Sunday, November 19, 2017

Sunday Stroke Survival: Cutting the Cheese

We are two cheese loving fiends in this household. Cheese omelets, grated cheese in dishes, cheese and crackers, or even just slicing it and eating it.

Don't get me wrong. Any self respecting homesteader/DIYer has made cheese. I'm no different. I've probably made half a ton of cream cheese, cottage cheese, ricotta cheese, and other herbed spreadable cheese over the years, but never a cheddar or even a semi hard cheese like Swiss. Which we love the best. But, living post stroke is full of challenges every day. What I've got to say to that is..."What's one more?"

My excuse...I didn't have the molds,nor weights, nor a press. They are costly. Then, I figured I didn't need a fancy smancy cheese press or cheese molds the online places sold. I went to my favorite place to learn something new...YouTube. There isn't much that you can't find if you look for it. I also bought one of those Ricki Carol kits. The one with various cultures and rennet. It also came with cheesecloth, a thermometer, a strainer basket, and instructions. I much prefer my flour sack dish towels than cheesecloth. It's more sustainable than cheesecloth.

My friend in North Carolina had sent me home with a gallon and a half of frozen goat milk. Mel was tired of "tripping over" all those
Mel built hers with 16" bolts
quart bags in the freezer when she was trying to find something. She told me to do something with it. There was no room in the freezer for ice trays. She had made herself a book press a while back because she wanted one. She used it once and put it aside to gather dust. I simply repurposed it into a cheese press. I had some leftover 3" PVC pipe from when we made our rabbit poo removal system to use as a mold. I didn't have to pay another penny. What can I say...I'm cheap.

All I needed was to fashion was the follower that moved freely inside the pipe on to the scrap pile. We tried several ready made options, like a wide mouth canning lids, but the all could not stand the pressure without bending. Mel then took a leftover piece of 1x4. She cut the insert and sanded it. We finally had something that would work...sort of. It took several more cuttings and sanding attempts before we got it perfect. By using wood as a follower, the wood would get wet and swell. After a while, the follower wouldn't move freely in the PVC. So, wood would not be the best option, but it's what we had. We also pulled small blocks from the scrap pile to take up the space between the follower and the top of the book press/cheese press. Voila! We had a cheese press and molds.

The weights were empty, gallon milk jugs filled with water. 1 gal of liquid= 8 1/3 pounds. I figure 1 jug equaled about 10 lbs or at least close enough for just playing around. I could fit two gallon jugs and two juice containers around the bolts. If I was successful and I liked making hard cheese, a yard sale or Goodwill would have a set of standard weights cheaper than new. And then, we'd have to buy the dairy goats to feed my cheese making endeavors. Right now, I was playing with options. Who knows, I could hate the process and not want to do it again. No sense in spending my nickles and dimes yet.

Now I was ready to make cheese! I mixed enough cow's milk with calcium chloride with the partially thawed goats milk to make two gallons of liquid. working with full gallons is a lot easier than cutting a rennet tablet into 1/8th or 16ths. Then I placed it in a large, heavy bottomed pot. I gently brought the combined liquid up to temperature. I added the culture and let it bloom in the warm milk. I added the required rennet. It was instant gratification to see curds forming as I stirred it in. I put the pot in a warm water bath to let the curds finish forming.

Now many folk will cut the curds very precisely with a long knife, aptly named a cheese knife. I'm a one handed homesteader living post stroke and don't have a lot of patience. I used a wire whisk to cut my curd. I didn't need perfect cubes. I just needed it cut fairly uniform small chunks, and the whisk did the job. It was a whole lot simpler.

I cooked off the curds and strained them dry. Getting that large pot full of curds and whey into the kitchen sink one-handed is another story. I poured the curds into the mold. I retained the whey for ricotta cheese later. But that's another process.

I have to say, that I'm actually pleased with the result.  Did you know that cheddar cheese is made by cheddaring the curds? I didn't. I thought this was kind of neat. It seemed a shame to have to break that glossy, smooth cheddared cheese up to add salt, but I did.

I air dried, to set the rind, 1 1/2 pounds of freshly pressed cheddar. The bits and pieces that did not fit into the mold for the first weighted pressing was put in a bowl with cream, garlic and herbs for an overnight aged treat to be eaten with crackers. After all, the cheddar won't be aged for 3 months to a year before it's ready to eat. The whole process would need to be done on a large scale to meet our desires for this milk based product in the future because of the aging time involved.

As with most homesteads, the Cockeyed Homestead believes in waste not, want not. Everything has a second or third use. The whey was turned into ricotta cheese. Add some day old cream cheese, homemade sour cream, and leftover cottage cheese and we had the start of my infamous baked cheesecake. Just something else to nosh on while we are waiting.  Topped with my Triple Berry Delight jam made this summer as an extra fine treat. Yum!

After all is said and done, I may be investing in some weights. Cheese making is a labor of love and time. I can see myself doing this again. Now, about them goats... :o)

Nothing is impossible.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Sunday Stroke Survival: I'm Still Crazy Part Deux.

Today, I'm revisiting last week's blog on my craziness living post stroke.

You may remember a few weeks ago, I blogged about our orchard being cleared. Yeah, once again real life got the better of me pulling me away from the homestead. Doctors, therapy, and orthotic appointments were heavy over the past several weeks. Ah, such is life living post stroke. We never got the chance to broadcast our deer plot seed to green up our tiered orchard before the cooler weather started.

3 of 5 tiers
Now that the firewood is stock piled, the garden has been put to bed for the winter, and the chicken coop and run are done, we can turn our attention to the barren ground which will become our orchard. It means hauling and spreading cardboard all over the five 25'x 75' tiers in the orchard. We've already spread the wood chips. What a job!

We've saved all the cardboard from deliveries to the house, soda cartons, and everything in between for months. All of it broken down and stacked for easier distribution. But, what we have won't cover more than two terraces. That means several trips to the grocery store to get theirs. We'll also be picking up empty 3 and 5 gallon buckets of frosting, pickles, and assorted other things. They are extremely useful on the homestead.
Anyhow, back to the orchard. Mel Jerry-rigged a hitch for our lawn tractor/mower for my garden cart. So now we can just drive big bunches of it down to where we need it. Considering the tumbles and falls I've suffered through the past month or so, it only seemed the smart way to do it. I can now ride all the way down to the lowest tier without the danger of falling. This is a huge plus for me. And, me just getting over a pressure sore too, it's faster for me to get around.

I'll be buying two large bales of wheat straw to go over the cardboard. Then, we'll be spreading rabbit and chicken manured hay over the straw. The last coating is a hand broadcasted layer of bone and blood meal as added nitrogen fixers before putting it to bed for the winter. We'll depend on mother nature to water it all in. I'm crazy, but not that's crazy to hose the quarter acre area by hand. It will take several months to achieve. Organic gardening on this mass scale is not adaptive gardening, but necessary for the organic orchard to get off on the right foot. It all goes back to I'm crazy. But I have a plan. So it's my planned insanity.

Now for the adaptive gardening segment, this anyone can do. I'll be bordering two sides of our vegetable garden with straw bale gardens. Since our vegetable garden is a side ways trapezoid shape, the longest edge borders a narrow car park area and the barn/workshop. It was originally fenced against the chickens (didn't work) with a five-foot welded wire fence held in place by Mel's moveable fence posts. I was looking to replace the fencing beside the car park and the new driveway beside the house. Since it's relatively new soil, I also wanted to build it up some too. The straw bale gardening techniques seemed to be the way to go.

By stacking these 2x3 bales of straw, it raised the planting area above ground level. Much easier for me to maintain. There are little to no weeds produced by using the straw bales to plant in. The weeds that typically come up are wheat grass and clover which the rabbits and chickens love, and inky mushrooms which  I use as a black colored dye for wool.So it sounded like a win-win scenario to me also. The fencing could still be raised for support of these vegetables too. It's a couple weeks process the get them ready for planting, but I've got all winter. The bales will slowly decompose over the next two years. Plenty of time to get perennial plants like rosemary and lavender thrive and established. It will also give me rich fertile soil in the end several inches thick so it would eliminate digging into the hard packed clay to plant.

I'm trying to think of the path of least resistance for our spring garden. Accessibility is also important. In between plants or even into the sides of the bales I can plant garlic, onions, leeks, carrots, and lettuces.
I'm thinking the after Halloween or Thanksgiving sales would be the best time for normal folk (small scale) to buy straw bales cheap. Or ask your friends and neighbors for their decorations after they've finished with them as a free option.  Even straw that was used to stuff scarecrows can be used for mulch in the garden. I always think of cheaper alternatives when possible. The fall is the time to think and plan your spring gardens. Another man's junk or garbage can be repurposed for your gardening endeavors on the cheap. The results are a healthier more active lifestyle for you living post stroke. If you need a higher platform to garden and harvest from stack the straw bales two or three high to a comfortable level for you. Split pallets to support the hay bales for longer life.  Start small and work your way to bigger as you go.

The inside of the bales will still continue to decompose (shrink) over time. Use it as a challenge to bend a little more gaining balance as you do. I was thinking about when I came home from the hospital after my stroke. I was asked to bend forward (as to the floor) without losing my balance. It wasn't very far. Now, I can pick things up from the floor without losing my balance. It's a gradual process to relearn, but an inch at a time is progress. A decomposing bale of hay can be used as a tool towards recovery.

A word of caution here. I actually lived a pretty organic, self sufficient lifestyle for decades before my strokes. So I tend to do things on a grander scale than most stroke survivors will, because I had the knowledge and experience previously. Now, it's just getting around to do it again.

Nothing is impossible.


Sunday, November 5, 2017

Sunday Stroke Survival: I'm Still Crazy. Where Are You?

Guess which shirt I'm wearing today? <grinning> I love this shirt. In fact, I've got three of them in different colors. Don't I know I'm living post stroke? Aren't I limited by disabilities? Aren't you a sexagenarian? Oh quit. Get your mind outta the gutter. It means someone in their 60s.
I can say "yes" to all those things. But I have one ruling principle...
I ain't dead yet!
 So I'll continue being crazy enough to fulfill my life and challenge myself every day.

I mean once the fat lady has sung her song. That's it. No more dreams. No more plans. No more nothing. You are bound for the hereafter. You have no choice in the matter. Until then, the choice is yours. 

There is something called hope.
... that you will recover from your stroke.
... that you will be out of pain.
...that you can move a limb or a piece of paralyzed limb.
... that God will give someone the wisdom so nobody else goes through this.
... that you get to spend another day enjoying the laughter of children echoed by your own.
      ... to do one thing you hadn't done before.               
... to experience life another day to the fullest.        

What is your other option? 
I love this image for despair
there is nothing left to live for...
you can contribute nothing...
I'm just a burden to everyone...
you are no longer a productive member of society...
you are worthless in your infirmities... 
why bother doing anything because no one expects you to...
X, Y, or Z will do it for me better and faster...
X, Y, or Z owe it to me...

 I can tell you from personal experiences that despair gives nothing back. It's a killer of any joy you might have. Despair is a spirit killer. It does nothing for you or anybody else. Everyone has moments of despair. But that's just it...they are moments. They don't chose to stay there. Or shouldn't. In living post stroke, you will visit despair quite often. Recovery is fraught with failed attempts and dashed hopes. Just read a few of my blogs over the past five years and you'll see that I'm not immuned to despair.

Or, are you somewhere in between? At times, I feel like a yo-yo because I go back and forth between these two emotions. That's okay. Most times, I constantly chose the hope side. It actually is a choice on how you live your life.

May I always be crazy enough to test boundaries of what I can do.
... try new things.
... figure out how to redo the things I used to do.Especially what I loved to do.
... figure out how to succeed, no matter how many attempts it takes.
...remember the distinction between attempts and failure.
...keep despair down to moments.
...failure is not an option so long as I keep trying.
...there are no limits, just opportunities.
                           ... God is the creator and inspiration and I'm just a copycat.
                           ... God is the spearhead and I'm just the rod. He points the way and I follow.

Nothing is impossible.  

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Sunday Stroke Survival: Clean Up and Preparing for Winter

Time now has jet engines
My goodness it's the end of October already! This year, just like previous years, has flown by. Why is it when you are younger times drags. A month until your birthday seems to last years, but now it's zoomed up to and passed so quickly?

October is a rough month for me emotionally. It's our anniversary month and my beloved's birthday. Both of them have passed now so I'm doing better. The only bright spot in it is my youngest grandson's, Murphey, birthday. It's hard to believe he's two years old already.

We were hit by a tropical storm and had a brush by of another one this year. It left us a huge mess on our homestead. Trees, limbs, branches, twigs. and leaves all over the place. So far between Mel and I we've picked up three 4x6x4 piles of the stuff and that's only from the driveway and walkway areas. These three piles have been sorted between limbs that need a chainsaw or handsaw to cut, those we can break into 2' sections for kindling, and twigs also to be used for kindling. We need a variety of sizes to keep our wood stove going for heat every winter and a lot of it. Our wood stove isn't the most efficient model at burning wood, but it keeps us warm on even the frostiest of nights. That's what is really important. All I know is that I'm tired of picking up tree trash and there's still tons more to pick up. We haven't touched the six piles the driveway and orchard clearing made.

I took two tumbles this week. Once out in the yard. My AFO foot foot got tangled in vines and I went down hard. To make matters worse, my functioning knee landed  on a twig which broke on impact driving it just under my knee cap. I managed to get up on one knee, but my functioning knee would not bear my weight. It was severely traumatized and bruised. I had to call for Mel to help me up. Later that same day, my foot got hung on a cat zipping by to get out of my way. Down I went again. My functioning knee is now not only bruised but I got a nice rug burn through my pants leg. I've been hobbling around on it very gingerly for the past couple days.

All my hard work canning this summer is paying off. Now, I shop for groceries in the barn (for meats) or the storage building for canned goods and staples instead of driving to the grocery store. It's a lot easier popping a lid off a canning jar than using a can opener to pry lids off cans. Chicken pot pies are a cinch to make with canned chicken and vegetable soup. There's always a thin layer of fat to start the gravy with on each jar. Add some four as the thickener with the broth from the soup and I got gravy. The hardest thing is rolling out the pastry top. It's a quick thirty minute meal once the pastry work is done.

I bought some of those reusable grocery bags for shopping at all places. It makes carrying heavy loads of groceries on my non functioning arm a breeze. Since it is frozen at a 50 degree angle, by spasticity most of the time, I'm making applesauce with a bad situation. But I'll be happier with a functioning elbow again when the functional neurosurgeon gets finished with me. It'll take a few more trips.

I bought four 4-ft florescent lights for the barn. Now that is a well lit 14'x24' space all year around. It has an old barrel wood stove in it for the colder months. Mel built it to heat the house back when she was One Woman and Two Acres. After a failed attempt to make it work for the house, it was relegated to the barn. Just like everything else, but that's another story. It works fine out there. In fact, it will heat so well that it'll run you out of there just to cool off. A welcome change when there's snow on the ground. I'm just waiting for Tractor Supply to stock some more stove pipe. The single ply pipe Mel bought has rusted through in spots. I may just buy single ply again because it lasted three seasons. It's cheap enough for the metal barn. If it was insulated, it would be better, but I'm not going to that expense.

Living post stroke is adventure nobody, in their right mind, would want. But life is life and it's worth living to its fullest no matter who you are or what you're dealing with. Take it one step at a time and keep going.

Nothing is impossible.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Sunday Stroke Survival: Back in Business Again

Okay, I'll admit my blog has been a living post stroke downer of late, but today that changes back to the old me. <the cheering section goes wild>

After almost a week of being off my feet, I was itching to be back at it again. Yes, of course, I took it slow. Sort of. Well what can I say? Y'all know me.  <Grinning>

It's ragweed season in northern Georgia. My allergies just love ragweed. Yes, I called my PCP and got all my meds refilled. But more than that, it's Goldenrod season! To most folks, Goldenrod are a pretty yellow flower that grows like weeds in pastures and along road sides. Actually they are weeds, but to me they spell M-O-N-E-Y. Money you say? Yes, it's like money in the bank to me because this innocuous weed is my source for a natural yellow dye for wool and it's free.

I went out with my half bushel baskets and filled it up one just driving to the main road. That's only what I could reach safely. Well all right, I did fall once. But, I got right back up and continued picking. I continued my harvesting along the main road gathering another two half bushel baskets. I did stop by the cattle farm less than a quarter mile away and asked to go into his hay pasture to gather some. Yes, I was careful not to squash his hay or fall again. I just went around the edges where his tractor went and I gathered pounds of the flowers. He even allowed me to take my van and drive around as I gathered the flowers which was extremely nice of him. In the old days, pre-strokes, I could have walked around his field with no problem. Now especially with a healing decubitus ulcer on my foot, not so much.

You might ask where I found my half bushel baskets. Well, it's part of my homesteading mentality of reuse/ repurpose everything. Over the past couple years, I'd bought a bushel and a half of peaches. I'd also bought sweet potatoes, and assorted other vegetables in bulk. I always saved these items and stored them in the barn. I've got large stacks of them. I always asked the farmer if they wanted them back because I know they had to purchase them. If they didn't, I kept them. I reuse them to harvest herbs and assorted other items from our garden. They are pretty well made. Not as good as a grape vine or wicker basket, but considering they were free to me why not reuse it until it falls apart? It's not hard to find reuses for almost everything, if you think about it.

Anyhow, I gathered my three half bushel baskets full and headed home with my prize. Normally when space was limited, I'd gather them up by the stems, tie them off, and hang them up to dry. This time, I couldn't be bothered. My foot was also throbbing like mad. I left them in the baskets to dry. Every couple of days, I'll flip them over in the baskets. They are drying nicely. Within a couple of weeks they'll be ready to use anytime I want to dye wool. Now, wouldn't you call that money in the bank too?

I also got my order from Zaycon Fresh. A 40 lb box of boneless, skinless chicken thighs. I'd already planned to can this shipment. After living in hurricane country for as many years as I did, I learned the importance of not having all your meat products in the freezer. Heat and eat becomes the norm when dealing with days of power outages. Even up here, we lost power with tropical storm Irma and power outages in winter. I decided I wanted to par cook them on the charcoal grill. Ooh, yummy for the tummy! Being my one functioning handed self, it was a two day process. The first day was spent grilling off and rough chopping all that meat into 2" pieces. The second was packing the chicken into jars and pressure canning it. But now, I've got pre seasoned chicken, canned in its own juices, and ready for whatever I want to make with it. Chicken and dumplings, over simply heated and put over rice or noodles, and oh the chicken salad it can make...just to name a few options. One jar of two full canner loads, 40 jars, didn't seal so it's ear marked for chicken salad this week. The broth will season a pan of risotto. But after messing with all that chicken, it's chili for supper tonight.

So as you can see, I'm back to normal. Or at least, my living post stroke normal.

Nothing is impossible.