Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Foreign Invasion

My house is being overrun with Australians this weekend.

A couple of friends and former classmates from when I went to grad school down under both worked on a film that premiered this week at Sundance. One is flying in tonight, and the other in a couple of days. We're almost done cleaning the house (haha) and we're looking forward to a weekend of good food and mingling accents.

I made mozzarella cheese from the last of our first batch of raw milk this morning. The milk is fresh for exactly a week and then it's just not good to drink anymore - it's still safe, but it doesn't have that nice sweet flavor. So I made mozzarella with it and it's delicious, and I have more whey left over for cooking with. I've gotten addicted to cooking with whey! It's so much better than water in so many things.

Mozzarella cheese is fun to make - a bit more involved than ricotta, but still pretty simple. I got to stretch and knead it for awhile, which was fun in a very kindergarten way!

Not sure yet what kind of trouble we'll go looking for this weekend, but I'm pretty sure good times lie ahead. Will keep you posted.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Big Week, Dairyffic!

Whew! It's been a busy week.

I've been trying to get through 7000 words on another revision of the damn novel (aka "the thing that is eating my life"), I went to see The Informant! at the Laurelhurst, and last night there was a cast and crew screening of Extraordinary Measures at the Bagdad. On Wednesday our littlest cat, Fry, was spayed and she's recovering nicely. We've also been taking the dog on long walks and runs through the park.

We had two very nice people from Independence Gardens out to start working on our landscape design; we're building raised beds and going functional-farm in the backyard, but we wanted a pretty, natural-looking garden in the front yard and I'm not good at landscape design. So Independence Gardens is going to show us how to turn our front yard from The Ugliest Lawn In Portland (seriously, it's overgrown weeds and poorly laid-out rose thorns) into a beautiful landscape of edibles and flowers that will attract lots of bees and hummingbirds. I'm very excited about this!

In the evenings I've been playing with dairy. We're still really enjoying that raw milk - especially after a workout; the protein and healthy fat is exactly what you need to repair post-workout muscles - and I've made a big batch of the most spectacular crumbly ricotta cheese. With the leftover whey I made a very tasty and healthy potato-turnip-parsnip soup, and I drizzled it with homemade creme fraiche! The creme fraiche is the easiest thing I've ever made - just stir a tablespoon of raw buttermilk into some raw cream and let it sit for a day or two, and it cultures itself without any work from me.

I got the raw buttermilk by making raw butter, which was also crazy easy! I just skimmed the cream off the milk and went at it with a beater until the butterfat separated from the buttermilk, and then I rinsed the butter clean and that was that. Here's my pretty homemade delicious healthy grassfed raw butter (whew, adjective overload!)...

Here's my delicious ricotta cheese...

And here's how they came together in a mind-blowing hot potato salad! This is fingerling potatoes, celery, green onions, and pickled garlic, cooked together in the homemade butter and rice vinegar, and then served over lettuce with the homemade cheese sprinkled over. I don't mind saying this was one of the most satisfying meals I've ever had.

Tonight I'm going to try my hand at homemade mozzarella, which will find its way into a casserole with mushroom bolognaise, some whole-wheat penne pasta, and the homemade ricotta. That ought to be good for one dinner and a few lunches too!

Monday, January 18, 2010

We like it raw.

After reading up on the health benefits of raw milk - yes, completely unpasteurized, straight-from-the-cow milk - we finally found a local purveyor. We took a little drive out to the country today to pick up a few other things and stopped by a lovely little farm in the shadow of Mt. Hood, where cows and horses grazed (as nature intended) on lush green grass. There we purchased four big glass jars of unadulterated, unpasteurized raw milk. For pet consumption only, of course, as per Oregon law. Ahem.

Anyway, we got it home and Keith poured us each a glass. "To your health," we toasted, and drank. We found the raw milk to be a bit sweeter and creamier than grocery store milk. Of course we haven't noticed the health benefits yet after that one glass but it'll be interesting to see how it all works out.

We got more than we need because I plan to make some raw butter out of some of it, and I'm going to try my hand at making cheese. I have the citric acid, vegetarian rennet, and salt for making ricotta and mozzarella. Supposedly those fresh cheeses are even easier than bread, and in making them myself I can add whatever herbs, sun-dried tomatoes, and other ingredients that I might like. Later in the summer, I can trade my homemade butters and cheeses for produce I'm not growing. Everyone wins!

I'm also thinking of making kefir later on. Sounds like the perfect nutrient booster for those morning post-workout smoothies.

If this works out we'll probably make a little trip out to the farm every other week or so. It would be nice if our co-op here in Portland could sell raw milk - Lord knows, they would definitely have a market for it - but as long as large corporations and processors own the USDA and FDA that's unlikely to happen. Oh well, it's worth a half hour's drive in the country on a pleasant day to stick it to the man.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Hot Chocolate!

Everybody's got a hobby. My dad grows peppers. Not just your nice little bell peppers and jalapenos; he's got some habaneros, but that's not enough. He likes to grow the ultra-hot, record-setting peppers you can't buy at the store - Red Savina, Devil's Tongue, and his pride and joy, the world's hottest pepper, the Bhut Jolokia.

He's in Mississippi, with a nice long hot summer for growing these monsters. I got some mild anchos in my garden this year, but up here in Oregon, we just haven't got the summers. Hot weather makes hot peppers. So just before Christmas, I got a big box that included plenty of Dad's peppers. Some pickled, some dried, and one carefully wrapped fresh bhut jolokia.

That one bhut jolokia gave the entire box a faint whiff of smoke. Upon unwrapping it, we discovered that this unassuming little red pepper has a promising smoky aroma that makes your nose tingle when you sniff it. I knew this little pepper was special and I couldn't waste it on just anything. Besides, Keith isn't hugely into capsaicin burn, so a bhut jolokia chili dinner probably wouldn't go over too well.

... "Isn't that chocolate in the picture, Kimberly? What's all this talk about peppers?"


If you've never had chili peppers and chocolate at the same time, let me tell you that you are SERIOUSLY missing out. This combination is the best thing to come out of Mexico since the catchy tune of "La Cucaracha." Besides, when you eat something that's way too spicy and your mouth is burning, what do you do? You reach for a glass of milk to combat the capsaicin. I got the idea that some rich dairy would cut the heat of the bhut jolokia and allow its smoky flavor to really shine.

So the other night I decided to make truffles. Don't be fooled, that sounds so much more complex than it is. Chocolate ganache is easier than preachers' daughters. At its most basic level, you just pour scalded cream over chopped chcocolate and stir it until it melts, then let it set up overnight.

For these truffles, I chopped up 3.5 cups of good, very dark Ghirardelli chocolate and poured it into a big glass bowl. Then I poured a small carton of heavy cream into a big pot, carefully quartered the chili pepper, and stirred it into the cream. (In retrospect I should've added half a vanilla bean at this point too; next time I will.) Over medium heat, I brought the cream up to a very slow simmer, and infused the pepper into the cream for about ten minutes. Then I strained the cream and poured it into the chocolate, half at a time, mixing carefully until the chocolate and spicy cream were smooth and glossy. To tie all those flavors together, I slowly whisked in 1/4 cup of cold coffee.

It set up beautifully overnight and now I have what might actually be the best ganache I've ever tasted. The cream did in fact cut the capsaicin perfectly, so the ganache tastes like dark chocolate with a subtle, complex smoky pepper flavor and a warm heat that creeps up on the finish, deep in the back of your throat. The only problem is that now I can't make up my mind what to do with it.

The traditional way to finish a ganache truffle is to roll it in cocoa. So I mixed up a bit of quality cocoa powder and a touch of cinnamon and chipotle powder for just a little more spicy zing, and I rolled a few truffles to try it. (Interesting aside - did you know that truffles are rolled in cocoa powder so that they look like dirt-coated truffle fungus, hence the name?) I'm not a big fan of the dusty cocoa effect on these truffles though. It tastes good, but the mouthfeel could be better. So I might have to temper some more chocolate and dip these with a shell. I'm open to suggestions though.

I also tried the ganache with a little bit of sea salt, and that was fantastic, but impractical as a coating. Perhaps I'll salt the chocolate shell if I dip them.

Anyway I'll be giving these truffles away as I finish them, since Keith and I really don't need to consume this much chocolate. Besides, something as special as bhut jolokia ganache deserves to be shared! And I'm already thinking that this year I'm just going to have to try growing a bhut jolokia myself. Perhaps if I plant it in a pot and keep it warm in the house, I can enjoy this tasty pepper in a nice mole sauce in the fall.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Nice morning, long walk.

This morning, "I'll just take the dog for a walk" turned into two hours and four miles around my neighborhood.

In my morning routine I discovered that the chickens had, once again, pulled out the little hook that hangs their feeder off the ground. I couldn't find the little hook but honestly, this isn't the first time this has happened and clearly I needed a bigger, sturdier hook. So I figured I'd head out and get another one after I walked the dog. Instead I did it while walking him.

We headed first to His Bakery, one of the best little features of our neighborhood. It's been there since the early 1960's and it's still owned by the same (obviously very Christian) family, who create cakes and pies that are almost too beautiful to eat, and scones that are completely unparalleled. I tied up Patch outside and grabbed a medium cup of local microroasted coffee and a huge, fresh-baked cranberry-orange scone for a total of $2.50 and then headed for home.

Along the way I got to admiring everyone else's landscaping and picking up tips for fence building, original ways to make compost heaps reasonably attractive (yes, really), etc. I found several hidden alleys lined with wild blackberries, so I'll go back there and harvest later in the summer. I was enjoying the walk so much that I decided, what the hey, I'll just walk another mile in the opposite direction and swing by the hardware store. By then I'd finished my scone and coffee, so I dropped into Mehri's Bakery & Cafe for another coffee, and then crossed the street to 52nd Avenue Hardware.

As always, the people inside were very helpful (and kind enough to give Patch a treat, making lifelong friends with him) and I got a heavier, sturdier hook for the chicken feeder at a cost of 49 cents. Patch and I then headed for home, once again taking the scenic route through the neighborhood to admire everyone else's garden setup.

As soon as we got home, it began to rain. Perfect timing! And the Seed Savers' Exchange catalog was waiting for us in the mail!

I got the feeder set back up and now I'm going to get some work done before I head out to run some errands and get to the gym for another swim workout. I swam for a solid hour yesterday and I'm really feeling it in my upper arms today! Then tonight I'll make that hot chile chocolate I was talking about, and get a bit more writing done. But before I get started I need to go whip up some egg foo yung for lunch - with Keith out of town I'm not going through as many eggs, and I have a backlog of two dozen eggs in the fridge and more arriving every day. Kind of makes me miss the molt a few months ago when they stopped laying - now they just won't stop!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Ahh, productivity.

Last night I went to bed early. My glasses are off at the optometrist's office getting new lenses put in, so I'm on a contacts-only basis for this week. Unfortunately I can only wear my contacts for most of a day before my eyes get dry and then my contacts get all sticky and blurry and I can't see anymore. At this point I generally take them out for the night and put my glasses on, but last night I had no glasses, so I sat around blind for an hour making screenplay notes with my nose four inches from the paper, and then I finally decided to call it a night.

So this morning I woke up at about five, did the usual morning routine of snuggling cats in bed, getting up, taking the dog outside to pee, feeding the cats and dog, starting coffee, checking chicken food and refilling their water while they graze around, collecting eggs, then sipping coffee over the computer while I finish waking up. By noon today I'd swept the house, put away two loads of laundry, added fresh pine shavings to the chicken coop, cleaned out the catbox, taken out all the trash and recycling and sorted them and put them out for the garbage men (who come before dawn on Mondays), and organized two massive containers of paints and craft supplies.

The afternoon was spent in errands - to the co-op for fruit, to Trader Joe's for milk and cheese, to the Urban Farm Store for dog food, and then to the park so Patch could run himself out. (I saw a bumper sticker recently that said, "A tired dog is a happy dog!" How very true that is.) I thought about going to the gym next but I think I'll just go in the morning since they close early on Sundays.

So now, if I don't go blind again too early, I'll spend the evening on a screenplay overhaul I'm trying to complete this week. Hot bath and a cup of tea first though - I think I've earned it today.

Tomorrow I'll be making a chocolate ganache out of a fresh bhut jolokia pepper from my dad's garden - the hottest pepper in the world, many times hotter than a habanero! Stay tuned as I figure out how to do it and see what the end result will be.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Ron Paul's Revolution

Recently two men were discussing politics, and I got pulled into the discussion. I admitted that I'd just been reading Ron Paul's latest book, The Revolution: A Manifesto, and they asked if I was a Ron Paul supporter. Wholheartedly, I said; I joined many others in writing him in on the presidential ballot last year.

"And how'd that work out for you?" one man smirked.

"Well," I smiled, "I cast a vote that I still feel good about. I don't think there are many people out there who can say that right now."

He had no response, and said nothing.

It's true, anyway. Ron Paul has achieved more grassroots support than any conservative candidate in recent history; he set fundraising records that even Obama didn't meet. Dr. Paul is one of the few people in our government who actually believe in our Constitution, our freedom, our liberty. I was a firm believer in his campaign before but this book laid out, better than any others, the direction that we the people should go if we want to remain a free country.

It's been interesting, out here on the West Coast, to watch people waking up from the Obama fantasy. I have a little sticker (no, it's not on my car) that says, "I was anti-Obama before it was cool!" To my surprise, I have gotten nothing but laughter and knowing smiles on it. A corporate whore is a corporate whore, at the end of the day. People are beginning to realize that rhetoric is the only significant difference between the Democrat and Republican sides of the dominant monoparty.

This year we have quite a lot of opportunities to change the face of Congress. Can we keep all that "CHANGE" energy going and actually make a difference this time? Can we get past the corporate media's shameless promotion of corporate whores and actually elect more people who, like Dr. Paul, will look out for OUR interests?

I'm feeling optimistic enough today to think, just maybe, "YES WE CAN."

Friday, January 8, 2010


I am desperate to win a brand-new, candy-apple red Kitchenaid in the giveaway over at FabFrugalFood. Seriously squirming. These things can do everything from mixing to grinding meat to making ice cream!

I link to FabFrugalFood every so often on this blog anyway, because it's the best food site on the internet. But be on the lookout for more shameless linking over the next month because I really want to win this thing!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

I am a leetle fishy.

Keith has always spoken wistfully of lap-swimming, but we've never had a pool and our gym in L.A. didn't have one either. We finally joined a gym with a heated indoor pool; I went along with the lap-swimming to see if I liked it, and I LOVED it! So now we go to the gym, get the cardio out of the way and then do a bit of weight machines, and then we jump into the pool for an hour or so.

I can feel it toning muscles already and I really enjoy it. And I'm not all sweaty and overheated afterwards. It's a salt-water pool, so I'm not being dried out with chlorine, and there's a hot tub to soak in afterward.

Hopefully we can get ourselves back in shape soon and have a good time doing it! We only intend to keep the gym membership until summer, and by then we'll be doing the bicycling and outdoor thing. But until then... swimming!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Goals, Etc.

Here we are on the first Monday of 2010, which is as good a time as any to go over goals and aspirations for the coming year. I am fully aware that I probably won't accomplish everything on this list, but I hope to really make headway on most of it. Here is my

Things I'd Like To Do In 2010
(in no particular order)

1. This blog. I'd like to expand it, possibly take it into some new direction. I'm very open to suggestions if there's anything more you'd like to see. I was thinking of taking on one challenge per month, like mastering artisinal bread, learning to crochet, making cheese, etc. Or I can just keep going like I am; things should pick up considerably around here now that we're about to get started on the garden beds and edible landscaping.

2. A different blog that my friend and I are cowriting, which will be online and ready to promote in another week or two. Stay tuned.

3. The Big Dream: My cafe. I've always dreamed of having my own cafe, and this feels like a good time to really start working on the business end of that project. As yet I'm still debating whether it would be smarter to start with a food cart, or jump in with both feet and go for the cafe dream. I have a great concept and vision, which was the fun part, but now I have to start researching loans and learning how to write a business plan. Blurrghh.

4. Procreate. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know. The attempt is, at least, more fun than writing a business plan.

5. Eliminate my ugly front lawn and replace it with attractive edible landscaping, rounded out with bee- and hummingbird- attracting flowers; get the raised beds built in the backyard and grow a good sizeable harvest. It'd be sweet if we could totally support ourselves, produce-wise, and only buy a few supplementals like apples, milk, and meat.

6. Paint the exterior of the house, and the sheds, and paint the trim inside. Get some furniture in here, too.

7. Show up at the Hawthorne Urban Farmer's Market with some goodies to sell and trade... Herbed and seasoned handmade raw butter, fresh-baked and par-baked bread, surplus eggs, pickled goods, etc. Could be a pleasurable way to spend Sunday afternoons and I could trade for some of the really unusual produce, homemade beers, handmade makeup, and other great stuff the other vendors always have there.

8. Finish revising the novel, get it published.

9. Direct my new short film project, "Lila," and get it out there.

10. Continue taking time every day to show my appreciation for having such a rewarding, enjoyable, sensual life and a phenomenal husband to share it all with. I think this'll be the easiest one.

So whew! There it is, all in pixels and light for the world to see. Now I'm committed and I'd better get cracking.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Brunch and a Movie

My favorite part of roasted veggies for dinner comes the next morning, when I get to make roasted veggie frittata for breakfast. Yesterday I put together a nice little brunch with it! It was super-easy, I just went out to the yard and picked some rosemary and then sauteed it with a little butter and olive oil and all the leftover roasted veggies and garlic. Beat up some backyard eggs with a splash of milk and s&p, poured that over, crumbled smoked bleu cheese over it, and baked it up.

To go on the side I made a little salad with baby spinach, chopped hazelnuts, dried cranberries, a cubed persimmon, and a little more smoked bleu cheese. I whipped up a sweet honey-balsamic dressing to drizzle over it, and I really liked the way the sweet dressing went with the tart cranberries and persimmon. I have a thing for breakfast salad anyway - seriously, I love having salad for breakfast, it's my favorite - and this was a particularly breakfasty one.

I finally saw Julie & Julia yesterday. Finally! We took Elizabeth to the Laurelhurst Theater & Brewpub, where all the shows are $3 and an additional few bucks will get you some serious handmade pizza and a pint of beer. It's about time I saw Julie & Julia, but I was putting it off for awhile because I'm just really not a Nora Ephron fan. I have nothing against her personally, but I can't stand most chick-flicks; however, I had a hunch this one would be worth a look and it REALLY was. Way too close to home, on so many levels, but a good movie! Meryl Streep is incredible - no one else could've pulled that off.

We were up early to drop Elizabeth off at the airport, and now I'm up and blogging but I may go back to bed. I have to start a major overhaul of a screenplay later today, and come up with an article on organic housecleaning, and go to the Urban Farm Store for chicken and cat supplies. But first... maybe just a little nap...

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Year's Day 2010

So here we are in 2010. Another decade down the hatch!

I did my Recap Of The Decade back on the eve of my birthday this year, so I won't go through that again. Besides, I don't feel like today is a day for looking backward. I'm looking forward, to a great many projects and aspirations I have for this year. It seems like everyone around me had a bad 2009 and is looking forward to a creative 2010, so maybe this will be a positive year for us all. I, for one, intend to try my best to make it one.

Got off to the right start on that front today, by having blackeye peas for luck and greens for wealth in the coming year. I braised the mustard greens with garlic and cider vinegar in broth and crushed red pepper; the blackeye peas were slow-cooked with toasted sesame oil, balsamic, and some spices; on the side we had my honey cornbread and a mix of balsamic roasted fresh root vegetables - potato, carrot, parsnip, turnip, sunchoke, rutabaga, garlic cloves, and onion. Now we're all stuffed and tired - it's been a big day. Keith's banana waffles for breakfast, walk to the dog park to play and frolic with Patch, exploring the nether regions of 82nd Avenue (haha), playing with the chickens, then this slow-food dinner...

Now Elizabeth and Patch are snoozing hard in front of the fire, music is playing from the next room, Keith is sitting quietly down the sofa and thinking quietly or listening to the music, and I'm drowsily posting here while relishing the beginning of a new year in a warm, snug, firelit house with a bellyful of my favorite foods. Really, if the whole year is as good as today has been, we'll do very well.