fermenting for the good


In my early motherhood days I used to make Kefir since I had gallons of free milk through WIC and couldn’t seem to use it fast enough.  I’d like to get back into making it, as it was so easy and a better type of yogurt (being that it was fermented) than regular yogurt.  With all of Phoebe’s digestive problems and also dealing with some of my own, beginning to have ferments be a daily part of our diet has been of interest for some time.  However, with all of the other things I have had to learn in switching to a completely gluten-free household, fermenting has been on the back burner.  The reality is that we can only tackle so much at once, and have to focus on a few things, work at proficiency with them, then move onto the next project.  The past year has been spent learning a new way of cooking, eating, shopping, meal planning, and correctly understanding food labels.  We will always be learning those things, but I feel that we’ve established enough of a norm for me to be able to introduce something new.  Enter: fermentation.

Now, I’m not going to spend time on the scientific reasons for fermentation, but if you’re interested there is a host of information about it online.  Google away.  On a very basic level, ferments have been around for centuries and provide unique blends of probiotics and healthy bacteria in the gut.  We pay good money for powder probiotics for our kids, but there really isn’t a way to shortcut and reproduce the kind of probiotics found in homemade ferments, and each fermented item offers a different variety/blend, so it works well to have a few different ones as a part of your regular diet.

After reading this article about how easy it is to make your own sauerkraut, I attempted my first batch last month.  Honestly, it is very very simple.  I did invest in a Fido Jar after reading the article’s recommendation, but otherwise the cost was super minimal.  This is not as hard as it seems: chop cabbage, add salt, put in container, leave on counter to ferment for 30 days.  Cost effective and simple!

So, I tried my first bite today.  I felt a bit brave because I don’t 100% trust my fermenting skills and don’t want to make myself sick, but I have to give it a go.  It looked and smelled right.  I took a bite: tart, sour, crunchy, and really pretty incredible!  In the old days, people used sauerkraut as a condiment, and so I plan to eat about a tbsp a day.  I do feel inspired to grill some german brautwurst suddenly. 😉

I sort of doubt Phoebe will eat or learn to enjoy sauerkraut or kombucha (she used to tolerate kefir if I made it into smoothies), but Brandon and I believe it is good for all of us to have in our diet, and hope to keep encouraging Phoebe to try it from time to time.  Anything is better than nothing.

We’ve been making kombucha too, I ordered a starter scoby from Cultures for Health, but it isn’t ready yet to try.  Brandon and I drink store-bought Kombucha regularly, but it’s about $3.50 a bottle.  I can’t wait to have my own and save $$ on it!

spring at the farm


A couple weekends ago, Brandon was working and I was feeling antsy to get the kiddos (and myself!) out of the house and doing something fun so that we didn’t mope around.  We headed to one of our favorite local farms in nearby Fairview.  There are a couple of farms on that stretch of road, and one of them has fields of u-pick wildflowers.  I was hoping and itching to see some fresh blooms but not much was growing yet.  We did, however, buy a couple pints of their fresh organic strawberries.  The day was a bit overcast and chilly, so the Hickory Nut Gap farm was nearly empty, which made it especially fun.  It kind of felt like it was ours for the day.  We saw the new chicks in the coop, and Philippa LOVED seeing the goats.  She calls any and every animal a “goggie” (doggie) and is the most animated when she sees a goggie.  She was trying to go up to the goats at the fence and pet them, but when one bleated she was so startled and came running back to me terrified.  They have big culvert slides for the kids, and a little picnic area by the creek.  They played in the water and we had lunch, and headed home wet, tired and happy.

Later Phoebe helped me make gluten-free strawberry oat bars.  I adapted this recipe from these applesauce oatmeal bars, but have changed it so much that basically it’s my own recipe now.  Because Phoebe is not eating oats right now in addition to being gluten free, I substituted almond meal for the oats (i’ve heard you can sub quinoa flakes too, but haven’t tried that).  For the flour I sub some kind of gluten-free flour mix.  I use about 1/4 cup of maple syrup instead of brown sugar.  And I use my own homemade strawberry jam instead of applesauce, which is from my favorite grain-free cookbook, the Grain-Free Family Table.  I think you can see the recipe for the jam scribbled above.  I l o v e these bars, they are not too sweet, the strawberries give them a hint of tartness, and they can serve as a snack or a dessert.  They were a bit crumbly, I was thinking I may add a teaspoon of grass-fed unflavored beef gelatin next time just to help them hold together a bit.  We’ll see.  Anytime I can sneak beef gelatin into my kids, I feel very accomplished. 🙂

It was a really beautiful, serene day on the farm and I so love where we live and finding free fun nearby.


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My Top 6 Favorite Soups


November is off to a dreary start.  Sigh.  I don’t mind the rain one bit usually, but a full week of it in the forecast makes a few stir-crazy children!  With the rain + the cold of November, we are in “soup season” here.  A few of my friends have asked for my go-to soup recipes.  These are my favorite favorites.  The cream of the crop, folks.  These are tried and tested and absolute regular staples in our house for years.  These are husband-approved by a guy who isn’t as crazy about soup as his wife.

1.  Beef Stew

The simplest yet tastiest beef stew you’ll ever find.  I love that its easy to put together, doesn’t require a bottle of wine (and yet the balsamic vinegar adds so much flavor!), can be made in a slow-cooker or in a couple of hours in a dutch oven if you forget to start it in the morning.  Also, to make it gluten-free, I sub coconut flour for regular flour.

2.  Chicken Stew with Butternut Squash + Quinoa

I always sub a can of black beans (washed + rinsed) for the olives, because my husband doesn’t like olives.  I also sub cilantro for parsley and sometimes add a dash of cumin + chili powder to go along with the black bean/cilantro/mexican taste.  Also, I never use quinoa because it doesn’t agree with me (insert breaking heart emoticon), and lately just leave out all grain, but you can sub wild rice (delicious!) or a small pasta like orzo.  It tastes just great without it though!

3.  Chicken + Vegetable Soup

This one is one my husband’s favorites, comes together really quickly + with minimal ingredients, and is a great way to use up leftover chicken.  Is great with grilled cheese on the side!

4.  Pea Soup

This is my mom’s recipe.  Super simple.

1 yellow onion, chopped
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
2-4 large carrots, chopped
1-2 large russet potatoes, peeled + chopped
1 lb dried split peas, washed + rinsed
6-8 cups chicken broth (or water/broth combo)
optional: chopped ham (about 1-2 cups)
salt + pepper to taste

Sautee onion in olive oil over medium high heat in a large dutch oven or soup pot until soft/translucent, about 8-10 minutes.  Add garlic and sauté for another minute.  Add rest of ingredients (except for ham), bring to a boil.  Cover, reduce heat to simmer, and let simmer for a couple of hours, stirring every so often.  Basically, it will become a thick, creamy soup as the split peas soften and disintegrate.  Once it’s at this stage, it’s done.  You can add the ham any time, really, but I usually add towards the end of the cook time and let the flavors marry for 20 minutes or so.

5.  Spinah + Lentil Soup with Cheese + Basil

This one is to die for.  Do I keep saying that?  This one is so good.  You have to try it.  It does require a few more pricey ingredients, but to compensate for that I always sub bacon for pancetta (you can’t loose with bacon).

6.  Black Bean Soup

My recipe, which I’ve posted before here.

My favorite bread to accompany soups used to be Sullivan Street Bakery’s No Knead Recipe, but since going gluten-free I have found this recipe for Easy Brazilian Cheese Bread to be a super quick dinner roll that I can throw together (in about 30 minutes) if I’m needing something on the fly that everyone loves + it’s gluten-free + grain-free with only a handful of ingredients!  My only recommendation is to cook it a tad bit longer than she says (more like 25 minutes).

So there you go.  These are the essentials of my soup pantry.  What are yours??  Please do share your favorites + your staples!

Whatever is life-giving

It’s Monday again, the beginning on a fresh week.  I’m always thankful, the familiar rhythms we keep here, all the while holding loosely as we ride the waves of change.  I’m not big into change, I like our “normal.”  Since finding out my four-year-old’s diagnosis of Celiacs disease, I’ve been trying to stay afloat in the wild waves of change.

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A few weeks back I read these ancient words by John Chrysostrom:

“Lord give us tears and remembrance of death.”

What a thing to pray.  Give us tears, Lord.  I think of how I’ve felt since finding out the news about Phoebe–like there is an ocean of tears I want to cry but can’t access.  It’s just down there somewhere, stuffed beneath.

Give us tears, Lord.  Sometimes we just need the release of a good cry.

A few weeks ago I fed our family, stacked clean dishes to drip dry in the sink, kissed them all goodnight and folded tired legs into my car in the dusky evening.  I drove over to my friend Megan’s house in a weary silence.  She and her husband have a small hobby farm nearby and have been living a simple organic lifestyle, as well as practicing the GAPS diet with their family as part of their journey to health + wholeness.  As I continue researching ways to heal my Phoebe’s digestive system to help her grow and gain weight, I needed to talk with someone who’s been down this road ahead of me.

Megan and I used to go to the same church years ago when we lived in a different town.  We found each other then with another couple and formed the sweetest little tight-knit community.  We discovered I carried our first baby, and Megan discovered she was losing hers.  We splintered a bit, then.  We took a job forty-five minutes away, and they helped us move in and settle.  We said we would stay close, but the distance and busyness of new seasons filled our days.  Then they moved closer to where we were, and we ended up taking a job that moved us back toward them once again.  Now we are a few minutes away from each other.  I haven’t spent much time with her over the past few years, but lately we’ve been trying to squeeze in more visits.  These years with young babes and trying to get a start as a family with first homes, it fills our days to the brim.

Pulling up her snaking drive, gravel crunching under tires, the summer evening silence broken by the bleating of newborn baby goats, the quibbling of chickens, the sing-song of crickets.  I walked in, we greeted with tired smiles and hugs.  Her children were tucked into bed, her husband out of town for the week.

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I love being in another woman’s home, I’ve realized–observing her ways, her patterns.  It is so sweet to watch someone’s familiar paths–the way she pulled on her farm boots and grabbed a bucket of feed to take to the goats.  Our chatter and commiserating and quiet laughter as she tore a handful of mint from her garden, steeping it directly in water, pressing it through, handing me a steaming mug.  We sit on her front porch for a long while in the summer evening cool and quiet.  Later we move inside, she cuts open the package of a whole chicken, pulling out a drawer, grabbing that particular knife for chopping, the way her fingers unconsciously trace the onion, pulling back the papery skins.

We talk, we pour out honest emotions, we open hearts–all while she moves in the quiet rhythms of her home, her needful tasks.  Throwing a load of laundry in (as she apologizes).  Wiping out the bag which held her raw milk pick up.  Preparing the chicken to boil overnight.

Around her home scriptures were taped, phrases of healing were hung.  Index cards taped above the sink forming the shape of a cross.  A large paper with the word TRUTH written on it, surrounded by phrases and scriptures such as “God’s pearl” (with scritpure), and “Deserving of watch-care” and “Created to be a nurturer,” hangs in the kitchen above her stove.  Stories everywhere.  Well-worn paths.

Give us tears and remembrance of death.

Remembrance of death–sounds morbid, and on first reading, my soul shrinks back from this.  No, I don’t want to spend time remembering death.  But then I think of my Savior’s words: “Remember me.  This is my body, broken for you.  This is my blood, poured out for you.”  He wants us to remember Him, specifically to remember His death.  We like to speak of our risen Savior, and indeed our faith is in vain and we are of all people most to be pitied if He did not rise from the dead.  Why do our souls resist remembering His death, especially when He told us to do it often?  Whatever Jesus instructs us to do, it is life-giving to us.  Maybe we live best when we remember keenly our finality.

When I asked her what their whole experience has been with these extreme dietary changes, Megan answered, “Martha, it’s been life-giving to us.”  It’s probably what struck me most and stayed with me after our conversation.  These changes, these new rhythms to be learned–they are not easy, but they are proving to be life-giving.  I am finding the same to be true.

It’s been two months since we began this journey toward a healthy and growing little girl via dietary and lifestyle changes.  We are still researching and toying with the GAPS diet and a grain-free/dairy-free diet, but going gluten-free as a bare minimum has been fairly easy.  Our rhythms are different.  The toaster + bread machine have been replaced by our blender/food processor.  Bowls of nuts or rice are often soaking by our sink.  Ribbons of zucchini have replaced pasta.  Our buying has changed: grass-fed beef gelatin, Kombucha, bulk whole chickens to make weekly portions of bone broth.  I’ve been learning about best sources for bulk raw nuts, for filling out pantry with coconut flour, almond flour, medjool dates, tapioca flour, xantham gum, coconut butter, coconut oil, coconut milk.

Papers, printed recipes + stacks of books are scattered all over my kitchen counter.  The house cleaning suffers.  This process is daunting in many ways, exciting in others, especially as I start to feel a difference and feel better, to see my appetite changing and my body responding.  Phoebe seems to be responding, too.  Her eyes seem just the slightest hint brighter.  Her random occasional low-grade fevers have stopped.  She isn’t as tired.  Her appetite seems to be improving.

It is difficult, as any major change would be, but it is giving us more life, and for that we are thankful.

*    *     *     *     *

A special thanks to Megan and other friends like her (Wendy, Caroline, Liz + Anna, to name a few) who have reached out, shared a ton of resources, words of encouragement and hope.  I have found them and their stories to be the most helpful, but I have also been really helped by Carrie Vitt’s cookbook “The Grain-Free Family Table” as well as Danielle Walker’s cookbooks “Against All Grain” and her blog.


When Your Faith Survives

The house is quiet.  Oh, glorious quiet.  The first hints of light are streaking across the sky, the earliest birds beginning their song.  Bleary-eyed, I try to gather my wits, my scattered thoughts.  I try to focus my mind on the words I’m reading instead of letting them run in and out of my brain like a stream of water while I keep fretting over the days’ concerns.

I hear the faint creak of their door open, the hushed padding of feet over the floor.  She always runs when she turns the corner and sees me in that chair, sucking her fingers, hair wild in every direction.  Warm legs as soft as silk, long and scrawny, slide under the blanket next to mine.  We sit there like that for a long time, me reading quietly (or aloud if she asks) and sipping coffee slow, her sucking fingers and cozied up, skin warming skin.

It’s one of my favorite times of the day, I think it is hers, too.


When I held her for the first time 4 1/2 years ago, my heart burst wide open in love.  I know I’ve probably always struggled with fear, but a whole new world of fear opened up to me when I held that impossibly tiny, wrinkly warm little bundle.  This kind of love–it’s painful.  To love this much is be wide open to a world of unknown hurts.

We had perplexing growth/feeding issues with her from the start.  She always seemed okay, never titled “failure to thrive,” but never really thriving either.  Since she was my first, I figured a lot of it was normal.  Still, the niggling fear that something could be wrong, that something wasn’t quite right kept nagging me.  We pursued every medical option that could have been a possibility, never finding anything.  I would push the feeling down.

In the dark of night, fears would loom heavy.  Please don’t allow any harm to come to her, Lord.  Please keep her healthy, help her to grow.  Please help her to eat, to have an appetite.  (It’s funny how in parenting, you have no idea the battles you will face.  Never did I expect to pray so much over a child to eat and have an appetite and to grow.)  The desperate and anxious prayers of a mother over her child would roll over and over in my mind as I would try to quell them and get back to sleep.

The feeling that something wasn’t right has never really gone away.  My second and third born children have not had any similarities to her eating/vomiting/growth issues.  Finally, at her 4 year check-up, we pursued some testing again.

It’s been a little over two weeks since we received her diagnosis:  Celiacs disease.  Finally it all makes sense.  Relief flooded in at the same time as a whole new level of fear.  I hung up the phone after receiving the phone call and my fingers flipped through pages desperate:


Sure, in our day, we hear a lot about Celiacs, and the gluten-free diet is a current fad diet.  But to hear that my “perfect” little girl has an autoimmune disease–it shook me.  That trippy weird slow-realization that falls over you that nothing will ever quite be the same again.  A new normal will be found, but life as you knew it is over.  Part of me wanted to tell myself I was being a big baby.  This is awesome news, this is SO MUCH better than it could have been, there is so much to be thankful for.  And all of that is true!  Still, we are not ever helped when we push down our true feelings and scold ourselves for feeling that way.  No, we are to run to the mercy seat with those feelings.  We run to our God, who is a refuge for us and who urges us to come and pour out our hearts to Him, cast all our cares on Him, find mercy + grace in our time of need.  We let ourselves feel what we are really feeling about this news/trial/difficulty and we tell Him.  We pour it out in the safety of His company, the privacy of His all-knowing, already-knowing presence.  We let Him get to our hearts, tend to them.  If we don’t do this from the beginning, I think we risk hardening our hearts, cutting them off, and that is ripe ground for the seeds of apathy + bitterness to grow.

So when I was honest with myself, I felt betrayed.  We had prayed and prayed that God would work in her body, heal her body.  We had pursued multiple tests over the years.  We had fought the issue when friends + family were all saying to let it go, that she was fine, just quirky.

What do you do when God allows the thing you have plead with Him never to do?  

What do you do with that?

A few days after the diagnosis, we were driving in the quiet rain on our way to church.  A flood of words came to me, and I scribbled them as fast as I could into my journal:

Sometimes the greatest gift God can give us is the gift of betraying us.  The gift of the bad news.  The unsettling, scary diagnosis.  Because when our faith survives what we thought our souls could never survive–that is a gift worth more than gold.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.  (James 1:2-4)

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:6-7)

We are afraid of deep waters, resistant, and of course we would be.  But our God is a perfect parent–our parent who is more about perfecting us than pampering us.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
    and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
    and the flame shall not consume you.  (Isaiah 43:2)

He will at various times in our lives lead us through deep waters.  How else can He teach us, how else can He allow us to experience His everlasting arms underneath that keep us afloat?

The eternal God is your dwelling place,
    and underneath are the everlasting arms.  (Deuteronomy 33:27)

We resist the fiery trial–but it is only in the fire that our faith is really tested, proved, purified.  It’s only when we come through the fire that we can know: this ground we stand on is solid.  Real.  Firm.  Unshakeable.  The mountains may move and tremble; He remains the same.

God is our refuge and strength,
    a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
    though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
    though the mountains tremble at its swelling.  (Psalm 46:1-3)

We cannot hope to be unaffected by the brokenness of this world.  We cannot expect not to suffer as His children the same afflictions and hardships common to man.

For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. (Matt. 5:45)

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)

But He will carry us.  He will not change.  He is good, unfailing.

Let’s not measure His love for us by the hand He deals us.  Look at Christ:  what hand did His Father deal Him?  He was perfect, sinless.  Yet He had nowhere to lay His head.  He obeyed perfectly, was perfectly upright; yet He was despised, rejected by men.  The very ones He created, the ones He came to rescue hated + betrayed Him, cried out for His blood.  He plead with His Father to deny Him the cross, to take away that cup, but the Father did not.  And Jesus surrendered to His Father’s will.

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Rom. 8:32)

Let’s not measure His love for us by the hand He deals us.  Let’s measure His (immeasurable) love for us in the way He gives Himself to us unfailingly, continually–the way He remains with us.  The way He carries us.  The way He gives more grace.  The way He gives us JESUS–and all the rich inheritance of promises found in Him.

It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed. (Deuteronomy 31:8)

No matter what comes–our lives are hidden in Christ.  Our future is secure.  And it strikes me: this is the bi-focus of the Christian faith.  What are bifocals?  A pair of glasses containing lenses with two parts with different focal lengths.  Our focus in the Christian life must always be bi-focal: at once seeing the present and also looking beyond the present, through it really, to the future.  Let us look to our eternal future, our future grace and find strength in this moment of need.

“…looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross.”  (Hebrews 12:2)

Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just to take Him at His Word;
Just to rest upon His promise,
And to know, ‘Thus saith the Lord.

Jesus, Jesus, How I trust Him
How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er
Jesus, Jesus precious Jesus
Oh for grace to trust Him more.