Category Archives: food

Make the Basics Part IV: Goat Cheese

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I’ve written before about how easy it is to make goat cheese, but it is worth another post, especially one with pretty pictures! For a few years now, I’ve made goat cheese to give as holiday gifts to close friends. After getting rave reviews from recent recipients, I was reminded again that people should know just how incredibly easy this is to do. It may sound and look impressive (and maybe I should keep people in the dark so they continue to think I’m amazing!), but really, a monkey could do this.

fresh milk
milk in pot
cheesecloth

The biggest hurdle (and it’s not very big) is getting the main ingredients: goat’s milk and the chèvre culture. Other materials you will need are a thermometer, colander, slotted spoon and butter muslin (or cheesecloth). If you’re lucky like me and live in Maine, you can likely get fresh unpasteurized goat’s milk at your local farmers’ market (I get mine from Mainely Poultry for $5 per 1/2 gallon) or possibly a health food store/co-op/purveyor of local foods. Culture can come from a number of different sources. I use New England Cheese Making Supply. It works well to start a batch before going to bed at night and then letting it drain over the course of the next day. By that evening, it’s ready to eat! Just so you can see how easy it is, here are instructions based on those from New England Cheese Making Supply (I’m not sure why they left out the “let your spoiled cat lap up the leftover milk” step):

1) Heat 1 gallon of goat’s milk to 86° F.

2) Add 1 packet C20G (the culture) and stir.

3) Cover and let set at 72° F (it will still come out fine if it’s a bit cooler than this) for 12 hours.

4) Ladle curd gently into a butter muslin (or cheese cloth) lined colander.

5) Hang and drain for 6 to 12 hours (depending on desired consistency).

slotted spoon
goat cheese draining
goat cheese draining

Yup, that’s all there is to it. Once the cheese has drained, you’ll want to mix in a teaspoon or two of sea or kosher salt per gallon of milk to bring out the flavor (and slow the growth of bacteria), and you can add other herbs or spices too. For the holidays, I sprinkled rosemary and red pepper flakes on the surface of the rounds for a festive feel. If you’re giving them as gifts and want to get all Martha Stewarty, you can create a cute label and package too!

adding herbs
packaging

Probably because it’s so much fresher than what you would buy from the store, the taste is remarkable. And if you find a reasonably priced source of goat’s milk, it’s definitely financially worth it to make your own…especially when you have a bit of a cheese addiction. Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything. A gallon usually makes 5 or 6 rounds about 2½ inches in diameter. I doubt it will still be sitting in anybody’s fridge for very long, but it seems to hold up very well even 10 days later. Give it a try! It’s easy and satisfying, and you’ll impress the hell out of your friends.

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Natural Food

As yesterday was the first day since last winter I’ve worn a hat all day (don’t worry, it’s okay to do crazy stuff like that here in Maine) and the occasional snowflake is gently floating through the air, I thought I’d better get some fall photos posted before the next season is officially upon us. In reviewing some recent food photos and then some snapshots from fall walks in the woods, I was immediately struck by some similarities. I could see many compelling correlations ranging from colors to textures to composition. There are a couple probable reasons for this. I suspect I am drawn to the same hues, surfaces and shapes no matter the subject, but it’s also possible that I draw inspiration from the things I see and photograph in the natural world and then subconsciously mimic those elements in more artificial settings. At least, I sort of hope that’s the case! Either way, I enjoyed the exercise of pairing these photos. And I hope you enjoy viewing them.

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Jam Session

concord grapes from Hannah Holmes

An acquaintance who lives one street over posted this notice on Facebook last month: “Neighbors: We have a few hundred pounds of organic, free-range, native, sustainably pollinated Concord grapes fixing to fall off the vines and make a righteous mess. Want?” My answer was, more or less, “I’ll be right over!” First, I have a hard time turning down fresh, free food growing in someone’s yard. Secondly, I’d long thought bunches of wild, deep indigo Concord grapes would be a fantastic photo subject. Thirdly, I seem to have a masochistic desire to complete recipes that involve ridiculously time-consuming, tedious steps, but that result in a very satisfying or unusual end product. So, yes, I basically spent the better part of two days picking and then photographing grapes in various stages of undress, making the jam, and then shooting the pretty purple spread.

concord grape jam from Hannah Holmes' grapes
Hannah
was not kidding when she said they had a few hundred pounds of grapes. The smell immediately hit me when I arrived in her driveway. It was so intense it almost seemed artificial, like grape Kool-Aid scent wafting through the air. The vines stretch from her garage all the way down a fence that extends at least 50 feet along the length of her backyard. When you’re surrounded by these plump, purple orbs, it’s hard not to pop one in your mouth, so, of course, I did. Hannah, knowing what I was in for, waited for my reaction with a bemused smile. The tartness immediately made my lips pucker and my eyes grow wide. Wow! That is some seriously intense grape flavor.

concord grape jam from Hannah Holmes' grapes
I spent a couple hours arranging and shooting grape clusters and vines in numerous set ups on a metal background, and then began the process of skinning the grapes. This isn’t as hard as it sounds, but it does take a while…especially when you’re skinning 5 pounds of grapes! When they’re ripe, you can just squeeze one end of the fruit between your thumb and forefinger, and it pops right out of its protective coating. The skins and naked fruit were so cool looking that another round of photos ensued. Eventually, I got back to the jam making itself. I used this recipe, though as is my standard practice when making jam, put in half the amount of sugar the recipe calls for. And for a second batch, I used honey instead of sugar, and I much prefer how that tastes. The jam thickened nicely without pectin after about 45 minutes of simmering. The grape flavor is still incredibly intense in jam form, so one does not need much to satisfy the desire for a hint of sweet, tart fruit flavor. A dollop on top of goat cheese on a cracker or a thin schmear on some whole grain toast is about all you need.

concord grape jam from Hannah Holmes' grapes

If a friend or neighbor has a surplus of these blue-black beauties, or you see them growing on the side of the road, I recommend you run right over and get yourself some antioxidant-rich grape goodness. If a labor-intensive jam isn’t in the cards, try making something simple like juice that could be added to seltzer to make a refreshing homemade grape soda.

Growing Faithful


Every year I fret over our small garden and think nothing is going to survive, let alone prosper. It is still a revelation to me after several years of growing food that you put seeds or tiny seedlings in the ground, they get bigger, blossom and produce beautiful vegetables! It really is satisfying. And, of course, it’s not quite that simple. I weed, add compost and other organic fertilizer to the soil and the plants, water, use organic pest sprays, etc., but inevitably I get busy with other things and my attention wanes as the season goes on. Despite this, we had and have loads of things to harvest, even beans and brassicas that seemed to be getting ravaged by some pest or another early on bounced back formidably and continue to produce glorious green goodies. (Naturally, not everything thrives. For some reason, despite two successive plantings of carrot seeds, we ended up with a grand total of three carrots!)

This year, for the first time, I started some seeds (kale, eggplant, tomatoes, nasturtiums, and a new hybrid of kale and brussel sprouts called flower sprouts) indoors under a small grow light. I seriously doubted these fragile little plants could endure the torrential downpours that have become the norm, and the occasional cold or hot spells we had this spring and summer, not to mention what seems like an absurdly short growing season. But they did! And that experience was even more satisfying because I was nurturing plants from their birth through to their adult stage, and because we ended up with so much more food than we would have if we had been buying all seedlings, which can get to be expensive. Below are some of the results of these efforts (or lack thereof), which, in case you couldn’t tell, I’m quite proud of! Next year, I promise to have a little more faith in the resiliency of a loved-just-enough garden.

Salad Days

Summer is in full swing in Maine, something that doesn’t tend to happen until the 4th of July holiday. Then we all scramble to make the most of our two months of warmth and long days of sunshine. Along with warmth and sun comes vigorous garden growth—at least of the things that don’t get devoured by critters and pests who are just as happy about the new greenery as the gardeners are. (Can you tell that I’m just a wee bit angry that my brassicas are getting munched on by tiny green worms?) A few things that have been productive so far in our garden this year are pictured below: purple-top turnips, sugar snap peas and mixed salad greens.

While I found the turnips incredibly photogenic, I was at a loss for something creative to do with them (no, roasting with olive oil and salt does not count). So I requested ideas from Facebook friends, which, much to my delight, was a good move. Turns out FB is good for something besides wasting time! From roasting with garam marsala to grating and putting in a slaw or frittata, there were several excellent suggestions. The one that captured my imagination the most, though, was from Ellen Strickler at Willow Hill Springs Farm. She suggested slicing them thin and drizzling with plum vinegar and sesame oil. I loved the idea of eating them raw and the dressing sounded divine, but I also love turning a salad into a meal in the summer. So with other items I had on hand, I made a salad comprised of our mixed greens (which include lots of lovely Asian greens like tatsoi and pac choi grown from Johnny’s Seeds premium greens mix), the purple-top turnips and Green Spark Farm’s scarlet salad turnips grated, toasted sesame seeds and farm fresh hard-boiled eggs, topped off with the sesame oil plum vinegar dressing. Having grated veggies in a salad completely changes the texture and feel of it, and in a good way I think. I also really like the Asian elements of this dish (daikon would be a great turnip substitute). It makes it just enough different from your standard summer salad that you’ll want to have it over and over again until that pile of purple-top turnips is all gone! And then you’ll mourn their absence.

Renewal


It’s a typical spring in Southern Maine, which is to say foggy, wet and chilly. But that’s okay. I’ve learned to concentrate on things I have control over. Or at least I’m trying to be more aware of not focusing on things I don’t have any control over! Plus, I love the eeriness of the fog. And all the moisture makes vegetation gorgeously green and promotes growth, as evidenced by Fishbowl Farm’s bounty at the farmers’ market last weekend.

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As spring is a time for growth and renewal, it seems an appropriate season to launch my new website. I’m really excited about the extra large images and the ease of navigation, among other things. I can also update it easily, which will mean new work will be added regularly. Check it out and let me know what you think!

Living the Good Life

I look forward to most of the assignments I get from The New York Times. Naturally, they do stories on interesting things and people and because I shoot primarily for the Dining & Wine and Home & Garden sections, I’m almost always guaranteed to get gigs I’m interested in. But sometimes one comes along that I’m not just interested in, but really, really excited about. When the picture editor for the Home & Garden section contacted me last fall about a story in Harborside, Maine, I knew right away who the subjects were before she even told me. “Sounds like it must be Eliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch,” I wrote. “That’s exactly who it is!” she replied. Well, almost everyone who has been gardening, especially in Maine, for any length of time, has heard of this organic gardening powerhouse couple. Damrosch’s Garden Primer, a grower’s bible, sits tattered and soil-stained on many a bookshelf, including mine. And Coleman’s recent books on extending the growing season into the winter have changed the landscape of growing in colder climates. His contributions to organic gardening go on and on; just flip through a Johnny’s Selected Seed catalog and see how many times his name is mentioned as a developer of ground-breaking (sometimes literally!) farming tools.

Coleman prepares a bed for seeding with one of the tools he invented, the tilther, which is powered by a rechargeable drill.

So, as an avid home gardener, and year-round supporter of organic farms, it was with great enthusiasm and anticipation that I drove down the long, windy road to Cape Rosier, about three hours northeast of Portland in early February to take the photos for this article on winter growing. This is storied territory; the legendary back-to-landers Helen and Scott Nearing lived here. Greatly influenced by their book Living the Good Life, Coleman sought them out in 1968 and purchased land from them on which to farm and live. Over the decades, what is now called Four Season Farm has grown into a tidy compound of greenhouses, barns, root cellars, a farmstand/art gallery and housing for Coleman, Damrosch and their seasonal workers.

In one of three root cellars on Four Season Farm, Coleman holds a mangold, which is a giant beet that they use as feed for the chickens.

Although Mother Nature did not cooperate by providing the snow cover Maine is so often associated with in this season, there were plenty of scenic shots to be had. Greenhouses filled with leeks, onions, carrots, spinach and other greens were a sight for storage-vegetable-saturated eyes (and bellies). Coleman told me that even after all these years of winter growing, he is still filled with child-like excitement when he unfurls a row cover and sees green in the middle of winter. I know the feeling, though on a much smaller scale. My husband and I put some spinach seeds in a small, covered raised bed in late fall one year and the next spring opened up the cover to find big, beautiful spinach leaves. We were truly amazed as we didn’t really think anything could survive the Maine winter outdoors! Now it is our practice to plant spinach in October for an early spring harvest of sweet, green leaves.

A bed of spinach that was planted in the fall continues to grow through the winter in an unheated greenhouse on the farm.

Damrosch harvests tatsoi, a hardy Asian green that is growing in a glasshouse attached to their home.

Damrosch is an accomplished cook (with a cookbook coming out next year) and after a couple of hours roaming around the farm happily photographing the winter bounty, I was lucky enough to partake in a lunch she prepared that was filling enough for a farmer plowing fields all day long. The highlight was a platter of Four Season Farm beets, carrots and spinach thinnings. And what a treat it was just to sit at a table with these two stalwarts of organic growing, eating beautiful food and enjoying good conversation, their love of their lives and work—which are really one in the same—readily apparent. Not that they aren’t incredibly busy and I’m sure, at times, stressed out, but they seem to be possessed of an energy more often found in people decades younger.

Lunch fit for a farmer.

Damrosch and Coleman: clearly a couple that was meant to be!

After lunch, Eliot, who is 73, got right back to work preparing a row in one greenhouse for seeding carrots and then sowing the seed. Then dozens of eggs needed to be collected, washed and packaged for sale. In peak growing season, I can only imagine how much more there is to keep track of. I left feeling completely impressed and inspired by how hard these two work and all they have accomplished. How they live their lives is laudable, but even more noteworthy is how they’ve empowered others to live the good life too. Not everyone can have multiple acres to grow food on, nor the time to tend to it, but certainly incorporating small bits of what Damrosch and Coleman do into one’s own life is possible in many cases. Despite living on tenth-of-an-acre plots in suburban South Portland, after this article came out, a neighbor and I started discussing how and where we could build a little greenhouse to extend our short growing season. Maybe by next spring our tiny winter spinach-growing project will have blossomed into one that can keep at least four people in fresh organic greens through the winter!

Heading towards the barn at day’s end.