Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Kombucha 101

Pardon me if I have posted something like this before but let's be real one can never have too much information on kombucha brewing or encouragement to home brew.  So here we go on a magic brewing adventure of fermentation nation!

There's a slim chance you might ask, "what is kombucha?"  It is a fermented beverage made from caffeinated tea, sugar and an active culture (often referred to as the "starter" or mother or scoby).  This culture is fed by the sugar and becomes a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast.  It eats up the sugar so you can bottle the tea when it is to your taste.  It will get more vinegar-y the longer it brews.  Kombucha lovers and makers champion it as a health elixir with a lot of the same properties as other probiotic and fermented foods.  They say it contains good bacteria for your digestion, that it contains lots of B vitamin and other amino acids.  Scientific evidence is scant but we all know western science rarely supports a lot of alternative healing methods**  So take it as you will.

Here's the quick and dirty version:

  • Brew a large jar of caffeinated tea
  • Add 1 cup of sugar
  • Add starter w/juice
  • Cover with cloth, paper towel or coffee filter
  • Store in a dark place
  • Brew for 1-2 weeks

Here's the more detailed version:
  1. Find yourself a starter and some starter juice.  You can ask any friend who brews kombucha for a layer of their scoby and a little of the fermented tea drink. (rumor has it you can even just buy a bottle of kombucha at the store and use that as a starter)
  2. Find a pretty big glass jar (or even plastic they say).  Clean it well, sterilize it if that's an option.
  3. Fill the jar 3/4 of the way with hot water and 3 or 4 tea bags of your choice (green or black).  Add 1 cup of sugar and mix in.  Let the tea steep for 10 minutes or so and remove the tea bags.  Let the tea cool to room temp!!!!
  4. Add the starter and its juice to your tea mix and cover with a cheese cloth/paper towel/coffee filter.  Make sure it is secure as you don't want anything to get into your brew except air**
  5. Move your jar into a darkish warmish space.  I keep mine in a cabinet.  
  6. Let it sit.  For 1-3 weeks.  This part is highly variable.  It will brew faster if it's really warm.  It will brew faster if the starter is BIG.  In New Orleans where it's hot and humid it brewed in a week.  Here at Green Gulch in the cooler climate it's more like 2 weeks.  
  7. After a week you can try tasting it.  If it's super sweet and not so tangy it probably hasn't brewed enough.  If it's way too tangy almost like vinegar it probably brewed too long.  Also look at the scoby.  If it hasn't grown in size that's a good indicator something ain't right.   Also if mold grows on top of your scoby, mold like the blackish furry kind, then you have to scrap the whole thing.  This has only happened to me twice in the entire time I have been brewing (several years).
  8. When the brew has a taste you like what I do is bottle it into a few smaller bottles.  I like the bottles with the rubber stopper.  So I fill up the bottle using a funnel, I like to make sure some of the little chunks get in there (my theory is that it helps it to keep brewing a little), and then I add a tiny pinch of sugar before closing it up.  I let it sit a few more days because it will get more fizzy being sealed shut with the sugar. 
  9. You can also add flavor.  Before you seal up your smaller bottle you can add things like ginger, blackberries, raspberries, lavender and anything else you can dream up.  Blackberries turn it a lovely pink color too!
  10. Enjoy.

**Scientists also warn against the danger of contamination in home brewing, which is a fair warning but probably nothing to be too worried about, especially given all of the other questionable things we eat (for example, "hmmm, this has been in the fridge for a few days, do you think it's still good?").  I have not had a problem yet.  I do wash my hands and the jars frequently in the process and I have the luxury of a sterilizer here at Green Gulch.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Sun Will Come Out...Today!

After months of gray, foggy and rather depressing weather out here in the gulch, the sun has finally come out for more than 5 one stretch!  We have actually had several, maybe even 5 or so, sunny and warm days.  So let me put it in perspective.  Our regular "summer" (June, July, August) weather is cold and misty.  This is good for our crops (lettuce and brasicas) and generally reflects (I think) healthy and expected weather patterns.  That's the catch-22: I wish it was sunny and warm because it's glorious and energetic but that would actually be asking for something that's not good.  So instead I try my best to deal with the seasonal affective disorder- like symptoms and wait patiently for the fall and it's summery weather.

Here's some gulch highlights.

  • Flocks of teenage quails roaming about, sounding their hilarious distress signals and generally freaking out, when they're not taking dust baths or running away from you like repelling magnets of course.
  • We have two late arriving baby ducks with their mum hanging out in our algae filled irrigation pond.  They are teens by now and it seems mom is confident in what she has taught them enough to leave them on their own sometimes.  They learned to groom, to dunk under water with their butts in the air and sleep on the floaties.  
  • The bees are having a ball.  First the large bees come around and now it's the smaller honey bees.  You walk by a bush and it just looks like a bush, but it's full of buzzing!  
  • You know what else is great about the fog lifting?  When there's no cloud cover I can hear the ocean again from my bedroom window.  Ahhh, it's like one of those sound machines but better, and free.
  • We have been hearing crowds of coyotes howling, yelping, barking.  It's amazing.  Sometimes when the whole community is doing farm work on Wednesday mornings it sounds like a stadium of fans cheering us on. Very encouraging.
  • This season it seems "distemper" is back again.  It generally affects dogs but also wild animals like foxes, raccoons, etc.  We have found two dead foxes which is very sad.  I will admit I am not sure the garden will be that sad if it kills off some raccoons because they ransack our apple trees every year. 
  • Snapdragons are blooming, actually they're at the end of their cycle but it's been glorious.

Monday, August 12, 2013

We Never Think Death Will Come

Recently a good friend of my brother passed away.  It was unexpected and accidental.  Grant was 26 years old, a neuroscientist and a musician.  He was still close with a lot of high school friends.  These boys seem to have one of those lasting bonds that has the sweetness of childhood and the depth that comes with growing up.   I didn't know him well but the loss has hit me harder than I expected.  I think maybe there's a feeling that it could have been my brother.  And it's a reminder, an undeniable reminder, of how fragile we are.  It is not actually so hard to hurt these bodies.  I don't know about anyone else but I definitely feel like I made it out of my "youth" relatively in tact.  But I made some not so smart choices a decade ago that could have maybe turned out bad.  At the time I felt like I knew what I was doing.  That I was being responsible enough.  But what could anyone have done for me then?  What can we tell our children?  What will I tell my child?

Then we are all left with the question of how do you let go of someone?  You have no choice but to 'bury' them and move on.  But moving on sounds so harsh.  What is moving on if it's not forgetting?  And if you never forget how do you function?  It's something of a miracle that people come into the world and kind of a shock when they leave.  The depth of the pain reflects the heights of our love I suppose. I am not sure if it is any easier when someone dies at the socially expected times.  Maybe we never expect it.  Maybe we are never ready.  I am left with the feeling that all we can do for anyone is love them as good as we can and hope they take care of themselves as best as they can and not be angry when they're gone.

Here's a sweet little song from the band Icewater (Grant and his friends) directed by their high school friend Dennis.

Friday, August 9, 2013

My Facebook Breakup

Yep.  That's right.  I broke up with Facebook.  Actually right now it's more like a separation.  Divorce has not been filed.  Facebook gives you the option of "deactivating" or "deleting" the account.  Why might someone breakup with Facebook, it's the mother of all social networks!?  Well friends,
I was starting to feel a little..addicted.  My husband says, "but it's not even that compelling!"  And often it's not! So then why do I keep checking it?  Partly because I work in an office now in front of a computer so I have constant access, not just to Facebook but any number of other media outlets to peruse if I am bored.  When the thought came to mind that maybe I should get off the Facebook I felt...resistance.  Omg, it must be a sure sign of addiction! So what do we do in Zen?  We look at the places we feel resistance.  Why wouldn't I want to disengage from this e-world of friends, family and fun?  First, I have a mild fear of missing out (F.O.M.O.)  I want to see the pictures, hear the gossip, read the shit talking and follow all sorts of threads and links.  Second, for a while it seemed cool to get to see what old acquaintances were up to and "reconnect" with old classmates.  Third, I wanted to tell people about what I am up to.

But I started asking myself, what am I getting out of this activity I engage in?  I am checking in on this site several times a day but what is compelling me to do it?  Am I actually missing out on anything?  What is the nature of my sharing personal details with my facebook friends?  Am I getting some sort of validation every time someone "likes" something of mine or comments or posts on my wall?  This TIME magazine article called "The Happiness of Pursuit" has some interesting things to say about what social networking has done to our ability to be happy with what we have.  The author argues that not only do we often try to present our best self to everyone who sees it but that we compare ourselves to everything everyone else posts.  Without even trying to we are subconsciously comparing ourselves to people we may barely know or to people who lead very different lives and all of a sudden our job promotion or new bike doesn't look as great as your friend from the 5th grade's new Porsche.  The article was talking about how happiness can be significantly affected by how/who we compare ourselves to and that in this day in age it is much easier to compare ourselves with people who live very differently lives like celebrities, the top .5% etc, when back in the day we compared ourselves with people who were in our daily world.  It also gives this great suggestion of asking yourself  "Would you still engage in this experience if you could tell no one about it?"

So it's been almost a week since leaving the Facebook.  I'm not sure if I'm happier but it's nice to have one less distraction.  And I do think it gives me space to be more involved with my local life and the people that are in it.  It is also encouraging me to cultivate my important relationships more deeply.  We'll see if I go the distance and delete the account.  It does seem to be a nice way to see pictures.  Hmph.