Eco-Inspirations: Homemade Peanut Butter

Peanut butter is a grad student’s best friend. Raise your hand if you’ve got a big ol’ jar of it at your desk. Raise the other if you’ve ever eaten it straight out of the jar with a spoon (or your hand, Winnie the Pooh style, we don’t judge). It’s there when we’re stressed. It’s there when we need a bit of extra fuel. It’s especially there when we’ve got an apple that needs a nice glob of PB on every bite. Peanut butter definitely deserves a shout out in my thesis acknowledgements.

Peanut butter as it’s meant to be is quite healthy (low cabs, high healthy fats, etc). It can become problematic when companies add sugar, excessive sodium, full or partially hydrogenated oils, or even non-hydrogenated oils like palm oil. It’s also often packaged in plastic. As part of my efforts to live a healthier lifestyle for me and our planet, I started searching for products that had limited ingredients and came packaged in glass. You may have guessed these were a bit more expensive! The game changer for my husband and I came with the purchase of a new, mondo-powerful blender! We’d tried making our own peanut butter before and nearly destroyed our hand-me-down blender.

But now there’s no holding us back. Our homemade peanut butter is way more delicious than store-bought. We find the ingredients in bulk and in glass so there’s no plastic waste. If you’d like to try and make your own you can follow the general recipe below. Get creative! Let us know how it goes!

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Plans for the Afterward

I’m studying for my qualifying exams right now, and I think I’m firmly in the “What if I FAIL?” phase.  I really don’t think I’ll fail.  But, WHAT IF?!!  In either case, I’ll know in about two weeks.  In the afterglow of my success or in the I-don’t-give-a-crap phase before deciding on my new career path, I plan to have two days of full on relaxation.  Hint, if you come to this blog to hear about actual science things, then now is the time to bow out of this post.  Otherwise, here are the things I plan to do when I can close my eyes and not visualize the carbon and nitrogen cycles.

Watch a lot of TV. Specifically, I’m hoping to catch up on Dr. Who and binge watch this potentially obnoxious anime about a high school swim team.  Don’t ask me why, it just seems like the right thing to do.

I have 55 new blog posts in my Blogger cue.  I will read all the blogs. In my PJs, with a latte, and my cat.

Listen to this song on repeat!  Alternatively, this one.

I’m going to clean my whole apartment.  Top to bottom, vacuum, dust, all the laundry, the works.  At the risk of exposing myself for the slob that I am, I’m out of clean forks.  That is all.

Sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep.

Right afterward, I will probably do a string of unhealthy things, like eating obscene quantities of Thai food.  After that, I plan to eat all the vegetables and things that you have to mince and chop and steam, because, really, I do not have time for that nonsense right now. 

I mentioned sleeping?  Yes, that.

There are other things on my mind (hiking, swimming, curating an amazing Facebook photo album, etc.), but I don’t want to overbook myself.

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/