Making fall of the yogurt.

Now that my boots are drying by the door and my rain jacket accompanies me permanently, it is time for the year-round yogurt recipe. None of this sunny weather nonsense, I know that your place is probably as chilly as mine and you’re on the hunt for squash. We all move on. It’s fall now.

Things have been getting progressively busy around here, so there have been a lot of set-it-and-forget-it meals. I’ve been making about 2 L of chicken foot stock (recipe to come, I know you’re dying for that one) a week, several stews, and plenty of tough cuts cooked down in some punchy flavoured liquid to be re-purposed in other recipes. For these guys, my slow cooker is my best friend. I covet dutch ovens every chance I get, but my slow cooker came at a considerably cheaper price and I feel safe leaving it at home when I’m out being busy and not having to worry about the oven being on. Plus, if I forget about it (it happens) it shuts off automatically. If you are a student, slow cookers are one of the top best investments you will make- not only can they be plugged in anywhere, so they don’t take up precious stovetop/oven space, they are great bang for your buck ($30-$60 for a totally decent one). With a couple smart strategies you can make totally impressive meals for very little effort. Plus, you can make this yogurt. Bonus.

That being said, this can be done two ways: with a slow cooker or with a large heavy-bottomed pot like a dutch oven. You basically want something bulky and thick enough to hold heat for a while. Thermometer is the only other specific equipment that I would recommend, but don’t I always recommend a thermometer? So yes, have a thermometer or else use the by-touch method.

You might be able to tell, in my pictures there are vanilla specks. So yes, I stewed a couple of vanilla pods with mine for some flavour. You can do that too if you would like very-vanilla yogurt, otherwise a little extract at the end adds lovely vanilla flavour.

Year-Round Yogurt


Slow cooker or dutch oven


Large old towel


2 L whole milk

2-3 Tbsp plain yogurt with live culture (starter)

1) Pour all of the milk into the slow cooker or dutch oven. Turn slow cooker on to the highest setting or the dutch oven on to your ovens medium setting. Heat the milk to 180 degrees F (or until steaming and frothy, but not boiling). If using the dutch oven, stir frequently.

2) Take the lid off and remove the heat source (turn off stove or slow cooker). Cool the milk to 110 degrees F (or, until you can comfortably stick a clean finger in and hold it). To speed this up, take the lid off.

3) Add the starter culture and mix thoroughly. Place the lid on.

4) Place the dutch oven or slow cooker insert onto the large old towel. Wrap it well with the towel to slow down heat loss. Place this where it won’t be disturbed (I put it in the oven so it’s out of the way, just don’t forget that it’s in there).

5) Ferment for 12-24 hours. If you have a lactose intolerance, 24 hours is recommended to make sure as much lactose is digested as possible.

6) Whisk well. Store for a week, then repeat the process for more yogurt!

Yogurt by You

Yogurt is not just for active, young females wearing capris smiling ecstatically about regulating their bowels, despite what marketing may have indicated. Your teeth may not be perfectly white, you may not be dancing in a big white room, but you may enjoy a creamy milk product minus the lactose and the benefits of probiotics. And boy howdy are there benefits.

Glamor shot.

It may come to no surprise to you that you have more bacterial cells than human cells in and on you at this moment. I think the science/health community has used that shock statement enough times, but it still gets me thinking every time. People just look so, I don’t know, human. It’s hard to imagine an underwater garden of life flourishing right in the cradle of our pelvises. It’s ball-parked that there are about 100 trillion microrganisms that hail from 500 species in the bowel of the average joe. It’s even harder to imagine the massive impact these bacteria have on our day-to-day lives. Changes in microbiota can create an inflammatory state, possibly leading to things as dramatic as obesity and late-onset autism. Inflammation plays a big role in a lot of chronic diseases, and probiotics seem to play a role in reducing or preventing that inflammation.

Consuming probiotics regularly can support a healthy gut flora, which leads to a whole host of benefits, including treatment of IBS, reduction in cavities, improved nutrient absorption at the level of the gut, and protection from colon cancer. Plus, well-fermented foods have an acidic, tangy taste that can really add dimension to otherwise flat or boring meals.

Buying proper probiotic foods from the health store is super freaking expensive. Trying to keep up with our yogurt consumption requires us to buy a huge tub of it, which takes up precious real estate in our fridge and really adds up. So I’ve started to make our yogurt. “Make” feel like a strong word because it’s so passive and easy. I’d rather say I’ve started to “let yogurt happen”.

My precious.

This is almost embarrassing as a recipe because it is so easy. You are going to need some pre-made yogurt to get the party started, so you need to make sure that the yogurt you buy has active cultures (buying from the health food store will pretty much garuntee this). I’m giving you two options too- the really easy one, and the very slightly more involved one which results in a thicker final product. This is a “warm weather” recipe because it works best in above 20 degrees C (if you have a very good oven, you could set it to 100 degrees F and set it in and that would work, but my oven is waaaay to unpredictable for this). I have some experimenting to do with my last years semi-dangerous heating-pad/huge pot solution to make it easier to make during the winter, so I will keep you posted. So far I’m experimenting with my slow cooker on “warm” setting as a water bath, and a standard cooler filled with some hot water. May the rigorous scientific experiment begin! In the meantime, make this while there is still some sun in the sky, and enjoy some homemade super cheap yogurt.

Embarrassingly easy.

Straight-Up Yogurt

1 L whole milk

1 Tbsp (15 mL) plain yogurt with live cultures

1) Clean out a glass 1 L (1 quart) jar thoroughly. Take some boiling water and swish it around the inside (warm up the jar first a bit, we don’t want broken glass up in here) to sterilize it. Without touching the inside with your fingers (it is now sterile!), allow it to sit and cool.

2) Pour in the milk. Mix in the yogurt culture with a very clean spoon. Place the lid on, and very loosely screw it on, so that it’s not sealed.

3) Place in a warm part of your house. For me, that’s on the kitchen table where it gets a good bit of sun warmth, or on top of the fridge where the motor gets a little heat going. For you, it might be in the oven with the light turned on (remember that it’s in there when you go to preheat it!). It might just be on the counter.

4) Leave in your warm spot. Do not disturb it or shake it. Come back in 12-24 hours to check. If you are lactose intolerant, you are going to want to go 24 hrs to let all the lactose get digested. The yogurt should have thickened up (it will still be less thick than commercial yogurt) and have a tangy taste. IF THERE IS ANY MOLD (I have never ever had this): start again. Do not consume.

5) Rejoice and eat yogurt. Use this batch as the starter for your next lot! Try and use it to start the new batch within the week so it is still fresh.

Thicker-than-Ever Yogurt

You are going to want to follow the same basic idea as the recipe above, but with two changes.

1) On the stove top, heat your 1 L of milk until it starts to form little bubbles on the surface. For those of you who have thermometers (which should really be all of you especially if you are inexperienced in the kitchen. Getting off soapbox) you are going to want it to hit about 82 degrees C (180 degrees F). You’re not looking for a full boil, just some steam action.

2) Allow to cool to about 43 degrees C (110 degrees F). For those of you without thermometers, it should be still a little hot, but not so hot that you couldn’t comfortable hold a super-ridiculously-clean finger in it (according to Sandor Katz). Stir in your yogurt culture.

Follow steps 3) and 4) above.

5) To get this even thicker, you can strain your yogurt through cheesecloth. Line a strainer or colander with 3-4 layers of cheese cloth. Place the strainer/colander over a bowl. Gently pour in your yogurt. You can gently twist the cheese cloth around it to speed up the process. Place something over it to keep it clean, and come back to check it after it’s been hanging out and straining for 1-3 hrs. I usually just do 1 hr.

6) Carefully scrape the yogurt out of the cheesecloth into a container. After straining, there may be a slight ricotta-like texture to the yogurt. If there is, just give your whisking muscles a good workout and you should get creamy, thick yogurt.

8) That liquid that came out of the yogurt is called “whey” (heard of whey powder?). You can use whey to jump-start all sort of other fermentation adventures, or you can use it in cooking/baking in place of water/milk. Refrigerate it if you have no plans to use it immediately.

9) If you want to make it even richer, you can add a small amount of heavy cream to really bring out the creaminess. 2 Tbsp- 1/4 c should be plenty!

Label me this.

I have always been careful to characterize myself as the kind of person who doesn’t use whiteout. Such a little thing, but for some reason I feel like it has something to say about my character. I look at whiteout as, at best, a smelly substance that takes up room in my bag, and at worst, a testament to your character (attempting, uncreative, perfectionist). I cross out my mistakes, with some scribbly little blackout version. That’s right, I also use a black pen. I don’t take blue pen as seriously- it doesn’t command the page like a thick, black line does. When I use a blue pen I think it makes the page look watery, and my words start to waver. And don’t mention other colours of pens- sure I have many, many different colours of pens, but they are not main-body pens. They are accents, for underlining, circling, crossing, highlighting, and noting. When I find pages that I dashed down in a hurry using a purple, or worse, green pen, I feel so strained as I try and read the weak, “poorly articulated” lines. If Tolsty had handed me “War and Peace” and it was in green pen, I would have handed it back and told him to try harder.

What does this say, apart from the fact that I clearly have a neuroticism relating to office supplies? I like to project meaning onto inanimate objects, and that projection extends in particular to food. And I’m surely not the only one. Eating “bad food” can make me feel like a “bad person”, and I feel a lot of guilt when I extend the same judgment onto other people. I am in no position to impose my own food projections onto other people, and it is completely unfair. I have to actively council myself to go against these judgments, which have clearly been created and perpetuated as the “normal” perception in our society. You can eat “good”, or you can eat “bad”. You are a good person, or you are a bad person.

This is why I’ve had an aversion to labels- I don’t want to project meaning onto mine or, in particular, other people’s food choices. Why do people feel the need to label their eating?  Sure, you can be gluten-free with a peanut allergy- that contains useful information, like I shouldn’t eat peanut butter around you and if I invite you out to dinner we will be skipping the breadbasket. But so many other things we say are really unnecessary. Arguing amongst the alienating labels of vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, paleo, primal, zone, raw, fruitatarian, and more takes a group of people who genuinely are interested in a healthier population, and make them enemies. Good quality food, available from every possible food group, is surely the right answer for everyone. Sure, we can argue about acai until the grass-fed cows come home, but it is beside the point. Whole foods. Single ingredients. Quality foods. Isn’t that as important as being right? This has always been reason enough for me to avoid labels. Until I realized that sometimes the nuance of the attitudes a lot of these “alternative eating” groups might be more important that I thought.

Taking a bite as an adult isn’t like taking a bite as a child. The holiday cover for “Today’s Dietetian” said “This Holiday, Prevent Childhood Obesity”- a far cry from the friendly holiday wishes of the past. Mixed messages abound too- “don’t make a big deal out of holiday meals so kids don’t get attached, don’t make food the most important part” to “take time to savour your food- think about every bite and enjoy all the flavours on your palate” to “enjoy your dinner as a family and allow children to pick the food for themselves” to “don’t serve family style- children will choose too much of the wrong thing and end up eating themselves until they are stuffed”. Manufactured messages and tense attitudes. Wishy-washy “healthy” ideas. I support health. This magazine supports health. So is there a difference after all? Is that why we have to label ourselves? Maybe.

It didn’t take much though for me to decide that I’m against stuff like this. I’m against making food something formal and “fuel only” based. I’m also against making food something frivolous and inconsequential. I’m against breaking everything down and attaching guilt. If I’m so against some things, then there must be things that I’m for. That’s why I decided to label myself as someone who eats and prepares food according to traditions. I’m for having the skills and available ingredients to make quality meals at home. I’m for nourishing our bodies with good foods, and not having to pour over labels for ages. It might not mean everything, but it’s something, and it’s time I’m “for” something and not just “against”.

So, why?

This is the post where I tell you a bit about my medical history and hope that it isn’t overly personal. I’m not sure if this is a form of justification as to why I am suddenly upfront about my diet, or if I want to break down the barriers and taboos around discussing health issues (particularly women’s health issues). So, whether selfish, noble, or meek, here we go.

My health hasn’t always been perfect, which can be extra hard because from the outside I look like a robust twenty-something who could bounce back like all the other twenty-something folks. I am sure lots of you 20-somethings know what I’m talking about- people expect you to be the healthiest population in society, and we don’t always live up to that. My external self doesn’t always do the best job of representing what is going on.

One of the big things I’ve had to deal with was a heart palpitation issue, which resulted in relatively debilitating palpitations on a regular basis. I “pushed through” and maintained school/work as per normal even while it disrupted my life which, though it sounds noble, was actually really hard and I’d have to think hard as to whether I would do it again if put in a similar situation. My marks suffered, which was probably the hardest part and not something I handle particularly well. Two minor heart surgeries (ablations) later, and the heart is all good. I’m so glad it is now resolved, and extra glad that it was a relatively easy fix.

The heart issue was my main introduction to being someone who had something off with him or her. It didn’t spark any dietary or lifestyle changes (unless you count learning-how-to-cram-all-of-the-material-that-you-missed-because-you-were-in-emerg a lifestyle change). It was actually Sebastien’s history of allergies, asthma, and current issue with eczema that sparked my interest in looking how to properly feed someone with autoimmune issues. We poked around the ancestral health community, and found that Sebastien is at really high risk for being gluten intolerant or celiac, so we cut gluten from our diet. His skin and colour improved to an extent, and I accidently fixed my GERD/bloating issues. With gluten out of the way, it allowed me to easily identify other triggers for GERD/bloating, which turned out to be most beans (no more hummus!!). My hair got ridiculously thick and my body shape changed- it was a little freaky actually. We were pretty sold on the concept, and decided to commit to it.

So after being hum-dee-dum happy with my life, my most recent health issue has reared it’s head over the last year, and I’ll be damned to say that it has been the most difficult thing thus far in my barely-over-2-decades of life. Partially because it is not diagnosed (a major stress, one that I also faced before my first heart surgery when we still didn’t know exactly what was up) and partially because it isn’t clear how to go forward with treating it. It doesn’t help that it’s one of those things that isn’t always talked about. For now I’m calling it “what-might-be-endometriosis” or “maybe-endo” for short. It is a joyful bundle of 3 weeks of lower back pain, a crescendo of oh-I-can’t-walk-it’s-so-painful pelvic pain, and a few days of complete ‘n utter full-body debilitation a month. Throw a few completely-blurred-vision migraines in there for good measure. Add a dash of fatigue and muscle aching. So far it has been one of those “did that just happen? Was it really that painful, or was it all in my head?” experiences, because it creeped up on me slowly and unexpectedly. It’s still seems like I’m “faking it” to myself sometimes because it seems unreasonable that it would feel that bad for so long. I still am sorting out exactly what is happening to me on a monthly basis, and trying to figure out exactly what could be going on.

So that’s the adventure that I’m going through right now. Pain management is a big thing at the moment. Getting proper nourishment and moving as much as possible is a priority. Keeping the possibility of going part-time for school, and knowing that if I get overwhelmed I might need to just drop everything and skip out for a bit while I put my health as a priority. Figuring out how I can use the tools of diet and lifestyle to minimize my symptoms. Plus some watching Arrested Development (and Community, Mad Men, Game of Thrones, Archer, Bob’s Burgers, Breaking Bad….you get good at TV when you can’t read from headaches!).

I feel like this is my second “coming out” post in two days, where I am upfront about currently experiencing (gasp) “female issues”. I’m sure lots of other women are where I am right now, but it’s just not something that you hear about or is always taken that seriously. You all must think I’ve forgotten how to cook and am just biding time by not giving you any recipes! That will come soon. For now, I’ve got to slightly overshare to the internet. You know how it is.

Dare I say it?

Dare I? Pegging yourself to a diet can be a dangerous choice. People jump on you and assume you subscribe to every dogmatic item that has ever been associated with it. They accuse you of lying and point out the psychos that every single food movement has attracted. It can be even riskier if you are trying to build a future career in the health industry, and it can be intimidating if you are a food lover who enjoys indulgences on every side of the good/bad fence.

Paleo, primal, ancestral, whole foods, traditional eating. Whatever you want to call it. I’ve been involved in the paleo/primal/ancestral health circle for over two years and I’ve never written about it. Never posted about it on facebook, never tweeted and hash tagged #NOMNOM (already making inside jokes, time to cool it!). Have hinted and suggested, been called out based on clues, but never come outright and said “hey folks, this is what’s up with me”. For simplicity, I usually call it “paleo”. For a more realistic portrait of what I eat on a daily basis, it would be better if I called it “ancestral”.

So what is this ancestral thing I’ve been doing for over two years? It’s part philosophy, for both diet and lifestyle, and part science. The biggest diet philosophy for me is eating whole foods. Whole foods, “unprocessed” in terms of no additives, no mystery ingredients, no taking this out and adding this back in. The lifestyle philosophy is the idea of trying to get back to our natural ways of moving and living– lots of walking, some heavy lifting, plenty of time on your feet, and plenty of time getting good sleep. Enjoying the finer things in life, letting the pesky things go, and bringing stress down to a manageable level. This lifestyle part is huge, and something that needs more of my (and a lot of other people’s) attention.

The science part is the aspect that I wrestle the most with. It starts off with these concepts that saturated fats and cholesterol are not the bad guys they were thought to be, moves along to trash industrial seed oil, and brings out the issues of not properly preparing grains for consumption using traditional methods. It twists your mind around the bend, and requires pulling out that biochem textbook you didn’t think you need any more. Any which way you like to approach the science, however, it mostly boils down to eating safe, whole foods properly prepared. Vegetables, fruits, meats, dairy (if tolerated), and some grains (in our case, only rice).

My favourite representation of what myself and other ancestral folk eat is done by Paul Jaminet (astrophysicist and economics researcher) and his wife Shou-Ching Shih Jaminet (molecular biologist and cancer researcher) because it is both graphical and well described below the image. If you are interested in learning more about ancestral eating, I would recommend looking at their website. For an anthropological (and economic/culterual) perspective on ancestral eating, I recommend Hunt Gather Love by the wonderful Melissa McEwan, who will also add to your never-ending list of books to read. Victoria Prince is a MD/PhD student in the clinical years of her degree, and writes a blog called Principle into Practice which is not only well written and engaging, but also has all the proper footnotes and loads of specific information for the science-minded and lay-people of the world. Another doc-related blogger is Primalmeded AKA Anastasia, who represents the Aussies and writes truly funny and interesting posts. A place where a lot of people start their primal journey is with Mark’s Daily Apple– Mark knows how to break things down for just about anybody and has very accessible information. For those of you who like to watch your info rather than read it, Dr. Terry Wahl’s Ted Talk’s video brought a lot of popularity to ancestral eating and provides a nice first-person account of their experience with ancestral eating (plus I think her son is the best). There’s another dietetics student blogging away named Laura who can be found at Ancestralize Me. Emily Deans (MD) looks at the link between ancestral diets and mental health in her intriguing blog Evolutionary Psychology. I could go on, but there is a nice variety of blogs you can check out if you are interested or want to burn some time.

This post is essentially me “coming out” as someone who eats ancestrally and is studying dietetics. I’m sure it hasn’t been some well-kept secret and most people had some idea, but I’ve always been a little ambiguous and never directly addressed it. I didn’t want to be one of “those people”, but at the same time I felt like I wasn’t being completely honest. No, I don’t hate vegans, I don’t think all the grains are out to kill you in your sleep, and sometimes it’s hard to hear all the questions over the sound of my ice cream machine churning out delicious full-fat dairy ice cream made with real, actual sugar. I make my own sauerkraut, drink kefir, brine my pork chops, do my steaks rare, make my corn tortillas, and eat dark chocolate every day. Over the next little bit I’ll explain why I specifically eat this way, why sometimes using a label on it is useful (but still sometimes detrimental), and maybe answer some questions along the way. As long as you like food, eat food, and are okay with me eating the food I like, we should get along just fine. For now, I’ll leave it at that and pick up the conversation at a later date. Enjoy the first few days of September and the big gear up for the school year to come!