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.

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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.

lip balm

Making our own lip balm is easier and faster than preparing dinner most nights. Even with highest quality ingredients, making it is cheaper than buying it, and one can make it just so. What’s more, melting oils and waxes and watching them set is ever so pleasing.

Sourcing your ingredients and some good tins is the trickiest bit. (Locals, we are particularly fond of places like The Soap Dispensary in Vancouver, and Self-Heal Herbs in Victoria for this stuff!)

We made this with young friends recently (with the elders in charge of melting ingredients) and it took no time at all.

There’s not much to it:

1 tablespoon shea butter 

1 tablespoon coconut oil 

2 tablespoons sweet almond, hemp oil, or olive oil  

2 tablespoons beeswax, grated, or up to 4 tablespoons if you prefer a firm, less oily balm 

optional: 1/4 tsp edible oil/extract such as peppermint, orange, vanilla 

Melt the butters, oils and wax in a double boiler, or a heatproof bowl set inside a pot, above an inch or so of water, set to very low heat.
Once melted, remove from the heat and then stir in the flavoured oil.
Pour the mixture into tins and let it set without lids until morning, or chill it in the fridge if you’re in a hurry.

Like making soap, a little effort once a year or so is all that’s required to make what we need. I like that I can refill the containers, too, when we run out. Nothing wasted.

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.

apron fence

As we prepare for keeping chickens, fencing our garden is a critical task. Late winter is an excellent time to take care of this, on the coast, as the plantlife is still bare enough to allow for building, and other tasks in the garden can wait. To keep our lovely neighbour’s dogs from simply walking right under the existing fence, where they pose a cute but deadly hazard to our future hens – if only because chickens can be chased to death – I put together a simple apron fence.
apron fence, before.

An apron fence bends into an L shape where it meets the ground, and the fencing that lies along the ground is covered up with a bit of earth or rock. It is ideal for discouraging digging creatures. Being inexpensive and easy to install, and requiring only wire, gloves, a staple gun, and basic eye-protection, makes it quite appealing.

Attach wire along base of the fence. I used heavy staples. As you go along (or before you begin if your ground is predictably even) bend the wire into an L-shape where it meets the ground, so that it lays away from you, stretching out several inches beyond the fence. The wire mesh outside your fence is best buried under the earth somewhat, but our land is so rocky, instead I laid some large rocks over the apron to hold it down, and put a few on our side too. Chicken wire isn’t as long lasting as I’d like, but we had it to hand. Most animals will try digging in places along the apron and eventually give up.

apron fence, after.

Not a pretty thing, but the ferns promise to return with spring and mask it beautifully.

country dance

Not so long ago, when we first thought of leaving London for a tiny village in Sussex, a village fair (with Buster Keaton playing in the hall!) and a barn dance persuaded us that we’d found our community. Glorious fiddling, young and old dancing round a barn at the local farm, beautiful food on the tables from the land around. We met such fine friends there, and we miss them very much. So, here in the tiny community surrounding our new island home in the forested Highlands, with great joy, we went to our first country dance at the old schoolhouse.

country-dance-twirl

Some of us were so excited, we began before the accordion started, even as the potluck was being packed away.

country-dance-caller

Here is the caller, stepping in to dance with my small one to round out the pairs. Later she danced with our beloved village elder, now in his nineties, youngest and eldest.

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These are simple dances, and deceptively so. We were astonished at how flushed and tired we could get! Country-dance workout. We’ve been reading Austen all winter, and watching films of her books, so a dance like this echoes stories across history. “A ball? I long for a ball!”

the old schoolhouse

Out of the old schoolhouse, back into the world of snow and ice.