Thursday, May 19, 2011

Coconut milk

We go through a lot of coconut milk around here.

Personally, I'm agnostic on the virtues or lack thereof of dairy. I don't think it's the devil. The kids eat dairy products in moderation. We've recently limited LemurGirl from large doses, especially things that are likely to have added casein, due to behavioral issues, but small quantities are ok - she was sensitive to dairy as an infant, too. I avoid even trace amounts, because the baby has screaming fits when I do eat it, so I use coconut milk in most situations that call for milk, because I see it as the best combination of health and cost-effectiveness.

However, it's still not particularly cheap.

I've looked at making coconut milk before, but haven't. Maybe because so many of the recipes call for fresh coconut; maybe because conventional stores don't seem to sell unsweetened shredded coconut. I can't quite remember. Yesterday I decided that it *had* to be possible, looked again, and found these two recipes:

I tried it out today. We found some little 2-ounce packages of unsweetened shredded coconut locally. This came out to a bit less than a cup, so I mixed it with 3 cups of water (roughly the concentration in the first recipe), then whizzed it for a while in the vitamix.

It came out tasting fresh, sweet, and coconutty. So much nicer than the canned coconut milk, which tastes kind of stale in comparison! I was instantly converted. You can easily drink this stuff straight. It was very thin compared to the canned milk, though. More like nonfat milk than cream. For some applications this is good. As a coffee creamer or curry additive (my usual uses for it), it may need to be more concentrated. It's also a little... chewy. You end up with a mouthful of coconut solids. Not horrible, but not really desirable, either.

We have another little bag, so I'm going to try it again tomorrow-ish, and try soaking the coconut for several hours first to see if that helps with either or both issues.

The first recipe uses 1 cup coconut to 4 cups water. The second uses 1 to 2. Amazon has organic shredded coconut for approximately $2/8oz bag. So that would make approximately 12 cups of coconut milk, or about the equivalent of 7 cans (most cans are about 13.5oz, or a bit less than 2 cups).

Each can costs $1.41 with case discount. Each can equivalent would cost $0.28.

That's kind of a huge savings on something that we use a lot!

Now, the coconut milk I made today ended up being very thin. Maybe blending more or pre-soaking will help with that, but it's very possible we'll end up using something closer to the 1:2 concentration for a lot of our uses. But still, that's $0.56 per can equivalent.

But wait, it gets better! The canned coconut milk we're buying is some random Thai brand. It has preservatives, is probably not organically grown, and is probably in a can lined with BPA-containing plastic. The organic, BPA-free brand of canned milk, ordered through Amazon, is more than twice as expensive. The shredded coconut we'd be buying is organic and sulfite/preservative-free.

I expect we'll end up going through more of it than we have been because it tastes so good! Plus shredded coconut means I can also grind it up (or leave it as-is) and use it as flour for baking. We'll probably still continue to use canned for some things, like curries, which need to be thick and creamy.

Even considering that, if I can get it to a point where it works well for coffee, I think it will be a big help for our budget.

(If this works for us, we may consider the 22lb bag, which would bring the cost down to about $0.18/can equivalent at the higher dilution, but would require repackaging and lots of freezer space).

Update: As I expected, yesterday's was too watery to work well as coffee creamer. I tried it again today, soaking the coconut for several hours first, and using less water. I couldn't tell you exactly what concentration, because I threw the remains of yesterday's in as well, but something in between 1:2 and 1:4. I also vitamixed it for a full three minutes.

It turned out much creamier, but still a bit on the chewy side, so I strained those out. It still seems much creamier than yesterday's even without the solids, though still thinner than canned. I tried it in the remaining coffee from this morning, and it seemed to work out well. Then I threw the strained out solids into a smoothie. It's possible they'd work for baking, too.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Dandelion Root Beer, All Drunk Up

So, I know you're all waiting impatiently to find out how this soda concoction worked out. Or maybe not. Maybe you figured my silence on the matter meant it had turned toxic and I'd given up in despair and hoped that everyone forgot about my crazy ideas.

But probably not, as the blog's stats show that there seem to be a lot of people googling about dandelion soda, so everyone else out there must be as broke as me, and looking out at their lawn covered in dandelions and going hmmm....

Back a few days ago (I stopped keeping track of how many days were involved in all of this) I capped up the root beer. After another few days, it seemed to be getting pressurized, so I stuck it in the fridge. But then when I checked again later, the bottle seemed pretty squishy, so I put it back out on the counter again, and went ahead and capped the tea bottle, too.

Yesterday they were both feeling pressurized, so I put them in the fridge, and today we tried them. I could tell by feel that the root beer was once again not quite there, so I opened the tea first. It gave a whoosh! Yay! We tried it. It was fizzy. Yay!

Not quite sure about the flavor of that one. It's still a little on the Ricola side of things. And kind of like kombucha. Not that this is a shock, given that they're both fermented tea. It's not bad, just different. It would undoubtedly be refreshing on a warmer day than today. LemurBoy liked it. LemurGirl didn't.

The root beer was, as I expected, still pretty much flat. LB didn't like the flavor (he hasn't from the beginning). LG did. Convenient, that. I'm not sure why it didn't work out. It definitely had a bit of fermenty-something going. LemurDa, who has done quite a bit of homebrewing before, said he could taste a difference in the cultures between the two, which is kinda strange, as they used the same starter. It could well be the syrup vs. sugar thing - I'm pretty sure I'd added regular sugar to the starter by the time I started the tea-soda.

So that's the result - half success, half not-gonna-kill-you-but-not-really-soda.

I think I'll start some more tomorrow.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Carrot Pudding, or I Gave My Kids Veggies For Dessert, And They Liked It

A post on the Well Trained Mind forum left me with a serious hankering for carrot cake. Unfortunately, we don't have much in the way of carrot cake ingredients in the house. I searched through GF, paleo, and raw recipes, and everything required almonds or some other form of alternate flour.

Fortunately, we buy the 10lb bags of carrots, and that's kind of a key ingredient. So I decided to make carrot pudding instead.

6-8 carrots
1-2 apples (I used one ginormous apple)
1/4 cup coconut milk or cream
1 tablespoon Fat Of Choice (I used bacon grease, but coconut oil, butter oil, or butter would work well I'm sure. You could probably leave this out without much harm, but it makes it a bit richer)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (best guess - I grated it)
Sweetener to taste

Cook carrots until soft. I steamed them, but you could boil them too (one similar recipe uses broth, which might add a bit of nutrition, but I wasn't sure about the flavor - save the broth for something else if you go this route! I really should have done it this way, as the pot was used for reducing broth immediately afterwards), and roasting would probably bring out the sweetness even better. Cut apple into chunks while the carrots are cooking.

When carrots are soft, throw them in the food processor (or blender) along with the chunks of apple. Process until relatively smooth. Add coconut milk or cream if you need a little more liquid. Add other ingredients and process to mix. Taste, and add some sweetener (or maybe just some more apple) if you think it's necessary. If you're using good quality carrots and apples, it likely won't be. I'm using standard grocery store produce, and it was sweet, but not quite dessert-sweet, so I added a bit (like maybe a tablespoonful) of maple syrup.

Add raisins, pineapple chunks, and crushed pecans or walnuts as desired (or not) :) If I could eat dairy, I'd want to make some sort of cream cheese whip for the top, I think.

Makes about 4-6 servings.

This turned out good enough that all three kids liked it (LemurGirl is currently literally licking the bowl. I am pretending not to notice.). I think it was better warm, but just fine cold, too.

This was, incidentally, Baby's first bite of anything even vaguely resembling baby food. She's had appropriate sized and shaped chunks of whatever we're eating to gnaw on for the past month or so (or an apple slice or boiled veggies if what we're having doesn't seem appropriate), but no purees.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A Tall Shanghai Rooster

Why in the heck did they bring just a rooster, anyways? Were the hens simply not worthy of mention? Odd, in a song with a distinctly feminist bend.

Last Saturday, we picked up 21 day-old chicks (21 chicks that had hatched the day before that is, not chicks who were 21 days old). Perhaps now the chicken coop will get finished. We have time before they're ready for it, but now there is, at least, a firm time limit!



What type are they? Who knows. Mutt-chicks.

They're growing like mad, and are notably bigger today than they were a week ago.

They spent the first several days in our bathtub. Our master bedroom is set up really oddly - the bathtub and toilet area are right there in the room, visually separated by a low wall. Therefore, the heat lamp kept waking up the baby all night, and therefore me as well. Unfortunately (or thankfully, depending on your perspective) they kicked up LemurDa's asthma, and they had to be evicted to the spare bedroom. Now I'm sleeping better, and feeling a little friendlier towards them.

We lost one on Wednesday. Not sure what happened. I checked them and found one lying around lethargically; breathing, but barely moving when I picked it up. I isolated it in case it was contagious, and it died within an hour or so. Poor thing.

We don't know what happened. Did it have a contagious illness? I saw no obvious signs of an illness beyond the lethargy. No nasal or eye discharge, no obviously wrong poop. The other chicks were all normally active. It may have gotten wet and chilled, though it wasn't obviously so at the time I found it. It could have had a heart defect or something.

This led to a debate: One school of thought considers this a reason to go and dose the chicks' water with antibiotics just to be on the safe side. As newbie chicken owners who are not adept at recognizing subtle signs of chicken illness, this is tempting. However, we believe that, while antibiotics are a powerful tool, widespread antibiotics usage causes more problems than it solves. So I decided to keep a close eye on them for a while and see how they did, and do the antibiotics if any of the rest of them showed any sign of illness.

They were all fine, though I probably stressed them out a little, poking at them whenever they settled down to rest. We haven't lost any more of them so far.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Chocolate Lingonberry Ice Cream, Soda Update

My mother visited these past few days, after first visiting my brother. In between our houses is our dear old friend IKEA, and she stopped there and picked us up some IKEA food, none of which we should really be eating, but we did anyways.

We had some lingonberry sauce left, and I wanted it gone, so I decided to use it as flavoring and sweetener for coconut milk ice cream. It turned out delicious!

1 can of coconut milk
2 tablespoons - 1/4 cup cocoa powder
Some lingonberry sauce. Probably about a 1/2 cup. The remaining 1/3 or so of the 400g jar. Let's just say "to taste".
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

(I need to start actually measuring what I'm doing, rather than adding stuff "until it tastes right" and then trying to guess at the quantities after the fact!)

Blend ingredients in blender. Pour into ice cream maker. Use ice cream maker according to instructions.

It came out nice and creamy; rich, but not overly sweet. it reminded me a lot of commercial coconut milk ice cream I've had. My mother who eats a standard diet liked it, as did the kids. And me, of course! I wasn't quite sure about it during the liquid stage, but the flavor worked better once it was frozen.

I was worried that this wouldn't make enough and I'd have to add more coconut milk, but it made enough to perfectly fill our ice cream maker (no, I'm not sure what size it is) and make 5 reasonable sized servings - I probably could have gotten six servings out of it and left everyone satisfied because it's so rich.

IKEA lingonberry sauce is almost certainly full of sweetener. We already tossed the jar and I'm utterly failing at finding the ingredients online, so I couldn't tell you exactly what it contains, but I think it is safe to assume it contains some sort of unhealthy sweetener, and quite probably preservatives and so forth. Anyways, I'm curious whether very ripe berries, bananas, or some other fruit would work as adequate sweetener for this, or if at least a little bit of honey or sugar would be needed to balance out the cocoa.

If you're not concerned about such things, some sort of preserves (strawberry, raspberry) would probably work well in place of the lingonberry sauce/

We have a Donvier-style ice cream maker, with a freezable insert, and I'm quite happy with it. I'm sure there are other home ice cream makers that produce better ice cream, but not needing salt and ice really helps for being able to make ice cream on the spur of the moment.

Now I think I need to figure out Swedish Meatballs, sans breadcrumbs.

I stuck the root beer in the fridge, and we'll officially taste it this afternoon, when the temperature outside is warm enough to warrant a refreshing drink. I didn't taste it before that because I didn't want to go and release the built up carbonation. I guess we'll see soon whether it's flat or not.

The tea has some slight bubbles, but is still overly sweet, so I threw in another 2 tablespoons of starter.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Steak and Kidney Shepherd's Pie (and soda update)

I'm really not too good at this whole housewifey meal-planning thing, and I most often end up around 10:00am, staring at the various frozen cuts of meat in the freezer, trying to figure out what in the world I'm going to do with them. The crock pot is my best friend - I can toss in some frozen stock, and a half hour later a frozen roast, and have dinner at dinnertime. Sometimes I'll even get ambitious and take the meat out once it's thawed a bit and chop it up into smaller pieces for stew or something.

Combine this with the fact that we tend to order fractions of (local, ethically raised) cows/pigs/etc., because it's cheaper that way. Possibly not quite as cheap as whatever is on clearance at conventional stores, but way cheaper than full price at conventional stores. When you do this, you end up with a whole bunch of really nice cuts of meat, and I'm never quite sure what I should do with those (also, I'm totally uneducated about cuts of meat, and have only the vaguest idea what is normally an expensive cut and what isn't).

Anyways, this led to me staring into the freezer yesterday, trying to figure what to do with a bunch of frozen steak. I noticed a kidney that's been sitting at the bottom of the freezer for months because I'm a bit leery of it, and "steak and kidney pie" popped into my head.

I've never had it, but whatever. It's a legitimate use of steak and kidney! Except we have nothing in the house to make a reasonable paleo crust, so it's going to be steak and kidney stew.

I tossed them in the crock pot on high, along with some meat-cooking juice that's been floating in and out of the freezer for ages (with cooking in between). It had some carrots in it.

After the meat defrosted a bit, I chopped it up into small chunks (forgoing the opportunity to teach about kidney anatomy because I couldn't remember enough of it off the top of my head and the baby was fussing. And because I didn't want to be all "Here, this organ makes pee. Eat it!"), fried them up a bit with some salt and pepper, then tossed them back in the crock pot on low. I chopped up an onion, fried that, and tossed it in as well, along with several shakes (let's call it 2 tablespoons) of Worcestershire sauce.

It cooked for a while, and I decided it needed something to help absorb the liquid. Something potato-y, without actually being potatoes. I asked LemurDa, who was out, to get some cauliflower or root veggies or something. He got turnips.

By the time he got home with the veggies, it was too late for them to have time to cook in the crock pot, so I decided to try a mash, and make it into Shepherd's pie.

I chopped these up, stuck them in a pot with some salted water, heated it to a boil, and cooked them until they were tender (this only took a few minutes), then pureed them in the food processor with several cloves of garlic and about 2 tablespoons of clarified butter.

It came out pretty much like mashed potatoes. I was impressed.

I preheated the oven to 400F, and used a slotted spooned to transfer the meat and carrots out of the crock pot and into an ovenproof dish, leaving most of the liquid (which got stuck back in the freezer for a future occasion), then spread the faux-potatoes over the top and sprinkled it with a bit of pepper. When the oven was preheated, I stuck it in there for 20 minutes.

It turned out pretty good. LemurGirl ate most of it. LemurBoy thought it smelled funny (I'm not really going to disagree with him on that one) and refused to do more than a requisite taste. Everyone else seemed to like it ok. I wasn't all that crazy about the kidney flavor, but it wasn't inedible.

The turnip mash had a slight bitter taste. I want to try it with cauliflower and see if it comes out even more like potatoes, but I think it fooled the kids.

I'm going to have to try Shepherd's Pie again with ground beef. LB is meatloaf crazy, and I'm sure would love it that way.

We have bubbles in the root beer! I'm going to guess it needs another day or two, but something is happening, at least.

The sun tea really needs to ferment up a bit. It's sickly sweet and tastes much like a Ricola cough drop.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Dandelion Root Beer?

I'm starting to lose a little hope in our great experiment. There's been no real change to the soda since we bottled it. Yesterday I thought that perhaps it was starting to get a little tangy, but today I think I must have been imagining that.

Downside of only doing a liter: tasting it daily reduces the amount considerably, especially when each kid must have their own taste. I threw another quarter cup of starter in there today, both in hopes of getting things going a bit, and to fill it back up a bit more.

Despite the resounding lack of success so far, I decided to start a second liter, made out of sun tea on the inspiration of my good friend Olivia. I'm letting this cool more before adding the sun tea wort to the starter, just in case that was the problem with the root beer.

I'm going to think about starting a new batch of starter today too, as all indications were that I had a successful starter before sticking it in the fridge to hibernate.

With lots of hand-feeding, the goats are starting to tame up a bunch. The bottle baby (He's pretty much been named B.B.) is totally tame. Mama Goat tolerates us, and her nurslings are starting to investigate us a bit, too. The brown and white female as officially named Marshmallow Fudge - Marsha for short, and I can't resist calling "Marsha, Marsha, Marsha" to her, though she just gets called Little Girl more often than not. She's still skittish, but is starting to run up and beg for treats when we come in. She and B.B. are kind of the outcasts of the herd, and I think that encourages her to turn towards humans.

The two somewhat dumb white sibling goats have been quietly named Beavis and Butt-Head. It fits them. I call them Dumb and Dumber, too.

The nurslings don't have distinct enough personalities for names yet.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Dandelion Root Beer, Resurrected!

We have sugar now, so yesterday I pulled the starter out of the fridge, fed it a spoonful of sugar, and let it sit to see if it would work out or if we needed to start over.

This morning, it's bubbly again! It is risen!

We're starting with 1L, rather than a full gallon, to see how it works. Since all the recipes I've found are for a gallon or more, we had to do some math.

There are approximately 4L in a gallon (rounding up. It's actually 3.785. But for an inexact experiment like this, we'll treat the liter bottles as quarts and be done with it).

1 gallon needs 1.5 cups of sweetener. I didn't ask LemurBoy to do that one in his head (0.375 cups, or a bit more than 1/3 cup). We dissolved that (minus a tablespoon or so that LG spilled on the counter trying to dump it in the wrong place...) in 2 cups of water, added the flavoring (one bottle contains 2 fl oz and makes 4 gallons, so 1/2 fl oz makes 1 gallon, so 1/8 fl oz makes a quart. Google tells me 1/8 fl oz = .75 teaspoons), and brought it to a boil, partially to aid in dissolving the sugar, partially to kill off any microorganisms already in the water. I asked LB why we were boiling the water, and he guessed the microorganism part.

While letting that mixture (called "the wort") cool to body temperature (LB correctly figured out that this was so it wouldn't kill the good bacteria in the starter), we put the starter in the bottle (1 quart per gallon, so 1 cup per quart), and stuck the rest back in the fridge, to be resurrected again if this works out well.

After adding the wort to the starter, and adding a bit more water to fill it out as there were only 2 cups in the wort (we probably should have boiled this), we put a balloon with holes poked in it over the top. LB again figured out why with no problem - the balloon keeps environmental microorganisms from getting in, and the holes allow some of the gas produced by the fermentation process to escape, so the balloon (or bottle!) won't explode. (While there is some alcohol produced in the fermentation process, it's a very small amount if you don't let it sit too long, and should be fine for kids in reasonable quantities. Just be sure to taste it yourself first to be careful.)

Again: We're using well water. Regular city tap water needs to either be filtered or left to sit for a few days to dechlorinate or the good bacteria won't grow.

And now we wait! It's supposed to sit on the counter for a few days, tasting it every day to see if it's ready, and cap it and put it in the fridge once it reaches an appropriate balance of sweetness and fizziness (the bacteria eat the sugar, so the final product should be significantly less sweet than it is now). It's supposed to be a little on the sweet side when bottled, because it needs to ferment slightly further after that to pressurize before being refrigerated.


Sunday, May 1, 2011

Goat Notes

Yesterday we got goats.

Here's the woulda/shoulda. Pretty much tells the story!

1. Even tame goat kids are still afraid of new people, especially when those new people are trying to catch them to give them a bottle.

2. A big goat yard is good, but fence off a small portion for new goats so that they don't have space to maneuver away from you when trying to catch them to give them a bottle.

3. (Goat) Kids can fit through fencing you wouldn't imagine they could when they are panicking because you're trying to catch them to give them a bottle. Be prepared to run out and get chicken wire if your fencing is inadequate.

4. Thankfully, once loose, they prefer to come back to their friends and won't hightail it for parts unknown.

5. The dogs will spend at least the next 24 hours making absolutely sure you're aware that there are Ferocious Baby Goats in the yard.

6. Dogs will find a way to fit through the fencing of their yard if there are Ferocious Baby Goats in the area. (No one was injured - they're really just curious, not attacking)

7. Goat kids consider neither bottles of formula nor apple slices to be a good treat (they don't actually need formula at this point - it's a bonding thing).

It's ok. They're getting used to us. I kinda suspect these guys aren't ever going to be bottle babies for us, though.

So that was yesterday. Those three are pygmy/nigerian crosses.


Today we got more, because LemurDa doesn't like to do anything by halves. These guys (a mother and her quadruplets, one of whom she rejected and is now a bottle baby) are boer/nubian crosses. Though the kids are younger than yesterday's, they're currently about the same size. They're much more socialized - they're all friendly, but the bottle baby thinks he's a human and is already the kids' baby.


So total, we have 1 mama, 3 girl kids, 3 fixed boy kids, and 1 intact boy kid. We'd intended to use the 3 fixed boys for meat eventually, but I have a feeling bottle boy (already named Friendly Freddy) is going to become the companion for the buck. Using siblings for that purpose would make more logical sense, but, well, he's Friendly Freddy.


The girl in particular from yesterday is starting to warm up to us.


The two boy goats from yesterday seem kinda dumb. This may be because they're a month younger than the girl. Or maybe just that they're dumb.


Mama and her three nursing kids. It's amazing how much smaller and less sturdy the bottle baby is, though that's a chicken or the egg question.

Their home is 1/3 of the shelter that was already in place when we moved here. We walled it in to block the wind. They haven't had significantly more shelter in the past, and the weather is quickly improving, so they should be ok. Once they've adjusted a little more, they'll be able to go out in the pasture during the day.