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Sprouts Onboard

January 6, 2014

Spending more time than usual with all our children in 2013 gave them an opportunity to get to know us better as people rather than just parents. One of the kids made the following comment to one of the others, "I didn't realize they were such health nuts."
"They're not really health nuts," was the reply, "they've just become very conscious of what they eat."
Indeed we have.

In addition to the usual changes that those who start reading labels make (eliminating high fructose corn syrup, avoiding artificial sweeteners, not using cans or storage containers that contain BPA, avoiding packaging that contains BHT, and generally not buying anything from the grocery store with more than four ingredients) we have also become interested in growing our own foods in order to better avoid GMOs. (Until labeling becomes mandatory, no store-bought food is safe.)

Living on a boat makes growing your own food a bit challenging, but Dave has found the perfect solution: sprouts. At first we sprouted a tablespoon of alfalfa now and then. Yeah, that's nice. Then he found the Sprout People. Here he discovered seeds at a fraction of grocery store prices, growing advice, eating suggestions, and recipes. He expanded his sprouts repertoire and by the time we all got together over the holidays, he even had our kids eating sprouts.


Sprouted lentils, wheat and alfalfa (l. to r.) Ready to serve alfalfa in the front

Talking about sprouting seeds on a boat often causes cruisers to state definitive reasons why one should NOT sprout onboard. At one pot luck we were told point blank, "Oh, we CAN'T sprout onboard. I don't allow glass on our boat." Before I could say, "You're camping out on that 50-foot Hunter, are you?" another, more polite boater, responded, "They make plastic mayonnaise jars."

Another reason people often give for not trusting sprouts is the possibility of salmonella. These same people gladly eat uncooked lettuce grown under unknown circumstances, handled in an unknown manner, transported under unknown conditions, and stored for an unknown length of time. But because it's from a grocery store they mistakenly think it must be safe. Sprouts are no more a source of salmonella than any other uncooked produce.

Another negative comment we have heard is that a cruiser would "never waste all that water to rinse them." The few tablespoons of water that is necessary to rinse sprouts every day can be used in a number of ways. You can drink it, water your plants with it, use it to soak the first layer of really nasty lasagna you burnt onto the pan, or maybe just don't put ice cubes in your next sundowner and call it even.

If you can ignore the naysayers and actually try sprouting onboard, you'll likely be surprised by how easy it is and the variety of tasty ways you can eat sprouts. We have spouted alfalfa, broccoli, and radish seeds. We've also sprouted mung beans, adzuki beans, garbanzo beans, green peas, and lentils. For bean sprouts we start with dry beans from the grocery store, the same ones we use to cook with. We have bought blends of several of these from the Sprout People and have even sprouted raw almonds. But by far my favorite sprouted food is wheat. Yes, while the rest of the world is trying to cut down on the amount of wheat they eat, we are just growing our own. (Many wheat allergies and intolerances are likely caused not by the wheat itself, on which humans have survived for millennia, but what has been done to our wheat. By growing our own, we are avoiding many of those issues.)

I'll eat whatever the chef puts on my plate, but never did either of us expect me to start requesting wheat sprouts. When the wheat has first sprouted it can be ground up and used for flour in normal recipes. As the sprouts get bigger and the plant part starts to grow, they develop a sweet taste that is excellent in cereal, oatmeal, on sandwiches, in a wrap, sprinkled on a salad or just by the mouthful as a healthful snack. When the plant part is about 1/2 inch long the sprouts are at their sweetest. After that point they start to lose their flavor and will not last long before they die.

Sprouting any seed, bean, or grain is a simple process. Start by adapting a jar that will be your sprouts jar. One with a wide mouth and plastic lid is best. Cut out the inside of the plastic lid so that only the rim is left, to screw it onto the jar. Cut a piece of screen larger than the mouth of the jar. Find a container (we use rectangular food storage containers) that will allow the jar to rest upside down at a 45 degree angle so that the sprouts will drain after rinsing. (Surface tension prevents drainage if the jar is perfectly upside down.) Next, measure 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons of the smaller seeds (alfalfa, radish, broccoli) or 1/4 cup lentils, peas, or wheat. Put the seeds and enough water to cover them in your sprouts jar to soak for 6 to 12 hours. Drain and rinse and drain your sprouts and put them in your draining container at a 45 degree angle out of direct sunlight. Rinse and drain every 8 to 12 hours until they are done to your liking. A few hours in a bit more sunlight just prior to eating will bring out even more flavor and make them even more healthful.

How do you know when your sprouts are done? Websites such as the Sprout People have excellent guides about every type of sprout if you are new to sprouting or need specifics. For those of you with some sprouting experience (or who have the wing it personality of my husband) you can best tell by tasting them. Taste your sprouts from the time the first root shows until they are no longer palatable. Then you will have your own guide as to how long they should grow. The same sprout can have a variety of flavors from one day to the next as they grow. Taste them all and pick your favorite. If you have the option, you can stop their growth by refrigerating them, keeping them at the perfect, tasty stage a few days longer.

Growing all your own food isn't feasible on a boat, but you can increase the variety of fresh, healthful foods onboard by growing your own sprouts. Just don't be surprised when your kids start calling you a health nut. I take it as a compliment.

A reader recently requested the specifics of our simple bimini. MONDAY we'll share the detailed instructions on how to build a simple, different, attractive bimini frame.

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