Spent Grain Experiment Number 1.0

There’s a new brewery in Evanston. This is notable for a number of reasons, one of which is that, in part because Evanston was the center of the temperance movement in this country, this is the first craft brewery in Evanston. They named their brewery “Temperance,” too, which is amusing in its own way. On New Year’s Eve afternoon, two friends dragged me and Friend out to drink beer with them at Temperance and we sampled the six beers they currently have on tap. They were ALL good, which is not always my reaction, especially when fruit is involved. (One is a wheat ale with blueberries and another is an ESB with Balaton cherries.)

Anyway, not surprisingly, we started chatting with the bartender, who also turned out to be one of the owners, and I asked him what I always ask brewers: what do you do with your spent grains? Turns out that they still haven’t found a way to get rid of them, which means I had no trouble talking them into saving some for me the next time they planned on brewing. The brewer came out and talked to us, too, and she was more than happy to save some grain. Thus, despite the huge piles of snow that remained on the streets yesterday, I shlepped to the brewery (about 3 miles round trip to/from the nearest el station) to pick up the promised booty–a gallon bag crammed full of spent grain from a batch of pale ale, maybe. I’m going to take them some of the finished product; they’re releasing a new beer on Friday, which will be a perfect excuse.

I currently have three breads in various stages of construction, and at least two of them will utilize some spent grains. One is the straight-up spent grain recipe from Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads. I’ve made that one before, though most recently with dark-roasted grains that were used in a porter, maybe?, so it makes sense to just use the new ones in the same way, i.e., with a formula that I know works, and see what happens.

I recently started experimenting with breads that start with a mash (in this case, raisins, flaxseeds, and water, which soak for a day and then go in with the other ingredients in the soaker), so I did the same thing except added some spent grains to the mash. No idea what will happen, but how bad can it be? Because I’m going to have a whole lot of starter (biga), I’m also going to do what Reinhart calls his “broom” bread (because it acts like a broom to your insides), and I may add some spent grain to that, too. Eventually I’m also going to dry some of the spent grain and turn it into flour.

In short, tomorrow is going to include three batches of bread, and, as long as the oven is going to be on anyway, I’m going to use up some of the limes that have been languishing in the fridge and make some cookies. That’s going to be even more of an experiment: what I have in mind is coconut lime cookies, but the recipes I’ve been able to find don’t do it for me. I also have some coconut flour, which I’ve never used before, but I don’t want to use only coconut flour. Apparently it’s used in some gluten-free baking, so a lot of the recipes using coconut flour don’t have any wheat flour in them. My current vague plan is to use a basic sugar cookie recipe, or the ginger-lemon cookies recipe that’s on the back of my most recent Baking Sheet from KAF, and adapt it: replace some of the regular flour with coconut flour, use grated lime peel instead of lemon, and add the extra liquid the coconut flour apparently requires in the form of some lime juice, or maybe some reduced lime juice. I’ll also add shredded coconut in there somewhere, preferably in a manner that allows it to get nice and toasted; toasted coconut is one of life’s awesome pleasures. And I might keep the ginger in the recipe, because I like ginger with lime and coconut. I’ll let you know whether they’re edible . . .

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Marxist Strawberries

I’ve been thinking idly about Marx of late, and I’ve also been fantasizing about being the next Food Network star. I do realize that talk of Marxist strawberries pretty much guarantees that I will never get close to being on the Food (or any other) Network, but, hey, that was already true.

So one of the basic tenets of Marx is that of alienation (this Wikipedia piece is a pretty good overview, and Marx’s Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 also lays it out pretty well, if I remember correctly): we are alienated from the products of our labor, because we have no say in how a product is produced; we are alienated from the act of producing, because we receive wages or a salary rather than the profits of our labor; and we are alienated from ourselves (and from each other) because we lack the control of our lives necessary to become fully realized/actualized human beings. (We can discuss this more if anyone actually cares.)

One of the shorthand ways of thinking of this, in my opinion, is that we come to think of ourselves not as whole human beings, with mutually interdependent connections with each other, but as cogs, as pieces of an economic/industrial machine. We have jobs, not so much because we want a job qua job, but because we must have money–we have to sell our labor in order to buy food and shelter (and health care/insurance). Sometimes we can find jobs we like, many of us aren’t “workers” in the manufacturing sense (not least because those jobs are overseas now), but all of us need money to live, and few of us make anything that we sell–or, better, barter–directly.

Another part of alienation, though, is being disconnected from our food. Processed, industrial, food-like substances are the most extreme version of this, but a more insidious version is the notion that we can get whatever foods we want no matter the season and whatever the cost. (Obviously this does not apply for people who aren’t exactly sure where their next meals, or their kids’ next meals, will be obtained, but that’s a connection for another day.) What we get when we buy foods that are out of season in the area where we live is often an approximation of the food. The two foods that most exemplify this for me are tomatoes and strawberries. Tomatoes kind of don’t count, though–tomatoes can be preserved in ways that make them available year-round, so long as you don’t try to eat a fresh tomato out of season. Out-of-season fresh tomatoes are an abomination: pink and mealy and flavorless.

I wandered through a farmers’ market last Sunday, and one of the vendors had strawberries; I bought four pints, and I ate them every day this week, and I was in heaven. (I also got a pint in last night’s farm share, and I expect they’ll be just as heavenly.) They were red all the way through, and the strawberry aroma was intoxicating. My lunch each day was a big pile (as in nearly a pound) of strawberries with a touch of balsamic vinegar, a touch of honey, and a bit of feta cheese, all mixed together. The markets and the farm share will have strawberries for maybe another couple of weeks–by early July they’ll be gone–and that’s the end of strawberry season for the year. Of course I could (and sometimes do) buy them from the grocery store, and sometimes those are even half-decent, but they really don’t come close to the bliss of fresh, ripe, local strawberries. Some years, when I’m feeling particularly ambitious, I buy a flat of strawberries and freeze them; that’s not going to happen this year, most likely.

I try to keep the memory of the season’s strawberries in mind when I’m shopping the rest of the year–I know, from experience, that the berries on the rack won’t taste anywhere near as good as what I’m eating now. They will be . . . strawberry-esque. They’ll be missing that heady perfume, and that perfect texture, and, no matter how red they look on the outside, they’ll be white on the inside, and maybe a little hard and mealy, because they’ve been grown to ship well, not to taste good.

That said, the farm share the past month has been mostly greens of one kind or another: lettuce, chard, Asian greens. This week there’s also mizuna (a bitter green) and parsley, and some spinach. And strawberries–did I mention the strawberries? I’ve been trying to find enough things to put on the lettuce to make actual meals out of it, so there’s broccoli and broccoli rabe in the fridge at the moment, to be steamed and added to the mix, and I got some onions and garlic to make a dressing, and some avocados, because they’re awesome, but those things aren’t available locally yet, so to claim I’m eating “locally” would be a misnomer.

And, for that matter, avocados are never “local” here in the midwest. So does that mean if I eat avocados I’m alienated from my food? If it does, then I’m going to stick with alienation. Seriously, though, you can see how complicated this gets. It’s relatively easy to see the extremes–industrial food-like substances in shiny packaging, versus whatever you can grow yourself–but there’s a whole lot of room in the middle, and figuring how to negotiate that space in a way that makes sense for you and your family is hard work, especially when the same people who make the industrial food-like substances find ways to package and advertise their product to disguise its industrial nature.