I Almost Bought a Yogurt Maker, but Then I Didn’t (or How to Make Yogurt Without a Machine)

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So guys. A month or so ago someone posted a video about plastic on Facebook, and even though I have seen multiple documentaries about plastic already and considered myself to be pretty responsible in that area (I mean I usually bring my own bags to the grocery store for pete’s sake), for some reason it finally sunk in. Plastic doesn’t go away. It just breaks down more and more, finally into tiny pieces, invisible to the naked eye, and saturates the ocean, all the water everywhere, and our insides. And plastic is really not that great for our insides.

And I know there are a lot of other things, maybe even a lot more pressing things to worry about than the multiplication of plastic particles in our little world, but for some reason I just started caring about this. But if you are caring about something else and don’t have the energy to care about this, just do not worry about it. Or if you are using all your energy just to survive day to day, then please carry on and also do not worry about it. This is just where I am right now. So I have been on a quest to reduce the amount of plastic we are buying new. To live a slightly less disposable life.* (Because guys, recycling is not the answer. It might turn plastic into something else plastic that can be used a bit longer, but in the scheme of things, when you purchase plastic, whether you recycle it or not, you are contributing to the overall volume of plastic in the world. We shouldn’t really feel good about recycling, um does that make sense? It’s a huge bummer, I know! I’m sorry!)

I know no one is reading at this point except maybe my mom, because no one wants someone to tell them that recycling is basically as bad as not recycling, but I’m just going to keep on writing (hi mom! I love you!) anyway. Because, the yogurt maker that I didn’t buy.

Anyway, most of the new plastic I end up buying is food packaging! It’s really hard to buy food that doesn’t come in plastic! And knowing myself, my brain will explode if I think in all-or-nothing terms here. It would be next to impossible to eat completely plastic free (though i might try an experiment with that next month!), but I’m trying to just buy less. Less food in plastic. One of the first things I did was to buy a few of these bags, photo below, from this sweet woman on etsy! For buying things in bulk. (Both the natural food co-op and the Wegmans where I do most of my shopping sell a lot of things in bulk. I’ve bought all my herbs and spices in bulk for years, plus a good amount of grains and beans. It’s cheaper. But I’ve always used the plastic bags the store provides. Until I bought these little bags! I’m not trying to be all like, “Wow, I am so amazing because for the past two weeks I’ve used re-usable bags at the grocery store.” That is really not what I’m trying to get at here, y’all. What am I trying to get at, then? Well, that I almost bought a yogurt maker, but then I didn’t. So back to that story.)

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So anyway, one of the plastic things I buy fairly regularly is yogurt. Well, I mean, the yogurt isn’t plastic, but the container it comes in is. You know what I mean. Plain, full fat yogurt. In a big plastic container. So I decided that I would finally just buy a yogurt maker! I’ve wanted one for years, and I’ve tried so many times to make homemade yogurt without a machine, but always with disappointing results. Who has time for that?! So I started looking at cute little yogurt makers, but I couldn’t bring myself to buy one. I didn’t want to spend the money, and where in heaven’s name would I put it (our kitchen is tiny, have I ever written about that here? We have one drawer in our kitchen. One. Drawer.).  And what is the machine part made of, anyway? Plastic.

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So I decided to give it one more try without a yogurt maker. I knew some people used coolers for this (because you have to keep the pre-yogurt milk, whatever in the world it’s called at that stage, at a certain temperature for at least 8 hours), so I thought I would just try it. One time. So I boiled some milk, let it cool, stirred in some yogurt I had bought (I bought fancy French yogurt in a glass jar for this! It was cheaper than a yogurt maker!), put it in a quart-sized glass jar, and filled up another quart sized glass jar with boiling water. I put both jars, standing up, in a little rubbermade cooler we have, with the top closed. Left it overnight and in the morning, yogurt! It literally couldn’t have been any easier or less messy. There was one pot to wash out.  I kept the yogurt in the same glass jar in the fridge. The second time I made it I may have forgotten that I was supposed to be bringing the pot of milk to a low, gentle boil and was doing bedtime things with children and heard a horrible hissing sound coming from the kitchen, which turned out to be the milk boiling over into the burner. So I turned it off, waited until it was cool enough & stirred the yogurt in and figured it would probably be a huge failure but I didn’t want to waste 4 cups of good milk. Then, into the cooler with the jar of hot water, and in the morning, yogurt. No plastic, no machine. See here for a similar recipe. (She pours hot water right into the cooler & uses a thermometer; I don’t use one, I just bring the milk to a low boil, except when I sometimes bring it to a high, scalding boil, and then cool it until I can leave my finger in it for 10-15 seconds.)

So anyway, here’s to baby steps of buying less plastic. I definitely know that no one is reading at this point, but if you are, maybe consider thinking about one small way to use a tiny bit less plastic? Try to remember to bring reusable bags to the grocery (or ask for paper instead). Buy something in bulk (spices, in particular, are exponentially cheaper if you buy them in bulk, and you can just put them in the empty jar of whatever spice you just finished). Wash and re-use ziplock bags! Even just try to buy the larger size of peanut butter or a bag of 16 tortillas instead of 8, and freeze the other 8 for another day. …….. Baby steps. Here’s my pinterest board “Life With Less Plastic.” Here’s a blog with some other ideas for using less plastic, if anyone is interested. And another blog with some good ideas.

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*Did I ever tell you guys the story about when Wendell Berry came to Duke when I was in grad school there? And how for some insane reason I didn’t go hear him speak, but I heard from other students that someone had asked a question along the lines of, “What’s the best thing that we as divinity school students can do?” (given what he had talked about in terms of farming, care for the earth, etc.). And how he said we should drop out of school and become stone masons. Or something along those lines. PLEASE nobody quote me on this, because my memory is horrible (and because I obviously wasn’t even there). But I don’t know, somehow is the spirit of Wendell Berry following me around and urging me to slow down enough to bake bread every once and awhile, or to make my own yogurt? (Ok, obviously not, but there’s something about planting gardens, and gleaning in fields and baking bread with oil and pulling up water out of a well for someone who is thirsty, making lunch for people who are hungry. There’s much about living in a way of peace and gentleness. And tending to all the household tasks because these are the things that Christ did for us.  Having enough time to partake of a meal and do the lowest kind of washing. I’m not trying to say that if you buy any plastic at all it such a terrible thing, or that trying to waste less is somehow the essence of the gospel. But I do think we have lost sight a bit of the dignity of ordinary things like washing dishes and making bread, and we usually are in quite a rush not to be doing those things.  So anyway, here’s to slowing down a bit, wherever you find yourself, whether you’re making yogurt or packing lunch boxes or sweeping the floor for the 4th time today. Slowing down enough to be gentle with ourselves & maybe just maybe also with the world. Because Love prepared us a feast and bid us with gentleness to sit and eat. And of course, she said it much, much better.

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A Game Changer (Or, How to Get Kids to Eat Kale).

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Guys. I don’t want to be that person who’s all “This kale chip recipe changed my life.” But Y’ALL. This kale chip recipe changed my life. Although it’s not so much a recipe as a cooking temperature. 250 F. They won’t burn! (Ok, well they might if you really, really leave them in long enough.) I discovered this tip in a cookbook called Nourishing Meals that’s based on the blog by the same name. Her blog has a recipe for some sweet and spicy kale chips, a recipe that is also in the book, and the two times I’ve felt like making the sauce it has been so worth it. (I’m not going to write out the recipe, but check out the link for sweet and spicy kale chips above & just use olive oil and salt and follow the rest of the recipe, if you don’t want to make the sauce.)

The reason the kale chips are un-pictured is that they literally can’t survive long enough on the pan, let alone in a bowl or other container, for me to photograph them. Because all of us love them. (I didn’t even write about this when I originally posted this yesterday, but the main reason these chips have been amazing: The little people love them. LOVE THEM. Kale chip crumbs end up sprinkling the entire kitchen floor, but now that it’s warmer I’ll just send them outside.  Victory is mine.)

House Meals (wisdom about food from, of course, Tamar Adler)

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A dear, precious friend of mine posted an article on Facebook last week called “Everyone Should Have a House Meal.” I read the caption of the article, and I thought, “Wow, that sounds just like Tamar Adler.” And because of that, and because the article seemed to be about basically one of the great passions of my culinary life (simple, repeatable meals) I started reading it, and lo and behold, it WAS WRITTEN BY TAMAR ADLER. Who wrote An Everlasting Meal. Which is one of the most beautiful books ever written in the history of food, or of almost anything else.  So of course this article (and you have to read all the way to the end), made me nearly weep with joy.  Because she’s someone who isn’t telling me that I should be cooking new, ever fancier meals every single night of the week! With all of the ingredients! From all of the websites! A little confirmation from at least one woman, that it’s ok for dinner to come (yet again) from an egg.

In this particular article she discusses the beauty of having a house meal. A meal that you can throw together with almost no thought. You have the ingredients, it’s simple, healthy-ish, and sustaining for body and spirit.  Hers, she said, was eggs and greens. Ours is always some variation of beans. (I don’t know why that picture above has a picture of Tapatio in it, because our one and only hot sauce love forever and ever is Texas Pete.)   Beans and tortillas. Or beans heated up in a skillet with some salsa & eggs. Sometimes beans and rice, but almost always, tortillas. If we are feeling extremely rich, some scoops of avocado. Or “bracamole,” as one of our small people is calling it these days.  Oh! Sometimes some fried plantains!  A creative economy is the fuel of magnificenceHere are 5 other of our house meals, or simple suppers, as I called them.

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A friend of mine recently had a baby, and all the church folks signed up to bring meals, and I sent her a bag of fancy-ish tortillas and a ball jar of black beans that I made (& some good beef with taco seasoning, because, well postpartum and iron) and some salsa and a lime and some tortilla chips. In retrospect, maybe I should have sent something fancier, but it felt like I was sending her literally the greatest feast imaginable. Our House Meal.

A Bean Recipe, Some Cheap Dinners

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It’s been too long since I’ve written anything about the loveliness and importance of beans, but I saw this recipe recently and wanted to share it (about doctoring up a can of beans, with a 7 minute egg on top). And then saw this post about 6 family meals from Whole Foods for $30.  (Which came from this post, about how three other people met the same challenge.)  And then there’s this cookbook.

So anyway, here’s to meals based on beans, eggs, and potatoes! To humble food! To the great delight of sitting down to beans, with or without a 7 minute egg on top! To toast with cheese! And hoping you all have a lovely weekend, drinking tiny sips of joy from the simple moments of your days.

Also THIS OH THIS!!!! I haven’t tried this recipe yet but I’m going to soon and I can’t wait.

A Creative Economy is the Fuel of Magnificence, Parisian Onion Soup, and Other Things

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I’ve had M.F.K. Fisher’s book How to Cook a Wolf on my list for ages, and I finally got around to requesting it from the library. Because I am trying not to buy every book I want to read on Amazon. Fisher wrote this book in 1942 to teach women how to cook and eat well in the midst of the scarcity of war. How to make do, but do it well. Chapters include “How to Rise Up Like New Bread” and “How to Be Cheerful Though Starving.” Gorgeous. Even if you have no interest in cooking any of her recipes the writing is stunning. Her chapter on eggs had me in hysterics.

One of the chapters’ epitaphs, a quotation from Emerson, reads: “A creative economy is the fuel of magnificence.” Yes. Amen.

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(This table of contents should look familiar to everyone, because I know all of you own Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal by now.)

It was only after I had started caramelizing a heap of onions in my second-biggest stockpot this morning, in anticipation of making an onion-potato soup for tonight’s dinner, that I read far enough to see her recipe for “Parisian Onion Soup” followed a few pages later by her recipe for “Cream of Potato Soup.” I will call my soup Parisian Onion Soup with Creamed Potatoes. Because it sounds better than “Random Vegetable Soup That I Plan to Puree So That Will Will eat the Onions.” (Because this child eats everything, but he doesn’t like little pieces of onions in things).

We are so conditioned to think that every meal requires an enormous, solid chunk of animal meat with it, and that to me seems such a violent and inelegant way to nourish oneself and one’s family. And we forget that a nicely cooked pot of vegetables can be a supper worthy of a Frenchman, maybe just served with a glass of red wine and a tiny morsel of cheese. Better a supper of herbs, etc.

So anyway, How to Cook a Wolf is lovely. A good cookbook, but mostly a book to be read for the stunning prose. It is more delightful than any novel I’ve read within recent memory. And borrowing books from the library feels strangely thrilling and sort of subversive. I do not need to buy all the objects! A creative economy!

Anyway, in the life of the family: Margaret is 8 months old and sort of floppily sitting up. Eating like a champ and basically being the most sanguine, happy, darling baby of all time.  We started moving her crib to the living room at night, and she immediately started sleeping the night through. It’s a bit Gaffigan-esque of us, but that’s how we like it. Who needs a bunch of bedrooms, anyway? Not us. Will adores her and requires her to sit right next to him at all meals.  When he pretends to be anything, she is a baby whatever it is: baby baseball player, baby kangaroo, baby fire dog (when he’s a fireman).

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Anyway, we made it through February, and we only have to exist in Ithaca for 10 more days before escaping to Nashville for the remainder of winter!!!!!!!!! Will is officially out of diapers, both night and day. It feels like I won the lottery. So life is good, except for Donald Trump and income taxes.

p.s. This is Hilarious (youtube video for parents. If you’re not a parent, this will probably not be funny, or even make sense). I have been dying all week.

The New Year and Just About the Best Thing I Ever Did

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Just a quick update. Life is beautiful and crazy. I just started a bullet journal yesterday (using this as a guide) and I love it more than life itself, pretty much.

I don’t have much in the way of New Year’s resolutions, but I do want to cook my way slowly and haphazardly through Jerusalem, a cookbook I’ve heard about over and over the past couple of years and then finally cooked no fewer than 6 recipes out of with my mother in law one afternoon over Christmas. The dinner we made was epic and insanely delicious as of course anything with that much garlic and cilantro and lemon juice and za’atar would be. It was exhausting, but glorious.

Which, by the way, pretty much sums up my entire year. Exhausting but (or maybe I should say and) glorious. A toddler, being pregnant, being a chaplain, living through last winter in Ithaca, giving birth in a bathtub in complete terror and ecstasy, and now two babies, another winter, and potty training the toddler. Heights of glory and depths of, well, something.

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I also want to listen to more music this year and read more novels. So those are my resolutions or hopes or intentions or whatever.

Next on the agenda. So obviously the best thing I ever did was to marry the most amazing man in the world. And then the next best few things I ever did were: go to Davidson College, birth two babies without pain medication, and sing in a gospel choir when I was in grad school. But maybe the next best thing I ever did is this:

Right before Christmas I had John take Safari off my iphone. I don’t have a facebook app, instragram app, or any other social media apps on there. I also have disabled the email on my phone. So now I can: text, make calls, take pictures, and use a map. Oh, and listen to podcasts. That’s all. At first I kept looking frantically for the safari icon, desperately wanting to check email or Facebook or read something to make me feel good. But now!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I am free!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Y’all, I don’t even have words for how awesome this is. Now I have to use the actual computer if I want to check my email or facebook, so it happens maybe 3 times a day instead of 500.

Maybe you are not like me and you have self control and you don’t get sucked into all that crazy not-real stuff, but anyway, I just wanted to share. I am un-tethering myself from that blasted thing & just feeling better and happier and more present than I have in awhile. I know that’s not the answer for everyone, and I’m not trying to be all, “Look how awesome I am.” But it just feels good not to have access to those empty sink holes any more.

Anyway, now i must return to my bullet journal and some trashy tv! Love & joy to everyone and hope your 2016 is going beautifully so far!

Fredagsmys: Cozy Friday & 21 Ways to Get Cozy

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(Ok, so it hasn’t actually snowed here yet, as the photo above might suggest. But we have had a few flurries, and a real snow isn’t too far away. Also, we are moving. Tomorrow. Today was insane. Every single thing is in boxes and John and some of his buddies already took more than half of our stuff over to the new place. I wrote this a couple of afternoons ago when I should have been packing but obviously wasn’t because it was too intimidating to start. And then I figured I’d save it and post it on a Friday. So. ) Anyway, recently I read about the notion of Fredagsmys in this blog post from A Cup of Jo about parenting in Sweden.  The word basically means “Cozy Friday,” and it pretty much captures my feelings about Friday nights.  I just didn’t think there was a good word, let alone an entire cultural phenomenon, that celebrated it. So, as far as I can tell, in Sweden people curl up with lots of potato chips (ok, a little weird, but ok), huddle under blankets, watch movies, and just spend quality time with the fam. Amazing. We’re not at a movie-watching point in our kids’ lives quite yet, but we are all about getting cozy on Fridays. We sometimes make a pizza all together (Will is obsessed with cutting things with his little knife, plus I think there must have been a Daniel Tiger episode about making pizzas, because he knows ALL ABOUT IT), and sometimes pancakes or waffles. Or something else easy and cozy. Now that the days are getting shorter and the weather colder we are going to do it up for Fredagsmys. Some ideas for getting cozy on Fridays:

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DSC_03511. Do a super fast pick-up with the kids late in the afternoon to get ready

2. put Christmas music on (or this album). or whatever music makes you happy.

3. Put on pjs and a robe and slippers or thick wool socks

4. If you have a fireplace, make a fire!

5. Or if not light as many candles as possible

6. turn off and put away all the phones/ipods/ipads/computers/devices (for real)

7. Invite friends over and order cheap pizza

8. Or get some pizza dough from trader joes and cook your own

9. Or make a big pot of chili or soup earlier in the day to have ready for dinner

10. Use paper plates, bowls, etc.!

11. Make a big pile of all the pillows and blankets you can find and curl up with the kids and read

12. Make hot chocolate for everyone

13. Or cider and drink it through cinnamon sticks like straws

14. Or some good hot herbal tea in special mugs

15. Bake cinnamon rolls (from the can, obviously– Cozy Friday is all about No Dishes)

16. Play board games!

17. Family camp out in sleeping bags in the living room (or wherever)

18. Family read-aloud of whatever awesome book you’re reading

19. Watch a movie or show (we try to not watch much during the week so Friday is our night to binge on episodes of the West Wing or Chefs Table)

20. Pancakes for dinner (with sausage or eggs)

21. make popcorn on the stove. (it’s easy, I promise) or in the microwave. or over a fire pit. or whatever. sprinkle with salt, garlic powder, and nutritional yeast. or check out these 30 awesome toppings.

Happy Cozy Friday, y’all! (And if anyone has other good ideas for making Friday nights cozy and special I’d love to hear! read here for more about a similar concept in Denmark: Hygge)

Simple Supper for Cooler Nights

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We haven’t used our oven all summer.  Maybe once, on accident, early in the summer, when I forgot that using our oven=a 95 degree kitchen.  But the nights have been getting cooler– it was 45 the other morning when we woke up– and so last night I decided to roast up a bunch of our CSA gems.  I roughly chopped potatoes, cauliflower, and broccoli, put them on two separate baking sheets (the potatoes needed a bit longer to cook), gave them a dollop of lard (leaf lard that I, a mother of two, personally rendered, no big deal) & a generous sprinkle of salt. I sprinkled garlic powder on the potatoes when they came out.

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We ate them right off the pans with some quickly stirred together mayo+mustard+honey (delicious, creamy, honey mustard sauce in an instant!). And that was dinner.  You could fry an egg or make some cheese toast if you wanted a little more protein, but we didn’t and all lived to see another day.  And Will loves dipping things into any kind of sauce, so he loved it. (Inspired by this wonderful book, I’ve been trying to make vegetables the backbone of our meals these days. Doesn’t always happen, but when it does, it’s good.)

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Good & Cheap: Amazing Cookbook for Small Budgets

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I ran across a blog post this week by a woman who feeds her family of 7 for $300/month.  So theoretically, I could be feeding my family of 3 for $150/month.  That is definitely not happening any time soon, but I am always trying to find ways to reduce our grocery budget. In her post she mentioned a cookbook by Leanne Brown called Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4/Day. ($4/person, per day is about what is allotted under the SNAP program, i.e., food stamps.) You can download this gorgeous book for free! Free, I say! On Leanne Brown’s website, here.  It is gorgeous, and I love her food philosophy so far: buy good quality eggs, even if you are poor; eat much less meat and many more vegetables & beans.  And use lots of spices and make things taste good! Yes! And the pictures are gorgeous (did I mention that?). She includes lots of Asian-inspired dishes, a Filipino Chicken Adobo that looks incredible, and things like cornmeal crusted veggies, Mexican street corn, smoky and spicy roasted cauliflower, and six variations on oatmeal. Anyway, this is a beautiful book, which you can also pre-order on Amazon, here. (The first edition has sold out, and the 2nd ed. is going to be released in July.)

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