Homemade Crockpot Yogurt Recipe

We make homemade yogurt at least once a week, if not more often. It’s delicious and super, super good for you! Plus, we can do a lot with yogurt. We use it to soak grains overnight to make the grains more digestible. We use it to make delicious smoothies too! This makes about two quarts so I usually keep one quart plain to use in recipes or for smoothies. The other quart, I flavor with a bit of homemade jam and eat it throughout the week. Here’s the recipe:

Take a 1/2 gallon of milk and pour into crockpot. Turn crockpot to low. Heat on low for 2  hours and 45 minutes (if using raw milk). If using pasteurized milk heat on low for 2 hours and 30 minutes. Once the time has passed, turn off crockpot. Let milk cool (undisturbed) in crockpot with lid on for 3 hours. After 3 hours, remove 1 1/2 cups of warmed milk and mix with 1/2 cup of whole-milk, plain yogurt with live cultures (I used Stoneyfield’s whole milk plain yogurt) and mix very well. Pour the yogurt/milk mixture back into the milk and whisk well. Place lid back on the crockpot and wrap the entire crockpot (lid on) in a thick bath towel (use two bath towels if the kitchen is cool- like in the winter time). Let it culture overnight or 8 to 12 hours. Once it has cultured, stir if desired. Pour in containers of your choice (I use glass quart jars). For ideal texture refrigerate for at least 6-8 hours before using.

To sweeten, you can add jam or honey. Enjoy!

Switching to Raw Milk

I went to the farm today to buy our milk. We’ve been using raw milk for about two months now. Why? Well, the decision was not an easy one. I was reading through several books on eating real (unprocessed, natural) food and they all recommended drinking raw milk from grass-fed cows. I could list the numerous the benefits of raw milk and rant about the problems with pasteurization, but what fun is that? You should look it up yourself (if you want more reasons than the ones listed below)!

I admit I was pretty skeptical of drinking raw milk- I would even label myself as paranoid about it. It took me about two to three months after researching it, to make the switch to drinking raw milk. I read all the perks about drinking raw, but I felt so awkward going to a farm to buy our milk. Plus, in my mind, raw milk seemed dirty and unclean. I had never had milk straight from a cow and that was scary to me. I guess I always thought of the pasteurization process as protecting me from harmful substances in milk (which to some extent it does, but it also removes a significant portion of the beneficial things in milk), not as a process to extend the shelf life of milk so that it is more easily transported and can sit in a supermarket’s back room for an extended amount of time (please note: this is a brief summary of the reasons for pasteurization, for a more detailed analysis, please research for yourself). Don’t get me wrong, back in the day when there was not widespread knowledge of safe farming practices, pasteurization may have been a good thing (although, I’m not sure why we decided to push pasteurization at that point and not safe farming practices, but anyways…). But, today most small farms go above and beyond practicing safe milking procedures, and if they are offering raw milk to the public, they go to great lengths to ensure the health and happiness of their cows. Subsequently, the milk they provide to the public is quite safe and sanitary.

After researching it, I realized that raw milk (if I got it from a farm that is practicing sanitary farming procedures) is actually safer for you to drink. So, in sum, here are some of the reasons we decided to switch. First (and, in my mind, most important), it tastes better. It’s fresh and I see the cows where my milk is coming from (at least where I buy my milk from)- they are usually grazing away in a field when I pull into the farm to get my milk. I enjoy going to the farm to get milk and usually greet the cows and tell my daughter all about them while we are pulling into the farm store. I’m sure she will love seeing them too when she is old enough. I also know that there is nothing added to my milk to extend its shelf life, and I know I don’t have to worry about growth hormones. We realized from our reading, that pasteurization kills a significant portion of the good things in milk, like vitamin C (among many other vitamins), minerals and enzymes (that help your body digest and allow your body to incorporate significantly more of the healthy things milk provides, like calcium). Finally, I realized that I could do so much more with raw milk than I could do with pasteurized milk. This was a huge revelation to me! When pasteurized milk gets old, it turns rancid- putrid- you can not and should not drink it. When raw milk ages, it turns into to other things- like yogurt or cheese. Here are some of the things that I have made with our raw milk: Butter, buttermilk, yogurt, whey and cream cheese. We are trying to become more self-sufficient and the fewer trips I have to make to the grocery store, the happier I am, so this last benefit of raw milk was significant.

We do pay a bit more for our milk than most, it is $5.00 a gallon, but in our minds, it is well worth the extra cost. Plus, now we get to go see what I call, “our happy cows.” Hopefully in the next few weeks, I’ll be venturing into the world of cheesemaking (we eat a lot of cheese so if we make it ourselves, that would be wonderful!). I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes. Feel free to send any suggestions or recipes you may have for cheesemaking!

To find out if there are any farms in your area where you can buy raw milk, click here.

Homemade Dishwashing Detergent Update

Well, I finally mixed up some of the homemade dishwashing detergent (for recipe see earlier post) and tried it and was pleasantly surprised by how well it worked. The only difference I noticed was that my dishes did not come out of the dishwasher sparkling clean. They were clean, but not shiny like they are when I use commercial dishwashing detergent. It was comforting to realize that when I wash my dishes by hand, they definitely do not sparkle the same way they do as when I put them in the dishwasher and use commercial detergent. When I look at it that way, the lack of sparkle doesn’t bother me so much. The dishes weren’t cloudy or streaky or anything weird like that when I took them out of the dishwasher- they were just plain clean and I’m content with that for now.

Cleaning Safely

We recently decided to switch to using only homemade, natural cleaning products in our house. Our biggest motivation for this switch was our daughter’s safety. Even though we could lock our home cleaning products in a cabinet she would not be able to reach (theoretically), we just did not want to take the risk she could one day get into a product that is loaded with potentially harmful chemicals. So, rather than stress about “child-proofing” our cleaning supplies and making sure they were out of her reach when we were cleaning, we are eliminating that worry by using natural, non-toxic cleaning products, which I’m hoping to make myself. Additionally, we added up the cost of all the cleaning products we use and it was significantly more than what we’d pay to buy the ingredients to make our own products.

When we first started thinking about switching to natural/homemade cleaning solutions, I (Grace) looked at the products that we have in the house for cleaning purposes, I started to wonder, “Do we really need all of these?”. Here is a list of the things we’ve always kept around for cleaning and their estimated prices: Dishwashing soap ($2), dishwasher detergent ($7), all-in-one general purpose kitchen/bathroom spray ($3), toilet bowel cleaner ($3), glass cleaner ($3), mopping/floor solution ($4), dust spray ($2) and tile/tub foam ($4). Added up, that’s $28. I’m not really sure why I even bothered to buy some of these. I think it’s because when I walked down the aisle at the store, I just assumed I needed one of each type of cleaner. It never really occurred to me that I could make something myself at home with basic ingredients. (I guess this is a prime example of how effective advertising/marketing can be…).

I did some research and found several recipes for home cleaning solutions. They all had some of the same basic ingredients: White vinegar ($2 for 32 oz), washing soda ($3), tea tree oil ($3), lavender oil ($3), and castile soap ($6). The grand total of these basic ingredients was $17 and I’m guessing they will last a lot longer than the items I’d been using previously. I can use these for numerous different types of cleaning solutions, if I need to do so. Plus, I know that if Ryan, Myla or myself accidentally ingest any of them, the ingredients/solutions made from them are non-toxic.

Additionally, my natural ingredients take up less space in my cabinets as well (I don’t have a lot of cabinet space in our house, so every square inch that is saved helps!).

Below are the first two home cleaning solution recipes that I’ll be trying this week (to see if they are effective…). Do you have any homemade/natural cleaning recipes or tips? Please share!

Finally, while I was perusing for cleaning solution recipes I came across a blog in the Chicago Tribune called, “The ‘dangers’ of home cleaning products”. If you’ve got a few extra minutes, it’s an interesting read. Click here to read it.

All Purpose Cleaner/Disinfectant

  • 2 cups of hot water
  • 1/4 cup white vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon of washing soda
  • 15 drops of tea tree essential oil
  • 15 drops of lavender essential oil

Combine all ingredients in a reusable spray bottle and shake well. To use, spray on surfaces, especially cutting boards, countertops, and toilets. Wipe with a dry cloth.

(recipe courtesy of Natural Home @ http://www.naturalhomemagazine.com/Green-Cleaners/Eight-Natural-Homemade-Cleaners.aspx?page=3)

Dishwasher Soap

  • 1/2 cup liquid Castile soap
  • 1/2 cup of water
  • 1 teaspoon of lemon juice (fresh is ideal)
  • 3 drops of tea tree extract
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar

Combine water and Castile soap. Stir. Add lemon juice, tea extract, and vinegar. Stir until evenly blended. Store in a squirt top bottle. Use 2 tablespoons per dishwashing load.

recipe courtesy of Natural Moms @ http://www.naturemoms.com/natural-dishwasher-soap-recipe.html

Gardening 001

Freshly turned soil

Two weeks later, the soil is finally turned!

Well, today I finished turning the soil in the small part of our backyard where we are going to put a garden. It has taken me two weeks during my daughter’s naps and whenever I can find a spare second to flip over the soil using nothing but a shovel.

Although my parents had a garden for years when I was growing up, I never paid too much attention to it. The chore I hated most was pulling weeds from our garden. Not only was it a pain to pull the weeds, but I would also always see the most dreadful looking bugs while weeding. I would get so grossed out by the bugs that it makes me quiver even now just thinking about them. Yuck!

There are three things that I remember about our family garden. First, how hard my mom worked in it every day. She would be out on the hottest days of the humid Virginia summers, sweat pouring from her face, weeding and watering her garden. She would try to get my sisters and I excited about the food growing from the ground (dad and she certainly got excited about it), but we were never very impressed. Second, I remember being resentful that my family had a garden. There was only one other couple who had a garden in our entire neighborhood and they were retired. In the mind of a ten year old, a garden was definitely not a cool thing to have in your backyard. I never understood why we couldn’t just skip having a garden. I didn’t like vegetables anyways. Finally, I remember how hot the house always got when my mom was canning all the vegetables that she had grown. These are my most vivid garden memories, and they aren’t too helpful twenty years later when I am working up the courage to have my own garden.

It took twenty years (give or take a few) for me to see the value of my mom and dad’s hard work in their garden. So, my apologies Mom and Dad. My hat is off to you and I wish you lived in New York so you could give me some advice about when to plant things up here. I was originally going to put things in the ground a few weeks ago, but thanks to the advice of a very nice farmer at the farmer’s market, I’ve rescheduled most of my planting until after Memorial Day. It’s a very good thing I listened to her advice too because we’ve had snow since then!

I have to admit that I feel completely inadequate and unknowledgeable when it comes to gardening. We are the only family in our neighborhood with a garden (from what I can tell). I felt really foolish shoveling dirt in my backyard, particularly since I knew our neighbors could see what I was doing. I wonder if they think we are crazy? I wonder if they can tell that I have no idea what I am doing.

I’m not really counting on getting any food from our garden this time around. I know that is pessimistic of me, but, let me be brutally honest with you- I have NO idea what I am doing and I only know one other person in the entire state of New York who is also doing a garden right this season. I’m planning on asking a lot of questions at the farmer’s market this year.

I will say that I planted a few things in pots (so I can bring them in when it’s snowing in May in NY and then put them in the ground when there is no chance of snow left) and I was so excited to see little plants popping up. I made Ryan go and see them, but he did not seem that impressed. Here’s a list of what I’m hoping to grow: Green beans, squash, zucchini, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, lettuce/spinach, cabbage, and corn. I’d really like to grow potatoes and/or carrots, but I’m scared to grow them (probably because I can’t see what’s going on since they are underground how do you know they’re done, you know?). I’ve already planted a raspberry bush and a blackberry bush in the backyard, but they just look like sticks in the ground. I’m not very optimistic about them at all.

I guess my hope is that we’ll be able to have some fresh veggies for dinner this summer. I would be THRILLED if I could grow enough to store some for winter. It would be awesome, if my berries decided to grow because I’d really like to make some jam to go with my homemade yogurt. I’m pretty sure my garden will need some serious prayer this season. I’m so thankful that I know the creator of all of these plants so He can give me some divine insight into what I’m doing. For the record, I’m planning on buying a book about gardening and reading it over the summer/fall so I’ll be prepared for next summer’s garden. I’ve just been too busy digging up our backyard with my shovel to find a good book on gardening and read it. Until next time…

High Fructose Corn Syrup

This weekend I spent 15 minutes in our grocery store’s bread aisle looking for buns that did not have high fructose corn syrup in them. I steadily made my way down the aisle, looking at each and every brand’s ingredient with no success- this was after I had already checked the bakery section. Finally, 15 minutes later, at the very end of the aisle there was a small island that carried the only buns in the entire store that did not have high fructose corn syrup.

We initially started our quest to eating healthier foods by making two decisions. First, we wanted to completely eliminate high fructose corn syrup from our diet. Second, we decided to reduce the amount of processed foods we eat and try to eat real, genuine, authentic food that we made from the most basic ingredients (milk, eggs, vegetables, fruit, and meat) that we sourced (raw milk from a farm, farmers markets, etc.) or grew ourselves. Besides our desire to eat healthier in general,  we had an additional theory that we wanted to test. Here is our thought: If we removed all snack foods in the house and replaced them with healthy options, such as vegetables, then I (Grace) would have no other alternative, but to eat vegetables, and, maybe, start to like them. Basically, we were going to try to remove, even the possibility of eating junk food. If we didn’t have it in the house, then we wouldn’t have any decisions to make about whether or not to have junk food. We would have no other option, but to eat healthy food.

We began to look at the ingredients in the foods that we had in our cabinets and were appalled to find out that just about all of them had high fructose corn syrup. The biggest surprise was that my beloved carbs (bread, etc.) were chocked full of high fructose corn syrup. Our freezer was loaded with rolls and bagels. Since I (Grace) was breastfeeding, I was ravenous most of the time and carbs were easy and quick to prepare. Plus, they made me feel full. When I realized that I’d have to reduce the amount of bread I ate, make my own or buy it from a bakery that doesn’t use high fructose corn syrup (which meant spending more $$), I nearly abandoned our resolution. The gravity of just how much of our typical diet would have to change in order to comply with our two decisions was starting to sink in.

I slowly began reducing the amount of bread I ate and our freezer reserves dwindled. There were days when my body CRAVED bread- it was like my body was going through withdrawal. How can my body be addicted to bread? Was it just my imagination? I would run out of my coveted sandwich rolls (with high fructose corn syrup) and come up with reasons to go to the store and buy more of them. I felt so guilty when I came home. My husband would ask if I bought more rolls and I couldn’t believe I always succumbed! It took nearly a month for me to completely give up my addiction to this certain type of sandwich rolls! What eventually ended up happening was I decided to buy bread from a local bakery to get me over this hurdle. I bought super yummy bread that didn’t have high fructose corn syrup in it for a few weeks. I still craved my sandwich rolls, but having something that tasted better helped me “kick” my addiction.

After a few weeks of having yummy local bread, I decided to order a sourdough starter and venture into the world of breadmaking myself. More on that adventure to come later…

Looking back, it took nearly three months for me to completely stop eating bread that had high fructose corn syrup in it! How scary is that! And so, I am proud to write that over the weekend, I SPENT 15 MINUTES in the grocery store on a quest to find rolls (I didn’t have time to make them myself for this particular meal and our favorite bakery was closed for the day) that didn’t have high fructose corn syrup in them before FINALLY finding some!

For more information about the dangers of high fructose corn syrup, check out these two books we read after making our bona fide living decision: Real Food by Nina Planck and Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon (Nourishing Traditions is also a cookbook!).

The roots behind the grass…

For as long as I can remember I have hated vegetables of all kinds. Carbs and I, however, have a loyal and passionate relationship. Give me a bagel loaded with cream cheese and I am one happy girl. Dinner at our house typically consisted of easy to prepare dishes- a meat, boxed side item (typically mashed potatoes, rice or pasta), and for my husband’s satisfaction, a can of either green beans or corn- sometimes I’d switch it up and we’d have a salad. I’d eat the veggies sparingly under the watchful eye of my husband who was constantly trying to convince me to eat just a few more bites of the nightly vegetable.

I never really considered myself to be unhealthy. I knew I should be eating vegetables, but I have never had any health problems, aside from a finicky stomach. My weight was good. My blood pressure was good. My heart rate was good. So, I didn’t worry about it. Dinner was whatever tasted good, was cheap, and took less than an hour to make. I never considered where our food was coming from. I thought of myself as a bargain shopper and bought whatever groceries were cheapest so we could get as many groceries as possible for the amount we’d budgeted each month for our food.

My entire perspective on the food that we eat and where it comes from changed with the birth of our daughter. Shortly after our daughter, Myla, was born, I read about the Proverbs 31 woman. I was impressed. She worked before the sun rose to after the sun set to ensure that her family was well taken care of. Not only did she take care of her home, but she was also involved in the community. I was convicted. As a new mom, I knew that the food I ingested affected Myla’s development because I was breastfeeding. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that not eating vegetables was not good for my daughter’s health. Since I have a master’s degree, I am a firm believer in research, so I started researching. The result: My husband and I decided to start eating real, unprocessed food. Little did we know that our family’s decision would ripple into an entire lifestyle change. This is our story.

This blog chronicles the story of our family’s desire to eat real food, the lifestyle changes that came, unexpectedly, along our journey, and the struggles and joys that we face along the way.