Thursday, April 18, 2013

How To Make Your Own Kombucha {while living in an RV}

I've had lots of friends ask me how I make kombucha over the years. Instead of typing it out in another email, I figured I'd do a blog post, and refer everyone here in the future. Please excuse the funny placement of my items...I currently live in an RV with less than 2' of counter space, so my stove doubles as a counter. :)
Here goes!

This is what you'll need:

• One gallon of spring or filtered water.

• A tea kettle.

• A large bowl and wooden spoon. Do not use metal or plastic bowls or spoons. Or at least don't let metal, and preferably not plastic, touch your finished kombucha.

• A large glass jar. I use some that are 3-liter jars, and some that are one gallon.

• One cup of white sugar. I personally think its important to buy organic sugar, since most sugar is now GMO. If you think it's crazy that this healthy drink is made using a CUP of sugar, you're right! But the sugar is necessary to feed the SCOBY (I'll tell you about that in a bit) during the fermentation process. You can also use honey, but it's a lot more expensive. I personally just got over the horror of using so much white sugar once I researched kombucha, and learned why the sugar is important, and how it is used up by the end of the process. It's SCOBY food, and if fermented long enough, there will only be trace amounts of sugar remaining.

• Five tea bags, using a mixture of green and black tea. The ideal ratio is to use three bags of black, two bags of green, but you can mix and match, or use just one type. It does need to be caffeinated tea, as the SCOBY uses the caffein for food also. If you choose to use green tea exclusively, you should eventually cycle in some black tea, as your SCOBY needs the tannins from the black tea.I recently read this article about commercial tea bags, and I will soon be switching to using only loose leaf tea.  I will probably use about 2 tsp of green tea, and 3 tsp of black tea.

• A cloth and rubber band to cover your jar while the tea ferments. I use an old cloth napkin or a kitchen towel.

Boil as much water in your tea kettle as you can. Don't fill it any higher than the bottom of the spout, or it could burn you when you open it.

Pour the hot water into your large bowl where you have placed the five tea bags and one cup of sugar.

Stir with a wooden spoon to dissolve the sugar. Leave sitting until it gets to room temperature.

Once it's at room temperature, remove the tea bags and pour the tea into your large glass jar.
Fill the jar up with fresh, room temperature or tepid water, leaving about 2" at the top. Pour in some starter tea from your last batch (if you don't have any, that's ok). Place the SCOBY in the jar.

A SCOBY is a "Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast". It's not technically a mushroom, even though it's commonly referred to as one. It's a funny looking thing. Here's mine in a jar, demonstrating the proper way to store a SCOBY. They can last for months in the fridge if they are covered in kombucha (this kombucha is also what I use as my "starter tea" when I pour in my SCOBY...I just pour the entire contents of the jar in).

If you are in need of a SCOBY, you can try growing your own from two store-bought bottles of kombucha (unflavored).  Just leave the kombucha on the counter, covered with a cloth, until you see a SCOBY form.  I got my first SCOBY from someone on my local freecycle.  I personally don't think you should pay for these, as anyone who makes kombucha quickly has them coming out their ears!  I am hay to share one with people who are local to me, and I've even been known to mail them to friends using the US Postal Service. Just ask around...natural minded friends and neighbors. If you absolutely cannot find one, you can always buy one here.

Once the jar is filled almost to the top, and your SCOBY is in it, place a cloth on top with a rubber band around the top to hold it on. This is just so no bugs or anything gets in there while its fermenting, and so it can breath. You don't want to put the lid on your needs the air during fermentation.

Place it in a location that is warm, but not hot. A dark cupboard is sometimes suggested, but I always have left mine out on the counter, and it has worked well for me. Just don't stick it by a sunny window or anything.

If you've never had kombucha, or don't prefer the taste, you can acquire the taste. I hated it at first. What I did to acquire the taste, was to ferment it for the minimum time at first. That is five days. There will still be some sugar in the kombucha, but it's ok if that's what it takes to acquire the taste. I gradually increased my fermentation time by one day. I really liked the sweet drink at first, and once I worked all the way up to a 14 day ferment, I still liked it! Typically I ferment for 7-10 days, but you can go as long as 14. It will taste more vinegary the longer you ferment, and sweeter the shorter you ferment. There are more health benefits to a longer ferment, but even a shorter one is good. It's better than drinking soda!

Once it's done fermenting, you can take the SCOBY out. You will have a "baby" growing on top of the "mother" SCOBY. The baby will be whitish, and look so pretty and new. The mama will be a little darker, but will still work fine. Unless the SCOBY turns a dark brown, or grows mold on it, you can keep using it over and over. Pretty soon you'll have them coming out your ears!
Here's a picture of the top of my jar (the baby) after nine days of fermenting.

Here you can see the mama and the baby that I'm separating. The baby is touching my thumb.

It is ok to leave the mama and baby attached, and just use a thicker SCOBY for the next ferment (it will ferment a bit faster). Or, you can eat it (its really good for you!). Some people put them in the blender, in a smoothie. I've given them to my chickens many times. My chickens love them, and it makes my eggs more healthy!

This part is optional, as your kombucha is perfectly good to drink the way it is. But if you'd like to flavor it, or make it naturally carbonated, you'll want to do a second ferment.
Our go-to flavor is strawberry, although we've used every fruit (and combination of fruit) under the sun. Don't try banana though--that one doesn't work. Some we have done:

Rhubarb (especially strawberry rhubarb!)
It is best to use fresh or frozen fruit, not dried. You can either put the fruit in whole, or blend it with some kombucha, then pour it back into the large jar. I like the way the whole fruit looks (it's really pretty), but I think the kombucha takes on the taste better when the fruit is blended.
I buy organic frozen strawberries in bulk, and keep them in my freezer. This is about how many strawberries I use for a gallon of kombucha. You definitely don't need this much fruit, but my kids love it this way, so I stick with it.

Before blending, make sure to pour some kombucha in with the fruit to create a frothy drink. Then pour it all back into the jar and put the lid on (SCOBY is out at this point). Stick it back in your warm spot, and leave it for 1-2 more days for the second ferment. It will take on the flavor of the fruit, and will also become carbonated. If you have trouble getting it carbonated, make sure the jar is filled with kombucha to within 1/2" from the top. This will help it to carbonate better.
Here it is with the fruit in it.

Because wine glasses make everything taste better, I try to drink my kombucha from a wine glass.

I hope you enjoy yours!

Friday, April 12, 2013

How I Became Such a Hippie

I've had lots of friends from my past ask me how I turned into such a hippie.  If you knew me ten years ago, you knew I was about as mainstream as they come. And I never planned on changing that.

So, how'd it happen?

The short answer: I became a parent. 

That's what started it all. Someone introduced me to cloth diapers.  I started researching.  But more than cloth diapers, my husband and I decided way before we ever had kids that we wanted to practice Attachment Parenting.  I'm pretty sure that was my hippy gateway drug, more than anything else.  Let me explain.  

Once The Princess was born, I began doing all these "strange" parenting things.  Like sleeping with her in our bed, breastfeeding her exclusively, wearing her on my body most of the time, cloth diapering, and not leaving her with other adults for more than a few minutes until she was about two years old.  I started feeling really lonely.  We were invited to weddings and other fun events, which we turned down because children weren't allowed, and I wouldn't leave my baby.  I also refused to let her Cry It Out (CIO), or sleep train her, but had zero freinds who were in the same boat.  I wanted more sleep, but the only suggestion I got when I mentioned my sleeping woes, was to make her CIO.  I'd researched enough to know this was potentially very dangerous for my baby, and I was adamantly opposed to it.  But then I realized I had to keep my mouth shut around my friends. 

I was a lonely new mom.

So I started Googling.  I found this forum called Gentle Christian Mothers, which is an online community of christian moms who practice Attachment Parenting (AP).  I began looking for friendships there, and even found some moms local to me!  We got together for play dates, bible studies, and family dinners.  We began forming an awesome bond, which we still have today, after seven years, and many miles between us. Even our husbands and kids became close. I cherish those sweet friendships. 

Through Gentle Christian Mothers (GCM), I began learning about all sorts of natural things.  Like natural healing through nutrition, homeopathy, and essential oils.  I also started learning from them how to make my own non-toxic cleaning supplies and toiletries. I learned about family cloth, the Diva Cup, and how menstrual matter is amazing for my garden plants!  (Did I just admit that publicly?). I learned about the wonders of coconut oil, unassisted childbirth, and tandem nursing. I was introduced to the Weston A. Price Foundation. These are all things I've come to love, and that have inspired me to research and learn more. 

The moms on GCM are some of the most researched and well-informed moms I've ever met.  We don't all agree on everything (there are people from all walks of life....the Right, the Left, Unschoolers, Public Schoolers, Vaccinators, Non-Vaxers).  But we all agree on gentle parenting, and we're all aiming for that goal together.  In those moments in my parenting journey, when I've been at a loss on how to gently teach and guide my children (without using punitive measures like spankings or time outs), I've been able to go to these moms for help, advice, and encouragement.  It's been my safe haven.  When I didn't have friends in real life to talk to about my challenges, because I knew I'd only hear "she needs a spanking!", I had some friends to go to who would give me practical tools to try to actually teach my child how to behave.  It has been so comforting, and so empowering!

A little background on how Mark and I decided we wanted to practice Attachment Parenting:

When Mark and I were newly married, we were trying to figure out how we would raise our kids.  We took note of a few families in our church whom we really respected, and whose kids we would want our own kids to turn out like.  We had dinner with two particular families, and informally "interviewed" them, to find out their parenting philosophy.  We knew that in the christian church, there were two main perspectives on parenting, both diametrically oppposed to each other.  We'd heard that churches had split over this parenting issue!  It was that big of a deal! So we were curious about it.

Because we weren't yet parents, it wasn't a heated, emotional topic to us.  We were open to anything, and just wanted to honestly expore our options.

The first family told us they practiced Attachment Parenting.  We hadn't heard much about it, but they gave us a brief description.  I remember the mom saying, "I just always want my kids to know I am their safe place.  Whether they're four or 40, I want them to always know they can find safety in me."  That was so profound, and it has stuck sharply in my mind to this day.  It's an attitude I'm attempting to emulate with my own kids.

The second family we met with (the father also happened to be the counselor who did our premarital counseling, and whom we respect highly) also told us they practiced Attachment Parenting.  We started to perk our ears up a little, and take note that both of these families, whom we regarded so highly, practiced this kind of parenting called "Attachment Parenting".

We also asked a little about why these churches had divided over parenting, and tried to learn a little about "The Other Side".  There was one other family we interviewed, who were neighbors of ours, whose kids were so perfectly well behaved, it was amazing! We were awe-struck by their kids' compliance and obedience, even as toddlers!  We thought there was something to it, so we "interviewed" them too.  It turns out they followed "the other side", a book called Growing Kids Gods Way (GKGW) by Gary Ezzo.  We wanted to have obedient kids too, so we were curious about it. We had dinner with them a couple times to find out more, and we thought it sounded pretty good! We surely noted their compliant children!

Our counselor, when we had dinner with him and his wife, was hesitant to tell us his feelings about GKGW, and why he'd chosen AP over it. He just kindly shared his own experience and journey, and told us that when he Googled "Gary Ezzo", he learned enough about him that he knew he didn't want to follow his lead.  It sparked my curiosity, and I went home that night and Googled Gary Ezzo myself.  I stayed up way past midnight, reading stuff I couldn't believe I was reading.  I shared it with my husband the next day, and we decided that this whole AP thing just felt right to us, and we wanted to pursue it more.

We began reading books on Attachment Parenting and Biblical Discipline when I became pregnant.  The more we learned, the more we just felt such peace about raising our children this way.  And I have to say, it has been a wonderful, growing, challenging experience, this Parenthood.  Especially in an AP way. I definitely don't think we chose the easy route, but I do believe we chose what is best for our children. 

And that's it!  The story of how I became such a hippie.  

Added note: Although our friends who followed GKGW had very compliant children, I've since learned that this compliance was out of a motivation of fear.  Fear is not what I want to motivate my children. It's God's kindness that brings us to repentance, and I hope that my kindness brings my children to repentance, not a fear of me.  My discipline is a work in progress, and I still have so much to learn, but this is my goal: to teach my kids how to obey because they want to please me and God, not because they are afraid of me.  If fear of me is their motivator, in my absence, I fear what their freedom from fear will produce in their behavior.  I'll blog more about this another time, but I wanted to make a point that I no longer admire those perfectly compliant children, because I know how those kids got that way, and it's not something I want.