Monthly Archives: January 2013

Making Greek Yogurt at Home- It’s Magic!

I like the idea of useful critters. Chickens come immediately to mind. They turn the scrappy bits from the kitchen into delicious eggs, they do entertaining things around the yard, then they themselves are edible! Such a fantastic pet. Lately, however, we’ve been cultivating much tinier organisms to make good things happen here on the farm. Specifically the beneficial varieties of bacteria that turn plain old milk into creamy, delightful yogurt. As a family we were feeling overwhelmed by the cost and waste associated with buying tons of yogurt in plastic containers and decided to try our hand at home made yogurt. We like Greek yogurt best, and were also disappointed that some of the yummiest varieties were made by adding thickeners and protein rather than the traditional method of just straining off the liquid whey portion of the yogurt. Turns out the real process is easy, forgiving, and intensely satisfying. Really and truly like magic. Bacterial magic!

Here’s how you do it:

1. Buy a plain yogurt you enjoy to use as a starter. Or the plain yogurt cousin of the flavored yogurt you like best. After your first round you can use your own yogurt as starter, just pay some attention to not contaminating your yogurt too much along the way (e.g. don’t taste and reuse the spoon to taste again, cover the milk/yogurt when practical, etc.). Also make sure you have milk (some percentage of fat is better than none), a thermometer, something in which to keep your incubating yogurt warm, and a strainer if you like Greek yogurt.

2. Heat milk to 180 degrees. I use about a half gallon of 1% milk in a large Pyrex measuring bowl that I pop in my microwave. It takes exactly 23 minutes in my micro and there is no chance I will scald the milk or have it boil over. This step denatures the proteins in the milk and makes the yogurt magic possible.

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3. Let your milk cool to 120 degrees or a little less. With the usual temperature in my house this takes about 50 minutes to an hour, so I set a timer and leave it out on the counter.

4. Wisk in a dollop of yogurt so it is completely incorporated. I find this step drops the temp of my milk a bit, often down to the perfect 113 degrees that yogurt bacteria like best. Apparently more starter is not better, btw, so don’t go overboard. We use around a tablespoon.

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5. Your milk/yogurt will now need a cozy spot in which to spend the next 5 to 8 hours. I have a warming zone on my stovetop that works nicely. I put the heat as low as it will go and place the Pyrex bowl on a metal cooling rack so it is not directly on the warm stovetop. Then I wrap the whole thing in a couple of hand towels for insulation. I have also heard of heating an oven and then turning it off and letting it coast, or using a warm water bath inside a cooler.

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After about 5 hours under my conditions I find that the yogurt has usually set and is very mild in flavor. If making vanilla yogurt for O this works well because it takes just a little sugar to sweeten it. The longer incubation times make for more sourness and taste better to B and me, so we usually wait at least 6 hours but sometimes go as long as 8. If you want regular yogurt, voila! Bacterial miracle! You’re done!

6. For Greek yogurt just strain the yogurt you’ve made to remove the desired amount of whey and leave a thicker, more concentrated product. You can use a regular strainer lined with cheesecloth or a coffee filter, but with the volume of yogurt we make I decided to splurge for an ultra fine strainer (a.k.a. chinoise or bouillon strainer) to make clean up easier and less wasteful. Scoop the first few spoon fulls into the bottom of the strainer so you don’t lose any solids when you pour in the bulk of the yogurt. Apparently some folks reserve the whey and use it, but we just let it drain off. I set the strainer back into the Pyrex bowl and let the whole thing sit for about an hour and 15 minutes to reach the thickness we like.

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7. Once the straining is done I dump the yogurt back into the Pyrex and wisk it smooth. If I’m making vanilla I add sugar, vanilla extract and vanilla bean paste to taste- the needed amounts vary some from batch to batch. Finally I pour individual servings into Mason jars and feel terribly satisfied as I line up the jars in the fridge. The paste adds little bean flecks to the vanilla yogurt, making it easy to tell the jars of plain from the vanilla even without labels.

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And yes, having a handsome man in plaid do all the actual work in the process makes the yogurt taste better. Thank you, B.

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The process takes the better part of a day, but is almost entirely unattended. Don’t panic if things don’t go exactly as planned. We have messed up the timing, let things cool too much and reheated, etc. and have yet to lose a batch. We estimate it costs about half of what we would pay for store bought and ours has the strong advantage of being organic.

Fancy Shmancy, Kick Butt With A Mustang!

This last weekend Sebastian went to his first Dressage show at Yarra Yarra Ranch in Pleasanton. After less than two months of Dressage training, I had what I thought were realistic expectations for a horse whose breeding selected for the ability to stay sleek and fit on five mouthfuls of grass a day and the domination all the other scrappy stallions on the range. My goals are for Sebastian to learn to move to the best of his ability and to gain experience going places and not being a silly beast. A horse that carries himself well will stay sound in the long run, and a horse that goes places without fuss is just a delight to have. So the feedback from a judge and the competition are interesting elements, but not the things I really expected to define the day as a success.

The training has been a major indulgence. It is only justified by the fact that Sebastian needs to stay in work to stay healthy and I am too pregnant to tie my own shoes, much less ride a horse. I have him out in Brentwood with Sue Corrie and she has been doing an amazing job with him. What a difference a handful of weeks can make! In preparation for being worked and shown through the cold months he even got a real show hair do- a full body clip. Not a single heart or star shaved in! We were super serious.

My camera battery conveniently died halfway through the show, but here are Sue and Sebastian in the warm up arena:

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Bastian, getting his Dressage face on.

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Stillwater’s Bastian, aka Lucky # 244.

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Tiniest horse in the warm up ring.

Sebastian took the change in scenery quite well, only occasionally worrying. Someone *crazy* had installed some terrifying brick pavers in the aisle the horses cross to enter the show arena, which required a lot of loud nose breathing and very wide eyeballs to cross. Fortunately they were not as deadly as they first appeared.

His first test (Training Level, Test 1) he got a little distracted and initially bungled picking up his left lead canter, but I felt it was a great first ever go in a Dressage class. Apparently the judge agreed- he scored a 68.958 and won his class! I was stunned. This was not at all what I was expecting from a real live Dressage show. Little range ponies can win?? Very disorienting. Also awesome.

Now it is true that I am awash in all sorts of prenatal hormones and therefore a bit prone to waves of emotional intensity, so I am not embarrassed to say that the second class (Training Level, Test 2) actually made me tear up. Sue rode him very well and it was just lovely. He didn’t have big extravagant warmblood movement or rhinestones glinting in his browband, but in my eyes he looked like he pretty much did belong there in that fancy arena. I felt so satisfied as we waited the hour it took for the class to finish (it was a big class). Then I was blown away again- he scored a 71.429 and won the second class! It was surreal.

Sue and Sebastian, victorious!

Sue and Sebastian, victorious!

Here’s to hoping this pending baby will wait until after February 10th to arrive so I can watch the next show. Until then, we will bask in the glory!

The Slow Food Movement. In My Paddock.

It isn’t always easy to have keep horses very naturally without large acreage. About 1000 acres of hills, sparsely vegetated with all native grasses would do nicely! Sadly those types of properties don’t generally fall within the boundaries of anywhere we could reasonably live. So, we do what we can for our ponies on this 1/2 acre of Oakland dirt. One of the most important pieces of this effort is using slow feeders.

I got on this kick when I learned about how common ulcers are in horses. About 60% of horses have ulcers. One way to help prevent them is to allow constant access to forage. A horse’s gut continually produces stomach acid, so breaking feedings into the usual 2 or 3 meals a day means longs stretches of time where that stomach acid has nothing to do but eat into the lining of the stomach and make ulcers. Lots of other things I do with my horses (trailer places, compete, ride long distances, separate them from their herd mate, etc.) increase their stress level and make ulcers especially likely. Slow feeding is the least I can do!

We started the journey with the gateway slow feeder: small mesh hay nets.

Sebastian, Professional Eater, working the small mesh hay net.

Sebastian, Professional Eater, working the small mesh hay net at a NATRC ride.

They’re inexpensive and definitely work, but stuffing them daily is a pain.

After years of trial and error and many iterations of larger capacity feeders, I think we have finally made my dream slow feeder. It may not look like much, but to she who has stuffed a zillion nets and cursed many a lacking feeder design it is a thing of great beauty.

Slow feeder 4.0. Really the best!

Slow feeder 6.0. Really the best! At three nets thick even the pro lost weight.

It is made from a galvanized steel trough (roughly 6′ x 3′), a trucker’s ratcheting tie down with “endless loop” webbing, and hockey goal nets. You can fit 3 90# bales into it at one go and double or even triple (for super professional eaters like Sebastian, and even he needed supplemental hay at this level of difficulty) the nets depending on how much you need to restrict your horses’ intake. I only have to feed hay about twice a month and there is very little waste. Our hockey nets have been going strong for 2 years of hard use without need for repair. The horses also seem to like the project. They will often chose to nibble through the nets even when loose hay is around. Always having something tasty to munch has also cut down our horse related property damage to almost nothing. No more 900 pound beavers to contend with.

A few warnings before you dive in to the slow food world for ponies: these small mesh type feeders are not safe for shod horses without extra precautions taken, and my equine dentist has found that feeders with metal grates cause unusual wear on the horses’ teeth.

Happy feeding, happy ponies!

Snippets of 2012

O with footie pajamas, Sebastian with starry buns. Communing in the fog.

O (footie pajamas) and Sebastian (starry buns) communed in the fog.

 

 

O keeps B hustling along on the trails.

O kept B hustling along on the trails.

 

Bonny: swamp beast.

Bonny, swamp beast.

 

O: dirt angel.

O, dirt angel.

 

I expanded my gardening empire to my parent's house.

I expanded my gardening empire to my parent’s house…

 

...and one of the medians on the walk between our house and the parks. All summer dormant bulbs and reseeding annuals. We shall see if they return.

…and one of the medians on the walk between our house and the parks. All summer dormant bulbs and reseeding annuals. We shall see if they return this Spring.

 

Idaho got built!

Idaho got built!

 

The garden soldiered on, undaunted by lack of attention.

The garden soldiered on, mostly undaunted by lack of attention.

 

There was even a modest surplus for canning.

There was even a modest surplus for canning.

 

We enjoyed the kindness of friends. Especially the ones with strong backs.

We enjoyed the kindness of friends. Especially the ones with strong backs who swear they enjoy stacking hay.

 

O grew up. I grew out!

O grew up. I grew out!