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Fermented Identity – by Justyna

26 Nov

Hi my name is Kazek and I am two and a bit years old. I love Vegemite. Fermented yeast extract. Rich in vitamin B. Makes my skin smooth. When my mum is not looking I stick my hands into the jar and just gobble great bits of it, not bothering with the toast and butter. When she is looking I ask for a spoon. I usually eat it on Polish bread (toasted of course), which is sourdough, so I have a whole load of fermentation from the moment I wake up and sit at the table.

My mother loathes Polish television so we don’t watch telly at all and I’m not up on all the ads and sing songs. But she has made an exception for Aussie jingles. I know most of the words to ‘happy little Vegemites’. She sings it to me before I fall asleep. I’m a consumer for life. It’s weird, since she was never a ‘little Vegemite’ herself. In fact from what I can gather Tabitha introduced her to the proper way of eating it when my mum was 19. Right amount of butter, toast essential, hey presto and you have deliciousness in your mouth. From that moment on my mother was born-again. I think she uses Vegemite on a daily basis as a way of clinging to her Ausiness. The other day after breakfast she gave me a small Australian flag to play with and then took photos. It was a ridiculous juxtaposition. I was wearing my leather ‘kierpce’ at the time (typical Polish folky highlander slipper-type shoes). 

It’s funny because my mum looks Polish, sounds Polish and my dad says she even has a Polish ‘soul’. At the same time she also sounds Australian, often behaves like and Aussie and understands the world in a very different way to the people here. Really she’s just a wog all over again except this time in her motherland. Must be tiresome being split in half all the time. Hope she doesn’t ever make me immigrate or impose too much of her Australian ways on me. I don’t want to be all torn up and split down the middle like she is for all eternity. Neither here nor there. Must be frustrating.


Fermenting on the fringe – by Karen

24 Nov

In traditional societies, fermenting food is considered an entirely normal procedure, part of the hygiene of daily life.

In the modern West, fermenting your own food is almost never done. This means that those people who do ferment food are, by virtue of that fact, unusual. Lo and behold, I have discovered that an interest in fermentation is usually not their only unusual trait.

A jar of kefir, with the "grains" visible at the top. These are strained out before consumption and used again, like a sourdough starter.

I’ve recently dipped my toe into the world of kefir (toes AND fermenting milk in one sentence, NICE!). Kefir is a fermented, usually dairy-based drink, similar to yogurt but containing a wider variety of microorganisms. First World kefir is dominated by a handful of characters, as far as my Google searches can discern. In apparent ascending order of dominance, allow me to introduce some.

The first is this lady, who secures my fascination by belonging to one of those non-muslim religions where you wear a headscarf, and professedly being 28 years old but looking 16. Perhaps it’s the kefir. Her site, Tammy’s Recipes, contains such gems as this:

“If you are a Christian and are interested in being featured, contact me. I will need at least one high-quality photo of your food (the picture has to be of food you made yourself!), your recipe(s), and whatever information you wish to share about yourself, your recipes, and your cooking style.” Non-Christian recipes will not be entertained.

Secondly, we have this crew:

While watching this video, I speculated furiously about the family dynamics, the lifestyle of this teenager, her worldview, her parents’ opinions of her worldview’s congruence with their worldview, her gentle, mature tone (acceptance? resignation? quiet pride?) and so on. I then had to watch again to actually learn about the making of kefir.

Finally, any casual Googler of kefir will inevitably come across a reference to the granddaddy of kefir, Dom. Dom is an Australian gentleman who maintains what I would consider a highly curatable gem of a website – note with a nostalgic sigh the tilde in the URL – where pages go down and down, jazzed up by blinking gifs and 20+ font colours and studded with gems of incongruous wisdom and capitalisation. “A PERFECT MARRIAGE… is to persevere and continue without a full stop. May WE bathe in the fountain of Life, Love, Health, Joy and showered with Prosperity of KEFIR GRAINS,” reads the front page (just scroll down about 24 screens).

Dom, who may well be the kind of Dom to follow his website’s referrals and find this entry, is also just the kind of Internet weirdo I like. I know Dom will take being called a weirdo with grace. He has spent years of his life refining… no, perhaps not refining… expanding upon a body of knowledge on a subject that is obscure, yet to him, is captivating. And so it is to me, to a lesser extent. He shares his knowledge freely and unreservedly, just like all people did on the internet in days of yore.

Dom comes across as more of a folksy hippy than a sheltered biblical literalist. Kefir Googling will also thrust you into the orbit of Crossfitting libertarian paleo eating yuppies, vegan Wholefoods parking lot warriors, and dedicated carers for the chronically ill. A figure in the broader fermentation scene, Sandor Ellix Katz, author of Wild Fermentation, links home fermentation to a spirit of self-empowerment, punk, DIY and zine culture, squatting, activism and dumpster diving. Review pages for his book are a perfect microcosm of the fermentation scene, where one reviewer bemoans his endorsement of and unashamed digressions on his “gay lifestyle”, while the next raves in excitement about liberation from what Katz calls the “cult of expertise”, that would otherwise send them rushing fearfully to the sterile prison of chemically controlled foods.

The mysterious and ancient Caucasian matrix of bacteria and yeast that is the kefir grain has mushroomed across the internet. As a social meme, it now ferments at a paradoxical intersection of diametric fringes. Drink up.

Some thoughts on yoghurt – by Tabitha

23 Nov

When I received the email from Karen on Monday saying this week’s topic was “fermentation”, I was eating yoghurt with mango for breakfast. And yesterday, when I realised that Tuesday was almost over and I hadn’t written my post about fermentation, I was drinking a Vietnamese yoghurt coffee. It seems that in my life, as in my mind, fermentation is inextricably associated with yoghurt.

So here are some thoughts about yoghurt.

Good, thick, full-fat, sugar-free yoghurt is really difficult to find in Hanoi. The French influence here has resulted in a surplus of awful, sugary, fat-free, flavoured yoghurts, which the French love for some reason, and which also probably transport very easily, since their sugar content means they can never go off. The refrigerated aisle of individual “dairy desserts” (like, little crème caramels and rice puddings) is one of the largest in a French supermarket. Surprising, non? It certainly was to me, with my Australian reverence of “European-style yoghurt”.

There is one café here which makes its own yoghurt, which is famous for being Catherine Deneuve’s favourite haunt while she was filming Indochine, one of my most loathed French movies. Apparently she loved the yoghurt, but I find it strangely gelatinous.

But also thanks to the French influence, you can actually get fromage blanc here, which is one of my most favourite foods, and like yoghurt, but better. We buy the one with 7% fat, and it tastes like cream sent from the gods.

In summary, the yoghurt situation in Hanoi is complex, much like my relationship with the French.

Another thing about yoghurt: a friend of ours told us how she had chronic thrush and the old yoghurt trick just wasn’t cutting it, so she investigated other, baseless, miracle cures, including a recommendation for garlic. As instructed, she inserted a garlic clove right up her moot. It did not cure the thrush. Instead, it got completely stuck there for many days and resulted in her entire body emanating a garlic odour, and her mouth tasting like garlic. Isn’t the human body an amazing thing? Who knew that a taste could travel backwards up into your mouth like that? Thank goodness other downstairs odours don’t do the same.

And that is my post on fermentation.

Fermention of the brain by Beth

21 Nov

One of the perks of being married (or having a longterm partner) is getting to observe someone close up who was brought up differently, with different genetics and different early experiences. It’s fascinating. Jeff and I are very similar in many ways. Similar taste in music, TV, movies, people. Similar beliefs. No doubt we’ve also influenced a lot having known each other for 20 years. (Wow, I only just realised that!)

Anyway, the one thing that is VERY different about us is the speed with which we write an email. Doesn’t matter if it’s a very important, formal email or a quick “hey”, Jeff will sit on the task for what I consider to be an inordinate amount of time. I sometimes sit perched next to him after he’s run an email wording past me chanting “send, send, send” like a wifely banshee. I annoy even myself! But he is patient and doesn’t hesitate to leave the draft that bit longer and send it when he’s ready.

There are some things that I’ll do on the spur of the moment and many that I too leave to ferment in my mind before acting. Such as eating healthier. This task takes many months of saying goodbye to every conceivable dessert a few times before I act. But with other things, such as deciding I wanted to create a solar system out of melted breadtags and have a solo exhibition at a certain gallery in Sydney. I came up with the idea on the spot when Jeff asked me what project I wanted to do next and then proceeded to do it over the next 6 months. Very satisfying.

Something that I always leave to ferment so long that it’s almost no use thinking of it at all is any idea for a documentary or a radio documentary. I can take a photo as fast as anything, but because I have a residual fear of failure from my film school days about creating docos, I can’t bloody act on an idea. It’s frustrating. Can you please be my witnesses that I must ferment no longer on this and need to just START one?

K thx bye.