The Amateur Farm Hour series

A few weeks back, I told you how I realized that sometimes, the only way to start is to START. Meanwhile, I’ve had an idea in my head for a couple of months now. I’ve waffled over the best platform for it, and have learned a couple of things along the way. 1. I belong in the blogging-for-dummies camp, technically speaking. I can talk a little talk, but when it comes to SEO and monetizing and GIMPing up my pictures, I’m too busy sniffing out the culprit of that mysterious stench upstairs (you don’t want to know) and scrubbing crayon off the kitchen floor. And 2. I have about thiiiiiiiiiiiis much time to focus on developing new ideas. See #1.

That was a long, roundabout way to tell you that for now, we’re simply starting a new series around here called Amateur Farm Hour. 

Yep.

Amateur Farm Hour. Because let’s be real.

What I’m doing is all amateur. I’m not trendily clad in buffalo plaid and shooties when I’m cleaning the chicken coop. (Okay. Shooties might not even be a thing anymore. I’m that behind.) I’m wielding a shovel that’s actually dirty, and a pair of worn out garden gloves that barely keep crud off.

My children aren’t always instagram-ready. Half the time, my eldest is in some sort of off brand pajamas. Ponytails are wonky, pants are too short. Shoes are a crap shoot.

What I put on the table is 50% awesome, and 50% overcooked/underdone/fallen/substituted/unpinteresting fare.

And pictures. Let’s talk about pictures. Because you know there’s the crop tool. The lightening, brightening, color temperature filtering options. Yes, good pictures tell a story. But rarely is it the whole truth.

The whole truth is that I could sell you on my attempts at a sustainable family lifestyle. I could talk blithely about our free-range chickens and their glorious golden-yolked eggs. I could probably manage some stunning shots of our heirloom Wealthy and Honeycrisp apple trees. I could show you my freezer full of labeled bags of garden veggie sauce from our raised-bed garden. Hashtag. Hashtag. Hashtag.

Meanwhile, you might think I have it all together, and follow this series because it’s a pretty place to find funny farm stories and fall recipes and to see cute kids.

And we’d both miss the point.

***

Yesterday, I grabbed an extra gallon of milk from the store. (For the record, that made four gallons of milk in my cart. Apparently we need a cow.) My goal was to make yogurt since the girls have been on another one of their crazes, and the new mantra/chant at breakfast is now MORE. BIG. YOGURT. PWEEEEESE.

We got home, and somewhere in the middle of the chaos, I pulled the soup kettle out of the cupboard, dumped a gallon of milk in it, plopped it on a lit burner, and put the lid on. Homemade yogurt is a multi-step process, and since it was already 4:00 pm, I needed to get moving.

And then I glanced out the door. The girls were rolling down the hill in the front yard, busting out peals of laughter.

IMG_9669 (1280x718)

My oldest called out for me to come and join them, and it took all of three seconds to abandon kitchen ship, grab my camera, and run outside for the next hour.

We finally all piled back in the door around 6:00 pm, red-faced and covered in grass. I issued an immediate bath edict, but my nose was already starting to smell something else: the odd, semi-sweet fragrance of boiling milk. Boiling. Crap. 

Boiling means the milk is at least twenty degrees over the 180 degree desired warming point. Which means I’d basically annihilated my chance at having the yogurt culture.

Double crap.

I should have dumped the pot and moved on. A trained chef would not have thought twice about starting over. Unfortunately for me (and everyone around me), I’m not a trained chef. I’m a product of frugal parents and depression-era grandparents, and if there’s one thing that irks me, it’s waste.

After all, I could make…. a lot of hot cocoa with that milk. *gulp*

Which is why I added the yogurt starter, agave nectar and vanilla anyway. You know, because instead of wasting one item, it’d be better to waste four. Brilliant, I know.

Three hours into incubation, the yogurt refused to set.

I had also reached max capacity for any task involving real energy (mombie zone) so I haphazardly rearranged a fridge shelf, shoved the entire soup pot of warm yogurt-not-yogurt in, and went to bed kicking myself for ruining the batch.

_20150926_065517The next morning, I opened the fridge and stared at the pot. It was time to start getting creative. What could I use sweet, yogurt-laced milk for? Right. Muffins of some sort. I pulled out the mixer and got started. I made it halfway through the recipe before I took the lid off the pot to grab a cup of milk.

Miracle of small miracles, it had cultured.

I practically danced it to the counter. The yogurt wasn’t thick, but it was rich, creamy, and sweet. And aside from my failure to tend it properly, it still made something good. It was allowed to become something good because I didn’t give up. I waited for another angle. A new idea.

Maybe that’s how it goes in your kitchen, or in your office, or at your table too. Great ideas, good intentions, and then wham. Distraction. Need. Real life headbutts creative life and suddenly everyone’s knocked out on the floor.

Please don’t let that stop you.

Don’t throw away your messes, your failures, your imperfect attempts. You are not defined by these things. I believe you are fluid, and your definition rests in the cupped hands of God – God the creator, God the author, God the perfecter and finisher.

He doesn’t give up on you. He doesn’t see you as failed yogurt. He does not see your bad day at work or your temper with loved ones as who you ARE.

He understands amateur.

He knows sometimes, it’s the best show in town because those folks are having fun. They may not be doing everything right, but they have a good time trying.

That’s what we’re doing around here. Having a good time trying. It’s not always picture perfect or hipster-worthy, and that’s okay.

It’s amateur farm hour. And you’re invited.

In between posts, you can laugh along at my #amateurfarmhour pics on Instagram (@rachelriebe). Like how this series is starting off? Share it with a friend! See you next week!

IMG_9705 (1280x1079) (2)

Because fashion blogging is slightly hilarious to me… tank top – past season Gap outlet. Pants – worn out Athleta jeggings. Little girl hairband/wrist bracelet – Walmart. Blade of grass kazoo – sustainable product of Riebe Farms.

Advertisements

Homemade Yogurt

068 (800x533)You know how you feel when something you’ve taken the time to make from scratch comes out a little, ahem, sub par? Turns out homemade yogurt is DEFINITELY NOT one of those things. For the entire last week I have feasted on thick, luscious, creamy yogurt. Yogurt and berries. Yogurt and granola. Yogurt marinated chicken.

I’m guessing you’re a little skeptical. I was too. But if you’re looking for a brand comparison, this recipe turned out to be very similar to the Greek Gods honey yogurt line. The active work time was minimal, although it did require a little babysitting. But the result? Definitely worth it.

I’m going to post the plain, whole milk version that my friend Lacey showed me last week. Check out the updates at the end for how different flavors and milks have turned out for me so far.

Whole Milk Yogurt

What you need:
1 gallon of whole milk
1 cup of yogurt (I used Stonyfield Vanilla)

Equipment: kitchen thermometer (one that gives a constant read on the milk temperature), stock pot, strainer, cheesecloth or thin linen kitchen towel, and something to keep the yogurt in at a steady 110 degree temp – crock pot with temp settings, turkey roaster, oven, food dehydrator, actual yogurt maker, etc., container/s to store the finished product.

Method
1. Pour the gallon of milk into a large stock pot. Heat on low until the temperature reaches 180 degrees. (This takes about an hour. Don’t be tempted to turn the temp up unless you want to scald your milk.)

2. Remove 180 degree milk from heat, and allow to cool to 120 degrees.

3. Add 1 cup of yogurt to the milk. Whisk to incorporate.

4. Get ready to incubate. This might take some extra leg work, but it’s possible. I happened to have an awesome 1970’s vintage food dehydrator the size of a giant microwave (thanks Jody O!) that had a temp setting on it, so I just slid the whole pot inside, set the temp, and shut the door. My friend Lacey uses a turkey roaster that she tested and marked on the dial when it kept water at a consistent 110 degree temp. You can try the same thing with a crock pot. Or you might get lucky and have an oven that goes that low. Or you could be really fancy and buy a yogurt maker that takes the guesswork out of the equation.

051 (800x533)4. Cover and incubate at 110 degrees for anywhere from 4 to 24 hours. This is what it looks like after the incubation. (The longer the incubation, the stronger the tangy flavor. Want it mild? Stick with 4 hours. Once the yogurt has set up (see how it separates from the side of the pot?), the rest of the time just determines the strength of the flavor.)

 

061 (800x533)5. Set up a strainer over a large mixing bowl. Cover the strainer with cheesecloth (or a really awesome embroidered dish towel.) Strain for 30-60 minutes. The yellowish liquid you strain out is the whey, which can be saved for other endeavors. It can also be used as the starter for your next batch of yogurt. Just label it so that others don’t mistake it for lemonade if you leave it in the fridge.

 

062 (800x533)6. Here’s how much liquid the yogurt lost after straining for 30 minutes. The longer it strains, the thicker it gets, so if you love thick yogurt, let it go longer. (Just keep in mind the yogurt will also thicken as it cools.)

 

 

065 (800x533)7. Whisk the finished yogurt. (I used my Kitchen Aid with the whisk attachment the first time, but soon realized that a regular hand whisk does the same thing without dirtying another bowl.) Side note –  I did find some weird stringy bits attached to the whisk when I lifted it out. I think this was the skin of the milk that formed during the initial heating. Lesson learned – occasional stirring is important.

 

069 (800x533)8. Refrigerate, store, and serve. I went with the sweeten as you go method for this batch, which gave me freedom to serve it to everyone in my house. Since the twins are under a year, I used a berry puree to flavor their bowls. Ellis, Jason and I all used honey or ate it with granola. And leaving it unsweetened meant I could use it while cooking.

 

Quick update – 4/23/2014

  • I quickly discovered that my family has a sweet tooth. Hence I grabbed bottle of agave syrup at Walmart and put 2/3rds of a cup into my next batch during the incubation phase. This makes it sweeter, but not overwhelmingly so. I’ve also added a half tbsp of vanilla during incubation. I’m not sold that that’s the right ratio, so I’m still working on it.
  • I’ve also done a couple of batches with 2% milk, which turns out great – just not as rich.
  • I’ve also switched up the yogurt starter and tried Dannon all natural Vanilla since some stores don’t carry Stonyfield. It works well, and sets up a little thicker (I think it’s because of the gelatin in Dannon.)

What’s new in April (besides snow)

Hey everyone! Today is a little like a mystery flavor post. There’s just way too much great stuff going on to make cohesive sense, so I’m just going to mix it all together and call it good. It worked for Airheads, right? Anyway. It’s April 1, and it’s snowing. I want to say it’s some sort of April Fool’s joke, but who am I kidding. It’s just Minnesota.

First and foremost:
This month, we’re starting a month-long series on self-care around here. Why self-care? Have you ever heard the phrase, “When mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy”?

Right.

For the next three weeks, I have three different voices lined up to give you their thoughts on how they take purposeful care of their personal lives in order to help them in their vocations. I hope you can glean something from their ideas and find a few new, practical ways to care for yourself. Check back in on Thursday for our first post!

Second:

IMG_20140319_100634_527 (2)

Well rested babies are happy babies

Sleep training for the twins is complete. No more crying it out. No more muscle jerking, ear-splitting, teeth clenching wails at 3:00 am. We are finally all sleeping through the night – as in 7:00 pm to 6:00 am most days. The twins stopped wanting their “dream feeding” two weeks ago, and since then, it’s been a solid, 11 hour stretch of beautiful sleep.

No swings. No rocking. No more pacing the floor required. Our bedtime routine now consists of changing diapers, putting on pajamas, and then bringing them to their dark room to lay down with their nuks and loveys. We turn on the fan for white noise, and off to dreamland they go.

It was a long, dark road. But we’ve now emerged in a pleasant place. God is good.

Third:
The twins aren’t the only ones who got trained. Some sort of switch went off for Ellis, and she is suddenly potty trained. I’m dumbfounded.

Two weeks ago we did another round of undies training (same as a year ago). This time she had a 50% success rate, and I ran out of carpet cleaner. Then she got sick, and we put it all on hold. I figured she wasn’t ready. But this Wednesday, she requested undies again, and kept them dry all day. Thursday was the same. Since last Friday, she’s only had one accident.

I have no idea why now was the time. Nor do I think I’m any sort of oracle for potty training wisdom. Best I can say is that she was ready, and in typical fashion, just made her mind up and went with it. She never ceases to amaze me, my spirited, sassy, stubborn little Swede.

Fourth:
We’re going to learn how to make yogurt! Okay, maybe I’m the only one super excited about this. But my friend Lacey offered to show me her tinkered, tested, and perfected method for homemade yogurt, and I feel like I inherited the moon.

We are going through yogurt like WATER at my house these days, and it’s eating my grocery budget alive. So if you A. hate paying $4.50 for a tub of organic yogurt, B. hate paying $9.00 for two tubs of organic yogurt, or C. HATE paying $18.00 for FOUR tubs of organic yogurt a week, you should probably check back in next week.

That’s all I’ve got. If you want a good giggle, here’s an adorable video of Ellis making the twins laugh. We are loving the 8 month stage.