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Sunday, June 19, 2016

A Little Elf is a Dangerous Thing

Hold onto your hats, Elfinistas/Elfinistes…as Steve Harvey would say “We got a GOOD one for you today!” And by the way, Happy Father’s Day to all Dads out there. Your presence is our lives is loved, appreciated, respected and needed, whether you are with us still or with us in spirit.
First of all, we will be sharing our FatFree Vegan Kitchen elf-fort of the week…an Elfy winner called Spicy Collards and Black-eyed Pea Soup.
Chock FULL of good stuffs, we enjoyed this as much the second time around as the first. You’ll see a pot full o’goodness with our peas, tomatoes, chicken bouillon, sautéed onions garlic and peppers. Plus the great seasonings of smoked paprika, chipotle chili powder, cayenne, oregano and thyme.
Then we added the kale, cooked it down and let it simmer for about 30 minutes.
We made some vegan corn sticks and voila! A GREAT supper meal.
Our next Elfy winner on tap will be Asparagus and Mushroom Quiche.
Best we recall, this was absolutely wonderful, so we look forward to a nice light supper; and yes, Big Solid DOES eat Quiche.
Our next piece is something we are really excited about in the Kinky Elfery Kitchen, so we hope you enjoy reading about Lauren Rhoads and her wonderful Sweet and Sauer products.
To Ferment or Not to Ferment— Meet Lauren Rhoades
Fermented foods have been around for a bazillion years; primarily as a way to preserve food in environments not equipped for refrigeration. The most well known fermented food is sauerkraut; a fermented form of cabbage. Although some folks might think of fermented foods as acquired tastes, there is no denying the tart, tingly presence that a fermented food brings to the palate. The health benefits of fermented foods are becoming now mainstream with a new awakening to the power that food and diet has in overall wellness. Enter Lauren Rhoades...the fresh face of fermentation in the greater Jackson MS area.
 Lauren and LaQuenza at the Farmer's Market.
What, you say? How can you say fresh and fermentation in the same sentence. Well, Lauren is the energy behind 'Sweet and Sauer', an emerging company who's specialty is offering foods borne from fermentation. Though sauerkraut is the most familiar fermented food, Lauren is quick to show us there are multitudes of other types of fermented foods. Most of these have origins in other cultures such as Korean, Russian, Thai and German.

A native of Colorado, Lauren went to the University of CO at Boulder and studied English, Spanish and Political Science. It was during her collegiate days she began to cook for herself which led to a growing awareness of the stuffs she was consuming. And so this journey began as Lauren researched her foods and the soundness of healthy eating. That intensified after she moved to Jackson MS in 2013 to serve with the FoodCorps, a nationwide team of AmeriCorps leaders who connect kids to real food and help them grow up healthy. For her first two years with FoodCorps, she helped build school garden programs, taught kids about eating healthy, and worked to bring in locally grown fruits and vegetables to the school cafeteria. Lauren is now the MS FoodCorps Fellow who works with service members to help implement FoodCorps programming in the state.

The interest and fascination with fermented foods began in 2011 when Lauren attended a workshop on how to brew the drink called Kombucha  (a variety of fermented, lightly effervescent sweetened black or green tea drinks that are commonly intended as functional beverages for their supposed health benefits. Kombucha is produced by fermenting tea using a "symbiotic 'colony' of bacteria and yeast" (SCOBY). As her interest grew, Lauren branched out, making other fermented foods such as kefir, sauerkraut, kvass, and sourdough.  She shared her products with family and friends but when she realized that no one was actually selling these products at the local Farmer’s Market, she took the plunge and began marketing her products as a cottage industry under the name “Sweet and Sauer”.
Lauren states that she is mostly self taught but is heavily influenced by Tara Whitsitt’s Fermentation on Wheels and has recently taken advantage of a 5 day Fermentation Residency workshop conducted by Sandor Katz in TN.

Though Lauren eats a mostly plant-based diet, she does not consider herself vegan. Her products, however, are almost totally vegan (one exception could be the drink called jun which does include honey). In her own words, “When I do buy meat, I purchase it from one of our local farmers who use sustainable, responsible practices. I eat a mostly plant-based diet because it has a lower environmental footprint, I find it to be healthier, and it’s easier to sustain on a budget.” She also utilizes produce from local farms such as Salad Days, Two Dog Farm, and Amorphous Gardens for her fermented products and is a strong believer in supporting local producers.

Healthy, Tasty and Just a Bit Different
According to Lauren, “fermentation is the oldest and safest method of food preservation. It prevents food waste by extending the life of fruits and vegetables that would typically perish or be deemed unsuitable for sale after a brief period of time. For instance, a peach farm that may consider it’s bruised peaches not salable and throw them away or on the compost pile can be salvaged and used to flavor a batch of kombucha. Or turn 50 pounds of cabbage into 15 quarts of sauerkraut. 
It wasn’t until recently that scientists and dietitians began understanding the health benefits of fermented foods. Fermented foods are living, teeming with bacteria that is beneficial to our bodies. When we eat fermented foods like sauerkraut, yogurt, kombucha, etc. these living microorganisms populate our gut and allow better absorption of nutrients and aid in general digestive health. Scientists are also beginning to find more links between gut health and brain health, which are leading to an influx of probiotic pills. Why take a capsule when you can get probiotics naturally from delicious foods?
Which leads me to my favorite part of fermentation—it results in delicious, unique foods. Fermented foods have complex flavors that are always changing, dependent on many environmental factors, and basically the opposite of the standardized, processed, mass-produced, and marketed foods that populate our grocery stores.”

Lauren’s Products for “Sweet and Sauer"
Kombucha which is flavored with seasonal fruits and herbs (note, this is not to be confused with the Japanese drink konbucha which is made from seaweed). According to Wikipedia, the origin of Kombucha is considered to be China and Russia. 
Jun is similar to kombucha in that it is a fermented sweet tea which forms a SCOBY with each batch. But unlike kombucha, which uses black tea and cane sugar, jun is made from green tea and honey. It has a lighter, more floral taste, and the fermentation time is shorter.
Sauerkrauts, made from a variety of vegetables including a beet sauerkraut as well as the traditional cabbage.
Kimchi which is a traditional fermented Korean side dish made of vegetables with a variety of seasonings. Sweet and Sauer Kimchi does not contain fish sauce as many commercially produced varieties of Kimchi do.
Fermented pickles and fermented mustard. The Elf in the Kitchen can testify to the powerhouse of flavor that is the Sweet and Sauer mustard pictured above with the sauerkrauts.
Lauren says that her Kombucha, Mustard, and Kimchi are her consistent top sellers, however, pickles will be very popular during the hot, steamy Mississippi summer.
Currently Lauren’s products (Sweet and Sauer) can only be found at the Farmer’s Market on High Street or by special order. However, she is expanding into a commercial kitchen which will open the doors for sales to local retail stores as well as the Beaverdam buying club. Sweet and Sauer also has a Facebook page that interested folks may peruse to get more acquainted with the products and see more pictures.

In Her Own Words
When asked what she would like people to take away from this article in addition to the expanded knowledge of fermentation/fermented foods, Lauren stated, “I would like people to take away a greater understanding of Sweet & Sauer, my deep appreciation for our local, sustainable farms, and my desire to be a link in our local economy and a provider or healthy, delicious foods.”
What fun we had writing this article; we hope it brought some joy to you and some great information bout fermented foods.
So, that about does it for this week. Next week, we’ll get caught up on some of the other foodstuffs from the Kitchen of the Elf, for sure. We also hope to expand into more articles featuring some of our local folks who promoted plant-based eating. Until then, laugh a lot, eat plants, love life and DO EPIC. 

We close with one of our favorite pictures of the Father of the Elf; taken in 1942 as a 22 year old Air Corps Cadet and Flight Instructor for the P-51 Mustang. The Elf thinks him a handsome lad, a great representative of The Greatest Generation and a man we miss every single day.

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