Homemade Yogurt and a Website of Quirky Things

This morning, a glorious, sunny Sunday morning, I feel terribly shallow — no insights or inspiration — I just want to tell you about the joy and simplicity of making yogurt.

All it takes is about a quart of milk and this:

Really, you don’t even need the powdered milk – I just like my yogurt a little on the thicker side and this seems to help do the job. Just heat up the milk (I use fat free) to 180 degrees. I put in a sprinkling of the dried milk and then stand over the pot and whisk-away so the milk neither burns on the bottom of the pot or grows a nasty skin on top. Alas, my stove top is electric and after many mediocre batches I’ve found it’s best to stand over the pot and stir constantly. It takes less than 5 minutes until the milk reaches the desired temperature.  Then, turn off the heat and leave the pot there to slowly cool down.

This is the perfect window of time to make a cup of tea maybe or eat a breakfast of said-homemade yogurt, granola and strawberries.

Check on the temperature of the milk regularly and when it gets to about 120, add your room temp (sort of) yogurt starter. (You can use about a 1/4 cup of your last batch for a few times – then you want to get some store bought stuff – with lots of lively acidophilus) When the thermometer drops to 110, I pour it into a container from a yogurt making kit I purchased off of a wacky-website called Daily Grommet and insert it into this thermos type container that’s been filled half-way with boiling water.

While wonderful, this contraption is not necessary — any-old thermos will work fine or, if you are lucky enough to have a gas oven where the temperature inside the oven is always warm, just put a cloth over a glass bowl and place in the center of your oven. Check back in 8 hours and voila, homemade, unadulterated, delicious yogurt.

That’s my ‘Suzy Homemaker’ tip of the week. By the way, here’s another Daily Grommet find I couldn’t resist for those mornings when I want a tea for the road. Just insert the ‘to-go’ into your canning glass.

And check out this weird recent product from the same site:

Who knows how someone might make their millions!

Eggplant Rescue and a Re-discovered Cookbook

Cookbook Shelf

We’re a little sick of eggplant around here. We joined a different CSA this year because the previous one (that I loved – every week a new culinary adventure of heirlooms and weird vegetables)  no longer drops at a convenient pickup location. This new farm, while perfectly fine with very generous shares,  has a rather blah selection and too much repetition. Green cabbage again and again, cucumbers, cucumbers and more cucumbers. (I think we’re done with them… no photos to show.) Yummy – but just same ol’ tomatoes and collard greens gigantic enough to cover a roof with. And eggplant. Week after week – at least one, and usually more, eggplants. And that’s even after splitting the share with my friend. (Do I sound like a brat, complaining about this bounty?)

Farm Tomatoes, My Peppers

Of course there is eggplant parm, baba ganoush, stir fried, thin slices salted and made into ‘chips’. I’ve made them all for what has become, an ambivalent audience. And in the next week’s load of vegetables – more eggplant!  This weekend I remembered a recipe I’d made years ago out of  Festa del Giardino: A Harvest of Recipes and Family Memories.  While this not the kind of cookbook I’m usually a sucker for — no beautiful photos — it has concise, easy to follow recipes that result in obviously memorable dishes. Like this Caponata I whipped up yesterday.


I remember Molly being younger than 10 and a kid who hated veggies, digging in. I’m afraid you might be hard-pressed to find this book now out-of-print, by local author and lovely Sally Maraventano who came to the store for a book signing in 1999.  (But she does have her own cooking school.)

Festa del Giardino

I’m delighted to have found this obviously well-used cookbook again and inspired to rediscover the great recipes in it and the rest of this overflow stash that always escapes my periodic book-purges. Next, maybe I’ll bake bread…

Cookbook Cabinet

The Expatriate’s Itch

In the early hours of the morning I woke not sure of where I was. Italy? Kyoto? Croatia or some other place I once lived long enough for the exotic to become familiar? Sometimes I feel transported in time and space from sleep, and last night, inspired by what I read before nodding off. One of my favorite bloggers, Luisa Weiss, has written a memoir with recipes: My Berlin Kitchen.

Luisa grew up straddling the Atlantic – traveling between her divorced parents from Boston to Berlin. Any expat will tell you that the itch, the longing for a place we have loved, and perhaps, where we were loved (definitely enhances yearning) never quite goes away. One’s sense of home becomes an aching wistfulness about that other light, streets, sounds, smells, food. And for the author, this perpetual pining is in her DNA born to an Italian mother and American father and growing up between Europe and the States.

I’ve followed The Wednesday Chef for a few years now, savoring recipes and glimpses of Luisa’s life and travels. And love. Little glimpses of heartbreak, longing and now, blissfully, reunited with her first love and a new baby to boot. And always, fantastic food (recipes included! at B&N you’ll find this in the cookbook section).  I don’t know about you, but this is stuff I want to read about.

And now the glimpses she gave us in her blog have been fleshed out into a book – the same enchanting writing with the details filled in – of how this gal found her way. But as the traveler/expat knows, things are not always as they should be for example, as the foreigner in Paris. The beautiful streets can be lonely, every day may be grey in every sense of the word, and Luisa captures it all brilliantly.  A beautiful reminder to us always ready to pack our bags and disappear with some notion that things will be better there.

Why does one place resonate with us as opposed to another? I loved San Francisco where I spent a summer a thirty years ago – renting a studio with my friend in the Mission District – wandering the streets from sun to fog and exploring Pacific beaches. Luisa didn’t. I never loved Boston – a city I landed in for a few months. Kyoto will always feel like home, I’d move back to Italy in a flash…see? Don’t get me started.So much of it has to do with timing, and… as does anything and everything in my opinion – love.

I revel in my my garden, the fireplace, the kitchen, my bed, my dog, my home. I feel lucky to have my Connecticut home. But always, their is the faintest of siren calls — to make a move again. Not just to pass through — but to really inhabit another place, make friends, share meals. Well, there are always my dreams and awake in my kitchen I can cook up some of the yummy recipes from My Berlin Kitchen and pretend to be in Tuscany.

Veg-ing Out

Thursday afternoons before heading home from work I drive to Wakeman Town Farm – the lovely designated pick-up spot for my Stone Gardens Farm box of CSA vegetables. (Community Supported Agriculture) Paying up-front for a season’s worth of vegetables helps to support the farm and keeps us in great produce. My friend Chris and I split it so it works out to be $300 each for a huge load of whatever’s being harvested. This will happen from early June until the end of October working out to only $15 a week for organic, local leafy greens, salad, radishes, herbs — all grown just up the road (well, about 15 miles away).

The challenge is to eat this bounty before another Thursday rolls around. Priority is eating the lettuce before delicate leaves turn into slimy mush. So for lunch and dinner on Friday, we ate salads loaded with salad squash (a white radish-y kind of thing that has a nice kick), kohlrabi and cuke. I threw in capers, olives, feta and avocado to bulk it all up a bit.

Alien Kohlrabi

Saturday for brunch I sauteed the chard with loads of garlic and crushed red pepper, topped it with a poached egg, parmesan cheese and a dash of hot sauce. Still in the fridge (a very small one, as you can see) are fan-like fronds of collard greens (see above), kale, an accumulation of 3 weeks of beets, a zucchini, yellow squash, and a bag of lovely little broccoli florets. And an alien looking kohlrabi. What a weird vegetable. I would never put a kohlrabi in my basket — but there it is and while I still wouldn’t spring for it in a store, I like the challenge of figuring out what to do with it. It’s been furnace hot around here so I’m not really in cooking mode. Frittata? Juice it all? Kale chips? What about those beets? Any suggestions?

Being Here

It’s Monday and I’ve taken the day off from work. Today is my birthday and my plan is to  do whatever I want. Right now I am sitting in a coffee shop with my laptop and a cappuccino pretending to be someone who really gets to do this. In my fantasy life, I’d be in a sunny little studio at the very pointy top of my house. I’d be able to look out the window and see the Long Island Sound in the distance. Never mind: this is good too. And I get why some writers seek out tables at B&N rather than work at home at their kitchen table, away from the piles of papers needing sorting, floors needing washing or dog begging for a walk.

It’s a gorgeous day – the sun is bright and air brisk so I will take dear Tetley for a walk later – maybe even to the beach. If it warms up enough, I’ll eat a lunch of cheesy leek, roasted cauliflower frittata leftovers out in the back garden near the blooming hyacinth and daffodils. Maybe I’ll garden a little — first pick up some topsoil and mulch to freshen up the veggie garden and plant early crops of peas, lettuce and arugula.

There’s a yoga class at 4:00 I might go to if I can bring myself to leave the sunshine for a darkened room.

I’ll try really hard not to check my work email, reminding myself I am not a heart surgeon and no one will die if I don’t get back to them today.

It’s not quite 9 a.m. and I already feel fawned-over and loved – roses from my daughter, expensive lotion from my guy, texts, emails and messages from friends.

I’m glad to be alive.  All day I am going to pay attention to and celebrate just that.

Writer’s Block

This morning, I’m stumped. I write a sentence, start an idea and delete. Inspiration eludes me. I try to be disciplined about posting to this blog at least once a week and usually, something is percolating by the time I sit down at my keyboard. Something.

Nature never lets me down – some sweet moment in the yard sets me off on a trail of thought leading to something else I can put into words. Yesterday I picked a salad’s worth of arugala from beneath the newly fallen layer of leaves but beyond that, I don’t know what to write.

Arugala gets me thinking about food. I love to read about food but hesitate to write about it since I’m not really a foodie. But I do make a delicious and always different granola. I need to make a batch today as this bowl is the last of it. Oats mixed with a neutral tasting oil, honey, a dash of vanilla and cinnamon spread on a baking sheet in the oven. Turn often until browned to your taste. When cool, add the rest — nuts, raisins, coconut, flax and wheat germ for an even healthier boost.

So easy to make and much cheaper than buying it. I’ve also started making my own yogurt (also featured here sliding in next to my granola) seduced by this video from this site The Daily Grommet I sometimes visit when I should be doing other things.  It’s a simple thermos kind of thing easily improvised – but I was a sucker and bought the whole shebang. It came with two packets of yogurt mix made from the milk of New Zealand cows and did make 2 perfect batches – but buying more of these packets is pricey and defeats the purpose a bit. I’ve used a few recipes from other websites and have come up with some delicious, although still slightly runny batches.

If I wasn’t slightly embarrassed to tell you what I was reading I could write about it. But put it this way: I am reading said unnamed book (currently on the best-seller list) while I watch television (Jon Steward, Stephen Colbert) – it’s not deep or particularly good and we’ll leave it at that. I did read a delightful book (not in front of the tv) recently by a Jennifer Wilson who took a sabbatical from her life in the States to go live with her husband and two little kids in the little town in Croatia where her ancestor’s came from. Running Away to Home  often made me laugh out-loud – she’s very funny with a self-deprecating humor. Jennifer affectionately captures this tiny little village and the characters who live there. I appreciated the glimpse of Croatia – so much a part of my life still tangled with memories of sadder times.

Were I traveling of course there would be no shortage of inspiration, but for now I am content with armchair journeys and following the delightful accounts of not one, but two of my friends’ trips to Thailand. Coincidentally, they were both there in the middle of record rains and floods — but still had great adventures. Check them out.

So there, I’ve written a post. A reminder to myself to just start writing.

Soup’s On

Between work and my daughter’s insane school-sports-social schedule, the week was frenetic and I am still spinning. Tuesday night was exciting at the bookstore as we hosted the launch of the Echook Memoir I app – a digital publication. (It includes a piece by me!) I played host and also participant, mingling with a lovely group of people. Delightful.

A certain amount of busy-ness is usually a good thing for me, forcing me to be productive and energized. But I also like being home so welcome today – Saturday. I am mostly free to clean the mess and chaos of the house and cook my way through a few weeks of vegetables stored in the fridge.

I began last night by salvaging a head of escarole lodged behind some left-overs. A few leaves were just beginning to freeze from being flattened against the back. I cubed up a red onion remaining from a meal I don’t remember, threw in a crazy amount of minced garlic, scrubbed up a few farm carrots and potatoes with olive oil, then added the roughly chopped escarole, stirring until it wilted. Salt, pepper a box of vegetable stock simmered until the potatoes and carrots were tender. A can of white beans added just before we were ready to eat. Molly even had a bowl, although she rejected the bitter green that inspired the dish in the first place. Soup season begins!

Season Switch

One afternoon last week a cold wind began to blow and in the course of a few hours, the weather switched from summer heat to an autumn chill. Summer’s final days usually make me melancholy — the end of long hours of light and evenings of warmth. Not this year. I feel done with the heat, ready to drag my sweaters out and stop feeling guilty about neglecting the garden.

Between relentless high temperatures, the groundhog’s appetite, invisible creatures that made skeletons of my chard, and my own neglect, the garden is mostly a mess. I wade through weeds to salvage what veggies remain. A variety of peppers, a handful of cherry tomatoes and an eggplant or two.

Basil is hanging in there. But mostly, it’s a wash-out. One sunflower lays bent in the garden although I planted over a hundred seeds.

In a nod to autumn growing possibilities, I replaced the remains of the hanging petunia with a mum but otherwise, am ready to let it all go.  There are still a few weeks left of my CSA vegetable deliveries. Squash, black kale, potatoes and carrots galore fill the crisper in my very small fridge. I am ready to make soups and other slow cooking meals to fill the house with smells of simmering garlic, onions and herbs.

I retrieved my fuzzy slippers and heavy robe from the back of the closet to bundle up for these morning sessions. This quiet hour of writing is now dark and cold. While I sit, morning light gradually seeps into the room and so the day begins. I am ready.


Another Day – Catskills Retreat

I know there is a full moon tonight but I search the horizon from my bedroom window to no avail.  There are more trees than sky around here. Full moon, full day of writing. This evening, I took a break to make dinner.  A pleasure to concoct surrounded by these friends, I improvised a meal of whole wheat pasta with a medley of vegetables — onions, an abundance of smashed garlic, mushrooms, grated carrot, zucchini, summer squash with olive oil, topped with a poached egg, fresh basil and parmesan. It is not as gorgeous to look at as to taste, but here it is.Smooshed up, the poached egg blends together scrumptiously with the vegetables and pasta.

I wrote outside under an apple tree this morning. A few feet away but out of sight, Laura had set up her pastels in the flower garden of hollyhocks and bee balm. On the porch, Diane was also drawing. Later, someone played the piano.

There is a dreamlike quality to these days — immersed in our art, our dreams, our books, the river. We ask each other what day it is and exclaim at how quickly time is passing. We speak with longing and love about our loved ones at home but are absorbed in these precious moments to just – be. We read each other well, knowing when to engage or leave each other alone. We recognize in each other, the thrall of inspiration.

By evening, we are ready to connect, so gather around the kitchen. Someone slices, simmers and serves delicious dinner. Somehow, easily – the dinners get made, the dishes washed, the lights go out, the day ends. We disappear to our rooms for sleep to the constant river sounds, anticipating another day to do — whatever we want.

Retreat – Day Two

Yesterday, I spent almost the entire day in my room writing, popping downstairs every few hours for nourishment from food and friends. Here’s where I am working.The view is of trees and a glimmer of river. There is a road too, but I have selective vision and not too many cars pass by. All day, I sat and worked on changes to my manuscript suggested by my very smart, very generous new friend, author of Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, Nina Sankovitch. Working through the pages, my heart fills with the attention she paid.  This is the story of how I learned to write — big-hearted, insightful readers – friends, agents, strangers even, have helped me to shape my tale into a book. I feel like I am almost there.  I imagine myself finished, at my own book event for a change. Someone asks the inevitable question – “how long did it take you to write?” What will I say?

I feel so compelled to keep going that today will probably also be spent at this desk. But my body demands movement so I will force myself to take a walk – perhaps over the river rocks, balancing across the currents. Last year I was mesmerized by the tricky scramble over slippery stones.  But being able to focus all day on writing is a gift. I could stay up here all day and my friends would leave me be. But their presence offers laughter, comfort and inspiration.

When I ventured down yesterday for a cup of tea mid-afternoon, Laura was sorting her pastels out on the porch. “Do you want to listen to something?” she offered, then hooked me up to her ipod.  I sat, eyes closed listening to mystical choral music I may otherwise never have heard. Then I went back to work until the smells of dinner wafted up the stairs.

Dinner last night was by Laura – quinoa patties from my new favorite cookbook Super Natural Cooking Everyday, a magnificent salad by Diane and farm stand corn with sage butter.   Delicious. 




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