This is my journey in keeping my family happy and healthy.
In this day and age, what parent knows best what to do and how to care for their family?
There are so many conflicting ideas, so much wisdom, and so many paths.
It is here that I will compile information on what I have learned and the choices I am making.
Maybe my path will help others.... or not. Enjoy!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Busy Mama's Kombucha Brewing Method

I know I'm a busy mama who has little time for the intricacies of new projects. And I know I'm not the only mama out there who feels the same way. Between keeping the house tidy, keeping your family fed and nourished, and running after any little rug rats, who has time to waste on things like the delicate dance of yeasts and bacteria? Well now you will!

When I originally learned how to brew Kombucha, I killed the Mother/SCOBY, I couldn't figure out how long to wait till it was ready, and I grew things other than the yeasts and bacteria that make your Kombucha healthy and drinkable. But I learned something out of all of this! The Lazy/Busy Mama's Brewing Method aka the "continuous brewing method," with a few special tweaks of my own.

Supplies you will need:

1. A seedling mat
2. A gallon-sized glass jar
3. Green tea & black tea (I use loose tea)
4. Sugar
5. Purified/filtered water
6. A fine mesh strainer
7. A SCOBY and some starter tea
8. A large pot to boil the water in
9. Wax paper

First thing you want to do is sterilize your jar. I'm lazy so I washed it with soap and scaldingly hot water. Perfect! :)

Then you need to brew your "feeder tea." This is the "food" you will be giving your SCOBY, or as I like to call her, your "Mother." She needs tea (Camellia sinensis, no other will do) and sugar to thrive. I have found that plain white organic sugar is best, though often because of finances, it's just plain white C&H sugar. The good news is that your Kombucha will be fine even if it's not organic. As much as I hate to say that....

The recipe I use is:

1 gallon purified/filtered water
2 tsp loose green tea (or 4 tea bags)
2 tsp loose black tea (or 4 tea bags)
1 cup sugar

Do NOT use honey as the antibacterial goodness of honey will harm your "Mother."

To begin, you will need to bring to almost a boil, a gallon of filtered/purified water. We have a Berkey purifier which I am totally in LOVE with. Heck, even the Queen of England uses it! Here's ours....

I do not boil it due to wanting to keep the maximum amount of oxygen in it. If you are not using filtered water, you WILL want to boil it to remove and chlorine and things like that.

Once it is to that point, turn off the burner, and add a cup of sugar and your tea in a tea-ball. Or if you're me, I put the sugar in right when I put it on the burner. And I add the tea after I shut off the burner later, once it has gotten to the almost boiling point.

Here are my gallons of currently brewing Kombucha:

As you can see, I brew two gallons at once. When I "harvest" my Kombucha, I get two quarts per gallon. So 4 quarts of yumminess! If you're brewing one gallon, you will get 2 quarts (about every 3 days).

Okay, so back to the process....

Next you have to let the "feeder tea" cool. I do this the lazy/busy mama's way, which is to forget about it and occasionally check it until I can easily put my finger into it and it feel only warm. Then I take out the tea ball. Yes, I have forgotten it till the following day. No harm no foul.

Since you do not have a set-up yet from which to harvest and do a second ferment, we will start there. Later we will discuss what to do once you have an active brew and are ready to harvest your first batch of Kombucha.

So now, take your new "Mother" and your starter Kombucha and put them into the jar. Some people like to put the tea in first, then the Kombucha, then place the "Mother" gently on top so as to not harm the mother. Not me. The reality is that your Kombucha will always grow a new "Mother" as long as the pH of your brew is awesome for it. I never worry about tossing the "mother" around in the jar and upsetting her. In fact, if you get a "Mother" from me, it will often be squeezed into a quart jar. Just plop her into your gallon jar. Add the starter Kombucha, then fill up the rest of the jar with the strained feeder tea. You strain it to make sure you don't have any tea particles in it.

You will have some feeder tea left. Put that in a jar in the fridge to use when you need it next time.

Do not fill the jar up to the top. Instead leave an inch or two room for the "Mother" and the fermenting process. Look at the above picture to see what I mean....

Then put your jar onto a hand towel which is placed on your Seedling Mat. I got mine from our local hydroponics store. You can also buy one on online. I put a towel down to help displace the direct heat, and just radiate a general warmth all over.

The awesome thing about this mat is that it keeps your Kombucha at the exact temperature you need to make sure that ONLY the right yeasts and bacterias grow. If it gets too cold, you will grow bad things! This way I never have to think about if it's growing what it's supposed to! If you live in a super warm climate, you may not seed a mat. The Kombucha needs to stay at 75-85 degrees basically, with probably 80-85 being it's happiest point.

Once your "Mother" is strong and happy, you will probably find your brew will be ready every 3-4 days. But in the beginning, it may take as long as a week to be ready. You need to taste it after the 3rd day, every day, to know if it's at the point you like it. It should be effervescent and slightly tangy like vinegar, but WAY yummier. If it's sweet and tea-like, it needs to brew longer. (If it's super vinegary, it brewed too long. No worries, just put it into a second ferment to see if it mellows out. You haven't harmed anything.)

You will also notice a whitish film growing on top. This is your new "mother."

I use a long straw to taste my brew. I suck some up into the chamber, then withdraw it from the Kombucha, and taste.

If it's the way you want it, you get to harvest!! Yay!

To "harvest" your Kombucha, you need to brew some feeder tea again for when you need to refill the jar. And then what I do is pour off 2 quarts of freshly brewed Kombucha. This will leave about 1/3 to 1/2 the gallon jar still full of the brew. This will be the starter tea for your next brew, which will ensure the right pH.

When you pour the Kombucha out of the gallon jar, you should notice it fizzing and it's effervescence. If you do not, it may not have been ready.

Do not worry about pouring and upsetting the newly forming "Mother." Once your pour your new feeder tea onto the "Mother," she will probably swirl around the jar. It's okay. The "mother" does not need to be perfect. What needs to be perfect is the pH of the brew. And THAT is why we leave so much of the original brew in the jar for the next time around. You are assuring that the pH is always good.

Occasionally (about every month or so) I take everything out and clean the jar. That's just me. Sometimes I wait even longer. As long as you don't introduce any new bacteria, and keep the pH happy, you probably don't even have to clean the jar. I just choose to for protection sake.

So this is how you do the continuous brew method! You do not have to take anything out of the jar other than the Kombucha you are harvesting. Then just add back in new feeder tea. It's that simple! Really! Eventually the "Mother" will thicken up and be totally un-phased by your abuse of pouring etc. Eventually you will need to share some of your "Mother" with someone else because she will be too healthy and fat. As you can see, one of my "Mothers" is getting a bit chunky, so I am going to split her apart and share her with someone else who wants to brew.

Splitting the "Mother" is easy. Wash your hands, stick one in the jar and pull out the "Mother." Either pull apart some of her layers, or cut her in half. No you are not going to harm her, and she is not going to scream in agony over your abuse. I generally keep the newer layers, and pass the older ones. They are still good and the old layers will make a perfectly new "Mother" for your friend. :)

Here are some bottles I poured that are now ready for their "Second Ferment."

The second ferment is fun because here is where you get to play! You can add almost anything to your second ferment brew. My favorite is fresh berries, or fresh mint. I have tried ginger slices too. You are only limited by your imagination!

Here is my mint in one jar, and my blackberry in the other. YUM!

Don't forget to put wax paper between the brew and the lid. You do not want your Kombucha touching metal for a long period of time, due to it's ability to leach in the metals and become toxic to you. And always brew in glass!

Once your second brew has done it's thing for 24-48 hours, it's ready to drink! Actually you could just drink the freshly brewed Kombucha after the first ferment, which I often do, but I also love the flavors of the second ferment. And if you're concerned about the content of the sugar or tea, a second ferment is the way to go. The bacteria & yeasts will gobble up all of the sugar and tea by then, and just leave you with healthy yumminess!

You will find doing berries is a trip because after the 24-48 hours, the berries have whitened, and the brew is the color of the berries. It's like a science experiment!

I always use my strainer (yes, it's metal, but I only use it so briefly that I doubt it matters) to strain all my Kombucha when I'm pouring into my cup, because you will find that Kombucha naturally wants to make more "Mothers" and you do NOT want to be drinking your beverage and nearly choke on that globby thing. Yuck! Trust me, I've done it. Not to mention, you have to strain everything you added to it. You may even find that the new SCOBY has adhered to the items you put into it, and you can extract it all in one glob.

There! Now you can brew Kombucha the easy and painless method! Feel free to ask questions if you have any. I'm sure I've forgotten some nuance somewhere....


This has been cross-posted on Kelly the Kitchen Kops' Real Food Wednesday

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Sick kiddo prompts cooking frenzy...

For days I've been worried about my kiddo.

It started with a runny nose for a few days. I thought she was just exhibiting general allergy symptoms.  Then as she was eating avocado, she starts telling me that "it's too spicy, mommy." Great... she's got daddy's food allergies too.

Fast forward a day, and the cough starts.

This terrifies me because she just had pneumonia a few months ago. Luckily I have her Albuterol, and know some steps to take to help keep it from getting worse.

Instead of inundating her with a zillion different herbal combinations, all at once, including the ever-favorite elderberry syrup,  I decided to make some yummy attempts to get it all in her. Thus Yummy Gummies & Thera-Pops were born..... to help ensure her health & well-being and my feeling of assurance that she will soon be well.

Bonus recipe: Apple Rice Pudding.

Yummy Gummies

These are made with a combination of fresh blueberries, elderberry syrup, vitamin C, with fresh ginger, some coconut sugar, raw honey and possibly another ingredient or two I've forgotten.

Due to the spontaneous nature of this day, everything was concocted on the spot and of course, not written down. Such is life eh? But I will do my best to report what I did, so that you might be able to replicate it with your own personal twists.

First I threw the last 1/3-1/2 basket of blueberries that had been sitting in the back of the fridge getting wrinkly, into a pot with about 2 cups filtered water. I also added a bit of sweetener to it. I used coconut sugar. I didn't use very much. I just figured it would help with creating the syrup. I also sliced up and added some ginger; maybe about 3 pieces or so. I let that boil down slightly. Maybe about 5 minutes. Then I threw it all into my Vitamix. After that, I strained it and threw it back into the original pot. To that I added my gelatin.

I have been wanting to get a good source of gelatin into our diets because my body has been aching and feeling old. We don't get any of this in our diets due to the generally vegetarian diet we have. This being said, I figured my daughter should benefit too.  Plus it's a great stabilizer and super fun medium for medicine!

While I could have used the powdered gelatin I have, instead I wanted to take advantage of the gelatin disaster I had the other day (with 3 cups of apple juice and 16 tablespoons of gelatin). I learned the good news that you can re-melt gelatin and use it again. Which is exactly what I did. I probably used about 1/4 of that batch for this amount of fluid. What I did is estimate the amount of fluid I had, with the amount of firmness I wanted, and added that amount of gelatin. Mine came out like "jello."

Here's me straining the liquid before adding the gelatin.....

Here's the leftover debris after straining....

Here's the concoction after I added the gelatin....

Once that melted, I cooled the concoction, and added the elderberry syrup (maybe half a small jar, or 6-12 tbsps), liquid Vitamin C (6 tbsps or so), and raw honey to taste. You want to make it sweeter than if you were drinking it as a liquid, due to the fact that it ends up tasting less sweet once gelled.

Here's the elderberry medicine I added when the syrup cooled...

I oiled the pan (square 9" Pyrex) with raw coconut oil, and poured/strained again....

 My mess!

Then a put it in the freezer for about 20 minutes.

Here is my final result.....

And cubed cutely.....

I have to tell you, I've eaten over half the whole pan myself! I can't stop eating them. And the great part about it is that I'm eating stuff that's not only good for me, but will help keep me healthy too!

You do realize you can use any pureed fruit don't ya? YUM!

The next project I endeavored was to make medicinal popsicles out of herbs, spices & teas. I had done this before and was able to get my daughter to actually *like* stronger tasting herbs, spices & teas. This is partly due to the nature of freezing things. The taste is reduced and becomes more subtle. If you sweeten it with raw honey, you also get the natural antibiotic/antimicrobial nature too.


First I made an herbal concoction of fresh thyme, fresh ginger, cinnamon, fresh mint, coconut oil, Throat Coat tea (1 tea bag), Licorice tea (1 tea bag) and ground tumeric. Yes... I have no idea on the exact amounts. Just wing it. A handful of thyme, a sprig of mint, several slices of ginger, a few tablespoons of coconut oil, a shake or two of tumeric....

To do this, I quickly brought about 2-4 cups of water water to boil, took off the flame, then threw in the fresh herbs, teas & spices and covered for about 20 minutes.

Then I strained out all the herbs and such....

Then I chilled slightly over a cooling bath so that when I added the raw honey & raw coconut oil, they wouldn't be harmed by the heat. Then stirred....

I poured this into my popsicle mold... and froze...

Here's what I had leftover after that. I put this into a jar to save for later! Yummy!

And here's my daughter trying out the final result....

So now for the bonus recipe! I realized after making all these items, that I hadn't made her breakfast yet. Bad mommy. Since we are on an Elimination Diet to detect her allergies, I was limited on what I could make her, with what we have in the house. I opted for rice pudding! Yummy!

Apple Rice Pudding

I had grand plans to make rice pudding with coconut milk, but when looking in the fridge and on the shelves, I only found 1/4 of a can Instead of letting this foil my plans, I opted to use the rest of the apple juice in the fridge.

You will find this happens in a lot of my recipes.

Next time however, I think I would opt for just using coconut milk or some other nut milk. The apple juice left it tasting kind of tart, which somehow was oddly appealing. But I wouldn't want to take that chance every time!

I added a rinsed cup of Jasmine rice, 1/4 can of coconut milk, and 2 3/4 cups apple juice. I threw in some cinnamon, sliced fresh ginger (it sure is a gingery day isn't it?), and maybe some coconut oil. I can't remember. Put it on a high flame until it started to boil, then turned it down to low to simmer.

Cover and keep an eye on it. Which is not exactly what I did as you can see below.....

I cooked the rice down. Um... too much. I totally burnt the entire bottom of the pan.

Luckily I salvaged some of the rice pudding!

Here's where I pressed the rice up the sides of the bowl to help cool it. I also sat the bowl in another larger bowl with cold water in it to chill the bottom.

Then I stirred in some raw honey and a few more tablespoons of raw coconut oil. All of this to taste...

And here is the final rice pudding! Tart and sweet and super delicious.....

I sure hope I didn't over-inundate you today! I had no idea I was going to be so inspired! Too bad I have to do the dishes now.....


And to top it all off.... here are some pictures my daughter did today...

And here she is with her "lipstick" on, just like a princess (as she puts it, and no I never taught her this)....

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