the best junk mail

11 Jun

I woke up this morning to a mysterious email in my Yogurt Pedaler inbox.
It was so much fun to read, I decided to share:

Hello purchasing manager,

We know your company from the web, do you want to cooperate with our company?

We are manufacturer and exporter of milking machine, milk cooling storage tank, mixing tank, sterilization tank etc equipment in China with 8 years experience. We can provide you with good quality and competitive price. If you are interested in our machine, pls send inquiry to us, we will offer you then. Thanks.

Zhejiang ripu pharmacy equipment co.,ltd
Add: No.588,19building.3way,12Road,
Binhai park,wenzhou city,zhejiang province

At least they got the dairy part right!

PechaKucha with the Yogurt Pedaler!

28 May

When I ride my bike with my yogurt cart around Chicago, I mostly get strange stares and averted glances, and a few enthusiastic shout-outs. But there are some times I can’t help but glow at the amazing people and projects in this city.

Friday was an exceptional showcase of these inspirational people. I went to a great event in Pilsen about street food and vendors of various kinds. Check it out, you won’t be sorry: the Nite Market.

I’m also super excited and flattered to be speaking at the next Pecha Kucha Night Chicago!! Come see me tell a story about yogurt, to the tune of 20 slides progressing behind my head out of my control.

Mark your calenders: June 7, 8:00 pm, at Martyrs’ (3855 N. Lincoln Ave).
I am one of 10 presenters, and it’s sure to be a lively evening, so get your tickets early! (So I’m told, by regulars and organizers)

More details on the PechaKucha website (buy tickets through Martyrs’) and on Facebook if you like the Yogurt Pedaler! (Let’s see how this social media thing works.)

Springtime in Chicago

20 May

The Yogurt Pedaler has been busy this spring – I had two great events in May, one teaching 2nd graders about yogurt on the southwest side of Chicago, and another at the fantastic ReBuilding Exchange’s DIY Craft Fair in Bucktown.

I made a new friend in May. Her name is Mari, and she is one of those people whose patience I profoundly admire – she’s an elementary school teacher. Mari spent the month of May teaching her 2nd grade class about food, and she wanted me to come teach them a bit about yogurt. Her kids were fantastic – they were shocked to find out you could milk goats and buffalo, and they loved the idea that the magic of yogurt happened because of bacteria – once I convinced them that not all germs are bad germs. Then I had them taste some homemade, plain yogurt, and I asked them to describe it. “It tastes like vomit!” seemed to be the consensus, and when I pointed the udders out on photos of the cows we were sharing, a few declared the dirt was gross and they would never drink milk or eat yogurt again.

I was terrified I had scared them away from any dairy products, but Mari later comforted me by saying they visited a farm a few days later and every one of the kids tried their hands at milking a cow and tasting some of the fresh milk.

Poor cow.

A few days later, I taught yogurt-making to an entirely different audience. The ReBuilding Exchange was hosting their “Going Against the Grain: DIY Fair” and I found myself surrounded by kindred spirits. Beekeepers and honey makers, home brewers, gardeners, bike mechanics, cake bakers, and chicken parents made good company to the Yogurt Pedaler, and I ran out of my supply of yogurt less than an hour into the event.

Every time I do a workshop or demonstration like this, I learn just as much as I teach, since most people have some experience or obscure knowledge about dairy products. This time, I came away with a real desire to experiment with making flavored yogurt – and I’m sure if I succeed, the kids in Mari’s class will like me a lot more!

The Op Shop

1 May

There are plenty of reasons to love Hyde Park, the neighborhood I call home in Chicago. One of those reasons is the Op Shop, a temporary art and community space that occupies vacant storefronts throughout the neighborhood. The first one was in 2008, and Op Shop IV just closed at the end of April.

The Op Shop is entirely volunteer-run, and it’s become such a popular place to exchange knowledge, friendships, and passions that there seems to be no shortage of events inspired and hosted by various Hyde Park residents. I’ve been a big fan from the beginning, but Op Shop IV’s theme was “Spotlight on Urban agriCULTURE” so I decided it was high time the Yogurt Pedaler appeared in her home territory to do a yogurt demo.

The crowd on April 23 was small but enthusiastic, with lots of questions and great discussion. My batch of yogurt that I’d prepared to share had failed, but that actually led to great speculation – with wisdom from the many food experiences in the room – about its causes and solutions.

Thanks to Harry Osoff 1537 News for the photos.

Earth Month at Ohio University

30 Apr

Three cheers for Athens, Ohio! I spent a short 24 hours at Ohio University on April 12 as one of the many diverse speakers brought to campus in celebration of Earth Month. This year their events supported a People (Em)Powered theme, so the Yogurt Pedaler fit right in!

I was welcomed to campus by a group of students and staff of the Office of Sustainability, who sponsored and organized the events, and I was immediately impressed by how progressive, adventuresome, and comfortable they and their town of Athens were. My first stop was to speak to a studio art class, a seminar of graduate students designing and creating an urban garden. I was asked to speak about my process, and I rooted my talk in discussion of food traditions and the Yogurt Pedaler’s mission to preserve and encourage them in the American Midwest.

Thus followed by far the best discussion I have had about the Yogurt Pedaler’s goals and process. After months of fleeting encounters with yogurt fans, haters (just a couple), and curious souls, talking with this class was a welcome opportunity to dig deep and really question the Yogurt Pedaler’s strengths and weaknesses. (Thanks in particular to an especially perceptive student named Sebastian, and to one Turkish guy who totally threw me off when I stumbled through trying to pronounce buyurun three times fast.)

I have a tendency to speak about American food traditions cynically, as if there are none to celebrate and as if I wish we could embrace and create food traditions like my favorites in various European towns I’ve called home. And yet, even in the hour I spent with the class, I enthusiastically recounted tales of watermelon on the beach, deep-rooted North Carolina BBQ loyalties, hotdogs at baseball games, Thanksgiving dinners, and fried oreos, just to name a few. Sure, maybe they’re not all sustainable, healthy, supportive traditions, but there is certainly no lack of American food traditions. Thanks, class, for making me consider the Yogurt Pedaler’s potential as a project to celebrate great American food traditions, those both disappearing and still vibrantly alive, in addition to one fighting a sometimes discouraging battle against industrial, monoculture agricultural trends.

We also all agreed that the decidedly haphazard cart design had charm, but also definitely lacked a polished appearance that could make people take the project a bit more seriously.

My second appearance at OU was at the Vegan Cooking Workshop, an event I was immediately skeptical of – didn’t they realize that yogurt is made of milk…and milk comes from cows? I was reassured that these were no militant vegans, they just wanted people to be conscious of the food they make and eat. That meant I was definitely on board!

The crew was far from militant – the basement of the United Campus Ministries house was warm and welcoming, with a dozen students and volunteers bustling about fixing dinner. I got to work quickly, chopping carrots and keeping an eye on my huge pot of milk on the stove. As the crowds gathered, I took a moment next to the bike-powered milling machine to speak to a group about the Yogurt Pedaler project and how to make yogurt.

We gathered as dinner finished to inoculate the yogurt with cultures and set them on the stove to incubate overnight. It was an evening of great company, enthusiastic cooks and future yogurt-makers, and delicious food.

Thanks, Athens!
(Special thanks to Carolina, my Office of Sustainability host, Erin, interim OS director, and Jim and Kate at Ecohouse.)

non-dairy yogurt, experiment no.1

17 Apr

I was invited to speak as the Yogurt Pedaler for Earth Month at Ohio University this month. My primary “appearance” was at the Vegan Cooking Workshop. I was immediately suspicious of being invited to make milk products at a vegan event, but I was assured they were enthusiastic about the Yogurt Pedaler trying to get people to care about what they eat, regardless of its origin. I was in!

In preparation, I tried to make vegan yogurt.

I honestly didn’t do too much research, but what I did suggested it would be pretty easy, following the same method as real dairy yogurt. That was wrong.

This is the failed almond milk yogurt. I was surprised I couldn’t find plain non-dairy yogurt at the grocery store. (I have my own theories that it’s because it tastes gross – I’m definitely a purist when it comes to my yogurt, so far.) The yogurt made with soy milk didn’t turn out so well either:

I’ve learned a bit about the microbiology of incubation in yogurt making over the past year, but I’m still confused about how the yogurt cultures that live on lactose can thrive and work to make yogurt in a non-dairy home that has no lactose. The “live active cultures” advertised in the soy yogurt are the same as the ones found in real dairy yogurt, but I obviously don’t know if their presence is actually the cause of the soy yogurt’s yogurt-like texture. I have my doubts, honestly. I also suspect a large part of the failure of both of these experiments is because the soy milk and almond milk I used are both very, very processed and sweetened.

Next time, I am going to try the intriguing process I found in my google adventures of fermenting my soy milk with chili pepper stems, and I am going to try it with unsweetened soy milk. If I get really ambitious, I may try to make soy milk myself from soy beans. But I wouldn’t keep your fingers crossed.

Speaker circuit, destination #1

16 Apr

While the Yogurt Pedaler may be simmering on the back burner these days, it’s important to give it a stir.
Thanks to Ryan Wilson, I spoke here in Chicago at the special Valentine’s Day edition of his Seasonal Salon, an evening devoted to the theme of Food & Exchange. Good people, good food, good times.
Luckily for us, Ryan is on it, so you can check out the audio recording of the evening’s recordings here.