Wednesday, April 10, 2013

This Homemaker's Trifecta

I think I've told you part of this before, so I'm sorry if I'm repeating myself.  I'm a little tired from staying up pretty much all night with Owen the night before last.  He woke up coughing badly at 2:30am and couldn't go back to sleep...literally.  We snoozed from 6-6:45am but that was it for the night--hello, newborn days flashback!  I don't know if it goes this way for everyone, but usually I'm fine the next day (not totally but you know what I mean) and it really hits me the day after that (that would be today) and Owen is the same.  So yeah....he and I are a little cranky and dazed today...

Anyway, back to the point:  One of my New Years' resolutions was to cook more.  I knew that, thanks to my friend Jenny, I had this awesome Whole Food Kitchen Workshop on the horizon and I was hoping I could really dive into it with gusto.  Then, Zoe and I went to Heritage Days at Walker Ranch where we learned about the way people lived back when they didn't have fridges, fancy ovens and supermarkets.  None of it was news to me, but somehow going there with Zoe and relearning it through her eyes inspired me to put a little more effort into the food our family eats.  If you read my blog regularly, you are probably well aware of my total disinterest in cooking and preparing food.  I didn't always feel that way..I used to cook a bit but I've never been able to say that I really love cooking.  Proper nutrition is important and interesting to me, but I've always looked for ways to eat and feed my kids well without having to spend too much time preparing food.   Before the workshop started, I took advantage of my motivation from going to the ranch to start making sandwich bread, which is something I've always been interested in doing but totally intimidated by.  I tried a few recipes but have finally settled on this one, sometimes substituting the walnuts with hempseed, chia seeds or both (depending on what I happen to have at the time).  Zoe doesn't like it but since Owen and I (and sometimes Nathan) use it daily instead of store bought bread we are having to put it on the grocery list less often.  I went to Costco and stocked up on the ingredients I know I'm using regularly for that so I have been feeling good about the money we are saving there.

That feeling of accomplishment financially as well as the simple "I feel good about making something from scratch" satisfaction got me motivated to read about other simple ways to save money through the food we buy.  In my search, I found people saying over and over again that the 3 best ways to save money at the grocery store were to make your own bread (check!  woohoo!), use cooked (dried) beans instead of canned and make your own yogurt.  There are a ton of other good reasons to do these things, including improved nutritional value which is also great, but my main inspiration to master these things was to save money.  I was intimidated by all three though (well, not the bread anymore!) and wasn't sure I could do it.  I'd tried cooking beans before here in CO but was convinced that it was impossible at this high altitude without buying a pressure cooker, which I felt would be defeating the purpose of saving money.  Making yogurt sounded great in theory to me but again, as far as I knew, you either had to buy an expensive machine (which I'd heard wouldn't make enough to serve our yogurt crazy family anyway) or use a seemingly kooky, outside of the box approach that I was sure I would do wrong and cause our family to contract some life threatening form of food poisoning.

I decided to investigate the bean situation first, posing the question on Facebook (always a good idea, folks) and immediately got very promising feedback from many CO friends.  I went right out and bought some dried beans and took the advice of most of my friends by soaking them overnight (in lots of water), draining and rinsing and then throwing them in the crockpot (again, with plenty of water) and cooking on high for 6-8 hours.  Couldn't have been easier!  I actually cooked WAY too many chick peas this first time (ended up with 15 cups--whoops!) so stocked my freezer and have been making hummus and roasted chick peas galore.  I have to play around with how to season them because I've heard conflicting reports about when it's okay to add salt so for now my beans are bland but I'll get there.  It's been so nice to have a hummus sandwich for lunch knowing that I made the bread AND the hummus!

This victory gave me the confidence to start figuring out the last and possibly most intimidating (for me) challenge: homemade yogurt.  Internet searches only left me feeling confused and unclear about how to do it without a yogurt maker and I was convinced that if I tried to figure it out myself I'd definitely poison my entire family.  So, I mentioned it to my friend Katie (homemaker extraordinaire) who thankfully offered to have me over to her house for a lesson.  Like many things, this turned out to be so simple in practice, once you get the confidence to just try it, that it's almost funny that I waited so long to figure it out.  I'm not including a link because although I think most of them give great explanations, they all seem slightly different to me, which was what was confusing me so much.  So, I'm just doing what Katie told me to do because she is awesome.  My first batch failed because I had to transport it home from Katie's house and the temperature got screwed up...the second batch failed for some reason but this third batch worked!  Truthfully, the second batch may have worked but I didn't realized at the time that the homemade stuff doesn't turn out as thick as the store bought kind so I had thrown it out thinking it hadn't worked (should have called Katie like I did this third time).

Here is Katie's (and now mine--yay!) homemade yogurt system:

What you need:
-1 quart milk (can use skim, 1%, 2% or whole--whatever floats your boat)
-1/4 cup plain yogurt (again whatever kind you want but after you do this once, you just save a bit from the batch you made for the next batch)
-glass jar big enough to hold all of that
-candy thermometer (found at grocery store for under $5)

-pour milk into saucepan and set the burner on 3 or 4 (med low)
-heat milk gently until it gets to between 105-115 degrees..I've settled on shooting for 110 degrees or so (make sure the end of the thermometer isn't resting on the bottom of the either have to hold it up or clip it to the side of the pan if it has a clip on it)
-whisk in yogurt
-pour into glass jar and put the cap on loosely
-place into your oven with the light on (don't turn oven on, just the light)
-let sit in there for about 10 hours (I've been doing it overnight)
-taste a bit of it to be sure it has that tangy yogurt taste and put it in the fridge

That's it!  Easy peasy!  If you don't have an oven light, you can do an internet search for different ideas about how to keep the temperature the jar is sitting in at 100 degrees..Katie said she's read all manner of creative ideas including sitting it on warm speakers and crock pots filled with water.  The thing to remember is that if the milk/yogurt combo gets to above 120 degrees it kills the cultures in the yogurt and if it cools off too much (I think below 105 but I'm not sure) it just won't turn into yogurt.  I also have to play around with adding flavor but for now I'm happy to just add honey or maple syrup to my bowl.

So, as you can probably guess I'm feeling very accomplished and satisfied.  By no means do I think that these three things are things that everyone should  being doing in their own homes but they became important for me to tackle so I'm feeling kind of awesome about it.

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