Meet our new neighbor – she is my fourteen year old niece who is intelligent, socially sensitive, creative and beautiful. There is a small wood cabin, built in 1925, in her family’s courtyard which my husband and I occupied in May.
Anyone who has ever relocated knows that changing the address is a small transition, but there are other adjustments that require more serious adaptation. It is a stressful situation and, especially when everything is still stacked in piles and unpacked, it feels confusing and hopeless: will there ever be any kind of normalcy again?
Overnight, our lifestyle converted from urban dwelling to country living. Although we had never lived lavishly in the city, we downshifted considerably by choosing some old-world alternatives to replace basic amenities, like central heating and automatic warm water. Instead of contributing to electricity consumption, of which fourth is produced by nuclear power in Finland, we opted to chop and burn wood to heat our radiators and water. First time in my life I’m experiencing how much energy it takes to enjoy a shower! When two persons bathe in the morning and evening, you have to load a big furnace twice a day and, in the winter, the amount will double. But thankfully, it’s rewarding and purifying to set a fire as the first task upon waking up. I quite like to use an ax, too!
I planned to buy a gas stove for the kitchen as a second cooker but having boiled, braised and baked on wood for the past month I’m postponing the decision. Why is it that a humble potato tastes so much better when steamed on a woodstove?
Expect the recipes to simplify here, too. I won’t be able to give you exact instructions, or count seconds and minutes of each step, because cooking is so much more unpredictable and intuitive on wood. You have much less control of the heat. In the future, I will be concentrating more on concepts and ideas which you will have to perfect yourself.
Maybe the most startling revelation that living in the countryside has brought out is the direct contact with natural elements. Lucid is perhaps the best adjective to describe the influence of earth, water, fire and wind to, both, sleep and alert states. Dreams are vivid and clear here, almost clairvoyant, but you feel rested and refreshed in the morning. And, although you may work in the garden or carry logs, you don’t get dirty. The hair, for example, seems always fragrant and aerated; it doesn’t get flat and glued to the skull at all!
And the sweetest thing is the flora and fauna! The other day I was performing arotik (comes from a Sanskrit word aratrika which means “to remove darkness” by offering auspicious items like incense, ghee lamp, water, cloth, flowers and fan) in our temple room, and as I reached out to the acamana-cup (to purify what enters and leaves the hand), I saw a beautiful deer standing outside the window, as if observing the rite! How many times would such a spontaneous, yet mystical scene occur in the city?
As you see, I love every split of a second of our new phase of life!
Before we talk about the recipe, which is homemade yogurt, let me thank all of you for visiting the blog in my absence. I’ve read and appreciated all the comments although I’ve been too out in the woods - literally - to answer them. Special thanks to FoodGeekGraze for taking so much time to wade through the old posts and giving such personal and insightful feedback.
Why do I claim that homemade yogurt is much better than store-bought? Because the flavor is sweeter, it has less acetaldehyde, and there is a layer of cream on the top!
Acetaldehyde is the main aroma component of yogurt, which unfortunately is also carcinogenic. In some commercially produced yogurts its intensity has been found to be several times higher. However, eaten in moderation, yogurt and other fermented foods are safe, and have more health-promoting propensities than harmful ones. Among other gastrointestinal benefits, yogurt is known to ease up both, dysentery and chronic constipation.
There are a couple of things to remember when making yogurt at home:
- All utensils must be clean.
- Fermentation is quicker in glass and ceramic vessels than in stainless steel. Never use aluminium containers!
- Don’t disturb, stir or move around the yogurt while it’s fermenting.
- Try to maintain a steady temperature (no draft!) around the yogurt.
- Too much and too little starter culture will cause the yogurt to be too runny.
- A longer fermentation time will produce tangier flavor and lift a layer of whey on the top.
- Serve homemade yogurt with fruits and berries, or with savory spices and vegetables. It is ideal for using in cooking and baking because it holds together much better than commercially produced yogurt due to a high fat content.
- If your yogurt fails to come out properly after 12 hours, make cheese from it by bringing it to a boil and adding some lemon juice to it!
Bring 2 liters (8 cups) organic full fat milk to boil. Don’t rush with this step because if the milk heats up too quickly, the yogurt may become grainy.
When it bubbles, remove it from the stove and cover with a lid to prevent a skin forming.
When the temperature has decreased to 40-44 C (104-111 F), stir the milk. Take a ladleful of it and mix it with 1-2 teaspoons of natural yogurt that has living culture in it in a glass or ceramic vessel. Gently stir in the rest of the milk. Place a loose lid on and transfer the vessel in a warm place.
I don’t use a thermometer because I learnt a good trick to test the temperature when living in the temple ashram: Stick your clean middle finger into the milk pot and recite the maha-mantra (Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare) once; the temperature is correct when you are barely able to hold your finger in the milk without burning it until the end of the mantra! The milk should be above body temperature and below 45 C (113 F) when you add the starter culture. If it is too hot, the bacteria that does the fermentation dies; if it is too cold, it takes much longer time to ferment.
Let the milk-yogurt mixture stand in one place for 6 to 8 hours. If you have a really cozy spot in your kitchen it may take a shorter time to mature.
When ready, scoop a couple of spoons of ready yogurt in a separate jar as a starter for your next batch, and place it in the refrigerator with the rest of the yogurt.
Eat the yogurt within a week.