Our Gluten Free Chinese New Year Hot Pot Celebration

Crunchy Parent Gluten Free Hot Pot for Chinese New Year

This past week seems to have been a holiday extravaganza. People all around have been celebrating the Lunar New Year, Mardi Gras, and preparing for Valentine’s Day. Throw in the Superbowl (a holiday to some, I suppose) and it’s really been quite a festive week.

I’d mentioned the other day that our family had a fun hot pot dinner last weekend to celebrate the Chinese Lunar New Year. The meal tradition was introduced to us by some close friends several years ago. It was a great way to bring families together, learn about another culture and their traditions, and have some fun (and some delicious food). It also works to our advantage that the hot pot meal is very easily adapted for gluten free eating, since it consists primarily of broth, vegetables, proteins, and rice.

According the Wikipedia the hot pot meal has been around in some form for over 1000 years. For those unfamiliar, hot pot is like an East Asian version of fondue; dishes of raw meats, seafood, noodles, and vegetables await cooking in a communal pot. When enjoying hot pot, the foods are cooked in a boiling broth and fondue forks are replaced with small metal baskets like these. The cooked food is often enjoyed with a bowl of rice and any of a number of dipping sauces. The added beauty of hot pot is that the broth can be a mild or spicy soup base whose flavor is further enhanced by the ingredients as they cook in the broth. At the end of the meal when our bellies are all stuffed full, we add many of the remaining ingredients to the pot to make a rich and hearty soup to enjoy as leftovers in the days ahead.

In past years, we have had hot pot as a large feast with one or two other families, each bringing a portion of the meal components. Since moving, this was my first year doing the dinner on my own. I was feeling a bit overwhelmed taking it all on alone. As a result, I chose to focus my efforts on the broth, raw ingredients, and dessert. I opted to purchase prepared sauces and appetizers. I got lucky. Our local grocery store must have been celebrating the Lunar New Year as well because they had the whole range of San-J gluten-free, non-GMO Asian cooking sauces on sale as well as gluten free dumplings and egg rolls by Feel Good Foods that were also dairy-free, non-gmo, and contained no msg. Experience has taught us that the meal is far more enjoyable if the children have some prepared foods to eat while they wait for their other foods to start cooking in the hot pot, so these egg rolls and dumplings were perfect.

Before we could think of doing any cooking though, I had to purchase a pot. I mention this here because it was a bit of a task to find a pot that I felt comfortable using. Many electric skillets or hot pots (also referred to as Shabu Shabu pots) have a non-stick coating on the inside. For a multitude of health reasons, I do not use non-stick cookware. I am also dubious about ceramic-coated cookware as well after hearing discouraging information about its safety across manufacturers.

I wanted to buy a stainless steel pot that was going to be large and deep enough to work for a hot pot application and be affordable. After spending the better part of a day researching my options, I purchased this pot. It came with a non-stick grill insert, but I won’t be using that, and the pot part is all stainless steel. I worried that it would be too small to use for a group larger than our family, but I reasoned that if it worked well and we wanted to invite others to join us in future years, I could purchase a second pot if need be.

I spent the days leading up to our meal gathering ingredients from local grocery stores, and then Rich made a quick stop at a large Asian specialty grocer to get the remaining ingredients. We had a range of vegetables including scallions, spinach, bok choi, broccoli, carrots, and various mushrooms. I also purchased organic firm tofu, mung bean “glass” noodles, sticky rice cakes, thinly sliced pork belly, small crabs, calamari, and added some thinly sliced boneless chicken breasts and beef sirloin. In addition, we had bowls of minced cilantro, garlic, and ginger to toss into the pot or to spice up our rice bowls as desired.

Children anxiously await the start of the hot pot meal.

Children anxiously await the start of the hot pot meal.

The kids were so excited for the meal to begin. We got the pot going and I added the broth that I had made from simmering homemade chicken bone broth with fresh ginger, garlic, bay leaf, and some star anise. Each child was given a bowl of brown rice and a small dish for dipping sauces. They also were given two cooking baskets a piece.

Broth in and pot on as we prepare to feast.

Broth in and pot on as we prepare to feast.

We had a lot of fun cooking our foods, trying out the different flavors from the sauces and fishing escaped bits of food out of the pot.

The rice bowls begin to fill with the cooked food.

The rice bowls begin to fill with the cooked food.

The chicken dumplings and vegetable egg rolls that we tried received raves, and the Asian barbecue sauce from San-J earned the highest overall votes as the favorite condiment. All things considered, I still wish that I had time to make some steamed Asian meatballs and some sauces of my own, but there will be other years to do that.

Green vegetables for close family ties; noodles and sticky rice cakes for prosperity and longevity.

Green vegetables for close family ties; noodles and sticky rice cakes for prosperity and longevity.

During our meal we talked about the symbolism of the various foods that we were enjoying. We discussed the tradition of the Chinese New Year Celebration and how it has evolved over time. We talked about the Year of the Monkey and the concept of a Zodiac year versus a Zodiac month. The topics prompted a lot of family conversation and cultural appreciation.

All full. Time to make the soup!

All full. Time to make the soup!

We ended the meal by scooping portions of the remaining ingredients into the pot to make soup for the next day.

Red bean butter mochi cake about to be devoured.

Red bean butter mochi cake about to be devoured.

Finally, we wrapped up the evening with delicious, sticky slices of a gluten and dairy-free version of a red bean mochi butter cake. I will share that recipe in a post to follow soon. Alina has already requested it as her birthday cake this year.

Although we very much missed sharing the celebration with friends as we had done in year’s past, I was glad to broaden the kids’ horizons and create some fun family memories around a happy kitchen table. The leftover soup warmed our bellies throughout the week, and as I write this a week later, I do it with a smile on my face.

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Immune Boosting Spiced Elderberry Syrup-Deliciously Fight Cold & Flu

Crunchy Parent Spiced Elderberry Syrup picture
Photo credit: cobaltfish via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Goodness, I’ve missed being around. In addition to the gremlin infestation, we seem to have gotten caught up in an endless cycle of illness around here. It reminds me of the importance of warm clothing, adequate sleep, and nutritious food even in the midst of holidays, schedule changes, and celebrations. I’ve been searching for other ways to fortify our health. One of my preferred ways at the moment is a delicious spiced elderberry syrup.

**As a reminder I am not a doctor and you should seek advice from your own health practitioner before changing your health regimen.**

Elderberries get a lot of attention for their immune-boosting properties. The elder flowers are also excellent for supporting the immune system, so I use a blend of both in this syrup. However, if you only have the berries on-hand you can use a cup of berries and skip the flowers.

A blend of cardamom, cloves, star anise, cinnamon, and ginger all lend a delicious spiced flavor to the syrup. In addition, many of these herbs and spices are warming and drying, which can be helpful if there is an illness that causes chills and runny, congested gunk. Ginger is also beloved for its anti-viral and anti-nausea properties which can come in very handy when fighting a bug. Star anise is anti-viral and anti-bacterial as well as being an antioxidant-packed expectorant.

Echinacea an osha root are both included as optional ingredients. Echinacea is popular as an immune-booster, but there are some differing opinions as to whether echinacea is appropriate for longer-term preventative use, or is if should be reserved for acute illness only. Accordingly, you may want to include the echinacea if you plan to use the syrup during illness only, and skip it if you want to use the syrup preventatively.

Osha has an affiliation for the lungs. It has historically been used for respiratory illness, especially in Native American medicinal tradition. Osha root has suffered losses more recently due to over harvesting and is really not commercially available. If you happen to be fortunate enough to have access to osha root through mindful and sustainable wild harvesting, a small piece of osha root can be a nice addition to this syrup.

The directions for making the syrup are pretty straightforward, and I like the almost instant-gratification of the process. It seems that the first colds of the season always catch me off guard; before I have had the proper time to steep a tincture or elixir. This syrup can be made and used the same day when I sense that it is needed.

Please use my photos as illustrations of the steps in the process. Pay no mind to the quantities shown. I took some of the photos when I was making small, experimental batches and others when I was making large batches of the favorite recipe.

Spiced Elder Syrup (yield approximately 3 cups)
All plant materials used are dried unless otherwise specified. I highly recommend Mountain Rose Herbs or Frontier Co-Op as resources for dried organic herbs (learn more about establishing a Frontier wholesale buying club here).

Herbs and spices awaiting their big moment.

Herbs and spices awaiting their big moment.

Ingredients:
1 qt. water
3/4 c. elderberries
1/4 c. elder flowers
10 cardamom pods
5 whole cloves
4 whole star anise “stars”
2 cinnamon sticks
1” chunk of fresh ginger, thinly sliced
2 T. echinacea (optional)
2” piece of osha root (optional)
1 c. honey, raw and organic preferred

Instructions:

1. Place water and herbs into a sauce pan and bring to boil over medium heat.

Crunchy Parent spiced elder syrup herbs in pot 1-12-2016

2. Lower heat and simmer uncovered for 30-40 minutes, until liquid is reduced by approximately half and syrup is slightly thickened.

Crunchy Parent spiced elder syrup simmering 1-12-2015

3. Strain the liquid from the spent herbs into a glass jar, being sure to press the herbs to extract the most liquid. A nut milk bag, jelly bag, or fine mesh sieve can be helpful for this step.

crunchy parent spiced elder syrup strain 1-12-2016

pressing herbs in sieve to extract elderberry syrup

4. Allow the liquid to cool to approximately 105 degrees fahrenheit and add the honey, stirring gently to dissolve. Tip: this is a great way to use raw honey that has become more solid and grainy over time as it will dissolve well in the liquid.

IMG_3541

5. Cover, date, and label syrup. Store in refrigerator.

We enjoy this syrup during times of illness or preventatively. I take a Tablespoon every day when there seems to be some illness brewing in the house, or 2-3 times per day if I am feeling under the weather myself. So far the kids have refused to take it, but if they were willing, I’d say a teaspoon dose for them. It tastes delicious, and I could probably add it to a chai tea without the kids noticing, but I haven’t attempted that yet.

The syrup requires refrigeration. I have found it has lasted for at least a month or so. I usually have used it up by then.

I hope that you enjoy the syrup and lots of good health. What are some ways that you support you health during the cold, dark days of winter?

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Recipe: Gluten Free Pumpkin Spice Aebleskiver

Crunchy Parent Gluten Free Dairy Freen Pumpkin Spice Aebleskiver Recipe

I love autumn and all of warm, rustic colors and flavors. I am grasping to these last few days of fall before the winter solstice rolls around in the weeks ahead; folding a bit of autumn into our lives here and there as I can.

One of our family traditions in to make a big batch of gluten free pancakes from scratch every weekend. Rich generally wields the spatula for these breakfasts. On occasion the kids will ask me to break out the Aebleskiver pan and make various iterations of the Danish filled pancake balls. We love filling them with chocolate chips, homemade jam, or leaving them unfilled and dipping in cinnamon sugar or drizzling with syrup.

The November Raw Spice Bar envelope included a packet of fresh, custom blended pumpkin pie spice and a recipe for round pumpkin ricotta donuts. The recipe was not a good fit for our food sensitivity needs but something about the shape of the donut reminded me of aebleskivers. I happened to have some leftover canned pumpkin around from another recipe and thus, gluten free, dairy free pumpkin aebleskivers were born. They were delicious stuffed with a sprinkle of chocolate chips in the center, but the hands down favorite was a spoonful of pumpkin butter in the middle. If I’d had apple butter around at the time, that would have been my next experimental combo. They were perfect little bites of fall.

The fresh, flavorful spices from Raw Spice Bar were delicious in this recipe, but you can substitute in any Pumpkin Pie spice blend or your own combination of autumnal spices such as cinnamon, clove, allspice, and ginger. You will need an Aebleskiver pan to make this recipe. I highly recommend using a cast iron pan (I have nothing nice to say about Teflon or its toxic, non-stick, chemical friends). I found mine at a thrift store, but Amazon or kitchenware stores should have them as well. To turn the ableskivers, I often opt for using bamboo and wood skewers. I happened not to have any on hand so toothpicks worked out in a pinch.

 

Ingredients:

2 c. milk substitute

1 T. lemon juice

1 1/2 T. coconut oil, melted (plus additional for frying aebleskivers)

2/3 c. canned pumpkin puree

2 eggs

2 c. gluten free flour

1 T. Pumpkin Pie Spice

1 t. baking soda

1/2 t. baking powder

1/2 t. salt

1 T. sugar

goodies for filling aebleskivers such as pumpkin butter or apple butter, chocolate chips, jam or preserves

Directions:

  1.  In a bowl mix together flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and sugar.
  2. In a second bowl, blend together milk substitute, lemon juice, coconut oil, pumpkin puree, and egg until well mixed.
  3. Add liquids to dry ingredients and stir until evenly mixed. IMG_3840
  4. Warm up your aebleskiver pan over medium heat. Brush the inside cavities of the pan with coconut oil to coat.
  5. Fill cavities approximately 1/2 full with batter.
  6. Quickly top with a dollop of your chosen filling, trying to keep filling in the center.

    Pumpkin butter fills the center.

    Pumpkin butter fills the center. (Overfilled the batter on these a bit-oops).

  7. Add another small dollop of batter to the top, covering your filling.
  8. When bottom browned (approximately 1-2 minutes,) carefully flip the aebleskiver and cook the second side until done. pumpkin spice aebleskiver recipe gluten and dairy free
  9. Serve warm aebleskivers sprinkled with cinnamon sugar, powdered sugar, or syrup and enjoy!
warm and gooey pumpkin butter center-yum!

warm and gooey pumpkin butter center-yum!

 

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Raw Spice Bar Global Culinary Subscription: November 2015 Unboxing & Review

Crunchy Parent Raw Spice Bar Global Spice Blend Subscription Unboxing & Review November 2015

Raw Spice Bar is a subscription service aimed at expanding culinary horizons with fresh, exotic spice blends and recipes mailed to your door every month.

Envelopes cost $6 per month, which includes shipping. I was sent this envelope for review purposes. All opinions are my own.

A good friend of mine recently sent me the Raw Spice Bar link with a note that she was requesting that I review their subscription on Crunchy Parent soon. She has a “foodie” family and knows that I love to cook and enjoy good food from various cultures. As luck would have it, Raw Spice Bar reached out to me a short while later and offered to send me an envelope to review. I was all too pleased to say yes, and eagerly awaited my envelope. I opted not to do an unboxing video because I didn’t think that pulling spice packets out of an envelope would be especially compelling media. I went for lots of food photos instead.

Raw Spice Bar Unboxing & Review November 2015

The envelope was thin and unassuming, but sturdy. It was received in pristine condition.

When I opened the envelope, I saw that the November theme was Ethiopian food. I was thrilled. I have had a few absolutely delicious and memorable meals at Ethiopian restaurants in major cities. I loved eating the brightly flavored mounds of meats, vegetables, and legumes; using the spongy, flat injera bread as my utensil. That said, I have never tried preparing Ethiopian food at home. This was a perfect nudge and inspiration.

Raw Spice Bar November 2015 Ethiopian theme

Raw Spice Bar included a colorful pamphlet with recipes, photos, and information about Ethiopian cuisine. They highlighted Asante Mama, a farming business in Uganda that helps to elevate the financial circumstances of impoverished women, and who provided some of the peppers in this month’s blends. Raw Spice Bar also included three freshly-ground, custom spice blends for use in the recipes; Berbere, Mitmita, and Pumpkin Pie Spice.

Raw Spice Bar subscription ethopian spice blends and recipes

The recipes that Raw Spice Bar provided were Berbere Roasted Carrots with Fennel & Mint, Spicy Ethiopian Stewed Beef (Key Wat), and Ethiopian Pumpkin Spice Ricotta Donuts. I decided to prepare the first two for a family dinner and seek an alternative to the third, which would have been difficult to work around our food sensitivities.

It took me a couple of days to gather the ingredients for the meal, which included fresh mint, fennel, and stew meat; all of which I don’t always have on-hand but were not hard to acquire. I was looking forward to presenting my family with the dishes, and breaking out of our routine meals. I even went big time fancy and bought colorful heirloom organic carrots to use in the vegetable dish to match the ones in Raw Spice Bar’s beautiful photo.

I also decided that I wanted to make injera bread to eat with the meal as well. The spongy, tangy Ethiopian bread is made by fermenting teff flour; a perfect bread for gluten-free dining. It took me a few tries to find a store that carried teff flour, but I was able to track some down and make the bread too.

When food prep time rolled around, I began to notice a few curiosities in the information provided by Raw Spice Bar. They called for large quantities of the spice blends in the meat and vegetable dish, especially since these blends listed very hot peppers among their primary ingredients.

I do not have an very bold palate and the children fall in the same category. Rich appreciates spicy, but I suspected that even for him, a tablespoon or more of a hot pepper-based spice blend to a pound of meat would be too much. I took a taste of the two spicy blends and quickly determined that I would be cutting back on them a lot when making the dishes, and then adjusting the amount to taste as needed. In the end, I used about 1/8 to 1/4 of the spice suggested in the recipes.

In addition, the roasted carrots, fennel, and mint dish called for four fennel bulbs to one pound of carrots. I weighed out a single fennel bulb at one pound and thought that it would be excessive (and expensive) to include four pounds of fennel to a pound of carrots. This ratio of fennel to carrots would look very different than the picture of the dish provided by Raw Spice Bar. Moreover, even for our veggie-loving family, I couldn’t imagine us needing five pounds of roasted vegetables with our meal. I decided to stick with one fennel bulb. I also decided to double the recipe of the meat dish to feed us all because a pound of meat seemed inadequate.

One pound each of fennel and pretty carrots.

One pound each of fennel and pretty carrots.

Lastly, the Key Wat recipe recommended serving with injera bread, couscous, or butternut squash mash, all of which sounded great. They instructed the reader to go to RawSpiceBar’s monthly blog for recipes, but I did not find recipes for any of the suggestions there. I found an injera recipe on my own and used that instead.

In addition to the seemingly disproportionate quantities in the recipes, I also was a bit confused upon opening the spice packets. I had noted that the spice blends were all labeled .4 oz., but when I opened the envelopes they very obviously had different amounts in them.

These do not look like the same quantities to me.

These do not look like the same quantities to me.

I weighed the spices and after adjusting for the weight of the envelopes themselves, I discovered that there was actually .55 oz. of the Berbere blend, .2 oz. of the Mitmita, and .35 oz of the pumpkin pie spice. In total it averaged out to about .4 oz. per packet. The quantities also supported the recipes included, which called for greater quantities of the Berbere than of the ultra-spicy Mitmita, but it threw me at little, so I wanted to mention it.

Ethiopian Key Wat and injera bread smelling delicious.

Ethiopian Key Wat and injera bread smelling delicious.

I made the appropriate adjustments to the recipe quantities based upon my instinct, experience, and preferences. After those tweaks, I found the recipes to be easy to follow and relatively simple in their steps. The Key Wat essentially involved browning the beef and the aromatic ingredients and then adding tomatoes and stock and simmering a number of hours until tender.

Berbere spiced carrots and fennel ready to be roasted.

Berbere spiced carrots and fennel ready to be roasted.

The vegetables just needed some peeling, chopping, and tossing with olive oil and spices before being roasted in the oven and then tossed with chopped mint.

Berbere roasted vegetables tossed with fresh mint.

Berbere roasted vegetables tossed with fresh mint.

I was really excited to be cooking a new type of food, and loved seeing it all come together. The family was also intrigued by the tempting fragrances and unfamiliar foods. My children are relatively adventurous in their eating, but they were a bit dubious about what would happen if they were not fond of the food.

When the Key Wat, vegetables, and injera were ready, we all sat down to eat. Eva and I thought that the Key Wat and vegetables were delicious and we went back for seconds. Rich spiced his portions up a bit with added Berbere and Mitmita. He was blown away by the meal, and I think was in for thirds. Alina found everything a little too spicy. She ate a half serving of the meat and veggies and then made herself a sandwich. Asher eats about seven foods at this point so he had opted out of the meal and stuck with one of his standards. We negotiated over the leftover Key Wat the next day (Eva and I split it), and I claimed the leftover veggies.

The Pumpkin Pie Spice did not go neglected. The next morning, I modified our weekend gluten free/dairy free pancake breakfast to be gluten free/dairy free pumpkin aebleskiver breakfast. I added pumpkin and Pumpkin Pie Spice to the batter and filled the aebleskivers with chocolate chips or pumpkin butter. They were a big hit (I’ll post the recipe soon). I also used the spice blend in a GF/CF chocolate chip pumpkin bread that we enjoyed for Thanksgiving.

Raw Spice Bar subscription ethopian spice blends and recipes

The spices from Raw Spice Bar were everything that they promised to be. They seemed very fresh and were extremely aromatic and flavorful. Every recipe that I made with them was delicious, once I made adjustments to spice quantities that seemed more consistent with our palates. I thought that the flavors in the foods were bright and lively; balanced, and layered. It was a great way to acquaint the kids with Ethiopian food and to introduce me to preparing it at home.

Eva raved about the Key Wat in particular, and made me promise to make it again. She also expressed a desire to try making some other Ethiopian dishes at home. Rich praised the meal so effusively, and so often that it was striking. He kept saying how delicious the food was, but also that he really appreciated having a whole spectrum of new flavors at our dinner table (and at breakfast).

I am not sure if the spice quantities that were suggested by Raw Spice Bar were reflective of authentic Ethiopian cuisine and we are just mild-palated, or if the recipes were aggressively spiced under any circumstances. I certainly didn’t mind adjusting the spice level down, and am excited that it means that I can make these dishes several more times with the quantities of spices that were provided.

As for my overall impression, my mother has worked in fields related to food advertising and marketing or specialty-food gifting since I was young. I have joined her in attending many food and gift-oriented trade shows around the country over the years. She also happens to be a fantastic cook. I have had the good fortune of tasting a lot of good food. I find that I often have high standards for food and for food-oriented subscriptions.

That said, Raw Spice Bar delighted me with what they had to offer. I think that for the open-minded eater and relatively experienced cook, this is a fantastic subscription. I was a little concerned about presenting my family with such exotic flavors. I was pleased that the girls tried both dishes, and Eva loved the food. Next time, I’ll cut back on the spice a bit for Alina and the rest of us will just add a pinch more at the table.

In addition to the high quality of the spices and the exotic blends that Raw Spice Bar provided, I really appreciated how they expanded our family dining horizons. I know that we will make these dishes again. They were truly so good, and absolutely packed with flavor. I am also inspired to try and to create additional Ethiopian recipes at home using the spices, and I love that sort of creative inspiration.

Have you received RawSpice Bar in the past? Who do you think would love this type of subscription as a gift?

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Barganic Alert: Frontier Co-Op Wholesale Buying Club & Haul Video

As I’ve mentioned before, I love doing Barganic Alerts because they make living a more natural, “crunchy” lifestyle more affordable. I think that if you have want to make healthier choices relative to how you eat, clean your home, care for your body, etc., than finances should not stand in your way. In that spirit, I wanted to share what has been a wonderful money saving find for our family for many years; the Frontier Co-op wholesale buying club. (Please note that I am not affiliated with Frontier and this post is not sponsored in any way).

Frontier Co-op is the company behind the aromatherapy and personal care brand Aura Cacia, as well as the natural and organic herb, spice, and mix lines Frontier, and Simply Organic. Through the Frontier Co-op, you can purchase items from these lines as well as from over 250 other brands making natural and organic food, personal care, home care, green beauty, clothing, supplement, and more items than you can imagine. I tell people that it is like going to your local health food store and looking on the left side of the store only. Frontier doesn’t carry the fresh produce and perishable food that the local HFS store has off to the right, but just about anything else that you’d find at the local HFS, you’ll find at Frontier.

What sets Frontier apart is that the wholesale pricing is generally far less than you’ll find elsewhere paying full retail. In addition to the regular wholesale pricing, they also have monthly sales where a selection of items are an added percentage off; sometimes as much as 30% off the wholesale price. Accordingly, I try to stock up on our staples (toothpaste, shampoo and conditioner, shaving cream, dish soap, laundry soap, organic spices, etc.) when they go on sale. You do not need to buy items in large quantities, but you do need a minimum order to qualify for free shipping. There is an annual membership fee of $10, or you can purchase as a non-member for a 5% up-charge.

I have been a member buying with Frontier for about ten years. At different times, I ran co-op groups through mothering.com, with friends from our Waldorf school, and with family members. The minimum order is low enough that it usually doesn’t take too many people to put together an order.

There are occasions when I can find a given item for less from other online retailers, or locally with sales and coupons. Generally though, Frontier has the best deals for us, and it makes using healthier products easier on our budget. I love, and frequent, our area health food stores for my fresh and perishable goods, to shop sales, and for items that we need on the spur of the moment. Shopping Frontier for the non-perishable household staples makes the budget stretch for other things like organic eggs, meats, and produce, quality supplements, or healthcare choices not covered by insurance.

What I purchase from Frontier varies with each order. Their catalog is positively enormous, and I can’t even venture to guess how many thousands of items they must offer. To give you a sample of some of the products that they carry and that we order, I recorded a haul video of my unboxing the other day. I do not typically order so much candy. The Halloween Fairy heard that I was placing an order and asked if she could add some items to it. In the spirit of a co-op it seemed wrong to say no.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask them in the comments. Do you participate in any co-ops in your community?

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Kombucha 101: Grow your own SCOBY

Crunchy Parent Kombucha 101 Growing your own SCOBY at home from store bought kombucha

I remember the first time that I tasted kombucha, a fermented tea beverage. I was at a trade show for the specialty food industry with my mother and some brand representative thrust little cups of this exotic, fizzy, tea beverage into our hands as we walked down the aisles of vendor booths. We each took a sip, turned to one another with expressions that communicated our displeasure, and deposited our little cups into the next trash receptacle down the aisle. This was about fifteen years ago and I have no recollection what brand we were trying, why we found the taste so unpleasant, or how I came upon kombucha again with a more open mind years later, but it is now one of my very favorite beverages to make and to drink.

For those unfamiliar with kombucha, it is a beverage made by introducing a symbiotic culture of (good) bacteria and (good) yeast (known to its friends as a SCOBY) into a batch of sweetened tea. The SCOBY feeds off of the sugar in the tea and releases carbon dioxide throughout the fermentation process, creating a bubbly brew. The fermenting process allows the yeasts and bacteria to multiply into the tea, yielding a probiotic elixir that can do all of the wonderful things for the gut that we have come to understand and expect from probiotics. (See this article for a bit more about which probiotics have been found across kombucha samples). As we have also been learning more about the important connection between our gut and our overall immune system, kombucha may represent another way to introduce robust probiotic populations into our diet and into our gut, resulting in an overall healthier immune system.

I had become interested in kombucha once again when I began to learn and think more about cultured foods as the kids advanced through their Waldorf school. Part of the parent education piece in preschool included discussions about diet and the gut, and featured a lot of conversations about Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions, as well as Weston Price, both of whom emphasized cultured foods and gut health. As I played around at home with sauerkraut and other cultured vegetables, at some point a bottle of kombucha made its way into my cart at the health food store. This was a bit odd for me as I am a water and hot tea drinker by nature. I really do not enjoy any other beverages and am not inclined to experiment with them often. That said, I loved the refreshing bite and bubbles in kombucha, and it quickly became another preferred way to hydrate and refresh.

As any regular kombucha drinker knows, a kombucha habit can become costly to support as bottles can run upwards of $4-$5 each at the store. Moreover, although the selection of available kombucha options is ever-expanding as kombucha’s popularity soars, one is still limited to the flavors available at their local markets. Fortunately kombucha is very inexpensive to make on your own, especially once you get your basic ingredients and set up ready to go (i.e., loose tea, organic sugar, good water, a brewing container, bottles, and of course your SCOBY). I knew how to source out the basic ingredients, but finding a SCOBY can be a challenge. I was lucky because one of the teachers at the school at the time brewed her own kombucha regularly and thus had SCOBYs to share (each batch will yield a new “baby SCOBY” in addition to the reusable “mother SCOBY”). I used the SCOBY that I was gifted and its resulting babies to brew and share for years. Unfortunately, with our move and extended time living in someone else’s home, I could not maintain my brewing or my SCOBYs. As soon as we got into our new house, brewing kombucha was high on my list of things to do right away, but despite asking around I could not get my hands on a new SCOBY. I considered several options (purchase one online, drive a distance to a store that sells them fresh, etc.) but in the end I opted to just grow my own.

There has been a fair amount of debate in kombucha brewing circles for a while about the feasibility of growing a SCOBY from store-bought kombucha. I participate in an active kombucha-brewing discussion group and this topic pops up a lot. Some of you may recall that a number of years ago, Whole Foods sent a panic out to their kombucha-drinking customers when they pulled all of the kombucha off of store shelves for months due to concern that the alcohol content in these beverages may have exceeded the 0.5% threshold that distinguishes “non-alcoholic beverage” from “Mommy can’t drink that in the car on the way to yoga class.” As a result of this debacle, many kombucha manufactures modified their brewing practices. It has been speculated that these changes in the brewing process have somehow altered the viability of the kombucha in such a way that it hinders the growth of a SCOBY. The general consensus is that if one is attempting to use store-bought kombucha to grow a SCOBY, they should look for a bottle that is clearly labeled “raw” and that has no added flavoring agents, like juice. To grow my SCOBY, I purchased a 16 oz. bottle of GT’s Original Organic Raw Kombucha. For good measure, I looked for one that had a lot of “gunk” in the bottom of the bottle (which I think is technically yeast, not gunk, but nevertheless having more seems to jump start the process).

Empty bottle. So excited to get started that I forgot to take a picture first.

Empty bottle. So excited to get started that I forgot to take a picture first.

There is not much that is required to grow a SCOBY, but it is important that you keep everything really clean. Because you are working with a fermentation process, you don’t want to have bad fungi or bacteria hanging out and proliferating along with the good. Accordingly, you want to make sure that you use a sterilized, clear, non-leaded glass vessel to grow your SCOBY or a sterile ceramic fermenting container. DO NOT use a plastic container or any glass with additives such as colors or metals as chemicals will leach into the tea and SCOBY during the fermentation process, which means that you’d be sipping toxins with your tea and we do not want that. I used a quart size glass canning jar that I sterilized in my dishwasher and immediately removed to put to use as my SCOBY incubator. You can also sterilize your glass jar in boiling water, in a low temperature oven, etc. I would recommend using a large-mouthed jar if possible to allow for the best air flow and surface area for SCOBY growth. The SCOBY will grow to the exact circumference of the container and you want a good size SCOBY for future batches. Also, if the top of the container is more narrow, it can be tougher to get your SCOBY out of the jar in one piece when you are ready to make your batch of kombucha.

Once you have your sterile glass jar all clean and dry, just open up your bottle of kombucha and dump it in. It’s that simple. You are going to want to let your kombucha breathe while it works to grow that SCOBY since it needs to keep taking in oxygen and releasing carbon dioxide. That said, you don’t want your jar open to all of what is floating or flying around in the air. I generally cover my jar with a scrap of clean muslin or cotton. In a pinch a scrap of an old (clean) cotton shirt will work, or in the case of having just moved into a new house and not knowing where anything is, you can use a piece of a clean paper towel. Secure your cover to the jar with a rubber band, string, or the band of the canning jar lid (without the lid piece). Next you just want to place your SCOBY jar in some out of the way place. Not too cool or too hot, and not in direct sunlight. You also want to be mindful of the need to breathe, so a counter top is good, but a closed cabinet is not. In my experience the kombucha does not like to be jostled about, especially in the early stages when a new SCOBY is growing. If you do it will disturb the SCOBY growth, which happens along the very surface of the tea. This may cause the growing SCOBY to drop down from the surface and a new one will have to start growing all over again (not a critical error, but annoying). So it really is best to find some out of the way counter space for your SCOBYs growth process, which can take from weeks to a month or so.

The following photos show my SCOBY’s progress:

Here she is after about three days. Not a whole lot going on.

Growing SCOBY from store-bought Kombucha. Slow progress on Day 3

Now we’re about a week in. You can see a thin film starting to form on the surface. That is the new SCOBY growing. From the top it looks a bit patchy, which sometimes makes people freak out (they think that it’s getting moldy). If it is fuzzy, blue, green, or black you may have a problem; but slimy, white, brown, or tan are typical SCOBY traits, and those patches will expand and grow together to make the complete SCOBY surface.

Kombucha progress-Day 7 of growing my own SCOBY from storebought GT's

It’s been about 19 days. SCOBY is starting to thicken up. You can see a couple of layers because there were two occasions when I jostled or moved the jar a bit because I was trying to get a better angle for taking pictures for demonstrative purposes to show you what it would look like. I also was worried that there might not be enough sugar in the tea to support healthy growth, so I added about a teaspoon of organic sugar to it and tried to push down the edge of the SCOBY gently with a clean straw to allow the sugar to dissolve into the tea. The new SCOBY just continued to form over the layers and they had not totally separated from the top so no biggie.

Growing my own kombucha SCOBY from storebought booch. Progress on day 19

Day 30 (today)!!! I can’t believe that it’s been a month already. I really should have unpacked more by now, which has nothing to do with the topic at hand, but goodness a month already!?!

Growing my own kombucha SCOBY from scratch. Progress day 30. Success!

The SCOBY is not quite 3/4” thick and is very pretty, if you’re into that sort of thing. You can see some of the CO2 bubbles trapped below the SCOBY and some yeast “gunk” hanging off the bottom of the SCOBY to the right. I will be brewing up my first batch of kombucha with my new SCOBY soon, as well as using the remaining tea in the jar as the starter tea for the batch. It is still a small SCOBY, so I will need to brew a relatively small batch, but it will get the job done.

If you want to join me in kombucha brewing, start growing your SCOBY now and get your hands on some organic sugar and non-flavored, loose leaf, black tea or you can blend black, green, and/or rooibos tea (unflavored is a must though). You’ll also want a larger non-leaded glass container for your larger brew. I use this type of jar without the lid. They are often sold in 1/2 gallon, 1 gallon, or 2 gallon sizes at stores like Target. Hold onto that kombucha bottle as well because it will come in handy when you are bottling your homemade brew. We’ll talk more about the “why”s of all of those specifics next time, but just trust me for now.

Have you ever brewed your own kombucha at home or grown your own SCOBY from scratch? If you have any tips or favorite flavor combinations to share, I’d love to hear them.

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Quinoa Tabbouleh Recipe: Great Gluten Free Alternative

gluten free quinoa tabbouleh

Wow, this move has really been quite a process. I feel like the sea of boxes is never-ending. That said, I am incredibly grateful that we found our way to a new house. I love it and look forward to settling in over time.

Despite the move and the chaos and the upheaval, we’ve still got to eat (although full disclosure, I took these pictures while still in my parent’s house. I’m lucky if I can find a mixing bowl here at this point). This tabbouleh salad is a summer favorite of mine. It is not complicated to make; mostly chop and mix. It has great fresh summer flavors, highlighted by the lemon, parsley, and mint. I often bring it along to summer parties and pot lucks. Using quinoa in place of the traditional bulgur wheat makes this tabbouleh gluten free.

Many quinoa recipes use a higher water-to-quinoa ratio than this one, which I find results in a mushy quinoa. This ratio will yield fluffier grain (well, technically a seed). While we’re on the subject, if you are not familiar with cooking quinoa it is a little different than most other seeds and grains. Quinoa is naturally coated with saponins, which if left on can give cooked quinoa a bitter or otherwise unpleasant taste. The simple solution is to rinse the quinoa before cooking to remove the water-soluble saponins. I place my quinoa in a large glass measuring cup, cover with water, and stir around to rinse. I then strain using a fine strainer, and repeat the process until the soaking water is clear, not cloudy. If you can find a large strainer with a fine enough mesh, you can rinse directly in the strainer until the water runs clear and is not foamy at all. My larger strainers have larger mesh and the quinoa tends to escape. Do what works for you. Also, quinoa is a bit magical. After cooking, the little seed looks as though it has sprouted a tail. This is normal and should not be cause for alarm.

I like to minimize the juiciness of my ingredients in the recipe to avoid a mushy, watered down salad. I recommend using plum tomatoes and English (hothouse) cucumbers because they are less watery than traditional tomatoes and cucumbers. If you only have traditional versions on hand, remove the seeds before using and this will help to reduce liquid. Okay, on to the recipe.

My plum tomatoes were tiny so I snuck in an extra. Not pictured: water.

My plum tomatoes were tiny so I snuck in an extra. Not pictured: water.

Ingredients:

1 1/2 c. water
1 c. quinoa
pinch salt
1/4 c. olive oil
1/2 t. salt
1/4 c. lemon juice
1 t. lemon zest
4 plum tomatoes, diced
1 medium English cucumber, diced (or 1/2 of a large English cucumber as I have shown)
1 bunch green onions, diced
1 bunch fresh parsley (approximately 1 cup), chopped
1 small bunch fresh mint (approximately 1/3 cup), chopped

1. Rinse quinoa as directed above. Drain.
2. In a saucepan, bring the water and pinch of salt to a boil. Add rinsed quinoa and reduce flame to low to simmer. Cover and cook for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool, covered. Once cooled to room temperature, remove cover and fluff with fork.
3. While quinoa cooks and cools, dice the tomatoes, cucumber and green onions; chop the parsley and mint. Add them all to a large bowl.

Veggies and herbs in the bowl. Tomatoes are trying to hide, can you see them?

Veggies and herbs in the bowl. Tomatoes are trying to hide, can you see them?

4. Top veggies and herbs with olive oil, and salt. Mix to coat.

Seasoning the quinoa tabbouleh

5. Wash and dry lemon. Since you’re eating the peel, it’s really ideal to use an organic lemon, if possible. Zest with microplane grater, removing just the outer yellow part, not the bitter white pith, to yield 1 t. zest. Add to bowl. Cut lemon in half and juice to yield 1/4 c. lemon juice. Add to bowl as well.

zested lemon

zested lemon

juiced lemon

juiced lemon

6. Add cooled quinoa to bowl. Realize that you’re going to need bigger bowl to mix it all without making a mess (this may only happen to me). Mix until thoroughly combined.

Gluten free quinoa tabbouleh recipe

7. Adjust seasoning as desired. Transfer back into pretty bowl, and enjoy!

gluten free quinoa tabbouleh

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My Bagel Smash Breakfast: Gluten Free, Dairy Free

Gluten free bagel toast smash

Has the toast smash craze swept it’s way to your neck of the woods? The basic premise is that toast tastes even more delicious if you pile a bunch of goodies on top, especially if one of those goodies in a smashed avocado. The idea has crept its way into my kitchen, but this time the avocado has selected a gluten free bagel as its canvas.

The recipe is very simple, and of course it is just one of countless bagel smash possibilities. The avocado’s healthy fats give a real boost to breakfast to help fuel the morning. So here we go.

Bagel Smash Ingredients

Ingredients:

1/2 bagel (I used Udi’s Gluten Free Whole Grain bagels)
2 eggs (I recommend organic if you can)
1/3 medium avocado
oil for frying
salt and or pepper to taste

Extra virgin olive oil is getting increasing attention as not being the best choice for high heat cooking applications. I love EVOO and use it in salad dressings and when roasting vegetables at lower temperatures, but for pan frying and other higher-temperature cooking I increasingly opt for grape seed oil or avocado oil, which can take higher temperatures before reaching their smoke point. I used grape seed oil in this recipe, but I think I would grab avocado oil next time, in keeping with the avocado theme of the smash. Any neutrally flavored oil of your preference will do here though.

The first thing that you’re going to want to do is toast your bagel half and fry your eggs with a sprinkle of salt, both to your desired preference. I like my bagel light-to-medium and my eggs over easy-to-medium (I don’t like to be put in a box, what can I say)?.

Bagel Smash-frying eggs

While your eggs are frying, cut your avocado in half along the north and south poles (I used to think that this instruction was superfluous until I saw my husband cut avocados along the equator. It threw my entire Universe out of whack so I have since made it a life’s mission to promote correct avocado slicing). Moving along, scoop or slice out some of your avocado half and smoosh the avocado onto the bagel.

Bagel smash-avocado smooshing

Now you take those perfectly fried eggs and place them atop your bagel.

Bagel smash-eggs in place

Adjust salt and pepper and with great ceremony, pierce the yolks and smear them all around the top of the eggs (best part!) Dig in and enjoy. Easy right?

Bagel Smash-bite

So what are your favorite toast or bagel smashes? I’m always looking for new ideas.

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My Favorite Green Smoothie Recipe

In the summer months I especially love to start my day off with a cold green smoothie for breakfast. I like to pack it full of good protein, fiber, and healthy fats to give me lots of energy in the morning and some frozen fruits to make it thick and delicious. This smoothie recipe is the same one that I have been making for almost seven years because I just love it that much. I thought that it was high time that I share the recipe here. My version is free of gluten and dairy, but you can make substitutions that are appropriate for your needs and preferences. Rumor has it that children will even drink it sometimes too.

Okay, you are going to need some ingredients. Before I tell you what to do with them I am going to tell you long stories about the ingredients because I find food really interesting:

Green smoothie ingredients

Coconut Oil: I love coconut oil. I have been using it for a long, long time. When we initially changed our diet over to being free of dairy eight or nine years ago, coconut oil was the primary fat that I used as a substitute for butter in baking. I find that I use organic, sustainably harvested palm shortening more for baking now but we still use loads of coconut oil for anything from smoothies to popcorn and a host of non-food applications as well. I also like repurposing the big, clear containers for storing dry goods or craft supplies after I finish the oil. In addition to being delicious and coming in useful containers, coconut oil has tremendous health benefits. You can Google your day away reading all about it. To get you started, here’s a helpful article exploring its greatness. I always make sure to buy raw, or cold-pressed, organic, coconut oil to get the maximum health benefits.

Hemp Seeds: Another super healthy and delicious ingredient. Of the brands I have tried, my personal favorite is Nutiva (they also make excellent coconut oil). I remember meeting who I think was the owner of the company at the Chicago Green Festival Expo seven or eight years ago (if he wasn’t the owner he was a representative with an intense passion for hemp seeds and coconut oil). We had already been using the products for a while at that time and came home from the festival with a stroller loaded with oil and hemp seeds that we purchased at the event. Hemp seeds are delicious, having a nutty flavor that reminds me of pine nuts. They are a great source of protein and fiber as well as omega-3s. I toss them into quick breads, yeast breads, smoothies, and on salads.

Bananas: Frozen bananas give a very creamy texture and mouth feel to the smoothie. Since I make this smoothie often and go through a lot of bananas doing it, I keep a never-ending bag of bananas in the freezer. Whenever we have bananas that are getting too ripe for anyone to eat happily, I just peel them, break them in half, and toss them in the bag. Many of the stores around me will also reduce overripe produce for quick sale and bananas are frequent flyers in this area. I tend to stock up on these spotted or bruised bananas at 5-8 cents each and use them to keep the “frozen banana bag” stocked.

Strawberries: I keep big bags of frozen strawberries on-hand for my smoothie needs. I like the zing that they give to the smoothie. The iron present in the greens will also be more readily absorbed when paired with the vitamin C in the berries. I have found the best value pound-for-pound at Costco in their 4 lb. bags. Since I know that I will use this quantity, I have no problem buying in bulk. l don’t always buy all of my produce organic, but I strongly prefer to eat organic strawberries because the Environmental Working Group tells me that it’s an important one.

Milk Substitute: We use rice milk as our primary milk substitute. We have used hemp milk in the past as well when protein content was of a higher priority in a milk substitute (when it was Asher’s primary fluid source as a toddler because Mommy had cancer and had to wean him far earlier than expected). You can use other preferred milk substitutes too as well as cow’s milk if dairy is agreeable to you and to your constitution. You can even use water, but I don’t think that tastes as delicious.

Green Powder: There are eleventy jillion green juices, shakes, and powders on the market these days. I have always made this smoothie with Pure Synergy Superfood powder. When I was first looking for a green powder to use in my smoothies, one of the moms from the kids’ Waldorf school sang the praises of this one. In my experience the moms at the school were some pretty nutritionally-savvy ladies so I took the recommendation to heart. I like Pure Synergy because it is packed with organic, raw, sprouted, awesomeness with everything from mushrooms and sea vegetables, to herbs and grasses. I am not affiliated with this company, I just think that they make a great product. If you have another green powder that you prefer, just substitute that in, adjusting the quantity to be equal to one serving of whatever green powder that you use.

Alright, now to make your smoothie you need:

1 c. rice milk or other milk substitute
2 bananas, frozen
3/4 c. strawberries, frozen
2 T. hemp seeds
1 T. coconut oil
1 T. Pure Synergy powder (they recommend that you work up to this amount over time so that you’re body doesn’t explode from too much healthy right away).

Now, it is important to follow the manufacturer guidelines for your blender if you make this frozen delight. In my experience, if you have a high-powered blender like a Vitamix, you can just toss everything in and blend away, using the tamper thing to get it all well blended. If you have a less powerful blender, you will likely have to thaw the fruit a bit or it will be too hard and dense and you will risk breaking your blades or overheating your motor. You also may need to start the blender without the fruit and slowly add the fruit a bit at a time with the blender running to avoid problems (I once spent a good thirty minutes on the phone with a blender customer service representative discussing the importance of a “vortex” in proper blender usage).

Sunshine making smoothie look black in picture.  Sad for picture but happy sunshine.

Sunshine making smoothie look black in picture. Sad for picture but happy sunshine.

It should be noted that this is not a low-calorie drink. It is about 24 oz. of nutrient-packed goodness. I use this as my breakfast and to fuel me all morning. You can of course modify the quantities of hemp seeds and coconut oil or the type of liquid used to alter the protein, fiber, fat, and calorie contents to suit your personal health needs. I like it just like this.

IMG_9910

See? Yum!

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Barganic Alert: Free Digital Downloads About Herbalism and Fermenting Foods

There are so many things that I want to post about that I’m reeling from it all. While I try to get posts up, I didn’t want you to miss out on some current freebies that may be of interest.

First, for those wanting information in the area of herbalism the following free digital downloads are currently available:

Herbal Medicine: 100 Key Herbs With All Their Uses As Herbal Remedies for Health and Healing (Kindle required)

Herbal Antibiotics: 15 Herbs With Natural Antibiotic Properties As An Effective Defense Against Drug-Resistant Superbugs (Herbal Antibiotics, Herbal Antibiotics books, herbal medicine) (Kindle required)

Natural Herbal Living Magazine is offering their digital magazine about Approaching a Personal Herbal Practice as a free Kindle download. (Kindle required)

The Herbal Academy of New England is giving away a free digital download of their ebook “9 Familiar Herbs for Beginners” if you sign up for their newsletter.

Lastly, if fermenting foods is something you want to learn more about or simply can’t get enough of, Fermented Vegetables: How to ferment vegetables and why they are the ultimate superfood is also currently being offered as a free Kindle download.

I hope that you find something in the above that fuels your interests and sparks new learning. Make sure that you don’t miss out on any Barganic Alerts, these babies tend to be time-limited. Subscribe to Crunchyparent.com to always be the first to know!

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