Saturday, November 15, 2008

ReCre8 Milk: Make Your Own Yogurt

I have tried to encourage yogurt eating in my household since my kids were on solid food. It’s a great way to get your calcium, protein, and helpful bacteria all at once. With the right additions you can get a lot of other yummy and helpful nutrients and antioxidants too. Here are some links on the health benefits of yogurt and other cultured dairy products:

This year, I realized we were spending at least $10-$20 a week on yogurt. That is $500 - $1000/yr just on yogurt! I also realized how much plastic we were acquiring to support this yogurt habit. Many wonderful green and frugal blogs out there inspired me to make my own yogurt. It is super easy to make your own yogurt. It has been a big savings to our food budget and just a lot of fun.

I have researched a TON of advice out there and came up with my preferred method for making yogurt. I’ll explain it here, but I’ll also provide links to the great resources I found out there that can give lots of other ideas.

Before venturing to make your own yogurt, I highly recommend watching the Alton Brown “Good Eats” episode which gives a tutorial on making yogurt. It's called "Good Milk Gone Bad", pretty funny. It is available on YouTube unless it gets taken down. I do mine a little bit differently, but this helps you understand the process really well.

I make ½ gallon at a time, but you can easily adjust this to make any amount. The yogurt will stay good in the fridge 1-2 weeks, but it never lasts that long in my house! This is my method:

What you will need:

  • 6 oz. yogurt with LIVE, ACTIVE, CULTURES (this is your “starter”.
  • You can use plain or a flavored variety, but if you use flavored, your resulting yogurt will carry that flavor forward)
  • ½ gallon of milk (I use 2% organic – in a GLASS bottle, but you can use skim or whole milk as well)
  • ¼ c. non-fat dry milk (optional – adds protein)
  • 1 2-quart thermos or thermal carafe (must be lined with stainless steel or glass – NOT plastic)
  • Kitchen Thermometer (I use a candy thermometer)


I like to start in the evening, putting the milk on to heat right before we sit down for dinner. Then, by the morning, I have yogurt!

Day 1:

  1. Take out 6 oz. yogurt as a starter and let it come to room temperature while you prepare the milk
  2. Heat milk at medium heat in your pot to 180 degrees F, stirring regularly (this kills off any bacteria that is currently in your milk)
  3. Stir in non-fat dry milk
  4. Once milk reaches desired temperature, cool it down to 120 degreed F
  5. While milk is cooling, sterilize and warm your thermos or carafe by adding boiling water and closing it for at least 5 minutes. Empty the water.
  6. Temper your room-temperature yogurt with the 120 degrees F milk
  7. Add starter yogurt to pot and stir gently until dissolved
  8. Transfer milk/yogurt combination to your thermos or thermal carafe
  9. Put in a warm, draft-free place and leave overnight 8-10 hours

Day 2:
At this point you have a choice. Do you like your yogurt very thick or do you like it a tiny bit runny? If you don’t mind it a little thinner, your yogurt will be done. Just transfer it into a glass container or into jelly jars and put it in the fridge. I like to have my yogurt very thick and creamy, so I always strain out the whey first. To strain your yogurt, place a mesh sieve over a glass bowl. Pour in enough yogurt to fill the sieve. Let it sit and drain. Use a flexible spatula to gently manipulate the yogurt. Don’t mess with it too much, because you don’t want to break up the curds. Once it is at the desired thickness, place it in your glass or ceramic storage vessel (I like to use 4 oz. or 8 oz. jelly jars so I have single servings ready-to-go). Once you have jarred up all your yogurt, don’t discard the whey! It is full of protein and other goodies and it is infinitely useful, as I will cover in another post. Store it in a glass jar in your fridge until you are ready to use it.

Flavoring Yogurt
Now, regarding the flavoring. You have so many options for flavoring. I used to mix up some flavors in the blender and stir them into the yogurt, but it was more work and more to clean. So, I found some super simple ways to make a variety of flavors:
  • Honey-Yogurt: A favorite of my kids. Just drizzle a tablespoon of honey (or substitute Agave nectar) on the top of the yogurt and put it in the fridge. When you are ready to eat it, just stir it up.
  • Raspberry Yogurt: This is my absolute favorite. Just take about 10 or so frozen raspberries and push them into the yogurt. Leave it out for a few hours until you are ready to eat (this makes it very convenient for a bag lunch – no refrigeration necessary). Once the raspberries have melted, stir the yogurt together. Add a packet of sugar or equal for sweetness. This is really a treat.
  • Chocolate Yogurt: Stir in 1 teaspoon of cocoa powder into the yogurt. Put 1 tablespoon of honey or Agave Nectar on top and refrigerate for a few hours or days. When ready to eat, just stir it all up.
These are some of the favorites in my house, but really, you can stir in whatever flavors you like and sweeten it to your own taste.

Here are some sites that have some different recipes and some different approaches:
In the next post, I’ll cover some other great things you can do with yogurt.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Re-Cre8 Canning Jars as a Flexible Kitchen Storage System

i HEART mason jars

The introduction of mason jars/canning jars into my kitchen has been the most wonderful transformation in storage for me. If you look in my regrigerator, any of my cabinets, or on the counter, you are sure to find all sizes of jars performing some useful function. I initially bought some jelly jars for making jam after our pick-your-own raspberries and blackberries adventure this summer. (BTW, the jam turned out great and the canning process was super easy). That is when I had an “a-ha” moment that these inexpensive glass jars will address many of my concerns in the kitchen this year.

Here are all the reasons for my new love affair with these classics:

Using less plastic - I have been trying systematically to remove my dependence on plastic - especially those kinds that cannot be recycled at all, such as zip-top bags and plastic wrap. I found that having a set of different sized canning jars lets me do just that. I can store single-size servings of leftover spaghetti - ready to go into lunch boxes or snack-size cookies and crackers. I can use them in place of plastic storage containers for just about everything I cook. They are also great in the pantries for holding beans, seeds, and flour bought in bulk.

Storing leftovers in re-heatable containers - Leftovers are important to staying frugal and eating healthy in my household. I absolutely refuse to put anything plastic in the microwave. So storing, say leftover homemade Spaghetti Sauce, in a quart size mason jar allows me to just put it directly in the microwave and voila - dinner's ready. No need to pour from a Tupperware into a another bowl and dirty some more dishes.

Reusable containers for work and school lunches - I use these in my Kindergartner's lunch and to bring my lunch to work all the time. Applesauce, yogurt, smoothies, leftover rice and beans, soup - you name it - all of these things work great in a small canning jar for a portable lunch. While glass is breakable, these are pretty durable. As long as you're not throwing your lunch box around, they're going to be alright.

Yogurt jars - These are just about the best solution for creating single-serving yogurt jars. There are 4-oz. jars and 8-oz. jars for kids-size servings as well as grown-up servings.

Standard and easy-to-replace lids -Now the lids for all my containers can be interchanged with each other. If I lose them, I don't have to throw out the whole storage container - I can just get a new lid from any grocery or hardware store.

Bulk Food Storage - I am buying more and more bulk food in the process of reducing my plastic consumption. Mason jars are so great for storing rice, beans, seeds, and flours. No need to have anything disposable involved! They also are a standard size, so it can keep your pantry nice and neat.

The list goes on and on. But, you get the idea! It is just as wonderful to reuse glass jars you may get your honey, parmesan, jams, or pickles in - especially if they have a lid that is easily reusable. Give it a try!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

What to Do with Old Pants: Coloring Tote

This project involves making a bag just the size for some activity books and coloring books along with crayons out of the butt of a pair of men's chinos. These are size 36 waist pants. Anything smaller might not yield a bag that can hold coloring books, but might be fun just the same.

Here's how you do it:
  1. Cut down the side seams of the pants, so you are left with just the back side.
  2. Fold in half (top to bottom) and cut off any excess on the sides to make sure it will be square.
  3. Cut across the butt allowing the height of the bag you want plus 1-inch for a seam allowance.
  4. Sew across the bottom of the pockets (on the inside) so that they are at a desired length. (I like them just tall enough to hold some crayons, but so that the crayons can still pop out the top).
  5. Fold in half side-to-side and inside-out.
  6. Sew across the bottom of the bag.
  7. Sew across the open side 0f the bag. The top will be very thick, so be careful there.
  8. Make the strap:
    • Cut a strip from one of the legs that is ~4 in. across.
    • Fold in half long-ways and sew up the side leaving 1/4" in. seam
    • Turn the strip right side out and sew up both sides with a 1/4 in. seam to keep it nice and flat.
  9. Now attach the strap to the bag by sewing at the waste-band.
Now you have a nice kid-friendly tote. Get's dirty? Just throw it in the wash with your clothes. Decorate it up however it seems interesting to you. If you try this yourself, send me some pictures or techniques.

Friday, October 24, 2008

What to Do with Old Pants: Special Bags

My boys all have to wear khaki pants as part of their school uniform. Three of my oldest son’s pants had been worn through the knees (or cut with “safety” scissors). Rather than just getting rid of them, I thought I’d alter them in to khaki shorts. No problem… just snip, snip and hem. I hated to just throw out the bottoms of the pants, but I couldn’t justify adding to my “scrap fabric for creative projects when I have the time” pile.

I got the idea to turn the pants legs into a “special bag” for each of them. Kids, especially ones with siblings with whom they must share everything, love to have something “special” made just for them. Here’s how I did it
  1. Turn pant leg inside out.
  2. Sew a Seem down the un-hemmed side
  3. Optional: (to give it more depth) Rotate to the side and sew a line forming a triangle (do the same on the other side.

  4. Flip right-side-out. Cut 2 slits in the existing hem on the inside of the bag
  5. Using a yarn needle, take some scrap yarn and work it all through the hem and out the other slit. This will form your draw string
  6. Tie a knot in the string and voila, you are done!
You could also finish them off by needlepointing their names on the bags – or even just writing them with a fabric marker.

These bags can be used for snack bags or storage. They are a great reusable alternative to Ziploc bags for that kind of thing. But, when we are going somewhere and the kids want to bring toys, I like to tell them “Get your special bag and you can bring whatever can fit in there.” They love to spend time choosing the toys they want to bring with them and gathering them all up. Last time we went hiking and rock climbing as a family, they brought their special bags full of dinosaurs. My 5-yo did not like to have to carry the bag, so he had the idea of getting a stick and hanging the bag on the stick while resting it on his shoulder. Of course, as soon as he had done this, his little brothers wanted in on the action. Before you know it, we had a parade of boys Tom Sawyer-style hiking up the mountain with their sacks. We got a lot of adoring looks on that hike!

  • Keep Puzzle Pieces Together - Those cardboard boxes don't last long in my house. Using these little bags lets you throw multiple bags of puzzles into a drawer or a basket without getting all the pieces mixed up. Plus, it looks nice.
  • Lunch Sack - this is a great reusable little lunch bag for bringing on hikes or to the park or even to school.
  • Toy Sack - Let your little ones stuff as many toys as they can into the bag to bring with them to a friend's house or their brother's soccer game or rock climbing!
  • Travel Organizer - When packing for a big trip (or even a little one), these little drawstring bags are great for putting like things together. For our annual trip to the beach this year, I packed up one bag with all the spices we would need (so I could save $$ on shopping while I was there). I put all the kids toiletries in another one.
  • Gift Bag - Rather than buying a gift bag at the store, these make excellent gift bags for smaller items. And it is something that the new owner can reuse or re-purpose.
  • There are infinite uses. Do you have some other ideas?

What to Do with Old Pants: Uniform Shorts

So, my son had worn through the knees in most of his school pants, what to do? I know it is pretty obvious to say "make some shorts". It is so much better than giving them or (gasp!) throwing them away. All it takes is an easy hem on the sewing machine and it saves me plenty of money for buying summer uniforms for my three boys (who can all wear the same size shorts). This was project #1 with old pants.

Here is my method:
  1. Cut straight across the legs right above the hole or worn part of the pants (making sure that both legs fall even). This will ensure that the shorts would hit right at or above the knees.
  2. Fold 1/2 inch under and iron around for the hem. Fold under again 3/4 inch and iron (this way, you don't have to use hem tape or fray-check or anything.
  3. Using your machine, stitch straight around1/2 inch above the bottom of each of the legs and you're done. (If you prefer, you can hand stitch it as well).
Don't throw away the bottoms of those legs, there are great uses for those as well!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

What to Do with Old Pants

After seeing how much of the clothes that we donate still end up in landfills, I was reluctant to just get rid of all the outgrown or torn khaki pants without a fight.I started with thinking about some of my simple living goals and what I needed to meet them. One was to buy less clothing and household items. Another was to really cut down on my use of plastic bags. So, my remaking of old khakis turned into four small and easy projects.

  1. Uniform Shorts
  2. Pant Leg “Special Bags”
  3. Personalized Travel Pillow Cases
  4. Pocket Activity Bag

I’m sure there are more great projects out there for pants. Anyone have ideas to share?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Reusing Tissue Paper as Gift Wrap

I love a beautifully wrapped gift, but I hate all the expense and waste that goes along with it. Much of it goes directly into the trash within a few hours of wrapping the gift. Many of us reuse gift bags as long as the hold up rather than throwing them out, but what about reusing the tissue paper that invariably goes with them?

Tissue paper as gift wrap is so easy because it is already cut for you. If you can’t find scissors or tape (a typical situation in my home as was the problem when I wrapped this gift), you can use tissue paper to wrap a gift without these. Just fold the tissue paper to the size you want, wrap it neatly around the gift you want and secure with a pretty piece of raffia, ribbon, or even a piece of twine or yarn. It makes a colorful and beautiful presentation with little effort. Also, it’s recreating something that may just have been trash otherwise. By skipping the tape – you also allow for it to be reused again.

What goes great with a tissue paper wrapped gift? A homemade card. My boys were very into sunflowers at this time since they had been growing their own in the garden. I just took a scrap of card stock and drew a simple sunflower on the front. My 5-yo colored it in to make it a personalized card for his cousin’s 1st birthday present.

Friday, August 22, 2008

About Cre8 and Recre8

“Do It Self” was the most common phrase from my three boys as the triumphed through their terrific twos. They were just learning to be independent and self-sufficient. Like them, I get a sense of freedom and satisfaction from being able to accomplish something all by myself. I know that I can by trendy jewelry at a department store or that I could pay someone to alter my clothes or that I can purchase a dragon themed birthday cake for the grocery store for my son’s 5th birthday party, but these choices don’t fill me with the bliss and self-satisfaction of creating my own custom, in-style necklace or recreating old clothing and turning it into something new.

I have always had a hard time wasting resources – throwing away something that is 80% useful just because it has a small defect. At the same time, I don’t want to live in a cluttered environment full of semi-useful items. That is why I am especially passionate about quick and simple projects that recreate something that may otherwise be trashed into something useful, fun, and unexpected. Recreating these items is in line with my goals to simplify life, live frugally and simply, and create less trash to go into landfills.

A little about me… I work full time as a technical project manager. I am married to an excellent and supportive husband who joins me on most DIY endeavors (he has many of his own as well). I have 3 wonderful, energetic, and talkative little boys (3 yo twins and a 5 yo). I have always been interested in creating items. I bartered babysitting for art lessons in junior high school, at 12 in the 80s I had my own little hair bow business”, in high school and college I made and sold beaded jewelry and polymer clay picture frames. In college I taught classes at our craft shop in candle-making and jewelry-making. My mother is a knit and crochet teacher and has taught me everything I know. I hate to measure, I hate to worry about gauge, I just like to jump into projects and see where they take me.