Tag Archives: digestion

Kefir – the details that count

Jar of kefir milk with pretty floral cloth cover

This is my third attempt at making kefir. Worth the effort because although the shop-bought organic one is delectable (especially Riazhenka baked milk) I am less enamoured of its plastic container and price. (And availability since it was featured on BBC’s Trust Me, I’m A Doctor and everyone went mad for kefir).

Enter a blog post on kefir by Penny’s Plate, a Bristol-based nutrionist. My third kefir adventure had begun.

Penny kindly offered me some kefir grains, and dropped them off at our local healthy food shop.

A jar of kefir with floral cloth cover
It gets better. When I picked up the grains at Harvest Bristol Cooperative, I was delighted to find them in a jar with a darling fabric cover (see pic above) secured with an elastic band (the metal lid was while it was being transported).

This has made everything possible. I have hitherto never achieved such a natty arrangement.

The other good thing was the size of the jar. Up-to-now, I had made a pint  and got overwhelmed by the amount.

If you don’t like the tangy taste of kefir, add it to a banana smoothie.

Why kefir? This fermented food certainly feels soothing. Apparently it helps line the gut – and a healthy gut lining enables the absorption of nutrients. According to kefir enthusiasts, it is better than yogurt because its healthy probiotic bacteria actually colonise the gut.

Kefir milk in a jar and plastic strainer over a second and clean jar. Cover and elastic band beside on kitchen worktop

Newbie kefir tips 

Find someone making kefir and beg them for grains. When they arrive, put in a clean jar and top with fresh milk. Don’t fill to the top. Cover with a breathable lid and leave to ferment for 24 hours away from direct sunlight.

milk kefir grains in plastic tea strainer

Strain through a plastic (not metal) sieve and drink (or store in the fridge). Start again with the strained kefir, a clean jar and fresh milk. Store unused kefir grains in the fridge covered in a little milk. The cold slows down activity.

It is good to have a kefir buddy. Tasting Penny’s kefir gave me an idea what I was aiming for. I asked questions, was reassured by her replies. I felt like a new breastfeeding mother unsure of this natural yet unknown activity.

Start small with less than half a pint of milk in a jar. Don’t fill it to the top but leave room in the jar for kefir to breathe.

Get a fabric lid cover cut in a circle to fit generously over a jar with an elastic band to secure it. The cover needs to be breathable and clean. You could use a paper towel. Don’t forget the runner band.

Successful kefir is down to the freshness and quality of the original ingredients – so choose organic milk if you can, and as fresh as possible.

As for all great achievements, you have to get a bit obsessed. You have to fuss over your kefir, check it, swirl it, send anxious texts to your kefir buddy, look up kefir sites (one of my favourites), and hurry back home to check it is not feeling abandoned.
From above inside of kefir milk jar

Kefir grains are not really grains. These grain lookalikes are actually clumps of good bacteria and yeast formed from feeding on the milk. And when recipes say “refresh” the grains, it means give them fresh milk (not water as I have mistakenly done!). 

A large jar of translucent ginger beer

Jane of World Jungle’s ginger kefir

You can make vegan kefir. Like kefir ginger beer. This is how ginger beer used to be made. The real thing.

Use room temperature milk. I had what the French call a mauvais quart d’heure when I thought I had murdered my grains with icy milk. I think they just slowed down. They seem to be recovering nicely now. Thank you for asking.

Young man with three cows

Kees Frederiks owner and farmer of Stroud Micro Dairy, Stroud News and Journal

The lucky people of Stroud can now get kefir made from raw milk. Check out the Stroud Micro Dairy which is situated on Oakbrook Farm, farmland secured by the Biodynamic Land Trust so it will be sustainable farmland for generations to come.

PS I am now communications manager for the Biodynamic Land Trust.

Do you make kefir? Any newbie tips?

Gut gastronomy beef broth

A bowl of beef broth

Beef broth soothes the digestion and produces easy-to-absorb minerals including calcium. Made with bones, it is a low-cost way of sustaining your health. Bones cost a few pounds.

(Apologies to vegetarians and vegans and please let us know your best tonics.)

“A good broth will resurrect the dead,”

– South American proverb. 

Read more about broth’s healing powers at the Weston Price Foundation and the way broth also delivers easy-to-absorb broken-down material from cartilage and tendons that might help arthritis and joint pain.

I bought the beef rib bones from Sheepdrove Organic Farm for £2.50 per kg. 

Why organic? Because I want to eat meat from an animal which has not been given routine antibiotics, which has chewed fresh grass in the fields as nature intended (not convenience-food grain that gives the beast a belly-ache), and can follow its natural animal behaviour. 

I used a recipe from Gut Gastronomy by nutritional therapist Vicky Edgson and Grayshott spa chef Adam Palmer based on the spa’s health regime. Published by Jacqui Small, this fine book with beautiful images by Lisa Linder is filled with highly nutritious recipes to help increase digestive health, and repair and nourish the body.  

The Gut Gastronomy recipe uses beef marrow bones. 

Here is the recipe (for four) slightly adapted.

Ingredients

3 kg (6lb 10 oz) beef marrow bones – ask the butcher to chop them into manageable chunks, about 3-5 cms (1-2 inches) pieces 

4 carrots, 3 large onions, 4 celery sticks (optional), roughly chopped

5 litres (8 3/4 pints/20 cups) of cold water
(I used my biggest pan, about 5 pints, and this made a lovely, concentrated broth)

2 bay leaves, 10 whole peppercorns

If you have some, add half bunch of thyme. 

I also added dried chilli for extra hotness. 

roasted bones and pan with carrots and onions

Method
Roast the cut bones in a large roasting dish for 30 – 40 minutes at Gas Mark 7. 

Drain 2 teaspoons of the fat from the bones into a large saucepan and sauté the veg.

(There was no fat from my rib bones so I omitted this stage and added the carrots and onions at the next stage, without frying them.)

Add the bay leaves, peppercorns (and dried chilli), sprigs of thyme and roasted bones and cover with 5 litres (8 3/4 pints/ 20 cups) of cold water. Skim any fat as you bring it to a simmer. Gently cook for 5 – 6 hours. 

Broth is served clear, strained of meat and vegetables. Strain to make consommé, and cool before freezing. I shredded the plentiful meat from the bones and made several servings of delicious broth with meat (see top pic). 

I swear I cured my poor inflamed gums thanks to this healing soup.

Fellow blogger, Annie Levy at Kitchen Counter Culture, suggested I used some of the broth for borscht, which I did, using my grandmother’s recipe.

And that is for the next blog post.

Update (January 2016): This recipe cured another bout of gum infection after two days of drinking 5 pints of the above broth (this time made with non-organic bones). It worked its magic.

Probiotic heaven

My delicate digestion is crazy for probiotics for their soothing and restorative effect. Probiotics? They are good bacteria which stop bad bacteria giving your gut a hard time (bloating etc).

Probiotics are not some new-fangled idea – every traditional society has its fermented ‘good bacteria’ food, such as sauerkraut.

Annie Levy (and the Guardian sustainable blog of the week) sent me a jar of her homemade (fermented) plum kimchi.

I have never tasted anything as wildly spicy and salty, gut-zingy and healing .

Plum kimchi with vegetarian lunch

I had it as an accompaniment to Co-exist Community Kitchen tenants’ (£2.50) vegetarian lunch (see pic).

Then I got home and ate the rest of the jar (it goes with everything savoury).

Please see Annie Levy’s recipe for Plum Kimchi at her blog, Kitchen Counter Culture (great name for a radical blog).

Here’s how I made the crazy condiment.

Assemble in a large bowl:

All the cloves in a head of garlic (grown by Nadia Hillman)
Grated raw ginger (large thumb – or more)
2 raw red onions sliced
1 lemon chopped
1 large orange chopped

half of 1/4 American cup hot pepper powder

1/4 American cup of (sea) salt 

Add to 1 pint of raw uncooked plums (slice with sharp knife to remove stones). Use organic wherever possible because organic is different – fewer chemicals and more goodness

Place a plate to press down the raw veg/fruit mix and leave it for two days at room temperature before spooning into jars. The salt draws out the water in the raw veg/fruit, thus pickled in its own salty water.

photo (4) Plum kimchi in the making

The first pic shows the cast assembled, the second is the cast cut-up  and mixed with spice and salt. Note: creative chaos. Why eat boring same-old packet food when you can go mad in the kitchen?!

Three announcements.

1. Check out Annie Levy’s food fermentation workshops. “A true kitchen witch, Annie’s food fermentation workshop is an informative & exciting, deliciously interactive learning experience and exploration of food alchemy.”

2. Bristol is hosting a probiotic event on Saturday 15 November 2014 at 3 – 6 pm.
The power of probiotics foods for digestive and immune healing – rebuild your gut heal your life. Fermentation Fetish with Holly Paige and Kenny Bountiful Sun Tickets (£15) – book here.

3. And finally for everyone who loves real food including fermentation – please check out and pledge for the publication of Living Food – A feast for soil and soul, from soil sister, Daphne Lambert.

The importance of digestion

Image

Food lovers talk about taste in the mouth but what about the next bit, digestion?

My own digestion preoccupies me. It rules my life.

There is much confusing data about what foods are good for you. I base my decisions on how food feels after I have eaten it.

It is worth paying attention to how food feels as it travels through your gut. (I will stop there on the peristaltic journey).

I have recently been re-reading an old favourite, Three Men in the Boat, by Jerome K. Jerome.

Published in 1889, it was a hit from the start. I love Jerome K. Jerome because he gently mocks human folly in a hilarious way.

You know when you find someone attractive and it increases when you find you share similar values? Well, I recently learned Jerome K. Jerome hated poverty and oppression. “His early political instinct was radical socialist” and he later joined the Fabian Society, according to the editor of my (charity shop buy) 1998 edition, Geoffrey Harvey.

Jerome K. Jerome also thought digestion important.

He wrote (in Three Men in the Boat):

“One feels so forgiving and generous after a substantial and well-digested meal – so noble-minded, so kindly-hearted.

It is very strange, this domination of our intellect by our digestive organs. We cannot work, we cannot think, unless our stomach wills so. It dictates to us our emotions, our passions. After eggs and bacon, it says, ‘Work!’. After beefsteak and porter, it says: ‘Sleep!’ After a cup of tea (two spoonfuls for each cup and don’t let it stand more than three minutes), it says to the brain, ‘Now, rise, and show your strength. Be eloquent and deep, and tender; see, with a clear eye, into Nature and into life; spread your white wings of quivering thought, and soar, a god-like spirit, over the whirling world beneath you, up through long lanes of flaming stars to the gates of eternity!’

…We are but the veriest, sorriest slaves of our stomach. Reach not after morality and righteousness, my friends; watch vigilantly your stomach, and diet it with care and judgement.”

Brown rice, chives – and chewing

Brown rice and chives

When all else fails nothing beats a bowl of brown rice. It is a soothing superfood. With its husk still intact, brown rice brings strength – more vitamins and fibre than its denuded sister, white rice.

My brown rice is organic – what’s the point of eating a superfood if sprayed with chemicals?

I added chopped chives (and its mauve flower), olive oil and a tiny smattering of Atlantic salt to the cooked rice.

Organic brown rice a store cupboard-must because it’s nutritious, economical and sits there Buddha-like till needed.

It requires little attention while cooking. One mug of rice does for two, generously. Add to a pan with twice the amount of water (2 mugs of water for one of brown rice) and bring to the boil. Simmer for 30-40 minutes with the lid on. Brown rice is soft and chewy when cooked.

The macrobiotics swear by brown rice and so do I. It’s so yang, it relaxes the digestion and detoxifies.

If you really want to be macrobiotic, you stay in the moment while eating it. Spiritual warriors aim for 50 chews a mouthful to calm their mind and their digestion.

I can manage about four mouthfuls of conscious chewing before my natural impatience takes over.

How many chews do you give a mouthful?

Raw oats soaking

Oats with sultanas soaking in a cereal bowl in fron of a mirror

 

If you find it hard to eat first thing in the morning (as I often do) try this for breakfast. Cover a cupful of oats with water (preferably overnight but an hour is better than none).

Soaking in water makes oats extra-smooth and digestible because the proteins get broken down. You will hardly notice the soaked oats slide down your gullet yet they pack a nutritional punch.

Oats are full of fibre so good for a regular system. Fibre (as the name suggests) is the steady and reliable sort which also slows down the release of sugars into your bloodstream. No drama with oats. In fact they are a mood-soother. We all need loved ones like that.

To the soaking oats, I add sultanas. The water well-plumps them up. I sprinkle cinammon for its immune-boosting properties and sweet taste.

Make all the ingredients organic or biodynamic and you will be laughing all the way to the vitamin bank.