Greek Oregano – Not Your Bulk Barn Stuff

While in Greece, I discovered the ubiquitous olive oils and oregano to be far superior to what I have had in Canada. The difference is actually astounding. Olive oil we’ll leave for another post, but for now, let me tell you about the oregano: It’s just…. amazing!

It’s believed that oregano was first used by the ancient Greeks and they thought highly of its medicinal properties. The word oregano can be translated as “brightness of the mountains” or perhaps “radiance of the mountains.” Some suggest a translation of “joy of the mountains” but my native Greek speaking friend says that it is more closely related to light than joy. But a light that we probably don’t have a direct translation to, in English. A fullness of light, perhaps. Divine light.

Indeed, true Greek oregano is divine, compared to what we have in North America. I’ve read in several places that what we get is related to oregano but it is actually a marjoram. In Greece, oregano is used on almost everything – both cooked foods and uncooked like salads. One of the favourite things for me was breaking apart big chunks of feta cheese that had olive oil drizzled over it and generous amounts of oregano sprinkled on top. Mmmm. So good!

When you open a package of Greek oregano and smell it, the scent is strong and bold. It hits the nose and lingers there, just as the taste does on your tongue. In addition, it is not as bitter tasting as the oregano that is commonly available here.

I brought back oregano for personal use from Greece – quite a bit of it actually, but have ended up giving samples to others. Every person so far that has tried has exclaimed almost immediately, “Ian, this amazing!” The reaction from others has motivated the creation a new business – a partnership called “KirIan.”

When you taste true genuine Greek oregano, you realize you are tasting something quite different than what we purchase here. I purchased some from Bulk Barn – just to compare, and really, there is no comparison. I’m not even sure that what Bulk Barn sells as “oregano” is even common marjoram. There is very little scent, and the taste is bland, almost nothing really, until a bitterness sets in on the tongue. If you take a small amount of Greek oregano and chew it, the taste lingers a good long time, and the essential oils can even leave a bit of “heat” – not in hot spicy way, but in a way you know you’ve just chewed on some really really good oregano!

Many people claim that food in Greece tastes different. Better. Even when trying to replicate a dish using the very same recipe tastes different and not as good here as it does in Greece. My theory is that a big reason for this is both the oregano and quality of olive oil that is available in Greece.

Speaking of recipes, if you click here, you can download some traditional Greek recipes created by my partner! You’ll enjoy them – and will be even better with real Greek oregano!

New Hobby – Cheese Making

draining whey from cheese curds

Initial Draining Of Whey From Cheese Curds

So, I have a new hobby. Cheese making. Actually, I’ve been making cheese for a long time, but didn’t really know it. I like to make my own yogurt, and often will drain off much of the whey from some of it to make a thicker “Greek Style” yogurt, from which I’ll make Tzatziki Sauce. I do this using two basket style coffee strainers inside a sieve and let the whey drain off into a large measuring cup.

But sometimes in the past, I’ve wrapped up that thicker yogurt in cheese cloth and hung it from a nail over my sink to let it drain further for a couple of days. I didn’t realize it, but what I was doing was making a yogurt style of cream cheese. It’s delicious on toast and crackers – or with some dried herbs such as Sumac added. Or even some garlic.

About two years ago, I had heard of people making cheese in their homes and selling it at farmer’s markets. That made me curious, as I love cheese – all kinds but especially feta and various cheddars. It piqued my interest enough to do some research, and I ended up purchasing a feta cheesemaking kit – with the supplies necessary to make feta about 8 times, each from 4 litres (approximately a gallon) of milk.

My first attempt did not go so well; I was not prepared for all the time I would need to spend, nor how difficult it would be to figure out how to get milk to a temperature of precisely 90F and then keep it there for a couple of hours or more. But the cheese turned out okay, and I wanted to try again, now that I had a handle on the process. I checked out some cheese making forums and learned some ways to heat the milk that I would be able to attain and then maintain the correct temperature and a few other tips.

Since then, I’ve made too many batches of feta cheese to count, and presently have two pounds aging in brine in my fridge, that I made a year ago.

How Much Cheese Can You Make From A Gallon Of Milk?

I was pretty surprised when I made my first batch of cheese with a gallon or 4 litres of milk. It’s amazing really – out of all that volume of milk, you only end up with about a pound (just under half a kilogram) of cheese. The rest of the milk becomes whey – which is usable for many things including preserving and aging feta.

When you realize how little cheese you get from a gallon of milk, it makes it much more understandable to see good quality cheese that is so expensive.

Is Cheese Making Easy?

“Easy” is a relative term. Making soft cheeses such as the yogurt cream cheese is very easy and does not require anything much more than good quality cheese cloth or muslin. And a place to hang it. If you want the cheese to last a bit longer in the fridge, it’s a good idea to also salt it. Salt is a preserving agent and combats bad bacteria, while allowing “good” bacteria to live.

I have not yet tried a cheddar or a hard cheese that would require a press, and that type would be more difficult than soft cheeses, but now that I have a press, I do plan on giving cheddar a try, and then also move onto to hard cheeses (cheddar is actually not considered a hard cheese, but still requires some pressing).

The Basics Of Cheesemaking

I might explore some further details for different types of cheeses, but basically, cheese is made with some type of bacterial culture. Traditionally, the culture would be from whatever was natural in the cow’s milk, generally speaking.

Soft cheeses and yogurt are made with bacterial cultures that are referred to as “mesophilic” while hard cheeses are made from those referred to as “thermophilic.” The first type are cultures that thrive in conditions under 100F – probably in a range of 80 to 100. Thermophilic cultures are those that thrive above 100F.

For my feta cheese, I have been using a culture known as “Probat 222.” For 4 to 6 litres of milk, you only require about 1/8 of a teaspoon to inoculate the milk.

Generally speaking, cheese also requires rennet – sometimes called “yeast” in some European countries. Rennet is available both in liquid and tablet form, and can be made from animal sources or vegetable sources. Traditionally, it has been animal sources.

After the bacterial culture is allowed to propagate and ripen the milk for a period of time, rennet is added to the milk which then causes the curd to form, and they whey to separate. After the curd has firmed up, it is then slowly cut with a knife, which allows even more whey to be expelled. Then, the curd and whey continues to be heated, sometimes at a slightly higher temperature while being gently stirred for 20 minutes or more. This is sometimes called the “cooking” stage.

Most of the curd will eventually fall to the bottom, and the whey is then skimmed off and reserved if it is to be used for other things. The curd is then placed into cheese cloth, allowed to drain a bit longer, and then placed into a mould.

For feta cheese, the “modern” way of making it is to then place the curd, wrapped in cheese cloth into a mould, where the curds continue to drain for around 24 hours or longer. The curds will also “knit together.” Then, it is cut into smaller pieces, each rolled around in course salt such as kosher or pickling salt (you can get cheese making salt but I don’t think it’s really required) and allowed to drain another couple of days while sitting on a screen in an enclosed container.

After a few days, you can make a brine with water or use the reserved whey and make a whey brine. The recommended concentration of salt is about 10%. The chunks of feta cheese can be aged and preserved in the brine in a cool place – a fridge is best, of course.

Traditional Feta Cheese Making

Most people may know that feta originate in Greece. I happened to have a most awesome friend in Greece, who’s grandmother made feta cheese in the traditional way. It was interesting to learn that she did not add any bacterial culture, but relied on the bacteria that was already present in the unpasteurized milk, straight from the cow. At cheesemaking time, rennet was added and then the milk was allowed to sit for two or more hours.

In the instructions I received, the cheesemaker should wait only about 45 minutes after adding the rennet before cutting the curd, so I was surprised to hear that they would wait two hours or more. I’m going to try that sometime to see what happens and what the difference might be.

Then, after the curd is cut, it is put inside cheese cloth and allowed to fully drain in that, without being put in any kind of mould. Once it’s been drained of whey, it is cut into chunks and then added to a bowl that contains salt, and left there for several days. After this, it’s added to salt brine in tins.

There are probably a lot of ways to make cheese and while some methods may give better or more desirable results, it’s fun to experiment and learn how others do things!

Obtaining Cheese Making Supplies

In Canada, there are not many online retailers of cheese making supplies. I found one out in British Columbia where I first purchased the feta making kit – and was pretty excited. However, subsequent orders and follow-up with them have not been satisfactory, so I’m unable to recommend that company. They seem like very nice people – I have talked to the owner twice – but unfortunately, they got one of my orders wrong, promised to rectify it, but never did. They also did not reply to follow-up emails or voice mails left at their telephone number.

I’m going to try some other suppliers and will see who I might be able to recommend. HOpefully, soon, as I’ve managed to acquire a Dutch Cheese press and am itching to try out some other cheeses as soon as possible!

The Rot Isn’t In The McDonald’s…It’s In The Education

mcdonaldsYesterday, I noticed that many of my friends and associates on Facebook where sharing some post by the owner of a Chiropractic clinic in Alaska, a Jennifer Lovdahl. Ms Jennifer Lovdahl is listed as a doctor on their chiropractic clinic website – and apparently graduated from the Palmer College of Chiropractic in Iowa.

The post by Dr. Lovdahl that so many of my Facebook associates were sharing contained a photo of a meal apparently purchased six years ago from McDonald’s, containing Chicken McNuggets and french fries. Dr. Lovdahl wrote in her post:

“It’s been 6 years since I bought this “Happy Meal” at McDonald’s. It’s been sitting at our office this whole time and has not rotted, molded, or decomposed at all!!! It smells only of cardboard. We did this experiment to show our patients how unhealthy this “food” is. Especially for our growing children!! There are so many chemicals in this food! Choose real food! Apples, bananas, carrots, celery….those are real fast food.”
~ Source

I am astonished that a so-called “doctor” would publish such tripe. You would think that anyone today that is a graduate of a college that bestows the degree of Doctor, and that college is involved in human sciences, would have at least taught their students some basic chemistry as well as The Scientific Method.

Or perhaps Dr. Lovdahl is aware of The Scientific Method and some basic chemistry, but chooses to promote her own biases using the respect that most people would give a person with the degree of Doctor bestowed upon them. Whatever the case may be, this is where the rot is, and I can tell you why Dr. Lovdahl observed no rot in the McDonald’s food.

Let’s look at Dr. Lovdahl’s original post: “We did this experiment to show our patients how unhealthy this “food” is.”

How does this experiment show any such thing? It doesn’t show that it is “unhealthy” nor does it show, as Dr. Lovdahl claims that “there are so many chemicals in this food.” There likely ARE many chemicals in the food; but not in the way Dr. Lovdahl is trying to suggest. Everything that exists has a chemical makeup. Even apples. There is nothing sinister going on here whatsoever.

Now, if Dr. Lovdahl truly respected science (and apparently, the college she graduated from claims to hold integrity and science as high values), she would have conducted her experiment using multiple meals, as well as control subjects. For example, she might have made up some french fried potatoes at home, reduced their moisture level through freezing or refrigeration, (using only organic potatoes, of course!), deep fried them without the addition of any other chemicals but for a sprinkling of salt, put it in a bag and stuck in a dry cupboard for six years along with her McDonald’s purchased meal.

Now there’s an experiment that’s closer to reality.

Or, if she wants to compare apples, bananas, and carrots, she could have also dehydrated those, deep fried them, stuck them in a cupboard for six years, and checked to see if she found rot.

I suggest you try it at home before you go believing Dr. Lovdahl. Here’s some facts for you:

Food preservation can be done by reducing moisture and adding salt. Anything deep fried would have a lot of water moisture driven out of it, and replaced by oil. Now, the oil could go rancid if left for six years, open to the air, but you would not see this. But you would probably have food that appeared to have withstood the element of time, and showed little or no rot.

This experiment does not prove that this is not “healthy food,” nor does it prove that lots of chemicals were added to the food by McDonald’s. It is shameful that a person with the title “Doctor” would try to persuade you that her experiment was somehow a valid experiment. It’s not. It’s actually.. anti-science.

Food rot depends on a number of different things, including levels of moisture. Foods that have low to no water moisture and that are kept in a dry place, will not rot at the same rate as high moisture foods and in fact, can withstand against rot for a very long time depending on the conditions they are kept in. Does a doctor involved in human health not know this very basic fact?? It does not require the addition of any sinister chemicals to keep food from rotting.

Dr. Lovdahl owes her fans an apology for attempting to show something in a non-scientific manner, but present it to novices in such a way that it may be a valid experiment.

Or perhaps Dr. Lovdahl was never taught the scientific method. In that case, any person who has graduated from the Palmer College of Chiropractic is suspect, and I would not want to be treated by any graduate of theirs.

I have some challenges for Dr. Lovdahl:

Challenge 1:

Purchase the finest organic potatoes you can find. Cut them into “chip” (as called in the UK) or “french fry” shapes. Freeze them.

Heat up the finest healthiest oil in a deep fryer. Take frozen raw french fries and deep fry them until they are cooked. Remove french fries, allow oil to drain, sprinkle with salt, place in a paper bag, put in a cupboard in a dry place.

Come back and tell us what you see.

Challenge 2:

Dr. Lovdahl compares the McDonald’s meal to “real food” such as “apples, bananas and carrots.”

Okay, apples have a higher level of moisture than potatoes; if left out of some preserving condition, they will rot in a short amount of time, definitely less than six years. But here’s what I want you to do: Dehydrate the apples to the same moisture level as potatoes after cutting them into chip shapes. Freeze them. Then take them out of the freezer and deep fry them. Remove from the deep fryer, sprinkle some salt, put in a bag, and leave in a dry place for six years. Tell me what you see. Tell me if you will conclude the apples must have had chemicals added to them.

I doubt Dr. Lovdahl will take up the challenge. But if the good doctor wants to have some semblance of scientific credibility, the good doctor ought to take up the challenge, along with having some control subjects, as a proper scientific experiment would have.

I am sure Dr. Lovdahl means well, but pushing pseudo-science onto people, and pushing it in such a way that it apparently proves or shows something, is utterly irresponsible. I would hope that any regulatory agency or the good doctor’s school that apparently values integrity will have a little chat with the doctor about scientific integrity, and making false claims while using the title of Doctor, as apparently happened at the Chiropractic clinic.

The rot is not in the McDonald’s food; the rot is in the critical thinking skills that seem to be no longer taught these days.

I actually do quite of food preservation with my son – including dehydrating, fermentation, and canning – perhaps Dr. Lovdahl might be interested in learning more, and about food chemistry.

A Natural Cure For Cancer?

It was pretty exciting to come across a fairly recent article discussing some research that is going on into a cure for some cancers. There is likely not a single person who has not been affected by cancer in some way; either having suffered it or watching a loved one endure the pain and wasting away from this brutal disease.

Of course, billions is spent every year on both research and treatment for cancer. Some of the treatments, according to some, seem almost worse than the disease itself. So imagine researchers surprise when they discovered that a common weed may hold the answer to solving this scourge of a disease. Yes, a common weed that has often been classified as “noxious” and that most of us try to get rid of when it appears growing in our lawns!

Apparently, Health Canada has given permission for human trials because of the other preliminary evidence that exists that an extract from this weed can actually cause cancer cells to “commit suicide.”

Interested? Is it possible that a natural remedy that is cheap and in abundance might provide legitimate hope for cancer sufferers?

Well.. take a look for yourself. Dandelion Root – Cure For Cancer?


Fermenting With David

scoby kombucha

Our SCOBY arrived in the mail today.

David is pretty awesome – and we enjoy a wide range of activities. It’s wonderful that his interests are so varied – he does enjoy his computer games like Minecraft (he even has his own server), loves building with Lego, and will read for hours and hours at a time.

But he also really enjoys baking bread with me, and recently we discovered the art of “food fermentation.” Earlier today, thanks to the kindness of a stranger, a “SCOBY” – the “mother” of Kombucha, arrived in the mail. I’ve never had kombucha, but have heard of it’s health benefits (although most are not scientifically proven although the idea of adding more probiotics to our diet is appealing) as well as apparently the ability to create flavoured carbonated beverages with it.

So it was fun to prepare the tea mixture that the scoby went into and David was right there by my side, helping with it all. He gets a kick out of our food “experiments.”

This evening, we’re going to try fermenting garlic cloves in honey. I came across this in a Facebook group that I recently discovered and people there are raving about this, both it’s flavour when it’s completed, as well as claims about how it cures a cough almost immediately and keeps the cold and flu bugs away. Regardless, David and I both love garlic – cooked with most of our dishes, home made garlic bread, and we’ve even done fermented garlic like this.

David especially loves the fermented garlic which had added oregano in the salt brine. The scent of it fermenting is also enjoyable to us, but quite possibly not to everyone! 🙂

So now I’m looking for ideas for how to flavour kombucha. If you’re reading this and have make this beverage, would love to know what you do with it!

On the weekend, we have plans to do quite a bit of bread baking, with a number of loaves going into the freezer for later.