DIY Goat Cheese

Believe it or not, it’s really easy to make your own fresh goat cheese at home. All you need is a small number of ingredients and minimal equipment. Here’s the simplest, most basic way to do what’s known as a “farmer’s cheese”:

 _Holik-Cheesemaking-FeaturedIngredients

Half gallon of goat’s milk (the lower-pasteurized the milk, the better)

Juice of 1 lemon or 2 teaspoons white vinegar

Herbs or other flavorings

Tools

Stainless steel flat-bottomed pot

Stainless steel spoon

Cheesecloth

Strainer or colander

5 pound weight and flat plate (optional) Continue reading

Sourdough Starter

The smell of bread baking is legendary. Just the memory of it is an olfactory arrow straight to the heart—and then the stomach. Before there was such a thing as a bread aisle, bread was baked at home. As with laundry and ironing, our great-grandmas used to devote a whole day every week to bread baking. Not just white bread but all kinds: whole wheat, potato, pumpernickel, soda, whatever was at hand. And this was bread that had heft and character and integrity, none of this limp cardboard-tasting stuff that tears when you try to spread butter on it. Plus crust! Dense, yeasty crust, crust you could really sink your teeth into.

Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 1.15.19 PM     To produce even one such loaf involves making the starter by mixing yeast with other ingredients and letting it rise, adding flour to make the dough, letting it rise again, then punching it down, pulling, pushing, slamming, spanking, patting it and repeat. It’s meditative and laborious, both. And it all starts with this magical rising agent, yeast. Continue reading

Let Me Tell You ‘Bout the Birds and the Bees

In Upstate New York, where I grew up, water was so ubiquitous that I didn’t notice it. Grass needed to be cut once a week, trees didn’t need to be watered, and our property was surrounded by woods and fields. The soundtrack to summer was the chirping and warbling of birds and the drone of bees. I took all of that bounty for granted until I bought a home in southwest Santa Fe (or what was southwest Santa Fe 15 years ago). I looked around my yard, which had been cleverly landscaped by the previous owner with a mix of dirt, goat heads and tumbleweeds, and thought to myself, “Something is missing.” As I built an oasis for myself, adding flower beds, bird feeders, outdoor drinking areas for the cat and brightly painted patio furniture and garden walls, I noticed that birds and bees moved in as well. Now I can look out my bedroom window and watch a hummingbird sitting on her nest, and when I nap in the hammock I can hear the bees.

The rules of attraction are fairly simple: have things in your garden that birds and bees love.

"#1 Sunflower Lane" Pat Woodall Fine Art, Taos

“#1 Sunflower Lane” Pat Woodall Fine Art, Taos

“The single biggest attraction [for birds] is water,” said Roberta Beyer of fatfinch.com, an online avian accessory store based in Albuquerque. “It’s like a magnet.” If you can make the water move, that’s even better—the birds can see and hear it from a greater distance. Active water also stays cleaner, harboring fewer of the parasites that can harm birds. Bird baths, fountains and ponds are all inviting to birds, and the water attracts a wider range of birds than feeders alone. (Bees also need the water; they use it for cooling their hives.) A few rocks or floating twigs added to your bird bath or fountain just above the water line give the bees a foothold while they collect water.

Bird feeders and hummingbird feeders are fun, because not only do they attract birds, but they attract them to where you want to see them, such as your porch or outside the window where you drink your coffee in the morning. Make sure to hang feeders in an area that has some protection from cats and wind.  Hummingbirds, Roberta told me, will remember from year to year what hook you hang the feeder on, and once you’ve let them know that you’re open for business, you’ll be on their route each year. I asked her if it’s the same hummingbird I’ve been seeing for years in the nest outside my window, and she assured me it is. “She’ll keep coming back as long as you leave the nest alone.” Hummingbirds also send out an early scout, so you should already have your feeders out!

I spoke with Terry Smith, who used to keep bees, and asked him for some tips. His top suggestion was to keep fruit trees. “Fruit trees love bees, and bees love fruit trees,” he said. “Plant an apple tree and just stand by and watch them come.” He noted that when he had his bees, he had apples by the cartful. He also told me that bees have a three-mile radius, and when a bee finds a good source of nectar and pollen, it returns to the hive, where it does an elaborate ritual dance that transmits the direction and distance of the source to the other bees. So there really is a bee out there saying to his mates, “Caitlin planted some Russian sage and some bee balm, and she has an apple tree. It’s this way—let’s go!”

Native plants are important to birds and bees, as is variety. One of the reasons we’re losing bees is monoculture farming, in which there is only one crop to be seen for miles on end. Bees need a range of flowers and plants in order to maintain their health and health of the hive. When laying out your garden, plant flowers of different shapes, colors and varieties—preferably arranged in clumps rather than in solitary fashion. Bees are particularly attracted to purple, blue and violet. It’s also important to have a combo of plants that flower at different times so that there’s something available the entire growing season. Native plants are better than hybrids, which have less pollen and nectar. (Of course, they also take less maintenance to grow.) When planting for bees, bear in mind that they prefer sun to shade, and they like to be protected from the wind. I have lavender and salvia along a sunny wall, and they are very popular with both the bees and the hummingbirds.

When you’re in your beautiful garden surrounded by colorful native plants, the sound of fountain gurgling, birds in the trees and bees buzzing around, you should keep certain caveats in mind. You don’t get to pick and choose which birds you attract. If you invite one bird, you invite them all. And the expression, “The early bird gets the worm”? Well, birds take that to heart. They get up early. Very early. And they like to sing about it. The beautiful hummingbird outside my window? She’s also very messy. Sit down to a nice dinner or lunch al fresco, and the bees will assume that they are invited guests. But I can live will all of that. The birds are quiet in the afternoon, so I can take my hammock nap then. A broom, a hose and some window cleaner take care of the mess from the hummingbird. And a few bees have never ruined my picnic; if they show too great an interest in the strawberries or the wine, I always give them their own dish off to the side and politely ask them to buzz off.

 Story by Caitlin Richards

Erda Gardens

Erda Gardens

Erda Gardens

I head over to the Blake location of Erda Gardens and Learning Center, just a few miles away, to meet with Outreach and Education Coordinator, Amanda Rich. Like La Orilla, this is not a manicured showplace. It is a working farm. Arriving there, I am greeted by kids with kids—that is, one of Erda’s nanny goats gave birth to three kids the day before, and Amanda is conducting a farm camp with a group of children, who are having a great time petting and holding the kids. Amazing how ready to go they are, at one day old.

Amanda and I sit at a picnic table by one of the fields. Again, we’re near the Rio, so there’s the sounds of the cranes, and there are more low flying aircraft. We are smack-dab in the middle of the big picture.

Erda, whose name comes from the German word for “earth”, was, says Amanda, “started in 1996 by a Franciscan nun, Marie Nord, a peace and anti-poverty activist for many years.” Frustrated with activism as a reaction, Nord decided to create something positive, something that would help her community, heal her community. “This is the first CSA project [Community Supported Agriculture] in Albuquerque,” says Amanda. People invest in Erda either as a paying or work-trade member and share in the produce of the farm. “We are also a learning center with a free lecture series,” she says. “Work parties in the gardens are an opportunity for hands-on learning, and we have farm camp for kids, giving them access to the outdoors.”

A crew is harvesting carrots, which will be sold through the Agri-Cultura Network to local restaurants. We pause as Amanda takes a carrot, wipes off the dirt, snaps it in half and hands a piece to me. It is sweet and crunchy, earthy and good. “There’s something about tilling a bed, or planting or weeding—you feel that you’ve accomplished something,” she says. “You’ve contributed in a meaningful way.” I mention to Amanda we’ve been digging in the earth longer than we’ve been fooling around with computers. “Amen to that,” she says.

Erda now has six growing sites around Albuquerque and is more than halfway into a capital campaign toward buying the Blake location. “The last five or six years, I’ve watched the exponential growth of the local food movement and the local farming movement,” says Amanda. “Many people are thinking about this; many people are wanting to learn these skills. Our workshop series is overwhelmed with participants. People want the knowledge. Ultimately, we really need this.” It’s great to see Erda’s success. “The more people who can learn how to grow food, the better—for everyone,” says Amanda. We peer into a cold frame brimming with new little green things sprouting up. How can you not be optimistic looking at this?

 Story by Gordon Bunker

Goat Magic

Stewards of Animals and Earth

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When I was a kid, I had a favorite game involving one of my dolls, Sharon. Her short black hair was in a perpetual cyclone of disarray; her body was covered with a mean case of pencil-hole-poked measles. The other dolls would discover her glowering, sickly self and take her in (off the streets, away from a cold, lonely castle or out of an evil stepmother’s clutches). They’d nurse Sharon’s wounds, feed her food fresh from their garden, encourage her to explore the surrounding woodlands and fields while sharing their love and their home. Step by step, Sharon would begin to get betterhealthy, happy, even glowing.

This childhood yearning to participate in the miracle of transformation wasn’t mine alone. We all want that, for ourselves, for the world. That yearning is what spawned this recent interest in urban homesteading. And a young couple living outside the village of Cerrillos, JoAnna Conte Durham and her husband, Erin Durham, are its poster kids. Along with their eight playful goats.

“Goats are the best anti-anxiety medicine there is,” says JoAnna. “Yes, they give milk, they give meat to some, they cut the grass and fertilize it. They’re amazing pets—intelligent, loving, affectionate. I try to name it, but they are just magic!”

As we near their pen, goat faces begin to bunch up, poking through the bars of the gate. With their horizontal pupils, they look like aliens. To enter, we have to push past them. JoAnna introduces me to each one, sometimes several at once, as they nose me, nudge me, sniff and eyeball me. You can’t be afraid of them—they’re just nosy. Nosier even than Curious George. In fact, they make you want to laugh.

Inside their pen are a number of wooden plank ramps at various angles, leading up to the roof of their home and across the yard. They can’t really balance on those, can they? “Yes!” says Erin, who built the planks—along with everything else out here. “They’re hilarious. Sometimes they stand on top of their house and just stare out to the highway. Friends have said they’re driving by and look over and there’s this goat standing above the fence line.”

JoAnna, an artist who also does art therapy, includes the goats as her assistants, similar to the way horses are used in equine therapy. “They’re so entertaining! Their comic lightheartedness helps everybody relax into that deep state of being in the present moment, which activates our body’s abilities to heal. They connect us to our hearts. Someone who was abused and has trusting issues, even they automatically fall in love with the goats, feeling safe. Goats have their own mission.”

“And if we’re going to have ’em,” Erin adds with a smile, “let’s milk ’em.”

Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 12.34.23 PM  JoAnna’s love affair with goats began when she was a little girl growing up in Maryland. “Trashy. He was my garage goat. I walked him around the neighborhood, and my mom used to load him in the back of the jeep to pick me up from school.” JoAnna’s always loved farm animals and has had what she laughingly calls “a paragraph” of them all her life. “Animals are medicine for me. They help me; they’re a divine gift. They’re always there for you. They teach me to be like them, to walk without separation.” She knew ten years ago, as she first discovered the Cerrillos Hills, off Highway 14, that she wanted to live within view of them and have goats. Recently graduated from art school, she’d come out west to enroll at Santa Fe’s Southwestern College to begin her art therapy study.

She found her house, a turn-of-the-century adobe. It matched up exactly with the floor plan she’d previously drawn. She fenced in the land. Then she got goats. Her first two, bought from a nearby ranch, she named Basil and Nova. Nova was a strong and healthy kid, she says, but “Basil was teeny, just one week old. Her mother wouldn’t feed her, so she was traumatized.” JoAnna brought her home and fed her from a bottle. That’s how, soon afterwards, she met Erin.

“She had goats,” Erin laughs, “I had hay.” He’d grown up surrounded by chickens, pigs, horses and a potbellied pig on a 40-acre ranch up the highway in Lone Butte.

“I knew I could trust him,” JoAnna continues, “so I asked him to watch Basil and Nova for me while I was away. Then we stared dating.”

Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 12.34.29 PM   The goats are members of their family. There’s Basil, Copper, Clover, Watson, Wings, Teddy, Story and Vicente. They got Story from a ranch in Edgewood; she’d never been touched and was skittish. Now she’s mothered several litters. Wings was born right here, a little black guy with two white wing shapes on his back. “We knew we’d keep him!” JoAnna adds. And Watson was their first Nigerian—they got him four or five years ago. He was the size of a Chihuahua when they brought him home; his bed was a dog carrier in the kitchen. “Now he’s really loyal,” JoAnna says. “He comes and lies on our feet.”

Watson, JoAnna says, has become a crucial part of the family’s history. “Erin had made a pack for Watson to wear out of an old pair of jeans, and he left the pocket on. Watson was wearing the pack, and Erin said, ‘Let’s go for a hike.’ We took Harley, my dog, too, and went up into the Cerrillos Hills. At the top, I was sitting with Harley on one side of me, Watson on the other, and Erin proposed! Watson had the ring in his pocket!”

By now, it must be obvious that these goats aren’t raised for their meat. JoAnna and Erin need to breed the girls in order to milk them—that’s Erin’s job. He devised a wooden milking stand for them which, he says, they walk right onto, voluntarily fitting their heads over the bar in order to reach the feed container to munch from during the process. JoAnna makes cheese with the milk. They don’t sell the milk or the cheese, because they aren’t certified to do that. They use it themselves instead, or trade some and give some as gifts. But they do sell baby goats each year, to neighbors as pets or as future milkers. Because goat milk isn’t homogenized, explains JoAnna, who is allergic to cow’s milk, and there are no hormone additives, it’s a lot healthier. “Our bodies are able to use a lot more of the nutrient energy in goat’s milk. It’s easier to assimilate.”

“And,” Erin adds, “it’s the closest thing to human milk. A lot of babies go right from breastfeeding to goat milk.”

Erin built what he and JoAnna refer to as their maternity ward, a little house just off the pen, for birthing mothers. “Story just drops the baby and starts nursing,” he says. “Basil still has to have us do it for her.” How do they know when it’s time? “There are signals. And the goats tell us. Sometimes it even seems like they wait till we’re around.”

They also have several rabbits. Erin designed their cages so their waste falls down to a lower level (“Everybody has a job,” says JoAnna—the rabbits’ household contribution, besides love, is fertilizer). And they’re about to start raising a new batch of chicks. As we tour around, Erin’s on the porch setting up a large round covered home he built for the chicks til they’re ready for the chicken house. He’s also in the process of starting a passive solar greenhouse. “I’ve been collecting windows a long time for this,” he says.

The couple grows a surprising variety of vegetables in Erin’s raised beds, including tomatoes, corn, chiles, bell peppers, cauliflower, cabbage, squash, lettuce, onions, kale, swiss chard, beets, radishes, carrots and strawberries, plus raspberries from two bushes. JoAnna is Italian on her father’s side; he makes his own wine and gave her and Erin nine grapevines. They water their fruit trees with rain catchment.

“It’s all research,” Erin says, clearly relishing that part. “How to plant a particular thing, what soil it likes. You use a lot less water if you do it in the proper way.”

“He’s got a lot of books,” JoAnna interjects.

“We do all this,” Erin continues, gesturing around the property, “so that, no matter what might happen, we won’t have to leave. We can just trade with our friends.”

“At some point,” JoAnna says, indicating a shady space in the front yard, “Erin is building me an outside kitchen and an horno. I’m used to large Italian gatherings. That’s what we do!”

“All our friends are pretty much on the same page,” Erin says.

JoAnna agrees. “We’re a unique community out here: stewards of animals and the earth.” They’ve sold a lot of their friends on the idea of raising goats. When they sell their goat babies, “we think of it as their chance to move up.”

“Goats really increase our quality of life,” JoAnna continues. “They’re our inspiration.” One of her favorite paintings is one she made of Wings, flying through the air, his alien eyes shining. “Goat medicine,” she adds, “is joy medicine.”

 Story by Gail Snyder; photos by Kitty Leaken

Sweetwater Harvest Kitchen

Sweetwater Harvest Kitchen is a wonderful place to walk into: clean white walls, a high-pitched ceiling with wooden beams and light, light, light pouring in from the many windows and skylights. The décor is modern and minimal, with simple wood and metal tables and chairs. A row of red, orange and yellow bell peppers preserved in big mason jars lines one wall and overlooks the community table, which has a mini garden filled with plants running through its center. The atmosphere here, just like the food, is sincere and honest. When I met Soma Franks and Fiona Wong, joint owners of the venture (which opened in December of 2012), they explained why the principles of homesteading are important to the philosophy behind their first restaurant. Continue reading