At the wedding, I partook in a bit of dancing. You may or may not know this about me, but I'm not much of a dancer. I give it all I've got, and still come up short. In fact, it may be said that the outcome is inversly proportionate to the amount of effort I put into it (for you non-math-alete's, that is a graph with effort on the x axis, outcome on the y axis, and a big ski slope in the middle.)

Anyhow, certain rarities in my life and habits aligned to produce an embarrassing situation...
1. Pointy shoes
2. nylons (of the fishnet variety, yee-ow!)
3. the song "Footloose" (and who doesn't lose all inhibition when that comes on?)

I, along with everyone else on the dance floor (i implore you: while reading this, do not picture ME solitarily doing this dance. Keep it in context- there were TONS of people doing this), busted out the "footloose" dance. You know, the one where you kind of do the running man but flail your arms around and instead of shuffling your feet you KICK them?

I made the grave mistake of mixing the kicks with a bit of a spin, and in my vigor kicked a bit too hard. My very pointy shoe went FLYING across the dance floor at a low and straight trajectory. So low, in fact, that I thought for a moment, "maybe no one noticed." I saw that the shoe had landed in the middle of a neighboring dance circle. The circle was small though- maybe only 5 people huddled closely together. I approached and tried to discreetly sneak my stocking-toed foot in between some legs, padding the floor with my foot trying to feel out the location of my shoe. To my horror, the small circle parted and there I was- exposed like Cinderella, one barefoot at the ball. I owned up to it: "I am SO sorry! My shoe flew off!" In the spirit of the combined goodwill that comes with the song FOOTLOOSE and the celebration of dear friends joined in holy matrimony, I expected absolution. Forgiveness. Grace. Not the case- the woman actually said, "That was your shoe!? It hit me right in the SHIN!" I apologized, grabbed the shoe, and skulked off the dance floor with a small, defeated, barely perceptible shimmy.


wedding day

luke is the striking lad on the left
nate & luke- friends since birth!

well doesn't he looked pleased with himself
minnesota snow & sunset

Wax On

Here is the cheese after a week of air drying, ready to be waxed!
Wax heating up in a double boiler
Post wax



Update from Minnesota:
1. It is -2 degrees here. It HURTS to be outside. You get a little bit of a headache, and you get very annoyed if your husband is trying to find the keys in one of 8 pockets he has in his jacket while you hop from one foot to the other.
2. Yesterday after we got off the plane we proceeded to the destination of choice for all red-blooded Americans: MALL OF AMERICA. Rumor has it that Kristi Yamaguchi (sp?) was signing autographs while we were there. Despite the fact that Luke is like maybe the biggest figure skating fan EVER, we didn't stop by. (to preserve my husband's dignity, I was being sarcastic. Luke is not a big figure skating fan)
3. Luke talked me in to riding the TIMBERLAND TWISTER. It was a 5 on the "thrill guide." 5 is the highest rating, which means I was very scared and screamed as we took our first hairpin turn and drop. After the first few seconds I was not as scared but continued to scream as loud as I could. For principle's sake.
4. Way more exciting than "MOA" (as minnesotians affectionately abbreviate MALL OF AMERICA), was the MYSTIC LAKE CASINO, which is 5 miles from our hotel. I won $25. This marks the first upswing in my gambling career for some time. I think I am getting luckier.


Mozzarella Mishap

This is not even CLOSE to the state my mozzarella was in.
I attended a party Saturday night with a bunch of gals from work. Prior to this party it occurred to me that I could MAKE mozzarella and add it to tomatoes, basil, etc for a caprese salad. While entertaining this idea Saturday morning I fantasized about the overwhelming reaction my mozzarella was sure to achieve. I pictured myself pooh-poohing all the compliments and astonishment from party-goers who would surely be shocked that I hand crafted such fine cheese. I would wave my hand at them as though brushing away their praise; roll my eyes to show that I am not impressed with my talent. Modesty and an air of humility is critical to maintaining credibility as a cheese maker, you understand.
So I assembled the ingredients, sterilized my equipment, and put on my game face. I proceeded to follow the recipe for "30 minute mozzarella." It went downhill quickly. 75 minute mozzarella was what I ended up with, and it never got to the "stretchy taffy" stage. Intead it was lumpy and chewy. It did not taste BAD, but it did not taste good. And it looked a bit like a human brain- kinda walnutty or something. I don't find that an appealing aesthetic for cheese.
I had to ask myself a tough question: Can a self-respecting cheese maker present sub-par cheese to her waiting public?
The answer: No. But a frustrated cheese maker with nothing else to do with tomatoes, expensive balsamic & fresh basil can.

Cooking Class

Thursday night my friend Sarah & I went to a COOKING CLASS at Whole Foods downtown. The menu was "Italian Favorites" and the chef cooked several dishes in front of us that we got to eat as they were done! It was a blast, and I would highly recommend these classes. You don't have to do any work either...which is nice. Chef Steve showed us how to prepare braised beef shortribs, and my version of this recipe is currently simmering in my stove and smelling delicious!



Cheese Making Part II

It is working!! (so far!) This is the milk after the starter culture, calcium chloride & rennet is added. The rennet is what causes it to coagulate.
Here is where I've cut the curd with a knife- you can kind of see it separated where it was cut.
After cutting the curd and stirring, the curds begin expelling whey as they are cooked.
little miss muffet (as in "sat on her tuffet, eating her curds and whey!!!)
Curds wrapped in cheese cloth and hung to drain off more whey.

This is what the curds look like after hang drying for an hour. Now it is ready for the press!!!This is the press! Dad drilled holes in the outer pitcher so the whey is pressed out as I gradually increase the weight on top of the press. Inside the pitcher is another pitcher which my dad altered by removing the handle. Incrementally I have to remove the cheese & re-wrap it in cheese cloth, then put it back in upside down for even pressing.

Up next: 12 hours of pressing, then a few days to air dry. Then wax coat & age for 4+ weeks!!!!!

Now for a little editorial on cheese making:

1. I have been making cheese for 5 hours.

2. After pouring one of the two required gallons into my pot I realized my pot was not large enough to contain two gallons. I had to STOP and zip to fred meyer's to buy a new one. They didn't have one. Then I went to mall 205, which is the closest bed bath & beyond, to find that it closed 5 minutes prior to my arrival. Then I went to Target, and BEHOLD! I found one. That hour of my life is not included in the aforementioned point.

3. In 4 weeks I should have (barring any unforeseen contamination) 2 lbs of cheddar cheese. In the store, this would cost me $6. I am too tired to sum my purchases, but I assure you: I have spent enough money to purchase many, many bricks of Tillamook Cheddar.

BUT: I will say that I have had one of the most enjoyable and interesting days in memory. For me at least :)

PS: big shout out to dad for the cheese press-- he gets the first wheel :)

Cheese Making Part I

My Dad is my hero. My knight in shining armor. My cheese press engineer! Dad devoted his entire morning to constructing my beautiful cheese press. This included a trip to Home Depot, Elmo Studd's, and Target. He drilled and filed and sanded and sawed. No bathroom breaks, no coffee breaks. And no company since I opted to sit with my mom in the living room and sip coffee while he slaved away in the shop. What a guy!****

Pic taken w/my phone camera (I forgot my real one!)

TA-DA!!! This is the external wooden part of the press after I oiled it. The really impressive craftsmanship is in the cheese mold- pics of that to follow in later post.
Sterilization in process.
This is the "before" picture!


no cheese press.

today my father chose hunting over me. what is worse is that he called my MOM and made HER call me to say: "your father is not going to be home at 3 as planned- they are going to hunt longer."

then at 3:20 I got a call from my dad, guilt-ridden, who was now at home & ready to construct a cheese press. alas i had already succumbed to sleep and did not get the phone. hmph.

Modified Cheese Plan:
sunday: make cheese press, then make cheese.

my dad is lucky I built in a time buffer to allow for such shortcomings. hmph.


Shalt Not Be Stifled nor Discouraged

My motivation continues to grow.
"I am inspired. I cannot be stopped. I will not be contained. I shall not be stifled nor discouraged." This is my mantra.

I wanted to report some exciting news of the cheese making variety:
1) Tonight I will go home and clean my house from top to bottom, paying special attention to sanitizing and sterilizing my kitchen. "Bleach. Boiling Water. Bacteria be damned!" (this constitutes a powerful cleaning mantra. Bacteria cower at the mere mention of BLEACH)
2) My father (after a few manipulative emails) has committed his support. He will help me construct a cheese press SATURDAY.
3) I will be making my first batch of cheese SUNDAY. Variety: TBD

I will faithfully blog all progress made. Because certainly when I am awarded "NW Artisanal Cheese Maker of the Year" someone will ask for an account of my first cheese making experience. And to them I will reply: michellemiddlebrooks.blogspot.com


Major Life Milestone

This weekend I realized my destiny: To become a cheesemaker.
I am enthused, inspired, eager, and passionate about making cheese.
I have read a lot of information about cheese making, and watched videos on youtube.
I am deliberating over recipes, techniques, and equipment.
I am enlisting a handyman (dad) to make a cheese press.
I am placing orders for supplies.
I get amped up about cheese making, and then take a break to go sample the cheeses in my fridge (tillamook aged white cheddar, wisconsin cheese curds, smoked mozzarella) for inspiration.
Cheese making is hard work. It is a science and an art. It is food poetry.
I am considering buying a goat but I'm not sure where I'd keep it, how my dog would like it, or how my husband would like it. I am also not sure if it is legal in Milwaukie but I think it is possible because there is a house down the road that has geese (=livestock).
I have not yet made any cheese.