Monday, October 31, 2011

Java hunting

I truly believe in eating local and knowing your food producer.
Living in Arkansas and having our own small farm, that's pretty easy for us to do, for the most part.
But I do love my coffee! And the real stuff doesn't grow here.
I don't want any ground root substitutes or tea, gimmee my Java!
So, in May, I started a search for good, healthy coffee. Just coffee, no more artificial flavors or additives, just plain good coffee. Shawn tries hard to find me whatever I want, so he went out and bought a small bag of every available coffee in Mountain View. At one point, our freezer was mostly full of coffee. Did I mention that we drink a lot of coffee?
There were lots of ok coffees. There were a few good coffees. There was one coffee that was memorable only for its slogan, "Exclusively brewed for everyone." I think their slogan writers need a dictionary.

I found one pretty good organic coffee that was available at Walmart. It did concern me that the coffee was labeled "Product of Canada." Last I looked, they can't grow coffee up there, either.

I started reading and researching coffee on the web. It didn't take me long at all to decide that I wanted only organic coffees. We farm organically, we buy organic produce and yet it had never occurred to me that they use lots of pesticides and herbicides in growing coffee beans. Yikes, and I've been drinking this stuff for 40 some odd years. And where do you think all the pesticides and herbicides that get banned in the US go?

Then, walmart quit carrying my organic coffee.

I started searching on the web. I have trouble sleeping much past four in the morning. That is mostly my weaving time, some of my yoga, cheesemaking and cleaning time, but it's also my computer time.

Did you know you can spend a lot of money on coffee? Cost has to be one of my criteria. Though I wanted organic, I have a pretty limited budget.

What about Fair Trade? While I agree with their premise, and I will buy it when there are other reason's for purchasing the product, until Fair Trade applies to small farms and artisan's in the US, I'm not a big follower. I live with too many people who do not have health care, adequate heating, indoor plumbing and other "comforts" of life because they live the producer path here in the US. Take care of home first, then, if you have extra resources, you can go save the world.

Back to Java.

After reading for many mornings, coffee is quite the passion with people, there's a lot of info out there, I ordered a sampler pack from Dean's Beans and 5 pounds of their Moka  Java, which sounded like a coffee I would enjoy. I do like it - it's pretty good.

And so far, we've tried the Uprisings and French Roast. Also good coffees. The French Roast leaves a great flavor in your mouth, not something you can say of too many coffees.

this morning, I made a pot of Ring of Fire. That is awesome coffee! It inspired this whole blog post. The only problem I have with it, is I now have Johnny Cash on my head radio, but that's not really a problem, is it?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

She knew

She watched with a knowing smile as I gently folded the shawl and put it in the garment box.

"It's hard for you to let go of them when you made them, isn't it?"

She was right.

Evie's Ribbon Shawl, sold 10/30/11
The shawl was beautiful on her. It looked like I'd made it for her. As I say with so many of my hand spun shawls, this one was one of my very favorite shawls. It was Eve's lacy grey mohair, some of it over-dyed with rose, mauve and burgundy, more of it natural, woven with a soft rose ribbon. The fringes were medium length with the ribbon and mohair intertwining. It is a lovely shawl.

And she loved it, it is perfect for her. But still, it is hard to let it go.

As I've grown as both as a fiber artist and a shepherd, I've learned to price things not only where they need to be to sell, but also where they need to be to comfort my heart. My head knows I can't keep all the things that my hands weave, and it knows that we need income to feed all the critters who grow the fibers I love to work with, but my heart yearns after the ones I let go.

She knew, and that made it even more special.
I did make that shawl just for her, and I'm glad she bought it today.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Real farmstead cheesemaking

I've milking goats since 1979 and I've had my own flock since 1982. When you have milk critters, you often have those times when you open the fridge and find it full of milk. That is when you make cheese. You can do some planning and scheduling, but the full milk fridge will often crop up at a time when you really have a zillion other things to do. 

As a farmer, I cannot tolerate wasting food. Right now, I don't raise bottle calves, I only have half a dozen milk customers (it's legal to sell goat's milk directly from the farm here in Arkansas, a big part of why we moved here) and I don't raise pigs, so , when the fridge is full, I make cheese.

A spatter screen makes a great cheese pot lid
 in a busy farm household.
There are quick and easy cheeses that freeze well for winter when the does are dry. There are  cheeses to make specifically for a potluck or a recipe I want to try and then there are times when I just want to make something a little more. Today, I wanted to make mozzarella.
It's not a terribly hard cheese. but you do have to pay a bit of attention to it to get it to work out. I alway s make my cheese in a double boiler arrangement of big canning pot and big stainless steel bucket. This has many purposes, it keeps the milk from scorching and makes it easier to change temperatures gently.

Smart phones have a timer app so that you can work at other projects
 and  set an alert for when you have to check the cheese next.
Set up your pots and warm your milk to no more than 80-degrees. Mix up either thermophilic cheese culture or good quality yogurt with about 1/2 cup of cold milk and add it to the pot of warm milk. Stir gently with an up and down motion. Cover and let incubate for 30 minutes (or so). If you carry a smart phone, like so many of us do now-a-days, down load a timer app. Each time you are supposed to do something with the cheese in 15, 20, 30 minutes, etc. you can set your phone and then go get your other work done, like fixing the front fence that the sheep decided was optional.
Fixing fence is a higher priority than a pot of cheese on the stove.

Back at the cheese, mix 1 teaspoon full of liquid rennet with 1/2 cold milk. In another cup, mix 2 tsp citric acid with 1/2 cold water. Stir the rennet into the milk and then the citirc acid. the milk may flake a bit, but don't worry about it. Let it set 15 minute and check to see if the curd is set. If not let rest another 15 minutes. Now is a good time to work on the weaving in your shop, or go plant blueberries. That was what was on the to-do list for today.

Planting the blueberry hedge is the thing
 that was on the schedule for today. It's been so dry
 I'm having to use a pickax to dig in the
 normally soft dirt on the east side of the house.
I got two types of locally grown blueberry plants for a hedge on the east side of the house. When I sold two of my very favorite angora goats, who had decided that they really didn't want to stay in the fence, I felt like I needed something to assuage the pain from the hard decision. I'm sure Evie and Bramble have a great new home, and I now have a baby blue berry hedge. 

My blueberry guy said to plant them in peat moss and mulch them with pine needles, so it made senxe to me to plant them under the pine tree. I hope it works. I did spend most of the day, around cheese making and fence mending, regular chores and laundry, planting blueberries.

Oh yeah, back to the cheese.

When the curd breaks over your finger, or has sunk in a lump to the bottom of the kettle, cut it into one inch squares. Stir gently and begin to raise the heat very slowly, no more than 1 degree/minute to 113 degrees. Stir often to keep the curd from matting in an up and down motion. this process works well with weaving in the studio near the kitchen.
Heat the milk to 113 degrees. A digital thermometer is wonderful!

When it gets up to temp, remove the kettle from the fire and let set for a bit. (Go plant another blueberry or two.) Stir well before you leave.

 Learn to use tools. Just because you can pour a 3-gallon steaming
cheese pot, doesn't mean that it's a good idea.
Wash your hands when you return. Set up a large colander over another food grade bucket with a tea towel or other butter muslin type cloth. Ladle the curds into the cloth. The whey will drain off of the curds. Save this to make bread or soup. If you want to add some salt now, it is good to stir it into the curds before you tie them up to drain.

Hang the cheese to drain. We've always put a
 rack of some sort over the sink for this reason.
My kids grew up thinking that everybody had
 a sign that said "Beware the Cheese" on their kitchen sink.
Tie the corners of the cloth together and hang the cheese to drain. Now is a good time to go plant the rest of the blueberry plants.Before you head out though, make sure you drink a big glass of water.