Our Maryland Farmhouse

real food recipes, heirloom gardening and farmhouse adventures

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A Cheesy, Pizza-Filled Friday

The past couple of days it has rained like nobody’s business here at Our Maryland Farmhouse.  The driveway has become a moat and the dehumidifier in the basement called for backup.  It was cold, dark, and depressing outside- the perfect weather to stay at home on a Friday night with a pizza, some adultish beverages and a movie.  Katie had just started whipping up a batch of her awesome pizza crust when she looked at me and nearly cried, “We don’t have any cheeeeese!”

Well, this is the farm, and while we didn’t have any cheese, we did have a gallon of good Amish milk in the General Electric.  So I decided to whip up a batch of mozzarella.  “But, Mike, that’s not possible!”, you might well exclaim.  “Cheese takes a long time to make, and then you have to age it!”  Well, sure if you’re going for a 3 year Cheddar or a smoked Brie, yeah, you’d be right.  But anyone can whip up a slab of good, honest, humble mozzarella in the same amount of time it takes for pizza dough to rise.

First, you need good milk.  It doesn’t necessarily have to be raw, organic, pasture-raised, fair trade milk milked by a left-handed Shaman during a waxing moon, but it definitely cannot be ultra pasteurized.  Ultra, or high temperature, pasteurization, kills off the bacteria the cheese needs to form.  “Ick, Mike…bacteria?”  Yup.  Bacteria.  You need ’em.  At least if you want to make cheese (or beer, or other really great things…but I’m getting off topic here).

So, you’ve got your low-temperature pasteurized or raw milk.  You’ll need about a gallon to get a pound of cheese.  Scale up or down depending on how much cheese you want.  You’ll also need:

  • 1-1/2 tsp citric acid
  • 1/4 tsp rennet
  • bottled water (non-chlorinated)
  • Salt

We keep rennet and powdered citric acid in the fridge just for cheese making.  You can order them online these days.  Dilute the citric acid in 1/4c of the bottled water.  Dilute the rennet in 1/8c of the water.  Heat the milk to about 55 degrees F (yup, you’ll need a-one a dem fancy-pants cooking thermometers for this- you’re doing Chemistry!) while stirring in the citric acid/ water solution.  Continue heating to about 90 F, then remove from heat and stir in the rennet solution.  Stir thoroughly, cover, and let sit for about 5 minutes.

At this point the pot will be full of curds and whey, just like Little Miss Muffet on her tuffet.  Break up the curd (the hard, thick stuff) while stirring it in the whey (the watery stuff) and heat to about 110 F.  Now, dump the mess into a collander, but put another pot under the collander to collect the whey.  Put that whey back on the stove, mix in 1/4c of salt and bring up to about 180F.  Take the curds in your (clean) hands and clump them into a ball (or two, or three…depending on how much milk you used).  Find a spoon and dunk the wads of curds into the hot whey until they get nice and slimy and shiny.


Then scoop it out and press it with a spoon (it’ll be HOT!) to squeeze out more whey (that you can then dump back into the pot).  Repeat until you’ve gotten out as much of the whey as practical.  You should end up with a pot full of salty whey and a glob of something that actually looks like cheese.


Hey guess what?  You made mozzarella there, mister!  Now roll it up and slice it thin and have your loving spouse decorate the top of her basil-and-kale pesto, zucchini, and tomato pizza pie.


Bake until the “Motz” gets a nice dark brown crustiness on top of it, remove from the oven, let sit for about 10 or 15 minutes (so the pizza stone- you did use a good stone, didn’t you?- can fully cook the crust and so the top can cool a bit and not burn your mouth), sprinkle with your favorite toppings (I love pickled hot cherry peppers and Parmigiana cheese), and consume in conjunction with your movie of choice.

District 7 Westminster-20131011-00958

Next, put on the Friday night Big Band show on 88.1FM and type a blog post while you listen to some of the best music ever made.  Now _that’s_ a Friday night.


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Gaining Traction

Katie’s been the impetus behind this whole blog idea; I started one many years ago to document our adventures in 24 Hours of LeMons (Yes, LeMons, that is not a typo, but a play on words) racing, but it hasn’t been terribly active lately.  And up till now, she’s done all the work on this blog too.  So I thought I’d contribute something today.

While she’s been busy swooning over white farmhouse sinks and putting nightshades into glass jars, I’ve been out getting multiple cases of poison ivy and pulling muscles I can’t name and didn’t know existed.  You see, when you become the owner of an old farm, you get not only some land and (hopefully) a house to live in, but you also often get…other buildings.

Big, ugly run ins:



Ramshackle sheds:


Rickety garages:


Leaning corn cribs:


More run-ins:


And what appears to be an old cinder-block barn, that was at some point converted to additional living space:


Of course, none of these buildings has had any work done to them since the last century, and all were filled, to varying degrees, with trash, rotted firewood, old Red Bull cans, scrap metal, auto parts, lumber, shoddily-built shelving, cardboard, trees (yes, living, growing trees), *cough* evidence *cough* of animal and rodent dwelling, and much, much more.  I cleaned out so much trash, it filled the bed of this truck:


4 times just going to the dump with it all.  And for the organic materials (wood, paper, etc) I started a bonfire one Friday afternoon and fed it all weekend with combustible crap I dragged out of the buildings. Is there some unwritten law that says, if you’re a farmer, and you have lots of sheds, it’s your responsibility to fill them with as much rubbish and debris as possible? I think that there must be.  

And did I mention the poison ivy?  Apparently it grows very, very well around here, and even with my usual precautions (long sleeved pants and shirt, leather gloves, hat, dust mask, leather boots) I still managed to come down with a rip-roaring case of P/I our very first weekend here.  It was so bad that the following Monday I was escorted by my caring wife to the local ER where they doped me with all manner of anti- allergy drugs which, thankfully, worked.  Just this past weekend I came down with _more_ poison while clearing out some weed trees and other yard trash, but luckily an abundance of showering and soap kept it pretty well contained.  Man.  Leaves of three, leave that #*!$ be.  

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Canning Eggplant?

We’ve been busy around the farmhouse. So busy, we sometimes forget about sitting down to write an entry here.  The seven days since our last visit have flown by. We somehow managed to pass our home insurance inspection, we had to break down and buy an inexpensive washer when Mike couldn’t make a good one out of the _two_ that were left here, the clothesline was restrung and used for the first time on a beautiful sunny day


AND I was finally able to do a little bit of canning. Eggplant. Beautiful, delicious eggplant from our local farmer’s market.


Canning eggplant? Don’t worry, the lady at the farmer’s market asked me the same thing after I purchased NINE of these babies. Eggplant caponata, anyone? Or eggplant pickles?

It kind of hurt my heart to cut them and put them in jars, but I know how we love our eggplant caponata. The pickled eggplant is a new recipe for 2013, so keep your fingers crossed that it’s everything we would like it to be. If you are wondering what eggplant caponata is exactly, it can be described in one word: Deliciousness. A bit strong with the onions and garlic, but it’s a perfect spread on homemade crusty bread or in the place of tomato sauce on a pizza. The recipe I use is adapted from this one.


Eggplant Caponata

2 T olive oil

3-4 large cloves garlic, minced or crushed (I use a garlic press)

1 large eggplant, sliced and cut in small cubes (it’s about 3 cups and I prefer using the long Chinese eggplant)

½ C red bell pepper, chopped (I prefer the taste of the red bell pepper)

½ C sweet onion, chopped

¼ C chopped parsley (you don’t have to use fresh, but be sure to convert the fresh to the dry – you won’t need to use as much)

1 T sugar (I use organic, evaporated cane juice)

½ tsp crushed oregano

¼ tsp crushed basil

½ tsp crushed red pepper

1 tsp sea salt

Fresh ground black pepper

1 C canned tomato paste

¼ C water

1 C red wine vinegar (5% acidity)

First step: Clean your kitchen and countertops. (And make sure your dear husband will be gone for the day…)

Prepare your jars, lids rings and water bath canner. Make sure you have enough lids. And rings. And towels.

Heat the oil and garlic in a large saucepan on low until fragrant (oh, I love this part!) Add bell pepper, onion and parsley.

Cook on low until soft. Add eggplant and continue to cook on low heat for 5-10 minutes – you want to basically sauté the eggplant in the yummy oil you’ve made. In a separate bowl, mix together the sugar, herbs, salt and pepper, then add the water, vinegar and tomato paste. Whisk the tomato paste into this mixture so it’s ready to go into your saucepan. Add mixture to saucepan and cook until eggplant is tender. There is no reason to cook this on high heat.

Once the mixture is tender, ladle into the hot jars and fill to about ½ inch of headspace, removing any air bubbles. Wipe rims and add hot lids/rings. Process in hot water bath for 15 minutes (half pints) or 20 minutes for pints, and then listen for my favorite Pop! Pop! Popping! noise.


This recipe makes approximately 5 cups. Usually, I double this recipe – when I do this, I end up with around 9 half pint jars.






Well, we made it. We officially own a house in Maryland. It only took us ten months to find and settle on the right house after Mike started his new job in Baltimore. Ten months. Ten months that felt like an eternity. Especially while we were living in two different states for five of those months, ten hours apart.

But this is not just any house. It’s an old farmhouse. The kind of farmhouse we all dream about one day owning. Layers of odd colored paint and too large of trim pieces previous owners have tacked onto the walls,


creaky stairs with awful carpet _glued_ to the treads, crayon and marker marks here and there, radiator heaters, a layer of dead bugs in the window sills,


a lack of closet space and kitchen cabinets / pantry, an overgrown property stocked full of poison ivy… wait, isn’t that what you imagined when I said we own an old farmhouse?

I guess I *forgot* to mention we acquired this home through a short sale and that it had been sitting vacant for over 12 months. Yes, I said it. 12 months. That means any kind of spills on the stovetop or in the fridge or a juice box drizzled down the fronts of the lower cabinets while the previous owner was here were now super crusty and covered with a nice layer of… fuzzy stuff. The bathrooms were kind of _very_ gross as well. Did I mention dead bugs in the window sills? And on the floors. And in the basement.

So now that you’re wondering WHY anyone would ever purchase a house like this, let me tell you the charming details of why we love this house and how much potential it truly has. It is quite a gem – it just needs some love, new trim, a few nice coats of lighter-not so bright-colored paint (after the spackle attempt at recreating the look of plaster is sanded down…) and someone to clean it. It’s amazing what a bucket of Murphy’s Oil Soap and a spray bottle of white vinegar can do. Let me start with three wonderful words:

white farmhouse sink (::swoon::)


followed by two more loverly words: wood floors. They don’t all match and some rooms are in worse shape than others, but all wood floors. Throughout. And now that I sound shallow… we also have an old summer kitchen/garden shed for my upcycled glass studio (you can also find me at www.gardendaisiesstudio.etsy.com), barns for Mike’s old car stash (read: hobby), a clothesline (it doesn’t take much to make me happy…) and a run-in shed that will be perfect for our future laying hens. A basement with a cellar area for all of our home-canned goodies (and wine!), an attic, three bedrooms, two commodes and a decent amount of space for entertaining when we have company or for just the two of us and our _almost_ 4 year old pup, Sadie.


Wow, time flies when you are having fun.

Speaking of home-canned goodies, it’s September! We’ve got a lot of cleaning to do, projects to start on and my canning shelves are not as full as they should be because of our crazy move from South Carolina. I guess I should start working on that before the local produce is gone.