Camping with no camp bed or inflatable lying more or less on the ground is not very comfy. I feel like someone has been jumping on me wearing football boots. However I slept well because I was so exhausted every night. We walked miles and clambered over fences through hedges waded through swamps … OK so a couple of creeks but you know, luxury this was not!  However, fun it most certainly was! I don’t think we’ve laughed so much as a family ever and we laugh a lot as a family.  I don’t think we ever felt so close either, it was beautiful just being out in the middle of nowhere walking and talking no technology, just each other and the scenery for company.

The time passed too quickly and I ate a jam and cream scone. Thought I would sneak that one in. Mostly though we ate soup, tasty cartons of nice soup low in everything and given some substance by following it with lots of fruit. I was hungry quite a bit so I think I might have a good weight loss this week as I imagine my calorific intake and volume of food was rather lower than it has been of late.

Today we left my daughter to enjoy her own space again and we returned home ready to start back at work and school. It’s been a tremendous summer break, I have loved every minute of it even though now it all seems like a dream and as if it passed in a few moments. Only the heap of laundry, a mish mash of salty sandy beach wear and muddy wind blown camping gear,  bears testament to the past couple of weeks having been a reality.

Tomorrow I’m only in work for a couple of hours,  our students are back next week but there is prep to do for those first days when we’ll be putting the new intake through their paces, enthusing and orientating them. Even though there have been induction days already, there are many who haven’t attended and who will be in need of some familiarisation, so now starts the political mine field of ascertaining who is going to do what. I’m easy I’ll do as much as I can possibly fit in, it’s all very much worth it. It helps settle students and helps with building an early rapport both of which help tremendously with classroom management and engagement.

My son is back to school the day after and we swung into town before we left my daughter to pick him up a new uniform. I had to leave it until the eleventh hour as he’s been growing at a crazy rate this summer, if I had bought it at the beginning of the holidays he would be going to school looking like Bruce Banner after he’d been made angry.

We had a nice journey back by train which I spent responding to work emails and my son spent arranging his social life. His pre-start back excitement has begun with friends all busy messaging one another arranging meet ups and trying to coordinate buses and journeys. He’d missed out on some of it as we were technology-less while we were camping and so he had lots to come back to and I think that added to the fun. He also helped arrange a final summer holiday day out tomorrow for a big group of them so he’s looking forward to that and the weather promises to be good for them too. This will be his last full year at school, even though they have raised the age of compulsory participation in mandatory education in England now to 17 (it was previously 16) and his is the first year it affects, he will continue at college for his A levels. His next academic year is cut short as those who are taking their GCSE’s (General Certificate of Secondary Education) have their final year (year 11) cut short as most teaching is done and exams sat by the Easter break or not long after. Time flies once the kids are in school, it’s that breaking up of the year into three chunks that does it I think, it feels like only yesterday when I headed off to take him to school for the first time in the snow when he started one cold January morning back in 2004.

Nick’s going to come and visit at the weekend all being well. I had a few texts from him when we arrived back with civilisation. I assured him we’d survived and then had a good catch up chat this evening. We had a takeaway this evening for dinner. I was too tired to start cooking and so we had what I’d seen in the Times newspaper a good few years ago the takeaway which was voted the most healthy by far, a chicken shish kebab with salad. It was lovely and I avoided the chips and garlic sauce and opted for some chilli and a big glass of kambucha to get my system flushed with the stuff again. I’ve not had any for ages and I do feel less ‘bright’ without it. I do feel it is a real tonic for me if nothing else. I also downed a big glass of kefir which had my gut rumbling like an old washing machine within about half an hour but it settled and I’m sure it’s doing its thing.

Both of the cultures survived neglect just fine and at least now I know that I can leave them unattended for a while with no damage (it’s like having pets culturing food). My wheat grass had been harvested before we left so I’ve set a new batch now and my veg patches are ready to be harvested of spinach and lettuce so there will be lots of green salads going on this week.

Back to Darren tomorrow, I was supposed to go today but just had zero energy when we arrived home, it was all I could manage to do the laundry so it’s been a very lazy day for me but back at it tomorrow. I think I deserved a rest day that hill walking was gruelling, I’m not sure I was fit enough for it but I did it, it was tough though but a challenge I’m glad I accepted and didn’t back down from.


Kambucha and Kefir. Time for an Update.

It’s a while since I updated on my progress with Kambucha and Kefir brewing/fermenting.Kombucha brewing with white and green tea

I’ve just had to down size for a while to a smaller brewing jar (the one I originally used way back when I started this adventure) as I’m stockpiling Kambucha.

My SCOBY was originally a thin, slithery disc of bacteria and yeast and even though I frequently shed the bottom layer and keep the new baby SCOBY that forms on top my SCOBY has thrived to become a big, thick, heavy disk of the good stuff.  This picture shows it upside down the new layers are on the bottom and you can see they are paler with the older layers being stained darker brown from the 2014-07-28 19.46.12black teas I’ve more recently used. You can see all of the strata of each new SCOBY being produced and how the underside (the oldest bit on top in this pic) starts to wear out (for want of a better word). It looks pretty ghastly but rest assured it does (or is reported to do) good things. You can’t tell from the picture but this is over two inches thick so was due a trim down. The rate your SCOBY reproduces shows that it’s healthy and happy.

I decided it was time to cut it down a bit as I’ve noticed more recent batches are quite vinegary to taste before the fruit is added for the second ferment in the bottles and I figure it might be because of the sheer volume of bacteria and yeast working in synergy with the sugary tea. It was still drinkable just very zingy and made your eyes water.

All I did was sterilise a smaller jar and brew up less of a mix of white and green teas and add the sugar and then I sterilised (with boiling water) a pair of kitchen scissors and cut through the SCOBY to make it more of a size to fit in the smaller jar. I peeled off a few layers but still left it quite thick and covered with a cloth (cut up old school shirts) to prevent fruit flies.fruit fly trap

Fruit flies do come too, make no mistake but I took advice and made a trap using a small new SCOBY a funnel made of a leaflet and a tall glass and a drop of the Kambucha tea, I placed it near the brewing jar and it trapped all of those pesky flies within minutes. If you have this problem then do make a trap, they work and they will save your SCOBY from infection and death and the rest of your home from the pesky blighters. I did find that it worked much better with a bit of SCOBY in it than just with some of the tea so do try to nick a little piece off.

I can’t say that I have noticed any further effects from drinking Kambucha, I’ve been doing it every day now for months and it definitely doesn’t do me any harm, I will tell you one strange thing which happened when I first started drinking it (avoid if you don’t like TMI). About half an hour after consumption I had a tingling feeling in my boobs, a little bit like when milk’s coming in when you are breastfeeding. It was quite strange and I noticed it always happened half an hour after drinking Kambucha, it was like someone flushing something through my milk ducts, only nothing came out. This stopped after a  week or so. The odd thing was (again this could be coincidence given all of the other things I changed at the same time) I had had a residual problem from my child bearing days and since breastfeeding my son 14 years ago. When I weaned him I had one ‘outlet’ that took longer to stop producing than the others and then it developed a kind of abscess but this was tiny and when it was treated with topical antibiotics it cleared but then I had a very slight thick creamy build up every now and then and the doctor said it was an over active duct and it was nothing to worry about… anyway that’s not doing the creamy build up thing anymore after all these years. I’ve been checked out recently and there are no problems of any kind so … make of it what you will. Another thing, I’ve needed my gall bladder removing for ages and it bloated up now and then but that hasn’t happened since I started drinking Kambucha which is reported by some to be a very powerful detox especially for the liver.

Photo from http://www.culturedfoodlife.com/how-to-second-ferment-kefir/
Photo from http://www.culturedfoodlife.com/how-to-second-ferment-kefir/

I’ve been drinking Kefir every day in the morning and then I use it to add to things like smoothies and I did manage to make some Kefir soft cheese but I didn’t like it. I do second ferment it with flavours especially citrus fruit rinds or I leave it in the fridge to set thick like a yoghurt and I have it half and half with fromage frais or yoghurt on fruit. Again I don’t know if it was this or not but I definitely have less energy when I forget to drink it (only happened twice). I used to have IBS and don’t anymore, from day two of drinking it and I never have heartburn or indigestion anymore either. My first day resulted in some loud lower gut grumblings and a rather unusual visit to the toilet at high speed but I think that was possible a bit of a purge and since then it’s all been healthy and regular as clockwork. What Kefir does basically is colonise your gut with healthy probiotic bacteria so aids digestion and absorbtion of nutrients and is though to contribute to better bowel health and general health all round.

Another thing I have definitely noticed and this is supposed to be attributable to kefir and kambucha consumption is my nails are really strong and silky, they look permanently like they have a sheen clear varnish on them. My hair is also really growing quickly and is very thick and glossy, you’ll see when I eventually do the reveal of before and after, my hair was very thin and fine and now it’s like it was in my  youth, very thick and bouncy.  Again there are tons of nutrients which claim to have these same effects on the body and I’m consuming tons of nutritious things so it could be something else but I’m not going to stop as it’s not doing me any harm and they both have proven health benefits which I’m keen to include in my diet.

My culture grew and grew, from those first little grains to the cauliflower type cultures I2014-07-28 19.50.35 have now. It’s so easy, yet sounds so complex to ferment Kefir and Kambucha, it’s so easy, about the same hassle as making a cup of tea or less.

The massive Kambucha SCOBY and the expired SCOBYs are also evidently fantastic to chop up and throw into a compost heap which is what I do with them, they add tons of nutrients which are good for the composting process by all accounts. Even though I extol the virtues of this fab white stuff too I can’t get any takers for my excess so I break it off and throw that in the compost heap too.

Kambucha is Ready

I was told to pop the top of the bottle after a couple of days to see if the Kambucha liquid popped like a champagne cork and if it did it was ready and to start consuming it so the bottles didn’t explode.

I set the bottles into a big plastic bowl just in case they did explode the mess would be minimised (top tip right there).

So today I popped a bottle and sure enough the tight seal eventually gave way and there was a lovely champagne cork pop, loud and Imageclear. So I released the gas on the other bottles (not sure I should have but it made sense to stop them exploding as I can’t drink it all in one go) and then hurried to the kitchen with my first ever bottle of Kambucha, brewed using my Ebay bought Kambucha SCOBY, organic green tea, organic apple cider vinegar and granulated refined white sugar, then fermented in the bottle with a home made raspberry and blueberry puree.

I poured it into the glass and it fizzed, like a regular fizzy drink and I sniffed it and it smelled slightly acidic (the vinegar) and I drank a good glug of it. It was nice! That alien looking mushroom thing had produced something pleasant tasting, it was very sweet, slightly acidic as I said and different but nice.

The first batch has to be made with apple cider vinegar to regulate the acidity, thereafter you use a cup of the previous brew for this so the second batch next week should not have that vinegar ting to it that this batch had, but having said that it wasn’t offensive. I guess the key is to use a good quality organic apple cider vinegar and not just a regular vinegar, had I used distilled vinegar I think it would have been undrinkable.

I had a 500ml bottle which had only been part filled so I probably had around 400ml in total which I didn’t realise at the time really exceeds what is recommended but I’m still alive, I’ll let you know later if I suffer any ill effects.

So far I’m feeling good, it was a few hours ago now since I took it and as recommended I washed it down with a pint of water. I’ve read so much about this stuff, its healing properties through detoxification, some of it is contradictory but I picked out the advice I felt was most common and which came from the most reputable and trusty sources and most said that as it does have detox properties it is wise to follow with a good big glass of filtered water to flush through and help the body remove the toxins it ejects, particularly those from the liver and kidneys.

I have noticed a slight rise in temperature but I experience that when I juice with kale and celery and also when I start a healthy eating plan which is rich in fruits and vegetables and know that it’s my body detoxing and it will settle after a day (I’m confident in that as I’ve felt it so many times before).

In some ways I’m glad I have the temp rise as it shows that even though I’ve been more or less clean living for over a fortnight now there was still some inner cleansing to be done.

Photo from http://www.culturedfoodlife.com/how-to-second-ferment-kefir/
Photo from http://www.culturedfoodlife.com/how-to-second-ferment-kefir/

Of course this morning I also had Kefir, it seems to have really established now, my grains are really big and strong and the milk produced is very tangy, much more pleasant tasting than in the early days and has a light effervescence too. I have no doubt at all that even though the main health benefit of Kefir is to place colonising good healthy bacteria into the gut and so aid digestion and colonic health, it has either directly or indirectly (by allowing my body to better absorb and use nutrients) contributed to so many health benefits.

I’m definitely more lively and have more energy, my sleep is deeper, more relaxed and refreshing (even though I’ve yet to regulate the times it happens), my appetite is reduced, I have a much clearer head, no bloating, no IBS, no heartburn, no acid reflux. OK so some of these can also be attributed to other aspects of my fruit and vegetable heavy diet but even so, there’s something going on that doesn’t normally happen when I follow such an eating plan.

One of the alleged benefits of Kambucha which really, really appealed to me is that it is a natural antibiotic and protects against illness but also that it cleans out any bad additives to food such as chemicals on fresh foods in the way of pesticides and such. Now if this is true than I will feel so much better about what I eat in future as I worry a fair bit about the crap that is on the good stuff.

My father died of liver disease at a young age and one of my brothers died at a young age of colon cancer metastases on the liver and lungs and anything which helps me avoid either of those two evils is worth a shot.

I’ll let you know how it goes from here.

Kambucha Update

So it’s a week since I started to brew my first batch of Kambucha and today I got to bottle it and get the next batch brewing.

It appears that my SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast) thrived in the last batch and it grew a lovely fresh layer which my daughter swears breathed as I scooped it out which made her spontaneously throw up all over the kitchen floor.. lovely. Be warned this is not for the faint hearted. It looks worse than it is, it feels like a lump of fat to be honest, not mushroomy as some people say and not slimy.

Of course it didn’t breathe, it had expanded and formed a bit of an air lock and as I scooped it out it kind of made a deflating sound.

I’d previously sterilised all of the utensils I was going to use (just used a big plastic bowl and sterilising fluid) and I included a plastic tray which I laid the SCOBY on so I could do as recommended and check for any signs of infection or death (black spots, mould anything odd or unusual from when I bought it). There were no such marks and all looked and smelled fine and healthy.

ImageYou can have Kambucha neat but it was recommended to fruity it up at the bottling stage (not before) and so I made my own fruit syrup using some fresh raspberries and blackberries cooked, squeezed through a sieve and zapped with a hand blender for a second.

I popped a couple of teaspoons of each into each sterilised bottle and then using a metal jam funnel I part filled each bottle (I used four 500ml swing top self sealing bottles) careful to leave space in each so that when the liquid ferments it doesn’t expand and break the bottle.

I also saved a cup of the Kambucha to use in my next batch as directed. This maintains the correct acidity. In your first batch ever you use Apple Cider Vinegar to achieve this same acidity. I made my new brew using a mixture of organic teas. My last one was green tea this new one is a mix of half and half white and green organic teas. White shouldn’t be used on its own as it doesn’t produce a strong enough flavour so has to be mixed with green or black teas. I chose white and green because of their own health giving properties regardless of the Kambucha.

I gave each bottle a quick tilt back and forth to work in the fruit syrup, topped them off and set them in a dark place to further ferment for 4 or 5 days. What happens is they produce gas which causes a natural effervescence, if this gets too much for the bottle to handle it will explode so it’s worth checking every day simply by opening the bottles and if they pop like a fizzy drink would they are ready to drink. They should then be allowed to release excesses of the gas daily and stored in the fridge.

So now I wait and now I’m in a routine of doing this every Saturday to keep a batch always brewing and another fermenting. It is recommended that you consume 4 fluid ounces of Kambucha per day to feel health benefits and if you are on a weight loss programme you take 4oz before each meal.

I have read warnings that for a small minority of people, Kambucha does not agree with them and it makes them feel unwell and have been advised to stick to 4oz for the first few days and if I feel mild side effects to continue as it could be the detoxification process or a natural reaction to accustoming a very unhealthy body to the good stuff, but if side effects continue after 3-4 days to stop taking it and consider that I am one of the few who can not use Kambucha.

Funny how the kids suddenly became interested in it when it was this lovely shade of pink in the bottles. They run away from it when it’s the brown murky colour in the fermenting jar.

I’ll be sure to let you know how it tastes in a couple of days and how it affects or doesn’t affect me, good and bad. I should take delivery of my second large fermenting jar so I can produce more of the stuff next week. I did have a 5 litre jar but I poured boiling water into it to sterilise it and it cracked :S Silly me.