Pink Things: a recipe for a frugal probiotic condiment

scrambled kale & eggs with lacto fermented rutabaga on the side
scrambled kale & eggs with lacto fermented rutabaga on the side
scrambled kale & eggs with lacto fermented rutabaga on the side

I’ve been doing a fair bit of fermenting here the last few weeks, with some successes, and some screw-ups here and there. But one of my successes has been what we call “pink things”. What they are, in fact, are sticks of rutabaga, lactofermented with garlic and beet in brine. The beet chunks mixed in with the rutabaga make everything turn a vibrant pink, while the garlic just makes it yummy.

I think these are the brilliant pink condiments that Lebanese restaurants add to Shawarma.

Rutabaga are under a dollar a pound at this time of year–making this one frugal ferment! I though I had shared my recipe on my blog before, but when I searched, I couldn’t find it. So here it is!

Pink Things

1 rutabaga

2-3 beets

3-4 cloves garlic

3-4 pint/500 ml mason jars, very clean or sterilized with boiling water

1 litre basic brine (approx. 1 tbsp salt to 1 L water: less salt in colder weather, more salt in warmer weather; see note about water to use)

Peel rutabaga and cut into spears, about the size of your pinky finger. Dice beets. Bruise or crush the garlic cloves so that the flavour will emerge but the cloves will stay intact. Divide the ingredients evenly between the pint jars, making sure there is at least one clove of garlic per jar, and a small handful of beet chunks.

When the veggies are divided up, pour brine over it all to cover. The veggies should stay submerged beneath the brine: you can use a lid from a smaller jar, maybe weighted down with a stone that you have boiled to sterilize. The lids should be put on "fingertip tight" to allow carbon dioxide, produced during the fermentation, to escape.

Leave on the counter for several days, maybe 3 days if the weather is warm, and as long as a week if it is cooler. They will lose the “raw” taste, the beets will start seeping colour into the brine, and the whole thing will take on a dark shade of pink. If they smell alcoholic, or grow a lot of mold, throw them out and try again with fresh ingredients and sterile jars. Using filtered or distilled water can also help if you have problems.

These disappear pretty quickly at my house! I hope they are as popular at yours. What a frugal way to get some gut-supporting probiotics, in the form of a delicious condiment!


Off sugar, gluten and caffeine

Oh my aching head. Oh my aching wallet.

This past week and a half we’ve gone sugar-free in an attempt to regulate moods around here and keep everyone in the green zone. We did have some sugar on Sunday and Monday at a couple of birthday parties (my little guy’s included!), but have mostly maintained our sugar-free status. Stevia is doing a good job in our smoothies but in anything else it lends a somewhat herbal or liquorice taste that isn’t always welcome.

The results of the experiment? It has actually really helped reduce the freak-outs. Everyone has been much more even-tempered except when sleep-deprived.

In addition to sugar, I have also been reducing grains, especially unsoaked grains. We still have our soaked oatmeal every morning, but I’ve had a couple of days without consuming any wheat. And what I’ve noticed is that when I do eat wheat, I get bloated.

So now I’m freaking out just a little. I mean, half this blog is dedicated to my love of bread. Is it possible that I’m gluten intolerant and have never realized it? I have many questions to ask, much soul-searching to do, and a whole ton of research to undertake.

The other thing I’ve realized is that caffeine predictably turns me into a cranky bitch about an hour after I have my morning coffee. All this adjustment of intake is aimed at making our days smoother and keeping everyone in the green zone . . . well, it looks like coffee is out for this mama.

So, here I am today battling carb cravings and a caffeine withdrawal headache, wondering what the hell I’m doing! I’m sure it’s all for the greater good (i.e. a less bloated more even-tempered mama), but it is not easy. It’s also been very expensive–I’ve been eating a whole whack of nuts, which are about 10x more expensive than grains.

Tune in next time to see where we’re at with our crazy mixed-up diet. And if you have any suggestions for going gluten-free the frugal way, please share!!

Kombucha Hypothesis

I am very sorry to all the people I have promised to give a SCOBY to and then haven’t followed through. I have a confession: I’m scared to let strangers who find me over the internet, even kombucha-loving strangers, know where I live. And I have also been very crap about SCOBY delivery 😦  Sorry, strangers!

BUT! I have a Kombucha Hypothesis that may just negate the need for SCOBY delivery altogether!

I’m not sure if you remember, but I’ve written before about how crazy tough and virulent the kombucha mother is. Like a mother bear separated from her cub! She will take a beating and come back in full force!

So, I was thinking, all scientist-like, that store-bought ‘bucha is, or at least should be, a raw, unpasteurized food. Thus, it should have live yeast/bacteria in it. Thus, it should be able to produce a new baby, just like these babies I found in my Apple Cider Vinegar.

So I bought me some Kombucha (paid nearly 5 bucks for it!) and let it sit out for about a week with the cap off. And voilĂ : a tiny little newborn baby SCOBY floating in it!

Now, the second part of the hypothesis, and this is the really exciting bit, is that IF a bottle of ‘bucha can produce its own little SCOBY, it SHOULD be able to produce a BIG SCOBY in a new batch of tea & sugar. Right? I know this contravenes our new sugar-free diet, but come on, this is science!

I don’t have an answer for you yet; my experiment is brewing away, and I will fill you in as things progress. But if this works, it will mean (nearly) free Kombucha for ALL!!!!!

(I feel like a cartoon mad scientist right about now.)

Our Real Food Revolution

Yesterday at 9:37 am I instituted a Real Food Revolution. Not that we were eating much “fake” food, but I will explain that in a minute. The reason it happened at 9:37 am was that that was the time my daughter started screaming at the top of her lungs, throwing her toys around her room, and slamming her door over and over again . . . because I had not adequately tied the knitted ear-warmer around her waist in such a way as to hold the sheet around her small body.

I emailed my husband, “Did you give her sugar?” He had let me sleep in after yet another night of terrible sleep caused by our little guy nursing like a newborn (he’ll be 2 next week). “Yes,” he replied, “but only a little.” Only a little, and yet there it was, the connection I had seen and have been seeing for years, only for some reason this time it gelled in my brain: give her sugar, and she acts like a maniac.

Sure, there are times she has had a bit of something sweet and not freaked out, usually when we’re outdoors, maybe with friends or family, or after a good solid dinner. But we aren’t always in an outdoor, social, post-prandial state of being.

So I googled something along the lines of “Kids, food, behaviour” and started reading. So much of what they recommend avoiding reminded me of what I’ve read in Nourishing Traditions, so I’ve decided to change our eating.

This won’t be a dramatic departure for us, but one shift I’ve decided to make is in my concern over spending money on food. While eating in a more traditional way will certainly cost more money, I think it is worth it. Our children deserve to get the best we can give them, and even our adult bodies will thank us for things like cutting out sugar, reducing grains, and doing things to boost the nutrition of whatever we are eating.

We will try to do this as frugally as possible, which means cutting waste and spending right for the right things. So my current quest will be to find some frugal “real food” staples that I can attempt to have on hand so we won’t resort to less nutritious options.

Today’s staple is Hummus! I love my hummus recipe. It makes a nice big batch which lasts us several days of snacks and lunches. My challenge right now is to find something instead of pretzel sticks to dip in it!

Fantastic Hummus

1 cup dry chick peas, soaked overnight then cooked for 1 hour

1/4 cup cooking water from the chick peas

1 clove garlic

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp cumin powder

2 tbsp lemon juice

25 g olive oil

75 g tahini

Soak the chick peas overnight, drain and cover with fresh water. Cook for 1 hour. Place cooled cooked chick peas in food processor along with the garlic, salt and cumin. Process  until mushy. Scrape down the sides. Stir together the water and lemon juice and add to the food processor while it is running. Stop machine and scrape down, then process until quite smooth. Stir together the olive oil and tahini, and slowly drizzle in while the machine is running.

That’s it! Enjoy your creamy delicately flavoured hummus with a drizzle of olive oil or a sprinkle of cayenne pepper or a few cooked chick peas scattered over the top.

Wave of fermentation

(Cue the Pixies)  For some reason I have been hit by a wave of fermentation lately. It all started when I figured out why my kombucha was suffering so: (too small a surface area compared to the volume! D’uh! I was so glad to figure this out, and now my baby is getting healthier with each batch. I also bought a new glass juice jug for it, which makes it a wee bit more styley and less back-alley than a mason jar.)

Now I never go long without refreshing my sourdough starter as you know, but we have added another ferment to the family lately: sauerkraut! I made one delicious batch of kimchi-style sauerkraut last summer, but never repeated the experiment. I kept bringing cabbages home from the grocery store, but never managed to get them soaking in brine.

All that changed last week when I brought a lovely organic cabbage from the Herb & Spice, and had the brain wave of using my beautiful le creuset baking dish as a crock. I sliced up cabbage, onion, and garlic, and added salt, whey and hot pepper flakes, and set it to brine away for a few days.

Now, it did stink up the house something awful, but at the end of three days, I ended up with a nice full mason jar worth of very spicy sauerkraut. Too spicy for my partner unfortunately, so . . .

Today I brought home two more lovely cabbages from the Herb and Spice. I chopped those up, added some carrot, onion, garlic and ginger (skipped the hot peppers), pounded it with salt, and now have it happily burbling away beside my kombucha. I am so excited.

For this batch I used the directions on Sandor Katz’s website: I like his explanation of how to layer the salt and cut up cabbage, letting the salt do the work of attracting the juice out of the cabbage leaves instead of pounding it all to heck.

However, I did happen upon an interesting find that has made that very pounding a whole lot easier. I was in the flower shop around the corner, and spotted among their small collection of antiques a wooden object I believe to be a sauerkraut pounder! The woman in the shop said she thought it was for grinding, but I used it to pound the kraut into the bucket, and it completely did the trick.

Ever made sauerkraut? What do you like to ferment?

The sci-fi weirdness of kombucha

I know anyone who tried my kombucha gave me that look like, “This is very strange.” But little did they know just how strange it is!!!

I left my kombucha brewing up on the shelf for the last few months, and I also left two jars of bottled kombucha sitting on the shelf to see if they became more bubbly. I had no idea what would happen, or just how weird it would become!

The big kombucha jar grew baby after baby, on top of each other, topped with one pancake over an inch thick!

And even stranger, both smaller jars grew babies from out of thin air–er, liquid! And not just one, but three or four super thick disks that ended up sinking down to the bottom of the jar.

The liquid inside smelled like a sweetish vinegar. I didn’t dare taste it, but I bet it would be something like plum vinegar and make for some interesting sweet and sour sauce. For someone very brave about consuming science fiction/science project outcomes.

This stuff is amazing. I’m still mulling over what application it could possibly have, to grow thick gelatinous forms that take the shape of their container. You could probably make some really freaky prank organs if you had the right shaped jars . . .

Then there’s the story I read about someone flushing their old scobys down the toilet and having them grow and fill her septic tank. It seemed like an urban (or rural) myth until I watched my own personal freakazoid creatures reproduce mysteriously.

So . . . you might think I would have given the project up after such a strange encounter, such bizarre and slightly frightening growth, such unexplained and strange smelling living organisms . . . but no. I’m back on the kombucha train. This time I’m brewing only one small jar. It just seems less frightening in smaller quantities.

Now that I know the kombucha cannot be killed. I might as well enjoy some tasty kombucha tea while I play host to this science fiction creature.

Sugar: notes on an addiction

“I need it. I need it. I have a stash. I just need one. I’ll just leave the kids in the bath while I run and get one. Oh, they’re crying? That’s okay, I’ll just be a second. Aaah. Okay, one more. One more. One more. Oh no–too many! Why did I do that??”

That was me and my stash of Laura Secord peanut butter chocolate Santa eggs. The next morning my mood was black.

Now, if you don’t think you’re addicted to sugar, try going off it for a day. I tried this last December and had a wicked headache for 2 days. But after that, the cravings went away. My mistake was trying this a week before Christmas. Of course once I brought back the chocolates and even the sugar in my coffee, the cravings were back.

One friend of mine has a mantra: “Sugar is death.” She watched her father die of diabetes. In her younger days, my grandmother, a self-described “syrpaholic”, would take hits off a jar of syrup she kept in the fridge. She lived with diabetes most of her life. Another friend told me about a visit to a Naturopath who told her she needed to go off sugar. She said she almost cried.

Sugar is really bad for you. According to Nourishing Traditions,

– it depletes your body of nutrients during its metabolization.

– continually spiking our blood sugar levels by eating refined sugar eventually disrupts our bodies’ ability to regulate its own blood sugar levels. This is the cause of diabetes.

– sugar consumption has been linked to shortened life spans in animals, anorexia and eating disorders in people, and problems with the heart, liver, pancreas and adrenal glands (NT p. 23 sites several studies)

– some researchers have named sugar–not fat–consumption as the cause of heart disease

– it has also been connected to osteoporosis and tooth cavities, as well as hyperactivity, behaviour problems and violence.

So why do we eat so much of it? One reason is that we are programmed to want to eat fruit at the height of their ripeness, and sweetness, which is also their nutritional peak. So advertisers tempt us with brightly coloured highly sweetened “foods” they know our primitive brains will crave. The difference is that fruits are loaded with vitamins, minerals and fiber, which regulate the way the sugar is metabolized, and also nourish us.

And why would they do this when everyone knows how bad sugar is for us? Because it means huge profits. Think of a bottle of cola. A little artificial flavouring, a dose of sugar, and some water. Sell that at a huge markup, and you’ve got a license to print money.

All this has been rattling around my brain this month, especially in light of my little sugar fit I told you about at the top of this post. So in another Frugal Urban experiment in living, I’m going to try going off it again. Who knows how long it will last, or what the repercussions will be! All I know is that I need a lot of determination to get through this.

How about you–have you ever gone off sugar? What was the hardest thing about it?

Sourdough! Every day!

Oh, how I love the sourdough eCourse! I’ve done fabulous English Muffins, a big ole pancake, and tomorrow we’ll make some muffins! Yep, sourdough muffins. I’ve also watched the lessons on cake and on cinnamon rolls–yum!!

These baked goods use baking soda right before baking so it’s not chewy like bread, but fluffy like, well, like baked goods! The other thing that the baking soda does is react with the acids in the sourdough to produce lots of bubbles. Besides puffing up the treats, this also neutralizes the acids, taking away the sour taste. So in case you were worrying, there’s no weird sweet-and-sour thing going on here.

What we accomplish by using an overnight soak with the sourdough is that the phytic acid that is naturally present in bran is neutralized. Phytic acid is called an “anti-nutrient” because it has a nasty habit of binding with good nutrients and taking them out of your body. You want to reduce the phytic acid content of whole grains as much as possible through soaking, sprouting or souring before eating.

So, yay sourdough!

Kombucha in da house

A few weeks ago, I saw somebody who had extra kombucha mushrooms to give away. I had investigated this a year or so ago, but then was too scared to try it in the end. This time, before heading out to the West end to pick up this strange living item, I bought a bottle of kombucha (“The Wonder Drink” brand) to see if I would actually like this fermented tea business anyway.

Turns out I do! It is sweet and sour, slightly fizzy, and very refreshing at the end of a meal

So I went and picked up my mushroom. It’s not a real mushroom, but rather a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (also called a SCOBY) that forms a flat “mushroom” which floats on top of sweetened tea, turning it into this interesting drink.

It really is pretty cool. The mushroom is sortof slimy and creepy, and the thing that weirds out my partner the most is that with every batch, it makes a “baby” that floats on top of the old mushroom, which can then be given away to someone else who can start making their own kombucha. I’ve got a couple hanging out in my fridge right now if anyone wants it!

What you do to make 3 litres is you steep four tea bags in 1 litre of boiling water, to which you have added 1 cup of white sugar. You dissolve the sugar and let the tea steep for at least 15 minutes. You then remove the tea bags and add 2 litres of cold water. Then you add your mushroom plus maybe a half-cup of kombucha from the previous batch, and make sure the mushroom is floating nicely on top. Then cover with a tea towel and let it sit for a week. After that you bottle it and then enjoy! One website I read said to leave the bottled drink out for a few more days to get it more fizzy, but I didn’t find a great difference. It would be work playing with though.

My first batch, I made in a large pyrex bowl. It worked fantastically, but I use that bowl almost daily for baking and whatnot, so I went to a local wine making store (Musca, on Somerset W) and bought a 5 Litre wide-mouth demijohn. This is a wonderful container for making kombucha. The mouth is plenty wide enough to remove tea bags, gently place the mushroom, etc. And the 5 L capacity means there is plenty of air circulation (I have no idea if the kombucha needs this; I’m just guessing since all of the instructions stress covering it with a tea towel, not something air-tight). I just secure a tea towel over the top with a large elastic band, and leave it on the shelf for a week.

Is it a miracle drink? There is lots of info out there on kombucha, most of it controversial. Kombucha contains lactic acid, and many of the same pro-biotics as yogurt, so it should aid digestion. There has been no scientific evidence for the claims made by some. The bottom line seems to be that it isn’t dangerous, and it’s healthier than soft drinks.

I dunno–everyone in my house is sick right now except for me, so I’m leaning toward the “miracle drink” side of things 😉

Are you curious? Ottawanians, leave me a comment if you want to try it, or if you would welcome a mushroom into your life. A new baby arrives every week! Come on, share the love!

Kitchenaid Grain Mill Attachment = AWESOME!!!

(Update, March 2014: Boy I was excited when I bought this grain mill! I have used my it and enjoyed it now for nearly four years, and find it most successful for milling rye flour to feed my sourdough, and using rye flour as an additional grain in wheat-based breads, but I have not successfully made bread using 100% home milled wheat flour using this grinder. Not to say it isn’t possible! I confess to not trying all that hard. Please read all the comments below, and other reviews online if you are considering purchasing a Kitchenaid Grain Mill.)

Last week I broke down and bought a KITCHENAID GRAIN MILL ATTACHMENT WOOOOOOOOO!!!!

Okay, there are probably a few of you out there who don’t quite get the all-caps-league excitement. I’ll admit I pretty much nerded out on this one. But I’ve been thinking about this one for awhile now, and I believe it was a good move to bring more nutrition to our baked goods.

Here are some things I have recently read about flour:

– Whole wheat flour is not really “whole”. It has part of the germ removed because the germ, which contains oils, can go rancid quite quickly. So they remove this to make it more shelf stable.

– The germ contains most of the nutrition, including B vitamins, vitamin E, calcium, zinc, copper, manganese and potassium. It also contains enzymes that help your body in numerous ways. None of this makes its way into store-bought flour.

– Store-bought whole wheat only has a fraction of the fiber that whole grain fresh flour has.

– Wheat berries are incredibly shelf stable, lasting years–possibly even decades!

I recently threw out most of a 10 kilo bag of (poor quality) whole wheat flour because it went rancid. For me, moving to grinding my own flour will mean producing less waste as well as better nutrition. It will also be cheaper than buying organic flour from the store.

And it makes AMAZING pancakes!

Plus, I’m hoping to be able to help out some of my friends who are gluten-free by milling flour for them. There are several grains that are gluten free, but finding these specialty flours is hard–not to mention expensive! So if you’re in need of some gluten-free flour, let me know and I’ll share the bounty 🙂

The only glitch in my plan is that I’ve found fresh flour acts quite differently in bread making than store-bought flour. This might be because the increased bran cuts more of the gluten strands, making it harder to get a light, airy loaf. It could be because the grind is not as fine as store-bought flour. Or, it could be that some oxidization actually helps the flour produce a better loaf, as posited by some users on The Fresh Loaf.

I read a lot of grain mill reviews before buying the Kitchenaid attachment. This one has many negative reviews due to people burning out the motors on their mixers. But knowing this gives me power–instead of going ahead and milling 10 cups on the finest setting at the highest speed, I’m choosing to mill smaller amounts at a time, doing two (or three) passes, moving from coarse to fine, at slower speeds. I was thrilled that my machine, a 325 Watt Artisan, didn’t even break a sweat.

The other benefit of the Kitchenaid Grain Mill is that it can mill very coarsely, which will be great for cracking grains for porridge or for multigrain mixes for bread. I’ve heard fresh-cracked corn grits are amazing!

I’ve now got some new challenges, and new projects ahead of me. I’m EXCITED!!!