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Sunday, October 3, 2010

Back on the Yogurt Train: How to Make Yogurt

This is how I want my yogurt.
Dadiah, traditional West Sumatran water buffalo yogurt, fermented in bamboo segments. Courtesy of Wikimedia. Photo by Meutia Chaeran.

Mrs. Homegrown here:

One reason I make a lot of my own stuff is because I'm trying to avoid plastic packaging. And as I'm sure you know, that's pretty much impossible these days--but I do what I can. Lately I've realized that one consistent source of waste plastic in our kitchen comes in the form of yogurt tubs. This is a little silly, because we know how to make yogurt. In fact, I do believe we covered it in our book.
Thing is, back in the day when we made yogurt, it was Erik's job. When he slacked on it, I didn't even consider picking it up. Chalk it up to the mysteries of division of labor in a household.

Anyway, we went to see Mark Frauenfelder talk about his great new book, Made by Hand, and one of things he mentioned was how much he and his family are digging making their own yogurt--and how cost effective it's been for them. He inspired me to get back on the yogurt train.

It's so darn easy, we should all be on the yogurt train. One great thing about it is that it not only saves money, but it saves packaging, and gives you more bang for your milk buck. We only use milk for coffee around here, so sometimes our milk goes bad. Now we make most of it into yogurt and there's no waste, no excess packaging. And if we make some of that yogurt into yogurt cheese or use it instead of sour cream, that saves more packaging.

How to Make Yogurt:

Here's how I'm making yogurt these days--it might vary a little from Erik's methodologies in our book, but all yogurt making is basically the same. You'll need a cooler for this.
Gather together:
  1. A cooler to keep the yogurt warm while it ferments. I'm sure there are many ways to keep yogurt warm, but I find the cooler straightforward, and that's what I'm going to describe here. We make two quarts at a time in a little six pack cooler.
  2. Very clean canning-type jars
  3. Hot water bottle (optional)
  4. Towel(s) for insulation
  5. Your last store bought container of yogurt. You need live yogurt to start the culture, only a few spoonfuls. The label should say something about containing live, active cultures. You'll need 1 Tablespoon of live yogurt for every quart of milk you're transforming.
  6. Milk, of course. Make sure your milk doesn't say "Ultra Pasturized" or UP on the label. That stuff is just nasty. Otherwise, you can use whole, 2%, 1% -- and even skim, I presume, though I've never tried it. How much milk? As much as you want. But it seems to me that for the trouble, a quart would be the minimum it would be worthwhile making. After all, it keeps a long time. 
The procedure:
  • Heat milk gently to 180 degrees Fahrenheit. If you've got a thermometer, great. If you don't, 180F is where the milk starts to simmer. Just watch for those first tiny bubbles to start rising. When they do, turn off the heat. (Heating the milk makes for thicker yogurt. You could skip this step if you like. I would skip it if I got my hands on some nice raw milk.)
  • Let the milk cool down to about 110F. This is the only hard part--waiting for it to cool. 110F is about as hot as a hot bath. You can put your finger in it and keep it there.
  • While you're waiting, boil water to heat your jars. I like to fill my jars with boiling water, cap them, and let them sit until it's time to use them, at which point I pour the water out. I know it's not really sterilization, but it's something, and it pre-heats the jars, which is important. You could also pull the jars straight from a hot dishwasher, or actually boil them. Also, you'll want to pre-heat your cooler. Pour hot water in it as well and let it sit until the last moment. And fill up your hot water bottle, if you have one.
  • Stir in 1 Tablespoon of yogurt for every quart of milk in your pot. Use no more than that. Stir until dissolved.
  • Transfer the inoculated milk into warm jars, cap them, and stuff them into the warm cooler (which you've emptied of water). Do all this fast so you don't lose much heat. Your mission is to fill the cooler up, so there's no empty space, with some combination of jars of yogurt, towels and heating devices like hot water bottles or lacking one of those, just more jars filled with hot water. My routine is to put 2 quart jars in a six pack cooler, slide a hot water bottle between them, and pack the top of the cooler with an old towel, so that I can just barely manage to lock the lid in place.
  • The goal is to keep the yogurt very warm for about 8-12 hours. You might not be able to keep it at 110F the whole time, but it should be in that neighborhood. Certainly above body temperature. My set up described above seems to do that well enough. I've never checked the temp. inside, fearing to lose the heat. It just works.
  • After 8-12 hours the milk in the jars should look yogurty and taste yogurty. It might not appear thick enough, but remember that it is quite warm. It will thicken some after it goes in the fridge.
  • If it doesn't look yogurty at all, add a smidge more starter, rewarm the cooler and everything, and try it again for another 8 hours. Consider that your starter--your store bought yogurt--may not be alive. Either that or the cooler wasn't warm enough.
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The Boil Water Directive

Clean drinking water...not self-evident for ev...Image via Wikipedia
A boil water directive is a notification made by emergency services, municipal water system operators or government agencies or departments advising people who share a specific water source that the water has been contaminated with some form of bacteria. A boil water directive advises people to boil the contaminated water prior to use. This action will make it safe for drinking or food preparation. Public notification of a boil water directive is made to ensure that every user of the affected water system has information about the possible contamination of their water source.
A boil water directive may be issued based upon a number of critical factors. These critical factors may include but are not limited to the following:
1. The presence of fecal Coliform, a bacterial contamination due to raw sewage.
2. Evidence of a suspected source of contamination for a municipal water supply.
3. Flood waters that are near or over the source of the municipal water supply.
4. Actual contamination of the municipal water source that has been verified.
5. When a disaster such as a flood or an earthquake has contaminated water sources when sewage systems or water supply lines are damaged or broken.
Instructions for a Boil Water Directive
1. Filter or strain the water through either cheesecloth, a coffee filter, or any type of clean, porous material to remove as many solid particles and as much dirt as possible.
2. Bring the water to a rolling boil for at least 1 minute or longer.
3. Allowed the boiled water to cool.
4. Place the boiled water in a container that has been boiled or sanitized with a chlorine bleach solution.
5. Refrigerate the water, if possible, to help preserve its quality until ready to use.
Contaminated water sources can cause serious illnesses and you should be prepared in advance should your water source become contaminated. You will do well to have a safe supply of water stored in advance just in case.
Be aware. Be informed. Be prepared.

Simple Survival Tips - Tips for Securing Loads

Collection of small Bungee CordsImage via Wikipedia
When using any type of vehicle or trailer to haul material or other items, it’s always a good idea to take a few minutes to secure your load. Making sure your load is secured will prevent the loss of valuable items you may have difficulty replacing and will avoid creating a hazard that could endanger the lives of others who may be traveling the highways with you.
Tips for Securing Loads
1. Secure your cargo or load by using rope, bungee cords, netting, or straps.
2. Cover your load with a sturdy tarp or cargo net. This will help prevent items from being lost if your load shifts when traveling down the highway.
3. Securely tie down heavy items directly to your vehicle or trailer to prevent shifting when stopping or turning. Make sure your load is well balanced.
4. Make sure to load lightweight items at the bottom of your load or inside the vehicle if possible. The wind can easily catch lightweight items which will cause them go sailing off like a kite.
5. Make sure your tie downs, rope, bungee cords, etc. are in good shape and are not damaged or frayed. A broken rope or over-stretched bungee cord will be of little or no help in securing your load.
6. Frequently check your load to make sure all items are secure. Stop as often as possible and double check to make sure everything is still tied down properly and that nothing has come loose.
7. Avoid overloading your vehicle or trailer. Try to keep items being hauled level with the bed of your truck or the sides of your trailer.
8. Make sure your trailer is properly secured to your vehicle with safety chains. You don’t want to risk losing your whole load all of sudden if your trailer should break loose from your vehicle.
9. Make sure the tires on your vehicle and trailers are in good shape and properly inflated. A heavy load will put increased demands on your tires.
10. Become familiar with local and state laws concerning loads on vehicles and trailers. Many cities and towns have laws making it illegal to haul loads that aren’t covered even though they may be securely tied down.
Got secure loads?
Staying above the water line!

25 More Tips for Saving Money

Personal Handy-phone System mobiles and modems...Image via Wikipedia
It is a tough economic time for many people these days. Here's more ways to save your cold, hard cash:
  1. See if you can get a cheaper cell phone plan. For example, Virgin Mobile has a $25 per month plan that features unlimited text and web, and includes 400 talk minutes.
  2. Go to free events in your community. Check out the online version of your newspaper (#3) or local blogs to find out what's happening each weekend.
  3. Cancel newspaper/magazine subscriptions and read their online sites instead.
  4. Cancel your home internet if possible (sometimes it isn't) and use free internet at the local library or at your school/office. Even our local Home Depot has free internet which you can access from their parking lot.
  5. Cook at home instead of eating out. It will save you LOTS of money.
  6. Build your menus around the loss leader sale items at local stores.
  7. Forage for free food. This month there are plenty of blackberries and apples in our area that are ready for picking.
  8. If you need clothes try: garage sales, thrift stores, friends who are cleaning out their closets, and the clearance racks of discount stores such as Walmart, Target, and Ross. There is no reason to pay full retail for clothes that will be bargain-basement priced within a few months.
  9. Make your own treats. It is simple to make everything from milkshakes, to potato chips, to cakes and more, for a whole lot less than what you would pay in a store or restaurant.
  10. Think preventive medical care: exercise daily, eat nutritious food, use home remedies for non-life threatening illnesses, etc.
  11. Set up your own blog and include ads. This can be a great way to express your creative side, help others with the information you provide, and make some extra money.
  12. Consider some free activities you can do with the family: camping, hiking, Parkour, playing at the playground, starting a neighborhood baseball game, etc.
  13. Stay out of legal trouble (this can save more money than all 25 tips combined!).
  14. Consider becoming a one car--or even no car--family.
  15. Consider cancelling cable and hooking up a digital antenna to your TV. You can also watch shows via your computer hooked up to your TV.
  16. Have a garage sale. It will cut down on the amount of stuff you need to take care of and make you some extra money.
  17. Do free stuff for your spouse: bring flowers you picked on the way home (for wives), tell the husband to go fishing while you mow the yard, etc. Happy spouse, happy house.
  18. Pack your kid's lunch for school each day. And/or, if you qualify, sign your kids up for free or reduced cost lunches at school (a caveat: I recently look at the menu for one of the grandkid's school lunch programs and nearly everything they were serving looked like stuff we don't even eat because of how unhealthy it is so beware).
  19. Ask friends and family to help on yard/home projects instead of hiring labor. Of course you should be willing to help them out when needed.
  20. Reload your own ammo. If you have a group of friends that want to do so, consider sharing the cost of reloading equipment.
  21. Barter for services. Want to take karate classes but don't have the money? Find out what services you should provide the local karate school and trade for lessons.
  22. Use CraigsList to your advantage. Sell stuff, buy stuff (at much cheaper than retail prices), check out their "gigs" if you need to make some money, put in an ad for your own services each week, etc.
  23. Make your own beverages! If you have a daily Starbucks/Dunkin Donuts habit, this could save you LOTS of money.
  24. Make a spare bedroom the "family room" when the temps drop outside; this new family room can be heated with a space heater at a fraction of the cost of heating the entire house.
  25. Consider renting out spare rooms in your house. This may give you flashbacks to college, but when times are tight, any extra money helps and it also provides shelter for someone who could use it.
Stay tuned for more money saving tips...

How-To Stuff

How To Make A Fire Piston

A fire piston is an elegant and nearly foolproof method to create fire even in the worst of conditions.

How To Make Charcloth

Charcloth makes starting fires using a flint and steel, a firepiston, or any other method a cinch. Charcloth is made using 100% cotton cloth scraps. If you have used gun cleaning patches that you've been tossing out, here's a beautiful way to recycle them.

Small Wood Gassifier Stove

If things go into the crapper and you have to prepare food in the open, where flame and smoke are a dead giveaway to your location, this may be an answer for you. It uses small scraps of wood (twigs, etc) to produce a hot, nearly smokeless fire that is contained and not visible. This is an advantage over systems that use liquid fuels which may become in short supply.

Large Wood Gassifier Stove

Like the one above, but this one is larger for cooking larger amounts. This also uses forced air to increase the temperature produced.