DIY Yogurt

Yogurt.  It’s so simple, so good…and SO EXPENSIVE at the grocery store!  Durn middle men, let’s stick it to them, shall we?  This is so easy, you can do it in your sleep.  Literally.  You’ll be sleeping while it’s…oh never mind, here we go!

What you’ll need:

  • 1/2 gallon milk
  • 1/2 cup plain  yogurt with active cultures
  • candy thermometer
  • pot
  • clean containers

Pull your plain yogurt starter out of the fridge and put it on the counter to warm up to room temperature.  (You can use less yogurt, but if you pick up a little carton of plain yogurt when you pick up your milk at the store, this is fool proof.)  Pour your milk into the pot on the stove.  I use whole milk because we give this to our toddler and she needs the fat, and whole milk has less lactose than skim.  (Remember, lactose is in dairy LIQUID.  The more fat per cup, the less lactose per cup.)  Heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally to evenly distribute the heat and prevent sticking, to 185 degrees.  This sterilizes the milk.

Set the milk aside to cool to below 120 degrees- 105 to 115 is best.  You want it warm, but not hot enough to kill those good yogurt bacteria.  If you’re in a hurry, make an ice water bath with mixing bowls, it will cool down in no time!  Make sure you stir to distribute the temperature, and don’t let it get too cold or it won’t incubate properly.

When the milk is between 105 and 115 degrees, stir in the yogurt to get rid of most of the lumps.  Don’t make it frothy, or you’ll have weird frothy yogurt 🙂  Add any sugar or flavorings you want, tasting as you go.  There is a SHOCKING amount of sugar in store-bought yogurt, you’d probably have to dump in at least a cup to get it as sweet.  If you have small cups with lids, try “____ on the bottom” style by putting fruit filling/stewed fruit, chocolate syrup, maple syrup, etc. in the bottom of the cup and pouring the yogurt mixture on top.

Pour the yogurt-milk mixture into squeaky clean containers, and set them in an oven with the light on and let sit overnight.  Check in the morning, and they should look like this.  Yum!  (I’ve also put the yogurt into mason jars, packed into a mini cooler with hot packs.  That worked too.   You want constant warmth, no drafts.)

This tastes amazing with fresh berries folded in, and honey drizzled over the top!

Once you serve a bit of this and let it sit in the fridge again, the next time you pull it out you’ll see liquid that’s separated out- pour it off to reduce the remaining lactose content (there shouldn’t be much) and to keep your yogurt thick.  Once you stir the yogurt, it will change from spoonable to runny and it won’t re-set up in the refrigerator.

Another option is to make greek-style yogurt: once your yogurt has set up, spoon it into a lined colander to drain.  If you leave it a LONG time, you’ll have a spreadable cheese.  A short time will give you thick yogurt.  Your call what you want it to be, but it will have ZERO lactose if you drain the liquid off.

And yes: Mimi, our lactose intolerant baby, can eat this with no problems.  Yay!

Thoughts on Baking and Dirty Spoons

Hello my lovelies, this is a check-in.  Yes, yes I posted about Easter baskets.  But you know, that doesn’t really feel like it COUNTS.

Spring is a lovely season, and a favorite for so many people, but there are a handful out there that thinks it just STINKS.  It’s raining!  It’s snowing!  It’s 70 degrees!  What will tomorrow hold?  Who knows, but pack a coat.  And sunscreen.

I spent my morning recently baking- blueberry muffins from a (reprinted) original edition Betty Crocker tome.  French bread from my favorite bread recipe.  I realized again that when you decide to do something yourself, you spend a lot of time doing it!  (And cleaning up afterwards- where is my dish fairy?)  Out with the plastic bread bags!  In with the floury hands and dirty mixing bowls!  (Sidenote: I need more wooden spoons.  Four isn’t enough anymore, they always seem to be in the drain board and not my crock.)  My husband’s aunt, whom I haven’t seen in nearly a year, complimented me recently on how skinny I’m getting, which just cracks me up because I make cookies every week, Sunday normally has a pretty serious dessert involved,  I bake tons of bread (which friends always say they CAN’T do because they’d get fat).  But you know, when you have to go the trouble of making cookies whenever you feel like eating them, it’s a lot more difficult than cruising the cookie aisle, yeah?

I’ll be back with great news about yogurt and milk, sad news about brussels sprouts, and other such stuff.  Till then!

What to do about Easter?

My family loves celebrating Easter- we love the religious aspects, the easter egg scrambles/hunts at the park, kids learning songs to sing in church, pretty new dresses in spring colors (a welcome addition after the long winter).  I’m stuck on the baskets, though.

Santa Claus, I can understand.  He has a toy shop, he brings toys and fills stockings.  Cool.

But the easter bunny?  What?  How does he get in?  Does he have a sack?  Do I just tell the kids “I don’t know who left you a basket full of goodies!  How exciting!”

And then there’s the basket itself- do I go against the flow in our house, and purchase candy?  (For the Easter eggs, probably.)  Does the bunny also purchase toys?  Or, does my handiwork have such a strong signature to it that my four-year-old will immediately know that “Mommy made this?”

Will the bunny be visiting your house this year?  What will he bring?

Re-Setting

Both my kids are coming down with “something.”  Oh, it’s the dreaded something- they’re a bit whiney, take a teeny bit longer naps than usual, and have epic tantrums over monumental problems.  (Like…toothpaste.  And milk.)  The baby has a slight (101) fever and a runny nose, so at least we can put a name to her something.

****Note:  Yes, she is 18 months old.  Yes, I will continue to call her “baby” for the foreseeable future.****

When Ernie is out of sorts, there’s always a reason.  No one LIKES to be grumpy.  No one CHOOSES to sleep poorly (Mimi, I’m looking at you kid.)  No one wants to be out of control and uncomfortable in their own skin.

As mom, it’s my job to help Ernie learn how to “re-set.”  Ernie loves to learn.  I think I’ve mentioned this before.  We sat together this morning and talked about something…what was it…I can’t even remember.  The three states of matter?  Something science.  She ran around the breakfast table to give me a huge hug and kiss, right in the middle of our conversation.  Learning fills her heart.

When she’s out of control, she needs a challenge.  Something she can learn, something that’s her own.  A new game, a new fact, a new fairy tale to act out, a new book to read.  After dinner two nights ago we sat and practiced all the different ways we could think of to write capital and lower case letters, and numbers too.  There are two ways to draw every number except 5, 6, and 0!  Did you realize that?  Maybe there are more.  I helped her decorate a doll this afternoon, so she could have something she made.  Just little things to help her learn to gain control.

I’ve not been sleeping much lately, and feeling crummy so it’s taken a little more thought than usual to focus on the REAL needs of the kids beyond food/play time/stories/sleep.  Does anyone have activities that will help your preschoolers snap back to themselves?  Add them below!

DIY Laundry Soap

I know, I know- there are TONS of tutorials and recipes out there for this stuff.  You can boil it, grate it, blend it, buy it…but this is what we do, and I’ve used this recipe for over 2 years now.  Through 2 toddlers, and currently through cloth diapers.  It works, it’s CHEAP, it’s easy.  Oh, and it’s low-suds so it works in HE front loaders.  Go make some!

DIY Laundry Soap:

Ingredients:

1 bar SOAP (Fels-Naptha or homemade)

1 cup borax

1 cup washing soda

Chop your soap into cubes like so

Place into food processor bowl, fitted with blade.  Blend until pulverized like so

It might clump.  It’s OK!  (Alternatively, you can grate the bar of soap, and do this all by hand.  Personal preference here: the Cuisinart is quicker, cleaner, and makes a finer product.)

Add 1 cup of borax and 1 cup of washing soda and blend again (with a towel over it, you don’t want this dust flying around) until it’s all homogenous and happy and decant into whatever you’ll store it in.  Done!

I use 1 Tablespoon per load of laundry in my front loader, with 1 Tablespoon of oxygen bleach (Oxy Clean), and about a 1/4 cup of white vinegar splashed into the “pre wash” compartment or in the “bleach” compartment, just depending on where I splash it that day.  It doesn’t make much of a difference, but if it’s in the bleach compartment, your clothes will smell a little like a salad bar before you dry them.  Drying zaps the smell right out  of them, though.

Now go and try, and mix it up a little!  See what works!  Use 2 Tablespoons for a top loader.  Use more if you need, or less if you don’t need as much.  For my husband and my clothes I can normally get away with less than a Tablespoon.  For the kids clothes, they NEED the purging power of the soapy water 🙂

For the soap, it’s important that you use a soap.  Just soap.  It’s actually kind of hard to find in the store, on the beauty aisle!  Fels-Naptha is found on the laundry section of most grocery stores, it’s a REALLY old product.  As in, your great-grandmother probably used it if she didn’t make her own soap.  Speaking of which, making your own soap or purchasing handmade soap isn’t a bad idea either.  I really like the soap I’m using now that my friend made- it’s softer, and melts faster.

Duck Eggs

We’ve (read: I’ve) purchased our eggs for the past year from a local gal with a large backyard flock.  They are DELICIOUS, beautiful, an inexpensive-ish protein (we pay $4.50 a dozen, the same price as we would at the store for free-range/organic eggs.)  She has a variety of chickens, so we get a variety of sizes and colors.  Before you gasp at the price, absolutely these cost more than grocery store eggs.  Way more.  But, we use four dozen a month.  The price difference, per month, is about $10 I think.  (What are Costco eggs running these days?)  We don’t buy a lot of meat, and for us the taste of the eggs and better living conditions of the chickens is completely worth a few extra dollars a month.

**Quick fact check: White eggs come from…white chickens.  Brown eggs come from brown chickens.  Generally.  Americaunas, aka Easter Egg Chickens, lay green or blue.  Egg shell color has NOTHING to do with nutritional content.  Brown eggs typically cost more, because the brown birds weigh more, and eat more feed, so they cost more to keep around per egg.  Yeah?  Yeah.

I got really excited last Fall when I found out that a new piano student kept chickens in his backyard…frugal and shameless, I suggested a swap: eggs for lessons!  The girls are laying again, and I got my first dozen eggs this week.

It’s still early in the year for their girls, and egg production is spotty.  The smallest in the flock is laying her diminuitive eggs.

And the ducks are merrily laying these clonkers.  (The egg carton couldn’t even close properly over these eggs.)

I scrambled up four of them to go with a mess of greens (a leftover bunch of kale, and a bag full of collards from Mom’s green house.)  Four eggs made a little over ONE CUP of liquid.  Four eggs fed four people.  Wowzers!  The taste is different- richer, heavier, more filling.  Comparing duck eggs to chicken eggs feels like comparing whole milk to skim.

We eventually want to add a little flock to our backyard, and Mrs. B says she loves her ducks.  They waddle around, they’re kinder to kids than chickens are, they lay huge eggs, and lay more consistently through-out the year.  They DO need a body of water to paddle in- she uses a horse trough that’s easy to fill and easy to dump into the garden.  However, they poop a LOT.  They want to poop in the water, so it has to be cleaned daily.  I think we have a few years before I feel comfortable adding a band of poultry girls to our life, so lots of time to think it over…but until then, lots to think about!  (Has anyone else eaten duck eggs?  KEPT ducks?

Testing, Testing

I was mocked recently.  I know, I know- it’s hardly surprising given that I write publicly, and that the internet is a vast and faceless mass of people just itching to tell you What They Think.  But, if you know me, this doesn’t happen often: I’ve made it my life goal to Do Things Right.  Really, I have.  I follow all the rules.  I study all the books.  I try to make people happy.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

So when someone openly (well, as “openly” as a blog comment can be) mocks me, it stung a bit.  What did I do wrong?

I said I was going to experiment on my daughter.  She’s lactose intolerant, but within that distinction is a wide-open range of tolerances.  Can she eat butter?  Buttered toast?  Apparently.  Can she drink skim milk?  NO WAY, NO HOW.  Now how about yogurt?  My homemade yogurt, with powdered milk added to thicken it?  2 bowls of it?  NOPE.  Six ounces of store-bought yogurt, pectin-thickened?  Yeah, she can do that.  Cheese?  2-year-old cheddar, just a slice or two…sure.  Fresh goat cheese, not so much.  Shall we try and see if she can have a little whipped cream on her cake, and watch for a day to see what happens?  She can’t speak for herself, so I need to learn her limits for her.

Every day is an experiment.  Every time we get out of bed we’re testing: does this shirt match these pants?  What happens if I say THIS to him?  What if I decided to stop trying to do THAT?

Raising kids is an experiment, with high stakes.  We’re building people.  When my preschooler throws her toy, do I take it away?  Throw it away?  Give it away?  Send her to her room?  Make her bring it back and put it away  nicely?  Each option is just that: an option.  We try our best, we watch for the outcome.  Sometimes the results are obvious immediately- switch gears, change your course, this isn’t working!  Sometimes we plant a seed and don’t see the fruit for years and years.  The trick is to trust yourself, be kind, and know your children.  Pray a lot.  Study what you need to study.  And you’ll know.

Do You Know Where Your Milk Comes From?

I’d been planning a post on locating the source of your milk, as soon as I could *find* more information!

Behold the power of the internet/blogosphere/subscribing to over 300 blogs.

HT to Adam Kuban over at Serious Eats (and via The PreSurfer), here’s a link for Where is my  milk from? http://whereismymilkfrom.com/

Plug in the warehouse/dairy code on your gallon of milk, and it will shoot back a google map complete with “pin” in the location of your dairy, and a list of products that dairy produces.  Obviously, it doesn’t tell you where the COWS are, but you can get a good idea.

For example, it lists my local Costco milk as from “Darigold” located on Rainier Avenue, downtown Seattle.  Ummm…let’s just say the cows are somewhere in Washington, yes?  Because we have a LOT of cows in Washington.  Fred Meyer’s house brand milk on the other hand, comes from Portland, a three and a half hour drive away just over the state line.  Until I can afford $6/gallon organic/local milk…I’ll take Costco-priced local milk!

The website can also locate other dairy products, coffee creamers, soy milks, etc.

2010 Companion Planting in the Garden

Planning a large garden is one of the more intellectually challenging things I’ve done recently- how many beds?  What goes in each bed?  Which plants are “companions” and which are “adversaries”?  What about successive plantings- how long will each plant stay in the ground?  And why does this matter so much to me?  And why do I suddenly feel gardening-challenged?

(A friend on facebook just informed me “On this side the garden thing works out fine.  Never really cared about which plants planted next to each other.”  Well…umm…I’m trying to stack the deck.  Since I DON’T live in the sunny side of the state.  🙂

As of right now, here are my groupings:

In pots: tom thumb pea, leeks, genovese basil, potatoes, beets, green onions, cut-and-come again salad mixes, cilantro, and carrots.  (They’ll be in the ground as well.)

In my trellis zone: green arrow pea, Alaska bush pea, blacktail mountain watermelon, butternut squash, early silverline melon, golden zucchini, sugar pumpkin, table queen squash, calypso pole bean, royalty purple pod pole bean.

In my “nightshade” garden: Early Girl tomato, ground cherry, peppers, Roma tomato, Sweet 100 Tomato, Yellow Pear Tomato.

Finally, the cabbage/beet garden: broccoli, brussels sprouts, kale, spinach, beets, and rainbow chard.

I planned most of the garden using The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible.  I highly recommend it!  (And I am beyond sad that I haven’t found a copy for myself, and the one I’ve been using is due back at the library.)

My next step is to plug everything into this chart and see what I can do about succession planting.  If you want to get a little deeper into gardening, but are feeling at loose ends about how to organize everything, check out that chart and cruise around the rest of the gardening bits of their blog.  Tons of great information, garden plans, etc.  Here is a great article on interplanting.  There’s a link to companion planting rules here.

Happy planting, guys!

PS- As of right now leeks are growing on the window sill, peppers and brussels sprouts are trying to germinate on top of my fridge, and peas are poking out of the ground in the yard.  Tomatoes, melons, squash, basil, and ground cherries are germinating in my mom’s greenhouse.  So far so good!  I managed to miss my window for starting broccoli indoors (oopsies), so I’m going to plant it late summer for a fall crop instead.

PPS- I realized this afternoon I don’t HAVE carrot and swiss chard seeds.  How did I miss those?!  I’m scared to walk back  into the seed section at the store- I always head in for 2 things and come out with 15 packets.

Kindergarten Curriculum

I know September is a long way off, but since we’ve decided to move forward with home schooling I am SO ANTSY to get all my ducks in a row!

So add this to your list of things I’ve done that really have no purpose, but make me feel better: Kindergarten curriculum! 🙂

I agree with the Waldorf education to some extent- I love how much it focuses on the needs and level of the child.  I agree that 5-year-olds shouldn’t be drilled full of facts, but should get to enjoy learning, and become involved in it.  I want to do story units- talk about the Old Testament, for example.  Then act it out, tell the stories, draw the pictures, cook the food, visit the museums (occasionally, at this point), read the library stories.  I know how much my daughter loves rules and trivia, but I want to make sure that she knows how to imagine and play too.

Here’s what I’m planning for next year (very early stages planning), for day to day:

Kindergarten with Mom in the morning (Should take about an hour or two, longer if there’s a long activity involved):

Opening rhyme or verse

Song

Prayer

Pledge of Allegiance

Storytelling by Mom- fairy tales, nature tales, history stories

Story-based activity(ies): cooking, drawing, outings, acting it out, math manipulatives (if, for example, the character was dealing with apples we could count out apples), science projects (like seed planting, nature watching, star gazing, or whatever we can tie into the stories.)

Closing song or rhyme- I’m hoping to find a rhyme or verse that can be a constant for our openings and another for closings.

–We’ll keep each story for a while, and explore it as much as we can.  What would it have been like to be there?  What did it look like?

Solo Work for Ernie:

Practice handwriting- I’ll have worksheets for her, since I know she wants workbooks for her own

Phonics games- more workbooks, and I’m dreaming up a memory game we can do with cards together.

Group Activities:

Group Piano lesson- I’m going to invite another girl or two to join us for pre-playing piano lessons.  Ernie’s been watching me teach all her life, and she wants to join the fun!  This is one series we’re looking at for Ernie or this one looks better for group lessons.

Joy School– we’re doing Joy School right now, and Ernie’s having a blast.  I don’t think the hours are working perfectly for our family- we meet twice a week, 9:30-12:00, with 5 little girls.  I’d like to do a smaller group, once a week, and meeting 9:30-11:30 or 11:00.

Primary and church services

That’s all I have right now.  We’ll keep doing the crafts, the impromptu lessons (What’s a star, Mom?), the games we’ve been doing.  We’ll continue to set up a strong rhythm in our home- baking day, washing day, cleaning day, meal times and preparation,  quiet times, etc..  I’ll use this as a guideline, and add things as we go along.  We want plenty of science, math, art, music, etc.  This book has a good outline, and lots of great stories and projects we can do together.

I’m still not certain what my scholastic goals for the year are- I want us to get accustomed to this new rhythm, and learn how best to work together.  I want to continue to encourage her to want to be self-regulating.  She reads brilliantly already- I’m actually curious what level she’s reading at.  I’m guessing it’s a second or third grade level.  Anyone know how I can check that out?

My main goal is to keep her moving forward!  I also want to balance her mind with her body- I want her to know how to run and skip and jump, as well as read the great big books she loves and memorize the location of the 50 states (she learned the states when she was three.)  Our state law requires that a student cover 11 subjects: reading, writing, spelling, language, math, science, social studies, history, health, occupational education, and art and music appreciation.