Phil and I don’t have one of Those Kitchens — the kind you see in Better Homes & Gardens or Hooked on Houses. The room is fairly tiny. It has very little counter space, little enough that some of our less polite guests have felt the need to comment: “Well, if I had so little counter space, I wouldn’t be cooking complicated meals, either.” That sort of thing. When we redid those tiny counters, we eschewed granite, all the samples of which Phil said looked like they belonged in a Las Vegas brothel. (I did not, nor will I, question his specificity; it is not for me to know how he knows what type stone the brothels in Las Vegas sport.) But when I turned around the other evening and saw this collection of bubbling and thawing jars and pots, I realized what we do have: A Working Kitchen.
That evening, which was not atypical, the tiny kitchen with the tiny, composite countertops was
- Brewing up a stock base for future soups
- Thawing some frozen tomato-carrot soup from last year’s garden that would become this week’s packed lunches. (For me, not the kids. The kids don’t eat tomato-carrot soup any more than yours would.)
- Fermenting some recently fed sourdough starter
- Rising a batch of sourdough to bake the next morning
- Re-hydrating some kefir grains so we can start making our own kefir
- Hoarding used coffee grounds to enhance the soil near our recently planted blueberry bushes
- Holding my nightly to-do list
At some point I stopped looking at our kitchen despondently for the showpiece it will never be, and started thinking of all the things this little workhorse could do. The same with our yard. We live on a 1/4-acre lot that isn’t large, and could house a lush, green, weed-free lawn and nothing else. Instead, I stopped worrying about the weeds and put my efforts and the space into a plan to produce more of our own food, organically. So the lawn is full of weeds, but it also houses a growing collection of gardens and a soon-to-be-used duck coop. And I’m cool with that.
On to the kefir. If you haven’t had kefir, it’s a fermented, live dairy food like yogurt, but less spoonable and more drinkable. The kids got addicted to packaged, flavored kefir, which I don’t have a problem with except that it’s fairly expensive and they go through a lot of it. So last winter I bought some kefir grains and a mesh strainer. And then I forgot about them for months.
This spring when I remembered the kefir grains, I read the instructions indicating that they should be refrigerated and used fairly quickly after purchase. Oops. I tried them anyway, and they worked great. Now I make a quart of kefir about every other day, and Sylvia and I drink smoothies with unsweetened kefir, frozen berries, and frozen bananas most mornings. I’ve been too lazy to learn how to flavor the kefir like the kids like, but I’ll do that soon.
The instructions on using kefir grains are on the package, but here’s the short story. First, you re-hydrate the grains by putting them in about 1/2 cup or so of milk, and letting the milk sit, lightly covered, on the counter for about 24 hours. Strain out the grains (see where the mesh strainer comes in?) and use the milk in baking. I think you sometimes have to go through this process several times, but I only did it once. After that, store the grains in a little milk in the fridge, and when you want to make kefir, follow these arduous steps:
- Put the kefir grains in a quart canning jar.
- Fill the jar with milk.
- Cover it with cheesecloth or a coffee filter secured by a rubber band.
- Leave it on the counter. In 24 hours, you have kefir.
You can use the grains over and over, and they’re supposed to multiply(!), so you can eventually keep lots of batches going, assuming you have a need to keep lots of batches of kefir going. I don’t.
This morning I looked at that little counter, and it was holding sourdough starter, sourdough bread, kefir, sprouting lentils, and my morning coffee — all of which made me very happy. And I had the luxury of knowing I didn’t have to dress nicely for the hordes of photographers beating down my door to feature my pristine kitchen.