to home, with love

Happy Valentine’s Day.  While my thoughts on the holiday are a little convoluted and conflicted, I hope y’all are feeling the love today (and everyday), whether through a relationship, friendship – or place.

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This weekend’s unseasonably warm weather, a community race through the local mental hospital turned public park, and an evening spent outside with friends was reminiscent of the atmosphere in which I was first prompted to write about how much I’d come to desire to take ownership of this place in which I was planted.

Though Raleigh, and my place in it, have changed a bit in the last year and a half since I wrote this piece, this sentiment remains. Originally titled “Home Ownership”, I was trying to capture the feeling of pride and belonging in place one has come to love:

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january in photos

Happy February! My January, as told in purchases, looked something like this:

(Not Pictured: 2 produce boxes, 2 gas fill ups, 2 half gallons of milk & 1 taco dinner @ Virgil’s)

I went back and forth about posting all these pictures – something about it seemed to enter into a level of intimacy not to be shared with strangers on the internet – but decided they tell the story about as well as (or better than) I could with words, so here they are.

Upon inspection, it becomes clear that almost everything I purchased was related to food or transportation, with a few miscellaneous things tossed in. This would also explain why, though I’m not writing a food blog by any means, matters of food seem to sneak into my posts more often than other topics – though I have so many other things I’d like to write about at some point.

This first month wasn’t especially difficult – though I am quick to acknowledge I’m only responsible for myself and not another person or family, and have the flexibility offered by a student schedule, albeit busy. The primary challenge was combating the urge to frequent the grocery store, or remembering to check and see if an item I need is sold in bulk in the area. Having jars on hand for stops for bulk items is another habit change to make.

Things to Celebrate

  • Food Sourcing: Overall, I generally stuck to my goal of buying farmers market, local, or bulk foods with a couple exceptions. By not frequenting the grocery store, I didn’t find myself making extra purchases of sale items on the basis of “I’ll use that up, eventually”; it’s true – I would – but it’s also an action that speaks to a lack of mindfulness in consumption. Frugal, perhaps, but not mindful. It’s also increased my awareness of what really is in season produce wise, and eating more seasonally-focused meals. Shout-out to sweet potatoes for being in season year round here in the top sweet potato producing state, North Carolina.
  • Trying New Things: Before this month, I had never made my own yogurt or pasta from scratch (I’ve made käsespätzle – what might be described as “fancy german mac & cheese” but that’s a different excerise. On a sidenote, y’all may get a kick out of this video of a woman preparing the dish with a finesse unlike anything I’ve ever seen). Sometimes all it takes is a little nudge to do something different, and this challenge has certainly provided that. I may find that some DIY things are simply impractical, but others are totally doable & I’m looking forward to making them part of a routine.
  • Target: I’ll be honest, I enjoy Target. Not that I frequently buy things on a whim there, but trips to Target for staples like TP or soap often involve perusing of the clearance racks. My only trip to Target this month was actually to make a return on a pair of shoes I bought for a wedding in December but didn’t end up wearing. Target, looks like our relationship from here on out may be a bit strained.

Things to Work On

  • Bike More: This may seem like a ridiculous suggestion for February, but NC weather is totally unpredictable, and it’s far from unheard of to have freezing temperatures and temperatures in the 60s or 70s in the same week. This being said, it’s hard to develop a routine of biking, but it is easy to get stuck in the routine of driving. So here’s to seizing the inevitable not-so-chilly days.
  • Meal Planning: As it turns out, I’ve stocked up on a lot of freezer and dry foods over time, like beans and bread. This has been great for this month, since I could usually find something between those items and our produce box to pull together a decent meal or snack. Eventually, however, there won’t be a bag of pretzels hanging out in the pantry, so I’ll have to decide what things I want to continue to get from the grocery store, what things I want to make, & what to get from the farmers market – then plan accordingly.
  • Time Online: Though it’s not related to purchases, I suppose conscious consumerism could be broadened to incorporate the conscious consumption of information. It’s all to easy to get sucked in to all the news (real and fake), opinions, politics, and clever memes associated with the happenings of the day. I think it would be wise to limit time spent subjecting myself to this information to certain times of the day to prevent it from overflowing into work & leisure time.

What’s Next?

Moving forward, I’m think of other ways to quantify consumption outside of dollar values. I’m thinking things like miles driven or trips to the store. Or perhaps metrics that capture the absence of conventional consumption: books read, board games played, meals cooks, dinners shared, and so on. While numbers are so often considered objective, I’ve learned that the mere act of collecting certain data is an inherent value judgement. Perhaps if we placed more of an emphasis on tracking the things that we like or want to see, we could change our mentalities and the lens through which we see the world a bit.

It’s quite the open-ended question, and if you have any ideas I’m all ears.

Here’s to a happy & productive February! It’ll be all eyes on our friend Punxsutawney Phil tomorrow.

 

 

homemade greek yogurt

If I’m being honest, yogurt has historically weirded me out a bit. Among other things, this is likely attributed to a wariness of dairy prompted by a babysitting experience in middle school during which I unknowingly opened a sippy cup of curdled milk sitting out. However, I stand by the rule that you “can’t knock it til you try it, and try it again” when it comes to new foods and have come to enjoy plain greek yogurt mixed with a little fruit. The great thing about plain yogurt is you can add whatever you want to it and not have to accept the loads of sugar packed into pre-flavored varieties. If you truly consider yourself a purist, you can take this a step further and just straight up make yogurt from scratch. Not only can you control the sugar content, but you also have the final say in the source of milk.

For those who are specifically in to greek yogurt, you make your own by simply straining regular, off-the-shelf plain yogurt. However, if you’re feeling adventurous and have some time on your hands, you can make your own yogurt with little more than a jug of milk as outlined here.

I’ve done this twice now – once with whole milk and once with lowfat. As might be expected, the whole milk makes a creamier, richer yogurt, but both kinds work perfectly fine for the process. Shoutout to my roommate, Hannah, for being totally cool with me setting a slow cooker wrapped in a towel out on our counter overnight & later occupying a fair amount of counter space with bowls of straining yogurt. She’s the real MVP.

The yield is dependent on how thick you like your yogurt. Greek yogurt is thicker than regular yogurt because it has more whey liquid strained out of it. This “more concentrated” yogurt explains the higher protein content of greek vs. regular yogurt. The thicker the yogurt is made, the less it will yield, but conservatively estimate half of the milk volume initially put in (ie. 1 gallon yields 8 cups yogurt). If you’d like to make more or less yogurt, the recipe is easily scaleable – just adjust the milk & yogurt starter proportions accordingly.

Homemade Greek Yogurt
Makes 8-10 cups

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Ingredients & Materials

  • Slow cooker
  • 1 gallon dairy milk
  • 1 cup plain yogurt with cultures
  • Food-grade thermometer (instant read, meat, candy, etc)
  • Large towel
  • Colander + large bowl + straining material

Directions

  1. Pour milk into the slow cooker, cover, & heat on high until the milk reaches 180°F. This could take anywhere from 2-4 hrs depending on your pot & quantity of milk. (It took 2 when I used a half-gallon, but closer to 3.5 with a full gallon the second time around). This temperature is apparently the threshold required for the milk to properly thicken.
  2.  Turn the slow cooker off and wait for the milk to cool to 110°F. Again, this could take another 2-4 hours.
  3. Once the milk has cooled, remove approximately 1 cup and combine with the plain yogurt. Stir carefully (not vigorously) until thoroughly mixed. Add back to the slow cooker and once again stir carefully (strokes instead of circles) until well combined.
  4. Replace cover & wrap the slow cooker in a towel and let stand for 10-12 hours. This is when the magic happens. You could go to bed with a swaddled slow cooker of warm milk sitting on your counter and wake up to a swaddled slow cooker of yogurt – how about that?
  5. Strain the yogurt by placing a colander over a bowl and lining with straining material. I’ve used both coffee filters & paper towels, though I think a nut bag or fine mesh strainer would probably be ideal. Fill with the thin yogurt mixture and let stand until it reaches near your desired consistency. I found that, once refrigerated, the yogurt thickens a bit more, so don’t worry if it’s not quite as thick as you’d like it when standing. Again, this is another 2-4 hour process depending on your consistency preference.
  6. Scoop out & store your yogurt. I imagine it would keep for a few weeks in the fridge, though mine absolutely will not last that long seeing that I’ll eat it first. Be sure to save some to use for the cultures in your next batch of yogurt, kind of like Amish friendship bread I suppose. I’ve set some aside in a separate container so I don’t forget and eat it all…

So yes, it takes a little while, but requires little effort. If you start around 4 pm, you should have fresh, homemade yogurt by lunchtime the following day.

Notes

Slow Cooker: A fantastic, common thrift store find. I have a 6 qt. Crock-Pot that I got from the repackaged clearance endcap at Target a while back, but have seen them frequently at secondhand shops. If you find one with a tacky, outdated pattern on the outside, consider repainting with chalkboard paint – it’s great for potlucks!

Straining Material: There are a lot of options here. Since part of my goal for the year is to not buy anything new, I’ve been testing out materials I have around my apartment. Coffee filters were sturdier than the paper towels – I was afraid I would tear the paper towel when scooping out the yogurt once it was finished. Ideally, I think a nut bag or other fine mesh strainer would work nicely.

Whey: The question remains: “what should I do with the strained whey from the yogurt?”. To be honest, I haven’t done much but let it sit in my fridge looking like a jar of lemonade, but apparently there are a number of uses. If you’re into smoothies, you can add it there, or use it (to some extent) in soups & baking. Here are 18 ways to use whey that may come in handy.

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the kitchen

Humor me as I indulge in a tangent here.

This post is adapted from a piece I originally wrote in July 2015, and I’ve been reminded of it as a result of the strange coexistence of both unity and divisiveness that seems to have intensified over the last week or so. The kitchen is often a hub of activity, but also a polarizing subject, especially in conversations of equality. Perhaps it is also place in which we can gather & learn more about each other.

There’s no well-defined purpose of sharing this here. But I will say that reflecting on the role of the kitchen in my life generates warm, positive feelings – and I think I could use a little bit of that right now.

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