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Friday, May 18, 2012


I have always been a little suspicious of sauerkraut. When I was young it simply looked like a mass of greyish slimy disgusting. Therefore I avoided it, much to my parents delight who got all misty eyed and lyrical whenever a can of sauerkraut was opened and hoarded it jealously to themselves. Later on in life I risked a wee nibble and was entranced, sauerkraut was sour, tangy, salty and delicious. Perfect for hot dogs, sausages, stews or as an accompaniment to a cooked breakfast.

Sauerkraut is also a powerful probiotic, one of the top superfoods that can help promote good health via the gut. It is high in vitamin C and digestive enzymes. It’s a good source of natural lactic acid bacteria such as lactobacillus and pediococcus. It is also rich in a phytonutrient, glucosinolate which in small amounts is supposed to enable detoxification and is known as an anti cancer agent. The phytonutrients are also known for protecting mucous membranes, especially in the lungs and digestive tract. To get the benefits of probiotic goodness you need to buy organic unpasteurized sauerkraut or ferment your own, canned kraut has been pasteurised and is no good.

Sauerkraut is most commonly made with cabbage but can be used with any cruciferous vegetable (Brassicaceae), it is created by a process of lacto-fermentation, which helps to preserve the nutrients but also makes the vegetables more digestible and creates the probiotic component. Lacto-fermentation also gives it the signature sauerkraut flavor. This process produces a wide range of beneficial live lactic acid bacteria which assist in the digestive process. It also synthesises a variety of vitamins and other nutrients as well as keeping harmful micro-organisms at bay.

True sauerkraut aficionados use a special airtight crock pot to ferment their vegetables because the pickling process is anaerobic which means no air is involved. These crockpots have a tight seal created by a rim of water or an airtight lid. For the beginner you can use mason jars but just be aware that light and contact with metal are detrimental to the process. Weck canning jars or hinge topped fido jars would be ideal but in a pinch a normal metal lid mason jar or springtop lidded jar with some clingfilm in between would work. Other options are to use a bucket with a heavy plate compressing the mix and keeping air out.

Back in the day using lacto fermentation was a great way of preserving the goodness in seasonal vegetables for year round nutrition. Sauerkraut is an excellent recipe for people aiming towards self sufficiency as it maximises nutrition and keeping time. As such I decided it was time to take the plunge into the weird and wonderful world of lacto fermentation.

On the weekend at the local farmers market I found a seller with delicious looking Chinese barrel cabbages and snapped one up for $2.

This is the recipe I used. It’s a combination of two different recipes I had obtained and I took the best of both recipes and combined them.

Traditional sauerkraut

1 large firm headed cabbage (any equivalent brassica will do)
1 tablespoons of uniodised salt - (iodine inhibits fermentation). I used Himalayan rock salt which has trace amounts of iodine. Celtic sea salt is also good.
8 Juniper berries
2 tsp caraway seeds
Enough water to cover the cabbage – filtered or spring is best as chlorinated water will also inhibit fermentation.
Juice of one lemon

The technique of how you make the sauerkraut is important, if you get it wrong it could all get terribly unpleasant.

1. First off slice the base off of your cabbage and set aside (you’ll be using this later), pull off any damaged outer leaves.

2. Core your cabbage and then slice finely, as finely as possible.

3. Place your cabbage in a large non reactive bowl, glass or plastic is best, then sprinkle your salt over the top

4. Toss and rub the cabbage to get the salt drawing the juices out. You can use a potato masher or pulveriser to crush it if you like.

5. Leave the cabbage for an hour to sweat, it should look a little translucent.

6. Sprinkle the juniper berries and caraway seeds over the cabbage

7. In a blender blitz 1 cup of water and the juice of the lemon with any leftover cabbage debris or a handful of cabbage from your batch of sauerkraut.

8. Firmly pack your cabbage into mason jars, using a mortar or wooden spoon to get it packed as tightly as possible. The idea is to exclude any air bubbles as they can make the mixture turn bad.

9. As you pack the cabbage in top up with your blended water. Ideally all of the cabbage will be submerged by the time you have finished. Leave about an inch at the top of the jar. You can use extra plain water if you don’t have enough brine.

10. Find the base that you set aside and trim it to fit your jar and then slide onto your cabbage like a plug. If you used more than one jar then you can use rolled up outer leaves to be your ‘plug’. You can squeeze a little lemon juice over the kraut

11. Put your jars somewhere warm and dark, the kraut should take between 4 days to 2 weeks. You can check it from time to time for sourness and intensity. Once it has reached the flavor you prefer you can refrigerate it and it should last indefinitely if well stored.

Sauerkraut is a great addition to meals, you can use it as a pickle or relish with vegetables and meats or as a topping for stews. My personal favourite is with bratwurst, but it is equally delectable in sandwiches or on crackers. I spied this recipe for pink ginger sauerkraut the other day and cannot wait to try it but I may wait and see if this batch works first!

Monday, May 14, 2012


When we talk about health fevers are one of the most common childhood occurrences. A fever is a sign that the body is fighting off an illness and is in fact a sign that the immune system is functioning well. A fever is an indication that we are unwell, but is not in fact the illness.

Common practice has been to suppress fevers with a febrifuge such as paracetamol (acetaminophen) or ibuprofen. This is because common medical practice believed until recently, that the fever was the illness and by suppressing the fever we were helping the patient heal. This is not in fact the case.

The fever process works like this: the child develops an infection, to which the body responds by making additional leukocytes (white blood cells). These cells fight the infection by destroying the bacteria and viruses then removing the dead tissue. The activity level of the white cells is also increased as they move rapidly to the site of the infection. This is called leucotaxis, and it is activated by the release of pyrogens which raise the body temperature. As the fever progresses the metabolic rate and oxygen consumption increases. The key here is that the raise in temperature is what stimulates the leucocytes to respond. An increase in body temperature simply means that the process of healing is speeding up.


Also, iron, which bacteria need to survive, is removed from the blood and stored in the liver. This reduces the rate at which the bacteria multiply. As this whole process progresses, a substance called interferon becomes more effective and aids in the fight of the infection. Because a fever is regulated by the body, it rarely, if ever, reaches a level that would be hazardous to the child.

People worry about fevers because we believe that fevers can cause brain damage, again this is very rarely the case. Fevers of a temperature high enough to cause damage in human cells (41.5 C+) are rare and are usually caused by poisoning, heatstroke or brain damage (specifically to the hypothalamus) even very high temperatures up to 39-40 degrees Celsius will not harm your child in and of themselves. Obviously if the fever is a result of a serious illness then the illness might be doing damage but the fever is actually fighting the illness and by suppressing it you allow the illness to take an upper hand. A correctly functioning hypothalamus will not allow the body to reach dangerous temperatures when a normal illness is present.

Another concern is the incidence of febrile convulsions. Febrile convulsions are scary and can leave parents feeling scared and helpless as their children seize. Febrile convulsions occur in children who are predisposed to them and are not specifically a result of a high temperature but instead occur when there is a rapid increase or decrease in temperature. Again febrile convulsions are really unpleasant to witness but in themselves do no harm, the usually only affect 3-4% of the population and cease occurring at approximately 3yrs of age.

Personally I only offer paracetamol or ibuprofen if the fever is interfering with sleep as sleep is an important part of healing. Using a febrifuge may make your children feel more comfortable but it slows and suppresses the immune system. I would only consider emergency treatment if my boys had been exposed to poison or showed no signs of improving after 3 days of relentless temperatures - also young babies 0-3 weeks old should be checked out if they present with a fever.

The most important thing is to watch your baby. If they are limp, floppy and appear seriously ill then get them checked out. If they are chipper or alert or even just tired and cuddly then they are probably fine.

So how do we treat a fever if we don’t use febrifuges? The key is to keep your child hydrated, allow plenty of skin to skin time and warm baths can help. NOT cool baths or cold sponging as they can trick the hypothalamus into maintaining a higher fever. Remember the body WANTS to have a fever - it's the failsafe protective system. Unnaturally chilling your child will make them heat up faster afterwards as a response and can be really unpleasant. A cold bath is not a nice experience.

One of the most important things when managing a fever and illness is to manage hydration, especially if your child has had diarrhoea or vomiting. A poorly hydrated child will decline quickly and can become seriously ill. To monitor hydration you can perform a number of assessments very easily to measure how the fluids are going. The first is how your child is looking in themselves. A tired, listless child with rapid breathing, cold extremities, sunken eyes and a weak pulse is a warning sign that hydration is inadequate. A general lack of tears, mouth moisture and urine can indicate serious dehydration and you should get to a Doctor as soon as possible. With babies a sunken fontanelle is an indication of dehydration.

To test for hydration you can do the pinch test or the nail bed test. The pinch test assesses the skins turgor and is done by pinching the skin on the hand or arm and seeing how long the skin takes to return to its original position. It should spring back quickly but if it is slow to return taking up to 2 seconds then your child is moderately dehydrated. Longer than 2 seconds can mean a serious dehydration.

The nail bed test follows a similar principle but is simply pressing on the nail bed and measuring how long the capillary refill takes. This is when you press the fingernail until it is white and then watch as the pinkness returns, again, anything longer than 2 seconds is serious and may need immediate treatment.

You can keep your child hydrated by monitoring their intake, offering small sips of liquid and often and nursing on demand. Dr Momma has a great guide to nursing through an attack of the vomits here, as well as a recipe for oral hydration fluid.

Fever management is a really good skill to have with young kids, and while it has its place, reaching for the paracetamol or ibuprofen should not be your first port of call.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Four Years Breastfeeding

Last month I featured in a guest blog on Anything Baby, the post was initially my status update. It was a very hard status update to write. Some of my close friends knew I still breastfed my eldest son but very few of my non parental friends had any idea and many of them had already expressed disgust at the idea of a mother breastfeeding her child beyond (insert arbitrary age here).

This morning on my newsfeed a TIME magazine cover appeared, popping up on parenting page feeds all over the place. It was of a woman standing and breastfeeding her 3 year old son who was standing on a stool. At first I thought 'Oh great! Breastfeeding gets a front cover!' Then I quickly realised that this cover wasn't about normalising breastfeeding, it was about pointing out how 'extreme' full term breastfeeders were and with a caption like 'Are you Mom enough?' it became painfully obvious that this was simply the media getting on board the 'pit parents against each other' train again. I've had enough. 

So rather than get on board the mama bashing bandwagon I'm just going to re blog my guest post. When this post was published it went viral in a low key manner. When it popped up on the news feed of 'Conscience Parenting' it was pointed out that perhaps it would be good to see the data behind my claims. So without link spamming - here is the same blog, but with a little data.

I have been breastfeeding for almost 4 years now, some of you think this is great, for some of you this is a surprise, for some of you this is a shock and some of you will be feeling disgust.
Before you decide that I am a weird extremist you should consider a few things.
1. The world median for breastfeeding is 4 years, the W.H.O recommend breastfeeding until at least 2 years and beyond.
When I initially published this first point I had stated 'average' instead of median. Thanks to a helpful poster I was directed to this useful article from the lactivist. the world average is of course much lower with many people not initiating breastfeeding or ceasing within the first 6 weeks. However the average age range for natural weaning is from 2.5 months to 7 years and the median is 4.5yrs. This is well supported by the average age of weaning in cultures where breastfeeding is not considered out of the ordinary. If you want some fun facts on breastfeeding then look here.
2. Many people suggest a good time to wean is when your baby has teeth/can walk/can talk. My boy teethed at 3months, walked at 9 months and was talking by 12 months. Some babies are born with teeth. Some babies don’t have a full set of teeth until 33months and beyond.
3. Many people assume that because I have chosen to full term breastfeed that I judge other mothers and feel superior. I feel happy in my decision and everyone else should feel happy in theirs. My decision is not a reflection on anyone elses parenting
4. Some people think that feeding beyond an arbitrary age is deviant/kinky/perverted or sexual. If you think this then you either A: Think my sons are thinking sexual thoughts about me B: Think I am thinking sexual thoughts about my children or C: Have some sexual hang ups of your own. I can confirm that A and B are not correct.
5. If my son wasn’t drinking human breastmilk he would be drinking cows breastmilk. Cows breastmilk costs us money and is nutritionally inferior. Human breastmilk is free and has the added benefit of burning 500 calories a day.
6. From a physiological perspective we stop producing lactase in large quantities from 4-6 years of age, this is also when we lose our deciduous or ‘milk’ teeth and our jaw starts to fill out making nursing difficult. Anthropologically we breastfeed for a very short time when we look at our ancestors.
7. Breastfeeding is a normal thing for human mammals to be doing. By breastfeeding I help keep my risk of cancer neutral and give my son a better risk profile in terms of diabetes, obesity and other disease. The longer I breastfeed the better these risk ratios are and the better his development is.
8. This is the right decision for us and I am sick of having other people assume they know better than we do when it comes to raising our children. It is not okay to casually talk about how perverted, sick, clingy, neurotic and weird women are when they breastfeed beyond an arbitrary date.
9. Some of you think my sons will become clingy mamas boys. If you have met my children then you will be aware that this is farcical.
And before you dismiss me as one more breastfeeding nazi extremist with weird sexual leanings and hippy tendencies please imagine for a second that I am a homosexual friend of yours who has decided to come out of the closet and with that in mind you should extend your respect, kindness and acceptance.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Picnics, Lunacy and other things...

When I was younger the full moon always woke me up, it had a lot to do with the fact that I didn’t have any curtains and lived in the country so the moon just shone right in through my window. But I liked to think that the moon wanted me awake. Once I was awake there was no getting back to sleep so I would often go for full moon strolls. I loved the way the world looked in the moonlight, all monochromatic and dusky. Those moonlit walks were a perfect thing in and of themselves. I felt peaceful and lucid. I did some of my best thinking in the small hours after the full moon rose and before it set.

The moon has factored strongly in my life, for starters we often went fishing and surfing so it was important to know where the tide was sitting and when the super high tides would be. My mum is an avid gardener and my dad was a tree nurseryman so the moon also factored in our planting and growing. We had a lunar gardening calendar up every year and did all of our major gardening by it. More recently after having manipulated my fertility for many years with hormones I discovered upon going hormone free that my menses synced up with the full moon like clockwork. I was interested to read the research of Barbara Kingsolver which indicated there is a link between being outdoors a lot (especially at night)and having your cycles move with the moon cycles. The theory was that the extra moonlight somehow stimulated your pineal gland, much like the reef fish.

Last night was the moon’s perigee, which means that at full moon the lunar path was closer to the earth than normal. To loonies like me this means a more powerful full moon effect. Online there was a little anticipation with some doulas commenting on membranes that were rupturing earlier than expected and births moving forwards to meet the full moon. The scientific world are a little divided on the topic of full moons affecting birth rates with studies coming up on both sides of the fence. More in depth studies have uncovered a link with increased in birth rates in the last quarter of the lunar cycle which coincides with the full moon. To many experienced midwives the effect is undisputable; however it may be a little unfortunate that increasingly the obstetrician's golf game may have more of an impact on birth rates. Lunar cycles have been linked to fertility in a number of aspects from sperm motility to ovulation cycles to spontaneous miscarriages.  Ancient traditions in many cultures recognized this lunar affect and many fertility rites and traditions were celebrated in time with the full moon

Perhaps more interestingly a spectrum of anecdotal evidence indicates that mental states may be affected by the full moon. Every full moon I hear people curmudgeoning about the crazies coming out of the woodwork and within my parenting groups I hear a universal groan from my mama friends about how moody and anxious they are with the build up to the full moon. My husband who works in complaints says that undoubtedly he witnesses an increased volume of cases being processed in the last quarter and a general increase in spurious nature of complaints. But these claims aren’t just the premise of urban myths and old wives tales, studies have shown that schizophrenics are affected by the moon and there is an increased incidence of seizures and admissions due to mental health in the last quarter . In fact the term lunacy springs from the word lunar so it is no surprise that people feel a little loony during a full moon.

Nowadays, every full moon I anticipate with a bit of hesitancy, I love the full moon but I don’t love its effects on my children! It took me almost a year to figure out why my first son would have incredibly restless nights where he would be alert and not at all sleepy! Then someone finally pointed out to me that the full moon can have an effect on sleep patterns and looking back it all clicked. So now when the full moon is coming I have made a habit of going to bed with my clothes on in preparation for a big night.

Last night with the Samhain perigee, I found myself going for walk at 1am with my youngest in the wrap looking around in awe at the moonlit night.  He finally fell asleep after 40 minutes of walking and I spent the rest of the night bouncing on my swiss ball to keep him settled while I had a little cloquality time with my pinterest account. I finally managed to get him to bed and myself almost to sleep at 3am when I heard the stealthy thumps of a nearly four year old climbing out of bed and thunderfooting down the hallway. In a breathy whisper he shouts ‘MUM, I GOT MY SLIPPERS ON, LETS PLAY LEGO’  - an elbow to my prone husband elicited a sleepy mumble and then the lego monster was escorted back to bed for a little more sleep and a big cuddle. That was the first of a series of wakeups in the early morn and it wasn’t until 6am that we got any real sleep. My husband bless him got up and let me sleep until a grand old 8am. Ooh exciting! 2 hrs! In the morning my husbands facebook status made me laugh. "Anyone who says the moon does not affect behaviour can go jump in the loch - kids took shifts getting up and baying..."

Next full moon I am going to embrace fully, when I was younger, every so often as a special treat we would have a midnight picnic. So instead of feeling resentful and annoyed when early wakings keep me from my precious sleep I am going to live the moment and create a few special memories. I used to love watching the hedgehogs and listening to the ruru or the swamp bittern while we enjoyed hot chocolate by the glow of paperbag lanterns. Midnight picnics involved singing, telling stories and eating delicious treats. They were truly magical moments

So I already have it all planned , I have made these fabulous upcycled tin can lanterns and have the picnic bag packed ready to go with a thermos which I’ll put this delicious drink in, some tasty healthy treats, a picnic blanket, some glowstick lanterns, shadow puppets and night time fairy bubble mixture. Those hours on pinterest weren’t such a waste of time after all. Lunacy has got something going for it!!