February 17, 2017

Farmhouse Cheddar

For Christmas this year, I got this cheesemaking kit for McGregor, who is 11 years old.  One of the few foods he loves to eat is cheese so I thought it would be fun for him to see how it's made.

Last weekend we got the two gallons of whole milk required for the Farmhouse Cheddar recipe, and he followed the directions mostly on his own to get started.  He heated the milk and added the rennet, let the curds form, strained out the whey, etc.

When he was about done, I hung it in cheesecloth over the sink to let it drain out completely.

The kit said to press it but we didn't have a cheese press so we weren't sure what to do at that point.  When we were across the street for our neighbors' Super Bowl party, I asked Rita jokingly if she had a cheese press and she replied that she did!  What luck!  

I came over the next day to pick it up and she confided that she wasn't really sure what kind of a press it was (could be for juice, wine, cider, cheese, who knows) but that we were welcome to give it a try.  The thing was big.  I had to come back with the car for it.

Anyway, we opened it up, set the cheese still wrapped in cheese cloth, down into it and rotated the handle to apply pressure.  More whey did come out.  We left it in for 12 hours then flipped it and did it again for 12 hours.

When it came out, it looked a little bit like a round of brie.  The directions said to leave it out on a wooden board for 3-5 days to form a rind, flipping it regularly so the bottom wouldn't get moist.  

After the rind forms, you were supposed to wax the cheese then let it age for 2 months, flipping it once/week.  I got some food safe wax at the store and melted it down in a mock double boiler then brushed it all over the cheese.

Once it cooled, I loosely wrapped it in wax paper and labeled it so we'd know when two months are up.  It is supposed to age at 55 degrees and 75% humidity but unfortunately we don't have a basement so I don't know where we could do that.  Might just have to age on the kitchen counter.

This has been a fun adventure.  I see more cheese in the future here at Phillips Farm.

February 15, 2017

It's nice to have a little helper

My youngest stepson Baxter was really in the mood to be helpful recently.  One day he set out to the chicken coop all on his own, basket in hand, and came back with a load of eggs.  He handed them to me and said, "I got the eggs."  I thanked him and asked if he had checked all the nesting boxes, because it didn't seem like enough eggs.  He said he couldn't reach one side, but then he disappeared again.  

About fifteen minutes later he was back with more eggs.  I asked how he got them if he couldn't reach.  He explained that he had crawled up the ramp, through the chicken door, and into the henhouse!  He said, "I saw how the chickens went in and I went that way."  What a creative problem solver.  

Then he said, "I was thinking maybe I should be in charge of getting the eggs when I'm here."  I agreed that that was fabulous idea.

Later, I was rolling out some dough to make dog bones.  Baxter, who likes to crawl around on the floor and pretend he's one of the pups too, sat by my feet pawing at me for a cookie.  I said, "Sorry puppy, they aren't ready yet."  So then he popped up and grabbed the child's apron I have hanging in the kitchen.  He said, "Ok, well maybe I should make some then."  I showed him how to roll the dough out from the center to get it evenly spread and then to cut the cookies close together, starting at the edge.  Before long he was a pro.

He cut out an entire tray of bones, even re-rolling the dough on his own when he had cut out all he could from a batch.

Don't you just love it when the children are helpful and have fun doing it?  

February 13, 2017

Fresh lettuce

The greens I started a few weeks back are thriving under the grow lights I got from my friend Casey at Greener Portions Aquaponics.  I planted a flat of meslun and spinach.  The mesclun is quite dense now and the spinach is beginning to fill in too.

The other evening, I got out my scissors and started chopping.  It didn't take me long to cut a whole bowl full of greens for a nice big dinner salad.  I'm also growing some herbs so I snipped some of those to add to the mix too.  It was so flavorful and fresh!  

It had me longing for spring planting and summer meals of food fresh from the garden.  I've been working on my garden planning and have my schedule all laid out to begin planting in late February/early March.  I'm going to try to do everything from seed this year, which will be a new adventure for me.  I am so looking forward to all the heirloom varieties I'll get to try since I'm growing them all myself from the get-go instead of buying seedlings at the store.

What are you most excited to plant this spring?

February 11, 2017

Garden on my mind

Today was unbelievable.  It hit nearly 70 degrees, and it was sunny most of the morning.  I had to get my hands in the dirt!

I asked my neighbors if I could borrow their tiller to get the soil in my garden and in my new berry patch turned.  I got all the manure I had added last fall worked in so it was a rich dark brown.  I love the color of fresh spring soil.  The chickens were very curious about it too.

The garlic I planted in the fall is looking pretty good.  All of it has sprouted with the bursts of warm days we've had this winter.

My next task was to do some soil testing.  I took samples from three spots in the garden and one on the far side of the yard where I want to plant some berries.  I had ordered this simple test kit on Amazon a few weeks ago so I'd be ready.

First I did the pH test.  Almost all my samples looked like this, which I read as slightly acid.  

For the other three tests, I had to prepare the samples with a 1:5, soil:water mixture.  You shake it until it mixes well then leave it to settle out.

The kit says it could take 3-24 hours depending on the type of soil you have.  Then you fill each test container with water from the solution and add the little chemical pack.  So I'm waiting for my samples to separate out before I learn more about my soil.

When I finished all I could for today, I sat in a chair on the deck, muddy and sweaty and happy, dreaming of the garden that will be in full swing before I know it.  

Chicks at two weeks

We got our newest batch of little Easter Eggers on January 25; so they turned two weeks old on Wednesday.  I swear every time we get chicks they seem to grow faster and faster.  These little ones now have quite feathered wings and love to fly up out of the brooder and perch on things around the workshop, leaving deposits to show they were there.  I am sensing they will be moving out soon!  

Check out this girl perched up on the board that runs over the brooder for the heat lamps.  Can't just hear her saying, "I'm the queen of the world!"  

It is a constant flurry of activity with 66 of them in the brooder.  This is the biggest batch we have ever had at once.

I caught one so you could see how many feathers they have already.  Their little bodies are still fuzzy but they've got these fabulous wings.

Hi there.

Now the next question will be where they'll go when they are ready to leave the brooder.  We are reaching the tipping point where we may not be able to close off a whole side of the coop for babies since we have so many adults with the 50 Golden Comets we just added.  This may take some maneuvering.  Check back to see what we work out.  Problem solving should be listed as a skill on every farmer's resume!

February 1, 2017

A Chicken Adoption

We recently adopted six chickens who were no longer wanted by their keepers.  There were two Barred Rocks, two Rhode Island Reds, and two which we now think are Buff Orpingtons.  

When we released the babies into the run beside the adults, one of the Buff Orpingtons would stand at the fence and stare over longingly at the little birds.  I thought maybe she just missed the small coop where we had housed her and the other adoptees when they first arrived.  Then I saw this scene the other night in the henhouse (the babies and adults are now integrated):

The Buff Orpington hen was laying in a pile of babies.  She looked like a mother with all her little ones (now teenagers) nestled in around her.  I guess she just felt a mothering instinct and so took naturally to the smallest of our flock.  We adopted her and now she's adopting all the babies she can fit around her!