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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Cheese is NOT easy!

I was very lucky to receive several wonderful gifts for Christmas, but a couple of them are really for the homestead.  One gift, from my Father-In-Law is a pre-made raised bed kit.  I am so excited about this one - we have already starting talking about planting carrots and onions in it, since those veggies struggle in our hard clay.  Of course, we will have to wait until spring to get this one started.

But the other awesome, homesteady gift came from my husband.  He got me a Mozzarella and Ricotta kit!  The kit has everything I need to make 40 batches of mozzarella; all I need to do is buy the milk. I have been wanting one of these for a long time, and so jumped right into my first batch.

First you pour a gallon of milk into a pot and stir in citric acid.  Then you add rennet.

Once it heats to a certain temperature, you let it sit until it forms the curds.  These should pull away from the sides when you push at them.

Notice that mine did not.  I let it sit a few minutes more, but it still was custardy.  The printed directions just said a few minutes, so I decided to soldier on.  (I later looked at the website, which says let it sit for another 5-10 minutes.  That might have helped, as you will see later.)

Then you cut the curds and heat them again.  This is where it all started to go wrong for me. 

You put the curds in a strainer and then you are supposed to heat them again, then stretch the cheese to form the long protein strands.  Unfortunately, mine starting falling apart at this point.

In the end, the "cheese" I made is rather tasteless and crumbly, and looks remarkably like brains.

I guess it would function as a cheese spread, but I am pretty certain that I made zombie cheese.  (We should name this farm Zombie Acres, since our veggies, our cell phone, and now our cheese all seem to jump on the zombie train.)

I will try again with a new gallon of milk, but first I need to do some more reading.  As far as I can tell, my problems may originate in the milk.  I guess manufacturers are starting to over-heat milk out of fear of bacteria.  So even milk that isn't listed as "Ultra-Pasteurized" is darn close to being so.  Virginia has laws against selling raw milk, so I need to investigate our options for better milk.  But that is a post for another day.

Cheeeeese Braaaiiinnns!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Homestead Christmas

Happy Christmas, Everyone.  We had a nice time hunkered down here while the snow fell.

The boys put on their party hats (and buckets, and knight's helmets).

We made paper chains.

And counted down the days until we could share presents.

On Christmas morning, the boys opened their stockings.

And reveled in despicable presentry.  Or something that makes sense.  They got loot.

And loved it.

And ate sweets.  (And got very, very sticky.)

And then, like most families, we had an epic battle.

Between the forces of good, and evil.

(Or storm troopers and dragons.  You choose.)

The battle was terrible. 

Until reinforcements arrived.

And then victory was both very sticky,

and very sweet.

And then we all took naps to celebrate.

More blogging soon!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Good Life

Good Neighbors: The Complete Series 1-3In the 1970s there was this wonderful BBC TV show called The Good Life, or Good Neighbors, in America.  It was a brilliant show about a couple who suddenly decide to leave the rat race, and turn their upper-class, suburban home into a homestead.  They dig up their front and back yards, plant vegetables, and raise livestock.  In London.  In the 1970s.

Yeah, the neighbors weren't pleased.

I love this show!  We first watched it before the move, but after we had bought our current home.  So the dream, my dream, of a homestead was already alive.  But this show brought the dream into focus.

But as much as I love that show, it wasn't until today that I processed the full implications.  See, if I want a pretty house with some space, fruit trees and a good sized garden, then we are on the right track.  But if I want a homestead, a real one, then my husband and I need to have a serious talk about yard versus garden, and livestock versus acreage.

So.  New plan.  Discuss with thoughtful and open-minded husband the prospect of turning the front yard, or most of it, into a beautiful and productive vegetable garden.  Turn the side area into a fenced pasture for the yet-to-be-decided livestock.  And allot the area over the septic for the chickens.

The pros:

  • Less mowing
  • Better soil in front of the house
  • It can be beautiful (or so I have read)
The cons:
  • Um, no yard!  We live in a rural area (duh) which means that the neighbors won't really have a say, but we would still be different from the other houses on the street.  It would be a major transition for a girl and a boy from suburbia.  And it will make us stand out.  I don't like to stand out.
  • Where would the kids play?  We have two boys who need large areas to run around.
  • I can't think of another con, but I am sure there are more.  I'll come back to that.
I think this is a question of commitment.  Am I committed to being that different and off-base?  Are we ready for the full-deal, or are we only playing at the homestead idea?  And would that be so bad?

I don't know.  I definitely don't have answers.  But I am intrigued by the new epiphany tonight.  A front yard garden may be the missing link in this dream.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Make A List

I read some good advice over on the Cold Antler Farm website (which rocks, by the way.  Just sayin').  Jenna suggested that the best way to make your dreams happen is to write it down.  Seems simple, and I am fairly sure I have heard this advice before.  So this year I am doing it.  And unlike the usual New Year's Resolutions, I am making my list public.  I hope that will make me more accountable.

So here we go, in no particular order.

Jen's List 2011

    The Knitter's Year: 52 Make-in-a-Week Projects-Quick Gifts and Seasonal Knits
    Boxwood Cast Iron Wood Stove, 63,800 Btu RTS Home Accents 5510-000900-5600 50-Gallon Rain Water Collection Barrel With Brass Spigot - Brown
  1. Knit or sew one project per week.  I admire people who set these types of achievable projects with a one-year deadline (a la A Year of Slow Cooking, and the Julie/Julia project).  So, with this book as my guide, I am going to do something similar.  One knitting or sewing project per week.  Maybe I will finally run through my yarn stash.
  2. Chickens.  I would like us to have chickens by the end of 2011.  That means saving up for and building the coop.  We already have volunteer help from family to help build the thing, now we just need the financial end to line up.
  3. Wood-burning stove.  The heat pump just can't hack these winters.  It is running constantly, even at its low setting, and I am always cold!  So this summer, we need to look into installing a wood-burning stove.  Pretty sure we know where it would be most efficient, now we just need to get saving.  What's more, if we get an old-style one, we can cook on top of it if the power goes out (or just for fun!)  And our property already has some dead trees that need to be cleared, so we can season some firewood ourselves!
  4. Financial end.  We need to get these medical bills paid off and our nest egg rebuilt.  This is a priority, obviously.  Maybe the right job will open up for me, locally.
  5. Financial, part two.  I am going to keep up with our budget on a weekly basis.  I already told this to my husband, so it has to happen.  And I am starting this week.  Not waiting until January 1st for this one!
  6. Garden!  My super-smart husband has an idea for drainage in the garden, so maybe the babies won't wash away this spring.  I am also going to start the plants inside and not sew the seeds directly, unless I have to.  I already have seeds stored for tomatoes, peppers, edemame, and pumpkins.  We also want corn, potatoes, onions, squash, carrots (in raised beds) and melons.  Add mulch and compost to this list, because we still need to work that soil.
  7. Rain barrels.  We need to water the garden and orchard, so we are finally going to make our rain barrels.  We have one, pre-made, that the 7-year-old won at a fair, and barrels for 2 or 3 more.  This should be a weekend project, all we need are the connectors.
  8. Mud.  Grr, mud.  With three dogs and red-clay, mud has become a major issue.  Basically, the dogs have created a mud patch at the bottom of the deck stairs, from which they track the mud back into the house each time they go out.  We had nice carpets six months ago when we moved in; now they are almost a complete loss.  I just can't get them clean.  Which leads me to number 8.  I can't rage war on mud, so I will just brick over the mud patch!  We are going to install a brick walkway from the deck stairs out to the fence line.  No more mud patch.
  9. Then I am getting the carpets cleaned!
  10. Keep trying one new dinner recipe per week.  I've been doing that for a while and discovered some delicious meals.  Maybe one day the kids will try them!
So that's the list, for now.  And now I am accountable for it.  What is on your list?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Nostalgia Cookies

I was feeling nostalgic for college this week.  In fact, I am finding that the older I get the more I miss about college, and the more I realize I missed in college.  College is wasted on the young!

Anyway, every winter, a good friend's grandmother used to send her bags of fat, dense, delicious Italian Christmas cookies.  And my friend would share them with me.  The cookies were delicious, the link to family was comforting, and the friendship was sweet.

So in my nostalgia this week, I decided I would try to make some here on the homestead.  I looked on the internet and found some recipes, one of which seemed perfect.  The picture of the cookies looked spot on, and the recipe included ricotta cheese, which seemed interesting, and Italian.

But this is the problem with the internet.  As a librarian, I am skilled in search techniques, but there is no way to search for Italian-Christmas-Cookies-like-my-friend's-grandma-used-to-bake.  Just trust me.  Don't try that search.

The cookies were good, but they were like Madeleines: springy, moist, light.  Not the layered, dense, buttery confections I remembered.  And the icing wouldn't stay on them.

Ho hum.  They made good Christmas gifts, and my kids liked them.  But they didn't fill that nostalgic need.  My cookie desire is unrequited!  Guess I need to try again.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Bare Root Planting

Life is swinging back towards normal and I have scraped away a little time to update the blog.

My older child came home from the hospital yesterday following a successful surgery the day before.  Now I am just fighting to keep him calm and sedentary as he heals.  He feels fine, and I am relieved.  With both kids stuck in the house for the next 5 days straight, though, I felt it was time for me to head outside! 

The Arbor Day Foundation finally delivered my hazelnut bushes last week, so those got planted right away.  Right now they just look like twigs sticking up out of the ground, so no pictures yet.  But next year they should start looking like this:

but, you know, with just three.
And then yesterday, at long last, my other trees arrived.  But we have had below freezing temps since the hazelnuts were planted.  In fact, it snowed the day after I planted them.  So I have been worried that the trees arrived too late and would die when planted in the cold, cold ground.

However, it seems that this is all part of the Arbor Day Foundation's master plan, because bare-root trees and shrubs can be planted in winter, as long as the ground isn't frozen solid.  It seemed counter-intuitive to me, though.  I am used to planting trees that have a large root ball.  Have you ever seen bare-root trees before?  They look naked and alien!  Couple that with the nice notice that came from Arbor Day that said that every minute a bare root is exposed to air increases the chances for disease or death to the tree, and it seems like a lost cause. 

But I really didn't have a choice.  So today I took a leap of faith and planted two sour cherry trees,

and a Red Maple that came free with my order.  I hope I didn't kill them by trying to save them!

I also have two more forsythia to be planted, also free from Arbor Day, but my luck ran out with them.  The ground really is frozen solid where I had planned to plant them.  I will give it a try tomorrow when it warms up above freezing again.

For now, I am going to spend some time with the kids, start dinner, and start some holiday baking!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Belated Turkey

Today I decided to cook a turkey for dinner.  (Well, I guess I decided 3 days ago, since I had to defrost it.)  I have a surplus of turkey after I got a huge deal at the supermarket and ended up spending a total of $17 on four, large birds.  Yum!

Anyway, since I didn't cook on Thanksgiving, and since my family is so large, we did not have any leftovers!  Ah, the horror!  So today we will have turkey.  With some creative changes to a strandard process.

I like to brine my turkeys, a la Alton Brown.  I usually use our large pressure canner to hold the bird and the brine, but for some reason today I couldn't get the lid off.  No idea why.  Maybe it froze in the shed.  So, I did the next best thing.

I cleaned the kitchen sink and set the bird to brine in there.  Then I covered it with saran wrap to keep the dog hair out.  At least it will be easy to add ice as needed, and to rinse the bird before it goes in the oven!

I am also trying a new method for making stuffing.  Now, I love stuffing.  Love it!  But I want an even easier way to make it - a way that I won't have to constantly tend it in the oven.  So I am trying to cook it in the crock pot.  I used the method described here, on an amazing crock pot blog, but I am using my family's recipe.

It has to taste like Grandma's or it isn't worth it.  Fingers crossed!

(And, yes, Mom, I know this is an abomination.  Just like turkey breast in a crock pot.  Abominably delicious!)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Hazelnuts and Stubbornness


We received a surprise package in our mailbox today.  I thought it was a phonebook, from the look of the bag, but it turned out to contain three, young Hazelnut bushes from Arbor Day Foundation.  I had forgotten that I had joined the Hazelnut Project!

I always get excited adding new edible plantings to the homestead (can you tell?), but I have serious trouble deciding where the actual plants should go.  And faced with plants that can live from 50-100 years, it feels like a major decision.  But I have eighteen hours to decide before I stick them in the ground.  No problem.  Right?

Oh, and I am not sure I like hazelnuts, I have nut issues, but I have 4-5 years to develop some recipes.  Hello hazelnut butter and hazelnut oil.  Ice cream.  Pie?  Possibilities!  Pictures tomorrow, when the new bushes are in the ground.


It seems I may have some contrary, bull-headed, subversive, stubbornness issues.  I am sure you were too polite to comment up until now, but I am aware of it.  

Case in point: 

I have an extraordinarily large family.  We had 32 relatives at Thanksgiving dinner, even with several first cousins absent!  But we all seem to really like each other.  No B-movie stuff for us; we all look forward to Thanksgiving.

At some point on Turkey Day, I was talking with a favorite aunt, who was giving me some free advice on starting up here on our little slice of heaven.  I am sure she meant nothing but the best, but she inadvertently brought out my stubborn streak.  She said that "of course" we would want to try chickens, but that we wouldn't want more than 6, all hens.  And I, like any rational person, took extreme umbrage.  

I started planning a L-A-R-G-E Flock.  40 hens, 20 roosters.  The chicken house would be bigger than my own.  How dare she tell me I would only want 6?  My husband would just have to lump it!

Then, she proceeded to tell me that I did not want a dairy cow.  Two milkings a day; TWO!  "Of course" I wouldn't want that.

And again, my calm, rational demeanor dictated that now I would want, no, need, two dairy cows, and a dairy goat.  That I was smart and capable, and a bit of a homebody, so of course I wouldn't mind being tied to the homestead every day and night!

Yeah, crazy-Jen made an appearance on Thanksgiving.  But I am all better now.  No worries.

And, yes, I confessed to my husband and he didn't run screaming for the hills.  And he actually seemed a bit accepting of the massive chicken idea.  Fun times!

Oh, and probably not a good idea to tell me "Of course" and follow it with an assumption about something I might not want.  Turns out, I can be a bit stubborn.