Sunday, January 30, 2011


I'm going to be so annoying but I have to say it. Dash and Bella are really growing up. 
Bella (creatively) loads the dishwasher with glee. She can read an entire chapter book before breakfast. She strokes my forehead when I have a headache. And she can follow a recipe from beginning to end.

Dash is "a whole three and a half." He no longer says "cimamin" (this makes me sad). He likes very stinky cheese. He slurps down anchovies like they're M&M's (this makes me cry with joy). And he has been quite busy in the kitchen ALL BY HIMSELF.

Last weekend, Dash got out of his big boy bed, ran down the hall, and started rummaging through the freezer. I could hear him grunting, and sighing, and setting out the plates for breakfast. I was lying there thinking that I could really get used to this behavior when Dash ran into my bedroom and said, "I'm making a special breakfast. I need help with the big knife." He started making a horror movie stabbing motion with his arm. "I"m having trouble separating the frozen pieces of cinnamon toast." It's true. My 9 inch Henckels chef knife is always dull. It was time for me to get off my butt and be a parent.

"And mama, where's the butter?" 

We're in love with butter around here.

 I was trained by my parents to love butter. Even in the Eighties, when it was considered evil and margarine was popping up all over, we were enjoying butter at almost every meal. Butter equals comfort. 

A few months ago I made my own butter for the first time.  I put cold heavy cream into a jar and shook it for 20 minutes straight. I almost gave up. The cream thickened and then it felt like I was shaking something solid. It felt impossible. And then I heard and felt a SPLAT in the jar that reverberated through my knees and down into my toes. I peered into the jar. No way. Butter.  I was drenched in sweat.  I added some crunchy salt and then ate the butter like it was kick ass French cheese.
I made butter a few more times with Dash and Bella. We learned some things along the way about science, magic, and determination.

Heavy cream is composed of butter fat suspended in liquid. When you shake the hell out of cream, the butter fat comes together into a lovely mound and separates from the buttermilk. This separation is the SPLAT. 

DON'T fill your jar up more than halfway with heavy cream. The cream expands as you shake it. Leave yourself some shaking room.
DON'T shake cold cream unless you really want this to be a sweaty workout. Leave it out on the counter for a few hours to come up to room temperature. You can even leave it out up to 24 hours to fester. The bacteria will munch away and produce lactic acid which will give the butter and the buttermilk a bit of a sour flavor. Dash kept looking for the bacteria bugs. He didn't see any. 
He got tired of waiting for the magic to happen. "Mama, is it the same kind of magic as when daddy downloads music and burns a CD?"
DON'T  tuck the jar of cream into the side of the the swing as a shortcut. You really do have to shake it. One splash per second. Slam the cream against the side of the jar. Like a crashing wave. This transformation takes some force, some time, and some patience. The grownups finished off the butter for Bella. Grandpa experienced the SPLAT. Bella was jealous.
DO save the buttermilk and use it to make pancakes. You can strain the butter with a coffee filter or a fine strainer. You can get fancy and rinse the butter in a bowl of ice water. Just make sure to squeeze out all the water and pat it dry. But the rinsing step is not necessary if you're eating the butter right away.  

DO buy organic heavy cream from grass fed cows. This will make butter with the best flavor. And at certain times of the year the white cream will produce a vibrant yellow butter. The yellow comes from the carotene in the grass eaten by the cows. No annatto coloring needed here.
DO use the butter or freeze it within 24 hours. Otherwise your butter will taste like really skanky cheeese. Too intense even for Dash.
PS: Bella did finally get to experience the SPLAT. It was late one night. She got this fierce look on her face and started shaking a jar of cream with a vengeance. 

"Is that the SPLAT? Did I do it? Did I?"
"Yes, my love. You strong girl. You did it." I did not cry. Not at all.

Of course you can just throw the heavy cream into a mixer and make butter in about 3 minutes. But that's too easy and your kids don't need to know that.