What’s in Your Morning Cuppa Joe?

coffee

If you’re a coffee fanatic, you know what it’s like to crave that steaming, aromatic elixir. There’s nothing like that first sip of your morning cuppa joe. Not only is the flavor heavenly, but that little jolt we get from the caffeine gives us the kickstart we need to get going in the morning. Coffee truly is one of the few guilt-free indulgences we have left in a world that bombards us daily with health warnings about the foods we enjoy most. Isn’t it wonderful that coffee can deliver so much pleasure and be good for us, too?

It sounds too good to be true, and it almost is. You can make the purest cup of coffee with the finest quality beans (organic, non-GMO, free trade, shade grown, and all that). But, if you use a creamer, make sure it’s pure too. Otherwise, every delicious cup of heaven you drink could end up raising hell in your body later on. Okay, so you know to avoid fake cream because it’s loaded with unhealthy chemicals. But do you think a natural creamer like half-and-half is a safe bet? Maybe. Or maybe not.

It would be wonderful if everyone could tolerate dairy products and we all had a family cow, or at least easy access to unadulterated milk and cream. Obviously, that’s not realistic, so we have to educate ourselves about how foods are manufactured and learn how to read ingredient labels. Artificial non-dairy creamers aren’t even an option for the health-conscious consumer. So that leaves us to choose from an array of conventional dairy products and “healthier” brands of non-dairy creamers, like those found in natural food stores.

Traditionally, half-and-half has been the creamer of choice among coffee drinkers. Real half-and-half is a blend of equal parts whole milk and cream. Ideally, the milk and cream should be organic. (Conventional milk and cream often comes from GMO-fed cows, some of which have been treated with hormones like rBST.) Store-bought half-and-half contains between 10.5 to 18% butterfat, The extra fat gives coffee that much-coveted smooth and creamy mouth feel.  It would be great if all brands of half-and-half on the market today contained just those two ingredients. Sadly, that’s not the case.

Food manufacturers know how much we love that creamy texture, so they try give us more of what we want by adding various thickeners, emulsifiers, and gums. They also know these additives help increase profits by making half-and-half cheaper to manufacture. But that’s not all. Fact is, most of the milk and cream nowadays is ultra-pasteurized. Ultra-pasteurization thins the cream, but these additives are designed to fool you into thinking it tastes like real cream. The process of ultra-pasteurization also frees up glutamic acid from the milk protein and creates free glutamate. That means there could be MSG in your half-and-half. So, why not just use the regular method of pasteurization? Well, apparently grocers complain that the products spoil too quickly.

Carrageenan is the ingredient we most commonly see added to half-and-half. It acts as a thickening agent and an emulsifier, making sure the product stays mixed. Carrageenan is not digestible and has no nutritional value. It’s naturally derived from red seaweed, so you’d think it would be safe to eat, but it’s not. Research has shown that it’s especially destructive to the digestive system. Carrageenan triggers inflammation in the gut, which can lead to leaky gut, ulcerations, bleeding, and possibly even cancer. Most of the animals studied in lab environments developed colitis and tumors with long-term use. That’s some pretty scary stuff.

Incidentally, carrageenan is also frequently added to those (supposedly) healthier non-dairy creamers we see in natural food stores. So if you have trouble digesting dairy products and frequently use these organic brands of non-dairy creamers, you’ll want to choose a product that’s free of carrageenan (and any other undesirable additives). But here’s an even better idea. Make your own super-delicious non-dairy coconut coffee creamer using the recipe at the end of this article. All it takes is three ingredients and thirty seconds to whip up a blissful addition to your morning cuppa joe.

Half-and-half sometimes contains other emulsifiers instead of (or in addition to) carrageenan. It’s common to see disodium phosphate and sodium citrate (also known as citric acid) on the ingredients label. Sodium citrate is considered safe; it acts as an emulsifier to keep the fat globules distributed evenly throughout the liquid so they don’t clump together. Disodium phospate is also an emulsifier and works much the same way. Both of these ingredients prevent the butterfat from separating from the liquid. You might also find guar gum listed on the label. Guar gum is yet another emulsifying agent. It’s a natural additive derived from guar beans. Guar gum can sometimes be a little harsh if your digestive system is weak. And, it can cause embarrassing gas. Oh joy!

If you’re dining out, you’ll want to be careful with individual servings of half-and-half such as the Land o’ Lakes Mini Moo’s. These are UHT-processed to make them shelf stable for 6-9 months if left unopened. (UHT stands for Ultra High/Heat Temperature.)  It does make you wonder what happens when milk proteins are subjected to such high temperatures. How safe is this process, really? Does anyone know for sure? There are other concerns to consider with Mini Moo’s too, aside from the high-heat processing issue,

Mini Moo’s are made from conventional milk and cream from cows that were probably raised on GMO feed. They also contain various emulsifiers–specifically, sodium citrate, DATEM, tetrasodium pyrophosphate, and carrageenan. The sodium acid is considered safe when used in tiny amounts as a food additive. However, the DATEM is derived from soy, canola, and palm oil, all of which are GMO ingredients. Although GMO’s have been banned in numerous countries, the United States continues to maintain they are safe. Research on the effects of GMO’s on the human body continues while the political debate surrounding the creator of GMO foods (Monsanto) rages on.

But, in the end, the good news is that it’s really not that hard to find half-and-half that’s free of additives. You might consider a cow share to ensure your family always has a ready supply of healthy raw milk. Then you can make your own butter, cream, and half-and-half. If a cow share isn’t an option for you, then look for high-quality organic brands that contain only two ingredients. The label should say it contains pasteurized organic milk and organic cream.  That’s it, nothing else. You can find organic brands at natural markets and in many conventional grocery stores. If your local supermarket doesn’t carry it, ask the manager to order some for you. As more people continue to demand high-quality organic foods, they will become more readily available.

 

So, now that you know how to make a creamy cuppa joe, are you ready wake up to nirvana in a cup? Please share your secret to a perfect cuppa in the comments!

Non-Dairy Coconut Coffee Creamer

Ingredients

  • 1 can coconut milk (about 14 ozs.)
  • 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 2 to 3 tsp. pure maple syrup (or to taste)

Instructions

  1. Pour all ingredients into a blender or small food processor and blend for 20-30 seconds until thoroughly blended.
  2. To serve, spoon desired amount into your coffee and stir.
  3. Pour leftovers into an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 4 days.
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Legal Disclaimer
This article is for educational use only and is NOT intended as medical advice. The information presented herein is based on the opinions of the author, unless otherwise noted. Any statements or claims about the possible health benefits conferred by any foods or supplements have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and are NOT intended to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any disease or condition. We encourage you to do your own research and consult a qualified health professional before making any health-related changes.
This article may not be downloaded, reproduced, republished or otherwise copied without express written permission of the author and of Homesteader’s Supply.

All rights reserved ©2016 Anna Paige

Making Healthy Eating More Affordable – Part 1 (Bowls)

bowls

This is the first in our series of articles on making healthy eating more affordable. The Internet is flooded with money-saving ideas, but most of them focus on the smart shopping aspect. Here, we’re going take a different tack and talk about things you can do to bring down your food costs after you’ve left the grocery store. One topic that’s largely ignored is how you can save money by changing the way you present (or serve) the food you’ve already purchased and prepared. And that, my friend, is the subject of our first article!

During the Great Depression, home economists and women’s magazines taught housewives how to “stretch” their food budget because food was scarce back then. They learned how to make pricier ingredients, like meat, go farther by combining them with less expensive ingredients, like macaroni. And so, casseroles became very popular, as did meals that consisted of a little bit of meat in a sauce or gravy that was poured over a starchy food, like biscuits or a potato. Of course, nowadays, meals like chipped beef on toast are considered old fashioned and aren’t particularly well-liked in the United States, with possibly a few regional exceptions.

Today, we have a healthier option that’s based on the idea of “stretching,” yet allows us to enjoy a wider variety of healthy and delicious whole foods and more sophisticated flavors. The very simple concept of a “meal in a bowl” (called a bowl for short) has gained enormous popularity in recent years and seems to be taking the culinary world by storm because the food combinations are virtually limitless. This leaves plenty of opportunities for home cooks and professional chefs to improvise and experiment with new flavors. You can make your bowl as humble or as refined as you like. But, even the humblest combination of ingredients can pack a serious nutritional punch!

A bowl is an attractive layered meal intended for one person. When making a bowl, you typically start with a base of whole grains, on top of which you pile a variety of vegetables in layers. Here’s where you get to go wild with your colors! Remember, everything doesn’t need to be raw. Keep things interesting by adding some roasted, grilled, pickled or fermented veggies, and maybe even a little fruit (like grilled pineapple). Then, on top of the veggies, add two or three ounces of meat or other protein (like fish, egg, cheese, beans or other pulses, baked tofu or tempeh that’s been marinated and sautéed). Choose a sauce that compliments the flavors in the meal and then drizzle (or pour, if you a like a lot!) it over everything. Finish up by adding a layer of crunchy ingredients, like nuts or seeds, on top to give the meal some texture. Optionally, you can sprinkle on some fresh herbs or other zesty ingredients (like pickled ginger) to make the flavors pop even more.

One of the greatest things about a bowl is its versatility. Bowls allow a great deal of flexibility as far ingredients are concerned. It’s easy enough to mix-and-match ingredients, and to substitute one ingredient for another. No spinach? Use Swiss chard or your favorite green. Out of rice? Substitute quinoa. It’s as easy as that! You can serve your bowl hot or cold, simply by varying the ingredients.

Another wonderful thing about a bowl is that you can put a meal together quickly, and it’s not a lot of trouble to prepare a meal for one when dining alone. It can be very easy, and it never has to be boring. Many ingredients can be prepared in advance. For example, you can pre-cook your grains or meat, divide it into portions, and freeze it. When planning your next meal, just take as many portions as you’ll need out of the freezer and defrost them. Similarly, you can hard boil eggs and keep them (unpeeled) in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Sturdier vegetables like onions, carrots, bell peppers, and cabbage can be sliced, chopped, or shredded ahead of time and stored in air-tight containers in the refrigerator to be used in the next day or two. Fruits that won’t turn brown when exposed to the air can be stored similarly. Try a variety, like cherries, grapes, kiwis, citrus, pineapple, and mango.

Sauces like store-bought salsa are a cinch. There are also other reasonably healthy commercially prepared sauces available, like Trader Joe’s Teriyaki sauce. But, you don’t need to buy any fancy sauces. Most people can whip up a tasty sauce pretty quickly just using ingredients they already have on hand, such as soy sauce or tamari, toasted sesame oil, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, prepared horseradish, Dijon mustard, mayonnaise, Sriracha sauce, harissa, peanut butter, honey, garlic, ginger, wasabi, lime and so on.

As we’ve seen, a bowl can be very easy to prepare, but you can make it as elaborate as you want. If you’re so inclined, you can create a bowl that’s a gourmet’s delight. More exotic combinations are often inspired by international flavors. In fact, many cultures around the world have their own traditional versions of a bowl. For an example, since ancient times, Koreans have been making a mouthwatering dish called bibimbap, which is served as bowl of warm white rice topped with seasoned sautéed vegetables. For the sauce, they use a combination of chili paste, soy sauce, and fermented soybean paste. Customarily, the bowl is topped with a bit of sliced beef or an egg (either raw or fried).

Bowls rely heavily on plant-based ingredients. Despite all the controversy among the top experts in the field of nutrition today, the one thing they all agree on is that a plant-based diet is ideal. When building bowls, animal products are used in small amounts, if at all. Meat takes a backseat to the veggies and grains, and becomes more like a condiment, adding flavor but not all the saturated fat, cholesterol, hormones, and excess protein that our bodies turn into fat. (Did you think that only excess carbohydrates turn to fat? Not true! Protein does too, if you eat too much.)

Plant-based diets are by far less expensive than eating conventional meals where meat takes center stage. Moreover, eating this way fills you up. You can eat a lot more volume because these foods are low in calories. They’re also loaded with fiber, which helps keep you full longer. And, they’re nutrient dense, so you’re getting loads of antioxidants, vitamins, enzymes, pre-biotics, pro-biotics, and more. Plus, when you’re body’s getting all the nutrition it needs, you tend not to get as hungry, so you eat less food less often. All of these things translate to savings on your food budget.

Furthermore, a plant-based diet is by definition alkaline. Alkaline diets have been shown to strengthen our body’s defenses, help cells regenerate and repair, and protect the kidneys. They also improve our energy, digestion, joints, sleep, and resistance to colds, flu, and severe illnesses like autoimmune disease and cancer. You really can’t go wrong by making bowls a central part of your diet.

 

So, what would you like in your bowl? Share your ideas with us in the comments!

 

 

 

Legal Disclaimer
This article is for educational use only and is NOT intended as medical advice. The information presented herein is based on the opinions of the author, unless otherwise noted. Any statements or claims about the possible health benefits conferred by any foods or supplements have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and are NOT intended to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any disease or condition. We encourage you to do your own research and consult a qualified health professional before making any health-related changes.
This article may not be downloaded, reproduced, republished or otherwise copied without express written permission of the author and of Homesteader’s Supply.

All rights reserved ©2016 Anna Paige

Q&A: Does It Hurt to Use Too Much Starter Culture?

A Customer Asked: Does it matter how much starter culture I use to make cheese or yogurt? Will it hurt if if I use too much? Sometimes I use the amount called for, and it doesn’t work. Should I add more?

Jerri’s Answer: Great question! You should always use the amount of starter culture specified in the recipe.

Starter culture contains the lacto-bacteria that grows when the milk is warmed. The culture helps create the acidic environment necessary for cheese curds to form, and for yogurt to set up properly. If you use too much culture, the milk will become too acidic and kill off the lacto-bacteria. And when the environment is too acidic, cheese curds won’t form and yogurt won’t set up as it should.

If curds didn’t form as expected even though you added the correct amount of rennet and starter culture, it’s often because there was problem with the milk. The milk might have come from a cow that had a sub-clinical infection. When undesirable micro-organisms are present in the milk, they can interfere with the process and prevent the rennet and starter culture from working. As a result, curds don’t form properly when making cheese. Similarly, when making yogurt, the starter culture is inhibited from working as it should, and your yogurt doesn’t set up to a thick consistency.

In these situations, it’s best to find a different source of milk and try again.

Does Your Homemade Toilet Bowl Cleaner Really Work?

toilet bowl

 

 

Many of us prefer to make our own cleaning products because they are much less expensive than commercial brands. Plus, they’re made from common household ingredients that are non-toxic and biodegradable, so we trust them to be safe for us and our pets, and also good for the environment. And, in most cases, that’s true. However, your homemade toilet bowl cleaner could be deceiving you. Sure, the toilet looks clean when you’re done, but is it, really?

If you search the Internet for “homemade toilet bowl cleaner,” you’ll find an overwhelming number of recipes. But, if you look closely, you’ll see most of them are the same—or at least very similar. All the recipes call for baking soda and regular white vinegar. And then, some say to add a few drops of castile soap and/or a few drops of tea tree oil (or another anti-bacterial essential oil).

The theory here is that the baking soda will act as a mild abrasive that aids in scrubbing off the grime and hard water deposits. Then, the vinegar, which is 5% acetic acid, will act as a mild disinfectant. Good old fashioned soap boosts the cleaning power. And finally, the tea tree oil, which is a much stronger disinfectant, will blast away what’s left of the germs.

If you’ve ever tried this recipe, you know that when you add vinegar to baking soda, it fizzes like crazy. This can be fun to watch, and the fizzing action gives the impression that it’s working. But—here’s the kicker—in reality, it isn’t doing anything!

Here’s why. Any eighth grader who’s been paying attention in chemistry class could tell you that baking soda is a base and vinegar is a mild acid. When you mix the two together, they cancel each other out. In this case, it causes a chemical reaction that produces water and a type of salt. It also produces a tremendous amount of carbon dioxide gas, which is what causes all that fizzing.

So, at this point, if you scrubbed with the baking soda first before adding the vinegar, your toilet is probably a little less grimy. But it really isn’t any cleaner, and it certainly hasn’t been sanitized in the least because once the vinegar hit the baking soda, it got transformed and lost its disinfectant properties. All that’s left in your toilet now is water and a little bit of salt, neither of which is an effective cleaning agent.

If your homemade toilet bowl cleaner recipe calls for castile soap, adding a little bit at this point will at least give you the dirt transporting ability of the soap. Well, maybe… But, if there’s any vinegar left over that didn’t react with the baking soda, then it will react with the soap! That’s because castile soap is a base too—just like baking soda!

Vinegar breaks down (unsaponifies) castile soap and reduces it to the oils that were originally used to make the soap. So what you end up with is some whitish, curdled goop floating in your toilet bowl. Even worse than having no cleaning power at all, this oily goop gets all over whatever you were trying to clean, and everything you used to clean it. So in this case, you have a greasy toilet bowl and a greasy toilet cleaning brush. Yuck!

This recipe doesn’t seem to be working very well at all so far, is it?

The final step, which only a few of these DIY recipes recommend, is to add an antiseptic essential oil, such as tea tree oil. It takes a fair amount of tea tree oil to be effective because it gets diluted when you add it to the water in the toilet bowl. How much tea tree oil do you need? No one seems to know, exactly—although some recipes recommend adding 50 drops or as much as a teaspoon or so. But essential oils are expensive, and some folks feel that adding them defeats the purpose of making your own toilet bowl cleaner because it’ll end up costing more than a commercial product. But, here’s the rub. Even if you decide that adding tea tree oil is worth the added expense, you won’t be getting much bang for your buck because the antiseptic properties of tea tree oil aren’t strong enough to kill viruses and robust bacteria.

So, bottom line, that popular homemade toilet bowl cleaner recipe is not much more effective than swishing your toilet bowl out with plain water. Indeed, if you added castile soap, it could be making your toilet even dirtier because the unsaponified oils coating the interior of the bowl provide an inviting surface for bacteria to stick. And finally, the tea tree oil, if you choose to add it, is not an effective antiseptic, unless you add a LOT. But that could bust your budget in a jiffy. And even then, it’s not really doing the job well, anyway. So, if you’re concerned about your family’s health, you might want to avoid “cleaning” your toilet with a homemade toilet bowl cleaner.

 

Can you think of a way to modify this recipe to make it more effective without busting out the bleach or other toxic chemicals?

 

 

Authored by: Anna Paige

How to Fix Your Health by Fixing Your Gut

Did you know that your body’s overall health depends on the bacteria in your gut? It’s true! We have more bacteria in our GI tract than we have cells in our bodies. Collectively, these colonies of gut bacteria are called the microbiome. Scientists estimate the average person has 100 trillion micro-organisms in their gut. About 500 different species have been identified, but only 20 types make up 75% of the total.

bacteriaMany of these bacteria are beneficial, but we can have bad bacteria too. Good bacteria are protective. They help us break down food, absorb nutrients, and guard our immune system. On the other hand, bad bacteria produce toxins that wreak havoc in the body.

Optimum health depends on minimizing bad bacteria. We do this by encouraging more good bacteria to grow, so they crowd out the bad kind. And also, by eliminating the things that damage our gut and feed bad bacteria.

Fermented Foods Promote a Healthy Microbiome

To improve the health of our microbiome, we first need to protect the good bacteria we already have by eating foods that help good bacteria flourish. These include foods that contain prebiotics, which is a type of soluble fiber found in certain plant foods like garlic, onions, and asparagus. Our microbiome also thrives on probiotics, which are living bacteria found in fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, and even dark chocolate. Continue reading

Q&A: Why Our Cheese Press Doesn’t Need a Pressure Gauge

A customer asks: I recently purchased your Ultimate Cheese Press and now I see that it has no pressure gauge. Many of the cheeses I’d like to try need to be pressed at a certain pressure for a certain amount of time. Can I make those cheeses with this press, and if so, will the texture come out right? I’d like to know how I can make sure I’m putting the correct pressure on my curds.

Ultimate Cheese Press

Ultimate Cheese Press

Jerri’s answer: Yes, you can make any type of cheese using our Ultimate Cheese Press. No pressure gauge is needed on any press because cheesemaking is a natural process and the whey will release only when it’s ready. The release of whey depends on many variables, such as the temperature at which the cheese was made, the temperature of the curd going into the press, the pH, the type of cheese, and sometimes I like to say the phases of the moon because you just never know. Cheesemaking is more of an art than pure science.

A long time ago, someone wrote recipes for the old fashioned danish cheese presses that used hanging weights to apply pressure to the curd. Then some folks took those recipes and transferred their weight information into modern recipes for presses that have a mechanism in place for applying pressure. And then, some folks decided that modern presses must need a pressure gauge, and so they built one into the press.

The pressure gauges on today’s presses aren’t particularly accurate because they base the amount of pressure on the number of turns of the handle. Of course, depending on the hardness of the cheese, and depending on whether pressure is applied near the beginning or the end of the process, the amount of pressure being applied varies.

Nowadays some manufacturers are adding pressure gauges to their presses. They drive up the cost, and they’re just not necessary.

The bottom line is that our press was designed to press any type of cheese the way it was meant to be pressed…that is, the natural, old fashioned way. You do this by transferring the curd into the press, securing the follower on top, and then turning the top knob by hand until it’s tight (not forced). When the whey is ready to release, it will come out of the bottom of the mold. And as it releases, the top knob will become loosened.

So all you need to do for the first couple of hours is to check your press every so often and make sure the top knob is tightened securely. The harder the cheese, the less whey will be released because it was already released before you transferred the curd into the press. A softer cheese, like a Colby, will release more whey. Sometimes you might even see some whey on top of the follower. If this happens, just tip the whole press over to allow that whey to pour out.

So if you have recipes that suggest specific pressures, ignore them. All you have to do is follow the directions for using our Ultimate Cheese Press and your cheese will come out perfect every time!


When you make cheese, you get whey as a by-product. Here’s a question from a customer about whey.

A customer asks: What can I do with the whey that’s left over after making cheese, Greek yogurt, butter, etc.? It seems like such a waste to throw it away.

Jerri’s answer: Whey is loaded with protein, so you definitely don’t want to throw it away! You can use whey in just about anything…soups, sauces, baking, protein drinks, etc. Adding whey to these foods makes them even more nutritious.