Monday, May 21, 2012

Time to Try Your Hand at Home-Brewed Kombucha?... Kom-Betcha!

I have a slight obsession. 
One of the kitchen cabinets

A few of the pantry shelves

One that Jon has teased me about for years. 

The top shelf of the kitchen refrigerator
The bottom shelf of the kitchen refrigerator

But now he's finding out just how awesome this obsession is. 

One shelf of the garage refrigerator

The door of the garage refrigerator

"Hi, I'm Hethyr and I'm a JAR-oholic."

The lazy Susan

A living room table
I also love bottles. 

The kitchen ledge

The bathroom medicine cabinet

And now that I'm brewing a gallon of kombucha about once every 10 days or so, a lot of those jars and bottles are getting used... not that they weren't being used before I started brewing!  I've got a feeling Jon will have plenty to say about the jars, so I'll fill you in on why you might want to brew your own kombucha and how to go about it if you choose to do so (which you should!).

Batch No. 2 of home-brewed kombucha

First, what the hell is kombucha?  Unless you shop at a natural grocer, you may have never even heard of this stuff.  It's a fermented tea that's been around for centuries and is known for it's health-boosting benefits.  Per, it's not a cure-all, but it helps to "bring the body back into balance so that it may heal itself naturally."  I was introduced to it about five years ago when my dad first found out he had cancer.  He was in the process of changing his diet and took me to a little raw food restaurant down the street from his house for lunch.  He pointed out a bottle of GT's Kombucha and told me I should try it.  I loved it and have been hooked ever since.

Though I love the stuff and the idea of the health benefits, buying it by the bottle at Whole Foods (or another health food store) is way too expensive to do on a regular basis... at least on our meager income!
  ;)  So I've been chatting with my sister-in-law about it for the last year or two.  She brews her own and has told me how easy it is, but I sort-of didn't believe her for some weird reason.  I had all of the necessary equipment the entire time and was just too nervous to try it, but my fear was entirely unfounded.  It's so incredibly easy to make this stuff!
If you need a kombucha starter - also referred to as a SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast)   - here's an excellent video on how to grow one...

Or you can order a starter from here...  I haven't tried it this way, but I've ordered yogurt cultures from this site and I recommend them.  They also have a ton of useful info, videos and recipes.

Once you've got your SCOBY(s)...

That white layer is the SCOBY's what you'll need to brew one quart (you can adjust accordingly if you want to brew more at once):

  • 2 1/2 cups distilled water
  • 1/4 cup organic sugar
  • 2 black or green tea bags
  • 1/2 cup starter batch of kombucha - use some of the batch from growing your SCOBY or some store-bought unflavored kombucha
  • Clean and sterilized glass jar(s)

Here's what to do:

1.  Bring water to a boil, remove from heat and stir in the sugar until dissolved.  Add tea bags and steep for 15 minutes and then let cool or, if you prefer, you can leave the bags in until the tea has cooled completely.

2.  Once the tea has cooled, remove tea bags if you haven't already and pour the tea into the jar(s).  Add the starter kombucha and your SCOBY, cover the jar(s) with a tightly woven cloth, paper towel or coffee filter and secure with a lid band or rubber band (it needs to breathe, so don't use an airtight lid).

3.  Place in a warm, dark place for about a week.  At that point, taste the kombucha and, if it tastes ready, remove the mother SCOBY and the newly formed baby SCOBY with clean hands and transfer the kombucha to bottles (straining through a fine plastic mesh strainer if desired) or just put a lid on the jar in which you brewed.  You can now use both SCOBYs to culture new batches of kombucha.  If they've fused, you can tear them apart.

- You can flavor kombucha using fresh, frozen or dried fruit, fruit juice, herbs, etc.  I used ginger in my last batch.
- You may notice a brown stringy substance in the jar.  This is the yeast culturing the tea and is a completely normal byproduct of the fermentation process.

That brown blob is yeast.  Wonder who
first decided this stuff was okay to drink?
- The SCOBY may float horizontally or vertically or may sink and it's fine.
- For more information, I would suggest trolling around the Cultures for Health website and, in particular, their kombucha section.  There are FAQs, recipes, videos, troubleshooting, etc.
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Jon:  "Obsession: An almost insane desire, longing, or burning lust for someone or something.  You feel like without that thing or person, you are not complete and can't cope, or - in extreme circumstances - live, unless you have the object you desire."

I remember when Hethyr's obsession used to be me.  Now it is jars.  I simply can't compete with functional storage canisters and screw-top lids.  Sigh.

It all started out harmlessly enough.  A few years ago, Hethyr started using jars for homemade holiday gifts.  Over time, the jars worked their way into our fridge and cabinets.  I would get reprimanded for pitching empty jars from the store into the recycle bin instead of cleaning them, removing the labels, and adding them to our collection.  Hethyr progressively made more frequent trips to Ace Hardware to buy various-sized jars in bulk.  Then came the day that she spent her birthday gift certificate to Uncommon Goods on five fancy multi-colored jars because she couldn't stand that such things could exist in this world without her.  I think that was when I finally accepted that Hethyr had found the new love of her life.

Handsome Lars and his fabulous jars
Now we live in the heart of Jarville, and clearly there is no escape.  There are jars in the kitchen, the closets, the bathrooms, the bedroom, the garage... where it will all end?  Is there any small object in our home which won't eventually end up in a jar?  You've seen the pictures.  You tell me.

I personally suspect that the kombucha, like many other things Hethyr makes, is just an excuse to use a glass container.  Regardless, the kombucha is definitely top-quality, and as a bonus it is awesomely disgusting to watch ferment.  It looks like some sort of mysterious alien lifeform.  However, now that it has finished fermenting and has migrated into the fridge, I have absolutely no idea what it looks like... because I can't find it.  It has entered the Jarmuda Triangle.  There must be thirty jars in that fridge, most of which contain something confusing and unexplainable.  It's hard enough for me just to locate my milk.  I'll take Hethyr's word for it that the kombucha is in there somewhere.

Hethyr in 5 years

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Heart Attack on a Plate - Literally.

Hethyr:  As we were sitting here winding down last night, Jon was reading me an article about the latest person to keel over (although she didn't die) at the Heart Attack Grill in Las Vegas.  Apparently this woman - believed to be in her 40s - was eating a "double bypass" burger, smoking cigarettes and drinking margaritas before she dropped to the floor unconscious.  As I was shaking my head, he continued to read about how any diner who exceeds 350 pounds eats for free and about how the "quadruple bypass" burger has four half-pound patties and eight slices of American cheese.  Oh, and you can add TWENTY - yep, TWENTY - slices of bacon (five per patty), dripping in grease, for a few extra dollars.  It's been said that it has around 8,000 calories.  I have no idea if that's with the bacon or not.  You can also order "flatliner fries" (which are fried in pure lard) and a "butterfat shake" (made with pure cream) to go with your "quadruple bypass" burger.  And of course the menu includes cigarettes and alcohol!

Quadruple Bypass Burger and Flatliner Fries

I am beyond infuriated that a place like this is legally allowed to open and operate, but that our own government conducts federal raids on raw milk dairies!!!  What the hell is wrong with this picture???  We, as a society, are okay with places like the Heart Attack Grill and Carl's Jr., but we are leery of drinking milk that hasn't been pasteurized to ungodly temperatures, killing off anything good that might actually benefit our bodies?  On one hand, I believe there should be a massive crackdown on fast food establishments that are blatantly TRYING to kill people, but on the other hand, I guess it is survival of the fittest in a way.  It makes me truly sad that people are either so uneducated or just don't give a damn that they willingly eat this kind of "food" and actually find places like the Heart Attack Grill funny... especially when there are those of us trying to educate and spread the word about the dangers of fast "food" and the benefits of REAL FOOD.

In the spirit of HEALTH, I'd like to share a recipe for some vegan burgers that I'll be making for my yoga teacher graduation potluck this coming weekend.  I found the original recipe here, adapted it to make it vegan and added an awesome sauce (which I adapted a bit from here) since I'm not always a burger-bun fan (especially when it's gluten-free) and since I currently can't have cheese.  And since I'm so pissed about the Heart Attack Grill, I'm going to throw in an extra recipe for a fruit salad that I'm thinking of taking to the potluck, too.  Wow.  You guys actually benefit from me being angry for once.  ;)  Enjoy not keeling over and dying while you're eating this yummy meal!

Vegan Gluten-Free Quinoa Veggie Burger with Spicy Sauce
Serves 4

1 garlic clove
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup vegan yogurt (if you're not vegan, feel free to use regular yogurt)
1 tablespoon lime juice
2 teaspoons Sriracha (or other hot sauce)
Salt and pepper, to taste 

1/2 cup uncooked quinoa
1 tablespoon ground flaxseed meal
3 tablespoons hot water
1 carrot, shredded
4 scallions, sliced
2 garlic cloves
1 1/2 cups cooked black beans (you can also use 1-15 oz. can, drained and rinsed)
1/4 cup vegan, gluten-free breadcrumbs (if you're not vegan or gluten-free, feel free to use regular breadcrumbs)
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil

1.  For the sauce:  Make a paste out of the garlic and salt by smashing with the edge of a chef's knife.  Whisk together garlic paste, vegan yogurt, lime juice and Sriracha.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Refrigerate until burgers are finished.

2.  In a small pot, bring 3/4 cup of water to a boil (I have to use a bit more at high altitude).  Add quinoa, cover, reduce heat to low and cook until all of the water is absorbed, about 15 minutes.

3.  In a small bowl, mix together ground flaxseed and hot water and let sit for about 10 minutes.

4.  Add all ingredients except olive oil to a food processor and pulse until combined but still a little chunky. 

5.  Form mixture into 4 patties.

6.  Heat oil over medium heat in a large skillet.  Cook burgers until well-browned, about 5-8 minutes per side.  Serve with Spicy Sauce.

Fruit Salad with Agave-Citrus Dressing and Mint
Serves 4

1 1/2 tablespoons lime juice
1 1/2 tablespoons mandarin orange juice
3 tablespoons agave nectar (you can substitute honey if you'd like)
1 teaspoon lime zest
2 tablespoons fresh mint leaves, chopped
4 cups assorted fruit, cut into bite-size pieces... pineapple, mandarin orange slices
(reserve juice), kiwi, apple, strawberry, grapes, banana, etc.  

1.  In a small bowl or glass measuring cup, whisk together lime juice, orange juice, agave nectar, lime zest and mint.

2.  Place fruit in a large bowl and drizzle with the dressing; toss to combine.
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Jon:  Few things can outshine the buffet at a party full of yogis.  A mouthwatering smorgasbord of fresh fruits and veggies, whole grain casseroles, bean dips, vegan soups, and all sorts of wonderful crap I couldn't identify.  It was delicious.  And it was nice to eat freely without worrying about how my food might kill me.  Hethyr's quinoa burgers were an awesome part of the feast.  And the timing was apropos, as we just read about mad cow disease rearing its ugly head in California.  Sounds like a good time to eat a veggie burger.

I imagine that very few people are left reading this due to the vomit that spewed out all over their keyboards upon seeing the picture of the 8,000-calorie quadruple bypass burger.  If you are one of the lucky few who made it this far in the post without destroying your laptop, congratulations.  Otherwise... sorry.

I can definitely remember a time in my life when I would have thought such a huge burger was hilarious.  But now it is clearly evident to me how everyone's life is negatively impacted by a burger like this:  the person who eats it takes one step closer to death's door; the restaurant proprietors rack up loads of bad karma due to manslaughter; more doped-up mistreated cows are slaughtered in inhumane ways at large-scale commercial feed operations; and every American deals with higher health care costs as one more self-deprecating glutton racks up huge medical expenses because of their own senseless choices.  The only good that comes out of it is that some people will change their eating habits based upon the fear of disease and death.

Turning away from the topics of vomit and death and steering toward a more positive note, you now have a couple more healthy recipes compliments of Chef Yogi Hethyr that will help you live well.  And in case you haven't heard, my newly licensed yoga instructor wife just officially taught her first class at Pranava Yoga Center.  Woohoo!

Chef Yogi Hethyr
Picture by Tom Martin