Monday, April 2, 2012

Waking Up - Homemade Yogurt

Sometimes I feel like I am just waking up now, seeing sharper colors, clearer lines, feeling the keys hit my fingers, inhaling the aroma of the fresh loaf of bread sitting on desk.  It feels like each memory before was a dream, a foggy recollection that resembles sleep-walking through life.  I made conscious, rational decisions, I’m sure of it, but thinking back now, the logic looks so fuzzy.  About once every few months I do this.  I guess this is the meaning of the phrase, “Hindsight is 20/20.” 

I’m just starting my spring break, and have already begun considering the countless possibilities and goals I have for this one.  Working during vacation should seem hard, but most of the time I am already so overscheduled (I do this to myself, accidentally-on-purpose) that a week without regular obligations seems like bliss.  I finally have time to concentrate!  To fully immerse myself in the work and completely engage!  Of course, with this free time, I typically fail to schedule it properly, forget to take other obligations into account, and generally wind up procrastinating most of it, anyway.  And so passes yet another “vacation” just as stress-filled and unproductive as the rest of the semester, albeit with a little less sleep-deprivation. 

And so I am waking up now.  I have plans for this spring break, radically different ones from those made in years past.  Once in a while, this happens to me, too, where I find bits and pieces of advice that seem to reveal to me the secrets of life.  I think, oh, this makes so much sense!  And promptly begin to attempt to lead my life in this direction.  My boyfriend actually pointed this out; the reason that I procrastinate so much is that I look for direction externally, from other peoples’ stories, when I should be writing my own.  After being a little insulted (I’m also working on taking criticism less personally), I am realizing that it’s true.  I am not looking for a quick fix.  I am working on establishing a life that I am proud to lead now, and more difficult and importantly, will be proud to see in the future, looking back with that 20/20 vision. 

Funny thing is, looking back, one of the best things I’ve learned to make this semester is also the most humble.  Although a bunch of my Indian friends have informed me that homemade yogurt was a staple growing up and therefore boring, I have never ceased to feel a spark of excitement when my warm, purely liquid milk magically transforms into a solid block of creamy yogurt.  It’s also incredibly simple, requiring nothing more than milk and some yogurt.  The equipment can be improvised.  Many websites call for a spare towel, but being a poor college student, what I used was my (clean!) high school cross-country sweatshirt.  Don’t worry, it never actually touches the yogurt.  It’s used as insulation material to keep the milk warm as the microbes do what they do best, and magically turn your plain milk into a soft, tangy, creamy yogurt.  I have found that although it can be eaten plain or mixed with toppings, my favorite use is a milk substitute in baking*.  Bread, cakes and quick breads all turn out softer and moister, even cornbread.  Sometime this week, I’ll share my favorite cornbread recipe (adapted from and a lovely yogurt cake recipe (adapted from Clotilde of Chocolate and Zucchini).   

So smooth, silky and creamy...

Homemade Yogurt adapted from a multitude of websites
Makes however much your final container holds

Milk, enough to fill your final container (You can use anything from full-fat to skim)
Plain yogurt (I scoop a little off the top of any yogurt with fruit on the bottom)

1 non-porous container, preferably with a screw-top lid**
1 saucepan, large enough to hold the contents of the container
1 spare towel, sweatshirt, or very warm room (75F or so)
1 rubber spatula or spoon to stir the milk


1. Thoroughly wash your container, pan and rubber spatula or spoon with hot water and soap (skip the soap if your spoon is made of wood).  Thoroughly dry everything.  Fill the container with milk and pour it into the saucepan.  Slowly heat the milk until it begins to foam around the edges, and small bubbles occasionally form in the center of the pan.  Stir often to prevent scorching and lumps.  I don't cover the milk, because I think it evaporates some of the water and creates a slightly thicker yogurt, but it's your choice.

2. While the milk heats, put about a tablespoon of yogurt into the container and allow it to slowly come to room temperature (i.e. just let it sit there until the milk boils).

A rare in-progress photo: you are looking for these small bubbles in the milk.
3. Once the milk is simmering, turn off the fire and wait for it to cool to a little higher than body temperature.  Although some places tell you to put it in the sink and run cold water around it to cool it down quicker, I am not confident enough that water from the sink will not splash into the pan, even covered.  Besides, there's no action involved.  Just be a little patient.

4. When the milk is cooled enough that it feels warm to your finger, but not hot (that would kill the microbes), slowly pour it into your nice, clean container.  Gently stir the milk and the yogurt until completely homogenous.  Close the container almost all the way, either by screwing the top not quite shut or covering it with plastic wrap, and put it where it can sit undisturbed for at least 8 hours or so.  Wrap it in some form of insulation, be it towel, sweatshirt, or simply placed atop the heater.  Leave it alone for 8 hours.  If you check it and it still behaves like milk, leave it longer.  Once it took nearly 24 hours to finish fermenting.

5. Once the milk no longer swishes in the container, you should see a gloriously smooth and silky mass, almost like very soft jelly.  Congratulations, you have yogurt!  Thank the little microbes, furiously working just for you :)  Screw the top on tightly or transfer to a container that you can close tightly.  Store in the refrigerator and use within about a week.  Enjoy!

It only looks like this before you stir it.  It's quite difficult to see how thick it is, otherwise.

* My friend and suitemate, the one who took that beautiful picture of the cookies we made last week, also happens to be lactose-intolerant.  However, she can eat yogurt, since the microbes eat most of the lactose (a sugar found in milk and other places) while fermenting.  Since she told me this, I have been substituting yogurt for almost all of my items that require milk, and report great success.

** The container I use is the one from a jar of almond butter.  It's perfect because it's a straight-sided, wide-mouthed, glass jar that allows you to clean thoroughly the entire inside, screws shut very tightly, and reuses a resource. 

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