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The January Kitchen

(post, Maria Hodkins)

Grey, white, and muted browns on the landscape.  Crunchy snow and mud everywhere, not at all enticing to draw me outside. The life-giving sun makes its seemingly interminable journey back to warming the earth during January. Those of us in the Northern climes contend with a certain ennui during the long haul toward spring. It'll be a long time yet before we can plant seed and eat our own garden-fresh food.  Meanwhile, however, life is burgeoning in the corners of the kitchen in microbial colonies, inspiring me with the joy of growing good things to eat inside.  The yogurt is culturing in the oven by the warmth of the pilot light; the kefir grains, consisting of a symbiosis between yeast and bacteria, is sitting on the counter making a cell-building probiotic drink for my mornings; I'm swooning with the smell of the sourdough starter, bubbling with new flour in a crockery bowl, ready for biscuits, bread, pancakes,and English muffins; and, the cabbage and carrots are fermenting with whey and salt in a Mason jar, soon to be pickled and lively as a condiment for a meal.  January is the month of creation, of new beginnings, and good food grown from the tiniest of organisms--revealing a miraculous world at our fingertips.  Nothing drab about that.  And I've always believed a truly "organic" kitchen is one that's alive with a creation in every corner.

HOMEMADE YOGURT

1 quart milk (preferably raw milk)
1-3 Tbsp. fresh yogurt starter
A frothing/beverage thermometer, a digital meat thermometer, or a candy thermometer
A quart Mason jar with lid

Heat milk in a stainless steel or porcelain pot to 180 degrees.  Do not let it boil. (You can tell it’s getting close because it starts to “froth” a bit).  Turn off the heat immediately and allow the milk to cool to 110-115 degrees.  You can “quick cool” it by setting it in a pan of cold water and stirring.

Scald your Mason jar while the milk is cooling.  When milk is cool enough, add about 1 cup to your jar, then stir in your yogurt starter with a wire whisk, until smooth.  Pour in remaining milk and blend well.  Cover with lid and quickly put your jar in a warm place, 85-115 degrees.  Do not move, shake, or jiggle the yogurt.  Check after 5 hours.  It should be thick and firm.  If it is not set, check every hour for up to 12 hours.  Refrigerate it when it is set.

If your incubation is not warm enough, the yogurt will not set at all.  If the environment is too warm, the yogurt will sour before it sets.

Ways to incubate Yogurt
(should stay between 80-100 at least 8 hours or overnight)
 In the oven of a gas stove
 In an electric oven with the light turned on
 On top of a pilot light on a gas stove
 In a microwave oven (turned off) with a bottle of boiling water
 In an insulated cooler with bottles of hot water, or fill chest with warm water 
 On top of an electric heating pad
 On top of a water heater
 In a warm oven (heat to 150 degrees, turn off)
 In a large pot (covered) of warm water on top of the stove
 Set jar in a tea cozy or wrapped in a blanket near a radiator or heater
* In a yogurt-maker

Serve Yogurt:
--with honey, molasses, fresh fruit, granola, wheat germ, and or flax seed meal
--use as a substitute for sour cream in salads, dressings, baked goods, or on baked potatoes
--accompanying hot, spicy dishes, especially curries
--stir into cooked sauces and soups
--make into frozen yogurt with different flavors