Blackberry frozen kefir

I keep thinking I’d like to take up embroidery (in the style of Judi Dench), because it seems like such a normal hobby to have. And because gut bacteria is starting to seem like a weird thing to dwell on and Nick thinks that “healthy poops for the whole world” is not a hobby, but the kind of thing I should talk to a mental health professional about. I think Nick is ungrateful.

Yes. Embroidery. That seems like something I could talk to people about. Because right now, I’m talking a lot about kefir and lacto-fermentation and gut flora and getting a lot more side-eye than even I’m used to. Every day, it seems, some study out of somewhere implicates intestinal bacteria in some seemingly unconnected disease or disorder, demonstrating that the relationship between our health and what we eat is increasingly complex.

A lot of nutrition information tries to sum up healthy eating in a few easily digestible tips and tricks. (Wink.) This is, I think, where phenomena like “super foods” come from – the idea that optimal nutrition is based on a simple formula, and if you just eat a carefully selected limited number of things, you will live forever. That’s a nice idea, and I can see why people are into it. Unfortunately, there is no simple one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition. Your best shot at a healthy diet is a diet that includes a little bit of everything and nothing to excess. Which is great, because I don’t think I could live a lifestyle that excluded a reasonable amount of Taco Bell.

Our weird health kick is kefir, which I make because making yogurt involves too many steps. You just fill a jar with some kefir grains and milk, then strain off the grains and start all over again with new milk, either refrigerating the kefir for consumption or secondarily fermenting it with citrus peels for even better taste. We drink kefir because it makes our bellies feel nice and because it’s easily blended into things I can drink for breakfast, since I’m bad at wanting or remembering to eat breakfast. Some kefir and some frozen berries blended and poured into a tall glass is something I can consume in a rush while doing ten other things.

Kefir

Kefir and yogurt are both full of good bacteria, but kefir contains roughly three times the amount of probiotic cultures. Whether that matters for long term health is unclear, but in the short term, it can be helpful; this week Toddler’s had an ear infection, and the amoxicillin the doctor prescribed can be hard on little bodies. The pharmacist’s advice was to load Toddler up with probiotics, either in the form of yogurt or supplements. And so, the kefir was useful once again.

Of course, he was unlikely to take a shot of kefir … especially not when the amoxicillin was bubblegum flavoured. So we came up with this frozen yogurt/sorbet-like thing, and he declared “it’s perfect, mum!” and ate enough to keep his little gut happy.

Maybe embroidery would be more socially acceptable. But probiotic ice cream is worth telling people about. Healthy poops for the whole world, indeed!

If you make kefir, let it ferment twice. To do this, make the kefir first, then strain out the kefir grains and let the kefir continue to sit at room temperature for an additional 24 hours, either as it is or with a strip of orange or lemon peel.

You can buy kefir grains online, or at some natural health food stores. In Vancouver, you can get them at Homesteader’s Emporium. Or, if you’re lucky, you know my friend Grace and can get them for free after a lengthy conversation about your microbiome at dinner. (I’m a bit much to be around.)

Blackberry frozen kefir

  • 2 cups twice fermented kefir, store-bought plain kefir or plain 2% yogurt
  • 2 cups fresh or frozen (and defrosted) blackberries, mashed and then passed through a fine mesh sieve
  • 2/3 cup honey or cane sugar syrup
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

Whisk kefir, blackberries, honey, and vanilla in a bowl until thoroughly combined. Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes, then process through an ice cream machine as per the manufacturer’s instructions.

Freeze for at least one hour before serving. If freezing for more than four hours, let the dessert sit on the counter for ten minutes before serving.

Serve with an additional drizzle of honey, if desired.

Blackberry frozen kefir

Roasted apricot with cottage cheese

In our early twenties, my friend Theresa and I shared a basement suite east of Commercial Drive and a tendency towards excess. It was a dark, damp little place last renovated in the early eighties by someone with a preference for shades of brown, but it was cheap and close enough to public transit and places we liked to go. The living room wall featured a cutout with a long fluorescent tube light at the top that was probably meant for displaying art, but it had a ledge just wide enough for a single liquor bottle, and long enough for maybe thirty.

We wheeled an old TV stand in next to the bar and stocked it with shakers and shot glasses and swizzle sticks and hula dancer figurines and felt pretty good about our lives. The kitchen had a place to hang stemware, and we filled it with our mismatched collection of cups and glasses. Every evening after work we’d have cocktails, the alcohol equivalent to swamp water, and we’d feel like fancy ladies as we sipped mango Malibu and peach schnapps out of plastic martini glasses.

But fancy cocktails weren’t our only bad habit. We were too similar to survive together for too long – though I suspect that if she’d never moved to Australia we’d still be together making bad choices in basement suites, probably sharing a set of kidneys – and one could easily convince the other that what anyone else would consider a bad idea was actually the best idea ever, like washing the kitchen floor with ammonia AND bleach (double the cleaning power!) or buying six Filet-o-Fish sandwiches with extra tartar sauce and a full slice of cheese at midnight because we were going to eat them anyway and it would save us another (inevitable) trip out and while we were at it maybe we needed apple pies too. We invented fourth meal but never thought to trademark it.

One of the ways we enabled each other to do incredibly self-destructive awesome things was by claiming that whatever we were doing was in the name of health. At the time, Theresa was a vegetarian except for fish and pepperoni, and I was just beginning to get really excited about fibre. Theresa would go on long runs, and I would go to boot camp because I was too lazy to exercise unless I paid for it and would only go out of guilt at having spent the money. Because we had our health in mind intermittently, sometimes we would stock up on healthy things, either at Costco or at our parents’ houses when one of our moms was cleaning out her pantry and wanted us to take crap away. One of our kicks was dried fruit, which made an excellent snack for a vegetarian and a fibre enthusiast.

Somehow we came to possess about a kilogram of dried apricots. One evening, in our pajama pants and holey sweatshirts with nothing to do and no desire to go out, we put on a movie and made the healthy choice to snack on dried fruit instead of Cheetos or Zesty Doritos, probably because one or the other of us had exercised and did not want to derail those efforts right away. Theresa brought out an opened zip-top bag of dried mango slices and a plastic bag of dried cranberries, and I found the apricots. Over the two hours the movie played, we ate the entire bag of dried apricots and most of the other fruit, which seemed like a good idea at the time because all that fruit fibre was bound to do good things for us.

Theresa is a scientist, but somehow she didn’t foresee what it might do to us. Over the next two or three days we both learned a valuable lesson, and that is that fibre is a finicky friend, and that very easily you can take the relationship too far.

I cried.

Years later, I still approach apricots with trepidation. I buy them only a handful at a time (and rarely dried), because there is safety only in a certain number, but all I know is that the number is low. And yet I still love them. I have never been good at knowing when to give up on a thing.

In the years between then and now, I have learned a little bit about balance. Maybe one apricot is okay. Maybe with a bit of protein, and a touch of sweetness. Maybe, like peach schnapps, apricots are not a meal but rather a snack that can be enjoyed in moderation.

Roasted apricot with cottage cheese

(Serves one.)

  • 1 or 2 apricots, halved
  • Pinch cinnamon
  • Pat of butter, dotted over cut sides
  • 1/2 cup cottage cheese
  • 8 roasted whole almonds, chopped
  • Honey, to taste

Heat oven to 300°F.

Place apricot in a small baking dish, sprinkle with cinnamon, and then dot with butter.

Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until soft and lightly browned.

Spoon cottage cheese into a bowl. Place roasted apricot halves over top, sprinkle with almonds, and drizzle with honey.

This is great for breakfast or for a snack before bed. If you don’t like cottage cheese, this is also quite pleasant with yogurt.

Peaches that taste like candy.

Dramatic peach.
Dramatic peach.

I only eat peaches in July and August. Those rock-hard tiny little yellow bullets of no flavour you get in stores the whole rest of the year? Those aren’t peaches. Peaches come from the Okanagan, and they are bigger than my two fists pressed together, and did you know that your brain is about the size of your two fists pressed together? I like my peaches as big as my brain, sopping and sloppy and juicy and sticky all over the place. And they taste like candy.

Smaller than is ideal but still fabulous.
Smaller than is ideal but still fabulous.

Peaches are my favourite fruit.

I was an infant in the Okanagan, and my mom told me that my first taste of solid food was a peach picked fresh from the backyard mushed up and thrust upon my tongue. And every time I bite into a peach, the taste surprises me, as if it is the first time I’ve ever tasted one, because I always kind of forget that peaches are peaches and not that strange fruit that comes in cans or those terrible little abominations available at Safeway in December.

Okanagan peaches have arrived, and this week I bought too many. Apricots too, but that’s another post. So we were elbows deep in sticky, and it was great, but a few of them had turned on me, started to get a bit smishy, and some of them were just not soft enough for me to get ravenous with. I salvaged a couple toward the end, sliced them and drizzled them with cream.

On their way into my mouth.

Peach feast.As for the rest, I turned them into jam.

Because it’s not as hard to do as you think, and because canning lets you enjoy peaches beyond August. And also, it’s trendy.

Peach Jam!

(six one-cup-size jars)

  • 4 cups chopped peaches
  • Juice of 1 lemon (about 1/4 cup)
  • 1 package original, plain, regular old pectin
  • 5 cups granulated sugar

You’re supposed to finely chop your peaches. I finely chopped most of the peaches, leaving a few larger bits in the mix, because I like it when there’s the odd chunk I can chew in jam. Once again, I followed the Procedure for Shorter Time Processing when it came to prepping the jars, because it worked and I don’t think there’s any reason to screw with a system that works.

Put your peaches, lemon, and pectin in a large pot over high heat, stirring frequently until it comes to a rolling boil.

A jam is born.Dump in the sugar, stirring to dissolve. Bring it back up to a boil, and then, when it’s boiling so aggressively you can’t quell it with a bit of stirring, set the timer for one minute, and stir constantly. Remove from heat and fill your jars. Process as usual.

Jars in the mist.Then, wait. The most satisfying sound in the world is the “pop” of the jar lids as they seal themselves shut. I had seven jars, because mine were slightly smaller than 250mL/1 cup, so once I’d heard seven little pops, all was right with the world. And then I napped. And it was good.

Seven cute little jars with fruity lids and I smile and smile and smile.
Seven cute little jars with fruity lids and I smile and smile and smile.

Let ’em sit for 24 hours undisturbed. It may take up to two weeks for jam to set, did you know that? If it sets right away, then feel free to eat it tomorrow, on a warm, buttered piece of fresh bread. Marvellous.

I’ll bet you take to the Internet to start looking at condos in Kelowna almost immediately after you’re done.

Until recently, I have had my suspicions about spelt. But then I added cherries.

Cherry!And, while I’m not sure I fully accept spelt – I view it the way I view kamut, quinoa, and millet … that is to say, as a hippie grain that’s more for fibre than flavour – I’ve come to understand it. Spelt is not all bad. It’s certainly not bad for you. Maybe don’t eat a whole loaf of spelt bread or anything, but if you’ve got cherries – or raspberries, or blueberries, or whateverberries – make muffins. Use brown sugar. A pinch of nutmeg, and maybe some orange zest. The result? A hearty, fill-me-up breakfast muffin that’s as good for you as bran but not as old-mannish. Today is make-up words day.

I bought a bag of spelt flour about a month and a half ago when the little organic store at UBC was clearing out its stock for the summer. I didn’t know what to do with it, but I got a whole lot of it for three dollars, so I thought I’d try it. And then when I ran out of whole wheat flour and forgot to restock, and wanted to make muffins, I thought – “the hell? I’ll use the spelt.” You can make this recipe with whole wheat flour if you want. You can even use white flour – I am not there to judge. But if you have access to spelt, use it, and make these moist little muffins and enjoy knowing that just eating them probably makes you healthier than the guy sitting next to you on the bus. Unless you drive to work, in which case, you’re probably already the healthiest person in your car. Unless you carpool with marathon-running vegans. Oh, hell, I don’t know. Make muffins. Feel happy.

Spelt Muffins with Cherries and Orange

(makes about 16 muffins)

  • 1/2 cup butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 3 1/2 cups spelt flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 2 cups milk
  • Zest and juice of one small navel orange
  • 2 cups fresh cherries, pitted and halved
  • 1 cup chopped toasted pecans (optional)

Preheat your oven to 425°F.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter, sugar, and eggs until the mixture is blended, light in colour, and smooth.

In another large bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking powder, and nutmeg. Zest the orange into this mixture as well. Make sure the dry stuff is thoroughly combined.

While beating the butter mixture, slowly add the flour mixture. Once you’ve emptied all of the flour into the butter bowl, squeeze in the orange juice and add the milk. Beat until combined. Add the cherries, and if you’re using nuts, the nuts, and toss the mixture until the cherries are just coated, not smooshed.

Pour batter into a muffin pan that’s either greased or lined with those awesome baking paper cup things. Bake the muffins for 15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of one comes out clean.

MMMuffins.Cool in the pan for a few minutes, then turn them out onto a wire rack to cool. Make sure to eat at least one while it’s still warm, with butter and maybe a little bit of maple syrup or honey. Feel yourself getting regular and slightly smug.

Muffin on a plate.

I leave for Winnipeg on Wednesday, and although I hope to post another tribute to food before I leave, I may not get to. I don’t know what they eat in Winnipeg, but I’m determined to find out. I’ll be a bridesmaid, so that’ll cut into my investigation a bit, but I hope to be back to my beloved Internet before long – hopefully I’ll have something of significance to report. If not, I’ll think of something. Back soon.

Cherry turnovers are perfect for busy people who prefer to take their pies to go.

Cherries?

Cherries.Seven dollars per pound at the Farmer’s Market this weekend. Or $9.99 at Whole Foods. I trundled over to Grace’s mom’s house this weekend with Grace and James and our buckets and picked all that I could eat and more than could fit in my bucket, for free. Grace’s mom’s neighbour apparently keeps bees now, so her trees, which Grace says have rarely seen so much pollination, are now brimming with bright little red cherries. A complex bird-alarm system has been rigged, and so the cherries grow freely, almost completely untouched by competing natural forces. All this about 28 blocks from home!

Gorilla in the mist?

Abundance!

And so we picked and picked and picked, and I spent the whole time thinking about cherry pie. Of course, however, it’s just Nick and I at home, so to make cherry pie would mean a bit of a fight once I realized that I had pitted and kneaded and done all the work all so he’d eat one piece and be all, “yeah, I don’t really like pie,” and then I’d have to pit him, which would surely be messy because he wouldn’t hold still. So I thought, “portable pies!” Or, cherry turnovers. I love them. They’re convenient like toaster pastries, but they actually taste good. And if Nick doesn’t like them, then I get to eat them all myself. Genius? I know.

Picking picking picking ...

SDC10755

I have more cherries than I can turn into turnovers, but that’s okay. This is a recipe that will use up the lighter, tarter ones so I can reserve the purpler ones for snacking and sundaes.

Cheery Cherry Turnovers

(makes 8 to 10)

Crust:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 2/3 cup sour cream
  • 1 tbsp. ice water, if needed

Combine flour, salt, and sugar in a bowl; mix well.

Using a box grater, grate very cold butter into flour mixture. Stir in sour cream until a soft dough is formed. Pat into a round, about 1 1/2 inches thick, and wrap in plastic. Chill for one hour.

Cherry filling:

  • 2 1/2 cups fresh cherries, pitted and halved
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • zest and juice of one lemon
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. cornstarch

Mix together the sugar, lemon, salt, and cornstarch. Pour over a bowl of pitted and halved cherries, and toss to coat.

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Roll out your dough to pie-crust thickness, about 1/8 to 1/16 inch thick. Using a bowl or other medium-sized circular cutting thing, cut eight to ten rounds. Fill with a couple of tablespoons of the filling on one side of the round, and then fold the dough over top, pressing the edges to seal. You could use a fork – that’d work. Stab the tops of each turnover with a fork or a knife.

Brush tops with a small amount of milk, and sprinkle with sugar (optional).

Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until golden brown.

Um, DELICIOUS!Serve warm with ice cream.

I am going to Winnipeg next week for a wedding, so it looks like Grace, James, and I will not be picking anything to report back on for at least a couple of weeks. Maybe raspberries will be next then? As I have pounds and pounds of cherries, you can expect at least one more recipe for cherries in the next few days. Hooray!