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Tuesday
May082012

Mozzarella Making

This past Sunday, I hosted a mozzarella cheese making party for twelve people I had never met. Crazy, no, inviting complete strangers to my house to make cheese? The idea was that of food52.com - a website that I often use as a resource for recipes and all things food related. To create community, the website suggests and encourages themed potlucks in cities/regions across the country. This particular one invited readers to make mozzarella, and was further encouraged by sending each potluck two bottles of beautiful California Olive Ranch olive oil to serve with the cheese. 

Because I have a small kitchen, a few of us jumped on making the first batch of cheese. The others opted to begin with eating. It was a potluck after all! A beautiful spread covered my table, including salad, tamales, fried Brussels sprouts, panzanella, marinated vegetables, horseradish hummus, olive bread, and, of course, desserts - a blueberry pie and a chocolate cake with coconut filing and ganache. Oh my!

Food52 offered up a mozzarella recipe. I had made cheese once before, but I was guided through it. I wished I had paid better attention! In all, it was pretty simple: heating the milk (low-heat pasteurized cow’s milk), separating the curds from the whey, heating again and kneading and stretching. (OK, it wasn’t quite that simple, but it still wasn’t difficult.) We followed the recipe given to us and made a few adjustments along the way, the most efficient one being to heat the curds in the microwave rather than on the stove. It sounds lazy, but it was much easier and saved time, not that we were in a hurry. 

Still warm, our little balls of mozzarella were fantastic! First, they looked amazing, then drizzled with olive oil, served with tomatoes, peaches and basil, they tasted wonderful. And it took so little time! The cheese was easy enough to make, that I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again. I have a gallon of goat’s milk remaining, so, after flipping through my cheese making book, I think I would like to try making feta. It’s a little more difficult and takes more time, but I’m up for the challenge.

And thanks to my potluck guests! I look forward to our next meal together.


Friday
May042012

Montana Lambing

I debated about whether I would write about my recent trip to Montana. I didn’t attend a school or a workshop, but I made the trip in order to learn about farm life, in this particular case working on an organic lamb farm belonging to my friends Katy and Rich Harjes. I worked hard and I learned so much, that I decided that I wanted to share my incredibly fulfilling experience, along with my appreciation for my friends’ lives and that of their sheep.

Katy and Rich left their life in Chicago in 2008 to raise organic lamb on their ranch at the base of the foothills of the Bridger Mountains outside of Bozeman. A group of girlfriends and I had visited Katy in February, and I was instantly in love with her life. The busiest time of the year for the Harjeses is lambing season - when the lambs are born - which, this year, began around April 1st. My friend Kim and I returned to help out with lamb midwifery. We arrived on April 20th, but the rush of newborns had already happened. Katy had expected (and hoped) that the births would be spread out through the month. Instead they had a big rush in the beginning, with the majority of lambs born in the first week or so. Every year is different, according to Katy. With approximately 280 pregnant ewes, Katy found the first weeks of April exhausting.

Upon arrival, my first task was to feed the bottle-fed lambs, which numbered three: black twins - Stinky and Shank - whose mom died after their birth and a white lamb named Double Stuff whose mom rejected him. Double Stuff was so named because he was often found standing between the twins, making the three of them look like an Oreo cookie. And, from the first moment of meeting him, I wanted to save Double Stuff from what Katy calls ‘the bad place,’ better known as the abattoir. I immediately began my ‘Save Double Stuff’ campaign. (Spoiler alert: campaign successful!)

In between the three-times-a-day feedings, we helped with other chores. An hourly chore was to walk the field where the pregnant ewes spent the day. If any of the ewes had given birth, we would carry the baby or babies and have the mother follow us into the barn. If a ewe was in labor, we either tried to coax her into the barn or we patiently waited for her to deliver her babies and help out if necessary (think latex gloves). Kim and I were excited to witness our first lamb birth in the field, and little did we know that there was something drastically wrong with the first in-labor ewe that we came upon. The mother was Niki. Her water broke, but had gushed out of her rather than dropping a small sack of fluid and then breaking, which is the norm. The ewe was obviously having contractions, but, after thirty minutes or so, nothing had happened. By this time, Katy came to visit us in the field and recognized that there was a problem. After consulting with her vet by phone and texting photos, it was assumed that the baby was not alive. After leading Niki into the barn, Katy reached into her and determined the position of the lamb. After she figured out the positioning, she pulled the lifeless lamb out of the ewe, in order to save the life of the mom. The ewe began having contractions again, and Katy knew that there was a twin. Katy reached in again to help the mom. Minutes later arrived a very yellow lamb. We named her Turmeric.

The subsequent births we witnessed were far easier. A couple of births required assistance, but most went smoothly on their own. Kim and I participated in the small tasks that took place after births and happily visited all of the lambs every day. When we weren’t dealing directly with babies, we did the less sexy chore of mucking out the stalls in the barn and whatever else was asked of us.

Our other big chore was helping with the garden. We cut back raspberry bushes - which left me looking like I had gotten into a brawl with a herd of cats - and picked spinach. A lot of spinach - to the tune of four stuffed kitchen garbage bags full. That led us to one of our loveliest tasks of the week: cooking! Every morning, mid morning, Kim and I would make breakfast. Eggs, gathered from the hens that morning, along with, well, spinach. Fried eggs, a frittata, and breakfast tacos were our great successes. And, then, we had to plan dinner! Our most ambitious dinners were the two we made with homemade spinach pasta. We laughed and argued about how long we had to knead the dough (needy Kim argued for less kneading, I for more), but in the end, it was perfect. The first pasta night we made a lasagna bolognese, with ground mutton from the farm. Rich declared it the best lasagna ever! The second night was fettuccine, with two sauces made by Katy. Both with butter, a lot of butter, paired with wines chosen by Rich and Katy’s panna cotta. It was heavenly.

I say that I learned a lot on my week on the farm. The most important thing I learned is that I really like to work with my hands and I really like physical labor. I found a happiness that I don’t experience every day in my normal working life, which aside from moving a mouse and the occasional use of an exacto blade and glue stick, isn’t very physical. I also learned a lot about pride, something that I’ve forgotten about in my work. Katy is very proud of her sheep and lambs and the lives that they live, and she’s not shy to talk about it. 

As for Double Stuff, he will live out his life as a pet on the ranch. Rich says that I have to work off his keep every year. I’ve got this year paid off, so I’ll be back often to keep the little lamb happy.

 

For those interested in farming, last year I attended a 6-day farm school on a goat cheese farm in eastern Washington, Quillisascut. Katy recommends WWOOF, which connects farms and volunteers. WWOOF offers opportunities by region throughout the world. And, hopefully, in the future Katy will offer cooking and/or farm camps at Willow Spring Ranch Montana.

 


Wednesday
Apr182012

Learning to Sew

I spent last weekend in Florence, Alabama (located in the far northwest corner of the state), at a stitching workshop at Alabama Chanin. I’ve followed Natalie Chanin through her blog for many years and have lusted over her hand-sewn, quilted (for lack of better word) clothes, along with admiring her business practices of hiring local artisans in her community. Through the years, I’ve only bought T-shirts and basic clothing items and accessories, as the prices prohibited me from buying much else. A few times a year, Natalie offers weekend workshops at her studio, The Factory, so my friend Suzanne and I traveled to Alabama to spend the weekend sewing with fourteen other women who shared our same admiration.

And, as it turns out, I love to sew by hand! We arrived at The Factory on Friday afternoon. Our first task was to pick out a project to work on for the weekend. We had our choice of a large number of existing patterns for dresses, tops and skirts. Both Suzanne and I chose a dress called ‘The Maggie.’ The next steps were to pick out our  colors, stencil designs, and what technique we would like for our applique. Once complete, our ‘orders’ were whisked away for Natalie’s staff to prepare. Then, sitting outside with glass of wine in hand, we practiced by stitching a bandana while chatting with our fellow campers. It was a lovely sewing circle and a good warm up for the dress, a warm up for which I was thankful.

We arrived the next morning to our fabrics already cut and stenciled (yay!), all we had to do was sew. And sew a lot. Natalie had warned me that no one ever finishes their project in a weekend. I made a really ambitious choice with a complicated stencil, which was only confirmed once I started to work on my dress. I went through one spool of thread by the end of Sunday. I was given ten, but I definitely don’t feel one tenth of the way done. My goal is to finish the dress within a year, meaning a lot of nights home with needle and thread.

The Alabama Chanin clothing line is very approachable. By that, I mean that I want to touch all of the garments and understand how they’re made, and there doesn’t seem to be the fear of damaging them or getting them dirty by touch, like there might be with other couture lines. It is an elegance much different from, say, Dior or Valentino. I am absolutely in love with the style, and, because of the workshop, I have a new appreciation of how clothing is made and by whom. I already sense that the weekend has influenced my own style - not that I’ll be sporting solely Alabama Chanin - but I will certainly be more aware of my clothing purchases, from both craft and economic points of view.

And one day I’ll have a new dress.

Detail of my dress.

Natalie Chanin was featured in an Etsy video, which can be found here.

 

Saturday
Apr072012

Howdy!

I have been searching for something for a while. I don’t know what it is. It might be a new career, it might be a hobby, or maybe simply some skill that I might be able to use somewhere, sometime. Or a skill that I may never use again. I started this search about two years ago by actively signing up for any course - single- or multi-day - that I might be interested in, whether it be a one-night cooking class in Austin, where I live, or a week-long camp about letterpress type in Buffalo, New York. There have been times I have waffled, wondering if I want to enroll in a class, workshop or camp. In the end, I always register, telling myself that if I don’t like it, I can simply leave. I have yet to leave, and I walk away from every event with something valuable. And I’ve had a lot of fun.

What I’ve discovered is that a lot of my friends are in the same boat: they’re restless, want something else, but unsure of what it is that they want. These same friends are all naturally curious and want to learn. After asking me for suggestions of workshops or courses in Santa Fe, my friend Ann Daly suggested that I start to blog about my experiences as a camper. She called me the camp curator. I signed up right away!

Most of the camps I’ve done in recent years are design or food related. I also will share camps and classes that sound interesting to me, ones that I’d like to attend even if I can’t because of time, location or money. Let me know if you hear of a camp that sounds interesting. I might want to go!

Images from Quillisascut Farm School, 2011.

 

Here is a list of sleep-over (multi-day) camps I’ve been to in the past two years:

Letterpress Workshop with Type Camp (http://typecamp.org/) at Western New York Book Arts Center (http://wnybookarts.org/), Buffalo, New York.

Being a total Rock Star! Ladies Rock Camp benefitting Girls Rock Camp Austin (http://www.girlsrockcampaustin.org/), Austin, Texas.

Silkscreening with BBQ sauce, making stop motion animations, book binding, friendship bracelet making, canoeing and lassoing at Camp Waldemar. AIGA Design Ranch (http://www.designranch.org/), Hunt, Texas.

Milking goats, making cheese, learning about birds, bees and fruit trees at Intro to Farming, Quillisascut (http://quillisascut.com/), Rice, Washington.

Sommelier school. Drinking wine, a lot of it. And learning about it too. Level II Certification, International Wine Guild (http://www.internationalwineguild.com/), Austin, Texas.

Food Writing 101. OK this isn’t a camp but a really great 8-week online-based writing course with Molly O’Neill. Cook ‘n’ Scribble (http://www.cooknscribble.com/).

And if I’m going the non-camp route, I should mention Spanish school. Despite that I still don’t speak the language, I highly recommend Live the Language (http://www.livethelanguage.org/), Austin, Texas.