Kombucha Adventures!

We apologize for the posting haitus, but are happy to be back! In my time away from blogging I have become very interested in fermentation. This interest largely began with a book I saw at a tea room about fermenting vegetables and beverages. Scanning over the pages,  I found myself enthralled with the idea of microbiomes in food that can be consumed to improve the biomes in our bodies, as well as preparing a new array of delicious foods. I bought the book and hurried home, beginning a fermenting spree. Over the course of the next several months, I hope to share some some of my favorite fermented products, as well as easy recipes so you can follow along  at home.

Today, I am going to discuss a product that has gained a lot of attention in recent years: Kombucha.

Bottled Raspberry Kombucha

Bottled Raspberry Kombucha

Kombucha is fermented tea with a very distinct flavor and visceral experience. It is presently tart and bubbly. It is produced when a culture of a few types of bacteria and yeasts feed on a mixture of tea and sugar. This little party responsible for fermenting the tea is the SCOBY  (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts), which forms a small squishy puck. When given tea and sugars, the SCOBY will thrive and feed off of the sugar, caffeine, and tannins to produce lactic acid, CO2, and a variety of vitamins. The longer the tea sits at room temperature, the more sour and carbonated the tea will become as the colony happily eats. By home fermenting, you can control the tartness as you like to taste.

An interesting characteristic of the SCOBY is that it will produce a baby colony if it is given sweetened tea. In essence, for each batch you will have another SCOBY. (This is why the SCOBY is sometimes referred to as the “mother”) You can share them with loved ones and friends.

What’s so great about all this? Well, I like to compare it to someone who has a green thumb or enjoys gardening. You are watching and tending to a living organism that fluctuates and changes before your eyes. It is pretty fascinating. There are also potential health benefits to probiotics. There happen to be a wide variety of claims when it comes to Kombucha, but a general consensus is that the bacteria in the drink are beneficial for the human intestinal flora and that the drink is a nutritious alternative to carbonated sodas due to the colonies ability to produce traces of vitamins and minerals.

Making Kombucha is simple and fun, but requires one particularly unique and somewhat uncommon ingredient: the SCOBY. The easiest way to get your hands on a SCOBY is to order a “starter kit”, which includes the SCOBY as well as a small amount of Kombucha (sometimes called starter tea). If you are very fortunate and know others who are fermenting Kombucha, see if they would be willing to offer you or sell you a SCOBY. There are many places to look online, like Cultures for Health, although I purchased mine from a Fermentation on Wheels, a traveling food educator.

Kombucha SCOBY mother

After purchasing my SCOBY from Fermentation on Wheels! (Don’t put in the sunlight! Oops.)


Once you have the SCOBY the process goes pretty simply. To start, you’ll need plain caffeinated black or green tea, granulated sugar, and your SCOBY with starter liquid. Below are specific measurements of ingredients for your first batch based on a 2012 article in Urban Farm Magazine. Note that the amount can  be adjusted as needed, but we recommend making at least a quart.

3 and 3/4 cups of water (filtered unless your tap water is good quality)

2 bags of black or green tea (Can use loose tea as well, brew to taste)

1/2 cup of white granulated sugar (no stevia, no honey, no brown sugar)

SCOBY with 1/4 cup starter tea (already fermented tea)

Pot

1 quart jar

First, bring two cups of water to a boil in a pot that can fit at least a quart, setting aside the rest of the water. When the water comes close to a boil, add the half cup of sugar and allow it absorb fully into the water. Then, once the water comes to a boil, turn off the stove and add the two tea bags. Allow the tea bags to seep until the water begins to cool so that the tea bags are seeping minimally. Then, add the remaining 1 and 3/4 cups of water to further cool the liquid. Let the pot sit until it cools to room temperature. This may take a few hours. Once the sweetened tea cools, pour it into the quart sized jar and then add the SCOBY and 1/4 cup of starter liquid. Again, it is very important that the sweet tea is cooled so it does not kill the SCOBY. Afterwards, cover the jar with a cloth and a rubber band so that debris does not fall into it, but so that it is not sealed. This is because the SCOBY needs sufficient oxygen.

Now you have your tea and it will begin fermenting. It will need to sit for at least 3-4 days, but after then you can taste it to check if the sugar has been absorbed and if the flavor is to your liking. The tea should taste a begin to taste a bit tangy. The longer it sits, the more tangy it gets. Depending on the amount and taste you prefer, you may choose to have you liquid sit longer. Some will let it sit for as long as 14 days! When your tea is where you like it, remove the mother culture with a 1/4 starter liquid for your next batch.

Kombucha SCOBY Mothers

The “mothers” or SCOBYs have been removed from the fermented tea and are ready to be set aside in some starter liquid. (Notice the light one is the newer “baby” and the dark one is the older “mother”)

Next comes my favorite part – the “second ferment”. This is when you can add flavors and extra carbonation to your batch. Prepare a few jars or bottles to store your tea. Grab your flavorings: a chunk of ginger, some fruit, some mint leaves, some dried flowers, whatever. Add it into the bottle and then add your tea. This time you are going to close the cap and allow the bottle to sit at room temperature for at least one day. Depending on the sugar content of your flavoring, the tea will continue to ferment and create a lot of CO2. You should check your bottles every so often and burp them to avoid a messy explosion.

Kombucha Second Ferment

Raspberries are adding to the carbonation in the second ferment.

At this point, you have your SCOBY and its starter liquid. You can make a new batch to feed the culture or make it dormant. For each brew, your SCOBY will grow a baby colony as a layer on its top. The more you feed it, the more SCOBYs you will end up having. This is where a SCOBY hotel comes in handy. It is just a small jar where you can put your excess mamas and babes when you don’t have the time to tend to all of them. You should still feed them though every 4-6 weeks, just with a smaller recipe using the same tea to sugar ratio. Putting the jar in the refrigerator will make the colonies go into a much slower ferment, as if they were sleeping.

Happy fermenting! I’d love to hear of anyone’s experience in the comments below!

A few notes:

The trick is keeping the sugar ratio to 10% of the volume of your brewed tea. For a while, I thought that I was using way too much sugar for the recipes I was referring to. But I realized, the sugar is not for me – it’s for the culture. If you use less than the 10% per volume sweet spot, you risk inviting other bacteria and microorganisms into the picture. The excess sugar makes for a pretty harsh environment for bacteria aside from the ones in your SCOBY. On top of that, the sugar is used as food, and an acidic environment is also crucial to kill off unwanted bacterias and yeasts that may enter the batch from the air.

Temperature plays an important role in any fermentation process. Kombucha develops best in the temperature range of 74F to 84F. The general rule of thumb is that the colder the temperatures, the slower your ferment.

SCOBYs like the dark, don’t let them sit in direct sunlight.

Keep an eye on your SCOBY and make sure that it does not turn black or blue. If so, you will have to dispose of the Kombucha as this is a sign it is unsafe and molding. A healthy SCOBY will appear as shade(s) of white and brown. Also, wash your hands before handling your SCOBY directly.

Don’t over-do it. Try drinking a maximum of 8 ounces a day to avoid lactic acid build up.

Sanitation is key, brew at your own risk!

Warm Up and Cleanse Yourself with Delicious Tom Yum Hed!

Hi all,

If you live in the Northeast or the Midwest, you’re in for a cold weekend! At times such as these, I like to relax inside and enjoy some healthy and delicious Tom Yum Hed, a Thai soup that is vegan friendly. Here is our official Urban Hermits recipe! Enjoy!

Preparing Tom Yum Hed is very easy, the tricky part is making sure you have all of the right ingredients. Here’s what you’ll need:

8 cups water

1 lime

1 stick of lemongrass (if you can’t find the whole stalk, go ahead and buy a couple roots or packages of stalk, whatever your local store has. Full stalks are easiest to find at ethnic/asian grocers)

4-5 button mushrooms, but other types will do fine.

3 cubes of salted vegetable bouillon

1 firm tomato

fresh cilanto

2-3 stalks of green onion

thai basil (optional)

a chunk on ginger

3 cloves of garlic

1 red bell pepper

dried cayenne/red pepper

soy sauce

Put the 8 cups of water is a pot and heat it until a boil. While you wait, chop the red pepper and mushrooms, tomato and cilantro. Dice the garlic and green onion. When the water comes to a boil, add the 3 bouillon cubes and wait for them to dissolve.IMG_0759

Next, add the lemongrass, chunk of ginger, chili/cayanne pepper (to taste), the thai basil, and green onion. Also, cut the lime in half and squeeze out as much juice as possible into the broth.IMG_0762

Let the broth simmer with the added ingredients for a couple of minutes. Then add the mushrooms and chopped bell pepper.IMG_0764

Once the mushrooms and chopped bell pepper cook down a bit, add the chopped tomato and cilantro. You don’t want these to cook too long to avoid them becoming mushy. Let it go for a couple of a minutes and then you’re set!

For additional flavor, add soy sauce to taste! Enjoy!

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NY Times Publishes Stunning Article on Meat Animal Research Center; Consider Signing Petition

Hi folks,

Just a quick but timely post. The New York Times has recently published a stunning article about some of the concerns regarding animal welfare at U.S. Meat Animal Research Center in Nebraska. What these animals have had to go through in the name or productivity is repulsive and arguably, not justifiable. Take a read regardless of where you stand on the issue and if you feel that the reports are unacceptable, consider signing this petition from the Humane Society of the United States to halt research at the facility.

Also, if it interests you, check out HSUS’s “State of Animal Union”, a parallel to the President Barack Obama’s recent “State of the Union”.

Until next time, fellow Hermits.

Federal Judge Overturns Foie Gras Ban; You Still Don’t Need to Eat it

In a setback for animal advocates, a federal judge struck down California’s Foie Gras ban this past Wednesday. The Los Angeles Times reports that U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson ruled that the ban was unconsitutional because it clashed with existing federal laws on poultry products. Foie Gras is a product that has been under fire due to its controversial and cruel method of production: force feeding a duck or goose until it develops liver disease, resulting in a fatty liver. Considered a French delicacy, California was the first and only state to ban the production and sale of Foie Gras through a bill passed by its state legislature in 2004. The bill went into full effect in 2012.

A Goose being force fed for Foie Gras.

A Goose being force fed for Foie Gras.

One example of a dish using Foie Gras.

One example of a dish using Foie Gras.

This ruling raises concerns regarding the future of California’s battery cage egg ban. The LA Times states that, “Experts said the ruling would have no bearing on California’s new egg law, which requires more space for laying hens, because eggs aren’t covered by the Poultry Products Inspection Act.” However, an issue around the 2013 Farm Bill (read our article about it here) was the King Amendment, which although not ultimately passed, attempted to regulate states’ ability to regulate any agricultural products that impacted interstate commerce, such as egg production. This bill was introduced by Iowa Senator Steve King. This is no surprise as California, the most populated state by far, consumes an enormous amount of eggs while Iowa produces the most. Back in 2013, I went back and forth with Pennsylvania (another large egg producing state) U.S. Rep Glenn Thompson on this issue.

There is hope, however. While there is reason to be skeptical that voters and representatives can regulate agriculture in their own communities, the Foie Gras ban, as well as other organizations, have brought light to this issue. If you oppose Foie Gras, you probably won’t eat it. Individual decisions can have just as strong of an impact as any state law. Refuse Foie Gras and avoid establishments which serve it.

And if you do eat it, well, you’re just an asshole.

Sources: http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-foie-gras-ban-lifted-20150108-story.html

Images:

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/82/Foie_gras_en_cocotte.jpg

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/53/Foie_gras_-_gavage_in_Rocamadour,_France.jpg

Have a Peaceful Thanksgiving from us at Urban Hermits!

Happy Holidays, folks,

Thanksgiving marks the beginning a busy time of year with friends and family (and honest but unfruitful attempts at getting your work done). After Thanksgiving quickly comes other holidays such as Hanukkah, Christmas, New Years, and whatever other holidays you may celebrate. While Thanksgiving is a time to enjoy family, friends, and good food, it is not so jolly for others: particularly the approximately 46 million turkeys killed, mostly in large confined industrial operations. This has led some to reconsider their Thanksgiving plans by participating in “Peacegiving” and “Thanksliving”. Here are some ways to do so:

Consider these vegan Thanksgiving menu items.

Consider adopting a turkey to provide for animals at Farm Sanctuary.

Finally, on that topic, see how these turkeys celebrated Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to all and stay tuned to Urban Hermits!

Illustration: Lauren Korany, Urban Hemits

Sources:

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/11/131122-thanksgiving-2013-dinner-recipes-pilgrims-day-parade-history-facts/

An Important Piece on Egg-Laying Hens

We live in a world where people have become increasingly concerned about where their food comes from. Productivity is not the only thing that matters, as social factors, such as values, attitudes, and norms have a profound impact on peoples’ expectations of how food is and should be produced. Animal agriculture is a particularly hot topic because it raises numerous concerns regarding sustainability and our obligations to sentient beings that are entirely dependent on us.

In this month’s issue of Harper’s Magazine, Deb Olin Unferth has penned a beautifully written and powerful piece about the debate over how to best house egg-laying hens and some of the problems plaguing this industry in general. She concludes:

Any way we look at it, it seems impossible for the egg industry to meet all our demands: happy hens, cheap eggs, an unlimited supply. The question of the cages turns back on us: How much are we willing to pay? How much are we willing to make the hens pay? If we continue to eat eggs at the current rate—a historically unprecedented high number—the hens who produce them will be treated horribly (Deb Olin Unferth 2014:50).

Although to view Harper’s online, you need a subscription, the non-profit United Poultry Concerns has posted a copy. Click here to read the article and be sure to share it with others!

Also on the topic of proper animal housing, I have been thinking a lot about the fight for fire safety in animal agriculture. Animal agricultural facilities are not held to the safety standards required in many of the buildings we live and work in (i.e. smoke detectors, sprinkler infrastructure). This, however, is problematic as the high stocking densities and confinement found in large operations are extremely dangerous to these animals when fire or other natural disasters strike. For example, just this past month, approximately 13,000 pigs were burned to death in Minnesota and 20,000 chickens died in Pennsylvania due to barn fires. The installation of basic fire safety equipment could have prevented the death of thousands. Click here to learn more about this issue.

I encourage you to think of the impact you have on egg laying hens and all animals in agriculture. Small changes and taking responsibility for our footprints can make a HUGE difference!

Until next time,

Urban Hermits

Illustration: Lauren Korany, Urban Hermits November 2014

Make your own Fiery Heirloom Tomato Salsa!

Hi folks,

It is Fall and the air is cooling down, which means the growing season is coming to an end for most of us (unless you live somewhere warm!). That means two things: you might be feeling chilly and you have a lot of produce to use up. Well, let me show you how to address both: by enjoying some delicious heirloom tomato salsa! This salsa has a good balance of bold taste from several different heirloom tomatoes and heat from habenero and/or serrano peppers. Allow me to walk you through…

Before getting started, here’s what you’ll need:

2 pounds of heirloom tomatoes (farmer’s markets are great places to pick some up!)

1 yellow/sweet onion, cut into 4 quarters

1 green bell pepper, de-seeded and cut into quarters

2 hot peppers (I used Serrano and Habanero, if you like it more mild, try Anaheim); I would recommended that you remove the seeds, but for those that like it hot, keep the seeds in!

3 cloves of garlic, pressed or minced

1 lime

1/3 cup of fresh chopped cilantro

vegetable oil, ground black pepper, cumin, kosher salt.

IMG_0733

Some fresh ingredients (note that not all of the cilantro and hot peppers will be used!)

Next go ahead and cut the tomatoes into halves. If any of the tomatoes are particularly large, cut them into quarters. Next, heat up your broiler. The broiler is like a grill in your oven. Newer ovens sometimes have it on the top, so you’ll want to put your vegetables on a high rack. Older ovens have a separate compartment, usually at the bottom, which you can insert a tray or use the one included. For more information on your broiler, click here.

 

When the broiler is heated up, arrange the onion and pepper quarters, HALF of your tomato halves/quarters, and hot peppers on a tray or sheet of foil coated with vegetable oil. Sprinkle kosher salt and black pepper as desired over vegetables on the tray/sheet. Then let the vegetables broil until tender and slightly charred. This may take about 10 minutes or so. Flip the vegetables over when the first side appears done to let the other side char. When done, carefully remove the tray and let the vegetables cool.

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Putting the fresh vegetables into the broiler

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Charred veggies!

Once the vegetables are cool enough to handle, dice all of them to as small/thin as desired. Then, take a bowl and mix the charred vegetables with the sliced fresh tomatoes and cilantro. Feel free to add some of the oil from the sheet/tray into the bowl, as it adds some good flavor. Mix together and apply pressure to squish the ingredients. I prefer a wooden spoon for this. Then, added cumin as desired. I probably use 1.5 tablespoons or so. Squeeze the fresh lime over the salsa until you can’t get any more juice out of it.

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The non-broiled ingredients

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All ingredients added together and squished and mixed

Let your salsa cool a bit and you’ll be ready to eat it. However, if you’d like to save some or make a larger amount than I describe in this post, consider canning your salsa. For more information about how to do this, check out one of our previous posts about pickling! Use the same process as described to sterilize and seal the jars. In the meantime, enjoy!!

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The finished product!

Sources:

http://www.theparsleythief.com/2011/09/fire-roasted-heirloom-salsa.html

http://www.thekitchn.com/kitchen-basics-how-to-use-your-112585

Try Cast Iron Cooking!

Hello all,

Hope everyone is enjoying the summer (which starts tonight!). We have been slacking on posts over here at Urban Hermits so I figured it was time to hit the interwebs again. Ahh…feels good. Anyways, I recently purchased a cast iron skillet for $33 dollars today. It is something I have been thinking about doing for a long time but never got around to it. Now that it is all seasoned and ready to go, I’m going to share some reasons why cast iron is great, as well as demonstrate how to get your skillet cook ready!

Cast iron skillets ofter a stylish option that heats evenly, lasts longer than many forms of cookware (as opposed to Teflon, that can peel over time), can allow you to cook with less oil, and still can be found at very reasonable prices. However, most importantly, a lot of non-stick cookware has chemicals that can release toxic fumes. While these amounts may be low and not particularly harmful to humans, they can impact nonhuman animals in your home. Being a bird owner, I have become aware of PTFE toxicosis, the technical term for teflon poisoning. This results from the overheating of teflon cookware that releases potentially lethal chemicals. Be aware that birds are not the only animals affected by this. Cast iron, on the other hand, is chemical free!

Before you can cook with cast iron, you need to season your skillet! This will help protect your cookware, make it non-stick, and get the most out of it! Ladies and Gentlemen, I will now present the proper way to do so.


1.) Start by scouring all sides of your cookware with hot water to wash off any grime and material that it may have accumulated in the place of production or store: 
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2.) Wash your cookware with dish soap and hot water. Use a pad or brush to deep clean the surface. NOTE: DO NOT CLEAN your cookware with soap and water once it is seasoned. This will remove the non-stick surface. Simply clean it with water between meals. Soap and water should only be used when seasoning/re-seasoning:

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3.) Throughly dry your cookware:

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4.) Rub a thin layer of oil into the cast iron. This includes the bottom and sides, not just the depression for cooking. Vegetable or canola oil work best. Use a cloth or paper towel to even distribute the oil (excuse my broken finger and stint!):

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5.) Heat your oven up to 325 degrees and insert the oiled skillet upside-down onto a sheet of aluminum foil. This will allow any excess oil to drip off. Put the skillet in for one hour. Afterwards, you are ready to get cooking!:

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Sources:

http://www.eatingwell.com/healthy_cooking/healthy_cooking_101_basics_and_techniques/3_health_reasons_to_cook_with_cast_iron?page=3

http://www.peteducation.com/article.cfm?c=15+1829&aid=2874

http://www.petinsurance.com/healthzone/pet-articles/pet-health-toxins/Teflon-Poisoning-in-Birds.aspx

Arctic Vortex and Vegetarian Sushi

Image

Source: WeatherBell, National Weather Service

If you live just about anywhere in the Eastern US, you are likely confined to indoors as temperatures plunge below zero, in addition to lots of ice and snow on the roads. Here in Ann Arbor, Michigan, we are enjoying wind chills of -40 F, colder than I ever remember. The spike in cold temps is caused by a low pressure system that is usually present far to the North, near the arctic. Instead, temperatures typical in Northern Manitoba are here in Southeastern Michigan and the Midwest. Brrr! Things are expected to begin improving later this week, but in the meantime, we have to keep ourselves sane indoors.

Below, Lauren keeps her peace by making vegetarian sushi. She used cucumbers, shiitake mushrooms seared in tamari and mirin, avocado, turnips, and chives stuffed in sushi rice and seaweed. How did you keep away from the cold? Comment and let us know!

Photo Jan 06, 6 32 42 PM

Photo Jan 06, 6 35 38 PM

Source: Detroit Free Press, 06 January 2014

Sustainability, Ag-Gag, and the Fight to End Animal Cruelty

If you haven’t seen it, Rolling Stone has released a disturbing but well-done piece of some of the horrors of large scale animal agriculture, as well as considerations of sustainability and the menacing threat of ag-gag, which I previously declared war on. The piece is titled “Animal Cruelty is the Price We Pay for Cheap Meat” (click title to access the article). Thanks to Paul Solotaroff for this effective piece of journalism and bringing attention to one of society’s most threatening social problems in a mainstream magazine. Its a sad read and feel free to avoid the videos if you don’t care for graphic content, the words are enough. Share this with who you think would benefit. This article explains a lot of the motivations for why I am who I am today.