Spring has returned. The Earth is like a child that knows poems. ~Rainer Maria Rilke

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Looking Back on a Day of Jelly Making

Think of the cooling shadows of summer which benevolent Nature spreads over her darling forests and gardens.....summer shadows of wonderful depth and brilliancy like the wings of a mother bird over her young."
~John Muir~ from a journal, 1913?~
This is what we woke up to this morning....
We have not had clouds in our skies for a while and to wake up this morning and see this... well, it kind of made my day. All the technical reasons for this summer sky, with words like "fronts" and "lows" and "relative humidity", just pale in comparison to the beauty of standing outside looking up into a sky like this. I, of course, grabbed my camera.
So, it's a good thing that I saw this before I heard the Prospector say, "If you think that's amazing, look at this." I turned around to see this...
A huge branch of our beautiful Flowering Pear tree had broken away from the trunk and the wonderful limb that has shaded our kitchen window and patio for the last few years was resting on the front porch roof.
So, instead of writing my post about the amazing Jelly Making endeavor, I spent the morning helping my husband cut and remove this huge branch that decide to fall. not during a storm or massive winds, or from some accidentental UPS diver that didn't stop soon enough. Oh no!
Sometime during the calm and beautiful night this tree limb just decided to take a dive for no apparent reason other than gravity. I'm very glad that the limb landed on the porch roof and not on my kitchen garden window, with all the McCoy pottery in it. In fact...no damage was done at all, except for a few cuts and scrapes on the two old farmhands (that would be us) that spent the morning doing something that they had not expected to do.
I think it looks much cleaner and I'm glad it didn't fall on anyone sitting in it's shade....like me.... with my ice tea, enjoying my well deserved rest yesterday afternoon after making jelly.
See how nice it looks...
 We lost a good amount of shade but it's a lot safer.
Ok, on to the jelly making.....

 I first want to say that without a website called Pick Your Own, I would have probably floundered more miserably at my first foray into making jelly. These are the most precise directions I have ever seen and I needed PRECISE directions. I think that this website is even better than having my husband's grandmother right there in the kitchen with me.
I loved ya Vannie! You showed me how to use lettuce cores instead of throwing them away and you taught me not to whine about things; which stuck like gum on the bathroom ceiling until gravity let it fall. You didn't live long enough to see this computer revolution but you would be amazed at the information that can be found.
Even the Sure Jell directions didn't explain this process as well as Benivia at Pick Your Own. I just want everyone to know that she leaves nothing to guess at....she even has pictures. She has prices and where to find everything you need.  She made it look easy. Now, that's where I think she failed me.
I have made Jam lots of times. I just make a batch of Strawberry jam a few weeks back. Jam is easy. Jelly is easy once you get to the "cook it and put it in the jars" part. I don't want to bore you with details but I probably will. I just want to say that 5 lbs of fresh grapes does not always equal 5 cups of grape juice. Mushing the grapes with a potato masher looks easy in theory but it's a bear and .... the juice does not FLOW through the jelly strainer. It sits there and looks at you. It takes an hour, with a spoon, not 20 minutes. Benivia called it "decanting" the clear liquid. I call it a mess.
 Now I know why women wore aprons all the time. They made serious messes....for serious domestic goddess jobs.
That might as well be blood on my foot. I feel like I sweat blood over all of this... but it's just some crushed grapes that decided to leave the debacle in the kitchen while they still had a chance. I know, I should have shoes on but I love being domestic in my bare feet. Sorry Vannie. I know it's just not fittin'.
So I finally got enough juice to make the jelly... and yes, I squeezed the bag.
Benivia said that I could stop after this step. I could even finish the next day. That was tempting but I didn't want to get tartrate crystals in my jelly and have to strain the damn juice again. It was lunchtime and I needed to eat something. I went straight for the Ben & Jerry's Coffee Heath Bar Crunch ice cream.
After "lunch" I added the dry pectin (with about 1/4 cup of the sugar) and cooked the juice over medium to high heat in a BIG pot. Do you think the pot was big enough?
Because I used the "no sugar" pectin I only had to use 4 cups of sugar instead of 7 cups. But you still have to use sugar in the "no sugar" pectin. That's weird. Benivia says it tastes better. Well, yes. Everything tastes better with sugar in it...especially Jam and Jelly. These are the mysteries of making jelly that confuse me. Why would it say "no sugar" if you still have to put sugar in it. and....she says that she,"... never has success using NO added sugar with the no-sugar pectin." What?
I followed the directions and added 4 cups of sugar and even though I need to work on controlling the MESS...
I finally got the Jelly in the jars and processed those little guys....
Cleaned up the kitchen....
....at least 3 or 4 times.
Did you know that you have to process things longer at higher altitudes? I didn't. In fact, and here comes a confession, I usually don't process my jam at all. I just ladle the hot jam into the hot sterile jars, put the sterilized lids and rings on, invert them and wait for the lid to "pop". I will process from now on, for 10 minutes, just to be safe. It said that if you live between 1001ft. - 6000ft. (I'm on the low end of the range) you should boil them for 10 minutes. Of course the water took that long to re-boil once I got the jars in the water, so I may have done it for 20 mins. or so.... but they are PROCESSED.
I removed the jars, carefully, with my new lifter tongs and let them cool. They all "popped". Then I 
 cleaned up the kitchen for the 5th time and  took a nap.
Look pretty don't they. It's very satisfying to look at my work...MY JELLY IN JARS. I figure that with buying all the equipment and my day of labor, each bottle is worth about $20.00 per jar.
I still have another 5# of grapes in the garage. Anyone interested? They're yours.
Don't ask me if I'm going to make Jelly again.... at least until next summer.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Those Summertime Blues... well, kind of purple.

This is were I want to be..... But, do you see me sitting in this chair with an big glass of ice tea in my hand and a smile on my face?
Does the view from this chair say..."It's Summertime. Come, enjoy the cool evening. Be a kid again. Run though the sprinkler. Watch the puppies play...."
No, it doesn't.  My inner voice is saying, "Stop wishing that you were Paris Hilton. She's not even your BFF." ( I sat through 15 minutes of her pathetic new show the other night. Don't go there.)
So....the half done projects are sitting there looking at me every time I go out the backdoor and open the garage door. I need some serious help.
 OK, back to the "inside" projects. The kitchen says it all....
Yesterday I cut some basil (hopefully for the last time) and made more Pesto for the freezer. The Basilico (as my grandma use to call it) is growing like a weed out there in the garden. Must be the mild weather.
The tomatoes have decided to ripen all at once. I have given away tomatoes until my only two neighbors pretend they don't see me coming down their driveways anymore. I think I may have to "put up" some of these tomatoes. Sounds like I know what I'm talking about, doesn't it?
Then, there are the GRAPES. The beautiful grapes that we planted two years ago have decided to give birth.
Yesterday, the Prospector picked almost 10 lbs. of grapes. The prepared ones are on the washing machine in the laundry room. Today I will make grape jelly for the first time in my life and my dear hubby says that it's EASY...his grandmother use to do it all the time. It was probably easy because he got to sit there and WATCH.
The sign says it all. There are more snakes to keep you hopping around here than Rattlers. They're called  "harvest" snakes.
But, I'm ready.... I've got the directions and the equipment. 
The grapes are ready....whither they like it or not.
 And if I goof up....I have a whole lot more in the garage refrigerator, with all the other unfinished business.

Can I go sit down and think about this before I start? Will someone peel me a grape?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A walk with Annibel

She walked ahead of me the other evening as if to say..."You have been taking the dogs for too many walks lately so hurry up and come along with me."
We walked to the top of the road that continues onto our neighbors property. The sun was just setting.
 The end of summer grass is dry and I stay on the dirt path. I'm aware of snakes in the grass on hot evenings like this so I avoid my favorite grassy hiking places. The California Buckeye is the first tree to go dormant and drop its leaves. It's beautiful against the dark oaks and pale grasses. It will drop leathery brown seed capsules soon that I love to use in baskets for the holidays.
Some critter jumped out of an oak tree below me and ran down into the ravine to the right. I heard the movement but didn't see what it was. This caught Annibel's attention. She started to move into the grass and I called to her. Fortunately she came back and we started toward the road down to the house. She kept stopping and looking back as if she wanted to go check out this other animal. That's a worry to us because she is outside all the time, but when she is not walking with me she never goes this far. She stays around the house, mostly in the garden.
As most cats would do, she saw a leaf move with a slight breeze and chased it. She got quite silly and ran about pawing at anything that moved.
I put a leaf on her back just for fun. I got caught up in the moment. It was probably not the best leaf. I think it was a poison oak leaf, but very dry and very pretty. I thought that she would try to shake it off or try to reach around for it. I thought that she would get all goofy about it and roll over or something. Oh no....
 She stopped her silly behavior and walked away with her tail in the air. She was obviously bored with the game and annoyed at my conduct or I had scored the winning point. I'm not sure. Whichever it was...the game was over.
...and off she went, down the hill toward the house, acting like I had ruined her whole day. Good grief! The leaf was still on her back and it stayed there until we got to the chicken house. Then she made a quick move toward something that caught her eye and the unwanted decoration slid off onto the ground.
I said, "See ya Annibel. Nice walk." and went to see the goats before it got too dark. They are so much more agreeable that cats...and that's saying something because you know how one of my goats can be.
I always feel like Annibel tolerates us. She appreciates the food and water but wants to maintain a dignified detachment. Maybe she thinks we should let her live inside the house. I know that she likes us, but she acts like she could just as easily move to my son's house in the city and not miss a step.  She's the perfect example of an animal that lives vertically.... in the moment. We are just one of her nine lives.... a place for her to have control, bother the dogs and sleep in a safe place. I kind of like this about her. Attachment can be a heavy thing.

"When I play with my cat, who knows if I am not a pastime to her more than she is to me."
~Montaigne~ (1533-1592)

Monday, August 16, 2010

And the cheese making continues....

You all know how sometimes I say that goats are magic? Well, making goat cheese is kind of magic in itself. I got so excited that I forgot to get the camera and chronicle my cheese making process this morning. I left the cooked goat's milk in the pot, put the lid on it and set it on the sink for almost 20 hours. When I woke up this morning....VOILA! Goat cheese. I removed the cheese from the pan with a slotted spoon and put it into a colander that was lined with cheese cloth. Then, I tied the cheese cloth together with a wooden spoon and suspended it over a Rubbermaid container.
Now the cheese will drain for another 6 to 12 hours depending on the consistency I want. We taste tested the cheese right out of the pot and it was delicious. No goaty aftertaste. No strong flavor. Just a very mild, almost lemony flavor. I think that using the frozen goat milk is a good idea if you don't have a milk goat to get a fresh gallon of milk from. I think that if we had brought home a fresh non-frozen gallon of milk it might have had a stronger taste after a few days of sitting in the refrigerator.
This cheese is delicious. When it's done draining I will divide it up and refrigerate it or freeze some of it. I had some cheese that was left in the pot so I scraped it out, squeezed the moisture out  and added some garlic, salt and a bit of Herbes de Provence. Then I put it on some MONET vegetable crackers and sliced up some small tomatoes from the garden. This was my mid morning snack....
I'm thinking that this cheese making may become a big part of our lives. Look at this photo above...
two days ago that cheese was a gallon of goat milk and NO animal was harmed in the process. The tomatoes are fresh from the garden and the plate is one of my mother's set of everyday dishes. Recycle, reuse, plant a garden, research something new or something old that needs reviving. Start a small revolution. Pick up the trash on the side of the road and dump it in a trash can..... and don't get angry at the folks who don't know any better.
Do things that you haven't ever done before. Look at this. I made cheese from the milk of a goat. That's an amazing thing, don't you think?
Do one thing that returns the smile to your face.....

Sunday, August 15, 2010

I'm makin' goat cheese today

See the big pot on the sink. That's going to be a wonderful goat cheese or Chevre. This is the first time that I have made goat cheese, so  if it all goes down hill from here and I didn't do the first part right, then this is my disclaimer.... I knew what I was doing, but something might have been wrong with the goat milk... or the recipe....or the thermometer.... or the culture...or the goats. Yea, I'll blame it on the goats. They can't talk back because they live on another farm.
When the Prospector went to the goat farm (where our goat boys were born) to get the trailer that took Brownie on his great adventure, he brought me a gallon of fresh frozen goat milk. The owner of the farm is so sweet. She gives us goat milk any time we want it....free. When she found out I was going to make cheese with it, her only request was that I bring some to share at the next meeting. Fair enough because a quart of goat milk at the store is almost $5.00 a quart. So I figure that this was a really good deal.
This morning after breakfast I reread the directions and started heating the milk. I had to pasteurize it first. This is a fairly simple process of heating the milk to 145 F. and maintaining the temperature for 30 mins.
After 30 mins. you place the pot of hot milk into a sink of cold water with ice in it. When the temperature cools down to 86 degrees (which it does rather quickly) you add a packet of Chevre direct set culture to it, stir it well and then cover it and allow the milk to set in a cool place.  That's where I'm at as I write this. I'm waiting. I'm not really good at waiting.... but I have to wait for 12 to 20 hours until it's firm. So I took a shower, went on line to read more about goat cheese making and took a look at Ricki Carroll's website at www.cheesemaking com. She's the lady who knows all about making cheese. She's the CHEESE QUEEN. Check her out if you're interested. I bought the goat cheese kit from her after I had taken a class from one of our goat club members.
You will enjoy this website and if you're interested in making cheese her site will really help. She even has recipe for Chevre Pound Cake and Whey Bread. This is the "whey" of  Little Miss Muffet fame. After all these years of reciting that poem I finally know what curds and whey are. The curds make the cheese and the whey is what will drain through the muslin tonight. Isn't this exciting? Curds and Whey....and NO Spiders.
And while I'm waiting for the milk to curdle, I leave you with a bumper sticker I ordered from Cafepress.com. I will add it to the others on my car....or I could slap it on the door of the goat's house where they will see it. It could be something for them to contemplate on days when they feel the urge to break into the vegetable garden or complain about their lot in life.
I will let you know how it goes with the cheese making....