Archive for April, 2007

Kefir Cheese and Quark

Sunday, April 29th, 2007

Now that we have some kefir grains, we decided it was time to follow the recommendations of some of our readers and try making kefir cheese.

Iowerth wrote:

Make your kefir cheese much as you would make yogurt cheese:

First make your kefir. Then, strain out the grains, and place the kefir in a porous container such as a cloth bag or a large paper coffee filter (as we did, supporting it with an old coffee filter holder) so that the whey can be collected as it drips out.

Cover and place your kefir in the fridge and in about day, after which the whey should have all dripped out, you have kefir cheese. Add some salt and herbs (to taste) to your cheese and enjoy.

This sounded simple enough to us. . . and so it was. The kefir cheese was delicious mixed with a bit of sea salt and some herbs from the garden. We enjoyed it on top of pieces of sourdough toast.

Kefir cheese on sourdough toast

I’ve also been making another tasty treat using kefir cheese. I found a recipe for “Cheese Pucks” in the Summer 2006 edition of “Wise Traditions” — a publication put out by the Weston A. Price Foundation. The ingredient list looks a bit unlikely, and the name “cheese pucks” made me wonder if the results would be tooth-breakingly hard. I nearly didn’t try this recipe, but I’m very glad I did! The resulting “cheese pucks” are rich, cheesy and somewhat chewy in consistency. If you want to try the recipe, please note that I find I need to add extra arrowroot powder to get the dough into a suitable consistency to roll. Of course, that might be because I substitute kefir cheese for the cream cheese called for in the recipe! I also think that the recipe tastes extra good with a few chives or sprigs of fresh dill snipped into the mixture. The recipe is gluten free, but if you don’t do well on cooked dairy, or don’t want to destroy the live properties of the kefir by cooking it, then it’s probably not for you.

A couple of days ago, we also had our first attempt at making quark. Our neighbours along the road, and some Farmlet readers, have been telling us how easy it is to make. . . and how delicious!

Anita wrote:

I usually let two liters of raw milk stand in a stainless steel pot, lid slightly ajar, for two to three days at room temperature. When the natural souring process is complete, I skim the fresh soured cream off the top, which keeps well in the fridge, but usually gets used quickly in salad dressings, soups and sauces. The skimmed cheese gets poured in a cheesecloth lined bowl and hung for two hours or longer, depending on how wet or dry I want the cheese. Some of the whey gets used for fermenting veggies (our favorites are ginger carrots), some for pre-soaking beans and grains, but the bulk goes to the chickens who love it. The fresh cheese (we call it Quark in German) can be used in a variety of ways, but our absolute favorite is as a dessert. I use a puree stick to blend the cheese smooth and add raw honey, linseed oil and raw milk to get a creamy dessert that is just delicious with fresh or frozen berries.

Kevin and I have been wanting to try making quark for a while! A few days ago we had a couple of extra litres of raw milk, so we decided to give it a go. Mysteriously, we have ended up not with quark and whey, but with several litres of yoghurt. Somehow that milk must have become innoculated with yoghurt culture, though we have no idea how! The milk was handled carefully and soured in a clean stainless steel pot. Our neighbour laughed in disbelief when I confessed that our first quark effort had produced yoghurt. She says she’s never met with such an outcome in all her years of making quark. We will have to try making quark again soon. In the mean time, we have a large additional batch of yoghurt to enjoy. Not a bad consolation prize, though we were really looking forward to trying the quark! I’m about to start a big batch of yoghurt dough, in anticipation of making empanadas in the next day or so.

Earth Works

Tuesday, April 24th, 2007

One fine morning last week, a big truck with a digger perched on the back came rumbling up our driveway. Kevin and I went running out to meet the driver. We had arranged for the digger to come and level a site for the proposed milking shed, as well as dig out a dam on our hillside. This was the big day!

Barry goes right to work on the milking shed site

As the digger went to work, we stood together on the side of the hill, mesmerised. Kevin commented that the digger had moved more earth in five minutes than he had moved in his whole life. Quite humbling! We watched the digger undertake work that would (I imagine) take the two of us (with shovels) the rest of our lives. It was finished by 4 in the afternoon! This exercise has made us ponder anew the wonders that our “petrochemical slaves” can accomplish for us. With this project, we feel we have made prudent use of available petrochemical power to establish water security and farm infrastructure that should serve us well for many years to come.

Shed site

Inset ‘shelf’ for water tank; sandstone and very hard clay

Just below the site for the shed, the digger cut out another smaller level site. This will be for a large water tank to store rainwater harvested from the shed roof. We will use a gravity-feed system to bring this water down to the house for domestic use. The dam will be for irrigation and stock watering. We already have a gravity-feed system coming from a spring on a neighbour’s property. This has been sufficient for our needs so far, but would not be enough for irrigating trees and garden during a dry summer. We are aiming to create a water system with multiple redundancies, so that in the future we will never need to worry about a lack of water on the Farmlet.

The cows looked very curious to see the digger in their paddock. Esmerelda looked taken aback to see something (something bigger and louder than her!) chewing up her hillside. After a while, their curiosity got the better of them. When the digger driver stopped for lunch, three cows wandered over to check out the new terrain. . . and to rub their heads in the fresh dirt. They all got very grubby, and had to be shooed away so that the digging could continue! The animals are now fenced out of the dam area, and this is the way it will stay! After all that work, we don’t want them turning the area into a horrible, boggy mess.

A creature larger than Esmerelda?!

Looking down on the dam area

Erosion has been (and still is) a major concern with all this work. We asked around to find a digger operator with an excellent reputation for building stable dams. My aunt and uncle recommended Barry, and so far we have been very impressed with his work. We asked him to keep the topsoil separate from the subsoil as much as possible, and spread it over the top of the open areas so that it will be easier to re-establish ground cover. We have already mulched part of the dam walls, and have sown lupins and mustard for cover. Eventually, we hope to plant mat-rooted plants (like New Zealand flax) on the dam walls. We also hope to plant other trees and plants, in order to create a special micro-climate around the dam.

Finished and ready

Water storage dams need to be deep in order to work well, but I had hoped we could have a shelf of shallower water around one side of the dam. This was to be an area for various aquatic plants that grow well in shallow water. Barry was about to cut out the ledge, when he realised that the shallow area would be very hard to reach (for planting, cultivation, and harvesting) due to the height of the dam walls relative to the overflow. So, we ended up scratching this aspect of the plan. I’m disappointed, but hoping we can still cultivate a variety of floating aquatic plants in the dam.

Now we are planning a trip to the hardware store (probably the day after tomorrow) to sort out materials for the shed. Busy times are ahead! We are hoping the weather stays dry for a while, so that we have a better chance to get the building supplies up the hill. Of course, we are also eager to see how the dam will handle its first decent shower of rain.

Farmlet Reader Contributes US$50

Saturday, April 21st, 2007

Farmlet reader and regular contributor, IL, sent US$50. Thanks so much for your generous support!

Goat Update

Tuesday, April 17th, 2007

As a change from walking the goats along the road, we have started taking them up the hill through the cow paddock to the top of the Farmlet. The advantage of being away from the road is that we can let the goats off their leashes. They really love having the freedom to run about and play, and graze where they like. They are very good about staying with their human herd, and so far we haven’t had any trouble with goats wandering off to parts of the Farmlet where we don’t want them to go (such as the area of native trees near the stream). In fact, the goats are so keen to stay together that we sometimes feel in danger of falling over them, or ending up with their front hooves in the backs of our gumboots. We enjoy watching them prancing about on a fallen log, or doing stunt-leaps down the hill. Humans and goats like to stop at the top of the hill for a while to enjoy the view — or to enjoy a bit more grazing. The goats are excellent company.

Work on the fence around the uphill goat paddock is almost complete. We hope it will be finished before we move the goats back into that paddock in about a week’s time. (We move the goats every 21 days. This is meant to help break the life-cycle of any parasites they might have. I dose them with apple cider vinegar and/or aloe vera and/or tansy a few days before we move them, so that they should have expelled any parasites before moving to the clean paddock.)

Everyone follow Mummy

Another perfect evening on the Farmlet

Stunt goats

The Farmlet Camera

Friday, April 13th, 2007

A few Farmlet readers have asked about how we make the images that we include with our posts. Mainly: What camera are we using?

We use the Canon PowerShot SD800 IS / Digital IXUS 850IS. The same camera has several different names. In America, it is known as the PowerShot SD800 IS. In other countries (except Japan), it is called the Digital IXUS 850IS.

The Canon Digital IXUS 850IS

This camera has been reviewed to death, so what follows are some of my casual observations.

Besides being a lifelong Canon user, and having earned a bit of a living with their professional equipment in the past, I chose the IXUS 850IS mainly because it has a wide angle lens (equivalent to a 28mm lens on a 35mm SLR). Decently wide lenses are very rare on consumer class digital cameras. Most of them only go as wide as 35mm.

The camera carries the IS designation, meaning that it features an optical image stabilization system. I always shoot in IS mode. While I haven’t tested the limits, it feels about two stops faster with IS activated.

I’ve carried a lot of heavy photographic equipment for a lot of years, and I can’t believe what this camera can do. While I miss the control that I had with SLR systems, this tiny camera is remarkable.

What I like:

Image stabilized 28-105mm (35mm equivalent) lens.

The image quality is very good, overall.

Spot meter. In my EOS1 days, I used to shoot almost exclusively in full manual mode—or shutter priority—with spot metering. The spot meter and auto exposure lock features are weirdly usable on the SD800/IXUS850. They work great in high contrast situations.

The camera is very fast and responsive.

The screen is huge and clear.

The camera body is only slightly larger than a deck of cards.

The sensor noise at ISO 400 is actually not too bad.

Excellent build quality.

What I don’t like:

“Manual” mode is limited; you can’t dial in aperture and shutter speed. While the +- 1/3 stop exposure compensation feature is very helpful, in terms of overall exposure, you can’t explicitly control aperture and shutter settings. While I know that this camera is intended for people who have no interest in manual control, a couple of us can’t help it. I use the camera exclusively in “Manual” mode. (“Get a digital SLR!” you say. I know. Maybe if Bex and I hit the lotto.)

Noticeable edge softness at widest focal length; not an issue for the target market of this camera. Again, “normal” people wouldn’t even notice this. Pixel pushers, though, will see it right away.

Lens is slow (f/ 5.8) at maximum zoom; IS helps.

Dynamic range seems limited; there is moderate highlight clipping.

The AiAf mode is useless. I turned it off after trying it for about two minutes.

Some Notes on Workflow:

I stick with the in-camera white balance settings for daylight and overcast. Besides cropping, the images need very little work in Photoshop. I apply a moderate unsharp mask (between 40% and 50%, radius .9, threshold 1 or 2). Occasionally, I’ll play with the curves, but it’s not necessary most of the time.

If you’re thinking about buying this camera and found the comments above useful, consider using any of the links below to make your purchase. Thanks!

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