Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Mmm, Bacteria.

I made the best yogurt ever last night! I've made it before--even regularly for a while--but it has always come out more runny and liquidy store-bought yogurt. Last night, I solved the problem! I am so proud and totally convinced that I am the first and only brilliant person to think of this solution ever, so don't burst my bubble, ya'll.

So yogurt is incredibly easy to make. You start with some yogurt. Okay, that sounds stupid, but the point is, yogurt is self-replicating. Really, you could start with a bacterial culture that you order online and have shipped to you, but might as well just use a scoop of your plain yogurt--with LIVE cultures (read the label)--from the store. So get some of that.

While you're there, get some milk. Anything from skim to whole is fine (even cream will work). Pasteurized and raw milk both work, but ultra-pasteurized will not work (and you probably shouldn't be drinking that tasteless, nutritionless crap anyway).

Next find yourself a clean quart-sized container. I use a Mason jar. Pour a quart of milk in a double boiler and heat to about 180 degrees. If you have a kitchen thermometer, bully for you. I do not, so I just estimate--takes about 20 minutes, not quite boiling, but too hot to touch. You actually have to touch it to find out that it's too hot to touch. It's not rocket science. Or baking.

When you think your milk is hot enough, remove it from the heat and let it cool to about 110 degrees--comfortable to touch, but hotter than body temperature for the thermometerless among us.

To the cooled-down milk, add about a tablespoon of yogurt and stir.

Pour the mixture into your quart-sized container, cap it, and keep it warm for 8-12 hours, then refrigerate. Keeping it warm is the hardest part, but last night I discovered I could fill my slow-cooker with water and keep the jar in there overnight, set on "keep warm." This is how I got my yogurt to be so thick!

The slow-cooker is by far the best method I've tried, and I highly recommend it. If you don't have a slow-cooker and can't borrow one, you could put the jar in a cooler filled with hot water, but you'd have to keep adding water to keep it warm. Or you could wrap the jar in a towel and keep it on the stovetop if you have pilot light to keep it warm.

You can keep making new yogurt by taking a scoop from your old batch each time!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Pissing Off Vegetarians

Boyfriend's de facto sister-in-law is newly vegetarian, and I have to confess to trying to convert her back to omnivoriousness. I know this is like the root of all food justice evils, but hear me out.

Being anti-vegetarian is practically blasephemous, especially in the whole/local/organic foods community. But I kind of am. When I hear someone is vegetarian, my first question is, "why?" Some common answers are:

1. "I'm making a religious choice. My religious beliefs mandate it." I pretty much leave that alone. First, because I don't want to be in the habit of arguing beliefs and practices that are integral to a person's identity, and second, because a culture containing a religious mandate against meat-eating usually also contains a food culture (cuisine) that is healthy and full without meat.

2. "I'm making an ethical choice. Killing and eating animals violates my personal values. Animals have rights similar to human rights." I tend to leave this alone too, since I generally think it would be offensive to argue against it. However, I don't really think it is a particularly logical argument. Humans have clearly evolved as omnivores, and meat is part of our natural diet. This argument for vegetarianism seems to put humans and animals on the same level in terms rights, because humans, of course, are animals. It then demands that humans not act like animals by choosing to modify their natural diet.

And then the flimsiest two reasons:

3. "I'm making a healthy choice. Meat isn't good for me." This is just false. Meat is part of our natural diet; we've evolved to eat it for millions of years. It's true that most Americans eat more meat than necessary (it needn't be present at every meal and should certainly not be what meals are centered on). It's also true that meat that's raised in factory farms--with antibiotics, growth hormone, and animals ankle-deep in fecal matter--is not healthy. But the meat I eat comes from farmers I know personally who raise animals ethically, organically, and outside. And (considering its higher price) I only eat it a few times a week.

4. "I'm making an environmental choice. Meat-eating isn't sustainable, and it's harmful to the environment." That's certainly true of factory farming. And vegetarians who can't get meat anywhere but the supermarket are vegetarians I support. But there is a way to raise meat with consideration for the animals' wellbeing, their natural diet and habitat, and the effect of animal treatment on human consumers. If you can find local farmers raising animals like this, I urge you to support them.

There is no escaping the truth that all life subsists on other life. Frankly, it's not a truth I'd care to escape. It is a sacred cycle that should be treated with honor and gratitude. As such, I make an effort to know that my meat comes from someplace honorable, natural, and sustainable. Do you know where your tofu comes from?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Urban Homesteading

Merry over at Merry Merry Quite Contrary told me I didn't have to apologize for not posting in like 3 months. So I'm not. Suck it.

Someone gave me this awesome book called The Urban Homestead for Christmas this year. It is the most comprehensive guide to city self sufficiency I've found. It will definitely change the way I eat this year.

Boyfriend's mom and I are planning on expanding her garden this spring to take over her entire back yard. She was already planning on putting in raised beds, which this book advocates for small scale growing. I'm going to create indoor compost bins for both of us that utilize worms to get the most out of composting in a small space (ew, worms?! yep). I'll post step by step photo instructions on how to make them once I figure out where to get my worms.

I did some food preservation last summer and fall--mostly canning, some freezing. This book's authors are big supporters of fermentation and drying as means of preserving food. These methods are old, time-tested, and introduce our stomachs to lots of healthy bacterical friends (Bacteria and worms?! Disgusting!).

I happened to get a food dehydrator for Christmas as well, but I can't really use it until I have some fresh fruits and vegetables to put in it. I will, however, be making cheese, yogurt, and sourdough bread before winter's over. Look for updates on these projects! (In less than 3 months.)