Say Cheese!

I knew that I wouldn't be able to brew beer on our sabbatical due to various logistical issues (mostly just bringing all of my brewing equipment out here). I have like 6 cases of homebrew in the basement right now, so fear not, I am not without my homebrews. But, having beer aside, I knew that I needed some fermentation in my life. I imagine most people who start to make beer, wine, cheese, cured meats, or any other kind of fermentation get infected themselves and can't go long without having something growing in their basement. I knew that I had to do something, and what better than cheese! Nearly as delicious as beer, and pretty good together with it too.

Edam in the front, caerphilly on the right and
Monterrey Jack in the back. 
So, the cheese factory has begun to churn out products in the Aber's laboratory kitchen. Soon, you will all be calling me the Cheese-Whiz, since I'll be like a wizard making cheese. Wait a second...never mind that. In any case, I've got a block of caerphilly, edam, and monterrey jack curing away in my cheese cave right now. The edam and monterrey jack should be done in about a month, and the caerphilly in a week or two from now. We're also mostly through my first batch of cottage cheese, which I might just make another of if we're not too sick of it by the time we finish (you find that a pound of cottage cheese goes a long way...).

Cutting the curds is Serious Business.
I'm pretty surprised by how easy it really is to make cheese. I'm always trying to get people to start brewing beer, but it really can be somewhat of a dauting undertaking. Cheese on the other hand, will probably cost you like $20 in equipment and supplies to make your first curds, and the recipes are straightforward enough that you don't really have to read up much on it at first to start. Most of the stuff I've used here, we already had in the kitchen, or I constructed out of junk. Literally, the stainless steel bottom of my cheese press came out of the trash. (Don't worry though, I did scour the thing like no other and put a new brushed finish on it using sandpaper, steel wool, and rippling biceps.) My cheese mold is a $1 plastic pitcher, that I cut apart and drilled holes in, and the rest of the cheese press came off of various parts of broken furniture among other things that we had in our basement.

This is what I love about cheese--it seems so complex and like something that could only be made in a sterile factory, but in reality its something that's been made in the home for the last 9000 odd years up until like 1950. I suppose this describes most food come to think of it... Also, the best part about making cheese is that  you generally get a pound of cheese out of a gallon of whole milk. So, based on the confusingly low price of $2.75/gal here in Colorado, we're going to be eating cheese for $2.75/lb. I can't imagine finding any cheese at the grocery store for less than about $4/lb. And you get the supreme satisfaction of eating some home made cheese.

And now, if you will excuse me, I have to go make some colby.
Poor little edam, being crushed by 60 lbs. of weights.
My water bath setup. Helps to heat the milk without scorching it and to hold a
constant temperature over long periods. Its just an electric roaster oven I randomly
found out here. 
Monterrey jack coming out of the press. That is one sweet cheese mold, isn't it? 


Fermented Love

Make shift weights compressing the cabbage.
I have finally joined Jay in is quest to produce all things fermented. I have set up my own little corner of the kitchen opposite his cheese press with a homemade sauerkraut operation. Who knew you only need salt and cabbage? Now we can obsess over kitchen sanitation and monitor our respective brines together. I am following a kraut recipe by Wild Fermentation that involves packing salted cabbage in a vessel and adding weights to compress the cabbage into its own brine.  After a few weeks we should have some fresh, or perhaps a more appropriate term is ripe, sauerkraut.  Yum!

Salt + Cabbage = Kraut

On the walk to the mailbox.
It snowed for a good part of the day today and we took a walk down to the mailboxes right in the the thick of it.  Last night the big white dog, who we think is named Rocko or Rocky, came and barked at our front door until we opened up to say hello.  We have heard that he does this to other occupied homes in the loop. We're probably encouraging his visits now that we take dog treats with us every time we go for a walk.  He manages to find us more often than not.  Nothing too exciting on the menu for today.  We had a quick dinner of spinach in red sauce over pasta.  And that cinnamon raisin bread I
baked the other day got re-purposed as garlic toast in a weird sweet and savory kind of way.


Shaky Videos

Here are some very rough videos of our excursion up to the ski resort today.  Please excuse the shakiness.  We promise we'll get better at shooting video footage.  These are some of our first sledding attempts before we really got the hang of it.

Happy Anniversary!

Anniversary Hike

Note the "Easiest Way Down" sign.
Today is our 1 year and 5 month wedding anniversary. In celebration we made another attempt at hiking the ski resort where we could shout it from the mountain top. With snow shoes on we made it over half way up and the summit was definitely in sight. We settled for shouting it from half way up the mountain top and had our celebratory kiss there. We also had some good sled runs on the way down. I nearly peed my pants a couple of times at the high speeds we were achieving on some of the old ski runs.  The map below details hour hike.

View Hike 2013-01-27 11:11 by kartoffeln on Breadcrumbs

Our big Sunday afternoon meal was venison with broccoli and white rice.  I sliced the tenderloin super thin before frying it in a cast iron skillet.  I've been craving some Chinese and Thai food lately so hopefully this will ward off the cravings for a bit.

Our take on Beef with Broccoli. 

The Aber's even had some chop sticks at the condo!


I Found the Polish Cook Book

We had a nice trip into Walsenburg to pick up some milk for Jay's cheese making and saw 6 deer on the road from Cuchara to LaVeta.  The deer were the tame city variety and we haven't seen any up in the wild near us yet.  There's plenty of wildlife sign around here but nothing seems to be sticking around long enough for us to get a peek at it.  

We decided to have a big night out on Friday evening and went to the Dog Bar in Cuchara.  I even blow dried my hair and put on makeup.  There was lots of interest in us new kids in town and we met several of the locals.  I'd say a good 20 people came and went as we ate though the place was less than half full the entire time.  We dined on fresh salads as we don't keep a large supply of fresh veggies on hand at the condo.  The food was good and it was nice to see some other human beings.  The owner of the bar filled us in on some upcoming events including some live bands and a local game of broom ball that will be taking place up at the ski resort.  We'll report back when we figure out just what broom ball is.   

With 6 gallons of milk in the fridge Jay is hard at work getting some cheeses made and ready for curing in his makeshift humidity closet in the basement.  I'm sure he'll be posting a detailed cheese making update soon.  While Jay has been in the kitchen stirring his curds and whey I have been cooking alongside him.   After some experimentation with a bread maker donated to the condo by my sister-in-law Amy, I've finally got a loaf to come out without one end being sunken in.  A cinnamon raisin loaf is kneading away in the cooker now.  The bread maker has been a good introduction to working with bread making ingredients and sure does make easy work of getting a loaf of bread made.  Soon I hope to graduate to the real deal, baking in the oven, and kneading the dough myself.  

Today I found the Polish cook book and it just so happened that Jay had made a fresh batch of cottage cheese.  It seemed that fate had a batch of Pierogies in store for us.  They weren't bad for a first attempt, but  certainly need the Amy touch with vinegar in the dough next time.  We ate the first batch boiled and will freeze the leftovers to be pan fried in butter later. 

Rolling out the dough.

Jay's fresh cottage cheese.

The filling made with salt, sauteed onion, egg, and cottage cheese.

Packing the dumplings was the hardest part for me.

We ate ours boiled, though they should be pan fried in addition to the boiling.  We were just too hungry.  

Pierogies Please!

Boiling the Weisswurst.  Believe it or not these came out of a jar and are just delicious.

A German - Polish fusion meal.


Hike it Out

The Aber technology and mapping skills have been hard at work.  Jay has found this neat little app that allows us to track our hikes through the GPS on his phone.  The loop shown below is our morning walk from the condo to the base of the ski resort and back around.  You can click Satellite view to see the actual aerial photo with the condo shown.  Click on the Hike link just above the map and it will take you to the mapping website where you can view the elevation profiles and other stats from the hike. The GPS location of the route gets a little screwy when we are in heavily wooded areas.  We're going to continue playing around with this app and may eventually add a hiking log to the "Maps" tab on our blog.

View Hike 2013-01-21 10:45 by kartoffeln on Breadcrumbs

Working Our Way Up

Our first attempt at hiking to the top of the ski runs at Cuchara Mountain Resort today was not successful.  In fact, we only made it about a quarter of the way up.  We are using an old service road that switchbacks up the mountain and once served as an easy (green) ski run.  Our progress was halted not only due to our physical limitations, but also the depth of the snow.  On our next attempt we'll be taking snow shoes and sleds to make the way down a little more fun.  We saw lots of animal tracks and got in a good workout so the outing was not a total flop.  Now that we know what we're working with we'll shoot for half way up the mountain next time.

The new oven and cook top was installed today while Jay and I spent time painting the living room.  We're noticing more and more people inhabiting cabins within the development, though we still don't have any neighbors in either direction.  It's funny, now I find myself being the nosy old lady on the block keeping tabs on who's coming and going.  We'd really like to make friends with the cabin owners at the end of the road who have an outdoor hot tub on their second story deck overlooking the mountains.  Perhaps a "we're your new neighbors" batch of cookies is in order.  

Jay was experimenting with night photography on the deck.  This is my favorite shot of the evening.
Knee deep in snow on the way back down the ski run.  Wishing for a sled right about now.  
Notice I haven't gone full on dread locks hippie chick yet.
However, no makeup is a good start and really good for the skin too.
Dinner this evening: Venison roast with mashed potatoes and brown gravy.
I marinated the venison in the crock pot overnight with beef broth, brown sugar, Worcestershire, vinegar, garlic, and herbs.  In the morning I added a little water to the marinade and cooked it on low for 8 hours.  The leftovers will get shredded and sauced for hot barbecue sandwiches at lunch tomorrow. 


Huffing & Puffing

I think we are finally getting acclimated to this 9,000 foot elevation.  After running up and down two flights of stairs the past couple of days getting things cleaned, organized, and painted I'm not totally out of breath and dying as I was the first week out.  Hopefully all that huffing and puffing is behind us.  Also, the high altitude cooking hasn't caused any major blow outs or burn outs in the kitchen.  All of my baked goods have come out edible.

Lumberjack Jay in front of one of the mansion cabins on our morning walk.
Just like the Camino, you often meet strangers to walk with along the way.  We'll bring treats next time for this one.
The weather forecast for the next 5 plus days is sunny and in the 50's.  The snow is almost completely melted in the surrounding forest and mountains and will surely be gone in the next week.  This is an exciting prospect for us as we anticipated deep snow for our entire stay limiting us to only snow shoeing.  Now, we'll be able to make lots of hikes to farther and higher summits.  We plan to hike to the top of the abandoned ski resort very soon.

We had a nice morning walk with a furry friend.  Jay made breakfast and we'll be sad to see the griddle go when Jay's parents get the new stove they ordered.

Look at those egg frying skills at work!
The rustic Egg McMuffin.  Put that on your Dollar Menu.


Day One Down!

 Operation cat hair removal is in full effect.  We spent most of our first full day in Cuchara vacuuming and organizing.  It's been really exciting taking inventory of our pantry goods and getting them shelved and organized for use.  I'm looking forward to the challenge of making our staples stretch and trying new recipes with all of the food we brought out.  We stopped on our way into town to pick up milk, eggs, and butter.  I think we'll have a good long run before needing to get groceries again.  Soon Jay will be beginning his cheese making and I have lots of dishes in mind for the soft cheeses he'll be starting out with.  I have a feeling many of my blog posts will center around what we eat, as cooking is something I really enjoy.  So here it goes with our first meal at Cuchara: Ham and bean soup with corn bread muffins. 

These are not from scratch because you just can't beat a Jiffy mix.
Ham bone, white beans, and a little canned corn.
Dinner for the next 3 nights!
These are not as good as my mom makes, but I've got plenty of beans to work with as I try to reach that goal.  For dessert I made macaroons drizzled with chocolate.  They weren't very pretty but sure hit the spot.

Aber & Out


Epic Excursions

Posing at the natural history museum.
Gandolf came down on Salt Lake hard yielding the biggest single snowfall event I have ever witnessed. The storm started while Tracy was guiding us on an off trail snow shoeing excursion. The ascent was brutal and Tracy graciously took lots of brakes so that we could catch up. All the huffing and puffing was worth it when we reached the top with giant snowflakes falling and great views of moose territory. I only had a couple falls in the deep snow on the way down. By the time we reached the trail again our tracks up were already covered with fresh accumulation. We carefully made the drive home as the snow began to pile up.

Sampling beers at Epic Brewery.
We continued our beer research with a trip to Epic brewery for a private sampling. After trying nearly all the beers that the brewery had to offer you can imagine just how epic the rest of our evening was. Needless to say, many of the Epic brand brews made the final beer list for Cucina.

Another epic excursion to add to the list was our visit to the Salt Lake City Natural History Museum. It happened to be a free entry day so we made it a point to check it out. The displays were awesome and it was so great to see a dinosaur exhibit populated by fossils almost exclusively found within the state of Utah. Also, with Dean's mayoral connections he was able to get us a meeting with the exhibit designer for the museum. This introduction allowed us a behind the scenes look at the exhibits and how they were put together.

The evolution of Man.
A moccasin exhibit at the museum.

After some long nights out and days filled with activity we were thrilled to cap off our visit to Salt Lake with a movie night in to watch "The Way", the film about the Camino, with our fellow pilgrims. This led to a lot of reflection about our trip and made it even sadder to leave the next morning.  We're so lucky to have met such lovely friends along the Way and were overwhelmed by their their limitless hospitality during our week long stay.

Before leaving Utah we decided to swing by the town of Beaver to hit up the free ski day at Eagle Point resort. I was surprised at how quickly the sport came back to me and couldn't believe what mad skills my husband has. It was totally worth the full body soreness during the 10 hour drive back to Cuchara the next day.

We've now arrived back at the condo and are ready to get settled in. We'll post some live action video of the ski trip soon.

Aber & Out


Reunited and it feels so good

After a lovely first night in Salt Lake spent sampling beers at Red Rock brewery we are now settled in with Dean and Tracy. We arrived to their fabulous condo and were treated to an outstanding local beer selection and a supper of catfish and beans a la Dean. The sweet and spicy dish was out of this world. Jay is having a ball analyzing all the local brews and making beer plans with Dean for the deli. Oh the deli! As I sit here and write the locals are streaming in for their morning coffee at Cucina deli. This is the sort of place I could sit and enjoy myself all day. Resisting the spaghetti pie, shrimp salad, and lemon bars behind the big glass counter may be difficult as all are works of art that add to a gallery of delicacies that are offered here. We have had two fine and fresh meals here so far and can't wait to indulge in a couple more. I will sorely miss this gem of a restaurant when we leave.

Today Tracy is taking us to her favorite snow shoeing spot in Park City where we'll be doing some off trail bushwhacking. Pair that with a visit to Shades of Pale brewery and it's looking to be another awesome day.

A big hug and hello to everyone back home. Miss you all!


Rollin Down the Highway...

Man, it’s been a while. Well, where to begin... At the beginning, I suppose? December 23rd was Lauren's and my last day at work. I had an idea that we would be a little busy between then and leaving for CO, but I didn't really anticipate everything we had to do! It was a crazy couple of weeks of Christmas celebrations, trying to see everyone before we left, and packing. So much packing. It’s hard to believe all of the stuff we owned. You can really get an inventory on your life by packing up everything you own and putting it in a storage unit—especially an inventory of all that crap you own that you really have no reason to. We gave away, donated, recycled, and threw away an absolutely obscene amount of stuff.

So anyway, now that we’ve got all the hard work out of the way, the apartment keys turned in, and the storage unit locked up, we’re finally free! I’m writing this right now in the lobby of a Marriott hotel in Salt Lake City (gotta love free hotel stays from credit card deals). We got here in a pretty roundabout way. We left KC on Jan. 3 for Cuchara, CO. We spent just a few days out there of organization and being out of breath (9,000 ft. elevation will do that to us flatlanders) before heading off on the first of our road trips, primarily to see our Camino Mom and Camino Dad, Tracy and Dean in Salt Lake City!

But being as we don’t have any schedule to keep these days, we just decided to stop in on Moab on our way out here to check out the Arches National Park. And damn it was COLD. We woke up to -14 F yesterday morning. It was so cold that my fingers started aching after being outside about 3 minutes without gloves and my hair had frozen into a stiff sheet. It warmed up to a balmy 12 F by the time we hit the Delicate Arch (that famous one thats on all the signs and license plates in Utah, you know, the big orange one).

Arches was completely awesome, even though every massive sandstone boulder we had to walk up was covered in a sheet of ice. I nearly had an epic wipe out on the way down. We also had a pretty epic arch fail on the way up. We took a wrong turn on the trail, and instead of coming at the arch from the front like you’re supposed to do, we walked up to it from the side. I didn’t realize we were actually looking at the arch until we walked up to the base of it. I thought it was just another random rock spire sticking up. Arch fail. We eventually made our way around to the side you can actually see it from and it was completely worth it.

But now we’re out of the barrens, and into the big city for the week. And you know what that means…time to do some work! Researching Utah breweries, that is…