Sunday, January 25, 2015

And This is What Cabin Fever Tastes Like...

It has been a slow January here on the Coast of Illinois.

This is a good thing.

Slow means little to no bad weather requiring no extra hours donning five layers of clothing, scraping cars, stocking up on french toast supplies. Slow also means no one has been sick, despite the discount quality of the flu shot I am manditory-ly required to take every year. However, slow has the added quality of complacency.

It has become my new pastime.

I am raising sloth to an entirely new level.



I think I may have finally cracked....because today I made cheese.

Yes.

Cheese.



Thanks to Mark Bittman and his 'How to Cook Everything' book I thought it sounded like fun. (I am clearly a victim of loca-vore, all organic, DIY peer pressure.)



I blame the media.



Truthfully, I blame my lack of original breakfast ideas and thought maybe homemade cottage cheese might fill that void.

I think the rest of my family, including the cat, would prefer I just buy pop-tarts.



Anyway...it is another grey and rainy January Sunday, there are no ridiculously bad movies on SyFy, I can't seem to focus on anything else productive so cheese making it is.



The required stuff:
Que the Benny Hill Theme Song...
1/2 gallon good quality milk (I went with Oberweiss Dairy 2% from our new organic grocery-Fresh Thyme)

1 quart buttermilk (Fresh Thyme didn't have organic so I went with Prairie Farms as my cousin works for them and he is very nice, and clean.)

One ridiculously heavy pot (Which was a gift from my son. One day I will be too old to lift it but I love it anyway, even if it eventually kills me by cracking my skull when I pull it off the top shelf of the cupboard.)
One strainer (More on this in the caption.)

Cheesecloth (which Target sells! I had no idea and only halfheartedly looked in the cooking utensil aisle but there it was near a small display of mason jars and Hipster wedding idea books.)


One thirty year old plastic pasta strainer with two layers of cheesecloth. It will never be satisfied straining plain pasta again.

And here is how it works. Get ready for science people. Dairy science.


It is really difficult to get a picture of good quality milk, especially when the interior of the ridiculously heavy pot is also white.

Pour the regular milk into the ridiculously heavy pot. Place it over medium high heat and stir occassionally so it doesn't scorch (Which is fancy cooking for burn, leaving gross little brown burn worms floating in your lovely white milk.) Bring to a gentle boil at which point you add the buttermilk and prepare to be grossed out.
Whey??? WHEY!
What you have is a gently boiling pot of grossness which looks like tiny bits of cooked egg white - or curds -  surrounded by sausage grease - or whey. It starts the minute you add the buttermilk and takes about two minutes to completely curd up.

Now VERY CAREFULLY pour this ridiculously heavy and HOT pan of curds and whey into the cheesecloth which is precariously lining the plastic strainer which is sitting in the clean sink. If you have a fancy metal strainer which would sit over an equally fancy pot then you could skip the step of praying that you don't dump the entire contents into the sink thus wasting about six dollars worth of milk. 


Curds and whey. The signature dish of Miss Muffett. I can't believe she was frightened by a spider because this stuff is quite horrifying.

It was amazing how quickly this pot of grossness began to transform into a semi-sold mass in the cheesecloth. After letting it drain for about five minutes I twisted the cheesecloth into a ball, tied it closed with string and rinsed the rapidly solidifying mass under cold water until it was cool enough to squeeze the remaining whey out of it. If I wanted to make cottage cheese I would have skipped this step and just allowed some of the whey to drain but as the rest of my family despises cottage cheese I went ahead and completely cheesified it. It would have been wrong to deny them the experience of fresh homemade cheese. 
The cheese drains alone.
Now the cheese ball is left to hang and drain for up to 90 minutes depending on how dry you want the finished product. After you are tired of waiting for the cheese ball to finish draining (approximately twenty minutes) you get to unwrap the finished product. This is surprisingly difficult yet fun as the cheese has now taken on the pattern of the cheesecloth and somehow managed to get between the layers of cheesecloth.


Place cheese in beautiful hand thrown pottery bowl which your daughter made under the direction of one of your best friends.

And there you have it.

Cheese.



Sort of bland but I think it will be good for breakfast with toast and fruit. Not really so much creamy as crumbly, sort of like queso fresco, which is Spanish for fresh cheese, which I guess it is.

I have literally crossed multiple cultural borders. (Spanish. Cheese. Cultures. Think about it.)


I might need a nap.

And some professional counseling.



*The recipe for this cheese an be found in 'How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman. It is an amazing cookbook and truly does cover how to cook everything. Neither the publisher nor Mr. Bittman endorse this blog or the results of my cheese making experiment.And now that I think of it, neither does Oberweiss Dairy, Prairie Farms or Fresh Thyme. But they really should. 

**I believe I mentioned in my previous post just how apathetic and uninspired I have been. Seriously. 

***I am hoping the next week will burst me out of my funk. I am giving a cucumber eye-pad wake up regime a try. I'll keep you posted.

UPDATE!!

Just wanted to share my breakfast cheese event:
Looks healthy but still no whip cream filled donut.

I measured 1/2 cup of cheese and topped it with a little honey and added a cup of raspberries. Pretty tasty, although the cheese was quite dry - probably from cooking it a little too long. The curds were a little chewy, which increased calorie burning from all the extra chewing so WIN-WIN!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Apathetic Monday

Good morning.
Is it?
Is it really a good morning?
It is a grey, cold, damp Monday. I should clarify. It is 33F dropping to 16F by 4pm this afternoon. Which would mean Monday has already peaked. AND - it is lightly raining. Do you know what a dropping temperature does to light rain??? It magically turns light rain into invisible sheets of ice that glazes the roads and hangs tauntingly from the power lines, begging for a human sacrifice before plunging us into darkness just as House Hunters International begins.

Sorry.
I am usually not in such a mood here on the Coast of Illinois. I started the new year strong with several strong, well laid plans. But I seem to have contracted a raging case of apathy.
I blame geography.

So, in order to reclaim my normal sense of slightly annoying optimism and sunshine spreading I am taking us all back to the Islands...


Ahhhhhhh......I feel better already.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

From my Coast to yours...

Well.
Here it is. Two weeks until Christmas, give or take a couple days.
Nope. That isn't right. I just looked at the calendar. It is 12 days until Christmas, give or take a few hours.
Yet I sit here at 10:11 on Sunday morning drinking coffee and watching Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, while remaining in my pajamas. I need to run past my folk's house for an emergency homemade candy pick-up before stopping at the grocery for cookie baking supplies and then one last stop to pick up goodies for the work party gift basket. I need to finish the final gift shopping list for tomorrow.
And I haven't sent out a single Holiday card.

I am feeling surprisingly stress free.

Because in the immortal words of Dr. Seuss:

It came without ribbons! It came without bags!
It came without packages, boxes or bags!*

however, it would be hard pressed to arrive without Otter Claus


Here's wishing that your Holiday Season is happy and healthy and silly and special and
a little bit more!*
While Harvey Flamingo sports a tasteful evergreen spray, Moe Cabeza, of Easter Island fame, feels there can never be too many Santas.

From the Coast of Illinois to What Ever Coast you call HOME
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

*From How the Grinch Stole Christmas! By Dr. Seuss.

(I am hoping to return in the new year with the long anticipated travelogue of my sailing school adventure and general silliness. Because while the holidays have been quite pleasant, my writing life has been a little chaotic. Please check out the Sailing page for a photographic peak from Tortola, BVI.) 

Saturday, November 29, 2014

#WeAreSTL-kept my mouth shut too long

Here on the Coast of Illinois, I try to keep things non-political. I find that politics really messes with the easy going island vibe I am trying to cultivate. Unfortunately, events on the Coast have taken a nationwide turn and I feel the need to throw my two cents in.
Okay, not exactly my two cents. What I agree or disagree with is really irrelevant.
However, my belief about this town is very very relevant.
What do I believe?
I believe St. Louis is a city rich in history.
Soulard Market. The oldest open air farmers market west of the Mississippi.

One of many barges which have traveled up and down the river for years, supplying our country with grain and coal through both peace and war.

Eades Bridge - the first bridge to span the Mississippi.


Home of so many authors-Tennessee Williams for one.

I believe St. Louis has some of the best venues for live music.
rooftops in july

picnic tables next to bbq joints in the middle of downtown

open air cafes in the county


eclectic 'cafes' in South City (this also falls under home of many oddities, as this is the artificial leg of piano player James Crutchfield)
buildings so old....well, it used to only have one bathroom whose door barely closed
this would be that door

I believe St. Louis has some of the weirdest....ahem, unique sites to be seen.
flamingos in the snow

yes, that's a full 10 stories

horse drawn carriage in the drive-thru

a 'puking pig'...wait for it...

there it is...

I have no words...

and of course, the world's largest underpants
I believe that St. Louis – is more of a state of mind.
that enormous stainless steel arch? it is a symbol of forward movement
It is a magical place that is the SUM of its many communities; not to be defined by all the negative images displayed over the past few months. I am not a Pollyanna when it comes to real life. Yes, there are major issues with violence here. We have unemployment and homelessness and sports teams that choke in the playoffs. But tell me a place that does not have these issues?
The basic fact is, St. Louis is so much more. 

We have debated and protested long enough. Now we need to pull together, treat one another the way we wish to be treated.Think kindly and act kindly.

We need to pull together as a community. Not draw a line.
The Line. Lines should be for mapping purposes only. They should never be drawn to divide communities or people.
There is an initiative moving through cyberspace named #WeAreSTL. The goal is to return some positive vibes to our hurting community. I was not officially invited, but I am hitching my sailboat to the movement. Because this is not a sinking ship. It's sails are just luffing a wee bit. And together we can trim them in, catch the wind and move forward. 
I AM ST. LOUIS
 

Friday, November 28, 2014

Thanksgiving PS

Turkey. Sweet potatoes. Brussel Sprouts. Green beans. Cranberries-real and canned. Gravy. Corn casserole.

Plus:

Hash brown casserole. Hawaiian King rolls. Shrimp Dip. Stuffing. Pie. Whip Cream. A gigantic plate of homemade candies, (six varieties).



That is a lot of food for nine people.

And in the end, there is:

Nine dinner plates.

Nine dessert plates.

Twelve glasses.

Five wine glasses.

Two roasting pans.

Three pots.

One dutch oven.

Three crocks.

Plus:

serving utensils and knifes, forks and spoons.



That is a whole lot of dishes for nine people.



And I do not have a dish washer.




I prefer to clean up alone. I always have numerous offers to help but the biggest reason I don't have a dishwasher is the fact that I have a very tiny kitchen. There is no room for a dishwasher. Which means very little room for helpers.

I have clean up down to a science. And in forty-five minutes the above list was packaged, washed up and and almost completely put away.

(I let the glassware and the big pots drain overnight. I am not completely insane.)



My sister, her fiance, my nephew and our parents went home. Bart and our kids were in the front room, laughing as they watched the completely holiday inappropriate It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. I took up my station at the sink and let my mind wander.

Washing dishes is almost as good for creative thinking as showering and driving.



It occurred to me, as I hefted the first enormous crock into the sudsy water, that the reason I don't mind doing the dishes is the fact that I grew up in a house of dish-doers. Which took me back to the many holidays in my Mother's and Grandmother's kitchens. The head of the respective house washed and we peons dried. Sometimes it was just my sister and me. When we were younger it was a variety of Aunts. The women chatted and we kids kept our mouths shut and gleaned tidbits of gossip about who dried her noodles in the clothes dryer, and whose mother dressed him as a girl when he was a young child.



I studied the various pots and pans:
             my Great-Grandmother's china

  Grossmutter. She liked to pinch. Hard. But I was little, I am sure she was a lovely person.

        Grandma S's crocks
the Pampered Chef roaster from my Mom
the Big Blue Roaster from my Sister-in-law
Grandma S cooked all the time. Except when she was a nurse. I clearly reaped the benefit of my Mom's Pampered Chef addiction, these are probably the best products out there. That roaster was a wedding present. At the time, I never imagined I would use something so enormous.

        the dutch oven from my son
This was the first Christmas present my son bought be all on his own. It is so heavy. Some day I will have to hire people to lift it for me and then I will pass it on to one of his, as yet nonexistent, children.

 the wine glasses from a dear friend
Look! We haven't broken a single one...yet...And oh my, the stories they could tell...

I have been doing a disservice to the kids in my family. How can they ever pass down all those fabulous tidbits of everyday minutia if they aren't in here drying and stacking and wishing they were the ones washing?

Guess what kids.

Next year there will be towels with YOUR names on them.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Gooble Gooble!

It's that time of year again...
Time to over-stuff the fridge.
 
Never complain that the fridge is too full!

Time to torture non-sprout people with Brussels sprouts.

When did these become the gold standard of holiday veggies?


Time to perfume the house with the delicious smell of roasted turkey.

Ah the majestic bird. You have done your brothers in semi-flightness proud.


Time to gather the fam together and say Thanks!

Turkey coma. The real cause of zombie-ism,

Happy Thanksgiving from the Coast of Illinois!


Show me a more beautiful skyline.

Come back next week for a new installment of Coast of Illinois hits the road!


And don't forget the sprouts!

*On a local note: many events in this Coastal area have been on the news. I am proud to call myself a St. Louisan. Please, do not let the actions of a few influence your opinion of our wonderful town. Ultimately, we all want the same thing - a peaceful, productive and equal place to live. That world is possible but violence is not the way to achieve this. Treat others the way you expect to be treated. You might be surprised at how much you can accomplish.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Suh Early...

It is 0230.

A. M.

I am completely dressed, make-up on, coffee half drank. Drunk? Really. It's 0230 in the morning. Does it really matter?

Here's the rub.
I am doing this voluntarily.
This has nothing to do with work. (see Beck and Call)

I rolled out of bed to the obnoxious alarm clock all for the sake of adventure.

My question is this:
Why can't an adventure start at a civilized hour.
Say 1030?

Did Louis and Clark leave for the great Northwest Unknown in the middle of the night?
Doubtful.
And these were two of the most adventuresome people I can think of.
You know why?
Because it is TWO THIRTY A!M!

(More to come.)
(after I get a nap.)

Seriously? Meriweather and William would never have been sound asleep on their straw beds.