Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Baby Robert Turns One!

This post is for my son who turns one today.  It is a bittersweet day for me and I can't help but feel overwhelmed with a wide range of emotions.  I wanted to use this post as an opportunity to document those feelings for my son.

Dear Robbie-

I have no idea how the last 365 days went by so quickly and how madly deeply in love with you I have become.  I am just smitten by you each and every day.  I could write a very long post and go on and on but for the sack of having a point, I'm listing here the five biggest things that have surprised me most about you in this first year of your life:

I can't believe we call you "Robbie".  When we finally decided on day five to name you Robert James, I thought for sure you would always be a Robert.  I'm surprised at how quickly we started calling you Robbie (probably around 3 months) and just how natural it has seemed.  There is just something about your easy-going disposition that makes this nickname perfect for your personality.

If I close my eyes in a silent room and take a deep breath, I can still smell your sweet scent and feel your warm snugly tiny body against mine.  I can even see your cute one sided smirk and hear your tiny little coos. I never want to lose this memory.  If I could stop time and live one moment over and over again, it would be this one.  I love you with all of my soul and all of my being.

Breastfeeding you was the most wonderful-frustrating-hard-joyous thing I have ever done.  It wasn't easy, it didn't come naturally, and it took a lot of advise from others but we did it!  Through all the cracked nipples, blood blisters, mastitis, gall bladder surgery, pancreatitis, and even the flu- we did it!  We went a full nine months.  While I am happy to have some more free time on my hands since breastfeeding has ended and dad can now help with feedings, I genuinely miss our special bonding time together.

I am pleasantly surprised by your independent nature.   Early on you were very content just chilling in your swing or in your bouncy chair all by yourself.  You have never been one to want to snuggle at bedtime, you like your space and enjoy your alone time.  Even now at age one, you are content playing with blocks or with trains all by yourself.

You have completed our family.  I know it sounds totally cliche but I promise it is true.  It took your daddy and I almost two full years to conceive you.  Not a single day went by in those two years that I didn't obsess, dream, cry, and pray for your existence.  You're a greater gift than I ever could have dreamed of and I can not imagine my life without you in it.  I am so lucky to be your ma-ma-ma-ma.  I admire the bond you and your brother already share and I am so excited to see your relationship evolve as you grow old together, I hope you two are besties always.

I know this is only the first of many, many, many more birthdays to come and I can't wait to see what great things each passing year has in store for you.


Monday, February 17, 2014

Easy Homemade Yogurt

So last year at this time I was expecting my little one to gleefully pop out of my belly at any moment and because I was feeling so cocky good I thought I would spend a weekend filling my freezer with some meals for after his arrival. 

One of the items that I decided to make that weekend was yogurt. I had been wanting to make yogurt for so long.  I didn't have high hopes for it but really I just want to check it off my cooking bucket list.    I saw yogurt making as kind of silly.  WHY would you go through the trouble of making it when you can just go buy the stuff at the store?  It's like making your own ice cream, ricotta, or heck, brownies from scratch. 

Then I made it. 

Let me tell you people.  Yogurt making was LIFE CHANGING.

Not only is homemade yogurt delicious and easy,  it is cheaper (and I’ll argue healthier) than the store bought stuff.  I’ve read a lot of online tutorials about making your own yogurt   All of them promising the process is super easy but then they go on and on about all these steps you need to take and the threat of bacteria taking over your home.  I’m exaggerating a bit, but seriously, have you ever read some the message boards out there?  Crazy wack-a-doodles  are everywhere!

In fact, these crazy wack-a-doodles scared me enough that I put off trying to make my own yogurt for a good year.  I put it off until Mel (my favorite food blogger) wrote her own post about yogurt making that made the process seem do-able.  Her “DIY Homemade Yogurt”  post is thorough and includes a great step by step picture tutorial.  Heck, you can stop reading my post here and just go to her blog.  Please don’t leave.  Please? 

I’ll bribe you with cute pictures of my babyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy! 

And my older son!

And kitties!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

And doggy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Besides, you’ll miss out on my snarckiness if you leave.  

Ok, for real, let's get back at this.  Yogurt making is really really simple, hence all the silly distractions above.

You will need:
1 gallon of 1% milk
1/2 cup powdered milk
1/2 cup of plain yogurt

You take a 5 quart (or larger) crock pot and fill it with about 2 cups of 1% milk (don't measure, just dump some in).  You can use whole milk as well, but this family doesn't need the extra fat.

Add in 1/2 cup of dry powdered milk (the envelops are usually measured to 1/2 cup).  You can skip the powdered milk, but the powdered milk makes the yogurt a thicker consistency and I like really thick yogurt.  I've read that if you use whole milk you can skip this step (the fat in the whole milk makes it thick enough, I've never tried it).  I've skipped it all together one time even with my 1% milk and it still turned out fine (just a little thinner consistency that's all).


Pour in the rest of that gallon of milk

Turn the crock pot on high

Heat to 180 degrees.  This takes exactly 3.5 hours with my crock pot.  I've let it get too hot, no worries, it still turned out.

Remove crock from the heated pot.  Uncover and stir.  Let the temperature reduce to 110 to 120 degrees.  Yes, I've missed this before too.  I just heated it back up to 110 degrees and it worked just fine.  This usually takes about 1 hour.  While this is cooling, preheat your oven to the lowest temp it will let you, mine is 175 degrees.  Once it is pre-heated, turn off the oven.  You want the oven to be warm, not hot (it will kill the cultures if too hot).

Once the temperature is between 110 and 120 degrees, you are going to add in 1/2 cup of yogurt.  Now, I always use a yogurt from my previous batch but you can go out to the store and just purchase a container of yogurt.  I'd suggest an unflavored greek style variety.  Just make sure it has "live active cultures" in it, because after all, we're growing cultures here.  Wisk it in.

Now recover your milk and wrap it up in a nice big towel and place it in your oven for 8-12 hours.  I usually time this step to occur overnight and put it in my oven around 9pm and take it out around 7am.  Remember, your oven is turned OFF.  

When you pull it out you are going to have something that looks like this:

When you put a spoon into it, it will feel and look like a nice soft yogurt.  Now, if it is too soft for you, you can put it back in the oven for a few hours, just don't mix it all up.  The cultures do not like to be disturbed. Once it is mixed, the "magic" stops and the cultures stop multiplying.  

All that yellow "stuff" is whey.  If you want nice thick yogurt, you want to strain the whey away. (whey away...haha).  I do this with a cheesecloth set in a colander over a bowl (with a tiny bowl inside to elevate it).

Let this sit in the refrigerator.  You can let it strain for as little time as you like. It just depends on how thick you like your yogurt.  Most tutorials recommend 4-8 hours.  Dump the whey every once in while (I usually dump it a couple times).  You don't have to throw this whey away.  It tastes great in bread (instead of water).  I usually just end up throwing mine away though because I'm not usually that ambitious.

 I let my yogurt strain for 24 hours.  Yes, 24 hours.  Remember, I like my yogurt thick.  It will look dry and have the consistency of peanut butter BUT after just a few seconds in the food processor (or blender) you will have a heavenly delicious yogurt.

I love to add honey to the blending step, HOWEVER, I have a baby in the house so we've been skipping this step and keeping it plain so that it is baby friendly.

 That's it.  You're done.  You will end up with about 5-6 cups of yogurt from 1 gallon of milk.  It will last for about 1-2 weeks (use the milk expiration date as your guide), however, it only lasts in this house for about 1 week before it is completely eaten.

I'm telling you people, this stuff is so delicious.  You will NEVER buy store bought again once you try this.  My favorite way to eat it is with honey, coconut, chocolate chips, and fruit.  Sometimes I can fool myself into thinking this is ice cream.  Sometimes.

Babies like it too (no honey!).

I hope I've encouraged you to go home and try this.  It is snowing like a dickens here in Wisconsin so it is a great night to stay in and snuggle up to a big bowl of yogurt.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

No Spend Wrap Up

Well our monthly "No Spend" challenge has come to an end.  The last week (which was really 10 days thanks to the long month) was a killer!  Man alive was it hard.  I came down with a stomach virus during the last week of this challenge and it contributed to us not making our goal to only spend $200 for the entire month of January.  I got to say though, we came really really close and I'm really proud of how close we came.

We didn't start out so hot.  My hubby ordered a couple mouth guards online for $12, sure that's a good deal and sure he needs them but during our home stretch?  Yeah, I let it slide, after all I had no business making that marker and stamp order in week three which was well over $12.  We had friends over one day and our lack of dinner planning caused us to order a pizza after they left.  I had good intentions to put something in the crock pot that day, it just never happened.  We spent $7 out of our pocket thanks to a visa rebate card my hubby had in his wallet.

We've been in a disagreement about these gift cards all month and if they count or don't count against our "No Spend" challenge.  I say they don't count because we have so many that we haven't used (well over $500 people!).  He thinks it is cheating.  I say, "this is my game, we follow my rules".  Right?!

I'm not sure why we have so many.  It is like I collect them to never use them.  I say enough is enough, this is free money that needed to get cashed in!  Now in fairness, I always buy our grocery gift cards through my son's scrip program through school (his school gets 5-10% of the sale back to them).  We agreed a long time ago (outside of this challenge) to count those gift cards in our budget when we spend the money at the grocery store and not when we buy the actually gift cards, so any spending I did at the grocery store this month (regardless if it was spent with a GC) counted against our budget.  All the rest of the gift cards pictured here came to us as gifts or as store credit.  Anyway, the point was, my hubby is wrong and I'm right.  I just want to be sure we all remember the point here.  I'm right.  He's wrong.  Awe, that never gets old.  The only thing that would make that statement better is if it was coming out of his mouth instead of mine.

The rest of the week's spending was a direct result of a stomach virus which I had for 5 very LONG days:  crackers, Gatorade, drugs from the pharmacy, McDonald's for the boys.  I think you get the picture.  Here is the breakdown:

$12     Mouth Guards
$7       Pizza
$7.50  Drugs at the pharmacy
$2.50  One sleeve of crackers (the only thing I ate for 4 days, yes just the one sleeve)
$8.50  McDonald's (because I was a single parent on my sick day)
$2       Gatorade (Dr's orders)
$4       Milk (Hubby: "how much is a gallon of milk normally?", Me:  "Not the same price as gold!")
$7       More milk, 2 gallons this time (making yogurt) and some washer fluid for my car
$50.20 Total

We could of done better but in all fairness we really could have done much much worse!

So let me remind you how all the other weeks went:

$28.76  Week 1:  We did great.  We ate lots of meals from the freezer and used what was on hand
$72.29  Week 2:  Yikes!  I was the matron of honor in a wedding, it could have been much much worse!
$68.02  Week 3:  I really got the itch to shop and spend some money....and I did.
$50.20  Week 4:  For 10 days and a really bad stomach virus...not bad, not too bad at all.
$219.27  Total

When all is said and done, we went $20 over our goal.  Not bad, right?  We should be reaping these rewards into February and March.  I'm not going to lie though, I'm SOOOOO happy it is over!

Forgive me while I catch up from being sick.  I'll be back soon with that yogurt post that I promised last week!