Kombucha: ancient remedy for modern tummies

I have never been in love with pickled foods. Well, other than beets. I do adore pickled beets. But for years I tormented my digestive system with the sterile processed foods that were so quick to eat – and, as I discovered, so painful to digest without a nice dose of living, friendly pro-biotic along for the ride. Fermented foods, it turns out, are a declining component of the average diet – yet there are many great reasons for seeking them out!

Enter Kombucha Tea – a fermented drink made with tea, sugar, bacteria and yeast. I had been wanting to try this friendly ferment for quite awhile when I learned that a friend had a baby Kombucha (a SCOBY – Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast) to give away. I took that sweet little SCOBY into my home, and I’ve never looked back! She is now mother to a number of offspring who have gone on to raise their own babies in various kitchens around Phoenix.

I was nervous, at first. What if my SCOBY developed “bad bacteria”? I was scrupulous – perhaps a bit obsessive compulsive – in my super-sterile approach to caring for my Kombucha tea. Since then, I have relaxed quite a bit. Kombucha creates its own very powerful probiotic blend, and is very effective at defeating the not-so-friendly bacteria that it encounters. I’m still a stickler for cleanliness, but I’ve relaxed quite a bit about my brew.

If you have an opportunity to adopt a SCOBY, and are interested in improving your digestive health with very little time and effort, I highly recommend that you take that SCOBY home and begin! There are a number of excellent online resources for getting started. The best, for newbies, is culturesforhealth.com. Their videos are easy to follow, and tell you most of what you need to know.  I highly recommend that you watch their starter video before you begin your Kombucha journey. Once you have the basics under your belt, you might like a quick 1-2-3 to remind yourself of the steps to follow. Below is my shorthand version of my own process – taken from CulturesforHealth and blended with a number of other great online resources:

  1. Boil 2 cups of water (filtered is good, but boiling will remove the chlorine, so you can use boiled tap water in a pinch)
  2. Stir in 1 cup white sugar (organic preferred) and 4-5 teaspoons loose leaf tea (black will have a “darker” flavor – I prefer white or green tea)
  3. Steep the tea for 4-5 minutes – then filter out the tea leaves and add another 4 cups of cool filtered (or pre-boiled) water
  4. When water is room temperature, add your SCOBY plus at least 1 cup of Kombucha tea from a prior batch (this is your “starter”). You can substitute organic, raw unfiltered apple cider vinegar.
  5. Cover with an unbleached coffee filter or cotton cloth (I cut an old white t-shirt into 8-inch squares). Secure with a tight rubber band, and place somewhere away from direct sunlight or heat. An open shelf or the top of the fridge are good places – the culture needs some light to do its work. Keep away from cleaning chemicals.
  6. Wait about a week, and taste-test the tea. If it is too sweet for you, leave it awhile longer, and the SCOBY will continue to consume the sugar in the water. I have left my Kombucha tea for up to 5 weeks – it gets increasingly acidic, and tastes a bit like apple cider vinegar. (It can be substituted for vinegar for a nice pro-biotic boost in recipes as well).
  7. Distill the tea into glass jars, and throw in some candied ginger and strawberries, or another sweet fruit for a secondary ferment,* and ENJOY!

* Some Websites don’t warn you against ferments that get a bit too lively. If your house is at all warm, I highly recommend unscrewing the lid, daily, during your secondary fermentation phase. This lets off a bit of the pressure. I experienced a kitchen explosion one day when my fermenting Kombucha got a little too bubbly!


Reflections of an adult orphan

Unhinged, uprooted, un-buoyed. Having lost both of my parents in the course of three years, I feel like a transcendent door slammed somewhere, and my world is still reverberating from the finality of it. Sometimes I forget they are gone. At odd moments, it occurs to me I haven’t picked up the phone to call them in a very long time – and then I remember why that is, and the echo of the loss startles me, and the painful reverberation begins again.

This concept of “adult orphan” is a new one for me – but a quick Google search shows that for the past decade others have been exploring it. I come on the very heels of the Baby Boom generation, with boomers ahead of me becoming mid-life orphans in droves. According to a 2008 article on the topic in the LA Times, by the time 65% of Americans turn 60, they will have lost both parents.

The LA Times article also shares insights from psychologists who have been surprised to discover that the loss of both parents in mid-life can kindle a rebirth, a re-awakening. I admit that around the edges of that numinous slammed door in my psyche, there is energy and light. Something new is coming – I can feel it. In my inner world, resplendent with mixed metaphors, a key has turned in a lock, and a tumbler that hasn’t moved in years is turning – shifting – creating an inner transformation of space. Right now the new space still feels like an ache and a sorrow, but I am also aware of a growing certainty that THIS is the time for me to grab hold of my life in ways I haven’t in the past, and stop dilly-dallying (to use a term my parents passed down to me from their own parents.)

Be that as it may, it is important for me – and for other adult orphans – to acknowledge the grief, the loss, the gaping emptiness left behind when an elder parent is lost. Otherwise, we risk becoming depressed or ill with what psychologists describe as “disenfranchised grief.” Yes, my parents were in their early 80’s when they passed. Yes, they both lived enriched, fulfilled lives. Truly, the grief is not about a life ended too soon. Let’s be honest – we grieve for ourselves, for the wise support we can no longer depend upon, and for the vast wealth of experience and history that has been lost to us. We grieve that we never asked the questions that we can now never ask.

For those of you who have lost your parents – I found a particularly helpful online resource here – and plan to look up some of the books and authors cited. Please feel free to share your own reflections on being a mid-life orphan.

Waiting for the door to open

(Originally posted on Oct 16 2011 on my “Reflections” blog)


The last few months have been very fast-paced and hectic for me. I have been moving at high speed, ridiculously productive, and suffering a variety of stress-related ailments.

Then last week something happened that changed my perspective in a split second. I was opening the sliding glass door for my cat to come in and have breakfast. He and I have a ritual we’ve performed hundreds of times in the past several years. I open the door, and he shoots like a rocket into the house and inhales his breakfast.

Last week, as luck would have it, the door was stiff, I was slow, and the cat was faster than ever. Before I could get the door out of his way, he jettisoned his little skull directly into the glass. I heard a cracking sound, and knew it wasn’t the glass. I aged five years in the next five minutes, as I tried to coax him into the house. “This is how quickly things can change,” was the script running through my head.

As it turns out, he survived the incident with no ill effects. Amazing testament to the strength of feline skulls.

I, however, will not forget that moment. Later that day, commuting to work and in a hurry, I nearly shifted lanes directly into another vehicle. I thought to myself, ”wait for the door to open.”

Passion and energy are wonderful, but I am taking these recent events to heart. I’m focusing on taking things a little more slowly, being aware of the world around me, and tuning myself to the movements of others to avoid the cracking of heads.

Interestingly, my new pace allows me to break out of unconscious habits. I am aware that not only CAN life change in a split second – but it DOES. Every second is new, and nothing can be taken for granted.

Tell all the truth but tell it slant —

My grandma used to say the only poet she kept by her bedside table was Emily Dickinson. Sadly for me at the time, I had not really “met” Emily Dickinson, and assumed grandma liked her quaint old fashioned rhymes. Now I realize I missed out on an opportunity to dive deep with my grandma and discuss life’s darkness, loss, mystery and joy. As an adult, at least, I have the gift of a shared experience with my mother’s mother, though she is no longer here to explore those depths with. Here is one of my Dickinson favorites, shared alongside a moment I captured in Sedona, Arizona – a place my grandma also discovered long before I came to love it.


Arizona’s poet laureate – Alberto Rios


alberto-riosIt will rain here in the desert tomorrow. The living world is hushed and still, waiting. Holding its collective breath.

Yesterday I was lucky enough to spend 90 minutes listening to the stories and poems of Arizona’s poet laureate, Alberto Rios. Look him up if you haven’t heard of him. Consider buying one of his books of poetry. I have ordered a few myself. Here are the last few stanzas of his poem about rain in the American Southwest, “Sometimes it Rains”:

This place is no different from any other, and rain is rain
Here as much as anywhere. But something happens

In the desert after rain has come. We sleep a good sleep
That night. In the morning, we get up and find ourselves

Standing on the shore of the new world. In the desert,
We watch, if we’re careful, and when we point at everything

We are complicit in the great magician’s trick of the rain:
Rain falls down wet and gets up green.

… You can find the whole poem on Amazon – just flip open “The Dangerous Shirt“, one of Rios’ magical books.