Elderberry Water Kefir

Delicious and delightful elderberry water kefir!

Delicious and delightful elderberry water kefir!

Cold and flu season has arrived — good times.

Thankfully, the natural world has much to offer in support of a healthy immune system, not the least of which is immune-enhancing beneficial bacteria, and wellness-enhancing  plants, such as the long-revered elderberry, traditionally used in treating respiratory ailments, allergies, and combating influenza.

So, why not bring them together?

I found dried, organic elderberries at the natural food store, and of course the first thing I think to do is ferment them.  Since I have water kefir always prepared at home, that was no problem.

Elderberries are quite tart–meaning very little sugar content–and they are very hard when dried.  So, I did more than just put them in some finished water kefir.

Here are the details:

Elderberry Water Kefir

  • 2 tablespoons Dried Elderberries
  • 1/2 cup very hot chlorine-free water
  • 3 tablespoons fresh, frozen or dried Blueberries (Concord Grapes and/or Thompson Raisins work well, too)
  • 2 cups Water Kefir (without the grains/SCOBY)

Place the elderberries in a mug and pour over the hot water.  Allow to sit for 3-4 hours, then pour into a pint or quart-sized glass jar. Add the blueberries or grapes and pour in the water kefir.  Cap tightly and allow to sit for 12-24 hours at room temperature for a second fermentation cycle (the first being when the water kefir was created from sugar water, as described in my book, The Funky Kitchen.)  Strain and consider enjoying an ounce or two each day.  May be stored in the refrigerator until complete, to slow the second fermentation process.

Up close shot of dried elderberries

Up close shot of dried elderberries

Elderberries and blueberries fermenting in water kefir

Elderberries and blueberries fermenting in water kefir

 

Some Basic Wellness Tips for a Tough Viral Season

A beautiful sunset shot from our neighborhood school where we lost one of our sweet first graders this week.

A beautiful sunset shot from our neighborhood school where we lost one of the sweet first graders to illness.

This week held a tremendously sad event for our community, where we lost one of our little first graders to a very serious respiratory illness.  In the wake of that, and the ensuing communication I received from parents and patients, I decided to pull this short list of wellness suggestions together…there are hundreds of other things I could include, but this is a very solid start that is very reasonable to attain.

Here is the letter I posted on Facebook:

Hello my friends. As many of you know, we lost one of our own yesterday afternoon after a tough battle with a very serious respiratory infection. He was a little first-grader right here at our kids’ school across the street. With the communication I’ve had with parents yesterday and today, I wrote the following post for our local communities–but, with the positive feedback I’m getting on the post, I’m going to post it here for everyone, as we definitely seem to be faced with some virulent pathogens right now. Blessings and well-wishes for you and your loved ones–take good care and take care of one another.

I’d like to just share some natural ideas you can use at home as you look to keep everyone well:

1. Keep the sugars down in the diet–it is incredible the impact sugar has on the immune system–it is no accident that the cold and flu season officially gets underway the week after Halloween. Sugars include the obvious choices, but also fruit juices, sports drinks, granola bars–read the sugar content of the foods you’re eating and make changes as appropriate.

2. Get some sun–without sunscreen. Balanced exposure of our skin to the sun is not only integral for natural Vitamin D production, but also the production and use of sulfur in our bodies. Don’t get burned, but 10 minutes or so of mid-day sun (just go walk around the yard and smell the flowers), in a tank top, a couple times a day, will be a huge boon to your wellness.

3. Drink only water–juices are full of sugars, and while they may have some nutrient value, you’re better off having an orange, with its fiber and raw nutrients, then a pasteurized, concentrated version. Put a healthy squirt of lemon or lime juice into your water for some fresh Vitamin C.

4. Eat foods that are rich in naturally-occurring probiotics, a huge benefit to the immune system. Kombucha, water kefir, raw sauerkraut (not the jarred stuff from the grocery aisles–that’s pasteurized), plain yogurt and plain milk kefir–these are all great sources of naturally-occurring probiotics. Note that I mentioned PLAIN–sweeten and flavor with fresh fruit and Stevia extract to sweeten.

5. Rest–if you feel like sleeping, sleep–our body heals much more efficiently in deep sleep. Not a time for pressing on with caffeine, which taps the adrenals and can set someone up for a big challenge on the immune system.

6. Make chicken soup–from a whole chicken, using only water, salt, garlic, onion, celery, carrots, black pepper, and a splash of apple cider vinegar, or the juice of 2 lemons. Don’t use prepared broth or bouillon cubes–you won’t need them with the flavor from the chicken. Put into a crockpot for the easiest method. Chicken soup helps to loosen the phlegm that arises in the chest, and has anti-inflammatory properties.

7. Consider using medicinal grade essential oils to support the immune system.  Oregano, thyme, tea tree, lemon, basil, frankincense, lavender, orange, clove, rosemary.  These are oils that have shown very good effect in supporting the immune system as it rallies against viruses and bacteria.
Please consider these suggestions–if they seem a good fit for your needs, use them–if not, that’s OK, too. I just wanted to share what I’m sharing with others, and how I’m taking care of our family. If you have more questions, you can contact me at sarica@naturallylivingtoday.com.

Blessings, love and peace to you all!

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20 Life-Changing Minutes

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If you ever notice that I become incredibly uncomfortable when I see kids eating donuts, or Doritos and Gatorade being handed out as a snack…if you take 20 minutes to watch this video, you will have an excellent understanding of why. This is why I do what I do and why I post what I post. Please take 20 minutes for a deeper understanding of the issues we face…This video will put the information right in front of you in an easy to understand format that is life-changing.

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!

 

 

 

 

 

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!

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!

 

 

 

Parmesan Polenta with Bacon and Greens

Polenta before soaking and mild fermentation

Polenta before soaking and mild fermentation

One of the terrific things about being part of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program is that your hand is sometimes forced to get creative with ingredients you might not have otherwise chosen.  In this instance, my inspiration was field garlic and Swiss chard.  Thankfully I had some corn grits (polenta) stored in the freezer, as well as raw Parmesan cheese and smokehouse pastured beef bacon from another local source here in our desert hamlet.  And, not surprisingly, there was bone broth, too–this time, pastured chicken.

So, with a little forethought to begin soaking the grits this morning in warm water with fresh water kefir, we were able to enjoy an excellent meal this evening (just perfect for an al fresco meal on the back patio before we hit the triple-digits on the thermometer!)  I paired this with a fresh, simple salad of various lettuces from our garden and steamed beets, topped with balsamic vinegar, olive oil  and chopped garlic.

Parmesan Polenta with Bacon and Greens

Serves 6 as an entree

To prepare polenta:

  • 1 1/2 Corn Grits (Polenta)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Sea Salt
  • 2  cups warm, filtered, dechlorinated Water (approximately 105 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • 1 cup fresh Water Kefir

Combine all ingredients in a glass or ceramic bowl and stir well to incorporate.  There should be about 1/8″-1/4″ of the water/water kefir over the top of the polenta.  Cover and store in a warm spot (I set mine on top of the yogurt maker–turned on–to help maintain a gentle, warm heat to encourage mild fermentation of the grain.  You could also set the bowl in a dehydrator set around 100 degrees Fahrenheit, or in an ice chest or oven–turned off–with a couple of bottles filled with hot water.)  Allow to rest undisturbed for at least eight hours, until you see the little bubbles of fermentation and there is a mild tart scent. When this point has been reached, begin preparing the rest of the recipe.

For the remainder of the recipe you’ll need:

  • 4-5 cups Swiss Chard, sliced in 1/2″ strips
  • 5-6 slices of pastured Beef Bacon or Pork Bacon, cut in 1/2″ slices
  • 3 cups Chicken Broth, plus 1 additional cup, heated
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan Cheese
  • 1/2 cup Field Garlic, chopped in 1/2″ pieces, or 4 Scallions, chopped in 1/2″ pieces with 3-4 cloves Garlic, minced finely
  • Sea Salt and Black Pepper to taste
  • Cherry or Plum Tomatoes, sliced, for garnish
  • Freshly-chopped Basil Leaves and Lemon wedges, for garnish

In a 5-6 quart pot, combine soaked polenta with 3 cups of chicken broth over a medium heat and bring to a  mild simmer, stirring constantly from the bottom.  In about five minutes, you’ll notice the grits have firmed up substantially and the grain has softened.  Stir for another  five minutes or so and turn off the heat.

In a separate, large pan over medium heat, begin cooking the bacon.  Once it has begun to release its fat into the pan, add the field garlic or scallions/garlic, stirring occasionally to keep all ingredients from burning.  After a few minutes, once the garlic/onions have softened, add the Swiss chard and incorporate well into the mix.  Keep cooking and stirring periodically, until most of the moisture has evaporated off and the chard has softened.  Turn off heat and return to the polenta.

Resume a low heat under the polenta, which will have stiffened while cooling.  Add the Parmesan cheese and pour in an additional cup of hot chicken broth.  Stir all ingredients well to incorporate and to soften the polenta.  Spoon in the bacon and greens mixture and mix well into the polenta.  Remove from the heat and serve immediately with a garnish of fresh, sliced tomatoes, a sprinkling of basil leaves and a healthy squirt of lemon juice.

Store any remaining in a covered glass or ceramic bowl for up to three days in the refrigerator.

 

Pouring water kefir into the polenta to begin soaking and fermentation

Pouring water kefir into the polenta to begin soaking and fermentation

 

Notice how there is a pooling of water over the soaking polenta--not too much, just about 1/8 of an inch

Notice how there is a pooling of water over the soaking polenta–not too much, just about 1/8 of an inch

 

Using the yogurt maker to keep a gentle heat source under the soaking and fermenting polenta

Using the yogurt maker to keep a gentle heat source under the soaking and fermenting polenta

 

The polenta after eight hours of soaking and mild fermentation--notice the little bubbles in the soaking water?

The polenta after eight hours of soaking and mild fermentation–notice the little bubbles in the soaking water?

 

Polenta with 3 cups of chicken broth, just beginning to cook

Polenta with 3 cups of chicken broth, just beginning to cook

 

Polenta after only 5 minutes of cooking--the soaking process definitely hastens the cooking time

Polenta after only 5 minutes of cooking–the soaking process definitely hastens the cooking time

 

Pastured beef bacon and field garlic sautéing

Pastured beef bacon and field garlic sautéing

 

Freshly grated, raw Parmesan cheese

Freshly grated, raw Parmesan cheese

 

Notice the smoother consistency of the polenta once the Parmesan cheese and additional chicken broth have been added

Notice the smoother consistency of the polenta once the Parmesan cheese and additional chicken broth have been added

 

Swiss chard sauted with pastured beef bacon and field garlic, ready to blend into the polenta

Swiss chard sauted with pastured beef bacon and field garlic, ready to blend into the polenta

 

Prepared polenta with Swiss chard, pastured beef bacon and field garlic

Prepared polenta with Swiss chard, pastured beef bacon and field garlic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ferments and Culturing…How I love Your Ways

It may not look like much, but the fermentation and culturing happening here fuels our kitchen!

It may not look like much, but the fermentation and culturing happening here fuels our kitchen!  Shown here:  water kefir, ginger bug brew, raw milk yogurt in yogurt maker, sprouted brown rice incubating in second yogurt maker and fermenting with added water kefir.

I’ve been in the very good habit lately of leaning heavily on lacto-fermentation to pre-digest the foods our family eats.  Culturing, fermenting, sourdough-ing, kraut-ing…our kitchen has been a hotbed of activity, but not always a lot of elbow grease on the family’s part.

After spending the better part of this last year reading and re-reading The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz, I’ve felt compelled and encouraged to just sit back and let the bacteria do a lion’s share of the digestive work, so we don’t have to.  (The digestive equivalent of comfortably reclining, quaffing champagne and noshing bon-bons.)

And it has been a good move!

We had decided some time back to work on incorporating some grains back into our months’-long grain-free diet, and as with any move to eat grains, we did so with the expectation that they would always be properly-prepared by a long, warm-water soak before cooking.  The removal of various anti-nutrients by this simple first step is paramount to getting more nutrition from the grains, and mitigating the mineral- and protein-leaching that consuming unsoaked grains can lead to.

But adding in a little fresh culture to that warm, long watery soak–by way of  whey from yogurt or kefir, or a splash of water kefir–provided  the additional benefit of allowing the cultures to pre-digest the complex carbohydrates in the grains, leaving us with much more digestible simple sugars.  Yay!  And everything took on that wonderful, slightly-tart flavor of sourdough (and once a palate gets a taste for sourdough, anything less tastes bland and simple)–Yay again!  But possibly best of all, the grains didn’t feel like a brick in our bellies–even pancakes and hot cereal have been very well-digested, where we are full, but not at all bloated or logy.  Yay!

At one point last week, I counted 9 different ferments happening in our kitchen.  And while that certainly seems like a lot, it’s important to remember that the process of creating lacto-fermented foods requires time.  Rome may have not been built in a day, but culturing a quart of milk to become yogurt takes about a third of a day, and that’s a little longer than simply picking a container off the shelf at the grocery store.  But the benefits are innumerable if you do allow the time for your homegrown cultures to go to work for you.  Most commercially-prepared yogurt goes through a hastened culturing process, that does not allow for the more complete conversion of what are for many troublesome milk sugars (lactose)  into the gut-benefiting, probiotic bacteria.  And, if you have access to raw, grass-fed milk, then you are able to make a very nutritious food, indeed.

Similarly, making fermented veggies at home–most widely-known as sauerkraut–allows you to make a condiment teeming with beneficial bacteria, with the ingredients you choose.  Many people have issues with thyroid function–whether it be diagnosed or sub-clinical–and consuming raw sauerkraut of cabbage can actually further dampen thyroid function.  It turns out that the fermentation process does not degrade the thyroid-dampening effects of brassica-family vegetables, of which kale, cabbage, bok choy, cauliflower and many others belong.  Now, a little raw or fermented brassica veggies isn’t going to squelch most people’s thyroid activity.  But if a person is inclined to eat a few spoons’ full of fermented veggies in a day (read:  me), then, making a kraut that leans more heavily on other types of vegetation–zucchini and other summer squashes, carrots, cucumbers, onions, garlic, chard, lettuces–might be a good option.  Again, this just takes time to let those good bacteria do their good work for you.

And there are more ways we’ve been using the cultures…to make bread, to prepare beans for cooking, as a base for refreshing and calming drinks, in making pancakes, and even as skincare!  The ways to use them are only as limited as our ingredients on hand and our imaginations.  I’d love to hear from you on what you’re culturing and fermenting, what your favorite cultured foods are, how you’re using these foods in your life.  Please leave a comment or contact me–there is always more to learn and share!

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!