Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Big Cheese

Homemade Cream Cheese

This weekend I want to pickle some cucumbers through lacto-fermentation. Why lacto-fermentation? This method of food preservation uses whey, salt, and fermentation rather than vinegar and heat to preserve foods. The foods remain raw, so they retain all their original nutrients, plus the fermentation process actually increases nutrient levels. According to Eat Fat, Lose Fat, lacto-fermentation of cabbage increases the vitamin C content ten times and makes minerals more available to our bodies.

For those of you who haven't heard the back story, around 2005 I was in bad shape. Years of fat-free dieting had resulted in me not only getting fatter every year, but I also had extreme fatigue and mood swings and hormonal issues as well as thin, shedding hair and bleeding acne. As a young adult I was always slim and enjoyed a perfect complexion, even through my teen years, so it was particularly upsetting to feel and look so bad. It was especially distressing since the problems began when I started following my health care provider's recommended diet when I became pregnant with my first son six years earlier.

That same year we adopted our daughter. She had been listed as a "healthy" child, but when we met her we found she weighed less than 13 pounds at nearly 9 months old. She was unable to hold her head up and had complete hip dysplasia. She was so sick when we got her she needed breathing treatments around the clock. At her first doctor's appointment the pediatrician, who specialized in international adoptions, told me she would never "develop." I disagreed with that assessment because I had seen great strides just since she was placed with us. I felt adequate nutrition and attention would help her and I was correct. She was diagnosed in the US as having been premature and also having orphanage delay. She needed 6 months of physical therapy and several years of special schooling and help. She also needed extremely nutrient-rich food. I began researching  nutrition and found to my dismay the diet recommended by the standard medical establishment had actually caused my health and body to deteriorate. A metabolic screening revealed I had almost no vitamin D whatsoever in my blood. Turns out, as a half-Scandinavian person, I have evidently inherited an inability to make vitamin D from sunlight. Research into why Norwegian people have the highest rates of osteoporosis in the world exposed this genetic variation. Apparently there is not enough sunlight so far north (and much of my family is from around Trondheim, very northern Norway) so indigenous people learned to eat a seafood heavy diet to provide vitamin D and their bodies didn't learn to get it from the sun. I heard Sally Fallon speaking on National Public Radio and bought her books with Dr. Mary Enig: Eat Fat, Lose Fat and Nourishing Traditions. I followed their Health Recovery diet program for myself and to correct my daughter's malnutrition.

Now, a decade later, my daughter is perfectly healthy, with only a tendency to become "underweight" on the charts if we aren't watching her nutrition. She is in Advanced Placement classes and excels in math, art, and athletics. To look at her now you would never suspect she took until the age of 5 to test on level developmentally. Due to her success, we adopted again and specifically requested a special needs child. He, our third child, is doing beautifully. As for me, I have beautiful skin and when I go to the doctor, which isn't very often, they comment on my low blood pressure. More than one optometrist has described my retinal blood vessels as "beautiful" and told me my eyes are much younger than my years. This is important, because retinal screenings reveal diabetes and heart disease and other illnesses long before the rest of the body. My father was an optometrist and personally knew several people whose cancers were discovered through retinal scans. Therefore, I get a retinal scan every year as my "well check." People who work with me on physical projects or exercise with me always comment on how strong I am.

Unfortunately, I still really struggle with my weight, and right now I am far above a healthy BMI. I've tried about every diet on the planet, but not the Eat Fat, Lose Fat weight loss plan, so now I'm trying that one. The theory behind this diet is that if your body has optimal nutrition it will release fat. It involves traditional preparation of almost all foods. In the past, of course, people had lots and lots of milk from their livestock. The preparation of these into butter and yogurt resulted in lots of whey, which they used to make cheese, pickles, sauerkraut, and more. Today whey is a lot harder to come by, but it's necessary for the pickles I want to make, so before the pickles I first made a one-ingredient organic cheese. Here's how to do it:

The yogurt I used

Start your cheese recipe with plain, organic yogurt. For maximum nutrition, make the yogurt yourself from whole, raw milk if you can get it. It's against the law here in N.C.,so I have to use regular whole milk to make yogurt or just buy yogurt. This week I just bought some because I've been really busy with my eBay and Etsy stores and had a bad cold.

Place the yogurt in a lined strainer.

Take about half your container of yogurt (about a cup or so) and place it in a cheesecloth-lined strainer suspended over a bowl.

Set the bowl out.
Cover the bowl with a clean cloth and set out for several hours or overnight.

Twist the cloth.

Next, twist the cloth tightly and tie the ends to a spoon handle. Suspend this over the bowl, cover, and refrigerate several hours of overnight.

The fully-drained cheese

After the second night you will see the cheese is completely dry and imprinted with the cheesecloth weave pattern. It is finished! You can serve it plain or mix in finely chopped herbs, such as chives, or vegetables, like shredded carrots, or you could even blend in chopped nuts. A Scandinavian recipe calls for smoking the cheese, and as soon as I get a cold smoker I will make that and show you the process. The smoker we have now gets too hot for cheese.

Store the cheese in a covered container.

Use it like cream cheese.
I made a yummy snack by topping whole wheat crackers with a little of the cheese and a dollop of cloudberry jam. This special, rare fruit grows only in Scandinavia for a short time in the summer, and when I can get it from IKEA (it's a limited edition product) I try to incorporate into recipes as much as possible. It does have sugar, which isn't in the weight loss plan, but since it's so rarely available I think the hard-to-obtain nutrients are worth a tiny bit of cheating!

When your cheese is done you will have about a cup of whey to use for pickles, like my favorite dill pickles, sauerkraut, and more!

A yummy cloudberry and cheese snack.

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