Monthly Archives: February 2010

Inspired by Summer Tomato

Recent changes in routine include:

One capsule cod liver oil to my nightly iron tab.

A whole grain breakfast and more whole grains elsewhere.

Stevia.

The “J” Girls workout videos.

Quilting and video games keeping my hands busy.

Drinking more water due to new fun glasses and our sink’s new-found ability to get cold water.

The result?

I’m not very hungry. I am eating less at a sitting because I am fuller faster. Less side effects from the iron.

I wonder if one thing is the catalyst, or is it a combination of all of them.

We shall see.

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Fun with Dairy

As mentioned, I was going to make butter from the cream I picked up the other day. I have only ever made it in a jar, shaking it by hand. Since I had a lot of cream to churn, this time I was a little experimental. After some failed trial and error around the kitchen, I finally decided to run it through my new and much beloved food processor with the dough blade.

Word on the street was that it can take a long time when using electric, but including my fiddle-farting with the machine, it took perhaps three minutes. Since I only have On/Off/Pulse for choices, I ran it for about 30 seconds, pulsed for 10 until it separated, and then I pushed it all down with a spatula and continued to pulse until I was ready to pour off the buttermilk. I found the butter incorporated loosely with the buttermilk when I let the machine whiz it all up, and the pressing was necessary, but it was not nearly as finicky as it could have been. I did the first two washings in the machine, but then I transferred it to a bowl and stirred for the last couple of washings. The resulting butter was pale (as befits Alaskan cows in the middle of winter) but better tasting than the best the stores have to offer up here.

I was shocked at how much butter I ended up with. I will definitely be using this cream again. Instead of the 50 percent buttermilk, 50 percent butter I was getting with store brand cream, I got 3 cups of butter and 1 cup of buttermilk out of 4 cups of cream. I suspect that this had something to do with the butterfat rising in the bottle of cream, and I wouldn’t get the same results with the rest of the gallon.

I did some reading, and found this excellent site: Fankhauser’s Cheese Page, which seems to be a visual collection of skills by a biology professor from Ohio. It’s all pretty interesting, and I like how it is presented.

It reminded me that I had cleaned up the old yogurt maker. I got the milk heating and then couldn’t find either my frozen starter OR the packet of dried starter that was supposed to be in the fridge. I had the dregs of a half-gallon of Nancy’s plain yogurt left, and dubious as I was, I still decided to use it.

I had been futzing with the individual-serving yogurt maker for so long that I forgot how easy it was to just pour it into the big jug and let it go. I pulled it a bit later than I usually do, at 7 and a half hours, and refrigerated it until that evening. Did I mention our house has been on the warm side at 70-75 degrees? Due to the higher than necessary temperature, the questionable starter, and the longer than usual growth time, the resulting yogurt was predictably a bit off.

But not off in a bad way. Just in a “not gonna eat this like usual” way. I had the first two bowls with honey for dinner that night. It was a bit gritty at the top, which always happens if I use Nancy’s as a starter, regardless of the freshness. The next morning, it had separated a lot,  so I poured off the whey and used about four cups of it for smoothies.

The bottom had gotten the worst of the overheating, and was really thick and really strong. It smelled fine, so I decided to make yogurt cheese with it. With the last of the creamy middle, I set some plain yogurt in cheesecloth to mix with some mango and ginger soft cheese  for blitzes on Friday morning. The thick bottom I salted and snipped some green onion tops for. I checked this a little bit ago and it is doing wonderfully, somewhere between the boursin soft cheese and chive and onion cream cheese. It’s not quite salty enough, but that is easily fixed.

I wanted to try my  hand at some cheese too, but since the rennet was with the yogurt starter and both are AWOL, I’ll have to wait.

I do have several cups of whey now, and I ‘m thinking of doing some lacto-fermentation. Have to read up a bit more on that, though. Look for updates.

First Quilt Class

Prompted by a gift card from my mother-in-law, I decided to take a quilting class. I was nervous about the whole idea, but since I have enough fabric for six quilts, a rotary cutter and mat, plus a brand new sewing machine, I decided to just bite the bullet and go.

It was not just any old class, so of course I bought more fabric for the pattern and then some more to make it big enough for our bed. A little piece of me rebelled at this, but since I have plans for all of my current fabric, and my husband gave the go-ahead, I spent two weeks reveling in color and pattern.

The pattern is Bali Sea Star from Scrap Basket Surprises. It’s the one on the cover:

My colors are more blue and green with some peach and russet on a brown background.

The first of two classes was last night. I felt a little awkward because I was at a table by myself, but I had a good time in the end. I was sure glad I had finished all of the cutting beforehand. I learned a lot about things incidental to quilting–about the feet on my machine, about marking and measuring, and about tasty, tasty applecake.

My mother-in-law gave me her old sewing machine case, and by the time I got home I was so glad to have gotten it. It was windy and I was trying to juggle several bags, and in the end it saved me a lot of hassle.

I finished one complete block during the class. Now remains the other 29. I wonder if I can get them all done by the next class on Tuesday!

Shopping Day

Today was slated for shopping, and since it was unseasonably warm I took the dog with me. Today’s errands worked out marvelously.

The farthest stop was the creamery, where it was bottling day! I got two gallons of whole milk still wet from bottling, and a gallon of cream so that I could make butter to freeze.

From there, it was a local butcher/processor. Today must have been my day, because I finally scored some of the fabled bulk bags of beef knuckles. I also got some honey ham, some funny thin and long white german sausages, and some reindeer kielbasa. I was hoping for more lamb roast or cubes, but it seemed to be all fancy cuts and kidneys. I got some stew beef instead.

At the supermarket, the seafood counter was rocking, so I got some salmon, cod, crab, shrimp, and rockfish. I’m going to make gravlax, crab dip, and seafood chowder. I also got plenty of great looking produce, including an awesome smelling tomato for midwinter BLTs with ranch dressing. I bought my first ever tangelos, and I picked up a round of my favorite sourdough, as well as some freshly ground peanut butter and (cough) three pots of jam.

I stopped by Target first, but the telling is the longest, so it’s for last. I found a large bag of Yummy Chummies, a local salmon pet treat that does not contain chicken–a must for Penny. I also found large plastic drinking glasses for our boisterous D&D group, and several much-needed packages of rubber gloves for cleaning. I use them out of habit, as I am allergic to conventional dish soap, and even though I use an organic, everything-free soap, I find my hands do better if they are not exposed to the very hot water I wash in. I also decided that stressing over our missing hand soap refill bottle was stupid, and bought another one. And I couldn’t pass up a $12 rice cooker to replace our ailing one. Dang, these big box stores really suck you in!

The real find was the cat litter, which we have been out of for some time. We use Feline Pine Scoop–a pine shaving based litter–because it is the only non-clay litter we have found that meets our needs. Seriously, since we switched from clay litters I almost never have to dust, and we don’t have to use our humidifiers anymore. We tried the wheat and corn based litters, but as our cats prefer extremely deep litter and neither of these litters soak up liquid quickly, we always ended up with this sour oatmeal-like substance on the bottom of the box, which when under two feet of litter, was a pain to clean.

Anyhow, I like this litter because it is always on sale SOMEWHERE, and when it goes on sale, it is always very on sale. Plus, one of the local supermarkets always prints coupons for it. Despite this, the best price I’ve found for it has been at Target. When on sale there, it is usually very on sale, and the last time I went, I got a 10lb box of it for about $7.50–about 10 cents less than the regular price of the 4lb boxes. The larger boxes are usually about $15.50, but as I’ve never paid that price, it wasn’t a number that really stuck in my head. So today when I saw a sign for it being on sale for $4.50, I checked the sign several times (yep, Feline Pine, 10lb) and pulled every box available and tracked down an associate to get four more from the back.

When I went to check out, it all rang up at–you guessed it–$15.50 a box. Holy cow, I was not prepared to see a $120 price jump at the scanner. Even the guy scanning me out was shocked. He suspended my transaction, got an associate on a walkie, and I took a box back to the aisle for it to be checked. The associate figured out that (of course) it was mis-signed, and she flagged down a manager to authorize a price override. It was so efficiently done that I didn’t manage to get in a word. It was found, corrected, and authorized just like that.

Now, I have worked retail and I understand how the process works, but I have never taken advantage of a mis-signage before. I made an exception this time, and nearly $80 was taken off of my tab. Wow. I got into the parking lot and called my husband to say that I couldn’t believe they let me walk out of the store! All told, I managed to get over six months worth of cat litter for about $35.

Not a bad day!

Anatomy of a Meal – Bean and Cheese Enchiladas

I spend a lot of time picking apart my meals after I’ve eaten to see what I liked and what I could do better next time. In light of my self-and-local goals, I want to talk about my meal tonight.

Beans

Source:  Supermarket brand dried pink beans.

Preparation:  Soaked for three days with several water changes and then simmered covered for about 6 hours with some salt and lime juice, skimming the foam. Mashed with a potato masher (that has never seen a potato, by the way) and fried in lard.

Result: Waaaay  better than canned beans, wow! Better taste, better texture, and less salt! I’ll be sure to put some more beans to soak at least once a week from now on.

Alternatives: Canned beans. More convenient, but less tasty and saltier. Locally produced beans, which I have not sourced, or beans grown myself, which I have not done. I’m not sure they have enough time to dry in the climate. But perhaps I’ll try one year. I’ve been thinking of ordering some online too.

Cheese

Source: Bandon cheddar baby loaf.

Preparation: Shredded in my food processor, which takes under a minute for the whole loaf.

Result: It’s melted cheese, what more do you want? Not as creamy as a queso blanco, which is my fave with mexican foods, but still delicious.

Alternatives: Bandon cheese has been made by Tillamook for over a decade, and possibly more. My husband likes it better than Tillamook cheddar, and I like it less than Cracker Barrel, but it’s a good choice for the money. Shredded cheeses have corn starch added to keep the cheese from sticking. It’s kinda powdery and gross, so we’ve been shredding our own for a while. I want to make my own cheeses in the future, but cheddar might not be one of them. I have not sourced local cheddar.

Tortillas

Source: Taco Loco, a brand made in Anchorage and available at local supermarkets.

Preparation: Microwaved.

Result: I like how moist these are compared to national brands, which tend to flake or break after a while.

Alternatives: I could just learn how to make my own. Maybe I will this year. Again, national brands are inferior in texture, and have a slightly longer list of weird ingredients. Taco Loco could have less ingredients, but since I’m too lazy to make my own, I can’t complain.

Lard

Source: Snowcap Lard

Preparation: Fried the beans in this.

Result: Better than vegetable shortening for everything, including refried beans.

Alternatives: I am dying to get some non-hydrogenated lard, and to get that I will probably have to buy my own pig on the hoof for the freezer. Vegetable shortening, which I don’t use because I don’t like it as much.

Enchilada Sauce

Source: Canned something or another from the store.

Preparation: Open can, pour on enchiladas.

Result: Meh. Not so good. Rather tinny tasting. Hot variety missing the silky body of the milder canned stuff I do like.

Alternatives: A canned brand I do like. Or make it myself, which I have never done, but I may start doing when I can tomatoes this year.

I would rate this meal as a 2/5 for meeting my goals. While I am making some local choices and doing some of the prep myself, it still falls short of what I could be doing with a little more effort.

Why I care about food miles

One of my goals is to move towards foods that I grow or make myself, or at least obtained locally. Alaska is very removed from the rest of the world, and the growing conditions here are demanding, but not insurmountable.

Do I care about the gas used to truck or ship foods here? Yeah, when I think about it. Do I want to support local food producers? You bet! My bottom line for wanting to eat local and self-raised food? It just tastes better!

Do I want oranges that have been on a truck for weeks, or do I want to stuff myself silly with blueberries I picked this afternoon? Do I want some anemic carrots in an orange bag? No! I want some of the pepperiest, freshest carrots that our climate can turn out, complete with the carrot tops, that are tastier than spinach in many soups. I want sweet creamy potatoes, eggs that aren’t a month old, and fresh salmon that is really and truly fresh!

Over the next few years I am going to be working towards this goal. I’m going to be caring for a garden with my mother-in-law this summer. I’m going to test out a cold frame for lettuce behind our property this fall. I’m going to snap up local tomatoes and can like mad. I’m going to get a regular egg supplier until we can get our own poultry, and I’m thinking about a cow share. I have already transitioned over to the local dairy for all my milk, and I’m going back to yogurt and butter making. I want to try cheese this year, and we’re making provisions to keep our own rabbits. I’d like to see if my in-laws would let us keep bees on the back of their property.

My husband and I are talking about going in on a fish wheel or starting to dip net in Chitina. 30 fish a year per household from this method might not sound like a lot, but you have to realize most of these fish are going to be 10 lb fish, and you might get the occasional king salmon which is usually 10 to 50 lbs, and can be upwards of 100. So even after cleaning, you’re coming home with at least 200-300lbs of fish. Add in casual fishing more locally and at least one clamming trip a year and possibly a halibut charter, that’s looking to be a lot of fish!

Updates

So a lot has happened. We moved out of Anchorage to just outside of Wasilla in the Matanuska-Susitna valley. We are very close to Pat’s parents, and are very near 95 percent of our friends, which is nice. We moved into a fourplex, which is in theory a step back from our rented house on a 1/4 acre in the middle of the city. In practice, it’s much better. Beautiful mountain view, no real noise restriction due to the layout of the fourplex, great layout for the property, fairly rural, no one cares if the dog is off-leash. It’s pretty great. The new place is also not 60 years old and falling apart. In fact it’s barely two years old, and it’s spacious and light and warm and clean, and well ventilated. I see us being here until we’re ready to buy a property of our own.

Our older, snuggly, snot-spewing cat Batman has passed on. He began to puke up everything and lost all of that chunky weight he had in a matter of a fortnight. No known cause. It was more of a relief than a sadness, and we’re all glad that everyone involved doesn’t have to suffer any longer.

On an unseasonably warm day at the beginning of December, Penny found a kitten by one of the dumpsters near our house. He was teensy, but his teeth said he was older than he looked. He was dry and unhurt, and when no one claimed him, we decided to keep him as our cat-in-training. We’ve been calling him Little Bit, but now that he’s a kiteleven rather than a kitten he’s finally graduated to his real name of Cedar.

Trophy Cat Tweed was terrified of Cedar for about a week, then settled down to mother him, then uncle him, then bugger him. The mounting displays have not passed, but they both seem to be getting on very well, even while Cedar has entered the annoying adolescent stage.

I canned my first tomatoes at the end of the summer. Then I was scared that they were poison and did not touch them for months. Then I broke down and opened a jar and was rewarded with the best damn canned tomatoes I’ve ever had. And nobody died! I’m looking forward to using the other jars during the rest of the winter and spring, as well as more canning endeavors as the time goes by. I’m also interested in making saurkraut and sprouting, so we’ll see when that happens.

Things have been tight around here because I haven’t had a job since I left my stressful bank job. I’ve worked a few temp assignments to keep us afloat, but it’s high time I was working reliably again. I could probably get more money by working in Anchorage, but the expense of the commute and the extra time are not worth the money to me. Even my husband is trying to shift departments so he can get a job out here.

Prompted by my mother-in-law’s gift of a card to a local quilt shop, I’ve signed up for a class and bought materials for a quilt, as well as having broken into some of my old fabrics to recall how to use a rotary cutter and to try out my mostly new sewing machine. I’m having a blast.

I still need to get my spinning wheel fixed. But I think I put the stress of last spring behind me, and I’m in a place where I’m looking forward to playing with wool and yarn again.

I’m feeling very much better than I did last year, and I’m hoping to continue this trend for some time.