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Learning Patience via Fermentation 

So, I’ve been fermenting for a while really.  Like many things in life it started with wine, well leftover wine. I know, ironic, eh? Leftover wine for those who are unclear on the concept is wine that is not consumed and remains either in the glass or in the bottle. I don’t know how it happened but it did. Maybe I was feeling unwell. Anyway skip to the next day and I’ve got say half a bottle’s worth of dregs. I don’t have any slow braises happening in the near future and I don’t know what to do with the wine. I should point out here that I’m frugal as they come; I abhor waste.

So I decide to make some vinegar. I already intellectually know the process and and have found vinegar mothers in my purchased vinegars. So I grab a bottle of commercial vinegar with some mother (those swirly cloudy bits in the bottom that you may have wondered about) and dump that plus the leftover wine into a ceramic mixing bowl which I proceed to cover with a shower cap to keep prying cats, flies or other curious undesirables away. Said bowl goes on shelf in the pantry, shoved towards the back to forget about for a while. Every now and then, at no particular schedule, I lift the cover and stir and check on my creature. This is not the patience bit mentioned in the title because to be frank, I know this process is going to take months, so I’m resigned to it.

Fast forward a couple of years and we are in a whole other place. I’ve now got three vinegars on the go – a malt vinegar from one of our home brews (a simple Belgian ale), a red wine vinegar and a white vinegar. I have a red and white in use as well as the three fermenting themselves away in the back of the cupboard. For the last 9 months or so, I’ve also been the proud parent of sourdough starters. A bit like children, although infinitely easier at bedtime, they require some care. They need to be fed regularly and benefit from nourishing conditions. I’m most proud of my rye starter – the middle child ironically.  She’s no problem, very compliant and responds well to the smallest amount of attention. I’ve foregone the wholewheat starter as it went a bit grey for my liking and started to smell too acidic. The organic unbleached white one is still doing well though I do tend to favour the rye.  I use the rye starter and a make a rye leaven regardless of the composition of the flour in the final loaf. I get the best rising from this and naturally a great flavour and crust crunch.

This is the starter recipe I followed
This is the bread recipe I followed
I also recommend you google You Tube videos. This helped me with my dough technique – how to handle it and how it should appear when the gluten is developed. Anything related to Tartine bakery is a good option. We had the good fortune to visit Tartine when we were in America in 2016 and I’m glad we did. Also, get out and buy sourdough bread in your town and figure out what you like in bread. Some places have a real dark crust, others have a chewy caramel crust and the internal varies a lot also. Experiment with different flours and not just different types of flour but different brands and sources of flour. I like to buy small amounts from my local organic shop which they portion out so I know the turnover is good. It’s a busy place and that’s a good sign. Nothing sits on the shelf long enough to get dusty and old.

Making sourdough bread doesn’t take a long time but it does require you be around to knead for a bit before resting. I’m learning, through my failures as much as my successes, how far I can push it regarding time and temperature. It all gets eaten in the end, whether as toast, bread and butter pudding or breadcrumbs. Remember, I abhor waste.

So that’s vinegar and bread covered. We also home brew. Steve and I take turns being head brewer – it doesn’t work otherwise and I’d like to stay living with him currently. We’ve produced rye IPAs, many different stouts, Belgian ales, English ales and so on. It’s fun. Steve, unsurprisingly likes the equipment side of things though we did start out with just some large stock pots and a borrowed fermenter. I like producing from basic kitchen supplies. Steve likes toys, oops sorry, tools. When he’s busy trying to sterilise everything, I like to remind him that humans have been producing beer without stericlean for hundreds, maybe thousands of years. As Sandor Katz, says ‘sterility is a myth’ – but we’ll come back to him shortly. There’s a plethora of information about home brewing on the internet and just as many contradictions as there are agreements. I found our local brewing supplies shop a very useful resource. The guy that works there on the weekend is friendly, happy to help out the beginner and a great resource.

Brewcraft – 143 Church St, Richmond VIC 3121
And fortuitously, Moon Dog Brewing is just around the corner for a quick one whilst you contemplate the upcoming brew.

Okay so that’s vinegar, bread and beer accounted for.

I’ve recently converted to kombucha. I know it’s really hip and trendy right now but it just my digestive system so much better. It relieves reflux in my upper abdominal area and means I feel more balanced overall. I’m not going to into too much detail about my health but just know that I feel better with it in my life. So, how did I get going on my own? More internet research here and here. The first link helped me use my vinegar mother to kickstart a kombucha scoby (another link, somebody is responsible for teaching me hyperlinks – blame them).  So now I have two kombucha as different stages of fermentation. I now question whether the plural of kombucha is kombuchas – I don’t know. 

And finally we get to mead. I love honey, everything about it. Its smell, range of flavour and its sweet stickyness. I love the meads I’ve tasted but the frugal side of me hates paying that much for something I’m sure I can make myself. So, more research and ta-da, I’ve now got two meads from two different honeys on the go. This is where the patience comes in (apart from your patience, dear reader to get to this bit that relates to the title – thanks.) Mead has two stages of fermentation. It can be drunk at 10-14 days as what is known as ‘green’ mead – think young for green rather than mould. Alternatively, it can left for months to ferment all the sugars, giving a drier flavour and long lasting  bottling capabilities. Not one, to do things simply, I’m doing both. So depending on which green mead I prefer I’ll retain a cup of that to add to the 5 litres I’m going to long stage ferment. Raw honey, not heat treated is imperative to this process. Also, boiling and cooling the water before mixing the honey is important.  More info here

I want my mead to be ready now but I can’t make it happen any quicker. I can check on it daily and burp it to avoid any explosions. I’m already planning my ginger beer but again that requires patience. Fermentation has its own timetable and the best I can do is be witness to this natural wonder. Maybe that’s the takeaway lesson from this, not the skills of making the product but learning patience to let things run at their own pace, not mine.

The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz I got his book from the library and made recipe cards. I told you I’m frugal.
People’s Republic of Fermentation videos to watch while you wait.

San Francisco August 2016

A mid-blue Cadillac Mustang tentatively slows, curb crawling with the driver leaning forward peering out the dusty front window. Smiling and waving, Steve steps forward, phone in hand, to open the front passenger door.
– Hi, I’m Steve.

I drag my suitcase from the pavement. As it dumps onto the bitumen, the driver appears by the rear door and heaves both our suitcases into the trunk. They land between slabs of bottled water and a forest-green sports bag that may or may not have a small dead body inside. Over-dressed for the surprising warm weather, I peel off my baggy black jacket I have carried with me from Melbourne before jumping in the backseat.

I’m still reminiscing over my breakfast – a six-egg white omelette with sautéed kale, guacamole, roasted baby yams and shaved turkey breast. Could it be any more American? Egg white omelettes and turkey breast first came to my attention thanks to a plethora of television sitcoms. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen them on a menu in Melbourne. Unfortunately the tea was truly American in style also – tepid dish water. Thankfully, I brought a stash of real tea bags with me from home. These will have to be rationed out over the next month. Americans may start their day with coffee but I’m a cup of tea girl all the way. I’m not pretty without my cup of tea.

America and Australia may well have been colonised by Britain, but the tea has an altogether different standing in Australia than in America. I’ve visited the USA three times and rarely have a found a kettle, electric or otherwise, in a hotel room. During our three days in San Francisco, I had tried and failed to light the gas stove so I could boil some water for tea. There’s no point saying I should go out to Starbucks to buy tea. I need tea as I’m pottering around getting ready in the morning. This is a non-negotiable.

On our final morning in my new favourite city of San Francisco, I woke early and sat on the mustard velvet love seat peering out the bay window. While the world went about its workday morning business, I curled up and caught up on my journal writing. I decided to take one last go at lighting the mid-century stove in our eclectic Air Bnb. Our host is a photographer and the apartment reflects his visual aesthetic.

Visual vignettes are everywhere. An over-sized glass candy jar filled with fluorescent-yellow foam ear plugs graces the bedside table. 1960s postcards decorate the table lamps perched on the triangular tables twinning the love seat. A wooden artist mannequin resuscitates a polymer cockroach. There’s a fine line between art installation and amenity in our second floor Oak Street apartment.

With the stove finally conquered, I realise I need to go out hunter/gathering for milk. Americans may like their tea floral, black and insipid but I like mine strong and milky. Coffee here in America is filter coffee with creamer. Creamer is a bizarre concoction of corn syrup solids with hydrogenated soybean or cottonseed oil and white powder thrown in to make it acceptable. Espresso is yet to take strong hold.

So out I trek to find somewhere to buy milk. I aim for a service station or convenience store thinking that will be my best bet. A block west and half a block north and I find two service stations opposite each other. Things are looking positive. As I stand on the street corner waiting for the lights to change, I pull my jacket tight around me to guard against the chilly early morning wind. Unmarked white buses pull up just prior to the intersection and collect a small number of people I’ve just noticed gathering for some unknown reason. Later, I discover this is a common practice to bus staff out of town to large corporate estates.

As I enter the store, I head towards the fridge I see at the rear. There’s no familiarity with the bottles I see on the shelves. Out of the way, I manage to decipher images and words to find plain, unflavoured milk. It would have been easier to buy soft drink, sports drink, juice or even bottled water than milk. America clearly isn’t a strong dairy culture.

Ramblings for my next creative project

2:41 PM Terminal 1, Departures – Door 10, San Francisco International Airport

3:11 PM

955 Oak St, San Francisco, CA 94117, USA

CAR UBERX

MILES 14.45

TRIP TIME 00:28:10

FARE BREAKDOWN Base Fare 2.00

Subtotal US$24.82

Booking Fee 1.55

SFO Airport Surcharge 3.80

Total US$30.17

Mid blue Cadillac mustang

Diogenes 4.35 stars

The car tentatively slows, crawling along the curb, driver leaning forward peering out the dusty front window. Smiling and waving, Steve steps forward, phone in hand, to open the front passenger door.

– Hi, I’m Steve.

I drag my suitcase from the pavement. As it dumps on the bitumen, the driver appears by the rear door and heaves both our suitcases into the trunk. They land between slabs of bottled water and a forest-green adidas sports bag that may or may not have a small dead body inside. Over-dressed for the surprising warm weather, I peel off my baggy black jacket I carried with me from Melbourne before jumping in the backseat.

Steve always sits behind the driver as the English gentleman in him won’t allow me to get in the car on the road side and naturally as a lady I can’t be expected to scoot over. I allow him these indulgences, quieting my inner rabid feminist. From my position in the rear passenger seat I get the perfect observation point on our Uber driver. Burgundy check shorts, a ‘limp from many years of washing’ indistinct logo t-shirt. Bob Dylan’s version of ‘House of the Rising Sun’ plays too loudly on the radio.

And so begins our trip up the west coast of America. For the next month, Steve and I travel up the west coat, fly across the top stopping in Chicago before landing in New York then down to New Orleans and back west to San Diego.

Eagerly embracing the new disruptive paradigms of Air Bnb and Uber, we tasted a previously hidden or hard to find version of America. Staying with an American version of my great aunt and uncle in Bend, Oregon or an ageing Mills-and-Boons-cover-model-turned-bar-owner in New York City, we met many entertaining people whom opened up their cars and homes to us.

From a yurt in a deserted vineyard, yacht in a marina or tiny log cabin surrounded by tall, foreboding pine trees Air bnb hosts welcomed us . Uber drivers in exchange for pieces of gold, similarly opened up their private space to strangers from a foreign land. Unable to retreat to a distant room, our Uber host must find their own space within the metal cage.

– How long you been doing this?

Steve always starts the same way. He doesn’t actually really care how long you’ve been working your car for Uber or been driving today? It’s a hook to hang the rest of the conversation on. It’s a toe dipping into the water testing the temperature. It’s throwing out a line to see if anything bites. Most often, he catches something but occasionally it’s appears to be one of those days you wished you hadn’t’ bothered to buy bait.

It turns out our driver today is named Diogenes. The app tells us so. Diogenes himself doesn’t actually tells us much at all. The fourteen and a half miles over twenty-eight minutes costs a total of US$30.17 which includes a surcharge of $2.00 for pick up at the San Fransisco airport. When you submit yourself to a taxi in a foreign country, there is a fair degree of trust involved. Ubers take this one step further. A private company with little external regulation, car sharing is just one part of a new society we are figuring out as we build it.

But back to that point about foreign-ness. America still is a foreign country. Though it’s distinct turns of phrase may have infiltrated our language and its tourist landmarks may be more easily recognisable than some of my own country. America is still a foreign country. One could argue, since Trump’s election in November 2016, it has become even more foreign.

The language spoken may highly resemble the English language, it is being shaped in ways that Australian English is not. Australia prides itself on its multi-culturalism but in very few places will you find signage in anything other than one language – English. Through my travels across the many states of America, I often saw dual-language signs and advertisements. A high percentage of the population speaks another language – Spanish. Hispanic, latino, Mexicans, these are words that I can only grasp the nuanced concepts of. To look around I can’t perceive who is who. But then why should I necessarily. Why do I feel the need to categorise people? What purpose does it serve? It only divides us, me and them. This idea of otherness is the crux of so many of the problems in the world. To separate people into different groups ultimately leads to a power hierarchy. Some groups say are better than other groups. Some people are better than other people. To use the words ‘us’ and ‘them’ serves no one. It is only perspective that makes me an ‘us’ or a ‘them’.

“Strangers are only friends you haven’t yet met”. Yes, it’s cliched but that doesn’t make it invalid. There is a sweet podcast I listen to on an irregular basis (irregular due to my bingeing tendencies) called Strangers hosted by Lea Thau. Her low, seductive voices narrates extra-ordinary stories from ordinary people. It is this concept of ‘otherness’ that she somehow breaks down, dissolving it away. So intimate is the sound of her voice in my ears that I come to empathise with her US election anxiety. Throughout our journey we hesitantly venture into conversations about the upcoming election. Time and time again, ‘He’ll never get in’ is what we hear. Only once, in New Orleans, does someone tell us that they plan on voting for Trump. That person is a childhood of my partner’s. They grew up in the same working class area of Essex, UK together. They went to the local primary school together. They played football on the field at the bottom of the road together.

It is during the hour long drive across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans to Covington that this comes to light. We’re trapped in his car, him driving us to his place for dinner that it all comes out. His take on ‘crooked’ Hilary being the force behind his decision . I’m only minor-ly heartened by that it is a push away from Clinton and the Democrats rather than a pull towards Trump and the Republicans.

[Months later, back home in Melbourne on the night of the US election, I end up in tears and at the bottom of a wine bottle listening to R.E.M. songs over and over again.]

During that car journey, I look at the back Steve’s head in the front passenger seat while he tries to re-connect with his longtime friend. I have no past history to go on, so this is my introduction to him and all of a sudden the chance of a casual home-cooked meal seems less appealing. So I look out at the scenery. Lake Pontchartrain doesn’t change much in the half an hour we spend driving across it. There’s only so much to look at. The concrete lanes head of me match the ones beside me.

The bridge over Lake Pontchartain is actually two parallel bridges spanning just under 24 miles. Two lanes either way with multiple turnaround points for emergencies, the causeway, as it is known, first opened in August 1956. Lucky us to be travelling on in its 60th year. It has the honour of being the longest continuous bridge over water according to the Guinness World Records. These facts I find out thanks to the smart phone in my hand and an internet search engine. I spend my expensive data roaming dollars distracting myself from the depressing conversation going on ahead of me.

It is only later that I have the distance to be angry at myself for a short-sighted reaction. His political leanings didn’t align with mine and I shunned it all. After picking up my chin, I tuned out. This shallow reaction is how we keep up the ‘us’ and ‘them’ paradigm. This is how filter bubbles get curated on our social media feeds. We turn away from the things that challenge us and we don’t agree with.

I have no answer to this apart from being aware that we are doing it. Awareness is the first step. From there we can take steps to reach out to others because there is only us; there is no them. We are all us.

Ubering Across America

Last year, Steve and I took a trip around America – a brewcation, if you will. I know we didn’t coin the phrase and that’s fine with me but we certainly explored it thoroughly. We visited 35 breweries/brew bars in 31 days. After landing in LA, we went north up the west coast as far as Seattle, then flew to Chicago, onto New York then down to New Orleans and San Diego then home.

Whilst visiting some of the finest craft breweries America has to offer, we played it safe and used Uber to get around. Tentatively titled ‘Ubering Across America’ I would like to use this project as a vehicle to address a range of issues. Each episode will follow us on our physical journey and talk about a greater theme. Today, I did some hands on research for one of the San Fransisco episodes.

Not far out of San Fransisco is Lagunitas Brewery. We stopped there just after they opened, before lunchtime if I recall. As Steve was driving on this particular leg, it was incumbent upon me to be chief taster. Along with the tasting paddle, we ordered a pretzel with beer cheese sauce. So I present to you a recipe for both below. As per usual, I can’t help but adapt recipes found online. I use a rye sourdough starter and leaven because the one I have is awesome. Most recipes I found were yeasted but I’m a complete sourdough convert.

Pretzel dough 

1 tbl rye starter

1/3 cup rye organic flour

1/3 cup warm water mix these and leave overnight

200ml flat beer

60g melted butter

½ tbl sugar

1 tsp salt

4 cups flour – white this amount is flexible depending on how the flour takes up liquid

Mix it all together, and let rest. Knead until smooth then rest again. Divide into 12-14 even balls.

Roll each ball into a thin rope of dough and shape into pretzels. Rest while you bring oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Bake for 12 minutes then switch to grill to colour them.

Beer cheese sauce

500ml beer – I used a home brew Belgian ale

500g cheddar – grated yourself

250g raclette – grated yourself

½ tsp mustard powder

½ tsp hot cayenne

1 tsp onion powder

1 tsp garlic powder

1 tbl worcestshire sauce

5 tsp cornflour made into slurry

2/3 cup cream

Warm the beer, dissolve the spices and stir in cheese over medium heat. Once cheese is melted mostly, stir in cornflour slurry and whisk til smooth. Take off heat and stir in cream.

This makes a lot but it is totally worth it. Share with friends – they’ll be impressed.

Things I like

This post and most likely more to come will be a collection of things I like that I’ve read or seen and liked. It could be an image, a podcast, a movie or something cool I overheard.


I’d really like to credit this image so if someone can teach me how to do a reverse google image search that’d be fantastic.

I’ve had a go at searching for it and so far all searches have ended in artists unknown.
This next one is a list I found on the Warren Ellis email newsletter which appears in my mailbox when it feels like it. It probably has more of a routine than that.

Original post here

my new podcast Yeah shameless plug but I love making podcasts. I’m totally hooked. Lots of fun and I’m getting better at the whole thing.

 

The Middle Third Podcast

The Middle Third Podcast
I think I’m hooked. I really enjoyed the process of making my podcast – The Middle Third. It’s an idea that’s been brewing for a year or so and I was able to bring it to fruition. I had hopes that my winter intensive subject,Multi and New Media, would push me into action and it did. Adam’s hand-on editing class was perfect to convince me that Adobe Audition is now my go-to editing software. Like the other Adobe creative suite software, the interface is accessible and help easy to find with a plethora of YouTube tutorials.

I planned the questions of the interview quite mindfully to develop a story arc and it mostly went to plan. Knowing my guest previously helped and hindered. I was mindful of not interrupting or talking over the top of her as we often do privately. I endeavoured to allow Tracy to tell her story in her own words. The length of the episode is double its recommended length but I believe it works as it gives time for her story to unfold from her work beginnings through her change of career and how she went about it. Rounding out the professional machinations is a section offering some insight into her personal thoughts on life, the universe and everything.

So from here, of course, I’m already planning future episodes, how I’ll alter the website and so on. Onwards and upwards.

https://themiddlethird.podbean.com/e/tracy-secretary-turned-lawyer/

Have a listen, leave a comment or send me and email and please recommend it to your friends.

Meet Allan

Meet Allan.Every afternoon just as the sun would start to turn that deep golden, the rough scraping noise would start. My cat would start at the front window, head high and alert, eyes transfixed, then follow him, running from one window to the next, as he made his way along the driveway. 40cm from the floor on every window is lacework of nose smudges.

Allan would rake clean the concrete driveway every afternoon. Every day, he’d gather the fallen gum leaves into piles and deposit them on the garden than runs along the timber paling fence next to our shared driveway.

Swish, scrape, scrape.

Catching the last of the daylight, Allan would make it his mission to get rid of the offending detritus. His high waisted slacks belted tight halfway up his torso, solid dark leather shoes with a sensible sole and olive green polo shirt in the summer, and woollen pullover in the winter.

I began to let the cat out to watch him from the balcony. Keeping her distance, she didn’t want to join him, only observe him. After he had finished his self-assigned chores, he’d lower his 6 foot frame onto my front steps and indulge my furry girl with fusses. They became very fond of each other and I’m not sure who was more disappointed when we moved out.

The first Christmas after I had moved in I was enjoying a few glasses of wine in the quiet after an indulgent lunch and I heard a whirring noise and someone giggling. Knowing I only had my two older child-free neighbors living behind, I wondered what that noise could be. Glass in hand, I stepped onto the front veranda to see Allan maneuvering his new remote-control car up and down the driveway, giggling all the while.

In an odd way, I miss Allan.

Long live long-form

Our school puts on a great little event called Word Con at the end of each semester. We get to listen to a range of presenters on a range of topics, most of which are of interest. Monday’s first session was an interview by Robyn Dorian with Andrew Mast of ‘themusic.com.au’ and its print version. Apart from getting me thinking about what constitutes a magazine and some reminiscing of the second-hand record store I used to hang out in as a teenager, I found Andrew great fun to listen to.

Andrew had a lot to say about monetizing the website, metrics the website generates as well as the fact that although they started out as an independent, the music is now viewed as somewhat mainstream. Not being much into music myself (blasphemous, I know) I was heartened to see the website devotes space to other tangents such as art, film, culture and comedy.

Long-form articles are also gaining ground – great news for those writers in the audience. I’ve been hearing a bit of this recently. There are apps that aggregate long-form articles for reading at one’s leisure. The irony there is that I much prefer to read things of length not online but by holding a paper product in my hot little hands. Oh,well.

8bd33-imag0064

 

Jennifer Down

Our school puts on a great little event called Word Con at the end of each semester. We get to listen to a range of presenters on a range of topics, most of which are of interest. On the final day, Luke Horton presented a discussion with Jennifer Down, a young Melbourne published author. Her soft, self-effacing manner made her only more like-able.Jennifer spoke of her process, the importance of entering literary prizes and her experiences as a translator. It was the discussion of particularity versus universality that I found most interesting. Her novel, ‘Our Magic Hour’, is set in Melbourne and as a reader I love reading about my own town. I’m very much looking forward to reading her book.

I do also, however, relish reading about other locations whether they be real or imagined. To anchor a story in a sense of place without overwhelming with unnecessary detail, is a fine wire to tread. I’ve already placed a hold on her novel at my local library and will seek out her collected short stories, Pulse Points, after that.

It may be a throw away line from her that was my favourite though – real life doesn’t give us all the answers so why should fiction.

The Big Idea

Our school puts on a great little event called Word Con at the end of each semester. We get to listen to a range of presenters on a range of topics, most of which are of interest. Rob Griffith presented on a session on ‘THE BIG IDEA.’ Now I wouldn’t say that I have a big burning idea. That’s ok. Big ideas sometimes come to us when we least expect them, during what I like to call my pre-thought stage that other people call daydreaming.

So meanwhile, I will continue to work on the ideas I do have. I’ve simplified my tag line for the podcast – stories from The Middle Third of life. I’m sorting out questions for a couple of people I want to interview. The Middle Third is still going to be predominantly focused on female stories as an attempt to redress the gender inequality in society in general.

I haven’t figured how to work the microphone I have with my iPad yet but I’ll figure that out. I’m planning on interviewing my best friend initially as way to ease my way into these things. She also happens to have a really spot-on story that fits with the theme of The Middle Third. She re-trained as a lawyer after the birth of her second child.

After that I am going to interview a woman I collaborated with a few years ago on an exciting project. Sensual Seed oracle cards brought together four women to birth a project aimed at encouraging women to celebrate them as sensual beings. These new directions and new experiences are precisely the kinds of stories I want to tell.

When I was younger, I didn’t appreciate by any stretch how flexible life experiences could be. I never had any burning ambition to have a particular career and it felt like a deficit. I forgave myself this a long time ago.

Now I’m in my middle third, I’m enjoying looking around and learning new things.

inspire