Finding Inspiration in Culture & Community: The Reedsburg Fermentation Fest
October 26, 2012, 6:40 pm
Filed under: Farm, Fermentation, Food | Tags: , , , , , ,

I went to one day of the more-than-a-week-long Reedsburg Fermentation Fest last Saturday. WORT’s “In Our Backyard” interviewed Sandor Katz and Erin Schneider live on the radio the week before the fest started, and because I ended up filling in as co-host with the amazing Rob McClure, I got to ask Sandor some questions on air. The day I drove up to Reedsburg, I went to one of Sandor’s workshops, and one with Vanessa Tortellano and Alla Shapiro of NessAlla Kombucha here in Madison. I interviewed all three of them.

We aired the interview with Sandor on Wednesday and with NessAlla on Thursday. That part was totally fun, which I expected.

What I didn’t quite expect, maybe because I’ve been fermenting things for a while and started to take it for granted to some extent, was to walk away totally inspired and reinvigorated to ferment, to preach fermentation, to try new things, to share, and to “bubble over.” A lot of it was Sandor’s talk on the bigger picture of fermentation.

Sandor Katz on Fermenting Social Change

When I got home to Madison that night — well, first I had to do a few hours of work on a report that we published at work today, but then soon afterwards — the first thing I wanted to do was ferment something. And, in Vanessa and Alla’s workshop, they’d shared some lemongrass ginger kombucha that was delicious. So I decided to try making some. I’d never made flavored kombucha before. Not for any good reason. I just hadn’t tried it. Cosmo Joe was here with me after painting on State Street all day, so he got to watch the process.

Can you see that funny-looking little nugget floating amidst the various tea bags in the middle there? That’s a dried reishi mushroom from Kingbird Farm. I boiled it with the ginger before I added the oolong and fresh lemongrass (from the Dane County Farmers Market). Does anyone know what reishi does to kombucha? I didn’t, but I decided to try it.

I tried the brew for the first time today, a little early I thought, but what the heck, it had been warm for a few days. It was downright tart! I haven’t had kombucha ferment that quickly in a while. Maybe it was just because I poured a new batch of sweet tea in with my scoby right after bottling the last batch rather than waiting a while, maybe it was because of the reishi, who knows — I don’t, anyway.

So I bottled it up and added a little maple syrup to see if I can get some bubble.

My last batch, which I bottled right before making the sweet tea for this batch last Saturday night, doesn’t seem to have had enough residual sugar when I bottled it, because it stayed flat.

Speaking of bottling, a few weeks ago I bottled the red wine vinegar I’d started a while back.

That same night (October 6th), I started the batch of root kimchi I’m about to jar up for this month’s CSYay. It has (can I remember it all?): cabbage, multi-colored carrots, daikon, beauty heart radishes, black radishes, French breakfast radishes, rutabaga, scallions, garlic, ginger, and Thai chiles. I know I’m forgetting something.

I pulled off the cloths and tried it today, and it’s delicious (especially the stuff in the lighter colored crock, which is *supposed* to be the same as what’s in the brown but apparently is just different enough).

Back to today: I bottled that last batch of kimchi and made the sweet tea for the next batch. This time it’s half black tea, half green tea, with some roasted dandelion. I’ll add some frozen raspberries after it’s done fermenting, if it seems like it’ll go well.

And I’ll leave you with this: some foggy bottoms at Trautman Family Farm this last Tuesday:

For the rest of the images that accompany this post, please visit my F(ermentation)Log on Posterous.


July 3, 2010, 2:33 pm
Filed under: Food, Garden

What happens when you mix

Gardens of Goodness Blueberries




Lemon Thyme


Today’s Sorbet:

Blueberry-Lemon Thyme Sorbet

Firming Up


With recipe adapted from here and here.

Blueberry-LemonThyme Sorbet

What should I make tomorrow?

Door County Cherries

Thai Basil

Also coming up (hopefully), a review of the last couple months of gardening, since my last two posts.

Finally Finland (+ Estonia), Part II
November 13, 2009, 8:54 pm
Filed under: Food, Travel

Ahem.  That was a much longer cliff-hanger than I intended (five months?!), sorry.

I left off when I was about to tell you about quite possible my favorite part of our trip– the dinner we ate right before leaving Tallinn, Estonia– and I was reminded of that dinner pretty recently when I attempted to imitate one part of one of the dishes we had there.  The restaurant was called Aed (Garden), and it was listed in our guidebook as having very good vegetable dishes (other stuff, too, it just indicated that good fresh vegetables might be rare there– something I would question the guidebook on).  It sounded good, but we had no idea how good.  We eat a lot of great food, but I still think it was the best meal we’ve ever had, and there must have been some kind of alchemy involved.  We had very little wine, but we got so giddy that, by the end, we were sitting there giggling at each other, and we stayed too late and had to run to make it back to the cruise ship just as they closed the gates, and we giggled the whole time we were running, too.

Appetizer: Rabbit, Sea Buckthorn Berry Sorbet, etc.

Alas and alack, Matt’s camera (our only, because mine died right before the trip) battery died after I took this one, so we don’t have a photographic record of the rest of that fantastic meal.  I remember the tastes, though…  My entrée was duck, and every single ingredient of every single course was divine.  There wasn’t a whole lot of seasoning, but we didn’t notice the lack because the ingredients were so good.  In fact, I think anything more would have been a distraction.  We asked our water about the food and the chef, and he said they believe in “Pure Food” and that Estonia, with access to wonderful fresh food, has a special affinity for the “Pure Food Movement” (contrary to the claims of the guidebook– who would you believe?).

So do you wanna know which part of that meal I tried to copy?  Several weeks ago, I went down to Carandale Farm and walked around with Dale Secher, asking questions about his experimental fruit plots.  He showed me his beautiful sea berry trees (these are the same as sea buckthorn berries, also sampled to delightful effect in various forms in Finland; I had expected them to be bushes or shrubs, but they were most definitely trees, especially the males, which they allow to grow taller so that they’ll shower pollen on the more closely pruned females).  I unfortunately didn’t have my camera with me because I went straight from work at Gardens of Goodness, but I did come home with a souvenir: a whole flat of frozen sea berries, the larger, sweeter Russian variety that he prefers.  I had bought two small containers of the other, smaller variety at the market and made neat neon orange jelly out of them, but these were better, and what I really wanted to make (at least with some of what turned out to be a half-gallon of sea berries) was some sea berry sorbet like I ate at Aed in Tallinn.

Carandale Frozen Sea Berries

Sea Berry Sorbet

Sea Berry Jelly

The sorbet’s really good…  I have to say that it’s not quite as good as Aed’s, but then, what could be?  It was a magical meal.

(I still have a few cups of sea berries left.  What should I make?  I’m thinking… liqueur?)

Not long after we got back to Helsinki from Tallinn– it might have even been the next day– we took off for Turku, the former capital of Finland.  It’s an older city, and you can feel it, but wandering along the docks, it also feels more industrial, more active in some ways, than Helsinki.  While we were there, they were building the world’s largest cruise ship right there on the waterfront.

Turku Waterfront

Our first full day there, we rented a couple of bikes and rode down to the end of the waterfront, over a bridge and out to the end of Ruissalo Island and back.  It was a gorgeous, sunny Spring day.


We stopped off at Turku Castle (Turun Linna) on the way, our second visit to this impressive medieval building (which we never managed to see during their visiting hours, so we only saw the outside and what we could see of the inner courtyard without picking any locks or breaking down any doors or gates).

Turku Castle

Across the Water

It was also a seriously windy day, but on the way out there, the only annoyance from it was that I kept losing my hat.  I happened to be wearing a kerchief underneath it, so I took it off, used my two hairclips to attach it to the inside of the hat and used it to tie the hat onto my head.  Brilliant!  (First I tied it around the outside, resulting in some much more ridiculous-looking pictures thanks to Matt)


We made it out to Saaroniemi, stared out at the bay for a while–


— and ate lunch at a deserted little cafe there (it clearly wasn’t the busy season yet).


Anyone wondering where we got our suave hats?  Answer: H&M, in Turku.  Nothing quite like an American department store to supply one with overpriced but cheaply-made goods needed in a hurry to make up for lack of forethought.  Although I have to say, I particularly like that hat on Matt, and I’m glad he still wears it.  I left mine behind at our apartment in Espoo for the next guest.

There were very cute sheep relaxing on pasture on the island.


Does anyone know if they’re Finnsheep or some other breed?  I’m not actually sure.  Doesn’t it look like they’re singing?

Despite the wind picking up and making the return trip much more difficult than the way out there, we made it back (huffing and puffing) to the mainland in time to catch the Handicrafts Museum briefly before dinner.

Wheel, Swift, Carders, Drop Spindle, Baskets & Fiber

Sod Roofs

Dinner was in a boat on the river with the leader of Slow Food Finland, Pena Arvela, who was very kind, helpful and erudite and could have easily drunk both of us under the table.  We went to a little wine bar after dinner, and he and the owner treated us to some fantastic stuff.  Speaking of drinks, during dinner we asked him what Finnish beer, wine or spirit he’d most recommend to us.  He didn’t speak highly of many local concoctions, but he did mention a liqueur called Mesimarja.  We had to hail several waiters before we could figure out an English translation: Arctic Bramble Berry.  We tried some, of course, and it was indeed quite nice, enough that we picked up a couple bottles at the Duty Free on our way out of the country.  These days, I particularly like a splash of it in a glass of sparkling wine.  Mmm.

The next day, we took a bus up to Rauma, which was founded in 1442, contains “the largest preserved coherent medieval wooden town area in the Nordic region” (from the town’s website) and is therefore a UNESCO world heritage site AND is the home of our new friends Tiina-Maija and Eemeli (her son, who when we met him before his christening was called Epeli; and her husband, whom we met briefly, Jarkko? sorry, Tiina-Maija, I can’t remember!).

Epeli & Tiina-Maija

They gave us a fantastic gift: the use of their apartment in Espoo for almost two weeks, before we even met them (they’re friends of my dad’s).  So of course we visited them in Rauma, which is a beautiful little old town.


Rauma Old Church

Tiina-Maija humored me by taking us to a lacemaking shop/museum where they still handmake lace (lucky for us, they were just setting up to teach a group of school kids how to do it; her hands flew while she put in these pins and swapped bobbins around)–


— and a little museum where they had an old flax wheel on display.

Wheel & Flax

On the left is a simple, small masonry stove, which we saw tons of all over Finland (we very much want one).

She even took us out into the countryside a little ways to show us a farm that raises a very rare breed of cattle called Itäsuomenkarja (we think).


They were beautiful, and the farmer was so nice to take the time out of her busy schedule to show us around.  Tiina-Maija translated, which was key, not only because of the language difference, but because (as my dad is very quick to point out), listening is a whole different thing in Finnish, with many special little noises being made to indicate attention and understanding, and I’m not very good at it.  This is a near non sequitur, but I was listening to an interview with Barbara Kingsolver on NPR this morning, and as she was listening to a caller and about to answer, I swear I heard her make one of the intake-of-breath sounds (a little gasp, sort of) that Finns make when they’re listening.

We couldn’t really thank them enough for sharing their apartment with us, but we did bring them some New York maple syrup, and I made Epeli a hat and socks which he probably only fit the day he put them on (and hardly even then; that hat wanted to pop right back off again, dratted fast-growing babies).

Epeli's Duds

Throughout our trip, it stayed light later and later, and on our way back to Helsinki, across from the train station in Turku, long after dinner time, I took this sun-lit picture of Matt:

Late Sun

Back in Helsinki, this sunset shot was taken at probably around 10pm (but since we never adjusted the time on the camera, I don’t remember for sure– at one point, I think Matt took a picture of the time on our cellphone against a still-light sky to prove it, but I don’t know where that shot went):

Helsinki Sunset

We were having a drink in a bar near the top of the Hotel Torni, thanks to our friends Maija and Heidi (although we took this picture when we went back on our own, since our first visit was after sunset).  Maija and her husband Jukka also introduced us to Eurovision!  It was a coincidence, but we happened to go to Seurasaari on Norwegian Day, which also happened to be the morning after Norway had won the Eurovisian Finals.

Norwegian Day Parade

Seurasaari is a neat open-air museum (where Maija and Heidi have both worked) showcasing “the traditional Finnish way of life…  in the cottages, farmsteads and manors of the past four centuries that have been relocated from all around Finland” (from the website).


It was almost the end of our trip, but we took time out to relax at a little coffee shop that my dad and his friends liked for the view across Töölonlahti to Finlandia Hall.

Finlandia Hall

[Lest anyone continue to wonder, that schmutz in the upper left corner of most of the pictures is a spot on the lens of Matt’s camera, which is currently in a box waiting to be sent back to Fuji for warranty work.]  Before my dad’s goodbye party, we squeezed in one more sightseeing adventure: Temppeliaukio–


— where we caught a dress rehearsal in progress.  The acoustics are fantastic, and the violinist was incredible.  The quality of the light and the beauty of the stone also made it a memorable visit.

The whole visit was memorable.  We met wonderful people (including friends of my dad’s whom we were very honored to get to know a little bit, and to see how he lived during his year in Finland) and saw beautiful cities and buildings, heard great music, ate delicious food, and overall enjoyed our trip very much.  Next trip: more Estonia?

Finally Finland (+ Estonia)
June 18, 2009, 12:02 am
Filed under: Food, Travel

It’s a little late, I know, since we got back from Finland almost a month ago, but better late than never I hope.

To state the obvious, Finland is very different from Mexico.  Or, more specifically, our trip to Finland this year was very different from our trip to Mexico last year.  It’s not that we expected it to be the same, but I think we had prepared ourselves for something as exotic, if in a totally different way.  Matt had been to Denmark, but I’d never been anywhere that far north, and I think we both had some sort of “Nordic mystique” in mind.  There may well be that sort of mystique, but in our quick two week trip we found Finland to be quietly lovely, very well organized and well groomed, civilized and dignified rather than exotic.

Islands off Helsinki
Islands off Helsinki

Our first full day there, we did the tourist thing and took a boat cruise around the islands off Helsinki, taking way too many pictures and giggling about ridiculous things because we were ridiculously jet-lagged.  Wandering around that particular harbor (Helsinki has many), we found my favorite building in Helsinki, the Uspenski Cathedral:

Uspenski Dome
Uspenski Dome

Somewhere we have a picture of the outside, I swear…  But the inside really struck me, with its colors and symbols and refreshing lack of crucified Christs.

My second favorite building was a type– the markethall (kauppahalli), most often adjacent to a market square (kauppatori), filled with food and craft and other vendors, and inciting all sorts of greedy and gluttonous feelings:


This one was either the Wanha Kauppahalli (Old Markethall) adjacent to the main market square, just called the Kauppatori, or Hakaniemi further north, in a neat section of town I think was called Kallio (after the famous church therein) that had a younger, hipper feel to it.

Of course, we focused on food during the entire trip, as per our usual.  Our first incredible meal happened a few days in, when we went with my dad to Aino right off the Esplanade Park near the Kauppatori:

Goose Liver Pate at Aino
Goose Liver Pate at Aino

This was a free range goose liver pate with sea buckthorn berries (one of my new favorite things) and greens.  Matt and I had eaten a late lunch while we were wandering around Helsinki, so only ordered appetizers (he had a mixed fish plate– fresh, smoked and otherwise cured, several different kinds of local fish– that was also great).  Feeling that we hadn’t done the place justice and hungry for more, we returned towards the end of our trip to have several more courses.  It was just that good.

Our first weekend there, we took a daytrip with my dad to Porvoo, up the coast from Helsinki, a port town full of historic wooden buildings with a quiet glow to it, especially around sunset.

Porvoo Warehouses
Porvoo Warehouses
Porvoo Church
Porvoo Church
Porvoo Waterfront
Porvoo Waterfront

Ironically, we had decent Spanish food for lunch in Porvoo…

The next day we took a day cruise to Tallinn.  We boarded a huge cruise ship, both of our first trip aboard anything quite like that, and moved ponderously off through the fog across the Baltic to the city which Helsinki apparently was built to rival in trade.  A city of colors and contrasts, Tallinn perched on the Baltic coast with its backside fore.  Our guidebook had warned us about the Soviet era port, so we were prepared for the worst.  Actually, it wasn’t that bad, but not very photogenic, so I’ll spare you and post prettier pictures of Old Tallinn instead:

Red Roofs
Red Roofs

We found the most touristy part right off, and saw our first mobs of European and American tourists of the trip, especially right around the Old Market, where we had an enormous lunch:

Estonian Lunch
Estonian Lunch

It was supposed to feed two, but it would have fed at least four hungry Americans, and we were trying to save a little room for dinner.

After lunch, we started to wander around Old Tallinn, amongst fantastic old stone buildings and up and down narrow cobblestone streets, walls and towers:

Wall Stairs
Wall Stairs

The occasional vista would show us Old Tallinn against a backdrop of the modern business structures of New Tallinn:


On a smaller scale, there were other photogenic contrasts:

Old Car in Old Tallinn
Old Car in Old Tallinn

It was a city of circles within circles, and in what felt like the innermost, we found the Russian Orthodox Cathedral:

Russian Orthodox Cathedral
Russian Orthodox Cathedral

It rivaled Helsinki’s and was quite lovely, inside and out.  Coming out the back door, we passed an elderly woman coming in, looking back over her shoulder, and at the top of the stairs just outside the door, we found a clue as to what she may just have been doing:

Cat - Fish
Cat – Fish

See the fish?  Lucky cat.

It’s getting late for me tonight, so I’m going to split this post and leave you with a cliffhanger: That evening in Tallinn, Matt and I had quite possibly the most incredible meal we’ve ever had, involving things like sea buckthorn berries and phusalis (guess, just guess, what rare fruit that might be in English), rabbit and duck, and such a heady good feeling throughout and particularly after the meal that we found ourselves giggling at unexpected moments (yes, without enough wine in our systems to explain it away).  More (with picture) later!

Red Beans, Rice, Andouille & Cornbread
March 9, 2009, 2:01 pm
Filed under: Food

First of all, I have to say that this is my idea of a perfect meal, and Matt cooked it for me = swoon.

The andouille was from High Hope Hogs, one of the many products of the Blew family, and I have to know who processes their meat, because their sausage recipes are great.  Nice and spicy.

We opened a bottle of a new wine to go with the meal, which we were introduced to by the friendly follks at Moore Bros., and it was quite good.  I have to say that I think we bought it solely because we found out that they farm biodynamically with horses, but it also came highly recommended for taste, so we picked up four bottles, and it definitely came through.  It was from Mas de Libian, and if you’re at all into draft horses or beautiful women, you should go flip through the pictures on their site, because both the horse, Nestor, and the owner/farmer/vintner, Hélene, are decidedly attractive.  The wine was so dark it was almost black (and I have to say that’s the color it left my tongue), and it was well-balanced and rich.

The star of the meal, however, was the gluten-free cornbread, the recipe for which I found online.  We made a few substitutions based on what we have on hand– masa instead of corn flour, a little honey instead of the sugar and piima cream thinned with whey for the buttermilk– and melted some butter in a cast iron pan before pouring in the batter and throwing it in the oven.  It was absolutely delicious.  I hadn’t eaten cornbread since I stopped eating gluten, I really missed it, and I have to say that this may well have been the best cornbread I’ve ever eaten.

Check out that crumb!  If I hadn’t helped make it, there’s no way I would believe it didn’t have gluten in it.

Moral of the story?  Make this cornbread.  It’s killer.  Go out and get a few bottles of the 2007 Mas de Libian from Moore Bros.  And having a sweet, wonderful guy around to cook it for/with you, and to enjoy it with, wouldn’t hurt, either.  Eat and drink well, and enjoy.

Piima Cream Experiment
March 8, 2009, 4:12 pm
Filed under: Fermentation, Food

The results from the aforementioned piima cream experiment (wherein I try to culture cream with viili) are in:

On the left is a jar that contained a very high proportion of viili culture to raw cream. This produced a very thin, more kefir-like beverage (in the bowl on the left), quite tart. On the right is a larger jar that contained much more cream in relation to viili culture (I just poured in enough viili to coat the sides before pouring in the cream). This produced a much thicker, very mild-tasting and lovely slightly soured cream (the bowl with the spoon in it) which immediately made me think of ice cream, so we stuck the inner chamber of the ice cream maker in the fridge in preparation. I've never tried piima cream, so I can't judge the results properly, but my guess is that the one on the right is most like piima.

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Ginger Water Kefir, Part 2
March 8, 2009, 12:58 am
Filed under: Fermentation, Food

About 48 hours later, the ginger water kefir that I set up on Wednesday was nice and tart (although still thin-tasting, a general complaint I have about water kefir), so I bottled it Friday.

Due to inadequate closure of the little baggies of water kefir grains, some of the grains had gotten loose and were floating among the pieces of grated ginger (a hazard of putting the ginger loose in the sugar-water rather than laboriously juicing it).

Other than that, the process went pretty well, I felt, so I set up another batch, but first I cleaned off those loose grains, then emptied out the bags of grains and cleaned those and separated them out in smaller amounts into more bags because they were looking a little crowded…

Here's a look at all the things I had going in the kitchen Friday (that being the cooler of the two "fermentation stations"):

Now the kefir (back right) is strained and in the fridge, as are the two jars of experimental piima cream (wherein I try to culture cream with viili) in the front.

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