The Mark of the Culinarily Curious

There was a time in my life I called myself an appliance genius. I was a customer service representative and later a sales trainer for the largest maker of appliances in the United States (today Whirlpool is the largest appliance manufacturer in the world, but I digress). For all of the questions that consumers had – including do-it-yourself repairs – I had to know the answer or at the very least know where to find it.  It was in that time that I learned the difference between the average appliance buyer and the culinarily curious.

fullsizeoutput_1b85

Virtue Cider near Fennville MI

I have become culinarily curious over the years experimenting with my beloved coffee and coffemakers, making my own homemade kefir and sourdough and baking homemade bread. There’s something fascinating about the interaction of simple ingredients like flour, water and yeast or the fermentation of milk. You can have your complicated recipes, my palate and my mind prefers the simple and the mysterious.

I’m noodling a coffeemaker that KitchenAid makes. I’d love to get their cold brew coffeemaker, but I already have one, so what’s the point of getting another? But I discovered their line of craft coffeemakers, and I’ve been eyeing them for months like a sailor salivates over sailboats at the annual boat show. Imagining the beautiful cup of coffee and the aroma filling my home is a favorite past-time. I already purchased the espresso maker, so it seems a bit extravagant to buy another appliance for a one-person household, but still …. I want it.

When I worked for Whirlpool previously, we didn’t have craft coffee brewers. We also didn’t have our employee purchase program back then, so on my calltaker’s salary buying one of their expensive coffeemakers was out of the question. Besides, I had not worked at Starbucks – or even visited one – and been trained on the art of making a great cup of coffee. When I discovered Starbucks as a resident of Seattle, my coffee adventure – and curiosity – truly began.

So this morning I’m dreaming of the Craft Siphon Coffee Brewer that KitchenAid makes. One of the reviewers bought one for his Dad who had always talked nostalgically of the great cups of coffee made in an old Silex siphon coffee brewer. I wondered why we don’t use siphon brewers anymore if the coffee is so good, and Google provided a very interesting article on the history of coffee brewing. Apparently, the culinarily curious have for centuries been experimenting with how best to combine coffee beans and water for the most entertaining and tasteful brew.

Screen Shot 2017-06-17 at 7.39.03 AM.png

Michigan seems to be a hotbed of crafty culinarily curious scientists. We are number 4 in the nation for craft breweries, and our bountiful orchards are the fodder for many wineries and hard cider makers.  Organic farms, artisan creameries and local cheesemakers are not uncommon. Maybe the long winters provide time to think about how things are made and to experiment in dark Michigan basements. Perhaps it’s the summer with its burst of energy that ignites energetic curiosity. Or maybe it’s just the history and nature of the great Midwest farmers to be culinarily curious. Whatever the cause, it is fun to talk to the culinarily curious in these parts and to taste their experiments.

Screen Shot 2017-06-17 at 7.42.20 AM

I’m guessing I’ll end up with this little coffee machine at some point. I already have too many coffeemakers for one person, but I guess that’s the hallmark of the culinarily curious. As bad habits go, this one is relatively inexpensive and coffee is something that can be enjoyed every day (with liberal splashes of decaf). As for today, I’ll make myself another cup of magical coffee from my espresso machine and say goodbye for now. It will be rainy today, so perhaps I’ll go visit a local culinary artist for a sample. Have a great weekend!

Note: If this has tickled your curiosity, I can get you a great deal on a KitchenAid coffeemaker if you are interested (more than 50% off). Just send me your email address. I’ll hook you up.

 

 

 

Natural High

fullsizeoutput_1933

After I posted last night, my friend Ann from NOLA said she was in the process of quitting sugar, too. My former boss commented that he and his wife are doing Whole 30 right now. In that one, you only eat whole foods which means ALL the good stuff – booze, sugar, grains, dairy and legumes – is out the door. I salute them on that challenge. That’s a whole new level of discipline. One of my coworkers at Whirlpool did it in January. The other day I asked him if he kept any of the habits. “I still eat,” he said.

I’m so lucky that my friend Ann here and my sister are both trying to make positive changes in their eating habits and lifestyles, so we are all supporting each other in the journey. Last night, Ann and I chose a restaurant that would make it easy to make good choices and then took a long walk. Today was a gorgeous sunny day, so I texted her again and asked her if she wanted to join me for the sunset and another walk.

fullsizeoutput_1935

We chatted enthusiastically about our new eating plans and how much better we felt and even laughed about our day’s temptations. But I’m happy to say we both got another 24 hours under our belt and even exercised to boot. I feel so good when I’m eating right and exercising, but it’s so hard to keep on keeping on. It really is a “one day at a time” gig, and the challenge is always to keep dusting yourself off and starting over. It’s like ice skating. The first thing they taught me in my lessons was how to get back up. “If you are going to learn to ice skate, you are going to fall,” Mindy said. Falling is not a matter of if …. it’s a matter of when.

The sunset on Lake Michigan was amazing but fleeting tonight. And the cool breeze, lovely river and great company put me on a natural high. Who needs sugar when there is such sweetness in life? At least for today, not me.

fullsizeoutput_1937

Here are the sugar stats for today:

Energy: The slump after lunch disappeared today. My energy stayed pretty steady from the time I got up until now. I’m actually not even beginning to feel sleepy yet, and that’s unusual. When I’m eating sugar, I’m usually exhausted by the end of my workday. But tonight I was totally energized. I did yoga and went for a walk without any resistance.

Sleep: I slept all night last night. When I woke up, it was 10 minutes prior to my alarm set time. I felt rested and didn’t even really need a caffeine boost right away. (I had one anyway, but I could have done without it.)

fullsizeoutput_1932

Cravings: I had some bad cravings this afternoon around 2:30. I am tracking on Weight Watchers, so I decided that I was going to learn something and make a better choice this time. I took my phone so I could use the barcode scanner and went to the little convenience store downstairs. I checked items for sugar first and realized I’d have to go savory. Even somewhat healthy-looking snacks had sugar. I found a bag of jalapeno tortilla chips that didn’t have sugar. They were baked, so they were low points when I scanned them. I ate them, and they were actually delicious. I felt like a rock star. I navigated that with ease.

Mood: I was grumpy when I got to work this morning. I was irritated by every little thing, and I finally realized it. I’m sure it was the lack of sugar. It always makes me more irritable. I had some green tea and that seemed to help my mood.

Brain Fogginess: No difference from yesterday. I was pretty clear-headed.

Joint Pain: I did yoga tonight, and while my muscles were tight, I did not have any pain in my joints.

fullsizeoutput_1936

 

 

Body, Heal Thyself

quitting-sugar-720x387

Okay, I’ve decided I’m committing to 30 days without sugar. I was telling my friend Ann tonight that I really need to develop this attitude about sugar that has a more positive slant. It’s not that I want to give up sugar. No one wants to give up sugar. It’s delicious, and when I eat a bunch I feel like I’ve taken a wonderful drug. Who wants to give that up?

What I really want to do is to take care of my body. I spent so many years eating loads of sugar in response to negative emotions and being bored that I have done a number on my system. It was not unusual after my second divorce to go an entire day eating nothing but chocolate. One of those big bags of Dove chocolates was a single serving on too many occasions. Somehow my body coped with it, but eventually I developed hypoglycemia. Now even a little sugar sets me off on a blood sugar roller coaster. My eating habits have damaged me.

iamruby-website-loveyourbody

So, I want to approach this as an amends to my body. It got me a long way despite my abuse. I would love to commit to a 6 month hiatus to give my body a chance to heal and rest, but I don’t know that I can commit to that. I’ll do it for 30 days. If I’m feeling good enough and want to continue, I’ll do it. Who knows, I might develop some new habits that I enjoy more than eating sugar and certainly more than dealing with the aftermath.

I am now on Day 3 without sugar, and I’m feeling pretty good. I didn’t have any cravings today after two days of really strong ones. I’m eating a lot of fruit to keep my sweet tooth at bay. I know that fruit has natural sugar, but it also has lots of healthy nutrients, too. If I feel like I later need to cut that out, I will. But for now, it seems to have no negative effect. I slept really hard the last two nights, and I’m sure I’ll sleep good tonight too. And, without sugar ramping up my adrenalin, I don’t have an issue with coffee. So, that’s a perk! (Pun intended.)

IQS-Benefits-of-Quitting-page-001

April 4 will be my Day 30. I’ll use this as a journal, so if you don’t want to read about my quitting sugar you may as well take a Midlife Moments vacation. If you’d like to join me, please do so. I know … I know. But it might be good for you! As for today, I’m feeling good. I’m going to measure my progress by detailing the following:

  • Sleep – I’m sleeping harder and waking up less. I’m still a little groggy when I wake up, but I wake up early. And I have great, crazy dreams!
  • Energy – Not very energetic today. I got up at 4:30 to workout. I did workout, but it was pretty painful. I was so sleepy after lunch that I had to stand up in a meeting. But I had plenty of energy after work to meet a friend and go for a walk. It’s 9:18, and I’m getting sleepy but am not super tired.
  • Joint Pain – I’m achy today. I worked out my legs this morning, and they ache.
  • Mood – I laughed a lot today. I mean I really laughed a lot.
  • Brain Fogginess – I was foggy this morning, but I was engaged at work and able to think through things until I got sleepy after lunch. It was hard to rebound even though I drank some matcha.
  • Cravings – I was hungry but was not necessarily craving sweets. I ate a good deal of fruit for snacks.

Goodnight y’all. I’m so happy to go to bed so I can sleep and then drink coffee in the morning!

Channeling My Inner Icelander: Longings

fullsizeoutput_17f5

I spent another day yesterday riding the sugar roller coaster. “Just stop eating it,” you say. “It’s bad for me,” I say. “It’s poison,” say the books that proclaim sugar as the downfall of our health as a country. “It’s an addiction,” say the psychologists and substance abuse counselors. “It keeps you company when you are lonely,” says the addict on my shoulder. “It hugs you when you are scared,” says the devil. “And it’s just so, so sweet,” says my addicted, pleasure-seeking brain. Sugar’s energy sucks the life out of me. Its initial calming effect leads to an unrelenting anxiety. No matter what, I always end up laying awake at night in the middle of a blood sugar crash cursing myself for my dependence.

Today, I vow, will be different. For some people, I assume sugar is not what it is to me. But, for many, I can see that they struggle with the need to eat it for stress relief and comfort. I can see it because it literally shows up on us in anxiety, inflammation and weight gain. As stress levels rise during this time, you can literally see people “puffing up”. I feel helpless in my own spiral. But I know that it is not hopeless. I have been here before.

Girl sitting on the rock by the peaceful sea at sunset.

Yesterday I read an article in the Atlantic about the stunning success Iceland has had in breaking the cycle of drug and alcohol abuse in its teenage population. When the country became alarmed at the addictive spiral of its youth, the country decided to get to the root of the problem instead of trying to manage symptoms. You can read the article here, but the goal was to teach teenagers to handle stress in proactive ways by working with their bodies’ natural body chemistry. As humans, our body chemistry helps us relieve stress if we “lean in” instead of “numbing out”. Some of get stress relief by increasing our energy and soaking in our endorphins. Others need to slow down to quell anxiety. There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach. Meditation works as well as dancing all night long. It just depends on who you are.

screen-shot-2017-02-10-at-6-37-29-am

I actually know what works for me. It’s a combination of meditation, exercise, eating right, real connection with others and reading spiritual material. So, when I got up this morning I made my tea without sweeteners and cracked open Ronald Rolheiser’s book Holy Longing. In the introduction, he talks about this longing that we have inside us as humans that is never really satisfied. This desire drives us. It drives us to seek God. It drives us into an anxious state when we are unoccupied. It drives us into all kinds of addictions and modes of escape. We are always in a state of unrequited desire. We have moments of peace. We never have a lifetime of it.

Twelve step groups say addictions of all kinds are an attempt to fill a God-sized hole with something else. We just keep trying and trying to find comfort but it never works. We need more and more to keep that elusive peaceful feeling. We all have different “solutions” to our anxiety. While I pound sugar to get that “high” I like so much, another engages in angry arguments to help them feel smarter than others. A credit card buys all of the things that comfort others. A momentary comfort is experienced in the numbness of substance-abuse. The credit card bills come due, our relationships unravel from the arguing and substance abuse, and my blood sugar crashes from the sugar. We are always left with the remorse and the emotional fallout. Peace – from those things – is elusive.

Writing helps me reframe my thoughts, and I think I’ll approach today differently. With the awareness that I’m feeling a God-sized hole right now for a variety of reasons, I’ll fill it with time with Him and engage in my spiritual practices. I’ll abstain from sugar and let the withdrawal take me. I’ll find a way to connect with others tonight and express my true feelings. I’ll eat something healthy for breakfast and do a yoga nidra… BEFORE reading the news. For today, I’ll pretend I’m an Icelander and deal with the root of the problem.

 

Food, Sugar and Bouncing Back

dont-get-stressed-get-dessert-uploaded-to-flickr-public-files-by-ichabodhides

It has been a crazy 4 months for me. In fact, it goes back even further than that. Almost all of this year has been one stressful event after another. I’m ready for some normalcy. (And I know I shouldn’t ask for that… knock on wood.) I had settled into a very healthy routine in Louisiana with fairly regular exercise and healthy eating with an occasional splurge at Magpie. The fact that I had year-long access to local produce was a huge benefit. But the stress of the last few months has tested my fortitude, and I’m making my way to get back on track.

If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that in the last few years I’ve struggled with the weird effects that coffee, flour and sugar now seem to have on my body. Any of the three seem to ramp up my anxiety to a level where I can’t sleep at night. I get caught in this vicious cycle of craving and crashing and basically feeling like crap. And, of course, all I craved during this time has been the trifecta of ill health for me. And I indulged. To top it off, my exercise became much more intermittent although I did continue to walk and run/walk on occasion. Ashok makes sure of that. But even my yoga practice has suffered. I haven’t struck a pose in quite awhile.

IMG_7482

My sister started inspiring me about the time I got here to Michigan. She’s started exercising regularly for its health benefits and has really taken to a regular routine of getting up at 4:30 in the morning to “get ‘er done”. Keep in mind that my sister is not a morning person like me. This was something that she decided was in her best interest, and she has willed herself to get up and get going. And she’s having such great results and is so excited about her journey that she inspired me. That’s what’s funny about life. She says I inspired her to get healthier and then she starts inspiring me. It’s why we have each other!

tumblr_nfb0akimd11sh4z0co1_500

I am a lifetime member of Weight Watchers, and, in fact, at one time I was a Weight Watchers leader. I joined the online program and have been tracking my food and exercise since August. I say that as a broad overview because I have not been consistent, and it has been a struggle. I gained about 8 pounds during my move and the preceding layoff in the spring. While that’s not a bunch, it’s not easy to get off. My clothes were starting to feel too tight, and I’m not willing to invest in a new wardrobe. So I kept with it. I’d fall off the wagon a few days and get back on for an hour or a day or even a few days. My sister was doing it… I had to keep trying!!

screen-shot-2016-11-04-at-7-10-30-am

I’m happy to report that I’m within my normal range of weight although I’m looking to take off a few more pounds to allow room for layers this winter. But mostly I’m happy to report that I’ve been reenergized around my battle with sugar. Everytime – without fail – that I fell off the wagon it was because of sugar. And the more sugar I ate, the harder it was to get back on track. And the more days I ate sugar, the more anxiety I had and the worse I felt, slept and thought. It was a great reminder of where I need to be with that white stuff.

A coworker yesterday looked at my beets, sweet potato and tofu lunch and said, “You always eat so healthy.” Well, not really. It may seem that way, but it is a lifelong pursuit that has leveled out to be a fairly healthy diet with a lot of side trips into junk food land. I told my young coworker that I was at the age where there is no more putting it off until later. Food really affects me now, and I want to be healthy and feel good most of the time. I just have to keep remembering that when I fall off the wagon in the future. I know I will. It’s a journey not an event.

amazingdontgive

Meanwhile my commitment is to track all of my food for the month of November – regardless of whether or not I’m happy with what I eat. Maybe I’ll learn a few other things by doing so. The other thing I want to focus on is minimizing my daily sugar intake. I’m allowing myself a little honey. And I may have sugar from time-to-time, but I think my new rule will be that I can only have a sugary dessert with a meal and only once a week at most. I have to break the habit. I’m liking the way I feel, and I’d like to keep it that way. There are plenty of yummy foods out there that are not sweet.

Y’all have a great weekend. 

friday

 

 

Sunday Night Check-In: #RisingStrong

IMG_6813

I took to reading Brene Brown’s Book Rising Strong again this weekend. I just absolutely love that book. Her techniques for getting up from a “fall” and actually learning something from it are profound. I found myself in a “face down” moment last week, and I was able to read her insights with new eyes with some fodder that was personally meaningful. I literally couldn’t put the book down Friday night and woke up Saturday morning with a totally different outlook on transforming my mistake into an asset. If you can’t take a mistake and turn it into a learning opportunity, it’s a wasted jewel.

IMG_6764

My sourdough starter was ready this week. Wednesday it was bubbly and active, and I couldn’t wait to try it out. I didn’t have time to read up on baking bread, so I chose to make some sourdough waffles from the King Arthur Flour online recipe book. I combined the starter with the flour and some of my kefir to replace the buttermilk and let it percolate overnight. When I got up Thursday morning, I replaced my morning routine with a waffle-making experiment.

Round 1 didn’t go so well…..

IMG_6771

Neither did Round 2…..

IMG_6770

I realized that my waffle iron was ticked off at me because I had ignored it for over 10 years, so I cut it some slack and let it win a couple of rounds. I tried something different each time, but I decided I should spray it again with some Pam, and, voila…. Round 3 was sour, fluffy and downright amazing. I doused it in homemade cane syrup, and it was divine. Then I remembered that I had real maple syrup, so I tried that, too. Honestly, I think the cane syrup was a better complement to the tangy flavor of the sourdough, and I think I’ll use that in the future. The maple was just a bit overpowered by the flavor of the waffles.

This weekend I took some time to make sourdough bread. I had to pull the starter out of the refrigerator and feed it 3 times (at 12 hour intervals) in order to get it “rising strong”. (Pun intended) I watched the below video to get the instructions on how to make it.

In a past life – or at least it seems like a different lifetime – I baked bread all the time. I had all of the tools, regular deliveries from King Arthur Flour in Vermont, and a knack for making awesome bread … all the time. But most of my tools have been donated, I haven’t used the dough hook on my KitchenAid mixer in over a decade, and I don’t remember the tricks I used to make my bread perfectly delicious. And I don’t think I was ever really successful with sourdough. Because it’s made from wild yeast, it’s unpredictable and … well … wild.

This morning I got up to knead the dough and then set it aside to “rise strong”. I had leftover starter so I made some more waffles. The recipe I used this morning used the sourdough and the regular salt and baking powder to make it rise. Ehhhh …. this one wasn’t nearly as good as the wild yeast leavened batch during the week. I ate it with some homemade blueberry sauce, but I won’t be making that recipe again. It was nothing special.

IMG_6807

The bread however is excellent! One loaf is still rising. I wanted to experiment with rising times and flavor. So, I let one rise for about 8 hours, and I may let the other rise until the morning. They say it makes a difference in the flavor. I cut off a chunk of the one already cooked, slathered it in butter and honey and enjoyed the first homemade bread I’ve had in ages. My house smells like fresh-baked bread again. Ashok was so entranced that I caught her just as she pulled half the loaf off the counter. She was ready to go at it.

Everything I’ve read about sourdough tells me that making it is an art AND a science. When I made my starter, I literally “caught” wild yeast out of the air. It grows and bubbles and makes my bread rise. So, the yeasts in my air are probably different than the yeasts in your air. They will always be unique. And humidity, the temperature of my home, the amount of time I let the bread proof, the quality of my water and flour and many other variables will affect the final product. It really does remind me of the journey with my curls. It’s a relationship that will develop over time, and I can’t control the outcome. I can only learn to work with it and be surprised at how it all turns out… hopefully pleasantly!

IMG_6812

In Brene’s book, she talks about that “face down” moment in the arena. We are in the midst of an emotional shit-storm. We want to get up and make it go away fast … blame somebody else, minimize it, numb ourselves, stuff it down… anything that will make it go away so we can get the hell out of there. But when we do that, we learn nothing. But when we fall and let ourselves look around down there – explore the uncomfortable feelings, understand what caused them and define the core triggers – we can enable a breakthrough that can literally change our lives. This process of looking inside and feeling our feelings – like the “rising strong” of sourdough – is not a simple process. It is time-consuming and can be quite painful. Most of us would rather just go for the shortcut – buy the bread somewhere else – rather than have to go through all of that work. But when we do that, we miss learning about what motivates us, what makes us “wild” and ultimately helps us to “rise strong”. In other words, that’s the good stuff. 🙂

Have a great week, y’all. Don’t take the easy road… the road less traveled makes all the difference. 

IMG_6816

Looking for Comfort Food: Serop’s Express

FullSizeRender-1

The Original Mr. Serop … Thank you for a great idea!

I was looking forward to the Summer Solstice Gong Bath at The Red Shoes tonight. I finished work and did a short TRX workout so I could relax and ease my way into the weekend in a beautifully refreshing way. But when I drove up in the parking lot, there was only one vehicle. I knew something was up, and when I checked the website, the event had been postponed. I was so disappointed. I needed that today.

Screen Shot 2016-06-17 at 7.46.07 PM

So, what to do on a Friday night when your plans fall through? It’s too hot to go for a long walk anywhere with Ashok. We are both sweating and panting our way through even our short walks these days. I decided to go by my favorite dinner place in Mid-City and grab some takeout. When the day calls for comfort food, Serop’s Express is where I head.

Screen Shot 2016-06-17 at 7.19.43 PM

Serop’s Express was one of the first places I ate in Baton Rouge. It’s only about 4 blocks from my house and just about the same distance from my office. My friend Jean Ann took me there, and I remember we had a really great conversation where we caught up on the 30-odd years since we’d seen each other. It became a staple for me after that. They serve lots of well-prepared vegetables, it’s reasonably priced, and I can easily take it to-go if I’m in a hurry. It’s one of the few places in Baton Rouge where my vegetarian options are truly amazing.

Screen Shot 2016-06-17 at 7.41.00 PM

 

Last November, Serop – the grandson of the original Serop – told me that they were closing at the end of the year. I panicked! Not only did I eat there for lunch quite a bit, it is also my favorite dinner spot. He reassured me that they were just rebuilding in a newer, nicer facility. They ended up staying open longer than the end of the year, but early this year they did indeed close. I watched the new building go up and anxiously anticipated their opening which finally occurred on June 1. I was there on Day 1. And, to my delight, they now stay open until 8 PM.

FullSizeRender-2

 

Serop’s Express is a fast-food style restaurant with a buffet of freshly-made salads, spreads, meats and cooked vegetables. Truly everybody can find something they like, and they claim to be the originator of the wildly popular Chicken Schawarma. The original Serop (which is a first name not a last) died in 2009. But, before that, he could always be seen sitting in the restaurant that bore his name. His son ran the business portion of the restaurant, and he was the food expert. He was new to this country, but took on the challenge of opening the first restaurant in 1979 – the year I graduated high school and moved away. After awhile, he decided to try his hand at fast food, and my favorite Serop’s Express was born.

FullSizeRender

The young Serop, his father and a family friend were working there tonight as I quizzed them with questions for this blog. There are still a couple of full-service restaurants and five Serop’s Express locations (at least that’s what I can tell from Facebook!). The fact that they just rebuilt their location on Jefferson tells me they are still going strong. That makes me happy because I will continue to need my fix. While they were gone, I longed for my favorite mujadara with grecian sauce, creamed spinach, sauteed eggplant and green beans and tomatoes. Yum Yum!! I had half a meal tonight, and I’ll have the rest tomorrow.

FullSizeRender-3

Science Experiments: Kefir, Cold Brew and Sourdough

IMG_6722

My counter is beginning to look like a science classroom. I’ve been making my kefir, and the grains are growing. When I received the little cauliflower-like blossoms, I had a scant tablespoon if not less. Now, they have grown to about a tablespoon. And, they are making a good two cups of kefir daily. They are busy little grains, and Ashok and I both are enjoying our daily kefir.

Tonight I had a sweet, fresh cantaloupe, and I blended it with a about 3/4 of a cup of kefir. It was really good, and the cantaloupe sugar totally eliminated the sour taste. But I’m starting to really like the sour taste of the creamy yogurt-like liquid. I no longer sweeten it at all like I did when I first started making it. In fact, I put fruit in it one day and let it ferment for a second day. I had read that the fruit would sweeten it naturally. But I actually wasn’t that impressed. I decided to just let it be natural and slightly sour.

Screen Shot 2016-06-13 at 8.18.12 PM

 

My friend Michael emailed me after I wrote the first blog about my kefir and said I should try making a sourdough starter while my other cultured food was percolating. I hesitated at first. I actually baked sourdough bread when I was in my late 20s and was an avid bread baker. But I’ve long since gotten out of that habit due to the fact that one person can’t really eat all of that bread without becoming a fat cow. But I researched it anyway and started salivating over homemade sourdough waffles and buttery sourdough toast. The wild yeast actually pre-digests the gluten, so sourdough bread is less of an issue for digestion for those who are gluten-sensitive. Besides, I could give away beautiful homemade bread for gifts. I don’t have to eat it all!

IMG_6724

So, now I have a bowlful of somewhat bubbly sourdough starter – a mix of water and flour. It’s so easy, but mine is not coming along as fast as the recipe says. They say it may take as long as 3 weeks to get it going good. Meanwhile, I “feed” it every 12 hours with new flour and water waiting for the starter to double in size. When it does, I’ll be ready for baking… and sharing!! So now I can not only give my friends kefir grains as they grow, I can give them sourdough starter.

 

I also have another batch of cold brew coffee “percolating”. I’ve decided that I like it stronger than the original recipe, so tonight I’m using a cup of coffee grounds for the 3-cup French Press. It was actually pretty good today using about 2 3/4 cup coffee grounds, but I thought I’d try this to see if I like it even better. All of these things that I’m doing are unpredictable, and you can’t really follow a recipe. I like it because I can “brew” or “culture” to my tastes. It’s sort of like a relationship. Whatever I bring to it – time, temperature, amount of ingredients – reacts with its natural tendencies to create something unique. It’s really interesting!

IMG_6660

My brother Terry made Ceviche Saturday night. It’s a Mexican food that’s “cooked” by marinating fish in a citrus juice. I’ve had it before, but I had a new appreciation for the technique due to my experiences current experimentation. So, I may have to add that to my overnight “no-cook” food creations. It’s all healthy, and it’s great because I don’t have to turn up the heat on anything to make it hotter in this house.

Tonight I came home and removed the grains from my kefir and poured fresh milk over the grains so I have a new batch tomorrow evening. I sipped on my refrigerated kefir from yesterday while I “fed” the not-yet-super-bubbly sourdough starter and poured water and coffee in my french press for tomorrow morning’s wakeup call. Now all I have to do is relax and go to sleep. My goodies percolate while I’m snoring. What can be easier than that??

Sunday Night Check-In: Experimenting with Kefir

kefir-grains-strained

I got my kefir grains in the mail on Friday. I was so excited that I went in right away and poured a cup of milk over them per the directions. Apparently, while they are being shipped, they go dormant, so you have to pour milk over them for 3-4 days and let it culture to revive the cauliflower-like “grains.” My first batch did nothing as expected, but today I had the creamiest kefir when I got home. It seems my little cauliflower buds only took two feedings to get back in action.

Kefir is a cultured food like yogurt and kombucha. I used to make my own yogurt, but you have to keep it warm until it is ready, and it just got to be too much dealing with an appliance for a specified number of hours. I stumbled across an article a couple of weeks ago that said kefir was even easier than yogurt because you don’t have to heat the milk, and it doesn’t have to be kept at a certain temperature. You just pour cold milk over the grains, let it sit for about 24 hours in a 64 – 74 degree space and drain the grains when it’s done. I buy kefir, but it’s about $3-$4 per quart. Making it at home is cheaper as all I have to buy is milk, and they say the homemade version has more probiotics and no additives.

IMG_6611

I went to Our Daily Bread, the local health food store to see if they had kefir grains since Whole Foods didn’t carry them. They sold me a culture, but further research told me that it’s not the same as the grains. It still makes kefir, but the cultures don’t grow and make more grains that you can use indefinitely. I was able to get about 4 batches of kefir from each of the two packages I used, and I’ve been enjoying about 2 cups of kefir every day. I blend it with fruit or cane syrup or just drink it plain. It helps take care of my sweet tooth because of its creamy, naturally sweet flavor. It is a bit sour as well, but the fruit seems to counteract that, and, the more that I drink it, the less sour it tastes to me. I’m beginning to really like it.

IMG_6610

Fresh Peach Kefir (with the skin)

There are lots of health claims out there about kefir. It’s considered a superfood because of its nutrient profile and a healing food because of the probiotics. Claims abound about kefir healing high blood pressure, stabilizing blood sugar, lowering anxiety and even cleansing your colon. I’ve known for awhile that probiotics are recommended for my anxiety because gut health is important in calming our central nervous system. I could buy probiotics, but why spend all of that money when I can make something at home that has up to 56 different kinds of good gut bacteria and tastes yummy, too? Apparently, yogurt only has seven kinds of good bacteria, and they only stay in your system for 24 hours. Kefir bacteria sets up house and lives there.

Even Ashok likes her kefir! I give her a couple tablespoons twice a day.

I found the below video today which talks about how to make kefir, and, apparently, you can make kefir cheese which is like cream cheese for dips and spreads, kefir sodas and regular kefir that is flavored with fruit through a second ferment. You can watch this to see how easy it is to make kefir. And, as I make my kefir, my grains will reproduce, and I can share them with my friends. Right now, I only have about a tablespoon of “grains”, so I can only culture about a cup of milk. But, as they grow, I can do more. And I’ve noticed the kefir made with my new grains is much smoother and creamier than the kefir made with the powdered culture. It was still good, but it wasn’t as creamy as the kefir made with the grains.

 

I got my grains off Amazon from a store called Mr. and Mrs. Kefir. (Note: They are not really grains; they just look like grains.) It was a little cheaper off Amazon than off their personal site because of shipping costs. Besides, this particular retailer and their grains got great reviews. I’m using mason jars to make my kefir, so the only thing I had to buy was a plastic strainer (stainless steel works but is not recommended for straining kefir grains) that cost me $1.67 at WalMart.

Screen Shot 2016-06-05 at 6.17.04 PM

On another note, I also made my own cold brew coffee this weekend in my french press. All you have to do is pour room temperature water over the ground coffee and let it sit for 12-24 hours. I strained it this morning, and I had the best coffee laced with half and half I’ve had at home in a long time. It makes a concentrate, so I added some water and heated it in the microwave before adding the fresh half n half. For iced coffee, all I have to add is lots of yummy milk and ice. Delicious!

So, I have my own homemade kefir and cold brew coffee at my house. I’m saving money and feeling very accomplished with my homemade healthy treats. I’ll leave you with some links about kefir and cold brew coffee in case you are interested in making your own. And if you need kefir grains, give me a little time. I’ll share the love and share my grains. Maybe we need to start a Louisiana strain of kefir grains. They ought to love this heat and humidity!

7 Reasons I Have Kefir Every Day

Kefir Benefits

Kefir Recipes

How to Make Cold Brew Coffee in a French Press

How to Make the Best Iced Coffee

10 Ways to Achieve Cold Brew Coffee Greatness

 

A Primer in Outdoor Cooking: ShoppersChoice.com

IMG_6544

My friend Alisa got a new job a  few months ago, and I have been very curious to check out what she’s doing. For one thing, she’s super excited about the place, and it’s not all that often that people really love where they work. She’s been briefing me on all of the fun things she’s been doing in her new role, and I have to say I’m a bit jealous. I finally snagged an invitation to see the place for real. I felt like I was in a fantasy land of toys for boys (or girls) that are serious about grilling.

I’ll admit I don’t know how to grill. I’ve tried it a few times, and I could never get it right. It’s finally become one of those things where I wait for invite and then enjoy the juicy, crusty meats and fish that others masterfully char over an open flame. Alisa works at ShoppersChoice.com, a high end distributor of outdoor kitchen appliances and furniture. They also have their own brand of grills and cooking appliances branded Blaze. They have a huge online offering, but they also have an unbelievable outdoor showroom in Baton Rouge on Coursey Blvd.

IMG_6549

An outdoor air conditioner!

I expected a Home Depot sort of offering with maybe a little more glitz, but I was floored by what I saw. They have over 20 fully operational outdoor kitchens set up on the grounds. Graveled pathways with lovely tropical landscaping led us from one kitchen to another – each with its own style and cooking system. I personally don’t know much about grills since I don’t know anything about grilling, but they looked beautiful. Louisiana is a place where people love their outdoor kitchens, so I was imagining how much the locals would love walking around this place and imagining themselves entertaining in these gorgeous kitchens. They even had outdoor air conditioners!! That’s a product I couldn’t turn down. If they make them portable, I’m sold.

The kitchens were beautiful, but we stumbled upon the real gem at the back of the showroom. Chef Tony was cooking cinnamon rolls on a grill with applewood chips. We asked him if we could come back by and try a sample when he was done, and he graciously said yes. Tony has been working for ShoppersChoice.com for awhile, but he’s not just a demonstration chef. He’s very entertaining and has an infectious personality. But the real advantage to the company – and to customers – is that he knows grilling, and he knows the products in his showroom. You see, his role is to help customers understand which grill is the best one for their cooking needs. He doesn’t sell, so he doesn’t care about that. He cooks, and he’s cooked on all of these grills. He asks customers about themselves and what they like to cook or what they aspire to cook. Then he gives them three options that will meet their requirements in varying price ranges with a variety of features. The salespeople can take it from there.

Cinnamon Rolls on a grill!

Tony says that’s the advantage of doing business with them. There is no showroom on this side of the Mississippi with the type of display they have. And he said he tries out every grill they have on display before they decide to sell it. He’s been know to cut them in half to see if they are well-made inside. He’s not just a chef. He’s a grill expert. Customers as far away as Kansas have traveled to see their showroom. And, if he happens to overhear what you want to do while in a kitchen, he has been known to fire up the grill and show you how to do it. Or, better yet, help you try it out yourself. His aim is to make sure that you are happy with the grill that you choose from a cook’s perspective.

IMG_6554

Me and Alisa

The cinnamon rolls are one of the many unusual dishes he’s tried on the grills. With this cooking equipment, you should be able to cook almost anything you want if you get the right equipment. BBQguys.com is Chef Tony’s YouTube teaching channel, and you can follow him to get more information on recipes, how-tos and grill shopping. I browsed a few of the recipes and found this Shrimp Fried Rice that looks amazing.

The cinnamon rolls were delicious, and the day was perfect for strolling around and pretending I had an outdoor kitchen. I thought I would share this info with you just in case you might be in the market or you are just looking for some inspiration. You might just catch Tony in action and get a bite of some of his delicious experimentation.

You can also follow Tony on Instagram @bbqguys and on Facebook at BBQGuys.com. ShoppersChoice.com also has a YouTube Channel with recipes and tips. Try them both … even if you are not in the market for a grill. Please invite me over to try your culinary experiments, and stop by ShoppersChoice.com to say hi. Tell them Sharon at Midlife Moments Blog sent you! It’s a local business, Baton Rouge…. show them some love.