Homemade Yogurt, Dependably Good, Lower Environmental Impact, and Incredibly Frugal

_MG_6919.JPG

On average a gallon of organic whole milk costs six dollars.  One plain cup of unflavored yogurt costs around one dollar.  This is all you need to make yogurt.  For seven dollars you can easily make a gallon of organic, rich, pure yogurt; that works out to about $1.75 per quart.  I have access to a local farmer’s milk, which I get directly into my own glass gallon jugs, which makes it even cheaper!  For starter yogurt I love to buy Fiddle Creek Dairy yogurt which comes in glass jars.  They treat their Jersey cows right; they are 100% grass-fed and, I know from visiting their verdant farm, are very happy and loved.

Being such an economical source of protein and calcium, I use it for breakfast, for smoothies, in sauces, in place of sour cream, and served plain alongside spicy curries.  It is easy to make, even without special equipment.

In yogurt-making, there is one thing to be finicky about:  cleanliness.  Thoroughly wash, in hot soapy water, everything that you will use; pot, spoon, ladle, jars, etc.  Some recipes call for sterilizing everything with boiling water, but I’ve never found that necessary as long as everything has just been washed well.

What you don’t have to be finicky about:  measuring.  I pour whatever amount of milk I have into a pot, and for the starter yogurt I scoop out about a cup’s worth, no matter the quantity of milk.

So, without further ado….

  1.  Heat whole milk over medium-low heat until it reaches 180 degrees.  Remove from heat and let it cool to 115 (you can ice bath it if you want to hurry up the cooling).
  2. Dump in your starter yogurt.  Do not whisk it, do not harass it at all!  You want to keep the integrity to the yogurt.  (This was the best advice I’ve received in all my years of making yogurt; it truly makes a difference in the final texture).  If you are going to be pouring the yogurt into several containers, just make sure each one gets some of the yogurt blob.
  3. Pour into large glass jar(s).  Situate them, without lids, in a cooler or bucket of hot water, making sure it comes up as far on the jars as it can without floating them.  Cover with heavy towels or blankets and let them incubate for at least six hours, even overnight is fine as long as the heat is maintained.
  4. Refrigerate and enjoy!!!

Some folks use their homemade yogurt as their starter for the next batch, but I don’t.  I find more success with starting with a fresh culture, and I love the quality of Fiddle Creek Dairy’s yogurt.  Their glass jars are also handy around the house or are readily recyclable!

So there you have it…less packaging waste, saved money, and a tasty, easy, healthy food!

 

And From the Kitchen…

Oh, how I love a plate of good food.  The catch is that, the better you become at cooking, the less fun going out to eat at most places is.  I thought of this as I proceeded to “fix” the bland guacamole at one restaurant, even going so far as to ask the waiter for some fresh lemon wedges.  A bit of salt, lemon juice, and hot pepper sauce later, there was a decent guacamole before me, but still not so near as good as homemade.  Not.  Near.

Make some:

Mash avocados.  Douse with fresh lemon juice (don’t even think of the plastic lemon full of bitter juice, just don’t), maybe one lemon for every three avocados.  Mince white onion, mix a spoonful of sugar into it and squeeze the mass with your hands (extracts the excess sulfur).  Pour hot water over the onions and let it sit for a bit.  Rinse thoroughly with cold water, pat dry, and add to the bowl (this is a latin american trick I learned living in Chile and it really lets the onions showcase their taste without overwhelming other flavors).  Mince 1 jalapeño and 1 tomato for every avocado used and add those too.  Mince cilantro, at least a 1/4 c. per avocado and add that.  Mix all that deliciousness together.  Now the salt…don’t skimp on the salt, you want to bring those flavors out into full bloom.  Test with a tortilla chip, to take it’s own salty quotient into the equation.  Taste, eyes rolling back and an involuntary groan of pleasure escaping.

IMG_1323

Now going to authentic ethnic restaurants is rarely disappointing and most usually my reactions to what is set before me are downright comical.  I simply cannot stop sighing and exclaiming and groaning with delight.  I am Bob from “What About Bob?”.  I can’t help it.  When a tikka masala is creamy and spicy and exquisitely complex, when the jasmine rice is al dente and fragrant, when the naan is hot from the oven, and when the cucumber sauce on the gyro dribbles it’s dilly goodness down my throat, I am undone.  Can’t.  Contain.  The.  Joy.

But I am no thorough food snob.  McDonald’s french fries, when they’re piping hot and salty, are heavenly.  And there is something about spicy nacho Doritos inserted inside a turkey sandwich on a hot summer’s day that is just rockin’.  Don’t get me started the simple pleasure of Dr. Pepper in a glass with ice alongside pizza.  Or Butterfingers.  Mercy.

And now I give you my favorite salad, which is painless to make and is made nearly daily in our home to add zing to the meal:

Cut up some lettuce and/or spinach, cabbage, avocados, tomatoes, shredded carrots, julienned celery, whatever you have on hand, and throw it all in a bowl.  Chop up some green onions or garlic chives and add to the bowl.  Mince some parsley or cilantro or both and sprinkle that in.  Juice a lemon into a separate bowl and stir an equal quantity of a mild oil to the juice (safflower, sunflower, or light olive work great).  Stir about a 1/4 tsp salt in and get it emulsified with a mini whisk or fork.  Pour over the salad.  Test for saltiness; add more if the flavors aren’t zinging, or more lemon.  This zingy salad pairs so well with creamy, heavy, or cheesy dishes, awakening your palate every few bites with it’s zest and freshness.  My children fight over the seconds.  This pleases me much.  I’m so addicted to these flavors that I will order salads at restaurants with a side of lemon wedges so that I can make this (more or less) with the oil and salt at the table.

The downside to all this culinary happiness and productivity is that my children cannot be tempted by the offer of Hey kids, how about cereal for dinner? or Why don’t we just have some ice cream instead of making a big meal?  No, they will give me a withering look and ask plainly for real food.  So here’s the desperate quick fixes for those tired evenings when the palate is still annoyingly expectant:

Parmesan Pleasure-  Boil pasta just to al dente; nothing worse than a floppy noodle mushing about in your mouth (shudder).  Top with grated fresh parmesan, chopped tomatoes, salt, and a splash of greek dressing.  Comfort food for sure.

Pizza-tilla-  Spread pizza sauce on tortillas or english muffin halves, or crackers, top with cheese and whatever toppings you have on hand.  Bake until crispy and bubbly.  A bit of minced onion, diced ham, and pineapple on top amps the flavor Caribbean-style.

Tabla Supper-  Cut up leftover meats, chicken, cheese, sausages, and serve alongside chopped chunks of cheese, pickles, and crackers.  Mix honey and mustard together, get out some horseradish and honey and jams and lay out everything on a big wooden board and taste the night away.

Burrito Rapido-  Mix a can of refried beans together with a can of chopped chilies and get it heating in a skillet.  Stir in shredded cheddar and some canned salsa.  Slap that savory filling into tortillas and serve with sour cream galore and more salsa.  Yum.

And so, here’s a glimpse from my kitchen, from my life as a groaning gourmand.  May your day be tasty.

matter1 daily1 work IMG_2491 IMG_1806 IMG_0456 IMG_0444 IMG_1810 pups6 diapers3

 

 

It’s the Sound of Slicing Celery, and Other Reasons I Love My Work

IMG_1323  Perfectly ripe avocados in a simple lemon juice/salt/cilantro dressing.IMG_1597  Working venison together with pork and bacon for deer sausage.IMG_1283  Cooking over dead-fallen branches for lunch on an old oven grate._MG_5079  Putting up garden bounty._MG_5067 IMG_1050  Honey harvest from our bees, twenty-five pounds our first year.IMG_0966  Salsa and more salsa from our prolific tomato harvest.IMG_0444 Strawberry shortcake, need I say more?

“Why on earth would you want that?”, puzzled my husband with bewilderment in his face as I oohed and aahed over a manual washing machine.  “Do you know how much work that would be?”

“Ah yes, dear, but it’s the sort of work I like best.  And imagine the arm muscles I’d have.  No gym needed, and we wouldn’t need to depend on electric!”

Can you hear him sighing?

We were at Lehman’s, a store specializing in all things old-timey and non-electric (though they do offer electric items too, like a kick-butt dehydrator that I covet).  Dustin had surprised me on our way home from Montana with a trip to the store that I’d only encountered online before.  I danced around the aisles of wood-burning cookstoves and kerosene lamps in utter glee.  Everything in there is useful and well-made.  I was in pioneer-wannabe heaven.

I settled on 5 yards of cheesecloth, a butter paddle (for removing buttermilk from homemade butter), and a rapid laundry washer (which is like a metal plunger that washes clothes, sucking the dirt up and out, very useful when my kids come in covered in mud!).  My mother-in-law smiled as I happily showed her my washer.  “I tell people all the time that you were born in the wrong century.”  Yes and amen.

Dipping candles, working with my bees, gardening, canning, drying, sewing, and pinning out the laundry in the breeze; how do I have time for it?  I get asked this now and then, usually by someone who is shaking their head at me.  I turn the question around, “How do people have time to run their kids to five activities a week or keep up with a television show or work out in a gym or serve on committees and such?  We all make time for life-giving work, whatever type that might be, work that feeds our souls and nurtures our families and communities, we apply our hands to those tasks.”

It is far from drudgery for me to pull weeds for hours.  As my hands work my mind is free, free to think and dream and ponder and wander.  Then there are the tactile delights, like digging my finger into honeycomb and feeling the wax give way and how the warm honey and waxy bits feel on my tongue.  The feel of dough under my hands when it reaches that magic elasticity that means it’s done.  The way cold water seems to permeate to my very bones on a hot day of garden work.  Don’t laugh at me, but even the feel of the water slipping over my hands in sudsy glory while washing dishes holds a delight for me.  It is the work I like best.

Today the cucumbers needed attention.  So four quarts of refrigerator pickles are sitting on the counter cooling down on a folded tea towel while a 5-gallon crock of diced cucumbers, peppers, and celery sits in a salt brine for canning sweet relish.  I love the sound the knife makes when slicing through the crisp, cold celery.  I love the fresh scent of the cucumbers.  I like this work.  I am grateful that these tasks are mine to do, mine to teach to my children in time.

This is a rambling bit of gratitude about work.  Of course there are rancorous and irritating things to say about the work of my hands, but those are nothing but common woes, weeds among the flowers.  Will you perhaps think of what you love about the work God has given you?  Will you share some thoughts below?

A smile and a wave from me.

Gloriously Underfoot

Image

This.

ImageOr, this.

I’ve been handing over the spoons and kettles, a little more each year.  I oversee, I do the tricky parts.  Yesterday I announced to Sophia, as we walked home from the bus stop, that she’s cooking dinner that night.  This provoked all sorts of jealousy among the boys, who also love cooking.  They knew they’d get a minor role though, so all in all they were pleased.

“Get the chicken from the refrigerator, cut the plastic wrapping, drain the blood and rinse the inside and outside with running water.  Oh yeah, and pull out the innards”.

“The inners?”

“The innards, the internal organs that are included.”

The liver and heart plop out into the sink and Sophia remarks dryly, “I didn’t need to see that”.

I remember not to assemble the ingredients beforehand; that’s a temptation with kids, to lay it all out in a controlled, tight way.  Because having other technicians in our tidy lab is jarring.  But it’s all a part of the learning, right?  To find things, to know where the tool to solve the problem lives.

I showed Sophia how to tuck a wing behind the back, she did the other.  I drizzled olive oil over the bird and she rubbed it in, masseuse-like.

“Take a bit of the salt in your hand and rub it around the chest cavity”.  Sophia peered into the fleshy cavern and jerked back.

“EWWW!  MOM, I can’t put my hand in there”.

“You will do it.  It’s part of cooking.”  Sophia makes a sickly face.  Reuben musters up some macho bravado and volunteers to do it.

“No, Reuben.  Sophia will do it.  You can do it next time.”

My daughter knows how stubborn I am.  She also knows how big her heart swells with joy when she conquers a fear.  In goes the salty hand, done.  She smiles.  We tie up the legs and sprinkle herbs atop and lay the whole bird in a bed of salt for roasting.

Image

Sophia learns pancake making.

Image

I learn how not to take over.  Coffee helps.

ImageImage

I realized it, you know, how God lets me learn through messes.  He’s so patient, so very patient.

There’s something in the end result that He loves that much, so much that it’s worth all the mistakes and false starts and dripping batter and all that time spent.  Because, He doesn’t really need us, you know.  Just like I don’t need my kids in the kitchen; in fact, I could get everything done in half the time with nigh half the mess.  But the end of it would be that they wouldn’t know how to cook.  And I wouldn’t have the pleasure of seeing them go from cracking the egg right down the cabinet front to cracking it with ease and confidence and whipping the whites into a perfect merengue.

Image

We made a Christian Passover meal one year.  We ground up the grains, we made the matzo bread, we roasted lamb, and made charoset.

Image

ImageImageImageImage

We remembered Jesus’s broken body as we broke that matzo bread in pieces, we remembered his shed blood in the dry red wine.  This food prepared together, with our own feeble hands and broken efforts and hope, brought us to remember Him who came to set us to rights, to reconcile us to the Father, to begin fashioning us now into His beautiful likeness, that we reflect His glory like the moon does the sun’s brightness.  To join us to the patient Father who invites us to come and learn, who does not despise our weaknesses, but makes haste to cover them with His grace.  I feel that side of Him when I hand my child another egg to crack after one is pooling at our feet on the hard tile floor.

May we teach as we are taught by God; patiently, lovingly, and with a smile.