Saturday, August 31, 2013

Harvesting, canning, and a new tie dyeing obsession

This week, I have been milking the goats to the deafening sound of rain drumming on the metal roof of the barn. Yes, it's true: the rains are back. The days are getting shorter. It feels like fall. I don't quite know how to feel about that. We are all grateful for the rain right now... but how long will that gratitude last if the grey-ness and wet-ness stretches on and on and on?

Fall means we're busy littler beavers on our homestead. Lots of harvesting is going on, and lots of eating of our homegrown food. Fall means canning and preserving, pickling and fermenting, cleaning up the garden, and lots and lots of snacking fresh from the garden. Eva loves our figs, which she likes to pick herself. She thinks their insides look like worms, which is true, but this doesn't keep her from eating them fresh like they are candy.
The other day, I coerced the male members of my family to help me make dilly beans. They helped me wash, cut, and pack seven pounds of green beans into 18 pint jars, augmented with dill and garlic from the garden, and mustard seeds, and vinegar.

Do you know why they call this squash "Crookneck"?  I would call it "Gooseneck" if I got to name veggie varieties.
Compare some of the tiny eggs that they young chickens give us to the huge duck eggs.

Canning is very, very serious business.
It has been a busy week. I taught another cheese making class, which always energizes me so much (and forces me to really clean my house, which then makes me so happy). The day after cheese class, I went to our monthly Marblemount Community Market to sell my felted hats, handspun yarn, and goat milk soap. I received the nicest compliment from a customer who bought my soap last month. He came back for more this month, proclaiming that this is the nicest soap he has ever used. Happy customers, proud Corina. The next day, I promptly made more soap, this time scented with lemon and clary sage essential oils. It looked and smelled like the most delicious lemon custard. I had to put it high up so my family wasn't tempted to dip their fingers in it and try some...
Part of the fun of doing the market is visiting with friends.  This is what community is all about!

My booth.

But it's not all work and slaving away at our farm. We've gotten addicted to a fun creative outlet involving hand painting T-shirts – tie dyeing! A few weeks ago, I bought a tie dye kit at Michael's for the kids, and wouldn't you know? I got totally hooked by it, because I already hand paint wool yarn, and now the world of cotton has opened up to me! The possibilities! Even Steve dyed one shirt, and his blue one with white bubbles turned out beautifully – looking at it feels like snorkeling in a warm ocean.
I can see opening another Etsy store with tie dye clothing. Maybe the boys can sell tie dye shirts at the market?

Not bad, ey?
And one more thing:  While I was at market, Steve and the kids ran a race in Bellingham, called Muds to Suds.  It's a 2.5 mile run, where you have to navigate obstacles such as mud pits, sawdust pits, a trailer filled with suds, tunnels and more.  The goal is to get as muddy as possible.  Do you think my kids had fun doing this?

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Playing peek a boo with Mount Baker - Skyline Divide

One of my favorite things is hiking and spending the night in the wilderness with my two young-ish sons. Now that they are old enough to carry their own stuff, backpacking is doable. It still means that I carry the tent and most of the heavy stuff, but they carry their fair share themselves.  ('Why', I ask myself, 'do I carry so much heavy stuff when these kids run circles around me?')

This week, Kai, Lukas and I hiked one of my favorite trails: Skyline Divide. It's one of my favorite hikes, because it is so dramatic, what with Mount Baker staring right into your face once you hike up two miles through a mature silver fir forest. After these initial two miles, the hiking book states, “At 2 miles clutch your heart and prepare for visual attack as the trail emerges onto a grassy knoll, unfurling a backdrop of the Great White One (Mount Baker), surrounded by some pretty darn nice ones.” I couldn't have said it better. It's really quite spectacular and mind blowing.

The hike up was steep and hard. We had to carry all of our water, since there is none on the ridge so late in summer. Do you know how much weight a gallon of water adds to your pack? I was a little worried when, five minutes into the hike, my butt cheeks went into spasms. Lukas and Kai didn't fare better, so we took our time and rested frequently, which turned into quite a spectacle. First, gingerly feel behind you to make sure you will land on something soft or level, then let your weight fall down, get caught by your heavy pack, and at the same time unstrap the chest strap so you won't get strangled. When you are ready to get back on your feet, pull yourself up with a lot of grunting and moaning, and then help the person next to you by firmly pulling on their hands.

This is how heavily packed we were.
Steep mountain sides are especially handy for resting, since it's easier to get up when your pack rests a little higher.

I instructed the boys to clutch their hearts once we made it up onto the grassy knoll and get prepared for the splendid view of Mount Baker. Except when we got there, Mount Baker was shrouded in clouds and stayed that way for most of the day. All the other thousands of mountains showcased themselves in all their splendor, but the Great White One played hard to get. It felt like we played peek a boo with this famous mountain all day, until it finally revealed itself to us in the evening, when we cooked dinner by our camp. In the meantime, we had fun, my boys and I, romping in gorgeous meadows, looking for bugs, staring at the sea of mountains around us.

We made it up to the first knoll.

Looking at bugs.

Waiting for the clouds to lift off Mount Baker.  It's getting there!
Our camp site, looking at Mount Baker, finally cloud free.
Dinner with a view.
We couldn't have timed this trip better, because the moon was full that night, and it rose over Mount Shuksan in the East, while at the same time, the sun set in the west. It felt like we were at a tennis match as we sat on the ridge and watched this spectacle. Back and forth our heads swiveled to the East, where the moon came up over Shuskan, and then back to the West, where the sun sank into the mountain range there. I cannot try to convey with words this beauty and the feeling in my heart while witnessing this ancient ritual while my boys were snuggled around me. It reminded me of looking your newborn baby in the face for the first time, or of the way your heart feels open after spending some special time with your beloved.

I am so grateful for my ever-supportive husband Steve, who is a true wilderness man, and who understands how important this time with my boys and nature is to me.  He stays home with little Eva, who can't attempt such a trip (yet), and he takes care of the homestead, the goats, pigs, chickens and ducks while the rest of his family gets to romp in the mountains.  Don't worry - I give him HIS time as well, and once hunting season comes around, I will take care of our charges while he stalks through the wilderness with his bow and arrows.

I also feel very blessed to have friends and neighbors that enable us to go away like that.  I know that they competently will milk the goats and take care of our critters when we are gone, and I trust them completely.  To me, this is worth more than a whole bag of gold!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Treasures, and Pesto with three year old Manchego, and a little tutorial on how to make Manchego cheese

In the summer, evening comes around fast. Often, when my tummy starts to growl, it's already 5pm, and I haven't even thought about what I will make for dinner for my hungry lions children. Fortunately, our garden is only a few steps away.

This was yesterday's dinner salad.
Today, as I walked by the garden to bring the goats into the barn from their afternoon in the pasture, the basil caught my eye. It looked very sexy in its green glory, and it seemed to yell at me, “Hey, lady! Look at me! See how beautiful and big I am? Why haven't you harvested me yet?” Sure, I've plucked leaves for seasoning pasta sauce or for making Greek salad, but I hadn't made pesto yet. Pesto! What a great dinner idea!
As I searched my fridge, I realized that I didn't have any parmesan, an essential ingredient in pesto.  But I'm not a cheese maker for nothin', so I crawled into my cheese cave (which is a crawl space under our bathroom) and found the perfect treasure: a three year old aged wheel of Manchego cheese. For some reason, I had never gathered enough courage to cut into it, fearing it wouldn't be any good (or kill my family after eating it). But when I opened the vacuum sealed cheese, a complex aroma met my nose. The cheese had the color of caramel and honey, and when I took a tiny bite, I was encouraged. I am no cheese expert, I really am not, and I don't know the right words to describe it, but this cheese tasted nutty and spicy, but sweet at the same time.
So I picked the enticing basil from the garden, mixed it with our home grown garlic, olive oil, some salt and cashew nuts (because pine nuts are way to expensive, and I ran out of walnuts), and at the end added my fancy cheese.  I shredded all three pounds of the cheese in my food processor, and I will try and freeze it for future use.

I wish I could transport the smell of this basil to you.

The pesto dinner was a huge hit with my family.  Eva kept asking for more, and even after everyone was done eating, she kept asking, "Can I have more pesto?  I just love it so much."

Look at these pretty colors.  The broccoli is fresh from the garden, and the cauliflower is fermented with turmeric, hence the pretty yellow color.
I just made a ten gallon batch of Manchego the other day, and now I am encouraged to let these wheels age longer than usual.  I thought I would tell you how I make my Manchego, in case you are a cheese maker.  This recipe is a mix between Ricki Carroll's "Home Cheese Making" and "200 Easy Homemade Cheese Recipes" by Debra Amrein Boyes.  
I start with ten gallons of my raw goat milk and heat in a double boiler (put it in a canning pot filled with water) to 86 degrees.  I then add 1/2 teaspoon MM100 DVI culture (mesophilic) and 1/2 teaspoon thermophilic culture and let it all sit for 45 minutes.  Sometimes I add Lipase, an enzyme that makes the cheese taste sharper.
I use a huge stainless steel whisk and big curd knife that my husband had made for me.  He calls it the Kurdish Crusader (or Curd-ish Crusader).  I do look dangerous when I make cheese with this knife.

This is my fancy double boiler.

After the milk ripened, I add 1 1/4 teaspoon rennet, diluted in 1/4 cup of cool water.  I wait about 30 minutes for it coagulate.  I check for a clean break, but usually it always takes that amount of time.  After I get the clean break, I cut the curd in small pieces and let it sit for 5 minutes.  Then I cut them into very small pieces with the whisk.  I just keep stirring gently, and the curds get cut small enough, and I do that for about 30 minutes.
Then I start heating the curds to 104 degrees very slowly.  It takes me about an hour to get up that high.

When it is done, I drain the whey into buckets for the pigs.  They LLLLLLOVE this whey and have grown nice and fat.  I can taste bacon as I write this.  Honey ham?  Pork chops!!!
But I digress.  I press the cheese at 15 pounds of pressure for half an hour, and then I flip it over and do it again.  I let it sit overnight, and then put it in a saturated brine in the evening.  Next morning, it comes out and I let it air dry.  The cheese below might grace our pesto in three years. Who knows?

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Home made Sauerkraut, and how I make it the German way

What gives me the authority to teach you how to make sauerkraut, and how to cook it to make it taste like the Germans serve it?

Glad you asked.

I was born and raised in Germany, and by the time I moved to America at age 20, I had eaten barrels of this healthy, probiotic-filled fermented vegetable and seen various German grandmothers make it themselves.

So you see, I'm kind of an expert (in sauerkraut, as well as bread, chocolate and beer. You know, the essentials).

Let me show you how to make kraut, which is so much healthier (and cheaper !!!) than buying the canned crap.

~Update: I teach a self-paced online fermentation course, where I teach how to make sauerkraut, greek yogurt, beet kvass, kombucha and no-knead fermented bread. Click here for more info. You get my ebooks, demonstration movies, recipes and a private Facebook group all for $39!~

Our house feels like a giant fermentation vat. 25 pounds of Sauerkraut are cheerfully bubbling and fermenting. Next to the Kraut crock, a half gallon jar of cucumbers is quietly stewing in its juices, waiting for salt and whey to start the lacto-fermentation process. Cheese is aging in the crawl space under the bathroom. Next to the cheeses rest a few left over bottles of blackberry and beet wine. Yogurt is doing its magic in my home made yogurt incubator. All these substances are broken down by bacteria, yeasts and various microorganisms in the name of health.

We make and eat this stuff because it is supposed to be good for us. Fermented foods improve digestion, restore proper balance of bacteria in the gut, are rich in enzymes, have higher vitamin content, and help us absorb the nutrients we're consuming.

I have made Sauerkraut successfully for several years, and over time, many people have asked me how I make it. I don't know why people think being German makes me such an expert. I guess I did eat a lot of Sauerkraut in my childhood (although it was not home made). So let me show you how I make Sauerkraut from scratch, and then I will share the absolute best way to prepare it for dinner.

Recipe for Sauerkraut:

The recipe I have used for years comes from an old, beat up book called “Stocking up” by Rodale Press.  Here's how I do it:

Get your hands on some beautiful, organically grown cabbage.  I grow a bunch in my garden just for Sauerkraut.  How many pounds of cabbage you need depends on the size of the cabbage and on how much kraut you want to make.  I usually use 30 to 35 pounds.  

Wash the cabbage and remove any outer leaves that have slug holes or bruises on them. You might encounter the occasional earwig crawling frantically out of the cabbage while you do this, or a lazy slug hiding between the leaves.  Don't worry too much about these critters... they find their way out. If not, it's extra protein for you.

Don't ask me why my daughter wears plastic shoes with high heels in the garden, or why she wears them period.

Cut the cabbage in quarters and cut the tough inner core out of the pieces. Cut them small enough to put through your food processor with the shredding blade attached. If you were really groovy, you would use a non-electric Kraut cutter, especially made for this process, like this nice wooden one. But I love my Cuisinart, and it makes the job really fast.

I cut enough to measure 5 pounds of shredded cabbage into a bowl. Then I add 3 tablespoons of canning/pickling salt to the cabbage in the bowl and mix it around with my hands. This is kind of like cheese making – a very tactile, messy process.

I let this sit for five minutes. (In the meantime, I shred the next five pounds). After sitting in the salt and softening up a bit, I put this layer of five pounds into my 5 gallon sauerkraut crock. At this point, some people use fancy wooden Sauerkraut stompers, but I use my hand to do the following: press on the salted layer of cabbage with your hand until the juices come up.

Then you keep adding layers of five pounds shredded cabbage, mixed with three tablespoons of salt. Keep pressing down after every layer.
This year, I alternated the layers of cabbage with shredded carrots, which made it all more orange and strange-looking, but I think it will taste great!

After you added the last layer, put a plate on top of the cabbage.  The plate should fit snugly inside the crock. You really want to cover the cabbage tightly, otherwise it may spoil. I weigh down the plate with something heavy, like a mason jar or two filled with water, or ziplock bags filled with water. You want enough weight to keep the cabbage submerged in its juices. I cover the whole thing with a towel, so no bugs or curious kids can fall into it...or toothbrushes, since I keep the crock in the bathroom.

Ferment this whole thing at room temperature (68 to 72) for a week or two (or more, depending on the temperature). It will start bubbling, which is really fascinating and a little weird.
If scum forms on the surface, just take it off with a spoon. When bubbles stop rising to the surface, your Kraut is done.

After a few days it starts to bubble.
It's a little weird, right?  You know what I'm saying?
When it's done, you can either can it in a hot water bath for 20 minutes (which I used to do), or keep it in the fridge as a healthier snack without all the good stuff killed by canning.
Your house will smell krauty and a little sour during the fermenting. You should walk into my house right now, with all the fermenting cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, cucumber, and cheese drying before it's packed. Then you add the aroma from the goat barn, and you got country air!

I like to eat Sauerkraut raw, but if you want to make a real German dinner, here's what I do:

Fry up an onion in butter. A nice sweet Walla Walla fresh from the garden is perfect for this. Add a cut up (cubed) apple to the onions. When the onions are nice and opaque, add some great sausages. Let that sizzle for a while. When the sausages are almost done, add the Sauerkraut with some caraway seeds. My Mom used to add Juniper berries, bay leaf and peppercorns. You could add some white wine if you want to be fancy.
Serve it with some good beer and home made bread or potatoes, and everyone will love it.  Enjoy!  Guten Appetit!

Watch my one minute video on my online fermentation course below and get a sense of what it's all about!

If you like what you learned here, please subscribe to our newsletter, where you learn free homesteading skills and get great tips and recipes, including this sauerkraut tutorial!

~Reminder: I teach a self-paced online fermentation course, where I teach how to make greek yogurt, beet kvass, sauerkraut, kombucha and no-knead fermented bread. You get my ebooks, demonstration movies, recipes and a private Facebook group all for $39!~

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