Whole Lotta Yogurt Love

Every time I hear Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love" I think of frozen yogurt. An odd pairing I know, but growing up in a house filled with both food and music, bizarre combinations were bound to occur. My father was a musician, a die-hard 60's rocker whose claim to fame was as bassist and singer for a Vegas lounge act called The Sister's Love. Though forced to attend law school by his unsatisfied parents, he never let go of his musical passion. Throughout my childhood (and even now), our house bled classic rock, complete with my father's weekly rants on how this music, his music, was influential beyond comparison. The Who, The Doors and Led Zepplin screeched and howled from our record player at a constantly-growing pitch and soon I had a thing for every long-haired boy in my 2nd grade class. Classic rock was the glue that bound my father and me together. Though the pair of us often used our short-sparking tempers to fight most days, we could always re-connect over a dose of Eric Clapton. It actually took me years to enjoy Neal Young after my father deemed his whiny, high-pitched voice "unlistenable".

For a good decade of my childhood, my family went down to the Oxnard docks several nights a week to enjoy post-dinner frozen yogurt. In a brightly-lit and grungy food mall, with sushi on one end (the site of my first raw fish experience) and Buster's Ribs at the other, stood our family shrine: the frozen yogurt mecca we frequented far too often to ever tell anyone. With my father leading the pack, we ran to the yogurt machines, mouths agape, tongues wagging, to fill our Styrofoam cups. That's right, it was a shop that charged by weight! It was a great competition to see who could pack the most yogurt into their unfortunately small-sized cups, and with at least six flavors to choose from, all our containers ended up as bizarre amalgamations of lopsided peanut butter, pistachio and chocolate swirled hill. At least those were my top choices. My sister often dove into the fruit flavors, finishing hers with vanilla dollops. My father was allowed to get a medium-sized cup, a perk of being the "grown-up", which easily fit almost every flavor. I say almost because he usually dropped a bit of each flavor into his cup to taste before committing to an entire swirl (not that he hadn't already tasted them all before). A genius move I thought, though Mom called it "stealing". The second best part of these excursions was the music. No matter what day or time we went, there was always a seemingly stoned, Classic rock-blaring teenager manning the cash register. Occasionally a bit of Bob Marley crept in, but more often than not I served myself to Robert Plant and his crew. It seemed appropriate at the time. I certainly did have a whole lotta love for that frozen yogurt and with my Dad's everyday uniform of a tie-dyed Grateful Dead t-shirt, it seemed apropos. The songs spoke of love, longing and sexual desire...emotions, at least the first two, I felt deeply when eying my cup of sweet creamy goodness.

Frozen yogurt was, for many years, the joy of my life. When I broke my arm as a kid, I requested Campbell's chicken noodle soup and frozen yogurt as my recovery meal. But honestly, it was a healing force for us all. No matter what happened in our respective days, when we piled into the car, destination yogurt, our troubles melted away. Worried about money? Let's go for yogurt. Kids driving you crazy? Yogurt time. Michael Shuman has a crush on Michele Lenear (how could he do that to me!)? Give me frozen yogurt!!! The cold sweetness and repetitive dipping and licking motions cooled our overheated systems and quickly promised our brains, with a sugar-induced serotonin surge, that everything was going to be okay. Eventually our habits changed, and we released frozen yogurt to embrace Healthy Choice's Low Fat Cappuccino Chocolate Chunk, a green and white colored carton (colors obviously chosen to evoke health) that consistently appeared in my family freezer up until my mid-twenties.

Two weeks after my 22nd birthday (and right after my last traditional Thanksgiving splurge), I gave up dairy. Cold turkey! Letting go of butter, cream cheese, milk and sour cream was easy. Almost too easy. But it was the frozen dessert delicacies that cut deep. Ice cream had brought my family together and kept us from tearing each other apart. With my renunciation of "all things yummy" as my sister put it, I divorced myself from the only activity that gave us collective joy. Never again was there something we all shared in the same way. 2002 was the year it all changed, the year I broke from the family ritual to embark on my holistic eating journey that was set to rip me apart and make me whole again. And though frozen yogurt never made it onto the scene again, there were to be many nights of cooking brown rice with my classic rock companions.

Homemade Yogurt

Makes 1/2 gallon

Four years later, dairy reappeared in my life in one of the most beautiful locations. The Greek isle of Santorini! We were on our honeymoon and I decided to let loose and eat whatever I wanted, which included a few tablespoons of homemade yogurt drowning in local honey. I can't even begin to tell you how good it tasted. Rich and thick with a hint of tang, oh goodness, I though I had died and gone to heaven. The best part about it was my body liked it! No gurgling, no gas, no bloating, nothing. It took me another two years to muster the strength and make my own, but it was worth the wait.

(**Look for the bowl of yogurt in the photo to the right)

Here is an easy recipe for homemade yogurt. I have a yogurt maker but if you don't want to buy one, here is a quick guide to explain what you need.

1/2 gallon organic whole milk (I use Strauss) 1/2 cup organic whole yogurt (again, Strauss)

Place the milk in a large pot and turn the heat to medium. Place a clip-on thermometer on the side of the pot to keep tabs on the heat. Once the milk has reached 180 degrees, turn the heat off and allow the milk to cool to 105-110 degrees. (This can be done quickly if the pot is placed in an ice bath.)

In the meantime, place lukewarm water to the line indicated on the inside of your yogurt maker. Add the organic yogurt to the yogurt container and set aside. (The container that comes with the maker is plastic, which I don't love. I bought a large glass jar to use instead that works beautifully.) Once the milk has cooled, pour a few cups of milk into the yogurt container, making sure to stir well as you go. Add the remaining milk and stir thoroughly. Put the lid of the yogurt container, place the container in the yogurt maker, and leave it alone for at least 8 hours.

Now, the longer you let the yogurt sit the more tangy it will become. I like mine very tangy so I let it sit for almost 24 hours. However, 24 hours is the longest you want your yogurt to sit.

Once the yogurt is done, place it in the fridge overnight to set. Serve and enjoy!

**If you want to make Greek yogurt, before you put the yogurt into the fridge to chill, line a colander or fine mesh strainer with tightly woven cheese cloth or a clean dish towel. Spoon the yogurt on the towel and use the loose ends of the towel to cover the yogurt. Let the yogurt drain for about 3 hours or until it has reached the desire consistency. Once done, scoop the yogurt back into the original container and put it in the fridge to chill. What is left in the bowl is whey, which can be used to ferment vegetables, soak grain, or to add to soup. Don't throw it out.

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