#coronavirus- making kombucha

I don’t like soft drinks; something about the carbonated bubbles makes me avoid them. I do like to try new things (I’m adventurous with food); I happened to try kombucha one afternoon and to my surprise I loved the flavour. So I went looking for how to make it (because, while I may be adventurous, I am also cheap).

So I watched a few YouTube videos and read some blog posts about making Kombucha and how good for you it is. Then I found a local (ish) company that sells Kombucha kits, so of course I bought one.

How does kombucha work? The short answer is; the magic of fermentation. The sugars in the tea are converted to alcohol by the yeast community in the scoby (Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast), then the bacteria in the scoby feed on the alcohol to produce a kind of vinegar. The tea also provides a little caffeine, tannins and other flavours to the brew. It is possible to make a kind of kombucha from oak leaves (but I haven’t tried that one yet). The scoby makes a new layer each time you make a batch of kombucha, and needs to be divided every now and then. It can be used to make fruit leathers, or a vegan leather substitute. It can also be given away to friends or used to start a new kombucha batch, or even used to make soap or other skin care products (I look forward to making scoby soap). After all that reading, I was excited to start making my own.

When the kit arrived in the mail, it contained a glass 8 litre jar with a plastic tap, a piece of closely woven fabric (and a rubber band), a bag of tea bags, some sugar and a sealed bag of slime (a scoby). Instructions were included and easy to follow.

I have made about 4 batches using this kit so far and it is an easy process that doesn’t require a lot of fiddling about. So I thought I would go through it here.

Before beginning the process of bottling kombucha, boil the kettle and make a strong pot of tea. I have only used black tea so far, but apparently you can also use green tea and white tea (any tea without flavourings is OK). This pot of tea needs to steep for a few minutes until it is very strong. I use 9 tea bags per batch and I make it in the coffee plunger so I can squeeze the tea bags and get the last of the dregs from them.

When the tea is steeped enough, I pour it into a bowl and mix in 3/4 of a cup of raw sugar. Apparently you can use any kind of sugar (and even honey) as long as the yeast has enough sugar to convert to alcohol (and then to vinegar). The sugar needs to be dissolved completely, so I give the tea a mix with a spoon and set it aside to cool a bit while I bottle the previous batch.

I was lucky enough to be given a supply of those lovely Grolsch beer bottles by a friend (Thanks Lucille), they are perfect for making kombucha in. I wash and disinfect 8 of these bottles, including scrubbing the little rubber seals on the stopper. I pour some fruit juice into each bottle; I have tried orange juice, apple and black current juice and now mango juice. In the future I will try ginger and other herb teas (with sugar) and maybe some fresh juiced fruit from our trees (mulberry springs to mind). The possibilities here are endless, as long as there is some sugar in the flavouring it will make bubbles in the brew.

Now for the moment of truth; bottling the brew. The tap on the bottom of the jar is very useful here, I just fill each bottle almost to the top using the tap. I leave the scoby in the jar and fill bottles until the scoby is sitting about level to the tap (for me that is 8 bottles). These bottles are sealed and set aside in my kitchen cupboard for 2 days, then moved to the fridge or given away to friends. I do label the bottles (mostly because I give them away to friends).

Now to top up the brewer for the next batch. I add another 2 litres of cold water to the sweet tea in the bowl to cool the lot down to body temperature, then pour it into the top of the brewer. Sometimes I need to top up the jar with a bit more water.

The new brew then sits quietly on the kitchen counter next to the sourdough until next week. The brew time varies with the daily temperature and with individual taste preferences.

The finished product is a lovely sparkling, fruit flavoured drink that is apparently good for digestion and internal bacteria balance (with occasional globs of gelatinous pre-scoby). I pour my kombucha into the glass through a tea strainer to remove the inevitable little bits of slime (they are harmless, but gross).

Now I have made a few batches, I have some scoby extras to play with; I’m not sure what to try first, but if you are a local and want to have a go brewing kombucha, leave a comment here and I will eventually get a scoby to you.

The easiest sourdough pizza base

Yes, I made another sourdough starter… yes, I know I have the refrigerator dough already on the go… yes, I know we can’t possibly eat that much bread. Blame it on ferment madness.

I have to do something with the discarded starter that is the inevitable result of keeping a starter alive, and I have posted many options I use to avoid wasting the starter. This is a new and REALLY easy option I just discovered (by being lazy).

I wanted to make pizza and I didn’t want to wash up the inevitable dough encrusted bowl… so I didn’t make dough. My thought process went something like this;

“I want pizza, better make some dough.”

“I don’t want to wash all that up, maybe I’ll have fried eggs instead”

“No… I want pizza, can I use a slice of bread? No..yuck”

” I wonder if the starter will bake up into a base without extra flour?”

“Why not? Let’s try it.”

So I poured the starter into a baking paper lined tray and sprinkled some fresh picked herbs from the garden.

Then I put on the usual pizza toppings and a pile of grated cheese and popped it into the oven on about 200 C.

The resulting pizza is beautiful and cuts up really nicely for school lunches.

Why didn’t I reach this level of lazy before?

The baby swallows are fledging too, which means that all dishes and cups need to be covered at all times and the lid is on the washing machine when it is full of water too. All this is because the babies are prone to landing in odd places when they start to fly. Taking these photos was a bit of a mission, I can tell you. It doesn’t take long for them to get the hang of their wings (a day or two at the most) and we love watching the process, but until they learn, we have to live with zooming babies buzzing around our ears.

#coronavirus – I bought a grain mill

In my defense, I was caught up in an enthusiastic conversation. I was talking to a friend about how flour is hard to access at the moment, she makes bread on a daily basis, and suggested that she should buy a grain mill. That conversation got me thinking about grinding grain, about how it can be achieved on a small scale, which led to researching grain milling options online. Yes…I slipped and bought a grain mill (so did she).

I actually bought a stand mixer with a grain grinding attachment (and a pasta press attachment), as I couldn’t buy a new, expensive machine that only does one thing. My thinking is that I can make wholewheat flour to make my bread (and maybe cakes) to get the extra nutrition from the whole grain. I may also have a go at making sprouted grain flour for breads and such.

I took a rare trip to town to pick up the parcel at the Post Office. I was very excited to get the boxes home and open them.

I opened all the boxes and laid it all out to inspect.

My first trial was a big batch of bread dough for the fridge. It was an easy project; I just put all the ingredients into the bowl and beat it to dough with the dough hook, the dough turned out smooth and beautiful. I did need to sprinkle more flour into the bowl as it worked to get the dough off the walls of the bowl, but it did not need much attention and took about 2 minutes.

My new mixer will now live on the counter and hopefully contribute to my enthusiasm for cooking (which is generally fairly low).

Now to see how the new toy does as a grain grinder…

I set up the grinder unit and dug out the 2 cups of wheat that I needed for the recipe. Then I poured the grain into the hopper (the thing on the top of the grinder) and turned it on; then I waited… and waited. It took maybe 5 minutes to grind the 2 cups of flour, but the flour that came out was fine and felt really silky. I had the grinder on the fine grind setting so that was the expected outcome, but you never know.

I used the flour to make some salted caramel biscuits. They are yummy, but I will have to cut down on the baking soon or I won’t be able to fit into my work clothes.

Now to try pasta…whole wheat of course.

#coronavirus- refrigerator bread buns and pizza base

I have consistently made some sort of bread product every two days since I began making refrigerator bread. I make it because I hate to waste anything, so that dough sitting in the fridge seems to make me want to use it (so it doesn’t go to waste). In the last two days I have made bread rolls and three huge pizza bases, so I thought I would share the results here.

The bread rolls were a simple matter of rolling the lumps (roughly the same size) into a smooth ball and plonking them onto a tray to rise. I baked them for 20 minutes in a hot oven then put them out to cool.

Rising dough. So full of potential.
I used my silicon baking sheet to keep the bases from sticking to the tray.
They turned out very well.

The pizza bases made a lot of mess (well…I made a huge mess making them). I dusted a lump of dough (about 1 1/2 cups in size) with plain flour and rolled them out flat with a rolling pin. They were plonked onto a pizza tray and topped with pizza makings then baked for about 35 minutes in a hot oven.

Yes, there was flour everywhere.
The pizza was really yummy.

I am sold on this method of making bread products, it is so versatile. I wonder what else I can make?

#coronavirus- refrigerator bread apple pie scrolls

After making up a big batch of refrigerator bread about three days ago, I made a loaf of bread yesterday (that little loaf disappeared really fast and it wasn’t all me), then today I decided to try apple pie scrolls.

See this post for the dough recipe.

Making the scrolls was really simple;

I floured the dough and rolled it out into a flat shape.

Then I spread some of my vegan butter over the pizza base shape.

I made a cinnamon mix of 1/3 cup brown sugar and a teaspoon of ground cinnamon. This mixture was sprinkled over the buttered dough.

I chopped up an apple into tiny chunks and sprinkled that over the dough too, along with the last of the cinnamon sugar mix.

Finally I rolled the dough up into a roll and cut it into eight roughly even slices and left them to rise in a warm spot for about 30 minutes.

I baked them for about 20 minutes in a hot oven (200 degrees C) until they were golden brown.

I made up some frosting and poured it over them after they were cooled.

They were delicious!!

I also made the rest of the dough into a little bread loaf; just to use up the last of the dough.

I am doing so much baking at the moment!! It must be the isolation. I have spent a week not thinking about teaching or going back to work. Instead I have been enjoying being home; resting, cleaning with no rush to finish, feeding my animals and just feeling the sun on my back. I miss my class, I wonder how the kids are doing and if their families are coping, but I am in no hurry to go back yet.

#coronavirus- making refrigerator bread

At the moment I have plenty of time to make my sourdough bread; I am home all day and have the brain space to think about when things need to be done. However this may not always be the case, I will have to return to work one day, my mind will be full of outside world projects and all the daily noise of living. Usually I start a sourdough culture and make bread for a few months before I inevitably forget to feed the starter and it dies. I also forget to make time for baking bread when life gets busy. A while ago now, a friend told me about refrigerator bread; a dough mix that you leave in the fridge (hence the name) and bake as you need it. It sounded like a time saver, but I haven’t been motivated to try it until now.

So this is my experience with convenient bread…

First the recipe

Ingredients

  • 32 ounces bread flour (907g or about 7 cups)
  • ½ ounce active dry yeast (14g or 3 teaspoons)
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 3 cups warm water

Method

I just combined the lot in a large container that will fit in the fridge and mixed it up well. The container needs to be large enough to allow for the rising process (about twice as large as the initial volume of the mix, if not larger). I then let the dough sit for a few hours (depending on my distraction level at the time) on the counter with a loose covering. After that it is put into the fridge for a couple of days.

Now I want to make bread…

I just pull out a lump of dough with floured hands and form it into a loaf shaped lump and pop it into my dutch oven and leave it sit for an hour or so (depending on my distraction level). I sprinkle some flour over the top then slash the bread before plonking it into a hot oven for 30 minutes with the lid on the dutch oven. I take the lid off the dutch oven and let it cook for a further 15 minutes, then turn it out onto a wire rack to cool.

Look at the lovely bubbles in the dough.
I warmed the dutch oven up a bit in the oven before I put the dough in to rise.
I floured the bottom of the pan to prevent sticking.
Then gathered my lump of dough.
Then I formed the lump into a ball and left it (covered) to rise for about half an hour.
It doesn’t rise much on the second rise. I turned the oven on to heat while I floured the top.
And slashed some design on the top.
The smell is amazingly good.
The bread is fairly fine grained and light. Hopefully my family will eat it.
It tasted great with melted cheese on it.

Some variations I will try soon are;

~ baking in a loaf pan (to make sandwich bread)

~ making bread rolls

~ using whole wheat flour (at least partly)

~ making a sourdough version

~ making cinnamon scrolls

~ making raisin bread

¬ making pizza bases

I am hoping that this process will make the bread baking process quicker and easier (also healthier), of course it will depend on the rest of my family deciding to eat my bread. As I have stated before, my partner and daughter like the sponge rubber white bread option, so I end up eating sourdough on my own. As I can’t seem to get through a loaf a week on my own, I end up wasting a lot of bread. This loaf is not sourdough, it does have a long proofing time though, which tastes just slightly sourdough. My hope is that one day I will discover a bread recipe that we all enjoy and I can make two or three loaves a week and we don’t have to give over precious freezer room to the white bread loaves that currently live there.

#coronavirus- A new vegan butter recipe for baking

I have to say it…I am loving the extra time at home gifted by the pandemic. It seems there are a lot of people finding it hard to stay home and stay away from other people, and a lot of people are in risky situations daily; I feel for those people, but I don’t feel the stress they seem to be feeling. The loss of life and the fear aside, this has been a positive experience for me so far. I have found myself pausing to enjoy life more often, taking time to watch the sun rise and set, to watch the insects in the plants in the garden and to enjoy the company of all the small creatures around me. I have had time to work on home projects that have been sitting idle for a long time (some of them, a very long time) and time to fiddle around in the kitchen too. Yesterday I made the easiest vegan butter ever, for baking with.

I really wanted to make some chocolate chip biscuits, the thought wouldn’t leave my mind while I fed animals and pulled weeds. I didn’t have any butter in the fridge (we don’t use it much any more) and the biscuits made with oil always seem a bit odd tasting to me.

So….I made a batch of vegan butter to bake with. This butter is a little different to my usual recipe. The usual recipe uses coconut oil as the fat component, I was out of refined coconut oil, so I wondered if I could substitute another oil (the answer is ‘yes, you can’). I also didn’t have any lecithin and I wondered if it was strictly necessary (the answer is ‘no, not really’), so the resulting quick batch of vegan butter was whipped up and baked into choc chip biscuits in no time at all.

I started with a cup full of almonds that I ground up in the blender as fine as possible (this turned out less fine than I wanted, but still workable).

I added the other ingredients to the almond mash;

1 cup soy milk

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cup vegetable oil (rice bran and olive oils this time)

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon nutritional yeast

I blended this lot up for about a minute and when I stopped it had become butter.

The consistency is soft, like a really thick sauce, and it needs to be refrigerated for a few hours to be usable as a spread.

I just measured it out into my biscuit dough and made my long awaited choc chip biscuits.

They were yummy!!!

The green sheets are my new silicon baking sheets. They are completely washable and reusable. I hope these will allow me to stop using baking paper, and give me one less item to buy in the supermarket.

A dish drainer cupboard for the kitchen

With the nice bit of rain that fell in mid January came flies. Many, many flies… so many that the buzz from the sheep shelter can be heard from the humpy. So a project that has been sitting on the bottom of the list, suddenly came to the top; an enclosed dish drainer for the washing up.

The rain was so very welcome. We danced and sang while it fell.
Those sticky fly paper things are hanging all over the humpy. They don’t take long to fill up; these ones are only four days old.

Living with nature (in all her adorable, but messy incarnations) requires us to make a few adjustments to the way things are done; we let go of socially held expectations somewhat; like having clean floors at any point, like being the only being on the bed at night and like using harsh chemicals to clean anything. One problem with having animals (other than humans) in the humpy and not being able to seal all the holes in walls, is that we have many flies in the humpy in Summer. The washing up (which I habitually air dry) is then sitting out in the open for the day and flies crawl all over it (not ideal). There is a clearly identified problem here that has a neat solution.

For years, I have wanted to install a Finnish Dish Draining cabinet, and this fly invasion (which is more extreme than other years) is the push we needed to do it. As usual, we had to do things the hard way; instead of buying the chipboard and wire modular units available, we decided to go with a steel cabinet (to match the new kitchen and to make sure it lasts) and replace the shelves with the drying racks.

We bought a cheap steel cabinet in powder coated steel (black, of course) and some dish draining racks, roughly the same length. My fairly handy partner put it all together one morning while I was doing the washing.

He screwed some structural ply over the wall frame behind the sink and screwed the cupboard onto that.

Next, he scratched his head for a while about how to fit the dish drainers in. Until finally he came up with the idea of fixing a thick piece of wood on the inside of the cabinet to provide an anchor for the drainer. The dish drainer units were about 5cm shorter than the width mof the cabinet.

These are the dish drainer units. We got them from good old Ebay.

Then he put the doors on for me and we were set to go.

As an added bonus… my in-the-good-books partner also screwed the peg board onto the wall.

I think this really adds to the usability of the kitchen.

The drying cupboard is used to store the equipment we use on a daily basis; coffee cups, plates, bowls, baking trays, etc. Only a few of each and only what we use daily. That way, the majority of the washing up goes straight into the cupboard and is protected from flies. It also frees up the other cupboard shelves for more storage. Our cupboard doesn’t have an open bottom (flies and lizards) instead it has a tray in the bottom to catch drips. This tray is emptied daily. There is enough air flow to dry the washing up and not enough space for critters to enter.

I love it!! What do you think?

The bench is much clearer now too.
I added some magnetic spice holders to the mix too.

A new kitchen for the humpy and the house

The cupboard above fell to pieces.

One of our old kitchen cupboards fell apart; it was a third hand, patched up old thing, but it served us well for many years. Instead of patching it up again, I decided to go with the option we had identified for the house (when it is finally built); a garage storage system. We can use the storage system in the humpy, then move it to the house when it is finished.

Instead of spending thousands on a chipboard, prefabricated kitchen for the round house (which wouldn’t really fit anyway), we decided to go with stainless steel storage modules. So I went online and found some reasonable options. To be fair, the prices were only reasonable if you factored in the decades of service we expect from this kitchen.

The delivery truck came right out to the humpy; a total unknown experience for courier companies up until this week. Usually we have to take a trailer in to the local town to pick up anything delivered ‘to the door’ by courier companies. He unloaded the flat pack boxes and drove away fast, no doubt vowing to never deliver out of town again.

We got to work putting the cupboards and bench together in between bush fire preparation and animal care, and managed to get everything sorted and put away with only two days work.

My partner un packing the first box
The inevitable pause to read the instructions and puzzle over what language they are written in.
Putting the bench together
The panels and little packets of screws were leaned up against every surface.
The bench and two rolling cupboards with timber tops put together and filled with kitchen stuff. Then the old cupboards were taken out and the contents stacked all over the kitchen while we put the new one together.
Part of the old cupboards were cut down to give us even more stacking space in the new cupboard.
All sorted and put away. I managed to get rid of a few things from the old cupboard, but not as much as I had hoped.
This is the big cupboard with the doors shut.
A new stainless steel bench to fill up with washing up.
Notice the coffee and wine bar; I painted an old book case with the purple and gold paint left over from painting the bin system and stacked our coffee and tea on it. Then I thought I may as well keep the wine there too.
I haven’t had kitchen draws for years, it is nice to be able to put things away in draws like a normal person.
Doesn’t the cutlery look neat…so far.
The biogas stove has a new shelf and it is going so well we sometimes have to think up things to cook with it just to use the gas. We are thinking about getting another gas bladder to collect all the extra gas we are currently losing.

I am really looking forward to cooking in this new kitchen space. It feels clean and fresh. The space seems much bigger in there now too.

Eggs everywhere- it sure is Spring

There are three people living in the humpy at the moment; one can’t eat eggs, one won’t eat eggs, then there is me. We have 8 laying hens, about 6 laying ducks and 2 laying geese; we collect about 8 eggs a day, or about 66 eggs a week. If you compare both sides of this scale you can see that a lot of eggs get wasted, and I hate waste.

I do attempt to use all our eggs, but have failed miserably in the task so far. Some of the methods we use are;

Fried eggs on weekends (for me)- this uses up about 4 eggs a week

Trading them to friends for veges- about a 12 a week

Using them in baking – about 6 a week

Making quiche (not every week)- about 8 a week

Giving them to a friend with an incubator- about 6 a week

All that gives me a total of, at most, 36 eggs used. I did freeze 2 dozen for use when they all stop laying, but that was a temporary reprieve. I don’t want to sell eggs (too many regulations) and most of my friends have chooks and are in the same predicament as I am (but if you live close and want eggs let me know, especially duck eggs).

So, to address some of the extra eggs, I went looking for egg recipes that could be made then frozen. That way we use the eggs and I have another meal that can be heated up for dinner. This is what I found;

Scrambled eggs, beans and sauce in a burrito; love the sound of this one.

Blueberry scones with icing; sounds delicious

Baked French toast sticks; okay we’ve drifted away from the idea of dinners, but they do use eggs.

Egg and vegetable noodle slice; freezable and good for lunch or dinner.

Halloumi, cheese and egg hot pot; sounds good, but I’m not sure it will freeze.

Broccolli and feta strata; whatever that is.

I’m not going to try all these recipes in one day (I do hate to cook), but I think I can manage one each weekend. That should fill the freezer with breakfasts, lunches and dinners for the first frantic weeks of school.

We also take some of the excess eggs out to the edge of the firebreaks for the goannas and possums. In these dry times all our native animals are searching for food and water. The sheep water troughs and the occasional water tray around the outskirts of the humpy provide water for wildlife and the excess eggs provide just a little nutrition for struggling beings.

I know this sends a mixed message; we don’t want goannas in the house yard and the possums can be very destructive too. I do it because I can see a day, not too far in the future, when animals that are common now will be rare and endangered. I do it because I don’t want any being to suffer and if I have the means to ease suffering, it is my duty to do it. I do it because I love to see the variety of animals who show up to take advantage of the free food.

Eggs show up in the strangest places.