Homemade Yogurt

My mother and I decided to do an experiment in the kitchen: making homemade yogurt! I love yogurt, but in the last few years they’ve all switched over from natural sweeteners to artificial ones, which I find awful. But a quick trip to MakeYourOwnYogurt.com, and we had directions to make it ourselves!

This was our setup: a big stock pot for sterilizing, a homemade double boiler made with two nesting pots, a coffee pot, a candy thermometer, and a spoon. And of course a half gallon of whole milk from a local dairy, and a package of store bought yogurt for a starter culture.

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The first step was to sterilize all of the equipment. This is to kill random bacteria that might be lurking around, which could interfere with the specific kinds of good bacteria needed to make the yogurt. We boiled a big stock pot of water and dipped the coffee pot, spoon, and other tools in for a few seconds.

The milk goes in the top pot of the double boiler. We used a metal pan with a handle, which fit down into a slightly larger pot (actually the bottom of an ancient pressure cooker). The candy thermometer goes in, and we let it slowly heat up to 185°F (85°C). Interesting note: the burner on the stove is actually bright red, but for some reason it shows up as blue in the photo!

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Once the milk is at the correct temperature, it then gets transferred into a cooling bath; in this case, a large pot filled with ice water in the sink. Using the thermometer, the milk gets slowly cooled down to 110°F (43°C).

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The cool milk then goes into the coffee pot, and 2 tablespoons of plain store bought yogurt is added. I made sure to get a brand that guaranteed live cultures, since the bacteria are necessary to convert the milk to yogurt. Those lovely hands in the pic belong to my mother, Linda. 🙂

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Once the starter blob is mixed in, the coffee pot goes on a heating pad. It has to sit at 100°F (38°C) or so for 7 hours, to allow the bacteria to multiply and do their magic. We wrapped the pot in the pad and clipped it, then nestled the thermometer beside the pot to make sure it stayed around the correct temperature.

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Seven hours later…yogurt! Ta da!

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The final step is to mix it well with the spoon, because it was more liquidy at the top then at the bottom (my research tells me that this liquid is whey). Then it goes into smaller containers and into the fridge to chill overnight.

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The result: …..*drumroll*….a half gallon of tasty yogurt! I’m happy to say that our first attempt was successful. We sweetened the plain yogurt with some shredded coconut, and it was delicious! They say you can also use sugar, honey, pudding mix, or jam, though I haven’t tried any of these myself. The finished product was thinner than the commercial kind, but I didn’t mind.

We’ve actually made another batch since then, and it turned out perfectly as well. I don’t think I’ll ever eat store bought yogurt again! The homemade kind is delicious, and doesn’t have horrible tasting fake sweetener or a bunch of chemicals like commercial brands do.

I might have to look into getting some bigger pots, so we can make bigger batches! 🙂

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My shops; Handmade: PeachPod | Vintage: PeachNifty

New kitty in the family!

So it’s been a while since I’ve posted. That’s because my 16 year old cat Midori had been rapidly declining in health over the last couple months, and we finally had to put her down a couple of weeks ago. Obviously I was heartbroken, and I’ll miss her a lot.

On the bright side, I now have a brand new kitty baby! Her name is Ripley, and she’s a 10 wk old tortoiseshell kitten. I picked her out from about a dozen kittens at the SPCA and brought her home last Wednesday. Of course I’ve been snapping photos like crazy. 🙂

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You can see her beautiful tortie coloration really well here:

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She’s a brave little soul. She’s not even afraid of the dog!

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Her face is so kissable…but you have to steal the kisses quick! She doesn’t stay still for long.

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And in tribute, here’s a pic of my old lady Midori. I’ll love you forever, sweet baby. ❤

midori_tribute

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Curb Shopping: building supplies

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I did a spin around the neighborhood yesterday, and found these nice wood planks! Someone had dismantled a jungle gym that was in their backyard. About half of it was rotted or broken, but the other half was in good shape. A quick hose-down to rinse off the mud and pollen, and it’s up on the fence to dry in the sun.

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I also got these two heavy plywood boards at a different house. Judging by the shape and the holes, I’m guessing they were part of a cornhole board?

I’m thinking about trying to build a chicken coop from reclaimed wood, and this batch of planks is a good start. Stay tuned; more on that later! 🙂

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My shops; Handmade: PeachPod | Vintage: PeachNifty

Farm Hunt – Property #2

Time for another edition of BUY THAT FARM! 🙂

This listing appeared online just a few days ago. It was for an old farmhouse with 18 acres of land, for a very good price per acre. The listing said that the house had been built in 1890, and needed extensive repair. It has a natural spring as the water source, and according to Google Earth, a big portion of the land had been logged and was mostly clear.

The location was good, the price was reasonable, and I was hoping that the home wasn’t in as bad shape as the agent said. “Extensive repair” could mean a lot of things depending on the point of view of the speaker…it could mean something as simple as “the cabinets are dated and the floors are scuffed” all the way to “death trap on the verge of collapse”. So off we went to check it out!

Observation #1 was that there was a train track along the edge of the property, running only about 20 ft from the front of the house. Minor negative. After driving down the gravel driveway by the tracks, the first building we encountered was some kind of old accessory building. It had partially collapsed and was deteriorated beyond hope, but it had one cool feature: a horse hitching post in front! Had this been some sort of hotel or store in the (distant) past? Neat!

shady_building

As for the actual home, the house looked GREAT from the outside. It was a huge white plantation style home, with two stories and tall columns on the front porch. It had obviously been inhabited recently, because it had modern vinyl siding and a satellite dish on the side. (PS, that’s my dad in the pic.)

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The house was locked, so we couldn’t go inside…but honestly, I don’t think we would have wanted to if we could. A peek in the windows revealed that it was bad. I mean BAD. I’m genuinely surprised that it wasn’t condemned.

Apparently the spring behind the house had increased its output in the recent past, and the ground under the home was turned from solid ground into a near swamp. You could smell the mold even from outside the door. All of the visible floors were warped and collapsing, and there was black mold everywhere. I couldn’t get good pictures through the (moldy) windows, but I did find an old dog door to stick my head in and get this lovely shot of the ceiling.

shady_ceiling

So right away, I knew the home wasn’t salvageable. I’m pretty sure no amount of repair could compensate for the fact that the house was sitting in a permanent swamp. Even if you spent the money to fix it up, it would just start rotting again in a few years. Not to mention the constant risk of flooding every time it rained. Here’s a shot of the bottom of the back door, where the door frame and foundation are rotting away.

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We decided to look around the property a bit more while we digested this information. We found the spring behind the house, in a little brick building by the edge of the woods. The entire area around it was flooded and soggy.

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Evidence of wildlife: a big snake skin! Blacksnake, no doubt.
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The land beside the house was nice, once you got away from the marshy part. Good potential pasture here.
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The main acreage was up a hill, where a huge section of trees had been logged, probably about a decade ago. We hiked up and found a lovely, private meadow, completely hidden and surrounded by trees. Lots of shrubs and weeds and sticker bushes had grown up since the timber was cut down, but that can be bush- hogged fairly easily to get clear land again.

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As we were hiking up the hill, we startled a wild turkey, who flew off in a hurry. I peeked in the brush where it had appeared from, and found a nest! The turkey had been sitting on a clutch of eggs. Don’t worry, I didn’t touch them or get too close. 🙂

shady_turkey

Obviously we didn’t walk the entire 18 acres, but I think I got a good feel for the property in the hour or so we were there.

PROS:
-good location
-natural water source
-county electricity hookup available
-lots of potential pasture
-love the private meadow on the hill

CONS:
-existing home is 100% unusable
-train track runs right by property
-a road would have to be excavated up the hillside to get a car to the meadow
-paying full price for land with no house doesn’t leave much money for anything else

FINAL VERDICT: Undecided.

The house being a disaster was a big disappointment, but this property has a lot going for it. Should I risk spending a lot on land with no usable dwelling? Or wait to see if I can find something else with a good house? 18 acres is fantastic, but the price doesn’t leave me much room to buy or build a home, put up fences, buy livestock etc. Honestly, money is the only issue here…if I had plenty of it, I would buy this property. Right now this land is a bit of a mess, but it has major potential and could be a very nice farm with some work.

My gut is telling me to pass, but I’m definitely going to keep thinking about it…

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My shops;  Handmade: PeachPod  | Vintage PeachNifty

The Property Hunt Begins!

So, a while back I wrote about my dream to have a farm. My first step toward that goal was to get out of debt, and after a lot of hard work, that step is complete (cue tears of joy!). I’ve also been skimping and saving like mad, and so far I have about $7000 in the bank for a downpayment. A few weeks ago I went to the farm credit bureau and got preapproved for a modest loan.

Soooo the time has finally come to start looking for a property! YEEEEAAAH! 😀

One day I’ll write out the process for evaluating listings to find something suitable, but today I want to post about a little lot that I put some real thought into buying.

This particular piece of land was listed on the real estate section of Craigslist. Craigslist isn’t the greatest place to look for property, but occasionally something worthwhile pops up there, so I’ve been glancing over it once a day. The ad for this parcel said it was a deep, private lot of 2 acres, with a well, a stream along one side, a storage shed, and an old concrete foundation that once held a singlewide mobile home. The owner mentioned that the septic system might not work anymore, but otherwise the lot sounded good; the location was nice, it was zoned Agricultural, and the price was $18,000 negotiable. Definitely worth a look!

It was an easy and relatively quick drive to the property, on a main highway about 20 minutes out of town. It shares a gravel driveway with another home, which is up on a hill to the east behind some trees. The first thing I noticed about the lot was the stream, which ran alongside the driveway. It was a nice little stream, but it was in a deep gulley that was too wide to jump across. We had to walk all the way up to the busy main road to get to solid land and over to the lot. (Notes made: there would need to be some sort of little bridge to easily get from the driveway to the land.)

Here’s the view from the street. Obviously the lot hasn’t been used for a long time, so it’s overgrown with weeds and brush. You can see the shed, the concrete pad, and the well head (the short little white thing on the right).

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Here is the stream. This was a relatively flat section; some of the streambed was carved deep into the land, so there was a 3 ft drop or so down to the water. It was too wide to step across along its entire length, and the stream cut across the land both at the top and side. (Notes made: there would need to be *multiple* bridges to reach all areas of the property.)

jordantown_stream

The shed and concrete pad up close. The shed itself was in decent shape, but the roof looked like it needed some work. The concrete pad had definitely seen better days; it was warped and cracked, with cinderblocks piled up beside it. (Notes made: foundation probably won’t pass code for putting a new structure on it. Would have to be removed or just leave it there unused and in the way.)

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A view from the far end of the lot, looking toward the street. There was some junk back here, including some tires and a really old shed that had completely collapsed and was just a big pile of rusting metal and rotting wood. (Notes made: this is going to take some truck hauling to clean up the debris.)

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One random cool feature, a REALLY old well pump. I pumped it a few times and got some nasty brown water out of it. Obviously unusable, but it was cool!

jordantown_well

As we were walking around the lot, the main problem of this property became apparent…it was very very damp. The entire area was marshy, with a thick layer of mud between the clumps of weeds and occasional mini-streams that had to be stepped over. I wouldn’t think much of it if it had just rained, but it had been 3 warm, sunny days since the last rain. Meaning that this land had terrible drainage, and was probably never 100% dry. No wonder the septic system didn’t work…

No septic system means that it would be difficult to build a house, or even bring in a new mobile home, because there’s no way to handle the waste water. There *are* actually several options available, but the government won’t allow most of them. No normal option for sewage is a huge negative. The marshy nature of the land would also cause problems with livestock, since a perpetually damp and muddy environment can cause hoof rot or other conditions, as well as providing a moist breeding ground for parasites.

So, in summary:

PROS:
Good price
Good location near town
Natural water supply
Existing storage shed

CONS:
Very damp and marshy and muddy
No possibility of a septic system, BIG PROBLEM
Shabby concrete pad probably unusable
On a high traffic road, so lots of “cars going by” noise

VERDICT: Nope. 😦

I like some things about this property, like the location, the shed, and the price. But the soggy land would cause way too many problems. So for now I’m going to keep looking…

Dreams

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Today I’m going to talk about: dreams.

No, not the sometimes-crazy kind you have when you’re sleeping, but the kind they talk about when they say to “follow your dreams!” As I approach middle age, I’ve been thinking a lot about my dreams and what I want to do with the second half of my life. And one dream has ALWAYS been there, in the back of my mind, no matter what else is happening.

I want A FARM.

I want a few acres of land, fences, a barn, some hay, and lots and LOTS of animals. Chickens are a definite; I love eggs, especially healthy farm grown ones. I also want some fiber animals. For a while I couldn’t decide if I wanted sheep or alpacas, but heck, I’ll just get some of each! I also want another dog. I currently have one dog, a standard poodle named Chester. I would love to get him a playmate. And those are just the basics…the possibilities are endless. There are also goats, ducks, turkeys, llamas, cows, and the holy grail, a horse of my very own!

Of course, I have a long way to go before any of those plans are feasible. But I’m working on a game plan right now…

My GET A FARM gameplan:

Step 1: Get out of debt. I need to look as good as possible to get a new home loan (especially now that the banks are all gun shy about new mortgages). My income isn’t very large, so I want my debt-to income ratio to be a favorable as possible to compensate. I’ve already taken care of all the credit cards, but I have student loans to get rid of, and the last 16 months of a car loan. All of my expendable money is going toward getting that debt off my back. More about that in a previous post.

Step 2: Save up a down payment. I would like to have at least 10%, maybe as much as 20%, for a down payment. That should be a little easier once I don’t have a student loan payment or car payment draining my funds every month. Save, save, save!

Step 3: Find my dream property! Ok, “dream property”  may be reaching a bit (that would be a mansion on my own private 100,000 acres). But I’m sure there’s a mini-dream property out there for me! The basic necessities are:
1) Affordable. Again, I’m don’t have a huge power income, so I’m looking for something relatively inexpensive. I’ll probably be considering a lot of fixer-uppers.
2) Acreage. I would like to have about 5 acres for my farm. Any smaller than that, and there won’t be enough pasture for the animals. Any larger, and it will probably be out of my price range.
3) Location. Obviously, a farm has to be outside of town, in order to have the space and the zoning for animals. But I don’t want to be so far out that it takes hours to drive into town, especially since I’ll be commuting to work each weekday. So I’m looking for that balance: out, but not too far out!

Step 4: Sell the house I’m in now. That’s probably going to be the hardest part of my plan. The housing market isn’t all that great at the moment, which makes it unlikely that I’ll get a good asking price for my home. In addition to that, it needs some work…definitely a new roof and new carpet at the very least. It could use siding and a new bathroom as well, but I’ll have to research whether those will actually increase the value of the house enough to make the extra expenditure worth it. And if the house takes a long time to sell, I could be looking at paying two mortgages at once, which would be tricky.

I’m sure I’m forgetting something important, but for now, that’s the working plan. I’ve been collecting positive quotes about fulfilling your dreams and creating your own future…here are some that I have so far:

  • “The biggest adventure you can take is to live the life of your dreams.” -Oprah Winfrey
  • “Twenty years from now, you’ll be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do, than by the things you did do. So throw off the bowlines! Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore, dream, and discover.” -Mark Twain
  • “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” -Peter Drucker
  • “If you can dream it, you can do it.” -Walt Disney
  • “Get busy living, or get busy dying.” -Andy Dufresne, The Shawshank Redemption

So , what are your dreams? How do you stay motivated to make them happen?