Free Hugs

It’s wond’rous what a hug can do.
A hug can cheer you when you’re blue.
A hug can say, “I love you so”
or, “Gee I hate to see you go.”

A hug can soothe a small child’s pain
and bring a rainbow after rain.
The hug! There’s just no doubt about it,
we can scarcely survive without it.

A hug delights and warms and charms,
it might be why God gave us arms.

Hugs are great for Fathers and Mothers,
sweet for Sisters, swell for Brothers.
Chances are some favorite Aunts
love them more than potted plants.

Kittens crave them. Puppies love them.
Heads of State are not above them.
A hug can break the language barrier
and make the dullest day seem merrier.

No need to fret about the store of ’em.
The more you give the more there are of ’em.
So stretch those arms without delay, and
Give Someone a Hug Today!
From – The Serious Teddy Bear

Happy National Hug Day!

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Homemade French Yogurt – Oui!

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I love French yogurt – it is thick and creamy, but not as tangy as Greek yogurt.  Sold in their distinctive glass jars, the Oui yogurts are a bit more expensive than some of the other yogurt on the market. But they taste great and at least the glass is recyclable.    Eating a jar of yogurt each day, however, meant a lot of glass going in our recycling container.

Thinking about the phrase “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” to limit our individual impact on the environment, I was as least doing the last step – recycling.  But after a few months, I realized that the jars  may be useful for other things.  So, I started saving the jars, cleaning them and using them for storage, candles, etc. I’ll post pictures and descriptions of some of the projects soon.

Last spring, after purchasing an Instant Pot, I discovered that one of the functions available was for making yogurt.  I thought this would be a great thing to try.  And, if it worked, I would reduce my purchasing glass jars. After reading some information about making yogurt in an instant pot, my first trial was with Greek yogurt since that was the only plain yogurt I could find.  The yogurt turned out well, just as tangy as the commercially available ones but not as thick.  Next, I wanted to try French yogurt, but I could not find any plain French yogurt.  Settling for the next best option, I purchased a jar of vanilla flavored Oui yogurt. After making the first batch, I was really pleased with the flavor but it wasn’t as creamy and thick as I had hoped for.  So, I set out to do some experimenting.

If you want to skip the descriptions of my testing, step-by-step instructions of my current recipe are at the end of this post.

Trial #1: The first few times that I made yogurt, I made batches of 4 cups each directly in the IP stainless steel pot.  Since the French yogurt is manufactured directly in the glass jars, I decided to try that next to see if the consistency would be better. Using  8 ounce jelly jars, I mixed the culture and milk together in individual jars. The resulting yogurt was a bit creamier, but even waiting until after the yogurt set while chilling in the refrigerator, it still not what I was hoping for. Using individual jars were nice however because I did not need to wash the pot before starting the next batch of yogurt.

Trial #2: All of the recipes for making yogurt mentioned the incubation time as a minimum of 8 hours and a maximum of 12 hours.  Since my original batches were each stopped at 8 hours, I decided to try 9, 10, 11 and 12 hours and see if that changed the consistency. Using my 3 quart IP, I could fit four jelly jars in a single batch.  After starting the yogurt and incubating, I removed and labeled one jar at 9 hours, then another at ten, then 11, and the final one was stopped at 12 hours of incubation.  The jars were each placed in the refrigerator and tasted the next day.  This initial test showed that the yogurt became thicker and creamier with longer incubation time.  A repeat of the trial showed similar results. Since these timing trials,  I have used 12 hours for my subsequent yogurt batches.

Trial #3: Do other brands of milk work? Most of the information about making yogurt mentioned using ultrafiltered milk.  I had selected Fairlife whole milk because it was readily available at the stores I shop at.  It is a bit more expensive than other milk, so I did a small trial with the regular 1% milk that we use for drinking and cereals.  I also purchased some whole milk of the same brand.  Don’t try this – the yogurt cultures did not multiply and the result was stale sour milk.  Fairlife whole milk was what I have used ever since.

Trial #4. Chocolate Yogurt? The Fairlife Milk that I used to make yogurt also comes in a chocolate flavor.  Following my set upon recipe, I tried making chocolate yogurt.  The result was okay, but the flavor was not very good.  The amount of chocolate in the milk was not enough to make the yogurt taste like chocolate.  To salvage the yogurt, I mixed in about a half teaspoon of cocoa and a half teaspoon of sugar.  But, I decided chocolate yogurt was really not something I enjoyed.

Trial #5: To add flavor to my yogurt, I was mixing the flavorings in after incubating.  To save that step, I tested whether the flavor and/or sweeteners could be added at the beginning.  I tested adding honey, sugar, Splenda and Stevia.  The results were not very good.  The yogurt tasted more like sweetened curdled milk rather than yogurt.  I would not recommend it.  Likewise, I tried fruit flavors and tested adding lemon juice, lemon curd, orange marmalade and strawberry fruit puree.  The lemon juice was definitely not good.  I did anticipate the the citric acid might make the milk curdle before the yogurt cultures could multiply and I was correct.  The other three were okay, but not great tasting.  I have since been making plain yogurt and adding the flavorings after the yogurt is complete.  This turned out to be a good idea because I can make the next batch of yogurt by taking some of the fresh culture and mixing with milk, rather than relying upon purchased yogurt starter.

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Homemade French Yogurt in an Instant Pot

Ingredients and supplies
Instant Pot (mine was 3 quarts)
8 ounce jelly jars
Hand wisk
Fairlife Ultrafiltered Whole Milk
Yogurt Culture
Plastic Lids (Amazon has colored ones)
Flavorings (per personal preferences)

Directions:

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1. Place approximately 1 teaspoon of plain or vanilla flavored yogurt in a glass jar.
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2. Add 2-3 Tablespoons of Fairlife milk and wisk to disperse into a slurry. 
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3. Fill the glass jar with more milk and wisk slightly. 
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4. Distribute the dilute yogurt culture into the other jars, keeping the amount in each jar approximately consistent. 
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5. Fill each jar with milk and wisk lightly.  Place the jars in the IP directly touching the bottom of the stainless steel pan.  Add lid, select yogurt and set timer for 12 hours.  
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6. Remove the jars, add flavorings as desired, cap and store refrigerated. 

Flavorings:

Sweetener and flavor preferences are very personal.  But here are my favorites:

Orange – orange juice works well, True Orange crystallized fruit powder (Amazon) works better.  But, I prefer the flavor of homemade orange marmalade (2 teaspoons mixed in).

Lemon and Lime – True lemon (Amazon) or True lime (Amazon) crystallized fruit powder works better than juices. The crystallized fruit powder comes in individual packets.  One packet per jar gives a nice flavor.

Vanilla Honey – 1/2 tsp vanilla extract and 1/2 teaspoon honey.

Other Fruit Flavors – I originally used crushed berries for other fruits.  For better flavor, I have found that SmartFruit Smoothie Mix is much better.  There are a variety of flavors available (Amazon).  They are large jars, but they last a really long time.

You can sweeten the yogurt if desired.

A few pointers:

**  Even though the IP is set for 12 hours, you can stop the incubation earlier.  Just make sure the yogurt has been in the IP for at least 8 hours.

**  Refrigerate for a couple hours before eating because the yogurt will be warm when first removed from the IP and the yogurts sets further when cooled.

**  6The first time you make yogurt, you will be using a container of purchased yogurt as your starter culture.  But, you will only need a small amount.  The rest of the yogurt can be stored frozen to use at a later date (or you can just eat it!).  I found some small containers for carrying dressings in lunches at our local Target store.  They were only about $3 for a set of four.  These work really well to portion the culture and freeze.  I purchased two sets, distributed the excess culture into these containers and put them in the freezer.  Now when I go on vacation, I won’t need to purchase new starter to make yogurt after I return. 

**  10After each batch of yogurt is complete, but before adding any flavorings, remove about small amount (approx. 1 tsp) from each jar and place into a clean jar to use as culture for your next batch.  Then just continue with steps two through six above.  If you will not be making another batch right away, place a plastic lid on the jar and refrigerate until you are ready to make the next batch.  I have saved the yogurt this way for up to five days without any change in the yogurt outcome.  I have not gone any longer than five days, so I really do not know how long the cultures will last.

After a day or two in the refrigerator, you may notice some liquid separating from the culture.  This liquid does not affect the outcome, just proceed as described above. So far, I have only used a frozen starter once since starting yogurt making mid- summer.  My current yogurt is from starter that was first used mid September.  It appears that my frozen starter jars should last me a really long time.  

**  If you make a variety of flavors, different colored lids (as seen in the photo in step #6 above) will easily differentiate them.  I even made a small laminated flavor list and posted it inside my refrigerator so everyone knows what is in each jar.

It sure is nice to make homemade yogurt with no preservatives or other additives!

2020 is Finally Here

SMILE

As a pediatric dentist, I have come across all kinds of patients and parents.  Most of the families I see are truly delightful to work with.  Some of my patients are so sweet and kind that they make me really happy that I had chosen this profession.  Still others provide a daily dose of humor that makes me laugh so hard that I have tears in my eyes.

Most parents express their appreciation for the care we provide to their child in some very challenging circumstances. However, occasionally a parent can make my job very difficult – overindulgent parents expecting miracles as we treat their “little angels”.  These parents provide no discipline at home and then expect the trip to the dentist to be like a trip to Disney World and are disappointed when their overprotected child cannot cope when having treatment done. Their disappointment comes out as anger towards me, the dentist. 

About five years ago, I had a week filled with parents like this.  By the end of that week, I was exhausted. That weekend, I came to the conclusion that I did not want to do this job forever.  To give myself a mental lift, I decided to settle on a end date, i.e. my retirement date. Taking multiple things into consideration, I thought I would aim for five years.  Being the summer of 2015, this meant I would plan to retire sometime in 2020.  Thinking a bit more about it, I settled on Monday, November 2nd.  My first day of work with Dentistry for Children and Adolescents was November 2nd, 2000.  So, this date would mark the twentieth anniversary of my starting with the practice. Twenty years in the year 2020 just sounded right.  Over the past five years, when dealing with difficult parents, thinking about this date has been my way of coping.

Well, today marks ten months, to the day, of my selected retirement date.  My office manager asked me to write a short letter to distribute to families over the next months as they come in for their dental appointments. Today, I put pen to paper (or rather – fingers to the keyboard) and wrote out that letter.

Dear Parents and Guardians,

For the past twenty years, I have been blessed to work with my amazing partners and staff at Dentistry for Children and Adolescents.  During those years, I have had the privilege to provide dental care for your children.  It has been a pleasure to have developed professional relationships and, in some cases, friendships with the families I have treated.

Over my life, my career has taken a few “turns in the road”, starting with teaching and research at the U of M, to private practice where I have enjoyed guiding patients to having the best dental health that is possible.  Looking ahead, in November I will be transitioning to the next phase of my life.  What that phase will involve has yet to be finalized.  I have many hobbies and interests, some of which I have highlighted in my personal blog (ericksonsheirlooms.com).  If you want to follow along with what I am doing, please do so. I have other ideas that I may pursue as well.

Thank you for your confidence in me over the years.  I wish you and your children all the best in the future.

Sincerely,

Pamela R Erickson, DDS, PhD

While I will enjoy the next ten months as a pediatric dentist, I look forward to the freedom that retirement will give me.

The end of a decade

It’s the last day of 2019 and the busy holiday season is nearly over.  Since I am not someone who normally spends New Year’s Eve at a party, I am relaxing in my craft room and reflecting upon the last year.

The highlights of our year were put together into a short slideshow and interactive crossword puzzle that was sent to family and friends as an electronic Christmas card.

 

As seen in the video, it was a busy year filled with many happy days.  There were, however,  some sad days as well.  As previously mentioned, my father passed away a few weeks ago.  Earlier this year, we also said good-bye to cat, Squigglez, and then a few months later our little yorkie, Duke.  These two pets had been in our home for many, many years.

Reflecting back on the year, I have had some fun family adventures, started a new hobby and completed many projects, some of which I have not written about.

It always seems a bit overwhelming to put into words what I have done. Recently, I mentioned this to a friend.  Her comment was that I should do smaller, daily blogs – briefly writing about what I did each day.  I said I thought this might be a good idea, but I worried about annoying everyone by overloading their inboxes. So, that idea will wait for some future date. 

Looking ahead, this next year is expected to be an eventful year.

My prayer is that your year will be happy and healthy!

All Things Grinch

Last December during a longer lunch break, I walked by a uniform store. Glancing in the window of the store, a couple items caught my eye.  Displayed high on one of the walls, I saw long sleeved red scrub jackets.  On another display below the jackets were bright green scrub pants.  When I saw them, it made me think – Grinch.  When I went into the store, I discovered that the displays were not directly adjacent, it was just an illusion created by looking through the window.  That visual image, however, gave me a creative idea for work, so I purchased a red scrub jacket and a pair of green pants. I have worn both of these items at work, but not together.img_4295 Now that the Christmas season is here, it was time to put them together.

To create the costume, I designed an digital embroidery pattern (using Art and Stitch) based upon a Grinch face in a child’s coloring book.  The face was embroidered onto green fleece and sewn, like a visor, inside the front edge of a pre-made Santa hat.  To complete the costume, I even found matching green gloves and red Poinsettia shoe on Amazon.

Wearing the costume at work has proven to be a good behavior management strategy.  For the past week, I have had great patient and parent cooperation, even with patients who have not been good in the past!

img_4307A few days after I made my visor, I was shopping at Target.  When walking past the boy’s clothing section, I noticed some green gloves that were the exact shade of the fleece I had used.  Since I had excess fleece, I purchased two pair of gloves and made a couple Grinch hats.  To complete the winter wear sets, I embroidered a triple heart (because, according to the story, the Grinch’s heart grew three sizes), and made neck warmers.  I will be donating these two sets of “Grinch Gear” to the Hats and Mittens collection next year.

For holiday fun, I decided to make some Grinch treats to share at work and with my sons.  Here are a couple recipes:

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Grinch Shortbread Cookies (makes 36)
1 cup  butter, room temperature
1 cup granular sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cup Gluten-free flour
1 cup  Almond Flour
green food coloring
Red Jolly Rancher candies

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9×13-inch baking pan with parchment paper.

Beat together butter and sugars until creamy.  Add vanilla, egg and food coloring and mix until creamy.  Whisk together flours and salt.  Gradually mix dry ingredients into batter. Chill for at least one hour.  Roll out dough to 1/4″ on a lightly floured surface.  Cut out a larger heart with a small heart in the middle.  Place a Jolly Rancher in the middle heart hole.  Bake for 10 minutes. Cool completely before removing from parchment paper.

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Grinch Fur – aka Haystacks (makes 36)
12 ounces dark green Candy Melts
12 ounces vibrant green Candy Melts
1 1/2 cups peanuts
12 ounces Chow Mien Noodles
Candy Hearts

Directions:
Place Candy melts in an 10 cup microwave safe  glass bowl.  Microwave approximately 2 minutes.  Stir well until all pieces of candy are melted and blended together.  Stir in peanuts and Chow Mien Noodles.  Place by spoonfuls onto waxed paper and top each with a candy heart. Refrigerate until set.  Store in an airtight container.

Grinch Poppers (see my original post 12-22-18)

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Hats/Scarf Sets and Reindeer Brookies

Again this year, my dental office participated in the collection for the Hats & Mittens Organization. The boxes of donated items were picked up on Thursday.  About 150 items were donated at our three offices.

Like last year, I knit several items to donate.  New this year, several of the scarves that I included in the sets were woven. The hats and scarves were combined with purchased gloves to make winter sets.  Hopefully these sets will keep the children and teens who receive them nice and warm this winter.

Linen Stitch Scarf and Swirl Knit HatIMG_3272

Ombre Teal to Brown Knit Scarf and HatIMG_3269

Dotty Stitch Hat and CowlIMG_3265

Woven Scarf with Cable KnitIMG_3264

Woven Scarf with Swirl Knit HatIMG_3261

Woven Scarf / Ribbed Knit HatIMG_3236

Woven Scarf / Ribbed Knit HatIMG_3233

Woven Scarf / Ribbed Knit HatIMG_3230

Rib Knit Hat and Cashmere ScarfIMG_3228

Dotty Stitch Hat and Striped ScarfIMG_2971

Boa Yarn Knit Scarf and HatIMG_2944

As a special treat, I am including the recipe for the Reindeer Brookies I made today.  Kinda fun and very tasty!

Reindeer Brookies (makes 36, plus scraps from cutting triangles)
img_4285Cookie Base 
1/2 cup  butter, room temperature
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup granular sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 cup flour
1 cup  chocolate chips (I used Andes Candies chips)

Brownie Layer 
1/2 cup  butter, melted
1 cup granular sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup Triple Cocoa Blend
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 cup flour

Chocolate Frosting and Decorations
1/4 cup  butter, softened
1/4 cup Triple Cocoa Blend
2  Tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/4 cup powdered sugar
Pretzels, broken
Mini M & Ms, red and brown
Sugar eyes

Directions:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a 9×13-inch baking pan with parchment paper.

Beat together butter and sugars until creamy.  Add vanilla and egg and mix until creamy.  Whisk together flour, salt and baking soda.  Gradually mix dry ingredients into batter. Stir in chips. Spread dough into bottom of the pan.

Beat together butter and sugar until creamy.  Add vanilla and egg and mix until creamy.  Whisk together flour, cocoa, salt and baking powder.  Gradually mix dry ingredients into batter. Spread batter evenly over the cookie dough.  Bake for 20-25 minutes. Cool completely. Once cooled, cut into 3″ x 1 1/2″ triangles.

Beat together butter, cocoa, milk and vanilla until creamy.  Add powdered sugar slowly, beating slowly at first until incorporated, then beat at medium high speed until frosting is smooth and creamy, about 1 minute. Spread over cooled brookies. Place pretzel pieces to look like antlers.  Add sugar eyes and noses to complete the decorating of the reindeer.