Cheese…(or as my son says, “Cheeeeese!”)….making

March’s challenge for the Urban Farm Handbook Challenge was Home Dairy.  I decided to give cheese making  a try.

This is something I can honestly say I have never given a thought to.  Making beer at home?  Sure, that’s normal….but cheese?  that’s a whole other story (and frankly, a bit weird).  I suspected that cheese making consisted of turning milk by hand for 3 days in a wooden barrel while wearing some sort of floral pleated dress and matching bonnet.  (It turns out, that’s more like butter making….)

I was able to make this ricotta cheese without said bonnet or wooden barrel rather easily.  I used Trader Joe’s Organic Whole milk because you don’t want something overly pasteurized.  The only things I had to buy were cheese cloth (I had trouble finding butter muslin which I think would have been preferable) and a digital thermometer.  But, if you are more domestic than I am (likely..) you may already have all the needed equipment in your kitchen.  The only other thing you will need is a pot (and if you don’t have one of those in your kitchen, go make some ramen noodles instead….)

Well we successfully made cheese!  But next time will have to refine the additions.  I had decided to add some cilantro (too much) and then my husband decided to add lime (I’m not sure why).  The cheese was edible…and finished, but I’m going to monitor the quantities a bit better.  I made need to give this one a whirl without anything but the lemon and then step up my game as goat cheese has been suggested for the next trial run.

Check out this page for the lemon ricotta cheese recipe and here for more ideas for cheese making.

Hmm….if I can just hone my skills with the beer and cheese, I see pairings in my future!

Apr 30, 2012 - Beer, Beer Making, Homemade    No Comments

The sweet (or mildly spicy) taste of victory!

The tag team beer makers (including yours truly) were voted number one at this months competition.  In the end, this means that my beer was the best of the not so good variations on porters.

The victorious “Junkyard Dog’s Cleveland Steamer” was a porter made with dark chocolate and cayenne pepper (noted mostly on the finish).  Sounds good, right?  Well it was “ok”, but still lacked carbonation (which you may remember was the downfall of beer number one which you can see here and here).  So to win without carbonation really clues you in to how good the rest of the competitors were…..

The line-up.....

Last month’s carbonation issue was attributed to my inability to correctly close and seal the growler (a seemingly not so difficult task….but I can’t seem to master it).  So this month I enlisted the help of my husband and after some fussing with the top he was able to securely close it.  I had “primed” the beer per my friend’s instructions and thought the yeast would be happily creating bubbles.

Priming (at least from my basic understanding) is the process of adding a small quantity of sugar to stimulate the yeast to produce carbon dioxide.  Obviously capping the bottle at this point allows the carbonation to build within the growler.  My failure this time around (I think) was not allowing the yeast enough time to ferment.  I needed to allow the yeast more time to work on the sugars by priming earlier in the week before the tasting and then not refrigerating until a day or so before the event.  Introducing the yeast to the cold of the fridge stops the activity with the fermentation.

Apparently porters are more difficult to prime and carbonate as only about 50% of the beers at the tasting were well carbonated.  It’s all a work in progress…..

A member of the clean-up crew?

Apr 25, 2012 - Gardening, Green Living    No Comments

Soil testing science….and the value of asking

I thought gardening consisted of putting some seeds in the ground, watering every now and again, and just sitting around and hoping that something will grow.  What I certainly didn’t expect was an overwhelming selection of additives.  Which of the 20 brands do I add for fertilizer?  What is the difference between compost and mulch.  Soil testing kits?  What in the world do I need that for?

Well when you are gardening with a middle school science teacher, you end up with a soil testing kit, just for the fun of it.  And it turns out, it was pretty fun, and in the end informative.  The nutrient level in our soil was good all around, but it turns out that we are growing plants in off the (pH) charts basic soil.  The soil testing kit suggested that we add iron sulfate to increase the acid levels in the soil.

Pay no attention to the margarita evidence in the background.....

I couldn’t find the iron sulfate at Lowe’s so we tried a local independent hardware store which has been around since the early 1900′s.  I have issues asking for help (my husband will be the first to tell you this).  This explains why I once sat on a 3 hour flight not sure if I would be arriving in Spain or Italy, but I digress.  In this case, I took some initiative and asked an employee about the iron sulfate.  He directed me to a bag and then asked why I was going to use it, and then preceded to give me a very weird and confused look.  Obviously, this is not what he would recommend, but he didn’t want to tell me.  After I prodded him for his own recommendation, he directed me to a bag of fertilizer made for holly and other acid loving plants.  He basically stated that we are trying to grow vegetables, not shock them like you would a pool….stay away from the iron sulfate!  Fair enough, I don’t have a clue what I am doing…..

They have electronic soil testers.  I don’t think this would be recommended for me.  I would be out there obsessively testing my soil.  No good could come of that……

Because deep down I’m part Amish….

No, of course not really.  This is just what one of my Mother’s co-workers thinks.  I think it’s just my inner crazy hippie…I did go to Ithaca College after all.  I don’t think you can escape from that school without a healthy intake of Patchouli.

As mentioned in a previous post, I am taking the Urban Farm Handbook Challenge.  11 months of challenges to encourage a more self sustainable lifestyle.  I am starting a bit late…so I will start with April’s challenges: Gardening which you can check out here.  And then I’ll be sure to mix in some challenges from February: Soil Preparation and March: Home Dairy.

Well I better get to moving…..lots of work ahead.

Apr 22, 2012 - Gardening, Green Living    No Comments

Seed Starting

 Last year’s debacle of gardening was such a sham that this year I decided to do things differently.  We started everything from seed in the house.  I chose to do this because last year I was unable to tell the difference between my plants sprouting and weeds sprouting.  Such a novice and ridiculous thing to admit.

I chose to start things from seed, as it is the cheapest option (I can just hear my husband snickering)….but honestly it’s the most logical as I am literally the kiss of death for plants.

We had some really nice success with starting plants this way; the beans and peas look fantastic.

This is definitely a learning process for me, which should only improve next years garden.  (or even this one as it is still early)  I did learn thae beets did not transplant well…I don’t feel that they had enough of a root system when we transplanted.

I have decided to take the Urban Farm Handbook Challenge, which I will write more about in the next post.  In doing so, I have learned quite a bit about starting from seed (one of this month’s challenges…check it out here).  Next year when I start from seed, I will make sure to have the right lighting in place.  You can see here the difference between radishes planted in the garden, and my transplants.  The transplants have long and flimsy stems, as they were seeking the sunlight at haphazard angles.

Transplant flimsy radishes

Strong and healthy radishes started in the garden

They have since been composted and new seeds sown directly into the garden.  As you can tell, I am becoming more confident in my ability to recognize seedlings from weeds…(a skill certain to be helpful while gardening)

Apr 21, 2012 - Beer, Beer Making    No Comments

Beer Take Two–Porter

Installment number two in my beer making escapades.  After last months carbonation failure, we are excited to try again…I think I know how to properly close the growler this time……

This months theme is mud wrestling and everyone is required to infuse the beer with chocolate.  I was really hoping we could get away from this wrestling thing….but no avail.  So we have decided on dark chocolate with cayenne pepper.

I was excited to add the yeast ourselves this time, but in the end, this really is not very tricky.  Open yeast vial.  Poor into the beer.

We don't need all of this right?

Well, maybe it was a bit more difficult than expected as 3/4 of the yeast exploded into the sink.  Hopefully there will be enough left to get to work making my beer….

Apr 21, 2012 - Gardening, Green Living    No Comments

“I’m really excited about basil”

…I said to my husband after reading an article on the different varieties. (I am especially excited about a recipe for homemade pesto.) But this does not negate that fact that this is an extremely odd statement. Made even more odd by the fact that it came out of MY mouth.

Over the past month, we have been working hard on the garden: building a new raised bed, trucking mulch from a friend’s backyard compost/ leaf heap, starting seeds, transplanting, and now starting to watch some things grow!

This is my most successful garden to date (and mind you we don’t have produce yet). At least this time we are growing something more than weeds!

Working Hard?

Here’s what we have planted so far:

  • Garden Beans (Provider)
  • Peas (Dark Seeded Early Perfection)
  • 2 different varieties of bell peppers (Green and Yellow Bell)
  • Cayenne peppers
  • Banana peppers
  • Beets (Detroit Dark Red, Medium Top)
  • Radishes (Raxe)
  • Yellow Squash (Long Neck)
  • Zucchini
  • 6 different varieties of tomatoes (Big Boy, Sweet 100, Grape Red, Cherokee purple, Black Krim, Better Boy)
  • Cilantro (Coriandrum Sativum)
  • Dill, Mammoth (Anethum Graveolens)
  • Cucumbers
  • Celery

Working harder....

I promise, I really started small and then of course it snowballed from there.  And you may have noticed that despite my excitement about basil, it is not in the list.  Well, off to the store!

Mar 19, 2012 - Beer, Cooking    No Comments

Chili Cook-off

So we were invited to a friend of a friend’s for a chili cook off this weekend.  Turns out, I didn’t understand the magnitude of the seriousness of this event prior to showing up with my entry.  And, I only brought 1 of the 2 essentials that were needed….chili, but no crock pot.

(Before the story can progress much further, I will remind readers that the name of this blog is “not so domestic” and it is meant to be taken quite literally.)

So paying tribute to the date of the chili cook-off (St. Patrick’s day) I choose a Guinness based chili.  Because, can you really go wrong with Guinness? (typically, no).  I grabbed a couple of recipes off of the web: here and here and (probably where I went wrong) did a combo from each.  Mostly I followed the instructions from the kegworks blog (the first link above) and threw in some cans of beans suggested by the second link.  And then on a whim, my husband threw in some pork bellies.  Here’s the ingredients:

In the end, we had what turned out to be Guinness stew more than chili.  And I did win an award, the always ego-boosting:  “You must have been drunk while making this”.  Hey, I could have come away entirely empty handed!

Not sure if this is even worth trying a second take at.  Any suggestions for how to fix are appreciated!  The Guinness and the chocolate do make it sound like it should have a second try……

Mar 19, 2012 - Couponing, Green Living    No Comments

Coupon Organizer

My coupon organizer arrived the other day and I have to say I am pretty excited to try it out this week.  Let me first emphasize, it is absolutely NOT a binder!  This is important because I may lose friends if I am spotted at the grocery store scanning through the pages of a binder.  (Its just the honest truth)

But the issue remains, it is very frustrating to see a good deal at the store, know that you have a coupon to pair with that deal, and know that coupon is sitting idly on your desk at home.  I need to have my coupons with me, and in steps this coupon organizer that I found on Etsy.  Now I can coupon, stylishly while maintaining some dignity (debatable).

Check out Glow Girl’s Etsy site here.  She has a wide variety of fabrics and sizes.  I chose a megalarge waterproof organizer (beacuse, there’s nothing worse than wet coupons….)  The organizer also came with the dividers and pre-made labels.  Excellent for people that have as little time as I do!

She also has some reusable snack bags which I think will be in the mail to me shortly!

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