Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Word to your mother

A couple of weeks ago, I started myself on a gluten-free diet to see if it would help my persistent back pain. So far the only difference I've noticed is an increase in my cravings for sourdough bread and beer, but I'm sticking it out til Thanksgiving. Now, giving up gluten doesn't mean that I have to give up all things fermented, thankfully, and it's actually inspired me to try out some otherwise neglected food and drink items. Hot mulled cider with bourbon, for instance, which I had a mug of at Mothership last night. Shrubs with sparkling water. And kombucha.

Readers, if you've been following this blog for awhile, you may recall the first time I tried to make kombucha. It was, shall we say, not the most delightful thing to imbibe, and I may or may not have promptly deposited that kombucha "mother" directly into the compost bin along with its putrid liquid accompaniment. Perhaps, I thought, I was just not cut out for making this tart and fizzy health drink. And yet, another opportunity presented itself at the Alexandria Food Swap a few weeks ago and I couldn't resist. Armed with a new "mother" -- a SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast), if you want to get technical about it -- I'd snagged, and some instructions from the kombucha swapper, Jen (I suppose you could call her the Mother of the mother), I decided to try my hand at this fermented beverage a second time. Lord knows it couldn't possibly taste worse than the first time.

I will concede that kombucha mothers are kind of strange, somewhat akin to what you might encounter in a mad scientist's laboratory. Kenton was totally weirded out when I showed him the gelatinous floating mass in the quart jar I had tucked into my cupboard and I've noticed he hasn't gone into that particular cabinet much the past few times he's been over. He did seem intrigued by my explanation of the unusual taste and the probiotic benefits to one's digestive tract, though, so I think he may be up for trying some when it's ready. Well, after I pre-taste this second version, made with blueberry acai tea and raw sugar.

Is it just me, or does my kombucha jar have a certain Middle Eastern flair? Maybe that's what was missing the first time around: a trendy headdress.... Lord knows this second attempt tastes better. I tried my first shot of it this morning before breakfast. Delicious. Word to my mother.

I'm brewing a batch of raspberry tea for batch #3 right now. Finally, a use for the fruity teas that I seem to acquire each holiday season!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Eating a rainbow

It's not often that I break out my Bugs Bunny apron, but twice last week I had a very important lesson to teach some very young students, and if a cartoon rabbit gives me a little street cred among the little people, I'd take it.

"What do I mean when I say you should try to eat a rainbow every day?" I asked a roomful of 6-year-olds last Thursday. (I'm not talking about Skittles here, people.) "I'll give you a hint: I'm talking about fruits and vegetables...."

Oh, the kindergartners at Brent Elementary got it. So did the 1st graders at Inspired Teaching Academy. Both groups were super excited for last week's Healthy Schools Week hands-on cooking demo in their classroom. They were so antsy for it to be HANDS ON, in fact, that I had to ask a few kiddos to keep their HANDS OFF of the ingredients until we were ready for the part where I would need some fearless volunteers: the mixing of salad dressings.

Before we got to that part, I explained, we needed to take stock of our fruits and veggies, identifying each by name and then organizing it into our produce rainbow....

Hands shot up. Carrots! Pears! Broccoli!! There was a little hesitation with the eggplant, but I know adults who couldn't name eggplants, either. Cucumbers, peppers, sweet potatoes... these kids were something else. Some would start telling a story about a relative who'd cooked -- or even grown -- each item on the table. Others loudly proclaimed their favorite one to eat. (Cherry tomatoes were especially popular with one group, carrots with the other.)

Our rainbow arranged, I moved on to the crux of the lesson.  "Rainbows look pretty and eating a rainbow helps you all stay pretty and keep your bodies healthy. Different colored fruits and vegetables have different vitamins so that's why it's important to eat many different colors. Try to eat at least a few different colors of fruits and vegetables each day," I encouraged the class. "How many colors will you try for our snack?" Lots, it turned out.

Alas, the action shots of various students helping me with assembling and shaking up the ranch and balsamic dressings came out blurry, but here's a great one of a few kids chomping on the plates of cut up fruits and veggies near the end of the lesson.

My favorite moment was at Brent, when a somewhat shy student shared his reflections on the lesson. "You know, today I had the very first radish I ever tasted and I liked it. Thank you for bringing the radishes and other things for us to try, Chef Vincent."

Anytime, kid.