Cyber Week Special: Free Shipping and Free Stickers!

News flash: I'm offering a totally sweet special for all orders of my new book, Stuff Unicorns Love, as well as my coloring books for this week only! 

If you should order any of these books from my Etsy shop, I'll upgrade you to free domestic shipping, AND throw in a free sheet of unicorn and narwhal stickers! Now that's something magical to get excited about. Here's the facebook post where I explain it: 

What is Skyr, Anyway?

Nope. Skyr is not yogurt. Nope. Skyr is not cheese. But what is it? Let's explore.

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Not so long ago I was contacted by a company called Icelandic Provisions. They wanted to send me samples of something called Skyr. Since I love free stuff, my first response was "sure". But then a quick and rapid second response in my own head followed: "What the heck is skyr?".

Turns out that skyr has been #trending for a few years with foodies, but like with most trends (for instance, I only discovered Seinfeld a few years ago) I am late to the party. 

I briefly forgot about this question until I received a packet of coupons (good time for a little disclosure: Yes, I was given skyr-for-free coupons, though I was not paid for this post) for free skyr. So I went on over to the grocery store and picked some up.

One might be tempted to think that skyr is yogurt. From a little distance, skyr looks like yogurt. The packaging looks like yogurt. You find it in the grocery store in the yogurt section.

But, to recall an SNL skit from the 90s...

The short answer is: that's not yogurt. 

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But what is it? 

OK, I am really tempted to go down a "not yogurt" response loop with you but I am resisting the urge because I too was curious. 

In this Cook's Science article (which is actually far better and more comprehensive than anything I am going to write on the subject), it begins with an intriguing lead-in: 

"In America, skyr is found in the yogurt aisle and is labeled as yogurt. However, if you are lucky enough to visit Iceland, people there will tell you that skyr is not a yogurt at all, but rather a cheese."

As the article goes on to say, 

"The traditional recipe for skyr involves taking milk (skim or low-fat) and heating it with a bit of old skyr from a previous batch, which is added as a starter, Jónsson explained. Rennet may also be added, and after curds form, the whey is drained slowly for many hours to create a thick, sour product...Rennet? That sounds a lot like cheese."

The article goes on to explore whether skyr is yogurt or cheese on a number of different levels. On the one hand, it's strained. That's pretty cheese-like, right? But then wait, greek yogurt is strained too, so now we've opened up another big question: is greek yogurt actually cheese? 

Then, there's a fascinating review of a blind taste test where people tried various yogurts and skyr. Few were able to identify it as skyr, but at the same time, they knew it wasn't greek yogurt. One of the most common comments was that they found it "cheesy". 

I made these rolls with skyr instead of the sour cream called for in the recipe.

I made these rolls with skyr instead of the sour cream called for in the recipe.

Baking and cooking with skyr

Regardless of where you fall on the "is it yogurt or is it cheese" debate, let's talk about where and when you can use skyr. Personally, I have found that skyr works in any recipe where one might use greek yogurt or sour cream. For instance, I recently made some rolls which called for sour cream and used plain skyr instead. Worked great! One caveat is that in general, since there are less skyr options in the store than yogurt, it can be find to locate plain skyr: I was only able to find vanilla in most stores, so in terms of baking and cooking, that can limit where you might use it. 

So...what is skyr? 

Personally, I think that we can just nip the entire argument in the bud and call skyr, well...skyr. It's not yogurt and it's not cheese. It is its own thing entirely. 

But I recognize that you might not be willing to take my word for it quite that easily. SO, I'll tell you how skyr is made and you can decide for yourself.

The basic process of making skyr

To make skyr, you start with milk and a skyr starter. In Iceland, apparently there are skyr starters that are centuries-old; if you wanted to make skyr in the USA, you could simply start by using a tablespoon of skyr from a package you purchased. 

Then, you'll heat and cool the milk and skyr mixture, carefully monitoring the temperatures. You'll then let it cool. As it thickens, it will curdle and separate. 

Once separated, you'll go ahead and strain the skyr; you can drink the wet whey as a probiotic type of drink or toss it, and save the skyr in the refrigerator. 

If you want a full recipe, you can check out this website

My final thoughts 

Not to repeat myself (here I go repeating myself) but ultimately, I think that skyr has characteristics of both cheese and yogurt; in looking at the recipe, it's very similar to both recipes for making homemade yogurt and cheese. 

So when it comes down to it, what differentiates skyr is the bacteria: a skyr starter is not yogurt nor is it cheese. 

Which brings me back to my initial point: skyr is, well, skyr.

Have you ever tried skyr? 

In Praise of the Dive Bakery

Man oh man, do I love a good dive bakery.

Yup, there's shortening in that buttercream.

Yup, there's shortening in that buttercream.

Wait. Pray tell: what is a dive bakery? 

"Dive bakery" is a term which to the best of my knowledge I've made up (haven't googled it so I am not sure if this is true or not; often when I have a great idea like this I purposefully avoid googling it so that my idea isn't changed or altered by what has come before). 

Basically, it's the dive bar equivalent of a bakery. 

Put it this way. If you go to a dive bar, you're not going to be ordering a Cosmopolitan. You're being served by a bartender, not a mixologist. There is going to be pretty much zero talk about house-made bitters or liqueurs, and please, for the love of god, don't utter the word "shrub" unless you're talking about plants that live outside. 

At a dive bar, you're most likely going to be ordering beer (and none of those fancy ones) and you're probably going to feel like you need a shower after using the bathroom. 

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A dive bakery is definitely a different experience overall, but it's similar in its no-fuss, no-frills simplicity. 

When you walk into a dive bakery, it's not because it's a hip new spot you saw on Instagram. A dive bakery has probably been in the same spot seemingly forever, whether that in fact is since 1981 or since 1934. It's got that "lived-in" sort of feel. Often, the employees seem ageless too. 

In a dive bakery, you're probably not going to see the words "locally sourced" listed in any product descriptions, even if they are. In fact, product descriptions have been made using a label maker, or even printed on little cards, possibly in comic sans. Dive bakeries might seem in some ways hipster-ironic, but they are not. 

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Price-wise, you're not going to spend $40 at a dive bakery unless you really try, or are buying a wedding cake or something. There are no $4.95 cookies or brownies at a dive bakery. You may --not even kidding--even see some goodies for under a dollar. 

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At a dive bakery, the buttercreme is probably made with at least part shortening. But they're not apologizing for or hiding this fact. 

The coffee pretty reliably sucks at dive bakeries. And no, they do not have soy or almond milk. 

The lighting in a dive bakery always kind of feels like you're walking onto the set of a David Lynch movie. And where on earth did they get those retro bakery cases? 

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Dive bakeries are generally a place where you can be free of talk about glycemic index and paleo diets and (shudder) Stevia. 

Dive bakeries can be good, or they can be not very good. But there is something satisfying and honest about them. 

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Dive bakeries are nostalgic. After-school treats, innocence. The simple desire for a sweet treat without food being fraught with meaning. 

For me, a dive bakery is kind of my happy place. Even if the pastries and cookies and cakes aren't technically very good, there's something on a soul level that is so nourishing about the experience of them. 

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One of my favorite dive bakeries in the world, Freedman's Bakery in Belmar, NJ, closed a few years ago. I cried when they closed. They hadn't actually been good for years, but I freaking loved this place. I had been going there since childhood, and even the diminishing quality of their sweets when ownership changed didn't make me turn away. There was something that I loved so deeply about the place. 

Don't get me wrong, I'm also all about those $4.95 locally sourced cupcakes and the single-origin chocolate and all that. But sometimes, a good dive bakery is all that you need in the world. 

Is there a dive bakery in your life that you can tell me about?