Antidote to stress
Kimchi — fermented vegetables — is an easy-to-make traditional Korean staple.

Antidote to stress

Kimchi is easy to make and healthful, too. (Oh, and it might also drive guests from your house.)

WEST BRATTLEBORO — As the weather turns cold and wet, our immune system is more in demand, fending off colds and flu. Damp rains block out the sun, increasing seasonal affective disorder - aptly abbreviated SAD.

A major culprit to our immune system is the holidays, which bring stress. Stress, by its simplest definition, is change in our bodies and minds. Whether good (eustress) or bad (distress), stress changes us by releasing powerful chemicals - cortisol, adrenaline, and aldosterone - that deal with the stressors.

This chemical warfare is ever-diligent, using hyperactive force in attacking these invaders (sometimes cleverly disguised as visiting relatives).

Our military force is great for real attacks (woolly mammoths and large spiders). I hate to break it to you, but a crabby mother-in-law does not a woolly mammoth make. Cold wet days and crabby holiday guests are not life-threatening, but our body doesn't care. When we experience stress, the body reacts in the same way, releasing the hounds.

The hounds prepare our body for fight or flight: eyesight narrows and focuses; the heart races, increasing blood and oxygen to the outer limbs, ready for action.

The problem comes after the defense employs. Let's say a flatlander cuts you off on Western Avenue in Brattleboro. The stressor quickly subsides after the driver passes by. But it's often too late. Once our chemical troops mobilize, they don't settle down until they fight it out. The more we obsess about an issue, the more troops we employ.

This excess of stress chemicals results in damage to main body systems, and immune, adrenal, and digestive are the first targets. Too much stress results in our being sick and tired. Daily stress means we're sick and tired all the time. Holiday stress, on top of our crazy-busy lives, makes us exhausted.

What's a modern human to do? Ferment thyself!

* * *

Fermented foods are a really effective means for handling an apocalyptic situation. They're like a battalion of kindergarten teachers in hazmat suits.

Fermented foods contain probiotics - friendly bacteria that perform a myriad of physiological tasks, including removing the stress chemicals from the system. Fermented foods help rebuild all the destruction left behind in the wake of stress wars.

Before the days of pasteurization, homogenization, and refrigeration, people had to rely on natural ways to preserve foods. With modern techniques come modern diets. Our most common form of fermented food is yogurt. It's about the only fermented food left in westernized diets, but when it is pasteurized, the helpful probiotics are destroyed.

Fermented foods have all but vanished in the mainstream food system, and the consequences are now well-documented: Crohn's disease, irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease, and other digestive disorders are all linked to probiotic health.

Interestingly, mental disorders are also connected. The nutrients that feed a healthy brain are first absorbed through the intestines. Mental disorders such as schizophrenia, autism, migraines, PMS, and depression have all been linked to digestive disorders.

Ill pipes breed ill brains. Gut health is the new rage, but it's really old wisdom. Finally, we are reaching a tipping point in health issues to take action.

* * *

Take a cue from the Koreans. North and South agree on next to nothing politically, but they do have one common value: kimchi.

Koreans claim this traditional fermented vegetable dish prevents everything from colds to cancer. Every fall, the governments offer kimchi bonuses so citizens may prepare their batch for the entire year.

Koreans make their precious cabbage treasure and then bury it in their yards, often inside a locked box. Even in the community-driven North Korean world, this privatized practice is quietly tolerated.

Vermont is a wonderful place to make kimchi. We have all the fixin's: cabbage, tubers and roots, garlic, ginger, and peppers. Add Gilfeather turnip, burdock, and daikon to make it super-indigenous.

Kimchi makes an oddly wonderful holiday gift (and provides a great story), and the process is relatively simple. Some plucky entrepreneur should seize the opportunity to create Green Mountain Gilfeather Kimchi. They'd clean up.

Basic kimchi

Here is an adaption of Sandor Katz's Basic Kim Chi recipe, from his book Wild Fermentation. Following my basic recipe formula, we'll break it down:

Main ingredient

¶Cabbage: red, green Chinese, Bok Choy... any kind will do

Accessory ingredients

¶Any combination of the following: Carrots, turnips, radish, daikon, burdock root, Horseradish, onion, or leek

Sauce or marinade

¶Garlic, ginger, and peppers (adjust amount for your own heat preference)


¶Sea salt (Important: not iodized)

¶Good water (spring or well) (Important: no tap water)

Create brine by mixing about 4 Tablespoons of sea salt to 1 quart of water. Set aside.

Chop main and accessory ingredients. Mix.

Finely chop spices and peppers. Add to veggies.

Smush mixture into glass jars. Add brine to cover veggies.

Fermenting relies on submerging the food to avoid contact with air. After covering the veggies with brine, place a smaller Mason jar lid on top of the veggies to keep them submerged. The brine will cover the lid.

Keep the jars out on some counter, checking every day to make sure the veggies are still submerged. Each day, the kimchi will become more fermented. After about a week, store in a refrigerator or a cold spot in your house (in Vermont, that might be anywhere). Basements or root cellars are nice.

Kimchi will last for months, becoming increasingly zippy; that “zip” comes from the friendly bacteria and enzymes, which are ready to keep you healthy during our long cold winters. Eat kimchi liberally - soups, stews, burritos, pastas, sandwiches, salads, grains, beans... just about anything. Think of it as your immune booster, digestive promoter, and fatigue fighter.

One final thought: if you are entertaining for the holidays, you might want to warn them that you've made kimchi. Otherwise, as my husband said today, they might wonder, “Is there a dead rat rotting in this house?”

On the other hand, it might deter your mother-in-law from staying.

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