• fun times

    I’m finding it hard to focus these days.

    The cold weather — such a glorious reprieve — makes me itchy in my skin. I want to do EVERYTHING. At the SAME TIME. Right NOW.

    But then I end up doing just one small thing, like watering the plants or hosting a writing group, and then I collapse on the couch, tired and out-of-sorts because I can’t decide whether or not to make the peach pie filling for the bakery pies or make another batch of cottage cheese or bake a cake. So I do none of that and instead scroll facebook and check Instagram (on my computer only) and then get pissy at myself for being so undisciplined and pathetic. 

    Pull yourself together, I say to myself, though not in those words, exactly. My get-with-it pep talk is more like a long, drawn-out internal moan: angsty and self-pitying and supremely uninspired.

    Sorry. This is boring.

    About Instagram: I hate it. I’ve recently been introduced to some fabulous cheesemaking instagrammers but I keep getting mad because the platform is so dang impossible to navigate. There’s no way to quick find the recipe/information I want, and then, once I do, there’s no time to dwell on it because the damn slides zip by faster than I can read them and I have to keep pausing and unpausing. And if there’s sound to contend with? Oh good lord!

    To make things worse, IF YOU CAN IMAGINE, everything is video which takes a crazy amount of time to work through, and don’t even get me started on the disappearing stories which only heightens the gotta-click-on-this-before-it’s-gone addiction factor. (Unless the person saves them but I can’t know that at the time if they’ll be saved, gr.) And then there’s the whole “subscribe to be an insider” thing, and I know people gotta make a living but I HATE specials and deals and sign-up-here-now-or-else stuff. Just give me the information or stop talking, please.

    At first I thought me struggling with the Insta was just a result of me being too inflexible and uncool to catch on to the media platform’s wiley ways but then I asked my older son to please enlighten me and he was like, “You’re not doing anything wrong. Instagram sucks.” HA.

    So why do I persist if I hate it so much? Because, in spite of myself, it’s kinda fun (wiley social media sorcerers, indeed!), but mostly because there’s some good stuff out there that’s helping me up my cheesemaking game AND because it’s how certain people/businesses I know and care about communicate and, well, here I am.

    On the couch.

    Fussing.

    But hey! I bought a new cheesemaking book the other day. It holds really still and doesn’t make noise and the pages only turn when I make them.

    I like it.

    P.S. My older son and his friend went to a medieval-themed party. They asked me to take photos. We had fun.

    This same time, years previous: a fantastic week, fried, knife in the eye, the end, gingerbread, damn good blackberry pie, dimply plum cake.

  • yogurt: the water bath method

    Let’s talk yogurt!

    berry preserves, leftover from the diner

    I have been testing, and retesting, my methods, trying and trying and trying to nail down a yogurt making process that a) sets up decently firm even though my milk doesn’t have much cream, b) does not taste too sour, and c) doesn’t leach out whey. 

    This last one was surprisingly tricky. I’d been making my yogurt in the dehydrator, using an ambient thermometer to keep tabs on the temp, and after just 3-4 hours at 110 degrees, as per the instructions (though they said it should take 6-8 hours), my yogurt had set up firm, but with several inches of whey on top. I’d pour off the whey and, while the yogurt tasted fine, having only a partial jar just didn’t seem right. Plus, it looked gross.

    I had the same problem with the yogurt maker.

    So I tried things, like incubating at slightly lower temps, or experimenting with boiling my milk to evaporate off some of the water — maybe less water would equal less whey? — but nope. I still got the same separation. 

    And then sometimes I wouldn’t.

    I never knew how it would turn out, and the inconsistency was making me mad. 

    Oh, also: a friend recommended not stirring the yogurt culture into the milk — just put the starter in the bottom of the jar and then pour in the milk — so I tried that. But my yogurt didn’t set up as well that way: the yogurt in the bottom of the jar was always substantially thicker than the yogurt at the top. (I think this no-whisk method was supposed to eliminate the stringiness that supposedly comes with whisking in the starter, but I’m not sure. So far, I think I’ve been spared the stringy problem, but maybe that’ll come later?)

    So then I started to wonder if the incubation temp was simply too high and too fast. Maybe a lower temp and more relaxed incubation time would yield a more consistent product? Many of my friends make their yogurt by wrapping it in an insulated sleeping bag, or sticking it in the oven with the pilot light on, or putting it in a crockpot or cooler filled with warm water. And lots of them let their yogurt incubate over night. The way I was doing my yogurt, if I let it go overnight, the final product would’ve been pucker-tart.

    Having heard about my quandary, one of my friends sent me a photo of her yogurt. Set solid — in the photo she was holding the jar upside down (just to taunt me, I’m sure) — and with an enviably gorgeous cap of cream, it was just the type of yogurt I was lusting after. She told me her methods — heat to 160-180 degrees, cool to 115, stir in some culture, pour into jars, and then incubate in a cooler with 95 degree water. 

    95 degree water? Hmm…

    So I tried it. I followed her method to a T, thermometers and all.

    After about 7 hours: yogurt without whey!

    Granted, my yogurt didn’t have a cap of cream, and if I’d held it upside down, the yogurt wouldn’ve glugged right out (dang Holstein) (sorry, Daisy — we love you), but it was definitely set all the way through and it tasted deliciously sweet to boot. Woot!

    And THEN, I started experimenting. One of my friends had told me that when her kids were little they weren’t crazy about yogurt so she added a tablespoon of sugar and some vanilla to each quart and they gobbled it right up. And then I wondered about using honey instead of sugar….

    Now, after lots of tests and quite of few gallons of yogurt, I’m consistently making (sometimes, upon request, for local friends) three different kinds of yogurt: plain, honey, and vanilla. The plain is, well, plain. The honey has about a tablespoon of honey per quart — the honey’s floral notes shine through, making me think yogurt might be an excellent way to showcase different varieties of honey — and the vanilla has a little sugar and a bunch of vanilla.

    Last time my writing group met at my house, I served them honey and/or plain yogurt and granola. One of the guys who claims he doesn’t like yogurt — not store-bought, not flavored, not homemade, not in a box, not with a fox — had three (four?) servings of the honey yogurt and then put in an order for a quart next time we meet.

    I understand his enthusiasm. I am not a big yogurt (pudding, jello, custard) person either, but I can not — I repeat, can NOT — get enough of this yogurt. I eat it for breakfast, snacks, dessert, and before bed. The other day when I went writing, I packed some for a late breakfast and, partway through the morning, I slipped out to the car to get my yogurt fix. 

    I love looking in my fridge and seeing all the cute little jars filled with yogurt. But they kind of bug me, too, because I want to eat them all, right now, but I can’t. Or shouldn’t, at least. 

    If we don’t eat through the yogurt fast enough to suit me, I make smoothies for dessert/snack/breakfast: a pint or two of yogurt, fruit, preserves, frozen bananas, coconut cream for sweet, if we need it. Like so, we can eat through boatloads of yogurt and fast

    Still, my favorite way to eat it is with granola.

    This granola, to be exact, and the vanilla yogurt. Berries, too, if I have them. 

    PS. Last night, I was telling our dinner guests about my yogurt making ventures and, lo and behold, one of them, turns out, despises yogurt of any sort. It makes her gag, she says. Something about the acid taste. The thickness, too, maybe. She has to spit it out. So I asked her if she’d like to try mine? Why, yes, she said bravely, she would. And she liked it! It’s not acidic at all, she said, and it’s so gentle and light, almost like cream. Which is funny because there is almost no cream in our milk.

    Yogurt: The Water Bath Method
    Adapted from my friend Kris’s instructions.

    Milk
    Roughly 1-2 tablespoons of plain yogurt per quart of milk

    Heat milk to 180 degrees, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and cool to 115 degrees: to make this go faster, I pour the milk into a bowl and then set the bowl in a tray that I’ve filled with ice and water, changing out and refreshing the water as needed, and giving the milk a stir every 5 minutes or so.

    While the milk is cooling, fill a cooler half full of 95 degree water. The water should come at least three-fourths of the way up the jars and/or, making sure the lids are screwed on tightly, cover them completely. 

    Place the starter culture — the plain yogurt — in a small bowl. If scaling up the quantities, slightly reduce the amount of starter. Label the jars with tape on which you’ve scrawled the date and/or type of yogurt. (Why, yes, I do work in a restaurant!)

    Once the milk has cooled to 115 degrees, whisk about a cup of milk into the starter to thin it and then add it back into the big bowl of warm milk. Give it a good whisk. Pour into the jars, cap tightly, and place in the cooler of tepid water, along with the thermometer. Check the temp every 3 hours or so, adding more hot water as needed. The yogurt should be set in 6-9 hours — to check, unscrew one of the jars and dip in a spoon. If it’s firm — scoopable/semi-sliceable — it’s done. 

    Transfer the jars to the fridge and chill thoroughly before serving. Don’t forget to reserve some plain yogurt to start your next batch.

    Variations
    Honey Yogurt: prior to adding the starter, whisk 1 tablespoon of honey (per quart of milk) into the milk.
    Vanilla Yogurt: prior to adding the starter, whisk 1 tablespoon of white sugar and 2 teaspoons of vanilla (per quart of milk) into the milk.  

    This same time, years previous: hill of the martyrs, in the kitchen, injera and beef wat, a trusty skirt, the quotidian (7.28.14), rest and play, the boy and the bike ride, a quick pop-in.

  • the quotidian (7.26.21)

    Quotidian: daily, usual or customary;
    everyday; ordinary; commonplace


    Running again!


    About my chocolate chip cookies, I am particular: thin, soft, chewy.
    Additional pb candies a bonus.


    That’s a really long time to wait until I find out if it’s any good.


    To eat with zucchini and lots of butter.


    How many eggs is that? Four? Six? I think the diner staff is messing with me. (I ate them all.)


    Bakery baby.


    Snapping the photo right next to him so you can feel how much taller he is than me.


    Emptying the drainer one final time before a week at camp: in his new (size FOURTEEN) boots.


    Sporting a new, black-rings-around-the-eyes look.


    My husband: Parallelolambs!


    Look who’s relocating to Massachusetts! (But even before that, to the front seat.)


    The night kitchen.
    photo credit: my husband

    This same time, years previous: Magpie, happenings, proofing baskets, dance party, we’re back!, the girl and the tea party, classic bran muffins and banana bran muffins, spicy Indian potatoes.

  • peach pie with bourbon and fresh rosemary

    Last week in the bakery, I made peach pies. 

    It took several tries to arrive at one I was happy with. First, I made the one I wrote about here, but the bourbon flavor wasn’t strong enough and it was too sweet. So then I made a new recipe that called for macerating the peaches and then mixing the juice with two cups of dry rosé and reducing it down to almost nothing. Which made a good pie — I loved the delicate pink color — except I couldn’t detect the rosé, and what’s the point of using all that rosé if you can’t taste it?

    And then I tried a bolder method: a whole cup of bourbon cooked down to just a few tablespoons and then infused with fresh rosemary. With this pie, while I didn’t detect the bourbon and rosemary outright, those two ingredients added complexity and depth, turning the ever-insipid peach (sorry, peach lovers) into the flavorful, more peachy, affair I was pining after.

    pre-ordered pie awaiting pickup

    Also! I left the peaches unpeeled, and then carefully arranged them in the pie shell, skin-side up. This way, with the peaches packed in tight, they didn’t cook down into mush and the skins added a lovely peachy color. The skins, I was delighted to discover, did not, in any way, detract from the texture of the pie.  

    Because I baked the test pie on a Friday and it was still too warm to cut into by the end of the day and the bakery and diner were closed that weekend (Redwing!), I was forced — FORCED — to take the whole pie home with me so it could be properly taste tested. 

    And boy oh boy, did we ever taste-test the heck out of that pie. We had it for dessert that night, and then I had it for breakfast the next morning, and then I had it again that afternoon, etc, etc., until, within just twenty-four hours, we’d managed to taste test that pie straight into oblivion. 

    My job is so hard. 

    Peach Pie with Bourbon and Fresh Rosemary
    Adapted from Erin Jeanne McDowell’s recipe in the Poughkeepsie Journal.

    1 recipe (2 disks) rich butter pastry
    4-5 firm, juicy peaches
    1 cup bourbon
    2 sprigs fresh rosemary
    ½ slightly-rounded cup dark brown sugar
    ¼ teaspoon salt
    4 tablespoons butter
    3 tablespoons cornstarch

    Roll out one disk of pastry and place it in a 9-inch pie plate, allowing the excess to hang over the edge of the plate. Roll out the second disk of pastry and cut it into strips: you can either make a lattice directly on the filled pie, or weave it on a piece of parchment and then flip it onto the fruit-filled pie. At the bakery, I make stacks of lattice weave and then store them in the freezer to have on hand for easy pie assembly. 

    Pour the bourbon into a medium-sized saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until it’s reduced to one-fourth cup. Remove from heat and add the rosemary. Steep for a couple minutes — or longer, if you want a stronger rosemary flavor. Remove the rosemary and squeeze/press to get every drop of the rosemary-infused bourbon reduction. Add the brown sugar and return to a boil. Cook for a minute, stirring steadily. Remove from the heat and add the butter and salt. 

    Measure the cornstarch into a small bowl. Add a little of the hot bourbon caramel sauce and whisk until smooth. Add the cornstarch slurry back to the bourbon mixture and, whisking constantly, boil for one minute. Remove from heat. (At this point, the caramel can be refrigerated for a few days — maybe even weeks — until ready to use.). 

    Pit and slice the peaches. Do not peel. Toss with the caramel sauce and then arrange the slices, cut-side down, in tight, concentric circles, tucking in peaches where needed to make a well-filled (but not heaping) pie shell. Pour the remaining caramel sauce over the peaches. Top with the lattice weave and crimp to seal. Brush the lattice and edges with an egg wash (1 egg yolk mixed with a pinch of salt and a bit of heavy cream). 

    Bake the pie in the bottom half of the oven at 400 degrees for about an hour, or until the center is bubbling and the crust is golden brown. If needed, cover the tops and/or edges with foil to protect from burning. Cool to room temp and serve with vanilla ice cream. 

    This same time, years previous: Italian meringue buttercream, lemony cream cheese frosting, all practicality, on his own, the quotidian (7.21.14), how to beat the heat, braised cabbage, salvation’s chocolate chip cookies.

  • farmers cheese

    I’m up to my eyeballs in cheese. I keep trying new things, making mistakes, figuring out little tricks, testing, retesting, reading, researching, and photographing. Problem is, I’m not taking many (any?) notes. So then I try to remember what I did and why I liked it (or not) and my brain about near explodes because IT’S TOO MUCH and I keep wishing I’d posted the recipes that have turned out good but cheesemaking is such a work in process that I’m not sure it’s worth putting anything out there yet because I really don’t know anything and I’m probably doing it all wrong anyway but I guess I have to start somewhere. So! In the spirit of streamlining the chaos that is my brain so that I can better focus, I’m going to begin posting about the methods and recipes that, even though they aren’t perfect or proper or authentic, are, more or less, working.

    First up: farmers cheese.

    From what I’ve read, any cheese from cottage cheese, to soft spreadable cheese, to hoop cheese counts as farmers cheese, but to me, a Lancaster County-born child, farmers cheese is the soft, sweet, mild, slicing cheese that we ate in sandwiches and gobbled up as a snacks. 

    At least that’s what I think we did. My mom will read this and probably be like, Farmers cheese? What’s THAT.

    Actually, this cheese is really paneer, that super-quick cheese everyone loves to eat in their saag. Paneer is made by boiling milk, adding acid, straining, gently pressing, cubing, and then eating, and paneer has no salt. When I first made my paneer like that — saltless — I was like, Um, hello, this would be better with salt. So I made it with salt and it was.

    And then I tried slicing the salty (so not actually) paneer and it tasted like… FARMERS CHEESE: toothsome, sweet and soft, salty, delicious. Of course, this is definitely not the farmers cheese I ate growing up — that stuff for sure had rennet and cultures and who-knows-what-all-else added to it — but the texture and mildness of the salty paneer is, I think, delightfully similar. And yet different! Therefore, I’m calling it farmers cheese.

    Please note: Homemade cheese is (probably) never going to taste the same as store-bought (nor should it, I suppose), so adjust expectations accordingly. This does not mean one should settle for something less, or be thrilled with an inferior product, please no. Just understand that, as home-canned applesauce and grass-fed beef and homemade yogurt are substantially different from their mass-produced, store-bought counterparts, so too it goes with cheese.

    Here is a wheel of farmers cheese in the middle of the pressing process…

    This photo was taken about an hour and a half into pressing, after I’d just pulled it from the press to flip it. Then I put it back in the press at 40 pounds of pressure for another hour or so — the first photo is of the final product. The above cheese was made from two gallons of milk, and the final weight was one pound and six ounces.

    The other day, we had slices of farmers cheese with our tomato sandwiches for lunch, and for supper, I grated some to go on top of my salad. Last night I used a whole bunch on homemade pizzas, along with salty halloumi (more on that later, maybe) and a bit of store-bought mozzarella and no one had any idea I’d used homemade cheeses. In other words, even though paneer, and subsequently this farmers cheese, isn’t supposed to melt, it definitely melded sufficiently well with the other cheeses to not be a distraction. (And I’ve since read that frying it up in some melted butter is a good idea…)

    And if a fresh, quick-cooking, slicing cheese wasn’t exciting enough, get this: it freezes beautifully! I pulled a wheel from the freezer, just to double check, and, sure enough, it was totally fine. (I thought it might be a little dryer, but that could be because I may have just pressed that particular batch longer.) I plan to stock up on a bunch of these cheeses in the freezer. If nothing else, I can always cube them and toss them into stirfries and dahls and pasta salads. I read somewhere that in India, paneer is actually considered a vegetable, and considering our grassfed milk source, I guess paneer is just a fancy word for “vegetable protein.”

    So now, whenever the milk tsunami threatens to overwhelm, I can quick knock out a cheese or two and pop it into the freezer. Knowing I have this super-fast recipe up my sleeve, I feel much less intimidated by the daily influx of milk.  

    Farmers Cheese
    With inspiration from many sources, but most notably Home Cheesemaking by Ricki Carroll.

    Feel free to scale the recipe up or down. Just keep in mind that it takes 2 teaspoons citric acid, and 2-3 teaspoons salt, per gallon of milk.

    No citric acid? No worries! Substitute vinegar or fresh lemon juice, about 4 tablespoons (of either one) per gallon of milk. To rid the cheese of any vinegary/lemony flavor, you may want to briefly rinse the bag of curds, prior to salting and pressing, with some cold water.

    2 gallons milk
    4 teaspoons citric acid dissolved in ¾ cup warm water
    2-4 cups hot water
    4-5 teaspoons non-iodized salt

    Bring the milk to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to low and add the dissolved citric acid. Right away, the curds will start to form. Cook for another 15 seconds or so, stirring gently, until the whey is mostly clear (as opposed to being milky). 

    Turn off the heat, and add the hot water. (This is supposed to make a softer cheese — I have no idea if it works, or how, but I do it anyway, simply because I like the idea of a softer cheese.) Let the whey and curds set for 10 minutes; the curds will settle below the whey. 

    Ladle the curds into a piece of cheesecloth. Sprinkle with salt — make it saltier than you think is healthy; during pressing, the saltiness will dissipate — and, using your fingers, gently stir it in. At this stage, the curds are delicious as is. They make a great afternoon snack with apples and pretzels. Yum, fresh cheese!

    Put the curd-filled cheesecloth into a cheese mold (or rig up some sort of pressing arrangement, like by putting the bag of curd in a colander and placing a bowl of water on top) and press at very low pressure — 5 pounds — for about 2 hours. 

    OR, if you want a smoother, firmer slicing cheese, remove the cheese from the mold after 30 minutes, flip, and press at 20 pounds for another 30 minutes, and then repeat the process, increasing pressure and the amount of time it’s being pressed after each flip. For example, if it was pressed at 20 pounds for 30 minutes, scale up to 30 pounds for an hour and then 40 pounds for 2-3 hours, etc. In other words, mess around until you land on a final product you like.

    The cheese can be eaten immediately, or wrap in plastic and store in fridge (in the fridge, it should last for a couple weeks), or freeze. 

    This same time, years previous: the quotidian (7.20.20), in the kitchen, the quotidian (7.20.15), Saturday nights, statements, in my kitchen (and barn), picklehead, zucchini parmesan frittata.

  • the quotidian (7.19.21)

    Quotidian: daily, usual or customary;
    everyday; ordinary; commonplace


    Costco’s salad topper is also good on oatmeal.


    Summer plate.


    To flour or not to flour?


    Curbside break.


    Granola, the lux version.


    For a salad no one much cared for.


    Homemade sour cream whips up great!


    Inching their way into the kitchen (and my heart).


    Controlled lovies.


    She brought me home a lampshade from my mom.


    Instructions attached.


    Ever hopeful.


    Play reading.


    Bringing in Butterscotch.


    On a summer evening, you can find me here.


    This same time, years previous: backyard wedding, three shining dragon eggs, the delegation, last night, sweet sixteen, the quotidian (7.18.16), apricot pie.

  • currently

    Hello, dear ones. How are you?

    Right now I’m…

    Listening… to a cacophany of birdsong. The trees and shrubs have grown wild, taking up the whole front yard and now, apparently, we have an influx of birds. It’s nice — I like the tropical vibe — but come daybreak, some of those warblers sure do get mighty loud!

    Wondering… if there is such a thing as a powerful, yet QUIET, box fan? The last one we had in the kitchen made me feel like my eardrums were slowly being murdered so, on a whim, I ordered a new one. It’s a smidge quieter, for sure, but it’s still loud. I get so sick of the constant droning whir. I WANT SILENCE.

    Wishing… I could bake. I mean, I could, but it’s just so hot and turning on the oven is like building a bonfire right in the kitchen: stupid. But I really want to experiment with some fresh fruit tarts and we need more sourdough crackers and last night when I ran down cellar to check for bread, there was none (!), so sooner or later I’ll need to just buck up and bake.

    Troubleshooting… cheese, cheese, and more cheese. (Also, yogurt. My cousin just told me that she doesn’t even incubate her yogurt — just sets it out on the counter all day. WHAT?!?!) There are so many different ways to make cheese and I don’t know anything. What I need (I just told a friend who popped in to snitch some flaxseed) is a grandma to teach me everything she knows and then, once I’ve been thoroughly schooled in cheesemaking, I can start venturing out to new methods. Without a solid base, though, there’s just too much information out there for a novice like me to even begin to sift through. Anybody want to teach me? Are skilled home cheesemakers even a thing anymore?

    Celebrating… last night’s rain. I thought we weren’t going to get anything and then it poured — the neighbor said we got a half inch, whoop! — and now I feel so much better about life. Restored, really. 

    Diligently caring… for my bum leg. I went to the physical therapist — my knee pain was making me nervous — and she said all my problems were stemming from my pulled hamstring. Which was a relief, since knee stuff feels kinda like a death sentence (also, super expensive). She worked on breaking up the stuck/frozen fascia and gave me exercises to do and the green light to begin low level running again. I’ll be seeing her periodically over the next month, so I’m trying to take advantage of this supervised healing by pushing myself to do everything right — twice-daily stretches and strengthening as well as walking and running — so that I either a) heal, or b) make things worse which will help her better help me. Or that’s my theory, anyway. Either way, the brief every-other-day cardio has felt fantastic. 

    Snapping… lots of photos of the dogs as they inch their way further and further into the house. A brief storm blew up, dropping the temperature dramatically, so we threw open the door in hopes of cooling the house faster. Cue the doggy belly crawl — they think they’re so sneaky.

    Buying on repeat… watermelon! A couple years ago I vowed to buy a watermelon each time I went to the store BECAUSE WHY NOT and this year I’m doing it again. I try to keep a big tub of chilled cubes in the fridge at all times. Some days, it’s all I want to eat. That, plus cheese and crackers. 

    Speaking of crackers… I just got the starter discard out of the fridge and gave it a feeding. Tomorrow afternoon I’ll bake, hot weather be damned. [whimper, whimper]

    Nearing… very slowly, the end of my book. Mind you, it’s only the first draft, and it’s taken me five (six?) years to get this far, but still. This morning I typed “chapter forty” and it felt like an understated victory — “understated” because the next step involves reworking (dismantling?) the whole thing, but at least I will have gotten it out. Kinda like successfully completing a five-year mental poop. 

    Cooking… the caramel sauce for tomorrow’s preordered peach pies, and supper: pesto tossed with pasta and shavings of salty, homemade cheese, green beans (the last bag!), and sliced sugared tomatoes. For dessert, either slices of the chocolate cake my son made or ice cream cones, we’ll see. 

    xo!

    This same time, years previous: the quotidian (7.15.19), four weeks down, three to go, ouch, zucchini fritters, zucchini pasta salad.

  • yogurt cheese

    About that yogurt cheese I mentioned… 

    A few weeks back, my friend sent me a link for a yogurt cheese recipe. About the easiest cheese you can make — strain yogurt, stir in salt, strain some more and, bam, CHEESE — it holds great for long periods of time and it’s wildly delicious, too. So naturally, I made some right away.

    Turns out, once I tried it, I couldn’t get enough. It was the sort of cheese I craved. The texture reminded me of goat cheese but without the goaty flavor, just a mild, creamy tang. It was super healthy (made from our naturally skim milk, it was low low fat — NOT that I think that’s a good thing!). When we came back from our trip, I dug into a jar of this cheese and it was bliss, the perfect foil to the rich travel food we’d been living on. 

    But before I tell you more about this cheese, some news. Bad first, and then the good.

    Daisy, Butterscotch, Gimli

    Thursday evening when my younger son went out to bring in the calves for the night before we headed out to our small group gathering, he couldn’t find Gimli. My husband went searching and found him in the far corner of the field . . . dead. There was no sign of anything — no bite or gunshot wound or fallen branch or rash. Just, a dead calf. My son said Gimli had been acting fine that morning when he’d let him out.

    It surprised me how sad I was. I eat our chickens and steers just fine, but a dead healthy calf? I guess it bothered me because it wasn’t supposed to happen now. And not like that, not to the little calf whose birth we so excitedly watched.

    I shot off an email to our group, explaining that half of us would be late because a hole needed to be dug, and then I cried a little and packed up the supper things. My daughter and I headed into town then, and some of the guys from our small group came out to help dig. Later that evening, after Gimli was buried and we’d all gathered for supper, we sang our prayer song and then, because our small group is awesome, we toasted Gimli and I felt better. Friends mean the world. 

    And now for the good news: we’re getting cream!

    We’re not sure exactly why. Over the last few weeks, my son has been regularly feeding Daisy alfalfa, and he’s giving her hay, too; the extra roughage is supposed to increase cream production so maybe that’s it? But it might have something to do with the mid-summer grass (fresh green grass is said to produce less creamy milk). And it also might have something to do with Gimli’s death — maybe he was hogging all the cream? Maybe she’s letting down more hind milk now? But I think we’d been noticing the increased cream before Gimli died, so maybe not? Whatever the case, we have cream and, even though it’s not a huge amount, I’m sooo excited!!!

    But about that cheese. Since it holds well long-term, yogurt cheese is a fabulous way to use up, and store, loads of fresh milk. Already, I’ve been making about a gallon of yogurt a week. We use it in in smoothies and eat it for breakfast swirled with fruit jam and topped with granola — my lactose-intolerant husband is tolerating it delightfully well! — and now, every couple weeks, I turn a gallon of the yogurt into cheese. (I’m also selling some of the yogurt to friends — if you’re local and want to give it a try, let me know.)

    my draining set-up


    after the first twelve hours


    stirring in the salt


    back into the cheesecloth


    after the second twelve hours


    mini cheeseballs!

    Once the yogurt is finished draining, it’s thick and stiff, sort of like playdough or a shortbread dough. I roll the cheese into little balls and then in dried herbs or freshly ground black pepper and then place them in a glass jar and cover with olive oil. Last time, I added a couple cloves of garlic, some sprigs of fresh rosemary, and some red pepper flakes to one of the jars, and I’ve bought some dried chives to use in my next cheese.

    The jars can be stored in a root cellar, if you’re fortunate enough to have one, but for those of you who, like me, don’t have a root cellar, a fridge works just fine. The oil solidifies, so prior to serving the cheese, let the jar sit at room temp for a couple hours so it can liquify. (You can scoop out a ball of chilled cheese with a spoon, if you want, but doing so usually chips and breaks the balls. And no one wants Broken Balls.)

    solidified oil

    I like to eat this cheese with scrambled eggs, or with beans and rice, or on salad. When my writing group came, I served it with homemade sourdough crackers and drizzled with honey. 

    And speaking of honey, I love, love, love this cheese for breakfast, spread on a piece of sourdough toast, (sometimes) sprinkled with fresh rosemary, and dripping with honey.

    Black pepper yogurt cheese . . . on toast . . . with honey, oh my.

    You really ought to try it. 

    Yogurt Cheese
    Adapted from The Homesteading Family.

    I’ve yet to try a sweet version, but I’ve heard cinnamon and chopped dried cranberries and/or cherries work well. 

    2 quarts plain yogurt
    2 teaspoons salt, non-iodized (I use Morton’s coarse Kosher salt)

    Line a colander with a cheese cloth and place over a large kettle. Pour the yogurt into the cheesecloth. Gather together the ends and tie closed with a string or a sturdy rubber band. Hang the bag of cheese over a large bowl — you’ll get 6-7 cups of whey — and let drain for 12 hours. 

    Take down the bag and set it on a plate. Open. Transfer the ball of cheese to a bowl and add the salt. Using a fork or spoon, stir it in well. Put the cheese back in the cloth — use the same one; it has good bacteria — and rehang for another 12 hours, this time with a smaller bowl under the bag. (You can hang for longer, up to 24 hours each time, if you want, but I stick with the shorter times.) Discard the whey, or save it to add to smoothies or homemade bread or soup.  

    After 24 (or 48) hours, the cheese is done. Transfer it to a bowl and shape into small balls. Roll the balls in seasonings, if using (see below), and place in a glass jar. Cover with olive oil and store in a cold cellar or the refrigerator. Like this, the cheese should keep for months. 

    Variations
    Black Pepper Cheese: freshly crack a lot of black pepper onto a plate and roll the cheese in it, coating on all sides. 
    Italian Herb Cheese: place ¼ – ½ cup dried mixed Italian herbs (must be dried!) into a bowl and roll the cheese in it, coating on all sides. This cheese is excellent spread on crackers and topped with slices of cucumber and onion from this salad
    Garlic and Fresh Rosemary Cheese: tuck a couple sprigs of fresh rosemary, a couple cloves of rough-chopped garlic, and a dash of red pepper flakes to the oil. 

    Leftover cheese oil can be use in pasta dishes, herbed bread, stirfries, on top of pizza, etc. 

    This same time, years previous: reflections from Orlando, in which a pit pull bites my butt, the quotidian (7.13.15), in the woods: forts, ticks, and pancakes, soft and chewy breadsticks, a Tuesday morning.

  • the quotidian (7.12.21)

    Quotidian: daily, usual or customary;
    everyday; ordinary; commonplace


    Homemade cheese for the saag.


    Leftovers, with cucumber mint raita.


    The kids were begging for sourdough pan loaves, so I obliged.


    Three people, three lunches.


    I threw my lunch in the dish sanitizer!


    The cook kindly made me a redo. (Thank you, Sam!)


    Not all my work lunches are fancy. (But they’re always declicious.)


    Lots of reading, lots of melon.


    Houston, we have a problem.


    Clean play.


    My favorite cool-down hack. What’s yours?

    This same time, years previous: movement, all things Thursday, putting up walls, roasted feta with honey, the quotidian (7.11.16), a tale, er, tail, what my refrigerator told me, roasted carrot and beet salad with avocado, tempero.

  • the coronavirus diaries: week 70

    Last week, wow.

    There were three different sets of overnight, out-of-state guests: my (distant) cousins came for one night, a beloved friend from college and her daughter spent two nights, and dear friends from Indiana spent two nights.

    Also, there was a writing group meeting, phone calls with my mom, a backyard bakery staff meeting, an evening concert and birthday party, visits from my older son and his friend, and a walk with my sister-in-law, as well as I had a couple days of work in there, and we put up three bushels of apples and a bushel of apricots, and I made cheeses and fed people. 

    It was wonderful, truly — wildly rich with good conversation and food (I GOT TO FEED PEOPLE) and extra long hugs — and it was also overwhelming and exhausting. After such a slow year with endless time to think and process and be, moving so quickly from one deliciously intense conversation to the next, I felt like my head was going to spin right off.

    Seriously. You can see the enthusiam with which I attack a conversation as evidenced in the string of photos below, thanks to my older son who snatched my phone out of my wildly waving hands.

    (My mom used to compare me to a tornado and my childhood friends said I gave them headaches. Maybe I still do.)

    The sudden influx of traveling and guests and social gatherings, I get the distinct impression we’re all a bunch of creatures — locusts, maybe, or groundhogs — slowly emerging from our holes after a long hibernation, looking around and squinting in the dazzling sunshine.

    Thursday, there was a gap in The Busy and I had no idea what to do with myself. I felt empty-headed and stunned, like I’d just been blinded by a bright light. I couldn’t even think, really, and ended up spending the bulk of the day reading and dozing on the couch. 

    Then, after the final push — a terrifically fun evening with our small group and then a half day in the bakery — yesterday afternoon, freshly showered, I sank onto the sofa. The weekend stretched ahead of me, deliciously open and empty, ahhh. 

    So naturally I invited a girlfriend over for coffee.

    ***

    Are we coming to the end of the coronavirus diaries? While certain things, like church, still aren’t back to normal, in most aspects of my life, it feels like the pandemic is winding down. Virginia’s done a decent job of getting out the vaccine, and all my children were old enough to get it — two things for which I’m supremely grateful. Also, I’m fortunate to live in a community with a higher vaccination rate. (Actually, I’m not sure what the rate is out here in the county, but the city is higher, and most of the people in my social circles have been vaccinated.) 

    This isn’t the case in other parts of the world, I know, or even in other states and counties. In places with low vaccination rates, the virus is, once again, spiking (here’s a map). My guard’s not down completely — the pandemic isn’t over yet — but for now, at least, in these hot summer months when people can be outside, it does feel like things are settling a bit. 

    Come winter, we’ll see…

    This same time, years previous: mushroom burgers with cheese, margarita mix, the quotidian (6.10.19), the quotidian (7.9.18), the quotidian (7.10.17), reflections from Kansas City, the puppy post, let’s talk, splash, zucchini skillet with tomatoes and feta.