Sunday, June 24, 2012

Progress Report

Here it is, the near end of June.  While some rain has fallen, most has fallen around my address, not at my address.  Things are still quite dry.  Still, with carefully applied water from the hose, it looks like we will have some veg to harvest yet.

I think the corn will definitely pass "knee high by the 4th of July" - it sure looks promising.  This is actually the best-looking corn I've ever grown!

The assorted pole beans are starting to climb - a good sign.

The carrots...well...I have yet to master carrot-planting.  They always come up in clumps.  I've had some success transplanting, but it's a tedious chore.  Right now I'm working on battling the weeds that are also growing with the carrots.

Peas have been blooming for two or three weeks now, although most of the plants are under two-feet tall!  Runty - lack of rain.

Never the less, there are lots of pods filling up!  Should be able to start harvesting in a week, I should think.

The paltry few onions are doing well, too - maybe next year I'll try planting seeds again.

The spuds are looking great for the most part...and the CPB apparently think so, too.  I must've squished well over a hundred of the beggars the other night, and last night it looked like I hadn't touched a one of them!  Must go on a rampage tonight...or I won't have any plants left at all!

Tomatoes?  Only two plants remain, and they are struggling. 

But the squash and cukes are coming up - so that's a plus.

I have yet to get the sweet potatoes planted...perhaps tonight.  And it's time to make another batch of mozzarella!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

It's Cheese!

For a few years now I've wanted to play around with cheese-making.  I'd read that mozzarella is one of the easiest cheeses to make, but was never brave enough to try it.  It didn't help that I went to a cheese-making workshop and their mozz failed.

But several times I've been in stores over the last couple of years and saw cheese-making kits - everything you need but the pan and the milk.  I finally bought one, and a gallon of milk, and yesterday I attempted to make some mozz.

First, you need a steel or enamel kettle, a gallon of milk (pasteurized or raw, but NOT ultra-pasteurized), a couple measuring cups, some measuring spoons, a spoon to stir with, and a knife.  (Ignore the butter and oranges - I have very limited counter space in this kitchen, so things are cluttered and crowded.)

From the kit you dissolve one -quarter table of rennet in one-quarter cup cool water and set aside.  You dissolve 1.5 tsp citric acid in one cup cool water and put this in your kettle with the one gallon of milk.

You turn on the stove and start warming it up - 90 degrees F is your target, while you stir "vigorously."  When you hit 90, you remove the kettle from the heat and pour in the rennet, stirring in an "up and down" motion (careful you don't end up wearing your mixture).  You then cover the kettle and wait for the curds to form and the whey to separate out.  This should take five minutes - I ended up waiting closer to half an hour, and it still didn't look like the photo. 

Then you are supposed to use a long knife and cut the curds (mine looked more like ricotta cheese floating in yellowish water, so it didn't cut well).   You put the kettle back on the stove and reheat to 105 degrees, stirring in an "up and down" fashion.

When you reach 105, you remove it from the stove and drain the whey.  It was only after I had completed my cheese and was cleaning up that I remembered the cheesecloth, which was out drying on the clothesline - had to be washed first.  Without this for draining the liquid from the "solids," I resorted to using a spoon and trying to pour off the whey - a lot of curds went down the drain.  Lesson learned.  (In my defense, the directions didn't say to use the cheesecloth for the draining.)  

Here are the curds sitting separated in a bowl.

Next, you stick the bowl in the microwave for a minute, then drain off more whey.  Return to microwave for 30 seconds, and start to fold the curds into a single unit of soon-to-be cheese.  This is also when you add the teaspoon of salt, if you so desire.  My cheese still wasn't looking very good.  

I ended up doing the 30-second microwaving three times, because the recipe said it had to be 135 degrees in order to stretch properly.  At this point, you are supposed to pull it like taffy.  At 135 degrees, this wasn't going to happen - not without asbestos gloves!  So, I just used my spoon to fold and fold the cheese, which at last was starting to look like mozz!

You then form your cheese into whatever final shape you want.  I made three round balls.  You plop these into a cold water bath for about five minutes.

And then you transfer them to an ice bath for about 15 minutes.   This is to cool the cheese down.  

My cheese was still warm when I wrapped it.  One ball went into the fridge, and I had some of it this morning in my omelet, and the other two balls went into the freezer (it's supposed to freeze well).

Despite a dubious start, I'd say my first foray into cheese-making turned out well!  A gallon of milk doesn't yield a gallon of cheese, but it's still cheaper than buying it in the store!  And, if all goes well, it only takes about half an hour to do.  I'm looking forward to my second try.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Up and Growing

The garden is starting to actually look like a garden now.  Last weekend was spent trellising.  Actually, I did some two evenings, and the rest on Monday - my only day off in the last two weeks.  There's something about the trellises that just make a garden seem complete.

The beans sprouted so quickly:  one week and they were up!  If they all survive (and there are a LOT of vole and mouse and mole tunnels in the garden), I should be all set for beans (snap and dry) this year.

Also within a week the corn was up!  Amazing.  Three varieties this year:  some colorful sweet corn, as well as Ambrosia and Fleet.  I never have a whole lot of luck with corn, but hope springs eternal.

The peas have been going great guns.  Again, if they all survive and produce, I should have plenty of peas to get me through the winter.  Last year was a bust for peas - the groundhog got the plants.  So far this year things look pretty good.  I've got my fingers crossed.

I transplanted the tomatoes and peppers on Monday - I think all the peppers perished, though, and of the remaining 15 or 20 tomato plants (out of over 100 that sprouted), I think only three are still hanging on.  I've never had such trouble with tomatoes before!  

The onions are hanging in there.  I miss the onion harvests I used to have in Newcomb - they were great!  I bought seeds this year, but never got them planted.  I had also ordered some starts, but not too many came.  Even if they all survive, it's only going to be a handful of bulbs.  I wonder if it's too late to start some seeds.

I also got the spuds in a week and a half ago.  I had cut them up so spread the wealth (1-2 eyes on each piece), but they started to mold before I could get them in the ground!  Ack!  Even so, this morning when I was out watering before coming in to work I could see most of them are sprouting.  Hooray!  Now if only I can keep the potato beetles off them (I've already crushed many eggs).

Even the carrots have sprouted in record time - a week!  Usually it's 3+ weeks before I see any sign of life from carrot seeds.  We've been lucky with a long stretch of simply beautiful weather - cool nights, warm days, but not hot or humid.  The downside is that things are incredibly dry!!!  As in parched!  We haven't had any rain worth mentioning in weeks.  Temps supposed to be near 90 today and well into the 90s this weekend.  Ugh.  I worry about the well - how much water is down there?  No snow to speak of this winter, and a dry spring - this does not bode well.

I still have things not planted:  squash, sweet potatoes, cukes...and I'm out of space!  I was going to take advantage of a plot at the Community Gardens at work, but the offered plot needed a lot of work before it could be planted, and I can do that at home just as easily.  Maybe that's what I'll do this weekend, before the heat rises too much.

Harvested my first lettuce and spinach yesterday!  Must plant more.