Making mozzarella without a factory

mozzarella-tomato-basil

I like seeing how far back up the food production chain I can go. A pizza recipe may start with a ball of dough, pizza sauce, and mozzarella, but I don’t just want to make the pizza, I want to know how to make the ball of dough, the sauce, and the mozzarella.

I’m not sure it ever occurred to me I could make cheese until I read Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which led me to the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company, where I got the ingredients and recipe and learned how easy it is to make mozzarella.

Mozzarella only requires four ingredients, milk, citric acid, rennet, and salt. Of course you can use fresh milk, but whole milk from the grocery store will work too, as long as it’s not ultra-pasteurized.

The process is fairly quick. Heat up the milk with the citric acid, add the rennet, and let it stand. It firms up, and you cut the milk into this cool checkerboard pattern.

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The next steps are all about separating the curds from the whey (yep, curds and whey, finally they are more than a nursery rhyme!).

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Heating and straining leaves you with a clump of curds which you now heat and strain.

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After two go-rounds of heating and straining, you can now pull and knead your cheese, adding the salt, until it forms a lovely, smooth ball of mozzarella.

And all without the benefit of a factory (thanks to Roger Lathbury, who inspired this post)! Find the exact recipe and ingredients at the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company.

 

 

Hoodoo you think you're fooling'...

I finally fulfilled a childhood dream to visit Bryce Canyon. I can't actually tell you why I had this childhood dream, as I knew nothing about Bryce Canyon, probably couldn't tell you what state it was in, had never met anyone who had been there, and maybe, at least as a kid, had never even met anyone who had heard of Bryce Canyon. But I wanted to go there. And so, given the opportunity to take a vacation in Utah this summer, I chose Bryce as our destination. 

Bryce Canyon hoodoos

Now I suppose if I had thought about it, visiting a desert national park in the middle of the summer, might have struck me as a bit foolish--I know we hit top temperatures of 106 degrees when we were driving, but that's only because I didn't have a thermometer with me while I was hiking.

But it was magical. We hiked in a "secret" back way, from the town of Tropic, very early in the morning, and then there we were, on the canyon floor, in the middle of the hoodoos. No one around, just us, wandering among these fantastical sculptures. Looking at it from above, later that day, surrounded by tourists it was almost impossible to imagine that we had been down there.

Bryce Canyon Navajo trail

"They say bread is life..."

I just tried making challah for the first time, using a recipe from a book called The Gefilte Manifesto. It smelled so wonderful baking that it took a ridiculous amount of self-control not to eat it the moment it came out of the oven. But I had made it for lunch--my cousin was coming to visit--and I forced myself to wait.

I came to poetry later in life, and I remember the exact poem that made me want to start writing. I was in a class, Short Story and Poetry (I was really there for the short stories), and one day we were forced to pick a book from a bunch scattered on the table, and find a poem to read. My hand fell on a book, Where Horizons Go, by a Rhina P. Espaillat, someone I'd never heard of. I opened the book at random and began to read the poem there, "Bread." It started, "My daughter-in-law is baking bread for dinner."

What? You could write a poem with the prosaic word "daughter-in-law" in it? You could write a poem about something as ordinary, as real, as baking bread? I read on to the end:

Blessed by time that closes all eyes, that rouse flowers,
blessed by law that moulds the dust of soldiers
into the bones of daughters, that kneads old strangers
into the flesh of children like braided challah.

You could write about challah? At that very moment, I fell in love, with Rhina's poetry, with Rhina herself, with the poem, with poetry. Everything else, as they say, is commentary.

p.s. I later met Rhina and now have the honor of calling her a friend.
p.p.s The challah was delicious, though next time I'll experiment with letting it rise a little more on the second rise...

Tennis without a net

I just learned about this organization, Project Tennis Backboard, who tweeted about my tennis poem. They raise money to put tennis backboards in communities. On the site, a Stanford University tennis coach says, "It’s almost unbelievable how many players have learned tennis and sharpened their games ‘against the wall’!! I must admit, I think the wall is still undefeated…." Maybe he'll change his mind after he reads the poem!

2016 Howard Nemerov Sonnet Award

I'm thrilled to announce that my sonnet, "Tennis Practice Against the Garage Door," was selected by Rachel Hadas as the winner of the 2016 Howard Nemerov Sonnet Award. The poem will be published in an upcoming issue of Measure.

Thanks to the Powow River Poets for helping workshop the poem, and a belated thank you to my son Ely for all that incessant noise! Congrats also to all the finalists, a fine group of poets.

"...it is not good to eat oatmeal alone"

Yesterday, with the temperature -4 degrees for the first time this winter, I had oatmeal for breakfast. I added maple syrup we'd made this past spring, and dried apples that I'd made this fall from apples from the orchard down the road.

oatmeal

Suddenly, this oatmeal held a short history of the year: of my in-laws who donated sap for the syrup; of sitting out in the driveway for hours with my husband, watching the sap boil and enjoying the first rays of spring sunshine; of the orchard owners whose peach crop had failed due to an unfortunate thaw then freeze, and so whose apples I bought in excess in an effort to help them out. Then, faced with, of course, too many apples, after making jars of applesauce and apple butter, pies, and crisps, in desperation I borrowed a hydrator (from the same kind in-laws) and made dried apples, which now topped this oatmeal.

And then there was the oatmeal itself, which reminded me of the wonderful poem "Oatmeal" by Galway Kinnell, whom I heard read this up at the Frost Place in Franconia, New Hampshire, many years ago. It starts: 

I eat oatmeal for breakfast.
I make it on the hot plate and put skimmed milk on it.
I eat it alone. 
I am aware it is not good to eat oatmeal alone.
Its consistency is such that is better for your mental health
if somebody eats it with you.
That is why I often think up an imaginary companion to have
breakfast with.

With everything crowded into this bowl of oatmeal, I definitely don't "eat oatmeal alone"!

"It's a mystery..."

I've done a lot of reading as I research the type of mystery novels I want to write. With police and lawyer stories at one end and cozy mysteries at the other, my favorites are somewhere in the middle, stories with characters who have a variety of interests, who can grow and develop into someone you'd like to know. I also like when they are set in a specific locale that became intrinsic to the plot.

Here's a great NHPR interview with Brendan DuBois, the author of the Lewis Cole mystery series that I have read over the years. Reading his books helped me figure out the type of mystery I want to write.