It all started Saturday night when my husband and I drove across the county to pick up a few five-gallon buckets of leftover milk from a dairy. The next day, the snowstorm. So there I was, snowed in with my family and buckets upon buckets of dreamy, creamy milk.
For a couple hours each morning, it’d be a flurry of activity. Making a new batch of kefir. Washing jars. Skimming cream. Milking Daisy, labeling and chilling the fresh milk, and cleaning up. Playing fridge (both barn and house) tetris with the jars and buckets, brines and creams, yogurts and kefir. Transferring the previous day’s cheese from the press to the salt brine. Vac-packing the cheese from a couple days prior. Researching a new recipe. Doing math. Starting a cheese in my new, big-ass pot. Culturing and incubating. Stirring and stirring and stirring.
It was the perfect snowy weather activity: I had my husband on tap to help heave the heavy buckets from floor to counter and, when it was time to pour, tip off the whey, and I had my kids to haul the buckets of whey out to the frozen animals for a warm treat, and wash dishes and empty the drainers ad nauseam.
Here’s what I made.
On Sunday: a gouda, and a gallon and a half of yogurt. Monday: a Jarlsberg-style. Tuesday: Colby, butter (both sweet and cultured), and Camemberts. Wednesday: nothing, except for brining the Colby, cutting and packaging cheeses, and flipping the baby bears (aka the Cams). Thursday: Butterkäse, and I brined the baby bears.
Throughout it all, there was the kefir to keep after, lots of smoothies to make, and batches of pancakes to use up the buttermilks and ricotta.
The butter-making was tedious, since I had to use my (very) loud blender. My husband says our blender is louder than any of his power tools. That’s sayin’ something. (If I ever get a Jersey, I’ll get an electric churn like this one.)
I tried cultured butter by adding a small amount of kefir grains to a gallon of cream for 24 hours. It’s supposed to be easier to make butter that way, and yield more, but I must’ve done it wrong because I only got a little butter and a ton of thick cream that’s more like cream cheese. (What to use the cultured cream cheese in? It’s too strong to eat on bagels.) The cultured butter, though, is delicious. I don’t want to waste it in baking, so we’re using it up first in fresh eating.
The sweet cream butter is fantastic, too:
Guess what I had for lunch that day?
Yeah, you know it. Buttaaaaaah.
Now I’m done with the extra milk, and it’ll be a couple days until I have enough Daisy milk to make another cheese, so today I’m brining the butterkäse, making final notes, and taking stock of my larders.
The cheese fridge is maxxed out, cheeses spilling over on the trunk and atop the dresser.
I’m starting to tuck cheeses in other spots, too, like this wheel of Swiss (below) which is hanging out in the kitchen cupboard for a few weeks. (I may be in real danger of forgetting where I’ve stashed cheeses, not to find them until months later. Just call me the Queso Squirrel.)
Oh! One more thing. When I popped into the thrift store this morning, guess what I found? Two cheese plates! I liked the size of the smaller one and the glass lid of the other, so I bought both.
And now I’m going to be a “cheese on the counter under a see-through dome” sophisticate.
What’s perimenopause been like for you? For a long time I struggled with heavy bleeding and increased frequency of menstruation due to uterine fibroids, but in my mid-30’s they got much worse. I had one procedure which helped for a little while, and then was approved for a hysterectomy at 40. I’m single with no children, so the OB-GYN was hesitant, thinking I might want children in the future. But the main fibroid was the size of a grapefruit, and my last period had lasted nearly two weeks and was so heavy that sometimes I would stand up from my chair and just feel it gush out of me, so I was very ready to be done with that. My uterus was removed but ovaries remained; I was assured this shouldn’t necessarily mean early menopause. It has been amazingly freeing not to worry about periods anymore!!
What did the surgeries involve? The first surgery was a fibroid embolization: they go in through the pelvic artery to the blood vessel that is ‘feeding’ the fibroid(s) in the uterus and inject tiny beads to block off the blood supply and hopefully shrink the fibroid. For that one, I spent the night in the hospital and then went home for a couple weeks of recovery. The procedure fixed the problem for a few years, but then the bleeding picked up again — new fibroids had grown. I could have just had a myomectomy surgery to remove the large fibroid, but they could see there were several more growing along behind it.
As for the hysterectomy itself, there are several ways a hysterectomy can be done. One common way is for the uterus to be removed vaginally, but since I had never had a baby (or even sex) my vagina was too narrow. If the fibroids are small enough, the uterus can also be removed laparoscopically through a small slit in the abdomen. For larger fibroids, they are traditionally cut into small pieces and removed through that same small slit. However, even though nearly all uterine fibroids are benign, it had been discovered that if a fibroid was unexpectedly cancerous, it could spread the cancer if cut. Just before I got to the point of surgery, the FDA ruled that fibroids could no longer be cut into pieces (morcellated). Now, large fibroids are cut up within a contained bag during surgery, but my surgery happened before this procedure became the norm. That left me with the only option of a full abdominal surgery, much like a C-section.
For my hysterectomy, my abdomen was slit across the upper ‘bikini line’ about 8 inches long, through my core abdominal muscles. I had a friend who delivered a baby by C-section around the same time, and she had a much quicker recovery time. I’m not sure why it took longer for me to heal, except that full removal of the organ must be more traumatic to the body. I was in the hospital for two days and wasn’t allowed to do steps or lift anything heavy for several weeks after the surgery. It was about 8 weeks before I was back at work full-time.
Those are big deal procedures! Did you have a good support network? Because of the fibroids, I was poked and prodded a lot, so I quickly had to get over the shame; one can only be embarrassed for so long about all that stuff. (I’m sure women who have had pregnancies know all about that, but it was new for me.) Plus, I wanted to know what was happening, and what my options were, so I needed to get comfortable with the topic. Once I got over my own shyness, I didn’t find there was a stigma talking about the fibroids or hysterectomy. People were happy to share from their experiences and talk through the details. My work supervisor had experienced a hysterectomy around the same age, and she was very supportive and helpful. Several women at church surrounded me to help talk it out and share their advice.
After the hysterectomy, did you have a sense of loss? Afterward, my abdomen felt empty, like everything had to shift around and find its new place. I was unexpectedly teary and emotional for a couple of weeks. Physically, I didn’t feel normal again for at least 6 months, and I don’t feel that I’ve ever fully recovered my core strength (though I could certainly try harder at that). Probably because I already had been sometimes made to feel “less than a woman” from not having a partner or children, being faced with a hysterectomy didn’t feel too important, identity-wise. Although it wasn’t that painful for me to let go of the possibility of having kids, during the process I started noticing all the things that might be hurtful to someone with stronger feelings about that, like having to wait for my appointments in the same spaces with happily-pregnant women, and where there were photos of mothers and babies on the wall. After struggling with my periods for all those years, being free of the mess and pain has been so amazing. Now, since I’ve already given up my fertility and my periods, menopause doesn’t feel like it will be such a big deal.
So now you are perimenopausal, correct? Yes. I noticed things were beginning to change in the last year or so, but without a menstruation cycle, it’s difficult to determine what’s happening and what it means. (Actually, until recently, I didn’t even know what perimenopause was.)
What are your symptoms? I have had occasional night sweats that wake me, and I have had a couple mild hot flashes during the day. I’ve had some urinary incontinence, probably because I never regained good core strength after my full abdominal hysterectomy. Also, I’ve experienced a couple night-time panic attacks (I think?) where my heart rate and blood pressure increase for no reason at night. (I didn’t know that panic attacks might be connected to hormone levels until I just now, when I looked it up.)
Any tips for dealing with the night sweats and panic attacks? Luckily, neither of these have been frequent. I can get by with one bout of insomnia as long as it’s not several nights in a row. If I’m working from home that day, I’ll take a short nap the next afternoon. I try to reduce my stress with exercise: getting out in nature, playing with my dog, and doing yoga. For anxiety, if I start feeling scattered and unfocused, I’ve begun the practice of laying flat on the floor for ten minutes. I set the timer on my phone, cover my eyes, and just focus on breathing. It’s amazing what a good ten minutes will do to reset your mind! If I am having something like a panic attack, which has only happened a couple of times, I can usually talk myself down by acknowledging what it is and taking deep, calming breaths. (Maybe this ability to control it means it isn’t a full-blown panic attack?) A friend and therapist also shared the tip of focusing on your senses — what do you smell? feel? taste? etc. She says to just cycle through those questions until you settle, so I’m keeping that in mind if it happens again.
What about body image? I’m not sure perimenopause has directly impacted my body image since it’s hard to separate normal aging from perimenopause. Due to my hysterectomy and nulliparity, I had already dealt with my loss of fertility / “womanhood”. My hair had started to thin and grey years ago — the thinning is something I specifically struggle with, image-wise — and now there are the wrinkles, age spots, and sagging skin around my face. Weight is another issue. I believe we do ourselves and each other a favor by embracing our aging bodies, so I’m attempting to age gracefully. But it’s difficult to do in a society that fights aging so desperately. How do we care for ourselves and maintain a healthy, positive self-image while also recognizing the beauty and wisdom in our aging? I want to find a healthy balance between botoxing my hands to make them look younger (yes, people really do this!) and throwing up my (wrinkled) hands and saying “Yep, I’m just getting old!”
Can you say more about how your nulliparity has impacted your sense of “womanhood.” Up until I was in my 30’s, I assumed my life would include marriage and children. However, thanks to my shyness, and perhaps because of some risidual shame surrounding sexuality from my conservative church upbringing, I never went on a date until grad school. Since then, I dated off and on, including a few months of online dating, but I just never felt the urgency to find a lifelong partner. I think a part of me just gave up at a certain point, maybe because it was too hard. But I’ve read a little about asexuality and think maybe I’m somewhere on that spectrum. I have sexual urges, but I’m able to satisfy myself and that has been enough. When I date, I mostly enjoy the companionship and the camaraderie that comes from knowing someone really well, going out to dinner and a movie, and having a deep conversation or a good laugh — all of which I can also do with good friends.
The pressure to be in a romantic relationship comes more from societal norms. There’s this underlying feeling that something must be wrong with me because I’m single. And sometimes I feel that people perceive me as a “half” who should be focused on finding my “other half.” Well-meaning friends have made unsolicited comments like “I’m sure it will happen for you some day, hang in there,” as if I was giving off a sad and unfulfilled vibe just because I’m single. When visiting a new church, there’d often be no place for me to fit in because the only Sunday school class for people my age would be for “young families.” And I absorbed some of these messages: for example, I hesitated to buy a house on my own because that was something that was supposed to happen after marriage. These are all little things but they add up to create this feeling that I’m the weird one, the odd one out. Sometimes, it’s been painful.
Sometimes I wonder what I’m missing, like when people say that they only learned love and true unselfishness through being a parent. But listening to my married friends and their struggles, I can see that we all struggle in different ways. Except for the extreme solitude of the pandemic, I really do like living alone, managing my own schedule, budget, and decisions. As an introvert, this solitude gives me time and energy to put back into my community and volunteering. As I age, my biggest worry is the loss of that independence. I wonder, Who will care for me the way that I’m expected to care for my parents?
If you struggle with going grey, why don’t you dye your hair? When I was younger, I heard women complain about not knowing how to stop dyeing their hair so I decided I wasn’t going to start. Also, I’m cheap and didn’t want to spend the money, ha! I resonate with what Sarah Jessica Parker said recently when people commented on her grey roots showing: “It almost feels as if people don’t want us to be perfectly OK with where we are, as if they almost enjoy us being pained by who we are today, whether we choose to age naturally and not look perfect, or whether you do something if that makes you feel better.”
I noticed my hair was thinning significantly when flash photos were taken of me and I could see the light reflecting off the top of my head. There didn’t seem to be a logical reason — I had tests done — so the only advice was to use Rogaine/minoxidil. I tried it for a couple of years; even though it increased my hair growth a bit, I decided that I didn’t want to do that for the rest of my life. (There are supplements, but they’re expensive.) At this point, I use good quality hair care products and try my best not to damage the hair that I do have. I blow dry or fluff the top of my scalp to try and give it as much volume as possible. (I have wear hats or bandanas outside to keep from getting sunburn on the top of my head.) I still feel self-conscious about it, particularly when I have to watch myself on Zoom these days. I just try to acknowledge that I’m aging and not obsess about it. There are so many more important things I’d rather be doing with my time.
Emotionally, how has perimenopause affected you? Certainly in the last couple of years I’ve felt a bit more scattered and anxious, restless. Brain cells aren’t firing as quickly as they used to. I’m forgetting tasks and appointments that I would’ve easily remembered in the past. I’m more quick to lose patience with people, and I’m more tired. It’s difficult to untangle causation between general aging, being overweight, perimenopause, and the underlying constant stress of the past couple years of the pandemic.
Has perimenopause impacted your relationships? Discussing my fibroid surgery and hysterectomy with other women has, I think, strengthened and deepened these relationships. I’ve learned much more from other women than from medical professionals. I’m glad to be in an intergenerational community through church, and I have close older friends. If women don’t have that, then who do they talk to about these things?
What’s surprised you about perimenopause? I’ve heard older women complain about hot flashes, weight gain, and vaginal dryness, but I’m beginning to realize that I don’t know much about the other symptoms, or how they will happen exactly, or if and when I should seek medical help. Menopause and perimenopause are all defined around having periods, just as womanhood is often tied to having children and a sexual partner, so, as usual, I’m struggling to figure out where I fit into this whole thing.
Any good resources to share? I haven’t really sought out resources, other than some medical websites, so I’m interested to see what other people suggest. For dealing with general aging and mortality, I got a lot from When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, and Being Mortal by Atul Gawande. In Being Mortal, Gawande discusses how we should take better care of our elderly, and how we should talk more openly about death and dying. It’s important to have conversations with our loved ones about what quality of life means for them, and for us, so that when it comes time to make those decisions on behalf of each other, we’re not left wondering if we made the right choice. And maybe, Gawande’s perspectives do tie into menopause: if we can accept the truths of aging and death, then we can live our best and richest lives in whatever circumstances we find ourselves.
I hesitated — purists irritate me — but finally I ordered the book. And then I read every single page, some of them out loud to my (uninterested) husband, until, just this week, I finished the book. I even read the appendices. Every few pages, I’d shout Now I get it! Or, Listen to this! Or, Can you believe…? The other afternoon when I yelled I’M LEARNING SO MUCH, my younger son who was up in his room teaching himself about binary numbers called back, ME, TOO. Our house was positively glowing from all the lightbulbs going off. Or turning on. You know what I mean.
Here’s a brief summary of the book:
*Our food system is fear-based and highly industrialized, which means our food is being mass-produced in the most simplified, streamlined way for minimal variety and ease of production. The need for pasteurization comes about, not because raw milk is dangerous to consume, but because our milk is mass-produced from many cows, collected from farms and transported to the plant, processed into a uniform product, then packaged and shipped to stores. It’s how we handle the milk, not the milk itself, that is dangerous.
*The addition of yellow dye began in the industrialized revolution when they needed a way to mask inferior cheese. Some people have no emotional attachment to yellow cheese, but I do. I made a white Colby and just looking at it makes me feel sad.
*There is no need for added molds and freeze-dried cultures. Just as grain holds all the components necessary to ferment into sourdough — and grapes for wine, apples for cider, and cabbage for kraut — raw milk contains all the good bacteria needed to culture milk into cheeses.
*Instead of relying on freeze-dried cultures which are expensive, single-strain, and less resilient and flavorful (think GMO vegetables versus heirloom), use natural cultures such as kefir, yogurt, and buttermilk to start a cheese. Another option is to let milk sit out at room temperature to sour naturally, or use whey from a previous batch of cheese.
*The basic cheeses can be categorized as follows: stretched-curd (mozzarella), alpines (Parmesan and Tommes), washed-curd (Gouda), cheddar, white molds (Camemberts), and blue molds. Learn to make a simple rennet cheese and, depending on how you care for the pressed curd (reheating and stretching it for slow mozzarella, cutting and stacking it for cheddars, letting it sit out to grow white mold for the camemberts), you can make all sorts of cheeses. Each one will be different from the one before, depending on all the little variations that occur during the cheesemaking process. Natural cheesemaking is not focused on conformity.
I am not ready to toss out my vacuum sealer or dig a cave in my room, but this week I did scrape a bit of blue mold from a piece of sourdough, dissolve it in water, and add the water to a quart of yogurt which I then hung and proceeded as with yogurt cheese. Now it’s aging in the cold room. In a couple weeks, once (if) it grows blue mold, I’ll pierce it all over so the mold can work its way into the cheese.
And I started making kefir. (According to Mr. au Naturel, kefir rhymes with “deer,” so it’s to be pronounced Kuh-FEAR, not KEE-fur. It’s a hard habit to break.)
I got the grains from my friend down the road and quickly fell into a rhythm.
In the morning, I put a small lump of kefir grains — about a teaspoon or so — in a pint jar, top off the jar with milk and give it a quick shake. The next morning, the milk is solid, like jello. I schlub-schlub-schlub the contents into a strainer set over a mixing bowl and stir gently until all the kefir has dripped through and only the grains are left. I pour the kefir into a jar, date it, and pop it in the fridge. The grains go into a fresh jar and I start the whole thing over.
grains in a clean jar
top with milk, then shake
twenty-four hours later
stir through a strainer
grains for the next batch
The kefir grains keep multiplying, so every week or so I’ll dump half of them in the compost. I also keep a small jar of grains submerged in milk in the fridge. Like so, they should keep for weeks. If I ever need more grains, I just strain them out and start the process and, like a sourdough starter, after a day or two, they’ll be fully activated again. (Just this morning, I opened a small jar of milk-covered kefir grains from back in the beginning of December. The milk didn’t smell sour at all. Maybe a little sweet, if anything. How wild is that??)
The liquid kefir, I use either in smoothies, or in place of buttermilk in baking, or as a culture for cheese. Some people like to drink it, but not me. I don’t like how it tastes funky-yeasty and almost metallic. Purist Guy said you can’t detect the flavor of kefir in the final cheeses, but I’m not so sure. I think I taste something, like there’s a very slight “off” flavor. On the other hand, I might be detecting that because my cheeses are still fairly young. Maybe, after six months or a year, that flavor will disappear, or morph into something more complex.
And that’s the other thing: it could be that this is just what real — excuse me: natural — cheeses taste like. Yesterday, after feasting on about 20 homemade cheeses (my cheesemaking group met at my house and we gorged), some of which packed a flavor funk-punch, I ate a piece of store-bought marbled Colby and was surprised to realize it tasted like absolutely nothing.
How many cheeses can you count? (And that’s not all of them.)
Because kefir is wildly good for you, and because it’s free, and because I love the concept of letting the milk do all the work — using the cheesemaking methods to tease out the different bacterias, yeasts, and molds that the milk already contains — I’m sticking with kefir for now. I have a hunch it’s the right way to go. And it does make good smoothies as long as I add a couple bananas, a generous scoop of jam, and a bunch of other fruit to mask the flavor.
You might be asking, why use kefir as a culture and not yogurt? I use yogurt in Alpine cheese and that cheese is sweet and mild, with no weird funk whatsoever. The reason is this: Kefir is a mesophilic culture which means that, if you heat the milk to a higher temperature, above 106 degrees or so, it no longer works. So for my higher temp cheeses, like Alpine, I need to use a thermophilic culture, like yogurt, and for the lower temp cheeses, I need to stick with Kefir. (Or buttermilk! I haven’t tried buttermilk yet, but I plan to.) And some cheeses call for both meso- and thermophilic cultures — they kinda tag-team each other — so technically I can use both Kefir and yogurt for some cheeses, which I fully intend to soon do.
a fresh batch, ready to strain
P.S. I like to pick at Asher, but truth is, his is a fabulous book. I wish I had read it back when I first starting making cheese. In my stack of cheesemaking books (I have five) it’s moved to the top.
and so on…
1-2 teaspoons kefir grains 1 pint milk
Combine and give a quick shake. Let the jar sit at room temperature. In the first twelve hours, give it a little shake once or twice, but then allow it to sit, undisturbed, over night. In the morning, it should be thick — it can be cut with a knife, but it feels more watery than yogurt.
Dump the contents of the jar into a sieve and gently stir, forcing the kefir through into a bowl below and separating out the kefir grains. Refrigerate the kefir to drink, or use in cheesemaking or baking. The liquid kefir should stay good in the fridge for at least a week. (If using for cheesemaking, only store for several days.)
Put the grains in a clean pint jar, top with fresh milk, and repeat the process.
The grains will multiply. If you get too many, it throws off the balance and the kefir will get wonky, so every few days, throw out some of the grains (or give them away). (Or you can just increase the amount of milk, accordingly.) For a pint of milk, you’ll need anywhere from a teaspoon to a tablespoon of grains. More than that is too many.
If you want to stop making kefir, place some grains in a small jar with fresh milk and refrigerate. Stored in this way, they should stay fresh for months. To use, simply strain out the grains and start the process (it may take a day or two for the kefir to reach full strength).
Popping in with some apple strudel for you, my friends.
We’re at the tail end of our apple supply, just a dozen or so more baking and eating apples rolling around in the crisper, but this weekend when my parents are in Pennsylvania, they plan to swing by an orchard, so I’ll be putting in an order for a bushel of eating apples and a half bushel of baking. (Our local orchard closes over the winter.) Now that we have an extra fridge in the barn for (mostly dairy) overflow, storing apples is a lot easier.
The first time I made this strudel, I was not impressed: soft biscuit with apple mush. But then I ate another piece the next morning. The flavors had melded and deepened, and the filling and pastry felt more cohesive, like together they were worth more. My younger son was nuts about it. He kept slicing slabs of strudel to eat out of hand.
So I made it again, this time slicing the apples bigger and baking it longer. It was good after all, I decided. A couple days ago, I made it again (there’s all those apples to use up), and this time I made more changes. To the apples, I switched from white sugar to brown. To the dough, I added sugar, increased the salt, and swapped out some of the all-purpose flour for einkorn. And now I’m happy.
I realize some of you highbrow folks (“highbrow” because you raising your eyebrows judgily at us lowbrow folks who are working too hard to look up long enough to raise our eyebrows) will take issue with my use of the word “strudel” since the dough I’m using isn’t traditional: high gluten, super thin, with oil, no sugar, etc, etc. Mine is more of a biscuit-slash-flaky pie crust. But I’ve never had traditional strudel and mine is delicious, so there.
Einkorn flour is new for me. I learned about it at the bakery — the head baker once made a one-hundred percent einkorn bread — and then I decided to order some of the flour and give it a try. So far, it behaves similarly to whole wheat pastry flour (I’ve been adding some to my sourdough in place of whole wheat, and to biscuits, too), but it has a nuttier flavor and adds a pretty texture and a bit of speckling to the final product. In the case of the strudel, it elevates the whole thing considerably, I think. I’ll be ordering more soon.
I realize this strudel is pretty similar to pie — crust plus filling — but it feels about seventy-five percent easier. Maybe because it looks so rustic. Maybe because there’s no messy oven drips. Maybe because you can eat it out of hand. Actually, I think it has to do a lot with that last reason. Pie feels like an event. You need a plate. Maybe a special crumb topping. Perhaps some whipped cream or ice cream on the side.
Strudel, on the other hand, is its own thing. Cut a slab and eat it with a cup of coffee for breakfast. Or pass it off to a hungry kid for an afternoon snack, no dirty dishes necessary.
for the dough: 2 cups all purpose flour ½ cup einkorn flour (or whole wheat pastry flour) 1 tablespoon white sugar 1¼ teaspoon salt 2 sticks (8 ounces) cold butter, cubed 1 egg, separated ¾ cup milk
Measure the flours, white sugar, and salt into a food processor (or mix by hand) and pulse to combine. Add the cold butter cubes and pulse until crumbly. Pour in the milk and egg yolk (save the white) and pulse briefly, just until combined.
for the apple filling: 6-8 apples, peeled, cored, and cut in thick slices ¾ cup brown sugar 3 tablespoons cornstarch 1 teaspoon cinnamon
In a separate bowl, toss the fruit with the sugar, cornstarch, and cinnamon.
for the glaze: 1 cup confectioner’s sugar, sifted ½ teaspoon vanilla several tablespoons milk
Whisk together all ingredients, adding more milk as needed to make a dizzle-able glaze.
to assemble: Place two large pieces of parchment paper on the counter. Lightly flour one piece. Cut the dough in half; set one piece aside and roll the other half out into a thin, large rectangle on the piece of parchment. Place the parchment on a large baking sheet. Repeat the process with the other piece of floured parchment and piece of dough, making the two rectangles as similar in size as possible.
Tumble the sugared apples onto the piece of dough that’s on the pan, making sure to leave about a half inch of exposed dough around the edge. Flip the other piece of dough onto the top of the apples and peel away the parchment. Crimp by folding the bottom edge of the crust up over the top and pressing to seal. Beat the egg white with a fork until frothy and brush over the top and sides of the strudel. Using a sharp knife, cut slits in the top crust.
Bake the strudel at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes, or until golden brown. Drizzle with the glaze and allow to cool before cutting into squares. Leftovers keep well, uncovered, at room temperature in a jelly cupboard.
As a rule, I’m not a tea drinker, BUT THAT IS CHANGING. (It’s not taking the place of coffee, though. NEVER.)
Once a day, maybe twice, I fix myself a giant mug of tea, or sometimes a whole teapot worth. I fill my electric kettle with water, drizzle a hefty dose of honey into the bottom of a mug, pour in a couple glugs of raw milk, and unwrap a tea bag. When the water’s hot, I fill the mug to the top, give it a stir, and that’s it. Yummy, sweet, milky tea.
I purchased a selection of teas for the wedding celebration, so right now I have all the best to choose from. I’m partial to the Twinings brand: English Breakfast might be my all-time fave, but I also like Earl Gray and Irish Breakfast. While still delicious, herbal teas don’t pair with milk and honey quite as well, so if I have to go decaf, I tend to reach for a basic decaffeinated green tea. (For herbals, I like them all, but I really like Tazo’s flavors, especially the wild sweet orange.)
Have you seen Don’t Look Up yet? Everyone’s raving about it, it seems. Some people are even calling it a “documentary.” They’re not wrong, really. (The critiques aren’t wrong, either.)
My husband and I watched it a couple weeks ago, and it sent me spiraling into a lowgrade depression. It wasn’t a bad depression, per say. Just my typical “world is ending” vibe but with the added realization that by ignoring the imending doom (my coping method of choice), I’m just like those dumb joe shmoes in the movie not looking UP.
It has a similar feel to A Man Called Ove (I kept double checking to make sure it wasn’t set in a Scandinavian country). The story is simple, but not simplistic. It’s a kind story, a true story. About love. Truluv.
My husband, younger son, and I just watched season 7 of Alone (the only season available for streaming on Netflix, though it looks like all the seasons might be available for streaming on the History channel) and I can not stop thinking about it.
It’s slower paced and much less sensational than most reality shows, though the producers do try their darndest to jack up the suspense by cutting away right when someone loses their gill net or discovers an animal has gotten into their food cache. Without the hype, I relaxed into the story, marveling over the grueling cold, the diet, the isolation, the raw beauty, and the participants’ mental, emotional, and physical struggles and growth. (At the ending of each episode is a white-toothed guy in a clean garage doing a zoom call chat with participants — skip it.)
This video tour of a Canadian family’s cheese cave(s) makes me ridiculously happy. Maybe I need to upgrade my cheese cave to CocaCola fridge out in the barn? My husband isn’t too keen on that idea. The other option, I said, is to dig out under the house. Would he like that better, hmm?
The first hard cheese recipe I’m sharing here, this Tomme (the generic name, and what I tend to call it) is extremely easy and straightforward to make, and the results are wonderful.
If I were to teach a cheesemaking class, I think I’d start with this one since it’s supremely accessible and doesn’t require a long aging time. The only uncommon ingredient is rennet (if you’re local, I’ll share), and the only special tool is a thermometer: all the other supplies and ingredients can be cobbled together from an ordinary kitchen.
If you’re so inclined, that is, of course. No pressure!
The process goes like so. Heat milk to 106 degrees. Stir in the calcium chloride (if using pasturized milk), some yogurt, and the rennet. Leave the milk alone for the better part of an hour to set up and then cut the curd. Stir gently for half an hour before draining off the whey and pressing. Salt. Done.
This cheese is dry-salted — salt is applied to the surface after pressing — and the method sounds complicated, or at least weird (it seems impossible that the salt will work its way into the center of the cheese, but it does), so here. I’ll break it down for you.
Seven teaspoons of salt, one for each gallon of milk.
Rub the salt over the top of the cheese.
Cover the cheese with a lid, or, in this case, a bucket. Let sit at room temperature for a day.
Twenty-four hours later, the salt is mostly dissolved and a few tablespoons of whey have pooled under and around the cheese. Drain off the whey and rub the remaining salt over the top and sides.
Excess whey to be discarded.
Flip the cheese and rub seven more teaspoons of salt over the bottom-now-top of the cheese. Cover with a lid and let rest at room temperature for another day.
Rub the excess salt over the sides. Set the cheese on a clean, dry mat to air dry for a couple days before (vacuum sealing, if desired, and) transferring to the cheese cave to age.
The young cheese is mild and salty, perfect for stirring into mac and cheese or stuffing in a sandwich. I don’t know what it’s like when it gets older, but I have no doubt it’ll be wonderful: probably like it is young, only more so. (Cheeses and humans are similar in that reguard: both intensify with age.)
A few weeks back, I finally invested in a large, 8-gallon kettle. I got it from Webstaurant (through Magpie) for about 120 dollars and I am so, so, so happy with it. I also purchased a larger basket for my cheese press. Larger wheels of cheese equals fewer cheesemaking days. Now I make a new cheese every four days or so. Per recipe, I use about seven gallons of milk (can’t go all the way to eight, since that’d be level with the top of the kettle) which yields about six pounds of cheese. (It’d be more if I had a Jersey but I’m not fussing. Daisy’s milk has been exceptionally delicious these last few months.)
photo credit: my younger daughter
Lots of people have been asking what I’m planning to do with all this cheese. Well, it’s like anything seasonal: preserve what’s abundant now for when it’s not later. According to my calculations, I think we typically eat anywhere from 2-3 pounds of ordinary hard cheese a week, like Colby, cheddar, and Jarlsberg. (This number doesn’t include my cooking cheeses: mozzarella, cream cheese, ricotta, and Parmesan.) In other words, if I have 200-300 pounds of cheese squirreled away by the time Daisy dries up, we should be good for a couple years, with some left over for gifting.
The cheese cave overflow. I keep the room at 45-50 degrees so the whole room could be a cave. . . IF it stayed winter year round.
Which is the other thing I’ve been doing with this cheese. I’m not big into Christmas gifts — it’s just not something I really think about — but this year was different. People have been banging down my door to buy the cheese, but the process is far too time consuming, and the results too random, to even consider attaching a price tag. Giving them away, however, felt totally different.
I had so much fun collecting all the thrift store baskets, creating cheese cheat sheets for each basket, googling how to wrap cheeses (it took me a sec to figure it out; those early baskets were gnarly) and then tucking in a bottle of wine, maybe a sleeve of crackers, and several sprigs of rosemary.
Come to think of it, if I continue sharing cheese at the rate I’ve been, I’ll probably need more like 500 pounds. Daisy, pick up the pace, lady. The world needs you!
I’m writing the recipe as I make it in my large pot; feel free to cut the amounts in half.
To account for the amount of time the cheese will need to be pressed, either start this cheese first thing in the morning (so you can get the first 12 hours of pressing in before you go to bed), or about mid-afternoon.
7 gallons whole milk 1 quart half-and-half OR heavy whipping cream 3/4 teaspoon calcium chloride in 1 cup cool water (if any of the milk/cream is store-bought) 3/4 cup plain yogurt 1 teaspoon rennet in 1 cup cool water 14 teaspoons non-iodized salt
Pour the milk and cream into a large pot and heat over high heat, stirring occasionally, until it reaches 106 degrees. Turn the heat off. Add the calcium chloride, if using, and stir well. Thin the yogurt with some of the milk and then add it to the pot, stirring well. Using an up-and-down motion, stir in the rennet (do not mix for longer than one minute). Put the lid on the kettle and let rest, undisturbed, for 45 minutes.
After the rest time, check to see if the curd has a clean break. (If not, let it rest another 15 minutes and then check again.) Cut the curd into 3/4-inch cubes. Let rest for 10 minutes to heal (firm up). Very gently, stir, lifting the curds with a large spoon and cutting the ones that are still too large with a paring knife — this will take about another 10-20 minutes.
Set a timer for 30 minutes, and then check the temperature; it probably dropped a few degrees. Turn the heat to low and, keeping the thermomter in the whey, slowly stir with your hand, lifting the curds from the bottom and swirling in the heat. When the thermometer reaches 106 degrees, turn off the heat and remove the thermometer. Keep swirl-lift stiring with your hand. With the other, hold a book and read. When the thirty minutes are up, the curds should be the size of baked beans and feel like the white part of a soft, poached egg.
Let the curds and whey sit, undisturbed, for 10 minutes. Pour off all the whey (save it for ricotta, if you want). Line a colandar with cheesecloth and scoop all the soft curds into the colandar. Let rest for 10 minutes to drain. Transfer the curds in the cheesecloth (use it like a hammock) to your cheese press, either a commercial press, or one you’ve jerry rigged.
Press lightly for about an hour. Flip and press (a little harder this time) for another hour, or three. Flip and press at medium pressure for twelve hours. Flip and press at medium pressure for another twelve hours.
Remove the cheese from the press. Place it in a large plastic box that has a lid. (Lately, I’ve been setting the wheel of cheese on a piece of bamboo matting that’s set on a bucket lid and then placing the bucket upside down over it as the lid, on account of the cheese not fitting in the bottom of the bucket because the bottom is more narrow than the mouth.) Spoon 7 teaspoons of non-iodized salt on top of the cheese (1 teaspoon salt per gallon of milk) and rub it over the surface. Place the lid on the container (or the bucket over the top) and let rest at room temperature for twenty-four hours.
After twenty-four hours, pour off the salty whey, flip the cheese, and smear another 7 teaspoons of salt over the bottom-now-top of the cheese. Since the cheese is fairly damp, feel free to rub some of the salt down over the sides, too. Once again, cover and let rest at room temperature for another twenty-four hours. Air dry for 1-3 days, flipping daily. Vacuum seal (or sit directly on a bamboo mat, high humidity) and age at 50 degrees for 6 weeks, flipping a couple times a week.
I was waiting to tell you about the dress I wore to the wedding celebration until we got the photos — so I’d have something to go with the post — but, wouldn’t you know, turns out no one took a photo of me in my dress. (Guess that shows how I rank, ha!) So this morning, just as the sun was cresting the hill, I slipped into the dress, zipped up my boots, and made my younger daughter come outside to photograph me in the freezing cold.
This was the first time I ordered from eShakti. I’ve known about them for years — first through Jenny Lawson, and then via other websites and real-life friends — but not until my older son got engaged did I get serious about scrolling through their website. After extensive deliberation, I finally placed my order.
When I showed the dress to my mom, she commented that it looked like plain Mennonite garb. Oh shoot. The front was a little cape-like, but I didn’t want to look prairie-girl plain! Probably, I told myself, that’s just Mom’s bias showing through. No one else is going to think that (unless they, too, were raised with a plain Mennonite preacher father).
And sure enough, when I modeled it for the kids, they were impressed. “It’s like something out of Game of Thrones,” my older son said. “Do you have a cape?”
A cape? HA. Talk about generational change.
At the wedding, I got so many compliments on the dress. Each time, I’d launch into a whole spiel about eShakti. How customers can customize the dress — sleeve and skirt length, the neckline — and/or have it made to their size specifications (though mine was just an ordinary medium 10). How — get this — almost all the dresses have pockets (unless you request otherwise). “And it’s warm,” I’d say. Feel!” And I’d shove a fistful of jersey cotton skirt into their hands.
I was worried that the belted waist would feel restrictive, but it’s actually just a cinched elastic waist with a belt overtop. I wore a small slip, not because it’s see-through (it’s not), but because I was worried my black tights might make it bunch weirdly. Probably, it would’ve been fine without.
The dress really is wonderful, so snuggly and warm.
The extra long sleeves made me happy, so toasty-cozy — I’m forever pulling them down over my hands for extra warmth.
And the pockets! I don’t think of myself as a pocket person, but goodness, these were lovely. So deep and warm. Without even thinking, I kept slipping my hands into them.
A couple weeks before the wedding, I panicked and ordered another dress (higher neck, shorter skirt), just in case. Maybe I’d wear it to the officiation? It arrived as we were dressing for the event, I kid you not. I quick tried it on, but it felt more like something a chorister would wear to a concert, so the next week I mailed it back.
This is not a sponsored post (none of my posts ever are), but eShakti gives all their customers little cards to hand out to people who compliment the dress — so that’s what the pockets are for! — as well as a social media code to share.
If you decide to shop eShakti, use this code: you’ll get 50 dollars off your order and I’ll get a 25 dollar credit to my next order.
I’ve already got my eye on this one (but with three-quarter length sleeves).