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.

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Hold the Pink Slime, Please.

First, a bit of background:

You’ve probably heard about pink slime. You’ve probably decided for yourself (and family, if you feed one) whether you care or not.  I don’t judge your decision either way, but I can say I feel deeply uneasy about it and prefer to eat meat that has not been processed in that way. I basically don’t want to eat anything that has been washed in ammonia…nor do I want to eat something that was raised in conditions that may necessitate its being washed ammonia to make it safe for consumption.

I don’t eat very much meat these days anyway. Since I want to eat non-GMO, one of the ways my family affords that is by eating lower–hence, cheaper–on the food chain. We’re not vegetarian, but our protein is more likely to come from plants or dairy products (we do eat a lot of chicken eggs; whether that’s a meat or a dairy product is a sort of murky line). Point being, since I don’t eat much meat, I don’t always remember all of the icky reasons I feel I need to be careful. Like the pink slime / ammonia issue.

Now, the story:

Yesterday, while I was drinking my coffee and commencing with my digital check-in with the world (email, FB, etc), I came upon this article a friend posted about Jamie Oliver getting McDonald’s to change its ways. I’d seen the video demo before, but I’d forgotten about it. So I read/watched, felt angry at the industry, betrayed by our governmental agencies that allow practices like this, and overall good about the ability of people to make changes they feel need to be changed. After all, Jamie Oliver is just a guy trying to be the change he wants to see…and he did it! That’s awesome and inspiring.

Fast forward to me at the grocery store for some milk, and I was shopping hungry (we all do it sometimes!) and was lured by prepared foods such as corn dogs, mini tacos, potstickers, egg rolls, pot pies…  Oh, so tasty, and so easy.  Ooh, and frozen pizza. That looked really good, too.  But every time I almost opened a freezer door to grab some prepackaged tastiness, I thought about what might have been done to the meat products in them. And I just couldn’t do it.

I made a potato chowder instead. It was delicious, I knew what was in it, it was way healthier, and it was easy and filling.  I didn’t take any pics before we ate all of it…oops!

Potatoes waiting to become soup

Tender little summer potatoes, yum!

I make potato chowder a lot. Everybody in my family likes it. Since I make it very often, I don’t really have a recipe for it. Pretty much the only constant is that I boil potatoes and add tasty things to them. This time around, I happened to have some kind of rubbery green beans that weren’t good for eating raw anymore, so I added them. I also added a fair bit of green onion (scallion) since it’s fresh and cheap at the farmer’s market right now. For the main flavor, I used a healthy splash of milk and some pepper jack and cheddar along with some dried rosemary. (Have you tried rosemary and cheddar together? Delicious!)

Note: if you are new to to cooking soup with cheese and/or milk, it’s important you keep the heat quite low once you add the dairy products, or you’ll wind up with an inedible rubber that used to be cheese, or the milk will do funny, stringy-looking things, or other bad things. Add as a last ingredient and use only enough heat to keep warm after that!  (Yes, I learned it the hard way. Believe me when I say that rubbery stuff is inedible!)

I’m glad I cooked something from scratch and didn’t give in to my junk food monster. I miss frozen mini-tacos, though. I tried to make my own once, and it did NOT work out. Maybe I’ll have to try again… Suggestions? Recipes?

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