Making soy milk — Part 2

I didn’t mean for yesterday’s post to be a teaser.  I really thought I’d actually be writing about making soy milk, but when I sat down to write, there was just too much background and context for one post.  But I’m back and ready to get down to business!

The machine
I borrowed my friend’s Soyabella soy milk maker.  The website has a number of recipes for both soy and nut milks, though you have to go to the product manual to get the weight of soybeans to use for the most basic soy milk recipe.


Making soy milk
At it’s most basic, soy milk requires soy beans and water.  You start with dried soybeans (available in the bulk section at most natural food stores).  I had not one, but two small bags of old dried soy beans sitting around, from other times I’d intended to make soy milk, but I decided I should start with a fresher product. The Soyabella manual called for 70g-95g (2.5oz-3.5oz) dry soybeans per 1L batch.


As with all dried beans, the first step is soaking, either a quick soak, or an overnight (at least 8 hour) soak.  Once I had my hands on the machine, I wanted to make soy milk that day, so I went with the quick soak (add enough water to cover beans by an inch, bring to a boil, simmer 2-3 minutes, then remove from heat and soak 2-3 hours).


After that, you add the soaked, drained beans to the grinding chamber, add the appropriate amount of water to the pitcher (I used filtered), push the “Milk” button, and voilá, about twenty minutes later, you have soy milk.

As suggested, I added a pinch of sea salt.  I also reluctantly added a bit of sugar (I switched to buying unsweetened soy milk about three years ago, and I don’t miss the sugar (7g per cup in my usual brand/variety) at all).  However, there’s a very good chance that there’s something sweet-tasting (stevia?) buried in that “natural flavor” portion of the ingredient list.  For my homemade version, I started with about 1 T. of sugar in 1 quart of soy milk, which comes out to < 3g sugar per cup of milk.


Initial results
The initial results were rather, “eh.”  It tasted very beany.  Granted, it is made from beans, but somehow, the soy-bean-only store-bought versions (TJ’s and WestSoy), while not exactly delicious, lack the pronounced beany flavor in my homemade product.

Inspired by a friend’s very positive review of Califia Farms Coconut Almond Milk, I had purchased some coconut cream in hopes that it might lead to an equally delicious soy milk.  (I did not try the Califia product myself, but I glanced at it in the store, and was duped into believing that it consisted of three ingredients: water, almonds, and coconut cream.  I like to think I’m a pretty good label reader, but a glance at the product link above reveals this milk is not as “pure” as it claims (for shame!):

Contains Less Than 2% Of The Following: Sunflower Lecithin, Sea Salt, Potassium Citrate, Natural Flavors, Gellan Gum, Carrageenan, Vitamin/Mineral Blend (Calcium Carbonate, Vitamin A, Vitamin E, Vitamin D2, Vitamin B12, Vitamin B2), Monk Fruit Concentrate.

So, maybe the coconut cream is not really the secret to this tasting good.)


Anyhow, I bought two different brands of coconut cream, and a coconut cream powder.  In the end, these helped a bit, but they were no miracle fix for the beany milk.  This batch was okay for making oatmeal and using for pancakes and waffles, but not inspiring otherwise.  It was usable on cold cereal, but didn’t pass the sipping test.

Other varieties
Not yet dissuaded in my quest for tasty, homemade soy milk, I started playing around.  My second batch of milk in the Soyabella was actually the walnut and almond milk, which is soy free.  The taste was decent (no beans = no beany taste), but it quickly separated into a particulate-heavy bottom and a watery top.

I did some research into eliminating the beany taste in homemade soy milk, and settled on the following fixes:

  • removing the hulls from the soybeans
  • adding a few peanuts to the blend
  • additional cook time for the finished milk

I first tried a batch just removing the hulls.  It tasted better, but I wasn’t satisfied.  The next round, I cut back the amount of soy beans and added a few [soaked] peanuts.  Once the soy milk maker did it’s thing, I dumped the milk into a pan and simmered on very low for about twenty minutes.

The result was WEIRD.  It might have tasted okay, if I was able to get past the texture, but, no.  I’m guessing the stove top cooking, in addition to the cooking that happens in the maker, overcooked it, because the result was ridiculously thick and gloppy.  Adding more water after the fact didn’t help.  I got through this quart by using it primarily for oatmeal.  It was not good for cold cereal or sipping, and I didn’t want to waste good chocolate by using it for hot chocolate.  (In the interest of full disclosure, my other variable here was that I didn’t use only soy beans — I mixed things up a bit by using some black beans, but I really don’t think that was the problem.)

Another method
Some of my research into reducing the beany taste led me to recipes that don’t require a soy milk maker (here and here).  These recipes, which had seemed so daunting before, didn’t look so bad now.  The basic process was the same, minus the convenience of a single machine: soak the beans, grind with hot water (in a blender), filter (using a nut milk bag), and cook (on the stove top).

In the Soyabella, the milk “cooks” while still in contact with the filtered soy bean remains (known as okara).  I was curious if this arrangement (which you can’t avoid if you’re using the machine) intensified the beany flavor.  Armed with a blender and a nut milk bag for straining, I was ready to ditch the machine.


70 g beans (I used mostly soy beans, but I substituted a few chick peas), soaked and hulled
20-30g cashews (raw, unsalted), soaked
1 L boiling water

I pureed the [soaked] beans, nuts, and boiling water in two batches in the blender; filtered it through the nut milk bag; and simmered it on low, stirring frequently, for about twenty minutes.  I added a pinch of salt and 1 T. of sugar, and, hold on to your hats . . . .

. . . . it tasted good!  I actually enjoyed sipping this milk, and it passed the cold cereal test, wonder of wonders!

Back to the machine
To test things a bit further, I returned to the soy milk maker and used the same bean-cashew blend as above.  The result was okay, but, for better or worse, definitely not as good as the non-machine version.

On the one hand, I don’t have to run out and drop $100+ on a soy milk maker.  On the other hand, while making soy milk without a dedicated machine is not as daunting as I’d feared, the machine version requires less hands-on time than the blend, filter, heat and stir on stove top method.  Adding that time up every week could make the not-quite-as-tasty machine version an okay compromise.

Check back for one more post on final thoughts including ease of clean-up, using the okara, cost comparison, and health effects of going “carrageenan-free.”



Making soy milk — Part 1

Looking back, we’ve been talking about making our own soy milk for over two years now, when a friend first offered to let us try her soy milk maker.  For one reason or another, it took me quite awhile to actually take her up on the offer.  (You can make soy milk without a special machine, but, to a newbie, those recipes seemed complicated and labor intensive.  I bought soy beans, intending to try, but it never happened.)

Why make your own

  • Save money???
  • Reduce packaging waste (soy milk packaging is recyclable, but reducing >> recycling!)
  • Avoid additives in store-bought soy milk, particularly carrageenan
  • Better taste than carrageenan-free, store-bought options???

I could write an entire post on that last bullet point, but we’ll try the brief version.  Carrageenan is a “natural” additive,  derived from a type of seaweed, used in food as a thickener and/or emulsifier to improve flavor and mouth feel.  It’s found in many processed foods, not just soy milk.

WebMD says carrageenan is, “safe for most people in food amounts,” but the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) gives carrageenan a “Caution” rating, stating “May pose a risk and needs to be better tested. Try to avoid.”  (For a full report on carrageenan and human health, with links to peer-reviewed research, see this publication from the Cornucopia Institute.)  There is evidence that it may be especially prudent for individuals with Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome or other GI disorders to avoid consuming carrageenan.

I am not affected by any GI disorders, but the CSPI’s “Caution” rating was enough to make me want to investigate alternatives, and store-bought soy milk is the main source of carrageenan in my diet.

Soy milk consumption
When it comes down to it, I don’t consume all that much soy milk.  I’m not drinking three 8-ounce glasses per day.  In fact, I rarely drink soy milk at all.  I consume 1/3 to 1/2 cup a day in my oatmeal.  Some days, that’s it.  Other days, I have a bit more, either in hot chocolate, with cold cereal, or, very rarely as something I sip with a cookie.  A bit more slips into my diet some days via our homemade pancakes and waffles, but I think it’s safe to say that I average less than one cup of soy milk a day, total.

My other concern, of course, is Gabriel.  I would estimate his soy milk consumption at about 1/2 cup most days.  While he likely consumes a bit less than me, his body is smaller than mine, and perhaps more vulnerable to questionable ingredients.  As far as I know, Gabriel does not suffer from any GI disorders — he doesn’t complain of stomach pain, and his bowel movements are regular.

Store-bought options
A few years ago, I decided it was important to eat organic soy as much as possible.  This decision was not necessarily for health reasons, but rather to avoid GMO soybeans (avoiding the GMOs is also not necessarily for health reasons; for me, it’s about avoiding big agribusiness that threatens small-scale, local growers and food systems).

Based on availability and price, my go-to, store-bought soy milk is Silk Organic Unsweetened, which is readily available at most grocery stores, sold refrigerated in a half-gallon carton.  Sometimes I’d mix things up and buy the equivalent store-brand product at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s.  The ingredient lists on these products were pretty similar: water, organic soybeans, carrageenan, sea salt, and “natural flavor.”

For carrageenan-free options, I tried Trader Joe’s Unsweetened Organic and WestSoy organic unsweetened.  Both of these come in aseptic quart cartons and do not require refrigeration until after opening.  Ingredients are simply water and organic soybeans.

To me, the carrageenan-free options were missing something in the taste department.  They were fine for my oatmeal and for cooking (e.g., making pancakes), and okay for hot chocolate, but not particularly appealing on cold cereal or for sipping.

Making my own
Part of my motivation for making my own was to see if I could make something that tasted good, without carrageenan and other “natural flavor” additives.

The other motivation was the waste factor: the store-bought options without carrageenan only come in quarts (vs. the half-gallons size of Silk and similar products).  Smaller quantities mean a higher packaging to product ratio, so by switching to the [quart-sized] carrageenan-free option, I was going to be generating proportionally more trash.  Uck.

L to R: Trader Joe’s (sans carrageenan), homemade (with soy milk maker in background), and my beloved, tasty (but maybe not good for me?) Silk

Plus, what exactly is in the lining of those aseptic containers?  Nothing beats a good, old-fashioned glass jar!

When I started questioning carrageenan, my friend again offered to let me borrow her soy milk maker.  The timing was particularly good, because her family had taken a break from using it.  It’s been great getting to try the machine, and the resulting product, before committing to buying an appliance just for making soy milk.

I’ve been experimenting with it for three weeks now.  I’ve tried straight-up soy milk, plus a number of variations: adding coconut cream, a peanut soy blend, a cashew soy blend, and even a version that used some black beans.  Tomorrow, I’ll report back on the results!

DIY midtail cargo bike

UPDATE (9/10/14): Matthew rode this fully loaded (i.e., Gabriel in the seat, plus loaded panniers on the rear rack) yesterday, which turned out to be too much weight in the back. He was fighting to keep the front wheel on the ground. So, this set-up works with either a child OR loaded rear panniers, but not both at the same time.  Matthew is looking into adding a front rack to the bike (for the panniers) to even out the weight distribution.  Until then, he’ll avoid riding with Gabriel and cargo, which means he can’t use this bike to drop G off at school on the way to work.


As I mentioned yesterday, Sir started preschool this week.  He’s been waiting to go to “Baba’s school” (my MIL, Sir’s “Baba,” is his teacher) all summer, and thanks to our trial run in the spring, we were pretty confident it would be an easy transition for him.

So far, so good.

In some ways, it’s probably a bigger transition for Matthew and me, and I’m not talking the emotional, “my baby’s going to school” thing, but rather the very practical “getting Gabriel to and from school” issue.

G’s preschool is about four miles from where we live, and I’m already mourning the loss of the super easy half-block walk to childcare that we enjoyed for the past 14 months.  It really doesn’t get any better than that.

Fortunately, G’s preschool is more or less on Matthew’s way to work, so the general plan is that Matthew will take use the longtail and handle both drop-off and pick-up on most days.  But there will invariably be days (including this past Monday), where there’s a scheduling conflict, and Matthew either has to be at work early or stay late, and the timing for child shuttling will not work for him.

We realized almost as soon as we got the longtail that, in an ideal world, we would have not one, but two Big Blues for such times.  (Since we sold the trailer, the longtail was our only way to transport G by bike.)

But alas Big Blue cannot clone herself, and we really can’t justify purchasing another bike right now (though that doesn’t stop me from looking and dreaming — n+1, right?).

However, when we were going through the whole Yepp child seat debacle (in which I bought a “standard” model on EBay, when we needed the Easyfit for the Edgerunner), we noticed a particular accessory, the Easyfit Carrier XL, which claimed to extend a regular rear bike rack so one could fit both a Yepp child seat and panniers.

With this accessory, we could use the single Yepp Easyfit child seat on multiple bikes.  After a bit of discussion, we decided to adapt Matthew’s back-up bike (a Giant hybrid) for this purpose.*


What you need

  • A good bike — you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars, but visit a bike store instead of a discount store.  You’re going to be transporting your child, so you want something that is safe and reliable.  Matthew took his bike in for a tune-up to make sure all was in working order before adapting the bike.
  • A heavy-duty rear rack.  Most rear cargo racks are meant for loads under 50 pounds, and some are only rated for 25-30 pounds.  If you’re carrying a preschooler plus other cargo, you need something that can handle more than 30 pounds.  Matthew found this Axiom Journey rack — reasonably priced, with a capacity of 110 pounds.
  • The Yepp Easyfit Carrier XL, along with the Yepp Easyfit Seat.
  • Panniers that work with the rack (more on this below).


  • When Matthew took his bike in for a tune-up, the mechanics mentioned that he was probably due for new wheels.  Given the heavy (and important) load he’s planning to carry, he opted for a more expensive, heavier-duty wheel.
  • Matthew also added a center [two-legged] kickstand.  This is not nearly as stable as the center stand that is on Big Blue (where I can leave G unattended if necessary), at least for short periods.  It will help make the bike a sit more stable when loading and unloading, but Matthew will still have to be there, helping support the bike, anytime that G is in the seat.


The Easyfit Carrier (silver) bolts onto the rear rack (black), and the seat quickly and easily snaps into the port on the carrier (similar to the built-in port on Big Blue’s rear deck).

After getting everything set up, we discovered that Matthew’s basic grocery bag style panniers did not work when the child seat was attached.  The built-in hooks that attach the pannier to the top bar of the rack were too widely spaced (to work with the child seat in place), and not adjustable.

While new panniers were not part of the original plan, Matthew has been wanting something different (waterproof, with a built-in rain cover) for awhile now, and Ortlieb’s roller-bag panniers fit the bill (their clips for attaching to the top bar of the rack are adjustable).

This is not a free, or even a super-cheap, way to transport a child, especially if you don’t already have the Yepp seat, but for us, it made a lot of sense.  If you already have a decent bike, it’s a lot more affordable than going out and buying a midtail or longtail.

Now I can, say, use Big Blue to drop G off at school in the morning, leaving both the seat and his bike helmet at school, and Matthew can use his pseudo-midtail to pick G up in the afternoon.  This does, of course, involve some planning ahead: Matthew remembering to ride the correct bike and me remembering to leave the seat and helmet.

We still don’t really have a plan for dealing with weather (i.e., pouring rain, thunder and lightning, or icy/snowy roads) other than using the car.  Matthew can easily take the bus to/from work in these conditions, but, sadly, the bus route is not convenient to G’s school, so we may still find ourselves car-bound a bit more than we prefer.

*This set-up is still, technically, in testing mode.  Matthew’s used it for a few short rides around our neighborhood with G, but it has not been proven over time and distance.

The gardener never rests

Guest post by Matthew, AKA Farmer Brown

It’s March 3rd, and there’s an inch of ice on the ground and single digit temps outside, of course nothing’s going on with the garden, right?

Well, actually, over the weekend, I harvested 2 gallons of arugula (from under the low tunnel), turned compost piles, and took more anti-vole measures (more on that in a future post).

I have nine trays of seedlings growing, including onion starts and fennel seedlings that are itching to be transplanted outside.  Nine trays exceeds our grow light capacity by one tray, so the leeks are hanging out on the sun porch, along with a bit of lettuce.

Seed Starting
There’s almost always something to do . . . .  I planted leeks and onions December 1st.  I have my best onions transplants ever — many are roughly pencil thickness.  I seeded four seeds to a 1 ½” block and they’ve been under our grow light set-up, getting 16 hours of light a day.


I seeded fennel, celeriac, celery, flat and curly leaved parsley, and artichokes on January 4th.  I planted cruciferous (40 varietals of broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, rapa, collards, and kohlrabi), eggplant, bluebells, and breadseed poppies at the beginning of February.


Peppers and Tomatoes got planted 2/25 and 2/26 because I was feeling antsy for my 3/1 planned date.

Most everything germinated on my homemade heat boxes, since our basement is rather chilly right now.  The tomatoes and peppers are getting treated to an extra blanket of foam cloth to trap more heat for the seeds.

Now we just need the soil to warm-up enough for spring planting!  What are you planning to grow in your garden this year?

Seed starting: Make a functional, affordable heat box

Special guest post by Matthew

Functional, Affordable Seed starting heat source . . . I’ve used this one with great success and reliability for four sets of plants now.  We set our thermostat pretty low in the winter, so the heat box helps keep the seeds cozy (i.e., at an ideal temperature for sprouting).

The basics:

  1. Build a 5 sided wooden box to hold the heat, sized to fit your light source (or your tray size)
    1. Four 1”x4″ s (or whatever wood you want) for the sides
    2. Very thin plywood (or planks) for the top
    3. I left the bottom open, just set it on #3
    4. Nails or screws to join
    5. I made two boxes, each 10.5″ x 32″ x 3.5″
  2. A string of nightlight (4 watt) bulbs (or other incandescent lights) as a variable heat source (screw them in or unscrew some of them to get the soil temperature you want)
    1. Optional: Tack the wire of the nightlight string to the sides of the box to keep the bulbs out of direct contact with the box or radiant barrier –be careful to avoid damaging the wire’s insulation
    2. You may want to add a timer; I only use heat during the 16 hours of light I give my plants
    3. We have a string of lights that have a little metal cage around each bulb, so they sit directly on the reflective material
  3. A sheet of reflective radiant barrier insulation (see photo above) for below the box
    1. I used a scrap left over at the hardware store from someone’s home insulation project

Set your seed starting trays directly on top of the heat box.  When starting with this, put a thermometer into the soil of your seed starting tray and adjust how many bulbs are on in your box until you get the right temperature for your seeds.