Blue cheese, rice wine, beer, pickled vegetables and glorious shelving!

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It’s been a while since my last productivity update, but as you can see I have been busy!

I started a blue cheese on October 7th, and it bloomed faster than I’d expected. I inoculated the curds with a small chunk of a blue brie, which turned out to be not at all how blue brie is made. Apparently the way to make blue brie is to inoculate the curds as if making a blue, then scorch the surface of the cheese itself with hot water and re-inoculate with the white mould for brie. The trick is to keep the blue from overtaking the white.

I’m quite happy to end up with a blue, so I’ve poked holes in the cheese to encourage the blue mould to grow inside. Apparently I’m supposed to scrape off the exterior mould at some point, at least once per month over the next three months. I want it to cover the cheese completely first, and since the mould has sprouted ahead of schedule I think it should be fine to leave it for a while.

Hopefully it will be readyish in time for New Year’s.

In other productivity news, I’ve been making and drinking rice wine more or less continuously.  I may have mentioned previously that I find a strange allure in drinking the highly alcoholic liquid run-off from mouldy cooked rice. No one else seems to like it that much, but to me there’s a purity and pristine quality to it because it is little more than the product of rice, mould, and yeast. It’s so unprocessed and rustic.

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The red was admittedly a little disappointing, though it was made with glutinous rice instead of sushi rice. The white is quite sweet and seemingly of a higher alcohol concentration. I’ve forced myself to save a bottle of each to see how they age, and to share with returning friends.

With the warmth of summer fast approaching, we’re back into beer season. I don’t consider myself a brewer, but I can follow a recipe well enough and friend J has given us an amazing recipe that is a clone of Stone Ruination, an American IPA.  To buy Ruination in Australia would set you back $180 per carton. I’m not about to sample the real thing, but this clone has pretty much ruined me for lesser commercial beers. Coopers still hold their own as a very different beer, but I’ve been severely disappointed by some other “craft” brews that had as much flavour as one of my early failures where the post-boil volume somehow overshot the mark by about 5 litres!

The great lemon-wine experiment has about reached its peak with the unhappy conundrum of what to do with 25 litres of poorly fermented overly sweet lemon wine. Unfortunately the answer turned out to be “bottle it” in a hurry, to free up a fermenter for beer purposes. I’ve been looking into stuck fermentation and may try to restart it later with some champagne yeast. Various other little batches of lemon and lime wine are not so bad, having at least attained a reasonable level of fermentation, but lesson learned: don’t over-sweeten.

Finally, we’ve started branching out a little into preserved vegetables. I managed to find a recipe for zha cai, a delicious condiment typically marketed as “preserved chinese vegetables” but actually made from the ugly bulbous root of the mustard plant. Apparently the process is very similar to kimchi: salt, marinade, and allow to ferment. We’ve started with something simpler in the form of preserved Chinese cabbage, which just sits in salt water and a bit of vinegar for a week.

All of these activities require equipment and storage space, which has just become more readily available with the purchase of a cool room shelving rack! Dominating the landscape of our small kitchen, this four-tiered monolith can carry up to 100kg per shelf, and stands at 1.8m high, 1.5m wide, and .53m deep. It is now home to our microwave, coffee grinder and espresso machine all on one shelf, with others holding bags of rice, vegetables, cheese-esky, press, about 30 litres of beer and a dozen of aforementioned disappointing rice wine. It’s been such a benefit to us, we’ve only had it for seven days but it feels like it’s been with us forever.  To top it off, we got it at about a third of retail value from an auction. Every now and then the wife and I like to just stand in the kitchen and gaze at it in awe.

Until next time!

 

 

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60 sqm homestead

I’ve never been a very productive person, so I’m relishing my current spate of home-made produce, which I hope will only increase in future.

In the past I would have found any number of obstacles to every item I’ve thus far produced; even something as simple as not being able to find strong flour for bread-making at my local supermarket. You could say I was a little too easily defeated.

I’ve been reflecting on my progress thus far, and have to give credit to two elements that have inspired all the subsequent productivity. Firstly, my brother and his wife got me started on roasting coffee, which in many ways remains the easiest, quickest, and most rewarding activity. It meets the ideal of providing a high-quality product at or below commercial prices. Half an hour of roasting literally doubles the value of the coffee beans. Other adventures in home produce have followed this same goal – creating something that tastes as good as or better than anything I could afford, but at a much lower cost.

The second major element is all thanks to my friend J, over at Gray’s Brewing. J did everything to get me brewing, short of threatening physical violence: before heading overseas he showed us the process from start to finish, and left us with a cube of wort, a bunch of fermenters, a freezer, a sachet of yeast, and assorted bits and pieces in what is effectively the brewing equivalent of pre-chewing your child’s food so he doesn’t choke on it.

Brewing all-grain beer likewise produces a high quality product at much lower costs, but unlike my coffee roasting, it also introduced a number of basic technical skills and equipment that have lowered the cost of entry to other products.

For example, if it were not for brewing beer, I would never have tried brewing rice wine. If it were not for the rice wine, I would never have started brewing soy sauce (don’t worry J, I’m using my own fermenter for that). All three require fermenters, familiarity with yeast fermentation, and for the latter two a familiarity with Aspergillus oryzae.

Beer also required the use of a thermometer, which, as simple as it sounds, was otherwise an obstacle to producing yoghurt. Producing yoghurt led to simple mozzarella cheese (more complex cheese to follow). Cheese and yoghurt are both closely related to butter, with yoghurt providing cultures for both, and butter producing buttermilk as a by-product, which is (in name at least) in turn useful for the cultivation of a different variety of cheeses.

Making the soy sauce required a huge amount of brine, for which I used my brewing hydrometer to establish the specific gravity and hence salt-content of the brine. Having made so much brine for the soy sauce, making another brine to wash the butter was no obstacle.

Salt has been the common ingredient in both the soy sauce and the bacon, and with lemons coming into season we’ll likely be using it to preserve lemons as well. Preserving lemons will be easy now that we have the mason jars purchased for the sake of the pasta sauce; mason jars that turned out to be very handy for making and storing yoghurt, as well as for whipping cream into butter.

I even used a mason jar the other day to store cold-pressed coffee, an experiment which proved dangerously good for making impromptu iced-coffees.

If you’ve read this far, what I’m getting at is that there’s a basic knowledge and familiarity with these various ingredients, techniques, and skills that lowers the threshold to an array of wonderful products. They are interconnected in surprising ways, such that I could, in the near future, have a bread dough, yoghurt, cheese, beer, soy sauce, and rice wine in the one fridge, all undergoing varying permutations on the fermentation of yeast or culture of bacteria.

I’m struck by how limited my knowledge and skills were before, and how enriching by contrast this new-found productivity has already become.

Home-made update

Tis almost Christmas and I thought it fitting as I sit here consuming home-made rice wine to fill you in on the progress of my varied exploits in home economy.

Yogurt
I’ve never been a big fan of yogurt, but since I discovered I could make delicious fresh yogurt for $1 per litre, my consumption has dramatically increased to reach parity with production. It seems that the more yogurt I produce, the more I consume; and while part of me is curious to find just how far this relationship goes, the rest of me is a little scared.

At the same time, I discovered that leaving a 3 litre jar of yogurt lying on its side in the fridge is a good way to separate the whey, leaving us with extremely thick yogurt.

Given the dynamic relationship between brain and digestive tract, I’m also curious to see the long-term effects of increased yogurt consumption. Will eating yogurt make me a happier, nicer person?

Rice Wine
The rice wine is going strong. I pasteurised one bottle at 85 degrees for about 10 minutes which killed about half the flavour. Not a great move. The second bottle I heated to 70 for 10 minutes, and it retains most of its flavour. In fact it’s more drinkable than the unpasteurised bottle, which has too strong a flavour.

I have three batches of rice wine on the go: ten cups of rice in a fermenter, and five each in two large jars. The rice in the fermenter was soaked in water for a day before steaming in a bamboo steamer. The rice in the two jars was soaked for two days, at which point it turned sour and fearing the worst I washed it thoroughly and set it to ferment (after steaming) apart from the first batch.

Nonetheless both the fermenter and the two jars are doing well. The spread of the white mold is visible, and liquid is now forming, just over a week into the process.

Beer
My Bright Ale turned out too dilute due to an inexperienced error in the boil. I’ll adjust future recipes. Chilling the beer to near freezing, it is still quite enjoyable, especially after a night run, but the first few litres I was saddened at the thought of what might have been.

I’ll try to do a Golden Ale on Boxing Day, as my supply is running dangerously low!

Ginger Beer
I cooked up a batch of Ginger Beer for Christmas, and have yet to try it. I’ve been disappointed in the past at the inefficiency of the ginger extraction in the existing recipe we’re using, so in light of that and the exorbitant price of ginger, I used less of it but cooked it in a pressure cooker for about an hour.

Normally there’s enough flavour left in the ginger after boil to bake a cake or biscuits, but this time it was flavourless dross. Success! However, it’s possible that the high pressure/temperature might alter the flavour a little. Will have to wait and see.

In the meantime, I’ve found a reputable Ginger Beer recipe that starts from scratch so hopefully I’ll give that a go in the near future.

Coffee
We’ve had a couple of popcorn machines die on us. Could be bad luck or a change in the tolerances of the machine, but either way it might be time to look for an alternative brand of machine or failing that an alternative method of roasting beans. There are a few other cheap methods. If worst comes to worst a heat gun and a dog bowl will do.

That’s about all there is to report at present. Future experiments may include bread, limoncello, noodles and pasta sauce.

Home-brewed beer

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All credit to my good friend J for getting me started on brewing, lending us gear, and I would say “teaching me everything I know” but that’s what they call damning with faint praise. J is currently on what appears to be a beer-research sabbatical in North America, from whence he reports on a bewildering array of brews the likes of which the impoverished Aussie beer-consumer could only imagine.

Today I brewed my third all grain beer on the front porch of my unit, with several visitors coming to watch, drink home-roasted coffee, and reflect in equal measures on the sheer excitement of producing something of value for oneself, and the comparatively dismal state of typical working life à la the previous post’s satirical take on bullshit jobs, wage slavery, and consumerism.

The first two brews were done with a small group of us sharing the work and the product.  It’s a good group activity but I’ve realised I need to go it alone in my own time if I’m ever to achieve a stockpile of delicious beer.

Having a stockpile is important. Not only does it offer a sense of material security to know that you have a pantry full of coffee beans, beer, tomato sauce, and so on, but it also allows a kind of natural rhythm to emerge in the balance of work and enjoyment, process and product.  We’re so used to commercial models in which output must be consistent, constant, and always striving for new markets and new thresholds. But when you are producing for your own consumption you discover the pleasant and comforting reality of ‘enough’.

When I’m roasting coffee, I only have to put in half an hour of work to give me enough coffee for up to two weeks.  Half an hour of roasting is fun.  To do it every day would be tedious.  To be commercially viable I would have to invest in an expensive piece of equipment that takes away all the mystery, the human element, and hence the fun.  To make it ‘professional’ would ruin the process, break up the rhythm, and take time away from other things.

I think brewing will turn out to have its own rhythm.  It’s a longer process, requiring about 5-6 hours and a minimum of 4 weeks from brewing to drinking, but it also provides a greater yield, with about 22 litres of beer from each brew.  As with the home-roasted coffee, the home-brewed all grain beer is very high quality relative to commercial products, but at a significantly lower cost.

Coopers Pale Ale – the primary local beer – retails for $42.95 per carton (9 litres).

Prancing Pony Pale Ale – a good local craft beer – retails from $75.99 per carton (7.9 litres)

Both are good beers, but I’d rather drink my home-brewed Golden Ale than the Coopers Pale.  The monetary cost of the home-brewed Golden Ale is about $30 for 22 litres.

Obviously it costs more in terms of time and effort, but in line with my goal of ‘a richer life on a lower income’, home-brewed all grain beer is far more rewarding, productive and enjoyable than buying beer with money earned in a pointless, existentially demeaning job.  Spending time and effort in a valued, productive enterprise doesn’t feel like a ‘cost’ after all.