miso should be sweet and salty, not sour and certainly not smelling of rotten barley.

Yep, rotten barley.  As in the pearl barley I added without inoculating it with koji first.  I'm feeling this is the main source of my failure, over confidence and ignoring a thousand generations worth of knowledge.  There is a step I could have taken to get the koji growing on the barley - without having to buy koji mold spores - but I was eager to get things done and didn't want to wait an extra day.

What did I learn?

I relearned that grain needs to be altered before fermenting, like malting or using koji, or even soaking in a sourdough sponge.  Without this alteration, the sugars in the grain aren't available and things go sour fast.

I learned that I really should try smaller batches when experimenting with outlandish miso mixes.

I also know that even though I'm down in the dumps about my current failure, I still plan on making miso this New Years.    In fact I'm very excited about it.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Happy Holidays

Happy Holidays from us at the farm.

This is what it looks like on the farm today.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Travel Mug

Where I talk about coffee to go and the alternatives to plastic travel mugs.

As I read about Plastic, the dangers and how to avoid it in one's life, I see people writing about the alternatives: Stainless steel and glass.

To me stainless steel, though wonderful for cooking, is not the most ecologically friendly alternative.  It lasts a good long time, hard to break, makes excellent cooking pots... however, it has it's draw backs.  Food tastes weird when stored in it, it takes a lot of energy to produce/recycle, and it originally draws from an nonrenewable resources.  Even if we recycle every last scrap of stainless steal, from thumbtack to tractor, there are still is a limited amount of it on the planet, and each time we recycle a pot or a pin, a little bit of the metal would have been lost in the wear and tear.  On top of that, if you use a metal implement in a stainless steal cooking pot, it scratches the surface and removes the virtually non-stick quality a new stainless steel pot has.

More importantly, stainless steel is aesthetically non-pleasing.  Sure, a stainless steel bowl will bounce not break when tossed aside by an angry child, but it is missing that certain something that encourages an arthritic hand to carefully comfort a mug of hot broth to both warm the hands, and sooth the soul.

I have a few stainless steel travel mugs that have been given to me over the years.  Plastic top, but otherwise lovely.  They keep the coffee molten hot for literally hours.  The vacuum insulation makes it so that I can put my piping hot cuppa in the mug in the morning, and it will be almost cool enough to drink that evening.  None of that pesky heat transfer to warm my frozen digits, or that earthy texture that I associate with coffee.

Stainless steel has it's uses, 'though I adore it most for cooking pots and tiffins, not travel mugs.

Glass is the other material the plastic-free communities crow about with great gusto.  They call it less energy intensive alternative to stainless steel.  Which it may be.  Glass has been around for a few thousand years or so, and can be stunning when made by artizan hands.  That's seldom done anymore, but when it is - amazing.

The biggest disadvantage with glass is it breaks.  More than that it shatters into dangerous splinters, or it can unless special (do I hear energy intensive) processes are applied to the manufacturing process.  This takes the art of making glass and transforms it into an industrial science.  But don't get me wrong, I wouldn't be without it!

I adore glass, be it mason jars or milk jugs.  Glass makes the best storage sense and (except for special no-break glass that my local recycling centre won't touch) can be infinitely recycled.

But for a travel mug?  There's the breakable issue, which is fine.  Everything breaks eventually.  Glass travel mugs last a darn sight longer than plastic ones.  Besides, beautiful glass cozies made of cork or knitting gladden the eyes.

The biggest problem with glass is that it transfers the heat too quickly.  Pour the coffee into the glass cup, put my coat on, the travel cup is already too hot to hold comfortably.  By the time I can hold it again, the contents are cold!  There is no inbetween period where I can nurse my brew, cradle it in my hands....

Thankfully there is another plastic free alternative.  One that...

a) is from natural materials
b)  is from local materials (just about anywhere in the world)
c) is traditional
d) is renewable (and to a small degree recyclable)
e) is at it's best when created by artisans!

This plastic free material is called clay!  I'm talking pottery.

Right now I am in love with pottery beyond all shadow of a doubt.  If pottery was a bloke, and had enough money to scrounge together a small gold ring and some land, I would jump the broom with it (that's old fashioned talk for marry it).  As it is, a lifelong common law partnership with pottery is not unlikely.

Pottery, ceramics, clay, earthenware, what have you.  It's all just heated mud and mud can be found almost anywhere.  Pottery has this extreme comforting quality that glass and metal can't imagine.  And that's what I love most about it.

A potter chooses which mud to use, shapes it to their will or whim, drys it, bakes it, lavishes lovely colours upon it, bakes it again... amazing!

Sure, pottery also has the potential to break when wielded by angry children, but it doesn't shatter into dangerous shards like glass can.  When the pottery finally looses it's battle with gravity, it has nearly a hundred uses on the farm for growing food.  It can sometimes be recycled into some other kinds of future clay.  It's amazing.

Like glass and metal, cooking with pottery is easy when you know how.  It's actually quite nurturing and is my go to pot for comfort food.

When it comes to travel mugs, I think this it makes the most beautiful alternative.

This mug is created by Ann Coleman at Yunomi Studio, an artizan with great skill and infinite patients for the clay curious individuals who flock to her studio (aka, she doesn't get annoyed when I constantly pester her with questions).

The coffee is poured into the centre hole which is then plugged with a plastic-free stopper (a cork).  You then drink the coffee through the vampire-bite holes on either side.  It comes out just the right speed, thanks to the holes on the opposite side stops a vacuum from forming inside the mug which prevents the coffee from coming out at a consistent rate (like my stainless steel mugs).  Cleaning is a bit tricky, but a quick rinse after each use keeps it happy.  A bottle brush can be employed for more stubborn mess.

I tried to get Ann to write a few words about what inspired her to create such gorgeous functionality, but all she said was "I don't like drinking from plastic".

The beauty of this mug goes far beyond it's function and elegant appearance.  It's in the texture, the balance and heft of it when filled with liquid, What's more, it keeps the coffee warm for just the right amount of  time, the heat slowly oozing out into the clay and to the hands that embrace it.

Clay makes the perfect Transition material because it is everywhere.  In an over simplified point of view, all you need is mud, fire and the will to transform the world.