Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Cheese, Kefir, Kombucha, OH MY

Adventures in cheese making
In a previous post, I mentioned that I had ½ gallon milk that I was turning into kefir in my warm closet. I didn’t like any of the batches made in the closet. There also seems to be an off flavor that reminds me of goat cheese. Although some people love that, it’s not for me. They taste fresher and less sour if I make them on the kitchen counter. I ended up draining the ½ gallon of kefir and making sort of a cream cheese/sour cream substance. I threw it into salad dressing and chip dip. The day I decided to drain it, I happened to notice that an almost full gallon of raw, whole milk seemed to be sour. It was about 12 days since purchase. I went to work and spent my lunch and breaks finding ideas what I should do with it. My coworker, Ravi, put his wife on the phone. She told me how to make paneer, an Indian style of cheese. Now I had a plan! When I got home, the milk jug seemed a lot more empty. I asked my husband about it and he said the kids had been drinking it. Even the boy drank it! Later that day I observed Cassie saying to herself, “Let me have some more of that sour milk.” I asked her if she liked it a little sour and she said yes. I didn’t try it, so I don’t know how far gone it was. I just think it’s kind of funny that I thought it was sour and the kids drank it anyway.

The other night I made butter with raw cream and a jar. Here is how I did it. I posted it on Facebook and my friend Alice says it is fun only once. I think she is right.

Sauerkraut story
When I made sauerkraut the first time, I used only salt and packed it into the plastic, one-gallon sun tea jar. The second time I made it, I packed it away in there but I had less of it, so I decided to follow the instructions from Nourishing Traditions. I used less salt and I added whey. I put it into one half-gallon canning jar and one quart canning jar. About 1 week later I went into the cupboard to get out something else and found the ½ gallon jar had broken from the pressure. I am really disappointed because that was the larger amount and it was so much work. With broken glass, you have to throw it all away. The other one had also expanded so I dumped it out and put it in a former pickle jar which is larger. It wasn’t ready yet, so I put it back into the cabinet. I topped it off with more whey in order to keep it submerged. The dumb thing about this is that I still have a large jar of purchased sauerkraut in the fridge.

Fermented beverages
I broke down and bought water kefir grains (WKG) and a kombucha mother from Cultures for Health. I rehydrated the WKG according to the instructions. Then I set up the first batch of water kefir. I made it with only water and white sugar. I tasted it after 24 hours and it was still sweet. I don’t know what this is supposed to taste like. It seemed just like sugar water; there was no fermented flavor. Tonight I added the juice of 2 lemons to make lemonade with it. I put it in bottles for the secondary fermentation for a couple days before drinking it. The idea is to offer my kids an additional healthy beverage that they might enjoy. Beth tried it and she thought it was OK. I have been scouring the internet looking for good recipes.

I started the kombucha 6 days ago. The paper coffee filter covering it has the date it was made, in case I lose track of time. I made a black, Chinese tea (Yunnan Noir from Adagio) that I don’t care for all that much, assuming that the culture eats up a lot of the sugar/tea flavor. Every now and then I pull the jar out and check the mother. I talk nicely to it, like one of my plants. Yesterday I went to the grocery store and bought 2 bottles of plain kombucha to have as a yardstick. I compared mine to the commercial product. I noticed an odd flavor in mine, and then I recognized it as the black tea I used. It was still quite sweet, so I put it back. Because I don’t want to drink a lot of sugar, it needs to go for 14-20 days. I let Cassie and Beth try the commercial kombucha. Beth hated it but Cassie liked it.

While searching the internet for good kombucha information, I ran across an eBook about laboratory studies that were done in 1995 on thousands of batches. The eBook was $15 and I considered it a worthy investment if it leads me to the best practices of making kombucha. It was written by a kombucha enthusiast to demystify and debunk the mythology that goes along with kombucha. From what I read, the best results are with an equal amount of black and green tea. White sugar and brown sugar lead to different but not bad results. It’s a very technical book. I’m haven’t finished reading the book and I hope it goes into health benefits.

I wonder how all of these fermented beverages will fit into my lifestyle. Just one of them should be enough to sustain good health over the course of a lifetime. I’m the only one drinking the milk kefir. The kombucha might have the same outcome. I really hope the kids like the water kefir. We have this idea in the U.S. that if a little is good, more is better. It seems counter-productive to drink lots of different kinds of fermented beverages every day. Each one of these evolved in different places. They were not used all together. Keeping these cultures alive feels like a commitment, like having pets.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Real Food Challenge - week 4

Day #22: Why you should eat red meat.
Day #23: Pasture & Meadow. Eat your bacon, eggs and lard too.
Day #24: Homemade broth and stock.
Day #25: Not-so-awful Offal.
Day #26: Fish and seafood.
Day #27: Grow your foodshed.
Day #28: Beyond the challenge.

Why you should eat red meat
For many years I have been aware of the problems with our food supply, especially meat. If you are aware of it, you have to willfully ignore it when you eat it. For about 6 months, most of our meat has been purchased directly from the farmers that grew it. We still buy lunch meat, bags of chicken breasts and bacon now and then. It is difficult switching from old patterns. With the low fat craze, chicken became a staple in the American diet. Pastured chicken is more of a luxury than a staple. I have a whole chicken in my freezer that cost $18! I have so much broth, that I won't roast it until we make room for more broth. Buying meat this way is considerably more expensive. One thing I have noticed is that I am satisfied with eating a smaller portion. I'm sure that says something about the quality of the meat.

I liked the article about the nutrition in meat. My 6-year-old son is super picky. He'll eat ground beef, hamburgers and hotdogs but he won't eat stew meat or roast beef. It just doesn't look good to him. I held up a gallon jar and a coffee mug. I told him the coffee mug is meat and the gallon jar is vegetables. We all know there are lots of vitamins in vegetables. If you eat this much meat (coffee mug) you will get even more vitamins than all the vitmains in this much vegetables (gallon jar). He was quite impressed, but he is just not able to eat something he thinks is going to taste bad. All I can do is continue to offer it.

Eat your bacon, eggs and lard too
Our egg sources have been pastured for about a year. I was getting them from a family at church who live in an area that allows chickens. I think her egg production dropped off in winter. Now I get them from the farmers at my nutrition group. We eat about 1.5 dozen eggs a week. Sometimes we run low and have to buy the cage-free eggs from the grocery store. They seem to be equal in quality, but I don't really trust it. Buying directly from the chicken owner is totally different.

All of my meat sources carry beef and pork. Saturday I went to the Geneva Winter Market. Hasselmann Farms has good bacon prices but he was out of bacon. I bought the ham for Easter. Last week I cooked prok "steaks". I bought them because they seemed to be like pork chops but they were a little fattier and much less expensive. I could not believe how delicious they were!

Homemade broth and stock
I wish I could convince my family to eat more of it. This week 3 people in our family had a cough. I implored my husband to defrost the soup and sip it all day instead of tea. Soup is another thiing my son doesn't like. For many years I have tried all kinds of ways to make chicken soup. Long before I found traditional nutrition I was simmering chicken bones for broth. It took a lot of trial and error to figure out that is the best soup. If we buy a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store, I always save the bones for soup. I also freeze bones, old celery and onion tops for making broth later. The Frugal Gourmet passed on the idea of saving the onion ends whenever an onion is chopped. Most people throw this stuff out but it can be made into wholesome food before throwing it away.

Not-so-awful Offal
I like offal for the novelty as well as the nutrition. I like to fry up a chicken liver to have with eggs in the morning. Sometimes I get so fed up with my son's complaining about normal food, I make liver, heart or oxtails just to really push his button! I picked up some chicken heads and feet from the Amish at the WAPF conference. I showed them to my kids because gross things don't freak them out. One time I was making broth and talking to my husband. He looked into the pot right as a head floated by. He got so freaked out, I had to laugh! It is sort of a Halloween thing to see a head or a chicken foot floating in soup.

My mom grew up on a farm near Winnipeg. Her parents were German Mennonite immigrants from the Ukraine. They had dairy cows, pigs and chickens. It has been very interesting hearing how her parents grew and preserved food using traditional methods. She told me that they put beef hearts in a huge steintopf and covered them with whey. She enjoyed head cheese, liver, heart and other offal. They ate chicken about once a month. My grandmother would slaughter a hen if she thought it wasn't laying. Sometimes she would find eggs inside the chicken in various states of development. She would be so sorry because this one was laying. She gathered those small yolks and made a cake with them. That one chicken, along with side dishes, fed all 8 people in her family. She roasted the head and feet. Oma liked the head very much. My Aunt Mary's favorite part of the chicken is the neck, because she usually ended up with that part at dinner.

Fish and seafood
We don't eat much fish, though I enjoy it. Lake Michigan is very close but people where I live don't eat the fish from it. It is considered a dangerous thing to do. How sad is that? Just this week we had salmon from Costco. I'm pretty sure it was farmed fish, which is not the best nutritional or environmental choice. This is really tough. I keep reading about overfishing and pollutants in the fish.

Grow your foodshed & Beyond the challenge
This was a fun experience. I enjoyed receiving the emails and trying new things. I have an update on the sauerkraut and the cheesemaking. I'll have to post it a little later when I have more time. I should have posted more pictures. As you can tell, I don't get around to blogging much.
Going forward, I plan to continue doing what I've been doing. I'm looking forward to spring and planting my garden. I haven't planned what I'll grow yet, but it always works out. I'm inspired by the people at my Traditional Nutrition club.

Here's the checklist
  • Stay Natural & Unrefined. Eat only natural, whole foods in their unrefined state.
  • Avoid Modern, Processed Foods. Avoid processed, packaged, refined foods even those sold as "natural" foods. If you're great-great-great-great-great grandmother wouldn't recognize it, don't eat it.
  • Sour, sprout or soak. If you eat grain, beans, legumes, nuts or seeds, make sure that you properly prepare them to maximize your body's ability to assimilate their nutrients.
  • Love healthy fats. Enjoy wholesome, healthy, unrefined natural fats liberally - and especially on your vegetables.
  • Brew mineral-rich stock. Make homemade, mineral-rich broth and stock weekly, and consume it daily.
  • Eat grass-fed, pasture-raised and wild-caught. Eat meat, including offal, and make sure it's from a trusted source that relies on traditional methods of raising their animals: on fresh pasture.
  • Keep dairy raw and fresh. If you eat dairy, keep it raw or, at the very least, make sure it comes from grass-fed animals and is not subject to ultra-high-temperature pasteurization.
  • Get Your Good Bacteria. Consume naturally fermented, probiotic foods and beverages daily.
  • Get involved. Grow your foodshed and give back to the community. Fight for farmers and consumers rights and against the industrialization of our food supply.
  • Maximize nutrient density of your foods by preparing and consuming them with time-honored tradition.