Monday, March 24, 2014

Get Healthy - A Guide to Creating Kombucha

Did you know that the majority of your immune system resides in you gut?  Good bacteria in the gut is thought to stimulate the production of white blood cells which are your main defence again foreign pathogens.  You can help support this good bacteria by avoiding processed foods, eating lots of healthy vegetables , and consuming fermented foods like yogurts, kefir , kimchi, and kombucha.
I started brewing kombucha around 6 months ago.  I was well aware of the benefits of good gut bacteria but I wasn't quite sure what the best option was for helping boost it.  As stated before, I'm not a large fan of supplements so I was on the hunt for fermented foods that I could incorporate into my daily diet. 

Extra SCOBIES removed, almost ready for a top up.

Cue kombucha and it's amazing symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY).  I was obsessed with kombucha and couldn't wait to try my first bottle.  I searched every store in my Biggest-Little-Hick-Town but couldn't seem to get my hands on a bottle.  It wasn't until I travelled to San Diego in October for a chiropractic conference that I finally had my first encounter with GT's kombucha.  I purchased 2 bottles, one flavoured to drink right then and there, and another plain to coax into producing me a fine SCOBY.  Upon returning home I followed all the correct steps to grow a SCOBY from a store bought bottle of 'bucha but after waiting weeks without results I finally gave up and dumped my creation down the drain. 
It was shortly after that I was surfing around on Kijiji and came across an ad for free kombucha SCOBIES.  Now, let me tell you, A was horrified when he learned that I planned to show up at a stranger's house to collect a rubbery, yeasty pancake but I was so desperate to start brewing that I answered the ad immediately.   The seller, Jenna, instructed me to show up at her house after work with a large glass jar.  The whole situation was a little strange but interesting as she invited me into her home and proceeded to show me step by step how to brew my own kombucha.  I left her house about a half hour later with a large jar of strong kombucha mothers and a head full of information.
I use a vintage sun tea jar to brew my kombucha in.  It has a wide opening at the top which I cover with cheesecloth and a small spigot at the base.  I use the no fuss continuous brew method to make my kombucha. The steps are essentially the same but instead of emptying out my finished 'bucha and starting a new batch from scratch I just top up the jar with new tea as need be.

Loose leaf oolong tea brewing.

You will need a few things to get started:  A large jar, a SCOBY floating a few cups of 'bucha from a previous batch, tea, and some sugar.  Start by brewing your tea.  I like to use loose oolong tea in my brew but most people tend to use regular black tea.  I add a couple of teaspoons of loose tea to my french press and top with boiling water.  Once my tea has brewed I transfer it to a another jar where I stir in about a 1/2 cup of white sugar and let it cool to room temperature.  At this point I usually pull my kombucha jar out of the pantry and inspect its contents.  Too many SCOBIES in the brew will ferment it too quickly so I like to removed all the extras leaving only one or two.  Extra SCOBIES are placed into the compost.  (I like to store a back-up in a SCOBY floating in a small amount of kombucha in the fridge in case my brew of 'bucha falls victim to mold or pests.)   After my sweet tea has cooled to room temperature I top up my continuous jar with it, cover the jar opening with cheesecloth, and place the whole thing back into the panty.
At this point, I can drink the kombucha if I like but it tends to be a little on the sweet side.  It takes about 3 or 4 days for my 'bucha to reach it's tangy, fizzy prime.  I find I have to top mine up about once every week or so.

 All ready to go back to into the pantry.


Monday, March 17, 2014

Mother Nature Does Not Lie

The last couple of weeks here  have been mild and the thaw has been coming at quick pace.  Its finally getting warm enough in the day to let the woodstove go out.  Mother Nature has been sending small clues that spring is around the bend.  Songbirds and chipmunks have been heard chirping in the woods.  The snowshoe hare has been coming into colour.  Red winged blackbirds, with their distinct call, have been seen perched upon the cattails. Tiny buds are appearing on branch tips.


I climbed the knoll behind the house where the wild ginger grows.  No signs of green shoots yet.  The wind was blowing and the crows were using it to their advantage, gliding on the gusts in long deliberate circles. 

No abundance of June berries yet.

Weekend afternoons are often lazy, crafting away at a project or spent in the kitchen, baking and cooking.   The promise of spring had me planting herbs and peas indoors, and sprouting beans and seeds for eating.  It is hard to satisfy the early need for growing when the weather hasn't caught up.

 Little dog, tired after a hike in the snow.
Pussy willows in milk glass - simple signs of spring brought indoors.

Vintage thrift runner that matches Grandma's rug perfectly.
Mung beans and broccoli seeds soaking.
A and I sat at the farm table constructing pyramids from coloured glass.  His experience is evident when compared to my crudely constructed tomb of Khufu.  Within our glass supplies I found some simple made boxes in vibrant colours.  Repaired and washed up they work well to hold my new seedlings.  It seems as though mid March cannot pass without the baking of soda bread.  I passed over my usual Irish recipe in favour of a sweeter loaf which bakes up in a pan.  This biscuit like bread smothered in butter and blackberry jam lends itself well to quiet mornings and strong coffee. 

What signs of spring have been happening in your area?

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Life on the greener side

In the past year or so I've really made a shift in the products I use on myself and around my home.   Not only do I want to avoid using nasty chemicals on my body but I also want to protect the delicate septic system our house is on.   That being said, I have made the transition to more natural and green products in my daily routine.  Below is a list of some of the household products I have transitioned to:

A few years ago I tried my hand at hot process soap making.  It was quick, easy, and the ingredients are simple.   An hour of work and a few dollars spent on supplies set me up with many months worth of homemade soap.  I honestly can't remember the last time I bought soap.  This is my go to recipe, it produces a hard bar that suds up nicely.  I find now that if I happen to use store bought soap my skin becomes itchy and irritated.  This is a product that is so easy to make on my own I doubt I'll ever go back to the regular stuff.

This is a product in my house that I've started to wean out only because I have found natural products that take the place of the many moisturizers in my cupboards.  Years ago I discovered a recipe in which you whip coconut oil, shea butter and cocoa butter together to produce a fluffy body moisturizer.  The resulting product melts easily into your skin and lasts all day long.  I've also starting making my own solid lotion bars, which can be used on  hands or as a chapstick, and herbal salves which I use in my first aid kit.

Ok, here's a dirty little secret - deodorant freaks me out. There is something so unnatural about rubbing a product under your arms that inhibits your body from sweating.  I also don't like the fact that its extremely hard to scrub off at the end of the day.  It weirds me out.  I've tried an assortment of products from 'natural' store bought deodorants, to rock salt that you apply after your shower, to making my own deodorant from baking soda and coconut oils.  My most recent product comes highly recommended so I purchased a little jar of Schmidt's deodorant online.  This jar of deodorant is similar to the product I made at home and it smells divine.  Its a little fussy to use at first as you have to scoop a small amount out and apply it with your finger tips but I've gotten used to it over time.  I bought the lavender and sage scent and so far I'm rather pleased with it.

Shampoo and conditioner:
Another product I love to hate.  As I switch my beauty products over to more natural choices I find that I am more aware of sensitivities to the conventional products.  Shampoo has been a product that I`ve struggled with for awhile.  I hate the SLS laden shampoos out there but I also hate how expensive the greener alternatives are.  While living in the city I did the no poo method where you stop using shampoo and conditioner all together and wash your hair occasionally with baking soda and apple cider vinegar.  The idea is that conventional shampoos strip your hair of their natural oils and the no poo method allows your hair to re-regulate itself again leaving you with textured hair without frizz or oil.  I no shampooed for about a year and I have to admit, it really was awesome.  After a few weeks of a weird adjustment phase my hair had lots of body and texture and was super shiny and soft.  Even my coworkers were noticing and I received many compliments on my hair.
My no shampooing came to end when A and I vacationed in Mexico for a week.  The resort we stayed in wasn't exactly close to any grocery stores and I figured it wouldn't be fun to try to cross customs with a box of white powder in my luggage. 
After using conventional shampoo while on vacation I was hesitant to start no shampooing again for fear of the dreaded transition phase.  Since then, I`ve been using Live Clean`s line of  products which I am happy with but I`ve been thinking a lot about making my own solid shampoo bars at home.   I recently picked up LUSH`s Seanik solid shampoo bar and Big conditioning bar to use as inspiration for making the products at home.   I was disappointed to learn that LUSH uses SLS in their shampoo bars but I figured since they were already purchased I would give them a try. 
I have to admit that the Seanik bar does a decent job of sudsing up and cleaning my hair.  It only takes a few strokes through my hair to create a head full of bubbles.  At this rate, I predict that the small bar will last me months.  The Big conditioner, on the other hand, is a bit fussier to use.  The idea is to break off a small amount of the bar and work it into a paste in your hand.  You can then disperse the product through the ends of your hair.  The product is strange and it seems to take a lot of effort to coat my extremely long and thick hair.  Upon rinsing my hair feels neither slippery or conditioned but surprisingly I can pull a comb through it without much effort.  After drying, my hair is soft and manageable.  It's neither frizzy nor dry but seems to lack the definition of waves that I get after using my Live Clean products.  Would I buy the Lush bars again, probably not, but they are a good introduction into the world of solid shampoo products. 

Face wash:
Just like with hair, I believe our face wasn't meant to have the oils stripped from it daily.  After finding my face was become extremely oily throughout the day I turned my face washing routine on its head and stopped using soap.  I started washing my face with only warm water and a washcloth in the morning and cleansing with jojoba oil to take off my makeup at night.  It seems counter productive to use an oil on your face but after I stopped using soap and cleansed with only jojoba my skin has never been better.  I no longer need to apply moisturizer and my skin doesn't get oily throughout the day like it used to.  My skin tone has evened and if I do get a rare pimple its only a tiny pink spot and lasts a short time.  No longer do I trust spot cream or acne products.  To treat spots all I use is either a small amount of tea tree oil, neem oil, or a tiny bit of raw honey. I`ve never had problem skin, but I did used to suffer from pink flushes along my nose and chin.  Those flushes have evened out and its the first time in ages that I have been comfortable enough to go without make-up. 

Ok, stay with my here, toothpaste is another one of those products that freaks me out.  Now, that's not to say that I don't brush my teeth, its just that I don't like to use a fluoride laden products that taste sugary and foam in my mouth.  As far as natural products go I have tried a few alternatives.  My go to product is Silca`s herbal toothpaste.  I regularly rotate my Silca with a paste made from baking soda, sea salt, and coconut oil and with a homemade tooth powder that contains white clay, activated charcoal and an assortment of spices.  All three methods leave my teeth feeling cleaner than conventional toothpaste and I don't have to worry about all the strange chemicals added to regular toothpaste.

Laundry Products:
Laundry detergent was the first step I took towards using green products.  I remember years ago a friend telling me about a terrible skin irritation she had been battling with.  After trying a number of different things she finally decided to switch out her heavily scented detergent with a more natural product.  Her irritation cleared up immediately.  The product she switched to?  Nellies all natural laundry soap.   I love this stuff.  A tin of it is relatively expensive but you only use a tablespoon a load so it literally lasts forever.  My only complaint about this natural washing soda is that it can be a bit harsh on my darks.  For darker laundry and delicates I use Method's baby detergent.  As for the dryer, I recently purchased felted wood dryer balls at a craft fair.  They soften my clothing while speeding up drying time and reducing static cling.  I can also add a few drops of essential oils to them if I want to lightly scent my laundry.

Take a moment to think about all the chemicals you come in contact with in a day.  What changes can you make to move towards greener alternatives?  What are your favorite natural products that you use?

Memories of June

There are two things I miss most about coast, the ocean and blackberries.   Although not nearly the same, the abundance of lakes, rivers, and streams satisfies my need for the water.  The local berries, on the other hand, can't hold a candle to plump, juicey blackberries.  Though not nearly as tasty, A and I did pick a ridiculous amount of service berries last year to wash and store in the freezer.  
Baked up in a crisp and topped with a dollop of whipped cream, these berries taste of summer all over again.