BRAD     |     EMILLIE

Monday, July 25, 2011

Cultivating Bacteria

Today's episode is essentially a food blog. Since we're on our pro-bacteria diet, I've worked on home-growing some bacteria; and wanted to document my efforts for future reference.

YOGURT est. prep time: 1.5 hours; 1 Lt of milk gives you 1 Lt of yogurt

Yogurt was probably the hardest fought battle of my efforts. I don't actually have any special yogurt tools, and the only thermometer that I could find in Maynooth was a cheap meat thermometer at Tesco's. Thus I really had to "guesstimate" the temperature (didn't even register below 130 F). This worked out for me the first time... but failed on my two subsequent attempts. I then purchased a generalized cooking thermometer which provided for the perfect yogurt making temperature.

1. Warm 6 Tbsp of yogurt up to room temperature.
2. Heat 1 liter of milk up to 180F. Stirring occasionally to prevent scalding (takes about 15 min).
3. Cool the milk down to 106F - 110F (~45 min).
4. Stir yogurt into milk till completely mixed.
5. Pour yogurt into glass jars, and maintain at approximately 105F for 3-4 hours.
6. Yogurt is set when it reaches thick custard (or vanilla pudding) like consistency.
7. If you don't have yogurt within 8 hours, then you either had a poor culture to start with (Glenisk worked well), or you added the culture when the milk was too hot, or the milk cooled down too quickly.

Clearly we don't have an easy way to keep the yogurt warm, so I simply wrapped my jar up in an old cashmere sweater, and left in it the not-so-hot press (hot water tank closet).

You can see how thick it gets when fully set in the picture below.So would I do this again? Well... given that yogurt is pretty cheap in Ireland, and it took a lot of time and energy, we wouldn't probably do this again. Brad really didn't like the fact that the yogurt was so runny. It didn't set as thick as commercial brands because we didn't use guar gum, pectin, gelatin, milk powder, etc. to thicken our yogurt. It was nice for granola, but not really like a solid yogurt.

YOGURT CHEESE est prep time: 2 min; 2 cups of yogurt gives you 1 cup of cheese

1. Pour yogurt into a strainer that has been lined with cheesecloth (I haven't found cheesecloth in Ireland, but my parents sent me some. You could use a really clean tea towel if you had to).
2. Leave in the fridge for more than 6 hours, or overnight.
3. Salt and season to taste!
So would I do this again? Yes! It makes a nice cream cheese, and you can season it however you would like. I would recommend sun dried tomato, basil and olive oil as our favorite!

COTTAGE CHEESE est. cook time: 1 hour; 4 Lt milk results in 1 Lt of cottage cheese

To start off with... there are tons of recipes for cottage cheese on the web that simply have you clabber your cheese with vinegar or citric acid. Have you ever looked at the ingredients on a tub of cottage cheese? Lactic Acid (bacteria). That's what clabbers cottage cheese. If you use vinegar or lemon juice, then you are actually making paneer and/or ricotta. These are not bacteria friendly, and they are rather flavorless cheeses anyways.

1. Pour a gallon (4 liters) of non-fat (skim) milk into a large pot with a 1/2 cup of good quality buttermilk (Avonmore didn't work, but Cuinneog did). FYI, using a higher fat milk is a waste, as the fat will just be drained off with the whey.
2. Leave on counter for 12 to 14 hour, until clabbered (curdled into a big mass).
3. Cut into curds by slicing on the diagonal in the pot. I cut into 1.5" cubes, but these were too large and fell apart when I stirred in the water.
4. Heat 8 cups of water to 100 F, then add to curds.
5. Keep at 100F by putting it on the stove in a basin of water. Gently stir every 5 minutes.
6. You're finished when the curds have separated from the whey (curds will be firm and sink to the bottom of the pot, which takes about 30 min to 1 hour).
7. Pour into a strainer lined with cheese cloth. Rinse with cold water (unless you want a more sour cheese) and allow to drain until most of the whey is gone, but not until the cheese is dry.
8. You now have 3 options for finishing. A) leave as a dry curd cottage cheese, and you're done. B) Turn it into snack-style cottage cheese by adding heavy cream and salt (to taste). C) Add salt (1-2 tsp) and continue to press moisture out of the cheese until it is a firm slicing cheese.
So would I do this again? Definitely. Organic cottage cheese is not even available in Canada, and in Ireland cottage cheese crazy expensive! This made a ton of it, it was so easy and so good. No wonder it was the staple cheese for every cottage dwelling peasant!

What does one do with a liter of cottage cheese? Well it melted nicely on our pizza, made a lovely lasagna, and a tasty lunchtime snack; but in the end I used most of it up making a traditional Eastern European comfort food.

PIEROGIES (VARENIKI) est. prep time: 45 min

2 1/2 cups whole wheat or spelt flour (normally white flour is used... but we're on an anti-white flour diet)
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 egg
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup water (or enough to make a dough)

1. Mix all the dough ingredients together. Kneed for 5-10 minutes until you get a nice smooth dough. Cover with a damp towel, and let rest while you prepare your fillings.

Basically what ever you have on hand can fill a dumpling (and a thousand Doukhobor babushka's roll in their graves). Traditional flavors include: mashed potato and onion (today I used leftover baked potato mashed up with sauteed onion)
-cottage cheese (seasoned with salt)

Other fillings I've also tried:
-Mashed root veg (sweet potato, turnip, sweede (rutabaga), etc. Seasoned of course).
-Sauteed mushroom and onion
-Mashed fruit with sugar

For someone with more leanings towards the traditional, perhaps this website might help.
2. Roll out your dough, cut out circles, fill dumplings, making sure that the filling is well sealed up.
3. Drop dumplings into a pot of boiling water (careful not to crowd them), and let them boil until they float.
4. Scoop them out with a slotted spoon (or kitchen tongs, since I haven't got a slotted spoon) and drain in a strainer.
5. Drizzle with oil (or the less healthy but more traditional option, butter) to prevent sticking. They can be frozen, or stored at this point until it's time to eat them.
6. Heat up in the oven, or fry on the stove. Serve with more butter and sour cream!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

While we wait for the world to turn

Unfortunately I feel like I have to address the continuous economic doom and gloom that greets me every morning when the radio turns on. (Given that this blog is about Ireland, and the Irish economy is certainly a factor in the doom and gloom). Europe is on the brink of collapse and the USA needs to raise the debt limit, and I am left wondering when...

When will this end? Because right now, it seems like this crisis will never end. Clearly the EU has three choices:

1. Continue on the current path of not really doing anything (bailout, rules and conditions, etc.). This is probably the most likely outcome of today's summit, as it's the easiest outcome. Though arguably, not a very effective solution as it hasn't really been working.

2. Kick Greece (and potentially Ireland, Portugal, and the rest of them) out of the monetary union. Basically save the EU currency at the expense of a few countries. (Hey, Greece clearly lied about their financial situation to get into the EU, so they could definitely be kicked out.) The only trick is that Germany and France are most exposed to Greece's debt. So a failed Greece would probably cause the EU to suffer anyways.

3. Create stronger ties linking the EU financially and politically. Basically turn the EU into something more like the USA. This would strengthen the currency, and leave the failing countries less exposed to their own debt issues as they are absorbed by the whole EU. A fairly Utopian idea... but... it would be hard to get buy in from everyone. Each EU country is quite proud of their individuality and sovereignty, which would probably be infringed upon by a more centralized currency. (The Greeks would be mad at Brussels for making them pay taxes. The Germans would be annoyed at having their taxes go to pay for health care in Ireland and Spain. The French would just be mad at everyone for not being French. And the Brits probably wouldn't want to play.)

So I predict Option #1 will be the outcome from the meetings this week... and the meetings next month... and the fall round of meetings... etc. etc. until people just get so angry with the whole system that we have a bit of a Louis XVI moment. I frankly don't want a Louis XVI moment... but unless someone's willing to brave the challenges of actually RESTRUCTURING the current economic system, I don't really see any way out of it.

And in my crystal ball for the US debt issues... well... EVERYONE else on the planet pays sales tax and has higher income tax rates (please note the link is from 2005, so it's definitely not accurate in regards to Ireland!)... so I predict that tax rates will probably start to look more like those in the rest of the western economies.

Aren't blogs great? I can shoot my mouth off about a ton of really complicated issues that I don't have a good grasp of (my MSc in Neuroscience does not make me an economist) and feel like I've actually said something meaningful! I look forward (?) to hearing the outcome of today's meetings during my 10 minutes of business news tomorrow morning.

And on that "happy" note, I'll leave you with a glass of garden fresh iced tea!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Here, There and Everywhere

Life has not all been centred around our diet the past few weeks... we have maintained our campaign of touristing all around Ireland!

This was a work based trip for Brad, with Nikolai and I just tagging along. Waterford seems just like any other typical Irish city, but truthfully it's hard for us to judge... because it poured the ENTIRE time we were there!

Everything we were told to do in Waterford basically involved leaving the city to go to the beach, an island, or something. I think Waterford is well renowned for it's bucolic scenery outside the city. But under an absolute onslaught of rain, I didn't really feel up for a trek to the beach. (It was also our 3rd and 4th days on the diet, so my energy was low, and my cravings were great.) Instead we did the ONLY indoor tourist sites available to us at the time (the main Waterford Museum of Treasures was in the process of being relocated and was closed), Reginald's Tower and Waterford Crystal. Reginald's tower has a tremendous history, currently houses Viking artifacts from around Waterford, and probably has a good view from the top (though it was too rainy for us to see). As with all OPW sites, it was very well done and low cost (€1, but free for us with our OPW cards).

Now a few of our Irish friends, told us that "they thought Waterford Crystal had gone out of business"? Which it had. But it has since reopened with new owners, and is running a very lucrative tour operation. It reminded me a lot of the Guinness Brewery tour... in that it was fairly highly priced (€12 each) and there was a lot of flash presentations. However, unlike Guinness, you actually get to tour a factory. It was pretty neat to see how crystal is blown and moulded, finished, etched and pieced together.

Personally I think crystal is not really to my taste (where's the colour?). But perhaps that's just because I could barely afford to buy a single wine glass, let alone the globe featured in the picture below (notice the price point on that one is a mere €2,300).
A day trip to Dalkey was our next adventure. The weather was much nicer, but the trip was also plagued by thwarted expectations. Dalkey, itself, is a cute little area, full of boutique shopping. We ran into a small artisan market which actually sold some food we could eat on our restricted diet (probiotic yogurt cheese!). We cruised the harbour and shared our lunch with some sailors' dogs.

But the real goal of our trip was to do the Dalkey Castle Tour. This tour features a series of vignettes in each of the rooms highlighting a particular era in the Castle's history (currently the Tutors). At only €6 each, it seems like a great day out! And it probably is a great day out... But on that faithful Saturday, all the tours were filled up by English Language Students.

(The bane of Dublin in the summer is the hoards of tourist which clog up most of the sidewalks and apparently the tourist locations. How I miss my free and easy Dublin of the winter months. Of note, Claire is complaining of the same thing in London. She had to give up on a museum trip last Saturday after seeing the insanely long line up.)
A quick cycle away from our house is the Straffan Butterfly Farm. So naturally, when the weather proved too fierce for an outing into Dublin we decided to gear up for this indoor activity! Yes we got poured on... but we also got to hang out in a tropical flower paradise surrounded by butterflies and moths. They also have a small "educational" room, full of butterfly pictures and various tropical bugs in tanks. Despite his fear of spiders around the house, Nikolai had no problem starring down a giant tarantula.

Check out the size of the moth below. Apparently it is a Atlas silk moth, and has no mouth parts, so it does not feed. Needless to say it only lives for a few days. In the picture above, I'm wearing a bright, Irish style dress that I am borrowing from my friend, Elaine. She is once again too pregnant to wear all her lovely clothes. Clearly the butterflies were attracted to the bright colours!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Diet-ary update

As we are soon finishing our fourth week on the diet, we've upped the ante to 8 weeks in total. Basically we've discovered that it's really easy to eat on this detox. However, we are still suffering from die-off whenever we increase our anti fungal regime; which clearly indicates that we're not done with the little fiends.

Now, I never touched on the subject of anti fungals in my last blog on the topic of yeast overgrowth; however, starvation is not the only way to kill off the armies of yeast, you can also directly attack them with anti fungals. Now you can go to your local pharmacy and buy off the shelf anti fungal creams, and you can go to your doctor to get a prescription for an anti fungal pill. But if you're not suffering from a massive yeast outbreak, then likely neither of those options will be open to you.

However, there are many plants that have naturally evolved anti fungal properties. Cedar is a good example... that stuff will never rot, as NOTHING can live on it! But I'm definitely not recommending that you eat cedar! That would likely kill you along with all your bacteria and yeast!

Lists of natural anti fungals abound on the Internet. However, in general there are two types of anti fungals....

1. Things that are anti fungal because they are fermented by bacteria (let the bacteria battle it out for space in your gut):
-yogurt (fairly obvious)
-buttermilk (only if cultured with lactic acid)
-cottage cheese (NOT paneer or any other kind of cheese... they are fungally based and bolster the yeast armies)
-sauerkraut and kimchi (if salt fermented... not vinegar)
-cultured cider vinegar (if it still has the mother)

2. Then there are the things that are anti fungal because they evolved to be that way. Again the list abounds, but we are partaking in the following:
-swede (rutabaga)
-oil of oregano
-garlic and onion
-coconut oil

And of the things that come in tablets... we have taken a wee bit of grapefruit seed extra, simply because we own it. However, it's also antibacterial, so not particularly ideal. Really the only thing that comes in a tablet form that is primarily anti fungal is Caprylic acid. So that is our herbal drug of choice.

We hope to eventually get up to 1200mg of caprylic acid a day. Since caprylic acid is just found in coconut oil and breast milk (which is why breast milk doesn't really go off that quickly) any suffering is likely due to die off rather than a side effect of the oil. The only trick when taking caprylic acid is to choose one that has caprylic acid in the form of calcium and magnesium, so that it isn't digested before it making it to the area of interest... your gut.

So, what have we been eating? Well, EVERYTHING savory that you normally love.

As for sweet... well that's been a bit tricky, since stevia isn't legal in the EU (maybe soon?). Now you may imagine that all those alternative sugars like fructose, or agave would be candida friendly? Well, though your body can't digest them (making them a low sugar option for your diet) the yeast in your gut would still be able to thrive on them. There is a product, ominously called xylitol that is available in the EU, and is a candida unfriendly sugar... but I've yet to invest in it. It's just too unnatural for me, as it's a fairly complex process to extract this sugar from birch, or plum skins etc. However, I might treat us to some now that I've exhausted my search for the more natural stevia sugar.


Anyways, I'll finish the blog off with my diet friendly, and very tasty recipe for Soda Bread. It's so easy that Nikolai assumes the role of Head Chef whenever we make this bread.

450 g Flour (I use a mix of fine ground wholegrain spelt, fine ground wholegrain rye, and a small amount of coarse wheat. You could use plain white, or a gluten free alternative... whatever you want.) (Approx. 3 cups flour)
1 tsp Salt
1 tsp Bread Soda (Baking Soda)

Mix together. Then mix in 400 g of buttermilk (Approx. 1 +2/3 cups). It will be very sticky. Just glob it onto a greased baking pan and cook it in the oven at 200C (400F) for 20-30 min (it just needs to pass the prick test).

I take this bread and make it mine in so many ways:
-We love adding seeds to the wholemeal version, (A half cup of pumpkin, poppy and sunflower inside, then top with a sprinkling of sesame).
-One tsp of lemon zest, 2 tsp of freshly ground black pepper, 1 tbsp of chives and 3/4 cup of cheese (reserve some cheese for topping)
-One sauteed onion, with 2 tbsp of rosemary and 3/4 cup of cheese (some for topping!)

The combinations are endless!

The picture is of Nikolai and I at our allotment! As you can imagine, we've been giving lettuce away to absolutely everyone!

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Back to the Future

One of the first things we did when we arrived in Ireland was to join the Dublin Food Coop. It was a simple way for us to find our way back to the familiar, in a place that was so full of things that were new to us. Perhaps it is a lesser known fact of Brad's volunteer history, but he spent several years on the board of directors at the East End Food Coop in Vancouver. While it would not be possible for us to participate fully in the Dublin Coop, we would be able to find familiarity amongst the aisles.

It was at the Fáilte (welcome meeting) at the coop that I was introduced to Transition Towns Maynooth. It was a newly started group with a food and environment focus that might suit us. And now, over a year later we are full fledged founding members of the TTM! Having spent the last two weekend involved in various TTM events, I think it's about time to touch on the tricky subject of Peak Oil in my blog.

So, Peak Oil is when the world production of oil has reached the point of maximum output. This concept should be familiar to anyone who lived in the USA in the 1970's as the USA reach their own country's Peak Oil Production point during that time. The small crisis that ensued, before the USA managed to secure sources of oil production abroad, would be relatively minor in comparison to world Peak Oil.

What about nuclear, solar, bio fuels, wind and, the ever popular in Ireland, turf as sources of energy? Well, when the proverbial dinosaur shit hits the fan in regards to oil, all the bog cuts in Ireland will hardly replace our dependence. As everyone knows we use oil for transport and travel, water bottles and clothing, toys and tools. But oil is also the key ingredient in fertilizers and pesticides. Anyways, it's a pretty scary looking scenario that has perhaps already started to befall upon us. (Just think about how much the price of gas has gone up in the past 10 years... I'd say it's well eclipsing inflation).

As our byline states "Transition Towns is a global movement that looks to find community oriented solutions for peak oil". In general, this means looking at establishing local food systems. Our current initiatives include planting fruit and nut trees around Maynooth, creating more accessible allotment (community garden) space (cheaper and smaller, -four of us are currently sharing one of Roger's giant allotments), and fostering support for local farmers. Yours truly created a local food guide (where to buy stuff) and a seasonal eating chart (for Irish produce).

Anyways, enough of my hippy propaganda. The photos are from a trip we took to Castlefarm in Athy. The farm produces milk for Glenisk and Tipperary Icecream. They also have a farm shop where they sell their own (all organic) eggs, meat and produce. The farm tour is at 3pm on the last Saturday of every month. Be sure to wear your boots, as I think nearly all the kids stepped in some "freshly produced manure".

Saturday, July 02, 2011

To be three

I don't do Nikolai posts a lot... however, here's a brief update on his latest personality shift.

Well, I had been warned by my friends with older children about the upcoming personality shift that occurs around the third birthday.

Because after age three children start to develop a new level of interpersonal skills that involves strong expressions of friendship (and not-my-friendship), extra whining and insecurity (ours focuses around the monster in his bedroom curtains... though being a bit metaphysical myself... I don't question this too much as we do live next to cemetery), along with questing for independence and self assertion.

Perhaps a story will demonstrate what I am talking about. Prior to his third birthday, Nikolai would put his foot down about something, and we'd have to assess his mood and our mood to decide whether it was worth the fight. However, yesterday we had a conversation that went a bit more like this.

Me: "if you do that again, I'm going to have to take it away from you".
Nikolai: "Why?"
"Because it will break"
"Because it's not yours to break".
"Because it's not a toy"
"Listen if you do that again I'm going to get really angry with you"

--a pause--
"How angry?"
"Really angry."

As it turns out my threat of "really angry" wasn't a sufficient deterrent. Clearly I'm going to have to rethink my parenting techniques...

Anyways, I've included some photos from Nikolai's birthday. We had a diet friendly cake of buckwheat pancakes and yogurt for the family party. Then I made a strawberry ice cream cake (a la Martha Stewart) decorated with borage flowers for his party with friends. The cake worked like a charm, but was impossible to cut.