Month: September 2016

HEX Ferments: The Difference, The Flavor & The Future

This is the second part in a two-part series. Did you miss the first post? To learn about the start, the art and the heart of HEX Ferments, click here

I had the privilege of interviewing Meaghan Carpenter, one of the founders and owners of HEX Ferments, a fermented food and drink company located in Baltimore. I was drawn to her story because of how her company embodies the core of my food philosophy – to connect with our food, where it comes from and how it makes us feel; to savor our food, prioritizing quality and taking time to enjoy it; and to nourish our bodies with vibrant, life-giving food.

The Difference

So, what makes HEX Ferments different than other fermented foods and drink companies? Meaghan had a lot to say about that and was passionate about the quality of what they create.

We source and ferment for peak flavor. […] We work with layering flavor. Our staff are all trained in the culinary field. We’ve hired people that know how to work with flavor. We don’t use a lot of dried spices. We use a lot of fresh herbs and spices and we source from local farms for about 90% of our produce. That helps us to get the foods that are the freshest and at the peak of their flavor and nutritional profile.

The health benefits of HEX’s products vary greatly from most products on the market, especially in the case of something like pickles. Most pickles on the market are made with vinegar, which acts as a preservative to make them more shelf stable. It’s used as an instant acidifier.

hex-picklesUnfortunately, most vinegars are denatured or killed, so the nutritional benefits of fermented food are lost; there’s no probiotic component to vinegar pickles. The way HEX produces their products preserves the nutritional integrity and gives us the host of benefits we expect.

HEX naturally ferments their products through the process of lactic acid fermentation, which creates the beneficial microbes that characterize pickles, sauerkraut and kimchi. The next time you’re in the market for a jar of pickles or sauerkraut, make sure you read the label. You want it to be a “living food” with live cultures, no heat and no vinegar.

Not only does HEX prioritize using high quality ingredients and best in class fermentation practices, but they are also particular about the vessels in which they make their products. Unlike most large companies, they don’t use plastic barrels lined with plastic to ferment. When you’re creating a food that acidifies itself, you’re creating a lot of microbes that are really powerful that can eat away at plastic. Because of that concern, the team at HEX ferments in stainless steel, which also helps to keep their products tasting the same as well. That is considered the gold standard for how to ferment.

What I was surprised to learn next gave me another reason to take pride in having HEX Ferments as one of our own. They are the only fermented food company in the U.S. that makes and sells everything at their storefront. This gives their customers a unique experience and the ability to taste and smell everything and talk to the people who have a hand in making the food.

The Flavor

People often come up to the stand and aren’t shy about their feelings toward fermented foods, “I hate sauerkraut.”

Instead of being flustered or offended, Meaghan responds gently, “I’m sorry to hear that. That just means you haven’t had really good sauerkraut. You can learn to like sour.”

If you’re new to fermented foods, it can take a little while to adapt to their naturally sour taste, but Meaghan gave me some suggestions that could help.

  • Pickles are a great way to start because most of us are already familiar with them and have tried them before. Try some cucumber pickles or other pickled vegetables.
  • Try kombucha. It’s an easy entry point because it often has a bit of sweetness to balance the sour, and people tend to like its fizziness.
  • Their carrot confetti made with pickled carrots is a good starter and converted a former sauerkraut hater into a weekly customer.
  • Mix and eat things like sauerkraut with food. If you eat salad, instead of adding dressing, take a few tablespoons of the kraut, chop it up, mix it into your salad and add some olive oil.
A few bottles of HEX's brightly colored kombucha

A few bottles of HEX’s brightly colored kombucha

So, how much sauerkraut should you eat? What amount of kombucha is best to drink?

Start small. Keep in mind it is a living food and you’re introducing billions of bacteria into your system.

Meaghan suggests starting with one tablespoon of kraut or kimchi a day with food (i.e,. chopped up on a salad, as a condiment, mixed in with grains and beans, on a sandwich, etc.) and see how your body reacts. Her stepmother swears by breakfast consisting of an English muffin with peanut butter and HEXs juniper caraway sauerkraut. I can’t say it appealed to me, but Meaghan’s enthusiasm about it might get me to try it!

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Sauerkraut pairs nicely with tacos in this dish with Clavel’s tacos and watermelon radish pickles

For kombucha, Meaghan recommends starting with four to six ounces on an empty stomach in the morning. This has helped her and others with chronic constipation.

As with any food, slow down and pay attention to how your body responds and then increase the amount you’re eating or drinking or stay where you are. Over time, it’s likely you will be able to eat more.

The Shop (Where to Find It!)

To learn more about HEX Ferments and their upcoming events and for locations where you can find their products, check out their website at www.HexFerments.com.

Locally, you can find their products at MOMs Organic Market, Whole Foods, Graul’s, and Eddies Market as well as at the Waverly Farmer’s Market in Baltimore on Saturday mornings.

fullsizerenderIf you’re in the DC area, swing by Each Peach Yes! Organic Market at Capitol Hill, or the Arlington MOMs Organic Market for a jar of their famous kraut or kimchi. Hex also has a presence at the Silver Spring Farmer’s Market and Bethesda Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings.

If you’d rather skip the trip to the store or market and order online, you can order their products through Washington Green Grocer, Relay Foods, Hungry Harvest, and Hometown Harvest.

The Future

HEX Ferments is experiencing a ton of growth and will be expanding to a larger production space just down the road from Belvedere Square, where their storefront will remain. They will gain over 1,000 square feet of space.

A sneak peek at the new space

A sneak peek at the new space

They have plans to teach a few workshops in the fall and look forward to introducing more people to the art of fermentation. I’ll be sure to keep you updated about those events through my Facebook page and this blog.

Over the years, Meaghan and Shane have grown to appreciate and embrace all that Baltimore has to offer. They look forward to continuing to build community through HEX Ferments, as they invite us to connect with our food, how it makes us feel and where it comes from; appreciate food as beauty and art; and nourish our bodies with living, healing food that will leave us looking and feeling our best.

Have you tried HEX Ferments products? Do you have a favorite? Feel free to share below!

HEX Ferments: The Start, The Art & The Heart

I had the privilege of interviewing Meaghan Carpenter, one of the founders and owners of HEX Ferments, a fermented food and drink company located in Baltimore.

I was drawn to her story because of how her company embodies the core of my food philosophy – to connect with our food, where it comes from and how it makes us feel; to savor our food, prioritizing quality and taking time to enjoy it; and to nourish our bodies with vibrant, life-giving food.

The Start

What is this place?

Aside from what she had seen in John Waters’ movies, Meaghan Carpenter knew little about Baltimore when she moved here on a whim 12 years ago. The heat and humidity of Charm City in August and her cockroach-infested apartment weren’t the welcome she had anticipated when she picked up her life in Minneapolis to relocate here. She says “a boy” brought her here, but she stayed for a different boy, Shane, who’s now her husband.

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Over the years, Meaghan’s initial impression of Baltimore has faded, as she has grown to appreciate and embrace her new home.

I feel like Baltimore is this really incredible city that is this melting pot that never seems to fully merge. People come from all over the place. But everybody has a pretty strong identity here. It doesn’t feel like a homogenous city at all.

Meaghan always loved food, grew up spending time in the kitchen with her parents, and worked in restaurant kitchens for years but never considered food for a career.  Both she and Shane have been connected to fermented food since childhood. They grew up eating the harvest from their parents’ vegetable gardens and learned the art of canning at a young age (“You can only eat so many cucumbers, zucchini and carrots” Meaghan confessed.).

They were raised eating sour foods, a taste most Americans have not developed. It was their early introduction to sour, fermented foods that would eventually influence the business they formed together nearly four years ago, a fermented food and drink company called HEX Ferments.

When Meaghan was in college, she was part of a natural foods store co-op and learned how to make simple kimchi and sauerkraut. She noticed it helped the digestive issues she had in college that stemmed from her very poor diet. When she started sharing simple meals of rice, beans, steamed veggies and sauerkraut with the co-op staff, she noticed by how much better she felt. She carried that with her and it would come in handy years later.

schlossmanhex0422It would take two transatlantic trips to the U.K. before Meaghan and Shane would delve more deeply into the art of fermentation. Both she and Shane spent some time separately in Ireland, where Shane worked on organic farms in Wales and saw a different side of fermentation – wines, meads and preserved foods – the side most of us are more familiar with here in the States.

It was in Ireland that Meaghan first learned about the sour, tingly, fermented drink called kombucha. She fell in love with it, and as soon as she got back to U.S., she put out a flyer asking who had the culture needed to brew kombucha. Meaghan was in luck. She learned the simple instructions for how to do it and has been making kombucha for the past 15 years, well before the recent kombucha craze started.

Years after Meaghan’s introduction to kombucha, she and Shane quickly realized that when they got together, they loved playing with flavors and having food experiments. They had a garden and had an overabundance of cabbage and decided to make sauerkraut. So Meaghan dug out Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz, a book she first learned about through the co-op, and they got to work. Since then, they’ve visited Sandor’s farm in Tennessee and have been mentored by him along with another husband-wife fermentation team from the Cultured Pickle in Berkeley, California.

hexplusculturedI loved what Meaghan had to say about what happened once they embarked on the journey to come together and explore the art of fermentation:

We instantly got rehooked into it all. Once you make fermented foods and you learn about it, there is the potential to get bitten by its mystery and magic, and there’s no turning back. Once you’re hooked into it, that’s it. It’s an obsession. We became totally and immensely obsessed.

Their friends loved what they made and suggested they open a business, but Meaghan and Shane were hesitant. They were enjoying their hobby and didn’t think they wanted to have a business doing it, even though Shane had been in business for himself since the age of 17.

But sometimes your calling finds you, and if you’re meant to do something with your life, it can be nearly impossible to escape. Meaghan was working at a desk job where she was “totally bored”. She was also teaching and making art, but she was not satisfied and found herself researching how to start a fermented foods business. Fueled by their newfound obsession and bolstered by Shane’s entrepreneurial skills, they decided to go for it and start HEX Ferments. It’s been nonstop ever since.

The Art

Meaghan designed the HEX Ferments logo and partnered with a fellow MICA alum to render the logo and set the vision for their brand. The inspiration for the name comes from Hexology folklore, which uses signs and symbols to protect relationships, secure the harvest, and ward off the unwelcome. In the same way, fermented foods protect and support our body, digestion, immune system and overall health and well-being.

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Through her work, Meaghan has the opportunity to combine her two loves – food and art. She doesn’t see a separation between the two and credits her art education at MICA with her visual, creative problem-solving skills, which have served her well in business.

I see what we do as art. We get to play with flavors, and textures, and colors and beautiful objects and we get to put them together and let them slow cook, also known as ‘ferment’.

The inspiration behind unique flavor combinations, like Juniper Caraway Kraut, Carrot Confetti, Lover’s Truce Kimchi, and Butterfly Lime kombucha, often stems from whatever is in season.

The HEX team scours articles, recipes, and books for inspirations as well and considers their experiments a form of play. Meaghan said naming them is like naming a child and she and the team come up with names together.

hex-kraut hex-kraut-jarsFor Valentine’s Day, an abundance of local beets inspired the creation of a complex kimchi called Lover’s Truce. And when Meaghan was given green tea and saffron tea from Afghanistan by her brother-in-law, it wasn’t long before Saffron kombucha was born.

Meaghan flavor preferences vary seasonally, so she didn’t have a go-to kraut or kombucha. If she had to pick, the plain sauerkraut that is currently at the peak of its ripeness and the Carrot Juniper kombucha were at the top of her list.

Customer buying habits are more particular. Some customers shop by color (i.e., “I only buy things that are red.”) while others have their standby flavors like Garlic Oregano and never waver from them. At times, Meaghan and Shane will come up with make something that’s “super crazy” in a small batch, and people will eat it up and come back months later looking for it. They like to keep things fresh, fun and seasonal.

The Heart

When I have the opportunity to talk to people about food and hear their story, what I gravitate toward most is their food philosophy and the language they use around food.

My approach toward food is to invite people to be curious about eating – to connect with why we eat, how it makes us feel and where our foods comes from; to savor food and make eating a joyful experience; and to nourish our bodies with energizing, life-giving, real food, so we can look and feel our best.

When I asked Meaghan about her philosophy around food, I discovered that we share a similar approach and both prioritize being connected to our food along with nourishment:

I see food in different levels. I see food as culture. I see food as commodity and food as nourishment. The level that we operate in is all three. HEX sees food and our food system in a holistic approach. We need to address the entire system of what brings food, nourishment and culture to our plate.

I couldn’t agree more.

It’s a privilege to have a company right here in my hometown that is so committed to upholding the integrity of their food and nourishing people every day.

Stay tuned for the second post in this series to learn more about what makes HEX’s products different from everything else on the market, get some tips for how to incorporate these foods into your diet, and get a sneak peek at some plans for HEX’s future.

Join Me LIVE for 2 Cooking Classes in Baltimore in October

Fall has always been my favorite season.

I love the colors, the weather, the crisp air, and, of course, the food.

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Laura Toraldo Photography

But fall hasn’t always been a time of optimal health for me.

I used to suffer from seasonal allergies, which meant taking Claritin or Zyrtec, and I couldn’t make it through the fall and winter without dealing with multiple bouts of congestion, post nasal drip, sore throats, and bronchitis. I always had a steady supply of Mucinex, Throat Coat, and Advair inhaler discs. For a third of my life, I also dealt with acid reflux, which meant popping pills at Thanksgiving and Christmastime, in particular, because of all of the rich food I would overeat and then pay for later.

Because I know what it’s like to feel sick and not at my best, I’m passionate about sharing what I’ve learned and experienced as my health has been transformed over the past five years. I no longer take any medications, can get through the whole winter with NO congestion, and don’t deal with post nasal drip, allergies, reflux, or bronchitis.

If you had told me five years ago that that was possible, I would have been skeptical and cynical, but because I now live that reality, I know that it’s true and possible.

Changing my diet has been at the root of why my body has begun healing and continues to heal.

For centuries, food has been used to prevent illness, relieve symptoms, and even cure disease. I’m now in a position of optimizing my health, so that I can continue to feel energized, have glowing skin, and build a strong immune system.

I will be teaching a two-part cooking class series about Healing Foods at the Institute for Integrative Health in Baltimore on Thursday, October 6th and 13th from 6:00-8:00 pm, and I would love for you to join me LIVE

REGISTER HERE

Laura Toraldo Photography

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Laura Toraldo Photography

We’ll explore the power of food and discover how it can be used to prevent and alleviate inflammation, strengthen our immune system, and enhance our energy and vitality. Through recipe demonstrations as well as nutrition and cooking tips, I will show you how to eat for optimal well-being. Everything will be dairy-free and gluten-free, and you will find out why during the class.

University of Maryland nutrition researcher Chris D’Adamo, PhD, will be joining me for both classes to offer commentary and answer your questions. He’s a wealth of knowledge and it’s an honor to partner with him again.

Want to join us? Click the button below.

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**There are a limited number of spots for these classes, and they are filling up, so if you want to snag your seat, click here to register! The early bird discount of $50 for BOTH classes ends on September 15th, when the price will go up to $60 for both classes. This is the best deal you are going to find for this type and quality of class in the area!**

If you have any questions, please email me through this link, and I will get back to you. I hope to see you there! 🙂

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Laura Toraldo Photography

Sundried Tomato Basil Quinoa Salad {Gluten-Free}

We’ve been making the most of the last days of summer and have spent just about every weekend and multiple nights a week hanging out with friends and family.

We also went to the Zac Brown Band concert on Friday night with thousands of other people, and it was AMAZING! I highly recommend seeing one of their shows if you get a chance. Their music is fun, upbeat, and makes you want to dance!

Zac Brown band

Because of all of this, I’ve really felt like a little social butterfly lately…and I’m loving it!

As someone who used to prefer being alone over being with people, I’m enjoying all of the socializing we’ve been doing. One of the commitments my husband, Bill, and I made at the beginning of the year was to be more intentional about spending time with friends and other couples, even during what is often a busy week.

Why the focus on so much more social time?

In his book Wellbeing, Tom Rath writes about the importance of social time in reducing our stress and worry and boosting our wellbeing. To have a thriving day, we need 6 HOURS of social time.  That includes time at work, home, with friends, talking on the phone, and even sending email (scrolling through Facebook doesn’t count) – anything that gives us an opportunity to directly connect with another human being. If six hours sounds kind of daunting, even three hours of social time cuts your chances of having a bad day to 10%. That’s reason enough for me to be more social!

We had a socially-packed day this past Sunday and easily hit the 6-hour mark by spending a few hours at church in the morning, going to a friend’s party in the afternoon, and visiting my in-laws that evening.

The party we went to on Sunday afternoon was a potluck-style party, so I decided to bring a new recipe that I had first taste-tested with my friend, Jeanne, on Friday night.

I was inspired to make this recipe when I was munching on the Tomato Basil version of Chickpeatos, one of my favorite snacks and a great substitute for croutons.

“Hmmm, wouldn’t it be great to combine those flavors into a salad?”

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So, off I went to experiment with a combo of sundried tomatoes (oh my gosh, so good!), fresh basil and a base of quinoa.

This recipe looks like Christmas in a bowl with its red and green accents, so it’s a perfect way to celebrate the transition from summer to cooler weather. You’re going to love it!

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Serves: 6-8

Ingredients

1 cup quinoa, rinsed in a fine mesh strainer
1/2 cup sundried tomatoes, chopped (I use these)
1 15-ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup fresh basil, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp coarse sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (or oil from sundried tomatoes jar)
1/2 cup Watusee Foods Tomato Basil Chickpeatos

Directions

  1. Combine 1 cup quinoa with 2 cups water in a medium pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cover. Cook for 12-15 minutes or until almost all of the water is absorbed. DO NOT STIR QUINOA. Remove quinoa from heat and leave covered for 5 minutes to steam. Remove lid and fluff with fork. Set aside to cool.
  2. Whisk lemon juice, salt, pepper and garlic together, then whisk in oil.
  3. In a large bowl, toss quinoa with sundried tomatoes, beans, and basil with dressing and top with Chickpeatos.

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