Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Cheese Stands Alone

I live in Wisconsin, so of course I love cheese. Alaska may give out rebates to their citizens for their oil production, but in Wisconsin, each resident gets a voucher for 10 pounds of cheese a year. That's just not enough, so I decided to learn how to make my own.

It wasn't the full adventure I think it could have been, but it was interesting none-the-less.

Last Tuesday, I took an Intro to Cheese Making class at our local food co-op. We made mozzarella and started some feta. It was not hard at all. I'm not sure I would try feta at home, but the mozzarella - definitely. It takes a few days to get all of the whey out of the feta and I'm not sure I'd have the patience for it. But maybe...

I learned a few interesting things.

  • Cheese is better with non-homogenized and non- or low-pasturized milk. And according to our teacher, raw milk (or "farm fresh" as the euphemisms go) is the ideal. I priced the non-homogenized, low pasturized milk and it's $5 per half gallon. I'm not sure when I'm going to try the mozzarella, but it better be good at that milk price!
  • It's not hard to find vegetarian (and even kosher) rennet.
  • At least for the soft cheeses, (if I understood correctly) the type of cheese is determined by the timing - when you put the acid and coagulant in.
  • If you have a goat and nettles, you can make cheese. I have neither.
  • Salt (flaked and non-iodized) is used to pull the whey out of the curds and it keeps the bacteria at bay. It's not a flavoring agent.
  • If you really want to make hard cheese correctly, you need a cave.
  • You can put feta in olive oil and then just put it on the shelf - no refrigeration needed.

And I now own a piima culture. This can be used to make kefir, cultured butter and cultured milk (aka buttermilk). Evidently this will last forever if I take care of it. I'm not so confident.

Some commentary on the class itself: There were 22 people - about 12 too many in my opinion. And the teacher was interesting but talked about her food and health agenda too much. I was there to learn how to make cheese, not hear about her aversion to anything that is not a whole, unprocessed food. I still may take an herb class with her next month - we'll see. And she said that if enough people request it, she'll teach another cheese class.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Problem with Conservative Jewry

I got an email today from someone who works at a local Conservative synagogue. She asked if I could recommend a speaker for their Sisterhood Shabbat. Their theme is Jewish continuity, they have almost no money to pay someone, and they want someone to speak about population decline in addition to the practical side of what to do at home with your children/grandchildren to keep Judaism going.

Really?! This is their topic?! I recommended that they invite someone from It was a serious recommendation. To me, this whole topic, addressed at a Sisterhood Shabbat is preaching to the choir. Are there really that many things that an "outsider" can tell them that will teach them how to keep Judaism going with their children?

And what does it even mean - to keep Judaism going? Does that mean they have to marry someone Jewish? Go to services every Shabbat? Keep kosher? Is it ok if they just wear a Jewish star around their neck?

If they'd asked me, I would have suggested they find someone to speak about what the Jewish world will be like 10 or 20 years from now when their children are older. How have things changed and what direction are they headed? What will the next Heeb magazine be? Who will be the next Matisyahu?

And what's the point of talking about a population decline? There are far fewer Jains in the world than there are Jews and they've been around almost as long (if not longer).

I probably shouldn't pick on the Conservative Jews. I imagine these same subjects are bandied about in all sorts of congregations in all sorts of denominations. They just aren't asking me for recommendations....

Saturday, October 18, 2008


Today we removed a tree stump from our back yard. The yard guy who told us it needed to be done said it would take two hours. Sadly, he was mistaken. It was three hours of actually working in the yard, and another hour or so to buy the right shovels and an axe.

Yes, we are now the proud owners of an axe. Well, really it's more of a hatchet, but I don't really care.

We have at least three more large tree/plants to dig up around the house and I'm fairly certain if not very, very hopeful that we started with the most difficult.

First, it was, at some point, a fairly big tree. And at some point in the not so distant past, someone cut it down. And it looks like they even tried to take the stump out of the ground - a few of the monster roots were cut short. What wasn't cut were the two really, really huge and thick roots coming out the side and happily entrenched in clay and mud. Yes, I am now the proud owner of the knowledge that our back yard is evidently mostly clay.

But before we could dig in, we had to move the red volcanic rock that had been laid down by the previous owner. When we bought the house it looked beautiful. And then last fall the trees lost their leaves and have you ever tried raking rocks? That's right - it doesn't work! So no matter what we need to get rid of the rocks. I can only imagine what the slaves in Egypt felt like. Note to self: moving rocks is not fun.

We found no buried treasure. We did find lots and lots of worms. I'm not sure if they're red wigglers or not, but the idea of composting is fast becoming a possibility if they are and/or it doesn't matter.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Amazing Race and Survivor

I'm bored. It's a great show. It wins Emmys every year. And this season - it's just not doing it for me.

I was okay when the older bee keeping couple lost in the first round. There have been much more interesting older participants in past rounds. And I can't even remember who lost last week, but I'm sure I didn't like them so much either.

This week, the geeky boys lost. That was a shame. They were at least a little interesting. If only they'd read their clue more closely. Oh well. I would have been fine if the fraternity boys had lost. They are not doing anyone any favors by being on the show.

This week, the teams were in Bolivia. Seems like a great place, but not necessarily the place you want to do an aerobic challenge - like wrestling. Did they not think about altitude sickness for participants in advance?

And yes, I'm one of the people still watching Survivor, even though it hasn't been so interesting this round either. Maybe this week, when the previews have a wild elephant a little too close for comfort it will be a little better. And then again, maybe not.

Friday, October 03, 2008

The Bailout

This whole economic situation is crazy, and here's a perfect example. The headline reads: Woman, 90, shoots self inside foreclosed home. I was intrigued that a 90 year-old was still paying a mortgage. So I read the article.

Here's what gets me about this story - the woman took out a 30-year mortgage in 2004. I'm not sure when her birthday is, but if she's 90 years old now, she was 86 then. And a bank gave her a 30-year mortgage.

Really?! In what universe did they expect this woman to live up to the terms of her contract? More people are living beyond 100, but not so many are making it until 116. I don't think I'm advocating age discrimination. But c'mon, don't we have to wonder what the loan officer was thinking? No wonder the banks are failing!

Okay - the issue isn't that she died and left 26 years on her mortgage for her heirs to figure out. It's that she couldn't make the payments. Maybe she owed her bookie? The article doesn't say whether she was working into her 80s and therefore had reason to believe she could pay, or whether her social security was enough for the payments.

I am not unsympathetic to the folks heading in to foreclosure. But I think a good number of them should have read the fine print, and I definitely don't feel bad for the banks who made stupid loans when any 7th grader can tell them that someone with a $30,000 income can't afford a $500,000 mortgage.

There was a item on the news recently about a woman's whose bank failed and she lost $20,000. I coudn't figure out how that could happen - everyone knows that accounts are insured to $100,000, right? So I kept watching. It turns out she had $120,000 in her account and therefore the last $20,000 wasn't insured. It's a shame to hear that people are losing money they've worked hard for, but she knew the rules. A second account at the bank down the street would have taken her 15 minutes to open whether she thought her bank might fail or not.

Wow - I had no idea I was so heartless....

Update on the woman who shot herself here.