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Lavender & Honey Farm Cheese

I know this blog has been an ode to Baltimore  lately, but hell, if I do nothing else in my time here I might as well try and convince the rest of you what a great place this is. Plus, when I was catching up on Southern Living yesterday I noted that they named Baltimore one of the top ten Southern food cities, so maybe my whole Baltimore-is-not-the-South stance is wrong after all and I should start backpedaling. Maybe.

Anyway, one of the reasons Baltimore stole my heart in the first place is because of the parallels it shares with Durham. I always saw connections, but the more these two cities evolve the more wonderfully similar they become. One such example is the strengthening local, thoughtful, dynamic agriculture scenes. I see farms and collectives popping up all over the place in both cities, and I would be lying if said I wasn’t powerfully moved by it.

The Museum started partnering with Kayam Farm, a local Jewish sustainable farm, about a year ago. Over the course of the past year we’ve worked together in many different ways, and I’ve learned quite a bit from them about biblical farming, sustainable living, and food justice. And, as of Thursday, cheese-making. We had them down for a First Thursday program where they demonstrated the technique for making a simple farmer’s cheese. Dan and I both left that night saying that we would be trying it at home as soon as possible. So yesterday afternoon, we did.

The hardest part of the whole process was waiting for the gallon of milk to come to a boil. Other than that, it was stupid easy. I am a huge fan of recipes that are stupid easy. We flavored half of the cheese with fresh lavender and honey, and I have to say, it was delicious. I now feel empowered to move on to more complex cheeses. Chèvre, anyone?

Ed note: this is what my kitchen looks like, really. It’s small, poorly lit, and messy.

Lavender & Honey Farm Cheese

1 gallon whole milk (or goat’s milk)

1/4 cup white vinegar

Cheese cloth

1 tsp salt

1 tsp fresh lavender, chopped

1 tbsp honey

In a large, non-reactive pot, place your milk over low heat. You want to bring the milk up to almost a boil without scalding it, so it’s important to heat it slowly. This will take what feels like forever. Heat the milk, stirring occasionally, until the pot is hot to the touch. Then you can crank the heat and stir the milk frequently until it begins to boil. When this happens cut the heat and stir in the vinegar. This will cause the curds to separate from the whey.

Line a metal mesh colander with cheese cloth. Pour the whole mixture through, which will catch the curds. We suggest you hold onto the whey- it’s an incredible source of protein and I’ll be posting some whey-related recipes soon! Allow the cheese to drain, tying the cheese cloth around it to promote drainage. When it is moist but not wet, stir in salt. Transfer from the cloth to a small bowl and stir in lavender and honey. Serve or refrigerate for up to a week.

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Honeysuckle & Mulberry Spritzer

Last week, when I was out picking honeysuckle, I stumbled upon a section of the trail that was full of berries. Ankle deep in brush and hands full of honeysuckle, I stopped to stare at the small, deep purple berries. At first, I thought “look, blackberries!” This year has been so warm, it seemed logical that blackberries could have arrived. But I wasn’t sure and didn’t much feel like dying from a poisonous berry, so I tweeted a picture of it, hoping the internet would come through.

As always, they did. Within a few minutes someone had replied that they definitely weren’t blackberries, they were mulberries. Which are not only totally harmless, they’re delicious. Needless to say, I stuffed my bag full of them.

As I walked home, appreciating the burst of honeysuckle scent erupting from my bag every few feet and carefully trying not to squish the berries, I thought about how I could combine the two flavors in a recipe. My mind bounced from jam to sorbet, and finally settled on a cocktail. A light, summery, refreshing yet sweet, incredibly local cocktail. One that I dubbed the “Jones Falls Jammer.”

The Jones Falls Jammer, also known as a Honeysuckle & Mulberry Spritzer for those of you with no connection to the Jones Falls River, is honeysuckle simple syrup, muddled mulberries, vodka, club soda, and a squeeze of lemon. It is everything you want in a summer cocktail, perfect for drinking on the porch, a color almost too good to be true.

Also, this week we revealed the tshirt design for the B’Eat More Pie Fest shirts. They’re great, designed by my good friend Brit, and available for pre-order. Go forth and order a shirt! And come to pie fest!

Jones Falls Jammer

honeysuckle simple syrup:

1 cup honeysuckle flowers

2 cups water

2 cups sugar

1/2 tsp cinnamon

spritzer:

1/2 cup fresh mulberries (or blackberries)

1 oz vodka

3 oz club soda

Lemon wedge

To make your simple syrup, soak honeysuckle in water overnight. Strain, and combine water, sugar, and cinnamon in a pot. Simmer until sugar dissolves. Cool.

To mix the drink, muddle 10-12 mulberries in the bottom of a glass. Add 1 oz syrup, 1 oz vodka, and club soda. Stir together. Top with a wedge of lemon. Enjoy!

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Honeysuckle Butter

In the nearly 8 years that I’ve lived in Maryland, I like to think I’ve learned a lot about this state. I know how to pick crabs, I know the names of at least two Raven’s players, and I understand that the words “Bel Air” are meant to be pronounced “Blair.” However, this place surprises me on a daily basis. When I went to MICA I didn’t have a car, so when I did leave the city I was always amazed at how green the county was. I was under the impression, driving up I-83, that Baltimore was a large city nestled in the woods. Now, years later I’m a little more mobile, but that feeling that Baltimore is a hidden hamlet hasn’t quite shaken.

Just last year I discovered the full beauty of the trail that hugs the Jones Falls River. I’ve spent a cumulative 6 years living not five blocks from the trailhead, but it wasn’t until I took up running seriously last June that I started to learn its nooks and crannies. One morning last week I hit the trail for a run and was immediately overwhelmed by the smell of honeysuckle. You may recall that I have had a life-long love affair with honeysuckle, and that this particular smell immediately transports me to the woods behind the Five Oaks tennis courts in Durham. I thought to myself, chugging along and spotting honeysuckle bush after honeysuckle bush, that I should make a point later in the week to return and harvest.

Sunday afternoon I grabbed a bag and headed to the trail. I spent the better part of an hour climbing through the bushes, hoping I didn’t get poison ivy, and dropping hundreds of little, fragrant flowers into my bag. While I was there, watching runners and bikers whiz by as I foraged, I felt overwhelmed with a sense of accomplishment. There’s something about being smack dab in the middle of a major city completely surrounded by nature, hunting for wild flowers. It was such a wonderful reminder of how powerful small pieces of uncontrolled wild can be. You don’t have to be standing on the edge of a cliff overlooking a waterfall to appreciate this earth, you can find it standing ankle deep in honeysuckle vines in a forgotten part of an almost forgotten city.

Honeysuckle Butter

This butter is truer to its honeysuckle flavor than I could have hoped for. It’s light and just a little bit sweet, with all the delicate honeysuckle flavor you love.

2 cups heavy cream

2 cups whole honeysuckle flowers

1 tsp cinnamon

In a medium sized bowl or jar, combine flowers and cream. Cover and let soak overnight. Strain the cream and discard the flowers. Add cinnamon.

Pour your cream into a mason jar. It should be filled no more than 3/4 of the way. Nestle yourself into a comfortable position and turn the butter. Rotate the jar, back and forth, flipping it over and over, for approximately 20-30 minutes. The cream will evolve from liquid to solid, getting steadily thicker. When it has clumped together into a thick ball and the solids have separated out, you’re done. Use a metal strainer to extract the excess liquid, and refrigerate. It will firm up as it chills.

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