Making Quark Cream Cheese, aka Yo-Cheese

I made a batch of yoghurt a couple of days ago that came out a bit runny. I’m not really sure why. The kids had been asking for yoghurt with flavours other than those I’ve figured out how to make from scratch, so I used 4 tbsp of the boysenberry Easiyo sachet, which I’ve found in the past is plenty, and for good measure I put in the last tbsp of a tub of Jalna yoghurt that was in the fridge as well. So I was surprised to open up the Easiyo thermos the next morning and find that the yoghurt hadn’t set very well – it was not very thick and kind of stretchy.

It had been about 12 hours and the water was more or less cold, so I carefully removed the yoghurt container and refilled the thermos with hot water (not fully boiling though) and left it for another five or six hours. By then the yoghurt was set better but still not as thick as usual, so I decided it would be a good candidate for “draining” to thicken it up. I wasn’t planning on actually making quark, I was just going to drain it for a couple of hours. I’ve had extra thick yoghurt at my mum’s house before where she had done that and it was pretty yum.

Well, 36 hours later it was still in the fridge, so… quark it is!

a 'pat' of quark, tipped out of the cheese cloth onto a blue plate

Only, I’ve never really liked sweetened cheeses, and although this wasn’t very sweet it wasn’t that cheese-like to me either. So we just ate it like regular yoghurt, by the bowl full. I’m not really sure what else you would do with it, although if it were a little less thick I could imagine having it instead of cream or ice cream with a bowl full of berries or a slice of chocolate mud cake. Actually, we could still have done it even with it being this thick if we had any berries or chocolate cake! Then again, we do that with regular yoghurt too.

We got through more about half in one sitting:

half eaten quark cream cheese

In other news, there are people on my roof installing solar panels as I type. One whole side of the roof (facing ENE) will be covered. Unfortunately ACTPLA can’t get here to approve it until August! So we still won’t actually have solar power for another month, meaning the whole process from when we started getting quotes will have taken about seven or eight months. That’s what extra good government incentives “ending soon” will do for an industry I guess. (And they have ended now, or at least reduced dramatically, but we got in with our deposit ages ago, so we’re okay!)

Quark, birthday parties, bread and broken arms. Oh, and burned chicken stock!

What I have been doing lately, while I haven’t been updating this blog…

Making birthday party invitations and party bags with my big five-year-old daughter Mikaela:

Making bread rolls with slightly old yeast and no where near enough time for them to rise (they were still yummy, but a bit dense!):

Making quark (this is an experiment that is not yet complete – it’s been draining for about 4 hours at this point, and I’ve just opened it up to take the photo):

yoghurt draining through cheese cloth into a bowl

Waiting for hours in hospital for various people to look at, X-ray and operate on that same daughter’s arm, only then she was still four. She broke it and needed pins put in. Ouch. But the cast is awesome, and waterproof!!

Hot pink cast from wrist to shoulder (almost)

Oh and making my house smell vile for days on end, despite leaving many windows wide open everytime we left the house (it was too cold to have them open when we were here), by leaving chicken stock on the stove overnight (not even on low) an burning it to a cinder. Oops. I didn’t take a photo of that one!

This is all well and good, but what I am doing tomorrow, is finally getting solar panels put on my roof! Very exciting.

Where I got my yoghurt information

This post is just by way of an acknowledgement, because I’ve written a few posts about my yoghurt making experiments, but could never figure out just where it was that I got the milk powder tip… well it was from Christine at Slow Living Essentials. She has a great two part post about making yogurt. It’s also in the comments on that post that I first read about using UHT milk to avoid the heating and cooling step – which I think I had attributed to my mother (but she says she doesn’t do that).

Decluttering – the work continues

It’s time I provided an update on my decluttering progress. I’ve realised I should be taking some before and after photos, but then, I’m not sure I could bring myself to publish the really good before photos – it would be too embarrassing. 

Anyway, the decluttering is continuing only very slowly at the moment. I have a charity box at the front door which I was trying to fill every week, but that’s lost some momentum since I’ve been carrying around several small boxes to drop off for weeks and not getting around to it, mostly because for boxes I have to actually go into the store, which means parking and getting the baby out of the car, and there’s never a park out front… I know I know, lame excuse. Okay then, I will do it next Tuesday. 

In the meantime, I’ve realized (and I may have said this before)  that I need a Plan. As in, let’s declutter this particular space first, not just vaguely toss things into the Vinnie’s box as I happen across them. So I have a plan, which is to begin- or continue I guess – with the study, aka our bedroom (since Ms Elli, our one year old has taken over our room).  

If we can clean up the study, and get rid of the big desk that mostly just provides space for clutter to collect, then we can put a door through from the study to the walk-in-robe and have access to our clothes and ensuite again. Because the fact is that until/unless we extend, our room is likely to become the girls’ room, while what is currently the big kids’ room become’s just Liam’s room. 

So we might as well face that reality now and stop living in clutter with our clothes piled up on the desk chair and the bed pushed against the wall because the desk takes so much space. 

So, that’s where the decluttering is at. Some progress, but not a lot. But a definite plan of what to do next. 

Vegetarian Dishes: Liam’s Incan Bean Stew

A tortilla in a bowl filled with a pumpkin, tomato and nave bean stewLast week Liam* and I went hunting for some haricot beans to cook a bean stew recipe from a book on the Incas that my mother gave him for Christmas. It took us a while, but eventually we discovered that haricot beans are what we call navy beans, which are also the beans in baked beans.

Anyway, we made the stew and Liam made himself a bowl inside his bowl out of a tortilla, and heaped the stew inside. And, he declared the whole meal delicious. He’s not always terribly keen on new food, but whether it was having chosen itnd cooked it himself out of his own book, or the novelty of serving it in a tortilla bowl, he loved this meal. Or, you know, maybe it just was delicious! Because actually, everyone except my four-year-old daughter enjoyed it. And she didn’t actually try it!

Of course, the recipe as written was a little too spicey so we modified it to suit our tastes. This is how we made it:

Ingredients
250g dried haricot (navy) beans
4 tomatoes
500g pumpkin (after removing skin and seeds)
2 tsp Paprika (the original recipe called for 2tbs, which seemed to spicy for us, but play with it to get the level you like)
mixed herbs
salt
black pepper
100g sweetcorn

Instructions
1. Wash the beans thoroughly in cold water, then put them in a large bowl and cover them with more cold water. Leave them to soak 3-4 hours.

2. Drain the beans and place them in a large saucepan. Cover with yet more cold water and bring to the boil. Simmer for two hours or until tender.

3. Meanwhile, chop the tomatoes finely, peel the pumpkin and chop it into 2cm cubes.

4. Heat 100ml of water in a medium saucepan. Stir in the paprika and bring to the boil. Add the tomatoes along with a good sprinkling of mixed herbs, plus salt and pepper to taste. You may need to add a little more of these later when you have added everything else, just do a taste test to see. Simmer for 15 minutes or until thick and well blended.

5. Drain the beans then return them to the large saucepan. Add the pumpkin and the tomato mixture and stir well. Simmer for another 15 minutes.

6. Add the sweet corn and simmer for another 5 minutes, or until the pumpkin has almost distintegrated and the stew is quite thick.

7. Do a taste test – see if you need to add more salt or pepper. Sun gods and sacrifices, the lost world of the Aztecs, Incas and Mayans

8. Serve in bowls. We served it with rice and tortillas. The book also suggested corn bread as an accompaniment.

Simple but delicious.

The book is called Sun gods and sacrifices, the lost world of the Aztecs, Incas and Mayans by Fiona McDonald & Philip Steele. It also has other craft activities, from making feather fans to mozaic masks to a full size felt Inca tunic! Liam hasn’t actually done any of the other craft activities (most probably need some level of parent involvement), but he has been enjoying reading the book. The next thing he wants to do is try the recipe for making our own tortillas.
__________
*Have I been cagey about the kid’s names? I just can’t do it anymore – Liam is my nine year old.

This post is linked to Delectable Tuesday and Meatless (Vegan) Mondays and Real Food Wednesday .

Finding a balance

I’ve just been reading a bunch of interlinked year old posts about the sustainability of sustainable living, the difference between ‘sustainable’ and ‘simple’, and finding a point of balance. 

They’ve filled me with a sense of hope and determination, while drawing a resounding ‘yes!’ from my soul. And they appeared to resonate with many others too, based on the numerous comments. 

The thing is, I often feel quite inadequate and hopeless when I read the blogs of the really accomplished sustainable/simple/Eco lifestylers. I know that is never their intention, and I also know it is often the case when reading about people who’ve progressed a long way down a path you are just beginning to tread. And, I do find them inspirational too. 

I think perhaps part of my trouble is that I’m not just beginning, surely I’ve been on this path for years. There was a time, for instance, when we grew far more of our own food & bought largely organic. But then we had children, both switched to part time work, and suddenly felt we couldn’t afford so much organic produce any more. And, didn’t have the same amount of time to put into the garden, especially in those years when we’ve had babies or toddlers – this past season has been a disaster in the vegetable garden! Recently I’ve made a commitment to buy almost exclusively organic meat, and at the very minimum free range (where that is an issue) and to go back to eating more vegetarian meals. But, we are about to take a serious look at our budget, because over the past year of me not working we’ve used up all our savings. So what will give?

I think part of the struggle for me too is the feeling of wanting to do everything now, but realising we need to take things step by step, and perhaps plan out some of those steps. That way it can feel okay that we’re not doing everything yet, without fearing that we will never get there. Though in truth we probably will never get there, if ‘there’ is some sort of perfect fulfillment of everything that could be meant be sustainable living. 

There’s nothing wrong with striving towards perfection of course, unless it makes everything seem so hard that you give up. Perfection is not sustainable. 

So what are all the aspects of a sustainable lifestyle that I am striving towards, if ever so slightly? Or that I would at least like to be striving towards?

  • being carbon neutral – lots of the points below really come into this, but it’s worth identifying on it’s own, while it is certainly not the be all and end all of sustainability.  
  • Shopping ethically; supporting only sustainable practices with my dollars – now this could mean anything from not buying coffee produced with the assistance of child labour, not buying clothes made in sweatshops, to buying only free range chicken or organic produce. None of these things do I do perfectly.
  • Reducing my waste buy buying less rubbish (including packaging), and by reusing or recycling whatever I can.
  • Using recycled paper products whenever possible, eg recycled toilet paper.
  • reducing my addiction to having “stuff”.  Part of the idea of decluttering is learning to live with less stuff, while allowing some of that stuff to find a useful life somewhere else. (Another part is that having less clutter seems like it would make life easier and more pleasant, especially in a household as un-keen on housework as this one!).
  • Eating locally gown food, weather it be in my garden or from a local farm.
  •  

There are probably more points than that, but this post as been languishing in draft form for at least a couple of weeks, so it’s high time I just hit publish and put it out there. 

These are the posts that started me off:

http://arduousblog.blogspot.com/2010/01/is-living-sustainably-unsustainable.html
http://1greengeneration.elementsintime.com/?p=1721
http://littleecofootprints.typepad.com/little_eco_footprints/2010/02/finding-my-sustainable-sustainable-life.html

Super Easy Tomato Basil Soup

The other night I served a winner for dinner- at least as far as Master Eight & Mr Sustainable Suburbia were concerned. Ms Just-Turned-One didn’t like it and Ms Four wouldn’t try it, but hey, three out of five (I include myself) is about the best I can hope for – and it’s especially gratifying that everyone who did eat it had seconds.

So, here’s the recipe. Now, I just made this up as I went along out of ingredients I had on hand, and I didn’t measure anything, but it’s pretty straight forward.

Ingredients

1 medium sweet potato, peeled
1 medium carrot, peeled
1 parsnip, peeled
3 bunches baby bok choy, washed thoroughly (I used the leaves and stems)
About a cup of chopped fresh basil, loosely packed
1 can crushed tomatoes
1 can puréed tomatoes
1 375ml jar summer tomato & basil pasta sauce (the brand was Bertolli’s Five Brothers)
2 tbsp tomato paste
About 1-1.5 litres of water
About 0.5-0.75 tsp salt
About 1.5 tsp sugar

Chop the veggies – you’re going to purée them, so how small you chop them will depend on how long you have to cook them. I put them on at about 2pm and puréed them about 5.30, so Iwas able to cut them fairly big.

Chuck them in a large saucepan (at least five litres) with the water and canned and jarred goods. Add the tomato purée and the roughly chopped basil.

Simmer until everything is soft, ideally at least an hour to give the flavours time to mix. Two is probably better. Blend (I used a stick blender) until relatively smooth (or until you get the texture you want really), then add salt and sugar (which removes some of the tartness of the tomato) to taste.

Cook for a bit longer, then serve with grated cheese and your favourite bread. We had Turkish bread with it, which was yum. Even those who turned their noses up at the soup enjoyed the bread!

Update by notes

I don’t seem to have time for anything lately, but here are a few notes of where we are at:

  • We’ve signed a contract to get $28,000 worth of solar panels, ie about an 8kw system. This has involved extending out mortgage, but we figure we’ll put all the income earned by them back onto the mortgage and have the extension paid off in around 12 years, after which it will earn us a few hundred a month, and in the mean time, it’s contributing green energy to the grid, so all is good.
  • My decluttering is coming along slowly. I have been taking a few bags of stuff (clothes, books, toys) to Vinnies most weeks, not to mention all the old magazines I’ve recycled, that weren’t even worth donating to anyone (why was I keeping them?) but I can see that it is going to take me a Really Long Time, to get through the whole house. So far I haven’t been very systematic about it, which I’m realising I probably need to be, if only to keep my motivation up.
  • Our vegetable garden has been a complete and utter failure this season, due to absolute neglect combined with lots of rain – it is over run with thigh high weeds. Though the parsley is still doing well in amongst it. I think we need to build a chook dome and put the chooks in there for the winter, but that’s just one more thing to try to fit in to our lives.
  • Speaking of chooks, the two new ones we bought towards the end of last year are now laying, and we are getting lots and lots of eggs. Three laying hens is just right though – we are using up the eggs pretty effectively, but never quite run out. It’s lovely that some part of our backyard pantry is doing okay!

Spam spam spam!!

I have just deleted 567 spam comments and pingbacks! So if I accidentally deleted your legitimate comment, I’m very sorry. I am now activating moderation for comments for a few days, to hopefully break the cycle, so please bare with me.

Update on making yoghurt from scratch in an Easiyo


I mentioned that when I made the yoghurt with regular milk in the Easiyo I heated it and then cooled it to cold (not 40 degrees as is usually recommended). This is because with the Easiyo, which is designed for use with the Easiyo sachet and cold water, you fill it with boiling water, to warm the milk and keep it at growing temperature. Whereas usually when you’re making yoghurt from scratch you just put it in a thermos or something to keep it warm. So, I read that you need to use cold milk when making yoghurt in the Easiyo, so that the boiling water doesn’t overheat it and kill the starter culture.

Anyway, this is all working up to say that my mum has bought an Easiyo, and she made yoghurt in it from scratch but only cooled the milk to 40 degrees and it worked fine.

What all this (combined with my last post) leads me to think, is that it really is very easy to make yoghurt and you really don’t have to be all that precise to make it work. But, don’t use xylitol in it!

Edited to add: I have now put together all my making yoghurt experience into one article on the main Sustainable Suburbia site: How to Make Yoghurt From Scratch in an Easiyo Yogurt Maker.

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