All the holiday decorations have been put back in the garage, and the house is clean and bright for a fresh start in 2019. Outside there is quite a gale - I like to think the wind is blowing away 2018 and bringing in the new year. Tom and I will fall asleep long before midnight, but perhaps the kids will manage to stay awake.
One thing we like to do around now is set a theme for the garden for the coming year. 2018 was the year to ‘Improve the Soil,’ and I definitely think we accomplished that, even without the proof of any nutrient or soil-life lab test. The testimony is in our delicious produce and thriving, healthy ornamental plants and trees.
Of course, soil improvement is not something you can accomplish in one year; it’s taken us 15 years on this property and six dedicated years of best practice to get where we are today. However, as a ‘last gasp’ in our soil improvement year, we had 20 cubic yards of free wood chips delivered from a local tree company. We’ve spent the last two weeks moving it, wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow, to every bit of un-planted soil.
It also makes the garden look nice and smell good, on top of feeding the microbiology in the soil. And, of course, it also improves our own cardiovascular health. :)
I think 2019 is going to focus on making the garden really lovely. I so appreciated that one pollinator garden full of tall, blow-in-the-breeze, pollinator-attractant blooms that invited the whole neighborhood to stop and gaze every time they walked by - and kept me totally entertained with creatures of all kinds. Not to mention providing lots of cut-flower bouquets to give as gifts or to decorate our home. My garden-design skills are really rudimentary, but I do feel like I’m hitting my stride with annual flowers, and I want to do even more to keep the garden beautiful. So, more on that as I learn and try new ways of planning and designing.
Another thing I wanted to do in 2019 was continue a ‘monthly’ thread that runs through the entire year, like I did in 2018 with the seasonal wreaths. I polled my family and they agreed that it would be fun to do a series of seasonal meals, using what you can find typically in season in the store or garden. So you can begin to look for that in January. However, in that spirit, I want to share how to make a fresh fermented cheese that is totally delicious.
I found this recipe on the One-Cow Revolution website. I watched a series this couple did for Living Web Farms, about how just having one cow (or other in-milk ruminant) on your farm can provide food for a family immediately, even as you wait for the garden to mature and the hens to lay eggs. Of course there is no way to have a cow (and her calf) on our 1/6 acre, but someday in the future I hope to make this a reality, so I’m always interested in learning about it. The series was terrific, and I’ve been enjoying reading their short-but-sweet blog posts about every farming subject under the sun. Lately they posted one about homemade cottage cheese, and that inspired me to give it a go in my own kitchen, with store-bought milk.
Tom and I have made all kinds of cheeses before, but all have used lemon juice or vinegar or rennet, none have just fermented naturally. So this was a little different - it’s incredibly simple, but it takes some time. You start out with the freshest milk you can find. Pour it into a nonreactive pan or bowl and cover with cheesecloth. Then, just let it sit on the counter for two days (in summer, this would take less time, as warm temperatures speed up fermentation). The milk will ‘clabber’ - that is, sour - and begin to look a bit like yogurt.
Then, you stir it gently with a whisk, and put it in a warm place. I turned my oven on to the lowest available temp (175) and placed the bowl on top of the stove where the warm air from the oven blows out. I left it there for several hours, pivoting it regularly and stirring it, so that it heated evenly. I suppose you could also put it in a proofing drawer if you have one, or in your dehydrator set on low. As the soured milk heated, it started to form curds. After several hours, I drained it, tied it up in a cheesecloth, and let it drain some more.
I started with a quart of milk and ended up with about a cup of cheese. I wouldn’t call it cottage cheese, like One-Cow Revolution did - I’d call it more like a farmer’s cheese, or ricotta. Once salted, it was delicious, and I ate it on my lunch-time frittata. The chickens enjoyed the whey.
Tom and I wish all of you a very happy new year. We are hopeful and excited to see what people like us, and you, can do in our small ways to improve everything around us and make the world a healthier, more productive, and better place to live. Cheers!