Stop Using Your Body As a Trash Can with Cynthia Lair

bright leafy greens

Cynthia Lair, nutrition and culinary arts professor at Bastyr University, and author of Feeding the Whole Family, reminds us just how important mindfulness is when it comes to nourishing our bodies. (After all, we’re not goats, people!)

Listen to the podcast here:

Cynthia’s lighthearted thoughts on the benefits of developing a personal relationship with food is a breath of fresh air in a culture of convenience and special diets. And, as a woman who talks to chickens, I especially love that both of her sourdough starters have names: Dottie and Fizz.

I hope you find this podcast nurturing and fun!

Are you filling your body with nourishing foods, or are you using it as a landfill?

Maybe it’s time to add some new self-care practices.


Self-Care Challenge (Day 187): Fermenting Dill Pickles

If you recall, January 1st of this year marked my inaugural self-care activity, which was to ferment a batch of sauerkraut. Since then, I’ve made several batches of kraut, but I’ve been trying to decide what to experiment with next.

Then it came to me at the farmers’ market over the weekend, where I spotted some pickling cucumbers. Fermented pickles seemed like a fitting project for a real-food-ophile like me, so I grabbed a few handfuls and figured I’d just find a recipe later.

As I perused the numerous online recipes for crock dill pickles, I noticed many of them shared similar ingredients: grape leaves, flowering dill, salt, pepper and garlic.

I couldn’t help but wonder what other ingredients might be good to toss in there as well–but then I was reminded of Elijah Santoyo’s wise words:

“Usually the balance of salt and flavourings is the first trip up, a lot of people love to make substitutions and improvise in recipes, but they are chemistry and they should be followed closely.”

Damn it! My culinary improvisational impulses are bursting at the seams, yet I know it would be a much better idea to follow a tried and true recipe. The one I finally settled on comes from Prodigal Pieces – except I did add a few sliced jalapenos. (I couldn’t help myself, Eli!) Hopefully, the veggie ingredients aren’t as important as the salt and seasonings, but we shall see.

As I prepped the ingredients, the kitchen was immediately filled with the aroma of fresh dill and garlic. Fortunately, I find that combination quite nice. The best part? The entire process took only about 10 minutes.

Now, I shall wait. In about 2 to 4 weeks, I should have a finished product to sample. Fingers crossed!

There are few things I enjoy more than working with fresh ingredients in the kitchen (which is more like an art studio, really). After all, the harmony between art and science is what life is all about.

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Self-Care Challenge (Day 92): Eating Fermented Dairy Products

The mere thought of yogurt used to make my stomach turn, although I’m not exactly why. Puddings and pies have similar textures, but I’ve never had an issue with either of them. Perhaps it had something to do with the flavor – which brings me to my latest obsession: Ellenos Lemon Curd yogurt.

Now, I’m a huge fan of key lime pie. And when I say huge, I mean it’s my absolute favorite dessert. But I purposely don’t keep it around very often because I end up eating way too much of it. And a steady diet of sugary foods isn’t healthy by a longshot.

But this recent lemon curd discovery has been exciting for me because it’s a much healthier version of key lime pie.

A single serving contains 212 calories, 10 grams of protein, 18 grams of carbohydrate, 61 milligrams of sodium, 10 grams of fat and 7 milligrams of cholesterol. And at 11% of the daily value (DV) for calcium, it comes in at about 110 mg (which isn’t bad for a 4-oz serving).

In addition to providing calcium, fermented dairy products like yogurt also contain active cultures – the living bacteria in our gut that provides us with health benefits.

Even so, not everyone tolerates dairy products the same way. 70% of the world’s population experiences hypolactasia, a decline in the naturally occurring enzyme lactase, which is responsible for the digestion of lactose (the disaccharide found in dairy products). Symptoms of lactose maldigestion, the scientific term for lactose intolerance, include bloating, gas, flatulence, and diarrhea. None are pleasant.

Some have argued that this natural decline in lactase is an indication that humans should not continue to consume dairy products into adulthood, but we should first carefully consider the reason for the decline before reaching that conclusion.

Lactase levels are highest at birth, which makes sense if you consider that infants are dependent solely on milk for nutrition. These levels begin to decline, though, in the first few months after birth, and the decline continues as solid foods are introduced. It also makes sense that as lower amounts of lactose are being introduced for digestion, lower levels of the enzyme are needed.

What’s interesting about lactase is that in some regions of the world – specifically in northern Europe, where dairy farming originated, and where traditional diets still include higher amounts of dairy – higher levels of lactase enzymes are common.

In fact, lactose intolerance in these populations is quite rare. So, what does this mean for the rest of us exactly? Well, there are several theories, but one is that our lactase levels are directly proportionate to the amounts ingested. The more dairy we consume, the more lactase enzymes we retain.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the American Heart Association, and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet all recommend including about three servings of low-fat or non-fat dairy each day.

One thing is clear: When it comes to our eating choices, we’re the ones who get to choose what is right for us.

And while plant-based sources of calcium can also provide adequate calcium, I’ve come to enjoy the many benefits of fermented dairy products. (And it certainly doesn’t hurt if they happen to taste like key lime pie.)

Want to read all 366 days of this challenge in a convenient eBook?

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Vegetable Fermentation with Elijah Santoyo

Making kimchi

When we think of sauerkraut, most of us think of Germany. The word itself, which means “sour cabbage” in German, often brings to mind its close companions: beer and Brätwurst. But some would argue that fermented cabbage actually originated in China, long before Germany staked a claim.

Regardless of origin, lactic acid fermentation is one of the most popular methods of food preservation in the world.

Professional Chef Elijah Santoyo, who also serves as Director at The Permaculture Academy in Los Angeles, teaches fermentation classes in the Southern California area. He was trained in Japanese Kaiseki cuisine and as a sake sommelier under Master Toshi Suigara. I recently asked him for some advice as I get started with fermentation, and he’s been gracious enough to share some of his wisdom here.

Q: What is the most difficult aspect of vegetable fermentation?

Elijah: Fermentation is very simple and elegant, the only practical problem sometimes is space.  Most of us don’t have root cellars or cave access anymore, so finding space for all your various jars and crocks can be an issue.  I used to have a separate refrigerator just for kimchi.

Q: What have you found to be the most effective way to “bruise” vegetables to release their juice in preparation for fermentation? For example, is there a specific tool that is more effective than simply squeezing them in your hands?

Elijah: The salt granules and along with osmosis do plenty, and the more carefully you massage the ingredients the better.  Time is really on your side, and is an important ingredient to any pickle recipe.  You have to remember that anything you do to the organic matter in the beginning will be magnified twelve-fold by the end.  So be gentle and kind.  We used to call it “respectful” in the professional kitchen.

Q: Of the many fermentation vessel options to choose from, what are your favorites?

Elijah: I love urns of any type, the breathable clay korean onggi (Amazon Associate Link), in particular.  And the japanese cypress tubs.  The other great design is a chinese pickle crock (Amazon Associate Link), where a lipped opening filled with a moat of water creates a gas siphon.

Q: What are some common mistakes that beginner fermenters make?

Elijah: Usually the balance of salt and flavourings is the first trip up, a lot of people love to make substitutions and improvise in recipes, but they are chemistry and they should be followed closely.  As my sensei used to beat into me, if you don’t know, imitate.

Q: What is the most interesting thing you’ve ever fermented?

Elijah: A type of thai sausage called naem, or sour pork.  It’s raw pork mixed with garlic and started with sticky rice (which you’ve chewed and spat out to create a bacterial inoculant using your saliva) and left at room temperature for a week to sour and then is eaten raw with crudites.  Aroi mak mak, if you know what I mean.

I’m so glad I asked that last question! I’m astounded by how much there is to learn about this topic, and I’m glad there are folks out there who are willing to share their knowledge. As we become increasingly reliant on large corporate entities for our food supply, we would be wise to maintain at least a basic understanding of food preservation methods. If we don’t, the wisdom may be lost altogether.

For more information about The Permaculture Academy’s upcoming classes, visit their website or event schedule.


Self-Care Challenge (Day 1): Learning the Art of Fermentation

learning to ferment

Happy 2016, dear friends!

As some of you may know, I’m in the process of writing a book on self-care, and I’m excitedly anticipating an early 2016 launch, but in the meantime I’ll be previewing some of the contents during this leap year’s 366 Days of Self-Care challenge.

Update: The book is now available! Get your copy of Uppward: A Self-Care System for Purposeful Living. (Amazon Associate Link)

Today, I’m learning the art of fermentation as part of my journey toward cultivating a personal self-care practice.

Why fermentation, you ask? As a down-to-earth dietitian, I’ve always been intrigued by traditional methods of food preservation.

My great-grandparents in rural Ohio used canning, salt-curing and smoking techniques to make sure there was enough food to last the winter months. There weren’t many other options.

But I must admit that fermentation has always been a little scary for me. The idea of encouraging bacterial growth – something most of us who love to cook do anything and everything to prevent–seemed a little off-putting. But my curiosity only began to grow as I learned more about our helpful friends: microorganisms.

The truth is, anaerobic fermentation (a process that occurs in the absence of oxygen) creates an environment that isn’t suitable for pathogenic bacteria. In fact, many believe it to be safer than raw food. But what kind of bacteria thrives in this acidic, low-oxygen environment?

Health-promoting bacteria that help make nutrients more bioavailable to us through a process known as pre-digestion.

After receiving a fermenting crock and a copy of “The Art of Fermentation” (Amazon Associate Link) for Christmas, I promptly got to work. Following author Sandor Ellix Katz’s extremely loose guidelines for fermenting sauerkraut, on Sunday afternoon I filled my crock with lightly-salted shredded cabbage, topped it with water, placed the weight stones and lid on top, and walked away.

Each morning for several days, I gently raised the lid to peek at the contents, but it didn’t seem like much was happening, other than the cabbage sinking slowly into the abyss.

However, one magical morning I walked into my kitchen to find a sour aroma of fermenting cabbage – Happy New Year to me!

Everyone seems to have a slightly different method for fermenting since there are an infinite number of spice + vegetable + flavoring combinations. I haven’t even tasted the first bite yet, and I’m already thinking about what to ferment next.

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