This blog started out as solely focused on food. cooking and spirituality are incredibly co-mingled for me, and now I'm adding to the focus by making the blog more about my spiritual life in general. I hope the result is something readable!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Fermentation and Culture

Thoughts on fermentation:

It may seem a little out there to have a post about tea on my spirituality blog, but this is a perfect example of how my thought process works, regarding daily spiritual practice.

The first infusion (rinse) went into a bowl, and that along with half of the second infusion (which I drank) got left as an offering. In drinking tea I cannot help but think about all the work, the human effort and inspiration that went into crafting the tea, and how the combination of different forces and factors has created the beverage I consume daily. Pu-erh tea in particular has a lot of work put into it, and it’s a group effort between the leaf, the person crafting it, and the bacteria that ferments it (and, eventually, the person brewing and drinking it).

Fermentation is one of those weird, ancient food prep techniques that really makes no sense when you think about it, allowing things to rot and then consuming them anyway and somehow that makes the food different and in many cases better tasting and better for you than just eating it raw. What the hell, man! The first people discovering cheese when like, their mare’s milk got jostled and bacteriafied in a leather pouch on the way from point A to point B must have freaked out. It’s one thing, really, to eat something like that once because you know, early human cultures, subsistence level society, etc, you’d better clean your plate. If you are working with limited resources, yes, it makes perfect sense that a food-mistake ends up getting eaten or drunk anyway. But the weird thing, the special marvellous human magic thing, that happens when people decide to do it again, on purpose. We as a species are great at making tools, and taking disparate elements and combining them and making something completely different from them. And we’re great at thinking completely outside the box. We think nowhere near the box. The box is on a different continent.

Eventually, through generations of experimenting and probably lots of people getting poisoned from bad fermentation efforts, we end up with with a standardized process to make edibles that are really delicious, infinitely varied, and full of the energy, focus, and passion of a lot of human beings: Beer, bread, yogurt, cheese, dried sausage, miso, pu-erh. When I sit down and take the time to actually think about it, it blows my mind.

The thing about fermentation is that you need bacteria. And these days, in modern western society, bacteria is a thing that we in general are terrified of. Every day at work I am confronted with great huge pump bottles of antibacterial hand sanitizer, because it’s cold and flu season and for god’s sake get the germs off your hands. But I always take the time to wash my hands with soap and water instead, because I don’t want to kill off all the bacteria on my hands. And I especially don’t want to do it with glorified rubbing alcohol that dries out my skin and creates a billion little microcuts and allows more bacteria, the different, nasty death-kind, to get into my bloodstream.

Bacteria are weird. We vilify them and fear them and yet we need them, to make things we consider staple foods. A group of bacteria isn’t called a population, it’s called a culture. And that makes me think about what defines a culture, both human or bacterial. In both cases we have a group of individuals working in harmony, and that group creates something unique, something that differentiates it from other groups, something that leaves its mark on the world. As an artist and a crafter and a cook I participate in my culture, and I try to add to it and enrich it with my efforts. I can’t do it, can’t create or savor or fully participate, without the aid of other people and other organisms, and without the forces that create and maintain life on this earth.

And for that, I offer the tea I brew as thanks and recognition. I hope it was well-received. 

Pu-erh Tea

Tea Adventures: Ripe Pu-erh

About three weeks ago, I bought a lovely little gaiwan, or lidded cup, in the interests of furthering my tea appreciation. I adore oolong teas and I want to learn more about the traditional Chinese gongfucha tea ceremony and, generally, the style of brewing that focuses on multiple short infusions of the tea to get a lot of brewings out of a small amount of leaves. It's practical!

The gaiwan is totally adorable, and a much better learning tool than say, immediately jumping into a yixing clay teapot, because those things can be a serious investment (they were the best part of that crappy second episode of series 1 of Sherlock, IMO). The gaiwan is also way useful, since it's nice glazed porcelain it's not going to absorb the aroma and flavors of tea like unglazed yixing ware, meaning that I can try out a lot of different kinds of tea in the gaiwan and not be locked into just, say, tieguanyin. Granted if I had an yixing teapot I'd be drinking tieguanyin all the damn time, but that's neither here nor there at the moment. My first try with the gaiwan was with some gunpowder green that I have had sitting around for a year, I'm not gonna lie, because it's rolled so tight the tea keeps very well, and I've made a dent in this giant pound bag but man. 

It worked nicely, but I didn't get any pictures of the process. This afternoon,however, I decided to be bold and try a type of tea I've never brewed before: pu-erh. With the gaiwan came two little samples of pu-erh, one "raw" traditionally-processed bunch from 2008, and one "ripe" or artificially fermented (and therefore cheaper, more consistent, and easier to brew) sample from 2006. I went with the ripe sample, and I still have about half of it left over for another go, but I'm totally not done with the first brewing yet.

And now, photographic evidence of my adventures in being brave and a grownup and trying new things:

My gear all set up. Yes I am using a shot glass as a drinking vessel because I don't have nice small teacups.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

30 Days of Paganism Master Post

Okay, since I clearly failed at the revamp effort in June, I'm appling an actual format to the posts so I can write about spiritual subjects regularly. So There.

Here, then, is my slightly tweaked 30 Days of Paganism Intro and Link List:

  1. Master Post
    7. Beliefs – Divination
    8. Beliefs – Holidays
    9. Deity and Gender
    10. Pantheons and Patrons and Eclecticism, Oh My!
    11. Pantheon – Blood Mother
    12. Pantheon – Shining God
    13. Pantheon – Liminal God
    14. Pantheon – Genius Loci
    15. Pantheon – Ancestors and Animals
    16. Nature and the Dead
    17. Daily Routines
    18. Community and Why I Suck At It
    19. Paganism and my family/friends
    20. Paganism and my partner
    21. Other paths I’ve explored-- Hall Of Regrets
    22. Paganism and major life events
    23. Ethics
    24. Personal aesthetics and Paganism
    25. Favoured ritual tools, and why
    26. Any “secular” pastimes with religious significance, and why
    27. How your faith has helped you in difficult times
    28. One misconception about paganism you’d like to clear up
    29. The future of Paganism
    30. Has This Been Useful to Me?

    Hopefully something good can come of this, and I won't spend the month being a complete lump. who knows! ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN.

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