Craft, Health

I almost titled this post “Making Kombucha is Gross.” Because it is. So look away now if you don’t want to see giant moldy looking hocky pucks of bacteria! Or to be precise, the SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast).

I’m a big drinker of kombucha, and it’s not a cheap habit, coming in at about 3.50 per 16 oz bottle. The fermentation is supposed to be good for your gut, but really I just like the fizzy tangy flavor. It’s funky. I knew that I should take the next step into brewing my own, but I just couldn’t get myself to do the research in order to get what I needed.

Thankfully there are kombucha starter kits. I asked Ryan’s parents for one for my birthday, and lo and behold! I had no more excuses.

What’s this?
Just what I wanted! Bacteria and yeast!

How to Brew

Making kombucha is pretty easy. It’s also a lot more flexible than I’d imagined. Here’s basically how it works, when making a gallon:

  1. Make some sweet tea. Boil 4 cups water, add 3 tablespoons of tea (not herbal), add 1 cup sugar. Pour into your brewing container.
  2. Add 8 cups of cold water to the sweet tea.
  3. Wait for the mixture to cool to between 68 – 86 degrees.
  4. Check that the PH level is within range – 4.5 and below.
  5. Add the SCOBY to the mixture along with some starter tea (included with the SCOBY on purchase).
  6. Cover the brewing container with a filter on top, either cloth or a coffee filter. This keeps the tea clean of debris and allows the carbon dioxide to exit the container. Leave it somewhere warm and dark. I didn’t have a great spot, so I chose the top of my fridge, and added some towels to keep the jar from getting too cold.
  7. After 7 days, use a pipette to slip beneath the SCOBY culture and grab some of the tea. Taste it. If it’s too sweet, let it go for longer. If it’s too tart, add sugar in the second fermentation process, and brew for less days next time. You can ferment for up to a month, I think.
  8. Remove the SCOBY, putting it aside with about a cup or two of the tea to use as a starter for the next batch.
  9. Pour out your tea and drink it as is, or go on to second fermentation.
  10. Second fermentation: add sugar of some sort (sugar or mashed up berries or juice) to the tea, stir. Bottle the tea into individual bottles. Leave out to ferment several more days. The culture in the tea will keep eating the sugar, and create carbon dioxide, creating that nice fizzzzzz. Move to the fridge.
  11. Make more tea with your SCOBY and starter tea or put it away until later.

Results

I’ve just finished up my fourth batch of kombucha. Here are the results so far…

Brew #1

My first batch turned out really awesome, probably because I followed my kit’s instructions by the book. I used the Ceylon tea that was included in my kit, letting it sit for 13 days while I was vacationing in Budapest. Then I second fermented by adding defrosted frozen berries. I didn’t have individual bottles, so I used an airtight pitcher. The taste was really nice. One thing that I didn’t realize… Each time you brew kombucha, a new SCOBY grows on top, and grows to fill the container. Every time. At this point I had a double layer SCOBY.

Brew #2

The second batch I brewed with David’s Tea Red Velvet Cake black tea. This tea is special because it includes chocolate chips and sprinkles that melt into the tea and make it creamy and sweet. It’s a ridiculous dessert tea. I threw in my double layered SCOBY, fermenting for 24 days, then second fermented in individual bottles with just sugar. It turned out okay, but tasted a bit artificial due to the tea. Wouldn’t do this again.

Here’s a closeup of my brew jar for batch #2. The temperature reads as 64, which is about 10 degrees lower than it ought to be, and slows down the fermentation.

In this picture you can see that there are 2 layers of SCOBY.

I decided to cut the SCOBY into 2 separate pieces for batches 3 &4. Here is a picture of that SCOBY pulled out onto the chopping block.

The perfectly circular brown puck is my original SCOBY. The white is everything that has grown during my brews. The brown strands are yeast.

Ta da! And then there were two!

Brews 3 & 4

The third and fourth batches were brewed simultaneously, fermenting for 9 days.

I used Trader Joe’s Winter Wakeup tea, which is a spicy black tea with ginger and cinnamon with the new baby SCOBY. Fourth batch was a half batch of Trader Joe’s Earl Grey tea, using the original SCOBY. The Winter Wakeup kombucha turned out very odd. To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of this tea normally. At this point I still had kombucha in the fridge, so I just called it a wash and threw a whole gallon of tea out! The Earl Grey was less of a disappointment. It tasted perfectly tangy with major Earl Grey undertones, so I skipped the second fermentation. My favorite combination so far!

Things have gotten a little crazy… Now I have 4 SCOBY. TBH I felt a bit overwhelmed, so I created a SCOBY hotel. I’m just going to let them sit there until I’ve drunk down my tea.

Money Saved?

So in the last month and a half, I made 3 1 gallon batches and 1 1/2 gallon batch. I threw out a gallon of tea. At 16 oz per bottle of kombucha, I made 20 bottles of kombucha. 20 bottles at $3.5 = $70! If I hadn’t have thrown out that gallon, it would have been 28 bottles, or $98. Not bad!

Not gonna lie, I still buy store bought kombucha from time to time. But I do really enjoy brewing my own, and I’m looking forward to trying to make a green tea kombucha.The only thing that I have yet to figure out is how to get that super burning fizzy carbonation in the bottle. I’ve heard it’s sometimes artificially added, but I want to second ferment for even longer, and see if I can replicate it.

Travel

Budapest Baller B-Day

My birthday is at the end of November. It’s kind of a melancholy time, surrounded by the stress of Thanksgiving and the start of the Christmas season. A few years ago I started to go on birthday trips. Game-changer. Going out of town gets me out of my head and while of course I can’t avoid taking stock of my life, usually the trip reinforces my choices, helping me feel ready to deal with my family’s criticisms come Christmas.

Last year I went to Mexico City. In years past, Vancouver, New Orleans. Sometimes I have a particular place in mind, sometimes not. This year Budapest came up as an option on Google Flight’s Explore feature. With a flight price of about 600 from SF, and AirBNB prices of 30/night, it was a no-brainer. After a little googling, I also decided to tack on a trip to Vienna, since it was only a few hours away by train.

Only downside? A long flight, but of course that can’t be avoided. I packed 5 beauty masks from my Allure Beauty Box. I used the first one on the flight from San Francisco to Zurich. This one is to depuff your eyes!

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Life

Fall is here. I know because Trader Joe’s won’t let me forget. They’ve really bet the house on pumpkin spice. But also it’s that magical first week in October, which means it’s Fleet Week AND there’s the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival. So tons of sailors are roving in packs all over town, and bluegrass fans will soon be swarming Golden Gate Park. There’s a buzzy energy in the air right now. Biking around in this weather feels great.

I don’t think I’ll be able to go to the festival or even a friend’s birthday party because I’m dogsitting, and Hopper is pretty needy and whiney. Can’t even write this blog post! He wants attention. This is a two week gig, which I feel like I regretted immediately after accepting. I always book these sittings in the hopes of treating it like a writer’s retreat. Go hole up in a big apartment in a sleepy part of the city, be focused, and knock through my to-do list as best I can. It never works out that way. Since I got home from work today I’ve watched a Lady Gaga documentary and made a chocolate cake mug(or is it ‘mug chocolate cake’. Wait it’s ‘chocolate mug mix’, what?). Now it’s almost bedtime. Where did the time go?

Having long stretches of time where I can do anything often leads to me doing nothing. The same thing happened when I went to North Carolina with Ryan for a week. I had high hopes of working on some personal projects, but it just didn’t happen. I returned home refreshed and newly interested in paddleboarding, but also feeling guilty for squandering the time.

That was nearly two months ago!! and I still haven’t made progress on my side projects. I’m feeling worse and worse about it, which is no good. It’s completely artificial pressure. I need to figure out a more realistic way to move forward and be productive, at least a little bit every day.

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In general since about April I’ve been in a weird place emotionally, mostly due to work. April started a period of being bounced around from project to project, having to ramp myself up on a new codebase and fit in to a new team (or company!) each time. I was on Project #1 from April to June. Then for a week or two I worked at another agency, pitching in at the last minute on a high stress launch. I came back to the first project after that. Then from the end of June to August, I did staff augmentation at an entirely different company. Then at the end of August I finally came back to Grio for Project #4, but we moved offices, so that was also different.

Changing projects in April was incredibly disorienting, which I suppose was to be expected because I was on my previous project for nearly a year. Then heading in to be a contractor at other offices, it felt like I didn’t even work at my company anymore. I saw my coworkers like once or twice a week when I came back to the office for free lunch.

It takes me a few weeks to feel like I’m up to speed on a project and starting to really contribute, and when I’m changing projects every 6-8 weeks, I don’t get very much time to feel good about the work I do. Mostly I’m just stressed out trying to prove myself, I have a few weeks of rocking it, then it starts all over again. Currently I actually feel pretty optimistic about my new project. There is the usual deadline stress, but I’m working with people I like and learning React Native, so at least I’m growing.

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What else..? I was incredibly saddened when Anthony Bourdain died. My food and travel hero, RIP. I was up extra early, picking up my bicycle at the shop when it came over the radio. It just felt so surreal. I stayed away from all the news, and even now I can’t bear to watch any Parts Unknown episodes on Netflix, even though I know they’re going to take them down soon.

I still think about it from time to time, and it worries me that you can fight your whole life against depression, live what appears from the outside to be a meaningful and fun life, and still not make it. I don’t get as depressed as often as I used to thanks to bupropion, but I’m terrified of going back. What if it stops working? My depression was never that bad, but I don’t want to go through feeling down like that ever again, especially since now I know that I don’t have to.

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Travel to see friends and family has been happening steadily. Spending time with my people has added some reassurance to a generally unstable time work-wise. In July we went to the Yuba River with friends. We stayed in a really nutty Victorian house that had some terrifying bedrooms. Ryan almost drowned. Nobody got sunburned. We broke an oven door and were losing puzzle pieces down the sink.

August was North Carolina with Ryan’s family. My racism antenna was on as soon as I saw my first confederate flag on the highway. Ryan thought that these people were neo-nazis because of their license plate (looks like NO 88), but no, they just went to Duke. Phew.

There was lots of food, and lots of time in the water. Ryan and I bought a puzzle one of our first days there, and we were able to complete it by our last night.

Before we left we went to a BBQ place that according to one Google review had a picture of a grand wizard on the wall. Walked all over the restaurant very casually eyeballing every frame and couldn’t find it. The BBQ was great, so I really hope that review was bogus.

Went to Los Angeles in early September. It was fairly uneventful, I didn’t even take pictures! I guess it’s nice that seeing my family doesn’t have to be a big eventful thing. I’ll be headed back there in November and December as well.

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Puzzles. Ever since the encounter with puzzles in Oak Harbor, puzzles have been a mainstay, both on the road and at home. We’ve been ordering our puzzles off of Amazon, and have leveled up to using this puzzle wrapper thingie that lets you roll away your puzzle when you’re not working on it. You can see it below in the New Yorker puzzle. It’s pretty low tech (a big piece of felt, a cylindrical balloon and some elastic bands to hold it together), but it works! I was thinking of starting a puzzle club to share my puzzles with friends, since how often do you do a puzzle the second time?

Ryan did this insane 2000 piece Times Square puzzle all by himself.


I worked happily on most of this New Yorker puzzle. Back in 2009 the magazine was 4.99 an issue. Now it’s  8.99!

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Well ok now I reaaaaallly need to go to bed. Til next time!

Travel

A couple of weeks ago I headed up to the Seattle area with my friend Alyssa to visit Jill and see what her new PNW life is all about. She asked me to bring a little taste of the SF coffee scene as her present for her boyfriend Brett’s birthday. Four pounds of coffee ended up getting me stopped and screened at SFO security. The TSA agent was SO confused. Oh it’s coffee? And another one… and more coffee…. and.. more? 😀

Got in Friday evening and had to drive back the hour and half to the island where they live. Stopped off at a distillery for a yummy dinner. As a tourist, I felt like I HAD to get the local liqueur flight.

The Bonfire Toffee Liqueur was THE BEST. Sweet and ridiculous. Great poured over vanilla ice cream. Probably also good in your coffee.

On Saturday we went whale watching. Basically it all looked like this for three hours. Iphones galore.

The whales were out and about, thanks to Jill’s A+ work summoning the whales with her super powerful whale tank top. 

We saw some good breaches and some whale tail action, but the real star of the day was this massive Stellar sea lion reigning over his harem. He was taking a nap at first, but as we rode by, he staggered up, looked around, and started showing off for us. Good job Mr. Sea Lion! Rock that girth!

Pooped out after all that hard work whale watching  🙂

Later we got to visit the naval base where Brett works. I learned about the controversial “Sky Penis“, which has its own patch and Christmas ornament, apparently. I really wanted a photo with the patch.

We went out for mussels at this local dive that had some amazing taxidermy.

Then a romantic walk on the beach for sunset (it was like 9pm). Well, not so romantic… we were kicked out by a grumpy park ranger. 

I slept on the couch in the living room and woke up to this serene scene every morning.

On Sunday we went to a local park for a cookout celebrating Brett’s birthday. The morning started misty, but things cleared up by the afternoon. We explored the park a bit before and after.

Before

After

Deception pass bridge

The same bridge from a distance

Top of our little trek. Awesome view, right?

Ran into a log that looked like a bear head.

We headed back home on Monday, and got to take the ferry back as part of the shuttle ride. The ride was only 15, 20 minutes max, but they had so many puzzles out on the tables for riders to work on. Alyssa went nuts working on a puzzle at Jill & Brett’s house, so of course she was pretty psyched to find them out in the wild.

On the shuttle ride back to the airport we saw a guy drinking matcha from a rubber cup.  He carried around a thermos of hot water and kept topping up. It seemed like a precarious situation, but kudos to him for doing what he wanted?

I had  a few hours to burn at the airport, but luckily I get Priority Pass membership with my Chase Sapphire Reserve card, which gives me access to a bunch of airport lounges. Spent the time drinking free manhattans and eating a fantastic tuna melt. Great end to a great trip.

Travel

It’s been five trips, so it’s time to finally talk about the Aer Travel Pack. Bags are already pretty personal, but my time with this backpack has really driven home how silly all these ‘The ULTIMATE Bag for Travel’ posts are.

This bag is almost perfect… for me. It may be terrible for you. It just depends on your priorities, and how you like to travel. Here are the things that I consider when purchasing a bag, more or less in order of importance to me.

  1. Style / Quality
  2. Organization
  3. Comfort / Weight
  4. Price

I would say that it’s like dating. You have all these grand ideas about what you want, but you have to try lots of things (people? bags? hmm that just sounds wrong…) to see what’s really important to you. And you never really find ‘the one.’ But you find ‘good enough’ and you decide if you can live happily with the tradeoffs.

Style/Quality

I can’t say that I drool over the look of the bag. It’s big and black and burly, kind of handsome in a utilitarian way. But at least it’s not hideous like some bags out there *cough cough*. Some people may be drawn to this look. Ryan in fact has bought quite a few bags that fit the ‘black cordura utilitarian urban man bag’ description. So of course he likes Aer a lot. I think he has like 5 of their bags.

All Aer everything

I may be on the fence about the style, but the quality is top-notch, no doubt. This bag is so well thought out for my particular style of travel (one bag/backpack/usually air travel/using under the seat space only). They’ve made this bag tough, with foam padding everywhere, which really gives the bag some structure, along with protecting the goods. OMG no more floppiness!!! And there are compression straps too! And a zipaway water bottle holder! But with all these rugged materials and padding comes weight…

Organization

Time with other travel packs has made me realize that organization is the most important thing to me. I fucking love this bag’s pockets. Man, there are a lot of pockets. There’s so many that at the beginning I forgot where I put stuff, which sounds bad for traveling. But once I had used the bag for a bit and had mentally established a place for every item I normally pack, ooooh it feels so good. Here’s how I use my pockets:

  1. Bottom shoe section -This section is lost on me. I wrap it up and totally ignore it. If I did use it, I would complain about the positioning, because it makes it awkward to use packing cubes. Maybe this would be a good place to put dirty clothes or swimsuits, like a built in laundry bag? Only caveat here is that there are two holes in the bottom to let stinky shoes air out so things can get wet if you put this bag down in a puddle.
  2. Front bottom pocket – My computer charger brick goes here, along with various charging cords. It’s a tight fit.
  3. Front top pocket – This pocket goes all the way down to the front bottom pocket. My clutch size wallet goes here. I also stuff teabags in here.
  4. Top stash pocket- My cell phone and headphones, passport.
  5. Organizer panel – This is the droolworthy section. Keys, magazines, pens, snacks, NintendoDS… This section is large and deep, going all the way to the bottom of the bag. Aer’s official photo of this panel really shows its potential, so here. Look at those pockets.
  6. Computer panel – Just my laptop, occasionally a magazine. I forget if this area is off the ground, but it’s definitely cushy.
  7. Inside – I throw my packing cubes and toiletries here. On the panel zipper you see to the left – I usually throw my Nintendo DS game cartridges or my contacts there. No particular reason why, they just seem to fit well.

All the crap I normally pack.

Comfort/Weight

This is the only bit to give me pause, and it’s a biggie. This bag is heavy at 3.7 pounds just for 33L of space. And it’s bulky AF. I’m five two, and according to Aer’s website photos, this bag is for tall super hip tech bros going about their urban lives. And even on them the bag looks a bit much*.

There are so many ways they could lighten this bag up without sacrificing features. Mostly by removing a lot of the cushion. I don’t need this thing to be bombproof. Maybe the laptop section, but everything else can go. Like the top grab handle is just overengineered. I don’t need all that. The sides of the backpack don’t need foam padding all the way around. The entire organizer panel does not need to be foam padded. My clothes will be fine.

Fitwise, the only thing that I really noticed was that the straps are about a half inch too wide for me. It bugged me at first, then I forgot about it. Oh, also the top adjuster straps are basically useless. They kept coming undone. This bag would be golden if it had some sort of hip belt to distribute the weight, but alas… Let’s just say that you will feel the weight of this bag. It’s not terrible, but it will slow you down.

Too much going on here and these straps should be much more comfortable than they are. Super rigid and anti-boob.

Price

Okay I got this as a birthday present, but I think the price of $220 is totally reasonable for a bag like this. I have no idea whether or not this is an ‘ethically made’ bag like Cotopaxi, but it is a San Francisco company, so yay?

What it’s like to use

The travel pack doesn’t hide away its straps like many travel bags do, so it makes it not ideal for checking. But I don’t check bags anyways.

Most important to me – it fits underneath the airplane seat!! The computer panel and stash pocket are accessible from the top, which is important when stuck on a plane. When I took my Cotopaxi bag, the computer zipper was on the side, and it was a nightmare getting things in and out, which I do like every 20 minutes.

Whenever I got to my destination, I would take my items out of the front organizer panel and pockets, then leave the bag unzipped like it was my own dresser drawer. That was nice.

Verdict

It’s not perfect, but I think I can deal with a little weight for all the organization happiness that this bag gives me. Maybe in the future Aer will make a lighter, possibly smaller version with a hip belt.

*An aside: Aer you need some more women on your site. With these super masculine brands (DSPTCH also comes to mind), not seeing any women modeling the bag is unwelcoming and made me question whether or not the bag would fit my body. I honestly would have bought this bag a long time ago if I had a better idea of fit.