Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Going Nowhere Fast

Nope, not just this blog.  Apologies for neglecting it - and you all with it - but these past weeks have been a perfect example of what happened when you try to wade through treacle. Day after day after day.... 

In short - back at square one. Lost our buyer just as the school holidays started, which means the housing market has ground to a halt.  Had to reduce the price as comparable properties have come new on the market at a lower price, making us uncompetitively overpriced.  This in turn made our perfect house recede out of our reach - which may well be for the best, as the house turned out to be a repossession - which we were not too impressed about - not an issue necessarily if we knew it from the off, just do not like being lied to - and seeing as that house would have been uncomfortably stretching our finances from the outset.... Don't want history repeating itself, now do we ?



Anyway.  The time went on, the energy flowed sluggishly at best, the stress became just a tad too much, the fibromyalgia flared up.  Pulled myself through that, then the weather changed, another flare.

In the meantime, the house is getting decidedly grubby around the edges, and my life is seriously starting to lack focus.  Oh, it's only temporary, I know that.... But it's hard to avoid the whole "we should have been packed by now"  "by now we would have been exchanging contracts" "this could have been our completion date" trap. 

So, yesterday I gave myself a good talking to, and wrote out a list of all the massive deep-cleaning jobs that needed to be done - one I day, I reckoned, I'd be done by the end of the week.

Wrrrrong.  Breaking news, we have a viewer, next day at high noon.  So the evening, instead of our regular stroll down the fields, becomes a cleaning frenzy.  The house sparkles, how lovely.

Eleven o'clock today, and guess what ?  Viewing cancelled.

But hey, at least we have a nice clean house, right ?

I am also feeling the effect of my decision not to plant much in the way of veg this summer,  but to give over what growing space there is mostly to pretty flowers.  That means that I now have to buy courgettes.... But hey, we still have runner beans galore, thanks to a neighbour donating surplus plants - shame no one really likes them all that much.  What yellow French beans there were, we've eaten already.



It does mean though that the pretty bouquet (top given to me by my former colleagues on leaving has since been replaced with a number of home-grown, more modest, but equally pretty posies (example below).

 

 





Next year, I shall have a bigger garden - and I shall grow both cut flowers and veg.

I can hardly wait :o)

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Turbulent...

... few weeks.  Since my last post, when all our ducks were all nice and neatly lined up in a row, we've been gazumped on the house we were buying; did our best impression of Goldilocks whilst viewing countless properties ("Too small"; "Too close to the road"; "Too far from the bus route"; "Too noisy"; "Too expensive"), until we finally found the perfect bowl of porridge - sorry, house - well, nearly perfect; it happened to be the "too expensive one".

Cue a week of stretching our finances to the utmost, trying our luck with a low offer; increasing the said offer; being pitted against two other offers, both at the (very, very high) asking price; and finally, having the offer accepted..... Unless someone comes in with a significantly higher one, when it will be back to square one.

Let's hope not, though - that bowl of porridge is ours. Nuff said ;o)

Now, frustrating as this saga is - was - a house is just a house, even when it's a beautiful perfect fabulous our house..... And the important things are still well, and still good.  The better half and yours truly celebrated eleven wonderful years together (I got the finances all lined up for the purchase of the porridge house as a present - isn't he good ? :o) );  DD had her taster day at college, and is feeling brave enough to go back in September - she says that yes, it was awkward, yes, it was stressful - but she knew it would be, and knew that these types of situations will never get better if she is never brave enough to leave her room - isn't she great ? :o) ....

And hey - only two more days at work !  Now, don't get me wrong, I liked the job, and will be sorry to be leaving the people behind - but I just can not physically do the job anymore, not if I'd also like to have some sort of life apart from the work.  Fibro - even on the Paleo diet - and hard physical work where you can not pace yourself but are paced by the demands of the job just do not mix.

No more turbulence for a little while now, though - I have had my fill.....

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Solstice Bells

It's that time of the year again. Midsummer. Longest day, shortest night. Summer solstice, first day of summer....   People dressing up as what they think Druids might have looked like and ushering the down in at Stonehenge (incidentally, one of the reasons I first travelled to UK was to see Stonehenge. Nineteen years on, I still haven't made it.), Neo-Pagans dancing in the altogether on Glastonbury Tor.... Okay, maybe not that one.
 
But you see my point, I trust - it's a special time of the year. Two solstices, two equinoxes (or as some would have it, equinoces, or even equinoctes), four touchpoints in a calendar year that are all about balance. and balance, in my life philosophy, is what it's all about.
 
So having established that I see the summer solstice and its three little friends as pretty important, it would logically follow that I make the effort to do something to mark the occasion.
 
Well, I do. Of course I do. If I didn't, there'd be no point to the post, would there ?
 
Every solstice, every equinox, what I do is.....
 
 
 
.... change our toothbrushes. 
 
Yep, you read it right.  You know how the dentists and other dental care professionals say you ought to change your toothbrush every three months ?  Well, I kept forgetting.  There's generally too much going on in any given three months for me to give the toothbrushes any thought from one use to another - and it's only when they started getting too tatty for comfort that I would try and remember when I last changed them.....

 
.... And failed.
 
 
So now I do it on solstices and equinoxes.  One of these comes around every three months, and there are scant chances of even someone as preoccupied as yours truly of forgetting them.
 
Mine's the pink one, btw.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

All Change

                                                          Paleo eating - mixed salad with squid rings.


Firstly, the Paleo diet is still going strong and is changing us both - the pounds are dropping off and the energy levels are rising.  I am walking a lot and reaching my 10K of steps most days....

Paleo eating - onion, mushroom and herb omelette with pumpkin seed salad.



.... and then there is DD, and her decision that she is ready to join the world again, and her application to study A Levels at college.  She had an interview yesterday - we are talking about pretty much the first public appearance, let alone a real-life conversation, in about two year - and has been offered a place.

...I've yet to see a bird in that birdbath....



I have handed in my notice at work, and have three weeks and a day left in the library - six and a half years, and I am ready to move on.  More than ready, in fact. 

Redecorated lounge


And all that work we did decorating and decluttering and getting the house ready to sell ?  It was worth it.  First viewer through the door fell in love with the place and offered the asking price - shortly afterwards, we offered on a house we've been eying up online for ages; viewed and struck off our list as being too much of a project; failed to find anything else meeting our requirements; decided that we will leave it to fate and, should we sell, no perfect house with every box ticked appeared, and this house was still on the market, we'd take it as meant to be and go for it -

                                                            The kitchen is never normally this tidy !

- and that's what happened. 

Dine in style


And you know what ?  I'm over the moon about it :o)  I am not even thinking of the house in its current dilapidated state - I see it as it's going to be when I've had my wicked way with it. 

Sweet dreams




Oh, and the garden - 120 ft of weedy wilderness with a little gated secret garden at the bottom.  I could not have dreamed it more perfect for us!

                                                                 My new garden !


So here we are - a few weeks to go, all being well, and it's go for new house, new town, new career and new educational opportunities.  Watch this space.....

 

 

 

 
We are on the move !

Sunday, 1 June 2014

School's Out

.... for summer !

Well, really it has been out for good ten days now.  Our year of home educating has drawn to a close with two weeks of AS Level exams, and now it's time for the long wait until we found out how well we've done.

Of course, the fact that I have been ill and that DD was therefore perhaps encouraged a bit too much to draw on her own resources means that, if she does well, it will be to her credit - and if she doesn't, I'll be to blame.  Somehow the division of praise or otherwise always seems to fall in the same pattern. Oh well :o)  I am just pleased we reached the end of another school year alive and well - and really, more well than any of us have been for a long, long time.

So, what's DD decided to do with her long summer holiday ?  She has all this time on her hands now, she says, so she might as well dedicate herself to becoming fluent in another language.  And in order to give herself the best chance to do succeed, she might as well concentrate on the language that she already has the best command of.  Which, in her case, would be what you might call her mother tongue.... Or at the very least, her mother's native tongue, Croatian.

Which is great. No really, it is :o)  But how come that, once again, she finds herself with all this time on her hands, so she decides to fill it by finding me summat else to do. Because, of course, the best possible way to become fluent in a language is to make the best possible use of the native speaker you have living under your roof.  So much for school being out for me....

But hey, looking at the bright side - this must say something about my teaching skills, the fact that she wants so spend her long holiday making good use of them.  Right ? 

In other news, the long weeks of getting the house market-ready have also drawn to a close, and we should be on the market some time next week.  The valuations so far have been more than we hoped - let's hope that the buyers agree !  And so starts the merry-go-round of viewers and viewings and, hopefully, in the not too distant future, surveys and solicitors and movers and packing and.... A new home :o) 

Never a dull moment here.  Not sure if that is a good thing or not.....

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

The Leaning Uncle

"It's not as festive, but is far more dominant - you can see it from every corner of the city, creeping into frame from the oddest angles, like an uncle who wants to get into every snapshot"

                                         ( Bill Bryson on the Sydney Harbour Bridge, "Down Under", 2000)

Okay, now hold that thought.

I know, I know, it's been way too long.  But you see - we've been on holiday, we came back, we got stuck into decorating and did the whole house, we went Paleo, we revised for exams,  and we are - well, DD is - about to sit the first one of those. Less than two weeks and it will all be over !

Incidentally, all the folks who told me that Paleo would really help my fibro ?  They were right.

So now that my facienda is utterly under control and things are being ticked off well before the deadline, I think I can finally get back to blogging.  What a lucky lot you are, eh ? :o)

I will leave you with a few snaps from our holiday. 





The Leaning Tower

 
 
Campo Dei Miracoli
 
 
 
The Baptistry

 
 
Museo Del Campo, Ground floor
 
 
 
Museo Del Campo, Top Floor
 
 
 
On our way to the Botanic Gardens
 
 
 
In the Botanic Gardens
 
 
 
The streets of Pisa
 
 
 
 
Hello again, Uncle !
 
 
I shall see you again soon, I hope, but in the meantime, be on your guard.....
 
..... and don't even blink.
 


Sunday, 30 March 2014

A Whirlwind Drop-in

Evening all,

Been a bit hectic around here the last few days, but things are slotting into place, slowly.  Payday, and DD on course to complete her coursework with only a minimal extension, and the game of chase-the-GP-appointment finally resulting in a win.  A night out with girls from work - the eating out part I can take or leave, but it is nice not to be a complete hermit at all times - and a couple of days of glorious sunshine; and best of all, the term is over, and I have three and a half weeks off work.

We will be away now for just over a week - our first family holiday that does not double up as a visit to my parents - and although we will have WiFi in the apartment (useful for not having to entertain DD 24/7 though), I am going completely unplugged for the duration, so will see you on my return.

In the meantime, I leave you with a few photos of the spring springing. So, here are pretty woodland flowers:

 
Camelia in bloom:

 
And my attempt at capturing the butterfly visiting our Victoria plum.

 
Not very good, I'm afraid. 
 
But you know what ?  Sometimes "it will do" really will do.....

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Lacto Fermented Vegetables

Okay, so what are lacto fermented vegetables when they are at home ?  In short (well, as short as I am capable of - you know me !), it's a way of preserving vegetables for long periods without the benefits of technology - in particular, freezers and pressure canners.   This is the way it used to be done - and if we take to hear the idea that we should be eating what our ancestors ate, because that is what we are designed to get maximum nutrition from - then we should start lacto fermenting our vegetables, even if we do have the option of freezing or home canning them instead.

The reason it works is because lactic acid is a natural preservative, and the bacteria that produce lactic acids can be found everywhere - especially on the leaves and roots of plants.  All they need is the starches and sugars from vegetables, and away they go, converting it into lactic acid.

So, it makes your veggies keep longer. Pretty cool.  But is that all there is to it ?  Hardly worth the bother if that's all it is, right ?

Well, no, that's not all.  This conversion of sugars and starches into lactic acid is not where it stops.  Lacto-fermentation makes your food more easily digestible; creates numerous helpful enzymes; and there are claims that it also produces anticarcinogenic  substances.  I don't know about that, but what I do know is that they really taste rather nice - and that alone is a good reason to give it a go.

Okay, so where do you start ?  Well, I started with sauerkraut.  It's something I grew up eating, and it's dead easy to make, requiring as it does just two simple ingredients - cabbage and sea salt.  Of course, if you were a good girl or a boy and made whey as I suggested you do yesterday, you will add whey as your third, and if you find, as some people do, that cabbage can make you a bit, well, windy, then a tablespoon of caraway seeds will take care of that.  Plus it does add to the flavour.

In summary, then -

Sauerkraut

1 medium cabbage, core removed, shredded thinly
1 tbsp. sea salt
1 tbsp. caraway seeds (optional)
4 tbsp. whey

In a bowl, mix cabbage, sea salt, whey, and caraway seeds, if using.  Squeeze and knead (or pound with something like a meat hammer) for ten minutes or so, until the juices start running out. Pack into a jar, juices and all, then press the cabbage down until the juices completely cover it. Cover your jar tightly and keep at room temperature for at least 3 days, longer in cold weather.  Take a shred of cabbage and taste it from time to time - when you are happy that your kraut is sour enough, move to a colder place, or your fridge.  It will keep for darn nearly ever - but I dare you to make it last that long !

Next one that I think is definitely worth making comes from Korea, and I heard - on QI, so it must be true -  that in Korea this is considered pretty much a national dish, with people having special fridges in their house just for it, and Korean astronauts taking specially fermented ones, with a particular balance of bacteria, into space.

Kimchi

1 medium cabbage, core removed, shredded thinly
1 bunch of spring onions, chopped
1 carrot, grated
1/2 mooli radish, grated (optional)
1 tbsp. freshly grated ginger
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes, or 1-2 fresh chillies, chopped
1 tbsp. sea salt
4 tbsp. whey

Mix everything and then proceed as for sauerkraut.

As the only place I can get mooli around here is an ethnic supermarket that's a bit of a nuisance to get to, and as my own attempts at growing them were unsuccessful, I normally make it without the mooli.  Oh, and once you make it, you will realise why people might like to keep a separate fridge just for their kimchi - it does have rather a strong aroma.  For that reason, people like me, who have family members with sensitive noses, will probably do best to make this in colder months only, and store it in an outbuilding instead of the fridge or a cool kitchen cupboard. 





 
Pickled cucumbers

4-5 cucumbers, sliced or 15-20 gherkins
1 tbsp. mustard seeds
2 tbsp. fresh dill, chopped
1 tbsp. sea salt
4 tbsp. whey
1 cup water

Wash cucumbers well and pack into a large jar.  Mix remaining ingredients and pour over the cucumbers, adding more water if the cukes  are not fully covered. Cover tightly and keep at a room temperature for about 3 days before moving to a colder place.

I have to say, though, this is one I did not like - I guess my taste buds are just too used to vinegary gherkin or bread and butter pickles.  Give it a go though and see what you think !



And one final one -

Pickled Vine Leaves

24 vine leaves
1 tbsp. sea salt
4 tbsp. whey
2 cups water

Wash leaves well, place water, salt and whey in a large bowl, and allow to soak for about an hour.  Then roll up all the leaves together, stuff into a jar, and pour the liquid over them. 3 days at room temperature, then move into a colder place or the fridge.

Those are all the ones that I tried so far, but I intend to experiment further in the future - the basic method is pretty much the same regardless of what you are trying to ferment.  You need your veg, your sea salt, preferably your whey, possibly some whole spices, and for some veg, a bit of water - and that's that.  Make sure your veggies are well covered, keep at room temperature for at least 3 days, then store somewhere a bit colder.   Search the web for more recipes, or allow your creativity to take over - and if you come across something that works particularly well, do come back and share :o)
 
 
 

 
 
 

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Whey-hey !

Or, how to make whey and its by-product - cream cheese.

There are several methods for this, but I will only write about one in detail, as that's the only one I have tried, and can confirm that it works, and works well.

First, buy a little pot of buttermilk from your supermarket of choice - I have Asda and Waitrose within walking distance; Asda does not stock it, Waitrose does.  The price is about 50p. If you haven't got any milk in, buy some of that - whole, please, and not UHT (ultrapasteurised).  If you have a way of obtaining raw milk, even better.... But don't worry if you don't.  The process of culturing is supposed to make even the pasteurised, homogenised supermarket milk digestible. 

Next, pour about a litre of milk into a glass container (something like a large Mason or Kilner jar is best - in fact, if you are planning to do a lot of this fermenting lark, investing in a few of those will be something you'll be very grateful down the line).  Add the contents of your buttermilk pot.  Stir well, cover, and keep at room temperature until the milk thickens and starts to curdle - 3 or 4 days usually, depending on the temperature.  Once it does, put about half a cup into  a smaller glass jar and store in the fridge to use in your next batch. Refrigerate the rest.

So, your litre of milk and a small pot of buttermilk has now become a litre of buttermilk.  At this stage, feel free to use it in any recipes that call for buttermilk - soda bread, pancakes, whatever - or just drink as is.  But if you are after whey, or planning to lacto-ferment your vegetables, keep your greedy paws to yourself and leave well alone.  Your patience will be rewarded, I promise.

Right.  You have a litre of buttermilk in your fridge, and half a cup of starter for the next batch - so get another litre of milk, and repeat the whole process.  The initial batch of buttermilk will keep in the fridge whilst you do.



Of course, there is nothing to stop you buying two pots of buttermilk at once and doing the whole double batch in one single go.... I am just trying to save you 50p, especially as I just encouraged you to spend a fair bit more than that on sparkling new jars.  If you want to be properly sensible and frugal, you'll ignore me anyway and use old coffee or pickle jars, and good for you. 

Okay now, a week has gone by, you have two litres of buttermilk, you are fast running out of jars and fridge space (get used to it), but hey, at least your kitchen counters are clear again (don't get used to it) - now what ?

Now take  your buttermilk out of the fridge  and leave it on the counter.  A day, two days, maybe three - this time you are waiting for the curdling proper; when the curds and whey are starting to visibly separate, you are ready for the next step.



The next step requires a large bowl, a strainer to set over it, and a muslin cloth to line the strainer.  Got it all ?  Good.  Now pour your buttermilk into the strainer. Cover, and let stand for a few hours.  After a few hours, tie the corners of the cloth into a knot and stick a wooden spoon through the knot.  Rest the spoon over the top of a large jug or saucepan and let drip further. Do not squeeze.  The liquid on the bottom of the bowl you initially used, and the liquid on the bottom of this new jug/saucepan is whey.  When your muslin parcel stops dripping, put all your whey into a glass jar, cover and store in the fridge - it will keep there for up to 6 months. 

 
 


What's left in your muslin parcel is the by-product - a delicious cream cheese.  This will keep, covered, in the fridge for up to a month.  You can use it as is, or add flavourings - I like adding at least sea salt crystals, perhaps freshly ground black pepper.  Fresh or dried herbs are also good, chilli is lovely if you like it hot, and garlic is seriously yummy.  Feel free to experiment and report back on your findings :o)

And there you go - as so much in the ways of a nourishing traditions kitchen, it could not be simpler - but it does take time and patience.  And that, I feel, is as it should be - some things are worth waiting for.

Tomorrow:  how to use your whey in lacto-fermentation of vegetables.
 

 
 

Monday, 24 March 2014

Probiotics

Tonight, let's talk about bacteria.  Y'know, those horrible little gremlins that lurk around on everything and can make us very, very ill unless we bleach and sterilise everything in sight, over and over again.  Oh, and let's not forget antibiotics, which should be prescribed whenever anyone comes down with sniffles, just in case - because you can not have too much of a good thing, and better safe than sorry, right ?

Er.... Not quite.

Now, the above is very much what it was like when I was growing up.  My mum, who was always somewhat alternatively inclined, and really quite ahead of the time with her unshakeable belief that pretty much any ailment known to humankind is down to misuse of chemicals or inadequate diet, and can be corrected to same extent, if not fully healed, by the adjustment of the above, was luckily quite determined to go head-to-head with medical establishment when my four bouts of what was allegedly pneumonia in a single year (I believe I was about two years old at the time) and the resultant courses of antibiotics left me unable to digest pretty much any food going - but she was very much looked on as a potentially dangerous kook by the majority.

Well, she is my mum, and I love her - but she is a bit of a kook.  Does not mean she is wrong, though, at least not all the time. 

And that time she was right.  We now know that not all bacteria - I really should say micro-organisms, because there is more to them than just a proliferation of the humble bacterium - that not all micro-organisms are created equal.  There is no doubt that the discovery of penicillin, and how to produce it on a massive scale, as well as everything that followed from there on, has changed the world, as it was at the time, for the better.  Going even further back, learning that to wash one's hands can stop the spread of some very dangerous diseases - especially if you are, for instance, a doctor rummaging around a woman's private parts on the occasion of childbirth - has no doubt saved numerous lives. 

That does not mean that antibiotics, or assiduous extermination of all micro-organisms through bleaching and sterilisation is good for every occasion, or even necessary.  The antibiotics will do nothing to a virus - your body's immune system has to take care of that.  The best you can do is to help the immune system along through adequate rest, liquids, clean eating - and certain herbal remedies that are well known to help your natural immunity along.

And the sterilisation and bleaching and all that..... Trouble with all that is that all too often it will throw natural balance of things off-kilter.  Those little friendly bacteria that live in your gut and are necessary for the healthy digestion and general balance of your internal system ?  If everything you touch is bleached, if every ailment is treated with antibiotics, if everything you ingest is pasteurised and homogenised and processed into oblivion.... Those little guys will suffer, too. 

This is where natural probiotics come into it.

Taking a step back now - remember Paleo diet and its insistence that all that we are genetically programmed to digest nothing else but fresh meat, fish, fruit veg and nuts, and how I had a bit of a problem with that statement ?

Well, turns out that I was far from the only one.  Further reading on the subject shows that there is a large community of folk out there who have taken the same reasoning path as I have, and after the initial elimination/weight loss/healing stage of "pure Paleo", settled into what I would term "Paleo nourishing traditions" - a sort of amalgam of the Paleo tradition with some additions of non-Paleo foods, prepared and treated according to the Nourishing Traditions principles.  So, a legume or two ?  Cool, but sprout 'em first.  Occasional loaf of bread, even ?  No problem, but make it sourdough.  And that uber-hobgoblin of "we were not meant to eat that" - cow's, sheep's or goat's milk ? 

Actually, that is cool too, at least for a certain proportion of people (remember, not everyone's ancestors remained hunter-gatherer's until recently, and some have been milking domesticated animals for manymanymany generations) - but not pasteurised, not homogenised, and no, definitely not UHT or powdered.  Fresh outta a healthy goat is cool - but how many of us keep a handy goat in our back garden ?  Clearly, suggesting that mass-produced milk on a scale that we are used to nowadays would be achievable without pasteurisation is laughable.... The question though is, if it was a case of having to choose between such milk "on tap", as it were, and no milk or dairy at all, should probably be answered as "go dairy free".

Enter cultured milk.  I have not researched this too much as it is not an issue that has affected any of us directly (we use very little dairy on a normal basis anyway), but I have come across suggestions that culturing milk changes its chemical make-up to a sufficient extent to make it digestible to many people who are intolerant to it in its normal state.  If this is you, do more research before you experiment, though, and don't take my word for it !

Anyway, I don't know what it was like where you all were growing up, but in my country, when I was a kid, it seemed that every other week there was an article in some paper or magazine of some rural community or a "primitive" tribe discovered in some hard-to-reach nook of the planet, where everyone lived to see their centenary in absolute perfect health, and no one was ever sick; and they all seemed to exist on some variety of a Nourishin Tradition diet, that usually contained daily ingestion of some form of cultured milk.

Now, what is cultured milk ?  Simply put, it is milk, Jim, but not as we know - it's milk with extra life innit.  A culture of micro-organisms (those little friendly bacteria) is added to milk, and left at room temperature to do its work - eventually transforming the whole lot into a healthy, probiotic drink. 

The simplest way to try this for yourself is to buy some live yogurt, or a small pot of buttermilk, from your supermarket of choice, and add it to some milk.  When your milk has turned into yogurt/buttermilk, just save a little back for your next batch. 



Then, if you are so inclined, you can scale the operations up, and through a simple expedient  of leaving your cultured milk at room temperature a while longer, then straining, you will be left with healthy cream cheese (think Philadelphia, only really  good for you), and something even more precious - whey, which can then be used to make really, really nice lacto-fermented vegetables - which are also natural probiotics.



If you would like more details about either cheese/whey making, or lacto-fermented veg, let me know either in the comments or via email, and I will write up a tutorial.  Might even stretch to a picture or two, if I am feeling generous ;o)

The probiotics that you will probably hear most often about, if you are interested in that sort of thing, are kefir, and kombucha.  Kefir is a culture that resembles a clump of grains, and there are two sorts - milk kefir, which cultures your milk, and water kefir, which I've not tried, but I imagine is used to "culture" water, that is, make a water-based probiotic.  The usual way to get into kefir making is through buying some kefir grains - or obtaining them from someone who is already using them; they multiply quite slowly though, so coughing up the cash to start with is probably your best bet.



The two basic rules for kefir making are as follows:  1)  absolutely no metal;  2) no extremes of temperature.  Kefir grains, however, can be stored in the fridge (in a jar of milk) - this will arrest their development, but keep them alive.  If you are thinking of acquiring some, make sure you have a couple of glass jars to do your brewing in, wooden or silicone spoons to handle the grains with, and a plastic sieve.  If you don't do plastic (and who can blame you), you'll have to mess about with muslin cloths, and that can get rather messy.  Plastic sieve does make life a great deal easier in that respect. I got my kefir grains (and my kombucha scoby) from these people:  http://happykombucha.co.uk/ and was happy with both the service and the product.

Kombucha is a culture that forms a slimy looking layer that some people thing resembles a mushroom of some kind, which is why you will hear people referring to kombucha "mushrooms" . They are not a mushroom - in fact, they are not  a fungus of any sort. The proper name for it is a kombucha scoby, which stands for "symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast" What kombucha "cultures"  though - really, it's fermentation we are talking about here -  is neither milk nor water, but tea.  Preparation of kombucha requires quite a lot of sugar - it is what feeds the culture - but the opinion is divided as to whether this sugar counts and sugar digested or not - my personal opinion is that, since this sugar is fed to the scoby, and therefore its chemical makeup is changed prior to your digesting the drink, it doesn't.  As this opinion is based on gut instinct rather than sound scientific research, if you are diabetic, or do not want to touch sugar for any other reason, then kombucha is probably not for you. 



As with kefir, the rules are - no metal, no extreme temperatures - but kombucha is not happy in the fridge, so if you are ever taking a break from it, just keep it room temperature in its own starter liquid.  When you are sold or given a kombucha scoby, this will come to you in some "starter liquid" - basically, a little bit of the fermented kombucha drink that the scoby produced.  Pop it into a glass jar until you are ready to brew your own.

When you are ready, get your glass jar - how big a jar depend on how big your "mother" scoby is - small or medium will need a litre jar; large one a jar twice that volume - then boil the required amount of water, and chuck in teabags at the rate of 3 per litre (black, green or white tea are all good; strong flavoured teas such as Lapsang Souchong are said to produce odd-tasting drinks and are best avoided; herbal teas are really herbal infusions and therefore do not count as "tea" for the purpose of kombucha brewing) and sugar at the rate of 80-90g per litre.  Leave for about half an hour then fish the teabags out and stir the sugar in.  Try to use a non-metal spoon for this.  Then allow to cool to room temperature, before placing your scoby and all of its starter liquid into the jar. Cover the jar,  but do not shut the lid - lid half-open, or covered with muslin is fine - and leave in a dark cupboard somewhere for a couple of weeks. 


After a couple of weeks, you will have a refreshing, sparkling fermented probiotic drink - but what you will also have is a "daughter" scoby - a thin layer at the top of your jar that can be grown on into a larger scoby and thus increase your kombucha production - or shared with friends.

Thus far, I have been doing the latter, and I am happy to continue doing so, which is why I am inviting any UK readers who would like to give it a go to leave me a comment on the bottom of this post if they would like a small/medium kombucha  scoby sending to them. To make it a little bit simpler for myself, it has to be a comment if you want to be in the running - I will not consider you if you only email me asking for one at this stage; you have to leave a comment on this post.  This offer is only open to UK readers simply because it is a living organism, and posting it is likely to be a bit of a headache anyway, seeing how it needs to include liquid, but should really not feature leakages.  I am willing to give it a go, though.



The way this is going to work is as follows:  I have a few scobys to share out, but the supply is not unlimited, so if there are fewer UK readers than scobys available, you all get one.  If there is only one or two takers more than scobys, it'll be a case of "first come, first served", but I will remember the remaining readers when I have some more scobys.... And if there's loads interested, it will have to be a draw.  That seems to be about it.... Oh, and as Broad Bean is the one that got me thinking about it, if she would like one, I am keeping one back for her, no matter how tardy she is in commenting.  That's only fair, right ?  ;o)

So - over to you now. Would you like  to see a post on cream cheese and whey ?  Would you like to see a post of lacto-fermenting vegetables ?  Would you like a kombucha scoby ?  Looking forward to hearing from you.....
 
 
 

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Life, Unplugged

Right.  It would appear that I have been missing in action for so long, that instead of the promised post on probiotics. I do find it necessary to do another round-up post first.  Don't worry though - I do listen to you lot, and the probiotics post will follow at some point - I just need to sort out something first before I am ready to publish.  It will all become clear, eventually.  I promise.
 
Anyway - it all started with picking up a virus  from work.  It's exam and dissertation time, the eating and sleeping part of the students' lives is relegated to an even further back burner than is usual, their immune systems are in shutdown.... And being the kind, sharing young human beings that they are, they all then come to the library to share their germs with the staff.  Well, why suffer alone ?
 
Normally, when I get to the point where every five minutes there is someone coughing and sneezing at my shoulder, I make sure I increase my intake of the aforementioned probiotics, as well as remember to take regularly some of my homemade elderberry and clove syrup, plus Echinacea, bee propolis, extra garlic with everything, or whatever in the way of natural antibiotics I happen to have in stock.  In this way, I managed to get through most of the year without picking up any of the cold, flu or gastric viruses that were doing the rounds. 
 
Occasionally, however, other areas of my life intrude on this cunning plan, and as this time my daughter is suffering from pre-coursework, pre-exam stress (despite by best efforts and attempts to get her settled on Kalms), just as I was starting to feel that first tickle of a respiratory bug trying to gain a foothold in my system, she had a mini-meltdown and needed extra attention to get her stable again, and I neglected to put my own oxygen mask on (one of the two principles that I try to lead my life by - the "oxygen mask" principle means that you are no use to anyone else unless you take care of yourself first; the "run over by the bus" principle has nothing to do with making sure you have clean underwear on, much to my mother's chagrin, but means lead your life with one eye on the fact that you might well be run over by the bus tomorrow - do not leave for tomorrow what you can do today; do not put off your living for the promise of better times coming; do not save your life for a rainy day even though it's bucketing it down already. Digression over, as you were, folks, let's try and climb out of this parenthesis with minimum damage to life and limb, shall we ?)
 
Right, where was I ?  Oxygen mask.  Meaning that, not for the first time, in looking after my daughter I neglected to look after myself and was struck down by a cold.
 
Which in itself really isn't anything to write home about.  However, with me, getting struck down by anything is likely to set off a fibro flare, and this is exactly what happened, with the result that what was really just a cold felt like a bad bout of flu - meaning that for a few days I could not really do anything other than watch my rainbow maker in action.
 
 
 
Pretty, ain't they ?
 
And then I got back to work, and on the first day back, got stuck in a two hour meeting in a stuffy room (it was a good meeting, our big boss is a cool bloke, but the room really did lack air), and came home with a raging migraine.  Another day lost.  I did try taking my painkillers and chasing them with coffee asap, but it was one of my very infrequent nauseous migraines, which means I puked them up almost as soon as I took them.  And then kept puking. And puking. And puking some more.  Somewhere along the line I realised that the splitting increase in splitting pounding head and trigeminal nerve pain also resulted in various other muscles relaxing without me realising, with the charming result that every time I finally managed to pull my head out of the loo bowl, I found I was kneeling in a puddle of liquid that, unnoticed by me, evacuated from my bladder. 
 
Classy, huh ?
 
Luckily, my sense of humour was undamaged by the experience, and I did eventually, once the head stopped pounding and the stomach churning, have a good chuckle at the sheer indignity of a human body out of control.  We are funny creatures, aren't we ?  Such intricate, powerful systems, each and every one of us - when things are going as they should.  Something gets disconnected though, a few chips burn out, a cowboy tradesman or two get loose on the internal circuits... And we become a shambles.  So quickly, so thoroughly, so bemusingly.
 
But that, too, did pass.  The next day I somehow managed to get temporarily unstuck in time, turning up at work a full hour early, whilst fully convinced I was bang on time, but it was a sunny, warm morning, and an hour sitting around soaking up the rays did me a world of good.  I have even managed to survive one night onna sofa bed (woke up feeling grotty, but loadsabetter now),  with another one to come, but hey ho, done it before, will do it again. 
 
And we have been busy eating up our cupboards.  As I slowly recovered, bread got baked, and a batch of English muffins - both made with half chapatti and half self raising flour;  and as semolina has been finished off already, the muffins took care of some of the fine cornmeal.  Oatmeal and more of the flour were used to make Staffordshire oatcakes; there was a bucket of chilli on the go on the night of my uber-migraine, which I did not sample till the next day, only to find out once again that trying to cook when half dead is not always the best plan of action - it just wasn't very nice.  I have been eating it for my lunches since, though - I can manage with the "not very nice" from time to time, especially when I am the one responsible for the not-very-niceness of it.  Oh, and a couple of AF cake mixes got mixed up and baked in brownie trays as "marble cake traybakes".  Yummy, and my marbling is coming along nicely - only took me twenty years to get the hang of it.  Moral of the story: never give up.
 
Now, what usually follows when one eats from stores is a reduction in weekly shopping bills, but I fear that, for us, that has not been the case - largely because I have been taking advantage of any paleo-friendly bargains which can be set aside until we have eaten up the stores.  This is last week's haul from Lidl:  lean pork, olive oil, frozen Pollock fillets, walnuts, nuts and sultanas; the last three all at prices lower than the best bulk-buy prices I have been able to find so far (and of course, it does mean I do not have to buy 5kg at once !)
 
 
And of course, whilst all this has been going on, I've mostly been unplugged.  In fact, I try to lead as much of my life as I possibly can just that way - unplugged.  From the telly, the computer, the phone, the whatever infernal gadgets are deemed to be necessary for our internal or external well-being these days. 
 
I mean, do not get me wrong - I am not a Luddite; not to any great extent, anyway; and I would not willingly choose to give up the Internet.  Apart from the sheer usefulness of it in terms of saving money, price comparing, occasional shopping at the click of a button, the mind-boggling convenience of it all..... I am very much aware that without the internet I would not have met a large number of people who I am now proud to count as my friends; and many others whose acquaintance has enriched my lives, even if sometimes this was despite their best efforts.  And of course, the clincher - my best friend, my other half, would have been extremely unlikely to ever cross my path, had there not been for the web.  So the benefits and the beauty of the medium are very firmly fixed in my mind.
 
But does that really mean that one should be plugged into it 24/7 ?  That anyone's life will be poorer, or deprived, should they have to wait before they get home and power up their desktop or laptop in order to check the updates to their Facebook and Twitter accounts ?  I went on a team night out with work just before Christmas, and whilst most of the evening was spent in the good old-fashioned face to face verbal interaction, a point came in the evening - right about the point, in fact, when the nicotine addicts felt that slipping out for their hit of tobacco could not be delayed any longer - when people started pulling out their smartphones and checking their messages.  Within a couple of minutes everything was silent and I was the only one without a gadget in my hand. 
 
Sure, I do carry a mobile phone about - an antique model (about five years old) good for texting and phone calls; and absolutely no internet access.  I would not dream of going out without it, in case of emergencies - but I do wonder how we all coped a decade or two ago, before mobile phones became ubiquitous.  I do remember using pay phone booths quite frequently as a child and teen, or making calls home from a pal's landline - suspect that had something to do with it. 
 
And I'm afraid I just do not get on with Facebook, even if the monster does share my birthday.  I got quite excited a few years back when I finally caved in and created an account - I think I may have been after printable coupons for money off products to start with - I got excited because a lot of people that I was friends with at school and have subsequently lost touch with had accounts, so I merrily added them fondly imagining that this will lead to establishing dialogue once again.... Except it never did.  It would appear that, for many people using it, the fact that updating Faceache updates all your friends at once does away with the need to communicate one-on-one with any of them..... And that's just not me.
 
Of course, it could just be that they never really liked me anyway :o)  Either way, the wretched thing turned out to be useless to me, and just knowing it's there seems to created an unnecessary feeling of stress and obligation to check it every once in a while.... When I find that I still can't make any sense of it.   So I've made a decision - I am unplugging myself from it.
 
Which brings me, in a very round about way, to yet another point - I have had a few suggestions from (no doubt) well meaning and helpful people as to how I can make this blog available and accessible to a larger readership, and they included advice such as - connect to Facebook and Twitter (and some other social media sites that mean so little to me I don't even remember what they're called).  I hope the above goes some way towards explaining why I'll not be doing this any time soon.
 
Another one was - less wordiness, snappier, more regular posts, more pictures.  Whilst I shall endeavour to do something about the "more regular" part, to the rest, I fear that my reply will have to be - I'm so sorry, but that is just not me.
 
And you see..... I have been writing for money, on and off, since I was eleven.  I can write for a particular purpose, in a particular style, for a particular market - and if you would like me to, and have something to offer in return, do get in touch ;o)  But this is not what this blog is for.  This blog's purpose is threefold - creativity, communication, and connections.  Whilst I appreciate that being shorter and more to the point would aid communication wand connections with plugged-in, time-poor multitudes, I fear that I have no particular desire to connect with this stratum of the society.  If you have been using some of your own precious time in reading my blatherings, and are now being put off because it just.....takes....so bloody....long...and will she ever finish ????  - then I am truly sorry if my refusal to play the game will send you packing, but you know  what - if you find yourself leading a simpler, slower life in the future, I will still be here; and when you have time, we'll talk.
 
And in order for us to talk, and create, hopefully, a more meaningful relationship as time goes on, I have taken one piece of advice on board, and created a "contact me" page which, as yet, consists of nothing more than my email address; this may or may not change, we shall see - but as things stand at the moment, I understand that there are people who sometimes wish to talk, or ask questions, and are not necessarily happy to do so in the comments;  if this is you, feel free to email me;  but do understand that I communicate at speed of tortoise, not the speed of hare, and that time may pass between replies.  Not something any of us  are that well used to any longer.... But perhaps it's time we tried.  At least sometimes.
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Briefly

No energy for a proper post tonight, so I'll just cheat and use the space to catch up with the comments.

CJ - I am really interested on how I'll feel on Paleo, too - I am starting to bore myself, about every other sentence out of my mouth is "I am so tired", and that is also pretty much the sum total of my thoughts, too.  I know I should change my thinking pattern and convince myself that I am buzzing with energy, but you know what ?  I am too tired to....

Lseley - I started sticking onions onna stick after I read that someone did the same in order to keep it safe from rats.  We've not had any problems so far (2+ years of doing it) - but maybe the fact that the garden is overrun with neighbourhood cats might have something to do with it....

Hex - it's not that hedgehog that can not be, erm,  bovvered, by any chance ?  Thanks for info on nuts - we tend to stock up every so often in the ethnic supermarket, but the prices quoted compare well enough and might save us an extra trip.

Broad Bean - I will be back with a more detailed post on probiotics, but briefly, I use milk kefir and kombucha . Water kefir is also available, but I've not tried it - the starter cultures of all three of those need to be bought or cadged off someone who's already got them, although my mum did have some success starting off a kombucha scoby from the sap of wild rose.  I might be able to help there if you are interested - with the two I use, that is.  Lacto-fermentation of vegetables (eg. sauerkraut and kimchi) also creates probiotics.  I am planning to carry on using the kombucha as a regular drink (I shall count it as "tea" from the transitional foods list), and kefir for my "open meals" every so often.

Right, sleep tight, I'll be back soon !

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Paleo - oleo - oleo - oooooo.......

Imagine me singing the above on top of my voice to the tune of your choice.  Off key.

Second thoughts, don't.

Still tired, still suffering from overwhelm, so DD and I did a sensible thing today and took time out to do our daily Croatian lesson only (that's the fun one, as there'll be no exams in that subject !) and watched an episode of Game of Thrones so we could send the disc back off to LoveFilm (sorry, I mean Amazon Prime now, I guess).  We shall knuckle down to the coursework tomorrow, we solemnly promised to each other.  Just over two weeks until the deadline, plenty of time, right ?

Yeah, right.

Still, the day has not been a dead loss - DD got a spring cleaning bug so a lot dusting, scrubbing, hovering and furniture re-arranging has been going on in her bedroom;  as a result, of course, our bedroom is a tip now with all the stuff that's been de-cluttered out of hers.  This keeps happening.  Our bedroom never seems to look the way I want it to.

But hey, it's all one step closer to where we want to be - a show house ready to be sold to the highest bidder in, oh, less than two and a half months now..... Aaaargh.  Panic !!!! 

Well, no, not yet.  Time aplenty for that.  Coursework and exams to panic about first.

Anyway, back to the subject - popped into Heron Foods (cheap frozen food type of shop locally) on the way back from work today and came away with two 50% reduced whole chickens (£3.95 for both);  4 frozen cod fillets for £3.50;  and two bags of prawns, £1.50 each.  They will all be stashed away in the freezer in an attempt to make the start of a new diet a little less financially overwhelming.  Joining them - not in the freezer though - is a small bottle of walnut oil, for salad dressings and an extra hit of Omega 3. 

 
Now, the rules of Paleo as I understand them on reading the book I mentioned yesterday.

Foods allowed:

 

Meat

 Lean beef, lean pork, lean poultry (especially chicken, and turkey breast)
Rabbit or goat meat (any cut)
Organ meats (or as we would say, offal) - beef, lamb or pork livers, tongues, marrow, "sweetbreads"; chicken livers

Fish

Shellfish

Game

(I especially like the recommendation for alligator, bear, emu, kagaroo, rattlesnake and turtle meat. Ha !)
 

Eggs

 (limit to six to twelve  a week) - preferably free range chicken, duck or goose
 

Fruit

All
 

Vegetables

 
All except "starchy tubers" - namely potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams;   peas and green beans which are all legumes; sweetcorn which counts as a grain.  Parsnips, swede and turnips are fine.
 

Nuts and Seeds

Almonds, brazil nuts, cashews, chestnuts, hazlenuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, walnuts.  Walnuts are top of the pops due to best ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6 essential fatty acids.  Maximum daily 4oz when trying to lose weight. No peanuts - they are legumes.
 

Spices

 

Foods you can eat in moderation:

Oils

Olive, avocado, walnut or flaxseed. No more than 4tbsp a day if trying to lose weight. Only cook with olive - others are unstable at high temperatures
 

Drinks

Diet sodas (I assume this is allowed as a "lesser evil" and simply because so many people would find it very difficult to give them up cold turkey.  We do not buy or  drink them)
Coffee
Tea
Wine
Beer
Spirits
Paleo sweets (dried fruits, no more than 2oz a day; honey very occasionally)
 

Not allowed:

Dairy
Grains (barley, corn, millet, oats, rice, rye, wheat)
Grainlike seeds (amaranth, buckwheat, quinoa)
Legumes (including all soya)
Starchy vegetables (potatoes, cassava root, manioc, sweet potatoes, tapioca pudding, yams)
Bacon, frankfurters, ham, sausages, ketchup, olives, pickled foods, salami, salted nuts and spices; smoked, dried and salted fish and meat; tinned fish - unless unsalted
Salt (suggested substitutions: powdered garlic, powdered onion, lemon juice, lime juice, lemon crystals, cayenne pepper, in fact any spice you can think of)
Fatty meats (including chicken and turkey skin)
Sugar
All processed food
Vinegar (substitute lemon or lime juice)
 
 
There are three suggested levels of adherence:
 Level I allows three "open meals" a week - open meal being a meal where you can eat non-Paleo foods if you really miss them. Suggested meals are one breakfast, one lunch and one dinner, spread out over the week.  This level also allows transitional use of commercial condiments such as salad dressings, mustard and moderate use of the drinks on the list above, as long as you work towards cutting them down.
 
Level II  allows two "open meals" and restricts "transitional foods" just to those meals.
 
Level III allows just one "open meal", and transitional foods are restricted to just that meal. 
 
If there are any experienced Paleo users reading this, please feel free to add or correct as necessary :o)
 
 
 

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Shatteroo

Knackered tonight, so anything even approaching sense will have to wait (nothing new there, all line up in an orderly fashion, we may be some time).  Cupboard and freezer lists ?  Mealplans ?  As if.  I did take some photos though, they will have to stand for the rest.  Paleo rules to follow sometime soon I hope - and Hex, there are three levels of adherence, and the lowest one allows you coffee, too (just no milk in it).

Guess which one I'll be following ?  After all, I need a caffeine withdrawal headache like I need a hole in the head (which now makes me think of trepanning - aren't you glad you live in the 21st century and they give you pills instead ?  I may have my ambivalence about prescription and over-the-counter drugs, but I'm still bloomin' glad they exist, for emergencies).

Right. Food stocks.

 
Onions and spare apples hanging offa nail in the shed - nice and cool in there, keeps a lot better than on a shelf in a steamy kitchen or in the fruit bowl respectively.  No rush to eat up the onions either - they are allowed on Paleo. 

 
The outside freezer - some meat in there, which is not necessarily ideal for Paleo purposes, but can be used in "open meals" at least;  home made stock and tomato sauce should be OK to use, as can frozen fruit.  Quorn is DD's - again, no rush to tackle that much from the freezer.

 
Juice is DD's; beans will keep; potatoes (5kg in total) need to be eaten up.

 
Fridge - not much there that will still be there after three weeks; no problems there.

 
The freezer part of the fridge-freezer - a fair number of beans that need eating up; ice cream and peas are among the few things that DD eats, so no rush there either.

 
The kitchen open shelves - cheese sauce, oatmeal, chapatti flour and soba noodles should be eaten down as much as possible; rice and popcorn are consumed by DD, so again, no rush there.  Not bad going so far....

 
This cupboard is on the hit list - peanut butter, Bovril, various baking bits....

 
....a lot of porridge oats and muesli (DD eats some occasionally, but there is a lot there)

 
.... still a large amount of legumes....

 
.... various oils and condiments that will not be on the new plan.....

 
.... a selection of different flours....

 
.... sugar for wine making, a massive bag of pasta..... And we shan't be short of teabags, either.....

 
.... this is getting a bit silly now.....

 
....um, yeah.  Let's hope that DD's cake-and-ice-cream phase lasts a good long time....

 
.... don't worry about these, they will not last long at all.
 
So, what do you reckon ?  How much of this will we be able to eat over the next three weeks ?