Bitter Medicine for Good Digestion
One missing component of modern diets that is so crucial for good digestion is the bitter taste. I have written about bitters before, because I am so passionate about them, but I wanted to dig in a bit more today and give a recipe you can make at home, too!
The increase in processed foods over the past century or so, paired with a decreased intake of wild plant foods, has made the consumption of bitter foods today extremely low compared to traditional diets. Our ancestors had robust, diverse palates and bitter-tasting plant foods were commonplace and even desirable to them for their health benefits. By contrast, most people today are so limited in what foods and flavors they seek, that now bitter foods are not as appealing. Modern eaters are mostly seeking out sweet and savory flavors above all, leaving bitter behind. There are a few areas in which bitter has not only remained in the modern diet, but has even thrived in recent years: alcohol (think hoppy IPA's or bitter liqueurs for cocktails), chocolate (love that 80% dark chocolate!), and coffee (Starbucks is doing just fine). The acceptance of these foods, even if they shouldn't be staples in the diet, does give me hope that people may be ready to enjoy more bitter foods again.
Why is this change in bitter food consumption important? This shift matters because foods that offer these bitter flavors, and even the bitter taste itself, are important in supporting gut health. So many people struggle with poor digestion now, because of the assault on our bodies from modern foods, stress, pollution, and more, and we need to look to traditional wisdom to turn this trend around. I like to emphasize adding in what is missing in the modern diet in order to promote better digestive, and overall, health, rather than focus too much on elimination. Along with probiotic-rich fermented foods and collagen-rich bone broths, adding in more bitter foods is the perfect way to add balance to the modern diet and get us back to our wild food roots.
What Are Bitters? How Do They Benefit Digestion?
The bitter taste is found mostly (but not exclusively) in plant foods, and this notable flavor comes from various chemical compounds, such as alkaloids, that are present in the plants. These compounds are detected by the bitter taste receptors, signaling digestion and movement throughout the body. "Bitter" is the only taste with receptors throughout the digestive system, not just on the tongue in taste buds.
These compounds work by signaling stimulation, increasing efficiency in metabolic processes and detoxification. By challenging the body, especially the liver, bitters increase resilience against toxins and other assaults from the outside world. The bitter taste is heralded for promoting digestion, helping to decrease bloating, gas, nausea, and heartburn, improve liver detoxification, balance the microbiome, and promote regular bowel movements. Besides its benefit to digestion, the bitter flavor has also been associated with regulating blood sugar and increasing satiety after meals, which can help promote weight management.
The bitter taste can be incorporated into the diet either through foods, beverages, or herbs. These can range from mildly bitter, such as ginger, chamomile or fennel, to strongly bitter, such as radicchio, orange peel or dandelion root. The peels of many fruits and vegetables offer bitterness, so leaving these on whenever possible is an easy way to add more bitter to the diet. Both in cooking and herbal remedies, the bitter taste is often balanced with other flavors--such as sweet, acidic, or aromatic-to increase palatability but also to provide other benefits these different herbs may offer.
What Are Digestive Bitters and How Do You Make Them?
Many foods and herbs offer us the digestive benefit of the bitter taste, but the term "bitters," or "digestive bitters" is typically used to describe an herbal extract made from bitter herbs. This is usually in the form of a tincture, where the herbs are extracted in alcohol, which is then used medicinally to soothe and improve digestion. You may see them under the names "bitters, "digestive bitters," or "Swedish bitters" on store shelves.
While there are many great store-bought bitters out there, such as the brand Urban Moonshine, I am all about DIY herbal medicine. Making your own tincture from dried herbs is really easy and can be done with many herbal remedies, not just bitters. If you follow a basic formula, you can make extracts from a variety of herbs, empowering yourself to improve and protect your own health.
I use a basic tincture formula for my bitters, which I learned from various sources, including Richo Cech's book "Making Plant Medicine." There are other methods out there, such as the "folk method," which doesn't use exact measurements, but I prefer the method I will outline below that uses weight and volume measurements for more precision. The formula I use to make tinctures from dried herbs is this: weigh out dried, cut and sifted herbs (not powders, fresh herbs or large pieces of dried herbs) in grams; use a ratio of 1 part dried herbs (in grams) to 5 parts alcohol (in mL) to figure out how much alcohol you need for extraction; measure your alcohol by volume in milliliters; cover your herbs with the alcohol in a jar, shake regularly to macerate and let sit to extract for about 1 month; once extracted, strain the herbs and use the tincture.
I use a simple kitchen scale to weigh my herbs and, other than some dropper bottles for storing the prepared tincture, that is about the only special equipment you really need. For the alcohol menstruum (extracting liquid), you can use good quality vodka or a 50/50 blend of high-proof grain alcohol (around 190 proof alcohol such as Everclear). Alcohol, and not just water, is necessary to use for the menstruum, as many of the bitter compounds are fat-soluble, and must be extracted using alcohol.
Some of my other favorite herbs to use in bitters formulas (other than the ones in my recipe below) include:
How to Make Cardamom-Black Pepper Digestive Bitters
The particular blend of herbs in my Cardamom-Black Pepper Bitters is amazing because it combines sweet and spicy, along with the decidedly bitter flavor, for the perfect flavor balance. This formula is great to use as-is whenever digestive upset or discomfort arises, but also goes great in cocktails or mocktails, adding a burst of bitter and aromatic flavors to your favorite beverage. Even just a few drops in sparkling mineral water makes quick digestif for any time of the day.
To use these bitters medicinally (or as otherwise advised by herbalist or healthcare provider), take 10-30 drops directly on the tongue or dissolved in a few ounces of water. To add to a beverage, add 1/2-1 dropper-full of bitters to a cocktail or other beverage for a bitter flavor bomb.
Recipe: Cardamom-Black Pepper Digestive Bitters
Makes about 1 quart of tincture
28 grams whole cardamom pods, crushed
28 grams whole black peppercorns
28 grams dried orange peel
28 grams Oregon grape root
28 grams gentian root
28 grams cinnamon bark (can be in chips or whole sticks)
28 grams yarrow, aerial parts not roots
Menstruum (alcohol-based extracting liquid):
980 milliliters vodka (or 490 mL each 190-proof grain alcohol and water for a 50/50 blend)
1. Place the dried herbs in a half gallon-sized glass jar.
2. Pour the alcohol or alcohol/water mixture over the herbs. Tightly screw on the jar lid.
Shake the mixture for several minutes to combine and macerate. Label with the ingredients and date, then set on the counter or in a cabinet, away from direct sunlight.
3. Shake the container daily (or at least every couple of days, whenever you remember to do it!) for a few minutes, to macerate and infuse your liquid with the herbal constituents. Let the herbs infuse, shaking daily, for at least 1 month. You can let it sit longer if you prefer.
4. When ready to strain and use, shake vigorously one last time. Pour the mixture through a mesh strainer to collect the liquid and separate out the used herbs. Use a gloved hand to gently squeeze the herbs, releasing any liquid they may have stored in them. Discard the herbs (compost, etc.) after pressing.
5. Cover the jar of liquid (your tincture) and let sit overnight. Then, pour this mixture through a coffee filter, tea towel you don't mind staining, or fine mesh strainer; this removes any more solids or "sludge" that may have settled. This step is not totally necessary, but will result in a tincture with very little solid residue left behind and a nice, clear liquid.
6. This final tincture can be stored in a glass jar or decanted into individual amber dropper bottles, making it easy to use whenever needed. Clearly label your vessels, whichever you choose to use for storage, with the contents and date. Tinctures made in this way will keep for several years.
Want to Dig Deeper?
If you are interested in learning more about gut health and even need a little help on your gut-healing journey, go to my online health coaching and nutrition counseling website, www.laurapoerd.com, where you can schedule a free 15-minute discovery call or book a package to work with me!
If you are wanting to nerd out more about bitters and herbal medicine, I highly suggest the work of Guido Mase. His books "The Wild Medicine Solution" and "DIY Bitters" (the latter written with herbalist Jovial King) both go in-depth into the science of bitters, characteristics of various bitter herbs and offer many recipes for making your own bitters at home.
Here's a toast to both the bitter and the sweet that life (and foods) have to offer!
I don't know if it is because of my Scottish heritage or not, but I absolutely love oats. There are so many wonderful uses for this whole grain, whether it is in my homemade soaked granola, oatmeal raisin cookies, used as the binder in a organ meat-rich meatloaf, or this nutrient-dense version of a breakfast favorite: oatmeal. A bowl of oatmeal for breakfast is warm and comforting, perfect for this time of year. I love that you can make a batch of oatmeal all your own, adding whatever spices, fruit, nuts or sweeteners you like.
Commercial oatmeal is made with quick-cooking oats, usually destined for the microwave, and is typically packed with way too much sugar. All of these are big no-no's in my kitchen, so I like to make oatmeal my own way, adding as much nutrition as possible. In my version, I use thick-cut rolled oats that are soaked overnight before cooking for improved digestibility and then "supercharge" the oatmeal by adding gelatin for collagen-based protein, natural sweeteners and healthy fats. I typically add fruit like apples or raisins, along with some soaked and toasted nuts for some extra flavor, texture, and nutrients as well.
Despite adding gelatin and nuts for a protein boost, I do still like to serve a side dish of something really protein-rich such as sausage, scrambled eggs or Greek yogurt to create a nicely-balanced breakfast that will keep you full and satisfied for hours.
Oatmeal does not have to just be made into a sweet breakfast, as it can be made into a savory dish as well. If you omit the fruit, spices and sweetener, subbing in savory herbs instead, you have a whole new type of oatmeal on your hands. This can be used much like grits or polenta, topping this savory porridge with crumbled sausage or bacon, a fried egg, sauteed greens, or shredded cheese for simple and hearty meal.
Don't forget, oatmeal, sweet or savory, does not have to just be a breakfast food! Use herb-y, cheesy oatmeal as a side dish with dinner instead of rice or potatoes, or treat yourself to a little breakfast-for-dinner with a bowl of lightly sweetened, spiced, fruity oatmeal with some crispy bacon on the side.
Try different add-ins, spices or even different types of fats to make this your own unique oatmeal using whatever you have on hand, or even be so bold as to serve your oatmeal plain with just a pinch of salt and pat of butter. Go nuts--the world is your oatmeal! I mean, oyster. (Which you could totally put in savory oatmeal. Ok, I'm done.)
Supercharged Soaked Oatmeal with Gelatin
2 cups thick-cut rolled oats (not instant and not steel-cut)
Water for soaking
Pinch of sea salt
1 Tbs plain yogurt or kefir
3 cups water
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 Tbs gelatin powder (such as Great Lakes brand) plus 1/4 cup water
2 Tbs coconut oil or butter
2 Tbs maple syrup or sweetener of your choice
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp allspice or other warm, sweet spice such as ginger or nutmeg
1/2 cup raisins or other dried fruit
1/4 cup toasted nuts or seeds, such as pumpkin seeds or walnuts
Milk or heavy cream for serving
The night before you make your oatmeal, prepare it by soaking. Put the oats in a bowl and add enough water to cover the oats, with a few extra inches of water covering them to allow for expansion while soaking. Add the salt and kefir/yogurt, stirring to dissolve. Cover with a cloth and let sit on the counter overnight.
In the morning, drain the oats through a fine mesh strainer and discard the soaking water.
Add the oats to a medium-sized saucepan. Add the water and salt, and bring to a boil over medium heat. While this comes to a boil, dissolve the gelatin powder in the 1/4 cup water in a small bowl, setting aside to bloom.
Once boiling, reduce the oats to low heat and add the oil/butter, sweetener, spices, and dissolved gelatin. Let cook for about 15 minutes, until the liquid has reduced and the oatmeal has thickened to your liking--if you like it thinner, let it cook for less time and more time for a thicker oatmeal.
Add in the fruit and nuts, letting it cook another 5 minutes or so to soften and warm the add-ins.
Serve the oatmeal topped with a bit of cream or milk if desired.
As I am writing this, the sky is utterly grey and the season's first snow is falling from the sky. Though I had already planned on writing about vitamin D this week, today's weather gives me a greater sense of urgency when wanting to discuss its significance. Vitamin D is best known for its association with the sun and, as the amount of sunlight wanes and our layers of warm clothes increase this time of year, now is prime time to dig into vitamin D.
A study from 2012 shows that vitamin D deficiency affects 50% of the worldwide population, with other studies suggesting about a 40% deficiency rate seen in U.S. adults. Many suggest even higher deficiency rates for different populations, including the elderly, infants, those with darker skin complexions, certain medical conditions and those with religious beliefs that preclude more covered skin. There is probably an even higher rate of deficiencies that have not been diagnosed, or even sub-clinical deficiencies for a large percentage of the population. This would mean their blood values of vitamin D may not be low enough to show up as a clinical deficiency, but are too low to support robust long-term health. For a vitamin that comes freely from the sun, this is a staggering rate of deficiency to me. I would venture to guess that there is even more prevalence of insufficient vitamin D now that people are staying at home all the time!
The Role of Vitamin D
Vitamin D plays a number of physiological roles, often acting as hormone to influence various systems and cellular functions in the body. Vitamin D is probably best known for its impact on bone health, as it is needed for proper absorption of calcium and balancing calcium and phosphorus levels. Besides supporting healthy bones and teeth, it also has been linked to heart health, improved immune function and resistance to cancer, blood sugar regulation and thyroid function, as well as mood and mental health (including Seasonal Affective Disorder). With all of these roles it can play in the body, it is easy to see why we must address the high rate of deficiency in this vitamin.
Having sub-optimal vitamin D levels over a long period of time can lead to issues and disruptions in all of the systems mentioned above. Vitamin D deficiency also increases mortality, as an independent risk factor, so addressing deficiency is clearly important to address long-term health, but deserves attention in the short-term as well. If vitamin D is extremely low, especially during periods of growth such as childhood, one could develop conditions such as tetany or rickets. Tetany causes muscle twitching and spasms, while rickets causes softening and weakening of the bones, which can lead to problems with growth and even walking. Rickets is rarely seen in the developed world, as most milk is now fortified with it. However, inadequate intakes that are enough to prevent rickets, but not enough to promote optimal health, are very common. Getting too much vitamin D, on the other hand, can also cause health problems such as soft tissue calcification or excess calcium in the blood. Excessive vitamin D would typically be caused by over-supplementing, however, not from sunbathing too much.
The Sunshine Vitamin
Vitamin D has gotten its nickname as "the sunshine vitamin" due to the fact that we can get a significant amount from sun exposure, as our bodies convert the UV light into this vitamin when it comes into contact with our skin. But it is just that easy? A little bit of sun and you get all the vitamin D you need? Well, it is a bit more complicated than that.
There are some special considerations when determining if you are able to get adequate vitamin D through sun exposure or if you may need to amend the sunshine with food and supplements. One of these is the timing and quality of sun exposure. For the optimal amount of sun for vitamin D synthesis, you would want as much skin exposed to the sun as possible during midday (around the noon hour). This would mean that if you were mostly clothed or if your sun exposure was early in the morning or later in the afternoon, you may not be optimizing your sun exposure for vitamin D. The amount of sun needed for optimal vitamin D synthesis depends on your skin tone and sun tolerance.
Those with lighter skin tones need less sunshine to synthesize vitamin D, while darker skin tones need more, as the melanin in the skin inhibits the conversion of UV rays to vitamin D. Lighter-skinned people can get adequate sun for vitamin D if they sunbathe or have some skin exposed, just up until they begin to turn pink. If you start to burn, you have overdone it, and in fact, have maxed out how much vitamin D you can make at that point. This could be 10-30 minutes, depending on how sun tolerant someone is. For darker-skinned people, they would likely need a much longer stint in direct sunlight, which could even be up to an hour or more, to synthesize adequate amounts of vitamin D in the skin.
One kicker with sun exposure, no matter the melanin content of the skin, is that time of year and latitude will affect the quality of sunlight for making vitamin D. For example, those in Northern climates during the winter time will absorb less vitamin D from the sun, even if they do get out in the sunshine midday, as the UVB rays are not as strong during the winter. Also, if you are in a colder climate, more of your body will be covered due to the weather, so less skin is exposed overall, decreasing the vitamin D synthesis potential at that time as well.
Besides melanin and clothing--especially dark clothing-- other barriers that block UV rays, thus preventing vitamin D synthesis in the skin, include: sunblock, shade, clouds, air pollution, and windows. So, if you had any hopes of throwing on sunblock and hitting the beach to soak up some vitamin D, you will need a new strategy. To balance the need for direct sunlight on the skin with the need to not burn, get your midday sun for a shorter amount of time, stopping before you start to get pink. Then, you can use some sort of sun protection such as shade, clothing, or a chemical-free sunblock to prevent burning if you would like to continue to enjoy the outdoors midday. Sitting in the window on a sunny day or sunbathing on a cloudy day won't cut it, either; finding other ways to get your vitamin D needs met may be necessary if you have limited access to midday sun on a regular basis, burn easily, or if you live in a Northern climate during the winter.
What about winter?
If those of us in Norther climates can't get enough sunlight in the colder months for adequate vitamin D synthesis, then what do we do? We would take a lesson from those who have lived in these areas for centuries, and turn to food. There are a few food sources of vitamin D3 (the more bioavailable form of vitamin D), which are all ancestral, animal-based foods. Having adequate fat in the diet is necessary for proper vitamin D absorption from food sources, so consuming a diet rich in unprocessed fats is a good place to start.
Animal foods have provided vitamin D to those in Northern, colder climates well before there were capsules available to buy at the store and it is time to consider these the superfoods that they really are.
Some of the best food sources of vitamin D3 include:
It is important to remember that the animals must be raised outdoors, with plenty of sun exposure themselves, for the food they provide to have adequate amounts of vitamin D. There are many foods that are enriched with vitamin D, such as almost all milk sold in the U.S., but obtaining as much of your vitamin D intake from food sources as you can is ideal.
Who is at risk for deficiencies?
As discussed above, there are huge amounts of the world's population that are deficient or insufficient in this essential vitamin. Though we can synthesize vitamin D from the sun and have multiple food sources available, this continues to be worldwide health issue, which some refer to as "pandemic" level. Some populations are more at-risk for this deficiency, however. Because the sun is once of our best sources, those with limited sun exposure are at a very high risk of deficiency, as well as those who would be unable to get adequate amounts from the diet, such as those consuming a modernized diet.
Here are some of those groups most at-risk:
Do I need a supplement?
For those in any of the high-risk groups listed above, supplementation of vitamin D is often needed to have adequate levels in the body. With indoor lifestyles, diets rich in processed foods, and chronic health conditions afflicting so many, the modern way of living does not make it easy for almost anyone to get enough vitamin D through sun or food. Though supplements are frequently necessary, I do encourage starting with lifestyle modifications as much as possible and then supplementing if needed.
If you feel you are at-risk for low vitamin D, it is definitely worth getting labs drawn to determine your exact vitamin D status and supplementing as needed after that. The most common test for this is the 25(OH)D test (calcidiol), which optimally would fall between 30-50 ng/mL. There are other tests that can help determine your vitamin D status, and other factors that could cause an altered 25(OH)D result besides insufficient sun or dietary intake (such as chronic inflammation or inadequate calcium intake), but getting this drawn is a good place to start. Getting further assistance from your healthcare provider is, of course, part of the equation here as I am not giving you healthcare advice, just general information.
If you are deficient, as proven by labs, then supplementing may be necessary for you, as lifestyle and diet have likely not met your body's needs. When choosing a vitamin D supplement, no matter the dose, look for those labeled vitamin D3 for the best absorption. Choose those that come from natural sources, such as lanolin or cod liver, rather than synthetic sources. A vitamin D3 supplement with vitamin K2 added will also help with absorption, and these are becoming increasingly easy to find. Cod liver oil, either in liquid or capsules, also provides vitamin D in a food source, along with vitamin A and omega 3 fatty acids. Though this is a good choice for all of these reasons, the amount of vitamin D provided may vary by brand and processing method, so do some research before purchasing, especially if you need a higher dose of D3 due to a deficiency. If you are looking to consume a high dose of vitamin D3 (over 2000 IU) for whatever reason, then you should be getting your labs checked regularly by your doctor to avoid excessive vitamin D intake.
As we head into colder months, now is an essential time to shine some light on vitamin D in your life. Evaluate if you do (or even can) get enough from the sun these days, look at your intake of vitamin D-rich foods, and consider if getting labs drawn and adding a supplemental vitamin D3 source may be right for you. What better time to ensure you have the happiest and healthiest winter possible?
By far my favorite thing we grow in our garden are ground cherries. Also called cape gooseberry or husk cherry, are in the same family as tomatillos, and similarly have a husk encasing them as they grow. Once they are ripe, the ground cherries turn from light green to a rich yellow color. They will typically fall off of the vine and the husk will appear dry, being very easy to remove, much like a tomatillo.
Unlike the tomatillo, ground cherries are quite sweet and are perfect for turning into preserves or pie filling. While they are mostly sweet, these little nuggets of flavor have a bit of a savory quality to them, lending them well to roasting and adding to salsa, chutney or other savory sauces. They have a sweet flavor that, to me, tastes like vanilla, and they are wonderful either eaten raw as-is, or cooked and used in various dishes. I add a bit of vanilla to my preserves to complement those vanilla notes and I often add a bit of ginger as well for something different.
This recipe makes just 1 1/2 pints, but can easily be multiplied if you have an overload of ground cherries from your garden or farmer's market haul. If you do double or triple this and want longer-term storage, I recommend turning this into freezer jam. I don't have instructions on canning for this recipe, so freezing it is the safest bet if you make more than you can use in a couple of weeks.
Ground Cherry Preserves with Vanilla
Makes 1 1/2 pints
4 cups de-husked ground cherries
1/3 cup sugar/sweetener of your choice
1/2 cup water
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 Tbs lemon juice
Optional add-in: 1" fresh ginger, finely minced or 1/4 cup chopped crystallized ginger
1. Remove the husks from the ground cherries and rinse them to remove any dirt.
2. Place in a medium sauce pan and add the sugar, water and salt in the pan as well. If using ginger, add at this time. Turn to medium heat and bring to a boil.
3. Reduce the heat to low and let simmer until cooked down to about half of the original volume and the mixture becomes quite thick and jam-like. This should take about 30 minutes or so. While it simmers, stir frequently to prevent sticking or burning, and to help the ground cherries burst as they cook to release their stored juices.
4. Remove from the heat once thickened and stir in the vanilla and lemon juice. Let cool to room temperature before transferring to glass or other storage jars.
5. Refrigerate or freeze as desired. This will keep for 2-3 weeks in the fridge or several months in the freezer.
Is there anything better than coming in from swimming or playing outside in the summer and cooling off with a popsicle? Well, that certainly has been our jam in the last few weeks, and I have been loving it--swimming and popsicles may be the only things keeping me sane in the heat, to be honest. Of course, we are not going to buy those store-bought freezy pops full of corn syrup and food coloring (the ones I loved as a kid), but instead, I made a healthy version at home to satisfy our popsicle cravings.
The idea for the Watermelon Lemonade version of these homemade popsicles was a collaboration between the kiddo and myself (she was very proud!), and turned out not only to be delicious, but a super-hydrating recipe that is full of electrolytes in addition to delicious flavor. The watermelon provides potassium and the sea salt offers a bit of sodium, both helping to replenish us after sweating in the hot sun. If you use coconut water in lieu of water here, it adds even more electrolytes, including some magnesium as well.
I bought these DIY Flav-R-Ice/Otter Pop/ice pop bags online ( I got the Zipzicle brand), which are essentially long, skinny zip-top bags that you fill and freeze. I thought they were so cool, I just had to try them. These were so easy to use and made me reminisce about eating the neon-colored ones in my childhood, earning them bonus points. You should certainly try this recipe, but you can also fill these homemade popsicle molds with so many other combinations, such as pureed fruit and yogurt, other fruit/citrus combos like I made here, or even straight up coconut water, which turned out amazing! I may have to try some adult popsicles, too, with some iced coffee or cocktail versions...stay tuned for that!
This was so nice to have something homemade and healthy as a summertime treat, but was also great as a project to make with the kiddo. She even wanted to make a recipe card of our collaboration, which is about as sweet as can be! If your family is looking for a little project, I highly recommend giving this recipe a try--they will love to fill the little bags and see them change as they freeze over a few hours! Stay cool and hydrated, have fun, keep boredom at bay...what's not to love?
If you don't want to buy these ice pop-type of baggies, you can still totally make this recipe, just use any popsicle mold that you like. They also make silicone reusable versions of these ice pop molds if you prefer, although we washed and reused these zip-top versions a few times with no issues. Most popsicle molds hold much more volume, however, so you may want to double the recipe to make an entire batch if using a different type. Heck, you may want to double the recipe anyway, since these are likely to be eaten up quickly!
Healthy Watermelon-Lemonade Popsicles
Makes 6 Flav-R-Ice/Otter Pop-style popsicles
Juice of 1 lemon
2 Tbs raw honey
1/2 cup water or coconut water
3 cups diced watermelon
1 big pinch of sea salt
Optional: a few sprigs of fresh mint or basil
Place all ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth.
Pour into popsicle bags or molds up to the fill line. Be careful not to overfill, as the liquid expands as it freezes and can make the bag burst if overfilled (free science lesson involved!!). I used a small funnel to fill my bags, which made it a much easier, neater process, but is probably not a deal-breaker if you don't own one that fits in the bags.
Put into the freezer, letting them sit upright as they freeze, for about 3 hours or until they are completely frozen. Then, enjoy and be thankful it's summer!
Some of my favorite flavors from summer are strawberry and basil, and these come together beautifully in this Strawberry-Basil Shrub. A shrub is a lightly fermented syrup that is commonly used in cocktails as a mixer. Also known as a "drinking vinegar," shrub is made my making a fruit-and-sugar syrup (some do this by cooking it down, but I make mine with a short fermentation) added to vinegar to make a sweet and tart elixir full of flavor. Shrubs are to be used as a concentrate rather than to be sipped on their own, which is why they are perfect for cocktails to add a pop of acidity and sweetness. For the non-drinkers out there, shrubs also go great splashed into sparkling water or added into a mocktail recipe.
Shrubs can be made with any fruit, and I have made a tasty Rhubarb Shrub in the past that is a favorite around here, but you could use the same method with whatever fruit you have on hand. I love to make shrubs when I have some fruit that needs to be used up and is past its prime, but is still perfectly find to use. Other combinations I have made are pineapple-thyme, cranberry-ginger, raspberry, and apple spice. Since it summer is in full swing, I recommend blending herbs and berries to make the most refreshing mixer the season has to offer! Our garden gave us some beautiful strawberries and lots of fragrant basil, so this shrub was a no-brainer.
Makes 2-3 cups
1 quart strawberries, sliced (about 4 cups)
2 cups unrefined cane sugar
1 cup white wine vinegar (approximate)
1 cup red wine vinegar (approximate)
1/2 cup fresh basil, roughly chopped and packed
1. Combine sliced strawberries and sugar in a mixing bowl. Stir well to coat the strawberries with the sugar. Cover the bowl with a cloth to allow air flow.
2. Let this mixture sit at room temperature for 3-5 days, stirring once or twice a day to dissolve the sugar and keep the berries submerged in liquid. Check for mold when you stir as well.
3. The fruit mixture will be ready once it shows early signs of fermentation. It should begin to bubble and start to have a lightly fermented, acidic smell. Be sure to not let this over-ferment, or it can become quite boozy and lose a lot of the flavor you want in your shrub. The fermentation may only take a couple of days if your kitchen is quite warm, or a few extra if you keep it cooler.
4. Strain the macerated and fermented strawberries through a fine mesh strainer, pressing to get out as much juice as possible. Measure this liquid, then transfer it to a glass storage jar.
5. Add the basil to the strawberry juice. Add the vinegar in the amount equal to the volume of the strained juice, half white and half red wine vinegar. You should get about 2 cups of juice from this, so you would then add 2 cups of vinegar total, with 1 cup each of the two types of vinegar.
6. Stir the mixture well and let sit, covered with a lid, at room temperature 2-3 more days to infuse with the basil. Strain and transfer to a glass storage jar. Refrigerate before serving.
7. This will keep for about 6 months in the fridge. Serve 1-2 ounces of shrub in with your favorite cocktails, mocktails, sparkling water or even iced tea.
Sweet Summertime Strawberry-Basil Cocktail
2 Tbs fresh basil
2 ounces Strawberry Basil Shrub
4 ounces (2 shots) tequila
12 ounces sparkling water (can be mineral water or your favorite fizzy water brand...we use locally-produced Sparkle in the lemon or lime flavor but use your favorite flavored or plain mineral water)
6-8 drops Bitters
Pinch of salt (I like to use a nice flaky sea salt here)
Divide the fresh basil between the two cocktail glasses. Crush lightly with a muddler or wooden spoon to release its flavorful volatile oils. Add ice cubes to the glasses.
Combine the shrub, tequila, sparkling water and bitters in a pitcher or mason jar and stir well.
Pour the cocktails into the glasses over the ice, dividing evenly.
Add a squeeze of fresh lemon, a pinch of chunky sea salt, and serve.
Spending lots of time at home continues, as does more and more bread baking--hopefully sourdough bread! I did a previous post a while back on ways to use extra sourdough starer, by making sourdough pancakes, and I hope that you get to make lots of these tasty cakes topped with your favorite summer berries right about now. But if you are looking for more recipes to use your sourdough discard and, even better, a way to get your sourdough fix without turning on your oven in the summer heat, then this recipe is perfect. I absolutely love flour tortillas and, though we usually make corn tortillas for our go-to taco shell, sometimes a soft and chewy flour tortilla is what you want. Much like so many other foods we love, the store-bought versions of tortillas tend to be sub-par, both in quality and ingredients, so I usually like to make my own.
While corn tortillas may make a faster weeknight dinner, flour tortillas could be the perfect weekend cooking project. You could throw together a Sunday morning breakfast burrito bar or just make up a double batch to eat throughout the week. To be sure, the extra time and effort with fermentation and rolling is so worth it.
I played around with a few versions of sourdough tortillas, tweaking until I found one we loved. If you are interested, my version is adapted from recipes on the Ashley Marie Farm and Bakery and Butter for All blogs....both of those are amazing, so go check them out! In this version of homemade flour tortillas, you get the benefits of whole wheat, full of fiber and minerals like zinc and magnesium, along with the benefits of naturally-fermented grains by making these using sourdough starter. The addition of sourdough allows fermentation of the wheat for improved nutrient bioavailability and digestibility. I do toss in some unbleached white or high extraction flour to lighten these up, making them less dense and keeping a bit of that nostalgic tortilla flavor I dream of, but feel free to use all whole wheat here (or all white if you are feeling wild).
The other ingredient that really makes these tortillas stand apart from pre-made versions is the use of lard as the fat in the recipe, while commercial flour tortillas will use refined, processed oils such as soybean or canola. Lard provides a flaky texture that crisps up nicely when griddle-cooked (think the best quesadillas ever), plus it adds awesome flavor and a healthy fat profile. It is traditional to use lard in flour tortillas, but so many people have gone away from using this amazing animal fat in their cooking that real tortillas can be hard to find these days. If you haven't used lard in your cooking, this is a great recipe to start with. Check this post out that I wrote for the Mother Earth News blog to learn how to render your own lard at home!
In addition to the lard, I added in a bit of avocado oil as well, as the liquid oil lends flexibility in the tortillas. I tried some versions with all lard but they were so ricj and flaky that they bordered on pastry-like (which was delicious, I must say). This meant they weren't as pliable as I wanted, so I swapped out a bit of lard for avocado oil; you could use other liquid oil such as olive oil, but I like the high heat tolerance of avocado oil and its neutral flavor, letting the freshly ground wheat and home-rendered lard flavors shine.
Once you make these tasty wrappers, you can fill with whatever you like. Flour tortillas wrapped in shredded pork or sliced steak along with sauteed onions and peppers make a superb fajita, or fill with beans and cheese for a throwback burrito. My favorite has got to be soft scrambled eggs, bacon, cheese, and avocado for a killer breakfast burrito or taco, but I am sure you will find your favorite after you make these enough times!
Sourdough Whole Wheat Tortillas with Lard
Makes 12 burritos-sized or 18 taco-sized tortillas--feel free to double or triple for a mega tortilla batch!
1/2 cup bubbly, active sourdough starter
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup unbleached white flour or high-extraction flour
1 1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup lard
2 Tbs avocado oil
1/2 cup warm water (around 80 degrees F)
The evening before you plan to make your tortillas (or 6-8 hours prior to making them), feed your sourdough starter so that is active and ready to use in the morning.
To make your tortillas, combine the flours and sea salt in a mixing bowl and stir well to combine.
Cut in the cold lard, similarly to making a pie crust, using a fork or pastry cutter to combine the lard with the flour to create a wet sand-like texture. Be careful not to over-mix here.
Add in the active starter, avocado oil and warm water, and stir to combine. You will have a dough that is sticky and quite wet, but it will get less sticky as it ferments. Mix well to create a smooth dough, but do not knead the dough, as you want the end result to not be tough or chewy.
Place in a bowl and cover with a cloth. Let sit at room temperature for at least 8 hours, up to 12 hours. Cover the bowl with a lid and transfer the fermented dough to the fridge to cold ferment overnight, or at least 4-6 hours.
To cook the tortillas, remove from the fridge and divide into either 12 or 18 evenly-sized pieces, depending on how big you would like your tortillas to be. Roll each piece of dough into a ball and set aside.
Preheat your cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Prepare each tortilla for cooking by generously flouring your surface and rolling out a dough ball into a circle, about 1/8" thickness. Cook in the preheated skillet for 30-60 seconds per side. It should have some nice bubbles and a bit of browning when it is done cooking. Remove from the skillet and repeat with the rest of the tortillas. I like to roll one out while the other cooks, speeding up the process quite a bit.
If you plan to serve these right away, keep warm by wrapping in a tea towel or store in a tortilla warmer until ready to serve.
To store, keep in an airtight bag in the fridge, where they will stay fresh for up to a week. You can also make a larger batch and store in the freezer for longer-term storage, up to a few months.
When you follow a real food diet, it can sometimes be tough to find variety in your breakfast options, especially for those that are needing something quick and easy. Sure, eggs, sourdough toast, and bacon are all healthy and delicious breakfast foods, but sometimes you just want something different. Unfortunately, the vast majority of ready-to-eat items available at the grocery store (even health food stores!) are highly processed and do not fit into a traditional foods diet. Foods like cereal and granola are typically not welcome in our house, as they are made with refined grains and contain a lot of added sugars. My solution: I make our own homemade granola to have on hand for a quick breakfast or snack, and it has been a huge hit. The difference between this granola and the store-bought version is that this is made using soaked grains and is sweetened with just a bit of maple syrup, unlike the pre-made types that can be loaded with sugar and refined oils. I also soak the nuts in the granola before toasting them, which provides the same health benefits as soaking the oats. I use raisins, dried cranberries, and walnuts in this recipe, but feel free to use whatever dried fruits and nuts you like or have on hand.
When grains and nuts are prepared through soaking, just as in sprouting or souring, their content of anti-nutrients, such as phytates and lectins, are decreased significantly. These traditional preparation methods make the grains easier to digest and their minerals more available to the body. Oats can be a nutrient-dense food when prepared this way, and I soak them before turning into this tasty granola or even soak overnight before making oatmeal. When Weston A. Price traveled to Scotland to study their traditional diets, he found they ate a great deal of oats that were properly prepared, both in sweet and savory dishes, and the people there enjoyed extremely robust health. I like to include them in our diet because of their high content of soluble fiber, which feeds the beneficial bacteria in the gut, acting as a prebiotic. They are also delicious and everyone in our house loves to have them every once in a while to mix up our breakfast options.
This recipe can be intimidating because of the extra steps with soaking and such, but it really comes together easily and I encourage you to give it a shot. Many of the ingredients can be prepped while the oats bake, so it actually takes less time than it seems!
Serve this on homemade yogurt, kefir or raw milk (I like to mix it up with my dairy options), or eat it as-is for a quick, crunchy snack. If you have a lot of mouths to feed, go ahead and double this recipe to have extra on hand.
Homemade Soaked Granola
Makes about 6 cups
3 cups rolled oats (not quick oats)
1 Tbs yogurt or kefir
1/2 tsp sea salt
Water to cover
1 cup walnuts (can sub any nut or seed you like)
Pinch of sea salt
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
Water to cover
3 Tbs coconut oil
3 Tbs maple syrup
1 tsp sea salt
1 Tbs cinnamon powder
1/2 cup each raisins and dried cranberries (or 1 cup dried fruit of your choice, such as chopped figs or dates)
1 cup shredded, unsweetened coconut
1. The night before (or 8-12 hours) you plan to make your granola, soak your oats. To soak, place the oats, yogurt, and salt in a medium bowl. Add enough water to cover with a few extra inches to allow for the oats to expand. Cover with a cloth and let sit at room temperature.
2. Just like the oats, the nuts need to be soaked prior to cooking as well. Place the nuts in a small bowl or jar with the salt and apple cider vinegar. Cover with water and let sit for 8-12 hours (or more) on the counter.
3. When you are ready to make your granola, preheat the oven to 325 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
4. Drain the oats through a mesh strainer and let them sit to strain for up to 30 minutes, allowing them to drain off as much water as possible.
5. Mix the drained oats with the coconut oil, maple syrup, salt, and cinnamon, then spread on the baking sheet. Bake for about 90 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the oats are crunchy and the moisture has all baked off.
6. While the oats bake, drain the soaked nuts, allowing them to sit in the strainer for 10 minutes or so to let them dry out a bit. Heat a dry skillet over medium heat, then add the nuts and let toast for about 5 minutes until lightly brown. Be sure to keep an eye on these to prevent burning. Remove from the heat and let cool.
7. Once cooled, chop the nuts and transfer to a mixing bowl. Add the dried fruit and shredded coconut.
8. Once the oats are done, remove from the oven and let them cool to room temperature.
9. Add the cooled oats to the fruit and nut mix, stirring to create a relatively uniform mixture.
10. Transfer the granola to a glass jar or other storage container. This will keep for about a week at room temperature. If you are needing longer-term storage, keep this in the fridge to extend its shelf life and prevent rancidity in the nuts.
Our lovely chickens are doing their jobs, giving us countless opportunities to figure out ways to use more eggs in our cooking. Pretty much every meal has to have some eggs in it, or we get seriously backlogged on our inventory. While this egg salad may not be a necessarily new or creative way to use up lots of eggs, it certainly has become on of our lunchtime favorites. And, now that almost all of our lunches are eaten at home these days, I am always looking for something different and delicious to serve.
With that, here is my version of egg salad. I have said it many times and will again...I love any mayo-based salad and they continue to be some of my most crave-able foods. This version of egg salad may be a bit different than what you are used to. Instead of a fairly uniform, smooth texture, my style is chunky with plenty of texture from roughly chopped eggs, plus a super creamy dressing and plenty of fresh herbs to balance out all of the richness from the mayonnaise. I like mine schmeared on toasted sourdough served open-faced or as a sandwich on a soft, sprouted wheat bun. This also makes a great dip for whole grain crackers or veggie sticks, but would also go well served on a heaping pile of salad greens or straight up out of a bowl. Use whatever fresh herbs you like and/or have on hand and, of course, use the best quality eggs possible for the most nutrient-density in this tasty lunchtime favorite.
Chunky, Herby Egg Salad
6 eggs (use pastured, organic eggs for the most nutrition possible)
3-4 Tbs mayonnaise (use a good quality mayo, such as one with avocado oil, or homemade)
2 Tbs plain, whole milk yogurt or sour cream
2 tsp dijon mustard
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp pickle juice
1 dill pickle, finely diced--about 2 Tbs
2 Tbs chives or scallions, finely chopped
1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley (or other herbs), roughly chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp sea salt, or to taste
Big pinch black pepper
To make the eggs:
The first step in making egg salad is to properly hard-boil your eggs. What I have found to work the best is to put the eggs in the pan with cold water and a big pinch of salt. Bring the water to a boil, then cover the pan and turn off the heat. Let sit for 12 minutes in the hot water. While this sits, prepare an ice bath (lots of ice with enough water to make it submerge-able) for the eggs. After 12 minutes, drain the eggs and toss them into the prepared ice bath. Let sit until cooled.
Gently peel and rinse the eggs.
To prepare the egg salad:
Cut the hard boiled eggs in half lengthwise, and then roughly chop them. I like my egg salad with big, chunky pieces in it, but if you prefer egg salad with a smoother texture, feel free to chop away.
In a mixing bowl, whisk together the mayo, yogurt, mustard, lemon juice and pickle juice.
Add the chopped eggs, pickle, chives/scallions, parsley, garlic, salt and pepper to the sauce. Mix well to combine, lightly mashing the yolks as you stir to thicken the mixture.
Taste and adjust salt and/or pepper as needed.
Refrigerate to chill before serving. This will keep for 2-3 days in the fridge.
With folks staying at home with more time to cook and experiment in the kitchen, many are turning to sourdough bread baking as their new hobby. I am thrilled about this, as I think sourdough bread is the most nutritious form of bread we have available and making things yourself is an important value to me. With this renewed interest in traditionally-leavened bread, however, comes the issue of what to do with the sourdough discard. If you have cared for a sourdough starter before, then you are likely familiar with the feeding process of your little sourdough pet: you discard half of the starter, then feed it equal parts flour and water. This can be done daily for regular bakers or, in my case, one to times per week for less frequent baking. For the rest of the time, the starter is stored in the refrigerator until I am ready to feed it and bake with it. The discarding prior to feeding is done to keep your starter at a reasonable size (if you never discarded and did not bake with large amounts of starter, it would just get bigger and bigger!) and to keep microbial balance in the starter as well. If you are going through the steps of discarding and feeding daily, then you are going to be finding yourself tossing out quite a bit of sourdough starter. Not only is this unnecessary, but is also incredibly wasteful, which nobody wants, especially right now.
My strategies to reduce this food waste and continue to use as much of what I can from all of my kitchen projects are these:
1) Keep the starter in the fridge for the majority of the time, as mentioned above. Unless you bake bread daily or every other day, you do not need to keep your starter at room temperature and feed it everyday. Refrigerating the starter between bread bakes helps reduce the waste of regular discarding and feeding, plus it helps save on flour costs and helps keep it alive for longer in case you forget to feed it or need to leave for a few days. To "wake up" the starter before baking with it, simply feed it a bit of flour and water until it becomes bubbly and active, then it is ready to be used as leavening.
2) Keep a smaller amount of starter on hand. You really only need a small amount of starter at any given time to keep in your "reserves," at least for most home bakers. I typically have 1/4 to 1/2 cup of happy, healthy starter at any given time. Then, I feed it equal parts flour and water a few hours before use and any discard created will only be a small amount.
3) Save your discard to give away to others to start their own sourdough bread baking. I love the tradition of passing on starters and SCOBYs from one person to another, carrying on the magic of fermentation and keeping folks connected through food, which is important for us humans! I always like to keep a bit of extra starter on hand, as I always have people asking me for some, and now is the perfect time to keep up this tradition.
4) Use that discard in a delicious recipe! This is the most important strategy, I believe, because some amount of discard is always going to happen with regular sourdough feeding and baking. Instead of tossing that (even small amount of) discard in the trash or compost, save it in its own jar in the fridge to be used later. You can keep adding to this with each feeding and, when you get enough, use it in a recipe where a strong, active starter, such as you would use in bread baking, is not necessarily needed. You could also use the discard right away in a recipe, making it just after feeding your starter, instead of storing it in the fridge. If storing in the fridge, I like to let the discard warm up to room temperature before using in a recipe. Examples of recipes that are perfect for discard include: waffles, quick breads (such as banana bread or cornbread), cakes and cookies, scones and biscuits, and pancakes, both sweet and savory. I have also heard of folks who use the discard in a batter for deep-frying, but I have not ventured into that wonderland...yet.
With so many different ways to use your leftover starter (and so much time to cook right now), I am hopeful that you are inspired to never toss out perfectly good sourdough starter again. Might I suggest your first discard recipe be pancakes...to inspire you even further, below is my recipe for Sourdough Pancakes that I think you will love.
For the overnight build:
1/2 cup sourdough starter discard--can be active or straight from the fridge
1 cup warm water (about 75 F)
1 1/2 cups flour (can be whole wheat, white, spelt, or a combination of flours)
For the batter:
3 eggs, whisked lightly
1/4 cup milk
4 Tbs melted butter, cooled
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tbs real maple syrup
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
Pinch of cinnamon
2 tsp apple cider vinegar or lemon juice
Optional add-ins: berries, chopped nuts, bananas, dark chocolate chips
Butter for cooking the pancakes
1. The night before you plan to make pancakes (if making them for breakfast; otherwise, do this 4-8 hours before pancake time):
Stir together the starter, water, and flour in a bowl. Cover with a cloth and let sit on the counter overnight.
2. In the morning, or just prior to making the cakes:
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, melted butter, vanilla, and maple syrup. This mixture should look creamy and smooth.
3. Gently fold in the flour/starter mix, being careful not to deflate the air bubbles built up in the overnight fermentation.
4. Sprinkle in the salt, baking powder and soda, and the cinnamon. Gently stir into the batter.
5. Just prior to making the pancakes, stir in the vinegar or lemon juice.
6. Heat a skillet to medium-high heat. Add butter to grease the pan.
7. Using a 1/3 measuring cup, ladle the batter onto the hot pan. Cook on the first side until the pancake is covered in small bubbles, about 2 minutes. (If using add-ins, dot these evenly across the top of the pancake just prior to flipping to the second side.)
8. Flip the pancake and cook another minute or so, until the middle is cooked through but not overcooked or burnt.
9. Remove from the pan and keep warm until serving. Continue with the rest of the batter until all of it is used.
10. Serve with plenty of butter and maple syrup, of course, or your favorite pancake fixings.
**Feel free to double or triple this recipe to serve a bigger crowd or to freeze and serve anytime you get the hankering for a pancake. Simply heat up in a skillet for a few minutes before serving and you are good to go.
Brine & Broth
I am a gut health-focused nutritionist and online health coach based in Southwest Wisconsin. My recipes and philosophies center around traditional, nutrient-dense foods that support robust gut health.