Sunday, July 31, 2011

making mozzarella

I've stumbled upon a new obsession in my never-ending desire to make things, and its name is mozzarella. It is so surprisingly fast and easy to make, and just as enjoyable to consume.

The timing of my new-found obsession couldn't be better, as the garden seems right on schedule, offering up perfect pairings for the cheese.

Mozzarella Cheese

1 gallon whole milk
(we use raw milk, but if you are using store bought, look for milk that has not been ultrapasteurized as this will not be easily coaxed into cheese)
12 Tbsp. white vinegar
1/4 tsp. rennet (half if using double strength), mixed in equal parts cool water
1/4 cup plus 1 tsp. sea salt, divided

  1. Pour vinegar into a stainless steel pot. (I use vinegar in place of citric acid, which I don't have. If you do have citric acid, use 1 1/2 tsp. dissolved in 1 cup of cool water). Add the milk, stirring well to mix.

  2. Heat milk to 90 degrees over medium-low heat, stirring gently.

  3. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the rennet solution, stirring well for about 30 seconds. Let the pot rest for five minutes. The curd will look like custard, with the light yellow whey clearly separating from the curd. If the curd is still soft or the whey is milky white, let stand a bit longer.

  4. Cut the curd into a grid using a knife that reaches to the bottom of your pot.

  5. Return the pot to the stove and heat to 110 degrees, slowly moving the curds around with your spoon.

  6. Using a ladle or slotted spoon, remove the curd from the pot and set aside, draining off any remaining whey. Turn up the heat on the stove, warming the whey to 175 degrees. Add 1/4 cup of salt to the whey.

  7. Shape the curd into one or more balls and use a ladle to dip the curd into the hot whey for several seconds. Remove and knead the curd with spoons or with your hands between each dip.

  8. After the second dip, knead the remaining salt into the curd. Feel free to take a pinch to taste for the right level of salt. Return the curd to the hot whey, dipping and kneading until the curd is smooth and soft like taffy.

  9. Enjoy the cheese warm or cool it quickly in a bowl of ice water before storing in the fridge.

I've made this cheese four times in the past few days (it's a great way to use all the milk I bring home from the farm). Each time it has turned out with a perfect texture and firmness throughout. One gallon of milk yields about 3/4 - 1 lb. of cheese. You can also cut the recipe in half with equal success.

And it is oh-so-good with garden fresh basil and tomatoes, drizzled with a balsamic vinegar reduction (to make the reduction, simply heat 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar in a saucepan on low heat, stirring from time to time, until the vinegar clings to a metal spoon).

If only all obsessions could be so delicious!

Friday, July 29, 2011

with the oven turned on

Despite all the heat lately, I just can't resist turning on the oven. There are too many good things that happen behind that creaky door.

Today, we tried out a new baking clay that was so easy to make and incredibly fun to work with.

Baking Clay

1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups salt
3/4 - 1 cup water

Mix together and knead until smooth. (We used about 3/4 cups of water, sprinkling in a little more as we kneaded to smooth the dough). Make your shapes and bake at 350 for 20 minutes.

We divided the dough among us and set about creating our sculptures, using knives, skewers, imagination and our hands to shape the dough.

Soon, a variety of animals, nature scenes and doll-sized bowls and cups were ready to be baked.

While the oven worked its magic on the clay, we mixed up a batch of our favorite chocolate chip cookies. I'm partial to all the healthy cooking and baking we do around here, but there is a place for a good ol' fashioned cookie, don't you think?

When the clay had cooled, we painted our work.

Some other things were painted in the process...

At the end of all that baking, we sat back with warm cookies and mugs of milk, admiring our new creations.

Yep, good things happen when that oven is turned on.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

sharing my passion

I truly love any opportunity that allows me to share what I am passionate about while connecting with others.

It's one of the most enjoyable parts of the work I've done as a doula and midwife assistant, sharing information, caring for expectant families, and supporting practices I am passionate about, like homebirth, breastfeeding, cloth diapering and babywearing

Sharing my passions is certainly one of the greatest joys of parenting, and is a large part of what encouraged me to make this blog public a few months back.

And so I couldn't be more excited to announce a new class I will be teaching at a local Chicago store.

Be By Baby is a wonderful resource for new parents and babies alike. It is a retail store and resource center in one place, aimed at supporting natural parenting. I first met the owners, Courtney and Kathy, through La Leche League when their store and my son were both in their infancy, and I had the honor of seeing the beauty of their friendship when I assisted at the birth of Kathy's second daughter last year. I was thrilled when the opportunity arose for me to work with them.

Beginning this month, I will be leading a class on introducing babies to solid food (I get to teach about babies! And food!). In Starting Solids 101, we will discuss signs of readiness, the best first foods to offer, nutritional concerns, and continued support of breastfeeding as an ideal source of nourishment through the first year and beyond. I'll also be offering a hands-on demonstration of the ease and convenience of making your own baby food.

You can register for the class on Be By Baby's class page, as well as find out more information about this wonderful store and the other classes they offer.

And if you know of new parents who would benefit from this class, please spread the word!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

on simple living

Tomorrow night, I will be speaking with the Holistic Moms Network of Rockford, IL about simple living. The Holistic Moms Network is a nationwide organization that works to create communities and provide support for natural living on the parenting journey.

I'm excited to speak with other like-minded mothers, sharing our personal visions for simple living. Parenting can provide some of the greatest opportunities for living our values, but also presents some of the deepest challenges as we work to gently influence the children whose lives we share.

If you're in the Rockford area and would like to join us, please feel free to contact the local chapter or come on by!

Holistic Moms Network Meeting
Wednesday, July 20 at 7 p.m.
Just Goods Store
201 7th Street, Rockford Il

And because I can't bear the thought of a post with no pictures, I give you this:


Chickens and naked babies. Simple living at its best!

Monday, July 18, 2011

homemade cheese

The other morning, I came home from the farm with our usual milk and eggs and a basket of fresh-picked raspberries. The berries and eggs went right into the makings of breakfast, but I had a different plan for this morning's milk.

I've been wanting to make cheese for a while now, but try as I might, I couldn't find a local source for rennet (which is surprising to me here on the outskirts of a big, food-happy city). Oh, but I do love the internet for moments like these. I ordered a liquid vegetable rennet from this store, so I was ready to go.

Except of course for the usual hemming and hawing that accompanies any new task I undertake, as I read and think and debate the best way to do it. As usual, I decided to just jump in, and as usual, it wasn't bad at all.

I used this recipe for farmer's cheese as a guide, cutting it in half to accomodate the half gallon of milk on hand and adjusting the rennet amounts per the instructions on the rennet bottle.

Garlic and Dill Farmer's Cheese

Heat 1/2 gallon of milk to 80-90 degrees in a stainless steel pot. Add rennet (I used 4 drops of double strength rennet). Stir thoroughly, turn off heat and let stand 45 min. - 1 hour until it has reached the firmness of tofu. Cut through in a grid pattern of 1/2" blocks.

curds cut into a grid pattern

Slowly heat to 100 degrees, stirring, over the course of about 30 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove the curds and place in a bowl. Add the salt and herbs, oversalting since some will drain out with the remaining whey.

seasonings for the cheese: sea salt, dill, cracked pepper and garlic powder

Pour the mixture into a cheesecloth lined colander. Wrap the cloth around the curds, tying the corners together, and hang over a bowl to drain for about 1 hour.

hanging the curds to drain

Return curds to bowl and break into small pieces. Place curds in a clean cheesecloth and press for 12-24 hours. For a press, we placed the cheese between two plates under a large cast-iron pot filled with water.

after pressing, the finished product

The fresh cheese had that unmistakable cheese curd "squeak" when bit into, a quality that mellowed after refrigerating. I've discovered that I may not like dill in cheese, but aside from that, I am happy with how the cheese turned out. Now that I've gotten my toes wet, I'm ready to forge ahead, trying out a variety of cheese recipes. I'll be sure to let you know how they turn out!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

whole wheat cherry scones

My love of fresh fruit on sale keeps on getting me in trouble.

I toted home 18 pounds of these organic sweet cherries. A good 6 or 7 pounds went right into little hands and bellies, some are waiting to be canned, and others were used to whip up these delicious scones.

Whole Wheat Cherry Scones

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/3 cup butter
1/2 cup oats
1 Tbsp. orange zest
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 t. vanilla
1 1/4 cup coarsely chopped cherries

For topping:
1 beaten egg
1/4 cup oats

Mix first five ingredients. Cut in butter. Add oats and orange zest. Make well and pour in buttermilk and vanilla, combining well. Stir in cherries and chill the dough for 30 minutes. Pat the dough into a 10" circle, about 1/2" thick. Brush with egg and sprinkle with oats. Cut into wedges and place on a greased baking sheet. Bake at 375 for 20-25 minutes.

After gathering the ingredients, my kitchen was invaded by some sweet little helpers.

The regular help was there, too.

Perfect with a cup of tea, good for breakfast, dessert or a snack in between, we love the taste of summer's bounty in these healthy scones.

Monday, July 11, 2011

in the morning

A few mornings a week, I rise before the rest of the house to watch the world wake up on the farm.

The light in the early morning has its own quality, reflected on the dew in the grass, glinting soft and golden in the quiet corners of the barnyard.

They are there waiting for me, waiting for their breakfast and the familiar routine of this part of the morning's chores. The work is peaceful and meditative, and as I move through the rhythms of the buckets and scoops and forkfuls of hay, the sleepiness fades and morning takes its place.

Senses filled, hands busy, I can think of no better way to begin a day. It is calm, but sometimes exciting, as it was on the morning I forgot to close the barn door and only realized my mistake when four cows were running about the farmyard. Oh, but that does make for a good story to tell.

Some mornings, one or more of the children will rise with me to greet the day. Still sleepy and soft from their dreams when we begin, they unfold into the day with the rest of the creatures here. They talk with the cows, knowing each by name. There is gratitude for the milk and for the connection we have with the source of it.

photo courtesy of Sophia

When our work is done, we move on into the rest of our day, our empty jars (and so much more) having been filled in the space of a morning.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

savory herb rolls

I couldn't be happier than when my love of garden fresh produce and my fondness for baking converge, and that's just what we've hit upon with these rolls. Based on a recipe from Bon Appetit, these rolls are easy to make and delicious to eat! Starting with a simple dough, the filling can be any combination of savory herbs and additions.

Savory Herb Rolls

For the dough:

2 tsp. active dry yeast
1 1/2 tsp. salt, divided
2 tsp. sugar, divided
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
4 tbsp. unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
1 large egg plus 1 yolk

For the filling:

1 1/4 cups chopped green onions
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 cup sesame seeds
3 tbsp. olive oil


1 1/4 cups chopped green onions
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
3 tbsp. olive oil

Pour 1/2 cup warm water into a bowl. Sprinkle in yeast, 1/2 tsp. salt and 1 tsp. sugar. Let rest until bubbly, about 10 minutes.

Measure flour, 1 tsp. salt and 1 tsp. sugar into bowl of a stand mixer with the dough hook attachment. Cut butter into mixture until it is a coarse meal. Beat in egg, yolk and yeast mixture, scraping down sides. Knead on medium speed until soft and smooth. Form into a ball, cover and let rise until double in size, about 1 hour.

For the filling, place green onions and herbs in a food processor and finely chop. Transfer to a bowl, stirring in seeds, cheese (or other additions) and oil.

Roll the dough out into an 18"x9" rectangle. Spread herb mixture evenly across the dough.

Starting at a short edge, roll the dough into a cylinder. Slice into 12 rolls, about 3/4" wide. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet, brush with olive oil and bake at 350 until golden, about 30 minutes.

With the variety of herbs and flavors that can fill this bread and all the growing things getting ready in the garden, these rolls are sure to be a staple around here this summer.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

on the road

We spent the long holiday weekend in Iowa, visiting my sister and her kids. As a kid, I came to love being on the road, roaming the country with my family in the various campers we owned over the years. We travelled year-round as schedules allowed, but the summer trips to the farms and fields of Nebraska are deeply etched in my mind. On into my adult years, some of my greatest memories are found out on the road, and I can only hope our children will grow to share this love of road trips.

The weekend was filled with enjoying my sister's plot of land, down a gravel road in the heart of farm country. In the space of those acres we found all the excitement we needed -- chickens to play with, ripe berries for picking and fields to explore.

Among the grasses, the kids caught toads, leopard frogs and garter snakes (oh, I had forgotten the smell of their musk on little hands).

We headed into town for the Fourth of July celebrations, a carnival and parade as only a small town can do 'em.

The space and stillness in the country are a quiet contrast to the suburbs that surround us at home, offering an easiness and pace that was much welcomed. Back on the road, we made it home in time for dinner with family. The kids splashed and played, unwinding from all the car time before taking in the fireworks.

The journey, as I try to remember in so much of our days, is just as full of potential as the destination. Our route to Iowa is well known now, with familiar landmarks and stops along the way. The time in the car, spent together, feels like such good, quality time, with the stories and scheming and laughter that take place above those turning wheels.

It is my hope that these babes of ours are developing a similar love of the open road, a fondness for the sights along the way and an appreciation for all the miles that pass between their destinations.