Give Your Food Some Culture

Thanksgiving 2020 ain’t what it used to be…So we ignored the turkey and fixings and smoked a big chicken for the two of us. We’d already decided to forego traveling, and now we’re quarantined anyway, so that just verified that we’d all made the right decision.

I’m thankful for a lot this year. For the fact that we are both healthy, that Joe Biden is president, that we have time for little things, for Instacart and delivered groceries, and my kefir grains that (I believe) are helping to keep me healthy. There’s no time like now to try a new hobby…

If a person paid attention to “experts” telling you what to eat, there would probably be nothing on your plate but organic greens. With a cup of green tea for dessert. No flours, rice, pasta, or beans because they are dangerous carbs. No red meat, pork, or eggs because of cholesterol. No fish because of mercury; no poultry or dairy because of the hormones fed to the animals; indeed, no animal products at all because of the cruelty of eating animals; fruit is too high in sugar; sugars and fats have been known to cause cancer; tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant are part of the deadly nightshade family… Are you exhausted yet?

I’ve always tried to ‘eat healthy’. But sometimes it’s hard to tell what is just a nutrition fad and what is truth. In the sixties Adele Davis said “Eat Liver”; in the seventies Frances Moore Lappe said be a vegetarian and eat complementary proteins; in the eighties and nineties fat was the monster to cut completely out of your diet; in the oughties carbs became the villain. Yes, I’ve lived through decades of contradictory advice. So here I am writing a nutrition post on cultured foods. Is it a fad? I don’t know. Am I a nutritionist? Nope — not even close. All I can tell you is that these foods have made me less tired, less crabby (Mr. H.C. might disagree on that one!) and helped with both stomach issues and eczema.

These are the two different kinds of kefir I have culturing on my counter right now:

These foods give you probiotics, or healthy bacteria that your gut needs. Desperately.

I’m not a scientist, and there’s no point for me to go into all that when others have written about it much more fluently than I could. If you need info, try these three articles: Your Gut Bacteria and Your Health ;  Can Gut Bacteria Improve Your Health?  ;  How to Have Healthy Gut Bacteria

There are two kinds of kefir: dairy and non-dairy. They are both so delicious and different from each other, that they really deserve posts of their own. So today I’m writing about non-dairy kefir, similar in benefits to kombucha, but making it requires kefir grains, rather than a scoby.

Water Kefir, Kefir Soda, or Tibicos

These are grains that contain a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts. You add the grains to a sugar-water mix; the grains feed off the sugar and produce lactic acid, alcohol, and carbon dioxide, which makes the drink fizzy. (The alcoholic content is negligible — about .5% to .75%.) This is so much  fun to make! It makes you feel like a mad scientist…. I make it a quart at a time with filtered water and 4 tablespoons of raw sugar. You can use brown sugar, coconut sugar, molasses, or maple syrup, but honey and agave syrup are not recommended. It sits on the counter for a day or so to ferment, and then you strain the liquid from the grains. You can drink it at this point, but next is the fun part. Get yourself some fermenting bottles–these are 16 oz. bottles.

Add two ounces of fruit juice (you can also add flavorings here too — ginger, vanilla, cinnamon, cardamom…) and fill each bottle with 12 ounces of the fermented liquid. Cap it and wait a day or so. It will carbonate, so you probably want to open the cap once every few hours to let it breathe. I have had explosions, but the bottles don’t break.  I have had to use a mop and a sponge on the floor and on the cabinets (Yes, it looked like a kid’s science project on how to make a volcano, gone awry).

After it sits on the counter for a day or so, refrigerate it, and drink it over ice. This was my summer-time-afternoon-pick-me-up, and I liked it so much, I’m still drinking it. Make it with cider and warm spices. Make it with cranberry and ginger. Make it with pineapple juice and cardamom. It is not sweet–the bacteria feeds on the sugar and so depending on how long you let it ferment, there is almost no sugar left. There is a small amount of alcohol present, as with any fermentation, but it’s minimal. It’s a great substitute for sugary soda drinks, and it is low calorie. My calorie counter, Lose It clocks an eight ounce glass at 10 calories; My Fitness Pal gives the same glass 45 calories. Here’s the thing: No two fermenting times or juices or sugars are the same, so it’s difficult to tell exact calories.

I ordered my grains at Cultured Food Life but there are other places to order it also. Here’s another good site: Cultures for Health and don’t worry, complete instructions come with your orders. And if you know someone who makes water kefir, chances are they will be happy to share some grains with you. Happy grains produce more grains.

Salud! Here’s to health and a happy stomach! And only 35 more days until 2020 is over…

Plastic wrap? Sandwich baggies? Just Say No

Lunches get packed around here five days a week. I take the leftovers; Mr. H. C. prefers a sandwich, fruit, and cookies.

I have Pyrex bowls for the leftovers, but sandwiches just don’t fit well in the bowls. Plus, trying to cram three bowls into a lunch cooler that already contains an ice pack, a pair of safety glasses, sundry small tools, first aid supplies, and yesterday’s banana isn’t easy.

I would guesstimate that 90 percent of our trash is food container waste: plastic that isn’t recyclable. We burn our paper here in the country, we recycle hard plastic, glass, and metal. We are down to one small garbage bag per week. But plastic bags…

Yes, I buy sandwich baggies AND I HATE THEM. I also hate plastic wrap (and if you have never had a long length of the stuff just magically turn into a stuck-together-mess in your hands, I’d like to talk to you about your skills…) The stuff is just plain evil, but until a couple of weeks ago I felt that I didn’t have any other options.

And then I bought 9 organic food wraps from Eteeshop. Here is Mr. H. C.’s neatly wrapped ham sandwich. There are three sizes in a set: small, medium, and large. The medium wraps a sandwich very nicely:

The small wraps up cookies, fruit slices, hard boiled eggs…

These apple slices are not so neatly wrapped but they dropped on the floor and did not open or spill out.

The large wrap will cover a pie or a casserole dish.  Maybe vegetables, like celery or cucumbers? I haven’t experimented with that yet. But I do have a brick of parmesan cheese wrapped up in the fridge.

After using, they might need to be  washed depending what food you’ve wrapped. I usually just brush off cookie crumbs, but I wash the larger ones with cool water and mild soap using a sponge. The wraps are very waterproof and water beads up on them. I usually hang them to dry, but they can easily be dried with a towel.

I’ve used them for two weeks and I’m sold. They are made of cotton and coated with waxes to make them stick to themselves or a dish. If you have trouble getting them to stick (I didn’t) here is a video made by Etee Shop that might help. (Etee is an acronym for Everything Touches Everything Else.) I don’t know how long the stickiness will last, but they are recyclable when they can’t be used as a food wrap any longer.

And just so you know, I’m not getting any material benefit from saying how much I love these cool food wraps. The bright colors make me smile early in the morning. And I’m also smiling because I don’t have to spend time untangling plastic wrap any longer…

142. Skip the Cleaning Aisle: DIY easy green clean recipes

Earlier this summer several of us were cleaning a commercial kitchen at a children’s camp before camp started for the summer.

There was a lot of grease… everywhere.

My friend Joey introduced me to her recipe for an all-purpose cleaner that cuts grease better than the expensive, commercial, stinky stuff that contains “who knows what unpronounceable ingredients.”

I had been using a natural cleanser of my own — orange vinegar, sometimes with baking soda — which I like a lot, but this one is way better! I liked it so much, I went to the dollar store and bought my own clean spray bottle for it, instead of just using a hand-me-down bottle.

All purpose cleanerAll-Purpose Cleaner and Degreaser:

  • 1 teaspoon washing soda (not baking soda)
  • 2 teaspoons Borax
  • 1 teaspoon Castile liquid soap
  • 2 cups hot water
  • 10 – 15 drops essential oil (Good oils for cleaning use are cinnamon, lemon, orange, melaleuca, peppermint, and lavender.)

Mix all the ingredients and pour into a 16 ounce spray bottle, and get to work on that greasy stove top.

Green cleaning

Dishwasher Detergent

I’ve been using a green cleaner in my dishwasher, but I really don’t like it much. The glasses are cloudy when they come out, and the silverware doesn’t always get clean, even though I rinse my dishes in hot water before I load the dishwasher. I know it’s a waste of water, but I don’t want food collecting in the bottom of my dishwasher. And that’s the bottom line.

So I was delighted when I found this oh-so-simple recipe for dishwasher soap. I remember reading that homemade dishwasher soap was an issue, because Mother-in-Laws come to your house and inspect your glasses for spots. Well, guess what? This is a mother-in-law proof recipe! Here’s my glass bowl, fresh out of the rinse cycle.


Dishwasher Detergent:

  • One part Borax
  • One part washing soda
  • White vinegar in the rinse-aid compartment

We have city water and I’ve used washing soda with great success. I have also heard that citric acid is a great addition to the rinse aid compartment if you have sediment on your plastic ware. But even the commercial dishwashing detergents leave sediment on my plastic stuff, and that’s just one more reason for getting rid of your plastic stuff. If you have citric acid, by all means try some with the vinegar. I was so astounded at how well this worked that I’m not going to bother with it. (If you are someone who wants research behind this, you can go to the blog post “10 things you should know before making homemade dishwasher detergent” by Little House in the Suburbs. Or you can just make this recipe, and be amazed that it’s so simple, and it works so well. Now if only I could discover a shampoo that is so simple and works so well…


And here’s one more cleaner I love to spray on my countertops — both wood and soapstone. It is also a disinfectant, so it’s good for sinks and toilets too. And it is reputed to keep ants away. I can’t say about this for sure. What I can say is that it might work. I sprayed around Henry the Cat’s food bowl when I started seeing ants there, and now the ants are gone. But I’m also being careful to keep it cleaner and his food swept up better. Not only is he the King of Cats, he is the King of Slobs when it comes to the food bowl department.

Cinnamon Disinfectant:

  • 12 oz. hydrogen peroxide
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon oil

Mix together in a spray bottle and shake well before every use. I use a bottle that has a mister option, and I love this cleaner for two reasons: the cinnamon in it smells terrific, and the peroxide in it foams up on contact with dirt, so you can tell it’s working. Use an opaque spray bottle — there’s a reason peroxide is sold in brown bottles. It’s a great addition to your green cleaning supplies. Use it as a disinfectant, on your tile grout, on your floors, or as a bleach replacement in your laundry. I’ve even poured it down our bathroom sink drain. Here’s a great article about using hydrogen peroxide as a cleaning tool.

But I’m not giving up on my orange vinegar — it’s the best on a linoleum floor.