Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Kefir--more notes

I've been making kefir for a few months now, and it is going well. I'm not completely convinced that my homemade kefir is quite as soothing to the stomach as the store bought kind, but it doesn't seem to be hurting anybody, and after my initial investment in a case of ball jars, a plastic straining spoon and (of course) a batch of kefir grains, we are presently making quart upon quart of kefir for merely the price of milk.

Basically, all you do is put kefir grains into a ball jar, add milk, cover, and let it sit at room temperature until it turns into kefir. Then you strain out the grains and start a new batch.

There are three factors that affect your kefir processing:

(1) The ratio of kefir grains to milk in your ball jar. They say 1 tablespoon of grains to 1 cup of milk (or 7 oz.) is ideal. If you have scanty grains, it will take longer to turn the milk into kefir. If you have a lot of grains, the process will happen a lot faster.

(2) The temperature in your house. They say that 70-75 degrees is perfect. If your house is warmer than that, the kefir will ferment more quickly. If it is colder, as it was here when the furnace broke (twice), your kefir will ferment more slowly.

(3) The length of time you allow your kefir to culture.

Common advice is to put 1 tablespoons of kefir into 7-8 oz. of milk and let it sit at 72 degrees for 12 hours for mild kefir and 24 hours for strong kefir.

Perhaps because our house is a bit on the chilly side, it seemed to take more time than that for my kefir, especially at first. They warned me that my first batch or two would not be good, and they were oh, so right. Finally for my third batch, I actually added a tablespoon of store-bought kefir to the culture and then let it sit for a full 36 hours. That time I got a usable product (I used the earlier batches too, in pancakes, but they were not drinkable by any stretch of the imagination). I never had to add store bought kefir again, after that one time.

As I continued, the grains began to multiply. Soon I was making two, and then three ball jars of kefir per day. This was fine when everybody was at home over winter break, because we could actually drink it all up (we make smoothies; it is imperative to put the stuff through the blender). After Laura went back to school, Shawn was in Germany, and I was overwhelmed with the amount of kefir I was getting, so I figured out a way to slow it down a little which also saves me a lot of work.

At the beginning, I was culturing the kefir for 24 hours. When it was done, I would strain it, put the strained kefir into a clean ball jar in the refrigerator, and start a new batch on the counter in the old jar. I was washing multitudinous ball jars every day (I even popped the middle knuckle of my right hand because I was forcing my hand through the small mouths of the jars with a cloth to get them thoroughly cleaned), and something had to give...

Since I definitely like my kefir thicker than the kefir I was getting in 12 hours, I learned to follow this trick: I culture the kefir on the counter at room temperature for 12 hours. Then I place the jar in the refrigerator with the grains still in it, just as is, until I am ready to use it. It can stay in the refrigerator like this for a number of days, and it just gets thicker. When I am ready to use it, I strain the kefir directly into the blender using a large, red, circular, plastic skimmer spoon (with the perfect sized holes) that I got at WalMart for (I think) $3.89. I lift the big balls of kefir grains off the spoon, gently shake the excess kefir off them, and put them into a clean ball jar. The rest of the thick stuff left on the spoon, I dump into the blender. This stuff is a mixture of thick kefir curds and tiny kefir grains. The grains are very probiotic, very good for you. I just blend them right into the smoothie along with the frozen fruit, and they are no bother at all.

(1) chilling down the grains routinely and
(2) blending up the tiny grains into our smoothies,
I have controlled the growth of the grains so that they are no longer overwhelming and unmanageable. I also sometimes feed them to our dogs and recently made a special effort to do so when our dogs got diarrhea and needed a cure (it worked, too).

Additional notes:

(1) Nothing metal is supposed to come into contact with the grains. This is why I made sure to buy a plastic thing to strain with, and this strainer-spoon has become one of my favorite kitchen tools. I also fold up a square of plastic wrap and put it between the lid of the ball jar and the jar itself while I am culturing the kefir.

(2) You know the kefir has sufficiently cultured when you observe a separation in the jar. The separation may be near the top, in the middle just under the grains, or at the bottom. Usually the longer the kefir cultures, the lower the separation will be in the jar.

(3) Stirring or shaking your kefir will improve the outcome. The kefir is thickest and strongest right around the grains, so if you shake your jar routinely, you spread the cultured parts around and get a slightly smoother, more homogeneous product. Always give it a good, thorough shake right before straining, or most of the best kefir will just cling to the grains and go into the next batch. This won't hurt the next batch any, but you're missing out on the best part of what you made. If you decide to stir, use a plastic spoon.

(4) Keeping your kefir capped fairly tightly will give you a fizzy product. We like it fizzy. This is why we shake rather than stir (see #3 above)... we can keep the lid on when we shake. The lid should be a little bit less than fully tightened so that a little bit of gas can escape. I've read stories about jars exploding, but so far so good over here.

(5) I just use hormone free milk. It is cows' milk and not raw or anything, but I get it at Aldi for $1.75 per gallon and it works.

**(6) I use quite a bit more than 1 tablespoon grains per 7-8 oz. milk. I don't measure, but I would guess that I have between 1/3 and 1/2 cup of kefir grains in each jar. I put the grains in the bottom and then fill the jar with milk to the 3 cup mark on its side.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Sometimes you have a horrible, no good, very bad day.

Shannon and I took Laura back to college on Sunday. The driving was treacherous for the first hour or two. I've never been so scared in my life. But Shawn was in Germany and Laura had to be back at school, and I guess sometimes a person just has to buck up and do hard things. We ran out of windshield wiper fluid at one point, and I had about negative seven visibility as I tried to make it to the next thruway oasis and buy a refill gallon. Then we had to figure out how to open and close the hood, which was much harder than locating the place to pour the stuff in.

The trip home was OK.

Yesterday was Martin Luther King Junior Day, which meant a day off for all of us except Laura (who goes to a right-wing school) and Shawn (who is in Germany, and I can post about things like that now because my boys are big and strong, 6'1" and 6'3", one a body builder and one a black belt in karate, so it isn't such a big deal if strangers should learn that my husband isn't at home). It was not a banner day, but I got to rest a little after the big drive to and from college on Sunday, and the sun shone, and it was as cold as Minnesota, and we got a few errands accomplished. It's just rough when it's the day before everybody goes back to school after a break, and my hormones have been raging (menopause, who knows?) and, as I mentioned, Shawn is in Germany.

So today my phone woke me up at 6 a.m. and it was a teary-voiced Laura because she'd been up being sick all night in the dorm bathroom. I cannot imagine much anything worse than having a severe case of stomach flu through the night in a dirty dorm bathroom. She gets so sick, all she can do is lie on the floor. At home, I make her a nest of clean towels on the bathroom floor, but it is a little, cozy, one person bathroom, and for all how I am a terrible housewife, I do keep my bathrooms quite clean. When somebody gets sick, I do a lot of intermittent cleaning, too. Poor Lu was in a big, cold community bathroom with stalls and toilets you wouldn't even want to sit on, let alone throw up in. All night.

So I told her to get her RA to take her over to the Health Services Center where I figured they would have a bed and maybe a cleaner, more private bathroom, and maybe someone to bring her drinks and check on her now and then or something. So she did, and they did.

But they gave her Dramamine. Now, I know they were trying to help. I am not totally against Dramamine. It is good to take before a long car trip. I need it very badly before I fly. But it is NOT a cure for a stomach virus. I am controlling myself and stopping a rant here.

The Dramamine upset her stomach all over again. So she started being violently and uncontrollably sick again. When this particular child gets sick, it is a lot of work to get her system to settle. Giving her Dramamine was a Very Bad Idea. Because of the Dramamine, her inability to keep anything down was extended for hours. So what did they do? They threatened to send her to the ER so she could "be rehydrated." Of course, this means an IV. This child faints from needles. Two years ago, she got a concussion from having a shot and fainting afterwards. A trip to the ER and an IV are not a good idea for her when she is already so weak and miserable. After the experiences I've had, I figure the only time the ER is worthwhile is if you are already unconscious, or if you are actually bleeding out. I believe that it is best to avoid the ER whenever possible.

Can I just say it is SO FRUSTRATING when you know exactly what your child needs, and you know how to do it, but you cannot because you are five stinking hours away? Long ago, the nurse at our pediatrician's office taught me how to handle this situation, and we have gone through the steps approximately once a year since then. You give her a teaspoon of water. Then you set the timer for 20 minutes. When it goes off, you give her another teaspoon of water (no more, no less). You do this for an hour. At the end of an hour, you start setting the timer for 15 minutes instead of 20. At the end of another hour, if she has kept everything down, you let her take two teaspoons of water. You do this for another hour (two teaspoons every fifteen minutes), and if she continues to keep it down, you can give her 2-3 tablespoons of Gatorade. If she keeps that down for a half hour, you give her 1/4 cup (two ounces) of Gatorade, and then you let her sleep until she wakes up.

It is time consuming. It takes the better part of the day after the night of sickness. You are a slave to the timer, and you have to keep waking her up. But it is the thing that gets her to stop vomiting, the only thing.

The nurse at Health Services did not have time to do this for my daughter. So I made the commitment to call her myself at the appropriate intervals and tell her to take sips (she didn't have a teaspoon to measure--in the old days, we actually used one of those medicine measuring spoons with the hollow handle).

My phone has had a broken hinge. After about two calls to Laura this morning, my phone broke into two pieces and became utterly unusable. So I just had to use the land line, which, although it costs a bit more, was a serviceable alternative.

Then Laura's phone died. We had made it through the hour of one teaspoon every twenty minutes, and through the hour of one teaspoon every fifteen minutes. We were just getting into the hour of two teaspoons every fifteen minutes when her phone died, and nobody has yet had a chance to get her charger to her.

It is out of my hands now. The last time I talked to her, I knew her phone was dying, so I gave her instructions for what to do next. She sounded more alert and a little less sick-out-of-her-mind the last two times I spoke to her. I think she might be able to stay awake and keep the system going. Of course, with her phone dead, she can't even use the alarm on it to signal herself.

Can I just say, this is one of the most terrible feelings. Not as bad as when Shannon was stuck in the Chicago subway system at 1 a.m., I'll give you that. But it is terrible when you think your child is in the hands of well-meaning people who are going to take her to the hospital and stick her full of needles when you know exactly, EXACTLY, how to prevent that from happening.

I am shot, mentally and emotionally exhausted.

On a bright note, DJ seems to be doing better. His new PCP said that we might even find the bronchoscopy to be mildly therapeutic, and I believe we did. The rinses they spray as they are taking samples of the secretions in the lungs are a soothing saline solution that actually clears things out a bit.

The results from the procedure were good but unhelpful. In other words, nothing showed up that needs treatment, which also means that nothing showed up that can be treated. He has thick, clear secretions that congest him. Period. Whatever. So he continues to take asthma meds and Mucinex, and "push fluids." He recently started to get a cold. Almost 100% of the time "starting to get a cold" becomes bronchitis before the drop of a hat. DJ upped his vitamin D and prayed, and he actually seems to be fighting it off. Knowing his body is at a point to do that is even more encouraging than not getting sick at all. Of course, his new semester started today, so we will see.

Did I mention that I am shot?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Self conscious

I never wrote on this blog for an audience.

There was always the feeling that, yes, someone might happen across this site and read an entry or two. The knowledge of that possibility was good incentive for me to self-edit, something I have trouble doing when I write privately in a notebook in my bedroom.

But I never wrote for an audience. I never tried to "monetize" this blog to sell advertising and make money. I just stopped in now and then to download an essay that ran through my head during my morning shower, or to recount something funny or sad or (to me) interesting from the family life around here.

I am pleased and flattered if anyone ever reads this blog, and especially if anyone comments, but my goal has never been to attract readers. It is a very selfish kind of writing that I do here, writing just for me so that I can record memories that I want to remember, sort out my own personal feelings, catalog a few family favorite recipes, that sort of thing. I wouldn't mind making a few friends. I believe I have made two new friends through this vehicle, although I haven't heard from either of them for a very long time; maybe it's just life, maybe I'm just that boring. I don't need advertising stats, but I do hate to lose friends.

I ran into a discussion on another blog a couple-few weeks ago, a discussion about how writing drains you and drains the lifeblood out of you. Naively, I commented that I felt that writing was therapeutic. Then I sat back and blushed to the pores of my being as I realized that everybody else was talking about professional writing, and that they see their blogs as professional outlets where they actually do try, along with other things, to attract readers and sell advertising. I felt so bush, so gauche, so stupid.

It got me thinking. About blogging. And, along with the realization that I do it all wrong, I realized that in the moments when something flows from my fingers to my keyboard to the great electronic nexus that is cyberlife, something that is actually worth reading (it happens once or twice a year), I do not own the rights to it, Blogger does. So if I ever did collect my more worthy pieces to try to form them into a book, I don't think I could even use anything that had ever been published here.

I am wondering whether I will ever write on this blog again.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Counting Blessings

1. When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.
* Refrain:
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God hath done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
*Count your many blessings, see what God hath done.
[*And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.]
2. Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly,
And you will keep singing as the days go by.
3. When you look at others with their lands and gold,
Think that Christ has promised you His wealth untold;
Count your many blessings—wealth can never buy
Your reward in heaven, nor your home on high.
4. So, amid the conflict whether great or small,
Do not be discouraged, God is over all;
Count your many blessings, angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.

That was a good song. Fortifying. It was always a good reminder, every time I had the blessing of singing it. At the beginning of 2011, I feel that I ought to look back and count my blessings during 2010 (which was not my favorite year of life, so far).

1. I was blessed to teach a Bible study about the Promises of God. There is little that I enjoy more than reading the great Bible stories to people and exploring what they reveal about God's character.

2. I was blessed deeply to be able to take Shannon and David to Florida in June so that Shannon could get in a vacation and David could have some sea air for his lungs.

3. I was blessed to see my daughter Laura graduate from high school.

4. I was blessed to be able to do a graduation party for Laura, and it turned out well!

5. Shannon was accepted to the summer REU program in nanotechnology at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL.

6. Shannon was able to come home for Laura's party.

7. Shannon survived the trip back to Evanston (and it was pretty iffy for awhile, so that was cause for great thanksgiving).

8. We had a lovely family vacation at the beach in North Carolina in August.

9. Shawn has continued to be gainfully employed.

10. I was privileged to teach a study on the book of Philippians, my favorite New Testament book, and God blessed me deeply with every lesson.

11. Laura chose a wonderful Christian college and has made a happy adjustment to life there.

12. God healed David from Bell's Palsy and he was able to go back to college this fall and resume playing his saxophone.

13. Jonathan earned his black belt in karate.

14. Piper turned 11 and seems to be going strong.

15. I learned how to make kefir at home.

16. We found a pulmonologist for David who may be helping.

17. Shannon got through all of her graduate school applications.

18. We had 2 Christmas trees this year (a silly little thing, but it's made me happy each time I see them--a tiny tree for the family room so not to crowd the family, and a smallish tree in the corner of the living room which seemed to spread the Christmas spirit through so much more of the house...)

19. Amazing visit to Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, MD while we were in Annapolis for Jonathan's marching band show. What an unforgettable experience that was, with a sermon on 1 Peter 4:7, "The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray."

20. Shawn and I ended up with a sort of private getaway when we drove to Missouri to attend his baby sister's wedding in March.

21. Shannon successfully synthesized a cockroach pheromone and has her name on a paper that has been submitted for publication in an organic chemistry journal.

I may wish that David had been healthier, or that I had seen more of my parents, or that Shawn's job situation had not undergone some of the events it underwent. I may wish that we had been able to build a house on our land in the country. But God has been with us all the way. He knows the plans He has for us. I can trust Him with my life and with timing, too. We may build a house in the country some day. Or we may have a job transfer and move to a different state. Or we may even just stay right here, and if we do, I can be very happy with that. This is a nice home and we have spent many years building memories here. Maybe our house will burn down, like our neighbors' house did on my birthday this year. I hope that doesn't happen, but if it does, at least I won't have to clean the basement and figure out what to do with all that stuff if we move.

2011 may bring some very big changes, but no matter what happens, God is in control and I can trust Him, because He is good. There may be trouble and pain and heartache and loss, but at the end, we will live forever in glory with Him, and nothing can separate us, now or later, from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.