It has been a very peculiar week.
Last night my sister said to me “I think somebody must have gone back in time and stepped on a butterfly or something, everything’s just off.” And to me that is exactly how things feel, as though I’ve stepped into the wrong universe without realising it, as though, could we just turn the world off and on again like a misbehaving computer, everything would start to feel right again.
I’m feeling an urge at the moment to let go of everything, to just curl up and eat porridge and read murder mysteries. At the same time it feels as though I have been given a great wake-up call: It is not enough to sit back and keep my head down and hope that good things will happen – we have to work and work and work in whatever way we can to make the world the world we want to live in. And there are enough people with sound heads and good ideas to do it, and do it in the right way, if we would all only start making things, start making our world instead of letting it be made for us.
I think all this, and then the weight and difficulty of it all overwhelms me – I also am still not quite sure what it means for me, what it is I want to do – only that it involves somehow growing things, and living with the land. And it all seems so far away and so hard to accomplish that I go back to porridge and a book for a while.
I went for the most beautiful walk in Kilkenny during the week, the city where I spent most of my teenage years. I went slower down the river than I would normally have done, stopping to take lots of photographs and take everything in. It was the loveliest autumn day, the wind O-so-gently ruffling the trees as though it was waking everything up; and the clouds dappling across the sun. I felt I could breathe more easily.
Here is a very simple porridge recipe – how I am making it at the moment, with kefir, my favourite new discovery. More about that below.
I kept hearing about the benefits of Kefir, but was not really sure what it was until recently. I started making it myself about a month ago and have found out a little more about it. I am by no means an expert, but basically it is a cultured drink similar to yoghurt. It has a texture a bit runnier than yoghurt, but it is not the same. While yoghurt contains up to around three specific cultures, kefir can have up to thousands, according to one researcher I spoke to who was studying kefir – she had found thousands of varieties of bacteria in one batch of culture.
The cultures and bacteria will change depending on whose batch of kefir grains you are using; just as no batch of sourdough will contain exactly the same varieties of wild yeast. That is part of the wonder of fermented foods! When you buy kefir in a shop, you typically buy a more regulated and “watered down” version that has just a certain specific list of bacteria cultures, because a company must list every single culture that they use, so they can be deemed “approved.”
Partly for this reason, and also because it is much more fun and waaaay cheaper, I recommend making your own. The main difficulty in doing this is finding kefir grains – there’s no way to “start” them as you would a sourdough starter. But once you have found one, it is literally the easiest cultured food you can make – as I can testify, having so far made sauerkraut, sourdough, yoghurt and cheese from scratch.
1. Find kefir grains. This is a little lump of what looks something like cheese curds, and you need to find someone who has some extra to give you (as anyone who makes their own kefir will.) I did this by asking around in health food shops and the co-op where I volunteer. I think you can also buy them online – see here for one supplier – but I can’t testify for how well they work.
2. Put your kefir grains in a glass jar and pour in enough milk to cover them. Cover the jar with fabric and fasten with an elastic band. Note: this really works best with raw whole milk although you can use other milks. I personally am extremely picky about my dairy, so I use a raw goats milk that comes from a free-range herd, something I feel incredibly lucky to have found.
3. Leave at room temperature for 24 hours. At this point it should be ready. You can strain it then – ideally use a plastic rather than metal sieve – into a jar or a bottle. The time that it takes to be ready could vary a bit depending on how strong the grains are and on the temperature where you live (my flat is fairly chilly.)
4. Feed it with fresh milk and repeat. As you do it more and more you can increase the amount of milk you feed it with, as it develops and gets stronger. You’ll see more grains developing. I sometimes take these out or else it makes the kefir too fast. I spread them like cheese on bread and rather like them.
5. Storing: You can store the kefir grain in a jar in the fridge for at least a week while you are busy or away. I haven’t tried storing it longer than this.
Semi-Sweet Porridge with Kefir and Apple
Notes: This makes a big bowl of porridge, as I like a pretty substantial breakfast. You can adjust quantities to suit your hunger/ requirements.
1/3 cup porridge oats
2 heaping tbsps rice flakes (can be replaced with millet flakes, buckwheat or more oats.)
1 dessertspoon sunflower seeds (or pumpkin seeds.)
1 spoonful ground linseed
1/2 cup kefir
1 cup water
1/2 a small tart apple.
pinch of salt
Topped with: dukkah (I used this recipe) and parsley leaves (trust me it works!)
- The night before you want to eat, soak the oat flakes, rice flakes, and sunflower seeds in the water.
- In the morning add the ground linseed and the salt. Cook on a medium heat for five minutes until it’s quite thick.
- Turn off the heat and add the kefir. Stir and allow to sit for a minute while you boil the kettle and make a cup of tea.
- (Tip): Pour boiled water into the bowl you are eating from and leave for a minute, then you can pour it straight back in the kettle. It warms up the bowl and food doesn’t go cold so quick!
- Pour into a bowl and grate the apple on top. Stir it in and add toppings, and sweetener if you rather it sweet. I personally added dukkah and parsley, which took it just to the edge from sweet to savoury, my favourite place to hang out.