The Teachings of Guru Yo-yo

So, my girl taught me to say yo-yo, and the joy of it is so great I swear I’ll never say yogurt again. Turns out yo-yo has a few lessons of its own for this woman trying her hand at the old kitchen arts. It says, if you want to make me, remember:

::Sing often and loudly. This work is a celebration.

::Pay attention, to temperatures and tablespoons, but also to the rhythm of your breath, the sureness of your hand.

::When things come out differently than planned, remember that the unexpected is a generous detour, and not driving is another way of discovering new delights.

::Give way, give way. This isn’t the dairy aisle, Dorothy. Thin, thick, sour, sweet. None of it will go to waste if only you give way, give way.

Note from the humble yogurt making disciple: I used to think making yo-yo was as easy as cooking a pot of rice. Then came the time I now call The Month of the Funky Yo-yo. With each new batch I tried to reclaim my groove, tinkering with the starter, the incubators, adding rennet, and on an on. For my efforts I’d get something acceptable for adding to pancake batter. And I’m not picky! This week it just…worked. We are enjoying the loveliest, creamiest, thickest and sweetest goat milk yogurt imaginable. I am delighted to say that I have no idea why it worked this week and not the others (unless it had to do with my forgetting all about it and leaving it to incubate 11 hours instead of 8). It is alchemy and magic and my only advice is this: persist, don’t insist.

Introducing. . . Mamita

That’s the Little Mama on the right, offspring to the Grandmother who hails from a 1965 French kitchen. They’re red wine vinegar, potent and rich, filled with the flavors of decades of nurturing and countless glasses of leftover wine. Some friends gave Mamita to me most generously, the Grandmother brew passed down in their family through the generations.

Do you see that blobby bit popping up out of the vinegar in the little jar? That’s the Mother of Vinegar, which Wikipedia says is a “substance composed of a form of cellulose and acetic acid bacteria that develops on fermenting alcohol liquids,” and basically turns them to vinegar. Think of kombucha and you can imagine what the Mother looks like. In time, daughters grow and can take charge of their own vinegar.

I brought Mamita right home, gave her an honored position on the top shelf of the cupboard, and declared we had to have wine with dinner in honor of the newest member of our family. Of course I shared the leftovers with her, and she’s happily topped off.

I love having food in my kitchen so alive – so sentient! – that it demands a name. Take care of me, Mamita, and I’ll take care of you. For a long, long time.

1/20/10: Just found this very comprehensive post on making/maintaining vinegar. Enjoy!

Like Eating a Meadow

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If this plastic free business is our way of fighting the good fight while living the good life, then two goats down the road are our secret weapon. This fall we joined a milking co-op run by a community of friends a short walk away. Our Friday morning share supplies us with a week’s worth of milk and gives us a taste of the farm life here in Old Santa Fe. All in just one bitterly-cold-crack-of-dawn milking extravaganza per week.

It adds a certain rhythm to our days, that bounty of six or so quarts the Mamas give us. There’s yogurt to be mixed up and incubated (and hopefully not forgotten). There’s cuajada (see below) to make from raw, still-warm-from-the-udder milk, and then bread to be made from the leftover whey. Later in the week I’ll cook up another batch of cheese, this time my beloved panir or ricotta or queso blanco, depending on what’s for dinner.

I’ve heard it said that eating cheese made from fresh goat milk is like eating a whole meadow. The goats are lovely, to be sure. But the only requirement for all this home made goodness is milk, and that can come from a cow and the store. Of course, you could get your own goats, like this gal did. Or, ask around. You might be surprised how many goats can be found in the back yards of urban neighborhoods, their milkers eager to sleep in one morning a week so that you, too, can discover the pleasures of being sustained by the milk of a gentle, sweet eyed creature.

To make a soft, mild cheese called cuajada: add 5 drops of vegetable rennet per quart of warmish (80 degree) milk. Let sit for thirty minutes or until firmed up. Cut into “cubes,” then gently ladle curds into a colander lined with a tightly woven cheesecloth. Let drain to desired consistency. This Nicaraguan style cheese doesn’t melt when heated, and so is great in quiches, stir fry’s, and pasta dishes. It also spreads onto bread and tops salads beautifully.

Want to go plastic free but don’t have goats or time for cheese making? Ask at the deli of your grocery store for a portion of bulk cheese wrapped in butcher paper.

Recipe for Wild Sourdough

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Begin with a heap of faith that the wild yeasts will land in the wet dough you set out in a corner of the kitchen. Pray that they colonize peacefully and bubble and alchemize into the promise of bread. Do not fret about the smell. This is fermentation, after all.

After three days expand the starter with flour and water and hope. Leave overnight.

Doubt the results but forge ahead. Coax the yeasties. Tell them, this, This! is what you were meant for. Rise you yeasties, rise!

Add a smidge of baking yeast from the freezer. Do not despair! All is not lost. Only helped along.

It rises. Oh, joy! Knead and let rise again. Bake and be grateful for any extra rising. But do not expect it.

Exclaim in wonder, the fresh loaves so lovely and the smell, why, its heavenly. Sourdough!

Slice and serve your family without apology for the dense bread. Say, If ever we had only water and flour, this bread could still be made with nothing more than the lively air and a hot oven. We will always have bread!

In the meantime, keep practicing.

And the answer is…

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So how does one get by without plastic? I lost a bit of sleep, I’ll confess, when faced with the conundrum of how to bring my produce and bulk food home without plastic sacks. That the bags offered at our local health food stores were supposedly biodegradable did not comfort me. I wanted to get to the next level. Without having my broccoli wilt a day after bringing it home.

The answer, it seems, is cloth. For under ten dollars I made two dozen drawstring muslin bags of all sizes, for everything from huge heads of kale to poppyseeds. I empty the bulk foods into jars once home from the store. Flours get to stay in their sacks because they are stored in the fridge. So far all durable produce like kale and carrots and broccoli is staying fresh. If I notice something drying out a bit, I spray the bag with a little water. And I do use everything within a week.

Did you know you get bag credit for every bag you bring, not just the grocery sacks that cart everything home? Or that it makes you feel like a million bucks to get home from the store without a single plastic bag to worry about an albatross eating? That keeping food in cloth and glass feels, well, nicer to the food? And that many stores sell muslin bags readymade for your shopping pleasure?

Now we both do.

Everyday Beauty

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This clay pot made it to one potluck before the knob broke off its lid and it was relegated to a high, forgotten shelf in the kitchen where it has been collecting dust for years. It is now our bread bowl. How we survived so long without such a utilitarian piece of handmade beauty gracing our everyday lives, I know not. It keeps our bread fresh without refrigeration or plastic bags, and gives us something lovely to look at and handle during the ordinary act of putting food on the breakfast table.

There are lots of reasons to forego plastic. There is the harm it inflicts to the land and ocean during its production and disposal, and the danger it poses to animals and to our own bodies. There are the questionable ethics of using petroleum and natural gas products, and the simple yearning to live with less impact.

But today the reason I care the most about is this: Living without plastic can make life more beautiful.

Commencing to Feast

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Speaking of abundance, we’ve signed up for a winter share with a local CSA, Beneficial Farms. This week, the first in November, we brought home hefty bags loaded with apples, kale, collards, onions, baby beets, scallions, salad greens, arugula, and persimmons.

While our decision to go plastic free is a very personal, symbolic action, joining a CSA offers immediate and significant results. Our carbon footprint from importing food from out of state/country is vastly reduced, while our money goes directly towards strengthening local food systems. It helps create the world we want to live in.

Seasonal food from within our foodshed. You bet it tastes better.

Psst. It’s cheaper, too.