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, chèvre, or other soft cheese
  • Balsamic glaze to taste

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

  

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.

Shrooms in Bloom

Almost a year ago, I took a class from the Mushroom Maestros, Patty and Ray, in which we learned all about cultivating edible mushrooms at home. The class focused on simple to grow everyday edibles including oyster mushrooms and king stropharia. It was actually the third time I had taken a workshop from them because they proved to include new info each time and I always got to go home with a kit to grow something. This workshop focused on not just the growing of the mushrooms themselves, but also on the propagation of mycelia and production of inoculation spawn.20140813-135410-50050075.jpg

The first two times, my kits proved prolific, often producing three or four full flushes of fruit before petering out. The third class took a different focus, so instead of coming home with a straw-based kit for fruiting out on (like the one pictured above), I headed home with several jars of fresh mycelial spawn and rye pucks for propagating mycelium on my own time.

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I few weeks later, when my spawn had fully grown out, it happened to rain, soaking the strawbale we were supposed to use as chicken bedding. Without much thought, I used a pick-axe to gouge a couple holes in the bale and stuffed it with oyster mushroom spawn. It being the late fall, I had assumed it would rain again, giving the mycelium the moisture it needed to run, but to my chagrin, we saw instead the driest winter California has had in over 150 years. Nothing ever came of that inoculated bale and being well into the summer I just assumed it had dried out too much for the mycelium and that other more drought tolerant molds had outcompeted it.

So, of course it was to my delighted surprise that I was greeted by a big flush of fresh oysters growing out around my corn and kale when I went to water the bed the other day! I had used the bale to create a small hugelkultur bed by digging a bale shaped hole, dropping it in, and covering it with the native clay soil and a few bags of freecycled chicken manure compost.

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I’m an enthusiast, but certainly no mycology expert so I’m only guessing here, but I think the boost of nutrients from the manure must have given the mycelium what it needed to finally fruit out. I know that many mushrooms, including oyster mushrooms like to grow off manure, but generally oysters prefer wood. One of the flushes came out around a stake that had been supporting bird netting, and I made sure to leave the moldering wood in the ground when I cut out the mushrooms. One of the others encapsulated a robust little kale plant while the some appeared to fruit simply from exposed straw.

Suffice to say I’m thrilled to have such a bounty come from what I thought was a dead end project repurposed for veggies. I’m hoping to add some wood chips or logs to this bed in the fall in order to encourage the continuation of mycelial growth in my garden.

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Artfibers yarnsplosion!

This post was supposed to go up February 14th but yet again, I was foiled by technology. The following was written while in line for a total of 4 hours.

It’s a sad day when an incredible yarn company goes out of business. The only bright side is the sale. At 9am February 14th they opened the doors to their workshop in order to clear out the last of their stock, supplies, and equipment. Fortunately this closing was by choice, not hard circumstances, and the owners are moving on to new projects and less responsibility. That means no guilt for those of us benefiting from their closeout!

I came with a budget and am blowing that out of the water but it is well beyond worth it! I have pounds and pounds of silk, viscose, modal, bamboo and alpaca undyed yarn cones coming home with me along with a couple amazing super-skeins of luxury yarn that I would normally never be able to afford.

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Of course I’m not the only one who came to Vallejo, CA to score. I am 2/3 through the line and have already been waiting nearly two hours.

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We’ve camped out in yarnville and kind coconspiritors have taken to passing around cookies and holding places during bathroom breaks and last minute additions.

Suffice to say I’m excited and will of course be starting up my active knitting life again. One project has already been completed.

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This scarf for my partner Michael is made entirely from my handdyed and handspun yarns. I’m proud of it despite it being messy because it’s the first project I have finished in a couple years. I’m expecting many more to come.

I’m back with a vengeance!

It was a rough spring but my midsommer appears to be a time of change.  I moved in with my mother and brother a month ago and a busy month it has been!

Beautiful things to see while sipping tea.

Beautiful things to see while sipping tea.

When I moved in, the spare room was a wreck, having been untouched except by mice for a period of years. There were four serious holes in the lathe and plaster walls hat needed patching and paint peeling on almost every surface as well as some  damage to the hardwood floors. All this was covered in waist deep clutter and garbage as well as a thick layer of dust. For three weeks I worked every day on clearing and repairing the room meanwhile sleeping on the living room floor. I got some amazing help from my family members, both by blood and by choice. I rather regret not getting some before shots because its hard to relay just how ruined this room was but now I’m sitting at a newly finished desk on a newly painted and refinish room.

roooom!

The new projects upcoming are mostly outdoor ones. Much like the room, the garden here has been untouched for a years. My mother is a landscaper, but as they say, “The cobbler’s children wear no shoes.” and the landscaper’s garden grows only weeds!

There's a garden under there?

There’s a garden under there?

 

I’m trying to change that now, and she and I have been putting in regular work to bring back the beauty and production this garden has seen in the past. We’ve planted One bed and have started a second. We are trying to apply permaculture principles as we create the new garden, interspersing aesthetic dahlias with more useful perennials and self-seeding annuals. The first completed bed contains a black dahlia, a lavender dahlia, a mullein, 6 different types of basil, a purple culinary sage, echinacea, and catnip.

Shadow surveys our progress.

Shadow surveys our progress.

While cleaning the yard, We found all kinds of fun things. Some we appreciated simply for their age…

Weathered to monochrome.

Weathered to monochrome.

Some we appreciated for their beauty…

A forest of amber glass and old tiles.

A forest of amber glass and old tiles.

And some were just a little odd…

This guy was happy to see the sun again.

This guy was happy to see the sun again.

I injured myself something nasty the other day when I tripped over the dog on a walk and have no choice but to take a break from all my efforts. I’m in a lot of pain and all but something positive has come from it. i am being forced to slow down and look at all I’ve accomplished. So now I get to sit in the half-finished garden with my tea and my breakfast and feel happy with the life I have come into.

The breakfast of backyard champions.

The breakfast of backyard champions.

Keeping Up With Putting By

I love preserving foods. It’s a meditative process for me that brings me so much joy in the process alone and then I’m rewarded for the energy I’ve expended with tasty treats! This weekend I have made jam, jelly, curd, kombucha, and more. It’s been a weekend of doing what I love despite hardships and putting aside my worries for just a bit in favor of some really rewarding and happy time.

Left to Right: Vanilla Pear Butter and Lavender Quince Jelly

Saturday was spent with the son of my gracious hosts jamming and curding (if it wasn’t a word before, it is now). With him as my diligent assistant, we managed to make 4 separate batches of delicious sweet preserves. First among them was a quince jelly scented with lavender. It’s a gorgeous rosy red and smells divine! Next was a batch of pear and apple butter with candied ginger and vanilla bean and two different batches of citrus curd. The old standby is a lime curd for which I used the USDA recommended recipe which is shelf-stable. The newcomer is adapted from the shelf-stable recipe and uses grapefruit zest and some of the ruby grapefruit juice mixed with mostly high-acid lemon juice. The grapefruit flavor is delicate and almost floral, but the lemon brings enough tartness to balance the sweetness of it. I’m a fan and am definitely going to make this recipe again! Next time I may even share it with you, but I want to be sure of it’s stability before I do.

LIMES!!!

While slaving in the kitchen, we broke into my new kombucha made with black tea and honey. I’ve heard many times that kombucha won’t consume honey, or that it will kill the SCOBY. However, my boss/coworker who generously gave me this new pet has always fed it with local honey (instead of sugar as is usually recommended) and the nuttiness and caramel notes in her kombucha are definitely something special, so I figured I would go ahead and do the same. I was anything but disappointed. In fact I was thrilled and drank up almost a quart of it across the day! One cupful even got a generous splash of freshly squeezed grapefruit juice that would otherwise have gone to waste. Yum!

Grapefruit Curd

Sunday was just as productive and fun. My place of employment hosts a lot of amazing classes and as an employee I get to attend them whenever there is an open space. Yesterday’s awesome class was Advanced Fermentation taught by Nishanga Bliss, author of Real Food All Year. Nishanga is a licensed acupuncturist and Chinese medical practitioner AIMC Berkeley and is about to complete a doctorate in Nutrition. Wholesome holistic living seems to be her passion and it was a pleasure to learn a bit from her.

Along with a short presentation about the history, health benefits and biology of fermentation, Nishanga shared a few really spectacular recipes with the class. We got to taste a few yummy ferms from her kitchen and started two of our own: Bok Choy  and Butternut Kimchi, and Ginger Bug.

Feeding my new pet.

The simpler of the two is a Ginger Bug (also sometimes called a Ginger Beer Plant) which is a wild yeast starter made from shredded organic ginger root and sugar water. This starter can be used for making all kinds of delicious sodas and fizzy juices. To make your own Ginger Bug, grate  two about tablespoons of organic ginger with the skin on. In a 16oz jar or larger mix the grated ginger with an equal amount of sugar and about a cup of water.  Leave your bug in a spot that stays between 68 and 78 degrees. Every day for the next week add more ginger and sugar until bubbles form. This is a sign that you starter is strong enough for you to start making sodas with it, and you’ll want to put it in the refrigerator unless you plan to use it and feed it right away. Even with refrigeration though, you will need to feed it every week.

I am just so excited to be getting my groove back. I’m finally starting to feel like myself again.

Green and Growing

I’ve been incredibly busy these past months. Between finals, keeping up with my garden, and trying to maintain some semblance of a social life, I’ve been quite neglectful of my blog. I’ve been growing and planting and harvesting and replanting so much. In fact I have had more plants than space lately and expanded my collection of pots substantially from the original 5 to over a dozen, not to mention the now crowded strip along the driveway.

Let’s see whats in the container garden here.

Fava Beans

‘Blue Lake’ Bush Bean

‘Golden Sweet’ Snow Pea

‘Sugar Ann’ Snap Pea

Old Spice Sweet Pea

Nasturtium

‘Little Fingers’ Carrot

‘May Queen’ Butterhead Lettuce

European Red Lettuce

Rainbow Chard

Wild Arugula

‘Chiogga’ Beet

‘Bulls Blood’ Beet

Russian Kale

Spinach

‘Sunshine Blue’ Blueberry

‘Misty’ Blueberry

Spanish Lavender

‘Love Lies Bleeding’ Amaranth

‘Ace’ Tomato

‘Everbearing’ Strawberry and ‘Sequoia’ Strawberry

Japanese Indigo

Black Salsify

Zucchini Squash

Blue Borage

Red Currant

‘Black Oil’ Sunflower

‘Yellow Sweet’ Onion

‘Belgian White’ Leek

White Alyssum

Blue Thimble Flower

California Poppy

Quinoa

Potato (various)

‘Pink Beauty’ Radishes

‘Bee Bliss’ Sage

Herbs: Moroccan Green Mint, Onion Chives, Thyme, Rosemary, Greek Oregano, Cilantro, Italian Sweet Basil, Culinary Sage, Lemongrass

Other yummies and pretties I have no photos of: Italian Lacinato Kale, ‘Japanese Black Trifele’ Tomato, Volunteer Tomatoes, California Wild Fuchsia (Clarika Eligans), California Lupin, Giant Mystery Lily, White Cala Lily, Pinot Noir Grape, multi-flower mystery iris, and several more!