52 To Do – Top 10

January 1, 2012 § 1 Comment

When I tell people about my blog they always ask what my favorite week has been. It’s always hard to pick a favorite but I can name my top 10. If you’re looking for some fun, interesting things to try out for 2012, here were my favorites from this past year in no particular order:

1. Learning to roast coffee – If you claim to love or live on coffee, this is something you have to try. Unfortunately for those who live in apartments where it’s hard to get outside this may not be ideal for you (there’s smoke). Sweet Maria’s has a great starter kit for $45.

It will seriously become your favorite cup of coffee. Ever.

2. Ice fishing (or something that seems completely out of your range of possibility) – We spent the day with friends trying something none of us had ever tried before. While we didn’t catch any fish, we did arguably have the best laugh of 2011.

Getting out and doing things I’d never done before to embrace winter made a huge difference living here in Boulder.

3. Researching my ancestry – I definitely looked at my life differently after understanding more about where I came from. Plus it is a great thing to do with your family. I spent the week with my family going through old pictures and hearing old stories, many I had not heard before. It was a nice way to spend time together.

It was good to get my parents to talk about what they remember. I only wish my grandparents were still around. I have so many questions for them.

4. Churn homemade ice cream with friends – I bought a hand churn ice cream maker (White Mountain 4 qt. hand crank) and this proved to be a fun summer activity with friends. If you do get the hand churn one, you pretty much need the extra help since it isn’t easy!

My friend Jess (who also accompanied me on lots of blog adventures) gave me a great ice cream recipe book that did us right. It was a toss up between the goat cheese ice cream and the roasted coffee ice cream (we of course used fresh home roasted coffee for that) as to which was the best.

5. Learning about wine – I owe a huge thanks to my friends at Frasca Food & Wine in Boulder. James Beard award winner, Bobby Stuckey, welcomed my project early on letting me shadow his amazing crew of sommeliers on what it’s like to live for wine. I’ve made lots of new wine buddies through Frasca and the Boulder Wine Merchant. With more Master Sommeliers per capita than any city in the U.S. Boulder is a good place to be to learn about wine.

6. Hike a 14er – In 2011 I officially became a Coloradan by climbing my first 14,000 foot mountain with my friend Alicia (another partner in crime with many blog projects).

You likely won’t have mountains like that around but maybe there’s another physical feat to try that makes you equally feel a part of where you’re living. Boston marathon? Rowing the Thames? Surfing in Santa Monica?

7. Learning how to knit – This was a favorite for multiple reasons. I gained a new skill that is incredibly relaxing. I made some beautiful cowls that served as well-received holiday presents and to top it off I made a new friend in the process.

I also found a gem of a local store (Shuttles, Spindles and Skeins) where I will continue going for yarn and pearls of wisdom from the fantastic crew of ladies that work there.

8. Shooting a gun – I will likely never own a gun but I am glad I learned how to shoot one this year (target range only). It is an experience you could never understand without actually doing it. I now know just how powerful and dangerous they are.

It was something totally foreign to me and outside of my comfort zone, but I felt like it was something I should try once in my lifetime. Plus it was a great way to spend the afternoon with my husband and his twin brothers in Portland.

9. Pasta making – Pasta is one of those staples around the house and making it yourself is not only easy but worth the little bit of effort. The difference in taste is amazing.

I’ve continued along with it and for New Year’s Day dinner tonight I’ll be making some homemade orchiette I learned to make from Brian, another Frasca friend.

10. Reading about philosophy and religion – One of the best outcomes of the year was learning to think for myself again. It was a great exercise to dust off some books on philosophy and religion and to challenge my thinking in that regard a bit again.

It’s easy to get caught up in day to day issues and worries and can be enlightening to realize we’re just a blip on the radar when it comes to humanity. We are trying to answer many of the same questions people have been trying to answer for centuries.

Shuttles, Spindles and Skeins

December 17, 2011 § 1 Comment

There are yarn stores and then there is Shuttles, Spindles and Skeins in Boulder. Out of all of the local places I’ve gotten to know this year, I can already tell this will be one of my favorites to visit. This week I had expectations of finding a store for supplies and then figuring it out on my own in front of a holiday movie or two. Instead I hung out and knitted in the store with the help of the gang of knowledgeable ladies who work there (many have degrees in fibers). They are a jovial gang who like to tease each other regularly. Margaret has a wonderful laugh. I even made a new friend in the process who I spent the week knitting with and getting to know better.

I spent much of the week sitting around “The Table”. Situated close to the register it is the place where all knitting problems are solved. There was a constant flow of people coming in to diagnose their situations. They were told to “pull up a seat” and within minutes one of the helpful ladies who work there had established what the problem was and what they could do about it. Some were just what I would call knitting hypochondriacs who didn’t really have a problem but just needed some encouragement they were on the right track. Others had minor issues which just warranted a quick fix or the definitive shrug of “no one will notice that”. Then there were the serious cases that either had to backtrack a good bit or even start over. There was nothing to be done.

I was telling Margaret (above right) that there should be a table like this for life. You just come in, lay the problem out and within minutes you would know what you needed to do about it. While sitting at The Table might not qualify as therapy in the clinical sense, there were pearls of wisdom I walked away with nonetheless. When I was doubting my ability to take on a more complicated project Margaret said to me, “It’s like anything in life. You just have to take it one stitch at a time.” Another time when I wasn’t sure of myself in what I was doing she said “my mother always used to say when in doubt, make it happen.” Her mother was way ahead of Tim Gunn with that one.

I thought I would find a nice hobby out of this week, which I did. Knitting is incredibly relaxing and I was even able to make some beautiful things this week. (can’t spoil the gifts by showing you now) It will be fun to take on more complicated projects over time. The best part of all is I now have somewhere I can go and pull up a seat at The Table when I get in a bind, knitting or otherwise.

 

Knit Away!

December 14, 2011 § Leave a comment

Part of the purpose of this year was to get out and try a bunch of stuff to see what I like and don’t like. As an adult it’s easy to fall into the trap of not learning new things because it seems like you have to know everything before you even get started. It feels uncomfortable to be a beginner again; we’re always supposed to know everything.  This year has been fun to throw out the perfectionist, fear of failure I’ve harbored as an adult in exchange for the child-like ability to just jump in and get messy. I’ve learned over the year that I can get in and figure just about anything out.

For those who need a simple project to start with, knitting is the way to go. You literally only need knitting needles, yarn and a friend to show you how to get started. Or if you don’t have any friends or family who knit, you can easily get started through YouTube videos. Today I stopped by a local knitting shop called Shuttles, Spindles and Skeins my friend Faith had recommended to me. What an amazing shop! I will need to write another blog post on the shop alone.

For my first project I wanted to make a knitted cowl (instead of the usual scarf) and I knew I wanted chunky yarn. I picked out the yarn I wanted and with the help of Sara, who has an MFA in fibers, within minutes I was seated at their help table and knitting away, on circular needles nonetheless!

I’m about halfway through my first knitted cowl and plan to head back to the shop tomorrow to finish it off.

I can already tell I am going to love to knit.

A Visit to Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy

November 21, 2011 § Leave a comment

I first had a bite of Haystack Mountain cheese at the Boulder Farmer’s Market last year and their Haystack Peak has been one of my favorites ever since. Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy started on a small farm with a handful of goats and has since grown into an artisanal dairy of 8 hard-working folks producing 150,000 lbs. of cheese each year.

On Friday I met with Maureen Reagan, Haystack’s Sales Manager, to walk through how this special goat cheese is made and responsibly sent to market.

Before you even get a whiff of cheese curing in the caves you are struck by the odor of cleanliness. The creamery is one-part food prep and one-part laboratory, constantly being cleaned and sanitized. I donned my hair net and boot covers and made my way in.

Maureen explained that half the day is spent cleaning just about every surface of the creamery. She went through 2 weeks of cheese making training when she started, learning each part of the process. She has a lot of respect for how much work goes into producing those delicious rounds of queso. It definitely looked like back breaking work cleaning those huge vats inside and out.

Maureen walked through each part of the process from when the trucks roll up with the milk to transfer through the piping to the finished product being shipped out. Below are 60 lb. bags of curds & whey draining after setting up. She laughed that trying to carry these is like trying to carry a 60 lb. water balloon. I later experienced how slippery curds, whey and cheese cloth can be in my own kitchen. (More to come on that)

After visiting a few of the different cheese caves, I met Jackie Chang, the head cheese maker of Haystack. She seemed to be in 3 places at once. With as many cheeses as they produce, there are all sorts of tasks from setting to flipping to wrapping that need to happen each day.

Jackie was in the process of experimenting with a beer washed-rind set of cheeses in conjunction with Breckenridge Brewery. She sent me home with a small round of her Breckenridge Brewery IPA washed-rind creation. I am not ashamed to admit a friend and I promptly ate half of it a few hours later. It hasn’t even hit the market yet but I highly recommend it. She was also making a stout version.

Beer and cheese are so good together and Jackie has now removed a step for us. When I met with Will and Coral at Cured they talked about the wonderful aspect of experimenting in American Artisanal cheese making and I got to see it at Haystack firsthand.

Aside from learning about the cheese making process, another interesting aspect of talking with Maureen was how they manage their product going to market. They hand date each package of cheese to ensure freshness. They also recently completed an entire freshness audit of their operation from the freshness level of each ingredient that goes into their cheeses to how the final product is handled where it’s sold in all their markets. They tracked each piece of cheese. Wow.

I asked Maureen about the questions that arise in regard to raw milk cheese from time to time and how safe it is to eat. She shared that it’s frustrating for small producers who specialize in this because there isn’t really any foundation for the concern. There are more serious problems that arise with all other sorts of foods each year that don’t lead to the same concerns, such as spinach, tomatoes and melons. From her experience, other dairy operations use the same level of sanitation they pride themselves on and there have been few and far between cases that lead to sickness.

Goat cheese is also lower in fat than other cheeses. Compared to cow milk cheddars and cream cheeses, Haystack Mountain Goat Cheese is lower in fat, calories and cholesterol. My husband just found out he has to go on Lipitor to lower his cholesterol, so he will be happy with a Haystack treat now and then.

Going to Fruition

November 20, 2011 § 2 Comments

These are the curious ladies of Fruition Farms, the 35 original ewes (with a ram for good measure) that represent one of the few sheep’s milk farms in Colorado. On Friday I met up with Chef Alex Seidel, of Fruition restaurant in Denver, who graciously invited me out to show me around his farm. His story is a pretty remarkable one. Just last year he was named one of the 10 new best chefs by Food and Wine magazine. Beyond his knack with cuisine, he’s doing something pretty special. He’s showing the world what farm to table really means. You see more and more restaurants sourcing locally but you see few that go to the extent Alex has in handling both sides of the equation himself.

Alex explained they got into artisanal sheep’s milk cheese making because everyone was doing goat’s milk here in Colorado; it was something different. He also appreciated that sheep’s milk has much higher fat content in the milk which makes better cheese. Having the palate Alex and the other chefs he’s partnered up with have puts them in a unique position in terms of making cheese. They know what they’re looking for and can take it into account when making decisions on feed and how that impacts the final product.

Their operation is pretty impressive. They re-vamped all of the buildings on the property themselves and built a lot of the structures needed for milking which Alex walked me through. He humbly brushes off the compliments when you admire just how much work that is on top of running a restaurant. It is a devoted group of people.

After an overview of the farm, Alex took me to meet Jimmy Warren, shepherd and cheese maker of Fruition Farms. I immediately liked him because he’s a Red Sox fan. He was the sous chef at Fruition restaurant and after attending a dairy symposium with Alex decided to invest and move over to working at the farm full time. He spent a few months on an established farm learning sheep farming to get started. While he doesn’t have a formal background in husbandry or cheese making, it only takes a few minutes with him to see he is a jack of all trades who gets in and figures things out by learning and doing firsthand. He’s not afraid to fail and keep at it until he gets closer to what he wants.

Jimmy was in the process of making “Shepherd’s Halo”, one of his experiments. If he was looking for redemption for something then he’s found it in this cheese. It is just a deliciously creamy, well-balanced cheese. I liked that it was not too strong or salty.

He gave me an overview of his cheese making process while we waited for the curd to set. We even talked a bit about beer brewing since he also brews the beer on the farm. He approved my setup from last week and talked about where I could go with it. He also offered to teach me welding and how to put up dry wall for my blog.

We got back to cheese making and he showed me what the consistency of the curd should look like when it’s ready. This is where it really helps to watch someone who already knows what they’re doing. It should have a nice break and not leave too much residue on your fingers. He then cut the curd to release the whey by cutting it into 3/4″ cubes. By cutting it into chunks of equal size it ensures the whey will release at similar rates per curd. It also creates a better consistency in texture throughout the cheese.

The moulds sit to drain overnight to start the process of becoming more rounds of delicious “Shepherd’s Halo”.

At this point it came out that in my own cheese making the curd was improperly set based on my description. My glee from the science fair-like nature of instant coagulation I described sounded wrong to Jimmy’s ears. This troubled Jimmy and I think he couldn’t bear the thought of cheese week ending without a properly made cheese. He sent me home with a camembert recipe, culture and moulds which I will be experimenting with this afternoon. I promised to return the moulds (those things are not cheap!). He even insisted I call him so he could be there to answer any questions.

I drove away from Fruition Farms in a bit of a dream state. I went in search of cheese making knowledge and left with a glimpse at a pretty admirable way of life. I got a sense for why people fall in love with an endeavor like this.  It’s hard to put into words but there is a simplicity and an intention to make good and to see how you fare with your common sense and own two hands in living up to it.

The Curators of Cured

November 19, 2011 § Leave a comment

Not everyone who loves cheese to a professional extent goes down the path of becoming a cheese maker. Some become what I would call curators. They’re the voice of fromage, and, similar to curators of great art, expose you to a whole new world of styles, textures and flavors. They share their educated point of view and give you a greater appreciation for what you’re nibbling on. I’m lucky enough to live 3 blocks away from the most talented curators around.

Coral Ferguson and Will Frischkorn are living the dream as proprietors of Cured, a shop specializing in a hand picked selection of cheeses, cured meats, table wines and other unique grocery items. They spent years living in Europe, falling in love with the locally sourced,  neighborhood market way of living which led them to creating their own here in Boulder. To say I was happy when they opened this fall would be an understatement.
Will and Coral have traveled the country meeting with producers at the forefront of American cheesemaking and have been inspired by how cheese is evolving in the States. Artisanal cheesemaking has seen tremendous growth in the last 5 years. Coral and Will both agree that what makes it exciting is the fun, experimental side of cheesemaking here compared with Europe where it is more steeped in and restricted by tradition.

They shared that people in the US are not only making wonderful, traditional style cheese but making it their own. A good example is the sheep’s milk Cacio Pecora, from Fruition Farms, a local farm I visited yesterday. They’re also huge fans of cheese maker Andy Hatch at Upland Farms in Wisconsin (of course) whose Pleasant Ridge Reserve has won Best in Show 3 times in the past 10 years. It is divine.

Aside from making delicious cheese I asked them to tell me more about the cheese makers they meet. Who are they? They said about half they’ve met are from established dairy families and the other half are people for whom cheese making is a second career, ranging from ex-Wall Street guys to corporate attorneys. There’s a desire to get back to the land and a simpler way of life.
(photo: WSJ.com)
One such cheese maker they got a kick out of is John Putnam (above), owner of Thistle Hill Farm in Vermont. He is an ex-bankruptcy lawyer turned european alpine style cheese maker. After 17 years practicing law he made the switch full time. It took him 4 years to learn cheese making after several trips to Europe and the help of a French work-study student.

I toyed with the idea of getting into cheese making when I was working in advertising in Los Angeles but never followed through at the time. It’s good to know there are all of these people out there getting into the craft and tirelessly working to raise the profile of American cheese.

At Cured, Coral and Will link all of these amazing cheese makers together in a delightful neighborhood shop where one can stop by and explore the world of American artisanal cheese making a few bites at a time. It’s a pretty delicious world I must say.

Sports Car Craftsmen

November 19, 2011 § Leave a comment

It’s been a busy week of cheese making, visiting creameries and farms. I wanted to take one day out to make due on learning how to work on my car from two weeks back when a snowstorm got in the way. I’ve owned a classic 1973 Mini Innocenti (Italian) for 2 years now. It’s my day-to-day car. Originally I bought it because I liked how it looked and it was fun to drive. To be a real classic car owner though I think you need some understanding of how your car works.  For me, part of that is truly knowing the car I’ve become very attached to better and part of it being able to better trouble shoot as problems arise (which they do).
I planned to go Wednesday but as I tried to start my car it wouldn’t turn over. Good timing! I relied upon my incredibly smart AAA investment to have it towed over to the shop. Early Thursday morning I headed over to Arvada, CO to Sports Car Craftsmen, a shop that specializes in classic British automobiles. (They don’t turn up their noses at Little Buddy even though he’s Italian.) I intended to just spend a bit of time learning routine maintenance on my car and then getting out of their way. Luckily, Ted, the wonderful and patient craftsman who works on my car, was kind enough to teach me a whole lot more about how my car works. Ted grew up in Boulder and was bitten by the car bug early on. He sees it as dangerous passion that leads to obsessively working on them (because you don’t trust someone else to) and finding yourself owning more than a handful before you know it.

He started out showing me how to remove the oil filter and drain the oil. His one complaint with the mini is how packed in everything is in the engine. To achieve such a small car, that still runs, things under the hood get crammed in there in undesirable places for maintenance purposes. Ted mentioned it often elicits choice words as he’s working on it. I guess having a woman around the shop cleans things up a bit. While there were a few old timers hanging around Ted said the ladies don’t show much interest. I think I was a bit of a novelty to have around.

Part of this project is swallowing any pride you have sometimes and just admitting you know nothing. Ted quickly saw how rudimentary my knowledge was. (I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t even know how many cylinders my engine was.) I felt that auto shame creeping in. I’ve always felt uncomfortable in auto shops and out of place with my lack of knowledge. Often it wasn’t just me feeling the way but how you’re treated by some of the people who work there. I’m lucky to know Ted. He made me feel at home and enthusiastically took me through how my engine works with no judgment.
Before when I would look under the hood of my car I saw a jumble of foreign objects, having no idea what they did or how they related to one another. Ted walked me through everything from how the car starts to what fuels it to what puts it in motion. Normally I shy away from trying to figure out mechanical things because it just seems foreign to me, but after just a day of learning what the parts do and how they interconnect I have more confidence that I could learn this stuff. There is a logic to it all.
One of my favorite aspects of this project is being around people who have mastered a craft. Ted and I grabbed some Indian food for lunch and I shared how envious I was of his work. My work has always had a huge level of subjectivity to it where I never felt I was really mastering anything. Everything was a collective effort so there was little authorship over my work. There is a logic to what he does and a beautiful result he has ownership over.

I don’t know if I’ve been bitten by the same bug as Ted, but I have had a strange desire over the past few days to take apart my engine and put it back together. I may stay on the safe side and wait until my next trip to the shop.

At the very least, now I’m not so afraid to look under the hood.

 

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