Monday, November 23, 2009

November Visit to Assisted Living Home

Each month, the kids and I pack up some favorite projects and head to a nearby town to visit the residents of an assisted living home. The kids enjoy showing off their latest work, and everyone enjoys a nice visit (and a yummy snack provided by Donna, the cook).

The quality of these photos is not very good. I can’t find the battery charger for my digital camera (yikes!), so I had to use my cell phone camera, which is not of the highest caliber.

The oldest three boys discussed ancient Rome and weapons of war. They made a great working model of a trebuchet that’s able to fire projectiles up to ten feet! Son #2 made a simple catapult from Duplos, a plastic spoon, and (of course) duct tape. Son #3 made a pretty fabulous Tinker Toy battering ram. He’s already spent hours building block towers and walls to knock down with the battering ram.

Here are the oldest two discussing their projects:


Our daughter has been doing lots of crayon rubbings. She made leaf rubbings that we turned into a book. She glued the rubbings onto construction paper, and I helped her punch holes so she could make yarn binding.


I purchased rubbing plates and crayon rocks from Let's Explore We have several sets of the plates, and this activity has been very popular with all the kids. I find it to be a very relaxing activity, too! This is how I set out a crayon rubbings activity. The duct tape holds the plate in place and is easy for the kids to reuse several times before it needs to be replaced.


After presenting to the large group, the kids go to each guest to discuss particulars of their projects.



In addition to the battering ram, Son #3 brought along some felt magnets he made since our last visit.



Our daughter always brings one of her many babies to show off. Inspired by My Montessori Journey my daughter made the fabulous sculpture she’s holding.


Little Man goes everywhere, gets into everything, and makes everyone smile. Except for Mom. Mom gets quite exhausted trying to keep up with him and keep him out of trouble! Unfortunately, the best time for our visit ends up overlapping his nap time, which makes things a little challenging for him.


After we’re done showing off, we adjourn to the dining room for treats and more visiting. I’m really proud of the kids as they spread out among the residents and have great conversations until it’s time for us to leave.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Easy Homemade Dairy Products

We've got a family milk cow, so I'm always looking for ways to use the extra milk and to get the most enjoyment from it. When we lived in Omaha and I was doing all I could to feed us a varied diet as inexpensively as possible, I needed to get the most mileage from powdered milk.

Here are some really easy homemade dairy products:

Cultured Buttermilk:
This is so easy! You can buy buttermilk culture from cheese supply sources, but you can also culture your own from any store-bought buttermilk that contains live cultures. (I started mine with clearanced 49c buttermilk, so it doesn't get much cheaper than that!) Buttermilk is very useful to have around. Using it in baked goods gives you a softer, lighter product. It's great in salad dressings. The active cultures, like yogurt, are good for you. But, best of all, you can use the buttermilk to make other wonderful dairy products. I use it as a mesophilic starter in almost all the low-heat cheeses I make, and it's the key to homemade creme fraiche (Oooooooh, is this good!!) and sour cream.

Let a quart of milk come to room temp. Stir in 1/4 cup cultured buttermilk and let sit at room temp until thickened. I usually leave it out overnight in a warm spot -- near the wood stove (on the stove is too hot), on top of the fridge, near a heater vent, etc... Save a little from each batch to start the next one. You can make this with fresh milk, pasteurized milk, and even reconstituted dry milk.

As a mesophilic culture, I bring the milk to 85-95F (depending on the cheese) and add 1 1/2 - 2 oz of buttermilk per gallon of milk. I've read that it's not the best starter for long-stored cheeses like cheddar, but the last cheddar we ate was made with buttermilk starter, and we all thought it was the absolute best cheddar I've ever made, so...I guess it's all a matter of personal taste.

Creme Fraiche:
This is just so yummy, there aren't words. Bring heavy cream to approx. 85F. Stir in 1 tsp buttermilk and let stand until thickened at room temp. This will take anywhere from overnight to 2 days. This gets really thick when chilled. It's a good substitute for sour cream and can also be whipped with vanilla and a bit of sweetening. Creme Fraiche tolerates higher temps than sour cream, so it's less likely to curdle in sauces and other cooking. I'm addicted to this stuff and could eat it with a spoon like ice cream!

Sour Cream:
Bring 2 cups light cream to room temp. Put 1 cup cream in a quart jar and add 5 tsp cultured buttermilk. Shake briskly to mix and then stir in the 2nd cup of cream. Let this stand at 75-80F for 24 hours. Chill for another 24 hours before using.

Long before we had our milk cow, I made yogurt using reconstituted dry milk. I carefully followed the recipe in The Complete Tightwad Gazette with good results. If I remember correctly, you bring the milk to 185F (scalding it without bringing it to a boil). Let the milk cool to 110-115F while letting the yogurt culture come to room temp. Mix the culture and the milk and incubate at approx. 110F for 4-8 hours until the yogurt has "jelled" into a custard.

You can purchase freeze-dried culture or use store-bought yogurt with live cultures. Just as with buttermilk, save some from each batch to start the next batch. For each quart of milk, I use 1/4 cup yogurt. I usually bottle a small jar of yogurt and keep it seperate from the rest of the batch, and this is what I use to start the next batch.

I've become much more relaxed with my yogurt making. I no longer scald the milk. I bring the milk to 115F, mix some yogurt from the last batch with about 2 cups of warm milk and then stir the milk/yogurt mixture into the rest of the milk. I mention this because I used to think I had to be so exact in making yogurt or it wouldn't thicken. I've learned that's not the case. I also used to add extra powdered milk to make sure I'd end up with a thick yogurt. Using fresh, whole Jersey milk, I no longer do this. We get the thickest, custardy yogurt, and it has a delicious creamy top. It's closest to Yo-Baby (I think that's the name??) yogurt, but even thicker and more mild. (Yes, you should all run out and buy a Jersey cow!)

If I'm making yogurt for my family, I use whole milk and pour the yogurt into glass jars and incubate them in a small Coleman cooler -- surrounding the jars in warm water that's right around 110F. If I'm making yogurt for the chickens and pets, I just warm up a gallon or two of skimmed milk in a thick pot, mix some warm milk with yogurt, stir that back into the pot, cover the pot, and leave it on the stovetop overnight to incubate.

One of my favorite breakfasts/snacks is HM yogurt/HM granola parfaits.

Yogurt Cheese:
It doesn't get much easier than this! Just line a colander with cheese cloth and put a bowl underneath to catch the whey. Put yogurt into the colander and let it drain in the fridge overnight or until the yogurt cheese is the desired consistancy.

This makes a good cream cheese substitute. You can salt it or sweeten it or mix it up into a dip. You can eat it on bagels or crackers or make a yogurt pie (like cheesecake).

I also make lots of different cheeses. None of them are that difficult, although it takes a little practice to get comfortable with the process (and I still can't cut even curds to save my life -- I do my best and the cheese turns out despite my uneven curds).