Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Get Cultured!

It all started one day when I visited the nearest (most expensive) health food store to indulge in a G.T. Dave's kombucha purchase. I had been craving kombucha, so I decided to throw down some cash and buy a couple bottles. I picked out my favorite flavors, set my beauties on the counter, and *angels singing* heard the owner say, "Oh, honey, those expired yesterday so I'm giving them away." Stunned, I blurted out the first thought that entered my mind: "How many can I have?" She proceeded to tell me I could have as many as I could carry out. And carry I did. Hubby and I devoted the entire top shelf of the fridge to my kombucha haul, and when we stared running low, I sent him back to see if there were any left. There were. We enjoyed about a month of free kombucha bliss.

For those of you who may wince at the term, "expired," don't. Kombucha tea is a lacto-fermented beverage with billions of beneficial bacteria keeping the nasties at bay. I agree it would be questionable many months or so after the expiration date, but a few days? A few weeks? Fogettaboutit. And I can happily report we not only suffered NO ill effects from the expired treat, we have benefitted beyond what even I thought realistic.

And that is why I am now on a culturing binge that will (hopefully) launch my family and me to a higher plane of health and wellness! Obviously, our free supply was bound to run out, and once I was firmly convinced the kombucha (along with my usual kefir) had healed my exczema, given me beautiful skin, hair and nails, and prevented us all from getting a few "bugs" to which we were exposed, I was determined to finally start brewing my own. But I am also a huge believer in getting a variety of sources of any beneficial thing (in this case, bacteria), so I started reading up on some of the other culture-able things in NT. I decided to start with beet kvass and ginger carrots. And, of course, I'm already a fan of homemade kefir, so I think this will be a good "variety pack" start for us. I was able to finagle some time at home alone Sunday (thanks to my awesome hubs), so I set to work:

I finally got my SCOBY in the mail, so I was able to start it yesterday along with my other projects. I tasted the "starter tea" that came with the mushroom and was delighted to find that I really loved the taste, even though it wasn't actualy fizzy yet and had no added fruit juice. So let me encourage you to start making your own! It isn't nearly as scary as it sounds, and if you're already a kombucha fan, you'll love the taste of your homemade brew (I liked it even better than GTD). The mushroom was $15, including shipping. The mushroom will make a "baby" each time I make tea, so properly cared for, it should last a lifetime. Not bad for a $15 investment!

Beet Kvass:
The beet kvass was the easiest one. I just scrubbed and chopped three organic beetroots ($3 for the bunch at the fancy store), stuffed them in a big jar, filled it up with filtered water, salt and whey and let them be. Easy. Cheap. Goodness. Generally speaking, your affinity for beet kvass should follow your affinity for beets in general. I don't love them, but I don't hate them. Same with the kvass. It's medicine, afterall, so I don't imagine I'm going to enjoy chugging this stuff regularly, but I don't mind it, either. It doesn't make me gag or even dread drinking it.

Ginger Carrots:
By far the cheapest, yet most labor-intensive project. The giant bag of organic carrots was only $2.50. I only used half of the giant bag, and it yielded about a quart of final product. The ginger was less than $1, and I didn't use nearly all of it.

I could not be happier about the little family of ferments brewing away on my kitchen counter right now. Mainly because of how super I feel after adding kombucha and kefir to my daily routine. I'm sure adding some variety and upping my daily servings of "good germs" will only help matters. If you're new to culturing, don't hesitate. Just try it! I'm going to be perfectly honest here. You most likely will not like the flavors at first. Please, please, please don't give up! The benefits are worth acquiring a taste, and I promise you will acquire a taste for at least some of these recipes if you stick with it and keep tasting/experimenting. I had a lot of trouble with this at first, but now I find myself craving fermented beverages. Even flavors I don't particularly love, I often crave. I guess it's my body that craves it, rather than my tastebuds. Either way, I'm so thankful to have the healing and protective power of fermented foods in our regular diet now. It brings joy, a sense of connection to our shared human past, and a humble reverence for my Creator, who created this process in nature for our good!

Thursday, June 9, 2011


About a year ago, I banned my family from cereal. Period. Since my husband and I both work, it has never been easy to get out the door in the mornings. Cereal was quick and easy and, in a pinch, portable. But I knew better. So one day, I just stopped buying it. I made my hubby this promise: "If you will give up cereal, I will get up 10 minutes earlier and make breakfast every day."

OK, so reality prevailed, and some mornings he ends up making the breakfast, or I'm late to work because of it. Still, we're all happier and healthier for the change, and making a healthy breakfast has just become a non-negotiable part of our morning routine.

Some of my breakfast menu mainstays are:
Pastured eggs, scrambled or fried in fresh dairy butter or coconut oil
Toast (from homemade bread or sprouted bread) with honey and dairy butter
Soaked oatmeal
Baked oatmeal (from leftover soaked oatmeal)
Spelt pancakes with fresh fruit and honey
Kefir shake
Fresh fruit

This morning, I had very little time, so the kefir shake was my breakfast of choice. It comes together in a snap, and I can drink it "on the go". Of course, it's grocery day, so I had no fruit left except bananas. My solution was a chocolate-banana shake sweetened only with stevia. Necessity is the mother of invention, after all. It tasted remarkably like Slim Fast, and I couldn't help but think back to college days when Slim Fast was often our breakfast of choice. Yuck! Their version is packed with the following, which I read {here}:

"Sugar Alcohols
According to the manufacturers, a number of Slim-Fast products are formulated with sugar alcohols. Sugar alcohols are a type of food additive that some manufacturers use as a sweetener. Sugar alcohols are not easily absorbed by the small intestine. This can result in flatulence, bloating, diarrhea and a laxative effect in those who are susceptible or in those who consume excessive quantities.

Poor Glycemic Profile
In 2008, the American Dietetic Association published research showing that Slim-Fast and certain other meal replacement drinks do not have favorite glycemic profiles for diabetics. This means that these products release glucose rapidly into the blood stream. This can be dangerous for diabetics, but this news is also relevant for those without diabetes. Obesity plus elevated glucose levels are both risk factors for that disease. Additionally, when glucose levels are out of balance, the body stores fat tissue more readily, potentially thwarting the efforts of Slim-Fast dieters.

Too Much Sugar
Many Slim-Fast products are heavily laden with sugar. That may be an effective [way] to tempt dieters into consuming the product, but sugar has detriments beyond that of supplying extra empty calories. According to Lick the Sugar Habit by Nancy Appleton, sugar can upset the mineral balance of the body, suppress the immune system, cause copper deficiencies, and even weaken the eyesight. Constant exposure to the concentrated taste of sugar also does nothing to train the taste buds to enjoy the more subtle sweet tastes of healthy snacks like apples and berries."

My version is delicious and fresh; it is packed with vitamins, minerals, enzymes and complete protein. It also happens to contain the {best source of beneficial bacteria on the planet}.

Kefir "Slim-Fast"
2 whole bananas
2 raw organic or pastured eggs
1 cup raw milk kefir
1 cup raw milk
1 tbs organic cocoa powder
1 packet stevia powder
6 ice cubes
Cinnamon, to taste (optional)
Pinch of salt

Throw everything into the Vitamix and blend for about 30 seconds. Pour and enjoy!

Photo Credit:
All rights reserved by Sue90ca Oh Joy, Just 108 Aren't We Lucky!; Flickr

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Crispy Pecans

I love pecans. To me, they are more than a nut. They are home in a tiny, natural brown package. When I was growing up, we raked up bags and bags of fresh pecans every fall from a single tree that grew along our fence row. Mom would set us up in front of the TV or on the back porch with a bag of pecans, a bowl and a nutcracker. It was our job to dig the sweet, meaty flesh from the difficult shell. Not terribly fun, but always worth it. Of course, now I know that pecans should be {soaked} before consumption in order to reduce harmful phytates and anti-nutrients. Sure, it's one more step. But it's a really, really easy step, and totally worth it when you consider the multiplied nutrition!

Sally Fallon's Crispy Pecans:
4 cups pecan halves
2 teaspoons salt
filtered water

Mix nuts with salt and water and leave in a warm place for at least 7 hours or overnight. Drain in a colander and rinse with cool water. Spread on a stainless steel baking pan and place in a warm oven (no more than 150 degrees) for 12 to 24 hours, turning occasionally, until completely dry and crisp. Store in an airtight container.

The instructions above are great for those without a dehydrator, but since I got mine, I use it instead of the oven. I typically dry them at 105 F for 8-12 hours. Fabulous! I eat them plain by the handful, crumble them over soaked oatmeal with bananas, or use them in streusel topping. My next adventure will be grinding them into flour and substituting it for almond flour...I'll keep you posted on that experiment!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Sara's Mediterranean Vegetables

Picture it: Marshall, Texas, 1994. Two young girls who share a similar sense of humor find each other on their very first day of college and forge a lasting friendship while sitting on the floor of the bookstore reading aloud from Deep Thoughts, by Jack Handy. Yes, that's just how my friendship with Sara began, and since that day she has been one of my dearest friends in the entire world. Although she and her family now live thousands of miles away in Istanbul, Turkey, we still keep in touch and do our best to connect on the rare occasions when they are stateside.

Sara shares my passion for whole food, and has agreed to share a couple of recipes with us via guest post. I know you're going to love her cost-effective, nutrient-dense recipe for Mediterranean vegetables (pictured above). Stay tuned for another post from Sara, featuring her recipe for Chinese Style Vegetables. You don't want to miss it, because it is a simple and delicious way to prepare just about any vegetable. Please welcome my friend, Sara, to Nourished on a Budget *golf clap*!

"So we all know (or probably know) that we need to be consuming more veggies, right? Sadly, our American diet tends to revolve around meat. Frankly, we eat more meat than we should as a culture. I was told by a doctor that the key to losing weight and being fit is making sure your diet is made up of more vegetables and fruit than animal products. In searching for more ways to add veggies to our diet, we found a really yummy Mediterranean vegetable recipe. Throw in some cubed or sliced chicken (such as fajita meat), serve on top of some rice, and you've got an entire meal where the meat/vegetable ratio is perfectly balanced. It's good, it's easy, and I really hope you will try it and let me know what you think!

Herb-Roasted Mediterranean Vegetables with Chicken
  1. 8 cups assorted vegetable pieces (such as sliced eggplant, zucchini, onion, carrots, mushrooms, tomatos and coarsely chopped peppers, remembering that the goal is 5 different colors of fruit and veggies every day--the more colors the better. Just choose your favorite veggies, and slice until you have 8 cups, but be sure to always include at least 1 large onion.)
  2. 2 cubed or sliced boneless, skinless, raw chicken breasts or 3 cubed or sliced boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  3. 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (cold pressed is really the only way it's actually healthy for you... and the cloudier the better.)

  4. 2 cloves garlic, minced, crushed, or pressed (I use my garlic press for at least 75% of the meals I cook, and I love it.)

  5. 2 tsp rosemary

  6. 1 tsp sea salt

  7. 1/3 cup shredded parmesan cheese (Use less if you want or none at all; it's not a necessary ingredient.) 

Combine oil, garlic, rosemary, and salt. Drizzle over vegetables and toss. Place in a deep, large baking dish (if you are adding chicken, place it on the bottom of the baking dish and top it with veggies after you have tossed them with the oil mixture). Bake at 375°F for 30-40 minutes or until vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally. Sprinkle with the cheese.

Special Notes:
I can't help but wonder if I could do this in a crock pot with a whole chicken... That may be my next experiment with it, but I'll bet it would be great. I would use a very small chicken, rub some olive oil on the skin, salt and pepper it, maybe add some extra garlic and rosemary, then after tossing the oil mixture over the veggies, add them in.

Also, just a side note for you: mushrooms are divine in this one. I probably put 3 cups of them alone in there... Definitely my favorite part of this dish. So if you try it, don't forget the 'shrooms!!!!"

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Magic of Kefir

I first heard about kefir when I read Jordan Rubin's book, The Maker's Diet. He seemed to think it was the bee's knees, so I wanted to try it post-haste. It would be about 8 years before I would have the chance to try real kefir, made from kefir grains, but it was worth the wait! Although I still don't find the taste of plain kefir all that appetizing, I can mix it in a smoothie with some frozen fruit and raw honey, and can't even tell it's in there. It is tart, like yogurt, but has a thinner consistency and a more "yeasty" component that yogurt lacks. Perhaps it's an acquired taste, but the benefits are worth the work of making it palatable to our modern tastes. Simply put, I love my kefir! And I firmly believe almost everyone should be consuming it often. So, for your educational pleasure, here are some kefir facts:

What is it?
Kefir is a fermented beverage, traditionally made from milk. It can also be made from coconut milk or water, but coconut milk will not sustain the grains for continued use, and water requires a special "water kefir grain" to produce.

How is it made?
Real kefir is made from kefir grains. Kefir grains (pictured above) are small, ivory bundles that look somewhat like tiny cauliflower florets. They are composed of yeasts and bacterias bound by a water soluble polysacharide called kefiran. It is not a thermophilic culture, meaning the grains perform their lactic-acid fermentation at room temperature. It is not necessary to heat the milk before culturing, so it is extremely easy to produce! Commercial kefirs are not made from kefir grains and, therefore, do not contain the same bacterias. They are considered inferior to kefir made from grains. To make homemade real kefir, all you need is a batch of grains (as little as 1 Tbs can culture a cup of milk in 24 hours), and a cup of milk. Really! You place the grains in the milk, cover loosely, and let sit at room temperature for at least 24 hours. Then you can strain out the grains, drink the resulting beverage, and use the grains to produce another batch. The grains will "grow" with each batch made, so they are perfect for sharing with friends.

What are the benefits?
Like yogurt, kefir populates the gut with beneficial bacteria that will boost the immune system and impart a general feeling of well-being. The difference between yogurt and kefir is that yogurt has a transitory effect, meaning you eat the yogurt, then the bacterias pass through your system and exit the body. Kefir bacterias are not transitory, so they stick around a while and continue to work their magic in your gut. This is one of the reasons kefir is thought to be highly superior to yogurt. Following are some of the benefits I found on the Seeds of Health website. I have included their references below.

"Kefir has many reputed health benefits. It has antibiotic and antifungal properties. It's been used in the treatment of a variety of conditions, including metabolic disorders, atherosclerosis, and allergies, tuberculosis, cancer, poor digestion, candidiasis, osteoporosis, hypertension, HIV and heart disease. You might find it odd that that a drink containing yeasts would be good for treating candidiasis but it has been helpful to many people, both by restoring a better balance to the gut flora and because some elements of the microflora will kill off Candida Albicans. Not all yeasts are harmful.

In addition to beneficial bacteria and yeast, kefir contains many vitamins, minerals, amino acids and enzymes. Particularly calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, B2 and B12, vitamin K, vitamin A and vitamin D. Tryptophan, one of the essential amino acids abundant in kefir, is well known for its relaxing effect on the nervous system. Because kefir also has an abundance of calcium and magnesium, also important minerals for a healthy nervous system, kefir in the diet can have a particularly calming effect on the nerves.

The abundance of enzymes brings more health benefits, especially to lactose intolerant people, many of whom can tolerate kefir without difficulty, as long as the kefir is raw and not cooked (cooking destroys the enzymes)."

Lactic acid bacteria and yeasts in kefir grains and kefir made from them. J Ind Microbiol Biotechnol 2002 Jan;28(1):1-6 .
Inhibitory power of kefir: the role of organic acids. J Food Prot 2000 Mar;63(3):364-9
Antibacterial activity of milk-fermenting bacteria. Vet Med (Praha) 1990 Mar;35(3):187-92
The Caucasus Kefir. Dr. Lee Lorenzen, Biochemist

Photo Credit:
Chiot’s Run, Flickr

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

God's Chicken

Today is Tuesday. Which means yesterday was Monday...ugh. I've had a rocky relationship with that particular day of the week as long as I can remember. In my youth, it was because I had to be dragged from my warm, comfortable bed to face the harsh reality of yet another school week. Although I don't have to be dragged out of bed anymore, I invariably have way more to do on a Monday morning than time permits. Chaos ensues. Yesterday was no exception. I got up, combed my hair, put on my makeup, ironed my clothes (OK...I smoothed them out with my hands and hoped nobody at work would notice the wrinkles), made banana nut oatmeal (you know me...not the "instant" kind), packed hubby's luch, played with baby boy, packed baby boy's lunch, fed the cat, and then realized I had to deal with two beautiful chickens I was planning to roast that night. In the immortal words of Winnie the Pooh, "Oh, bother." I had such plans for those chickens. I had envisioned slathering them with clarified butter and stuffing the skin with fresh herbs, garlic and chives from my garden. Alas, there was no time.

So I settled. I quickly rinsed them and set them free from their packaging. Then I plopped them in a Pyrex dish (no time for trussing) and threw a handful of sea salt in each cavity. I rummaged through my fridge and managed to find a rind from a lemon I had squeezed the night before, so I stuffed half in each chicken. Then I generously sprinkled more sea salt over the chickens, hit 'em with a few turns of the pepper grinder, globbed on some olive oil, threw them in the oven and uttered a prayer to bless my hastily-prepared chickens. How's that for a recipe?

Let. Me. Testify. Those chickens were divine! Hands down, the best I've ever roasted. If this recipe doesn't work out for you, we'll know you left out the last step (the prayer). I can't tell you how many times I've made dodgy decisions in the kitchen and just prayed everything would turn out well. I can't think of a time the Lord said "No" to that. So, here's my official recipe for God's Chicken:

2 small-medium roasting chickens (preferably pastured, organic)
1 large lemon
1/3 cup good olive oil
2 Tbs finely ground sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  1. Remove chickens from packaging, rinse and pat dry
  2. Place side-by-side in a 9x13 Pyrex baking dish
  3. Season the cavity of each chicken with about 1/2 Tbs of sea salt
  4. Stuff each cavity with half the lemon (If you're not using leftover lemon, you could squeeze the juice over the chickens. I didn't, so if you do that, let us know how it turns out!)
  5. Season each chicken with the remaining sea salt and black pepper
  6. Drizzle the oil over the chickens
  7. Bake at 375 F for 1 hour and 15 minutes

Be certain to let the chickens come to room temperature before placing them in the oven. This will "relax" the meat and yeild a more tender, juicy result.

Also let the chickens "rest" for 15-30 minutes after removing them from the oven before carving. Carving fresh out of the oven will cause the juices to flow out of the chicken and leave you with a tougher, drier bird.

Photo Credit:
Herman Saksano, Flickr

Monday, May 23, 2011

In Search of Balance

I know there are so many people who take all the hype about pesticides with a grain of salt. They figure the government wouldn't actually allow us to be slowly poisoned to death, so why waste money on fancy food? Why waste time and energy thinking about how to raise a garden without Miracle-Gro, Sevin dust and Roundup? I get it. I really do. Most people are so overburdened with our fast-paced American merry-go-round they don't really have time to think about it. I guess I'm just not most people. That's not always good. Sometimes I go so far overboard that I add more stress to my life than is healthy. But I find that what I'm ultimately striving for is balance. Isn't that the main thing lacking in this merry-go-round, anyway? We are constantly struggling against the push and pull of family, work, and worship. Those of us who are believers understand that all of those things should exist in harmony within the context of our relationship with the Creator; that our first and utmost priority is relationship, and He will balance the rest in His power. But living that? Well, that's a different story, isn't it?

We get so caught up in going and doing that we fail to just be! To be in His presence, exist in His love, exercise in His guidance. I find it interesting that one of the most recognized scriptures on this subject is actually an agricultural metaphor: "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5, NIV)" For me, this resonates! My garden provides for me such respite, and has become a daily reminder of God's provision, His closeness and His peace. To remain in Him is to allow Him to acheive the balance I so desperately need in my life. I can dig my hands in the dirt and see it alive with activity; the natural balance of good bugs and bad bugs striving in a constant tension that creates an energy I can feel. It is healing; it is peaceful. To use chemicals to totally wipe out that life and that energy seems more glaringly unnatural now than ever before. It seems, somehow, arrogant and ignorant to use man-made methods to try and improve on the system God created. Chemicals know nothing of abiding. Rather, they rush ahead, ignore wisdom and invite folly. They destroy balance and make a mockery of stewardship.

I spend a lot of time reading about the science of this. How the bugs we can see improve the soil by keeping it aerated and fertilized or serve to keep harmful insects in check. The microorganisms we can't see add nutrients and flavor to the food. To strip the garden of these things is to deprive our bodies (and our tastebuds) of many benefits. To add unnaturally high levels of artificial sources of nitrogen to the soil imparts harmful levels of nitrates to the produce we consume. Yet, I believe I would have chosen this path if I had no knowledge of the science that backs up the truth I feel within. The search for balance is all around us. Ultimately, it is found in the Savior. And He chose to reveal it in His creation. Many times in scripture, He chose to teach us through the example of creation, and I believe He is still teaching now. To be a part of that daily lesson through the serene and balanced example of natural gardening is a blessing.