Thursday, May 9, 2013

Two Kinds of Suburbia

Here is an inventory of our back yard vs. an inventory of our next door neighbor's back yard. I'm not counting the shrubs and trees on the edges, but I am counting the ones that interrupt the lawn.
Their Back Yard:
Two Adirondack chairs
Small table
Sun umbrella
Trash can
Huge two-story playhouse/swingset (bigger than some houses in developing countries)
Our Back Yard:
Three compost piles (finished, maturing, and in process) in connected wire enclosures
Giant pile of branches and trimmings
Two rain barrels, one attractive and one ugly and not hooked up yet (it was free)
Chicken coop under construction (much, much, more on this later)
Big tough clothesline between T-poles
Raised bed, to be planted this weekend
Hugelkultur bed, or for the lay person, "pile of branches, compost, leaf mulch, and topsoil" soon to be planted
Two of each: elderberries, American Beautyberries, pawpaws, and persimmons; a butterfly bush, a dogwood tree
The boys' "clubhouse" or secret meeting place inside a giant shrub, furnished with old bricks
A hole that a five-year-old Will dug as part of a "leprechaun trap" that has never quite been filled in
Large dog
Inaccurate concrete sundial with a jaunty but enigmatic saying on it (see photo)
Fire pit
Half whiskey barrel turned upside down (It houses fish and water plants in summer. And water.)
Big metal table and six chairs
Two chaise lounges
Random pots with nothing growing in them, yet
Huge ginkgo tree
Maybe there's something quirky in the neighbor's yard that I can't see, perhaps the gravestone of the previous owner's pet? Or a rusted out hose reel cart? Please? I guess we just have different visions of suburbia. They like everything cleaned up and mowed and empty like a big green carpet. And? I wonder if they think we're white trash.
Well, enough idle speculation. Time to go make some hooch.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Fried Queso Blanco with Lime

We're between the winter CSA and the next one, and farmer's markets are not open quite yet. (Media's opens tomorrow.) And still no local asparagus at the Swarthmore Co-op. I refuse to buy asparagus from Mexico during Pennsylvania asparagus season. It feels like we're living in some kind of Bermuda Triangle in which all local fresh vegetables have gone missing.

Anyway, I decided, for a recent Cinco de Mayo party, to make cheese instead of tracking down the elusive asparagus or some other local vegetable in hiding. I had made queso blanco very successfully once with raw milk.I wasn't sure how to present it, but after browsing through cookbooks and searching online for a while, I found the idea to fry the cheese and then squirt it with fresh lime juice. Simple and elegant. And no asparagus.

Here is what I made. The cheese recipe is in Home Cheesemaking by Ricki Carroll, and the frying idea is in Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It by Karen Solomon. The narrative is mine and refers to my own experience making this. I thought the cheese would be much firmer than it was, but it worked out. I use the term "slicing" loosely. Start to make this the day before you want to serve it.

Please be forewarned that you may need to strictly ration these goodies. They disappear fast.

Fried Queso Blanco with Lime

One gallon raw cow's milk (pasteurized whole is fine, too; just don't use ultrapasteurized)
Quarter cup apple cider vinegar (Bragg's is the best)
Coconut oil
A couple of limes

Heat the milk at medium low heat in a large pot until it reaches 186-190 degrees. It's very important that it not boil. Take the pot off the heat and slowly add the vinegar. You can move a spoon slowly through the milk to distribute. Wait for curds to separate from whey, and when I say "curds" I mean large blobs. You can add a little more vinegar. This will take a few seconds.

When curds have formed, spoon them into a strainer lined with cheesecloth. Save the whey in a bowl; it's good for bread, soup, and smoothies and is very nutritious. You can just pour the last bit, as it's too hard to fish out all the curds. Tie up the cheesecloth and tie the bundle over a faucet and let the whey continue to drip out until the cheese gets to a consistency you want. This will take hours, or overnight. I wouldn't go longer than that. Refrigerate the cheese for a while before slicing. If you don't have a good place to hang this, you could wrap the cheese in the cheesecloth, and put a weight on top of it, like bricks or a cast-iron pan.

Preheat a large frying pan at medium heat. Slice the cheese as best you can and don't worry if it seems a little soft. Add a tablespoon of coconut oil to the pan and fry the cheese until browned, two or three minutes on each side depending on thickness and size.

Drain cheese for a minute and arrange the slices on a serving plate, salting and squirting lime juice over them to taste. Garnish with lime slices and serve. Can be warm or room temperature. Makes approximately a pound and half.


Thursday, February 21, 2013

Confessions of a Pickler

I have a confession to make. Once a month I skip church. At 8:30 AM I leave the house to drive 50 minutes away to the Kimberton Waldorf School's beautiful farm and kitchen. About 14 or 15 others also converge there. Some come from as far away as Carlisle, the Poconos, and South Jersey. We are all attending a year-long series of workshops called Fearless Homesteading, on practicing permaculture. In October we pickled vegetables in brine, and in November we made wheat bran starter for bokashi composting, and melted beeswax and calendula oil together to make calendula salve. In December we looked at how to make a rocket stove. In January we started growing mushrooms, and learned about growing herbs.
Why do I do this? Because I want to understand nature better and take part in its rhythms, patterns, and energies instead of fighting, ignoring, or trying to work around them. And? It's fun. This workshop is taught by Melissa Miles, a permaculture design expert and manager of the Two Miles Microfarm in Montgomery County. The herbalism part of the course is taught by Susan Hess, of Tthe Farm at Coventry.
Here is how you can pickle some vegetables at home using the brining method. It's not a super precise recipe. It just depends on what you have and what you like. If you don't like garlic, don't put any in. Or try some peppercorns. These lactofermented pickles are delicious and great for your digestion. And so easy to make. Just do it.

Pickled Vegetables


A fairly wide-mouthed, very clean jar with a lid, or a food-grade plastic container with lid. Or several smaller jars.

Something to push down veggies (pestle or potato masher, depending on how big your jar is)


2 tablespoons (or more) uniodized salt (sea salt or kosher)

Quart of filtered water (or you could let a quart of tap water sit out for 24 hours to let the chlorine evaporate)

Carrots, sliced in thin coins or grated

Cabbage, cut into shreds

Cabbage leaf to cover the pickles

One whole garlic clove

One half of a small hot pepper, seeds included, if you like some heat

Radishes, thinly sliced or grated


Dissolve the salt in the water.

Add some vegetables to the jar and pour some salt water to cover. Gently push the vegetables down with your potato masher or pestle. You want to crush the cells a bit so salt can be easily absorbed. Add more vegetables and more water until you're a half inch or so away from the top. Keep packing down the veggies. If you have an uncut cabbage leaf, set it over the top to help keep the veggies submerged. Screw the jar closed, loosely, for the air that will escape. Set it in a semi-darkened place. Mine was on my kitchen counter out of direct light, and it was fine. Since it's winter, the kitchen is probably cool enough, but in the summer you probably want to keep your fermenting pickles in the basement.

Taste the pickles in four or five days. Keep tasting every day or so until you like that level of pickledness (is that a word?) and then store in the fridge. It will last a while in there. But you'll want to eat them before then.