Tuesday, November 25, 2014

We’ve Got the Beet (Beet Kvass, That is)!

My Dear Readers, I have been really into fermentation lately.  I have been fermenting my own sauerkraut for several years now, and I have been brewing my own kombucha on an almost constant basis for over a year.  I have even dabbled in making kimchi once, but lately, I have been very busy experimenting with several fermentation projects that I had never tried before.  These new delights include gluten-free sourdough bread, water kefir, making my own mead, and also beet kvass, which I will discuss shortly.

Why I am a Huge Advocate for Fermented Foods
I originally started making my own fermented foods and beverages when I was focused on learning all that I could to recover my own health for a number of years.  While the cause of my ill health turned out to have multiple factors, one major aspect of my struggles was an extreme gut flora imbalance.  For a very long time, I focused primarily on “fighting the bad” microbes.  While this approach would usually help temporarily, if I transgressed in the diet that I was eating in any way, it would throw my whole body off for at least a week and I felt absolutely horrible.  This approach was extremely frustrating to say the least, and I wondered if I would ever be free from such a horrible condition.

Thankfully, I began to learn about eating traditional foods, and began to incorporate the dietary wisdom of our ancestors.  While I was already aware of the importance that probiotic cultures play in our health, I learned that traditional cultured foods were pretty much absent from our modern diets and that I could start making them myself.  In our era of extreme cleanliness and sanitation, we had forgotten about the importance of including cultured foods and beverages for our health and longevity as generations before us had done as a daily dietary practice.  This loss of the regular consumption of cultured foods in our diets, in addition to the overuse and abuse of antibiotics in our food and medical system has lead to a complete disruption of our biology for many of us and the normal 10:1 ratio of microbial cells to our own human cells in our bodies.  This especially impacts our immune systems negatively. 

What are all of the implications of decimating our natural and healthy microbial balance?    We don’t yet know all of the consequences, but it appears that we are starting to get a clue, given the increase in many immune system and digestive health conditions that are developing among the general population, including allergies and asthma.  These conditions may have a number of contributing factors, but we simply cannot ignore that the balance (or lack thereof) of the flora in our bodies play a huge role in our health.

It is most certainly true that being sanitary plays an important role in many aspects of our lives.  Who would want to undergo surgery or a dental procedure without sterile equipment, for instance?  However, the point here is that we have gone to an extreme in our culture and believe that simply everything must be sparkling clean.   

Needless to say, my personal health was not fairing too well several years ago, given the imbalance that I had in my gut.  Once I started making my own sauerkraut, which was the first ferment that I ever made, my digestive health and immune system health began to improve dramatically.  I had tried taking probiotics before, even fairly expensive ones, but even they fell short of the benefits that fermented foods gave me. 

Making my own cultured foods was not only cheaper than buying a probiotic supplement, but it was also really fun to make such creations.  Each new time that I make a new ferment, it is like a fun science experiment to me, and these foods are literally alive, with real living organisms in them.  By their very nature, they help to bring you to a much healthier place of balance, and infuse your body with life-giving nourishment.  All that you are essentially doing is creating the ideal environment where your organism “friends” will thrive.  In doing so, you will probably begin to thrive more too. 

I know that incorporating homemade probiotic foods and beverages into my diet has been an absolutely critical part of my journey back toward health and vibrancy.   If you have been struggling with any health issue, especially anything related to your immune system, I would encourage you to give some of these foods and beverages a try and see how they might help you.  If your body is really out of balance, start with just a little bit at a time and slowly work up to greater and greater amounts that you can tolerate.  Since I have milk allergies, it was really nice to discover that there are many options for cultured foods that don’t involve milk products.  The world of fermentation is so much bigger than yogurt and milk-based kefir, and many of these foods are extremely easy to make yourself at home. 

Try a variety of them until you find at least one that you like.  Once your body gets used to more of a healthy balance, you may find that you can tolerate and may even learn to enjoy a variety of other ferments.

The resources that have been the most helpful to me are the books Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon, Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz, and The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz.  All three of these books are excellent additions to any homesteader’s home reference library.

Beet Kvass, Then…
My favorite ferment so far is still kombucha (although I really did enjoy the homemade mead that I recently made, with help from my husband and brother-in-law), but I am really enjoying the new flavors, variety, and health benefits of other ferments as I make them. 

Beet kvass is special in and of itself.  It is a powerful medicinal and detoxifying tonic for the body.  According to Sally Fallon in Nourishing Traditions, “This drink is valuable for its medicinal qualities and as a digestive aid.  Beets are just loaded with nutrients.  One 4-ounce glass, morning and night, is an excellent blood tonic, cleanses the liver and is a good treatment for kidney stones and other ailments.  Beet kvass may also be used in place of vinegar in salad dressings and as an addition to soups.”  Intriguing, is it not?

After making beet kvass for the first time a couple of weeks ago, I discovered that it has a strong flavor, although I don’t consider it to be unpleasant.  It could take you a few servings to get used to the flavor.   It’s not bad, just different.  And very, very healthy.  Your body will thank you for it.     

And, believe me when I say that a little goes a long way.  One four-ounce serving is really all that you will need at a time. 

Like most ferments, beet kvass is fairly easy to make.  All that you really need is 2-3 beets, some good quality sea salt, and some water.  It is also helpful to have a starter such as whey (not the whey protein powders from a health food store, but the natural live culture that is created during the culturing of dairy products), or you can use some of the juice from a previous batch of cultured vegetables that you have on hand.  Fortunately, I had some sauerkraut already sitting in my fridge, so I was able to squeeze enough juice from it to use as my beet kvass starter culture.

Beet Kvass
Makes one quart of beet kvass

*3 medium or two large organic beets.  Peel and coarsely chop these up.  Do not shred them, as so many small pieces will push fermentation to occur too quickly and will tend to produce alcohol instead of the healthy lactic acid that you want.

*¼ cup whey or ¼ cup of the juice from homemade lacto-fermented sauerkraut or other cultured vegetables.  This will serve as the “starter” for your beet kvass.
*1 tablespoon of sea salt.  This should be a good quality sea salt with plenty of minerals.  This should not be “iodized” sea salt, as this may negatively affect your culture.   Like many other areas of food preparation, quality really counts here.  Celtic sea salt is excellent, as is “Real Salt,” which I use for a lot of my own food preparation.  I would imagine that Himalayan sea salt would also be excellent.  The point here is to use good salt!  Trust me: do not go cheap on this!

Place your beets, whey or sauerkraut juice, and salt into a quart size glass jar.  Add enough water to fill up the jar, stir well, and cover securely with a lid. 

Let your jar sit at room temperature for approximately two days.  After the two days, taste the kvass to determine if it is to the point of your preferred level of sourness.   When the kvass is finished, it should have a very deep, dark red color.  In warmer weather, the fermentation will progress more rapidly, so be sure to check up on it regularly, at least once a day in this case to ensure that too much pressure doesn’t build up within your jar.

When your kvass has fermented to your point of preference, strain off the beets, and transfer to your refrigerator.  For subsequent batches, you can use ¼ cup of your existing kvass as your starter culture. 

I hope that you will try and enjoy some beet kvass.  It may just be the healthy tonic that your body needs after all of the rich and heavy holiday foods that you’ll probably be consuming over the next month or so!

Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving this week!  For everyone everywhere, let us all have gratitude for the blessings in our lives.  Let us also pray for those in need around the world too, especially our brothers and sisters struggling through the Ebola epidemic in Africa right now.  They need our thoughts, prayers, and support!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Watch the Global Premiere of Origins the Movie

Watch the Global Premiere of Origins the Movie: From November 13th through November 22nd, watch the feature-length movie Origins for FREE from filmmaker Pedram Shojai. #OriginsFilm @Well_Org

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Homemade Body Care Products Episode 1: Lotion Bars and Deodorant

My Dear Readers, I have really caught the bug of domesticity over the last week or so.  If you have been reading this blog for any length of time, then you know that I am a huge advocate of do-it-yourself projects.   However, I have really put on my homemaker shoes lately by making a ton of fermented things (which I will likely discuss in future posts), as well as to start making my very own homemade body care products.

I have wanted to start making my own body care products since becoming more and more disheartened by all of the chemicals that are in commercial products.  The truth is that there are all sorts of “trade secret” ingredients that manufacturers aren’t even required to put on the labels that consist of who knows what chemicals.  Even the “all natural” and “organic” products, while generally better than the conventional kind, tend to be rather costly or it can still be difficult to identify all of the ingredients that they contain. 

I keep hearing about all of the scary ingredients in the commercial body care products that are carcinogenic or cause X, Y, and Z health problems, and it just makes you want to take a step back and start making your own stuff.   Just like the food we eat.  I guess that the rule with these products goes, “If it has any ingredients in it that we don’t recognize the name of, or in many cases, if we wouldn’t be willing to eat it, don’t put it on or in your body.” 

The skin is actually the largest organ in the body, and it essentially absorbs whatever we put on it into the bloodstream.  Then, whatever compounds we have absorbed into our body travels around and can get stored in our organs and other places if they don’t get used or excreted out somehow.  This should give us pause to think about all of the things that we put on our bodies.  Knowledge of this fact has transformed my choices concerning the products that I use, and I try to choose the most natural products as I can given what I can personally afford (which admittedly isn’t a lot). 

I am not a very “girly” gal, and so I prefer the basics when it comes to the personal care products that I use.   I am also not one to sit in front of the mirror every day primping for hours.  While I don’t want to look like a hairy, disheveled, and stinky monster, I have much better things to do with my time than to primp my life away.  I do, however, believe that beauty starts from the inside, not just from our souls and what sort of person that we are, but also from whatever we are eating.  If we are eating a healthy diet with lots of antioxidant-rich foods and other healthy whole foods, we will have much healthier complexions and bodies, and these foods help to keep our bodies looking younger.  Conversely, if we are eating poorly, our skin and the rest of our appearance will be affected negatively.  It amazes me how many people, especially many women, focus so much on buying expensive beauty treatments and cosmetics, but they often completely overlook what they are putting into their bodies from the food and the beverages that they are consuming, which quite often is the basis of beauty (and health) in the first place.   I believe that beauty really must start from the inside first.  

For a moisturizer on my face every morning and evening, I use unrefined virgin coconut oil, and it works like a dream.  While it may seem greasy at first, the oil quickly gets absorbed into your skin and you will benefit from the many healthy properties of coconut oil, which include tons of antioxidants and antimicrobial elements.  I have also recently gotten back into doing oil pulling using coconut oil, which has seemed to clear up my skin quite a bit.  I recommend the book Oil Pulling Therapy written by Dr. Bruce Fife if you would like to learn more about this simple and inexpensive natural health practice.

My First Homemade Body Care Products
Due to my interest in the healthy properties of coconut oil and the fact that I always have a steady supply of it my kitchen to use as my primary cooking oil, I was excited to discover several recipes for making some of your own body care products using it.  The ones that I have tried so far are for making coconut oil deodorant and coconut oil lotion bars.  

Since we have plunged into temperatures below freezing over the last week and now have snow where I live, we have to keep our skin from getting chapped and dry.  Fortunately, coconut oil works well for this purpose, and I decided to give the lotion bars a try by using this recipe.  

While the lotion bars are more reminiscent of an ointment in consistency, and it takes a bit of work to get it spread and absorbed into the skin, it seems to keep my skin well moisturized.  The bars were fairly easy to make: just take equal portions of both coconut oil and beeswax, mix them together and melt them, and then add your choice of essential oils.  I poured the hot liquid into a muffin tin (you could use molds or other containers instead), let them completely cool, and presto, there were lotion bars!  Since I made them myself, I was able to add whatever essential oils I wanted to.  I, of course, started with one of my most favorite scents in the entire world: lavender.  I was excited that I didn’t need to go out and buy any commercial lotion that day.  I am hoping to make some actual homemade lotion soon as well, but since I didn’t have all of the ingredients on hand to do so, the lotion bars still saved the day as well as my dry skin.

I also made some coconut oil deodorant using this recipe.  Fortunately, I had all of the ingredients on hand: coconut oil, baking soda, GMO-free cornstarch (I prefer GMO-free corn products), optional essential oils (I chose lavender again on this one), and arrowroot powder (this ingredient will likely sound familiar to my gluten-free comrades out there, but for those of you who aren’t gluten-free, you should be able to find some in the gluten-free baking ingredients area of a natural food store or hopefully your local grocery store).   I did find that I had to add a little more coconut oil than the original recipe called for to equal a frosting-like consistency.  My advice would be to add one additional tablespoon of coconut oil at a time until the mixture reaches your desired consistency.

I wasn’t sure how well this deodorant would actually work, but so far so good, as it has kept my underarms dry and non-stinky all day long.  I did decide to try this on a weekend, since I’m not sure how well it would work during a typical workday during the week.  My plan is to try it out and keep my regular Tom’s of Maine brand deodorant with me just in case.  I had to apply it with my hands like a lotion instead of using a “stick” like your typical commercial deodorant.  This is now being stored in a jar in my bathroom cupboard.

Here are some pictures of my body care product making adventures this weekend.  I hope that they are helpful to you and will encourage you to start making some of your own homemade body care products as well.  They are natural and healthy alternatives, easy to make, and you will be able to identify all of the ingredients that you are putting on your body.  Score!

Making the Lotion Bars

Equal portions of coconut oil and beeswax beads.  I started out adding ¼ cup at a time of each, and added an additional ¼-1/2 cup of each to increase the total volume. 

Mixing and melting the beeswax and the coconut oil in a pot of boiling water within a pint size mason jar.

After awhile (I estimate that it took about 5-10 minutes), the beeswax and the coconut oil were melted.  The coconut oil melted much more quickly, and it took several additional minutes for all of the beeswax to melt.  Fear not, it will all melt eventually.  Everything will be a clear liquid when this process is complete.    

I added a few drops of lavender oil and pure vanilla extract to the hot liquid.    

After pouring the hot liquid into a muffin tin.

The cooled lotion bars.

All finished!

Making the Deodorant

All of the ingredients…

Whisking together all of the dry ingredients.

After adding the initial 1/3 cup coconut oil and 5-10 drops of lavender essential oil.  I found that it still needed a little additional coconut oil to achieve my desired consistency.    

After adding 1-2 tablespoons more coconut oil.  This resembled the consistency of a thick frosting.

The finished deodorant in a glass jar.

My homemade lavender deodorant on my bathroom cabinet shelf!