Saturday, February 18, 2012

Jewelry, chocolates, and roses are all very nice but nothing says love like time spent together. Hanging out in a dusty valley with 30,000 other 4x4 fans was not what came immediately to mind when I envisioned this Valentine’s weekend but I tried to keep an open mind as we left Bend with a car full of camping gear, firewood, beer and sunscreen.

Hang with me on this post. The domestic part comes at the very end.

Last weekend we drove sixteen hours down to Johnson Valley, California to hang out with some friends of ours and watch the King of the Hammers off road race. This notoriously difficult race combines high speed desert racing and technically challenging rock crawling across 160 miles of the Mojave desert.

The first night I was a bit irritable as I anticipated the long drive and worried about how I would fare as a spectator at the toughest off road race in the world with 30,000 other, mostly male, fans. By day two we were zooming through blooming citrus fields and wildly twisting grape groves. The sun seemed brighter and stronger as we drove down I-5. Subsisting on subway sandwiches and diet soda we managed to push through and arrived midday on Thursday.

We met the two drivers, wives, and miscellaneous family members, sponsors and supporters. Everyone in camp was great and we bonded immediately over cheap domestic beer and potato chips. Hammer Town as the camping area is called, sprawls out across the desert for what seems like miles. Densely packed streets complete with street signs, of large RVs, trucks, motorbikes, race vehicles, and trailers wind through camp. A thin film of fine dust covers everything. In the morning and evening an inversion settles into the valley and the air becomes thick with dust, stirred up by all the cross-desert traffic and now trapped close to the ground. I imagine the

effect was similar to that of chain smoking without the nicotine high.
Friday morning dawned dusty, the air still congested and obscured by dirt. We gathered at the start to watch cars burst across the start line, optimistically charging off into the desert. We would later learn that only about 1/3 of the entrants would complete the race. Many cars end up broken, damaged beyond repair and are abandoned on the course until they could be collected the next day.

We drove out across a dry lakebed to a rocks obstacle called Chocolate Thunder. It felt a bit like something out of a Mad Max movie as all manner of powered vehicles stocked with cold beer and testosterone charged fans sped willy-nilly out to the spectator sites.

As spectators you can pretty much do what you want as long as it’s not dumb and you take your beer cans home. In theory you must be 150 feet from the race course but it wasn’t strictly enforced. The only enforcement was when the California police flew over in a helicopter ordering us to, “move away from the race course, you are too close.” Spectators yelled back and gestured at the police obviously un-phased. Eventually the cops flew off, I was unsure if they were just making a show of force or really thought we would all politely scoot back to a place where we couldn't see what was going on.

As the sun rose and the shadows grew shorter, cars began zipping over the hill into the obstacle at our location.

The first few cars went through without incident but subsequent cars began to pile up clogging the entrance to the canyon. By the time our friends came by in car 4431, there was quite a line up. In a bold move 4431 pushed past the waiting line and crammed into the tiny opening ahead of several waiting cars. They squeezed out Just in time to avoid a 15 car line up that didn’t clear up for hours

We watched from one other site closer to the end of the race course and were lucky enough to see 4431 come through that location without incident. They crested a steep hill dropping down into a last approach to the finish arena. Their car looked great and they seemed to be making great time when we last saw them. We sped off toward the finish line to congratulate them on agreat race and see were they were sitting in the timed race standings.

Apparently we missed the most spectacular finish in the history of the race.

After they crossed the finish line, they hit the last little built up “look at me I finished” jump going a bit too fast. Take a look at this crazy video. …

Woah. Both driver and co-pilot walked away to wild cheering of the crowd. The finish played over and over on the jumbotron late into the evening. Despite having an amazing race and finishing 9th after qualifying in 60th place before the race all anyone wanted to talk about was the finish line gymnastics.

We retired to camp and ate hot dogs and “victory brownies” (Mom if you’re reading this they were just brownies). Retelling of race track happenings grew into tall tales long into the night. In the morning we rubbed dust filled eyes, packed the truck and turned north.

I must say it was more interesting and fun than I anticipated. The crowd of 99% men was polite and helpful at every turn. These people are genuinely amazing racers and do their best to take great care of the land they return to every year. Working closely with the BLM to provide dust abatement, trash cleanup, and basic medical services. Most of the cars entered in the race are custom built from the frame up. It’s a labor of love to get a car ready and then beat the crap out of it in an 8 hour period on this course, only to come back next year and do it all over again.

My boyfriend is already talking about coming back next year and staying for a week. I may need to bring my knitting or some kind of craft diversion I can wash the dust out of when I get home but sunshine in the middle of winter and 75 degree heat is a powerful draw. I'm also contemplating trying to get a media pass so I can get closer to the action.

Missing the domestic part?

Driving back we stopped for citrus fruit at a roadside place. I bought Meyer Lemons and Kumquats for just a few dollars. We made Virgin Kumquat Mojitos at a ladies night and last night had Traeger smoked pork chops with a kumquat salsa and mashed sweet potatoes.

Kumquats are small quirky fruits that have a sweet skin and very tart insides. They are about the size of a large grape and can be eaten whole popped right in your mouth but this salsa is divine!

King of the Hammers Kumquat Salsa:

finely chop as many kumquats as your patience allows

3/4 finely chopped red onion

1 finely copped red bell pepper

1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro

2 tsp salt

scant 1/4 tsp cayenne

1 tablespoon olive oil

Mix everything together. Ideally you'll let it sit for a couple hours at room temperature, stirring occasionally. Serve with fish, pork, chicken, chips, your finger... it's versatile.

I've got a better selection of photos over at Flickr.

If you really like this stuff here is a montage of footage from the 2012 event.

Thinking of KOH 2013?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Cluck the Cluckers...

What do you give the neighbors as an "I am so sorry my chickens at the "hens and chicks" plants that belonged to your parents" gift?  And what are the odds that the chickens would eat a plant called "hens and chicks?" 

Would a stew chicken be out of line?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Friendly Feta! (With Bonus Pasteurization Lesson!)

Feta is not my favorite. Now don't get me wrong, I like Feta. It just doesn't make me feel all melty and gluttonous like other cheeses do. Feta is good in moderation with other ingredients to temper it's strong personality, while some other cheeses (in my opinion) are best in hunks straight off the plate.

Many other people don't seem to feel this way. I get feta requests all the time and recently my daughters BFF's dad went bananas describing this "awesome" cheese he had just had (it's called feta! have you heard of it?). Add to this that it's one of my favorite cheeses to make (if not eat) and I thought I would do a Friendly Feta batch this week. AND post about it. WITH PICTURES.

Oh! I also have new toys! 1) a "smart phone" have you heard of these? they shoot my pictures straight over here so I can post them! and 2) a balls awesome thermometer. I have many temperature specific hobbies so it is not unreasonable to spend $100 on a thermometer (she says defensively) FUN!

OK! Lets Make Feta!!!!

1) Milk your goat! I used 1 gallon from my evening milking and a little over a half gallon more from the morning. You can also use store (or farm) bought goat or cow milk. About a gallon and a half.

2) Pasteurize! Feta is a fresh cheese (eaten less than 60 days after it is made) so it is safest to pasteurize your milk first. Also heating goat milk tends to intensify the "goaty" flavor, which is desirable in this cheese. You can pasteurize milk several ways. You can heat the milk in a double boiler to 145 degrees and hold it at that temperature for 30 minutes. OR you can heat the milk in a double boiler to 162 degrees and hold it at that temperature for 15 seconds. OR you can heat it to like 200 or something for like 1 second (which is what they do to grocery store milk) but you can't really do that at home and it totally ruins the proteins so you can't make cheese with it anymore.

Steamy! 163.9 degrees
3) Chill the milk! Quick! Put the milk in an icy water bath and cool that bitch down! If you were pasteurizing for home drinking you would want to take it down below 50 degrees or so, but since this is for cheese I only took it to 86 degrees, which is where I want it to encourage my cheesy bacterial friends to grow.

4) Add cultures! You can use a general "mesophilic" culture for this cheese and get good results. But I am a cheese-o-phile and a big snob and got special (ooooo) cultures. I used 1/4 teaspoon M101 and 1/8 teaspoon Aroma B. But seriously, you can use a packet of mesophilic starter and get very good results. Sprinkle cultures on to the milk and let them sit there for about 2-4 minutes, then stir them in with 20 up and down strokes. Cover the pot and ripen (sit there) for 45 minutes.

Stirring . . . 
5) Coagulate! Add your rennet. I used 1/2 teaspoon diluted in about 1/4 cup of cool water. If you are using cow milk you can add about 1/8 teaspoon of lipase powder (to give it that special flavor), you can also add about 1/2 teaspoon of calcium chloride if you like. Stir with 20 up and down strokes again. And the let it sit for an additional 30-45 minutes until your curd is set.

Rennet in a bowl.
6) Test for a clean break! This is the funnest part! Check to makes sure you are ready to cut the curd by making sure it breaks cleanly first. Like this:

7) Cut the Curd! Into 1/2 inch cubes and then let it sit for 5 minutes.

Cutting . . . 

8) Stir for 20 minutes. Holding at 86 to 90 degrees. I use warm water baths to keep my temperatures stable.

Curds and Whey
9) Scoop the curds into a mold (really any mold, even a bag probably) and let it drain for 6-8 hours, turning every few hours so it drains evenly. I drain mine on a draining board inside of a 9x5 baking pan draining the whey when it gets too deep.

Baby Cheese
10) Cut the cheese into cubes and soak in brine for 3 days in your fridge. I use a "medium" brine made with 10 oz of salt in 1/2 gallon of water. You can leave the cheese in this brine for storage for about a month.

Cheese in Brine.

11) Eat the Cheese! When you are ready to eat the cheese you may think "holy hell! this cheese is crazy salty." Don't worry! You can soak it in water for 15 minutes, or even up to a few hours and it will be much improved. Crumble it on salad! Or a Pizza! Mix it into scrambled eggs! Or just eat it plain! You can do whatever you want with it! Look at my family enjoying this cheese!

I love Feta!

This cheese is sooo good!

Holy Crap! This is the best ever! Yay for mom! No mom is as good as ours!
And that is how you make feta cheese! BOOM!