All posts by ashleyhealth101

About ashleyhealth101

Part time health-centric blogger gradually learning the craft

Kombucha 101 – What I Learned

Last month I attended a presentation at one of Chicago’s newest hot spots; The Kombucha Room.  Nestled in the Logan Square neighborhood, the venue strives to support regional brewers and community wellness education.

For those absolutely new to the term, we are talking about fermented tea infused with flavors and, as the presenter (Kombuchade) advised, “good for the performance athlete and your grandmother”.  The making of which is as much art as it is science, but definitely realistic to do at home.  (Although supporting your local, organic focused businesses is definitely a great way to “‘buch on” as well).

The first priority is to start with a good scoby (Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast).  Like any good culture, this should come from reputable sources and those that are able to provide you data on the strains.  There is actually a Kombucha Brewers International association which can help for resources and/or direction.  Best yet, scoby can eventually be shared with other fellow ‘buch makers.

*I have seen other recipe bloggers, such as The Kitchn, demonstrate how to make your own with a pre-purchased kombucha as part of the recipe.  However, this was not discussed in the presentation I attended.  Again, it’s best to know your sources and go with the good stuff.

Next, is to think about and determine flavor profiles.  This step has a part A & B.

  • A) Determine your base tea leaves.  These are needed for scoby growth.
  • B) Additives, such as spices, should align with your health and wellness priorities.
    • A “2nd level” fermentation, could have whole substrates like fruit or shaved ginger root.  (Whole substrates will increase “fizz” effect, experimentation with them will likely have best outcomes after you have become a more savvy brew master playing with your base teas and other, more simple flavor additives).

Experimentation with infusions are seemingly endless, but you will always want to keep a “base” scoby (ie not infused with any additives).  15-20% saved should be sufficient, but up to 50% set aside for future batches could generate “aged textures”.

After determining what flavor combinations you want to tackle, stock up on appropriate supplies and derive a strategic game plan for the brewing process.  Although some rules apply, this can be customized and fit to your lifestyle.  Figure out personal logistics.  Once a system is set up, input time could be, for example, an hour or two per week (keeping in mind, time put in will give back to you in more ways that one).

Pay attention to temperature in which you are storing your batch.  Some brew masters like to place them in proximity to a heated cooking source or on top of a refrigerator.  Colder temperatures will slow the ferment.  This is where trial and error + personal circumstances will come into play.  However, over time, you will get the hang of it and can tailor the plan accordingly.  Think of this as nurturing.

Once the kombucha has cultivated to your desired taste and consistency, it an be poured directly from the container it was fermented in to enjoy OR into smaller, individual containers to be refrigerated.

Additional resource material is below;

Supply Suggestions

  • Sterilized jar (glass preferred).  Can wipe with white vinegar wipe before use.
    • Growlers, mason jars, etc.
  • Large tea ball (metal strainer).
  • Filtered water, such as reverse osmosis.
  • Flip tops for jars (for example from Mason Jars Company).

Points for Processing

  • Don’t burn your culture, ie overheat.  Watch for little bubbles at bottom of the liquid (typically 150°).
  • Keep liquid moving in pot.
  • After pour onto scoby, stir up (can be with hand).
  • Don’t move jar around too much.
  • Don’t over seal the bottle or it could explode.  (Also, don’t use cheap wine corker, etc.  Be sure to buy something rated for kombucha pressurizing).
  • To limit the primary fermentation, refrigerate.  Otherwise, it will continue to culture/age.

Other Tips/Tricks of the Trade

  • Keep tea portion to at least 50% and consider avoiding anti-bacterial varieties or additives, such as an earl gray tea or certain essential oils.  (These might work for small batch, but it will definitely be trial and error).
  • Don’t attempt to reduce sugar.  The ‘buch needs this for energy.
  • Scoby can be stored in a mason jar.  Vinegar will preserve it (only warning is if there is a big black or green fuzz ball).
  • Infuse flavors when kombucha is warm (vs after refrigeration).
  • Your first batch may be a little thin.  Taste the scoby as you go along through the batching (play with it).
  • Individual bottles can be used to create more fizz.
    • Note:  different herbs have different fizz results.
  • The bottles can be “burbed”.
  • Although more advanced in technique, nitrogen can force carbonate.
  • Secondary infusions, such as whole fruit, may be best when wrapped with cheese cloth (think of this as similar to a tea bag).

If excess scoby (as it will continue to grow);

  • Recipes to convert into food
  • Can feed to animals
  • You can eat it directly
  • Compost it

Other Lessons/Words of Wisdom

  • Organic process ties into the energy/natural processes, ie ingredients don’t have to be organic, but quality of ingredients = quality of kombucha.
  • Buying commercial brands will vary with regards to the level of kombucha.  Translation; read labels.
  • If asked about alcohol content, it is hard to measure b/c alcoholic measures pick up on organic acids in the profile and includes those.  The short answer, is this shouldn’t be of too much concern and is likely gossiped about due to hype vs actuality.

In closing…  enjoy the opportunity to learn a new skill, practice mindfulness while doing, and reap the rewards of your custom creations!

If in Chicago, be sure to check out The Kombucha Room.  Social media shot outs are below:

@thekombucharoomchi

@TheKombuchaRoom

 

In need of formalized support to make healthful lifestyle changes?  Contact me through my business site.

Disclosure – Links to Mason Jars Company may generate very small amounts of monetary income.

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Easy to Make & “Not So Fried” Green Tomatoes

In attempts to squeeze out the last remaining days of summer, I have been reflecting on some of the ultimate yummies of summer produce.  One of these is, of course, tomatoes!

As a child, I remember watching the movie Fried Green Tomatoes and being fascinated with the concept.  Despite growing up in the lower Midwest (U.S.) where both southern and northern cuisines influence what is customary to eat, I didn’t hear of fried green tomatoes until Hollywood re-popularized the concept via a movie title.

Being naturally inquisitive about food from an early age, I was eager to try them.  Although I can’t remember when or where my first taste occurred, I do remember my response to them was not favorable.  In fact, I thought they were terrible!  We didn’t fry a lot of food in my family, but it wasn’t as though the concept was completely foreign.

Later on in life while living in Atlanta, I finally had a taste of what fried green tomatoes are most likely suppose to taste like.  Usually made with cornmeal or a mixture of it with flour and often with buttermilk and/or butter, a well made fried green tomato is a savory addition to a meal or as an appetizer.

However, implications related to consumption of fried foods, likely ones I don’t need to ramble on about, and potential challenges to those with certain dietary restrictions may put these savory little slices off limits.

Therefore, I sought out to play around with these boogers to see what I could come up with.  Turns out, pan-seared in coconut oil is not half bad.  It’s certainly not the rich, savory flavor that a battered and fried option might provide, however, it’s much better with regards to the smoke point and nutritional quality for the oil.  Using this method also presents a great time to play with spices, such as a little smoked paprika, black pepper, and quality salt.

Regardless of seasoning (or not), something about the green tomato and it’s slight tart consistency paired with the richness of coconut oil really works.  I definitely recommend it.  I know some have sensitivities to coconut oil or just want to use a variety of options in food preparation and, therefore, I would also like to try other options with higher smoke points.  (See note below about oil quality and smoke points).

Most likely a garden, farmer, or farmers market will have the best organic green tomatoes.  I’m definitely an advocate of food sourcing from these options when possible and seasonal shopping usually saves $$$.  Although mid-summer months are typically the primo range for tomatoes, the later days of the season should still provide some viable options.

green tomates on pan 3983191110_7e8a6a454b_b (2)

To recap,

  1. Find some great organically sourced green tomatoes, local if you can.
  2. Play with spices/seasoning and oil options.
  3. Slice and pan sear until lightly browned on a low-medium quality pan, such as cast iron (pictured).  I also recommend heartier slices of approximately 1/2″ wide.

In the spirit of “Live Healthful”, I welcome any other tips for using green tomatoes in a “not so fried” way.

***Essentially, hydrogenated oil use should be avoided and good oils should be used in cooking according to their appropriate smoke point.  Typically coconut oil or certain tree nut options, such as macadamia or walnut have higher smoke points.  Rotating out options is a great idea for balance of related nutrient intake and variety of flavors.

In need of formalized support to make healthful lifestyle changes?  Contact me through my business site.

 

Bug Off…

It’s summer in the US and I definitely do not blog as much between June and September.  However, a news alert caught my eye this past weekend; Scientists say record floods could brew bad batch of mosquitoes (Chicago Tribune).  This on top of reports of the first case of West Nile virus in the state of Illinois this year…  Eeek.  Southern regions may be seeing even greater batches of the little buggers.

Unfortunately most commercialized insect repellents are higher dose chemical concoctions.  Considering the alternative of an invasive virus, the choice may be simple.  However, lower toxicity options do exist in the essential oil (EO) spectrum and, bonus(!), some of these EO’s may assist in overall immune health.

Lara Adler, a reputable and resourceful expert educator on environmental toxins reminds us that “a number of essential oils have clinically been shown to have antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-fungal properties, including clove oil, tea tree oil, thyme oil, oregano oil, rosemary oil, eucalyptus, lemon-grass, and cinnamon oils.  Some oils are more effective against bacteria, while others are more effective against viruses, so combinations can be more effective than just using one oil on it’s own” (nd).

Furthermore, certain EO’s are particularly effective for insect repellent.  In this area, I’ve seen several blends usually including options such as lemon-grass, peppermint, and/or citronella.

My amazing friend and camping expert shared the following insect repellent recipe (for a 2 oz bottle):

  • 1 tablespoon witch hazel
  • 8 drops citronella
  • 8 drops cedarwood
  • 6 drops lemon-grass
  • 5 drops rosemary
  • 5 drops peppermint
  • 5 drops rose geranium
  • 3 drops thyme

*Fill the remainder of the bottle with distilled water.

Check out Cricket Camping blog for more outdoor living tips and some cool narratives.

This summer, further support conscientious healthful living by getting outside and active, but with consideration for the option of lower toxicity “bug off” approaches.

In need of formalized support to make healthful lifestyle changes?  Contact me through my business site.

References:

Adler, L. (nd). Tools for Teaching Toxicity. Essential Oils as Cleaners.

5 ways to “pretty up” your beauty routine

The beauty industry is a big business!  This spring, I kicked off with a blog The ‘Real’ Spring Clean detailing a few ways to clean up lifestyle approaches and living environments with regards to harmful exposures.  Personal care is a huge area within this topic, partially attributable to lack of adequate evaluation (see a 2004 Environmental Working Group report).

5 faucets to consider within this focus area include the following;

  1.  Upgrade your products for more bang for the buck.  One thing that blows people away is that well formulated, low-toxin beauty care products often require a lower amount for adequate application.  What does this mean in simple terms?  Investment in this sort of product will stretch, ie “less is more”.
  2. Pay attention to substrate when color is involved.  Essentially, liquids involving color have a greater chance of causing harm when applied to the skin.  Therefore, paying attention to chemicals, particularly those relating to endocrine disruption*, and carcinogens in products such as gels and creams may take higher significance as compared to a dry powder.  Definitely pay close attention to that lip color and be sure yours does not include lead.
  3. Avoid synthetic scents.  “Fragrance” is not well regulated in the U.S. and can consist of many proprietary chemical concoctions unclear to the end consumer.  The frustrating thing is even with “good” options, it can be hard to avoid.  The Environmental Working Group (EWG) maintains a guide called Skin Deep to help assess this.  A good habit is to check whether labels have the word “fragrance” OR if a natural, plant-based substrate, such as a specific essential oil, is indicated.  Also, consider swapping out chemical based perfumes for essential oil blends!
  4. Take a break.  Find opportunities to avoid or reduce applications, for example there are ways to reduce how often we wash hair with shampoo and conditioner which, as it turns out, often leads to better hair quality.  Not only will making these reductions help lower the risk of cumulative low-dose exposures from personal care, it will save money over time.
  5. Remember internal health.  Finally, and most importantly, the real “skin deep” starts from within.  Cellular health is impacted by nutrition, toxicity, and emotional health.  Proper care for your internal systems will illuminate in better skin and hair quality leading to less need for external applications.

Although, admittedly, I’m still figuring this out myself, there are a couple options that I have come to favorable resolution on (for now);

Annmarie Skin Care multi-purpose foundation relies on a mineral powder, which can be used dry, or combined with facial oil, cream, or serum.  Blend a small amount of the mineral powder with oil, cream or serum in the palm of your hand to create the liquid consistency for foundation.

Typically I blend with their signature herb-infused oil (also available in unscented), but it has surprised me how nicely it also applies as a direct powder application.  In consideration of point 1 above, this product stretches well.  I hardly use any of it to make for full coverage.

Neal’s Yard Remedies is a product line was introduced to me by the lovely Lara Adler.  Based in the UK, it is distributed through retail channels throughout Great Britain and via independent consultants in other countries.  An unexpected bonus is I found that a friend from grade school had become a rep so I was able to reconnect with her through the process (see her page).

I have been absolutely amazed at how happy I have been when using Lush Ultrabland Facial Cleanser.  The formula cleanses and moisturizes simultaneously and can be used simply as an under eye make up remover or as a total facial cleanse.  Their Full of Grace solid serum is also a great multi-purpose staple.

Mineral Fusion products, although not perfect (mostly due to fragrance), rank pretty favorable across EWG’s list, come at a reasonable price point, and are available through a variety of accessible channels, including Whole Foods.  In addition, they have hair care formulas for color treated hair which is less commonly found within natural/organic centered personal care products.

One discouraging thing about being a Hashi’s patient is that I have experienced a fair share of eye brow thinning.  ZuZu Luxe pencil comes in a tobacco color that I love and their products rank pretty well on EWG’s list as well.

A company that I have not tried yet, but am considering for future use is 100% Pure.  The company relies on natural, plant-derived pigments and avoids iron oxides which have to be tested for lead.

Many also turn to Beauty Counter which is positioned at the fore front of education in the US beauty market and centered on reduction of substrates that are harmful in personal care products including their coined “Never List”.  Link to the page for one consultant in my network.

Finally, I have noticed several small, craft based options picking up momentum.  A few favorites in the Chicago area include Bonnie and Biba Lips.  Lip applications have not had the best track record, such as testing for lead.  Especially with consideration to point 2 above, lip color is a key area to pay attention to when assessing for potential toxicity.

Additional resources can be found via the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.

*Chemical-based substrates associated to endocrine disruption include phthalates (a class of chemicals related to “fragrance”, softeners, solvents, and stabilizers in personal and household related products), parabens (used as preservatives), and phenoxyethanol.  Endocrine disruptors refer to substrates that mimic or block hormone signals which, in addition to gland and organ health, have been studied for their role obesity.

In need of formalized support to make healthful lifestyle changes?  Contact me through my business site.

Disclosure - Annmarie Gianni & 100% Pure links direct to my affiliate pages which may generate very small amounts of monetary income.

The ‘Real’ Spring Clean

How do you define clean?

I hope to challenge your definition and for those in which I’m “speaking to the choir”, let’s sing!

Toxins are a result of man-made chemicals as well as naturally occurring.  Repetitive low-dose exposure to these compounds over time, such as phthalates, is what we refer with the terms “toxic load” or “burden”.  Collective dose has been a subjective topic within the scientific community.  However, there is a supportive body of evidence for associations between toxic exposures and the onset of a whole host of chronic diseases from autoimmune to cancers.  Children, pregnant women, and older aged adults are significantly more sensitive and vulnerable to toxin exposure such as those from pesticides.  Substrates with toxicity can be found in consumer products, food, and the environment in which we engage.

Do I have your attention?

O.k., now “what the heck can you do about it?“…

I cordially invite you to redefine your spring clean.  Conduct an intervention for yourself by focusing on ridding yourself of the ugly (cleanse) and shifting to more healthful alternatives.  The easiest changes will be in your home.  Pick a room to start with and get going.  (Hint, this will likely be your kitchen and/or bathroom).

Primary areas in which you can easily make shifts;

  1. Personal Care – Color, fragrance, additives, synthetic chemicals that few would accurately pronounce… you name it.  Each of these are areas to become keen on when assessing potential toxic load.
  2. Cleaning Products – Besides data on unintentional poisoning leading to adverse outcomes including death, the average US household cleaner contributes to indoor air pollution.  These products carry rather harsh hazard warnings, such as “Danger”, “Warning”, or “Caution”, for a reason.  Yet, natural alternatives do not need any of this.  Consider the alternatives.
  3. Food –
    • How many ingredients are in a piece of produce?  No, this is not a trick question.  Answer:  ONE!  A follow up question, do you know how that piece of produce was grown, ripened, and shipped?
    • How many ingredients are in the average processed food item?  To be honest, I could not find this data, but I’m certain the average number is over 5!  Whole-food recipes, ie products of resulting in multiples of one, are not what I’m referring to here.  I’m calling out additives, derivatives, isolations, etc.  Many nutritionists suggest to shop by “Five or Fewer”. By this, we mean if it has more than five ingredients, don’t buy it.
    • Finally, pesticide resin, which can also be systemic, and potential harmful exposures picked up during shipping and transit are also variables to take into account.  The Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 lists provide preliminary guidance (see below).
    • BONUS – don’t forget to check out your food storage, packaging, and cookware options, especially those used for heated items and/or those holding fat based items.

A special note on fragrances – In some cases, natural derivatives can contribute to the scent of an item, however, often the term on a product label is code for chemical concoction and full disclosure is not legally required.

Changes in each of the areas can parallel each other.  We often think of health as diet and fitness and the term “clean living” has been coined to food.  However, our health is impacted by many more variables each of which can be addressed in a “Spring Clean”.  Healthful shifts will incorporate reasonable reduction and realistic transitions.

What about communal spaces?

On a public health landscape, we certainly have work to do.  However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does incorporate this area into their healthy workplace initiatives and can be leveraged as a resource for change within communal spaces.

Other Resources;

Clean 15-Dirty Dozen

Wellness Wednesday: 5 Practices to Start Your Day

Love it or Hate it, we set our clocks forward this week.  Therefore, if you are someone who normally gets up at 6 a.m. it will feel as though it is actually 5 a.m. for a little while until internal rhythms adjust and the break of dawn re-centers more in our favor.

So what are a few ways to help jump start your days?

Hydration – if we are properly hydrating throughout the day, we are ingesting water regularly and not taking 7-9 hour gaps.  However, obviously, we don’t drink while we are asleep.  Be sure to have a glass of water in the morning.

Some swear by warmer temperature to the water and the addition of lemon juice (for alkalinity).  It’s likely not as important to get hung up with “how” to drink the water versus simply investing in ourselves  and the day upon us by doing it.  Find what works for you.

Commit Yourself to Consistency – In this instance I am mostly referring to sleep and bed times.  Yes, going to bed is the night before versus the current day.  However, a consistent bed time can help regulate circadian processes including hormonal regulation.  Go to bed early enough to account for time it takes to fall asleep AND obtain sufficient duration.  Furthermore, allow yourself to rise at a consistent time.  In fact, a well-trained sleeper doesn’t even need an alarm clock!

With respect to adjusting to the time change, if you normally go to bed at 9 p.m., even though it feels early and your body may think it’s still 8 p.m., still go to bed.  If you simply can not bring yourself to actually sleep at this time, try various relaxation techniques and be sure to power down electronics a minimum of 1 hour before bed.  This will help reduce the disruption technology can have on us.

*Important side note; studies have suggested that sleep helps aid detoxification.  See two links at the bottom of this post.

Shake Your Money Maker & “Move It” – Does this mean you have to dance?  No.  Although, I’m not a stranger to recommending it!  It does mean you should take part in, at minimum, light physical activity as part of your start of day routine.

This is a good time to emphasize activity that has flow to it, such as gentle movement options.  While at rest and lying down, spinal discs fill up a fluid like substance and at are at their fullest when you rise.  Although this is a natural occurrence that serves a function, it can still inadvertently cause a little havoc in the morning if abrupt activity occurs before the body is ready to take it on.  Adequately limbering up by taking care to understand appropriate types of movement can help prevent injury.

There is also truth to the “morning stretch”.  Need a suggestion, watch Fido.  Animals instinctively take upon movement and stretches as needed upon rise.  Follow this link for a Livestrong article written by Linda Ray on this topic.

Power Up – hey you in the Starbuck’s line grabbing your own the go coffee and pastry!  We see you.  In fact, many of you we notice DAILY!  Do you really think with all the biochemical interactions our bodies endure on a daily basis that’s going to cut it?  Nope!

Studies have shown that children receiving adequate breakfast performed better based on cognitive and behavioral metrics.  This doesn’t just go away because we have become adults.  Substantial nutrition, particularly in the beginning half of the day, can help bring about focus, mental clarity, and overall productivity.  Therefore, allow yourself time to eat a good breakfast and make sure you are getting up early enough for this, even if you prep the night before.

Make sure your morning meal is both macro- and micro-nutrient focused.  In that you are including a balance across protein-fat-carbohydrates AND taking in food choices that are considerate of content with high nutritious value.  For more tips on how to do this, keep following this blog and/or look back through some of my previous suggestions or referrals for meal planning and recipes.

Don’t Worry, Be Happy – Finally, we can’t control the weather.  We can, however, control the attitude in which we set forth on our day with.  Put on your happy face and go with it.

– Keep Calm & Wellness On….

The brain flushes out toxins in sleep, and poor sleep associated with buildup of Alzheimer’s toxins : Discoveries, Oct 22, 2013.

How Sleep Clears the Brain, Oct 28, 2013.