gingerbread village

Having spotted a charming image of flat gingerbread houses carved in low relief and filled with powdered sugar, we just had to try it for ourselves.

A whole wintry afternoon was spent in great joyful making. We altered our gingerbread recipe with 1/2 light rye and 1/2 whole spelt, maple syrup and birch sugar. Not a problem. Before we baked the cookies, we used any implement we could find – metal straws, toothpicks, ornate silverware, fine knives – to carve and draw into the house-shapes.

We thoroughly enjoyed researching old buildings and borrowing their architectural details. When we lived in Europe we were particularly fond of shops at the street level and apartments above, along Dutch canals, along Parisian streets. My youngest made her own patisserie, complete with striped gabled awnings, and baked goods in the windows!

We set a cup of birch sugar zinging in the blender for a few minutes til it was thoroughly powdered. When rubbed into the grooves in the baked, cooled cookies it had a better result than bought icing sugar (and a little less sweetness for our holiday diet, too).

This way of decorating feels like printmaking, like rubbing ink into an etched plate. Such fun.

‘Tis a lovely thing to do with family and friends on a chilly winter’s day.

feta cheese

Some friends came round for a day of cheesemaking. Feta! We followed the recipe from Mary Karlin’s excellent Artisan Cheesemaking at Home, reprinted below with kind permission. Little by little I’m becoming accustomed to the basic steps in cheesemaking, and if you’re so inclined, I so encourage you to try it.

Cleaning and laying out tools. Raising the milk to temperature, adding the starter, whisking it up and down. Covering for a certain time to ripen until whey and curds separate and show a clean break. Cutting the curds to a certain size, depending on how much whey to release.

Stirring them, letting them rest. Lining a colander with damp butter muslin, filling it with curds, tying it up and hanging it to drain. These natural waiting times are just right for sitting down with the children to knit, preparing a meal, or going outside to play.

We were excited to go a step further than other cheeses we’ve tried at home, and move the sack to a mold, and flip it after an hour. Though a press isn’t required, the cheese acquires a very pleasing shape. A square mould would’ve been traditional, but do use what you have. There’s something wonderful that happens when you see it – a cheese! This familiar object! The children were as amazed as I.

They helped with it all. I love for them to know how this is done, that this is possible, even easy. This comfort with old skills is often absent from our lives, and I feel good when it is restored.

How gratifying it is to submerge the cheese in a light cold brine. Three weeks wait makes tasting the cheese all the more exciting. Ah. This feta is very pleasing, and we can’t help peeking into the fridge with pleasure, to gaze on our homemade cheese. We’ll make it again come summer with milk from the goats on the farm, to pair with our homegrown tomatoes, basil, peppers.

Here’s the recipe:

Recipes attributed to Mary Karlin (c), reprinted by permission from Artisan Cheese Making at Home, Ten Speed Press; artisancheesemakingathome.com and Mastering Fermentation, Ten Speed Press; masteringfermentation.com

Feta

Makes: 1 pound
Milk: Pasteurised or raw goat’s milk, or alternatively cow’s or sheep’s milk
Start to Finish: 4 to 26 days: 2 ½ hours to make the cheese; 4 hours to drain; 5 days to cure dry salted; 21 days to cure in brine (optional)

1 gallon goat’s milk
¼ teaspoon mild lipase powder diluted in ¼ cup cool non-cholorinated water 20 minutes before using (optional)
¼ teaspoon Aroma B powdered mesophilic starter culture
¼ teaspoon liquid calcium carbonate diluted in ¼ cup cool non-chlorinated water (omit of using raw milk)
½ teaspoon liquid rennet diluted in ¼ cup cool non-chlorinated water
2 to 4 tablespoons flake sea salt or kosher salt
Kosher salt or cheese salt for brining (optional)

1.Read through the recipe and review any terms and techniques you aren’t familiar with. Assemble your equipment, supplies and ingredients, including a dairy or kitchen thermometer; clean and sterilize your equipment as needed and lay it out on clean kitchen towels.

2.In a nonreactive, heavy 6-quart stockpot, combine the milk and the diluted lipase, if using, gently whisking the lipase into the milk using an up-and-down motion for 20 strokes. Place over low heat and slowly heat the milk to 86F. This should take 18 to 20 minutes. Turn off the heat.

3.When the milk is at temperature, sprinkle the starter over the milk and let rehydrate for 2 minutes. Whisk the starter into the milk to incorporate, using an up-and-sown motion for 20 strokes. Cover and, maintaining the temperature at 86F, let the milk ripen for 2 hour. (Refer to page 17 for tips on maintaining curds or milk at a steady temperature for a period of time.)

4.Add the diluted calcium chloride to the ripened milk and gently stir with a whisk using and up-and-down motion for 1 minute. Add the diluted rennet and incorporated in the same way Cover and maintain at 86F for 1 hour, or until the curds form a solid mass with light yellow whey floating on top and show a clean break (see page 18). If there is no clean break after 1 hour, test again in 15 minutes.

5.Cut the curds into ½-inch pieces (see page 19) Still maintaining a temperature of 86F, allow them to sit undisturbed for 10 minutes. Using a rubber spatula, gently stir the curds for 20 minutes to release more whey and keep the curds from matting. The curds will look more pillow-like at the end of this process. If you want a firmer curd, raise the temperature to 90F for this step. let the curds rest for 5 minutes, undisturbed, still at temperature. The curds will settle to the bottom of the pot.

6.Line a colander with clean damp cheesecloth or butter muslin and, using a slotted spoon, transfer the curds to the colander. Tie the corners of the cloth together to create a draining sack (see page 20) then let drain for 2 hours, or until the whey has stopped dripping. The curds should form a solid ass and feel firm; if not, let them dry for another hour. If you desire a more uniform shape, after ½ hour of draining in the colander, transfer the sack to a square cheese mold or plastic mesh tomato basket set over a draining rack. Line the mold with the sack curds, press the cheese out into the corners of the mold and finish draining. Remove the cheese from the cloth and flip it over every hour in this draining process to help even out the texture and firm up the cheese.

7.When it is drained, transfer the cheese to a bowl. Cut it into 1-inch-thick slices and then into 1-inch cubes. Sprinkle the chunks with flake sea salt, making sure all the surface are covered. Loosely cover the bowl with a lid or plastic wrap and allow to age in the salt for 5 days in the refrigerator. Check daily and pour off and expelled whey. The feta can be used at this point or stored in a brine. Or for a saltier flavor, dry salt and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours then transfer to alight brine (see page 24) to finish for another 21 days. If the finished cheese is too salty for your taste, soak the cheese in nonchlorinated water for 1 hour, then let drain before using. Feta can be stored for a few months in a brine.

Thanks ever so much, Mary. We adore your books.

herbal cough syrup

We like to forage for plants in early autumn that support our health through winter illnesses. A very timely medicinal harvest, like the nettles in spring. Some years I’ve made elderberry cordial, others, rosehip cordial. The following simple homemade herbal cough syrup includes both, plus hibiscus and honey for a delicious variation without refined sugar. If you can forage the ingredients fresh – brilliant! Luckily, the dried versions available at herbal shops are also great, so you can make this remedy anytime you need it.

My tall girl spotted elderberries growing just next door to our friend’s place, as we set off on a walk while our dried herbs were infusing!

We used dried elderberries. Add rosehips and hibiscus to these, about 1 part each to 2 parts elderberry.

Simmer these until very soft in just less than double the weight in water as you have in herbs. So, if you have 500g of herbs, use about 900ml of water.

Strain them through a scalded cloth. You can hang this to drain overnight if you like, to get every last bit.

Once the infusion has cooled, pour in raw honey – 1 part honey to 2 parts herbal infusion.

cough_syrup

Stir it up gently and store it in small, very clean bottles in the fridge til required! We take a spoonful when we feel a sore throat coming on.

(I reserve the stewed herbs to make an infused vinegar, too.) Stay well!

ricotta cheese 

While it is true that one can extract a bit of ricotta cheese by cooking acidified whey leftover from yogurt or other dairying, I like to produce this simple cheese from a gallon of goat’s milk (from the goats we are tending now! That’s a story for another day.) Quite a lot of cheese is produced using this method, and it is the easiest and the quickest cheese I know. Let me show you how it’s done.

You’ll need a pot that easily holds a gallon of milk,
an acid like lemon, vinegar, or citric acid,
sea salt,
a thermometer,
a whisk,
some cheesecloth or butter muslin,
a colander,
a fine mesh strainer,
a slotted spoon,
and a bit of string just in case.

Make sure all of your tools are very clean. Cheesemaking books say to sterilise them – I use straight vinegar, well rinsed away, after hot, soapy water, and I scald my cheesecloth.

First, acidify the milk with lemon, vinegar, or citric acid – I use 1.5 teaspoons of the latter in our goat’s milk. In cow’s milk, use less.

Add a teaspoon of sea salt. Using a whisk and making up-and-down motions is a good habit to get into when cheesemaking.

ricotta

Raise the temperature very slowly, over a good ½ hour, to between 184 – 190F, stirring now and then to prevent burning on the bottom.

When you see the milk separate into curds and whey (chartreuse liquid), you’re done – take off the heat and cover the pot, let it sit for ten minutes.

Scoop out the whey into a clean cloth – I use butter muslin – over a strainer, first using a slotted spoon, and at the end, a fine mesh strainer.

IMG_0774.JPG

Gather the corners of the cloth and tie them securely, and then string this up to suspend the ricotta to drain for a quarter of an hour. Sometimes I put two tall milk bottles on either side of the bowl with a long wooden spoon holding the tie. The longer you drain it, the dryer. After that you could put a plate on top, and a weight of some kind over it, and you’d have paneer!

You’ll have a lot of whey left. If I cannot use it up in a couple of days, I freeze it or use it in my fermented chicken feed. However, you can add it to soup, to sourdough starter, in place of water in any baking recipe, in milk shakes. It’s really high protein.

Keep the ricotta in the fridge for up to a week – ours never lasts a day. Glorious in lasagne, desserts, on homemade crackers with some herbs.

pickling cucumbers

Something of a curse has hung over my pickling ambitions. Each time I had the luck of finding pickling cucumbers in late summer – great joy! Delight! A week later, those cucumbers would remain, decidedly unpreserved, aging unpleasantly in the fridge, my life having swamped us with some unforeseen and dramatic circumstance. Once more this summer, old fashioned fainting episodes, emergency journeys! On the second pickling attempt I steeled myself for calamities. Despite threatening chaos, we pickled! Now, I’m ever so pleased to show you how easy it is to pickle, if you’re as nervous (me) and excited (all the neighbourhood children) as we were. What’s more, I’ve the fresh-pack dill cucumber pickle recipe we used, here, so generously, from Canning & Preserving with Ashley English. Thanks, my friend!

ingredients-s.jpg

You will need:

  • 6 pounds pickling cucumbers
  • ¾ cup pickling salt (divided)
  • 4 cups white vinegar
  • Garlic cloves, peeled
  • Dill seed
  • Fresh dill heads (if unavailable use dried dill)
  • Black peppercorns

blossom-cut cucumbers

The children on the lake gathered in our kitchen one late summer evening, and took turns to prepare the cucumbers for an overnight brine.

Rinse the cucumbers in cold water. Scrub gently with a vegetable brush to loosen any hidden soil. Remove a thin slice from the blossom end of each cucumber (if you can’t tell which end is the blossom end, just take a thin slice off of each end).

salted cucumbers

Place the cucumbers in a nonreactive glass or ceramic bowl, add ½ cup pickling salt, cover with water, place a plate or towel over the top, and set in a cool place or the refrigerator overnight or for 8 hours.

brined cucumbers

In the morning, all the children returned for a bit of dill pickling, peeling garlic and measuring vinegar.

Drain off the brine.

rinsed cucumbers

Rinse the cucumbers thoroughly to remove salt residue. Set aside.

Sterilize 8 pint mason jars, lids and screw rings.

In a medium stainless-steel pan, combine vinegar, 3 ½ cups water, and ¼ cup pickling salt. Bring the brine to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, and set aside.

(The taller children and I did the very hot bits.)

spiced pickle

Many (little) hands make light work.

Into each sterilized jar, place 1 garlic clove, ½ teaspoon dill seed, 1 dill head or ½ teaspoon dried dill, and 8 black peppercorns.

packed pickles

Process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath. Remember to adjust for altitude.

pickled pickles

Oh, we all enjoyed making these, how nice to have a cupboard full of dill pickles. With such a lovely experience of making fresh-pack pickles, now we must investigate making our own fermented pickles! And pickling throughout the year, beets, squash, anything you like. Thanks for the introduction, Ashley. You might like to check out her tried & true, here.

fishing lessons

On the lake we are learning to fish. My young cousin taught the girls patiently, and reminded me of knowledge I had years ago, fishing with grandfathers and uncles, on rivers and oceans, fishing for goldeye, rock cod, salmon. Our Finnish heritage is fine-tuned to forests and lakes, you can see us all settle in the way you do when you get home.

fishing-lessons05s.jpg

This lake is tiny and perfectly formed. It was named Teanook Lake by Emily Carr herself, who rode in on her buggy to paint it nearly a century ago. Can you picture her here? With a flask of tea, I think. I’ve been photographing its beauty daily, in all its Monet-like changes, and could go on for a lifetime. My tall girl wants a paintbox to continue the tradition.

fishing lessons

Getting the hang of angling isn’t so hard – and then, oh, what a pleasing game. The arc and whistle, the bobbing movement, the timing, the winding and watching. The tension of the line! Catching it with your finger, holding til you let go at just the right moment – I tell you, the knitters in my history met the fisherfolk, and they nodded in appreciation. Any sort of practice that requires silence, stillness, observation, a bit of skill, I love it. If this was your only opportunity for meditation, it would be enough.

fishing lessons

My tall girl got it quickly and landed a small fish on her first go – it was exuberantly celebrated and promptly sent back. In less than a moment the children fell in love with fishing on the lake, and they want their own tackle, their own rods.

fishing lessons

How I’ve longed to return to fishing! It took me a few tries to remember how, it’s been easily 30 years since my grandfather took me out for my own fishing lessons on Winnipeg river. We’d stay in a spot for a matter of minutes; if there weren’t any bites we’d move on to another. My father would nap, hat over the eyes. Once, as a small girl, I caught eighteen goldeye in a row. My little Finnish grandmother would race up the steps to the old family cottage and down to where the fish were cleaned and smoked. I can recall the flavour like it was last night’s dinner, and see my grandfather eating fish soup at the red gingham-covered table. I didn’t know then how lucky I was.

Oh, we’d race down the dock and jump into that river after a sauna as I’d love to jump into this lake – without a sauna it’s still too cold for wild swimming, this rainy late May.

fishing lessons

I bet all the old folks would be deeply pleased to see the next generation of cousins out on the dock together, still fishing. It pleases me ever so much.

Do you love learning old-time skills too? You might like to see the the old school movies. Don’t miss my next projects, get the postcards!