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Doing Mornings

There are moments when I’m truly happy we don’t have cable. This week, a time that finds us amidst the Facebook fiasco, is one of them. Even without TV, I feel like I can’t escape news of the IPO, stock prices, shareholder reactions, and future projections. But in last Sunday’s paper I read something that caught my attention. Mark Zuckerberg’s now wife, Priscilla Chan, made a request of him before moving in together: 100 minutes of alone time each week. And a vacation each year. My first reaction was one of mild shock: only 100 minutes?! I turned to Sam and told him about these agreements that are becoming more and more popular amongst couples — the drive to tell each other what you need from the relationship. The New York Times compared it to kind of an emotional prenup. It all sounded a bit formal and calculated to me. Wasn’t this depressing, I asked Sam? He glanced at me with a look that said that it really wasn’t at all. In fact, at that very moment, we were having our version of 100 minutes. 


When you move to a new city and move in with someone for the first time, routines are important. And establishing those routines takes a little while. I’m lucky to have fallen in love with a man that finds routine and ritual very, very important. I know not everyone is like this. So on Sundays for the past month now, we go to one of our favorite bakeries in Seattle and bring the paper. Sometimes we’ll go in the late morning, sometimes we don’t make it until an hour before they close. Sometimes we’re rushing to get the farmer’s market in as well or tearing ourselves away from the computer screen or the garden at a moment that seems completely non-conducive to quiet newspaper reading and croissant eating. Last Sunday was hectic with errands and new projects but Sam insisted we set aside just 45 minutes. It’s our thing.

We order coffees and a chocolate croissant to share (and often a few other sweets). One particular Sunday I may really dive into a meaty article while another morning will find me perusing the Style Section or reading Modern Love and people watching. There’s really no expectation or hope for the morning other than just showing up. Read a few paragraphs or a dozen pages — it doesn’t matter, but be there for that time with each other. It’s become how we do Sunday mornings.


The rest of the week? I’m guessing it probably looks a lot like your mornings. Kind of a harried dash to make coffee and get to work. I’m trying to get better about eating breakfast right away, but it’s usually a later mid-morning endeavor that consists lately of homemade yogurt, farmers market fruit, and toasted amaranth.

If you’re not familiar with amaranth, it’s much like quinoa, a seed that folks generally lump into the category of “whole grains.” It’s gluten-free and especially high in protein and calcium — if you stroll into any grocery store with a decent bulk section you’ll likely see it. As for how to use it, there are a few ways : first, soak it and cook it much like quinoa or millet to make a pilaf to serve with veggies and salads. It also makes a wonderful porridge when cooked with coconut milk. But my favorite way to cook amaranth is by toasting it in a hot skillet on the stovetop and sprinkling it over my yogurt or granola in the morning. The teeny tiny grains puff up much like mini popcorn. Try it. Then toss toasted amaranth on virtually anything: cereals, salads, soups, in smoothies. Maybe it’ll become your new thing — the way you do mornings. On days other than Sunday, I’m right there with you.


As for homemade yogurt, once you make it once, you’ll likely never buy it at the store again. It’s so simple, so much cheaper, and cuts down on all of those plastic containers. I recently bought a yogurt maker and am in love with it, but you can absolutely make yogurt without it, too. I’ll include instructions for both here. Just note that the yogurt will take anywhere from 9-14 hours so you don’t want to start yogurt on a day you actually want to enjoy it. Start it in the evening on a slow weekend and it’ll be all set mid-day on the next day. Sure, you have to think through the timing but that’s about the end of the thought involved.

O.k., I lied. You need to quickly consider your starter. Essentially yogurt is simply milk with added starter that’s kept in a warm place to culture. You can buy a powdered starter like this one online or at a well-stocked grocery store. Or just use store-bought yogurt as your starter. Both work just fine. Just make sure the yogurt you’re purchasing states that it has “live and active cultures” or lists them in the ingredient list. Now about that warm place? I’ve talked with many people who have had luck wrapping their jar of yogurt in a towel and placing it in a warm spot in the house. Our house is old and drafty, so I haven’t had luck with that; instead, I put mine in a little camping cooler alongside a couple jars of hot water. This creates a warm little nest that makes for happy, firm yogurt. The trick is to use as small of a cooler as possible — the larger the cooler, the harder it is to maintain a nice warm temperature.

Homemade Yogurt with Roasted Strawberries & Toasted Amaranth
For this recipe, feel free to use low-fat or fat-free milk if you’d prefer. I think whole milk yogurt just tastes better, so I call for it here. Soy milk generally doesn’t have active cultures, so it isn’t a good candidate. If you’re smart, you may decide to do a double batch of these roasted strawberries and use them later spooned over vanilla ice cream or ladled on top of a simple butter cake.

Makes: About 6 servings

Special Equipment: Kitchen thermometer/candy thermometer

For the yogurt:
5 cups whole milk
3 tablespoons yogurt (or 3 tablespoons powdered starter*)
*Read the back of your particular starter packet for quantity suggestions specific to that brand

For the roasted strawberries & amaranth:
16 oz strawberries, hulled
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
dash black pepper
2 tablespoons amaranth

Make Yogurt:
1. Pour the milk into a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan and over low heat, bring the temperature up to 185 F. Don’t stir during this time.
2. Remove from heat and allow the temperature to drop to 115F. If you want to speed this process up, slightly submerge the saucepan in a sink filled with a few inches of cold water. If your soon-to-be yogurt develops a skin on top, skim it off with a spoon and discard.
3. Once the temperature reaches 115 F, add your starter (powdered starter or store-bought yogurt) and whisk quickly to combine.
4. Process your yogurt:

Yogurt Maker Method: Divvy the milk mixture into the small glass cups of your yogurt maker and follow the manufacturer’s instructions on processing. You can expect a general processing time of 7-9 hours here.After processing, refrigerate for 2 hours before enjoying.

The “Old Fashioned” Method: Gather 2-4 large glass mason jars (depending on the size of your cooler) with lids and fill two of them with very hot water. Screw on caps and place in cooler. These will help maintain a warm temperature in the cooler. In the remaining jar, pour in the milk mixture and screw on lid. Wrap the jar snugly in a towel, place in the small cooler, and close the lid. Taking care not to jostle the cooler, set in the warmest spot in the house. Check progress in 10 hours. On occasion, depending on temperature and starter, my yogurt has taken up to 14 hours using this method. Once firm, refrigerate for 2 hours before enjoying. Do note that the yogurt will firm up a little further in the refrigerator, so if it’s looser than you like it, don’t worry (and, see “Note on Yogurt Thickness” below).

Roast Strawberries & Toast Amaranth:
1. Line a baking sheet with parchment & set aside. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
2. Cut strawberries in half lengthwise. If they’re very large berries, you can quarter them instead.
3. In a medium-sized bowl, combine the honey, balsamic vinegar, maple syrup, olive oil, salt and pepper.
4. Add the strawberries and toss until they are fully coated.
5. Turn the berries out onto lined baking sheet and roast until the fruit has softened and the juices are just beginning to thicken, about 40 minutes.
6. To toast amaranth: Place a small, dry saucepan over high heat (don’t use a low-sided skillet as the amaranth will jump as they puff). Get the pan very hot before adding the amaranth; shake the pan continuously until most of the seeds have puffed up. If some of the seeds start turning a darker color — that’s o.k. Some are stubborn and don’t necessarily want to pop, so if you have a good mix of puffed and little-bit-darker amaranth, you’re in business. If you have extra, store in a little air-tight jar and use throughout the week.

Note on Yogurt Thickness: If your yogurt is too lose or you prefer a Greek-style yogurt, simply drain you homemade yogurt. Line a colander with cheesecloth or a very fine weave dishcloth and place it above a large bowl. Strain the yogurt. Either discard the liquid (whey) that strains away — alternatively, many folks cook with it. Scoop the remaining thicker yogurt into a bowl; enjoy.


  1. Posted May 31, 2012 at 9:12 am

    Can’t wait to try some of this homemade yogurt next week!!! Wheeeeeeeee!!!!!!

  2. Posted May 31, 2012 at 9:16 am

    I was telling a friend how my husband and I recently started a weekly date night — the whole night just for us to hang out no other projects — and she mentioned that article. Your Sunday morning routine sounds lovely and the roasted strawberries look delicious.

  3. Posted May 31, 2012 at 9:49 am

    This is super cool! I love your Sunday time and it involves you love plus a croissant, so to me, that is heaven! I am going to try my hand at this yogurt venture. I eat yogurt and fruit for breakfast most days, but have never made it, and this frankly makes it seem very doable. Thank you:)

  4. Posted May 31, 2012 at 11:09 am

    That sounds like a fantastic way to spend a shared morning off together. I am going to propose doing the same the next time I see my lady. You have also reignited my intrest in popping amaranth! When last I tried there was much burning and cursing, but I will begin the quest anew!

    Great post, well worth the extra week :)

  5. Posted May 31, 2012 at 2:34 pm

    Hmmm, I kind of like that emotion prenup ;) But, I also, love our alone time, with the other sitting near by. Just this week, I poured a glass of wine, curled up no the couch next to my man, for my alone time of reading thru my RSS feed (just as good as trashy magazines). I could not imagine doing that without him there.

    I have to admit – I am jealous that someone get’s to try this yogurt next week. :( And, aren’t roasted strawberries the best. I cannot imagine anything more lovely during the summer.

    xo

  6. Posted May 31, 2012 at 4:36 pm

    To be fair, love, I do find that emotional prenup a bit sad, at least for its modesty. 100 minutes per week? Weak. That said, I’m all for romantic ambitions and resolutions to see them through. I’d simply hope for quite a bit more time in your company than that. (Perhaps when Marge values out at gabillion dollars we’ll have less free time, though?)

    So long as I’m being fair, let me say that these are some lovely photos, Tiny. Nearly so lovely as have been these mornings.

  7. Posted May 31, 2012 at 10:07 pm

    What a beautiful breakfast. I think making time for each other, together and apart, is so important in a relationship – and I love the idea of your 45 minutes of peace over a chocolate croissant :-)

  8. megang
    Posted June 1, 2012 at 8:30 am

    Hi, Denise. Yes that downtime is so good. And I’m tempted to make a huge batch of roasted strawberries just to have around at all times. One of my new favorite things. We’ll miss you next week, but I know I’ll see you soon!

  9. megang
    Posted June 1, 2012 at 8:30 am

    Thanks, Ryan! Yes I burned my first batch of amaranth, actually. I think the trick is to only add it when the pan is hot, hot, hot. Nice seeing you last night!

  10. Posted June 1, 2012 at 9:52 am

    I haven’t tried amaranth, but this is the third time I’ve come across the idea of toasting it into mini-popcorn – now I have to try it. + Roasted strawberries? Yum!
    On the 100 minutes, I can’t imagine. I need so much more than that, but I appreciate hearing about that kind of prenup instead of the financial kind (which always makes me wonder if the marriage is doomed from the start).
    I like to make yogurt too – I use the bread proof setting on my oven (100 degrees) and put the jars inside a covered canning pot with hot water up to the rim. It makes gorgeous yogurt in about 6 hours.
    Thanks Megan!

  11. megang
    Posted June 1, 2012 at 9:57 am

    Marissa-Do you have a gas oven? I heard putting them in and just the heat of the pilot light will work. We have a moody electric oven so I was scared to try putting it on low and walking away, but maybe I should? Thanks so much for your sweet comment — try amaranth. They’re pretty amazing little seeds!

  12. Posted June 2, 2012 at 9:29 am

    that pic where it’s in the bowl all mixed together…. glorious. Makes my cinnamon raisin bagel hide its head in shame.

  13. Posted June 2, 2012 at 11:52 am

    Very much enjoyed this post! I have been munching my way through alot of strawberries recently! I will definitely try my own yoghurt soon!

  14. jenny
    Posted June 2, 2012 at 2:06 pm

    I’m excited to give amaranth a try. I already love yogurt with fresh or roasted fruit in the morning. a question for you, though: how would you describe the flavor of amaranth? I have tried quinoa for breakfast and was turned off by using it in a non-savory application. (love it for lunch and dinner, cooked in chicken stock, though.) does amaranth have more of a nutty flavor?

  15. Posted June 2, 2012 at 6:03 pm

    Hi Megan – Hmmm, I would be afraid to leave a moody oven on low too. We replaced our oven last year – it’s electric, but the bread proof setting is lower than a lot of ovens will allow so I feel comfortable leaving it.
    Definitely going to try the amaranth! :)

  16. megang
    Posted June 2, 2012 at 10:26 pm

    Hi Jenny! Great question. People often describe amaranth as having a “grassy” or “pungent” flavor. I actually don’t get this myself, but I do think it definitely has a robust, earthy flavor. Good news though: toasting it takes that away…so this is a great first way to jump into the world of amaranth. Enjoy the recipe and the rest of your weekend! ~m

  17. Frances
    Posted June 3, 2012 at 9:47 am

    I use my oven to insulate my yogurt too — I have an electric start gas oven (no pilot) — What I do is put my jars of yogurt in a stock pot of ~110 degree water and then leave the oven light on – the oven light by itself seems to be sufficient to keep it around 100 in there. Sometimes if I’m concerned and going to be around during the incubation process I’ll turn the oven on low for a couple of minutes every few hours – The stock pot of water keeps the yogurt from getting intense heat.

    Oh – and when I was a kid my mom insulated the jars of yogurt in a zero degree sleeping bag ….

  18. Posted June 3, 2012 at 10:31 am

    We never set up our TV when we moved to Switzerland (not that there is anything to watch anyway) but it was the best decision we ever made – our time is the time we spend together at dinner every night, where we don’t feel rushed to watch a show or tempted to eat in front of the tv. We also love finding ourselves at cafes on the weekend, a change of scenery is always nice.

    I make oatmeal every morning for breakfast and I think roasted strawberries and amaranth will be a great addition! I’m also going to get a yogurt maker one of these days. I think we would get a lot of use out of it and there is something so satisfying about making typically store-bought items at home, my current favorite being ricotta.

  19. Posted June 4, 2012 at 9:57 am

    Cafe Besalu is a non-negotiable stop on every last one of our trips back home. Usually twice. If I can swing it, thrice. Ginger biscuits are my weakness, though everyone else in my home sides with your pain au chocolats. Better than Paris. Worth the 30 minute wait.

    And roasted strawberries are about the best thing since homemade, unsliced bread. We’re going picking tomorrow. You can bet some will meet this fate.

    Counting down the days until August and our own Besalu rendez-vous…

  20. megang
    Posted June 4, 2012 at 1:01 pm

    I agree, Molly. Better than Paris. I tried to get some info. on the Ginger Biscuits yesterday (no luck — no one feels like talking much about that recipe, that’s for sure. Shoot). They are so light and wonderful! Worth the wait. Every time. Have you tried their lemon tarts? You must next time you’re here.

    How fun: strawberry picking! I love it…I’ll have to look into some berry picking around here. If you have time to sneak away while you’re here in August, we should grab a coffee. Have a wonderful week! ~m

  21. Posted June 4, 2012 at 2:57 pm

    It´s the nicest feeling having those together routines; I believe they are the ones that truly make for a lasting bond. I´m starting to roast strawberries and it´s been the sweetest discovery. Your version is more sophisticated and it sounds perfect with yogurt. I use amaranth flour for bread, but should start investigating the seeds.

  22. Posted June 6, 2012 at 4:23 pm

    I’m intrigued by your popped amaranth! I really want to try this. I had the same reaction when I read about the 100 minute agreement. It made me sad! But, it’s true that we all have our rituals (our little agreements). Your Sunday mornings sound pretty fabulous, newspaper, croissant and all.

  23. Posted June 8, 2012 at 6:23 am

    I followed these exact same instructions last week for yogurt, and I used the same machine, and I left it for 12 hours, and it came out really watery and weird – some of the jars were almost half water when I took them out. And I used whole milk! Any idea what went wrong?

  24. megang
    Posted June 8, 2012 at 12:49 pm

    Elizabeth: Oh, no! Yogurt can be a little moody, and there are a few things that could’ve gone wrong: Are you sure the yogurt you used says “live and active cultures”? Some are more active than others (I haven’t had great luck with Greek yogurt, strangely). If so, I’d try a different brand of yogurt (Stonyfield or Nancy’s work well for me). Generally speaking I find you don’t need as much yogurt as a starter as most people think, and I’m usually o.k. with 1 tablespoon for every 2.5-3 cups of milk or so, but after reading your comment and thinking through home cook’s process I went ahead and raised the quantity of yogurt to 3 tablespoons in this recipe just to account for all types of yogurt out there … a little more of a weaker starter is much safer. So I’d say try it with a different yogurt and use 3 tablespoons. So sorry for the inconvenience … to be honest, I had to futz with the recipe three times before getting a successful batch and I think that had a lot to do with finding the right starter. So love to hear how it goes if you make it again. Happy weekend, and thanks for the feedback. ~m

  25. Posted June 8, 2012 at 6:00 pm

    Your post intro resonated with me! Just yesterday I was listening to Joy & Tracy’s podcast on HomeFries about getting/being in a rut. And as a part of that they spoke about relationship rut & it kind of stayed with me the entire day. My husband & I started talking about it on one of our rare us/couple-time together & we realized how we make time for work but have forgotten to reserve some time just for ourselves. Thanks for this thoughtful post and the wonderful recipe.

  26. megang
    Posted June 9, 2012 at 4:58 pm

    Thanks, Peetu. Glad you enjoyed the post and the recipe — certainly always easier to make time for the “have to’s” in our day to day life (work), isn’t it? Hope you’re having a great weekend, ~m

  27. Posted June 20, 2012 at 3:47 pm

    I’ve just recently gotten into making my own yogurt, so I got excited when I read your suggestion for a unique yogurt topping. So I roasted some of the local strawberries that are just coming in around Seattle, popped some amaranth, and enjoyed a bowl this morning. I don’t think I’d ever eaten amaranth before, but it really made the dish. It adds a nice bit of dry and crunchy texture to the yogurt and strawberries. Thank you very much, Megan, for the yummy alternative to the usual granola topping. (Not that there’s anything wrong with adding granola to yogurt. [insert Marge Granola plug here])

    To Elizabeth @ Coppertop Kitchen: I’ve had a few batches of yogurt that didn’t quite make it for one reason or another, but I’ve found a few tricks that have helped solidify my yogurt more regularly:
    1. Make sure the temperature is below 118ºF before adding the starter, so the bacteria you’re adding doesn’t die off.
    2. Mix the starter with just about a cup of the warmed milk before whisking it into the rest of the warmed milk to ensure it fully breaks up and mixes.
    3. And for a more reliably solid yogurt, before warming the milk, add about 1/4 cup of powdered milk (for the amount of milk above). I’ve found Organic Valley non-fat powdered milk at a few local stores in the baking section.

  28. megang
    Posted June 20, 2012 at 4:40 pm

    This is great, Drew. Thanks so much for saying hello and the feedback on the recipe — so glad you liked the amaranth; doesn’t it rock? And your yogurt tips are fantastic, too. I’ve heard about adding powdered milk to the mixture but haven’t tried it yet myself. Going to have to give it a go. Hope you’re having a wonderful week, ~m

  29. Meg in VT
    Posted July 9, 2012 at 11:07 am

    Yay for home made yogurt! I’ve been making it for years. Once you get it going, you never have to buy yogurt again, and one’s own fresh yogurt is the best starter going. I only have to use 1 TBSP per quart for perfect yogurt. NB that using too much starter can also cause it to fail (too many organisms crowded together make too much acid, kill them off too soon…. or something. I know this is true from Harold McGee, the Joy of Cooking’s old edition, and trial and error). In the winter we have a warm wood stove to use for a warm place, but the rest of the year I fill up a stock pot with hot water from the tap, put the jar in, and that works just fine.

  30. megang
    Posted July 9, 2012 at 3:50 pm

    Hi Meg! Thanks for the comment … yes, I’ve found the same thing with the starter. I’ve had success with 2 tbsp of yogurt for this recipe, but 3 works too and I know a few readers had trouble with just 2, so I decided to write it in stone with 3 tbsp. How wonderful that you have a wood oven at home … that would definitely qualify as a great warm place. Happy yogurt making to you, and have a great week!

  31. Cecilia
    Posted September 18, 2012 at 5:30 am

    Please send e-mails by subscription. Make yogurt all the time. I am lactose intolerant, so I use lactose free milk and lactose free yogurt the first time. I now use my own yogurt as the starter. Am about to try the greek yogurt as I love the thicker texture.

  32. megang
    Posted September 22, 2012 at 11:57 am

    Cecilia: You can subscribe via email by entering your email address in the box to the top left of the blog. Thank you! ~m

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