Home Made Kefir

I purchased kefir grains from Cultures for Health about a month ago. I was really, really excited to get going on making my own, but then I made myself wait since I had a 6-night, 7-day trip to Savannah with Boyfriend coming up. I knew it would be safer for the little colony of yeast and bacteria to wait for my return without being activated first.

Then, when I got home from my trip, I experienced a sort of manic-depressive craze. At first I was wonderfully rejuvenated and inspired to Do All the Things! (love you, Allie Brosh, how could anyone explain it better than you?) but of course it didn’t really last very long. My inspiration and realization that it’s actually quite easy to keep house, eat healthily, exercise daily, and on and on was soon replaced with the reality of — wait for it — reality. My 9 year old son had a nasty cough, a fever that got up to 103.something, and a rattling sound when he breathed. (Health care provider diagnosed an upper respiratory infection, and there wasn’t much to do besides push fluids, rest, and wait. And wait. And wait.)

Over a week later, my son has returned to school, healthy except for a bit of a niggling cough. I finally had just enough energy to pour the contents of a sealed pouch of kefir grains into a cup of milk, cover, and allow fermentation to begin.  Seriously, it’s that easy. I’m new at it, obviously, but it does seem as though the trickiest thing is keeping the culture/milk warm enough yet cool enough. I felt like I could manage that since I have that issue when I bake yeast bread here as well — my kitchen gets chilly, but the yeast needs a stable, warm environment to flourish in. I solved that problem by using a gigantic ceramic bread bowl that I pre-warmed with hot water, so it seemed logical to try that with the kefir-milk. So I started the grains (so called for their physical appearance, not because they’re actually grains) in milk that I placed in a pre-warmed coffee mug. I thought the thermal nature of the mug would keep the chilliness at bay.

Then I figured out that as long as I put the kefir-milk near the coffee pot, it’s warm enough for the culture to be quite happy. I keep it covered (as recommended) with some home made cloth napkins and a rubber band. I imagine this not only keeps out dust and other foreign particles (and hungry insects in the warm season), but allows for off-gassing from the fermentation process.

Covered jar of milk and kefir grains

My very precise kefir-culturing method.

In the about-a-week that I’ve been trying to get this culture going, I’ve forgotten about the stuff and left it out longer than I intended twice. The guides are fairly loose – they say leave the culture out for 12-48 hours. Not exactly specific, but with all the variables involved (including living organisms), there couldn’t be only one set of directions. So I felt pretty unsure and had no idea what the *ahem* I was doing. The stuff I was getting at the end of a day or two was looking more like milk left out overnight in July (read: scary yogurt) than like the smooth drink I love. It also smelled sort of…yeasty. Not overpowering, and not wholly unpleasant, but not like I wanted to drink it as a treat, either. Plus as I said, I’m uncertain and don’t feel I know what I’m doing…and don’t want to poison myself…so this morning when I woke up and realized I forgot and left the kefir-milk-culture jar out too long again, I decided I was done trying and I am clearly not cut out for caring for a little colony of probiotics.

But when I looked at the jar this morning, it was different. It was firm and looked sort of like cream-top yogurt looks, and the liquid that separated out wasn’t a mildly sick-looking pale yellow. It was an almost clear liquid. (I believe it is referred to as whey at this point and is considered quite beneficial for lots of healthy food-making such as lacto-fermentation and soaking grains.) The smell was different as well, not having such a strong, almost pungent smell of yeast. It smells much milder now.

I made kefir! Holy buckets! It worked!

OK, so maybe I’m not a domestic goddess yet. I’m not even much of a suburban-homesteader (my garden really wants me to harvest the veggies out there, now that there’s a hard frost every morning…). But I can say that I’m a shepherdess of sorts, keeping my little flock of kefir-sheep alive. A kefherdess? I’ll try to puzzle that out as I see whether I keep a colony alive for longer than a little over a week. 😉

This first batch I’m going to try with some local honey and maybe a touch of cinnamon (it’s fall and warming spices are so very right at the moment!). Maybe someday I’ll be able to enjoy it without sweetener added, but I think a transition from store-bought, highly-sweetened kefir will go more smoothly if I indulge my taste preferences.

Suggestions? Advice? Please feel free to comment! I have a lot to learn!

UpdateI decided to wait before posting this, so maybe it doesn’t count as an update exactly. I wanted to try the kefir out and make sure I didn’t wind up dead and inadvertently publishing bad advice before I died.

I have had the kefir multiple times now and have yet to experience food poisoning from it — yay! I’m not sure why I got so worked up and nervous about the whole thing. I guess there is a corner of my being that believes the line we’re given from Big Business and the government about ultra-pasteurization and so forth, and that I’m taking my life and the life of my family in my hands when I make food at home.

Well, guess what? Yeah I am! I WANT to take our lives in my hands. There are too many sketchy practices out there, too many problems with the food system as it stands and the health issues in this country, and I am the only one who is going to watch out for my family in this.

Mm, sorry about the soap-boxing there.

Back to kefir. There wasn’t really getting around the fact that home made kefir tastes different from what I’m getting at the store. So while the honey-cinnamon treat will be nice once I acquire a taste for my kefir, I found that a roughly 50/50 kefir/apple cider mixture was perfect. I’ve also had my kefir in my hot cereal instead of milk and in some potato & lentil stew I made.

Also, the first day I tried the new kefir, I had a beer with dinner (a few hours after my afternoon snack of kefir). The next day I was amazed to realize I had experienced any gassiness or bloating from the beer, and I definitely attribute that straight to the kefir flora-boosting power. Scientific evidence? Naw. Good enough for me to be a believer? You betcha!  (<– That’s Minnesotan for “yup.”)

*Safety note: If you’re going to make kefir at home, be sure to use safe, sanitary methods. Improper kitchen sanitation can make you and your loved ones sick or dead, and that would suck. So make sure everything is clean and follow the directions from your kefir grain provider. If you didn’t get any, go to Cultures for Health and watch their video tutes and/or download their free kefir-making ebook.


DIY Deodorant

I jumped on the bandwagon and made my own deodorant on Sunday.

The recipes are all over the place, and I based mine on what I read at Crunchy Betty, Kitchen Stewardship, and Passionate Homemaking. They appear to be riffs on the same tune recipe-wise, and it seemed like a good way to start experimenting with doing it on my own, so… I did.

Here’s my experience so far:

I tweaked the recipes to fit what I had on hand and my personal preferences, which is exactly what I hope you will do. This matches pretty closely, but I’ve only tested it for two days…

Yes, this recipe is very approximate. Don’t be nervous – it’s very forgiving, and if you think it’s too liquid, add some powder. If it’s too dry, add some oil. It’ll be OK, and if it isn’t (which it will be), you’re only out like 73 cents and 5-10 minutes.

  • 1/4 C. + 1.5 Tbsp baking soda
  • 1/4 C. + 1.5 Tbsp corn starch (alternately, many recipes call for arrow root powder)
  •  6 Tbsp sweet almond oil
  • Beeswax, ~ couple teaspoons
  • 5 drops lavender essential oil
  • 3 drops frankincense

Essentially, melt the beeswax, then stir everything together. Read on for more deets.

Their recipes often used coconut oil, but I don’t keep any stocked, so I used the Vitamin E in Sweet Almond Oil I keep around the house. I love the smell, and how can a gal go wrong with a moisturizer? I know the coconut oil was listed as preferable due to its antibacterial properties, and I don’t know that sweet almond oil is purported to have any special bacteria-killing powers, but…I went for it anyway. If my homemade pit-stick doesn’t work, I can just use it for cleaning.

Apparently, coconut oil stops being shelf-stable-solid at 76 degrees F. However, my sweet almond oil isn’t solid at room temp anyway, so I opted for beeswax to help with that. Oddly, I DO happen to have beeswax stocked in my house (bottle cap candles, anyone?), so that was easy.

Home Made Bottle Cap Candle

Why I have beeswax at home…

I got the beeswax out, shaved some (somewhere between a tsp and Tbsp) into a clean glass jar, and microwaved it in 20-25 second intervals until it melted.

Common sense caution: glass and molten candle wax are both hot. Be careful! Also, if wax isn’t melted properly, it can explode, so really, be very careful. I have previous experience with wax from batiking, making casts/molds, and candle-making (real candles, not just filled bottle caps!), so I felt safe going the microwave route. If you’ve never used it, consider the double boiler method. It’s slower and safer as you get to know the wax.

Then I added my room temp oil – I might do this differently in the future, as the beeswax temp plummeted and it started solidifying. I’d anticipated that and had my powdered ingredients ready though, so I just plunked it in and stirred like the dickens. I started with a straight 1/4 cup of each powder, then added approximately half a 1/4 cup measure again when the ratio of powder: oil seemed off. Like I said, this is a VERY approximate recipe, so I felt just fine being that loosey-goosey with it. It seems easier to just start with 1/3 cup next time, but I’m not sure how much change one gets with baking soda or corn starch from humidity fluctuations. I’m going to stick with less for now.

Once I liked the consistency I added the oils.  I’m not really huge into essential oils, so I had just peppermint, lavender, and frankincense to choose from. Peppermint seemed as though it might be odd with the almond oil, so I went with lavender and frankincense. They’re both supposed to help with seasonal depression, and days are certainly getting shorter already. Plus, I think they’re lovely and sexy together. The lavender got somewhat swallowed up by the sweet almond and I can barely detect the frankincense. I’ll try at least two more drops of both in the next batch. I prefer mild scents though, so if you like yours stronger, go for it. As far as choosing your own scents, go with what makes you happy. Keep in mind that some oils are better for the human skin than others, and particularly if you shave your underarms, you may want to veer away from oils known to be hard on skin.

I stirred mine in the glass jar as a one-pot cooking sort of approach, and I’ve just got it stored that way for now. I cleaned out an old deodorant stick and I may try to pack my little batch in there. I was nervous about doing that right off the bat since I had a viscous/liquid oil instead of a solid oil, but once it set up a bit I see it would have been fine.

Day 1 was great – I applied after I showered, and despite warnings to wait an hour or two after shaving, I didn’t experience any discomfort. I felt like a weirdo repeatedly sniffing myself throughout the day, but as far as I could tell, I never got funky.

Day 2 (today)… I’m not quite as convinced as yesterday that I’m funk-free, but I didn’t shower, meaning a couple of things: my skin wasn’t clean and moist, which is the best circumstance for application, and since I hadn’t washed yesterday’s off, it’s possible I just have too much on at the moment. Bacteria love having places to grow, and too much deodorant is one way for them to set up a nice stinky feast for themselves. I was also stressed out about something unrelated today, and I know that plays a big part in how pleasant or not I smell.

Whether this is going to be my long-term recipe or not, every time I open up my jar of deodorant I feel happy. The smell is wonderful, and knowing that I’m wearing food grade ingredients as skin care just makes sense. (The essential oils are probably not exactly edible, but I’d eat them over “parfum” any day.)

If you do give this a try, be aware that many people experience an uncomfortable detox/cleanse period that often includes red bumps or even pain. Remedies to that included changing the ratio so that there is less baking soda to just waiting it out.  It makes me nervous to think that people would go through something that painful without checking in with a care provider. Personally, I have not yet felt any pain nor gotten any bumps, but my skin is fairly hardy. Also, I may have less for the body to work out of my system since I’ve been using a very natural formula deodorant for months as it is, I’ve always shied away from antiperspirants (that’s what clogs and is especially bad for your health), and my diet is mostly pretty healthy.

Anyway, the jury’s out on the sweet almond oil as a base. I’ll let you know how it pans out.

In the meantime, please share your recipes (or links to your recipes) below! Thanks for reading!

A Little Bit Granola

It’s a beautiful spring day here in the Twin Cities metro area. Outside in my backyard, apple blossom petals fall down in gentle breezes. Black-capped chickadees, gold finches, cardinals, and even a red-winged blackbird have been at my feeder today, and the recent rains have left my birdbath full of fresh, clean water for them to dip into.

The iris on the side of my house–the south side, with good sun and the warmth of the house warming the flowers–are in full bloom, and the iris along my sidewalk which get less sunlight are a few days behind.

Since it’s gorgeous outside, I’m inside, working on homework and cooking. Oh, and of course, it’s laundry day.  I’ve got a nice view, though, and it’s my own fault for reading the other day instead of working…

I’ve been doing a lot of reading about food again lately, and just enough research to be chagrined at where my food is coming from…again.  So, I’m on another kick, to know where my food is coming from and what it’s really made of, to know what those difficult to pronounce ingredients on the food labels really are, to buy foods from companies I approve of instead of not really looking into it…etc. Luckily, I’m coming to the bandwagon after a lot of other people already have, and it’s often a ten-second Internet search for me to find out what I want to know — after I know that I want to know it, which is part of the catch. I don’t know what I don’t know.

Today I made granola at home for the first time. After some time hitting the blogs looking for some good recipes, I hit the kitchen and started chopping some onions. 😉 I figured as long as I was going to be in the kitchen, I’d make dinner as well, so I made a pot of chicken chili to simmer away while I was stirring up some seeds and grain for later.

Here are the recipes I most closely considered while deciding how I wanted to approach my granola:

Willow Bird Baking

Chickens in the Road

& Whole Living.

I haven’t locked in to any one recipe yet, and I plan on posting it when I find what works for me. I’ll say, though, that I overcooked the first batch. I thought that was funny and mildly ironic since there are so many warnings about not burning the granola when it’s in the oven, “toasting.” I read the warnings and thought, “Why would I burn it?”

Uh huh.

I found that I need to use more sweetener next time; the quarter cup suggested wasn’t enough to get the oats and seeds to stick together. I put in about one-half cup of ground flax seeds, and those worked out just fine. I added about one-third cup of chia seeds as well, and they were sticking together nicely when I stirred it all up but then fell off to the bottom of the pan during cooking. Oh well…  It was too many chia seeds anyway. They have a strong flavor.

I toasted the first batch at 300 degrees and stirred every 10 minutes, like one recipe said to do, and that’s the batch that got too dark. In fairness, I used dark baking sheets, and I should have known to compensate by turning the temp down.

The next batch I toasted at 225 and stirred at 20 minutes, then in 15 minutes, then in 10 minutes, and then I pulled it out. That batch is much nicer, though it’s not quite right yet: the nuts and oats aren’t quite finished. I want the oats crisper and the nuts to have a more developed toasted flavor.

Also, I used honey because that’s what I had in the house, but I am definitely using maple syrup from now on. I found the same thing when I made candied nuts–honey just doesn’t have the depth of flavor that maple syrup does, even if it is a nice sweetener for some foods. The stronger flavor of maple suits nicely when baking, whereas I find honey’s flavor just gets smothered (even after I added a bit more than the 1/4 C. they called for and I used a stronger flavored honey than clover – maybe it was buckwheat? – it was a dark brown honey).

Oh! And I’ll definitely be using a touch of salt next time. I used salted butter and thought that might be enough, but with unsalted nuts to boot, it needs more of a boost there as well.

Still, it tastes pretty good, especially for an overcooked first attempt without strictly following a recipe. 😀 My daughter, a nut for granola, said “it’s good” and kept gulping it down. Good enough this time! Hopefully by the next time I need to make a batch I’ll have found a good source for local (or at least regional) maple syrup.

Sorry no photos this time – I misplaced the camera. Pics next time, including some finished pics of a home-made skirt and a pair of legwarmers I made recently.

Have a great Memorial Day Weekend! Please let me know in the comments what you’ve found when you made granola!




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