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

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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!

 

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Quieted

There was nothing to say, but plenty for the hands to do.  I cut vintage fabric, lace, and paper into long strips and wrapped them around rough-cut bars of soap, finishing with jute or sea grass tied in a simple bow, the ends dangling over the side.  I cut the craft paper labels and affixed those.  Piles and piles of “dressed” soaps, tucked into paper bundles, swaddled in bubble wrap, and sent to all over the United States.

And just like that the weeks passed with the smell of hot glue and essential oils, with the continual littering below my drafting table of paper and fabric bits.  With the baby continually sniffing at the soaps, crinkling his nose with delight.  And my soap shelves grew bare and sparse and I marveled at it all; this unexpected provision from a hobby gone madhouse.

image1-6 image2-3 IMG_2728 Though we were unable to establish an online shop yet, the email orders came flooding in.  It was good timing; I’ve been ordered to rest and all but my hands have obeyed.  I sat at my drafting table and worked and worked without tiring out my heavily pregnant body.  And it’s been a good distraction from counting down the weeks until baby’s arrival.

It’s quiet and fulfilling work and it feels like a gift.  There’s flexibility and variety and creativity, and remarkably, a profit margin.  Usually my work in this world brings every good thing except a paycheck.

I was surprised as the days passed that I had no words for here; I had my quiet work and a quiet heart.  The snow is falling outside, the children playing there turning it all into a magical blank canvas upon which to create.  The baby sleeps deep and the turkey bakes with the smell of orange zest and rosemary.  And my words are few, but come from a grateful, quieted heart.

 

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.

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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.

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Free Fats Are My Love Language

On the dining room table, on the top of a bookshelf, on my desk, and in a corner of the living room.  The soaps, dutifully curing, are taking over my home, surface by surface!  Last night we made a 100% lard soap, lightly scented with peppermint essential oil.  We jokingly call it the “Winter Minter”, and it’s such a corny, ridiculous name that it just might stick.  It looked like heavy cream going into the mold and my soaping partner and I sighed delightedly.

Today my husband is picking up two pig’s worth of lard from a friend who heard we’re making soap and offered her bounty to us.  Another friend offered us suet from his butcher shop to render tallow.  People giving us free fat is like winning the lottery!!  I’m so grateful!

Tomorrow we harvest our honey with my husband’s cousin and his wife.  It’ll be quite gratifying to see that sweet liquid gold come pouring out of the extractor.  So, basically, I’m all about sugar and fat while still being regarded widely as something of a health nut.  Smile.

On the reading front I’m working my way through “A Short History of Byzantium” by John Julius Norwich and “Common Ground:  An Introduction to Eastern Christianity for the American Christian” by Jordan Bajis.  What a blessing to have such depths of information at our very fingertips.  And they go so well with mustard pretzels.  I digress.

Morning light is pouring across the goat milk tea tree soaps, pouring in and saying that it’s probably time to get out of my pajamas and out of my reverie.  Time to head out in search of olive oil for an upcoming chamomile baby soap for my dear wee ones.  Time to wash the diapers and pull some meat out of the freezer, and in general, make this home hum with life-giving activity.  But I’ll let that creeping sunshine have a few more minutes of my sleepy-eyed wonder.

Why My Home Smells Like An Orange

soapmaking1Why hello there, mad scientist!  Yes, yes, this is the face of undisguised, unmitigated glee that I wear as I stir up a batch of soap with my dear friend Andrea.  Tonight we made 6 lbs. of a lemon-orange-coconut shampoo bar.  The fats were olive oil and coconut oil.  No artificial fragrances, just straight-up lemon and orange essential oils.  Oh, and there’s egg yolks in there too, I kid you not!  And beeswax.  And giggles.

We had talked on the phone this morning, and I let go an idea that we should make soap tonight after all our combined ten children were blissfully asleep.  It was an easy sell, because she’s obsessed too.  That helps.  Or aids and abets.  Whatever.

The point is this:  we’re two mamas of lots of littles and we’re finding niches of time to pursue a dream together.  We do what we can, when we can, with what we have, and it’s a bit glorious.  At least, we think so, in our goggles, gloves, and “lab coats”.  We may give 90% of our energy to our responsibilities throughout the day, but there is a bit of living and laughing and dream-realizing to squeeze out of the 10% left.

Photo on 9-5-14 at 2.28 PM

So as that huge fragrant slab of soap cures in my living room and blesses my home with a clean orange scent, I feel gratitude for this adventure.  It’s creative, scientific, and incredibly practical, and deeply, deeply, FUN.  What have you been putting off for “when you have time”?

And Then We Made Soap

soapmaking Just take a moment to absorb the full beauty of our be-goggled faces.  Ha!  My dear friend Andrea Bailey and I began our soap making adventures yesterday on quite possibly the most humid day all summer (thus why we are soaping in the kitchen and not on the porch).  We look happy here, and we were, but mostly we were terrified.  You see, in soap making you need to handle sodium hydroxide, known as lye, which is death itself in powdered form.  The stuff can eat away metal for pete’s sake.  So we were nervous and we had banished all children from the house.

We made eleven pounds of soap that morning.  ELEVEN POUNDS.  (Imagine me bopping about excitedly)  We made a tea tree-goat milk with vitamin E and a honey-oatmeal soap.  We managed not to burn ourselves nor blind ourselves (thank you, handsome goggles!), nor did we explode anything.  We did giggle a lot though, and sigh with contentment as we poured out irresistibly creamy soap into the molds.  We veritably hummed with joy as our dreams worked themselves out into fragrant slabs of beauty.  I think the most common remark that morning was “This is so satisfying.”

And it was and IS, because this morning we cut the soap….

Photo on 9-2-14 at 1.44 PM ..and this is a crappy photo taken by my computer’s camera, BUT LOOK AT ALL THAT GLORIOUS SOAP!!!   And this is just my share of the batches; Andrea has the other half. To the left is the honey-oatmeal, to the right the tea tree-goat milk.  Chuck-full of excellent oils, essential oils, and good-for-the-body stuff.  No synthetic colors nor fragrances, just good soap.

Now we let it cure at least four weeks and it will lighten a bit and become harder.  And I will stare at it in a doting way several times a day.

Our next batch is a citrus shampoo bar and then we are going to be rendering suet to make tallow for a whole bunch of marvelous recipes that we have in mind.  Yes, we’re going all pioneer-women, and it really is ridiculously fun.

So I’m grateful, ever so grateful, for this dream becoming fleshed-out and for these special times with my friend.  And that we didn’t get acid burns.  That too.

The Great Unlikely, Or How I Funded My Soap Making For Free

In the midst of harvesting our gardens and canning, I have been preparing for the adventure which is soap making.  I LOVE good soap, but not good soap prices.  I also love knowing just exactly what chemicals I’m putting on my skin (the less being the better).  I have a budget from selling two antique pieces on craigslist totaling $95.00.  For that amount I needed to be able to buy all the supplies I’d need to set up shop (consumables like fats, essential oils, and lye go on a separate budget as I hope to sell soap and recoup those costs).  When you’re on a tight budget you can either get incredibly frustrated or incredibly invigorated by the challenge.  I chose the latter, with fervor.

I was inspired by this lady, Marsha, who on a YouTube video thoughtfully and simply went through making cold process soap, and most importantly, she pointed out all the ways that you can do it cheaply.  Because it is one of those things that very easily could be done much too expensively.  She showed a wooden mold her husband had made for her.  My husband made one for me the next day out of scrap wood.  Do you know the story “If You Give A Mouse A Cookie?”; well, if you give this wife a soap mold, she’s going to want to scour online sales, thrift shops, and discount places for all the other bits needed to make soap making a reality in her life.  And she’ll want to do it without adding weight to the load of the family budget.  So she sells some unnecessary antiques that she acquired off the curb and at a yard sale, and looks at that $95.00 and grits her teeth, and says, “Let’s do this thing”.  And then she stops talking in third person.  Mercy.

So, soap making supplies can be costly.  Like, there’s a beautiful wire soap cutter that slices 12 perfect bars at once for, oh, five hundred dollars.  Or the divided molds with removable sides for eighty.  But, as my obsessive tabulations below show, it doesn’t have to be a break-the-bank proposition.  And this applies to any number of hobbies; don’t let sticker shock keep you from realizing a dream.  Realize that there’s usually another way to do things and get comparable results.  Relish the challenge!

My Soap Supply Budget

Budget:  $95.00

  1. digital scale:  $35.00 (on sale on Amazon)  This was the only precision instrument needed, so I didn’t bother looking for a used/possibly damaged one.
  2. gloves:  $2.00 (Dollar Store)  Needed for working with lye.
  3. spatulas and whisks:  $4.00 (Target)  Would have been more, but they were on sale and I had a five dollar gift card from buying our school supplies there, so saved $12.00!
  4. pitcher:  $2.07 (thrift store)  Soap making requires soap-only vessels as the lye would cross-contaminate my kitchen supplies.
  5. wooden soap mold, 10 X 20 for making 25 bars:  free (scrap wood)  (thank you, handy husband)
  6. safety goggles:  $18.00 (Amazon)  I needed chemical goggles that would prevent lye from splashing up into my eyes, which could cause blindness or severe damage.  Very worth that chunk of the budget!  Don’t skimp here!
  7. measuring spoons:  .75 (thrift store)  Good for measuring essential oils or nutrients like oatmeal or honey.
  8. small and medium liquid measuring cups:  $1.75 (thrift store)  When doing different colors or textures, these allow the batch to be divided.
  9. large pitcher:  $1.00 (thrift store)  For mixing and pouring raw soap.
  10. silicon mold:  $3.00 (thrift store)  Makes twelve decorative soaps, originally designed for baking in, these are ideal for soap making due to being able to pull away from the soap easily.
  11. two knives:  $2.75 (thrift store)  For cutting the bars.
  12. immersion blender:  $14.99 (Ollie’s Discount Store)  These are used in the saponification process to bring the lye and fats into a creamy relationship.
  13. vegetable peeler:  $1.29 (Ollie’s)  Used for trimming up the edges of cut soap bars.
  14. two candy thermometers:  $3.98 (Ollie’s)  To get both the lye and the oils/fats to the same temperature.
  15. long stainless steel spoon:  $1.79 (Ollie’s)  To stir the caustic raw soap.
  16. small batch wooden soap mold:  free (scrap wood)
  17. cutting surface:  free (my father in-law had a scrap piece of Corian countertop)
  18. books on soap making:  free (public library)
  19. stainless steel pots:  free (extras not needed in the kitchen)  These are used for melting solid fats down.

Total spent:  $92.42, under budget by $2.58

Wasn’t that a fun romp through my obsessiveness?   HA!

IMG_2455 Some of the supplies….doesn’t it just make you, I don’t know, want to make soap RIGHT NOW?IMG_2456

So, you see how I roll.  And best of all?  I’ve whirled my friend Andrea into my soaping vortex and we’re attempting our first batch on Monday.  So.  Indescribably.  Excited.

What dream can you work on that you’ve put off?  What could you sell to help you get there?  Trade a good for a better and let me know how it went!