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Renee-Lucie BenoitIn my first root beer post I found that the kefir culture didn't give me the results I wanted. I found that I had made a decent probiotic root beer flavored drink that did not come close to classic root beer in color and fizziness. The flavor was kind of a root beer flavored water-y kefir. I wanted a drink close in flavor and color to root beer I remembered from my youth.

So I made a few consultations with people I knew were familiar with fermented drinks and found that kefir culture was not the best for the classic taste. I was counseled to try ginger bug and a more simple ingredient combination. I got this recipe from Wellness Mama. Then I modified it for my own kitchen.

Here's what I came up with:

First you need to make a Ginger Bug. Don't ask me where that name came from. I think it's a shortened way of saying Lacto-Fermented Ginger Starter.

Ginger Bug Ingredients

2 fresh ginger roots — about 1-1/2 inches long; peeled unless using organic and then you can use it with the skin on
1/2 cup white sugar — has to be white otherwise the fermentation will not work properly
2 cups filtered water
quart size mason jar
rubber band

Cut a chunk of ginger root and grate it to make 2-3 tablespoons of grated ginger.




Put the ginger in the mason jar and add 2-3 tablespoons of white sugar.


Add 2 cups of filtered water.


Don't use water that has chlorine in it. The chlorine will kill the fermentation critters.

Stir with a non-metal spoon and lightly cover with cheesecloth held in place by a rubber band.



Then for five days add 1 tablespoon grated ginger and 1 tablespoon of sugar once a day and stir. It could take a few days more than five for it to work. What you're looking for is a sweet yeasty ginger smell with fizzles/bubbles at the top.  If mold appears on the surface throw it away and start again. If you make sure your utensils are all clean and sterilized you will more likely be able to avoid mold. If it takes over a week to ferment throw it away and start again. Also don't ferment it next to kombucha or sauerkraut or any other lacto-fermented stuff. They will "cross pollinate".

Ginger Bug is good for many homemade sodas. If you want to try it out on other recipes on down the line you can let it rest in the fridge until you're ready. Just add a teaspoon of grated fresh ginger and 1 teaspoon of sugar every week. When you're ready let it come to room temperature and start feeding it again.

OK, now is the time to start the actual root beer. The even easier part.

Root Beer Ingredients

1/2 cup sassafras root bark
1/2 teaspoon wintergreen leaf
1 cup cane sugar
1/2 cup molasses
1 tiny dash of ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 cup homemade ginger bug
Optional: pinch of hops, pinch of coriander, pinch of allspice, up to 1/4 cup lime juice, a few juniper berries (leftover from the first experiment)

Put the sassafras root bark and wintergreen leaf in a large pot big enough to hold 3 quarts of filtered water. Add the spice if you decide to use them. Add 3 quarts of water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Strain through cheesecloth into a large pitcher to remove the herbs. Then while it is still hot add the sugar and molasses and stir with a clean spoon until it is dissolved. Let cool until just room temperature (not hot, not cold) and add the 3/4 cup ginger bug (strain it through cheesecloth to remove the particles of ginger) and vanilla. Also add lime juice at this time if you decide to try that. I did. I added all the ingredients listed. Transfer to grolsch type clean sterilized bottles. You know, the ones with the wire clasp on the lid. Let the bottles sit at room temperature for a few days but check after two days for carbonation. Right away my bottles started to get a mottle-ly "foam" on the surface but I let them sit. After 2 days I opened one carefully and it did have a little "pop" but not too much. I smelled it and decided that it only vaguely smelled like root beer. The molasses was not an undertone. It was dominant. Then because I was not sure what the foam-y stuff was on the top I made a command decision. I threw it away. It did not smell like we wanted it to and even though botulism is rare in these kinds of things the concern we had put us over the top.

I remember reading a story Ruth Reichl told about her mother. Ruth Reichl wrote a great memoir about her life, the beginnings of California Cuisine and her days as editor in chief at Gourmet magazine. She said (and I paraphrase) "My mother was always trying things out on my dad. She'd say here try this and he would dutifully open his mouth and let her spoon the stuff in. Invariably he'd wrinkle his nose and spit the stuff out. Mother would say yes, I thought it was going bad."

So, not wanting to do a Ruth's Mother on my husband I decided to throw it out.

Here's a picture of what we got. Does it look benign to you?


You might ask why would I offer a recipe that I threw out in the final analysis? I offer it because if you do it right and your result does not have any suspicious things about it I'm sure that you can get a lacto-fermented healthy drink that is good in its own right. I want you to know my whole process so you can learn from it and decide what you want to do.

Root Beer Part Three comes next.


Renee-Lucie BenoitI don't know about you but one of my greatest pleasures growing up in a hot and humid mid-western town was going to the A & W Root Beer stand on a summer night. Everybody was there and the carhops came out to your car and the huge mugs were frosty and the liquid inside them sublime.

My grandmother wouldn't drink it, though. "It's beer," she said. She was a teetotaler.

"But Grandma," we said, "it's not beer. It's just a word."

Never mind. She was stubborn and she was adamant. We didn't know any better but back in the day and probably her day root beer was actually beer and a little bit alcoholic. It was known as "small" beer. Very little alcohol but alcoholic none the less. So Grandma was not far off.

I did a little research and found that in the days when water was so filthy as to be toxic some people started wondering why the rich were so healthy compared to the poor. It turns out that rich people never drank water but always wine or beer. Water was all poor people had to drink for the most part. So a movement began in Belgium to create a cheap beer that poor people could afford and had a low alcohol drink so children could drink. This as known as "small beer".

Small beer is less than 2% alcohol. The alcohol in it acts as a preservative and germ killer. Boiling to blend the flavors further kills bacteria and germs. It is then cooled and fermented with yeast. The yeast is what creates the alcohol and the bubbles.

I decided to try a purist approach and go from scratch without the benefit of store bought extract. The process turns out to be easy but I wasn't sure how it would turn out. Will it taste anywhere near like A&W? My guess is no but that isn't going to stop my experiment. I decided to use kefir culture to ferment the beverage because I had it. It might turn out that I've made a good probiotic beverage. We'll see. But I'm not sure my husband will be willing to try it if it doesn't have the characteristics he's used to. No matter. Dang the torpedoes, full speed ahead!

I found all my herbs at The Herb Room in Santa Cruz, California. I was able to buy small amounts so if the experiment fails I won't have pounds of herb leftover.

Makes about 2 liters


• 1/4 cup sassafras root bark
• 1/4 cup winter green leaf
• 2 tablespoons sarsaparilla root
• 1 tablespoon licorice root
• 1 tablespoon ginger root
• 1 tablespoon dandelion root
• 1 tablespoon hops flowers
• 1 tablespoon birch bark
• 1 tablespoon wild cherry tree bark
• 1 teaspoon juniper berries
• 1 cinnamon stick
• 1 cup unrefined cane sugar
• 1 packet kefir starter culture


1. Bring two and one-half quarts filtered water to a boil and stir in sassafras, sarsaparilla, wintergreen, licorice, ginger, hops, juniper, birch and wild cherry bark. (I use our well water. It has been tested to be bacteria free and, of course, it has no additives.)  Reduce the heat and simmer for twenty minutes.

2. Turn off the heat and strain the herb liquid through a colander lined with cheesecloth into a clean pitcher. Make sure you use a pitcher that won't break when you pour the hot liquid in it. (For my next batch I think I am going to source a large stainless steel pitcher. I broke my glass pitcher even though I pre-heated it.) Stir the sugar into the hot liquid until it dissolves. Allow it to cool to room temperature. Once the sweetened liquid has cooled, stir in the kefir starter culture. The kefir culture will make the liquid "milky" so don't be disturbed. Then pour into individual sterilized bottles. Mason jars that have a glass lid with wire fasteners would be good. (Just don't boil the rubber gasket.) Leave at least one inch head space in each bottle. Don't fill it to the top. There needs to be room for the fermentation gases.


3. Allow the root beer to ferment for three to four days at room temperature, then transfer it to the refrigerator for an additional two days to age.


Here's my final result 5 days later. Definitely fragrant milky brew. No effervescence to speak of. Tasty vanilla sassafras quality. But not a keeper.


Back to the drawing board in Part Two. In Part Two I'm going to use a ginger bug instead of kefir culture. I'm also going to try a different configuration of ingredients.

Just think of how interesting it must have been when people were discovering something new. What new thing have you discovered recently?


Renee-Lucie BenoitWe've been on our new homestead for three months now and things have settled down pretty well to the point that I am now considering hosting a Traditional House Warming party. We'll probably have a barbecue in our backyard and invite all the neighbors and all our old friends who have kept up with our peregrinations.

When I was a kid growing up in Iowa every time a new family moved into the neighborhood all the wives and mothers were johnny-on-the-spot with a pie or banana bread or some such goodie to welcome the new family to the neighborhood and then get to know them. This is where the traditional house warming party was so wonderful an event. The new family would get to know their neighbors and the neighbors would get to know them. Everyone sat around and ate the potluck dishes the neighbors brought and the new family would show everyone their new home.  Advice was given. Favors were offered. It is a lovely tradition and I would like to see it happen more.

Along with the food, little gifts are also customary. The idea, of course, is that the new homeowners could probably use the items and if they already have them they might appreciate having new things that aren't all worn out. They just spent a bundle on the down payment and insurance and most likely repairs so little gifts will be greatly appreciated. Something for the new house or something to be enjoyed during the party are customary.

In the olden days the housewarming party was symbolic but also literal. Of course, no one had central heating in those days and houses were warmed by wood fires in the fireplace or woodstove.  Each guest would bring firewood as a gift so the new home owners would have plenty of wood to burn. There was no harm in the fact that they also believed that a warm house repelled evil spirits. It was important to have the house properly prepared for habitation.

Here's another tradition that I've heard of. My cousin from North Carolina tells me of a Southern get-together known as a "Food Pounder". At a Food Pounder guests bring the new homeowners a pound of food such as cheese, cornmeal, flour, sugar, or any other staple needed to stock the new home's pantry. Nowadays even canned goods or fresh foods are proper.

Housewarming Gifts

Bread, salt and wine are traditional housewarming gifts.  In the movie "It's a Wonderful Life" we hear George and Mary Bailey speak these words when they first occupy their new house:

Mary: "Bread, so that this house may never know hunger. Salt, so that life may always have flavor."
George: "Wine, that joy and prosperity may reign forever."

Other ideas might include:

Small appliances such as toaster, blender, juicer or wooden spoons.
Home-cooked food or local restaurant gift card.
Flowers or plants.
A bottle of champagne.
Assortment of local baked goods.
Scented candles.
Homemade tea towels or potholders.
Scented soaps.
Tea or coffee.

Now as soon as I've set the date I will let you all know and I look forward to seeing you!


Photo by Fotolia/idea_studio


Renee-Lucie BenoitHere's a super easy summer chicken dish to grill outdoors and help keep the kitchen cool. I was introduced to a version of it when I went to a local fast food restaurant that served Mexican food. Of course, they would not share their recipe so to the best of my ability I came up with a my own version and, if I do say so myself, I like it even better.

Crazy Grilled Citrus Marinated Chicken


1 chicken, quartered (or 3-4 chicken breasts depending on how big they are or 4 chicken thighs)
1 tablespoon mild chili powder
1 tablespoon mild paprika
2 teaspoons cumin powder
About 1/2 to 3/4 cup of orange juice, fresh or frozen (if you use fresh grate the skin, too)
Juice of 3 limes, fresh or reconstituted
1 teaspoon of sugar
8 - 10 garlic cloves (or less if that's too garlicky for you) finely chopped
1/2 bunch coarsely chopped cilantro
2-3 tablespoons of olive oil
1/2 cup beer or pineapple juice (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste


Put chicken in a glass or ceramic dish. Don't use metal because the orange juice will react and give it a funny taste. Mix all the ingredients together and stir well. Pour the marinade over the chicken and turn it to coat all the pieces. Let it sit on the counter for no more than an hour then put in the refrigerator for 24 hours if you can. The flavors are more robust if you do but if you're ready to eat sooner at least marinate it for an hour or two.


Grill your chicken over a hot grill according to what cut of meat you have until it is golden brown and crispy.

Garnish with sprigs of cilantro and serve with lime wedges for squeezing. I like a fresh tomato and green bell pepper salad with chopped scallions on the side.


Renee-Lucie Benoit"When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you." — Leviticus 23:22

The Bible instructed farmers to leave something behind when they harvested. Is this a practice that modern day people can follow? I make friends with my neighbors and we share leftover fruits and vegetables that we can't use. In a way this is modern gleaning. No one is asking for payment. It's a barter system or it's just a gift. When we lived in Tracy the farmer who lived just across the road brought boxes of cucumbers and tomatoes to share. We could have as many as we wanted. Both city mouse and country mouse can benefit from sharing.

Here's what I have on my property that could go into the cornucopia when the time comes.



Some store bought potatoes were sprouting, so rather than throw them away or put them in the compost I planted them in the dirt. I have no idea what variety they are. Some kind of baking potato no doubt and it will be fun to discover what surprises the earth might yield when the time comes to harvest.

Yucca, also known as Spanish Dagger


Our yucca is a slender-stemmed plant and 12 feet high with a stocky, branched trunk. It has whitish flowers at this time of year and later on there will be fruit. If the birds don't get them first the fruit and the flowers can be eaten raw or cooked. I'm waiting to taste my first yucca fruit and I'm told it has a bittersweet and juicy flesh. I've also been told that the flowering stem can be peeled and boiled like asparagus.  



Did you know that a nectarine is just a smooth-skinned peach? I always thought that a nectarine was a cross between a peach and a plum but a little research reveals  that nectarines belong to the same species as peaches. It's just a fuzzless peach! Our nectarines have been neglected but they still taste just as good. Remember what Joni Mitchell sang? "Hey farmer, farmer, put away the DDT now. Give me spots on my apples but leave me the birds and the bees." Our nectarine tree will benefit from pruning this winter and then next spring I hope to see larger, cleaner fruit.



We have what is known as a sweet or common orange tree. I love it in the spring when it's in bloom because the flowers are very fragrant. I make juice from the fruit to drink and also marinate chicken for my own version of Pollo Loco (Crazy Chicken) and this year I think I might make marmalade for Christmas presents. I could also make orange essential oil and candied peel.

What plants are in your neighborhood that could be used for good things?


Renee-Lucie BenoitKeep on Truckin'. This is a famous phrase that was coined in the 60s by cartoonist R. Crumb.

However, in ranch and farm country the phrase has an even bigger significance. Trucks are de rigueur in the country. That means they are a necessity. But what is a truck?

In my youth, which I admit was somewhere back in the prehistoric era, we called them pickup trucks. Don't ask me why. That's just what we did. Then as time went on it got shortened to just truck and pickup was rarely used. The problem is, people are now using the term "truck" for every last vehicle out there that isn't a passenger car! Out here in the country we have the equivalent of the 50 Inuit words for 50 kinds of snow but instead for trucks.  There is a simple but big difference between what is a truck and what is not. Unfortunately it still is all too common even out in the country that people apply the term "truck" to the wrong vehicle. My intent is not to scold. My intent is to set the record straight in a friendly way because I love you all and I want you to be correct. I, too, did not know the difference.

When people refer to their miniature, half- or three-quarter ton pickups as trucks I feel like I need to say something. Sometimes my husband does, too. Oh, all right, mostly me. Before I met him I was guilty of being clueless. He informed me like the kind patient person he is.  Now that I am in the Circle of Trust — also known as the Circle of Trucks — I have gained the ability to Know Things. Yay. Much better position to be in. Good positions are rare in life. My husband Knows Things. He tells me all the time.

Just so there's no guessing, a pickup is a utility vehicle weighing less than a ton. Pickups are for, well, picking things up. Bagged dirt from Home Depot or Lowes, lumber from same if you have a rack, plants from the nursery. We use the horse trailer for livestock panels and taking crap to the dump (so we don't have to tarp it). We don't have a truck. We have a pickup.


Photo by Fotolia/andrey snegirev

As an aside please do not call your SUV a truck. It is not a truck. It is an SUV. A Sport Utility VEHICLE. Yes, I know. Yes, it might be built on a "truck" chassis. But see where you were misled?  It's a misnomer from the get-go.


Photo by Fotolia/RobertNyholm

Trucks, on the other hand, are heavy duty vehicles weighing over one ton. They often haul heavy stuff. Here are examples of trucks.  Fire trucks, semi tractors aka semis, dump trucks, water tank trucks, logging trucks, etc.


Photo by Fotolia/Jaroslav Pachý Sr.

Now that you know the difference, you might happen to be in conversation with someone in the Circle of Trucks.  You will now sound smart and informed. You will sound like a card-carrying member of the Circle of Trucks. It's a good thing.

So when you go to town to get stuff you are most likely doing it in a pickup. It's all right. Now you know. Let's start a movement to get our terminology straight and Keep On Truckin'!  


Renee-Lucie BenoitWe recently moved into a predominately Hispanic area and I love getting into the cultural world of wherever I go. I've been all over the world and in all the places I've gone I don't spend much time in the resort. No, I go to where the local people are as long as I feel safe and because I've done this I think my experience of a culture is much richer.

When we went to the grocery store a few weeks ago we noticed a little shop on the corner. It was called "Paleta-landia Antojitos". Paletas are frozen popsicles. Antojitos are snacks. It looked inviting so one day we went there and discovered that they make their own tortillas with a press just like the one Marty made for me and that I gave how-to-make instructions for in a Capper's post a few months ago. So you can imagine that their tacos were really good and being only $2.75 each and big just one was fine and dandy!

Looking at the menu I saw something called "mangonada." What was that, I wondered? It looked really good in the picture so I asked the gal what they put in it. She said fresh mango, mango sherbet, chamoy, tajin seasoning, lime and then last but not least they poked a tamarindo candy straw down into the center.

The next time we went I ordered one. It was pretty good but I decided I could do without the tamarindo straw and with a little less chamoy. Chamoy by the way, is apricot preserves with lime and ancho chili powder all mixed together that make a sauce.

Mexicans really like this dessert-like treat. This is my kitchen tested version.

Renee's Mangonada

Makes 2 servings


1 large mango, peeled and cut into chunks (see instructions at end of article)

The juice of one fresh lime

2-3 tablespoons chamoy (as desired) (See recipe that follows)

4 scoops of frozen mango sherbet or mango coconut ice cream

Chile lime salt, such as Tajín, to taste


Spoon chamoy around the inside of the glass. Put one scoop of mango sherbet into the cup. Add in fresh mango chunks. Layer with more chamoy, sherbet and mango. Sprinkle Tajin chile lime salt on top. If you want serve with a tamarindo straw inserted.

restaurant style

Homemade Chamoy Sauce

1/2 cup apricot spreadable fruit

Juice of 1 lime

2 teaspoons ground ancho chili pepper

1- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar to taste

4-5 fresh ripe apricots

Combine everything in a food processor or blender and run on high until completely smooth. You can add a bit of water if it's too thick.

Cutting up a Mango

I actually learned this method in Hawaii where we had what they called a "peach" mango tree in the yard. Oh, my, but those mangoes were heavenly!

Select a ripe mango. They give a little at the stem end and they have a fruity scent.


Cut off the tip to have a flat end to stand the mango up with.


The mango pit is kind of oblong/flat. Slice it into quarters around the pit.


Score the mango slice but not all the way through the skin.


Invert the mango slice and it will look like a "hedgehog". Scoop out the flesh with a spoon.


There are suggestions on the internet for using a glass to scoop the flesh out with but I find that way a bit dangerous and besides this way works like a charm and there's no breakable glass involved. Leave it to the Hawaiians! They know mangoes!

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