Saturday, September 29, 2012

Tofu Making Experience

I am still on eating little, so I have to make the most of what is on my dish. Unhappy with the sweteened store bought soymilk, I started to make homemade soy milk and then, tofu. My main guide to tofu making is a book by William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi, The Book of Tofu, while an inspiring book, I find it difficult to follow the recipes, with instructions to wash dishes while waiting the milk to curdle (!). I have also surfed on the internet for recipes, but I couldn't find a forum to discuss the basics. After making a few times, and now following the instructions so closely, I finally found out that I didn't really need a recipe for soy milk or for tofu. The quality of the soybeans may determine the type of milk, and therefore, it is hard even to give out quantities in the recipe. So, my own recipe for soymilk and tofu are as follow: Soymilk: for 1 cup of dry soybeans, it yields for 1 liter or more, depending on how much water you want to add, or how rich milk you like. Soak beans overnight. Wash beans thoroughly next day to eliminate impurities and some of the skin. Put 1 lilter or more water to boil in a kettle. Puree beans with some hot water using a blender for 1 or 2 minutes. You can either dump puree into a pot and cook it or you can strain it first in a cotton sack and then cook the milk. In either case, you let it boil and then simmer for 10 minutes, stirring the whole time so not to burn on the bottom. If you cook the puree, obviously, strain it later. Some recipes tell you to wash the okara (solids) with more water and press it firmly until the last drop. I find it difficult, so I skip this step. Tofu: In a 4-quart stock pot with almost 4-quart fresh soymilk just cooked, I stir a solution 2 teaspoons of magnesium sulfate (that's what I can find in my town)in a cup of water. The biggest secret is not to dump the whole solution at once, as I read somewhere that excess coagulant will make the tofu bitter. I do it in three steps. I pour some while swishing the hot milk (off the hot burner), and then put the top on. After a minute, I pour some more, if needed. I go pouring until the milk is all curdled. Attention: it curdles rapidly, but it is best to wait 2-6 minutes to allow the coagulant to work. I had times that I threw away the coagulant, some other times, I had to make some more. As soon as the milk is curdles, I take out most of the whey, so I can laddle the curds with minimum water possible into a forming container lined with cheese cloth. I wrap the cloth into the container, place some weight on top and wait about 5 to 10 minutes, until most of the water had been drained. I quickly put the whole thing into a basin with cold water in attempt to eliminate the taste of coagulant. If firm enough, I take the tofu out of the cheese cloth and deposit into another container with fresh water and place it in the refrigerator for later consumption. Of course, it can be eaten warm, but it is best cold, topped with green onions, grated ginger, and soy sauce. To your health! Obs: If you want soy milk ricotta, just add half of the coagulant at once to rich hot soymilk and let it sit uncovered for 20 minutes.It may turn out ricotta (make sure you drain it and wash it in fresh water) or just pudding. In this case, you have made a silken tofu.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Frugal Living

Wednesday, 1:30 pm: I stopped by Dona Rosa’s fence and delivered pieces of Brazilian style fruitcake (made with prunes, raisins, guava paste, condensed milk, muscatel wine, ground almond ) and puba cake. The last one is made of mandioc roots left 7 days in water to be fermented, then ground, and dripped to dry. I was a little bit suspicious of the puba, as I don’t know I can trust home fermented food. If any weird bacteria gets in? The other package of the same goodies went to my other neighbor who was at home, snoozing. Even though I woke him up, he thanked me for the cake and for an hour conversation we had under a big flamboyant tree. Sunny, slightly windy, and dry day. I felt fortunate to cheer a friend who had his wife away taking care of her hospitalized sister. Only where time doesn’t cost much is that I can have the priviledge of spending so much of it, in the middle of the day, in the middle of the week. Having times like these, disallow us to take vacations. Our holidays are ingrained in our day-to-day activities. Not that we don’t need rest – but we don’t have the need to go away, to take a trip, to see new places and new people. What we like are these old places with old friends. They are not old friends of mine, as I’ve met them not too long ago. However, for knowing each other’s struggles and victories that have the feeling of closeness. We all agree that the best thing in life is friendship. If our time doesn’t cost much, I can afford spend more of it. We don’t think of time in terms of investments and returns, but in letting the life goes by beside people that we love. The big secret of having frugal living is not valuing life like a commodity, of wanting more out of it, to have the maximum profit. It’s the opposite. It is expecting nothing out of life, but to have it pass by. If I don’t feel I am entitled to possess things, to experience emotions, to collect memories; if I don’t feel I am entitled to have life that is when we start getting life. As part of my pursue for simple living, I also have chosen to eat less, but correctly. I was tired of feeling sick after gorging, and gaining weight as a consequence. I am not overweight in any sense, but be a gluton seems immoral, in face of world’s hunger. My biggest challenge is to cut down on my expenses on meat, trading for cheaper fruits and vegetables. That’s where frugal living comes in. As part of my plan to pay less and get the same, I attend to exercise classes for free done at community centers, five times a week. At 8:00 p.m. I turn off the TV, go to the bedroom for devotionals. I still do other things, such as writing, getting information on the internet, but I don’t surf, as I think it is a waste of time. I end up sleeping early and wake up before the sun. I love it: to beat the sun. My next project is to use less cleaning products, specially laundry soaps. I plan to use my homemade soap instead, and wash the clothes less often, as my habit is to do several loads a day. I keep my trips to the town to a minimum, so I can save not only on fuel, but on any risk related to a car accident. Keeping risks to a bare minimum is a great way to save money. Frugal living also allows me to enjoy times of silence – for being alone is one of greatest gifts we get – and it is still free.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Nothing is All on Sundays

June is over. Many thoughts, no writings whatsoever. End of Fall, but thankfully we haven't had cold and dark days. It's been a year since my father passed away. Like the days that precede Easter, I can't express my feelings into words, remaining in a contemplation mode. Today is a beautiful Sunday. Perfect sunny day, the most pleasant temperature, no wind, no dust, no flies. And also silence on the farm. I had built a "nethouse" for my vegetable garden, but the veggies seem not wanting to grow. We had a long drought, few days of very heavy rain,and no cooler days. The great advantage of placing a net all over is the absence of white butterflies and other flying critters. I was just not prepared for what came under the earth - ants. The hardest one to kill using natural methods. I remember the year I arrived at the farm how bountiful we had. Vegetation was lush, wild cucumbers and other goodies grew abundantly, trees were carried with juicy fruits, and best of all, I had a great vegetable garden cultivated with minimum of knowledge. This year, the poncan orange tree shriveled, lychee tree got some kind of new bacteria, no cashews, no mangoes, and almost no avocado. The new fruit trees that I planted yielded sour or tasteless oranges. Except for lime tree, everything else seems to have gone wrong. Can you believe that my smooth skin chayottes grew some tough spikes? I only collect the young ones, as the older ones can really hurt. I watched a TV rural program this morning. It said that the swine raising is having many losses and some towns have gone to emergency state. It is really hard to bear with all the heartbreaking that farming brings. It doesn't depend solely on hard work, but on the weather, the international market, the world economy and everything else. I still don't know what I should do in case my chicken coop tenant decides to leave, or if my mother's pension stops. I greatly depend on these two for steady income and family survival. As I have told you before, my farm is almost all rented out, and I have kept a part of it for my orchard and garden. I don't even have animals such as pigs, cows, goats, sheep or chickens. In truth, I can't have some of them because of my dogs, some other because of lack of know how, range free chickens for the prohibition for having commercial egg farm here. The only thing that I could have were pigs, but my daughter said that she loves spare ribs, bacon, sausage, loin so much that can't have them. So we continue having dogs only. The two cats that I had adopted got killed by our Border Collie mix. Sometimes I feel that I am not living a real farm life - of course not. I can't have the basic things such as farm animals. But I still love living on the farm. I wake up early and can breath fresh air while sipping a cup of coffee, which was roasted and grounded by me. While the farm is not producing as much as I expected, the town is fun. On Sundays, there is a nice farmer's market on main street, close to butcher shops, which we have many alongside with pharmacies. While the restaurants are poor in town, the butcher shops roast beef, pork and chickens for our Sunday lunch. The cheapest and most popular item is the roasted chicken with potatoes. The meat falls apart, while the bones come out clean. Some chickens get seasoned mandioc flour or corn flour stuffing. That's a plus too. But to me, the real advantage of living on a farm has to do with Sundays which used to be very boring - the "nothing to do" day. Now I expect Sunday specially for being a "nothing to be done"day. I want all the silence it can offer. Like orthodox jews observe their Sabbath, I want my Sunday even motionless. No driving, no going out, no visitors, no phones, no decision to make. I just want to rest my head on a cushion and stare at nothing. Nothing is all on Sundays.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Life Never Left Us

I was going to write “life is slowly coming back to the farm”, but, in truth, life never left us. A series of new happenings made me aware that life continues on, in its eternal cycle. It rained after a long drought. The very hot days are over now. It´s fall season. I am planning to start a new vegetable garden, in smaller scale, closer to my house, on its original place. The “professional” spot where we cultivated two years ago was yield to the cattle. I rented out the spot. I have called the carpenters to build a structure that will hold a net that blocks 30% of the sun. And hopefully, it will stop white butterflies from sitting on the leaves. It looks like a greenhouse, except that it is not temperature or rain proof. Vegetables don´t grow too well under hot sun, and that´s why it´s mandatory to have all this netting. The old patch didn´t have it – I had great veggies, but, they were tougher than the ones that we find at the market. I am excited with this new project. More than having a passion for growing veggies, I love fresh picked leaves for salads and the freedom from visiting the farmers´market. A few days ago I was looking for watercress for a special dish (oxtail stew). No grocery stores would have it, so I needed to wait for the market´s day in order to prepare this food. Sometimes I want cilantro, and almost no one has it. Fresh basil? I think I am the only person who loves it. In less than a month, I should have arugula, which is one of my favorite leafy green. In four months, my garden will have all what I used to have before, and probably nobody else in town. Who can grow (or know) celery? Peas? Edible flowers? Just me who had the priviledge of living in San Francisco Bay Area.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

God´s Blessings in Our Lives Slideshow

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So finally I got to take some pictures of my small town on a January Monday morning. The main avenue is usually very crowded with cars and pedestrians, specially on Saturdays were walking is a hassle, trying to swerve from slower people or even avoid bumping onto others that are standing up, chatting. Not very uncommon too is to find people that walk in groups, stopping all at once to see the shop windows. This particular morning was very calm, but even so, many people cross streets away from crosswalks. It is just part of their habits. I wanted to include scenes that I usually see - men drinking coffee in the morning while chatting to each other, retired men sitting on a park bench, dozens of bicycles speeding down the street, and other particularities that make this town alive. Nature pictures mostly taken on a farm, but some were taken elsewhere, but they all makes part of my life. For instance, I can't raise free range chickens as I lease our chicken coops for a large scale egg business. Foreign birds could bring diseases to thousand of chickens, reason why I gave away my tamed Guinea hens. The little chicks playing with the girls were also given away after a few days. The House - is freshly painted but no longer looks that tidy. Specially the farm kitchen where there is always something going on, such as sinkfull of dishes to be washed or a trail of flour all the way to the wood fired oven. The Food - I made them all - from scratch - except for the farmer's cheese that I buy from a neighbor. I got no cows. What really misses in pictures is the vibrant energy of all the processes. The bread was not made dark like that, but it started from addition of flour, water, yeast, salt, sugar. It had different body, texture, temperature - it was something else, to become what it did. This dynamic process where aroma and taste are released is a priviledge of those who can live near them. I often tell my daughter how lucky (or blessed) she is for having a mom who cooks, for living on a farm, for owning eight dogs, and for all we should be grateful.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Baking Season

Two beautiful Fall days in the middle of Summer. Who can explain that? It’s darker in the morning around 7, but the evening is still long with daylight savings. The sun rays have the orange hue, different from Spring were the sparkling silver rays invade all rooms. The lack of natural beauty of our landscape on the farm makes me enjoy the sensation brought by other senses. I am lucky for that matter. I am not a visual person.
February is here. My 10 year-old daughter is back to school. I still have to drive her five days a week on a rather short drive (about 6 miles) on a flat and straight road, but dangerous due to drivers’ carelessness.
December and January were cooking, baking, eating months. Even though the doctor suspects I have gluten intolerance (no exams done), I baked several times a week using my newly assembled wood fired oven. But the highlight was the church gathering day in my house. I tested several pizza dough recipes, watched the oven, learned to open the skin by hand, until I found the best dough and the best way of serving piping hot pizza straight from the oven for several people. I didn’t know how many would come, so I planned for 30. I soon found out that I couldn’t open the skin and bake a raw crust to serve 30 hurried peopled at once. Too many issues involving the making of perfect pizza, Neapolitan style. I had to compromise. I parbaked the crust a day before, topped 3 pizzas just 2 hours prior to serving, and hired a neighbor dona Rosa to take care of the baking. I took care of topping the pizza as the first ones got done. On my list, nine different combinations which included the all-American pepperoni or sausage, mushrooms and bell peppers; also sliced smoked pork sausage with onions; ham, peas, onions, cooked eggs. All pizzas take tomato sauce (made with fresh and canned tomatoes) and mozzarella cheese. The event was a success, so much that I totally forgot to take a picture of the crowd around the pizza, all praising me with full mouth, not knowing if they should speak or chew. I was as busy as a pizza maker on a ball day, topping on disk after the another. Later, I had to ask other people who ate what, who took the first piece, who had anchovy with olives. I sent home a few people with pizza for their family. “We had plenty. My husband ate, and even my mother-in-law” – told me someone.
I can't help myself but continue cooking, baking, soap making, and all. I also baked old fashioned English bread called scone to be dipped in lemon curd (it's lemon season), Brazilian finger good called "empada" - little chicken pies, sweet rolls, broa (a country bread made in cooked corn and wheat flour, and later baked), Brazilian cheese bread, chocolate chip cookie, anise biscotti dipped in chocolate, whole wheat bread, and even "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day" bread. And more pizzas, of course.
I can't post pictures of all my bakings, neither remember all what I cooked - there were so many goodies.

Monday, January 2, 2012

January 2nd, 2012 – Last Few Months

In Brazil, Summer break starts sometime in December and it usually goes until after the Carnival – a religious holiday that transformed into a big national event. Being so, I don’t go to town twice a day as I used to, but I still need to run my errands a few times a week. With extra time on my hands, I started to walk on a road I used to run, a little less, as my dogs bark at motorcycles and even to cows belonging to somebody else. To avoid any situation, I interrupt my walk. They are so many (6) that I won’t have enough time to strain all of them before I leave. One Sunday before Christmas another puppy joined our pack. It was said to be Pinscher Border Collie mix. To me, it is another mutt.
Every morning and every afternoon, I sit on my veranda chair to relax. The cool fresh morning air, contrasting with hot bitter coffee, I sit there enjoying myself. The dogs come to greet me, the puppy wants extra attention, and I raise my legs to a leg rest, and rest. In the evening, after the sun has set, I also sit there remembering how much my back porch has improved. It used to be the portrait of a decadence. My father’s lack of financial resources to give it a little lift. After his death, I sold many farm equipments, as I decided to lease out the land instead of working on it (I tell the reasons later). With the money dripping in, I started to fix up the house, and after three months, I have the whole house fixed up and re-painted. Some areas such as kitchen got total makeover. I had the tile floor and wall changed, bought new appliances, and above all, took all the old stuff out of the house. My mother and sister used to oil paint canvas. We had several of them stored for decades. I hang them up on walls, making the house looking cheery. The biggest effect of the fixed up was the impression that it is not a dying place any more. Yes, it had a solution for something that I thought could never happen. Sadly, it took my father’s death to make his inheritance take value. I live now in a newer, clean house. I didn’t have to make any major purchase, except for the kitchen, but lots of little ones made a difference. For instance, the drawer chests had piece of fabric replacing the original knob since my childhood. I spent a few reais to buy new knobs for the furniture to take on a new look. Besides new painting giving an impression of clean walls, which were not only dirty but crumbling, the tiles cracked or simply missing on several spots in the house, the removal of old curtain tracks (yes, it was not a modern rod) for newer rods and curtains.
I had two men coming to do the job. They are dona Rosa’s brothers. During sugar cane harvest, they have work, but between September to March, they go unemployed. Even though they are not professional carpenters, they bravely took the job. Of course, many things were far from perfect, but I enjoyed the company. My biggest concern was to have a stranger working inside the house while I was out, but it turned out that they didn’t touch anything that shouldn’t be. They must come back to fix up the fence around the house – strangely, fence was my first concern, but became the last one on the list.
Inside and outside of the house finished, including the set up of my wood fired oven coated with red mud and cow’s fresh manure, I am working on my new interest: flower garden! I have already spent some to buy two palm trees and other plants. My main interest lays in forming a tropical garden with heliconias, bromeliaces, ixoras. The plants that survived my mother’s illness (she used to have a very diverse plant material all over the garden, including a collection of orchids) were a few. Indeed they were sturdy, surviving lack of water or fertilizers over ten years. I felt sorrowful in eliminating what was there to give place to a whole new garden. I couldn’t cut down all the hibiscus, gardenia, dracaenas, rhododendron, zedoary, grass, hydrangea, ixora, bougainvillea, pata-de-vaca - a Brazilian native beautiful tree with perfumed white flower -, and many more, including a native berry tree. How could I make a beautiful landscape preserving all of those? After some researching, I decided not to eliminate them, but crowding the spot with more plants, especially tropical ones, without any rigidity of French garden, but rather more organic and natural – letting the nature do it.
Lastly, my next upcoming project is to revive my organic vegetable garden. The old spot is full of weeds, dry and rock hard. But it was once a lush garden, so it can be it again. This time, though, I am going to build a shade, as the sun is inclement most part of the year and no leafy greens can survive.
The deep sadness that I feel with the loss of my father brought up new hope for living on the farm that I had once giving up upon.