Fresh Salsa…Mildly Fermented!

Delicious, fresh tomato salsa…ready to enjoy immediately, or to ferment a bit for a healthy beneficial bacteria profile!

Delicious, fresh tomato salsa…ready to enjoy immediately, or to ferment a bit for a healthy beneficial bacteria profile!

Freshly made salsa is so delightful–it is a perfect compliment to eggs, meats, beans, you name it.  And it is one of those condiments that makes nearly everyone happy, whether they’re following Paleo Diet principles, GAPS dietary prescriptions or raw food ideals.  Or, maybe someone just doesn’t bother too much with concern for their nutrition…fresh salsa works for this group, too (and it is a great way to get some fantastic nutrition into them, with a smile on their face!)

I love preparing and enjoying food in its proper season…and since we live in the desert southwest of the U.S., all of these ingredients are here, even in winter.  This is fantastic, as this recipe is a great source of naturally-occuring Vitamin C and gut-boosting beneficial bacteria, thanks to the water kefir and mild fermentation.  Both of these qualities are real boosts when it’s cold and flu season (and this salsa tastes great!)

This is a blended salsa–in this instance, I’ve used our food processor.  However, if you only have a blender, feel free to use it.  Either kitchen tool works fine.

This recipe can be enjoyed without the inclusion of the water kefir and the 24 hour room-temperature fermentation cycle, and it will be incredibly delicious if you choose to prepare it this way.  But, if you do choose to follow the recipe as delivered in its entirety, you’ll not only have the boost to the beneficial bacterial profile, but the salsa will last much longer (remember, fermentation is an ancient food preservation technique–and when combined with the modern-day convenience of refrigeration, the combination can lend itself to an extended shelf life.) However, this benefit of the salsa storing longer in the refrigerator if mildly fermented is really a moot point–it is so tasty, it won’t last long in any case!

Mildly Fermented Fresh Tomato and Cilantro Salsa

Makes approximately 2 quarts salsa

  • Approximately 4 cups organic Cherry or Plum Tomatoes
  • 2 organic Bell Peppers, preferably red, yellow or orange, coarsely chopped
  • Approximately 1 cup loosely packed organic Cilantro, rinsed and coarsely chopped
  • 3-4 organic Green Onions (Scallions), rinsed and coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup fresh or frozen organic Pineapple and/or Mango
  • 4-5 cloves organic Garlic
  • 1 organic Jalapeño Pepper, seeds removed if you don’t want it too hot
  • 3 teaspoons Himalayan or Celtic Sea Salt, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon Chipotle Powder
  • 1/4 cup Water Kefir (Kombucha or fresh Whey would work as well)

Place tomatoes in the carafe of the food processor or blender and coarsely chop, then add the rest of the ingredients.  Blend/chop well until incorporated and uniform.  Spoon into 2 glass quart-sized jars, cap with lids, and leave at room temperature for 24 hours (do this final step if you’ve added some kind of culture for fermentation–such as water kefir.  Otherwise, you can simply store the salsa in the refrigerator immediately.)  If mildly fermented before refrigeration, you can expect the salsa to last at least a week in the refrigerator.  If no fermentation has occurred, then plan to enjoy the salsa within four days.

Fresh veggies for salsa--what a delight!

Fresh veggies for salsa–what a delight!


Tomatoes coarsely chopped in food processor.

Tomatoes coarsely chopped in food processor.

Veggies on top of chopped tomatoes, ready to blend it all together!

Veggies on top of chopped tomatoes, ready to blend it all together!

Freshly made water kefir to add to the salsa

Freshly made water kefir to add to the salsa

All ingredients blended and ready to spoon into jars

All ingredients blended and ready to spoon into jars

Salsa--lids in place and ready to ferment for a day…and enjoy tomorrow!

Salsa–lids in place and ready to ferment for a day…and enjoy tomorrow!






Pan-Baked Sweet Potato Chunks

Sweet and delicious baked sweet potato chunks

Sweet and delicious baked sweet potato chunks


Simple, delicious and nutritious.  Isn’t that such a terrific combination when you’re looking for something to prepare and enjoy?  Tossed in energy-promoting Medium Chain Triglyceride-rich unrefined coconut oil, these chunks will work whether you fall in the Paleo camp, or adhere to the GAPS Diet or just love delicious whole foods!

People often ask me how we manage to stay ahead of our food selections at home, given that we eat at home nearly every meal, and most of the foods are made from scratch.  Well, Rome was not built in a day, and I didn’t get into the groove of creating meals in this manner overnight!

Over the years, what I’ve learned is to lean on some pre-preparation, so that we can grab something quickly from the fridge, and reheat it quickly in the toaster oven, on the stovetop, toss it into the kids’ lunches or enjoy it as-is.  It’s the homemade version of fast food, and whether it’s oatmeal, pancakes, bread, beans or soup, having some easy-to-use components to a meal on hand makes the WHOLE process so much easier!

This recipe for pan-baked sweet potato chunks falls into this category perfectly.  Once prepared (and they are delicious straight from the oven!), they store really well in the refrigerator for the work- and school week, a true grab-n-go item.  And I have yet to get a refusal from the kids when they find these accompanying the rest of a meal!

In addition to the nutrition in the coconut oil, this recipe leans heavily on warming spices, specifically cinnamon, which has been shown in studies to help with maintaining healthy blood sugar levels.  And with natural sea or mineral salt, you will have a terrific food, full of trace minerals.

This recipe prepares quickly, bakes quickly, stores easily and tastes fantastic.  Good luck on keeping them for the duration of the week–you might consider doubling the recipe just in case they don’t make it through the first day!

Pan-Baked Sweet Potato Chunks

  • 3 pounds organic Sweet Potatoes and/or Yams, washed, ends trimmed and coarsely cut into rounds approximately 1″ thick
  • 1/2 cup organic Unrefined Coconut Oil, melted
  • 3 tablespoons organic Pumpkin Pie Spice blend or 1 tablespoon Ground Cinnamon, 1/2 tablespoon ground Nutmeg, 1 teaspoon Allspice and 1 teaspoon dried Ginger
  • 2-3 teaspoons Celtic Sea Salt or Himalayan Salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  In a large bowl, sprinkle the spices and salt over the sweet potato chunks and toss to incorporate.  Drizzle the coconut oil over the dressed sweet potato chunks and toss again, insuring that the oil coats all surfaces.  Spread out on a large cookie sheet. so that there is no overlap of the chunks.

Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 40 minutes, then move to the top rack  and roast on the Low Roast setting for an 2-3 additional minutes, or until the tops of the chunks begin to caramelize (make sure you don’t go too long here, or that the heat is too high, lest the oil begin to smoke.)

Remove from the oven and enjoy immediately, or allow to cool and store in the refrigerator for 4-5 days.  Reheats perfectly in the toaster oven or on the stove top.

Chopping sweet potatoes

Chopping sweet potatoes

Pouring on coconut oil over sweet potatoes

Pouring on coconut oil over sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes dressed and ready to bake

Sweet potatoes dressed and ready to bake

How we get ready for the week ahead--sweet potato chunks and freshly-baked water kefir bread

How we get ready for the week ahead–sweet potato chunks and freshly-baked water kefir bread

Rich and delicious sweet potato chunks--notice the salt chunks.  YUM!

Rich and delicious sweet potato chunks–notice the salt grains. YUM!

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Excellent Primer on Real Foods, Where to Find Them and How to Use Them!

All the ingredients for soaked and cultured pancakes--delicious and nutritious!

All the ingredients for soaked and cultured pancakes–delicious and nutritious!

If you are keen on where to begin on how to use real foods–maybe you’re even wondering where to FIND real foods–then you’ll want to invest in the fantastic education from Kelly the Kitchen Kop.  And, through the weekend of Thanksgiving here in the US, you can purchase Kelly’s trainings at HALF OFF!  Simply enter BLACKFRIDAY as you check out.

What will you receive in Kelly’s trainings?  Here’s a breakdown:

For the Real Food Ingredient Guide E-book, you’ll find:

This revised version is cram-packed with new information.  What I’m most excited about is that it’s set up in a way that gives you exactly what you want in whichever format you need it in at the moment…

  • It has a newly revised 7-page quick reference guide for when you want fast answers to questions like,
    • Will you please just tell me what I’m supposed to buy?!”
    • Or when someone puts you on the spot and you need a quick reminder of “What was so bad about that food again?
    • Or maybe when you’re at the store you might need something to flip to for guidance there on various ingredients, including “good, better, best” options.
    • It’ll also help you know what to look for at your local farm and what questions to ask.
  • It has a more detailed section with facts on the different food groups and ingredients, for when you have time to dig in a little more, and it includes information on where to go for even more in-depth reading and research.
  • If you’re more of a visual learner, you’ll find an easy top ten real foods and top ten junk foods list in pictures.
  • It also includes new bonus material:  How to bring your family from junk food to real food, and how to overcome the six main obstacles everyone faces:
    1. Motivation – You won’t be willing to make a change if you don’t understand why it’s so important!
    2. Confusion/feeling overwhelmed – You’re probably sick of trying to navigate all the information from the ‘experts’ like what’s ‘good’ vs. what’s ‘not good’, especially when that keeps changing; and you just want to figure out the age-old question of “What the heck can I eat?!”  Especially before meal planning or grocery shopping…
    3. How to afford real food – You’ll learn loads of tips all in one place.
    4. Dealing with family complaints – This can wear you down at times, so I’ve got ways for you to get past this one!
    5. How to make time for real food – There are so many ways that I’ll bet you’ve never thought of!
    6. Sticking to it for the long haul – This is often what trips people up.  Life gets in the way and you find yourself slipping backward.  You’ll learn here how to prevent that from happening or how to get back on track.

And, for Kelly’s Real Food for Rookies Online Class, you’ll receive:

  • 12 weeks of online classes with videos, downloadable audios, and written materials.
  • LIFETIME access! Read/listen/watch at your leisure: on your break at work, while the kids are sleeping, in your pajamas, whatever! If you have a busy week, no big deal, just pick it back up on your own schedule.
  • Exclusive expert interviews with Sally Fallon Morell (President of the Weston Price Foundation), Dr. Kaayla Daniel (author of The Whole Soy Story), Jane Hersey (Director of the Feingold Association), Tom Naughton (Fathead filmmaker), and now one more: Jimmy Moore from the Livin LaVida Low-Carb blog!
  • BONUS: Free copy of the Kitchen Kop Real Food Guide
  • Save time and money while serving Real Food
  • Read labels and avoid dangerous ingredients
  • Make nourishing “fast food” meals to avoid last-minute trips to the drive-thru
  • Find healthier alternatives for soda pop, refined sugars, heart-killer oils, sugar-bomb breakfast cereals, factory farmed meat and more
  • Serve nutrient-dense foods that are necessary for good health
  • Take control of your health and change your family’s future!

Both of these tools are invaluable in your journey to greater health and empowerment for yourself and your family.  It takes a village to recapture  the information that’s been lost over the years in regard to how to take care ourselves with nutrition, and Kelly’s classes and information are priceless in their role of keeping you well!  And, from Thursday, November 28th until Monday, December 2nd 2013, you can get these classes and information at half price, by entering BLACKFRIDAY as you check out.

Wishing you the best!  Here’s to your health and the health of your loved ones!

How to Make Butter | Slow Food International – Good, Clean and Fair food.

Straight from Ireland, land of grass-a-plenty and happy cows, simple instructions on how to make butter in your own kitchen!

How to Make Butter | Slow Food International – Good, Clean and Fair food..

Sprouted and Cultured Spelt Pancakes


Delicious cultured and sprouted spelt pancakes, cooked in pastured beef tallow and filled with organic blueberries

Delicious cultured and sprouted spelt pancakes, cooked in pastured beef tallow and filled with organic blueberries

Who doesn’t love pancakes?

On a Saturday morning, they are an absolute delight, topped with butter, yogurt, maple syrup, fresh fruit, honey, molasses…or enjoyed as-is!  And, if enough are prepared, they make an easy snack or a yummy breakfast reheated in the toaster oven the next day.  Who wouldn’t love that?

I expect you’ll love this recipe as much as we do, if you’re wishing for some pancakes, but would like a healthier version.  Using the principles of predigestion by fermentation, these pancakes are nutritious, filling and they keep the body’s energy more even than the usual pancake.  While spelt is not gluten-free, the carbohydrates in this recipe have been broken down tremendously by way of fermentation, a la water kefir (my go-to homemade fermented beverage that has 101 uses.)  This process makes the pancakes less of a blood sugar spike, especially when paired with lots of butter or whole fat yogurt.  Soaking the flour in water kefir also breaks down various anti-nutritients, including gluten, helping you to get the most nutrition from the spelt. And from a flavor standpoint?  These have a similar flavor profile to sourdough–absolutely delicious!

And how the heck does one make pancakes from flour that is already wet?  Well, by way of mixing all the other ingredients and then incorporating them into the soaked and fermented flour, an even distribution of all ingredients is easily had. Just follow the directions below and enjoy!

Sprouted and Cultured Spelt Pancakes

Makes approximately 16-5″ pancakes
  • 2 1/2 cups Sprouted Spelt Flour
  • 1-1 1/2 cups warm, filtered Water (105 degree Fahrenheit range)
  • 1/2 cup fresh Water Kefir
  • 1 1/2  cups Whole Milk, preferably raw
  • 2 Eggs, beaten
  • 1/4 cup Ghee (clarified butter) or Coconut Oil
  • 3 tablespoons Raw Sugar or Coconut Crystals
  • 1 teaspoon Sea Salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon Baking Soda
  • 1 tablespoon Real Vanilla Extract
  • Fat or oil for the griddle (Pastured Lard, Coconut Oil, Pastured Tallow, Ghee)

The evening before you plan to make your pancakes, in a large, glass mixing bowl, add the warm water and water kefir to the flour.  Mix all ingredients well, then cover with a lid and set in a warm environment.  I use my yogurt maker, plugged in, with the the dome lid removed and the bowl resting in the top of the maker.  You could also use a dehydrator with the trays removed, and set to 100 degrees Fahrenheit.  If you don’t have either of these, use a microwave (turned off!), oven (turned off!) or ice chest–what you need is an incubation chamber, and it should have at least a couple of bottles filled with hot water to keep the air temperature warm.  (The beneficial bacteria and yeast in the water kefir like a warm temperature to function and thrive, so keeping the air  warm will allow for more breakdown of the complex carbohydrates into simpler, easier to digest sugars.)  Plan to keep your flour soaking and fermenting in the range of 6-10 hours.

When you’ve finished the first stage of soaking and fermenting, you’ll likely notice a tart, lively smell as you remove the lid and see that the batter has risen–lacto-fermenation!  In a separate bowl, combine all the remaining dry ingredients and mix well.  In another bowl, add all the remaining wet ingredients and mix well.  Add the dry to the wet ingredients, mix well and incorporate them into the soaked flour.  You’ll likely notice the batter rising substantially as the baking soda comes into contact with the fermented grains.

Heat a griddle or frying pan to low-medium heat, and add your choice of oil or fat to coat the cooking surface.  Once a drop of batter bubbles on the oil, add a ladle of batter, letting it cook until bubbles appear throughout the pancake, then flip over.  These pancakes will be more moist than those made with dry flour, so be sure the heat isn’t too high so that the pancakes have an opportunity to cook through on both sides without burning.

Top immediately with butter  and any other accompaniments of your choice–maple syrup, yogurt, yacon syrup, molasses, fresh fruit are great choices.  Or, if you’d like to save them to reheat later, simply set them on a plate, and stack each with a piece of parchment paper between, to keep them from sticking to one another.  Store, covered, in the refrigerator and enjoy within a few days’ time.

Pancake ingredients, step one! Water kefir, warm water and sprouted spelt flour.

Pancake ingredients, step one!
Water kefir, warm water and sprouted spelt flour.

Pouring in the water kefir to the flour and water.

Pouring in the water kefir to the flour and water.

Consistency of batter after water and water kefir have been added.

Consistency of batter after water and water kefir have been added.

Sprouted spelt batter with water kefir, resting and warming on the yogurt maker.

Sprouted spelt batter with water kefir, resting and warming on the yogurt maker.

Sprouted spelt pancake batter the next morning after a long, warm fermentation

Sprouted spelt pancake batter the next morning after a long, warm fermentation–notice how much it has risen overnight.  Thank you, beneficial bacteria and yeasts!

Sprouted spelt risen in the bowl, ready to add the other ingredients.

Sprouted spelt risen in the bowl, ready to add the other ingredients.

All the ingredients for the pancakes--delicious and nutritious!

All the ingredients for the pancakes–delicious and nutritious!

Dry ingredients with wet ingredients, added to the soaked and fermented flour.

Dry ingredients with wet ingredients, added to the soaked and fermented flour.


Consistency of batter as it's ready to cook...notice the bubbles of activity from the baking soda working on the fermented grains.

Consistency of batter as it’s ready to cook…notice the bubbles of activity from the baking soda working on the fermented grains.


Pancake ready to flip--notice the bubbles.

Pancake ready to flip–notice the bubbles.


Crispy on the edges, delicious on the inside...perfect sprouted and cultured spelt pancake!

Crispy on the edges, delicious on the inside…perfect sprouted and cultured spelt pancake!




Cinnamon Raisin Soaked Coconut Flour Bread

We’ve been enjoying this recipe very much lately, and it comes together in a snap, when you’ve got your flour soaked and ready in the refrigerator!

I’ve gotten into the (good) habit of soaking most of the flours we eat, and that is including coconut.  Doing so unleashes enzymatic activity within the flour, making all components more digestible and bio-available, while breaking down tough-to-digest “anti-nutrients” like tannins, phytates and difficult proteins.  And, when a little bit of a culture is added (such as a couple tablespoons of fresh whey from cheese or yogurt making), the beneficial bacteria have an opportunity to further break down the complex carbohydrates, using them as a fuel source…and, in turn, helping to reduce the carbohydrate load of the food being consumed.  A total win-win!

And, as mentioned, I’ve even been soaking coconut flour, the darling of many nutritional pundits these days.  I do it for the reasons just stated, and also because I like what it does to the texture of the flour once I’m actually using it, say, in pancakes, or as in this recipe, a quick bread.  Because coconut flour is so hydrophilic, the end products with it can be on the dry side.  When the flour is well-saturated, though, by pre-soaking, the end result is very moist.  So, I’ve found it’s worth the effort, for all the right reasons!

When I soak my flour, I start with about one cup of flour, to which I add warm (110 degrees Fahrenheit, or so) water–usually 2-3 times the amount of flour.  I add it slowly, and incorporate it well, before adding more.  The texture should be like mashed potatoes.

Not mashed potatoes…soaked coconut flour!

Once the consistency is right, then I’ll add about two tablespoons of whey, which I also mix in well.  Then I cover everything and leave it at room temperature for about 24 hours, stirring occasionally.  At the end of this time, I put it in a glass bowl and store it in the refrigerator for up to a week, using it as needed for the afore-mentioned pancakes, and quick breads.  The inherent anti-pathogenic qualities of coconut allows this to keep longer than most flours that have been soaked–again, another bonus!

This recipe makes a very moist quick bread that is not overly sweet.  I use freshly ground flax seed as a binding agent, thus reducing the amount of eggs usually needed when working with non-gluten flours.  Stores beautifully  in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Cinnamon Raisin Soaked Coconut Flour Bread

Makes 1 8″ x 4″ Pan

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Blend flour with flax, sea salt, spices, baking soda, sugar and stevia.  Add the beaten eggs and oil, then add raisins.  Mix all ingredients together well, then spoon into the oiled baking pan.  Smooth the top, and bake in the middle rack in the oven

Bake uncovered for 35 minutes, or until knife inserted in the middle comes clean.  Remove from oven and allow to cool to room temperature before slicing, as the saturated fat content of the bread will help to give it body once cooled.  Store any uneaten portions in the refrigerator.

Soaked coconut flour


Flax seeds about to be ground in coffee grinder


Incorporating oils (I used Blue Breeze coconut ghee from Green Pastures)


Consistency just before transferring to pan


Bread uncooked, ready for the oven


Bread fresh from the oven!


Bread cooled and ready to enjoy





Making Homemade Dairy Yogurt

Homemade yogurt

Wonderful homemade yogurt.
Photo courtesy of Vera Almann. 

Why Should We Culture Dairy Products?

• The culturing of dairy reduces the lactose (milk sugar) in the milk, transforming milk into a rich source of immune-building probiotics that is lower in naturally-occurring sugars and higher in Vitamins B and C

 • Culturing dairy generally makes it much more digestible by breaking down the casein (milk protein) that can be very troublesome for many

 • It also increases the enzymes in the milk (even pasteurized milk that is then cultured has a boost to its enzyme capacity), which helps to digest the components of the milk

This ancient way of preservation helped to create some of the incredibly nutritious foods our forefathers consumed. Regardless of whether or not there was an understanding of the healing byproducts of their preserved foods, they were an integral part of keeping them well. (There have been upsides and downsides to the advent of refrigeration and modern food preservation techniques!)

The easiest way to make yogurt is to purchase a yogurt maker, which is essentially an incubator that keeps the temperature at a stable 110 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature at which most thermophilic (heat-loving) cultures thrive.  This is not a mandatory tool, however.  Here are other options:

  • You can also use a mesophilic culture, which cultures dairy in the 70-78 degree Fahrenheit range.
  • You can use a different, stable heat source, monitored with a food thermometer, to keep heat in the 110 degree Fahrenheit range:
    • An insulated bag or ice chest, containing heated bottles filled with hot water
    • A food dehydrator with the trays removed, set at the 110 degree Fahrenheit setting
    • An oven or microwave warmed by its incandescent bulb, possibly with bottles of hot water to increase the heat if necessary
    • Set in the shade on a hot summer’s day (such as in the desert southwest)

In any of the above options, it’s important to start with whole, organic milk, preferably pastured, and raw if you can find it.  Avoid using ultra-pasteurized milk.  You can use goat’s, sheep’s or cow’s milk, though goat’s milk tends to make a thinner yogurt.  If you use raw milk, you’ll need to make a “mother batch” of starter yogurt, otherwise the innate bacteria in the raw yogurt will eventually weaken and override the yogurt cultures.

Visit Cultures for Health for instructions on how to prepare raw milk for a reusable cultured format.

You can also start a homemade yogurt from a small, fresh, 6-8 oz. container of organic, plain, live-culture, unsweetened yogurt.  Look for one without additional thickeners or gums.  You would then treat this as a thermophilic culture starter, adding the contents of the container to your warmed milk.  It will likely only produce one additional batch–if you want to do more, it’s better to use cultures designed for this.

Homemade Dairy Yogurt Instructions for Pasteurized Milk

Using a food thermometer, bring 1 quart of pasteurized milk to the proper temperature (160 degrees Fahrenheit for most thermophilic cultures)—you can set the thermometer in a pan with the milk and slowly heat it to its correct temperature.  Allow it to cool to its proper culturing temperature (105-110 degrees for thermophilic; 72-78 degrees for mesophilic.)  Although this milk has been pasteurized previously, simply bringing it to the proper culturing temperature is tempting fate…because the milk is devoid of its naturally-occuring beneficial bacteria and enzymes, it is a sugary substrate for potentially pathogenic bacteria to proliferate in warm conditions.  Better to first re-sterizlize it then allow it to cool to culturing temperature.

Remove from heat and pour into a glass, quart-sized jar.  Add your cultures and stir well to incorporate into the milk.  Cover with a paper towel and cinch with a rubber band.  Place the jar in an environment (incubator, oven, yogurt maker or on the counter) that is correct for the type of culture you are using.

After about 6 hours, check your yogurt to see if it has “set”—you’ll know, because it will all move as one unit away from the sides of the jar when tilted.  It will also take on a lovely tart smell.  If not, allow it culture for another hour or two, or even longer if necessary, but checking every hour.

(Note–If yogurt goes too long at the culturing temperature, it will become liquid whey and milk curds.  If this happens, you can strain off the whey and use it to drink, as a base for a smoothie, or as a wonderful soaking medium for grains, legumes and meat marinades.  The milk curds can be enjoyed as a thicker type of yogurt, or yogurt cheese, topping a salad.  I’ve had some success using yogurt that has differentiated like this to start a new batch of yogurt, though sometimes it’s best to just start over—you’ll just have to experiment and see for yourself.)

Whey and curds in yogurt

Notice the whey in the middle of the curds in this yogurt that cultured for too long

Once your yogurt has set, enjoy it immediately, or set it in the refrigerator to halt the culturing process.  Whenever you make yogurt, always reserve about 1/2 to 1 cup to start your next batch, following the same instructions of bringing your milk to the proper temperature, pouring it into a new glass jar, adding your existing yogurt, stirring, and setting it at the culturing temperature for 6-7 hours.

Adding Some Soaked and Fermented Grains Back into the Diet…

Soaked and sprouting quinoa, draining in the colander (Yes, it is correct that it is not a “true” grain, but rather a grain-like seed…but we use it in a grainy way!)

I really like the concept of balance 🙂

Whether it is maintaining–even improving!–health with a solid mix of rest, creative outlets and hard work, or engaging in the social world and its counterpart, private quiet-time, there are so many ways to hit that just-right note of balance in the Yin and Yang of every aspect of life.

However, wouldn’t you agree that to really adopt a change in lifestyle, one has to hang out in the deep end of change for a while before moving back to the moderate depths?  You’ve got to flex your mental muscles a little bit, learn some new moves, before heading back to middle ground. Modern research supports this–new behaviors lay down new paths in our brain’s design, creating new pathways and neural communication.

Without big change, it is much too simple to return to old habits and there won’t be staying power with our new habits.

Personally, I’ve ventured off into the deep waters around nutrition many times.  And sometimes I’ve stayed in the deep a good, long while…my 14-year commitment to being a lacto-ovo-pescarian being one foray (translate: My very weak attempt at vegetarianism–high refined carbs, lots of soy and pseudo-meats.  My saving grace was the pescarian part…something in me knew it needed the nutrition of fish!)

It’s hard to appreciate how various choices make us feel without having first experienced something very different.  My years of sloppy vegetarianism, practiced in a manner that left me incredibly deficient in solid nutritional components, have helped me to appreciate SO MUCH how good it is to feel calm, nourished and BALANCED with the deep nutrition we feed ourselves now.

And, to that end, in the name of balance, we shifted from another extreme decision, to totally remove grains in the name of seeing how we felt.  Going off grains helped me to see how we used grain products as a lazy energy crutch.  A bowl of cereal here, some toast and butter there, a platter of pasta to share at dinner.  I realized how much nutrition we’d been cutting out by way of putting refined grains in the place of deeper nutrition sources.

When grain products are removed, something has to go in their place. Certainly, that could be any number of things.  For our family, that meant more produce, notably more veggies, especially squash, sweet potatoes and yams.  It also meant more nut flours, from soaked, dehydrated and ground sources.  And we ate many more coconut products–from flour to cream to flakes.  We also used the seed-like grains, amaranth and quinoa. Cooking with these types of foods was a big learning curve (one never appreciates all that gluten can do as relates to binding and shape until there’s not a speck of it in sight!), and I am very grateful for what it has done to broaden our perspectives on food and for the greater range of nutrition it brought to our plates.

But, what about balance?  Might there be a limit to the almond-flour donuts and coconut flour breads one should really be consuming on a daily basis?  Totally eschewing all grains is something that doesn’t seem moderate to me.

So I began looking more closely at the traditional methods of grain preparation, most notably as found in Nourishing Traditions, but in various blogs as well.  Our family descends from northern Europe, and I know traditionally-prepared grains are a food source my ancestors employed.  And by incorporating the techniques that lend themselves toward better assimilation of the nutrients that are stored in these foods, I felt that I could test the waters and see how we all responded to the inclusion of some of these foods in our diet.

Before we opted to remove grains from our diet, we ate organic, commercially-prepared grains, either in a sprouted form (bread or tortillas), as chips, or as gluten-free options (bread, waffles, English muffins.)

We didn’t do much in the way of traditional preparation of whole grains–meaning, if I made rice, I simply rinsed it then cooked it. Same for oats, corn meal or buckwheat, or any other whole grain.  In sum, we were eating foods that, for the most part, were not well-prepared to support their digestion and assimilation into our bodies.

But the traditional methods involve soaking the grain in warm water, with a little bit of an acid medium, for about 7-12 hours, generally.  By doing so, many of the anti-nutrients, enzyme inhibitors, complex carbohydrates and difficult-to-digest proteins (such as gluten and phytic acid) are broken down into much easier components that our bodies can handle. while at the same time increasing the enzyme activity of the grain, making their digestion much easier.

The above-mentioned acid medium can be fresh lemon juice, raw apple cider vinegar, whey from fresh yogurt, or my favorites, homemade kombucha or water kefir.  Personally, I’ve moved away from using whey because research has shown that the calcium in the dairy can inhibit physic acid reduction, thus, inhibiting the bioavailability of some minerals.  No matter the culture starter, though, the fact remains that the healthy bacteria (and yeast, in kefir and kombucha) will use the carbohydrates in the grains as an energy source, thus, predigesting the sugars and reducing them in the final product.

Additionally, warmth and time are needed for proper breakdown–starting with water in the room temperature range, left at room temperature (65-75 degrees Fahrenheit), for about 7-12 hours, gives a very good foundation for proper assimilation. And if the grains are especially big (rice, spelt, kamut), then opening up a little more surface area is a good idea.  You could even use a coffee grinder, and give a quick spin of the grains before soaking–just enough to break up the grain a little and expose more of its structure to the water and ferment starter.

And in that pursuit of balance, you’ve got to have some variety!  Soak, ferment and buy organic and in small batches, then keep them in the freezer so there is no concern for oxidation.  Try gluten-free or straight rolled oats, spelt berries, quinoa, rye, quinoa, amaranth and steel cut oats–all great choices.

Needless to say, this all requires a few extra steps, though it’s far from difficult–and I go into good detail on it in my book, The Funky Kitchen, and even GREATER detail in my 6-module course, Fresh, Fun and Flavorful in The Funky Kitchen.  But these steps, coupled with a tart flavor profile (thanks to the healthy bacteria consuming the sugars in the grains) and the richer texture of whole grains, lends itself toward lighter consumption.

And that is a balanced answer 😉

Spring is Here!

Blasts of Spring color in Sedona’s fauna

Spring is here again–have you noticed the days incrementally growing longer as we’ve reached the Spring Equinox?  Certainly I’m biased because of my education in Asian medicine, but what better way to honor Spring than to understand what it means in a global perspective, as presented through the prism of Chinese Medicine?

So, as you begin to feel the burgeoning of the much-anticipated growth that has been stored in the deep roots of plants through the cold, winter months…as you feel the need to open long-shut windows to let in a little of the clean air of a cool, sunshiny day…and as you begin to note the shift in the fresh offerings in the produce aisle at your local grocer…keep in mind how you feel this shift in energies.  May this list of characteristics of the Spring season pique new awareness of the world at large, and within yourself!

Traditional Chinese Medicine and the Spring Season

  • 5-Element Designation:  Wood
  • Organs of the Wood Element:  Liver and Gallbladder
  • Color of the Wood Element:  Greens, browns
  • Emotions of the Wood Element:  Anger when out of balance
  • Tissues of the Wood Element:  Tendons and ligaments
  • Senses of the Wood Element:  Eyes
  • Climate associated:  Wind
  • Taste associated:  Sour
  • Smell associated:  Rancid when out of balance
  • Sound associated:  Shouting

As you might recognize here, the Spring time is when life capitalizes on the reserves that were stored through the dark days of winter, and is ready to push forth into the beginning of another cycle of life.  This requires a strong foundation of energy to support this effort, and if a plant or animal (human included) has allowed for rest and recovery through the quietude of winter, then the reserves  should be replete to support this effort.

However, given that most modern humans do not follow the lead of the hibernating bear, resting more deeply in the short, cold, dark days of winter, many of us come to Spring’s doorstep lacking in reserves for beginning another year.

If this sounds like you, then you might consider the following:

Rest!  Do your best to be to sleep by 10 o’clock each night, and allow at least 7 hours for a full-night’s sleep

Don’t push your reserves through the use of coffee, tea and other stimulants.  Instead, eat meals rich in cooked and raw vegetables, healthy proteins and nourishing fats.  This will replenish much-needed minerals, vitamins and fatty acids.

Start your day with a protein meal  A couple of free-range eggs sauteed in ghee with greens, a dollop of plain yogurt, a spoonful of soaked seeds, sitting upon a mixed green salad will provide the energy you need later in the day.

Use a little more of the sour flavor in your cooking  In Chinese Medicine, sour has an astringing quality, which helps to preserve the body’s essence and energy.

Exercise moderately   This is a great time to take a 20-minute walk daily, and to do interval training 2-3 times a week.  You’ll get your lymph flowing and burn some of your winter fat, while not causing too much oxidative stress in your tissues.

Keep yourself warm!  Don’t waste your energy shivering–wear the proper clothing so that you are comfortable, rather than pulling on your body’s reserves to keep you comfortable.

Eat foods and drink liquids that are warm, or at least room temperature  Avoid iced and cold foods.  This further pulls on the body’s reserves.

Have an acupuncture and moxibustion treatment to relax and warm the body and balance the system as a whole.

Consider supplementation that nourishes the body  This is best done under the supervision and guidance of a trained professional, to better ensure that the supplements chosen are correct for your needs.  If you would like my help with this, feel free to contact me.

By no means exhaustive, I do hope this list will help you to meet the coming Spring in great health, prepared for another year circling our sun.



Food as Our Medicine

Breakfast of turkey bacon, broccolini and zucchini--just add some eggs, spring mix and avocado!

At the foundation of natural medicine should be a healthy, balanced diet.  Supplements and therapies are just that—supplemental and therapeutic means to affect change in the body.  However, it is the day-in, day-out practice of eating that is truly what makes a difference in health over the long haul. So, what does this look like from a practical standpoint?

Many years of professional and personal research, practice and plain tinkering have led me to some basic tenets that I’d like to share. I’ve found the culmination of many dietary questions being answered in clear detail in Dr. Jack Tips’ books, The Weight is Over, and The Pro-Vita Plan.

Eat mostly vegetables, and do so with each meal 

Shoot for mostly raw, with some cooked just to the point of softening.  Definitely do your best to make them organic, seasonal and local. If  not organically-grown, soak your produce for 20 minutes in a tub of clean water, with a few drops of grapefruit seed extract included to kill bacteria and other germs.  Rinse them under fresh water, then let them air-dry on towels before placing them in the crisper for safekeeping.

Raw produce allows our bodies to use the inherent enzymes in the produce to help with the pre-digestion of the meal.  Likewise, because we are not herbivores by design, we need to have the cell wall of the plants we eat partially broken down to extrude the nutrition found in the plant matter, and heating is a great way to meet this need; therefore, the need for some cooked vegetables as well.

Eating organically means the plants were grown in more nutrient-bearing soil, and that they are free of toxic residues from pesticides, fungicides, etc. Eating locally and in-season means we are eating foods that are in keeping with the biorhythm of our locale, which helps to support the nutrition needed for a given time and place.

Additionally, foods that are local and in-season can be picked at their ripeness, further enhancing their nutrition profile. This can look like a salad of mixed spring greens, or freshly made cole slaw, or a crudités platter.  Pair this with steamed vegetables like zucchini, carrots, parsnips, or sauté some spinach or collard greens with onions.  A homemade marinara sauce, full of lightly cooked veggies with onions and garlic would be a great choice, too.

Eat your heaviest meal in the morning, followed by your next heaviest at lunch, and your lightest at dinner

Eat more protein at the start of the day, and lighter carbohydrates at the end of the day.  Limit the amount of liquid (preferably water) with your meals. Our bodies run on natural biorhythms, and one facet of this is that we tend to produce more hydrochloric acid (HCl) as the day begins.  HCl has many important functions, but breaking down protein is one of its greatest.

Of the three macronutrients—carbohydrates, fats and proteins—protein is the most important for building healthy new tissue.  However, protein is also the most complicated of the three to digest and utilize.  Therefore, capitalizing on the body’s natural proclivity for protein digestion in the morning makes good sense.

Additionally, having the heaviest protein meal in the morning allows the body to digest and put to use the nutrition needed for the rest of the day, when our activity levels are highest.  A meal of softly-scrambled, free-range organic eggs with sautéed spinach, topped with a dollop of organic, plain yogurt and a side of sliced tomato and avocado will garner a balanced energy throughout the remainder of the day (even during the 3 o’clock slump!) Lunch should be a variation on the theme set out at morning, and ideally should be paced about 4 ½ hours later, allowing ample time for the digestion of the first meal.

A mixed greens’ salad with broiled, organic chicken or wild-caught fish, topped with a few soaked sunflower seeds and some sautéed vegetables from dinner the night prior, drizzled with walnut oil or cold-pressed, extra virgin olive oil, some fresh lemon juice and a sprinkle of herbs or garlic would make for a delightful, nutritious mid-day meal.

Finally, dinner should be the lightest meal of the day, more focused on complex carbohydrates, which are easiest of the three macronutrients to digest.  We don’t need heavy building as the day winds down—rather, it is a time of rest and recovery, and bogging down the system with a heavy protein meal leads to lymphatic congestion and disordered sleep, among other issues.  This meal should consist of sautéed vegetables, possibly with some soaked and steamed quinoa or amaranth, topped with a little butter, or possibly a baked sweet potato.  A piece of fresh, in-season fruit makes for a lovely dessert.

However, if you find that this “lightest” meal is just a little too light to make it comfortably through the evening, then do have a little protein–maybe 2-3 ounces of broiled fish with a salad, or some braised greens and onions with 2-3 ounces of turkey.  Just keep the portion size of the entire meal smaller than the first 2 meals, and complete eating at least a couple of hours before sleep.

Don’t mix carbohydrates with proteins

The reason for this lies in a point that was made earlier—protein is more difficult to digest than carbohydrates, and when a person eats a meal that is predominately carbohydrate, with some protein, the body begins producing the enzymes necessary for carbohydrate digestion, rather than the more challenging (and very different in composition) protein digestion.  Doing so digests the carbohydrates, but leaves the proteins not fully digested, leading to fermentation, gas, improper nutrient breakdown and indigestion.

So, eat your carbs (sprouted and non-sprouted grains, breads, tortillas, pastas, starchy vegetables, over-cooked beans, fruit, milk, sweeteners) in a separate meal from your proteins (eggs, meats, soaked/sprouted/gently cooked beans, cheeses, yogurt and other cultured dairy, nuts.)

Here is a breakdown of the common macronutrients, so you can more easily decide what goes with what, and when it should be eaten

Very starchy carbohydrates—avoid consuming with proteins, but fine with moderate fats

  • All grains and grain products
  • Overcooked beans (not sprouted beans gently cooked below the simmer point)
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Jerusalem artichokes
  • Cooked and baked potatoes
  • Pumpkin
  • Rutabagas
  • Yams
  • Split peas

Carbohydrates that are medium starch, a small amount with protein should be fine, and fine with fats

  • Artichokes
  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Eggplant
  • Lightly cooked corn
  • Daikon radish
  • Jicama
  • Okra
  • Parsnips
  • English snow peas
  • Radishes
  • Raw summer squashes (crookneck, zucchini, etc.)
  • Rhubarb
  • Hard squashes (acorn, banana, spaghetti, etc.)
  • Turnips
  • Water chestnuts

Carbohydrates that are non-starchy, an excellent choice with fats and proteins

  • Most sprouts
  • Asparagus
  • Bamboo shoots
  • Beet tops
  • Bell peppers
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Chard
  • Greens
  • Cucumber
  • Lettuces
  • Onions
  • Sea vegetables
  • Scallions
  • Spinach
  • Garlic
  • Green beans
  • Tomatoes

Fats, fine with proteins and carbohydrates

  • All oils, from vegetable and animal sources
  • Lard
  • Butter

Proteins, consume with fats and non-starchy carbohydrates

  • Beans that are sprouted and cooked just below the simmer
  • Beet leaves
  • Chesses
  • Chlorella
  • Green coconuts’ milk
  • Fish and shellfish
  • Dulse
  • Eggs
  • Gelatin
  • All meats
  • Milk
  • Miso
  • Nuts and nut butters
  • Peanuts
  • Dried peas
  • Seeds
  • Seitan, tempeh and tofu
  • Tahini
  • Wild rice