Bagels. Cream Cheese. Happiness.

I notice from time to time that I think I've written more often than I have. I do not keep a bank of written ideas, or a list of things I'd like to discuss. Rather, I keep a mental catalog of sentences I like and a list of things I'd like to make and then write about that reminds me of those never-ending cloth towel "dispensers" in some gas station bathrooms. Every time I use one of those, I wonder to myself if the towel just recycles around, my germs and bacterias congregating with every other freeway passenger who has ever visited... This is pertinent to my thoughts because I think about food much the same way, it's circular and possibly recycled, but necessary and probably sanitary.

It doesn't take much for me to want to make something. A mention, a season, the little food world buzzes that are created almost daily but sometimes that center around things that last several weeks. Currently, there are more things out there with rhubarb than I could shake a stick at, and that doesn't bode well for a girl who sometimes feels like I'm the only one in my neighborhood infatuated with rhubarb. (I'm still nursing the rhubarb curd I made two weeks ago, and it's still good, by the way.)

But, the baker in me seems to prevail throughout whatever nuance happens to enter my brain, and I firmly believe that once a person has entered the world of sourdough, her life is forever changed. The bagels that I made last week were great, but not perfect - the perfect excuse to make more. The second attempt at Peter Reinhart's ratio in Crust and Crumb was even better... and I'm not just saying that since I made them myself. I am not actually sure I have ever eaten a bagel with wild yeast until last week. I am sure that none can compare to the list of simple ingredients that are boiled in plain water and then baked in a hot oven, causing the surface to blister and bubble and resist chewing. I made a full batch and scaled my dough to equal 9 (roughly) 106 g. bagels.

I have had a deep yearning to make cheese for quite a long time. I really feel that if there was a cheese-maker's supply locally, I would have already been to my goal of waxing and aging cheddars, but since I think I'll have to order online I still am procrastinating. I asked my Amish friend, Lizzy, if the creamery near my Parents' farm sold rennet. She told me no, but that a cheese-making relation often went behind the building to the place where they stacked the plastic tubs that the rennet came in (a liquid), and that she could salvage enough to get by. Seeing as I have the Internet of Opportunities, I shouldn't need to result to scavenging. But seeing as I have been dreaming night and day of bagels, it was natural that I had to make cream cheese, mesophilic starter or no, and yogurt cheese seemed appropriate given what I had on hand.

I have strained yogurt. I have strained yogurt for a whole day. But I never strained yogurt that was half heavy cream. This revelation! I tell you... I actually wanted to wait another 24 hours to try and get yogurt cheese to roll into balls and then baptize in olive oil, but after baking off the bagels, that idea was out the window. Creamy isn't an apt adjective. I have neither cow or raw milk sources, but I used the cream line milk and cream that I am every day so thankful for. The fat coats my mouth, the color is a rich, warm white: just a shade off from the palest yellow, a color my camera would never capture.

Ever since the dawn of Spring, and I use that term loosely since it has been unseasonably cool here but mysteriously marked with the odd day of spiked temps and humidity, I have eyed my tender chives. Chives are one Spring thing that I most love. They wake up before any other growing thing, a miracle shooting up from a Winter's worth of wreckage. I collect their purple hats as a cut flower, a pint glass of them on my counter where I can snatch at them, where I can remember to add them to what I'm cooking to see how they react. A single, hollow stalk chopped into tiny tubes can perfume a half dozen eggs it seems, and every single Spring I wonder what new dish I could make with them. I realize what I should be thinking about is what condiment should I be making with them, since condiments tend to get eaten most frequently lately. When considering cream cheese as the Ultimate Condiment, it seemed a natural fit to stir in some chives and black pepper.

I use a no-heat strain of yogurt called Viili that I can't recommend enough. I got it from Cultures for Health, and it is one of my favorite things ever. When strained, it yields a delicious tasting whey that isn't overly sour. Since I use non-homogenized milk, it does tend to be a little "lumpy", but it blends up fine, and the flavor more than makes up for any cosmetic shortcomings. I've used it to culture plain heavy cream and plain half and half, both were great versions of sour cream that even my Husband liked.

Yogurt Cream Cheese

Strain 4 c. yogurt through fine cheesecloth, or like me, through a homemade muslin bag. Hanging the bag (or cheesecloth tied into a bag) from some height will speed the process a bit, as gravity will be on your side. Time spent draining will depend on what type of milk you use (or what type of yogurt you used). The higher the fat content, the creamier it will be, and the less whey will drip out. I let mine drain for almost 24 hours, and had a perfect, soft-set consistency.

After draining, turn the mass of cheese out into a bowl, and mix with salt. I used about 1/4 t. for my yield, which was shy of 2 cups, but probably a bit more than 1 1/2 cups (like how I measure?) Mix in any other herbs or flavorings, and store in a covered container for up to a month? Maybe less? I've never stored any cultured milk product this long, since I eat it long before. This cream cheese will be lucky to last as long as that rhubarb curd mentioned above... but you never know.

Even though it was soft-set, I couldn't resist rolling a few yogurt cheese balls. I watched this video from GNOWFGLINS a while back, and remembered Wardeh saying that you didn't need to refrigerate the yogurt cheese balls, but I think I'm going to keep mine in the fridge since they aren't as dry as they probably should be.

I ate one at dinner, spread on a piece of bread. I can't describe the joy I take in seeing something positively melt without heat applied - that is what this soft, oily cheese did. If I could die of something, please let it be soft, whole milk cheese I made myself.

At dinner as I sat thinking about diets, and cheese, and fats, and what the conventional doctors are still telling me is killing me even though I don't believe them anymore, I looked out the window at the last two things on the clothesline. These are my two bread cloths that I never wash, but hang out to dry in the sun and attract more yeasts. They aren't proper "couche", but they work good for me, and they are just part of the never ending circle of my food life.

I look at the work of others, the things made by friends and acquaintances, the jobs held by neighbors who are not home as I had time to mow my lawn and dry laundry outside, pontificate on chives, and check to see if my radishes had grown any more since the last 6 times I checked on them today. Sometimes I feel so overwhelmingly lucky to have good health, that my knees are still good enough for me to be on my feet all day. Today is one of those days. To be simply happy and enjoy every day is the greatest gift no matter what work you do, or what you make with your hands. Whether you ate amazing cream cheese and bagels or not. But, I have to say that a day with the bagels and cream cheese could be a big part of happiness.