scoby reunion

Two really great things happened this week. One happened on Tuesday evening when we re-elected our president. The other happened a few days before at the From Scratch Club food swap. Last spring, my original kombucha scoby died. Yes, the mother starter culture for my fermenting experiments. It was compromised, contaminated somehow, and grew mold. Out it goes. I have been scoby-less since that time.

A few weeks ago, I tried to grow my own from storebought kombucha using these and these instructions. Nothing happened. Nothing at all. I was still scoby-less. I wasn't planning on swapping anything at the food swap, but at the last minute I grabbed a jar of tomato jam and a jar of bread and butter pickles from our pantry, just in case someone had a scoby to swap. We used to see more of them at food swaps, but I don't think I have seen one up for grabs in months. Many many months. So the odds seemed low. I knew it was a stretch.

But then! An adorable mother/daughter team walked in holding the most glorious, absolutely disgusting-looking scoby. It was in a ziplock bag with kombucha, flopping around on top of a paper plate. I wanted it. So I stalked them until they swapped with me. Well, I hope I was more gentle and non-threatening than that, but either way they graciously swapped me their scoby for a jar of my tomato jam. That is the magic of food swaps, my friends!

A new episode of the FSC Podcast is available for your listening pleasure! We interview the wonderful Alana Chernila and are bringing all of her food & writing wisdom, directly to you.

Making yogurt

Months ago, I scored this vintage yogurt maker at the Habitat ReStore. I braved skepticism and jeers and proudly walked out of the office with a $3 appliance and promptly put it to good use. Coincidentally, the first assignment of this round of the FSC Book Club was to choose a recipe from the first two chapters of our assigned book, The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying & Start Making. Lo and behold, yogurt was one of the recipes!

Oh, did I mention that I chose the book? And created the assignments? And moderate the entire FSC Book Club? So maybe this all isn't a coincidence. Maybe you should also join, because it's a whopping good time. We have 90+ members representing ten or so states across the country and we are cooking and chatting our way through Alana Chernila's aweseome book.

I'm way behind in posting my own Book Club assignments. Forgive me. Our assignment this month was to take a photo of our finished product in action.

I know making yogurt scares people. The live cultures, leaving dairy out all night, etc. For better or worse, I'm never too scared to dive into kitchen experimentation. Again, waterbath canning freaks a lot of people out due to botulism and the like. Homemade kombucha gets a dangerous rep. I just follow directions, try to be vigilant during the process and hope for the best. I'm still alive so far, yes?

Conclusion: making yogurt is pretty easy. You basically just heat up milk, cool it, add in culture & incubate. The heating and cooling process, depending on your stove, takes less than an hour. And it's not active prep time, you just need to stand by your stove with a book or your laptop so you can monitor the thermometer every few minutes. Have a drink. Relax. The incubation can be done in: A) your awesome $3 vintage yogurt maker; 2) your awesome brand-new yogurt maker; D) your crockpot, or; IV) a mason jar, either in a warm oven or wrapped up in a blanket in a warm corner of your house.

Join the FSC Book Club in our crazy kitchen tomfoolery. Our HQ is over at Goodreads, but you can also follow along at From Scratch Club's blog or on our FSC Book Club Facebook and Twitter.

Wine! Food! NYC!

I am so psyched to have been invited again this year to the Food Network's New York City Wine & Food Festival by ShopRite. Last year was a blast and I had high hopes for a repeat performance. It didn't disappoint.

Chris & I took the Megabus down Saturday afternoon and went to our hotel to check in. They kindly informed us that they were just putting the finishing touches on our room and Could They Escort Us to the Guests-Only Bar for Complementary Drinks While We Waited? Uh... yes. Sure. Um, ok. Yes! It was one of those moments where we side-glanced each other trying to figure out what was happening and why we were getting the royal treatment when our room wasn't even supposed to be ready for another 25 minutes. But, the smooth operators we were, we just followed him right to the bar and ordered ourselves some drinks. As the bartender said, "Sky's the limit!" Thank you.

We settled in, shopped around for a new suit for Chris and then met up with the ShopRite gang to go to Tacos & Tequila, hosted by Bobby Flay. I didn't take any creepy videos of him this year. Apologies! We had a blast, even though there weren't many (any?) vegetarian tacos. I mean, what? Veggie tacos are so easy! I will admit to eating a bit of meat that night, including a bite of octopus. I will also gladly admit that I don't think we've been missing anything in our meat-free experiments. I prefer veggies, hands down.

Onward to Sunday's Grand Tasting event! Dana & I were on the live-blogging team for the day and also talked up ShopRite's Potluck blog. I think I preferred this year's Grand Tasting experience, if only because Sunday seemed slightly less crowded than Saturday was last year. There was a ton of food, a ton of booze (wine, beer & liquor, oh my) and lots of celeb chefs. That food is GOOD, people. The above picture is of a Quinoa & Goat Cheese Arrancini with Romesco Sauce served over Brown Rice & Red Quinoa with Butternut Squash & Sage, by Harvest Grains.

I am a pro at Tabling at Events and Telling People What's Up, due to all of the work-related, FSC-related and other cause-related outreach I seem to find myself doing. So I actually really enjoyed chatting it up with peeps about the ShopRite blog. It never ceases to surprise me how grabby people can be when there are freebies around, however. They will claw your eyes out for a plastic spatula or box of biscotti. Intense.

Anyway, we caught a slice of 10,000 calorie pizza here before hopping on a nighttime train back to Albany with our bags full of food swag. And then we slept in an extra hour the next morning.

Oh, this is just a bonus pic of me with Chef Fabio. We also saw B. Flay (obviously), Giada, Paula Deen's kids, one of those mean guys that yells at people on his show, one of the guys that eats weird food (not Anthony Bourdain), Masaharu Morimota and maybe someone else. Sorry, we don't get the Food Network so I'm not up to speed on everyone's names.

Thanks, ShopRite, for inviting me to live-blog & work the Grand Tasting at this year's NYC Wine & Food Festival. It was an awesome weekend! 

the yoga weekend

Last year for my birthday, Chris gave me a gift certificate to Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in Lenox, MA. When I was a freshman in college, my mom gave my sister and I a beginner's yoga retreat there as a Christmas present and I've since been back several times for various concerts and events. Every time a class catalog arrives, I highlight and bookmark all of the workshops I'd like to go to. Imagine my delight when I opened this present. (Long sidenote: Yeah. Look at this. A papercut portrait of me, with my pixie cut, doing yoga, holding a birthday cupcake. All on the folder that contains a gift certificate for a yoga retreat. Best birthday present ever, methinks. Chris is a real artist with construction paper, and I mean that sincerely.)

You can always schedule a R&R getaway at Kripalu and fill up your time with yoga classes, outdoor activities, lectures, healing arts sessions and so on. I really wanted to sign up for a more structured workshop though, only because I think I do better with a little bit of focus, even on retreats :) If left with a completely wide-open agenda, I tend to get a little anxious about making sure that I'm taking advantage of the opportunities and doing enough and "getting my money's worth". I need a little structure.

There were plenty of workshops earlier in the year that I would have loved to attend but for various reasons didn't fit in my schedule. I was ecstatic, then, to hear that rockstar yogini Sadie Nardini was hosting a Core Strength Transformation workshop in September and that I didn't have other pre-planned commitments that weekend! (As it turns out, a work commitment did spring up but I had already booked my stay.)

I first found Sadie through Daily Om. If you don't know Daily Om, check it. Their emails are the only daily newsletters that I don't automatically delete. Sadie had an online course there that my mom hooked me up with, and I thought she was rad. I've since taken another online course with her and watched a gazillion of her YouTube videos

I packed up my bag and yoga mat and drove out to Kripalu right from work one Friday. It's nestled into the beautiful Berkshires, overlooking the Stockbridge Bowl and surrounded by gorgeous property. The weekend was really great, but it wasn't great because it was a major awakening for me or a total transformation. It was great because it reinforced a path that I've been wandering for awhile now. I went to yoga classes (four of them), chatted in our workshops with Sadie, went for an early morning hike, put my brave face on and went to an insane yoga dance class with live drumming, ate every single meal outside looking at the mountains and spent time alone reading and drinking tea. It was awesome. I kept thinking, yep, this is good. This is what I try to bring into my daily life. I tried to think of ways to incorporate that retreat feeling into everyday, and I've been doing pretty well.

And the food! Kripalu food is legendary. I would guess that a good number of visitors to Kripalu are forced to change their eating habits pretty dramatically when they get there. Meals are served buffet-style and the buffets are filled with healthy, simple, local, delicious food. Mostly vegetarian, with a few chicken and fish options available. Gluten-free, vegan options abound. Iced & hot tea, juices and water for drinks. So, you know, pretty healthy. But for me, I had to try not to go completely overboard with portions because as I told Chris, "It's exactly like the food we make, only better." 

Escaping for a full weekend retreat isn't always an option, but it's probably possible to set aside a day or even just a morning to do a mini, at-home retreat. That doesn't mean watching re-runs or cleaning the bathrooms. Take time to be outside, to be quiet, to do a little yoga, to introspect a bit... it's awesome. If you are a lady, I recommend taking a peak at The Way of the Happy Woman for other seasonal retreat ideas. If you are a dude, you know, do a one-day dude retreat.

PS- Also, I bought these fun new yoga pants.