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Friday, February 6, 2015

Fire Cider Harbingers Spring and Fights Flu

Last February 2nd, herbalists celebrated World Fire Cider Making Day.  Fire Cider is an herbal preparation in the European herbal tradition, popularized by herb maven Rosemary Gladstar.  The day was declared because a certain company was attempting to trademark the name, an idea as absurd as trademarking an acupuncture point or yoga posture (which of course some people are trying to do).  These things are part of the collective traditional lore of humanity.  I drank a tablespoon of last year's Fire Cider every day from November through January and avoided getting cold or flu despite many exposures.  A few weeks after I ran out, I got the flu. After couple days in bed and on Green Soup and little else, I was well enough to mix up another batch of the cider.  Not only does it help prevent the invasion of seasonal pathogens, it tastes exciting, stimulates digestion, is super-nutritive and allows you to participate in a centuries-old herbal tradition.  The recipe is not at all exact, but garlic, ginger and chilies are the basis of it, steeped in apple cider vinegar for one month to six months or more.  Below is the version I just mixed up, pictured above:

Fire Cider
Red Peppers
Rose Hips
Meyer Lemon
Lemon Verbena
Apple Cider Vinegar

In a 2 quart Mason jar or similar, coarsely chop and layer the above ingredients, or concoct your own version.  Cover with apple cider, seal the jar, and let steep 1-6 months.  If you are storing for a long time, you may want to protect the inside of the jar lid from being eaten by the vinegar by lining it with wax paper.

Strain, add honey if desired, and enjoy by the tablespoon, mixed with mineral water as a drink, in salad dressing, in a cocktail, or in a soup.

Traditionalists bury it in soil for a summer before opening the jar.

Upcoming Classes: FREE Webinar on "Food and the Pleasure of Eating" with Hawthorn University, Tuesday, Feb. 17th 4-5pm PST.  Register here.

Nutrition Intensive: Seasonal Eating for Earth/Wood, Feb.21 &22, AIMC Berkeley, info here.

See my blog sidebar for my full 2015 calendar.

Monday, January 12, 2015

New Year, New Leeks

A new year has rolled in and we are deep in winter, a time to turn inward, consolidate and nourish ourselves down to our roots.  The foods of winter support this process.

A favorite winter food of mine is leeks.  They are a gourmet member of the humble Allium (Onion) family.  This family is so critical to good cuisine, bringing both pungent aromatic flavor and luscious sweetness to our dishes, depending on how you cook them.  And the leek has such a nuanced flavor, once you learn the important trick of how to slice them in half from about 1/2 above the base and open the leaves to wash out the grit that hides where the white and green parts meet.  The white and green each bring nutritional potency to the vegetable, the tender white and pale green parts bringing the aromatic aspect, the green parts a little more fibrous and full of vitamin A, C and antioxidants (which leeks lose quickly when stored, cook them fast once you get home from the market).  I recently learned that it is the green parts of leeks which are particularly prebiotic, that is, rich in fiber that our microbiota thrive on.  I enjoyed a recent article in Eating Well magazine (a fave!) featuring scientist Jeff Leach, who studies the human microbiome and eats one whole leek a day, check it out here.  Yet most recipes call for using only the white and pale green parts of leeks, what a shame, and a waste!  I've found that instead of cooking them separately, I just chop the dark green parts more finely than the whites and cook them altogether.  In Tara Duggan's wonderful new book , Root to Stalk Cooking: the Art of Using the Whole Vegetable, she features recipes using such unsung parts of veggies, most of which I imagine also contain such nutritional bonuses. And I love the idea of using more parts of vegetables, it makes sense to me in the same way that using the whole animal in cooking does.

My number one favorite leek dish is creamed leeks.  Having grown up during the fat-phobic 70's and 80's, I don't have much experience in using cream in veggie dishes.  I adapted this one from another much loved cookbook The Grassfed Gourmet Cookbook by Shannon Hayes,  and I love serving it as a side dish in winter, knowing that my tweaks have increased the pro-and prebiotic impact of the dish and the fat that is used is not only delicious but helps the eater absorb the vitamins in the leeks.  Indulge!

Creamed Leeks

2 tablespoons butter
2 large leeks, white parts cut into 1/2" strips and green parts into 1/4" strips
1/3 cup creme fraiche (recipe here), or heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste

Melt the butter in a heavy skillet over medium low heat.  Add the leeks, and saute until tender, about 7 minutes.  Add the creme fraiche, and simmer until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Did you know you can make creme fraiche into the most wonderful butter you've ever tasted, and make true buttermilk at the same time to boot?  These and other dairy fermenting secrets will be revealed in my upcoming Ferment Dairy class with the Biofuel Oasis on March 8th, see this link to register.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Demystifying Shrubs

     Raising a glass of something sweet, tart and bubbly seems to be a basic human urge.  But the modern form of this refreshing beverage, soda, is quite harmful to health.  For most of human history, people have been making and enjoying various fermented beverages, with or without alcohol, which have had health benefits derived from the live bacteria and lactic or other acids produced through natural fermentation.  The fermentation revival has brought kombucha, kefir, kvass, sauerkraut juice and the like back to the table, and one of my new favorites, shrub, or drinking vinegar, which all give a boost to digestive power as well as pleasing the palate.  
     Turns out most people who suffer from occasional indigestion, heartburn and the like actually suffer from too little, not too much stomach acid, and drinking live vinegar or sour tonic beverages before or with a meal helps a lot.  It will certainly help with sparking the digestion so you don't suffer too much from the rich food of the upcoming holidays.  I learned a lot about shrubs and got inspired recently checking out Michael Dietsch's new book Shrub: An Old-Fashioned Drink for Modern Times, check out his blog hereSalud!

Fruit and Herb Shrub
Preserving the harvest in vinegar is a time honored technique, and shrubs, originating in Persia and popular in colonial America, enjoyed a  heyday during Prohibition as a non-alcoholic libation.  They are now making a comeback among foodies and cocktailians (with or without alcohol added).  Flavored vinegar can also be used in salad dressings to add more flavor complexity and herbal benefits.  Drinking vinegar before meals is a great way to stimulate appetite, improve digestion, augment stomach acid and it can relieve liver qi stagnation, lifting the spirits. Using raw local honey instead of sugar and a raw vinegar such as apple cider, plus avoiding cooking the fruit as in many recipes, will all maximize the enzyme content of your drink, making the most healthful version.
Makes about 1 ½ quarts.

4 cups coarsely chopped fruit, such as berries, grapes, stone fruit, etc.
2-4 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs, such as rosemary, rose geranium, basil, etc.
4-6 cups raw apple cider, rice, white wine or other mild vinegar
1-3 cups raw honey or sugar, to taste
Combine the first three ingredients in a 2 qt. Mason jar or similar and allow to infuse for 2-6 weeks.  Strain and add sweetener to get a taste that suits you.  Enjoy.  If you are using the shrub as a drink, dilute with 4-5 parts water or mineral water per part shrub, garnishing with sliced fresh fruit or herbs.

Combos to try: strawberries, basil and rose geranium, fig, black pepper and lemon, concord grape, peach, rose hip and rosemary, etc.

UPCOMING CLASS: This Saturday, Nov. 8th  I'll be teaching a day-long nutrition class in Berkeley, focusing on cooking and eating for the winter season and strengthening the kidneys.  It is suitable for acupuncturists (6 CEUs), students and those with some background and a passion for nutrition.  Follow this link to register.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Sultry Summer Salad: Nasturtium Fatoush

When the weather turns hot and moist as summer ripens to late summer, appetite a bit dampened by heat, I think of cooking the sensual cuisines of the Mediterranean, particularly the eastern Mediterranean, with the skillful use of spices there that spark the palate.  When the lettuce bolts and turns too bitter in the garden, simple salads of cucumber, tomato and fresh herbs take their place, and these travel well to the lazy picnics of the summertime.  On the days when I feel a little more ambitious in the kitchen, I’ve been making a special version of Fatoush, which is the Arabic version of the ubiquitous bread salad that thrifty cooks make across the region.  
I adapted this recipe from the fabulous Spice: Flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean by Ana Sortun, a delightful cookbook organized not by dish or season but by groupings of spices, in this case parsley, mint, dill and sweet basil which are so abundant in August.  I’ve replaced the greens (traditionally romaine) with nasturtium leaves and flowers here, but you can also use the radish leaves if they are young and tender, arugula, purslane, dandelion greens or another perky, leafy green.  This dish contains many foods which are known to protect and nourish the heart by Chinese and Western medicine: tomatoes, cucumbers, olive oil, peppers, radishes, the fresh herbs, the nasturtium flowers…and the joy you feel on seeing and eating it will certainly lighten your heart too.  Make it a full lunch by adding cooked garbanzo beans and garnishing with feta.   Serves 4-6.

             1 ½ tablespoons sherry or wine vinegar
            1 teaspoon umeboshi plum vinegar
            ½ tsp chopped preserved citrus peel or zest and juice of 1 lemon
            1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
            1/3 cup olive oil or a mixture of olive and walnut oil
            2 large heirloom or 24 cherry tomatoes
            1 English or 2 Lebanese or 4 Persian cucumbers
            1 red bell or 2 gypsy peppers
            4 radishes
            2 tablespoons sliced green onion or chives
            ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
            2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
            2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
            1 cup nasturtium leaves and flowers, loosely packed or other greens
            2 cups toasted pita chips*
            2 teaspoons sumac (this tart purple spice can be found in Middle Eastern markets
            or a good spice shop)

Make the vinaigrette by combining the vinegars, preserved lemon, mustard and olive oil in small jar and shaking until emulsified. 
Chop the tomatoes into cubes or split the cherry tomatoes if they are large, and place them in a large salad bowl.  Dice the cucumbers and peppers, and split the radishes in half if they are large, and add to the bowl along with the rest of the vegetables. 
About 10 minutes before you serve the salad, add the salad dressing and pita chips, toss to combine, and finish with salt and pepper as needed.  Garnish with sumac and serve.

*Make pita chips by tossing 2 large leftover pitas, torn into 1 ½” squares, with ¼ cup olive oil and spreading in a single layer on a cookie sheet.  Bake at 350 degrees until crispy and golden, about 8 minutes.  

Fall Classes: Check out my updated calendar for the remainder of 2014.  Introduction to Fermentation is happening at 18 Reasons Sept. 8th, followed by Fall Fermentation on Sept. 29th.   September 28 and November 8th are my in-depth nutrition and cooking classes for fall and winter, for licensed acupuncturists, students and interested lay people, at AIMC Berkeley, where I'll also be co-teaching Introduction to Oriental Medicine this fall with Dennis von Elgg, L.Ac.on Wednesday nights in October and November.  Details coming soon on the AIMC site.  Nov. 2nd I'll be doing Ferment the Fall Harvest with the Biofuel Oasis, where I'll be teaching vinegar for the first time, along with kimchi, kraut and more.  And later that same day, join me for Seeking Peak Eating: A Workshop on Food and Pleasure at Manzanita Wellness from 2-4pm.  

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Sweet Summer and Sweet Corn

After six years and countless hours, I'm very pleased to announce that I have completed my doctorate in nutrition!  I successfully defended my dissertation on peak eating experiences last Friday and have been awarded a Doctorate of Science (D.Sc.) from the wonderful Hawthorn University.  It's been an incredible journey and I'm looking forward to tasting life beyond graduate school.  I'll be making a batch of my beloved Cherry Soup as part of the celebrations.

Two tidbits to follow: another segment of my dissertation, examining the perceived conflict between health and pleasure, and a favorite summer recipe, Red Lentil Dal with Sweet Corn, from Real Food All Year. This version has a correction (the sweet corn didn't actually appear in the recipe, ha!).  This a dish I've been enjoying lately which is particularly suited to summertime, and a great thing to cook up on Sunday night and enjoy, varied by different condiments, throughout a busy week.

Red Lentil Dal with Sweet Corn
In Chinese medicine, red lentils are classified as having a slightly bitter taste, which makes them particularly beneficial to the heart, the organ most important to nourish in the summertime. Dal, a dish of simmered and spiced legumes, is a staple food in India and Nepal, and can be enjoyed for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. It is also traditionally used as the basis of a seasonal fast at the beginning of summer. This recipe can be easily varied by the addition of almost any seasonal vegetable. A bunch of chopped arugula, stirred in the last few minutes of cooking, is particularly tasty.
Makes 4 to 6 servings

6 cups water
1 cup red lentils, rinsed
One 6-inch strip kombu (see Note)
1 tablespoon olive oil or ghee
1 onion, diced small
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 tablespoon curry powder or a mixture of 1 teaspoon each of ground cumin, coriander, and turmeric
2 carrots, scrubbed but not peeled and cut in 1/4-inch-thick rounds
1 cup sweet corn kernels, sliced off the cob
3 celery stalks, diced
One 1-inch piece unpeeled gingerroot, and grated (about 3 tablespoons)
Juice of 1 or 2 lemons
Sea salt
Chopped cilantro, for garnish

Put the water in a large pot and add the lentils; soak overnight if possible. Do not drain, but bring lentils in their soaking water to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer uncovered for 10 minutes, skimming off any foam that rises to the surface. Add the kombu to the pot, cover, and turn the heat down low.
While the lentils are simmering, heat the oil in a skillet; add the onion and sauté for 5 minutes, or until it begins to turn translucent. Add the mustard seeds and curry powder, and stir occasionally until the spices give off their fragrance, about 60 seconds. Add the carrots, corn kernels and celery and continue to cook a few minutes more, until they begin to brown around the edges. Scrape the vegetables and spices into the pot with the lentils, cover, and simmer until the lentils are soft and creamy, 10 to 30 minutes more, depending on the age of the lentils.
Take the grated ginger in your hand and squeeze the juice into the pot, or force it through a fine mesh sieve to extract the juice and add to the pot. Add lemon juice and sea salt to taste. Serve garnished with cilantro.

Note: Kombu is a type of seaweed that helps beans cook more quickly and makes them more flavorful and digestible. You can purchase it packaged or in bulk at health and natural food store.

From Peak Eating Experiences: Investigating Relationships of Gustatory Pleasure and Health

 A  National Eating Disorder

The American people are experiencing unprecedented rates of disease today which are thought to be related to their diets.  In a telling cross-cultural study on attitudes toward food and eating, Paul Rozin observed: “given the much greater health orientation, worry about weight, concern and diet modification [such as choosing reduced-fat and –sodium foods] in the Americans, it is sobering that Americans consider themselves much lower in their own sense of being healthy eaters” than the French, Belgians and Japanese (P. Rozin, et al., 1999, p.174).  Contrasting the pleasure orientation of French and Belgian eaters with the health focus of the Americans, Rozin suggests that the “epidemic of food worrying” here rather than our “healthier” lower fat diets may account for our higher rates of heart disease. 
Rozin also found that that “1/3 of a sample of Americans seek a totally fat-free (and hence, actually fatal) diet” (P. Rozin,  Bauer & Cantanse, 2003, p.132).   Frank Hu of the Harvard School of Public Health has written: “the low-fat campaign has been based on little scientific evidence and may have caused unintended public health consequences,” such as increasing rates of diabetes and obesity (Hu, Manson, & Willett, 2001, p.5). The decades-long admonition to avoid, limit and distrust an essential nutrient, fat, which has profound ties to both pleasure and satiety (Linden, 2011) is one example of an erroneous anti-pleasure idea which has profoundly shaped the prevailing American anxiety about food.
Viewing food “as much a poison as a nutrient, and eating almost as dangerous as not eating” (P. Rozin, et al., 1999, p. 164) might be connected to the observed increase in the national waistline, as well.  Dieting, a conscious effort to restrict the amount and type of food eaten bound to induce feelings of deprivation, has been consistently shown to promote both disordered eating and weight gain (Glassner, 2007; Tribole & Resch, 2003).  Bacon (2008a) observes that Americans “believe that healthy eating entails ‘watching our diets’ and fighting our desires…[this] is experienced as normal and appropriate by most people, and encouraged by health professionals—even though almost all dieters fail to reap the rewards that dieting is said to provide” (p.20).  Is it possible that the prevailing health versus pleasure dichotomy contributes to not only disordered eating but also stress, disease and obesity? Should nutritionists be teaching people to make peace with, or even to maximize, gustatory pleasure to promote both health and happiness?  If so, how might this be accomplished?
A provocative set of experiments conducted in the 1970s suggest that our enjoyment of food influences its nutritional impact.  Groups of Thai and Swedish women were served Thai and Swedish meals of known iron content, and each group both enjoyed, and absorbed more iron from, the meal of their own cultural heritage.  Iron absorption of the preferred meals was reduced by 70% when they were served pureed into an unpalatable paste (Hallberg, 1977). Another study found a 100% reduction in mineral absorption from a mineral drink when subjects were subjected to stressful conditions (two people talking simultaneously into each of their ears) while drinking it, compared to complete absorption when it was consumed in a relaxed state (Barclay, 1987). 
The antagonism between pleasure and health has deep roots in Western culture and has been traced from the Greek philosophers, through the development of Christianity (Coveney, 2006), to the ideology of the Puritan founders of this country (Kilwein, 1989).  It has influenced the evolution of the disciplines of both public health and nutrition, and profoundly shaped government policies and discourse around food (Warburton & Sherwood, 1996).  In his 1996 anthology examining The Functions of Pleasure, psychologist David Warburton opines: “in our society, health educators have become the new high priests of pleasure control with epidemiologists as their oracles,” (Warburton & Sherwood, 1996, p.9). The priest metaphor is echoed by Michael Pollan in his discussion of the dominant paradigm governing modern nutrition science.   Nutritionism holds that:
The key to understanding food is indeed the nutrient… [which is] invisible and slightly mysterious, [therefore] it falls to the scientists (and to the journalists through whom the scientists reach the public) to explain the hidden reality of foods to us.  In form this is a quasi-religious idea, suggesting that the visible world is not the one that really matters, which implies the need for a priesthood. (Pollan, 2008, p.28) 

Friday, May 9, 2014

Peak Eating Experiences (A Dissertation)

I'm emerging with the apple blossoms from a long period of writing, and Monday at last I turned in the final draft of my dissertation!  I'm now a hop, skip and jump away from receiving my doctorate in holistic nutrition from Hawthorn University.  Doing a distance-learning doctorate has been an amazing journey and has required tons of self-discipline.  The final stretch was greatly eased by switching to a standing desk (which fits nicely into my laundry room/office).  I wanted to share the introduction to the dissertation with you all, along with the abstract.  Comment if you are interested in reading more.
Meanwhile, it's off to the farmers' market for those ephemeral spring delights--new potatoes blanched and tossed with butter, fresh chives and dill, strawberries and raspberries scooping up creme fraiche and brown sugar, green garlic in anything, spring lamb, tender young peas eaten right out of the pod.


Worry and ambivalence, rather than enjoyment, tend to dominate American attitudes toward food and eating. While pleasure is an important motivator of eating, previous studies have not looked into what characterizes outstanding food experiences. The purpose of the study was to investigate the nature of people’s peak eating experiences, and to outline pedagogy of dietary pleasure for health educators.  Thirteen interviews were conducted, asking people to share their most pleasurable eating experiences as well as their ideas about what made them so outstanding. In addition, The Food and Pleasure Survey was created and completed by 173 subjects.  Content analysis revealed that the most pleasurable experiences people have with food tend to occur when eating a meal with others, freshly cooked and marked with layers of meaning derived from factors such as the source, setting, context, cultural tradition,  and personal relationships involved.  Multiple layers of meaning tend to synergize, increasing both the hedonic qualities of the food and the salience of the eating experience.   Techniques for enhancing gustatory pleasure are discussed.   

“Eating with the fullest pleasure—pleasure, that is, that does not depend on ignorance—is perhaps the profoundest enactment of our connection with the world.” (Berry, 1990).
While eating is indisputably one of life’s consistent joys, the topic of pleasure is rarely discussed in the nutrition field.  To Americans, eating healthfully is often equated with consuming bland, tasteless, salt- and fat-free food.  Michael Pollan blames nutritionists, in concert with the food industry and the government, for steering us away from the pleasures of good eating to and obsession with the nutrients, or lack of them, in our food (Pollan, 2008).  Cross-cultural research suggests that Americans tend to worry more about food, categorize food in terms of “good” and “bad,” and associate rich foods, such as chocolate cake, with guilt, rather than pleasure, more than those from other countries (Erbele, 2009; Glassner, 2007).   Worry, anxiety and ambivalence instead of joy characterize American feelings about food (P. Rozin, Fischler, Imada, Sarubin, & Wrzesniewski, 1999).  This conflation of nutrition and morality has deep roots in Western culture, traced by some commentators from the Greeks through the spread of Christianity to the Puritan colonists of North America (Coveney, 2006).
Scientific scrutiny of the connections between food and pleasure has focused primarily on negative aspects such as food addiction and the reward response to “unhealthy” foods that contain fat, sugar and salt (Epstein & Shaham, 2010; Linden, 2011; Tiger, 2000).  Recent research has shown that the obese may actually derive less pleasure from eating than the lean (Stice, 2011).  Lindeman (2000) reported that dieters who both emphasized ideological food choices and devalued pleasure were more likely to have eating disorders and negative body image than others (Lindeman & Stark, 2000).   Hallberg (1977) found that the hedonic qualities and response to food influenced nutrient absorption from meals (Hallberg, Bjorn-Rasmussen, Rossander, & Suwanik, 1977).  It seems that the cultivation of pleasure might be an important tool for health and weight management as well as for achieving happiness.  Moralistic and anti-pleasure attitudes about food could be fueling, in part, both the obesity epidemic and the increasing rates of diet-related disease observed today in the United States. 
      Intuitive eating and mindfulness-based approaches to eating offer alternatives to the dieting mentality and nutritional moralism. They also consciously connect people with the pleasure inherent in eating, teaching people how to increase the satisfaction they get from eating by optimizing the circumstances in which they eat and exploring the sensual qualities of foods  (Roth, 2010; Tribole & Resch, 2003).  Such programs have been linked to lowered BMI, better moods and improved body image in diverse settings and populations (Albers, 2012).
Taking a cue from humanistic and positive psychology, the present study undertakes to understand the links between eating and pleasure by focusing on extremely positive or “peak experiences” with food and eating (Maslow, 1968; Morin, 1995).  It employs a survey which asks that participants describe two peak eating experiences and their thoughts about what made them so outstanding.  The survey and analysis are inspired by the work of Jack Morin, who investigated peoples’ peak sexual experiences and formulated a theory of eroticism described in his influential book The Erotic Mind (Morin, 1995).   Brain imaging demonstrates that the physiologic response to the pleasure of eating is quite similar to the way our brains respond to sexual pleasures (Georgiadis & Kringelbach, 2012).  As the capstone project of my studies in nutrition, I wish to counter the common anti-pleasure attitudes I have encountered among the health-minded, as well as bridge the gap between culinary and health-oriented approaches to food and eating.  The purpose of this study is at once hedonistic and didactic: to deepen the understanding and experience of the pleasures of eating, to learn how to cook and eat more pleasurably, and to elucidate a theory of gastronomic pleasure which will provide a basis for developing pedagogy of pleasure for health educators.   

Monday, March 17, 2014

Spring Flings

Spring officially arrives this week but in we've been feeling it here in Northern California for a few days now.  Warm weather, green grass, and the juices are flowing.  A little restlessness is normal as it pushes us to get into gear, and move out the stagnation of winter.  Spring produce, like baby beets, fennel, arugula, asparagus, kumquats and the first strawberries, will support our desires to lighten up. So will making a batch of Green Soup.

Spring is also a great time to indulge in dairy products and eggs, which get more nutritious at this time of year from the new green grass the animals are eating.  This weekend, we enjoyed one of my favorite childhood desserts--the year's first strawberries, dipped in homemade crème fraîche and brown sugar.  The rest of the crème fraîche we are shaking into cultured butter and buttermilk tonight, to be made into Irish Soda Bread to enjoy along with our homemade corned beef and a glass of Guinness in honor of St. Patrick's day.  If you are still shy about enjoying full-fat dairy products, check out this new research that shows that full-fat dairy may actually  protect us against weight gain and heart disease.  And cultured dairy is a source of probiotics and less dampening to your system from the Chinese medical point of view (in fact it nourishes the yin).

Crème fraîche is wonderful stirred into braised leeks or sweet spring onions, creating a decadent tasting side dish for chicken or pork or something to crack a couple eggs into to cook up into a spring brunch.  You can also drain it, as in making yogurt cheese, to make your own marscapone.

Crème Fraîche
This easily made cultured cream has a wonderful mild flavor and will add probiotics, beneficial fats, and enzymes to any dish calling for cream, milk, yogurt, or sour cream. It can also be whipped and used as a dessert topping, or drained as in making yogurt cheese, above, to make your own mascarpone. Be sure to use cream from cows that have been fed on pasture, and enjoy it in the spring for the biggest concentration of fat-soluble vitamins such as A and D.  Recipe from Real Food All Year.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups
1 tablespoon organic buttermilk, crème fraîche, or plain yogurt
1 1/2 cups organic heavy (whipping) cream
Place the buttermilk in a pint jar, and add the cream. Gently stir together, cap, and allow to ferment in a warm place (such as on top of the refrigerator) for 1 to 2 days, until the crème fraîche begins to firm. Store in the refrigerator, and consume within 2 weeks.

Cultured Butter
(Recipe by Vanessa Barrington, adapted with permission from her wonderful book, DIY Delicious)
Cultured butter is really just crème fraîche whipped into butter and washed. It’s great fun to make flavored butters out of your own cultured butter. Add flaky sea salt, chopped anchovies, and/or garlic to top grilled fish or toss with vegetables or beans. Honey butter is wonderful for biscuits and muffins. All you do it work the flavorings into the butter to taste while it’s soft. Making small batches is best because homemade butter doesn’t keep as long as store bought.

1 1/2 cups crème fraîche
Sea salt or other flavorings as desired

Pour the crème fraîche into a medium bowl and, using a hand-held mixer, on medium-low speed; begin whipping the crème fraîche as if you were making whipped cream. Stop every now and then to scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula. As the crème fraîche thickens, increase the speed to medium-high. When it’s just past the stage of a stiff whipped cream, the crème fraîche will become yellow and separate into clumps. At this point, decrease the speed to medium-low or you’ll run the risk of spraying buttermilk all over. After this point, the butter will quickly solidify and separate fully from the buttermilk. The whole process takes 8-10 minutes. When the butter seems to have given off all the buttermilk it is going to, pour off the buttermilk and save it. (It’s truly delicious to drink and it’s also great to use for baked goods). Push the butter against the sides of the bowl with a flexible spatula to get it to give up all the buttermilk possible, and pour it off.

Pour cool water into the bowl with the butter and work it around with a spatula. Pour off the water. Wash the butter two or three times until the water runs clear. This step is a must, as unwashed butter will spoil quickly.

Transfer the butter to a sheet of parchment and work it for a minute or so with the spatula to press out any additional water. Pat dry and then use the spatula to work in any salt or flavorings. Transfer to a clean dish, cover, and refrigerate for up to 5 days, or freeze for up to 2 months. Don’t leave the butter out at room temperature, as it will spoil.

COMING SOON: Delve deeper into nutrition with my day long class in Nutrition for the Summer Season, in Berkeley on March 29th, for acupuncturists, students and interested lay people.  Or try one of my hands-on fermentation classes in April and June (see sidebar for my 2014 calendar).