Wednesday, August 13, 2014
Where to begin this post?
On July 10, I brought my mom to Tucson. Mom hadn't been feeling well for some time. In fact, just a few days before I got her, she was diagnosed with pneumonia and given a steroid and antibiotic.
The day after we got to Tucson, she needed to go to the ER - she couldn't breathe. She was given another Rx for antibiotics and sent home. Five days later, we went to Urgent Care and were given a nebulizer. Three days after that, we had to call an ambulance and she was admitted to hospital. She lost use of her legs and was catheterized. She was in the hospital for seven days. On her sixth day there, she was informed that she had stage 4 lung cancer, adrenal cancer and cancer in her bronchia. The oncologist told her that she had a couple of months and that she could double that with chemo.
My mother decided she didn't want to do chemotherapy. She didn't want to feel even worse for the time she had - not for just a couple of extra months. I honored her wishes and called the oncologist to let her know. The oncologist yelled at me and discharged my mother the following day. Mom had asked to go to Hospice and was transferred.
In preparation for chemo, Mom had been given a huge dose of steroids. I figured that once the steroids wore off, she probably wouldn't be so lucid. So, I got as much done for her as I could in the time we were given. She was too tired to hold the phone up to her ear, so I put my earbuds in my cell and let her talk to her friends for the last time that way. I had family come and visit her while she was still 'there' and tried to get as much 'business' (DNR, Living Will, etc) as possible out of the way while she was still with it.
Mom was in hospice for five days. She'd been insistent that she didn't want to come to my home and we were having a hard time trying to figure out what to do to accommodate that wish. I finally just told her it would be easier if she'd just come home with me. She was transferred to my home on Wednesday, July 30.
The following Monday, she stopped eating and drinking and was mostly unresponsive. I used swabs to get water into her and made sure she was not in pain. The next day, she rallied and was eating and drinking some, her speech had changed, but she could communicate. She did that a couple times that week, fall into a mostly unresponsive state then she'd rally a bit the following day. The nurse came by on Thursday and said she didn't think it would be long at all. I let everyone know and they started making their way.
Friday, August 8, my brother, his wife, my sister, her husband and their baby came. Mom was communicative to a degree - sometimes she'd start a sentence, fall asleep and wake up to finish the sentence 10-20 minutes later. But she did not perceive the time lapse - she thought it was no time at all, so she'd think that someone disappeared. That day, she asked me "When will that man be here?" and "I'm ready to go, where is that man?" I'm certain she was referring to my father, who passed in 1991. Earlier, I'd related to her what I'd seen when I died with my pulmonary embolism and told her I knew dad was waiting for her. I think she was ready to go and terrified to let go at the same time. There were a few times she saw someone standing next to me that I couldn't see - she'd ask me "who is that?" and I'd look where she pointed. "Who does it look like?" I was not going to tell her "there isn't anyone there, Mom". No.
Saturday, August 9, Mom slipped into a completely unresponsive state in the early evening. While we kept her meds going for her round the clock and gave her drops of water with swabs, it was obvious that she was on her way - there would be no more rallying.
The following morning about half past 8, her breathing slowed to a stop. One month to the day from when I brought her here. My sister in law was a complete treasure to have with me during this and I will be grateful for her forever.
Where did that doc get two to three months? I know that it's a guesstimate to begin with, but seriously - mom lasted two WEEKS from the day she got diagnosed, not two months. This is not expressed with anger or resentment (honest!), but with some astonishment. This has been like a whirlwind.
For her, I am glad it was quick. Her pain was massive and global - not just in her back, but everywhere (adrenal failure - they couldn't mitigate inflammation). But quite honestly, it feels so fast to me and so slow at the same time - I think my brain really hasn't fully processed this yet.
Have completely lost Monday and Tuesday even though I went to a meeting at the funeral home one of those days. I am aware this is Wednesday, but it FEELS like Friday.
There are some funny stories that happened during all of this. After that Monday's drastic downturn, but during one of her rallying days, Mom wanted some dried pineapple. But she couldn't find the word. She kept saying pumpernickel. Pumpernickel, pumpernickel. No. That's not the word... It's small and yellow. Now, Mom had been watching a lot of Spongebob on Roku (her nerves - remember, the adrenals are pretty much gone - so the only thing they were producing, if anything, was adrenaline and she couldn't move), so when she said small and yellow, I thought "oh, she wants me to turn on Spongebob". So I asked her "Spongebob?" and she said "no, but he lives in one under the sea". OH! Pineapple.
My mom's dog, Sadie, came along with mom. Now, my mom was not one of those ladies who has a little pooch she hauled around with her. Sadie was born underneath my mother's neighbor's house. The house is a rental and the people who lived there at the time had 3 dogs. When the mama dog was gravid, they did not increase her food. Mom didn't realize that until one day, when a pup dragged itself to my mother's doorstep - it's eyes weren't even open yet. Mom put the pup back under the house with the mama dog and she saw that the mama dog had separated the pups into two groups - the keepers and the can't-keepers. Mom called around trying to get some intervention for the situation, but no one could or would help. Mom started feeding the mama dog. Even so, that pup dragged herself to mom's door a second time. That pup was Sadie. She weighs 70lbs today.
While Mom was in hospital and hospice, I'd put Sadie outside every morning before I left to go visit Mom. Well, she'd decided I'd done something terrible to Mom and wouldn't let me near her. She acted as though I was Cruella out to make a Sadie coat. I'd have to pick Sadie up and carry her outside, then make it back to the door before she did. Every single morning. She'd howl the entire time I was gone. Upon my return, she'd smell Mom on me, and want to go out to check the garage and car for where I was hiding Mom.
One morning, thinking it would help the dog and maybe Mom, I did take Sadie to Hospice. The place caused Sadie to panic completely (maybe she thought it was the vet's office or maybe it was the aromatherapy they pump into the air there) - she dragged me out of there with so much force I thought she was going to tear my shoulder up. Even after that, though, Sadie wanted to check the garage and car every day.
The day Mom came home from hospice, Sadie was so happy. She loved on mom, licked her hand and walked over to where I was sitting and put her head down against my knees. She looked me in the eye and I knew she realized what was going on. She didn't act like I was Cruella again after that. Sadie stopped going into Mom's room to visit her on August 7th. The kids take Sadie on very long walks through our neighborhood every day and that's good for all three of them. :)
And life goes on.... She wouldn't want it any other way.
I love you, Mom.
Saturday, April 05, 2014
In a couple of days, I will be 49. I'm not posting this close to my birthday just to get a bunch of birthday wishes. They're great and I am grateful for every good thought that ever comes my way! However, I've been reflecting on some things and I think they should be shared.
When I was a kid, my beloved Nana (grandmother) encouraged me to 'eat the rainbow' of fruits and vegetables, my grandfather grew a lot of vegetables, we had our own cows and consequently a LOT of meat. My childhood was healthy physically - I was strong as an ox. However, I was the nerdy kid who read the then-surgeon general's statement that a certain soda pop and a certain candy bar were perfectly 'fine' snack foods. I went down that road, the road paved with the 'good intentions' (yeah, right) of the government. Later, I was very interested in the new Food Pyramid (I now call it the Triangle of Tastiness (And I won't even go into the Grain Lobby and how they worked the govt to get their pet products into the biggest section of the triangle of tastiness)). And to be honest, it seems to me that the closer I followed the 'recommended' food intake values, the sicker I got. No, I'm not saying that everyone who follows the 'recommendations' will be sick. But I do believe people get hung up on macronutrients instead of micronutrients. Fat isn't going to make you fat and wheat isn't necessarily 'healthy'.
Ten years ago...
- I lived through a pulmonary embolism (blood clot in the lung) - this is very often fatal. Indeed, when the clot first ripped through my lung, my diaphragm seized then convulsed and I couldn't breathe. Still not sure how I got it to slow down and draw a breath. My extremely anemic state probably saved my life as the clot was only about the size of a nickel.
- I was SO very anemic - my hemoglobin was just over 7 and my ferritin was ZERO. During my stay at the hospital for the PE, a doc walked up to me, put his face so close to mine, his nose nearly touched mine and said "Did you know you're anemic? I have to ask - How are you walking around upright? I really want to know - people with these numbers are usually not walking around talking." I then confessed my picas - cocoa powder straight out of the box (no sugar) and very, very hot sauce on everything else I ate. He wrote that down in his notebook and I didn't see that guy again.
- I was so heavy and puffy, I ran out of breath walking to the mail box (and the mail box is not far from the front door!).
- My skin was fish-belly white with a bluish tint, very thin and delicate; had such thin fingernails that they hurt if they got bumped.
- I was losing my hair (seriously - my husband kept asking me if any of my relatives had gone bald!) - my scalp was very visible through my hair.
- My Hashimoto's Thyroiditis (an autoimmune state that attacks the thyroid) had just been diagnosed. When I inquired 'what can we do about this', the response was 'nothing'. Hmmmm... I didn't believe that.
- Hypothyroid Diagnosis. The first doc checked my labs every six weeks and adjusted my dose nearly every time he checked my TSH. Every time the dose changed, I would have migraine headaches, one after another - the last time, it was 5 in a row and I was so very sick - he'd given me migraine meds, but none of those touched the migraines I'd have with these dosage changes. Found a new doc as soon as I recovered from that 5x migraine.
- Every time I tried to work out, I'd get sick for two full weeks (adrenals/anemia). TWO FULL WEEKS!
- I had many deficiencies, iron deficiency being the worst at the time, but my body was deficient in many minerals and vitamins.
- My hands and arms were constantly 'falling asleep' and tingling, sometimes going numb. My research indicated Raynauds, but I never mentioned these to my doc - I didn't want a diagnosis of MS or Raynauds. I knew in my heart that being diagnosed with yet another autoimmune (because once you have one, you're prone to others) and then getting a prescription to 'try' and treat the symptoms wasn't the direction I wanted to go. I wanted to find out what was causing these and then I wanted to heal it, not just treat it.
- I wouldn't eat much because I was already overweight and didn't want to get heavier. Two things happened - deficiencies were exacerbated and it caused metabolic syndrome.
- Acid reflux so bad that I would wake up from a deep sleep with a mouth full of acid. Betaine really did help that.
I was in BAD shape. In fact, if I hadn't made the changes I've made over the last 10 years, if I'd stayed on that course, there is no doubt I wouldn't have lived to see my oldest child turn 16 and go to college. She did them at the same time last year.
But I did change. One small step at a time, one food, sometimes it was as small as one thought. Because my doctors wouldn't give me IV iron (they didn't think my veins would be able to handle it - yes, I was THAT FRAIL) and I had leaky gut, I not only took many doses of iron, but I ate liver EVERY DAY FOR TWO YEARS. The empty iron and vitamin C bottles would probably make an interesting display had they been saved.
During my healing time, I experimented on myself and lived with the successes or consequences of those experiments. It's been a learning experience and I have gained much knowledge. I've learned a lot about herbs (especially adaptogens) vitamins and minerals and which systems they affect or heal. It's amazing how many disease states can arise from deficiencies.
In early 2009, I gave up wheat. Then, late in 2009 we went on a road trip. After a long day, at the only place for at least 50 miles, we stopped to eat and the only food available (that looked edible to me) was a sandwich and I ate wheat. This was followed almost immediately by an inflammation storm all over my body that lasted a week. I knew wheat was not for me. At the end of 2009, I went to an ancestral diet. My family resisted for years. I can't take my carbs to an extremely low point - for some reason, keeping my carbs super low just doesn't work for me (I know some people CAN, but my body WON'T...) so I make sure that my carb intake doesn't slip below 90 net.
We finally figured out that our daughter had a sensitivity to wheat - however, she also had a complete addiction to wheat products. That was a monumental struggle - I worked so very hard to make foods that were wheat-free that she would eat - she'd gotten so very thin and persnickety - if she didn't like what was on the table, she simply wouldn't eat. She could not afford to do that - she could not gain weight. I was so very, very worried. Turns out she is celiac. We've had to figure out how to deal with that and optimize food to best nourish her. She hasn't lost 10-15% of her body weight per year since eliminating wheat from her diet. My husband and son were the last ones to go wheat-free, but they made the change and have fared well for it.
One of the best things I've done recently has been an elimination diet. My daughter and I went through this together. Our health care provider suggested she do the diet to see if there were other foods she had a sensitivity to - even though both of us had made great improvements in our diet and health up to that point. We've been primal (similar to paleo) for some years now. I decided to go on it with her for support.
It was shocking to me to discover how many foods caused an inflammatory response in my body. But it was a great time to be able to isolate responses to certain foods such as peanut butter, wheat and white sugar. I did experiment with foods a bit - just to observe my body's reactions. Some foods hurt me and they hurt me a LOT. The one that caused the most surprise: coffee... ouch. Goodbye old friend.
A few times, people have said to me "Oh, I could NEVER give up my _______ (insert food here)!" I think if it made you hurt ALL OVER YOUR BODY for a minimum of 4 days after eating it, you might rethink that statement. But here's the sad part: a lot of people DO have that reaction and they hurt all over, but they don't realize that the food they eat is contributing to or causing the pain.
It is interesting to note that while I'd have my reactions to foods very quickly after re-introducing them, my daughter often wouldn't have a reaction until a few days after and sometimes not until after having consumed some foods a few times. We had to only introduce 1 food per week there for a while with her. (BTW, I think that a very common mistake after doing an elimination is to re-introduce many foods at once - if you ever do try an elimination, please re-introduce very slowly so that you can clearly observe the body's reactions)
In 2011 and 2012, I was harshly criticized for 'letting a disease state define' me - (in an interesting twist, that person is now part of a group of bloggers who discuss their disease states and 'how to cope'). Yes, I completely immersed myself in the WHYs of my health or lack thereof. The WHYs led me to the HOW(s) to heal and restore my health.
I cook every meal that is eaten in this house. I make our gluten free and grain free bread one to two times per week. I am ancestral and Grain free, but the rest of my household is currently considered Gluten Free. They do eat my grain free stuff, too. I ferment and culture foods, condiments and beverages. There are 2 to 3 places we feel comfortable eating out and we do eat out about once a month. My husband and children have all learned how to read labels and they do so very diligently (it's amazing how much 'crap' can be hidden in innocent looking foods such as tuna, oils or nut butters).
I make our treats, sometimes even 'candy' - although people who haven't given up sugar wouldn't recognize it as such! LOL
Pre-made foods are very rare in our household. Since my kids are still teenagers, the most often purchased pre-made food is: chips. Yes, whole food, organic potato and sweet potato (sweets n beets) chips. I am mostly OK with it - at least they aren't those toxic neon orange, chemical-laden chips. My kids eat kale chips and collard greens, they love sauerkraut - with all the super-healthy food that goes on in this house, a bag of sweet potato chips here & there isn't going to kill and it lets them be.... kids.
At this point, today, my entire family's health is improving and I feel so good that it is worth every minute of that effort.
But the point of this post is this: it hasn't happened overnight. There were times I took a triumphant two steps forward only to be knocked back five steps, times I was brought to my knees and times I took half a step forward with no knocks, no negativity, all progress. Hey, half a step in the right direction is always better than stasis or moving backwards!
- My body is no longer making any antibodies, my thyroid is working.
- My hair is thick and curly and long again. Fingernails aren't thin, they grow like weeds.
- No more deficiencies
- I work out very hard and don't get anything but sore, then muscle grows.
- My skin is skin color! LOL Its a sandy brown in the winter and darker in the summer (no, I don't use sunscreen - I'm more concerned about vitamin D deficiency - vitamin D is EXTREMELY important and the skin is made to make it!)
- hands and arms are no longer tingling and falling asleep - in fact, that was one of the first symptoms to disappear.
- have lost weight. While I'm not at my ultimate goal, I'm within 10 or so pounds and that will go as I get more muscle.
For ten years, now, I have been rebuilding my physical self. One prayer, one thought, one herb, one vitamin, one exercise, one food, one action at a time. I'm grateful - grateful for my failings because I learned so much more when I fell; grateful for my successes because each one was a step toward true healing and optimal health; grateful for my tenacity because to be sure, lesser souls would have given up long ago, but I believed in myself and knew deep in my heart that I could conquer this.
Sunday, March 30, 2014
As promised, this is a more in depth look at Kombucha and Jun. If you haven't already, consider reading part 1 here www.sparkpeople.com/mypage_public_jo
I meant to get this out earlier, but things have been super busy around here! The good news is my schedule has cleared enough that I'm back to work on my Herbalism studies - if there are no more delays (I know...famous last words, right!? LOL), I should be able to complete by or before the end of this year. WOOHOO!
Kombucha and Jun are both
aka SCOBY. They both are basically cultured and fermented sweet tea(s).
Kombucha is usually fermented black tea (although many use a blend, a certain percentage of the tea should be black - I believe it is 25-40%) with sugar (I use a good 'real' brown sugar as in not painted and evaporated cane juice). I've had great successes using plain old organic black tea only. If one allows the brew to go long enough, about 7 to 10 days (depending on weather - in a very warm environment, the brewing time could be considerably less), all of the sugar is consumed by the culture.
If you are considering Kombucha, start off with a small amount and see how your body reacts - you're looking for detox symptoms (headache, diarhea and the like), slow down if you get symptoms and drink a lot of water. There are those who estimate the probiotic count for kombucha to be in the Billion per ounce range, others who say the probiotic count is non-existent - it's probably more like 1 to 3 Billion per 8 ounces of home brew. Kombucha has been around for about 2000 years or maybe more. In ancient times, it was called 'Manchurian Tea'. Kombucha is also rich in antioxidants, healthful organic acids, vitamins (B and C), amino acids, enzymes and electrolytes.
Some of the Organic Acids formed by Kombucha include:
Lactic Acid - essential for digestion and assists blood circulation. Aids in balancing acids and alkalines in the body.
Glucuronic acid - detoxifier. When toxins enter the liver, this acid binds with them and carries the toxins out through the kidneys. A by-product of the glucuronic acid is glucosamine, which is associated with collagen, the cartilage in joints - it is this by-product that makes kombucha so effective in people with arthritis.
acetic acid - inhibits harmful bacteria
usnic acid - natural antibiotic
oxalic acid - natural preservative; encourages production of energy on a cellular level
malic acid - detoxifyer - especially for the liver.
Gluconic acid - breaks down caprylic acid and is of great benefit to candida and other yeast infection sufferers.
Butyric acid - also fights candida
Yes, the fermentation process does produce a slight amount of alcohol. I don't drink, period and have consumed over 8 oz of kombucha in one sitting without getting a buzz (the entire family had a bug - I didn't catch it!). So there's not a LOT.
Jun is usually fermented green tea and honey. Jun has an air of 'mystery' around it that, of course, I had to dig into further. Who doesn't love a good mystery? There is not a large body of information regarding Jun, so I read what I was able to find and sought a culture. When I finally obtained my culture, it was tiny and white, with less than a cup of starter around it. My concern was "I'm going to kill it!" but that was silly. The culture is hearty. It multiplies. I'm not to the point where I'm ready to call my cultures 'tribbles', but I can see how quickly that could happen.
I haven't been able to find any information on how many healthful substances there are in Jun. I figure it's got a similar, although probably not identical, health profile. It brews in a similar time (for me) and the SCOBY reproduces similarly. All I can tell you is that my children love Jun more than Kombucha. It's got a gentler flavor.
This is jun. As you can see, the scoby has reproduced - they are always huge for me. Much like asparagus just grows for me, so does Jun... LOL
As mentioned in a post on one of my teams (an any teammates reading this, forgive the duplication), my health has been returning to me by leaps and bounds. I no longer have antibodies against my thyroid. I'm off thyroid meds at the moment. My adrenals are no longer so delicate that I can't DO things - but much of this will be covered in another post.
After the initial ferment of about a week, it's time to decant the kombucha or jun. Wash the hands, rinse well, then rinse again. Some rinse their hands in vinegar before handling the scoby. Take the scoby out of the brewing vessel - I use a deep glass pie plate. Ladle kombucha or jun from the vessel over the scoby - about 2 cups. Pour the rest of the kombucha or jun into bottles, then rinse brewing vessels with hot water then vinegar. Now, the vessels are ready to brew again. Remember to let your tea cool off before putting the SCOBY into it.
DON'T USE METAL! USE GLASS OR CERAMIC TO BREW, PLASTIC TO STIR and if you have to cut the umbilical on a SCOBY & baby Scoby, USE PLASTIC.
Because of the bottles I chose from Midwest Brewing ( www.midwestsupplies.com/komboucha-bo
tles.html ) I have to use a funnel in my bottles. Once the kombucha is in the bottles, they need to sit for a while - so many people have so many opinions about this - let them be for a week or three - that is UP TO YOU. The question should be DOES IT TASTE GOOD TO YOU? Yes, you can drink it right away, but apparently, it builds more of those healthy acids up while it sits during this 'second ferment'. It can also build a heck of a FIZZ. If you do let your kombucha sit for a length of time, do not forget to burp your bottles. Just open them up, let the pressure off and tighten them back up again. Not doing this leads to bursting bottles and that isn't any fun to clean up! Jun seems to build up a fizz much slower than kombucha (at least for me).
OK, I'm going to share my favorite recipe - it's really not as exciting as some. I see some folks adding lots of foods and herbs to their brews during the second ferment and that's fine, but I try to keep the kombucha and jun simple, yet tasty. In fact, I don't add anything to Jun. Ever. It is bottled plain and kept that way. It tastes good added to cooled tea, other drinks such as wine (not kidding - it's been done). In other words, it's easy to sneak into foods and drinks this way and that's just what I do.
We do not keep fruit juices around. We do have fruits sometimes, but not commercially canned or bottled juices. So my recipes are somewhat different from others you may find. Celestial Seasonings (or other brands, that just seems to be the most ubiquitous brand in my area) makes fruit teas. My family likes the Raspberry, Blueberry, Cherry and Peach teas the best. My all time favorite is Cherry Lemon Ginger Kombucha. Raspberry Lemon Ginger comes in a close second. I haven't tried Peach tea yet, but plan to.
To a 1 quart bottle or jar, I add
- Fresh Ginger Root slices (leave the skin on) - I love ginger and usually slice more than 1/4 inch of root into my bottles (I cut the pieces so that they will be easy to get back out of the bottle!). Ginger is an adaptogenic herb that is good for the body in so many different ways - it's calming for the stomach and gives me a burst of energy (adrenals)
- Juice of 1/2 lemon (for flavor, the medicinal qualities and lemon makes FIZZ! If you really don't want to deal with a lot of fizz, cut way back on the lemon)
- 1 cup of cooled Raspberry tea
- If you like your kombucha or jun to have a bit of sweet to it, add a sweetener that WILL NOT FERMENT here - sugar, honey, etc ferments and will make more alcohol and fizz. Stevia, xylitol, erythritol, etc, will not ferment.
- Fill rest of bottle with Kombucha, leaving about 1/2 to 1 inch head space and seal. Because it's already warm here, I have to start burping these bottles after about 3 days.
* Cherry Lemon Ginger Kombucha is the same - sub in 1 cup of Cherry Tea for the Raspberry.
If you need to take a break from brewing, do so - leave your scoby in your vessel with enough brew to cover it. Check on it once in a while to make sure it isn't dry. When you're ready to go again, your SCOBY will be too.
Left alone too long, kombucha and jun will both eventually turn to vinegar. Because I use a good amount of Apple Cider Vinegar in my household - not just for cooking, I have made apple cider vinegar. However, I've also taken about 1 tablespoon of ACV with the mother and innoculated a little over a cup of jun that was nearly vinegar. Let it sit with the lid very loose til it didn't try to fizz up any more. Then let it sit for a good while longer (I lost my notes, so I can't say exactly how much time passed! sorry!) and the resulting vinegar was beautiful and tasty. Will certainly do that again - maybe even with some kombucha.
Nifty Tips from Kombucha Kamp - Hannah is awesome!
1. If you find that fruit flies are trying to take over your brewing area, put a drop of dish soap into a small bowl, pour an ounce or two of kombucha or jun (it seems to me that the flies like kombucha better) over the soap and leave that near your brewing area - the flies are drawn to it, but the soap won't let them back out.
2. SCOBY hotel - If you find that you're getting a LOT of SCOBYs and don't have a lot of people waiting in line to take them off your hands, make a hotel. Get a good sized jar (1/2 - 1 gallon), put your spare SCOBYs in the jar, then pour kombucha (or jun) over them til they're covered. Hannah suggests putting the lid on the jar, and that the SCOBYs will be fine for up to a year without brewing. She recommends putting the SCOBYs in hotel rather than bagging and refrigerating. Some say that some of the bacteria go dormant and may not reawaken. That being said, I've frozen cultures (NOT Kombucha or Jun...yet) and they've worked just fine after the thaw. So I don't know which way is BEST.
Now, I don't know EVERYTHING there is to know about either kombucha or jun. My purpose for posting this is to help other people realize that it isn't intimidating or impossible to keep up with - that anyone can brew their own booch and jun and even take breaks from it when they need to. It is my sincerest wish to aid others in achieving optimal health and helping others learn how to help themselves.
Tuesday, January 07, 2014
I'm sure that any one who has watched as little as one show on television in the past week or two has seen an ad for either probiotic laden yogurt or supplements (maybe even both!). These ads are in magazines, too. There is a lot that isn't being said.
Basically, the gut is a "biome" an environment of it's own. There are good bacteria and bad. If you're eating well, the good bacteria are likely outnumbering the bad. However, if you've had antibiotics in the last couple years, your gut may be lacking. The gut biome is currently the subject of much research and discussion. It's looking as though the good health of the gut reflects in the good health of the body and vice versa. See for yourself, do a search on "gut biome".
I'm not going to shoot down anyone's efforts to better their health through taking probiotic preparations and eating commercially available yogurts. However, I will say this: ONE serving of fermented vegetables contains more probiotics than an ENTIRE bottle of probiotic supplement. Yes, one serving of home cultured or fermented vegetables has more probiotics than an entire bottle. And, for what one bottle of probiotics cost, about 10 QUARTS of fermented organic cabbage (sauerkraut) can be made (in some instances, even the purchase of an entire dozen jars, 12 organic heads of cabbage and a full pound of sea salt all together wouldn't cover the cost of one bottle of probiotics seriously)! That's a LOT of food and money in my book.
But probiotics aren't limited to fermented vegetables. For about $15 (after shipping), a good, perpetual, heirloom culture can be obtained for making buttermilk, yogurt or kefir. I have four cultures: vegetable, buttermilk, yogurt and kefir. Now, I am not going to suggest that you run out and buy them all right away. Each one has many benefits. Choose one and learn it well. Then consider another. Learn that one as well as the first, then consider another. For instance, I like the taste of the buttermilk culture just as well as the kefir culture, so the kefir culture really wasn't a MUST have in my household. A culture is not absolutely necessary for sauerkraut, but it does get the fermentation going quicker.
There are several types of cultures. Direct set, perpetual, mesophilic, thermophilic. I'm going to explain these real quickly, then we'll move on. Direct set = a culture that you use each time you want to make your buttermilk, yogurt or cheese. You have to buy more when you run out. Perpetual = a culture that you use to make a 'mother'
, then use a little of the mother each time you want to make buttermilk, yogurt or cheese. Before you run out, you use some of the mother culture to make another batch of mother. OR, as in the case of my buttermilk culture, it simply gets cultured every 7 days and a mother culture isn'tt necessary (although I keep cubes in the freezer as a backup and to share). Mesophilic basically needs room temperature while thermophilic needs a constantly maintained warmth. There's a little more to these definitions sometimes, especially if you're making hard cheeses, but for where we're going in this post, my definitions above are enough. I prefer perpetual cultures that I don't have to purchase over and over.
The vegetable culture I chose is Caldwell's Vegetable Starter - because it can be used to culture many, many vegetables, not just cabbage for sauerkraut. Sometimes, I let us run out of kraut and then I get so very hungry for it that I just can't wait 3 weeks. I'm trying very hard to break this habit. However for the probiotic count to really be up there, I try to take the time and culture my sauerkraut for a minimum of 3 weeks instead of the 1 week a culture requires. At the 3 week mark, you can use the sauerkraut like a condiment instead of in big servings and still get a LOT more probiotics than you think! Just don't microwave it. Ever.
When I run out of that vegetable culture, I intend to try Body Ecology's culture. Not because the other one has let me down in any way whatsoever - it's great - I just want to learn them both. Then I will decide which I prefer. When I make my sauerkraut, I use a couple of cabbages, a few onions and a couple of carrots. This makes for a very, very tasty sauerkraut. I like it made with just cabbage, too, but I prefer the flavors that are added with the onion and carrot. I very much like kimchi, too, but my family isn't crazy about it. When I do make kimchi, I make small, 1 quart batches and I usually end up eating the whole thing by myself. That's OK, but sometimes, space is at a premium in our fridge.
I ferment vegetables in canning jars, I weight the vegetables down using a big ziplock or plastic bag filled with water. Airlocks like The Perfect Pickler make it very easy and I may try one some day. So far, however, I haven't had a problem with the method I use whether it's summer or winter, spring or fall.
I've got a simple recipe for a small batch of sauerkraut available on my site at intrinsicalchemist.com/2014/01/06/be
(It is a PDF and is printable). Try to use organic vegetables when you can. They don't have the pesticide residues in them.
The buttermilk culture I chose is an heirloom culture from Cultures for Health - because it needs to be cultured every 7 days, I use the buttermilk in our gluten free/grain free bread and biscuit recipes as well as other cooking. Sometimes, I strain it through butter cloth, add some sea salt and we eat that like cream cheese. It's very tasty. I like the buttermilk with a little honey mixed in â I drink it as one would kefir.
This culture can also be used to culture other milks such as coconut or almond, but the thing to do with that is make a quart of the culture in milk, freeze that into ice cubes and then use part of a cube each time the coconut milk is cultured. When the cubes get low, culture more milk. I've tried to perpetuate the culture in alternative milks and it can be done for a time, but it's VERY time consuming and one extra hour is death to the culture. Only about 1 teaspoon of buttermilk is required to culture a full quart of milk, coconut milk or almond milk.
The yogurt culture I chose is Viili from Cultures for Health. I chose it because itâs perpetual and because it's mesophilic. I do not need to buy an appliance to culture this yogurt. It's also got a very mild flavor, which my family prefers, and it cultures well in whole milk with extra cream in it. The kids like to eat it with a little maple syrup in it. But I also add a cup or two (depending on the size of the batch) to my home made ice cream. They can't taste it and they're getting probiotics with every bite of what they think is pure decadence. It hides especially well in organic strawberry ice cream.
The kefir culture I have is from a friend who has cultured kefir for many years. However, if I were to have to buy one right now, I would probably get one from Cultures for Health.
I've also made fermented ketchup, mayonnaise and salsa, so far, and I have a few more recipes I'd like to try. Homemade fermented condiments are SO yummy and frankly, the commercially available versions pale in comparison.
Most of the fermented condiment recipes call for whey. The whey can come from either buttermilk or yogurt, simply strain either one through butter cloth in a cool spot for 8+ hours. The liquid that drains out of the yogurt or buttermilk is the whey. I save it and freeze it in ice cube trays. Believe it or not, the whey is still viable after freezing.
My most recent investments have been for fermented tea. Since quitting coffee completely in April 2013, I've become a tea lover and fermented tea is a perfect fit.
There are two, kombucha and Jun. I'll cover these more in a later post. (See www.sparkpeople.com/mypage_public_jo
In my opinion, one of the most important investments in this is the canning jars. While I don't have the collection I'd like to have, I obtain more here & there. The bare bones investment if one were very committed to trying fermenting and culturing would be quart canning jars. They're very affordable at places such as WalMart. A gallon jar and one or two half-gallon jars are also handy if you decide that it's more efficient to make large batches at a time. For fermented condiments, small jars, such as pint canning jars, are very handy. I try to get only wide mouth jars, then I buy the wide mouth plastic lids. I don't really like to have a metal lid on a jar when fermentation is in progress. However, if there is a layer of plastic (such as my water-weighted bag) between the ferment and the lid, it doesn't bother me a lot. Once the ferment is done and the bag comes out, if I don't have a plastic lid for my gallon jar, I move the ferment into quart jars with plastic lids, then into the refrigerator.
OK, now that is a pretty good bit of information for you to get started with if you are interested! Have a great day!
Tuesday, October 01, 2013
It isn't easy..... But it's very rewarding. Now, before we go any further, I am no expert on gardening. I don't know 'everything', but I have been at it for quite some time and have learned a LOT. I nearly always have 95-100% seed germination, I grow enough to save my own seed, my asparagus patch gives me new crowns every year that I trade or sell, my 3 year old fig tree gave over 8lbs of figs this year and my 3 yr old peach tree gave spectacular peaches. I didn't can them, we just ate and ate and ate. :)
I've heard folks claim that Arizona's soil is 'poor'. They're usually from some wet place that naturally has a lot of organic material in the soil. The soil here isn't poor at all. Technically, it's chock full of minerals and other good things garden plants will love. It's just really dried out and has a high amount of clay. The solution is to amend the soil by adding organic material. I've tried many different things and have discovered that the best amendments to the soil are compost and manure - more specifically, when you're composting, put a layer of manure on top of your recent additions. Black compost/composted manure is awesome stuff in the dry, arid, clayish soil here in Arizona. The soil in my yard has quite a high clay content and a LOT of rocks.
What will happen when you try to garden in Arizona soil without amending it is this: The clay will hold on to the water and your plants will sit there and dry up before that clay will ever let go of a drop. If you water enough to keep the plants alive, your water bill will be astronomical. By mixing in a good amount of organic material, the clay is actually suspended. The organic material enables more water to remain around the plant roots and the plants do not dry out. Over the years, I've dug my plots down between 6 inches and a foot (depending on the crop and the season) - I turn the dirt (yes, you're going to find a lot of rocks, make a pile, they'll likely be useful for something down the road) and then mix in my organic material. Because I do have a lot of clay - at about 16 inches down, there is a thick layer of very difficult terracotta-colored clay that is 4 to 6 inches thick (that was so much fun to dig through for my asparagus! LOL) - I add a LOT of organic material to my plots.
If you're gardening already or considering a garden, consider getting a compost bin or heap going first. Composting is a great way to keep stuff out of the trash and landfills and it's good for the garden. I re-purposed (upcycled? LOL) an old dumpster from a defunct company - no one would pick it up when we first moved into this house, so we kept it in the garage. When I started my garden, I realized exactly what it was good for - I cut a door in the bottom of the bin with my multi tool that was wide enough for my shovel to fit through. I used to tape it closed with duct tape, but now just put a brick in front of it to hold it in place. I have a 5 foot length of half inch rebar that I discovered in the garden when I dug about 18 inches down and I use that to aerate (stir) my compost. My compost turns out nice and black, but it's chunky. At first, I felt as though I'd failed at composting. Turns out, my chunky compost is good stuff - it's like giving the garden 'timed release' vitamins. So, I don't sweat the chunks anymore.
Good things to put into a compost bin include: coffee grounds, egg shells (both of these can also be used without composting them - put right around plants for a nearly instant dose of goodness), dryer lint (especially from cotton laundry), newspaper (don't dump months and months worth in at a time - treat it like leaves and give a layer once in a while), leaves, cuttings from other plants - if you have branches, try to cut them into 6 inch lengths - even at that size, when they make their way to the bottom, they may have to go through again, vegetable peels, ends, etc. As long as there is not a lot of salt or oil on anything, it's ok to use. Using leftover meat or bones is do-able, just probably not best to use in the bin unless you've got a lot of time and not many critters in your area. Where we live, there are a couple of raccoons that come & live just outside our fence every winter (they're wild, but they get along with the feral cats fairly well - we've seen all of them hanging out on the back porch), we've got coyotes and javelina in the yard pretty much every day and I found mountain lion track in the front yard a couple of winters ago. So, I'd rather not take a chance on luring heavy duty critters right into my back yard.
That's the very reason my chicken coop is still in the design stage - I want to give the chickens enough room to run around, but there is no way they can be completely free in my yard. Raccoons can open things, coyotes will dig under things, and bob cats and mountain lions will just muscle things open if they can - this needs to be planned very well since all those critters see a 6 foot fence as a mere hurdle if they're hungry enough. My chicken coop is going to need many layers of security, because if even one of my chickens is stolen by a marauding critter, I will be sitting up waiting til he comes again. I need my sleep.
Each of my gardening plots is about 8ft by 8ft. Each 8 square feet gets turned a minimum of 6 inches deep, then a minimum of 50lbs of organic material mixed in before planting. Some crops take longer, such as leeks - or are perennials, such as tomatoes (I most often plant heirloom varieties - most heirloom tomatoes are 'indeterminate', meaning they keep growing and producing as long as one is able to keep them alive) - tomatoes off a 3yr old plant are tastier to me than 1 yr plant - when I'm getting ready to plant these, I often double or triple the organic material I mix into my soil.
The more I garden each year, the more earth worms I find. Diatomaceous earth doesn't kill earth worms. Because the organic materials help break up clay, earth worms are able to make their way into the garden. They're very good for the garden. I do use an organic dry fertilizer - I stir it into the soil with the organic materials before I plant. If I have any crops that are heavy feeders, I'll add more when necessary. However, most of my fertilizing during the growth is done with liquid seaweed and fish emulsion. I combine them in a hose-end sprayer and feed foliarly as well as at the roots. Did you know that plants absorb around 30% of what is sprayed on them? Yes. This is why pesticides sprayed onto vegetables (as many as 10 times in commercial growing operations!) while they're growing become systemic and why pesticides are found INSIDE of fruits and vegetables.
Why am I telling you today about gardening rather than soap? Well, because I've been doing a LOT of digging here lately to get a winter garden planted and I realized that maybe some of the stuff I know could help folks out. My winter garden will include: edible pod peas, onions, carrots, spinach, lettuces, other root vegetables such as turnips and parsnips, kale, cabbages, collards, mustard, garlic, beans sweet potatoes and potatoes. Because I'm planting quite a few root vegetables, I dug down over 12 inches to turn the soil this time around. I expanded a plot and ran into the pile of rocks pictured above as well as lava rock someone put down decades ago.
A few things have planted themselves - an heirloom red okra, a couple of Moon & Stars melons, tomatoes and about 50 new asparagus crowns. If anyone is interested in Asparagus, let me know. I will not dig these crowns up until early January. At that point, they will be 1 year crowns.
Today is a nice day and I got a lot done outside, but my body is sore and needing some rest. There's a lot more I could share about gardening in Arizona. If anyone is interested (cuz I know, I'm a gardening geek and not everyone is interested) in more, leave a comment. Books you can read: Anything by Dave Owens (especially "Extreme Gardening") and "Gardening When It Counts" by Steve Solomon. There are a few gardening calendars available online, such as this one, also check with your extension service if you're really wanting to get a garden going.
As for Soap, get ready. There's an Oatmeal Honey soap, a soap with Prickly Pear Fruit (organically grown in our front yard), a man soap with a Bay Rum type of scent, Lemon Eucalyptus and a few other items coming soon. Like Lotion Bars and Muscle Rub. Have been refining the formulation for the Muscle Rub - it's even better than it was before.
Have a great day!
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