Easiest Egg Drop Soup

Egg Drop SoupWith all this rain lately, I’m all about eating soup like it’s cold outside. I recently discovered (out of necessity- aka no groceries) a super easy recipe for those days you don’t feel like cooking or just need a quick immune boost.

This version of egg drop soup is quite healthier than the sodium-filled version you’ll find at your local take-out spot, but still packs all the flavor and lots of protein. The base is bone broth – one of the four pillars of authentic world cuisine; here’s quick summary of why it is so healthy:

Animal bones contain a protein molecule called glucosamine.  Glucosamine, the main ingredient in arthritis meds and joint supplements, helps build and repair joints and also triggers the growth of new collagen. Collagen provides structural support for our bones, tendons and ligaments, and gives our skin shape, texture and youthfulness. By simmering the nutrients out of the bones, joints and cartilage slowly, you are able to safely extract the minerals and vitamins (magnesium, vitamin D & calcium) and make a bone broth filled with glucosamine & collagen – these not only help prevent issues, but also rebuild and repair your skin, hair, bones & arteries.

You’ll also notice that this recipe is completely soy-free.  I went soy-free a couple of years ago to avoid the effects that the toxic processing & GMOs were wreaking on my hormones.  Read more here.

Ingredients:

Simply put a bowlful of bone broth in a pot and bring to a boil.  While you’re waiting, crack open your eggs and whisk them in a separate bowl. Once the broth is boiling, add the salt and coconut aminos.  Then, turn off the heat (if using an electric stove top, also remove from the burner).  Next, put the whisk in the broth and start swirling the liquid as you slowly pour the eggs into the center of your cyclone. You’ll see that the eggs cook immediately, but not too much that they’re scrambled. Ta-da – you’re done.  Serve immediately and enjoy!

Advertisements

Back to Real Life

So, I’ve been a bit MIA the past couple of months.  See, I just returned from a vacation to Italy and France and most of my free time in the weeks leading up to the trip were planning the 2 weeks we were going to be there.  But, I’m back now and more inspired than ever to keep on pursuing true health.

Leading up to the trip, I was a bit anxious about all the weight I was going to gain from eating so many carbs.  That wasn’t going to stop me from enjoying all the pasta, pizza, gelato, tiramisu and wine “when in Rome,” but I figured I would just have to work extra hard when I returned to be healthier.  So, when I was there, I did just that.  I splurged at meals, opting for wine at lunch and dinner, eating an afternoon gelato every day, and having my share of fresh pasta in search of the best ever.

What surprised me, though, is that I somehow ended up losing weight on the trip.  More importantly, while we were there and when I returned, I felt great – nearly pain-free, full of energy, and just an overall feeling of healthy.  On a normal basis, I am so focused on what I eat and put into my body, but only very slowly do I feel like I am seeing the results for my health that I want.   I go on vacation for two weeks and eat whatever I want (and have the best time doing so), and I see results immediately.  As I’ve returned and reflected about what made that possible, I’ve had a few thoughts that I wanted to share.

Fresh Ingredients, Made-From-Scratch Food

Every day, Italian home cooks and chefs go to the market to get fresh meat and fresh vegetables for the meals they will prepare that day.  While we were staying in Tuscany, we cooked dinner every night in our home and visited the market several times that week.  The stores there weren’t like ours where fresh ingredients remain only on two of the outer sides of the store, with the bulk of food on shelves or in freezers. They had large produce sections, cheese and meat counters (mozzarella and prosciutto galore!), a large selection of fresh pasta, non-homogenized milk & cream and a bakery with breads baked that day.  There were no pre-prepared desserts, very little freezer space and the eggs were so fresh they didn’t even have to be refrigerated.

We took a cooking class in Italy on how to make fresh pasta and learned thirteen different pasta sauces.  Let me first say, if you ever go to Italy – do this!  It really was one of my most favorite experiences and taught us so much more about the culture we were visiting.  Plus, it was the best meal of the trip!  My brother blogged about the details here if you’d like to read more about it.  It was incredible to go behind-the-scenes with a chef who cooks for his restaurant daily and learn his authentic recipes.  He told us about how he visits the local farmer’s market daily to get fresh seafood, meat, eggs, fruits and vegetables.  We started by chopping lots of fresh produce and then throwing it in pots on the stove with plenty of locally grown & produced olive oil.  The sauces were all made from fresh veggies and tomatoes, real cream, pancetta, and lots of freshly grated parmesan cheese.  One of the best parts was that he had his pots of fresh herbs right on the kitchen counter and would pick them straight off the plant, tear them up and throw them in the pots as we cooked.  The pasta was simply made from unbleached flour, fresh eggs and chopped spinach or tomato paste was added for different coloring/flavoring.  Every ingredient was simple and fresh.  Every item was hand-made.  We are just missing that here.

While we were only in Paris a few days, I certainly enjoyed every bit of French food while I could.  I had some delicious meals where you could really taste the flavor because of how they were prepared.  The french onion soup was made with gelatin-rich bone broth and you could taste how long it had been simmering to infuse nutrients.  Roasted chicken was always served on the bone and in its own gravy.  One night, we went to a place that made traditional crepes, made gluten-free with buckwheat as they should be – phenomenal!

Non-Toxic, Real Food

I attribute a lot of how healthy we stayed during our trip to the fact that the food was made from real ingredients.  There were no preservatives in the bread and fresh pasta.  The preservative potassium bromate (aka bromated flour) that’s often found in our foods here in the U.S. isn’t added there, so doesn’t pose a risk to your health.   They use olive oil or butter for all cooking, and you won’t find hydrogenated vegetable oil in processed foods either – those are made with coconut or palm oil.  That alone makes such a difference in the amount of free-radicals people are exposed to.  It’s amazing how foods that are sold both there and here are made so differently – The ketchup I got with my french fries in Paris contained no high-fructose corn sryup; it was made with real tomatoes and sugar.  We even bought m&m’s at the airport that were made with coconut oil!  I’m now wishing I had bought more…

And you certainly won’t find any toxic food dyes or artifcial coloring in the foods.  All the gelato we enjoyed was flavored and colored with real fruits; there were no bright, unrealistic colors to attract customers.  And GMOs are strictly regulated there and mostly banned in both Italy and France.  Produce is grown by farmers who sell it at local markets, chicken and cattle are allowed to graze freely on the range and not fed growth-stimulating hormones, and fish are actually caught in sea instead of farmed.  All of the chemicals that we eat in our food cause us to gain weight as our bodies are literally starving of nutrients.  And they make us feel terrible as we suffer from leaky gut syndrome and develop food allergies we may not even realize.  If you are curious to read more, here’s an interesting list of lots of things we eat constantly in the US that’s banned in other countries across the world due to health effects.

Movement

The first city on our trip was Rome.  We stayed in Centro Storico, right by the Piazza Navona.  A great location literally right in the middle of all the major sides, but not easily accessible public transportation.  So we quickly learned that we would be walking everywhere.  We started both days we were there with a 30-minute walk to our tours of the Vatican and Colosseum/Ancient Rome and continued to do lots and lots of walking.  As we visited towns across Tuscany, many people don’t have cars and simply walk everywhere.  They walk to the market each day, they walk to work.  In one town we visited, Lucca, everyone rides bikes, both leisurely around town and athletically through the countryside.  We rode around the top of the town wall – a beautiful experience.  In Venice, you walk everywhere to avoid expensive boat rides and the locals were always out walking their pups.  Walking miles a day certainly put me into better shape than I have been in a long time.  And miraculously, my back pain ceased and my recently painful achilles tendon, finally stretched out instead of cramped under a desk all day, hasn’t bothered me  since.  Funny how all the pain that typically prevents me from exercise is really what cures it.

Biking in Lucca

Less Stress

According to WebMD, 75-90% of all doctor’s office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints.  As a society, we are really harming our bodies by putting ourselves under too much stress.  Stress causes us to experience back and neck pain, affects our hormones and causes us to gain weight.  One thing the Italians have right is how to live a less stressful life.  They take their time in the mornings enjoying a cafe with breakfast.  They go to work for a few hours and then take an afternoon break to relax and eat lunch with friends or family, before returning to work for a few hours in the afternoon/evening.  Meals are an experience and people take their time eating, enjoying each other’s company and partaking in plenty of wine.  Disclaimer for any “health people” ready to judge: I am aware that wine is alcohol and therefore toxic to your body, but there’s a lot to say for how a glass or two helps take the edge off the day and provide stress relief.  We had some pretty crazy driving experiences around Italy (especially up the switchbacks on the steep hill to our house in Tuscany) and at the end of the day, a glass of champagne certainly helped take the stress away.

Obviously, I was on vacation and away from my job (recently rated #5 on the most stressful jobs list, by the way!), so that certainly helped my stress level.  But, it was more than that…  I wasn’t watching tv or constantly on my phone checking email, instagram or facebook.  I was out exploring, taking walks, enjoying art and taking in the beauty of God’s creation.  I was cooking for my family each night, feeling inspired by the local ingredients and creating delicious new recipes.  And, then, I sat with my family to enjoy the food over conversation around the dinner table, uninterrupted by phones or our busy lives.  How often does that happen in our lives anymore?  It’s the focus on relationships, talking about life and decompressing from the day over a great meal and glass of wine that helps put things in perspective and remember what’s really important: not stressing over life, but appreciating our blessings.

Back to Real Life

So now that I’ve convinced you myself to move to Italy, I have to remember that wineries and beautiful hills are just a short drive away (on much easier roads)!  But, really, although the hurdles to health that I returned to can sometimes be overwhelming and discouraging, I can lead a healthier life.  I’m inspired to…

  • Shop at local farmer’s markets.  Meet the people who grow real food and who have a passion for providing real nourishment to their customers.  Invest in them and the hard work they do every day.
  • Use real ingredients and keep my recipes simple.  Make things from scratch that have true flavor and are full of nutrients.
  • Enjoy cooking again.  I no longer want to dread cooking dinner when I get home from a long day at work.  I want to remember that God’s gifted me with the ability to create delicious, healthy dishes for my family and see it as a way to express my creativity.
  • Take more walks. Enjoy the beautiful Texas weather & landscape, meet my neighbors, and keep my puppy happy as she’s so enjoyed our walking adventures since I returned.
  • Host more dinner parties to enjoy good food and good wine with friends.
  • Sit at the table to eat with my husband more often instead of on the couch.  No phones allowed.
  • Leave the stress of work at the office.  Give thanks for all my blessings daily and put things back in perspective.

Salute!

Paninis and Wine from a street cafe in Florence

Soy it ain’t so…

No more soy!

Thanks to the marketing efforts of the soy industry in the U.S. (we are the top producer of soy, contributing around 35% of the world supply), we’ve been deceived into thinking that soy is a phenomenal health food. It’s supposed to be heart-healthy and keep you young. Vegetarians rely on it as a protein source. It’s a widely available alternative for those with lactose intolerance. And the Japanese, whose diet is considered one of the healthiest in the world, have eaten it for years. Unfortunately, the truth is that it’s cheap, easy to process, and therefore has great margins for making money, hence the pervasive marketing. Even worse, it’s toxic to our bodies when not prepared or grown appropriately. Bad news is that the toxic kind is how it’s currently produced and consumed by all of us today.

Soybeans contain two chemicals, goitrogens and phytoestrogens, that affect your thyroid and sex hormones. Traditionally, the Japanese would soak and ferment the soybeans before using them, which neutralizes these harmful chemicals and creates tasty and healthful miso, tofu, etc. But now, in commercially made soy products (even in many of those organically grown), the fermentation process is skipped because it’s cheaper & quicker to do so; instead it is hydrolyzed, a process that does not remove the toxins. So the soy sauce, soy milk, infant formulas, soy protein bars, tofu and most processed products you buy in stores and eat at restaurants are passing those chemicals straight to your body. These chemicals cause thyroid (regulates growth, metabolism and energy levels) issues, like hyper/hypothyroidism and thyroid & pancreatic cancer, as well as reproductive organ problems for both men and women. Soy is also one of the most common allergens, especially among infants and toddlers.

In addition to the fact that already-present chemicals are not removed, the toxic solvent hexane (a chemical by-product of gasoline refining) is used to process soy proteins. Hexane can cause cancer, birth defects, reproductive issues, and adverse effects on the environment.

Even worse, 90% of soybeans are genetically modified, a serious health issue I discussed at length here. The GMO quality of these beans only adds to the health effects, now being linked to sterility and infant mortality.

Seeing a trend here? I don’t know about you, but when I learned about all this, I was immediately motivated to remove soy from my diet. Personally, I saw amazing changes in some hormonal issues I was suffering from within just a few weeks (starting with getting rid of my daily soy-protein bars at breakfast). Here’s a few suggestions to get you started:

  • When shopping, go for fresh foods instead of processed items. If you do buy packaged (even organic), look at the ingredients label and avoid these substances: soy, soy protein (isolate/hydrolyzed), soy lecithin, hydrolyzed plant/vegetable protein, monoglycerides, MSG, and soybean oil
  • If you are lactose-intolerant or vegetarian, go for cashew, almond or, my favorite, coconut milk. I find that unsweetened, full fat coconut milk tastes the most similar and works in recipes as an easy substitute – plus it makes delicious and healthy whipped cream!
  • Start your babies off right – most infant formulas contain GM soy. Breast-feeding is best, but if you must use formula, you will have to make your own, find a local goat farm for milk, or participate in a milk sharing program. Unfortunately, there are no soy-free options available for sale in the United States, but you can import from Europe (Holle brand in Germany).
  • Attention meat eaters: many fast food restaurants put soy flour and soy protein in their meat and buns, among other things…
  • Lastly, you can still enjoy those tasty Asian dishes with traditionally fermented soy sauce instead. I have found it at every grocery store I’ve visited and I actually like the taste better. Here’s one brand to try.  Or, you can use coconut aminos, which has a very similar taste and is completely soy-free.

I’d love to know… Is this the first you’ve heard about the dangers of soy? Will you try removing it from your diet?

The Time I Did A Juice Fast

fat-sick-and-nearly-dead

If you’ve ever seen Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead, you’ve probably wondered about the benefits that juicing and a raw diet could provide for you.  Joe Cross was overweight and experiencing health issues that doctors could not find answers to (but had no problem prescribing him lots of pills for); finally, he met a natural doctor that told him that eating well was the only way to heal himself of his autoimmune skin disease.  So he decided to go on a 60 day organic juice-only fast, followed by months of only fruits, veggies, nuts and beans. He loses an incredible amount of weight and experiences an amazing health transformation. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend watching it on Netflix – it’s very inspiring.

Fresh juice is nothing like the high fructose corn syrup sweetened and artificially flavored and dyed stuff you find in the grocery aisle.  When you juice from real fruits and veggies, you are getting tons of  real nutrients.  You can pack pounds of these healthful, fresh items into just one juice. Plus, since you’re juicing out the fiber, your body is able to quickly absorb all those vitamins and nutrients rather than spending energy to digest them. If you believe in eating the hunter-gatherer way, then fasting is especially important as, naturally, there were times when food could be hard to come by. Our bodies are designed to need a break every once in a while.  And raw, fresh foods are part of the Four Pillars of World Cuisine.  The raw fruits and veggies in juice provide our bodies with potent antioxidants essential to combating harmful free-radicals (the molecules that cause every kind of disease, especially cancer).

Bonus: The major ingredients in my juices were 4 of the 5 best alkaline foods – lemons, cayenne pepper, leafy greens and apples.  Why does that matter?  Basically, our bodies are designed to keep a neutral pH level, but with all of the processed foods we eat, we often end up being highly acidic.  Being acidic can majorly affect your health by diminishing your immune system, causing fatigue, pain and even cancer.  The more alkaline and less acidic foods (the list may surprise you) you can eat to balance out your system, the better!

So, I had watched documentaries, read articles about and heard of friends doing juice fasts/cleanses and wanted to try it for myself. Although it was recommended to “pre-cleanse” by weaning off meat, dairy, sugar, wheat, etc., I didn’t.  Let’s be honest, most of us try a cleanse because we’ve been eating junk.. I did the cleanse because I wanted to break my taste for those things and get back on track. I did eat a little healthier and did no alcohol or caffeine as well as only eating fish and veggies for the 48 hours before so it wouldn’t be too bad of a shock.

Fruits and Veggies Pre-JuiceI had looked into buying all the juice for my cleanse from a couple of local companies like JuiceLand and Skinny Limits, but when prices were coming up at $175-200 for an organic cleanse, I looked into the DIY option. I found some recipes online here and here that imitated the well-known BluePrint cleanse, borrowed a Jack LaLanne Pro juicer from a friend and then went shopping. I only spent $68.61 on organic fruits and veggies.  So worth it.  Now, the juicing took about 3 hours total, but considering I usually spend about an hour and a half each day preparing breakfast, lunch and dinner, that’s really not any different.  It was super nice to come home from work and have my “meal” already made and let my husband fend for himself.   I started with all these fresh vibrant fruits and veggies, which was more produce than I usually buy in a whole week.

At the end, I had a little over 2 days worth of juice:

  1. Breakfast: Green Juice – Kale, Spinach, Romaine, Parsley, Apple, Cucumber, Lemon and Celery
  2. Morning Snack: Pineapple-Apple-Mint Juice
  3. Lunch: Green Juice
  4. Afternoon Snack: Agave-sweetened Lemonade with Cayenne Pepper
  5. Dinner: Green Juice
  6. Evening Snack: Cashew-Vanilla-Cinnamon Milk (which is blended, not juiced)

Juice

Biggest surprise?  How much I liked the juices. The green juice was delicious… a little celery-y, but super yummy. The cashew milk that everyone seems to love was the most disgusting thing ever. I only had it the first night and barely kept it down. I had more green juice the second night.

Biggest regret? Not starting an awesome compost pile with all the fruit and veggie pulp that the juicer collected.  Guess I’ll have to do it again!

Was it awful? Overall, I was really hungry the whole time, which is normal, but tough. Watching tv was hard and commercials made me crave donuts and pizza. They say that since your body is being detoxed, you could feel terrible… I really didn’t. In fact, I had more energy than ever. During the fast, I was kind of wondering if it was worth it and it wasn’t until afterwards that I realized it was.  I totally lost my desire for junk food and coffee and alcohol, and felt sick whenever I had those things, which definitely helped my self-control.  I also lost 4 pounds which I have easily kept off since.

Ultimately, I would recommend the experience to anyone, especially those suffering from sickness or trying to break bad food habits. I will absolutely be purchasing a juicer and making juice part of my normal routine so that I get more nutrients into my diet in a delicious way.  But, if I ever do a cleanse again, I’ll want a buddy… it was hard to do it alone!

So, what do you think? Would you ever try a juice cleanse?

…And What To Do About It

Yesterday, I shared part 1 of my review on Gary Taubes’  book, Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It. His arguments really hit home with me, and I’m sure did with a few of you as well.  So, naturally, the next step after realizing why we are getting fat is figuring out what to do about it.  “Not all of us get fat when we eat carbohydrates, but for those of us who do get fat, the carbohydrates are to blame; the fewer carbohydrates we eat, the leaner we will be.”  It’s frustratingly beyond our control if we are predisposed to get fat, but at least there’s a solution.

Not all carbs are the same…  Leafy green veggies have lots of fiber that take a while to digest and therefore the carbs don’t cause blood sugar levels to spike.  But, cheap carbs, like bread, pasta, potatoes, rice, beer, soda, and all processed foods, have highly concentrated amounts of carbohydrates and are easy to digest. That means the glucose quickly enters our bloodstream, causing blood sugar to spike and with that insulin levels to go up.  Fruit, while not as carb-concentrated, is easy to digest and therefore might have a fattening effect on the most insulin resistant people.  The worst effect comes from a diet filled with fructose and highly sweetened food items. Our livers are not designed to handle the sugar overload and respond by turning it directly into fat. So when fructose is consumed with glucose (all those yummy processed foods/cheap carbs), insulin levels rise and start storing all that fat away instantly. It hastens the effect of carbs.  This explains why some carb-heavy cultural diets, like in Asian countries where rice is a staple, don’t have a fattening effect: because they also eat traditionally very little, if any, sugar and have otherwise healthy, lean diets of fish and veggies.

We’re addicts.  The more insulin resistant we become, the more insulin that’s constantly flowing through our bloodstream, craving a quick fix of glucose for fuel; that’s why we constantly crave those carbs even when we try to eat healthy and feel truly full on meat and veggies.  The solution is as radical as breaking an addiction: eliminating those cheap carbs completely to break the habit.  This is why many on the paleo diet are so successful in losing weight over many vegetarians/vegans, who often supplement their plant-based diet with carbohydrates.  Paleos are eating the way our ancestors did as hunter-gatherers – high protein & fat from meat and lots of wild plant foods that are low in carbs and low on the glycemic index.  Ultimately, Taubes suggests consuming fewer than 20 grams of carbohydrates per day and eliminating sugar completely to correct your weight. Beyond the benefits of losing weight, you will also find that your body starts healing itself naturally (the way God designed it to), since sugar actually suppresses your immune system for hours every time you consume it. Order his book here to learn more!

If all of this text has been a little overwhelming for you visual people, here is an awesome infographic that explains most of what I’ve summarized from his book.  Enjoy!

Carbs Are Killing You

[Source: Carbs Are Killing You]

So what do you think of Taubes’ argument?  Will you read his book? Will you go carb & sugar free?

Cooking Challenge: Organ Meat

Mushroom and Liver Meat Sauce Spaghetti

Recently, my husband gave me one of the best compliments I might have ever heard: “You’ve made a believer out of me that healthy food can be delicious.” Mission accomplished! This healthy diet has been a challenge at times, especially for my husband. I am so grateful for his willingness to try new things, but there are some items that are just off the table for him, literally. A couple of weeks ago, I (secretly) incorporated a particular item into one of his favorite dishes just to see if he would notice. Guess what? He didn’t  🙂

Comparing recipes of the generations before us to what we eat today, there’s one big difference that stands out to me: organ meat. Just look at the old cookbook your grandma still has on her bookshelf and you’ll find a recipes for liver and onions, fish head soup and gizzard gravy. Native Americans always made sure to use and eat the entire buffalo. Some of the most exquisite restaurants are known for their unique use of organ meats as Anthony Bourdain explores in his tv show No Reservations. And liver pate is a staple to many European diets, but a rarity here. While the thought of eating tongue or brains might disgust you (it does me!!), there’s a lot to be said for the nutrition they provide.

As Dr. Cate points out in Deep Nutrition, “offal meats are rich in vitamins, especially the fat-soluble vitamins, which can be stored in our fat reserves for months.” It’s why she names it as one of the four pillars. Our livers keep the excess vitamins and minerals on store for when they are needed in the future. Eating a healthy liver helps your liver be healthy. Liver is dense in nutrients, providing one of the best food sources of Vitamin A, B and C, beating out or matching the levels that a same size serving of dark leafy vegetables can provide (a regular chicken breast sure won’t do that). Eating the eyes in fish head soup will provide lutein for your eye health. And the fatty acids in brain and nervous tissues help build your brain. And many of these contain high amounts of omega-3’s, which are good for your heart. Dr. Cate recommends eating organ meat at least once a week, so although I was highly skeptical, I figured I could try it, at least once. I bought some calf liver at the store – good news, it’s pretty cheap… I guess because no one wants it – and brought it home to try and work some magic. It turned out delicious, so if I’ve convinced you too to try organ meat, here’s an easy way to start: Mushroom & Liver Meat Sauce Spaghetti.

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound organic, pasture raised ground beef
  • 1/2 cup organic, pasture raised calf liver
  • 1 container sliced baby bella mushrooms (optional)
  • homemade or store-bought organic marinara
  • organic quinoa pasta (or spaghetti squash for carb free)

Liver & Beef

I put the liver in a food processor and ground it up, then mixed it in with the ground beef and browned in a saute pan on medium heat.  I seasoned with a bit of salt and pepper, as always.  Meanwhile, I sauteed the mushrooms in another pan in butter and boiled the pasta. 

Saute mushrooms and meat

Once everything was cooked, I put the meat, mushrooms and sauce together in a pan to mix and warm the sauce.  To serve, I put some pasta in each bowl and covered with the sauce.  This was so hearty and delicious! I promise that if you like spaghetti, you will love it.  

 Do you think this is a recipe you could try?

Fabulous Fermentation Week – Kombucha Home-Brew

Kombucha Bottles

In the healthy food blogosphere, this week is known as “Fabulous Fermentation Week” and I thought this would be the perfect time to share my recent experimentation with fermentation and all benefits it has to offer!  When you think of fermented foods, mostly likely only pickles and sauerkraut come to mind, but actually many of our favorite foods & drinks were created through fermentation – wine, beer, coffee, yogurt, cheese and chocolate.  It’s a process discovered thousands of years ago, probably by chance, as a preservation method that happened to add nutrients in the process; it has provided profound health benefits to humans for generations.  Defined by Webster’s Dictionary, fermentation is “an enzymatically controlled transformation of an organic compound.”  Dr. Cate describes it best in Deep Nutrition – “With an arsenal of enzymes, microbes can break down toxins that might otherwise sicken or kill us outright, turn simple sugars into complex nutrients, make vitamins our diets might otherwise lack (such as K2 and B12), and wage chemical warfare on would-be pathogens.”

One main benefit to fermentation is that it produces live cultures with good bacteria – probiotics – that work with our immune system to fight the bad bacteria – pathogens – that attack our system and cause allergies, autoimmune diseases & inflammation.  Many of us are consistently lacking enough probiotics in our system, and therefore have poor-functioning immune systems – story of my (former) life.  By incorporating probiotics into your diet, you’ll quickly see great changes to your digestive system.  Whenever I have an upset stomach, I go straight for pickles or kombucha (before you ask – no, they’re not pregnancy cravings) to feel better fast. Probiotics are also really essential when you are taking antibiotics.  Antibiotics kill bacteria with no discretion – the good and the bad.  Without replenishing the good kind, you are compromising your immune system even more, opening yourself up to more infection (and yet I’ve never had a doctor tell me that).

While you can certainly take pricey probiotic supplements to boost your system, you could also start eating fermented foods like (raw, unpasteurized) yogurt, real (no preservatives) pickles, kimchi and sauerkraut OR by drinking delicious kombucha.  For those of you who have never heard of it – kombucha is a probiotic-rich, fruity, naturally carbonated beverage that you can find in lots of different flavors at your local grocery or health foods store.  It’s a great substitution for those of you who are addicted to soda, and you can even use it as a cocktail mixer – I tried some gin in a ginger-blueberry kombucha last week and it was pretty awesome.  What you might discover is that it’s also pretty expensive – around $3-4 per bottle.  I had always heard that it was easy and cheap to make it at home, so I decided to try it. And wow, definitely lived up to that promise.  The hands on time for this was maybe only 20 minutes spread out over 2 weeks. Some of the fermentation processes are a little gross, but nothing that you can’t handle!

I started with an organic home-brew starter kit from Kombucha Brooklyn.  However, all you really need to get started is a 1 Gallon glass jar, which you could find at a local beer home-brew store, a piece of cotton & rubber band, and then some organic unflavored tea and cane sugar. What makes the magic happen is something called a SCOBY – symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast – which is basically a strange, disc looking thing you put in your jar of sweet tea and let ferment.  You can get a SCOBY online, in the starter kit, or, if you live in Austin, I can give you one from one of my batches! Once you start with one, each batch will produce another so that you can continue brewing and never buy again.

First, you boil 4 cups of filtered water.  Take off the heat and add 6 organic, unflavored black or white tea bags.  Let steep for around 20 minutes, then add 1 cup of organic cane sugar and stir.  Once dissolved, add 8 cups of cold, filtered water and pour into your one gallon jar.  After that, you simply add the SCOBY with 1.5 cups of kombucha liquid from your last batch (or that the SCOBY comes in). Cover with the cloth and rubber band and then put into a warm, dark place where it can breathe – as long as you don’t keep your house super cold, it’s fine anywhere but your pantry or by a window. Let sit for around 2 weeks and watch a new SCOBY grow  as your kombucha ferments. After that amount of time, taste your kombucha to see if you like it… taste will tell you when it’s done (I like mine sweet, rather than sour).  When done, simply take out the SCOBYs and set them aside with 1.5 cups of the liquid.  Pour the tea into bottles – I used 6 old 16oz bottles I had saved.  If you want to add a flavor,  you must do it after fermentation, during the bottling process.  I used dried mango, raspberries and ginger & blueberries for 3 different kinds.  Once in your bottles, put the lids on tight and let sit out of the fridge for 3-5 days so that it will carbonate.  After that, refrigerate and enjoy your refreshing & healthy beverages!

*If you’ve never tried Kombucha before, I recommend you go to the store now and buy some! Austin’s local Buddha’s Brew is the sweetest, so it’s a good starting point to get used to the flavor – the honeydew flavor is my absolute favorite.

What’s your favorite fermented food or drink?  Have you ever tried kombucha?

For more fermented food recipes, you can find the participants in Fabulous Fermentation Week at My New Roots.