Friday, August 2, 2013

The Best Gingery Ginger Brew

The Gingeriest Ginger Brew
My husband and I have been on a best gingery ginger brew search for a while now. We never expected to discover our favorite brew while on a restricted diet for our health! I am new to ginger brewing, but now that I've got the kombucha and water kefir down, I decided it was time to explore the world of ginger bugs. I got my recipe for ginger bug from Nourished Kitchen; however, it didn't "take" the first time. It is supposed to get frothy and bubbly after a few days from the yeast. When you have fed it for five days or so, you can use it as a starter to make the brew. You combine it with sweet tea of some sort (I have used a combo of fresh ginger and rooibos so far) and bottle it in a grolsch-style bottle to hold in the CO2 and create a natural carbonation. It sits out and continues to culture for a few days before it goes into the fridge for consumption. 

My first try pictured to the left did
Ginger Bug First Try - Flop!
not get it's bubbly activity like normal. After a week of feeding the "bug" that wasn't bugging, I gave up. However, instead of wasting all that good sweet gingery juice, I strained it out and combined it with rooibos, fresh lemon juice, and kombucha and bottled it. This seemed to make a great brew - no complaints! However, I do want to make this ginger bug thing work, so I read a bit more online and found some good tips and a new recipe from Wellness Mama. Apparently, a ginger bug should not be stored next to other cultures or it can experience cross-contamination and fail. There is also a debate about whether the ginger skin should be removed or used. Some people believe that peeling the skin removes too much of the natural lactobacilli which is needed for the culture. 
Ginger Bug Second Try - Bugging!

The new recipe I found calls for more water and less ginger and sugar added on a daily basis, which is also more economical, so I'm happy to give it a try. My new ginger bug got a new (larger) jar, a new cover (coffee filters), and a new spot to sit in (on top of the fridge). It is now on day three and it is bugging! I can start to see some bubbling and foaming on top of the water, which makes me excited. This one needs at least eight days of culturing before it will be ready to brew, so keep tuned and I'll let you know how it goes! After I conquer ginger brew, I plan to expand my horizons to home-brewed root beer.

By the way - the grolsch bottles are a new investment for me and they are awesome! Definitely worth it. I got them here. I split a case with a friend to get them cheaper.

Lacto-Fermentation Foibles

Well, I've had some really great fermentation successes since I started, as well as some really awful fermentation messes! These dill pickle spears made with cukes from my garden turned out A+! And I showed you some kefirkraut success in a previous post. I began fermenting with mason jars, using the plastic baggy with water method to weight down the veggies. Recently, I fermented a few pickled veggies without a weight, and experienced some bad batches. Yes, this was careless of me. But I am living and learning with this probiotic food thing! I found a great blog post from Nourishing Treasures demonstrating the most reliable way to pickle safely. I also found some information about how to judge pickle safety when you experience unexpected outcomes.

After the last couple flops (shown below), I was really understanding the importance of knowing what you are doing with lacto-fermentation. It is obviously not good for someone with gut dysbiosis to be eating bad yeasts and bacteria that have contaminated their cultures! Convinced that safe fermentation is something that I need to learn, and learn well, for the rest of my life, I was ready to dish out the big bucks and invest in Pickl-It jars. I had read a glowing review of them on the Pickle Me Too! blog, and figured that I should just bite the bullet view it as a life-time investment in our health. However, the "Sauerkraut Survivor Final Report" from Nourishing Treasures saved my wallet from this financial catastrophe. I settled for simple Fido jars (for which I got free shipping!) and glass weights. I just received my weights today and am anxiously awaiting my jars. I hope to do a review of them before long with some kimchi.

Lemon dill pickles just getting started - so far, so good! They were so packed in there that the brine was covering them just fine to begin with.

What happened?! Yuck. Obviously some mold of various species (not good!!) and some kahm yeast (the white scum floating on the brine, which is said to be harmless). As the pickles fermented, the gasses from fermentation caused them to float to the surface and get exposed to the air. I get the stuffed jar method is not reliable after all...

White sediment at the bottom of the jar. This is also said to be harmless yeasts by my web sources, but I found that most of the pickles were slightly slimy, indicating that either there were some slime-producing bacteria present (again, not good!!). I had to throw this batch of precious home-grown garden veggies away. Boo-hoo!

This batch of kraut got some kahm growing on top, which wasn't ideal, but I was able to skim it off and still eat it. Turned out pretty good.

Grow a Garden! It's Good for You!

Gardening, I read recently, is good for depression. No surprise to me! I always feel happier after being in my garden. It is one of the most relaxing and rewarding pastimes. Yes, it is a lot of work. But it's also  a lot of relaxation at the same time. As I sniffed a waft of tomato smell in my garden this morning, it was absolutely therapeutic!

It is not only good for your spirits, but also for your health. You can grow your veggies organically, let them fully ripen and mature before picking, and eat them within hours.

What does it take? A little space, and little money, and a little work. That's it!

You can afford to garden, I promise. I started my garden with $30, determination, and a little elbow grease. I bought $30 worth of seeds. I got a load of free compost from someone on Craigslist who needed to get rid of it. I got a few free wooden pallets on Craigslist. I got some free rabbit manure... yes, on Craigslist, of course! I borrowed some garden tools from friends, and started digging.

My little plot is about 45 square feet. I planted 3 hills of cucumbers, 3 hills of squash, 3 tomatoes, and 3 rows of green beans (1 long, and 2 short). I have already gotten back much more than $30 worth of fresh garden produce despite some pest attacks. Way worth it!

Marigolds planted in the pallet spaces around the garden to help deter certain garden pests

These turned into some really yummy probiotic pickles!

Herb pot garden - basil, thyme, sage, mint, and oregano (indoors)

Don't forget some flowers!

And, of course, if you can't have an outside garden, you can at least have a sprout garden (using the Victorio seed sprouter here)!

How to Afford Organic Produce WITHOUT Breaking Your Budget

Well, our food budget is soaring out of control since starting the GAPS diet. Especially in the introductory phases when you are limited to meat and veggies and are feeling ravenously hungry all the time due to carb cravings, you can go through organic groceries (and money) like crazy! I realized this month, as I overspent my budget by over a hundred dollars, that we couldn't keep this up. 

So I went searching for another way. I looked at all the CSA's in my area, but most of them are just as expensive as the grocery stores, or even more. And you don't get to pick and choose what you get, which is no good on a restricted diet. The farmer's market in my area is exorbitant - they should be charged with extortion, seriously. And most of the farmers there aren't even organic. There has GOT to be another way to get discount produce, I thought. I mean, where do the grocery stores get it from? They must charge us 200% more than they pay for their produce, so where do they get it?

After a number of hours spent online, I finally found what I believe to be a viable option. I located a wholesale produce supplier in our area that sells to cash customers on the side. Jackpot! Not all wholesale produce warehouses stock organic produce, so you have to find one that does and that will sell to private customers. Our wholesaler happens to carry a large stock of organic produce items at about 50% less cost than in the local grocery store. Most items on the organic list cost $1.00-1.50/lb compared to $1.99-2.99/lb in the store.

BUT - you have to buy a truckload to get it! Not literally, thankfully. But most items do come in large quantities. 100 apples, 60 avocados, 8 pounds of strawberries, 10/4lb bags of navel oranges, 25lb of red beets, 20lb of broccoli crowns, 25lb of carrots, 30ct of celery, 1lb of mint leaves, 24ct lettuce heads, 5lb of mushrooms, 40lb onions, 4lb spinach, 35lb butternut squash, 15lb tomatoes, 10/5lb bags of potatoes, etc, etc.

Now in my mind I was picturing myself with a 60oz. glass of fresh juice the size of my head three times a day, and I was drooling. But, in reality, there is no way I could go through all that produce in time without it going bad, or even have the room to store it - unless I wanted to eat only beets for two weeks straight, then only avocados for the next two weeks, etc... Umm, no. So I set my energy to figuring out how to get my hands on all this yummy cheap produce - realistically. The answer: form a private mini "co-op." Get a few GAPS or paleo friends together, put together a list of what we want to split every couple weeks, pick it up and split it! Simple, right?

Yes, not too complicated, but it does take some time and thought to organize it. It will save me some of my grocery shopping, which saves some time. But it takes quite a bit of time to obtain the weekly price list, disperse it to friends, get the friends to give you their list of desired food, figure out what we can agree to split that week or two, and then compile the list, place the order, pick it up, transport it, split it into shares for each family, have them pick it up from you, receive their reimbursements, etc. 

What the heck! Eating is my part-time job right now, I figure. And, if time is money, think of all the money I'm saving by spending an extra bit of time on this. Decreasing my produce budget by 50%! That's worth about $150 per month in my house right now. So if I spend about 3 extra hours on produce shopping every 2 weeks, about 6 hours per month, then I'm basically being paid $25/hr for my effort. Not bad, I say! If you have a large family, you will be saving even more. If your budget is twice ours for a family of 4-5, then you will be saving $50/hr for your time.

So let's talk logistics.

I've done it for a number of months now. I created a Google Group forum where my wholesale produce "co-op" communicates with each other about what we want to get and split. I posted the organic produce stock list online and I update it before each order so that my friends can look over it. I created an online spreadsheet where I keep track of what each person owes me for their portion of the order. I give my friends a deadline for their order, pick it up once per month, divvy it up, and they pick it up and pay me. We share gas costs for pick up based on what percentage of the order was ours (If I bought 60% of the order, then I pay 60% of the gas). I have been spending about $200-250 on produce once a month with this "co-op." Not bad. I try to keep our produce budget under $300 per month. 

When I bring the food home once a month, I dedicate my afternoon to processing it. I max out our fridge, and then start cleaning, chopping, and freezing whatever will not fit. I make home-made applesauce or pearsauce and freeze it. I freeze ripe bananas for baking (or banana "ice cream"!) and pineapple spears for juicing. By the time I'm done, both our freezer and fridge are pretty stuffed. But I have been able to do this with just an average-size fridge.

We have certainly been able to eat a lot more veggies in general this way; and a LOT more avocados than we would have been been able to by shopping at Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, and Costco. I still get occasional items from other stores if I want to use something that I don't want to buy in bulk.

The herd mentality works well for buying other  bulk food items as well. Try it with organic raw almonds (Living Nutz); herbs, tea, and spices (Mountain Rose Herbs and Amazon); totally raw honey and bee pollen (Walt's Swarmbustin' Honey); and fermented cod liver oil (Green Pasture).

Smiling - WEEK 19/Full GAPS diet

Well, I have obviously been busy living the GAPS life since it has been about three months since you've heard from me! We have progressed through intro diet stages three through six, gotten new jobs,  and moved to a new house. Whew!

I had to review my last update post which was WEEK 4 of the diet, when we were still in intro diet stage 2. Let me see if I can summarize what we've experienced since then:

WEEKS 5-8: In these weeks my husband experienced a moderate flare of his ulcerative colitis with recurring loose stools, abdominal pain, and rectal bleeding. In addition, he also continued to struggle severely with constant hunger and cravings. He was not always in the best mood (understandably), and felt like... crap. He lost weight, and at six foot and 145lbs, he did not have any to lose. He looked pitiful and I was super worried about him. I couldn't figure out what we were doing wrong. I made him go back to stage 1 for a couple days, then kept him on stage 2 for as long as I could, but his symptoms weren't subsiding no matter what I took away or added, and he was starving... I was a little confused, and couldn't find any good advice from someone who had been in his shoes. As far as I could tell, we were doing everything right. But it got to the point where he could no longer tolerate a strictly chicken soup diet, and I felt that the benefit of progressing him to stage 3 outweighed the risk of weight loss. With nutrients flying through him so quickly, he needed something more substantial. So we moved on, tentatively and slowly. He worked up to taking 250 billion of VSL#3 daily during this time. As for me, I was progressing smoothly, and still feeling progressively better. I started working (part-time) again for the first time in almost a year, which was huge progress!

WEEKS 9-13: During this time, we continued progressing slowly and cautiously through intro diet stages 3-6. My husband's flare died down, and he started experiencing significant improvements. His stools became fluffy to normal and he only had bowel movements 1-2 times per day. His extreme hunger and cravings continued. He ate like a beast! Of course, all this time we were continuing to drink broth daily with at least 1-2 meals. We also ate sauerkraut, drank kombucha, and took our probiotic supplements, fermented cod liver oil (Green Pasture), and omega 3-6-9 oil (recommend Udo's Oil). I noticed significant improvement in my skin after starting the cod liver and omega oils. My hands lost their dry, cracked look and became supple. My face took on a bit of a glow. Wounds to my extremities started to heal faster.

WEEKS 14-18: Continued improvement. We were now on the full diet, minus a few foods. I was slow about adding fruits, and had to remove a couple that I tried to add because of loose stools. We did vegetable juicing (in our Vitamix), and then started adding a little pineapple to our juice. I started making some fresh juice popsicles with carrot/pineapple juice for a refreshing dessert - yum! Started experiencing some improved symptoms that indicate an increase in my female hormone production. Yay! Also was sleeping better more consistently. Was feeling generally "well," with only occasional bouts of fatigue. My husband's extreme hunger and cravings began to subside. Again, Yay! His energy and mood improved. He started gaining back some weight that he had lost. Another Yay! He had a recurrence of some loose stools after gradually increasing his probiotic dose to 900 billion with help from the NORD VSL#3 Patient Assistance Program (for patients with ulcerative colitis or pouchitis only). However, still only having 1-2 stools per day, and NO bleeding (a good sign!).

WEEK 19: So here we are! Plugging along. Definitely SOLD on the GAPS protocol. We know we still have a long way to go, but we have seen such significant improvement in the past 3-4 months, that we are confident this is the way forward.

Example of a GAPS breakfast: Squash pancakes, scrambled eggs, boiled "sausage" patties, guacamole, kombucha, and broth.