My culinary muse has become radicalized. Or, at least, it's been enrolled in an east coast liberal arts college and is deep into "experimenting". Perhaps it was years of living in a world where cleaning is a kind of religious expression, but I grew up afeared of the moldy, the aged and the undercooked. Anything brought to life in the dark and left there for a while has to be a bit suspect...and broody. A bright, clean home is the mirror of a bright, clean mind. I've overcome a good deal of that inhibition, and I'm embarrassed by most of it. It boggles my mind when I think of the cheese I've passed up.
The more I become aware of the way our world has become impoverished by the industrialization of food production, the more I question my food preferences. In the same vein, I've begun to question my deep-seated food phobias. Foods that are fermented or otherwise "aged, moldy and undercooked" are suspect, even though in most cultures (ha!), those foods are highly regarded as healing, nourishing and available to people of all incomes. While big food producers like are selling foods with "probiotics" and making a killing on it (despite Dannon losing a law suit over unfounded health claims), we've given up the practice of making those things ourselves. In the same way we need to reclaim our media, our government, our private lives and our money, it's time for Uppity Folks Everywhere to reclaim their humanity-by reclaiming their culture(s). But enough megaphoning...time to cook.
The project that I found easiest to start was yogurt, which I always thought required a fancy yogurt maker. Instead, I learned that heating milk to 180 F, stirring in some commercial yogurt starter (available at PCC) or some commercial, live-culture yogurt pretty much did the trick. After mixing the yogurt starter and milk together, the only other equipment required is an insulated cooler and a warm towel. After cooking, I poured it into a warm glass jar and wrapped it up. I popped the swaddled yogurt baby into an insulated cooler and left it undisturbed in the pantry for 12 hours. Hello, yogurt! I made the yogurt with a full-fat cream, which makes for a very eastern European kind of deliciosity. We put it into Chris's favorite Armenian dish (Media Dolma) and polished it all off within the day.
The next project was sourdough starter. This took a little more attention since it needs to be stirred up everyday and fed regularly. It's basically equal parts flour and water, mixed together and "fed" with some sugary love. In this case it was some Oregon grapes from a nearby bush. The little puddle grew into a gorgeous foamy bubbling goo within several days. Though I was hoping to turn it into a loaf of bread, the kidlet and I were hungry yesterday AM, and sourdough pancakes it was. I just added a little sugar, a bit more flour, an egg and a pinch of soda to the starter and voila! Again, there was hardly a moment to take the picture before they disappeared. Life is fleeting but delicious, like homemade pancakes.
All good foods involve birth and growth. Decay (and ultimately death) are part of the process as well, and it is almost impossible to enter into a well-made meal without the reminder of life's natural cycles. Here's hoping you eat and are well in the upcoming year and may you thrive with all the things that feed you. PS, if you want to read more about all this culture and Culture and stuff, check our Sandor Ellix Katz's thoughtful cookbook and website, both titled Wild Fermentation.