Friday, August 12, 2016


    I read an article about fermentation by Sandor Katz a while back and couldn't wait to order his book, The Art of Fermentation. It's basically an encyclopedia, huge and extensive, but encouraging. Katz presents fermentation as a natural and historical practice; one that does not have to be complicated or intimidating. This is exactly what I needed to read. My experience with fermentation, up to this point was home brewing beer with my ex, Preston, but it was mostly his thing. I just helped and enjoyed the product. I thought wine would be fun to make (er, should I say 'have and drink'), but the steps involved, the intricate recipes and supply lists were enough to scare me away. 

That was until we moved into a house with fruit trees. There in our yard grows the main ingredient for so many yummy things, and my need to utilize what the earth gives without waste has won me over. My goal for the year was to begin some sorts of fermentation using our fruit supply. While searching the web for plum wine recipes I found one sourced from True Brews, by Emma Christensen. I ordered the book for myself and found it to be SO helpful in starting small and overcoming the fear or fermentation failure. 

My first actual ferment was soda! Yep, bubbly, juicy soda carbonated with yeast. I tried all sorts of fruit mixtures and found that stronger, sweeter flavors mask the trace taste of yeast. Blackberry, blackberry plum, strawberry, and ginger were all successes.

Next up: Kombucha 
A work friend gave me a split of her SCOBY and a cup of starter tea and off I went. It's a quick, two week process of brewing, fermenting, and bottling. I've been tinkering with flavors, my favorite so far being pineapple sage. It's a type of sage that tastes so much like pineapple you'd think the juice was added to the kombucha.  

pineapple sage

Third tackle: shrubs! 
It's fruit-flavored drinking vinegar. Potent and syrupy, it flavors whatever you add it to - water, mixed drinks, white wine. I am making mine with our oh-so ample plums and blackberries. The lot behind ours is overrun with blackberries so I prop the ladder up to the fence and pluck away. 

Fermentation pantry - Shrubs, kombucha in back, dry cider

Project #4: Hard Apple Cider
In my last post I mentioned the mass picking and pressing. I made a batch of dry cider with the fresh, unpasteurized juice. That is currently sitting in jugs for its secondary fermentation (which will last two more weeks.) We did a four gallon batch of hard cider using juice I had pasteurized so we could take our time getting to the project. It's also in its secondary fermentation. We'll taste before bottling to see if it needs extra sugar, but our goal is a drier sparkling cider.

Left: 2 gallons (and taster bottle) of plum wine in secondary ferment
Right: 4 gallons hard cider in secondary ferment

The Big Show: PLUM WINE!
This is the baby we've been waiting for since we moved in to our house. We have to very large plum trees and right now we've got plums falling out our ears.  After rinsing, halving, pitting and chopping the plums we add them to a bucket of sugar water. For sake of following a recipe (Again, I'm basing most of my homemade drinks on Emma Christensen's recipes in True Brews) we sanitized all the fruit. 

Our large batches (a two gallon wine in secondary fermentation and a four gallon in primary fermentation) have been sanitized with Campden tablets to kill wild yeasts before adding a packaged yeast. We also add a yeast nutrient to keep it working, acid blend, pectic enzyme, and tannin. After a week of primary fermentation we were pleasantly surprised at the taste - like wine already!

A cup of wine with yeast bubbling in it - yeast starter for the batch

Plum Wine, 24hrs after submerging the fruit and sanitizing. How RED! Ready to add yeast!

For experimentation sake I set aside a small batch of plum wine to let ferment naturally - wild fermentation. I did not sanitize the fruit or add packaged yeast. The yeast from the fruit skin and the air will do the job for me. I've never tried anything like it, so I'm excited to see how it goes. 

Bottle shelf with the wild fermenting plum wine.

Fermentation is not a new concept - but its new for me, and now I see it everywhere. It's a cycle of earth and life that I'm learning with both my hands and my heart. It's a process of preparation and patience - learning how to let life work from within.

As I walk around our home I find so many forms of growth, fermentation, and culturing. It's a beautiful thing to feel everything around in seasonal motion.

Hops - maybe to add to cider later!

Farm rows beneath burlap - soil development this season.

Duck bedding is curing along with some coffee grinds. This will make rich compost and mulch.

Rae's plantain infusion for medicinal salves.

The lady fowls enrich their pond with pooh, which makes for great plant watering.

The Yard Crew

"Moving toward a more harmonious way of life and greater resilience requires our active participation. This means finding ways to become more aware of and connected to the other forms of life that are around us and that constitute our food - plants and animals, as well as bacteria and fungi - and to the resources, such as water, fuel, materials, tools and transportation, upon which we depend." -Sandor Katz

Events of Summer

I kept waiting for summer to 'start' and now I'm realizing its halfway over. It's been more gray and rainy than my last three summers here. Aside from not having the usual "sun-is-out-must-be-outside" feeling that comes with Seattle summer, there have been so many great happenings.

In July I biked STP (Seattle To Portland) with over 10,000 other riders. I did it as a two day trip to enjoy the experience, but definitely found myself flirting with a race-y sort of motivation. Not surprised. My total time was 14.5 hours, including stops/breaks. 205 miles felt great and I'm looking forward to my next ride - Bike for MS. It's a fundraising ride for multiple sclerosis research and I'm part of a team led by a barbershop client of mine. There is a fundraising minimum that I am challenging myself to reach, if you feel moved you can donate here or spread the word!

STP ride - camping in Winlock, WA

Also in July, Rae and I took a day trip North to Chuckanut Drive and Taylor Shellfish Farm. 
Sun, water, and oysters!

Edison, WA

Teddy Bear Cover

Tulip Valley Vineyard

Tulip Valley Winery

Our dear Oklahomies Lauren, Kai, Kavi & Briam were in Seattle for a weekend. It happened to be the same weekend we needed to process our apples for cider, which was nearly miraculous in timing. I left for work as everyone began preparing for the full day of pulverizing and pressing apples. I arrived home to five very exhausted loves and nearly 8 gallons of fresh apple juice. Given the amount of juice and typical yield I am guessing we had about 117 lbs of apples. What would we have done without them?! Cheers to chosen family who will spend their vacation time laboring on your land with you!

Rae, Lauren, Kavi & Briam on Vashon Island

Kai & Briam

Lauren & Kai headed back South on their journey home while we welcomed my dad and stepmom, Christina, to the city. It's hard to come up with a good summation of parents visiting my new home, so I'll just say it was exactly what I needed. We ate, drank, saw the city and were able to just Be for a few days.

View from the Space Needle

The Locks

Ferry to Whidbey Island

Cheers to summer!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Spring Awakening

   The feeling that I've used that title before shouldn't be so nagging, as it seems every spring is a new awakening. Especially now that I hibernate through the wet Pacific Northwestern winters. This winter was the wettest on record, and the discovery of such eased my worries about how crazy I was feeling for those months. January was especially hard, regardless of a week long trip back to Oklahoma (which was delightful.) I survived on wine, Netflix, and sleep. But the sun has been showing its face and my spirits have risen higher than I've felt in a long while.
    The trees are in bloom - our two plums and the apple. Our mountain ash and the Japanese maple have both filled out with leaves and our bees are busy at work. I haven't written in so long and I feel the need to summarize our current happenings:

Plum Tree

Japanese Maple

Apple tree

-Bees have been split into two hives to encourage growth without swarming. I have gotten one sting already because I wore my black cycling tights during a hive move. Oops. The swarm of Carniolan honeybees Rae caught last summer didn't make it through winter. As we don't know their history our best guess is that the queen was old and stopped laying eggs through the winter, diminishing the hive numbers until they could no longer sustain warmth to keep them going. We have given a lot of their left over honey to the new hives and are slowly processing the rest for ourselves (I am especially invested in this part since my allergies are quite acute this time of year.)

Iris hive before the split

-Cistern is hooked up and collecting rain runoff from the roof. It is piped to the duck pond where we will be able to fill and clean for the ducks. The duck pond is piped to a spigot and pump that Rae will soon be installing in order to use for garden watering. The cistern also has a direct line for watering that bypasses the pond. Rae designed this whole setup and continues to blow my mind with his foresight in developing our property into a small, sustainable homestead. We have a lot of work ahead of us, and I'm typically just falling in behind his lead with the projects and ideas. He is a planner, a doer, an active thinker. I am amazed at his steadiness and drive. If I'm posting a photo of it there's a high chance it was his idea. I need to keep in mind to give him more credit for all he does. Alternately, I have finally been researching some of my own interests and will begin a few projects soon (time and resources allowing.) When partnered with a doer its important to make room for my own things, to remind myself that I am also able and productive. The long winter made me forget about using my two hands, moving with my own feet. It feels nice to be out of the grey soul muck and working toward something with my own power and interest.
Rae inside the cistern before placement.

Cistern in place!

-Ducklings brought home on Saturday! As of today they are six days old. They cheep loudly when we're not in the bathroom with them, unless they are napping. We've given them a little taste of swimming, during which two of them excitedly dove into the water and darted around like fish! Since they don't have feathers yet we only let them swim for a short time under supervision before drying them off and putting them back in their box under the heat lamp. I'll be learning a lot in the next few weeks!

-Rumi is currently lying in front of the closed bathroom door, wherein the ducklings are nested. She whines at the door and asks to be let in. She sticks here head in the box and wags her tail, licks the ducklings that I hold up for her. She's the momma of the house and constantly has an eye on every creature. Such a tender heart.

-Kittens Keiro and Augustus wake us each morning climbing on the bedroom furniture, jumping from one body to another and rustling in whatever makes the most noise. They are 10 months old now and seem to be losing some of the kitten fat that made them so round for a while. They are filling out with muscle and every week seem to feel heavier and sturdier. They have this miraculous cat ability to annoy the shit out of you and then melt your heart the moment you're ready to kick them out of the house. Sweet little demons.

-Gardening/planting: my asparagus is in the ground, along with some artichoke. Our main garden rows will be sitting this year for soil development so I'm trying to be content with my herb garden in the front yard and pollinator planting around the property.

-Recently started Seattle Tilth's Master Recycler Composter course on the Eastside. I'm traveling a bit East out of the city to educate myself further on the sustainable practices that I've called 'hobby' for so long. I'm loving it so far and enjoy deepening my experience in something so desperately needed today.
Enviroscapes visual aid in showing how rainwater runoff and pollution effect the environment.

-Randomly, it seems, I chose an online course over Vital Signs. It's some review from college anatomy/physiology with a more in depth look at each process in the body. I'm not sure exactly what I want to use physiological knowledge for but I find it so interesting. I went the BS route in school because I felt a holistic body/mind approach to counseling (and life in general) was something I wanted to invest in, and I'm finding over ten years later that hasn't changed. Not feeling the need to tie everything together just yet but I'm loving it.

520 Bridge Opening Ride!

This was the best part - biking the interstate express lane!

 I'm sure I'll think of something I've missed, but that's a good plug for my loves far away. Cheers!