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Self-sufficiency startitis

We have been flying the “I bet I can make that” flag chez Cutlery this weekend.  I think I recently mentioned that finishing my Masters and returning from a lovely holiday were sufficiently epoch-like to trigger a response along the lines of “out with the old, in with the peculiar”.  The first manifestation of this impulse was to scour my study and finish some long-standing knitting (and other craft) projects.  The second phase seems to have begun, where I enter a frenzy of Startitis.

Seasoned knitters will be aware that Startitis (to use the name given by the Yarn Harlot) is the term applied to a period of apparently erratic casting-on of dozens of projects, particularly unusual or impractical ones, despite the presence of other knitting obligations.  While I definitely have this (the spots are showing), I also seem to have extended it to other interests.

Item one: Muesli.  I have mentioned, more than once, on this blog, my passion for porridge (ye gods, no wonder I never get invited to cocaine parties).  This has led me to explore other avenues to express my oat-love.  I have always been pretty lukewarm on muesli.  In the red corner, you’ve got untoasted, traditional Bircher-style muesli, which is extremely healthy and wholesome.  I love it for the first couple of days, and then decide it’s like eating wet chaff and go back to porridge. In the blue corner, you’ve got toasted muesli, which is loaded with butter and sugar and is about a million calories per serve and a little too rich for my taste anyway.  So, I have avoided muesli for a long time.  But with this current bee for self-sufficiency buzzing in my bonnet, I thought it was worth a go.  I used Rosemary Stanton’s recipe, which is toasted without using butter or honey or sugar, as a guide, and then threw in whatever dried fruits and nuts took my fancy, using dried pawpaw, glacé ginger, craisins and sultanas.  Oh, and by accident, I used linseed meal instead of bran/linseed cereal, but eh, it hasn’t altered the flavour or anything.  It’s pretty darn tasty, even if I say so myself.  The toasted oats give a really nice, roasted nutty kind of flavour, and the toasted coconut is awesome.  I haven’t photographed it because, frankly, I’m sure you can guess what toasted muesli looks like. It looks like that.  I think, next time, I’ll use the same base, but will change what fruits and things I add, since that seems to be where the flavour is.  The natural extension of toasting your own muesli is item two…

Item two: yoghurt making.



Look at that!  Isn’t that professional and scientific-looking, what with a thermometer (as I believe the boffins call it) sticking out?  This is my milk, being scalded to a comfortable 80-ish°C (170°F).  Immediately after it reached the right temp, I whipped the pot off the stove and whipped in a little fresh, store-bought yoghurt — the important thing is that it contains live cultures like acidophilus — and then set it in a very, very cool oven, in a tray of hot water, to set.  The setting process takes about 6-8 hours in a proper yoghurt maker, I understand, which provides insulation to keep the whole shebang at a culture-friendly temperature.  I think I would probably get the same effect with a thermos, but I haven’t got one of them either. So it’s into a basic electric oven, and every half hour or so I switch it off, let it cool a bit, and then later switch it back on.  I suspect that this process means it will take me far, far longer to produce yoghurt than it would in a yoghurt maker, and there is a significantly heightened risk of failure.  On the other hand, since failure means loss of a cup of milk, I’m not sweating it.  I am planning to borrow my Mumini’s yoghurt making flask as soon as I can, but circumstances and my impatience have conspired against us, and so I have charged on without it.  On one hand, people have been making yoghurt for hundreds of years without the use of trademarked gadgetry; on the other hand, I’d be willing to bet most of those people were at least 45% more attentive than I.

Item three, which is actually M’s item, not mine: homemade ricotta!

Here it is, the beautiful stuff, draining in a strainer lined with a teatowel.  The process by which one makes ricotta (and by “one” I mean “M”) is similar to the yoghurt process outlined above.  The difference is the introduction of a coagulant.  You can add lemon juice to whole milk, or you can use a blend of whole milk and buttermilk, which is the path M chose to tread. You bring your coagulate-able milk to scalding point, and then promptly it off the heat, because it very quickly separates into curds and whey.  You use a slotted spoon or a wire net to scoop out the curds, and then allow them to strain, cool and thicken in a strainer lined with a teatowel.  Then stir in a little salt to heighten the flavour just before you bottle it up and put it in the fridge.  Magnificent!

I could hardly believe how straightforward the whole process was. M had some for dinner, on toast, with vino cotto drizzled over and exclaimed at its deliciousness. Tomorrow morning, there will be a battle between homemade muesli with banana, or homemade ricotta and blueberries on English muffins.  I’ve had a little bit, and, I have to say: I’ll be surprised if we ever buy ricotta again.

Item four: It’s hardly worth mentioning, but I have started up a sourdough starter.  I can’t think why, because given our chilly house, and given that it’s the middle of winter here in lovely Canberra, it doesn’t really have a strong chance of thriving.  But hey, if it does survive and grow and make delicious sourdough bread, I will be so smug and cheerful that it is worth the gamble.  Plus, it’s 100g of flour and 100g of water: it really doesn’t feel like that big a risk.

Well, that’s all I’ve started today: I confess there are a few other plans up my woolly sleeve, but I’ll talk more about those as they become more tangible.  When they set, as it were.  Time to check my yoghurt.

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