Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Fermenting - Kombucha

Have you heard of Kombucha? I hadn't until recently. I was browsing around the Internet looking for recipes for fermented foods and I came across this strange sounding tea.

Kombucha is made from sweet tea that is then fermented by using a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast). The SCOBY eats the sugar in the tea creating a tangy and fizzy drink that's, well, yum. Before I tried my first bottle of Kombucha I had read a bit about it, and I wasn't expecting it to taste so good. The best description I can give is a crisp apple cider with the taste of stone fruits.


So what exactly is a SCOBY? It's a weird looking pancake like jellish thing that floats in your jar of tea. It's odd. In Kombucha circles (yes, there are some) the SCOBY is called the mother and when a white layer forms on the mother, it's called the baby. I told my husband that and he gave me a look that said, let's just call it a SCOBY- Ok?

You can buy a SCOBY and some starter tea from health stores and from eBay. I bought mine for just under $13 including postage from eBay and it arrived in great condition with lots of instructions to get me started.

So why drink it? Apart from the taste, Kombucha has incredible health benefits. The tea has lots of goodies in it like probiotics, it contains lactic and gluconic acid, and a range of B vitamins. Lactic acid helps with digestion and gluconic acid can help with yeast infections and liver detox. Kombucha lovers report benefits in aiding acid reflux, constipation, and weight loss.

How do you make it? My recipe is very simple.
Take 1L of water and bring it to the boil, remove from the heat and add 2 black tea bags.
Brew for 15 minutes (longer if you like it stronger), and add 1/4C of white cane sugar.
Stir to dissolve the sugar, remove the tea bags, and wait until it's cooled down to luke warm.
Add 100ml of starter tea (that comes with your SCOBY when you buy, and then you save 100ml of each batch to use next time).
Poor into a clean big glass jar (make sure it's big enough to hold all the liquid) and slide in the SCOBY. Cover with a breathable cloth like a hanky or a cheesecloth and attach a rubber band around the rim. Place in a cool dark place for 7 days to ferment.
After 7 days pour off a bit of the liquid and taste it, if it's still sweet then leave it another day and try again - it should be pleasantly tangy and fresh but not like vinegar.
Bottle it into clean bottles and leave for 3 days to carbonate. Plastic is good because you can tell when it's carbonated - the bottles are hard.
Place into the fridge and consume within a month.

* there are lots of ways to flavour your Kombucha, I haven't tried any yet but I'll let you know when I do!


Is it safe? Now as with any food product, especially fermented food, you do need to be careful with hygiene. I always wash my hands and sterilise my glass jars in boiling water before I start. I also did my research before I started both online and by reading through the detailed instructions my eBay seller provided. If you have a go at googling Kombucha you'll no doubt find a few scary websites talking about Kombucha and people getting sick etc. There are also people all over the world who have been making Kombucha tea for generations, and in much dirtier conditions than our kitchens. I take an educated and common sense approach when fermenting foods.

I don't think there is any good reason why we can't make and enjoy these products at home (and I'm a bit cynical about the blogs who say never to make your own Kombucha and then magically have a commercial brand endorsed as part of their blog post - ahem).

I suggest you do your own research if you're concerned. I'm not a doctor or a nutritionist. There's lots of info out there - far too much for me to write out here.

One thing I do want to mention is that some people have reported a 'cleansing crisis' or a 'healing crisis' in the first few days which is basically the intestines have a bit of a freak out at all the good bacteria. Symptoms are a gurgling tummy, diarrhea, and tiredness. You can help that if it happens by drinking less tea more often - so lots of frequent sips, and by drinking a lot of water. It should sort itself out pretty quickly.

Is it alcoholic? It is slightly. About 1%. You'd need to drink a lot of it to get drunk - and I don't recommend that because it would be way too much for your tum.

So there we go, Kombucha Tea! I'll be continuing this fermenting series with kefir milk and sauerkraut so what this space.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Yoghurt in a Slow Cooker


Part of my job as mum/wife/cook/home maker is to look at ways to make things healthier, more budget friendly, and as home made as possible. I really enjoy the challenge of making food from scratch and it's satisfying to know that the end product is full of good things for our bodies.

We are not big yoghurt eaters. I don't eat it at all as I'm dairy intolerant and the kids have only limited dairy in their diets. But my husband likes yoghurt, and he eats cottage cheese every day. After buying a big punnet of cottage cheese every week for a while, and after looking at all of the additives that go into it, I thought that there must be a way to make fresh organic yoghurt and curds at home.

After a bit of Internet research I had a go yesterday and I was thrilled with the results. It was so simple, anyone can do it. You'll end up with a huge jar of organic yoghurt for a fraction of the cost of store bought organic brands.

Here's how to do it:

You'll need:

A slow cooker
1L whole milk
1 small punnet plain, unsweetened organic yoghurt with as many live cultures as possible (at least 5)

Turn your crock pot or slow cooker on low with the lid on.

When it's warmed up a bit, put 1L into the crock pot. Use organic whole milk if you can, if you can't find it or it's too pricey use a whole milk that is pasturised but NOT ultra pasturised. The better quality milk you use, the better your yoghurt will be.

Replace the lid and leave it for around 2 hours until it's steaming and frothy around the edges but not boiling (85 degrees C or 185 degrees F). This took 1.5 hours for me but it will depend on your crock pot. I don't have a milk thermometer and I'm not really the type to measure it anyway.. so I judged it on when it looked right.

Turn the crock pot off and leave the milk to cool down to warm - you want to be able to put your (clean) finger in and have it warm but not burning hot (around 46 degrees C or 115 degrees F).

Take out a cup of the milk and mix it with 1/4C of your yoghurt in a clean bowl. Place the milk and yoghurt mix back into the rest of the milk in the crock pot and replace the lid.

Wrap the whole thing up in a wool blanket or thick beach towel to keep it all snug and warm and put it out of the way. Some people put it in a cold oven, I put mine in the bottom of my pantry.

Leave it for between 5 - 12 hours.  I was impatient so I peeked after 5 hours and it was thick and creamy. Leaving it for longer such as over night will be fine too.

Bottle in clean glass jars. It will keep in the fridge for 7 - 10 days.


It's great plain in baking or curries, and I'm looking forward to trying some combinations on the kids such as raw cacao powder and agave, vanilla and honey, and pureed strawberry.

Make sure that you reserve a small portion of your home made yoghurt (plain) for the starter for your next batch!

Curds


I reserved around 1.5 C of my yoghurt to make into cheese. Basically all you need to do is strain the yoghurt through a cloth into a bowl. I used a cheesecloth. I draped the cloth into my bowl, poured in the yoghurt then gathered the sides and tied a knot. Then I grabbed the ends and tied them to a wooden spoon, and placed the handle of the wooden spoon over a ceramic bowl. In the morning I had whey (thin yellowish watery stuff) in the bowl and a thick white cheese left in the cloth.

The curds can be used like cream cheese on crackers or toast, or you can loosen them up a bit with some water or yoghurt and add a pinch of salt to make cottage cheese.

Whey

Whatever you do, don't through away that precious whey. It will keep in your freezer for a while, and you'll be needing it soon when I start to teach you all about the wonders of fermenting - coming soon!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

On buying vintage...


While on holiday in Orange last weekend I picked up a great little vintage sweater at the local Salvo's.  I saw the old fashioned looking label first, and when I pulled it out from the rack I was surprised to see the original tags still attached. Someone had held onto this top for more than 40 years but had never worn it. Maybe it was something she hoped she'd fit back into, or it was something that she thought was simply too pretty to throw away. I wish I could tell her that it now has a very good home with me, and that I'll look after it.

When dating vintage clothing there are a few tricks you can use. My lovely mum gave me Kelly Doust's Minxy Vintage for my birthday and in the book she has a great paragraph on 'Signs of it's era' which I will summarise for you here.


Pre 1920s - Antique
1920s - 1960s - Vintage
1970s - 1980s - Retro
1990s and later - Secondhand

*Although I know of a few young people who proudly wear their "vintage" 1990s clothing a la' Beverly Hills 90210. I myself can't cope with calling any era of clothing "vintage" when I clearly remember wearing it the first time around!

Prior to the 1940s zippers were not used in anything other than uniforms, so if it has a zipper it will be 1950s or later. A zipper on the side is likely to be 1940s where a zipper down the back is more of a 1950s trademark. Nylon zippers were invented in the 1960s so if it has a nylon zipper it can only be post 1960 (unless it's been replaced). In the 1970s overlockers were widely used. 1980s clothing looked to the 1950s so it's easy to be confused - check for overlocking and nylon zippers to determine if you've found an authentic 1950s dress or a 1980s inspired one.

So with a new book about vintage clothing in hand and two towns of undiscovered op shops waiting to be trawled through, there was really only one thing left to do. The op shops of Bathurst and Orange definitely didn't disappoint, I have never seen so much authentic vintage clothing in all my years of thrifting.


My first find was the little knit top I mentioned earlier. It has a cotton zipper placed down the back of the top - those clues plus the style of the tags make me think it's either from the 1950s or 1960s. The only problem with it was the colour. I'm not a bright sky blue kind of girl, that colour does nothing for me at all. So today, I bought some trusty clothing dye and turned it into a bright royal blue. I love how it came out, and for $4 for the top plus $9 for the dye I reckon I got a pretty good bargain.


My photographer's assistant was more interested in the trampoline than the camera this afternoon so I had to make do with a self portrait. I'll try and get a better photo this weekend when Mr J is around so you can see the shape.

My next revamp is a floor length brown and orange 60s dress that had my husband saying "Erm.. ah, I'm not even sure what to say about that...." when I excitedly popped it into my basket. Can't wait.


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Hello 34!


I turned another year older on Sunday and to celebrate we went on a mini holiday to the Central West region of NSW. We rented a holiday house on a farm in between Bathurst and Orange where there was nothing but pastures, blue sky, and the sounds of cattle mooing happily to one another. It was a long weekend that almost didn't happen, thanks to an ill timed throat, sinus and ear infection on my part. The morning of my birthday I felt slightly better (thank you antibiotics!) and so off we went.


The house was warm and comfortable overnight so it was a surprise to wake up to a heavy frost on Monday morning. The kids were awake and playing (loudly!) at 6am so I took advantage of being up early and headed outdoors. It was crisp and icy out there so early, but the sun was warm and the frost melted away fast. The best thing about the country is the quiet. That morning there was nothing for miles but me, a big blue sky, and the sound of my boots crunching through the grass.



One thing I wanted for my birthday was to get away from the rush that has been our lives lately, and slow right down. We had three televisions in the holiday house but we decided that the kids would be screen free. They inevitably asked about the TV when we arrived, and I told them things were different in the country and it only played the news! A bit of a white lie but it worked.

Instead of watching TV we made up puppet shows using their teddy bears that had the children crying with laughter. We got the kids out of bed after dark to go outside and look at the stars. We organised a much anticipated "midnight" feast and played lots of music.

We drove through little towns and made a detour to Millthorpe. After a picnic in the old cemetery we played a game of "who can find the oldest gravestone" and Jemima and I disturbed an enormous snake that was snoozing in the sun. Ben won the game (1890) despite not being able to read, which was met with much amazement and congratulation by Jemima. The kids loved these little things, having mum and dad play with them and be silly. It's something we need to work on incorporating into our every day lives I think.





And then of course there was a whirlwind tour of the Op Shops in Bathurst and Orange. I found some amazing things including some 1960s clothing with the tags still attached! I'll be writing about those later but here's a photo of some Pyrex I found for $1.50 each.



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