Friday, December 18, 2009

They giggled when they saw rocks in my drawer

I just don’t understand it! I had a class full of eager students and when I opened the drawer to get measuring cups they started giggling and whispering. “Look, she has rocks in her drawer, lots and lots of rocks!”

The reason I have rocks in my drawer is that I use them. I use them when I make sauerkraut and other lactofermented vegetables. It keeps the vegetables submerged under the brine making for a better fermentation.

When choosing rocks look for round, rather flat rocks that will easily fit through the mouth of your jars. Discard any rocks that are porous, flake or get gritty when rubbed. I use wide mouth canning jars for my fermentations so a rock about 3 inches in diameter works well. I soak them in warm, soapy water, scrub them with a stiff brush, put them through the dishwasher and boil them to sterilize just before using. When not in use I store them in the drawer. Where else would I store them?

This fall I actually seemed to run out of the right size rocks so my friend, along with her 2 year old, went and collected from their garden. I was so grateful for the gift!

I recently heard from a Sauerkraut class student that he couldn’t get his hands on rocks but was trying giant marbles. I think that would work very well and would lend a festive air to the jars, don’t you?

Read about making Sauerkraut in my September posting, A month's worth of probiotics for the price of a cabbage.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Slow Food Catering

I was asked to cater an event showcasing the traditional and unusual cooking techniques I teach in my classes. I had never catered before and was feeling somewhat apprehensive.
My menu was simple enough:

-Gluten free sourdough bread toasts topped with kefir cheese and home cured salmon, also know as Gravlox*(recipe below)
-Four types of highly digestible beans for dips:
Baked Beans,
Italian White Beans,
Frijoles Negroes (Spanish Black Beans)
Indian Lentils
-Veggie Plate of raw vegetables not commonly eaten raw
-Lacto-Fermented Vegetables
Small bowls of seasonal lacto-fermented vegetables which at this time of year, was swiss chard and summer squash & onions.
-Amaranth Bread Pudding

Since I learned about these foods I have gained a better sense of using seasonal and fermented foods and what that really entails. For produce it means using and eating what is in season. For fermented foods it means having patience as the food can take hours or days or even weeks to reach perfect palatability. For sourdough bread it means planning a starter well in advance of when I want the finished bread. For beans it’s about carefully planning some simple steps.

Cooking this way is a very different process than going to the market and buying cans of beans, tubs of cream cheese, loaves of bread, already smoked salmon and vacuum packed jars of pickles. This food is very different as everything is carefully hand made from scratch, rendering it highly nutritious, easy to digest and exploding with flavor. When I serve some of these foods to Europeans they get very excited because it reminds them of the foods their grandmothers made. These old fashioned techniques, practiced around the globe for centuries, seem to preserve the inherent integrity of the food. Since most of us have not grown up with these foods they may initially taste unfamiliar or even strange. Perhaps it is an acquired taste and many of us notice that the body begins to crave these foods after having them a few times.

These foods can take from a few hours to almost a month to be finished. With careful planning it doesn’t take much more time, just a different usage of time. It only takes a few minutes to create bread starter. It takes just a few seconds a day to feed the starter. It takes half a minute to put kefir grains in a jar, fill it with milk and cover it. Timing is everything for lacto-fermented pickling. I boil and salt the water the night before so it will be room temperature when the vegetables are ready to be harvested or brought back from the farmer’s market.

So when I agreed to cater I got out my calendar, marked the day of the event and started counting backwards:

- 3-6 weeks before the event start lacto-fermenting seasonal veggies.
- One week to start the kefir milk in small batches
- Four days for the bread starter plus one day for rising.
- 2 days to cure the salmon.
- 24 hours to soak the beans and slow cook.
- 7 hours for soaking the amaranth with water kefir before cooking.

Additionally, I like to use my fresh or fresh ground herbs and spices whenever possible:

- Make garam masala for the lentil dish.
- Harvest dill, thyme and parsley from the garden. Rinse and let dry for easy chopping at the right time so it can be used well before it loses its vitality.

I like to attend to every aspect of the menu; every ingredient should be a quality ingredient. I once ate a layered cake that became part of the model for my cooking. There were 4 separate layers to this cake: the cake itself, the outermost hard-shell frosting, an inner frosting layer and an inner jam layer. I decided to taste each layer separately and found each layer was a completely satisfying taste in itself. Then I took a bite that included all the layers. I experienced all 4 layers of tastes and textures in a beautifully artful balance. Together they became a perfectly balanced contrapuntal experience. This became an important model for my cooking. Every aspect of a meal or menu would be of high quality and properly prepared without hurry.

So with this intention I began my tasks: counting days, doubling and tripling recipes, making shopping lists, making a daily task schedule, and soon enough it was time to start preparing food. Throughout the tasks I was aware that people I did not know would be eating this food. I felt honored to create this beautiful food for them. The question “would they like it” popped up many times but I just continued forward with my tasks.

The day of the event arrived. My helpers and I carefully packed the food, transported the food, unpacked the food and set up the food. I was nervous.
At most events most of the socializing centers around the food. Soon there was a small crowd around the table. People began eating. Some people just happily ate the food. Some people with food restrictions were happy to know they could safely eat the food. Some people realized the intricacies of the food and slowly tasted everything with eyes closed.

One man made comments on each layer of the salmon cheese toasts, the sourness of the bread, the sweet and sour nature of the kefir cheese and the delicate texture and salty-sweet taste of the home cured salmon. Another woman pondered the strong, though not overpowering, blend of Indian spices (homemade garam masala) in the lentil dish. People kept nibbling at the lacto-fermented veggies trying to identify all the tastes. I heard questions like:
“What makes this sweet?
What makes this sour?
Why doesn’t it taste like it has vinegar in it?
How did you get it be so delicate?”

When I told them the only ingredients were vegetables, dill, salt and water they had trouble believing it but continued nibbling.

I was very happy that almost all the food was eaten and appreciated. The one dish that wasn’t quite right was The Amaranth Bread Pudding. I had used sourdough bread and the characteristic sourness of the bread clashed with the sweetness of the honey-sweetened amaranth. Since then I have learned some tricks for minimizing the amount of sour taste in sourdough bread.
I continue to deeply enjoy creating all types of slow food. Seems there is always more to learn, share and enjoy.

Home Cured Salmon/Gravlox Recipe

1 lb fresh salmon, a uniformly thick piece from the middle of the fish
1 ½ tablespoons salt
1 ½ tablespoons sugar
1/2 bunch of dill or cilantro
A flat dish
Clear plastic wrap
Small bowl

Line the flat dish with a piece of clear plastic wrap large enough to wrap up the salmon so it’s tightly closed
Lay the salmon skin side down on the plastic wrap
Mix the salt and sugar together in a bowl
Take the dill and rinse it, leave it to dry, then chop the leaves off the large stems discarding the large stems (use for soup)
Mix the chopped dill leaves with the salt and sugar mixture and lay it on the salmon flesh so it completely covers the flesh.
Wrap the fish and dill mixture firmly in the clear plastic wrap.
Cure in refrigerator for 1 ½ -2 days.
After 1 ½-2 days unwrap the fish and scrape off the dill mix. Wash off the fish and blot dry with a paper towel.
Slice fish thinly on an angle.
Fish will keep for a few days.

Some people make 2 pieces at a time laying them on top of each other flesh side touching with dill mix in between and on top.

Some people also make an entire side at a time. Just double or triple the ingredients.

Monday, September 28, 2009

A month’s worth of probiotics for the price of a cabbage!

Did you know that you can easily make your own probiotics at home in your own kitchen from simple ingredients like salt, water and cabbage?
Lacto-fermented cabbage, aka Sauerkraut, is an ancient cultured vegetable that is loaded with probiotics and enzymes that grow through natural fermentation. I like getting my probiotics and enzymes from a food rather than a bottled supplement. I believe these probiotics and enzymes become highly available to the body because they are live right from the food rather than processed in an industrial plant awaiting rehydration in the digestive tract.

People that have taken many courses of antibiotics usually have reduced and out-of-balance intestinal bacteria opening the door for illnesses like candida, IBS, fungal infections, and parasites. Eating small amounts of lacto-fermented vegetables (1-2 tablespoons) at lunch and dinner on a regular basis helps to gently repair the intestinal environment. The enzymes help to digest the meal while the probiotics repopulate the intestines with friendly bacteria.

Watch Sauerkraut Video!

Here is the recipe for Sauerkraut:


1 medium cabbage, green, red or savoy (curly)
For leaf layer: 3-4 whole cabbage leaves peeled from the outside of the cabbage

For the brine
2 quarts filtered or spring water
Pure salt, kosher, pickling or coarse sea salt, with no additives

Large pot for boiling water
2 wide mouth quart canning jars
2 canning lids and rings
2-4 rocks that easily fit through the mouth of the canning jar. Garden rocks are great. Look for a rock about 2-3 inches in diameter and not more than 1 inch high. Alternately, you can use 2 smaller rocks in each jar.
Scrub rocks with a brush, run through dishwasher or wash thoroughly by hand.
Small pot for sterilizing the canning lids, rings and rocks
Something to press the cabbage into the jar, a crab mallet, a wooden food pusher, etc
Wide mouth funnel (optional) for filling the jar

Bring the filtered water to a boil for 4 minutes.
After it’s cooled a bit add 3 tablespoons of salt and stir to dissolve.
Allow brine to cool to near room temperature (2-4 hours or overnight)

In small pot sterilize lids, rings and rocks by boiling for 4 minutes.
Let them cool about 10 minutes and pour out the water to let them cool further.

Peel off, and set aside, a few outer leaves of the cabbage for the top leaf layer (you can also use horseradish leaves, raspberry leaves or grape leaves instead of cabbage).

When the brine is almost cool, chop or grate cabbage.
If using herbs or spices put them at the bottom of the quart jars.
Start layering the cut cabbage into the jar an inch or two high at a time, gently pressing it down with hands or pressing tool.
Keep adding 1-2 inch layers of cabbage until about 2-3 inches of space is left at the top.
Press it down again.
Fold a cabbage leaf, or other leaf to fit over the top layer of cabbage and press it in.
Place a rock or rocks on top of the leaf.
Pour brine into the jar leaving about 1 inch of space from the top.
Wipe any brine off top of jar, put lid on jar, and screw on band.

Allow to ferment on kitchen counter or shelf for 3 days at room temperature, 72 degrees.
Gently move to the refrigerator for 3 weeks.
Eat after 3-4 weeks. Store in refrigerator. Taste gets better with time.
Lasts 3-6 months in refrigerator.

Watch Sauerkraut Video!

Purchase Lacto-Fermentation Through The Seasons recipe book!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Kombucha Tea in the Kitchen

Kombucha Tea has become a staple in my kitchen. I turn to it often.
Sometimes I use a ladle full of kombucha tea in a stir fry, especially if I’ve cooked the food too fast and it’s sticking to the pan. The Kombucha releases the food from the pan and lends an unexpected flavor to the stir fry.

I’ve used it as a marinade for fish like Haddock, Tilapia, Perch and Catfish. I put the fish in a dish, add Kombucha to nearly covering the fish, let it marinate for a half hour or so, turn it and let sit for another 20 minutes and cook. I usually cook a veggie-fish saute’ but I’m sure this marinated fish would also be great grilled, baked or broiled.

Due to my high sensitivity to wine I haven’t had any in decades. I’m not sure if it’s the alcohol, the sugar, or the sulfites but I have a strong unpleasant reaction very quickly. I’ve taken to substituting Kombucha tea, ounce for ounce, in recipes that call for wine or beer. It brightens up the finished product lending a hint of the fermented taste we expect from a recipe with wine. I used it successfully in a braised short rib recipe and it was fantastic.I suppose it could be used in French Onion Soup so I will give it a try soon, as our onion harvest is plentiful this year.

In cold and flu season I make Kombucha Horseradish Tonic. I fill a jar with 8-16 ounces of Kombucha tea and drop a 1-inch peeled chunk of horseradish root in it. I let it steep a day or two and then drink 2-4 ounces every morning. If I’m very congested I’ll squeeze some lemon into my glass and then add the Kombucha Horseradish Tonic. This combination quickly breaks up any congestion. I replace the horseradish chunk every 7-10 days.

My recipe for Herbal Kombucha tea below.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Kombucha on the Road

On a recent family vacation I brought my giant jar of Kombucha tea complete with mature culture. This was not the first time I took Kombucha tea on vacation with us. I use a deli-size pickle jar. During regular fermentation I use a cloth and rubber band to allow air flow but when I take it on the road I use the glass lid it came with and tape the lid to the jar using masking tape. I line a special box, saved specifically for this purpose, with bubble wrap. I carefully nestle the sealed jar into the box and lay a towel on top before folding the box top closed. I’m sure the jostling of the car is not the best thing for the culture as the film on top disconnects from the sides of the jar. It takes a few days for it to settle in but it still tastes just fine.

On this vacation we were met with large, hungry mosquitoes that gave us large, itchy bites. My 11 year old grandson was very uncomfortable and after getting no relief from products that were supposed to reduce the itch I suggested the Kombucha tea. My grandchildren thought that “thing” was weird enough, with its brain-like culture... “you mean you’re going to drink that???” but discomfort pushes us to try new things so we poured some Kombucha tea into a cup. He dipped into it and began dabbing at the nasty bites. He said the itch was almost gone! He returned almost hourly for reapplication and in a day he had no more discomfort. Chalk up another use for Kombucha tea!

When it was time to pack up the mostly finished Kombucha I got out my trusty box and bubble wrap only to find the bubble wrap had lost all its bubbles! When I asked around I learned that my 5 year old grandson had found the bubble wrap and decided to have a bubble wrap stomping party.
Oh, well…no problem. I used towels to cushion the jar on the way home.

After vacation I have noticed that when I make a new batch the fermentation time is slower probably due to all that disruptive jostling. It’s good to know so I can allow some extra time until it returns to its normal fermentation cycle.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Recipe for Kombucha Herbal Tea

Ingredients for one gallon-size brew:

1. Kombucha culture
2. 2 cups of “starter tea” from the previous kombucha brew, if no starter tea available, use 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
3. 5-6 tea bags or 4-6 Tablespoons of herbal loose tea made from leaves rather than flowers. I avoid teas with added flavorings. If you use Black tea you can use less than 4-6 Tablespoons.
4. one cup sugar
5. 3 ½ quarts of filtered water

Supplies needed:

One gallon or larger glass container, jar or bowl
or a food grade plastic bowl may be used, either number 1 or 2 in the triangle on the bottom.

Clean cloth, paper towel or coffee filter to fit over fermenting container and a large rubber band to secure if needed.

A warm quiet spot, (does not need to be dark)

White vinegar to clean utensils. If you need to clean the culture, let it sit in vinegar for a little while.

Boil water: bring water to the boiling point and let it boil a minute or so.
Add tea bags or loose tea in a strainer.
I let the tea steep about 30 minutes.
Remove tea

Add the cup of sugar and stir to dissolve.

Let it come to room temperature (about 2-4 hours) or overnight

Put the room temperature tea and sugar into your jar or bowl. If it is too hot it will damage the culture.
Add the starter tea
Add the kombucha culture.
Cover with the cloth or paper towel or filter and leave alone.

The entire brewing cycle can take up to 14 days. Usually the tea is ready to drink about day 5. You should see a light film starting to cover the top of the tea surface. I ladle out a bit to taste it. If it’s still very sweet, it’s not ready. Sometimes it has some carbonation. This is fine. Sometimes bubbles form in the culture and the culture looks bumpy and strange. It’s okay.

Start drinking one tablespoon at a time, on an empty stomach. Build up the amount you drink slowly, as your body suggests.
This drink isn’t right for everybody but if it’s good for you, your body may start to crave it.

It’s a powerful detoxifier so you don’t want to start drinking too much in the beginning. Let your body start its detox process in a slow and gentle way.

I’ve settled on drinking about 1/4 -1/2 cup 1-3 times a day 20 minutes before a meal. Anymore than that really feels like too much.

It is suggested that once the culture is in the tea, no metal should come in contact with the brew. I use a plastic ladle.

Some people strain the tea before they drink it because sometimes there’s some squidley stuff floating in it. The stuff is part of the brew and can be drunk.

If you don’t finish the brew after 10-12 days it will become very vinegary and for some, undrinkable. This can be used for salad dressings and marinades.

Always save the last 2 cups for the next batch.

The film that forms on the top is the offspring of the culture. You can use this to start a new batch when it is substantial enough or you can just leave it attached. To detach it from the culture, with clean hands pick up the culture and peel the film off. If it is too small to start a new batch, store it in a glass jar with 1-2 cups of fresh tea and a paper towel cover. Keep adding new films as you get them. You should add fresh tea every 14 days. After a while the filmy pieces will meld into one new culture that can be used to start a new batch.

At this point I always have 2 different batches going. This is enough for me. I put my extras in a jar and save them until I have someone brave enough to try it.

Purchase a kombucha culture from Type in "new_customer_10" for a 10% discount.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Kombucha Tea and Sugar Addiction

I started drinking Kombucha tea a few years ago and immediately noticed positive changes in my health. It seemed as if my digestive system was waking up. It cleared out my sinuses and reduced my sugar cravings. Even my hormone imbalance seemed to clear up!

Kombucha tea is a fermented drink said to strengthen the immune system by repopulating the digestive tract with live probiotics and enzymes that grow during the fermentation process.

When I first learned about it I was hesitant to make it because the recipe called for sugar and black tea, two foods I had stayed away from for decades. I was told that I had to make it this way or the benefits would be minimized. Having recovered from candidiasis I was concerned about drinking something with sugar in it. I was also unable to consume caffeine, (kept me up at night and made my hands shake) and was concerned about the caffeine in the tea. I went ahead and made it with herbal mint tea and organic sugar. It came out great and I felt sure the drink was plenty potent! I did not get any candida symptoms as long as I drank it in small amounts.

After making this lovely gentle potion for a few years I finally took a sip of a commercial kombucha drink, made with black tea. That one sip felt like a shock to my system. I knew my gentle herbal kombucha tea was right for me.

Recently, a few people expressed to me that they had been drinking Kombucha tea for awhile, felt good results but then got to a point where their bodies didn’t want it anymore. I was surprised to hear this as my body was craving a little every day.

Then, this summer, all of a sudden, my body didn’t want it! I tried a few sips, but no, it just wasn’t right anymore. I wonder if the kombucha did for me what I needed at the time and then I simply didn’t need it anymore.

I use a variety of lacto fermented products and I find myself craving different ones at different times. I trusted my body when it said it no longer needed Kombucha.

One of the major concerns about Kombucha is the large amount of sugar used for the fermentation. I believe that most of the sugar is used during the fermentation stage but I also believe that if one is extremely sensitive to sugar, candida, diabetes, IBS, it may not be the right drink.

I’ve also been thinking about some of my students who have had a difficult time “giving up” sugar. I’ve been through this myself. We are trying to heal illnesses such as candida, IBS, chronic fatigue, hypoglycemia, and fibromyalgia. We cut out the sugar and begin to feel deprived. Then it’s easy to binge on sugar and carbs exacerbating our symptoms.

I'm beginning to see Kombucha tea as being an important stepping stone for some people making the shift away from sugar. If someone is trying to minimize sugar intake but has occasional uncontrollable bingeing it seems that it could be more beneficial to drink the kombucha tea as an interim step. They could sip some tea when the craving for dessert shows up. They could sip some more when everyone is having a soda. They could put a slice of lemon in it when everyone is drinking overly sweet lemonade. This may satisfy the sugar fix while beginning the healing of their digestive and immune systems enabling the person to stay away from ice cream, baked goods and candy. As the bodily systems begin to return to a higher state of health the feeling of being sugar deprived could become a distant memory.

Purchase a kombucha culture from Type in "new_customer_10" for a 10% discount.

Lacto-fermented Fruit drink

This is a good recipe for when you have an abundance of fresh fruit that you know will spoil before you can use it all. When the drink is ready you will strain the batch, discard the fruit and drink the juice. It will be bubbly!

10 plums
10 peaches
1 tsp sea salt
1 squirt agave (optional)
1 quart Water kefir (excluding water kefir grains)*see recipe below for water kefir
Leaf layer (this is about 3-4 leaves layered top of the fruit to keep it sumberged under the liquid. You can use swiss chard leaves or bok choy leaves)
rock (use a rock that fits easily through the mouth of the jar. scrub, wash thoroughly and boil before use)

Coarsely cut up fruit and press into a half gallon canning jar.
Add salt and agave (optional)
Add leaf layer and rock.
Fill the jar with water kefir to cover the fruit.
Cover with canning lid and set on the counter for 2-3 days to ferment.

This drink will get very bubbly so when you’re ready to drink this, open jar carefully over the sink.
Allow bubbles to rise to surface.
Remove rock and discard leaf layer.
Pour it all through a strainer reserving the liquid.
Press the fruit to extract as much juice as possible.
Discard fruit and store juice in the refrigerator.
This is potent! Drink in small amounts.
Keeps for about a week.

Water Kefir

Prep time: 10 minutes
Fermentation time: 2-4 days

2-3 tablespoons Water Kefir grains *see resources below to purchase
2 tablespoons sugar (I find organic dark sugar works the best, but any sugar works)
20 raisins (or a comparable amount of figs or prunes)
1 quart of filtered or spring water
1 slice of lemon

Nearly fill a wide mouth quart jar with water.
Add 2 tablespoons sugar, stirring to dissolve, 20 raisins and a slice of lemon or lime.
Add the water kefir grains to the jar or if this is your first batch add the contents of your bottle of water kefir grains into the quart jar.
Cover with a paper towel or cloth and secure with a rubber band.
When raisins float to the top, scoop them and the lemon slice out and discard.
Ferment the water kefir for 6-12 more hours on the counter with the paper towel.
Then store, covered, in fridge and use as needed.
When you have used the liquid down to about an inch in the jar start a new batch in a new jar and pour the water kefir grains plus the liquid their in right into the new jar, cover and ferment.
Lasts about 1 month

To replenish:
Use up the water kefir to about an inch of water kefir and water kefir grains left in the jar.
When you are ready to make a new batch just a fill a clean jar with 1 quart of water, add sugar and dissolve, add the last inch of water kefir and water kefir grains, trying to get all the grains into the new batch. Add fruit, cover and let ferment.

Other uses for Water Kefir:
tonic, a small amount through the day
supplies lactobacillus and serves as an inoculant for lacto-fermented vegetables, fruits, chutneys 2 Tablespoons per quart -2 cups for 2 gallon crock
soaking grains before cooking (2 Tablespoons) predigests and increases availability of enzymes and B vitamins
soaking beans before cooking (2 Tablespoons) predigests and increases availability of enzymes and B vitamins

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Summer Solstice Salad

Everything in this salad, except for the sunflower seeds, came from my garden and was harvested on the summer solstice. The fermented rhubarb came from the garden and was made 3 weeks ago.

1-2 heads of lettuce
A large handful of cilantro
A few walking onion scallions
Gem marigold flowers
A few mint leaves
Fermented rhubarb (water, rhubarb, salt, onions)
Sunflower seeds

Soak sunflower seeds
Chop lettuce, scallions, cilantro, mint and put in bowl
Drain sunflower seeds
Mix sunflower seeds and fermented rhubarb with chopped greens
Top with marigold flowers

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Fermented Foods: A Culture of Healing

Currently many of us are discovering that our diet creates an environment in our bodies for health or illness to thrive. We are learning that certain foods can stress and damage our digestive systems, and that in order to fully recover we may need to change not only our diet, but also our entire dietary lifestyle. These changes can be extremely challenging on all levels and can impact our relationships and social lives. After a 20-year period of illness and learning how to successfully alter my diet, I pleased to report I am the healthiest I have ever been.
Our lifelong relationship with many foods makes it difficult to permanently omit some of them from our diet. These are the foods of our cultures, our families, our peer groups and our memories that nourish us emotionally, as well as nutritionally. It takes time to create a new relationship with food. We cannot will ourselves to like, enjoy or desire unfamiliar foods. We may need time to get used to and appreciate unfamiliar tastes and textures. As we alter our diets it is essential that we are mindful, gentle and patient with ourselves throughout the entire process.
I had struggled with poor health after giving birth 25 years ago. In those early years I had continuous colds, chronic sinus and yeast infections, asthma, fatigue and symptoms involving every bodily system. It took me six years to find a naturopathic doctor who recognized that I had systemic candida. He set me on a rigorous treatment of diet change and yeast killing supplements. Progress was slow and intermittent with many setbacks. Sometimes it was hard to stay hopeful about recovering. I spent a lot of time exhausted on the couch and learned to develop new levels of patience with my slowly healing body. Deepening my capacity for patience was an unexpected and valuable gift that came out of this particular life lesson.
Over the next ten years I was able to heal most of my symptoms, however I still had to carefully monitor my activities to avoid getting exhausted or sick. Seeing how altering my diet contributed to my health, I continued to look for ways that food might take me to the next levels of wellness.

One day, I found a book claiming that old-fashioned sourdough rye bread could rebuild the entire digestive system while cleaning out the arteries! This was my first step into the world of fermented foods and traditional cooking techniques. The sourdough starter recipe included a long fermentation period: daily feedings for seven days and 12-24 hours of rising. The enhanced digestibility and healing properties were said to come from the seven days of fermentation.
With some practice I was able to make wonderfully rich and substantial bread at a cost far below retail prices. After eating it for a while I noticed a steadiness in my health, although I still had some unresolved symptoms.
Then I read that lacto-fermented sauerkraut was good for people with unresolving intestinal issues. The process of lacto-fermentation creates lactobacillus, enzymes and vitamins which, when consumed, becomes instantly available to the body. Lacto-fermenting vegetables is an ancient salt brine technique of vegetable preservation. The recipe simply called for vegetables, salt and water fermented in a container for three weeks. I decided to give it a try. After the 3 weeks I tried a bite and was startled at the taste. It was simultaneously sweet, sour and salty. I wasn’t sure if I liked it enough to eat more of it. Fifteen minutes later my body told me that I needed to eat more of that stuff and to eat it now! I listened to my body and ate some more. It was as if my intestinal system was coming alive.
In the following weeks my energy level jumped a few more notches and my digestive issues seemed to improve. Making my own sauerkraut cost much less than store bought and I could control the amount of salt. I could also experiment with different vegetables for interesting combinations.
I found an online chat group of fellow fermenters and tried to learn as much as I could. One chatter suggested I try homemade kombucha tea for overall immune building. Kombucha is another fermented product that produces lactobacillus, enzymes and vitamins. She sent me an impressive compilation of all the illnesses people claimed the kombucha helped them recover from. The list included illnesses from every bodily system.
I bought a kombucha culture, which looked like a shiny pancake. I followed the recipe and watched the unusual fermentation process through the glass jar. I was not quite sure that I could bring myself to drink the liquid but when the tea was ready, about 9 days after the start of fermentation, I bravely had a sip. It was light and pleasant tasting. Then I had the odd sensation that it was gently burbling through my intestines. A few hours later my body seemed to be craving more and I started drinking small amounts a few times a day. It seemed to clear the sinuses nicely and again, my energy level jumped. My intestines seemed a bit better, as well. This wonderful drink also cost very little to make on a regular basis.

Eating Curds and Whey

About this time I heard about kefir and water kefir. I made the milk kefir for my family, having already eliminated most dairy products as part of the candida treatment. This was the easiest to make of all the fermented foods so far. You put the little kefir grains in a jar, pour milk on top, cover with a cloth and let it sit on the counter for 36 hours. Done. Again, the fermenting process allows lactobacillus and enzymes to grow, improving the nutrition and digestibility of the milk. This kefir has a sour taste and can be used plain on hot cereal or other grains. It can also be sweetened with fruit, honey, agave or stevia and used like a thin yogurt for sauces, desserts, and salad dressings. I also learned to make it into cheese by straining it through cheesecloth. The cheese making process brings to mind the old nursery rhyme, “Little Miss Muffet,” and her curds and whey. When the kefir drains through the cloth, the remaining cheese caught in the cloth is called curds. The water left in the bottom of the bowl is called whey. The cheese is a robustly sour cream cheese and is great on toast. The whey is a supremely potent liquid, full of lactobacillus, enzymes and vitamins with the addition of minerals. It is good for drinking, cooking, baking and soaking grains and beans.
Water kefir is another culture that creates lactobacillus, enzymes and vitamins and makes a nice dairy-free drink. I have read about people sweetening it and using it in place of sodas but never tried it myself, needing to stay away from sweets. I mainly use it in soaking water for grains and beans, which is another old-fashioned cooking technique I learned on this journey.
Soaking fosters the production of enzymes and vitamins, thereby increasing digestibility. I began soaking my grains before cooking, but didn’t notice any differences in taste or digestibility. One day I didn’t have enough time to soak and simply cooked the rice. It was then I noticed the rice didn’t seem as smooth in my stomach as it had been when I had soaked them.
Most of us know about soaking beans for increased digestibility, but adding 2-4 tablespoons of kefir, kefir whey or water kefir boosts the fermenting power and can bring the flatulence factor way down, a benefit probably welcomed by all involved. Soaking beans for 24 hours also allows the beans to quadruple their size, increasing the amount of available servings while bringing the cost per serving down to about 8 cents. Properly prepared beans are highly nutritious, tasty, and economical.

Good-bye to Gluten

My health continued to improve but I still had those remaining symptoms. I consulted a new holistic doctor about these symptoms. She ordered various tests and blood work and when the test results were back she gently told me I was sensitive to dairy and eggs, and I should completely eliminate them from my diet at least for a while, but possibly forever. She then told me I was also gluten intolerant.
This piece was extremely distressing to me having spent a year perfecting my sourdough rye bread. I loved making this bread. I loved creating the starter and watching it grow into an aromatic sponge over its seven-day growing period. I loved the malty aroma and the way butter seeped down through the pores onto the plate. I even bought a grain mill so I could grind my own rye berries. I was in a bit of shock about it all, but given my previous success around healing with food I had no hesitation about changing my diet one more time.
My doctor had given me this news one afternoon and I decided to have one last dairy and gluten-filled dinner. That evening I toasted a generous slab of sourdough rye and slathered it with butter. I ate slowly, relishing and savoring the taste and sensation of this marvelous ancestral bread. When I was finished I said goodbye and moved forward.
The next day I eliminated gluten, dairy and eggs from my diet. After 48 hours the remaining symptoms disappeared! I vacillated between great happiness to have found the root cause of my long time illness and grieving that I might never eat gluten again. No more toasted bagel and cream cheese, no more holiday cookies, no more slices of pizza…
Over the next few weeks I was unprepared to find myself moving through some of the recognized phases of grief: shock, grief, anger, bargaining and acceptance. I worked my way through it and then found myself in a new phase that I call resolution and declaration. I resolved that despite my restricted diet I would continue eating beautiful and lovingly prepared food. Then I declared that I would create gluten-free sourdough breads that could be made easily and was well within the parameters of my diet.
I experimented for a year with many failures but with a little help from my online chatters I was able to make some palatable nutritious breads.
Without the gluten and other problematic foods the tempo of my healing increased significantly.
Recovering is an incredible blessing for me after this very long road back to health. Sometimes I am still astonished that I am “back to normal” and that I have enough energy to do so many things in a day and still be alert in the evening. I am deeply grateful to have my energy, to be highly productive, and to be fully and happily engaged with life.

This article was published in the Spring 2009 edition of Spirit Of Change.