Posts Tagged ‘homemade yogurt’

Of Mice and Men

A full tray of D-CON is about to replace an empty one.  I have spared my dear readers a picture of the dead mouse!

A full tray of D-CON is about to replace an empty one. I have spared my dear readers a picture of the dead mouse!

After driving through the night, we arrived in Maine on Sunday at 7:30 a.m.  Once inside, we were greeted by three totally empty trays of D-CON (mouse poison) and one very dead mouse (my husband had the unpleasant task of removing it).   A propitious start, I thought.

I’m always a little on edge when I walk into my house after a prolonged absence . . . especially between seasons, when there are extreme temperature changes.  Once the wildlife know we’re gone, they are only too happy to “house-sit” in our nice, cozy abode while we’re away.  Intruders of the non-human variety can mean anything from beetles, flies and wasps, to rodents,  porcupines, raccoons, fishers, or even bears.

When our house was being built, shortly after we installed our garage door, a very determined mouse gnawed at the hard plastic and rubber weather seal at the bottom, breaking it and creating a glaring point of entry.  This kind of damage was not covered under our garage door warranty, and repair would be expensive, since they’d have to take apart the entire door in order to replace the weather-stripping.  We decided to live with it, and try to fill the hole with spray-foam insulation and steel wool.

Meanwhile I took no chances, even though I didn’t really have a mouse problem – – yet.  I put trays of D-CON throughout my house:  under the kitchen cabinets, behind the microwave,  in our basement under our food storage shelves, and at the bottom corners of the garage door.  We do a visual check for possible mouse infestation each time we return to Maine from our home town, especially since that time when my husband went to use the bathroom upon arrival – – and found a dead mouse in the toilet. (We now make sure we keep the toilet lid closed before we go away.)  Once we noticed that the tray of D-CON behind the microwave oven had been delicately noshed, but no further signs of mice or their droppings were discovered.  (I should mention at this point that when our grandchildren come for the summer, we remove all the trays of D-CON for safety’s sake.)

This time, though, I had a feeling that mouse presence would be worse, because the house had been vacant for 3 weeks and outside it was terribly cold.

Sure enough, all the trays of D-CON inside the house had been ravaged.  One small dead mouse was on the floor next to our food storage shelves.  Fortunately, the food was completely untouched (I store large, emergency-sized non-perishables such as grains, flour, nuts, seeds, condiments, etc. in glass jars and industrial-strength sealed plastic containers that are inaccessible to non-humans).  Unlike rats (thank heavens we don’t have those!) mice desiccate and are odorless after death, but even then it is unusual to find a deceased one out in the open.  I only found a couple of random mouse droppings.  But the hole in the bottom corner of the garage door is a little bigger so it looks like we will have to have that weather-stripping under the garage door replaced professionally, after all.

The problem with finding evidence of a mouse is that, left unabated, they multiply rapidly. (You can click here to see what happened to our pop-up camper when it was taken over by mice two summers ago.)  I couldn’t be sure it was “only” one mouse, even though at present there was no evidence of more.  This meant an unplanned trip into town to buy more D-CON, a drive I was not enthusiastic about doing after being on the road for the past 10 1/2 hours.  After all, I had loaded the car with groceries from our home town so I wouldn’t have to do shopping for a week.   But with predictions of a snowstorm headed our way the following day, it was now or never, so we did make the 45-minute trek into North Conway.

But before setting out, there was even more important business to take care of:  getting our house warm.  We cannot simply turn off the heat when we leave, as the pipes will freeze, but we do set the thermostat very low so we won’t go through too much (expensive!) propane while we’re away.  When you’ve been driving through the night, the last thing you feel like doing when you come into the house exhausted and cold is building a fire and puttering around to keep it going.  I’ve learned from experience that before we leave Maine, I layer kindling and firewood in the woodstove and close its door, so all I have to do when I return to Maine  is open the woodstove door,  light the pre-prepared wood with a match, and an effortless fire awaits.  Even with the hottest of fires, though, it takes hours to bring the indoor room temperature from 45 degrees F (!) to 67 degrees F.  But by now I have the routine down pat and make sure that longjohns/leggings, sweaters, gloves, hats and coats are close by.

Suddenly we realized that we had forgotten to replace the screen panels on our porch with plexiglass ones.  We use our  porch, which is located just off the kitchen, even on sunny winter days, thanks to its ideal southerly location.  In the summer, the porch is shaded by trees and the cool breezes flow pleasantly through the screen panels.  In late autumn or early winter, once the leaves have fallen and the outside temperature cools, we replace the screens with plexiglass.  The southern exposure of the porch means that the sun shines on the plexiglass panels on a sunny day, and through this “passive solar” heat our porch can often reach temperatures of  60 – 65 degrees F on a 20 degree F day!

But because we had neglected to do the switch-over before returning to our home town, we were now faced with unscrewing the screen panels and screwing in the plexiglass panels in 22 degree temperature!  Needless to say that although we worked quickly, we were forced to seek shelter indoors in between each panel installation to warm our hands (gloves were too bulky to handle the tiny screws).

Taking down the summer screens...

Taking down the summer screens…

. . . and putting up the plexiglass panels

. . . and putting up the plexiglass panels

We had planned our departure from our home town carefully.  Since a snow storm would hit the East Coast on Sunday but not reach Maine until Monday, we decided to leave right after Shabbat, on Saturday night, and drive through the night.  We figured that if we could fit in a nap after davening (religious prayers at the synagogue) and lunch on Saturday (not an easy feat considering the short hours of daylight), we’d be rested enough to travel the distance to Maine, especially if we could  alternate the driving between us.  An added bonus would be the lack of traffic at night, but unfortunately we hadn’t counted on New York’s perpetually jammed George Washington Bridge (with the rip-off toll price of $13 for the “privilege” of traversing it) being busy even at midnight.   But once we managed to get out of New York the rest of the way was quick and uneventful.  Indeed, the very next morning our home town experienced a huge snowstorm even bigger than predicted, and the entire New Jersey turnpike was hazardous  with snow, ice, and accidents, so our timing had been perfect.

That same snowstorm finally hit us today.  I did manage to trek 3 miles in the woods with my very enthusiastic dog in the morning, while the snow was still sparse.  I walked with trekking poles in case it got icy in spots, but this turned out to be unnecessary.  The temperature was 22 degrees, but I was wearing layers and a down jacket and in reality I was a bit too warm.  At least now my cheeks have a rosy glow.

Instead of attending to work responsibilities (I have several clients waiting on photos), I spent the morning cooking enough food to last for the next 2 days.  I made a hearty vegetable soup, some butternut squash, sweet potatoes, lentils, beans, and a large tub of yogurt – – all “stick to your ribs” kinds of food for the coming cold spell. (Forecast for Wednesday night is 3 degrees F and 0 degrees  F Friday night.)

After heating 1/2 gallon of milk to the foamy stage and letting it cool slightly, I added a few tablespoons of yogurt to the milk and stirred well.  Then I poured this warm mixture into a bowl, covered the bowl with a plate, and wrapped it in a beach towel for extra insulation.  Usually I let the yoghurt ferment in the trunk of my car on a summer day, but in winter I put the bowl on a trivet on my wood stove.  After about 8 hours the yoghurt will solidify to the proper consistency.  I then let it sit overnight in the fridge to firm up some more.  The next day I will spoon it into a large glass jar and enjoy.  This is about a 1-week supply.

Homemade winter yogurt:  After heating 1/2 gallon of milk to the foamy stage on my regular propane range and letting it cool slightly, I added a few tablespoons of  plain, store-bought yogurt to the milk and stirred well. Then I poured this warm mixture into a bowl, covered the bowl with a plate, and wrapped it in a beach towel for extra insulation. Usually I let the yogurt ferment in the trunk of my car on a warm summer day, but in winter I put the bowl on a trivet on my fired-up wood stove, since our indoor room temperature of 67 is not warm enough for the yogurt to culture properly.  After about 8 hours the yogurt will solidify to the proper consistency. I then let it sit overnight in the fridge to firm up some more. The next day I will spoon it into a large glass storage jar.   I like to use the yogurt to make smoothies, or to eat 1 cup plain with 1/4 cup of raw oatmeal and frozen blueberries mixed in.  This makes about a 1-week supply.

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Homemade Yogurt

My husband jokes that I am turning into a hippie homesteader but I have to say, I really enjoy all the little projects that result from so many new and positive learning experiences in my goal of living more consciously and conscientiously.

I recently came across a homemade yogurt recipe by Claire Criscuolo, owner of Claire’s Corner Copia vegetarian restaurant in New Haven, Connecticut, located across from Yale University’s old campus on the corner of  Chapel St. & College St.  On her website’s FAQ page,  she lists a recipe for homemade yogurt:

If you eat 2 cups of yogurt a day in your family, you will save $1,000.00 a year by making your own – and, you’ll save hundreds of plastic cups a year, too.

Makes about 16 cups

1 gallon organic whole or 2% milk

2/3 cup plain, organic yogurt

Heat the milk in a large, uncovered 8 quart pot over medium-high heat, without stirring, until the milk foams and rises about half way to the top of the pot, about 10 minutes. When the foam reaches about half way to the top of the pot, remove from the heat. Pour the heated milk into a large bowl (a tempered glass or pottery bowl is best). Set the bowl on your counter to cool until you can insert your “baby” finger into the center of the bowl of milk, just comfortably, for 10 full seconds. This will take about  20 minutes or so, depending on how cold it is in your kitchen. Measure the 2/3 cup yogurt into a separate bowl. Measure 1/2 cup of the heated milk into the bowl of yogurt. Stir well to mix. Pour this yogurt mixture into the large bowl of heated milk, using a rubber spatula to scrape the bowl clean. This is the point when Sadie said a blessing over the bowl, so I always do, too. Cover the bowl with a dish large enough to fit the bowl without touching the yogurt. Cover the bowl with a clean dish towel, then a thick bath towel. Leave the wrapped bowl on the counter for 8-10  hours, (you can make your yogurt  before you go to bed or before you leave for work) whichever is more convenient for you, without disturbing. After 8-10 hours, remove the towels but leave the dish on. Refrigerate for at least 8 hours, but it’s ready to eat after 8 hours. Before enjoying, remove about 2/3 cup of the top layer and spoon this into a jar. Cover the jar and refrigerate for up to two weeks. This will be your yogurt “starter” for your next batch. You may now begin eating and enjoying .

I just had to try it.  It was fun, easy and successful, but not without caveats.  Instead of a letting the ingredients “set” in a large bowl, I used a giant Bell jar (the kind used for home pickling and canning).  Because of the tall, narrower shape of the jar (I used a 1/2 gallon size), I found that the first 2/3 of the finished product was a bit on the thin side, more resembling kefir (but much more delicious).  The bottom 1/3 of the Bell jar was indeed a thicker, yogurt-like consistency.  So next time, I will be more exacting in following the directions, and use a very large, very wide bowl to make my yogurt.

Also, I used goat’s milk instead of cow’s milk –  – this has a higher fat content but it’s oh, so delicious and healthy.  Also, it was not as tart as store-bought yogurt, but this could be because I used goat’s milk – – I haven’t experimented enough to know for sure.

Not only is it more economical to make yogurt rather than buy it, as Claire suggests; it is so much more delicious!   For those who consume only chalav yisrael dairy products (which are hard to find in smaller Jewish communities, not to mention extremely pricey), this yogurt recipe is really handy.  It’s easy to make a parfait with fruits like strawberries, blueberries and bananas, or as a base for tasty smoothies.  It’s a great way to benefit from protein and calcium.  There are no additives or chemicals, and it’s so much fresher than anything you can buy in the supermarket.  So here’s a shout-out to Claire . . . thank-you for sharing this wonderful recipe on your website!