Monthly Archives: December 2009

Happy New Year!

It is a blue moon tonight, New Year’s Eve! I hope that you stay warm and cozy this evening and that you are able to catch a glimpse of the moon, fireworks, Times Square ball drop, or whatever lights in the sky suit your fancy.

A Facebook friend updated her status today to thank this past year for hard knocks and good times, both of which have felt abundant to me in 2009. Those simple words rang very true.  So good-bye 2009, with your pitfalls and pleasures, and good-bye first decade of me playing grown-up in this crazy world. Thanks, 2000’s, for teaching me so much about life and for sending me into the next decade armed with skills, dreams, excitement, and the support of some ridiculously terrific people.

May the coming year and the coming decade bring peace, good food, love, and many exciting craftables our way, and may the hard knocks grow fewer and farther between. Happy New Year!

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My Very Best Party Trick

Homemade goat cheese! So easy, so impressive to those who have never made their own. 

I started making cheese about a year and a half ago, soft cheeses only (as mentioned in the Resolutions post, I am not equipped for hard cheeses yet), and I loved it. There was an immense satisfaction in making even the simplest of simple cheeses, ricotta and mozzarella, a real feeling of accomplishment in making something that had always been a product rather than a recipe, and in the case of mozzarella, something smooth and shiny, a texture I never dreamed I could create in my very own kitchen. 

Making cheese instantly became my very best party trick. And so, in the week leading up to my thirtieth birthday, I trotted off to pick up my raw Amish goat’s milk. I rifled through my freezer in search of the culture I have always used for goat’s cheese and found none. I improvised with the cultures in my freezer, and I pulled off my favorite party trick in time for my birthday party. I hesitate to even reveal how easy this trick is, because it’s such a treasured secret, but I also believe that the world gets a little better with every batch of homemade cheese, so here I go. It can be your party trick, too, but let’s keep this between us. 

Step 1: Procure goat’s milk. Honestly, this is probably the trickiest step. All of the goat’s milk I’ve seen in shops is ultra-pasteurized, which is not good for cheesemaking. Raw milk is awesome, but not legal where I live. If you dig around on the Weston A. Price Foundation web site, it should ultimately point you in the direction of some good milk resources near where you live. Here in New York, for instance, I look to some great Amish farmers in Pennsylvania. I also found this resource online recently, though I have not used it myself. You could probably make something ricotta-like with ultra-pasteurized milk,  or maybe you have regular pasteurized milk available where you live? Check your health food stores and farmer’s markets. See what you come up with. 

Step 2: Warm up your milk and add some culture. I get my cheese cultures from New England Cheesemaking. They sell a chevre starter, but I have never used it. I have used their fromage blanc starter with goat’s milk and had good results many times. As I did not have any fromage blanc starter, I used a very small amount of mesophilic starter and a very small amount of vegetarian rennet, mixing them both with a little bit of cold milk before adding them to my pot of gently heated 72 degree milk. 

Step 3: Wait. The culture will do all of the fermentation, the rennet will help the cheese set up. You don’t have to do anything! I make mine at night and check it in the morning. You can generally leave it for anywhere from 12 to 24 hours. Mine looked like this after 12 or so: 

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See? It’s like a block of cheese sitting in whey. Don’t worry if yours is not a perfect disc pulled in from the sides of the pot. As long as you have some solids, you’re good.   

Step 4: Drain your cheese curds. I pour mine into a strainer lined with butter muslin. Butter muslin is like cheese cloth, but a little finer and thus more effective for this type of thing. Cheese cloth would work, too, layered up more.   

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That’s it! Let it drain for a few hours, add some salt if you want, and you’re done. I didn’t snap any pictures of my finished product. Really, I just piled it in a bowl, and people scooped it out onto crackers. You could mold yours in a bowl or other mold, or you could shape it into logs or little balls to roll in herbs or peppercorns or any number of fancy things.  

I was feeling slightly less than fancy (and slightly overambitious where the rest of the menu was concerned), so I did not go the pink peppercorn or herbs de provence route, but, really, it’s tough to beat a pretty bowl made by a good friend piled up with tangy, fresh goat cheese. People seemed to think it was fancy anyway. This perceived fanciness is what makes homemade goat cheese my very best party trick. And now it can be yours, too. Happy cheesemaking!

And the winner is…

I thoroughly enjoyed participating in Giveaway Day for the first time this year. It was great to have so many new visitors, and I liked reading about people’s favorite smells. Thanks, guys, for all of your comments.

It seems that baking bread is extremely popular, along with lavender, cinnamon, new rain, and babies, and it also seems that lots of married ladies love the way their husbands smell, which has got to be a good thing.  

Congratulations to Sarah, winner of the homemade body butter giveaway. Sarah’s favorite smells are grapefruit, lavender, and campfire. I will be in touch to coordinate the making and mailing of her herby-flowery-citrusy body butter.

Thanks again to everyone who stopped by, and good luck on all the Sew, Mama, Sew goodness you may have entered!

Resolutions

Time is whipping by. I am in school now, and finals are suddenly upon me. I have a birthday next Saturday and was planning on cooking all day, grounding myself in the kitchen where my feet feel most rooted, laying out platters on the kitchen island and cocktails, too, filling up friends with food and drink, filling up my heart in so doing. It is the best side of me, I think. What better way to enter a new decade?

But the menu has not yet taken shape, and undone dishes lurk in the kitchen, surely trying to  intimidate me. There is a murky financial situation to deal with. There are the aforementioned finals. There are Christmas presents to make or maybe, in a pinch, purchase. And yet, in between trying to make sense of and find time for these things, I find my mind drifting, daydreaming about more and more projects I would like to take on. Why does this happen, this unstoppable brainstorming when I am most overwhelmed? Actually, let’s not look too deeply into that. I’m guessing it smacks of escapism. Maybe let’s just run with it anyway.

I have a birthday coming, which, for me, means reflection and resolution. Most of that is private jibber jabber, appropriate only in my  journal,  but some of it, the scheming, brainstorming, creative part, is quite relevant to this blog. And so, some resolutions.

In the next week, I will clean, sew, make some cheese, read some recipes, cook some food, mix some drinks, do some homework, start some finals. I will enter my first food contest. I will finish my birthday present for my 2-year-old niece. Not necessarily in that order. These are the commitments I have already made. In the next 2 weeks, I will get through the finals, be in a wedding, find appropriate tokens of affection for my loved ones for the holidays, make what I can make, buy what I can buy, travel and come home, and then I will take a deep breath, stop cramming, look forward.

And so. Looking forward.

In the coming year, I would like to do more crafty things. I would like to have something to show for it (not to keep, you understand, but just to put out into the world). Here are some things I would like to complete in the coming year, not the most pressing, necessarily, but the things that are on my wandering mind this week:

  • bottled bitters all in a row, imagined uses for all of them
  • this crazy deliciousness and other boozy concoctions
  • homemade tonic syrup
  • more shiny jars filled with jam and fruit butter than I managed to fill this year
  • hard cheeses (this one requires equipment that might not come into reach, but let’s keep it on the list while we’re in the scheming stage)
  • kefir, yogurt, various other fermentables
  • a finished quilt: pieced, basted, quilted, bound
  • new pillows to cheer up my slightly haggard sofa
  • the imperial IPA Shawn has wanted to brew for ages
  • the secret-ingredient tripel I dreamed up months ago
  • some dresses, some skirts, some things to wear
  • soap from scratch — lye and fats, the whole shebang
  • combs, clips, fascinators (it makes my mom excessively happy to see me put things on my head — this is really a service I provide, like putting on the Talking Heads when I visit, a little spot of sunshine I can bring)

I have this little book, a gift from a friend, that reminds me to write ideas down.  

The list is sure to expand. The book will fill up bit by bit. Surely I will have time when the crunch of December passes to breathe, to look the list over and see what makes sense at any given time, to get things done. I look forward to the new year,  to some kitchen and craft-room creation (and by craft-room, I think I mean livingroom). These are some ideas that I have. These are thoughts that keep me happy. So bring on the birthday. Bring on the new decade. Bring on finishing school, new career, continued exploring, expanded breath, the time to make things, and the lists to remind me to get things made.

Giveaway Day

It is Giveaway Day on the Sew, Mama, Sew! Blog. Check out the blog for lots of excellent crafty goodness, available for free!

I am looking forward to frittering away a morning (at least) checking out blogs new and old and ogling the amazing things that people are giving away.  Definitely check it out! As for this here blog, I will be giving away a personalized batch of handmade, mostly organic, super smooth body butter made with my favorite nut and vegetable butters as well as jojoba oil and vitamin E. It is very moisturizing and perfect after a cozy winter’s bath.

To win, simply comment on this post and tell me what your three favorite smells are. You can tell me more if you can’t bear to narrow it down to three. I will undoubtedly be unable to replicate your favorite smells, but I’ll use this information to choose the essential oils that go into the body butter, to try and make something that you will like, unique and spectacular individual that you surely are. Feel free to be as specific as you’d like (e.g., laundry that’s been sitting in the sun) or general (smoky, spicy, sweet).

Comments must be received by December 6. Winner will be chosen at random. I will ship to you wherever — international is fine. Just be sure to include your email address when you comment so I can get a hold of you to coordinate the specifics.

Thanks for visiting, good luck with all that crafty bloggers have to offer today, and Happy Giveaway Day!

Fall Bounty in the Sun

I made some sweet potato and squash puree over the weekend, in the afternoon. All too frequently, I think to take pictures of food just before dinnertime, when daylight is long gone and my total lack of lighting equipment is on full display. What a difference a little sunlight makes.

We are still working through the CSA goodies, a full three weeks after deliveries have ended. Still well stocked with cabbage and potatoes and broccoli and squash. Good deal!