Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Dairy Delights

It's really cold outside.  I think the high today was 12 degrees.  Certainly not the coldest it has been in the last few winters, but cold enough that the stables canceled all the riding lessons.  I think they generally feel that if the weather is below 20 degrees it's not good for the horses.  I'm fine with that.  It is not easy to stay warm even while riding indoors and trying to clean the tack with a frozen bucket of oil soap and water is actually rather painful.  So.  What to do with a spare afternoon?

Curds, and whey!
We drove the hour-plus round trip to the raw milk dairy and picked up 3 gallons of milk.  And had ice cream sitting next to the wood stove.  Ahh, cozy!  As soon as we got home I started a batch of cheese (queijo fresco) with one of the gallons.  My enzyme bottle is pretty old but I'm pleased to say it still works.  I wonder how long that will be the case?  Regardless, I have a powdered chymosin just in case.  Another half-gallon went to making yogurt.  In the last month or so I've tried to always have homemade yogurt in the house but I usually use ultra-pasteurized whole milk from the store.  Switching to raw is something I wanted to try to see how it affects the flavor and texture.  That will be ready in the morning.

The whey has been saved, to add to oatmeal or anything else that might benefit from a little extra nutritional content.  Last year I saved the whey and mixed it with grape flavored drink mix.  No one but I went anywhere near it.  Likely I won't use it all but I hate throwing things away or wasting food so I thought I'd at least try.

Dinner tonight used the last of the turnips I'd saved from the farm share (they survived being frozen rather well, actually).  I've now worked though everything from that share, except what is still in jars.  The next share is only four and a half months away!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

It Smells Like Thanksgiving

Today was a day in which we found ourselves, unexpectedly, with nothing to do.  Of course, for me that means do stuff I've been putting off.  Like the laundry.  And making turkey stock from the leftover Thanksgiving turkey.  It's been hiding in the freezer since then so I brought it out and made 10 pints of stock.  I boiled the bones with vegetable scraps, 2 bay leaves, some peppercorns and kosher salt and the pints were in the pressure canner for 20 minutes at 10 pounds of pressure.  There are 4 or 5 pints left with which I will make soup for dinner tonight, right now it's just stock and the meat I separated from the bones and put back into the pot.  Later I'll fry up some parsnips, celery, carrots, and onion and make the soup.  Ideally with barley or rice or something.  I'm hoping that the turnips I saved from the farm share are still OK to add; they had frozen in the drawer in the fridge and then I let them thaw on a higher shelf.  I'll cut one up and see how it is.

Rock, Hammer, Chisel

The starting point - a 7 or 8 pound chunk of alabaster.
As I've said before, I have a thing about skills.  So when I was browsing the catalog for a local art program and found a stone carving class I jumped at the opportunity.  It seemed like an interesting thing to know and, since I like to work with my hands, something that maybe I would enjoy.

The class was one day, and you start with a piece of white alabaster and end with...something.  What you make and how far you get is up to you and the stone.  Our instructor, Scott, showed us the tools and how to use them, and then let us go at our own pace.  He pointed out that once everyone got going, the sound of the hammers on the chisels was almost musical, and it was.  It was like meditating.  I was so focused on my sculpture that the hours just slipped by.
The tools of the trade.

The tools are simple and haven't changed much for millennia.  A steel point, a toothed chisel, a flat chisel, a small hammer, rasps, files, and sandpaper.  I listed them in order of use, in a way.  The steel point is what you use to take off larger chunks, then the toothed chisel smooths that down and then the smooth chisel takes out the marks and refines it further.  Scott said your tool should take out the marks of the previous tool.

He asked us to pick up a stone that called to us.  I picked up one that felt good in my hands but then I looked and looked and couldn't come up with something hiding in it that I could unlock.  So I went and got a different stone and felt that maybe I could make a bunny.  Since we got Mocha, I've had bunnies on my brain, I guess.  You draw out the shape on the stone with a charcoal pencil and then start working.  Sandbags hold the stone so it doesn't wiggle and you can periodically spray the stone with water to keep the dust down and see what you're doing.

By the lunch break, the shape was recognizable.
Alabaster is a calcium based rock, and is fairly soft in the grand scheme of things.  Our instructor likes working with it for teaching partly because since it isn't a silicate we don't have to wear particulate masks.  It's also easy to work with but, as I found out, it can break fairly easily as well.

Chip, chip, chip.  It's an iterative process.  You chip a bit, you redraw your shape, maybe you file a little to see where you're going, and chip again.  I brought down the rock to a more symmetric shape but was stymied a little by a natural hollow on one side which was supposed to be one of the haunches of the bunny.  There was also a lot of dirt in the rock which changed the color; fortunately the color worked to my advantage on the head where the pattern was similar to a Dutch rabbit.  After puzzling over it for a while, Scott suggested I leave part of it raw and see how it looked.  I think it worked well but if I had more time I might have made the whole thing smaller to have less raw stone.  The trickiest part was the ear that I wanted elevated off the back; twice I had it where I wanted it, only to have the tip break off and then I had to bring both ears smaller to fix it.

Once the chiseling is done the rasp and file are used for some of the finer detail and smoothing.  Ultimately, every little defect in the stone should be smoothed out before sanding or it becomes more glaringly obvious as you sand with finer and finer paper.  I think I filed for about an hour before I felt I was ready to sand; given the irregularities in the surface I could have clearly filed for much longer.  Sanding starts with coarser paper and moves to finer and finer papers, starting at 150 and ending at 1500.  After the first few sandings, wet the stone and the paper and use the stone dust as part of the sanding process.  When it's all done, it gets waxed with 3 coats of butchers wax.  We did not get to that step.  I only got as far as 600 sandpaper.
As finished as it was going to get, for now.

All in all, it is something I think I would do again.  It doesn't require fancy equipment or dedicated space (although Scott's studio was nice and had a lot of natural light).  I can see myself in the backyard in the summer working on a project and taking my time with it.  I found it very peaceful.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Long Time, No Sausage

I'm not sure why I haven't made sausages in over a year.  It's fun, it's satisfying, and it's a lot of hard work.  Oh, maybe that's why...

I found a huge pork shoulder and separate package of pork fat in the grocery store the other day, which I took as a sign that I should make a batch of sausages.  This time I made breakfast sausages with ginger and sage from the Charcuterie cookbook.  I cut up the meat last night and seasoned it.  This was made more difficult by the fact that my kitchen scale gave up just as I was almost done weighing out the meat.  Really gave out.  The display was flashing something unintelligible and continued to do so even after I changed the battery.  That makes scaling up a sausage recipe almost impossible!  Fortunately, I was very close to being done with the weighing so I guessed on the final amount and then guessed a little on the salt.  It turned out a little more salty than expected but not bad, so I seem to have done alright.
Today the 11 year old and I stuffed them into casings.  My husband took over when said 11 year old got tired.  I think we got about 40 links and we had patties for lunch to use up the rest.  They taste great by themselves, and awesome with maple syrup.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Maple Baked Beans

Happy New Year!

Remember I said I planned to do more with maple syrup this year?  Well, one of the things on my agenda was maple baked beans.  It just took me several days to make them because I had to leave the house too often.  I soaked them overnight on New Year's and then didn't boil the beans until last night.  Then I had the beans in the oven overnight last night; my husband turned the oven off around 1 am at my request and then this morning I added more liquid and started them again for another hour.  Now ten pints are in the canner.  And the kitchen smells awesome.

Here's the recipe, copied here for record keeping:

2 pounds golden Jacob's cattle beans, soaked
1.5 cups maple syrup
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. dried mustard
2 onions
2 slabs of pork fat-back

After the beans are boiled, drain but save the liquid.  Put the beans into a casserole dish (I had to use 2) with the onion on the bottom and the fat back on the top.  Mix the syrup with the salt and mustard and pour over the beans then add the bean liquid until the beans are just covered.  Bake at 325, covered, for up to 7 hours (less if canning) and then remove the cover and bake another hour (skip this last step if canning, too).  Add bean liquid as needed to keep the beans from drying out.  

When I put the beans into the pint jars, I topped each of them off with more bean liquid, as my beans are sometimes drier than I'd like.  We'll see how that turns out.