Kefir & The Importance of Fermented Foods

Kefir Orange Smoothie

Several years ago, when I first started researching/learning about fermented and cultured foods, I came across a few articles about kefir, an ancient probiotic dairy drink similar to yogurt but, reportedly, even better for you.

Curiosity piqued, I picked up a bottle from the store and used it to make a smoothie. The flavor was great—tangy and slightly effervescent. Moreover, I liked how it made my stomach feel: settled and refreshed. While I had never thought of myself as someone with digestive issues or sensitivities, I did regularly feel like I had too much “air” in my stomach after eating (I really can’t think of a better way to describe it—just kind of like there were air bubbles between my rib cage or something). It was a little uncomfortable, but I honestly didn’t think it was related to what I was—or, in this case, wasn’t—eating.

But the more I drank kefir, the less the cramps seemed to happen. As I started having it daily, and making it myself rather than getting it from the store, I noticed that everything became more regulated with my digestion—no cramps/constipation/gas /bloating/nothing. I felt completely cleansed. Was this really the work of fermented food?

I am inclined to think so. Kefir was the only change I made to my already healthy diet at that point in time, and the bloating symptoms that I thought were just part of everyday life disappeared completely. Many others that I have passed on my kefir starter to have reported similar benefits.

So what are fermented foods, and how do they perform magic like this? Simply put, fermented foods are living foods rich in the microbes that our bodies need to function and thrive. Just like there is bad bacteria, there is good bacteria, and this is what fermented foods contain. These “good guys” go after the bad bacteria (and other nasty stuff), help balance out your digestive system, keep your immunity up, stave off disease, and much more. Research is only just beginning to discover all of the intricate and powerful work that microbes do.

To our misfortune, however, the amount of good bacteria (probiotics) we consume has declined sharply over the last few decades. Why? Because we over-sanitize. We ultra-pasteurize. We eat processed, dead food instead of the real, living stuff like plants. And we have let go of the age-old practices of fermentation that were once seen as vital to diet and life. Sauerkraut and pickles, for example, which were traditionally made using salt + time (the two keys to fermenting vegetables) are now made with vinegar, a shortcut technique that mimics the same “tangy” taste, but takes away all the benefits of real fermentation.

Bacteria has somehow become a bad word in our society, when in reality, it’s a vital life force.

One of the ways we can get ourselves back into balance is by adding fermented foods to our everyday diet. These foods are nothing to be scared of. Fermentation is just a process that transforms one food into an even more nourishing one. Think of cabbage → sauerkraut, cucumbers → pickles, grapes → wine, or milk → yogurt/cheese/kefir. This process, called lacto-fermentation, enables natural (healthy) bacteria to feed on the sugar and starch in the food, which in turn creates more enzymes and vitamins, breaks down difficult-to-digest food components, and makes minerals in the food more available for your body to assimilate. It also preserves the food so it can be kept longer. Magic, I tell ya!

My favorite fermented foods are sauerkraut/fermented vegetables, yogurt, kvass, kombucha, sourdough, and of course, kefir. I make most of these foods at home because I find it both simple and gratifying. It’s also much less expensive than buying them at the store, but that’s certainly fine too if you would rather! Just be sure to inspect your labels carefully. You want to see some mention of the product being “probiotic,” “naturally fermented,” “cultured,” and/or with “live and active cultures.” Going back to the pickles I mentioned earlier—most are indeed made using a shortcut version (i.e., vinegar), but you can find the real, fermented thing if you look around. A true fermented pickle will only contain cucumbers, salt, water, and maybe some spices. Here is a good example: Bubbie’s Kosher Dills. Just scroll to the bottom of the linked page and check out the label. See the simple ingredients, and the mention of “live cultures”? That’s a winner. Pickles like this can increasingly be found at health food stores, and farmers’ markets too.

As for kefir, you can either buy it from the store—in which case I would encourage you to just get the whole milk, plain variety, not the flavored stuff—or you can buy some kefir grains online and start making it yourself. The kefir grains, which look a little bit like cottage cheese, are just the “live and active cultures” you need to ferment the milk—the term “grain” just refers to their appearance; they are in no way related to wheat grains.

The process for making kefir itself is dead easy: You put your grains in a jar, add milk, cover, and let sit on your counter for about 24 hours, until you see the milk start to separate a bit and thicken. Then you just strain out the grains and your milk is now → kefir!

Homemade kefir is typically more potent than store-bought, and of course fresher. Better still, the grains can be used over and over again, and stored in the fridge in some milk when not needed. You can drink the kefir itself plain/as is, put it in smoothies (my favorite use), strain it to make “kefir cheese,” or even use a few tablespoons to soak your oats, grains, or nuts (as I covered in this post; you just sub kefir for the apple cider vinegar, as it does the same thing).

Whether it’s kefir, or sourdough, or something else, I encourage you to experiment with whatever fermented foods you think you’ll like best, and branch out as your taste for them grows, which it surely will (I still can’t believe how much I’ve grown to love sauerkraut). Start trying these foods in small doses, as they can be quite powerful—especially for those with any imbalance—and increase as you feel ready. Over time, your stomach and digestion should start acclimate and improve for the better …because, of course, you’ll be letting the good guys win!

Homemade Kefir

What you’ll need:
Kefir grains
Milk, preferably organic and whole (avoid “ultra-pasteurized,” which will not work)
Glass jar, plus a small cloth and rubber band to cover
Strainer
Bowl

  1. Kefir grains are live, active cultures that look like little pieces of cottage cheese or tiny cauliflower (see photo above). You can buy them online or get some from a friend if you’re lucky enough to know anyone who has some. You can also try to finding a Facebook fermentation group (I belong to one called “Boston Culture Sharing”) to see if people in your area are willing to giving away any for free. Craig’s list is a good resource, too; I’ve sold quite a few starters (sourdough, kombucha, kefir, etc.) there. If you just want to buy online, I suggest either Cultures for Health or the Kefir Lady, which is where I got my grains years ago.
  2. When you get the grains—you’ll probably have about teaspoon or so—place them in a strainer and rinse with filtered water.
  3. Put the rinsed grains in a glass jar and cover with about one cup of pasteurized milk—I use whole, organic, pasteurized milk. DO NOT use ultra-pasteurized milk. It is too “dead” for the grains to ferment.
  4. Cover the jar with a cloth and secure with a rubberband. Allow the jar to sit at room temperature for about 24 hours; you can stir it once or twice if you like but it’s not necessary. The milk will be undergoing fermentation during this time, a safe process that can only happen at room temperature, not in the fridge. Have a little faith in the safety of this—kefir dates back centuries! (Legend has it that Mohammed gave kefir grains to the Orthodox people and taught them how to make kefir. It is still widely consumed today throughout Eastern Europe and Asia.)
  5. You’ll know the kefir is done when the milk doesn’t swish around when you move the jar. It will seem thick toward the top, and you may also see small pockets of whey (clear yellow liquid) start to separate out—that’s a tell-tale sign it’s ready (see first photo in series above). If you see more whey than milk, you have let it ferment a little too long. It is totally safe to consume, but will just be a bit more tangy.
  6. Place a strainer over a large bowl and dump the contents into it. The resulting (strained) liquid is your kefir, and the grains in the strainer are now ready to be used again. Place them back in the (rinsed out) jar, cover with fresh milk, and repeat the process.
  7. Use the strained kefir right away, or refrigerate until needed. It lasts for weeks, if not longer, in the fridge (though it does get more tangy over time, as fermentation slows, but doesn’t stop completely).
  8. For smoothies: Blend kefir + whatever fruit/veg you like in a blender or food processor. I find that the best smoothies always have at least some frozen fruit in them, which makes everything extra thick and creamy once blended. My favorite is 1 frozen banana + 3/4 cup wild frozen blueberries + 2 cups kefir (and sometimes a scoop of this Green Superfood powder). If the mixture looks too thick, just dilute with milk, water, or, my favorite, coconut water.
  9. Consume smoothies immediately, or within a few hours at most. Real kefir is so alive that it will begin feasting on the sugars in the the fruit pretty quickly, so after a few hours, most of the smoothie’s sweetness will be gone. I always drink immediately.

Some Final Notes
–The kefir grains talked about in this post are also known as “milk kefir grains.” They can ferment dairy as well as non-dairy milk (such as coconut milk, which is excellent). “Water kefir grains” are different and are used to culture sugar-water instead of dairy. They can be found online at all of the places listed above. I’ve experimented with them, but prefer kombucha over water kefir in terms of non-dairy, fermented drinks.
–Avoid using any metal utensils or bowls when making kefir, as it can react negatively and produce off-tasting flavors. (A metal strainer is fine since you’re only using it for a minute.)
–Your first batch of kefir may take a bit more time to ferment, as the grains need to adjust and acclimate to your house and the milk you’re using.
–Your grains will grow in size and multiply as you keep using them, and as they do, they will be able to culture larger amounts of milk. A tablespoon of grains can culture at least 2 to 3 cups, sometimes more. If you find you can’t keep up, just give some grains away or discard a bit.
–If your kefir is too strong for your liking, try fermenting for only 12 hours, or add some fresh milk to an over-fermented batch and let things balance out. It takes some experimentation to get it how you like it.

Favorite Kefir Smoothie Flavors
Note that pineapple is the only fruit I’ve found that doesn’t seem to go well with kefir. Everything else is great (especially frozen banana—essential for ultra creaminess!).
♦ frozen banana + fresh or frozen strawberries or cherries + dash of vanilla or almond extract
♦ frozen or fresh banana + ½ really ripe avocado + honey
♦ frozen banana + 1 knob fresh turmeric + juice of one orange + honey (pictured at the top of this post)
♦ frozen mango + strawberries
♦ frozen mango + fresh banana (or vice versa on the fresh/frozen) + juice of one orange
♦ frozen banana + frozen wild blueberries (pictured below)

Kefir Smoothie 3

Stollen Bread

Stollen Toast 3

Back when I wrote about sourdough, I mentioned that I had a fruit & nut bread, also known as stollen, on my baking to-do list.

It’s since been baked. And I’m already down to my last few slices. It’s a never-ending cycle.

Stollen is one of my favorite breads of all time. I used to just make it for holiday gift-giving, but it’s now become a year-round staple. Soft and lightly sweet, it’s a yeast bread filled with dried fruit and nuts and a log of almond paste. When you cut the loaf, each slice yields a coin-sized amount of the paste, which you pop out and spread on top along with some butter and a little jam, if you like. Please tell me you’re sold. Whoever invented this deserves a medal.

I’d love to make a naturally leavened (aka sourdough) version of this bread one day, but for now, I’m fine sticking with the yeast version. It’s a nice change of pace from our more hearty loaves, and everyone loves it. When I go home to upstate New York to see my family, I can’t show up without a loaf or two (which my sister and I then hide and only have once her kids have already eaten so they won’t ask us for any. Sharing: 0, Us: 2).

If you’ve never made bread before or are “afraid of yeast,” as I hear people say, this is a great first recipe to try (especially for Easter!). Yes, it has a few ingredients, but the directions are very step-by-step and hard to mess up. In fact, this was one of the first breads I ever baked, and I’m still convinced that my very first loaf was actually better than any I’ve made since. If you’re going to capitalize on beginner’s luck, this is the loaf to use it on!

Stollen Loaf 2


Stollen
Recipe adapted from King Arthur Flour and the Food Network. If you don’t like nuts, you can leave them out, though I’d argue to give it a try as is first, as all the elements together really make it phenomenal. The original recipe uses candied fruit, but I can’t stand the stuff (it’s filled with dyes and additives), so I stick with dried fruit and just soak it first to make it soft. As for the almond paste, I’ve used both store-bought and made my own (using this recipe); both are great. You could use marzipan too, I would think, but it’s less almond-y and even more sweet than regular almond paste, so the outcome might be a little different. // Finally, note that this recipe take a couple hours from start to finish, though most of it is hands-off. Devote a Sunday afternoon to it, and you can look forward to a week of great toast!
Yield: two medium-sized loaves

For the dried fruit:
1 cup dried fruit, diced (l like to use a mix of dried cherries, golden raisins, dates, and figs)
1/4 cup rum or orange juice

For the sponge: 
1 (1/4-ounce) package active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water (about 110 degrees F)
2/3 cup milk (I use whole)
1 teaspoon honey
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

For the dough:
1/3 cup honey
1 large egg, beaten
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon or orange zest
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup toasted and chopped nuts (I like to use a mix of walnuts, almonds, pecans, and pistachios)
3 to 4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
Oil, for coating bowl

For the filling: 
7 ounces almond paste (I like Odense brand, which comes in a tube), divided into two pieces

To prepare the dried fruit: Combine the dried fruit and rum or orange juice. Cover and set aside. Shake or stir the mixture every so often to coat the fruit with the liquid. I like to leave it overnight so my fruit is really soft, but a half-hour or so is fine too.

To prepare the “sponge”: In a large bowl or the bowl of your stand mixer, sprinkle the yeast in the water to soften. Heat the milk to 110 degrees F (just warm to the touch, not any hotter) and add it to the yeast along with the honey and 1 cup flour. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise until light and full of bubbles, about 30 minutes. This is your sponge.

If preparing the dough by hand: Strain the dried fruit mixture, discarding the liquid. To the bowl with the sponge, add the dried fruit, honey, egg, melted butter, zest, salt, nutmeg, nuts, and 2 cups of the flour. Stir vigorously for 2 minutes. Gradually add the remaining 1 to 2 cups flour, 1/4 cup at a time, until the dough begins to pull away from the side of the bowl; I usually end up adding about 1 1/2 cups total. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead, adding a little flour as needed, until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 6 to 7 minutes. The dough should be smooth and supple—not dry or crumbly, but not sticking to your hands either.

If preparing the dough in a stand mixer: Strain the dried fruit mixture, discarding the liquid. To the mixer bowl with the sponge, add the dried fruit, honey, egg, melted butter, zest, salt, nutmeg, nuts, and 2 cups of the flour. Using the paddle, beat the mixture on medium low speed for 2 minutes. Gradually add the remaining flour, 1/4 cup at a time, until the dough begins to pull away from the side of the bowl. Change to the dough hook. Continue to add flour 1 tablespoon at a time until the dough just begins to clean the bowl and feels supple, but not sticky or dry. Knead 4 to 5 minutes on medium-low.

First rise: Put the dough in a large, oiled bowl and turn to coat the entire ball of dough with oil. Cover with a towel or lid and let rise until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours. You’ll know the dough is ready when you press it gently with your finger and it takes more than a minute for the indentation to fill back out again.

To shape and fill: Turn the dough out onto a lightly oiled work surface. Divide the dough in half. Working with one half at a time, gently roll/press the dough into a 7 by 9-inch oval. Roll half of the almond paste into a log that is just a little less than the length of the dough (about 8 inches) and lay it on top of the dough, close to the center. Carefully roll the dough up into a loaf, pinching the ends together as you roll, so that the log of almond paste stays in the center and doesn’t stick out. Place the loaves on a parchment-lined or well-greased baking sheet, seam-side down, and cover with a lightly greased piece of plastic wrap (I cover mine with the top lid of a cardboard box, so it doesn’t touch the loaves but does keep away any drafts that would keep it from rising properly). Let rise for at 45 minutes, or until just about doubled and nicely puffy.

About 20 minutes before the loaves are ready, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Bake the loaves (on the middle rack) for 25 minutes, or until the internal temperature of the bread reaches 190 degrees. If the loaf sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom, it’s done.

While the loaves are still warm, brush the outside with butter (this helps keep the crust soft). Place on a rack to cool completely before slicing.

Eat within 2 to 3 days, or slice and freeze. You can toast the slices directly from the freezer, no need to defrost. I like mine with butter and tart cherry jam.


Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

The first loaf of stollen I ever made. Had to dig up the photographic evidence to prove it. Been a winner since 2011.

Eating Habits, Part II

everyday breakfast

[For Part I, click here.]

I’ve always found it interesting to see/hear what people eat in a typical day. I mean, I cannot be the only one who thought that the best part of MTV’s Cribs was seeing what was in the fridge, amIright?

So here’s a quick glimpse at what a typical few days of eating looks like for me. While I’m obviously not as interesting as a celebrity, you may come across one or two things that surprise you (coughcough, Domino’s pizza, coughcough).

I wrote down every.single.thing, and looking back at it, it appears I eat a heck of a lot of food. (Do any of you out there keep a food journal? …because I found it slightly terrifying.) Perhaps I do eat more than others, but it’s important to note that it is all in moderation and I work hard to stop when I’m satisfied, not bursting at the seams. I gauge this by mostly by the fact that I can still happily think and talk about food even once I’ve finished eating. I don’t mean to say that I still feel hungry, but looking at a recipe or a photo of food doesn’t gross me out—if it does, I know I’ve gone overboard. (Try it for yourself next time you’re eating. Can you not even stand the thought of food after finishing your meal? If so, consider stopping a few minutes before you get to that point in the future.) This is a particularly important strategy for me because the majority of my work day is spent dealing with food-related things. It would be a shame to not enjoy that!

A few final notes before we get to it:

  • You will see four days documented here—three weekdays, and one weekend day. I didn’t plan in advance for this. It was just a normal week.
  • I took photos three out of the four days. If you hover over the images, a caption should give a brief description of the food, with detailed info in the text below. Please forgive the bad lighting/poor quality of some of the shots! I snapped these really, really quickly and some were taken with my smudged-up iPhone camera.
  • Any cooking I did was either just for me, or for both Suraj and me. Still, I cook in large batches, usually making enough to serve a family of 3 to 4, so we always have leftovers.
  • Unless otherwise noted with a brand, everything logged is homemade—this includes nut butter, jam, yogurt, kombucha, broth, bread, desserts, etc. As I mentioned in my previous post, I keep my sanity in this regard by making things in big batches well ahead of time, usually on the weekends, and freezing a TON of staple items. I keep track of it all in a digital list (the Evernote app) so I always know what I have, wherever I am. This is particularly helpful in planning meals a day or two ahead (my typical strategy) and making sure nothing gets wasted. Even with a small freezer and limited living space (my jam resides in the linen closet…), it IS possible to set up a system like this.
  • Wherever I could link to the recipe I used, I have.
  • Milk is always organic and whole, as mentioned in my last post.
  • I enjoy a small amount of carbs at every meal (sorry, Paleo people) and have a deep love affair with sourdough. Probably don’t even need to mention that again at this point.
  • There’s quite a bit of repetition/re-using of the same items (in different ways) here. My breakfasts are pretty standard and with a full-time job, lunch is nearly always leftovers reconfigured in some new way. Heck, sometimes dinner is that too. I’m guessing that’s the case for most of us though. Due to a very long commute (1 to 1 1/2 hours each way), I work from home two days a week, so on those days, I can at least make myself a fried egg, for which I am especially grateful.
  • It’s not really represented here, but we do eat out once, sometimes twice, a week (Friday nights guaranteed). Our go-to places are sushi, Sichuan Chinese (authentic, not American Chinese), and a local Mexican place. For lunch out, we either go for Vietnamese pho (soup) or South Indian vegetarian (dosas!). We aren’t really chain-restaurant people, as you can tell. And you already know we like spice.
  • I/We eat late compared to most Americans. Breakfast is around 10 am, when I start to feel hungry, lunch is around 2 pm, and dinner is not until 9:30 pm or later on most nights. This is what works best for us, and why I usually have a snack or two late in the afternoon or early evening. Late dinners are common practice in Europe and India, and most of the world I would guess, just not in the U.S. (I realize that it also helps that we don’t have small kids.)
  • There are more desserts listed here than what we would normally have, as I was doing some volunteer recipe testing for the baking chapter of an Italian cookbook (tough life, I know). When I’m testing stuff, I usually just keep a slice or two for us, then take the rest to work. Instant portion control.
  • I added in what exercise I did each day, as I do think that affects appetite. If there wasn’t so much *#@#! snow outside, there’d be a lot more walking in there, as that’s one of my favorite activities. I workout on weekdays, but not usually on the weekends. As for the yoga, I am impressed with myself that I went twice this particular week, but that was more just a strategy to avoid Boston evening traffic than any real commitment. Going forward, I’ll probably just go one night a week (and grocery shop on the other, if you really want to know).

Okay, on to the food!


Monday

Drive to Work: turmeric tonic (a good detoxifier to start out the morning), diluted with additional water
Breakfast: 1 1/2 small pieces sourdough rye toast (I bought this bread from the Amish months ago and keep it in the freezer at work), Kerrygold butter and 1/4 avocado smashed on top of one piece, and almond butter and jam on the other half // 1 hard-boiled egg // small cup of raspberries and blueberries // black tea with milk and 1 drop of liquid stevia (I use this minimally) // small glass kombucha (about 1/2 cup)
Afternoon Workout (lunch hour): 1-hour barre class
Lunch (packed leftovers; eaten at my desk): lemon rice // sautéed zucchini rounds // sautéed kale and collard greens with onion // 1 hard-boiled egg // 1 clementine // small glass kombucha
Snack: 1 piece fruit & nut chocolate (leftover from recipe testing)
Evening Workout: 1-hour yoga class (very basic—just my speed)
Dinner: roasted chicken (bones saved for broth; leftover meat saved for soup) // roasted broccoli and cauliflower // warm farro salad with cashews, garlic olive oil, and goat cheese (farro is a whole grain; as covered in my last post, it came straight from the freezer; I had previously soaked it overnight, cooked it, then froze it flat in a gallon-size bag; I just chipped off a piece for dinner and warmed it up with the other ingredients) // sauerkraut // glass of Mirassou Cabernet
Other: lots of water and tea, both herbal and black with milk
Supplements: probiotic pill (I don’t take these normally but just want to finish the container leftover from my post-antibiotic regimen) // dash of bitters in my water (this is an age-old practice that helps with digestion after meals; I am working with the company in the link provided on a book, and I love their products)

Tuesday

Drive to Work: turmeric tonic, diluted with additional water
Breakfast: 1 slice sesame sourdough (again, from the freezer), Kerrygold butter and 1/4 avocado smashed on top of one half, and almond butter and jam on the other half // 1 hard-boiled egg // 1 clementine // black tea // small glass kombucha
Afternoon Workout (gym @ lunch hour): 20 minutes stair-climber + 30 minute interval class (bodyweight exercises)
Lunch (packed leftovers; eaten at my desk): 3 small pieces Domino’s pizza (we had ordered this for the Oscars—it’s really the only takeout we get, and we have it just a few times a year, usually for parties, but I unashamedly love it. I probably should have had 2 slices, not 3, but I was starving from the gym) // 1 apple // celery sticks // Joseph’s-brand garlic hummus // small glass kombucha
Evening Workout: 1-hour yoga
Snack: gelatin fruit snacks (loosely based off this recipe)
Dinner: lamb stew with potatoes and carrots (leftover from the weekend) // multigrain sourdough with Kerrygold butter // sauerkraut
Dessert: small slice of ricotta & sour cherry tart (leftover from recipe testing) // small glass of milk
Other: lots of water and tea, both herbal and black with milk // 1 cup coffee with milk and 2 drops liquid stevia
Supplements: probiotic // dash of bitters in my water

Wednesday

[This is my work-from-home day.]
Upon Waking:
warm water with lemon (another good detoxifier)
Breakfast: blueberry sourdough waffle (again, from the freezer) with Trader Joe’s flax-chia peanut butter and Tropical Traditions coconut butter // 1 egg fried in olive oil // 1/3 avocado // Indian-style black tea with milk and 1 teaspoon sugar // small glass kombucha
Lunch: Asian-style chicken noodle soup (before the work day began, I put the leftover roasted chicken bones from Monday, some vegetables scraps, a few peppercorns, and water in a big pot on the stove, and let it simmer all morning. By afternoon, I was able to strain the fresh broth and use it for lunch [and dinner]. I spiked the lunch broth with a dash of soy sauce, a dash of fish sauce, and miso paste, then added the leftover roast chicken meat, thinly sliced onion/garlic/ginger, kale, and a packet of ramen noodles, discarding that flavor/sodium bomb packet thing. I garnished it with scallions and Thai basil, both of which were also leftover from previous meals. The whole thing took less than 20 minutes.) // small cup of yogurt with crushed nuts, dried cherries, and raw honey
Snack: small Starbucks coffee with h&h and sugar (Suraj picked this up for us) + 2 small pieces fruit & nut chocolate (so yeah…that recipe was a total winner…)
Evening Workout: 30 minute swim
Dinner: mussels in garlic-cilantro broth (same base broth mentioned above—there’s a million ways to dress it up!) // leftover sautéed zucchini and roasted cauliflower // multigrain sourdough
Dessert: 2 Lindt sea salt chocolate truffles (my all-time fav chocolate/weakness) + small glass of milk
Other: shot of beet kvass (fermented beet juice, another great, cleansing drink; I will post about it sometime)
Supplements: probiotic // fermented cod liver oil

Weekend (Saturday)

Upon Waking: warm water with lemon
Breakfast: savory Indian pancakes (also known as moong dal cheela—they’re made from soaked lentils and they’re awesome!) with Fage whole-milk Greek yogurt, garlic chutney, ghee, and store-bought Indian pickle // 1/3 avocado // fresh fruit salad // small glass kombucha // Indian-style black tea with milk and 1 teaspoon sugar
Lunch: ribollita soup (I used cooked beans from the freezer, prepared as covered in my last post) // raw-milk cheddar // apple slices
Snacks: one small piece of biscotti (more recipe testing) + cappuccino // kefir smoothie (kefir + frozen banana + strawberries + coconut water)
Dinner: bayou dirty rice (I am trying to eat more liver because it’s so good for you, and this was a great recipe for hiding it in) // shrimp in a tomato-veggie sauce // champagne (a Saturday night staple!)
Dessert: one scoop Haagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream with peanuts and “magic shell” chocolate sauce (just chocolate and coconut oil, melted down together—we keep a jar of it the fridge and pop it in the microwave for a minute to re-melt, then drizzle on ice cream and it hardens instantly)
Exercise: None, unless you count standing at the stove
Other: oolong tea


So that’s everything! I hope it’s been useful, and that you see that nobody’s perfect—and that that’s not the goal. Build on what you can do, and go from there. Maybe you start out following the 50/50 rule (eat your best half the time, let the other half slide), then go for 60/40 the next week. Remember that whatever you can do is a step in the right direction!

Eating Habits, Part I

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I grew up in an old farm house (that’s it up there), the fourth of five siblings. While most of the house’s farmland was sold off well before my parents ever moved in, my Dad, a carpenter by trade, built a small silo on part of the remaining land. The “playhouse,” as we called it, had two levels, separated by a small wooden staircase. The first floor housed our bikes, yard tools, a wheelbarrow, and a balance beam, if I remember correctly (between this, the two trapezes, and the set of high rings my Dad made for us, it’s really a shame none of us ever joined the circus…).

The second floor of the playhouse was mine and mine alone. Unlike our shared bedroom, this illustrious space (which had one single skylight for light and was probably 12 feet in diameter), was just for me. It was my sanctuary, and, in turn, where my imagination felt the most free.

In my house, I created bunk beds from benches in the yard; a “fireplace” from leftover bricks; and a little kitchen compiled from old dishes my mom would let me pick out from her friend’s antique shop. To “cook,” I’d pick berries (inedible ones, always much to my disappointment), and mash them up to make “pies.”

The playhouse isn’t there anymore, but I still feel like it is. (I still feel this way about my Dad, too. Both are so clear, and so loved, in my mind.)

I’ve been thinking of that beloved space a lot lately, because in a way, I think this little blog has begun to serve a similar purpose. This is a place where I come to play around. To use my mind. To talk about nourishment, and to be nourished. It is my flow. And I love that.

I also love the community that is beginning to grow here. I’ve heard from so many people who are interested in living more wholesomely, or just trying new things, and that is amazing to hear. We’re all after the same goal!

With these comments and emails have also come great questions, many of which, interestingly enough, have revolved around the day-to-day specifics of what, exactly, I eat. What milk do I drink? Why am I eating white rice? (answered here) Do I soak my grains/nuts/beans? Am I a vegetarian? The list goes on.

All of those questions helped inspire this post, which I’ve broken into two parts/posts. First, I’ll go food group by food group, telling you what I eat, what I look for, what I prefer, and so on. In my next post, I’ll share a food journal of exactly what a few days of eating looks like for me—yep, every single meal, snack, drink, dessert, etc. It will be a full tour of the Eat & Edit “playhouse.”

Before I get started though, let me be clear: How we eat is perhaps one of the most personal facets of our lives. We all have to do what’s right for us. What I’ve shared here is not meant to be all-or-nothing plan for others to follow—it’s just what I do personally (and it’s taken me many years to get here)! If you want to pick up one or two of these habits, that’s great! Change doesn’t have to happen overnight.

While I am not a nutritionist (though I’d love to be one someday) and I’m certainly not the fittest/leanest/most-disciplined person out there, I do a TON of food-related research every day (it’s my job after all) and I am keenly aware of what works best for me and makes me feel, well, happy and alive. I’ve been following this “real food” lifestyle for at least 10 years now, and can attest to this:

  • I very rarely, if ever, get sick and cannot even remember the last time I had to go to the doctor for a flu, cold, infection, etc. I take no medications.
  • My cholesterol and blood pressure, both of which were high when I was overweight as a teenager, are great. My BMI is healthy/normal.
  • I have a ton of energy; Suraj will verify that I pretty much never sit down.
  • I sleep well.
  • I’m told (thanks, Mom) that I have good skin and usually get pegged for being younger than I actually am. (I am 32.)
  • I have no allergies/sensitivities (which can result from other body imbalances and are not always “unavoidable”; here’s a link to a study, for instance, about allergies and the gut).

I think a healthy diet plays a role in many of these areas, and more. So let’s get started!
(Hover over the photos for captions.)


My Overall Philosophy
Eat food in its purest form—whole, unadulterated, real. Eat the foods your great-grandmother ate, or would understand. Stay away from packaged products, unless all the ingredients listed are familiar to you and there’s only a few. [Did you know a Nutri-Grain bar contains more than 40 ingredients?] If you can’t decipher the label, don’t buy it!

Eat in moderation and don’t restrict anything. I like to practice the 80/20 rule, focusing on eating my best 80 percent of the time, and being okay with it if 20 percent slides.

A big part of my approach to food has been inspired by the book Nourishing Traditions. I highly recommend it if you’re interested in learning more about sound nutrition.

Fruits & Vegetables 
Eat all the vegetables you can, as many and as much as possible. Fresh produce accounts for the bulk of our shopping budget. We eat vegetables with nearly every meal, and both Suraj and I love them all—okay, with the exception of eggplant. Neither of us can stand that one.

I buy organic for the Dirty Dozen, but don’t have the budget to do it for everything. Last summer we did a CSA too, which was great. Also, if you follow me on Instagram, you know I forage a bit in summer too—there are wild edibles everywhere! You can check with your local parks department to see if they have any walks you can sign up for. I’ve gone on both a general “foraging edibles” walk and one for just mushrooms.

In terms of preparation, we like both raw and cooked (usually, roasted) veggies, and I love fermenting them too—cabbage and carrot being my favorites (I’ll post about this someday soon). I save any veggie scraps—cores, peels, roots, etc.—in a gallon-size bag in my freezer, and when it’s full, I use them to make homemade broth.

Meat & Seafood
I have never been a vegetarian, though a lot of people seem to think I am. Before I moved in with Suraj and lived on my own, though, it wasn’t uncommon for me to go a week or so without eating meat (more so out of laziness than anything else). Now we eat meat or seafood at least once a day. Suraj grew up a vegetarian, but after trying fish, he never looked back. For religious reasons, however, he does not eat beef, so it’s not something I prepare at home.

We always buy our chicken, lamb, and pork organic (they honestly taste 100x better), and try to get it on the bone whenever possible. Bones are nutrient-dense and are essential to making deeply flavorful dishes—curries and stews especially. Once we’re done with the meat, I add the leftover bones to the broth bag (mentioned above), and simmer them all day long for stock.

For seafood, we look for sustainable choices and favor whole fish (again, with bones), as well as shrimp.

Dairy & Eggs
We drink whole, organic milk that is pasteurized but not “ultra-pasteurized,” which means it’s completely dead. While raw milk is available here in New Hampshire, we don’t typically get it. Pasteurized works for us. Whole milk is our preference because all the others are way too processed for my tastes (skim milk often has highly-processed “milk powder” added back into it after processing to make it drinkable). Prior to World War II, Americans didn’t even know what skim or low-fat milk was, so I’m sticking with tradition.

Sidenote: There was a time when I thought almond milk was great, but after looking more closely at the ingredient label, I dropped it completely. Most plant-based milks contain carrageenan, an additive that’s being put in all sorts of foods, and is raising a lot of health concerns (Prevention Magazine). So unless I make almond milk at home—which is super easy—I just stick with dairy milk.

Aside from drinking it plain, I use whole organic milk to make yogurt and kefir, a fermented dairy drink which I’ll post about very soon. If I buy yogurt, my choice is always plain Fage (full fat). It’s ridiculously creamy.

When it comes to cheese, I favor raw-milk, well-aged varieties, my favorite being cheddar. As for eggs, see my post about them here.

Beans & Lentils
We are bean lovers through and through, which is a good thing because so many Indian dishes feature them. That said, we don’t buy canned beans (which are often full of sodium and preservatives) and instead favor dried. I soak dried beans—including chickpeas, white beans, black beans, whole lentils, etc.—overnight in water, stirring in two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar. These helps break down the beans and makes them easier to digest.

The next day, I drain and rinse, then cook the beans in fresh water. Soaked beans cook up pretty fast (in my pressure cooker they only take about 10 minutes; on the stove about 30 minutes) and they’re also hugely economical. I keep however much I need for the week in the fridge, and transfer the rest to a gallon-size freezer bag. I freeze the bags flat on a baking sheet, then once frozen, stack up alongside whatever other staples I have in there (broth and grains, usually). When I want to use the beans in a meal, I just chip off a portion and toss them in to the dish (they defrost in minutes).

Grains & Nuts
I love and cook with all sorts of whole grains. My favorites are probably farro and quinoa, because they go well in anything. As for nuts, I don’t discriminate. They’re all wonderful.

I prepare grains and nuts in the same way I prepare beans (see above)—soaking them overnight in an acidic solution to help break down the phytic acid they contain (as I talked about in my Lemon Rice post). For grains, I then rinse and cook, often freezing in the same manner as with beans. Sometimes I sprout my grains before cooking, but that’s a step/method for another day.

After soaking nuts, I drain then dehydrate for 24 hours, until they’re nice and crispy. I use a dehydrator, but if your oven goes down to 150 degrees or less, you could try it in there too. Nuts prepared in this manner are called “activated nuts” and they are SO delicious. They’re also much easier for your body to digest, and you get more nutrition out of them. I eat them plain or toasted with a little maple syrup and butter. I also grind them into nut butter with some coconut oil.

Bread & Baked Goods
Good bread is essential to me. Nine times out of ten, it’s homemade and it’s sourdough. For Indian meals, I make whole-wheat chapati or paratha. Both we keep in the freezer at all times. Once in a while I’m fine with eating a regular, yeasted bread or roll. It’s all about moderation.

I love to bake other things too, and if the occasion calls for it, will use white flour. Most times though, I favor sprouted spelt flour, as in these cookies.

Oils & Fats
That’s all covered for you here!

Fermented Foods
Fermented foods are like magic to me. They keep my stomach happy, my food well digested, and my gut and body healthy. If you are not already eating fermented foods, I really encourage you to add them into your diet. They are a traditional food staple that only seem to have been forgotten about in the last century or so (directly the same time that our population’s health started going downhill…).

I try to eat something fermented with every meal. My favorites are homemade sauerkraut (this recipe is my all-time favorite; I always add it to my salads), kefir, yogurt, sourdough, kombucha, and beet kvass.

Sweeteners & Desserts
When baking, I like to use coconut sugar. For non-cooking applications, it’s usually raw, local honey or maple syrup. For tea, I’ll use a drop of pure stevia extract (in liquid form, which is much more natural than powdered) when I’m at work; at home, we just use a small spoonful of white sugar. 80/20 rule! 

As far as desserts, I fully admit to having a sweet tooth (directly inherited from my dad). A very small scoop of homemade (or Haagen-Dazs) ice cream or a piece of dark Lindt chocolate after dinner is our usual.

Why Haagen-Dazs? Check out the ingredient label—only real ingredients! Here’s their vanilla ice cream label: cream, skim milk, sugar, egg yolks, vanilla extract. (In this case, I’m fine letting the skim milk slide.) No other ice cream on the market keeps it as plain and simple as they do.

Beverages
I drink water throughout the day, and with meals. Other daily drinks include tea, milk, plain seltzer, and kombucha. I brew kombucha myself, and was able to quit soda nearly completely after starting that (I will still occasionally have a small glass of Coke with pizza, but that’s only every few months).

I like to have a glass of red wine (Cabernet) in the evenings, or a VERY watered down Scotch and seltzer. (I got Suraj to like salad, he got me to like Scotch.)

Supplements
I’m not really a vitamin and supplements kind of girl, but I do take a probiotic pill on occasion (such as after recently having to go on antibiotics after being bit by Lyme-positive tick—joys of New England living!), and fermented cod liver oil when I remember it (I like Green Pastures brand, in cinnamon liquid flavor). Everything else I think our bodies can get from food.

Foods I Strongly Dislike (that may or may not surprise you): Shredded or crumbled cheese—the convenience factor here means preservatives and funky junk are added to keep it fresh; you’re better off just grating that mozz yourself // Granola—I don’t really consider this a health food, since it’s super high in calories and filled with sugar, and I find unsoaked/raw oats very hard to digest // Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches—I know it stinks to hear this, but if your bread, pb, and jelly are all store-bought, this is basically a dessert (here’s a visual; scroll to the bottom) // Microwave popcorn—it takes 2 minutes to make your own! and you can put REAL butter or ghee on it! // Flavored yogurt and frozen yogurt (Ron Swanson, you are my hero) // Boxed cereal—even the “healthy” stuff (again, just read the label) // Okay, I’ll stop here…

Exercise & Fitness
I try to work out several times a week, whether that is outside walking/running/biking, at the gym, or at the pool in our apartment complex. I work out because it settles me and helps me focus my energies, and because it just makes me feel good (and hungry!). That said, I’m not a fitness junkie and I don’t think I’ll ever be the type to run miles everyday or compete in any type of competition. While I’d love tighter abs (and leaner legs, while we’re at it…), I’m happy with just flushed cheeks and calm psyche too.

Whew, okay! Anybody still awake out there?! Until next week!