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Sewing Machines

I’m a bit of a sewing machine hoarder. If you don’t count the one that is Finn’s, I have four sewing machines. That includes my sewing and embroidery machine combo, but not my two sergers. Also not including the knitting machine, because it knits.

While I’m certainly not an expert, I do have my preferences. I would take a well-built, old metal machine over a new machine any day. Mainly because when they break, I tend to do this:

Sewing Machines- Beige Vintage Montgomery Ward Signature.

That is my first sewing machine. It is a Montgomery Ward’s Signature sewing machine from the 60s, I think. I got it from my mom who got it from my grandma. I can’t remember what was wrong with it that time, but it sews nicely now.

The Signatures at that time were made by a Japanese company that specialized in industrial machines, I think for sewing feed sacks. That translates to a heavy duty, domestic sewing machine that will sew through anything. It also has a set of cams. Cams are interchangeable disks that allow it to sew pretty embroidery stitches.

My next sewing machine is another, slightly older Montgomery Ward’s Signature. This one was rescued from a lot of machines that were destined for the junk heap.

Sewing Machines- Blue Vintage Montgomery Ward Signature.

I love the blue color! It reminds me of cars from that era.

Like the other Signature, it uses cams. You can see them in the little accessory box. I actually like this one a little better than the other. It sews the prettiest straight stitch out of all my machines and has a cam that stitches a row of teeny tiny hearts!

I’ve never actually made anything on it, though. Unlike the other, this one is in a portable case, which is hilarious. I lift my 40+ pound four year old all the time and lifting that machine is still a struggle. Since I don’t have a dedicated place for it, I don’t have the motivation to lug it out.

My workhorse is a 90s model Kenmore, made by Janome. The case is plastic, but all the internal workings are metal. I know, because I’ve had to open it up a few times now to fix the hook timing. (Posts on that here and here.)

That is the best photo I could find of it not undergoing repairs. I love that machine because it isn’t as quirky as the Signatures. It also tells me how to thread it right on the machine, and when it comes to sewing machines, threading is half the battle.

My final machine is the Brother SE400 embroidery combo. I keep it set up as an embroidery machine because I have three other sewing machines. Also, it scares me, so I want to risk messing it up as little as possible. I haven’t had it opened up beyond the bobbin area, but I’m guessing there’s some plastic, and I know there are scary electronic components. With the other machines, I am freer to play because I know that if something happens, it’s not likely to be catastrophic. With this, something like a timing issue would definitely mean a big repair bill.

But, it makes pretty embroidery, has loads of decorative and utility stitches as a sewing machine, and has the most awesome needle threader I have ever seen. Seriously. Finn’s machine has a needle threader that I will never use, because it is complicated and I stabbed myself with it one time. Brother’s needle threader is like magic. It is especially handy when embroidering with multiple colors. Color changes take mere seconds.

Just to show I’m not as much of a hoarder as I could be, here is a photo of the White machine I couldn’t get working and sold on craigslist.

Sewing machines - White Rotary

Then, while I was waiting for the buyers to show up, I decided to play with it a bit and figured out what was wrong. I hope they love it, or at least open it up to look at from time to time. Sigh.

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Kombucha Frequently Asked Questions

Here’s a few common questions about Kombucha. I’ve answered them based on my research and personal experience.

Kombucha questions

How much should I drink?

If you’ve never had Kombucha before, you’ll want to start slowly. Kombucha can have a detoxifying effect that can be unpleasant if you rush it. It is recommended to start with about an ounce per day at first and gradually increase until you reach a comfortable level for you. If you notice any ill effects cut back or stop for a few days to let your body catch up. Drinking lots of water can help, too.

Of course, you should always listen to your body. If you feel like you can’t tolerate kombucha don’t push it. There are plenty of other ways to get probiotics. Also, I’m not a doctor, and the above might not apply to everyone depending on your personal health. If you have any concerns, definitely consult your doctor.

Can I use metal utensils when making Kombucha?

Metal tea kettles for boiling the water are fine. It’s fine to stir the tea and sugar together with a metal spoon before adding the SCOBY. What you want to avoid is the SCOBY coming into contact with metal as that can damage the SCOBY. Even then, I have heard very brief contact is ok, such as when cutting up a giant SCOBY. I prefer to peel apart the layers and avoid metal touching my SCOBYs, though.

Can I use honey/stevia/coconut sugar/some other sweetener?

The sugar is food for the SCOBY and plain white sugar is recommended because it is easy for the SCOBY to digest. I have heard of some people having success with other sugars, but I haven’t tried it myself. If you want to try another form of sugar, I would start with a small batch and keep another SCOBY in a tea/white sugar brew as backup.

Stevia or other zero calorie sweeteners will not work because they don’t provide food for the SCOBY.

Can I use flavored teas?

Not for the main brew. You can use flavored teas to add flavor in a second ferment.

Can I use decaf teas?

This is another one where I’ve heard conflicting information. Most say not to use decaf tea. If you want to try decaf, as with different sugars, I would start with a small batch and keep another SCOBY in a regular tea/white sugar brew as backup.

My SCOBY looks funny. Is it bad?

Most SCOBYs look funny. They can be smooth and creamy colored or have air pockets and brown spots. The bottoms usually have brown stringy tentacle things hanging down. New SCOBYs grow on top of older ones until they look like a stack of slimy pancakes. (Eww.) All of this is normal, and there’s probably a million variations I haven’t described.

There are two main things to watch for: mold and black. If your SCOBY molds, it will look like blue-green dusty mold, just like what grows on bread. If you get mold, throw it all out and start over.

Black means the SCOBY is dead or dying. Toss it.

My Kombucha tastes like vinegar. What happened?

Kombucha is supposed to taste vinegary, but if it’s too strong you can always mix it with something like juice to make it more palatable. You can also use super-vinegary Kombucha in place of apple cider vinegar in recipes. If it’s straight vinegar with no sugariness left, you could use it as a hair rinse or for household cleaning where you would use ACV.

To make future batches less vinegary, there’s a couple of things to try.

1. Kombucha brews faster in warmer weather. If it’s been hot, try a shorter brew time and/or increasing the amount of sugar in the brew.

2. If your SCOBY is getting super thick, split off some layers. More SCOBY = shorter brew time.

My Kombucha is too sweet. What happened?

The easiest fix is to let it brew longer. If it’s cold, moving your jar to a warmer location may help. I think the ideal range is somewhere around 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit.

You should also check the condition of your SCOBY. If it is turning black, you’ll want to replace it.

Should I store my SCOBYs in the refrigerator?

No. You want to avoid extreme temperatures because they can damage the SCOBYs. The best range is between 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit.

To store your extra SCOBYs, place them in a lidded jar with at least enough Kombucha for them to float and store in a cool-ish location, such as a pantry or shelf out of direct sunlight and away from heat sources.

Find more of my kombucha posts here:  https://subearthancottage.com/search/label/Kombucha

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Flavoring Your Kombucha Tea

When you get your homebrew timing right, kombucha is pretty yummy on it’s own. Sometimes you want something a little different, though. Or maybe straight kombucha just isn’t your thing but you still want the probiotic benefits. Luckily you can easily change the taste of your kombucha to make it more palatable or fix a soda craving. Here’s my tips for flavoring your Kombucha tea.


Mixing with juice


The simplest way to flavor kombucha is to mix it with juice or another beverage. This is a great way to get started drinking kombucha. To start, add 1-2 ounces of kombucha to a glass of your favorite juice. As your body and tastes adjust to drinking kombucha you can increase the kombucha to juice ratio.


I like to dilute 3-4 ounces kombucha with sparkling or still water, add a splash of lemon or lime juice and a bit of stevia. This makes a refreshing summer drink when served over ice.

Kombucha is also nice as an add in for smoothies. It can be fizzy on it’s own, though, so make sure to account for that when adding it to blended drinks. Leaving a little extra headspace in the blender is a good idea. Or, stir it in after everything else is blended.

Flavoring your Kombucha Tea
Flavored with peach and cherry teas in a second ferment.

Flavoring your Kombucha with a second ferment

You can also add flavoring in a second, shorter ferment. Basically you’ll put your flavorings in a bottle or jar (I like canning jars), fill almost to the top with your brewed kombucha and cap the jar. Leave at room temperature for 2-4 days and then refrigerate or drink.


The second ferment can increase the carbonation in your kombucha, so it’s a good idea to be cautious when opening and storing the jars. I’ve never had a jar break from the pressure, but I have had the metal disks on canning jar lids pop up in the middle. If I think too much pressure is building up, I “burp” the jars by opening them just enough to release some of the pressure and recap.

There’s a variety of things you can add for the second ferment. Really, any herbs, spices or fruits can be added. If you want to increase the carbonation, add a little bit of sugar, honey, raisins or a sweet fruit. My favorite thing to do is put enough orange peel to fill the jar halfway, add a teaspoon of sugar or honey, top with kombucha and let it sit for two days. It makes a kind of healthier orange soda and uses something that would normally have been tossed.

Flavoring your Kombucha orange and honey
Orange peel and honey Kombucha

Other flavorings I’ve tried:

  • Lemons and limes cut into wedges, sliced or just the peels. You can also use a lemon or lime half after juicing it for another recipe.
  • Fresh sliced ginger, plain or with a dash of chai spice and squirt of honey.
  • Fruit flavored herbal teas, one bag per quart jar.
  • Blueberries.

If you brew your own Kombucha tea, I would love to hear your tips for flavoring your Kombucha. Please share them in the comments below.

Next week I plan to do a FAQ/kombucha myths post. If you have any questions please share them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them.

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Continuous Brewing Your Kombucha Tea

Making Kombucha using the continuous brewing method means you’ll always have plenty of Kombucha ready to drink or flavor in a second ferment. Here’s how to do it.

Supplies for continuous brewing

In addition to the basic Kombucha ingredients listed here, you’ll want to have a jar with a spigot. There’s some debate over the best materials for the jar and spigot. The biggest thing to watch for is something non-metallic, although I think I’ve heard stainless steel is okay. Most people like to avoid plastics to prevent any weird chemicals from leeching into the KT. I went with the cheapest, most available option of a glass sun tea pitcher with a plastic spigot.

Continuous brewing kombucha


Keep about half of the finished KT and the SCOBY in the jar and bottle the rest. Brew about half a gallon of tea. I use two black tea bags, one green tea bag and one half to one cup of sugar. Let it cool and add it to the jar with your finished KT and SCOBY. Since you replaced half of the KT, you’ll want to wait a couple of days before drinking from the new batch. After that, you can drink some fresh from the tap every day. Just replace what you drink with fresh sweet tea. Because you are only adding a small amount of fresh tea in relation to the KT, you can drink a little every day without the wait time. I like to keep a small pitcher of sweet tea in the refrigerator to replenish what gets taken out each day.

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How to Batch Brew Kombucha

Kombucha batch

For those who aren’t familiar with it, Kombucha Tea is tea that is fermented with a culture of beneficial bacteria and yeast (SCOBY). There are many claimed health benefits to it, although the most widely accepted is as a probiotic. It can be a bit fizzy, so many people use it as a soda replacement. It’s becoming much easier to find in mainstream supermarkets, but usually runs about $4 for a small bottle. Yikes! It’s really not that complicated to brew your own and the way to go IMO if you want to drink it daily.

My first batch of Kombucha Tea brewing.

Ingredients to start 1 gallon of Kombucha:


3 Black tea bags
2 Green tea bags
1-2 cups Granulated white sugar
1 gallon Filtered water
1 Kombucha SCOBY (I got mine from here: https://www.etsy.com/shop/OKposeyMom)
2 cup Starter Kombucha tea (KT) or distilled vinegar

Supplies:

1 gallon glass jar (with spigot for continuous brew)
tightly woven or knit cloth or coffee filter larger than the mouth of the jar
rubber band or elastic big enough to securely fit around the mouth of the jar.
Wooden or plastic spoon (metal is fine unless you need to stir after adding the SCOBY)

Make sure all jars and utensils are clean. Rinse everything really well to be sure there’s no soap residue. For the first batch, you’ll need a full gallon of tea. I use both black and green tea with three black and two green tea bags. As long as you are using unflavored, caffeinated tea, any ratio should work. Brew the tea like normal and add the sugar. Stir to dissolve. It needs to be plain white granulated sugar to make it easy for the SCOBY to break down. The sugar can be adjusted to taste, but for the first batch I like to use a full 2 cups. I’ve also found that in warmer months the brew gets strong really fast, so I add closer to the full 2 cups then to compensate. In cooler months, I can cut back on the sugar.

When the tea is cooled to about 80 degrees, add the SCOBY and starter Kombucha Tea (KT) and/or distilled vinegar. The temperature really isn’t that important as long as it’s cool enough to not kill the SCOBY. I usually just feel the jar. When it feels no more than a little warm, I add the SCOBY. If you don’t have enough starter KT you’ll use distilled vinegar to make up the difference. Do NOT use cider vinegar. Cider vinegar contains some of it’s own culture “mother”. If you use cider vinegar you’ll end up with some sort of hybrid culture.

Cover your jar with the cloth or filter and secure with a rubber band or knotted piece of elastic. This allows it to breathe while keeping dust and ickies out. Wait. and wait. and wait. lol.
The KT usually takes about 7-10 days to develop. It brews faster in warmer weather, so keep that in mind. Starting around day seven, use a straw to siphon off a little from under the SCOBY. You want it to have a little bit of a vinegary zing to it, but other than that the taste is up to you. My first batch tasted like cider made from honey crisp apples-tart but still really sweet.

The longer it brews the less sweet and more vinegary it will taste. If you think it needs to brew longer, leave it for another day or two and taste again. If you like the taste, great! Time to bottle it and brew batch number two.

For batch brewing, you’ll basically be doing everything you did for your first batch. All but 2 cups of KT from your first batch can go in to bottles. I use Mason jars. If you want to add flavorings you’ll add them to the bottled KT. I’ll do a post about that later. The 2 cups you reserve and your SCOBY will stay in the jar to start the next batch. (Every few batches, you will want to transfer them to a non-metallic bowl so you can wash the jar. If you keep a second jar on hand, you can just switch jars every batch.)

Repeat the above steps including the wait time for each new batch.

With each new batch, you will grow a new SCOBY. Usually the new SCOBY will grow on top of the old SCOBY. Technically you can separate the new SCOBY each time to use in your new batch. I like to leave the SCOBYs alone until it gets to be about a half inch to an inch thick. After that,  I’ll separate off a few layers by pulling it apart between two layers. One SCOBY keeps brewing while the other goes into a big jar with some KT and a lid, aka a SCOBY hotel. Many SCOBYs can live in a hotel as long as you have enough KT to keep them moist. It’s always a good idea to have an extra SCOBY or two on hand in case your batch gets contaminated. You can also give your extra SCOBYs to friends so they can start their own brew.

Next week I’ll cover how to move from batch brewing to continuous brewing.

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Easy All in One Electric Pressure Cooker Meal

For busy weeknights, there’s nothing better than an all in one meal that practically cooks itself. Prepare everything the night before and keep it in the refrigerator until it’s time to cook for even more time in the evening. You could even prep the vegetables and meat and store in the freezer for last minute meals.

The basics

This is more of a how-to than a recipe. You can really use however much of the ingredients based on how much food you need and your pressure cooker’s size. For my family of five with two little appetites, I used about four chicken breasts, three cups of rice and water, one jar of sauce and all the broccoli I could squeeze in and around everything.

You can easily swap out the protein for whatever you prefer. Ideally, it should be cut into small, bite sized pieces prior to cooking. With the chicken breasts, I’ve been able to cook them from frozen first and cut them later, but it’s not ideal.

This time, I used broccoli, but it was a little overdone for my liking. Root vegetables cut into bite sized pieces or frozen peas or green beans are probably better for all in one meals like this.

The sauce

To make it super easy, I started with a jar of Korma simmer sauce from Aldi. You could easily substitute any store bought or homemade sauce. Canned soup, salsa, tomato sauce or even just broth are all options. Tailor it to your family’s tastes.

Assemble the ingredients

I used an old rice cooker pot for the rice. Any heatproof container that is big enough to hold the rice and cooking liquid but small enough to fit in your pressure cooker’s cooking pot would work.

I put the chicken and broccoli under and around the rice pot. Then I filled the rice pot with appropriate amounts of rice, water and salt.

The Korma went on top of the broccoli and chicken, and I added about half a cup of water just to make sure there was plenty of liquid. If you use broth or a thinner, liquid sauce, the water isn’t necessary.

Cooking

Finally, I set the whole thing in my pressure cooker and cooked it with the “Rice” setting. My electric pressure cooker is a GoWISE USA brand. Recipes for the Instant Pot brand usually work as written for mine, so I assume that setting would work for the Instant Pot and other similar pressure cookers.

Here is a terrible picture of the end result. I promise it tasted better than it looks. A homemade sauce would have been healthier, I’m sure. When you are strapped for time or having to make do without a fully functioning kitchen, though, it’s lots better than having to rely on fast food.

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All in one Electric Pressure Cooker Meal
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Why I Love my Air Fryer

Another kitchen gadget I find myself using almost daily is my air fryer. Like my electric pressure cooker, my air fryer was a Christmas gift from my parents. This is the Gourmia model I own. It has a six quart basket and eight preset functions, or I can manually set the timing and temperature.

Unlike with my pressure cooker, I honestly wasn’t sure what to do with the air fryer at first. I don’t fry a lot of things, mainly because it’s messy. I also have the added challenge of making gluten free breading. Even before going gluten-free, I found it hard to get the breading to stick on things like chicken and have it cook all the way through without burning the outside. After some experimenting, though, I’ve found that the air fryer makes frying easier. I’ve also found that the air fryer does so much more than frying.

Ways I use my air fryer

  • Potatoes Whether it’s fresh home fries or frozen tater tots, the air fryer browns them all nicely. My air fryer has a french fry preset, so I just add the potatoes and start it. Every once in a while during the cooking, I give the basket a shake to keep them from clumping. This is especially important if the basket is fairly full. You can cook them completely without oil, but I do like to toss them lightly with a little olive oil. This seems most important with french fries. They’re okay without it, but I like the flavor better with it.
  • Sausage and bacon Both turn out beautifully in the air fryer. All the excess grease drains under the basket, leaving the bacon crisp and the sausage not greasy. I use the bacon setting on mine for both, but I reduce the time to nine minutes for sausage.
  • Reheating leftovers We got rid of our microwave a few years ago. We really only used it to reheat leftovers, which never tasted as good as if I heated them on the stove or in the oven, and it took up a lot of counter space. While I still use our stove and oven to reheat things for the whole family, if I’m just heating a plate of food or other small amount, I’ll use the air fryer. It’s quicker than the oven, and the food heats more evenly than it did in the microwave. The texture is better, too.
  • Frying I still don’t do this much, but I finally got gluten-free fried chicken to work, so that may change. I did cheat a little by quickly frying it on the stove first, just to lightly brown and set the breading. Then I added it all into the air fryer basket and let it finish it with the chicken preset function. While it’s not as low fat that way, the chicken turned out crisp and juicy but not at all greasy. That also freed up my skillet to make gravy while the chicken finished cooking so it was all hot and perfectly done at the same time.
  • Baking It is essentially a counter top convection oven, so it bakes as well as an oven. I don’t use this function as much, because, with a family of five, the oven is usually more convenient. If I’m only making a few cookies, though, it works really well. I’ve also baked cheesecake in it using the recipe that came with my air fryer. It turned out delicious and was super easy to make.

What are your tips?

I’m still learning new things to try in my air fryer. With just those five things, I already use it almost every day. I would love to hear more creative ways to use an air fryer. If you have one, please share your favorite tips and recipes in the comments.

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Air Fryer

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