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Just over 1 year ago, I made kombucha from a vinegar extract of tea. In preparing to follow that experiment with kombucha made with a homemade tea tincture (alcohol extraction), I made a series of kombucha batches with the addition of Vodka. I chose vodka because it is relatively inexpensive and contains minimal “contaminants” that would flavor or be potentially harmful to the culture. I did this because I wasn’t sure how much of the tincture I could add before the amount of alcohol would have a detrimental affect on the brew. I made a series of batches, gradually increasing the amount of vodka until I reached the volume that my tincture would produce when it was ready.

I made four batches, with 2, 4, 6, and 8 tablespoons of vodka. There wasn’t really a lot of variation. The acidity seemed to develop normally, with a 3.2 pH after 21 days. Overall it tasted just a little bit different from the usual, but I can’t really describe how. Interestingly, the scoby on the first two was .5″, but the last two was 1″, so the increased alcohol seems to be having some sort of effect.

The alcohol should have a sanitizing effect, killing of a variety of microbes that can’t tolerate it. So while the addition doesn’t seem to have much long-term purpose for me, the regular addition may be of use to someone who had problems with their kombucha getting contaminated. I’m not sure, but it’s worth a try.

Next up will be a side-by-side comparison of kombucha made with steeped Ceylon tea, and kombucha made with a Ceylon tea tincture. I suspect I’ll eventually follow this up with kombucha made with different distilled spirits. I’m particularly interested in trying Rum and Whisky, but I’m less confident that I can find a good product at a reasonable price.

As spring turned into summer, I noticed that my scobies seemed to be very thin in the middle. At time I had a scoby 1.5″ thick at the edges and 1mm in the middle. A veritable donut scoby. At first I thought it was due to the formation of large bubbles of CO2 pushing the middle of the scoby out of the surface. I started checking the scoby weekly, also making sure that it wasn’t sticking to the side of the jar. I’ve now resolve the problem by reducing the temperature of the heating pad located under the jars.

I’m not sure why the higher temperature caused a circular scoby, but I have a hypothesis. The heat caused the kombucha to circulate up the middle, out to the sides, and down the edges of the bottle as the heat escaped and the kombucha cooled.  My guess is that the temperature in the middle was simply a little too high. The thermometer stuck to the side of the glass indicated 86°, which is supposedly the upper range for kombucha culture comfort, and the middle would have been warmer.

I turned the heating pad from high to medium, and the thin area got smaller, but didn’t do away completely. The outside temperature was now between 82° and 84°. After a month or so of similar scobies, I turned the heating pad to low and have found the scoby production is again of relatively even thickness. The final temperature is 78°-80°.

So, if you get a scoby shaped like a donut, you may want to lower the temperature on your fermentation jar. Then again, the shape of the scoby doesn’t seem to have any bearing on the health or flavor of the kombucha, so maybe the higher temperature is just fine.

There are hundreds of sites with instructions on how to make kombucha, and I hadn’t originally anticipated that someone would want that information from me. Generally speaking, my blog is for my own use, primarily recording my experiences for future reference, and secondarily for sharing those with my friends and family.

Nevertheless, those who end up here may like to know exactly how I make kombucha, so I’ll try to document it. At some point I’ll probably reread this and rediscover something I’d forgotten. I’ll try to describe things without getting into the weeds on technical details like the ratio of volume to open surface.

The gear I use:

  • gallon jars (large pickle jars, w/ lids)
  • quart canning jars, wide-mouth (for my small-scale experiments)
  • drug store heating pad
  • large, plain, white coffee filter
  • large rubber bands
  • aquarium thermometer on one gallon jar
  • wine-range pH strips

The gear I’d like to use, or may eventually use:

  • 1 gallon or 2 quart canning jars
  • 5 gallon bucket (food grade) w/ spigot and mesh lid
  • An autospihon
  • A refractometer (for measuring sugar content)
  • A good digital pH meter

My usual food ingredients:

  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 2 family size decaf black tea bags (I change it up with a new loose tea every fourth batch)
  • 1 cup plain kombucha tea
  • 1 scoby
  • 3-4 quarts distilled water (reverse-osmosis + carbon filtering is probably fine)
    • Apparently, fluoride and chlorine kills the kombucha microbes, so the point is to use water that contains little or none of these chemicals. When in doubt, call the source for actual fluoride and chlorine levels.

My process:

  • boil water in a large saucepan on back burner (1-3 quarts)
  • add tea, cover and turn off
  • let it steep until room temperature (~3 hours)
  • squeeze last bit of fluid out of tea bags and pour tea into pickle jar
  • add sugar to jar and stir
  • add plain kombucha to jar
  • add scoby to jar
  • top off jar with water
  • cover jar with coffee filter and rubber band
  • label jar
  • put jar on heating pad
  • wait

From what I’ve read, it seems like it takes unusually long for my kombucha to ferment. Maybe I like it stronger than most, or maybe there’s something unique to my culture or process. Fermentation speed is affected by temperature. My first summer, I just kept my kombucha in the garage. When it started getting cold out, I introduced a heating pad, and eventually moved it all inside. Get an aquarium temp sticker for your fermentation jar and shoot for 68-86°. Generally speaking, the warmest location will be the most efficient, as long as it stays within the comfort rage of the yeast and bacteria.

I use little paper stickers to put the date on the jar when I start it, as well as any notes about what might be different about the brew (gunpowder tea, piloncillo sugar, etc). Although I generally drink 1 gallon a week, I’ve built up a small bit of reserve, so I label the quart jars in of bottled kombucha in my fridge so that I can identify the base and any added flavors. I use a sharpie for this, because the paper labels are more prone to getting soggy from condensation or dripping.

I should probably transition to continuous brewing soon. Then I’ll use that for my usual stuff, and pickle jars for experimentation. It’s hard/bad to experiment with continuous brew since there’s no clear break from one batch to the next, and there’s potential to ruin your culture if the experiment goes wrong. It’s pretty easy to find 1-2 gallon jars with a spigot, but since I drink ~1 gallon a week with a three week ferment, I expect to need at least a 3 gallon container. If fermentation speeds up, I may need less, but if it slows down I’ll need more. Thus, I’m considering something like a 5-gallon bucket with spigot.

I use decaf tea, but many people use regular (thinking they must). Many people also think (falsely) you can decaffeinate regular tea, or that kombucha made with regular tea is caffeine-free. The studies I’ve seen have had mixed results about the amount of caffeine left in the finished kombucha. The leading hypothesis seems to be that, depending on the exact microbes in a particular culture, caffeine can be consumed (it’s high in nitrogen, the vital nutrient), but may not be consumed until preferred (easier to metabolize) nitrogen sources are consumed. Personally, I use decaf because I want to be able to drink it at any time, and to be able to give it to anyone. Caffeine has no useful effect for me, so I might as well avoid it when convenient.

If you do use caffeinated tea and want to see how much you might be drinking, it should be easy to estimate the theoretical max. Just take the amount of caffeine in the tea you used, divide by the 128 ounces in your gallon of finished kombucha (or whatever volume you end up with), and multiply by the number of ounces you are drinking. This is only a rough estimate. Actual starting caffeine will depend on what the tea leaves/bag actually contained, how much was extracted by your steep, and how much was broken down during fermentation. The caffeine should be further diluted by the volume of whatever flavoring you may add.

I steep the tea for a long time, because I’ve found that the resulting kombucha has a richer flavor. I imagine that it would also increase the extraction of caffeine, but since I use decaf tea, this doesn’t concern me.

Many people add the sugar to the tea as it steeps. I don’t, simply to avoid the chance that sugar will caramelize. Since water boils at 212° and sugar caramelizes at 340°, it shouldn’t happen except where the sugar touches the pan itself. Even if it did, I don’t know that it would hurt anything. I’m sure I’ll try it someday, but I haven’t yet. Along those lines, I should also try making a batch with intentionally caramelized sugar.

I save one cup from each batch as a starter for the next. It seems like the bottom of the jar is more cloudy, so I imagine it has more yeast and bacteria. Thus, the cup for the next batch comes from the (strained) dregs at the bottom of the last. I have a spare jar full of old scobys (scoby hotel) and some of each previous batch of kombucha, giving me a very strong pseudo-solera kombucha tea. I use this jar to get the cup of kombucha and the scoby that starts each new batch. So the process of bottling adds scoby+kombucha to the jar. The process of brewing removes scoby+kombucha from the jar. I have to “clean it out” occasionally, as each week the hotel adds its own fresh 1/4 inch scoby to the top of the jar.

If the old scoby floats, the new scoby will become attached to it when it grows. If you want, you can pull them apart when you bottle. The old scoby can also sink. I generally prefer that, just so that they stay separate. I like this just so that I can easily see how the new scoby is growing, but also because sometimes they can tear when separating. Tearing isn’t a practical problem, just an aesthetic one for me. Generally speaking, a scoby is a three-dimensional cellulose matrix with yeast and bacteria trapped within its structure: you can cut a scoby into pieces and it will be fine.

Once a week, I poke at the scoby to make sure that it isn’t stuck to the sides of the jar and to push out any air bubbles that may be under the scoby. I know that the scoby isn’t stuck if it will rotate (radially) in the jar. Air bubbles can push the scoby out of the kombucha, and can make the scoby stick to the sides where they get dry. All of this increases the potential evaporation, so you lose more to the air. Since I have a jar to bottle every week, I poke and prod with the straw that I’ll eventually use to taste the kombucha that’s been fermenting for two weeks. Sometimes the fermentation can be quicker or slower, so I always taste at two weeks and each subsequent week. I’ve read that it’s a good idea to gently press down on the scoby every few days, just enough to wet the surface of the scoby (to inhibit mold) and to press out any air bubbles. I’ve done this sporadically, but haven’t decided if I like the practice.

How can you tell when the kombucha is done? Ultimately, by tasting it. Feel free to smell it, but don’t make any decisions based on scent. When the flavor is somewhere between “tastes good enough” and “tastes a little too strong”, it’s probably done. Your first taste should be by dipping a straw into the jar, filling it, and dropping the straw-full onto your tongue. Use the straw to gently push aside the scoby enough to fit the straw down the inside edge of the jar. If it seems to taste good, carefully pour off a little (2-4 oz) so that you have enough to see how it tastes for as a real drink. If it still tastes good, bottle your kombucha and throw it into the refrigerator.

The flavor will change when it’s refrigerated. In my experience, the flavor simplifies. Usually, it’s just a matter of some flavor nuances disappearing, but occasionally the disappearances of some flavors mean that other flavors will become more noticeable. You’ll have to learn how it changes to your palate, adjust however you see fit, and perhaps adjust your next batch to ferment longer, with less sugar, etc. I actually prefer my kombucha warm over cold just because the flavor is richer. The difficulty lies in the fact that warm kombucha continues to ferment. Since I don’t want pressure to build in my bottles (risking explosion), and I don’t want to pasteurize the drink to halt the process, I refrigerate it. Continuous brewing should also help with this.

After bottling, I leave it in the refrigerator until it’s cold, and then taste it again. Based on the cold flavor, I’ll usually add a tea bag to incorporate a complementary flavor. If my timing was off and the kombucha is a little too sweet or sour, I’ll pick a contrasting flavor in an effort to provide some semblance of balance. I usually leave the tea bag steeping for 24 hours, squeeze the fluid it’s holding into the bottle, and throw the bag away. I’ve found that 24 hours is almost always enough time to extract the flavors I want, and that longer steeps can extract flavors I don’t want. I always leave 8oz plain (and unrefrigerated) to start the next batch of kombucha.

Some people like to use a secondary fermentation for added fizziness and other flavor options. I have never tried it, and don’t anticipate trying it since I’m happy with my “plain” light fizz and would rather avoid the added sugar that’s usually part of the process. You can search the web for it and decide for yourself.

I bottle into quart jars for sheer convenience. I already had quite a few and they are easy to pour into and out of. It would be easier if I had an autosiphon, but I’ve not yet invested in it. If you’d like to bottle into Grolsch-style bottles (advisable with secondary fermentation), get an autosiphon.

When I bottle, I pour the kombucha though a fine plastic strainer. It’s not required, but the floaty bits gross me out a little, so I remove them. I use the same strainer when I’m pouring myself a glass from the bottle. Even though the cultures should be inactive and hibernating from the cold, it’s pretty clear that there’s still some activity while it’s in the refrigerator.

After I bottle the kombucha, I rinse off the scoby and the jar with cold tap water, and start a new batch. Rinsing the scoby isn’t required, and some people advise against it. I like to get all the loose bits off. Note that while I always brew with distilled water, that’s the only place I use it. Many people caution against using tap water for cleaning, etc, but this is one place I’ve thrown caution to the wind. I also use cold tap water for rinsing the jars, strainer, and everything else. I know my tap water is chlorinated and fluoridated, but it doesn’t seem to be hurting my kombucha production at all.

That’s all I have for now. If you have a question, or think of something I’ve forgotten, please comment. Happy brewing!

I generally make one post for each experiment. In this case, I started and ended these three at the same time, and none of them were particularly noteworthy. Well, almost nothing was noteworthy. Obviously I found value in noting the fact that they didn’t work.

Following my usual formula for kombucha experiments, 2 tablespoons of “tea” was extracted using 1 pint of boiling distilled water for three hours (until it was cool). To this was added 1/4 cup white sugar, 1/4 cup kombucha tea, combined in a 1 quart jar and topped off with more distilled water. Here are the results:


  • 15 days: It tasted watery and slightly sour, with a pH of 3.6. It had a healthy-looking 3mm scoby floating on the top.
  • 30 days: It still tasted watery, this time without any sourness. It had a light funky odor that I didn’t care for. The pH was over 4.4, suggesting that the culture ran out or nitrates/sugars and started metabolizing the acids. The previous scoby sank, and it had an additional 1mm scoby on top. The scobies are smooth, cloudy, and pink.


  • 15 days: Like the beet kombucha, the flavor was watery and lightly sour, with a pH of 3.6. It had a .5 mm scoby on top with a .5 inch of “webby” sediment in the bottom.
  • 30 days: Noting changed in two weeks. The flavor was still watery and lightly sour, with a pH of 3.6. The previous scoby sank, and it had a .5 mm scoby on top with .75 inch of “webby” sediment in the bottom. The scobies were smooth, regular, and clear

Red Raspberry Leaf

  • 15 days: The flavor was watery, with a sharp acetic acidity, and a pH of 4.0.
    1mm scoby, with what looked like a 1″ x 2″ cotton ball in the bottom. At a pH of 4.0, normal kombucha would not have as strong an acetic flavor, because of a larger proportion of gluconic acid.
  • 30 days: The flavor is now watery, without any sourness, and a pH of 4.4. , As with the beet kombucha, this suggests that the culture ran out or nitrates/sugars and started metabolizing the acetic acid. The scoby has grown to 2mm thick, but the “cotton ball” looks the same. There were fine 1″ long white fibers hanging down from the scoby, and a patch of white fuzz growing on top of the scoby. This is the first time I’ve encountered anything resembling mold on kombucha.


I once used roasted chicory to flavor a sweet kombucha. I mostly picked the chicory because I sometimes enjoy the flavor of chicory, and it seems like a great way to offset a kombucha was was overly sweet. It was okay, kind of intriguing, but probably not something I’d try again. This is different.

This is sippin’ kombucha.

In this 1 quart experiment, I combined 1/4 cup sugar, 1/4 cup kombucha, an extract from 1 pint of distilled water and 2 tablespoons of roasted chicory, and topped it off with more distilled water.

As with some of my other experiments, I seems to have lost some of my notes. I sampled it every two weeks, and each time the fresh 1mm scoby sank, and a new one would grow. Unsurprisingly, the scobys were very dark.

  • 2 weeks: It’s not particularly sweet, without any sourness, and the chicory flavor is softer than I expected. I think the pH is 3.6, but its hard to tell because the chicory is so dark and staining.
  • 8 weeks: There’s a slight sweetness, a slight sourness, and some chicory flavor. I think pH is 3.2, but its hard to tell because the chicory is so dark and staining.
  • 12 weeks: It’s lightly sweet with a subtle sourness and mild-chicory flavor. I think the pH is 3.0, but its hard to tell because the chicory is so dark and staining. At this point 2 inches has evaporated from the quart jar. This is worth drinking.

I have three cups remaining. I’ll keep one plain. I’ll try one with dried elderberry to see if I end up with something port-like. The other was flavored with coffee.

  • Plain: The overall flavor starts starts out lightly sweet with an almost subtle sourness, progressing to a fuller mild-chicory flavor, turning into a slight acetic bite in the back of the throat with a mild chicory bitterness in the aftertaste. It’s well-rounded, but not in a boring “balanced” way. Instead, it has several flavors that are strong enough to contrast, but mild enough to play nicely together and not overwhelm your tastebuds.
  • Elderberry: This takes the basic profile, and bends it towards a more complex dried-fruit sweetness. It’s a little like a dry port.
  • Coffee: This was pretty amazing. I tried it because chicory and coffee are a classic pairing, and I’m surprised by how it turned out. The coffee added a slight coffee bitterness to the tip of the tongue, and it was present from the beginning until the last of the aftertaste. The chicory flavor was present, but completely melded with the coffee, and the chicory bitterness had disappeared from the aftertaste. I sipped 8oz over the course of an hour.

I might just have to make a full gallon of this. I won’t go through it very quickly, but it appears to age well.

I made a batch of kombucha where the sucrose was replaced with glucose. I used priming sugar from my local homebrew supplier, but you could also use corn-sugar or dextrose. This was a followup to my agave kombucha and brown rice kombucha, in which I try to confirm that glucose is exclusively (or at least mostly) converted into gluconic acid.

I sampled it at 14, 21, and 28 days before finally bottling it. At this point it tasted sour, and was highly astringent, but not vinegary. The pH was 3.0.

But what how does gluconic acid taste? One source describes it as having a “mild, soft, refreshing taste”. Another describes it as “mild and herbal”, while another as mild and unobtrusive. There’s probably a reason “mild” gets mentioned every time. One test found that at pH 4.0, the sourness of gluconic acid is rated 0 (out of 6), while acetic acid was rated 3. By pH 3.25, gluconic acid was rated 3, while acetic was rated 6. In other words, the pH has to get really low (for a beverage) before gluconic acid will make it taste sour.

I didn’t know this when it was fermenting, but if I had, I think I could have made a batch that tasted better. My hypothesis is that since i allowed it to ferment long enough that it tasted sour, and the sour taste is subtle, I allowed most of the sugar to ferment out. Thus, it tastes vaguely “hollow”, resembling the half-sugar kombucha. I ended up blending it with sweeter kombucha for drinking.

I attempted to confirm that glucose is gets converted into gluconic acid when making kombucha, and I have to declare this a complete success.

As an aside, here are some other things I learned about the flavor characteristics of gluconic acid.

  • It is used as a “debitterant” in artificial sweeteners and diet beverages.
    • Reducing bitterness seems like it would usually be a good thing, but might be counterproductive in Kombucha flavored with hops, and might cause unexpected shifts tin the flavors of some ingredients (grapefruit, juniper, etc)
  • Someone received a patent for using gluconic acid to can bacon (in 1953!). it states that Gluconic acid is the only acid that can reach a suitable pH without impairing the flavor. In particular, they note that “during the frying of the bacon, [gluconic acid] reverts to glucono-delta-lactone which has a slightly sweetish flavor and no acid characteristics”


Well, okay, it’s certainly better and stronger than last time, but it took longer to achieve it. When I made rooibos kombucha two months ago, it pretty much tasted like slightly-sour rooibos tea, and the sourness it had wasn’t the usual acetic tang. I wrote that I would try it again, letting it ferment longer.

This time I steeped 2 tablespoons of rooibos in 1 pint of boiling distilled water for three hours (until it was cool). Then I added 1/4 cup white sugar and 1/4 cup strong (pH 2.8) kombucha tea from my scoby hotel. Like last time, the scoby was minimal, growing ~1mm every two weeks. Here’s how it changed over time:

  • 2 weeks: pH 3.6, slightly sweet with a strong rooibos flavor.
  • 4 weeks: pH 3.2, slightly sweet/sour, with a mild rooibos flavor.
  • 6 weeks: pH 3.0, slightly sweet, with a clear fermented sourness, but without any rooibos flavor.
  • 8 weeks: pH 2.8, slightly sweet, strong sourness, and a rooibos odor without any rooibos flavor.

The development pretty clearly followed my first batch. The scoby was minimal, and the acidic flavor was not that of acetic. Rather than vinegar, it reminds me of very strong lemonade with a wee bit of acetic bite in the back of the throat. I like really strong lemonade, and I liked this a lot.

It’s unusual (for me) that this retains the scent of the original tea. I’m guessing that I would also taste it, if it wasn’t for the unusually-high acidity overwhelming the tea flavor. Given the pH of 2.8, it’s surprisingly drinkable. I find it fascinating that the nitrogen source (tea) appears to have had a significant impact on the type of acid that was produced. I wonder if that was a function of the nutrients it contains, or a rooibos-native microbe.

Based on my lemonade impression, I’ll guess it produced citric acid; next time I’ll make a 1 gallon batch and sample it with different diluted acids and try to identify the acid. I’ll probably stop it a little sooner (pH 3.0) and try to confirm my suspicion that the acetic acid develops later when conditions are inhospitable for bacteria other than acetobacter.

This is not just kombucha flavored with sassafras, which was a disappointment when I tried it. Instead, this is 1 quart of sassafras tea fermented with a kombucha culture. I steeped 2 tablespoons of dried sassafras in 1 pint of boiling distilled water for three hours (until it was cool). Then I added 1/4 cup white sugar and 1/4 cup strong (pH 2.8) kombucha tea from my scoby hotel.

At two weeks the pH was 3.2. The taste was watery, slightly sweet, slightly tart, and with a noticeable astringency. It smells and tastes of sassafras, with an additional bitter woodiness in the flavor. the scoby was 1mm thick.

I apparently lost the notes that I took at 4, 6, and 8 weeks. I don’t believe the pH changed after the first two weeks, and the flavor hadn’t changed all that much either. It was still slightly sweet and tart, with a mild sassafras flavor, and a faint bitter woodiness. The surprise was that it had a strong kick of astringency. If I took a drink and swished it around, my mouth felt like it was drying out. It wasn’t unpleasant, but a little intense.

Overall, it resembled a light, refreshing summer drink. In fact, my brother commented “I sort’ve like it as a light lemonade / Arnold Palmer”, but his wife (who likes kombucha, but not sassafras) found the odor offensive. Pretty much all of the flavor disappeared when it was cold, so I drank it warm, which detracted from the refreshment factor a bit.

While interesting, it doesn’t strike me as a culture that’s self-sustainable.

This 1 quart experiment was started early March, and ran for 6 weeks. At the time I wrote:

This is a quart of “normal” kombucha except that the white sugar has been replaced with xylitol. I’ve read that xylitol doesn’t work in kombucha, so this has the same expected minimal fermentation as the sugar-free kombucha, except sweetened by all of the starting unfermentable xylitol. In other words, I may end up with plain sweet tea. However, there are a few yeast or bacteria that can use the xylitol, and perhaps some are in my culture. We’ll  see!

  • At 2 weeks, the pH was 4.4 and the flavor was sweet. It had a very think (1 mm) scoby that sank to the bottom.
  • At 4 weeks, the pH was 3.6 and the flavor was not sweet, but lightly sour. It appears that a thin (1 mm) scoby formed in the bottom, as a very even line “floating” above the one that sank at 2 weeks. This seems very strange; maybe it had been floating, and sank when I moved it?
  • At 6 weeks, the pH was 4.0 and the flavor was very watery, with a very slight tea flavor, but no  sweetness or sourness. A thin (again 1 mm) scoby floated on the top. Approximately 1 inch of liquid has evaporated.

At this point, Since there wasn’t really any forward development between weeks 4 and 6, I decided to stop this experiment and dump it out. Despite the apparent likelihood that nothing would happen and I’d end up with nothing more than xylitol-sweetened tea, the culture seems to have been able to consume the xylitol to produce acid. Apparently when that was done, it consumed the acid that it was a byproduct of it’s earlier fermentation. This study describes how acetic acid bacteria not only metabolize xylose (is that relevant to my apparent oxidation of xylitol?) but also the metabolization of acetic and other organic acids (search for “overoxidation”).

So while this was an interesting experiment, it didn’t really suggest a future path for producing easily-drinkable kombucha. I’ll move on…

When writing up my double-sugar kombucha, I mentioned that I would follow with a batch of kombucha with half the sugar. This is it.

I let this ferment for 16 days, at which point it was sour, with a stark lack of sweetness, a pH of 3.2, and a thin/weak scoby. After refrigeration the flavor is rather plain, and I’ve been surprised how much a little sweetness adds to the flavor. I bottled 1 quart with Hibiscus Key Lime, one with Decaf Earl Grey, and one with Sleepytime Peach. Peach and earl grey are my standbys, and while the flavor was okay, they didn’t adequately improve the base, and still tasted rather plain.

I ended up combining the peach with a half quart of tart Chocolate Hazelnut kombucha, and the result tastes much better. Blending, for the win. With the earl grey, I added a bit of white sugar. This helped, but was a simpler, and somewhat different, flavor than using more sugar at the start. I believe this is because the culture breaks the sucrose into it’s constituent monosaccharides of glucose and fructose, resulting in a final “sugar” flavor that is comprised of two different sugars (with different flavor profiles) than the one that was initially added. Additionally, sucrose, fructose, and glucose are each consumed at different rates by different organisms in the culture, and at different rates depending on the current conditions of the kombucha (acidity, sugar content, nutrient density, alcohol content). Another complicating factor is that flavors influence the way we perceive other flavors. One sugar will taste sweeter in the presence of some acids, and another sugar will taste less sweet in the presence of some other acids. Crazy, eh?

Yes, my last batch of the subject was titled “part 2”, but I mentioned that it was actually my third batch because batch two was described along with an unrelated batch. This confused me, so I’m changing nomenclature in the middle. This is my fourth batch of scoby-free kombucha, so that’s the way I’m going to title it.

Of my last batch, I wrote:

“So far, it seems like my scoby-free experiment is getting gradually sweeter, fermenting more slowly, and producing a less vinegary flavor and aroma. The scoby it produces each time also seems to be a little less thick and more irregular in formation. “

I can’t say for sure if that trend is continuing, because I forgot about this one and let it go for 29 days. At the end of that time, it was pH 3.0 and a bit more tart than I prefer. However, it blended very well with my too-sweet batch of lemon ginger kombucha, so that’s a plus. I also made a bottle with Decaf Mountain Chai and another with 1 tbsp of dried whole goji berries in a muslin bag.

To my palate, the chai was overwhelmed by the sourness of the kombucha, but the goji berries (eventually) produced a much more balanced drink. My sister-in-law appreciates both sour kombucha and chai, and I think she (and my brother) enjoyed the 1/2 quart or so that they consumed. The goji berries added a unique fruity sweetness that stood on it’s own as a counterpoint to the sharp tartness of the kombucha base. I don’t know that I can explain it clearly, but it wasn’t like the kombucha became sweeter, but rather like two distinct flavors that register separately but simultaneously. Next time I’ll chop up the dried goji to see if that helps it steep faster.

This 1 quart experiment was started early February, and ran for 8 weeks. It is  simply water + sugar + kombucha culture. It was described in a bit more detail at the two-week mark. As I said then: “Since it didn’t contain anything to nourish the yeast and bacteria, I wasn’t expecting anything drinkable out of this; I just wanted to see what would happen.”

  • At two weeks, it had no tartness, and was a little sweet. (I didn’t yet have pH papers for measurement.)
  • At four weeks it tasted the same: no tartness, and was a little sweet. The pH was 3.0.
  • At eight weeks there a barely perceptible tartness combined with a slight astringency in the finish. It was still a little sweet, and still pH 3.0.

The puzzling thing here is that for a drink, 3.0 is quite acidic. I don’t understand how it could be that acidic without any discernible tartness.

Despite the fact that the flavor was still developing, the very slow pace and the lack of pH change over 4 weeks  convinced me to dump it out, and call the experiment complete. in hindsight, I should have used it to make probiotic lemonade, since the flavor is very similar to the water kefir I use for that purpose. Next time!

This thing had a very strange-looking scoby. It’s hard to see, but there seems to be 1 inch of mostly-clear scoby with a milky-tan part hanging down.

water kombucha scoby

floating water kombucha scoby

However, the structure must have been like a jellyfish, with a firm “skin” that’s actually hollow. When I held the scoby in my hand, it collapsed.

floating water kombucha scoby in-hand

“deflated” water kombucha scoby


No, this isn’t a euphemism for artificially-sweetened Kombucha. It’s an experiment to confirm that it doesn’t work to brew kombucha without a carbon source (sugar). This was started last month, but I’m just now getting around to posting about it. This batch was simply, tea + kombucha culture.

  • After two weeks it tasted like very weak tea and had a pH of 3.8.
  • After four weeks it tasted like very weak vinegar, and had a pH of 3.6.

After 1 month with so little progression, I dumped it out. This was never expected to do much, and not much happened. Apparently the culture will consume whatever it can to survive, and when the same thing is both nutrients and raw materials for reproduction, the process doesn’t get very far.

This was a 1 quart experiment in which I steeped dried goji berries and fermented the result.

I used:

  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup kombucha tea
  • 4 tb chopped dried goji berries

My post-steep, pre-fermentation straining was inadequate, and there was a variety of small debris clearly visible. Eventually, most of it floated to the top, where it gave the scoby an odd pinkish orange speckle. After two weeks, the scoby formed a seal around the edges of the jar, and a bubble of CO2 pushed it off of the surface of the kombucha. The scoby was very strange, and fell apart with minor pressure. Look for pics below. Next time I should use a paper filter during or after steeping, and check more often to make sure the scoby isn’t sticking.

The flavor had a distinct sharp sourness, vaguely resembling green apples. After 2 weeks, my warm straw-sample tasted pretty good despite having a pH of only 3.6.  After refrigeration, the flavors from the warm sampling were still there, but much more subtle. More than any other kombucha I’ve made, it tastes like juice, reminding me of a slightly weak but slightly tart apple juice. I need to get more goji berries and try this again, maybe letting it ferment a bit longer.

Here are my first ever blog pics; They;ll probably become an occasional occurrence.

scoby top

The top of the scoby

scoby bottom

The bottom of the scoby

Gluconacetobacter xylinum (formerly named Acetobacter xylinum) has been established as a defining microbe in kombucha. It’s also been demonstrated that in a high-glucose environment, Ga. xylinum produces less cellulose (scoby) and more gluconic acid. This prompted me to make a batch of kombucha with twice the usual sugar (2 cups/gallon).

After 23 days it was pH 3.4 and I bottled it. Unfortunately, I discovered after bottling that while it doesn’t have noticeable acidity, it is still quite sweet. I attempted to balance this sweetness by using flavorings that were not. I bottled one quart with Decaf Mountain Chai, one with Lemon Ginger, and one with Roasted Chicory. As usual, the base flavor simplified after refrigeration, but a 1/4 tsp malic acid and a dash of Angostura Bitters made a glass of plain pretty tasty.

After steeping for 1 day, the chai bottle is still too sweet, but it better than plain. The Lemon ginger flavor is subtle but the sweetness has taken on a distinct honeyness. The Chicory is the most balanced of the three, but would probably have been better with less steep time. I’ve left the first two steeping for a another day to see if they improve.

I don’t have the ability to tell how my the production of gluconic acid was in relation to acetic acid, but my little experiment did seem to mirror the study’s depressed cellulose production. This batch grew the thinnest scoby I’ve seen in any of my gallon jars, and the thinnest of any experiment that I actually expected to produce a viable culture. Incidentally, I think this is viable, and probably would have been fine if I had let it ferment even longer. I’m learning that it is hard to get an accurate feel for the sweet/sour balance from the contents of a straw. I may need to find a large bulb syringe or an auto-siphon for pulling larger samples. Anyone have a spare refractometer I could use to actually measure the sugar content? Not that sugar concentration will directly translate to taste (fructose is twice as sweet as glucose, and the sweetness of glucose is reduced by acetic acid), but it would at least give me another data point, and it might give me a ballpark guide that’s close enough.

It only seems fitting to follow this up with a batch of kombucha with half the sugar.

Apparently, agave syrup is 60-90% fructose. I used C&H Organic Blue Agave, but I don’t know what the fructose content was. I’ve read that fructose becomes acetic acid while glucose becomes gluconic acid.  Since one of my goals is to produce a probiotic drink that doesn’t taste like vinegar, I want to better understand the process by which acetic acid is formed, and see if I can influence it. Thus, I made a batch of agave kombucha expecting it to taste very vinegary. It didn’t.

I’m not sure why this didn’t have a stronger acetic flavor than my usual sucrose kombucha. Sucrose is composed of fructose and glucose in equal proportions. I now have a batch brewing with corn sugar. Corn sugar is entirely glucose, so I’m expecting the corn-sugar kombucha to have little or no vinegar flavor. I first tried an all-glucose brew with brown rice syrup, and it didn’t turn out so well. We’ll see if I have more luck this time.

The study linked above also mentions that fructose is poorly metabolized, which concurs with other reports that fructose takes “considerable longer to ferment”. That does seem to have happened here, as this batch to 23 days to complete. Incidentally, after 19 days it was pH 3.4 and tasted sweet. At 23 days it was pH 3.2 and tasted tart and much less sweet. It could have gone longer, but I was all out of kombucha to drink!

I tried to be more aware of pairing sweet flavors with a tart kombucha. I drank one quart plain, and made one each with Earl Grey and Sugar Cookie Sleigh Ride. After steeping for 1 day, I pulled out the tea bag. The earl grey is a better flavor. I’m developing a collection of holiday-themed tea bags that are okay, but not great. They’ve been clearance purchases so I suppose it’s no big loss if they get thrown away, but I might as well keep them in case I run out of better options.

Some time ago I purchased acid-range pH strips,, but they were relatively expensive, had an overly-wide range, and never seemed all that accurate. Just over a week ago I picked up a bottle of 100 wine-range pH strips, and I’m pleased to say that they are better on all counts. I’ll start measuring each batch, and a variety of other things, too.

After 18 days of fermentation, this batch measured pH3.6. It was full-bodied, tart, and astringent, but not vinegary. It didn’t taste particularly sweet, which was a nice change after my last batch. I was expecting this to be very similar to my usual kombucha, but there really isn’t any good reason for that. Of course, the ceylon was undoubtedly fresher and was probably higher quality. Now that I think of it, the ceylon was organic and it probably contained it’s own bevy of yeast and bacteria that contributed to the fermentation.

I flavored a quart each with Purely Hibiscus, Cranberry Vanilla Wonderland, and 2 TB of dried Sassafrass. I’m not especially fond of any of them. They seem to be poorly suited to this kombucha base, and are each relatively harsh. The Sassafras is interesting in that it smells a lot like rootbeer, but none of that comes through in the flavor. After a couple of days of continued steeping, the sassafras kombucha seemed to be developing more woody flavors and the rootbeer scent had decreased. I tried adding some honey, but it still had a rough edge. I added a dash of Angostura bitters, my “magic melder“, and it made all the difference. It’s been quite a while since I had thought about that, I’ll have to try it more.

I’m beginning to think that I should start removing my tea bags (or other post-bottling flavorants) after 24 hours of steeping. I get enough flavor by that time. have never noticed ay added benefit, and I’m now beginning to notice a pattern of increased off-flavors (starting with the Republic of Tea “Hibiscus” teas I used here).

For my last batch I mistakenly paired a sweet flavoring with a sweet kombucha. This time I took a tart kombucha and added piquant flavorings. Clearly, I need to spend more time tasting the plan kombucha and selecting an appropriate flavoring. Hopefully my future brews will be more on the tart side. The sweet ones are less refreshing and too easy to drink in rapid succession. Then again, if I paired a piquant flavoring with a sweet kombucha, maybe I’d restore balance in the force, and all would be well.

I’ve recently started sharing samples with my brother and his wife, and it’s interesting to learn how their impressions differ. In particular, her tastes seem to veer towards more intense flavorings, and I think she liked one of more of these. Perhaps one or both will start commenting with their impressions…

Alternatively, since this is about my third batch of scoby-free kombucha, you could call this part 3. The second batch was mentioned in my post on rooibos kombucha. Anyhow…

I bottled my third batch of scoby-free kombucha. After fermenting three weeks, it was approximately pH 3.2, tasted pretty sweet, and had little acetic flavor or scent. To 1 quart of kombucha I added 2.5 tbsp of ground dried elderberries, and the result tasted a lot like black currants with a touch of raisins. This was an interesting flavor, but I think it would have been better suited to a batch that was less sweet to begin with.

So far, it seems like my scoby-free experiment is getting gradually sweeter, fermenting more slowly, and producing a less vinegary flavor and aroma. The scoby it produces each time also seems to be a little less thick and more irregular in formation. It’s too early to tell if this is just a gradual process toward dying off, but the flavor and scent are heading in a direction that is more palatable to the rest of my family. Time will tell.

I read in interesting study titled Yeast Ecology of Kombucha Fermentation, which found that the scoby contained a higher concentration of yeast than the fermenting tea. Even more, it found that the concentrations were relatively stable in the scoby though the entire fermentation process. In the tea, some yeasts dominated the sugary beginning, and died off completely as the acidity increased. I’ve seen other studies (I’ll edit this post to link them if I see them again) that show the same thing for bacteria levels.

I took away two things from this:

  1. Scoby-free kombucha is likely to be the quickest way to gradually change the constitution of a culture. Some microbes won’t be transferred form one batch to the next, and any new introductions are likely to benefit form the decreased competition.
  2. However, because microbes that can’t tolerate a high-acids environment won’t survive from one batch to the next, you’ll only be successful in introducing microbes that are acidophilic, unless you make a fresh inoculation each batch. A scoby allows the survival of microbes form one batch to the next even if their environment otherwise becomes fatally hostile.
  3. From the perspective of kombucha as probiotic drink, scoby-free kombucha is probably not desirable, since it will, in time, contain a less diverse collection of species. (If it wasn’t for the fact that humans can’t digest cellulose, eating scoby would probably be the most effective way to get kombucha probiotics.)
  4. Scoby-free kombucha will probably produce a drink with different proportions of different acids. Aside from the easily identifiable acetic acid, my palate is not sensitive enough to tell what is present when mixed with such a wide variety of other substances.
  5. Kombucha brewed this way is probably sustainable, but may not be as vigorous. Fermentation will probably take longer to complete (and be less efficient) since it can’t benefit from the activity of microbes are best suited to each “stage” of the process.

I’m particularly interested in learning from the study of similar processes. For example, here’s an interesting study on bacterial fermentation, pointing out how the process for sauerkraut “has received substantial research in order to commercialise and standardise production. As a result, the process and the contributing micro-organisms are known intimately.” It mentions that a starter culture is recommended for addition to each batch to maintain consistency and accelerate the fermentation. It describes how, like kombucha, different bacteria dominate different stages of the fermentation. It goes on to describe how the use of latter-stage bacteria as the starter culture results in an incomplete fermentation and a substandard end product. It then speaks directly to the experiment of this post:

It is possible to use the juice from a previous kraut fermentation as a starter culture for subsequent fermentations. The efficacy of using old juice depends largely on the types of organisms present in the juice and its acidity. If the starter juice has an acidity of 0.3% or more, it results in a poor quality kraut. This is because the cocci which would normally initiate fermentation are suppressed by the high acidity, leaving the bacilli with sole responsibility for fermentation. If the starter juice has an acidity of 0.25% or less, the kraut produced is normal, but there do not appear to be any beneficial effects of adding this juice. Often, the use of old juice produces a sauerkraut which has a softer texture than normal.

There we have it. I’ll probably continue this experiment as long as it continues to develop, and as long as it seems to have potential as a relatively healthful drink for the familial acetophobes.

Below is the result of two previous experiments, and two new ones. Since I only get 2-3 cups of finished product, I’m not planning to add any additional flavoring when I bottle.

Cocoa Kombucha

I bottled my quart of cocoa kombucha. The ferment seemed to run out well, despite having steeped the cocoa powder in tap water. After two weeks the scoby was around 1/2 inch thick, though the bottom 1/8 inch was unusually porous, resembling a crumpet. It ended up light yellow despite starting out looking like hot chocolate. Next time I need to remember to use a paper filter so that I can avoid the cocoa-silt that settled on the bottom of the jar.

It tasted like a kombucha-flavored hard cider. It tasted less vinegary than usual, but was very refreshing. I wish I had more.

Water Kombucha

When I started my cocoa kombucha, I also started a quart of what I’m calling water kombucha. It’s simply 1/4 cup each of sugar and kombucha added in a quart jar that’s topped off with distilled water. Essentially, it’s kombucha without the tea. Since it didn’t contain anything to nourish the yeast and bacteria, I wasn’t expecting anything drinkable out of this; I just wanted to see what would happen. I wasn’t disappointed.

A cloudy mass slowly formed in the middle of the jar, gradually getting more distinct. I didn’t see anything else in the jar. After two weeks I decided to try it, and was surprised to have my straw stopped by a thick clear film on the top. Could this be some sort of clear scoby? A normal scoby is made of cellulose, which is not clear, but I see no reason that this film might not be a symbiotic combination of yeast and bacteria. After working around the “scoby”, I found that the water kombucha has no hint of tartness, but also not much sweetness. I decided to put it back, and we’ll see how it progresses.

Rooibos Kombucha

A smaller version of my last batch. I plan to let this ferment a long time so that I can see what happens.

Unsweet Kombucha

In the same way that the water kombucha was kombucha without tea, this is kombucha without sugar. Although the yeast and bacteria have nourishment available, they don’t have much to act on. As before, I’m not expecting anything drinkable out of this; I just want to see what happens.

Xylitol Kombucha

This is a quart of “normal” kombucha except that the white sugar has been replaced with xylitol. I’ve read that xylitol doesn’t work in kombucha, so this has the same expected minimal fermentation as the “unsweet kombucha”, except sweetened by all of the starting unfermentable xylitol. In other words, I may end up with plain sweet tea. However, there are a few yeast or bacteria that can use the xylitol, and perhaps some are in my culture. We’ll  see!

Yesterday I bottled my first batch of rooibos kombucha. I made it just like my regular kombucha, but with 1/2 cup of loose rooibos rather than two family-size decaf tea bags.

I’m not sure what to think of it. The scoby that formed on top was relatively thin, and I was able to squeeze a lot of kombucha out of it, whereas my usual scobys are pretty solid. Conventional wisdom is that this indicates that while it may ferment fine for a batch or two, that it cannot sustain itself. I’m not convinced that this is true.

I have an ongoing experiment with scoby-free Kombucha, in which I’m now in my third batch. If I can continue inoculating each brew solely with a cup of the last batch, it doesn’t matter if it produces a scoby. There’s also a question of scoby mechanics. In my last post, I briefly mentioned that there are specific yeast and bacteria that deposit cellulose in a pellicle on the surface (grow a scoby). Most acetobacter bacteria do not produce cellulose, so it is completely feasible for me to have kombucha with a healthy, vigorous culture that produces no scoby or one that is weak, while still tasting very much like kombucha.

And what about the taste. Well, that’s where I was most surprised. I tried it after two weeks and it still tasted very much like rooibos. Interestingly, it was filing the room with a scene reminiscent of unflavored pipe tobacco (white burley). At three weeks, it still tested very much like rooibos, but more complex and “grassy”. It wasn’t sweet, had some fizz, and a slight “bite”, but was missing the expected acetic (vinegary) tang. I don’t necessarily mind the lack of vinegar, but I’m finding this a wee bit bland. There’s not as much depth of flavor and richness as I had with the hojicha kombucha, or even just my usual brew. The thing thats really unique for me is that this pretty much tastes like rooibos tea, and almost doesn’t taste like kombucha at all. The fizz, lack of sweetness, and typical pH3 all tell me that it should be done, but I’ll have to try it again – letting it ferment longer – just to see what happens.

Since my kids and wife find the acetic nature of kombucha particularly objectionable, this may actually indicate a worthwhile variation to explore. Unfortunately, I received negative comments about the odor of the steeping rooibos, so this may ultimately be a dead-end even if I’m successful in reducing the acetic acid. Perhaps flavoring it with something especially aromatic would do the trick.

As I understand it, this is the chemistry (biology?) involved with basic kombucha, oversimplified. I’m not an expert, but I’m presenting this as my effort to work though the process of what is needed, why it is needed, and how it ends up producing something desirable.

I want to start out by mentioning that the culture, which combines multiple varieties of yeast with multiple varieties of bacteria, is a complex symbiont in which some species will dominate the sugary beginning and other species will dominate the acidic ending, with yet more involved throughout the process, so it won’t be as simple as I describe. Additionally, the precise species and proportions of those species will depend on the culture’s historical and current conditions. It is affected by geography, climate, other encountered organisms (such as local bacteria and yeasts), and how we physically change the culture’s environment.

Not only does each ingredient carry potential “contaminants” (whether a dangerous bacteria or an innocuous wild yeast), but each one also changes the nutrients available to support the yeast and bacteria. Maybe are weakened by the fluorine in your tap water. Maybe some love the fructose in the agave syrup and thrive. Maybe your exclusive use of green tea, which contains higher levels of anti-microbial tannins, cause some bacterial to die. Maybe your environment is too warm for some or too cold for others.

If you always make kombucha the same way, your culture has probably reached some level of equilibrium. If you change something, you may not notice a difference. Or maybe it will have a significant effect, and your kombucha will need a while to to reach equilibrium with a new microbiotic makeup. If you persist in the change, you’ll probably affect a permanent change in your kombucha culture.

  • You need a carbon source. (sugar)
  • You need a nitrogen source. (tea)
  • You need growth medium, (water)
  • You need a culture of yeast and bacteria with which to inoculate. (scoby)

The yeast converts carbon to alcohol and CO2. Yeast is a living organism, and has basic nutritional needs, most significantly nitrogen.

The bacteria (especially acetobacter), converts alcohol to acid. Like yeast, bacteria is a living organism, and has basic nutritional needs, with nitrogen again being the most important.

However, this isn’t a simple process by which one organism performs step one, followed by another organism performing step two. It doesn’t strictly progress from sugar to alcohol to acid. The roles overlap. Acetobacter is responsible for producing a pellicle (scoby) on the surface. Some yeasts also produce a pellicle or yeast film. Some yeasts, especially those that produce a yeast film, produce significant amounts of acetic acid. Acetobacter also consumes sugar.

There are quite a few scientific studies available online, and they help demonstrate that while the processes I’ve described are common, each sample contains different proportions of it’s biological constituents, and contain many minor constituents that don’t exist in other samples. You can get a taste for that in the abstract and introduction of this study, but there are many other sources.

One takeaway is that without testing the contents of the culture you use, there’s no way to be certain exactly what yeast and bacteria are present. This means that I can’t simply apply the results of a study to my own experimentation. Even if I were to know that my dominant yeast and bacteria were the same as those in a study, the interactions with the minor players may be significant.

I foresee the accumulation of many quart-jar batches, so that I don’t risk spoiling a whole gallon, and don’t produce more than I can consume. I’m sure some future posts will explore more specific topics, like unorthodox nitrogen sources, sugars, or acids.

As I understand it, the tea in kombucha could be replaced with most anything that is high in nitrogen. One substance that satisfies the nitrogen requirement is chocolate, or more precisely, cocoa powder. Could it work? I’ve never seen of anyone even mention the possibility of brewing with cocoa*; I have no idea.

Here’s what I did:

  • 1 cup of water (unfortunately, I wasn’t thinking ahead, so this is tap water)
  • 2 tbsp of cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup kombucha
  • 3 cups distilled water

I put the the cocoa powder in a cotton tea bag and added it to 1 cup of boiling water. After it cooled, I combined it with everything else in a quart jar, and topped int with a coffee filter sealed with a rubber band. I put it next to my gallon jars of kombucha. In a week or two, we’ll see what I have.

As an additional experiment, I also made a batch without a nitrogen source. It’s just sugar water plus a culture. I don’t expect much from it; without a nitrogen source, the yeast and bacteria might not have enough nutrients for long-term survival.

(*If you search online, you can find chocolate/cocoa added to normal tea kombucha after bottling.)

I followed the same recipe as my usual kombucha, but using 1/2 cup of fine-ground, dark-roast Columbian coffee in place of tea. After brewing for 17 days, the fermentation was easily noticeable, but the coffee flavor was still prominent. Since I can’t really notice the tea flavor in my usual kombucha, I let it go a little longer to see if the coffee flavor would decrease. I tasted it again at 24 days and the acidity was getting a little overly strong without any abatement of the coffee flavor, so I decided to bottle it.

I left 1 quart plain, but I wasn’t sure what sort of flavors would complement this. I ended up making one of Bengal Spice and one of Chocolate Hazelnut. I figure if people will buy dirty chai or a hazelnut mocha, those pairings should at least be plausible in a coffee kombucha. I was surprised to find that, after bottling and refrigeration, the coffee flavor was virtually undetectable, though the overall flavor was rather strong and the color was much darker than usual. I’m guessing that this wasn’t a fair test of the compatibility of those flavors with coffee kombucha, so I suppose I should try them again. As it is, the Bengal Spice is drinkable, but not nearly as enjoyable in black tea kombucha, and the Chocolate Hazelnut is okay. I’m not especially fond of it, but it is only a light flavor on top of a kombucha base of which I’m not especially fond. The fact that it doesn’t make it worse is actually a good sign.

The jar this was brewing in seemed to lose more liquid than the others. The jar’s stick-on aquarium thermometer has consistently read 86°, I wonder if it’s been warmer than the others. I was surprised to find that the scoby was a little dried and small. it was stuck to one side of the jar, and that side was raised out of the kombucha from where the liquid level had gone down. I figure the poor scoby could have several causes:

  • too hot for the cultures to form a good scoby
    • Since 86° is still within the upper-end of what’s commonly accepted as a healthy range for the involved cultures, I’m not inclined to think that the problem is strictly the temperature.
  • getting stuck to the jar  caused the scoby dry out and form poorly
    • This seems unlikely, but possible.
  • coffee doesn’t support a strong, scoby-forming culture
    • Some people report coffee producing quick fermentation and/or thick scobys, so the data is mixed on coffee itself being the issue. I suppose it’s possible that some cultures favor coffee more than others, so what works well for some people may not work well for others.
  • elevated initial acidity stunted scoby growth
    • Many coffee kombucha recipes recommend omitting the starter liquid fro a previous batch of kombucha, with the rationale that the liquid is used to increase the acidity to the level needed by the yeast/bacteria in the scoby. Since coffee is already relatively acidic, the additional acidity isn’t needed.

The latter one is an interesting perspective, especially insofar as it’s the opposite of my current hypothesis that the scoby is by-product of the process that isn’t actually needed if starter liquid is used. I should try a batch of coffee kombucha with scoby but no starter, just to see how that works out. I can envision this leading me into a series of experiments using a scoby while replacing the starter liquid with a different acid. I happen to have malic acid handy, but it should be pretty easy to get citric, ascorbic, lactic, and tartaric acids form my local homebrew supplier.

In my September post about anaerobic kombucha, I mentioned a study that involved brewing kombucha using a starter culture without a scoby. If you search online for “scoby growing”, you’ll find a lot of instructions on how to grow a scoby from an existing batch of kombucha. As far as I can tell, the only time when a scoby is useful, is when you don’t have a liquid starter culture of existing kombucha, and the scoby itself is acting as the culture.

To test this, I’ve decided to start a series of brews using only starter culture from this series. I’ve already bottled the first batch, which produced a large 1-inch thick scoby after 17 days, but I set it aside and started the second batch using only 1 cup of that kombucha, tea, water, and sugar. This batch seemed normal enough, but I’ll run this through several cycles to see if the strength of the culture seems to decrease over time. If there’s any problem, it should eventually peter out and stop producing. It’s all rather subjective, but I’ll note scoby thickness as well as brew time and flavor, and we’ll see how things progress.

I flavored one quart with Blissful Blueberry, and one with Sunny Pineapple Lychee, which are part of Republic of Tea’s “Hibiscus” series. After having flavored a quart of Kombucha with straight hibiscus, I was a little hesitant. I was also hesitant because they contain Stevia, which I often find to have an undesirable aftertaste. I was pleased to find that each made some of the best (sweet/fruity) flavored kombucha to date. I’ll certainly try these again, and I’ll probably try the others in the series: Natural Hibiscus, Key Lime, Vanilla Apple, and Coconut.

As mentioned in my last post, I recently bottled kombucha made from hojicha tea. It started out really promising, as it had a really nice flavor that was rich and mild, but with enough strength to keep it interesting. However, I discovered that most of that disappeared upon bottling and refrigeration. It’s a bummer, but even still it was good enough to drink a quart without any added flavor. Perhaps this is something to consider as a continuous brew, where I use a spigot to draw off however much I need at the moment.

After seeing how the flavor decreased after bottling, I decided to be a little more adventurous with flavoring the two remaining quarts.

  • The first got a 2 TB dose of dried lavender flowers. Aside from the “soapy” odor being a little disorienting, this worked surprisingly well. I’ve not had much of it, but I expect to try it again.
  • The second got a 2 TB does of ground dried juniper berries. I like gin, and the Juniper home-brews I’ve tried, so I was expecting great things. Unfortunately, the affect of the juniper in conjunction with acetic acid is that I continually felt like I was drinking dill pickle juice. I don’t like dill pickles, so this isn’t something I’m likely to repeat.

I’ve managed to get pretty far being in starting new batches, and this was my last gallon. I’ve now gotten four new gallons started. Three are the regular formula, and one is made from dark-roasted Columbian coffee. I’m not sure that I’m looking forward to the flavor of this one, but figured it is worth a try.

I’ve read that kombucha fermentation tends to change as the seasons change. This certainly seems to have been true for me, as progress in each of my four 1-gallon jars slowed to a crawl over the last three months. This is despite the fact that they’ve been a room with constant temperature and a heating pad to make sure the temp is in the 76-86° range. Each one has been brewing for 4-10 weeks, and and only the 10-week batch was particularly strong.

I’ve not really commented on what I’ve bottled, but it has mostly been my default recipe flavored with a teabag. Here’s what I’ve tried:

  • Dried rosehips: This was okay, better than the hibiscus batch I made at the same time. I should try it again, with a milder batch.
  • Dried hibiscus flowers: Considering the preponderance on hibiscus in raspberry teas (and all “Zingers”), I shouldn’t have been surprised that it reminded me a lot of them. Since I don’t especially care for those in kombucha, I also shouldn’t be surprised that I didn’t especially care for this.
  • Lemon Zinger: not much lemon flavor, but a lot of hibiscus flavor.
  • Dry Desert Lime: The flavor was a bit intense, with the lime tartness on top of the kombucha’s strong acetic flavor, but I think I detected something really interesting (and subtle) from this tea. I’ll try it again with a milder batch.
  • Blackcurrant Bracer: The effect was similar to Raspberry teas, but better. In the end, not great, but okay.
  • Bangal Spice: I was really hesitant about this, but I think it could turn into one of my favorites. It made the kombucha taste a lot like mulled cider, and other people even thought they detected “apple”. For this batch of kombucha, it was better than my usual peach flavoring.

Curious about the Dry Desert Lime, I tried a mug of it as regular hot tea. It was okay, with the same interesting bit that I first detected in kombucha, with a base flavor tart but as boringly mild as most hot tea. So while it doesn’t do anything for me as tea, it may still work for kombucha, and I wonder if it might also work as an extract for adding some interesting notes to a pie (especially key lime pie)

One of the batches was made with twice the tea: 4 family-size Luzianne decaffeinated tea bags in two quarts of boiling water, steeped in a stainless sauce pan on the hot stove as long as it took to cool to room temp. Besides the long brew time, it also managed to lose almost 2 quarts of liquid to evaporation. It didn’t really taste particularly different, but it did yield a massive 1.5″ scoby. Whether this was due to the time or tea, I don’t know.

My last batch was from the batch brewed with Hojicha. I just bottled this yesterday, and haven’t finished sampling it, so I’ll make another post when I’ve finished that. But I have tried a glass of it warm and plain, and it looks promising!

When I started my last batch, I grabbed a “resting” scoby from my scoby hotel. In doing so, I disturbed the scoby that had been growing of the surface, pushing it down with the rest. This means that the current scoby growing on the top of my hotel is all new. In less than one week, I have 1/4 inch of growth!

As far as I can tell, this is not normal. It seems like my Kombucha farm is unusually productive when it comes to producing cellulose in the form of a scoby. But why? I’ll try to evaluate each variable:

  • Distilled water – since the water contains nothing, it seems unlikely that this is promoting growth. Perhaps the lack of chlorine/flouride/etc means growth is less inhibited than for other people, but considering the variety of water being used, this seems unlikely
  • Tea – I’m not the only one using bagged tea, though I do think that it is uncommon to use decaf tea. It does seem to be very rare to use tea that’s been steeped for 4 or more hours, so perhaps that’s a defining factor. However, since the hotel doesn’t get any fresh tea of it’s own (aside from the inaugural batch), I think this indicates that there are still a lot of culture-supporting nutrients left in the kombucha when I stop brewing. This should mean that 2 family-size bags is more than necessary.
  • Starter culture – I don’t have much info about where my donated culture came from, or if the source experiences the same degree of scoby growth.
  • Temperature – The hotel has spent a couple weeks in my laundry room, with a heating pad nearby (not on the hotel, but on the jars of active brews). I estimate the temperature has consistently been in the low to mid seventies, which is at the lower end of the 68-86 degree optimal range, so this shouldn’t really be promoting rapid growth.
  • Residual contaminants – The jars have all been run through the dishwasher before use, but came to me as 1-gallon pickle jars that had been repurposed for storing herbs. Maybe there was a growth-promoting substance still in the jar when I started using it?

Is there a variable I should be considering? Have any ideas what could be at work here?

My last batch of kombucha had a flavor I didn’t enjoy, and I’d like to figure out why. I initially surmised that it must be due to the use of Gunpowder Tea, but it eventually occurred to me that this was also only the second time I’ve used loose-leaf tea. In the first instance I used 2 tablespoons of Oolong, which was approximately the same volume (though perhaps less density) as my usual family-size tea bags. My second time with loose-leaf I did a bit more research and decided that 4 tablespoons of gunpowder should be the common measure for 1 gallon of finished tea. (I also described this process here.)

Rather than assume that I simply don’t like gunpowder kombucha, and in the experimental spirit of this series of kombucha posts, I decided to make a batch of kombucha that’s “normal” in every way except the amount of tea. So I just set up a batch with the following ingredients:

  • 2 quarts of strong tea
    • 2 quarts distilled water
    • 4 family-size tea bags, Luzianne decaf tea (6g ea)
  • 1.75 quarts distilled water
  • 1 scoby
  • 1 cup kombucha

By all accounts, this is the number of tea bags I should be using to make a gallon of tea, but maybe it’s not right for a gallon of Kombucha. I could probably steep the four tea bags in only 1 quart of water, but that’s another experiment. If this tastes fine, perhaps I’ll try a batch with 6 or 8 bags, and see if I can find an upper limit.

In 2-4 weeks, I should know more!

A week ago I bottled my kombucha made with gunpowder tea. It fermented for 28 days and is probably my second-worst tasting brew (after brown rice kombucha). The flavor isn’t intense, but isn’t all that pleasant. And unlike me previous batches, the flavor hasn’t gotten milder over time.

I flavored one quart with my usual Peach Passion (Celestial), one with Blackcurrant (London F&H), and one with Mango-Passionfruit (Stash). The mango-passionfruit didn’t really develop its flavor until it had been steeping for almost a week. this is the first time I’ve seen a flavor that hadn’t taken hold within a day. I’m not sure what I think of the blackcurrant; I’l try to give it a second chance sometime.

The pH was 3.0. I had been planning to wait until it reached 2.5, but I bottled when I did so that I could walk though the bottling and subsequent brewing process with visiting family. I’m not sure how the flavor might have changed, but I’ll optimistically assume that this is better than it would have been with more time to brew. Green tea is purported to produce rather healthy and vigorous cultures. It did seem to have a rather thick scoby, but not noticeable more than my usual. Considering I didn’t like the flavor, I can probably do without a possible incremental improvement in a culture that’s already thriving.

I started a new batch just like my usual (just like my first), except that my scoby and 1 cup of starter came from my recently inaugurated scoby hotel. I should have another batch ready in a week or so. I need to pick up some new flavors for bottling, and figure out what experiment to try next.

While reading Gunther Frank’s book, I was intrigued by the description the use of alcohol in making kombucha. It’s also mentioned on his website, albeit with less less discussion than what I recall (or imagined) being in the book. I’ve read somewhere that Kombucha starts to brew with the yeast turning the sugar into alcohol, and then continues with the bacteria turning the alcohol into acid. Thus, adding a little high-proof alcohol not only helps prevent contamination by unwanted organisms, it also allows the bacteria to start working without waiting for the yeast.

I’ve not tried that yet, but as I was pondering that, it occurred to me that before adding the alcohol, I should be able to use it to make a stronger extraction of the tea than I would normally get with hot water. As I was researching methods of extraction (making a tincture), I ran across the suggestion that vinegar could be used as a lesser substitute. Many sources suggest that, in a pinch, cider vinegar can be used in place of a cup of starter kombucha when starting out. I took this as a green light to use the material on hand (no vodka) to create an apple cider tincture of the same tea that I’ve been using to make most of my kombucha.

I emptied two family-size tea bags (2 TB) into a 1 cup jar, topped it off with vinegar, and put it next to my kombucha in the garage. I gave it a shake each time I passed by, and did that for 1 month. Just to be sure I was getting everything possible, I strained the tea out and added that to a quart of boiling water. After that cooled, I combined my tincture with my weak, vinegary tea, and started my next batch of ‘buch. Tonight I bottled it, just one day short of a two-week ferment.

It definitely has a richer, fuller flavor than my last two batches (one oolong, one anaerobic). Unfortunately, I don’t know how much of that is from the extraction process, and how much is from the added flavor of the apple cider. It doesn’t striker me as particularly acidic or apple-cidery, which is nice, though the pH is 3, just like my last two. Flavors seem to have a tendency to get milder over time, and I’ll be interested to see if it’s any different after a day or two of refrigeration. I bottled 1 quart plain, one with a bag of Celestial Peach, and one with a bag of London F&H Raspberry.

Last week the night temperatures fell into the 40s and the daytime temps only rose into the 70s. This meant that my kombucha was only maintaining a temperature around 68-70°, which isles than I’d like. This past weekend I pulled out a heating pad and stuck it between my two jars. My temps are back up to 76-78° (also aided by higher temps outside), but we’ll see how it goes. I’ll have to think about where I can put these once it actually gets cold out.

I’ve not yet decided what to do for my next batch, it may be a repeat of the anaerobic brew that I allow to ferment longer (maybe to pH 2.5?), or maybe something else. Coming up will also be bottling the Gunpowder brew. I tasted it tonight and it was a little bitter and definitely tasted of gunpowder tea. Not all that sweet, but also not much kombucha tang. It’s been brewing for 12 days, and I think I’ll let it go another week before I try it again. If the flavor doesn’t work out for me, I suppose I can use it for a new scoby hotel, and drink my old one (which has only been going for the same amount of time.

Last post, I mentioned that I had an experimental brew that I’d describe later. The time has arrived: I was inspired by the oxygenation experment, which contains:

According to the literature, human taste sensation of sourness not only depends on [acidity] but is also influenced by the shape of the molecules in question. Vinegar tastes considerably more sour than lactic acid with the same pH.

It has been suggested that one could cover the brewing container with a plate if a reduction in sour taste was desired. This would cause more lactic and less acetic acid to be produced. My experiment seemed to confirm this as far as flavor was concerned.

This is essentially what I did. One of my brewing vessels is a candy jar, with a heavy glass lid that rests on top. I used a double-layer of coffee filter between the two pieces to help fill any glass irregularities and keep out bugs, but it was relatively sealed except the two or three times I drew samples for tasting. The pH of this batch was ~3 at bottling, when it tasted done when I sampled by straw-dropper.

I reserved one pint plain, and flavored 1 quart each with a bag of Lemon Lime Zest and Peach Paradise (by London Fruit & Herb). The remaining pint-plus was mixed with the pint from my oolong KT and became the starter for a scoby hotel. The flavor was relatively mild, but much more complex and interesting than the oolong kombucha. Unlike the oolong kombucha, I couldn’t really taste “tea”. I typically rotate though each of my quart jars, pouring drinks from a different one each day, so that each has a chance to age and to extract more flavor from the bag with which it’s being flavored. The kombucha flavors have been deepening, perhaps due to the increased oxygenation during bottling and with each pour. I keep it refrigerated, so i don’t think there’s much fermentation happening, but something is happening.

The lemon-lime isn’t particularly interesting. It’s agreeable enough, and will probably be good for the girls. It’s like the plain mixed with Sprite. For me, one of the attractions of Sprite is the clean, simple flavor, and this combination doesn’t do much for me. The peach is nice, and it’s good to see that a different brand of peach tea works as well as the one used previously. It’s not all that interesting of a flavor, but it forms a pleasant, coherent gestalt.

I noticed two additional tidbits from that article. First is that the anaerobic version produced no scoby (zoogloea). My anaerobic kombucha produced a scoby, so perhaps I somehow had airflow, or “excessive” oxygen in the jar? The second tidbit is that the experiment added starter culture, BUT NO SCOBY. This suggests that is should be possible to brew Kombucha without transferring scobys for one batch to the next. This would seem to be consistent with the way that people used to have a lot of success starting Kombucha from unpasteurized bottles of commercially-available Kombucha. I’ll have to add that experiment (transferring starter, sans scoby) to my list…

A few nights ago I bottled a double batch of Kombucha Tea. One was an experiment I’ll describe in another post. The other was a batch made with long-steep oolong tea. I held back a pint plain, and flavored a quart each with Lemon Ginger (Stash), Blueberry Bliss (London Fruit & Herb), and Strawberry & Vanilla Fool (also LF&H).

The flavor of the oolong kombucha surprised me in two ways. First it was very mild. Maybe I bottled it earlier than I have bottled other batches, but the pH was ~3, and it tasted done when I sampled by straw-dropper. The second is that the plain kombucha actually had a detectable taste of tea. Normally, I don’t get any tea flavor, which is fine with me since I don’t especially like tea. It was also a little sweet, which leads me to believe that I really didn’t let it brew long enough.

The mildness also makes me wonder if I used enough tea. It was my first foray into loose-leaf, and I’m thinking that 2 TB wasn’t enough. When I was planning for my next batch I looked up the recommended tea portions for a gallon using either gunpowder (4 TB ) and hojicha (8 TB). The gunpowder is pretty dense, and takes a lower volume of tea than the hojicha. Since the oolong is more like the hojicha and my oolong portion was half what I would need for gunpowder, I suspect I should try again with four times what I used the first time. If that’s the case, I probably underfed the bacteria in relation to the yeast. We’ll see how it goes next time.

The upside to the mild Kombucha is that it takes flavors very well, and I’ve now had a chance to drink 8oz of each flavor (and all the plain). The strawberry was pretty mainstream and while my oldest didn’t like it, my youngest said it was “pretty good”. Even if I prefer the flavors of a longer ferment, I foresee mild, strawberry steeped kombucha in my future rotation. I didn’t especially care for the blueberry. It was okay, and I’ll finish it, but it just didn’t seem to work all that well. The Lemon Ginger was intriguing, and I’m looking forward to trying more of that.

Back when I started making kombucha, I got some pH strips from the home-brew section of Friar Tuck. Unfortunately, they were yellowed (with age?) and didn’t register anything. I recently received acid-scaled pH strips, and they appear to work just fine. I’ll include pH values for each batch until I run out.

After bottling the oolong, I started a batch with long-steep tea made from Gunpowder leaves (1/4 cup tea to 1 quart water).

My most recently bottled kombucha was made with brown rice syrup, which contains a lot of non-fermentable solids. It was very cloudy and had a lot of sediment (over an inch in my gallon brew jar). Even ignoring the sediment (which settled), it it was still really cloudy. This prompted me to do a little research on what’s used in the beer and wine world.

Based my research and what I could find, I settled on calcium bentonite powder or gelatin powder. I already have the bentonite powder, but it appears that it requires a bit more time to work. So I picked up a $1.49 bottle of gelatin finings at my local Friar Tuck. I soaked 1 tsp of gelatin with 1/4 cup of distilled water, let it sit for 30 minutes, and then microwaved it for ~30 seconds (until it was clear). I added that to my quart of pomegranate kombucha that was especially cloudy and sedimenty. I think this is supposed to be enough to treat 5 gallons, so I did this knowing that I could end up losing flavor too, but I wasn’t too concerned about that since I didn’t especially care for the flavor. I also used more than called for simply because I was going to be drinking this within 24-48 hours, and it’s not going to have a lot of time to work.

My peach bottle quart was also cloudy, but has a lot less sediment. With it, I was very careful to let things settle before pouring off a little into a “clean” jar. The sediment is very light, and starts to mix whenever the jar is touched, so my second jar was bound to have a lot of sediment remaining. Two days after adding gelatin, my kombucha was clear, bright red, and the sediment had compressed from 4 inches to 2, and I was able to pour out all but 1/4 inch of clear kombucha before the sediment started mixing. The flavor was different, but I’m not sure it was milder. Next time I should clarify it before adding the post-ferment flavoring.

It’s interesting that gelatin or bentonite can be added (to wine) before fermentation begins, so if I end up with something else that tends to produce sediment or cloudiness, I may try adding some at the beginning. Unfortunately, that’s not compatible with continuous brewing, which is the end-goal if I ever settle on a process.

The “sugar post”. I should really have more references, even it’s just a URL where I read about different things, but I wasn’t taking notes. Sorry.

Virtually all kombucha recipes call for sucrose (table sugar), though some call for brown sugar, sucanat, or other things that are still basically sucrose. Some even call for maple syrup, honey, molasses, etc. Chemically, sucrose is almost a 50/50 split between fructose and glucose, and the same is pretty much true for most natural sweeteners, including more exotic things like date sugar or coconut sugar (though not stevia, which is magically sweet without sugar). This means that, chemically, the difference these things will make in the final brewed kombucha will primarily come from whatever additional things (impurities) happen to be flavoring the sugar you use.

However, there are some exceptions to the typical fructose/glucose mix. Malt syrup is made of maltose and similar saccharides that break down into glucose. Brown rice syrup and malt extract are composed of glucose. Agave syrup is mostly fructose. Why does this matter? Well, apparently different saccharides are consumed by different yeast/bacteria, and those organisms have different byproducts. I don’t know if the information all comes from the same source, but I’ve read in a few places about the effects of different saccharides on the kombucha fermentation process. The theory is that fructose turns into acetic acid, and that glucose turns into gluconic acid and other acids that are more desirable (search for “glucose” here), or at least less vinegar-like and more generally palatable.

So the take-away is that If you want your kombucha to resemble vinegar, make it with Agave syrup (or pure fructose). If you want to minimize your kombucha’s resemblance to vinegar, make it with glucose. This might make it less complex due to the lack acetic acid, but it seems plausible that the flavor could become more complex due to the fact that acetic acid isn’t drowning out flavors that are more subtle or found in lower concentrations. In particular, I’ve read that there’s no direct correlation between sourness and acidity or acid concentration. People will find acetic acid more sour, and usually more disagreeable, than many other acids, so reducing acetic acid is an interesting goal when experimenting with taste.

To this end, I made a batch of kombucha using brown rice syrup as the sugar. If you’ve ever used brown rice syrup, you know that it’s very thick, stick, and opaque. I hadn’t really appreciated that this means the syrup contains a lot of solids. Unfortunately, the yeast and bacteria didn’t break down the rice solids, at least not enough to keep the final product from being rather cloudy and a lot of fine sediment. There was a lot “gunk” in the jar too, but that was easily filtered out. I may try to rig up a paper filter to see if that’s effective. I also wonder if there are any relevant wine/beer techniques for clarifying this that wouldn’t counteract the healthful qualities of the kombucha. This calls for more research!

Some future batch will use dextrose for the sugar. It’s still glucose, but without all of the extra non-sugar solids of the brown rice syrup. Theoretically, pure corn syrup could work, as it is mostly glucose, but most modern corn syrup has fructose added, and I’m not sure there’s a reliable way to tell which is which.

The brown rice kombucha did produce a nice, thick scoby. However, since I haven’t had any problem with this, it doesn’t make for much of a selling point. Also, I’m not a big fan of the flavor. It seems a little salty, and maybe more bitter? Incidentally, I’m lacking two of the three genes associated with the sensation of bitterness, so it’s probably worse than I realize. Since I’m starting from such a questionable base flavor, I bottled one quart with a peach tea bag and another with a pomegranate.

This leads me to a mention of the flavors I used last time. Peach has been my favorite, with pomegranate a close second. I underestimated how much SPICE I’d get from “orange spice”, and while it was drinkable, I didn’t really enjoy it.

With the bottling of the brown rice batch, I started my next. This is a standard long-steep and white sugar brew, but with an unusual tweak I’ll detail later. The temperature is dropping at night, so I may need to pull out a heating pad to keep fermentation moving along. I got four new gallon jars, and I have at least four viable scobys, so the pace of experimentation may pick up.

As mentioned last time, my latest batch of ‘buch started with decaf Luzianne tea that had been cold-steeped for 24 hours. I said that I thought it would be ready after another week, but at mid-week it didn’t seem close, so I wasn’t expecting it to be ready this evening. Nevertheless, my prediction was on the mark, and it was ready to bottle this evening.

I ended up with 3.5 quarts. I’m leaving the half-quart plain just to see how it tastes plain, and allow for table-side flavoring.

Bottle two is getting a bag of “Celestial Country Peach Passion”. It’s a sort of relative control in this experiment. The last batch had a bottle of peach and a bottle of Raspberry-Vanilla, and I decided that the I preferrer the lighter peach flavor over the more intense raspberry. So this time I continue with the peach to see how cold-brew peach compares to 4-hour brew peach.

Bottle three gets “Bigelow Orange & Spice”. I’m expecting good things from this combination.

Bottle four is “Bigelow Pomegranate Pizzazz”, which I’m expecting to be a lot like the Raspberry I tried previously.

I’ve been trying things I find in our tea box, but the only promising bag left is “Lemon Ginger”. I’ll have to stop by Walnut Street Tea to find interesting individual bags.

Last week I started batch 4. It’s pretty strange, with more 4-hour long-steeped tea, but sweetened with Brown Rice Syrup. More on that later…

This is likely to be the first of several posts. There’s a lot of different information online, some of it contradictory, so I’ll document what I’ve tried and what I’ve discovered.

My first batch followed a typical recipe:

  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 gallon distilled water (because my tap water has chlorine and flourine)
  • two tea bags (Luzianne family-size black decaf), steeped for 5 minutes
  • one scoby and 1 cup starter kombucha from a generous donor

I started with it fermenting in a corner of the kitchen, but the adhesive aquarium thermometer indicated that my temps were too low (68-74). After a week I moved it to the garage where it’s been consistently 74-76. After two weeks I used a straw to take samples every few days, until it tasted like the sugar was gone, and any more acetic acid would probably be intolerable.

I bottled it into mason jars and put those in the bottom of the refrigerator to stop fermentation. I poured out 8 oz at a time adding a different flavor to each serving after the first few, seeing what worked. Here’s what I tried and my impressions:

  • plain it tasted a lot like GT’s raw plain kombucha, only less intense.
  • strawberry-kiwi juice made it taste like the juice
  • maple syrup was pretty good, a bit more balanced than plain
  • honey did little for the flavor
  • vanilla didn’t help
  • almond extract was interesting, but not great
  • orange oil was pretty good, but the oil burned my lips.
  • a bag of Lipton Blackberry-Vanilla tea was pretty good, and added no calories

My first batch produced a viable baby, so I set my first scoby aside and used the new one to start a second batch. It was like the first, but using a 24-hour cold extraction for the tea. After two weeks, it’s still a little sweet; it seemed to have a slow start. Two days after that, I acquired another jar and started my third with the original scoby.

By this point I had read Günther Frank’s book and was intrigued by the suggestion (and online inconsistencies) that I could use over-steeped tea. I boiled my water, threw in my two tea bags, and let it steep until it was room temperature. It was, unsurprisingly, very dark. I just bottled it last night, and was surprised by how much richer and fuller the flavor was, without any of bitterness associated with tea that’s steeped too long. This batch was done after twelve days, in the same conditions as my other batch, so I can only conclude that the more complete extraction allowed the scoby to thrive more, and giving me a nice thick third scoby and a relatively quick fermentation.

It appears that I’m getting ready to venture into relatively uncharted territory, so I’ll map my progress. I’ve started an apple-cider extraction of the same tea, and a future batch will use the resulting tincture as the tea portion of the brew. At some point after that, I’ll repeat the experiment with a vokda-based tea tincture. This evening I’ll probably start batch 4 with oolong, green, or white tea.

I’ve also read a lot about what function the tea serves, and what else might serve that function, as well the results of brewing with different saccharides. More to come…

I picked up some lamb brats made by Moore Family Farm, and fried them up in a bit of olive oil. I ate the first one bare, but it seemed to be missing a little something. I envisioned a slight sweetness that one would normally get from a bun, but the closest thing I had to a bun was a bagel. I decided the bagel would do, but that I should add something else as a sauce. I pulled out some Esch Road Medium Cherry Salsa. This turned out to be the perfect accompaniment to the rich flavor of the lamb brat. It even sounds like a pairing you’d get at an expensive gourmet restaurant. Maybe I should suggest it to Big Grove Tavern; it definitely fits their farm-to-table schtick.

Back in March, I was in Chicago and had my first meal at a Red Robin. I had a Smoke and Pepper burger and a chocolate and Myer’s Rum shake. Both were delicious, but I still managed to be a little disappointed by the burger. While it tasted great, I could taste neither smoke nor pepper. Apparently the flavor is supposed to be from the alder-smoked salt used on the burger and the black pepper used on the Bacon, as well as smoke- and pepper-flavored ketchup. The fries come with the special ketchup and I was never able to pick out the namesake flavors. Weird.

Nevertheless, it was rather tasty, and I’d be interested in the recipe. I’ve not yet seen one online, so I guess nobody’s recreated it.

Right now it’s -5° (-20° windchill), and we’re forecast for a low tonight of -10° (-25° windchill). 15 years ago this month, Alice and I traveled to Ste-Adèle, Québec (North of Montreal) to celebrate our second anniversary. (Our first was celebrated in Big Bend, TX. While it was quite a bit warmer, we still had icicles hanging in our tent at the Chisos Basin Campground. More on that in another post.)

My recollection is lacking a lot of details, but we stayed a a great B&B that provided an activity package that included dog sledding, snow shoeing, and snowmobiling, in addition to their own hot tub and sauna. I don’t remember their being many other guests, which was nice for us. They’re still around, so I guess they get enough business to survive.

Snowmobiling along trails and across frozen lakes was great fun, even if the snow off the trail was yards-deep in places. Dog sledding was also fun, but a lot more work than I expected.

We also drove up to Parc National du Mont-Tremblant and enjoyed the scenery, (Right now it’s -22° there.), ate at a local restaurant we had the sole car amongst a dozen or so snowmobiles in the parking lot, and first experienced poutine (yum). Oh, and ate at a French restaurant in Montreal.

We traveled along the north side of Lakes Erie and Ontario heading east, and on the south side heading west. It was a bit of a shock crossing into Vermont and buying gas. We went from seeing everything in French (maybe English) to everything in English and Spanish (no French in sight). Go figure.

On the way back we stopped to see Niagara Falls (cool, but very, very cold) and get wings and brews in Buffalo at Pearl Street Grill & Brewery.

This update will include the results to two different samplings.


This was almost identical to the espresso sampling, particularly the late pulls. Okay, but not very satisfying.

Moka Pot

The flatbean was dominated by a dull grapefruit bitterness. It was a lot like the americano, but stronger, fuller bodied, and more simplistic. Half and half dulled the flavors without diminishing the grapefruit.

In stark contrast, the peaberry really started to shine! It was tart and fruity without being overbearing, and unlike the flatbean, was enticing. A pleasure to drink. It inspired my to try it iced, and while it was still good, it wasn’t as good as it had been hot. I added a splash of half and half to the iced version and it turned into a drink that was different, but equally delicious , when compared to the hot coffee out of the moka pot.

I hadn’t ever expected to conduct a reprise of my peaberry/flatbean comparison, but I was browsing coffee at my local coffee shop and ran across a similar-yet-very-different pair of coffees: Ljulu Lipati and Ljulu Lipati Peaberry. They’re similar to my previous sampling in that there’s a peaberry/flatbean sibling rivalry. But thye’re different in that they’re from Zambia, and coffees from Africa tend to be at the opposite end of the flavor spectrum than coffees from Indonesia. FWIW, I don’t expect to find as much difference as I did when comparing the two Sulawesi. On with the sampling!


Flatbean: It’s good, though perhaps not quite what I would normally prefer in an espresso. I was a little shocked when I took a sip, and decided that it had a distinct flavor of grapefruit, and then read the label to find that “grapefruit bitters” is the first flavor listed. It then lists sour cherry, which I also detected as a complicating factor in the grapefruit. I don’t usually “get” the flavors listed on the bag, so if you’re in the same boat and want finally taste the marketing copy*, give this a try.

Peaberry: This is prety similar to the flatbean, though it is different. The grapefruit still dominates the flavor. That said, I’m not sure I would have come up with that specific description if I hadn’t tried the flat bean first. I wasn’t really able to identify any others myself, so I looked at the description on the bag and was able to imagine tasting the roasted red pepper. Had I been trying, maybe I could have tasted that with the flatbean as well.

In each case, the late pull tasted very much like the ristretto, but watered down a bit – still strongly grapefruit.


I didn’t think to look until I saw a distinct difference in crema pulling the peaberry shot, but the two coffees have different levels of freshness. The peaberry was roasted April 3 and the flatbean March 22. I wouldn’t call eitherei one is fresh, but I could definitely tell a difference in the appearance. I don’t know much the flavors differ, or if I could detect them.

*I call it marketing copy, but I don’t really doubt that the cuppers actually tasted these flavors. I’m sure they have a much more trained palette, and probably don’t the weak sense of smell that skews my gustation.

A while back I heard some buzz about the $11k Clover and how it made an incredible cup of coffee. Intelligentsia installed several in their stores, and started serving all coffee, brewed one at a time from the Clover (at some locations). I have a lot of respect for Intelligentsia, so I figured that whenever I made it up to Chicago I’d stop by and give it a try.

A couple of weeks ago I was in Chicago, so I checked to see which locations had a Clover. None. I learned that way back in 2008, Starbucks bought the manufacturer, and stopped selling new units or parts. After 5 years, no other clovers were left, they finally figured out how to use them, and they started introducing Clover into select locations. One of these locations was convenient on my trip, so I stopped twice to give it a try.

Starbuck uses the Clover to brew only their Reserve coffees, which seems reasonable to me, though it also gives them an extra reason to charge a pretty penny. Day one I had a Mexican bean, and the entire cup was dominated by the typical Starbucks char. Maybe the Clover was amazingly transparent, or maybe I was influenced by the hype, but I tasted even more char than usual. It’s disappointing that an origin as subtle as a Mexican wouldn’t be handled better.

Day two I ordered a Ethoipian Yirgacheffe, figuring the (potentially overbearing) berry flavors would shine through. And they did! Unfortunately, the strong berry odor out of the cup disappeared as soon as the coffee had cooled enough that I could drink it. In the end, I got two cups of coffee that were mediocre at best. And with several excellent roasters in Chicago, that’s a real shame.

In Comparo: pt2 I mentioned my observations on pairing beans with a complementary preparation, and how I expected these Indonesian coffees to fare better in a French Press. This test didn’t work out quite like I expected.

The peaberry actually made a pretty tasty cup of coffee, better than the americano before, so I suppose my prediction was validated. However, I expected the flatbean to shine in the French Press, and to finally prevail over the peaberry. Nevertheless, as with each previous comparison, I much preferred the peaberry to the flatbean.

I have just enough left to try my Moka Pot, so that will be up next.

Last post I introduced the two coffees I’m comparing. This week I try them in americano – it will be brief. My americano is 1 oz of espresso ristretto diluted with 3 oz hot water.

Unsurprisingly, it mirrored the espresso samples. The peaberry was pretty good, and the flatbean was not. The latter was bad enough I had to add a little half and half in order to finish it.

This was disappointing, but somewhat expected. I’ve found that heavier/earthier beans are better prepared in a french press and that brighter beans are better in a moka pot. Since an espresso machine could be considered a very optimized moka pot and Indonesian coffees tend to epitomize heavy, earthy coffees, this preparation isn’t expected to bring out the best in either of these coffees. FWIW, I find bright coffees in a french press to be harsh, and earthy coffees in the moka pot to be muddy. Using the right tool for the job makes all the difference. :)


I was intrigued by the following description:

Same varieties. Same farmers. Same washed process. Peaberry vs. flat bean.

Peaberries have a reputation for being”different”, and this is a rare opportunity for a direct comparison, so a coworker and I split the following Indonesian coffees to evaluate them side-by-side.


We’ll see if my 6oz stretches far enough, but I’d like to sample them as:

  • Straight espresso ristretto (1/3 cup of grounds pulled into 1 oz of espresso)
  • Straight espresso “late pull” (What to call this? It’s an additional 1/2 oz pulled after the ristretto pull.)
  • Americano (1 pt espresso ristretto, 3 pts hot water)
  • Cortado Breve (I’m not sure what to call this, but it is 1 pt espresso ristretto and 1 pt half and half.)
  • French Press
  • Moka Pot


This morning I compared them as straight shots of espresso ristretto and as late pulls. Neither was especially tasty like this, but the peaberry was better. The flatbean had a fuller flavor, but it was less pleasant. The peaberry’s late pull was weaker, but didn’t show any signs of over-extraction; it still had body and didn’t have any bitterness. On the other hand, the flatbean was over extracted, thin and starting to get bitter.

The late pull is interesting just because 1 oz of espresso isn’t much, and if I can enjoy a 50% higher yield, that’s a bonus. It’s also useful because when making an americano, 1/2 oz of tasty late pull is better than 1/2 oz of water. I want to maximize the yumminess even when diluting the yumminess to make it last longer.

Many people obsess over crema. I don’t get it, but having freshly roasted coffee makes a huge difference in crema. With fresh beans, I usually have 1/2 oz of coffee with 1 oz of crema (~1/2 in). With old beans, I get 1/2 oz of coffee with 1mm of crema. So if you like crema, use freshly roasted beans.

I’ve also heard that robusta (as opposed to arabica) is often added to espresso blends to enhance body and crema. It certainly does!. After I stopped the pull, the basket was hissing as the more crema came out. I had 1/2 oz of coffee with 2.5 oz of crema. After the pull, the crema was solid enough to have peaks where it had dripped down.

I got S. O. Espresso India Sitara From Paradise Roasters (, and I ground and pulled it 5 days after roasting. In my experience, there’s a noticeable freshness difference 10 days after roasting, so this would have been square in the middle and the extraordinary crema couldn’t be attributed to post-roast outgassing. Of course, I’ve only tried this once, so it could have been a fluke.

It’s been over 15 years since I was a winter bicycle commuter, and I’ve been eager to see what my lower threshold would be. Today exceeded it. This morning the temp was 11° and the windchill was -4°. My rule of thumb is now either < 15°, or (more likely) < 0° windchill. My fingers get too cold, and I can’t tolerate any more loss of dexterity to insulate more. My toes, legs, and other parts got a bit chilly too, not to mention freezing my windward ear while I was standing at the bank drive through.

My bike computer didn’t like it either, though I’m puzzled why my chain and derailleurs were sticking. Maybe those are unrelated?

Anyhow, it never gets too cold to walk, so now I know when to hoof it.

In 1 Samuel, Saul is King. I think we tend to think that obeying one’s King would be a good thing, like obeying the law. (Were Saul’s commands de facto law?) Obeying the King might even be generally required by God. And Yet, in 2 Samuel 1, David is pretty clear that raising a hand against God’s anointed is WRONG, even when commanded to do so by said anointed. Is this just a case of putting God’s Law before Man’s Law, or is there something else going on here?

A while back I got a new coffee grinder as a belated Christmas gift. I already have a countertop grinder, but it won’t grind fine enough for me modest espresso machine. This means that my espresso has been pretty thin unless I get my coffee pre-ground. This means that my coffee isn’t ground fresh, which means that my espresso has been stale. This isn’t ideal.

The new grinder, which will grind fine enough for Turkish coffee, more than fine enough to choke my espresso machine. This means that I can grind my beans right before I pull a shot. This also means that I can order freshly roasted beans. What a difference it makes!

Since my last coffee post I’ve also modded my portafilter to allow me to use a larger, unpressurized basket. The combination of the grinder and basket is great, and I can now regularly pull 1-1.5oz shots (from 1/4 cup of beans) that are better than what I’ve been served anywhere else. As a comparison, I use to order 3 shots of espresso with 1 shot of water for my americano. Now I use one shot of espresso with three shots of water, and it still has more body than what I used to order.

I’ve started riding my bike to work again. It’s 3 miles and currently takes me 15 minutes. I’m out of shape. (Yes, this time I’m literally “back in the saddle”.)

Wednesday, we closed on a new house. Saturday, we moved in and started sleeping there. ASAP, the old house will become a rental to help pay the mortgage on the new house. :)

Now we have 1 bedroom for each child and 1 toilet for every 2 people! Things are already more peaceful…

Occasionally, when I’m sick and too braindead to read, I watch ’80s TV. It’s kinda fun to revisit the shows of my teens, many of which didn’t last more than a season or two. In addition to the stereotypical shows like Knight Rider and The A-Team (whose unrealism bothered me even then), I really liked shows like Automan, Manimal, Street Hawk, and Air Wolf. Usually, I can’t watch more than a few episodes before I’ve had enough. There have been three exceptions.

Misfits of Science was undeniably cheesy, but it is still entertaining. And somehow, more than any other show I’ve seen, feels quintessentially ’80s. I don’t know how they do it, but it feels like it embodies that decade, cheese and all.

I had completely forgotten about Stingray, but ran across it while conducting a survey of ’60s and ’70s TV themes while building an instrumental funk station on Pandora. (It’s not from that period, I just found it while looking there. :) Stingray is surprisingly well done, but it was apparent that by the second season they were trying to figure out how to mix it up and keep people interested. Somehow they manage to do that for me through the second season, more than 20 years after the series ended.

Sledge Hammer! was, and continues to be, my favorite ’80s show. I own the DVDs. As satire, it’s spot on. It’s highly imaginative and logically extends the original material to the point of silliness. It probably helps to know the material being satirized (Dirty Harry, ’80s pop culture, etc), but having grown up immersed in it all, it’s hard for me to say.

I’ve not watched everything I enjoyed back then, but I think I’ve revisited most of it. I’ll post again if anything else is remarkable.

I’ve never been one for petitions, but I’ve always hated Daylight Savings Time, even when I was a kid. There’s a petition at to eliminate DST. I don’t really believe this will make a difference, but maybe it will help, and it’s really easy. You can “click and forget”, and maybe something nice will happen.

In my post on Texas in August, I mentioned that I couldn’t remember the name of our dinner location in Houston. I thought it was Mexican, but apparently, it’s “Latin American-Caribbean Fusion”. I like Mexican, but that description reminds me of a tasty restaurant here in Champaign that I think of as “gourmet equatorial”.

It was El Pueblito Patio, and if you have the opportunity to go there, I highly recommend it. It was amazingly delicious, and felt very friendly and authentic. Seriously, I think we all felt like they were a big family, and like they were welcoming us into their family. (Radio Maria is nice, but it has a sort of artsy fancy-date pretentiousness about it.) When they found out that it was Rachel’s first birthday, they brought out a huge piece of Tres Leches – big enough for all five of us to share. It was easily one of the best desserts I’ve ever had. Sadly, I can’t remember my entree, but I seem to recall Rachel having a plate of fried plantain?

Go there.

I’ve long heard of a Hot Toddy, but never tried one. I searched online and found widely varying proportions. Here’s the common range I found for a basic Hot Toddy:

1-2 oz whisky, brandy, rum, etc
1 tb honey
1-2 tsp lemon juice (or 1/4 of a lemon)
1/4c – 1c hot water

I decided to start with something in the middle:

1.5 oz Woodford Reserve Whiskey
1 tb honey
1/4 lemon
1/2 c hot water

I heated the water to boiling, poured it into a mug, added the other ingredients, and stirred.

It had potential, but I didn’t really care for it very much. I’ll try it later with a splash of bitters.

I next tried it with Myers Rum, and it was pretty tasty. I’ve read that a spiced rum works well, though I don’t have any. It’s not the sort of thing likely to get much use (not liking coconut), so if I do sample that, it will be from a small 1.5 oz bottle.

Next up was with my Corsair Rye, and this was also quite tasty. However, this stuff is one of my favorite whisk(e)ys, and it seems like a bit of a waste to dilute it with anything. I was a little sad to see it that this almost finished off the bottle.

With Redbreast it was okay, but remarkably uninteresting.

Connemara was also pretty tasty, but I feel like I lost a lot of the more interesting bits of Connemara. For example, there was no sense of peat in the finished drink.

I found that I could easily increase the water to 3/4 cup without it getting too weak; I didn’t try any more. I also didn’t change any other proportions because everything tasted well balanced the way it was. For a bit more detail on the specific Whiskeys involved, see my last post.

Maybe next I’ll try Hot Buttered Rum. I’ll have to buy more rum.

Although I have usually a variety of liquor on hand, I don’t tend to drink it very often or in much quantity. I have two Irish whiskeys that I purchased in Ireland 10 years ago. I’ve have a Bourbon not quite as long, but it’s been quite a few years. A small 1.5 oz bottle of rum I bought a couple of years ago for a Puerto Rican custard (which I’ve still not tried with rum!). My Rye was a gift from a friend the Christmas of 2011.

My favorite of the bunch is the rye, despite the overly-long name: Corsair Experimental Collection 100% Kentucky Rye Whiskey. I like rye, and this is the best I’ve had.

Redbreast 12 Irish Whiskey is okay, but not remarkably interesting. The Connemara peated Irish Whiskey (cask strength) is really interesting.

Myers is the best rum I’ve had. The flavor it thick and dark, but is a bit overly simple and could use some refinement. I’ve tried many “better” rums, but they’ve all been pretty flavorless in comparison to Myers. That said, the local selection has exploded over the last 10 years or so, so I’d be a lot more likely to find something tasty if I started started sampling again.

This is a followup to my post on Texas BBQ, where I promised I’d post notes from other BBQ joints I’d hoped to visit. This includes that, and notes many other places we either did visit or intended to visit.

We stopped by the Cherokee Heritage Center in Tahlequah, OK, and it was very cool.

Later that day we had an impromptu stop by Adelita’s Cafe in Eufala, OK. It doesn’t really get good reviews, but for us the service was excellent, the atmosphere was great, the portions were huge, and everybody enjoyed their food. My tamales were delicious, and I’ve yet to find better ones anywhere. I was hesitant to stop at an unplanned Mexican restaurant because there were so many (reputedly) great ones on the itinerary, and I didn’t want to get burnt out. That wasn’t a problem, and I’m glad we stopped here.

In New Braunfels I had hoped to visit Adobe Verde, but it was not to be. However, we did enjoy tasty baked goods from Naegelins Bakery and German food from Friesenhaus. We stayed at one ore more Hampton Inns on this trip, and they were all great.

In San Antonio I dropped off everyone at the Kiddie Park, and went to pick up Alice’s sister from the airport. We went back to the park, grabbed a fitting lunch across the street at Good Time Charlie’s, and then headed downtown for a Riverwalk Cruise. The cruise is a great way to see things; it’s quick, easy, informative (there’s a guide), and the perfect choice when you have kids. :) We got ice cream from a quaint hole in the wall we saw while waiting for our cruise.

Eventually it was time for supper, and we were in the mood for Mexican. We didn’t make it to Tito’s or Rosario’s, but we did eat at El Mirador. I don’t think anyone was happy with the food, the slow service, or the dark, cramped atmosphere. I remember being particularly intrigued by Rosario’s, just because recent tasty additions to Dos Reales sounded like they’d been lifted directly off of the Rosario’s menu. I figure if the Illinois version is good, how much better would the Texas version be?

In Corpus Christie we stayed at the Best Western Marina Grand Hotel Lodging, and we weren’t pleased. The service was nice enough, but the rooms smelled smoky, and it seemed like the odor was coming from the HVAC.

 I don’t remember if we got to actually touch any dolphins, but we definitely got to see them up close. The people at Dolphin Connection were wonderful and knowledgeable.

It looked like we’d be just in time to see the Sea Turtle Hatchlings at Padre Island National Seashore, but it was the tail end of the trip and we decided that everyone was too tired to make it there before sunrise.

The USS Lexington was very interesting, but I saw only a small fraction of it in 1hr I had while everyone else was at Magee beach swimming and flying kites.

I really wanted to try the BBQ mutton at the Gonzales Food Market, but it didn’t work out. This even despite the fact that there was a satellite store in San Antonio. :(

We pulled into Houston very hungry, and my family is always in the mood for Mexican. We didn’t have any plans’ so we called Alice’s Uncle Lee, who had lived in Houston for several years. I can’t seem to find it now, but it was incredible. I’ll give it its own post when I find out what it was called.

In the Joaquin, the last town before we passed from Texas into Louisiana, we stopped at the rustic Worsham Grocery, grainery, and general store. It turns out that the proprietor used to live in West York, IL, and knew Libby’s dad when he was Postmaster there. It’s a small world.

The temperature from my espresso machine isn’t especially consistent. I’ve seen temperatures in the cup range from 160° to 130°, and from 190° to 170° if I run it without the portafilter. So far, it doesn’t seem to have a big impact on the quality of pod-based espresso, but I’d have to use a bunch of identical pods to to test that.

The QA on the pods is a little slack. A few pods had an edge sealed into the wrapper. With the exception of the one pod I opened on the “stuck” side (tearing into the pod), the effects were inconsequential, since I only lost a bit of paper.

I had an odd experience of bad pulls with the Segafredo Deca Crèm and Compagnia dell’Arabica, Dacaffeinato Leggero Light. One pod variety was watery and flavorless the first time, but fine the second. The second I was able to “fix” by immediately stopping the pull and “flipping” the pod. I can’t imagine how it could be a pod defect, but I also can’t figure out what user error could be responsible.

I’ve had a cold all week, though I’ve not been especially congested. I don’t think this skewed things too much, as I always have a weak sense of smell and tend to miss subtle and not-so-subtle olfactory and gustatory effects.

I initially thought of using a numeric scale to rate various qualities of the espressos, but I didn’t feel like I had sufficient sense of the scale to avoid revising it with each cup. Now that I’ve made it though everything, I feel like I should be able to do it justice. I’ve assigned each pod a series of values, bease on a 1-5 scale, and included benchmarks for drip, French press, Moka pot, and the best espresso I’ve made.

I’m a little dissatisfied with the ranking because not all characteristics are equal. I care more about strength than body and more about body than bitterness. I briefly considered using a 1-3 scale for bitterness, and a 1-4 scale for body, but I decided that was too complicated and would probably be confusing.

Here are my ratings for what I’ve tried, grouped by regular /decaf, and sorted by descending preference.

Body (mouthfeel/viscosity)

1 water/thin
2 light
3 moderate
4 medium
5 heavy


1 water
2 weak
3 moderate
4 strong
5 intense


1 intense
2 moderate
3 slight
4 hint
5 water (none)


my best home espresso: 5 5 5
moka pot: 4 4 4
french press: 3 3 4
strong (good) drip: 1 4 3
standard drip: 1 3 3


Compagnia dell’Arabica, Dacaffeinato Leggero Light: 3 4 5. 2 2 5.
Caffé Izzo, Decaffeinato: 3 4 5. The second was not worthwhile.
Caffé del Boge, Blu Decaf: 3 3 5. 2 2 5.
Lucaffé, Dacaffeinato: 2 4 3. 2 4 3.
Starbucks, Dark Decaf: 3 4 2. The second was not worthwhile.
Miscela D’oro, Decaf: 3 3 3. The second was not worthwhile.
Covim, Suave Decaffeinato: 2 4 3. 1 3 3 (characterful).
LavAzza, Dek: 2 4 3. The second was not worthwhile.
Segafredo Deca Crèm: 2 4 2. The second was not worthwhile.
Espressione, Decaf: 2 4 2. The second was not worthwhile.
Caffé Borbone, Decaffeinato: 2 3 ?. The second was not worthwhile. (characterful)
Danesi Caffé, Easy Espresso Decaf: 2 3 3. The second was not worthwhile.
Amigos Caffé, Decaffeinato: 2 2 3. The second was not worthwhile.
PodMerchant, Decaf: 2 2 3. The second was not worthwhile.


Lucaffé, Blucaffé: 3 4 4. 2 3 3.
Lucaffé, Pulcinella: 3 4 4. 2 3 3.
Lucaffé, Mamma Lucia Blend: 3 2 4. 2 3 3.
Lucaffé, Classic: 3 4 4. 2 3 3.
Lucaffé, Columbia: 3 4 5. 2 3 4.
Lucaffé, Messico: 3 5 5. 2 4 5.
Compagnia dell’Arabica, Purissimi Caffé: ? ? ?. 2 4 3.
Compagnia dell’Arabica, Columbia Medellin Supremo, Vellutato: 3 5 5. 2 4 4.
Compagnia dell’Arabica, Brasil Santos, Delicato: 3 4 5. ? ? ?
Compagnia dell’Arabica, Kenya “AA” Washed, Intenso: 3 4 5. 2 4 4.

Covim, Orocrema: 4 3 4. The second was not worthwhile.
Espressione, 100% arabica: 3 3 4. 3 2 5
Espressione, espresso: 3 2 5. 3 1 4.
Podmerchant, Stout: 3 3 3. The second was not worthwhile.
Pellini Top, Arabica 100%: 2 4 5.  2 2 5.
Lavazza, espresso gran crema: 2 4 2. The second was not worthwhile.
Covim, Gold Arabica: 2 4 ?. The second was not worthwhile.
Amigos Caffé, Extra Bar: 1 4 ?. The second was not worthwhile.
Caffé Izzo, arabica 100%: 3 3 2. The second was not worthwhile. (Boring and balanced to a fault)
Illy: 2 3 5. The second was not worthwhile.
Caffé Rialto: 2 3 3. 1 2 4.
Miscela D’Oro, Espresso: 2 3 2. The second was not worthwhile.
Podmerchant, Arabica: 2 3 1. The second was not worthwhile.
Segafredo Zanetti, Espresso Casa, Gusto Cremoso: 2 2 5. The second was not worthwhile.
Caffé Borbone, Miscela Oro: 2 2 4. The second was not worthwhile.
Caffé Borbone, Miscela Blu: 2 2 4. The second was not worthwhile.
Vivi Caffé, Espresso Casa:  2 2 4. The second was not worthwhile.
Podmerchant, Blend: 2 2 1. The second was not worthwhile.
Amigos Caffé: 1 2 ?. The second was not worthwhile.

There’s a clear set of winners for regular. The pods from Lucaffé and Compagnia dell’Arabica were all better than the rest, and each had a second 1/2 oz that was good enough that it might warrant a “normal” 1 oz ristretto pull. Covim Orocrema gets an honorable mention.

As for decaf, why is is that only decaf had any pods with noteworthy depth of character? Puzzling. There isn’t a clear place to draw the line between ones to purchase by the box, and those to forget.

From here on out, as I finish off the last half of the pods, I’ll probably check to see if the results second pod is consistent with the first, but I’m not planning to blog about it. I’m also likely to experiment with ways to improve the results from my machine, adding cream, etc.

Yesterday I received four boxes of Starbucks pods, so this is the penultimate post of the pods series. Next will be the wrapup.


  • Dark Decaf: The first cup was medium bodied, with a strong flavor and strong bitterness. The second was light bodied with medium flavor and strong bitterness.

Today I learned about Gadsby, a novel written without the use of the letter “e”. Apparently this sort of thing is called a lipogram. I was reminded of one of my favorite stories by Edgar Allen Poe, X-ing a Paragrab.

In the same vein as my surprisingly popular post on the opposite of synergy, I’m looking for the opposite of “lipogram”. Unfortunately, I’ve had no luck in my search. I was originally led astray by numerous sites that incorrectly attribute it. Wikipedia says that it is from ancient greek “λειπογράμματος” and says that it is of lipo- and -gram. They are far from alone, but they would appear to be incorrect. “Lipo-” means fat, and “-gram” means letter, and “fat letter” is seems more likely the opposite meaning of lipogram.

OAD and Phrontistery agree that

“Lipogram” is a backformation (a word created by removing suffixes and prefixes from a prexisting word) from the Greek adjective lipogrammatos, meaning ‘wanting a letter’. The term is a combination of lip-, a weak stem of leipein ‘to leave, to be wanting’, and gramma, grammat- a letter.

From what I’ve read, it looks like “lambano” is probably the most reasonable greek word to turn into a prefix, and it has derivative forms of lempsis and lepsis (think narcolepsy). Based on my almost complete lack of understanding of Greek, I’d propose “lepogram” as a similarly backformed word to describe the missive of Mr. Touch-and-go Bullet-head. It’s unfortunate that it is so similar in spelling and pronunciation to its antonym, but this is logolepsy; we can’t compromise correctness for the apathetic.

Is there a more correct construction? Do we already have a word to describe this? Let me know!


  • Caffé del boge, blu decaf: Medium body and flavor, no bitterness. Second cup had light body and flavor, without bitterness.
  • PodMerchant, decaf: Light flavor, body, and bitterness. Second cup had watery body and flavor, and light bitterness.
  • Compagnia dell’Arabica, Dacaffeinato Leggero Light: My first pod pulled like light brown water I flipped it over and tried again, and it was better. However, it was thin and bitter, so I suspected a problem and threw it out. I pulled out my spare pod and it too pulled like water. I stopped it right away, flipped it over and tried again. This time it was medium bodied, medium strong, and not bitter. The second cup had a light body and flavor, still without bitterness.
  • Lucaffé, Dacaffeinato: light body, strong, and a little bitter. The second cup was exactly the same.

Click here for the introduction to this series.


  • LavAzza, Dek: Light body, strong flavor, with a little bitterness. The second cup still had light body, but was also little flavor aside from bitterness.
  • Espressione, Decaf: Light body, strong, bitter flavor. The second cup is thin, and the only flavor is a light bitterness.
  • Caffé Izzo, Decaffeinato: medium body, strong, and no bitterness. The second cup had light body and flavor, and no bitterness.
  • Miscela D’oro, decaf: medium body and flavor, with a slight bitterness. The second cup had a light body, flavor, and bitterness.

Click here for the introduction to this series.

A couple of years ago we went to Texas for David and Alyscia’s wedding. True to form, I did quite a bit of research on various family activities and different restaurants to try on the trip. There were a few different BBQ places I was hoping to sample, but I only made it to one of them.

Thankfully, it was Joe Cotten’s Barbeque Joint. I see that Joe Cotten’s burned down March 2, 2011, after 64 years at its Robstown location, but it’s reopened for carryout and catering in nearby Calallen. I hope to make it back if I’m ever in the area.

It’s been two years, and I don’t recall a lot of details, so this will be brief. The pork, brisket, and sausage, were quite tasty, smoky without tasting like smoke, and the sauce was a great (but unnecessary) complement. I was eating it in the passenger seat while we drove from New Braunfels to Corpus Christi, so the restaurant’s ambience wasn’t able to contribute to my enjoyment of the meal. My recollection is that the sauce reminded me more of salsa than the thick and sweet (KC-style) sauce that’s common in the midwest or the vinegary sauce common in the Carolinas. It didn’t actually taste like salsa, but the texture was thinner and more chunky, and the flavor was much more fresh and less heavy than more common BBQ sauces. It broadened my horizons.

If I can find my notes from the other places I’d hoped to visit, I’ll post those too.

Six from Lucaffé (all rather similar)

  • Blucaffé: strong, medium bodied, and a little bitter. The second cup was light bodied with moderate flavor and more bitterness.
  • Pulcinella: strong, medium bodied, and a little bitter. The second cup was light bodied with moderate flavor and more bitterness.
  • Mamma Lucia Blend: moderately strong, medium bodied, and moderately bitter  The second cup was light bodied with moderate flavor and more bitterness.
  • Classic: strong, medium bodied, and a little bitter. The second cup was light bodied with moderate flavor and more bitterness.
  • Columbia: strong, medium bodied, and no bitterness. The second cup was light bodied with moderate flavor and light bitterness.
  • Messico: very strong, medium bodied, and no bitterness. The second cup was light bodied with moderate flavor and no bitterness.

That’s the last of the unsampled regular pods, now all that’s left is decaf.

Click here for the introduction to this series.

A promising lot from Compagnia dell’Arabica

  • Purissimi Caffé: I dropped the first cup, but the few drops I got were promising. The second cup was light-bodied, and tasted like a decent strong drip coffee.
  • Columbia Medellin Supremo, Vellutato: Moderate body, and flavor intensity nearing that of real espresso. No bitterness. The second cup was light bodied and had a moderate drip flavor with only a hint of bitterness.
  • Brasil Santos, Delicato: Moderate body and strong flavor without bitterness. (I got distracted and dumped the pod before pulling a second cup.)
  • Kenya “AA” Washed, Intenso: Moderate body, with a strong flavor sans bitterness. The second cup was light bodied and had a moderate drip flavor with only a hint of bitterness.

Click here for the introduction to this series.

  • Miscela D’Oro, Espresso: less flavor and body than a good drip, with more bitterness. The second cup was undrinkable dark bitter water.
  • Podmerchant, Arabica: light bodied, but with a whiff of classic coffee flavor that’s drowned out by bitterness. Second cup was thin and bitter.
  • Podmerchant, Blend: light bodied and still bitter, but without the classic coffee flavor. Second cup was thin and bitter.
  • Podmerchant, Stout: medium bodied, but with moderate flavor and low bitterness. Second cup was light bodied dark brown water.

Click here for the introduction to this series.

  • Caffé Rialto: small bodied with moderate flavor and slight bitterness. The second cup was a muted version of the first, with less body.
  • Pellini Top, Arabica 100%: small bodied with strong flavor and no bitterness.  The second cup was a muted version of the first, with the same  body.
  • Illy: small bodied with moderate flavor and no bitterness. The second cup had only little flavor and body.
  • Lavazza, espresso gran crema: light body, strong and bitter. the second cup has less flavor, no body, and was still bitter.

Click here for the introduction to this series.

Ever cooked with nutmeg? It has an unusual quality I find interesting. The flavor is great, but only up to the point at which you get too much. Then the flavor turns bitter and nasty. How does that sudden change happen? What else is like this?

I’ve only ever found one other thing that shares this quality, and that’s Angostura Bitters. Angostura also has another unique quality. It’s magical. Not only is it tasty all by itself as a flavoring, it can magically “smooth” other flavors. Coffee a bit harsh? Add a dash of bitters. But wait, that’s not all! It can also make two different flavors blend in a pleasant way. I’ve used it to meld the flavors of a lime-cranberry pie. I’ve not tried it as much as it seems like I should, but I’ve not yet found a flavor-dissonance that wasn’t helped (if not resolved) by the addition of Angostura Bitters. Know of anything else like this?

  • Caffé Izzo, arabica 100%: moderate body, flavor, and bitterness; balanced to a fault. The second 1/2 oz is the similar, but slight.
  • Espressione, 100% arabica: Moderate body and flavor, low bitterness. Second cup still has Moderate body, but with muted flavor and no bitterness.
  • Espressione, espresso: Moderate body, and no bitterness, but only a little flavor. Second cup still has moderate body, less flavor, and a little bitterness.

Click here for the introduction to this series.


  • Segafredo Deca Crèm: brown water. No body or flavor. It must contain Robusta, because it had crema, albeit one that was pale and disappeared quickly. Incredulous, I tried the second pod. This time it was light bodied with a strong, moderately bitter flavor, not unlike the unimpressive espresso I could order at any local coffee shop. The second cup was almost completely devoid of flavor and body.
  • Caffé Borbone, Decaffeinato: Strong, moderately characterful flavor, with a little body. The second had little flavor and body.
  • Danesi Caffé, Easy Espresso Decaf: medium flavor and light body, some bitterness. The second was thin, lightly flavored, and moderately bitter.

Click here for the introduction to this series.

A bland bunch

  • Segafredo Zanetti, Espresso Casa, Gusto Cremoso: light bodied, not much flavor, but no bitterness. Second cup was half of the first.
  • Caffé Borbone, Miscela Oro: light bodied, little flavor, little bitterness. Second cup was brown water.
  • Caffé Borbone, Miscela Blu: light bodied, little flavor, little bitterness. Second cup was brown water. (Much like the one before…)
  • Vivi Caffé, Espresso Casa:  light bodied, not much flavor, little bitterness. Second cup was average (bad) drip.

Click here for the introduction to this series.


  • Amigos Caffé, Decaffeinato: light-bodied, weak, and somewhat bitter. Moreso in the second 1/2 oz.
  • Covim, Suave Decaffeinato: Strong flavor with interesting character, but a little bitter; light-bodied. in the second 1/2 oz, same bitterness, and less of everything else.

Click here for the introduction to this series.

  • Covim, Gold Arabica: first 1/2 oz hints at having more body than drip, and is strong. Second 1/2 oz is bitter.
  • Covim, Orocrema: first 1/2 oz has some real body, more than french press. It’s not strong, mild but passable, and only hints at bitterness. Second 1/2 oz is thin, weak, and a little bitter.

Click here for the introduction to this series.

For Christmas I received a huge variety pack of ESE espresso pods. This is great, because it combines two things I enjoy: coffee and sampling. Up to this point I’ve only had pods from Starbucks, and while drinkable, they aren’t as good as espresso from freshly roasted and ground beans. I have 45 different pods to sample, so I’m hoping to find at least one that is above average, and more than simply “enjoyable”.

If I hope to end my sampling with a knowledge of what I liked (or disliked), I’ll have to write it down. And if I’m doing that, I might as well do it here. I’m not expecting each”review to have much detail. I’ll make a new post for each “set” of reviews and finish up with a review of everything. I two pods of each variety, so I’ll be able to make additional side-by-side reviews at that point. I may post more than one review a day.

For reference, I believe a good espresso should be full-bodied, feel viscous, and be strong enough to be bracing (maybe shocking), but WITHOUT being bitter.

I’m making the espresso in a DeLonghi EC155. I’m starting with a 1/2 oz shot (molto ristretto) in order to give the pods the best possible chance of meeting that standard. I pull a second 1/2 oz shot to get a feel for the flavor of a normal 1 oz ristretto shot.

First Sampling:

  • Amigos Caffé: thin and weak even in the 1/2 oz pull. the next 1/2 oz  was watery.
  • Amigos Caffé, Extra Bar: the first 1/2 oz was thin, but like strong drip coffee. The second 1/2 oz was rather bitter.

My pastor works part time at Starbucks. Yeah, it’s kinda weird, but I think it’s cool that he has a normal job interacting with unbelievers as a layperson. One of his benefits is more free coffee than he can drink, and I’m one of the people that benefits from his overflowing blessing.

Mind you, I’m not really a fan of Starbucks coffee. I think that name “Charbucks” is too uncomfortably close to the truth, but it’s free, so I can deal with it. (See, I’m not a snob! :-) When I saw the blonde line of coffees, it piqued my interest and I had to give it a try.

It’s weak.

I was warned about this, but I didn’t believe it. I chalked it up to simply dark roast versus light roast. I’ve had the had a couple of weeks to try the Willow Blend, in regular and decaf, in my espresso machine, moka pot, French press, and as a New Orleans style cold-steep coffee. I *can* make it strong, but it crosses the line of no longer tasting like coffee, and no longer tasting a little good.

No matter what I do, I can’t make a strong flavored cup of coffee that actually tastes good. I’m really puzzled by this. I don’t believe that light-roasting is the problem; I’ve enjoyed quite a bit of coffee from Terroir, which has championed the practice of lightly roasting coffee, and it’s always been excellent without any difficulty making it strong. (Ironic trivia: Frappaccinos, which taste very little like coffee, were actually created by George Howell (of Terroir), and Starbucks acquired the product when it bought George’s first coffee company.)

It gets a barely passing review from Coffee Review, who describes it as: monotoned, flat, muted, lean, and simple. (More info on the CR ratings can be found here.) The review of the Willow Blend suggests that the weakness is intentional. I don’t know that it’s better than Dunkin, but it’s certainly better than Folgers and their ilk. But blond Starbucks vs bold Starbucks reminds me of when I was a coffee neophyte. I would buy Maxwell House Dark Roast not because it was “better”, but because it had more flavor (which seemed better to me). I’d now buy Starbucks House over Blond because it has more flavor, though it’s probably not really any better. I guess I’m just not the target buyer for this product. I wonder if I’m the target buyer for *any* Starbucks product…

This past Sunday I was reminded of my previous Yuletide Rant. Could this be a divine nudge to actually do something (besides complain)?

We sang God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen, whose refrain repeats that Christmas brings “tidings of comfort and joy”. After than when we had our time of sharing praises and prayer requests, a member of the worship team mentioned the she did not feel what the song described, and asked for prayer to feel this comfort and joy. Later an elder mentioned that he disliking the all the stress associated with the “Christmas season”. (He may have said it more strongly, but I don’t want to overstate it.)

This is true in my family, and I suspect it is true for most Americans. It’s my experience that this is also a season when we tend to sin more against others, especially our families, in a variety of small, mundane, everyday sort of ways.

If we are to figuratively “gouge out our eye” if it causes us to sin, shouldn’t we remove the cause of this seasonal propensity for sin?

I also liked the sermon, which was eerily apropos. Sovereignty in action! The first half should be of particular interest to anyone who doesn’t yet have kids, or whose kids are too young to really be aware of Christmas “traditions”. YMMV.

I’m picky about most things, and gloves are no different. I like my gloves to be understated, not bulky (unlike most gloves), and to actually fit my hands in terms of finger length and size.

My “main” gloves are lightweight and genrally used when the weather is freezing or below. I stay pretty warm all by myself, so I don’t usually need much insulation as long as my outer layer keeps the wind from stripping away my internal heat. My go-to gloves were first simple-glove-liners and then something along the lines of batting gloves. Glove liners really aren’t that durable, and aren’t very wind-resistent. The problem I have with batting gloves (and most other athletic gloves) is that they tend to have a prominent logo and look flashy. Lat year I found great gloves in an unlikely genre. Bike gloves typically have substantial padding on the palms, but these do not. They apparently come in a variety of colors, but I have black. If history continues to repeat, by the time this pair wears out, it will no longer be manufactured and I’ll need to find something else or get lucky on eBay.

I also have a pair of lightly-insulated leather gloves that I wear when the lightweight gloves aren’t enough. It’s it’s really cold, I’ll layer the two.

For biking I really like the Specialized Blob gloves from the mid-nineties. I have a well-worn and very comfy pair I’ve had for 15 years, and another, later model I found on eBay a few years ago. They’re not quite the same, and not as nice, and aren’t breaking in as comfortably, but they are still nicer than other gloves I’ve seen from recent years. If the weather is a bit nippy, I layer my main gloves under them.

This is a bit more positive than my other Christmas post

Way back in high-school, I worked at Fisher’s Big Wheel, a department store of the Midwest and Northeast. I only worked there through two Holiday shopping seasons, but it was enough for me to never want to hear Christmas music again(*). It wasn’t just the (relatively) few songs that were repeated ad nauseum in the store, it affected my ability to enjoy any Christmas music, including hymns.

Thankfully, after twenty-something years, I started being able to tolerate some Christmas music, and have purchased a few “atypical” albums for my wife (Harry Connick, Jr.Diana Krall, and The Fab Four). This year, and maybe a little last year, I actually wanted to hear some Christmas music.

(* I have to admit that I was, previous to my Holiday work experience, disproportionately affected by the fact that my elementary school’s music program, which played used an identical Christmas curriculum for grades 3, 4, and 5. I can still see the Nutcracker filmstrip, and while the ballet’s music is now tolerable, I still loathe “It’s a Holly Jolly Christmas”, which we sang at least once a week for four weeks, all three years.)

I’ve been contemplating coming up with a different word for Christmas, something that’s not commercialized and means what Christmas really should mean. I find myself irritated by people that are upset that stores now say “happy holidays”, and I want to protest their confusion of what virtually everyone considers “Christmas spirit” with anything religious (though I suppose idolatry is religious). The only way it seems appropriate for every single greeter to wish every single customer a Merry Christmas is if it means nothing more than a wish for happiness. And that just adds another layer of whitewash over the real meaning of Christmas. Personally, I think it’s an increase in honesty; a step in the right direction. What most people celebrate is not the birth of Jesus. Most of our “Christmas” traditions aren’t Christian in origin, and have nothing to do with Christianity now.

I wish we could be rid of other veneers of nominal Christianity in America. We should expect sinners to be sinful and saints to be saintly (imperfectly), and it’s to everyone’s detriment when meanings become corrupted and people think they are something they’re not.

What if you were told that all you had to do to get free groceries for a year was to go stand in line at your local grocery store and be the first 500 of people to enter when they open on Black Friday? Free groceries is good, right? You’ll do it! You drive by Thanksgiving day and you see a line forming and you decide that it’s worth it, so you skip out early on dinner and wait all night. You’re pretty cold and sore by morning, but you’re encouraged by the signs in the windows that advertise the amazing, once-in-a-lifetime free gift to the first 500 people. They open up and you’re handed a whole case of Twinkies. Not just any Twinkies, these are the last Twinkies from the factory! No matter how much you like Twinkies, or enjoy speculating on collectable cakes, you’re understandably bummed. You wanted a good, valuable, and useful thing, and you got a mass-produced confection that you’ve seen sold on every street corner. Now, just imagine that instead of groceries, you were promised Heaven. Sorry, go to Hell.

I wonder if I could celebrate Advent instead.

Along the lines of my posts about truth in fiction and causes of bad decisions, this article makes an excellent distinction between puzzles and mysteries.


I was recently asked for my Key Lime pie recipe, and realized I don’t have a current version online. This is really only an update of the recipe I posted earlier. I thought about updating the old post, but some comments wouldn’t make sense, so I decided to just make a new post. That will also make it easier to find.



1 pie crust (prebaked, 8′, shortbread)


1 can sweetened condensed milk (14 oz)
¾ cup key lime juice
4 oz cream cheese, softened
1 tbsp ginger juice

whipped cream

½ cup heavy cream
1½ tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp lime zest (persian limes tend to have nicer color, are cheaper, are easier to find, and work just fine)


Preheat oven to :  350°

Soften cream cheese at 350° for 10 minutes and whip. Add sweetened condensed milk, ginger juice, and lime juice, mixing thoroughly after each addition. Pour into crust and bake for 20 minutes. (Technically, baking shouldn’t be needed, as the juice and the milk react and thicken. I’ve never actually tried it without baking. :)

Vigorously mix cream and sugar until you have soft peaks, spread on top of pie, and then decorate with lime zest (or lime slices). The lime zest is easier to sprinkle evenly if I zest it while the pie is baking, throw it into the freezer, and pull it out immediatly before serving.

I find the pie is best the second day, so I’ll usually make it the night before and then top with whipped cream right before the pie is served. The flavor will be intense, and the whipped cream will help balance it. If you find the flavor is still too intense, you can reduce the lime to 1/2 cup and eliminate the ginger, but I wouldn’t recommend it. :)

Ultimately, some people will find themselves irritated by things like the discussion of Bad Decisions. We’re pretty much infinitely imperfect and ignorant, so there’s no way on earth to divine a certain answer and it’s all conjecture. Anyone who’s mind is grounded on concrete things will probably want to run away and never look back. But I’m naturally abstract, and this is some of what goes through my head as I try to make sense of the world around me . (I’m always creating and refining models, systems, and frameworks…) I’m also naturally introverted, so it is usually entirely inside my head. It seems like a good idea to get it out. Not only do things look and sound a little different when they are “outside”, but it also provides an otherwise absent avenue for external correction.

I’m aware that people occasionally find me combative (or I’m occasionally aware that people find me combative). While I acknowledge this, I really don’t understand it. It seems like I can either accept any idea, or take an idea, tear it apart, and evaluate it. I’ve generally done this with with anything I already believe, and it seems like it would be foolish forgo this before replacing any held belief with a new one. My feeling is that the alternative is to be a nonthinking lump of flesh, and that doing so would render my existence pointless. This is undoubtedly extreme and wrong, but it’s how I feel, and I can’t just change the way I feel because it’s not correct, reasonable, or rational. (Trust me, I’ve tried.) In any case, my “attacking” another person’s idea (not the person) would be better taken as a sign of respect, because I think that the idea is worth of consideration and possible adoption. Similarly, I get also uncomfortable when someone else seems to accept my idea without adequate vetting. I feel patronized or dismissed, not honored or respected.

Some people think that their relationship to me somehow grants their ideas adequate reason for adoption. Being my boss, pastor, parent, wife, daughter, brother, or friend doesn’t make someone omniscient or infallible. People who care about me (and themselves) should want their ideas honestly evaluated for mutual benefit. Having a relationship certainly does grant their ideas some degree of additional consideration, but that consideration is evaluation, not acceptance.

I’ve also been told that it can be upsetting that I always believe that I’m correct. It’s true; the alternative is to believe that I’m incorrect, and that’s a logical paradox. How would I live each day honestly thinking “I believe the sky is blue, but that’s not true” (to use a silly example). It doesn’t even make sense. Of course, I do believe things that aren’t true. I’m sure my thoughts are full of all sorts of foolishness. But I don’t (usually) know what they are, and I’m glad to be corrected. I don’t want to believe incorrect things! I’m sure some would suggest that I could live in uncertainty, not having any confidence that what I believe is correct or incorrect. I’m not even convinced that it’s even possible. If it is possible, it’s probably universally accepted as a paralyzing pathological condition. No thanks.

Maybe it’s just a matter presentation. My interpersonal skills certainly aren’t what they could be. I am also, at times, needlessly negative.

At some point in the mists of time I concluded that bad decisions can be attributed to one of two causes:

  • Ignorance, when an otherwise good decision was made with faulty information.
  • Stupidity, when a bad decision was made despite good information.

Ignorance is pretty straightforward. Nobody like to be called ignorant, but it’s ridiculous to try to claim that one isn’t often ignorant. We’re never omniscient, so to some degree we always suffer from some level of ignorance. But the focus here isn’t on what isn’t known, it’s on the bad decision. The issue of the missing vital data is secondary. I feel pretty confident that this is the correct word.

Stupidity is less straightforward. It seems like there should be a better word, but I’ve not yet found one. As with “ignorant” nobody like to be called stupid, but everyone who isn’t perfect, regardless of their intelligence, makes stupid mistakes. Everyone. If you have a better word, suggest it, but be prepared to defend it. I’m not interested in words that indicate slowness or foolishness; that’s not what I have in mind.

Are there other causes of bad decisions that can’t be attributed to one of these things as the root cause? Maybe Incompetence, but I’m not convinced that it isn’t an example of Stupidity. Deception and Confusion seem to clearly be no more than extenuating circumstances that lead to Ignorance in the decision-making process. It’s probably a mistake to lump emotional aspects into stupidity, but I’m not sure what else to do with that, and it seems likely to be about as useful as stuffing worms into Pandora’s box. I could easily be wrong about that. What about spiritual causes?

Is it only bad decisions, or can this be expanded to other mistakes? Physical mistakes seem to have a host of other issues, and I’m not sure I’m really interested in expanding this into “every possible cause of anything that could possible go wrong”.

There’s probably a branch of science that studies this precise subject, and has already established well-defined nomenclature. If you know what it is, enlighten me!

In pt. 4 I tried using green stevia powder. I don’t remember the texture, but it tasted horrible. I decided to try again with stevia drops. I knew that I didn’t especially like the flavor of stevia, but I was hoping that the drops would have a negligible effect on the texture and that the lime juice would overpower stevia’ aftertaste.


1 oz cream cheese
1 tbsp key lime juice
8 drops stevia extract

Notes: texture is okay, but it’s not sweet enough.


1 oz cream cheese
1 tbsp key lime juice
12 drops stevia extract

Notes: texture is okay, if a bit wet, but it’s not sweet enough and I can taste the stevia.


1 oz cream cheese
1 tbsp key lime juice
16 drops stevia extract

Notes: texture is still okay, if a bit too wet, and it might be sweet enough, but the stevia leaves a nasty taste in my mouth.

Conclusions: I’ve run out of ideas for this, so I’m not expecting any more Key Lime experiments. However, there is one thing I’ve tried (but not documented), that is worth developing into a whole pie. I’d like to get it into edible form in time for the holidays, but we’ll see.

Early 2005, just a little after Easter (I think), Alice, Elizabeth and I spent a four days in New Orleans (and four days driving). It was relatively quiet and clean, and we had a nice time. I wanted to take a cooking class, but I chickened out. Maybe Next time. We really liked Lola’s, an absolutely tiny Whole Foods Market, and the Fair Grinds Coffeehouse, all near Esplenade and Mystery. I liked breakfast at Elizabeth’s, but Alice didn’t share my enthusiasm. We stayed near the corner of Royal and Canal, so it was easy to walk many places and drive to everything else.

We also toured the Aquarium, City Park, a giant city of the dead, and, of course, the French Quarter. Alice and I can’t go anywhere without visiting a Library (our typical date destination), so we made a stop there too. The beignets at Café du Monde were quite tasty, and their chicory coffee was okay too. I wish I could get a good beignet in Central Illinois.

I made a point of stopping by the legendary Sazerac Bar at the Roosevelt Hotel to sample a few classic New Orleans cocktails. I don’t remember exactly what I tried (other than a Sazerac), but I didn’t especially care for them. However, the point was to sample good examples of local “delicacies”, so I consider the experience a success. Despite all of the cool things in NOLA, I recall being rather exhausted and frustrated due to the vacation being far more extroverted than I can comfortably withstand. I had the Sazerac to myself and my visit served as an effective afternoon respite while Alice and Elizabeth were napping.

It was a little surreal a few months later when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. We’ve occasionally wondered how many of the places we enjoyed are still existence (the adorable Whole Food’s is gone). One goal with this post is to record these things so that we can remember to look them up the next time we’re there.

I’ve recently been exposed to Diablo Swing Orchestra, and it’s an interesting idea. Adding crunchy metal riffs to swing music works better than I had imagined, but there’s one small problem. For some reason, only the first track actually sounds like swing. The rest of the album sounds like typical symphonic metal. The whole album has operatic vocals, including the otherwise cool first track, and I’m not sure I could enjoy a whole album of swing metal with that vocal treatment. You can download their first album using the provided link and see for yourself. I also listened to their second album and it follows the same trend of first song being swing metal and the rest of the album being symphonic metal. It makes me wonder if the Swing part of their name is a gimmick that can’t be sustained through the whole album.

Within 10 minutes of my last post, I was Google’s #7 hit for the search “zozzaro sermons“, just below his own site.

That’s amazing. Apparently his sermons are remarkably underexposed, but it seems maybe my little blog can influence that?

Lately I’ve been enjoying listening to the covenant series by Rev. James A. Zozzaro. I discovered him in the app, though I ended up downloading sermons from his church’s website and loading them up on my iPod.

I tend to think that if I agree with everything I hear, I’m not being adequately challenged, so I’m not bothered that I don’t agree with everything he says. Most of it is excellent.

I’m looking forward to listening to his ongoing series on the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

I miss role playing, and I wonder if there’s a good “family-friendly” gaming group around. I really enjoy OOTS, it’s about a party of characters who are all well aware that they are characters with stats, skills, and ways to game the system. Sometimes it’s thought provoking, and occasionally even touching.

Yoda had it wrong. It’s not the doing, it’s the trying.

Heaven isn’t boring, even for the Lawful Good.

Eternity may not be as quick as you think.

If you want to read a bit more context, the “paradise” interlude begins at and ends at

I started making this a few years ago, and it’s been a hit from the start. Uncharacteristically, I’ve felt little compulsion to tweak it from my first go. I based it on a Condensed Milk Custard from “Puerto Rican Cookery” by Carmen Aboy Valldejuli. I made this as a pie, using a store-bought 8″ shortbread crust, rather than as a traditional flan, and couldn’t resist making a few other changes along the way. :)

It’s worth mentioning that although this contains a fair bit of coconut milk, the coconut flavor is relatively subtle. This is good, since I don’t like coconut. The coconut milk is there because the original recipe called for water, and I couldn’t bear to add water to custard.


8 egg yolks
1 can sweetened condensed milk (full fat)
3/4 cup coconut milk
1 tsp blackstrap molasses (I’d probably prefer more, but any more and the less molasses-philic members of my family might start to complain.)

Preheat to 350

Mix the ingredients, adding one at a time. Pour them into the crust and bake it for one hour.

Boil an additional can of sweetened condensed milk to make a tasty caramel and drizzle it over the top, serve a dollop with each slice, or something similar.

I also want to try it with Myers rum (omitting the molasses) and an Oreo crust. Or maybe I can mix caramel, rum, and cocoa powder…

This [old] article does a good job of describing some of the problems with studies that conflate correlation and causation. I’m sure that the fact that it specifically deals with smoking will make it controversial, but it shouldn’t. The same problem exists all over the place. It doesn’t discredit science, it discredits the hucksters. It takes science out of the hands of of the activists that use science as a convenient cudgel, cleans the muck off of it, and helps us view it as the scalpel that it is.

Why is it so hard to find plain, thin, quarter-crew socks? Most have padded soles, as if that’s not what shoes are for. The rest have logos, swoops, or something else that eliminates the possibility that the sock will go with anything. It used to be a bit easier, but for the last several years most suitable options have been replaced with the tiny socks too short to separate my foot from my shoe.

All is not lost, though, I found white Wigwam CT Tour Socks and purchased a dozen pair or so. Very nice. These join the black Wigwam King Cotton socks that also fill my drawer. That’s right, I have only two different socks. They don’t need sorted, don’t need paired, and there is never a stray. I can even pull out matching socks in utter darkness.

Incidentally, the King Cotton, while thicker than the CT Tour, are similar in being the same thickness top and bottom. Why people want their feet to be warm on the bottom and cold on top I’ll never know, but these socks don’t have that problem.

What is the “meaning of life”? Should it be or look the same for each person? Each Christian? Is it just “something that is”, a truth that exists regardless of our awareness or acceptance of it? Is there a difference between “real” meaning and what we think or feel provides meaning? Is it some sort of unavoidable destiny, or something that we should ponder, meditate on, or walk towards? Is it even possible for us, as human beings, to not act on that which gives our life meaning? Should we strive for meaning? How often? Yearly? Monthly? Weekly? Daily? Hourly? Constantly? What does this striving look like? What do you do? What gets in your way? What helps you on your way? Will you ever get there? Do you ever change direction? Do you forget where you are going? How do you keep from deriving meaning from the striving? How do you make the striving meaningful instead of mere motions?

Such is life.


Enlightening commentary on how not all truth is fact. To get to the commentary, scroll past the comic. There isn’t really enough of the comic for me to recommend it on its own merits, though I have been following its (slow) progress.

I’ve had this queued for several weeks, and was intending to post it Sunday afternoon, but in a fine example of divine timing this week’s sermon commented on how truth is elusive for mere mortals. I decided to hold onto this until I could also include a link to said sermon. The relevant bit is just past the 20 minute mark.

I have many things I’ve intended to post, but Haven’t because it always seemed like I needed to be more organized, or complete my analysis, or something else. Int he interest of actually doing *something* and moving forward, I’ll post what I have even if it’s “unfinished”. Maybe some would never have been finished; it would be a shame to let them disappear unshared. The blog is as much for myself as for my community and family, but I don’t know if anyone besides random internet denizens will ever read it. Whatever.

In an effort to maintain some sort of momentum, I’ll try to make no more than one post a day. I know, that sounds silly considering how long it’s been since I posted with any regularity. But don’t take it as an indication that I intend to post every day, or even every week. It means only that in have several things in queue, and if I post them all at once I could squander my opportunity to actually develop a habit.

If do you read this and you know me in real life, I’d appreciate it if you left a comment or sent me an email. It may not matter if anyone else reads this, but it is nice to know my audience, and I’m incorrigibly curious.

I made there a while ago. I didn’t take notes, and only remember that none of them turned out well.

1 oz cream cheese
1 tbsp key lime juice
1 tsp Stevia (green powder)

Notes: A continuation of the efforts from #13, #12, and #2 to make #1 tasty while preserving the texture.

1 oz cream cheese
1 tbsp key lime juice
1 tbsp xylitol crystals

Notes: A continuation of the efforts from #13, #12, and #2 to make #1 tasty while preserving the texture.

1 oz cream cheese
2 tbsp key lime juice
2 tbsp sugar
1 egg yolk

Notes: A continuation of the efforts reduce the high proportion of egg in #4 without the negative side effects from #11 when the egg was simply halved (using the modification suggested in the summary of pt. 2)

1 tbsp key lime juice
1 tbsp evaporated milk
1 tbsp sugar

Notes: An idea from the summary of pt. 2)

I had a small bit of cream cheese that needed to be used, I modified #2 and #1 from key lime experiments, pt 1. I substituted honey for sugar in the former and doubled the lime juice in the latter. I let the girls help me make and sample these.

1 oz cream cheese
1 tbsp key lime juice
1 tbsp honey

Notes: Much like #2. Sarah didn’t like it, but Elizabeth ate it all up!

1 oz cream cheese
2 tbsp key lime juice

Notes: The texture was better than #1, but perhaps a titch too soft this time. The flavor was very intense, and not good. I talked Sarah out of trying this one; Elizabeth tried it but didn’t like it at all.

The texture of #1 and #13 is really is quite interesting, I just need to find a way to sweeten it without adding so much moisture. Are there any natural “dry” sweeteners? Maybe stevia or a sugar alcohol?

The recipe below started as an attempt to make something like a cream of potato soup that featured beans and contained no dairy (or potatoes). It works pretty well, and is really easy. I took it to student feast last Sunday, and while I didn’t get as many complements as with previous dishes I’ve taken, it didn’t appear to get sampled much. Maybe I need to come up with a more enticing name!


1¾ cups white beans (1 can)
1 cup water
2 tbsp red wine
1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
1 tbsp almond butter
2 teasp cilantro (dried)
1 teasp garlic (dried)
1 teasp sage (dried)
1 teasp coriander (dried)
1 teasp sea salt

1¾ cups black beans (1 can)
1 tbsp walnut oil
½ cup fresh corn
½ cup small onion (finely diced)
1 teasp prepared horseradish
black pepper (fresh ground)


Puree (a) ingredients. Finely dice onion and saute with corn in walnut oil in large skillet. Add puree and black beans and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in horseradish, and serve. Black pepper to taste.

Happy Prohibition Day. Sure, most other probably call it “Repeal Day”, but I don’t like the sound of it, the subject is rather ambiguous, and the day Prohibition was repealed was certainly the happiest day of Prohibition, so I think my way works too.

Too bad my cold means I don’t want a drink.

In the conclusion to key lime experiments, pt 1 I wrote:

Eventually I’ll try more variations of #4: with half the egg yolk; where the egg yolks are swapped with beaten egg whites; and where the cream cheese is swapped with heavy cream.

I’ve unfairly excluded butter from my list of dairy products, perhaps I should try it as an addition to #5? That would hearken back to “Lemon Pie, Pt 3″.

Today I addressed those.

1 egg yolk
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp key lime juice
1 tbsp sugar

Notes: Texture was not very creamy or smooth, and the flavor was quite mild.

1 tbsp heavy cream
1 tbsp key lime juice
1 tbsp sugar
1 egg yolk

Notes: Similar to 4#, but with a softer texture. The flavor was rather mild. Overall, probably no better than #2.

1 tbsp cream cheese
1 tbsp key lime juice
1 tbsp sugar
1 egg white

Notes: Similar to #4, but the texture was a bit coarse and the flavor was very mild.

1 tbsp cream cheese
1 tbsp key lime juice
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 egg yolk

Notes: Flavor and texture is good. Similar to #4, but less smooth and rich. This is still a *lot* of egg, but it seems to be too little.


I’m not sure where to go from here. The mild flavored ones have me perplexed. There’s a lot of lime juice in there, how could the flavor disappear?

I need to develop #4 a bit more, and I’d still like to do *something* with #1. And maybe #4 and #10 with double the lime/sugar? I’m also curious what #10 would be like it I beat the egg whites into peaks and gently folded them in. Fluffy perhaps? Maybe #1 with honey (halved) instead of sugar? I wonder how brown sugar would fare?

#9 with cornstarch should be similar to flan, that’s probably worth a try. And maybe another where half of the cream is milk.

I already know what happens when I mix lime juice and sweetened condensed milk. I wonder what happens when I use evaporated milk?

I’ve started using my silicone cupcake forms to make small pies for sampling. They let me get away with omitting the crust and making very small quantities. I generally just scale everything down until I end up with a single egg, reducing the baking temperature and time to allow for the drastic increase in relative surface area.

This weekend I made a Cardamom Buttermilk Pie and a Key Lime Cheesecake. Neither was noteworthy, but after making those I had some extra ingredients so I figured I might as well thrown some things together and see what happened. (I didn’t expect them to all be edible…) Here are the experiments and notes, in the order of sampling.

1 oz cream cheese
1 tbsp key lime juice

Notes: This was really interesting, I liked the texture even if it was a bit more firm than I was looking for. I got the impression that doubling the lime juice would get the texture spot on. Unfortunately, it didn’t taste good. Cream cheese alone isn’t tasty, and adding lime juice doesn’t help.

1 oz cream cheese
1 tbsp key lime juice
1 tbsp sugar

Notes: This tastes really good. I was surprised to find that the texture was a lot more “loose” than #1, apparently from the sugar?

1 oz cream cheese
1 tbsp key lime juice
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp corn starch

Notes: flavor and texture is good, though a bit firm; I suspect I could cut back on the corn starch.

1 oz cream cheese
1 tbsp key lime juice
1 tbsp sugar
1 egg yolk

Notes: Flavor and texture is good. Very similar to #3, but a bit less firm and noticeably smoother and richer (and more intense). Proportionally, this is a *lot* of egg. This realization prompted the next variation just to see exactly what the cream cheese contributes.

1 tbsp key lime juice
1 tbsp sugar
1 egg yolk

Notes: Flavor okay, texture is kind of… loose, similar to #2, but more so. Interesting, but not a path to explore further.

1 tbsp sour cream
1 tbsp key lime juice
1 tbsp sugar
1 egg yolk

Notes: Okay, texture, diluted lime flavor and an unpleasant tinge of something in the aftertaste. It also had an odd “drying” effect on my mouth.

1 tbsp buttermilk
1 tbsp key lime juice
1 tbsp sugar
1 egg yolk

Notes: Similar to #6, but the texture and flavor were each watery.

I’d like to revisit #1, but I need a way to make it sweeter. My impression was that adding more lime juice would make the texture more fluffy. I need a sweetener that won’t have the dramatic affect on the texture as granulated sugar.

Eventually I’ll try more variations of #4: with half the egg yolk; where the egg yolks are swapped with beaten egg whites; and where the cream cheese is swapped with heavy cream.

I’ve unfairly excluded butter from my list of dairy products, perhaps I should try it as an addition to #5? That would hearken back to “Lemon Pie, Pt 3”.

Maybe after Thanksgiving I’ll have an chance to try more.

Over the last few years, it has gotten more and more difficult to find the Keebler shortbread pie crusts that I like to use for my pies (which are generally in the theme of creme). Friday I saw that there was no longer a space on the shelf for Shortbread crusts rather than the increasing norm of filling the shortbread slot with yet-another graham cracker crust. I went for my second (and increasingly available) choice of granola crust, and it was better than expected. They seem to be grinding the granola so that it has more of the fine texture of the shortbread crust, while still being a sort of granola. Of course, fine granola is still not shortbread. Furthermore, fine granola isn’t really desirable for those times I want a granola crust.

I suppose this is just one more indication that I need to start making my own crusts. Have any quick and easy recipes for shortbread or granola crusts?

This time I tried a modification of my key lime recipe, making a few substitutions.

1 pie crust (prebaked, 8′ granola)

1 can evaporated milk (12 oz)
3/4 cup crystallized honey
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 tbsp cornstarch
2 eggs

1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp bourbon

Preheat oven to 350°F. Mix crystallized honey and evaporated milk and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes, and then stir in lemon juice. Beat eggs, then slowly temper with lemon/honey/milk mixture. Mix in cornstarch. Pour into pie shell and bake for 20 minutes. Allow to cool, overnight if possible. Make fluff and spread onto pie as close as possible to serving time.

As with pt 3, the lemon juice was half fresh squeezed from meyer lemons and half bottled by Santa Cruz Organics. I had ~1/2 cup extra filling, so I’d have to tweak things if I wanted to work from this in the future. It was okay, certainly edible, reminiscent of pt 1. Not particularly sweet, not particular tart, and not much to hold my interest. I took two bites and felt like I’d pretty much experienced all it had to offer. It was also a bit softer than I’d like.

If I modified this in the future, I’d probably cut the milk to 1 cup and use 5/8 cup each of lemon juice and honey. This would get the volume down, the sweetness up a bit, and the tartness up a lot, but it would still be soft. I suppose more corn starch would fix that without affecting the volume, but then the recipe would start to look like a creamy lemon meringue. Or I could add more eggs, but then I’m starting to approximate my proposed modifications to pt 2. At this point, I’m more likely to just work from that recipe rather than modifying this one, or maybe try a lemon meringue.

Fruittart pointed me to this Lemon Cream Tart. It looked tasty, so I decided to give it a try for my workplace “treat week” that coincided with exam week for our students. It was probably an even bigger experiment than the others. It’s the first time I’ve made a tart and the first time I’ve ever made my own crust. I didn’t actually use the pistachio crust, opting instead to use the crust from the Warm Mocha Tart.

I followed the recipes pretty closely and won’t duplicate them here. The only changes I made were to increase all measures by 50% in order to accommodate my 11-inch tart pan, and to top it with fresh raspberries rather than candied ginger. The lemon was half fresh-squeezed meyer lemons and half bottled lemon juice from Santa Cruz Organics.

I was glad for the lone raspberry on the piece I tried, and if I make it again I’ll put a layer of raspberry puree between the crust and lemon creme. It was pretty tasty, but not quite what I’m looking for (though nicely educational). The experiments will continue. : )

I’ve discovered that lemon curd and banana complement each other surprisingly well. So well, in fact that I’m thinking of making some sort of pie to highlight the combination. But it seems like I need one more thing, and I’m not sure what. Perhaps some kind of nut? Suggestions are welcome. : )

This time I wanted to make sure the lemon was a prominent as the lime in the key lime recipe, and at this I succeeded! Too much for most people, myself included. I used a combination of recipes, mostly the lime tart filling and the lemon curd filling. I had to make a few last-minute changes, but I’ll list the recipe I started with. (I mistakenly thought I needed 3 cups of filling, so the measures below reflect a 50% increase.)

1 prebaked granola crust (9″)

1 1/4 cup lemon juice (from 10 lemons?)
9 whole eggs
3/4 cup honey (substituted for 1/3 cup sugar)
9 tbsp butter
1 tbsp lemon zest
1 dash salt

Combine the juice, zest, sugar, and butter in a saucepan over medium heat until steaming. Whisk the yolks in a bowl until liquid. Slowly beat the steaming liquid into the yolks and return the mixture to low heat. Continue whisking until it thickens, about 8 minutes. Pour into crust and refrigerate. Top with whipped cream and sprinkle with lemon zest before serving.

I ran out of honey, so I added 2 tbsp of blood orange syrup. I ran out of lemon juice, so I added 1/4 cup of key lime juice. I couldn’t taste the orange syrup, but the lime juice made itself known.

It was initially too soft, but it firmed up some by the next day, so it seems like making it at least 24 hours in advance might be a good idea. I had a cup of extra curd, so I put it in a nice quilted mason jar and gifted it to someone who seemed especially fond of the pie. The pie was too tart (and the filling too voluminous), so if I revisit this I’ll try these measures:

.75 cup fresh lemon juice (5 lemons)
.75 cup honey
6 tablespoons butter
6 large eggs

However, I was wishing that it was a bit more creamy. What does the butter do for it? What would happen if I swapped it out for 4 tbsp of cream cheese? My informal experiment this evening shows that a mixture of lime juice and cream cheese thickens nicely (unlike yogurt), so I suspect this would make it a bit firmer as well.

I’ve not looked at it too closely, but this might be interesting.

As you may have noticed, I took my usual key lime to the CEFC Thanksgiving dinner. I was asked for the recipe, so I’ll point to it here. I’ve decided I’d like to figure out how to make it without using the sweetened condensed milk, partly to enable a reduction or substitution in sweetener, but also just to remove the one “prepared” ingredient for something less processed.

However, my key lime pie has developed a following (I’m expected to bring one to each family holiday), so I decided to experiment with lemon pies, hoping that the knowledge gained would transfer to my key lime recipe. My father in law is on a diet that restricts him to unrefined foods, so I’m also experimenting with using honey as the sweetener.

The first experiment was a lemon custard for my small group. It was completely edible, but not quite what I’d hoped for. My recie was a combination of custard recipes from “How to Cook Everything” and the “Betty Crocker Old-Fashioned Cookbook”.

1 prebaked granola crust (9″)

3 whole eggs + 4 egg yolks
1/4 cup honey (substituted for 1/3 cup sugar)
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cup milk (scalded)
1/2 cup lemon juice (from 4 lemons?)
1 tbsp lemon zest
1 dash salt

Preheat over to 350.
Mix everything but milk in bowl. Slowly mix in milk. Pour into crust and bake 45 minutes. Top with whipped cream before serving.

I discovered that I had almost a cup of extra filling. Since the flavor was *really* mild, I suspect that using only 3/4 cup of milk would help with that. It also wasn’t as firm as I’d like, and I expect the reduction in milk to help with that too.

I used honey from Alice’s Grandpa’s bees. It’s quite dark, and has a strong flavor that nicely complements the lemon.

Today wordpress reported a referral from the Pennsylvania State Dept of Agriculture’s 2005 Shoo-Fly cake/pie contest page. Oddly, I can’t find a reference to my blog there… My pies page was visited today, so I suppose that’s the one to which the alleged referral pointed.

My textbook, “Level Three Leadership”, defines leadership like this: “Leadership is the ability and willingness to influence others so that they respond voluntarily.”

I thought that was really interesting. Interesting, but unclear. I immediately thought of a “leader” who is willing to influence others, and had the necessary training to influence others, but is alone one a desert island. Then I realized that they might be using “ability” in not to mean “skill”, but “capability”. Perhaps better would be to simply say “Leadership is influencing others so that they respond voluntarily.” The author goes to some length to explain that his use of “voluntarily” excludes manipulation, and the breaks down manipulation into deception and coercion.

I think the word “respond” is also ambiguous, since a “leader” could easily, by being rude towards someone over whom he holds no authority, influence the other person to respond by taking an action for no other reason than to spite the “leader”. Of course, the word “leader” implies a follower, and the definition would benefit from simply explicitly stating that “Leadership is influencing others so that they follow voluntarily.”

Anyhow, none of this is what struck me as interesting. : )

What struck me as interesting is how well the definition, despite it’s weaknesses, seems to be describing irresistible grace.

I need to take to class (in six days) a 2-7 minute video clip that demonstrates leadership. The leadership can be good or bad. In class we watched an episode of “The Office”, which was full of great examples of bad leadership. I can use VHS, DVD, or a computer (even youtube) file. Any suggestions?

That’s the class I started yesterday. I think it will be a good class. It’s encouraging so far. Later I’ll post a quote from one of the books. Here are the books for the class:

Clawson, J. G. (2006). Level Three Leadership: Getting Below the Surface, 3rd Ed.

Kouzes, J. M. & Posner, B. Z. (2003). Leadership Practices Inventory (LPI): Participant’s Workbook and Observer Instruments

What I was supposed to write:

Worldview Paper. Write a 4 page essay describing your own worldview. Take special care to establish what you believe, why you believe it, and why you believe it is true. Address the major issue that was raised in this course and how it has contributed to strengthening, challenging, broadening, or focusing your worldview. Your essay should integrate all aspects of the course including reading assignments, discussions, and experiences.

What I wrote:

My worldview can probably be described as the Reformed tradition. It is dominated by the five solas of the Protestant Reformation, and these convince me of the truth of the five points of Calvinism. I believe this because I experience it to be true, and it is logically consistent with my meditations on the Word. My major challenge from OL306 has been the acceptance of others as fellow heirs of God. My tendency is to judge everything by logic, and declare the illogical to be invalid. However, I believe that there are at least two valid reasons why a person’s profession of faith may not seem consistent with their words or actions: weakness, and sin.

Paul writes that the thoughts of all mankind have been made futile (Romans 1:21), but that the minds of the called are being renewed (Romans 12:2). This renewing of the debased mind means that the utterances of the saints are imperfect. Their understanding should exhibit an ever-increasing conformity to Christ-likeness, but their thoughts will contain error until the time that we are fully united with Christ.

Suppose a person affirms that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, as revealed in Scriptures alone, to the glory of God alone. If they believe that the saved are such because they “choose” to accept forgiveness and the unsaved are such because they “do not choose” to accept forgiveness, this, to me, is logically inconsistent with the affirmation of the five solas.

First, this violates “faith alone”, because as Paul writes in Romans 3:27, faith excludes boasting. If I can say that I am saved because I made a good choice then I have grounds for boasting. Second, this violates “glory to God alone” because if I have any part in my salvation, then I get a piece of the glory. Again in Romans, Paul states clearly that if Abraham had been justified by making a good choice (what else is works, but good choices?) he still would have had no grounds for boasting before God. Therefore, to me, Arminianism is salvation by works, and those who hold to it cannot truly be saved (since one cannot be saved by works).

While I do believe that my analysis of the theology is sound, I now have a better understanding that my analysis of the soul is not. People are often illogical, often confused, and often deceived. While some are certain to be offended by my conclusion that they suffer from a suboptimal articulation of their hearts, I believe it if far more offensive (and infinitely less gracious) for me to conclude that they suffer the wrath of God. Some might ask if I need to analyze the theology at all. I believe I do.

Luke commends the Bereans for examining “the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11). Paul warns Timothy “some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars” (1 Timothy 1:1-2), and in his letter to the Galatians, Paul calls for an anathema on those who would pervert the gospel. Jude enjoins believers to contend for the faith. I must do so.

Does this mean that I should rebuke everyone whose theology I dispute? No, of course not. I myself am often in error, and the subject at hand is how a class discussion and textbook challenged my beliefs. I was unavoidably subjected to an Arminian explanation of atonement in class. I normally avoid Aminianism because I find it maddening. But God broadened my understanding of His love and man’s depravity. I’ve been aware of certain discrepancies here between my views and the views of teachers I respect, but I hadn’t adequately pursued reconciliation of this incongruity.

Every person is imperfect, every person has been blessed with strengths and weaknesses, and every person is inclined to understand some things more easily than others. I have a great weakness in the affections of my heart, and am woefully lacking in compassion. I have no doubt that this creates areas of profound blindness in my life, and I am grateful for the body of believers that helps me understand and appreciate that which I do not see.

While it may be obvious that sin will cause believers to live in ways that are not in accordance with their status as children of God, it hadn’t really occurred to me that it would cause believers to think in ways contrary to the gospel. I’ve not really pondered this much, but it seems logical that what we do has an effect on how we think, and that some sins will prevent us from thinking in certain ways.

If an individual makes an idol of politics, he probably will be disinclined to think in ways that are inconsistent with the functional theology that describes the salvation that he expects from his idol of politics. As Paul writes in Romans 7:22-23, “For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.”

I find myself most excited with the prospects of overcoming the mental blindness caused by sin. This renewal will happen inevitably, but not automatically. As I increase in the reflection of, and the delight in, the glory of Christ, I will be able to better see His glory. And the better I see His glory, the less I am blinded by sin, which leads to a better view of His glory. A glorious cycle, indeed!

But I will continue to sin, and continue to be limited by the weakness of my fallen body. I’ll need to “work out [my] salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in [me] to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Phillipians 2:12-13). I’ll fail many times, but as Anne Lamott wrote about God in Plan B, “I don’t think much surprises him: this is how we make important changes–barely, poorly, slowly. And still, he raises his fist in triumph.”

My latest homework assignment:

The Jesus Paper. In a 700 to 750 word essay, respond to the questions Jesus asks his disciples in Mark 8:27-29, “Who do people say I am?” and “Who do you say I am?” (Another account of this incident is recorded in Luke 9:18-26.) The questions require you first to discuss who Jesus is from the perspective of others. Then, provide your response to the question of who Jesus is and provide support for your answer… Does your response solicit more than an intellectual response? Explain.

I had planned on saying more, but ran out of space. Personally, I think that what I did come up with, while certainly an incomplete picture of Jesus, is as complete a picture that I could draw from the text I was told to use and the space I was given. I don’t quite meet the exact letter of the assignment, but I think I exceeded the expectations for it. I briefly thought about expanding it to cover everything I’d intended, but alas, I have another paper due in five days. I am, of course, indebted to others for their thoughts, both written and oral. In the completion of this assignment I had in mind various bits from John Piper, Mark Driscoll, and Mike Shea. All passages are from the NIV.

Who is Jesus? Matthew, Mark, and Luke each contain an account commonly known as “Peter’s Confession of Christ”. Each writer records Peter’s belief that Jesus was the Messiah and the belief of the crowds that Jesus was John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the prophets. The response of Jesus to each tells us a lot about his call to the lost.

After Peter’s confession, Jesus replied, “Blessed are you… for this was not revealed to you by man, but by My Father in heaven” (Matthew 16:17). Peter knew the secret identity of Jesus because it was revealed to him by God the Father, not through human efforts. The other people did not know because they only possessed the wisdom of man. Lacking God’s revelation, they had no choice but to rely on man.

Their ignorance wasn’t caused solely by their reliance on the wisdom of man, it was also a consequence of the Father’s concealment of Himself (see Romans 1:28). Luke 10:21-24 tells us that “Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, ‘I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure… No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.’ Wow! Jesus reveled in the fact that the Father would elect to reveal Himself to some, and hide Himself from others. Paul confirms that it is God’s good pleasure to destroy wisdom and frustrate intelligence (1 Corinthians 1:19).

This is good news to me on many levels. It provokes my soul to praise God that I have been made an object of mercy. It promotes humility because despite the esteem given to intellectuals, my best efforts aren’t good enough. It also provides comfort in my frustrations. Even since childhood I have been vexed by people who say things that are, in my understanding, untrue. I find solace in knowing that God hides truth. I find myself dismayed and angered (and undoubtedly in sin) when encountering those who diminish the glory of God. I am saddened when fellow believers profess a puny God. My God is an awesome God, and his words bring the universe into existence. He does not call us to himself with a plaintive “Here kitty, kitty”. He calls out “Lazarus, come out!” with all power and authority to not only reveal the truth, but to raise the dead, because it pleases Him “that you may believe” (John 11:43, 15).

While Luke 10:21-24 does an amazing job of speaking to Peter’s answer to the question, Matthew contains a parallel passage that speaks to the answer of the crowds. After Jesus delighted in the Father’s revelation to “little children”, He invited the crowds to “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

The response of Jesus highlights the need to deliver the invitation. As Paul writes in Romans 10:14, “how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” Paul didn’t preach using words that his audience didn’t understand. He became “all things to all men so that by all possible means [he] might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22).

Like Paul, I need to understand my audience. I need to contextualize it to the culture. If I’m in a culture that contains no concept of an afterlife, I need to be sufficiently literate to relate the Gospel in the concepts that they have. If I’m in a culture that denies absolute truth, I need to communicate how the Gospel is relevant even while seeking to show them that their denial of absolute truth is an absolute lie.

It is interesting to note that Jesus didn’t comment on the beliefs of the unbelieving. He praised the Father’s sovereign will and then presented an invitation that was meaningful to His hearers. This affirms my conviction that it is not profitable to dwell on untruths. I need to do little more than to proclaim the gospel in a sensible way and trust Jesus to reveal the Father to those He has called to understanding.

At work we’ve talked about needing a word that means the opposite of synergy. So I did some searching and came up with a few options. :)

Technically, synergy doesn’t exclusively describe positive effects of working together, and can also be used to describe negative effects. But common use makes this unclear, so many have used “negative synergy” to be more specific.

Some say the opposite of synergism is antagonism, but the connotations of antagonism don’t work with situations where parties are trying to achieve mutually positive results.

I’ve seen dysynergy offered as an easily understood option. Personally, I think it sounds like a hack, and would rather find a more elegant solution.

Antergy is another logically constructed word that would fit the bill. I’ve read that it’s used as the opposite of synergy. It’s defined in “Coalition formation: a game-theoretic analysis” . However, the word could be reasonably understood to indicate a complete cancellation of the parts, which isn’t quite right. And in a different use, I’ve seen this in economic circles describing something which is more valuable as parts than as a whole, as when a conglomerate is purchased and split into several smaller companies which are then sold at great profit. Not exactly what we’re looking for.

This leaves dysergy. It’s almost as clear as dysynergy and is seems more elegant. It also is validated by being used exactly as desired in the field of mereology (the study of part/whole relations).

I vote for dysergy.

Yesterday I tried the peanut putter cheesecake at Pekara bakery in downtown Champaign. I like a lot of the things they make (and I like that they make and sell things based on my requests), and the PB cheesecake was okay, but not outstanding. I was a bachelor for the day, so I decided to try making a better one. I’ve never made cheesecake before, so I didn’t know what I’d end up with, but that didn’t stop me. I did cheat, though, and baked it in a store-bought granola pie crust, so it’s not a proper cheesecake. But I had too much filling, so I also baked a small crustless cheesecake in a 4″ springform.

I threw together:

2 packs of cream cheese
2 eggs
~1 cup crunchy, unsalted, unsweetened peanut butter
~2 Tb roasted chicory espresso
1 cup sugar
8 oz butter
1/4 tsp lemon juice
1 Tb water

I intended to add two tablespoons of flour, but I forgot.

I was computerless yesterday and none of our cookbooks had a PB cheesecake recipe. So I wasn’t really following a recipe (though I read several basic recipes before I started) and I was a little lax in measuring the PB and chicory. This was also part of an ongoing effort to come up with uses for roasted chicory. The Pekara cheesecake was a little lacking in body, and I theorized that a little chicory might help with that (I think it did). I started out mixing a bit of chicory and PB to see how far I could take it and then added that to the cream cheese. Coffee might work better than chicory (not that they taste at all alike), though I probably didn’t add enough chicory to test it well. I used what I had made and didn’t feel like brewing more.

Just adding the sugar seemed a little blah, so I decided to turn it into butterscotch. But my butterscotch recipe was on the aforementioned unavailable computer and none of our cookbooks have a recipe for it, so I tried to do that from memory too. : ) It turned out well enough to add to the cheesecake and while I haven’t tried the crusted one, the small one was pretty tasty. We’ll see what Alice thinks when she discovers it.

As a variation on my key lime pie (following the lime/mango and the lime/cranberry) I made two lime/blueberry pies for small group Sunday. One was a granola crust with pureed berries and the other shortbread with whole blueberries. The granola crust smelled nice out of the oven, but I think my preference was for what I didn’t serve, shortbread crust with pureed berries. The blueberry flavor was a little stronger in the puree and I’m not a big fan of whole fruit. But the flavor was too subtle for my liking, I think that lime/cranberry has been the only variation worth repeating. I still want to try an orange/citrus version but I’m out of ideas after that, so I may have to find some other line of experimentation to which I can subject others. The whole recipe is posted elsewhere, but here are the measurements:

one 8″ pie crust

1 can sweetened condensed milk (14 oz)
1/2 cup key lime juice
1/2 cup pureed blueberries
1 tbsp cornstarch

I don’t really think about happiness much, and it doesn’t feel like happiness is a big motivator in my life. But I’m sitting in Panera writing a class paper and look out the window at the falling snow. I smile, and realize that this is one of the few external things I can think of that really does this. Usually I’m happy when I solve a problem or have some revelation about something that’s been puzzling me. But this is different. Falling snow makes me happy.

(I had the Moon-Rays in my head, and this *is* an experiment…)

Written elsewhere:

> So . . . um, how did the sandwich filling work out?
> Any recipes coming out of that?
> *hint, hint, nudge, nudge* ;-)

Thanks for the prod.

It was okay, but neither the filling or the sauce worked out as well as I’d hoped. So I’ll have to try it again before I post something. You were right though, after 5 hours in the crock, it became watery and muted in flavor. But I left the lid ajar and turned up the heat and it cooked down nicely. Tossing in an extra tablespoon of chipotle (I ran out of cayenne) at the last minute got the heat back up helped unmute the flavor, but it still tasted more like a thin BBQ sauce than a rich Buffalo sauce like I’d intended. I think I’ll just plan on adding the sauce after the chicken is cooked.

One good thing was that I learned that throwing chicken in the crock for five hours causes it to separate into fibrous pieces, as though I’d shredded it. Did the overnight marinade do this, or would it have happened anyway? And will the same thing happen with other meat? And is there a more expedient way than crock cooking?

The sauce also was pretty muted in flavor. I put together Gorgonzola, cream, and toasted sesame oil. It had a good texture, but the cream seemed to mask the other flavors.

I’m sure it was fine for everyone else, even Alice liked it. That’s right, my vegetarian ate one and a half chicken sandwiches. :)

In the meantime, here’s a simple Buffalo Blue sauce:

4 tbsp blue cheese (Gorgonzola)
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
½ tsp cayenne pepper
½ tsp garlic powder

Gently heat cheese until soft. Combine with garlic, cayenne, and vinegar, mix, and serve. I want to try two variations: one with lime juice for instead of vinegar, and one with a little bourbon. :)

I’ve had similar thoughts myself…

It seems as though my pedometer counts may be a bit high. Friday I topped 40k! : ) That said, I’m not sure what to do about it. Here’s my counts for Fr-Su:

Fr: 40368
Sa: 11421
Su: 13904

Friday I walked to/from work (six miles) and to the park and back (1 mile), plus miscellaneous walking.

Saturday I drove to Peoria, the Bradley park, and walked around the Bradley U campus.

Sunday I went to Church, studied, and went to small group.

Fellow teammates, what do you think I should do with my numbers? Report them as is? Discount them some percentage? Try to construct reasonable and accurate numbers?

I’m looking for topics on which the Bible requires a nuanced application. Here are two examples:

1) lying: Christians have a tendency to believe they should follow the absolute rule “Don’t lie”. After all, Exodus 20:16 says “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” But Hebrews 11:31 says “By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.” This isn’t quite a link to lying yet, but in Joshua 2 we see that she hid the spies and lied to the King of Jericho. In Joshua 6 Joshua states “Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall be spared, because she hid the spies we sent.” Sometimes lying is sin, but at other times it’s acting in faith.

2) killing: Many modern Christians (especially those with a liberal inclination), believe that taking the life of another person is always wrong. That’s also one of the ten commandments, right, Exodus 20:13? But in Hebrews 11:17 Abraham is commended for intending to kill his son. Not only was he taking a life, it was an innocent life! I think most people today would rationalize this as being confused, deranged, or something else. How often have we thought that about a serial killer who claimed God had told him to kill people?

Those examples aren’t really fleshed out yet, but you get the idea. A quick glance at the rest of Hebrews 11 suggests other possibilities that I’ll explore. Where else should I look?

Yesterday I took my veggie chili and tweaked it slightly. I halved the vinegar, substituted cocoa for cinnamon, and doubled the cocoa.

It wasn’t bad, had a definite mole flavor (not intentional, but also not surprising), but I think I prefer the normal recipe. Maybe next time I’ll try substituting tamarind paste for the tomatoes and vinegar. But if I get my peppers smoked first, I’ll probably try it with fresh smoked peppers!

Brought to my attention by markfrench at 5pointers, here’s are two quotes from two emails John Piper Sent to Mark Driscoll. I already highlighted them there, but I like them so much I’ll give them a bit more prominence here.

“We both want to speak in a way that is NOT boring about the greatest things in the world and is not worn out and tired and hackneyed. It is a sin to bore people with God. So pray for us. The line is fine between choosing words to strike the soul with glory and strike a clever pose.”

“Good grief. I am glad I don’t read the web very much. I would sin with anger too much. “Roaring debate” !– these people have too much time on their hands.”

You may have heard of Change a Light, Change the World. We found out today that the mayor of Champaign wants to change a light bulb in our house for the event. And it will be televised! Joy. While I suspect we were selected due to our participation in the city’s Full Home Rehab program, I don’t think the two things are directly linked. We’re trying to gracefully decline, I’ll let you know how it goes.

I made pies for small group last night. I worked from the Key Lime recipe I’ve use for a while, but mixed up the flavors a bit. I don’t normally bake, but cream/custard pies are an exception because the timing isn’t critical. As you’ll quickly notice, I don’t make “healthy” desserts. :)

Here’s the original (I no longer use the recipe below. My current key lime pie recipe is here.):


1 pie crust (prebaked, 8′ shortbread)

1 can sweetened condensed milk (14 oz)
1/2 cup key lime juice
1 tbsp cornstarch

1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tbsp key lime peel (freshly zested)


Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine all filling ingredients in a bowl, mixing well. Pour into pie shell and bake for 20 min.

Make fluff and spread onto pie, finishing by sprinkling lime zest on top.

Last night I forgot the cornstarch and made the following variations.

> Substitute key lime/mango juice for lime juice
> and garnish with thin mango slivers.

Everyone seemed to like it.

> Substitute cranberry nectar for 1/4 cup of lime juice,
> add two dashes of Angostura Bitters,
> and garnish with ??

Also popular, though I left it ungarnished. I’d try it with only a single dash of bitters (maybe none). I’d appreciate garnish suggestions, but I’d rather avoid actual cranberries.

> Substitute mild molasses for lime juice,
> add 2tbsp unsweetened cocoa and 1/2 tsp vanilla extract,
> and garnish with dusting of cinnamon.

This was my attempt to shoehorn my chocolate pie recipe into the key lime pie form. I didn’t find the flavor result to be nearly as good as my original (which tastes like an Oreo), though the flavor was surprisingly complex for a cream pie. I thought it was too sweet and too molassesy, but several people seemed to enjoy it quite a bit!

I had a feeling the molasses would be too much when I was adding it, but I wasn’t sure what else to do. Also, I’ve only used blackstrap molasses in the past and wasn’t sure just how mild the “mild” would be. Considering that the sweetened condensed milk contains almost twice as much sugar as the cup of powdered sugar I would normally use in my Chocolate pie, using a mild molasses (it’s sweeter, right?) probably wasn’t the best choice! So maybe I should have tried substituting 1/4 cup blackstrap molasses and 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa for the lime juice in the original recipe? Maybe next time.

Here’s the my original Chocolate pie recipe:


1 pie crust (prebaked, 8′, shortbread)

2 eggs
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tbsp unsweetened baking cocoa
1 1/2 tbsp molasses (blackstrap)
1/2 tbsp vanilla extract

1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tbsp granulated sugar


Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine sugar and cocoa in a bowl, mixing well. Add heavy cream, molasses, and vanilla, mixing on high speed until firm. Transfer to saucepan and heat until steaming. Beat eggs in a bowl and temper with steaming liquid, mixing well. Add back into saucepan and gently heat to a soft boil, stirring constantly. Pour into pie shell and bake for 45 minutes.

Make fluff, spread onto pie, and finish with a light dusting of cinnamon.

(As you can see, with the exception of the eggs, it’s really just baked chocolate fluff.)

This is an experimental lasagna that I made for this semester’s first Student Feast. I put a little thought into what I wanted in it and Alice went looking for groceries. Alas, several ingredients were not to be found, necessitating further improvisation with ingredients at hand. I’d never made lasagna before and Alice really did most of the work of putting it together. This isn’t really a recipe yet; we just threw it together (based on her more traditional lasagnas) without really thinking about future duplication or tweaking. Believe it or not, I tried really hard to keep it simple and not throw too much into it.

It had four layers consisting of noodles, sauce, and cheese. The noodles were not precooked, and alternated between whole wheat and semolina. The sauce was 3/4 of a bottle of Cabernet Marinara (Muir Glen) long-simmered with finely chopped pepperoni, garlic powder, half-sliced garlic cloves, and a generous portion (1/4 cup?) of Jamaican Jerk seasoning (Frontier Organics). The sauce really thickened and I had to add water so that it wasn’t pasty. The top layer used an Alfredo sauce. In the middle was a layer of chicken-jalapeno sausages sliced and quartered. The cheese layers were cottage cheese (because I dislike ricotta), mozzarella, and fresh basil.

I wanted to use pulled pork or shredded chicken, but couldn’t find any in time. I also wanted to use Tabasco pepperoni, but it was also hiding. I’d probably try making each cheese layer different: mozzarella, Swiss, smoked Gouda, and a homemade Alfredo sauce heavy in Parmesan and maybe fontinella. I’m open to suggestions!

I had hoped to make spicy brownies as an accompaniment, but it didn’t work out. Maybe next time.

Syntactically right, semantically wrong.

Anyone want to join me Saturday to see Charlie Hunter play at the Canopy Club? It’s an early show (7:00) and costs $15.

It’s been two months since the SBC posted the resolution against Biblical, God honoring, and heart gladdening use of alcohol. So today I point you to an article on the Sociology of Prohibition. If you want to skip the history (which is interesting, but voluminous) skip to the paragraph that starts with “What interests me”. I’m not certain that I agree with the assertion that “Prohibitions are always enacted by US, to govern the conduct of THEM…” because it seems blind to the fact that people will eagerly volunteer prohibitions on themselves because many people prefer legalism to humbly working out the gift of their salvation. Then again, perhaps they’re related. What do you think?

Job 26: 14 (ESV)

Behold, these are but the outskirts of his ways,
and how small a whisper do we hear of him!
But the thunder of his power who can understand?

I started out making this Gorgonzola Tortellini but Alice isn’t a big fan of blue cheese, pork, or it’s heavy richness, so it’s followed by a lighter version that’s vegetarian. Each is really quick and easy to make, and relatively inexpensive to boot! Someday maybe I’ll try it with better-than-frozen tortellini. : )


Gorgonzola Tortellini


1 lb frozen tortellini (pork)
1 cup diced tomatoes (1 can)
1/2 cup crumbled Gorgonzola (2 oz)
1/4 cup cream sherry (Harvey’s Bristol)
1/4 cup olive oil (extra virgin)
3 teasp walnuts (finely chopped)
1/4 teasp cayenne pepper (coarse)
3 green onions


Combine everything but blue cheese and tortellini and let sit for 1 hour. Cook tortellini until tender. Add blue cheese to sauce and then toss tortellini with sauce. Serve warm, not hot.

(A heavier, richer, non-vegetarian version of the Walnut/Oloroso Tortellini.)

(Next time I make it I’ll try adding 1/8 cup basil.)


RECIPE: Walnut/Oloroso Tortellini


1 lb frozen tortellini
1 cup diced tomatoes (1 can)
1/4 cup olive oil (extra virgin)
1/8 cup oloroso sherry
3 teasp walnuts (finely chopped)
1/4 teasp black pepper (coarse)
3 green onions (chopped)


Combine everything but tortellini and let sit for 1 hour. Cook tortellini until tender and toss with sauce. Serve warm, not hot.

(A lighter, Gorgonzola-free, and vegetarian version of the Gorgonzola Tortellini.)

(Next time I make it I’ll try adding 1/8 cup basil.)

It has occurred to my that my perspective on possible actions may be backwards. For instance, I might think “should I do such and such” or “is there any justification for taking this action”. I’m beginning to wonder if my thinking should place our freedom in Christ as the default, and rather be thinking “is there a reason I should *not* do such and such” and “would taking this action sin against God or neighbor”.

Perhaps this is an overly subtle or even insignificant distinction. Or perhaps it will free me to do “whatever” while expending more energy seeking the filling of the spirit. What do you think?

Has the complete works of CS Lewis ever been assembled? If not, what might be the best way of assembling my own set of volumes?

Earlier in the summer I bought a cyclometer to help measure the calories I was burning on my rides to and from work (and elsewhere). I’ve also been using it to provide some objective numbers with which I can pace myself.

It’s not unusual for me to hit a top speed of 20-something with an average of 12-something, but my avg all week has been >14. Yesterday I set a new record for the 3 mile trip home: top speed 31.5, avg speed 15.5.

I have quite a few “chili” recipes that I created while working third shift. I’d cook up a batch and it would make two complete meals. They’re all variations on the meat/bean/heat theme I think of as chili, because chili is relatively well-rounded, relatively low in carbs (which I tend to overdo), and really low in calories.


1/2 lb chicken (ground, lean)
1 1/2 cups navy beans (1 can)
1 cup water
1/2 cup bell pepper (orange, fine diced)
1/2 cup onion (vidalia, coarse diced)
1/4 cup sour cream
1 tbsp Mexican Oregeno
1 teasp white pepper (fine ground)
1 teasp sea salt
1/2 teasp coriander
1/2 teasp sage (rubbed)
1/2 teasp thyme
1/4 teasp star anise
1 temple orange (~1/2 C juice?)
24 drops mesquite smoke solution


Combine beans, water, salt, thyme, and white pepper in sauce pan and simmer on low heat. Brown chicken, onion, pepper, and oregeno in skillet, then add to sauce pan and simmer for an additional five minutes. Remove from heat and stir in juice from orange and remaining spices (coriander, sage, and anise). Add a dollop of sour cream to each bowl.

( I want to eventually try substituting mesquite pod powder (I need to remember to order some!) for the smoke solution and/or with pumpkin. And maybe tomatillos.)

Although I like Pickapeppa sauce, it’s lacking oomph. But add some Chipotle Tabasco, and it’s mighty tasty. Unfortunately, I don’t know the proportions; I combined what was left of the two bottles. Someday I’ll probably deconstruct it, but there are other sauces I’ll make first, and other recipes I’m more interested in finishing.

This is what has become of the surprise chili posted earlier, and is the recipe that was requested by Fruit Tart.

It’s good fresh, but better the second day.



3 cups kidney beans (2 cans)
1 1/2 cups black beans (1 can)
1 cup crushed tomatoes
1 cup water
1/2 cup wild rice (4 oz)
1/2 cup corn (fresh/frozen)
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp molasses (dark)
2 teasp sea salt
2 teasp chipotle
1 teasp garlic powder
1 teasp cinnamon
1 yellow pepper (finely diced)
1 red pepper (finely diced)
1 red onion (finely diced)
2 heads garlic (whole cloves)


Cook wild rice with 1 1/2 cups water. Dice peppers and onions and saute. Add remaining ingredients to stew pot, cover and simmer, about 15 minutes. Add vegetables and wild rice, and simmer everything additional 30 minutes.

(I’d like to experiment with using whole (dried? fresh?) peppers, cinnamon sticks, and cocoa instead of cinnamon (not simultaneously : ). I’d really like to try it with tamarinds replacing the vinegar and tomatoes, but I’m not sure how to use them. From what I’ve read, I *think* it could work, but who knows?)

I have several posts planned, but most of them will take a while to write, and even longer to discuss. So for now I’m sticking with simple stuff like food. I’ll probably transition into posting links to offsite content for discussion, and then post my own.

But who knows, I’m generally busy enough commenting on others’ blogs. : )

I also have a rarely-updated blog on LiveJournal. For the time being, I plan on keeping both. The LJ has primarily been a tool for communicating with college buddies (the duckosphere), but it’s possible I’ll merge the two someday.

Anyone know how to make a good roux? I’ve done it before, but my recent attempts have been dismal. I need a refresher course!

When I was a freshman I lived largely off of rice that was cooked with chicken boullion, cinnamon, and allspice. And pizza. The next year I lived in a house with a six other guys in IlliniLife. The following recipe is pretty characteristic of the chili I made there. I’ve since become a culinary deconstructivist.



1/2 lb sausage (chorizo, or Italian)
2 cups kidney beans (1 can)
1 cup marinara sauce
1/3 cup worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp tabasco sauce (to taste)


Stir everything but sausage into sauce pan, cover, and simmer. Brown sausage, and add to sauce pan. Add water until chili has achieved desired consistancy (some like it thick, some like it thin) and serve.

(This chili is should be easy to make using ingredients a student might have on hand. It’s quick, simple, and cheap, and you’re surprised that it tastes as much like chili as it does.)