What I Ferment – Fermentation Part 1

  I spent almost a month trying  to articulate why I’m so focused on fermenting food at this time in my life. I guess I’m not finished thinking about that, and you can look forward to something more someday. For now, I’ll start with the stuff itself. 

What I make shifts with the seasons, and also with what’s in the fridge that needs using. This means the techniques used might shift too. I’m very much an opportunist in my fermenting journey, inspired by what’s in front of me to make something new.

I lactoferment kimchi, nut cheeses, hot peppers, and many other vegetables. They are eaten as  side dishes, spread on crackers or put into salads. Some are dehydrated to use as seasonings.

I make milk kefir, which goes in cereal, into a special hot sauce for further fermentation, or becomes a soft cheese.

There are the continuous yeast bugs and honey tonics made from fruits, spices, and sugars, which in turn ferment teas, oats, or sometimes jams with their bubbly goodness. Tibicos, or water kefir,  is  another beverage fermenter that adds fizzy variety to my collection.

And then there’s koji. With it I make that special hot sauce mentioned above, plus amazake, the creamiest, dreamiest sweet porridgy stuff. I’ve also used koji to make mirin and  miso. 

There’s vinegar, too, which has its own set of amazing fermentation processes going. I’ve made some very tasty ones, but I’m still studying and learning. 

On a typical day I might consume 8 or so of my own fermented foods, in addition to yogurt or cottage cheese, which I purchase. I didn’t even mention my sourdough bread or crackers.

It’s all delicious. It’s always a variety, and my body appreciates it. As I’ll discuss another time, there are other reasons to ferment.

 What’s in your life that your body appreciates? 

chiles being buried in sakekasu, a pickling bed
cedar cones in honey
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Tidy or Wild?

My father was a gardener, too. More than fifty years later, as I recall being invited to help, I still see in my mind the straight precise rows of shoots he’d seeded along strings staked taut around each tidy square of soil. I remember the abundant green of the expanse of vegetables replacing a big patch of lawn, the bushels and boxes of produce sitting in the cool shadow of the porch. 

I see, too, the poorly hidden disappointment in his eyes at my straggly rows, the unevenly spaced seeds, then in the kitchen the vegetables chopped in every size when it came time to cook our bounty. He tried to hide it, but I always knew. Precision and science and sweat ruled Dad’s garden.

Mine is ruled instead by dreams, I sometimes think. Of course I use science. The seasons and soil biome, the weather, the right seed types for my Pacific Northwest garden influenced by marine weather systems. I spend very little time on precision, paying some attention to spacing, then pushing back. I plant wiggly rows if it suits me. I tuck stray starts or seeds into empty spaces and glory in the tangle of green textures that tumble across my garden beds.

My garden is wild. I wonder if it’s just me and my inclination, or if I’m also influenced by the unruly tangle of the woods that surround us. I’ve carved out garden spots wherever some sun hits. It works for me. 

How about you? Manicured garden plots, or wild beds?

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Thinking of Gardens

Five years ago, I used National Poetry Month as a personal challenge to write a poem a day. My theme was “Garden.”

I wrote about things growing (or not), about wildness, successes and pitfalls, about the wonder of seeds and the delight of putting food I’d grown onto my plate. When the opportunity came to study again with Gail Harker in a class focused on creating books, I began formulating the idea of an illustrated version of this collection of poems.

Our family and the world both have undergone many changes since I began that project, but here are some key points I’ve come to in the process of continuing to work toward a finished collection.

  • The themes I’ve found myself digging into are much bigger than simply what I grow and my thoughts about my garden. There’s definitely more to share about that. 
  • I garden organically and have worked to limit plastics in our lives as I’m able. I made a commitment to myself to use plastic free media as much as possible in creating the art for this project. This has led to some interesting rabbit holes and different approaches to certain pieces.
  • While I designed the project as one book/collection originally, exploring an array of layouts, media and styles has led me to envision a collection in a variety of formats, with ideas for both hand-bound and traditional print/digital works. 
  • Gardens are important: for building and feeding communities, for teaching children, for the health of soil biomes, for discovering and nurturing a richness and diversity of foods and foodways, and for honoring food sovereignty.

Let me know your thoughts on gardens. Have you grown a garden? If so, what successes or struggles have you discovered along the way?

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Fresh from the Press

Did you  know I’m a small publisher? Here’s our latest newsletter to introduce you. Enjoy!

Fresh from the Press, Fall 2018

Greetings from Homeostasis Press! We’re feeling the change in seasons. Are you?

What’s new:

We are very pleased to share our latest publication with you. In Thee and Me, Timothy Merrill’s poetry explores the relationships that connect us all. An earlier collection of Timothy’s poems, A Quiet Calling, was published by the press in 2009. Thee and Me is available now at http://www.homeostasispress.com/theeandme.php .

GIVEAWAY: The first ten orders of Thee and Me will receive a free copy of A Quiet Calling. Simply order your copy of the new book, and we’ll ship both to your door.

What we’ve been up to, and where we’ll be:

A few weeks ago I was honored and delighted to participate in a virtual chat with 140 9th grade students in Nebraska to kick off their creative writing unit. We talked about publishing, why we tell stories, favorite books, and whether pineapple belongs on pizza.

With colleagues from Soundview School, I helped create a presentation about the Collaborative Historical Novel for the Northwest Association of Independent Schools Educator Conference. We use the collaborative novel to teach local history in middle school. I’ll be making the link to their talk available on our http://gather-here-history.squarespace.com/ website when it’s available.

I’ll be giving my Worldbuilding in Historical Fiction talk at the Freeland branch of Sno-Isle Libraries on November 19, as part of their FREE Write Now series. Join me on Whidbey Island for an informative afternoon.

What’s coming up:

Next month we’ll launch two more historical stories as part of our Gather Here children’s imprint. “Timber Town” is about logging and the spotted owl. “Under the Quilt” deals with wartime criticism of Germans. It also addresses how facts can become rumors that are then recorded in history books. We hope you’ll enjoy these new additions to our collection. Please share with the teachers in your life.

We’re feeling the love, and we want to give it away:

Stay tuned for a special giveaway of multiple copies of The Best of It: A Journal of Life, Love, and Dying especially for book clubs, coming in November.

December marks the first birthday of Rough Cut: Lessons from Endangered Species. With each purchase, we’re giving away very special original artwork created by New Zealand artist ZR Southcombe to celebrate the animals depicted in the book.

As always, thanks for allowing us to be part of the stories of your lives. Happy reading!


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Life, Loss, and Permission to Be

I’ve been putting garden tasks on my to-do lists for months now, and for months, I’ve pushed them aside, popping out only to take care of essentials. Why? What is it that’s keeping me out of one of my happiest places?

I was feeling uncomfortable, antsy, and with a sigh, finally grabbed up the shipment of garlic and seeds I received last week. Best to get this over with while it’s not raining.
I stood in the sun-room feeling guilty, as if I ought to be doing something more “worthy” with my time. What has become of me that growing food and caring for my little precious piece of dirt is unworthy?

I know there is a hole in my life, but also a huge shift in energy and priorities with the recent loss of my mother-in-law. Since my husband’s father died suddenly, nearly nine years ago, we’ve put LaVerne at the top of our list of life concerns. From helping her cope with loss to helping her cope with the onset of dementia, from caring for her in her home and ours, to care in a facility, we’ve been on call for all those years.

She’s gone now. The feeling of being on call? It’s not, yet.

I don’t know where in there the belief came about that I don’t have permission to pursue gardening or cooking or writing (or reading!) with my whole heart.

I need to let that belief go. Celebrate my passions, make space for them, and pursue them, wholeheartedly.

I’m really glad I planted the garlic, and planted a bunch of it. I’m also glad that I didn’t actually get that huge spider in my hair, glad I gave myself permission, to go, and do, and be, wholeheartedly.

What are you glad you gave yourself permission to do today?

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