Homemade Blueberry Kefir

how to make blueberry kefir

Today, we started our morning with homemade blueberry kefir—a beverage that’s becoming something of a staple in our home—creamy and satisfying, sweet and tangy, loaded with good probiotics and convenient to grab on the go.

Even though making our own kefir is something we’ve talked about since before we were married, it’s only been in the last few weeks that we’ve finally ordered live kefir grains online and begun the process of combining them with raw milk and watching them grow. And, just as it is with ice cream in this household, the person behind the process is the one much more knowledgeable about food and nutrition in this marriage, Tim—which is why today’s FAQ-style post is all from him!

Below, he answers questions on how to make kefir, why use live grains, why it’s so good for you and more. Enjoy!

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Brown Butter Cranberry Hazelnut Tart + Chocolate Tart

bokeh christmas tree

I never thought much about what our first Christmas would be like—which is funny because, for a classic overthinker like me, it’s rare not to think about something. Maybe it was because of how big October seemed and how faraway December felt.

first christmas

The first week, we bought a six-foot Fraser fir, purchased from a giant red-and-white tent outside Home Depot, a tree that smells like the forest and sheds needles every day. We stowed it in the back of Tim’s car, alongside a poinsettia and a fresh wreath from Aldi, and put it in our living room, inside a plastic stand Tim hadn’t used for four years and topped by white bulb lights I’d hung at that blog birthday party I had in 2009.

advent calendar

We hung a homemade advent calendar (inspiration: summer harms) on our dining room window, made of leftover wedding kraft envelopes and filled with holiday activities each of us wrote on slips of paper, mixed together and inserted randomly.

The first day was kisses every hour; the second was a thankful list to hang on the fridge.

We made a bed by the tree and read “The Gift of the Magi.”

christmas craft night

We had some of our favorite kids over to make ornaments, just simple circles cut out and hung with red string, after which we ate popcorn and watched a movie about a valiant mouse.

stockings

We took our burlap wedding runners and made stockings.

burlap Christmas wrapping

Then we took more and wrapped gifts.

pie day saturday

And last Saturday, we had a holiday pie party at our house, where everyone brought a pie to share—lemon meringue, key lime meringue, candied apple, pumpkin.

For our contributions, Tim and I made two tarts: David Lebovitz’s dark chocolate (the perfect dessert for incorporating some coffee Starbucks sent me a few months ago):

chocolate tart

And Meg Gordon’s brown butter cranberry with a hazelnut crust, beautifully Christmassy with its bright red berries and set on a nutty cookie-like crust:

cranberry tart

And so here we are, less than two weeks from Christmas Day, in the throes of new traditions and new memories, and I’m certain of one thing:

I may not have thought much about what our Christmas would be, but I know I will think, often, of what it was.

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Soft & Chewy Salted Caramel

homemade caramel

Two years ago, I made my dad caramels for his birthday. They were hard and crunchy, like gold-wrapped Werther’s, the kind that would crack like glass when you bit them.

While I’d been after something a little more chewy that time, since that’s how Dad likes them most, it turned out candy-making could be something of an art, especially when you were new to it, so all I could muster were those smooth caramel stones, best for placing between your tongue and the roof of your mouth and slowly melting away. I gave them to him, presenting them proudly, and I put my candy thermometer away.

cooking caramel

But then this year, when Tim and I were up visiting a few months ago, talking to my dad in the kitchen about dinner plans or about something we’d baked, Dad, almost out of nowhere, asked if I’d thought about trying caramels again. Maybe soft and chewy this time? he’d asked, hopefully, like it would really mean something to him if I could.

caramels in pan

Now I know a lot of people would say their dad is great, the best, the guy they always looked up to, but my dad, who continually surprises me with his generosity and compassion and ability to think of other people more highly than himself, really is something special. And since he so rarely asks me to make him anything, I didn’t just want to make him these caramels—I had to.

Which meant it was time to revisit the art of candy-making.

caramels to cut

There’s a reason they call things an art, you know? The art of painting, the art of marriage, the art of caramels—you can’t just check some tasks off a list and expect genius. There’s some skill involved. Some creativity and some adjusting and some finding a rhythm. And usually, art isn’t easy.

For me, as if trying to make candy in the first place wasn’t challenge enough, I also wanted to do it with better ingredients: without corn syrup and without white sugar.

But while art isn’t easy, it is worth it.

caramels, wrapped

Because guess what? It worked.

It took three tries and two bonus trips to the grocery store, but last Wednesday night, while Tim and my brother-in-law and I drove up to Chicago for the holiday weekend, it was with more than thoughts of turkey and sweet potatoes and homemade cranberry sauce: It was with these soft and chewy salted caramels, created with sorghum syrup and sucanat, sitting in the back seat, individually wrapped and tucked inside a burlap-covered mason jar.

Happy birthday, Dad.

(He was worth it, too.)

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Sprouted Coconut Cocoa Banana Muffins

sprouted coconut cocoa banana muffins up close

The first week Tim and I got back to Nashville, while we settled into a regular rhythm of making meals and paying bills and sharing a home office together, I began tackling the to-do list that follows a wedding. There were thank-you notes to write, bank accounts to merge, a pretty major name change to take care of—at the DMV, the social security office, with basically every account I have on record anywhere—and even looking back now, with it all done and finished and behind me, I can tell you there were definite low points (i.e., AT&T: Why is it so hard to get two existing users spun off into a new account? WHY?) and definite high points (i.e., these muffins).

baking muffins

I’ve always been the kind of girl to crave a couple hours alone in the kitchen. When I used to work a regular office job, I’d often come home at the end of the day, tired and not really wanting to go anywhere, and I’d comfort myself with cooking (eventually with my camera and you guys to join me, and thus this blog was born). Sometimes I’d play music or watch an online TV show in the background. Sometimes I’d talk to myself out loud. What mattered was the way it felt like downtime—cooking doesn’t always feel like that.

dark chocolate

If you talked to our friend Corri, for example, who came over for dinner last week, he could tell you what a different kind of cooking looks like. He could tell you about walking into a house and seeing both cooks still in the kitchen, green beans on the stove, chicken in the oven, flour all over the counters, and about hearing the sad, sad story of two back-to-back attempts to remake macarons and failing. At some point during our meal, I’m pretty sure I was apologizing to him for apologizing, that’s how bad things had gotten in my mind—and I do mean in my mind because the reality was our meal was perfectly good, thanks to that very capable man I married—but rather than loving my time in the kitchen and my contributions to what we were eating, I had been frustrated by it, by how my results weren’t matching my expectations.

baking banana muffins

I think that’s part of the difference between baking for leisure and baking for a purpose, and I think that’s what made these muffins such a highlight of our first week of Nashville married life.

muffins in the oven

There were a lot of things I was doing for a purpose that week: waiting for two hours at the DMV, mailing cards, sitting down with Tim to plan our monthly budget—but baking these muffins? That was different.

one sprouted coconut cocoa banana muffin

Because when you’re baking one morning in your pajamas while your husband works in the next room, you can talk to yourself, you can spill flour, you can burn something—you’ve freed yourself to. But when you bake for company or for a business or for the first time at a Thanksgiving dinner with all your family, you constrain yourself into thinking something must be how it must be and anything else is disaster. Or at least I do that.

buttered muffin

These muffins didn’t have to be anything special, just a way to use up ingredients and a way to relax for a few afternoon hours. Heaven knows, Tim and I would eat them regardless of how they ended up tasting. I found the original recipe online, where it came with high reviews, and I improvised ingredients with what we had (hello, huge sale on sprouted wheat flour at Whole Foods!) and ingredients I wanted to add.

muffins in cake stand

When I brought one to Tim, sliced and buttered and still steaming hot, it was just a happy bonus that we liked them—not too sweet, the perfect vehicle for a little jam or honey, yet chocolatey and cakey and a nice morning treat.

buttered muffins

And so it was these sprouted coconut cocoa banana muffins that, set beneath a glass bowl, first graced our dining room table, the dining room table that Tim built, and made our first week together in our first house feel a little more special, a little more right, a little more like home.

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Blueberry Scones + UPrinting giveaway

I am not even ashamed to admit that I love a good bargain. I clip coupons; I buy $15 desks. When Jeni’s celebrated its new Nashville location with free scoops of ice cream last week, we were front in line. And when Whole Foods had a $1.99 sale on organic blueberries June 17, you know I bought a whole case.

A whole case.

mixing blueberry scone dough

Organic blueberries, which typically go for more like $4 or $5 a pint, are definitely on my top five list of favorite fruits. They are packed with antioxidants. They’re delicious by themselves, and even better with cream. They’re great to freeze for morning smoothies; they’re great to eat with milk and cereal. And, on top of all that, they remind me of Tim—because he wrote about them in one of the first ways we got acquainted.

blueberry scone dough unsliced

So really, I guess you could say it was my bargain-loving instinct—and the 12 pints of blueberries that accompanied it—that we can thank for this recipe, a pretty basic adaptation of a simple blueberry scone. Mixing the dough couldn’t have been simpler: it took 15 minutes, maybe, and even with the added 20 minutes of bake time and more to clean the kitchen, it was still somewhere under an hour total, which is a pretty small investment for what you get in return.

blueberry scone dough circle

These scones are really beautiful to look at, flecked with the deep purple stain of blueberries and nicely shaped into golden triangles of dough. Fresh out of the oven and topped with a little butter, they are pure heaven. I ate four.

scones on baking sheet

I told Tim, while we ate them yesterday afternoon in his kitchen (where I, yet again, forget to bring my camera and resorted to iPhone/instagram tactics), these scones feel like something you’d be served at a bed and breakfast in Maine, where wild blueberries are simply everywhere, worked into menus from breakfast to dessert.

fresh scones

I think I’d rather like to go back to Maine, if only for all those blueberries. But for now, I’m glad to have a freezer full, as well as these scones, to enjoy.

Oh and hey! Before the recipe, one more thing: A UPrinting Giveaway!
[UPDATE 7/25/11: The winner of the giveaway was Jessie V! Congratulations!]

Details of the Giveaway from UPrinting:
The winner receives:

  • 50 pieces 8.5″ X 11″ brochure printing
  • 100lb Paper Gloss
  • With Folding (Half Fold, Trifold/Letterfold, Z-Fold, Roll Fold, Accordion Fold)
  • Outside and Inside printing, 2 Business Days Turnaround
  • Free shipping

Restrictions:

  • Open only to US residents
  • 18 years old and above only
  • Contest ends tomorrow, June 30, 2011 at midnight CST [NOW CLOSED]
  • Winner cannot have won another UPrinting contest in the last six months

How to Enter:

  • Simply leave a comment on this post, stating what you’d do with the prize AND/OR telling me your favorite way to eat blueberries.
  • Winner will be chosen via random number generator July 1

Disclaimer:
This giveaway is sponsored by UPrinting, an online printing company. Visit UPrinting.com for more information about brochures and available brochure templates. UPrinting will get in touch with the winner for the prize claim within 30 days.

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wacky chocolate cake

I’ve been playing this game the past few days where I don’t spend any money—cooking from the pantry, eating from what’s already in the fridge. I’m doing it partly to cut costs (how does one person spend so much money on food?) and partly to avoid waste (we’re heading back to Chicago for a few days on Tuesday anyway), and I have to tell you: nothing shows you how much you enjoy spending money like telling yourself you can’t.

It’s bad.

But it’s good.

I’m just telling you right now I won’t make it to Tuesday.

buttered cake pan

So anyway, yesterday, wanting to find something to bake that wouldn’t require a trip to the store, I found myself Googling such strange combinations as “flour, sugar, cocoa,” “baking with no eggs” and even “recipes from the Great Depression.”

It was the final option that landed me on this cake, posted by Alice over at Sweet Savory Life, a version of which I had actually previously posted here (we’re talking previously as in March 2009), and even though I remembered it being just OK last time, I knew I had to try again, if for no other reason than that Hannah of Honey and Jam had just told me about Alice’s site when we met in Chattanooga last Thursday.

(Have I mentioned here how much I love meeting other food bloggers in person? Hannah was sweet, smart, full of interesting info about blogging, and easy to sit and talk with for like three hours in the middle of the afternoon—just like I knew she would be, after following her site for the last few years.)

dry ingredients in the bowl

This time, I did a little more research on the cake, partly because I remembered it being just ho-hum before, looking for tips and tricks other people had posted about changing it up. I saw someone used brewed coffee instead of water, another person added extra cocoa, someone liked to add vanilla extract (I thought about adding almond?) and a few people emphasized cream cheese frosting, which, between us, is exactly what I would go for if I made this again when I was, say, able to go buy some cream cheese beforehand.

cake batter in the pan

Of course I made a few obvious adaptations to ingredients because of personal preferences regarding nutrition—whole-grain spelt flour, avocado oil, Sucanat—and so, I wasn’t expecting much from the cake when it emerged from the oven, even when it was soft and springy, fragrant with cocoa.

cake in the hand

After letting it cool, I sprinkled it with organic powdered sugar I also had on hand (I know, right? I’m really suffering here) and sliced a small square to sample.

cake on the stove

slice of cake

cake and slice on top of oven

As for how it tasted, I’ll just say this: I baked it yesterday morning, and we polished off the last morsel of it last night. Tim says we should make layers next time, putting berries and maybe a whipped cream or marscapone inside between.

But even on its own, this wacky Depression-era cake is just slightly sweet, moist, perfect for pairing with something else like maybe ice cream or coffee, and it’s so crazy simple, so easy to make with what you already have, that I have to say I am sold.

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