Fall is a lovely time of the year in Minnesota. This year is no exception – we have had some delightful weather so far.
Unfortunately, fall also marks the end of the garden growing season. Over the lasts couple months, I have enjoyed eating fresh home grown tomatoes, peppers, carrots, cucumbers, beans, spinach, arugula and various herbs.
Before the rain fell today, I cleaned out most of the vegetables I had been growing. In years past, I had tried growing my vegetables in my yard but with no success. The deer, turkeys, rabbits and squirrels really enjoyed eating at the “Erickson Salad Bar”. So, the past couple of years, my garden has been limited to containers on my deck. While a fence would be useful to keep the critters from eating my vegetables, our neighborhood HOA rejected my original request made several years ago to install garden fencing in my back yard.
Planning ahead to next year, I really want to increase my garden space. I sketched out an idea for a couple raised beds to build on the side of my yard. Luckily the leadership of our HOA has changed in recent years and I my plans were approved. Over Labor Day weekend, I was able to construct these raised beds.
Now I just have to wait eight months to be able to plant!
Since the wildlife is abundant in my yard, and our neighborhood HOA does not allow fences, I have moved most of my gardening to containers on my deck.
While I have been able to continue to grow my onions, hot peppers, peas, and cucumbers in my planting beds, tomatoes were problem. I thought tomatoes would be safe from the critters in the yard and for years I have grown them in planting beds in my yard. However, during the summers of 2018 and 2019, the wild turkeys would peck at them and ruin the fruit. So, at the end of 2019, I purchased a couple large Lechuza planters on clearance for growing tomatoes on my deck. Each of the planters had three removable planting boxes for easy storage in the winter.
At the time, I did not purchased the trellis system that went with the planters because they were not on clearance and would have cost more than the planters cost. Plus, I thought I would just use the tomato ladders I had used in the past when I grew the tomatoes in the planting bed in my yard. Unfortunately, when I used them last summer I discovered that these ladders were too top heavy for the new planters and the planters would tip over when we had a summer storm.
This summer, I sought other ideas for supporting my tomatoes. I originally bought a couple of the smallest tomato cages that are sold at the garden centers near me. Unfortunately, even the smallest cages were too big to fit the size of the planter boxes. So, I looked on line for other ideas. Having made other garden decorations out of copper, I considered making a couple copper trellises. But, again the cost was something that I thought was more than I wanted to spend.
A couple weeks ago, while doing laundry, I walked past my 3D printer and thought maybe I could print some type of trellis. After looking at ideas on-line, I tried out a few ideas. What I finally settled on was some fiberglass garden stakes and then designed some printed connectors that snap the stakes together. So far, they seem to be working well.
While perusing different printed gardening ideas on-line, I came across some plant labels. Did I really need labels for my plants? Well, no, I do know which plant is which. But, I liked the labels and decided to print a few.
Fifteen months ago, after attending a professional meeting in San Francisco, my eldest son (who lived in SF at the time) and I visited the San Francisco Botanical Garden in Golden Gate Park. One of the plants I saw there was a very unique and absolutely gorgeous orchid, Miltoniopsis Lennart Karl Gottling also called ‘Hula Skirt’ Orchid.
After seeing it, I search the internet for a source to purchase one, but was unsuccessful. This particular orchid was “out of stock” everywhere. One of the growers did have the ability to indicate if you would like to be notified when the orchid was in stock again. At the time, I filled out the request. But, since then, I had accepted the fact that I would be unable to obtain a plant for myself and thus totally forgot about my search.
Well, on Monday, I received an email from Orchid Web notifying me that the orchid was in stock. Needless to say, I was surprised by the notification and immediately went to their site to order one. When placing the order, I discovered that the store is located in Plymouth, Minnesota, just a few miles from a friend’s dental office. This was fortunate because I could pick the plant up in person, avoid paying shipping, and avoid potential damage to the plant during transit.
Since I would be driving to Plymouth, I sent my friend a message to see if she would like to get together and whether I could bring her lunch when I came. She responded with an even better offer. For a holiday celebration, she was treating her staff to a catered meal from “Gardens of Salonica”, a Greek restaurant and invited me to join them at her office. This was an offer I could not pass up.
I had a nice lunch comprised of good conversation with an amazing friend and some truly great Greek food!!
Being a member of my professional study club, I had also made her a table/wall quilt over the summer, which she received a few weeks ago.
While she is several years younger than me and will likely not retire for a while, she does have her “pre-retirement” quilt. This quilt was made utilizing the Greek Key quilt pattern. I picked this pattern for several reasons. The obvious one is that she is Greek. But, more importantly, the Greek Key is a symbol for infinity or eternity. This is very fitting because she is a constant friend who is always there for me.
My photo of the front of the quilt is a bit out of focus. But, the photo of the back does highlight the quilting that was done. In particular, quilting clearly shows the continuity of the Greek Keys in the piecing and in the quilting.
These eternal rings symbolic of the eternal love and support we have as friends. And, also a symbol of the love we celebrate this time of year at the birth of our Lord.
Recently, when looking for a recipe to use up an abundance of zucchini, I ran across a recipe for “Naked Greek Feta-Zucchini Turkey Burgers” on Skinny Taste. I’m not sure whether it is truly a greek recipe, but it did sound really tasty. To make it more “greek”, I made some homemade Tzatziki sauce and wanted to serve them on Pita Bread rather than hamburger buns.
Unfortunately, I did not have any pita bread and did not want to run to the store just to buy one thing. So, I went to my favorite baking site. King Arthur Baking to find a new recipe. “Quick and Easy Flatbreads” were just like the name says, quick and easy. And, they were really tasty as well. This recipe includes both yeast and baking powder and were ready to eat in less than an hour. The result was a successful dinner with left over pita/flatbreads for lunch sandwiches.
While making the flatbreads, I thought that they might taste good as a pizza crust. Unfortunately, the extras were eaten rather quickly and I was unable to try.
This morning, I saw an advertisement that said today is National Cheese Pizza Day. Okay, a good excuse to try out my idea for flatbread pizza. I used the KAF recipe (I doubled the recipe this time) and added a tablespoon of Pizza Dough Flavoring (also from KAF).
The dough was mixed in my bread machine.
Left to rise for 45 minutes,
Split into small balls of dough,
Rolled out to 1/4″ thick circles, 6 to 9″ in diameter,
Fried in a dry frying pan (no oil) over medium heat,
Flipped and fried on the other side.
After about 15 minutes, I had a nice stack of flatbread.
To make my homemade pizza, I spread some pizza sauce over the flatbread and topped it with several types of pizza, spices, thinly sliced scallions and chopped yellow pepper. The pizza was placed on a pizza stone and baked at 425 degrees. Because the flatbread was precooked, the pizza was ready to eat in just a few minutes. Watch carefully, because mine was done in about 5 minutes.
What I liked about using this recipe for the pizza crust:
quick and easy, once the crust is made, the pizza is ready to eat in less than ten minutes,
since the crust is precooked, there was no concern about being soggy near the center of the pizza, and
can be refrigerated or frozen for a quick pizza dinner on another day.
Earlier this year ago, I wrote about my experiments in making homemade French yogurt (January 15, 2020). Since then, I have continued to make my own yogurt. Each week, I make anywhere between 20 and 48 jars of yogurt.
While making yogurt, I have continued to learn more about what works best for homemade yogurt. Here are a few tips:
Yogurt cultures can be kept in the refrigerator for a few days if not making yogurt each day. I have found that the four days of storage is the longest that I would recommend. After four days, the cultures do start to spoil.
Frozen yogurt needs to completely thaw before starting a new batch of yogurt. If not thawed, the frozen culture will take an extra 4 hours of incubation for a good outcome.
A small amount of sugar (1/4 tsp) added to each 8 ounce jar of yogurt prior to incubation helps tremendously in creating the creamiest yogurt I have ever tasted.
Homemade yogurt, strained through cheese cloth for an hour creates a very good base for tzatziki sauce as well as a good replacement for sour cream in baking recipes.
I have also found ways to use the Oui jars that I had accumulated. The most common use has been for making candles. Using glass etching, I have given candles to many friends and family. I have also made candles for each of our staff at my dental office (48 in total).
Recently, I decided to do some more glass etching to make storage for my button collection. Storing buttons in a large jar meant that each time I needed a specific color, I needed to sort through the entire jar. The last time I needed a button, I sorted all of them by color. Then I created vinyl stencils to etch several Oui jars with a label.
Having found some lids that fit these jars, I now have a well organized button collection in my sewing room.
I still have about a dozen empty Oui jars. I need to find some other projects to use these for.
Yesterday was the twenty third birthday of my third son, Ben. Happy Birthday Ben!
We were blessed to be able to celebrate the day with him. Well, okay, maybe just the evening. I have been spending most of my time writing up protocols (Covid-19 Business Plan, Respiratory Protection Plan, etc). All the government regulations can be a bit overwhelming. Ben spent his day doing classwork on-line and preparing for finals.
But, since he is at our home and not in Brooklyn, I felt we needed to do something special for him. So, he selected a recipe for me to make – Vegetarian Ramen (Bon Appetit), I did some shopping and together we made the recipe. We did need to leave out some things due to my allergies. This did turn out very tasty.
Some pecan pie for dessert and a long family conversation with my sons who live out of town was an enjoyable way to spend my evening.
Okay, so I really prefer warm weather vacations. However, having just returned from a week in Vail, Colorado, I will have to admit that the area was breathtakingly beautiful. I hope to someday return in the summer to see what the mountain landscape looks like without all the snow.
Vail Village is a charming place, with cobblestone roads and picturesque ski lodges. Throughout the town are dozens of sculptures, wall murals and lighted decorations. My first day I spent about two hours walking around Vail Village, Lionshead Village, Cascade Village and Golden Peak.
This was our first week-long vacation in almost ten years where we were not staying someplace with a kitchen. This meant no grocery shopping, no cooking and no dishes to wash! With restaurants abounding, each evening we selected a different place to eat.
Lancelot Restaurant – great weinerschnitzel
Almresi – here we had Austrian Hutessen – beef cooked on a flat-iron at the table, kind of a cross between grilling and sauteing
Up the Creek – awesome Arugula salad and Tortilla soup
Fall Line – the tastiest filet I have ever had!
Alpenrose – great German restaurant (forgot to take photos of the food here).
Not being a skier, I took my snowshoes along and went on several long walks.
My first trek was a guided walk through the Ford Botanical Gardens. This walk was only about 2 miles total but was very educational. The naturalist gave some insights into the trees and plants that grow in the area. Even though the average annual snowfall in Vail is 169 inches, the area is considered a high desert. Due to the dry air, the snow sublimates rather than melts. So, the amount of water available to plants is limited. Even so, there are many lovely evergreens making the winter scenery prettier than in Minnesota with our deciduous trees.
On my subsequent snowshoeing walks, I headed each direction out of Vail Village. The Gore Creek runs through Vail, so I followed the creek west one day and east the next day. Each day, I walked for just under two miles and then headed back to the village.
For my final walk (without snowshoes), I rode Gondola One up the hill and then followed Gitalong Road and Vail Village Catwalk back down. This path, with a few treks to get closer to some wildlife, was just under six miles in length. Luckily it was downhill. Unexpectedly, the downward movement made some of my muscles rather sore.
On my excursions I saw lots of wildlife as well.
We stayed at the Gasthof Gramshammer, which featured classic European ski lodge architecture. Between a 2am fire alarm going off, the room thermostat stuck on high (we slept with the patio door open), and a constant humming noise, it was an interesting place to stay.
I love French yogurt – it is thick and creamy, but not as tangy as Greek yogurt. Sold in their distinctive glass jars, the Oui yogurts are a bit more expensive than some of the other yogurt on the market. But they taste great and at least the glass is recyclable. Eating a jar of yogurt each day, however, meant a lot of glass going in our recycling container.
Thinking about the phrase “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” to limit our individual impact on the environment, I was as least doing the last step – recycling. But after a few months, I realized that the jars may be useful for other things. So, I started saving the jars, cleaning them and using them for storage, candles, etc. I’ll post pictures and descriptions of some of the projects soon.
Last spring, after purchasing an Instant Pot, I discovered that one of the functions available was for making yogurt. I thought this would be a great thing to try. And, if it worked, I would reduce my purchasing glass jars. After reading some information about making yogurt in an instant pot, my first trial was with Greek yogurt since that was the only plain yogurt I could find. The yogurt turned out well, just as tangy as the commercially available ones but not as thick. Next, I wanted to try French yogurt, but I could not find any plain French yogurt. Settling for the next best option, I purchased a jar of vanilla flavored Oui yogurt. After making the first batch, I was really pleased with the flavor but it wasn’t as creamy and thick as I had hoped for. So, I set out to do some experimenting.
If you want to skip the descriptions of my testing, step-by-step instructions of my current recipe are at the end of this post.
Trial #1: The first few times that I made yogurt, I made batches of 4 cups each directly in the IP stainless steel pot. Since the French yogurt is manufactured directly in the glass jars, I decided to try that next to see if the consistency would be better. Using 8 ounce jelly jars, I mixed the culture and milk together in individual jars. The resulting yogurt was a bit creamier, but even waiting until after the yogurt set while chilling in the refrigerator, it still not what I was hoping for. Using individual jars were nice however because I did not need to wash the pot before starting the next batch of yogurt.
Trial #2: All of the recipes for making yogurt mentioned the incubation time as a minimum of 8 hours and a maximum of 12 hours. Since my original batches were each stopped at 8 hours, I decided to try 9, 10, 11 and 12 hours and see if that changed the consistency. Using my 3 quart IP, I could fit four jelly jars in a single batch. After starting the yogurt and incubating, I removed and labeled one jar at 9 hours, then another at ten, then 11, and the final one was stopped at 12 hours of incubation. The jars were each placed in the refrigerator and tasted the next day. This initial test showed that the yogurt became thicker and creamier with longer incubation time. A repeat of the trial showed similar results. Since these timing trials, I have used 12 hours for my subsequent yogurt batches.
Trial #3: Do other brands of milk work? Most of the information about making yogurt mentioned using ultrafiltered milk. I had selected Fairlife whole milk because it was readily available at the stores I shop at. It is a bit more expensive than other milk, so I did a small trial with the regular 1% milk that we use for drinking and cereals. I also purchased some whole milk of the same brand. Don’t try this – the yogurt cultures did not multiply and the result was stale sour milk. Fairlife whole milk was what I have used ever since.
Trial #4. Chocolate Yogurt? The Fairlife Milk that I used to make yogurt also comes in a chocolate flavor. Following my set upon recipe, I tried making chocolate yogurt. The result was okay, but the flavor was not very good. The amount of chocolate in the milk was not enough to make the yogurt taste like chocolate. To salvage the yogurt, I mixed in about a half teaspoon of cocoa and a half teaspoon of sugar. But, I decided chocolate yogurt was really not something I enjoyed.
Trial #5: To add flavor to my yogurt, I was mixing the flavorings in after incubating. To save that step, I tested whether the flavor and/or sweeteners could be added at the beginning. I tested adding honey, sugar, Splenda and Stevia. The results were not very good. The yogurt tasted more like sweetened curdled milk rather than yogurt. I would not recommend it. Likewise, I tried fruit flavors and tested adding lemon juice, lemon curd, orange marmalade and strawberry fruit puree. The lemon juice was definitely not good. I did anticipate the the citric acid might make the milk curdle before the yogurt cultures could multiply and I was correct. The other three were okay, but not great tasting. I have since been making plain yogurt and adding the flavorings after the yogurt is complete. This turned out to be a good idea because I can make the next batch of yogurt by taking some of the fresh culture and mixing with milk, rather than relying upon purchased yogurt starter.
Homemade French Yogurt in an Instant Pot
Ingredients and supplies
Instant Pot (mine was 3 quarts)
8 ounce jelly jars
Fairlife Ultrafiltered Whole Milk
Plastic Lids (Amazon has colored ones)
Flavorings (per personal preferences)
Sweetener and flavor preferences are very personal. But here are my favorites:
Orange – orange juice works well, True Orange crystallized fruit powder (Amazon) works better. But, I prefer the flavor of homemade orange marmalade (2 teaspoons mixed in).
Lemon and Lime – True lemon (Amazon) or True lime (Amazon) crystallized fruit powder works better than juices. The crystallized fruit powder comes in individual packets. One packet per jar gives a nice flavor.
Other Fruit Flavors – I originally used crushed berries for other fruits. For better flavor, I have found that SmartFruit Smoothie Mix is much better. There are a variety of flavors available (Amazon). They are large jars, but they last a really long time.
You can sweeten the yogurt if desired.
A few pointers:
** Even though the IP is set for 12 hours, you can stop the incubation earlier. Just make sure the yogurt has been in the IP for at least 8 hours.
** Refrigerate for a couple hours before eating because the yogurt will be warm when first removed from the IP and the yogurts sets further when cooled.
** The first time you make yogurt, you will be using a container of purchased yogurt as your starter culture. But, you will only need a small amount. The rest of the yogurt can be stored frozen to use at a later date (or you can just eat it!). I found some small containers for carrying dressings in lunches at our local Target store. They were only about $3 for a set of four. These work really well to portion the culture and freeze. I purchased two sets, distributed the excess culture into these containers and put them in the freezer. Now when I go on vacation, I won’t need to purchase new starter to make yogurt after I return.
** After each batch of yogurt is complete, but before adding any flavorings, remove about small amount (approx. 1 tsp) from each jar and place into a clean jar to use as culture for your next batch. Then just continue with steps two through six above. If you will not be making another batch right away, place a plastic lid on the jar and refrigerate until you are ready to make the next batch. I have saved the yogurt this way for up to five days without any change in the yogurt outcome. I have not gone any longer than five days, so I really do not know how long the cultures will last.
After a day or two in the refrigerator, you may notice some liquid separating from the culture. This liquid does not affect the outcome, just proceed as described above. So far, I have only used a frozen starter once since starting yogurt making mid- summer. My current yogurt is from starter that was first used mid September. It appears that my frozen starter jars should last me a really long time.
** If you make a variety of flavors, different colored lids (as seen in the photo in step #6 above) will easily differentiate them. I even made a small laminated flavor list and posted it inside my refrigerator so everyone knows what is in each jar.
It sure is nice to make homemade yogurt with no preservatives or other additives!