PaR Cooked

we need a catchy title….

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It seems fitting that Rachel’s last post would be about leaves unfurling from their winter hideouts and flowers showing off to world as I write my first post in what feels like forever.  In many ways I too feel like I am “springing.”  The air is not jasmine scented and there are no beautiful petals tucked behind my ear.  Still, I am here.  In this space.  Both on the blog and in life.  This fall has been more intense than I ever planned, but, perhaps foolishly, I feel like I have turned a corner.  My spring is coming.  A new birth.

Since late summer every spare moment I have had has been spent following online classes towards getting my real estate license.  Online test, after online quiz followed by driving back and forth to the mainline for in-person testing.  Followed by some of the most boring and depressing proctored testing sights in Harrisburg and Allentown, I am done!  While it doesn’t seem like it should be such a big deal, people do it all the time…doing it while still having one child home half days, after school programs out the wazoo, Otto in full allergy shot mode (ie: 2 plus hours a week sitting in waiting rooms with both kids!) and still trying to maintain a clean house and feed all of us three meals a day, it has been a bit much.  Not to mention I volunteer on a few boards which this year have upped the weekly meeting time I attend.  Did I mention in all of this I also was painting my neighbors never ending grand entrance and hallway?  Yeah, kind of insane.  But, as of yesterday, all of that is done!!!  Now I just need to sell some houses.  My license officially will arrive later the month at which point I can actually start.  But I am still in training mode with the broker.  I am hoping to start slow and only work when Mette is in school so for now, just getting all the school work and test out of the way is a huge deal.

This afternoon is the first time since Mette started school in September that I have had a chance to sit and do my own activity while she is at school.  I have dinner prepped, meals laid out for the next few days and a shopping list for what I need.  I feel more prepared than I have in months.  It’s kind of amazing.  That’s not to say that the backlog of stuff that I have pushed to the back burner isn’t chanting in the background of every thought, but now at least I feel like I might actually get to some of those things.  Next week.  Mette and I have a playdate tomorrow morning and I don’t actually have plans for friday.


While Rachel is basking in warm sun, longer days and SPRING!  I am taking this time to slow down.  I have been baking bread again now that it is cold enough to make me want to run the oven all afternoon.  I pulled a roast from the freezer and am planning the first pot roast of the season.  There are many nights of roasted root vegetables in various forms on our menu.  After a summer of not being able to knit much because my arms and hands hurt too much (don’t say the CT word, I am not prepared for that) I have slowly picked up the needles again and am making my way through a sweater for Mette.  I will admit a big motivator to ramping up my knitting again is I need a good reason to buy yarn while in Montevideo because I have been dreaming about it since the first time Rachel went and brought me home goodies.


On that note, we are headed to the land of sunny Rachel and clan in 41 days.  That seems entirely too awesome.  I can’t wait.  Along with shoving as much yarn in my suitcase as possible, I am hoping to soak up enough sun to make it through the cold of February.  It’s a good goal.


For the next post I promise yummy treats and less complaining.  Cold weather is for cooking and I am hoping to share.


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I have reached the point of the evening where dusting the children with water from the tap feels like sprinkling them with holy water.  Instantly washing away the dirt from a days activities.
Listening to joyful laughter coming from the third floor upstairs does not motivate me to move from the couch in the kitchen (why did I think it was a good idea to put a couch in the kitchen?) to the sink to wash the dishes, to the bathroom to wash the children.
It’s a Monday night, Monday of a holiday weekend which means tomorrow is really kind of Monday all over again.  Bookbags are packed, library books have been found.  Notes to retrieve children early for dentist appointments are written, signed, sealed and delivered to the all-important yellow folder.  Looking ahead to this weeks schedule sees no week day night with less than two activities.  Somehow I have failed miserably in the “I will not overscheduled my children or family” goal.
Still it all seems a trivial nuisance when I remember that this is the week, hopefully, fingers crossed, that airline gods will come together for us and we will buy our tickets for South America.  Months before journey, let the dreams begin.
Before tickets can be purchased, before dreams become reality, there are dishes to do and childre’sn hair to scrub.  Jammies to find and bedtime stories to read. Tucking in to happen and re-tucking in along with glasses of water and reminders that even if you slept for an hour in the car ride home today it is still bedtime and tomorrow is another day.


You know what is hard, thinking anything you write is clever or witty when you are sharing a blog with Rachel.  I have had a very busy and insane last few weeks which has led to the static silence from my end of the blog, but that’s not to say I haven’t been typing away.  Every time I think I am getting something together she goes and makes the drugstore sound witty and charming.  That is just one of the many reasons we love her.  Who else do you know that can do that?

Life here is far less exotic.  Everyone in my house spends the whole day speaking the same language, unless you count the times when Mette speaks in Mette language.  Otto started first grade last week which is new and amazing and perhaps a little bit exotic.  But it’s in the same school he went to last year, he takes the same bus, at the same time and for the most part requests I pack him the same lunch he had last year.  Change in the details is not something he handles well.  Mette is chomping at the bit to start school next week where she is graduating to the almighty afternoon class!  Every day no less!  We are counting the hours until it starts.  Each for our own reasons.

There is no exotic pharmacy filled with magical potions in glorious packaging, but they did start restocking the toothpaste I like again at the local CVS, so that’s exciting.  We, like many other readers, are living vicariously through the exotic stories of “down on the other side of the world.”

While I would be lying to say I am not jealous of the adventures, though not the germ part, I have to admit it is also a daily reminder to enjoy the slow, predictable life here in our sleepy little town.  When our family returned from 6 months abroad last year the kids and I happily spent the first two weeks home without leaving the block.  The first time I ventured three blocks downtown to the pharmacy (do we really go to pharmacies this much??) it felt like I was in a new foreign land, again.  We were so content to have our own house again nothing else.   We are lucky enough to have a core group of friends who were better able to anticipate this new lifestyle and made frequent visits to our house.  Allowing us to feel social from the safety of a pajamas that make it to the dinner table.


Baring the squirrel incident and a light switch event to which there are no answers, the tenant in their house has settled in well which leaves me without a reason to check on their house every day or so.  I still drive by, making sure nothing has impaled it from the outside and the roof hasn’t caved in.  I am not sure what else one can observe as you take the corner onto their street and drive past without entering oncoming traffic, but I can confidently say it is still standing.  He is bound to take a long  weekend soon and I will have my chance!


I keep wondering how long Rachel has to be gone before I think twice about adding chicken stock to something.  Will I possibly be having an impromptu lunch with her later this week where I might want to share this with her and family?  Perhaps I shouldn’t….


As I walk around town I think of things that I see I want to share with you.  But I don’t always remember when I am emailing or skyping.  Things like,

-they finally put the fence up around the president’s house and the reason they were taking so long with the corner was because they did a really nice bent section of fencing to match the new curved sidewalk.  I approve.

The guy who does the thrusting planks at the gym in the morning has a new and more robust routine.

We never all got to try the cider place before you left but I had some at a wedding recently and it was not unlike strong moonshine.  I am guessing it’s not all like that, but wowza, it was interesting.

With our new kitchen remodel I now have a bench for people to sit on and have tea and cookies after lunch.  Or anytime of course.  It really feels like you, Belinda and Megan need to break it in.

Somehow we need to get Megan to drink tea.

I went to Country Cupboard with just Mette and got new flowers for the window boxes out front.  It wasn’t as much fun as when I went with you and your mom.  Though going with Mette wanted to choose would have been exciting!

While we soak up the remaining warm days of long sunlight I promise to try and let go and send the long rays your way.  With warm sun and longer days hopefully you will all be filled with itching desires to explore the amazing world just outside the kitchen window.


For the Record

So rachel is off in the summer hemisphere and I am left with her empty house that still smells like their family to check on and maintain.

It is nice still being able to go over to her house, even if she isn’t there.  I have met with the tenant and tried my hardest not to overwhelm him with details.  I think I talked to him for an hour at break neck speed about all things house and town.  Pretty sure he won’t be contacting me anytime soon!    I explained the dehumidifier, the fancy furnace, street cleaning, recycling, best grocery stores, markets quirks, neighbors, you name it.
He seems quite nice and is off on a trip for a month so we both have a chance to settle into our new rolls of tenant/landlord.
Him being gone for a month is giving me a bit more time to let go of her house.  A luxury i didn’t think I needed until he left.
That brings me to this week’s confession.

For the record I would like to state that never once while checking on your house did I wonder why the toilet seat in the upstairs bathroom was so dirty.  What was the tenant doing in there?  I tried standing on the seat to see if some amazing view could be had thus explaining what looked like footprints.  After determining I was clueless to the reasons, i just went ahead and cleaned it.
For the record i did not question the tenants need to haphazardly pull down the black out curtains on the third floor and leave them in a heap on the floor.  Instead I simply went about rehanging them.
For the record, I never heard movement on the third floor and left screaming.
For the record, i did not call Tasha to come over and help me be brave and see what was in there.
Nathan, for the record, I did not use a squash racket as a possible self defense weapon, nope, not once.
For the record there has never been a squirrel in your house.
For the record we did not trap one on the third floor with an open window in the hopes s/he would see him/herself out.
I am the bravest and most capable of all landlords you could have.

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Sour Milk

Hi, come on in.

Don’t mind the banging coming from upstairs, Mette is working on making me something.  Leave your boots by the door, hang jackets and hats anywhere you can find a spot.  It’s cold outside, warm up in the kitchen.

I have everything all ready to make a batch of yogurt.  Warm, tangy, delicious yogurt.  The same yogurt that when the professor saw how I made it was shocked.  “Really, that’s all you do?!”  Surely there should be something more to it than that.  And, there isn’t.  When making yogurt I think you need to remember this.  People first started making yogurt by mistake, in hot climates.  Less is more.  If you research recipes for how to make yogurt you will find countless methods, numerous temperatures and times to adhere to.  They are all right.   The process I am sharing here is my method.  I have found that it produces predictable results which, most importantly, my small folk devour.  That being said, feel free to experiment and find what works best for you.

The steps are basic.  Basic enough that you can have time to work on your curlers.

Mette trying out her new curlers.

Mette trying out her new curlers.

There is also plenty of down time, so feel free to organize a few cabinets while you are at it.

sometimes you just have to start a new project.

sometimes you just have to start a new project.

When making anything, clean equipment is a really good idea.  I make our yogurt in large Ball wide mouth canning jars.  I have tons of them, they are easy to clean and they store well.  Use what you like best.  Because today I was showing friends my “sour milk secrets” I used a whole gallon of milk, but usually I make one half gallon every week or so.  I use local raw whole milk that I get delivered to my house by the farmer.  It is lovely and grassy, but you can use any whole milk.  Pasteurized is even fine.  I am a big believer in the good fat in milk, especially local and grass fed milk, and I prefer raw or low temp pasteurized, but that is a whole other can of worms for another post.  The other key ingredient you need besides milk to make yogurt, is yogurt.  You need a small amount of yogurt to get you going.  Once you have made your first batch you can reserve a small portion of that to make you next batch.  It’s kind of like a sour dough starter.  The golden ratio to remember is 1/4 cup yogurt for every 4 cups of milk.  So to make a gallon of milk into  yogurt I needed one cup of yogurt from my last batch.  Amazingly enough I managed not to scrape the jar empty the night before and saved enough!  whew!  Can’t begin to tell you how many times I have done that.  In a pinch you can use store bought yogurt to get you going.  Or, if you are lucky and happen to have a Rachel down the street, you can call her and see if she has any homemade yogurt you can have.  But, not everyone is lucky enough to have a Rachel down the street.  Though wouldn’t it be great if we did.

So here is all my gear ready to go:

Yogurt making equipment all neatly gathered, ready to go.

Yogurt making equipment all neatly gathered, ready to go.

There are four large wide mouth jars with plastic tops, two pint glass canning jars I fill with boiling water (more on that later), a large iSi flexible measuring cup, measuring spoon, cast iron pot, polder thermometer, rice pack, milk and a cooler.


Homemade Yogurt

4 cups whole milk

1/4 yogurt

Heat milk to 185F.  Let cool to 115F.  Stir in starter yogurt.  Let yogurt sit undisturbed for 6 hours in a nice warm spot.  Enjoy.


Basically, when making yogurt you heat the milk, really you are pasteurizing it, let it cool, add the yogurt starter and then let it sit in warm snuggly place for 6 or so hours.  The times and temperatures in other recipes may vary, but they are all doing about the same thing.  It takes about 30 minutes to and hour to heat and cool the milk depending on how much milk you are using and how fast your stove is.  Then it needs to sit for about 6 hours.  Because of this timing, I find it best to make the yogurt just before lunch, let it sit until dinner and then when I am cleaning up after dinner I take it out and put it in the fridge.  If I do it any later in the day I am too tired to remember to go down and put it in the fridge.  I know from experience.  I can also say, that even if you do happen to forget about it until the next morning, you will still have yogurt.  But it might be a bit (a lot bit) tangy and you will need to add more honey to appease the small folk.  Best to stick to the earlier time!

I heat the milk to 185F first.  Normally I use a cast iron pot so it heats as evenly as possible, but one gallon of milk was more than my pot could handle so here you see an big ole stock pot doing the hard work.

milk heating to 185F

milk heating to 185F

At the same time I am heating the milk I put the tea kettle on to boil.  Not because I want tea, though I do, because as soon as I finish my coffee in the morning I start thinking about when I can have tea, but because I use canning jars filled with boiling water to make a funky old cooler my “warm snuggly spot” for the yogurt to relax in.  Some people set their oven on low, some put it near a wood stove, these are all good options but they don’t work for me.  I don’t have a wood stove and my oven is from 1912 and while awesome, it doesn’t do LOW, well.  Or at all.  So, I make a cooler all warm and toasty with two jars filled with boiling water and for some extra ambiance I have an old rice pack for sore necks that I microwave and wrap around the bottles.  My kitchen can be drafty and this way everything stays nice and warm.  I do have a radiant heat floor and I put the cooler on a warm spot, but I don’t know how much that really helps.  The water for the jars boils before the milk is up to temp so I fill the jars and put them in the cooler ahead of time. That way when the yogurt goes in the cooler it is already nice and warm.

watching the milk's temp

watching the milk’s temp

I have this awesome polder thermometer that I use for everything.  It has a prong on a long flexible cord so you can stick it in something and have a digital read out of the internal temp..  I would have to pare down my kitchen gadgets REALLY far before this was cut from the group.  You can see here the milk it at 55F, once it gets to 185F I take it off the stove and put it in the sink to cool.  Using the thermometer again you want to cool it to around 115F.  At that point you add in your starter.  I often use a whisk for that to make sure there aren’t any big clumps of yogurt.

milk cooling in the sink

milk cooling in the sink

Once you mix the starter in try to get it the jars quickly.  You don’t want it to cool off too much more.  When the jars are filled put them in your warm snuggly spot.  With any luck, in six hours you will have your first batch of homemade yogurt.

stick a spoon in it, it's done!

stick a spoon in it, it’s done!

From here you can do so many things.  Eat it with honey, which is Mette’s favorite.  Add granola for my favorite.  Make a smoothie, everyone’s favorite….  the possibilites are endless.

Aside from knowing that you aren’t feeding your family tons of sugar and things you can’t pronounce there is a certain magical quality to making yogurt.  You fill jars with what looks like regular milk and a few hours later they are filled with thick creamy yogurt.  Anytime you can do something that feels like magic, I am all for it.


After all, it’s the little things in life that mean so much.  This is one little thing that makes me happy every time I do it.


Try it.  Let me know how it turns out.