Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Kombucha 101

Fair warning: I'm a kombucha newb. I've gleaned all my information from sites such as this and this, as well as a handful of folks I know who are experienced with brewing kombucha (pronounced: kom-boo-cha). I'm just here to tell you about this awesome fizzy probiotic drink that has my gut feeling extra good these days, and also invite you on my journey as I learn to brew it at home.

So, have you tried it? I did once in college and thought it was gross. Over the past few months, though, the 'booch' has been making it's presence known. I've read about it on blogs, and been enticed to pin a few links on Pinterest, but mostly, it's been our months of interaction at the PCC cold case that has left me most curious. So many flavors! So many options! I'm always left thinking, "It can't be that gross if so many people are drinking it..."

I began to learn that it's way more than just a frivolous beverage—so much more! Kombucha is a fermented sweetened tea that is slightly fizzy and equal parts sour and sweet. I describe it as tasting a bit like effervescent and sweet apple cider vinegar, but way better than that. It is also full of live enzymes that promote digestion, overall gut health, and energy, otherwise known as probiotics. It's even alleged to fend off illness and depression, as well as potentially prevent cancer and heal arthritis. This sounded too good to pass up, so I gave it another try.

It was good! What was my youthful self thinking? But at $3-5/bottle, I decided to give home brewing a shot.

I mentioned in my last pregnancy update that my midwives have an awesome Facebook group just for their mamas to connect. I figured that was my most concentrated group of "crunchy" people, so I reached out there first. Bingo! Within a few hours I had all the info I needed and a couple connections to SCOBYs. A couple days later I had a giant healthy-looking SCOBY and some starter kombucha in tow.

What's a SCOBY? A "Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast", also known as a kombucha culture. It's the key component to brewing your own kombucha at home. Have you ever had that thing (called a mother) growing in a jar of vinegar? Well, it's kind of like that. You can buy them fresh or dehydrated online (here is a source that was recommended to me), or if you know someone local who brews, just snatch one from them. Each time a batch is brewed, a new baby SCOBY is born, which means that any home brewer will most likely be glad to pass a layer of their SCOBY on to you that would otherwise end up in the compost. You should look it up if you want to learn more. They're really fascinating.

Other than obtaining a SCOBY, brewing a batch of kombucha is pretty straight forward and simple. To make a typical gallon batch, you first start by heating 14 cups of filtered water to near boiling. Next, add 1 cup of organic sugar, stirring until dissolved, and steep 8 organic tea bags—or 2 tablespoon of organic loose leaf tea—of black, green, white or oolong tea. Black tea is the most reliable, I've read, but any caffeinated tea should work fine. Let the tea steep until the water is cooled to room temperature. I covered mine and let it sit overnight in the pot. By morning I had a strong batch of cooled black tea.

The rest is quick and simple. Prepare a gallon (or larger) sized glass jar without any metal pieces by cleaning it thoroughly. Add your cooled brewed tea and 2 cups of "starter tea". I got mine from the mama who gave me the SCOBY, but I've read that using store-bought is fine also. This gives your tea some acidity to keep it from molding in the first few days of fermentation before the new baby SCOBY forms on top and seals the tea underneath. Gently slide in your SCOBY. It can sink, float to the top, or sit sideways. Let it go where it wants.

Now, cover your kombucha with paper towels or cheesecloth and secure with an elastic. The brew needs air, but should always be protected from bugs (it's a sugary liquid, afterall). Keep it at room temperature for at least 7–10 days in a location where it can be left alone and out of direct sunlight.

This is as far as I've made it so far, but after the first fermentation period and after you've assured that it's at the proper fermentation for your taste, you then remove the SCOBY and bottle the kombucha in something glass that can be airtight. My mama friend bottled hers in mason jars, which is what I plan to do also. The bottled kombucha is then left for another 1–3 days at room temperature without access to air. This allows the brew to carbonate as the enzymes release gasses. Once the kombucha has become fizzy, it's then refrigerated to stop the fermentation and carbonation processes and should be consumed within a month.

That's the gist. Strange and awesome, right? And honestly, my gut feels so great when I drink the stuff. Being pregnant is a surefire way to slow digestion, and has only afforded me a poop every 2–3 days, whereas, when I'm not knocked up I eliminate at least once daily. Yet, without fail, each time I drink at least 4 ounces of kombucha, I naturally have the urge to go the next morning. I also feel that it boosts my overall energy and mood.

I think it's also worthy to note the controversy about whether kombucha is safe to drink while pregnant and breastfeeding since it has an alcohol content of about %1 or less. My midwives have given me a big thumbs up to go forth with it and think it's a really great addition to my diet, but have cautioned to not let it ferment too long in order to keep it from getting too alcoholic. There is also speculation that because it detoxes the body, the toxins can be excreted with the breastmilk, but so far I'm not thinking that theory is cause for concern.

So what do you think? Do you drink kombucha? Have you brewed at home? I'm excited to make this a part of my daily routine, and also to experiment with different teas and adding flavors like fresh fruit and herbs. I'll be sure to follow up soon with how things are going. But in the meantime, feel free to follow me on Instagram (mrsandmrking) where I'll be documenting my kombucha adventures more regularly.

If you're interested in brewing kombucha yourself, I suggest you to follow both of the links from the beginning of this post. The information I gave here isn't entirely comprehensive or explanatory, it's just meant to be an introductory course. :)

Cheers to gut health! xo

Monday, February 3, 2014

Family Favorite: Perfect sugar cookies

I'm not exaggerating, these are perfect. Growing up, I remember making sugar cookies with my grandma, which usually meant rolling the dough out pretty thin, cutting them into shapes, and when they'd emerge from the oven they looked poofy and nothing like the shapes we started with. It was always such a disappointment. I can't say I ever really enjoyed the taste of them either.

These sugar cookies are nothing like that. These sugar cookies are moist, crazy delicious, extra thick, they hold their shape and sharp edges, and in the seven years I've been making them, they turn out perfect every time—they're no-fail! You can even flavor them to match the mood of that season; maybe peppermint for Christmas, lemon for Easter, or pumpkin spice for the Fall. I've learned a few tips along the way that I think add up to the most delicious sugar cookie recipe you'll ever need. I hope you enjoy them as much as our family and friends do.

Perfect Sugar Cookies
Makes about 6 dozen 3" cookies, recipe can easily be halved

6 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups butter, I almost always use Kerrygold Irish Butter
2 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon pure almond extract* (the secret and important ingredient!), or another flavor extract like peppermint, lemon, orange, etc

*For a stronger, but not too strong, almond flavor omit the vanilla and use 2 teaspoons of almond extract. It's really good! Or, this is where you can experiment with seasonal flavors like peppermint extract or pumpkin spice.