Everyone has their ways to stay balanced, sane or to even feel truly alive. Mine is to make things.
Over the years, I've developed the belief that it's crucial to make at least one thing a day. It can be anything. A pie, a blog post, a tiny paper flag on a toothpick (we've been making a lot of these for Kingston's mini-race tracks).
You can even do as my friend Rowan does, which is to make piles of leaves and twigs and other organic detritus to fend off the woods and hold the perimeter of her five-acre property. It's her ongoing art project. The piles somehow eventually dwindle down then disappear completely. But where do they go? We can only wonder.
As humans, we're just meant to make things. It's the so-called "creative impulse." The stubborn pushing back against mortality. It's the effort that matters more than any actual final product. To care enough, as the poet Dylan Thomas put it, to "Rage, rage against the dying of the light."
I've been doing my share of this lately and happily making plenty of things. One of them happens to be kombucha, a slightly fizzy, fermented tea that may have its origins dating back centuries, to Asia.
Recently, our family friend, Ralph, gave me a baby SCOBY (AKA a "symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast") birthed from the "mother" of his continuous-brew kombucha. I took it gratefully and following his instructions, managed to turn it into a sweet and tart, living fermented product.
I don't know about you, but for me, there is nothing that gives me more joy - that pure, kid-like glee - than making something out of what seems like not that much of anything. In this case, a few teaspoons of tea, sugar, water, and a floppy white alien being-thing with yellowish strands hanging down from the edges of it.
"That stuff's yeast," Ralph said, smiling at me.
Maybe it's something like when as a kid you would take some clay or sand and water, some paint or crayons, fling it around, and vóila! The stuff was transformed into a new universe filled with strange creatures or maybe just every kind of dog or cat or candy that you ever wanted.
Remember those moments?
There's something especially magical about shoving an adult-version of clay and water, in this case, my gallon-size jar of sweet tea and SCOBY into a warmish, dark corner for 10 days knowing that it will become totally altered. I keep trying to forget about it. Meanwhile, I keep wishing I could shrink myself down to nano particle size in order to jump in, swim around and see what's really going on in that brew of mine.
I know it's not possible. But still.
Making stuff yourself is a big part of the culture up here where we live. It's part of why I like it so much. Turn in any direction and you'll run into makers and producers of everything from goat cheese and Ethiopian Doro Wat to "new" clothing made from old.
We have brewers of all sorts of things. Yes, there's mead, kombucha and craft distillers of eau de vie, vodka and gin, but beer is especially big one here. In fact, for a town of our size we have our more-than-fair share of two things: microbreweries and bike shops.
It seems that most of the people I know here in town have a crock or mason jar of some sort of living fermented thing going on in the hidden recesses of their homes. Now that I've gotten to know kombucha-making, I can understand why.
The stuff is alive, feeding on the sugar added to the brew. It's full of organic acids and B vitamins. Homebrew also changes from batch to batch, according to a lot of different factors (length of fermentation, type of tea used, flavor additions during a second fermentation) so that it can come out slightly different each time. It's fully satisfying project for the type of person who likes to make things.
I encourage you to try this one out and play around with the flavors and brew times. Watch those SCOBYs multiply. I'll admit that it can feel a little freaky. After all, it's alive!
A Basic Ginger Kombucha (Batch Method)
This is the version I ended up with after guidance from Ralph and Kombucha Kamp. You can make kombucha from black or green tea. The green tea offers a cleaner, lighter taste, which I prefer.
Makes 1 gallon, from which you'll save your new SCOBY and 1 cup starter liquid.
4 organic green or black tea bags (or use 4 teaspoons loose green tea as I did)
1 cup organic evaporated cane sugar, plus extra for the flavoring stage
Filtered, non-chlorinated water
1 healthy SCOBY plus 1 cup starter liquid*
1 gallon brewing vessel made of glass or ceramic
A cloth cover or coffee filter
A rubber band
A few inches of fresh ginger, cut into small pieces
A second bottle, such as a large growler or glass bottles with flip tops
Before you begin, make sure everything is clean - any utensils, the area you're working in, and of course your brewing vessel and bottles. Very important: Clean only using hot water and/or vinegar. Soap can introduce unwanted bacteria or mold into your brew.
Place tea in a tea pot. Bring 4 cups of water to a boil. Pour water over the tea and allow to steep for 5 minutes. Add sugar and stir to dissolve. Pour the hot, sweet tea into your brewing vessel (I used a 1 gallon glass jar) then add enough cold water to fill the container about 2 inches short of the top.
Allow liquid to cool to at least body temperature or cooler. Place SCOBY into the liquid. It will sink toward the bottom, but will eventually rise to the top. (For my first batch, this took a full 7 days.) Cover the top of your brewing vessel and secure the cover using a rubber band. Place your brew in a dark place that isn't too cool and where air can circulate.
Allow to ferment, undisturbed for 7-10 days. After that time, scoop a bit off the top (leaving the SCOBY alone) to taste. If it seems too sweet, allow it to ferment another day or too. If it is too tart for your taste, keep this in mind for the next batch and ferment for a shorter period next time.
Flavoring your kombucha:
Decant kombucha into clean bottles using either a funnel or a large measuring cup. Push pieces of ginger into the bottleneck. Put as much as you'd like. Add 1/2 teaspoon of sugar. This will provide a bit of extra "food" for the good bacteria and yeast in the brew to feed on, which promotes carbonation. If you want even more carbonation, add a bit more sugar.
Allow your flavored kombucha to continue fermenting for another 3-5 days. Burp the bottles at least once each day to avoid explosions. Yes, the carbonation can get that strong! At the time of your choosing, start enjoying your delicious fermented drink.
To make a new batch, follow these steps all over again.
*Note: Always use a SCOBY that is fresh and has never been refrigerated or dehydrated if you want optimal results. Starter liquid is the liquid from the batch of kombucha from which your SCOBY originated.