Sunday, January 24, 2010

Homemade Pasta

I may have ranted before about my dislike for kitchen appliances that only serve one purpose. Tonight's culinary excursion put this philosophy of mine to the test. This is a simple homemade egg pasta--eggs, flour, and salt being the only ingredients. We don't have a pasta maker, naturally, so this was an experiment in how difficult it truly is to make pasta with nothing but a rolling pin and a knife. And, well, it's fairly challenging.

The dough was so stiff and stretchy that I had to stop rolling and let it rest a few times, to keep it from shrinking back. Once we had the dough rolled out as thin as we could manage, we rolled it into a tight log and cut thin slices. Then the slice is unrolled, yielding a long piece of pasta.

3 1/3 c. of flour and 5 eggs (more than the recipe called for) yielded a substantial amount of dough. We ate about a quarter of it with mushrooms and scallops in wine sauce this evening, and we rolled out another quarter of the dough for drying. The remaining half of the dough is in the fridge. It was just so tiring that we couldn't process it all at once. Even a steady stream of accordion music wasn't enough to keep us going.

So, am I abandoning store-bought pasta for homemade? Probably not entirely. I love the simplicity of the ingredients and while I enjoy making pasta the old fashioned way, it's a lot of work (at least for the unpracticed). Anyone have an Italian grandmother who needs an apprentice?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Happy Birthday Mom!

I have just returned from a trip to New York and Vermont where I wished my mommy an early birthday.

Explored the town of Hardwick, VT with it's wonderful coop...

...and sampled the cuisine at many a roadside diner. I had a fabulous trip. Blogging will return to normal shortly.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

DIY Seed Sprouter

In the dead of winter, that craving for fresh greens kicks in stronger than usual. The veggies from the market just aren't cutting it anymore. The dead of winter is sprouting time. We've experimented with different seed sprouting contraptions. We tried cheesecloth as a lid, but it was too loose. We stabbed holes in a dome lid, but that didn't work well at all--the holes were jagged and prevented water from escaping. Third time's the charm, right? This is a lid made from some window screen we had lying around, cut with tin snips and held in place by the screw top. It works exactly like the green plastic kind you can buy. I'm a bit of a minimalist when it comes to kitchen appliances--as much as I love to cook, I hate cleaning and storing the myriad accessories that we're supposed to think are necessary. For me, a specialized sprouting lid is not something I want to have shuffling around in my drawer come July. So there you have it, a 30-second seed sprouter.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Urban Farming For Renters

My first article in a national magazine hits newsstands today! Urban Farm Magazine is a great new publication designed for the younger generation of homesteader types, many of whom are pursuing sustainable lifestyles in less than rural areas. My article, "Tenant Farmer" is about urban homesteading for renters. There are a bunch of great articles in this issue, a really interesting piece about dealing with city ordinances by Homegrown Evolution's Eric Knutzen.

You may or may not be able to find a copy of this magazine in your area, but if you're interested in picking up a copy, you can always buy it online.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Inspiration: Ruth Stout

I discovered the blog On a Little Land when one of its proprietors commented on a recent post. I'm always excited to read other blogs documenting other attempts at living a more sane, self-sustaining life. I'm so lucky to have found this blog when I did, because today waiting for me was a post about a woman named Ruth Stout, a proponent of no-till, low-maintenance gardening through mulching. I had never heard of her before, but watching the following documentary I was inspired and tickled by this old woman's wisdom and, particularly, her spark.

I have decided that everyone would be better off for listening to Ruth Stout, so I'm reposting this short "documentary" for your viewing pleasure. Thanks, folks at On a Little Land, for introducing me to this remarkable human!

British Mild?

I can't believe it, but it's been a year since we made our last batch of beer. Maybe we got burned by our previous batch, our first all-grain beer. Tristan had to stay up til 3am to finish it, and it ended up tasting like Budweiser. We went to the brew store and picked up ingredients for another batch several months ago, but life got in the way and we didn't get around to making the beer until yesterday.

Well, when we pulled everything out of cold storage and inspected the ingredients, we realized we had no idea what style of beer we had intended to make. 6 pounds of Amber malt, 1/4 lb. of roasted barley, 2 different kinds of bittering hops but no finishing hops...and either a British Ale Yeast or an American Ale Yeast. Hmmmmm. Time for some detective work. After consulting our Joy of Homebrew's recipes and hops charts, we concluded that we had planned to make a British Mild. Maybe. We made a few changes to the ingredients by substituting some other hops we had in the fridge, and here is what we came up with:

Mystery Mild

1/4 lb. roasted/crystal barley combo
6 lbs. amber malt powder
1/2 oz. Chinook bittering hops
1/2 oz. Liberty finishing hops
British Ale Yeast

We steeped the grain in 3 gallons of water until it came to a boil, removed the grain, added the malt powder, returned to a boil. Added bittering hops. Boil for 1 hour, adding finishing hops in last 15 minutes. Cool by adding 16 lbs. of ice (to make 5 gallons of wort), transfer to 6 gallon carboy, pitch yeast.

There is a nice foamy krausen on the wort today. We'll see what style of beer this most resembles in a few months' time. What do you think we're making?

Prison Wine

Can you see the yummy layer of dust on that growler? That, friends, is the cheap prison wine we made a while back. What is prison wine, you ask? Well, it's "wine" made from fermenting store-bought grape juice. Welch's or what have you.

As you can see, after our first tasting more than 6 months ago, we shoved that puppy straight to the back of the most remote cabinet in the house. The bottle emerged when we were searching for brewing equipment yesterday. We tasted it again, and while I still would not drink more than a sip of the stuff, it has mellowed out considerably since we last tried it. It still has an aftertaste of artificial grape flavor (the slightly harsh, funky kind, not the sweet concordy kind). Back on the shelf it goes!

From Picasa

Saturday, January 9, 2010

January Carrot Harvest

It's been freaking freezing around here for weeks now. Today is the first sunny day in the 40s that we've had in quite awhile, so I seized the opportunity to get out in the garden. We've had these carrots growing under a hoop house with shade cloth all winter. A couple of weeks ago, it got cold and stayed cold, and the tops of these carrots died. I know the convention is to mulch carrots in 6 inches or so of straw to keep them all winter, but well, we didn't get around to it in time. Still, extending the harvest to January ain't bad.

The chickens thought it was a good day to work in the garden, too.

Ode to my Opinel

Somewhere along the way, Tristan heard tell of a knife called an Opinel that "all French people use" (I'm quoting Tristan here). Yesterday he went out and bought himself one, and I thought it was so beautiful that today he picked one up for me too. Aghast at his wild generalization regarding the French, I googled Opinel and it turns out he was pretty much right. According to the Wikipedia page, the knife was invented around the turn of the 20th century and it is so widely used that "opinel" has made it into some French dictionaries.

Reading the Wikipedia article, I was really struck by how much this knife communicates about itself. It's simple, no-frills design with a high quality blade and handle. It just screams "please use me to cut your bread and cheese as well as to whittle and harvest flowers". It is humble but not cheaply made. Which is why I was not terribly surprised to learn that Opinel remains a family business to this day. I was surprised to learn how inexpensive it is ($12) considering its beauty, elegant design, and quality high carbon steel blade. These blades require some maintenance but are superior to stainless steel because they hold a better edge.

To me, well-made hand tools that will last a lifetime if properly cared for possess a unique charm. So much work can be accomplished with simple tools, and the act of maintenance has its own meditative quality. Not to mention that using and maintaining simple tools flies in the face of the 'use it, break it, throw it out and buy a new one' culture we live in.

How wonderful to discover a simple, high quality tool that looks beautiful, is made by a family-run business, and doesn't cost an arm and a leg. Can't you just picture yourself in the midst of the French Alps, pausing from your sheepherding duties to cut into a peasant's lunch?

Friday, January 8, 2010


Sorry, I know this is my 3rd post in a row about the freaking gouda, but look! We smoked it! Isn't it a nice pretty golden color? Tonight we wax it. Can't wait to break into it in 6 months!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Smoking the Gouda

Tonight we smoked the cheese. Once it cools, the gouda gets waxed and aged in the cheese fridge for 6-9 months!

Monday, January 4, 2010


Our first attempt at Gouda is the result of a little cheese-making accident. This was supposed to be another batch of Chipotle Goat Cheese, but we ran out of vegetarian rennet and had to revert to using junket tablets. Tristan followed the directions for using junket but he must have used too much because the milk had clabbered in an hour, instead of the 12 it's supposed to take for a soft cheese. These curds were too firm for making into soft cheese, so we changed courses and made a hard cheese. Gouda is a "washed curd" cheese, which means you heat the curds by removing the whey and adding varying amounts of hot water to replace them. Ultimately, you replace almost all of the whey with water. This method produces a smoother-textured, milder-flavored cheese. Colby and Monterey Jack are washed curd cheeses as well. After the washing, the cheese is pressed like any hard cheese, but unlike a cheddar, say, where salt is added to the curds before pressing, this cheese is brined in a tub of salt water after it's been pressed. The chemistry involved in making different textures and flavors of cheese is fascinating.

It's not traditional to make Gouda out of goat's milk, but I did find some evidence that it's been done and that the results were tasty. We would like to try smoking this cheese, which will be a first for us. We found some smoking wood chips in a St. John's free pile in the spring (what dorm-dwellers were doing smoking food, I have no idea).

This gouda will have to cure for 6 to 9 months once it is waxed. Oh, the agony!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Walk-in Refrigerator

There is a room in our house. Actually, it used to be our bedroom. It is about the size of a closet (just big enough to fit a double bed). It is not insulated (yeah, I know...?!?!?), so in the winter it makes the house very cold. We decided to use this to our advantage. We moved some large storage shelves from the laundry room to this room, parked a fridge thermometer in there, and now use this room as an overflow walk-in refrigerator.

Most of the stuff in here doesn't need to be kept super cold (so we wouldn't have to worry if it got above 40, which it is threatening to do today as you can see). Right now we have preserves, bulk flours and such, curing (not aging) cheese, and a bunch of salvaged batteries chillin' in there. Of course, this is a seasonal solution. Come spring we will find another purpose for this room. It might make a good place to dry food and grow things like sprouts and mushrooms that don't need direct sunlight.

While it is stupid that our house is not fully insulate (such is life as a renter), I really enjoy having this passively cool storage space. Passive refrigeration is something I would like to learn more about. Most foods don't need the kind of heavy-duty, energy intensive refrigeration we subject them to.

From Picasa
From Picasa

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Hoop House 2.0

Take your time to bask in the glory of the mega-pixelage. That's right, a New Year's present from my beloved has me up and running again. I'm busy taking pictures with my beautiful new digital camera.

This is a project of Tristan's from awhile back. We built this hoop house out of PVC and shade cloth, then replaced the shade cloth with polyethylene when it got cold. Just a tip--this plastic is a cheap-o painter's drop-cloth from the hardware store. As far as I can tell, it's the same as the 3-mil greenhouse plastic you can buy at a premium. This cost about $10 for a 15x20 foot sheet, I believe.

Anyway, the previous design lacked enough PVC infrastructure to prevent sagging when snowed upon and blowing about when winded upon. Tristan added a center pole and bent the PVC hoops inwards to meet it. This created a much more stable, much more attractive hoop house. Our plants are toastier, too!