Kitchen / Garden / Sanctuary - Urban Homesteading to Nourish Body + Spirit

Month: May 2010 (Page 1 of 2)

How To Make Traditional Kefir

Kefir is a fermented milk drink from the Caucasus region of Eurasia, similar to yogurt, but with an enhanced probiotic profile. Traditionally, kefir is made by dropping “kefir grains” into milk (raw milk or pasteurized, but not ultra-pasteurized). The kefir grains ferment the milk, causing it to thicken and take on a yogurt-like tartness, although the consistency is thinner than yogurt. Kefir can be purchased in bottles at the store, however commercial kefir is produced using powdered kefir starter rather than the actual “grains,” and therefore doesn’t possess nearly the probiotic diversity of traditional kefir. The only way to obtain traditional kefir is to make it yourself with kefir grains. The good news is, it couldn’t be easier! I used to make yogurt a lot, which required heating milk to the scalding point, then cooling it to 110 degrees, stirring in the “starter” (plain yogurt), wrapping the jar in towels and placing it on a “reptile heat rock” where it would sit for 4-6 hours. While the process itself was very easy, it was labor intensive. Kefir is SO much easier, and again, has more probiotic benefits than yogurt.

For those reasons, I probably won’t go back to regularly making yogurt; I’m definitely a kefir convert! 🙂

Kefir grains

To make kefir, you’ll first need to obtain kefir grains. This was the hardest step for me, for some reason. Silly, I know, since they’re widely available on the internet & through kefir grain exchanges. I think I must have been wary of these mysterious grains — they were a big unknown at first. I didn’t know how to use them, nobody I knew had even heard of them, and I thought surely I would either kill them or accidentally culture some kind of rogue bacteria that would kill me, and the whole thing would be a waste of money. Well, I’m here to tell you that they’re very easy to use, very hard to kill, and it’s highly unlikely you’ll culture something abominable (and if you did, you’d know it).

So now that we’ve gotten the fear out of the way, where do you get these grains? There are many websites out on the ‘net where people with too many grains will give them away for free — usually all you pay is postage. Kefir grains multiply, you see, so the more often you make kefir, the more grains you will have. I chose to buy my grains from an online company (Cultures For Health), wanting to be sure I was getting them from a good, reputable source. Now that I have confidence and experience with making kefir, though, I’d feel just fine getting mine from someone who was giving them away for free.

Some places to get kefir grains (there are many others, too!):

Cultures For Health – online company, for purchasing grains

Kefir Lady – online company, for purchasing grains

Project Kefir – worldwide sources for (sometimes) free kefir grains

Toronto Advisors – worldwide sources for (sometimes) free kefir grains


Kefir grains in muslin bag

Begin with 1 to 2 teaspoons of kefir grains per quart (4 cups) of milk (not ultra-pasteurized). You can either drop the grains into the milk and then strain them out later, but I find it easier to just put the grains into a clean muslin bag and drop the bag into the milk. I screw a lid onto the jar, because the lid will trap the CO2 that’s released, lending a slight effervescence to the kefir. If you don’t want the effervescence, just cover the kefir jar with a cloth & rubber band to keep out dust and bugs.

Leave the kefir at room temperature until it tastes the way you like it. I like to tilt the jar or stir the kefir now and then, though it’s not necessary. My kefir usually takes about 36 hours to thicken and get tart and effervescent, which is the way I like it. If your kefir separates into curds and whey, it’s definitely done! (More about this in the next section.) Strain out the kefir grains and enjoy! I love drinking kefir plain as well as using it in my smoothies.

To make another batch of kefir, simply transfer the grains into new milk. No need to rinse them first; in fact, rinsing slows their growth (Steinkraus, Keith, ed. Handbook of Indigenous Fermented Foods. 2nd ed. Pp. 306). Since I use a muslin bag to contain my grains, I just plop the bag into a new jar of milk without rinsing. No muss, no fuss.

I like to put my kefir grains into a muslin bag, which I transfer from one batch to another.

Perfect kefir - thickened, creamy, & effervescent. NOW is the time to take the grains out!

This kefir is "overdone" because it has separated into curds & whey. It's still usable (especially in smoothies!), but won't have the luscious, creamy texture.

Things I’ve learned about making kefir:

Using your new kefir grains – Making kefir is very easy, though there may be an adjustment period while you learn how your grains work & while the grains get acquainted with the kind of milk you use. Your first couple batches of kefir might not come out how you like…the kefir may be too thin, too sour, too yeasty, too whatever. This is normal, so don’t worry; some grains need time to adjust, others don’t.

What kind of milk to use? – You may use raw milk or pasteurized, but NOT ultra-pasteurized. (Ultra-pasteurized milk doesn’t culture! I learned this the hard way. Scary, yeah…) I try to get high-quality grassfed whole milk if possible because that’s what I like to drink, but any milk will work (again, just not ultra-pasteurized). Also, using cold milk straight out of the fridge is fine.

It’s hard to kill kefir grains! – Kefir grains are resilient. In fact, I’ve left grains in the same milk in the back of the fridge for 7 months, and they survived. Many websites tell you not to let the grains touch metal. However, I’ve observed how resilient these things are, and therefore I highly doubt that touching metal will suddenly kill them. In fact, mine have touched metal and they’re not dead yet.

What’s the secret to making good kefir? – Making good kefir is all about getting the right milk-to-grains ratio relative to the ambient temperature. It’ll require some experimentation, and you may not get consistent results every time unless you get scientific about it and measure out the same amount of kefir grains each time (necessary, since they multiply), put them into the same amount of milk, and culture at the same temperature. Temperature is the tricky part, because kefir will culture more quickly in warmer temperatures. (So, right about the time you’ve nailed down wintertime kefir-making, the season changes and you have to reinvent the wheel! :)) One way to control the temperature is to culture your kefir in a cooler with some ice. The easiest way, though, is just to decrease the amount of kefir grains you use in warmer temperatures (or increase the amount of milk) so that your kefir will culture more slowly.

Help! My kefir is separating too quickly – My biggest frustration was when my kefir would separate too quickly into curds and whey. It would be fine, and then two hours later it would be completely separated. What’s happening in this situation is that there are too many kefir grains for the amount of milk you’re using. Either decrease the amount of grains, or increase the amount of milk.

(The science: The more kefir grains you have in your milk, the faster they’ll use up their food source (lactose, or milk sugar). When they consume lactose, they produce lactic acid, and too much lactic acid will cause the kefir to separate into curds and whey…because that’s just what acids do, so congratulations, you’ve made cheese!)

Is separated kefir still good? – When kefir separates into curds and whey, it’s definitely still usable! It won’t have the creamy texture, so it’s not as lovely to drink. Instead, just use it in your smoothies, or else drain off/reserve the whey and eat the curds like a thick yogurt or let them drain further to make a thick, tangy “kefir cheese” spread. Yum!

Storage of kefir grains – If you’re not ready to make more kefir right away, put your grains in the fridge, either in a bit of fresh milk or in some kefir. Often, I just store my grains in the jar of kefir I’ve just made, in the fridge. Ideally, though, store them in a cup of fresh milk and change it every week or two; this way, you’re giving them plenty of food (lactose) which will keep them happy and multiplying. For long-term storage, I’ve heard that you can also freeze them, or dry them out completely and store them, and then re-hydrate in milk when you’re ready to use them again. I haven’t tried this yet, but it’s on my list!

Getting your grains to multiply – The best way to get your grains to multiply quickly is to make kefir every day, and to not store your grains in the fridge. We don’t go through enough kefir to make it every day, so my grains are often kept in the fridge. If kept in the fridge a lot, they will multiply much more slowly. If you have too many grains, give some away to friends, freeze some for “insurance”, or just eat them for a super probiotic boost!

What ARE kefir grains, really? – Kefir grains are conglomerates of lactic acid bacteria and yeasts held together by a polysaccharide gum called kefiran produced by the predominating bacterial species. (Steinkraus, Keith, ed. Handbook of Indigenous Fermented Foods. 2nd ed. Pp. 306) The bacteria and yeasts have a symbiotic relationship, as the predominant bacteria is unable to grow in milk without the yeast’s presence. This conglomerate that makes up the kefir grain behaves as a single organism; efforts to produce new grains by growing the component organisms separately and then recombining them have not been successful.

– My kefir looks/smells/tastes bad – Kefir can occasionally taste yeasty, particularly if it’s “overdone” and separated into curds & whey. Yeasty is OK, but just use common sense and don’t drink it if it otherwise looks, smells, and/or tastes bad. However, culturing something rogue is not really a huge concern; both the acidity of the kefir and the culturing organisms do a good job of keeping away any little nasties.

From the Handbook of Indigenous Fermented Foods:

“Some inhibition of pathogens in fermented milks is due to acid production. Recent work has shown that the effect of acidity is relatively small compared to specific substances of antibiotic nature formed by the fermenting organisms (Lucca, 1975). In addition to lactic acid, metabolites such as lactocidin, nisin, and acidophiline produced by starter organisms during fermentation also exhibit antibacterial properties. Singh and Laxminarayan (1973) reported that many lactobacilli exhibited antibacterial action against pathogenic strains of staphylococci and E. coli. They also observed that antibacterial action was a function of pH; the culture filtrate lost antibacterial activity when pH was raised to 5.0 or above.”

Moroccan Carrot Salad

I made the most delicious carrot salad the other day, and the recipe is just too good not to share with you! It even features two ingredients that I don’t always love…carrots and cumin. But in this dish, they’re both dynamite! Do try it. As with most salads, this one is best enjoyed the same day it’s made. I was still eating mine two days after I made it, and it was still yummy, but just not quite as fresh. If serving to company, I’d definitely make it that same day. It’s a frugal dish too. I ate mine as a main dish for lunch with some cottage cheese on the side for protein. Yum!

Moroccan Carrot Salad

For the salad:

6 cups shredded carrots (about 6 large carrots)

1 cup raisins

2 1/2 cups chopped oranges (about 3-4 oranges)

1 1/2 cups green onions, thinly sliced

1 cup cilantro leaves, chopped and well-packed into the measuring cup

For the dressing:

1/3 cup olive oil

1/4 – 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice

2 – 3 tsp honey (raw is nice)

1 1/2 to 2 tsp ground cumin (more if you like)

1/2 tsp smoked or regular paprika

1/8 tsp cayenne

salt to taste

Combine dressing ingredients into a jar and shake well to combine. (Heat the honey gently if needed so that it’ll mix into the dressing more easily.)

Put all the salad ingredients into a bowl and pour the dressing over top. Mix gently to combine well, and enjoy!

Next time I might add some toasted pine nuts since I think they’d further enhance this already delightful dish. But it’s wonderful just as it is. Since it is a frugal dish that can be used as a light lunch or dinner with a bit of protein on the side, I’m including it in this week’s Pennywise Platter Carnival over at The Nourishing Gourmet.

What Makes a Healthy Diet?

Ahh, the hotly debated question! There’s such an overabundance of conflicting information that it’s hard to know what to believe. Nowadays when I think about what a healthy diet is, these things come to mind: traditional foods, whole foods, unadulterated foods; foods that haven’t been canned or bottled or packaged or pasteurized. And oh my goodness, what a mighty feat it is to eat a diet that fits all that criteria, especially in an urban city environment! My diet definitely isn’t perfect, but I feel that I’m moving in the right direction because I’m focused on eating much more of a traditional, whole-foods diet than ever before.

It wasn’t always that way, though!

For 10 years, I was a vegetarian (and I still love meatless dishes!). I absorbed what the mainstream media said about fat, cholesterol, and saturated fat. They said fat was bad, so I drank 1% milk, ate reduced-fat cheese, and used butter very sparingly. They told us to eat lots of soy, so I ate tofu and drank soymilk. Instead of meat, I ate processed “meat-replacement” products. Looking back, I’m sort of appalled that I was so easily led! But now I feel like I’m on a much better track with what I eat, and I wanted to share a little bit about that.

I started reading about Weston Price, a dentist who traveled the world in the 1920s and studied indigenous cultures and their traditional diets. He also observed, first hand, the increase in disease in those who began incorporating modern, western foods (white flour, white sugar, refined vegetable oils, canned & processed foods, etc.) into their diet.

It was fascinating stuff, and I really resonated with the advice to eat traditional foods in their unadulterated forms.

Admittedly, though, the first time I picked up a copy of Nourishing Traditions (a cookbook by Sally Fallon which is based on the findings of Dr. Price) from the library, I returned it right back to the library in disgust! The advice goes squarely against mostly all of the mainstream information about what’s good for our health, and it’s quite an adjustment for one’s brain to make at first, after a lifetime of hearing and believing the exact opposite.

But then I read two books that completely changed my perspective on what health food is: Real Food by Nina Planck, and In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan. (I highly recommend these books!)

After that, I went back to the library to get Nourishing Traditions again, this time reading it nearly cover to cover!

Based on the findings of Weston Price, the following are the characteristics of traditional diets that Sally Fallon has compiled. I use this list as a guide for what to include in my own diet. (Of course everyone will differ in their perspective on diet, but I really resonate with the list below.)

  1. The diets of healthy, nonindustrialized peoples contain no refined or denatured foods such as refined sugar or corn syrup; white flour; canned foods; pasteurized, homogenized, skim or lowfat milk; refined or hydrogenated vegetable oils; protein powders; artificial vitamins; or toxic additives or colorings.
  2. All traditional cultures consume some sort of animal food, such as fish and other seafood; land and water fowl; land and sea mammals; eggs; milk and milk products; reptiles; and insects. The whole animal is consumed — muscle meat, organs, bones, and fat.
  3. The diets of healthy, nonindustrialized peoples contain at least four times the minerals and water-soluble vitamins, and TEN times the fat-soluble vitamins found in animal fat (Vitamin A, Vitamin D, and Activator X (Vitamin K2)) as the average American diet.
  4. All traditional cultures cooked some of their food, but all consumed a portion of their animal foods raw.
  5. Primitive and traditional diets have a high food enzyme content from raw dairy products, raw meat and fish; raw honey; tropical fruits; cold-pressed oils; wine and unpasteurized beer; and naturally preserved, lacto-fermented vegetables, fruits, beverages, dairy products, meats, and condiments.
  6. Seeds, grains, and nuts are soaked, sprouted, fermented, or naturally leavened to neutralize naturally occurring anti-nutrients such as enzyme inhibitors, tannins, and phytic acid.
  7. Total fat content of traditional diets varies from 30% to 80% of calories but only about 4% of calories come from polyunsaturated oils naturally occurring in grains, legumes, nuts, fish, animal fats, and vegetables. The balance of fat calories is in the form of saturated and monounsaturated fatty acids.
  8. Traditional diets contain nearly equal amounts of omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids.
  9. All traditional diets contain some salt.
  10. All traditional cultures make use of animal bones, usually in the form of gelatin-rich bone broths.
  11. Traditional cultures make provisions for the health of future generations by providing special nutrient-rich animal foods for parents-to-be, pregnant women, and growing children; by proper spacing of children; and by teaching the principles of right diet to the young.

For more information about the findings of Dr. Weston Price, read his fascinating book, Nutrition & Physical Degeneration. The pictures alone are convincing enough. Since the book was written in 1939, it’s now in the public domain in many countries and can be read online for free at this website:

For further fascinating information and lots of good articles and resources, visit the Weston A. Price foundation website.

Again, the following books are an excellent place to start:

Real Food, by Nina Planck

In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan

I do also recommend Sally Fallon’s cookbook, mentioned earlier, called Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats. In addition to lots of recipes, it contains a wealth of nutrition information.

And for nutritional advice on nurturing your reproductive health and the overall health of your little ones, I highly recommend these books:

The Garden of Fertility, by Katie Singer

Real Food for Mother and Baby, by Nina Planck

I now strive to eat a diet of whole & unprocessed foods, using the unique food preparation methods of our ancestors in order to maximize nutrient availability. Stay tuned for more on the topic of traditional food preparation methods!

Easy No-Bake Peanut Butter Balls

How was your weekend? Happy Mother’s Day! I had a lovely weekend; I worked part of the day on Saturday and it was thankfully a nice, easy day. When I got home, I was craving chips and salsa for some reason, so F. and I walked down to our favorite Mexican takeout place a few blocks away and brought back chips, guacamole, and salsa, and had a little “food fiesta” on the living room floor in front of the TV. It was really fun. Simple things like that are just the best! On Mother’s Day I had a lovely outing with my mom & dad to a nature preserve with a big lake. It was a gorgeous day, and it felt wonderful to spend some quality time with family and nature.

Also, I’m walking normally now! No more walking cast. And most importantly, I’m riding my bike again, which means FREEDOM! The bus was great there for a while, but nothing can compare to just getting on your bike and going wherever you want, whenever you want! I have a new appreciation for that. I can actually go to the store whenever I want to! By myself! Without looking at a bus schedule! And going to work is an easy 15-minute bike commute compared to the bus, which could take as long as an hour. Anyway, my foot is healing quite well. It’s definitely not 100% yet, but it’s trying. I’m just so thankful to be in normal shoes again. 🙂

Anyway, on to the recipe! It’s super easy! I love these peanut butter balls because they’re so delicious and whip up quickly. I like to take them in my lunches as a treat, and they’re also good for warm-weather “cooking” since they don’t use the oven.

Lindsey’s Easy No-Bake Peanut Butter Balls

1/2 cup peanut butter

1/4 cup chocolate chips

3 Tbsp honey (raw is nice since these don’t get heated)

3 Tbsp coconut flour

If you store your peanut butter in the fridge, let it soften a bit before making these; it’ll be easier to work with.

Mix everything together in a bowl, and roll the mixture into balls. (If the mixture is too sticky, add more coconut flour; if it’s too dry, add more peanut butter.) Store in the refrigerator.

Free Shipping Today Only (May 10) at Tropical Traditions!

Tropical Traditions is having another one of their Free Shipping days today only, Monday, May 10th until Midnight EDT on ground shipment orders. This is a great opportunity to try out some of the Tropical Traditions products if you’ve been meaning to. As I’ve said before, they’re one of my favorite companies — I love their products! (They’re not paying me to say that.)

If you want to take advantage of this deal (though they do have free shipping days every now and then), enter coupon code FREESHIP5810 during checkout.

Free shipping will save about $10 to $15 off your order, or more, depending on what you order.

Click here to read about some of my favorite products that they sell.

Also, if you buy anything and you’re a new customer, you can get this Virgin Coconut Oil book for free (any time, not just today) by entering my User ID, which is 6032410. When you’re going through the checkout process and you’ve added your shipping address and phone number, you will see the question “How did you hear of us?” Just choose “Referred by a friend” and then a new “User ID” field will appear below that where you can enter my User ID. (screen shot below)

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