March 28, 2010

One of those days

It's been one of those days...rainy, gloomy and chilly. I woke up with a migraine today and it was already full blown so there was little I could do to thwart it's progress. So I battled it through early afternoon when it began to subside. I hate the feelings that are left head is numb on one side, my left hand's fingertips couldn't feel when I tried to pick things up, and I'm just a tad unstable on my feet. Thankfully, they don't strike very often...knock, knock.

I've been feeling kinda blue for a few days...sort of a worried, fretful kind of blue that wears me down. But aside from listening, encouraging, lending a shoulder to cry on, a little guidance and perspective adjustment with some gentle nudging, there's nothing I can do but pray. So...I'm just wandering along pondering my meanderings. And praying a lot.

March 27, 2010

Oh, well

There's an old saying about not being able to see the forest for the trees, I'm sure you've heard it. Then there's the opposite situation, not being able to see the individual trees for the forest. I guess it depends on your focus.

March 26, 2010

Another raw milk project

Good morning!

The sour cream and labni or fromage blanc are both delicious! The buttermilk is going to need a little more time to culture.

The next project that I'm making with my raw milk is milk kefir. The reported health benefits of kefir are many. You can find a lot of info online and in various books about it. Kefir comes to us from the Caucasis mountains and the Eastern Mediterranean. Kefir is a cultured milk product similar to yogurt but because it has very low curd tension, it is a liquid. It's made from a symbiotic culture of lactose fermenting bacteria and lactose fermenting yeast that co-exist forming a polysccharide grain. It's the only milk culture to form grains. These grains look like a little clumps of cauliflower or coral.

The smaller particles in kefir make it easier to digest than yogurt. Getting back to our discussion about homogenization, these particles are made smaller by the partial digestion that takes place by culturing the milk with a lactofermenting organism rather than by physically changing the structure by artificial means.

As with yogurt, kefir is great in smoothies with a little fruit and honey. The taste of kefir is more refreshing than yogurt. It is mucous-forming but that is one thing that makes it work well in our digestive tract. It actually coats the walls of our intestines making a welcoming home for beneficial bacteria to grow. Because it is made with completely different organisms, kefir does not feed yeast and many folks who can't tolerate lactose can drink kefir without problems.
Kefir is also reported to have antibiotic properties as well as detoxification benefits.

In a quart jar mix 2 cups of whole raw milk and 2 T of kefir grains. Cover and let rest in a warm place for 12-48 hours. Stir or shake the mix occasionally. Taste it...if the tartness is to your liking, strain the grains of kefir out of the milk for your next batch. The grains can be stored in a little milk in the frig until you're ready to make it again. Oxygen and a little heat are needed for the cultures to work so when you remove those elements, the process slows down or stops. There will also be some formation of curds in the mix. I used to mix those back into the kefir but my friend told me that it's beneficial to the grains to be stored in the curd mix until you next batch and I've found that the grain size has increased a lot faster by doing this.

The fun thing about kefir is that is actually develops a little effervescence as it cultures. A fizzy milk drink is a little different but it's easy to develop a taste for it.

Quick Tip - when I mention the addition of heat, I'm not talking about very much. I've found the ideal place to culture all the things that I've been making is in a warm corner of my kitchen counter next to the frigerator and behind the coffee pot. The only one that has to be wrapped and insulated is the yogurt.

March 25, 2010

A new day

Remember yesterday's yogurt? It's really tasty with a little blueberry preserves!

Cream Cheese
Today I've dumped a quart of yogurt into a strainer lined with a cotton kitchen towel. The strainer is sitting on top of a bowl to catch the liquid that drains out. After about a hour, I gathered the corners of the towel and hung it from a cabinet knob over the bowl. It will hang there for 6-48 hours. What's left over is Fromage Blanc, a lower fat variety of cream cheese because it is made from whole milk instead of cream. The liquid is cultured whey. Whey has a lot of minerals and can be added to many things in the kitchen. Think whey protein powder.

QUICK TIP: It is reported that one tablespoon of whey in a little water can ease digestion.

Try using whey instead of water for a lemonade that is refreshing and full of nutrients.

Sour Cream
My second project was to make sour cream from my raw milk. To do this, I needed to purchase a small container of good quality buttermilk from the store. In a quart jar, I add 2 cups of raw milk and 2T. buttermilk. Put the lid on and shake. I'll let this stand in a warm place for 24-48 hours.

Traditional buttermilk is what's left over after making butter. But my husband likes to drink cultured buttermilk.
I'll mix 2 cups of raw milk with 1/4 cup of my store bought buttermilk and cover. Like the sour cream, this will rest in a warm place for 24 hours. Now that I've made my own buttermilk, I won't need to buy it the next time. I'll use 1/4 cup of the homemade buttermilk to start my next batch.

All three projects took only minutes to prepare and tomorrow I'll have lots of good quality, additive free dairy products for my family. And I should add that all this was done at a fraction of the cost to buy all these things at the grocery store.

Try it! Enjoy!

March 24, 2010

It's a beautiful day in Pennsylvania!

Good morning! It's a lovely sunny day today. My friend is celebrating her last birthday today. From here on out they will all be anniversaries! And when I reach my birthday, I'll be the same age as she so I like the way she thinks!

This is the beginning of my experiment in blogging about trying harder to do all the things described above in my blog header. All about who the green, herbal, natural me really is. Unfortunately for you, this is also my journaling blog so you may have to weed through the stuff I write.

As the story unfolds, you'll learn things about me, about my love of herbs and the many different "Back to Basics" things I'm trying to incorporate into my life. I think I should have been born at least 100 years earlier, but God knows best. I'd be very happy living in a cabin in the woods, having to spend my day growing and making things to feed my family from the abundance around me and care for their needs, be it emotional, physical or whatever. My dream is to be a "woodwife" of sorts. Problem is sometimes I'd like to take my family there and live like hermits. This fallen world gets me down from time to time.

So...onward with what you came here for.

I made a trip to the dairy farm this week. Humans are the only mammals who drink milk after they are weaned. We've made it into an entire food group! I'm trying to eliminate as many artificially processed foods from our diet as possible. The many natural processes humans can use to culture milk are beneficial to us because they begin to break down the milk proteins, add probiotics, make digestion easier because the process has already been started, and this makes the nutrients more readily available. In times past, these processes prolonged the shelf life of dairy products. Think aged cheese.

You might be wondering why raw milk is better than processed. Let's start at the beginning. Raw milk separates into skim milk and cream. Is that a bad thing or a good thing? Milk also contains enzymes that God put there to help us digest the milk sugars and proteins. Good things right? Because milking conditions can be less than what is considered sanitary, raw milk could be contaminated with bacteria including e-coli. This can be very dangerous as a toxin and can lead to serious health issues and even death.

Pasteurization - As you know from your high school biology class, this process involves heating whatever you're trying to sanitize to a high enough temperature to kill any harmful bacteria present. But, guess what happens to the enzymes and helpful bacteria that are there to help us digest the milk? Yep, they're gone too. What does that mean to us? Well it makes it harder for some folks to drink milk because of lactose intolerance and lack of proper enzyme activity to utilize the nutrients.

(BTW, raw milk sours as it ages but is still safe to use up to a point. Pasteurized milk doesn't have it's natural enzymes to protect it so it is open to contamination and colonization by whatever bacteria is floating around. It putrifies or rots. Not good!)

Homogenization - is the process of reducing the size of the fat globules in the creamy part of milk so they will mix in with the milk rather than separate. They are emulsified. This makes the milk nice and creamy and never needs stirring or skimming. But, in His perfect plan, God made different elements of our food in sizes that, as they are digested and prepared for use by the body, they are reduced to the proper size to pass through our digestive tract at the proper place and be recognised by our body as something it can easily use. If the globules are reduced in size but not predigested, they pass through our digestive system at the wrong place in the wrong state and our body says, "What is this? What am I supposed to do with it?" I don't know where it's supposed to go." So it treats these renegade molecules as foreign substances. Also not good.

Hey, don't take my word for anything you read here. Check it out.

So what am I really getting around to? Yogurt. A cultured milk product that is really good for us. It is full of active cultures that aid in colonizing our intestinal tract with good bacteria. Probiotics. This can support the beneficial bacteria that are supposed to grow there and it can also help to recolonize our system after the natural bacteria has been killed by antibiotic use. Antibiotics, being undiscriminating, basically pasteurize our bodies to eliminate overgrowth of harmful pathogens and in the process kill off the good ones too. These pathogens are bacterial, not viral, so unless a virus has caused an infection (which means there is now bacteria involved), antibiotics don't really help. But you knew that, right?

All that to get to the fact that I made my own yogurt from raw milk that I bought from a local dairy farm whose thorough procedures at making a safe, clean milking environment, lack of growth hormone use, limited use of antibiotics and free range grazing for their cows make me feel confident that what I'm buying is healthy and safe to use in it's raw form.
I decided to make a traditional yogurt using a store bought organic yogurt as a starter. My friend taught me how to do it the "Old World' way that they learned from their grandmother.
Bring 1/2 gallon of milk to a boil over low heat. You can do this with direct heat and a watchful eye or in a double boiler. The reason for this pasteurization is to remove bacteria that will compete with the yogurt culture. So you're saying, "Hey, I thought you just said that was bad!?" Hang on, we're going to replace those enzymes with other enzymes from the culture in a controlled trade off. Relax. Remove the milk from the heat and allow to cool until your little finger can be held in the milk for 10 seconds with out making you holler! Grandma was so technical! Remove the milk scum and mix it with 2T of store bought, organic yogurt. Add this to the milk in a glass jar. Cover the jar with a plate and wrap in towels to keep it warm. Allow to rest for 8 hours or overnight. Refrigerate to chill and enjoy! The results were good. Homemade yogurt is a little thinner than store bought. I'm not sure why.

I also tried a Greek variety. The Greek yogurt has a little different flavor than the traditional variety but surprisingly, the traditional is more sour. What makes them different? I don't know. This calls for more research. Both contain the same live cultures. Where did these cultures come from? I don't know...somebody's grandmother living in a cabin in the woods probably caught them from the air in her milk crock and found that it was a good, healthy thing. A blessing from God.

March 23, 2010

I can only imagine...

What do you think things will be like in Heaven? The Bible tells us a little about it but I'm hoping that all the golden streets and pearly gates lead to paths through peaceful green forests and lovely gardens filled with the essence of flowers, vegetables bursting with flavor and sweet, juicy fruit always ripe for the picking.
Spring is in the air, can you feel it? Our March came in like a lamb so I'm not surprised that we are experiencing a little more cold weather this week. We've put up 5 quarts of maple syrup and are hoping to catch at least one more run before the season ends. This year we decided to sleep out while we tended the fire under the evaporator over night. Temps were mild and we had a lot of fun. We've made lots of good homeschool and family memories around our maple sugaring time. It's a blessing that we can do it together. What fun to sample the changes in the sap as it slowly turns from slightly sweet water to yummy syrup. It's always a delight to drink our maple tea clutching our warm mugs with cold fingers; enjoying the time together too much to think of going inside to get warm. And snow or not, we'll make our annual batch of sugar-on-snow!

March 20, 2010

A good day.

Drip..drip..drip.drip.drip.drip.the steady sound of sap leaving the tap and falling into the bucket; quickly becoming a splash.
The weather has been beautiful this week. We've been gathering maple sap and will begin to reduce it in the next few days. As long as the nights are below freezing and the days are warmer, we can continue to collect sap until the trees begin to bud. We've had some great fun and good memories around the evaporator as we wait for the sweet water to turn into a stronger maple tea and then thicken to syrup. We may have to resort to crushed ice for our annual sugar-on-snow party.
We've modified a wood burner and made an evaporator pan to fit it. There's nothing like the added taste of a little wood smoke to make the syrup especially good!

Planted some leeks in the kitchen garden today. My daughter and I have been looking over seed packets...sorting and discussing what should go where in the garden.

I'm going to build a salad box for a center piece and grow some herbs on the window ledge. Both new ideas in our home. Now, if only I could master the art of growing rosemary indoors.

Attended a whole foods and detox seminar today. Basically it reinforced what I'd read from many sources. All in all it's been a good day.

March 12, 2010

Thank you

Thank you to those folks who bless my life and help me to grow.  I love all of you.

March 10, 2010

Spring fever

The weather has been beautiful the past several days but with all the snow still on the ground, all I can do is plan. I've been getting ready to plant some of my seeds inside under the grow lights. Lots of fun tomatoes.

I'm also thinking about a small, do-it-yourself high tunnel project but I have some decisions to make about location and beds.

Got the urge to tackle a few projects around the house today. One down and one to go and that's enough for today.

March 7, 2010

Maple sugaring time is here!

A certain herald of spring, the sap is flowing in the sugar maples with low temps at night and days just above freezing. Perfect weather for tapping the trees and gathering the sweet sap to boil down into sugar-on-snow and maple syrup. I'm hoping to get my taps out in the next day or so. Maple sugaring is always a great time with lots of fun memories of staying up until the wee hours keeping the fire going; drinking maple "tea" from the evaporator.
Last year we had a group of students here for a demo. They tapped trees, gathered sap and sampled the thickening syrup. We also made individual size homemade ice cream and my favorite, sugar-on-snow. What a way to start off the spring season.
I'm expecting Gimbledorf to show up at some point to give me an update on the mountain folk now that things are beginning to thaw a little. You know, he has a good heart but sometimes he can be a little bit of a bully to the brownies. Robin usually puts him in his place. Fairies are good at that!

March 5, 2010


As I look back over the past year, I can see a story unfolding that warms my heart. A wish that has been floating around in my mind for a couple of years. Rather than say a taunting, "I told you so.", I'll just thank God that He has directed and encouraged and opened doors to bring about a lovely relationship that is like a storybook tale written about two people I care about very much. One my own and one adopted. And I've been especially blessed to be a part of the tale in various ways and watch it take shape. Sometimes things have to be learned the hard way or at least the long way around, and that's alright because no matter how much someone else can see what they believe is the "best" thing for you, you have to find it yourself. So many times we pass an opportunity by thinking that when we find what we're looking for we'll know it right away. An instant spark...true love's kiss...a look that tells all. But often the battles and hurtles and hoops that we have to go through to reach that destination bring us right back to where we started. And then we know. And we never want it to end. So I've been told. :)

March 4, 2010


God is always good to us and has our best interests at heart but this week
He has blessed our family greatly. Let's just say that the fairytale is unfolding nicely and we've had a chance to get to know a very interesting family just a little better this week.
Now, I don't know how the story will end but more doors are opening as the plot unfolds. Maybe it's time for a new chapter of the tale to be recorded in fairytale style. Of course, those of you who know the story are welcome to write your own retelling here as well.

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