Posts Tagged ‘Kefir’

Ancestors, Culture and Identity: What I Learned in the Menno Ghetto

Soooo, here’s a little confession that might surprise some people: much of my increased interest in pre-Christian European heritage and ancestors has stemmed from living in such a hugely Amish and Mennonite area. Despite living near a factory and train line, I still hear the clippity clop of Amish horse and buggies at least a few times per week, even while sitting on our futon. Our farmers market has Amish vendors. Our credit union has a horse manure bin, and the local Walmart, ALDI and Menard’s all have buggy parking.

I’ve traded recipes, kefir grains and plant cuttings with an Amish family, and I have a(n Amish) 5-pointed star on my garden trellis facing the street, which means when the 9+ family bicycle outings of Amish ride by, they always wave. Indeed, we share an interest in gardening and protection magic, although I’m sure they’d use different words to describe their stars.

I love the Amish I’ve met here, and if I weren’t so concerned I’d get them in trouble  with the bishop for hanging out with faery-witchy me, I’d be much more social. They know loads about natural healing, gardening, organic farming, self-reliance, and off-grid technology. They don’t have driver’s licenses either, and they’ve got no qualms about honoring spiritual principles over stupid, invasive laws and customs. I respect that, though our views on religion (and women) differ. Widely.

On various occasions, I’ve talked with Amish people on their cell phones. Oh, yes, the Amish have cell phones. And solar powered aquaponics systems. And refrigerators and fancy fishing boats. I have it on good authority that some Amish children (and husbands) even eat … Cap’n Crunch!

One of my all time favorite memories of living in Goshen was when David and I drove up to some Amish friends of ours and saw two of the three young children working with their mother in the garden. When they turned around in their blue and grey Amish outfits, the little boy and girl had on fluorescent green and fluorescent pink heart-shaped sunglasses! David needed to calm me down before we exited the vehicle, because my cute-o-meter was on overdrive. I think I actually squealed.

Among many other things, David’s Dutch father is a Mennonite historian, specializing in both European and North American Anabaptist traditions: the Mennonites, Amish and Hutterites. Not only have I learned about these traditions by osmosis; I’ve also listened to countless explanations of the differences between “black bumper Mennonites,” “Amish,” “Old Order Mennonites,” “Dutch Mennonites,” “Pennsylvania Dutch,” and “Church of the Brethren.” (It’s all very complicated, so please don’t quiz me. Apparently, if you grow up Amish and/or Mennonite or first generation ex-Amish, which it seems most people here did, then you just know these things.)

I grew up in Bethlehem, PA, founded by Moravians, and of course, everyone in Quaker-founded Pennsylvania knows about the Amish in Lancaster. But before moving to Goshen, I had never heard of “The Menno Game.” After “hi” and sometimes even before “nice to meet you,” people share who’s married to and/or descended from whom and by way of which spelling of which 3-6 syllable German-sounding, often hyphenated last name, in order to establish lineage and relationship to one another. Though not by any stretch of the imagination a Mennonite, thanks to my time in Goshen, I can now play passable, vicarious rounds of The Menno Game. (I can also play “A Vonderful Goot Game” of Dutch Blitz.)

When we first moved to Goshen, I found the Menno Game extremely irritating. David’s not a practicing Mennonite, but he’s got the cred’s. Me? I’ve got some pirates, a distant, but unclear connection to Admiral Byrd, and a mishmash of Irish, English, Welsh, German and Eastern European, and somewhere way, way back, maybe a bit of the Anabaptist Roger Williams. Or not. Williams is a mighty common name.

My paternal grandmother’s family came over ten years after the Mayflower. Supposedly, I’m a Daughter of the American Revolution on both sides of the family, but other than these snippets, I know little to nothing of my lineage. Due to many secrets, conflicting stories, and exaggerations and omissions, I feel more certain about details of my own past lives than the history or identity of my ancestors.

I’ve lived in over 40 locations, often exclusive resort areas or high cost cities, but I never felt like an outsider until moving to “Menno Ghetto” Goshen. Not everyone here is Mennonite or Amish, but the more famous Lancaster is also more diverse. I’ve spoken to some other Outlanders about this, and they’ve agreed: there’s something about the patriarchal conformity, close-knit church communities, plain values, modest dress, severe hairstyles, and flat, grid like land of Goshen that makes you positively yearn for the Goddess.

Well, obviously, not everyone feels that way (hardly!), but for some of us, the contrast of all this community focused on a loving, generous, earthy, yet highly patriarchal culture and strict dogma triggers the inner longing for the Divine and Sacred Feminine so strongly that even if you overlooked Her before, you’ll pine for Her after living here for awhile. Or not. Apparently, most people here don’t, and that’s when I realized, I’m not just a little different. I’m not agnostic. And I’m not just a lone wolf. I value community, and I value compatible spiritual community.

Once I started my own little offshoot group of gardeners, poets and pagans celebrating the Wheel of the Year, I was able to admit to myself that the thing I found most irritating about The Menno Game was that I have almost no idea about my own lineage beyond my grandparents and a few rumors. My maiden name, “Derbenwick” isn’t even a real surname. It just happened to be the last of three consecutive misspellings of my immigrant, paternal grandfather’s last name on his BS, MS and PhD diplomas from Stanford. Coming from a family of illiterate Eastern European farmers, he didn’t bother to correct the spelling, and to this day would-be family historians argue about the original spelling, location and culture of the paternal side of the family.

My mom’s mom divorced twice, and each time she completely reinvented herself and her history. Who knows what’s real and what’s a convenient half-truth?! Don’t get me wrong, I love the fact that my family knows how to reinvent itself, and that’s a trait I know I share. Brain injury gotcha down? Can’t read books anymore? No problem. Turn your intended PhD in English literature into a career of “reading” people. Don’t like your life’s trajectory? No problem. Tell yourself a different story, and claim it as your own. Stories are powerful, and ultimately, we do — or at least can — exert tremendous influence over our own scripts. For that lived reality, I thank both sides of my mysteriously dysfunctional family.

But living in the Land of Goshen, filled with people who can track their 100 first cousins, or who know their second cousins, twice removed, along with their detailed family history through four or more generations, I do sometimes feel culturally adrift. That quirky Menno Game and the Amish connection to tradition highlight my own gypsy, mutt, forgotten and confabulated ancestry, which oddly enough, gives me more in common with the majority of 21st century Westerners, even though I’m such a minority here.

Planting roots here (literally and figuratively) after all those relocations has forced me to recognize not knowing my own heritage as a kind of disability. I’ve finally realized why the powers that want to remain work so hard to uproot families via war, “free” trade deals, regulations and hostile corporate takeovers. Without conscious effort, uprooted people lose their heritage and with it, some of their strength. This orchestrated refugee crisis in Europe uproots not only those immigrating into Europe from Africa and the Middle East, but in such large volume it simultaneously uproots people in their own homeland. Tiny villages where families have lived for 400+ years suddenly have more Muslims than natives. Cities have no-go zones where native citizens can no longer go, where police fear to enter, allowing foreign law and customs to rule instead.

In our global economy and multi-cultural world, with such ease of transportation and communication, it’s so effortless to lose touch with the land, with our ancestors, and with our culture. It takes effort to reconnect, and having lived in an environment now where people do value and maintain their heritage, history and culture — even as they evolve with the times — I see that the effort to connect pays deep, incalculable rewards. We are all immigrants to varying degrees, but in this rapidly shifting, increasingly virtual world, we need to feel a real sense of belonging — to our communities and to our land, wherever and whatever those mean. We draw strength from those connections, and if we do not have them available from our histories, then we need to nurture them in our present and our future. We will be the next generations’ ancestors.

For my part, I anchor myself on this little plot of land here and by building local community. We are creating our own traditions and reinvigorating older, forgotten ways. I steep myself in stories from the Celts and Norse, tales of Middle Earth, Hollow Earth, Asgard, and Midgard, (Admiral Byrd, please visit me in my dreams … I’ve got some questions!). Over the decades, I’ve come to recognize the Hindu pantheon and stories as originating from the same source as the Celtic and Norse traditions. I study. I sing. I dream, and I create. I anchor myself through detailed past life recollections and through extensive local and global community. I share plant cuttings, trade clothing, and exchange cultures — sourdough, kefir, yogurt. There are so many ways to build connections through time and space.

This post is long, and it’s very late here. The Amish have long since gone to bed with the sun, as at one time, most people on the planet did. I hope my wandering and centering encourages each of you to seek, find and grow deeper roots. We will need them.

Blessed Be … and be the blessing

Kombucha, Kefir and Kickapoo Kimchi! Oh, My!

Just a day in the (extremely probiotic) life:

Nessalla Kombucha --Seasonal

I love our local and homemade options for friendly gut health! For those who don’t know, kombucha is a fermented beverage made from tea, sugar and a special “SCOBY” culture that creates friendly bacteria and symbiotic yeast. For details on health benefits, you can click right here. I don’t drink it often, but when I do, I love supporting Madison’s very own kombucha brewer, Nessala. Today’s flavor? Seasonal Hibiscus-St. John’s Wort-Siberian Ginseng. You can also make your own ‘booch with their handy dandy starter kits. I’ve not braved kombucha making yet, although I do have an unactivated SCOBY back from my Sedona 2007 days. I’ve heard stories about the SCOBY’s taking over, but our friend, Sue, feeds her chickens the leftovers and they seem to thrive on it!

Seed starters, fermenting kefir and soaked and dehydrated buckwheat groats.

Kefir is another fermented beverage and currently one of my favorites. According to the local-ish Moonwise Herbs, who prepared our gorgeous Wild Edibles Gourmet Dinner last year:

“Kefir is a refreshing probiotic cultured-milk beverage, which is believed to originate in the Northern Caucasus Mountains many centuries ago. Kefir has a uniform thick creamy consistency, a slightly sour refreshing taste, with a mild aroma of fresh yeast. Kefir also has a slight naturally carbonated effervescent ‘zest.’

“Kefir’s tart and refreshing flavor is similar to a drinking-style yogurt, but it contains beneficial yeast as well as friendly ‘probiotic’ bacteria found in yogurt. The naturally occurring bacteria and yeast in kefir combine symbiotically to give superior health benefits when consumed regularly. It is loaded with valuable vitamins and minerals and contains easily digestible complete proteins.

“Kefir can be made from any type of milk, cow, goat or sheep. Non-dairy beverages can also be cultured with the grains. We have cultured coconut nectar, homemade juice from the berries in our yard-one of my favorites is cultured currant juice as well as lemonade and fresh fruit.”

As you know, I provide information only on this blog, so I can’t make any “real” health claims except from personal experience. That said, kefir rocks! At various times in my life, I’ve had coconut milk kefir, coconut water kefir, raw milk kefir, and it all makes me feel good! I first learned of coconut milk kefir from my friend/former neighbor, Cecilia, who used Body Ecology Starters with fresh coconut meat/water blends. She even had some success with a bottled version of flash pasteurized coconut milk. Kefir “grains” add so many enzymes and digestive aids that, while fresh is best, you really can’t go wrong with kefir — provided it’s homemade. The commercial brands filled with guar gum are quite another story, at least in my experience! Rumble, rumble, if you know what I mean. When I drink homemade kefir, my body hums. I’ve also heard enough testimonials from people with formerly autistic children to know there’s something powerful in that fermentation.

If you want a superfood version of Breyer’s Peaches ‘n Cream ice cream, try frozen organic peaches blended with milk/coconut milk/nutmylk kefir and a splash of vanilla stevia. Wow.

Fully "ready" kefir and kimchi from fizziology.

And the kimchi! I just can’t say enough good things about our local fizzeology fermented veggies. Sure, we could make our own and sometimes do. David has a “Perfect Pickler,” which truly does make perfect pickles and no-stink-up-the-kitchen kraut. But we met fizzeology’s Mike Bieser at a health expo where I spoke last year. He puts burdock root in his kimchi! Enough said. I love, love, love burdock! Can’t get enough. I also love the other flavors, especially ones with a Mexican flare. When you can find fermented foods this good and this local, and you’re this lazy, it just feels right to go support your local co-op, which now stocks Mike’s tasty, healthy treats. I particularly like Kickapoo Kimchi on avocados or wrapped in nori sheets for fast, satisfying snacks.

Between b-vitamins, enzymes, bio-available protein, adrenal nourishment, and friendly flora, you just can’t beat fermented foods! “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” I doubt Virginia Woolf meant kombucha, kefir and kimchi, but that’s probably cuz she hadn’t tried them. 😉

Raw Food Frenzy

My, my, my … it’s a good thing raw and living foods provide so much energy! Sure, they take extra prep time to replicate gourmet yumminess, but they do pay it forward. I’ve had such a busy week and the next weeks and months just keep looking busier. All good, exciting stuff, though!

As I sit here drinking a Reishi Mocha Chaga Hemp Banana Coconut Water smoothie, I’ve got sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds soaking for late afternoon pâté creations to top salads during tomorrow’s Reiki Master Teacher training lunch break. I’ve got sundried tomatoes soaking in water for blending with homegrown basil and oregano, plus Roma tomatoes to make a raw marinara sauce for our spiralized celeriac. Have you tried celeriac (celery root) noodles? I love them even better than zucchini noodles — slightly crunchy and less watery. We’ve got olives to chop for tapenade, more tomatoes and chives to chop for a cumin tomato tartar topping for, get this … raw, vegan, gluten-free Rosemary Garlic Bread, which is currently tantalizing us in the dehydrator. An afternoon trip to the co-op will bring us some cukes and greens for a side salad, and we’ll top off this Italian raw feast for friends with some Reishi-Chaga-Lucuma-Cacao gelato. Total experiment, but I have high hopes.

Somewhere in there, it will be collard ribboning time, to make a simple side salad of olive oil, lemon juice and Celtic sea salt intended to accompany the soon-to-be-chopped root veggies we’ll throw in the oven towards the end of tomorrow’s RMT class. Non-linear me goofed and booked an evening session after all-day teaching, so I will much appreciate the speedy sustenance. Teaching Reiki always makes me hungry.

Other goodies on our plates or in our fridge?

Last weekend’s channeling host treated us to some of “Caroline’s Handmade” raw flax crackers and sundried tomato cashew dip — possibly the best dip we’ve ever tasted. Yes, it was that good, and no, it’s not technically in our fridge right now. We finished that the following morning. 🙂 We’ve got sprouted, dehydrated buckwheat groats, should the “cereal” craving hit. Our freezer holds some Violet’s Violent End blueberry pie from Shazzie and David Wolfe’s “Naked Chocolate” book. Always a favorite for guests and quick snacks! I gifted my copy to a formerly “cooked” chocoholic, but I’ve made that recipe so often, I have it committed to memory.

After last night’s channeling event, I scarfed an entire bag of Rhythm Superfoods “Zesty Nacho” Kale Chips, followed by our locally made Fizziology Kimchee served on avocados. A yummy return to Earth after all that ethereal stuff. 😉 We’ve also got homemade kefir awaiting frozen strawberries and vanilla stevia for OMG wowness! Perhaps a new favorite, among so much vibrant deliciousness. Of course, none of this would feel complete without fresh green juice, and thank heavens our co-op makes such economical and tasty blends. You can’t really buy produce, juice it and clean up for much less than a freshly prepared (by someone else!) Cucumber-Celery-Parsley or Inner Peace juice. Despite all evidence to the contrary, I remain forever and always, a Lazy Raw Foodist.

Just sharing some days in the life … Cheers and Love!

More Green Smoothies to Write Home About

Ever since Victoria Boutenko sent me a review copy of Green for Life, back in early 2006, I have begun most days with some sort of green smoothie. It got so that I didn’t even think about it: breakfast was simply green, very green, everyday green.

Until this summer. Suddenly, this summer I could no longer tolerate green smoothies. It didn’t matter which green or which fruit I used, after a couple sips, my stomach would lock up and not allow even a bit more down. If I managed to swallow some of these concoctions in the name of “health,” I would end up needing to juice fast for two days just to get my stomach settled.

This experience caused some interesting realizations, not the least of which was just how much of a raw foodist I’d become. The idea of anything else for breakfast literally had not occurred to me for several years! What exactly did “normal” people eat for breakfast? Cocoa Puffs? I attempted a few more green smoothie combos and did a few more unintended juice feasts before I called it quits.

I stopped drinking green smoothies for about two months. I started eating fruit for breakfast, or VEGA protein powder, or HempNGreens rawnola with sesame seed mylk (exceptionally yummy, by the way). I survived, but I did miss my smoothies. Then one day, I mixed some Vitamineral Green in coconut water and felt the same gut wrenching stomach pains. Ah-ha! Mystery solved: I had grown so accustomed to adding Vitamineral Green to all my smoothies that I hadn’t even noticed it as the one common denominator amidst all varieties of greens and fruit. This also explained why I could eat a kale salad but not a kale smoothie. It was never about the kale!

Anyway, long story short, I’ve been back on green smoothies again for about 2 months, and the time away increased my fondness for them. I have nothing against Vitamineral Green; I think it’s a fabulous product. My stomach just doesn’t appear to like it anymore. But it does love green smoothies! I decided to share two more favorites here:


This is a recent variation on an old standby, utilizing coconut kefir instead of almond mylk.

5-15 leaves dinosaur kale (depending how green you like your smoothies)

1 cup coconut kefir (coco meat + coco water, so it’s nice and thick)

1 cup water or coconut water

1 avocado

1-2 bananas

1-2 TBSP spirulina

1 tsp lucuma

1 TBSP liquid lecithin (soy or sunflower)

Blend and enjoy!


3-4 cups baby spinach

1 cup coconut kefir (meat + water)

1-2 TBSP cacao nibs

2 bananas

3 dried schizandra berries

1 TBSP liquid lecithin

splash of Jerusalem artichoke syrup

water to thin to desired consistency

Blend and chug for a supercharged day.

Want more lazy recipes that deliver maximum energy for minimum mess? Check out The Lazy Raw Foodist’s Guide for tips from Sarma, Shazzie, Anthony Anderson and many more people looking to make your health journey as easy as (raw) pie. Cheers to you!