Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Today I am thankful

Psalm 107:1
{Source}
I've been doing this thing lately.  Each day I've been posting on Facebook something for which I am thankful--sometimes more than one something.  It's part gratitude journal, part my desire to put some positiveness out into the world, part reminder to myself to be on the lookout for reasons to be grateful.  These thankful things have been simple and profound, routine and novel, things we take for granted and things unexpected.

Yesterday, I didn't post.  I couldn't post.

Yesterday, I struggled.

I am thankful.  Of course I am.  I have so much more than I need; I am blessed beyond measure.

But I am also weary.  So tired.  Worn away by the grit of disappointment and the grind of the every day.  I feel empty, poured out.  It doesn't feel like I can give or do anything more.

And yet.  God is good.  Always.

So today, I am thankful.  Just thankful.  Because I can be nothing else.

Psalm 90:14
{Source}

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Growing things

I thought it was probably time for a garden update.   Things are growing.


I seriously love this picture.  Isn't that such a pretty color?  These are some of my San Marzano tomatoes.  I planted mostly plum tomatoes this year because they're better for canning.  The tomato plants are huge!  Like, if they had better support, I think they'd get taller than me.  It's looking good for being able to can lots of tomatoes this year.

Remember when I said I hoped the beans and lettuce would be done producing before the squashes and melons took over the bed?  Um, well, didn't quite happen... The beans are almost done, that's true.  And I realized I don't know how to tell when the lettuce is done.  It still tastes bitter to me.  Or maybe it was bitter, and then sweet, and now it's bitter again, and I missed my window.  In any case, the pie pumpkins and spaghetti squash vines are going everywhere.  I've managed to keep them away from the beans and lettuce thus far, but pretty soon they'll be out of control.



I picked some lettuce this morning, and I'm taking it over to the chickens this afternoon.  The green beans are going in the freezer today.

One of the reasons why square foot gardening works is because plants are encouraged to grow up instead of out and over the ground.  Anything that vines or climbs is grown on a trellis or frame of some sort.  Here are some of the spaghetti squash vines.


I'm hoping next year, the boys will make something like this for my squashes and beans to grow up.

{Source}
Here's one of my pie pumpkins.  Yes, hubby carpeted the area surrounding the garden for me.  Because he loves me.  Also it makes weed suppression simple.


 And a spaghetti squash.  The squashes that are growing above the ground will need to be supported as they get bigger.


The sugar snap peas are done, and we've been eating grape tomatoes as they ripen.  We haven't seen much from the cucumbers pickles or melons yet, but they're coming.  We had to plant so late that we might not actually get fruit this year.  The zucchini is just getting started.  I think the tomatoes are kind of crowding it/shading it a bit.  The carrots are growing.  Nowhere near big enough to harvest yet, though.

I'm pleased with the garden this year.  It's so satisfying to plant something with my own two hands, and have it grow into something beautiful and nourishing.  

And of course, I'm already thinking about what I want to do differently next year.  Here are some of the changes I'm hoping to make:
  • Hopefully I'll be able to plant earlier to increase yields
  • I will plant pole beans rather than bush beans.  I'm still hoping to someday get enough beans ripe at the same time to justify canning them, and I've heard that pole beans produce more per plant.
  • In the same vein, I will plant vining cucumbers pickles rather than the bush variety--I realized after I planted them that these pickle seeds are a bush variety.  That is, if Bubby still wants me to plant pickles next year.
  • I will put the tomatoes in the back of the bed.
  • I will have a better trellis system for the squashes, cucumbers, and beans.
  • I'm hoping to grow broccoli and/or Brussels sprouts next year.  My sister's success with broccoli this year is inspiring.
  • I'm hoping to plant a third 4x4 foot bed with strawberries.

And then there's this beauty.  We may not be able to keep fish alive in our pond (they either die within days or mysteriously disappear, possibly eaten by squirrels), but we can grow flowers.


What's growing for you these days?

Monday, July 27, 2015

Menu plan for the week of July 27

Guess what!

I'm taking care of chickens again this week.  Different friends, different chickens.  And more eggs!  They've been getting 18-20 eggs daily.  We are not going to be able to use 18-20 eggs every day, but that doesn't mean I'm not going to make a valiant effort.

As for the extras, if you happen to be local to me, and you'd like some, I'm selling eggs on behalf of the chickens' owners for $3 per dozen.  Because of the bird flu epidemic, and the subsequent mass chicken slaughter, that's about what our local grocery stores are charging for their poor shadow imitations right now.  If you've never had fresh from the homestead eggs, you should give them a try!  They are so yummy, and they're more nutritious, too, not to mention happier.

Yes, the eggs are happier, because their mamas get to roam free and eat bugs and stuff.

I'm also going to freeze some of the eggs.  Did you know that you can freeze eggs?  Well, of course you know that--you can freeze anything.  But did you know that you can freeze eggs and the frozen, then thawed, eggs actually maintain integrity?  Yes, indeed you can, and they do.  I've been freezing egg whites in ice cube trays for a while now, but with the expected influx of eggs this week, I will be freezing whole eggs in a muffin tin.  You probably won't be able to fix them sunny-side up after they've been frozen (since you're supposed to break the yolk), but I eat most of my eggs scrambled or in baked goods, so I'll be all set.  Click here for egg freezing instructions.

Guess what else!

I'm not going to do a menu plan this week.  I'm just going to eat eggs.  Maybe some veggies.  And bake things.  With eggs.

Let me know if you want eggs.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Big Birthday Cake

It's AKD's birthday today. He's 15.  Fifteen!  I blinked and now...look at him!  Practically grown.

He loves it when I post pictures of him chewing.
Even more than he loves me shoving a cake at him and insisting that he smile for the camera minutes after he wakes.

He said he wanted to give me a break from elaborate cake-making, so AKD requested a simple funfetti cake for his birthday.  Simple, but huge. That sucker is 12 inches top to bottom.  Six layers.

I have to say, this is a nice change from the usual waterfall cake, but I do enjoy making elaborate cakes for my kids, so he needn't have worried. And this one was challenging in its own way.


He said he wanted to give me a break, but I think he really just wanted a lot of cake.  Happy to oblige, son :)

By the way, it is really fun to throw sprinkles at the side of a cake. Fun, but messy.

Due to various factors, we decided to make the cake a week early.  Good thing, too, 'cause a week later, we still have some of this cake hanging around.


I told my sis that we were making and eating the cake early, and she mentioned that I could just wait and post a picture on Facebook on his actual birthday and no one would even know we hadn't eaten the cake on his actual birthday.  And that's true.  I could have, and no one would have.

But I didn't.  First, I really don't care whether or not y'all know we ate the cake early.  Really, who cares?  And if it offends or bothers you that AKD didn't get to eat his cake on his actual birthday, let me assure you that he will eat cake today.  You don't need to worry about that.

And second, it makes me wonder if my sis has done something similar in the past.  Not that I care.  I'm sure she had a good reason.  Or not. Does not matter to me either way.

But the exchange was such a good reminder to me that what we see on Facebook or Instagram, or even on this blog, is not necessarily the truth.  In fact, it is never the whole truth.  We share what we choose to share, and most of us choose to share the good stuff.  

It is a sure recipe for discontentment to compare the nitty-gritty every day of our own lives to the shining moments we see on social media.

I love this bit of wisdom from Steven Furtick:

Insecurity – Best Inspirational Quote
{Source}
My girl Lysa says it like this in her book Made to Crave
How dangerous it is to hold up the intimate knowledge of our imperfections against the outside packaging of others.
Dangerous, indeed.

Also dangerous?  A 12 inch high cake.  Happy birthday, AKD!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Camp Cake

Tomorrow is my oldest son's birthday.  You know what this means, right?  Yes, indeedy, this means it's time to post the pictures of my middlest son's birthday cake.  You know, the cake we ate and the birthday we celebrated in April?  Yeah, that one.  This is what you call a last chance, here.

OK, not really.  But it just doesn't seem right to post a July birthday cake before the April birthday cake, and the July birthday cake is going up tomorrow or the next day along with an important cautionary tale, so...

For his 12th birthday, MC requested a camping cake.  I have a strong suspicion that the request was a direct result of this incident with a Cub Scout cake and its inedible decorations.


Cute, huh?  And, most importantly to the birthday boy, all edible (except the candles and marshmallow sticks).  The trees are sugar cones frosted with a star tip.  The tent is a couple of graham cracker halves covered in modeling chocolate.  The fire ring is made of whoppers candies, and the logs are pretzel sticks.  The dirt is chocolate frosting along with graham cracker crumbs.  I used my grass tip along the edges of the cake.

I did make a trunk for one of the trees by putting it on a pretzel rod stuck into the cake, but the 9x13" single layer cake was not thick enough to hold up the weight of the pretzel and frosting-laden cone, so I had to put all the trees on the ground.  I suggest an at least 2 layer cake if you're wanting your trees to be off the ground.


When we lit the 12 candles, it was a blazing inferno of a campfire.  Much higher than a scale Boy Scout's knees would have been.  Whoops.

So, of course, the birthday boy and his goofy Daddy did the only sensible thing.


They roasted marshmallows.


Happy birthday, MC!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Menu plan for the week of July 20

Hey, y'all.  Did you miss me last week?  No?  Well that's ok.  Out of sight, out of mind and all that.

Well, despite the fact that summer break is half over, our swimming pool is finally open, and it's been hot and humid, I still feel as if our summer hasn't really begun.  Crazy.  And busy.  That's how the past couple of months have been.  Most of it has been planned, and almost all of it has been good, but I'm longing for a little bit of down time.  Looking at our calendar for the next couple of months, I don't think that's going to happen any time soon.  And that's ok.  It's just the season I'm in right now.  Busy, instead of summer.

I've spent pretty much all of my time since school let out either packing, traveling, unpacking, or preparing to travel again, and non-stop busy-ness is just not something I enjoy, so I've been feeling a little stressed, out of sorts, cranky.  And, truth be told, I've also been feeling a little disappointed.  This isn't quite how I expected my summer to be, and that grieves me.

I've been feeling this way, and early last week, just back from another trip, still in the midst of unpacking and laundry and catch-up, I came across this:
{Source}
I love Lysa TerKeurst, don't you?  Here's what she said about this image: "though life doesn’t always fit nicely into a neat little schedule, all the things I have to do are evidence of blessings.  If I’d just look at life a little more from this perspective, everything would seem so much sweeter."

All the things I have to do are evidence of blessings.  So true.  So easy to forget.

One of the things I have to do is feed my family.  Here's what's on the menu this week:

Chicken Chili Verde
{Source}
Supper:
--Tacos with guacamole
--Chicken chili verde, taco fixings
--Beef stroganoff over noodles, green beans
--Spaghetti or zucchini noodles with meat sauce, broccoli/cauliflower/carrots
--Pizza, salad
--Hot dogs, buns, carrots, watermelon
--Taco bean soup, salad

Next Monday supper:
--Taco pasta bake, green beans

Other:

Flourless Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Mini Blender Muffins - gluten-free, grain-free, soy-free, dairy-free, oil-free, refined sugar-free, Paleo-friendly, under 100 calories each. Recipe at averiecooks.com
{Source}
What are you cooking this week?

Monday, July 6, 2015

Menu plan for the week of July 6

Well, it's July.  Everyone is home, and will be home for the next...five days?  Tell me.  Is your summer as crazy busy as ours has been? It's all good, but wowsers.  We are on the go.  I'm feeling a bit nostalgic for those lazy days of summer.  Do they even exist?

Here's what's on the menu this week:

Supper:
-- Grilled bone-in chicken breasts, broccoli/cauliflower/carrots, grilled potato spears
-- Tacos
-- Easy chicken pot pie, biscuits
-- Beef stroganoff, green beans, applesauce
-- Southwest chicken chili, salad
-- Hamburgers, buns, carrots, jello
--Sausage hobo pie
-- Ranch grilled chicken, corn on the cob, salad

Other:
-- Gorp
-- Crunchy granola bars
-- Homemade granola bars
-- Cinnamon swirl bread

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Faith and Hope in the Garden

I started this post on May 25.  That's more than a month ago.  I was going to tell you what I planted in my garden and how it still, after all these years of planting gardens, requires a lot of faith to put those seeds into the ground.  But now?  It feels too late.  I mean, it's never too late to talk about faith, but you see, those seeds have sprouted and grown and now I've got bona fide veggies in my garden.  We've even been harvesting eating-straight-off-the-vine sugar snap peas for over a week now.

But you might find it inspirational, so, here goes...

I planted the rest of my garden last week.  I put some seeds in the ground a couple of weeks ago, but held off on the plants because of low temps.  Finally last week, the forecast lows were far enough away from freezing for the entire 10 day outlook that I felt OK putting the plants out there.  And then it rained.  Isn't that perfect?

My garden has moved this year, to a more sunny location.  I am so happy about this.  Hubby, who agreed to make the garden for me, expected me to want a huge plot.  But honestly, even though there is no reason to believe my garden will do poorly again this year, I couldn't stand the disappointment if we put a whole lot of effort into it and it still underproduced.  So I went small this year.  To see if it'll work the way I hope it will.

Which is not to say I didn't plant a lot.  I'm using Mel Bartholomew's square foot gardening method, which is a "revolutionary way to grow more in less space."  We'll see, Mr. Bartholomew.


Anyway, I have two 4x4 foot beds, and 3 pots.  That's it.  In one plot, I have 2 squares of sugar snap peas, 2 zucchini, 6 tomatoes (mostly roma, because they're better for canning), 4 green beans, and 2 squares of pickles.  Bubby wanted me to grow pickles, so I am.

In the other plot, I have spaghetti squash, honeydew melon, watermelon, pie pumpkins, 1 square of lettuce, with another to be planted in a couple of weeks, and 2 more squares of green beans.  I'm hoping the lettuce and green beans will be done producing before the squashes and melons take over the space.  In my pots, I have a grape tomato (Hubby and AKD like to grab these as they're passing on the riding mower), sugar snap peas plus lemon cucumbers, and carrots.


Already, the peas and beans are up.  It's so thrilling to see their little green heads bending up toward the sun.

By now you know how I feel about gardening.  It is nothing short of miraculous to be able to produce life from dried and shriveled and dead-looking seeds.  It takes tremendous faith to plant a garden, and seeing the evidence of life gives me hope.  It gets easier every year, but planting a garden remains an act of faith for me.
Pea Seeds
{Source}
It makes me wonder what other areas in my life I need to practice faith?  What dried up, dead-looking corners of my being can bring forth new life if nurtured and cared for?

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Making hay

In the spirit of making hay while the sun shines, I spent some time last week raking up grass clippings with Bubby.

Now, before you ask, yes, we have a mulching blade on our lawn mower.  The grass is just being really ... prolific ... at this point in the summer, and our lawn boy is having trouble keeping up with it.  In addition, I can use the grass clippings in my garden to suppress weeds and in my compost bin to make nutrient-filled new soil.  Otherwise, I would not be raking grass, even if leaving it will kill the grass underneath.  Less grass = less grass to cut.

Three take-aways from this experience:

1. It is easier to rake grass with a leaf rake versus a garden rake.  I was actually kind of happy when Bubby decided he needed yet another break, which happened with increasing frequency throughout the task, because that meant I got to use the leaf rake for a few minutes.

2.  It would be even easier if our mower had a collector on it.

3.  Three acres is a lot of grass to rake.

In this part of the yard, we raked the grass into long fat "snakes"
Later on, the lawn boy drove the tractor along-side
to make it easy for us to load the grass into the trailer.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Menu Plan for the week of June 29

Hey y'all.  This weeks' menu plan isn't so much a menu plan as it's a we-are-missing-a-good-chunk-of-our-family-because-they're-at-Boy-Scout-camp-but-the-rest-of-us-still-need-to-eat plan.  Anyone else have a hard time planning meals when it's not for the whole family?  I find this so strange.  I mean, I had no trouble at all planning meals when it was just me and Hubby, and then I had no trouble as we added each member of the family.  But now that I'm cooking for 5 or more most of the time, when we have much less than that, I almost feel like it's not worth it to cook.

We will not be eating Jackolope this week.
We also did not eat jackolope when we were in South Dakota

This does not bode well for our empty nest years.

Fortunately, I'm aware of this issue, so I can begin preparing mentally for that eventuality.  Also fortunately, we have at least 11 years before our nest can achieve full empty.  Whew.  I think that might be enough time to get used to the idea of cooking for 2 again.

So we're going with convenient food this week.  Food that I know the two remaining boys in the house will eat.  You might notice it's a little heavy on the guacamole.  Also Mexican-type foods.  It's a little repetitive.  But everyone who's still here will eat.  Here's what we got:

Supper:
--Corn dogs (taco for me), green beans, strawberries
--Hot dogs (taco bean soup for me), broccoli/cauliflower/carrots, cherries
--Tacos with guacamole and taco fixings
--Hamburgers with or without buns, but guacamole is not optional, salad, carrots, applesauce
--Nachos with guacamole and fixings
--Grilled pizza, salad
--Grilled chicken, corn on the cob, salad, pineapple


Other:
--Greek yogurt
--Granola
--Cinnamon swirl bread
--Chicken salad

In the Bad Lands
I didn't think they were so bad, but I do see those French traders' point.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Hello? I'm still here.

I have so many little things to do.  You know how that is, right?  Those little things that have to be done, but they're kind of easy to not do, too.  And then they pile up.  Yup.

Apparently there's this guy.  He's probably an expert or a professional. At something.  In any case, he sounds like he's a very productive person and he uses his time efficiently.  And he says, if whatever you have to do will take 2 minutes or less, you should do it.  Right then.  Instead of putting it off.  And I think that's great advice in general.  I mean, if you do it right away, it's done, and you don't have to waste any more mental energy thinking about how it needs to get done.

But here's my problem.  I have so many things to do that will take 2 minutes or less each.  But all added up together, they will take much longer than 2 minutes.  Like, for instance, I've been doing 2 minutes or less things pretty much all day.  I'd say...a good 2 hours' worth, at least.

Yeah.  It's discouraging, and a little overwhelming.  Give me a good 15 or 30 or 60 minute job any day, over seven or fourteen or twenty-eight 2 minute jobs.

AKD and I took a bike ride out to the beach
This is the only picture I took on our first trip!

The kids have been out of school since June 5, and I feel like our summer hasn't even started yet.  See, the day after the last day of school, we headed out for a 9 day trip to visit with my parents and Hubby's family.  Then we were home for 4 days, during which time we feverishly unpacked, did laundry, and repacked (there were also medical appointments, soccer, and physical training) before leaving for a 6 day visit (the other way) with my brother and his family.  

Upon our return home, we did the whole unpack, wash laundry, and repack thing again, this time in 2 days, to get 60% of the family ready to head off to Boy Scout camp. And silly me planned an excursion an hour and a half away during those 2 days to pick up my Zaycon chicken (referral link--sign up to support this blog and get great prices on meat).  And since we were driving all that way, we decided to make a day of it, with AKD and his buddy biking 22 miles, and the rest of us hanging at a water park.  So really, those 2 days were just 1 (and on that 1 day there were two medical appointments, physical training, and snacks shopping).

Somewhere in South Dakota.  What a great looking family.
Except that guy in the back looks like he's trying to hide...
Is it any wonder I have so many little things to do?  We haven't been home much, and when we have been home, we've been rushing around getting ready to leave again.

Whew!  So I say again, it feels like our summer hasn't even started yet.  And at the same time, it's 1/3 over--the kids go back to school on September 1.  Crazy stuff.

I wonder if I will feel like summer has started this week, or if I will need to wait until all the boys are home to feel that way.

Anyway, just wanted to check in and let you know I'm still here.  I know you know how it is.  Lots to do, limited time, limited brain space to devote to little tasks.  I know it'll all get done.  Or not.  And it'll be OK either way.

How's your summer going?

Our attempt at copying Mt. Rushmore.  Not too bad.
They're all looking approximately the right way, and the relative heights are right.
Perhaps I should have had them remove their hats and sunglasses?

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Lego Storage Problem

It all started when, a couple of weeks ago, I decided I wanted to build a Lego dump truck.  From the instructions.


It was, in fact, this dump truck.

OK, let's back up.  It actually started many moons ago, when 5 year old AKD received his first Lego set.  I am a rule-follower.  An instruction-reader.  When it suits me, that is.  I am concerned with doing things the right way.  And I wanted to keep all of the Lego pieces from each individual set in their own individual containers.  So we could easily find all the pieces and build the sets again.

AKD is not so much of a rule follower, at least when it comes to Lego.  He preferred (still does) to build the set once, and then cannibalize that set to make exciting new creations.  I admire that about AKD.  I really do.  But it drives my inner compulsive neatener bonkers.

And so we ended up, many years, and 2 more children (one of whom prefers to keep his Lego creations together and the other of whom prefers to tear his apart to recombine in new and interesting ways), later with a HUGE bin full of almost every Lego piece that's ever made its way into our possession.

So, back to a couple of weeks ago.  I found the instructions for the dump truck.  It was a little dump truck, with not so many pieces, and I figured it would be pretty easy to find the pieces and put it together.

I was wrong.  So, so wrong.

I don't know how many Lego bricks we have, but it numbers in the thousands, maybe even tens of thousands.  And finding the one small black or gray or yellow piece that I needed among all of those thousands of Legos proved ... difficult.

Enough, I decided, and I set out right then and there to sort the bricks.  I recruited some helpers, and they were, shall we say, less than enthusiastic about the project.

So here's the deal with Lego.  There are too many ways to sort them.  You can sort by set (my preferred method, obviously, but that boat sailed a long time ago).  You can sort by color.  You can sort by piece type.  You can sort by color and piece type.  Too many categories.

We went with color.  Because it's the least ambiguous of the methods.  A piece is either black or not black, red or not red.  Except the pieces that are black and gray or yellow and black.

And now, we have this:


Isn't it beautiful?  A tower of bricks, neatly organized by color.*

And I still can't find all the pieces for my dump truck.

The rule-follower in me feels a little thrill every time I see the beautiful order my team and I brought to the cacophony of Lego.  The realistic mama in me realizes it's only a matter of time before this system fails, becoming, once more, a jumbled mess.

And, if I'm honest, I think my Lego builders find that jumbled mess to be infinitely more inspiring than my beautiful organized drawers.

How do you store your Lego?  Do you build them and keep them together?  Jumble all the pieces together?  Or do something in between?

* Wondering where I got this gorgeous unit?  It's actually two 6-drawer scrapbook paper organizers that I found on clearance at Target.  They're similar to this (I can't find this exact one online, which, you know, makes sense, considering they don't make it anymore).

Monday, June 8, 2015

Hubby likes ice cream

Hubby likes ice cream.

Yeah, I know.  Who doesn't?  But Hubby likes a very specific concoction of ice cream components.  At least twice a week, and sometimes every day in a week, at the end of the day you can find Hubby enjoying a bowl of vanilla ice cream with peanuts and chocolate syrup.  He likes this combination so much, he gets a little cranky if one of these essential ingredients is missing.

Several months ago, we were out of chocolate syrup.  I don't want Hubby to be cranky, so I decided to make some, using this recipe.

It was a hit!  Everyone liked it, and some of them even liked it better than store bought.  So I kept making it.

Here's what I store it in.


It's a nice container for dispensing chocolate syrup.  Much less messy than the mason jar I had been using.

This is what I store my lime juice in.


They're remarkably similar.  In fact, they are identical in shape and color.  The only difference is the label.  And the fact that one has chocolate syrup and the other has lime juice in it.  If one was not paying attention, one might accidentally mistake one for the other.

That would be a bummer.  And sour.


Not that that's ever happened, or anything.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

{Revised} Creamy Homemade Greek Yogurt

Lately, I've been loving this combo for breakfast:


A cup of homemade Greek yogurt with a splash of vanilla extract and sweetener to taste, topped with chopped fresh strawberries and homemade granola.  I just love the flavor and texture combination of creamy, protein-filled yogurt, sweet, anti-oxidant and fiber-rich berries, and crunchy whole grain and omega-3 filled granola.

As you know, my Crock Pot fell victim to inertia earlier this year, and I got a new slow cooker (which I will tell you about some time--love it).  My old Crock Pot cooked extremely hot.  I liked using it, because it meant I didn't need a whole lot of hands-on time to get supper on the table, but I also had to be careful not to let it overcook our food.  And if I let the cooker go for even the minimum time specified in slow cooker recipes, the food would be overcooked.  It was frustrating.

The way I understand it, sometime in the '90s, food safety experts were concerned that food cooked in slow cookers was not getting hot enough fast enough, which allowed bacteria to multiply in the food, making it unsafe to consume.  So around that time, slow cooker manufacturers started making their appliances cook hotter.  Now, they've come back around again and the newer models heat up quickly, but modulate their heat better.

This means that I no longer have to worry about overcooked food in my new slow cooker.  I am seriously thrilled about this.

This also means that my original Creamy Homemade Greek Yogurt recipe doesn't work so well, as written.  So here it is again, revised for any slow cooker, whether yours cooks hot or slow.

What are your favorite ways to use yogurt?

Creamy Homemade Greek Yogurt
(for any slow cooker)

Heat the milk: 
This step denatures the milk proteins, which helps the yogurt gel

Place 8 cups of milk in a slow cooker, cover, and cook until the temperature reaches 180 degrees Fahrenheit.  My slow cooker has a temperature probe, so it's super easy to know when it's hot enough.  In my old crock pot, it was around 2.5 hours on low.  In my new slow cooker, it takes about 2 hours on high.

Cool the milk: 

This step takes the milk down to a good temperature for the yogurt-making bacteria to thrive
Turn off the slow cooker and allow the milk to cool to around 110 degrees.  There are several ways to do this.  You can leave everything in place.  If you have a removable crock, you can take it out.  You can put your crock in an ice bath, like my brother does.  Removing the lid will speed the cooling process.   
The last time I made yogurt, I removed the lid from the crock and the crock from the heating unit and left the unit on warm so I could keep using the temperature probe to monitor the temperature of the milk.  

Add the bacteria: 
Scoop out a cup or two of the warmish milk, and whisk in 1/2 c. of active culture yogurt (buy a cup the first time, then save some of your homemade yogurt to use for subsequent batches).  Add the milk and yogurt mixture to the milk in the slow cooker.

Incubate: 
This is where the magic happens
Put the crock in a warm place for the bacteria to do their thing for about 8-12 hours.  I put my crock back into its heating unit (remember, it was still warm because I left it on while the milk was cooling), then wrapped the whole thing in a couple of bath towels.

{Optional} Strain the yogurt:
If you want Greek style yogurt, strain.  If not, just stir the whey (separated liquid) back into the yogurt.
Line a strainer or colander with a couple of layers of cheesecloth, a dish towel, or even paper towels--just make sure your paper towels are not "quilted" or you'll end up with little bits of paper in your yogurt.  Ask me how I know this.   
Dump the yogurt into the lined strainer and let it sit for an hour or two, until it reaches your desired consistency.

Enjoy your yogurt:
That's why we did this, right?
This recipe makes 2 quarts of regular yogurt or about 1 quart of Greek style yogurt, depending on how long you strain.  Your yogurt will stay good in the fridge for 7-10 days.  Don't forget to save some for your next batch--if you need a little more time between batches than 7-10 days, you can freeze it. 
Besides just eating it plain or with your favorite mix-ins, yogurt makes a great substitute for mayonnaise or sour cream in recipes.


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