THE OPEN BOOK

26
May

Birthday Season & Brewing Kombucha

And, yes, I am wearing a crown

With the dawning of the first day of May heralds the most wonderful time of the year: my birthday season. You may remember my not one, but TWO birthday celebrations we threw last year (the wonderful Jane Austen Tea Party and Bemidji Birthday Bash). That’s right, folks, I get more excited about my birthday each year than most six-year-olds. I blame my parents.

Since I was a child, birthdays meant getting to plan your whole day exactly how you wanted. This included your own special menu of your favorite foods. One day a year, I got to tell my parents what to make for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This usually included chocolate milk, blueberry muffins, and watermelon for breakfast followed by a Lunchable (a highly coveted processed “food” my parents usually refused to buy which therefore made it incredibly desirable). Since my birthday was always near Memorial Day, I’d usually opt for a backyard barbeque for dinner. And then there was the cake. Oh, the cake.

It’s not surprising that my favorite part of my birthday was planning the menu–and still is. I can’t help it–I love an excuse to have treats and fun with family and friends. Who doesn’t? And this year is off to a spectacular start!

My parents came to visit Mankato this past weekend to kick the birthday week off right. As usual, they spoiled me rotten, bringing caramel apple cheesecake from the Pine Cone (the BEST restaurant in Wisconsin) and lamb. Yes, you read that right: lamb (I know, I know they are adorable baby animals. I’m sorry. In my defense, they are also REALLY delicious). I don’t eat meat very often, but when I do, I eat venison, bison, and lamb from local farms. My dad and I had black-face lamb burgers during our trip to Scotland in 2008, and he we made our own this time as a special birthday dinner.

Elegant and mature, as always

Also, we went to my favorite tea shop and had afternoon tea! With birthday cake tea (vanilla-caramel black tea WITH SPRINKLES)! And hats! Yup, I had a perfect weekend.

Yup, elegant and mature...

Yup, elegant and mature…

But the birthday celebrations don’t end there! This coming weekend, Shane and I are doing something really out of the ordinary and I am SUPER excited!!! Usually, we are pretty low key hobbits, enjoying board games with friends, bonfires, and a home-cooked meal to celebrate most occasions. And I love it. This year, we are traveling to the Twin Cities, spending a few nights in a hotel, going out for a fancy birthday dinner at a fancy city restaurant, and seeing Book of Mormon: The Musical!!! All with some of my very favorite people. Since it’s a long weekend, we’re also planning on going to the Minnesota Zoo for the first time. I CAN’T WAIT!!!! Seriously, this is going to be epic.

During this birthday season, I’ve been working hard on the sequel to Seven Stones, spending as much time outside with Shane biking and hiking as possible, and getting ready for my first Summer Reading Program as a Children’s Librarian. With all this awesome going on, I need to keep my energy levels high and my immune system healthy. To do so, I’ve been brewing and sipping my own kombucha!

If you are unfamiliar with kombucha, it is some level 7 hippie juice. But it is also a cool, refreshing, and delicious iced tea beverage that has more probiotics than yogurt. kombucha is a fermented, sweetened tea that has been brewed and enjoyed for hundreds of years. It has tons of health benefits, and sells for $3-4 dollars a bottle at the store. Ouch. However, with a bit of courage and trust, you can make your own for super cheap!

Still with me? Good. This is where it gets weird. kombucha is made by basically creating your own petri dish. You start with a thing called a scoby (which looks like an alien, not going to lie) which is essentially a bacteria culture of good probiotic stuff.

It’s aliiiiiiiiiiive!

You add tea, water, and sugar to a large container (like a gallon glass jar), cover it, and leave it alone for a week or two. In that time, the bacteria eat the sugar and a new scoby grows on the top of your jar. When the scoby gets to be about 1/4 inch thick, pour your kombucha out, add whatever sweeteners or fruit you want, and drink it!

Looking good! No, trust me, that is how it looks when it looks good.

I know. It sounds (and looks bizarre), but kombucha is one of my absolute favorite drinks! Until recently, I was paying good money for small store-bought bottles. Then my friend showed me how easy it was and gave me a scoby. I’ve been happily brewing hippie juice ever since. 🙂

 

The hardest part is probably just finding a scoby. If you don’t have friends who brew kombucha or don’t have a Co-Op in your area, you CAN make kombucha from a store-bought bottle (instructions here). Long story short, it’s easy and cheap to make, tasty, bubbly, and really good for you. I used to think brewing Kombucha would be too tricky or scary. But it is not intimidating at all. Try something new! You might just love it.

Basic Kombucha Instructions

1 Scoby

4 cups water

6-8 teaspoons of tea (black or green work best)

1 cup sugar

Gallon Jar

Boil 4 cups of water. Choose what kind of tea you’d like to have as your base. Steep 6-8 teaspoons (or 6-8 tea bags) in your large jar. Let sit for about 10 minutes.

Alright, strain those leaves or discard those tea bags. Stir in 1 cup of sugar (I used Sucanat) and stir until dissolved. Add about a gallon of cool water.

Nice. Now you have to touch the scoby. It’s kind of fun. Pop that bad boy in the tea and cover your jar so air can get in, but dust and other bacteria can’t. I use paper towel secured by a rubber band.

Now it’s time to sit back, relax, and wait for your ‘booch to brew!

You’re done! Leave your kombucha to brew in a warm spot away from direct sunlight. You should see a film forming on the top of your jar in a few days. Depending on the temperature, the scoby will be ready in anywhere from a week to two weeks.

When it’s about a 1/4 inch thick, it should be good to go. Pour the liquid out into a serving container or individual mason jars. Now you add whatever flavor you want: pina colada, lavender-honey, honey-ginger, watermelon, strawberry-lemonade, the possibilities are endless! If you want your Kombucha bubbly, put it into sealed, individual mason jars and let them sit out for another day or two.

Boom. You’ve now got two scobies. You can use these bad boys to make more batches of Kombucha. Just keep about half of the liquid from your original batch and repeat the instructions, but this time you can double the recipe and have two jars going at once! Add a little of the original batch to each new jar, and you are good to go. Keep reusing those scabies–they’ll keep multiplying, and soon you can share with a friend!

27 was my golden birthday. That year saw my first book tour, a move to Mankato, new friends, and me getting my first real library job. I am more grateful to all my family, friends, and all those who love, encourage and support me than I could ever express. I am one lucky girl. I can’t wait to see what 28 brings!

Happy Birthday Week! You deserve some cake. 🙂

08
May

Celebratory Carrot Cake Pancakes with Homemade Whipped Cream!

Another year in the books!

Schooooooooooooool’s out for SUMMER! Schooooooooooool’s out FOR-EVER…well, really just until September. But right now, three months feels close enough to forever.

That’s right, I’m FREE! I turned in my final research paper…and promptly contracted Strep Throat. *Sigh* *Cough* *Sniffle* Friday I just barely sniffled my way through the day on full Zombie Mode (not realizing how sick I was). Saturday morning, I woke up with lovely white spots dotting the back of my throat. Ewwwwwww. Shane (the wonderful man that he is) got me my antibiotics and I spent the entire day in a blanket nest on my couch. This morning, I feel a bit more energetic, a bit less like a disease-filled zombie. I’d cheer if I had a voice.

Here’s what I do have: a big batch of Italian Wedding Soup (my favorite), the best nurse in the world (Shane believes that ice cream has healing powers–he is wise and good), and BIG plans for the summer!

First of all, this will be my FIRST SUMMER READING PROGRAM! I’ve got some HUGE plans and tons of fun events for the community, so wish me luck! I’m hoping it is the BEST SUMMER EVER!!! I’ll definitely be posting pictures!

I’ve already been invited by TWO book clubs to speak at summer meetings. For anyone wondering, I LOVE going to bookclubs and talking about my book. If you don’t live in the Midwest, I’d be happy to Skype in. If you have a bookclub and you’d like me to come and talk, contact me or my publicist Krista!

I’m lining up some great stops on the book tour front: stay tuned for more information! For now, I can definitely say that I’ll be back at the Minnesota Scottish Fair and Highland Games, as well as the Wisconsin Highland Games.

Lastly (and certainly not least), I’m pumped to take all those hours I was working on homework and spend time WRITING my sequel. I’m on the 4th draft (3rd complete rewrite) and things are finally starting to click. Here’s to hoping I can finish a final draft by the end of 2016. I hope to also update this blog a little bit more regularly throughout the summer. Remember when I was only working part-time at Accidentally Cool Games and as a substitute at the Bemidji Public Library and I posted 3 times a week? While I seriously doubt I’ll have enough time to manage that anymore, I do hope I can update more than once a month now that the blog won’t have school to contend with.

So, how to celebrate all this awesome? Carrot Cake Pancakes sound like a grand idea!! I came up with these on a Sunday morning in April. It was one of those lazy days where breakfast is top priority. We had an excess of carrots and I thought, “I bet I can do something delicious with these.” And so, Carrot Cake Pancakes were born. These are loaded with good stuff: carrots, raisins, coconut, pineapple, and whole wheat four. But, they are also a bit naughty with the homemade coconut whipped cream. The best part: these pancakes, whipped cream and all, are 100% clean and made from whole foods. The end result is a decadent breakfast that doesn’t break the nutrition bank.

Who said you couldn’t have your cake and eat it too? 🙂

Julia’s Carrot Cake Pancakes w/ Homemade Coconut Whipped Cream

pancakes

2 cups whole wheat flour

dash of salt

1 Tablespoon baking powder

2-3 medium carrots

1/2 cup raisins

1/2 cup coconut shreds

1/2 cup pineapple chunks, drained of juice

1 cup milk

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

1 egg

1/4 cup maple syrup

2 Tablespoons stevia

Directions

Preheat your griddle to 350 degrees.

Mix the milk and vinegar together in a small bowl and set aside.

Take your handy dandy food processor and shred those carrots. Add the pineapple and coconut. Scoop it out of your processor and squeeze out any excess juice. Okay, you’re ready. Mix in the dry ingredients and set aside.

Now take the milk/vinegar mixture and add the maple syrup, egg, and stevia. Whisk that around. Add this to the dry ingredients. If the mixture seems too dry or gloppy, add more milk until you reach your desired consistency. Looking good.

Ladle out that goodness onto your griddle and make yourself some pancakes!

Now you probably want that homemade whipped cream. I’ve got you covered.

CoconutWhippedCream

Forget that store bought stuff. This is the real deal.

1 can coconut cream

2 Tablespoons sucanat

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

It’s best to keep your coconut cream in the refrigerator, upside down.

coconut-whipped-cream-4564

open it from the bottom and just pour off the liquid. Easy.

When you’re ready to make the whipped cream, grab it from the fridge and open the can. Drain off the liquid (don’t throw it away! Keep that good stuff for smoothies), and plop (that’s exactly what it does) the coconut cream into a bowl. Whisk the sucanat and vanilla in. Whisk. Whisk more. Whisk until the cream turns fluffy and whippy (less than 5 minutes,usually). Scoop onto pancakes and DEVOUR!

*Note: if you use sucanat, your whipped cream will be caramel colored. If you can’t handle tan-colored whipped cream, use a different granulated sweetener*

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom! If I were home, I’d totally make these pancakes for you. 🙂