Sunday, March 29, 2009

Operation Homemade Yogurt: Failure

I like making things from scratch. Fussy, involved things that most people buy from the store: sauerkraut, salt-cured olives, sun-dried tomatoes, jam...

Things that require weeks of fermentation or hours of simmering make me very, very happy. Long rising, curing, drying— the words give me a thrill.

(I'm actually shocked--SHOCKED--that everyone doesn't get off on this kind of thing. This may explain why, when I get out in the world, I feel so freakish. That or my inability to make small talk.)

But as much as I love large-scale culinary projects, I hate fiddly baking that requires any amount of precision. Candy thermometers, sifting, and weighing are deal breakers, as are pastry bags and parchment-lined pans. And it turns out that yogurt belongs in that category. Finer brush required.

This is how I made clumps of sour milk floating in a clear liquid:

Bring milk to near boil, cool to the required 110-115 degrees by guessing. Why buy a candy thermometer when you have your fingers, right?

Bring milk/yogurt mixture over to W., tell him to stick his finger in it, ask "Do you think this is about 5 degrees hotter than that time your parents overheated their Jacuzzi?"

Scoff at the doubters. Put mixture in oven to keep warm by pilot light overnight.

Sleep in. Uncover mess of nastiness at 8 am. Make husband use it instead of buttermilk to make awesome pancakes.

Scoff at the doubters. "See, I told you this would be great!"

Budget for yogurt maker.


The complex math of household finance:

The organic yogurt we buy is about twice the price of milk by ounce. We eat about a quart of yogurt a week. So our savings would be about $12/month, minus occasional starter.

Yes, this is significant.

Yogurt maker bought off Amazon would pay for itself in 2.5 months if I slip in a sewing pattern book to get free shipping. The book would pay itself off in money saved by making awesome homemade Christmas presents for family and friends.

Bonus savings from buying Organic Valley milk in bulk at Costco. Membership paid for by savings on gin, contact solution, and contact lenses alone.

And this is how we subsidize a life with one student, one part-timer in a creative profession, and one child. We co-parent, we eat largely locally, we have cocktails, we carve out leisure time, we pay our mortgage. It can be done.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Kitchen window

Orchids, my coddled flowers.

Rose starts, an experiment in free flowers.

Spring sunshine on a wide windowsill.

White and green and white again. Suddenly, I don't miss winter quite so much.

Friday, March 20, 2009

More fat, please: homemade sausage

I can't stop trying to jam more healthy goodness into everything we eat. It's becoming pathological--some primal desire to maintain the health of my offspring. Or a response to the "holy crap, an infant is no longer draining a zillion calories a day from my boobs so mainlining butter just not OK" belly.

Whichever the case, I'm becoming uncomfortably like my mother in this way, who is a fantastic cook but also regularly made these rock-like clusters she called "nutty nuggets." Pretty much muesli moistened with nonfat milk, formed into lumps, and baked until solid.

(My sister and I also got kefir as our "junk food" treat and swallowed fish oil nightly. My parents were decades ahead of the times on the the functional foods thing.*

Anyway, I made oatmeal carrot cookies with walnuts and dried blueberries the other day. And then tried to sell them to the toddler as COOKIES! FOR BREAKFAST! She didn't buy it. Then she asked for some plain yogurt with cinnamon, which I have managed to convince her is more awesome than sugar.

I am a mean, mean mother who destroys dreams and puts kale in the macaroni and cheese.

So I thought some breakfast sausage would cheer everyone up—and to be honest, decrease the glycemic index of our starchy breakfast.

They tasted great, but lacked that certain something that I've since discovered comes with the generous addition of pork fatback. They didn't have that greasy, crispy goodness, but a denser, herbal goodness. They were OK, not pork-ishly delicious. Our pork is especially lean because it's from healthy pigs who forage and eat mushrooms and tofu. Really.

What is pork-ishly delicious is this same mixture crumbled and fried in olive oil and sprinkled on top of pizza.

Homemade Sausage (adapted from Alice Waters)

1 pound ground pork
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 garlic clove, pressed
a sprig of fresh sage, chopped (enough to make a couple teaspoons)
a pinch of nutmeg
a pinch of cayenne
a generous grind fresh black pepper

Gently mix all the ingredients. Form into patties (don't press) for breakfast and fry in skillet with a bit of olive oil, turning once. I think it took us about four minutes a side in a medium-high skillet.

Alternatively, form into meatballs or fry loose in skillet for a pizza topping or to start a pasta sauce.

*Hi Mom! I still love kefir, really. And I wouldn't trade the taste of a sun-warmed tomato for all the Cocoa Puffs in the world, no matter what I said when I was 16.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Grilled lamb chops

After a day of this:

Then this:

Lamb loin chops on the grill. Fresh whole wheat penne from the farmer's market with pesto* made months ago and tossed in the freezer for safekeeping. Sweet lettuces with a sharp olive oil. Red wine.

The lamb chops were easy--our nearly-2-year-old made the marinade pretty much herself. It's not really a recipe, more like a method for letting good lamb showcase itself. This is how she did it.

Grilled Lamb Loin Chops

fresh or dried rosemary
fresh sage
olive oil

lamb loin chops

In the morning, break up a couple springs of each herb in a container big enough for your chops. We think a wide bowl works well. Smoosh around with chubby baby fingers to bruise the flavor out of the leaves. Add a large splash of olive oil, a couple grinds of black pepper, and a generous couple pinches of salt.

Add your chops. Use tongs to turn lamb and coat with marinade. Let sit in fridge all day (or as long as you have before dinner).

Grill over hot coals to desired doneness, about three minutes a side, depending on thickness of chops. We like them medium rare-ish, and honestly, we always butcher the poor things checking for the perfect level of doneness. They still taste good.

*FYI frozen pesto: I freeze my pesto both in ice cube trays (then remove the cubes and store in freezer bags) and in small mason jars (freeze with lid off, then screw on later and store in freezer door). The smaller amounts are good dropped in vegetable soups; the larger amounts defrost on the counter for pasta dinners.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


February was stark, in the best way. Simple meals—stir fry, burritos, pizza, salad, in rotation. Not much writing, not much doing, but lots of waiting, thinking, becoming...