Tuesday, October 5, 2010


With the extra whey from cheesemaking, I've been making fresh ricotta, and it's light, airy, and delicious. Since my ricotta gnocchi turned out so fabuloso the last time, I decided to try it again, but this time with a healthy kick- whole wheat flour! Now, we’ve all read that white flour and whole wheat really aren’t interchangeable thanks to differing gluten contents, but I conveniently ignored this fact. And ended up with a gummy, bitter mess. Determined, however, to not let it go to waste, I cooked it up and forced it down my throat. (Thank goodness E was out of town- he would have fired me.)

Even a big glass of wine had a tough time washing those little balls of gunk down; and lucky me, I even had enough to freeze another batch for another time. My not wanting to waste tells me I'm going to have to eat them once more. On the other hand, this might be a good time to “accidentally” drop them into the trash.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Just Can It

It's that time of year again. When I get the itch to nest, preserve, and be a little homebody. Time to can tomatoes. But I've learned a few things since last year, so if you get the itch, keep the following in mind:

- Go with small batches. Last year's 50 pound of tomatoes at once resulted in bad moods all around. This year, I'm doing a series of smaller rounds so I won't want to kill myself in the whole process.

-Buy the right tools. Especially special tongs to lift jars from boiling water. Regular tongs do NOT work, as demonstrated by last year's splilt black thumbnail (an unfortunate accident involving tongs slipping and snapping on me).

-Get gloves. This is an extension of the listing above, but seriously, laytex gloves mean I don't have green, drying fingernails, and having some waterproof ones saved me many MANY burns this year.

Now I can actually enjoy the canning process AND the results. Isn't that what it's all about?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Honeybees got it right...

The number of bees in my hive have tripled at this point, so I've added a second super (honey box) and have been feeding them powdered sugar and peppermint syrup (apparently to ward off some mite that kills them). They are, quite simply, thriving. But I would be too if I had such a uniformly organized life.

Think about it: each bee has a purpose. It wakes up, does its thing, then dies. It lives off of one of the purest foods on earth and spends its days in beautiful parts of the world hopping from flower to flower.

There are parts of my life that I would miss, but the simplicity of a bee? Sometimes I think that would be kind of nice.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Monterey Jack!

Since I hadn't had time to make cheese in a while, I devoted this past long weekend to catching up. Day 1, Saturday, was a huge success, resulting in a 2 pound wheel of Monterey Jack which is now waxed and aging, as well as some feta which is actually tasting really delicious. The whey from these cheeses made some of the best ricotta I've ever made- light, soft, and fluffy!

Day 2, however, was almost a complete failure. I managed to screw up goat cheese, one of the easiest to make, as well as my fourth mozzarella attempt. Maybe I was overconfident because it turned out so good last time; either way, this time was less than spectacular and wouldn't even coagulate.

I guess you win some and lose some. So much more to learn. So much more milk to detroy...

Monday, August 30, 2010

Parmesan Continued

My 3 pound wheel of Parmesan was finally ready to try, so I broke it open with abandon. And lo and behold, it tastes like Parmesan! Truly! I'm amazed that I made this cheese that tastes like it came from Italy (and I'm not just sayin' that to sound cool).

Now, due to drought conditions in my cheese fridge, the cheese does have a thick, dry rind, but overall it's salty and delicious. I've got a humidifier on the way so plan to perfect this process.

As of now, this cheese can officially be dubbed "a success."

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Cheese Extravaganza

My mom and sisters were here recently and if there's one thing we love more than just being together, it's cheese. Gooey, stinky, fruity, nutty, melty delicious cheese. So even though my blood is now thicker than paint, it was well worth the cheese tasting we enjoyed almost every day.

We started with a simple Trader Joe's selction, featuring many cheeses I know and love such as Pecorino, St. Andre, Cambanzola, Manchego and fresh mozzarella. A new favorite did appear however: the Délice de Bourgogne, a French cow's milk triple creme. Apparently during the cheesemaking process, cream is added twice, so it's soft and creamy, a little like a really good brie, but with a mushroomy scent. It was outstanding.

Next was a trip to the Cowgirl Creamery at the Ferry Building in San Francisco, one of my favorite foodie places in the world! We decided to get a selection of cheeses we had all never tasted before, and forsake our favorites (Oh, Humboldt Fog, I still love you!). My little sister chose an Abbaye de Belloc that was outstanding, while I selected an unassuming little grey pat of cheese called Bonne Buche. We all voted this little goat's milk cheese (which didn't taste as tangy as goat cheese at all!) as the star of the bunch, and enjoyed its gooiness until it was gone. I will definitely buy that again- it goes in my top 5 cheeses in my lifetime for sure.

Finally, a night in Monterey and a quick trip for a lunch provided none other than the Carmel Cheese Shop. I can't tell you how much I adore this store. It's bliss to point at amazing cheeses and taste things you've never tried before. We got some crusty French bread, and then went to work. Julia took a chance an a raspberry cheese; it had a subtle essence of raspberry worked through but was a creamy ivory color and was a harder cheese. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it! While they were out of Explorateur, they did have the most perfectly ripened Epoisses I've ever tasted, which we enjoyed for days after. Epoisses is a hard cheese to enjoy because it's so pungent, but I adore it and enjoyed each bite. But in spite of this, our favorite cheese was a sheep and cow's milk blend called Robiola. It was a square shape and gooey on the inside; subtle but flavorful. My mouth waters just thinking about it. A few plastic knives and our picnic was complete.

Cheese to me is one of the world's perfect foods. It's so diverse, and so expressive of the land and life around its origins. To be able to enjoy something so perfect yet so simple is one of the best little pleasures.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

I've got honey, honey!

My bees are decidedly the messiest bunch of animals on the Central Coast. They've built some gorgeously natural looking (translation: disorganized and frenetic) combs in the first super, and are now in the process of glueing the queen excluder to the second super of combs right on top.

Meaning that when I need to get into the hive, I have to pry off the box, break the combs binding it together, and...piss off the bees.

Up until now, my bees have been the gentlest, tamest girls in the world. I've never used my smoker, and I can put my bare hands in and not have a problem. They buzz around happily, creating more comb and checking me out while I sing to them or chat away about whatever's going on. (Note: bees have no hearing apparatus, so this is really for my own benefit.)

I guess if someone came into my house and broke all my hard work apart I'd be angry, too. And yet I'll keep doing this because I get one of the coolest benefits ever.

When I break the comb a little, honey literally pours out. And it's the coolest thing in the world to stick your finger into a warm puddle of sweet goodness and taste it right out of the hive. I don't have enough to bottle just yet, but the experience makes up for that.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


I mentioned a while back that someone had invented a way to make mozzarella cheese in an hour, so of course I had to try that.

The cheese was just ok, though- and kind of grainy, so I'm definitely not convinced that it's the way to go. Yes, it's way easier, but it involves the use of a microwave and just didn't have the flavor.

So HA, convenience seekers! It just. Isn't. The same.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


I just found out about a mozzarella cheese that you can make in the microwave in about an hour.

Not. Pleased.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

It’s Magic

I love to read, so whenever I get into a new project, like cheese, bees, chickens (coming soon), or mushroom farming, I always scope out available books on the subject to get me started.

To fuel the 'shroom idea, my naïve self immediately made a general search for mushroom books, which provided many unexpected titles: The Magic Mushroom Grower’s Guide, anyone? Or perhaps Shroom: A Cultural History of the Magic Mushroom? Not exactly what I had in mind, but hey…maybe a project for another day.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Bee Girl

The day my bee suit arrived, I was so thrilled. As I donned my protective white gear, I endured laughing and finger-pointing. My sister thinks I’m a complete and utter nerd. And that was totally confirmed when I looked at myself in the mirror. I look like I’m getting ready to fly to outer space and fight aliens.

We’ll see who’s laughing when I eat all of my first honey myself.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Parmesan: Round Two

My last recipe for Parmesan mentioned at the very end that this cheese should only be made in four pound increments because of its unique aging time. (I definitely need to start reading instructions all the way through...) So this time, I intended to follow this request and made a huge batch. All well and good, except my mold only barely holds three pounds. I stuffed it full, piled on some weights, and went to bed.

In the middle of the night, I woke to a loud crash in the kitchen. My press had tilted slightly, and the weights had come crashing to the floor, leaving a nice dent in one tile. So my parmesan is a little crooked, but I’m hoping this won’t affect anything. It does seem a bit moister than last time, too, but that might have something to do with the uneven weights.

That was two months ago, and honestly, it's tasting great and really has the texture of parmesan this time. Maybe it likes its funky shape.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Lemon Cheese

Twice this year I've been treated to a cloud-like pouf of cheese that is made using citric acid as a coagulant. And twice it's etched a place in my memory, creating what I would start to call an obsession on my part. The first sample, from Cowgirl Creamery, was light and tangy, and perfect for our picnic in San Francisco. E and I drove up to Tomales Bay for oysters in January, then picked up some bread and cheese to enjoy on the way home. We ate all of it in one sitting; it was just that delicious.

The second sample was in Montana (of all places) at a restaurant called Q Cuisine. E was the "winemaster" for this event, and the chef paired his homemade lemon cheese with some of the Chardonnays. OUT. STAND. ING. I was lucky enough to solicit the recipe from him, and this weekend, I tested my own.

And it's beautiful! And clean tasting! And slightly lemony, without being overbearing! And it was one of the easiest cheeses I've ever, ever made. This one will become a house special.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Brie, Round 2:

Armed with sterilized equipment, a temper, and a better starter culture, I went for Brie once more. This time the curds behaved, and I was able to save the whey and beat it into ricotta submission later on. These two beautiful little rounds of brie were then put in the fridge with their white mold coats.

That part turned out lovely. The hard part, humidity, didn’t turn out so nice. My brie tasted like brie but dried up and hard. Oops.

This whole teaching yourself cheesemaking thing? Not. Easy.

Monday, May 3, 2010


E. was kind enough to get up at 6AM with me this past weekend to pick up my bees. He was pretty laid back about it, even tucking his jeans into his socks as I recommended, since he doesn't have any bee gear. We picked up the box while the bees were still sleeping; you never would have known that that thing had bees in it, honestly. It was bungeed down in the back of the car, but E. drove pretty carefully all the way to the vineyard. My instructor had warned me that if the top came off, we'd better GET OUT FAST!

We dropped off the bees, I peeked inside and saw only a handful of bees...not much action. Oh well.

Later in the day, though, I came back to add some syrup to the hive, and sure enough, they were buzzing all over! It was truly beautiful.

This morning, I rushed out to make a few little adjustments and add the second super (which is a the box on top of the main hive). I noticed some of my combs have fallen down a little bit, so the bees are building combs of very interesting shapes and designs. NOT what was planned, but I suppose it will still work. Each comb I pulled out was absolutely COVERED with bees.

The thing is, I thought I'd be nervous and rushed, afraid of the stings. But I'm not. I love being around them, and having them land all over me. They don't seem to mind when I poke and prod, and the buzzing is almost hypnotizing. I love being around them- in fact even right now I can't wait to go back out. I could spend hours with them, looking at the comb shapes and watching them work. They're truly amazing little animals, and I can't wait to get to know them better.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Lovely Ricotta to make Mario Batali faint!

I really enjoyed my first experience playing with the “fine curds” of ricotta cheese. Grant, it doesn’t make a lot of cheese, but it does give me something to do with all this whey left over from cheesemaking escapades.

Tonight I made enough ricotta to try Mario’s ricotta gnocchi, which was simple to make and so flavorful. Just add an egg, some flour, salt, pepper, and a touch of nutmeg, and you’ve got a pretty impressive meal. We had it with braciole and tomato sauce, and I drizzled some porcini mushroom oil over the gnocchi for a finishing touch. Paired with some Palmina Undici it was a match made in heaven.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Parmesan: Round One

I loooove parmesan cheese. I even took the time to visit the city of Parma in Italy, which was, I must admit, slightly disappointing, even though they did serve prosciutto and cheese for breakfast.

So when I decided to try my hand at parmesan, I was pleasantly pleased at how easy it really was. I made this one using only cow’s milk, despite recommendations to combine this with goat’s milk for a richer flavor. (Next time.) I also neglected to read the part that mentioned you should make this in 4 pound increments; anything smaller won’t age as nicely. Oops. My single pound wheel of parmesan seems to be a little dry, but still tasty, though I’ve only nibbled on a few fallen curds from the edges.
I think this is a pretty unique cheese, and I got a kick out of soaking it in a salt brine to create the rind. Most practice is needed, but overall, this one turned out pretty good.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Bee Delivery

David, my beekeeping teacher, is picking up my 2010 hive on April 24. Problem: I’ll be out of town until the 28th. He has kindly offered to install my bees for me in my hive at his house, then help me move them to the vineyard when I return.

Transporting a live hive? This could get interesting.

Friday, April 9, 2010

St. Laure

I decided to try my hand at my first mold ripened cheese. Perhaps I was a bit ambitious; the plan was to make Brie, St. Maure, and whey ricotta all in one day.
Have I learned nothing through all this?! Patience is obviously something I lack.
I used a starter culture that I’m guessing wasn’t fresh (now I will only use my favorite cheese source, not try to skimp!) so ended up with a slow coagulation. Additionally, in my rush, I left my Brie and St. Maure cheeses to coagulate for too long. They got cold. I got mush.

The Brie was a disaster, oozing all over the place when I tried to mold it. I threw a bit of a tantrum; E. watched the Olympics while I lamented my failure. The St. Maure drained in cheesecloth overnight and was somewhat salvageable; I molded it into goat cheese molds and called it a night. It has been sprayed with white mold and is now aging in the cheese fridge. Still too early to call this one a success, so it’s temporarily called St. Laure in honor of my failure.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Cheddar Experience

My first hard cheese was a large 4 pound wheel of cheddar. This cheese was really fun to make, but required a good deal of attention, especially during the “cheddaring” process, which involves exact temperatures and a lot of flipping of cheese hunks. I didn’t add enough coloring, so it was more of a white cheddar, and while it isn’t sharp, it is pretty tasty. Right now, a few waxed pieces are happily aging away in my cheese fridge, hopefully getting better and better.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Melancholy Traveler

Whenever I have to travel alone, I am plunged back into that desperate time when I was so very alone freshman year of college. Even though I know it can't possibly be THAT bad, I still find myself anxious, quiet, and frankly, a tad bit depressed anytime I have to leave that safe warm haven of home. Even since I've learned to mingle and small talk, I don't enjoy playing with others, which always ends up making me feel a bit left out. And I'm so very HAPPY at home; it's always hard to leave somewhere you feel so cherished.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Bulldog Element

No brief narrative in my life would be complete without the mention of the bulldog contingency, Roy and Oswald. For years after seeing a baby bulldog on the beach with my mom, I dreamed of Roy. When I graduated college, I met him in real life. At nine weeks old, Roy was the clumsy, fat, adorable prince that I had been wanting for so long. I drove across the country from Carolina to my new life in California with Roy by my side- the black and white bulldog is still one of the great loves of my life.

Oswald the great white beast came into our lives in 2007- E. had seen him listed on the bulldog rescue site. After a long application, a home check, and lots of begging, the rescuers agreed to let us introduce him to Roy, and lo and behold, the two boys got along just fine. (Well, Roy was a little pissed at first, but he got over it.) He’s truly insane and doesn’t stop wiggling, even though he’s around 4 years old, but I can’t imagine life without him.

E. and I are obsessed with our bulldogs- they’re like our children. Enough said.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Part 3: Honeybees

Ring, ring. My dad calling me on a sunny, perfect Saturday morning.

Dad: “What’s up, La?”

Me: “On my way to my first beekeeping meeting! What’s up with you?”

Pause. 1…….2…….3………

Dad: “You’re going to mess with bees?”

Me: “Well, it’s just always something I’ve been curious about, and I met this local beekeeper who does a type of class, so I thought I’d try it.”

Dad: Another pause. “Did you know I did that once?” My dad has an organic farm in North Carolina, where he grows amazing German Johnson tomatoes, shoots birds, and, apparently, once raised a hive.

Must be something in the genes.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Part 2: Cheese

Last year, I got a hankering to try making my own mozzarella. Ignoring all warnings that mozzarella is by far one of the hardest cheeses to make, I bought some milk, printed directions, and got to it.

It was a complete and utter failure. So was the second attempt.

This would be an excellent time to point out that my husband, E., is a complete saint. My knight in shining armor. He’s smart, supportive, and loving, and above all, his background is chemistry. Ha! He immediately got online to troubleshoot my mozzarella, then stayed up with me until 3 AM to make sure the third time was a success. Sigh.

There aren’t words to describe the feeling when I dipped that cheese into hot water and finally- FINALLY!- the curds melded together in my hands, forming a shining, stretchy mass of pure deliciousness. We ate every little bite, smiling all the way.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Part 1: Wine

I was born into a wine family and I’ll die in one- for us, wine is a lifestyle thing. I moved to California in 2004 to learn the industry, and even ended up marrying a winemaker. I can safely say I’m one of those people who has (at least) one glass of wine a day.
I’ve grew up on the sales side, and after working from tasting room on up, I find myself in a place where I get to learn even more about actual selling, but also about viticulture, winemaking, and…as in any other job…management. I’m lucky enough to spend most of my days gazing out the window at ever changing rows of vines, rolling hills, and acres of untouched beauty. And I work for people who encourage that and encourage ME.
We’re responsible people growing almost-organic grapes and selling them for fair prices. We make our own wine, too, which is pretty darn delicious. (I can say that because I don’t make it myself.)
Amazingly I’ve developed a pretty killer palate for food over the past few years. I can typically pinpoint exact ingredients in a dish blindly. And yet I’m not yet as proficient in wine tasting; above average, maybe, but not an expert. I guess that means I have to keep eating and drinking. Research?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A Realistic Attempt to Live Life Sustainably

Maybe it's my Southern roots, but I've always had this nagging urge to be able to "live closely to the land." You know, grow my own veggies, raise goats, bake my own bread...

I was an Environmental Science/Meteorology student for three years of college (a final physics course killed that dream) but I've never been a tree-hugger type. I'd say I live a little more green than most, but I buy pizza dough at Trader Joe's and I don't mind a little pesticide here and there. But there really is something so appealing to me about learning these "lost arts" and really knowing where things are coming from.

Call it my early mid-life crisis, but I'm starting a journey of taking steps to be closer and closer to the life I eventually want to lead. I don't have any land, and I'm certainly missing some equipment and time, but hey- cavemen had to deal with those problems, too.

I'm thinking I might have been the type of person who tried the very first oyster.