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Kombucha Me Baby

 

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Last summer I tried all sorts of lacto-fermented treats. I even started making beet kvass and milk kefir. But over this past winter I have discovered my favorite fermented beverage: kombucha.

I never caught on to the kombucha craze a couple of years ago. I thought it was just a hippie fad. But now that I have been making it and drinking it for the past few months, I am officially addicted.

Kombucha has all sorts of health benefits. It is made with a SCOBY-a Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeasts. These are the beneficial bugs that keep the harmful bugs-like e.coli and candida albicans-in their rightful place. Kombucha is also chock full of B vitamins as well as several acids that work to strengthen the body, most notably glucuronic acid, which is a natural detoxifier. Our bodies produce glucuronic acid in the liver to help flush toxins out, and it can be depleted by high levels of environmental toxins such as BPA, as well as alcohol consumption, so adding kombucha to your diet is one of the best ways to combat all the toxins in our modern environment.

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Kombucha scobies chillin’ like a villain

 

In order to brew kombucha, you need a scoby and some sweet tea. We got our scoby from a helpful craigslist poster-they reproduce quite readily, so if you find someone brewing it you can easily buy one off of them. Then make some strong black, green, or oolong tea. It can’t be a kind with essential oils, such as Earl Grey, and it can’t be herbal tea. The natural compounds and acidity of tea is what we want. I use plain black pekoe or a sencha green, or a mix of the two.

Steep your tea is boiling water for at least ten minutes. You want one tea bag (or one teaspoon loose-leaf tea) for each quart of water. After the tea has steeped, stir in 1/4 c of sugar per quart of water. Allow the tea to cool to body temp before adding the scoby. I have been using larger jars I got from goodwill that are 2-4 quarts each, so I will steep 2-3 tea bags in one quart of boiling water, then add 1/2 c sugar, then combine that with a quart of cold filtered water, which brings it to just the right temp and sweetness.

kombucha 002When you add the scoby, you will also need to add about 1/4 cup of kombucha from a previous batch. If you get a scoby from someone, they should have transported the scoby in some kombucha. If they neglected to do that, or you bought a dehydrated one, you can add raw apple cider vinegar. The important thing is to have the right acidity in the mix.

Now comes the hard part-you have to let the kombucha brew. Cover the jar with a thin towel and set in a warm dark place for 7-10 days. The scoby likes it around 72 degrees, so if you have a colder house, it may take longer to brew, or you might want to wrap the jar in a towel. A new scoby will begin to develop on the top of the kombucha. At first it will just look cloudy, and then a white film will form. This film will get thicker as the days pass, until it is a nice rubbery pancake floating on top of your tea goodness. When the brew is done, you can remove the new scoby and the old scoby (which will likely be stuck together) pour the finished kombucha into glass jars to be put in the fridge, and start the process again.

kombucha 001As you can see in the photo above, I like to put chunks of fruit in the bottom of my jars to flavor the kombucha. Here you see half a mango in a quart jar. I fill it with kombucha and then cap it tightly and allow it to sit out an extra day before moving it to the fridge. This intensifies the flavor and carbonates it slightly. The wait is well worth it. I’ve had fun with flavor combinations: berries, kiwi, mango, pear. You could even try some candied ginger or some fruit juice. Just don’t put more than an inch or so of fruit or juice in the bottom, to keep the ratios right.

Kombucha is refreshing, energizing, and most of all, delicious. It’s a fabulous alternative to all that HFCS-laden pop and juice drinks out there. The scoby eats up the sugar you feed it and gives you a tasty fizzy beverage in its place. I highly recommend adding it to your kitchen!

 

This post is part of Foodie Link Love

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Posted by on March 26, 2011 in Things Edible

 

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Just Beet It

beet-root-bspGrowing up, I hated beets. They had a funny flavor, worse texture, and stained everything on your plate. Of course, the beets that I was eating came out of a can, so they can hardly be called beets. It wasn’t until I was an adult, out on my own and sharing an organic produce box with my roommates, that I discovered beets could actually be cooked in a tasty way.

I still wouldn’t list beets as my favorite vegetable, however. And when I first read in Nourishing Traditions about Beet Kvass, I put that recipe on the “probably won’t try” list. But the more I read about the benefits of this tonic, the more I realized that I should probably make it part of my kitchen routine.

What are these benefits? Besides being a lacto-fermented beverage providing loads of probiotics for healthy intestine function, beet kvass is a rich source of vitamins and minerals, a natural multivitamin, if you will. Most importantly, it supports the liver, which is sadly much abused in our modern world. The liver is our primary cleansing organ, filtering out the toxins in our food and the chemicals we are exposed to in our everyday life. When the liver gets overburdened with toxins, the body responds by either storing the toxins, causing long-term problems, or they look for other methods of getting rid of those toxins, such as through the skin. Acne and eczema can both be results of an overtaxed digestive system.

I can tell that drinking beet kvass regularly helps with my skin issues. If I am feeling itchy, a glass of kvass will calm my system. When I was ill over the holidays, my blood tests showed that my liver enzymes were elevated, a sign that my liver function was impaired. As soon as I got home I started drinking beet kvass every day, and when I went back to the doctor for my follow-up, my liver enzymes had begun to drop, and a few weeks later all my tests were normal.

It may take awhile to get used to the taste of kvass if you are not a fan of beets.  Sally Fallon admits that “you wouldn’t serve it to guests.” But I’ve found that I don’t mind the taste when it is mixed with filtered water or fresh juice or kombucha. And you can also add in carrots or ginger with the beets to give a different flavor if you like. The recipe is very simple, but it is truly worth your time.

 

Beet Kvass

from Nourishing Traditions

2 medium beets

1 Tbsp. sea salt

1/4 c homemade whey* (or an extra Tbsp. of salt)

 

Peel and chop beets into one inch chunks. Don’t cut it too small, or the fermentation will occur too quickly and it will turn alcoholic. Place beets with salt and whey in a quart mason jar and fill jar with filtered water. Cover and let sit on counter at room temperature 2-3 days, then transfer to refrigerator.

Drink a few ounces each day, either straight or mixed with filtered water. When most of the liquid is gone, refill the jar with water and let sit out on the counter for another 2 days, After the second batch, discard beets and start again.

If the kvass gets thick and slightly syrupy, that is normal-it means you have a good batch! Just thin it out with filtered water when you drink it.

 

*Homemade whey provides a starter culture and can be made from yogurt fairly easily. Line a sieve with cheesecloth or a coffee filter and place over a bowl. Put one cup of yogurt (whole, plain, with active cultures and no fillers) into the sieve and allow to drain for several hours or overnight. You will end up with whey in the bowl, and the yogurt will have become thick like Greek yogurt or a soft cream cheese.

 
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Posted by on January 31, 2011 in Things Edible

 

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Getting Back in the Kitchen

Three weeks ago I was deep in the throes of Thanksgiving planning, trying out pie crust recipes and trying to figure out how to best utilize my oven to cook both tasty free-range turkeys we had purchased, along with squash and potatoes and sourdough rolls and of course, lots and lots of gravy. My parents, brothers, and in-laws were all coming, bringing traditional family dishes like candied yams and green bean casserole. My only concern was whether the snow surrounding our house would melt soon enough for me to go out to the store for more butter and eggs.

Unfortunately, my grand feast never quite materialized. I came down sick on Wednesday, and spent most of Thursday on the couch while my wonderful husband and his fabulous parents did almost all of the cooking. My family ended up stuck at home with a touch of the stomach flu, so no tasty stuffing graced my table (I’m still waiting for a taste of mom’s stuffing and candied yams!). We did the best we could, but it wasn’t the holiday I had envisioned.

It went from bad to worse as I got sicker and sicker, and ended up in the hospital the following Monday with a nasty viral infection. While I have come to resist the idea of taking conventional drugs needlessly, I was so dangerously sick as to require IV antiviral and antibiotic medication, as well as narcotic painkillers and a steady dose of fluids and vaccines. Fortunately, though prayer and good doctors I made it through and was allowed to come home after almost a week in the hospital.

I’m still regaining my strength and healing from my little adventure, but it has been good to be home and in control of my diet again. There are only so many good options on the hospital cafeteria menu. Fortunately I had a good stock of beet kvass and kefir already fermented to help the healing process, as well as several quarts of turkey stock that my husband had made and frozen before we had to leave the house. I’m planning to make a couple batches of fermented veggies this week, and I’m loading up on all the healthy fats I can.  With the Christmas season upon us, I am looking forward to trying new real food recipes, like homemade egg nog and new cookie recipes using some sprouted flour I recently purchased.

We’re back in the saddle here at Ruminations-more recipes on the way!

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2010 in Things Edible

 

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Grain-Free: Trial and Errors

It’s been a week since we officially ended our grain-free trial (by consuming a wonderful meal of sushi and tempura, oh yum) and I am just now starting to recover. The wave of detox and die-off symptoms that were instigated by our experiment have been frustrating to say the least, but I have definitely learned a lot that will inform our future ventures into GAPS territory. If you are thinking about trying GAPS, SCD, or any other detox program, here are a few things we’ve learned:

1. Just one change can make a huge impact

We weren’t doing full GAPS, just cutting out grains.  Not hard, I thought.  We still ate lots of nutrient dense foods, fairly limited amounts of sugar, and probiotic-rich foods. But just that one thing of eliminating grains was enough to cause a HUGE reaction, as it took away one of the primary food sources for toxic bacteria in the gut, causing a lot of die-off. And what happens when bad bacteria die? They leave behind their toxic corpses for the body to flush out, overwhelming the natural systems that would usually handle those toxins. And where do excess toxins show up? Why, in the skin and lymphatic tissues, as the body tries to get rid of them any which way it can. And that means excema, flu symptoms, and headaches. Fun times.

2. For goodness’ sake, GO SLOWLY

When the books and experts tell you to go slowly, believe them. You can’t eliminate grains and sugars and dose your body with a bunch of probiotics all at once.  Because I didn’t think I was going to cause such a change, I didn’t reduce my probiotic supplements or the amount of probiotics foods I was eating. All those things, while good, cause the war in your intestines to rage even fiercer, and accelerate the die-off, to the point where the healing is actually more damaging to you than the toxins. If you go on a detox, carefully evaluate the foods and supplements that you are taking and reduce the amount of probiotics until after you have tried the diet for a few days and you feel like you can handle the detox.

3. And speaking of supplements…

Know what is in them! I had stopped taking my probiotics but was still experiencing a lot of die-off symptoms, and was confused as to why they were not abating. Then this week I discovered that my multivitamin has a full dose of probiotics already built in! So I was still intensifying the die-off without even knowing it.  Stop as many supplements as you can and focus on eating good foods, then slowly add supplements back in, testing for reactions.

4. Rest

You can’t expect your body to go through this hard work of cleaning out toxins and expect to have a lot of energy. Getting a minimum of 8 hours of sleep and keeping your stress levels down is essential. Our modern fast-paced society already has a problem with adrenal fatigue, and we should all try to get more sleep and less caffeine, but it is even more crucial when your body is trying to heal. If you had the flu or a sinus infection, you would stay home and rest and drink lots of homemade chicken soup, right? Well, I hope so, because that’s what would help you get better, and that’s what will help you on GAPS, SCD, or any detoxing program. Not only did I not get any extra rest, but we had busy weekends and long workweeks that just made things worse.

5. Just because you eat healthy now, doesn’t mean you are healthy

Part of the reason I didn’t expect such a huge reaction is because we have changed our diet so much this year already. We’ve reduced our grain consumption overall and mostly eat sourdough or sprouted grains. We eat pastured eggs, grass-fed beef, and organic produce. I make most of our food from scratch and eat homemade fermented veggies to provide nutrients and probiotics. In general, my health had improved greatly. But a few months of good eating is not enough to undo decades of antibiotics, steroids, bad diets, and environmental toxins. Toxins are generally stored in your fat tissues, and when you lose seven pounds in two weeks, you flood your system with a lot of bad stuff that it has been hanging on to for years. You have to be prepared to deal with that.

All in all, despite the struggles, I feel that this was a good learning experience and will pave the way for future excursions into the GAPS diet which will ultimately lead to further healing in my life. Next time I’ll be smarter with it, starting with the Intro Diet and progressing very slowly. I’ll also be sure to have some calendula salve on hand to help the eczema!  One thing I do know, however, is that I don’t want to continue to walk around with all these toxins in my body.  It might take a long time, and be a hard road, but I want to be healthy.

There are a lot of resources out there to help with the process, and if you are considering GAPS, I highly recommend you check out the support groups on Yahoo (just go to yahoo groups and search for GAPS) as well as the bloggers that are going through GAPS themselves or have found good results from it. Here’s a few for you to check out:

GAPS Guide

Health, Home, and Happiness

Healthy Home Economist

Kelly the Kitchen Kop

Kat’s Food Blog

Kitchen Stewardship

Here’s to your health, and creating a legacy of health in your family.

 
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Posted by on October 22, 2010 in Things Edible

 

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Health vs. Weight

As I go through my journey of researching healthy ways to prepare food, make beauty products, and detox from my years of prednisone, steroid creams, and antibiotics, I’m still struggling with my goal of losing weight. After my illness last winter I put on a huge amount of weight in a very short amount of time, and even though I have lost a lot of that I am still the heaviest I’ve been in many many years. While I have a loving and supportive husband who still makes me feel like the most beautiful woman in the universe no matter what, I am personally dissatisfied with how I look right now.

The thing is, I know that I could go on some crash diet program or workout regimen or whatever and drop twenty pounds pretty easily. Heck, I lost seven pounds in two weeks cutting out grains. But I also know that my body has a lot of things it needs to recover from-the eczema, nutritional deficiencies, the stored toxins that those two weeks off grains released into my system.  Now is not the time to put my body through a rigorous and potentially damaging fad diet.

And besides, I keep reading about how dieting puts our bodies into starvation mode, leading us to gain even more weight back after we fall off the wagon. I certainly saw that-I lost fifty pounds through a low-carb diet and extreme exercise schedule, but once I didn’t have time to go to the gym for an hour every day I put back on all the weight that I lost, plus a bit more. And eating restricted diets can cause the nutritional deficiencies that are often at the heart of issues like eczema, low thyroid, blood sugar imbalances, etc. Some health bloggers out there, like Matt Stone, actually contend that the key to weight loss is increasing your metabolism and getting your body out of starvation mode by  eating a lot, so your body sees that it’s not in danger, and it builds up a good storehouse of the nutrients it needs.  I’m still researching this, and don’t plan on overfeeding anytime soon, but it makes a lot of sense.

I felt best this summer when I was eating a lot of really excellent, whole foods that I made from scratch. I lost weight very slowly, but still, I slimmed down. I had energy to do yoga or lift weights a few times a week.  This to me seems a lot healthier than trying to cut my calories down to a level where my system wants to shut down. I know that I want to have a diet that helps to heal gut dysbiosis, so I probably will continue to keep my sugar and grain consumption low, and implement some or all of the GAPS diet as a way to help with some of the health problems I have. With my medical history, that seems the smartest thing. But I’m not going to try to starve myself into a smaller size. My health is much more important than my weight.

 
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Posted by on October 18, 2010 in Things Edible

 

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Detox is a…yeah.

I could tell you how I really feel about detox, but I try to keep my profanity to a minimum. While I had a good couple of days last weekend, this week has been a struggle, as I continue to work through some serious skin issues.  It’s manageable, but not fun.

I’ve been so very good with avoiding grains and hoped that I would improve this week, but I seemed to have run through an entire new set of symptoms. Sore throat, stomach upset, and migrating eczema have all plagued me, and I’m getting pretty tired of it, I must say.  But I’m not giving up. I know that this reaction means I have a very toxic system and I want to get it cleaned out, once and for all!

I’ve done a lot of reading about detoxification, eczema, gut dysbiosis, and retracing this week. It’s amazing some of the stories out there. I’m so grateful for the collective body of knowledge and the encouraging stories from those who have seen their eczema vanish permanently. For some it took days and for other weeks and months, but it does work. And while there is a temptation to go back to the status quo, to just slap on a bunch of steroid creams and look better, I know that it only delays the inevitable.

This experience has convinced me that at some point in the near future I need to do the full GAPS program, starting with the intro diet, so I can really truly heal. It may not be very fun, but it will get me to where I want to go. I’ve really appreciated the GAPS Guide blog during all this-a great resource for tips, encouragement, and recipes. I also found this article (thanks to Cheeseslave for the link) which really gives a great explanation of the detox process that has encouraged my resolve:

The following was given to patients at the Gerson Cancer Clinic in 1982: “As a person continues on an improved diet and supplement program and gradually raises his or her food quality, interesting symptoms begin to appear. The body begins a process called retracing.
The cellular intelligence reasons something like this: `Oh, look at all these fine materials coming in. How wonderful — now we have a chance to get rid of this old garbage and build a beautiful new house. Let’s get started immediately.
“First the body begins to clean house — everywhere (this is when you are likely to have a healing reaction, sometimes called a healing crisis or a cleansing reaction). During this period, the body “removes the ashes from the furnace preparatory to getting a better fire…”

“Let’s return to the symptoms, which occur when a person begins a superior nutritional program. People who have had tendencies in the past to recurring skin rashes or eruptions will frequently tend to eliminate poisons and harmful drugs through the skin with new rashes or eruptions. If they go to a doctor now, who is not familiar with the aspect of nutrition, he or she will diagnose it as an allergy.
The patient asks, “Why do I have a rash? I’m eating better now and than I ever did before and taking the best supplements in the world, and instead of getting better, I’m getting worse! They don’t understand that the body is “retracing.” The body is getting more alive and active. It is throwing out poisons more rapidly now that the body has more power.
“With some, colds, which haven’t appeared for a long time, may occur or even fevers. This is nature’s way of house cleaning. Understand that these actions are constructive, even though unpleasant at the moment. Don’t — but don’t try to stop these symptoms by the use of drugs. These are not deficiency conditions or allergic manifestations — not if you are eating properly and taking your supplements…

Don’t expect to go on an ascending scale of quality of life — expecting that improving your diet will make you feel better and better each day until you reach perfection. The body is cyclical in nature, and health comes in a series of gradually diminishing flare-up cycles.
For example, you start a better diet and for a while you feel much better. After some time a symptom occurs, you may feel nauseous for a day and have diarrhea with a foul-smelling stool. After a day, you feel even better than before and all goes well for awhile.
Then you suddenly develop a cold; feel chills and lose your appetite. After about 2 or 3 days (assuming you don’t take drugs nor do anything else about it), you suddenly recover and feel better than you did for years.
Let us say this well being continues for two months, when you suddenly develop a rash. You still don’t take anything special for it. This rash flares up, gets worse and continues for ten days, then suddenly subsides.
Immediately after this, you find that your [ whatever you were manifesting while undernourished] is gone and your energy has increased more than ever before. The rash became an outlet for the poisons in the liver, which produced the [whatever was manifesting].
This is how recovery occurs, like the cycles in the Dow-Jones Average at the beginning of a bull market recovery. You feel better, a reaction occurs, and you don’t feel as well for a short while.
You recover and go higher for a while. Then another reaction occurs, milder than the last. You recover and go even higher.
And so it goes, each reaction milder than the last, as the body becomes purer, each becoming shorter in duration and being followed by a longer and longer period of feeling better than ever before, until you reach a level plateau of vibrant health.”

 Vibrant health! That’s what I am looking for, and I think in time I will find it.

Update: We’re going to take a little break just to let my system recover from the extreme eczema I’ve been dealing with this past week, as it is dangerous to have skin this compromised (it can lead to very bad infections requiring antibiotics that will just damage my gut health further) but we will continue to implement GAPS principles and possibly try the intro again after the holidays.

 
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Posted by on October 15, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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Turning the Corner

I won’t lie: the first week of grain-free had its rough times. Despite our very tasty menu, which got mad props from the supportive husband, we missed our sourdough bread and our tortilla chips and our coconut curry rice. When a commercial featuring a grilled cheese sandwich came on television I thought Jer would explode. Still, we haven’t wavered, and except for some later-discovered wheat in condiments (why do they need wheat in hot sauce?) we have stuck to the regimen.

The more difficult challenge has been the eczema flare-up. I knew that there might be some die-off symptoms, as it is explained with every cleanse or detox book or article that symptoms will get worse before they get better. Compounding my troubles was a big project last weekend involving cleaning off shelves, dusting, moving furniture, vacuuming, and other activities generally known for instigating a major allergic response in my skin. Dust has always been one of my worst allergens, and I should have known better than to be down in the basement clearing off dusty shelves right when I was starting a cleanse.

So, this past week I have been covered in eczema. Itch and redness and broken skin. Not as bad as last year, mind you, but certainly worse than it has been all year. It’s actually been doing pretty well with all the good changes we’ve made in our diet and the beauty products I use, and so to have it get worse right when we are trying something that is supposed to help is somewhat discouraging, especially for Jer. I’ve been through the ups and downs of eczema for twenty something years now-he’s only a year into it. I kept at it though, trusting that this was part of the process.

And lo and behold, this morning I am feeling awesome. My skin is looking better, and while I still have a couple days of healing, the itch factor has disappeared and the inflammation has gone down, telling me that whatever has been trying to get out through my skin has indeed left the building. I woke up feeling energized and clear-headed, and after 8 days I have lost five pounds and feel very light and healthy. Because we’ve been eating very well, with nutrient dense foods like wild salmon, grass-fed beef, pastured eggs and a ton of organic produce, I haven’t felt hungry or weak, and my blood sugar has been very stable.

We’re continuing to stay grain-free until Friday, when our two weeks is up. Next weekend we are headed to Leavenworth with the fabulous in-laws, so it’s unlikely we will pass up on all the yummy beer and apple cake being served during the last weekend of Oktoberfest. But with the positive results both of us are feeling that a little less grain in our lives is a good long-term plan. And it certainly makes us more confident that doing a full GAPS lifestyle for a few months to start off next year will be both achievable and beneficial. More than anything, turning the corner today convinces me that we will never go back to eating the standard American diet again. I just feel way to good to give this up.

 
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Posted by on October 9, 2010 in Things Edible

 

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