• Energy Bars Recipe

    I like these all-natural energy bars because they only contain a few easy-to-find ingredients and allow you to get protein and a burst of simple sugar while also satisfying a chocolate craving.  They’re great to have during endurance training or when setting off on a hike or bike ride.  The recipe below calls for cocoa but use carob powder instead if you are sensitive to the effects of the caffeine or theobromine found in cocoa.

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    Ingredients

    • 1 cup local, raw honey
    • 1 cup organic peanut butter (or mix half cup peanut butter and half cup almond butter)
    • 1 cup cocoa
    • 1 cup sunflower seeds
    • 1 cup sesame seeds

    Directions

    In a saucepan, heat the honey over low heat until warm.  Slowly stir in the nut butter until it is mixable.  Remove from heat and add the cocoa and seeds.  You can substitute with pumpkin seeds, pine nuts, etc. or add some additional nuts but just be mindful you don’t put in too many seeds/nuts or use something that would affect the cohesiveness.  For example, use slivered nuts instead of big whole nuts.  I have accidentally gone a bit nut crazy at times and they were sort of crumbly.  Feel free to add other dried fruits like blueberries, cherries, cranberries or goji berries.

    Spread mixture in to an oiled (I use coconut) 8 x 8 inch pan.   Dust with coarsely ground sea salt and cinnamon and allow to cool in the fridge for a few hours.  They will keep in there for about a month and can be frozen indefinitely.

    Cut in to squares of 25 or 16 depending on the size you prefer.

    I like the health benefits of the almond butter but I think they make them a bit more gooey, especially if using the freshly ground stuff.  You may want to initially try them with just peanut butter if you eat peanuts.

    After the first night in the fridge, I like to remove the squares and individually wrap them in cling wrap and put half in the freezer.  They make great on-the-go breakfasts in a pinch and Chief loves bringing them to golf.  I also think they would make a great snack for a child’s sports match when feeding the team.  If primarily serving these to kids, it might be a good idea to use the carob powder I mentioned earlier (because of the caffeine factor).  Carob powder is not quite as chocolately tasting but has a similar look and texture to cocoa.  It can be found in the baking aisle of a natural grocer.

     

  • Cherry and Almond Superfood Chocolate Smoothie

    This is one of my favorite smoothie recipes.  It’s a great smoothie to have during times when you are really working your body hard with training or muscle building because it has lots of protein and the cherries help to reduce inflammation.

    Approximate Recipe for 2 Servings:

    • ¾ cup pitted cherries.  I just use frozen organic ones, unless they happen to be in season
    • 2 tablespoons cocoa – I like mine extra chocolately, reduce if you don’t
    • 2 tablespoons almond butter
    • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
    • 2 teaspoons ground flaxseed
    • 1 tablespoon honey
    • Generous dash of cinnamon
    • 1 ¼ cup unsweetened almond milk or hemp milk

    Cherries contain significant amounts of beta carotene, vitamin C, fiber and potassium.  They are also full of quercetin and anthocyanins, which are antioxidants that can help  reduce inflammation from muscle strain or arthritis.  Some studies have shown the reduction to be similar to some well-known pain medications.  Cherries also contain a significant amount of melatonin, which can help regulate sleep and ease irritability.

    As I discussed in another smoothie recipe (the banana chocolate smoothie) idea post, cocoa is full of flavonoids, which can help to prevent heart disease by decreasing blood pressure, reducing inflammation, balancing good and bad cholesterol and improving blood vessel health.  Cocoa and the cinnamon (which I put in most things that also have a sugar component like fruit or honey) help to decrease insulin resistance and help the body better deal with consuming natural sugars for prevention of Type 2 Diabetes.

    I always try to sneak coconut oil and flaxseed in to my smoothies.  The coconut oil has a special medium chain triglyceride in the form of lauric acid, which helps to increase the good HDL cholesterol in the blood.  Coconut oil helps to prevent fungal and bacterial infections in the body as well.  The flaxseed adds fiber as well as omega-3 essential fatty acids.  Be sure to get it ground, as the body can’t absorb the nutrition from the whole seeds.

    I usually have almond milk on hand, but hemp milk works great too.  The hemp adds extra protein.  If you are purchasing the almond milk (as opposed to making it), be sure to buy the stuff that is unsweetened and then sweeten the smoothie to your liking with local honey to help deal with allergens and get a good dose of the antibacterial benefits of consuming honey.

    The almond butter adds a natural source of protein, fiber and monounsaturated fats.  The health benefits of almonds are well known and include the ability to help improve cholesterol ratios, control weight gain and prevent heart disease.  They are good sources of magnesium, manganese, riboflavin and vitamin E.  The magnesium helps to prevent muscles aches and pains.

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  • Chicken Stock (Broth) Recipe

    I consider stock made from animal bones to be a panacea of good health.  I hadn’t always recognized their value.  I was introduced to the culinary concept by Chief and then got really in to learning about the health benefits.  Stock is also known by the term broth. While the two are essentially one in the same, stock is generally used to refer to a liquid made from boiling down bone, while broth is made from boiling down bones that still have a significant amount of meat on them.  Also, stock is a term that is sometimes used more in restaurants with a prescribed recipe whereas broth might be more scraps from whatever is available at home and will be slightly different every time.

    Stocks are really simple to do but they are full of vitamins, minerals and amino acids that many people are lacking in our modern diet.  In our throwaway, removed-from-the-process lifestyle, making stocks has kind of gone by the wayside.   Ancient  cultures, conversely, were very resourceful in using up every part of the animal, understanding that not only were bones not meant to be discarded, but that is where some of the most vital nutrients of the animal were contained including calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorous, gelatin, glucosamine-chondroitin and electrolytes.  The gelatin is an additional source of protein to the diet and is thought to help keep bones healthy while the glucosamine – chondroitin helps keep joints healthy.  Joints can sometimes be troubled as a result of over-training or arthritis.

    Besides the resourcefulness and health benefits, there is also the excitement of contributing to your confidence and pride as a cook by preparing your own stocks.  There is an irreplaceable, rich depth to homemade stock and it imparts a delicious flavor to everything you cook that requires stock in the recipe.

    Cooking it also makes a house smell comforting, and I love making our kitchen a space of experimentation and tradition.

    Stocks are a really important component for keeping you and your family healthy.  Broths are very easily digested so work well for supplying nutrients in the system when the body doesn’t have much energy to supply to digestion, like during times of illnesses or for the elderly or with anyone having digestion problems.  The liquid and electrolytes are also really good during times of dehydration during recovery or during times of over-exertion.

    Because stock is generally made out of any leftovers it is very inexpensive.  You can buy the leftover parts from the butchering process at a low cost or you can simply use  the carcasses you’d normally discard, like the remains of a roast chicken.  Using up these bits means that is an extremely frugal way to cook. Often times we’ll ask for some chicken backs at the meat counter and he gladly gives them away to us for a very low price.

    I’m going to put the recipe for chicken stock here because I think that is the one that’s easiest to do as a beginner, but know that you can follow the same general outline for broths of beef, lamb, etc.  Some of the red meats require roasting (about 40 minutes at 350 degrees F) before they are transferred to the stockpot.

    Equipment
    A large stockpot
    A strainer
    A slotted spoon

    Ingredients

    • 1 whole free range chicken or 2-3 pounds of chicken parts (bones, backs, gizzards, etc.)
    • 2 Tbsps vinegar
    • 4 quarts (one gallon) of cold, filtered water
    • 1 large onion, quartered
    • 2-3 carrots (coarsely chopped)
    • 3 celery stalks (coarsely chopped)
    • 2 bay leaves
    • Other vegetable odds and ends you may have on hand

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    Basic Instructions

    Cut the chicken up in to several large pieces if using a whole chicken.  Put it in your stockpot with vinegar, onion, carrots and celery.  Let stand for about 30 minutes to an hour before turning on the burner and bringing to a boil.  Doing so helps to extract some of the vitamins and minerals with the vinegar.  Once it begins to boil, remove the scum that comes to the top.  It is important to do this step so that you can get rid of the stuff we don’t want and to help ensure clarity of the stock.  This is best done with a metal slotted spoon or a small mesh sieve.  Once all the scum has boiled off, reduce heat to a very low heat, cover and leave for at least 6 hours and up to 24 hours.  You want the water to be turning over to some extent but want to keep the heat as low as possible – not quite to a simmer.  You really won’t need to do much during this time so don’t be daunted by the long process.  It’s really nice to do when you’re around home on the weekends, etc. and makes the house smell lovely.

    The longer you simmer it, the more rich and flavorful the broth will be.  Note that the broth will not be salted until it is ready to be used so keep that in mind when testing the flavor as you go.  When you are finished, remove the bones or carcass with a slotted spoon.  After deliberating for the last year, we finally invested in a stock strainer and Chief is in such a state of joy over it now!  It really is quite handy.  If there is a fair bit of meat left on the bone, remove it to use for things like curry, chili, chicken salads, or enchiladas.  We recently used it as the meat for Vietnamese sandwiches (bánh mì), yum.  The skin or soft small bones can also be given to your dog or cat who will be very happy about the treat!  Larger bones can splinter so don’t feed those to animals.

    Strain the stock and put it in containers to store in the refrigerator or freezer.  We have made the mistake of putting it in glass containers that weren’t made for freezing and cracked them so be sure to get specially designed ones.  It also works well to just put them in Ziploc bags and freezing them that way.  Use larger gallon sizes if you are going to be making soups and smaller Ziploc bags for the times you just need a cup or so.

     

     

     

  • Oktoberfest Bangers & Mash Recipe

    So official Oktoberfest has passed but it’s still October so I’m posting up this Oktoberfest dinner idea.  It’s always a good standby during the chilly winter months that are nearly upon us in the Northern Hemisphere.

    One frustration I have with cookbooks is that they rarely give an idea for a meal.  Often they contain just a recipe for one part of a meal.  Then I have a hard time deciding what the sides should be.  Bangers and mash is a hearty, healthy, and simple classic dish and it’s one that is easy to please most people with (including kids).  There are different variations but I like to serve mine as sausage and mashed potatoes (the bangers and mash part) along with sauerkraut and Dijon mustard.  One way that I like to add nutrition is by substituting some of the potatoes with some combination of parsnip, turnip, and/or cauliflower.  I also like to add in caramelized onions with the potatoes.

    To make the “mash” boil up equal parts potatoes and vegetables (I love cauliflower).  For five servings, I will usually use 3 small peeled and sliced potatoes and an equivalent volume of peeled, coarsely chopped vegetables.  If you’re going to go through the trouble, it’s nice to make a big batch that can be frozen and re-used later.   Put the potatoes and vegetables in a pot with a teaspoon or so of salt, cover with water, bring to a boil and let cook 15-20 minutes or until fork-tender.   I usually err on the side of overboiling during this step so that I have an easier time mashing later. This meal can sometimes be monochrome, so one way to counter that is to use Peruvian purple potatoes or purple cauliflower.  Once the potatoes and vegetables are fork-tender, drain the mixture.  Using either an electric hand mixer or manual masher, mash the mixture with some butter (3 Tbsp) and some milk or cream (not quite ¼ cup).  If you want to keep it vegan, use olive oil (decrease amount) and oat milk.  Add a generous amount of salt and pepper.  I also love to fold in caramelized onions for extra flavor.

    While the mash is cooking, either grill or sauté the sausage.  If you are going to grill it, slice it after it has been prepared and if you are going to sauté it, cut it up before hand.  I like to cut the sausage at a 45° angle to the length to make each piece a little longer and improve the presentation.  Kielbasa works great for this.  Often times for my portion, I will use the Tofurkey kielbasa.  It’s not fooling anyone, but it’s something I can feel better about consuming.  Our friend brought us some kielbasa-style venison sausage from a hunt he went on, and that’s wonderful too.  Try and find sausages that have not been preserved with nitrates.  There is a wonderful store in Houston called Revival Market that raises sustainable, humanely raised pigs if you are local and are going to eat “real” sausage.  They also have great American mustard that works well with this meal.

    I have a recipe for sauerkraut in a previous post, but if you’re not in to playing around with that, just buy some good refrigerated sauerkraut.  If you prefer your sauerkraut warmed, warm it in a pan while the rest is cooking.  I like to top it with caraway seeds.  A lot of people turn their nose up at sauerkraut, but I encourage you to try it again.  It’s one of those things like pickles that you might eventually start craving.  The cabbage from which it’s made is so healthy.  Cabbage is part of a family of cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, bok choy, etc.  It is chock-full of disease fighting phytochemicals, vitamins (including vitamin C), and fiber.  The slightly sulfurous smell all these vegetables have in common is because they contain sulforaphane.  Studies have suggested that this phytochemical can help reduce the risk of cancer.  It does so by stimulating enzymes in the body that detoxify carcinogens before they wreak havoc on cells.  I talk more about the benefits of fermented food in general in the post on sauerkraut.

    Serve the sausage and mashies on a plate, along with some sauerkraut and Dijon mustard.

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    This is a great fall meal, especially served with a nice pint of Oktoberfest beer.  Yum!

  • Fun with Fermentation – Sauerkraut Recipe

    We have so much fun with fermentation! Chief and I figure that instead of battling with bacteria, we’ll take a more pacifist approach.  We decided that if we can’t beat them, we’ll join them!  So we now live happily in harmony with the wonderful bacteria that inhabit our kitchen and our guts.  We’ll take any satisfaction we can from doing little experiments in our kitchen anyway!

    I have posted before about various types and states of fermentation in my posts on kombucha and vinegar and today I wanted to talk about fermentation of vegetables, cabbage specifically.  I have included an introduction to augment the sauerkraut recipe below since I have a passion for talking about the health benefits of fermentation.  I also wanted the sauerkraut how-to available ahead of an Oktoberfest meal idea I’ll post soon.

    Sauerkraut is an example of a fermented food that has defined and helped nurture a particular culture – German in this case.  Nearly all ancient cultures have some sort of fermented product they used to help preserve fresh food before the advent of pasteurization or refrigeration.  For example, Koreans have kimchi, French have cheese and wine, Japanese have miso and soy, Indians consume soured creams and milks in many of their dishes, and maybe your grandmother or mother made fruit preserves or relishes or pickled vegetables.

    In preserving foods using the natural process of fermentation, these cultures were able to not only maintain the incredible health benefits of the fresh products but also to amplify particular effects.  While modern day processes can denature food, the ancient methods can increase vitamin levels and make nutrients in the food more available.  This occurs in two ways.  One is that the constituents of the food are “pre-digested” by bacteria and thereby easier to absorb through the intestines.  The other way it does it is by allowing beneficial bacteria to be introduced in the intestinal tract, improving digestion efficacy where they help to break down food and improve overall nourishment and biodiversity.  I actually just read an interesting article on how taking the bacteria from the guts of thin mice and putting them in obese mice made the fat mice thinner.

    Fermentation works by bacteria breaking down sugar and starches in food and transforming them into beneficial acids such as lactic acid and acetic acid (and occasionally alcohol in certain stages of fermentation).  These acids are beneficial to our bodies and also prevent food from spoiling.  Unlike some modern day processes, which nuke good and bad bacteria alike and sometimes dull the original nutritional content, fermentation preserves the nutrients that were originally in the food and can actually increase vitamin levels (including vitamin B vitamins like folic acid, niacin, and biotin and vitamin C).  In fact, Captian Cook took advantage of sauerkraut’s ability to be preserved and brought in journeys over a year long.  Having it on board also helped prevent scurvy! (this tidbit I found in Nourishing Traditions, attributed to Claude Aubert Les Aliments Fermentes Traditionnels).

    Our society is so scared of bacteria these days that we often end up killing or not consuming the bad along with the good.  Consuming food that contains microorganisms that have probiotic properties is a way to essentially increase the diversity of biota in our body.  This helps to boost our immune system and allows us to live connected with everything that is around us, instead of avoiding it and becoming hypersensitive to it.  And as Sandor Ellix Katz mentions in his book Wild on Fermentation, the microflora in fermented foods actually help teach our immune system how to function.

    I have seen lots of different methods for making sauerkraut, but I will include the simplest one here because I know it works and I like the lack of fuss associated with it.  I also appreciate that it is a small-batch recipe.  We once tried making a giant crock of sauerkraut (our first attempt) and besides the fact that we vastly over-salted it, it was just kind of intimidating.  This recipe below is the one I have taken from the Nourishing Traditions book that I talk about in this post.

    Ingredients

    • 1 medium cabbage, cored and shredded
    • 1 tablespoon caraway seeds
    • 1 tablespoon sea salt
    • 4 tablespoons whey (if not available, use an extra tablespoon salt)

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    Try to use an organic cabbage and be sure to use sea salt, as it has additional vitamins and minerals and has not been processed like table salt.  I love the addition of caraway seeds in this recipe.  I have always had a thing for them since I was a kid.

    In a bowl, mix the cabbage, caraway seeds, salt and whey.  We happened to have whey that we had frozen because it was leftover from a cheese-making adventure we tried (and succeeded at!) but you may not have any on hand, which is no problem.  In this large bowl, pound  ingredients with a meat hammer for about 10 minutes.  This is a great opportunity to get older kids with too much energy or an appetite for destruction to help with.  I think men really like this job in general, too!

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    After ten minutes, the juices will be released.  Place it in a quart-size mason jar and press down firmly so the juice comes up over the top of the cabbage.  There should be at least an inch below the top of the jar.  I have had good luck with finding mason jars in the US at Sur le Table.  Cover tightly and keep at room temperature for about three days before transferring to “cold” storage.  A refrigerator will work but try and put it on the top shelf or wherever it’s warmest.  The best place for it would be somewhere that is similar to cellar or cave temperature (about 56 degrees F or 13 degrees C).  We usually cover ours with a clean swatch of organic fabric held in place with a rubberband to keep flies, etc. out while it’s on the counter and then cover it with a lid once it’s in the refrigerator.

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    The sauerkraut can be eaten right away but really improves with age.  In summary, the salt (and/or whey) helps to inhibit the putrefying bacteria in those first few days.  That is, the bacteria that is usually associated with spoilage.  After the product has had a few days to ferment, enough lactic acid producing bacteria is created (lactobacilli) to begin preserving the food with lactic acid.

    Green cabbage is the most common ingredient in sauerkraut, but you could also use red cabbage to create a pink color or shred in any other cruciferous vegetable like Brussel sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy or use grated carrots, etc. to make it a little more colorful.

    Happy fermenting.  Cheers to your health and happy taste buds!

  • Coddled Eggs

    I am one of those people that needs breakfast.  My day starts early and I need something to get me through until lunch.  I always try to have my fruit smoothie when I first wake up and then an hour or so later I have something with a lot of protein in it.

    There are always studies out there talking about how having a healthy breakfast can help you lose weight or hold your weight steady.  I don’t know what the latest research speculates is the actual mechanism.  I have heard that the satiation and mindset of having eaten breakfast prevents overeating later in the day and also that it gets the metabolism stoked up for the day.  I just know my whole day and life is better if I have a good stable breakfast.  I love the old saying that says to breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and supper like a pauper.

    Sometimes I will do my breakfast sandwich or a taco and some days I do coddled eggs.  Chief isn’t much of a breakfast eater but I like to make him breakfast every morning to keep him healthy. Sometimes I almost feel badly forcing him to chew down a whole breakfast sammie, so the coddled eggs might be better for a light morning eater.

    Coddled eggs is one of my favorite ways for preparing a simple and portable egg breakfast using ceramic egg coddlers.  I had never heard of them until recently, but they are these beautiful little blue ceramic containers.  One of the things I like about this breakfast is that I can continue to get ready in the morning while I’m cooking and then can grab it when it’s done and take them to work to eat after my commute.  To make it, you do the following:

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    • Bring a pot of water to a boil.  It should be big enough to fit in as many coddled egg containers as you are cooking.
    • Put a generous dollop of clarified butter in the ceramic container.  I like to wait for the butter to melt by holding it in the hot water and then kind of swirl it around the inside of the coddler.
    • Crack two sustainable, pasture-raised organic eggs in to each coddler and screw on the lid.
    • Turn the burner down to a high-medium heat. You want the water just below the base of the lid so it’s best not to have the burner on really high heat.P1050409
    • Let the eggs cook at a soft rolling boil for about 14 minutes.  You may want to play with the cook time to get the eggs prepared how you like.  Chief likes more of a runny poach-style egg whereas I prefer mine slightly more like hard-boiled eggs, so sometimes I take his out a couple minutes early.

    Then you have a portable, satisfying breakfast in a pretty little container.  Just salt and pepper and eat the eggs out of the coddler with a spoon. The picture below also has a few chives I added from our garden. P1050413You could also always scoop the eggs out and serve on a plate with toast, avocados, etc.

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  • Make Your Own Kombucha

    Have you heard of kombucha?  It’s a really popular drink in the health foodie community but has been consumed throughout human history, beginning in ancient China and spreading to Russia.  It’s a refreshing tonic made from fermented sweet tea that delivers both powerful antioxidant and probiotic benefits.  It has a slight fizziness to it and is tangy and slightly sweet at the same time.

    The first time I tried it I didn’t know what to expect and was really surprised by the vinegary taste (like how you’re expecting milk and you get orange juice?).  Once I learned more about it and went in with a different mindset, though, I found I really loved the taste.  It is so refreshing and energizing. I find myself craving it, especially after a hard bike ride on a warm day or a yoga class.

    The kombucha drink is made by the kombucha “mushroom” acting on the sugar in sweet tea.  The “mushroom” is also called SCOBY (which is Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast).  The process begins much the same as it does in the post in which I described the vinegar process.  The fermentation produces acetic acid (as it does with ACV), as well as lactic acid and gluconic acid.

    Along with these organic acids, kombucha also contains a number of other beneficial components.  It has a spectrum of active enzymes and amino acids that are produced by the microbes in the SCOBY.  The tea contributes polyphenols and the drink has an array of beneficial bacteria (probiotics).

    Because of the actions these constituents have on the body, kombucha has been cited as aiding in the prevention of some types of cancers and other degenerative diseases and boosting the immune system.  It may also help to fight yeast overgrowth resulting from an abundance of sugar in the body (from sugar or alcohol consumption) because of the acetic acid present, which stabilizes blood sugar.  For more information about kombucha helping in the prevention of cancer, check out Tom Valentine’s Search For Health.  Kombucha has also been cited over the centuries as having anti-arthritic compounds and liver-protective detoxifying and cleansing compounds.  There have been various studies investigating exactly how this works  (I won’t bore you with the details) but now most of the evidence is anecdotal.

    So, the only downside of kombucha as far as I’m concerned is the cost.  It usually runs about $4 for a 16-ounce bottle.  To circumvent this prohibitive cost, I began brewing it at home, which has also turned out to be a lot of fun!  To do this, you will only need a few ingredients: SCOBY, tea, sugar, a heat-resistant glass jar and a clean cloth to cover it.  Chief and I have been playing around A LOT with the ratios so the recipe I have below is a simple recipe that we have found to work best but our experiments are ongoing:

    • ¾ liter boiling water
    • 2 liters cold filtered water
    • 1 cup plain white sugar
    • 8 tea bags of organic black tea (or equivalent amount of loose tea wrapped in muslin)
    • 1 cup kombucha (from a previous batch or that comes with the SCOBY)
    • 1 kombucha mushroom (SCOBY)

    Bring water to a boil in a teakettle or pot.  Put the tea and sugar in to a large glass jar.  I usually tear the paper off the tea bags.  It took us a while to find the right glass jar because some were too big and some had the bottoms crack off because they weren’t made for boiling water.  We eventually found a nice 3 liter jar made for heat and canning.

    Empty Bottle Sugar

    Pouring Hot

    Once the water has come to a boil, pour it over the tea bags and sugar, just enough to cover them.  Give a gentle stir without breaking any tea bags and making sure all the sugar is dissolved.  Cover the jar with a clean cloth fabric and allow it to sit for about 20 minutes.

    After 20 minutes, remove the tea bags and gently squeeze them to get out any excess.  Be sure you don’t leave any bags behind.  Fill the jar about 4/5 full with cold filtered water and gently stir.  If the whole batch is at room temperature, gently place the SCOBY along with the cup of kombucha liquid from the previous batch/starter.  Cover with a clean swatch of organic fabric and secure tightly with a rubber band to keep out insects, etc.

    Scoby by Jar

    I have had good luck with the brand Goldfinch for the starter mushroom that I ordered from Amazon.

    Place the kombucha in warm dark place where it won’t be disturbed.  Depending on the temperature and how you like your kombucha, it will take anywhere from 7-21 days for it to be ready.  It should have a slight sourness and some fizz and you shouldn’t be able to taste the tea when it’s ready.  Feel free to start tasting it after the seventh day to see how it’s changing.

     Kombucha on Table

    Once it’s ready, we like to funnel it in to 750 ml growler bottles we get from the local pub that has beers on tap.  It’s a good excuse to try some good beers so you have bottles for kombucha!  After pouring them in to the refillable bottles through a funnel, secure the top and place them in a dark place for about 3 days.  We like to label them as we go along with information about when they were brewed and any variations.  For exmaple, we’ve occasionally brewed some hibiscus tea along with the black tea, or added galangal root we dug out of the garden and ground turmeric root, etc.  Then they can be refrigerated and served once cold.

    If you get too busy or go traveling and forget a batch for a long time, no matter.  It will have just turned to vinegar and you can use the vinegar for cooking/consuming, cleaning or beauty treatments.

    Your SCOBY mother will grow a spongy pancake-like daughter with each new batch.  You can save these in a glass container along with some of the kombucha liquid for additional batches or give them away to friends or give them to your kids to be grossly fascinated with.  I hope my family is getting excited about their Christmas presents 😉

    Please place any questions in the comment section.  I love talking about kombucha!

     

  • Banana Chocolate Smoothie

    This is one of my favorite things to drink right after a hard workout.  The natural sugars help restore energy and the protein repairs muscle.  It also makes for a really delicious and satisfying breakfast.  It tastes like a milkshake if you need an appetizing word to lure your kids to consume something healthy.

    • 1 medium size ripe banana
    • ¾ cup whole raw milk (or almond milk for vegan or lactose intolerance)
    • 2 tablespoons cocoa
    • 1 tablespoon honey
    • 1 tablespoon flaxseed
    • Couple dashes cinnamon
    • 1 cup ice cubes

    Blend all ingredients together using a blender or hand-blender.

    Bananas are full of potassium, which can help balance fluids in the body and maintain muscle function (e.g. prevent cramps).  They are also full of fiber, vitamin C and vitamin B-6 and work great for any indigestion issues.

    I have recently discovered a dairy farm nearby, Stryk Jersey Farm, from which I can get raw unprocessed milk from pasture-raised, grass-fed Jersey cows.  It is unpasteurized, is not homogenized and contains a healthy distribution of beneficial bacteria, enzymes and nutrients in their raw form.  This milk is really high in protein and mixing it in to a smoothie will keep you full for hours.  It’s not available in some states, but look in to if you’ve been curious about making your own dairy products or introducing the health benefits of raw milk.

    Cocoa is full of flavonoids, which can help to prevent heart disease by decreasing blood pressure, reducing inflammation, balancing good and bad cholesterol and improving blood vessel health.   And it tastes divine!  Cocoa does have a little bit of caffeine so be sure to consider that when deciding what time of day to have this smoothie (or giving it to little ones).  Cocoa also helps to decrease insulin resistance so can help prevent Type 2 diabetes or decrease the amount of sugar-related health problems you might be having such as problems with yeast, or Staph.

    Flaxseed is high in fiber, lignans, protein and omega-3 fatty acids.  Be sure to buy the kind that are ground so the body can more readily absorb what is contained within the seeds.  They need to be stored in the refrigerator.

    Honey contains beneficial bacteria and is full of antioxidants.  Try to use local honey in helping the body to adjust to local pollens for controlling allergies.  Be sure it is raw and unprocessed so that pasteurization does not destroy the healthy bacteria and other beneficial natural compounds.

    Any time I am adding a sweetener like honey or a type of fruit sugar, I like to add some cinnamon because cinnamon helps regulate insulin levels in the blood.

  • Vinegar Water Health Tonic

    Vinegar is a panacea that has been used over the millenia for internal and external bodily health and to maintain homes and possessions.  Vinegar has a wide range of healthy functions and can be used to help with anything from digestion to cleaning to cooking.  I use it in a lot of different ways but this post will focus on one of my habits that I do every day to maintain good health – drinking vinegar water.

    Vinegar is primarily  acetic acid and its etymology is related to the French words for sour wine.  It is created by a two-step fermentation process.  The first step in the process is the fermentation of sugar in to alcohol.  The sugar can be from any natural source.  In the case of apple cider vinegar (ACV), the source of the sugar is the juice of apples.  Other vinegars you may be familiar with come from other fruits or grains such as rice, malt, or grapes (for wine vinegar).  Once the alcoholic liquid has been produced from fermentation, the second part of the process begins.  Naturally occuring bacteria begin to combine the solution with oxygen.  This process forms the acetic acid solution we know as vinegar (along with other minerals, aminos and nutrients).  You might have experienced this naturally when you haven’t finished a bottle of wine and it goes sour.

    Vinegar has been touted to have amazing benefits.  It has been cited as preventing obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, osteoporosis, cancer, common colds, arthritis and aging.  It is also thought to boost immunity and serve as a natural antibacterial and antifungal agent.  While some of these claims are pumped up, vinegar does have some real health benefits that I believe in:

    • Increases calcium absorption.  The acid in vinegar increases the body’s absorbtion of vital minerals, including calcium.  This is especially helpful for those who don’t consume dairy or suffer from osteopenia or osteoporosis.
    • Controls blood sugar levels. Consuming vinegar prior to a meal slows down the speed at which the carbohydrates are converted to glucose in the body.  When the sugars from the meal are released more slowly, the body doesn’t become so overwhelmed by the glucose.  In essence, drinking vinegar can help inhibit insulin sensitivity which can help control the onset or symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes.
    • Aids digestion.  Vinegar is full of prebiotics that are present from the bacteria involved in the fermentation process.  The prebiotics nourish naturally occuring intestinal bacteria (probiotics)  that live in the gut.  Keeping the intestinal bacteria balanced and happy can help irritable bowel syndrome or a bad tummy and keeps digestion moving along.
    • Eliminates heartburn.  People get heartburn for different reasons, but one of the reasons is that certain foods can cause the esophagus to relax which allows the acid in the stomach to rise up.  Drinking vinegar makes the esophagus contract which prevents the acid from rising up.  In the case of pregnancy, the esophagus is relaxed because the placenta is producing progesterone which relaxes the smooth muscles in the uterus.  This also causes the nearby esophagus to relax which is why heartburn is such a pain during pregnancy.
    • May aid in weight loss.  According to the Nutrition Diva (whose podcast I love), acetic acid activates certain genes that cause your body to store less fat around your waist. Instead the fat is deposited more evenly around the body.  It is also thought to increase thermogenesis which essentially makes your body run hotter using fat as the fuel, similar to my post on cold showers. Read more
  • Cold Sesame Noodles Recipe

    This is one of my favorite things to eat when Chief is out of town because it is a super simple meal that requires little effort and little messing of the kitchen.  It’s no fun to make a big mess when cooking for yourself!  This entire meal can be ready in about 15 minutes and tends to be a lot of ingredients I always have stocked.  This is also a really great meal for taking on the go.  It can be prepared ahead of time and packaged up for lunches, picnics, etc.  The approximate amounts of the ingredients are as follows (adjust to your own taste):

    • 1 lb whole wheat linguine.  I love to use Eden brand brown rice udon.  If you are gluten-free, just substitute wheat-free noodles.
    • ¼ cup tahini (sesame paste)
    • 2 tbsp. soy sauce
    • 2 tbsp. rice vinegar
    • 1 tbsp. lemon juice
    • 1 tbsp. sesame oil
    • 1 piece ginger (about 1”), peeled and finely chopped
    • Sesame seed (for garnish)
    • 1 large pickling cucumber, peeled and julienned
    • 2 green onions, finely chopped

    While the noodles are boiling, whisk together the tahini, soy sauce, rice vinegar, lemon juice, sesame oil, and ginger in a large boil.  After the noodles have finished cooking, rinse them thoroughly with cold water, drain, and toss with the tahini mixture.  If you don’t have tahini on hand, peanut butter could work too, especially if you tend to like your dishes sweeter.  After the noodles have been tossed with the mixture, scoop in to a serving dish and garnish with sesame seeds, cucumber and green onions.  I say to use a pickling cucumber just because I tend to be able to finish the small one more successfully, especially if it’s a solo week.  Obviously, any of the garnishes could be omitted if you don’t have them on hand.

    One really cool thing that I learned about recently was a way to ensure you have indefinitely growing green onions in your kitchen.  Next time you buy a bunch, reserve some the bulbs (approximately the bottom two inches) after lopping off the green portions.  Put them in a glass of water with their roots covered and the stalks out, and then place in a sunny window. Cut off what you need to use in your cooking and the onions just keep growing!  Change the water every three days or so to ensure freshness.  We had a really good batch going but I don’t have a picture because Chief used them up in a late night cassoulet-making episode.  I guess they served their intended purpose!