A modern spin on the Tale of Fish and Loaves (or how a tablespoon of cultures and 2 chickens helped feed 65 people)

One of the most compelling aspects of preparing foods in a traditional manner is the magic that can be wrought with a little elbow grease, some on-the-fly moves, and the right amount of time.

I just finished presenting to a group of healthcare practitioners at Systemic Formulas Sunshine Symposium.  As with everything that comes from Systemic, it was an excellent event, where I learned more about advances in natural healing than seems reasonable in a 3-day window!  And I was absolutely delighted and very honored to be included in the list of presenters this year.

As I began my deliberations on WHAT I would talk about (no surprise–traditional food preparation techniques and the healing benefits of using these types of foods), I quickly got to thinking about HOW I could enliven my PowerPoint presentation.

Certainly I’d put lots of (hopefully!) compelling statistics on the decline in health, how our diets have changed in very short window of time, techniques on how to do some soaking and some culturing…but I wanted a little “Pow!” to drive those points home.  And, there is nothing like letting people see, taste and smell some good, nutritious food to get them on board with making good changes in their own kitchens!

So, knowing that I would be in a standard hotel room (read: No kitchen, nor kitchen-y tools), with rather limited access to the Systemic Formulas’ kitchen (there’s not much time to cook when you’re busy learning in the classroom for the better part of a 10-hour day), I quickly sorted out that some tasty homemade kraut or raw milk yogurt wouldn’t likely make the cut.  I needed something that would take care of the bulk of its own preparation, without a lot of effort or time from me.

So, what I settled on were two options that I knew I’d be able manage with these parameters, using as little from home as I could, leaning more on what I’d gather from local stores.  And what seemed to make the most sense were organic, pastured chicken bone broth and apple juice naturally fermented with water kefir.

Now, mind you, the staff at Systemic feeds us like family, using excellent ingredients that fulfill the diet based on their founder, Doc Wheelwright‘s, Pro-Vita principles.  So, my offerings were not going to be the mainstay of the meal, but rather healthy adjuncts to the offerings.  Regardless, I wanted to share something that would be nutritious and likely rather different than what most would usually consider lunch faire.

So, I brought a tablespoons’ worth of my raw water kefir grains in a small container, tucked safely in the clothing in my luggage.  And, once I settled in to my room, I walked to the nearest store and purchased a glass carafe, unfiltered apple juice, bottled water and organic Demerara sugar (and then I called the good folks at the Marriott Ogden and asked for the shuttle to help me get all this back to the hotel!)

Back in my room, I started the slow-yet-hopeful process of paving the way for some water kefir in a few days’ time.  Beginning with heating the water in the in-room coffee maker, I next melted the sugar into it, poured it into the newly purchased carafe, tempered the heat with room temperature water, and then finished with adding the water kefir grains to the sweet, warm solution.  And then I crossed my fingers in hopes that in my 3-day window, I’d create the right environment for my transported kefir grains to do their alchemical magic, turning sugar water and apple juice into a richly-probiotic beverage for everyone to share.

The next morning, Nate from Systemic escorted me to the local natural foods’ store, where I made a quick purchase of two pastured, organically-raised chickens, some apple cider vinegar and sea salt.  Returning to Systemic’s headquarters, the wonderful kitchen staff  shared a couple of locally-grown onions for the broth and helped me settle everything into an industrial-sized crockpot, which I set on a 4-hour heat, then reduced to 190 degrees Fahrenheit, to continue simmering over a 24-hour period.

By a couple hours into the cooking, the entire area of the kitchen and dining room was swimming in the delicious aroma of homemade chicken broth–is there anything better?

Returning to the hotel room that night, I peered into my  water kefir carafe, sniffing hopefully for a hint of tartness, the tangy hit of lacto-fermentation.  I’d left the carafe to warm in the sunny window sill all day, but there appeared to be no obvious signs of kefir kefiring.  “Well,”  I thought, “even if this doesn’t take off, at least I’m the only one that knows about it–thankfully I’ve not mentioned this to any of the attendees.”   Adding a little more warmed sugar water to the mix, I placed the carafe into a warm water bath to keep any possibility of culturing moving forward in my cool hotel room.  After a while, I removed it from the water and wrapped it in a towel for insulation.  Then I went to bed.

The next morning–the morning of my presentation–I hopped out of bed and immediately checked on the water kefir.  As I jostled the container to remove the lid, I noticed the wonderful tell-tale bubbles rising along the sides of the liquid–Lacto-fermentation!  Sure enough, as I pulled back the lid, I could smell the lively, pungent smell of kefir in action!  The only caveat was that I only had about a quart’s worth of water kefir–certainly not enough for all the attendees to have a taste.  I immediately added the apple juice to the mix and put the carafe back into a warm water bath while I got ready for the day, keeping my hopes high that there was enough lively culturing and the right temperature to begin consuming the newly added sugars and minerals from the apple juice.  As I left the room, I tucked the carafe in a towel and carried it to the car.

Upon arriving at Systemic’s headquarters, I placed the glass carafe in a warm spot in the kitchen (one of the unused back burners to the very busy stove and oven.)  I next asked the staff to help me with removing the flesh and meat from the long-simmered chickens, leaving behind the bones, adding a little more sea salt, vinegar and boiling water to the broth–the staff was my saving grace to pulling this last bit off, as I had to begin my presentation in a few minutes’ time!

Following my presentation, and then sitting in on a great talk given by Dr. Daniel Pompa, I ran back down to the kitchen, just in time to see the most beautiful golden broth being ladled into a festive punch bowl!  What a delight!

Next to the water kefir.

Had it had enough time to ferment the sugars I’d just fed it a few hours’ prior?  What if it was too sweet, more of a warm, sugary apple juice than anything resembling a probiotic beverage?  There was no time to bother with hand-wringing; I could see the attendees lining up along the lunch tables.  With hope in my heart, I began dropping in ice cubes to bring down the temperature a little–and as the ice hit the liquid, frothy, fizzy bubbles shot to the top of the carafe, the wonderful signs of a beverage lacto-fermented!  It worked!

We arranged everything out front, at the end of the food lines.  From a tablespoon of kefir grains and two chickens, there was about a gallon and a half of apple juice water kefir and two huge punch bowls of broth…folks got a “shot” size of the kefir, and as much of the broth as they wished.

And from these small beginnings, I received some fantastic feedback–“We’ve been eating the exact same foods for the last 3 days, and come afternoon, we just hit the wall with the fatigue of sitting and learning all day.  Today, we ate the same foods again, the only difference was the kefir and the broth…and we never hit the wall!  We feel great!”  And, “I was so full from the cup of broth, that I only had half as much food as normal!”  And, “The broth was so good–I had three cups!”

So, if you’re wondering if you can make this kind of food at home…if you’re wondering if it’s worth the effort…if you’re wondering if it will have an impact in your health…I share this little story with you to say, yes, it is most definitely something you can do, and, yes, it is most definitely something you should do.

Bon appetit!