14 June 2009

Food Glorious Food

I got the email this week that our local U-Pick Orchard was opening up their strawberry patch. After the rainy week, and expected sunny skies on Saturday, I knew that getting there earlier than later would be essential. But, I have another orchard I like to go to, so I had a backup plan just in case.

And Saturday was sunny for sure! Bright sun and blue skies, it's been a while since we saw them. After the kids appointment in the morning we swung through a drive thru to get lunch (sometimes, you do what you have to do) and I called the automated picking line to make sure the patches hadn't been cleaned out before we got there. Still open, so off we went.

Finding a parking spot was hard, but not impossible. We queued up to get our baskets and off to the rows. They had people directing us to rows, reminding us to stay in them, mark where you stop with the little flag, and gave us a white bucket for any squashed or spoiled berries along the way.



After about ten minutes the niblets began to lose interest, but I moved them through filling their baskets as I worked on mine. Lots of people were out in the field, including row jumpers who didn't seem to remember what the rules were. I wanted to remind them, I also wanted to beat them with my flag marker, but I figured that would not set a good example for the kids.



Baskets filled, we checked out and moved the strawberries to the car. A good haul, over 14 lbs. worth. Then I let the children wander off to the playground, including the goats and ducks kept in a bordering pen. With children all over and food dispensers, the goats know they have it good.



Today we had rain and I have begun the process of washing, hulling and freezing the berries. I did a lot of jam last year, more than I planned with the ice storm and subsequent defrost of all my summer berries. I am sure I will do a little more, but I wanted to do some fresh stuff also.

This week has brought a lot of turmoil inside. Everyone has those days; I guess this week I was getting my fair share, plus a couple more. When times are hard, it is pretty easy to get restless and just need to do something. Something to move, something to soothe my soul - gardening in the rain doesn't hold real appeal, so I turn to baking. I had bananas stored in the freezer already and thought some banana bread would be good, and dug up my standard recipe (from Better Homes & Gardens New Cookbook, spiralbound), but hit the muffin recipe first. So, I threw together a batch of those, and decided to turn it up a notch with strawberries. Then they went into the bread.



Then I decided to throw together one more batch of muffins, but had used up all the bananas. But I sure have enough strawberries! Throw in a little lemon juice and zest, and I have enough to freeze for another week also.

It doesn't answer my questions or make the Path and smoother, but at least I have some snacks for along the way.


08 June 2009

Lavender


The scent drifts onto the front porch some days. I have three lavender plants in the front - and one of the Munsteads was just blooming. I didn't harvest the plant I had last year. It isn't a lot, but there are still closed buds on this plant, and many, many more on another.

I've been looking for a simple project to break in my sewing machine. It intimidates me a little, and I have only used it to hem my daughter's curtains. However, I think some sachets may be just the ticket.

02 June 2009

Blogging For Toys

I have blogged for a lot of things in the past - and today I am blogging for a giveaway!

No, not my own. Unless you want two niblets. One is entering puberty, so I can give you a great deal.

Anyhoo, today in my blogroll perusal I came across this giveaway from The Grocery Shrink Blog. She has been blessed by a donation of a Vado HD Pocket camcorder! It looks like an awesome toy. I can do some video with my smartphone and my camera, but this looks like it would beat the quality of both!

For details, and your own chance to win, head on over to her blog!

Dairy Queen

I have learned a lot of new things to cook and bake by studiously avoiding them with lots of excuses about time, money, and imminent failure before finally jumping in. It seems to work, so I am not going to mess with that sequence.

I have Ricki Carroll's Home Cheese Making sitting on my bookshelf and a mozzerella kit in my pantry. I really would love to try them with raw milk, but do not have a local source. Last weekend I went grocery shopping and was stocking up on various sundries, including the ever-disappearing-from-my-household butter and yogurt.

Butter has a bad rap, but I refuse to use the processed stuff. My parents' home now stocks margarine in all it's low-fat-low-cholesterol-we-say-it's-good-for-you solids and sprays. Not my idea of yummy. Or natural. I also eat a lot of yogurt now. I am not too much of a milk drinker anymore, and my consumption of ice cream has dwindled. But yogurt has been a great substitute, and when I was introduced to Greek yogurt, with its thick texture, I was hooked. But boy, it is NOT cheap.

So, I started roaming the internet halls to find a recipe for yogurt to make at home. I was perusing yogurt makers too, cause when you start working with liquids and stoves and monitoring temperatures to a certain degree, my head begins to spin from all the details. A friend of mine on Facebook mentioned making yogurt, and I asked her if she did it "by hand" or had a yogurt maker.

She did it by hand. But she did it easily - in a crockpot. She used a recipe from a blog that is one of my favorites, A Year of Crockpotting. I read over the instructions, no thermometer needed. Well, I did, but that is because I didn't follow the recipe quite exactly. Which I know with dairy products and the introduction of bacteria - deliberate or not - isn't always a healthy thing. But hey, as I said before, I have my sequence.

So off to the dairy I went to get a gallon of milk - even going the whole milk route since I was trying it the first time (I wanted to avoid imminent failure, just hints of it were fine). While there I decided to go full in and grabbed a quart of heavy cream also. While internet shopping for yogurt recipes, I started thinking about the butter that we go through in our house (it isn't just me, thank you). With costs rising, why not try making my own? And as much as I would love to own a Dazey churn, I found that my Kitchenaid mixer would be an excellent substitute. Although this one would also be nice, just in case I need butter during a blackout.



So, first the yogurt. I dumped a half gallon of whole milk into my slow cooker to cook for 2.5 hours. Easy. Then the directions said that it would need to cool for three hours before adding the yogurt. You need to add yogurt with live cultures to rev things up and start the whole process. I had about a half cup left from my Trader Joe's Greek yogurt, so I was all set on that. However, during the cooling process, I realized that I was going to be leaving the house before the three hours was up. Should I cancel? No way - I was going to see Star Trek. Not gonna happen. So, I did take it's temperature as the deadline approached, and although it hadn't quite reached 110 degrees, I dumped in the yogurt, covered and swaddled the whole thing and went on my merry way.

*I am not giving the standard recipe I used, since I didn't follow it and only want to be responsible for my own Self! However, you can find full instructions for the crockpot yougurt recipe here.


It could sit for eight hours, or overnight, so I went the overnight route. Not lazy, just following directions. I awoke to a solidified yogurt with whey settling on top. I am not a fan of whey, I know there are things to do with it, but haven't jumped there yet. However, I knew I wanted it as thick as Greek yogurt, so I lined my colander with cheesecloth (from the unused cheese making kit) and strained it.



While this was straining, I decided to throw caution to the wind and make the butter. It's pretty easy too. Beat until butter. How can you go wrong? (Shhh. It was a rhetorical question.) I didn't want just plain butter though, so I threw a head of garlic in my oven.



Into the mixer the cream went. It isn't a very exciting view, but you see the whole process of it going from liquid to soft peak to hard peak. Then, somewhere in between blinks, the whole of it collapses in on itself and liquid rushes to the bottom of the bowl. Your butter, and buttermilk, have arrived.

One thing all the instructions say is that you must wash the butter to get the extra buttermilk out, or it will go rancid pretty quick. First I beat water in the bowl, but that was a lot of manuvering to keep emptying the bowl. I took out the clumps of butter - not easy from a whisk - into a colander and washed it there. Once the water ran clean, I was done. I mixed a little salt into the whole, then I separated a large chunk out, about 3/4 cups, and mixed it with the roasted garlic. Both were shaped into logs and wrapped in plastic wrap.


(None of my butter pictures turned out well. Must be shy.)

I drained the leftover buttermilk into a container. I don't normally use it, but didn't really want to waste it, so I found a buttermilk bread recipe and threw the ingredients in my bread maker. Of course, I went to bed after this, so although it shuts off it also made the bread fall. It still tastes fine though, no complaints. One of these days, I may follow ALL the instructions. One of these days.

Oh, and the yogurt? With a lot of the whey drained off it is a thick and creamy consistency, just as good as store-bought Greek-style yogurt. The tang is different, I am honestly not sure if it is not as tangy, or just tangy in a different way. But it is good.


All in all, I loved making this stuff. I know that I will probably do the yogurt weekly, since I can eat it every day. The butter maybe not as much, but I will enjoy experimenting with flavored butters through the next months.

Now, about that cheese kit...

01 June 2009

What Makes a Family?


Today is Blogging for LGBT Families Day. Across the US - and I am sure many other countries - people are writing about the effect of being a gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgendered parent, a child of one, a relative, a friend, a supporter - maybe even a non-supporter (I will respect your opinion, but I won't read agree with it).

You can find a lot more posts through Mombian, and co-sponsored by the Family Equality Council.

Right now, I am single. I have been married to, then divorced from my children's father. I have been in relationships both before and after with people of both genders. I have sat in my son's class with all the other parents listening to a presentation from one about "my two Moms", and had discussions with my daughter about hearing kids tease and bully by calling each other "gay". I have taught at Sunday School and had numerous children picked up by parents, gay and straight.

Being a parent means being responsible for another's life for a long time (some even longer than you expected). It means dealing with laughter, tears, frustrations, homework, driving, dating, field trips, friendships, first loves, first heartbreaks, next loves...and there is no difference.

Except for those who cannot marry, not because they do not want to marry, but because they CAN NOT. California has flip-flopped, many states have said no. I am grateful to be in one state that says YES - and was also the first to do so. I can marry whomever I love, man or woman. But others would contend that my family "would not count" if I was in love with another woman.

But I disagree - for it is Love that makes the Family. And in that we are no different.