Thursday, February 28, 2013

Lenten Lessons

I gave up Facebook for Lent this year.  I normally don't observe any "fasting" for Lent as I am not Catholic and it certainly wasn't a big tradition in our family.  But since becoming involved in our new Church four years ago, I've started. Last year I gave up cheese, and let me share with you that Easter Brunch last year was delightfully heavy on the cheese.

So far, I've learned two Lenten Lessons.  First, giving up FB was a lot easier than I expected at the beginning.  The reasons I gave up FB is that I spend a lot of time on it during the day, just jumping on and off to see what is going on.  I thought it would be good for me to use that time doing other activities.  What I've ended up using that time for is Twitter, so it's not really a time savings.

However, after a few days, I realized that what I really missed about FB was hearing how everyone was doing.  I thought I'd miss the feedback I receive on my status updates (likes, comments, behind the scenes emails), and trust me, on Twitter I am getting NONE OF THAT!  It's like throwing out bon mots to an empty forest, where trees are falling left and right but no one is responding to my tweets.

Instead, what I really miss is hearing what everyone else is doing.  What would happen if someone had a birthday and I didn't get to tell them Happy Birthday.  What about X's job?  Y's mom who is sick?  Z's relationship?  What funny or sad or interesting things am I missing from my friends.  I feel LONELY but not because no one is paying attention to me, but because I don't get to pay attention to them.  (((frowny face))

The second lesson I've learned is lesson is FEAST DAY!!!  Lent represents the 40 days Jesus fasted in the wilderness (I believe).  If we include all the Sundays from Mardis Gras to Easter, it's actually 46 days.  So Sunday is a feast day in which we get to enjoy that which we've given up. WOOHOO!  I did hop onto FB as soon as I got home from Church last Sunday to feast on my friends' status updates.

The real lesson, however, comes from my realization that I always think that God(dess) is much more severe and strict that s/he really is.  Richard Rohr says that if we would call the police on a neighbor who treated his/her children as severely and with so much punishment as we think God does, we need to rethink our understanding of God and his/her relationship with his/her children.

A Feast day!  Of course!  Forgiveness and sacrifice and openness to learning on a journey. How wonderful is that?

I don't like to talk about my spirituality on my blog, even though it is very important to me.  The main reason is that many Christians in their effort to be "Christ like" can be discriminatory and sometimes even hateful. (Or as we say in the south, they can act ugly.)  And sometimes by focusing on the goal of getting to heaven, they forget about the really important work of creating peace and justice right now on this earth.

My God isn't like that.  And I am happy to have found a church that believes in and encourages diversity in all forms (open to all and closed to none); we have important and active LGBT members of our church and it  was honestly this that made clear this was the church for us.

Our church also fully expects that there will be conflict between members as we all figure out our different beliefs in God and Christianity.  The local newspaper calls our church "liberal," which I think is simplistic.  We are definitely not conservative; there were lots of Obama stickers around our church on any Sunday in the last 5 years. But there are plenty of Republicans, libertarians, and even Tea Party folks sitting in the pews and working at the Room In the Inn with the Democrats in our church.  And even though the woman who started Planned Parenthood in our city is a founding member, there are plenty of other choices among members, also.

I like our church a lot. I would like to talk about it more, without always having to add the caveat that we are different than other churches and it is actually kind of a cool place to hang out and grow and do right in this world.  So there.  Caveat added.  I will link back to this post again should I ever need/want to discuss my spirituality.

Until then, THREE DAYS TO FEAST DAY, BABY!!!!  I will also have a glass of wine.  ;-)

Monday, February 18, 2013

Homemade Yogurt

Since I have become an evangelist for homemade yogurt in the real world, I've decided to create a blog post for my online world about how easy it is to make yogurt.  We've been making our own yogurt for about 8 months now. We've had mostly successes and a few failures and have learned a few tricks along the way to make it easy for this full time working mother of 3 to make homemade yogurt several times a week.

So the basic procedure:
1)  Bring 1/2 gallon of milk nearly to a boil
2)  Let it cool off
3)  Add a "starter" of previously made yogurt
4)  Let it sit for about 12 hours until you have yogurt

Honestly, it is that easy: (nearly) boil, cool, starter.  People have been making yogurt for nearly 4,000 years.  Seriously. During that time, people have made a lot of mistakes.  (Well, at least I have in my last 8 months) And yet there has never been the great Yogurt Death of 2400 BC. Or 800 AD.  Or 2012. Millions have people have made yogurt, and you can, too!  Plus, call me ethnocentric: you are on the computer, you drive a computer and probably have a smart phone.  Plus, you easily understand what zero is, which at one point was revolutionary among the greatest mathematical minds. You are smarter than the people from 4000 years ago and YOU CAN MAKE YOGURT.

So here is some additional information until this process turns into "(nearly) boil, cool, starter."

1)  We heat our milk in the microwave in a glass bowl covered with a glass plate because the clean up is a boatload easier than doing it on the stove.  Cleaning a pot of milk heated on the stove sucks.  There is no clean up of heating milk in a glass bowl.

Milk in glass Bowl
2)  You want to bring the milk to over 180 degrees to kill any bad stuff and make something good/funky happen to the milk proteins.  (See the history of yogurt)  This really means, get to boiling but not quite.  However, if you step away and/or forget what you are doing and the milk comes to a rolling boil, that is still ok.  You can still make yogurt and you should. It just won't be as smooth.

3)  We microwave our yogurt on high between 12 and 13 minutes depending on which glass bowl we are using.  You can use an instant read thermometer to check the temp to get over 180.

4)  We let the milk cool uncovered for between 50 minutes and a hour to get back down to 110 degrees.  This is cool enough to stick your finger in the milk for 10 seconds so it doesn't hurt but it still feels hot.  I got that trick from Make the Bread, Buy the Butter.

5)  Add between 1/4 and 1/2 cup yogurt with active cultures.  This can be from a previous batch or a batch you've bought from the store of plain yogurt.  The more starter you add, the quicker the current batch thickens up.  I just put in about 1 cup of starter because I want a big batch for tomorrow and there wouldn't be enough leftover for my breakfast yog AND to make the next batch.  So I just added it all.

Starter Yogurt in the other glass bowl we use
6)  Now it's time to let your yogurt, um, yogurt-ize.  In the summer, we just covered it and let it sit on the counter for 12 hours.  In the fall, we started wrapping it in a towel to let it stay warm more easily.  In the winter, after a couple of way-too-water-y yogurts, we started wrapping it in a towel and putting the bowl in the oven, which has been ever so briefly warmed at the lowest temperature we could go.  We turned the oven on the lowest temperature (170) until it preheated and then turned it off.  The whole point was to get it warmer than room temperature before we put the yogurt in.

Wrapping the yogurt in a towel
7)  You can let the yogurt sit longer than 12 hours.  I've seem some advice to let it sit for 18 hours if you want it to be thicker and I accidentally let it sit for 22 hours the other day and we didn't die after we ate it.  Remember:  4000 years of yogurt making.  Mistakes have been made and things still turned out ok.  I think there must be a wide margin of error on yogurt making for it to have survived this long.

8)  For me, I think it's ready when there is some liquid on the top of the yogurt (the whey) and the rest of the yogurt looks solid-ish.  If the yogurt and whey not separated, we let it sit a little longer.  If it's longer than usual, I think it means you're yogurting at a lower temperature or not enough starter, so hang loose and weight a bit more.

12 hours later....
9)  We pour off the whey, save it in the fridge and use it in our next batch of homemade bread.  When we first started making yogurt, it was still a bit more liquid-y than the store but we were ok with that. (Remember, there are stabilizers in store bought yogurt)  Now that I wrap it in the towel and put in the oven, it's pretty solid and has the same thickness as store bought yog.

We've poured off the whey
10)  To make Greek yogurt, drain your yogurt in some cheesecloth for a couple of hours.  You will get a TON of whey and yummy, creamy, tasty, CHEAP Greek yogurt.

11)  We use non-fat yogurt because I am trying to lose weight, but you can use whatever you'd like.

12)  Once, I let it cool too much and there was a skin of milk on the top.  I didn't take it off before I started the yogurtizing process and there were some gross, plastic-y bits in the yummy, creamy bits of the yogurt.  Now I take the skin off if there's a lot of it.

So that is it.  You have all the detailed information that I have gained out of our "(nearly) boil, cool, starter" cycle.  If you have any additional questions, leave them in the comments and I will update this post.  It still feels like magic every time I make yogurt.  If you can boil water, you can make yogurt.  And yet we pay TONS more than we need to by buying all this yogurt in the store!!  I did a little math last night and using 2 quarts/week of yogurt, saving $5/week (at least), we're saving well over $260/year.  Just saying.

I am the yogurt evangelist!  Get thee to the microwave and start your own (nearly) boil, cool, starter cycle now.

UPDATE:  A friend has found that leaving the oven light on keeps the oven temp at 110 degrees, the perfect yogurtizing temperature!!

Updated Update: We have changed  what we do.  Microwave 13 minutes. Cool for 60 to 75 minutes.  Add 1/4 to 1/2 starter.  Put  in oven with light on, no towel for  at  least 16 hours  (usually noon until 6 am next day, so I  can't  really do  math).  No draining and thick, greek yogurt.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

This and That: Part 72

Well, the name of the blog is "This, That, and the Mother Thing" so I'm going to assume that occasionally, I get to write about This and That without having a particular theme.

The Kittens
(((sigh))) It is so nice to have kittens around the house again.  As Conor says, they are our favorite television show.  We will all stop what we are doing (eating, talking, eating) and watch them wrestle across the floor or attack any of the zillion squinkies that have shown up in our house.  Conor (who has lots of thoughts about the cats) says the cats think the squinkies are their mortal enemies.  They carry around the house, drop them in their water dishes, throw them up in the air and swat them, and generally run across the floor attacking them.  All those cat toys and it's squinkies the cats love.

As for the children's reactions, Conor loves the cats and the cats love him.  Christopher does not love the cats and the cats are not all that into him.  Bridget looooooooooooves the cats and the cats are scared to death of her. Indeed, Bridget loves the kittens much like Katie loves the Kittens (a youtube video that explains what I mean). Generally, at any point that Bridget is awake, we'll hear a kitten howl and Bridget will be hugging/holding/loving the cat nearly to death.  Explaining to Bridget that she is hurting the kittens does not seem to help Bridget's ability to control herself.  Time outs also do not work.  Hovering supervision is the only method that works right now and that's not really a practical option.

We also had a bit of a scare with George.  First, we figured out that his leg had been badly broken and poorly healed during his time with his first family.  At one point, the doc thought we might have to amputate it.  And perhaps we will in the future.  But for now, he is managing to run and play and not use it very much.  Yes, he rarely uses it to walk and never to run, and when he does the cat version of the downward facing dog yoga stretch , he basically just sticks his bad paw forward. :-(  But he is happy and we are happy to have him.

Our love for him became even more painfully obvious when we thought we had lost him last Friday.  He apparently took a deep nap somewhere and did not hear our entire family and another adult and child search for two hours for him.  We had already even put out the FB lost pet announcement and the missing posters around the neighborhood thinking he had escaped when I got the mail.  When he finally emerged from that big nap, our shouts of joy and hugs and kisses scared the crap out of him and he ran and hid again.  I was happy to see him; I had been really upset that our little, sweet, ball of gray fur was missing.  It is crazy how quickly these guys come to mean something to the family.

Speaking of Television
And I was, up there at the beginning of this post.  We gave up cable TV several months ago and honestly, have not missed it at all.  When I say "gave up cable TV," I mean we no longer have any channels through cable.  We can pick up a few channels through our antenna, but otherwise, goose egg.  We also gave up our land line.  Why?  How about $150 savings per month, give or take. We kept the highest speed internet access they have. And for $7.99 a month, we've got streaming Netflix so we can watch all the TV shows you've already watched a year or two after you've watched them.  But as working parents, we're not really watching a lot of TV anyway.  And a bonus is that I discovered my local YMCA has WiFi and I can watch Netflix (e.g., Downton Abbey) while I'm on the elliptical.  Which is fantastic, except during the poignant moments when I get teary or the funny parts where I laugh out loud. I should be embarrassed, yet. . . .

Speaking of TV shows, I could use some recommendations for series you particularly like.  Unfortunately, only season 1 of Downton Abbey is on US Netflix and I'm too cheap to get another service.  (Too cheap vs. too poor.  Feel free to make your own call on that one)  And I don't want to watch any series that is too "adult."  I am doing this at the Y, so I would actually be mortified if a naked person appeared on my screen in the midst of my exercising peers.  Even Downton Abbey is a little heavy at 7 am in the bright shining morning. Adult drama a weird way to start the day, but I'm willing to move beyond Shaun the Sheep. So now, while I appreciate my friend's suggestion for her new favorite TV Show, Breaking Bad, there is no way in h-e-double-hockey-stick that I'm watching that at the Y at 7 am.  Feel free to suggest some (other) TV series you really like.

Losing More Weight
Finally, I'm still in the process  of losing more weight.  I took some time off the diet/exercise trail over the holidays and it took a while to get back in the groove.  However, a couple of life lessons here.  I cannot weigh what I want to weigh without exercising and paying close attention to what I eat...FOREVER. (Calorie needs plummet when you get older.  YOWSA!)  I really like to eat.  And those of you who can restrict what you eat to be skinny amaze me.  I am not that person.  And when I say exercise, what I really mean is running or elliptical or swimming or yoga for an hour or more.  I know all the research that says that you only need to exercise 20 minutes or so, but that is not me. Plus, the 20 minutes or so is what you need for heart health.  For weight loss, it needs to be much, much longer.

Also, I finally have confirmation about my suspicions about calories and running.  It's not how fast you run, it's how long you run in terms of miles.  As long as you are not walking (i.e, your pace is under 14 minutes/mile), it doesn't matter if you run 5 miles at a 8 minute pace or 5 miles at a 12 minute pace, you burn the same amount of calories, in my case, 500 calories.  While I'd love if my pace got back down to what it was 10 years ago (and I could add another mile into my hour long run; 100 more calories a day to eat!), I'm happy to be out there running again and getting back into shape.  Also, running on the treadmill has little to do with road running, so get your booty outside and do some miles.

I still have about 10 to 15 more ellbees to go.  I was planning to be there by April 1.  I don't think that's going to happen, but I am still ok with that.  It's finally coming off and I am not suffering too much to make it happen.

So those are the three blog posts that have been rolling around my head this month. I actually hate reading long blog posts, so read one section a day for three days and the writing will be much more Interesting!! and Brilliant!!!  Or not.  :-)