Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Kitchen experiments


i never had any real intention to turn eclectica into a food blog but it seems as if food is my default topic.....

that picture above is my attempt to make quark, a european style soft cheese, little known here in australia, used for sweet and savoury dishes. i suspect that it should be smoother looking but my manufacturing process was unorthodox, to say the least.
i had read the recipe several ties and it is very simple so i didnt actually refer to the recipe to make it. that was my first mistake. after 24 hours of culturing and still no sign of coagulation i double checked the recipe to find that i didnt heat the milk enough. my poor little microbes couldnt do their job without a decent warm bath so i rewarmed the milk and waited another 24 hours. there was still very little sign of change so i did a bit of reading and came to the conclusion that  as a last ditch attempt at cheese i could heat the milk even hotter. it might kill my culture but it also might finally produce a curd.
It worked! so i strained it and now i have gourmet triple cooked non traditional quark. it tastes mild and creamy straight from the tub but i am looking forward to trying it with some fruit or maybe some herbs. one day it will be interesting to find out how it compares to the recipe as it was supposed to have been made.

sauerkraut is my other current experiment. i have done a couple of previous batches so it wasn't very experimental except that this time i got to use my new fermentation jar with airlock. it looks all scientific and should ensure a safe fermentation. unfortunately the jar is very small for a whole head of cabbage so most of it was fermented in a plastic container, weighted with a plate and generally very .....um.....rustic?
i threw a handful of peppercorns in, that was a good addition. next time i want to make more of a vegetable mix with cabbage, carrot, onion and maybe some fennel and radishes. if i'm organised about it i should be able to develop a range of pickles to have in the fridge and choose them as the mood suits


Friday, 25 July 2014

Vegetables are a must on a diet. I suggest carrot cake, zucchini bread, and pumpkin pie.

i usually dread it before i leave home and then end up revelling in my regular friday trip to the markets and today was no exception. the sky is sunless and grey, there is a light drizzle and a creeping cold, it would be nice to curl up with a book or a movie but the cupboards were bare so i eventually managed to steel myself and trundle off.
i have many, many times seen on the stalls large bags of partly prepared vegetables: peeled onions and chopped pumpkin, maybe other things if i had paid attention. i always regarded them as a restaurant product and then today i saw a woman pushing a trolley with a bag of cut pumpkin and something about the new context opened my eyes. pumpkin soup without all the work! i saw a new possibility in those bags. the kids love pumpkin soup but it takes so much chopping and peeling that i usually opt for something easier, could this be as good as it looked? i resolved to check out the price. it was $2, TWO dollars, for a bag of prepared pumpkin. i couldn't buy whole pumpkins for under about $4 or $5 and there wouldnt be anywhere near as much of it.
i was still on my pumpkin high when i decided i might treat myself to a handful of prawns. the fish counter was busy and i stood for a long time while some lady negotiated $5 off a $150 box of prawns. yawn. midway through this extremely painful exchange a woman came toward the counter and made a vague,
sympathetic, you-go-first kind of gesture which was weird because there was nobody available to serve us and i had been standing there for freaking ages. i made an equally vague smiley gesture and finally somebody showed up to serve me. except you-go-first-lady made an immediate and abrupt demand for some fish. i stood, slightly gobsmacked but could'nt really do much so i waited some MORE while negotiations proceeded for the $5 off the box of prawns. somewhere in all of this i thought i might not want prawns all tht much but i had waited so long i thought i would just hang in there a tiny bit longer. finally it was my turn. "Could i have about $5 worth of prawns, please?"
"no, i cant do that"
" i dont want them for $5 a kilo, i want $5 worth"
"i know, i wont sell less than half a kilo"

having been educated i was ready to say "ok, i'll have half a kilo" but she had already written me off as a bad deal and was gone, several feet away, making high powered negotiations with some other innocent.

never mind, i have my pumpkin. i should have enough for pumpkin soup, pumpkin cake, pumpkin scones, pumpkin pie and even a curry or relish. i must get to it.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Love is a sacred reserve of energy; it is like the blood of spiritual evolution.

Growing up in the 70s I used to watch a bit of evening tv with mum ( I don't know why I can't remember dad in this scenario because he was home more often than not) anyways, "the good life" was one of the sit coms we would view with some regularity so I can now blame tom and barbara for developing a vague, romantic aspiration to be self sufficient.
At some stage in my younger adult life I had occasional fantasies of a grow-your-own kind of a life. And then i realised i don't really care for gardening. And i had four kids to manage and a job to go to and the supermarket became my second home. Any self sufficiency/ homesteading/ homeschooling/ sustainable living fantasy i might have had was laid aside, realising that I don't really have the commitment, passion and love of hard work it would take.
The factory I worked in was growing and the job became increasingly demanding at the same time as I was losing the physical ability to keep up. I was drained to even more exhaustion by having a psychopathic bully for a boss. Eventually I left. I had enjoyed that job and believed in the work the company did so I was simultaneously relieved and a little bit heartbroken but it wasn't long before I was struck with the inspiration to start doing birth support. Doulas have a slogan: "changing the world, one birth at a time" and i believe that to be my calling but for the most part doulas are under utilised and my days are mostly free so one day, when i was bemoaning the exhorbitant price of a decent loaf of bread, I decided maybe I would make my own. Bread makers were on sale at Aldi the following week and I would need to make just 15 loaves to recoup the cost of the machine. It was a no brainer and I started making bread.
The same thing happened with yogurt, just a couple of months later. 

You might remember that I started this year with the idea of doing a cheesemaking course. I haven't got around to it yet which works out ok because I happened to take the kids on a day out in the recent holidays and out of my regular orbit i saw what i have never seen before: a cheesemaking kit. It looked a little pricey so I came home and googled around, managing to get myself an online bargain in a beginners kit for $100 less than either the course or the kit in the shop!

A long time ago I read a promise in Psalms: "delight yourself in the the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart" At the time I was not unhappy but I did hope that there was something more around the corner, even though I had no clue what the real desire of my heart might be. 

As I set up to make my first ever batch of cheese yesterday I realised that gradually and unconsciously I have received the desire of my heart. We will never be self sufficient and I am still not a gardener, the only thing I grow is alfalfa sprouts on the window sill, but evolution is a powerful thing, who knows what might be next. Right now I have all the self sufficiency I need, if only I could figure out where to put the new fermentation kit.

Home made Haloumi