Monthly Archives: March 2012

Pittsburgh Farm to Table Conference

I think everyone has some sense of civic pride no matter where their from.  I’m from Pittsburgh, and often because of our sports teams my city gets a lot of attention for having an inordinate amount of people who have an inordinate amount of civic pride.  Pittsburghers love Pittsburgh.  I’m certainly no exception and although I’m not much of a sports fan, even I get swept up in the excitement when our teams are winning.
But something else about Pittsburgh that I positively love is that well beyond professional sports, we have a lot to brag about.  This is a truly remarkable city that has reinvented itself from smoky, filthy industrial town to one of the most environmentally sound and green cities in the country.  We’re a unique place that is at the crossroad of cutting edge medical and technological research and good old fashioned salt-of-the-Earth living. And this past weekend saw these two things combined in a neat way.
It was the annual Farm to Table Conference!  It was held at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center just a few blocks from my house and I have to brag and tell you that it is a Gold LEED certified building and the largest of its kind in the world.  Yippee, Pittsburgh!  I’ve been there many times before, but I especially think that holding a conference that focuses on food, farming, the environment, and sustainability is especially fantastic when it’s done in one of the most environmentally conscious places in the country.
But enough about Pittsburgh and the building, the conference was fantastic!  It was a two-day event that hosted many speakers, exhibitors, demonstrations, and even a farm-t0-table tasting dinner.  It’s a really cool event that has gotten bigger each year and this year I was so very proud to represent the Weston A. Price Foundation.
For those of you who don’t know, the Weston A. Price Foundation is a non-profit organization that hopes to perpetuate the workings of Dr. Price through education, research, and activism.  In a nutshell, the WAPF is an organization that hopes to get our farming and foodways back to traditional means, the way your great-grandparents ate, to preserve the quality of food and land.  There is a crazy amount of information here on the Weston A. Price Foundation website and I really encourage you to read up on it. Especially if you’re in support of nutrient-dense food that is good for the body, mind, and soul and sustainable farming practices that emphasize humane conditions for animals.
(You might have noticed that I kept using the term “WE” in the previous paragraph, as if I were a part of the Foundation.  Well, I am!  Me, along with my colleague, Carrie Hahn, are Pittsburgh area chapter volunteer co-leaders.  We represent the Weston A. Price Foundation in our neck of the woods. Check out our message board here.  Ask questions and join in the discussion.)
I leave you today with some photos of our little part of the Farm to Table Conference, and a request that you learn more about the WAPF.  Please do let me know if you have questions too!

(Me, Carrie Hahn, and WAPFmember and volunteer, Karen. We were there all day Friday.)

(Our WAPF team along with our conference neighbors, David and Addy from Green Pasture. Best cod liver oil on the planet.)

(That’s us!  Happy because we get enough fat to fuel our bodies, and enough nutrients to feel great.)

DIY Kombucha, Phase 2

Remember a few weeks ago when I started my very first batch of kombucha?  I left you with a “to be continued….” at the end of that post and I’m really happy to say that we’re continuing!
I posted a photo on Facebook about a week ago showing how nice and healthy the daughter SCOBY got in my jar.  That’s what happens with kombucha – the mother SCOBY that you use to start your batch “gives birth” to a daughter SCOBY which can be used as the mother for the next batch, and so on.  The original mother SCOBY isn’t useless at this point. It’s still viable as long as you keep it wet and submerged in a little bit of kombucha brew.
Anyway, around the time I posted that photo, I started tasting my kombucha.  To do this, I got a bunch of straws from McDonalds (I went into a McDonald’s!!!  All in the name of probiotics.) and took a straw’s worth of liquid out of the jar and tasted it.  The first time I tried it, it was still a bit too sweet.  Recall that it started with an entire cup of sugar in there.  As the tea ferments, the bacteria and yeast eat the sugar, and while it is perfectly fine to drink sweet if you prefer that, letting it ferment and brew until it is not exactly sweet but not vinegary either is what I like.  Since it was too sweet, I knew those little buggers needed more time to consume that sugar.
I kept tasting it each day until it tasted just right to me.  Like I said above, this is a personal preference.  It can be as sweet or as tart as you like.  It’s your brew so make it the way you want it.  The tea can range from sweet to vinegar so tasting it periodically to find your “just right” is what you want to do.  The amount of time it can take to ferment to your liking will depend on a bunch of variables – the kind of tea you used, how much sugar you used, the ambient temperature of the room where you keep your jar, how healthy your SCOBY is, etc.  Another reason why periodic tasting is a must.
Saturday was my day! When I tasted my brew I was so pleased that it wasn’t overly sweet.  It had a bit of fizz but not much (more of that to come), and the flavor was really mild.  At this point, the kombucha is ready to drink if you want.  It’s fermented and the probiotic magic is in there, the flavor is good, and you’re good to go.  Unless……..
Unless you’re like me and want to get a bit experimental.  The kombucha I get from the grocery store is so tasty to me because it comes in so many yummy flavors.  I am partial to GT’s organic and raw kombucha in mystic mango.  It’s $3.15 a bottle at my Whole Foods and while it’s just delish to the max, that’s an outrageous price to pay for a wee bottle which is why I am making my own.  But first I have to crack the code of flavoring kombucha!
An afternoon of Googling and reading all kinds of information, plus a consultation with my kombucha guru, Liz, I quickly became educated in the ways of flavorings, additions, and the second ferment.
After you decide that your kombucha is right for drinking, remove the SCOBY and put it in a glass or ceramic container with enough liquid to cover it.  Set it aside for now.

(This is my mother SCOBY on top of my newly formed daugher SCOBY)

Then I pulled out my fancy bottles.  If you are going to flavor your kombucha and take it through a second ferment, you’ll need glass containers that are air tight.  I ordered a 12-pack of these bottles from and they’re perfect.
This is where I got fancy and experimental.  I thought I’d only have enough kombucha for a six-pack, but it turns out I had enough for a seven pack.  I put different flavorings in each bottle and filled each up to the neck with my fermented tea.  Here’s what I used:

  • 2-3 Tablespoons of thawed pieces of frozen mango roughly mashed.
  • 2-3 Tablespoons of thawed pieces of frozen raspberries roughly mashed.
  • 4 cubes of candied ginger broken up by hand.
  • 1 Tablespoon of grated fresh ginger and 2 Tablespoons of fresh lemon juice.
  • 3 Tablespoons of fresh lemon juice, 1 teaspoon of freshly grated lemon zest, and 1/8 teaspoon of sugar
  • The final two I left plain to just enjoy as is.

Obviously what I used is just the tip of the flavoring iceberg. Possibilities and combinations are virtually endless.  Strawberries, pears, plums, blackberries, blueberries, peaches, and on and on.
This second ferment will take 5 to 7 days (again, depending on the ambient temperature of your room, sugar content of your flavored kombucha, etc.). After you remove the SCOBY, the ferment doesn’t stop completely.  There are still bacteria and yeast in the liquid that will still eat the remaining sugar in the tea, and if you add things that contain sugar (fruit, or even just more white sugar) it will continue to ferment.  And since it is now in airtight containers, the gas given off will remain in the liquid and make it fizzy.  You might even get a new mini wee SCOBY forming on top.

This is where I am now.  It’s been three days since I bottled my ‘bucha and I am again patiently waiting.  This kombucha making is obviously not a quick process, but I’m optimistic it will be worth it.  I have a lot of ideas for fruit combinations to add in future batches which is why I took my daughter SCOBY and started a new batch.  I’ve even started an informal ferment log to keep track of what I’ve made and how I made it.

I’m anxiously awaiting part 3 which will be opening one of these bottles and tasting it!  I plan to keep you well informed.
Did anyone else start their own kombucha batch?  Are you an old pro at this?  Share the details of your experiences in the comments or on Facebook.

Commitment and Follow-Through

Commitment and follow-through are two topics that are frustrating to me both as a regular person with goals and a health coach who helps others reach their goals.  I am as guilty as the next person of starting something with enthusiasm and then finding my interest wanes and tapers off.  I think this is a common phenomenon.  I can recall a family member who had every piece of sports equipment in her garage – bowling ball, bowling shoes, street bike, mountain bike, bike helmets, softball bats, softball gloves, tennis racquet, squash racquet, racquet ball racquets, basketballs, volleyballs, etc. etc. etc.  Maybe it isn’t so harmful to find hobbies and then leave them for a bit, but when it comes to health and wellness I don’t believe they can be passing fads or phases one goes through.  These are things that require life-long commitment and follow through.
This really struck me one time when I was reading about a young woman who wanted to lose 150 pounds.  She did it the right way through diet and exercise, and I picked up her story when she was closing in on her goal weight with 10 pounds to go.  She wrote so well about how for so long she was so focused on losing the weight and getting to that magic number of hers, and now she was almost to the figurative finish line and was starting to think beyond it.  To lose all that weight she was particular about how she ate, and faithful to working out.  And she realized that after she lost the 150 pounds, she was still going to have to be particular about what she ate and faithful to working out.  The day AFTER she lost 150 pounds nothing was going to change!  It was a daunting thought for her and honestly, when I read this story several years ago I hadn’t thought about it from this perspective either.
The moral of the story is this: You’re not harming yourself if you start a hobby and lose enthusiasm, but you ARE harming yourself if you start eating right and exercising and let yourself lose the desire to do it.  You are cheating yourself out of health, longevity, personal fulfillment, and so much more that life has to offer.  None of us can afford to lose focus when it comes to doing right by our bodies and maintaining the commitment to keep ourselves healthy This, along with the follow-through to ensure it is a life-long endeavor, is positively essential.
So, what do you do when the inevitable starts to happen and you find your ardor starting to fade?  I have a few tips for you!

  • Remember what got you interested and motivated in the first place – No matter if the reason is significant or simple, there was a reason that got you on the right path in beginning.  Take time to revisit that reason.  Give it some serious time and meditation.  Figure out if this original reason can sustain your excitement for health and wellness for the long term.  Write your reason for getting started on a piece of paper and tape it to your bathroom mirror where you are reminded each day of why this matters.
  • Find a fresh new reason if need be – Perhaps if your original reason no longer exists (I want to looks smashing for my 20th class reunion, which was 6 months ago.) it’s time to find something else to get you going.  There isn’t a rule that says you can only have one reason to get going.  Motivation can be a fluid, ever-changing thing, so it’s up to you to stay on top of it.
  • Change what you’re doing – Sometimes a decline in excitement for eating right and working out can be attributed to being bored.  Eating the same old dry and flavorless grilled boneless skinless chicken breasts with steamed vegetables every evening for dinner can put you in a rut really quickly.  The same goes for the same old same old workout routine.  Variety is the spice of life!  You wouldn’t wear the same white shirt and brown pants everyday, would you?  Probably not. Your closet is no doubt filled with many colors and so should your menu (literally and figuratively, but that’s a topic for another day) and so should your workout.  Try a new-to-you vegetable or a recipe you thought you wouldn’t like. Try a new sport or workout.  Ignite your interest in something new.
  • Take on a challenge – If something feels like a boring slog, then it’s time to put a new, difficult goal out there for yourself.  Starting to skip breakfast again? Challenge yourself to have a healthy breakfast everyday for 30 days.  Are you sick and tired of running the same training run, the same distance on the same path?  It’s time to change the route and challenge yourself to new speeds and distances.  Try to improve your mile run time over the course of three weeks.  It could be anything you want!  See how long you can go without skipping a workout.  Try going without that unnecessary dessert for a whole month and see how you feel.  Use your imagination on this one.
  • Recruit a friend – When getting to the gym seems like a chore, arrange to meet a friend there to help reinvigorate your attitude.  If you know someone is waiting for you to show up and you’ll get some concentrated buddy time while getting your sweat on, why wouldn’t you look forward to your workout?
  • Scare yourself – This will probably sound a little unorthodox, but fear is a great motivator and can be very effective in jump starting your efforts.  A friend of mine never worked out at all until one day his college roommate died of a heart attack at 45.  An awful tragedy for sure, but that was enough to get my friend up and into the gym regularly.  Think about the negative consequences that you could face if you don’t make healthy eating and exercise a part of your life – diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer, congestive heart failure, osteoporosis, premature aging, reduced sexual function, arthritis, and the list goes on and on.  If you’re a visual person, search for images of the physical consequences of a poor diet and lack of exercise.  Often, thinking of what can happen to you as a result of relaxing your efforts can spur you to action.
  • Don’t delay – We all experience the waxes and wanes of life, and like I said above it’s human nature to be very excited about a new venture right when you start only to have that excitement decrease over time.  But don’t wait until your diet and workout habits are off the rails to try to jump start the zeal again. When you start to feel like you’re in a valley, that is the time to kick things up and get excited again.  Don’t wait.

Have you ever dropped the commitment to eat right and exercise?  Did you get back to the routine?  How?  What motivated you to recommit and follow-through?  Share your thoughts with me in the comments or on Facebook.

Comfort Zone

This past weekend was, of course, St. Patrick’s Day.  Who celebrates?  Since I don’t have a single Irish cell in my entire body I would kind of feel like a poser walking around with a “Kiss Me I’m Irish” shirt on and hoisting a glass of Guinness.  Not my style.  Good on those of you who do celebrate, but it isn’t my thing.
I did do something this weekend that was worth celebrating, though.  My friend Liz (the same Liz of SCOBY fame) and I ran a 5k race in our hometown.  I’ve run many races before so this one wasn’t particularly celebratory or special, but the fact that I did it was special.

You see, although I am committed to running the Pittsburgh Half Marathon, I am not a very strong runner.  In fact, I don’t like to do it.  It’s not that it’s just not fun or pleasurable or that I’d rather do other things, it’s that I have some kind of mental block the size of the Great Wall of China in my head about it.  I start running, and then my mind starts wandering to all kinds of places – I’m tired, I can’t do this, my lungs are on fire, I want to quit, I’ll never make it, I’m hot, I’m cold, I’m sweaty, I’ve only run 50 feet and I have MILES to go, why is this so easy for other people, what made me think I could do this, I’m over this, I can’t go on, I’m probably going to drop dead out here, blah blah blah.  I have started and quit running about 100 times in my life.  It’s not that my body can’t perform the task, it’s that I mentally psych myself out of the run.
This is precisely why I run.
Breaking down barriers is about being uncomfortable.  I hate to put it like that, but when you are exerting yourself and pushing back your personal frontiers, it isn’t pleasant.  Nobody ever forged new territory of any kind without a little hardship.  And if I want to put a half marathon on my list of things I’ve done list, then I have to push myself and get comfortable with being uncomfortable.  If it’s worth doing, then it’s worth enduring a little unpleasantness to achieve it.
This is something I share with my health coaching clients all the time.  It’s a cliche, but 100% true — Life does begin at the end of your comfort zone.


My own little personal barrier is running, but everyone has their own “thing”.  How many times have you talked yourself out of a making a good food choice because it was inconvenient to eat healthy?  How many times have you settled for less than what you deserve because it would take some hard work to achieve your goal?  How many times have you skipped a workout because you knew it would be difficult?
Before you face your fears and leave your comfort zone, talk to yourself.  Remind yourself of your goals and how you want to accomplish them.  Give yourself a pep talk. Pep talks seem like a corny way to motivate, but if you have positive thoughts in your head when you start the scary task, you are more apt to succeed.  A positive state of mind is essential!
So before the 5k this past Saturday, I embraced the fear and the discomfort.  I told myself that I have run this distance before (I’ve even run this exact same race before!).  I reminded myself that my heart is strong, my legs are strong, and that they can get me to the finish line. I remembered how nice it feels to finish.  And finally I reminded myself of how much I want to finish a half marathon and that this race was going to help me achieve that goal.  I kept these thoughts in my head as I ran.
How are you going to employ the same strategies?  Are you getting in your own way?  What are you afraid to try? Is fear of leaving your comfort zone keeping you from achieving something you’ve always wanted to achieve?  How are you getting out of your comfort zone today? Share with me in the comments or on Facebook.

Recipes: A Taste of Springtime

I’m from Pittsburgh and around here there are all kinds of jokes and laments about the weather being perpetually gray, cloudy, frigid, and generally blah.  But for the last several days it has been unseasonably warm.  I’m certainly not complaining.  It was almost as if Mother Nature and Diane of LadyFingers Private Chef and Catering were in cahoots because the weather perfectly matched Diane’s menu this month – fresh, light, and inviting, but not quite summertime.  You will not be disappointed!
This month Diane and I kicked off our monthly contest. We’ve been having a great time cooking together and then eating what we make that in February we decided to invite some friends over to share in the good times and celebrate Valentine’s Day.  And when they had a great time, we thought we ought to open it up to everyone.  It was so much fun tweeting to all of you and coming up with a question that was not too difficult, but one that was designed to make sure you were paying attention.
I am so pleased with the response we got!  Everyone who entered got the correct response and we threw all the names into a hat and came up with one winner.  Drumroll…………
Lorianne H. is the winner!!!!!!!!  Congratulations, Lorianne! You and a guest are invited to our April dinner!  Diane and I will be in touch about a date and time.
So, did YOU follow along and see all the tasty healthy goods Diane designed for the First Comes Health readers?  Let’s get to the recipes without further ado!
Savory Squash Soufflé – serves 6
1 medium head of garlic
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 medium butternut squash or other winter squash
1 tablespoon olive oil
¾ cup sweet onion, chopped
2 teaspoons olive oil
4 eggs
salt to taste
white pepper to taste (We used white pepper to avoid having flecks of black in the final product)
Preheat oven to 425.
Spray 6 ramekins or custard cups with non-stick coating.  If you don’t have ramekins, use a large soufflé dish and increase final cooking time to 35 minutes.
Slice off stem end of garlic and place garlic, sliced side up, in the middle of a square of aluminum foil.  Drizzle with olive oil and fold edges of aluminum foil over garlic, creating a sealed packet.

Place packet in oven, directly on rack and roast for 40 minutes.  Remove packet from oven and let cool until garlic can be handled safely.  Squeeze roasted garlic into a small bowl and let cool completely.  This may be done up to 1 day in advance.

Carefully slice butternut squash into 1-inch rounds.  Remove all seeds and place rounds on a baking sheet.  Brush rounds with olive oil and place baking sheet in oven.  Roast squash for 30 – 40 minutes or until squash is tender (test with fork).  Remove squash from oven and let cool until squash can be safely handled.

Reduce oven temperature to 350.
While squash roasts, sauté chopped onion in olive oil until tender.  Set aside to cool. (LadyFingers tip: Preheat your sauté pan and olive oil.  The hotter the oil is when you put the onions in, the less oil they will soak up while cooking.  If your oil is cold or even cool, the onions will absorb the oil and you’ll be left with a greasy, soggy final product instead of wonderfully browned onions.)
While vegetables cool, separate eggs.  Place all egg whites into a mixing bowl.  Reserve 2 egg yolks and set aside the remaining two for a future purpose.
Remove squash flesh from the skin and place 2 cups of flesh into a large bowl.  Add sautéed onion and 1 teaspoon roasted garlic to squash and hand-mash.  Add two egg yolks and continue to mash until eggs are incorporated and mixture is smooth.  Season with salt and pepper.

Beat egg whites until stiff and glossy.  You can use an electric mixer for this or a whisk and do it by hand. Using 1/3 of egg whites at a time, gently fold them into the squash mixture.  Be careful not to deflate the puffy egg whites.

Spoon squash mixture into prepared ramekins and place ramekins into a baking pan.  Fill the baking pan with hot water until half-way up the sides of the ramekins.  Bake for 30 minutes or until puffed and lightly browned.

Avocado Gazpacho Salsa – serves 4
4 plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped
½ English cucumber, chopped
½ cup chopped sweet onion
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon white balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped chives
1 avocado
In a medium bowl, combine chopped tomatoes, chopped English cucumber, and chopped sweet onion.
In a measuring cup or small bowl, whisk together fresh lime juice, white balsamic vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil.  Add to chopped vegetables and toss lightly.
Add chopped chives and toss to coat.
Immediately before serving, coarsely dice one avocado.  Add avocado to the salsa mixture and serve.

Lemon-Seared Tuna and Rosemary Skewers – serves 4
4 medium tuna steaks, 1-inch thick
lemon-infused olive oil
4 sturdy rosemary sprigs (Jill’s note: The rosemary we used was from Diane’s backyard garden.  It survived the winter and was perfect with the tuna!)
Cut each tuna steak into 1-inch wide strips, trimming off uneven edges to make nice square logs.  Slice each log into ¾-inch pieces.

Strip the leaves off of each rosemary sprig, starting at the bottom and leaving 1 ½ – 2 inches of leaves remaining on the top of the sprig.

Thread the tuna pieces onto each rosemary stem, keeping the pieces squared up against each other and giving yourself four flat sides on each skewer.

Rub each skewer with lemon-infused olive oil.
Heat a large non-stick skillet to high.  When pan is hot, add skewers and sear for 12 – 15 seconds.  Immediately turn each skewer to the next side, searing again for 12 – 15 seconds.  Repeat on remaining two sides.
Remove skewers from pan and serve over salsa.

While the soufflé takes some time to prepare, it is VERY MUCH worth it.  It is not at all difficult to make and is positively scrumptious!  The salsa and tuna make a fantastic and lightning fast weeknight dinner that is also extremely healthy and light.
We plan to continue the contest from now on, so if you missed your chance to win an invitation to April’s dinner, you’ll have another chance each month!  I predict grilling and outdoor dining coming up for the next several months!  Who’s in?!
Printable versions of LadyFingers’ recipes:
Savory Squash Soufflé
Avocado Gazpacho Salsa
Lemon-Seared Tuna and Rosemary Skewers

Win a dinner with LadyFingers and First Comes Health!

Ok, readers!  Here’s your chance to win an invitation to April’s cooking demo with Diane of LadyFingers Private Chef and Catering and dear ole me!
Hopefully you followed along with our tweets last night and watched Facebook to see the March dinner progress from ingredients to table.  Now is your chance to show us how much you paid attention.
Here’s the question:
What was the final ingredient added to the salsa?
Responses will be accepted through Facebook or Twitter PRIVATE MESSAGE.  Don’t put it on our walls, don’t tweet it to us.  Message either Diane or me with your guess.
Fine print:
1. One response per person (And you MUST like LadyFingers and First Comes Health on Facebook!)
2. Entries will be accepted until midnight tonight.
3. One person will be randomly drawn from all the correct respondents.
4. The winner will provide his/her own transportation to Diane’s house on a date in April TBD.
5. The winner can bring one guest to the dinner.
Good luck, everyone!


Over the weekend I mentioned on Facebook that a friend of mine, the fabulous Liz, gave me a SCOBY.  I consider myself to be extremely fortunate that I have friends who not only have the same interests as I do, but are also very extremely generous with their valuable goods!
Let’s rewind and explain a bit so you know what’s exactly going on here.
First of all, recall past posts I’ve done on fermentation (here and here).  I’ve concentrated on telling you how awesome raw sauerkraut is for the gut and immune system, but I also mentioned other how fermented foods (kimchi, kefir, kombucha to name a few) provide the same kind of probiotic wonderfulness and also taste scrumptious.  Today in this post I’m going to tell you all about my next culinary adventure in fermentation – kombucha.
Kombucha is a sometimes fizzy, always yummy fermented tea drink.  It’s available in most grocery stores and health food markets (commercially bottled versions) and there is inevitably someone in your town who is brewing his own and possibly selling it.  It is somewhat controversial for a few reasons.  First, there are some wild health claims being made about kombucha – that it’s a cure-all elixir that will stave off anything and everything from cancer to male-pattern baldness.  Be skeptical of anything that claims to cure every ailment.  Kombucha is not a cure for anything, but can be a healthy pro-gut-flora alternative to non-healthy drinks like pop or fruit juices.  Kombucha does contain sugar and should be consumed carefully and judiciously especially if you are watching your sugar intake or watching your weight (or both!).  It is a sugary drink that should NOT replace water in your daily diet.
The other controversy about kombucha is that it is fermented sugar and tea.  And when you ferment sugar you get alcohol, as in booze.  Yes, kombucha can be a slight buzz-giving beverage.  While it is sold commercially NOT as an alcoholic drink, the alcohol levels are carefully monitored and measured by the federal government to ensure that they are not high enough to be labeled as a controlled substance.  If you make your own kombucha be very very very very careful if you do intend to sell it.  If the alcohol content is high enough in your home brew, you must comply with your state and federal liquor and tax laws.  Nobody wants the Feds pounding down their door, amirite?
Ok, with the disclaimers out of the way let’s run down through the equipment and ingredients you’ll need and then through the steps I took to get my first batch started.
The SCOBY! — SCOBY stands for symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast.  MMMMMM!!  Not.  It sounds awful, and kind of looks awful, but I promise it is a magic jelly-like disc of pure goodness.  It’s necessary to have a SCOBY to start a batch of kombucha and while I got one from a friend, they can be ordered online if you don’t know anyone who might have one to give, or you can grow your own from scratch.

Tea — There are about a zillion kinds of tea out there that you can use.  Naturally, the kind you choose will affect the taste of the final product so I say choose something you like to drink as tea and it will make a tasty kombucha.  For my first foray into this, I used some store-bought teabags.  My reason for this is because I’m a noob at kombucha making and I have a lot of experimentation to do.  I intend to consult with my favorite tea goddess, Betsy Hollweck, in the future to find top quality teas that are perfect for kombucha making.  For now, I used an organic green tea and a jasmine green tea. I love jasmine tea. Using Earl Grey tea or any citrus teas is not recommended.

Sugar — I used plain old white sugar, but I hear you can experiment with fruit juices, honey, agave nectar, or even brown sugar.  Like said above, sugar is a dangerous substance to be ingested with great caution.

A big jar — I got this really great 5 liter jar to use for my own brew, but you can use any size you want.  For me and Dude I didn’t think that we needed more than this.  If you search around the Interwebs for kombucha making tutorials, you’ll see folks who make gallon upon gallon of kombucha in several large vessels or giant jugs.  That’s great, but I prefer to go slowly and start small. Plus, I live in a very small apartment that doesn’t allow me to make giant batches of anything.

Bottles — I intend to bottle my kombucha when it’s finished so I bought a dozen of these reuseable flip-cap bottles.
A big pot and a spoon — for brewing large amounts of tea at once.
Once you have your equipment assembled, it’s time to start. Here is what I did to make my first batch:
1. Fill up your jar or brewing vessel with water.  I knew my jar was 5 quarts, but I took this step to ensure I would have the exact right amount of water to fill my jar.  Once I filled my jar to above the desired level, I poured the water into a giant pot and brought the water to just shy of a boil.
2. Add the teabags or loose tea that is in some kind of teabag or tea ball brewing device.  If you are using loose tea, you don’t want it floating all around the water.  If you do have it floating around, you’ll have to strain it.  For my first venture into fermenting tea, I stuck to teabags for just this reason.  Keeping it simple.
3. Remove pot from the heat and brew tea for several minutes until it is as strong as you like it.  Remove teabags.
4. Add sugar.  I used one cup of sugar for 5 liters of tea.  My instincts say this might make it overly sweet, but I’ll just have to wait and see what happens.  If it is too sweet, I’ll know to adjust accordingly for the next batch.  It is also important to note that I did not add the sugar when the tea bags were still in the water or when it was still on the heat.  Stir thoroughly until all the sugar is dissolved.
5.  Let cool.  This is an essential step.  Letting the tea cool to room temperature before you pour it into your jar and add the SCOBY will make sure the SCOBY stays alive.  How would you like it if you were thrown into a vat of boiling hot tea?  You’d hate it too and wouldn’t want to function either.  Be kind to your SCOBY, folks.  It’s a living thing.

6. Pour the cooled tea into your jar/brewing vessel and add the SCOBY. In an ideal world, your SCOBY ought to also come with a bit of the kombucha from the previous batch.  My friend Liz gave me the SCOBY and about a half cup of her last kombucha batch. This is an ideal way to start the fermentation on the new batch on the right foot.
7. Cover the jar with a cloth or paper towel.  I actually used a large restaurant-sized coffee filter with a rubber band.  I did not use the glass lid the jar came with.  This stuff needs to breathe and live and can’t be sealed air-tight.  Put it in a nice little corner of your kitchen and not in the fridge.

8. Wait.  This is the hard part.  It takes a couple of weeks to make a batch of kombucha.  Like the raw sauerkraut I made a few weeks ago, it isn’t something that can be rushed.  Those little bacteria and yeasts have to have time to do their magic.  While you’re waiting and their working, you’ll notice that a new SCOBY will form on the top of your fermenting tea.  This is what you want.  Use this to make your next round of kombucha, or give part of it away to a friend so she can make her own.
So, right now I’m in the middle of the “wait” step.  Consider this a “To Be Continued…” message because I’ll have to come back and show you what I do with my little jar of goodness in a few weeks.  I’m already brainstorming about future tea combinations, additions I can use when I bottle, etc.  There is definitely more to come on this topic.
What are your opinions on kombucha?  Wonderful and tasty elixir from heaven or overblown media hyped sugar drink?  Do you regularly drink it?  What are your favorite types and flavors?  Who else is going to try to make their own?  I’ll have a SCOBY to share in a few weeks!

Winner Winner, AWESOME Dinner!

I normally don’t post on Monday, but I don’t want anyone to miss out on this opportunity tomorrow.
Diane of LadyFingers Private Chef and Catering and I will be cooking our March dinner tomorrow night starting at 6pm (recipes and photos to come on Thursday of this week!)  But the really important news is that you have a chance to join the two of us in April for a cook-along AND eat-along.  Here’s how you can score a beautifully cooked, positively scrumptious dinner and an evening with Diane and me:
1. Follow First Comes Health on Twitter
2. Follow LadyFingers on Twitter
3. Like First Comes Health on Facebook
4. Like LadyFingers on Facebook
5. Watch our Twitter feeds for our live tweeting tomorrow night starting at 6 pm and follow along as we cook up a storm.
6. Be prepared to answer a trivia question on Wednesday (which we will put on Facebook) about our cooking event.
7. Cross your fingers that we draw your name from all the correct responses to the trivia question so you can win the April dinner invitation.
8. Mangia bene in April! YUM!
Trust me, dear readers.  You do NOT want to miss out on this!

Food and Your Time - A Survey

I have mentioned briefly a few times that 2012 is The Year of the Kitchen here in First Comes Health world.  To me it is positively ESSENTIAL to have a good relationship with food if you are in pursuit of good health and wellness.  I assert that it is extremely difficult if not impossible to be healthy without being connected with how you eat, what you eat, how your food is prepared, and what it does for you.  Can’t be done.  Your connection with good food determines your relative health.
Since the beginning of the year I have shared some recipes with you and that’s a good start, but it occurred to me that if I want to help you forge a better relationship with food and your kitchen, I have to know where you stand, dear readers!  It would mean little to you if I posted all year about things that don’t matter one lick to you and are too elementary or too advanced for where you are with your relationship with food.
In light of this I invite you to take THIS SURVEY.  It is nine questions long and will take you a grand total of under 60 seconds to complete.  Actually I lied, there are 10 questions, but the final one is optional.  If you are interested in a free First Comes Health t-shirt, you’ll answer it.
The survey will ask questions about your current relationship with food and the amount of time you spend thinking about it, planning for it, shopping for it, and cooking it.  To better serve you and to provide the kind of blog content that you’ll find helpful, I need to know what you think.
So, here are the steps to take:
1. CLICK HERE to take the brief 9 question survey.
2. That’s it.
If you fill out the optional 10th question with your email address you’ll have a chance to win a free First Comes Health t-shirt of your choosing from my store.
And don’t worry.  I’m going to come up with a better Year of the Kitchen logo than that.  Give me some time.
In the meantime, TAKE THE SURVEY!

Cues and Rewards

Yesterday I found myself in the car around 3 pm and listening to my very favorite radio program, NPR’s Fresh Air.  I love it because I can get 40 minutes or so of concentrated exposure to a person or topic that is probably new to me.  Yesterday’s guest was Charles Duhigg and until yesterday I hadn’t ever heard of him or his book, The Power of Habit, Why We Do What We Do in Life and in Business.  Obviously since I just heard of this book yesterday I haven’t read it, but I’m going to.
A portion of yesterday’s episode of Fresh Air was devoted to this book, and to making and breaking habits.  It, of course, got me thinking about healthy habits, and how those are made and UNhealthy habits and how those are broken.
Mr. Duhigg says in the interview (and presumably in the book as well) that when examining habits and how and why they work, we must examine the cues that start us on a certain behavior, and then thoroughly examine (that is, dig deep into our psyches) what the rewards are for this behavior.  Cues and rewards.

This really resonated with me!  I started thinking about all the cues we have going on around us that sets off behavior that sabotages our goals.  How many of us eat a mid-afternoon snack?  How many of us drink beer and snack on junk food while watching football? How many of us “need” a cup of coffee first thing in the morning?  There seem to be so many things that “just go together” in our minds that they are a set of behaviors never to be broken. Football watching (cue) = beer drinking and junk food eating (behavior).
The second part of the equation is reward.  What is the reward for engaging in the behavior?  Above I wrote that to get to what the reward truly is often requires some thorough reflection and soul searching.  I know from my health coaching practice that weight gain and overeating is rarely just about tasty tasty food.  In fact, I have yet to run into anyone who is battling weight loss only because he/she just loves the taste and texture of food.  Their rewards are something deeper and much more complex than “the grilled cheese sandwiches just tasted so yummy.”
I strongly encourage you to listen to yesterday’s Fresh Air broadcast.  The segment about habit forming and breaking starts at the beginning and goes to the 14:54 mark.  It is an enlightening 15 minutes!
I also encourage you to examine what your cues and rewards are for your positive and potentially counterproductive behavior.  What little something in your routine sets you on a behavior path?  What do you always do, just because you always do it?  Why?  How do you benefit?
Let’s start a conversation about this on Facebook or in the comments.

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