Mom always told me “don’t play with your food.” She would gently slap my hand as I dissected the buttery folds to discern just what was inside a Chicken Pot Pie. My playing took two forms. The first was trying to disguise my dislike for a particular food. Discreetly maneuvering a morsel of food to find the perfect place where my plate finally looked empty. The second form of play was discovery. What did a hot dog look like partially chewed? If I aggressively blew into my straw would my milk froth like in those coffee houses? Of course both forms of play were met with a widening of the eyes and a quiet yet firm, “Alicynn Morgan stop playing with your food”.
Now a decade or two later, after a short internship at Willy Wonka’s Fermenting Edible Factory also known as Nordic Food Lab, I have found the ultimate way to play with food. Fermentation. Fermentation is a form of organized chaos as you let things bubble away on your counter, cautiously going in for that first taste. Lucky for me, in matters of the kitchen my husband is easily swayed and our new found toy has over taken us. Currently we have five types of yogurt, kombucha, water kefir and a sourdough starter. Each omits their own signature scent causing our kitchen to smell like a slightly sweet pair of acidified gym socks. Sadly, I think I like it.
What astounds me most is how easy it is to make all of this, especially Kombucha. Mix, let sit, and enjoy. I do wonder who the first brave soul to try it was. The scoby has a jelly like consistency that grows to cover the mouth of the opening. Gently floating on top of the liquid with bubbles and striations in color it doesn’t make you immediately reach for a glass. Moving it aside you can reach the sweet acidic tea below. Lightly fizzing in your mouth it is quite pleasant but let’s face it, if I hadn’t seen it at Nordic Food Lab I probably would have convinced myself I had spoiled my Kombucha, and thrown the creature out. Now, not all experiments work. I have learned that Kombucha doesn’t play well with essential oils. Earl grey, chai flavor, chamomile…all resulted in epic fails, but even failing is fun.
I didn’t realize the joy in the fermented, odd, and didn’t quite work moments of the kitchen. In the bites that instantly get spit out as you wonder, “Is yogurt supposed to fizz in my mouth like that?” Sometimes life just needs to bubble away, while you take a moment to play and what better reminder of that then food.
To Mom, next time you stop by, be prepared for a variety of fermenting bowls adorning my kitchen. I’m just playing with my food.
8 Tea Bags of High Quality Black Tea (you can also use green and oolong, I like the black tea though with cocktails)
1 cup Sugar
2 cups Starter Kombucha (shoot for something fairly acidic, not pasteurized and make sure to save some from each batch so you can keep making more)
1 Scoby (you can purchase these online or you can ask around, someone may be able to give you one)
1 Gallon of Water (avoid tap water especially if you live in a place where it is highly chlorinated)
Bring the water and sugar to light boil. Remove from heat and add the tea bags. Let sit until water comes to room temperature.
Remove tea bags and pour into a large open mouth container. Add the scoby and the starter. Place a paper towel around the opening and secure with a rubber band. This will prevent fruit flies.
Leave at room temperature for 3-6 days. Taste each day. Once you get to the acid level you like. Remove the scoby, save 2 cups worth of starter, and bottle the rest. Refrigerate and enjoy! (Make sure to experiment from here; add different juices, carbonated water, fruit, chia seeds. Kombucha is a great vehicle for additional flavors…like a cocktail.)
2 oz Black Tea kombucha
1 oz Lemon Juice (depends on the acidity of your kombucha, feel free to add more or less)
1 oz Whiskey
½ oz Amaro
Shake. Pour. Enjoy!