BESTIAL BEAUTY. Kombucha Culture: How To Brew Your Own Kombucha Tea

A diet inclusive of probiotics (live microorganisms beneficial to the host) is a great way to maintain overall good health, as they are said to improve digestion, strengthen the immune system, and help detoxify the kidneys and liver. One of the most common probiotic foods is live culture yoghurt, of which I love the flavor, but unfortunately for me, causes bloating and stomach cramps. So in order to get my daily dose of good bacteria, I drink Kombucha tea, which is brewed from the Kombucha culture, and tastes like slightly carbonated iced tea infused with a splash of vinegar.

Kombucha tea has been a popular probiotic drink on the market for over twenty years now, and brands like Synergy Kombucha are sold at Whole Foods for $3.99 per 16 oz. bottle. However, I prefer to brew my own Kombucha tea at home, and use the following basic recipe, a combination of ingredients and techniques I’ve adjusted to my liking over the past few years.

There are a few options in terms of obtaining a Kombucha culture. You don’t necessarily have to buy a culture to start with, although the fermentation process is faster when your tea is brewed from a full sized culture, and oftentimes these are available for FREE on Craigslist. You can purchase full sized cultures for about $20 online. has free shipping and sells them for $16.95. You can also grow your own culture by adding a 16 oz. bottle of mass produced unpasteurized and unflavored Kombucha tea to your own tea at Step 3. Youtube has a great video with additional information on this method.

1 Kombucha Culture

6-7 Tea Bags of Black Tea

20 Cups Water

1 Large Glass Jar (1½-2 Gallon Capacity)

¾ Cup Granulated Sugar

½ Cup Brown Sugar

3-6 Unbleached Coffee filters

Wooden Spoon

Rubber Band

Paper Towels or Cheesecloth

Sealable Glass Bottles for Storage

*Coffee Maker

*There is some debate whether or not using metal cookware/containers/utensils in the brewing process of the tea will compromise the integrity of the Kombucha culture. I find it is just far more efficient to use a standard coffee maker to brew the tea, thus eliminating the concern. If you don’t have a coffee maker, boil the water in a glass or ceramic pot.

1. Use 5-7 tea bags in the brewing chamber (where the coffee filter normally goes), and pour through 10-12 cups of water twice to brew 2 pots of tea.

2. Pour the tea into the large glass jar and add the sugar. Stir with the wooden spoon until the sugar is dissolved.

3. Once the tea has cooled, place the Kombucha culture in/on top of the tea (normal-may sink or float). Cover with a couple layers of the paper towel and secure it with a rubber band.

4. Leave the tea in a undisturbed area for 2-3 weeks to ferment.

5. After the fermentation period, strain the tea using unbleached coffee filters into sealable glass bottles.

To receive its optimal benefits, Kombucha is best served cold, 4 oz. every morning on an empty stomach. I feel an instant energy boost when I drink it, and notice an overall improvement in my complexion as well.

The bottled and filtered Kombucha tea can be stored in the refrigerator for 6-8 weeks.

Store the Kombucha cultures in glass jars with a bit of tea, which will keep it growing, or refrigerate them on a glass plate covered with a layer of wax paper underneath plastic wrap or a plastic bag.


THE FOODIE SECTION’S GIFT GUIDE. Delicious Gifts Under $50

Since buying unique, useful, and affordable holiday gifts can be quite a feat, the following gift suggestions are among some of my foodie favorites, all costing under $50.

Teuscher’s Champagne Truffle has a Dom Perignon cream center surrounded by a dark chocolate ganache, which is then covered with milk chocolate and then dusted with confectioner’s sugar. The layers of  silky Swiss chocolate intermingled with the creamy champagne center is what I call pure holiday decadence.

Teuscher Champagne Truffles (16 pieces) $39

Blue Bottle Coffee is artisanal coffee at its finest. The Bay Area based coffee company uses only organic, pesticide-free, and shade grown (traditional, most beneficial, however scarcely economical, and increasingly harder to find method of coffee bean farming) coffee beans that are freshly roasted and blended (within 4 hours), which in turn produces a smooth richness unlike any other. Try their Bella Donovan Blend, a best-seller made from wild and citrusy organic Ethiopian beans paired with earthy organic Sumatrians.

Blue Bottle Coffee Bella Donovan Blend $18.75/lb

I typically don’t like butter cookies – with one exception: Yoku Moku. A Japanese classic, Yoku Moku are delicate, crisp, light, and of course, individually wrapped, butter cookies. I find Yoku Mokus to be extremely dangerous, for suddenly you’ve eaten half a dozen without even knowing, all due to their wonderful lightness and sweet subtlety. Available at Neiman Marcus stores.

Yoku Moku Assorted Cookies $38-$65

THE FOODIE SECTION. Chef’s Picks. Wine and Cheese Pairings by David Nayfeld

This week’s FOODIE SECTION is dedicated to my favorites, wine and cheese, and comes from David Nayfeld, sous chef of New York’s highly acclaimed Eleven Madison Park. His selection of wine and cheese pairings are delectable and affordable; absolutely perfect for any holiday spread or for a snack, any day.

Truffle Tremor’s semi soft goat cheese is a washed rind cheese that has a slightly pungent exterior when ripe. It’s tart and creamy interior exudes and earthy truffle flavor, making it an excellent pairing with a Vouvray (wine from the Loire Valley in France – often found for under $20). Tart earthy flavors are a wonderful contrast for the slightly sweet and fruit forward wine.

Truffle Tremor Semi Soft Goat Cheese $15.50 1/2 lb

2007 B&G Vouvray $9.99

Humboldt Fog Blue Cheese is excellent paired with a German Riesling Spätlese from the Rheinhessen area (often these wine can be found for under $20). The sweet dried fruit flavor of the wine pairs very well with a mellow blue cheese like this one, since the wine has just enough acidity to cut through the extreme creaminess of the cheese.

Humboldt Fog Blue Cheese $13.50 1/2lb

2007 Gunderloch Riesling Kabinett Baptiste $15.99

Vella Dry Monterey Jack is great paired with NV Scharffenberger Brut (also under $20) as the fruit notes of this sparkling California wine cut through the creaminess of the cheese.

Vella Dry Monterey Jack $10.75 1/2lb

NV Scharffenberger Brut $14.95

David Nayfeld’s Website:

THE FOODIE SECTION. Butternut Squash Double-Header by Sophie Sapp


Food encompasses one of life’s most sacred rituals. What we eat, the quality of our food, and the care in its preparation determines our energy levels, our health; our livelihoods. I’m very fortunate to have several foodies in my life, and the following recipes by Sophie Sapp make delicious, healthy everyday meals that work wonderfully as Thanksgiving side dishes as well.

Food Styling and Photography by Sandy Kwan

Butternut Squash Double-Header by Sophie Sapp
Two autumnal recipes to warm you up, spare your wallet, and impress your dinner guests. Neither of these recipes require precise timing or quantities, so trust your tastebuds and don’t worry if you don’t follow the directions exactly.

Serves 2-3, twice!
Optionally vegan.

Recipe 1: Curry-Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
This is a remarkably easy and quick autumn recipe; the spices really complement the sweetness of the squash. It also happens to be richly satisfying, healthy and inexpensive to make! The only equipment you’ll need is a blender.

-1 large butternut squash, peeled,* seeded, and cut into approx. ¾ inch cubes

*Be very careful peeling and cutting the squash, it is very hard and it is easy for the knife to slip! I use a large sharp knife for this: cut the squash in half the short way, and set the flat ends on the cutting board. Remove the peel in long strips from top to bottom all around the squash, and then in smaller pieces on the rounded parts.

~4 c broth (veg or chicken, homemade or from a box)

~3 T olive oil

-1 T curry powder, plus a little more to taste

-1 t cumin, ground

-½ to 1 t salt, to taste

-½ t black pepper, or more to taste

-1 t medium hot ground chili, I like chili de arbol or cayenne

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Toss the squash in a bowl with the olive oil, salt and pepper, and spices until well coated.

Spread the squash on a cookie sheet, as close to one layer as you can get it.

Put the sheet on the middle rack in the oven, and cook until the squash is very tender, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon to move the cubes around a little. When is it done? Probably in about 45 minutes to an hour. Press a piece with that wooden spoon, it’s done if it squashes easily! Or just use my preferred method, and taste a piece, being careful not to burn your tongue (as I always do).

Divide the cooked squash into two equal parts, and put half aside (you’ll use this for the second recipe, below — be patient!).

You will probably have to do the puréeing in two batches, unless you are using an immersion blender. So put half the squash into the blender, and add about half of the broth. Purée until very smooth. If the purée is very thick, add some water and blend some more. Taste it and see if you like the texture. If it is still too thick, just add some more liquid.

Return the purée to a medium/large heavy pot, and repeat the same process with the other half. Return it to the pot and stir until the soup is well-mixed. It is not too late to add a little more liquid if it still seems too thick (I like it quite thick, so a spoon almost stands in the bowl!). Adjust spices and salt to your taste, heat and serve!

This soup is wonderful with a variety of toppings. Try crème fraîche, toasted pepitas, crumbled bacon, scallions, grated cotija cheese, chopped chives, or sage! Serve with some good toasted crusty bread.

Any extra freezes very well for later.

Recipe 2: Curry-Roasted Butternut Squash with Greens and Beans
This meal is a great way to transition last night’s leftover squash into a whole new dish; the combination of beans, greens and squash is healthy, hearty and colorful on the plate.

-½ roasted butternut squash from Recipe 1

-½ lb dried beans, cooked to your taste and mostly drained of their cooking liquid*

*Something rich, creamy and dense is best, such as pintos, yellow eyes, or a firm soup bean like vallartas (I always use Rancho Gordo’s heirloom beans, cooked in the Rancho Gordo manner, of course:

-1 bunch cooking greens (I prefer Tuscan kale or chard), cleaned, ribs removed, and the leaves sliced into thin ribbons.**

**Stack the leaves flat, start at one end and roll into a cigar shape, cut once the long way and then, still holding the roll in place, cut across the short way into thin ribbons; this is called a chiffonade. If you are using chard, also cut the stems into small pieces crossways, and add these to the pan a few minutes before you add the leaves.

-2-4 cloves garlic, sliced

-1 small onion or 2 shallots, chopped

~2 T olive oil

-½ t cumin, ground

-splash of vinegar (I like to use apple cider vinegar)

-salt and pepper to taste

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. When it shimmers, add the garlic, onion, and cumin and sauté, stirring often, until fragrant and beginning to soften.

Turn the heat down to medium-low, and add the greens and a big pinch of salt.

Stir until the greens are lightly coated with oil. Add a splash of vinegar and stir some more.

When the greens begin to shrink and wilt (about 3-5 minutes), add the cooked squash and beans.

Cook, stirring occasionally, until everything is heated and well-mixed. Taste to ensure that the greens are tender. If not, cook a little longer. Add the pepper, plus a little more vinegar and salt if you like.

Serve alone or over rice. Or try it with another grain; I like it with something chewy like farro or wheat berries. Keeps very well for tomorrow’s lunch!

Sophie Sapp’s Blog: TheSuperTaster
Sandy Kwan’s Blog: FancyFoodFancy

BESTIAL BEAUTY. Spice of Life: Himalayan Salt


As someone consciously trying to live a healthier lifestyle, I’ve recently switched my table and cooking salt from iodized/sea salt/kosher salt to Himalayan salt. Himalayan salt is a type of pinkish rock salt mined in Pakistan that contains 84 minerals and trace elements naturally occurring in the body, which help restore the body’s alkaline and electrolyte balance, important factors when considering the long term effects of dehydration and excessive acidity (premature aging and the increase potential for disease due to overcompensation of the organs).

Himalayan salt is available at most health food stores and comes in a variety of forms as illustrated below (rock, coarse, fine, and plated):


Sur La Table’s Himalayan Pink Rock Salt


Coarsely Ground Himalayan Salt from Saltworks


Finely Ground Himalayan Salt from Saltworks


Himalayan Salt Plate from Sur La Table

A highly aesthetic way to prepare and serve food, salt plates can be cooked on (with a cooking agent like olive oil or butter) in the oven, stove top, and on the grill. The plates mildly salt the food placed on top of them, thus having a curing effect. They are anti-microbial and easy to clean without detergent, (only need to be scoured and rinsed).

They can also be used chilled or frozen to serve cold cheeses, Carpaccio, ice cream, and sorbets.

Other uses for Himalayan salt include:

As a mouthwash/gargle for gum and throat health.

As a daily brine to detoxify the body and restore its pH Balance.

As bath salts to help rheumatism pain.

As a face and body mask to treat acne and remove impurities from the skin.

To remedy acid reflux, as recommended by Dr. Oz.

Like any salt, use with care as it is still sodium chloride and can cause hypertension (high blood pressure) when ingested in excess.