Butter, Worms, and Sundry Suds

I think it time to cast this Upward Aspiring brand aside.

For some time now, I’ve been journeying downward, from individual people to pets to plants to microbes, and I’ve been happily tinkering at the frontier of fermentation and microbiology in ever-expanding arcs – left, right, and down. If a life is indeed how we spend it, I am not so much reaching for the stars as rooting through the dirt, and I love it.

I’ve decided to dedicate 2018 to the development of my micro-biotic passion, and to executing said development with an eye towards a zero-waste lifestyle, also called sustainable living. It’s a big goal, but a worthy one too.

I made some strides in that vein this week.

Last week, at Loc’s request, I resuscitated my sourdough starter – a 60% hydration 100% white flour creation – and used it for Sunday’s bake: Jeffrey Hammelman’s Normandy Apple Bread. This bread uses both a sourdough and commercial yeast as leavening agents, but also a cup of apple cider and roughly 6-8 sliced apples, dried just to the consistency of leather: sounds divine, right? I wrestled a bit with it in the fermentation process, but the finished product came out nicely. It disappeared before I could take a picture… mea culpa. I’m heading back to the sourdough basics for the time being, at least while the weather’s still reasonable.

On Sunday also, I began culturing cream with an eye towards butter. To do this, one simply adds a bit of plain yogurt (with live cultures) to a bowl of cream, mixes it all well, then lets it sit at 72F for up to 48 hours – hell, maybe even longer, but I stayed within the lines this time. Even without salt cultured butter is much more richly flavorful than commercial butter, and it’s so easy to whip up in a KitchenAid. I whipped it up Thursday after a spell in the fridge, and it yielded about a quart of richly aromatic yellow butter and two cups of buttermilk – real buttermilk. Pretty fancy!

 

Butter

Hard, creamy, aromatic butter in a .5 L jar – to serve with sourdough!

 

I used that buttermilk to make pancakes yesterday – King Arthur Flour’s Muesli pancakes. That’s a wondrous little recipe in which one soaks the muesli in buttermilk overnight – at room temperature – then incorporates the rest of the ingredients into a batter that must rest but fifteen minutes to hydrate before cooking on a cast iron skillet. Cast iron is my jam. And, after melting a few plastic spatulas on my cast iron, wood is my peanut butter. Ask me for the recipe – I’ll share it. Wish I could say I spread my butter on my pancakes, but those are good with syrup alone. This is my second batch of butter in Texas – my first with such a long fermentation time. More to come!

Perhaps most wondrously, I attended a class on vermiculture, worm composting, yesterday morning at the Texas Worm Ranch. What was wondrous was not so much the material as the fact that 32 Texans of mixed sex, varying ages, and diverse cultural backgrounds, drove from near and far to learn about worms on a Saturday! We did get to take our very own worm bins home with us at the end of our two-hour class (which was my primary purpose in attending said class), but I was blown away by the broad swath of ordinary Texans who want to do better. It was an earthy few hours, enough to stoke my faith in humanity. Heather, the owner/instructor warned, one bin may turn into a 12,000 square foot warehouse of bins – maybe, maybe. I would like to stay married, but maybe. In the meantime, I’ll find a community garden to channel my energy.

Also, I have a worm-composting bin! It’s just a little Roughneck tote with holes drilled in the sides and bottom of it. Inside, the base layer is composted soil. The action happens on the surface of this base layer, which is where the worms dwell, and where I am to feed them – a handful of organic material every 3-4 days, alternating from side to side of the bin. All of that’s covered with a thick layer of moist shredded newspaper – just carbon-rich material. This is meant to emulate the ground cover of leaves in a forest ecosystem. It helps the fungi to keep moisture in the system and keeps the worms happy. It doesn’t stink! I’m keeping mine in my living room, right next to my south-facing window and all my plants… and the couch.

 

Worms

See that discrete little bucket? From most places in the living room, you can’t!

 

I do plan to grow an organic vegetable garden on my balcony this year – that worm compost is part of my fledgling plan. I already have a rustic little indoor herb garden; I’ll expand it to fully use the two square yards of concrete porch space towards the production of tomatoes, zucchinis, strawberries, peas, potatoes… much puzzling and planning to be done on that front. The assessment of forces has begun.

 

Pots

This is one wing, the sunnier wing, of my porch. In its entirety. 

 

Unexpected success of the week: I found reusable mesh produce bags, 3 for $2.40, at Sprouts yesterday! They’re branded, but I don’t mind. One source of plastic waste: gone.

 

Mesh

For scale – these things are perfect!

 

Last, I made soap. In addition to my exhaustive web research on sites such as DIY Natural, Soap Queen, and Bramble Berry, I read two books: Making Soap from Scratch, by Gregory Lee White, and The Everything Soapmaking Book, by Alicia Grosso. DIY Naturals got me started, Gregory entertained and inspired me, and Alicia got me going on my first batch of soap. The recipe is simple:

11 ounces olive oil

5 ounces coconut oil, 76 degree

.5 ounce avocado oil

5 ounces distilled water

2.3 ounces lye, NaOH

In a nutshell, one decks oneself out in protective gear, then mixes the oils in a double boiler, then pour the lye over the water outside (the snow falls on the lake, lest explosion), lets both solutions cool to around 110 F, then mixes the lye into the oil and begins stirring. Alicia told me that I could stir to trace, or the point of emulsification, in 10-20 minutes by hand. 35 minutes later, I was still stirring. A stick blender then applied did the trick in mere seconds. I poured the stuff into an old takeout container, covered it with plastic, put it on a wooden board, and wrapped it all in a towel – gotta keep it warm. I’ll unmold it and cut it tonight.

Life, boys and girls, is fun.

To a life spent tinkering at the edge of the unknown –

James

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