The quest to make cheese

Yesterday was a fairly typical Saturday here on Whidbey Island: breakfast at Muk Cafe, browse the Bayview farmers market, and a stop at the farm supply store for whatever. Except this:

“Let’s make mozzarella!”

Our friend Marnie was visiting from Austin, and we talked most the morning about enjoying the fresh produce and meat available locally, as well as the availability to purchase raw milk.

A while back, Marnie had successfully made her own cheese with raw milk from the farm where she participates in a work share program. I was excited to learn how we could do this on our own and we needed three key ingredients: 1/2 gallon of raw milk, rennet and citric acid. The citric acid we finally found, but after searching far and wide on the island, no luck on the rennet so we had to lower our expectations from mozzarella to ricotta.

 

It took some time to carefully heat, monitor the temperature and stir the raw milk mixture before we saw cheese curds, but it finally happened. And after straining the whey from the mixture, we ended up with more ricotta than we expected.

Delicious, fresh, creamy ricotta.

After mixing the ricotta into a pasta sauce, we discussed other cheeses that were fairly easy to make such as mozzarella and chevre. Savoring the ricotta cheese over dinner, I realized that it may be hard to purchase ricotta cheese at the grocery store. I’m sure one day practicality will make me do it, but this is definitely something I’m going to try again.

Before going to bed, I searched where to find rennet. Why Amazon, of course!

My rennet will be here in a week and if all goes as planned, not long after, so will our homemade mozzarella.

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Blackberries are here and so is the jam

img_3713This morning I woke up and picked four quarts of wild blackberries growing in our front yard. They’ve just started coming ripe enough to pick and after my jam making class with Slow Food Whidbey Island, I thought I’d give my first batch a try.

It was pretty labor intensive the first time around, more so for the clean up because my damn glasstop stove is such a pain in the ass to clean. I really, really miss my gas stove, but that is another story for another day.

While I’ve hopped off the no sugar/no bread wagon since moving to the islanimg_3378d, I was amazed at how much sugar one batch of jam takes. I know there are recipes with less sugar, but I thought I’d start with the basics and then experiment once I got the process down. For this batch, I decided to strain out the seeds for half of the berry puree. I wanted seeds for texture and for show, but I wanted the sweetness of the blackberries to come through.

My first batch was successful enough. All the jars sealed and the jam set up as expected. I couldn’t wait to taste it for breakfast the next morning.

One day I’m going to have to get back on my no sugar/no bread wagon, but not today.

 

 

The anniversary dinner

Six years ago, followed by friends and family, my husband and I came to the island to get married. Most Texans don’t choose Puget Sound for a destination wedding, but we did.

A few days before our guests arrived, we met Josh’s parents at The Oystercatcher for dinner in Coupeville. This weekend, we returned to celebrate our anniversary and pinch ourselves that we now live here.

I’m not going to compose prose to tell you about our meal. I’m just going to leave this nice little gallery of images for you to peruse. I just hope you aren’t hungry.

Slow food, easy food, good food

We’ve always prided ourselves as being foodies and living in Dallas allowed us to try a new restaurant each week as long as we could afford it (which usually, we couldn’t). We gravitated toward those restaurants touting local cuisine and we tried to buy local vegetables and meat. Food Inc. steered us away from the average grocery store and unless we could find something at our local farmers market, our grocery store was Whole Foods.

Going to the grocery store in Dallas was a Sunday event. Go have a glass of wine, meet neighborhood friends, discuss the menu for the week and the ingredients on the grocery list and then eventually shop for said ingredients. Our weekly trip to the grocery store took 3-4 hours which we really enjoyed.

About three months before our move, there was too much to do and we were trying to tighten our budget, so much to my husbands request to keep our Sunday shopping tradition alive, I caved to the food in a box. Plated, while not fitting the slow food framework, did allow us to have a weeks worth of dinners shipped each Tuesday and at the same price. It freed up our Sunday to pack, visit with friends and neighbors, or get ready for a work travel filled week. After getting adjusted to our surroundings, we paused our Plated shipments and focused back onto our local foodie passions.

Here on the island, being a foodie has a whole new meaning than what we experienced in Dallas. Don’t get me wrong, there are delicious restaurants here like Oystercatcher, Prima, and The Inn at Langley, but being a foodie here means local, buying local, eating local.

We started our slow food quest by joining the CSA at Prairie Bottom Farms and enjoy our weekly partial share of vegetables we pick up each week. We quickly learned that our neighbor was not only a farmer, but a baker. He supplies pork and fresh bread to the Oystercatcher and takes orders on the side to sell pork to the community. We purchased half of a pig and it arrived earlier this week. img_3226

Pork raised next door. How local can you get?

Last night we served up pork chops along with braised beets and zucchini and a green salad. All veggies came from our CSA with the exception of the tomatoes seen here as those won’t arrive until mid-September.

It felt good to eat a meal where we knew how the ingredients were grown or raised. Slow food is definitely tasty food.

 

 

Foraging the sea for food

One of the pulls to moving by the sea for Josh was fishing. As we wait for salmon season to open, we’ve been playing around with the crab trap. Honestly, as great as this Dungeness Crab looks, so far we haven’t had much luck.

We learned that without a boat, crabbing becomes challenging. Without a boat, you are left to try your luck at perhaps one of three docks and if you aren’t willing to hang out with the trap all day, there is a high likelihood that someone will nab your crab, if not your whole trap.

But today when Josh retrieved his trap from the Clinton pier, he found success. After throwing back the females and the rock crab that were too small, two tasty Dungeness crab remained. They became lunch. A very tasty lunch.

This wasn’t our first foraging experience. A few weeks back, we tried our hand at clamming off of Zylstra beach off Penn Cove. It was Father’s Day and was packed with people from the mainland.

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Clamming on Penn Cove.

Unlike crabbing, scavenging across the beach was a little overwhelming. There were choices. Did we want to hang out for 30 minutes and forage for Penn Cove mussels or search for clam breathing holes and dig until we found them. We chose the latter, primarily because these wild mussels looked much more difficult to clean than simply removing the beards off of the store bought variety.

Clamming is serious business and the Fish and Wildlife Rangers don’t mess around. We thought we were prepared with license in hand, a clam bag for each of us (so we can keep accurate count), but we were busted when the ranger noticed we didn’t have a measuring tool. I explained how I was measuring the clam by using my pinky finger, buimg_2847t that apparently isn’t acceptable. We only had one clam that was a fraction too small, so she was kind and let us go with a warning.

We focused on foraging for the large butter clams because they would keep us out of trouble until we had a proper ruler. As we began to prepare dinner, we realized seeking the butter clams may not have been the best plan. They are rather large and meaty, but not as tasty as the smaller cockles or little neck clams.

At the end of the day, our meal wasn’t horrible, but we chalked it up to a tasty learning experience.

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CSA day: my favorite day

image4Last week we signed up for a partial share at Prairie Bottom Farm in Coupeville. Now, every Tuesday, I drive the 15-20 minutes to pick up our share, chat with the farmers, say hello to the chickens and begin foraging the “u-pick” item of the week.

While we’ve barely been here for a month, I will say that I look forward to Tuesdays. For a girl who works from home (and whose office is in the basement), getting out is important. The drive down Hwy. 525 isn’t a long one and once I drive up to the farm there are chickens cluimage8cking, roosters crowing and other members gathering their own share of the weekly crop.

Last week our share included green garlic, salad greens, cardoon, garlic scapes, and squash greens. Our u-pick items included items in the herb garden and a pint of raspberries. This week, I feel like we hit the jackpot with our share. I was happy to see the green garlic again, because, well, I have a healthy addiction to the herb, but there were more goodies in my CSA bag this week: kolrabi, green onions, fresh spinach and broccoli. And this week, I was allowed two pints of raspberries (yum!).

image11In the months leading up to our move, I experimented and then grew dependent on meals in a box. Plated became my new personal grocery shopper and recipe planner.  It opened up my Sunday to pack or visit with friends rather than go to the store for the week and plan a menu. Gathering groceries and menu planning is a task that I usually love, but as our move date grew closer, time became more and more limited. It was honestly a lifesaver, but now, on the island, we have access to fresh produce through either our CSA or one of four (or probably more) farmer’s markets. It doesn’t seem feasible to continue our Plated subscription now that life is slowing down a bit. And I want to start experiment cooking with as many of the vegetables as possible.

image6Tonight I went to work, assessing what was already in the fridge, the pantry and what I brought home from Prairie Bottom. Dinner became a saute of green garlic, oregano, and sage with the broccoli, shitakes and fresh spinach. From there, I tossed in some local fresh Alfredo sauce we found in Langley last week and some porcini pasta. Top it with a touch of Parmesan cheese and dinner. is. served.

Planning meals to align with your CSA share can be challenging. It is likely, you are going to get a vegetable or two you know nothing about. To be honest, I had never heard of a Cardoon before, but I enjoy the opportunity these veggies give me to reach outside my culinary wheelhouse.

And if I get a vegetable I don’t like? Well, that’s not likely, but if it happens this week, I still have raspberries.

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