Monthly Archives: May 2013

Not So Rough After All

“You’ll need a four wheel drive to get up there.” she said. “The road in is pretty rough.” We had no 4X. “We’ve got what we’ve got.” I said, gesturing to our well-used sedan.

On the way in, I kept looking for the road to get bad. The pavement got a little rougher, but no worse than the road we drove home each day (better in most respects than the Indian Nation Turnpike – a hazard which they CHARGE you to drive upon!). In fact, it was better than many of the roads I’d seen in Oklahoma. When it eventually gave way to gravel, it was well-graded gravel, no potholes (which was more than could be said of the pavement). Overall, a very driveable road, just a few holes to dance around. It helps to be a logger’s daughter, gives you perspective on such things. But then, I’d also lived in Wyoming for 15 years.

Interestingly, I’ve seen more bad paved roads in Oklahoma than I’d ever seen in Wyoming. For some reason, people don’t complain about them in Oklahoma – as long as there is pavement, it is considered a drivable road, no matter how many open potholes, melted dips, overlayered rough patches, or heat buckles in the surface. Gravel, though, is considered “rough”.

“Rough roads” in Wyoming mean REALLY rough roads, and they DO take a 4X with extra clearance underneath to drive. Overall, Wyoming takes much better care of their roads than does Oklahoma. There are more miles of road per capita in Wyoming than in Oklahoma, and a larger percentage of gravel roads – but roads are more valued in Wyoming as well, and they are better kept. There, they are a lifeline. So when someone mentions a rough road, it is pretty much all angles, gullied ruts, boulders, and mud. A paved road with potholes doesn’t even count – you can drive around those!

The other thing we kept hearing about the planned trip was, “That’s a long drive – Pretty though.” It wasn’t a long drive. Just under 2 hours. Less than the distance we used to go to do our shopping. Less than the distance Kevin commuted for two years. Their idea of pretty was different than mine too – I like taller trees, grassy meadows, streams, and whitecapped peaks. This was all fluffy short trees covering rolling hills. Green, yes. Not so sure about pretty.

Many other things mean something different in Oklahoma than what they mean in Wyoming. “Small town” for example. It means 300 people in Wyoming. It means 10,000 people in Oklahoma. There’s a VAST difference between a town of 300, and a town of 10,000.

“There’s NOTHING there!” she insisted, about the last town on the way. “I mean NOTHING… No grocery stores, no fast food, no services, NOTHING!”. It was an awful lot of nothing. A small grocery store, a number of motels, gas stations, convenience stores, local restaurants. In all, a thriving community several times the size of some we’d been in.

“Warm day” also means something different. Anything above 50 in Wyoming is a warm day. In Oklahoma, it has to get up to 80 to earn that distinction. In Wyoming, your biggest bills come from heating in the winter. In Oklahoma, they come from cooling in the summer.

“Stiff wind” is something that does not translate. In Oklahoma, you get gusty winds now and again, and when a storm goes through, you’ll get an hour or two of winds that try to bat your car around on the road (the shiftless, unpredictable winds that accompany a storm with tornado warnings). But people constantly say that it is a windy place to live – and I think they must be people who have not lived anywhere with real wind. The Wyoming breeze blew through on a daily basis, fairly consistent (and the Wyoming definition of “breeze” is a good stiff wind anywhere else). Very little gustiness, mostly a steady solid stream of air from west to east, with enough force to ruin all but the most stiffly sprayed hairstyle. When it got REALLY windy, it could (and did) knock down small children, pull roofs apart, shove cars off the road completely, and even tip over semis, and it didn’t do that for a few hours, it would do it for days at a time. Oklahoma wind is a capricious teenage prankster who occasionally goes too far. Wyoming wind is a practiced, constantly relentless bully, intent on making sure you know who is boss.

There have been many other issues where the words being used meant something different to the speaker than they did to me. So much so that I wondered why they were even commenting upon the issue, it seemed so much like a NON-issue. Just a matter of being used to extremes, I guess.

Many small and large cultural differences as well, and some attitudes that are noticeably different.

Once you’ve lived in Wyoming though, the lack of a nearby McDonald’s or Wal-Mart really isn’t the harbinger of isolation that many people think it is. In fact, it becomes more of a welcome condition. Something that feels a little more like… home.

Making Butter at Home

It was the color of daffodils. Cream the color of most butter, skimmed off the top 2 inches of the jar, put into a smaller jar, and shaken by hand for about 20 minutes while we chatted and watched a video, produced butter of a strong yellow color, the exact shade of spring daffodils and buttercups (there’s a reason they called them “buttercups”). The color you never see in grocery stores, except from egg yolks.

Butter is easy to make, and there are several ways, from low tech, to mechanized. Shaking it in a jar is one of the traditional methods. As a child, we made it in a Kitchenaid Mixer. You can also use a hand mixer, or food processor.

Cream from milk from any animal works to make butter. It is made around the world from cow, goat, sheep, even horse, camel, and llama milk. There are probably a few other oddball animals in there somewhere too.

When milk is let set, the cream rises to the top. At least it does with some kinds of milk, like cow’s milk. Other types, like goat and sheep milk, are naturally homogenized, and the cream stays more suspended in the milk, with just a thin layer separating (a cream separator can pull out a large amount though, and goat and sheep milk often have very high butterfat in spite of appearances).

The cream can range in color from pure white, to a soft yellow. The color depends a lot on the breed of animal, and the diet of the animal. The resulting butter can also range in color, from pure white, all the way through a very intense yellow.

Cream is skimmed off the top, usually using a spoon or a flatish ladle (we have a deep gravy ladle that works nicely). You can’t really get it all without a cream separator, but that’s ok. Leaving a little cream in your milk is a good thing.

The cream is then put into whatever contraption you use to make butter – a jar, a butter churn, or the bowl of your particular appliance. According to some sources, the naturally homogenized milk types work best if the cream is shaken, not beaten to make butter.

The goal is to stir or shake it until the butterfat clumps together. This means you spend 95% of the time just stirring, shaking, or beating the cream.

Make sure you allow it a generous sized bowl, or a jar that is only half full, because it will generally expand in volume during the process. It will then reduce in volume and suddenly clump together into visible lumps of butter. Beat it a bit more, and it will clump mostly into a single mass. Be aware that if you are doing this with an open bowl and a mixer of some kind, it will probably start to splash wildly when it turns.

Pour off the milk (it is just skimmed milk, nothing special about it unless you cultured it first). You can stir the milk back into the rest of your regular milk if you want.

Now, what you have is butter, with lots of little bubbles filled with milk. If you want the butter to keep well (or to keep out of the fridge), you need to get that milk out of it.

The butter may be VERY soft by now – especially in warm weather. You may need to pop it in the fridge for a bit before proceeding. When it is cold enough to work without sticking too much to the spoon or paddle, go forward.

Use a butter paddle, or the back of a spoon, press down on the butter to squeeze out milk drops. Periodically rinse it under cold water – you can keep it under the cold water stream if it is cold enough to chill the butter, but if you live where your cold water warms up in the summer time, you will need to just rinse periodically.

Keep pressing the butter and working it to get the milk out, until it doesn’t come out white anymore. Then remove it from the water, and press the water drops out.

Add salt if you want salted butter, and work the salt through it. Since you are never going to be exactly certain how much butter you have, you really have to salt to taste every time.

Once the salt is blended in, you can put it into a butter pot, or mold it, chill it, and then remove it from the mold.

So what about that Buttermilk stuff? Why does buttermilk taste like sour cottage cheese if it is just milk that has had the fat removed?

Well, cream is actually easier to skim off the top of cultured milk. By “cultured” we mean fresh raw milk (not more than 24 to 48 hours old if it has been refrigerated, after that the microbe balance can be off), which has been left at room temperature to “sour”. You know those old recipes that call for Sour Milk? They aren’t talking about that nasty stuff that you get when your pasteurized milk stays out too long, or is too long in the fridge. No, they aren’t talking about that AT ALL.

Pasteurized milk goes nasty because all the healthy and friendly bacteria have been killed in the heat processes. So it is just wide open for contamination by opportunistic nasties.

Fresh raw milk though, has a complement of healthy bacteria, and when left out of the fridge for 1-3 days, will sour in a pleasant way – more like cottage cheese in smell and flavor. It will sour and thicken within about 24 hours, and that is when you want to skim the cream for butter. After a couple of days, it will start to separate, with curds on top, and whey on the bottom. At that point, it is really good for making no-rennet cheese.

When you culture the milk first, you end up with classic buttermilk, and cultured butter. In other words, expensive butter.

Now, you CAN make butter from cream that you buy at the store. Put it into a container so that the container is only halfway full, cap it tightly, and shake it if you don’t have any equipment to process it in another way. You’ll end up with fairly white butter. It will still taste like butter.

Making butter is one of those old skills that is so simple, that pretty much anyone can try it. It is fun, and gives you the feeling of experiencing a little history if you are not the kind of person that is into adopting it as part of a lifestyle. Personally, I really like knowing what is in my food and where it came from, so making butter is just part of the whole package.

And making butter leads naturally to making a loaf of homemade bread. Because there is nothing better than fresh, warm bread, and homemade butter!

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