Archive for tag: recipe

Whoa, I Think I Just Made Kombucha

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!

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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 beverages.

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 knew.

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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.

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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, Go!

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 success!

"Holy cow, I think I just made kombucha!" This is stuff you can sell in a store, people!

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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 easier!

How to Make Granola

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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 usual.

2014-06-25_ingredientsHere's the basic ingredients list:

  • 4 cups oats
  • ¾ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup water
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 cup nuts

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." 

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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 week. Yum.

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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.

Yep, I Make My Own Deodorant

Photo of homemade deodorant in an applicatorWhy 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 you.

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 there? Really?

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.

Photo of ingredients laid out on counter

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 fella.

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 went...well?

Photo of mixture in bowl

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.