Who learns how to make yogurt from a grandma on a farm who lives out in the sticks of Poland on a property with chickens and rabbits, and the tiniest cow ever seen, then somehow sneaks it—er, replicates it—once she gets home?
Highland Park’s Monica Ford.
Her two-year enterprise, Real Food Devotee, offers nutrient dense foods and customized “real” meals delivered right to your door. A free weekly menu is found online and buyers can place an order and simply await delivery. Options include a soup of the week, cultured condiments, probiotic sodas, kombuchas, tonics, desserts, and even Mighty Beet Kvass.
We were invited to Monica’s home for this interview and spent two hours nibbling, tasting, and devouring her smorgasbord of goods, all the while trying to remember to take notes and ultimately process and understand the stream of information emanating from her vast brain files of knowledge.
Real Food Devotee came about because Monica was dealing with her own food issues. For over 20 years, she was unable to digest dairy. Now she eats yogurt, cream cheese, and other cheeses. She gives credit to this astonishing turnaround to her newly found devotion to fermented foods.
When we think of fermented foods, we think “boil” and “vinegar.” But Monica says that in the old days, people naturally fermented foods, which creates products naturally rich in probiotics. The longer a food is naturally fermented, the more the lactose is consumed (the sugar in dairy), so lactose intolerant people can partake. Fermenting also allows for more nutrients to be absorbed into the body.
When Americans think of sauerkraut, we imagine the plain, cream-colored, as-seen-only-in-a-jar, very smelly German sauerkraut. Monica says that traditionally, Germans ferment their kraut for two months or more, followed up by 6 months maturation in the refrigerator. American sauerkraut is what they call “New Kraut” as it’s crisper, like coleslaw at first, followed by a bite and a sting.
Real Food Devotee’s plain sauerkraut is made with cone cabbage, which naturally has a certain bite and Monica ferments it for one month. Purple Garlic kraut is made with red cabbage, garlic, and sea salt—Monica recommends pairing it with lamb. The Pink Kraut with juniper berries is initially pink and green. After a week and a half of fermentation, its color becomes a vibrant fuchsia.
Gravediggers’ sauerkraut is made with 4 Thieves Herbs. Monica recounts the legend about a gang that robbed the dying and dead during the Black Plague. They were known to wear masks over their faces and never fell victim to the pandemic that killed anywhere from 75 million to 200 million people in the mid-1400s. When they were finally captured, they were brought before a judge who offered leniency with their sentencing if they shared their secret. They admitted that they sprayed their masks with a mix of aromatic herbs—including rosemary, garlic, and cloves, which kept them from getting sick. Monica’s kraut includes sage, lavender, and thyme. She makes it with green cabbage and lets it ferment for six months. “The longer the ferment, less the bite, but more the depth,” Monica says.
Real Food Devotee’s Shoo Flu sauerkraut is made with gogi berries that are high in antioxidants, star anise, cayenne, Chinese red pepper, ginger, and cinnamon—warming ingredients to keep summer or winter colds at bay. Monica considers Shoo Flu a type of Ayurvedic medicine, one of the world’s oldest medical systems, originating in India thousands of years ago. The aim is to balance the mind, body, and spirit, which—it is believed—then helps prevent illness and enables well-being. (nccam.nih.gov)
Monica treats her almonds and other nuts by soaking them, allowing them to sprout and dehydrating them. Grains, seeds, nuts, and legumes can be difficult to digest because of enzyme inhibitors, phytic acid, and other toxins. Soaking for up to 12 hours neutralizes the enzyme inhibitors and actually starts the growth of beneficial enzymes. Gluten and proteins that are difficult to digest break down into simpler components after soaking, fermenting, and sprouting. “It’s easier on the tummy,” Monica says. Sprouted seeds are enzyme rich and their vitamin B content can double, while the vitamin C content can quintuple all the way up to decuple.
We tried a scone made from sprouted flour and organic sugar, and it was dense and crumbly with chunks of boiled and sugared ginger. Real Food Devotee offers plain scones, garlic herb, lemon pepper, and sweet ginger.
Just because Monica believes in “real” products, doesn’t mean she doesn’t enjoy a daily beast. She uses only meat and fish that are humanely raised and are pasture- and forage-fed. She gets her chicken and beef from DeyDey’s Best Beef Ever—Grandpa John de Bruin, or DeyDey, was a physics major and worked in the aerospace industry for several decades before retiring and buying land west of Buellton. From his products, Monica makes her incredible beef bone and chicken bone broths. The “seed” of immunity, Monica says, is in the gut and begins with fermentation. Most people with bad indigestion have “leaky gut” syndrome and her bone broths are high in gelatin and help balance bacteria and seal the gut lining.
Monica’s bright yellow, gluten-free cheese pancakes are made with her cheddar cheese, eggs, rice flour and butter. They are very wet and rich in flavor, and very filling!
Garlic chive cream cheese—made with yogurt. Monica creates the cream cheese consistency by straining it. It definitely has the initial creaminess and flavor of regular cream cheese, and finishes with a sour note reminding us of its yogurt beginning. She offers all different permutations of her cream cheese—dill, honey, lavender, citrus, or cranberry.
We sampled her pork liver pâté and it was creamy and dense with flavor. Luckily, Monica sent the leftovers home with us because with a bottle of California Merlot 2005, warm out of the oven rustic bread, and the leftover pâté—notre dîner était prêt.
Real Food Devotee’s health bars (forefront, right and left) are gluten free and sweetened with honey and dates. The dates also hold the bar together. We were able to try the lemon coconut and cherry almond. With these “real” foods, you truly do get to taste every ingredient, not just one flavor like so many processed foods. The flavors rolled over our tongue. With the cherry and almond bar, the flavor crept up on us, in comparison to the flavor blast of the coconut lemon.
Monica’s version of a blondie (on small plate) has a lot of fiber and protein with coconut and dark chocolate chips, but without soy lecithin, which is her nemesis because of the possibility of soy being an endocrine, thyroidal, and hormonal disruptor.
Meyer lemon and raspberry hearts (back row, left and right) are tasty dessert bites. They’re made with raw honey and coconut. For the raspberry heart, Monica dehydrates the raspberries then puts them into a spice grinder until she gets a powder. Biting into it, the powder was immediately evident, then the taste of the berries bursts forth and melts on the tongue, quickly followed by the coconut. The experience is unusual, but we’re quite willing to repeat the procedure until we’ve assimilated ourselves. A nice latte and we could’ve downed another half dozen or so.
Quite simply the most delicious toasted seeds granola with homemade vanilla yogurt that we have ever had the pleasure to taste.
In the background are bottles of Real Food Devotees sodas that are naturally carbonated—beneficial bacteria consumes the sugars and this process creates the carbonation. Pomegranate and apple juice make her Pomeapple soda, while the ginger ale has a true ginger bite. Monica makes a ginger tea, adds sugar and cultures it. The Meyer lemon soda smells incredible and is equally delicious to taste. Kvass is a drink that’s been consumed for over 1,000 years. In Russia, it was known as a liver, blood tonic, fermented beverage. Monica’s beet Kvass, she says is the absolute best base for a dirty martini, or should we say, a red dirty martini. Her friends are avid fans; they swear it’s hangover free!
Real Food Devotee