Kombucha Hypothesis

I am very sorry to all the people I have promised to give a SCOBY to and then haven’t followed through. I have a confession: I’m scared to let strangers who find me over the internet, even kombucha-loving strangers, know where I live. And I have also been very crap about SCOBY delivery 😦  Sorry, strangers!

BUT! I have a Kombucha Hypothesis that may just negate the need for SCOBY delivery altogether!

I’m not sure if you remember, but I’ve written before about how crazy tough and virulent the kombucha mother is. Like a mother bear separated from her cub! She will take a beating and come back in full force!

So, I was thinking, all scientist-like, that store-bought ‘bucha is, or at least should be, a raw, unpasteurized food. Thus, it should have live yeast/bacteria in it. Thus, it should be able to produce a new baby, just like these babies I found in my Apple Cider Vinegar.

So I bought me some Kombucha (paid nearly 5 bucks for it!) and let it sit out for about a week with the cap off. And voilà: a tiny little newborn baby SCOBY floating in it!

Now, the second part of the hypothesis, and this is the really exciting bit, is that IF a bottle of ‘bucha can produce its own little SCOBY, it SHOULD be able to produce a BIG SCOBY in a new batch of tea & sugar. Right? I know this contravenes our new sugar-free diet, but come on, this is science!

I don’t have an answer for you yet; my experiment is brewing away, and I will fill you in as things progress. But if this works, it will mean (nearly) free Kombucha for ALL!!!!!

(I feel like a cartoon mad scientist right about now.)


Sugar: notes on an addiction

“I need it. I need it. I have a stash. I just need one. I’ll just leave the kids in the bath while I run and get one. Oh, they’re crying? That’s okay, I’ll just be a second. Aaah. Okay, one more. One more. One more. Oh no–too many! Why did I do that??”

That was me and my stash of Laura Secord peanut butter chocolate Santa eggs. The next morning my mood was black.

Now, if you don’t think you’re addicted to sugar, try going off it for a day. I tried this last December and had a wicked headache for 2 days. But after that, the cravings went away. My mistake was trying this a week before Christmas. Of course once I brought back the chocolates and even the sugar in my coffee, the cravings were back.

One friend of mine has a mantra: “Sugar is death.” She watched her father die of diabetes. In her younger days, my grandmother, a self-described “syrpaholic”, would take hits off a jar of syrup she kept in the fridge. She lived with diabetes most of her life. Another friend told me about a visit to a Naturopath who told her she needed to go off sugar. She said she almost cried.

Sugar is really bad for you. According to Nourishing Traditions,

– it depletes your body of nutrients during its metabolization.

– continually spiking our blood sugar levels by eating refined sugar eventually disrupts our bodies’ ability to regulate its own blood sugar levels. This is the cause of diabetes.

– sugar consumption has been linked to shortened life spans in animals, anorexia and eating disorders in people, and problems with the heart, liver, pancreas and adrenal glands (NT p. 23 sites several studies)

– some researchers have named sugar–not fat–consumption as the cause of heart disease

– it has also been connected to osteoporosis and tooth cavities, as well as hyperactivity, behaviour problems and violence.

So why do we eat so much of it? One reason is that we are programmed to want to eat fruit at the height of their ripeness, and sweetness, which is also their nutritional peak. So advertisers tempt us with brightly coloured highly sweetened “foods” they know our primitive brains will crave. The difference is that fruits are loaded with vitamins, minerals and fiber, which regulate the way the sugar is metabolized, and also nourish us.

And why would they do this when everyone knows how bad sugar is for us? Because it means huge profits. Think of a bottle of cola. A little artificial flavouring, a dose of sugar, and some water. Sell that at a huge markup, and you’ve got a license to print money.

All this has been rattling around my brain this month, especially in light of my little sugar fit I told you about at the top of this post. So in another Frugal Urban experiment in living, I’m going to try going off it again. Who knows how long it will last, or what the repercussions will be! All I know is that I need a lot of determination to get through this.

How about you–have you ever gone off sugar? What was the hardest thing about it?

Year in review and a new project

Your Money or Your Life
Your Money or Your Life

I missed my “blog-a-versary”, but I thought I’d chat a bit about what I’ve seen happen over this past year. Lots of changes, especially with the birth of my little guy, but we’ve also made some progress financially.

For one, we made a decision to pay off our line of credit from our daughter’s education fund. When we looked at our bank summary and saw that we were actually “in the black” by a few thousand dollars, it suddenly seemed foolish to be paying interest on the line of credit portion of that tally. We’ve been able to continue, and even increase, our deposits in the RESP, which now includes our boy as a recipient as well.

We have also become more aware of the cost of traveling, and have reduced our pleasure traveling significantly. This has also been due to having two little ones making traveling harder, but also because we noticed that our “little” trips to Toronto or Montreal would leave us reeling financially. We would check our balance a few days later and end up shaking our heads and asking “How did that happen??”

We still travel to Sudbury to visit our family a fair bit, but we are lucky that we almost always get those travel expenses covered. Our families like to see us I guess 🙂

I’ve been trying very hard to keep our food expenses down, and it’s getting easier now that the little guy is a bit older. Now that his naps are more regular, and I can leave him to roam around the living room a bit longer, and everything is just a bit less intense, I’ve had more of the requisite time to cook and plan meals. Actually I’ve noticed that the planning is almost everything in terms of staying on top of meal frugality.

There are other things–I’ve reduced my spending in many other random ways, and so has my husband, we’ve made some loose financial goals and have started moving towards them, and I’ve been using my freezer to stock up when things are on sale. All good changes.

So it only makes sense to bring things to a new level with the coming year. I recently got Your Money or Your Life out from the library. It is a nine-step plan to achieve Financial Independence, defined as having enough money to live on from a source other than paid employment.

Wow! Who doesn’t want that! Right now that seems a bit impossible, but even without fully achieving that goal, I do feel confident that we can reduce our spending, and refine our financial goals. Our next big ones would be paying off my partner’s 2 remaining student loans, and saving up a down payment for a house.

I’m giving the book a primary read-through, but we’re going to start tracking all of our spending right away. The beginning of the month seems like a good time to do it. I will give updates along the way, and who knows–maybe some day I’ll be writing “frugal + rural” posts from my organic farm in Northern Ontario, having achieved Financial Intelligence, Financial Integrity and ultimately, Financial Independence!

Pastured Yogurt!

Home-Made Raw Milk Yogurt
Home-made raw milk yogurt

I didn’t buy the cow, but I got the milk for free . . .

Raw organic pastured milk, that is. I was going to buy a cow share, but in the end took a long hard look at the budget and decided against it. The very sweet farmer, after hearing my budget constraints, sent a free bottle of milk along for me with my friend who did sign herself up for his milk.

So I became the owner of 1.5 litres of raw milk. It had nearly 3 cm of cream on top, and it smelled like a fragrant pasture. There are many health benefits attributed to raw, pastured, unhomogenized dairy products; access to this kind of “real milk” is lobbied for by the Weston A. Price Foundation.

The only thing was that I found it just a little bit different from what I’m used to. So instead of pouring it over my cereal, I used some for making pancakes, and the rest, I used for making yogurt. I took a very low-tech approach, as outlined below. Keep in mind, the milk is no longer “raw”, as heating for yogurt effectively pasteurizes it.

Home Made Yogurt (without a thermometer)


yogurt with active cultures

Warm up slow cooker on low setting. Add hot tap water.

Heat milk in a saucepan on the stove until frothy and steamy. Then cool the milk by placing the saucepan in a sink of cold water and stirring the milk. Cool the milk until it is “warm-hot, not owie hot” (as my daughter would say). Add active yogurt–approx. 2 tbsp yogurt per four cups of milk–and whisk until combined.

Pour into clean mason jars and place jars in the slow cooker, making sure the hot water does not rise above the jars. Turn off/unplug the slow cooker and wrap it with towels. Let sit for several hours. The longer you let it sit, the firmer and more sour the yogurt will be.

Remove from slow cooker, place lids on jars, and refrigerate. The yogurt will firm up as it cools.

~ / ~

It’s like magic: milk alchemy! I was so excited to be making yogurt that I kept on wanting to lift up the towels to take a peek–a peek of what, I have no idea! But it worked, and I’m stoked. The sourness of the yogurt works very well with the more complex flavour of the pastured milk. And the price is better than any organic yogurt out there, even with the $3 per litre price tag. And hey–no more plastic yogurt tubs to stress about!

How about you? Do you make yogurt? Have you tried raw or pastured milk?

Confessing my sins

Garage Sale find: a crock for Sauerkraut
Garage Sale find: a crock for Sauerkraut

Well, today was the Great Glebe Garage Sale, and I definitely took a holiday from my no spending month. Here is my list of sins:

We got our bike for our girl, $30 for a Dora 2-wheeler with training wheels. It was more than I wanted to spend, and it weighs a TON, but hey, now we have it. Some better deals were some red Tommy Hilfiger running shoes for her for $1, a few dolls for $1, an old school red bandanna for $1, a Joan Didion book for 50 cents, and a crock for making sauerkraut for $2. Besides that was a plate of cookies for $10 (proceeds going to charity) and a sandwich mid-day for $5. Oh, plus one extremely packed bus ride home.

Overall, the yard sale itself was exhausting, but I’m fairly happy with what I brought home. Afterwards, my friend hosted an amazing brunch.

And now I’m home–both kids melting down and feet aching–it was a huge effort to not just go with the flow of my spendy day and get pizza. No, I chopped and whisked and grated together a little omelette for supper. Can I count that as a savings of $20 that would have been spent on pizza? Does that help atone for my spending sins???

Don’t believe everything the internet tells you

When I saw instructions on Flickr for making Apple Cider Vinegar from apple scraps, it seemed too good to be true. And I said as much. Apparently you can just stick apple cores in a jar with some water and it will magically turn into lovely ACV after a couple of months.

Well, I stuck my cores in water–organic cores, tap water–and now I’m waiting. Every once in awhile I sniff the jar, and PHEW!! it stinks to high heaven! It just smells like mold, disgusting putrid immune-busting mold. It’s been over a week now, and it ain’t getting better.

Now, against my better judgement, I’m going to keep this thing around just in case it MAGICALLY transforms into vinegar. Which I doubt. But if it does, I’ll be sure to tell you.

Week in Review–no-spend week #3

It’s now three weeks down in my no-spend month, and this week was the best so far. I don’t think I cheated once this week, except for a bus ride back from the Experimental Farm where we went for the sheep shearing festival yesterday. I have a membership so we didn’t have to pay admission.

I’m really enjoying this no-spend month, and I’m almost tempted to keep it up for the summer. I might have to get a haircut at some point, and we will be doing some travelling at some point, but other than those little things, I’m feeling good about the no spending.

One great thing is that weekends haven’t been about shopping. Too often I’ll make some grand plans for a bus expedition out to Canadian Tire on a Saturday afternoon because I can’t make it there during the week. That takes up my whole day, and nothing gets done. This weekend we spent two whole days together as a family, going to the Nature Museum on Saturday (and beating the crowds with our membership card!) and the farm on Sunday. Then today I organized a corner of our dining room that’s been needing attention–a major accomplishment!

Of course tomorrow I’ll have to do a big-ish grocery shop, but I’m happy to confirm that one of the fringe benefits of not buying anything apart from groceries is that I’ve been able to spend a lot more weekend time with the fam. And that, my friends, is priceless!

The miracle of life–a sourdough starter

I started my new starter three days ago, according to Peter Reinhart’s new “Artisan Breads Every Day”:

Day 1: combine 1 oz flour with 2 oz pineapple juice. Stir together and leave at room temperature for 2 days, stirring three times per day.

Day 3: add 1 oz flour and 1 oz pineapple juice to the Day 1 mixture. Stir together, and leave at room temperature until it becomes frothy and bubbly, stirring three times per day.

The idea is that the pineapple juice prevents the bacteria leuconostoc from taking over, and the stirring  prevents the mixture from getting moldy. The next step is adding 2 oz flour and 1 oz water, leaving for 1-2 days and stirring intermittently. Then adding 3 oz flour and 1 oz water to 4 oz of the previous culture, at which point you let it ferment and then it is ready to become your Mother Starter.

So today is day 4 and I am delighted to report that my goop is starting to bubble! It is delightful to be bringing a new starter to life. It holds the promise of amazing tasting bread to feed my family. The promise of not having to go out and buy bread because I’ve just baked up a couple loaves. Just the smell of sour yeasty goodness makes me verklempt. (Really. I get choked up very easily).

Now, if only I had thought of doing this at the beginning of winter instead of the beginning of summer!

A Cheaper Way with Beans

Cans of beans were on for 99 cents for the last few weeks, and I stocked up on some of our favourites: black beans for soup, mixed beans for tabouli, kidney beans and white kidney beans for chili and other stuff, and our favourite: chick peas, for hummus, tabouli, and many other things. But darn, they take up a lot of room! And is 99 cents really a bargain?

Well, we ran out of chick peas, and I really want to make both hummus and tabouli this week, but the sale is over. So I finally pulled out the giant 2 kilo bag of dried chick peas from the back of the cupboard. I measured a cup of dried peas and almost 2 litres of water into a large bowl, and left them out to soak last night. This afternoon I’ll give them a good boil for about an hour, and I’ll be good to go with the equivalent of 2 cans of chick peas.

And is it cheaper? Well, if memory serves, my 2 kilo bag of chick peas cost about $3.99, or $2 per kilo. 1/2 cup dried peas (equivalent to one can) weighs about 110 grams–about 22 cents. Yes, it takes some energy to boil them afterwards, but it’s still about 1/4 the price.

The other benefit is how little space dried beans take up to store compared to cans. A great benefit in our teeny tiny kitchen.

Once I’m done this 2 kilo bag, I’ll head to the Sandy Hill People Food Co-op and pick up some organic beans for $3.85 per kilo–still around half the price of conventional canned! I’m all about bringing down the price of organics.

So, for beans, as with many other things, I can either spend money or time, and in the words of Erik Knutzen, “my time is cheap”! (And BPA free.)

Stepping back into Sourdough

I’ve lost my sourdough starter. By which I mean, it got so polluted and gross that it wasn’t working at all any more. So I’m starting my starter over. Again.

I actually gave it a try not long ago, and found my starter infected with leuconostoc, which imitates a true starter by getting bubbly and smelling sour, but it is actually bacteria, not yeast, which is bubbling. It gets very sour right off the bat, and doesn’t have that yummy beery/yeasty smell that makes bread taste like bread.

Peter Reinhart says to make the starter with pineapple juice, so that is what I am going to do. I’ll start it tonight and will report back soon. Once my starter is established, I’m going to follow the methods described in Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Breads Every Day, which incorporates the no-knead approach with sourdough techniques, exactly what I set out to investigate last summer. Fortunately, Peter Reinhart, with his big team of testers, has taken the challenge instead!

I’ll let you know what happens . . .