Wednesday, December 16, 2009

snow goats

Dear Georgia,

Once again, I am telling you the same news I told Aunt Phil in a letter this morning. It isn't that you aren't inspiring enough, because you are, but I am being lazy/unmotivated/busy/efficient (I am not sure which -- perhaps a mix of all) and just copying what I already wrote.

I love the blue of snowy mornings and evenings. We had our first real snow this morning. It wasn't our first snow fall, but the first that covered the ground. I am quite content with snow that only stays from mid December to New Years Day. I have lived here long enough now to know that isn't where we are headed. Now that it is here, I think we can be assured of its presence until early April. Sometimes I wish I could hibernate and miss all the slush and gray slop that will come about Februaryish. But then I would miss mornings like this one that ascend out of night darkness through shades of lightening blue to glorious blinding white.

Snow on the ground will mean problems for the goats. The goats are already a problem for me. I was ready to get rid of them this fall and give up on the whole farm experiment. They are too smart for their own good and have figured out how to get out of their stall and then out of the barn all on their own. That wouldn't be so much of a problem if they would stay back in the pasture or fields, but they wander toward the road. Last week I found them two doors down!

I was helping in Josie's kindergarten class later that morning and told the kids about my 40 minute adventure of trying to catch Snowbell and Pearl. One of the little girls in her class piped up "Hey! I saw some goats in my back yard this morning! I bet they were over here too!" Her house is about 3 miles away in the middle of the village. We all got a good chuckle out of that, but it got me thinking about stories and how it would be fun to have a story about what 2 goats see when they come into my village. So I started on a goats eye view of Seneca Falls. I think I will pick 12 "sights", one for each month of the year. I thought of painting the pictures, but after my first attempts I can see I will have to learn to take photographs. Speaking of which, this fresh snow will make a lovely back drop! I have to hustle out and take December's photos before the light is gone!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Of mice and moms

Dear Georgia,
I am cheating today. This letter was really to Aunt Phil, my grandma's baby sister. When I heard she wasn't feeling well I had another flood of missing Gigi. Aunt Phil has always held a tender spot in my heart. Especially since the summer that I lived with Gigi. She was somewhat of a fairy-godmother in my memory.
I thought that if I sent it off without making a copy I would forget about these few moments that I have recorded. They are common enough to forget. But since I have written them once, they can become a journal post of sorts.

Dear Aunt Phil,
Sam has renamed our cat. Instead of Puff he has taken to calling her Artemis, the goddess of the hunt. She has turned out to be a great mouser.

Maggie found her as a 4 week old kitten in the fields behind our church about a year ago. The kitten wasn't abandoned but Maggie's Sunday School class must have scared off the MamaCat when they caught the kittens. I think it must be the wild cat part of her that makes her such a great hunter. Every morning we have something new torn apart for us as an offering on the front porch. She seems to know that we are happiest when she brings us mice and other rodents because she rarely brings us birds. I guess that doesn't have to means she doesn't go after them, just that she doesn't bring them to us very often. She did find a baby robin that had fallen out of it's nest this past spring. The neighborhood kids were all taking turns "guarding" it, but as soon as they got bored and wandered off... well, how do you console a mama robin? It was a moment of reflection at any rate.

This morning she found her prey inside the house. A family of mice (and we do hope that it is a small family and not an extended colony) has taken up residence somewhere by my children's bedrooms. What does that tell you about the state of their rooms? ICK! We caught one of those wee mousies on Thanksgiving morning hiding behind the toilet that was getting scrubbed. He made quite an uproar as he leaped a whole flight of stairs in an attempt to escape, but we caught him in a canning jar and then took him out side all quaking and alert. We left him in a sheltered spot on the far side of the pond. We gave him a handful of wheat and a scoop of peanut butter for his Thanksgiving dinner.

His brother wasn't so lucky this morning. When we came onto the scene he had been played with enough to either have him beyond confusion or begging for his own death. Puff would toss him in the air, wrestle with him, then let him run away, ready to catch him and play with him again. The poor thing would run right back to her instead of trying to get away. When he finally stopped moving she ripped open his stomach and ate his innards.

My kids are pretty good about cleaning up after their pets, but I don't think I will be able to convince them to do this job.


Sunday, July 5, 2009

Elderflower Saft

Dear Georgia,
Every Christmas we celebrate with two special drinks: Black currant, and Elderflower saft. In the past we have had to buy them from Scandinavian stores or Ikea (when we are in the area). Last summer we found a black currant farm near us and we made our own black currant saft. This year I found some elder trees just as they were blooming and we tried our hand at elderflower saft. What a treat! The only problem was that I didn't bottle all of it fast enough and we started to make some questionable substance. If I can resist the urge to drink it all when you are here next week we will have homemade saft for Advent and Christmas this year. I can't wait!

Here is how we did it.
We picked about 100 heads of elder blossoms in full flower. We took the larger stems off and put the flowers in a heat proof container. In our case we used a crock. To that we added the zest of 6 lemons. Then we peeled off the white pith of the 6 lemons and cut the lemon wedges into chunks and added that to the crock.
Next we boiled 2 gallons of water with 8 POUNDS of sugar. No wonder the stuff tastes so good. We poured the boiling syrup over the flowers and lemons and the most amazingly revolting fragrance bloomed up. We were prepared for this and so we weren't daunted. We covered the crock and tried to wait for the mixture to steep. 3 DAYS!!!! We didn't last. We snitched. We dipped. We licked. We didn't bob or bathe. Then we strained and poured and diluted. And drank and drank and mmmmm drank some more.
There seems to be no way to make enough of this stuff. I will have to plant more elder bushes.
We diluted the syrup 5 to 1 with both still water and soda water and it is good both ways.

summertime birthday parties

We made a few of these for birthday parties a couple of weeks ago. The bag is made out of the leg of a pair of jeans. (The ribbons are to cover the seams that we had to take out to make the pants long enough.) The roll is a roll of crayons. The pattern is found here: skiptomylou. We have loved them and have made many more. The square red thing is a miniature legal pad that we made a cover for.
Lots of fun and very red white and blue.
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Sunday, May 24, 2009

Powdered Milk Mozzarella!

Dear Georgia,
The first thing I ever read about cheese making was how sterile everything needed to be. I have to say that turned me off for a lot of years. I finally decided to give it a whirl, sterile environment or not. Nothing in my house is sterile. Even if I bleach things or sanitize them in the dishwasher, as soon as they come out they are no longer sterile. But neither were the farm kitchens of a hundred years ago, and they managed to make cheese. So as clean as I can get it is good enough. At least for Mozzarella and Ricotta.

Make a gallon of milk using 15 -16 cups of water and 5 ½ cups milk powder
This will (of course)give you a fat free cheese. It doesn't quite melt the same way as full fat water buffalo milk mozzarella. You can add fat to it by adding a pint of cream to the milk or a couple of sticks of melted butter.

Mix 1 ¼ tsp citric acid powder with ½ cup of water. Stir into milk.

Heat milk to 88 degrees

This is rennet. You can find it by the jello in the grocery store
Inside the box are 8 (I think) little foil wrapped tablets.

For this recipe you will need 1/2 a tablet. Break one disk of rennet in half and dissolve it in ¼ cup of water.

Now for the tricky part: let this mixture sit undisturbed for a LONG time. 
Traditional recipes say 1-2 hours, but powdered milk takes longer. At least 5, but I have had great luck with overnight.

This is what the coagulated curd looks like after 6 hours or so.
It is pretty soft and not what you would call a clean break. You can get it to clean break status by letting it sit longer (like overnight). For a great picture of what "clean break" means zip over here: clean break picture and discussion

Incidentally, I have made mozzarella cheese when it has only gotten to the coagulated stage (pictured above) and when I have waited the 18 hours to get it to a clean break. I didn't notice any difference between the finished cheeses. Perhaps it is just something about using powdered milk with no extras.

Oh! and on another side link over here for a discussion about how to use powdered milk to make cheese. This was my jumping off point, but I couldn't find all the extra stuff they needed, so I just started to wing it and it seems to work. At least for mozzarella and ricotta.

I recommend a thorough reading of both of these sites, but in the end, just jump in and try, because it is not as complicated as either one makes it seem.

Cut the curd.
 Again, link to that first web page and there is a great picture of how to do that. Basically, you run a long knife down to the bottom of the pot making inch long strips in one direction, then do it in the perpendicular direction. Then if you want to cut at a 45 degree angle in the pot you can do that too.

Over low heat, stir curds and whey gently.
As the temperature rises to about 100 degrees the curds will start to solidify and separate more from the whey

The curds and whey will start to really separate and the curds will melt and clump together like so.
This will take about an half an hour.

Strain the curds through a few layers of cheese cloth or a clean tea towel.

It looks like this.
You will turn this into ricotta tomorrow. (Oh, yes you will!)

Salt your curds. 1 TBS salt, well mixed in.
I always forget this step and it makes the cheese taste really rather bland.

Now, for making the cheese into balls. It is another 2 handed project so no pictures. But scroll down for a video of how some other guy does it.

Put about 1/3 of the curds into a microwave safe bowl.

 Microwave for about a minute or so (until the cheese melts.) Be careful! It is hot!

Next stretch the cheese into a smooth round ball like a loaf of bread.

Put the finished ball into a bowl of cold water to solidify.

Best step: use your cheese!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Direct Acid Cheese

Dear Georgia,
I should know by now that authors and publishers are normal people and can be nice(after all, half my family seems to be authors, illustrators, or publishers and I think you are pretty nice), but it always seems to surprise me when I bump into it again.
This recipe comes directly from a book called Natural Meals In Minutes by Rita Bingham. When I was preparing for my Relief Society demonstration I emailed her publisher and asked for permission to reprint the recipe in the hand out I was making. And THEY SAID YES! Wow!
As my public thank you to them, let me recommend their book! I do so highly. It is a great book for taking the long term storage off the shelf and using it on a regular basis. You can find it here:

Start with two cups of water

This is usually what I use to measure 2 cups of liquid

You will also need 1 1/2 cups of powdered milk

And 3 tablespoons of lemon juice
I actually just use the juice from 1 lemon so I don't have halves hanging about.

Mix the water and milk powder in a pot
Warm over medium heat.

Have a sweet pair of helping hands squeeze the lemon
Thank you Lily. My hands have been pretty scratched lately from pruning the rose bushes.

Now the tricky part -- there are no pictures because you have to pour and stir at the same time. Only 2 hands here.

Pour the lemon juice around the edges of the pot and stir it into the warm milk.

It will start to curdle and look pretty gross.

A better shot at gross

Now let it rest for a couple of minutes
The curds will start to separate from the whey.

Drain your curds

Now rinse them. First with warm water, and then with cold water to firm them up.

You can mix them with a little yogurt or buttermilk for a cottage-cheese-like mixture. It is actually great as a cottage cheese substitute.
Or you can compress the curds in a strainer with a weight on top (a small plate with a couple of cans on top) to make a fresh semi-soft "farmer's cheese".

Here is a great video of the whole process. She uses white vinegar and homogenized milk, but it is the same process.


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Yogurt Cheese

Yogurt cheese is used in middle eastern dishes, but it can be a great way to extend the use of your powdered milk, and also open up possibilities of meals made with shelf stable foods.    You can stir in herbs or spices to make a tasty dip, or use it as you would use cream cheese.  I find it a bit too tart to use straight (like on a bagel) but that could be because I always use yogurt that has cultured too long.  

You will need a bowl, a strainer, and some cheese cloth

Scoop the yogurt into the cheese cloth

Now just let it sit there and drain for a LONG time

Or, if you are impatient like me, twist the top shut and squeeze
Oh my!  You have to squeeze gently or you will get a big mess!

Now (there is no picture because we all know what cream cheese looks like) open up your cheese cloth and dump (scrape) your cheese out into a bowl.  (Or a plate, or cup, or anything else you want.)

Goody! Goody!  Yogurt Whey!

This is the good stuff! The leftover liquid is full of beneficial bacteria. Use it in smoothies, bread, or as the live cultures in your bokashi.

Friday, May 1, 2009

May Day!

Dear Georgia,
If I lived around the corner from you still, I would bring you one of these today. I have been enjoying the blossoms and the light today - even though there is a computer right off screen, and the counters are a mess, and the window frames aren't painted yet. Even in the midst of real life there is a drop of sunshine and beauty.

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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Powdered Milk Yogurt

Dear Georgia,
Learning a new skill is never pretty. At least not in my case. There are always smears and smudges (blood and bones) left as trail markers on the path of skill development. I prefer to do my learning in the quiet privacy of my home, or a safe group of close friends.
Well, here I am, learning several new skills (blogging, photography, tutorial) and it is in a very public venue -- that is to say if anyone other than you felt like looking at this, they could. I am trying to hide in in a corner of the world wide web and learn quietly, but I promised some Relief Society sisters my slide show and this is how I told them to reach it. Now I have put it off almost a whole week. It really isn't going to get any better than this. (sadly!)
At least I didn't have a learning curve on the yogurt making -- just the blogging about it. I have (in the quiet privacy of my own home) made plenty of mistakes, blunders, fumbles with powdered milk (not least of all drinking the stuff!) but here I am pretty sure that you almost can't go wrong.
(that is to say I won't take credit if you do...)

Why would you want to make your own yogurt? Because it is SO easy that you will wonder why anyone pays for the stuff at the grocery store.

Start with powdered milk.

About pre-measured milk powder

You need to adjust the amount of water.
Add about 1/3 of cup less than recipe calls for.
You are trying to make slightly thicker milk than regular

You need about  a quart of water

Pour it into a large but shallow pot with a heavy bottom

It's a pot not a person so yes I can make personal comments like that.

Next you need to measure the powdered milk

Don't look at this picture too closely, because you really need 1  1/2 cups of milk powder rather than 1  1/3...

Dump that in the pot

Stir it up well

It's okay to have foam.

Heat milk on medium low

I promise there really is a flame there and I did not put my family in danger of gas inhalation.

Heat to 180 degrees

This kills off the bad bugs and leaves all that nice warm milk for the yogurt babies.

Let the milk cool to 90-100 degrees

Please be careful:  I take no responsibility for burns (or other injuries) but I wait about 1/2 hour and then put my wrist on the side of the pot.  If it feels skin temperature than it is good to go.

Add 2-4 TBS of yogurt

The less starter the longer it takes to culture.  (The longer it takes to culture the tarter the flavor.)  Don't overdo the starter though or you will curdle the milk and get lumpy, cheesy yogurt.  Yogurt cheese is my next tutorial.  Hang onto your hats...

A word about your starting culture

Make sure it has active live cultures.  I like to splurge and get the kind of yogurt that my family could never afford to eat a quart of every day but would like to.   Plain is best, but vanilla will work.  In a pinch I have used the top non-fruit-gunky portion of a fruit-(gunky)-on-the-bottom  single serve cup.  After your initial start you can use homemade yogurt as your starter.  I like to buy a quart container and divide it into an ice cube tray and freeze it.  Two cubes is about 4 tablespoons and you don't have to get the milk to such a low temperature because the frozen starter will cool it while it is melting.

Pour inoculated milk into clean canning jars

I know everyone says you have to sterilize everything, but I have 5 children and nothing in my house is sterile.  Don't eat it if it smells funny (as in not like yogurt) and every couple of generations (yogurt generations, not family generations) start with fresh store bought starter.  After the first few times you will know if it is different than it should be.

This is how much I usually get

Not including the inevitable spills...

Now fill a small cooler with very hot tap water

If your hot water heater is set properly it should be somewhere around 120 degrees or so and will work nicely for this.  Please disregard the grungies on the sink.  They are, of course figments of your imagination, or blemishes on your computer screen.

Place lidded jars in hot water

There are many, many other ways to incubate your yogurt babies, but this one works for me every time.  No one sneezes into it, or turns on the oven with out checking, or takes my thermos and puts worms in it this way.  

Let sit undisturbed for 4-6 hours

As mentioned above, the shorter the time it takes to set up, the less tart the yogurt will be.  Other things that affect the tartness of the yogurt are milk fat (um... it is supposed to be nonexistent in powdered milk so expect this to be a bit on the tart side) and sweeteners added (again, none here...)

Set up yogurt

I love it best on homemade granola.  (maybe once a year...)

Next up is yogurt cheese...