OF ORDINARY MIRACLES

Greek yogurt with cocoa, fruit and nuts

“Fabulous Fermented Foods” have been part of my family’s history for generations back. In the rural antebellum South, folks made cornbread with buttermilk and bacon grease. They didn’t waste soured milk in those unrefrigerated days, just as they used every bit of the pig but its squeal. “Waste not, want not,” was an adage my forebears took to heart, even to my embarrassment of their saving balls of string or aluminum foil for reuse. The latter I thought unsanitary, in my modern worldview, but I’d never experienced great want of any kind as they had.

I enjoyed helping my nanny can food by pickling peaches and cucumbers, but that was a different process than fermentation. My mother did ferment a fruit compote with alcohol, which we all devoured with gusto over ice cream during the holidays. “Is it ready yet?” was as frequent a question as “When can we open a present?”

Of course we ate pimento cheese sandwiches, especially during those long lazy days of summer, but none of us ever connected the cheese making process to fermentation by good bacteria or yeasts. We ate, enjoyed, and never gave it a second thought as we sought the shade or a cool dip in refreshing water. Like many people of our day, we were incurious of the many ordinary miracles which surrounded all of us.

Now I’m well into my seventh decade and understand these trendy (but ancient) foods have potential health benefits. Fermenting foods changes their taste and texture, along with their chemical and biological properties.

Fermented foods may be the oldest “new” food trend around. The process is as old as civilization itself, and fermented foods are consumed in nearly every culture in the world. While researchers attempt to tease out how the changes caused by fermentation actually impact health, many not-fully-substantiated health claims are being made. Let’s take a look at what we know, and don’t know, about these promising (and tasty) foods.

FERMENTATION PROCESS

What is Fermentation? Fermentation occurs when microorganisms (certain species of bacteria, yeast, or mold) feed on starch, sugar, and other food components. This ancient process was originally used for preserving foods, but it fell out of favor in the age of refrigeration and pasteurization.

Many foods and beverages that are commonplace in the U.S. are a result of fermentation. Grains are fermented to make beer and bread; wine is made by fermenting grape juice; and yogurt and cheese are popular forms of fermented milk. Any foods can be fermented, and there are many examples of fermented foods around the world, such as Korean kimchi and the Swedish fermented fish Surströmming.

HEALTH BENEFIT CLAIMS

Behind the Health Benefit Claims. “It is becoming increasingly clear that the fermentation process changes the health-promoting characteristics of foods,” says Jeffrey B. Blumberg, PhD, professor emeritus at Tufts’ Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy.

For example, large studies have suggested an association between consumption of fermented dairy foods and weight maintenance that is not seen with unfermented dairy products, and frequent yogurt consumption is associated with lower risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and overall mortality.

Some data show kimchi, a fermented cabbage dish ubiquitous in Korean cooking, is associated with anti-diabetic and anti-obesity benefits not seen with unfermented cabbage. Some of these suspected health benefits may result from the presence of the microorganisms themselves, but emerging research indicates that changes those organisms make to the food constituents, and new constituents they create, might have health benefits in their own.

HEALTH BENEFITS INCLUDE

Some of the potentially health-promoting effects of fermentation include:

1. Adding to our gut microbiota. Probiotics are live bacteria that some evidence indicates can confer health benefits when consumed in adequate numbers.

Some bacteria used in fermentation are known probiotics (or are similar to probiotic species). If fermented foods and beverages contain live microorganisms when consumed, a relatively large number of these organisms apparently make it through the human digestive system alive. “During the last decade, the number of studies has exploded regarding gut microbiota and their impact on the health of not only the gut but also the brain, heart, and immune system,” says Blumberg.

2. Changing existing compounds. In fermentation, the microorganisms break down food constituents. This process may have health benefits. For example, in fermented vegetables certain bacteria help convert health-promoting flavonoids into a more readily-absorbed form.

In dairy products, the bacteria break down lactose, making yogurt and cheese easier for lactose-intolerant people to digest.

3. Creating new compounds. Fermentation may create new compounds that have health-promoting actions in the body.

For example, one common result of bacterial fermentation is lactic acid (lactate), which recent research indicates is involved in anti-inflammatory and possibly antioxidant processes.

Other strains of microorganisms actually synthesize B vitamins or vitamin K; discourage “bad” bacteria from taking hold in the gut; or produce molecules not found in the original form of the food that play a variety of potentially health-promoting roles in the body.

4. Deactivating undesirable compounds. In addition to creating (mostly) desirable compounds in foods, fermentation can also remove undesirable compounds. In some plant foods, so-called anti-nutrients like phytic acid bind to nutrients like iron and calcium, decreasing the amount of these nutrients available to be absorbed by the body.

Fermentation can reduce phytic acid levels, which frees up more nutrients for absorption. Additionally, some food components are typically fermented in the gut by gut bacteria. This can create gas and trigger digestive problems. Fermenting foods before consumption leaves less work for gut microbes, and may help ease digestive problems such as irritable bowel syndrome.

5. So far, there is not a lot of clinical data backing up the potential health benefits discussed above, or the health claims often attributed to fermented foods.

But tasty foods like yogurt, hard cheese, the fermented yogurt drink kefir, cabbage-based sauerkraut and kimchi, or the increasingly popular fermented tea kombucha are delicious ways to add nutritional variety to your overall dietary pattern.

Of course when we say “yogurt,” we mean the plain, unsweetened product, to which you control the additional fruits and sugar content. The presugared/fruit purée style is not a healthy choice. Look for a yogurt with more grams of protein than in carbohydrates (Greek usually fits the healthier choice).

The same goes for other milk products, or any prepared food or drink. If it has added sugars, leaving it on the shelf is the best way to keep it from showing up on your own body. If you have a body like mine, these sugar bombs explode in one perturbing place, every single time, as if there were a hidden sugar magnet inside my body! Every. Single. Time.

Yet we can do this! I keep weighing my food, keep a food diary, and exercise. I realize 30 minutes a day doesn’t seem to be enough to lose weight, but it is enough to keep my blood sugar and blood pressure in check. I either have to work less and workout more, or accept 2/3 of my efforts are good enough for someone in the later years of her life.

I’ll probably be working on the last 1/3, just because I can’t rest until I get it ALL. This means I need to cut back on some of my “working.” I’m going to post more monthly on this blog than every two weeks from now on. My Facebook Cornie’s Kitchen page will get more frequent posts.

Joy and peace, Cornie.

Tufts Nutrition Letter, Articles, November 2018 Issue

https://www.nutritionletter.tufts.edu/issues/14_11/current-articles/Fabulous-Fermented-Foods_2487-1.html

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Wacky Wednesday Duo

Breakfast and Lunch in the Kitchen: Spinach and Avocado Duo

This Wacky Wednesday duo is due to my need to clean out the icebox before my next grocery run. My parents grew up during the Great Depression, so wasting food wasn’t on their list of things to do. At least one meal a week was “druthers,” as in “Would you druther have this or that leftover?”

Since I cook for one and measure out my food portions beforehand, I don’t have leftovers. I do have eyes bigger than my stomach when I shop, however. I try to eat my purchases while they’re fresh. Hence a double dose of avocado and spinach on my menu today.

Overstuffed Omlette

When my overstuffed sausage, mushroom, cheese, and spinach omelette fell apart this morning, I stuck the getaway mushrooms onto the avocado toast triangles. After I snapped the photo, I noticed the silly face. To see patterns in common objects is called pareidolia. As a child, my brothers and I entertained ourselves by naming the shapes in the white clouds which floated overhead. At night the shapes in the dark shadows of the vine draped trees were far more sinister than the brightly lit clouds of the day.

It’s a wacky Wednesday all right. Today I read about America’s changing workforce and how the eight hour work day became the norm. At lunch I tossed the chopped spinach with a quarter avocado and some hummus, plus a can of tuna, and a half ounce of walnuts. I tossed in 1/8 C raisins and Italian spices, plus a generous hit of cayenne pepper. I ate this with an ounce of veggie pretzels.

I realize many people have divided food into good and bad categories, or foods for the light and the dark sides of life. Some never eat grain products, meat, beans, or any carbohydrates, ever. Their diets are marked by exclusion, rather than inclusion. Unless a person has an allergy or medical reason to eliminate a food, choosing moderate and/or occasional portions shouldn’t be a problem. Having a variety of foods keeps life interesting and enjoyable.

Tuna Dip in a Bunny Bowl

Another way to enliven meal time is to use the “special dishes.” If you’re still saving the “good” plates for an occasion, why not make today a special day? Why wait for a holiday, birthday, or anniversary? Sometimes I like to eat from my favorite bunny bowls, especially near the end of the month when I’m writing my “Rabbit! Rabbit!” post for the first of the next month. Plus I’m eating backwards today, so I’ll be having yogurt and fruit for dinner tonight, just to keep life interesting.

Tomorrow is another day, and I can go back to being normal, whatever that looks like. Shake up your meal plan every once in a while. Have breakfast for dinner, or dinner for breakfast! Enjoy life!

Love from the Kitchen,

Cornie

Herding Cats and Food Jags

Cat food. People food. Ever get too much of a good thing?

Folks who grew up in the Great Depression were glad to have chicken on Sundays. In Louisiana, politicians promised “a chicken in every pot and every man a king.” My family ate fried chicken at my grandparents’ home every week, until my Nannie passed away.

When that happened, my daddy let my mother know we should plan a different menu for Sunday lunch, that is, anything as long as it wasn’t fried chicken. He was tired of the same meal week in and week out. Mother went along with this, for she knew it wouldn’t be too long before daddy would be craving some fried chicken. She was right. It wasn’t worth arguing over.

Grief hits everyone differently. My dad kept his feelings about the unchanging menu to himself for the sake of family harmony. Mother kept her grief and loss sublimated to care for her father and our family, even if she allowed herself to cry on the anniversary of her mother’s death every year.

I’ve gone on food jags before, and then lost my taste for that food. I find I crave snack foods and breads when I’m stressed, but when the stressor leaves my life, I wonder why I have this unopened bag of potato chips on the top shelf of my cabinet. Go figure! Since I have to pull out the step stool to get it, I have to think twice, “Do I truly want this or do I merely crave it?” I find myself leaving it there more often than not.

Maybe the “cat diet tips” can help you with your cravings too. Just think of your unhealthy food choices as the “cat’s favorite wet food” —just like a perverse kitty, yass—I’m not going to eat it, just cause!

HOW HOT IS IT? 

If the Lord had a choice, he’d pick another day to make his return. If there’s already weeping and gnashing of teeth due to the heat, who’d know if they were being consigned to the hot place? While it’s true we don’t know when the Lord will return, I’m thinking these dog days of summer are a “bye” for us. 

While we wait, we can always cool our fevered brows and slack our thirsty throats with homemade limeade. I enjoy making mine fresh with my grandmother’s depression era milk glass juicer. I realize juicers now are high tech and will pulverize any vegetable or fruit, but this treasured one reminds me of many a sleep over and breakfast at her home. 

My recipe is simple: juice of two lines, Splenda to taste, and two cups of water. Pour over two tall glasses of ice. Add a sprig of mint if you want a different taste. Take the glass somewhere cool and relax. Don’t think of anything difficult or distressing until the drink is finished. 

In fact, once you finish it, don’t think of those distressing  things at all! Let go of them. You’ve had enough trouble for today. Rest. Let God handle those troubles for a while. Tomorrow you can work refreshed and renewed. 

I’m on the couch now, with the cold air conditioning blowing over my bare feet. I almost feel human again. Every sip I take brings me a bit closer to being able to find the kitchen and supper! It will be cold and fruity, not hot and savory. Enjoy your day or evening. 
Joy and Peace, Cornie. 

Kitchen Experiments 

When I was a child, I had a science kit. My parents trusted me not to blow up the backyard carport or lose a digit in the process, but I don’t remember them supervising my experiments. In fact, once we children went outside, we were on our own, but I did live back in the late Stone Age. Even I watched my daughter when she was out and about nearly three decades ago. 

I had a deep sense of curiosity, which my parents nourished. As a result, I’ve never been afraid to try something new, to learn things outside of my comfort zone, or to stretch my boundaries beyond the familiar. This includes meeting new people. I’ve always figured a stranger was just a new best friend you haven’t met yet. And yes, I’ve met a few weirdos doing this, but I’ve also met some really neat folks also. 

Encouraging a sense of adventure keeps us young. This may be the attraction of the many meal in a box delivery services offered today. They decide the menu, find the spices and ingredients, get it to your door, and all the cook at home has to do is follow the directions. I like to go to my local grocery, find the seasonal foods, or clean out the remaining foods in my fridge, and see what I can create with them. I consider this a challenge, as if I were on a desert island with limited resources. What could I do with what I have? 

In a sense, all Kitchen experiments are science projects at heart, for all foods have unique properties: heat, time, salt, fat, and moisture all affect the taste and texture of the ingredients and the concoction. Change one and the others change also. Sometimes we add salt at the end of cooking so the food doesn’t toughen up or dry out. Only experience teaches this, for our tendency would be to dump in all our spices at once. After all, we want to taste test along the way. 

An interesting book, SUGAR SALT FAT, by Michael Moss, outlines the science behind the processed food industry. By concentrating fat, salt and sugar in products formulated for maximum “bliss,” Big Food has spent almost a century distorting the American diet in favor of calorie-dense products whose consumption pattern has been mirrored by the calamitous rise in obesity rates. Entire food categories were invented to support this strategy. This is why Resturant meals often have an entire day’s worth of calories and sodium packed into one serving and Lunchable meals (aimed at children) have over 800 mg of sodium each, an amount far too high for little bodies to consume. 

To eat healthy, many of us choose to eat at home instead, for we can experiment with different food combinations and make choices based on our own health needs. I always limit the salt and carbohydrates, due to blood pressure and glucose resistance. This same dish in a restaurant would be drowning in olive oil and much heavier with cheese. Most likely it would also have a grain pasta with it, so the serving size would be both smaller and more calorie dense. It would be off the menu for most people like me. 

The truth is, we can experiment with our recipes, but experiments with our health isn’t a good idea. Folks who overindulge with carbs or salt can damage their bodies. Retaining fluid is a sign of too much salt, such as around the ankles. Yeast infections can be a sign of too many carbs. Eating healthy is a better choice than eating poorly, even if someone else is cooking or cleaning up for you. If this is a novel adventure, step out and try it! 

You might want to try a Vegetable Lasagna, from Cornie’s Kitchen: Squash Lasagna. 

The registration is free, and the site is free. I hope you enjoy it!

https://recipes.sparkpeople.com/recipe-detail.asp?recipe=3272393

TUNA SALAD WITH AVOCADO, PECANS AND APPLES ON SPINACH 

  
One of my high school buddies from Louisiana saw this on my friend feed. “I put apples in my tuna salad too! I’ve never met anyone else who did. Do you think this is just a regional thing?” 

I’m thinking since we put apples in the chicken salad, we put them in the tuna also. I searched for recipes with this variation, but found none in the Times or epicurious on line apps. Of course, Martha Stewart did make an apple tuna variation. My childhood memories are of the classic Starkist tuna recipe: chopped sweet gherkins or sweet pickle relish and chopped onions, heavy on the mayo. 

As for adding the apples, it might be a holdover from depression era cooks’ proclivity to stretch an expensive ingredient with a more available one in season. 

The Oxford Companion to Food & Drink tells about the introduction of tuna to the American menu. Bumble Bee was the first canned tuna. Folks said it “tasted like chicken.” 

The canned tuna has evolved to pouch tuna, and now we can get flash frozen tuna steaks. Some groceries even sell fresh tuna, and coastal cities even have fish markets to purchase the whole, fresh fish. Barbecue anyone!?

One dish I can no longer eat, for my taste buds grew tired of its variations and its constant presence in my early married poverty years. This is the tuna casserole. I made this with noodles, vegetables, condensed soup, dressed with the broken contents of potato chip bags (waste not, want not), and onions. It had the virtue of being filling, inexpensive, and providing easily reheated leftovers. 

But so does the classic tuna apple salad, which makes two large servings for salad greens, or four hearty servings for sandwiches. 

For tea sandwiches, it makes bazillions, for all the ingredients get chopped fine. Ladies, you understand, have delicate sensibilities, so chopping off the crusts and spreading the salad thinly is a must. Of course, none of these fragile feminine folk will ever get curly hair. To do this, my Nannie said I had to hide behind the closet door and eat these crusts in private.  👒

For more information on Tuna:

https://books.google.com/books?id=GZVweuXhZlkC&pg=PA596&lpg=PA596&dq=tuna+salad+recipe+civil+war+era&source=bl&ots=GM8z1s4VYa&sig=N1Orv282lf-ufXtObM51ESmZTLg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjJotrfrvzJAhWEQCYKHfzGCW0Q6AEIJTAE#v=onepage&q=tuna%20salad%20recipe%20civil%20war%20era&f=false

WASTE NOT, WANT NOT: Basil Bean Leftover Soup

Image

I was raised by a Mama that went through the Great Depression–you know it was a real event if both words get capitalized. They say that folks that endure a hardship like this are permanently changed, that their “normal” isn’t like our sense of everyday security. I used to laugh at my Nannie who saved string and tinfoil into big balls that sat on the kitchen counter. My Nannie also used to make sure that every bit of the chicken was used, so the bones were boiled to make chicken stock along with some carrots and celery and salt and pepper.  They didn’t have ramen noodles back then, but they also didn’t have high blood pressure either.

Another thing I would giggle at was the use of leftovers to make “druthers soup.” It got its name from the fact that we’d druther have something else, but we would eat what we got in front of us. We didn’t eat out unless we went to our grandparents’ homes or got the occasional ice cream treat. It wasn’t that I was from a poor family, for my Dad was a doctor. This was just how I was raised. Mother believed that she could cook better than the restaurant, so unless we had a birthday, we ate at the family table.

To this day, I don’t waste the left overs, not even from the food I’ve bought at a restaurant. At a Cinco de Mayo celebration I had the fajitas which came with beans, rice, and tortillas. I managed to eat the meat, and part of the onions and grilled peppers, as well as the guacamole and lettuce.  But all the rest came home with me. Folks were just amazed that I would take home these “cheap foods”, but I said, “These beans will be a good base for a soup, I’ve got some leftover chicken in the freezer, plus I’ll add a few mushrooms, these onions and peppers, and the leftover rice, and this will be a great soup!” I had a whole other meal all spiced just right and everything. All I had to do is heat it up. That’s the photo above. I threw some of my fresh basil from my little garden into the pot, and I felt like the queen of my kitchen.

I don’t keep the tinfoil ball–I think that is probably germ attracting. I don’t have a ball of string, but I don’t believe in wasting food. Buy what you need, order what you can eat, take home and use up what you don’t eat. People are still hungry in this world, and our throwing out food is wasteful. Invite someone over to share a meal with you and turn off all the electronics. Reconnect and rediscover what it means to share your selves around the table.