Thursday, 30 April 2009

It's Not A Lefty, Organic-Veg-Growing, Make-It-Yourself Blog Without One Post About Yoghurt (or cat photo's)

Since the relentless downpour outside is keeping me from potting on the courgettes*, I will blog about yoghurt instead.

Okay, so yoghurt is a bit lumbered with the whole hairshirt-wearing, bean-eating, hand wringing liberal brigade (uh. Such as myself), but making your own yoghurt is really easy, and the results are delicious.
So, on to the technical stuff.

Yoghurt (or yogurt, youghurt or any number of spellings containing an unnerving amount of vowels) is a dairy product made by adding a bacterial culture (usually lactobacillus bulgaricus or streptococcus thermophilous, great words for playing Hangman), Bio yoghurts contain extra bacteria to help keep your digestive system healthy (so if you've been on antibiotics taking bio yoghurt will restore the lost essential bacteria). Yoghurt is rich in protein, calcium and vitamins B6 & B12

Making your own yoghurt is really easy, and doesn't need lots of equipment (people have been managing to make it for 4,500 years). You can buy a yoghurt maker, which does all the work for you, but since I'm a cheapskate, I use a thermos flask. To make yogurt you need a starter culture, which is a fancy term for 1 tablespoon of live yoghurt (live meaning that the yoghurt hasn't been pasturised, and still contains active cultures, not that it's getting frisky.), most plain yoghurts you can buy are live yoghurts, and will state if they are on the label. You'll also need some milk (preferably fresh), what milk you use is up to you, full fat, skimmed, cow's milk, goat's milk, whatever takes your fancy.

Fill your thermos with milk, and pour into a saucepan (if you're doing this in the microwave, pour into a suitable container), and bring to the boil (making sure it doesn't boil over). this will kill off any beasties that might spoil the milk. remove from the heat and allow to cool to 43-50°C (110-122°F). I use my old sugar thermometer, but any thermometer will do. If you don't have a thermometer, stick a clean finger in the milk, it should feel slightly hotter than is comfortable, but won't burn you. Add 1tbs of live yoghurt to the hot milk & stir or whisk in. Pour the mixture back into the thermos (if you don't have a thermos, cover the bowl with cling film & wrap in several layers of dishcloths, and place in a warm airing cupboard), seal the top & put it somewhere a cat won't knock it over for 10-12 hours (I usually make it in the evening, so it's ready in the morning). After the wait, you should have yoghurt! Woo!
You can pour it into a container & bung it in the fridge (hot yoghurt is a bit unpleasant), or you can make some strained (Greek) yoghurt, or yoghurt cheese. To strain your yoghurt, place a colander over a bowl & line with some muslin. Pour the yoghurt into the muslin & leave for 2 hours. If you leave the yoghurt straining for a couple more hours, you'll get yoghurt cheese. Add a pich of salt, a dash of pepper and maybe a few chopped herbs & you'll have a soft, creamy cheese. Yum.

*Oh great tentacled cephalopody beastie, please protect these little green leafy things from mine enemy, the vile gastropod, and smite its squishy body with your many tentacles, so that I may one day know the terror and joy of a courgette glut.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

How To Knit A Long Distance Hug...

... Or a shawl, as it's otherwise known.

My friend Cynthia has been having a rough 2009. Ordinarily, that would mean getting on a bus with the biggest chocolate cake Sheffield has to offer and Being There. Unfortunately she lives a bajillion miles away (which wouldn't stop me, being an I-would-walk-500-miles kind of girl*), and there's the small matter of the Atlantic too. So since I can't get to her to give her hugs & chocolate cake she needs, I needed to make something to do the job for me. After a brief dalliance with the idea of a crocheted 10ft tall Golem (with Emet embroidered in shiny silver thread on its forehead), which was abandoned** in favour of making a shawl.

Shawls are an excellent hug substitute, quick to knit or crochet and can be as complicated or as simple as you like. This is my first shawl, so went for the simplest pattern imaginable, a basic triangular shaped shawl. So what you need to do is go out and find yourself some nice wool. And I mean the fluffiest, cuddliest, snuggliest yarn out there. You can go for something pretty and delicate, something big & chunky, wispy mohair knitted on oversized needles to make something lacy-ish, eyelash yarn to make something big & fuzzy, like if a cavegirl went to a '60's disco. I used Wilkinsons Soft'n'Fluffy fancy yarn in purple, which is more exciting than it sounds, see!

This shawl took 6 50g balls of yarn, though you could use a couple more, or one or two less, depending on how big a shawl you're after. I wanted a BIG shawl
So now you have your yarn, you'll need the appropriate sized needles. Most balls of yarn will tell you the recommended needle size (I used a pair of 8mm needles). Also, you don't need to knit a gauge for this. Yay.
Cast on 3 stitches. When you start the next row, increase 1 stitch. There are lots of different ways to increase stitches, use whatever you're most comfortable with (there's some clear diagrams & information on increases and lots of other knitting info here).
And that's pretty much it! Just knit to the end of the row, turn & increase the first stitch, and knit to the end of the row. So your first knitted row will have 4 stitches, the next will have 5, the next 6 & so on. Just knit & knit & knit until you think it's big enough. Then cast off, weave in the loose threads, stick in an envelope with some chocolate & put in the mail to anyone you love who is is far away but in need of a hug!

*Damn. Now that song is never getting out of my head.


**Partly because, even if I used fluffy purple wool, a gigantic formerly-fluffy-but-soggy-from-the-swim HugMonster may not be all that comforting. More terrifying really. Also, I'm really slow at crochet.