St. Maure de Touraine

I’m trying my first mold-ripened cheese! This lovely French cheese seems like the height of sophistication, yet it is a simple riff on a very easy recipe.  You make a batch of chevre, innoculate it with white mold, drain off the whey in forms, and when the curd is solid enough, remove the form and roll the ‘buche’ in salt and ash and age it! I took over a little fridge we had that wasn’t getting used, and have it set at its warmest setting – about 52 degrees. The buches should begin to develop a white mold rind that will turn them from coal-black to a soft grey, and the inside will become creamy and smooth. YU-HUM!

Here’s what mine look like on day 1 of aging:

st maure day 1

The sticks are inserted to help turn the cheese daily without harming the developing rind. Also note the dish of water at the bottom of the fridge to help maintain humidity in the ‘cave.’

Here’s what (I hope) the finished product will look like:

photo borrowed from artisanalcheese.com

I want it! (photo borrowed from artisanalcheese.com)

Cheese and Honey and Beer and Everything!

Gah! I just cannot seem to get my blog on lately. Things have been bumpin around the Domestead, but it’s not like I’ve been so busy I couldn’t spare a moment to write about it. Just not feeling like writing I guess.

But that’s just nuts, because here I am, with so many of the goals and dreams I have been working towards for so long finally coming to life! And I’m just like, meh. I also haven’t been taking many pictures, which is the very most effective way for a blogger to self-sabotage, because a post without pictures just hardly seems worth the trouble.  Sad really, because I started the blog more as a record for myself of all the progress I’ve made on my different projects and schemes.  It’s a nice place to visit and reflect on where I started and where I am now.

So stop being such a lazy schmo and write a damn post, lady!

Okay, here goes:

CHEEEEEESE!

*doing the cheese dance* (very sexy)

Wonderful delicious chevre!

Wonderful delicious chevre!

The last ball of my second batch of fresh mozzarella. Hard to keep on hand during tomato season!

The last ball of my second batch of fresh mozzarella. Hard to keep on hand during tomato season!

So far we’ve made mozzarella and chevre and both are just so so good it hurts.  Roomie Paul’s ultra homemade margherita pizza with fresh from the garden tomato sauce, basil right off the front porch, and our own goat’s milk mozz? Yes please! Or would you prefer the flatbread with garlic and herb olive oil, shaved summer squash and whole padron peppers from the garden, and homemade chevre? Umm…are you kidding me?

*more cheese dancing*

Peaches and our new doe Lily are producing about 2 quarts a day, although we’re trying to dry off Lily because we’re hoping she’s prego.  Kind of too bad as Lily is a dream to milk, the only hard thing being getting her off the milking stand once we’re done.  Peaches has finally settled into a much less violent milkstand routine, thank goodness.  I think she didn’t like sharing her babies’ milk with the humans.  She found it offensive and wrong (regardless of how much grain and adoration we plied her with).  But now the babies are gone and Lily is here and things are working well. We haven’t had to buy milk for weeks! Our 3 little wethers all found wonderful families to live with, and although it was sad to see our little buddies go, we have plenty of baby goats in our future. Which makes it a very bright future indeed. And cheese!

Look at all that milk! And we're splitting between two households, so that's just half a week's worth. Cheerios anyone?

Look at all that milk! And we’re splitting between two households, so that’s just half a week’s worth. Cheerios anyone?

My bees are going gangbusters right now which is so good to see. We harvested one frame from them and after one million years (I’m pretty sure) of straining the crushed up honeycomb, we now have a very cute amount of dark, delicious Ranch honey! Yay! And I only got honey all over myself like 5 or 6 times throughout the process, so hey, lookin good.

Cute amount of honey. And credit to sister for the adorable little honeypot!

Cute amount of honey. And credit to sister for the adorable little honeypot!

Next up: the Fella and the Pa have become brewing buddies! They currently have a batch of IPA fermenting in the bottles and 5 gallons of honey porter (YUMMEH) to get started this weekend. Unfortunately 5 gallons of honey porter requires significantly more than a cute amount of honey, so they might have to be un-homesteadly and go retail for that part of the recipe.

American IPA, currently hiding out in the dark waiting for the big reveal in two weeks.

American IPA, currently hiding out in the dark waiting for the big reveal in two weeks.

And other stuff, like I won my case in the California Supreme Court and was in the newspaper and got interviewed on the radio and everything (still waiting on the paycheck though…anyday now guys…for real). And we’re almost finished redoing one of our bathrooms, taking out the junky vinyl and putting in real tile and all that jazz.

Phew! So that’s a pretty comprehensive update. I won’t be a phony and promise more regular posting, but I will say that I will try.  Adieu for now!

So Lucky

OJ

Just look at that. That is the third gigantic pile of farm fresh citrus I’ve juiced up in the last three weeks! For some reason I have been the insanely lucky recipient of multiple bags of oranges, tangerines, ruby red grapefruits, Meyer lemons, and clementines.  People I know with citrus trees just have too much to manage right now, and I am reaping the benefits. Living in California is awesome!

In the Freezer

I belong to a local agricultural listserve, where farmers and gardeners of all stripes post about things like late season u-pick tomatoes, kid-friendly farm tours, medicinal herb workshops, and the inevitable free-to-anyone-who-dares renegade roosters.  I doubt I’ll ever post anything on there myself, being as I’m not a real farmer, but the daily emails from those folks nearby who are truly living the life are an inspiration. Plus I might want a rooster someday.

A few days ago I got an email from a local family who raises grass fed beef. I’ve had it before and it’s outstanding. The email was promoting a special designed for people who, like me, want to head into winter with a freezer full of provisions, can’t afford to pay retail, but haven’t (yet) upgraded to a humongous chest freezer big enough to fit a side of beef. In other words, bulk rate for slightly less bulk. Perfect! They had several different packages to choose from. After conferring with the fella and the roomie about splitting the deal three ways, I decided to stick with roasts, stew meat, and hamburger, feeling like these made more sense for the freezer than a smaller amount of fancier cuts like rib-eyes and T-bones.

This morning we bundled up and headed out to the grower’s market to pick up our order. 16 pounds of locally raised grass fed beef! I felt like a kid at Christmas staring into that great big bag.  We also picked up a few lamb chops from another farmer braving the cold under her little easy-up. Their lamb is absolutely divine as well (Chez Panisse uses it!). I felt a little guilty passing by the handful of shivering growers. Although their tables were piled with lovely beets, kale, chard, squash and the like, we were there for meat!

It feels gratifying to buy meat from the farmer that raised it, knowing that my omnivorous diet includes – and supports – humane and sustainable practices in my own community. While it may be considered a luxury to some, I am committed to making it a routine.  It’s easy and affordable enough, living where I do, that I really have no excuse. It’s also gratifying to look in the freezer and see neat packages of my own garden veggies, homemade pesto and tomato paste, and home-dried fruit nestled next to a winter’s worth of local steer and lamb.  There is a bounty in my freezer today, and as we build a fire with wood from our own forest, I pause to thank the land, the animals, and the farmers for everything.

Green Tomato Pickles

My tomatoes this year were a bit of a bust. Oh well, I’m still learning this stuff, hard as it is to admit. I feel like I should be an old pro, having grown up here where the garden is an integral part of life. 18 years of city living trained me for other things, like how to look tough walking down a bad street, how to find serenity in a crowd of people, and where to find the best pizza/burrito/hoagie at 2 AM. But it did not teach me how to make dirt that will sustain tomato plants through the entire summer.

My plants started out vigorous and ecstatic, clearly enjoying the chicken manure and organic fertilizer I used to supplement the soil.  They got huge fast and were covered in fruits. But they quickly petered out, and I never experienced the abondanza I had dreamed about. I got one really good crop, the first round to ripen, and that was about it.  After that they plants all got leggy and pale, and the few fruits that set wouldn’t ripen.  And then there was the incident with the deer.  Ah well, I have years of gardens ahead of me to get this right.

When this cold snap hit, I had a lot of green fruits still on the vine: Cherokee Purple, Roma, and Brandywines. I decided I need to make some use of them, given my meager yield overall, so I made green tomato pickles.

The recipe was simple, an amalgam of recipes I found online. The basic trick is to wash and quarter the tomatoes and then toss them in salt and let them sit overnight in the fridge. Then rinse and toss with whatever seasonings you want to use. For one batch I used garlic, fresh mint and basil, and Thai peppers. For the other I used garlic, fresh tarragon, and black peppercorns. You just pack the seasoned tomatoes into mason jars (sterilized) and cover with white wine vinegar, then pop them in the fridge. They are very sour, but very flavorful. Last night we had some as an appetizer, beside a selection of cheeses and sourdough bread, as you would a dish of olives. Not exactly the pantry full of ruby red tomato sauce I’d hoped for, but at least I’ll still be enjoying my garden all winter long!

A Quick Peek (and Grown Up Mac n Cheese)

Well, we (mostly) finished painting the house just hours ahead of the first storm of the season and man am I glad! The project took longer than we thought it would, as all projects do, but the house looks great. All that is left is to paint the upstairs dormers and do some more caulking of woodpecker holes here and there.  While we’re up there we’ll clear out the gutters as well.

I fully intend to post photos of the house all gussied up, but with the storm in full swing at the moment, you’ll have to be satisfied with this comparison of newly painted siding next to the old siding and funky trim. Same paint color, but the old paint was totally oxidized and peeling so you can really see what a difference the new paint makes.

One great thing about not painting for 20+ years is that when we finally did get around to it, the transformation was astonishing!

As the fella finished up painting in the highest places, Paul and I gathered as much dry manzanita kindling as we could.  Paul also filled all the bins inside with firewood and we covered the piles outside with tarps.  Then we put all the tools and painting equipment away and got inside!

Feeling exhausted and hungry from working, I decided we needed some serious comfort food for dinner, and whipped up a batch of grown-up mac and cheese (see the recipe below).  As we popped open bottles of IPA and dug in, the wind began to blow.

We actually had two extreme tornado warnings yesterday, with a few touching down in the next county and rumors of one literally just down the road (I’m skeptical about that one as it was reported by a local at the grocery store but not confirmed by any other source). Either way it’s wild stuff. We never have tornadoes around here, being as we’re sort of up in the mountains.  Although I can’t claim spotting any funnel clouds myself, we did see some very dramatic thunderstorms, dark ominous clouds, and hail, and we all agreed that was a perfectly acceptable tornado experience and that we don’t need another one, thankyouverymuch.

Here’s a loosey-goosey recipe for grown up mac n cheese. As you know, I cook by the seat of my pants, so these measurements are approximate:

Ingredients

  • 2 cups sharp cheddar, grated
  • 1 cup mozzerella, grated
  • 1 cup blue cheese, crumbled
  • 1 cup half and half at room temperature (milk will work, but all we had was half and half)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 12 oz strong ale (we used IPA, also I drank some before I poured it in, so more like 10 oz…)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons white flour
  • 1 box of whole grain pasta – I used old fashioned elbow macaroni, because not everything has to be grown up
  • 1 cup of thick cut bacon, cut into 1 inch slices, cooked to your preference
  • bread crumbs (I use panko)
  • fresh ground black pepper to taste

Get the pasta going, make sure you salt the water.

To make the cheese sauce, you’re going to start with a roux.  In they heaviest bottomed saucepan you have, using medium-low heat, melt the butter and very lightly saute the garlic.  Then gradually sprinkle in the flour, stirring to incorporate it completely into the butter without making lumps. Allow the flour to cook in the butter for a minute or two. Then very gradually and while stirring constantly, add the half-and half (or milk). You don’t want any lumps, so if lumps start to form, stop adding the cream and stir until the lumps dissolve before adding in the rest of the cream. Once the cream and the flour mixture are totally incorporated and starting to thicken, add your cheddar cheese and stir until it’s completely melted. Then add your blue cheese and stir that until it’s completely melted. Then you want to very slowly pour in your ale while stirring. Don’t do it too quickly or the sauce will lump up. Keep stirring the sauce and use a low heat so it doesn’t burn on the bottom.

Once your pasta is cooked, drain it and put it back into the pot. Using a rubber spatula, pour all the cheese sauce over the cooked pasta and stir to combine. Add the bacon and stir until it is evenly distributed.  Then sprinkle in about half of the mozzerella and stir that up. As the mozzerella melts it will make everything gooey and stringy and awesome.

Transfer the whole mixture into a big glass baking dish or casserole dish. Sprinkle with bread crumbs, the remaining mozzerella cheese, and black pepper to taste. Then bake until the topping is slightly brown.

We had this with some sauteed broccolini and lots of hot sauce. Talk about comfort food!

 

 

Housepainting

It’s going to be another long stretch before I have anything interesting to blog about. Not that I haven’t been busy, oh no! The fella and I have been busting our bums getting the Dome buttoned up for winter, which this weekend finally meant painting! Unfortunately, because we’re using the exact same color paint as before, is not a tremendously photogenic project. In person it is an incredible transformation, let me tell you. But all my photos look like boring pictures of green walls, and with the slanty fall sunlight, are so high-contrast that any differences in color are totally lost with my cruddy camera. So you’ll have to take my word for it: the house looks like a million bucks! We’re about halfway done, and the rest will have to wait until the weekend as the fella and I both have paycheck-style work to do for the next few days.

p.s. I tried the peach shrub this weekend and it is DELICIOUS!  Makes an amazing cocktail with a jigger of rum, and a splash of sody-water over ice. I use only about an ounce of shrub in the mix and it’s perfectly sweet, super flavorful (but watch out, cuz you can’t taste the rum!) and very refreshing. I am also thinking it will make an amazing hot toddy type drink heated up with some bourbon, which is a little more suited for the season.