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
You've made the first move. You've called to schedule an
appointment in the AOM clinic. Just as you think you're almost done
with this first critical step, the receptionist throws a massively
important, yet completely unexpected, wrench in your plan. "Which
intern are you looking to schedule with?"
Oh. My. God. What do you do? Which name do you say off the top
of your head? As you feel the pressure mount in those two seconds
of silence on the phone, your brain quickly scans the names,
personalities, general skill levels, and specific competencies of
every student you know at NUHS.
It might not seem like a big decision to some, but for many
patients, your intern will make or break the entire appointment.
I've heard it all in the halls of the clinic, "He got a D on that
Point Location Exam, so I don't want to schedule with him!" "She's
the only one who follows up needling with tui na every
week--I want her!" "I only (or, I don't) want my best
friends seeing me with my pants down." If you're bringing sensitive
people--the elderly or young children--then even appearance might
matter. If I scheduled my kids with a super-tall bearded man, they
might run outside and hide by the swans!
If you haven't thought about which intern you will choose for
your first or next acupuncture appointment, here is a handy guide
to help weigh your options. No, I'm not going to provide a rating
list of each intern in clinic this trimester, complete with names,
pictures, and assorted blasphemies or accolades. Instead, I'm going
to walk you through the options that may or may not be important to
you in your decision-making process.
Image source: www.visualphotos.com
Now for the great part--there isn't one intern who fits every
criteria! This is wonderful news, because it means that a variety
of options exist for each patient who walks through the door. Each
patient is different, and each intern is different. If you've tried
acupuncture once, but just didn't get that great feeling, then try
again with someone else! If you were lucky and hit it out of the
park with your first intern, then stick with that person, or ask
him or her for a referral for another intern who treats in a
Good luck, and happy hunting!
When they ask you why you
came in for an appointment today, go ahead and let them know that
your urine is coming out in long, clear streams, and that your
dreams have been creepily vivid this week. Tell them that your
bowel movements are light brown, formed, and coming with ease twice
per day in forearm lengths that would make Dr. Yurasek proud.
Mention that you've been feeling kind of cold and that you can't
stand being out in the wind. That heaviness in your arms? Mention
Dive straight into the rest of Oriental Medicine's famed "Ten
Questions," noting whether you've been extra hungry, not so
thirsty, frigidly anti-sexual, exhausted from periods with
quarter-sized black clots, or muzzy-headed in the afternoons. It
all matters. If you're in an AOM clinic, these are the types of
things you can expect to be asked by your acupuncturist or
herbalist. No one here bats an eye when patients share the color
and consistency of their bowel movements. In fact, if you withhold
that information, we can't really help you very well.
Here they are, in detail but translated by me:
The Ten Questions
Your acupuncturist or herbalist not only wants to know these
things, but also actuallyneedsto know many of these things in order
to properly diagnose your condition and begin a treatment plan. If
you have long, clear streams of urine, loose stool, weak knees, a
sore lower back, and feel cold all the time...well, we know what's
going on. No, I'm not going to tell you here. Look it up. Better
yet, visit an acupuncturist!
So, if you're in an AOM clinic, have your thoughts on these
vital topics prepared beforehand. Otherwise, you might be so thrown
off guard by some of the Ten Questions that you can't formulate
sentences. That's actually fine, because none of the 10 questions
directly correlate to grammar skill level. Thank goodness, right?
However, if you find yourself in the office of an MD, keep in mind
that you might not want to just jump right in with details about
where you are in your menstrual cycle and how gassy you've been, if
your chief complaint is seasonal allergies. Just a tip, from me to
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.
Think it's too difficult for you? I think you're wrong. File
this post away under the "if I can do it, you can do it" series.
Unfortunately, this practical how-to post is the result of someone
actually needing to use raw Chinese herbs to feel better--and that
someone is me.
Remember that whole "damp-heat
in the gall bladder" thing from a couple of weeks ago? Yep, me
too. Turns out, I still have that going on. Yes, I self-diagnosed
and self-treated in near silence. Did I say I was good at this? I'm
sorry. No. I'm a student. I know close to nothing. In my defense,
upon an actual visit to the NUHS AOM clinic to exercise my
student-access-to-free-care privilege, I learned that I nailed my
diagnosis and was only one off in my acupoints selection plan.
Ingredients for Treatment
I was indeed on my way towards getting back to normal, but not
quite there yet. No. What I needed was a boost -- a big powerful
boost in the health direction. I needed herbs from Dr. Cai. After
showing my tongue and displaying my pulsating wrists to the masses
of interns, I left the clinic with my trusty sack of Chinese herbs.
At Dr. Cai's request, I also needed to add in a slice of fresh
ginger and three red dates with each batch, which I happened to
have on hand.
Many people would peer into this bag thinking, "What the heck do
I do with this pile of roots, bark, mushrooms, berries, and other
unidentifiables? Technically, there could be geckos and cicada
shells in there...shudder. In fact I refuse to look up everything
in the formula shown on my receipt just in case therearegeckos and
cicada shells in there.... So, here it is--your pictorial
step-by-step guide to using raw Chinese herbs in a decoction. This
is the instruction sheet that goes home with the patient.
Instructions for Cooking Chinese Herbal Formula
What this is trying to say is dump one batch of the herbs into a
pot, soak it, bring it to a boil, then simmer to reduce the liquid
to a drinkable amount. Now, you'll want to find the perfect balance
between "disgusting taste" and "effective dose," and that
isnoteasy. You know you want to concentrate the liquid for potency,
but you also know that you're increasing the taste by the same
Before Cooking and After Cooking
Most herbal decoctions do not taste good. Face it. Most of us
are damp. We eat dairy and fried foods (mmmm...fried dairy), and we
end up with damp-heat. Thus, we need bitter herbs much of the time.
Who's the lucky fella who gets a simple Spleen Qi deficiency
diagnosis that results in a sweet licorice and berries formula to
take home? Not this guy!
So, I soak my bitter herbs, I boil my bitter herbs, I simmer my
bitter herbs. I drink my powerful decoction, and I go to sleep to
let my body do its thing. I wake up a little better, and I know I
have five more nights of chugging down my "bedtime tea" before my
tongue can register just how gross it really tastes.
I could avoid much of the "hard work" in this process by
requesting my herbs in granule form (like a dusty powder that you
stir in warm water to dissolve). But then I'd lose a little
potency. I could avoid all the work and the taste
by requesting a patent pill formula, but then I'd lose even more
potency. No thanks, weak sauce. I need the most full-strength
option known to man -- ancient Chinese man, specifically. I need to
decoct my raw herbs!
• So What Is Chinese Medicine?
• Jabbing Nerves with Needles
• Mission in Nicaragua
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