All Things Andrea

All Things Andrea

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Chipmunk Pool of Death



OK, please don't think any less of me because of this post....

But, I feel the need to be honest, as well as let you in on the journey.
Following the legacy of Barbara Kingsolver (in her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, she wrote about her personal responsibility of taking an animal's life humanely if she was going to be a carnivore), I felt the need to do the dirty work of exterminating this pesky critter myself vs. having someone else or a predator do it for me....

Why be concerned about chipmunks?  Well, besides the fact that they can wreak havoc in your landscaping, the weightier issue is that they can damage your house, including the foundation and wiring.  I wasn't interested in finding out just how much damage they could do.

So, I researched on line the best way to eliminate them.  Since I have a good track record in relocating rabbits, I assumed I could transfer that experience to chipmunks.  Not the case....  Chipmunks are very difficult to catch, and don't do well at being relocated.  All experts conclude that the most humane thing is to drown them.  AAHHH!  That sounds horrible!  But, is that any worse than being eaten by a cat or another predator??

So, after reading Tim's blog post about the success of his chipmunk pool of death, I took the plunge and set up my own death contraption, never dreaming that...

I WOULD CATCH ONE IN JUST A FEW HOURS!

OH MY WORD, NOW WHAT AM I GOING TO DO WITH A DROWNED CHIPMUNK?!

After much distress, I decided to bury him in my compost pile to he could return to the earth.
However, I'm still traumatized, and probably will be for quite a while....

Once I got over my trauma, I had to admit this was one of the most easiest and most economical gardening solutions I've ever encountered - a grand total of $2.43 for sunflower seeds, available at the grocery store in the birdseed aisle.  And, you do have to admit, the picture above is a pretty little death setting, don't you think?

This whole experience of this little chipmunk eagerly leaping to its death did lead me to think - How does his fate apply to humans?  What things can't we resist that eventually lead to our demise??

Update, 3/23/11
I was sharing my chipmunk-catching story with a co-worker, and he said he was under the impression that chipmunks are an endangered species.  Really?!!  How could that be??  Feeling guilty, I researched the matter on line, but couldn't find anything that indicates that they are endangered.  Whew, I'm off the hook!!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Raw Milk Mozzarella Cheese

I finally did it!  I finally tackled making mozzarella cheese.  It's not any cheaper than buying it at the grocery store.  Certainly doesn't save time.  I'm not sure it qualifies as a raw dairy product because of needing to heat the cheese hot enough so that it will stretch.  It can be a little messy.  And, it's still probably not the most healthful thing to be eating (especially if you eat it at the rate I have been!).  But, it's fun.  Satisfying.  And, at least it's not an ultra-pasteurized milk product.  I've had fun trying some new recipes that call for mozzarella cheese.  Plus, it gives me a redeemed use for the pill splitter I needed to purchase for one of the meds I had been on - the splitter divides the rennet tablets nicely.  :)

There's a huge variety of recipes out there, but this is how I go about it:

1 gallon whole raw milk
1 ½ t. citric acid dissolved in 1 c. cool chlorine-free water
¼ rennet tablet dissolved in ¼ c. cool chlorine-free water
2 t. sea salt

Slowly heat milk to 55 deg. in a stainless steel pot. Slowly add citric acid solution and stir thoroughly.

Heat milk to 90 degrees over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. Gently stir in rennet solution with an up-and-down motion. Remove from heat; cover and let sit undisturbed for 5 min.

Check the curd – the curds should look like custard, and the whey (the remaining liquid) should be clear. If not, let it set for a few more minutes.

Cut the curd with a knife that reaches to the bottom of the pot. Place pot back on stove and heat to 110 deg. while slowly moving the curds around with your spoon.

Scoop out the curds with a slotted spoon and put in a bowl. Press the curds gently with your hands, squeezing out as much whey as possible.

Heat the pot of whey to 175 deg. Shape the curds into 2 balls. Dip them, one at a time, into the heated whey with a slotted spoon for several seconds. Remove and gently fold the cheese over and over (as in kneading) with a spoon or your hand. (You’ll need to use rubber gloves at this point.) This distributes the heat evenly throughout the cheese, which will not stretch until it is too hot to touch (145 degrees inside the curd).

Repeat this process several times until the curd is smooth and pliable; mix in 1 t. salt per ball after the second time. When the cheese stretches like taffy, it’s done. If the curds break instead of stretching, they are too cool and need to be reheated.

When the cheese in smooth and shiny, shape as desired (log, ball, braid, bite-size morsels or string cheese) and submerge in ice water. This will allow the cheese to hold its shape.

Store in refrigerator up to one week.

Yield: approximately 1 pound

Friday, August 20, 2010

Snipping Away...


... in preparation for the big Etown fair!




Thursday, August 19, 2010

August in Tuscany




I'm still not even sure exactly how this evening came about or just when the inspiration came to me.  And how to put its impact into words....






If it wasn't for the pictures, I would still wonder if it really happened. It's almost as if the dream of the evening had been planted deep in my soul decades ago, then was slowly unearthed and birthed as I spent countless hours gazing out the kitchen window onto the backyard this spring and summer while I would do food prep. The love of food. The sheer delight of alfresco dining. The desire to deeply connect with kindred spirit friends over a meal.








Feasting at a long table.  Visions of heaven.  Certainly, it was inspired by a several books, a magazine article and a website. But it was so much more than that - it was almost as if God had been planning this event and preparing me to host it for years - the desire for a home where I could entertain, then the provision of a house with the perfect backyard for such an event.  The love of dishes, and then the provision of dinnerware, silverware, glasses and table linens - all at bargain prices over the years.  Chairs from my Great Aunt's estate.  Even the table - who else is crazy enough to buy a table with more leaves than a room can hold simply because of a vision that maybe someday there will be enough space?  How many people have that many chairs, or even the space to store them? And enough people to gather?



The idea was far fetched.  I could see it - every detail of it, but it was still ridiculous!  Hauling my precious custom-made cherry kitchen table out onto the lawn.  Cooking for a crowd when none of the food could be prepared in advance, when I typically feel overwhelmed with coming up with something for just me to eat.  When my body and brain refuse to function at optimal levels.  Who would come on a weeknight in the middle of the summer?  And what about the weather?


The evening DID happen!  I kept sensing God saying, "Keep proceeding" despite the weather forecast for rain.  I was so stressed!  How in the world was I going to pull this thing off now that 17 people had actually RSVP'd?  Indeed, the weather was perfect.  Dear friends arrived with fresh flowers from their gardens and cheerfully lended a hand where needed.  God even scheduled the moon to join us.  It was amazing...  The pictures still move me to tears. (Bless you, Melissa - I don't think you have any idea of how talented you are!!) 


I felt like I came alive and was as close to ME as I have ever been in my entire life.  I wasn't even feeling well that day, but it was as if God planted His Spirit in me and carried out the vision that had become so dear to my heart, then allowed me to be a guest at His feast.



I feel so blessed, so grateful....

The invitation read:
"Come join fellow foodies and friends,
celebrate the bounty of the season,
and enjoy a rustic Italian summer supper on the lawn."

The menu:
Parsley Pesto on Toasted Bread Rounds
Home-canned Grape Juice
Rustic Italian Bread with Herbed Dipping Oil
Tomato, Mozzarella and Basil Rounds with Chef Tim's Balsamic Vinaigrette
Rosemary Roasted Chicken
Roasted Zucchini
Rustic Plum Tart with Fresh Whipped Cream



The menu was inspired by Italy's approach to eating.  As Barbara Kingsolver writes in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, "Italian food is not delicious for its fussiness or complexity, but for the opposite reason: it's simple."  So, the goal was to keep it uncomplicated, inexpensive, and to use what God had already generously and beautifully provided.  I wanted to inspire others that they could do the same.

Below are the recipes and/or links:



Parsley Pesto on toasted bread rounds



Home-canned Grape Juice

with


Herbed Dipping Oil
(adapted from Carrabba's)

1 t. crushed red pepper
1 t. ground black pepper
1 t. dried oregano
1 t. dried rosemary
1 t. dried basil
1 t. parsley flakes
1 t. granulated garlic (or 1/2 t. garlic powder)
1 t. fresh minced garlic (optional)
1 t. sea salt
1/4 - 1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil

Combine all ingredients, except oil, in a shallow bowl.  Add olive oil and serve with fresh-baked bread for dipping.
Note:  I usually double or triple the recipe; I combine all the spices except the fresh garlic and store in a covered jar.  Then, when ready to serve, I simply use about 1/2 t. of the spice mix per person, and add the olive oil.  I haven't bothered with the fresh garlic because it has plenty of flavor.












Rustic Plum Tart with Fresh Whipped Cream




*  I can say that the following did play a significant role in inspiring the evening, probably in this order:
  • The book Heaven by Randy Alcorn.  I've been slowly reading, chewing and digesting this book for the past several years.  It has intensified my desire for heaven so much so that some days it's unbearably hard to still be here.  As a result, one of my coping mechanisms has been, "If I can't get to heaven yet, then I'm going to bring a taste of it here."  That explains the feasting.  Eating the things God has created.  Making creativity a priority.  Hoping for the energy to do the impossible.
  • The book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver.  I'm so glad my friend Julia suggested I read this book.  It deeply impacted me and inspired me to eat seasonally, locally and organically beginning in 2010; it has played a very significant part in my food journey.  The chapter describing the authors' trip to Italy named and described longings embedded in my heart that I didn't even realize existed.
  • A wonderful article in Martha Stewart Living magazine entitled "From Farm to Feast".  It told the story of a Colorado chef who grows food for his Aspen restaurant and featured pictures of an absolutely beautiful summer lunch he hosted for his employees.  So inspiring.
  • The website "Outstanding in the Field".  OH MY!!!  Country Living Magazine referenced their website in one of their issues this spring; I was totally unprepared for my jaw-dropping reaction when I saw the photos of long tables set up in beautiful vistas - it was if they had cracked open my brain and carried out my outlandish dreams.  Those pictures are as close to what I envision heaven to be like as anything I've ever viewed.  I wanna go - soon!!!
To each of these people I want to say, "Thank you!  Surely God is so pleased when we image just a tiny piece of Him!"

Photo credits:  Melissa Binder



Photo Credit: Alison Hoke-Fitts

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Rustic Italian Bread



In preparation for some entertaining I hope to do next week, I was determined to learn how to make an authentic rustic Italian bread.  I found a great recipe on line.  It's originally from Cook's Illustrated magazine, a very reputable source, so I knew I should be in good shape.  After several unsuccessful attempts, I finally nailed it.  It tastes as good as looks - I'm thrilled!  The recipe isn't terribly difficult, but it does have a number of steps and requires some concentration.  Also, it does take a bit of patience as it is a 2-day process.

I learned a lot, partly by trial and error:
First, weighing the flour vs. measuring it is the secret.  (As Dan at the gym says, "if the recipe calls for cups vs. ounces, don't even bother trying it!")  Flour can vary significantly in moisture content which will affect the weight, which ultimately affects the volume.  For my first attempt, I measured instead of weighing the flour, not realizing how much of a difference it would make.  I ended up not using enough flour and had a mess on my hands - a very sticky dough!
Second, the secret to the flavor, texture and crust is the slow-rise process.
And third, the rest of the secret to the amazing crust is to spritz the bread dough with water just before sticking it in the oven, then bake it at a high temperature on a preheated baking stone.

Here's the link to the recipe blog that featured the recipe:

It has some helpful diagrams for turning and shaping the dough, but I'm also including the recipe below.


Rustic Italian Bread

Note:  This recipe requires a standing mixer to make the dough, a spray-bottle filled with water for spritzing, a rectangular baking stone, and an instant-read thermometer for gauging doneness. It also requires a bit of patience… the biga, which gives the bread flavor, must be made 11 to 27 hours before the dough is made.

Ingredients:

Biga
11 ounces bread flour (approximately 2 cups)
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast (Rapid Rise)
8 ounces water (1 cup), room temperature

Dough
16 1/2 ounces bread flour (approximately 3 cups)
1 teaspoon instant yeast (Rapid Rise)
10.7 ounces water (1 1/3 cups), room temperature
2 teaspoons sea salt (Don't add until the directions say to!)

Directions:

For the biga:

Combine flour, yeast, and water in bowl of standing mixer fitted with dough hook. Knead on lowest speed (stir on KitchenAid) until it forms a shaggy dough, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer biga to medium bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let stand at room temperature until beginning to bubble and rise, about 3 hours. Refrigerate biga at least 8 hours or up to 24 hours.

For the dough:

1.  Remove the biga from refrigerator and it let stand at room temperature while making dough.

2.  To make the dough, combine flour, yeast, and water in bowl of the standing mixer fitted with dough hook. Knead the dough on lowest speed until rough dough is formed, about 3 minutes.

3.  Turn the mixer off and, without removing the dough hook or bowl from the mixer, cover the bowl loosely with plastic wrap. Let the dough rest for 20 minutes. (This allows protein in the dough to relax, making for a stronger dough that can rise higher, with a better crust)

4.  Remove the plastic wrap over the dough, and add the biga and salt to bowl. Continue to knead on the lowest speed until ingredients are incorporated (dough should clear the sides of the bowl but should stick to the very bottom), about 4 minutes.

5.  Increase the mixer speed to low (speed 2 on a KitchenAid) and continue until the dough forms a more cohesive ball, about 1 minute.

6.  Transfer the dough to a large bowl (at least 3 times the size of the dough) and cover it tightly with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise in a cool, draft-free spot away from direct sunlight, until slightly risen and puffy, about 1 hour.

7.  Remove the plastic wrap and turn the dough following instructions below on "Turning the Dough". Replace the plastic wrap and let the dough rise 1 hour. Turn dough again, replace plastic wrap, and let dough rise 1 hour longer.

8.  Dust the work surface liberally with flour. Hold the bowl with the dough at an angle over the floured surface. Gently scrape the dough out of the bowl and onto the work surface (the side of the dough that was against bowl should now be facing up).

9.  If you want two smaller loaves, split the dough into two equal halves. Use a knife or bench scraper.

10.  Dust the dough and your hands liberally with flour and, using minimal pressure, push dough into a rough 8 to 10-inch square. If you are making two loaves, shape each piece into a smaller rectangle.

11.  Shape the dough following the directions below on "Shaping the Dough", and transfer it to a large sheet parchment paper. Dust loaf liberally with flour and cover loosely with plastic wrap; let loaf rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

12.  Meanwhile, adjust the oven rack to the lower-middle position, and place a baking stone on the rack. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

13.  Using a single-edged razor blade, or sharp chef’s knife, cut a slit 1/2 inch deep lengthwise along top of loaf, starting and stopping about 1 1/2 inches from the ends. Lightly spray the loaf with water. Slide parchment sheet with loaf onto baker’s peel or upside-down baking sheet, then slide parchment with loaf onto hot baking stone in oven. If you are not using a baking stone or tile, simply place the baking sheet in the oven.

14.  Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce oven temperature to 400 degrees and quickly spin loaf around half way using the edges of the parchment paper.

15.  Continue to bake until deep golden brown and instant-read thermometer inserted into center of loaf registers 210 degrees. For one large loaf this will be about 35 minutes longer. For two smaller loaves this will be closer to 30 minutes.

16.  When the bread is done, transfer it to a wire rack and discard the parchment paper. Cool the loaf to room temperature, about 2 hours.


Turning the Dough:


1.  Slide plastic bench scraper under one side of dough; gently lift and fold one third of dough toward center.

2.  Repeat step 1 with opposite side of dough.

3.  Finally, fold dough in half, perpendicular to first folds. Dough shape should be a rough square.


Shaping the Dough:

1.  After delicately pushing dough into 8 to 10-inch square, fold top left corner diagonally to middle.

2.  Repeat step 2 with top right -corner

3.  Begin to gently roll dough from top to bottom.

4. Continue rolling until dough forms a rough log.

5.  Roll dough onto its seam and, sliding hands underneath each end, transfer dough to parchment paper.

6.  Gently shape dough into 16-inch football shape by tucking bottom edges underneath.


This bread freezes nicely, up to 6 months.  As with any hard-crusted bread, wrap loosely to allow air to circulate; a Ziploc bag works fine.  Then, thaw at room temperature while still in bag.  Before serving, place bread in 400 degree oven for 4-5 minutes to bring back the freshness. 

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Finally

I've only been working at this project for over a year....
The pine trees in my back yard had been slowly dying off, the result of numerous assaults - incorrectly planted by the landscaper from the start, improper pruning by someone who was supposed to know what he was doing, drought, disease, insects, too much shade from a neighbor's growing maple.  Finally, I had to admit defeat and give the OK to get rid of all but two of them.  I was distressed - there's nothing quite like having to take down a tree.  Or, trees.  They provided the perfect amount of privacy from the neighbors without feeling fenced in.  It took 15 years for them to get to this size.  Now what?

After plugging away at a landscape design for over a year (getting landscape bids, discovering that no one really wanted to deal with such a piddly job, not wanting to spend a ton of money, visiting nurseries, asking anyone who was interested in giving an opinion, etc.,), I finally came up with a game plan and found a reasonable solution...
I'm pleased.  It feels like it reflects me, and makes my backyard a haven again.

The whole process reminded me of my cancer journey.  Never in a million years I would have been able to envision that there would be fruit after such a devastating experience.  But there has been.  Good fruit.  Unexpected fruit.  Deeper roots.  Peacefulness.  A knowing.  An understanding.  New priorities.  Different motivations.  Realigned values.  A deeper desire to be kind to others.  Being OK, even in the midst of not being OK, with my limitations, both old and new.  An intensified commitment to integrity and transparency.  A settledness that can only come out of a cliff-edge experience.  Freedom from having to worry about what others think of me, or feeling the need to do what makes me look spiritual vs. actually being spiritual.
Even though my body is still repairing and recuperating, even though my heart still bears scars of the ordeal, and even though I'm only part way through the journey back to health and wholeness, there is an ever-growing hope that this experience might indeed produce even more beauty than what could have resulted had I not walked through something so agonizingly difficult and bewildering.

Finally....