February 29, 2012

Breakfast of Champions - the Homemade Version

Throughout my pregnancy so far, yogurt has been one of my staples to add both protein and probiotics to my diet. However, being lactose intolerant, I was buying soymilk yogurt (which apparently can only "legally" be called "cultured soymilk" as the dairy industry has some kind of hold on the term "yogurt"), which is unfortunately not as readily available as standard yogurt, and twice as expensive. I considered the extra expense worth the nutritional benefits though. The cheapest option I could find was Stonyfield's soy yogurt six packs, 4 oz each, for around $3.99 a pop. I'd eat one a day and make it last almost a full week, but no sharing with Joe. :(

Then, Joe and I discovered that it is as easy to make "yogurt" out of soymilk as it is regular milk, and there's been no looking back! The economic difference of making our own soy yogurt is staggering, and there's plenty for Joe and me both, even if we want to eat more than 4 oz at a time. I can get a half gallon of organic soymilk for $2.50 and make enough yogurt for us both to have breakfast for a full week.

Banana, raisins, yogurt and granola - YUM!
We started with a culture saved from some goat milk yogurt we bought (which is delicious, lactose-intolerance friendly, but prohibitively expensive for a regular basis). The process is exactly like making dairy yogurt, and very easy in our Yogotherm yogurt maker, no electricity required. We have experimented with adding some tapioca starch to the mix to help thicken the yogurt, with varying results. Sometimes it makes little tapioca clumps, sometimes not, but it always tastes good.

We've gone about 8 weeks or so using a 1/2 cup of the previous batch to culture the next batch, but the last couple of batches have been going down hill. I'm blaming it on unpredictable refrigeration. This winter has NOT been good for providing us with consistently cool weather to keep things in a refrigerated state! The yogurt has not gone bad, but it has gotten a little weaker each time and the last batch, even with the tapioca starch, was more the consistency of buttermilk than yogurt. It made great pancakes, though! I'm thinking it might be time to grab a new, store-bought starter and make yogurt a quart at a time, twice as often.

An added benefit is that we've been finally using up our backlog of homemade jam from when we went a little jam crazy the year before last. We not really peanut butter and jelly people, and we rarely just have a piece of toast with jam, so most of our jars had gone unopened. Turns out, one jelly jar (1/2 pint size) is the perfect amount to mix in with a quart of yogurt for blackberry, wineberry, strawberry, etc. yogurt. Also, I've been inspired to start making our own granola, too, for which I'll share my recipe in a later post. 

February 22, 2012

Date Night

I'm not much of a shopper, and I'm even less of a mall shopper. Malls seem to mostly contain clothing stores, and I can't remember the last time I purchased a new item of clothing from the racks of any store. However, this  past Friday, the "Literacy Volunteers of the New River Valley" were having a used book sale in the mall, and THAT caught Joe's and my attention. We'd spent the whole day in town, alternating running errands and me getting in some work hours at the office, so it was getting dark by the time we got to the mall. Friday night at the mall with my fella - almost felt like the quinessential American date night, for teenagers anyway.

Between the two of us, we had exactly $5.99 cash on us, so we decided to let that limit our spending. It was fun but a bit overwhelming to scan through the hundreds of titles of books on the numerous tables. My favorite find was four paperback titles in the "Oz" series by L. Frank Baum. Everyone is familiar with "The Wizard of Oz", but not many people realize he wrote quite a few books about the magical kingdom. I read many of them as a kid myself and am looking forward to reading them again with our kid.

Among the books Joe found was "The Idiot's Guide to Baby Sign Language". I think the growing trend of communicating with young children through sign language is great. I've seen many of the board books with a dozen or so signs to teach your infant, but this book has a vocabulary of 150 signs suitable for kids. I'm especially interested in using sign language with our kid because American Sign Language was actually my "foreign" language in college. I took two semesters of ASL during the time period I was doing distance learning college classes from home, and my little sister and two of my cousins went through the material with me. We were fairly proficient as long as we could practice with each other, but once I transferred to Virginia Tech and moved to Blacksburg, without my practice buddies around me all the time, I slowly lost much of what I'd learned. Joe studied Spanish throughout highschool and college and has traveled extensively in Spanish speaking countries but has also gotten quite rusty in the past few years. We've talked a lot recently about using the arrival of a child as a good excuse to bone up on our skills, teaching each other, so we can maybe pass some of it on to the littl'un. So, finding this book was an added incentive.

By the time we'd narrowed down our final selections and scraped together our last penny (actually the last penny came from a generous stranger), it was dinner time. Off to the food court we went. We had no intentions of buying any food, though. We were looking to raid the condiment package displays. We snagged some salt, pepper and mustard packets, some plastic cutlery, and Joe managed to charm a little to-go container of mayonnaise from the Subway server. Back in the car, we had a bag full of food we'd brought along as we knew we'd be spending much of the day in town. Included in our stash were some hard-boiled, home-grown eggs and a loaf of bread. With the extras from the food court, we mixed ourselves up some egg salad and had a picnic in the car in the mall parking lot. By this point, our date night bore little resemblance to the quintessential American version, but we had lots of fun anyway. And, to be completely honest, we had treated ourselves to the delicious buffet lunch at our favorite Indian restaurant earlier in the day. However, we are members of the 99% after all (or the "soon-to-haves" as I prefer to think of us), so we try to keep our luxuries within limits. :)

February 17, 2012


A week ago today I made the hour long drive to go to my parents'/grandparents' house and visit for the day. My parents were on a road trip to Minnesota to deliver some woodworking equipment to my sister's in-laws, and my little brother and his wife were house sitting for my parents to watch the dogs and keep the "old folks" company in their absence. I thought about waiting until the weekend when Joe's school schedule would allow him to go with me, but in the end I decided to go by myself. I spent the afternoon with my brother and sister-in-law and ended up staying later than I initially planned because I was enjoying a more in-depth visit with my grandparents than I've taken time to have in a while. I will be forever grateful for the inner voice that urged me to make that trip because early Friday morning, my grandmother passed away. It is such a gift to have those final happy memories of her and to have no regrets at her death.

Death is of course inevitable for all of us, and I'm sure we've all had thoughts about how, if not when, we'd prefer the inevitable to occur. My grandmother was blessed with what most people's ideal scenario would be - a  swift, peaceful death in her sleep, in her own home, with her head on the shoulder of her husband of 64 years. This little one growing inside of me right now just missed meeting his/her great-grandmother by a few months. Life is such a miracle and a mystery, at both beginning and end.

There is a deep sadness, but also beauty and peace in Grandma's passing. I can't begin to imagine the changes in my grandfather's life as he adjusts to her absence. He was her loving husband for decades and devoted caretaker during her final years suffering from Alzheimers. Their relationship remains an inspiration to me. I spent four days at home, steeped in the love and comfort of family and friends as we went about preparing Grandma's funeral. At the same time, I am struggling with intense feelings of grief and anger around my thoughts about those who chose not to be physically present at her burial. Sometimes an actual death can be easier to come to terms with. I am very grateful for Joe and the empathy and understanding her provides as I continue to decompress and process my experience. I find strength in my belief that God is Love and happiness in the thought that for Grandma right now, that is more than an intellectual notion; it is her whole reality.

February 08, 2012

Good eatin', for chickens

My chickens are one of the primary beneficiaries of my garden pest control  endeavors. I do not let my chickens into the garden to search for insect pests on their own. If that was all they did, it would be very helpful and cut me out as an unnecessary middle man, but the true result would be that I would have not only a garden free of pests, but a garden free of any plants at all. Trust me, I know my chickens. The other day they decided to completely consume my several year old, overwintering, adorable patch of the succulent plant I call "Hens and Chicks". Cannibalistic little buggers!! So, during the summer, I am left to the task of handpicking the insects that plague my crops and serving them to the chickens on a silver platter, so to speak. They are especially fond of cabbage worms, cut worms and those giant, juicy grubs (I think they might be Japanese beetle grubs??). There are some bugs I can never seem to get them interested in though, and who would blame them. Would you eat a slug?? I would also never in a million years, even if starving and desperate beyond imagination, eat a squash bug, but I was very annoyed that my chickens turned out to be as picky as myself.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
I have recently discovered, however, that during the winter when bug-pickins' are slim, chickens are willing to expand their dietary palettes. (Hence the decimated "Hens and chicks") I do not have any squash bugs to feed them this time of year, but I do have a house, like most everyone else, that has been invaded by their close cousins, the brown marmorated stink bug. I used to think lady bugs were the worst things you could share your house with over winter, but these guys have convinced me otherwise. But! Hallelujah! It turns out chickens think that stink bugs are a delightful treat, at least in the winter. So, now rather than being annoyed when I find one of these guys crawling around on the windows (or worse yet, my pillow) I capture it in a little jar and toss 'em to the poultry. The other day I found a cluster of 30 or so stink bugs hiding out in a cranny of the outdoor kitchen. What a feast! I see this all as a slightly sadistic win-win situation -- household pest turned chicken treat turned eventually to yummy eggs for breakfast! Now, hopefully the chickens will remember about eating stink bugs when squash bug season rolls around. If not, maybe I'll hire this kid.
Sorry, I know I've put this picture on my blog before, but I just can't help it. It gives me the shivers all over to even imagine!! I just have to share the horror. And hey, the kid is happy!

February 03, 2012

So, did the groundhog see his shadow yesterday? I was busy with a prenatal visit with my midwife and wasn't paying attention. Are we going to get six more weeks of winter? Are we even going to have six weeks of "winter" this whole winter? Today is blue skies, sunshine, mild temperatures and birds singing -- quite nice, but not very February-ish.

At my prenatal appointment I learned that the baby is doing fine and growing well. I, however, am not growing. I weighed in exactly the same as last month's appointment. To clarify, I have of course grown, somewhere in the vicinity of 12-14 pounds since the beginning, just not anything in the last month. Hmmm....the midwife was surprised, but not worried. She seems confident I'll catch up here soon, and meanwhile I have free license to eat whatever and whenever I want. Not that I haven't been doing that already. I've been eating whenever I'm hungry, and mostly light meals as I don't have room to stuff myself anymore. Also, what I initially thought was a tendon or something being uncomfortably stretched in my right ribcage area turns out to be a grumpy gallbladder. (Always wondered where that thing was.) Apparently gallbladders have a tendency to get grumpy about pregnancy. It's been recommended that I avoid fatty greasy foods (not a problem) but also get plenty of fat in my diet. I actually felt obligated to go and order a whole basket of french fries after my appointment yesterday. Such a conundrum. Smaller, lighter meals seem to sneak by my gallbladder without upsetting it, which is what I like, but not necessarily good for weight gain. I'm taking this as a sign from God that I need to eat more chocolate. Yes, that is definitely the answer. :)

Totally different topic, but if you happen to catch a copy of the latest issue of "Mother Earth News" (Feb/March 2012) you'll find a picture of my garden on both the contents page and on page 83 in the "Country Lore" section. They've also printed a copy of my letter to them about how great our concrete block garden beds are. Pretty cool. I think I get paid for this, although I haven't gotten anything yet. I'll give them a couple of weeks before I send someone over to break their legs. :) I also recently had a "Letter to the Editor" published in "Backyard Poultry" magazine. I'll be happy to sign autographs for anyone who is interested. :)