Thursday, March 22, 2012

Hour-a-Day April 2012

I've been neglecting my Crappy Housewife blog. There are a lot of reasons for this, but I think one of the biggest is guilt. I don't really want to be a Crappy Housewife. Deep down, I want to be an Awesome Housewife. But the blog was never supposed to be about striving for mediocrity, it was supposed to be about clever tips. And I guess I just don't have that many clever tips, when it comes right down to it. Maybe I'll add more clever tips down the road, as they come to me, but trying to come up with one every day was stifling and, frankly, kinda depressing. I have a lot more respect for web comic writers, now, that's for sure. It's not easy trying to be clever every single day.

Maybe it's the early onslaught of spring, with its open windows and lovely breezes and the refreshing energy and desire for change that comes with it. Maybe it's the new bunk beds that I got for the girls' room, which forced me to do a lot of rushed rearranging (translation: moving piles of clutter) and left me with one clean, organized room, and one room piled chest-high with boxes, too cluttered to walk across. The tail end of winter brought one illness after another into our house, and we've had colds, flus, and ear infections in varying degrees for weeks, maybe even months; I've lost track. When you're dealing with all that, it's even harder than usual to kick yourself in the pants to wash those dishes, and the baseline mess gets worse than usual.

My mom just came to visit for a week, and we did a lot of fun things, like going to the park, the zoo, and the beach. But in awesome-mom fashion, she also helped me to get a handle on some of the day-to-day household stuff that had gotten away from me. And now I am inspired to keep going.

I've started to dig out my room (which is the catch-all for clutter, and the dumping ground for everything that "needs to be sorted"). I've done about a dozen loads of laundry in the past week, and, even more amazingly, it has almost all been folded and put away. I've started purging the girls' drawers of too-small clothes, and pulling the summer stuff out of storage. I can actually walk into my walk-in closet again, and I have been *gasp* actually hanging things up again. I pulled everything out of the pantry, organized it, and put it back in a way that makes sense. I cleaned off the top of the fridge. I have a long way to go, but I'm off to a good start. Now all I need is motivation to keep going.

Which works out nicely, because it's almost April. Hour-a-Day April was such a successful experiment last year, I've decided to do it again. The original post is here, but I will post the updated rules for 2012 below.

Hour-a-Day April 2012 Rules

  1. Think of something that you normally have a hard time finding time for. Sewing, cleaning, painting, organizing, playing basketball, crossing things off your honey-do list, it's up to you! It can be one big project, or a bunch of little projects. For me, it's going to be mostly sorting/organizing and deep cleaning. Those are the things I never seem to get to, because any motivation I have gets used up on the surface stuff before I get to it.

  2. Spend an hour every day working on your chosen project(s). Set a timer and stick to it. Kids need your attention? Stop the timer and give them your attention. You have all day to squeeze in that hour, and if your kids are anything like mine, it might happen five or ten minutes at a time. But by the end of the day, make sure you've clocked that hour. Know yourself. If the best way for you to get in your hour is to get up early, get up early. If you clean best after everyone else goes to bed, skip CSI. It's only for a month.

  3. Take one day off a week. If you're religious, you may already have a set sabbath, if not, just pick a day to be your "break" day. Or don't pick a day, and let it be a floating day off, so if you miss a day, you can just say, "Oh well, that was my day off."

  4. Keep others updated on your progress. Comment on this blog. Blog about it yourself, and send me the link. Tweet about it on Twitter and use the hash tag #HADA (Hour-A-Day April). Take pictures and post them to the HADA Flickr group. Phone up your mom. Put a gold star on a chart.

  5. Don't give up. Missed a day? Just brush it off and get back on the proverbial horse the next day. Even if you only do half the days, that's still 15 hours more productivity than your April would have otherwise had.

  6. Don't let HADA set you back on all the stuff you normally do find time for. If you're having a hard time keeping up with the daily stuff, count some of it towards your hour (but not all of it, or the point of HADA is lost).

  7. Don't let anyone or anything steal your joy and sense of accomplishment for the things you have done. HADA isn't about becoming perfect, it's about deliberately spending an hour every day tackling the projects you rarely get to. If you did your hour today, YOU WIN. Period. It doesn't matter if someone else did two hours, or if the sink is still full of dirty dishes, or if there are still 17 more hours of organizing to do. If you managed to squeeze a whole extra hour of blood from the stone of your already-busy day, be proud of yourself.

  8. Celebrate when it's all over! If you live near me, let's go out to dinner together and order gooey chocolatey desserts. If you live far away, have your own celebration and tell me about it. Go ahead and splurge, you've earned it!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Kefir Instructions

There is a lot of information on the Internet about kefir, and frankly, it can be pretty overwhelming. So here is an extremely basic "how to" with pictures, written especially for anyone I give my extra grains to. I don't pretend to know everything about kefir (heck, I'm not even sure how to pronounce it correctly!), but this is my system, and it works for me. (If you want a more extensive resource on kefir, Dom's Kefir-Making In-Site is my favorite.)

Getting Started For the First Time

Gather your equipment. Here's what I use:

• Glass culturing jar (wide-mouth mason quart jar), coffee filter (optional), canning lid ring (optional).
• Plastic mesh strainer (not metal), plastic canning funnel (optional), plastic spoon (optional).
• Miscellaneous glass jars for storage, vis-à-vis wet erase marker for labeling (optional).

1. Pour two cups of milk into the culturing jar. (We use whole cow's milk, but you can use lower fat milk, goat's milk, or even coconut milk. You cannot, however, use Lactaid milk.)


Add 1-2 tablespoons of kefir grains. (You don't need to rinse them or anything, just drain the water off.) Stir gently with the plastic spoon. Cover with the coffee filter, then screw on the lid ring to hold it in place.


Poke a few holes in the coffee filter with a needle.


(Note: You can just leave the kefir uncovered while it cultures, but I have found that fruit flies like to get into it that way. A coffee filter makes a nice, semi-permeable membrane that keeps the bugs out, but allows air to circulate so you don't get carbonated kefir. I added the needle holes after I got new coffee filters that seemed to "breathe" a little less than my old ones. You may not need the needle holes.)

2. Write the day/time on the culturing jar with a wet erase marker. You'll actually want to gauge the doneness by looking at the kefir, not the clock, but it's a handy guide for knowing when to check on it, and for keeping track of when your grain population needs pruning (more on that below). Stick the jar in a dark cupboard and leave it for about 24 hours; until it is done. You can go back and stir it once or twice a day with the plastic spoon if you'd like.


I look for three things to judge whether my kefir is ready for straining:
a) It smells like kefir,
b) It starts to separate or get little channels of whey throughout it, and
c) It moves as one mass when I tilt the jar slightly.
You'll get to know how sour you like your kefir with time.

Ready for straining:
Don't you love how the writing on the jar and even the contents of the cabinet change magically while the kefir cultures? Amazing!

Daily Routine

The first time you use grains that have been dormant, they may take a little longer to culture your kefir (2-3 days rather than 1-2 days), but once they get going, I like to get into the habit of straining my grains and starting a fresh batch every day at about the same time. This is my daily routine:

1. When kefir is cultured to your liking, take the lid off and stir it gently with a plastic spoon. Sometimes curds like to accumulate around the grains, and stirring before straining helps loosen things up to make straining easier.

2. Balance your strainer and funnel on top of a storage jar, and pour the cultured kefir through the strainer. To speed things up, you can use the spoon to gently scrape along the mesh to help guide the thicker kefir through the holes.


3. While the kefir is straining, wash and dry your culturing jar. Be careful to dry it very well if you have chlorinated water, because chlorine and kefir grains don't get along very well. Add two cups of fresh milk to your clean, dry culturing jar.

4. Once the kefir has drained completely, you should have a little pile of grains sitting in your strainer. They might still have a little bit of kefir clinging to them, but that's okay, it will just mix into the new batch. Use your plastic spoon to transfer the grains to the fresh milk.


Note: Kefir grains multiply as they culture your milk. After you have been making kefir for a while, you will start to notice two things: 1. The kefir is done too quickly, or is too sour for your liking, and 2. Your little pile of grains keeps getting bigger. When this happens, it's time to prune the grain population. (Details on how to do this below.)

5. Screw a lid onto the finished kefir, label it, and put it in the fridge overnight. (This improves the flavor, increases the nutritional content, and reduces the lactose content.) Screw the coffee filter and lid ring back onto the culturing jar, label it, and put it back into the cupboard.

Uh Oh, I Have Too Many Grains, What Do I Do?

Once your kefir grains get going, they will double in volume approximately every week. You will need to prune the population when this happens. You can do a couple of different things when this happens. (Ranked from easiest to hardest.)

1. Scoop off the extra grains and eat them. (I haven't done this myself, but apparently, they are really, really good for you.) You can also blend them up and add them to a bunch of different recipes. More about this option on Dom's site.

2. Divide your grains between two jars of milk and give one to a friend, along with instructions on what to do when the kefir is done culturing. (Feel free to print this page to give to your friend, if you'd like.)

3. Scoop off the extra grains and rinse them really well in distilled water. Agitate them gently, pouring off and adding new water as necessary until the water stays clear. It might take 5 or 6 tries to get it to this point. Store the grains in a small amount of distilled water in a jar in the fridge. I'm not sure exactly how long they can stay like this, but I know I've kept grains in this "dormant" state for several months, and they still work fine. It might take them a few days to get back to their full potency, but I've never had grains die on me when stored like this. This method is my preferred method of storing extra grains.

Still cloudy, still needs few more rinses:

Rinsed and ready for storage:

4. Freeze them or dehydrate them. I have never done either of these, because frankly, I'm just too lazy, but if you'd like to try it, here are Dom's instructions.

Taking a Break

Sometimes, we just can't seem to get through 2 cups of kefir every day, even when we have smoothies every morning, bake kefir-wheat bread and spread kefir cheese on our toast (recipes below). And sometimes, we go away on vacation. And sometimes we just get bored of having the same thing every day.

Well, the good news is that you can take a break from your kefir anytime you want to by just sticking your culturing jar in the fridge. I usually do this right after I do my daily routine - If I put my freshly cultured kefir in the fridge and notice that there are already a couple jars in there waiting to be consumed, I just stick the culturing jar right in there beside them. You can leave it there for up to a week (or even more - you probably won't want to drink the kefir if you leave it for too long, but the grains will likely be okay). When you're ready to start culturing again, just pull it out and leave it in the cupboard overnight. Your kefir will be ready for straining in the morning.


Okay, now you have 2 cups of kefir to consume every day, and as hard as you try, you just can't seem to drink it all? I'll confess, I've been making kefir for a couple of years now, and I still don't like the taste of it plain. These are the three things we typically make with our kefir:

Kefir Smoothies

• 8-10 ounces kefir
• 1 banana
• a couple handfuls of frozen fruit/berries


1. Pour kefir into a blender (we use the wide-mouth cup that came with our immersion blender, instead). Add one whole banana. Add enough frozen fruit/berries to bring the level up to 2 cups. Blend well. Share with the kids if you're feeling generous.

Soaked Kefir-Wheat Bread

This bread is our "everyday" bread in our house right now. I made a few variations, but the original recipe can be found here.
Note: You can also halve this recipe quite easily, to make only one loaf of bread.

• 2 to 3 cups kefir
• 5 cups whole wheat flour (I often replace 1-1.5 cups with ground oats)
• 2 tsp salt
• 2 Tbsp brown sugar
• 2 Tbsp oil
• 1 Tbsp molasses

1. Put 2 cups of kefir in the bread machine bowl. Add remaining ingredients.

2. Turn on bread machine to dough cycle. Watch the dough and add up to another cup of kefir to make it the right consistency (it should feel sticky to the touch, but not stick to your finger - like normal dough).

3. Let dough cycle finish, then unplug the bread machine. Let it sit in the machine for about 24 hours.

4. Punch dough down and knead a few times on a floured surface. Divide dough in half. Press each half into a rectangle to get out air bubbles. Roll into a loaf shape and place in lightly greased loaf pans.

5. Cover and let rise for 3-4 more hours.

6. Preheat oven to 350°. Cut several slashes into the tops of the loaves so they won't crack. Bake for 45-55 minutes, or until they sound hollow when tapped.

7. Remove from pans and allow to cool completely before cutting.


Kefir Cheese

• some kefir (start with twice as much as you want to have in the end)


1. Balance a colander on top of a bowl. Put a coffee filter or cheesecloth inside the colander. Pour in kefir.

2. If desired, cover with plastic wrap and put the whole shebang in the fridge for 8-24 hours.

3. As the kefir sits, the whey will drip away into the bottom bowl, leaving a thicker, slightly less tangy yogurt behind. They call it "kefir cheese", but it's really more the consistency of cream cheese or mayonnaise. You can spread it as-is on toast or bagels, or use it on a sandwich in place of mayonnaise. You can also eat it with a spoon like greek yogurt, maybe with some honey and granola or pureed fruit added to it. (There are many uses for the whey, too. For example, we use it when we soak beans to reduce their gassiness.)

Bonus Recipe! Lemon-Lime Kefir Ice Cream

We don't make this regularly, but everyone gobbles it up when we do. It's a very tasty way to use up extra kefir!

• 3 cups kefir
• 1/2 cup of your favorite sweeteners (we use 1/4 cup honey and 1/4 cup sugar)
• juice of one lemon
• juice of one lime
• zest of one lemon
• zest of one lime

1. Strain the kefir for a few hours (using the technique described above for making kefir cheese) to remove some of the whey.

2. Add honey, sugar, and juices. Blend until well-mixed.

3. Add the zests. Mix well, but don't puree your zest to death. It's nice to keep a few flecks in there.

4. Put it in the fridge for a couple of hours, to get it nice and cold. (My ice cream maker can't handle room temperature ingredients.)

5. Transfer to an ice cream maker, and let the ice cream maker do rest of the work (about 25-30 minutes).
Alternatively: Put it in a freezer-safe bowl and stick it in the freezer. Take it out every hour and stir it. (Warning: the alternate method will take all day, so start in the morning.)

Friday, March 09, 2012

Local Consignment Sales - Spring 2012

I've started assembling a list of local consignment sales for Spring 2012. If you know of one that I am missing, please let me know in the comments, and I will add it to the list!

Mainline MOMs
February 25
Drexel Hill, PA

Cozy Tots
March 9-11
Bryn Athyn, PA

The Clothing Tree
March 9-11
Quakertown, PA

Valley Forge MOTTC
March 10
Oaks, PA

St. Luke's UCC MOPS
March 16-17
Trappe, PA

WeeUsables Children's Consignment Event
March 16-17
York, PA

Kool Kids
March 16-18
Levittown, PA

L'il Angels
March 16-18
Bensalem, PA

Bucks-Mont MOMs
March 17
Lansdale, PA

Mommy Market @ Bridle Path Elementary
March 17
Lansdale, PA

Mommy Market @ UGFD
March 17
Lansdale, PA

Bitty Bee's
March 17-18
Kimberton, PA

Just Between Friends - Reading
March 22-24
Reading, PA

Spring Chicken Sale
March 23-24
Havertown, PA

The Clothing Tree
March 23-25
Allentown, PA

All Children's Sale
March 23-24
Wayne, PA

Just 4 Kids
March 23-25
Maple Shade, NJ

Chester County MOMs
March 24
Downingtown, PA

Mother's Market
March 24
Calvary Church, Souderton, PA

Growing Express
March 24
Ambler, PA

Branch Creek MOPS Mom2Mom Consignment Sale
March 24
Harleysville, PA

Smart Moms Sale
March 24-25
Eagleville, PA

Simply Kids
March 30-31
Pottstown, PA

Just Kids Stuff Yard Sale
March 31
Eagleville, PA

Best Dressed for Less
March 30 - April 1
Burlington, NJ

Just Between Friends - West Chester
March 31 - April 1
Glen Mills, PA

Just Between Friends - Western Main Line
April 12-14
Oaks, PA

WeeUsables Children's Consignment Event
April 12-14
Lancaster, PA

The Clothing Tree
April 13-15
Wind Gap, PA

Just 4 Kids
April 13-15
Maple Shade, NJ

L'il Angels
April 20-22
Northeast Philadelphia, PA

Growing Express
April 21
Blue Bell, PA