Homemade Yogurt

I’ve had a couple requests to post how I made homemade yogurt.  The pic shows my younger daughter, D holding the jar of homemade yogurt.  She is my picky eater, and she gobbled down the yogurt and raspberries she had for breakfast yesterday morning.

Some tips to start out:

  • Use 2% or whole milk.  Skim milk makes nasty, sour, chalky yogurt.
  • Use regular fresh milk, not the ultra-pasteurized organic milk.  The high heat process breaks down some of the proteins and will not work for yogurt. (As a side note, my big milk drinker, J thinks ultra-pasteurized milk tastes funny and prefers Publix milk)
  • You can buy a yogurt maker, but glass jars work fine.  You can use one big one as I did or divide the batch into smaller jars.  The easiest way to sterilize the jars is to run them through a dishwasher.
  • There are yogurt starters, but I just used Stonyfield Farms plain organic yogurt as my starter.  It has a good culture profile.
  • Use a double-boiler to scald the milk.  This will keep you from scorching your pans. I don’t trust this process to the microwave.

Homemade Yogurt

4 cups milk

1/4 cup plain yogurt with active cultures

Scald milk in a double boiler over medium heat.  Bring the milk to 180 – 185 degrees (this will take about 30 min) , stirring regularly.  Hold the milk at this temperature for 5 minutes to kill any stray bacteria that may interfere with the yogurt culture.  Cool the yogurt to 120 degrees or a little less.  I put the double boiler into a large bowl of ice water.  It will cool off fast this way, within 5-10 min.  Stir in the plain yogurt with a whisk.  Pour the mixture into a large glass jar or several smaller ones.  I liked using a big jar because I could give it a few good shakes to make sure it was well mixed.  Place the jar in a warm place for 4-8 hours (the longer the time, the thicker and more sour the yogurt will be).  I turned my oven on, turned it right back off, and placed the yogurt in the oven with the oven light on.  You could also place jar(s) in a cooler filled with a warm water bath or set them on a heating pad and wrap them with a towel.

When the yogurt is done, it will have a layer of clear yellowish liquid on the top, which is the whey.  I pour this off and use it in soups and stews, but you can just stir it in if you prefer a thinner yogurt.  To make a very thick (Greek style) yogurt, strain the yogurt in a cheesecloth-lined colander until it is the desired consistency.  I was happy with the flavor and thickness of the yogurt at 8 hours.  Place the yogurt in the fridge and eat when cool.  Taste it first – I didn’t think this yogurt required a sweetener.  Set aside 1/4 cup to use as a starter for your next batch (use within a week).

Getting rid of junk mail

I’m going to let you in on something.  Part of my reasoning for going greener and especially for generating less waste is that I am hoping to take control of the clutter that dominates my house. Does anyone else have a counter that looks like this?  Well, the rest of you are probably better organized.  My husband has already stopped the credit card offers and pays most of our bills online, but we still end up with a mailbox full of junk!  We frequently receive offers and catalogs for my deceased in-laws!  An additional frustration is that so much of the junk mail can’t be recycled.

I found this site helpful: How to Get Rid of Junk Mail.

I was surprised to learn that the Direct Marketing Association will help you reduce your junk mail!  Register at their site and request to be removed from credit offers, magazines, catalogs and other offers.  One pointer they had is that if you have ever purchased from a company you will have to contact them directly to be removed from their mailing list.

Another option is 41Pounds.  This organization will stop your junk mail for 5 years and donate a large chunk of the fee to community and environmental organizations.

The Kaffeeklatsch, an old favorite that’s been green all along

I started buying our coffee at The Kaffeeklatsch, 103 Jefferson Street, Huntsville, before my husband T & I were even married, so needless to say we have been customers for a long time!  They are located downtown about a mile from where I work, so it is convenient for me to buy coffee there on my lunch break.  Grant and Kathy Heath, the owners, are pleasant, friendly people who make buying coffee one of my favorite errands.  Grant roasts the coffee beans on the premises on a daily basis so they are always fresh.  Also, he roasts each variety of bean to the optimum degree to bring out the flavor of the coffee without leaving it with a burnt taste.  Does anyone else think Starbucks coffee tastes burnt? No wonder most people choose the sugary, high-calorie coffee drinks over their regular coffee!  But I digress… The Kaffeeklatsch is a coffee shop, not a coffee bar, although they usually have brewed coffee available if you’d like a cup.

The coffee beans are shipped to the store in large burlap sacks that are decoratively draped near the coffee roaster.  The roasted beans are transferred to large glass jars for storage.  The Kaffeeklatsch also sells a wide variety of loose tea in bulk.  Kathy said that they have started asking customers whether or not they need a bag, and that at least half the time people turn down the bag.  Many of the coffee varieties are organic, free trade and shade grown.  Since they are a small, local store with limited storage space, the beans are fresher than the ones you would get from a national chain.

Kathy was happy to fill my glass jars with coffee beans.  She said that I was not the first customer to bring in glass jars.  She did point out that my jars held between 0.5 and 0.75 pounds, less than a bag would hold, so I may want to bring more jars at a time in the future.  This is simply the best coffee in town.  The prices are on the higher side, but not unreasonable.  Pay attention and you’ll notice that a lot of times the coffee comes in 12oz bags, not 16oz.  This is one of the cases of, “you get what you pay for”, which is freshness and quality.  Also, since they close at 4, if you can’t get there until later than that, call them and place an order and you can pick it up at the bar next door whenever you get off work.

One week of greener living revisited

Today I am posting an update on my progress toward greener living.

Small steps I made last week:

Brought my own silverware, hand towel & stainless steel water bottle to work. Brought a to-go cup to work in case I want to get Starbucks.  Started taking bread for a sandwich in a container rather than a baggie & eating out of the container rather than off a Styrofoam plate.

All these things have made my life easier if anything. I am not wasting time searching for plates, plastic ware and paper towels. My water tastes better out of the bottle than it did out of a plastic cup. I’m using the cup to store my silverware now.

Bought fresh fruit and vegetables from the Farmers Market on 431, brought my own bags there and to Publix for the rest of my shopping

The produce was very high quality. Taking my own bags was no trouble and actually less work than saving plastic bags to take back to the store to recycle.

Ordered cloth produce bags, Wrap-N-Mats for packing sandwiches and cloths to use in place of paper towels

The cloth produce bags &Wrap-N-Mats arrived today. My older daughter J remarked that they shouldn’t come packaged in plastic. My younger daughter D requested a sandwich for lunch tomorrow.

Started saving empty glass containers to either reuse or recycle…

See blog entry from 5/2 about glass not actually being recycled in Huntsville. Currently I am saving glass bottles for a friend’s art project. I have gathered a small collection of glass containers that I have started using for storage and shopping.

Steps I plan to take soon:

Phase out plastic in favor of glass and metal containers

In process.  I hate to just throw the non-recyclable plastic away.  I’m open to ideas about what to do with it, but for the moment I am continuing to use it.

Bring my own containers to the store to buy items in bulk

In process

Make my own cleaning supplies when our stock runs out

Minimize clothing purchases

Give up chewing gum (very hard task for me, I will try!)

Bought Peelu gum at Whole Foods, which has less packaging but is in a plastic container. I don’t really like it so probably will resign myself to giving up gum.

Order parts for our ice cream maker so we can make our own ice cream rather buying packaged desserts

These parts cost $40 retail!  Haven’t been able to find the parts used so will probably just have to fork out the money.

Look into making my own yogurt again

Found a large glass Mason jar in the pantry that should work. Plan to attempt making some this weekend.

Bake bread rather than buying pre-packaged rolls

I baked bread on Sunday but wasn’t very impressed with it.  I’m consulting with Mom on this.

Week of 5/3:

Finish cleaning out the pantry

Use up items I already have in the pantry, freezer & fridge

Make iced tea and lemonade instead of drinking bottled mineral water and soda

Use cloth napkins instead of paper

Minimize printing at work; print on both sides when possible

Request eco-friendly items for Mother’s Day

Here are some “before” pics of my fridge, freezer & pantry:

Ocean Revolution

OK, I have a terrible head cold and can’t think clearly tonight.  Please check out J. Nichols’ website. Dr. Nichols is a research scientist especially concerned with the well-being of our oceans.  He has a list of very informative links including the Plastic Pollution Coalition.  Here are some ideas they have to get started.

Also, if a pug can be green, you can be too!

Update on recycling glass in Huntsville

I was out running this morning in our neighborhood when I noticed a headline on The Huntsville Times in one of the neighbor’s yards:

Huntsville residents: Your ‘recycled’ glass has been ending up in an incinerator

Read the full article here.  How disappointing!  I knew that glass was uneconomical to recycle, but I wish that Allied Waste had been honest about the fact that they weren’t actually recycling the glass.  How many people wasted fossil fuel driving to their facility to attempt to recycle their glass?  I was really hoping that I could avoid plastic, switch to glass and still be able to recycle the containers.  So back to the drawing board.  I will limit purchasing products packaged in glass except when they are containers that would work well for reuse.  A friend of mine is starting an art project using glass so I can give what I have been saving to her.  If anyone else has ideas for reusing glass please let me know.

Lacrosse State Championship and a Field Trip to Whole Foods

This weekend we went to Birmingham for a lacrosse playoff game Friday night.  My daughter’s team won 17-16 in overtime against the #1 ranked team, so they progressed to the championship on Saturday.  They lost that game 14-12, but I was proud of how well the girls played.  They barely had enough girls for a team, so they all had to play the whole game, while the opposing team had enough girls for 2 full teams.  Both games were exciting and enjoyable to watch.

My husband and I had to leave work early as it was to make it to the Friday night game on time, and there was no time to stop at a restaurant and eat dinner.  In the past I’m sure we would have gotten fast-food from a drive-through, although we are not big fast-food eaters normally.  This time I rallied the support of the kids to pack our dinners.  My older daughter actually made my husband’s sandwich.  I found my dinner more filling than fast food.

Yes I know that the environmental impact pales in comparison to the fossil fuel we burned driving to Birmingham, but it is still a small step in the right direction.  We also all packed our own reusable water bottles and avoided the temptation of the free bottled water at the hotel.  Next time I will think to pack coffee mugs for my husband and me.

I was excited to see that there was a Whole Foods in Mountain Brook very close to our hotel!  I realize that the nickname for Whole Foods is “Whole Dollar”, but they have a fantastic selection of natural and organic products.  I didn’t think the prices on bulk items, produce or cheese were particularly high, so if you avoid their packaged goods you can get good deals.  Their wines were high, but the beer was reasonably priced.  I was impressed by the helpfulness and availability of their staff.  The lady at the cheese counter was especially friendly and let us try samples of the cheeses.  I found soap in bulk (unpackaged) and several flavors of my favorite toothpaste, Tom’s of Maine.  We also bought dark chocolate, real white chocolate, cheese, whole wheat fig bars, a large bottle of my daughters’ favorite dressing, Cowgirl Ranch (on sale) and chia seeds. I’ve been wanting to try to make iskiate, a chia seed and fruit energy drink/gel, but I hadn’t found chia seeds in Huntsville yet.  We ate lunch at the hot food and salad bar and everyone got to pick out healthy food that they like.  I hope we will get a Whole Foods in Huntsville at some point, but my husband talked to one of the staff members and they said that the plans for a Huntsville store had been scrapped for the moment. The Earth Fare store opens May 12 in Huntsville, and I hope they stock similar items.

I liked the summer drink ideas from the Whole Foods newsletter on page 19.