Bring Your Garden to the Feast

Feasting

The holiday season is a time of feasting, drinking, and merrymaking. There will be dinner parties galore with all kinds of delicious food served — turkey, ham, beef, sweet potatoes, stuffing, pies, cakes, and the list goes on. Many of us will be attending these parties, and we will probably be bringing a dish to pass, especially if the party is pot luck. In this area we sometimes struggle. What should we bring? Sometimes the host or hostess will assign certain meal types (e.g. main dish, salad, dessert, etc.) to individual guests or ask in advance what each guest is bringing and coordinate accordingly. But what should we bring if the host or hostess does neither of these?

Why not bring a gift from the garden? If you were successful in your gardening endeavors, harvested a bumper crop, and took steps to preserve some of that harvest through canning, freezing, fresh storage, etc., then why not share some of your bounty with your fellow dinner guests? You can bring over a jar of pickles to serve with the meal. Or you can whip up a special dish using some of your preserved harvest. A vegetable soup or a salad is always welcome — especially if it was made with your fresh vegetables. A potato salad or mashed potatoes are positively scrumptious; even more so if it is made from your garden potatoes. Do you have apple trees growing in your yard or did you pick apples from a commercial orchard? You can turn those apples into apple pie or apple cider and share some of that with your guests. Hot apple cider is body and spirit warming treat during these cold holiday months. Do you grow your own corn or wheat? You can grind it to meal and make your own bread.

Anyone can bring a dish to pass. But to bring a dish that you made yourself with your own garden harvest will not only provide a mouth-watering treat for everyone, but will also gain you the respect and admiration of your friends and family. What’s not to love? So go ahead; bring your garden to the feast! It doesn’t need a special invitation and it is always welcome.

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Dipping a Toe in the Cheesemaking Waters

So, you’ve decided that you want to start making your own cheese. However, the thought of spending lots of money on cultures, molds, a press, etc. is making you pause and wonder if it’s really worth pursuing this.

Cheese Culture Cheese Molds Cheese Press
Let me ask a question. Do you work out on a regular basis? If so, how did you start? Did you right away spend money on a pricey health club membership and sign up to compete in your local triathlon? Did you spend big bucks on expensive workout clothing? My guess, is that your answer to my questions is no. You probably first visited your doctor to make sure that you were physically capable of starting a workout program. Then you started out slowly — perhaps with a few simple exercises at home. running a mile or two, purchasing a workout CD, etc. As time went on, and you got yourself in better shape, then maybe you found a health club whose membership fee fit your budget and began regular workouts there. Then as you continued to get healthier and stronger, then and only then did you start thinking about triathlons and 5K runs, etc.

Cheesemaking or any other hobby works the same way. If you want to begin making your own cheese, you don’t have to start by purchasing expensive equipment, cultures, and chemicals. There are some very simple cheeses you can make that won’t cost more than a few dollars for material that you can purchase at your nearby grocery store. Queso blanco, for example, is made by heating milk to 185-190oF, adding 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar, and straining the coagulated liquid through fine cheesecloth. No fancy equipment required there. If your first batch of queso blanco is successful, then you can start trying some other simple cheeses that perhaps require cultures or molds. If these work out well, then perhaps you’ll want to attempt making a hard cheese like cheddar or manchego. Then you can justify purchasing more advanced equipment or more delicate cultures.

The whole key is moderation and starting slowly. Just as you wouldn’t jump into the deep end of the pool if you’ve never learned to swim, you wouldn’t start making Jarlsberg if you’ve never made cheese before. Start simply. Decide whether or not you’re enjoying this new hobby. Are you gaining in skill and knowledge? Are your efforts to make cheese successfully rewarded? If so, then you can justifiably spend whatever is necessary (within your budget of course) to advance to the next level.

And if you need some assistance, there are plenty of resources available — books, websites, classes. In fact, classes are an excellent way to learn — and I just happen to know of some that will be starting soon, and there just may be room left for a few more students. Yes, I know, this is a shameless plug. But then again, I never claimed to have any shame.