Sunday, September 21, 2014

Preserving Soap Nut Liquid

I started using soap nuts last spring when I was fighting a nasty battle with the yeast in my daughters' cloth diapers.  I'd been cloth diapering for nearly seven years without ever having this problem.  Everything I used to strip the diapers of the yeast and get rid of the horrific yeast rashes on my girls wasn't working.  Someone recommended washing them with soap nuts and at that point I was willing to try anything.  I did it and haven't turned back.  In fact, I loved them so much I started using them for all of our laundry.

Soap nuts are actually berries that grow on trees native to India and Nepal.  These berries contain saponins, making them a wonderful, natural cleanser for everything from laundry to dishes to even personal care.


Soap nut suds for the dishes

Soap nuts are also an extremely environmentally-friendly soap option because the trees they grow on do not need to be sprayed with pesticides.  The berries are naturally pest-resistant.  The soap does not contaminate water and the nuts can be composted after use.  It doesn't get much better than that!


The annoying little laundry bag

The most common way to use soap nuts in your laundry is to crack open a few, place them in a cloth bag, and toss them in with your laundry.  I have found that using them this way in my laundry creates several problems - it can be annoying to find the little baggie in the clean load of laundry and it can be difficult to determine whether or not your nuts are still creating suds.  Each nut should last through at least three loads of laundry, but I have found that their length of use is dependent on which cycle you are using on your machine.  Cloth diapers, for example, typically have an extra rinse, so if I do not fish the baggie out between the wash and rinse cycles the nuts will be exposed to water again and lose more of their strength.

To fix these issues I decided to make my own concentrated soap nut liquid.  But this liquid can spoil, so I had to figure out a way to preserve it.  Many people freeze their liquid in ice cube trays and throw a few in each load, but with limited freezer space in my house (and a slight canning addiction) I figured canning would be a better option.

Here's how I do it:

I use smaller jars - pints or half-pints - since the liquid can spoil.  Each half-pint will get me about three loads worth of soap, so with a family of six that cloth diapers I can easily use that up before it spoils.  I place 2-4 cracked nuts in the bottom of each jar.


Next I fill the jars with water.


Process in the pressure canner for 15 minutes on 10 psi or the water bath for 30 minutes and you have your liquid soap.


It's that easy!  



When I open a new jar I strain it into a different jar and then throw the cooked nuts into the compost.



A few things to note about the soap:

*I use approximately 1/4 cup liquid per load of laundry.  

*The soap itself is nearly scentless.  If I had to describe the smell it would be slightly fruity, but none of it remains on the clothing.  If you like scented laundry soap you could add a few drops of essential oil to the liquid after you open the jar.

*I have not had any issues with staining clothing, but when I do a load of whites I make sure to add the liquid to the water instead of just throwing it directly on the clothing.

*I use vinegar as a fabric softener and have not had any issues with it combined with the soap nut liquid.

*If I open a jar and am not going to use it within a few days I will put it in the fridge.  I'm not quite sure how long it would last in there before spoiling, but I've used some after a week and it was fine.


The laundry cabinet

If you're looking for a cheap, environmentally-friendly, and gentle cleanser I would definitely try out soap nuts!  My next experiment will be using the liquid as a shampoo.  I'll be sure to share how it goes.

God bless!

Jessica

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

In Defense of Home Canning

 

In a perfect world we would all eat 100% live food all of the time.  Everything would be raw and free from bacteria that make us sick.  Fruits and veggies would be abundant every season of the year and wild game (that isn't feeding of off GMO crops) would be right outside of our back door for us to consume whenever we need it.

Obviously, we do not live in a perfect world.  Food-borne illness exists.  Seasons change, making it impossible to grow fruits and veggies at times.  Modernization and industrialization have changed our environment and the way we have to grow and preserve food.

Our ancestors had many different ways to deal with these problems.  Some of them were nomadic and moved with the changing seasons so that fresh fruits and veggies would always be available no matter where they were.  Others stayed put through the harsh winters and relied on traditional methods of preserving food in order to survive through "hibernation".  Most of them, though, resigned to only eating what is in-season and available locally for them.  If that means you only ate apples in the fall or berries in the spring, that's the way it had to be.

Thankfully, through time, new methods of food preservation have evolved and we're not forced to let the season determine our menus.  While the tried and true methods of lacto-fermentation, smoking, and drying food will always be best, they are not always convenient or possible for everyone.  Freezers and canning methods are the solution for those people.  Some will look at these methods of preservation and say that because they are new and not what our ancestors used they are unhealthy, un"primal", or "processed", but I argue that just because it's new, it doesn't necessarily mean it's bad or evil.  Not everything that is "processed" is the equivalent of a Twinkie, and in fact, the processing can make some foods even healthier for us to digest.

Why Preserve Food?

Environmental responsibility is just as important as the food we put into our bodies, mainly because it affects what we put into our bodies in the long-run.  Because there are changing seasons, many areas of the world are unable to grow fresh produce for a large part of the year.  In order to get their required nutrition, people living in these areas need to either preserve foods when they are in season or have fresh foods shipped to them from other parts of the world when they are out of season.  Preserving the food while in season so it can be eaten throughout the year is the more environmentally responsible option.  On top of that, it is better for your local economy, as you're supporting local farmers during their growing seasons by buying their products in bulk instead of supporting farmers overseas throughout the rest of the year.

Frozen or Canned

There are many people who are very anti-canned foods, because they feel canning leaves the food dead and denatured.  These people will, however, rely on freezers to preserve their foods.  While canning does create a sterile, dead food (void of both bad AND good bacteria), it does not mean the food is entirely denatured.  My purpose in this post is to show you how and why.

I would also argue that while freezing is a wonderful method of preservation, it also, technically, creates processed food, and simply isn't practical for the average family to practice for ALL foods.  In my family of six, it can take hundreds of quarts of canned applesauce from apple season in order to provide enough for us to eat just 2-3 times a week during the off-season.  Just the applesauce alone would require an entire chest freezer for preservation.  If you're a family that also buys your local, pastured meat in bulk, preserves many different varieties of foods other than applesauce, or perhaps has a breastfeeding infant that requires pumped milk, freezer space is precious and not readily available for bulk food preservation.  A solution could be to buy multiple freezers, but once again, environmental responsibility is just as important as the food we consume.  Freezers use a lot of energy.

While canning does create a sterile, dead food (void of living bacteria - both good and bad), it does not mean the food is entirely denatured.  We have to make choices about how we preserve food based on the amount of space we have, what the heating process does to the specific food, and what is best for the environment.

What does the canning process do to the nutrients in food?

Studies have shown that there are both good and bad things that happen to the nutrients in foods that are canned.  Vitamin C is lost during the canning process, but what little remains afterwards is stable throughout storage.  The same for many of the B Vitamins.  During the freezing process, on the other hand, very little of these nutrients are lost during blanching, but they are not stable during storage due to oxidation.  Frozen produce consumed within a month is going to be more nutritious than if it was stored in the freezer for six months, whereas the nutrients in canned foods will remain stable throughout the shelf-life of the food.  So a year after preservation, the canned food will usually be more nutrient dense than the frozen food, depending on moisture levels and the temperature of the freezer, of course.

On the other hand, the canning process opens up the cell walls of fruit flesh, making things like Vitamin A and carotenes more readily available.  Very few of these nutrients are lost during the canning process, and in the case of things like tomatoes, the carotenes, like lycopene, will actually increase.  Freezing produce, however, does not cause an increase in nutrients, with the exception of things like peaches where freezing yields 21 times more Vitamin C than fresh (canning yields only four times more than fresh - but the canned peaches have more Vitamin E than both frozen and fresh).

Fiber is another thing to consider when canning.  The high heat does not affect fiber content, but rather makes it more soluble and useful to the body.  Freezing does not do this.

The bottom line is this - both methods of preservation have their pros and cons.  Canning creates a sterile, dead food that in some cases can be lower in nutrients, but it allows for more convenient storage and does not cause long-term nutrient loss.  Freezing means less nutrient loss up front and leaves both good and bad bacteria intact, however it allows for more nutrient loss during the storage process due to oxidation.  It also takes up more room in your freezer, and preservation of the food is dependent on access to electricity.  If you've ever had a full freezer during a long-term power outage or have had a freezer door accidentally left open (like me), then you understand how inconvenient and costly this problem can be!

When to Can and When to Freeze?

Bone Broth

I've posted before about how I can my bone broths.  There are many who think this is an unwise thing to do, as the high heat of the canning process can affect your gelatin.  This is true - not all canned broth will gel afterwards.  But, that doesn't mean that there is no benefit to canned broth.

When buying processed gelatin in the store, you can usually find two types - regular gelatin powder and collagen/gelatin hydrolysate.  Gelatin powder is like the equivalent of uncanned bone broth reduced to a powder.  It will gel and create things like gummy snacks.  Collagen hydrolysate is like the equivalent of canned broth.  It is heated at a higher temperature than regular gelatin powder, which increases the number of amino acids.  While collagen hydrolysate will not gel, much like canned broth, it is better assimilated into the body.  Collagen hydrolysate is actually better for people like me, with Crohn's Disease, as it is easier on digestion.

I see benefit to both freezing and canning bone broth.  It is good to have some fresh off the stove or crockpot, some kept in your fridge for quick use, and some in either the freezer or canned for those times when you need it and don't have it fresh.  Canned broth, since already heated, is perfect for things like soups and stews.  Frozen is good for thawing and warming as a beverage.

Meat

Canning meat is one of the easiest things in the world to do.  You simply take the raw meat, chop it into little pieces, fill the jar with water, and process in the pressure canner.  When you are done you have a preserved jar of canned, pastured meat for those days when you may not have had time to thaw your meat before cooking or you need to take a meal with you somewhere.

Meat, unless you're eating it raw, is going to lose nutrition through preparation regardless of the method.  Canning the meat brings it to a temperature of 240 degrees for a few hours and then allows all nutrients to remain stable throughout storage.  You may end up cooking fresh or frozen meat at the same or higher temperature, losing the same nutrients.  Canning will render the meat sterile, whereas cooked meat can quickly lead to food-borne illness if not handled and preserved properly after it is taken off of the heat.

For some meats, such as fish, the canning process will actually increase nutrition.  The high heat causes bones in fish meat to leach calcium into the meat.

Vegetables

Let's face it, canned veggies often don't taste as good as fresh or frozen.  Green beans, for example, can end up mushy.  And the longer the jars sit in storage, the worse the flavor seems to be.

But some veggies, like leafy greens, actually benefit from the heat.  Spinach that sits in your fridge can lose nearly all of its nutrient content in one week (that doesn't count the 2-3 weeks it can take for it to get to your fridge from the farm during winter).  Cooked spinach increases iron, protein, fiber, zinc, thiamine, and calcium; and has higher amounts of vitamins A and E.  Spinach that is picked ripe and canned immediately will have much more nutrition than store-bought spinach that you bring home and immediately use up, and way more than spinach that sits in your fridge for a week longer.

With any veggies, if you're worried about nutrient loss during the canning process, remember that most of what is lost ends up in the cooking liquid.  Since canned veggies are only really good in cooked foods like stews or soups, it is best to use the liquid from your jars in the soups in order to increase nutrition and make up for what was lost in the veggie itself.


A 2005 Dutch study suggested that canning fruits and vegetables decreases glucosinolate content - a phytochemical that may fight cancer and memory loss.  Glucosinolates are primarily found in cruciferous veggies like cabbage or broccoli. Since broccoli is high in Vitamin C, it is not recommended that you can for preservation.  And cabbage is best preserved through lacto-fermentation as sauerkraut.  To benefit from the protection of glucosinolates, just preserve the foods high in them with other methods and serve them as a side with your home-canned foods that lack them.


Fruits

As is the case with broccoli, it is best not to can fruits that are high in Vitamin C.

Some people have luck canning pumpkin, although I have never tried.  Canned pumpkin has 30 times more vitamin A than raw pumpkin and 20 times more than fresh-cooked.

Other fruits, such as apples, provide fiber as their benefit.  Since the canning process does not affect fiber, and actually enables better digestion, apples are one fruit that is best preserved through canning.  You could argue that it would be best to freeze applesauce, as not to make it a dead food, but the heating process used to create the applesauce itself has already rendered it dead.  Freezing will not make it live again.  Canning will free up freezer space for items that cannot be preserved through canning, such as squash and citrus fruit, and allow you to buy apples in bulk during the growing season.

Fruits such as berries are best when frozen if you're looking to consume them for nutrition, but since they aren't a main source of vitamin C to begin with, canning will not make much of a difference.  It is nice to have some frozen berries to enjoy in things like smoothies for a nutrient punch, with some canned berry jams in the cupboards to use as condiments and for flavor.

As mentioned above, always can your tomatoes instead of freezing, as the process increases the amount of lycopene in the fruit.

Conclusion

All food methods have benefits.  When you're looking at 15 bushels of fresh apples, it would be impossible to freeze it all.  Dehydrate some into chips.  Freeze some for baking.  Can some applesauce.

When you get your full beef you can dehydrate or smoke some for jerky.  Can some for a convenient meal later.  Freeze the rest to enjoy throughout the year.


Unfortunately, we can't always forage and hunt for the freshest of foods.  We have to make sacrifices in order to be able to live in the modern world.  Raw, live foods are rare and when they are plentiful, they are rarely safe when eaten raw.  Even most of the "raw" almonds you find in the store are irradiated and left dead.  It's the unfortunate consequence of desiring almonds when you don't live in almond country.  In order for to food to get to our doors year-round, whenever we're craving them, they have to be made safe for transport.  The same will be true when you're desiring berries in the winter or bananas in the North.

Don't let your fear of eating "dead" foods (in moderation) keep you from enjoying the art of canning your own delicious foods.  Yes, a raw egg is best for you nutritionally, but you will still eat it when it is cooked and dead, won't you?  Just because a food is canned, it doesn't mean it's not good for you.

As with any meal, it's always good to eat more live than dead foods and no one is advocating a diet consisting solely of home-canned foods.  If you decide to have some of your canned applesauce with a meal, make sure that you add some homemade yogurt or large portions of raw veggies to the meal.  If you're eating canned meat, top it with a fermented cruciferous veggie, like homemade sauerkraut.  If you're enjoying some of your homemade unsweetened berry jam with a meal, add raw, local honey to it before serving to "liven" it up.  Balancing dead foods with live ones will create a healthy, nutritious meal that is also environmentally-friendly and supports local farmers year-round.

A jar of in-season, home-canned produce is going to be more nutritious than out of season produce at the grocery store, and also better for the environment.  Period.  You also can't downplay the security in knowing that the organic, local food you worked so hard to preserve will be stable regardless of whatever happens to the power.

Finally, remember that whenever you're canning, always use proper sanitation and hygiene guidelines.  Use lids that are free of BPA and other toxins, and always make sure to dispose of any jars that show signs of seepage or spoilage.

-Jessica


Sources

http://ucce.ucdavis.edu/files/datastore/234-779.pdf

http://nutrican.fshn.uiuc.edu/studyfinal.html

Monday, January 27, 2014

Homemade Liver Powder

I struggle with anemia.  Between my Crohn's Disease and having been pregnant and/or nursing for over seven consecutive years, my iron levels can get pretty low.  While pregnant I always experience a dip in my hemoglobin levels in the beginning of the third trimester, where I test around 8.0 (normal range for women is between 12.0-15.5 and slightly lower at 11.0 during pregnancy).  I've also had flare-ups of Crohn's Disease in which my anemia is so bad that they were considering blood transfusions.

Because of this problem, I've had to find ways to deal with my anemia through diet.  Traditional iron supplementation is not a good solution, as most iron supplements can make constipation even worse during pregnancy and are typically made up on non-heme iron that does not absorb well at all.  And if you have a child who is suffering from anemia, supplements can be dangerous because children often overdose on iron.  It really is best to focus on getting your iron through your diet and also making sure you aren't eating foods that leach the iron from your system or inhibit its absorption.

There are two forms of dietary iron - heme and non-heme.  Heme iron comes from animal-based sources that are full of hemoglobin, such as meat and fish.  Non-heme iron comes from plant-based sources like beans and fortified grains and is not absorbed as well into the body.  In fact, the reason that grains are fortified with things like iron is because the food itself, when improperly prepared, can actually leach iron from your body.

Besides avoiding grains and improperly prepared beans and legumes, when I'm dealing with anemia I also avoid black tea, which is full of tannins that decrease iron absorption (lighter teas, like white and green do not seem to have the same effect).  I also make sure not to eat any dairy or other calcium-rich food with my iron-rich foods.  Just making those small changes to my diet has increased my hemoglobin score four points in one month during pregnancy, without having to take an iron supplement.

I obviously also try to increase my heme iron intake.  During pregnancy, I follow a form of the Brewer Diet and try to eat iron-rich organ meat at least once a week, usually in the form of pastured beef liver.  The problem with this is that there are times during pregnancy where nausea makes stomaching the very potent smell and taste of the liver nearly impossible.  Because of this, it helps to get creative with your liver consumption.  One way to do that is to freeze your liver in small chunks and swallow them whole like a pill throughout the day.  If you're like me and have a strong gag reflex during pregnancy, that may not be the best solution.

Making your own iron pills is easy and a great solution to this problem.  People often use this process after pregnancy to encapsulate their placenta - dehydrate the meat, grind it down into a powder, and fill your empty gelatin capsules.

Here is how I did it with pastured beef liver (remember to only use pastured beef liver that is from a reputable source).  First, I cut the liver into thin strips, placed it on a cookie sheet, and baked it in the oven on the lowest setting possible (170) for approximately ten hours.  You do NOT want to put the iron in your dehydrator inside of the house, because the smell will be horrible and will take a really long time to air out.  Having it in the oven is also pretty noxious, but not nearly as bad as it would be in the dehydrator.  Within 24 hours the smell was gone in my kitchen when I dried it out in the oven.

Once your liver is dry, put it in the food processor until it is ground into a fine powder:


Next, take empty gelatin capsules and fill them with the powder.  For mine, I used these:


I was making these for my six-year-old son, who has a hard time with swallowing bigger pills.  If you're making these for an adult, you may want to use a larger size capsule.  These #3 capsules only hold up to 360 mg of the powder, while the 00 size can hold up to 1092 mg.

To fill them you just dump all of your powder into a bowl, take apart the capsule, scoop the powder into both ends and then put the capsule back together.  So simple!



If you're like me and you battle anemia, you can feel it coming on.  Whenever you're feeling a little run-down and irritable, just pop a handful of the capsules and let the liver do its magic.  Remember to store your pills in the fridge.

You can also skip the encapsulation step and use your powder in other ways - put some in your meatloaf or burger patties for an extra iron punch, or in any other casserole that will hide the liver flavor well.


I add a tablespoon to my smoothies.  1 Tablespoon liver powder, 2 cups of homemade raw yogurt, 1 tablespoon of raw local honey, 1 tablespoon homemade nut butter, some raw spinach, and a cup of frozen fruit - talk about a superfood with all of the nutrients, probiotics, digestive healing, and allergy help!


My kids usually do well with eating cooked liver, but a smoothie is one way to get a picky child to consume it without a fight and to make it feel like a treat!

 
-Jessica

Sunday, January 5, 2014

SCD/GAPS/Paleo: The Plan

To follow-up from my last post, I thought I would share a little more about the actual diet.  The theory is that certain individuals have what's called a leaky gut - intestinal or bowel hyperpermeability.  Essentially, in these people the lining of their intestinal tract contains holes resulting from things like poor diet, infections, medications, and toxin exposure.  When these people eat food, particles of the food, toxins, and other molecules can break the barrier of the intestinal wall and end up in their bloodstream, causing an immune system reaction.  For me the reaction is Crohn's Disease and for my son it is allergies (rashes, itching, and in the case of major exposure, anaphylaxis).

The digestive system is filled with over 100 trillion microorganisms (gut flora), some good and some bad.  People with a leaky gut have an overgrowth of the bad bacteria and are deficient in good bacteria.  I have had testing done to confirm that this is the case with my body and am assuming the same is true for my son.  We aren't sure how this happened with him, as he seems to have been born with his allergies, but our theory is that the megadoses of antibiotics and steroids that he was exposed to in utero and shortly after birth through breastmilk may have something to do with it.  Scientists don't really know why this happens. 

Bad bacteria in your gut feed off of sugar and carbohydrates.  By altering the nutrition that we take into our bodies, we can stop feeding the bad bacteria so it dies off, and allow for the good bacteria to take over.  Once you have the proper balance of bacteria, the gut can be healed and proper digestive/immune responses occur.  This is the goal of this diet, which is outlined here:

What We Can Eat

Meat - all antibiotic and hormone-free beef, lamb, pork, poultry, and fish
Eggs - antibiotic and hormone-free
Dairy - homemade raw milk yogurt, natural cheeses - made from antibiotic and hormone-free milk
Veggies - fresh and frozen organic vegetables; home-canned vegetables; artichoke, asparagus, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, celery, lettuce, Lima beans, mushrooms, onions, parsley, pumpkin, spinach, string beans, turnips, cucumbers, eggplant, garlic, kale, peas, squash, tomatoes, watercress
Beans - only properly soaked; navy beans, lentils, split peas
Fruit - fresh, dried and frozen organic; avocados, apricots, bananas (ripe only), berries, cherries, coconut, dates, raisins, grapefruit, kiwi, lemons, melons, nectarines, peaches, pineapple, rhubarb, grapes, kumquats, limes, mangoes, oranges, papaya, prunes, tangerines; apples and pears only from farmers who you know have not sprayed with antibiotics
Nuts - only properly soaked; almonds, pecans, Brazil nuts, hazel nuts, walnuts, cashews, boiled chestnuts; nut flour
Juice - organic and watered-down tomato juice, orange juice, pineapple juice, grapefruit juice, grape juice, apple cider  
Weak tea  
Honey
Oils - olive oil and coconut oil
Others - mustard, unflavored gelatin, vinegar, spices, baking soda, unsweetened chocolate
Alcohol - dry wine, gin, Scotch, bourbon, and vodka

What We Can't Eat

Meat - processed meat (bacon, hot dogs, lunch meat, etc.), smoked meat, canned meat
Dairy - processed cheese, cottage cheese, cream, feta, mozzarella, primost, gjetost, ricotta, store-bought yogurt, buttermilk, sour cream
Veggies - commercially canned; corn, white and sweet potatoes, yams, parsnips, okra, sea weed
Beans - chick peas (no hummus), bean sprouts, soybeans, mung beans, fava beans, garbanzo beans; no bean or lentil flour Grains - all, including oats and rice
Fruit - canned, dried with sulfites, banana chips
Nuts - peanuts or salted nuts of any kind
Seeds - none are allowed
Juice - canned tomato products, apple juice, juice boxes
Oils - margarine, soybean oil, canola oil, corn oil, vegetable oil
Other - cornstarch, arrowroot starch, tapioca starch, sago starch, carob, agar-agar, carrageenan, pectin, baking powder Sweeteners - sugar, molasses, corn syrup, maple syrup, artificial sweeteners, sucrose, lactose
Alcohol - beer, sherry, cordials, brandy 

Here is what the last 24 hours of eating looked like for me:

Breakfast - two pastured eggs scrambled and served over a bed of spinach and raw milk cheddar cheese; hot tea; a few bites of raw milk yogurt
Snack - pastured beef gelatin (made with orange, pineapple, and cranberry juices)
Lunch - bowl of split pea soup (made with soaked green split peas, homemade beef broth, green beans, pastured beef, garlic, onion, and peas); hot tea
Snack - raisins and sprouted almonds
Snack - grape tomatoes and goat cheese
Dinner - pastured ground beef browned and mixed with BPA-free tomato paste, served over zucchini noodles; baked broccoli (made with olive oil and sea salt)
Snack - slice of cheese

Here is what the last 24 hours of eating looked like for my son (dairy-free):

Breakfast - two pastured eggs scrambled; two almond cookies (made from freshly ground sprouted almonds, cashew butter, honey, eggs, and homemade vanilla extract) covered in home-canned cranberry sauce and drizzled with honey; over-ripe banana
Snack - raisins
Lunch - bowl of split pea soup (made with soaked green split peas, homemade beef broth, green beans, pastured beef, garlic, onion, and peas)
Snack - bowl of sprouted almonds
Snack - bowl of pastured beef gelatin (made with orange, pineapple, and cranberry juices)
Dinner - pastured ground beef browned and mixed with BPA-free tomato paste, served over zucchini noodles; baked broccoli (made with olive oil and sea salt); hot tea
Dessert - one almond cookie

As you can see, there is no shortage of delicious food options.  It took some getting used to, but once our taste buds adjusted to not being overloaded with sweets, we learned to find pleasure in simple things, like a piece of raw fruit or a tiny amount of honey.  

-Jessica

Saturday, January 4, 2014

SCD/GAPS/Paleo Diet: The First Three Months

On October 1 my six-year-old son and I began our own version of the Specific Carbohydrate Diet/GAPS Diet/Paleo eating plan.  We made the decision to do it for a few reasons.  First, I have Crohn's Disease and over the course of the last five years have been able to wean myself down to the minimum dosage of my maintenance medication, but have never felt completely comfortable with quitting it cold-turkey because I've been either pregnant or nursing at the time.  I'm currently nursing a ten-month-old, but feel like it's a good time to try to go off the medication before another potential pregnancy.

The reason we decided to have my son do it is because he is allergic to peanuts and dairy.  He turned six years old last August and while he has outgrown many other food allergies over the last few years (eggs, soy, pineapple, and tomato), these two allergies have actually gotten worse according to test results.  My son nursed as a baby and never had a reaction to what I ate and was in my milk.  He even received pumped milk up to the age of nearly three without reactions to what was in the milk, but when I tried to give him some of my pumped milk for an added probiotic boost last year he reacted to it.  Even after avoiding dairy and peanuts for several weeks and trying again, he still had a reaction.  Because of this and the fact that very few children outgrow their allergies if they haven't already by Kindergarten age, we knew that it was going to take something drastic, combined with a lot of prayer, to heal his body.  Others have had luck with food allergies on the GAPS diet, so we thought we would give it a shot.  At this point we have nothing to lose.

I'd had Breaking the Vicious Cycle, the book about the SCD diet, sitting on my bookshelf for years and had been ignoring it despite having people in my life tell me I should try it.  It wasn't until a friend told me about her experience with her autistic son and the GAPS diet and then hearing about another woman at a Weston A. Price meeting who had "cured" her Crohn's Disease with the same diet, that I decided I needed to look into it.

The SCD, GAPS and Paleo diets are all very similar.  You avoid all grains (not just gluten), including things like rice, oats, quinoa, potatoes, and other foods that people with gluten intolerances can eat.  No sugar, preservatives, or other food additives are allowed.  Basically, you can eat pastured meats, pastured eggs, raw dairy, organic fruits/vegetables, properly soaked nuts (and nut flours and butters), lentils, split peas, navy beans, honey, oils (we only eat coconut and olive), and a few other things.  All of the diets vary a little in what they will and won't allow, but the point is the same - no grains and sugar, a therapeutic probiotic regimen, and clean eating so that your "leaky gut" can heal.

Preparing for the Diet

We spent the month of September preparing for the diet.  Since we are already dealing with food allergies, intolerances, and special diets in our home, going on such an intense diet wasn't nearly as scary as it would be for most people.  We haven't been able to eat at restaurants or eat processed foods for years now, so we didn't have to worry about adjusting our lifestyles to eat this way.  We also already had sources for many of the foods on the plan, like pastured eggs/meat and raw dairy.  We have basically been eating this way for years without completely cutting out sugar and grains, so that was going to be the hard part for us.  For others who have to completely change the way they look at food, this process would seem much more overwhelming and difficult.

I also think that this diet would be very difficult for the average child.  Most of the foods that children enjoy (and that are convenient for parents to feed them), such as breaded chicken nuggets, breads, cookies, crackers, french fries, candy, macaroni and cheese, etc. are not allowed on the diet.  We didn't have to deal with a child that was being forced to give up the foods he liked, because our son has never been able to enjoy many of those foods due to his food allergies.  He is used to not being allowed to eat what other people around him are enjoying.

There were some foods that were hard for my son to give up, mainly some of his favorite sugary treats.  For me it was sourdough bread, bacon, and homemade pancakes with maple syrup.  Eventually, we both weaned off of our grain and sugar addictions and I learned how to cook "legal" options that would replace them using nut flours and honey.  We used the month of September to wean ourselves off of those foods and for me to refine my skills in cooking with our new staples.

Starting the Diet

On October 1, 2013 we officially began.  We followed the GAPS protocol and for the first week we ate nothing but homemade bone broth to allow our digestive systems to heal.  On top of this, my son started a new therapeutic dose of probiotics (I was already on a therapeutic dose).  He went from taking 12 strains at 3 billion to 12 strains at 10 billion and I continued at 12 strains at 20 billion.

The first week was terrible.  We both experienced very severe-die off reactions as our bodies purged the bad bacteria.  By the second night we were both waking through the night and vomiting.  This lasted about five days before we finally felt better.

I experienced a slight dip in my milk supply during the first few days, so I began eating homemade raw milk yogurt by day three.  Since my son cannot have dairy, he was simply on the bone broths.  Our next food we introduced was cooked vegetables in the broth and homemade sauerkraut, followed by egg yolks and cooked meats.  By week three we were eating nut flours made from nuts that I had properly soaked and dehydrated, along with cooked fruits.  The very last things we added were raw fruit and soaked lentils, split peas, and navy beans after the end of the first month.


Six weeks into the diet we were both feeling great and decided to up our probiotic dosage again.  My son began taking 12 strains at 13 billion and I upped it to 12 strains at 23 billion.  We did not experience a severe die-off the second time.

At the two month mark I hadn't taken my maintenance medication for my Crohn's Disease and was experiencing zero symptoms.  In fact, my body was having the opposite reaction and I became very constipated and was only having a bowel movement once a week.  Three months out and I'm still having problems with this issue.  For years with my Crohn's Disease I have had to avoid trigger foods that would cause symptoms to flare, such as raw peppers, lentils, onions, or broccoli to name a few.  I have learned that cutting out the fiber from all grains and then still avoiding those trigger foods makes digestion very difficult.  I've had to change the way I eat and allow myself to consume small amounts of the trigger foods in order to stay "regular".  It has been wonderful to enjoy a bowl of split pea soup or some raw peppers after avoiding them for nearly a decade.

The Results at Three Months

After three months I feel amazing.  My nursing baby still wakes three times a night to eat and with previous babies I was feeling very run-down and could feel my immune system crashing and the Crohn's symptoms beginning to flare by this point.  I feel like the diet has given me a tremendous amount of energy and I feel so healthy that the sleep-deprivation isn't as much of an issue.  I imagine that I would feel like a million dollars if I were also getting solid sleep on top of this diet. 

The effects of the diet on my son have also been amazing.  After that first week of die-off he began having formed stools for the very first time in his life.  His digestion is now very regular and solid.  Another amazing result has been his weight gain.  You would think that by cutting out nearly half of the foods he can eat, he would lose a lot of weight (which has been the case for me simply because I'm eating and craving less - I've lost all of my baby weight and then some, a total of 20 pounds in three months), however, he has had the opposite reaction.  My son has always been extremely tiny, under the tenth percentile on the growth chart for weight most of the time.  At age six he weighed 38 pounds, which was the same weight he had been for over a year.  He lost two pounds during the first six weeks of the diet, but right before Christmas he was weighed again and had gained that two back plus another three pounds.  Cutting out half of his diet and eating much more nutrient-dense food has resulted in a five pound weight gain after over a year and a half of no growth.  This proves to me that his body is now absorbing more of the food he is eating and his digestion is getting more efficient.  Since the goal of the diet is to heal the gaps in the intestinal wall, I have faith that this is a sign that something is happening there!

I plan to write more here about our journey, which will last at least two years, and also share some of our favorite recipes and tips for surviving this diet.  If you or a family member are suffering from an autoimmune disease, food allergy/intolerance, or other ailment in which traditional medicine is failing you or giving you few options for full healing, this is something that may be an option for you.  I won't lie, this diet is extreme and you have to follow it fanatically in order to see any benefit, but there are countless testimonies from people who have done it and have had great outcomes.

-Jessica

Monday, October 7, 2013

Preserving Winter Squash

We're nearing the end of my squash preserving frenzy and I thought I would share some tips on how to store it so that you will have plenty of your favorite locally-grown squash to enjoy through the winter and spring months.

Squash Pancakes - Yum!

Winter squash is high in carotenoids and antioxidants, and has anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic, and insulin-regulating properties.  It's packed with Vitamin A and research is showing that it may play a role in cancer prevention.

It is extremely important that you only consume organic winter squash because it can pull contaminants out of the soil.  If you find a good source for locally-grown organic squash, make sure to stock up on it and start preserving.

The wonderful thing about squash is that it can last 3-6 months before rotting if stored properly (temperature controlled).  If you plan to keep your squash whole after harvest, make sure not to consume any that may end up bruised during storage, because once bruised they are susceptible to rot and bacterial growth.

Canning squash in chunks is possible with a pressure canner, but you are not supposed to can the puree due to its density.  Of course, it is possible to can the puree, since it is sold that way in stores, but it is not something I would advise messing with at home, as the chance for food-borne illness is higher with dense foods like pumpkin.

If you have the freezer space, the best way to preserve squash is in puree form.  It's extremely easy!

First, cook your squash.  I prefer to just throw it whole into a stockpot full of water and let it simmer until cooked.  If you want to soak and consume the seeds, you'll need to slice and scoop them out before cooking, as the heat will make them unsproutable.  Then you can steam or bake your sliced squash.

Once cooked, slice the squash, scoop and toss the guts, and then throw the meat into your food processor, blending until it is the desired texture.  Pureed squash is a wonderful staple to have on hand in your fridge, as it can be added to soups, grain-free baked goods, and casseroles for an added vitamin punch.

Use a dry-erase marker on your jars for labeling

I prefer to freeze my squash in ice cube trays.  One cube equals approximately two tablespoons, making it easy to add the desired amount of squash to recipes.  If you were to freeze it in a large solid chunk, you would have to thaw and measure for future use.  The ice cubes also make convenient baby food serving sizes.  Just pull out 1-2 cubes the night before and in the morning you'll have thawed baby food ready to go.  You can even throw them in a mesh feeder to give your teething baby some relief and nutrition at the same time.


Once your cubes freeze, transfer them to plastic baggies or whatever glass freezer storage system you like to use.  It will last about a year in the freezer.

Squash seeds, if you are able to eat them, are a really nutrient-dense snack.  They are high in unsaturated fat and protein, zinc, diverse forms of Vitamin E, and other anti-oxidants.  Remember, if you are planning to consume any seeds, you must first soak them to break down the enzyme inhibitors and phytates that make them hard to digest.  Just place your seeds in a container of water, add salt, and let it sit for at least seven hours before draining and dehydrating/cooking. 

If you would like to sprout your pumpkin seeds to add even more nutrients to this already nutrient-dense food, drain them after the initial soaking, let them sit and then rinse/drain again every 8 hours until you see the sprouts forming.  They will look like little white tails.


I prefer to dehydrate my pumpkin seeds in the oven.  I lightly salt them and place them on a cookie sheet on the lowest setting my oven provides (170) for a few hours or until they are crispy.

These goodies never last long around here!

So stop decorating with those delicious pumpkins, gourds and squash, and start eating and preserving them.  Winter is just around the corner!

-Jessica

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Preserving Apples

It's that time of year again!  Pretty soon beautiful bushels of fresh, locally-grown apples will start filling every corner of my house, just waiting to be preserved.


Apple season is usually extremely busy in our household.  I spend approximately two whole weeks in the kitchen washing, peeling, coring, and preserving them because they are some of my family's favorite treats.

Did you know that even the organic apples and pears sold in the grocery store are sprayed with antibiotics?  Apples and pears are the only two foods in the United States that are allowed to be full of antibiotics and still display the organic label.  This is a huge problem that is being widely debated and the hope is that by 2016 it will no longer be allowed.  These antibiotics play a role in gut health and antibiotic resistance, so it is really important that we stop this practice, especially among organic growers.

Since apples and pears are so vulnerable to bacteria and infections that can kill the trees, it is almost impossible to grow them without spraying.  There are alternatives, but they are too costly for the average farmer.

Because of this, whenever I get my apples, regardless of the organic-labelling or not, I do a thorough washing in vinegar.  Water alone is not enough.  The vinegar will kill 98% of bacteria, pesticide residue, and anything else that may be on the peels.  Just fill your sink (sanitized with vinegar) with the apples, cover with water, and add two cups of vinegar.  Let them soak for about ten minutes (apples obviously want to float, so just make sure that you push them under and mix them around every few minutes), drain the sink, and then rinse them before eating or preserving.


Here are my essential tools for apple preservation:

Apple Peeler
Apple Corer
Large Stockpot
Large Wooden Spoon
Food Processor*
Canning Supplies (water bath canner, mason jars/lids, tongs)
Juicer
candy thermometer
Dehydrator
Freezer Bags/Containers

*some people prefer to throw their apple in with the peels and then use a food mill when they cook down.  I prefer the consistency of the applesauce when I peel them first and then puree with a food processor after they have cooked.

To can my applesauce I use my peeler to peel and core, and then throw the apples into my stockpot with a small amount of filtered water to prevent sticking.  Once the apples have cooked down a little and have softened, I run them through the food processor until they are completely pureed.  My children prefer a very smooth applesauce and this method seems to work best for obtaining the desired texture.  After it is pureed it goes back into the stockpot until it reaches a boil.  Then I fill my jars with 1/2 inch headspace and process them for twenty minutes in the water bath.

Toward the end of my preserving marathon I sometimes get lazy and stop peeling apples.  I will simply cut the apples using my corer and throw them, peels and all, into the stockpot to cook down (make sure you used the vinegar wash if you're going to do this).  When you put the apples into the food processor they will still blend down to a nice puree, but it won't be as smooth as without the peels and you will see little slices of peel in the jars.  My kids don't really notice a difference, but I definitely prefer the sauce without the peels.  We can go through 2-3 quarts of sauce each week (100+ each year), so when you're canning in those quantities you sometimes have to cut corners to get it all done!

 

Apple Juice is another favorite of mine.  When I get to the end of my canning session it's a really easy way to use up apples and preserve them.  I just throw my halved apples straight into our juicer (we have the Jack LaLanne) and then heat the juice that comes out to 190 degrees (I use a candy thermometer to check).  You are not supposed to boil the juice.  Once it reaches the temperature I ladle it into my jars with 1/4 inch headspace and process for ten minutes in the water bath.

If you don't have a juicer you can do it the old-fashioned way - throw your chopped apples into the stockpot with water (1 quart filtered water per 12 pounds apples) and once they have cooked down you can strain them through something like cheesecloth to get the juice.


Freezing is a wonderful way to preserve your apples.  Most canning books will tell you to treat your apples with a produce protector before freezing to prevent darkening, but I've never done it and haven't had a problem.  The frozen apples do discolor a little bit, but since you're usually using the frozen apples for things like pies and cobblers, the discoloration doesn't really matter.  My favorite use for frozen apples is in stove-top potpourri.  I throw a cup of the apple slices in a pot with some water, cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, and dehydrated mint, and put it on simmer.  The smell is amazing and a great alternative to chemical-filled candles and air-fresheners.


Dehydrating apple rings is another great way to preserve apples.  If sliced thinly enough they will turn crispy like a chip - a favorite for my children.  If the slices are a little thicker they will be somewhat chewy, but still tasty.

The best way to ensure thin slices is to use an apple peeler.  When you're done you get nice apple rings that are uniform in size and fit nicely on your dehydrator tray.  I usually fill my dehydrator in the morning and by dinner they are ready (every dehydrator is different).

I've made my apple chips both with the peels and without and they are both equally delicious.


I hope you have a wonderful apple preserving season!  There is so much you can do with this delicious fruit to ensure that you will enjoy it all through the winter months.  If you are interested in recipes for things like apple butter, apple pie filling, or other sugary treats, I've always had good luck with the Ball Blue Book.  I like to use tried and true recipes to ensure that what I make will be preserved safely.

Happy (almost) autumn everyone!  And remember - an apple a day keeps the doctor away!

-Jessica

Friday, August 23, 2013

Making and Preserving Homemade Chicken Broth

Note: People often use the terms stock and broth interchangeably. Essentially, they are the same thing - water flavored with bones, meat, and vegetables. The main difference is that broth is seasoned and stock is not. I like to flavor before preserving, therefore what I make is a broth, but if you were to leave out the flavoring, you could have a bland stock to season as needed with your recipes.

As I am reaching the height of my canning season, I am working on a series of posts about food preservation. I think the best place to start is with homemade stock.

Do you ever wonder what to do with the carcass after you roast a whole chicken? Making a bone stock or broth out of it is easy and saves you a ton of money. Throughout history bone broths have been known to have healing effects: mitigating cold symptoms, helping with inflammation, relieving digestive issues, and just giving us a sense of comfort when we're under the weather.

The most common brands of broth, like Swanson, are misleading in their advertising.  Many brands contain MSG, a neurotoxin, so Swanson wants us to know theirs is healthier and makes sure to label it as "all-natural" and "MSG-free".  The problem is that Swanson chicken broth contains yeast extract, which means the broth does in fact contain MSG.  It's a labeling trick that is dishonest.  To learn more about MSG and yeast extract, read this.

Buying a good, organic bone broth in the grocery store is difficult, not only because they are often seasoned with items you don't want, but they are pretty expensive.  Take Pacific Foods Free Range Organic Chicken Broth, which contains organic chicken broth (filtered water, organic chicken), organic chicken flavor, (organic chicken flavor, sea salt), natural chicken flavor (chicken stock, salt), organic evaporated cane juice, organic onion powder, turmeric, and organic flavor.  I don't know about you, but I have no idea what "organic flavor" is and I prefer that there isn't hidden sugar in my broth. Besides, for $4.00 per 32 ounces, I would at least like to see some veggies in the broth.

Instead of spending so much on nutritionally inferior broth, why not make your own out of something that costs you nothing extra, as you intend to throw the carcass in the garbage anyways?

All the equipment you need to make your own broth is a large stock pot, something to strain it with (like cheesecloth), and eight quart-size canning jars/lids.  I use my Cuisinart 12 Quart Pasta Pot because it allows me to throw all of my ingredients in the pasta insert and once the broth is done simmering I can pull the solids out without having to strain the broth through anything.

If you don't have a pasta insert, just throw your carcass, veggies, herbs, and seasonings straight into your stockpot and strain it when it is done.

Remember not to use a stock pot coated with Teflon or other non-stick coatings and additives.  It makes little sense to worry about your food additives while cooking with pots that contain carcinogens. 

MAKING THE BROTH
8 quarts filtered water
1 organic, free-range chicken carcass
3-4 organic carrots
3 organic green onions
2 cloves organic garlic
10-15 whole peppercorns
2 T sea salt

I do not add herbs now, because I prefer to add them directly to whatever food I am using the broth as a base for, but you could add some now if you want to - bay leaves or rosemary would be nice.

Bring the water to a boil and then let it simmer on the stove for about four hours.  If you have your solids directly in a stock pot you're going to want to stir it every now and then to make sure the veggies aren't sticking to the bottom.  If you're using the pasta insert it is not necessary.

After four hours you have a delicious broth that you can either preserve by freezing or canning, or put directly in the fridge, where it will last for about one week.  Freezing is a great option if you have the space for it, however, I prefer canning my broth so I don't waste precious space in my deep-freezer.

CANNING THE BROTH

To preserve your broth you are going to need a pressure canner.  I have a Presto 16 Quart canner and it is easy to use, although quite intimidating the first time.  If you've never used a pressure canner you may want to invite someone over to help you initially, as it is very different than using a water bath canner.

My canner fits 7 quart-size jars, and since I prepare 8 quarts of broth at once (1 inch of headspace), I leave one in the fridge for immediate use.  The rest go into the canner for 25 minutes at 10 psi.



And there you have it - 8 quarts of delicious homemade broth to use as a base in your soups and other meals.  Not only is it nutritionally superior to what you can buy in the store, but it saves you about $32 if you were buying the same quantity of organic broth there.

In case you're wondering, you CANNOT preserve broth with a water bath canner.  It is a low-acid food, which needs to reach 240 degrees for a specific period of time in order to kill the bacteria that would spoil it.  A water bath canner cannot reach that temperature.

 -Jessica

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Homemade Toothpaste

My husband and I went fluoride-free about six years ago when we started to learn about the potential dangers of ingesting it and the role it could have been playing in the flares of my Crohn's Disease.  We bought a reverse osmosis filtration system for our drinking water to eliminate all fluoride and began trying out different brands of fluoride-free toothpaste.  

I've tried countless different brands of toothpaste over the years and have enjoyed the flavors of some and the results of many, but the prices have been pretty outrageous.  Then when we started having children and needed to find a toothpaste that was safe for little ones to swallow we became even more frustrated. Not only were the fluoride-free toothpastes marketed to children overpriced, but they tasted terrible.  No wonder my children were protesting having their teeth brushed, because I nearly gagged the first time I tried their BabyGanics toothpaste!  It was like rubbing my teeth with a glob of artificially-sweetened strawberry goo.

If you do a search online for homemade toothpaste you'll find a million different recipes.  Different people like different tastes and formulas.  When I began putting together my recipe I knew I wanted every ingredient to be something I would actually eat (which meant no xylitol or glycerin) and something that would remineralise my mouth.

Our teeth are very porous and as we age, those pores become bigger from a loss of minerals, causing an increased risk of tooth decay.  It isn't that a poor diet high in sugar itself causes cavities, it's that the poor diet, low in vitamins and minerals and high in sugar, causes a loss of minerals and thus an increased risk of cavities.  Dr. Weston A. Price did a lot of research on this topic if you're ever interested in reading more about it.  Putting minerals into our mouths through our toothpaste is an important part of dental hygiene.

As I mentioned, there are a million different homemade toothpaste recipes out there.  This is what works for me.

1/4 cup Calcium & Magnesium pills crushed - for remineralisation

1/4 cup coconut oil - it's antimicrobial/antiseptic

2 T. baking soda - it's an abrasive that also neutralizes stains and odors

2 T. honey - helps preserve the toothpaste and gives it a good taste

1 T. filtered water - helps with texture

40-50 drops of essential oil - for flavor; I use peppermint

It's extremely simple to make.  I use my little bullet blender and throw in the pills with the coconut oil.  Once the pills are crushed a bit I add everything but the essential oils (you don't want your oils to get too hot) and then let it blend until it is a smooth paste.  After that is done I add my oil and do a quick mix.  When you're done you have something that looks like grey puddy.



The texture is not so thick that you couldn't put it in a hand-pump or some type of tube for easy application, however, I prefer to just scoop it into a half-pint canning jar and dip my toothbrush straight into it.  If you're a little more worried about germs, you might want to consider something else.



You don't have to worry about your toothpaste going bad.  The honey and coconut oil will help to prevent bacteria and if you only make the half-pint it will be gone quickly anyways.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

LOTW - Arsenic in Chicken

Here is the link of the week: FDA Finally Admits Chicken Meat Contains Cancer-Causing Arsenic

 

Highlights of the article:

 

Arsenic has been added to chicken feed for the last sixty years and the poultry industry and FDA have said it does not end up in the meat.

 

The FDA is claiming that the levels of arsenic are too low to cause any harm, even though the chicken feed (manufactured by a subsidiary of Pfizer, of course) has now been pulled off the market in the United States. 

 

The poultry industry and FDA have known for years that chicken feces contains this arsenic.  That feces (chicken litter) is fed to cows that are factory raised, which of course contaminates the beef as well.

 

If you thought you needed yet another reason to avoid the meat sold in your supermarket, you now have it.  Buy locally-raised, pastured meat!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Homemade Sauerkraut

It's grilling season and my family loves a good steak or burger, but research tells us that cooking meat at high temperatures creates compounds that have been linked to cancer.  One way to clear your body quickly of those cancer-causing compounds is to make sure you eat some type of cruciferous veggie with your grilled meat.  These veggies contain sulforaphane, a molecule that helps fight cancer and microbes.

This makes sense, right?!  This is why a grilled bratwurst tastes so good slathered in sauerkraut.  It's the perfect combo for your health.

Sauerkraut is one of my husband's favorites.  I'm not a huge fan, but I tolerate the taste because I know it's good for you.  Besides being the perfect compliment for grilled meat, sauerkraut is great for digestion in general.  This is because of the lacto-fermentation process the cabbage goes through.

Many times, the sauerkraut you buy in the store has gone through a pasteurization process, which kills the good bacteria and negates these benefits to your digestive system.  To avoid this, why not make your own?  Sauerkraut is one of the easiest things to make and is really cheap.  You can get a fresh head of cabbage from the Farmer's Market for next to nothing, whereas a can of quality kraut at the store can cost you around $5.

To make my sauerkraut, I use nothing but sea salt and cabbage.  Many recipes call for homemade whey to give a little boost of Lactobacilli, but since we have a child with dairy allergies in the house that we want to share the sauerkraut with, we skip it.  Our kraut turns out just fine without it.

Here is how I make sauerkraut without a special crock.  Start with your cabbage.


Core and shred it.  Then add three tablespoons of sea salt (if you're using whey you use less salt - 1T salt/4T whey).


Now you start pounding.  I use a meat hammer and just beat and beat and beat at the cabbage until all of the juices are out of it.  It takes 10-15 minutes.  It's a good arm workout, which I guess is another health benefit of homemade kraut ;)


If you get tired, find some little helpers to beat it for you for a while.  It makes for a good science lesson. :)


Once you're done beating the cabbage, pack it into your canning jars.  For one medium head of cabbage I can usually get one quart plus one pint.  You want at least one inch of headspace and make sure all of the cabbage juice covers the cabbage in the jar.  In order to pack it in that way I use a large wooden spoon and press it down.

Make sure you completely seal your jars and place them on your counter to ferment for at least 3 days.  Once they are sealed, don't open the lid or you'll ruin the process. 

Here is my sauerkraut next to my sourdough starter.  That's a whole lot of fermentation going on!


After your three days you want to make sure to store your kraut somewhere cool.  You can use the fridge if you want.  I just put mine down in my basement food storage area with the rest of my canned goods.  You could technically eat your kraut after three days and you would get the benefit of the bacteria, however, sauerkraut is one of those things, like wine, that gets better with age, not just in terms of flavor. 

Remember that you don't need to use a water bath or pressure cooker to can your kraut.  In fact, the heat would kill the good bacteria.  The lactic acid preserves the cabbage, so you don't need to worry about bad bacteria until you open the lid.  Once it's open, make sure to store it in the fridge, where it will last for months.  And as with all home-canned items, check for signs of spoilage before you consume it.  If it looks like there is anything growing on your kraut or inside the jar on the top of the lid, if you see pink, or if there is seepage of some sort on the outside of the lid, it's better to be safe than sorry - don't eat it.

It is normal for your cabbage to lose it's bright green color with time.  That does not mean it is spoiling.  You'll notice that most krauts you buy in the store are more of a yellowish color than green.  Here is a batch of sauerkraut my husband made four years ago.  We will still eat it if it doesn't smell when we open it.


Cabbage is really cheap at this time of the year, so make sure to buy a few heads and start your own sauerkraut stockpile to get you through the winter.  Just make sure you buy organic cabbage that hasn't been sprayed!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

I Love Bacteria

As someone living with Crohn's Disease, I am obsessed with bacteria (good and bad) and the role it plays in overall health.  While professionals in the world of alternative medicine have been screaming about this topic for decades, it seems that Western medicine is finally catching on.

An amazing article on the topic came out last month in The New York Times.  Written by Michael Pollan (author of some amazing books on food), the article titled "Some of My Best Friends Are Germs" talks about everything I've been trying to tell people ever since my diagnosis in 2006.  If you haven't read it yet, grab a glass of kombucha and settle in, because it's long, but extremely informative.

Basically, what Michael Pollan is trying to say is that our Western diets and medical model are horrible for the good bacteria in our body.  Antibiotic use, antibacterial obsessions, and processed foods DO have a negative impact on our bodies beyond antibiotic resistance and obesity. 

So, start eating those fermented prebiotic foods, stop worrying about cleaning your house, breastfeed those babies as long as you can, make sure you aren't accidentally eating antibiotics in your meat and dairy, and embrace the bacteria around you.  Life is dirty and sometimes that dirt is beautiful!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Homemade Lotion Bars

Note: This recipe makes a very thick, greasy lotion.  This is something that is best used for seriously dry skin or skin conditions like eczema.  I prefer to use it at nighttime and I find that when I wake the next morning my skin still feels moisturized.  It's that thick!

You can find many different recipes for lotion bars.  Most include beeswax, a butter of some type (shea, cocoa, coconut, etc.), and oil.  After some experimentation, here is what I decided on for mine - Shea butter, Beeswax, Coconut Oil, Almond Oil, and Olive Oil.

Shea butter is pretty much a staple in my house during pregnancy.  I go through an 8 ounce container of it each month in an effort to prevent stretch marks and an itchy belly  (four pregnancies and no stretch marks, so it must do something helpful).  Aside from being a great moisturizer, in Africa where the butter is harvested, it is used as a sunblock and also as a massage oil for painful joints.  This makes it the perfect ingredient for lotion.

Shea butter can be pretty expensive if you buy it at your local health food store in a tiny jar.  It runs me nearly $10 for an 8 ounce jar.  But you can find great deals online in bulk.  For this project I found five pounds for $15 (plus shipping) on Amazon.

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Beeswax is obviously included in the recipe to help solidify the mixture.

Coconut Oil has many wonderful benefits for your skin - it can help protect you from infection, prevent aging, heal bruises, clear up rashes, and treat skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema.

Almond Oil is a great lubricant that also helps with skin conditions and can fight aging.

Olive Oil is great for dry skin and some scientists believe it can also protect your skin against sun damage and cancer.

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Once you have all of your ingredients, the process is very similar to making lip balm.  For my recipe I used 1 part shea butter, 1 part oil (1/2 coconut, 1/4 almond and 1/4 olive) and 1/2 part beeswax.  Most recipes call for equal amounts of each, but I wanted my lotion to be a little greasier and less solid.

Throw all of your ingredients into your double broiler and let them melt.

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Remember, it is much easier to melt the beeswax if it is grated, however, another way to speed up the process is to throw your solid chunk of wax on the heat for a while and once it softens, remove it and chop it into smaller chunks.

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Once everything has melted you are are ready to fill your forms.

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If you prefer a scented lotion, now would be the time to add your essential oils - once everything is off of your heat source.  If you're using cocoa butter, it has a very chocolatey smell, and some essential oils aren't going to mix well with it.  Shea butter has a distinct smell that is very earthy.  I prefer to leave it unscented, but if you don't like the earthy scent, something like lavender oil would be nice.  Just remember that you DO NOT want to use citrus oils on a lotion that you will use before you head out into the sun.  Citrus oils are phototoxic and can burn your skin, leaving permanent dark patches.

Something to consider if you're thinking pretty far ahead of time is infusing your own oils with fragrance.  You could clip fresh herbs and flowers from your garden, or use your kitchen spices, and place them in a jar with the oil you plan to use for your lotion.  Put the jar in a window sill and let it sit for a few weeks to a month.  Calendula-infused oil would be great for eczema and other skin conditions.

Some people like to use silicon molds to create their lotion bars.  These are cute and can be placed in a small tin or jar for storage.  I prefer something that keeps my hands from getting too greasy when I apply it, so I purchased some empty deodorant containers.  These can be reused when I'm done with them.  To fill I used a ladle to get my hot mixture from the double broiler and into something with a spout.

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If you're using deodorant containers and you want to use the dispenser tops that come with them, your recipe needs to have a high percentage of oil.  If it is too solid, your lotion will not squeeze through the holes and will just pop the top off.  If you're using them, make sure you don't fill the containers all the way to the top so you can still pop on the dispenser.

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If you prefer to skip the dispenser top, you can fill to the top.

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Either way, the lotion bars are very easy to apply this way, leaving your hands grease-free.

 It's easy to apply on my son's eczema patches on his legs.

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And it's also great for my pregnant belly.

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If you want to give these as gifts, you can buy some shipping labels to add a cute touch.  Just make sure to cover your paper label with some clear shipping tape or else it will get really greasy or even start to peel off after a while.

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Total cost per 2 ounce deodorant bar was approximately $2.50.  If I skipped the deodorant containers and just used recycled jars from around the house my cost would drop to about 90 cents per 2 ounces.  Not too bad!

Have fun experimenting!

-Jessica