a woven life

a parenting and lifestyle blog


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The making of Monday.

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Winter is not quite ready to let go. Yesterday, Michael an I woke to a scene of whit; a light powdering of snow coated all. Today we are in for an accumulation of up to one inch. I’m questioning the wisdom of gardeners before me who assured me in their writings that frost hardy crops are indeed frost hardy. I’m holding my hope, cupped in my hand.

Oren and I are back to our rhythm today after a wonderful spring break with papa. Our weekend was so jam-packed with visiting. In the course of three days we saw every set of grandparents (in our family there are three and they can be classified as: cat grandparents, dog grandma, and fish grandparents), attended a cousin’s first birthday, and hosted a dinner for friends. In three days. I feel grateful for a weekend brimming with family/a monday just for baby and I.

In honor of our day, we are making bread. Short on flour, we mixed in cornmeal. The recipe we use makes two loaves and costs us a little under three dollars to make. There are thriftier breads to be baked, but the addition of dry milk and molasses are absolutely worth the extra pennies. Baking just one batch a week reduces our consumption of the store bought bread down to one loaf. There is a dark side to this bread: it is all Oren talks about until it is gone. “Toast this, toast that, I don’t want the eggs or orange on my plate until the toast is gone, look the toast is on the counter, look the toast is under this towel”.

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His obsession with this bread has been amplified as he is now helping me knead it. He wholly worships homemade bread, leaving me all the more fulfilled in it’s creation. Bread baking is a meditative act of simplicity. We’ve got the process down, no doubt in the beginning it was a less-than-tranquil experience. But this one act of doing spills over into our whole day. Oren wants to check the rising dough and help pound it down between rising. The aroma of bread baking transforms the home completely, it is magic.

You can expect your kitchen to look something like the below image afterward, beckoning a nice session of some zen dish washing (wink,elbow,wink, “zen”). If I’m going to be honest, I have to admit to you that cleaning for me is not separate from the act of creating, regardless the mess, and thus just as enjoyable. You just can’t have one without the other so the options are:

1. A life filled with work and the fruits of labor.

Or

2. A sterile existence and stasis.

I just don’t see an in between, this is the only black /white matter. Why loathe the mess? It is wasted life to do so.

 

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And Ogie-tokie wanted me to please wash his ball (he signed please as he dropped it into the sink):

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Over and out,

Nicole

 

 

 


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Equinox. All things being equal.

Through snotted hankies and red-nose I greet you on this most gorgeous first day of Autumn. Today I bought mums. I have wicked allergies this time of year, the ragweed. And Michael brought home a cold with him this week. I suffer, noisily. I am a trumpeting advertisement for ailment. This day is busy anyhow. The month cares not that I can not swallow. Today is the day Michael and I cook all day and stock the freezer. On the menu is a vat of brew-all-day marinara, four calzones (half spinach, half pepperoni), two loaves of bread, and two batches of cookies. So far, the dough is rising for the calzones and the bread and the sauce is a-stewin’. The house smells amazing.

Oren has been up to some pretty amazing stuff this past twenty-four hours. He climbed stairs, a first. He stacked cans, a first. He successfully and continuously used his fork at lunch, a first. He is a busy boy with a lot to accomplish. He may even start cruising the furniture this week, I wouldn’t put it past him. George is happily indoors at the moment. He spent the day and night outside yesterday, as Michael and I headed out of town. We are proud to announce that our beloved furball is flea free! Michael and I spent yesterday at his parents house, he and his brother had a date to work on music. We stayed the night to take advantage of an empty house that wasn’t our own. It turned into a sort of date night, complete with grilling, plenty of fresh air, and a very large television. Glory be to the god of relaxation.

We recently celebrated a birthday in honor of Michael. So much love found its way to him in the mail. We just love mail. I may have already mentioned this but I created a Japanese themed birthday-date-at-home for the two of us. After Dingo’s bedtime, I barricaded Michael in our bedroom (uh oh, saucy) and turned the living room into a warm and intimate space complete with draped gauzy scarves, candles, Japanese folk music, and incense. I had purchased some sake and sushi earlier in the day. The sake I warmed and kept so in a ceramic kettle. I set table at our low coffee table and rolled out the yoga mats for seating. I shuffled back into the bedroom, had Michael and I don our bathrobes like Kimonos and revealed my surprise. We ate, with giddy delight in our eyes. After eating, I showered him with home-made gifts and brought out the film Spirited Away, his favorite film. I made him a tie and some pocket notebooks.

Recently, Ogie-bogue and I celebrated pajamas by staying in them all day. I did manage to put him into clean pajamas at bedtime. Surely you celebrate your pajamas? If not, you should. On this day we did a tiny bit of furniture rearranging. To my complete dismay, my large furniture is locked in place. Believe me, I’ve thought of everything. But dressers, side tables, and chairs are all mobile and find themselves in new places all of the time. I removed a stool from the bathroom and popped it next to the couch as a side table. Oren scaled it and scaled it again. Nothing is safe anymore, I am learning to not leave burning incense at his newly achieved level (incense can be replaced with: hot mug of tea, toast, scissors, plants, vases, and glue).

I am so excited that long sleeves are pulling themselves out of the closet, begging to be worn. The flannels practically grab my wrist each time I rifle for something to wear. And the sweatshirts. Oh the sweatshirts. Some people call Autumn “hoodie season”. And while I can get behind and in a nice hoodie, we need to be honest with ourselves. This is Harry Potter season. It might be guaranteed that our rarely used television is playing The Prisoner of Azkaban or The Deathly Hollows Part I on any afternoon. If I am caught spending any time indoors during this delicious season, you better believe it is because I need to visit Hogwarts. Speaking of long sleeves, how cute is this top I found for Bogie while thrifting the other day?

Perfect for layering. I wish it were in my size. Those buttons!

The view from here:

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Sleepy naptime toes. When he wakes, and the life returns to my legs, we are going to the garden to harvest tomatoes. Then we will work on the dough, make some calzone filling, and stir the sauce. Tonight, we engage in a rarity, we order dinner in. Indian food. Here’s to paneer tikka masala and enough naan to build a pathway to the moon.

Yours ’til the kitchen sinks,

Nicole


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Baking and parenting; one day condensed.

Are you like me? Before embarking on some medium-sized endeavor, do you have to find the perfect soundtrack? And consequentially wind up squandering 30 minutes or more of precious precious time? I am guilty. I sat down to write tonight, just now, and I thought, man, something chill to listen to would be really groovy. But what? So I checked NPR’s first listen and right there waiting for me was new Mazzy Star. So satisfying right now that I can’t believe I didn’t spend 45 minutes finding it. Ah, when things go impressively correct.

I have some pretty serious matters to discuss here today. So if you can’t handle the idea of some kitchen heat, well, then I suggest you back out now.

We need to talk about bread. Specifically, Tassajara bread. And more precisely, we need to talk about the documentary How to Cook Your Life. Enter: zen teacher, bread making, humor and genuine tears over a dented kettle. This film is beautiful. I watched it four times while I sewed one night. Honestly. I became so entranced with Edward Espé Brown’s hands. His hands are majestic and slow and so filled with intention. This man kneads dough the way I want to approach my entire life. He models what I strive with his hands only. It is a meditative practice, watching him knead. Instantly calming, spellbinding.

Enough adjectives, you get the point. I had to get a hold of a Tassajara Bread recipe and duplicate his technique in my own kitchen. I needed this peace in my canteen, needed to eat something so tranquilly tended. I do own a Tassajara cook book, but it is not Brown’s bread book, it is a vegetable cookbook. I googled. I found that The New York Times published a recipe in 1997. Tassajara Yeasted Bread  has been consumed so copiously in my home. So much in fact that after the initial two day bread binge, we must step back from bread baking for a moment. You don’t bake, you say? But I’ve got you interested? This is among the easier yeasted breads I’ve ever baked. No pre-heating a cast-iron or dutch oven; no ensuring billowing vapors of steam for perfect crust. Just mixing, kneading, time. Very few ingredients. So. So. So holy on the tongue.

This recipe yields two loaves.

The night before I start this bread, I mix my dry ingredients in separate bowls. I place the contents of two packets of yeast in my large mixing bowl, and cover. In a smaller bowl I measure out the dehydrated milk. I then measure out the first round of flour needed, 4 cups. Generally, we stick to the recipe, using whole-wheat flour and opting for molasses. Well, we were out of whole-wheat flour, save two cups. So the bread you will be seeing shortly is 2 cups whole wheat four, 5ish cups of unbleached all purpose flour. And I opted for honey this round as well.

So, morning of baking I measure out water that is at body temperature and no warmer. Very important. Hot water will kill your yeast. I stir my yeasty water a tadbit, then add the dry milk and honey. Stir a bit more. Work in, very slowly, the four cups of flour. I go about a half cup at a time, personally. Stir your 100 strokes. Let it rise. You have time to kill. Now is a good time to ensnare your baby and make a mess for a while. We went with painting.

Shortly after smearing your first colors about, Dingo-Pajama-Sandwich highly recommends sitting on top of the paper and wet paint. One really ought to ruminate on color combinations and he advises to do such pondering from a vantage point directly above the piece. Then step back for perspective. Perhaps now is a good time to have a tantrum about the lid to red shutting on you. Pace the drop cloth frantically while mama opens it and hands it back to you. Become a new man, and start afresh.

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Right about now you realize the whole bread thing is happening and frantically throw the baby into the bathtub and watch the water turn to mud. The baby will most likely slip, because he is pulling to stand on everything. His face will touch the water, he will remain unharmed, but it will ruin his day for the next ten minutes. Hoist blubbering grub from the muddy waters and clothe him. Return to the kitchen, give the clean screamer an empty wine bottle to roll around the kitchen and return to bread making.

At this point you add 4 teaspoons of salt, 1/3 cup of oil or butter, and 3 cups of flour, again gradually. Get your hands in there and mix it. When the dough loosens from the sides of the bowl, dump it onto a floured surface and knead. Use up to another cup of flour if it begins to stick. No sticking. To achieve that zen-kneading high, you may want to watch the documentary and work on your technique. I tried to find a video for you, but failed. It is simple yet specific. It matters where you put your hands, it matters how you roll and turn. It’s beautiful. You will lose yourself in it. Let the dough rise again, this time for an hour.

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Now is probably a good time for a nap. If you must, wrestle your youngin’ and coerce it to sleep. If you are like me, and your infant/child associates napping with nursing, simply make the sign for milk and ask him to come with you to the couch. Just the sight of the Boppy will have him bucking like a bronco and trampling his beloved cat to get to the source. He sleeps one hour, twice a day, so this timing couldn’t work out better. Smell the baby head and relish the moment, then get serious and rot/internet/read/knit for the next hour. Exhale.

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Wake. Your bread dough has doubled in size. You didn’t even have to do anything, it did it for you.

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Punch the dough down. It is spongy and responsive, alive. Let it rise again for 45 minutes. If I recall properly, Dougie stood up against every surface he could and I laid on the floor. He is in this phase where I need to be on the floor for him to be comfortable. He likes to check in. Crawl across me, touch a knee, kiss (slobber) my face. Then back to playing. So long as I am on the floor, he is content. It is a phase, I tell myself. Thankfully, the kitchen is full of many wonders and he will entertain himself here for 7 minutes before losing his cool. So what this looks like in my life is a lot of clean laundry straight onto the floor to be folded and trotted through. A lot of reading on the floor. Crawling on the floor. Living on the floor.

Return to bread. Cut into two small loaves. I implement a serrated knife. Transfer to a baking sheet and let them rest for 20 minutes. This recipe is 95% waiting, 5% work. Brush with your egg wash after the 20 minutes is up (do some stretching, on the floor of course, to pass the time) and bake at 350 degree Fahrenheit for one hour. Back to the floor, read books to baby. Talk about colors. Surely by now you’ve had lunch, so have a snack. Edamame and mango? Perfect. Gallop about with a baby doll on your back for laughs. Dance to grub’s favorite record.

If you want my opinion, don’t let the baby hands touch the turn table. It resulted in 23 minutes of hardcore battle. Real tears. I finally averted the boundary testing by balancing objects on my head, and accidentally allowing them to fall. Laughs through tearful gasps guaranteed.

Now comes the hardest part of all this baking bread business. This is where one must really roll up the sleeves and break a sweat. Pull the bread from the oven and let it cool fully before attacking it. That is right. You may not cut into it hot and fresh. Allowing it to cool will ensure the bread completes it’s cooking on the inside. It is painful. But give it an hour, let it cool off. Slice. Smear with butter, honey. Die a little. Watch the baby sign “more” over and over again bite after bite.

A true labor of love.

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The beginning of Summer’s end.

Today is a hott’n. I heard tell of a heat index of 100+ degrees F. Maybe even actual temperatures above a hundred. I’ve heard rumors that it’s a record-setting heat wave. Let me tell you, I promise, this “wave” has absolutely nada on last summer. Last summer was brutal. It was suffering. Oppressive heat waves that make this current spike in temperatures for three straight days (in August, shocking) look like an amateurs mic’ night. Last summer was days and days on and on forever and ever well above one hundred degrees. And I was horribly pregnant through it all. And swollen. Housebound. Whimpering. I couldn’t spend any amount of time outdoors without having to lay down afterwards. Bad. Bad. Bad heat. Back on the thought train, brain. I’ve let George in the house, because it’s hot and you know, we’ve finally cleared up the flea thing inside, so why not reintroduce a few of our jumpy friends?

He is such an affectionate beast, and so under-loved since becoming infested.

Michael is adjusting to a hectic class load and work schedule, and I am settling into a routine where co-parenting occurs in bursts. It is hard. Shout out to all my single parents, you are brave and solid human beings. My days can be exhausting, like every other person’s out there. I woke at a silly place in my sleep cycle this morning after having a hard time falling asleep last night due to members of the KU marching band. That frequent the bar around the corner from me. With their instruments.

Tired today, yes. Thoughts are bumbly-jumbly. Every day is good, and every day is bad, no? On my spectrum includes: a hysterical baby thrashing about at being told something was off limits, and a candle-lit dinner date with my Dingo, just the two of us. He held my hand as I said our blessing. So. Sweet. Cavity sweet. He then proceeded to devour two pieces of quiche and some blueberries. I even experienced one of those moments in parenting where one has to chuckle inside at the hilarity and tenderness wrapped up in one moment. In my case, it was Oren’s head on my shoulder as I held him before dinner (after he melted down due to pure starvation). I was sending a text message, he was watching from the crook in my neck, his big toe twirling about my nether regions.

I tried really hard to get a good picture of him today, here lies the progression (and success) of that:

Our first melon has been harvested with unbelievable success. We may never have the space to grow melon again and I’m pleased as punch we did so this year. We hauled in our largest melon off the patch last night. It weighed no less than 30 pounds. The anticipation as Michael cut into it was nuts. He sawed through the outer rind, and all I could see was white flesh and I murmured that if this melon wasn’t ripe that I was going to need sessions with a therapist. Fear not, the pink flesh of the melon appeared fast enough, and I squealed about the house, flailing and hunting for my camera. After Michael successfully halved the monstrosity, I plunged right in with a spoon. Warm. Sunny. Sweet. So unreal. So holy. Have you ever eaten something straight from the ground/vine/stem/stalk? It is truly holy. It is, I promise you, like eating sunshine directly. That is the only apt description.

Our entire bottom shelf of the fridge and both produce drawers plus two large tubs are all brimming with melon. Tomorrow we will be distributing it to our fellow gardeners and friends. I may lose sleep I’m so excited.

I did some re-arranging in my house. Mostly, my motivation was a photography styling challenge I am participating in, but my sad dining room was inspiration. I’ve been meaning and meaning to do some sprucing. Well, now that my dining room is more balanced my living room is missing a piece of furniture. It’s so off. And so funk. But the dining room is a dream and it makes everything okay. I’ll just drag the sofa into the dining/sewing/record player room. I’ll be doing more of a reveal of this space on the 1st of September. Reveal. Ha. Like the state of my dining room is causing you fitful moments.

I also received some highly anticipated mail today. I secretly daydream that our mail carrier delights in the volume of genuine correspondence coming and going from this house. I hope and hope that he relishes that our house utilizes the mail service for more than bills and recycling facility fodder. A friend from Chicago sent me a well-stocked envelope. This gal is the queen of the goody bag. Pure tiny-gift-giving royalty. I practically begged her to be pen pals with me after she moved north.

What loot! Every one needs one snail mail buddy, at the very least. It is essential to the soul. If you or someone you love is in need of a pen-pal, please, with all sincerity, send me a message. I would be so glad to write you/them.

Michael will soon be hopping onto his bicycle and heading home after his second shift of work today. There was a class in there too. So I should wrap this up and make sure the quiche that has been kept warm in the oven hasn’t gone to rubber.

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Readers, thanks for being here. Thank you for you support.

Take care, comb your hair,

Nicole


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Baby Project: complete with popped corn.

Dear reader,

Happy Tuesday.

Yesterday I went for a walk in the morning. Bologna Sandwich actually slept in his stroller, no small accomplishment given that the sidewalks in my neighborhood are largely brick-paved. It was warm, but not hot; breezy and bright. It was my notion to set the mood for the rest of the day. I believe that the morning’s energies impact the day’s attitude. So, good times before 10:00 am is equatable to an awesome day.

Thus, we walked. The moon was out. I found an acorn and I told it that it was a little early arriving. I passed a woman and an old beagle. I did some corresponding via cell phone.  And when I passed someone, I would stash away my phone and resume the airy demeanor of mother cracked out on pushing a baby in the stroller. I think it is a funny enough detail that I actually took a break from my phone when passing someone, but now I am telling you about it. I am laughing, honestly.

Notable stroll aside, today has been pretty nice: breakfast and dishes, an afternoon visit with a friend (who donated her hoard of fabric to my life), a nap, some lunch. Now Michael is home and he is going to bake banana bread, but is currently on the floor with the baby, telling him “don’t poke me in the nipple!”.

I am going to tell you about another small and funny blip about my life as I am living it. I engage in old school Pinterestin’ because I refuse to sign up for a Pinterest account. How does this work, you ask? It’s called the Bookmark Bar. I snapped today, at the absurdity of this, and signed up for a Pinterest in the name of having everything in one place. Now I have to transfer all of my links. Laughing, again.

The kitchen is a busy place, no? It’s a busy place in our house. Three meals a day and snacks. The dishes are forever and ever. Some glimpses of the past couple of days:

The cabinets are covered in the love rambles of Michael, for the most part. He gets pretty sentimental when he leaves home. One day he left a post-it note that was too cute to toss and it wound up on the cabinet. You can get a glimpse of one, it has a drawing of George snoozing in the top drawer of our dresser. And aren’t those popcorn kernels pretty?

I started sewing again, after coming off the birthday bender. I appliqued some infant bodysuits that I dyed earlier in the summer. The yellow onesie is from the turmeric dye bath and is destined for a home in the city. The gray is Rit dye. They are both thrifted pieces, which makes for interesting dyeing. A white bodysuit might appear stain free, but upon dyeing all kinds of stains come through as lighter patches of dye. This isn’t horrible, it’s just the way upcycling goes sometimes.

The rest of the day? Something invovling yarn. A load of diapers to put away. A cocktail. Pork for dinner. Sewing after (dingo’s) bedtime, reading before (my) bedtime. And almost certainly a lot of “not for Oren”, and “gentle touch” being uttered.

Good Tidings,

Nicole


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Moose, Goose, Boof.

Oren’s favorite words right now: “Moose (msse), Goose, (gsse) and Boof (bfff)”. They are sounds rather than words, but are such declarations. They almost always come out in a string together. It is pure baby poetry. He has also started socializing with strangers (heavily) since learning how to wave. Michael is working in the kitchen today, stocking the freezer with meals in preparation for this semester. So far: calzones and ravioli. He has also baked a batch of buttermilk biscuits. The calzones made it to the freezer before I could photograph them and the ravioli are under construction. He needs to get a move on and start whipping up some dinner (this is a joke, sort of).

While all of this cooking was under way, I engaged in some paper crafting and Dingo-Bologna placed every item at his level onto the floor (placed, threw, tomayto, tomahto). He received an abundance of wonderful books for his birthday, but he seems to be favoring Brown Bear, Brown Bear in board edition while I am unable to read On the Night You Were Born all the way through without suffering some form of emotional trauma. So Ogie read, I pasted, papa chopped.  A busy day.

Some other moments from this day include:

Morning garden baby, Lima beans and peppers drying in the sun, and an incredible skunk mask crafted by hand for Oren’s birthday (a shout out and thank you, Davidge!).

That is all for today and for now.

Moose. Goose. Boof.

Nicole

 

 


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Bottlin’ the ‘Booch.

As I am sure you have noted, I do my best to shy away from tutorials and how-to’s. The internet is full of these, most of them of a higher caliber than I care to dedicate myself to. This is especially true for Kombucha brewing. So, instead of walking you through the entire process, I’m going to allow you a gander at my set-up and throw in a sprinkling of information regarding the brewing process.

I fell in love with Kombucha when it was introduced to me a few years ago. A friend and I hit up a health food store in midtown Kansas City. She says to me: “Hey, try this tea, it’s filled with good stuff”. I trust her. I tried it, and oh my. The tart. The bite. The fizz. The flavorful fruity pairings. Hooked. Pricey, this stuff is. But so refreshing. After dabbling in a bottle here and there, I decided this year to take the plunge into home brewing my own Kombucha.

Agreeing with my intentions, the universe delivered a free scoby into my hands. After purchasing my brew jar, cheese cloth, and collecting bottles for storage, a trip to a farm in Fort Scott, Kansas yielded me my very first scoby. I intended to purchase a scoby (we’ll get to terms, fret not) the following day from a reputable seller online. However, the woman running this farm (with 6 children, no less) happened to brew Kombucha. Michael and I left the farm that day with five pounds of pastured beef, two pounds of raw butter, and one lively and lovely scoby.

Some Basics:

Kombucha is a fermented tea beverage. Under the utmost sterile conditions, one brews tea, sweetens it, brings it to room temperature, and drops in one scoby, adding a cup of already fermented tea (called “starter tea”) per gallon of tea being brewed. Ratios are important. You can learn about the entire process, beginning to end, at this website. Sometimes referred to as a mushroom, a scoby is not a fungus at all. The scoby is the vehicle for fermentation in this beverage. SCOBY is actually an acronym for symbiotic culture of yeast and bacteria. The yeast turns the sugar into alcohol, the bacteria ferments the alcohol. The bacteria is also responsible for increasing the acidity of the brew, inhibiting any harmful bacteria from growing in the batch. Sterility is important in the brewing process due to the delicate bacterial balance of the scoby.

Our set-up:

We brew in two gallon batches. We usually allow the tea to ferment for about two weeks, where upon we undertake bottling and a second fermentation at room temperature. Leaving the tea at room temperature after it has been bottled increases the effervescence of the beverage. We are big fans of the fizz around here. We also flavor our teas with dried herbs, fresh fruits, juices, and ginger. This batch we tried some new fruit flavorings. Mango, strawberry, blueberry, strawberry lemon, and strawberry mango. I am way excited to taste the mango.

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Finished brew.

This is our two gallon vat of tea that has been sitting at room temperature for two weeks. The scummy top floater is a new scoby. Each batch yields the production of a new scoby. Which makes it necessary to keep on hand a “scoby hotel”, or a place to store scobies when not in use. We find it useful to keep the extras. We like to give them away to share the brewing love. We’ve also discovered that it is vital to have a few healthy extras on hand should a batch go bad. A tip: don’t store your brewing tea in the kitchen. We lost a batch to mold this way.

Scoby Hotel

This is our scoby hotel. There are currently three scobies floating about this mason jar. The bubbles are part of the process. They are a sure sign that good things are happening. We’ve kept an eye out for bubbles in the making of our Kimchi and sauerkraut. It is a reassuring tipping point when the bubbles come out in your fermented goods. Here is a shot of the bubbles trapped under the scoby in the large vat we just bottled:

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It reminds me of bubbles trapped under ice. I am also very fond of the murky honey-colored quality the tea takes on as it brews.

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Here are a few shots from our bottling today:

Michael undertakes all of the sterilizing involved. We use boiling water and vinegar for the bottles and tools. Then work surfaces get scrubbed. I generally do flavoring prep, scoby handling, and bottling. We will start a new batch of tea today, which will take another two weeks. Coincidentally it takes us about two weeks to go through two gallons of tea, so it works out perfectly.

Writing today from a very soggy Kansas,

Nicole