Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Homemade Greek-style Yogurt

We eat a lot of yogurt in my house. I imagine that our consumption will only increase as Sweet Pea gets older. We've always preferred Chobani Greek yogurt because it has a higher  amount of protein (at 16g) than other yogurts. When I came across a recipe for homemade Greek yogurt I decided that I must try it... if it worked we could save a lot of money (and know exactly what we were eating)!

It took two attempts to make delicious, perfectly creamy Greek-style yogurt. (I say Greek-style because obviously I'm not making this in Greece, but it is thick and creamy!) I followed this recipe from Happy Simple Living, a website/blog full of ideas on leading a fulfilled, yet simple life. (I really like how the author spelled out her top goals and priorities here. I may have to make my own list!)

On my first try I made two mistakes: 1. I bought ultra-pasteurized organic milk. 2. I somehow missed the part about preheating the oven to 150F before turning on the oven light. This batch of yogurt turned out very liquidy, almost like thick milk. It smelled and tasted like yogurt though so I used it up making smoothies. (These turned out delish but I learned that my blender is not the great smoothie-making machine I had hoped!)

Afterward, I did some reading on making yogurt on Chowhound.com (particularly this thread) and learned a lot more about making yogurt. One of the more fascinating bits I learned is that some people make their yogurt in the microwave - but this means you have to be in your house for about 12 hours to "man the microwave." I decided that I did not want to add powdered milk to my yogurt as suggested in the Chowhound thread and that instead, I would revisit the Happy Simple Living recipe. Off to the store I went to get my new supplies.

On my second try I decided to use Stoneyfield yogurt - I read that it contained the most live cultures (5) - as my starter instead of Chobani. I also bought regular 2% milk and read the instructions carefully (this is when I realized my previous mistake)! Instead of using some old cheesecloth that my husband found in the garage (I know, gross) I bought some new stuff. This time, my yogurt turned out perfect - but having used a half-gallon of milk I thought I would get more than 4 cups of yogurt! The basic process is this:
After warming up your milk to 180 degrees, transfer it to a glass container and let it cool to 105-110 degrees
Warm your oven up to 150 degrees, cover and then wrap your container, and turn on your oven light. Wait for the magic to happen while you sleep.

This was about 12 hours later - yogurt! Now, put it in the fridge to cool for a few hours.

After it's cooled in the fridge, strain it through 4-layers of cheesecloth and put in the fridge again. Strain the whey and you are left with beautiful Greek yogurt!

What to do with all of this leftover whey?
 Another comment on Chowhound  recommended using the leftover whey as your "water" in making steel cut oatmeal. I LOVE steel cut oatmeal, especially this apple pie oatmeal recipe from Cooking with Jax, so I gave it a shot:
It turned out disgusting. I would not recommend using your whey this way (haha) and instead would use it to make bread or even better, feed it to your dog and chickens. (This batch of oatmeal went out to the coop where it was devoured by our hens!)

Will I make homemade Greek yogurt again? It took a chunk of time to warm the milk, watch the milk, and strain the milk and the end result was only 4 (wonderfully delicious) cups of yogurt. I suppose I could double the recipe or use the whey to make bread so that I feel like I got more product out of the process. I don't know... maybe I'll make it when we are having a special breakfast or as a fun science experiment with Sweet Pea, but I can't see making it every week to keep up with our consumption.

Friday, March 16, 2012

To work or not to work...

Snuggles a few days after coming home from the NICU
 My dream growing up was to be a Mom. I thought I'd go to college and earn a degree in something fun, work for a few years while looking for the perfect husband, get married, have babies, and stay home to raise them. My plan has almost come true.

I did earn a fun degree in advertising and public relations and I worked in the field for about two years before deciding it was not so fun after all. I was doing school marketing and working with teachers and thought - Hey, teaching sounds like fun! I went back to school and got a master's degree in social science education. I taught middle school for ten years and during that time met the perfect guy, got married, and got pregnant. So far so good, right?

My husband is also a teacher and as the world knows teachers are not highly paid. So as we made plans during my pregnancy we thought that it would be best if I took the three months maternity leave and went back to work, shipping our baby off to daycare somewhere. I was not thrilled with this since I firmly believe that the best person to raise a child is their mother, but I also realize that raising a child with no clothes or food is not a wise option either. (And as a side note, I have taught in three different states, meaning that I basically have no retirement at this point! Yikes!) So off we went during what turned out to be the final month of pregnancy to explore our child care options. And it was scary.

Where we live there are not day care centers, instead there are women who watch 6-10 children in their homes. We printed the list of the home day care options from the internet and started making calls. Many places were already full - especially since they can only take two babies under the age of two at a time. We met with several scary people in their scary homes until we settled on someone that we didn't think was perfect, but could do the job (and it helped that our friends sent their babies here too). As fate would have it, our daughter came two months early and spent three months in various NICU's.

My maternity leave came and went quickly and we were still in the hospital. We learned of my daughter's life-long health issues that require hormone replacement therapy and careful monitoring. We decided that our best move would be for me to take a leave of absence for the remainder of the school year to stay home with Sweet Pea.

Being home with her has been a dream come true. Literally. I love waking up with her in the morning, playing with her during the day, being able to handle her medical care (paperwork, insurance, appointments) in peace, taking an afternoon nap with her. I like that I can keep the house somewhat clean and bake to my hearts desire. I am tired at the end of each day, don't get me wrong, but I do not have any papers to grade once I put her down for the night - and that is utterly delightful.

My husband and I have debated finding new jobs and moving closer to a major hospital for the sake of our child; we talk about it daily and have explored many different options. This would be incredibly difficult however because we live in a relatively affordable (very rural) part of the state, and the two areas with major hospitals seem to have housing markets that require you to have millions in the bank. We would both have to get lucky in finding teaching jobs. I've applied for one so far and although I was perfectly qualified I didn't even get an interview. We've been told that the superintendent is asking schools not to hire anyone with more than five years experience. No other jobs have posted that either I nor my husband are qualified for.

We've also toyed with the idea of me staying home one more year until Sweet Pea can at least talk. Then she could tell someone when she wasn't feeling well or if she needed a drink of water... and she could tell us if someone isn't treating her well. We could make this work if my husband works this summer and if I could work part-time somewhere - but where would I work? What would I be doing? Could I work from home? We would still have to be very frugal and would not be able to build our savings back up, but it could be done.

And last, I could go back to work. I've already resigned from my current position because even if I went back to teaching I would not want to work in that same position - the drive is just too far. I've recently learned of an available position at what was just last year my dream school because it is right down the road from our house. I could ride my bike if I wanted.  There is no reason why they shouldn't hire me. But do I really want to go back to the classroom? We've decided we would have to hire a nanny - if we can find one - for Sweet Pea and that would cost half of my take home pay. It would be worth it to know that she is cared for and safe. Taking this job would mean that I'd have a teaching job until I retired, but it also means that if we did decide we HAD to move at some point in the future I'd have even more teaching experience (and would thus be more expensive to a school) and administrators might wonder why I've taught in so many different buildings.

There are so many things for us to consider that it is quite overwhelming. I would most love to stay home with Sweet Pea while getting paid to write and taking her with me on new adventures. I'm not sure how to make that happen though and I'm running out of time to figure it out!

Did you struggle with the decision to go back to work? How did you make your decision? I'm starting to think my t-charts need an upgrade!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Why choose cloth diapers?

FuzziBunz One-Size and One-Size Elite Diapers

I have to admit that when my husband first mentioned the idea of diapering our daughter in cloth I was shocked. Why would I want to do that? I had visions of trying to hold down the baby while accidentally jabbing her with safety pins... and I had nightmares of poopy laundry. But, after hours days of research I decided that cloth diapering would actually work well for our family.

First, I found that cloth diapers are cheaper than disposables. Way cheaper. You can find all kinds of information online about how much money you can save using cloth. FuzziBunz has a chart here showing the cost comparison using their pocket diapers while over at Diaper Decisions you can find another chart showing that prefolds, covers, and laundry expenses through potty training will cost you less than $500; disposables will cost around $2,500. If you use your diapers for multiple children you can really see a huge difference in savings. Fitted diapers, all-in-ones and pockets will cost you more but you can still save significant money over time. Even better, you can put cloth dipes on your baby registry and pay only the cost of laundry! (You can even make them yourself - here is a tutorial!)

After looking around online I discovered that cloth diapers are really cute. Although we ended up going with solid colors you can find them in all types of patterns. Women in various cloth diaper groups online go so far as to post pics of their adorable babes in cloth or of their enormous "stash" of diapers. We're not that obsessed, but my Sweet Pea sure does look cute with her fluffy bottom!

The proclaimed environmental benefits of cloth do not hold water (haha, get it?) with me. Although we are not filing up landfills with dirty diapers we are using a lot of water to wash those suckers. In the winter, our water is heated with wood so at least we don't feel guilty about using a non-renewable resource at that time. Once we get the oil cranking though we won't be so smug. Washing a diaper involves pre-washing, a hot cycle, and a cold cycle. If you live in an area with a diaper service you can reduce your environmental impact in terms of water use but then you are paying someone to drive to your house to pick up the dipes.  We can line dry our diapers in the summer but we do throw them in the dryer in winter. I suppose we are minding our poop though, as all diapers (yes, even disposables) are supposed to have the poop flushed down the toilet before tossing into the wash bin. I'm sure that most people aren't knocking out the poop before tossing their disposables in the trash can though - and all that waste ends up in the landfill.

Disposables are made out of all sorts of crazy things like polymers and dioxine, but if you choose cloth you can buy natural, organic materials for your babe.  Of course, these diapers cost more. After much thought and discussions with friends, we opted for the FuzziBunz One Size Pocket Diaper. This diaper is not organic - it's made of polyester microfleece - but it is very soft, absorbent, and will grow with our daughter so that we only have to have one stash of diapers (unless baby #2 decides to make arrive while #1 is still in dipes!). The new FB Elite pocket diaper - which came out right after we came home from the NICU - is trimmer and has a minky insert which is just as absorbent but less bulky and more stain resistant.

Taking care of a babe in cloth is pretty easy. The diaper goes on just like a disposable, and since we have adjustable dipes they will grow with her. Since Sweet Pea is still eating just breastmilk her diapers can go straight into the washing machine. Once she starts eating food we'll have to knock the solids into the toilet. Now, we just shake out the insert and toss it and the cover into the wet bag. Once a day we dump the dipes into the washer along with the bag and wash. (We have 36 diapers and could definitely go longer without washing, but our daughter has diabetes insipidus which means she pees A LOT during the day and we'd rather not look at a bag full of dirty diapers.) To show you how simple it is, here is a video explaining disposable liners with Fuzzibunz.

If you are unsure about cloth diapers you can do a cloth trial through a business like Jillian's Drawers. Basically you pay $160 up front to try all different types of diapers for 21 days. At the end of the trial you may return all of the diapers and get a refund of $140.99! By going with a trial you can test different diapers and get an idea of what kind works for you and your child.  As much as I LOVE my FB, if I had known about this while pregnant we would have gone with this option first, especially since baby girl was so dang small when she first came home!

Look for future posts re: FB One-Size vs. Elite One-Size, cloth-safe diaper creams, and laundering cloth.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...