in search of scoby (the kombucha experiment)

Hello, Friends. On Sunday we drove to Vermont for Easter brunch, an egg hunt, and a stroll up a wooded mountain road. Sun poured in through the cars windows. I wrote two sentences before David turned onto the highway. In the backseat, Luke sounded out “huh-oh-emm-ee” (home) while reading a train book, and Cody sputtered “eehmmmeun” from his chair. I forgot to pack the kombucha (a fermented sweet tea drink) and a jacket for the day. All normal stuff here.

Bing Kombucha 1

Except forgetting the kombucha wasn’t as flippant as leaving behind a jacket on a warmer day. A few ounces a day is a new average for me and not having that smoky sweet tea on the ride to counter many sleepless nights meant a sluggish and possibly allergy riddled day ahead. A few weeks ago I decided to solidify my kombucha habit and make it from scratch. Two cookbooks suggested I needed to purchase or inherit a special SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast, aka “mother” or “mushroom”) to brew the tea. Yet I wanted a simpler process. I had read somewhere online about growing a scoby from a bottle of raw organic kombucha you can find at the store. I also wanted the scoop on the effervescent tea and to answer my list of questions. One, what’s the history of kombucha; Two, what are the benefits and risks of brewing it at home; Three, can I grow my own scoby?

Bing Kombucha 2

I turned to the interwebs for answers. Normally I begin with a Google search to get background details on a story subject. Since I recently discovered Bing, I switched. Type in “History of Kombucha” in both search engines and you’ll find the results are similar. What I like about Bing is the clean interface and design; simplified option to view web, image, and video searches; and credits earned through Bing Rewards, a program that gives Bing users credits for each search (think frequent flyer points for the interwebs). Credits that can be redeemed for gift cards to Amazon, Sephora, Starbucks, and more or donated to a charity of your choice. Available for both Android and iOS, Bing Rewards lets you search across platforms and on the go. Which is where I find myself most often.

Bing Kombucha 3

Kombucha is traditionally made with a brew of black tea and cane sugar and then fermented with a SCOBY. Its exact origins are unknown but most speculate the tea dates back to the Qin Dynasty (220BC) in China where it was known as the “tea of immortality” although a number of cultures around the world have a similar fermented drink. Over time, the tea made its way into Russia, Germany, India, and beyond.

According to online sources, the benefits of drinking the tea have long outweighed the risks. Kombucha has a rich history of health benefits that claim to prevent and fight cancer, arthritis, and other degenerative diseases. Other benefits include detoxification, joint support, digestive support, and immune booster. The tea is packed with B-vitamins, antioxidants, and glucaric acids as well.

Bing Kombucha 4

To date, there isn’t conclusive medical evidence supporting the health benefits of drinking kombucha tea in US. I suppose like most food and drink, moderation is key.

Bing Kombucha 5

Brewing kombucha at home was once the only way to sample the drink. Now major supermarkets and health food stores carry it. A homemade supply means you choose your own flavor options according to taste. I prefer a smoky kombucha made from Lapsang Souchong tea but you can choose your black tea of choice and add raw juices, extracts, herbs, and spices. It also means a watchful eye on the fermentation process to keep your brew clean and safe.

Here’s the method I followed to grow a SCOBY:

1. buy a bottle of organic raw kombucha

2. pour contents of the bottle into a quart-size wide-mouth glass jar (SCOBY will grow to the diameter of the jar)

3. cover the jar with a clean tea towel and secure with a rubber band to keep unwanted pests and debris out

4. store at room temperature until the SCOBY grows to 1/4″ thick

Bing Kombucha 6

In a week or so I should have my own brew to report back to you on plus a few extra rewards points from all my research. Have you made kombucha at home? Any tips to share?

This post was created in partnership with Bing.

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favorite cook/food books (april 2014)

The past few months I’ve carried this small collection of books from my nightstand to kitchen counter and back. While I’ve clung to warm bowls of oatmeal or soup as a winter routine, I found some quiet evenings when the boys were sound asleep and I was in the kitchen alone to sample recipes from The Southern Vegetarian, Honey & Oats, Isa Does It, Gluten-Free & Vegan Pie, and One Simple Change. They’ve since found a spot on my overcrowded bookshelf which is testament to how much I like each one.

april books to read

1. The Southern Vegetarian: 100 Down-Home Recipes for the Modern Table by Justin Fox Burks and Amy Lawrence

Burks and Lawrence are the same duo behind the charming and prolific recipe blog, The Chubby Vegetarian where they turn out classic southern fare into vegetable laden dishes from their Tennessee kitchen. After spending a handful of months cooking from The Southern Vegetarian, I’m hooked. Bold flavor and creative flair define the recipes which hold technique and simplicity hand in hand.  I haven’t been this smitten with a cookbook since Ottolenghi’s last hit Plenty splayed across storefront windows. I started with these five recipes and am still cooking from the book: Easy Horchata, Peanut Butter and Banana Smoothie, Smoked Coconut Bacon, Vegetarian Red Beans and Rice with Andouille Eggplant, Vegetarian Chicken and Waffles. The seasonal food is joyful and downright good. Keep a copy near the stove, mark your favorites, try a new one, then repeat. Final note, many of the recipes can easily be modified to fit a vegan diet and shouldn’t be shied away from by any means.

2. Honey & Oats: Everyday Favorites Baked With Whole Grains and Natural Sweeteners by Jennifer Katzinger

The author, who started Seattle’s Flying Apron Bakery with her father in 2002, set a place for organic baked goods made without refined flours and sweeteners. The bakery grew in size and popularity, from a small take-out window in the University District to a large cafe in the city’s Fremont neighborhood, and is a tribute to Katzinger’s talent for turning out healthy treats. She sold the still thriving bakery in 2010 to pen cookbooks and we should all celebrate this move since home bakers across the country are now able to sample her goods.

Honey & Oats, Katzinger’s fifth book (see #4 on this for another one of her titles), includes 74 recipes for elegant and wholesome timeless sweets made with whole grains and natural sweeteners. Oats, teff, kamut, spelt, buckwheat, einkorn, and barley flour stand in place of white flour while honey, coconut palm sugar, maple syrup, and Sucanet replace refined sugar. One might think nutritious baked treats lack flavor and texture, not in this author’s hands. Maple syrup sweetened carrot cake with einkorn flour and vanilla maple frosting is a worthy afternoon treat and the Barley Walnut Boule is a sandwich staple. A few other recipe to try include Granola Bars (gluten-free or vegan variation), Animal Cookies (vegan), and Strawberry and Macadamia Nut Crisp. The photographs and recipes are equally lovely and approachable, for kids (especially my five year-old) and adults alike.

3. Isa Does It: Amazingly Easy, Wildly Delicious Vegan Recipes for Every Day of the Week by Isa Chandra Moskowitz

In her latest vegan tome, bestselling author Isa Chandra Moskowitz shares 150 plus recipes for the busy home cook to make in a snap. If you’re familiar with vegan cooking, you likely read her blog Post Punk Kitchen or have cooked from one of her books including Veganomicon (co-authored with Terry Hope Romero), Vegan Brunch, or Vegan with a Vengeance, among others. Isa Does It, highlights ways to transform daily cooking into easy routine. Moskowitz delves into cooking savvy with quick ways to char vegan proteins, incorporate umami ingredients, build flavor depth, and use enough healthy fats to get the most flavor bang for their buck. The author’s Recommended pantry ingredients and cooking techniques offer simple and satisfying meals. Written in her signature style and wit the book is an entertaining read alongside the stunningly beautiful images from Vanessa Rees. Each recipe gives total and active cooking times making it a cinch to fit those 3o minute dinners into a hectic schedule with two young kids, a mister, and cat for example. Starred favorites include: Bistro Beet Burgers, Quinoa Caesar Salad, Roasty Soba Bowl, New England Glam Chowder, and Nacho Night.

4. Gluten-Free & Vegan Pie: More than 50 Sweet and Savory Pies to Make at Home by Jennifer Katzinger

In Gluten-Free & Vegan Pie, Jennifer Katzinger proves how to fit both in a traditional-style pie with delightful results. Introductory chapters detail necessary equipment and ingredients as well as pastry dough tips and techniques to make your pie making dreams come true. Featuring fresh fruits and vegetables, the recipes are arranged by season, from spring to winter. With more than 12 crust recipes to swap fillings with and ways to handle and dress each one, creative possibilities abound. Once again Katzinger shows us that baked goods without the use of dairy, eggs, gluten, or animal products is not only possible but also simple and delectable. Pies to bake first: Apricot and Cherry Crostata, Fig Frangipane Tart, Chaussons aux Pommes, Banana Cream Pie, Savory Provencal Tart.

5. One Simple Change: Surprisingly Easy Ways to Transform Your Life by Winnie Abramson

As a regular reader and fan of Winnie’s blog Healthy Green Kitchen, I was excited for the publication of her new book. Smart and practical, One Simple Change is a new kind of wellness guide that favors age-old culinary wisdom, green living tips, modern nutrition tips, and 15 recipes to help you feel their best. Each one of the 50 tips has a dedicated chapter that can be worked through week by for a year long practice or anytime that’s good for you. As expected, Winnie’s engaging prose along with her nutrition and lifestyle tips are not to be missed. Five must-try tips and recipes: Pay Attention To Protein/Coconut Tempeh and Vegetable Stew; Ramp Up Raw Foods/Blended Raw Tomato-Basil Soup; Load Up On Leafy Greens/Mixed Green Salad with Apple, Goat Cheese, and Soft-Boiled Eggs; Get Some Culture/Spicy Lacto-Fermented Pickles; Drink Healthy/Walnut Milk.

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roll with it (vegan soup and blondies)

This sweet potato soup and sunbutter chip blondie night happened twice last week. I wish you could have been here. The first time, I made them at home and the next, I made them for a cooking demo at the Worcester VegFest. Both times, the pot and pan were emptied in a hurry. Though the second drew a much larger crowd (6,000+ attendees and 100+ exhibitors).

David and I hauled six bags of cooking essentials, two crock pots, plus the little one and his stroller and gear into the downtown convention center on Sunday morning. We needed a covered wagon, or any kind of large cart on wheels for that matter, to contain the cutting boards, bowls, whisks, blender, etc. sticking out every which way.

After circling the building in search of an unlocked door, we finally found our way in. Then it was wait, set up, demo recipes, pack up, and go home. This was no small feat as you may imagine (thanks Mister, I owe you one), yet somehow we pulled it off. I have no photographs to show for it, unless you count the ones I shot in our kitchen.

spiced sweet potato soup

The cooking demo happened anyway. I laughed my way through the mishaps and attempts to handhold a microphone while chopping. If you were there, thanks for coming, and you know what I’m talking about. I made the peanut butter version of the blondies for the demo (see recipe notes below), although I think the sunbutter one is my favorite. The little one sat in his stroller and with a little help from the audience (thanks Sarah and Nicole!) and festival volunteers, the recipes were made and as promised, I’m sharing them here. Thanks also to the fine folks who run VegFest for inviting me and for putting on a terrific event. I hope to see you all again next year.

sunflower seed butter chocolate chip blondies

For now, Happy Wednesday!

 

Spiced Sweet Potato Soup
makes 9 to 10 cups

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium chopped yellow onion, about 1 ½ cups
1 teaspoon sea salt, divided
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
cayenne pepper
2 ¼ pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced, about 8 cups
10 thin rounds of ginger
5 cups low-sodium vegetable stock (homemade or store bought)
½ cup fresh orange juice
garnish: coarsely chopped cilantro

Heat the olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion and ½ teaspoon salt and sauté about 5 minutes, until it begins to release its juices, then add the garlic, cumin, coriander, ginger, and a few pinches of cayenne. Cook until the onion is very soft, about 10 minutes, adding a little stock if it sticks to the pan.

Add the sweet potatoes, ginger rounds, ½ teaspoon salt, and 1 quart stock. Bring to a gentle boil, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer until the sweet potatoes are very tender, about 15 minutes. Puree the soup with an immersion blender until smooth, adding a little extra stock if needed. Return to the pot, add the orange juice, and thin with stock until the desired consistency is reached. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary and, for a bit of heat, add a pinch or two of cayenne. Serve the soup in bowls with chopped cilantro.

 

Sunflower Seed Butter Chocolate Chip Blondies
makes 12 bars

2/3 cup vegan butter, melted
½ cup creamy sunflower seed butter*
1 cup turbinado raw cane sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
½ teaspoon sea salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup vegan chocolate chips
¼ cup vanilla almond milk

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly grease an 8-inch square baking pan and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the vegan butter, sunflower seed butter, sugar, vanilla, and salt. Stir in the almond milk. Add the flour in batches until everything is mixed together. Fold in the chocolate chips. Press the dough evenly into the prepared pan using a spatula or your hands.

Bake until browned, about 25 to 30 minutes. Cool completely in the pan before cutting into bars. Store in a covered container.

*These are equally good if you want to substitute 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter in place of sunflower seed butter (which I did for the Worcester VegFest). For the peanut butter version, I like to add 1/2 to 3/4 cup of chopped peanuts to the recipe which can be folded in with the chocolate chips.

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into squares

I’m talking about five quick ways to photograph in squares over at Mortal Muses today. See you there…

art obsession

Night

Dear Spring . . .

The Wasteland Remix

the little one

white

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let it fly — chocolate sunflower seed butter

With the little one on the verge of now eating solid foods, I’m into resourceful cooking and prepping produce for several meals at once. Roasted or steamed vegetables turn into soup, sauce, and baby food. Beans and nuts are in a continuous soaking rotation. Time in the kitchen is swift as the milk and sweet potatoes fly off his spoon. On rare occasions (read “ideal nap days”), I find a moment to bake pie or to make seed butter from scratch.

chocolate sunflower seed butter

 

The later comes together in a flash and it’s oh so good on toast or with apple slices. Plus there is chocolate involved. Enough said. I’m off for a snack and to play with Legos. Until next time.

Okay, some tips for making the sunflower seed butter: I use a Vitamix (you need the tamper) in this recipe. This also works in a food processor. Vitamix users need the tamper to push down the seeds and to turn them from a powdery meal into creamy seed butter in 2 to 3 minutes. Food processor users need to stop and scrape down the container occasionally. Either way, the key is to use toasted sunflower seeds. If you buy raw seeds in bulk, toast them in a dry skillet over medium heat, stirring with a wooden spoon to prevent burning, until golden brown. Toasting the seeds helps to release the natural oils so the butter comes together without additional oil, though I like to add a bit for flavor and spread-ability. I like to store my seed butter in the refrigerator, which firms it up, since there isn’t dairy present, you could also store it in the pantry and give the butter a good stir before spreading.

Chocolate Sunflower Seed Butter
makes 1 full pint jar

3 cups unsalted sunflower seeds, toasted
1 1/4 cups dark chocolate chips
2 tablespoons vanilla cane sugar (place a few vanilla beans in the sugar jar and voila, in a week or two, you’ll have vanilla sugar)* or more to taste
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Place roasted sunflower seeds in a Vitamix container with lid on. Run machine at 1 and quickly move to 10 then switch to high (I have the Super 5200 model, newer ones are a bit different). Remove center plastic insert on the lid and insert tamper. Push down sunflower seeds while machine runs for 2 to 3 minutes, until the seeds turn creamy.

Heat the chocolate chips, vanilla sugar, coconut oil, salt, and cinnamon in a small saucepan over low heat while stirring constantly to ensure the chocolate doesn’t burn or seize up. When half the chips are melted, turn the heat off and continue stirring until chocolate melts completely. Pour the melted chocolate into the Vitamix container and blend until silky smooth. Transfer the chocolate sunflower seed butter to a pint jar with a lid and store in the refrigerator.

*If you don’t have vanilla sugar in the pantry, use 1/4 cup natural cane sugar plus 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract).

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we’re in this together

winter light on film

winter afternoon 1

 

winter afternoon 3

 

Hasselblad 500 c/m | Fuji Film FP-100 C

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winter afternoon

Film from a winter afternoon.

 

winter earlier in the afternoon

 

 

winter afternoon

 

Fuji Film FP-100 C | Hasselblad 500 c/m

Capturing more images on film lately. More over at Mortal Muses today.

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coffee and pie

morning: coffee and pie (blueberry)

polaroid coffee and pie

Polaroid Spectra | Impossible Color Spectra Film

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Anatomy of a photo project

I’m two cups of coffee into morning followed by a bowl of oatmeal. The sun is ultra bright and I just wrapped up a photo shoot about coffee and pie. Watch out, I’m on a roll. As much as I’d like to wax poetic about food, what do you say we change gears and talk about how you set up a photo project and shoot?

coffee and pie

I recently started using an Intel tablet (Samsung Galaxy 3 | 10.1-inch) in my workflow, and much to my surprise, I’m smitten with it. Typically I begin a photo shoot with pencil and paper. I sketch out ideas, create lists, add magazine tear sheets, and take test shots. These get compiled into a paper-bound project notebook.

coffee and pie

Then I use my tablet and the Evernote app to scan all my project files into a master digital project notebook. Once the master file is created, production can begin.

Here’s what my typical workflow looks like.

coffee and pie

Anatomy of a photo project:

1. Brainstorm ideas
2. Create a paper and digital project notebook
3. Sketch out photo shoots with pencil on paper
4. Scout locations to shoot
5. Create a prop list
6. Scan paper notebook pages with tablet camera
7. Add digital voice memos, location and test shots, and any other digital files
8. Set-up photo shoot
9. Take test shots for composition, exposure, lighting, styling
10. Make adjustments on set
11. Connect Nikon DSLR to tablet and shoot tethered fine quality jpegs using Helicon Remote app with a USB cord in live view
12. Edit and process saved gallery photos using VSCO Cam app on tablet
13. Add finished photos to project notebook
14. Share notebook file with client or post on blog

coffee and pie

What about you? Do you plan your photo projects? If so, what are your favorite apps and tools?

p.s. Thanks to Intel for the product sample and for helping to streamline my photo workflow.

#spon: I’m required to disclose a relationship between our site and Intel. This could include the Intel Corporation providing us w/content, product, access or other forms of payment.

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february morning

Over at Mortal Muses today with morning on film and a list of things I’ve learned as a photographer.

mornings-winter 2014

 

mornings-winter 2014

 

mornings-winter 2014

 

mornings-winter 2014

 

mornings-winter 2014

Stop by if you like.

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