lunes, 25 de abril de 2016

Making Greek Yogurt

I´m one of those weirdos who make yogurt.

At first, I was just interested in making yogurt with less added sugar than the supermarket brands, as yogurt is my kids´ principal food group.  Later, I liked how the yogurt I make at home costs half the price of the same quantity of store-bought yogurt.

Then, a few months ago, I started straining the yogurt to make Greek yogurt.

I think I´ve died and gone to dairy product heaven.  Maing Greek yogurt is much more time-consuming than making "regular" yogurt (hence the drastic difference in price at the grocery store).  But it is so worth it.  I´m never going back.

The seven-year-old even requested the plain, unsweetened, homeade, Greek yogurt over mango-flavored Yoplait tonight!

A few years ago, I wrote my yogurt recipe in a long-winded post.  Here´s an easier-to-read version (plus Greek variation):

Homeade Greek Yogurt

(Measurements based on a 2-qt. crock pot.  If you have a bigger crock pot, just add more milk to make more yogurt.)
Nothing against Alpura--it´s great to drink!
However, any milk that has been ultrapasteurized
will not make yogurt.  That´s true for ANYTHING
that is packaged in a Tetrapak.

You´ll need:

  • 7 cups of milk (NOT ultrapasteurized, but pasteurized is just fine.)
  • A few tablespoons of already-made yogurt.  
  • Crockpot
  • Thermometer    (I prefer a meat thermometer, as it lets me read the temperature when the milk is cooling better than a candy thermometer.)
  • Whisk
  • 2 quart saucepan (or larger, if your crockpot is larger and want use more than 2 quarts´ worth of milk.  I would, if I had a bigger crockpot.)
  • a pitcher or bowl
  • ladle
  • cheesecloth or colanders fine enough to strain the pulp from juice (I recommend 2)

This milk is found in the refrigerated section, clearly labeled "pasteurized".
This will work for making yogurt (and cheese).
Stay away from the ultrapasteurized stuff if your intention is to make cultured dairy products!

Keep in mind the basic concept in making yogurt:  the point is to get the milk warm enough to get the active bacteria to multiply, but not so hot to kill them off.  A thermometer is a really, really good idea.  However, people have been making yogurt for thousands of years without the use of thermometers.  So, it´s possible to do it without a thermometer, but I´m guessing that it would be very tricky without years of experience.

  • Plug in an empty crock pot.  Cover it and turn it on.  
  • Add 7 cups of milk to a 2-quart saucepan.  Turn the stove on to high heat, and heat the milk until just before it boils.  (Or 190 degrees Fahrenheit.)
  • Turn off the heat, and whisk the milk to cool it until the temperature drops to 110 degrees Fahrenheit.  (Setting the saucepan in a cool water bath helps speed things along a little.)
  • While you´re waiting for the milk to cool, turn off the crockpot, but keep it covered.  
  • Whisk the single-serving container of already-made yogurt into the 110-degree milk.  
  • Pour the milk into the crock pot and keep it turned OFF.  Cover it and leave it alone for 8-12 hours. 
  • After 12 hours, the milk will have magically transformed into yogurt.  Or, for the muggles out there, the bacteria in the yogurt will have sufficiently digested the milk, converting it into yogurt.  At this point, the yogurt can be eaten, but it tastes much better sweetened.  I like to use 2 tablespoons of honey and 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract.  However, if you want unsweetened, Greek yogurt, don´t add honey or any sweetner yet!  
  • For Greek yogurt, attach the cheesecloth to an empty pitcher or bowl (either with a rubber band or letting it rest in a colander or strainer).  Add as much of the yogurt as the cheesecloth can hold (hence, it´s handy to use with a strainer, as it can stand more weight).  Let the whey drain out of the yogurt for about a half hour.  Then, transfer the strained yogurt to a storage container, and strain more of the yogurt.  (Continue this process until all of the yogurt is strained.)  
This is all the whey after it was strained out.
  • While the straining process is a bit tedious, it´s so worth it.  Straining the whey out of the yogurt makes the yogurt much more palatable, so even my kids don´t flinch at eating it unsweetened.  Plus, it has much more protein than regular yogurt (basically because it is more concentrated).  All other things considered, it just tastes worlds better.  


  • If, after 12 hours, the yogurt still hasn´t thickened, move the covered crockpot into an oven and leave it there with the oven light turned on for 6-8 hours more.  

martes, 12 de abril de 2016

Perspective Changes Everything

I´ve been having issues with the four-year-old.

He refuses to wipe his butt.  He thinks I am always happy to do it for him.  We have gotten into power struggles over this.  Sometimes I give in.  Sometimes we get into yelling and screaming matches over this.  Sometimes I realize that he´s four, and sometimes it is hard for him to wipe his butt. Sometimes I let him know that the butt-wiping free ride ends when he turns five.

The other day, he told me, "when I´m ninety, I´ll wipe my own butt."

I was relieved to know that he had some date in mind to take responsibility for his own excrement.  (Never mind that I won´t be alive to see it.)

Then I clued him in on the ways of the world.  "Actually, when you´re ninety, you might not be wiping your own butt anymore."

Then genius struck.

"Hey Joe--do you know who´s going to wipe MY butt when I´m ninety?"

All of a sudden, I don´t mind wiping his butt anymore.

And he´s in full agreement that he´ll be returning the favor.

It never fails to astonish me how much it helps to step back and look at the larger picture.

viernes, 11 de marzo de 2016

Destination: Papalote Children´s Museum

Since we have kids, and we frequent Mexico City, I´ve been itching for the day I could take my kids to Mexico City´s Papalote Museo del Niño (Children´s Museum).  This year, with my older two being 6 and 4, I figured they were the perfect age to go.

Yes, they were the perfect ages.  (Kids around 3rd grade and older probably won´t enjoy this museum much.  It´s perfect for the preschool, early-elementary set.)

However, the museum was under construction.  They only had 3 big rooms open, plus the IMAX theater, of course.

Downside #2--we went during Christmas vacation.  Everybody and their cousin wanted to go to the Children´s Museum during Christmas vacation.  (Heads up for those thinking of going over Spring Break--I bet you´ll run into the same issues.)

Now, three big rooms full of children´s museum activities don´t sound too bad.  Except that the museum was filled past capacity.  We found a bit of breathing room in an area that was for kids 6 and under.  Joey could have spent all day with a magnetic fishing game (and threw a fantastic fit when we insisted that other kids needed a turn).

They also had a little grocery store where kids could get a cart, fake money, and were told that they could check out 10 items.  I didn´t hear the directions, and Joey didn´t follow them, so he filled that cart to the brim!  Then we had to go back and put all but 10 items away before he could check out.  It was interesting to note which items he hung onto the longest (milk and meat) and which were the first to go.

Around three o´clock, we were ready to give up.  But guess what happened?  Lots of other families gave up, too.  We hung in there a bit longer.  Clara was determined to get in on a kite-making workshop, and, after looking all afternoon, we finally found it by the IMAX.  

Kites in hand, we were about to head for the exit a second time, but we wandered into the first exhibit room, which had been packed wall-to-wall with people when we entered.  Now at four o´clock, that room had places to sit down and play, and material available to play with!  So the kids spent at least an hour in this exhibit about construction, putting PVC pipes together for plumbing, landscaping a yard, and making a habitat out of blankets and rope.

In the end, we did have a good time.  It was worthwhile.

But if we ever go again over a school holiday week, we will arrive at about 3pm.  The day we went, it was open until 8pm, which would have been more than enough time.

Then again, once their renovation is complete, it might take all day to get through there.

So we´ll try it again.  Just later in the day.  And we´ll buy tickets online, so we won´t have to stand in line for an hour.

lunes, 15 de febrero de 2016

Wearing Her Heart On Her Sleeve

I have a seven-year-old daughter.  She is old enough to express herself well, and young enough that she doesn´t censor herself.

For example, early in the school year, she was supposed to write down a goal for the school year and share it with the entire class.

Clara´s goal:  I am going to be better than everyone else.

My response:  Ummm . . . wanting to be your best is, indeed, a great goal.  However, you don´t think that maybe your friends might get offended about you wanting to be better than them?

Nah.  This thought never occured to her.  After I explained it, it still didn´t seem to make much sense.  But I did get her to tone down her goal.  (At least she´s socially saavy enough to try to appease me.)

Then, about two months ago, I found this scrawled across our message board:

Quiero que todos me quieren.
I want everyone to like me. 

How heart-wrenchingly honest.  

Do we all go through this phase when we wear our heart on our sleeve?  How long does it last before reality intervenes?  (Usually in the form of mean kids.)  How many heartbreaks does it take for us to bury our desire to express our need to be loved?  

For Clara, I sure hope it isn´t any time soon.  

Would that this innocence could last forever.

I was afraid that Valentine´s Day might shatter some of her heart-strewn reality.  Unlike in the US, where all the kids in the class buy a pack of Valentines to give to every single child in the class, Clara´s assignment on Thursday was to write one card, to a specific friend, to give to that child on Friday.  

Oh, this assignment was fraught with danger.  What if Clara gave her Valentine to her friend, and her friend didn´t give her a card in return?  What if everybody wanted to give a card to one girl and then all the other girls were left without cards?  Furthermore, Clara went another step, and after she wrote "Happy Valentine´s Day" on the card, she added, "Zoe--you´re my best friend."  

Oh, dear.  Best friend declarations.  This might be more dangerous territory than boyfriends could be in a few years.  Because what happens if Zoe isn´t actually all that attached to Clara?    

Fortunately, none of these thoughts ever crossed Clara´s mind.  And, apparently it won´t occur to her for awhile longer.  Friday´s Valentine exchange must have gone off without a hitch.   

As further confirmation that the world is still a nice place, Zoe came over to spend the afternoon with Clara.  

Whew.  They may just be best friends after all.

May these two, sweet, little girls get to live a few more months in perfect oblivion to the meanness that surrounds them.  

lunes, 8 de febrero de 2016

Mexican Microbrews: Saga--white ale

On New Year´s Eve, we were perusing the shelves at PRISSA, a fabulously huge liquor store in Puebla, and we stumbled upon a few samples from the Cervecería 5 de Mayo.  Since we are always game for trying a new microbrew, we bought two different types.

Is it just me, or is the Mexican microbrew scene exploding?  Our eyes were opened last year in Aguascalientes, then we were reminded how good Monterrey has it when we visited during Semana Santa, and now we´re finding microbrews in Puebla, of all places!

Let me tell you--Mario lived in Puebla for eleven years.  Mario loves beer.  Had this brewery been around ten to twenty years ago when Mario lived here, I´m confident that he would have known about it.

In the interest of full honesty though, this brewery isn´t from Puebla.  It´s from the little town of Atlixco, just outside of Puebla.  All the more to shock my socks.

So, first up:  Saga--white ale.

            Jill´s thoughts--"I really, really like it."

           Mario´s thoughts--"They say ale--this tastes more like a weiss."

           Jill´s thoughts--"It´s flowery."    [probably because it was a mislabeled weiss]

          Mario´s thoughts--"The hops were possibly over-roasted."

He said it was bitter at the end, I thought it was simply stronger at the end.  I was reminded of pumpkin, Mario disagreed.

Whatever it was--white ale or weiss, pumpkiny or not--I will happily buy myself more the next time I´m in Puebla!


Where is that kick-ass awesome PRISSA liquor store?

In Puebla, right next to the Gandhi bookstore that´s across the street from

jueves, 4 de febrero de 2016

Destination: Cuauntinchan, Puebla

Never heard of Cuantinchan?

No surprise.  It´s not written up in Lonely Planet.  Trip Advisor won´t be able to tell you much about it, either.

But we go there once every year or two.  It´s a place I look forward to visiting.

There isn´t much to the town.  Like most towns, they have a lovely plaza, and, with their larger-than-usual fountain and normally-empty benches, Cuauntinchan´s plaza is more inviting than most.

But the real draw to Cuauntinchan is the former convent.  There are traces of some seventeenth-century murals, next to the main church.  The convent, its walls and patios, are clearly centuries old,  I love the feeling of being immersed in history when I´m there.

But it´s also well-maintained.  On weekends, the church is sometimes opened for weddings.  (We crashed one there, once.)  And it´s the type of town that wedding parties parade through town on foot.
Apparently the town throws a huge party for New Year´s.  We haven´t been to that, but they were full-swing into setting up massive tents around the zocalo and in front of the convent.  But they did advertise tours to the convent´s bell tower.

All in all, it´s a lovely, quiet place to wander through history, thanks to that convent.

Doors to history

Pieces of a mural 
Monks on a mural
Arches guarding the murals
Side entrance to the church on the plaza.


Where is Cuauntinchan?

      From the city of Puebla, follow the road to Tecali.  It´s pretty close to Tecali, but there will be signs announcing Cuauntinchan.

domingo, 31 de enero de 2016

Tacos Arabes--because they deserve their own post

When most people think of authentic, Mexican tacos, tacos de pastor most often come to mind.  With reason, as they´re fabulous and easy to find just about anywhere.  At least, anywhere I´ve visited,

However, my first Mexican taco experience was with tacos arabes.  As much as I like tacos al pastor (and I LOVE them), tacos arabes are still my favorites.

Maybe it´s because I´m fron the US and I prefer wheat tortillas to corn tortillas.  But, to be honest, the tortillas used in tacos arabes are more of a pita bread than a wheat tortilla

Maybe it´s the chipotle-laden sauce that should be generously poured over the meat.  I´m a sucker for chipotles.  But who isn´t?

Whatever the reason, whenever I´m in Puebla, I just can´t get enough of these beauties.

Yet another reason that I thank the Lebanese-Mexican community´s contributions to this country.

Mmmm . . . just look at that porky goodness!

Where can one find tacos arabes?

Lots of taco places in the city of Puebla will sell them.  A big chain for tacos arabes is the Antigua Taquería Oriental.  They´ve got locations all over Puebla, but I´m guessing that the original is on the zócalo in Puebla, on the same side as the entrance to the cathedral.  It´s small and easy to miss (the other franchises are a great deal larger . . . if, indeed, they are the same franchise).  Whatever, they are, they´re all good!