Winter breakfast: Mmmm vs Grrrr

Supermarket breakfast

Winter breakfast: oatmeal, wild blueberries, banana, maple syrup, cream. Mmmm? Grrrr…. It’s all supermarket stuff, from thousands of miles away, from the bowels of factory farms and processing plants. “Wild blueberries” in President’s Choice designer ziploc bags—what does that even mean? I can’t remember exactly when food became such an uncertainty and a puzzle for me. Once, I didn’t give it much thought (too many distractions!). Now, it’s unsettling. Eating should be simple and fun, right?! Unfortunately, it’s not. And growing food makes thinking about it all so…unavoidable. Well, new season in the field coming up, remineralization on my mind…onwards! :)

Kombucha watching

Kombucha tea mother (SCOBY)

Not much to look at, right? Wrong! I spent a good FIVE MINUTES staring at the kombucha tea mother, gently swirling and undulating right after being placed in its tea-and-sugar bath, the watching-chickens effect. I like the look of the mother, although some people find the whole thing kinda…icky. If you’re not familiar, this is a sparkling drink, tartly acidic and slightly sweet, made by floating the mother—it’s also called a SCOBY, symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast—in a solution of tea (black or green or both) and sugar. Let it ferment for around a week and a fizzy beverage is the result. It’s quite impressive. Not surprising, there are all sorts of magical health benefits ascribed to kombucha tea, and from the bit of reading I’ve done, none of it is really “evidence-based,” to use the popular medical description for stuff that’s scientifically proven, whatever exactly that means. In any case, nobody really says it’s BAD for you, maybe it is magical, and I find it…refreshing.

Making it is easy: 4-5 tea bags in some water for a few minutes, top up the hot tea with cold water to about 3/4 gallon (around 3 liters) so it’s all cooled down, then plunk in your SCOBY—any size will do, it grows!—along with a cup or two of kombucha tea (you store the mother in the tea), and you’re done. Cover with a clean cloth to let in air but not dust, stash in a warm, dark place, and taste test in five days or so: if it’s too sweet, leave longer, if it’s too tart (the main bacterium makes acetic acid, which is basically vinegar), well, test earlier next time. It’s all pretty loose and easy, and each batch you get a new, extra mother that you can pass on. Do a search and you’ll find lots of details.

My first mother I was given in a jam jar at a raw food talk, and I made kombucha steadily for a couple of years, for no reason other than that I like it (many people refuse to even taste it?!)—after a couple years off, I’m back in production. Yet another thing to grow!

More books arrive

More books arrive

No matter how digital things get, books arriving by mail is always…a treat! I did download the ebook version of The Intelligent Gardener over a week ago, it’s now on laptop and smartphone, but still wanted the hardcopy…and now it’s in my hands. Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture was an impulse buy, browsing Amazon is pretty much like being in a bookshop: lots of temptation. Anyhow, print matters! :)

Simple cookery

Cooking turnip (rutabaga)

This is about as simple as it gets this with a stove and a pot: turnips, simmering in water with a little salt. There’s a quite a bit, and I’m not sure what I’ll be doing with it afterwards, besides eating it—maybe freeze some. Possibilities, possibilities. They’re from Shannon‘s farm, harvested last fall—ironically, for local food, it made a 1500 km (930 mi) journey from field to table, but that was with me along for the ride. Anyhow, stretching the stored food while waiting for a new season’s fresh harvest!

Winter persists

Winter: snow on firewood

Wintry-looking winter is hanging around for a bit, with a little more snow adding to the fairly massive fall a few days ago. It’s already clear that we can expect anything, any time, from the weather, still, I was hoping for a bit of a warm and summery winter, like last year! Oh, well. The main stacks of firewood split last spring have been pretty much burnt down to the ground in all the cold snaps. Now, snow everywhere but not so cold. It’s an in-between feeling month of February, waiting is in the air…

The Intelligent Gardener

The Intelligent Gardener

More winter reading , and the buzzword is…”remineralization,” which here means carefully replacing missing soil minerals in a holistic way (as opposed to just topping up with this or that). The other keyphrase is what that leads to: “nutrient-dense food.” The book is The Intelligent Gardener by Steve Solomon, published only a couple of months ago. I heard about it chatting with Shannon, and read it while visiting their farm in Nova Scotia, last week or so. Only a few pages in, it became a kind of tipping point experience for me. Where I used to happily rely on cow manure and compost, thinking about soil chemistry only in bits and pieces, now I find myself suddenly quite FOCUSED on the arcane details of cation exchange capacity, sample extraction methods, and the like… Odd!

“Skepticism is a healthy attitude when it comes to taking garden advice,” says the preface, and then the book takes off on a kinda wild ride through Solomon’s world of soil and fertility, including interesting attacks on popular beliefs in organic growing, like the reverence for compost, and in general, the organic practices promoted by Rodale to millions of North American gardeners. The main purpose of the book, though, is to provide practical and easy-to-follow, soil test-based remineralization instructions. Which it does.

Definitely worth a read, and quite possibly a game-changer depending on how you manage your own garden dirt. More to follow…and my tubular soil sampling probe should soon be on its way!