Kombucha Tea for Great Health

 

A few months ago I tried some kombucha tea.  I heard it was pretty good for your gut/tummy and thought that as a celiac, it might help…so why not give it a try. I bought a 16 ounce bottle of berry flavor.  It was pretty tasty, great zing to it. Tried another flavor, ginger…loving how my tummy felt after drinking half a bottle.  So I did some research on kombucha tea.  Sounds mysterious but it turns out to be an ancient Chinese beverage, around for thousands of years with many claims to promoting improved health. Made of sweetened black tea that is fermented to create this fizzy liquid probiotics elixir which many credit their good health to.  The yeast in the scoby which is like a vinegar mother feed off of the sugar in the tea.  When it is finished brewing the tea doesn’t taste like tea and the sugar is all gone.  Magical!

This is one of the sites I went to; lots of easy to understand information and pictures of this product and the process of making it. http://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-make-kombucha-tea-at-home-cooking-lessons-from-the-kitchn-173858.  Here is a quote from that site about the benefits of kombucha tea: “Kombucha is indisputably full of probiotics and other happy things that our intestines love and that help boost our overall health.”  kombucha tea

A bottle of kombucha tea is about $3.50 to $4.  That can add up fast when you drink a half bottle pretty much every day. So I did some more research and decided to learn how to make my own. Finding that kombucha tea is simple was a relief but I had some trouble finding the kombucha scoby which is like a vinegar mother; it is a miraculous probiotics factory in the shape of a flat white/beige rubbery mushroom like object.  It is sort of weird looking.  It floats on the surface of the tea during fermentation.  It covers the entire surface of the tea in its bottle and many think it protects the tea from air and contaminants. It is made of cellulose plus many helpful yeasts and those probiotics we should to have in our tummies working overtime for a happy belly. Since I couldn’t find anyone selling it locally I did yet more research and discovered I could create my own scoby.  All it took was a bottle of original unflavored and unpasteurized raw kombucha tea, some sweetened black tea, a big glass jar, and some patience.

It is quite simple; put the store bought kombucha tea in the big, well-washed jar, add the room temperature sweetened home made black tea and cover the lid with a paper towel fastened on with a rubber band.  Put in a dark place where direct sun doesn’t hit it and wait.  Wait 2 weeks; wait up to another 2 weeks. Over that time, the scoby miraculously forms on the surface of the black tea/kombucha mixture. It starts as a bubble film that grows thicker and more opaque over time.  Bingo, you got a scoby. With it you can make your own kombucha tea week after week.  Here is a link to the site I got my information on; very comprehensive I think. http://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-make-your-own-kombucha-scoby-cooking-lessons-from-the-kitchn-202596

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My kombucha scoby resting on a plate while I wash out it’s big bottle, kinda creepy looking I know but think of it as a home probiotic factory!

I make a half gallon at a time, saving one cup for my next batch.  It takes about 7 to 10 days for the tea to complete the fermentation process. Once you have a scoby the process is very similar but shorter than growing a scoby. I put a cup of kombucha tea in my big gallon jar containing the scoby; add room temperature sweetened black tea.  Put it in your non-sunny location, about 70 degrees is the perfect temperature. Let it stand so the yeast in the scoby can digest all of that sugar in the black tea. Taste and see if it is to your liking and then decant and start a new batch. I put mine in clean pint jars and put them in the same semi-dark location for a day to get fizzy.  Then in the fridge they go to chill. I normally drink the entire bottled batch by the time a new batch is ready. No leftovers!

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Kombucha tea freshly bottled

I find it a refreshing light taste, a bit like cider vinegar but more flavorful and not as sour. I love the taste of it and how wonderful it makes my tummy feel. Great if you have celiac, leaky gut, Crohns, stomach ulcers, or any other digestive problem. Some folks claim it helps arthritis and depression, which may or may not be so. The best part of choosing kombucha tea is that the probiotics in this ancient brew stay in your system rather than flushing daily as the probiotics in yogurt or pills do.  It is a natural way to promote a healthy gut.  And who doesn’t want one of those!

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Here is my kombucha scoby doing it’s job; nearly ready to bottle.

I know the whole process seems weird – to use a scoby to make kombucha tea and if that throws you, I suggest you just buy the tea at the store and enjoy without the make it yourself experience.  But if you are like me and love DIY projects, this is an easy one to give a try.  Have some kombucha tea and have a happy tummy!

PS: You might want to strain the tea right before you drink it; can be some little blobbies which are baby scobies trying to form. Ick I know but that tells you that your kombucha is healthy. I strain it into my drinking glass.

FYI: I do sell the scobies on craigs list as mine gets thick and needs to be split so I sell extra scobies which makes my kombucha tea basically free.  Great deal.  Great tasting beverage. Great for your gut.

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Time to End Cross Contamination on GF Labeled Foods

As much as I love Aldi’s (See my last two posts!) I have a peeve with them and also with Trader Joe’s.  I ate some mini edemame chips a friend gave me last week, the packet said GF on it  When I got done I went back and read that it was made on a processing line that might have had contact with wheat.  Gross as I had eaten the whole bag over a few days snacking.  Not the first time that has happened.  When people give me gifts that say GF on them I tend to have my guard down and feel safe to consume.  Not a good situation.  Happened with those pea pod snap crackers a few months ago too…

This sort of issue is pretty common at both Aldi’s and Trader Joe’s. Many times I put food items back on the shelf after scanning the package and finding words of shared processing equipment. I can’t buy much of their nuts, dried fruits or seeds due to the shared equipment.  Most of them don’t say GF on them but honestly, I expect a jar of plain roasted peanuts or plain almonds to be GF, not to mention dried fruit.  It is so disappointing to look at the package and see those fatal words of possible cross contamination. aldi' nuts

FYI: GF means no wheat, rye or barley of any form or version in the ingredients 20 ppm (parts per million) gluten in it.  Cross contamination is when my normally safe food picks up tiny amounts of gluten from the processing equipment because it was previously used to process food that contains gluten i.e. Wheat/rye/barley flour or grain.

Anyone who knows celiac disease knows that cross contamination is a major issue for celiac persons.  I generally don’t buy food that has that possible contamination disclaimer on the package.  If you have celiac you try to avoid even small amounts of gluten as they have such a terrible effect on your body.  So the possibility of even a tiny bit is enough to make me reluctantly put back chips, nuts, etc.  Who wants to spend good money on food that you end up pitching or giving away because of a slight amount of gluten that is making you feel terrible?

Aldi’s, and to some extent Trader Joe’s, make a big deal out of catering to gluten free eaters.  The biggest and most vocal group is those of us with celiac.  We have to avoid anything with 20 ppm or more of gluten in our food, some get sick even at that low level of contamination. I am very careful to avoid any possible gluten.  I get pretty sick and if it happens again within a week or two I feel even worse the second time.  God forbid it happens a third time….

If you put that “GF” labeling on your package of food I am trusting that it will be safe for me, someone with celiac disease.  A tiny bit of gluten is still terrible for me. That label is misleading if there is even a small chance of contamination due to shared processing lines. Telling me “No gluten ingredients used” is simply NOT enough.

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This is the back of the bag for those edamame crackers.  See the shared equipment statement? And their No Gluten Ingredients Used marker?

So why, do they use the same equipment that processed gluten containing products?  Why not have dedicated GF foods only equipment?  It makes a lot of sense to all of us who’s lives depend on eating safely every. single. day. This is not a “choice” this is a life style for our very survival.  You mess with that when you label food as GF which for me means totally safe.  And yet….it might not be safe for a celiac due to this cross contamination issue.  I can’t even understand how they can use that label if there is a cross contamination possibility due to shared equipment.  If you want the right to put GF on your package you darn well better create it in a gluten free environment and that means equipment that NEVER processed gluten containing foods.  It is very difficult to fully clean this equipment to return it to a fully gf state.

Time for both Aldi’s and Trader Joe’s to clean up their act and use only dedicated GF equipment for foods that normally do not contain gluten products.  May is National Celiac Awareness Month; a perfect time to come clean both of you, Aldi’s and Trader Joe’s.  Just do it.  We with celiac will eat safer and buy more gf foods at your stores. I promise.

The Perils of Eating Out…

Everyone loves to eat out.  So nice to have someone cook for you, no dishes, right?  Well, if you have celiac disease you must avoid even tiny amounts of gluten. So eating out is sadly a huge problem in this geographic area as there are very few restaurants that have a real gluten free menu.  If we were in California, that’s another story; most every restaurant there has a gf menu and they know what they are doing.  Here in the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania it is not like that.  Most of the times I get glutened I am eating in a restaurant, food that was allegedly prepared for me knowing I have celiac.  And yet I get sick sometimes. Why is that I wonder?

I was glutened just recently and since this place has a gluten free menu I felt it shouldn’t have happened. I have eaten there several times safely in the past three years. Great food generally. I know the chef was in so it wasn’t like someone was subbing for him.  I have asked and am told they have separate pots for gluten free pasta.  I didn’t get desperately ill; call it medium sick so I know it’s not like they served me regular pasta.  But there must have been some form of definite contamination. Bummer.  The thing is, when restaurants go to the trouble of having a gf menu and serving great safe gluten free foods they are providing an important service.  People with celiac celebrate birthdays, events, anniversaries, have dates or just get sick of eating at home. There are so few places one can eat dinner out; it would be a shame to no longer go to my once favorite restaurant.  It took me six days to get over this moderate illness from my dinner out.  Six days of tummy pain and not feeling myself.  It is something I take seriously as the problem is not just the pain, it is the damage to my digestive system.  It can cause cancer and a whole host of diseases when you get glutened again and again.

So, I want to go over a few basic facts to remind folks who say they serve gf food what that should be like.  Maybe that place will read it and take some notes!

Pasta: If you have gf pasta on your menu you need a separate pot for boiling the pasta, separate strainer, separate colander and separate spoons.  You can NOT use the same water for gf pasta that you were making regular pasta in.  You can not use the same colander or strainer; tiny gummy bits of pasta stick in the holes and it is incredibly difficult to get them completely clean.  You can’t use the same baking dishes to make gf baked goods like muffins or cake; the tiny crumbs that remain even after a good washing are a major source of contamination.  Twenty parts per million, yes I said Million are considered contaminated food that a person with celiac disease cannot tolerate.  We are not exaggerating, we really, really need you to be careful.

Spices and Herbs: You can’t use spice blends as they often have flour in them.  But you can use single spices like cinnamon, paprika, ginger, etc.  I find much gf menu choices to be incredibly bland and lacking in any spices or herbs.  How drab.fresh herbs All fresh herbs are safe, so are typical dried ones like basil, oregano, thyme, sage, etc. Just skip the blends, or make your own, I do. All single McCormack spices are all safely gluten free.  I have  made gf homemade taco seasoning, garam masala and other blends.  Garlic is safe and adds a lot of flavor. Sometimes I am served a bone plain tomato sauce with not a single kind of herb or garlic.  That is just not appetizing. For anyone.  Why should folks with celiac have to eat drab boring bland food? Shouldn’t!  mcCormick spices

Misc. Ingredients: You can’t use butter from a common stick or dish; the knife that dips there might have touched regular bread.  Not safe for anyone with celiac. You can’t use the same mayo or mustard jar for the same reason.

Meats and more : Avoid meats that are sold in a marinade solution.  Ditto for poultry like whole turkeys or chickens. Unless the label says gf don’t get any meat in a marinade as they are more often than not unsafe for someone with celiac.

breadcrumbsMisc. Stuff: No regular bread crumbs; they sell gf ones, get some or grind up dry gf bread.  The canned broth stores sell is a contamination issue; wheat is in them for some darn reason.  But, there are safe brands; find one and stick to it. Or make your own which is far cheaper and there is no real reason for wheat flour in broth.

Okay, Restaurant Chefs: now that I have covered the basics; you know what you need to do.  Just stick to these simple rules for cooking your gluten free menu items. And do it every single day you are open.  So I don’t get sick again. Plus, you will be rewarded with repeat gluten free customers who tell all their gf friends to come to your place for a safe gluten free meal.  I know I share great eating places with others on social media and so do others.   Just please make it actually safe if you say it is gluten free on your menu.

I feel like sending a copy of this post to every restaurant within 40 miles of Hellertown.  Maybe I will!

 

There Is Support Out There!

This is a brief post for anyone who hasn’t found a support group to help them deal with celiac disease.

If you are looking for help in adjusting to celiac disease and are active on facebook there are several national and international celiac support groups you can join.  I am in a few and find them helpful in a variety of ways: people post concerns and others respond with ideas or answers.  Recipes get posted, menu ideas shared as well as discussions on the safety of a wide variety of processed foods from rice mixes to chips to teas and a thousand foods in between.  You can put up pictures of tasty food you are serving, ask about places to dine out gf on vacation and share how your meals out went.  If you desire you can get personal; discuss your symptoms, treatments and test results in detail with others who suffer similarly. gluten free

Some of these are international and some more USA based. Just ask to be added, I have never been turned down by a group and you don’t have to post anything, just treat it as another good celiac resource.

The ones I know about are:

www.facebook.com/groups/glutenfreeconnections/

www.facebook.com/groups/community.glutenfree/

www.facebook.com/groups/Celiacdiseasesupport/

and one for low sugar types: www.facebook.com/groups/481501942001602/

Check them out. I doubt you will regret joining one and the wealth of support is a real boon when you feel “oh so alone” in your gluten free status.

There are also local chapters of national celiac organizations; just google and check them out.

Another site I like is glutenfreephilly.com.  gluten free phillyI used that site to find a great restaurant in Philadelphia last week for dinner after the flower show.  Had used it once before – works all over PA, NJ and Delaware.

It sure can’t hurt to have more  resources for help especially if you are new to being gluten free.

Why This Blog….

Let me provide some minor clarifications for those who had questions about me and my blog.  Yes, I have celiac disease, diagnosed 2.5 years ago but probably sick for 3 years before; getting worse until the docs started seriously looking for a cause.  And yes, I had it as a kid; why I always had a tummy ache, couldn’t get to sleep, couldn’t gain any wait, thin as a rail and very anxious.  Bunch of other symptoms we won’t mention here for brevity’s sake. Illness disappeared by age 18 (no one could figure that one out back then) and did not return until serious stress about 5 years ago. This is not that uncommon with childhood celiac.

I do have one person in my family who has celiac, rest claim not.  I have my doubts. It does run in families.  I wish they would all get tested.

I never ever post recipes that I haven’t made myself.  Most recipes are versions of ones I have found in cookbooks or on line say at foodnetwork.com.  I seldom make a recipe exactly as it originally is.  I am a collector of cookbooks but I have gotten rid of a lot of baking ones.  They made me sad.  I have several new gf ones I am fond of.

I eat lots of vegetables and fruits: adore them but not fond of creamed corn, stewed tomatoes or succotash. Love potatoes, pasta and some beans. I do eat some sort of meat protein most days but completely enjoy a well crafted vegetarian entree.  I am not fond of raw proteins.  Nope. Nor organ meats or wild critters like rabbit or snake.  Not tried alligator yet.  Love elk, or deer and accept all donations of excess frozen venison. And yes, I love baking pies and muffins….made some apple muffins last night!

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Love cooking, love sharing food, love sharing recipes, that’s me.  Enjoy writing an awful lot; gives me a real rush to share my own posts.  I do this for that joyful moment when I push the publish button.  I hope I help educate those without celiac and give food/meal ideas to those who cook for someone with celiac.  Cooking should be fun as well as creative.  Substituting stuff for things you don’t have is okay! Being celiac is a challenge, not a death sentence.  I eat great and feel fantastic and I think that shows in many areas of my life.   My motto is Cook, Eat, Love and Write.  I cook so you have something great to eat!

Cross Contamination…A Serious Issue for Celiacs

I believe a little information is necessary on this issue as it seems like many people do not realize that the problem of cross contamination is huge for celiacs.  Hence this post to try and clear up this issue for the general public. Cross contamination is when minute amounts of gluten get in food that normally does not contain gluten.  Like in my hash browns cooked on your grill in the same area you recently made wheat based pancakes.  It means that we celiacs can get really ill from that dusting of flour on your counter that gets on the bottom of our gf pizza slice, those crumbs left in the lettuce when you yanked the croutons off my salad or the sunflower seeds in my granola; which seeds were processed on equipment that also processes wheat, barley, or rye.

Even a tiny amount of gluten is enough to cause major health problems for people with the severe gluten allergy which anyone with celiac disease lives with every day of their life. For many celiacs it is a lot like if you got a severe stomach virus.  This is not a pretend illness nor is this is not a diet we are on for losing weight.  For those of us with celiac it is serious and important and we need you to understand why we have such concerns about cross contamination.

A great explanation of cross contamination is near the start of a well written article posted by an engineer with celiac: https://blog.safaribooksonline.com/2015/02/01/gluten-free-celiac/. I suggest you read what he has said on cross contamination.  The rest of his article is very good too.  He and his child both have celiac and his articulate description of celiac and how to live with it are worth the few minutes it will take to read.

This severe reaction to even a tiny amount of gluten is no exaggeration.  I had trouble getting it at first.  When I went gluten free due to my diagnosis with celiac I just didn’t understand cross contamination.  I thought that as long as the ingredients in my food did not include wheat, rye or barley I was safe.  I found out otherwise the hard way, several times, in several ways.

I recently had to give away a huge batch of homemade granola because the sunflower seeds I added for extra flavor were cross contaminated.  Even the few seeds in my sprinkling of granola over yogurt were enough to bring on major symptoms this Christmas season. The peanuts I bought at Giant, store brand, the label says – processed on equipment that may process wheat.  I didn’t know notice or think about that sentence until I got ill and read the fine print on the label.

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Until those several incidents within one week, I had kinda pooh paahed cross contamination as an exaggeration or maybe just pretty rare to deal with.  Nope. It happens frequently and it is serious.  Getting ill from gluten poisoning causes damage to the small intestine. It can lead to a number of diseases and health issues including MS, diabetes, cancer and rheumatoid arthritis. None of which I want to contract.

So I will continue to read the fine print and be skeptical of a number of food items that are often processed on equipment that handles gluten containing grains.  A while ago I threw away some oat flour as it made me ill, not sure why at the time but now I realize it is the cross contamination.  Ditto for oatmeal.  I have been buying oatmeal that is labeled gluten free.  oatmealThat label gives me peace of mind, that I am safe and that I will not have to throw away or give away cookies or granola made with my oatmeal.  I nearly got sick from food prepared at a Panara restaurant, someone forgot to change their gloves and wipe down the area before they made my salad.  When I inquired about it the staff decided they needed to re-make my salad so it would be free of any possible cross contamination.  I was really thankful they made a new salad after cleaning up the salad area and putting on fresh gloves.

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The basic facts are: food that should be safe and gluten free sometimes is not, due to cross contamination like being prepared in same area as food made with/out of wheat or other gluten containing ingredients or your food might have been processed on equipment that also processes gluten containing foods.  So it is just not enough to know a food doesn’t have gluten in the list of ingredients, we celiacs have to be constantly vigilant as to how/where our food was processed, baked, mixed or stored.  We are not exaggerating.  The risks of cross contamination are very real and very serious for someone with celiac disease.  Please take this issue seriously if you know someone with celiac disease.  Or, if you have celiac  you can show this post to someone who doesn’t understand the concept of cross contamination and it might give them some insight.  Be safe and read those labels!

Awesome Instant Oatmeal….GF of Course

Chilly nights are here….snow may be on the way. Yes, that sounds awful but it is the sad truth about fall…it means wintery cold is not far off. The freezing weather we are about to be hit with got me thinking about making more warm breakfasts. Last week I bought a bag of quick GF oatmeal at the health food store.  It was pretty tasty and only took a few minutes to cook up. It got me thinking that maybe I could make my own version which could be cheaper and easily varied from batch to batch.  I looked around on some sites and cookbooks. I found a recipe by the queen of entertaining, she who spent a few weeks in the big house.  No names here! All I had to do was use gluten free oats which are available at Frey’s Better Foods, at Giant and at Wegman’s grocery store.   I added a bit more cinnamon to my version.

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There was a bit of prep work; the oats need to be toasted for 15 minutes which gives them a lot more flavor than the ancient grains version I had purchased.  A sheet pan is perfect for this toasting.  Just keep an eye on it for the last few minutes to make sure nothing gets too brown.

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I put some dried cranberries and golden raisins in my version.  Other options could be chopped dried fruits like apricots or apples, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, or any sort of nut you like. I think a combo of two items is really a great idea.  Like some fruit and some nuts.  I also topped mine, once it was cooked, with some hemp seeds which are nutty and kinda like sesame seeds.

The oats were coarsely ground in my small food processor in two batches. If you use a big one you could probably do it in one batch.

2014 november oatmeal 010 I poured the chopped oats into a storage jar with a tight lid and added the sugar, salt and cinnamon.  Then I poured in the toppings.  Easy and it only takes a few minutes to make it in the morning.

Instant GF Cinnamon Oatmeal

INGREDIENTS

2 cups old-fashioned gluten free rolled oats

2 tbsp.  light brown sugar

½ teaspoon coarse sea salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread oats on a rimmed baking sheet; bake until lightly toasted but not browned, about 15 minutes. Let cool. Pulse oats in a food processor until coarsely chopped. Mix sugar, salt, and cinnamon, or more to your taste into the oats as well as half to 2/3 cup of a combination of add-ins (see suggestions below), before storing in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.  Or freeze it to keep even longer.

Additions: dried cranberries, pumpkin seeds, walnut chunks, pecan bits, raisins, dried apricots cut into small bits, cut up medool dates, currants, dried blueberries or cherries, flax seeds, hemp seed hearts: any small seed or dried fruit would be awesome!

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To make: heat 2/3 cup of water, lightly salted, to the boil.  Stir in a heaping 1/3 cup of the oatmeal mixture. Cook 2-3 minutes, stirring a couple times. Cover and let stand 2-3 more minutes before scooping the hot cereal into a bowl.  It is already sweet enough for my taste but you can add more brown sugar or some honey to the dish. A fresh topping would be a great addition of nutrients and even more flavor.  Sliced banana, some blueberries or sliced ripe pear and you are about to enjoy a fairly inexpensive yet healthy gluten free hot breakfast that only took 2 minutes to cook.

Note: I like this better than the GF Ancient Grains version; tastes fresher and toastier and has a great oaty flavor.  About to make a new batch; I have been enjoying it a lot on cold mornings.  I love how fast I can make it; my regular oatmeal takes 8 minutes plus the time to get the pot of water to a boil.  Two minutes is an oatmeal revolution!