Milk and Kefir

Growing up I told people I was allergic to milk because I just didn't like the taste. Today I buy, on average, two gallons a week. My change in attitude can be attributed to a gift of kefir grains.

I never say no when someone wants to give me an edible that they love. At the time, I didn't know what kefir grains were. I'd seen kefir in the stores and was interested in trying it, but never got around to making the purchase. After receiving the grains, I bought raw milk from Ty Llwyd Farm. I put the milk in a covered container, added the grains, put the container in my basement refrigerator, and left them there for perhaps a year. That's way longer than recommended but I find kefir grains to be remarkably resilient.

Kefir grains don't look like grains. They are a SCOBY -- symbiotic community of bacteria and yeasts.

Kefir grains don't look like grains. They are a SCOBY -- symbiotic community of bacteria and yeasts.

I had no idea how kefir should taste so I just jumped right in. I bought more milk, retrieved the grains from the refrigerator, and plopped them into the milk. The grains had gotten quite large so I wasn't concerned that they had lost any potency but I really didn't know what I was doing. After a day or two, I strained the kefir and tasted it. And wondered if that was how it was supposed to taste. I repeated the feeding a few more times until I tasted the kefir and a lightbulb went off in my head. This was how it was supposed to taste. I just knew it was right. It was a bit bubbly and I liked it.

If you want to get started with kefir, find someone who makes it. If you've never had it, you'll find out firsthand how it should taste. And most people who make kefir have enough kefir grains to share. I know I have plenty to share. Kefir grains are pretty hard to kill as I learned when I ignored them in my basement refrigerator.

It only takes a spoonful of grains, a quart of milk, and a day on the countertop to make kefir. Don't get hung up on the amount of time, go by the consistency of the kefir. Depending on the grains and the ambient temperature, it could take more or less time. You don't have to let it ferment on your countertop. Fermentation will slow down in the refrigerator. And I find that refrigerated kefir gets more bubbly. And I like that.

Do a second ferment. Or not. After I strain out the kefir grains, I add a sweetener to the kefir and let that ferment for another day or more. The grains get added to more milk and the cycle continues.

Retrieving the kefir grains. Second ferment will be done with a syrup made from foraged autumn olives.

Retrieving the kefir grains. Second ferment will be done with a syrup made from foraged autumn olives.

I don't tell people I'm allergic to milk these days but I still don't drink it. I am a big fan of kefir however.

Potato Tomato

Potato Tomato is a dish I can make with pantry ingredients. The original recipe, Aloo Ki Longi, is from Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian. We call it Potato Tomato because potatoes and tomatoes are the main ingredients. I usually serve it over rice but sometimes I eat it plain. Sometimes I add hard boiled eggs. I love it the next day reheated. I make it when it's just me and I make it when there are two of us. It's a great side dish and it's a great lunch. I like it spicy but you can leave out the chilies and cayenne pepper.

When I first made this dish, I used supermarket potatoes and canned tomatoes. Now that I have a garden and awesome farmers nearby, I make it with as many local ingredients as I can. The goal is to only use local ingredients but that's a ways off.

A quick rundown of ingredients.

  • Red or yukon potatoes, around a pound
  • Cooking oil, a couple tablespoons
  • Dried red chilies, 3 or 4
  • Panch phoron, a tablespoon
  • Tomatoes, about three cups
  • Salt, a teaspoon
  • Turmeric, quarter teaspoon
  • Cayenne, quarter teaspoon

You might not have heard of Panch Phoron. It's a Bengali spice mix. I mix up a big batch using equal amounts of fennel seeds, fenugreek seeds, nigella, brown mustard seeds, and cumin seeds. The last time I bought the mix, it had yellow mustard seeds. I prefer brown and that's why I started mixing my own.

The original recipe calls for boiling the potatoes ahead of time. I don't see a need for that. If you're already boiling potatoes for another use, by all means, boil an extra pound for this recipe.

This recipe is flexible. I hesitate to give hard and fast measurements. If you like potatoes more than tomatoes, use more potatoes. If you don't like spicy, use fewer chilies. Or don't use any. Leave out the cayenne. Totally up to you.

Let's get started.

Dice a couple tomatoes. The size doesn't matter as it will cook down. The original recipe calls for 3/4 cup chopped tomatoes and 1-3/4 cup of water. I chop about 3 cups of tomatoes and leave out the water altogether. I grow a lot of tomatoes and have yet to run out. If I were to run low, I'd use half tomatoes and half water. Mix them together as they will get added at the same time.


I don't always bother peeling the potatoes. And I don't worry if the eggs don't peel perfectly.

I don't always bother peeling the potatoes. And I don't worry if the eggs don't peel perfectly.

Cut a pound of potatoes into bite size chunks. If you decided to boil them, use two forks to pull them apart into chunks while they are still hot. The craggy edges will hold onto the sauce better than nicely sliced chunks. After you make this a couple of times, you'll decide what works best for you.

Add a couple tablespoons oil to a cold pot. I use Rice Bran oil in a 1.5 quart saucepan. Use the oil you prefer. Add three or four Thai chilies to the cold oil and then turn on the heat to medium. When the chilies puff up and start to darken, add about a tablespoon of the panch phoron. The mustard seeds will start to pop. Add tomatoes, a teaspoon of salt, 1/4 teaspoon turmeric, 1/4 teaspoon cayenne and the potatoes. Stir. Once it comes to a boil, turn down the heat to maintain a simmer. I don't always put on the lid because I like some of the liquid to boil off. Cook for about 20 minutes. If you didn't boil the potatoes, cook until the potatoes are soft. If the sauce is too watery, smash a couple pieces of potatoes against the pan and mix into the sauce. I don't always do this as I'm ok with the rice absorbing some of the liquid.

If you have hard boiled eggs, add them. You just want to warm them through. Five minutes should do it.

Serve over rice. A dollop of yogurt is a nice addition as is parsley or cilantro. You might need to add a bit of salt. Enjoy!