Friday, February 27, 2015

Homemade Yogurt the Simplest Way Possible

Never in my life have a seen a group of people consume yogurt like my children. They like it in a bowl, in a tube, in their smoothies, on their clothes and well, THEY LOVE IT! I've tried all sorts of home made yogurt recipes from the farthest and most Godforsaken corners of Pinterest. I even bought a yogurt maker and all I got was gross curdled yogurt. It was a valiant effort- but there were gallons and gallons of wasted milk when all was said and done. So I did what any sane person would do: kept trying. As it turns out, the only recipe that has ever worked for me is the simplest- whew! I can handle that. There are TONS of ways you can make yogurt and people have very strong opinions on the right way and the wrong way to do it. Go figure that yogurt would be such a point of contention. But here's how I make it:

Ingredients (2):
2 Tablespoons of Yogurt with Live and Active Cultures
2 Quarts of WHOLE milk- this matters for the thickness of the yogurt.

Actually, that's all you need. :) So here's my method...

1. With the stove burner on low, pour the milk into a pot and slowly warm it to the temperature that you would serve a baby a bottle at. I do the 'wrist test' and if it feels right for a baby it is perfect to get the cultures in your yogurt multiplying- that's 110 degrees if you have a thermometer. I don't think you have to worry about scalding your milk prior to this step, as some other people suggest. Oh wait- I'm not here to debate the proper methodology of yogurt making. I'm just telling you what works for me. 
2. Whisk in 2 tablespoons of your starter yogurt. If the milk is too hot, it will kill the live cultures that are what turns milk into yogurt.
3. Pour the cultured milk into two quart jars and place them into a cooler.
4. Wrap the cooler up in a heavy blanket. This incubates them and keeps the temperature where it needs to be for your cultured milk to turn into yogurt.
5. Leave the yogurt in the cooler for 12 hours, somewhere room temperature (60-75 degrees). If you leave it in the cooler longer than 12 hours you will end up with a bit of a more sour yogurt, but that's your preference. 12 hours seems to be the perfect number for me. Heads up, if you start the process at 1 o'clock in the afternoon you're going to need to wake up in the middle of the night to unwrap your baby yogurt from its blankie and put it back to bed in the fridge. I already have three kids so I try to avoid that but its happened.

When your yogurt is done, it will still appear pretty liquidy. Give it a big stir and put it in the fridge. It will thicken up some but still be a little bit less firm than commercial yogurt. If you prefer, drain some of the liquid off by pouring your yogurt over a bowl draped with a cheesecloth. You can save the liquid that runs into the bowl and use it for baking. HAHA. Or you can throw it away (guilty). Don't forget you can save a half cup of your final product to use as a starter for your next batch.

We use our yogurt in smoothies before straining, and I serve it in bowls after straining. This is plain yogurt, so if you like sweetness without a ton of sugar you can squeeze in some honey or agave nectar, plus fresh fruit. You can also just add sugar!

If you have questions or need to trouble shoot, be sure to comment and I can try to help you. There are TONS of helpful solutions on Google ranging from using gelatin to dry milk. I have found making your own yogurt is a trial and error thing that I've invested a bit of time in, so if at first you don't succeed have a cry and try again.


Thursday, February 19, 2015

Inspirational Women Series: Kelsey Austin on how she does (or doesn't) do it all

I want to introduce a series I'm beginning today called "Inspirational Women." Some of the people I'll be featuring may be new to you, but they may also have familiar names and faces. I want to highlight women who are especially normal, but also especially remarkable.The point of the series is not to make you feel less-than these special ladies, but to feel inspired to reach your full potential by the wisdom they've agreed to share with us. Who knows... your story could be next!

Today we begin with Kelsey Austin. Local to Bridgeton, she's a wife, mother of three, editor, author of her own plays, short stories, essays, and songs. She also collaborates with a writer out of San Diego. Most recently she and Joe Udall  worked together on, "It Ain't Messy Til It's Sally Jesse" and hosted a reading/ talk back at The New Dodges Market. (That's where I got all of these pictures of her in action).  Oh, she happens to be my friend and today is her birthday! I thought that was the perfect date to post this interview where she weighs in on her go-to weeknight meal ideas, what its like to be a working Mom, and the success that she's most proud of. 

Of the many roles you play in your personal life- wife, mother, friend, teacher (previously), and writer-  which do you feel is the most challenging and why?

 Which role is most challenging? That's hard. I feel most responsible for my children and I probably put most of my energy into them, but they are ridiculously fun and life-giving. They do give me ENORMOUS amounts of laundry and very little sleep, but it's worth it. They've helped me to move into a more self-less Self and I now have so much to laugh about. I suppose what's challenging is finding balance between all the roles and keeping inner peace. It's easy to become overwhelmed, but if I slow down and purposefully try to enjoy what I have in that moment, I'm much better off and the kids benefit as well. 

How do you 'do it all?' 

I don't do it all. I had to laugh, because I often deduct points from my overall grade throughout the day when I see overflowing toy boxes and trashcans. I rarely have it all together. I decided one day to organize my time so I am doing two or three things that I need to/like to do and the rest of it gets the leftover. I schedule in writing each day because I found that this time is easily eaten up by everything else and then I'm left feeling strange because I need to write. So, there are rooms that are messier than I like, but I needed to reduce my cleaning and organizing in order to write. I just close my eyes when I see a stack of who-knows-what in front of me. Also, I had you, Jessica, come in and help me organize and declutter so I had less to worry about in general. If the mess gets out-of-hand, I know that I will get to it eventually and it won't be more than I can handle.

Which success are you the most proud of, and why?

I am most proud of my family. Truly. My four Austins are great. They are brave and creative and so patient. When I'm in my whirlwind they are very good at waiting and finding some way to help me or amuse themselves. It's nice to live with team-players.

What is your advice for women who want to have a family and a career?

I would tell them that they can certainly have both. Family can enrich your output in a career and careers can help family-life if you get a charge from what you do. It's important to listen to "the inner voice of love" (I think it was Nouwen who wrote about that) and move accordingly. It's easy to get caught up in ourselves and our dreams and ambitions and insecurities and the like and lose sight of the big picture. Maybe it's more helpful to take life as a whole and not a series of tasks. Human beings can be creative and enthusiastic, but we can easily slip into discontentment. So, family will not guarantee happiness and neither will a career. Listen closely to the One and be happy being. Do what makes you tick, but remember to stop, look around you, and be thankful.

Share your favorite weeknight dinner idea with us (that kids will actually eat).

Wraps are our go-to. I like to have a variety of protein sources on hand--chicken, ground meat, shrimp, scrambled eggs, and beans--as well as both corn and flour wraps. I also keep the fridge stocked with salad greens, cheeses, salsa, baby carrots and hummus. As the kids grow, they can make up their wraps to their liking as long as they include a protein and vegetable. (The carbs come easily because my kids are great fans of everything carbohydrate. Ha.) 

Your dream date night- where would you go and what would you do (within an hour of home, you have a babysitter for six hours)?

 If I get an hour-drive, we would go into Philly and have a Thai or Indian meal with our favorite red and then go to a bookstore cafe for books, coffee, and chit-chat. If it's a particular Friday night, maybe a gallery or two would actually be open, so we could have a walk-around and take in some inspiring images. I also like to see plays, but how many hours do I get? Can I do it all? Theatre, meal, coffee, books, chat? That would be my favorite.

Thanks Kelsey!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Three of my 'Busy Mom' Beauty Favorites

As all of us Mom's know getting out of the door in the morning can be a challenge. Packing lunches, making breakfasts, finding lost shoes, and throwing one last load of laundry in the washer- not to mention getting ourselves ready to tackle the day! If I only have time for THREE beauty staples, every morning, here are my favorites:

1.)  Earrings.

For whatever reason, whenever I put on a pair of earrings it just makes me feel more pulled together. Find whatever your piece of jewelry is that works for you-maybe a necklace, ring, or a few bangles. When I put on actual clothes (i.e. the rare moment I change out of my yoga pants) and a pair of earrings, I am on the road to being productive.

2.) Mascara.

3d Fiber Lashes, by Younique, to be exact. I was initially given this mascara by a friend, and let me say I was shocked at how well it worked. I don't sell this product (so I won't be making money off of this post), but my friend Allison Sarracino does. (So if you think you want to try it, click here!) I mean seriously, the before and after is kind of ridiculous. Notice my bathroom mirror. Also the light switch. Also I'm wearing an apron- who does that? And... um, can you say selfie? AH. But don't I look more awake in the second picture?! So yes, it has become one of my three beauty favorites. This is only one coat of the mascara. If you want to get really ridiculous about it, you can apply two coats and go crazy.

3. Happy Goats Lip Balm

What kind of a beauty product round up would this be if I didn't mention the Goats? This stuff is my absolute favorite- not too thick and not too thin. A touch glossy, but barely noticeable. I know whats in it, which I really like- coconut oil, beeswax, a tiny bit of almond oil, and essential oil. Thankfully I make them myself because I keep one in about ten different locations throughout the house/car/etc.

And that's it. Honestly, I'm lucky if I get those three and a shower before leaving the house. 
But then again, I'm sure you can relate.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Valentine's Wax-Paper Hearts

If you have wax paper and some old broken crayons, this project might be a nice way to brighten up a window this Valentine's Day!

1. Grab some old crayons and a butter knife. Carefully shave the sides of the crayons with the knife. Kid's safety scissors also work for this.
2. Use several different colors, and put the colors into piles. At this point you can plug in your clothes iron so it starts getting warmed up.
3. Sprinkle the crayon shavings on a sheet of wax paper, and place another sheet over top.
4. An adult should carefully and quickly run the hot iron over the wax paper, melting the crayon shavings.
5. Once it's dry (about 30 seconds) cut heart shapes out of the colored paper. I used some scotch tape to hang them in a sunny window in our dining room!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

When Your Marriage Gets Real

Yup, I'm going there. 

In the beginning, you get married. You are madly in love (or something) and you firmly believe the other person can do no wrong. In our case, we decided we were going to date, be in love, and get engaged on the same night. Picked out my engagement ring a week later. Got married six months later (and we only waited that long because we were living in different states at the time). Not weird at all, right? It was a whirlwind. Andrew's idiosyncrasies were adorable, and I'm sure he felt the same about mine. He was the tall, dark, quiet, passionate, brooding type. I was the energetic, creative, slightly crazy type. It was all hand holding and walks in the park and romantic gestures. Fast forward five years. Three kids and one miscarriage later, student loans and a mortgage and things started to get real. Sure, you are 'really married' from the start, but the actual feelings start happening at some point in that first five years. Like... "PLEASE PUT THE DISHES IN THE DISHWASHER STARTING FROM THE BACK OF THE RACK TOWARD THE FRONT." You start to do things that annoy the other person. You are annoyed by the other person. "ARE YOU CHANGING THIS POOP DIAPER OR AM I?!" You get into an argument, or two. Maybe you even go to bed angry (heads up- not a good idea. That's what everyone says anyway). And in the middle of one of the arguments, you think "What in the world is happening? Who is this person? Who am I?!" And that's when it hits you. Things just got real. This is what people were talking about when they said marriage was work. It isn't just first dates and I do's. This person I'm married to is a real person- a really complicated human person- and as it turns out I am really complicated too.

So at this point you have a choice. You can a.) start to resent this human you share a bed with and question whether or not you are 'meant to be' and if you really are 'soul mates' after all, then possibly consider running away to an island somewhere or b.) work it out. Realize this isn't a 'bad marriage,' it's a real marriage! Keep talking, keep kissing, keep loading the dishwasher from the back of the rack to the front, even though you are well aware that isn't the correct way to do it. And you feel everything and you know their faults aren't anything personal against you. You start to notice all the great things they do, and you appreciate the little ways they put aside their own desires to make you happy. You watch them tuck your children into bed, night after night. And then you watch them patiently re-tuck your children into bed, because they keep getting out and running into the living room for a drink of water. (!!!) You defend them and you pray for them. You love them in a way you will never love anyone else. You realize this person is your partner for life, despite the disagreements and the imperfections. That's the moment when you know- your marriage just got real.

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