Category Archives: Quickies

How to Freeze Raw Milk

I’ve gotten into the raw milk craze in these last few months and it’s worth spending a few words proselytizing on behalf of that cause. Mind you I’d nearly cut dairy out of my diet until I finally tried raw milk. Going as far back as childhood, I’ve had belly troubles and worse. These days I guess they’re calling that “I.B.S.”. Allergies have been another bane to my existence, and a little bit of cheese now and then is enough to make me take notice. But when I visited All Grass Farms in Dundee, IL, one of only a few farms in the state legally permitted to sell raw milk for human consumption, I figured I’d at least give it a try. I wanted to see what all the craze was about.

It was love at first chug! I only started out buying a half gallon, but I probably finished most of that on the drive back to Chicago. As soon as that first swig hit my mouth I could feel it going to work. My tongue and throat felt tingly with whatever probiotic mojo the milk was working on me. I finished that half gallon before the next day was through, and the whole while I could feel my entire gut getting familiar with its new inhabitants. It felt a little weird at first, but it wasn’t at all uncomfortable. It was almost like I was getting healthier, or growing new intestines. At the risk of sounding crass, pooping is something I don’t usually look forward to, but the raw milk was a big relief in that department as well.

Within a few days I drove back out to Dundee and picked up a few more half gallons. I quickly figured out that I could easily down half a gallon of raw milk a day, and realized I needed to start stocking up. It’s worth mentioning here that my day-to-day occupation as a carpenter in the film industry means that 82 hour work weeks are something I have to put up with. As a diabetic, figuring out how to maintain a healthy diet in the midst of an impossible schedule has been a challenge, to put it mildly. Within a month of adding raw milk to my routine I had dropped five pounds. Bringing a thermos to work was enough to keep me going through those twelve hour days without giving in to whatever donuts and snacks might otherwise be tempting me. A half gallon a day has been my average consumption, but some days it’s a little more or less. There is a little bit of a bother with phlegm-iness, but it’s outweighed by the overall benefits I’ve noticed, and probably the biggest factor limiting my consumption of raw milk to half a gallon per day.

A trip from Dundee to Chicago is most of half a day for me. Throw the occasional seven day work week in the mix and it’s hard to figure out how to keep my fridge stocked. I’ve noticed that raw milk still tastes fresh for a few days, and is drinkable for about a week, but that’s more often than I can make it out to Dundee without milk turning funky. It doesn’t spoil, by the way, but begins to turn into something that would probably become cottage cheese if I let it go any longer. Instead, I decided to fill the freezer with raw milk as soon as I got home. And that’s how I broke a few mason jars.

The key to freezing any liquids in glass jars is to keep the contents below the shoulder of the jar. That’s all you need to know. My first few attempts I left what I thought was ample room at the top of the jar, and the glass still broke, despite there being plenty of “head space” even after the milk had frozen. A little help from the internet and the obvious dawned upon me. That milk had nowhere to expand when it came up against a literal bottleneck, and something had to give, which of course was the glass. I’ve frozen several half gallon jars since then, and I’ve started resorting to this neat trick. I fill the jars about midway into the shoulder, and screw the lids on tight. Then I place them UPSIDE DOWN in the freezer, usually on a folded cloth towel. When the jar is upside down, there’s still about an inch of head space left in the jar, and there’s no bottleneck for the frozen milk to run up against. I’ve frozen at least half a dozen jars now with no more breakage. Perhaps I’ll update this post with pictures the next time my schedule cools down.

Raw milk thaws out perfectly well, and tastes just as fresh as when I brought it home. I shake it several times as it’s thawing out, and also as it’s freezing TBQH, but it could probably be left well enough alone and do just fine. It does take something more than a full day for a half gallon brick of frozen whole milk to return to liquid in the refrigerator, so plan accordingly. My last trip to All Grass Farms I stocked up on four gallons of milk in half gallon jars. I’m thinking maybe I should invest in a pony keg or maybe a small tanker truck.

A few post-scripts related to raw foods and processed foods: After becoming accustomed to the raw milk diet, and only drinking super high quality local organic milk (shout out to Kilgus Farmstead) when I couldn’t score the raw stuff, I had a chance to drink some of that incredibly filtered and reconstituted milk which I won’t list by name brand here, but it was on set while I was working one day and I mostly wanted to see how horrible it was. It tasted completely dead to me, like a cardboard imitation of what milk should be like. I understand that more and more folks are having all sorts of dietary problems these days, but I’m convinced that the answer is to return to natural foods and not to find even more ways to process and adulterate foods beyond recognition.

I’ve also been downing raw honey by the tablespoon with my morning tea, especially during peak allergy season (ingesting local pollen is a great way to deal with that problem), and I’ve noticed no real problems with indigestion or glucose levels. One morning not so long ago I was feeling under-caffeinated on my way to a side job, so I stopped at Panera and drizzled some of their honey into my black tea, no more than a teaspoon I’m sure. I was almost immediately overcome with heartburn and I couldn’t stop belching fire. Whatever fauna are living in that raw honey, they’re obviously helping me digest the stuff, and I don’t think I’ll eat honey again unless I know that it’s the raw deal.

Thanks for reading and be healthy everyone!

Loss Leader

This week I lost a number of seedlings. A tray I had been cold stratifying in the fridge up and germinated before I noticed and half of those babies died. Harvesting weeds for My Bunniness at 4 a.m. the other morning I accidentally uprooted the cilantro I’d been nursing from seed and had just transplanted. Today I came home and found that the neighborhood feral kitties had ransacked the trays I’d been hardening off and had planned to get planted tomorrow.

I’ve been working 60 hour weeks for too long now, and I’m keeping those hours low on account of I refuse to work weekends. Guys I work with are losing fingers and winding up in the hospital on an all too frequent basis. In the grand scheme of things I’m keeping my losses to a minimum, but there’s definitely a cost associated with keeping these hours. It’s heavy on my mind but I still haven’t come up with a better way to pay the bills. I’ll chalk my lost seedlings up to poor timing and note the experience, and I’ll continue to spend whatever spare seconds I can find throughout the week working out a better plan. It’s going to be a rough haul any way it works out. Hopefully I can still get those sunflowers planted this summer.

There are moments in all the chaos where tranquility just happens. On Saturday I got to drive a 1937 Allis Chalmers tractor around the Fischer Farm. I spotted a Monarch butterfly and tried to keep up with it for a while, jerking that big orange machine around the field as my target flitted and then vanished. It was but an instant but I’ll probably still recall that moment decades from now. Space gets bigger in moments like those and there’s room for all the aggravation and heartache to disappear. Almost room enough to lose sixty hours in.

Coyote Beautiful

As I was walking over to the Garfield Park Conservatory the other afternoon, I spotted a furry creature nosing around outside the Monet Garden. It certainly wasn’t a dog, and it was too big and too grey to be a fox. I wondered if it might be a coyote, but it was sleek and beautiful. The last time I spotted a coyote was in the Rockies, where everything is a bit rugged. I was whistling as I walked over, and the creature paused for just a moment to look at me, curiously, before it trotted off. I ran up toward the fence surrounding the Monet Garden and I could have hopped over, but my furry friend had already slipped away.

Instead I made my way through the Conservatory and back out into the Monet Garden, where a few kids were gathered – none of them older than ten years old if I had to guess. I asked them if they had just seen some kind of crazy dog or fox or something, and I was quite excited about it. A young girl, who was probably the oldest of the three, told me “It was a baby coyote.” The tone in her voice was the best part of the whole story. I got the impression that she has seen at least a dozen baby coyotes just this week, and that she was absolutely tired to death of having to explain such things to ridiculous and patronizing grown-ups.

I’ve lived in this general area of the city for most of the time I’ve been in Chicago – close to twenty years now. I’ve heard of coyotes in Lincoln Park, and I once saw one in Winnetka, but I’ve never heard of a coyote in Garfield Park. It’s about time! I know a few folks around here who keep chickens and other livestock, and I’ll have to let them know that there’s reason to keep an eye out, but I’m glad to see some more wildlife around these parts. I’m not sure how much one coyote is going to do to keep the rat population in check, but I’m sure there are other benefits to be had. Begin the trophic cascade!

“First you need to find a teacher..”

This weekend I took part in my first nyungne practice. Nyungne is a Tibetan fasting and purification ritual undertaken with the intent of generating compassion for all beings. The particulars are difficult to explain without context, but I’ll give it a go. Save for the recitation of some long Tibetan prayers, most of the two-and-a-half day retreat is conducted in silence, Additionally, retreatants forego food or liquid of any sort for a period of roughly forty-two hours. It is supposed to be a challenging practice. Through this hardship, we develop compassion for all of those enduring suffering throughout the entire universe.

During the weekend I had the opportunity for an interview with Lama Tsultrim Yeshe, who led the retreat. I spoke with him briefly about my buddhist path so far, which has been at times structured and has at times felt more like a pinball’s trajectory. There was no real criticism with my approach — sometimes life takes us where life takes us — but Lama Yeshe emphasized a sentiment that I have heard again and again. Until I find a true teacher, I will not make much further progress along the path. It is up to me to find that teacher, and to decide with whom I’m comfortable entering into that relationship. I can think of a few contenders, but it may turn out to be someone I have not yet met. Opportunities to encounter such a teacher are limited in our culture, and there is that whole pesky and recurring business of trying to make a living, which usually gets in the way of taking the time to check out various learned masters and what they have to say. It’s going to be a matter of juggling priorities, and as is often the case, everything is a priority. Did I mention already the merit accrued through challenging practice?

I started this blog with the thought that I might hash out some of my research into the various threads of environmentalism, sustainability, and permaculture that I am continually exploring, but it has turned into something else. Life takes us where it takes us, and for a while now I have been putting in more time reciting sanskrit words than I have been working on my field ID skills. Still, there is that quarter acre that I have to get planted, and a seed order that isn’t going to sow itself. Writing remains up there on my list of priorities, as does deepening my buddhist practice, and cutting down buckthorn. It’s quite a list, and it isn’t getting shorter. It feels like I may have said everything I have that’s worth saying for now regarding the Four Noble Truths, but it really remains to be seen what I’ll write upon next. Just as important is to do something worth writing about..

Where to begin?

It’s been a heady few weeks, or more even. I attended the Restoration Ag “short course” with Mark Shepard in July, which is worthy of at least four blog posts. Immediately upon returning from that trip, I started a “micro farm” on a community garden plot, and last week I hooked up with a carpenter who’s supplying chicken coops to Chicago residents, among other projects. Sat in on a beginning farm course with Extension, applied for a 2015 plot, and met with a produce buyer. Had many inspiring conversations with a number of permies and gardeners, both in the flesh and online. This year’s American Community Garden Conference is taking place in Shikaakwa, Illinois right this very now, and we hosted the “pre-conference” at KAM Isaiah Israel on Thursday, which was beautiful. The panel discussion was incredible. I’m wondering if I should post a transcript. Today I led a garden tour through Humboldt Park, where I’ve tended to a number of community gardens over the past decade, and it was almost a tearjerker to hear so many gardeners from near and far express their appreciation for efforts that I’ve been a part of. Oh, and sometime in June I started in as the Farm Manager for KAMII, which is just an incredible project to be involved with. I feel so grateful, and fortunate, to be doing what I am doing, and I hope to find the time to put those feelings into words. Work is starting to come online, the tomatoes are ripening on the vine, and I’m a very busy beaver these days, but pretty soon I’ll manage to put some copy together explaining how I feel about it all. For now at least I managed to get another paragraph posted. Sometimes that’s all I’ll have time for.