the kombucha dairies

In the past several months I have developed a strong liking and inclination for kombucha. For those of you who don’t know what kombucha is, let me explain. Kombucha is a fermented tea that is cultured with a mushroom “SCOBY” and sugar. Okay, okay, I know that sounds effing nasty. Well…. I mean lots of fermented foods sound gross in theory, but then when someone produces some amazing sauerkraut, kim chi, cheese, or Worcestershire sauce it’s easy to forget the process and just enjoy the taste. Food preservation and discovery is fascinating and is what makes us as people so special and wonderful. I don’t know who first let their tea sit out for way too long and then had the nerve to drink it, but I’m glad they did. PLUS – there are quite a few health benefits from drinking Kombucha – it aids in digestion, helps detox the liver, and although no super scientific research has been done people just say it makes the body feel better. I can totally jive with all those claims, but the bottom line for me is that it’s tasty as hell.

Anyways, buying kombucha at the health food store can set you back $4 a bottle and believe me this stuff is the jam – so the cost suddenly becomes pretty obvious when you get a full blown kombucha addiction rolling. I started thinking about brewing my own especially because I have SO MUCH amazing tea from T-we Tea in San Francisco (btw the boys at T-we Tea are the most wonderful small business owners ever). So I started doing research about brewing my own kombucha….. There are many ‘how to’ and ‘101s’ online and after reading enough it was obvious the ‘fail-proof’ method for starting a successful SCOBY was to buy one. I used Kombucha Kamp as my SCOBY provider and used the kombucha mamma’s guidelines to brew my own. You can buy a ‘mother’ SCOBY for around $20 and that will yield countless gallon brews. PLUS each brew creates a new ‘baby’ SCOBY that you can transfer to a new gallon glass jar and thus yield another gallon! Straight up every brew MULTIPLIES! I bought 2 to start because – well go big or go home I guess.


For my tea, again I used Twe-Tea. I’m an addict of theirs so it was natural to use their product. I have brewed Flailing Princess (a darjeeling with coconut and rose petals), Ooh Laa Cocolong (a jade oolong with coconut ribbons), and Guurl Grey ( sri lankan ceylon with orange peel and jasmine). All three have produced very tasty kombucha. I have also added ginger juice to several of the kombuchas after I bottled them.

My first brew experience went something like this:

1. Day 1 :Brew tea / mix as directions said – add SCOBY. Cover with normal muslin and put in kitchen cupboard. Giggle and wait.
3. Day 5- Day 6 : Dump the maggot tea – Retained both mother SCOBYs and let ‘sit’ in small container to see if maggots had infested MOTHERS. coupled with panicked research and Kombucha horror stories.
4. Day 7 : “I spent $40 on these mother-f*cking SCOBYs and by jove I’m not gonna waste them – I don’t see any bugs/larvae – eff it! let’s do this again.’
5. Day 8 : Re-brew tea / mix as directed – add non-bug SCOBYs. Cover with super tight doubled up muslin, create ‘fruit fly trap’, put in kitchen cupboard.
6. Day 9-23 : Compulsively check kombucha brews for fruit-flies and any other abnormalities. Deep Breathes everyday as it actually was going well.
7. Day 24 : Time to taste test this….. please don’t taste like barf….. WOW DELICIOUS!
8. Day 25 : Bottle 2 gallons on Kombucha. Add ginger to 1/2 dozen jars. Start new Kombucha brews.
9. Day 25 – 40 : Enjoy my own Kombucha!





I’ve successfully brewed and fermented two batches of two teas from my SCOBYs so far. I absolutely LOVE how my brew tastes too. I did finally get the nerve to have someone taste the tea and they said it was so great! Huzzah! Anyways – this experiment was totally worth it. Aside from the maggot hiccup on batch #1, I have the method down already. I’m thinking I’ll split my SCOBYs tonight and start 4 batches this time! Making stuff is so fun!


Your Stereotypical Fall Praising.

We have had our first few days of fall-esque weather here in Chicago and I love it.  Fall is my absolute favorite time of year.  The holidays, the cinnamon smells, and of course the CRAFTS! make it really entertaining and fun for me.  I also love the wardrobe change and all the knits that come out.  Here are the things I’m wearing/doing/loving this fall! (That photo above is from last Fall in Denver and possibly the best photo I’ve ever taken of Leopold.)
My Fall Style

All Saints Char Boyfriend Sweater

I really have been in love with Black Salt’s clothing too especially this dress:

Pumpkin Spice Coffee  – from An Edible Mosaic ; because I don’t eat sugar anymore or dairy.

Harry Potter Knitting – Yes, I bought this.  Yes, I will make it all.

Off Limit Architectural Tour – Usually off limits areas are open to the public.  I’m really excited about this now that I’m discovering Chicago fully.
Margaret Cho! I have tickets to see her in October and I cannot wait!  I just love her and her comedy and I just love her (did I say that already?)  BECAUSE I LOVE HER. Check out if she’s coming to your city here.



Then, Lois will be in town for Design Harvest.  “This one of a kind fest features Chicago’s best local furniture and home accessory makers, vintage and antique collectors, and local retailers of home design.”  I’m pretty excited I’m sure there will be some great finds here.

Opening the Vaults Wonders of the World’s Fair!  I feel like I should shout this when I say it like an old timey announcer.  This should be very interesting as this fair shaped so much of modern day Chicago.


Fall is FUN!

Box-Cupcake Cheat!


Let’s face it, the obsession with cupcakes has really raised the bar for anyone considering making cupcakes for a party or event.  Of course there are folks like me who think the over-frosted/over-sprinkled/over-developed cupcakes are seriously lacking.  I remember cupcakes from childhood to present as something ‘home-made.’  This whole bakery/cupcake maker version really peeves me, especially since it seems the cake/frosting is just not that good. Plus don’t even get me started about the $4-$8 a cupcake price factor.  Now I know there are some real gems out there in the cupcake industry, but unless I am craving that specific flavor or brand I am not going to try to recreate it home.  That being said,  I did feel a little self conscious bringing a dozen or so ‘box-cupcakes’ to a party simply because they weren’t those cupcakes on steroids that seem to be the ‘in’ thing.  

Well after playing around with the box recipe and lots of frosting brands I’ve found the best cheat.  Believe me NO ONE believes they are ‘box’ and it will almost hurt to admit they are because people start begging for the recipe.  Plus they are less than $8 for between 16-20 of them. 

So here it goes:

Step One:  Follow all the directions on the box as per ingredients – I’m sorry, but if you’re trying to add egg whites only or low-fat/cal oil – just stop – it won’t taste good no matter what. Add the full calorie/full content ingredients and just enjoy the damn thing. 

Step Two:  Get out your mixer/hand mixer and actually blend it like the box says.  For years I was just mixing with a spatula, but that is the worst mistake, you need to use the electric mixer to get the batter light and fluffy (almost mousse looking) and you need to mix for at minimum 2-3 minutes. This may seem like a no brainer, but this is why cupcakes turn out flat and dry instead of moist and with volume.  Again, if the batter is runny keep mixing! Look at that volume/rise below! Perfect!!


MOST IMPORTANT – Step Three: I fill the cupcake liners with a 1/4 C measurer and fill them approximately 3/4 of the way.  You probably won’t get all the way to 24 since that amount of batter is more than the box suggests.  Cook according to temperature BUT only cook the cakes for 15 MIN!!!! Of course since ovens do vary please check with a toothpick/cake tester to ensure it comes out clean.  This will not only make the cakes moist from the start, but they will stay moist for days (if they last past the event).

So the cakes are done – I usually take them out of the muffin pan as soon as I won’t burn myself and wait for them to cool fully for the frosting.

That does lead us to the frosting process – Of course I LOVE frosting but those half-cup piles of frosting that are piled on-top of ‘professionally’ made cakes are obscene.  Not only will it waste so much butter/sugar, but it will make everyone sugar-sick and not want to eat more of your cakes. No joke!  (I have first-hand witnessed a 4 AND 38 year old take off the pile of frosting and just eat the cake.) 

I really enjoy Pillsbury Brand Frosting “Creamy Supreme.”  Obviously not the healthiest, but come on if you’re going to argue about natural frosting at this point either make your own or sit down. I generally use Vanilla so I can customize colors and flavors (Nutella/cinnamon flavor etc).  I’ve used professional food dyes before and those can make the frosting actually taste terrible.  I happened upon Betty Crocker Food Gels and they are the best and brightest in my opinion.  They carry standard primary colors and then neon which are a blast.  Using a gel food coloring will also add that shine that is on my cupcakes.


Of course these are not the gourmet cupcakes, but I am not a gourmet pastry chef. These are a great version of an old stand-by and whether this is the limit to your baking skills or just a substitute for last minute treats, I hope you’ll have fun and remember what baking cupcakes at home was always about – LOVE!