Sunday, April 27, 2014

Kombucha, the Tea of Gods

I was six or seven months into a high raw food diet several years ago, when I discovered Kombucha.   Kombucha is a fermented, sweetened tea that employs a colony of bacteria and yeast to consume sugars and transform the tea mixture into a living drink.  The microbe colony responsible for this friendly ferment forms a gelatinous layer that floats on the surface of the tea.  This floater is referred to as the “mother” of living vinegars and is often referred to as SCOBY, “Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast.”

As with all living foods, enzymes, probiotics, and concentrated nutrients engender these foods with health-supporting properties.  Research in Europe has shown Kombucha to be supportive of digestive function.  Other potential benefits include immunity support, cancer prevention, and improving liver function.

What a wonderful beverage!  I bought several bottles from our local health food store, and then learned how to make it myself.  Since then it has been a staple in my refrigerator that I enjoy often, particularly in warm weather.  It’s tart and tingly, reminiscent of champagne, soothing as it travels down the channel into the belly where it does its job of providing pro-biotics, positive, digestion-enhancing, constipation-relieving  microbes to the system.

For those of you who would like to make your own Kombucha, here’s how.

A one gallon GLASS jar.
6 air tight bottles suitable for bottling liquid.  (I use bottles saved from my store-bought Kombucha – they’re perfect.)
Plastic spoon

Kombucha in starter tea
1 Kombucha culture* in some starter tea
4 black or green tea bags (black is best)
1 cup sugar (organic is best)
The best water available; spring water is wonderful, otherwise filtered is good.
* If you don’t have a Kombucha mother in some starter tea, you can often find one by asking at your local health food stores.  People there often have them in their refrigerators waiting for good homes.  Some health food stores sell packaged Kombucha starter kits.  Alternatively, the bottled kombucha available in health food stores, if it is unpasteurized, can be used to grow a culture (“mother”).  Just one bottle will do it, along with some patience.

Empty the bottle of Kombucha into a glass quart jar, and cover it with a cloth or paper towel (so it can breathe) and an elastic band. Keep it at room temperature for two weeks without touching the jar.  The culture is slowly growing.  That “baby” can be used, then, to start your own batch of Kombucha. 

Boil 1 gallon water
Remove from heat and add 1 cup sugar.  Stir until it is dissolved.
Add the 4 tea bags and stir gently.  Let steep until the mixture is room temperature.
Pour the liquid into the gallon jar.
Add the mushroom and the starter Kombucha.
Cover with a towel or paper towel….something that breathes.
Label the mixture with the date. Let sit at room temperature, out of direct sunlight.

Taste it after about a week with a non-metal spoon.  If it tastes like vinegar, it’s ready.  If it’s still quite sweet, taste it every couple of days until the tastes suits you.  When you think it’s right , (and it really is all about taste here), remove the mother and ½-1 cup  liquid to a jar.  Cover with a tight lid and store in refrigerator until you’re ready to make another batch of Kombucha.

Decant the new Kombucha into glass airtight bottles. Refrigerate. 
That’s it!  You have Kombucha. 

The mother must be stored in the refrigerator until you’re ready to make more Kombucha.  It will grow at room temperature.

 The next time you make Kombucha using that mother, it may grow so much that it grows a “baby.”  If it does, you can peel the baby off for a second jar.  If it doesn’t detach easily, just leave it attached, and it should be easily detached after another batch or two.

If you like your drinks on the fizzy side, just leave your freshlybottled batch in a warm place for 3 or 4 days, and then checkon it.  Be careful, as they might get really bubbly  or even explode if left for too long.



Tuesday, April 15, 2014

What's Gluten All About?

I was visiting a long-time friend in another city last weekend, and we were chatting about the general proliferation of gluten-free products on grocery store shelves and the rising number of people announcing that they want to avoid gluten.  We agreed that as recently as 5-10 years ago, we didn’t know anyone who was gluten free or who wanted to be.  And we didn’t notice the very few products in the health food stores, noting that they weren’t in the supermarkets at all!  By comparison, even good old Bisquick, (which I haven’t used in 30 years or more,) now has a gluten-free variety among the pancake products.  So what’s the deal with Gluten, and why are so many people avoiding it?

Let’s start at the beginning.  Gluten is a protein composite made of gliadin and glutenin stuck together by starch, and is found in several grains, including wheat, which, by the way, is found in many, many food products. Trying to avoid all wheat is a difficult task indeed.  Gluten is the substance that makes bread dough stretchy and elastic.  Changing the gluten changes the dough—very refined gluten makes chewy bagels, and less refined gluten produces pastry dough.  Bakers measure the dough elasticity with a took called a farinograph.  For years everybody thought that gluten was good news, and before all the wheat in this country became genetically modified in the 50s, it may well have been good news.  It is a source of protein and was sometimes added to food to boost its protein content.  (We’re talking way beyond bread products here.  Gluten is also used in cosmetics, beer, vitamins, soy sauce, ice cream, ketchup, and many other products.)

The problem with gluten is three-fold.  First, some people are allergic to wheat, and all wheat contains gluten.  These words refer to grains of other products that almost surely contain gluten:  triticum vulgare, tritcale, hordeum vuglare, secale cereal cereal, tritcumspelt, wheat protein, hydrolyzed wheat protein, wheat starch, hydrolyzed wheat starch, bulgur, and wheat germ.
Second, the following items may (or may not) contain some gluten:  vegetable protein, modified starch, natural flavor, artificial flavor, caramel color, hydrolyzed plant or vegetable protein, flavorings, seasonings, dextrin, and maltodextrin.
Third, the symptoms of gluten intolerance can be vague, and thus elusive.  If you experiencing any of the following symptoms, you may well benefit by reducing gluten in your diet: chronic diarrhea or constipation, infertility, abdominal pain, bloating, fatigue, and headaches.

While it is not the case that gluten-free diets necessarily  lead to weight loss, as some people believe, substantially reducing gluten in your diet goes a long way towards weight loss, if you increase healthy, life-giving foods in place of it.

Consider these steps
1.  Eat more fruits and vegetables in their natural state.  Raw is definitely best, but if you must cook them, don’t deep fry them or add any kind of dough to them. Plants do not contain gluten until the food industry gets them.
2.  Back out of as much processed food as you can – anything that comes in a box, bag, can, bottle, etc.
3.  Read the labels very carefully on what processed foods you do by, such as ketchup, soups, etc., and be prepared to be astounded.  Wheat is everywhere!
4.  Get out of the cereal aisle and stay out.
5.  Reduce or eliminate your intake of bread, rolls, pizza dough, pies, cakes, etc.
6.  If you want to make gluten-free muffins or breads, alternate flours can be used.  Almond flour is a popular choice, and there are cookbooks to help you learn about the art of gluten-free baking.
7.  Most candy contains gluten, even chocolate, so be careful. 

An excellent resource for learning about the history of our wheat/gluten problem  and what to do about it is Wheat Belly,  by William Davis MD.  I recommend it.

I can’t help but add here that one of the many benefits of a diet high in raw fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds eliminates all the label reading and angst about hidden ingredients in prepared foods.  For more information about preparing raw foods that are as creative and tasty as they are nourishing, contact me at  and/or visit my site

Better health and  more vibrant living is easier than you may think it is to attain!  Move today towards all your health goals!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Spring Cleaning Meets Earth Day

The warmer weather for which we have been eagerly awaiting is here, which means that spring cleaning will be happening in many homes. After being cooped up in an increasingly stuffy house all winter long, it’s time to fling open the windows, shoo away the cobwebs, and take on the annual spring cleaning.  While this is a great and usually refreshing idea, April, and especially Earth Day on the 22nd, reminds us that the chemicals found in conventional cleaning products can be more dangerous than the dirt they’re intended to clean.  And the way we clean (with lots of disposable paper towels) isn’t exactly earth –friendly either.  Thankfully, there are many  alternatives available that can help us make our homes not only squeaky clean, but green.  This year, make a special effort to clean in such a way that the health of you and your family are not at risk, and the planet doesn’t suffer either.
Following are several tips for getting your home in tiptop shape.  By implementing some or all of these ideas, you can be satisfied that you will not be causing physical harm to those you live with, including pets, or the environment.
A good place to start in a home “greening “ movement is to consider the actual cleaning products that  you’re using.  The last thing we want to be doing is dumping toxic chemicals into the environment in the name of personal cleanliness.  The good news is that you don’t have to make a special trip to the health foods store, (although I do love to make trips to my local health food store), to find environmentally-sensitive cleaning products.  Seventh Generation, Method, and Biokleen are three companies that make full lines of household cleaners, and they are available in just about every store.  These products work just as well as their conventional counterparts.
Another option with cleaning products is to make them yourself.  Basic supplies include
White Distilled Vinegar (usually found in the cooking section of supermarkets
Baking Soda
Olive Oil
Borax (sold in a box in the laundry aisle)
Liquid Castille Soap (like Dr. Bronner’s brand, found in most natural food stores)
Essential Oils (super concentrated natural plant oils found in natural food stores, usually in the cosmetics section
Microfiber Cleaning Cloths
Here are some ideas for putting these ingredients to use:
Glass:  Mix ¼ cup vinegar with 1 quart of water in a spray bottle.  Spray on glass and wipe clean with old newspaper or a micro-fiber (lint- free) cloth.

Countertops and Bathroom Tile:  Mix 2 parts vinegar and 1 part baking soda with 4 parts water.  Apply with a sponge, scour, and wipe away.
Floors:  Mix 4 cups of white distilled vinegar with about a gallon of hot water.  If desired, add a few drops of pure peppermint or lemon oil for a pleasant scent.  After damp mopping the floors, the smell of vinegar will dissipate quickly, leaving behind only the scent of the oil
Wood Furniture:  Mix equal parts of lemon juice and olive oil.  Apply a small amount to a cloth, and rub onto the furniture in long, even strokes.

Toilet Bowl Cleaner:  Sprinkle a toilet brush with baking soda and scrub away.  Occasionally disinfect your toilet by scrubbing with borax instead.  Wipe the outside of the toilet clean with straight vinegar.
Disinfectant:  Mix 2 teaspoons borax, 4 tablespoons vinegar, 3 cups hot water, and ¼ teaspoon liquid castille soap.  Wipe on with dampened cloth or use spray bottle.  Wipe clean.
Mold and Mildew:  Wipe with straight vinegar.
Air Freshener:  Sprinkle essential oil on a cotton ball, and stash it in a corner of the room.  Keep out of the reach of children, as essential oils are very strong and could irritate young skin.  Lavender is a relaxing scent that is great for bedrooms, and cinnamon, clove, and citrus oils are nice in the rest of the house.  Also, a few stashed in the car, like peppermint, not only provides a pleasant smell, and may help to keep you alert.

For more tips for cleaning in an environmentally friendly way, see my Abundant Raw Life April 2014 newsletter.  Contact me at for a copy.