A friend surprised me a few weeks ago by lending me her
continuous brew kombucha set-up. Apparently a "symbiotic colony of
bacteria and yeast" (SCOBY) isn't so appetizing to a pregnant lady.
"Sure, thanks!" I naively responded. I've had a couple of bottles
of kombucha tea over the years...kind of fizzy, kind of yeasty and
stringy, yum. I'll give it a shot!
What really excited me was how much money I could save by
brewing the kombucha at home instead of buying it at the store.
That stuff can be really expensive, and I can be really cheap. I'm
also down with anything that reduces the amount of additives,
preservatives, and other artificial baggage that comes with my
A week later, she shows up at my house and unloads the blessed
gift--the kombucha, not the baby--in my kitchen. She starts heating
up water, stirring in loose-leaf black tea, requesting all sorts of
wooden spoons, cane sugar, and glass bowls. I'm trying to keep up,
tossing things over to her so she could work her magic on a new
batch of kombucha tea for my tasting pleasure. "It's easy--here's
the directions!" Technically she stayed for another hour, but I
felt like she ran out right then. I was so less prepared than I
All week, I tried but failed to resist lifting the lid and
looking down into the brewing tea vessel. I imagined all sorts of
bacteria riding along from my exhaled breath and taking up shop in
the floating white SCOBY. It's a symbiotic colony of bacteria and
yeast, and I'm surely going to disrupt the balance in there. Sure
enough, at the end of the week, I panicked and almost threw out the
entire 2-gallon batch of tea. Relax, Juli...maybe the black spots
aren't mold...how could they not be mold? I've left a
colony of bacteria and yeast on my counter all week!
Compromise with myself: I'll pick off the top layer of SCOBY
(where suspicious black spots appeared), throw that out, and then
move on to tasting the brew out of the spigot on the bottom. Deal!
Except yuck...apparently my turbinado sugar was a big
deal, because it was all wrong. I was drinking apple cider vinegar
out of a pretty glass. Next compromise: I will bottle this product
as apple cider vinegar and use it for marinating meat, pouring in
my laundry, and catching random fruit flies in the kitchen.
With the first batch of kombucha a near failure, I pressed on.
That's the great part about a continuous brew kombucha set-up. You
get to try again. Immediately. You actually kind of have to try to
again immediately, because that SCOBY is calling out to you,
"Feeeeed meeeee!" Armed with the recipe and faced with the
challenge of having to do this all by myself this time
around, I readied the supplies. Wooden spoon, glass bowl, big
boiling kettle of water, sugar, loose-leaf black tea, and a cup of
the old batch to use as "starter liquid" for the new batch. And,
I followed directions, poured in fine evaporated cane juice this
time instead of big brown bad boy turbinado sugar crystals, and put
the lid on that thing for another week. I slept better, knowing
that black specks in the SCOBY were most likely the remnants of the
loose tea that I couldn't strain out with my low-quality kitchen
equipment. This time, I tried even harder, yet still failed daily,
to resist lifting the lid, breathing my germs inside the brew.
Despite my breath germs, Kombucha Tea Batch #2 was a huge
"Holy cow, I think I just made kombucha!" This is stuff you can
sell in a store, people!
Now to challenge myself again, I attempt what is called a
"second ferment" of the tea. I bottle up the delicious tangy tea
and dump cherries or blueberries into the jars. I leave these jars
on the counter for another three days, and then I refrigerate them
to stop the fermentation process. Success again! The result was a
super tasty, kind of fizzy, fruit infused kombucha batch that I
slurped up in the next three days. Looks like I need to squeeze
three gallons into that vessel for Batch #3....
Here's a detailed plan and recipe if you want to try this at
home: How to Make Kombucha Tea. I promise, it gets
A friend once asked me if I knew how to make granola.
I'm sure I looked puzzled as I answered, "No...I thought granola
was...like...its own...thing...?" As in, I thought granola grew out
of the ground. Actually, it's not that I was firmly certain that
was the case. It's just that I hadn't given it a thought before I
was hit with this question.
Wrong! The farmer doesn't harvest a granola crop. Someone has to
make it, as in, out of other ingredients. This
same friend, who was at that point now fully aware of my ignorance
on the topic, was resourceful enough to send me over her family's
granola recipe. Turns out, it's easy, quick, and flexible for when
I'm out of half of the things the recipe actually calls for--as
Here's the basic ingredients list:
I translate that as old-fashioned oats (steel-cut definitely
doesn't work…oops), turbinado sugar, water, homemade vanilla (we
can talk about that another time), sea salt, sliced almonds, black
sesame seeds, and sunflower seeds. Start out by boiling the sugar
and water together, and then stir in the vanilla and salt. Combine
everything else, dump the wet mixture on top, stir, and spread
evenly across a parchment-paper lined baking sheet. Finally,
sprinkle cinnamon, ginger, and turmeric on top, then slip into the
275º oven for one hour. Or, as my granola friend said, "sometimes I
do 30 minutes at 350º because I'm impatient."
It's glorious. After making my entire house smell like
Christmas, it comes out of the oven all golden brown and audibly
begging me to eat it. I do. I burn my tongue. It's just part of the
process. Then, I let it cool unattended on the counter for about an
hour, and then we pour what's left of it into Mason jars for the
Why do I make my own granola? I don't trust what any
commercially produced granola contains by the time it reaches my
mouth. I think mine tastes way better. I'm fairly sure it's cheaper
to make your own. Plus, my house smells like Christmas. I
think that's just the cinnamon, but I don't want to pin it
down and ruin the magic. In a larger way, making granola is just
one more small step that I've taken in the direction of natural
living. It's a process. I don't know anyone--certainly not
myself--who has been able to flip the switch one day from all
commercial products to all homemade products. The world in which we
circulate today is a mass-produced, globalized society. We want it
bigger, better, and right now.
I suggest taking a small step whenever you can. Relax. Make some
granola. Smell it. Eat it. Repeat.
Why would I need or want to do this? Why haven't I
purchased a commercial deodorant in about two years? Why haven't I
let my husband, either? The bottom line is that I just don't feel
comfortable slathering on a toxic armpit cocktail, when I know that
what I put on my skin has a good chance of being absorbed into my
bloodstream. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: If you
wouldn't eat it, don't put it on your skin, either.
I also don't like the idea of blocking off the body's drainage
system, so I had already stopped using anti-perspirants years
before finally ditching the deodorant, too. (Not sure what you're
using? Check the front label. "Deodorant?" Just covering the smell.
"Anti-perspirant?" Also preventing your body from releasing the
sweat.) My armpits are made for excretion, and that's just what
they'll do. One of these days, I'll probably sweat all over
Really, though, it's not nice to sweat all over people, and it's
particularly rude to have the sweat smell like the noxious fumes
that we all know it can. Yet, I feel that primal urge to allow my
lymphatic system to do its job and clean out some bodily sludge.
Yes, I do think that using a commercially-produced anti-perspirant
and deodorant contributes to the development of breast cancer and
other ailments. But I guess I have to sit around and wait for a
study to prove that sealing in your body's toxins and then layering
more on top of that is bad for your health. Seriously, doesn't
anybody else wonder why Dove is the breast cancer researcher out
Or, I could make the choice that I know is healthier for my body
(and my husband's body, too). Thus, one rainy afternoon two years
ago, I jumped on Amazon and ordered myself some arrowroot powder
(after not being able to find it in local stores). The rest is
history. Instead of simply leaving you with the basic recipe I've
been using and loving, I'll take you on a pictorial journey
afterward. Note that if you do try this at home, the common
expectation is that there is approximately a 1-2 week "learning
curve" for your body to really have the opportunity to excrete
build-ups that you've been holding hostage for most of your adult
life with your commercial anti-perspirants. Translation = you might
smell worse during this time. This, too, shall pass, and at the end
you'll likely find that you don't smell as bad as you used to.
Here are your simple ingredients:
Mix 1/2 cup coconut oil with 1/4 cup arrowroot powder and 1/4
cup baking soda. Add essential oils such as orange, lemongrass, or
tea tree, and scoop into an old, cleaned out deodorant container to
harden for a few hours. (Don't worry about those bottles of wine in
the background. Those are for later, when you can celebrate your
accomplishment if all goes well.) Simple, customizable, delightful.
Remember, it's more meant to be a deodorant than an
anti-perspirant, but my husband finds it does both well. I guess
I'm just a sweatier fella. But at least I'm not usually a smellier
That's the normal way. This week, I tried to plan for our
upcoming medical mission trip to Nicaragua, where it is oh-so-hot
every day, by customizing the usual recipe to prevent it from
melting. Yes, coconut oil has a melting point in the 70s, so it
would be like trying to use a puddle of deodorant instead of a
stick if I took along the usual stuff. So, after googling for a
while, I found a suggestion to melt and add beeswax into the usual
recipe to raise the melting point (beeswax has a really high
melting point, like 170 -- not even Nicaragua can match that). It
The resulting deodorant was very brown, as a result of using
dark brown beeswax the first time. OK, I can live with that. Here's
the bowl of leftover brown deodorant that I will scrape with a
spoon and use until it's gone before wasting an ounce. Yes, this is
the state of affairs of toiletries in my home.
The photo at the beginning of my post is what it looks like in
stick form, which is much more socially acceptable, I know. It's
almost normal looking...just brown, and bumpy, unlike the usual
smooth off-white result for temperate at-home usage. Ah, Nicaragua,
the things I do for you.
• So What Is Chinese Medicine?
• Jabbing Nerves with Needles
• Mission in Nicaragua
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