Saturday, May 23, 2009

It Happens Every Spring

A momma and her babies on our dart board cabinet

A little different post this time...

We have a dart board on our covered, but open back patio. Every spring, birds, like this gray dove, see the flat top and build a nest.

For several weeks, Grace and I watch as eggs are laid and the momma perches on top to keep them warm until they're hatched.

When we go out the back door, the bird may first fly away while building the nest. When they realize we are no harm, they eventually just sit there and watch what's going on.

Talk about dedication, too - the momma never leaves her eggs. And amazingly, after a couple of weeks, the eggs hatch and we watch as the babies get strong enough to fly away.

The daddy bird (I assume) helps out by bringing food to the momma while she's sitting and helps feed the babies later as well.

After the birds fly away so do the parents, but within days - minutes, it seems sometimes - another momma has found the nest left behind and it starts all over again.

We've had at least two families there already this year, but I think we're all done as the season winds down.

It's good to know that during this struggling housing market our home is going to the birds.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Yogurt: High Culture

It's creamy. It's healthy. I think it can even be raw!

It's Little Miss Muffet's favorite dish - yogurt. (Well, what did you think curds and whey was anyway?) Turn it into yochee (yogurt cheese) and it will even be healthier, tastier, and more versatile.

I know you're used to buying non-dairy yogurt for a dollar or more per 6-ounce carton, but you can make it yourself for less than half that cost.

Yogurt contains very healthy bacteria (probiotics) used in the digestive system, it's high in protein, and it concentrates the vitamins and minerals present in whatever milk you use.

I use this yogurt maker to make a quart at a time, but you can do the same thing by wrapping a heating pad set to low or medium around a one quart mason jar and holding it in place with rubber bands.

It's just a warmer that holds a container.

To begin with you need a starter yogurt. You can use the yogurt you make to start the next batch though it will lose its potency after two batches. Put three or four tablespoons into your very clean measuring cup (wash very well if you used anti-bacterial soap).

Make sure your starter yogurt has active, live cultures.

You can use any milk. I used a combination almond and soy milk for this batch. You need to warm one quart of milk up to 110 to 120F, then thicken it with powdered milk equivalent to another two cups (2/3 cup powder).

I use powdered soy milk to thicken.

When I was making this I realized raw foodists can use almond nut milk if they make it very thick. It will stay raw because the temperature will remain between 105F and 120F. You'll need a yogurt starter, but the "live" part of yogurt is in the active cultures so I'm guessing that allows it to technically remain a living food. (My apologies to raw foodists if I've got this wrong.)

Now that I'm thinking about it, I suppose an Excalibur dehydrator would be perfect for this!

The milk, once brought up to temperature, gets the powdered milk and yogurt mixed in.

The mixture is poured into the very clean container...

...and the container goes into the warming unit overnight.

In the morning, yogurt is born!

Well, technically, it's yogurt, but it's so warm that it's still kind of runny. It needs to refrigerate several hours so it can firm up.

Once chilled it's hard enough to eat as yogurt, but it's not quite the same as the store bought stuff because it has no additives like gelatin to firm it up. However, there's a trick to making it not only thicker, but also tastier.

Strain it using a yogurt strainer.

Here are two types of yogurt strainers.

The box type of strainer is a lot more convenient in having a cover and holding so much more, but they both accomplish the same task. They get covered and refrigerated to strain out the whey.

After just three hours, quite a lot of whey has drained out.

Whey is a component of yogurt that has very little nutritional value and has the bulk of the sour flavor. Drain it out and the yogurt is much smoother tasting.

Three hours is the max if you want to keep it the usual yogurt consistency, but I recommend waiting at least 12 - 24 hours and letting it thicken to yochee, or yogurt cheese.

Yochee is a yogurt equivalent of cream cheese and can be used in much the same way. You can flavor it up in any number of ways or use it straight.

I even have this book dedicated to yochee uses. For instance, top a potato, make a spinach dip, or cook up a pesto sauce. (The Yochee pesto sauce eliminated 50 percent of the fat, 40 percent of the calories, and tasted great.)

Remember, you already added extra protein, vitamins, and other nutrients by making it 50 percent stronger than plain milk. By straining the whey, you're throwing out almost all of the carbs and doubling the concentration once again. Even just one heaping tablespoon of homemade yochee probably adds as much as 4 grams of protein to a smoothie (my favorite use). It also makes it smoother!