Fermentation, Kitchen

Watermelon Hibiscus Kombucha

Even though we're nearing the end of September, everything here in Houston remains lush and green, and highs still reach the mid-90s. The calendar might say it's fall, but the watermelon at the farmer's market suggests that summer is still here.

We've been making watermelon hibiscus kombucha all summer long, ever since we saw the first truckloads at our local farmers market. The flavor is light and refreshing, sweet and pleasantly tart – like a watermelon candy but in kombucha form. It's the perfect beverage to cool off with on a hot summer day. The secondary fermentation process gives the yeast in kombucha more nutrients to feed off of and will produce a bubblier, more effervescent brew. 

This recipe is for all those in the south who still find perfectly ripe watermelons available, and for those that want to hold on to summer for just a little bit longer. If you don't fit into either of those categories, just tuck this recipe away in your brain until next summer, when watermelons are in season and the weather is hot again. This will be just what you need! 

You will need:

fresh watermelon cut into chunks
dried hibiscus flowers
finished plain kombucha, acidic but still slightly sweet
large mason jar
bottles with tight-fitting lids (flip-top bottles work well here!)
funnel
mesh strainer

Fill a large mason jar about 1/3 of the way with chunks of fresh watermelon, crushing the fruit just a bit to release the juices. Add some dried hibiscus to taste, then fill the rest of the jar with finished plain kombucha. 

Give the brew some time to infuse and for the watermelon to work its magic—about 1-2 days at room temperature—then strain out the fruit and hibiscus and bottle. 

Leave the bottles out at room temperature to ferment and build up carbonation for another couple days, keeping a close eye on them in warmer temperatures.* Transfer to the fridge and wait about 24 hours before cracking open a bottle. This helps ensure that the carbonation dissolves into the kombucha and gives the best results if you like a very bubbly kombucha. 

Enjoy!
 

*Warmer temperatures will speed the buildup of CO2 and could possibly cause a bottle to explode



 

Exploration

35mm: Los Angeles & Santa Barbara

Our friend's grapefruit tree

Our friend's grapefruit tree

Last month we flew to California for a mini-trip to visit friends, do a bit of hiking, say hello to the Pacific, and revisit the place where we first met and started collaborating together - the University of California, Santa Barbara. 

The view from the art building at UCSB

The view from the art building at UCSB

It was the first time we had been back to California since we left nearly three years ago. Three years! Needless to say, this trip was way overdue.

In order to focus more on the experience and less on taking a ton of photos we opted to leave the digital camera back home and shoot only on 35mm. Using film requires you to slow down and compose your image in a more considered way while also acknowledging the unpredictable nature of the medium and the lack of instant gratification: sometimes things don't turn out as planned and you won't know until the film is developed. 

We shot two rolls, and while we were pretty upset that one roll turned out completely blank (ahhhhhhh!!), we're pretty pleased with the way these images look and feel.

Hope you enjoy them as well!

Exploration

Hello again

Dear friends, 
It's been way too long.

The last six months have been a frenzy of art making, traveling, learning, exploring, adventuring, and connecting with friends both old and new. 

But now we are back in Houston, in a new apartment with a new studio, and new projects on the horizon. 

We are taking walks.

We are making plans.

We are slowly coming out of hibernation.

Here are a few highlights from the last six months or so:

-living and working at Art Farm for two months
-teaching a couple vegetable fermenting workshops (one at Have Company and one at Lawndale Art Center)
-spending time in the hills of Vermont with Jessica Stevens of Sugarhouse Workshop
-camping in Georgia and the Carolinas
-visiting old friends and meeting new friends (thanks instagram!)
-exhibiting Night Walk at Lawndale Art Center
-primitive car camping at Big Bend National Park
-an anniversary trip to Los Angeles and Santa Barbara

And here are some things we are looking forward to sharing with you very soon:

-new editions of the Daily Ferments zine series (kombucha and sourdough!)
-another flora poster
-a new blog series interviewing makers
-a lot more film photography

Stay tuned!

Stress Less

With the holidays in full swing and presents that still need to be made and to-do lists that keep growing and days that get shorter and shorter, the need for self care is more important than ever.

Here are some things we do to cope with stress and take care of our physical and mental health:

GET OUTSIDE!
Take a walk
Ride your bike
Touch plants
Look at the moon
Sit in the grass
Stare at the clouds
Grow a garden
Feel the sun on your skin

RELAX!
Take a bath
Drink some herbal tea
Touch an animal
Read a book
Take a nap
Make a list of things you like
Breathe

NOURISH!
Feed yourself lots of good food
Eat local, organic, and in season
Eat dark chocolate
Share a meal with your friends
Eat fermented foods

CONNECT!
Hug your friends
Kiss your lover
Be giving
Call a friend
Make time for the ones you love
Stay positive

SUPPLEMENT!
Tulsi (Holy Basil)
Chamomile
Matcha (L-theanine)
Ashwagandha
Astralagus
Moringa
Reishi mushroom
Magnesium
Vitamin D

SAY NO!
Know your limits
Don't overcommit
Do one thing at a time
Ask for help
Focus on things you can control
Give yourself a break
Spend some time alone
Take a day off

This is what works for us.
Find out what works for you and stick with it.

Want to make a tiny zine to carry around all these tips with you wherever you go? Click here to download the pdf. Pick a color that makes you happy and be sure to print it out actual size! This website has a good tutorial for folding a one page zine. 

What are some of your favorite self care tips?

Have Company Workshop Notes

We've spent the last week as artists-in-residence at Have Company, a shop/residency/gallery/all-around-amazing-space in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan. In addition to working on several personal projects, we were also able to engage with the community by teaching a workshop on basic vegetable fermentation. 

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Because of the positive response and excitement we experienced from the workshop we decided to write a guest blog post for Have Company that guides readers through the process of making pickles and kraut. In addition to the guest post over there, we've also made the notes from our workshop readily available here, for anyone interested in learning a little more about the history and process of fermentation. 

 

WHAT IS FERMENTATION?

Fermentation is a process of change. In the context of food, it is the chemical breakdown of a substance by bacteria, yeast, and/or other microorganisms. This process has been used, historically, as a means of food preservation, to produce alcohol, to remove toxins from raw food, to alter the flavor of food, and to improve flavor and nutritional content of foods.

 

HISTORY

Fermentation is one of the oldest methods of food preservation and people have been making and consuming fermented foods for thousands of years. Some anthropologists have even speculated that the production of alcohol motivated hunter-gatherer tribes to settle down and become agriculturalists!

It is interesting to note that before the invention of the microscope and the subsequent discovery of microscopic organisms, the mysterious and miraculous process of fermentation was attributed to various gods and deities. The Egyptians praised Osiris for brewing beer, the Greeks associated Bacchus with the fermentation of wine, and the Japanese placed shrines in their miso and shoyu breweries.

Every traditional society consumed some type of fermented food and different ferments can be found all over the world. Sauerkraut in Europe, kimchi in Korea, natto and miso in Japan, tempeh in Indonesia, kvass and kombucha in Russia, tepache in Mexico, cortido in Central America, poi in Hawaii, yogurt in India...the list goes on and on.

Before the invention of pasteurization and the proliferation of home-canning, fermentation was one of the primary means of preserving the harvest. Our fore-mothers would have large crocks of sauerkraut and pickles that fermented through the fall and allowed them to have vegetables all through the winter. When families started moving away from the farm and into cities they slowly lost touch with this traditional process and all the benefits that come along with it.

 

WHAT IS LACTO-FERMENTATION?

Lacto-fermentation is the microbial process that turns cucumbers into pickles. It is a form of controlled rot or putrefaction that creates favorable conditions for communities of so-called friendly bacteria. The term lacto-fermentation refers not to milk or whey, but to the kind of bacteria involved in the process – beneficial bacteria that produce lactic acid and thrive in an anaerobic environment, termed lactic acid bacteria.

Lactic acid bacteria are ubiquitous in the soil, on the surface of all plants, and are also found in our mouths, vaginas, and gastrointestinal tracts! During fermentation, these “friendly” bacteria feast on the sugar and starch present in the vegetables and convert them into lactic acid, which lowers the pH and makes the ferment inhospitable to other “bad” bacteria. In addition to preserving food for future use, lacto-fermentation also increases and stabilizes nutrients, makes the food more digestible, and encourages the growth of healthy bacteria in our intestinal tract.

 

BENEFITS

Preserves food so you can enjoy it months after harvest!

Enhances the digestibility of vegetables by creating enzymes that help our bodies break them down and better absorb their nutrients.  

Naturally fermented foods are probiotics and can positively affect gut flora, which in turn can have positive effects throughout your whole body.

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Roads & Residencies: Art Farm

It's been ten days at Art Farm

We've taken long walks around the property, been woken up by mosquitoes, mice, and bats (all at the same time), stared at a new moon night sky, foraged mulberries and black walnuts, liberated a productive garden from a forest of weeds, started working in the studio (a real studio!), found a sauna (and got it working again), swam in a river, and felt the first cool breeze of the season. 

We've been attacked by ragweed pollen, eaten alive by insects, dealt with offensive smelling compost, tried to eat wild plums that were definitely not ripe, gone to sleep exhausted from gardening and art-making and socializing and exploring. 

We're in the process of laying down our intentions for the next five weeks. Some are predetermined (finish the pieces for Night Walk), while others are open-ended. The resources at Art Farm are immense, but access is not effortless. Things need to be unearthed, dusted off, repaired, greased, or rebuilt. There is no staff on hand to maintain the site, materials, or tools when they are no longer in use—the artists are both residents and caretakers. With that in mind, we plan to extend the garden and build a winter cold frame, to continue mapping the local flora (and documenting its potential uses), and to fire some clay.

Studio, Exploration, Exhibition

Natural Dyes: Pecan and Dandelion

Those of you who follow us on Instagram are well aware of our recent foray into natural dyeing. You've seen the results of different tests, but you might be wondering what sparked this interest in the first place and what we plan on doing with these dyed fabrics.

The idea for making natural dyes started nearly a year ago, after we saw a photograph from Folk Fibers' Instagram feed of green pecans being fermented in a big pot for later use as a dye. Pecans and fermentation resulting in an easy-to-use and non-toxic fabric dye? We were all over it. 

We gathered some green pecans from trees that we crossed on our daily walks around the neighborhood. We had been taking these walks together as a way to spend time outside, get some exercise, talk through our worries and fears, discuss projects, and—perhaps most relevant to this topic—to directly interact with our immediate environment. Those daily walks brought on an awareness of and deeper connection to all the plant life that was right outside our door and how that life shifted and changed day-by-day and season-to-season. 

We took the pecans (hulls, leaves, stems and all), put them into a big orange bucket, covered them with water, and waited for them to ferment. They fermented for... weeks?... months? We didn't keep track of the time, but eventually strained the pecans out and let the dye sit in a bucket on our back porch, where it rested for the better part of a year.

During that period we spent a lot of time researching the process of natural dyeing, but never had the motivation to get started. The process seemed too complicated for casual experimentation (wash and scour and pre-mordant and then mordant all before you get to the dye pot) and required materials that weren't readily available in our studio (alum, tannin, dedicated cooking vessels, et cetera). The information was either highly specialized, or vague and presumptuous. We felt overwhelmed, a bit confused, and, at the end of the day, always seemed to be neck-deep in other projects. So we set the fermented pecan dye aside.

When we hit the road a few weeks back, we packed the dye up with the intention to experiment—and experiment we did. Not only was it far more straightforward than we had been led to believe, but we soon learned that the potential for (successful) experimentation was vast.

About that pecan dye: because pecans have plenty of tannin in them, they don't require the addition of an alum mordant in order for the color to stay wash-fast and light-fast. With this knowledge, our first experiment was simply sticking some test pieces of cotton fabric into our bucket of pecan dye, forgetting about them for a few days, and pulling them out. The result: a light shade of brown! 

For our next test, we took a small piece of linen fabric and let it rest in the dye solution for two days. We pulled it out of the dye and dipped the ends in an iron mordant with the hopes of getting a deeper brown (or at least seeing some kind of color change). Simple, but successful.

Eager to continue, we thrifted some white cotton sheets and prepared them for the dye by washing them in hot water with a small amount of detergent and some washing soda. We folded them and wrapped them around sticks, sandwiched them in between cut pieces of wood, wrapped them with string, and let them float around unencumbered. 

Next was a dandelion dye. The initial results were unimpressive—we didn't use a mordant, didn't scour the fabric, and didn't use quite enough dyestuff. Not wanting to waste a whole pot of dye, we added some homemade iron mordant (rusty nails in diluted vinegar water) and proceeded to test some more fabric, this time wrapping the material into bundles with oak leaves, dandelions, mint leaves, and black walnut leaves. The results were exciting!

As these experiments become more purposeful, and the results more visually interesting, we are starting to develop the material for a large scale fabric installation for our upcoming show, Night Walk, at Lawndale Art Center in Houston. These naturally dyed fabric pieces will serve as panels in a wall-spanning patchwork curtain, overlaid with ink drawings and embroidery. More on that to come...

 

OK, now here's a question for all you artists out there working with natural dyes: 

So far we have tested pecan, dandelion, and black walnuts for making our natural dye. Do you know of any other forage-able or easily accessible substantive dyes that we should try using? We are focusing on materials and techniques that are very low-tech and don't require the use of too much water or any hazardous materials. Any suggestions? Leave them in the comment section below! And thank you!

Exploration

Roads and Residencies: one week in

Outside of Dallas, TX

We've driven over 1,000 miles this past week, from Houston to Dallas to Kansas City to a small town—a hometown—in the middle of Kansas.

We've followed hunches and strayed from the course. While doing so: we've visited with friends; shared kefir grains; listened to Johnny Cash and Hank Williams; passed through ghost towns; bisected the Tar Creek Superfund site; took in the evening scent of mimosa blossoms while touring warehouse districts in Kansas City; climbed ancient chalk monuments; wandered around thrift stores and antique malls; ambled under a blue moon; dropped in to Tim Brown's studio; pontificated on how food, environment, and community are so tightly entwined; and wondered aloud on how imagination and visual expression fit in.

The most toxic area in the U.S.

Inspecting some roadside sumac

Monument Rocks, middle of nowhere Kansas

Brownell, KS

Picnic at Mushroom Rock State Park

Monument Rocks

In the studio:

-we collected 100 black walnut husks with the intention of making a dye and/or ink 
-we started our first pecan dye experiment (updates to follow)
-we began making drawings for the next installment of the BOOTH zine
-we resumed our nightly walks
-we started reviewing source material for a new project, which we will begin constructing upon our arrival at Art Farm

Another mushroom rock

Barn quilt in Abilene, KS

Soft limestone is ideal for carving, apparently

Outside of Dallas, TX

Tree growing in a building in Brownell, KS

Collecting black walnut husks

World's Largest Czech Egg in Wilson, KS

From Here To There To Somewhere

One last look through our rear view as we pull out of the drive, leaving the apartment and studio we've called home for the last two years, bidding farewell to Houston and—soon—to Texas. Everything is in boxes and The Center is now learning how to function while mobile.

We're focusing our collective eyes on the excitement and possibility of our future. Over the coming months, we'll be traveling through the midwest and east coast. Much of that time will be spent delving deeply into both on-going and newly-formed research projects; the rest will be spent visiting friends and family, exploring new geographies, and searching for the next place we'll call home.

So here we go.

Studio, Exploration

Natives, Invasives, & Edibles

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Did you know that the wonderfully fragrant (and bee-loving) Japanese honeysuckle is—in Houston, at least—an aggressive vine that can fatally blanket out its defenseless neighbors? Or that many common weeds are not only edible, but also tasty and highly nutritious? Or that the otherworldly and alien looking passionflower is a Texas native?

The motivation for our most recent poster series of local flora was to become more familiar with the plants that we see everyday on walks through our neighborhood or on the bike ride to work—plant life growing in manicured yards, roadside medians, sidewalk cracks, and vacant lots. What can we learn from these plants? What knowledge can they share with us about our environment? 

To encounter these plants is to also encounter the language surrounding their classification and group identification. We have become particularly curious about those deemed invasive plant species, which exhibit the ability to thrive outside of their historical ecosystems, hindering the growth of native plants and producing newly-emerging ecosystems. Likewise, plants growing in the wrong places become weeds, just as earth in the wrong place becomes dirt—something to sweep away or get rid of. 

Drawing is a slow, investigative process. As we study each plant, we must re-situate ourselves to its level and devise methods to translate its physical qualities into marks. In this act our attention drifts to the soil, sunlight, and air; to the visible interactions with neighboring plants; and to the subtle minutiae expressed by the plant itself.

We plan to continue this poster series throughout our late-summer and early-autumnal travels. It is a way to map our movements and learn more about what our plant allies offer and teach, if we take the time to quietly observe and listen.

 

These posters are available in our webshop in either cream or canary.