Rescuing Ricotta

  
That’s a salad made with minutes-old ricotta, and, yes, it was amazing. Figs are in season now and this is absolutely my favorite summer salad. It’s simple: greens of some sort, quartered figs, balsamic glaze, and cheese of some sort. In the past I’ve used blue cheeses, parmesan, feta and many, many others but when you make ricotta right before dinner is plated, using anything else would be ridiculous.

Ricotta is the easiest cheese to make. It requires almost no equipment and the ingredients are in almost everyone’s kitchen already.

  
All you need is this:

  • A gallon of milk of any fat content, or half and half
  • Enough lemons to get 3/4 of juice or 1/4c vinegar
  • A pot big enough for all your liquid
  • A colander
  • Butter Muslim or a lint-free cloth (pillowcases, tea towels, bandanas, and cloth flour sacks work)
  • A liquid or meat thermometer (though you can get by without and I’ll get into that later)

  
My kitchen is small. It’s messy and a little cramped and there are 7 of us sharing it. I don’t have a lot of specialized equipment for cheese making because I don’t have money and I don’t have space to spare. That shouldn’t stop anyone so it certainly doesn’t stop me.

I used half and half because Steven works in a coffee shop. When they have a slow week, they end up with milk products that are technically expired but are still good for at least a few days after the date. Expired milk has to be tossed no matter how good it still is, so to save it from waste, he brings it home. Sometimes I make yogurt but with over a gallon of that still in the fridge, ricotta is the order of the day.

A gallon of half and half went into the pot and I heated it to a target of 175 degrees Fahrenheit. This is where your thermometer is handy, but here’s the thing. You don’t reeeeally need it. Milk begins to froth at the edges of the pot right around 170-180 degrees, and ricotta can be made at higher temperatures too so if you overlook your milk, it’s not going to ruin it. It’s an easy and forgiving cheese. 

Once you reach temperature, add about 2/3 of your acid liquid(juice or vinegar). The proteins should pull together rapidly, leaving fine white curds, and yellow whey. Add more acidic liquid if you don’t see that reaction. If you run out of lemon, add a couple tablespoons of vinegar. I had to do that myself. Lemon juice makes a lighter and sweeter flavored ricotta while vinegar will leave it a little vinegary tasting, but a combination mostly tastes of lemon. I also prefer apple cider vinegar because it is milder and sweeter tasting.

Line your collander with the cloth so it doesn’t slip down at the edges and place it over a large pot, bucket, or into the sink for drainage. Once your ricotta has successfully curdled, ladle or gently pour the curds and whey into the lined collander to drain. You can save the whey if you like. My mother drinks it warm with almond syrup. Keep in mind that ricotta does not create a live culture so there are no beneficial bacteria in ricotta whey. It’s just tastey, that’s all.

  
Ricotta should drain for 10-20 minutes until the liquid escaping has slowed to a drip. You can do this in a collander, or, you can get creative and set up a hanging station like I did in the photo above. In this case, I knotted the tea towel around my rolling pin and set it across a pail to drain. 

  Your finished ricotta will be white, and sold but still crumbly. Mine was still warm when it was done draining, and I tossed about a cup of it straight into my salad.
  
Summer Fig Salad

Ingredients

  • Three large handfulls of baby spinach
  • Ten ripe mission figs, quartered
  • 1 cup ricotta, ch√®vre, or other soft cheese
  • Balsamic glaze to taste

Toss all together and enjoy! We had ours with broiled salmon and brown rice.

  

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Kitchen Witch Lughnasadh 

Lughnasadh is not a pagan sabbath that I have ever felt much connection to, but this summer I set myself some goals about bringing more magic into my daily life, so I decided to find my own way to honor the holiday. I honor this the same way I honor just about any holiday: with food and booze. 

 

I wanted to create a combination that encompasses the flavors, colors, and memories of late summer in Northern California. For me that means the rolling golden hills dry from summer heat and drought. It means heady perfumes of Alyssum and Lavender growing through clay soil baked hard in the sun, and dust in the air whose earthy scent always reminds me of something like old books and vanilla.

  

Today’s first recipe is an adaptation of Marisa McClellan’s Pear-Lavender Jam recipe on foodsinjars.com. Hers is my absolute favorite canning resource for her creativity of flavors, small batch recipes, and accessibility. She has also published recipe books which I highly recommend. I’ve modified it to capture my own sense of late summer and the start of harvest season that Lughnasadh is meant to celebrate.

  
Lughnasadh Jam

Ingredients

3 1/2 lbs peeled, cored, and chopped tart green apples

3 1/2 cups white sugar

1 vanilla bean

3 tsp dried lavender flowers

Juice and zest from 1 lemon

Instructions

Prepare 3 pint jars or 6 half pint jars and a boiling water canner. Place lids in a small pot and bring to a very low simmer.

Combine chopped apples, sugar, lemon zest and juice, and vanilla in a large pot. Stir to coat the apples evenly with sugar. This will start bringing liquid out of the apples in a process called maceration

Put your lavender into a tea ball or Muslim sachet for infusing so you can remove them later. If you don’t have these options, you can grind up the flowers then add them loose, but you won’t be able to remove them.

Put pot on stove and heat on high. Bring jam to a boil, stirring regularly. Make sure not to caramelize the bottom. Continue to cook over high heat until apples become fully translucent and the jam thickens. It should have a even glossy appearance once the pectin in the apples is activated.

When jam is done (about 20 minutes) turn off heat and quickly pour jam into prepared jars for canning.

Wipe jar rims, apply lids and rings and process in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes for shelf stable jars or refrigerate immediately and consume within the month. 

This jam tastes amazing with a punchy cheese like Asiago or Stilton to balance the floral sweetness.

  
The second recipe of the holiday calls more to my German heritage and memories of summer days in my great grandmother’s big green garden. I have faint but fond memories of sitting in the shade picking currants and gooseberries into a big yellow glass bowl and climbing a short ladder into the branches of the cherry tree. The tiny red cherries were so sour than I couldn’t eat them fresh, but my mother and grandmother did, spitting pits over the fence into the neighbor’s flower beds. We pitted cherries on the balcony and my hands and face would get covered in little red spatters of juice, fingers stained pink for the rest of the day. All the fruit would get coated in sugar and set to marinate in its own natural syrup to be served over whipped quark, a soft sweet cheese like something between creme fraiche and ricotta. 

  
Kirsch Soda

4oz cherry juice

2oz amaretto

6oz soda water

Garnish with Morello cherries and serve over generous amounts of ice for a wonderfully refreshing drink on a hot day. I think this has got to be my new favorite and I went out and bought more cherry juice as soon as I figured this one out so I will have no shortage during our current heat wave.

The FDA Isn’t Trying To Ban Artisanal Soap.

I’ve seen this and similar articles floating around facebook for a day or two and really need to say something. They make wild claims about corrupt senators, “Big Soap”, and something about forcing us to use “toxin” laden bath products. First off, the FDA is not trying to shut down artisinal soap makers. The FDA is probably in the pockets of anyone with a big enough checkbook(just like we’ve seen in every other department of government), but the senators who co-authored this bill aren’t and have no affiliation with the FDA. They are trying to regulate small bath product producers, but they are also trying to regulate the entire industry in a more consistent and contemporary way.

I read the actual bill and it looks to be a good thing for those of us producing bath and beauty product for sale. Sen. Diane Feinstein D-CA was a cowriter and the text of the bill can be found HERE. Feinstein is a strong proponent of cottage industry and spoke strongly in favor of California’s Cottage Foods Act a few years ago. What she is trying to do is legitimize an industry that already exists in our homes and to give us regulations that will discourage others from barring us from doing what we do. Some of those regulations are simple things like registering your facility every three years so that they can be inspected should a complaint arise. The new law will also allow us to use the FDA’s national product recall registry should we need to, as well as ensuring that we pay the proper taxes to fund said program.

Fat and the Moon is just one small producer who won’t be adversely affected by this law despite selling her products internationally. Click photo for more about Fat and the Moon.

And honestly, I say “we”, but it probably doesn’t even apply to most of us since the gross revenue over 3 years must exceed $500k for a registration to be mandated. That means an individual soap-maker could be making a six figure income off only their home business and would still fall outside these regulations. I can’t think of a relevant one-person business that turns that kind of cash, can you? This bill will mainly affect small business owners who have 2-3 full time employees. These are folks who supply national chains like Whole Foods and Nob Hill Foods with their artisinal bath products, rather than those with a farmer’s market booth or an Etsy page.
The same bill also calls for stricter regulations for big corporations and better labeling practices. This bill seeks to update regulations that are 75 years out of date. For example it sets forth animal testing alternatives, specifically allows for the review of certain previously exempted chemicals, and requires health and safety warnings for adverse affects in not just the general user, but also for specific populations such as children, pregnant women, etc.

I make salves and pomades myself. Check them out!

Personally, I want to see this bill to pass. I hope, now that you’ve got a better understanding of what the bill really says, that you want it to pass too.

We Go With the Flow

This is a brief update to my recent post, Covered in Bees.

I’m a bit late since this was a busy work week for me, but I really wanted to share a bit about my follow-up entree into the hive. As I mentioned before, I needed to go back in to place a new honey super and make room for the booming population in my small hive, and take advantage of the warm weather.

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As it turns out, the nectar flow is in full swing! Even more so than I had originally anticipated. That seems to be the theme of the month when beekeeping is at hand. Last week I put two foundationless frames into my hive to replace the frames of honey I was removing. I also really wanted to see how my bees handled building natural comb. I pulled the outer of the two frames and say this:

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I think, “Cool! It’s only been 5 days and they are fervently building comb!” Then I pull the next one that went in next to it and almost dropped it in surprise.

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I hadn’t expected the weight of it! It was totally drawn and already mostly filled with nectar on both sides with bees working away at it. I replaced both, replaced the excluder and stacked on a new box with some regular frames and some without foundation to see what they would do with it. I’m planning to go in three weeks from now to inspect and I’m hoping for an extraction in four.

The nectar must flow!

Covered in Bees!

After work yesterday, I checked the weather and discovered it was still well above 60 degrees Fahrenheit. So, I rushed to my mother’s house and got geared up to go into my hive for the first time since last June. I had no idea what to expect, and I was going in alone. In the past, I’ve been the only person working on the hive, but have always had a remote helper to hand me tools from the patio, or take photos. This time no one was even home. I was pretty anxious, but deeply determined to go into my hive.

It was hard. I have an anxiety disorder and recently cut back on my medications in an effort to learn to cope without dampening all of my emotions. This was one hell of a test of those coping skills to be sure, and I’m very proud of myself for how well I did given the circumstances.

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My original plan was to remove at least two frames of honey if they were doing well, replace those frames with empties, and add a queen excluder and honey super. I didn’t quite manage it, but I did fairly well I think, given my relative inexperience. Sadly, I crushed a far more bees than I would really like, and I’m still a little panicked that I could have possibly killed my queen. It’s very unlikely, but fear isn’t always rational and I’m so invested in this give that I think I would be devastated if I was responsible for its collapse.

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The reason I wasn’t able to complete my mission is that I got stung, which spiked my adrenaline. At first that adrenaline was a much needed kick in the pants, and I pulled the frames I intended to remove and replaced them with blank ones. Unfortunately the adrenaline crash that followed, hit me hard. I got shaky and nauseous to the point that I had a hard time even putting the excluder on, and putting on the next box was just impossible. I decided the best thing I could do was to close everything up and wait until Friday to place the new box.

I’m glad I did too because my body was so overwhelmed by the chemical rush that I fell asleep on the couch right after getting my suit off, leaving my two precious frames of honey outdoors! Later, I went out to retrieve them and found them covered I bees, desperately trying to retrieve any honey they could despite it being after dark. One of the frames which had only been filled and capped on one side was light enough that I was able to bring in by myself. The other had to wait until my mother got home so I would have a second pair of hands to handle the heavy frame while I brushed all the bees off.

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Now I have them uncapped on one side each, draining slowly into a big steel tray. I considered cutting out all the comb and crushing it to get my honey faster, but I just couldn’t bring myself to destroy all the hard work my bees put into building the comb. I’m hoping it will be drained by tomorrow so I can give my bees those frames right back… And because I want my honey!!

Now, I may be writing a very dry post about what I did, but I’m actually giddy at the prospect of having my own honey finally. These bees have had it all to themselves for a full year! I’m ready to get something back on my investment here and with the rate at which me and mine all suck down honey, I’m hoping for some really great harvests this year!

I just hope my new roommates don’t mind it too much. I just moved into a new house two cities over and I don’t actually want to drive my roommates nuts.

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They Grow Like Weeds

Despite odds being 50/50 for sex on chicks I’ve hatched myself, I always name them all with girls names. It’s my own bit of superstition, but genetics aren’t much influenced by superstition and as such in fairly certain I have two pullets and two cockerels.

Our pullets:

Felicia

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Idris

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And our bold young cockerels:

Milo (formerly known as Milla)

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And Finally, Dame Edna (whose name doesn’t need changing)

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Teenagers of all creatures look equally awkward. Add to it that Idris and Edna are surprise frizzles and the awkward trips from gangling into clownishly cute! I will be heartbroken if we end up needing to part with either Milo or Edna. They are mere weeks old, and they already feel like family.

Our Newest Additions

A week ago we hatched some cochin chicks out of eggs purchased from Aarron Hunsinger. If you ever fall in love with bantam Cochins the way I have, I highly recommend getting in touch with him. He breeds several gorgeous lines of Cochins and sells his hatching eggs at the best deal I’ve yet to see.

We had a very tough couple of months during which we lost three of our favorite birds, each under different and devastating circumstances. When Aarron offered up some hatching eggs, I knew it would be a good way to salve my broken heart.

Out of 29 eggs, 10 hatched. For eggs laid in winter and then shipped from Pennsylvania to California, that’s a pretty good ratio. I have no need for 10 new birds, so I split the hatch with another local urban homesteader, and kept only 4 for myself.

Meet Edie (aka Dame Edna)

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Her passions include standing in the water dish, looking fabulous in blue, and sleeping in people’s scarves. She’s the oldest of the bunch but young at heart.

Next meet Idris

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Idris is a messy girl but makes it look cute. She loves sleeping in the food dish, wearing heavy eyeliner, and is always first to check out anything new.

Here comes Felicia.

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Felicia is the baby of the bunch. She is smaller and younger, but don’t let that fool you. She can scream her head off if she’s unhappy and is only happy when her twin sister is nearby.

Speaking of, here she is. Meet Milla

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Milla is a fierce little red head and is always looking out for her sister, Felicia. She loves staring out the window and long walks on the coffee table at sunset.