Make it from Scratch Ricotta & a Recipe!

We get a gallon of raw milk each week from Windsor Dairy and this week, due to our camping trip, we had a little extra. So last night, I made a little over a half-gallon of milk into ricotta cheese. I keep trying to make mozzarella, and just wasn’t up to it because of the 10 pounds of green beans we needed to blanch & freeze from our co-op adventures last week. But ricotta is so easy!

  1. Pour a gallon of milk into a non-cast iron/non-aluminum pot, add 1 tsp salt (I have cheese salt, but I’ve read that any non-iodized salt–like pickling salt or sea salt–will work), and 1 tsp of citric acid. An interesting note for those of you who have been trying to make cheese like I have: I read that fresh farm milk needs more citric acid!! So if you’re using raw milk or other farm-fresh milk rather than something from the grocery store, you may want to double the citric acid.
  2. Heat the milk slowly to 195 degrees, stirring just often enough to prevent burning the milk. As it gets closer to 195, you will see the curd separate from the whey.
  3. At 195, remove from heat and let it sit for 5-10 minutes. At this point, you can do one of two things:
    • For a very dry ricotta, spoon the curds off into a cheese cloth to drain.
    • If you want more ricotta, or don’t mind it a bit more wet, you can spoon the curds off, drain, and then pour the rest through cheese cloth to get the last little bit of curd.
  4. That’s it! Put the ricotta into an airtight container and refrigerate if you can keep yourself from eating it with a spoon. Oh, and don’t forget to use the whey to feed your tomato plants or to make some yummy buttermilk pancakes (use whey instead of buttermilk!).

The following recipe, adapted slightly from the River Cafe‘s Green cookbook, is a bit time-consuming once you’ve podded & cooked the peas, made the ricotta, and heated the stock, but if you’re entertaining and looking for something delicious to serve that is both local and very home-made, this recipe is for you. I usually only make this once or twice a year, and it’s memorable every time.

Recipe: Pea, Ricotta & Lemon Zest Risotto

3lb fresh peas (1.5 pounds podded) (I’m going to try this with a mix of peas and broad beans, which will take a bit more cooking in the boiling water than what the peas will!)

250 g ricotta cheese, lightly beaten

finely grated rind of 2 lemons

6 c. chicken stock

3 cloves of garlic

200g unsalted butter

500g spring onions

400g arborio or carnaroli rice

2 T fresh basil

150ml white wine

50g Parmesan

salt & pepper to taste

  1. Heat the chicken stock to boiling and check for salt & pepper.
  2. Bring a saucepan of water to boil, add 2 t salt, the peas, and a clove of garlic. Simmer for 3-4 minutes & drain, reserving 150ml of water.
  3. Melt 150g of the butter in a large saucepan, and add onions to soften.
  4. Add the remaining garlic, then the rice, stirring to coat each grain of rice in the butter, and cook for 2-3 minutes.
  5. Add the wine and stir until the rice is almost dry, 1-2 minutes.
  6. Add a ladle of hot stock and stir, adding another when the rice has absorbed most of the liquid.
  7. Continue stirring and adding stock for 15-20 minutes or until the rice is not quite soft.
  8. Add half the peas and stir.
  9. Mash the other half with the garlic and liquid in a food processor and add to the risotto.
  10. Stir in the basil, 2 T of ricotta, and the remaining butter and cook until the basil is wilted and the butter melted.
  11. Serve garnished with the remaining ricotta, lemon zest, salt, pepper & Parmesan.

Attracting birds to the backyard garden

In the past week here in Colorado, the birds of summer have arrived and Matt, the kids, & I have been glued to our picture window just waiting for the next new bird to visit our newly-added feeders. I have already blogged about the migration of juncos, who vacate Front Range gardens each spring, but the summer showing thus far more than makes up for their absence.

Matt has a running tally of the interesting birds we’ve sighted, but I want to talk more about how to attract birds to your garden so that you, too, can enjoy their presence.

There are lots of things you can do to attract birds to your garden, and, as with so many other things, there is a continuum based on the time, effort, and money you want to commit to creating a bird habitat in your yard.

Choosing a Feeder
The type of birds that come to your garden and the types of seed you’re putting out should influence your choice in feeder as much as aesthetics. If squirrels are a problem, one of the many squirrel-free feeders might be a good idea, although providing squirrels with abundant food elsewhere in the garden might be a better deterrent. If you want woodpeckers and flickers, which abound in the Front Range, mature trees and suet feeders will provide the best food and shelter.

The opening of seed feeders should be of an appropriate size for the feed you put in it. If you want thistle to attract American Goldfinches (one of my favorites), make sure you put the feed in a thistle feeder so it doesn’t just slowly spill out of the feeder onto the ground. Feeders should also have a platform if you hope to attract some of the larger backyard birds–they might not perch on the side of a typical feeder.

Hummingbird feeders should be easy to fill and clean, and, if you live in an area of high winds, should be hung far enough from solid objects like fences, buildings, and trees to prevent them from breaking in strong winds.

Whatever feeder(s) you choose, be sure to clean them periodically with hot water and a mild soap or white vinegar.

Choosing Bird Food
Nobody wants excess seed to sprout in their mulch and plantings. Selecting feed based on the types of birds that actually visit your yard can help avoid this problem. Talk to your local wild bird center about the type of bird food that is right for you, but the following is a general guideline:

  • Finches, especially American Goldfinches, like thistle seed, also called Niger.
  • Woodpeckers, nuthatches, and flickers will flock to suet feeders.
  • Hulled sunflower seeds will not sprout in the garden and yet provide food for multiple types of birds.

And don’t bother buying the expensive hummingbird nectar. Instead, make your own by adding 1 part sugar to 4 parts boiling water. Cool before adding the home-made nectar to the feeder and do not add food coloring–either your feeder or the plantings around it should be red; food coloring is harmful to the hummers! We’ve had the added surprise of watching bright yellow Bullock’s Orioles drinking nectar from our hummingbird feeders. According to our bird book, they’ve adapted to drink from hummingbird feeders until later in the season when other foods are more readily available to them. Now that’s a smart bird!

Bird Attracting Plants
Plants not only provide food for birds, but shelter in which to roost and raise young. When adding trees or shrubs to your landscape, keep birds in mind and plant a mix of fruit & seed bearing deciduous trees and shrubs for food and evergreens, thorny plants, or dense, twiggy shrubs for shelter.

Trees and shrubs are not the only plants of interest to birds. Hummingbirds feed on tubular flowers in shades of red and orange. Some hummingbird-attracting plants that do well in the Front Range include honeysuckle, members of the Agastache family, Asclepias, butterfly bush, Bee Balm, pentstemons, salvia, agava, yucca, and columbine.

Native plants provide the best low-maintenance landscape for attracting birds because the birds are already adapted to and know how to use native plants. One of Colorado’s most problematic non-native plants, the Russian Olive, has endangered many native bird populations. Its wood is much harder than the other native trees it has out-competed, threatening birds that nest only in trees with softer wood.

Other Considerations
According to the National Wildlife Federation (http://www.nwf.org), a 1992 study conducted by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology found that window strikes caused 51 percent of bird deaths. Predators, primarily household cats, caused 36 percent of bird deaths. Disease caused only 11% of bird deaths. They recommend placing feeders within 5-12 feet of low shrubs and trees to provide cover for the birds as they feed.

Backyard bird watching provides an easy way to connect with your children and with Nature. So consider putting out a feeder and watching the birds that come to visit; they’ll enjoy the food you provide, and you’ll enjoy the (*almost*) free entertainment.

Fashion, Glamour and the Cost of Makeup

I’ve been blogging a lot lately about the true cost of certain things (conventionally-produced food, daycare, cars, etc.), and all the crazy hubbub of the Oscars got me thinking (with a little help from Suzanne) about makeup. Her post about the absurd amount we spend on make-up and other beauty products is a great read if you’re interested in this topic.

Sure, I love makeup. We had a rare date night to celebrate DH’s birthday last week and I spent a good 20 minutes painting my face for the occasion. As we were walking up the sidewalk to dinner, Matt commented that I looked fantastic, but he was glad that I didn’t wear makeup every day. I, too, like that makeup is not a daily part of my routine, not only because it takes forever to apply, but because when I do put it on, I see my daughter eying me very closely and I want her to grow up feeling like her natural, unpainted face is the most gorgeous thing on Earth instead of her feeling like she has to cover it up to be beautiful.

When you add the expense of good makeup, the environmental impact of the sometimes scary ingredients in makeup, and the impact it has on how we as women feel about ourselves, I feel pretty fortunate that Burt’s Bees lip gloss & moisturizer (with sun-screen) are the only daily part of my fashion routine.

What beauty product(s) can you not live without?

Red Carpet Review Live!

Well, my second annual Red Carpet Review was fun and I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. I have to admit doing it online was not as much fun as watching it on network television, but it was a lot quieter and easier to do things on the commercial breaks (it was easy, even when across the room from my laptop, to hear when people were talking again!). Anyhow, I’d like to see more risks taken with the tuxes next year, gentlemen, and I’d like to see Ryan Seacrest be fed to the wolves, some tribal cannibals, or anything that would get him off the red carpet. Other than that, I have no complaints. Oh, except that I didn’t get to see nearly enough of the movies. Something to try for next year.

You can read my minute by minute report (in reverse order) below…

Read more

Lead Paint in Toys: RC2 Settles Class Action Lawsuit

On Tuesday, RC2, the company that produces such brands as Lamaze Toys, Learning Curve Toys, and The First Years, settled a class action lawsuit brought against them as a result of the Thomas the Tank Engine recalls this past summer and fall. As you may recall, RC2 was forced to recall many trains with red and yellow paint in June and then, upon further testing, recalled additional toys from the line in September.

I’ve been very interested to watch the fallout from the various toy recalls this past season for a couple of reasons. The biggest is that I firmly believe that consumers created this pickle in the first place by demanding such insane quantities of cheap toys. How else can that demand be met except by reducing standards and off-shoring production so that the toys can be built by cheap labor overseas? Despite our collective culpability in this issue, we can also be part of the solution by being more selective about where we purchase toys and the types of toys we purchase. If the number of “Safe Toy Lists” I received via email this past year is any indication, consumers are now motivated to do a little bit more research into their toy purchases.

The second reason I find this interesting is because this issue shed light on the ridiculously low standards set by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Now I see companies like RC2 coming up with their own standards because they go burned so badly in 2007. RC2 has instituted a “Multi-Check Safety System” that includes the following (taken from their web site):

  • “Increased scope and frequency of testing of both incoming materials and finished products, including testing of finished products from every production run
  • Tougher certification program for contract manufacturers and paint suppliers, including evidence that toy safety standards and quality control procedures are in place and operating effectively
  • Mandatory paint control procedures for contract manufacturers, including certified independent lab test results of every batch of wet paint before the paint is released for production
  • Increased random inspections and audits of both manufacturers and their suppliers, including semi-annual audits and quarterly random inspections for key suppliers
  • Zero tolerance for compromise on RC2 specifications reinforced by mandatory vendor compliance seminars and signed agreements”

It’s just too bad that they didn’t implement these more rigorous standards before they sent all those lead-laden James trains out into the world. Unfortunately, not all companies have jumped on the safety bandwagon. Even after all the bad press, the demands for safety, and the various recalls in 2007, there are several new safety recalls from the past week including:

  • Wooden “My First Kenmore” Play Stoves purchased at K-Mart & Sears (I’m as guilty as anyone of thinking wooden toys are better/safer/more educational. This recall, while related to lead paint like the wooden Thomas recall was, reminds us that all wooden toys are not equal and that something is not necessarily safe or natural just because it’s made out of wood!)
  • Toy Race Cars sold for a dollar at various discount stores (proof that you get what you pay for?)
  • Cranium Game recalled due to lead in the dice (this one just breaks my heart because I love the Cranium games, it’s an American company, and, frankly, they just should have known better!)

The good news is that so far there have been no reports of injury from these particular recalls, so perhaps this was just the wake-up call we as consumers, and the industry that supplies us, needed to come up with safer alternatives for our children.

Harry Potter and the Endless Predictions!

I blew the 100-page-a-day limit out of the water and finished Book 6 on Saturday night. Matt claims I have ignored all else for the past two weeks and I have to admit to being fairly engrossed. A friend commented that she’d forgotten how good the books were and I guess since I’ve had a couple of kids since Book 5 came out, I have to admit that I had too.

So, if you haven’t read books 5 & 6 yet, you might not want to read any further because I want to discuss some theories and ideas and they’re likely to be spoilers. The first time I read Book 6, I convinced myself that Albus Dumbledore was not really dead, but upon re-reading, I’d have to say there’s just no way. The only question that remains in my mind is whether he knew that Snape was going to use the killing curse on him, or whether he truly was blind-sided by Snape.

Let’s face it, Snape is duplicitous whether he’s shamming the Dark Lord or the Order of the Phoenix. Either way, he’s using some serious magic to close his mind to very powerful wizards. But I don’t want to believe that JK Rowling would be so trite as to have the child (Harry) be right all along about the teacher he’s hated since day 1 at Hogwarts and have the benevolent guide (Dumbledore) be betrayed.

At one point, when Harry is telling Dumbledore what he overheard between Snape and Draco Malfoy, Dumbledore comments something to the effect that he, Dumbledore, may well understand much more about the situation than Harry. That leads me to believe that Dumbledore was willing to die to preserve Snape’s position as double agent and also makes me think that Snape will end up giving his life to help Harry in the final book, thus finally proving to Harry that he was batting for the good guys all along…

I also had a brief glimmer of hope that Sirius’s brother, Regulus, was the one who had destroyed the Horucrux in the locket and that perhaps he was still alive. Again, upon second reading, the mysterious RAB actually admits in his note that he will soon be dead. I guess I just want Harry to have some bit of family there to help him in his final battle with Lord Voldemort.

Which leads me to my next prediction. There’s a second character who is going to die and I’m feeling more and more that it will have to be a Weasley. Bill & Arthur have both survived some pretty bad injuries in the last two books and Ron was nearly poisoned by mead meant for Dumbledore. So that leaves Ginny, one of the twins, Percy (Matt’s hoping that Rowling offs his pompous @ss), or Molly.

Since I’m putting my money on Harry surviving the final battle with the Dark Lord (and also not counting the Dark Lord as one of the two major characters Rowling has admitted she’s killing off in the final book), I’m really, really, hoping that it’s not Ginny so that the poor boy can have some chance at happiness after the book. If love, after all, is what differentiates him from the Death Eaters and what has protected him so far, it seems only fitting that someone Harry loves should live for a change.

But then, it seems so downright un-Harry-Potter for there to be any sort of a sunshiny ending, so maybe it will be Harry & the Dark Lord who die in the end. There is a fair bit of money changing hands in the run up to the seventh book’s release on the 21st, but although I’m holding to my predictions by logging them here, I’m certainly not betting the farm. I’m sure the final installment will be full of surprises and even if I’ve picked the appropriate victims, their respective demises are bound to be as compelling as the tales in the first six books.

100 pages a day!

Those of you who are regulars on ChezArtz might be wondering if I’ve fallen off the face of the planet. The answer can be summarized with four little words: 100 pages a day! That’s the number of pages per day I need to read to get through the existing Harry Potter books before the new one comes out in just under three weeks.  Since reading during the day with two little kids is like trying to tap dance in a mine field, I’ve instead spent every evening for the past several weeks with my nose in a book from the kids’ bedtime to my own…..So you see, I clearly have no time for blogging (or laundry, or television, or email, or the news, even).  I’ll probably be back to normal seven or eight days (depending on how long book 7 is!) after July 21st 🙂

My hero!

Barbara Kingsolver has a new book out and I’m on pins and needles until I can get my hands on it. A quote from her recent interview with Salon illustrates why:

“Food is the one consumer choice we have to make every day. We can use that buying power in a transaction that burns excessive fossil fuels, erodes topsoil, supports multinationals that pay their workers just a few bucks a day — or the same money could strengthen neighborhood food economies, keep green spaces alive around our towns, and compensate farmers for applying humane values. Every purchase weighs in on one side or the other. It just isn’t possible to opt out. Otherwise, if you’re going to eat food, you belong to some kind of food chain. The goal of this book is to reveal that truth.”

Every time I read one of her books, I am struck by how she can so eloquently express my world view and then I feel like I was born 15 years too late–that I should be her. Her fiction entertains, but her non-fiction enlightens. If you haven’t read her books, and are at least remotely interested by the ideas of community, farming, family relations, and sustainable living, proceed directly to the nearest indie bookshop and check her out!

Theft

About a month ago, I started the Entertainment category on this blog in hopes of forcing myself to read some good books after months spent reading nothing but Dr. Seuss. Last night, I finished the first novel I’ve read
in about a year, Peter Carey’s Theft. Matt claims that this is the best book he’s read since Tim Winton’s Dirt Music and was really disappointed that it didn’t win the Booker Prize (although Dirt Music didn’t either!).

Although I can’t say I loved it as much as Matt, it was really a phenomenal book and definitely worth reading. Carey’s ability to evoke a character through dialog and minute physical description is one of the things that made me love one of his other novels, Oscar & Lucinda and in Theft he is deft in his creation of Butcher Bones and his brother Hugh.

Butcher is a ruined artist, the son of a butcher (hence his nickname), and a divorced man who has lost custody of his young son, so the theft referenced in the title could apply to many things. However, this book actually plays out a bit like a classic heist movie and seemingly unrelated digressions from the main plot end up having
significance later in the story.

Tonight if the basketball isn’t keeping my attention, I intend to start the next book in Garth Nix’s Keys to the Kingdom series. Yes, it’s a youth fantasy novel, but it’s still a novel and I loved the first few books in the series so I have high hopes for this one. In the meantime, go check Theft out of the library and give it a read. You won’t be disappointed.

Red Carpet Review!

If you’re anything like us, you were glued to the television last night to watch the stars walk the red carpet and receive their Oscars. Matt attended the event in his usual haute couture: Polka-dotted Gap PJ bottoms & long-sleeved t-shirt, while I was looking lovely in my mauve heart PJs by Old Navy 😉 The last haute couture purchase I made was a lovely Kate Spade bag that now sits in storage covered with dust and slight trace of spit up! And yet, I still consider myself qualified to comment on the stars, much the same way that I consider myself to be one of the finest arm-chair coaches in NCAA basketball history (but more about that during March Madness!). So I will start on a positive note with the stars that I thought looked marvelous last night:

  • Maggie Gyllenhaal – Abs Fabs in her asymmetrical gown!
  • Portia de Rossi – Could she be any more gorgeous?
  • Rachel Weisz – OK, she made the list despite a bizarre grape-cluster looking necklace.
  • Helen Mirren – She was the Queen in my book long before she played one in the movies!
  • Abigail Breslin – This adorable Little Miss Sunshine Star brought her stuffed Curious George to the Oscars. I love it!

And of course, Ellen was even better than anticipated. Her retro tuxes were a perfect dress-up version of her usual casual chic style and I loved every joke and antic. Well done! Even though there were no gaffes the likes of Bjork’s swan attire from days gone by, there were a few people I thought should have chosen something a bit different for the big night.

  • Jennifer Hudson – She’s so fab that I hate to include her in this list, but what was that weird snake-skin metalic jacket???? Thank goodness she lost it in time to receive her award!
  • Al & Tipper Gore – Love the environmental work, Al, but you both need to hit the gym!
  • Penelope Cruz – Matt & I argued about whether the train of her dress was more feather duster or shag rug. Yikes!
  • Gwyneth Paltrow – Her dress would have been great if she had the class hourglass figure. She needs to eat some cheeseburgers, though, before she can pull it off!

I promise you there will be some more substantive posts in this category, but I’ve only just started reading Peter Carey’s Theft, so I can’t comment just yet!!!