Friday, June 20, 2008

Coming Clean

I open the refrigerator door. Inside, a returnable glass milk bottle peers back at me, inching toward sourness. The clock above the stove reads 12:05. I've got 25 minutes, I think, before I pick my son up from school.

I yank out the milk bottle and locate the double boiler. Its scorched interior reminds me to fill the base with water this time. Dumping in the milk, I gingerly rest the candy thermometer on the side of the pan and turn on the stove. I add a 1/4 cup of dried milk, organic and locally processed. Stirring the dried milk in, I hop on the computer and wait for the milk to reach the right temperature. When it does, I remove the top pan of the double boiler and dunk it in a mixing bowl full of ice water. The thermometer again signals the correct temperature and I stir in yogurt from last week. The clock announces 12:27. I've got three minutes to spare, I think, as I pour the yogurt and milk mixture into a behemoth of plastic and Styrofoam - my Yogotherm - and tuck into a corner of the kitchen. Five hours later, I'll return to silky yogurt. I may stir in some strawberries or honey or maybe some overripe raspberries cooked down with a bit of sugar. Without a doubt, the yogurt will be gone in a few days. It will taste far better than any store bought yogurt and will be made with all organic locally produced ingredients. It will be wonderful.

You're still thinking about the Yogotherm, though, aren't you? You're thinking that you, or someone you know, or all of those bloggers whip up yogurt daily with a towel, a rubber band and a piece of bubble gum. What's Green Bean's deal? It's so easy and here she has to go out and buy some hunk of plastic and Styrofoam.

Yup. That's right. I did. New, too, I might add, because you can't find these suckers used. After weeks of making yogurt that never set, that was part whey and part . . . other stuff but all yukky, I caved. I decided it was either (a) give up yogurt, (b) buy local organic yogurt in plastic recyclable containers weekly, (c) buy five hundred of the petite St. Benoit's yogurts packaged in a reusable container, or (d) Yogotherm it. In truth, I'd never really do (a) or (c) so the only real option was (b). I justified it to myself that the environmental impact of producing the Yogotherm would be far less, over time, than a lifetime's supply of #5 yogurt cartons. So far, I haven't had a batch of yogurt not come out with the Yogotherm. Maybe it was worth it.

As much as I love my Yogotherm, though, the truth is that I didn't want all of you to know about it. To realize that I couldn't do it. That I had to resort to plastic and purchased convenience instead of MacGyvering it like everyone else. As much as I enjoyed my homemade yogurt week in and week out, I hoped no one would ever know that I was not self sufficient enough to do it the "right" way.

Last week, I wrote about letting go of our standards as they apply to, say, clothes with holes or stains, a showerless day, a garden that hosts aphids as well as ladybugs. It's time to relax those standards as they apply to myself. I need to let go of the expectation for perfection, for total "greendom," whatever that is. Yes, occasionally, it may be too hot and I'll take the car instead of bike. I may be too overwhelmed with the crap accumulating in my garage and I'll recycle wine bottles just this week. If we're leaving on vacation tomorrow morning and I have two loads of laundry, I guess one of them - or both - will just have to go in the dryer. And, yes, I'll make my yogurt in that gigantic plastic, Styrofoam thingie and just enjoy it that it works every single time.

As much as I live a lighter life to lessen my environmental impact, I also do it because I enjoy it. Farmers' markets provide friends and fresher food. Biking - in the right weather - is peaceful yet exhilarating. Line drying clothes gives me time to myself, with just birds and butterflies for company. If I expect perfection of myself, where is the pleasure. If there is no pleasure, then there is no gain.


Burbanmom said...

I agree 100%. You need to give yourself permission to strive for "the best I can do" rather than "perfection". Otherwise, you'll make yourself crazy and give up the whole journey. said...

What a great, honest post. Perfection is almost never attainable, but as long as we try... Why make yourself crazy? Surely nothing good would come of that!

I think I may have to look into that yogurt contraption myself. Perhaps I'll try to buy one secondhand first. I need to make lactose free yogurt =)

Heather @ SGF said...

Good for you. I've thought about getting a yogurt making machine. That way I don't have to sit for 5 hours and monitor the temp. It's frustrating sometimes. At least I know what kind to get if I get one.

The reason I started making yogurt was those silly #5 plastic containers. I save them, but really, how many can you use. I eat A LOT of yogurt. Option for people who'd like to stick to containers? There are two I know of: 1) Stonyfield will take them back if you mail it to them. They make those recycled toothbrushes out of them. and 2) TerraCycle takes them and reuses them with almost no processing, then gives your charity of choice some moola for it. Here's the link:

amanda said...

you go with your yogurt!!!!

innercitygarden said...

Accepting variability and not quite rightness is hard. And finding a way of being 'good enough' is better than giving up all together.

I use a thermos, which we were given as a gift and have never used for coffee or tea, and my yoghurt results are variable. I also don't pay much attention to the warming and adding. Mostly they are edible though (except the time I thought I didn't need to check the instructions, I forgot to boil first and the whole thing went very bad) so I deal with runny or lumpy and funny lookin'.

My kid doesn't know what it's 'supposed' to do anyway. I also served curdled custard this evening, but I think I will throw away the leftovers.

Debbie said...

Phew - I consider you one of my mentors as I try to lead a greener life and I know this journey will be more doable if we aren't searching for perfection - just doing the best we can. One of the reasons I respect you is because you are honest and you aren't afraid to admit that you are a human bean ;)

eco 'burban mom said...

oooh, maybe you should host a confessional so we can all admit the things we "feel" like we are cheating on? BTW - a YogoTherm is so NOT cheating!

I confess to buying two plastic popsicle maker thingys. Truth be told, the kids actually like the homeade pops (thanks for the inspiration GB, though I have done jam-swish pops yet). And, I figure I am not buying packaged ones, so we all win in the end.

I also confess - and here's a biggie!! - I don't have a compost pile or worm bin. Why? Well, for right now there would be no way I could keep worms alive. I am home about 15 minutes a day it seems. And as far as a compost pile goes, I just don't know how to make and maintain one. I need to learn, but someday, someday when I have more than 5 minutes to myself.

So - there you have it! The sins I hid from my fellow bloggers! The one added benefit of living so far away from you all. You can see my dirty laundry!

Hit Pay Dirt said...

Wow - I'd never heard of yogurt makers. As much as I hate the plastic containers that yogurt comes in, I also dislike having to leave my oven on low for 5 hours to make one batch of measly yogurt.

Does the plastic come in direct contact with the yogurt? If so, do you know what type of plastic it is? I'm one of those terrified-of-plastic-leaching people.

Thanks for this post. As others have mentioned, I love your candour. One of the many reasons why I'm a faithful reader. :)

spelled with a K said...

sometimes when people invent a gadget that may not be necessary but sure helps make life a bit easier, its fine by me to occasionally go for it. After all to garden all you really need is a shovel and your bare hands right? why the rakes, trowels, hoes etc? Its ok, enjoy the yogurt.

Melanie J. said...

The heck with MacGyvering it; that contraption looks like it'd be perfect for working moms who are crazy enough to make their own yogurt...I'm so glad you pointed it out to us, because to someone who hasn't yet fetched up the gumption to try making yogurt, the task isn't nearly as daunting now. Thanks!

Green Bean said...

Burbs: Absolutely. And this is a wonderful journey. I'd hate to not enjoy it because I have unrealistic expectations.

Wholefoodsfamily: No, nothing good would come of it. Certainly, no yogurt. Good luck making yours.

Heather: Thanks for the information for folks who buy their yogurt in plastic cartons - which, in the theme of this post, is okay. Now, though, you know some good alternatives for what to do with those cartons beside becoming a pack rat.

Amanda: I will, girl!

ICG: You are right. It is hard to accept "good enough." We do need to try to live in accordance with our ideals but if we slip up from time to time, well that's life.

Debbie: You consider me a mentor? Wow. What a wonderful thing to say, Debbie! Thanks for being so accepting on my human bean-ness. :)

EBM: Funny, but my first reaction to your comment was "that's so great she's making popsicles for her boys this summer." It's strange that, in my eyes, buying plastic popsicle molds is totally kosher but a Yogotherm . . . We always hold ourselves to higher standards, though, and I'm done! As to the compost thing, I'm awed by people who keep worms - I mean keep them and keep them alive. I murdered two big batches of them and then freecycled the worm bin. For me, it was too stressful. An outdoor compost bin . . . this is where I accept "good enough." It's been nearly a year and I've never gotten any compost out of it. I don't put enough "browns" in it. I hardly ever turn it. But you know what, it does the job I want it to - it keeps the food waste out of the waste stream and magically seems to stay at 2/3 full no matter how much food we put in it. I appreciate your confessions, though. ;-)

Hit Pay Dirt: Yes, the yogurt goes directly into the plastic container (#2 plastic) and then the plastic container fits into the Styrafoam thermos-thing. I think #2 plastic is supposed to be okay? No?? And thank you for being a "faithful reader." Those kinds of comments totally make my week.

K: Touche! We could all live without rakes and such but they sure do make the job of gardening easier. I guess my Yogotherm does the same thing. Thanks.

Melanie: It is true. I have so many things going on that I hardly have 5 hours to devote to making yogurt. I'd just give it up. This thing makes it totally doable.

ruralaspirations said...

Well I'm a proud Yogotherm Owner myself! Yes it is styrofoam and plastic but it should last for years, all that time making wonderful, idiot-proof (certified by this idiot personally) yogurt.

I made my first batch last week and it is all gone. That has never happened with store bought yogurt 'round here.

By the way, your Yogotherm can also be used to make soft cheese, buttermilk, and sour cream. Check out the New England Cheesemaking Co website for details.

eco 'burban mom said...

Can you leave a compost pile outside in the winter time? You will have tell me if it's complicated to make one. If I could maintain one they way you are - even if I am not getting any composted dirt back - it might be worth a try. Anything low maintenance - that's for me!

I have to tell you, I thought the boys - especially the older ones - would balk at the idea of homeade popsicles, but no! They really love the idea and have even been using some $ at the corner store for neat ingredients for them. Though... I have to watch. The littlest one is so in the habit of throwing wrappers and sticks away, I almost lost a plastic stick!

arduous said...

OH MY GOD! You bought a YOGOTHERM? That. Is. It. Where are my tar and feathers?

I have a funny story. When we were in college, a lapsed Catholic friend of mine ill-advisedly flew to New Orleans for spring break with a guy friend of hers. While they were there, the guy made a pass at her (of course.) She told him she wasn't interested. So ... he left. He left her in New Orleans by herself, which actually worked out well for my friend because she ended up having an awesome spring break meeting new fun people. Anyway, my girlfriend felt a little guilty that here she was in New Orleans having an awesome time, and her guy friend left. And she started to wonder if she had led him on, or what. So she went to church and confessed to the priest that she had sinned. So the priest asked what her sin was, and she had to admit that she had refused to sleep with this guy.

The priest was like ... "Uh, that's not a sin."

And so I say to you, GB. A yogotherm is not a sin. Call me when you shoot a polar bear or something.

Natalie said...

OMG Aruduous, you're too funny!

EBM, to make a compost bin just cut the bottom off an old garbage can and throw in kitchen scraps. If you have overly curious kids or racoons, you'll want the type with handles that lock the lid on. I bought a fancy one through a local agency - at a greatly reduced price. It's pretty much a squattier version of what I just described. Make sure you site it well. I just had to move mine - Yuck!! If you're looking to reduce your waste just keep the content the semi-moist and stir on occassion. If you want garden compost, you'll need to be slightly more scientific. It really is that easy!

Jennifer said...

That makes me feel better about using our yogurt maker... it was a Christmas gift from a well meaning mother-in-law who remembers making yogurt when they were a young struggling family, and stupidly I've felt it was "cheating"... so I've never used it. It's a big contraption... plugs in and everything... but perhaps I should just let things be and use it without guilt.

Amber said...

Your last two post really struck a chord with me. Thank you! I love coming here and reading your beautiful words.

Green Bean said...

Rural Aspirations: Should we start a Yogotherm club? Our own Yahoo group? ;-) We could share secrets like the sour cream, soft cheese and such. I had NO idea! Now I am triply justified.

EcoBurbs: I do believe that you can leave it outside during cold winters but I think it just turns into compost slower. I'm sure you could find the answer on the web. I remember reading on Sharon Astyk's blog about her getting compost out under the snow or something like that. And, you made me laugh. Your youngest almost three a stick away! Mine have thrown out three sticks in the last year. I've just been using the mold with half of them full but I need, at some point, to think if I can just use regular popsicle sticks or something for the others.

Arduous: Does that mean no tar or feathers? Whew. I'll sleep easy tonight having unloaded a guilty conscience.

Natalie: Thank God someone knows what they are talking about. I had never thought of the garbage can but that's pretty darn clever. Give it a whirl, EcoBurbs and let us know what happens. Really, the time I spent "managing my compost week" on any given week is about 3 minutes - walking outside to dump food scraps in.

Jennifer: Let go of the guilt! It's so liberating. Come cheat with me. ;-)

Amber: Thank you so much. It is so meaningful to know that what I put up on this blog affects people.

JAM said...

Now you make me want a Yogatherm! And this after I've been talking to Chile about veganism... I am spending way too much time reading blogs! But seriously, I agree with the thought that we can't be perfect, we just have to try to be better than we would be if we didn't try. And I do think that a quality item that we use a long time is better than tons of plastic. All of you that can get milk in reusable bottles make me jealous - I don't know of anywhere to do that and while we only go through 2 gallons a week, the recycling adds up. Not to mention everything else we go through. You are inspiring with how much you are doing, and sharing with all of us.

Robj98168 said...

I don't think buying a new plastic thing is neccessarialy bad- The fact is you're gonna use the damn thing to make food. LOL I myself woulda gone with a thermos ala green beans method but the fact is you make yogurt on a regular basis. GUilt sucks. F*** the people who aint got no yogurt.

Bugs and Brooms said...

I love it!! You make me feel SO much better about my bread machine and food processor!!

And where can I get one of these yogothingies? I have just stopped buying yogurt at the store because of the packinging (talk about too much guilt)! And making bread (even in the machine) takes time and energy. I can't imagine making yogurt without your contraption! I gotta get one so my poor daughter can have some yogurt again! And maybe some of the goodies Rural Aspirations mentioned too!

Donna said...

I've drooled over the Yogotherms on the Cheesemaking website many times, but never wanted to spend the $$ since whenever I've made yogurt it's turned out kind of yucky. Maybe I should reconsider...

EBM: We had a fancy compost bin until last summer when my husband tore down a shed and dropped something heavy on it. Since then, I've put all my compostable stuff in a pile in the corner of the yard and, miraculously, the pile never seems to grow -- it just breaks down at the same rate I add to it. Probably not the greatest garden compost, but it works.

fhe said...

Yoghurt is tricky. Hence all the additives, emulsifiers, and other "goodies" companies put in. Not to mention tons of sugars. Or that ubiquitous high fructose corn syrup.

Green Bean said...

Jam: Ahh, veganism. I've flirted with that in the past too. All the additives in dairy substitutes turned me off though. You are right though. The Yogotherm think should last me a lifetime and then some. As to reusable milk bottles, dang, really you can't find any around you? What a bummer! Did you check out Local Harvest?

Rob: Thanks for the absolution! I feel better now. Even if you would have used the thermos, you show off you! ;-)

Bugs: Click on the two links for Yogotherm. One will take you to the cheese place that Rural Aspirations mentions and the other to a goat milk place. Here's another secret - I use a bread machine and food processor too! Heck, I am proud of myself for using a bread machine. I barely have time in the day to get everything done. Without that machine, we'd be eating locally baked or going hungry.

Donna: You DROOLED over the Yogotherm. That's one of the reasons I like you. I understand you! Move on back to your hometown, girl. We could hang out. Oh, and as to composting in a pile, I did it with just yard waste (cover crop that I'm apparently not supposed to till under and the compost bin was full). Works great and attracted some insects and such (in the good sense - biodiversity for your yard and all).

Fhe: It is hard. That is why it is so nice to make my own. Some local honey and maybe a dash of vanilla is my favorite. No corn syrup allowed.

Tamar said...

Hey, Green Bean! I am a pretty new reader but already I can tell you that what I like so much about coming here and reading is not that you make your own yogurt (with or without a yogotherm!), but the way you *think* about making yogurt. I do all the stuff I do for exactly the reasons you talk about in this post - I enjoy it and it feels like the right thing to do. Your open and nonjudgmental approach is a breath of fresh air - so certainly don't feel defeated by some finicky yogurt cultures!

Green Bean said...

Tamar: Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment. I have to admit that I was once a fairly judgmental person. Blogging got me thinking about that trait. Ultimately, we are all in this together. We are all working toward the same goal and doing the best we can with what we've got. I appreciate your thoughts . . . and permission to triumph over yogurt cultures in any way I can!

Christy B said...

Just read your blog for the first time - love the cherry post and this one!!

I read BurbanMom's post about Stoneyfield's study on plastic vs. glass and it pissed me off (not her post but the study!). So, it inspired me to action - making my own yogurt.

Months ago I found a plastic free yogurt maker but of course didn't bookmark it so I decided to give it a go without a maker. It was my first time and I had high expectations - just like my "other" first time!

What I did was turn my oven on as low as it would go while I scalded, mixed, cooled down and poured. I put individual glass containers on a cookie sheet, put a kitchen towel over them and turned off the oven. I had read that I might need to strain it for thicker yogurt.

8 hours later I opened the oven door and I had incredibly thick beautiful yogurt! I put it in the fridge over night and OMG it was good - expectations met and possibly exceeded (kind of like my "other" first time!!). I will be making more very soon.

What I can't seem to get down is Kefir - last year my sweet Nephew visited me and asked for one everyday but told my friend Ari that I made him drink a "suicide shake" each morning!

Melissa said...

just catching up on all my reading :) I love love love this post. isn't it funny how we put all this pressure on ourselves? good reminder!

Theresa said...

This yogotherm thing sounds pretty cool! I should probably eat more yogurt given my digestive issues, but it seems so complicated! It's good to know it doesn't have to be.

About the frozen compost thing, up here in Zone 2a my compost is frozen for almost six months of the year. The freezing and thawing cycle seems to help things break down pretty well - in the Spring it turns to nice loamy compost fairly quickly. I store my compostables in my freezer for the week and then dump them in the composter outside on the weekends - they break down really well that way and even without the right mix of green/brown wet/dry eventually I do get nice compost.

kale for sale said...

I've always wanted to make yogurt. Where do I get one of those yogatherms? I buy St. Benoit's plain in the big jars which is much more affordable than their darling crocks and I've been saving the jars to do canning in. Although what I would can in those big puppies I don't know. There's only two of us.

Green Bean said...

Katrina: Pasta sauce? Click on the Yogotherm links to be taken to a site that sells them. I have to admit it is a cinch to make yogurt with one.


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