Monday, January 30, 2012

Real Food Weekly Recipe: Honey Cinnamon Custard

I love fresh cream.  Fresh, raw cream.  It tastes like heaven.  Many folks probably don't know that cream is a seasonal food.  Spring is calving season.  Grass is vibrantly lush and green and growing fast.  And real cream is flowing.  At this time, cream is deeply nourishing.  Cows allowed to graze on pasture produce a cream that is rich in flavour as it is in nutrients.  Fresh cream is one of spring's best foods and it is the perfect season to make butter!!  I made butter a couple of times last year - there was nothing more rewarding or satisfying then making butter - it bordered on divine.  My great-aunt Doris, (who was raised on raw milk from jersey cows) was right - everything is better with butter and cream (my emphasis).  

So, why would you eat cream? 
Because cream is dense in fat soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E and K).  It is also a good source of saturated fat, conjulated linoleic acid (CLA) and coenzyme Q10.  Fat soluble vitamins are fragile and delicate nutrients.  Heat, like that required for pasteurization, destroys these delicate, valuable nutrients.  After pasteurization, cream is no longer whole - it is missing these vital nutrients.  Fresh cream is a living food.  It contains beneficial bacteria and enzymes which are otherwise destroyed during pasteurization and it is precisely these components of living foods that make them so valuable to our health.  In traditional cultures studied by by Weston A. Price and discussed in his book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, if dairy products like fresh cream and butter were consumed, they were consumed raw.  In essence, by consuming fresh cream you are adhering to the same dietary principles that nourished your ancestors. 

Right now where I get my milk there is one guernsey cow that is calving.  Could I be so lucky!!?? Last week my milk had a beautiful, thick, layer of cream on top.  So before I make kefir or yogurt, I delicately scrape off this layer and then decide what frugal things I can do with it so it won't go to waste.  Custard is a perfect way to use up this little bit of liquid gold.  I looked through a few recipe books, of course Julia Child's Mastering French Cooking was the first one I opened. But the ingredient list was as long as my arm.  Next one...same thing.  I guess I am trying out my own recipe.  And Ha!  It worked.  A nourishing not-too-sweet treat of basic earthly ingredients:  raw cream, honey and eggs.  Here it is for all to enjoy!

Honey Cinnamon Custard
yield: about 4 servings
time:  5 minutes active, 40 minutes oven

2 eggs
1 cup fresh raw cream*
2 tbsp raw honey
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
dash of unrefined sea salt

Preheat over to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
In a bowl, whisk eggs, cream, honey, cinnamon, vanilla and sea salt together.
Pour the mixture into individual ramekins and bake in a water bath for 35 to 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of the custard comes out clean.  

*Don't do dairy?  Substitute coconut milk for cream

Everyone will gobble it up!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Kefir: Bringing Home Old World Magic

Old traditions always seem to come full circle, especially when it comes to food and health. Usually it just takes a TV celebrity like Oprah or Dr. Oz to tell the world that you should eat it.  Kefir is a good example of this - a 2000 year old traditional food that is just now starting to gain popularity in North America.  Kefir grains originated in the Caucasus Mountain region - a mountain range dividing Europe and Asia - to create a wonderful elixir, full of beneficial bacteria that will help to restore the inner ecology of the body.  

Kefir is ancient and is shrouded in mystery - what the heck are kefir 'grains' anyway?  They are not true grains, but resemble jellied lumps of cauliflower (a matrix of bacteria consisting of various strains of friendly yeasts and lactobacilli, fats, sugars and proteins),  yet when you add milk you will get a delicious probiotic milk drink.  It is sour and tangy, kind of like a liquid version of yogurt.  A bit of in-home kitchen magic!

Those lumps create this:  

There are two varieties of kefir grains. Milk kefir grains, which are cultured in a dairy medium such as cow, goat, sheep, or coconut milk, or water kefir grains, which feed on a mixture of sugar and water.  Water kefir results in a beverage that is fizzy like pop, but unlike soft drinks on the market, this drink is full of enzymes, vitamins and probiotics.  It is a favourite at our house, especially in the summer.  

Now I probably need to do some explaining because I can hear many of you saying - what is this crazy naturopath chick talking about.  Sugar and rich, full fat dairy - the very things you tell me to stay away from!!  There is no way that is healthy!!?!

Well I have learned a thing or two in the last few years that I wasn't taught in school.  Not all dairy is bad for everybody and sugar does have a purpose on this Earth.  Cultured dairy is a very different thing from a glass of pasteurized milk.  However, if you don't tolerate dairy, don't drink milk kefir.  Try coconut milk kefir or another mammal's milk, like goat, that you can tolerate.  In other words you have options.  The sugar in water kefir is there to feed the bacteria.  The sugar that you add is essentially used up as the grains ferment and produce a probiotic rich beverage.  

It is true that I believe dairy and milk are mucous forming, and feed yeast and produce a sticky “damp” quality in the body.  I also believe that many, many people react to dairy products.  But in my humble opinion, these reactions have nothing to do with the food and have everything to do with your gut ecology and the immune system.  (Hint: You can reverse 'food allergies').  It is important to know that kefir does not feed yeast and generates a good mucous in your gut.  We need a nice layer of mucous to coat the digestive tract - a cushion for the good bacteria to plop down and take a load off.  And the really neat thing about kefir is that the good bacteria and yeast consume lactose and provide enzymes to digest lactose in the culturing process.  Nature actually is perfect.  
Kefir vs. Yogurt
Kefir has more therapeutic value than yogurt!  Its active yeast and good bacteria provide more nutritional value since they excel in digesting foods you eat and in keeping the environment of the intestines clean and healthy.  Yogurt is made by adding a starter culture to milk and gently heating it.  Kefir is made with a starter of kefir grains and no heating is required.  If you can obtain a reliable source of raw milk you can retain the enzymes that would normally be destroyed by pasteurization.  Kefir cultures at room temperature in 16 to 24 hours, in your kitchen!  I like to include both kefir and yogurt in my diet since they both have different beneficial bugs that are crucial to restoring the microflora environment of the gut.  
What are the nutritional benefits of kefir, you ask?  
Kefir from milk is a complete protein with all the essential amino acids.  Both milk kefir and coconut kefir are high in calcium and magnesium.
Kefir is also high in tryptophan, an essential amino acid.  Tryptophan combines with calcium and magnesium to calm the nervous system.  Hence why kefir is sometimes called Nature’s Prozac.  The body converts tryptophan to serotonin.  When serotonin is low we often see mood disorders, depression, constipation, and insomnia.  
Kefir is also very rich in B vitamins and vitamin K.  The body’s use of these vitamins depends on adequate levels of good gut bacteria.  When kefir is included in the diet, the body should be able to make sufficient amounts of these needed bacteria.  Vitamin K promotes blood clotting, increases vitality, and enhances liver functioning.  Vitamin K is also linked to overall bone health and will help to prevent and treat osteopenia and osteoporosis.
Food Combining Rules for Kefir
Eat kefir with raw or lightly steamed vegetables, sour fruits such as cranberries, lemons, limes, grapefruits, pineapples and/or blueberries, or soaked nuts and seeds.  Kefir smoothies are quite delicious and make a healthy breakfast option for children. 

How do I make kefir at home?
Making milk/coconut kefir at home requires an initial investment in kefir grains or powdered started culture.  They can be purchased online, or you can get some from a friend who already has a batch going.  Personally I use a powdered started culture (Wilderness Family Naturals) as it was easier to access, but I'm on the hunt for grains.  The powdered culture over time is more costly.  I'm not going to reinvent the wheel as many fellow bloggers have already beautifully photographed and outlined the process of making kefir, but it is essentially this:  Mix kefir culture starter with one quart of milk in a glass jar (I like the rustic looking mason jars).  Secure the lid and shake.  Let the mixture sit at room temperature for 18-24 hours.  And voila, you have magically prepared a probiotic beverage! Use it straight up, as a base for smoothies, in place of buttermilk in recipes, in your coffee or over berries for dessert.  

How to make kefir:

And get ready to have your mind blown by Water Kefir:

Monday, January 23, 2012

Real Food Weekly Recipe: Mango Lassi

Just like kids I go through 'food jags'.  One week I will be doing eggs and sauerkraut for breakfast, the next it will be a baked buckwheat cereal.  This week I'm serving up Mango Lassi's - a delicious cultured smoothie that is packed full of nutritional coconut-y goodness.  

Try it and let me know what you think.  Not only does this make a great start to the day but  this smoothie also makes a great breakfast or snack for kids!  Use as part of your food introduction, using just the egg yolk if consuming before 12 months.  


1/2 banana
1/2 cup frozen mango chunks
1 cup milk kefir, yogurt, or coconut milk kefir
1/4 cup coconut milk (Native Forest is the only canned coconut milk that is BPA free)
dash of cinnamon
1 raw egg yolk (reserve the whites for other recipes)
Blend all ingredients together adding a little bit of water to thin it out if necessary.  

*Raw egg facts: The sulphur amino acids helps build cartilage and keratin for beautiful skin, hair and nails. Raw eggs also contain an abundance of other vital substances including enzymes, protein, essential fatty acids along with niacin, riboflavin, biotin, choline, vitamins A, D and E, magnesium, potassium, phosphorous, manganese, iron, iodine, copper, zinc and sulphur.  Egg yolks are one of the few foods that contain vitamin D. Always consume eggs collected from healthy, pasture-raised hens.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Flu Blues and Crummy Colds

The dark days are upon us, almost ready to hit the February blahs.  It is the time of year to pay particular attention to overall wellness and while flu shots never play a role in my family's wellness, we do need to pay attention to supporting overall health through honest to goodness real food.  I believe that nourishment should come from food, not supplements.  Many people tout that a routine vitamin and mineral supplement is a necessary aspect of wellness.  I disagree and we don't take daily vitamins in our home on a routine basis.
Our bodies are meant to receive their nourishment not from pills and isolated formulas of synthetic vitamins, but FOOD.  Real food is full of nutrient dense proteins, fat, vitamins and minerals that support health.  Fake foods not only lack important nutrients but are filled with anti-nutrients such as sugar, enriched flour and artificial ingredients.  Anti-nutrients such as these weaken your immune system.

Nutrients are better absorbed from foods rather than pills.  Vitamins do not occur in isolation in nature, rather, vitamins occur in complementary groups and it is these companion vitamins, minerals and healthy fats that give the greatest benefits to our bodies.  This isn't to say that I never prescribe a vitamin or mineral supplement to my patients.  I do on occasion but only for short periods of time.  It never comes without the "focus on nutrition" speech.  Good, solid nutrition builds a foundation that the rest of the body needs to work at its very best.  

Nutrition is primary, but what else can be done to stay strong and resilient during the colder months?  Here are a few tricks.  

Bone Broth

Over my winter holiday I spent a good chunk of time in the kitchen preparing a lot of fermented vegetables like sauerkraut, dilly carrots and sauerreuben, and bone broths.  Oh bone broth!!  There isn't anything healthier or more wholesome than good old bone broth.  I made chicken and beef.  Meat stocks provide building blocks for the fast growing cells of the gut lining and they soothe areas of inflammation in the gut.  This is why bone broths help digestion and have been known for centuries as healing remedies for the gut.  (Gut and Psychology Syndrome, Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride MD).  And this is exactly the reason why your mother's homemade chicken soup tastes so good and can be life-giving when you are sick.  I make my meat broths in the crock pot, with bones (chicken or beef), vegetable scraps, peppercorns and a couple of bay leaves.  I tried Nourished Kitchen's Perpetual Broth for the first time.  Try it yourself - even if you don't know your way around the kitchen yet, this is the easiest thing to learn.  And get in the habit of drinking a little bit of broth everyday - the best healing remedy for the gut lining and the immune system.

Lacto-Fermented Foods
Did you ever see your mother or grandmother make pickles or sauerkraut in those brown crocks?  Maybe you are so lucky to have one of those vintage crocks collecting dust in your basement.  Dig it out and start fermenting!  You can make your very own probiotic-rich food in your kitchen!  

Lacto-fermented foods promote the growth of healthy intestinal flora.  A common way to get that beneficial gut flora is to supplement with probiotics.  Most people have some degree of imbalance, what I call dysbiosis, in gut flora. Especially because of the widespread use of antibiotics, which kill the beneficial bacteria along with the bad bacteria, probiotics are more necessary than ever. 
During the lacto-fermentation process, lactobacillus (good bacteria on food) converts the sugars and starches in fruits and vegetables to lactic acid, which enhances digestibility, increases vitamin levels, and produces enzymes.  When we eat these types of foods, the lactobacillus lives and reproduces in our digestive tract, balancing stomach acids, maintaining balance between acid and alkaline, and supporting the digestive organs.  These live foods will gently help the body move towards health.  
Honestly, this is another one of the easiest things you will ever make.  Stay tuned for a future post on all things fermented.  

Warming Socks

Another traditional healing method involves using hydrotherapy or healing with water.  I usually get very strange looks whenever I suggest the warming socks trick.   In this case, water-logged socks that your body will magically dry with its own heat as it burns off the fever and congestion.  Again, a simple little thing to do at home that doesn't cost a thing and is really great to use with kids.
Take a pair of cotton socks, make them wet, wring them out really well and put them on. Put another pair of wool socks overtop of the wet cotton socks and go to bed.  The body will pull the heat down towards the feet to dry the socks, encouraging the fever, but reducing the tendency to overheat the heat the brain. It is also helpful to reduce head and nasal congestion. Remove the socks after a few hours or once the body heat has dried them out. 

Change of Season Soup
Change of season soup is an immune system tonic.  It is a Chinese herbal blend that is ideal to enhance your immune system during the changing of the seasons.  This herbal formula also improves resistance to colds and flu.  It helps to balance the body during periods of stress.  One cup or bowl twice a day for 12 days is recommended for a healthy person.  If you are in the midst of a cold or flu, wait until you have recovered to start taking the soup.  The soup has a slightly bitter taste.  To improve the taste, use it as a base for a hearty chicken soup made with immune enhancing mushrooms, onions, carrots, potatoes, pumpkin, squash, beets and other local harvest vegetables.  This will help strengthen the lungs and enhance the immune system.

You will need equal parts (2-3 oz each) of the following herbs.  Chinese herbal stores may sell the herbs pre-packaged for convenience.
Codonopsis root:  to tonify and strengthen Qi energy.  It helps to build blood and nourish body fluids.
Astragulus root:  to strengthen protective defensess and Qi energy, nourish the Spleen, tonify the blood and lungs
Dioscorea (Chinese yam) root:  to tonify and balance the lungs and the kidneys.
Chinese Lycii berries:  to strengthen the liver and the kidneys
Fill a large stock pot with water.  Add the above herbs to the pot and cover.  Bring to a boil and simmer for 4-6 hours.  If the water level boils down, add water to refill.
Using a slotted spoon, remove the herbs from the pot and allow the soup to cool.  This recipe makes about 4 litres of soup.  You can drink it as a broth, use it as base for soup recipes, or drink as a tea, sipping throughout the day.  

Finally, don't wince in the face of illness.  If you get sick, big hairy deal.  Sleep and self care must top your priority list.  Take a couple of days off work, curl up with tea, a good book and rest.   Keep up with the immuno-boosting treatments above and take care of your symptoms: 

  • Steam inhalations with thyme or eucalyptus oil are both relaxing and congestion-busting.  These antimicrobial oils can even be added to some humidifiers.
  • If you can breathe through your nose, warm saline lavage helps clear the nasal passages
  • Treat your throat with warm salt water gargles, and freshly crushed raw garlic in honey.  Yep, down the hatch, right off the spoon.  
Embrace the fact that your body is working in accordance with nature.  We need to be sick from time to time in order to be well.  Allow your immune system to do its job and become responsible in learning how to better support your body through this process.  For more tips and tricks on what to do when you do get sick see last years post "Staying Health:  The Holistic Advantage".