December 9, 2013
By Audrey Luk
My husband, Chris, has an unusual vice: buying refrigerators. “You’re so patient with me,” he says as he slices open another big box. The zip-zip-BRAP sound of cardboard flaps separating is one I’ve come to associate with the rearrangement of our living quarters.
Perhaps it would be normal to have four refrigerators in a sprawling farmhouse where we hunted game and thus needed room for elk and pheasants, in addition to my Cantonese must haves: dried, salted turnip for steamed fish and soup, five-spice tofu, gai lan and trumpet mushrooms for my favorite post-yoga stir-fry, and fermented black beans for the perfect addition of umami to anything.
In reality, we live in a two-bedroom apartment. We have one regular refrigerator for food, a kegerator for homebrew, a chest refrigerator for cheese and a future fermentation chamber. These are their stories.
The mothership of sustenance
We love to cook so much that we have a weekly eating schedule and different meals are planned every night: Monday’s dinner, if not finished by Tuesday’s lunch, often ends up in the freezer. Thus we have lots of odds and ends in the freezer that we should have probably labeled earlier but we ran out of masking tape some time in the spring.
Chris came up with the ingenious idea of this list on our freezer, the 2.0-version of which will be on a white board so we don’t have to keep handwriting the list.
It makes me happy and hungry to peruse our fridge’s nooks and crannies. This has led Chris to suggest creating a handwritten list of what’s in the bottom half as well, but I assured him that with these photographic records of our fridge, I won’t spend quite as much time wasting electricity by staring at what’s inside.
In the rainbow bag is a live Dungeness crab and a few pounds of mussels that we just picked up from Tokyo Fish Market. The crispers hold a haul from the Berkeley Farmers’ Market: Tokyo turnips, puntarelle, spinach and a whole green cabbage.
Our collection of Japanese, American and French versions of our favorite condiment. This reminds me that we must put Wenger mustard on our grocery list.
The eggplants are flanked by some leftover Chinon, a region of the Loire chiefly known for Cabernet Franc, and a brand-new bottle of Red Boat Extra Virgin Fish Sauce. Hiding in the back are jars of Chris’ favorite hot sauce (a recipe I make from Naomi Duguid’s excellent Burma: Rivers of Flavor), homemade bread and butter pickles and our first attempt at curing olives with Meyer lemon slices.
Preserved Chinese goods live here, along with cured meats:
The Beijing yogurt is a new discovery that we picked up from New May Wah; I’m excited to try it and be transported back to my study abroad days. On the same shelf are remnants of meals past: tamarind chutney, Espagnole sauce and green curry paste.
Lately I’ve been coming home from work and immediately raiding this box:
As we just had our long-overdue housewarming party, our cheese supply is flush with a variety of soft, stinky, Alpine and blue cheeses. I don’t have an outright favorite style but the cheese capturing my heart at the moment is Everton, an Alpine-style cheese made in southeastern Indiana.
A magical moment — unwrapping this two-tapped marvel a few years ago and hooking up a mini-keg filled with homebrew oatmeal stout.
Stout is one of my favorite styles of beer; Chris sure knew how to sell me on the first of our +1′s. Currently on tap is a Belgian Amber Ale and a foreign export stout similar in genesis to IPA in that both were designed to survive longer journeys.
So I married a curd nerd
Guess where Chris works? Having this volume of fresh and aged dairy in the home necessitates a separate fridge as curd-y scents multiply quickly.
A friend told us about the kimchi fridge, which has been reported on by Super Faminto aka Bryan Sanders. Who knows, that might be our #5. In fact, below all this dairy is my first batch of watermelon daikon dongchimi.
I love water kimchi and the look of watermelon daikon so I decided to give it a whirl.
Hacking our way to Hefeweizen
We’re just one Johnson A419 away from making our dream of homemade wheat beer come true. Well that and sawing off the remainder of the door compartments so a carboy fits, but then we’ll be ready.
Like most traditions originating in Germany, making a Hefeweizen beer (literally “wheat yeast”) requires precision control and a tedious attention to detail to come out perfectly. While most American and Belgian styles of beer can be fermented at room temperature and still more or less achieve the desired outcome, German beer requires colder temperatures often beyond the reach of the casual homebrewer. When one becomes obsessed… umm… more serious about homebrewing, an alternative to renting an icy cave in Bavaria is to hook up an external temperature controller (the industry standard being the Johnson A419) to a refrigerator in order to “hack” the cooling unit and hit the perfect 52 degrees Fahrenheit needed to produce a delicious wheat beer worthy of an Oktoberfest prost!
It can be hard to leave home when we pretty much have everything to keep us amused within our four walls. But one thing I’ve scarcely mentioned above is wine — my particular area of blogging focus – which is one thing that we don’t make and probably won’t for the foreseeable future as I’d rather leave the magic to the experts (for now, at least).
I look forward to sharing my adventures in food and beverage pairing with Umami Mart’s readers and if you have a particular dish you’d like me to try to pair a wine with, leave it in the comments below with a recipe if you have one!
*Raised on beef oatmeal and the logic of using chopsticks instead of a whisk, Audrey’s earliest exposures to eating and cooking extend to the present where she finds joy in discovering novel food and beverage pairings. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her home-brewing turophile husband and their collection of kitchen gadgets, bicycles and wine maps.