I’m Here to Tell You About Kefir

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I admit to having a slightly alternative lifestyle, but I’m not usually one to preach why I think my way is better, or even that it necessarily is better.

When it comes to kefir, though, there is something you really need to know.

Kefir is magic. It will change your life. Try it for 30 days, even 14 days, and you will wonder how you ever lived without it.

I was doing some research on eating to improve mood when I discovered kefir. The word is said to mean ‘feel good’ and it is listed as one of the best ways of improving mood using food. The cultures within will improve your digestive health. It can even help the lactose intolerant to tolerate lactose.

Kefir is described simply as a fermented milk drink, and it contains yeasts and cultures. To make it, you simply add kefir grains to milk and let it sit at room temperature with a cloth over the top to allow air in but keep other things out. Depending on ambient temperature, your kefir will take between 18 and 48 hours to ferment the milk. Once it is ready you strain the grains from the milky liquid, add more milk to the grains, and put them back in their place. The liquid you are left with is your kefir, and it benefits greatly from a second ferment. Another 12 hours at room temperature, in an airtight container, tempers the flavour. You can flavour the kefir during the second ferment, by adding fruit, honey or spices.

When I first started taking kefir, I noticed a difference within days. For the first week I didn’t sleep as much, but I had plenty of energy. My sleep patterns normalised after a while, but I don’t have the same need for naps and sleep-ins that I used to have. I don’t get that bone-deep tiredness at the end of the week. I find it easy to get out of bed in the morning.

I convinced Matt to try it. He is a shift worker, doing 12 hour shifts. Two days, two nights, four days off. He was tired all of the time. During his work days he did nothing but work and sleep. During his days off he slept a lot, but was still constantly tired.

He claimed at first that the kefir did nothing, but I soon noticed that he was not as tired. After a day shift he could stay awake long enough to eat dinner and watch some TV, rather than crashing within an hour of getting home. His days off became more productive and his sleep in general improved.

I went through a stage where I decided that the kefir wasn’t working. I was having trouble with anxiety and becoming very frustrated that I wasn’t able to get on top of it. I didn’t have any kefir for about a week.

The first thing I noticed was that my ability to concentrate at work took a massive dive. My mind just felt dull and unresponsive. I was sleepy and irritable. Matt went back to being tired and grumpy a lot. I fired up the kefir again, although we now only take it every second day, depending on the weather and how quickly it ferments.

Obviously I use raw goat milk for my kefir, but you can use anything that resembles milk. I have used UHT milk at a pinch and the kefir grains didn’t mind.

Your grains will grow and reproduce and you can either discard the excess or give it to others who may want to try it. Kefir must be looked after, if you don’t feed it and keep it warm it will die. You can put it into hibernation in the fridge for a couple of weeks if you need a break from it, but it won’t keep indefinitely.

Looking after kefir is quite a commitment. I found straining and changing the milk every day to be a bit of a drag. I have a tea strainer type of thing that sits in the top of my jars and lets the kefir strain through without letting the grains through. This makes straining it a lot quicker. I also only run one jar of kefir now, so in the cooler weather I only have to strain it every other day.

Here’s another thing. Kefir is for the extreme priority good health. You won’t drink it for fun. It tastes like fizzy, yeasty milk. Even after the second ferment. Matt has his fermented with berries and drinks it from the jar. I make mine into my breakfast smoothie with banana, berries, yoghurt and wheatgerm. If I have something else for breakfast I will still blend my kefir with some frozen berries. There are a lot of alternatives for flavouring on the second ferment, from Milo to citrus slices or honey and cinnamon. You have to find a way that you can make it palatable.

Kefir is amazing. Everyone should have a colony in their kitchen. It really might change your life. Take the kefir challenge and let me know how it works for you.

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Of Cheese and Chickens

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The last few weeks have seen a focus on the very things that make up the title of this blog. Let me start with the cheese.

For my birthday I got a very expensive gift that most people would not find anywhere near as exciting as I did. A very flash wine fridge. Now, I don’t drink wine, but such an appliance, with its dual temperature zones and wooden racks, is perfect for aging cheese.

I have been making soft cheese for a couple of years now, and we love the stuff. However, it is not very versatile, and when it comes to making pizza or sandwiches or even grating it to top tacos or spaghetti bolognese, it is never going to be right for the job.

In the past few months I have thrown together a few batches of mozzarella and ricotta. Microwave mozzarella has saved the day on a couple of occasions when I have gone to make pizza and discovered that I had no pizza cheese, but there was plenty of milk in the fridge. Ricotta is another quick, basic cheese that makes a great pasta filling and forms the basis for my favourite cannelloni. It also combines with a couple of duck eggs to make a really easy but not too sweet cheesecake.

I had planned to attempt to use the garage fridge to age some hard cheeses over summer. Even turned right down, the fridge can’t actually heat up, so the only way to get it to sit at a constant 10 degrees would be to wait until the temperature garage stays warm to hot for several weeks. This leaves me with a fairly short cheese-making season.

But with the new wine fridge acting as the perfect cheese cave, I have got busy. So far I have made four batches of farmhouse cheddar and a brie. The first batch of cheddar got us out of a tight spot tonight when it was used on tacos. It is still a week from really being mature, but it is currently quite mild and milky and has a good texture. The brie is still several weeks off being ready, but I am hopeful that it will form a mould on the outside correctly and have that creamy interior. On its third day in the fridge it already smells amazing.

Here is the fridge with three batches of waxed cheddar in the bottom and the red tub containing the brie in the top.

The fridge with cheeses and a couple of freeloading bottles of cider

The fridge with cheeses and a couple of freeloading bottles of cider

 

And now for the chickens.

As spring ramps up into summer, the hens start to go broody. The Rhode Island Reds can be hard to get to sit well, so we’ve had a couple of aborted attempts by them. But the Silkies, bless them, have been brilliant first-time mums.

It began with the white hen, Quartz, who I decided to start off easy by giving her seven of her own eggs to sit on. All seven hatched without any fuss or fanfare. Even the egg that the red hen in the nest next to her managed to steal one day. Those babies are now three weeks old.

Quartz with her Silkie chicks.

Quartz with her Silkie chicks.

While Pie the goose was ensconced in the chook palace with her eggs, little Opal, another Silkie, made a nest in the corner behind her. This was a great spot, out-of-the-way and protected from crows by Pie’s ferocious hissing and snaky neck. I let Opal set a nest of her own eggs, but shortly after she sat Quartz’s brood emerged. I decided that we didn’t really need any more Silkies, so Opal’s eggs were replaced with some Rhode Island Red eggs that I had been saving.

I wasn’t expecting a super hatch rate, as the RIR eggs had been sitting on the bench for a while variously in cartons and in the egg basket, but I figured it was worth a try. I took my life into my hands and got a vicious bite on the back of my leg from Pie when I switched Opal’s eggs over. But 21 days later I was rewarded with six little red chicks. A seventh took a bit longer, but hatched under the broody Red hen and was reunited with his peers the next day. Only one of the eight eggs was infertile.

Opal with her Rhode Island Red chicks.

Opal with her Rhode Island Red chicks.

With five RIR hens already in the yard, these babies will be raised for meat. Ironically, it looks like five of the seven are female. You would never get that ratio if you were hoping for your next generation of egg layers. My original trio of RIRs has become thirteen in about 18 months, so it seems I have finally found a standard utility breed that works well here. The hens are a bit of a nuisance, laying all over the place in spots where crows can steal the eggs, but we are making some progress.

Back to Pie the goose. Earlier in the season she sat on a clutch that didn’t hatch. I don’t know why. Most of them were fertile, but died in the shell somewhere around the middle of the third week. Poor Pie looked awful after sitting for so long, and I felt terrible for her. I boosted her off the nest, watched her gain condition, and waited for her to sit again.

She chose a nice, safe spot in the new poultry palace. She laid a small clutch of five and sat. Through thunderstorms and marauding sheep, she sat tight on that nest for 30 days. Every time there was a thunderstorm I worried about the embryos, as I have heard that they can be killed by the vibration of the thunder. But on day 31 I found Pie with three newly hatched goslings. Success!

Pie with her two remaining goslings.

Pie with her two remaining goslings.

Pie is not the best mum. When she spotted a big Pekin duck egg in a nest nearby she felt that she needed to go and sit on it. The goslings couldn’t find her. I found two huddled beside the plastic tub and the third had sought warmth under Opal in the corner. I reunited Pie with her babies. Then she went outside and left them stuck in the plastic tub in their house. I reunited them again.

With some help from Xander the gander, Pie kept her little brood together for their first day outside. The second day, though, disaster struck. Matt heard a commotion in the chook pen and I went out to investigate. I was just in time to see a huge crow fly off, a ball of grey fluff with little webbed feet poking out of its nasty beak.

So now the goose family are confined to the safety of the pen until the goslings are big enough to keep close to their parents and not get abducted and murdered by crows. I still roll my eyes every time Pie stands up from a rest and flaps her wings, causing the goslings to fall onto the ground most unceremoniously. Hopefully Pie will learn from the experience and be a better mum next year.

Let me just say that there is a reason why you might call a silly person a goose.