Sunday, October 23, 2011

Day of Pleasure

I impulsively bought myself a day of pleasure yesterday at The Institute of Domestic Technology. I know the name sounds ponderous, perhaps even pretentious, but the place itself is neither of those. Basically, it's a group of people committed to bringing back or even re-invigorating the art of home economics. Their mission is to reverse-engineer the notion of where our food and ingredients come from.  I took the Foodcrafting 101 class, devoted to jam-making, cheese-making, and bread-making. The class was at the amazing Zane Grey (the western writer) estate in Altadena.

We worked in a refurbished barn tiled in shiny gray with stainless steel appliances and a huge work table around which we stood and listened to the food artisans.

First up was bread-making with Erik Knutzen of and The Urban Homestead. I'm a pretty decent bread baker, but there's always something to learn. We made a simple Levain Bread using Erik's starter instead of yeast. I was partnered with a wonderful young woman and her two friends with whom I immediately connected -- we all shared a similar sense of humor and had a lot of fun.

Shaping a boule

Next was jam-making with Kevin West. Kevin's blog Saving the Season has been a favorite of mine for quite some time, and he proved to be as adept a teacher as blogger. We made a delicious and simple pear jam with vanilla bean. He definitely de-mystified all aspects of canning, and I feel inspired to give it a whirl at home.

We made a handcrafted coarse mustard with Guinness Extra Stout beer and whole brown mustard seeds, flavored with red wine vinegar, kosher salt and various whole spices -- so much better than the stuff you buy at the grocery store.

The couple who live in the Zane Grey house have goats and chickens and an extensive kitchen garden. We met all the goats and chickens, and I decided that while I aspire to be a homesteader, I'm a bit squeamish when it comes to the animals. I'm not going to apologize about that. I just don't really dig it.

I do love goat cheese, though, and the next part of our day was making it. While the process takes quite a bit longer than we had, the Institute worked it so that we were able to see each step of the cheese process, beginning with a taste test of cow and goat milk.

I have no problem with cheese, but milk-tasting makes me squeamish. I did it, though, and found that I actually liked the pasteurized goat's milk the best. The raw stuff tasted very sweet and grassy and was preferred by most everyone, but not me. It made damn good cheese though, just about the freshest tasting thing I'd ever had.

Even if you don't have goats in your backyard, you can buy a really nice-quality goat's milk at Trader Joe's and with the addition of rennet and a special bacteria, along with a high quality muslin, and 24 hours of time, you can make this yourself. A bit of this spread on some of the home-made bread and some pear jam? My god, it was good.

Here's some of their more aged goat cheese that we ate with the levain.

It was really a perfect day for me -- delicious food, lovely people and we brought home the delightful goods we'd made. I learned so much about artisanal food and was inspired to continue, as the Institute says, "rediscovering the future of home economics."


  1. Love your recap of the day! It was such a pleasure to meet you and be your partner! Hollie and I are positively obsessed with canning now ... we will invite you over to make some jam or pickles or something else equally lush!!!

  2. Well, I rue the day they quit teaching the domestic arts in school. Home Ec rocked. But we sure never made goat cheese which is something I wish I knew how to do. I am pretty sure I could but I am not about to get into the goat-milking business. There are a yard-full of goats next door but they are not kept for milk nor meat. I am not sure why they are kept except to entertain my grandson.
    I do know my way around a canning kettle and bread dough as well but like you- I could always stand to learn more.
    This looks like a perfect day, Elizabeth. I thought you were going to say you'd spent the afternoon at a spa being pampered but maybe this was even better.

  3. Ha -- at first I saw the red door and thought you treated yourself to a day at Elizabeth Arden. Do they still have those spas in LA? Behind the red door?

  4. You're right ... the name does sound pretentious, but what a perfect day! So glad that you got to do something special like this for yourself!

  5. Love that you do this for yourself and leave the kids behind with what I assume might be a slightly jealous husband ( or perhaps not)!What you need to do to keep yourself going is what every mother should learn as she adjusts to the role of motherhood! Sounds amazingly fun!

  6. Oh! I'm envious! How wonderful!

  7. Simultaneously JEALOUS and so glad you had all that fun!
    I'd take care of your goat for you (even milk it) if we were neighbors--if you made the cheese. Really, I would. Goats are my favorite barnyard animal. Can we get one of the long-haired ones?

  8. I like making things from the start as well, although I haven't made cheese yet. Sounds interesting though. I remember making jam and jelly every summer with my mum and shelling endless peas with my girlfriend for freezing. I no longer have the time to do those things. I miss it.

    The day sounds lovely.

  9. The only possible way the day could be improved is if you told me at the end you sat around the table together munching on the still warm bread spread with preserves and tangy cheese, sharing recipe and book recommendations. Heaven.

  10. Mascara Jones -- Oh, I hope so!

    Ms. Moon -- This was a close second to a day at the spa. I actually do love a day at the spa more than anything!

    SK3 -- I have no idea whether Elizabeth Arden still exists!

    Melissa - It actually wasn't pretentious at all -- more tongue in cheek and a nod to the old days of home economics.

    Colleen -- My husband works 24/7, so I hired a babysitter. And it was worth it!

    Claire -- I wish you'd been there with me!

    Denise -- At that house by the beach -- that's what we'll do!

    Lilith -- The cheese making was surprisingly easy --

    Lizisilver -- We actually DID sit around afterward and eat the bread with the jam and the cheese. It was heavenly from start to finish!

  11. Thanking God that there are still wise teachers, passing such goodness along by word and DEED. Thank you for the inspiration and the pleasure of joining you in your day through your photos. I hope you will make a habit of such days of pleasure!

  12. I love that you did this for yourself. Thanks so much for sharing! The photos are gorgeous!

  13. I've read this twice and can't get over the delicious products and skills you were taught -- I wish I could learn to make goat's cheese.

    When I was small, there were copies of Zane Grey novels in faded paperbacks in our local library, all about cattlemen fighting dairy breeders. No, that can't be right. I must go and look it up.

  14. 1. SO GLAD you got to have this fun and fascinating day!

    2. My father-in-law has read every book Zane Grey ever wrote.

    3. You have beautiful hands.

    4. I love goat cheese, too (one of the few things I can still eat, when I can eat.)

    5. Thanks for taking us along with you!

  15. I am not often envious.

    But that post filled me with envy.

  16. WOW! Good for you!!!! What a wonderful event.

    Thanks for sharing xo

  17. Sounds fantastic, and earthy, and awesome. :D

  18. What a wonderful Day...I am positively green with envy! Lovely to meet you Elizabeth...your blog is such an interesting read.



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