Apocalypse Chow: How to make yogurt and stay sane.

Hey, folks.

Hanging in there? Getting some sleep? Staying hydrated? Exercising an abundance of caution? Limiting news dumps?

Fantastic. Good job.

I woke up this morning with a bit of a rant in my head (largely self-directed) about how necessary it is, in these times, not to try to control all the stuff we think we ought to be controlling. There is nothing controllable about a massive, global, slow-rolling disaster, and trying is just going to make us all neurotic. (And being more miserable will not make the apocalypse not happen. It’s okay to feel joy, to find your corner of the world and make it better, to help a friend. To help a stranger.)

I have been writing a lot of stuff in my journal lately that boils down to mantras, things I have found that help me when the PTSD is particularly bad or my life circumstances are particularly terrible.

Let go or be dragged. (Okay, I stole that one from AA but it’s a good one.)

The only way out is through.

Keep calm and carry on.

Can’t fix it. Can’t escape it. Gotta endure it.

It's a plague year. They happen sometime. Take care of yourself.

In short, it’s a good time to read up on some Zen and remember that sometimes the best thing you can do is nothing.

I do want to put in a plug for the THIS PODCAST WILL KILL YOU episode on protecting your mental health in this plague year. The hosts are a Ph.D. epidemiologist and a Ph. D. epidemiologist who decided that was insufficient and went to medical school. They have been have really been knocking it out of the park with their science-based, factual, non-alarmist, expert-derived coverage of SARS-COV-2 and the associated disease. I can't imagine that when they started, you know, podcasting about historical pandemics they really expected to be on the front lines of science communication for one as it happened live in the wild, but I highly, highly recommend their coverage.

So much better than That Guy On Facebook Telling You Your Groceries Are Going To Come Into The Bedroom At Night With A Knife.

A piece of advice I gave some friends this morning, who were feeling like they needed to buy stuff to set up a field hospital in the living room: If you really want to buy something that will improve the next year of your life in a measurable way, get a little indoor herb farm.

Fresh basil and parsley and thyme are going to make literally everything more bearable.

I know we’re all horribly programmed by consumerism to the idea that Buying A Thing will Make Us Feel Better. (And to be fair, I just pre-ordered some fountain pen ink that comes out later this year, because it will bring me joy, but… $15 bucks is not too terrible a faceplant into shop therapy.) And here we are in a case where Buying A Thing will not Make Us Feel Better. It will not make us measurable safer.

What we can do to make ourselves and others measurably safer is nothing. And that’s fucking hard.

The boys will not be home by Christmas. The churches will not be full by Easter. Breathe and be careful and find ways to make it all seem a little nicer in here. Go ahead and build a pillow fort. Pretend you’re on a mission to Mars.

Nobody is judging you.

I mean, you could also make yogurt, which is what I did overnight, because we had a quart of milk and some cream in the fridge that needed to be used up immediately or they were going to go bad. And I know some of you are here for the first time (Hi, folks!) because I posted a photo of the yogurt on Instagram and promised instructions over here. (I’m so sneaky.)

Yogurt is great. It’s tasty, it’s good for you, it’s soothing, and it’s a time-honored way to keep milk around and consumable a little longer than otherwise.

You will need:

  • Some dairy products that are not going to get used before they go bad

  • A pan big enough to hold your dairy products

  • A source of heat

  • Some plain unsweetened yogurt with live, active cultures in it. Per my friend Stella, the one that works cheerfully under a variety of conditions is Icelandic Provisions, if you can get it, but any should work. (I’ve tried this with a couple of different kinds and gotten the best texture with the IP, but if you like a runnier yogurt you might be better off with a different kind.)

  • A warm place in the house (OR) some insulation like a thermos (OR) a source of mild warmth like a proofing drawer, oven with the pilot light or lightbulb on, or a shelf over a radiator or something.

  • A meat or whatever thermometer is nice if you have one but not necessary. So is a covered Pyrex bowl. If you want Greek yogurt you will need a fine mesh strainer and/or some cheesecloth.

The process is extremely simple.

Put the milk or milk and cream combination (this will give you that cream-top yogurt effect) in the pan and warm it up, either to 180 degrees F (82 degrees C) or until it is really uncomfortably hot if you hold your finger over it but not boiling and does not cause an immediate burn. (The same temperature roughly that you’d use to brew green tea, as it happens.)

This step is not entirely necessary but seems to produce thicker yogurt. If you want a pourable Scandinavian style yogurt and you are using pasteurized milk then you can skip it and just heat the milk to around 115 degrees.

Then let your milk cool until it is somewhere between 110-115 degrees F (around 44 degrees C) which means it will be about the same temperature as bathwater you wouldn’t want to get into until you run some cold water in, but it won’t scald you immediately.

At this point, you can either stir your starter yogurt (“culture”) into the milk in the pan, or you can add both the starter and the milk to another bowl, preferably one with a lid. Mix them together thoroughly and do one of the following:

  • Wrap well to insulate and set in a warm place

  • Pour into a thermos to stay warm (I dislike this method as the inside of the thermos is a bitch to clean and a lot of yogurt gets stuck in there and wasted)

  • Wrap it in a heating pad/put it in that warm oven/use your ingenuity.

Ignore it for twelve hours and when you come back you should have yogurt.

If you want thicker yogurt, you can strain it in a strainer. It will even make yogurt cheese if you leave it there long enough—like cream cheese or goat cheese.

You can drink the strained-out whey, like they do in Iceland. It’s got protein in it and is full of yogurt cultures.

“But Bear, I don’t like plain yogurt!”

That’s okay! You can add maple syrup or honey to it, or jam! if you make the thin kind, you can pour it over cereal or muesli like milk. You can put it in a blender with some of that fruit you froze last week and make a smoothie.

Mmm. Yogurt.

There, wasn’t that nice?

It’s okay for things to be nice. Even now.