I’d never describe myself as a sparkly sort of girl. I can’t say I have a very bubbly personality. I’m not one to swirl or twirl or brew up fizzy energy. However, in the presence of those effervescent qualities, I can’t help but be affected.
It gets pretty hot around here this time of year and the summer season is always a seemingly endless one. Usually, Evan and I head for the hills seeking refuge in the cooling effects of the eastern Sierra Nevada. The summer season has always been our “Sierra Season”, but not so for me this year. A few months back, I took a fall while skiing in the backcountry and somehow managed to fracture a bone in my leg. It wasn’t the worst of injuries in the grand scheme of things, but still it was a pretty good one with a surprisingly long recovery. It’s going well, don’t get my wrong, I’m healing up and getting strong. I just haven’t quite gained the strength and stability required to take on the trail. So, when the weekend comes my favorite explorer makes his escape to higher elevations, while I stay behind trying desperately to find some way to cool down and revive my wilting senses. As I cannot seek solace in the soothing arms of good ole Mama Nature, I naturally gravitate to the next best source of refreshment and inspiration…the kitchen.
I seem to have developed a child-like fascination with this fermentation process lately. It started with the homemade lacto-fermented sauerkraut that my husband initially requested as a gut-healing remedy and quickly formed an attachment to that has me stuck with the forever-task of fermenting vegetables. The “forever-task”…you know that thing you thought you’d try, just for the fun of it, only to realize you had unwittingly committed yourself to forever maintaining it? I admit that it has become a bit of a chore and preparing the veggies is not my favorite thing to do, but I don’t mind because the boy loves his vegetables (they are good for you and admittedly, I quite enjoy them, too). But then he discovered kimchi. Noooooo…I can’t…I won’t…please, don’t make me! Oh, the stinky, childhood kimchi memories suddenly came flooding back! When I was a young child, my already large family adopted a new brother. He came from Korea. He came with kimchi. He had this certain childish charm and I loved him dearly, but I absolutely detested the stench of his rotten cabbage. My mom always made sure to have some on hand for him because he loved it and it was important to maintain those cultural attachments. It is not a pleasant sensorial memory for me, so when my husband so sweetly requested that I try making a batch of this repugnant, rancid cabbage, I was mortified. And yet, I hesitantly acquiesced (as I always do) and my dear hubby now loves kimchi, too. So, I find myself stuck with the most unpleasant of forever-tasks…dang! How did that happen?
As is naturally my way, I tried to make the best of things and put a positive spin on a stinky situation. Doing my best to ignore the negative olfactory sensations, I engaged my childish sense of wonder and allowed myself to be pulled into my fascination with fermentation. Now, I am not well-versed in the science of it all, but there is something about the bubbles I find rather delightful and I have come to enjoy the effervescent qualities of this new culinary activity.
I started experimenting with different types of vegetables, things that might please my own palate enough to counteract my disdain for having to make the dreaded kimchi. I began fermenting the random vegetable picks from our weekly organic produce delivery. I found myself taking a liking to lacto-fermented pickles of all sorts…cucumber dill pickles, radish pickles, I have yet to try carrot pickles or the pickled peppers, but I especially enjoy the beets. I get caught up in the colors of all the pretty jars of veggies that have somehow become the focal point of my kitchen decor. But what really delights that silly sense of wonder are those bubbles. Every other week, I fill my jars with fresh vegetables and brine, insert the glass weights, cap the jars loosely, set them aside and wait for signs that the process is at work. It doesn’t take long for the bubbles to begin to form. I am easily transfixed watching them dance up the glass in the early morning sunlight as one-by-one…blip, blip, blurp…they break free from their entrapments, make their way to the surface to explode in an effervescent burst of energy. Isn’t it funny that no matter how much time goes by, no matter how much maturity, wisdom and knowledge you accumulate, no matter how “important” life becomes, something as simple and meaningless as popping bubbles can bring you back to that happy place of early childhood. That place where bubble baths and bubble wands were all it took to make your day. Well yes, as a teacher of young ones still in that phase of early childhood, I am very much in touch with my own inner child. And I play with bubbles often. So, it stands to reason that I would be so easily entranced by the dance of those fermenting bubbles. What can I say? I find delight where I can these days.
One day I decided to follow this fermenting thing and explore a bit more. We have this particular habit in our household and it’s a very expensive habit to support (a $4-dollar-a-bottle habit, to be exact). It’s called kombucha. You know those pricey little bottles of fancy fermented tea they sell in the health food stores? Yeah, those. We consume those on a daily basis and the cost is downright obscene. It occurred to me, more than once, that I could probably make it myself and save a little of my hard-earned money. But I was hesitant to commit myself to maintaining yet another one of those forever-tasks. However, with some dedicated down-time and nowhere to go, I thought…why not? Let’s give it a whirl. I found some simple instructions on the internet for growing your own baby SCOBY from scratch and I started there.
What a strange, little entity, this SCOBY is. It is both beautiful and unsightly at the same time. Who woulda ever thought that leaving a batch of sweetened tea out on the counter to rot would produce this symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast which mysteriously produces a refreshing drink that actually promotes healthy gut flora? Go figure. It’s ugly, for sure, but I was so proud the day my very first grown-from-scratch baby SCOBY embarked on its first kombucha brewing adventure. From that point on I was committed and Sunday has become my dedicated brewing day.
I’ve been having so much fun experimenting with flavoring, I bought a book to expand my fermenting knowledge base and we have an endless supply of kombucha at a fraction of the commercial brand cost. I now have a SCOBY hotel with no vacancy and a forever-task that balances nicely my disdain for making the kimchi. Besides which, it is a most refreshing moment, on those oh-so-hot days, to open a bottle of home-brewed kombucha, watch those bubbles whirl and swirl into action, rise to the top and explode in a burst of effervescent energy. I must admit, it’s a little bit catchy.
And God bless the individual who first imagined floating a scoop of ice-cream in a glass of fizzy, fermented tea! What a refreshing treat and a blessed retreat in this seemingly endless summer season.
Who knows how long this particular adventure will last. School will be back in session soon and the crazy work schedule will ensue. I hope to be back on the trail this fall, spending my precious weekend time in my natural habitat, away from the domestic and professional obligations. During these times there is always a shift in priorities, but the forever-tasks do have a tendency of remaining at the top of the list. Honestly though, how can I resist enjoying a little bubbly when life gets a bit too busy?
Seek your sparkle, find your fizz, enjoy the effervescent energy :)