Anabel’s Wine Song

This past weekend, I was invited to speak at a fantastic food, wine and social media conference in Penticton called Eat.Drink.Tweet. The conference was filled with amazing highlights and wonderful people –and more than a little wine!

I’m sure I’ll be writing about the people I met, the conference shenanigans and the topics I presented on, but there’s one thing I have to share right away.

At the conference, I met Sarah, who had offered to give me a tour of Hester Creek Estate Winery. Near the end of the tour, her family stopped by and I was lucky enough to hear (and record) a little impromptu song from Sarah’s five-year-old daughter Anabel, who apparently knows a thing or two about wine:

Audio MP3

If this adorable little girl and her tune doesn’t melt your heart, you clearly need more wine in your life.

If you like this song, be sure to let Sarah know, she’s @winejellysarah on Twitter.

Insider Trading (or: “It’s Time to Swap Seeds”)

This is the first post since I seriously upgraded my blog and switched web hosts. Let me know if you have any problems.

The snowdrops and crocuses are starting to bloom and the seed catalogs are shooting through the mail slot at a furious rate. Spring is creeping up quickly, along with all sorts of important decisions about what to plant and where to plant it. Although the offerings in those catalogs are tempting (we call it “seed porn” around here), I’ve got a wedding to pay for this summer and can’t really afford my lust for awesome (and sometimes expensive) seeds.

To address this, I’m going to be opening up my home (and yard) for a seed swap in a couple weeks, inviting my friends and acquaintances to come over, bring their spare veggie seeds and share in a little coffee, tea and garden-nerd conversation. Even if you’ve never gardened before and don’t have your own seeds, come anyway and get inspired. I’ll be putting my left-over 2011 seeds up for trading and hope lots of others do the same.

This isn’t meant to be a particularly formal event, but I’d like to suggest a few guidelines in case you’ve not been part of a seed swap before:

  1. Please provide your own baggies or envelopes to manage/track the seeds you receive.
  2. If a particular kind of seed failed miserably for you, please be honest; don’t pawn off your seeds because they sucked… instead, share the awesomeness. (An extension to this guideline is: please don’t bring really old seeds; most seeds lose their viability after a couple of years.  If you’re not sure if they’re still good, don’t bring them.)
  3. Bring a notepad. If you’re anything like me, you’ll want to learn from others insights. (Who *knew* that epsom salts can help make tomatoes AWESOME?)
  4. If you’re a first-time veggie gardener and don’t have seeds to trade with, consider baking some cookies, or bring some of your canned goods or whatever else you have that might be of interest. I’m sure you’ll walk away with some seeds and some great advice on how to get started.

If you’re interesting in joining us, please RSVP on the Facebook Event so that I know how many people to expect. I look forward to seeing many of you soon!


Sourdough Basics


A large bowl of very happy sourdough culture and two loaves of fresh bread

A couple weeks ago, I was at an event organized by Slow Food Vancouver representing my friends at Skipper Otto’s Community Supported Fishery. By lucky accident, my table was right next to the folks from Beyond Bread (formerly the Transylvania Peasant Bread Bakery) who were giving away portions of their sourdough starter culture. After a fantastic conversation with the Head Baker, he convinced me to give sourdough another try. (I got disheartened this spring because I didn’t know what I was doing, and my garden was taking most of my spare time.)

Fast forward to today and I’m now producing delicious, if not yet perfect, loaves of sourdough bread. Since I’ve started to tell others about my latest sourdough experiences, I’ve been asked by a bunch of people for pieces of my culture so that they can give it a shot themselves. (If you’d like some of my culture to start your own sourdough, let me know… I’ve got plenty!) Of course, once I deliver the jar of culture the initial enthusiasm seems to turn to panic; you can see the question in their eyes: “what the heck am I actually supposed to do with this?”

Over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to write a few blog posts detailing what I’ve learned so far about working with sourdough and baking bread. I’m not an expert, just a fellow amateur with a bit of a perfectionist streak. Hopefully this is all useful…

Let’s start by talking about what a sourdough culture is and how to care for it.

A sourdough culture is made up of four things: flour, water, yeast and bacteria. As mentioned one of my previous blog posts:

…[T]he basic idea is that you have this jar of flour and water in which both yeast and a particular bacteria happily live in. Those guests gradually eat the flour and turn it into carbon dioxide, alcohol (often called “hooch”), a tangy acid (hence the name “sourdough”) and a bunch of other complex things.

In other words, you’ve got an advanced microbiology experiment, right on your kitchen counter, without any of the usual pesky biocontainment protocols. (Ever see the old Andromeda Strain movie? “We haven’t done a thing about the G.I. tract yet.”)

Yeast farts! (aka Carbon Dioxide)

Left alone, the culture will produce so much acid, alcohol and carbon dioxide that the whole process will grind to a halt and the culture will die. (You know the old adage about not pooping where you eat?) As the proud owner of a sourdough culture, your goal is to keep the thing alive and adequately happy until you’re ready to take advantage of it’s incredible transformative powers. By feeding your culture regularly and taking away some of it for baking, you can easily control the accumulation of these by-products.

There are also a few other variables you have in your control, for example, temperature. Your culture is most active at a temperature just above room temperature; as such, the warmer the room, the more often you’ll need to feed it. Putting your culture into the fridge is an effective way to slow it down, if you know you can’t tend it consistently, but don’t store your culture in an air-tight container; it can suffocate on the carbon dioxide it’s creating.

Two jars of sourdough culture

How often and how much you feed your starter culture is a matter of personal preference, but be mindful that if you feed it big meals of flour and water regularly, you’re going to have a lot of very happy starter. The less often you feed it, the more time there is for acids and alcohols to build up, which add flavour but reduce the activity. In terms of overall amounts, I feed mine equal volumes of water and flour once a day–usually about a quarter cup of each, but go higher if I know I’m giving some to others, or I’m going to bake a bunch of bread.

Because different flours can weigh different amounts of the same volume, your culture may be more or less runny than mine. If you see a recipe that mentions “baker’s percentages” or “percent hydration”, the numbers are based off the weight of flour; a starter with 100% hydration has equal weights (not equal volumes) of water and flour. My current starter culture sits at about 140% hydration, but with that much water the culture eats through its food pretty quickly… if you’re not planning on baking every second or third day like I am, I’d suggest reducing the amount of water you put in and go for a less wet culture.

How will you know if something’s not right with your culture? If your culture smells yeasty and a little like sourdough, and seems frothy and like it’s grown a little a few hours after feeding it, you’ve got a healthy culture. If it smells really sour, or like it’s just been on a Just-Hit-Legal-Drinking-Age-style bender, it likely needs to be fed; you need to use and/or dilute it with fresh flour and water right away. If you see mold on your starter, you can safely assume your culture is dead. Way to go, murderer! (The particular yeast and bacteria that co-exist in your healthy culture are remarkably good at keeping bad bacteria and molds from growing, so any sign of them means it’s time to dispose of your culture.)

If you leave your culture untended for a few days, a greyish liquid might form at the top of your culture. That’s just hooch (alcohol) and you can either spoon it out or mix it in; the alcohol will cook out when you’re baking and help give your bread a more interesting flavour, but too much of it can kill your culture.

If you know that you won’t be able to give your culture any attention for awhile, you might want to consider long-term storage. One of the best ways to do this is to freeze it. First, take some of your culture and smear it on a piece of wax paper. Once it’s completely dry, crumble the culture into powder and put it into a freezer bag, remove the air and put it into the freezer. The yeast goes dormant when it’s dry; when you’re ready to starting playing again, add the powder to a mixture of flour and water and start feeding it regularly again. It might take a week or two for the culture to fully come back to life, but when it smells and acts right, you know it’s ready for use.

When you use it for your first loaf of bread, you’re only going to use a portion of your starter–the rest will stay behind and continue to grow, which is why a sourdough starter culture is sometimes called a “mother culture”.

Of course, no matter how carefully you try to limit the amount of flour/water you’re adding, it doesn’t take long for you to end up with more starter than you can handle. Some of it might have to go down the drain, but sourdough starter can be used in a wide variety of recipes besides bread. For example, we make a quick pizza dough with it all the time. You can also use it for pancakes, waffles, flatbreads and more

Homemade pizza on a sourdough crust. Yum!

Hopefully, I’ve demystified sourdough for you a little bit and now you’re excited to get started. So what’s next? The easiest way to start with sourdough is to find someone who’ll share their healthy culture with you; you only need a couple tablespoons-worth to add to a flour and water mix to get things doing. It is possible to cultivate/capture the necessary yeast and bacteria to make your own from-scratch culture, but since it might not work out as hoped, it’s probably not a good way to be introduced to sourdough. As I mentioned at the start of this (long) post, I’d be thrilled to share my starter with you to experiment with. Just ask.

My next blog post will be about making a basic bread. In the meantime, I’d love to hear about your experiences with sourdough, if you have any. I’d also love any questions or tips you might have…

CBC Prince Rupert Interview

When we were in Prince Rupert a couple weeks ago, on our way to the first fishing of the season, Otto and I were lucky enough to get interviewed by the local CBC Radio station. Check out our interview with Carolina de Ryk, co-host of CBC Daybreak North, Prince Rupert:

Audio MP3

Parting Ways

This blog entry was originally published on the blog for Skipper Otto’s Community Supported Fishery as I hitched a ride on a tiny commercial salmon gillnet boat on its way to fishing grounds north of Prince Rupert.

20110621_07-26-23.jpgGood morning and Happy Canada Day!

After almost two weeks in cramped quarters, mixed weather and truly spectacular scenery, it’s time for me to leave Otto and Boris so that I can continue on to Haida Gwaii (formerly the Queen Charlotte Islands) for my own personal adventure.

This has been a once-in-a-lifetime trip; it’s hard to imagine that Otto has been doing it yearly for the last forty-two years. There have been a ton of changes in the industry since Otto began and it gets harder and harder every year to make ends meet. There’s increasing competition for the fish out there, the costs of running a boat continue to go up (especially fuel) and there’s more and more pressure from fish farms up and down the coast. I’ve had a chance to see, first-hand, how innovative models like our Community Supported Fishery keep fishing a viable profession in the face of an increasingly corporate, centralized and industrial fishing industry.

20110627_06-28-43.jpgIn addition to this blog, I’ve started uploading pictures taken during the trip to my Flickr account; when I’m back from my adventures in Haida Gwaii I’ll make sure they’ve all got captions, so you know what you’re looking at.

With the first fishing of the season under the belt, I’m sure it’s going to be a good season for Otto, Terry and Rod on the North Coast. Word came down yesterday that the Nass opening will happen next Monday for two days, again; hopefully it’ll be great fishing in fantastic weather. It’s time to wish Otto well and make my way to the ferry. Thanks so much for following along on our journey… it’s been a blast!

20110630_15-01-01.jpgMy writing for this blog isn’t actually finished, even if my journey with Otto has. I had the chance to do and see a few amazing things here in Prince Rupert that I hope to share with you as soon as I get back to Vancouver. One of the highlights was an incredible lesson by Opa Sushi in Prince Rupert on how to cut sashimi and make other Japanese dishes from a whole sockeye salmon. Once I edit down the 90 minutes of video I recorded, I’ll be sure to post it on the blog. Also, I’ve been collecting some amazing salmon recipes along the way that I’ll also be posting when I return. Stay tuned…