All Around the Kitchen

This morning, up at dawn, I looked around the kitchen and thought, goodness, there's a lot going on in here! So I thought I'd show you. The light was bad (again, dawn!), so everything looks extremely dingy, plus I didn't stage anything, but you'll get the nitty-gritty of what's happening around here pretty much every morning.

First, I was adding hot water to a mash for the chickens. It's hovering around 28-30 degrees each morning, and it's frosty out, so I like to give the chicks a hot breakfast. This is Bob's Red Mill muesli, into which I pour boiling water, then let it sit a bit to cool. They love it. (So do I, actually.)

Over by the toaster, there's some sauerkraut fermenting. Tom got this started the day after Christmas with our new recap fermenting caps and airlocks (thanks Stewart and Niki!). We figure this is the perfect amount of sauerkraut to have once a month.

Next to the salt and pepper, I have a mason jar newly dedicated to bacon drippings. I know, this is so Granny, but we throw out perfectly good bacon grease that I can use either for cooking or for making suet cakes for the birds. There's only a bit in here to start, but we'll add to it quickly.

To the right of the cooking spoons, Tom has a batch of cream cheese working. He'll strain this when he gets up and it'll be ready to use, tangy and creamy.

On my kitchen desk sits the last of the honey wine, ready to go to a co-worker of Tom's. (He likes to share things with the head of the Culinary Department at his college. Plus, it sounds like she is going to give us some homemade Kombucha in trade, which is excellent.)

Here's something else on my kitchen desk. It's not mine. But I think it's pretty cute and also pretty well sums up this household:

This is not the droid you're looking for.

Under my desk is a bottle of cider that is fermenting. Tom pitched some wine yeast in to it, put an airlock on it, and it's bubbling away. Hopefully we'll find some local apples to do this with next Fall.

Over next to the coffee maker, I have a heating pad plugged in and on its lowest setting, keeping my new sourdough starter warm.

My last starter, that I made from collected yeasts from our environment, went bad. I decided to order a sourdough culture that is made specifically for whole wheat flour.

This sponge is looking far better than the last and smells sweet and yeasty, so I'm hopeful that in a few days, I'll be able to make some delicious loaves.

Next to my sourdough starter, I notice that someone had a midnight snack. I'm not telling who.

You know it's Christmastime if there's a box of See's Candy in the house!

And lastly, next to the sink where it can get full sun in from the window (once it rises) is a poor amaryllis bulb that I found languishing in the garage. It bloomed last year, then I put it away safely and completely forgot that I had it. It's pretty desiccated, we'll see if it revives.

Hopefully it'll just be a New Year amaryllis instead of a Christmas amaryllis!

My goal today is to move the rest of the mulch around the garden (1/4 of that huge pile is left). It's back to work Monday, so I gotta get it done before then.

A little music to start your morning.

The Mead is Bottled

Merry Christmas and Cheers! Our wassail this year is our homemade honey wine.

If you recall, we started our process with some already-fermented honey, plus a ginger bug that I had made. (You can read that blog post here.) Our ratio was three cups honey to three quarts water, plus another cup of ginger bug.

The gallon jar of mead sat around for a good three weeks, not doing much of anything. I stirred it frequently, but it wasn't moving as quickly as we would have liked. So a few days before Thanksgiving, Tom pitched in some wine yeast, and decanted it into a carboy with an airlock. The mead really started bubbling after that. We tasted it on Thanksgiving, and it was extremely sweet - the specific gravity reading was around 1.045. We wanted it to be quite a bit drier, so it sat for another month on the floor of the kitchen (about 60-65 degrees). Tom and I tasted it yesterday and thought it was perfect, and the gravity was down to 1.01. Not bone dry, but certainly not sweet. So we bottled it! We'll take it to our Christmas dinner celebrations.

It's an odd drink. I'm not much of an alcohol drinker, so I'm perhaps not the best judge, but mead messes with your mind a little. You totally smell and taste the honey, but it's wine, dry and with a kick, not sweet. Your experience doesn't meet your expectations. Maybe I just need to drink more of it!

I did a little research about mead. Mead predates both wine and beer. Early brewers started to use fruit, hops, and spices to enhance the flavor, and eventually this drink evolved into both wine (grape mead) and beer (hoppy mead). A wonderful history can be found at the Skyriver Brewing website.

This was a fun project, I recommend giving it a try yourself!

Preserved Lemons

I picked another three dozen lemons from my generous neighbor's tree.

They're perfectly ripe. Meyer lemons are thinner-skinned then regular lemons, and have a slightly different taste and scent, a bit sweeter. I juiced a bunch - roughly a dozen makes a pint of juice for the freezer. But I wanted to try a new project, preserving them in salt.

I don't make Moroccan food very often - in fact I'm struggling to think of a Moroccan dish I've made in the last year and none come to mind. Moroccan dishes are usually where you find preserved lemons. However, we do have a roast chicken every month or so, and I always want lemons for the cavity. As you know, I hate buying anything out of season, especially if I can preserve it in season. So I thought, do folks use preserved lemons in roasted chicken? And sure enough, when googled, a dozen recipes pop up.

I did a lot of research on this a few months back when I was thinking of Christmas gifts, so I just needed to refresh my memory. Most recipes call for cutting the lemon into quarters, leaving the stem end together so the lemon ends up like a sort of opened flower. However one of my favorite websites, NW Edible, had a recipe that called for quartering them completely. I followed Erica's guide for these, and so far I'm really pleased.

Basically all you do is quarter a bunch of lemons and put them in a big bowl. As you put each lemon in, sprinkle it with two tablespoons of Kosher salt. When they're all in, toss 'em around.

Then stuff them into a jar (or jars).

Let them sit for an hour to get soft, then press them down into the jar so they form a tight pack and release some juice. Then juice another few lemons and add to the jar until the salted lemons are nearly covered with juice.

You'll let these sit on the counter top (a cool place, easy in winter when lemons are ripe) for a week, giving them a good shake every day. After that, you store 'em in the fridge for up to a year.

The week on the counter means you're basically fermenting these guys, so you might get a sort of whitish 'bloom' in the jar. Apparently this is harmless.

Every time I ferment something on the counter, I think of ancient times, and how people used to do this regularly as a part of their food preservation. It's a skill that's generally lost today, though I know that you can take classes in home fermentation everywhere in the Bay Area, so it's coming back in to fashion. I've put Sandor Katz's book "The Art of Fermentation" on my Christmas wish list, so I can learn even more. We've fermented pickles, peppers, and ginger, as well as milk, but we've yet to try cabbage or the hundreds of other fruits and veg that can be fermented.

Anyway, here's what the lemons look like in the morning light today. They'll get glossier as the week goes on.

It's raining lightly again today, which is gorgeous. I'm determined not to let grey skies depress me this year, because it means that we're getting much-needed moisture. I tend to get a little 'S.A.D.' every winter (Seasonal Affective Disorder). I find several ways to combat it: I try to appreciate what the season brings, try to find projects to distract me from early dark, try to get outside as much as possible, and walk a lot. Since Joe is injured, the walking isn't happening as much, and I just don't feel good about going out without him. But I might have to just put on my boots and go for a muddy hike and try not to think about him at home, longing for a romp in the open space.

One of the things the season brings is pretty mushrooms. I found several of these beauties while mucking about in the compost yesterday.

And I've already seen several stinkhorns in the vegetable beds. It's mushroom time again!

Bees and Eggs

Just thought you'd like to know, I sat down in front of the hive for a good quarter of an hour today and watched plenty of comings and goings. (I thought you might be worried after my post yesterday, when I said I'd seen little activity.) It's a warmish day with light misty rain, and the newly hatched bees came out for a practice flight, and others were foraging (for what, I can't imagine, after the hard freezes last week, but bees are experts, you know). One bee even came in with pollen!

The bee at the top center has some yellow pollen on her legs
Our chickens are laying so well (still no molt!) that I had to find recipes to use up eggs. So I just put a pound cake in the oven (a Jacques Pepin recipe) and will make a breakfast casserole for dinner tonight, with sausage and greens. The egg yolks are just the most beautiful color.

Does anyone else notice their home-laid chicken eggs have very little white, and much more yolk? Or is it just that the whites are so firm that they don't spread out as much?

Christmas lights are going up, beer is being bottled, our honey wine is bubbling away, and I just put a finished homemade bone broth in to jars for the freezer. Next up, putting the orange decorations away and getting out all the red and green stuff. We're days behind in our advent calendar duties.

Is Sunday a day of 'getting things done' for you, too?