Monday, April 25, 2011

Pastoral Living

You know how Marie Antoinette had a little village built so she could go out and play milkmaid? Ever read "Heidi"? For many people who live in highly urban areas, there is a pastoral idea--a great appeal to the thought of getting back to a simpler way of living. The trend of "urban home-steading" is an modern example of this. Some of what I do is definitely driven by the belief that simpler = better.

Of course, some of what I do is entirely driven by curiosity.

Friday afternoon, I was given the afternoon off from work as a sort of Good Friday holiday. I used this time to do two important things:

1) Clean my kitchen sink. (It's now white and gleaming!)
2) Try making cheese. (Do or do not--there is no try.)

The cheese recipe came from here. It's the bare-bones, farmer's cheese, queso fresco-style of curdled milk. Basically all one has to do is heat milk to a simmer, add acid while gently stirring, let it rest and cool, then strain. I carefully followed the instructions to the letter--using 1 quart of milk instead of 1 gallon--and was rewarded with success. The recipe produces a rather bland cheese, but that simplicity means there are plenty of things to do with it. So far I've had it on chili, on salad, and eaten plain with bread & honey. I could certainly see mixing it with honey and fruit and whatever it takes to make an old-style cheese cake, or using it in a homemade vegetable lasagna, or whipping it smooth with herbs for a kind of spread or potato topping. I also saved the whey, which contains some proteins not curdled in this process, and plan to use it in a variety of fashions.

If you want to try making cheese at home, the key word is: clean. Because you're dealing with hot, but not boiling, temperatures, there is the chance of creating a good breeding ground for unwelcome species. As a precaution, I sterilized everything I would be working with (pot, measuring cup, cheesecloth, utensils) by boiling in water for 15 minutes.

What goes famously with cheese? Bread! On Saturday I baked my best loaf of sourdough rye bread yet. (Of course, having baked only one loaf prior, this is not the grandiose accomplishment it might sound like.) Put a cup or so of sourdough starter in a bowl, added enough flour to make a dough (plus a dash of salt and caraway seeds), kneaded for a few minutes, then shaped a loaf and placed it in a greased loaf pan. Since I'm only baking for me, and this was an experiment, I used one of my mini loaf pans, which are about 3 by 6 inches. The dough was left at room temperature for most of the day, then went into the oven to bake. It almost doubled in volume, I think, but I was still left with a very dense bread.

I had to hold myself back to not cut into it fresh from the oven, but still ate a couple of slices warm. Sour, dense, very satisfying. I'll definitely be doing this again, probably next weekend.

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