Saturday, August 30, 2014

Brewing in the Kitchen - Kefir and Kvass

Hey y'all, I'm back with a few more treats for you. I've been having some good fun and adventures in the kitchen, and I'm eager to share!

Fun with Fermentation - Home-Brewed Kefir and Kvass

L to R: Just-mixed peach/apple/cinnamon kvass; fermenting kefir; a glass of mixed berry kvass


Kefir and WHAT, I can hear you saying? I had vaguely heard of beet kvass from the crunchy-mama circles I run in, and the classic kvass is actually from fermented rye bread, originating in Russia and Eastern Europe. But I never actually knew there was a fruit version (which sounds so much more appealing, at least to me) OR that it could be so simple to brew at home! 

The basics of fruit kvass are fruit (fresh, frozen or dried), raw honey, filtered water, and whey (which is apparently optional, but I always use it). 

Process and equipment: You can brew your own in as little as 48 hours just by mixing that stuff together in a glass jar with a lid and leaving it on the kitchen counter! Yes, it really is that easy. But, if you're like me, you need a little more info. Please find a great explanation of the hows and whys of fruit kvass from the lovely Rebecca Wood here. Your kvass is done when it is fizzy, sweet to the taste, and the fruit inside looks cooked. You strain out the fruit and drink the kvass! 

So far, I tried to do a mixed berry one with fresh ginger from frozen Costco fruits (meh) and now there's an apple peach cinnamon (made from fresh organic fruit) on fermenting on my counter that seems quite promising! It's a light-tasting fruit drink with minimal alcohol (so minimal, it is still suitable for kiddos and preggos) and a fizzy finish. 


Then there's the KEFIR, which you have probably come across if you've ever been the dairy section at Whole Foods or similar. It's basically akin to a drinkable yogurt, but it more accurately is a fermented milk drink. My husband was a little leery of me leaving any kind of milk product out on the counter and then drinking it a couple days later, but I was up for the adventure because I really love commercial kefir and thought I could make it better and cheaper at home! 

The basics of kefir: It will cost you between $3 and $4 to buy a quart of commercially prepared kefir at Whole Foods. When you make it at home, it costs you whatever a quart of organic milk costs, plus the cost of any starter and add-ins you make, which is significantly less! I use Yogourmet freeze-dried kefir starter because I don't have a source for kefir "grains", which are traditionally used. The freeze-dried packets come in a box of six and each packet makes one quart. The box will usually cost anywhere from $5-$7 or more depending on where you buy it. I got mine from Whole Foods, but I saw it even for sale on, of all places!

Process and equipment: The basics of kefir-making at home include heating a quart of milk to about 180 degrees, then letting it cool to somewhere between 73-77 degrees Fahrenheit. You can help it along by putting it on ice or in the refrigerator. (I use mason jars to make mine in.) Once cooled, you mix the kefir starter to a bit of the milk before adding it all back together and mixing well. Then, you set it on the counter in a cool, dry place! The top of the jar needs to be covered somehow so that air can still get in, but not bugs or other particulates. I have found it easy to put a coffee filter over the top and secure it with a rubber band. I've heard you can do cheesecloth or a tea towel or something of the sort. Leave it out for about 24 hours, then stop the fermentation by putting it in the refrigerator for 8 hours. It is then ready to strain or stir and enjoy! 

It is summer here in Northern California, so I've found that it doesn't actually take a full 24 hours before mine is completely solid. Therefore, I've been giving it as little as 12-14 hours before sticking it in the fridge. I have so far tried mango, blueberry, chocolate, and peach/banana flavorings using my kefir and our Vitamix! The chocolate was my least favorite (oddly) and the peach banana that I made today has by far been the BEST! I'm eager to try a chai and a vanilla flavor. I'm also wondering if there's a coffee recipe out there so I can mix two of my favorite breakfast drinks together into one awesome power drink! (Maybe I'm dreaming on that one...)

I've found the book Delicious Probiotic Drinks by Julia Mueller to be fun for recipes for the kefir, and also for ideas for other fermented drinks to make at home! 

If you decide to try or have tried either of these fun drinks yourself, please leave me a note about how it went! 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

A Week in the Life - Cookie Sheets, Nuudles, Roaring Camp and more

Hey y'all! Happy Thursday to you. 

This week I tried a few new things and revisited a few old things and I'd love to share it all with you!

Pinterest Road Test - Cookie Sheet Cleaner

First up, I have been seeing in Pinterest (link here) how one can revitalize one's cookie sheets with Hydrogen Peroxide and Baking Soda and not much else. I've read so much about how you won't need to scrub, all the yuck just slides right off. Who doesn't want some of that action?! And I definitely have some yucky six-year-old cookie sheets in dire need of cleaning. 

I was pretty much too embarrassed (and forgetful) to take a "before" picture. Suffice to say, it was bad. It really, really needed to be cleaned. 

CLAIM: From what I read, all one had to do was pour some hydrogen peroxide into a container and add enough baking soda to make a nice, thick paste. Then you smear that business all over your cookie sheet and just leave it for awhile. By the time you come back, you won't even have to scrub, just wipe it off and off comes the grime!!

Reality: I've got to call bogus on this one. I did the thick paste thing and left it for HOURS when I went to work. I came home and not even the paste will wipe has hardened to a crust on my already crusty pan. LOL. 

NEW CLAIM: So then I read that you can do a layer of baking soda sprinkles, sprinkle some hydrogen peroxide, then another layer of baking soda. Leave THAT and your troubles are over. 

Reality: This definitely worked better. As you can see, I really went for it with the layers. However, it didn't "wipe" right off, as claimed. I used steel wool. So, I'm gonna have to debunk this one until someone tells me what I did wrong! Or maybe there's just no way in heck you can get around a little elbow grease when the yuck has reached a certain point. Duly noted.

If you can believe it, YES, this is the "after" photo. And YES, this is a pretty good improvement. Yikes. 

Product I Love - Magic Nuudles

OK, on to the next adventure. I'd like to share with you a little product that is so simple yet so awesome. I actually came across it years ago back when I was a Gymboree Play & Music teacher. I taught art classes (among many) and part of the curriculum was a product called Magic Nuudles

If you can kind of see from my not-so-great action photo, they kind of look like colorful packing peanuts, and indeed the texture is similar. They're brilliant in their simplicity...all it takes is a teensy bit of water and they stick together and you can create all sorts of marvelous things. As my kiddo is only three years old and not overly artistically inclined yet, his creations are mostly lines and circles. But the real magic for him is using a little paint brush with water to make them stick together just how he wants them. He plays with them probably for about twenty minutes to a half-hour at a time, which is a great stretch of time for mama! =)

(He's also modeling one of my Noonday Collection necklaces in this photo. HA! This is a wonderful company that I hope to review for you soon!)

Adventure Time - Roaring Camp Railroads, Santa Cruz, CA

I've got to apologize for the photo quality on these...I was trying to look after two 3 year old boys (both potty training) at a new location while pregnant, and snap photos at the same time. HA!

Roaring Camp Railroads in Felton, CA is a magical place from my childhood. I wish I could dig up some old photos to share with you, but be assured that over twenty years ago, this place was just as charming and frozen in time as it is today!

It's basically an old-timey Western village with a covered bridge, a pond, a General Store, a little schoolhouse, and of course, TRAINS!! These are steam locomotives that take you through the beautiful redwoods of the Santa Cruz Mountains or down to the beach in Santa Cruz. They have gold panning, an old-time photo studio, candle-making, black-smithing...all the cool kinds of stuff you imagine from Little House on the Prairie or Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman episodes (c'mon, who remembers?!?)

The trains are a little investment to ride, especially if you have a family of more than two. But as a special trip, it's so worth it, especially if your kids are train lovers! And really, what kid doesn't love a good train ride?

If you live in Northern California, this day trip is worth whatever drive you gotta take! 

What's Up With Us?

25 weeks and 5 days - anniversary bump!
August 10th, 2008 and August 10th, 2014. Six years, two kids, many moves and lots life later...still liking this guy quite a bit. =) Happy anniversary to us!
Until next time, y'all!

Thursday, August 07, 2014

What to Cook: Easy Summer Pasta

I was so at a loss for meal planning the other day that I dug up an oldie but goodie article from a bygone Every Day with Rachael Ray magazine. For awhile they had this great section called "One Grocery Bag, Three Great Meals". As far as I know, the one I love is the first one they ever did. I saw a few more installments but none ever looked as appetizing as this first one. (I gave you the link up there, and the first photo they show is the one I'm referring to, but for some reason, they don't have the recipes together with the shopping list?)

The premise is that they give you a shopping list of only 10 items and you are supposed to be able to get three delicious home-cooked meals out of it. As usual with these sorts of things, they assume you have some pantry items, such as salt and pepper, milk, butter, garlic, onions, etc... It was so easy for me to pop that list into my Instacart app and have it at my door in two hours! Woohoo for technology! (Sorry if you don't live in one of their zones...hopefully they get to you soon. It's one of my favorite things right now, but I'll post on it more extensively another day.)

Anyway, on to the recipe: Shells with Fresh Tomato-Tarragon Sauce

Some photos of my process: It really, truly only took about fifteen to twenty minutes from start to finish!!

    Never grated fresh tomatoes on a box grater bizarre!
But here's what the finished product looks like: fresh tomato slurry!
Original recipe says to chop up onions and garlic fine and mix it in. Last time I made this it was just too intense a flavor to have all those raw aromatics in there. So this time: sauté!
A little goat cheese and fresh tarragon and voila!!
As you can see, I swapped shells for penne, as that is what I had on hand.
There you go! It was such an easy and delicious way to use some fresh tomatoes on a warm summer evening! Tarragon is an herb we rarely use around here, which is a bit of shame because it is delicious. If I weren't pregnant, this dish would have been fabulous with a nice dry rosé...I really needed it after the afternoon I had, too. *sigh*

Once again, the link: Shells with Fresh Tomato-Tarragon Sauce. If you try it out, let me know what you think!

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Domestic Disturbances & Pinterest Road Tests

Hey all!

I've been away for quite sometime. A lot has been happening, not least of which is this (in case you missed it):

Yep, we've found out we've got another baby boy on the way, so I'm about to get a lot busier in the coming months! Little one is due mid-November, and I can hardly wait to meet him. 

Kiddo #1 started preschool for a couple of half-days a week, and the little homebody has had a hard time adjusting. He also keeps getting sick, which is like a school tax for the body. Ugh. This week is a nice runny nose with no other symptoms...except him screeching at me every three seconds to wipe his nose. Kill me. 

However, in the midst of all that, this also happened:

He turned three and got to get Potty trained!!

This kind of gave me an idea, because a lot of people were asking about my crazy guerrilla method of going about it:

We literally just stayed on that tarp ALL DAY on day one of training. Cold turkey, no diapers, no Pull-ups (ok he wore one for twenty minutes but that's a long story...), lots of watered-down juice and small candy bribes. And stuff to keep him busy. And that hot pink potty he wanted.

I kept offering that watered-down juice (a friend reminded me I could have given him salty snacks to keep him thirsty!) all day, kept him only in his undies and never more than two feet from the potty. In the morning I put the timer on for every ten to fifteen minutes and made him just try to sit. He usually peed, at least a bit, and got a chocolate-covered raisin, or a Whopper, or a gummy bear for his efforts. He got a double-prize for #2. In the afternoon, he didn't even need the reminder of a timer...he started to really get it right away and started to go all by himself! The only accident we had on day one was when we went to get some celebratory ice cream and there wasn't a potty nearby (but there was a fountain. Running water and potty-training toddler = fail.)

It worked super-well. He had one accident the whole first day. Then a couple the next day. Then NOTHING for like four days. Completely clean and dry: long car trips, two & a half hour naps, and even a bouncy house later!! Then a bit of a regression, so we're not completely there. He still sometimes forgets about pooping when we're not at home. (Yuck). But for the most part, he's doing amazingly well! So I'm calling it a success. We'll have to tackle night time training when he wakes up dry for about a week in succession. I'm not going rush anything. For now, that's the only diaper he gets!

I learned about this method (where else?) on Pinterest. So the idea I had was to have a blog segment every so often road-testing stuff I've seen on Pinterest to see if it actually works as advertised!

So here's the pin to the method we basically used:

And I can say that it DEFINITELY WORKED for us!! DAILY-Approved. 

Hope to be on here a bit more often, but we'll see how I'm feeling. ;)

Until next time...