All quiet on the southwestern front or: how anxiety is eating my lunch

All quiet on the southwestern front, I know. It’s hard to write when things are hard, not because there is less to say, but because it feels like those things might be less worth saying.

My instagram feed this weekend was a flurry of sunny pictures from the garden along with captions detailing my anxiety. Nothing if not dualistic, I guess. The last few weeks have been a challenge, a collection of challenges. I’ll go to open a spreadsheet or word doc, to pick out a shirt to wear, to look in the fridge for a snack and suddenly feel myself gripped by what can only be described as waves, Herculean waves, of panic and fear crashing into my core, the tips of my fingers, my shoulders, my everything. I’ll stand up, jump around to try to spur an endorphin rush. Pick up my phone and open the mental health app that provides prompts for helpful exercises, like breathing, meditation, or other ways over/around/through the anxiety. I’ll do 15 minutes of yoga. Text a friend. Change my setting. Eat something. Take a shower.

And sometimes it works, often it doesn’t. I still do those things, because as a friend and I commiserated this weekend, one of the biggest lies we tell ourselves in the heat of the moment is that those things aren’t worth it. They are. They absolutely are.

I finished a course of treatment (cognitive-behavioral therapy with somatic work) a few weeks ago, after pain from a surgical procedure triggered a traumatic event. It was, by all measures, successful. I processed the trauma, learned new skills, kept myself centered in the present. I saw my doctor and reported that things were, technically speaking, pretty okay. Yes, Mike had lost his job and that was stressful; yes, the transition was creating new challenges and we were experiencing some growing pains. Yes, Georgie is still nursing, with all the hormonal shifts that entails, but I’d gotten through it before, right? I could recognize those as external stressors and plan for additional time and space to cope.

And then– I don’t know what. Something changed. It felt like the medications I had come to peace with, that I took dutifully every day, just stopped working.  As I write, the kids are asleep, I have the house to myself, I’ve taken my medicine and had a cup of coffee and done some stretching, and yet– despite dutifully checking all of the self-care boxes– the knot in my stomach is tightening and growing. I’m breathing into it, pressing my feet into the floor, scanning my body for sensations of anxiety, or calm, or nothing.

I’ve been reading articles on how to talk with your children about depression and anxiety, and I think we’re doing okay on that front, being honest and respectful but putting no weight on the babes. I’m not feeling well, but I’ll be okay, and it’s not your job to make me feel better.  I completed an intake for a psychiatrist closer to home, with more availability should I need more frequent appointments, Mike and I are starting relationship counseling this week, and I’m seeing a GP to identify any nutritional deficiencies or health problems that might be exacerbating the issue.

img_1637

I don’t ascribe any agency or ill will toward my anxiety; it’s more like a force of nature: a cold wind that blows through your sleeves and skin and bones and then doesn’t, whether or not you have to walk to work and forgot your jacket; ocean waves that knock into your face if you’re there, or carry you gently to shore, you know, just whatever they need to do, with no regard for whether it benefits you or not. I respect that about nature, that sometimes there are ripe thimbleberries on our hikes and sometimes there are poisonous mushrooms, that sometimes it hails mercilessly on the mountain even when the sun was shining moments before, not out of animosity or generosity, because there isn’t anything moral or value-based about it. It just is.

stomping-grapes

There are absolute, very definite spots of brightness: the words and actions of friends, knocking out a work task with skill, planting and harvesting our little backyard plot, those two girls so full of life. I can still volunteer with a postpartum mother, still eat roast bison dug from a five-foot-deep pit of burning juniper and corn alongside friends, still knock out some sauerkraut and kombucha and homemade wine from grapes Mike and Georgie harvested that Winnie and I stomped. It’s quite all instagram-y, really, including those captions:

My garden is still alive; look at this fennel! Also I suffer from debilitating anxiety

This is a pinto bean grown from seed and there is a lead ball made of worry in my belly

Spaghetti squash and tomatoes and sage and perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, did I mention those?

And later, I’ll pick up Winnie from school, pick up Mike from the same, and we’ll head to dinner with friends. I’ll sharpen my wit and my tongue and make biting, hilarious comments during the debate tonight, I’m sure. Soon enough, I’ll come out of this haze, the knot will soften, and like any pain, I won’t fully remember just how hard these moments were. Thank goodness.

I’ll also post a truly excellent zucchini bread recipe soon. This is a mommyblog, after all.

winnie-market-1

 

Lately

My friend Gina at Popcorn and Pandas does this great recurring series called “Lately” that she adapted from another blogger (you can check out all of Gina’s Lately posts with links to the inspiration here).  I love the idea of checking in with yourself and creating a record of the things that drive us every day. With that in mind, I’m snagging the idea, adapting a few of the gerunds myself!

Lately I’ve been…

reading A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible; Jesus and the Disinherited; Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, and Judges. You know, light stuff. I’m about a third of the way through the first year of a four year course affiliated with the Episcopal Church called Education for Ministry, for which these are our texts so far. Here’s a great explanation of the course from Sewanee:

Every baptized person is called to ministry. The Education for Ministry (EfM) program provides people with the education to carry out that ministry. During the Service of Confirmation we ask God to “Renew in these your servants the covenant you made with them at Baptism. Send them forth in the power of the Spirit to perform the service you set before them.” EfM offers an opportunity to discover how to respond to the call to Christian service. 

writing  Descriptions for our new classes, press releases for events, and email after email after email.

listening  Right now, to sweet, sweet silence, but we have a lot of Jack’s Big Music Show on heavy rotation, and I had a major craving for some Tracy Chapman today, so the self-titled album was on repeat.

thinking About how to better organize my time, so that I’m giving my best to myself and others. And also about the fact that’s nearly swimming hole weather!

smelling Lilacs. Everything is in bloom despite the fact that our last frost day isn’t for another few weeks. I can’t get enough lilac, though, since it always seems like they fade far before I am ready for them to go.  

watching The big, blue (and purple and pink and orange) New Mexico sky.  When we first moved here, I was a little overwhelmed by the size of the sky and the intensity of the light, but now I crave it, every day. It’s a wonder, that sky.

wearing  So much linen, y’all. Consignment shops +  Santa Fe ladies that give up their Eileen Fisher wardrobes for the betterment of others have been rocking my world. Linen pants, linen shirts, linen jackets, linen skirts. So many neutrals, so little time.

eating  The leftovers from the popsicles Winnie and I made yesterday: coconut milk, avocado, frozen blueberries and raspberries, and a couple bananas. I filled all the molds, but some of the puree was leftover, and, ya know, somebody’s gotta eat it.

drinking My first ever cup of totally homemade dandelion root tea!  I’m obsessed with roasted dandelion root tea, so Winnie and I dug up some roots in the backyard yesterday (or as Winnie called it, “gardening”) and then I washed, roasted, and ground them today. It’s a whole lot of work for something I can pick up at the store pretty easily, but it was so cool to know that it’s just right at my fingertips like that! And the flavor was spectacular. My liver is giving me a high five right now.

feeling Ready to do some gardening. We have a couple raised beds in the back, and lots of seeds started, so I’m ready to see things get going!  We’re hosting a meetup of local parents and kids next week to do a seed and seeding swap, and I’m really looking forward to it.

wanting For all of my thoughts, actions, and belongings to be organized and purposeful. Is that so much to ask? (In other words, put down your damn phone, Sascha.)

needing  To prep for tomorrow’s coffee and cheese pairing run through. Excited to cup coffee and pair with cheese– totally unexpected, but really delicious.

loving  Our little community. The folks we’ve met here, the people we run into day after day, and the new people who keep popping up at every turn, have totally made our transition to a new place

wishing I were going to to be in Brooklyn when my friend Elizabeth Mangum-Sarach (of BirthFocus) hosts the inimitable respectful parenting guru Janet Lansbury for an intimate tea at Elizabeth’s new space, Nurture(Bklyn). What a cool opportunity!

hoping  For excellent weather for Saturday’s Spring Fair, hosted by Winnie’s preschool. We think this nature-based preschool is just magic, and I’m really looking forward to the opportunity to connect with other Dragonfly parents and share a little bit of that Dragonfly magic with other folks in the community!

craving  A veggie burrito from the Betterday Coffee Shop: homemade tortilla, red chile, squash, greens. It’s so ridiculously good.

clicking  On todoist.com every other second.  It’s the only way I can keep my to-dos in order, between work, home, Winnie’s school, church, volunteer obligations, our garden, and the like. As soon as it pops in my head, it goes on a list, or I’ll never remember it.

Oh, and in keeping with the Lately theme: since I last posted, we got to hang with a pal from NYC, I went to a spa in the mountains and had no cell reception and soaked in a tub and walked around in a robe and it was AMAZING, we flew as a family of four for the first time to Mike’s sister Jenny’s wedding and it was fabulous– so great to see family and meet Jen’s friends,  we threw a Fleetwood Mac & Cheese party at the shop, we signed a lease on a house, and Winnie has gotten really into shouting ALLELUIA during quiet moments at church, which is totally liturgically appropriate (for now.)

 

Alleluia, y’all!

 

Sowing Seeds

I am not a farmer.

Well, duh.

I wish I were; all of the things I wish for myself–discipline, consistency, faith, foresight, intuition, production, connection to land and season and creature– are contained within the farm. I know some incredible farmers.  I have visited some incredible farms. I’ve put in a couple of hours of work here and there on a handful of farms. Oh, boy, do I long in my gut to be a farmer. But I am not a farmer.

 

I am just barely a gardener. I have read a lot of books about gardening. I have thought lots and lots about gardening. I have visited many gardens, made lots of spreadsheets and plans, talked to gardeners and urban gardeners and master gardeners. I’ve grown some things, even eaten some things I’ve grown. But gardener is not exactly a word I would use to describe myself.

One day, just before I found out I was pregnant with Winnie, I decided Mike and I needed a break from the city. We needed to touch some land, say hello to some livestock, and the like. I bought tickets to a tomato seed saving workshop upstate, and we decided to stop off at a Rockefeller manse turned agricultural center on the way. We ate heirloom tomatoes on thick toast, bought a couple of sweet little jars, and set off for the workshop at yet another Hudson Valley agricultural center.

The workshop was taught by someone I knew distantly from my hometown, and included a tour of the farm garden. She and her husband were looking for land to start a farm, and she worked for an incredible seed company, the Hudson Valley Seed Library. I learned about tomatoes named for Russian astronauts, and how to hand pollinate squash. In a funny turn, years later I would book a job with the same agricultural foundation where we stood to help spread the word on the importance of orchards and farm-based cider. But I still didn’t have a garden.

I collected some seeds here and there. We didn’t have a lot of direct sunlight in our apartment, so I couldn’t figure out how to make containers work besides growing some leggy lettuce and killing a number of well-intentioned herbs. I found birthing babies and subsequent parenting to be far easier than keeping a plant alive.

We tried to get a spot in the community garden a block over, but our timing was always off.  We joined the neighborhood CSA and made friends with our farmers’ market farmers (our oyster gentleman could remember Winnie and her size from season to season, and the fruit farmers did make fun of our kale habit, but marveled at the volume of peaches and eggplant we could plow through in a week). A youth market would pop up outside of the library in the heat of the summer, with local grains and honey and eggs, and it felt like our little concrete neighborhood exploded with life.

Despite our lack of growing, things still grew. We learned how to forage, and found dandelion roots and greens, persimmons, ginko nuts, lambs quarters, purslane, sumac, wild black cherries, sarsaparilla, and so much more in the park near our house.

 

In my third trimester, while perusing the library storytime calendar, I saw a notice for a meeting about the gardening group at the library. Why not? I thought.  There were some decorative beds surrounding the library, one with explosive roses bound with a vigorous clematis that had been present during my last few weeks with Winnie, and which was now beginning its bloom just as I entered my last weeks with Georgie.

So I bounced over to the library common room on a Saturday morning, where grow lights were fostering seedlings, and a handful of neighbors made a plan to grow.  Little did I know, half of the parking lot behind the library had been transformed to raised beds, which we weeded and composted and conditioned.  I dug out the seed packets I’d collected over the years, and shared them with my fellow gardeners. We had incredible luck with dill and collards, plus a middling bok choi, radish and carrot crop. Sage was taking off when we left the city, and I didn’t have the heart to destroy the tomato volunteers from the last year, so they taught me an excellent lesson about hybrids (it might look like a sungold, but it ain’t gonna taste like a sungold).

Winnie and I watered on Tuesdays throughout late spring, and as my belly grew, so did the eyes of my fellow gardeners when they saw us out back, hauling water around to the beds. It was fabulous– I felt strong, I felt productive, I felt useful. And so did Winnie.

 

I went into labor with Georgie on a Saturday. While in active labor, I walked past our little garden, past the youth market, past the CSA pickups and the folks headed to their community garden workshifts. I had a baby. She’s a delight. My mom came into town, and so did Mike’s sister. I went home from the hospital on Monday, Winnie’s birthday, and a strawberry-rhubarb spooncake was in order. Tuesday was our watering day. We had four adults, a child, and a baby.  I insisted.

11009201_10206588066361789_9033767094003249961_n

So that’s me, three days postpartum, wrangling a bunch of folks to water a garden, filling watering cans and explaining earthboxes, and why raised beds helped circumvent the heavy metal content of the soil.  Check out that postpartum belly, y’all! They all thought I was crazy, but they didn’t dare say anything.

Winnie loved sharing her garden with her friends after storytime, showing them the swallowtail caterpillars that had taken up residence on the dill. Soon the dill began to flower (delicious) and eventually those flowers turned into the most prolific and incredible seed heads.

 

Do you see those seeds on the right?  I planted maybe a dozen seeds.  I thinned the seedlings.  We watered on Tuesday, clipped dill when we needed it, and LOOK!  Look how we were rewarded!  Seeds for us, our neighbors, our friends, our fellow gardeners.  Seeds for the wind, seeds for the tiny creatures looking to munch. Seeds for days and weeks and years.  Seeds in the same sweet little jars we had bought on our first seed saving adventure years before.

We moved across the country, and whatever I had learned in my one community garden season in New York was out the window. Alkaline soil? Drought? Last frost day in May? But things grow, as evidenced by one of the best farmers’ markets in the country.

 

I’ve signed the paperwork for our next community garden plot. We worked as a family, alongside other families, to prepare the massive garden at Winnie’s school for planting. We attended a community seed exchange, and were lucky enough to happen upon the Seed Broadcast truck, a truck that serves to record and broadcast the stories of seeds, and to share those seeds with others. And a few days ago, Ken Greene, the founder of the Hudson Valley Seed Library mentioned above, just came to speak at  our farmers’ market.

He spoke of his transition through seeds, spurred by a career in education and a passion for libraries (and a little bit of e-bay thrown in for good measure). He talked of GMOs and biotech companies, not in the OH NOES FRANKENFOOD WILL CERTAINLY KILL US ALL way, but of the very grounded reality that foods that are not open pollinated belong to someone, not everyone, and that indeed they are and will be bred as a product that requires another product (pesticides), that traps farmers into a cycle of buying in order to sell, and that does nothing to preserve the traditional foodways and seed sovereignty of individual communities. He spoke of the stories told through seeds, of indigenous peoples, of African American communities, of immigrant communities, and of the seed-saving practices of someone’s father, who always selected the best beans for baking, whose seeds now lived on, in perpetuity.

I once saw seed-saving as a quirky DIY task that made me feel pretty neat, a way to continue my own cycle of growth, but now I see it as necessary– to support my local food growers, to preserve the history written within each seed, to help us grow and adapt as our climate most certainly changes.

As the slide pictured above proclaims, “Every seed is a story.” I know which stories I want to tell. Do you?

The Seed Library Social Network

List of 230+ Heirloom, Independent Seed Companies

 

 

 

 

Interests Include Mommy Blogging & Tandem Nursing

Two funny stories

One: About a year ago, I was courted to be a mommy blogger. For real! Like, for money. Lololololol. And I wrote some things, emails stopped, payment never came, etc. I moved on to other things, like having another baby and moving across the country. But I have these funny sort of clickbait-y posts hanging around in my Google Drive that I see every now and then. Titles like, “10 Things You Can Do While Babywearing”, “Why I Vaccinate My Baby (And Why You Should, Too)”, and “5 Things To Consider Before Tandem Nursing”. That last one becomes important with the next little vignette.

Two: When I became pregnant with Georgie, I experienced horrible nursing aversion and agitation when breastfeeding Winnie. I didn’t have enough energy to parent without the boob in my first trimester (seriously, the boob + B6 + magnesium + Daniel Tiger saved me), but in my second, we tried gentle weaning (weaning while cosleeping is no joke, y’all!). Our timing worked out, Winnie was fine with it, and she weaned in three days, with few tears.  I was a little sad, but it felt right.

Georgie is now nearly eight months old. She is just mad about food, and eats three meals a day. Like, full meals. And now, at the age of two-and-a-half, Winnie has decided she needs to nurse again. And I am sort of fine with it. I’m not going to say things like, “You’re a big kid, and big kids don’t nurse” because I don’t believe that. She’s been sick, and she’s going through some HUGE developmental changes right now (she’s been getting herself fully dressed, her verbal skills have gotten crazy, and her physical coordination is growing by leaps and bounds), and it’s comforting to her.  It’s funny because she’s asked to nurse about once a week ever since she weaned– I didn’t want for it to be a point of contention, and frankly it wasn’t that I didn’t want her to nurse occasionally, just that hormonally I couldn’t handle the constant nursing– and I always gave her a nonchalant, “sure”. She would start to latch, and then sort of laugh, and say, “No, thank you!”  Except then one day she didn’t. So here we are. Tandem nursing after a year of being weaned and eight months with a little sister.

It’s… fine. She needs it, and I’m fine with it. Her ability to understand bodies and boundaries has grown significantly, and I’m confident she’ll understand when it’s time for me to stop.  She’ll probably hate it, sure, but she’ll get it. And from that she’ll learn that she can ask for her body to be respected, too.

Anyway, here’s the hilarious blog post I wrote. My notes from actually being a tandem nursing mother in italics. Because writing about parenting issues before they happen to you is the biggest LOL of all time. #noscreentime #nocoffeewhilepregnant #onlyorganicwoolgarmentsforthelittles #weclothdiaperedwinnieforalmosttwoyearstho

5 Things to Consider Before Tandem Nursing

I always knew I would be a nursing mother, but I never guessed I might be a tandem nursing mother! [Because I didn’t ever look at a calendar?] When I found out I was expecting, with a due date just shy of my not-yet-weaned daughter’s second birthday, I found myself faced with questions. [Like “HOLY SHIT WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO?”]  Should I wean before the new baby arrives?  Would I be able to nurse them both?  Tandem nursing (breastfeeding more than one child, either together or separately) isn’t for everyone– but many mothers find the process incredibly rewarding. [Note: I have yet to meet them. My tandem nursing Facebook group was full of moms on their phones wearing stretched out shirts, lap full of kids like, whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy.] Deciding whether or not to pursue tandem nursing is an individual decision, but thinking about the following can make that decision easier. [LOL “decision”]

 

Do you want to tandem nurse?  It sounds simple enough, but if you feel like you should tandem nurse out of obligation to your child, partner, or the judgy mom down the block– don’t worry about it!  Your body is yours, and every major health organization advocates breastfeeding as long as it is mutually desired by both mother and baby.  If you don’t want to, don’t! At the same time, don’t let anyone dissuade you by saying it’s weird or impossible– neither of which is true. [Almost everything I do is either weird or impossible, especially re: raising these two humans.]

 

Who is your tandem nursing team? [I don’t know but I would like to subscribe to their newsletter.] Now that you’ve nursed one child (or more), you know how important a nursing support system can be.  Identify people who can help you through your next chapter, like your partner, family members, friends, organizations like La Leche League, or even online support like Kellymom.com [Also, refreshing the Iowa caucus results and FiveThirtyEight.com on your phone can be really helpful online resources for feeling connected to the adult world while nursing a brood.]

 

How can others help you tandem nurse? Once you’ve made a list of those who can support you, think about the ways in which they can do so.  Maybe your spouse can pick up a greater portion of household tasks, or leave the fridge stocked with easy snacks and filling meals (you’ll need the fuel while nursing two!).  Set a weekly date with other nursing moms in your neighborhood.  Plan for family or friends to visit to change diapers, play with your toddler, and give you a break from being “on.” [AHHHH SEND HELP]

 

Does tandem nursing work with your lifestyle? [If not, too bad!] Do you plan to co-sleep or settle your newborn in her own room?  Is your toddler night-weaned?  Will you head back to work soon after the birth and tandem nurse on weekends and after work?  Think about the logistics of your time, sleep, and space, and tweak anything you can now to be prepared for later.  

 

Make a tandem nursing plan– and be okay with letting it go.  After you’ve lined up your team, sleeping arrangements, and identified your motivation for tandem nursing, you’ve got the makings of a great plan!  Now visualize letting it go.  You may nurse your toddler for longer than you plan– or you may decide that you’re too exhausted to nurse more than one baby.  You may prepare for agitation while nursing both children– or it may not be a problem at all.  Stay flexible and in tune with yourself, and you can’t go wrong. [Okay, this part is for real, tho.]

 

Way Out West

Walks in the woods, changing leaves, new friends, new place to lay our heads. We’re learning the plants and the playgrounds, which library has the best puzzles (Downtown) and which one the best blocks (Southside). Winnie dressed up as Hermione for Halloween (or, HERMIONE GRANGER, as Winnie says, EXPELIARMUS!), Mike was Harry Potter, Georgie and her Ergo were Dobby, and I was Snape, with some unfortunate hair.

The food is good, the weather is good. We’ve found our church and our grocery store.  We have a turquoise license plate on the car, which looks pretty great.

We miss our friends in New York, and we feel very lucky we were able to see a handful of special people and places on our way out west. Come visit.

 

 

 

 

IMG_2865


IMG_2877

IMG_2899

 

 

IMG_3089

 

IMG_3106

IMG_3107

IMG_3110

IMG_3112

 

IMG_3115

IMG_3116

IMG_3118

IMG_3119

IMG_3123

IMG_3126

IMG_3129

IMG_3130

IMG_3135

IMG_3136

 

IMG_3150

IMG_3154

 

IMG_2859

 

IMG_2854

IMG_2856

IMG_3147

IMG_3149

 

 

 

IMG_3156

 

IMG_2901

IMG_3163

 

 

 

 

Finally, Fermentation: Making Yogurt at Home

When I was reworking the template for this site, trying to make it a little more blog-y and a little less Angelfire/Geocities, I added the subtitle “Family // Fermentation // Faith” mostly because those are the things I like to spend my time thinking about and doing, and also alliteration. But while I’ve written a lot about family and a little about faith, I haven’t touched on fermentation, which is completely nuts because HAVE YOU MET ME?

At one point a couple weeks ago, we had a sourdough starter, lacto-fermented red cabbage kraut, yogurt, goat cheese, and plum vinegar all fermenting in the kitchen, plus all manner of pickles hogging counter space, a whole heap of homebrew supplies occupying the top of the fridge, not to mention the fermented and fermentables we buy from other people: sour beers and pet-nat wines and raw milk cheese and shrubs and ciders and miso and and and and. We’re not even the most ferment-obsessed people we know.

I’m actually not particularly skilled at the “set it and forget it” variety of fermentation–chop some cabbage, toss with salt, weigh down, and boom! kraut! or mix up some flour and water and leave in a corner of your kitchen, feeding with more flour and water, and boom! starter!– mostly because those are the exact two steps I am able to do: 1) Set it; and 2) Forget it; with primary emphasis on the second step, and zero attention paid to the unwritten third step which is 3) Unforget it, because you actually need to check on it, oh whoops, now your starter is covered in some crap called hooch and your kraut wasn’t submerged enough and has become a giant slime pile that smells like the annual convention of all farts ever to have existed in the world.

Somehow, though, the 30-minute-squeeze-into-naptime-after-you-snarf-a-PBJ-and-maybe-take-a-shower-jk-about-that-shower project tends to typically work out, such that I’ve been able to consistently make yogurt and occasionally make cheese for us. Yogurt is a couple of ingredients, just a few steps, and lots of fun to make (I mean, for people like me who delight at milk being turned into other things, which I assume you are, too, if we’re friends.)

Here’s what you’ll need to get started:

  • Half-gallon of milk, not ultra-pasteurized
  • Half-cup of your favorite plain yogurt
  • Glass jars for storing yogurt
  • Double boiler or a metal bowl that can fit snugly atop a pot
  • Kitchen thermometer
  • Some kitchen towels or cloth napkins or those receiving blankets you brought home from the hospital because, seriously, what else are you using them for?
  • A warm spot (between 90°F and 110°F)– a gas oven with a pilot light works great, or you can start the preheating cycle on an electric oven at the lowest temp for a couple of minutes, turn it off, and shut the door. Other people have used crock pots, coolers, heating pads, lots of towels, etc., for incubating yogurt– just don’t start a fire or anything, and make sure your temp is around 100°F so that the cultures can incubate and thicken within a relatively safe time frame. 

A few notes:

There are only two ingredients in yogurt, so try to make them the best you can! Homemade yogurt is so much less expensive than store-bought that you can afford to go schmancy on the milk. Also, full fat, for the love of God. This is not 1985.

Unstrained, the yield is pretty close to 1:1 milk to yogurt, meaning that a half-gallon of milk will yield close to half-gallon of yogurt.  You can easily cut the recipe in half, if you don’t go through yogurt like I do, which is akin to the yogurt intake of a professional yogurt eating team in spring training.

You can use any plain yogurt with live cultures to culture your yogurt, whether it’s strained/Greek or not, but I like to choose something I like the flavor and texture of unstrained, because it’s a more clear indication of how your own yogurt will turn out unstrained.

Okay, on with the show!

image

Make sure everything you’re using– jars, lids, pot, bowl, double boiler, any spoons or spatulas, thermometer probe, etc– are all cleaned and sterilized.  Since you’re trying to grow microbes in your yogurt, you want to get rid of anything extraneous–your kitchen has plenty of microbes that can cause wonky stuff in your finished yogurt, but those things are easily controlled with a good wash and sanitizing routine. I wash with hot and soapy water, and then sterilize either in boiling water or according to the package instructions on something like Star San Sanitizer, which you can use if you homebrew, too.

If you go with cream-top or unhomogenized milk, you can either leave the hunk o’cream in the milk as you warm it, or scoop it out and use it in your coffee or spread it on bread or something equally delicious, which is what I usually do.  Sometimes that extra butterfat doesn’t totally integrate into the yogurt once it’s chilled, and leaves little unincorporated globs of fat on the top of the yogurt.  Not the worst thing in the world, but I prefer to use it elsewhere.

image

Fill the bottom of a double boiler or a stockpot with hot water (no need to go with cold from the tap, since you’re just using the water to heat) and place over high heat. Fill the top of the double boiler or the metal bowl atop your pot with milk.

image

Heat the milk to between 180°F and 195°F.  You’re essentially re-pasteurizing the milk (or pasteurizing it for the first time, if you’re starting with raw), not because you hate raw milk and its proponents, but because you’re going to introduce live cultures and leave them at a temperature at which you want them to get comfy and grow– so you only want the cultures you’re introducing to grow, not any random hangers-on.  This step creates a blank canvas for your yogurt.  It also serves to denature some of the proteins in the milk (similar to the way that heat helps to denature proteins in whey when making ricotta), which will help the yogurt coagulate later.

image

Remove the top of the double boiler or the bowl containing your milk and set to cool on a trivet or heat-safe surface.  If you’d like to speed up the cooling process, you can place the bowl of milk in a container of cool water and stir gently.

Cool the milk to between 100°F and 115°F and gently stir in your yogurt. Stir up and down, back and forth, and around, so that the yogurt is evenly distributed throughout the milk. Pour the milk and yogurt mixture into your jars, and place the lids on top. Wrap with kitchen towels/cloth napkins/receiving blankets/cloth diapers (jk, kind of), and place in your oven with pilot light or other warm place. We keep a thermometer in our oven so that I can tell what temp it is, which I highly recommend.

image

I like to stick the jars on a sheet pan so that they don’t wobble too much when pulling the rack in and out of the oven.

Leave the jars in the oven for six to eight hours.  If I’m making yogurt during the day, I’ll check it after six hours to see if some whey has started to separate, if it’s thickened, and if it’s as tart as I’d like, and if not, I’ll let it keep culturing for another couple hours.  If I’m letting it culture overnight, though, I’ll just put it in the oven before bed, and check it when I’m up (assuming that’s a full eight hours and Winnie didn’t wake up at 4:30 am again.)  When you check the texture, keep in mind that it will continue to thicken once cooled in the fridge.

During this incubation period, the second transformation (following the transformation through heat that we initiated earlier) is taking place: the live cultures in the scoop of yogurt you added are eating the lactose in the milk, and converting the lactose to lactic acid.  Then, the lactic acid is changing the structure of the proteins in the milk, breaking them apart and reforming them, thickening the milk into yogurt. It’s the same sort of thing that happens in creme fraiche, and it’s one of the beginning steps of cheesemaking, too.

I’ve recommended six to eight hours because that’s what’s worked for me, but you could experiment with shorter or longer culturing times, as well– keeping in mind that longer times may carry a small food safety risk, since you’re keeping a high-moisture product in the temperature “danger zone” for a longer period of time, though acid production would mitigate the risk on some level.  Anyway, you do you, and your yogurt, too.

image

When your yogurt is done, you’ll notice a little bit of yellow-ish, clear whey starting to separate.  You can either pour this off, strain it out (I like a fine mesh strainer as opposed to butter muslin or cheesecloth– easier to clean), or stir it in.  Your yogurt, your call.

Homemade yogurt with Blenheim apricots, dried wild Maine blueberries, and a drizzle of raw honey

 

Make sure to scoop out a smidge while it’s still warm– it’s one of the singular delights of making your own yogurt at home.

Check out these resources for other methods and more info:

Homemade Yogurt | David Lebovitz 

The Science of Great Yogurt | Brod & Taylor

Interview with Sandor Katz | The Splendid Table

Fermenting Yogurt at Home | National Center for Home Food Preservation

Happy yogurting!

Dinner with Winifred



Winnie made me dinner tonight. After Mike washed the purslane, Winnie took it for a couple (dozen) rounds in the salad spinner, which she carried back and forth between the kitchen and living room so she could show me how it worked.

With everything spread out on the floor around them, Mike talked her through sprinkling a pinch of salt and a shake of mustard powder in a small jar and twisting the pepper mill. They tasted and smelled the olive oil and vinegar before pouring them into the jar, and when Mike pointed out how everything remained separated in layers, Winnie exclaimed, “OH WOW!” We shook and shook and shook the jar until the layers were gone.

She split the purslane between two more bowls, by which I mean she moved it from one bowl to another and then started over a few times, until each bowl contained at least one piece of purslane, and the floor got its fair share, too.

And then she 100% lost it, and screamed for a solid five minutes because the broom wouldn’t do quite what she wanted it to.

It was maybe the best dinner I’ve ever had.