Thursday, March 31, 2011

Covered Over...

I haven't had time to write much to post lately (other than the nuke stuff) even though I've been extremely busy. Fortunately I had a few things in the pipeline.

Having decided in the last year to make cheese and to cure meats, I've accumulated a lot of equipment, supplies and tools for those passions over the winter months, with no 'real' home for those things. So I'm busy installing a wall, lots of shelving, painting, and totally re-organizing my general prep area.

Along with that newly acquired pile of accoutrements, my walk-in pantry somehow became Fibber McGee's Closet over the winter, attracting every single thing that I was too busy (or too lazy) to put away properly... to the point I couldn't even walk in there anymore without jeopardizing life and limb!

Plus, it's that time of the year... getting the garden ready to plant, and putting in some early cold-hardy vegetables. In my case, there's also lots of clean-up in the herb garden which is shared by some tall ornamental grasses. I leave all the growth from the previous summer in place, hoping for some protection over winter... which is good for the plants but makes more work in the spring. 

I continue trying to keep rosemary alive in the ground over a winter, this past winter by piling mulch over them; I cannot bring them inside for winter thanks to my cats. It doesn't look like I have succeeded yet in keeping one alive. Sigh. When I lived in Asheville (one full zone warmer) my rosemary bushes were 4-5 feet tall!

Oh, and I've been making cheese, too... but nothing new to show you. If you've seen one big pot full of milk cooking that's then been cultured and then cut into curds, you've seen the beginning of most cheesemaking. What I'm making now won't be ready to taste for months, so why bore you with more photos of "cooking milk" and "cutting curds"??

To add insult to injury, it snowed March 28 on my just-planted early vegetables, and I also have an intestinal bug. Still. Ugh.

Gads! I didn't think things could get worse, foolish me. One of my dearest friends died yesterday, after battling cancer over and over. That's a hole in my heart that cannot be filled except by keeping the wonderful memories in it.

I'm taking a fairly short break from posting. I may even drive to Florida for my friend's funeral if I can figure out the finances. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Finally Tasted my first Smoked Cheese

I recently posted about my trial smoking of some inexpensive cheese here. Today (March 11th) I finally opened one, and it tastes "close but no cigar" to the smoked Gouda I sometimes buy at the grocery store, only it was a lot cheaper! 

Actually it wasn't bad but there is a slightly bitter aftertaste, which makes me think the time in the smoker could have been reduced from the 2½ hours to perhaps just an hour, or maybe 1½ hours. I'll have to experiment more. The aftertaste is almost as noticeable in the very center of the thin wheel as the outside edges, so the smoke flavor did indeed migrate throughout fully while in the VacPak in the refrigerator over the 10 days it was sealed.

Update: there was just a post on a smoking forum I visit, questioning low temps for cold smoking... the poster said: "I have read somewhere that there is a minimum temperature for cold smoking because it causes some undesirable elements of the complex mixture of smoke compounds to condense on the meat surface. I believe that one of the undesirable elements is creosote, which causes bitterness in the final product. "

If I remember correctly, it was cold outside (around 40ºF or so) on the porch when I smoked the cheese, and not more than 3-4º higher in the smoker. So the low temp could be as much a problem as the length of exposure to the smoke. Either way, it still needs more experimentation...

Update 3/22A cheesemaker I know makes and sells a mesquite-smoked cheese. He says he generally cold smokes for about an hour, depending on the size of the cheese wheel (his are several pounds each). So clearly my 2½ hours was far too long for the tiny wheel slices I had! 

From those 2 update comments, I really am encouraged to cold smoke cheese again!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Radiation and Drinking Water

Photo from Topato's Photostream

The disturbing situation of airborne radiation particles and radiation-contaminated water in Japan sure puts a different light on drinking water now. Unfortunately for me (and for perhaps many of us) radiation is both a foreign and complex subject and searches on the internet didn't turn up direct answers to my questions. What I did find in a roundabout way is that there is information available for removing dissolved mineral radioactivity in drinking water, primarily because here in the US there are many areas with hazardous levels of radionuclides in our drinking water.

When some 'authority' figure says any radiation hazard coming from Japan is very low, what kind of radiation are they talking about? There are alpha particle/emitters, beta particle/emitters, gamma rays, neutrons... and are they talking about ionizing radiation or non-ionizing radiation?

I have been slightly biased against nuclear power plants for many years, but after researching nuclear technology for an intensive week or more, I am now standing firmly against nuclear power plants. This is not a knee-jerk, panic reaction, but an educated response (and a hard slap to my own head because of all those years I never made the time to really learn about nuclear technology.)

Sure, "They" say nuclear power may help solve the US dilemma of our voracious power consumption, and that it IS safe, but that's not the answer. How many of those people in Japan even within 50 miles of the Fukushima Reactors do you think would gladly give back most if not all their electrical consumption over the last 40 years if it would erase the nightmare?

In order to understand nuclear technology and its impact on human health, I suggest you read Nuclear Radiation and its Biological Effects because I cannot begin to explain it. I do know the atomic structure of fission fragments produced in nuclear reactors is unstable... which means no more predictable than a crazed crack addict. 

Please note what I've posted below does not constitute professional water filtration advice, nor health/medical advice, and does NOT cover all forms of radiation dangers. It is simply some of what I have gleaned from the literature, and because I don't think the authorities are telling us everything. (I'm not either, but only because I don't know.) It's very confusing and by no means do I understand it all. For one thing, not all radioactive particles are the same, and not all radioactive particles have the same degree of safety or hazards.

Drinking Water:
I've had a survival plan of one sort or another for many years, mostly due to living in hurricane-prone areas, and/or Tornado Alley. Potable water (i.e. safe to drink) has always been in the forefront of my preparations, and I've made several posts on this blog about potable water. You can find them under the label "potable water".

What hasn't been in my plan for potable water is addressing radionuclides, so now that's been my research project, and here (below some technical data) is a bit of what I've found so far, and some suggestions I plan to follow. I am not suggesting you follow them, just do your own research. 

The radioactive Iodine-131 found in the drinking water in Tokyo is a radionuclide produced when atoms of uranium in nuclear reactors (or nuclear weapons) divide into 2 parts. Iodine-131 has a half-life of 8 days, and I-131 emits gamma rays, similar to x-rays which cause ionization. Examples of ionizing particles are alpha particles, beta particles, neutrons, and cosmic rays.

Gamma rays can be detected by whole-body counters which measure a body's internal exposure whereas dosimeters measure a body's external exposure. Spent fuel rods contain gamma radiation emitters. The spent nuclear fuel rods and liquid reprocessing waste are called `high level radioactive waste'. It must be kept secure for hundreds of thousands of years -- essentially forever. Lower level waste may be equally long-lived, but it is less concentrated.

Half-life is the physical time required for half of a quantity of a radioactive material to undergo a nuclear transformation ("Division"). The chemical resulting from the transformation may be either radioactive or non-radioactive. We should not confuse physical half-life of the chemical with biological half-life which is the time required to eliminate half of the material from the body through exhalation, urine or feces.

Probably the three most worrisome radioactive materials from a health perspective are iodine-131, cesium-137 and strontium-90. I-131 affects the thyroid; cesium-137 affects the whole body (it is chemically similar to potassium) and strontium-90 affects bone (it's chemically similar to calcium).

Although stable cesium and strontium are harmless, radioactive isotopes released by nuclear fission can cause cancer. Cesium-137 and strontium-90 both have half-lives of almost thirty years, but cesium-137 is normally excreted from the body within two years while strontium-90 can be incorporated in our bones for a lifetime.

Radionuclides are often referred to by chemists and physicists, as radioactive isotopes or radioisotopes, and they can also present both real and perceived dangers to health.
Radioactivity is a health risk because the energy emitted by radioactive materials can damage or kill cells. Exposure to radionuclides from drinking water results in increased risk of cancer.  

Alpha radiation is a type of particle emitted through the decay of certain radioactive substances, such as uranium. The level of risk depends on the level of ingested uranium concentration. Alpha particles released by uranium cannot penetrate the skin, so uranium that is outside the body is less harmful than that which is inhaled. David Ozonoff, an environmental health professor and Chair Emeritus of the Boston University School of Public Health called alpha particles the "800-pound gorilla of radioactive particles.

Beta particles can cause serious burns or worse, such as the 3 men in one of the Japanese nuclear plants experienced when contaminated water got in their boots.

Okay, back to drinking water...
There is naturally occurring radioactivity in some of our water, depending on where we live. It occurs irregularly throughout the bedrock, much like other minerals such as iron, arsenic and quartz. A few examples with health importance include the alpha particles in radon, radium 226, and uranium; radium 228 is a beta particle. (Radon is a gas dissolved in water; most other radionuclides are dissolved minerals in water.) Ozonoff says drinking water with any amount of alpha particles, even when consumed in amounts below federal legal limits, raises your risk to develop health problems or in rare cases, cancer. Examples of alpha particles found in water are those from uranium, radium and other minerals.
So, what can we do to hopefully assure safe drinking water in the event of either nuclear contamination or higher than normal levels of naturally-occurring radioactivity?

(Source of the water treatment technical data below.)

Obviously one option is buying bottled drinking water (if you can trust your life to it), but that can get very expensive very fast.

In my opinion from all I have read, my own best (and possibly imperfect) option is actually a choice of 2 versions of the same basic thing: a reverse osmosis system. One version is a whole-house unit capable of processing 300-400 gallons a day, enough for a family of 4 for daily activities including showers and laundry as well as drinking water. My personal option would be a P.O.U. (Point of Use) version which would treat 2-5 gallons a day, enough for drinking water.
By the way, the only bottled water I ever buy to drink is Aquafina, which is bottled through a reverse osmosis treatment. I've been buying it for several years, although now I try to avoid adding plastic bottles to our landfills.

Reverse osmosis (RO) treatment addresses all uranium, radium and gross alpha contaminants. In this treatment process, water under pressure is placed against a special membrane. The RO membrane allows water molecules to pass through, but retards the passage of other contaminants, including radionuclides. The rejected contaminants and the water that does not go through the membrane are "wasted" from this device to prevent the overall buildup of the contaminant(s) on the untreated side of the membrane. Typical installation cost of RO is approximately $900-$1,100. The benefits of RO treatment are that it will take out all dissolve mineral radionuclides, whether positive or negative valance, and any other unrecognized contaminants. In addition, there is no concern about the contaminants accumulating within the treatment device. (Note to self: Where do the contaminants go if they don't accumulate in the device??)

Another option is Treatment Equipment for Ion Exchange, which is basically a water softening unit that removes targeted contaminants by exchanging them for other non-hazardous contaminants, typically salt. The contaminants accumulate in the medium, see notice below about disposal. 

It is important to read the fine print on any filtration system to see exactly what they actually filter out. (That also means I need to check the filters stored in my emergency kit and see if they filter radionuclides.)

Radionuclides can also be removed by cartridge size cation and anion exchange medias and certain adsorptive medias. Cation exchange (+) will address all radium contaminants and that portion of the gross alpha which has a positive valance. Anion exchange (-) addresses uranium and the remaining factors contributing to gross alpha. These radionuclides accumulate on the ion exchange cartridge until the cartridge removal capability is equaled; thereafter all contaminants could get through. Most modern devices have a water meter to alert the user when the treatment capability is used up. Initial cost should be lower than RO, but operating cost should be reviewed.

Notice: The spent regeneration solution and concentrated radionuclides are typically discharged to the home's septic system or a separate dry well. Proper disposal of the concentrated radioactivity is an important aspect of any treatment process and should be discussed with the authorities in your area.

Source of the water treatment technical data above. Source for the general radiation information (if not linked) came from here where they reprinted it with permission from No Immediate Danger, Prognosis for a Radioactive Earth by Dr. Rosalie Bertell. I strongly advise anyone to read the radiation link just above; it covers some important things we should read about nuclear power plants and nuclear weapons.

Links to my other posts regarding this disaster:
Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop...
Disaster Preparedness in the wake of Tsunamis
Holistic Radiation Protection Tips
Radiation Dose Chart
Similar Fukushima Reactors in the US
Letter from Sendai, via friend to friend to friend...

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Reactors in the US Similar to Japan's Fukushima

List of US Nuclear Reactors with the same weak containment design as the Fukushima Reactors.

General Electric Boiling Water Reactor MARK I Containments (24 units) in U.S.:
    * Browns Ferry 1, 2 and 3, Decatur, AL
    * Brunswick 1 & 2, Southport, NC
    * Cooper, Brownville, NE
    * Dresden 2 & 3, Morris, IL
    * Duane Arnold, Palo, IA
    * Edwin Hatch 1 & 2, Baxley, GA
    * Fermi 2, Monroe, MI
    * Hope Creek, Artificial Island, NJ
    * Fitzpatrick, Scriba, NY
    * Millstone 1, Waterford, CT
    * Monticello, Monticello, MN
    * Nine Mile Point Unit 1, Scriba, NY
    * Oyster Creek, Lacey Township, NJ
    * Peach Bottom 2 & 3, Delta, PA
    * Pilgrim 1, Plymouth, MA
    * Quad Cities 1 & 2, Cordova, IL
    * Vermont Yankee, Vernon, VT.

In 1986, Harold Denton, then the NRC's (U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission) top safety official, told an industry trade group that the "Mark I containment, especially being smaller with lower design pressure, in spite of the suppression pool, if you look at the WASH 1400 safety study, you'll find something like a 90% probability of that containment failing." Denton has previously "served" as the NRC's point man sent into Three Mile Island Unit 2 reactor control room in the first hours and days of the 1979 meltdown accident.

Vermont Yankee (Reactor), just several days ago (from March 12 news), got a 20 year license extension from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, effectively overriding the deep and broad opposition to the license extension, from the Democratic Governor Peter Shumlin, to the State Senate which voted a year ago by 26 to 4 to shut down the reactor, all the way to grassroots environmental activists across the state. 

Obviously, the Vermont Yankee containment is questionable now -- it's been questionable for decades. While earthquakes may be considered rare in Vermont, they are not unheard of, or beyond the realm of possibility. But of course there are other pathways for accidents, or attacks, at Vermont Yankee, that could end in similar results as what is unfolding at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant -- from age related degradation at the 40 year old Vermont Yankee atomic reactor causing systems, structures, or components to fail, to an intentional attack on the fragile, flimsy facility.


Thursday, March 24, 2011

My First Hard Rind Cheese Results!

Remember the post on making my first hard cheese back in February? I made it on Feb. 5-6, and waxed it on Feb. 16.  It has been aging in the cool and damp root cellar ever since, and I finally decided to cut it open and taste it.

Now, 6 weeks is a short aging time for a hard-rind cheese but according to the Dr. Fankhouser recipe I used, it could have been cut 2 weeks ago.

I must say that for my first cheese and doing a lot of things wrong (but right by the recipe), it tastes pretty good! 

I just dipped it in melted paraffin as a coating, but now I know that the coating (pref. wax which isn't brittle like paraffin) should be around 190ºF or a little higher to kill any surface bacteria. Sure enough, my cheese developed 2-3 spots of mold under the paraffin. They were small, about the size of the tip of a pencil eraser and just on the surface, and they didn't appear until 4-5 days before I cut it open.

The cheese has a nice dry, crumbly texture and a sort of mild cheddar-ish flavor. (NOT like American Kraft cheddar!)  It has a great aftertaste that develops and lingers in my mouth. I may make this recipe again, only in a 2 gallon batch, and let it age 6 months to see what it's like then.

Meanwhile, I have another farmhouse cheddar from a different recipe I made a month ago and posted March 15 that can be cut later this week. It was a 2 gallon batch; I cut the cylinder in half after it came out of the mold and dried, then vac-sealed each half to age. This way I can taste one aged a month and leave the other one to age longer.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Radiation Dose Chart

With all the current concerns about radiation doses, I thought I'd post this dose chart. It is too large to post the actual chart here so that you'd be able to read the text, so here's the link.

There are some very interesting stats among the low levels. For example, eating one banana has the same dose as living for a year within 50 miles of a nuclear power plant... and eating one banana is ⅓ the dosage of living within 10 miles of a coal power plant for a year. Who know that about bananas??? Or coal plants??

The stats are all in grid pictures so it's easy to compare the doses and possible dangers, and includes grid pictures from cross-country (US) airplane flights, CT scans, dental x-rays, mamograms, or spending a day in areas like the Colorado Plateau where the background radiation is higher than average.

Interesting (to me, anyway) is that a mamogram is 3X the external dose from Three Mile Island!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Bresaola, traditional cured beef

I was SO pleased with my first small trial bresaola using a piece of venison that I decided to risk a 3 pound beef eye round roast. I'm afraid if I don't start it now, the root cellar could get too warm for a proper cure since we're headed into spring and warmer days.

I won't have much to report for several weeks, but I thought I'd show you the start. Starting now it cures (bagged) in the refrigerator for a week or more, then gets wrapped and hung in the root cellar. I used the cure from Ruhlman's Charcuterie and added some black pepper, fresh rosemary and thyme for flavoring. I just made a small cheese wheel with thyme and it smells great, so I thought I'd try thyme in a bresaola. (The cheese won't be ready to taste for a month. Ugh.)

I really want to start a dry cured salami before it gets too warm too, but it will have to wait until next month when I can afford the bacterial starter and the casing.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Holistic Radiation Protection Tips

The following information is copied from an email from Thomas Cowan, MD, who works closely with the Weston A Price Foundation, and co-authored The Fourfold Path to Healing with Sally Fallon. I believe the dietary recommendations are something we should all consider following anyway for good health. The specific foods, herbs and vitamins for radiation exposure is a list I will print out and tape inside my medicine cabinet, and gather them as I can. After all, we never know when some war-mongering idiot will set the nuclear spark off.

"Native Americans believed that for every important decision, the leaders should imagine the consequences of that decision for those coming seven generations.   

Sadly and, right now, tragically, it is clear that our leaders and corporations have not been following this wise dictum.   If they had, we wouldn't have built nuclear power plants, we wouldn't have used up much of the stored energy and minerals on our planet, and we wouldn't have treated our rivers and oceans like sewage dumps.    But we have done those things, and now we are possibly facing yet another grave threat to the health and well being of our planet: the spread of radiation from the destruction of the nuclear-power plant in Japan.

It may turn out well: The radiation leaks might be contained, the fires may be put out, the immediate threat might and hopefully will recede.  It seems at this point there is no way to predict the outcome of this unfolding crisis.  Though radiation leakage has been detected within at least 20 miles of the plant, so far, according to news reports, no increase in radiation or other toxic exposure has occurred in California or anywhere else.   Hopefully, it will stay like this.

Many people have asked me what, if anything, they should do to prepare for the possibility of increased radiation exposure.  

Here are my suggestions, based on my understanding of the research on preventing and treating radiation sickness.  I also want to thank the many people who have written to me to help me sort out the voluminous research on this subject.

First, because there is no clear evidence of current danger that I know of, we should do now only what is safe, inexpensive and otherwise healthy.   This includes our Nourishing Traditions/GAPS diet, with liberal amounts of good fats, broth, lacto-fermented vegetables and greens.   Special foods that have been shown to counteract radiation sickness include naturally fermented miso, beets, kombucha and sea vegetables, such as kombu.   Fermented cod liver oil at the usual dose of ½ teaspoon or 2 capsules is best.   Next, detoxifying baths with a cup of Epsom salts every couple days is an inexpensive aid to boosting magnesium levels, relaxing muscles, and aiding the elimination channels.

As for medicines, at this point I recommend the safest and most proven aids in radiation exposure, which are vitamin C in the form of the highly absorbable liposomal C; the herb eleutherococcus, otherwise known as Siberian ginseng; and a seaweed called modifilan, a brown seaweed that is rich in a chemical called fucoidan, which studies have shown has great promise in combating radiation exposure.  This seaweed has liberal amounts of iodine, so the more toxic potassium iodine need not be taken at this point.   The doses of these medicines are:

Liposomal C: 1 tsp a day in any liquid,  half that dose for children younger than 5.

Eleutherococcus from Mediherb, Pure, Herb Pharm or other vendors:  one tablet twice a day for adults, half that dose for children younger than 5.  For children unable to swallow pills, the tablets can be dissolved in hot water and mixed with any liquid.  For tinctures use as directed on labels and half dose for children.

Modifilan:   3 capsules twice a day for adults, one capsule twice a day for children younger than 5. It can be mixed with any soft food, like applesauce.

All these medicines can be obtained online, or, you can call our office (415-334-1010), and we will send them out.    We don't have an unlimited supply but will do the best we can to keep up.

As for potassium iodine, this is a much more aggressive measure, and many people will have some trouble with the high doses that are suggested.  But, if public health authorities say it's time, then it should be used - but only then, in my opinion.  In that case, the dose is 130 mg of KI for adults and women who are breastfeeding, 65 mg for young people ages 3 and 18, children who are adult size take the adult dose, and infants and children between 1 month and 2 years should take 32 mg, newborns to infants 1 month old should take 16 mg.   The best source is either from your local pharmacy or by ordering Iodoral online.  If you need a prescription, you can call the front desk and we can call it in.

Hopefully, this tragedy will be resolved soon. In the meantime, our hearts go out to the workers risking their health and lives to contain the damage, and to the people of Japan, who have endured so much. It is my hope that this event will lead to a needed change of awareness in our culture. I invite you to stay abreast of other possible interventions and to keep in touch."

Thomas Cowan, MD
Fourfold Healing | 661 Chenery Street | San Francisco | CA | 94131

Here are more food and herbal information links on the subject:

Surviving Radiation the Wise Woman Way

Herbs and Thoughts on Protection From Radiation Exposure and Recipe


Friday, March 18, 2011

Letter from Sendai, via friend to friend to friend...

From my cousin in Sendai, Japan where she has lived for the past decade teaching English. Very moving!!

"Hello My Lovely Family and Friends,

First I want to thank you so very much for your concern for me. I am very touched. I also wish to apologize for a generic message to you all. But it seems the best way at the moment to get my message to you.

Things here in Sendai have been rather surreal. But I am very blessed to have wonderful friends who are helping me a lot. Since my shack is even more worthy of that name, I am now staying at a friend's home. We share supplies like water, food and a kerosene heater. We sleep lined up in one room, eat by candlelight, share stories. It is warm, friendly, and beautiful.

During the day we help each other clean up the mess in our homes. People sit in their cars, looking at news on their navigation screens, or line up to get drinking water when a source is open. If someone has water running in their home, they put out sign so people can come to fill up their jugs and buckets.

Utterly amazingly where I am there has been no looting, no pushing in lines. People leave their front door open, as it is safer when an earthquake strikes. People keep saying, "Oh, this is how it used to be in the old days when everyone helped one another."

Quakes keep coming. Last night they struck about every 15 minutes. Sirens are constant and helicopters pass overhead often.

We got water for a few hours in our homes last night, and now it is for half a day. Electricity came on this afternoon. Gas has not yet come on. But all of this is by area. Some people have these things, others do not. No one has washed for several days. We feel grubby, but there are so much more important concerns than that for us now. I love this peeling away of non-essentials. Living fully on the level of instinct, of intuition, of caring, of what is needed for survival, not just of me, but of the entire group.

There are strange parallel universes happening. Houses a mess in some places, yet then a house with futons or laundry out drying in the sun.

People lining up for water and food, and yet a few people out walking their dogs. All happening at the same time.

Other unexpected touches of beauty are first, the silence at night. No cars. No one out on the streets. And the heavens at night are scattered with stars. I usually can see about two, but now the whole sky is filled.

The mountains are Sendai are solid and with the crisp air we can see them silhouetted against the sky magnificently.

And the Japanese themselves are so wonderful. I come back to my shack to check on it each day, now to send this e-mail since the electricity is on, and I find food and water left in my entranceway. I have no idea from whom, but it is there. Old men in green hats go from door to door checking to see if everyone is OK. People talk to complete strangers asking if they need help. I see no signs of fear. Resignation, yes, but fear or panic, no.

They tell us we can expect aftershocks, and even other major quakes, for another month or more. And we are getting constant tremors, rolls, shaking, rumbling. I am blessed in that I live in a part of Sendai that is a bit elevated, a bit more solid than other parts. So, so far this area is better off than others. Last night my friend's husband came in from the country, bringing food and water. Blessed again.

Somehow at this time I realize from direct experience that there is indeed an enormous Cosmic evolutionary step that is occurring all over the world right at this moment. And somehow as I experience the events happening now in Japan, I can feel my heart opening very wide. My brother asked me if I felt so small because of all that is happening. I don't. Rather, I feel as part of something happening that much larger than myself. This wave of birthing (worldwide) is hard, and yet magnificent.

Thank you again for your care and Love of me,

With Love in return, to you all."

My friendly source.

Making Butter

Making butter was NOT on my list, and in fact not even in my random thoughts. However, I DO buy cream to drink in my coffee... not artificial dairy creamer, not half and half (which is all ultra-pasteurized anyway), but real, honest-to-God cream.

A few days ago I was in a small store and happened to look in the cooler. I know there is a small Jersey Dairy started in the area about a year ago, but I hadn't seen many of their products around. This store had pints of their Jersey Cream for $1.49, and since I know Jerseys have a higher butterfat content in their milk, I decided to try it and bought 2 pints. The containers had no expiration date but I bought them anyway.

This morning when I put cream in my coffee, I thought the cream was about to go south. Even though it wasn't spoiled, it did have a few thicker chunks floating in it. So to make a long story short, I decided to make butter rather than lose a full pint plus the tad left in the first pint.

I left them on the counter to come to room temp for 3-4 hours, and then dumped the contents into a large bowl. All I had to stir was my whisk, since I didn't think there was enough volume to warrant bringing out my big KitchenAid mixer.

Within 30 seconds, the fat globules had started to separate from the buttermilk.

In 2 minutes it started looking like butter, simply stirring with the whisk.

In 3 minutes I had a substantial mass that was too hard for the whisk so I got out a spatula. You can see a half pint of buttermilk I had already drained off, standing in front of the bowl, and a little more buttermilk in the bowl.

Within 4 minutes I had to switch to a sturdier tool, a wooden tool I use for icing cakes. Not shown is taking it to the sink and running cold water over it while stirring/mashing to rinse more of the buttermilk out. I'm not sure I got it all. The best thing to do would have been to spread it out thinly on a marble slab except I don't own one. If all the buttermilk is not rinsed away, the butter will sour and spoil soon.

At his point I mixed in a pinch of kosher salt to taste, put it in a small container, and weighed it. My pint plus the remaining 1/8 pint in the first container made over half a pound of butter! I'm sure 2 full pints would have made a full pound of butter... and I paid only $1.49 per pint.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop...

Do you feel like Life is in  s l o w  m o t i o n  since the devastation that started in Japan last week and is still ongoing? I sure do. As I write this on Wednesday night, the news is dire and filled with uncertainties. What could happen is anyone's guess and could affect us all, or just be a false alarm with a lot of finger-pointing and arm waving. The truth is that no one really knows what happens in a worst-case scenario because it has never happened. All the mucky-mucks have is textbook theory.

I lived in Maryland about 50 miles downstream from Three Mile Island when it happened in March, 1979. Let me tell you, no one around me felt secure. I moved to a remote area in mountains a year later, not to avoid nuke plants although that was a plus. Of course I didn't stay in the mountains but a few years, leaving only after becoming dead broke, to find a decent paying position in a city. I came back to my beloved mountains when I retired several years ago.

From where I live now, there are 6 commercial nuclear plants within 200 miles (the American Thyroid Association recommends a 200 mile protective zone) of me. The closest is McGuire, NC @ 102 miles, followed by Catawba, SC @ 126 miles; Oconee, SC @ 160 miles; Shearon Harris, NC @ 167 miles; Virgil C Summer, SC @ 176 miles, and HB Robinsin, SC @ 185 miles. You can look up the nuclear facilities close to your home here: Nuclear Reactor Maps.

As far as I know, the government does not disclose the locations of their military or research nuclear locations.

I'm not necessarily worried about the nuclear power plants near me, just the potential for nuclear problems in general. I am glad there is not one in my backyard, but some things other than proximity worry me a lot more. They have yet to find a way to safely dispose of spent fuel rods. All they know how to do is keep them covered by 30 feet of cold water. I think that will put a further strain on our decreasing water supply in a few years. Then there's the rest of the cost of storing the spent rods... 24/7 security, possible leakage into the community or?, constant monitoring... and then what if there's a problem???

Perhaps, just perhaps... we Americans could learn to use less electricity, like most of the world does? Learn to conserve? Learn to hang clothes on the line to dry instead of using the "expensive to buy and run" clothes dryer? Unplug all the chargers for our cell phones and gadgets when they are not actively charging? In other words, eliminate our phantom loads, of which most households have plenty... dust-busters, anything with a timer such as the coffee pot, the stereo that hasn't actually been turned on in a month but still plugged in for an instant start... and God Forbid we unplug the TV when we're not watching it... why, it may take 2-3 minutes to warm up enough for a picture to appear!

Why, we could even reduce the highway speed limits to reduce gasoline consumption. (Oil refining requires electricity.) Did you know the cost of producing aluminum is close to 40% in electricity alone? (Have you ever bought parchment paper to use instead of waxed paper or aluminum foil? I don't know if it's more efficient to produce or not, just a theoretical question).

I do know we can all do more to conserve, and we're all in this together.

The Earth quakes
The Water flows
And Ripples Through the World
Sending waves of Fear and Doubt
Of Life and Death Unfurled
Today it’s Here
Tomorrow Where?
The Time has Come
We are not Separate from this Earth
Not Separate from
Each Other

~ Aaron Hoopes, 2011

We can get fuel from fruit, from that shrub by the roadside, or from apples, weeds, saw-dust - almost anything! There is fuel in every bit of vegetable matter that can be fermented. There is enough alcohol in one year's yield of a hectare of potatoes to drive the machinery necessary to cultivate the field for a hundred years. And it remains for someone to find out how this fuel can be produced commercially - better fuel at a cheaper price than we know now.
~Henry Ford.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Easy Cheddar

I wasn't going to make a simple cheddar (simple meaning the actual "cheddaring" process is bypassed) because those posts are all over the internet. However in the end I relented, just so I can make a cheese I can eat sooner! Most of the cheese types I have planned require several months to age before tasting... and my list is growing!

So far, I want to make a Stilton-type (it can't be a 'real' Stilton because I don't live there); some Tommes, an Asiago, a Parmesan-type, Grana Pardana, Munajuusto Egg Cheese, Butterkåse, real Dutch Gouda, Jarlsburg, Reblochon, Brie (one of my very favs!), Colby and even some real (aged more than a year to be sharp) Cheddars. Can you tell I love cheese?? LOL

Anyway, I have a simple farm cheddar 'working' as I'm writing. I have just added the rennet to 2 gallons of milk, which was warmed to 90ºF and then a packet of mesophilic culture added. If I had wanted to add any cheese coloring (I don't even have any) now would have been the time. I added ¼ tsp. of calcium chloride diluted in ¼ cup distilled water along with the starter, to help make a stronger curd. When milk is heated for pasteurization, the calcium content drops, and calcium chloride brings it back up. (How much calcium is lost initially depends on the method of pasteurization, whether it is high temp flash, or lower temp for longer.)  

2 gallons of whole milk in a pot is huge... and heavy, a little over 17 pounds!

Once the rennet is added, there's a more reliable way to tell when to cut the curds rather than estimating a clean break. It's called the flocculation method. Actually it's fairly simple, but rather than reinvent the wheel, the instructions are here.

When the floccuation is finished, time to cut the curds into ½ inch cubes. After the curds are cut, the pot of curds and whey needs to be gradually heated to 100ºF, not an easy task since it only needs to climb 2º every 5 minutes. You could do this by setting the pot in a sink of hot water, but I chose to set my pot in a larger stockpot with water, and heat slowly with the stove. (I did start with hot water, about 130ºF.) As the curds and whey are heating gradually, you need to stir to keep the curds from matting. Also, this brings up larger pieces of curd that need to be cut smaller so their whey can drain.

After reaching 100ºF, cover and let the curds rest for 5 minutes. During the previous 30 minutes, the curds will have shrunk, releasing a lot of their whey.

The finished curds look like this, above.

After the short rest, scoop the curds out with a skimmer or ladle, and place in a cheesecloth-lined colander. There will be a LOT of curds. In fact, I'm afraid I may have too many for my one and only mold!

Tie the corners of the cheesecloth and hang out of a draft for one hour. Ideally they should be hung in a warm room temperature.

After they have drained for an hour, place the curds in a large bowl. It will probably be one big lump. Break up the lumps with your fingers to golf-ball size or smaller. Add 1 tablespoon of cheese salt, baker's salt, or any fine-milled salt you have on hand. A coarse salt or table salt will not do, and it needs to be iodine-free.

Next, line the mold with cheesecloth and put the curds in it. Fold the cheesecloth neatly over the top and press for 10-15 minutes with 10 pounds of weights. As I suspected, it was a tight fit!

After the 10 minutes, you can see there is a large amount of whey drained, shown in the plastic container, plus what the bamboo mat soaked up, and it has compressed a bit. Take the cheesecloth/cheese out of the mold, remove the cloth, put the cloth back in the mold, turn the cheese over and put it back in the mold, again covering the top neatly.

Double the weight to 20 pounds, and press for another 10 minutes.

Remove the mold, repeat the process of turning and re-dressing the cheese, and this time press with 50 pounds for about 12 hours.

I really must get some good weights!

So, it's time for bed for both me, and the cheese for its overnight 12 hour press under about 50 pounds. Sure hope I don't hear any crashes in the night!

After the cheese has been presses for 12 hours, remove it from the mold and carefully peel away the cheesecloth. 

Now it is ready to air-dry at room temps for 1-3 days, until it has formed a rind and feels quite dry to the touch. The time to dry will depend on room temps and humidity, and we have a rainy forecast for the next 2-3 days. The wheel should be turned several times so it can dry evenly. At this point, the wheel weighs 2.17 pounds, but it will lose additional moisture as it dries.

Once dry, it could be waxed (but I will vacpak it), and aged for at least a month in my cave. I wish I had made several so I could see how each tasted aged for 1 month, 2 months, 3 months...

Note: I made this cheese Feb. 20-21, sliced the wheel in half horizontally and vacuum-packed each half so I can taste one while letting the other age longer. I can taste the first one around March 25, and will post a tasting update. However, being very new to cheesemaking, I'm prepared for disappointment as well as success!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Disaster Preparedness in the wake of Tsunamis

The current world news about the earthquake and tsunami in Japan hits home about the importance of having a food and water supply AT HOME. (Assuming one still has a home.) It's been about a day and a half since the disaster first struck, and the top concern after life and death is the already extreme shortage of food and water. Can you imagine what it will be like in a week?

With the collapse of a nuclear reactor and the explosion at the nuclear site, folks nearby are being evacuated. However, those farther away are being advised to stay inside in case of radiation fallout, yet few have any food or water supply to enable survival inside for very long. There are reports of hundreds of people outside grocery stores, drug stores and petrol stations. With roads in shambles, no electricity in many places, and few communication devices working, it will take time to get supplies to those people. Probably as long if not longer than the fiasco in New Orleans following Katrina.

This has put a kink in my own long-time preparedness: the location of many of my supplies. About half the food and most of the water I have stored is in my root cellar, which is a separate building from the house. In the event of a nuclear disaster, it could be unsafe to go outside to collect anything from that building. I have a spring for an alternate water supply, and some filters (or build a fire to boil water), but if it is unsafe to go outside, I'd be mighty thirsty quite soon.

It's something to think about. How prepared are you for an immediate and unexpected disaster?

Garden Flood

It's not quite garden time here yet... thankfully. With all the recent rain, my creek has flooded into the yard twice in the last 8 days and threatens again tonight. The day the photo above was taken, the waters came up in the yard well above the garden and completely covered the shallots and garlic shown in the photo taken when the flooding just started. 

The shallots and garlic have been in the ground since October, and must have a good root system by now since they didn't wash away when the swift water covered them. I'm hoping they don't rot, which is a large possibility for the shallots.Shallots are prone to getting rain in the neck causing rot; the bulb is always planted with the neck slightly above ground to prevent that, but the total immersion may do them in even though it was just overnight.

There are a few other perennials (besides weeds!) in the garden, just starting to show life although you can't see it in the photo. There is sorrel, biennial cabbage collards and asparagus along the top edge, with horseradish and comfrey down at the far end. I think there's more because I'm always surprised at what shows up!

I'll start seeds around April 1st for planting after our last frost date of May 15th. Meanwhile, I have onion plants (not sets) to put in if it ever dries out, and still have to order leek plants.

With the crazy winter weather this year, I'm a little fearful of what the summer will bring. However, I hope it will be Happy Gardening for us all!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

6 Degrees of "Fermentation"

6 Degrees of Separation is a term is often used as a synonym for the idea of the "small world" phenomenon. It refers to the idea that everyone is on average approximately six steps away from any other person on Earth, so that a chain of, "a friend of a friend" statements can be made, on average, to connect any two people in six steps or fewer.

In my case, it's the small world of fermenting... and all ferments are connected within 6 steps or fewer, so to speak.

I hadn't given much thought to the connectedness of the food things I do (other than eat them) until I started learn to make charcuterie and cheese. Then it finally sunk in...  fermenting is the connection! I started to ferment breads (sourdough) 2-3 years ago, and over the last 2 summers I spent a lot of time learning and making lacto-fermented vegetables. Last fall, I started to re-learn fermenting wines and cider. Over the winter I have been learning to ferment sausages and salume with the hopes of eventually fermenting (curing) a ham.

Now, I'm also learning to ferment cheese. It seems to me that each new thing is a little easier because it builds on the related experience which is also connectedness, gained from the things I learned previously. The more I learn in each of these connected areas, the more I am beginning to understand some of the nuances of fermenting, with hopes of eventually mastering a few of them. Lactobacillus, common to ferments, is a very interesting bacteria and enriches my world by the fermentation of foods from chocolate and sauerkraut to merlot and Brie.

To make things interesting, Lactobacillus is like any other living thing (including us!)... it depends on what it eats, and what it eats affects what it does. Maybe that cow ate a few more blades of grass with higher Omega-3, so that one gallon of milk had a miniscule amount more butterfat and lactose than the other gallon I used. No two cheese wheels will turn out the same, nor will any 2 loaves of sourdough, or batches of beer... The bacteria and yeast in the air we breathe, on our walls and on our skin, are all working in addition to (or sometimes against) the bacteria and yeast we add from little packets into whatever we are making. 

Perhaps a slight puff of air from an open window flows over my pot just as I am adding the culture, bringing a tad more of my resident lactobacillus along with it... or maybe there were a few more grains of salt in one measured teaspoonful compared to another...or today the humidity is 2% higher than yesterday. SO many variables that all affect every outcome.

I actually find it very refreshing (although a little frustrating) to know that everything I make will NOT turn out exactly the same every time, even after I learn the basics and move into some proficiency. There will always be an element of surprise and discovery waiting in the wings, keeping Life interesting!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Feta Recipe Notice

If any of you planned to make the recipe for the Feta I made in March (posted here), Please discard it. The feta turned to mush in the brine after just a few days. I think I know the problem, but won't be able to try again for a few days. I will post a better recipe and technique when I figure it out!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

I made Caerphilly!

Caerphilly is a cheese that was a fixture in the lunchboxes of Welsh miners, and since both of my great grandparents (on one side) were born in Wales, I decided to make one in their honor. It's an easy cheese to make, and has a short cure time of around 3 weeks to be ready to eat. It does not even need to be waxed! This cheese is considered a "rennet coagulated hard cheese" and the only culture needed is a mesophilic (low temp) culture you can make at home from cultured buttermilk. (The instructions are in this post.)

Caerphilly (sounds like 'carefully') is said to be a slightly salty, somewhat crumbly cheese, and the miner's ate it to replace salt lost sweating in the mines long ago. 

I made mine on Feb. 28, and to my surprise because it is NOT a well-known cheese, it was the featured cheese March 4th on the blog from The New England Cheesemakers Supply, so I expect a lot of folks will be trying it soon!

The recipe calls for 2 gallons of milk but one gallon was all I had on hand, so I just cut everything in the recipe in half. The recipe I used is from, and I believe it was adapted from the recipe in Tim Smith's book, Making Artisan Cheese, and also partially adapted from Gavin's recipe that is featured on the blog mentioned above.

I'm quite pleased with mine, and if it tastes like I think it will, I expect to be making a lot of it to eat over the summer gardening time.

Process highlights:

Follow the recipe for details: cook the milk, add rennet, let mix coagulate, cut into curds.

Drain Curds

Slice into slabs, stack, and turn 2-3 times in 10 minutes to drain more whey.

With clean hands, crumble curds to thumbnail size pieces and mix in the salt.

Place salted curds in cheesecloth-lined mold and press for 10 minutes. Remove from press, mold, and cheesecloth. Invert, re-dress in cheesecloth, remold, and press another 10 minutes. Repeat procedure again and press for 16 hours.

After the last long press, remove from the mold, rub salt on the top and bottom, and air-dry 3-4 days until it develops a hard rind and doesn't weep anymore. Invert several times a day to assure even drying and fat distribution.

After 4 days of drying at room temp, mine is ready to put in the "cave" for about 2 weeks at temps around 55-60ºF and a relative humidity of 85%. Right now I only have my root cellar to use as a cave, and the RH is closer to 70% so I will place a pan of water under the rack. During the 4 days of room temp drying, my wheel lost 21% in weight, but it still weighs more than one pound, made from just 1 gallon of milk.

BTW, I am getting a used dorm refrigerator this weekend, and have a PID controller, etc. on order... all will be used to make a temp and humidity controlled cheese cave. I'll post about making it when I get all the parts. I plan to make a second one for a sausage fermenting chamber, and possibly a third one from a full-size refrigerator as a meat curing chamber. (I'm thinking the summer temps in my root cellar will be too high to cure meat, although it's been perfect all winter.)

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Venison Bresaola

Photo is in the public domain

"Bresaola is air-dried salted beef that has been aged 2-3 months until it becomes a dark red, almost purple color. It is usually made from very lean beef top round. 

Served as an antipasto, bresaola is usually sliced paper thin and served at room temperature or slightly chilled. It is most commonly eaten on its own, but may be drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice or balsamic vinegar, and served with rocket (rucola, arugula) salad, cracked black pepper, and freshly shaved Parmesan cheese. The similarity to carpaccio, which is made from raw beef, results in that name being used (incorrectly) for bresaola dishes as well." ~ Wiki

I started my first bresaola with 2 pieces of venison on January 13th, 2011. The total weight of the 2 pieces was 1000 grams (a little over 2 pounds). All the instructions I have read suggest that it is a waste of time to try and cure a bresaola weighing less than 3 pounds (in one piece) and that it cures best if it is a rounded tube in shape.

As you can see, I ignored the suggestions because it's what I had available!

Here's my recipe:
Salt: 20g Coarse sea salt
Sugar: 20g Demerara sugar
Cure #2: 2.7g
Coarse Cracked Black pepper: ½ tsp
Dried rosemary: ½ tsp
Dried Thyme: ½ tsp
Crushed juniper berries: ½ heaping tsp.
Nutmeg: about 3 grinds
Ascorbic acid: pinch
Zest of 1 lemon
Zest of half an orange
Note: I intended to use dark Muscovada sugar, but I picked up the wrong package off my pantry shelf. It won't matter except it won't have a slight molasses overtone.

The cure was mixed together and half was thoroughly rubbed all over both pieces of venison, and refrigerated in a lidded plastic container. The venison was turned and massaged daily for 6-7 days, then rinsed and the other half the cure applied.

After another 7 days of turning and massaging daily, the meat felt rather dense and somewhat resistant to finger pressure, compared to the initial feel. I rinsed both pieces thoroughly in cold water, and put on a baking rack to air dry for about 3 hours. (Jan. 27th)

Next, I weighed them; they were down to 946g from the initial 1000g, showing a loss of some moisture during the refrigerated cure. Once they felt dry to the touch, I wrapped then in a double layer of cheesecloth. It was suggested to lightly coat with olive oil to keep them from the outside drying out too much and forming a hard "skin". I compromised by oiling just one so I can learn any difference it might make, if any.

On Jan. 27th I hung them in my root cellar, where the temps stay between 34-40ºF and the humidity stays around 70-75%. After one week, the one I didn't oil had lost 11% of its weight. They need to lose about 30% to be considered "finished". (I neglected to weigh the other one after I oiled it before hanging, so I have no idea what moisture loss it has experienced.)

Update, Valentine's Day: The uncoated bresaola has lost 27% of its weight by today. I am sorely tempted to unwrap it and slice a bit... BUT I'm equally determined to do this "by the book" if possible. Both still smell great. As best I can estimate, the olive oil coated one has lost only about 12% of it's weight. So it is definitely aging more slowly. Whether that is good or bad remains to be seen! 

I'll be back with a new post and photos of the finished product (good, bad or otherwise) in a few more days, when the loss reaches 30%!

Update: The bresaola reached the target weight while this post was in the queue, so here it is. The surface developed a lovely, very fine white mold, like the dry-cured Italian salumi get... and it smells like a really great (and expensive) cheese! (It's very difficult to slice it thin enough; I may have to take it to a deli counter.) It is really tasty, worth ALL the effort... YUM!

(I also brought in the olive-oil coated one, and unwrapped it. The very top portion where the oil had drained away was pretty hard. I cut off that portion, re-wrapped it sans oil, and hung it back in the cellar for a few days. I don't think it will develop as nicely as the uncoated one, though.)

ps, Jason Molinari posted some nice photos of his Breasaola di Cervo (Deer Bresaola) here.