August 29, 2017

Something You Might Be Interested In

What might that be? It's the Back To Basics Living Summit.


This is an online webinar which will run September 10-16, 2017. It's being organized by the same folks who do the Back To Basics Living and Prepper eBook bundles. This new venue looks to be an excellent resource.

The B2B Summit will be for seven days (Sept. 10 - 16) with different videos every day. Topics will include:
  • Saving Money and Getting Out of Debt
  • Achieving Real Health Naturally
  • Growing Your Own Food
  • Being Prepared for Crisis
  • Food Storage
  • Seed Saving
  • Canning
  • Off-Grid Lifestyle
  • Cooking
  • Cheese Making
  • Backyard Livestock
  • Urban Gardening
  • Homebrewing
  • Herbs

You need to register, however, to reserve a spot and receive sign in details. Click here for more information and to sign up.

If you can't make it during the scheduled video times, there is also options to purchase lifetime access to the webinar.
  • Door Buster Discount: Aug. 27 - Sept 12  - $59.97 for lifetime online access, $99.97 for that plus the videos on flash drive.
  • Early Bird Sale: Sept. 13 - 16 - $99.97 for lifetime access, $139.97 for online access plus flash drive.
  • Regular Price: after Sept. 16 - $119.97 for lifetime access, $159.97 for lifetime access plus flash drive.

You'll find those options by following the above link as well. But it's free if you can make the scheduled video times, which is my kind of webinar!

August 27, 2017

Fig Sap Cheese

Something I've been wanting to experiment with for awhile is making my own vegetable rennets. There are a number of plants which have traditionally been used to make cheese, and I think being skilled in some of these is a good preparedness plan. With fig season about done for us, I decided to start my experiments by using fig sap as rennet!

The sap of figs is a natural latex substance containing a form of rennin or chymosin, an enzyme that separates the milk solids from the liquid, i.e., Little Miss Muffet's curds and whey. Chymosin is primarily found in the stomach of newborn ruminants, such as calves and kids, where the curds are a more digestible solid for them than the liquid milk. Cheese makers have used animal rennet for millennia to make cheese.

Rennin is found in smaller quantities and different forms in some plants. Figs for example.

Fig trees have a latex-like sap that contains a natural rennet.
NOTE: If you are sensitive to latex, wear gloves!

Green figs are picked in the morning when the enzymes and sap flow are highest. It takes only a very small amount of the sap to make cheese. To experiment, I worked with 1-quart quantities of raw goat milk.
  • 1 quart milk
  • 3/8 tsp citric acid dissolved in 1/8 cup filtered or well water (i.e. not chlorinated)
  • several drops of fig sap

Mix citric acid into milk, heat to 90°F (32°C), and stir in the fig sap.

This is a 1/64 tsp measuring spoon with two drops of fig sap.

Let sit until clean break (that's where you can slice the curds cleanly with a knife). According to an article at cheesemaking.com, the milk should curdle in about 12 hours. Mine still wasn't set after 24 hours and I was going to feed it to the chickens but got distracted. When I got back to it three hours later, I did indeed have curds and whey! I drained the whey and worked in 1/4 tsp sea salt.

I use a cotton kitchen towel instead of cheese cloth.

I took a timid taste and knew I was on to something here! It had the texture of cream cheese with the taste of sour cream. It was only a small sample, but I experimented with several ways to use it. Spread on crackers, mixed with ranch dressing for chip dip, melted in a bit of milk for Stroganoff-like noodles, and my favorite...

Better than cream cheese and jelly.

For the next batch I doubled the fig sap, got a clean break in about 21 hours, and ended up with a slightly firmer, milder flavor cheese. Still delicious but different. And so easy!

There are a number of plants that have been used to make cheese. Here is the list I've collected: thistle, cardoon, ground ivy, sheep sorrel, butterwort leaves, mallow, yarrow, teasel, knapweed, perennial ryegrass, narrowleaf plantain, henbit, shepherd's purse, kudzu, globe artichoke, Jerusalem artichoke flowers, papaya, caper, Irish moss, pumpkin, kiwi fruit, ginger, safflower, and paw paw. Not a lot of examples of cheese actually made with most of these, mind you, so I have no idea what kind of results most of these would give.

Some are said to also affect flavor, which may or may or may not be acceptable, but I'm guessing this is somewhat subjective. Thistle rennets in particular, are said to make cheese bitter as it ages. On the other hand, I've read that isn't the case with goat milk! I'll have to experiment with the plants I have growing locally and see which cheeses we like best; then not worry about the rest.

Soft cheeses don't keep as well as hard, aged cheeses, so small batches are good for just the two of us. Especially in summer when our temperatures are too warm for hard cheese curing. I save that for when the weather is cooler.

I also read that a clean fig branch can be used as a source of sap too - simply use it to stir the milk. I will have to try that one after our fig harvest is done. There are directions here for doing that.

Fig Sap Cheese © August 2017 by Leigh

August 24, 2017

Changing Rennet for Cheese Making

For as long as I've been making cheese I've been using New England Cheesemaking Supply Company's liquid animal rennet. It's non-GMO, gives good results, and is easy to work with. (If you're interested in the different kinds of rennet, check out my "What I'm Learning About Rennet" post. Be forewarned - it might surprise you.)

Then I bought David Asher's The Art of Natural Cheesemaking(Highly recommended for those who make raw milk cheeses. You can read my review of the book here). In his discussion of rennet, he points out that liquid rennets often contain preservatives. I had to go check the label on my rennet! Sure enough, it contains salt, acetate, propylene glycol, caramel color, flavor, sodium bensoate, and potassium sorbate (but it's gluten free!) I'm usually such a reader of labels; how did I miss all that?!!

What does David Asher use? WalcoRen rennet tablets. I found the WalcoRen website and discovered it is available in powder too. David's recipes are mostly for one gallon of milk, for which he uses 1/4 tablet of rennet. I often use 1 gallon at a time too, but also I sometimes use one-half gallon or one and a half gallons. Dividing those tablets into eighths seemed like asking for trouble (for me, anyway) so I treated myself to a 250 gram jar of powdered rennet. (New England Cheese- making Supply Company now carries both of these products as well.)

Stored in the freezer it should last for a long time.

I think the powder will also be helpful when I start experimenting with homemade vegetable rennets. I'd rather experiment on smaller quantities of milk, just in case! Dividing drops is a nuisance, but the powder should be perfect. To measure it for my smaller quantities of milk, I also found and bought these...


A set of measuring spoons for 1/4, 1/8, 1/16, 1/32, and 1/64 teaspoon. Unfortunately they don't have those measurements on the spoons themselves, rather, they put useless cutesy labels which make me think the manufacturers only make them as a novelty item. Very popular with cheese makers however!

As soon as I finish up the last of my liquid rennet I'll give the WalcoRen a try and let you know what I think!

August 22, 2017

Problems With Paypal: A Cautionary Tale

How many of you keep tabs on what's going on with your bank account? Do you trust the companies you do online business with to take out only what you authorize? If you don't regularly monitor the activity on your accounts, well, of course you should.

Last month I noticed a Paypal deduction for about $36, but I couldn't recall what it was for. I have to say that the ability to pay after delivery has muddied the waters a bit here, because a Paypal deduction on my bank statement doesn't tell me to whom the money was sent, only that Paypal deducted it. I have to keep my own records, which I do. But I couldn't find neither order receipt nor order confirmation for any such amount.

There was nothing on my Paypal activity webpage, so I became concerned. I filed a suspicious activity case in the Paypal resolution center, received an auto-email reply with a case number, and was told I'd hear back within a certain amount of time.

Two months passed, I'd heard nothing, and there was no record of either open or closed cases on my resolution page. Eventually I found a phone number, punched in my case #, and got a recorded message informing me that in July 2016 I'd made a claim for so many pounds sterling but the case was decided in favor of the seller. HUH????? I looked back through my July 2016 activity, found one purchase I'd made from Great Britain, but for a different amount. However, I'd received the product, was happy with it, and in checking my bank account, they were indeed paid. If I was trying to get my money back I think I would have remembered that and pressed the issue long before a year had passed!

The only way I could protest was to open another case file, but that one has been dismissed as well. I was told I would find more information on my resolution page, but that says I have zero open cases and zero closed cases, so there is no record of any of it. Of course these email notifications come from no-reply email addresses, so there is no way to ask questions.

In browsing complaints on the Paypal community forum, I see increasing complaints of folks feeling scammed. I realize some of these will be sour grapes, but I don't think it's sour grapes to have a legitimate concern about why Paypal helped themselves to money from my account and isn't being forthcoming with enough details to convince me that it was a legitimate deduction. Fortunately I'm only out $36. But it could have been $136 or $336 and there would have been nothing I could do about it, especially since Paypal doesn't need my authorization to do this.

Do you remember when price scanners first hit the stores? People were suspicious of them so stores would give you the item for free if it scanned differently than the price on the shelf. Now I find items regularly scan for higher than the price on the shelf. Sometimes they'll correct it at the cash register for you, sometimes they won't. But that's assuming you catch it.

Another thing that bothers me are those introductory gimmick prices. So many months for one price and then the regular price. Except that the fine print rarely discloses what the regular price is. Charter got us on that one, but with a different twist. If you pay attention to Charter adverts, then you know they offer 12 months discount and then the regular price. With us, the price with up again after our second 12 months at the "regular price." When I called to find out what was going on, I was told that was our agreement, i.e. a second price hike after 24 months. But no where have they ever advertised that, and of course it was all done over the phone so we have no documentation. I think I would have remembered something like that!

And here's one more. Do you keep track of those "authorization holds" placed on your account any time you use a debit or credit card? Usually these are for the exact amount of purchase, but some restaurants, hotels, motels, and gas stations  add on anywhere from $25 to $100 or more above the purchase price. We learned about these several years ago when our bank statement showed we'd been overcharged for a motel room. Usually these holds "fall off" when the bank processes them, but sometimes they don't, as in our case. Fortunately Dan was able to get a live person to tend to the problem and we got a refund, but it was a hassle nonetheless.

Folks, are you paying attention? It's so easy to shrug off a little here and a little there, because it's such a battle to correct a problem. No, I'm not hollering "conspiracy," but the larger any system gets, the easier it is for mistakes, glitches, sloppiness, lack of caring, or downright dishonesty to cause problems. And the larger the system, the more layers of bureaucracy get piled on to increase it's ineffectiveness at solving problems. With our entire economic system being reduced to digital numbers on a screen, it's a disaster just waiting to happen.

This is two rants from me within four weeks! I must be getting ornery in my old age. 😁

August 19, 2017

Persistence Pays Off

Last month I told you about our four broody hens who were trying to occupy three nest boxes. Once the chicks hatched, one mama hen claimed two and left the other three to work out who would get to mother the remaining six. Two of those hens took over the job and repeatedly chased off poor Mama #4. Wellsir, she didn't give up and her persistence finally paid off.

Mama #4 and her lone baby chick

She had nine eggs total, and we had two half-hatched chicks that didn't make it before this one did.

This gal has been nest sitting for two and a half months and she finally has herself a baby chick! I don't know if that's a record for the longest setting hen, but there has to be a life lesson in there somewhere.

Persistence Pays Off © August 2017 by 

August 16, 2017

Fresh Fig Pie


With our abundant harvest of figs I wanted to try my hand, once again, at a fresh fig pie. Last year's experiments weren't all that impressive, but this one's a keeper.

Fresh Fig Pie

Have ready, pie dough for a 9-inch pie. Preheat oven to 375 °F (190° C)
  • 5 cups fresh figs, chopped
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup flour 
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ginger
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice

Mix, fill, top with pats of butter, bake, cool, and eat!

Options:

UPDATE: Aug. 18th - I made another fresh fig pie, this time with a handful of raisins added to the filling and a crumb topping.


It was even better! Highly recommended.

Fresh Fig Pie © Aug 2017 by Leigh 

August 13, 2017

August Days

August days are harvest days for me, filled with picking, preserving, and this year, also writing. Sandwiched between morning and evening chores, my days are full and fulfilling.

Blueberries

On the first of the month I got my last picking of blueberries. It wasn't a gangbusters year for blueberries, but we've eaten our fill fresh, in pies, and in pancakes every Sunday morning. I froze two-gallons worth, and had my granddaughters over for a blueberry picking party and blueberry lunch. I sent a gallon home with my daughter-in-law, so I'm satisfied with the season!

Blueberry harvest lasts for about a month, whereas I only get a week for figs.

Figs

I think this has been my most abundant year for figs yet! Flavor-wise they are kind of bland, so we don't eat many fresh, but I did nail my recipe for fresh fig pie (which I'll share next time). Most of our figs are canned to eat with breakfast or lunch, dehydrated for baking, and frozen for winter jam making.

Elderberries

It's time to pick elderberries too. I know there are quite a few green ones in there, but I have stiff competition with the birds for these. They don't mind eating them green, so I have to get at least some before they're all gone! But I've got three gallons of berries so far, which is the most I've ever gotten. I freeze them for jelly  making in the winter.

Tomatoes and cucumbers

We're enjoying our tomatoes: green ones to fry and red ones for eating fresh and for making pizza sauce to can. If I can't get to them right away, I freeze them and work on the sauce later. We've been eating cucumbers once or twice a day too, plus I've restocked the pickle and cucumber relish shelf in the pantry.

Okra and yellow summer squash

I only have a couple of squash plants, so both harvest and eating are manageable for just the two of us. The small ones we eat fresh in salads, medium ones are sauteed as a side dish, and when I get a few big ones I'll make stuffed squash.

Of okra I planted three rows, and it has done really well this year (after two years of not). I'm not keen on stewed okra, but we like it oven fried or sauteed. I slice and freeze quite a bit to accompany winter meals, and also I've been able to can okra pickles!

Okra pickles with garlic

My green beans slowed down in July when it was so hot and dry. August has brought both cooler temperatures plus welcome rain (over 4 inches so far!), so bean production has picked up again.


We love them steamed with butter and salt, plus I can them. I know folks usually prefer their green beans frozen, but I don't have any room left in my freezer. Plus I love to grab a jar to make my Green Bean Caesar as a last minute side dish.

The only dry beans I planted this year was cow peas.


I planted them at the top of the corn field. They didn't get a lot of water last month so quite a few of the plants are dead now. But the harvest is enough for us and as a treat for the critters as well.

We don't usually harvest meat this time of year, because processing in warm weather attracts too many flies. But it was time to do something about all the ducks, especially since Mama Duck had gone off to brood another batch.


Of our 12 Muscovy ducklings we ended up with nine adult ducks: five females and four males. Big Duck (our drake) had rounded up all the lady ducks for himself and was constantly chasing the males. The chickens were constantly pecking and chasing them too. (Poultry can be pretty ruthless toward one another.) They were destined for the freezer anyway, so when the forecast was for an overnight low of about 60°F (15°C - a real treat for us this time of year) we decided to do the deed. Muscovy tastes more like beef than duck or chicken, by the way.

So those are my August days so far, how are yours? Are you picking and preserving like me, or in the planning stages? Do let me know!

August Days © Aug. 2017 by Leigh

August 10, 2017

What Dan Found on Top of the Barn

The other day Dan was working on floor joists for the new barn's hay loft. He has floor boards laying across one section of them, and when he climbed the ladder he found this lying on the boards.


A teeny tiny brand new baby squirrel! Alive! That section of the barn-in-progress has a huge magnolia tree overhanging it. Birds and squirrels shelter in it, so likely that's where it fell from. The magnolia leaves are so thick that he couldn't see where a squirrel nest might possibly be hidden, but between crows flying around and cats and ducks frequenting the top of the barn, he didn't feel it was safe to leave it there. So he brought it inside while he did some research to find out what to do.

A squirrel website told him there was a possibility that the mother may return for it. They advised making a nest of grasses and leaving it where it was found. Dan did that and kept a distant eye on it for the rest of the afternoon, but no mother squirrel returned to claim it.

When the afternoon temperature began to drop for the evening, he brought it in. I found an eyedropper and gently heated some goat milk. At this age they need to be fed about every two hours, so Dan had nursery duty all night.

Early the next morning Dan called our vet, who gave him the number of an exotic animal clinic. He gave them a call, and they told him to bring it on in. The clinic works with animal and wildlife rescue and would make sure it was properly taken care of. All projects for the day were abandoned as we took a spontaneous trip to deliver the baby squirrel. Then we did some shopping and pricing at Tractor Supply, and I got taken to lunch!

It was actually pretty amazing that Dan happened to go up on top of the barn at that time to find it. We didn't realize that August was still squirrel baby season, but obviously it is. So alls well that ends well, especially for that baby squirrel.

August 7, 2017

A Decorative Touch for the Barn

I have a little more progress on the barn to report. Remember this photo from my last barn post?

2 posts in the middle of the barn to support the hay loft.

Dan wanted to add kneebraces to those posts but was concerned about us bumping our heads on them. So he decided to make small curved knee braces.



They took some extra time but I like them!

He also finished the floor joists for the hay loft.


The loft will only cover 2/3 of the goat area, which we think will be plenty of room for hay. Pretty soon he'll be able to get started on the roof!

Next time I'll show you what Dan found on top of the barn the other day. It was definitely a surprise!

Next > "Ship's Ladder for the Hay Loft"

August 4, 2017

Peanut Butter Ice Cream

Even better, a peanut butter ice cream brownie Sundae!

I think the only downside of having goats is that they produce less cream than  cows. Not that I'd want all that milk to deal with, but I sure would love more cream. I'd love to have enough butter for both cooking and table use, not to mention make more whipped cream and ice cream. Some people think goats don't produce any cream, which isn't true. Click here to read my post on getting cream from goat milk and making butter.

What I do have a lot of is whey. Anytime I make cheese, I use the whey to make a simple ricotta cheese. (How-to for that here.) And because we adore ice cream (especially in summer), I borrowed an idea from the Italians to use my ricotta in place of cream for ice cream (called gelato - recipe here). This small amount is perfect for my Cuisinart.

Peanut Butter Ice Cream

  • 2 cups whole milk (could use skimmed)
  • 2 cups ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 egg yolks
  • pinch sea salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Heat the milk, peanut butter, and sugar in a sauce pan, stirring until the sugar melts. Beat the egg yolks in a blender (or by hand) and s-l-o-w-l-y add the warm milk mixture (slow enough to not cook the eggs). Add the salt and vanilla and allow the mixture to chill. (While you're waiting, use the egg whites to make the brownies. 😊 ) Churn and enjoy!
πŸ‘ πŸ‘ πŸ‘ πŸ‘ πŸ‘

I find that the ricotta adds the same richness that cream does to ice cream and with very little fat (ice milk just isn't satisfying). My ricotta is made from the whey of my skimmed milk mozzarella, and if skimmed milk was substituted for the whole milk in the recipe, you could have delicious low-fat ice cream. Substitute fruit for the peanut butter for even less!

August 1, 2017

The Mystery of the Bread That Didn't Rise


I was rather puzzled the other day by a loaf of bread that didn't rise. I knew my yeast was good and had used my standard recipe: 2 cups whole wheat flour, 1 cup white flour, 1 egg (preferably duck), 3 tablespoons soft butter, 1 cup whey, 1.5 teaspoon salt, 1.5 teaspoon yeast, and one teaspoon of sugar. I knew it had enough rising time and the proper baking temperature, because I made it in my bread machine. Not wanting to waste it, I sliced it anyway and popped it into the toaster.

YUCK! It was way too salty! What in the world?! Then it dawned on me. I hadn't used whey, I had used my mozzarella cheese brine!

My brine jar in kept in the fridge, as is they whey, but it's labeled, "Brine."


Or it's supposed to be! I wash the jar every time I use the brine so I must have washed the label off and couldn't tell it from the whey.

I've made some silly mistakes in my time, but this one must top them all! I ended up feeding it to the chickens, who weren't impressed. I think if we had pigs at the moment they wouldn't have cared. But more pigs are for another day, because we have some fencing to fix first.