Garlic Roasted Chicken & Veggies: One Dish Meal

I'm often looking for meals that can be completed without hours of prep, but that will also deliver in the nutrition area. Canned soups, frozen dinners, and boxed-a-ronis are out for various reasons, but mostly because they are empty calories. By keeping to a nutrient-dense traditional foods diet, I know we are getting the nutrition we need to maintain and/or heal our bodies. However, it's often thought that keeping such a diet necessarily requires long and labor intensive hours in the kitchen. I will admit that I spend more time in the kitchen since getting married and becoming the main chef in the house, but I mostly think this is due to the fact that I like being in there. I love to experiment, try out recipes, throw eggs on the floor, and in general make a mess for my husband to clean up (Our rule: I cook, he cleans! Hehehe!).  Now I've gotten off topic. My main point: eating a healthy traditional foods diet, does not mean never stepping outside the kitchen. Today I have a new recipe to prove it. 
Since I was a little girl I have been enjoying this meal; my mom would prepare it to the delight of the entire family. It's just delicious! It uses everyday ingredients, can be adjusted to seasonal vegetable availability, and the best part is that the entire meal fits into one pan! Easy peasy with no more than 15 minutes of prep!
Garlic Roasted Chicken & Veggies
4 T. butter (or more) 
6 chicken leg/thigh quarters
24 garlic cloves, unpeeled
A variety of vegetables to fill the pan
Sea Salt to taste
1/4 cup Grade B maple syrup or honey
1. Melt butter in a large roasting pan in the oven at 400 degrees.
2. Meanwhile, cut chicken leg/thighs apart at joints. Cut vegetables into bite-sized pieces.
3. Remove pan from oven when the butter is melted. Carefully tip pan to coat the entire bottom with the melted butter. 
4. Place chicken pieces, and harder vegetables (potatoes, carrots, etc) if using, and garlic into the pan. Turn ingredients to coat with melted butter. Leave chicken skin-side up. Then sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of sea salt.
5. Place pan in oven and cook for 40 minutes. Remove pan from oven, and baste chicken and vegetables.
6. Add softer vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, etc.) to pan and coat chicken and veggies with honey.
7. Put pan back into the oven for 20 minutes more. Then, remove from oven and enjoy!

This was shared at The Healthy Home Economist's Monday Mania.

Lemon Kefir Ice Cream

This is our first spring living here in Texas, and as a native-Chicago girl, I couldn't be more pleased that our warm weather began showing up at the end of January. We're well into the eighty degree weather, and I oftentimes have to remind myself that it's still March, even though it looks and feels like July. Of course, since it is Texas, I do know that July here will be much different than July in Chicago. We moved to Austin in July last year, and had quite the taste of those blazing temps.

All this warm weather has us taking out our ice cream maker almost every week. And, well, I don't think the cooler weather would have stopped us either. Homemade ice cream is just so deliciously creamy and pure -there's no comparison to store-bought ice cream. We bought our ice cream maker last October in celebration of my birthday... which wasn't until November, that's how excited I was to have rich, nutritious, homemade ice cream on hand.

The best part about having an ice cream maker is being able to avoid all the additional preservatives and junk the manufacturers put into the store-bought ice cream. The scary thing is that many of these additives aren't even required to be on the ingredient list! Another plus to making your own ice cream is being able to choose the quality of milk and ingredients.  Most store-bought ice cream only uses pasteurized skim milk, but we learned how important it is to have traditional fats in our diet. We use fresh, whole raw milk and cream for our ice cream, along with egg yolks and honey as our sweetener. I mentioned in my last post that I'm doing the GAPS diet to heal my gut, and right now I cannot tolerate fresh milk, but I can drink kefir, a fermented milk drink. The sour taste of kefir lends itself well to making tangy ice creams, such as those with fruit - like lemon!

One of my favorite memories growing up is being at Wrigley Field, watching the Cubs play, burning in the hot sun, and chipping away at my lemon freeze dessert. I have no idea what those desserts are called anymore, but it was basically frozen lemon sorbet in a cup. To me, that refreshing, cold, lemon tang is synonymous with summertime, and so you can imagine how ecstatic I was to replicate this treat using fresh and pure ingredients. In this recipe I use kefir, a strong probiotic beverage. I have been promising a recipe in which to use this fermented milk drink in order to make it more palatable. Well, folks, it doesn't get more palatable than this! I love to invent recipes that are not only delicious, but also very healthy. Due to its fermented nature, and the fact that it's made from fresh whole milk, this ice cream is so healthy you could eat it for breakfast without guilt.

I have made it twice so far for family and friends, and we've manage to finish it all off before I was able to snap a photo. It's THAT good. This dessert is so full of flavor, it's an explosion of summer in your mouth. You're going to love it!

Lemon Kefir Ice Cream
4 cups kefir from fresh whole milk (read this to know how to make kefir)
3/4 - 1 cup organic lemon juice (use 1 cup if you like it more sour)
3/4 cup raw honey
Zest of 2-3 organic lemons
A handful of organic blueberries
1. In a blender or mixer add all the ingredients (except blueberries) until well combined.
2. Pour the mixture into your ice cream maker and follow the directions for your personal machine. Our ice cream maker usually takes about 25 minutes to make the ice cream.
3. Store in a sealed container in your freezer until you're ready to serve.
4. We like to throw a few blueberries in our bowl, having found the flavors quite complementary. 

This is one of my favorite ways to eat kefir. 
How do you enjoy eating your kefir? Please share!

Milk Kefir: What, Why, & How

Newly-made Milk Kefir
When we began our journey with fermented foods, I promised to share some of my favorite veggie and fruit ferments, as well as fermented drinks. Kefir is a staple in our house, especially because  I cannot currently tolerate milk, but can handle fermented milk. Milk kefir is simple and quick to make, and can be used in all sorts of recipes, including homemade ice cream!
What is kefir?
Kefir (pronounced: kÉ™-feer) is a beautifully creamy, pungently sour, and slightly effervescent fermented milk drink. This isn’t the typical American or Greek yogurt you buy at the store, but you can think of it as another type of yogurt. Eating it plain is definitely an acquired taste due to its intense sourness, however there are many delicious kefir recipes that soften the flavor. Kefir originated in the North Caucasus region (the Russian region between the Black and Caspian Seas) and is prepared by mixing fresh milk with kefir grains. Grains of kefir are live probiotic cultures of yeast and bacteria; they are not grains like pasta and bread. The kefir grains range in color from white to yellow, have a cauliflower-like appearance, are squishy like gummy bears, and can vary in size from 1/2 inch to a bit more than 1 inch.
Kefir Grains
Why drink homemade kefir?
The word, kefir, originates from the Turkish region and means “feel good.” This offers us a hint of its health benefits. The kefir grains, through a fermentation process of approximately 24 hours, produce a living culture comprised of more than 30 microflora. Kefir is a great aid to the immune system. We know a healthy immune system is very dependent upon a healthy intestinal tract. Kefir bolsters the immune system by rooting out the bad bacteria in the gut. Unlike your typical yogurt that normally has three to four strains of probiotic bacteria, kefir typically has 30 or more good “bugs.” Basically, kefir is a turbo-charged-crazy-colon-cleaning-energy drink. The excess enzymes found in kefir have been shown to adhere themselves to the wall of the colon to help clean out the pathogenic bacteria from the gut. The yeast (which creates the slight bubbly-ness of the kefir) penetrates the lining of the intestines, where so many destructive yeasts and bacteria reside, forming a bacterial SWAT team to clean house. The bad yeast and bacteria are destroyed, and the intestines is strengthened. The friendly yeast in the kefir was even found to destroy candida albicans, a strong and very pathogenic yeast found in most people’s guts. Many people have reported huge improvements in digestive function as a result of consuming this probiotic beverage. I, myself, drink it almost daily and can attribute part of my healing to this wonderful and tasty beverage.
Similar to most other fermented foods on this blog, I recommend making kefir at home. You can purchase this beverage at your local supermarket, however, I believe you are purchasing an inferior product. By making it at home you can control the quality of milk used and the amount of time it is fermented. I highly recommend using fresh, raw milk from local grass-fed cows and for fermenting at least 24 hours, especially if you have ever had any reaction to dairy products in the past. It’s good to note here that many people who have experienced lactose intolerance to dairy products are able to consume raw milk, and if not plain, raw milk they are able to consume homemade fermented kefir from raw milk. This is due to the live cultures which are also contained within the raw milk. In fact, I have a friend who was diagnosed with celiac disease, and was told she wouldn’t be able to consume milk products for the rest of her life, who is now successfully drinking kefir and healing her gut. So, if you are experience lactose intolerance, you may want to look into the GAPS diet. The ability to eat ice cream in your future might not be so impossible, especially if that ice cream is made with kefir! I have a super delicious kefir ice cream recipe that I’m so excited to share in one of the next upcoming posts.
Regardless of lactose intolerance, or gut problems, this is a drink that would benefit even the healthiest of people. Kefir is a complete protein with all the amino acids. It contains an abundance of calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus - minerals most of our bodies are lacking. Kefir provides a range of B vitamins to your body, making it a great source of folic acid, often recommended to pregnant women in order to avoid spinal deformities in their unborn child. (source: The Body Ecology Diet, by Donna Gates)
Do you need more reasons to drink kefir? :) I have listed so many here, but kefir has also been known to help in the fight against cancer, IBS, immune dysfunction, allergies, colitis, and leaky gut among many other things (source). It’s so easy to make kefir, and yet provides your body with maximum benefits. Check out the recipe below which includes step-by-step directions for making kefir at home.

Milk Kefir: Recipe
2 tablespoons kefir grains (see below on where to find some)
1 quart of fresh, raw whole milk
2 quart-sized mason jars
1 large bowl
1 non-metal strainer
1 non-metal spatula or spoon
Small piece of cheesecloth/flour sack cloth or mason jar lid
1. Place kefir grains in a quart-size mason jar.
2. Add milk to fill jar, place cheesecloth or other cloth on top to allow the kefir to breathe, and secure with the metal band from a 2-piece mason lid. The other option is to use both pieces of the mason lid, but do not secure the top. Set the lid gently on top so as to still allow for the exchange of air.
3. Place in a cabinet for approximately 24 hours (more or less time depending on temperature of kitchen).
4. After 24 hours, strain out the kefir grains using a strainer and a rubber or plastic spatula (never use a metal utensil which can harm the live grains) and repeat the above process to make more kefir, or place grains in a jar, cover with milk and place in refrigerator until you desire to make more kefir.

Use a spatula to help push the more solid kefir through the strainer
5. Place the newly made milk kefir in a jar and keep in the fridge. The kefir will last for quite awhile. I’ve never had any of my kefir go bad (due to the live cultures).

The best place to find plump, healthy grains is through your local Weston A. Price group, or you can purchase grains from Cultures for Health, but you will need to go through a process to rehydrate them.

Classic Guacamole: Recipe

It’s been quite the month here in our household. I took a break from blogging to give my time and attention to a community event I was co-chairing in mid-February. It went off smashingly well, but it was followed by a a couple weeks of migraines. It may have been due to all the sewing I was doing, as I reupholstered a big, comfy chair I bought off of Craigslist, and I always seem to get my neck out of place while sewing. Fortunately, these were solved by my awesome chiropractor after a couple visits. I’d never experienced migraines before, and let me tell you, I have much greater empathy for those that experience them on a regular basis. Unfortunately, I then came down with some sort of flu/congestion. The Master Tonic I keep on hand was excellent for this, and I was quite happy I had made it this past autumn. I also kept up my liquids, rested a lot, and cut out most dairy. During the height of the fever, I was still able to pull off a surprise birthday party for one of my best friends. Then, finally, it was Spring Break and my husband was able to be home for the entire week. I took this week to recuperate and enjoy some carefree timelessness with my love. This past week finally offered me the time and relaxation I needed, so now I can get back into blogging. Thank you for your patience as I just suddenly disappeared without an explanation. 
I have a great treat for you today! For years my family has been making this guacamole recipe, and I have yet to come across any other guacamole recipe that compares. This is what converted my heart to loving avocados. I wouldn’t touch the things prior to eating this; now I enjoy even plain avocados with any dish. There’s not much of a secret ingredient to this recipe, but I will say that the lime juice adds a great bite, and paired with the cilantro - mmmm - it’s just heavenly. This doesn’t last long in our home, so I’m glad my husband was able to quickly snap a photo. 
I have brought this to friends’ homes to share, and served this to our guests, and many times I have heard, “Oh, no thank you, I don’t care for avocado.” But, then they try it, and oh! the flavor. They can’t help but enjoy this delightful combination.

Without further ado...
Classic Guacamole
3 avocados, mashed
1 lime, juice
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup onion, diced
3 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
2 roma tomatoes, diced
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
1 pinch ground cayenne, or more according to personal preference
1. In a large bowl, mash together the avocado, lime guice, and salt.
2. Mix in onion, cilantro, tomatoes, and garlic.
3. Stir in cayenne pepper.
4. Refrigerate 1 hour for best flavor, or serve immediately.
The lime juice will keep the guacamole from going brown while it is in the fridge for an hour. Actually, when we last made the guacamole it stayed green overnight in the fridge without a cover!
This is best served with homemade tortilla chips (or store-bought, too, however we try to avoid hydrogenated oils, since they are so bad for you). Lately, we most often eat our guacamole on our tacos, or with slices of cucumber and red pepper since I’m eating grain-free.

Building a Medicine Cabinet: Elderberry Syrup


We have officially entered the coldest month of the year for us Texans. In the last few weeks our house had gotten quite dry, and I hadn't been running the humidifier as often as a should. It wasn't surprising, then, when the husband recently came down with a cough and sore throat. He promptly made himself a pot of tea made with echinacea, marshmallow (the plant, not the fluffy white cylinders), fennel, orange peel, and cinnamon bark - we use Traditional Medicinals Throat Coat. But, after a few days the cough and sore throat were still there. Master Tonic should have been the first line of defense, but we were lazy and didn't reach for the bottle as early as we should have. The Master Tonic, while extremely powerful, does have quite a zing, and therefore, isn't my husband's favorite medicine (although, he did take it with him to work the past two days!). 

As with any sickness, it is important to first reflect on your diet, the amount of sleep you're getting, exercise, and the stress in your life. Remove all refined sugars, if they are still present, from your diet. Drink copious amounts of homemade chicken broth, and increase your daily servings of lacto-fermented foods. Take more time to relax, avoid stressful activities, if possible, and go for a walk once a day. Your body needs to rest, so find the time to nap, and go to bed earlier. Once you have thought over these steps, use herbal medicine to ease your symptoms and aid your healing. 
Knowing my husband's throat was one of the main factors in his illness, I decided to whip up a batch of elderberry syrup. The berries from the elder flower are highly esteemed for their use in fighting colds, flus, and upper respiratory infections. Both the flowers and the berries of this plant work well in reducing fevers, if present, by inducing sweating. The elder plant contains immune-enhancing properties, and tends to be especially effective when combined with  echinacea. An important note: use only blue elderberries, as the red elderberries are potentially toxic. Also, never eat elderberries that haven't been cooked yet.
I also decided to use other ingredients to make this syrup: cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and raw honey. Each of these ingredients adds its own particular benefit. Cinnamon has antiviral and antiseptic qualities, and increases one's circulation. Cloves are known to have the highest antioxidant quality than any other food. They also have germicidal benefits which help fight colds and flus. Ginger is a classic herb of traditional Chinese medicine, and is highly regarded as a primary herb for reproductive, respiratory, and digestive systems. In this case, it is used to increase blood circulation since it is a warming herb. Finally, the raw honey is used for its antibacterial qualities, and for its ability to make the syrup more palatable.
Lastly, I buy my herbs from Mountain Rose Herbs or the Bulk Herb Store. I am just beginning to be able to grow herbs consistently, and I hope to expand my meager collection, but until then these two companies offer high quality products at reasonable prices (I don't receive any sort of benefit from promoting either of them). It only takes about 10 minutes of prep time, and then 20-30 minutes of cooking time to end up with a fantastic syrup that your family will think is delicious. The best part is that it will help your family through the winter flu blues!

Elderberry Syrup
1/2 cup dried elderberries, or 1 cup fresh elderberries
1 cinnamon stick
5 cloves
1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
2 cups filtered water
1 cup honey

1. In a small pot add the elderberries, cinnamon stick, cloves, ginger, and filtered water. Cover, and bring to a boil.

2. Once the water has boiled, turn the stove down to a low simmer for 20-30 minutes. Keep the pot covered. After this time the liquid should be reduced by half.
3. Strain the liquid into a bowl. Take a spoon and push the berries down to squeeze out the liquid.

4. Add the honey and stir until thoroughly combined.
5. Pour into glass jars (I like to use dark amber jars). In the fridge the syrup will last for only 2 weeks, however, you can easily store the syrup in the freezer and pull it out when a bout of illness strikes.

Dosage: Take 1 tablespoon/day to prevent illness, or take 1 T/hour if you are already experiencing cough and sore throat symptoms. Children under 12 years of ago can take half the adult dose (1 - 1 1/2 teaspoons). Toddlers can take 1/4 of the adult dose (a little less than a teaspoon).

There are thousands of natural remedies for all sorts of ailments. 
What topics are of interest to you? 

This post was shared at The Healthy Home Economist's Monday Mania,  Real Food Forager's Fat Tuesday, and Kelly the Kitchen Kop's Real Food Wednesday.

Why Herbal Medicine?

My first post on this blog was titled, Building a Medicine Cabinet: Master Tonic. Although this is a series I plan to continue, I think it’s important to answer the question, “Why herbal medicine?”
First, let’s get some things straight. I am not against doctors, nor do I think that conventional medicine is evil. I find flaw in that most doctors prescribe medicine to treat the symptom, instead of digging deeper to find the root of the problem. Big Pharma is basically corrupt, and needs to have their compasses redirected to actually caring about the people, and not the money they make. Don’t worry, I’m not naive, I won’t be holding my breath. With that said, I do believe there is a time and place for conventional medicine. I do believe there is a time to visit the doctor or hospital. I do think we have made amazing strides in certain areas of the medical field that have helped save thousands of lives. I am grateful for them, and grateful for a lot of the work they do. At the same time, I also believe that the American people have become overly-dependent on prescriptions (“A pill for every ill!”), and while they may be keeping us alive, they are not helping us get healthier. So, what’s the answer?
Well, it’s NOT herbal medicine. Are you surprised? The real answer is diet. A traditional diet like our ancestors ate, prior to food industrialization, kept them free from disease and chronic degeneration. Additionally, colds and flus were few and far between. Your diet is of primary importance and is one of the biggest factors in the state of your health. Sleep, exercise, and stress all play a role in your health, too, among other factors. By keeping to a traditional diet, avoiding unnatural, refined sugars and processed foods, and by following traditional food preparation techniques you can maintain your health or regain your health if you’ve lost it.
For most of us, our diets are bound to be less than perfect, and colds, flus, and other illnesses will happen, especially during the winter season. Of course, there are a plethora of cold and flu medicines you can buy at the store full of harmful ingredients, like high fructose corn syrup and unnatural dyes, not to mention a whole host of ingredients I can hardly pronounce. Take a look at this example. Here are the inactive ingredients for a Robitussin cough and congestion syrup:
anhydrous citric acid, artificial & natural flavors, carboxymethylcellulose sodium, D&C red no. 33, FD&C red no. 40, glycerin, high fructose corn syrup, menthol, microcrystalline cellulose, polyethylene glycol, povidone, propylene glycol, purified water, saccharin sodium, sodium benzoate, sorbitol solution, xanthan gum (source)
Blech! Sure, the high fructose corn syrup makes the syrup more palatable, but refined sugar is not something you should be putting into your body when you are sick... or healthy. Moreover, these are the inactive ingredients, in other words, unnecessary ingredients. Thankfully, you and your family have healthier options that are just as effective. One of those options is homemade herbal medicine. 
Herbal medicine has been in use for thousands of years. And while we are living in a time when herbal medicine has taken a backseat to allopathic medicine, the World Health Organization estimates that over 80% of the world’s population still uses herbal medicine. In this day and age, we’re often encouraged to believe that herbalism is merely myths and old wives’ tales. The other extreme is just as false. Using herbal medicine is not a cure-all, and I don’t advocate a kind of witch doctor mentality in which herbs have super powers. Herbs do, however, contain powerful medicinal properties that can heal us from various infirmities. Let’s take a look at why you would want to make use of herbal medicine today.
Herbal medicine is effective and safer than conventional drugs. A study published in 2003 that was led by Dr. Gary Null, PhD found that adverse drug reactions cause 106, 000 deaths/year in the United States. Add to that 98,000 deaths/year for medical errors, and 37,136 deaths/year for unnecessary procedures, and you have a lot of people dying unnecessarily (source). Herbal medicine, on the other hand, is much safer. Most herbs don’t have any side effects! They are made from common ingredients you may already have in your home or grow in your garden, like raw honey, cinnamon, cayenne, lavender, and peppermint. 
Herbal medicine is natural. You don’t need to worry that you won’t be able to pronounce the ingredients, or know what they are going to do in your body. Since herbs have been used for thousands of years their uses and benefits are well-known. You don’t need to do the guesswork, and you don’t have to worry that five years down the road that herb is going to be recalled, like so many prescriptions are today.
Herbal medicine is inexpensive. Many herbs can be grown in your own backyard, and I bet you already have a few of them in your spice cabinet. It doesn’t take many ingredients to make a good remedy. Homemade medicine is much cheaper than a prescription.
Herbal medicine is easy to learn. Putting together herbal medicine is not difficult. If you can read a recipe, you can make a remedy. There are some great books out there that contain tried-and-true recipes. They can help aid you in identifying illness and providing the corresponding treatment.
Herbal medicine is a system of healing available to every human who chooses to use it. Using herbal medicine is much more than treating a sickness; it’s about taking responsibility for your own health. Learn all that you can about your condition, and do what you can to resolve the issue. This will take some time depending on the nature of the problem, but it’s worth it to be able to treat the root of the problem. If you still cannot find an answer, a doctor may be able to help you find a different solution. Remember, proper diet, exercise, and rest are going to be the biggest factors in your health, and adjustments should be made to these ares first when sick.
These herbal remedies might be of interest to you:

Tips & Tricks to Successful Fermenting

Fermenting foods in your own home can be a bit intimidating. Our society is saturated with the bleach it, sanitize it, pasteurize it, bacteria-is-the-enemy mentality. Growing up in this world, we can be made to feel that if all the bacteria is not done away with, we will get sick. Surely, this is not the case. In fact, we are now finding that trying to get rid of all bacteria is actually making our immune systems weaker and the bad bacteria stronger. Our guts, too, are not a sterile environment and were never meant to be, but are filled with both beneficial and potentially harmful bacteria. It is important to maintain a proper balance of the bacteria in the gut.
Many environmental factors affect this intricate and delicate balance of gut flora. Things like chlorine, sugar, pesticides, and antibiotics can cause the harmful bacteria to proliferate. It is important to support our gut through diet, by consuming less processed sugar, avoiding chlorine and other chemicals, eliminating the need for antibiotics, and buying organic, if possible. One of the many ways we can support our gut is by consuming fermented food, a natural (and cheaper) probiotic.
Making fermented foods is easy. Anyone can do it, and it doesn't require specialized equipment. Due to our modern mentality, many of us may be concerned that fermenting at home could be dangerous, that something could go wrong, and that we would unknowingly consume moldy food. I'm here to allay those fears, and give you some tips and tricks to make fermenting a good and tasty experience.
What about Mold, Botulism, E. coli, and Salmonella?
It is VERY, VERY difficult to ferment anything that would make you sick - unless you don't follow the directions. I've only been fermenting for a year or so, but all the books I have read (and those people have fermented for several years) have never heard of anyone getting sick from lacto-fermented foods. Occasionally, you might find a cloudy layer, or even a little fuzz on the very top of a ferment. This is actually a fairly normal occurrence, yet the fermented food below this layer is perfectly fine. It is common practice to scrape off the top layer, and consume the fermented food. The top layer may be prone to this type of funkiness because it is the layer in contact with air. This is another reason to make sure the food is covered by a layer of liquid, as most recipes advise. This will avoid having a moldy top layer.
I have only once made a ferment in which this top fuzz occurred. Everything below was indeed tasty, delicious, and perfectly healthy. If you are ever wary about a ferment, and if it looks or smells disgusting, then feed it to the compost. If you are unsure, trust your nose. You can also taste a tiny bit of it, swishing it around in your mouth. Trust your taste buds. If they don't care for it, don't eat it.
Botulism is well known in our culture from canning, and is caused by the presence of the bacteria Clostridium botulinum. First, canning is diametrically opposite of fermenting. It means sterilizing foods, so that no microorganisms can grow. The bacteria that causes botulism has a very high tolerance to heat. So, during the heating stage it is possible to kill all the bacteria except the bacteria that causes botulism, leaving it in an anaerobic environment which is the perfect environment for it to grow and reproduce. Botulism has nothing to do with home fermentation, as we are not heating the food, and instead creating an inhospitable environment to those bad buggers. Fermenting food is rather working with a large, native population of bacteria which we are cultivating in order to encourage their growth and their acids. Acidifying bacteria are a brilliant strategy for food preservation and food safety because they create an environment that is inhospitable to Clostridium botulinum, but also other pathogenic bacteria as well.
Salmonella and E. coli cannot proliferate in harsh environments, like the one created under lactic-acid fermentation. The lactic-acid used in this process basically disables any Salmonella or E.coli, if present, from multiplying, and actually kills them, rendering them harmless. Far from being hazardous, fermenting actually improves safety. 
With that said, I can't emphasize enough how safe home fermenting can be. Follow these tips, and you shouldn't have a problem, except, perhaps a problem of finding a place to store all of your delicious ferments!
Tips and Tricks to Successful Fermenting
1. Use the best quality organic vegetables, fruit, and spices. In order to do their work, lactobacilli (the bacteria from the whey) need many nutrients. Oftentimes, non-organic foods are deficient in nutrients, or are sprayed with chemicals that will alter the fermentation process, creating an inferior or inedible product. Likewise, the salt and spices should be pure, or the quality of the final product will be jeopardized. It's also important to note that many organic foods available in large supermarkets have been found to be less nutritious than those bought from a local farmer. If possible, buy locally or grow your own veggies and fruits for the best fermentation results.
2. Use filtered water that is not heavily chlorinated. As mentioned above, chlorine kills microorganisms, which would ruin your ferments. If a lot of chlorine is present in your water, filter it first, or boil it to evaporate the chlorine.
3. During the 2-3 days in which you keep the ferments out of the fridge, make sure their environment stays between 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit. Seventy-two degrees is ideal. Maintaining these temperatures creates a stable environment for the microorganisms to multiply and produces a fine product. In higher temperatures, without adjusting the fermentation time, the ferment could be compromised.
4. Follow the recipe. The recipes you will be following (I highly recommend those found in Nourishing Traditions) have been tested for safety. You will avoid any fermentation failures if you follow them.
5. If you are still scared about what might happen, buy an air-lock fermenting lid. This will ensure that extra air does not get into the ferment as it sits for those few days on your shelf. I have heard that it is especially good for fermenting pickles. While I have not personally used one, I know that some people feel better going this route.
Happy fermenting!

Egg-cellence Challenge and CONTEST!

My dear readers,  I am very excited to offer you an opportunity to put your new food knowledge into action! My blogging friends over at Real Food Freaks have put together an Egg-cellence Challenge and Essay Contest.
Last month, in January, we learned that not all eggs are created equal, and that it's important to seek out pastured eggs with deep orange yolks - as the color of the yolks are indicative of the nutritional quality of the egg. The bloggers over at Real Food Freaks have also written some egg-cellent posts on the topic as well. I encourage you to check them out:
Many of you may not egg-xactly be convinced of the superiority of pastured eggs. Or, it may be difficult on a budget to rationalize spending more on eggs. So, Real Food Freaks is offering an egg-cellent challenge (hehe, I just can't help myself with these puns!) in order to give you some motivation to take the plunge, and see for yourself just how tasty, delicious, and healthy these pastured eggs really are. 
The Prize!
What could you win for your labor? EGGS, of course! Delicious, delectable, pastured eggs from Tropical Traditions. FOUR dozen of these eggs will be all yours if you win the contest. So, let's take a look at the challenge.
Rules and Requirements
1)  Research your local farmers using the questions from the post, Egg-cellence Pt 2 (you can have up to a 2 hour radius and/or get the eggs at a farmer’s market if you choose).   Journal your farmer’s responses so you can remember exactly what was said about the eggs.  The other option (if you really cannot find good eggs fitting the criteria in your locality) is to splurge on an order of Tropical Traditions eggs.  These are the only eggs that we are aware of nationally that are acceptable.  You can get them here.  You CANNOT buy store eggs for this part of the challenge (even if the eggs are from a local farmer, because you have no idea how long those eggs have been on the shelf)!
2)  Buy one week’s worth of eggs from the researched local farm (for you only if you are on a tight budget).  If you can afford it,  it would be interesting to see the effect that this experiment has on your family as well.
3)  Make eggs each morning for breakfast for the entire week. You can make them anyway you choose. Then journal your hunger or feelings for the entire week.
4)  The following week, buy your regular grocery store eggs (any quality) and repeat the process from the week before (any preparation, but be sure to journal hunger and how you feel). Just make sure that you are using the same number of eggs – if you made a three egg omelet the first week, then make a three egg omelet the second week.
5)  Write an essay about your experience.  This is what you will submit to us for the entry.  Be honest.  If you went through the entire process and didn’t see a difference — tell us that.  But be as specific as possible about the process (what you found or didn’t find locally). We are looking for the following in your essay:
• 500 words or more
• Your experience in researching egg options (with farmer notes)
• Your week one experience with the best farm eggs you could find regardless of price (refer to your journal)
• Your week two experience with grocery store eggs (refer to your journal)
• Your overall impressions, feelings, what you learned (if anything at all) from this challenge.
• Submit the entry to in a word document no later than February 28, 2012.
6)  Your entry essay will be judged on meeting the criteria in #5 and:
• The ability to convey the experience of the challenge in a relatable way
• The amount of local research that you did and whether you met the criteria for ‘local’ – within two hours of your home or using Tropical Traditions eggs if you exhausted those efforts locally.
• Honesty – if you didn’t notice a difference, then say so. It’s ok and it won’t disqualify you.  Just be sure to give as many details as possible to explain the process you took.
• Grammar (sorry, see #8 and you will understand why)
7)  The winning entry will be posted on Real Food Freaks.  If you are submitting an entry essay, you are giving us permission to use your story in the event that you win.  This is why grammar will count because we will not change your story at all to keep the integrity of your message.  If you are chosen as the winner, and there are errors, we may choose to send it back to you for revisions before we post it online.
8)  Entries should be emailed to:  using the email address that we will be able to contact you if you win.

Happy eating!

Kombucha FAQ

Over here at Nourish to Flourish, we've been talking about kombucha. Since kombucha is not an exact science, there tends to be a lot of questions that arise during the brewing process. My husband and I have had our own questions, and have sought out those answers. Others have been asking questions, too, which I hope to be able to answer. Here are some of the most popular questions asked when it comes to brewing kombucha:

What does a healthy SCOBY look like? SCOBYs do not look exactly alike, but they have similar qualities. The top of a SCOBY is smooth and has a white/light beige hue. The underside is generally darker and more stringy.

The top of the SCOBY

The underside of the SCOBY

How many times can I use the SCOBY? A SCOBY can be used many times. Since it naturally multiplies, you can eventually compost or throw out your mother SCOBY and use the baby - which then becomes the mother. Theoretically, however, with proper care you should be able to continue using the original SCOBY indefinitely.
If I can't find a friend who will send me a SCOBY, can I grow my own SCOBY instead of purchasing a dehydrated one? I have heard that this is possible. I haven't done it myself, but these are the directions: mix 1 cup org. black tea, 1 tablespoon org. sugar, and 16 oz. of plain kombucha (this can be purchased at your local grocery store or health food store). Cover with a tea towel and rubberband, let it sit for a couple weeks, and your SCOBY should grow.
How long does it take for a "baby" SCOBY to grow? The time varies, so don't be alarmed if you don't have a new SCOBY with every fermentation. It can take anywhere from a couple weeks to a few months. Also, wait until the new SCOBY detaches itself from the mother; do not pull them apart. If you do, you risk detaching it when it is not yet fully formed. 
My SCOBY sank. Is something wrong? No! A SCOBY generally floats, but there is nothing wrong if it sinks to the bottom, or floats somewhere in the middle.  
My SCOBY looks cloudy or foamy. Is something wrong? When the SCOBY looks cloudy or has a whitish foam on top, it means the baby has started to grow, which is actually a sign that your kombucha is fermenting properly. 
How do I know if my SCOBY is bad? If you see black, fuzzy mold growing, then you need to toss the SCOBY. With most fermentations, if it smells gross, don't eat it. But, if you follow the directions you shouldn't have an issue with this.
I'm going on vacation. Can I store my SCOBY? How long can I leave it? The best idea is to start another batch. My husband and I visited family for two weeks over Christmas. We started a batch right before we left, and it was ready for drinking when we arrived back home. If you are going to be gone longer than two weeks, place the SCOBY in a glass container and cover it with brewed kombucha. Place it in the fridge until you're ready to brew again. 
Can I use plastic to brew my kombucha? I generally don't recommend this. Even though food-grade shouldn't cause any damage to the culture, plastic has the potential of leaching chemicals into your kombucha. Glass is best to use.
Where is the best place to brew kombucha? It is best to keep the brew out of direct sunlight and away from extreme temperatures. It also does best if given plenty of air, so don't stuff your kombucha in the pantry or a closet. You can keep it out on the countertop, or in an area where it won't be disturbed and is able to breathe. The ideal space will maintain a temperature between 70 and 80 degrees.
What is the best type of sugar, tea, and water to use? Check out this page for excellent information in regards to this question. 
Do I need to strain my kombucha? No! Actually, the little strings you find in your kombucha are good for you to consume. It is just yeast that was part of the SCOBY.

The tiny strings have detached from the mother,
but are fine for you to consume.
I feel a bit strange after drinking kombucha. Is this normal? If your body is not used to consuming probiotics, then when you begin eating/drinking them you might experience a die-off reaction. Probiotics naturally kick out the bad bacteria from your gut. If this is the first time it's happening, it might be somewhat of a jolt on your body and the bad bacteria is suddenly starting to be cleaned out. Some people experience headaches, bloating, cramping, and/or other symptoms. If this happens to you, reduce the amount of kombucha you are consuming daily until your body adjusts to taking probiotics.

Can kombucha be consumed while pregnant or breastfeeding? If you started drinking kombucha prior to getting pregnant, then it is perfectly safe to continue drinking throughout pregnancy. It is not a good idea to start during pregnancy or breastfeeding due to your chance of experiencing a die-off reaction.

If I'm making other fermented foods, how far away do I need them from the kombucha?  When you are fermenting different things (without lids), it is important to keep a distance of several feet (more, if possible) between the cultures.  The kombucha should also be kept at a great distance from any garbage or compost bins as transient bacteria can be harmful to the SCOBY.

Do you have any other questions about brewing kombucha that were not answered above? 
Please share!

Nourishing News: January 2012

Gain more knowledge, so you can grow your roots, and nourish your bodies!

Welcome to Nourishing News Day! Each month, at the end of the month, I'll be highlighting a few posts from around the blogging world that will be of particular interest and value to you. These posts will cover traditional foods, gardening, holistic medicine, sustainable living, and many other topics similar to posts written on Nourish to Flourish. 

There are so many amazing and wonderful blogs out there, I'm sure that my list could grow quite long, and yet I realize we all don't have the time to peruse the internet for days on end. Instead, take a few moments, as you enjoy your morning tea or eat your lunch, to check out these few encouraging posts.
Here are the blog posts I enjoyed this January:

We already learned the basics for making chicken broth, why not stop by Kendahl's blog, Our Nourishing Roots, and check out her post on making beef broth.
Jen over at Real Food Freaks has written an amazing post on what questions to ask your chicken farmer. This is part of their Egg-cellence Series - you don't want to miss it!
We've been talking about fermenting recently, and Jill at Real Food Forager wrote an unbeatable post about reasons to eat traditional fermented grains: 5 Reasons to Make Sourdough Your Only Bread. If you like to eat bread, but want a healthier, but still delicious way of eating it, check out this post.
Jenny at Nourished Kitchen, one of my favorite blogs, posted a delicious recipe for blueberry almond crumb muffins. The best part? They're grain-free! Mmmm...
I always enjoy stories of people healing themselves holistically and naturally. Over at Food Renegade, check out the post, Reversing MS Through Dietary Changes, to watch the amazing video of Dr. Terry Wahls who cured herself of MS.  
Happy reading!