Make your own Yogurt

At our house we make two and a half quart jars every two weeks. We are blessed here in Petaluma to be surrounded by organic dairies. The Clover processing plant is literally a few blocks away. We pick up a half gallon of organic milk at the grocery store. My friend Karen has a cow-share here in town so she’s getting raw milk. I keep meaning to look into that. That would be the way to go.

So, most recipes have you heat the milk to 114 degrees. The milk we buy at the store is already pasteurized. So, I only heat it to 80 degrees just to get it warm enough to warm up the culture I’m putting in it.

I take a few tablespoons of my previous batch of yogurt and put it in each jar. Into that I pour my 80 degree milk and stir. I then put the lids on the jars and stick them in the oven overnight. We are blessed to have an old stove with a pilot light. It stays 150 degrees in the oven all of the time. I know that if you search for alternative methods of keeping the yogurt warm you will find many options. My friend Karen heats towels in the dryer, wraps them around her jars and puts them in a cooler.

It all takes 5-10 minutes to do. In the morning we have fresh warm yogurt for breakfast. I often do this in the evening before bed. It only needs to stay warm for 8 hours or so. I’ve forgotten it in the oven for up to 18 hours and it’s just fine.

I have heard that if you use the same culture strain too many times it will eventually be unable to culture the milk fully. I have not had this happen but every month or so we end up eating all of the yogurt in the fridge and I buy a small container of plain yogurt and start over. Straus is very tart, Siggie’s is sweet, Nancy’s has the largest variety of cultures and is recommended following a round of antibiotics. We like the mild taste of Clover’s organic yogurt so that’s what we usually pick up.

I make yogurt for my neighbors and their kids like it thick so I add some powdered milk to the yogurt I’m using as a culture. It works. Yum!

Rain! It’s about time.

We’ve just weathered the FIRST storm of the season and it’s January 26th. Our area got up to 4 inches of rain in just a few days. Luckily, our rainwater catchment tanks were down to 700 gallons. That amount came from the only other bit of rain we’ve had this Winter which was months ago. We let the first day if this storm’s rain rinse off the roof then turned the valve and sent all that glorious water to our tanks.

We’ve got two 1350 gallon water tanks and a 150 gallon stock tank (duck pond). The first night of the storm brought us the remaining 2000 gallons we needed and the rest came out of the overflow pipe to flush the duck pond. It rained for two or three more days and we now have a VERY clean pond! The fish are happy, the ducks are happy, we’re happy. You get the picture.

We need more tanks!

Our tanks come from Tank Depot. We order online and have them delivered to our driveway. They are lightweight and if you have the clearance you can just roll them into place. We have them on base rock platforms framed with rot-resistant wood.

The duck pond stock tank was purchased on Craigslist. It’s the Rubbermaid brand. Whenever possible we buy things used but you can find these tanks at any good feed store.

Remember- The problem is the solution. We used to have big issues with water around our house foundation. Now, we don’t and we also save money on water for our livestock and gardens.

Rainwater is precious. It does not belong in a storm drain. Catch it, slow it, sink it.

From Chaos to Cuteness

Last year some time I posted a need for fabric and sewing notions on our neighborhood yahoo group. I asked for anything folks might have left over from other projects. Some things were dropped off on our porch and I was happy. A few weeks later a neighbor contacted me to ask if a retiring teacher friend of hers could drop off a “few” items. I said, “Sure!”. The teacher’s husband arrived with a truck and proceeded to unpack box after box! It was great. I sorted out what we could use in our camps and donated the rest.

Well, this week we finally dove into the boxes of felt and had some fun. It was our annual ‘Gift-making Camp’ and the kids were ready to get to work. While trying to come up with some good ideas I stumbled upon and found the “Sock Owl” tutorial. I just showed the kids the picture of the owl and set out the materials and they ran with it!

Two owls and a cat later…

They were quite pleased with their work.

Thank you Whimsy Loft for a fun idea and thank you anonymous retired teacher for the great materials!

Tis’ the Season for Persimmons

Persimmons in the Winter here are like Zucchini in the Summer here. They are everywhere and no one knows what to do with all of them. You might come home to find a bag of them mysteriously deposited on your front porch (we do!). One neighbor simply sets up a flood light aimed up at the tree from the ground just to show the beauty of the bare tree full of bright orange fruit. It is a glorious sight indeed.

I’ve always let them get soft and then scoop out the pulp for use in puddings, breads and pies. I pre-measure 1-2 cups and freeze it in labeled zip-loc bags for future use. It’s funny, I never think to use it until the Fall or Winter. Maybe it’s the warm color of it when I’m feeling cold.

Our favorite Persimmon Pudding recipe is from Bradley Ogden’s Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner- Savory American Fare for Contemporary Cooks. I also simply substitute persimmon pulp for pumpkin in pie and bread recipes. I’m about to try the “Chocolate Persimmon Muffins” in my new favorite cookbook Good to the Grain- Baking with Whole-Grain Flours.

Yesterday, with a kitchen full of bowls overflowing with Fuyu Persimmons I dried my first batch in the dehydrator. I have to confess here that I am not a fan of the fruit uncooked. It’s just too sweet for me. I know LOTS of folks who love to eat Fuyu’s like apples and others who love to scoop out the pulp of a very ripe Hachiya. Well, I’m now a fan of the dried fruit. To me it tastes like dried Mango. Yum!

Honey Harvest 2011

We got to show the kids how we harvest honey and steward the backyard hive. We found LOTS of honey which was exciting but we did not find lots of brood (egg cells and developing bees). Each time we pulled out frames full of honey the kids would clap with excitement. More importantly, each time we did find brood cells they would cheer, “Go queen! Go queen! (clap clap) Go queen! Go queen! (clap, clap)”. They get it. No brood=no future bees.

We took ten honey-filled frames from the hive and left the bees that same amount to feed them through the Winter. We plan to help them with food as well.

Uncapping the comb to prepare it for the spinner. Kids can’t keep their fingers out of the cappings!

Frames in the spinner. All set to spin!

Out comes the honey. This year’s harvest was 25 pounds of honey which came to 2.5 gallons! Go bees!

While we cleaned up outside the boys ran inside and grabbed some packing paper they had been playing with. They both made their own beekeeper suits!

Cross your fingers for the our bees. We’ll pamper them over the Winter and report back to you in the Spring.

Seed Saving- Sunflowers

When the sunflower seeds are fully formed harvest the whole flower head. You can knock off a few flowerettes to check if it’s ready for harvest.

Our resident Scrub Jay got a head start on this one! Watch the birds. They’ll tell you if the seeds are ready!

Knock off all of the old flowerettes covering the mature seeds.

Then, start picking out those seeds. They are so tasty when they are fresh!

A Mammoth Sunflower gets saved for next year.

Seed Saving- Amaranth

It’s seed saving time around the ol’ homestead. The kids dove right into the process. Amaranth seeds were the favorite. It’s easy to gather, sift and winnow. Once its cleaned the seeds are silky smooth to the touch.





They also collected Queen Anne’s Lace, Scabiosa, Nigella, assorted Sunflowers, Calendula, Lambsquarters, and Iceland Poppies.

Community Cider Pressing and Old-Time Music Jam

Ahhh! The might Gravenstein apple! It’s that time of year in Sonoma County. The Gravensteins are rolling down the streets of our neighborhood and we just couldn’t see them go to waste. So, we dusted off the family apple press and put out the word for folks to bring their apples over. Some people wanted apple juice and some people were pressing specifically to make their own hard cider. Either way it was a fun event.

We hosed off the press, put it away and moved to the front porch for an Old-Time music jam with friends from the East Bay, San Francisco and Santa Cruz.

Followed by a potluck supper (always an amazing array of fabulous fresh and local food) including Belma’s perfect chile rellenos, our homemade hard cider and a local turkey served with plum chutney. Then, out back to continue playing music with the ducks and chickens.

Jude and Eric walked downtown to pick up some ice cream and we broke again for dessert! Apple pie and apple cobbler, chocolate zucchini cake and plum ginger sorbet. Then, off to the living room to continue playing and singing into the evening. Thanks to Steve for bringing his amazing song book!

Susun Weed’s article on Lambsquarters

Here is a picture of our Magenta Lambsquarters.

I started to write an entry about this amazing plant and then found that Susan Weed had previously written one. I am a big fan of her books and her work in general.

Here is her article reposted here from Wisdom Magazine’s Web Edition (

Susan Weed wrote-

I told the new apprentice we were having lamb’s quarters for dinner.
“I won’t have any. I’m a vegetarian,” she replied.
With a smile, I corrected myself. “Some people call it fat hen.”
“I don’t eat chicken either,” she responded with a frown.
“It’s also called goosefoot,” I countered, suppressing a grin.
“Not goose, not even the feet, do I eat,” she said with force.
And I agreed, “Pigweed is a more common name for it.”
“No matter what kind of animal it is, I am NOT going to eat it,” she stated firmly, her eyes shining with fervor and unshed tears.
I confessed, now openly laughing. “It’s a weed. A plant. A cooked green!”

Whatever you call it, Chenopodium album and its edible sisters – there are dozens of useful species – is a versatile weed that offers incredible amounts of nourishment to those who harvest it instead of cursing it. It is one of the most widely distributed plants in the world, tolerant of poor soils, high altitudes, and minimal rainfall. Global warming is just fine with lamb’s quarters. In higher concentrations of carbon dioxide, it grows almost double in size. And that’s good news for those who are in the know about its benefits.

The young, tender leaves of lamb’s quarter are tasty in salads. The older leaves, stripped from their stalks and cooked in a small amount of water for thirty minutes or more, are a rich and tasty bone-building green. Left to mature, lamb’s quarter plants produce copious amount of protein-rich seeds which are easy to harvest and use. The roots are used as medicine.

The goosefoot family (cheno is goose, pod is foot) includes lamb’s quarters, quinoa, spinach, red beets, sugar beets, and Swiss chard (silver beet). Indigenous peoples all over the world have made use of wild goosefoots and cultivated them, too. Chenopodium seed stores have been found in many European Neolithic ruins. They were in the ritual meal fed to the Tollund Man 2000 years ago in Denmark.

In North America, Blackfoot Indians used the seeds as early as 1500CE, while both lamb’s quarter greens and the seeds are firmly embedded in the cultures and meals of the Navajo, the Pueblo, all the tribes of Arizona, the Diggers of California, and the Iroquois. In South America several tamed wild goosefoots have been created: Chenopodium quinoa and canahua for their nutritious seeds; huauzoutte for its delicious greens.

I am especially fond of lamb’s quarter greens cooked. A half-cup serving (110 grams) contains over 300 mg of calcium (Swiss chard has 88g, spinach 93g) and 11,600 IU of vitamin A activity. (Swiss chard has 6500, spinach 8100.) Lamb’s quarter greens are also an excellent source of B vitamins, especially riboflavin and folic acid. And they are more than four percent protein.

Lamb’s quarter leaves enrich plants as well as people. Bio-dynamic farmers dry them and combine with equal parts dried dandelion, nettle, purslane, sage, and chamomile to make a special plant food for the autumn garden.

Depending on where you live, it may be too late to enjoy lamb’s quarters greens right now. Lamb’s quarters is an annual, so it doesn’t last long once it has put out its tiny green flowers. But you can probably still harvest lamb’s quarter seeds. I harvest protein- and mineral-rich lamb’s quarter for seed in September and early October here in the Catskills. I cut the plants low to the ground and immediately put them heads down – in paper bags.

When I have harvested all I want, I lay fresh paper or an old sheet on the floor, take the plants out of the paper bags, and hang them – still heads down – above. The seeds that fall out as the plants dry are easy to collect. I use my hands to release the seeds that don’t fall out. I dehydrate the seeds in a very slow oven (110F), let them cool completely, then store them, chaff and all, in a tightly sealed glass jar.

I cook lamb’s quarter seeds in with any grain that I make, such as brown rice, kasha, even quinoa. I stir lamb’s quarter seeds (and nettle seeds and plantain seeds) into my morning oatmeal when I put it up to boil. I sprinkle lamb’s quarter seeds in pancakes and muffins and cornbread. I add lamb’s quarter seeds to soups, sautéing them with the onion at the beginning of the soup making. I throw lamb’s quarter seeds into my tomato sauce, where they add so much flavor and protein that some people swear I’ve used meat in my sauce.

Lamb’s quarter seeds are totally safe to eat, but there are two cautions to keep in mind when eating lamb’s quarter leaves. All edible plants in this family – including spinach and chard – concentrate oxalic acid in the leaves. And oxalic acid can interfere with calcium utilization unless eaten with a good source of calcium, such as cheese or yogurt, at the same meal. The roots of lamb’s quarter search out and concentrate nitrogen (protein). Plants growing in fields that have been heavily fertilized (with chemical fertilizers) can contain large amount of nitrites and nitrates. Fertilized plants have harmed livestock and, theoretically, could harm us.

Green blessings are all around you. And a gardener’s best revenge is to eat the weeds, especially lamb’s quarter.


Herb Salt-

Lamb’s quarter leaves are so mineral-rich that they can be used alone as a salt substitute. But adding aromatic herbs enlivens the taste. Adding seaweed not only makes this herb salt salty, it increases the nutritive benefits.

1 part dried lamb’s quarter leaves
1 part dried thyme or rosemary
1 part dried dill or celery leaves
1 part dried marjoram or oregano
2 parts dried seaweed (Nereocystis kelp is the best)

Gently toast seaweed in a cast iron skillet until very crisp. Grind each herb in a coffee mill while seaweed cools. Then grind seaweed and combine with ground herbs. Store in a shaker.

Zuni Steamed Dumplings

From Carolyn Niethammer’s American Indian Food and Lore (c. 1974). An easy and delicious wild food addition to any casserole, stew or soup.

Combine 1/2 cup cold water and 1/2 cup cornmeal with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add slowly to 1 1/2 cups boiling water. Cover and thicken over low heat. Remove from heat and add 1/2 cup ground lamb’s quarter seeds. Form into small balls. Place on a rack over boiling water and steam for 15-20 minutes, or until done. Add to a casserole, stew, or soup and cook gently for another half hour before serving.

Visit Susun Weed at: and

Lambsquarters Pasta with Pesto!

In Cooking From the Garden Camp making our own pasta is always one of the highlights. This year we have an abundance of a highly nutritious “weed” called Lambsquarters. I have let it go to seed in the garden to the point that it is just about everywhere. That’s fine with us since it is excellent fodder for the chickens, ducks and rabbit. Better yet, it’s highly nutritious food for us!

We intentionally got our first plant as a weed in a seedling from the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center ( They grow the variety called Magenta Lambsquarters (Chenopodium Giganteum). In our garden these plants grow as tall as 6 feet. They are super high in Vitamin C and A and are loaded with minerals too. Around here we call Lambsquarters a “superfood”. They are so nutritious that friends have been making green smoothies with them. The kids love the magenta variety because they contain a pink powdery substance at the growth center of each leaf. This powder comes off with their fingers and they like to paint their faces with it. They love being able to paint their faces and then pop the leaf in their mouth and eat it. Even the seeds can be eaten as a source of protein and minerals. One half cup of seed contains 19.6 grams of protein, 1036 milligrams of Calcium, 1687 milligrams of Potassium and 27.1 grams of fiber. They can be ground and used as a hot cereal or added to bread. One plant produces seeds like you wouldn’t believe and brings Bushtits and Chickadees to the garden in droves. Just yesterday the kids were happy to find the more common variety (Chenopodium album) growing in our favorite forage field.

So… back to the pasta! We harvested our Lambsquarters and steamed it up to use instead of spinach for making green pasta. While we were in the garden we also harvested Italian Parsley, Cilantro, and Chickweed with which to make pesto.

Into the pasta dough went our pureed Lambsquarters and homegrown duck eggs. The kids love making anything they can get their hands gooey in!

A little muscle went into kneading the dough.

Then, even more muscle went into cranking out the pasta.

First, they made sheets of pasta then they ran it through the linguine cutter and hung it up to dry a bit.

Counting the noodles was a fun task. They counted 109!

I refrigerated the pasta in an air-tight container overnight. For lunch the next day we boiled it up, topped it with our pesto and a little grated Pecorino-Romano. They devoured it all! It was hit!