Yeah, I think I have a winner.

I'm totally in love with my new kitchen pet.

Okay, so I haven’t established a routine with my new kefir yet, but I’m having a lot of fun playing around and trying new things. I already learned that a second fermentation on the counter will result in curds and whey, but that was awesome because it made it easier to strain and tomorrow we will have a cream cheese fruit dip with apples for a great snack :). I’m loving how flexible this is, that I can pretty much make any dairy product with it (I’m going to get an ice-cream maker for it before Summer comes), and there’s such a wide range of smoothie flavors to play around with.

I have a neighbor who was born in the Ukraine, he’s pretty much American but his family still talks longingly of rye kvass and kefir, I’ve had to learn to pronounce it “kee-fear” even though my local health food store calls it “kee-fur” or he gets all angry stalwart Ukrainian on me.

I liked making sauerkraut, but after two batches of it I was so sick of it that I couldn’t bring myself to eat it anymore. It seems that may be an occasional treat, I really would like to try it on a burger. If I get a jar to make a smaller batch in that will refrigerate, that might be best. The ginger bug for sodas is out of my budget for something to keep up each day, though I do find that it’s so easy to start up that I can enjoy it occasionally. I hated dilly carrots, and I’ll find out soon about pickled onions.

Kvass burger.

I did like the beet kvass though. So, that might end up being a regular thing, especially since the pulp was great in meatloaf patties. It looks like my kvass routine will end with juicing the veggies after fermentation and using the pulp in meatloaf, crackers, and breads. With some tweaking, I hope to bring the red meat part of my patties to as low as possible while still including it in our diet for variety. I’ll share when I do figure out, but it might be a couple of months as my kvass factory won’t be nearly as full blown as my kefir factory. For now I’ll tell you that above was about half pulp (beets, carrots, and ginger), half meat, with one egg and a handful of quick oats (because I had no stale sourdough but I would have preferred that).

Anyway, so as far as probiotics go, it looks like I’ll be focusing on kefir with the occasional kvass and even more occasional experiment with a new vegetable pickle. Also my grains need a name. It’s something I’m chewing on.

By the way, check this out. Remember those tiny plants I posted pictures of on my birthday just a couple of weeks ago?

Gettin' my spring in my step.

Growing right along. Next to them is a bit of mint and dill, cuttings from some rather wilted herbs at the store that may not root well (being so far past their prime) but hopefully one or two will make it. I bet the mint does, that stuff is seriously hardy. I’ll tell you more about this little window some other time. Right now I need to go wail and whine and lament that my ink pen is throwing a tantrum when I want to draw.

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Yay, it’s mah birthday. I’m buyin’ myself kefir :).

My birthday is always a special day for me. Although I don’t actually care about the birthday part of it. I care about the groundhog part of it. Mostly because asking a groundhog if spring is coming reminds me of the other day it is.

It’s Imbolc, a Pagan holiday that celebrates the coming of spring, the time of year that we honor that cows begin lactating and seedlings germinate. I like playing with my houseplants, I like foraging, I like warmer weather and longer days, I like spring being near and the season of hope and joy and youth that it represents, love, frolicking, all that. So, it’s one of my favorite holidays. Sure, the actual spring solstice is nice too, but Imbolc means its soon to be here, and I love having something to look forward to :). Festival meals usually include dairy and sprouts.

This means two things for me:

1) Time to plant my seeds, and I get to do it in a way to honor my religion! Oh. Dang. This year I already planted my seeds, because they had to be in the refrigerator for a month, and I wanted them in the ground by April (after I let them get started here). Usually I don’t have seeds, but I can at least propagate my houseplants. This year I’ve already planted some ginger root already and some dandelion roots to grow those as houseplants (we’ll see how that goes), so that part all came early this year. So far the dandelions are growing like weeds ;). I only planted them a couple of days ago. I planted the ginger about a month ago.

 

Spring is settin' forth to spring

2) In my area, the dandelions are starting to become visible out on the lawns as well. Foraging season begins :). No blooms yet, but I’ve already added the greens to some soup (obviously where I got the roots for planting). This year I’m gonna ferment the flowers too, maybe not the traditional dandelion wine way, but in a ginger bug soda. I also have a small sample of the roots pickling, so I get to try those in a couple of weeks. More foraging is peeking out, chickweed and henbit are both very prolific in my apartments and I’m starting to see signs of them. Since I didn’t get to forage (here at least) last year because I thought they were spraying, I will really enjoy the fact that they actually aren’t, and all because of my weird ass.

Anyway, this year I’m going to celebrate the dairy part as well (the purchase of it anyway). My son and I are lactose intolerant, but I can eat cheese and yogurt. So I risked drinking a quart of kefir to see what would happen, and since I didn’t explode that widens my possibilities some.

After much deliberation (between yogurt, kefir, and kombucha), I shall add kefir to my kitchen pets. There’s going to be so many things I can make now.  Dips and cream cheese will pair well with Bob’s children. Sourdough Bob has given me more flatbreads lately, and crackers (kind of tired of bread for a bit). I’ve been thinking about trying pitas, or returning to pretzels. All of those (and bread itself) will go great with dips and spreads made from my kefir :). It will be nice to have dairy in the house that won’t um, make my home less hospitable to company.

Bonus, my super picky kid loved the kefir. He actually doesn’t remember reacting to milk and keeps “correcting” me saying he’s not lactose intolerant, he just hates milk. He is though, and I’m looking forward to us both being able to consume more calcium and b12 on a regular basis.

Only I get to buy the kefir culture with my birthday money from Grandma (thanks Grandma!) which means I won’t have it in my hands for a bit. Sigh. The planting came early and the dairy comes late. I’ll be at a loss for what to do today. Well, I might splurge on more store-bought kefir, and put some sprouts in with dinner. I wish I knew some Pagans to go run around in the damp grass all barefoot with. Oh well.

How have my kitchen experiments been going you ask? So far, still experiments. I think I’ve made some serious progress with how to handle my ginger bug (I’ve had a problem with too much sweetness, fermenting too fast or too slowly, how to handle spent wort, stuff like that). Still working on that too though, but I’ll let you know more soon I’m sure. Anne-Marie of The Zero-Waste Chef pointed me at an Alton Brown recipe for candied ginger for my wort, and that turned out fantastic. In a few weeks I should know more of what I’m doing here, so I’ll let my tiny corner of the world know about it then.

 

Candied ginger from ginger left over from making ginger ale. Waste not!

Remember the kvass?

Pretty just never really lasts, does it?

I really did enjoy those pretty stars for a day or two, but I hoped I’d end up with a pink monochromatic watercolor with little light stars on a dark beet background. You can’t even see the stars! Anyway, most of the recipes I saw said a day or two for kvass, so after about three or four days I still wasn’t getting a hint of tang or bubbles. I juiced it and it was way too salty, and very inactive. So, I went ahead and put it back in the jug, minus the fiber from the veggies, and watched it for a week. Nothing, really.

I tossed a pinch of Bob the sourdough king in there (poured out a cup of kvass, whisked him in, and added it back to the mix) and the next day it was really active. The day after that it was very pleasantly tangy (made me smile with delight at the tang) but still way too salty. Next time I’ll try 1% brine instead of 2%. Also, the recipes said a day or two, but then I ran across other recipes that had a much longer time frame. So, I’ll still play with this one for a bit and see how it goes. I might even do stars to make me happy for a couple of days :).

Or flowers. I totally wasted some money on vegetable cutters back when I did bento, and I hardly used them because I had to get a wide enough carrot to use the cutters on, and all that slicing into rounds and punching out flowers wasn’t worth the effort. I was hoping that if i put flowers in my son’s soup, he might eat the carrots. He didn’t. We’re still working on getting beta-carotene into him, though he does like the purée in soup.

Anyway, I ran across a YouTube video that made the pretty carrots so much easier. Check her out at about 1:03. The rest of the video is cool too :).

By the way, the pulp from the juice after I ran the kvass through the juicer? Excellent in sourdough crackers. The crackers weren’t quite perfect in texture just yet, but the flavor was great and I see a lot of potential here.

Oh, and one more thing about fermentation that I’ve learned: I hate Rejuvelac. No matter how I flavor it. That is all.

Misadventures in Homemade Butter

How to make butter with a mason jar or blender, including homemade cultured butter or culinary and healing herbal butters for a butter bell, and how I did it wrong from Dryad In The Elm at dryadintheelm.com. This was a lot of fun and I loved it, the butter tastes great, and thankfully we all learn from our mistakes ;).

I can’t think of a more satisfying feeling than biting into warm, buttery, homemade bread. I love my bread, and I should. I spend a couple of years developing my mad bread-making skills. Every bite of my bread is a reminder of my hard work and success, and my family knows this effort has been out of love. Even when a loaf fails miserably, we still manage to love it somehow, like a family pet that’s all wonky in the brain. Something has been bothering me though. Why do I work so hard and then turn around and smear regular “whatever was on sale” butter on my bread? This must be stopped.

Thankfully, The Magic Teaspoon has some great suggestions for herbal butters, and simple instructions on making your own butter with a blender. I had that, and I also had a brand new little butter bell that hadn’t even been taken out of the box. Butter bells keep your butter fresh while out on the counter at room temperature, allowing you to have spreadable butter whenever you want it. The butter is kept fresh with an air tight seal of water when the bell is closed. I don’t know why it took me so long to get one.

If you like it when newbies post about their clumsy attempts, you are going to love this.

How to make butter with a mason jar or blender, including homemade cultured butter or culinary and healing herbal butters for a butter bell, and how I did it wrong from Dryad In The Elm at dryadintheelm.com. This was a lot of fun and I loved it, the butter tastes great, and thankfully we all learn from our mistakes ;).

My first attempt was a pumpkin spice flavored butter with the blender. With the cold weather, I love this spice to help soothe my joints and help me face the horrors of chilly air when out running errands. So, I added 1 tablespoon pumpkin spice and 1 tablespoon brown sugar. Next I added some cream (1 cup), and some filtered water straight from the refrigerator (1/2 cup).

After a couple of minutes of blenderizing, I lifted the lid and smoothed it down with a spatula then blenderized again. I also figured out that if I kept the lid tipped ever so slightly and lightly used the spatula to smooth the butter as it was spinning, I could keep he butter churning more easily and the process went much more smoothly. This is how I ended up with butter in my hair.

Next step: drain out the buttermilk.

How to make butter with a mason jar or blender, including homemade cultured butter or culinary and healing herbal butters for a butter bell, and how I did it wrong from Dryad In The Elm at dryadintheelm.com. This was a lot of fun and I loved it, the butter tastes great, and thankfully we all learn from our mistakes ;).

I had my pretty little butter bell all clean and waiting, and I ended up with fresh buttermilk. Once it drained for a little while, I smoothed it in to my happy little bell, and it promptly fell out. This made me sad. A look at my recipe showed me that I wasn’t supposed to put the water in until the cream was whipped. Oops. I think I ended up whipping a bunch of water into my butter. Sigh.

Later on, browsing for other blender butter recipes on the web showed me that The Magic Teaspoon uses a method where the blender washes the butter for you, which is very convenient. (When I made the mason jar butter, washing the buttermilk out with that chilled water was not very nice to my winter-tender joints.)

Next time I try making butter, I think I’ll use this method again only I’ll do it right this time, and see if I can get my butter to stay in the bell. It might be that the entire method of washing in the blender isn’t right for my butter bell, but I’ll certainly give it a try.

Once chilled the butter was quite firm, though it does dent with a finger pressed into it a little more easily than my store-bought butter.

How to make butter with a mason jar or blender, including homemade cultured butter or culinary and healing herbal butters for a butter bell, and how I did it wrong from Dryad In The Elm at dryadintheelm.com. This was a lot of fun and I loved it, the butter tastes great, and thankfully we all learn from our mistakes ;).

In the meantime, I had in my hands the first real buttermilk that I had ever seen. Even better, it was pumpkin spice flavored. I saved it for pancakes the next day. This buttermilk was a little watered down due to adding water before draining; recipes that call for buttermilk may need to be adjusted. I used it instead of water in a pumpkin pancake recipe that didn’t call for any buttermilk, and they turned out very nummy and fluffy. You can wash blender butter in a later step and still get buttermilk out of it just like you can with mason jar butter, that just wasn’t the process I used.

By the way, The Magic Teaspoon had several recipes for herbal butters that you can make with store-bought butter, none of them were pumpkin spice but I’ll keep this chapter in mind when playing around with different flavors. The easiest way to make an herbal butter would be to put your ingredients into a blender or a food processor with a stick or two of butter and then blend it all together (or mash the herbs in with the back of a fork), I’m sure I’ll try this as well when I don’t have time to whip up my own butter.

If you want cultured butter (the cream is cultured first with healthy probiotic bacteria), I don’t know if I would add spices. I know that cinnamon and some other spices or herbs with antibacterial properties  may interfere with yeast rising (this is why cinnamon breads have the bulk of their spices swirled in the center, so the areas between the swirls are able to rise more). If bread yeast doesn’t like it, probiotic bacteria might not like it either. Who knows though, I’ve seen sourdough starter recipes that include antibacterial herbs and people say they seem to work fine, even though lactobacteria are a part of a sourdough culture. Experiment and see how it goes for you (and maybe let me know).

My next adventure was the cardiovascular muscle toning exercise of mason jar butter. I made butter by shaking a jar and I didn’t even smack myself in the face with the jar. This is a proud moment for me.

How to make butter with a mason jar or blender, including homemade cultured butter or culinary and healing herbal butters for a butter bell, and how I did it wrong from Dryad In The Elm at dryadintheelm.com. This was a lot of fun and I loved it, the butter tastes great, and thankfully we all learn from our mistakes ;).

I gotta say, this was a lot of fun. Then again, maybe that’s because I loaded some Harry Belafonte onto my mp3 player and danced to the tune of “Jump in the Line”. This had the added bonus of annoying my son by singing “Shake, shake, shake, señora” while he was trying to play video games. It is the right of every mother to annoy their child, and I take my rights as a duty to perform with utmost enthusiasm.

It didn’t take very long before the cream stopped sloshing. I peeked at my whipped cream.

How to make butter with a mason jar or blender, including homemade cultured butter or culinary and healing herbal butters for a butter bell, and how I did it wrong from Dryad In The Elm at dryadintheelm.com. This was a lot of fun and I loved it, the butter tastes great, and thankfully we all learn from our mistakes ;).

A couple of verses of Belafonte later, my fat began to separate from the buttermilk.

How to make butter with a mason jar or blender, including homemade cultured butter or culinary and healing herbal butters for a butter bell, and how I did it wrong from Dryad In The Elm at dryadintheelm.com. This was a lot of fun and I loved it, the butter tastes great, and thankfully we all learn from our mistakes ;).

It might be a little tricky to see here, but what I had appeared to be a smooth island of butter floating in a milky pond. I thought it was supposed to look more broken up than that, so I kept shaking, hoping to get little clumps of butter and lots of buttermilky goodness.I was really looking forward to that buttermilk too, seeing as how it wouldn’t be thinned out by the cold water like it was with the blender method I used.

But that is not what happened.

How to make butter with a mason jar or blender, including homemade cultured butter or culinary and healing herbal butters for a butter bell, and how I did it wrong from Dryad In The Elm at dryadintheelm.com. This was a lot of fun and I loved it, the butter tastes great, and thankfully we all learn from our mistakes ;).

Instead, the buttermilk ended up being whipped right back into the butter. Live and learn. I think I must have shaken for half an hour trying to get my little clumps of butter (and my biceps are a little bit bigger for the effort).

Now I know; when the fats start smacking together and the butter falls from the cream, the time is right to drain and wash even if my butter doesn’t look all clumpy. I might use a bigger jar next time, or leave more room at the top, and see if that helps everything go more smoothly. The next step is to strain out the buttermilk, but mine was all mixed in so I went straight to washing.

How to make butter with a mason jar or blender, including homemade cultured butter or culinary and healing herbal butters for a butter bell, and how I did it wrong from Dryad In The Elm at dryadintheelm.com. This was a lot of fun and I loved it, the butter tastes great, and thankfully we all learn from our mistakes ;).

All you have to do is pour in some chilled water then squish the water around through the butter with your fingers, and work the butter in a way that is similar to kneading bread. Pour out the milky water, then add more. Repeat this until the water is clear.

Get all the buttermilk out, or as much as possible, as it might make your butter turn rancid more quickly. I had to repeat this step a lot from my newbie clumsiness, but I did end up with clean butter eventually. This time my butter stayed in the bell.

How to make butter with a mason jar or blender, including homemade cultured butter or culinary and healing herbal butters for a butter bell, and how I did it wrong from Dryad In The Elm at dryadintheelm.com. This was a lot of fun and I loved it, the butter tastes great, and thankfully we all learn from our mistakes ;).

I did have to smooth it level after each use for it to stay in the bell properly, but I was able to use this nice soft butter on my bread for a few days. I had enough to put some in the refrigerator as well.  It was light and tasty, and very fun to make (even if things didn’t go exactly as planned).

Somewhere in there, somewhere around when things started becoming solid and started shaking less, I suddenly looked at my jar in amazement. Wait a minute, what magic is this anyway? I know that friction causes heat, and heat can sometimes help certain things dissolve, but I wasn’t trying to make two substances combine in a solution, was I? This was an entirely mechanical process with only one ingredient. How could this be happening? So, I Googled.

It took me about three seconds to find The Science of Whipped Cream and Butter from Food Retro. Apparently butter is made by smacking fat globules together until they stick, and then the water gets pushed out.A little less simplified: water repelling phospholipids surround the fat triglycerides in a layer, keeping the fat in a water repelling bubble. Agitation causes the phospholipids to release their hold on each other (in my head I see something similar to the kid’s game of crack the whip, only the poor phospholipids are screaming in abject terror as they are ripped apart from their friends and loved ones).

As the layer is broken, the fat (triglycerides) in the center break out and seek other fat molecules and cling together for dear life (they so saw what happened to the phospholipids, I don’t blame them for sticking together one bit). When they cling they do so tightly, and the water molecules are forced out.

Serious Eats gets even more nitty gritty, with molecule diagrams and discussion of colloids, and happy or sad faces where the science books usually put a boring positive or negative symbol instead. Man they make science look cute. Also, I didn’t even think about the fact that chemistry might be involved in the process of making a foam for the whipped cream stage, I just chalked it up to mechanical incorporation of air. But oh no, it’s all about the triglycerides.

Hopefully soon I’ll try this again, only I’d like to try culturing my cream first for a probiotic butter. I’m still learning about probiotic cultures, and I’m trying a few things that I’ll share when I’m ready. My first ginger ale didn’t quite turn out like I thought, but my son has frequent stomach issues and last night he tried some. About half an hour later, he said he felt great. I am encouraged, and might be looking at a few methods for getting more healthy bacteria into our diets. Maybe it was just the ginger goodness and its marvelous effect on the digestive system, but I’m hoping that the bacteria can help prevent him from getting so many stomach upsets in the future. Time will tell.

Plus, if I can keep this butter-making up (cultured or not) that’s another area of my life where I’ll be skimming out some preservatives and additives. Also, most of the time when you cut a machine out of the process, you end up with a more sustainable option. It’s a busy world though, and time does get frittered away. I bet though that I find the time every now and then to make a special flavored homemade butter.

There are butter churns that you can put on top of a mason jar, then you spin a crank instead of shaking. I was really tempted to put one on my wishlist and and then drop hints to my man, but looking more closely at the reviews I thought that the ones that hold up well are likely the ones that are way out of the budget. Actually, the less expensive ones were also out of the budget. I suppose if you made a large amount of butter on a regular basis one of these might be a nice tool (perhaps if you owned the cow it came from), but I think I’ll stick to my low-budget options.

There are also molds for homemade butter, both the shape we are familiar with (the rectangle sticks for putting in a butter dish) and cute little shapes like lambs and hearts. Candy and soap molds can be used too, as long as they are food safe materials. Those can be adorable and perhaps one day I’ll get one, but I’ll stick with my butter bell for now.

And some more buttery goodness from other fabulous people:

Karen made an awesome video of mason jar butter making on The Art of Doing Stuff. She seems like a fun kind of lady.

Dana Velden at The Kitchn has a wonderful article with lots of tips, it’s so worth the read that many of the pages I read referenced her.

Here’s a straight from the cow cultured butter kind of article from the lovely people at Mother Earth News. It was a sad day when thrift meant I had to cancel my magazine subscription, but I still enjoy their newsletter emails.

Jill Winger at The Prairie Homestead mentions that the reason store bought butter is so hard is due to a high water content (which also means that you’re buying less butter than you think and spending money on water, but I guess it also means less calories per tablespoon) and uses raw milk from her own cow for her cultured butter. One day I aspire to be so hard core. Very worth the read.

If you’re the kind of person who enjoys reading the first few chapters of cookbooks, where they keep the history and interesting bits about the food (a kindred spirit), you’ll like the article by Jonathan S. White about Churning Cultured Butter at Home.

Ris Lacoste at Fine Cooking has a great looking recipe for Three-Herb Butter. The recipe calls for store bought butter, but of course you can use your own homemade goodness.

Leigh Anne at Your Homebased Mom has a few suggestions for flavored butters, including gift wrapping ideas for the holidays. She’s made some very pretty butters, this is a popular post on Pinterest.

Sonia at The Healthy Foodie has a run-down on making ghee or clarified butter. Besides lasting longer and being easier to use when a recipe calls for softened butter, ghee has a higher smoke point than regular butter. This is important to me because I use a cast-iron aebleskiver pan. When I was using regular butter to brush the wells, my pan got kind of gummy and sticky over time. Switching to ghee made my skillet more clean, and my aebleskiver browned better as well. I’m sure it is also superior for sautéing, I just tend to grab olive oil for that.

I love Lehman’s, and you can find some very old-school supplies in their online shop (not an affiliate link). Their catalog makes great browsing.

If any love of my life might be looking at this and contemplating a special gift for me sometime in the future, those wooden butter molds with the little carved decorations sure do look fun… They’re currently out of stock so you’re likely off the hook for now.