Kombucha… it’s like tea but not quite

Of all the info about me in my Twitter and Instagram profiles, the thing that gets the most interest is the fact that I brew my own kombucha.

My love affair with kombucha goes way back to when I was small and living with my grandmother. I remember her brewing all sorts of odd things on top of the cupboards in the kitchen including a very potent alcoholic ginger beer. Now you may be rolling your eyes and thinking “ah she comes from a long line of hippies” but you couldn’t be more mistaken. My granny was an old-school, British school ma’am. She was a teacher and at one of the schools she taught at the kids had, not so subtly, given her the nickname “The Dragon”.

To me though she was just my granny, and also one of the most magical people I know. My love of cooking was nurtured in her kitchen from the time I could barely reach the stove top while standing on a chair. She let me make scrambled eggs and help with food prep. We would also bake together, filling endless tins with a variety of cookies. My favourite were the ones with raisins in them that had been rolled in cornflakes, and jam tarts filled with apricot jam. I would bite the jam tarts open and then dip them in my tea, the tea would melt the jam and I would drink the sugary concoction out with the unadulterated glee that only a 5 year old can possess, hoping that I could eat the tart before the whole mess fell apart in my hand.

Now as an adult, going back into those memories of childhood, I remember my granny having a bucket with a weird rubber thing in it that she made a weird fizzy drink with. A couple months ago it hit me with lightning clarity that it had been kombucha that she had been brewing.

I wish I could have asked her about it. Sadly she passed away and with her went a lifetime of knowledge. The loss of her still catches me unawares in moments like this, wanting to ask her about her kombucha instead of finding all the info online.

 

So, nostalgia aside, what the is kombucha?

Kombucha is a fermented tea. It can be made with any assortment of teas and herbal infusions. I have even had coffee kombucha which blew my mind and left my taste buds tingling with delight. My own preference is for rooibos (red tea) kombucha but you can make it from black teas like a nice smoky oolong, green teas, your stock standard Ceylon tea, or even an herbal infusion like mint or Echinacea.

All you need to get started is a SCOBY.

 

What the hell is a SCOBY?

SCOBY is an acronym for a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. Basically it is a rubbery white to cream coloured fungus-like thing. Sounds grand doesn’t it? Don’t worry it is really rather innocuous and not at all gross.

 

Where to get a scoby:

If you live in the USA you’re in luck because you can buy a scoby easily online.

Here in the RSA though it is a bit more challenging. I got mine from a farmers market in Pretoria. Any foodie worth their salt will know of The Boeremark in Silverton. There is a woman there who sells scobys and kefir granules. Otherwise, find a friend who brews kombucha and beg a scoby off of them, with each brew cycle your mother scoby forms a new child scoby and thus you will eventually be inundated with the things. It is apparently also possible to grow a scoby from unpasteurised kombucha but this has varying success rates, we might be a bit more successful with this in SA as we don’t have the same food regulations as the USA and our commercial kombuchas are still alive.

 

What you need to make kombucha:

A fairly large (preferably glass) container

A scoby

3L of tea

2 cups of sugar

Half a cup of organic, unfiltered apple cider vinegar or 1 cup of your previous batch of kombucha

 

How to:

Thoroughly clean your glassware and anything else which will come into contact with your tea. You can use a mild solution of Milton’s and water, just make sure to leave everything to properly dry afterwards. I use hot soapy water and then rinse everything with apple cider vinegar as the acidity of the vinegar kills most nasties that could contaminate your kombucha. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD YOU EVER USE ANTIBACTERIAL SOAP, it will kill your scoby!

You can wash your hands well with a mild soap and then rinse with apple cider vinegar too. Just remember that the vinegar can be quite corrosive and if in doubt rather buy a box of non-latex gloves for food prep.

Boil water in a large, non reactive pot for 5min, allow to cool to 70’C, add the tea, allow it to steep for 5 min (or longer if you like a stronger tea), add sugar and then let the whole lot cool to room temperature.

Add your tea, and cup of kombucha or vinegar to your glassware and then gently try floating your scoby on top. Some scobys float, some sink, don’t worry too much as a new scoby will form on the top of your liquid but ideally you want your scoby to float as it protects your kombucha from nasties like aspergillus. The kombucha or vinegar makes the tea acidic and this helps to prevent bacteria from growing in your kombucha and makes a happy environment for your scoby to live in.

The next part is the hardest part, cover the glassware with muslin or cheesecloth (folded double), put in a cool dark place and ignore for 2-3 weeks. With it being winter here in the southern hemisphere I find brewing takes a little longer because it is cold. You can get fancy-pants heaters for your kombucha but I don’t bother, it will brew in its own good time.

To tell if it is ready, you can get fancy and test with pH testing kits and stuff or you can do like I do and use a clean straw to sample out a little liquid (use your finger to trap a little liquid in a straw and transfer to a tot glass) and have a taste. If it is still too sweet, leave it a while longer. So easy really.

Pour off your kombucha into a clean bottle with a tight fitting lid (you can use beer brewing bottles or be pleb like me and use an old Coke bottle or two) leave it in the fridge for a week and it will develop a nice fizz.

You can either store your scoby in the fridge in a cup of kombucha or immediately refill the glassware with new tea. Continuous brewing works a charm and leaves you with a steady supply of kombucha.

 

There is a lot of info about flavouring your kombucha, using alternative things to sweeten your kombucha and other methods over at www.kombuchakamp.com

 

A couple things to remember:

If you see mould, it looks like bread mould, growing on you kombucha you will need to throw the lot away and start again with a new scoby

The scoby lives off of the sugar in the tea and will use most of it up, as a result kombucha can have a slight alcohol content and also artificial sweeteners will not work for brewing kombucha.

It isn’t advised to drink more than a cup of kombucha a day as it is quite acidic

 

Sorry for the quality of the photos but it is almost impossible to take good photos of a dark liquid in a dark place.

Kombucha in a dark(ish) place in my kitchen

The mother scoby at the bottom and a new scoby growing on top

Thick child scoby disturbed after sampling the kombucha recently

 

 

 

Mothers’ day – how to navigate having two moms

DW forgot mother’s day. Well not actually, she got the date wrong because of a mix-up on the reminder on her phone, and as luck would have it we were away with my folks for the weekend and there was no way either of us was going to get to sleep in or have breakfast in bed. Being two pragmatic people we decided to postpone our Mothers’ day for this weekend past so that we could have all the traditional celebrations.

On a side note: Seeing my dad give my wife a “dude you fucked up” look in a moment of masculine bonding was priceless and I love them both a bit more for that moment.

Now when you have toddlers there is no chance in hell that both parents are going to get a sleep in. Mother’s day weekend tends to be very busy with all the grannies that need a little celebrating too. As such, we have decided that from now on we will always celebrate Mothers’ day the week after the traditional mother’s day. What we did this year was DW got Saturday and I got Sunday. We each got a sleep in. We each got breakfast in bed. We each got a day to choose how we wanted to spend it with our family. The result was a magical weekend which left our hearts full and our little family brimming with happy vibes and love.

Last year we tried arranging it with me celebrating mother’s day and DW celebrating father’s day, but it left DW feeling a little left out and unrecognised with all the other happy moms. DW is a mom after all, a butch mom yes, but still a mom. Trying to celebrate on the same day doesn’t work because someone is always going to be left on baby duty (for a good couple years to come) and being the organiser.

Breakfast in bed and good morning cuddles are without a doubt the best Mothers’ day gift. My coffee got spilled into my plate of scrambled egg. The boys ate most of DW’s crumpets with strawberries and cream… but that it the best part of family life isn’t it? Those beautiful moments of togetherness which are imperfectly perfect.

 

Also DW redeemed her mixed up dates by gifting me a beautiful Wushoff 16″ cooks knife and a candy thermometer for jam making. Lucky me.

#YesAllWomen

Last night I watched Twitter explode with the #YesAllWomen hashtag. It took me a moment to figure out what was going on and a little googling brought me to this story:

Elliot Rodger’s California shooting spree: further proof that misogyny kills

Basically a guy, Elliot Rodgers, went on a shooting spree because he felt rejected by women who didn’t want to have sex with him and wanted to punish them. This left 6 people dead and others wounded and in hospital.

WHAT THE FUCK!?

The horror of the story has me sick to my stomach and as I unpack my feelings there are so many layers of revulsion, anger and disbelief.

This reoccurring theme in the USA of people feeling rejected and then taking a gun and going on a shooting spree is unbelievable. How does society degenerate to this point? How do children, young adults, feel such a hopeless anger that it would drive them to take another person’s life? You can blame it on poor gun control, the pervasive sense of entitlement of the Gen-Yers, break down of family structure, violent videos games, and a host of other influences. What if people are just shitty, and will do shitty things to other people because there is very little to deter them?

As a feminist I get into a raging frenzy. It is very difficult for me to be coherent and logical about the issues at play here.

I am sickened by the pervasive misogyny in our society which, through constant reinforcement by men and women in a multitude of acts of overt and micro-aggression, comes to a tragic head in one sad example. How many times in my life have I perpetuated patriarchal dominance and misogyny in my own behaviour? I remember so many incidence of stupid things like repeating a joke that condones violence against women, or not speaking out against someone who encourages misogyny as a throw away comment during conversation. We all have an inborn acceptance of patriarchy and misogyny from existing in a society in which it is so easily accepted, but where do we draw the line and say no more? How far does our silence go in making us complicit in perpetuating this universal acceptance of violence towards women?

I live in a violent country. South Africa is a melting pot of colonialism, privilege, poverty, racism, tribalism, and desperation. Everyday there are stories of acts of violence against women that would put this internationally trending story of Elliot Rodgers to shame. I can’t shake the idea that misogyny is becoming more accepted, condoned and even encouraged.

Following the discussion on Twitter, #YesAllWomen is an education on the universal experience of women. What saddens me though is the sheer number of men wading in on the hashtag with reactions varying from “shut up bitch” to threats of rape and violence.

The amazing responses to men justifying rape culture have made me smile, and at times have even been quite funny but the fact that this hashtag even exists is an indictment on society. It puts a spotlight on my own misogyny, my apathy towards patriarchy and my comfortable privileged life.

By the end of the week the hashtag will be a distant memory and the world will move on to another hot topic like if Kim Kardashian is showing a baby bump (didn’t she just get married?) or replacing a word in a movie title with the word poop.

Congratulations people… we’re failing spectacularly at the simple act of showing an ounce of humanity.

Why people get so damn defensive…

Have you noticed how people seem to take personal offense if you express a contrary opinion to them? This is something I observe time and time again.

Everyone as their “thing”, that choice they have made that is slightly contrary to what is popular or an identity or idea that is just different. It doesn’t matter what really, it can be anything; a stance on abortion, religion (or lack thereof), a different dietary habit (vegan, paleo, or banting), being gay, kinky, polyamorous or otherwise sexually deviant, political affiliation… the list is endless.

One thing is for sure, if you challenge a person’s different choice or idea, you are most likely going to come up against a lot of resistance and more often than not that resistance takes the form of an anger response.

Why do people get so angry? Well think about these choices and ideas and where they come from; either the person has taken a decision based on their own research and understanding, or they have build the idea based on an emotive reaction, or they inherited the idea. Most people cannot accept a challenging point of view without seeing this as a direct rejection of them.

If they consciously and deliberately chose a certain path, decision, or idea then your rejection of their idea says that you do not value their judgement. People will quickly get annoyed if they have put a lot of energy and thought into an idea only to have it dismissed offhand. This type of decision making requires a certain amount of investment from the person. I wish more people used this type of decision making to direct their behaviour and lives, because at its core is a consciousness and deliberateness. Sadly this also gives rise to a type of fanaticism that can be grating. You know the type… the fanatical atheist who sneers and insults anyone who has religious beliefs, or the fitness fanatic who looks down on fat people and insults them based on their appearance and perceived lack of will power.

Then you get the emotive decision maker who takes a stand based on gut feel or personal instinct. I come across this often enough with my dealings with people on social media. The ongoing debates about abortion policy, ingrained racism and classism, and gay marriage/gay rights all revolve around people who have made an emotional decision and are unable to see past that emotion. Often these people see an opposing idea as detrimental to their own existence. The rhetoric in any sort of engagement in these matters tends to be circular and very quickly degenerates into name calling. It is difficult to hear someone say “your feelings are wrong and the ideas based on those feeling are also wrong.” It takes a very self aware individual to look past those defensive emotions and engage actively in conversation.

When considering the inherited idea we find the most inflexible type of decision making. When you contradict these ideas you are not just telling the person that they are wrong but also their family, social network or some other person that they respect (a church elder, a professor, an influential cornerstone in their lives) are in fact also wrong. People crave social acceptance and inclusion. I think this has caused more heartache than any other type of fixed ideology. My own personal experience growing up in a family with a deeply entrenched racism means that I perpetuated ideas that were not my own and had some very painful social experiences as a result. Some people have a rebellion during their teenage years where they start questioning the ingrained belief of their family; others never question these ideas as they are commonly accepted in their entire community. For me it was difficult to blindly continue to hold my racist programming when I became socially active in a politically-aware, lesbian social circle. Sometimes the need to fit in forces an alignment to an ideology that the person may not otherwise chose, and no amount of argument or engagement will change that fixed belief while it is being constantly reinforced by an influence that the person hold in esteem.

What are the things that make you defensive and angry when challenged? Where do those ideas come from?

 

 

Kiwi and Lime Marmalade

I did a little experiment in my kitchen and made up the single most delicious thing I have ever put in my mouth.

A couple weekends back we went for a trip to some friends of ours farm in Magoebaskloof. It was idyllic! Imagine an old open plan farmhouse with no doors that lock, hot water heated by a wood-burning donkey, and the only electricity being in the kitchen for the stove and a single light. We lived for the weekend in a blessed peaceful darkness that was broken only by the moon, a fire and flickering candlelight. Within moments of arriving I was scoping out the massive kitchen and planning where I would build a cupboard to store all the jams and preserves I would make from the fresh produce that abounds in that part of the world. I didn’t want to come home. Is it crazy that my heart’s desire is a little farm somewhere remote?


Over the weekend while we were there, the little town of Haenertsburg was holding their Kiwi and Fine Food Festival. Oh gee, whatever can a foodie do but enjoy the local hospitality. I will add for the record that I had the single best hamburger of my entire life at that festival. The fact that I could also get Jack Black lager on tap (my favourite craft beer) to go with my burger was enough to send me to foodgasmic nirvana. I however did not taste a single kiwi fruit, nor any other kiwi product of any shape, form or description. For a kiwi festival… it was a little disappointing. As we were leaving I bought a 2.5kg box of Kiwi that were horribly under ripe and schlepped them back home.

So what do you do with 2.5kg of under ripe kiwifruit? You make jam of course.

As with all fruit the pectin levels are highest before the fruit is fully ripe, even still I needed to let the kiwis ripen a week before making this jam. Also Kiwi don’t have terribly much pectin in them so you have to use extra. I made my own from apples but you could use commercially available pectin.

Recipe:

Pectin

1.3kg of green apples

1L water

2tbls lemon juice

 

  • Wash apples and then cut into chunks with skins and seeds
  • Add apples, lemon juice and water to a large pot
  • Boil for about 30min until the apples are soft and falling apart
  • Now the proper way to do it is to gently hang the pulp in a jelly bag or piece of cheese cloth for 24hrs to allow the fluid to drip out. This is the ideal way to extract pectin to make a jelly. Squeezing the bag or being otherwise ham-fisted will result in a cloudy jelly. Frankly I don’t have time for fuddy-duddy jelly making when my jam will get cloudy anyway when I add fruit in, so I strained off the liquid and sent the pulp through my Oscar DA 900 juicer. Wham… loads of pectin… no fuss.
  • Put the pectin in a pot and reduce the liquid down by half

 

Jam:

Pectin liquid as above +-400 – 500ml

1kg of peeled and diced kiwi (1cm size cubes)

The zest and juice of 3 limes

2 cups sugar

 

  • Add all ingredients to a pot and boil it until setting point.

There are clever ways of using a candy thermometer to figure out setting point but I can pretty much do it by eye now, however if it is your first time making jam there are a couple tricks to being able to tell if it is ready. Firstly put a couple saucers in the freezer for later. Watch the jam boil, it will start off as a watery liquid with white foam on top and as the liquid boils off the bubbles become bigger and clear, the fruit is no longer floating on top but getting more evenly distributed through the jam and the whole mixture takes on a glossy appearance. Once it gets to this point you need to baby it a little. Take a teaspoon of jam and put it on an ice cold plate. It should hold its shape slightly and not run all over the plate. After a couple seconds if you push against it the blob of jam will wrinkle and look as if it has formed a skin. If it isn’t there yet, boil a little longer (5min) and try again.

So your jam is setting and ready to put into jars.

Now there is a lot of info online about home canning and how to prepare your glassware for storing jam. Ideally you should boil them in a canning pot and then fill them while still hot. I am lazy. I wash mine well with soap and hot water and then add a half a tot of vodka to the jar, close the lid, give it a good shake, pour the vodka into a tot glass, fill the jar with hot jam, and top it off with a layer of the remaining vodka before sealing. So far this method has proven rather successful so I’m sticking with it until I food poison myself. Remember to label and date your jams and use them within a year.

 

This recipe made 3 x 500ml jars of jam.

 

Now for a confession… the kiwi fruit cooked to a rather dismal shade of khaki so I added a drop of green food colouring at the beginning to preserve the jewel-like green of the kiwis. This is entirely optional so feel free to skip it if you want.

 

This jam is a burst of tangy sweetness that you could use in a variety of ways. Warm it up and blend it to a smooth consistency and use as a topping for a cheesecake, or eat it as is with warm crusty bread and some chevin. Sublime!