Flavors for Kefir and Kombucha

Ok, so I cheat. It would be better, healthier, and overall more granola to use real fruit and all, but there’s only so much time in the day. Someday I’ll get there, and then tell you all about it.

In the meantime, I discovered Monín syrups, which offer traditional-type coffee-stand syrups (but with real sugar, not high fructose corn syrup, as well as sugar-free syrups (sone with decent sugar alternatives), and – my personal favorite – unsweetened flavor concentrates. Their claim on the label is “No artificial flavors, colors, ingredients, sweeteners, no added sugar, GMO free, gluten free, vegan”. So take it for what it’s worth.


Until I get my earth muffin act together, these will have to do. They are quite scrumptious.

Cash & Carry carries a few of them, but you can find their whole line on their website at http://www.monin.com. Shipping is free on orders over $20. (They don’t give me a kickback for this, either, but hey! If your a Monin rep and WANT to reward my plug for your products, I’m open to suggestions!)

I also like that they include pumps with the concentrated flavors.

Side note: the Pear syrup with Caramel extract makes a nice Caramel Pear Kefir. Just sayin’.

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Homemade Kefir

A friend of mine has managed to do something I originally thought impossible: she got me addicted to kefir.


Before, I’d only ever tried the store-bought variety.  It was sour, it smelled funny, and it just wasn’t doing it for me.  When said friend called and told me she was bringing a batch of from home, I warned her that I’d already been there, done that, and just… no.  Fortunately, she’s stubborn.  As a result, I have another culture growing in my kitchen.

Now, if you’re wanting to drink kefir because you appreciate the health benefits, but are willing to have a spoonful of sugar to make your medicine go down, then read on.  If you’re avoiding carbs at all costs, then this probably won’t work for you.  I’m wanting the probiotics, but I’m not avoiding all sugars, and this works for me.

First off, one must acquire kefir grains.  If you know anybody fermenting good kefir, just ask, because these things multiply almost as rapidly as sourdough.  My chickens enjoy my extras, but I’m always happy to share with my peeps.

Kefir grains look a bit like cottage cheese.  You don’t actually eat or drink the grains – they’re the cultures that kefer-ize your milk.



You need at least two tablespoons of grains for a quart of milk.  My current favorite milk for this is goat milk, but as our goat is currently dried off, I’m experimenting with whole and skim cow’s milk.  Whole, non-homogenized is actually too fatty for me; the kefir coats my mouth. Skim works much better; my home-skimmed variety is probably equivalent to regular 2% or whole milk purchased from a store, for my friends without a dairy animal.

Put your kefir grains in a quart jar, add your milk, and stir.  Cover with a cloth to allow air circulation, and leave on the counter.  I have been culturing mine 24-36 hours this winter, as it seems to be taking that long for it to thicken up; I like mine on the thick side.  I open it up and stir it briefly every 6-8 hours, as I think of it, and that seems to make it thicken faster.


It will start seperating; you’ll see a layer of whey and a layer of yogurt-like curd.  At this point, the ‘first ferment’ is done.

kefir5 Time to strain off the kefir.  The grains go into a jar and covered with milk for another round; then I’m ready to do the next step.


Here’s the trick my friend figured out.  If you read the label of store-bought kefir, you’ll notice that one of the ingredients is “nonfat milk”.  She realized that if you add powdered nonfat milk, it gives the kefir culture more milk sugars:liquids ratio, and keeps it happier.  Sweeter, not so tart and/or bitter.

Also – those lovely coffee syrups that we indulge in for coffee make awesome kefir flavorings.  Now, YES, in a perfect world coming any day now, I’ll blend my kefir with frozen fruit or whatever to achieve my flavors.  But this is the quick-dirty-gotta get done quick-and-back-to-homeschooling kefir.  Besides, I don’t have a white chocolate tree growing in my backyard yet, and lemme tell you, white chocolate syrup in kefir rocks.

So:  to the our lovely quart-or-so of strained kefir, we add: 1/2 c. nonfat powdered milk (I get the organic ‘non-instant’ variety from Azure Standard), and 1/3 c. whatever today’s flavoring mix of syrups and extracts I’m in the mood for.


Today’s was White Chocolate Raspberry Vanilla Cupcake, in case you’re wondering.

Next secret:  Stick Blender.  Because it takes FOREVER to milk in milk powder in by hand with a whisk.


Then, I pour it into a half-gallon jar, label it and put it back on the counter for a few hours, until I start seeing whey separating out again.  This usually takes about 3-6 hours.  Then, release any pressure inside the jar (because otherwise if it gets excited it may try to escape all over your counter, ask me how I know), and put it in the fridge.


The next day, I add that day’s strained kefir directly to the jar, blend with the stick blender, give it another 3-6 hours counter time until it starts separating again, and put it in the fridge.  Once it’s cold, it’s ready to drink!

That last fermentation step allows it to carbonate a little.  Before you completely reject the idea of carbonated-milk-anything, ask yourself this: Do you enjoy root beer floats?  Yes?  Then I rest my case.  But if you hate all things bubbly, then just put the jar straight into the fridge.

I usually blend it once more with the stick blender, just to even out the texture, either right before it goes in the fridge or when I’m ready to drink it.  Kefir is much better cold.

And there you have it!  Homemade kefir that’s worth drinking straight.  Current favorite flavor combinations include:

Caramel Pear (Pear syrup by Monin, caramel extract or caramel syrup)

White Chocolate Blackberry (Blackberry and White Chocolate syrups)

Blueberry Cupcake (Blueberry and Cupcake syrups)

Lemon Blueberry Cupcake (Lemon, Blueberry and Cupcake)

….and so on.  Enjoy!



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New kittens

We’ve settled in – somewhat – and mostly gotten our minds wrapped around our new place.  We have some new additions to the farmstead.  The two cutest, arguably, are these guys:

Because, you know, why have one when two will do?

One is Maverick.  The other is Reagan.  You’ll have to ask the kids which is which, though, because I have no idea.

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I think it’s a new tradition…

Two things I tend to dread about Christmas:

  1. Wrapping presents.

Now, I actually enjoy wrapping a present or two. My problem is, I tend to accumulate all the various presents for all the kids plus hubby, and wrap them all at once… and that gets old, particularly when the kids are trying to break down the door with the most recent ‘emergency’. (“Mom! I can’t find the hot chocolate! She stole my library book! He won’t stop singing that song! MOM!!!”)

2. Cleaning up all the decorations.

I already dislike housework. Putting away dozens of glass balls that just want to shatter and untangling lights, especially when my boys are trying to wrap themselves up in them, is a sure-fire recipe for Mommy Needs A Glass of an Adult Beverage and an Evening of Quiet.

This year, though, I had a flash of brilliance in the middle of Bed, Bath and Beyond. Rosebud was begging for a gingerbread house – a village, actually – kit. (Icing everywhere! Candy in the carpet! Graham cracker crumbs everywhere and people screaming because “My roof broke!” What wouldn’t there be to like?)

But then the light dawned. I turned and said, “Yes, absolutely, we will get the gingerbread village kit. You may put it together on Christmas Eve.”

Christmas Eve arrived, and after insisting that the kitchen first be cleaned – “You wouldn’t want yucky stuff getting on your houses, would you?” (I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t have cared, but since it was mandatory they played along) – the houses were assembled. I locked myself in my room and wrapped presents, uninterrupted! (Well, except for dealing with the inevitable fight over the candy – but the threat of “If you can’t figure out how to divide it equally, I’ll just have to eat it all and toss the gingerbread,” gave them an incentive to work it out.)

The payoff came the day after Christmas, when they wanted to eat their houses.

Absolutely. You may eat your gingerbread houses… as soon as all of the Christmas decorations have been put away.

If you want my help, you can wait until New Year’s Day… or you can pack them up yourselves, earlier. All the decorations packed up, tree disassembled and back in its crates, stockings in their bin, carpet vacuumed, all traces GONE.

There was some initial resistance. “Mom! The houses will be all stale by New Year’s!” (And they weren’t already? That gingerbread couldn’t have been baked after Halloween.)

I’m HAPPY to help you on New Year’s, but right now, I’ve got other fish to fry! If you want that sugar rush early, then you’ll have to tackle it yourselves.

24 hours went by. Then, they all buckled down and CLEANED UP THE WHOLE POST-CHRISTMAS MESS THEMSELVES.


I am so getting gingerbread houses next year. I will even take them down the candy aisle and let them pick out their own décor, within reason.

Long live gingerbread!

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We have moved!

Do I have pictures?  No.  Well, I have them, but they’re on my phone, and I haven’t figured out how to get the computer to talk to my phone about pictures.

The new house is awesome.  It’s massive!  It does have it’s little peculiarities, though; there must be compensations.  The master bathroom is almost completely inoperable; the shower only spouts hot water, the toilet doesn’t work, and the tub leaks.  So for now, we enjoy the sinks and the mirrors… and use the kids’ bathrooms down the hallway.

But!  We have separate boys and girls bathrooms!  How cool is that??

Boxes are EVERYWHERE.  We’ve gotten enough unpacked that I can make meals and we can homeschool.  There’s a room downstairs that is supposed to be a guest room, and it’s FULL of the pantry stuff, because the actual pantry is my next project for overhauling.  Hopefully I’ll get it taped, textured and painted, and linoleum-ed in the next week or so, because I need to be able to find my green beans again!

We moved with a cat.  We saw the cat for a few days after the move.  He hasn’t made an appearance in a week.  We’re starting to worry that he may have met a bitter end… or that he’s decided to ditch us for new owners.  Either way, the kids are rather upset that Pepper is AWOL.

We also moved with chickens.  9 have gone on strike; 3 are laying sporadically.  I’ve gone from getting 15 eggs a day (when we had 19 hens), to getting two if I’m lucky.  Breakfast menus have changed…

We seem to have moved in the nick of time.  The rains started before we left, but since our departure there has been snow in the mountains, flooding in the lowlands, and massive amounts of trees and power lines down in our old neighborhood.  I hear that it may be days before the lights come back on at our old place.

The ‘old’ house is due to close this week.  We’re hoping that the new closing date of Friday doesn’t get moved back again.  Our buyers are just as anxious to have it be a done deal as we are!

This new business of living near family is such a change from our previous life.  We’ve lived away from family for almost the last 23 years.  Seeing Grandpa and Grandma multiple times a week, and cousins and uncles and aunts almost daily is such a treat for the kids and me.  Mr. Caffeinated is enjoying learning his new job, and we are truly blessed by how much he is loving it.

I managed to pick up a last souvenir on the way out of town: strep throat.  I’ve been on antibiotics for nearly a week, and it appears to be doing the trick.  That plus homeschooling is keeping me from unpacking as quickly as I’d like… I sure hope that I can knock out the rest of my own bedroom as well as all the books and homeschool paraphernalia this weekend… in between coats of tape-and-texture!

This is all a little stilted, but I seem to only have my brain firing on half its cylinders.  I’m pretty sure the other ones are in a box around here someplace.

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Big Changes Are Afoot

If you’ve wondered why things have been so quiet on the blog lately, and haven’t been talking to me in person, you might be thinking that life must have been humdrum and boring, and not worth writing about.

The reverse is true; we’re coming up on changes so big and dramatic that I couldn’t post about them until the time was right…. and consequently, anything I could write about was so piddly in comparison, I just couldn’t buckle down.

About a year ago, Mr. Caffeinated’s folks approached him about coming back home to run the family business.  This would be a really big change for us; Big Corporate Business has been his life and career for nearly 20 years.  But… here was the opportunity to live near family, to work with family, to do something tangible and help to grow a community… and have some real job security, and to potentially grow a business into something that could again be passed onto the next generation… and not have to work 80-hour weeks with a 2+ hour commute every day.

Over the course of the last year, we’ve been sorting out the details.  Preparing to move across the state.  Inheritance issues.  Medical insurance.  Making sure that this is what the whole family needs and wants.  Finding and purchasing a new house.  Putting our current home on the market.  Finding a buyer, and clearing all those little hurdles like inspection and assessment.

I’m so excited about our new place.  It’s got plenty of space for our family, as well as a pasture and garden area, plus awesome front and back yards.  I’m going to miss our current home; the lodge in the woods has been so great.  It’s been fun to see it shaping up… and hard to know that this house, which was “supposed” to be the 30-year- house, will no longer be ours in the very near future.  But our new place was designed by the previous owners – who built it – to do essentially all the same things we want to do, and is much farther along in being ready to garden and have animals than this one.  So there are compensations.  We even harvested grapes and apples there this fall!

Mr. Caffeinated waited until today, when we received word that our house assessment had passed muster.  The buyer’s lender says that we are on track for closing, with no expected hiccups.  Until we reached this stage, we couldn’t breathe a word online.  Now, the resignation letter has been submitted and we have officially reached the no-turning-back point.

We are going to miss our friends and church here tremendously.  I have a goal of coming back for a visit every 3-4 months, but it just won’t be the same.  I do hope that everyone here will come and see us at our new place.  We have guest rooms!  If you enjoyed coming to see us here, you will surely find our new home even more fun to visit.

If you happen to have an afternoon on your hands, I could sure use some help packing… 😉

We move in less than two weeks!

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Homeschool Wars – the After Action Report

As promised – here is the postmortem from last week’s battle royal over the resumption of schooling.

There’s nothing like a good solid motivator to get kids to buckle down and get to work.

I must confess myself amazed at my children, though.  They got lists; they finished the lists.  There was a certain amount of grumbling and complaining, but since my cure for the grumbles is to assign chores – (“Obviously, you need something to do while you work through that… here’s the mop, go scrub the kitchen floor…”) –  those died out pretty quick.

There was also a fair amount of complaining at one point from Rosebud about how far ahead Natter was, and how much he was flaunting it.  I suggested that she work like crazy to get ahead of him, not mention it, and let him “discover” that she was done.  Specifically, when she was done, to go read a library book in a prominent place, and when he tried to get her into trouble for procrastination, to look up and proclaim innocently, “Oh – but I’m done.”  This was received with much mischievousness, and she promptly put the plan into action.

His response, two days later, was a rather devil-may-care, “Oh, well – good for you,” but he was just a tad too jealous to carry it off.

The Moose declared that he did NOT want to go to the circus.  As it ended up, he stayed home with Junior and I, and played on the computer for a couple hours.  He loved it.  Well, he earned it.

The circus was attended with much joy and hilarity on the parts of all attendees, and today – Monday – school was attended with a minimum of groaning.  At the point at which things threatened to bog back down into the morass of irritability, I informed them that we would be heading to the park for an hour, and that all unfinished homework would be done while everyone else played… and most of them knuckled back down.  Natter, however, missed the deadline and ended up doing math at a picnic table… which, I believe, will pay off royally next time, as they now realize that I’m serious.

I’m not sure how long this industriousness will last, but I intend to ride the horse for all it’s worth.

Reporting live, etc…

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