Thursday, September 27, 2012


Chilled raw goats milk, 1 gallon
Having goats, I am no stranger to owning vast amounts of milk, and I routinely make cheese of one kind or another. Sometimes I get success, sometimes failure. For example, my chevre has been all over the place. Sometimes it's gentle tasting and creamy, but sometimes grainy, tart or watery. Partly, this has to do with where my goat is in her lactation cycle and the goat's diet. But it also comes from my being complacent.

I start making some of the simple cheese from memory instead of from recipe, and it shows in their quality.

At least, I hope. I am going to try following Mary Karlin's chevre recipe as closely as I can and see if I can get a batch of smooth, creamy, firm, mild tasking chevre.

I am using milk from my goat, Meggie. Because I am making the cheese for home consumption, I will use the milk raw, as we normally drink it.

The recipe is already contains a step I don't normally do. I usually warm the milk up straight out of the fridge, but per instructions, I let it rest for one hour first. Then I warm it to 86 degrees (30 C.), sprinkle 1/2 t of starter culture over it, and let it sit for 5 minutes.
Stirring in 1/2 teaspoon meso starter

Again, I usually do the impatient thing and mix in the starter without waiting. Today I wait, then mix.

Then I wait again.

Normally, at this point, I add a drop of rennet mixed in a quarter cup of water. Today, I just leave the milk to ripen. The starter culture will grow, turning the milk's lactose into lactic acid, reducing the pH and causing the cheese solids to form a curd.

The milk with its starter culture incubates overnight. It should form a solid curd floating in clear whey. Instead, 12 hours after I mixed it, it's still semi-gelled. It looks like buttermilk. It is buttermilk. I leave it.

Somewhat thickened, somewhat grainy curds after 12 hours

Curds after 24 hours - still not solid

It has now been 24 hours. The milk/curd is still looser than I am used to. It is similar to home made yogurt. When I touch it with a spoon, there is whey that runs around the spoon, but the curds are still liquid enough to fill in instead of breaking. The surface is pock-marked when whey speckles it as I remove the spoon. I am very nervous about draining these curds. They look like grainy liquid, but I faithfully ladle them into my reusable nylon cheese fabric.

Draining the grainy, still-fluid curds

To my wonder, the curds don't drain through the holes in the cloth. Instead, whey seeps through, leaving the curd behind. After half an hour, I dutifully toss the soggy mess with 1 tsp salt.

The draining takes much longer than I am used to and longer than the instructions led me to believe. 24 hours, and then 36, elapse before the cheese has reached chevre consistency.

But OH, MY, is it good. This chevre is so much smoother than the cheese I make using a drop of rennet. It is better than any I have made and far superior to anything you can buy.

To answer the cheesepalooza questions, this cheese is:

Appearance: very white, dense, smooth, matte, shiny when warmed, like  cream cheese
Nose (aroma): faint, milky, slightly sour
Overall Taste:  mild, no goaty flavor, slightly tart, very rich
Sweet to Salty: sweet, in spite of the added salt
Mild (mellow) to Robust : mellow
Mouth Feel: creamy, slightly buttery. It left a slight buttery coating to my mouth. Contrary to my expectations when I saw the grainy coagulate, there was no graininess left when it drained. NONE. Smooth as silk. The texture was truly perfect.

Some of it is getting spread on home made bagels. My son's school serves bagels  and cream cheese for school breakfast - he told me mine are better!

Some is crusted with breadcrumbs and baked, then served atop a salad of homegrown greens.

The rest will be crumbled on pasta. Yum.

Shared on :  cheesepalooza

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Chasing Lightning

Lightning, our mini-Oberhasli kid, is always into one thing or another. 

A few months ago, she broke her leg.

At the time, we thought it was a fluke. The vet thought her leg had been caught in something; perhaps in a door jamb or other heavy, moving object. It could have happened to any baby goat.

Or so we thought...

As time goes on, we aren't so sure. Did Lightning have an accident, or is she actively looking for trouble? A typical day in her life involves getting into a lot of places.

 She drives the ducks crazy by jumping on their roof in the morning. 
She walks along the ledge above the milk stand, and sticks her head out through the polycarbonate window

She gets up into the tree house. She likes to go up there and then cry till someone plays with her.
Meggie stands at the manger to eat; Lightning stands on top of it.

Old spools were invented for young goats like Lightning

Apparently so were trees

If Lightning wasn't so adorable, she would drive us crazy.

shared on homestead barn hopfrugal days, sustainable ways, gastronomical sovereignty, Simple Lives ThursdayLHITS

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Cider party 2012

Self sufficient we will never be. And thank goodness for that.

Several Gardens Farm includes an old orchard with majestic standard apple trees that had not been pruned in decades when we moved here.
The trees produce generous crops of sometimes questionable quality fruit.

Some apples are good for eating, but many are too small, spotted, puckery tasting or damaged to save or give away, and instead get ground up for cider. 

Over time, by removing and destroying every prematurely fallen apple and picking and harvesting all the healthy ones, we have reduced the population of pest bugs and spot-causing fungus.

This is an ongoing process, and cider making provides a thrifty way to capture what's best from apples that don't please the modern palate.

As time went on, we came to cherish our annual cider making party as much more than just an exercise in orchard hygiene.  It has become a focal point for taking control of food production, and having fun doing it.

Among our first guests of the morning one family with young kids asked if we needed help raking up the few truly unusable bad apples. The apples that fall too early are often mushy, pecked at by birds, and starting to ferment. They host apple maggots, scab and coddling moth.

Cleaning them up is no one's choice job - our friends offered because they knew it would be most helpful. We love that there are people who understand how important the tough, icky jobs are and jump in to help. Hopefully that's not their only association with us!

In any case, they filled a wheel barrow with downed fruit before most guests even showed up.

Fort builder and defender

Next came Noah's scout den. These boys needed a team building activity, and had some extra energy to burn.

Their awesome den leader put the scouts to work hauling bales of old hay into long rows to serve as forts for a water balloon fight.

It shaped up to be a hot day, and later the younger kids benefited from the dose of cold water and the excitement of battling in a fort built by the big kids. It got them through the difficult mid-afternoon slump, when kids' tempers often take a nose dive.

Meanwhile, the serious fruit picking had begun. We gathered boxes, bags and buckets of apples.

People picked from ladders, stood on the ground, or climbed up in the branches and picked from inside the canopy itself.

Our three beloved orchard ladders had their busiest day of the year, and any other ladder we could get our hands on was pressed into service.

Even an old children's ladder/slide combo was put to use, for a little boost to get those almost reachable apples.

For me, it was a chance to be inside the canopy of a tree, where I feel most at home. The feel of scaly bark on my hands, the slight sway of branches under my weight, and the lure of apples just out of reach. I would have stayed all day if my guests weren't still arriving!

 Once the the apples we picked, buckets of them were tossed into bins for cleaning. There were always a couple of wash bins full, and over the day, more and more apples waiting in line to be cleaned and made into cider.

Friends showed up with boxes and bags of apples from their own trees. One guest brought some honeycrisp apples that weren't as sweet as they should be. A crowd of knowledgeable friends tasted, assessed, and suggested techniques to help grow a tastier fruit.

There were always hands at work with the cider press. The apples go in the tall wooden hopper, where they are ground into pulp and dropped into bags.

Then the bags of ground apples are pressed dry, and the juice is caught in pans and then transferred to a honey storage vat we temporarily gave a new job to.

All day long, people brought and ate goodies. They saw old friends, picked apples, made juice, filled their bottles and jars with juice, played with the animals, told stories, and met new friends.

Either because the work wore them out, or because the food was so good and the sun so bright, all the children and animals were in an exceptionally good mood.

Cosmo, our little rooster, got so relaxed he fell asleep in a young childs' lap, as she gently rocked on a swing.

More helpers arrived in the late afternoon. One great-spirited person did a load of dishes and the folks who had been picking and juicing got a late lunch break.

Tired kids started nodding off, and the first round of families headed home. The sun beat down, and a few people needed to take serious hydration breaks, either by drinking cider or getting hit with water balloons.

A mountain of pomace (ground up apple pulp) started to grow. Anyone who wanted took buckets of it home for their livestock.

Then David fired up the tractor and hauled the rest off to an overgrown part of the yard where its acidity will kill the weeds. Later we will cover it with lime and plant a garden there.

Entomologists and beekeepers stood in the late afternoon sun, talking about ways to keep pesticides out of beehives. A guest who showed up a bit late offered us a flat of organic tomatoes. A friend dropped off a pile of wood chips, saturating the air with the scent of shredded fir. Honey fans sampled honey made from three seasonal flower sources.

The last of the apple pickers, our fanatical cousins and an awesome neighborhood garden mentor, brought me a surprise - dozens of perfect apples and pears, sorted out from the cider fruit because it was of eating quality. If I can preserve it, this fruit will last us all fall and into the winter.

I started preparing cider to bottle. We guessed that upward of fifty gallons had been made that day, and nearly all was carried home by our awesome helpers, leaving us with a very manageable six gallons of our own.

The bird (a failed attempt with an iPhone).
And then, as if the day had not already been perfect, a huge pileated woodpecker flew across the orchard and landed in the neighbors' tree. It's shrill "wick wick wick wick wick" cry poured down over the remnant of friends still on the porch. Its flight and song became part of the act of washing off the cider press and of clearing the empty serving dishes.

Today was all about shared work, shared joy, and the need to depend on others. Even without the help of so many friends, we probably could have spent a grim workday and made the six gallons of cider we kept - but how many apples would have lain rotting in the orchard? We would have gone inside, ordered pizza maybe fallen asleep in front of a movie, aching from work, unaware of the spectacular day we could have had.

Moments of great need so often remind us that we are not self sufficient. We all need help in times of loss and grief, or to celebrate important transitions. We need help in times of abundance too. It isn't always easy to ask, but when we do, it sometimes becomes its own celebration.

Thank you everyone.

Shared at: Green idea reviews, Frugally sustainable, Simple Lives ThursdayLHITS DIY

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Better than buttercream

Sometimes, there isn't time to make cheesecake. Or I simply don't want to get every pan in the house dirty and heat up the kitchen. The fruit is piling up and attracting fruit flies. My family is tired of my seasonal fruit obsession, but I know how good it is, and how sinful it is to waste it.

And still that relentless, generous, sweet, epic garden keeps pumping out fruit. Berries, and plums, and now the pears are ripening, and soon the grapes will suddenly change color, and the figs will droop down in that ugly but delicious way they do when they need to be eaten.

 The acid juices are seeping into tiny cuts on my fingertips from the plum pits scraping my fingers as I pit them to go in the drier. My hands are stained with berries and ache from milking and my shins are bruised from leaning into the rungs of the orchard ladder.

I love trees, but I'm tired of getting bits of twig in my hair and spiders stuck to the sides of my face as I harvest. I'm tired to looking down the ladder at the hungry goats hoping a bucket of ripe plums might fall raining down on them.

 Buckets and flats of fruit, as far as the eye can see, and it's boring. I just want everyone to eat it now. I wish I had some shortcake. I wish I had an angel food cake. I want to make the fruit seem special, because it is, but right now it doesn't feel very special.

Meanwhile, the goats' milk keeps coming. I mechanically turn gallons of it into chevre, the very simplest recipe I know. To a gallon of milk, add 1/4 cup buttermilk, a drop of rennet in water, and let it sit at room temperature till it forms a curd. Drain in a cheesecloth bag. That's all there is to it.

David is bringing home boxes of honey. Soon it will be harvest time for that, too, and bees will come looking for the enticing smell. Jar after sticky jar, or if there is enough, buckets and barrels of it.

All I can think about is ordering pizza. I need to get a grip.

These are the times to pull out the mixer and make the best goo on earth. I call it buttercream, because honeycheese sounds a bit weird, and this should be comfort food.

Take chevre, or very dry yogurt cheese. Process, blend or stir to completely soften and break up any clumps. Add honey till it's sweet and completely combined.  I add about 1/3 cup honey per 2 cups of cheese. You could also add up to 1 t vanilla, but I usually don't. I prefer the texture when mixed with a paddle blade in my Kitchenaide mixer.

Chill. Serve. The texture should be velvety smooth, opulent and plush. The flavor should be slightly tangy, floral, milky, and evocative. Whenever we eat this, my son starts speculating on what blue whale milk tastes like. We've heard that it's thick as whipped cream, rich with butterfat and sugars, and makes baby whales gain three pounds an hour. This butter cream evokes such thoughts, but the ingredients are really no more decadent than putting cheese on a sandwich and a few spoonfuls of honey in your tea!
Everybody loves parfait

If it's too thin, it's called cream sauce and I drizzle it over fruit, or add it to oatmeal.

If it's just right, it's called butter cream and one could frost cakes with it. It won't stay perfect for long. It will eventually weep and separate, so don't use it for a birthday cake. This is daily fare, meant to eat now. Mostly we use it as a layer in a parfait, with fruit of any kind, or dip large fruits into bowls of it.

I've never had a batch that was too thick, but maybe you will one day. If you inhabit such a parallel universe, no fears. Add coco powder and call it a truffle.

However it turns out, it is a great emergency dessert. It tastes special without being hard work. There's plenty of work to go around without trying for more!

The harvest season is one of those strange times, when we complain about the things we love the most. I've heard kids do this about video games (Oh, I hate this level where you get stuck trying to rescue the princess) and adults whine about rock climbing and about solving jigsaw puzzles and about weaving in the loose ends in knitting.

When people say they 'hate' some element of a beloved activity, they are searching for some other meaning. Something akin to 'my passion for what I'm doing is being proven  by this most tedious or difficult task.'

In this century and community, it is a privilege and a choice for me to grow so much of my family's food. I know that, and I never regret the choice or compare myself to those who rely on farming without the fallback of a day job. Not just that - the harvest is a time of solemn gratitude, of wonder at the abundance around us. But the sheer work of it does knock me on my backside every time. 

Thanks to butter cream I have a little more backside to cushion the fall!

Shared on:frugal days sustainable ways, gastronomicalsovereigntyspain-in-iowa simple lives Thursday , littlehouseinthesuburbs

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Cheesecake from our own goats

By popular demand, the recipe for goat cheese cheesecake, for those times when you have too much of everything.

A dairy goat in full milk can produce more milk than a family of three to drink or pour over cereal. Meggie has been very generous all summer, and we are getting creative. The garden is going full force. We are eating   our fill of fruits and vegetables; though we love it, we sometimes crave a treat. I wanted a dessert that felt indulgent and that  balanced out a dinner of fresh, raw foods.

This cheesecake uses honey, yogurt, cheese, and eggs from the farm. If you have a milk goat and chickens, and are comfortable making yogurt, this is pretty standard fare. But outside the farm, you won't run into this cheesecake. Its texture is denser, less lush, and slightly grainier than restaurant cheesecake. Although still very rich, it doesn't have the creaminess I am used to. I think of it as more like a custard in a graham cracker crust. My friend Sally has her own name for it - maybe she'll post it as a comment.

I apologize in advance that either this dessert tastes better than it looks, or I simply was not creative enough to take a glamour shot of it.

Cheesecake recipe

6 graham crackers
3 tbsp butter
1 Cup chevre or well drained yogurt cheese
1/2 cup yogurt (preferably goat's milk)
3 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
2 tbsp honey
1 or 2 tsp vanilla
2 Tbsp flour (if using yogurt cheese instead of chevre)

Preheat the oven to 350.

Assemble a spring form pan.

Melt the butter, and crumble the crackers, either by hand or in a food processor by pulsing 8 to 10 times. Mix the melted butter into the crumbs with 2 or 3 pulses. While making this recipe, I noticed that all the other buttons on my processor are new, but the "Pulse" button is worn out. Things tell their own stories, don't they?

Pat the crumbs out onto the bottom of the spring form pan. Bake the crust at 350 for 10 minutes, remove and cool while mixing the filling.

Reduce oven to 300.

While the crust is cooling, wipe the inside of the processor to remove crumbs. Place all the other ingredients in the processor, in the bowl of a mixer, or in a large bowl, and mix well. The flour gives the cheesecake a stronger set - if you use chevre from the store, omit flour for a more ethereal texture.

If you mix by hand, start by stirring the chevre until its well broken up. Then beat in the sugar till fluffy. Add the eggs one by one, then the other ingredients. However I find a kitchen appliance with a powerful motor is a big help with this!

The filling will have a very unpromising texture. It resembles eggnog in thickness, and if it didn't contain raw eggs I'd be tempted to taste it. It's probably yummy. But it looks like it will fail. Don't despair! Remind yourself again that this is sort of like custard.

Pour the mixture into the spring form. Place a cookie sheet on the bottom of the oven in case it drips, and slide the pan onto the middle rack. Bake 45 minutes and test. The center should jiggle like gelatin when you gently tilt the pan, but not slosh. A knife inserted in will displace the filling but should not come out clean. It should still be quite tender. If it's too gloopy, put it back for another 5 minutes, check again and repeat as needed.

Allow it to cool fully, then refrigerate at least 4 hours before serving. (Author's note - this never really happens. It's actually fine after an hour). Unmold the spring form, and set the bottom out on a plate.

You can top this with fruit or jam. Quince paste is one of our favorites, but it's pretty good on its own, too.

Tonight we are serving slices with a choice of blueberries, raspberries or blackberries. It's a very substantial dessert, almost like a second dinner. Late summer at Several Gardens Farm feels pretty good.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Harvesting the hazels

You need to stop reading this and go outside right now. Find the nearest hazel or filbert hedge, and break off one of the clusters of nuts.

Hazelnut in the husk
If you live in the Pacific northwest, it won't be hard to find one. Any planting with trees and shrubs probably has a few. If you live elsewhere, you might have to search. That's ok. The journey is what matters, right?

If you don't break of this cluster, the squirrels will in a matter of days, so don't feel too guilty. Of course, don't do anything that will get you in trouble, either!

The cluster of hazelnuts in their cases will be jade green and frilly, a group of lacey collars enclosing green or tan seeds. Put a thumb on the tannest nut, and try to move it. If it roles free from the husk, it's ripe enough to eat, though perhaps not for long-term storage. If not, it doesn't matter for what you are going to do. Peel back the husk instead.

Insert nose here
Now smell the husk, and the green stem of the nut. Isn't it divine? It could be a mens' or womens' cologne, or a laundry product, but it's too pure really for either. It smells like, of all things, spring. Funny in early September.

I have no idea why hazelnut husks smell so wonderful. Maybe to help attract squirrels? Though they consume many nuts, squirrels greatly benefit the few that survive. By dragging them off and burying them, squirrels serve as the distribution system for the seeds, allowing them to grow far from the tree. That is idle speculation, though. Seriously I have no clue. But seriously, they smell great.

We are trying to harvest hazels this year, for the first time. Usually by the time I decide they are ripe, the squirrels have taken them all. This year I am picking them green but loose in the husk. It will be a few weeks before I know if the meat shrivels up and is ruined or if it is edible. Good nut and seed crops are one of the big gaps in production at Several Gardens Farm. We will never meet our caloric needs with our nut crop, but a harvest will help us make at least a few more meals from entirely farm-grown food

Litter of nut husks - a squirrel has been here!

 Note - squirrels leave lots of apparently intact hazels scattered around the lawn. Nearly all are "blanks", hollow  inside. 

It is a total waste of time to gather these dropped seeds and open them.The good ones are either eaten in situ, the empty shells dropping down to form a mulch beneath the plant, or dragged off and  buried, where they will sprout a few years later.

A good nut
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