Perfecting the Probiotic Rich Pickle

Pickles didn’t used to be “pickled”.  Cucumbers were fermented.  In fact, that tangy sour flavor we have all come to know and love is the process of acetic acid, lactobacillus, and millions of other beneficial bacterias, yeasts, and developed enzymes in changing the cellulose into a now pre-digested, probiotic packed treat.

During the Industrialization of food, and the fear of bacteria, particularly in what we call the hygiene hypothesis phase of government and scientific “freak out”, foods were pasteurized, sanitized, and all over killed in the hopes in NOT make them healthier but to prevent any potential pathogens.

And not only did that not work – we’ve actually never had so much digestive distress as we do in this time period.  The solution for what used to be a fermented treat and the perfect way to preserve your summer cucumber bounty (fermentation is not only a process of preservation but it is humans first known cooking process) was to can the items in vinegar, distilled or white, or add other horrific ingredients to what used to JUST BE SALT AND WATER!  Yep, turn over those pickle jars, if there is anything other than spices you can identify, salt and water, then it is NOT FERMENTED.

In fact, that process of distilling the cucumbers is very similar to our distaste and fear of pesticides.  You are literally killing all the good (and sometimes leaving room for just bad to flourish).

So I love teaching people how to ferment veggies but for some reason pickles daunt my students because they can’t seem to perfect them.  Thus today, I’m going to illustrate some KEY TIPS AND POINTERS!

USE pickling cucumbers NOT ENGLISH SLICING CUCUMBERS.  Pickling cucumbers are meant for this activity as the skin and the inside have a similar viscosity and it allows even fermentation.  In addition the “warts” on the flesh allow the brine to seep through to ferment both inside and out.  Slicing cucumbers are meant for salads and slicing and have a very waxy thick exterior and will almost never successfully stay crunchy or evenly fermented. (Some varieties of Persians can work as long as you don’t let them exceed 70 degrees while fermenting).

Make sure you make your brine with the correct measurements of salt to water.  It’s 1.5 tablespoons of COARSE sea salt to 4 cups of NON TAP water.  If you want a double sour (make your mouth pucker, it’s 2 tablespoons).  My suggestion is to dissolve your total amount of salt in a smaller level of water (as it needs to simmer to dissolve and you don’t want to wait for a large amount of water to get to 80 degrees before you pack away the ferment).

While you are dissolving your salt, one of the most assured modern tricks to keeping a crunchy pickle in the end is to “blanch” your cucumber.  This typically works by pouring boiling water over the veggies and then giving it an ice bath.  I’ve actually found that simply soaking my cukes in hot water, straining and adding cold water and then putting in the freezer for 30 minutes does the same trick.  You will actually see the veggies “perk up” and become brighter in color.

Another way to assure your cukes don’t sag, is take off the BLOOM on the top and the navel on the bottom of the fruit.  Both of these areas hold a specific enzyme that will actually create a soft top and bottom to your pickle.  So just use your fingernail and pop it off.  I also scrape the outside of my cuke a little with my nails so the brine can penetrate on the first day and assure a more even ferment.

DON’T FORGET TO SPICE YOUR BRINE.  While just a sour pickle tastes OK, a dill garlic cuban spiced pickle tastes AMAZING.  We also add in an herb or leave with some tannins to help keep crispy pickles.  In this case I added bay leaves (just one for 2 gallons is enough) but you can pack in a grape leaf if in Cali with the abundance of vines (as long as not sprayed vines), oak leaves or even a 1/4 teaspoon per gallon of black tea leaves.  As far as spice amount, I always say for every 2 tablespoons of salt, add a tablespoon of spice. So in this batch I had 12 tablespoons of sea salt dissolved and 6 tablespoons of my pickling spices.

Pack in your pickles, make sure they are fully covered in brine.  Make sure there is not alot of space from top to first pickle in your jar.  You really don’t want anymore than 1/2″ or you will form KAHM’s Yeast, which isn’t bad for you but alters the flavor of things to be a little musty and it can make things smushy.  Yeast loves air, so less air, less yeast.

Next weigh your cukes down.  I just used a porcelain soup bowl but you can also weigh down with onion halves, folded cabbaged leaves or boiled river stones.  Just make sure the cukes are under liquid and there is little air exposure in the jar.

Finally crunchy pickles like cooler dark temperatures.  55-65 degrees is ideal, but since we don’t all have a root cellar or an old wine cooling fridge (but if you do!) then an average temp will work.  But if your house feels warm, move it in and out of the fridge over the course of fermenting.

Pickles are ready by day 3 – if they are sour.  So cut a piece and try.  Still salty? Return to the brine and try in another 3 days.  Pickles can ferment at the right temperature – well, forever (remember above about fermentation being a process of preservation).  And like any ferment the flavors just get more complex and intense over time.  So feel free to do a large batch but ferment in smaller jars so you can try a pint over the first week, the second pint over the second week, etc. etc.

 

HAPPY PICKLE MAKING!

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Reflections on our food budget

The last two weeks have gone well making sure that we only shop on Wednesday and Sunday.We have found we need to consider how many eggs we eat between shopping trips but also realize running out and having a day or so without means stretching our creativity, and often our health! We end up creating some awesome savory produce based breakfast meals with plain yogurt instead!

I’ve also re-embraced the CSA box, 2 smaller twice a week from totally different farms, to help put some diversity and challenge to my chef brain. Because I realize on a budget I become a creature of shopping habit and Bok Choy and cucumbers every shopping trip needs to be shook up!

I have also realized how much dairy we ate prior to our budget awareness. Again, the question becomes about what we need and what we want. Tuning into our cravings and desires is not always easy especially when you ask the big question “but do I REALLY NEED that?”.

The kids have loved the challenge and while there $10 each at the farmers market went quick on juicy fruit, they learned that if they wanted roasted cauliflower, crispy Brussels, Caesar salad, and many of their favorite savory items, they would need to consider buying fruit one time a week and limiting their serving sizes to a more appropriate 1-2 pieces a day.

Overall, it’s been a great reboot and I can say I am grateful for my extensive sauces and dips recipes! Keep the flavor, and nourishment, while maintaining our budget!

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What can I eat?

 

 

 

Do you spend most your waking hours worried about what you will eat and how it will affect your digestion?  Have you sought out treatments for problem skin, hair and nails?  Suffer insomnia, anxiety or even “racing mind?”

Many of these issues are actually symptoms of something else happening deep in our gut.  And with so much advice out there it can often be daunting to understand what is going to help or worsen the situation.

Just last week I met with a client who had been put on a gluten free, soy free, dairy free diet with no improved symptoms, and was now being advised to lay off lectins and fruit.  The client had restricted themselves to eating bacon, avocado and some boiled cauliflower.  There relationship with food was broken and filled with deprivation.  And their symptoms? Actually worse.

On AUGUST 11th, at 10am, I am teaching a 1.5 hour online class discussing Real Foods and the Gut.  This is an introduction class to my Gut Series class and addresses many of the diet cults out there and what has merit and what is just myth.  You will learn everything from why the Keto diet has gained popularity to the new craze of Lectin Free.  And more importantly you will learn what you CAN eat if you just learn to distinguish real food from food product and how to properly process and cook foods.

If you are interested in taking this online class, send an email to info@vertfoods.com and sign up!

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How to achieve goals PT 4: letting go & resetting

I wanted to call this section “flexibility” because it seemed a much easier acceptance to your goal achievement than telling you in order to achieve your goals you may or will actually have to completely let go of them and reset.  It’s a process that is painful, and often times we are resistant to, because at some point we are far more focused on the end result than the journey.  Yet our willingness to let go and reset is crucial to success.

I found this a lot in my fitness/exercise career, and often times the hard way.  Injury.  In cooking it was another just as brutal of a “failure,” burning my food or making something that flopped, didn’t rise, or didn’t seem to want to set.  If you have ever seen the movie Julie/Julia, this is the scene where she ends up on the floor like a babbling baby because she can’t get her aspic to set.

Yep, we often resort to this – complete and utter melt down.  However, this gets us no where.  It can actually send us spiraling down and never picking our goals back up.  What you have to do is be willing to let go of the goal and RESET it.

How do you learn to let go of something you have been working so hard for?  How do you remove the attachment you have to an idea or your vision?  Well, remember my conversation about needing a “why” not a “reward” to get you through your goals?  Your why will remain the same even if you let go of your goal, and your why will be the eternal spark that helps you reset and reinvent the goal.  Because your why NEVER goes away.  In everything you do, if you are motivated by your why instead of a reward, you are simply changing steps or paths to that ultimate goal.  The other way to help yourself let go and reset is through the power of gratitude.

One of my favorite speakers, Shawn Achor talks about the ways gratitude propels us forward in the business place both in this talk ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fLJsdqxnZb0 ) and his book The Happiness Advantage.  Having gratitude means you see every accident as a “happy mistake” as well as an avenue to stretch your creative brain, or receive something you never expected.  That twisted ankle becomes a time to focus on your floor pilates routine.  That dense sourdough? A chance to try a date sweetened bread pudding.  Or even as the last month has shown me in our move – being open to something even more spectacular than your original goal to begin.

As I ran my last run on the bike/walk trail in SLO, I reached the bench which was my 5 mile marker.  I reached it with both excitement for our new journey and a lot of grief.  I felt the grief heavy and really thought “this is the last time I will ever run this trail.  An entire year focused on this path and it is gone – just like that!”  I took a few deep breaths and decided to just say thank you.  Say thank you to the path, the journey, and that my why was going to stay with me regardless.  I had no idea what the paths were in my new space, as we hadn’t even found a space, place or even a street.  But I knew I wasn’t going to stop running even if for a period it was on a treadmill or in a parking lot.  My why and gratitude was still there for the ability my back had gained just over a year.  I was moving, I am moving — that’s a lot to be grateful for in itself.

So this morning as I turned the corner off our new street, I saw a sign that said “wonderwood park”.  I took the path to the opening and what I discovered was 6 miles of trails that can only be described as rain forest magic.  The greenest green, softest trails, tall trees, moss, ferns, and owls flying overhead.  In every stride and step, with every exhale I couldn’t but repeat the phrase “thank you.”

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Budget and Real Food – plus more on goals and sourdough

We are here in Washington settling in and just loving life.  The trees – oh the trees – and the water!!!!  I realize I have an owed post on sourdough dough rising and on goal setting.  I was reminded today of the goal setting post because this week as we balance making home, as well as starting work in a new community, we realized it would be a good idea to be frugal in our food budgets (and I have to say that’s hard around here with all the glorious real food coops and farmer’s markets).

So I took to this month’s goal – real food, real meals, for four for under $600/month! Can it be done??!  Well the answer is if you are able to go to the store Sunday and Wednesday and only spend $75 at each day’s visit, then YES.  However, you have to be very specific, laser beam focus and have a greater why to get you through so you don’t feel deprived.  At the very essence it’s exactly what all my goal setting blogs are about!

The first step for Trevor and I was to really separate out our month’s expenses by perishables, non perishables, household goods (shampoo, soap, toothpaste, etc).  We had to get an idea of how much we use and spend a month.  We realized most our non toxic eco friendly household goods would save us money if we purchased in 3-5 month supply at a time.  We were able to knock down our usual $6 non toxic dish soap to $2.36 a bottle this way.

Next was the “non perishables” of grocery shopping.  And what we realized?  This was a majority of very expensive items that were also technically “unnecessary.”  Yep, all the nuts, seeds, nut butters, maple syrups, wine, coffee. . .oh wine and coffee.  But WOW does that take up a large portion of your budget and while we make amazing things with those items, it isn’t necessary for a nutrient rich real food diet.  So what we are left with?  Twice a week having $75 to spend on PROTEINS, PRODUCE and DAIRY.

And here is the things. . .that’s actually a lot of money for 3.5 days of eating per trip!  If every day consists of 1.5 lbs of animal protein (eggs are part of this) OR (not and) dairy, and 3-4 cups of veggies, we are eating not only delicious meals but saving a TON of money.

Tonight’s dinner:  Pakistani ground beef curry with onions, tomatoes, and white potatoes  Total cost for us 4?  $11

Some non perishables we will be ordering bulk also to save some cash flow – FLOUR, olive oil, balsamic, non gum coconut milk, spices.

Wine and coffee to be decided. . .

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Waste Not, Want Not

Almost 8 years ago, we took a new year’s resolution to stop purchasing foods in a box, carton, jar, or can.  This journey took us into an entirely different realm of the real food journey.  In fact, it launched us FULL THROTTLE.  While there have been some challenges of preparation and planning, the changes to health and budget as well as to lack of waste was astonishing.

Now, here we are in a different city and state realizing that we still have SOOO far to go.  As we explore surrounding neighborhoods we see that most eateries, restaurants and food coops are striving for zero waste.  And today we called to set up our refuge collection and realized that there is very little wiggle room for your standard “refuge” here.  In fact, the can size is almost a third of what we had in San Luis Obispo, with fines if you weekly go above that size, and collection for compost, separate glass, separate cardboard, and then recycling.

Today we embraced this challenge once again and even jumped to it at lunch when I was getting ready to make Romaine Salmon Salad Boats but realized I didn’t have mayonnaise.  What I did have was apple cider vinegar, lemon, bacon grease, olive oil, coconut oil, garlic and some salt.  I whipped up one of the most delicious mayonnaises, flaked in poached salmon, dill, cut cucumbers and granny smith apples.  Our earth and our stomach said thank you for our re-commitment to zero waste!

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Kneady Sourdough, understanding starter

Sourdough, the fermentation of grain, is a process humans have enjoyed for thousands of years if not debatably longer (we have found stone age drawings depicting the fermentation of an ancient wheat).  In every culture, we find this particular type of food preparation including  lore that has grown around the process.  Somewhere in Northern America, specifically the US, the legends got lost and replaced by the convenience and ease of commercial yeast and wheat.  As this wonder bread took over the market convincing us we could abandon our daily bread process, our digestion and health towards grain plummeted.

Now there is a revival towards the souring of grains due to research linking gut health and even gluten tolerance to the ancient process.  However, this has also created a lot of confusion and fear as humans get sticky with their dough again.

Can I remind you people living in caves and in fields made well risen glorious loaves- you can too!

In our European ancestry this was called the gift of God because it was flour, water and a miracle (now science has identified that miraculous catalyst as wild bacteria and yeast). The miracle not only made a fluffy boule but the legend of abundance because from pinching the dough you could “start” more loaves.  And so can you.  Our obsession with the complications of sourdough hopefully will ease after this post.

Sourdough is a push pull of flour, water, and living microbes as encouraged or discouraged by TIME, TEMPERATURE, and ACIDITY.

Not many professional wild yeast bakers I know coddle their starters– fretting about feeding times and what to do if they go on vacation– I mean what if their starter DIES?  Keep in mind archaeologists uncovered a bubbling urn of sourdough to the god of beer in an Egyptian tomb laid buried since 4500BC! In other words, it’s pretty hard “to kill” starter, but you can do a good job making it acidic and therefore raising the yeast content resulting in very sour, and insanely dense loaves.

Sourdough is both yeast and bacteria.  In consumer’s terms the yeast makes it sour and the bacteria makes it fluffy.  And if you have too much yeast ACIDITY rises, like any good vinegar, putting bacteria to sleep.

So what encourages yeast? Oxygen to start.  So if your small amount of starter is in a huge jar with lots of oxygen, expect it to get hoochy.  Hydration ratio.  If your starter is more water than flour, yeast will form faster.  You see a many blogs talk about % or grams, again please remember humans did this prior to kitchen scales.  So how do you know without scientific tools of measurement? Consistency! If your starter is thin like yogurt or milk it will be acidic quick.

So here is the clincher if you START your bread making with acidic STARTER, your dough will be off balance and too acidic.  Because your dough is NOTHING more than less hydrated starter.  Yep starter and dough are the SAME thing simply differing in hydration and fermentation length.  If you ever fear you forgot to save starter, pinch off some dough and put in a jar, next day add a little water – bam, starter!

When you make bread you are both feeding and growing your starter.  The care of your starter is making bread.

So if I dump all of my starter in a bowl and it smells acidic, or darker in color,  or has a lot of liquid, then I am starting with acidic STARTER.  I have to tame it if I want to have fluffy bread.  How do you tame acidity when my only ingredients are flour and water? Dilute, dilute, dilute!

For ever tablespoon of acidic STARTER you need 3 tablespoons of water, and as you can guess to fix the hydration -6 to 8 tablespoons of flour.  That one tablespoon of acidic starter just grew quick!  Exactly why keeping more than a cup of starter if you don’t bulk or frequently bake will make for a lot of excess starter you need to toss.

My typical process? Evaluate my starter- good to go, use 1 cup to start dough and pinch of a 1/2c dough and return to jar.  Not good to go- it’s acidic!!!? Put two tablespoons in a bowl, add 1/2c water, 1.5 cups flour, let sit for 20-30 minutes, use that as my active starter in the recipe remembering to pinch off some dough and put back in jar.

Next post: timing and your thicker starter aka your dough

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Dinner from the lounge

Cashew cream chimichurri made in the blender with raw cashews, cilantro, lime juice, olive oil and salt.

Toaster over flank steak marinated in lemon juice and garlic with roasted veggies.

Served with fermented salsa and fresh avocado.

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Lunch from the lounge and more kitchen hacks.

Cabbage wraps it is! But how do you get cabbage to be flexible enough so it doesn’t snap when you roll it? In a full kitchen environment you blanch them, but here at the lounge, you pour hot coffee pot water over the leaves in a bowl and let sit for 20 minutes allowing the leaves to wilt.

Next up was a mixed veggie and chicken bake but what makes it so delicious is the blender sauce. Lime, olive oil, salt, cilantro, basil, garlic and fresh ginger. Seriously amazing.

Served with fried rice (just take old curry rice and add salt, coconut oil and a whipped egg, spread out on pan and toaster oven 450 for 35 minutes).

And finally a little dizzy home brewed, well lounge brewed, limeade kombucha.

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How to achieve goals, pt 3: Chunking

When talking about goals, you have to gain clarity in the steps.  Laser beam focus (our pt 2 blog) is removing the lofty clutter of such a big goal, and chunking is allowing yourself to see the final target as a huge large completion and then chunking it down into attainable smaller portions.  Unlike laser beam focus where you are just trying to get good at spotting and technique, chunking is the idea that you are good and focused on doing the activity in right form, but have a huge goal you have never met before.

In running, this would be a 6 mile run for me.  Or for others a marathon.  In the kitchen setting, for some, it would be to host a dinner party for 50 people or maybe not eat out a single meal for a month.  The goal is a process of encouraging or building your wellness, and it will often be something you have never actually attained.  This is why chunking becomes so important – you may have no idea of the time frame to achieve such a goal and therefore if you don’t make it in your unknown time frame, you may feel disappointed or a failure.

In running, if my goal was to run 6 miles, the big question is “by when?”.  The next question we will talk in a later post is “why?”.  While often in athletic training you can put a time frame on a goal – a tryout, an audition, a race – when it’s a personal fitness goal, it becomes far more challenging.  This is like doing financial goals and not breaking it down by 6 months, 1 year, 2 year, 5 year and 10 year.  You may absolutely know what you want in ten years from now, but what do you want in 6 months?  And that’s why we chunk!

So for me, once my technique and running strategy improved and I knew I could run a mile.  I had to ask myself, how often this week do I want to run a mile?  4 times.  Then the next week, I had to ask, how often do I want to run a mile and how often do I want to try for 2 miles.  3x 1mile, and 1x 2miles.  I would only chunk my goals weekly slowly addressing the change in distance.  My goal wasn’t to run 6 miles that week.  It was to chunk my progression weekly.

The idea of chunking reminds of when you have piles of junk every where on your desk. It overwhelms you so much, you just throw the next stack on the growing cascade of paperwork.  Chunking is taking a set number of items and promising to address them not by the end of the day, but half by lunch and the other half by the end of the day.

Another example is my husband required patient numbers to graduate clinic.  Knowing his final goal was in the 200s, the task could seem daunting.  I mean what if only 2 patients showed up one week – that would mean it would take a 100 weeks for you to graduate! That would pretty much shut anyone down from achieving their goal.  Thus it becomes important to chunk it by WEEK, then day, then morning & afternoon.

So the best was to know where to start was by finding a number he had successfully attained in the past – 16 patients per week?  Okay, so week one the goal is 16 patients.  And with four open clinic days, that’s 4 patients per day.  We would literally stay on task for booking patients only for the following day.  So what if you got 5 booked for Monday (surpassing your goal), you STILL had to get at least 4 for Tuesday.  So if by 11a he had only seen 1 patient, he knew he had to book 3 more for the afternoon.

At the end of the week, his totals would often create a new marker – wow, I did 25 this week.  Okay, let’s do 25 next week.  However, it still didn’t work if he looked at the big picture – wow, that would still be 9 more weeks at that rate.  Again, this will shut you down.  Stay with your focus, do it well, and be in the now.  Your goal is there, it’s not going anywhere.  Unless you have a reason for the time frame (your why), then the time frame becomes a major distraction.

So while this is an awesome motivation tactic as well as way to complete the goal, this does so little if you don’t have a why or reason behind that goal.  Why only eat at home for a month? What was the reason or the need for me to run 6 miles?  Stay reading the blog as we continue in this series on achieving goals.

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