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.

Vegan Monday: Soy Yogurt and The Silver Lining

It's not often that I truly dislike something food or beverage related. I like to (proudly) think my palate is sophisticated and varied, but every once in a while I run across something and I think to myself "I really never, EVER, want to try this again". The first time (well, the only time) I had cuttlefish at a pretty nice sushi establishment, I looked across the table at my Husband who had already devoured his slice, and he knew that I was in trouble. This was a cloth napkin type place, not a place in sight for an uncultured Midwestern girl to politely spit a wad of partially chewed fish.

Of course there are foods I prefer not to eat due to processing, but when I run across something I know to be reasonably good for me but I find just in no way palatable, I feel kind of sad. Enter Soy Yogurt: I have never eaten soy yogurt before, but last week mentioned that I would try making it. So I did.

It looks like creamy, tasty yogurt...

I decided to buy and not make the soy milk from scratch. There are plenty of easy instructions out there, and frankly I've just been too busy lately. I enjoy soy milk, but not as much as almond or rice milks, so I pick my battles according to what I love.

I also bought a cultured soy yogurt to use as a starter. The proportions and procedure for making soy yogurt are exactly the same as that for regular dairy yogurt. Milk is heated to 180 degrees, and cooled to 100-110 and inoculated with a culture, 1 tablespoon of culture for a quart of milk. This left the better part of a little soy yogurt for me to taste during the 7 or 8 hour time the soy yogurt was incubating.

Granted, this first sample of soy yogurt was plain, unsweetened and unadulterated by fruit which may have been able to sway me in my harsh opinions. My first bite was awful; It was flabby, waxy and tasted of intensified soy - like an essence of soy. I could not get past the fact that it tasted exactly like a crayon, or at least like the way a crayon smells to me. I thought that maybe it just needed some doctoring, so I added some sweetener. Then granola. I then audibly whispered "this stuff is just vile". And it was! I looked over the ingredient list on the label again, and it did have such things as guar gum and tapioca starch, natural stabilizers that I knew my homemade version would not have so I held out hope that my finished product would knock the socks off it's prepackaged brother.

The soy yogurt took longer to culture than dairy yogurt, about 10 hours. I patiently (actually, I was in no great hurry to try it...) let it sit under refrigeration overnight, to try it for breakfast the next day. It seemed to separate, presumably due to the lack of thickeners, and did taste slightly better than my first experience. The texture was good, and I did manage to eat a small amount of it mixed with fruit into a unattractive smoothie - the soy somehow turned vibrantly colored blueberries into a muddy blue brown color.

While I hate wasting food, this experiment may not get eaten. My Mom has taught me to "let things go back to the earth" and not to feel bad about it if I don't like something, or it gets forgotten about in the fridge. I somehow feel better if I have it laying around for a couple of weeks, it begins to decompose and looks like a shadow of it's original splendor, and then tossing it doesn't make me feel so wasteful. I do have a thorough refrigerator cleaning on the list of things to do today, so maybe I'll be inspired to let it go sooner.

As disappointed as I was with soy yogurt, E told me about a salad that she's been kind of addicted to lately. It is based on marinated beets, and couldn't be simpler. Roasted beets are tossed with equal amounts of olive oil, balsamic vinegar and maple syrup and seasoned with salt and pepper. E has been eating her version with avocados, tomatoes, goat cheese and pine nuts, but I made a nice vegan version in all the colors of the rainbow:

The orange tomatoes were from my CSA, and while the outer appearance wasn't quite blemish free, it was probably the most delicious tomato I have ever eaten! I have reminded myself to never just judge on first appearances...

Full disclosure urges me to let you know that for supper last night (after my vegan photo shoot), I added feta cheese since I had some I needed to use up. I remembered about the avocado, and added some more of the marinade, and really was surprised at how filling and satisfying a rainbow of veg is for dinner!

I'm not sure I would try soy yogurt again. As I'm not staunchly vegan, I guess I don't have reason to. My dairy yogurt is so satisfying and great, and I've taken to straining it and performing more experiments with the whey.

I soaked some yellow mustard seed last night, and made a yellow mustard that even has a couple of tablespoons of whey in it. Apparently, the whey adds to the shelf life, and also most likely makes a common condiment like mustard more of a whole food. I can't wait for the Tongue Splitter Ale to be finished, and I'd substitute the water in the recipe for home brewed beer - then I'd be truly excited! Meanwhile, I need to now find a use for 12 oz. of yellow mustard - any ideas, send them my way...

The ways of experimenting always lead to places I don't expect. I have a new appreciation for my Husband, who just does not like beets. I always think how it is impossible not to love a beet, but after tasting this yogurt, I can not imagine liking it. After all, he goes on eating cuttlefish and last time we ate at Polonez, he ordered (and loved) the tripe soup - for someone I tend to think is picky, these are brave accomplishments. I made this Rainbow Salad for myself, and another green salad and a piece of fish for him, and we were both happy and eating together at the same time, and isn't this what I should be thankful for?

It's easier with a small family to become a short order cook, which is essentially what I have become. Even though not much could make me happier than mimicking the fast pace of a restaurant in my little galley kitchen, I'm trying not to do this so much, since the Boy-O is picky and I need to make him stop being picky. Little by little, it is coming along. For the past week, he devours peas that I planted late in the back yard, ripping open the little "zippers" and popping them in his mouth as fast as he can. Generally, if I can get him to take just one bite of something, he concedes into enjoyment of a new food.

An adventurous-eater-friend of mine (*wink, wink*) told me that while she doesn't always love everything she tries, she would never tell her husband who tends to be a little more reserved in his eating habits. I doubt I could have held back and insisted my family try the yogurt, but I see her point. I often think that if I can just be a good example, that I will seep into the pores of my family - and I daily hope that this is the case. Sometimes I feel daunted in the tasks at hand, but usually persevere, always offering a taste of something new even though I'm most often met with a "no thanks". One day, I know things will change, and then I'll look back on these days of sometime frustration and smile.