#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?

House update- we have a Development Application

Very exciting news this morning; our DA was approved!! We have been working towards building our house for so long, this seems like a really huge event in the timeline of building and I feel very excited , happy and a little scared.

Due to the previous year or so of disasters (drought, several fires, a flood and a global pandemic) we have almost exhausted our house fund. We have hardly any ready money left in the building fund; but we will make this happen. I am determined not to log our block again…ever. The last time was a huge trauma, for me and for the animals that live here (it certainly has changed the ecology around the humpy). So we may have to resort to the bank (sigh).

When we decided that now is the time to start our building journey, I found a lovely consulting company called Curvatecture. Hayden (from Curvatecture) has been amazing and supportive during the conception and planning phase of the build; he put us in touch with the lovely Kirstie from Shelter Building Design who took our confused concepts for the house and turned them into a coherent plan that the council would understand. Kirstie virtually filled out the DA and the other numerous reports demanded by the council. We had visits from the soil test company, the waste water system design company, the council building inspector and the engineer had to sign off on the plans before we submitted. Finally… we sent in the application, paid off all the various consultants and now… we have approval to build our swallow’s nest house (round and made from mud).

To celebrate this milestone, the swallows that nest in our bedroom have decided to have a late clutch of babies.

Our next step is to complete an owner builder course and apply for a building certificate. After that we will be looking for some money (somewhere, somehow) to start the build. If anyone has any suggestions for funding this build, feel free to let me know.

Below are some previews of our little house. This is a future vision of what it will look like. Of course I would like to think there will be trees and shrubs (fire retardant species of course) and a nice paved area with outdoor furniture, but in reality it will be surrounded by half finished projects, animals in makeshift enclosures and the general detritus of our lives. It doesn’t matter, it will be home; a home filled with excitement for life, joy and interest in the fascinating small events that make up an ecosystem.

The swallow’s nest in our bedroom. Our house will be like this; round, mud, surrounded by poop and full of joyful life.

#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- Re-imagining the front yard

The front yard has gone wild, since the fires went out and the rain began the green has threatened to take over the humpy. There are weeds everywhere and I have been very slack about pulling them out. It has become a jungle and it looks so messy. I decided that now is a great time to begin the tidy-up cycle (again).

The weeds need to go; a huge job in itself (as you can see in the photo). Also the pots and things laying about need to be cleaned away to make way for more productive areas.

The Funeral Forest pots (that’s what we call the collection of large pots with fruiting plants that contain the ashes of various family members) are scattered randomly around the area, leaving no space for living in.

The fence around the hugelkultur bed serves no purpose now (other than preventing me from working on the bed easily), and I plan to remove the side facing the front yard.

I would like to put a small table and some chairs out the front so I can sit and admire the results when I am done. I will see if I can fit something in.

The progress is slow on this project; I am only putting in a half hour of work at a time. Suddenly , the need to finish a project is gone. I am just enjoying the process and when I have had enough for the time being, I leave it. This is (sort of) how I have always been (and this is why the yard turns into a jungle on a regular basis), but the current situation has bought me back to my true self; easily distracted and pleasure driven.

That big mass of aloe is actually in a pot. It took the trolley and a crow bar to move it.

The Hugelkultur bed looks so much larger with the front fence and the big pot of aloe removed. I piled all the weeds up on the bed to become soil food. There are seeds on a lot of the weeds, but I will cover the lot with cardboard when it collapses a bit and put compost or soil over it; that should slow down the weeds until the plants I choose can get their roots into the soil.

The wooden shelves I moved from beside the front gate to the tank will look nice covered with plants in terracotta pots (I think). I am just waiting for a chance to pick up more cuttings and some larger pots.

The Funeral Forest of pots that were scattered around randomly… are still scattered around. I did try to group them a bit more artistically though. I love to visit with all the animals who have passed on and remember the joy they have given me.

I managed to find a desk I am no longer using and some camping chairs. For the moment that will give me somewhere to sit. I am on the lookout for a small outdoor setting though (second hand of course).

Now I can properly appreciate my wall art. A very talented friend made these wall panels for me as gifts. I love the way they brighten up the entrance to the humpy and I plan to cover the whole wall with them (if I can).

There is still a fair way to go on this project; I have a patch of weeds behind the tank, and plants to be potted and planted out, but I am happy to be pottering around outside again and thinking about the future.

#coronavirus- sewing family cloths

TMI WARNING; In this post I will be talking about toilets and what goes into them. If you can’t talk poop…read another post.

When I started using the camping bidet (henceforth known as the bidet) instead of toilet paper, one thing I was not happy about was the wet and dripping behind. While it is a small thing to deal with in the face of a global pandemic it is slightly uncomfortable. As usual, I turned to the internet to research a work around. I had considered family cloths as an answer to the toilet paper problem, and decided they were too much work; with soaking and rinsing and individual washing, not to mention the smells (of which we have enough already). However, using family cloths to dry the bottom area after a good hosing with the bidet, that seemed to be an easily implemented answer.

From what I have read, it seems that all I need is some relatively soft fabric, capable of absorbing fluid and preferably made from a natural fibre. I looked through my fabric stash and found a likely candidate… an old flannelette sheet. I cut out some smallish squares (15cm X 15cm) and overlocked the edges to prevent fraying.

I have a few old sheets in my stash. They are so useful.
Using a quilting board to cut out my squares.
My pile of 40 or so family cloths.
Darby goose looks on curiously.
A big pile of overlocked squares, ready to be used.

Next I found a container to hold the clean ones in the toilet and a bin and cloth bag to hold the used ones until wash day. The cloths will be washed with the underwear in a warm wash with soap nuts and lime essential oil.

The cloths are on the left in that little container, it holds 30 squares. The toilet paper is for my partner to use (and visitors…eventually).
The basket for collecting the used cloths. the toilet is in one of those camping shower tent things, so the hanging pockets come in handy here.

This little project couldn’t have been any easier. Within an hour I felt like I had solved the problem. This is one easy way to solve the wet bottom problem.

#coronavirus- swapping to a bidet

The camping bidet in it’s neat little bag

The whole toilet paper panic buying thing has largely passed us by; we buy in bulk as a rule. We buy the WhoGivesACrap brand of toilet paper, by the carton. We still have 20 rolls left and we use about 1 roll per week. However in a bid to reduce our usage (and maybe stop using it altogether) I decided it was time to give the bidet a try.

TMI WARNING; If you are easily disgusted or offended, please go read another post.

The idea that we may not be able to buy more toilet paper when we need it (although not very likely) gave me the inspiration to look at alternatives. I researched family cloths, and decided that they are just a bit too much work for me (and it would be me dealing with it). As I browsed through lists of plants that can be grown to provide toilet paper alternatives I realised that I needed to plant them two years ago to be able to use them now. Eventually, I came across references to the bidet and camping bidet in particular.

Since we put in the biogas toilet we have been using recycled toilet paper as it breaks down faster than other kinds. Too much paper in the system can slow down the methane production and even clog up the pipes (to be avoided at all costs). Paper is also very carbon rich, it doesn’t produce as much methane as nitrogen rich material (like poop); so we want to minimise paper input.

The biogas toilet in it’s little tent
The biogas unit, chugging away making methane for our cooking

I looked around at all the bidet units available, some of them use electricity or need to be connected to pressurised water inlets (neither of which we have available). Eventually, I found the whole range of hand held, portable bidet units (and ordered them online). They are sold as ‘camping’ bidet; we have quite a few ‘camping’ options in daily use in the humpy.

This is the actual unit; the spout is telescoping so it will fit nicely into the provided bag (which I don’t need for home use)

The camping bidet is essentially a water bottle with an angled spout. You fill up the bottle (which has a valve in the bottom so it doesn’t lose pressure as it empties), then use it to wash your bottom clean instead of wiping with paper.

I was nervous that the water wouldn’t clean everything off and that I would be left with an uncomfortably wet bottom even if it worked. The first use was a pleasant surprise; The bottle, even though fairly small, was enough to clean everything very well (and I have a lot of ‘everything’). The water was not uncomfortably cold, and the pressure created by the bottle and spout was like a mini high-pressure cleaner on the offending body parts.

Please excuse the sound in this video; I can’t seem to turn it off.

The only problem I am left with is a wet and dripping nether region; to answer this I decided to sew up some family cloths, which will be used to dry the area only. This means that there will be no more poop, pee and other nasties on the cloths than there is on our underwear and towels. That way I can wash the cloths in the same load as underwear.

The obvious problem of increased water use also needed to be thought through. As it has been raining fairly well since the end of the fires, we don’t have to be worried about water use at present; hoever, when the rain stops again (and it will) we will have to re-assess. One up-side of the extra water use is that I don’t have to top up the toilet flush bucket as often because the water in the bidet is enough to flush the toilet with. The water in the bidet is fresh though, while the water in the flush bucket is recycled (collected from the kitchen sink from hand washing, vegetable washing, unfinished water bottles tipped out, etc).

The end result is that I love the camping bidet, it leaves me feeling like I just had a shower, it reduces my workload (slightly) and reduces the bulk of material going into the biogas system. My partner however, doesn’t want to try it. He is set in his ways and doesn’t like new things… I will keep trying to convince him.