Crawly Cuties and Apartment Composting

My apartment here in State College is quite small, but it’s still the first place I’ve lived where I can make it (along with Benjamin, of course) my (our) own. Long hours at campus mean I want to make the most of my time at home enjoying the space and using it to explore any outside interests I try to maintain throughout graduate school. We use this space to develop some of our shared interests, and this is reflected in how we attempt to arrange the living area in a way that extends our tiny, tiny nook kitchen out into the rest of the room.  We try and cook for ourselves as often as possible and we relish our weekly CSA deliveries of local produce, dairy, eggs, and bread. However, this produces a LOT of food scraps that we don’t want to end up in a landfill somewhere. I really wanted to have a compost bin somewhere outside, but we don’t have a lot of space available to use around our apartment building and I wasn’t sure how well it’d be received. An indoor possibility was on my radar for a while, but, as I’ll discuss, I had some reservations. Having a bin full of worms in one’s apartment seems like something that should be filed under “You know you live with/might be an ecologist when….”, but in my research before I found that they are way more popular than I anticipated! Continue reading “Crawly Cuties and Apartment Composting”

#EarthDayThanks and Earth Day Resolutions

Some truth about me as a person?  I’m horrible at New Years resolutions.  Don’t get me wrong, I love them.  I plan them.  I hoard them, coming up with way too many and getting overly excited about all of them.  I make lists, and timelines, and mini-goals.  Unfortunately, it seems the outcome 98% of the time is a few months of triumphant, self-improving activity, followed by a slow shift back into my normal pattern of existence.  But, over the past 5 years, each Earth Day I have made a second batch of resolutions.  With this set of commitments, I’ve experienced an almost unprecedented success rate.  Over the years, I’ve greatly reduced my plastic consumption, I have committed to the concept of reusing pretty much everything, and I cut all animal derived products from my diet.  As someone who is really used to failing and having to restart as part of her daily life (because, scientist), I’ve started to wonder why my Earth Day Resolutions stick, while so many other intentions (I’m doing all the dishes everyday starting tomorrow!) seem to fall to the wayside.  After some reflection, I believe the reason is twofold.  First, I have strong examples of conservation champions, and, second, Earth Day Resolutions aren’t actually about global impacts for me.

This is an essay in two parts.  The first part is a love letter to to the people in my life who made real for me the importance of conservation and preservation of the Earth.  The second bit contains my 2015 Earth Day Resolutions and explains why I think you should make some too!

True Confessions: I probably have enough pictures of myself hugging trees to fill an entire photo album

Continue reading “#EarthDayThanks and Earth Day Resolutions”

Eco-Life Hacks: Homemade Greek Yogurt

OK, you probably should be a little weary of
someone who eats as many beets as I do. Fair ’nuff.

Nearly two months into my life in State College and I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that I am already branded as the hippie chick. What do you expect from a biologist turned statistician?! I can’t help it though; if people bring up podcasts and DIY kitchen adventures, I’m going to be all up in that conversation. If you join me for dinner you’ll notice that my kitchen is fully set up while my dining table is a moving box. Priorities. If my apartment building doesn’t have a compost bin but there is one outside of my multivariable calculus course, then I am going to carry my compost to campus in a airtight container and dispose of it responsibly. If you invite me to watch the US/Ghana game, I’m definitely going to bring a healthy snack of veggies and hummus. And if you mention homemade yogurt, then I will get super excited and discuss my love for plain, Greek yogurt made by yours truly. Them’s just the facts.

Does anyone else remember inspecting their yogurt container from their lunch box and wondering what ‘live cultures’ meant? I think I was in denial for a while. This may have lead to my love/hate relationship with yogurt, until I finally fell for plain Greek yogurt. I just couldn’t stand the fruit booger filled yogurts (editor’s note: I second this opinion in my non-dairy based yogurt consumption!). But now, between my partner and I, we eat a lot of yogurt. Yogurt in smoothies. Yogurt with fruit. Yogurt with granola. Yogurt with protein powder. Yogurt with honey from my favorite farmer, buddy boy Matt Ak’s hive! *goes to eat a bowl of yogurt!* If you are on our level of yogurt consumption, you should consider making your own at home. It’s way easier than you’d think, and you’re rewarded with delicious yogurt containing no surprise ingredients. You should anticipate making yogurt fairly often (more than once per week if your schedule allows it) and buy milk accordingly. Did I mention it’s easier than you think?! 

I can’t recommend CSAs enough. Look at all
the veggies I get in addition to a dairy
 share (milk, eggs, cheeses, etc).



To make yogurt you’ll just need: milk, thermometer, source yogurt, pot, cheese cloth, and (reused!) container(s). To add to our super sustainable lifestyle, we use local, whole, unpasteurized milk in returnable bottles. In Louisville, Kentucky, I’d found this type of milk at Earth Fare and a local food shop. Here, we have a dairy share with our CSA box and get a gallon of raw milk every so often, but it’s also available at the local farmer’s markets. Check around your area to see if local is an option. Sale of raw milk is totally legal in PA, but make sure and check your local laws about dairy sales. If you have a thermometer with an alarm you’ll be so very happy. We don’t, and every so often we don’t catch our creation before it passes the threshold temperature. If you let the milk boil, then usually your yogurt won’t turn out well. Cheesecloth is a solid investment for anyone who likes to DIY in the kitchen. Please don’t use it once and then throw it out. We’ve used the same cloth every time we’ve made yogurt and just given it a good cleaning after each use. Easy, healthy, delicious.

But what exactly is going on once you add the source yogurt in those 12 hours of sitting? Oh, no big deal, just the milk is being fermented via prokaryotic microorganisms which produce lactic acid causing milk proteins to solidify. Whaaaaaat? Not only that, but the bacteria in the yogurt is good bacteria, or probiotics, that help your tummy zoo keep away bad bacteria. Well…that sounds handy. The bacteria grow to a high enough concentration in the yogurt that they can even get past stomach acid. Safety in numbers! It’s great to replenish your internal micro-organismal environment, as it can be easily disturbed. Factors such as stress, sickness, antibacterial medicine, parasites, and daily excretions. Yogurt to the rescue!

Freshly made this week! I’m enjoying it with
some honey and blueberry granola!

Follow this easy recipe for your own plain, Greek yogurt! You’ll know exactly what ingredients go in and save money in the process. My recipe is based on a hodgepodge of different online recipes with some extra notes added. If you want regular yogurt, just skip the straining steps!

Ingredients:
1 Qt. Milk
5 oz. Source Yogurt

Tools:
Pot
Stove
Thermometer
Stirring apparatus
Cheese Cloth
Straining Setup

Recipe:

  1. Heat all milk save for a few ounces in large pot to 180˚. I keep the stove on a low setting so that it heats slowly and you don’t miss when it boils. On my stove this takes about 10-15 minutes, but it’ll vary. Set a timer the first time you make yogurt, then you’ll know for future endeavors!
  2. When milk reaches 180˚, remove from heat and keep an eye on it as it cools. Meanwhile, mix the source yogurt and the milk you didn’t heat together.
  3. When the milk reaches 115˚, add the yogurt mixture. Mix thoroughly. Some recipes say not to disturb the film on top, but I’ve never had any issue with it. The milk usually takes at least 30 minutes to cool, but keep a close eye!
  4. Turn on your oven to the lowest setting and let it warm up a bit. Place milk mixture into the oven. If necessary, pour into oven safe glass bowl. Turn the oven back off – it should stay warm. Place towel over top and let it be for 10-12 hours.
  5. The mixture should be thicker in texture after this time. Line a colander (strainer) with cheesecloth and pour the mixture in. Allow liquid to drain, squeezing if need be. 

Greek Yogurt achievement unlocked! Enjoy with your favorite toppings or on its own!

Resources:

http://science.howstuffworks.com/innovation/edible-innovations/yogurt2.htm  
http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/bring-science-home-yogurt-bacteria/
http://aboutyogurt.com/index.asp?bid=28#Q3
http://biology.clc.uc.edu/fankhauser/cheese/yogurt_making/yogurt2000.htm
http://www.health24.com/Diet-and-nutrition/Vitamins-minerals-and-supplements/Good-bacteria-vs-bad-bacteria-20120721
http://nourishedkitchen.com/troubleshooting-homemade-yogurt-questions/