Monday, September 16, 2013

Kombucha Upgraded Again

I finally released my kombucha scoby into a 2-gallon size jar (I know, I talk about it like it's a beloved pet dog or something). I found this Anchor Hocking 2-gal. jar at Target for $13.79 - what a deal! Finally, room to grow!

I was so skeptical about kombucha when I started it six months ago. I really thought I would prefer water kefir. But, my water kefir died long ago of poor usage and neglect in my fridge, and my kombucha scoby is still going strong! One gallon wasn't enough to last us a week, so I added another half-gallon jar. Then one and a half gallons wasn't enough, so I finally got this two gallon jar. 

My scoby was about 2-3 cm thick before I split it up and gave a couple away recently. Now I'm starting fresh. I still do a rooibos/black tea mix and haven't discovered any reason why I should change this delightful combo. I drink it plain, I add it to juice or home-made banana "ice cream." I use it as starter for home-made sodas and ketchup. It has become the foundational culture in my kitchen.

For info on how to start your own kombucha culture, see Food Renegade's, "How to Brew Kombucha," "Kombucha, the Balancing Act", and "Bottling Kombucha Tea at Home." I bought my original kombucha scoby online from this seller on Etsy, and found her to be very reliable and the scoby to be very healthy. Just don't order during the hot summer months!

Content - WEEK 25/Full GAPS Diet

Breakfast with Grain-Free, Dairy-Free Dutch Baby
We are almost half-way through our first year on the GAPS regimen and continue to see good results... My husband's stools are mostly normal again, and my fatigue, abdominal pain, and other symptoms are greatly improved, though not yet "normal." So we continue to plug away and stick to the diet. 

I have been adding more fruit, but have found that we have to be very cautious about what kinds and how much fruit we eat. We do not eat real "desserts" yet either, even made with GAPS-friendly foods. Dessert for us consists of half an apple or peach, or a GAPS-legal muffin with a little raw honey on top. Occasionally, I will make an "ice cream" in our Vitamix, with frozen bananas mixed with other frozen fruit, like pineapple or berries. 

For a special breakfast, I have developed a GAPS-legal Dutch Baby, which is typically made with white flour and milk. It works great! See my recipe below.

Green Juice with Spirulina
I have also been vegetable juicing as much as possible within the confines of our food budget. I started adding spirulina powder to our juices, since I discovered that it is a complete protein containing all the amino acids, as well as a good source of iron, calcium, B vitamins, and fatty acids like GLA, ALA, LA, SDA, EPA, DHA, and AA (if you can trust Wikipedia's research, article here), all of which are essential supplements for GAPS patients. It doesn't taste the greatest, but a tablespoon or so mixed in with some juice isn't so hard to get down. I bought my spirulina from Star West Botanicals on, but Mountain Rose Herbs also sells it. I wasn't able to find any that is produced in the USA. The one I got is from China (supposedly "organic," but who really knows); and the one that Mountain Rose Herbs sells is from India (also supposedly "organic," but again, who really knows).

Grain-Free, Dairy-Free Dutch Baby

1 c. water
1/2 c. raw almonds plus 1/2 c. 
4 eggs
3 T. coconut oil
1 apple, chopped - optional
1 t. cinnamon - optional
Lemon wedges to squeeze on top - optional
Honey to drizzle on top - optional

Place the coconut oil in an 8x8-inch bake dish and stick in the oven at 400F. While the oil is melting and heating, place the water and 1/2 c. of the almonds in a Vitamix or blender. Blend on variable 10 for 2 minutes. Add remaining almonds and oil. Blend on variable 10 for another 20-30 seconds. Pour into the hot bake dish. If desired, sprinkle chopped apples and cinnamon over the batter. Bake for about 25-30 minutes until golden on top and springs back to touch. Serve and eat immediately. Drizzle with lemon juice and honey if desired. Makes: 4 servings (or two if you are big eaters like us!).

Lacto-fermentation Under Control: Lessons Learned

A few posts ago, I shared my troubles with learning how to do lacto-fermentation safely. I did some more research and reading others' experiences online, and concluded a couple things: 

  1. Don't use a starter culture. Apparently, this disturbs the fermentation process of the naturally present lactobacilli, which we want to favor in our pickled veggies.
  2. An air-tight, or nearly air-tight environment (with accommodation for gas release) is not just nice, but necessary, for safe fermentation.
With these lessons in my pocket (and with the help of Nourishing Treasures' research here), I purchased a bunch of Bormioli Rocco Fido canning jars from Sur la Table, and some of the large glass lacto-fermentation weights from Cultures for Health. For starters, I got two jars each of the 0.5L, 0.75L, 1L, and 2L jars, and one each of the 3L and 5L jars. However, I've found that I have a greater need for the large jars than the small ones, so I recently ordered a second jar of the 3L and 5L size. Shipping was free, so total cost of the jars was about $80 (for 12 jars!), which is a huge discount compared to investing in the Pickl-It variety. The glass weights from Cultures for Health are not that great... They are too small, so that many are needed for the larger jars. Also, they are not heavy enough unless you use a lot of them. However, it is nice to have a few around for the smaller ferments. For the larger things, or when I run out of weights, I just use a half-pint Ball canning jar to keep the veggies under the brine instead. This actually seems to work better than the weights...

So, I have been pickling like crazy since I got my new system in place, and with great results! Below are a few of my recent successes:

Golden Beet Kvass

Getting Started, Day 1

Finished Product, Day 32
I used a helpful recipe from Pickle Me Too! to guide me in making my first batch of beet kvass. I used golden beets and ginger in a brine of about 1T. salt per quart. It cultured for 3 weeks in the dark. Then I bottled it. One bottle I left plain, and to the other I added the juice and zest of one lemon, and let it culture for a few more days before drinking. It turned out... Ok, but not great. I'm not experienced with kvass, so maybe I just didn't know what to expect. To me, it still tasted too salty for a beverage - that was the major turn-off really. Otherwise, the flavor was sweet and citrusy. I think a little mint might be nice in the second ferment... Hmm, maybe next time. I drank it, but I just wasn't crazy about it. Also, I know some people eat the beets from their kvass, but I found most of mine pretty spent and kinda gross tasting. I ate a few of the more crispy ones, but I had to throw the rest away.

Lacto-fermented Salsa

This turned out great! My husband especially loved it, slathering it on his scrambled eggs every morning. Because of the high sugar content of the tomatoes, salsa can only be cultured for 5-7 days before beginning to turn alcoholic. I did this one for 5 days. This one was made with grape tomatoes, onion, serrano pepper, basil, lemon juice and zest. I made a second sals this past week made with roma tomatoes, garlic, cilantro, and whole dried red peppers. Both turned out really good, and passed the husband test!

Shredded Ginger-Lemon
Carrots w/ Daikon

Shredded Ginger-Lemon Carrots with Daikon

Yum! Another winner. My husband loved this. It had a really crisp, refreshing flavor. It was gone in just a couple days. Shredded carrots, daikon radish, ginger, lemon juice, and lemon zest with just a little 3T. per quart salt brine.


This was one of my favorite ferments so far. I used a recipe from Nourished Kitchen to guide me, but as usual, I didn't follow it exactly. I used one head napa cabbage, one bunch green onions, one very large daikon radish, about a pound of carrots, about four serrano peppers, ginger, garlic, and a little sugar. I didn't make it very spicy for my first try, since we have not been eating spicy foods for a long time, and have just started adding a little bit of pepper here and there. This was in a 5L jar, about 2/3 full, and it was gone in just a week or so.

There were a few other ferments that I did as well - green beans, cucumber pickles, and beet green kimchi. The beet greens did not turn out very good, and were my least favorite. But I'm sure they were good for us, and I didn't want to throw them away! 

My Ferments Shelf - Getting Full!

My conclusion: The Fido jars have performed dependably so far, with much fewer problems. They are definitely worth it, an inexpensive and reliable way to go! The only problems I've had was 1) with a jar of been green kimchi, which got contaminated due to the fact that I filled the jar too full, and it overflowed and had to be opened and cleaned, thus exposing it to air and other contaminants... and 2) with a small amount of kahm or mold (couldn't quite tell which) that grew on top of my most recent salsa. I was able to scrape this off without a problem and save the ferment. I think this developed only because I opened this jar during fermentation to stir it, since the tomatoes do float to the top, and there is no really good way to weight them down. However, if the jars are left closed, they should be airtight, and should not have as much necessity for weighting. I've found this to be true for other "floaters" I've done so far.

Projects Ginger Bug & Root Beer: Success!

In my previous post, I discussed how my first ginger bug try had failed and so I was trying a new recipe. Well, it worked! I made a batch using the ginger bug starter, as well as a batch using kombucha as the starter, to test them side-by-side. And... I couldn't really tell the difference. As far as I see it, the main advantage of the ginger bug is that it makes a super-concentrated gingery flavor, which is great if you like your ginger beer nice and spicy.  But as a starter culture for soda, I am somewhat ambivalent about the bug. Sometimes it performs well and creates a nice fizz. Other times, it turns out completely flat. It's been very unpredictable for me. I've found that kombucha used as a starter performs much more consistently, making a great fizz every time. My conclusion: It is worth keeping a bug around to create the flavor, but I wouldn't rely completely on my bug for starter, but would add a little K-tea as well if you want any fizz.

Homemade Root Beer
I also mentioned in my last post that I was hoping to try homemade root beer soon. Well, here it is (pictured left)! I used K-tea for the starter so far, and I'm still figuring out just how little starter is needed to get this soda fizzy without exploding when I open it. So far, I can't seem to get the proportions quite right, and I have to open this one in the sink very carefully or else I will be cleaning root beer off my refrigerator at the opposite end of the kitchen 10 feet away! Or the ceiling... Both of which we did this past week... I'm not sure what it is about this brew, but the K-tea absolutely loves it, and goes wild. A note about the flavor: if you are expecting it to taste like what you buy in the store, you will be disappointed. This has a much more complex, robust, and earthy flavor than that wintergreen-cornsyrup stuff. It took a little getting used to at first, but I really like it!  I based my recipe on the one from Nourished Kitchen, but I decreased the licorice root to half, and skipped the sassafras. My husband doesn't like the anise after-taste of the licorice, and sassafras was not readily available when I bought my herbs. The rest of the herbs I bought either at Mountain Rose Herbs or Amazon.comMy conclusion: Homemade root beer made using k-tea as a starter works great, but less than 1/4 c. of k-tea should be used per 17oz. bottle, or it will over-carbonate.