Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Cluck the Cluckers...

What do you give the neighbors as an "I am so sorry my chickens at the "hens and chicks" plants that belonged to your parents" gift?  And what are the odds that the chickens would eat a plant called "hens and chicks?" 

Would a stew chicken be out of line?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Friendly Feta! (With Bonus Pasteurization Lesson!)

Feta is not my favorite. Now don't get me wrong, I like Feta. It just doesn't make me feel all melty and gluttonous like other cheeses do. Feta is good in moderation with other ingredients to temper it's strong personality, while some other cheeses (in my opinion) are best in hunks straight off the plate.

Many other people don't seem to feel this way. I get feta requests all the time and recently my daughters BFF's dad went bananas describing this "awesome" cheese he had just had (it's called feta! have you heard of it?). Add to this that it's one of my favorite cheeses to make (if not eat) and I thought I would do a Friendly Feta batch this week. AND post about it. WITH PICTURES.

Oh! I also have new toys! 1) a "smart phone" have you heard of these? they shoot my pictures straight over here so I can post them! and 2) a balls awesome thermometer. I have many temperature specific hobbies so it is not unreasonable to spend $100 on a thermometer (she says defensively) FUN!

OK! Lets Make Feta!!!!

1) Milk your goat! I used 1 gallon from my evening milking and a little over a half gallon more from the morning. You can also use store (or farm) bought goat or cow milk. About a gallon and a half.

2) Pasteurize! Feta is a fresh cheese (eaten less than 60 days after it is made) so it is safest to pasteurize your milk first. Also heating goat milk tends to intensify the "goaty" flavor, which is desirable in this cheese. You can pasteurize milk several ways. You can heat the milk in a double boiler to 145 degrees and hold it at that temperature for 30 minutes. OR you can heat the milk in a double boiler to 162 degrees and hold it at that temperature for 15 seconds. OR you can heat it to like 200 or something for like 1 second (which is what they do to grocery store milk) but you can't really do that at home and it totally ruins the proteins so you can't make cheese with it anymore.

Steamy! 163.9 degrees
3) Chill the milk! Quick! Put the milk in an icy water bath and cool that bitch down! If you were pasteurizing for home drinking you would want to take it down below 50 degrees or so, but since this is for cheese I only took it to 86 degrees, which is where I want it to encourage my cheesy bacterial friends to grow.

4) Add cultures! You can use a general "mesophilic" culture for this cheese and get good results. But I am a cheese-o-phile and a big snob and got special (ooooo) cultures. I used 1/4 teaspoon M101 and 1/8 teaspoon Aroma B. But seriously, you can use a packet of mesophilic starter and get very good results. Sprinkle cultures on to the milk and let them sit there for about 2-4 minutes, then stir them in with 20 up and down strokes. Cover the pot and ripen (sit there) for 45 minutes.

Stirring . . . 
5) Coagulate! Add your rennet. I used 1/2 teaspoon diluted in about 1/4 cup of cool water. If you are using cow milk you can add about 1/8 teaspoon of lipase powder (to give it that special flavor), you can also add about 1/2 teaspoon of calcium chloride if you like. Stir with 20 up and down strokes again. And the let it sit for an additional 30-45 minutes until your curd is set.

Rennet in a bowl.
6) Test for a clean break! This is the funnest part! Check to makes sure you are ready to cut the curd by making sure it breaks cleanly first. Like this:

7) Cut the Curd! Into 1/2 inch cubes and then let it sit for 5 minutes.

Cutting . . . 

8) Stir for 20 minutes. Holding at 86 to 90 degrees. I use warm water baths to keep my temperatures stable.

Curds and Whey
9) Scoop the curds into a mold (really any mold, even a bag probably) and let it drain for 6-8 hours, turning every few hours so it drains evenly. I drain mine on a draining board inside of a 9x5 baking pan draining the whey when it gets too deep.

Baby Cheese
10) Cut the cheese into cubes and soak in brine for 3 days in your fridge. I use a "medium" brine made with 10 oz of salt in 1/2 gallon of water. You can leave the cheese in this brine for storage for about a month.

Cheese in Brine.

11) Eat the Cheese! When you are ready to eat the cheese you may think "holy hell! this cheese is crazy salty." Don't worry! You can soak it in water for 15 minutes, or even up to a few hours and it will be much improved. Crumble it on salad! Or a Pizza! Mix it into scrambled eggs! Or just eat it plain! You can do whatever you want with it! Look at my family enjoying this cheese!

I love Feta!

This cheese is sooo good!

Holy Crap! This is the best ever! Yay for mom! No mom is as good as ours!
And that is how you make feta cheese! BOOM!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Beauty Tip:

Do you know what is NOT helpful for healthy, lustrous hair?

Drywall Dust.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

It's Curtains for You!

I am a recovering pack rat.

Collecting design ideas is one way I can channel my hoarding tendencies. I cut them out of magazines and file them in a binder full of clear sheet protectors. (Yes, I'm a bit type A as well). I figure I can "collect" design ideas for years and never fill the spare bedroom or devote the garage to nick-knacks like baby elephant figurines or framed photos of lighthouses. Anyway, I digress, I was looking through the binder today and came across this page.

Now I originally collecte it because I liked what they did with the yellow trim on the pillows. Yellow is my favorite color and I'm always looking for tasteful ways to incorporate it into my home (read: anything but blue and yellow country ducks in the kitchen).

Anyway I also have this problem:

You may not really notice the "problem" until I tell you but I got cheap and bought two smaller blinds (the ones that look like reeds). This design trick, hang curtains longer than your windows and then obscure the wall above the actual end of the window with a decorative blind, gives the effect of tall, elegant sweeping windows when, in actuality, the windows are standard height. Well as you can see the blinds are split and don't really pull this off.

Enter my design binder...for the genius solution!

Did you see it?
Look again...

Okay, I'll help you, the curtains are in the middle of this window! Well, at least some of them are. So in the easiest design solution I've EVER executed...I... get this... Pulled the curtains in!!!

Can you tell I'm excited?
Anyway it was easy and I'm pretty tickled.

A few other notes about the curtains.
I bought oversized pannels from Ikea for something like $24 a pair.
I also bought curtain rods and little clippy rings. No idea what the technical term for those could possibly be. I cut off the tabs on the top, remember I'm going for sweeping/elegant/modern not "cute", and folded them over until the bottoms of the panel just touch the carpet. Voila!

Not this many design ideas are this easy.
It's almost like design drive through.
You could do this with a babe in one arm.
You could do it after a night of partying.
Heck, a 3 year old could execute this one.
This is not a derogatory statement about three year olds.

Tall "custom length" curtains for less than $300! (wayy less than $300).
You could even do this with a sheet in a tasteful color.
So, Go forth BODC-ers, and move your curtains!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Returning to the Mother Ship

Home. Cake. Decorating. Supply.

We went yesterday.  I am pretty sure they thought I was crazy.  I really don't care as long as I still get to shop there.

Check it out.

Pans in every shape and size (these were just the square ones!) 

Candles and cupcake papers and cake toppers galore!

Sugar in every color of the rainbow!

Ribbons and bows and foil to match!

Round pans and dome pans and cupcake pans and more!
And that is just the "stuff" - there were ingredients, colorants, additives, and mixes too.  Fondant and gum paste and tools to use them.  Cutters and chocolate and molds and luster dust and not one, but TWO back rooms full of cake decorating supplies!  I didn't even know what half the stuff was, never mind how to use it!  And the owner is quite possibly one of the coolest people I have met in a long time.  She knows EVERYTHING about cakes.  I know it goes without saying, but I am going to say it anyway.

This place is balls out awesome.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Megan Posts

This is an introduction post. Annie said I have to have to post weekly, and I will try. I hope you guys like cheese. I am going to write a little bio type post for now, so at least I will have posted something and I can stop feeling like a jerk.

My family and I, a husband and daughter, live in the foot hills of the central Oregon Coast range. It's a rain forest! We have a little farm with Nubian dairy goats and chickens and a big black dog. We have a big garden and an old crookedey farm house. We bought this place almost exactly a year ago and are trying to bring it back to life as a sustainable family farm. We are super new at this venture so there is a lot to learn about animal care and husbandry, dairying, gardening, plumbing, composting, pasture management, forest management, butchery, water treatment, sustainable energy, and a thousand other things I can't think of right now.

Now I will brag. Just this once. This house and farm was originally part of a 500 acre plot that made up almost half of the "town" we live in. It's still insulated with Finnish newspapers and moss in some of the older rooms. We have the house and a chunk of pasture and hilly forest surrounding it. We have three naturally occurring springs that feed the house, animals, and garden by gravity. We have a barn with attached workshop, a huge greenhouse (which was installed by some creepers who intended to use it to grow the marijuana. For reals. It's a good story), and a creepy shack that was apparently, any will be again, a tractor shed. We have a sweet little meadow in the back with some tiny cabins that some other creepers built there to be a weird, militant church retreat for mean people (another good story). One of the springs runs through the meadow and then there are some old paths that lead to the river and up into the mountains. The place backs up against BLM property so you can hike for miles and miles, if you are not too scared of bears and cougars and asylum escapees. We got the deal of the century with this place and we feel unspeakably lucky every single day.

Our plan is to "update" the house, mostly with insulation and some more energy efficient options that they didn't have in 1908, while still maintaining the character of the house. We also plan to help this place feed us! We currently have the goats for dairy and meat, chickens for eggs and meat, and the vegetable garden and green house. Next year we plan to add pigs and ducks, to increase the garden by almost 100%, to add a pond for drainage, and to figure out where we would like to grow berries and fruit trees. And to continue the home re-model! Oh! And to start plotting out a rotational grazing plan for the goats. So, no big deal, really.

Sometimes I sit down at the end of the day and I have a glass of wine and snuggle in and I say "I have been so lazy today!" Because I feel like I just had a fun good time all day. Like you are tired and content after backpacking. And Mike says: "what did you do toady?" A typical day would go something like this: I milked goats, cleaned all the milking stuff and the rest of the kitchen, made bread, made something else baked, weeded in the garden, did some laundry, watered in the greenhouse, stared at the chickens and demanded that they lay eggs already, planted something, picked something out of the garden and made dinner, milked goats, made cheese, and then sat down with my wine. See, I am practically sedentary.

So that's me in a nutshell. What should I write about next? What would you all like to hear about?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Two blue toilets and one big problem

It might surprise you all to know that this isn't our first house with a blue toilet. Our old house, in California, also had a blue toilet in the master bath.  And a blue sink and a blue tub.  But not a blue bidet.  Check it out (pre-remodel):

Stunning eh?  No wonder the blue bidet didn't phase us.  We also had pink and brown tile. Which, when the walls were painted something other than yellow, actually looked kind of fun.  Well... even if we didn't get all the way to "fun" we at least moved off of "hideous" which is where we were when we bought the place.

No strangers to colored porcelain
Anyway, I am way off the point.  Back to the current bathroom.  We are building a custom shower!!!  And to do that you need expanded metal lath and concrete for the shower floor.  To find expanded metal lath in a hardware store, just look for a large sheet of something you would use to grate cheese.  Or your knuckles.  When you are bleeding, I am sure you have found it.  The cheese grater metal lath reinforces the mortar or concrete and makes it strong and crack-free.   We put a slip sheet (not exactly sure what that does, evidently something to do with slippage) down on the plywood floor, followed by our metal lath, and then mortar. 

The mortar (sand mix, technically - did you know there were a million names/ingredient lists for a product that I would call mortar) has a slight slope to it so the water will drain out.  Next up, we will be putting down a PVC liner and more mortar.  Then we are approaching tile!  Wahoo!!

For those curious, we do have running water and appear to be leak free.  We also installed a pocket door and a false wall (just 3 inches to allow the door to slide) and did NOT choose to move the pipes.  Could it have been done?  Probably.  But given our luck with plumbing, we decided to fight another battle.

Look! It is a sideways mortar bed! (Sorry for the lack of rotation)
On to the big problem.  Nope, no leaks in sight.  It is worse.  I am having a little bit of trouble picking out colors.  Okay, I am having a lot of trouble.  Some people can look at a house or a room and just know what needs to happen.  I am not one of those people.  Rachel, Christy, Krysten... they are those people.  Megan is probably one of those people, but I haven't really seen her decor since college and it isn't fair to judge a person's interior design ability when they are poor and eating Top Romen every night.  Not that Meg ate Top Romen... I actually remember her eating pretty well... but you all know what I mean.  Moving on.

I am most definitely NOT one of those smart decor people.  It is evident that I was in the back of the line when style sense was being handed out.  Before you all rush to my defense... remember I wore gym shorts and birkenstocks (with socks) for four years of high school.  And two years of college.  I have low maintenance stamped all over me.  So picking out colors for a bathroom is hard.

It was easy in our old house.  The house was a ranch and it was retro.  So I just went with what was there.  But this new house isn't really a "style." I guess that means I have to find my own style - and that is the problem.

This bathroom remodel is testing my whole philosophy of being balls out and sinning boldly and trying new things.  Not the plumbing part or the electrical part or the concrete or tile parts - we have that down (now). Honestly, it is the decorating part that has me running scared.  How bizarre is that?   But what if I pick out tile that I end up hating in two months?  There is NO WAY Aaron is ever going to let me remodel this bathroom again.  This is a one shot deal.  And what if I pick out tile that looks dated?  Or is hard to clean?  Not that I clean all that much, but when I do, I want it to be easy.

The biggest barrier to the bathroom color scheme (other than me) is this honey gold pine trim.  It is all over the house and Aaron is 100% anti-trim painting. And as this is the man who just re-plumbed a bathroom, moved a door, relocated an a/c vent, rewired electrical switches and built me a shower pan... well, if he wants the trim to stay, it stays.  So.  Now I, the design-challenged one, am trying to figure out what looks good with golden pine trim.  Oddly enough, you don't see many modern houses with gold trim.  Kind of a Versailles thing.  Or a country thing.  And while I don't really know what I like, I do know I don't want to bathe in the Palace of Versailles or a scene out of Little House on the Prairie.  No offense to people who like country.  Or opulent palaces dripping with gilded mirrors.  Before you get offended, remember I admitted don't have any sense of style.

Anyway, these are the colors I am thinking about now. 

See?  They are all together on a factory sheet!  That is good, right?
What do you think?  Bad?  Good?  Hideous?  Yeah, I don't know either.  Maybe I should go with blue.  I hear that is nice.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Over the River and Through the Woods: Adventures of a Blue Bidet

I'm shaking her husband's and and accepting a blue bidet and Annie says to me, as I stuff the bidet in my car, "Are we still friends?" Apparently she thinks me volunteering to take the much publicized,web famous bidet as a sign of impending doom for our long-term friendship. But she has no idea.Yesterday I headed over the hills of the southern Cascades and across the Rogue River to the tiny picturesque town of Prospect, OR, where I began Phase I of operation "Bidet Phoenix".

I want to show everyone how lovely Prospect can be before I get to the meat of this post. Insert sounds of tweeting birds and babbling brooks...

Now lets get down to it. Prospect is the perfect place to engage in such redneck pursuits as growing weed, disposing of a dead body, back burning from your front porch, or bashing a blue bidet to bits without raising the ire of nearby neighbors or prompting a letter from the watchful eye of a homeowners association. Anyway I came here mostly because my wonderful boyfriend lives here but also to beat up the bidet. After I described Phase I to him, he was all in.

Here is his place, suitably flanked by a dilapidated but fully functional woodshed and a 28' trailer (inhabited by his neighbor).

When we're not bashing bidets, we do stuff like this in the backyard.

Some nice farewell shots of the lovely bidet.
A brief diversion for all the men folk out there. What's more Balls Out than ruining a bidet? Cool old trucks! Yes that is a 1964 FJ Cruiser. I call it "the other woman" Tom calls it awesome. If you are a fan of things like this you might visit Pirate 4x4. The site appears to be more addictive to men-types than Craigslist.

Back to our story. We drove the bidet out to the burn pile, a hodge-podge of strange and unidentifiable items collected from decades of habitation. After a single-wide trailer was burned on this site it became a regular burnpile/shooting gallery. Layered on top of the remains of the single-wide are great finds like the remnants of an old shed, shotgun shells, 55-gallon barrels, and some half burnt, moldy insulation. I have fond memories of this sketchy dead end spot as the first time I visited we took all Tom's heavy-duty moving boxes out here and burned them with a rather excessive amount of gas to kick things off. It was kind of our first date and actually a great time. I don't have any pictures from that day but it looked a little like this.

So here we are again, PBRs in hand, which apparently are retro-chic as noted by this memorably recession-era assessment...

The brand has also cultivated a reputation as a hipster offbeat beer or what the president of the National Beer Wholesaler's Association, Craig Purser, likes to call -retro chic" - positioning itself as an alternative to big, mainstream brands.

**warning parents**

if you are reading this post with children this section is rated PG-13 for violence, drinking, bloodshed, and nudity.

Once you get the large pieces beat up, gather any small segments and stick them in a 5-gallon plastic bucket. Save large relatively flat pieces for later smashing (you'll see why in the next post). Leave anything that isn't relatively flat behind. You may want to break up some pieces more gently any small hammer will work for this.

Just kidding about the nudity we didn't post those pictures.
In an effort to provide a teachable moment, I thought I would summarize what we learned.

Bashing implements.
An 8lb maul and a very strong boyfriend are more than capable of smashing the crap out of a bidet on the first swing. I think even a big hammer would do the trick. Don't get sucked into buying a sledge hammer like this as it's overkill. Watch for flying chunks on that first swing. Safety glasses and a hood for your camera lens are not bad ideas. (I was standing a generous 15 feet away and still got hit by blasted bits of bidet). Gloves are definitely a good idea as the two of us left the scene with only minor injuries but still things could have gone terribly wrong. Yep that is blood.

Anywhere far away from houses, already occupied with trash and not frequented by foot traffic would qualify. A back woods burn pile, graced by the remains of a cremated single-wide was a perfect location.

Hardware removal?
I thought about delicately removing all the Moen faucet parts before our destruction session but was convinced we didn't need to bother by my accomplice.

What to drink.
Beachside PBRs
2 16 oz (tall boys) PBRs
2 lime slices
Open the beer, squeeze as much lime in as possible.
Rub the top rim with lime and stuff the spent wedge into the can.
Shake salt across the top of the can, let some fall into the beverage.

What to wear.
Sturdy shoes, long pants and as mentioned before, gloves & safety glasses.
Flannel, Carharts, any type of steel toe work boots, T-shirts with lewd phrases, trucker "foam dome" hats and mismatched socks will get you in the mood.

Things not to bash.
refrigerator, TV, computer all have toxic stuff you may not want to be exposed to or leave on the ground, even the Prospect burn pile. I did talk to one guy at an auction last month that mentioned his son melted down a bunch of laptops to extract a gold nugget worth about $25 from each. And with the price of gold near... this might be a great second job for those folks who are not afraid to work with hydrochloric acid, this guy has a nice summary of the process.

I will be working on "Bidet Phoenix: Phase II" and can't wait to share the elegant & beautiful final creation. Until then, happy smashing!

Let Them Eat Cake!

On second thought, that might not be such a great post title.  Didn't the first lady who said that ended up beheaded by her subjects?  Hmm... as I am referencing 3-5 year-olds at a birthday party (all sugared up and "fun")... definitely a possibility.

Anyway.  I like cake.  Eating cake.  Making cake.  Decorating cake.  Cake, in general, is good.  And hey, it has eggs in it.  Eggs and butter and sugar and flour... what is not to like? 

So, every year since Ava was born, I have made her birthday cake.  The first one was completely from scratch.  No box ingredients for my baby (yeah, we all know how long that "new parent" phase lasts).  Anyway, she hated it.  Tried to shake my completely from scratch cake and buttercream frosting right off her tongue.  No baby-in-the-cake pictures for me.  It was a cute cake though. I used everything I learned in the Wilton 1 class I took when Aaron was in Iraq (bored Navy wife = dangerous domestic).

Note the look of distaste. Time to up my game...
On Ava's second birthday, she was all about the wheels on the bus.  We sang that song and read that book over and over and over and over.  And now I can hear that song in my head.  Awesome.  So I found a picture of a bus cake and set out to make it.  I didn't really plan ahead... or have the right cake... or, well, do anything right.  So my three-dimensional straight-out-of-the-cake-mix-box bus cake fell over transitioned into a two-dimensional bus cake.  The yellow frosting was more taupe then school bus yellow... but Ava liked it (and actually ate it that year) so it was a success.

Toppled school bus
 Yeah, it was supposed to look like this:

I would use pound cake in a loaf pan.  Just sayin.

When Ava turned three, I was determined not to repeat my past mistakes.  This year, she was all about princesses.  And I found this picture.

Cake by SeeChicletRun at
As I was oohhing and ahhing... Ava came and looked at the computer screen.  "A coach cake!  A coach!  Look Mama! That is Cinderella's COACH!  And it is a cake!  And I can eat it allllll uppp!"  And I was sunk.  One look at that hopeful, innocent, beautiful little face and I was lost.  I asked her if that was the cake she wanted for her birthday and she danced off the couch with a joyful YES! So the studying began.  The school bus crumpling incident was still somewhat fresh.  Visions of a carriage accident rippled through my mind - and the mind of anyone I showed the picture to!

The caption talked about MMF (which resulted in a WTF? and Google search from me).  Okay.  MMF = Marshmallow fondant.   Gum Paste.  Round cake pan.  I ordered this cake pan from Amazon and tossed in an order for gum paste mix too (the scratch days from Ava's first birthday?  Yeah, long gone).  I checked out the original inspiration cake (holy bat $#!*;!  800 BUCKS?!?!?  Makes the round cake pan look like a solid investment) and Googled more.  I figured it would be good to know how to glue fondant to fondant (water)... or how to cover a cake with fondant (buttercream icing first, then fondant)... or how to attach gum paste to fondant (gum paste glue, which is basically watered down gum paste). 

I went to this cake decorating store.  Which is pretty much the coolest, most amazing hardware store for baking ever.  I mean ever.  If you know Seattle, and you know Hardwick's Hardware, then just imagine a Hardwick's for CAKE and you have got it.  Seriously, GO THERE.  You can thank me later.

I will admit to making a coach cake schedule (nerd, remember?).  I read ALL of the instructions that I could find for MMF (look at me using the acronym like a pro), gum paste etc. to determine when I had to start.  I started on Tuesday for a Saturday cake.  Yup, Tuesday.  Did I mention the part about how when I would be working on the computer, Ava would come sit on my lap and ask to see her coach cake?  Uh huh.  No pressure there. Besides, balls out, right? So Tuesday it was.

I make extra pieces, particularly of the wheels, because I figured I would break some.  I broke them ALL.  So then I had to Google things like "drying gum paste fast" and "food dehydrator gum paste").  But it all came together in the end.  And it pretty much rocked.  I know, I am so modest.

Ava's Coach
So when my friend Malia mentioned her daughter was going to have a tea party for her birthday, well, I begged her to let me make a teapot cake.  I had the round pans, all the recipes... access to a Safeway for the cake mix... why not?

This time I started on Friday for a Sunday cake.  I made the MMF and sculpted the sugar paste handle and spout on Friday and baked the cake on Saturday.  Interestingly enough, sculpting the spout made me remember Megan's bachelorette party... remember the play dough Meg? ;)  I stuck the skewers into wine bottles while the sugar past dried (who wouldn't?) and went to bed (you can put the skewers into either open or unopened wine corks). :)

And here is the finished product... which was pretty darn cute.  The mouse was completed on request and appears to be a "cakes by annie" tradition now.

All those cute vines cover serious fondant tears!

I learned a few things and thought I would share. 

1. The powdered gum paste is easier to work with than pre-mixed gum paste.
2. Adding a little shortening to the MMF makes it easier to work with (it tears less).
2 1/2.  Make your MMF in a mixer.  Kneading is for bread.  And grease EVERYTHING.
3. Covering round cakes with fondant is not easy.
4. Selecting designs that camouflage the difficulties of round cakes + fondant is good (i.e. pumpkins are supposed to be bumpy and teapots with vines cover-up the fondant tears)
5. Kids love cake and could care less if your school bus is upside down or not.
6. Make LOTS of extra gum paste pieces.  Lots. 
7. Stick bamboo skewers into gum paste before it dries to help you attach things to the cake.
8. Let your gum paste figures/pieces dry for a long time.  Think 2 days. Or you will be Googling things like "dry gum paste fast."
9. When all else fails, see #5.