Since I can’t cook, clean, lift anything heavy, or sneeze without pain; I’m on vacation. Doctor’s orders. Six more weeks till my fractured rib mends itself.

Sitting around doing nothing is not my forté.

So, I’m on a friend tour. Otherwise known as couch surfing. And I’m reconnecting with girlfriends who have scattered all over the U.S. catching up on the last 4 years that I’ve missed out on. I’m thankful for this injury, it’s a blessing.

For the moment I’m in New Jersey with one of my old college roommates, Catkin, and her family, and we are cooking up a storm – 3 home cooked meals a day!

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Cooking with Cat is a learning experience. Why? Because she’s a vegetarian and ‘wild’ chemist, and she eats weird stuff that I’ve rarely used or never heard of like: hemp protein powder, quinoa, spelt, buckwheat, and amaranth.

She also plans carefully on how to make the most of leftovers and run a full-time home kitchen. And she has a doctor’s practice out of her home in Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture.

She’s a busy woman.

I open her kitchen cabinets and there’s strange little brown glass tintures with even stranger names – not a thimble full of white sugar, all-purpose flour, or regular salt to be found.

And I’m like: how do I cook? How do I make meals without meat? How do I make banana bread with whey protein powder, teff, and evaporated cane juice? What the heck is Agave syrup? How do I survive without a glass of wine at night?

I’m getting healthy, despite my wicked ways, with the nasty tasting Chinese teas she forces me to drink made of frankincense, myrrh, dragon’s blood, and peony root not to mention the needles she keeps sticking in my head and ears. And I’m learning about how to cook for a vegetarian family.

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Actually, I’m just getting totally schooled in the kitchen. You’d think I never went to cooking school or worked in a 3-star French kitchen. I’m so out of my league, it’s not even funny.

Last night we tucked the kids into bed after a hearty soup of lentils, collard greens, and beans and did something very naughty. We went out on a midnight raspberry run.

We grabbed flashlights and pails and drove to a hidden spot she knows where raspberries grow by the side of the road. All the while feeling like runaway teenagers on a renegade mission.

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Careful not to get in the way of poison ivy we shined our flashlights on the bushes and picked away laughing about our old college exploits, margarita ‘study’ sessions, and catching up on who is where and doing what.

We ate more berries than we put in our pails. They were so tart-sweet and juicy, not the normal mushy type. Difficult to resist straight off the bush.

In fact, we only came home with two handfuls each. But, it didn’t matter anyway. We escaped in the humid New Jersey night for a girl’s night out.

The next morning, I asked what to do with our waning raspberry supply and she suggested we make yogurt and sprinkle them on top.

Make yogurt? Am I living on a hippy commune or what? Okay, let’s make yogurt.

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When I taught in India, the school kitchen made a lot of yogurt. The milk would come fresh in the morning and the staff would boil it for the students’ morning cereal then take the extra milk and turn it into yogurt for lunch and dinner.

There was no refrigeration (none, zip, de nada, rien de tout) so keeping milk products fresh was difficult. But, yogurt has live bacteria that fight off bad bacteria inside and outside our bodies. Probiotics – It does a body good.

Catkin took a year abroad in Madagascar where they also made a lot of yogurt. When you’re living in a third world country, yogurt can spare you from many unwanted digestive problems and it’s delicious and cooling on hot days.

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It’s pretty simple if you have the right stuff: milk, culture, and 8 hours. A yogurt maker makes the job easy and quick, but you can make your own contraption with foam rubber (see Joy of Cooking circa 1964).

We used Bea’s yogurt recipe at Le Tartine Gormande and she creates her own culture starter using greek yogurt and organic milk. Store bought yogurt has high concentrations of live bacteria and are great for getting your own culture started. Just like yeast starters, you can save some to get the next batch going.

But aside from hunting wild raspberries and drinking herbal teas, the best thing about being here is talking to her children about who their mom was waaaaaaay back before she was a mom.

“Did you know your mom was one of the best ballet dancers in school?”

“My mom can dance?”

“Yeah, she can leap high in the air.”

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“I can leap high too, wanna see?”

“Yeah, I do wanna see.”

Bea’s Yogurt Recipe
(taken directly from her fabulous blog; Le Tartine Gourmand

1 plain Greek yogurt (full fat, that is 20g)
4 cups of Organic 2% milk

And that is it! To do it, simply boil the milk and then let rest until it reaches room temperature. Remove the skin formed on top and mix with the yogurt. Pour into the individual glass jars and start the yogurt maker. Set a timer for 8 hours and then, go and do your errands!