Friday, April 13, 2012

Down Home, Life as Usual

First, a Public Service Announcement, brought to you by the Survivors of Melissa's Mom Brigade:

Five months ago today, my mother lost a war with mental illness and with herself, and died. This was her choice. She left behind one daughter, two wonderful grandchildren, and a great-granddaughter, none of who's lives will ever be the same as a result of her actions and choices. If you or someone you love suffers from depression or any form of mental illness, please get help. Know that the choices you make will have profound impact on the people in your life. You can choose to help yourself, or you can choose to hurt yourself. I pray that you will make the right choice.

Now that we've got that out of the way - I have been a busy girl. This whole selling of a house thing is kind of stressful, but I am enjoying it. We have a few "very interested" parties, some of whom have homes to sell. And so, we all wait!

In the meantime, I get back to life. I designed two items for someone's book, but can't show them to you just yet. Well. Maybe a sneak peek:

Item One:

Item Two:
I know you will never guess what they are from these images, will you?

I've also been more homey lately, which I find excellent for recovering from the drama that invaded my life over the last few years. I started making lacto-fermented vegetables. This is much less odd than it sounds. Before there was vinegar, there was lacto-fermentation. Vegetables were allowed to ferment naturally, which created an acid brine. These vegetables contain lots and lots of the things that are good for your tummy - think Jaime Lee Curtis' whole Activia thing, only you can eat something other than yogurt to get what your body needs. 

I've also been fermenting, curdling, inoculating and in all manner of ways playing with milk. Raw cow's milk, to be precise. I've made yogurt before - you may recall - and I've done that a few times since. But I wanted to know more. I wanted to do more. So I went on a bit of a spree. So far I've made creme fraiche, neufchatel, buttermilk, something I called American mozzerella, something that I called paneer (both of those were really tragic cottage cheese failures), yogurt... I think that's it. Oh, butter! Of course butter!

The cottage cheese thing really bugged me. Two failures. I don't fail particularly well, but I do persevere. I felt like my directions were flawed, even though they came from a very reputable source. I did some digging, and determined that the directions I was using really were not to make the kind of cottage cheese I wanted. They were to make what's called a "dry curd" cheese. A little more Googling, a little reading of Carla Emery's Encyclopedia of Country Living (mine is older than that one!), and I hit on just the right method. Carla Emery stresses that cottage cheese is more art than science. You can follow all the rules (as I had!) and still fail. There is, it turns out, a bit of instinct involved in this whole cheesy thing.

Fortified with this new knowledge, I forged ahead. Again.

First I inoculated my room-temperature raw milk with cultured buttermilk, to make it more acid. Some people use vinegar or lemon juice to curdle the milk. I prefer the flavor of fermented milk, so I went with my cultured buttermilk instead. Then I added some vegetable rennet. I prefer vegetable rennet because non-vegetable rennet comes from a calves stomach lining. Since I don't have a calf, and can't make my own rennet, that means the rennet I had been using before I found the vegetable kind came from a commercially reared calf. Not ok for my ethics. So vegetable it is.

After about six hours, I had a beautiful curd in the pan. Unfortunately I did not get a picture of it, but it broke perfectly over my finger. I've put in links there to other people's websites so that you can see what breaking curd should look like.

After the curd was formed, I cut the curd into pieces of about an inch. Then I let it rest for a bit. Next I stirred it up to help it to release more whey. I put it on the burner of my range at a very low temperature, and VERY slowly, about 2 degrees every 5 minutes, raised the temperature, stirring all the while.

Well, mostly stirring. Sometimes I stopped to take pictures, or yell at Yoshi (more on that in a minute), or scratch my head, or just sigh and sip coffee and behave in a manner that expressed boredom.

I stirred and heated, heated and stirred until the curd began to dry out. You know your curd is drying when it begins to feel firm if you snatch out a piece and squeeze it between your fingers. Or taste it. I may have done both. Once the curd reached a consistency that I liked - and this was at a MUCH lower temperature than was suggested by any of the recipes I have on hand - I drained the whey from the curd through cheesecloth in my colander. I rinsed the dried curd in cold water, in part to remove any residual whey and in part to reduce the temperature of the curd quickly to avoid them becoming too dry.

They looked like this:
It looks kind of like cottage cheese, right? I was so impressed with myself by this point. But the cottage cheese is not quite done. It needs to be salted, and have a bit of cream added to give it some moisture. Cheese curds on their own are quite dry, and need a little help.

I had used all the cream to make creme fraiche, so I added creme fraiche instead of cream, along with some kosher salt.
I gently folded and stirred...

and after a while I had:

And then I had to make anyone around taste it, to make sure it really was cottage cheese. Meg refused, as she does not like cottage cheese, but Jeroth and Gene both tried it and said "Hey. That tastes like cottage cheese!" They sounded almost as surprised as I was.

Why was I yelling at Yoshi yesterday? Well, yesterday a box of 25 baby meat birds arrived at our house.
Yoshi and Boo were very interested to see them. Boo likes to just wag and look and sniff. Yoshi has other plans. He wants to EAT ALL THE BABY MEAT RIGHT NOW. I put he and Boo back in the house so I could do a quick head count...
Yup, 26 babies, Freedom Rangers from Freedom Ranger Hatchery in Pennsylvania! Aren't they cute? Don't get too attached... they are only here for 8-10 weeks, and will only be this cute for about 7 days of that time!
I wasn't expecting these babies until the next day (today), which meant I was completely unprepared for their arrival. Gene had moved the stock tanks I rear them in up into the attic of the barn, and I can't get up there because I am ... well ... a pygmy. I needed to wait for him to come and help, and he didn't get home for another two hours. I used that time to finish the cottage cheese. And keep Yoshi from destroying the front door in an attempt to get to the baby meat in the mud room. He did a lot of "down-stay". He would have only had to do it once if he hadn't kept popping up. He got really annoyed with me.
I can hear his little voice in my head. "You know what, mom? That's just fine. You go ahead and make me lie down here. We all know that as I lie here, those baby meats are RIGHT THERE, TAUNTING ME! I HATE you mom. I am too hurt to even notice you."

Aren't they cute? I love instinct. I love that these guys hatched on April 11th, and were in a shipping box a few hours later, arriving at my post office on the afternoon of the 12th. At 36 hours old they are more active, vigorous, healthy and strong than any chicks I have ever had before, meat or eggs!

Time for me to get back to it, whatever it is. On today's agenda: rip out raised garden beds, sign an offer on a new house, take Boo to the vet, and find some packing boxes. Soon, I can feel it, we'll be moving on!