Sipping Your Way Through Flu Season

Winter’s very slowly sneezing and coughing its way out. Staying healthy with seasonal flu and colds circulating and recirculating can be tough. This year seems particularly fraught with heavy colds that keep coming back. Take care of the basics: make sure you get enough exercise (keep that lymphatic system moving!) and sleep, watch your sugar consumption, and remain well hydrated. Moonshine Mama’s Turmeric Tonic is well worth a try if you want to treat yourself to something delicious and fortifying. And here are some more immune-boosting beverages you can make yourself that might help get you through the season.

2017januarykvassBeet Kvass

Why drink it? Fermented beverages benefit your microbiome and overall health. A happy digestive tract makes for a better functioning immune system. And I really like this version of kvass, as it’s quite like sauerkraut.

How to take it? A small glass a couple of times a day, alternating with other lacto-fermented beverages (kefir, water kefir, kombucha etc) will give your gut the variety it needs.


2-3 medium beets, peeled and chopped into 1 inch cubes
¼ cabbage, chopped
½ onion, chopped
2 tbsp sea salt2016aug21kvassday01
¼ cup whey or 1 tbsp starter culture, optional
filtered water to cover


  1. Add onion and cabbage to a 2 quart glass jar.
  2. Add the beets to the onion and cabbage.
  3. Add salt and optional whey.
  4. Cover with filtered water, leaving an inch between the water and the jar lid.
  5. Close the jar and leave in a cool dark place. The mixture will deepen in colour to a rich ruby red.
  6. Start tasting it after 3 days and if it’s too salty or not sour enough, let it ferment until you like the taste.
  7. When you’re happy with it, strain into bottles and transfer to the fridge; it will keep for months.
  8. The vegetables can be used to make a second batch, depending on how long you’ve had to ferment to get the taste you want, but the results of the second batch will be weaker, so you may wish to augment with a little more of each ingredient.

2017januaryfireciderYarrow Willard’s Fire Cider

At the talk where I was first introduced to this concoction, Willard made the excellent point that his fire cider ingredients are easily found in most supermarkets, a boon for ailing travellers (as long as you pack a blender I guess!) He says it’s kept his family healthy through many a flu season.

Why drink it? It contains alliums – onion and garlic – particularly high in the valuable flavonoid quercetin, and containing various other polyphenols and sulfur, so have multiple health benefits. Horseradish too is believed to boost the immune system due to its antioxidant qualities. Cayenne is an antioxidant, high in vitamin A, and contains capsaicin, which is garnering much research attention for its circulatory-system benefits and antimicrobial properties. Ginger is a well known medicinal spice, soothing and stimulating as a tea, and discussed further in the context of Chris Kresser’s very gingery drink below.

How to drink it? Take a few tablespoons in a glass of water or a daily shot during flu season.


⅛ tsp cayenne
1 small onion or ½ a big one
2 cloves garlic
1 tbsp fresh ginger
½ tbsp horseradish
1 cup apple cider vinegar (not pasteurized)
1 cup water


Blend for 30 seconds. Store in a jar in your fridge; keeps for months! Makes about 2 cups.

Chris Kresser’s Immune-boosting Ginger Juice

Why to drink it? Fresh (not dried) ginger is a well known anti-inflammatory and antiviral herb, widely used for digestive issues, which has been found effective in treating respiratory viral infections common in childhood. It is a known bile stimulant, so avoid it if you are experiencing  gallbladder or bile duct disorders. As it can also act as a blood sugar modulator, consult your doctor before taking if you are taking diabetic treatments. Honey has antiviral and antimicrobial properties, and is also an expectorant and decongestant and really soothing for cough and the lungs. Cayenne‘s fiery capsaicin content is also helpful in clearing congestion.

How to drink it? This is an intense beverage which Kresser recommends you mix up and then sip away at throughout the day, at the first signs of flu. He recommends juicing or straining blended ginger; I like the chewy bits and leave them in for a bit of extra fibre.


Sufficient ginger, juiced (or peeled, blended and/or strained) to make 1/2 cup ginger juice
Juice of 1/4 lime or lemon
1 tbsp honey
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper


Stir ingredients together, dilute to taste with hot water, and sip throughout the day.


Seeds of Spring

saanich-seedy-saturday-jan-5Another year spins round and here in the depths of an unusually chilly winter on the West Coast we start looking forward to spring.

Spring means gardens, and gardens mean seeds! Seeds mean Seedy Saturdays, and for the second year Haliburton Community Organic Farm has partnered with the Gardens at HCP to offer the first such event on Vancouver Island: Saanich Seedy Saturday, next Saturday January 14.

And seeds need bees, hence our special guest speaker Lori Weidenhammer, author of Victory Gardens for Bees.

Good nourishment for the event is being provided by Charlotte & the Quail, the Horticulture Centre‘s cafe, coming out of winter hibernation for the event. The cafe began life as Nourish, now brilliantly expanded into a downtown location in Victoria, and caught the attention of local nutritionists for its well-executed gluten free menu options, its provision of house-made ferments (water kefir, fermented cashew butter, etc.), its support of local farms (including Haliburton!) and food businesses, and its excellent cooking.

Some seeds are better planted than eaten, but there are fibre and healthy fats to be had from many others. I’ve been making a pretty wonderful seed cracker this season, and I recommend you check out the Endurance Cracker recipe over at Oh She Glows. Vegan and dairy, grain, egg and gluten free, it’s a small miracle of simplicity and deliciousness that’s safe to serve to most food-challenged guests. I’ll be providing some cookies at Saanich Seedy Saturday (a fund-raiser for the farm) and these will be among the offerings.

Fermented bevvies

HoneyWe all know and often love too much some fermented liquids or other. Unsurprisingly, Sandor Katz is a fan and producer of many and various home-made fermented beverages.

Mead is shockingly easy to make – to a point. Sandor cited Claude Lévi-Strauss who claimed it as the original cultural act, and humanity’s oldest intentional fermented product.

Easy it may be but it does require vigilance and frequent agitation until it reaches a point of drinkability, 10 days to 2 weeks after you dilute the honey with water (and add optional fruit: on this occasion, a handful of goji berries). It’s a low tech affair, requiring at its most basic a jar, some honey and some water. And, as Sandor suggests, a few friends around the jar at the end of the process to enjoy some probiotics with a mildly alcoholic kick. But if you want to take it further, to a dry wine-like alcohol, you’ll need to take things into a more sophisticated realm and lay your hands on some winemaking equipment: an airlock and carboy.

Salt Spring KombuchaKombucha is becoming more well known and is fairly widely available in Victoria, but much cheaper and better to make yourself. It’s typically a somewhat sweet, fizzy beverage, rich in probiotics, made by fermenting tea and then flavoured and sparkled in a secondary ferment. You’ll need to get a kombucha SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast) – in appearance a big jelly-like pancake – and brew up and cool some tea (black, white or green). Sandor said he’d heard of non-caffeinated versions – hibiscus for example – that worked fine, but he went with the conventional method.

He put a pot of cooled black tea into the jar, poured in some of the mature kombucha liquid, topped it up with water, and flopped in the SCOBY. Will be finished fermenting in a couple of weeks, at which point you can add flavourings like fruits, ginger etc. which will carry on with a secondary fermentation in a strong glass bottle.

The amount of CO2 generated can make this stage very dangerous. Sandor warned about the notorious “kombucha bomb” which you can avoid by bottling one of your batch in a plastic pop bottle. By checking the give in the plastic you can judge the stage of its fermentation. When the bottle is firm to the touch, get those glass bottles smartly into the fridge or drink before they explode. He suggested as well that plain tea should be used: Earl Grey or other flavoured teas contain oils which may affect the fermentation in unexpected ways.

Adding Kombucha LiquidKombucha+WaterAdding the Kombucha Mother




Beet kvass is less well known, but super easy to make. Sandor chopped some scrubbed beets into a jar and poured in about 3x purified water, leaving lots of headroom, added a pinch of salt and with an occasional shake to keep sediment from hanging out on the surface, that would be that for anywhere from 3 to 14 days, depending on how sour you like it. Unless you are following the Nourishing Traditions recipe and/or like the milky undernotes Beet Kvassthat whey will give to the finished product. It’s basically a fermented infusion. You leave it until the water takes on the dark, beet-red colour and the flavour is to your liking. You can add flavourings too, like grated ginger. And you can add fruit etc. for a secondary ferment to add flavour and fizz if you like. (This orange-ginger golden beet number sounds good to me!)

Vegetables in Ferment

Sandor KatzLast Sunday I was lucky enough to score a place on a fermentation workshop with Sandor Katz. The event’s title was probably a misnomer – to me a workshop is hands-on, but with the number of people in the room that would not have been possible. So it was what I’ll call a practical lecture, with Sandor demonstrating many of his favourite ferments as he talked. It was inspiring enough to send me home to experiment, and I’ll show you the outcomes as we go.

I’ve heard him speak before and gratefully took my front row place to learn some nitty gritty. He asked how many people had done some fermentation in their own kitchens and was answered by a host of raised hands. In fact some of those present were already producing kimchi and sauerkraut commercially, and had generously brought samples, which we enjoyed along with the many other ferments we sipped and nibbled on as the day progressed.

He reviewed some of the purposes of fermentation: to improve digestibility by allowing enzymes to predigest some elements of the food (e.g. making soybeans digestible to humans); to detoxify elements of the food (e.g. to neutralize phytic acid); to preserve the harvest; to improve nutritional value (e.g. natto which contains a valuable enzyme, nattokinase found to contain vitamin K2 and have a role in dissolving fibrin, which clogs arteries); and to provide a source of live bacteria, to help our struggling microbiome.

Filling the sauerkraut jar
Packing the kraut
Beet+cabbage sauerkraut
My cabbage, beet & caraway kraut

We began with vegetables. Sandor spoke about techniques and ingredients while hand-crushing and massaging a bucket full of nascent sauerkraut: in this case made from sliced and salted cabbage, carrot and perhaps some other veg I didn’t take note of. Any sturdy vegetable is a good candidate for this treatment which results in a sloppy, dripping mass that can be stuffed firmly into glass jars. (I’ve found that one small/medium head of cabbage will fill a one litre mason jar.) Then squeeze a cabbage leaf on top of the mixture to keep it submerged in its brine, and cover the jar – with an awareness that carbon dioxide will build up during fermentation and need to be released – and the jar placed on a plate to catch the overflow. It’s then left to ferment for a few days to a couple of weeks. The duration depends on the sourness preferred and the ambient temperature of your fermenting space. The most important things to remember, said Sandor, are to ensure the vegetables are submerged, and to cover the jar with cloth secured to keep flies out. Some surface molds are inevitable, but they can be lifted out along with any discolored vegetable matter. Once fermented to preference, cover and put in the fridge where it will sit fermenting at a very slow rate for several months.

Adding the teabag
Sandor's dill pickles & radishes
Sandor’s dill pickles & radishes

Dill pickles came next. Here the trick is to ensure the blossom end of the cucumber is scraped off, as this is where softening can begin. Add any seasonings you like – garlic, dill and peppers are popular – and any combination of vegetables. Green beans are good; cauliflower, radishes and carrots too. Pack everything as tightly as possible to fill every nook and cranny and pour in the brine. Tannins help keep the vegetables crunchy: these are found in grape leaves (even preserved ones), oak leaves and – as in this example – a tea bag (take off the string if it has one). Watch until the colour of the cucumbers just turns from bright to dull green and then pop in the refrigerator. If this happens before the pickles are sour enough, then fermenting the next batch in a cooler spot will help the souring.

My First Kimchi
My kimchi

AnsweringQuestionsHe discussed one of my favourite things – kimchi – at some length before we broke for lunch. It’s a tricky topic for Western fermenters, being very much a culturally-identified food. It was, he said, the topic that he’s received the most mail and complaints about since he began spreading the fermentation gospel. Korean kimchi-makers all have their techniques and rules, but those are as different and inherently contradictory as any recipe handed down through the generations. Doubtless I have violated those rules myself with my partial attention to this recipe from David Lebovitz, and this video from charmingly enthusiastic Korean kimchi maker Maangchi (whaaa – she mixes with her bare hands!) and this thorough discussion of traditional kimchi. Like Lebovitz I didn’t have the Korean chili powder gochugaru so had to use the chili paste I had on hand, and added some chopped dried chilies from my garden – which is why it lacks the vivid red of the real thing. But I made the traditional rice paste and like Maangchi I whizzed together some of the seasonings – garlic, ginger and onion. We’ll see in a couple of days whether I’ve been successful.

I’ll carry on with this post in another installment. A day long workshop gives one a lot to – sorry – digest.