Mnts Washington & Monroe in winter!

Ever since New Years Day when I took a trek with the intention of visiting New Hampshire’s high point and some surrounding rock massifs, I thought about making a return trip. The thought of this ruminating in my mind so frequently day after day until giving in, I decided against any freshly dusted local mountains and opted to get outside once again in the peaks named for Presidents.

I wanted to get high. I needed my focus to become so myopic that the seconds passing before me twisting with the given conditions were the only bits of information surging through my thought patterns.

In other words, an escape into an alpine world is just what I craved.

The weather leading up to my climb was looking good: being a day or so after nearly a foot of fresh powder had fallen, the skies were looking clear enough for the morning, wind speeds were down and my spirits were high!

Upon mentioning my intention to climb back up alongside the Cog Railway I was greeted with many crooked heads, confused looks and “why on earth would you want to do that? that’s a terrifically boring trail..“, I listened on and on. I knew it was a very straight forward trail..and probably one that would be frowned upon as “not technical”, or not challenging enough to be considered a “real trail”.

Oh well.. my day, my trail. I thought to myself. In the weeks leading up to my winter ascent of Mount Washington, I had picked up some new snowshoes as my old trusty running snowshoes were just not up to the task anymore, the traction had become terrible, I kept snapping rivets, day by day I considered it to be a miracle that they even survived the hills and made it back to my car at all.

Today, I wanted a playground to really test out the Tubbs Flex Alp.. so that is where I went! Some variables got traded for a straight forward “this is your ascent, this is your trail.. now climb and let us know how the Tubbs perform”, is basically how I looked at my line scarred into the shoulder of New Hampshire’s mightiest.

I came prepared with, I suppose, a little bit of everything for the day, not really knowing what conditions I would encounter following the previous day’s snowstorm: Hillsound spikes, full crampons, Asolo boots, ice axe (which really could have been used, but my trekking poles did the job a-okay), I even brought along a balaclava despite the weather experts calling for low winds atop the mountains.

Anybody awake for sunrise (I was driving..) was greeted by a most majestic color display: reds mingling with yellows and oranges off in the distant sky, illuminating the surrounding frosted hilltops. My anticipation was growing palpable and I longed to be up on a ridge watching the sunrise glowing warm through across winter wonderland.

Soon enough I’d be among the clouds.

Two hours passed rather quickly and before I knew it: I had placed my National Park Pass into the window of the Subaru, geared up and headed out of the Ammonoosuc Trail Head parking lot (which I had to myself this fine morning!).

Rounding the first corner – my objective finally came into view. Such a clear morning, so unlike my previous excursion on New Years Day with 50mph winds, 85mph gusts, zero visibility with white-out conditions – I could not ask for a better day to be with nature so far today!

I was greeted at the Cog Railway parking lot by an employee who I assumed was on a smoke break, turns out she was standing in below zero temps just to say hello! She warned me that if I wanted to pass through their parking lot ever again then I would be forced to pay the $10 parking fee, I respectfully declined – asking her if any of the $10 I had just paid the previous weekend could be rolled over to today’s fee, by the look on her face.. I think I was the first person to inquire of this.

Finally, I thanked her graciously for awareness on the subject, wished her a fantastic day and proceeded to put feet into snowshoes – she was overall pleasant and probably just doing a job that her boss asked of her.. pesky hiker trash such as we!

Zero wind had me opting for a simple fleece jacket, which helped to shed my perspiration as I placed foot in front of foot, slowly slogging my way up the second steepest railway grade in the world. Passing the water tower at 3,800′, I said “good morning!” to a fellow hiker who had stopped to take in some sustainable – turns out I was not the only crazy one playing around on the Cog railway trail this morning!

In what seemed like minutes (actually about an hour..), I passed the location at treeline where I made the call to descend last time – I was now in new territory for the remainder of the hike! The snow was completely packed solid for the first 2 miles or so, thanks to the snowcat who tore a trail up the slope earlier in the morning; the climbing was surely steep, but easy going thanks to the beefy crampons and side rails of the Tubbs Flex Alp.

I was now following a solo hiker who was bare booting their way up the side of Mount Washington, leaving four inch deep ruts with every boot step, I tried to soften over the prints over with my snowshoe tracks. Finally, I saw the owner of the aforementioned boot tracks – standing up at the top of the slope, I was able to grab a few iconic photographs before they too continued over the crux and north, onto the spur trail heading to Jefferson.

This too, was my original plan: to trek over to Jefferson and back – but when I took a few steps onto the solid ice flume trail, I decided today was not the day and that I simply did not want to deal with a frozen river of rock and ice; in hindsight, I can honestly say this was the best decision that I made all day. Had I actually gone over to the third highest in the state, I would have put myself several hours behind and been trapped by the incoming snowstorm delaying my drive home – very content with my decisions to keep climbing!

Continuing up along the Cog tracks, I tried to follow the windswept crusty snow that the snowshoes bit into with ease. I peered to the left (NE) now and immediately recognized a little mount that I had read about. Crossing the frozen auto road to access this added bonus, the boulder field leading to this pile of rock was completely swept with inches of rime, some of which grew to a foot long, sideways facing stalactites jetting off the summit rocks – needless to say, I was treading very carefully and lightly among these incredible formations!

I saw this mound on maps in the past, it took one more check to remember that I now stood atop the ‘Ball Crag’ and planned my next moves toward the summit cone of Washington. Up along these lawns of Washington, the wind finally made an appearance, as did my outer shell to retain any bit of warmth in the fleece layer. Although, the hazy sun did a fine job of warming any darker layers – such as the gloves.

All was eerily quiet atop the states highest: not a soul was in sight despite the idling snowmobile engine off behind one of the sheds. The wind continued shaping and re-shaping, tossing snow crystals constantly into an evolving sculpture tight to every window and door of the visitor center until the vertical walls no longer showed, just sloped snow up to roof top.

Still. All was quiet, masked by the rush of the wind swirling, dipping and dodging around each structure, curling feverishly around the sign posts. Still, I was alone up on this peak – not a person around as I made my way to the infamous brown Mount Washington summit sign, this was my chance to snap a photograph without a line of tourists wrapping off the summit.

My intuition told me that about two minutes was all my quickly turning beet-red fingers were willing to be bludgeoned with before I had to plunge them back into the warmth of super thick OR gloves.

There was really no need for map and compass as I departed the shelter of the final outbuilding, heading down Southwesterly. The Lakes far below were hidden well under a layer of blue/green ice, the hut clearly visible and my next major destination thrusting steeply into the sky just beyond.

In a sense, I was also doing a recon mission – constantly checking snow conditions for a potential winter presidential traverse coming up soon – when the conditions are favorable!

Descending the peak of Washington, somewhat still in disbelief that an objective such as this could be accomplished and now over so quickly, I was truly all laughs and smiles as I bounded down the windswept slopes. In sections, all of the typical ankle-snapping rocks had been tucked away behind a layer of crust – what I imagine glacier travel to be like, and sure as hell I want more of it!!

It was easy to see the half-buried rock cairns, which I continued to kind of follow, keeping them in the back of my mind but really quite lax in trying to actually follow the true trail – as long as I stayed off grass and mushy things that were not rock, snow or ice, I was content!

With each step I was able to look back at the towers adorning the reaches of Washington’s summit, thinking out loud “yikes.. came that far, already!

Just prior to reaching the beautiful lakes down below I encountered the first instance where I thought a hand on my axe would have put my mind at a bit higher ease – the side of the ridge just sloped right away, and one misstep would have a hiker careening many hundreds of feet down to the trees waiting below. While probably not a fall to one’s death, there absolutely would be the possibility of catching a crampon spike and twisting an ankle, or worse – with care I traipsed through, leaning up-slope and into my trekking poles, it was really “no problem!“.

The hut was bounding with life now from groups of trekkers taking a snack break after the 2,300 foot climb out of the ravine below. I tried to ask one of the crampon enthusiasts if that was actually sufficient or if they would have preferred to ascend with snowshoes.. all I got in response was snickers and snarls, laughing at the sight of me trekking through these parts wearing only Hillsound spikes, which were admittedly not great – but the 3/4″ spike was better than nothing, that’s for sure!

I was back in my element after leaving the party vibe surrounding the Lakes of the Clouds hut and made way over to the Monroe loop trail. Short and steep. That certainly did not change in the past year and a half since I stood on these slopes with Ciara and the pups, traversing this ridge during the summer months.

The 5+ inches of snow on top of flowing ice had me wishing I had made the switch into full crampons prior to ascending, I will certainly remember that one for next time and probably leave the Hillsounds at home, we’re in crampon country up in these hills!

Again, the wind remained mild upon reaching the final push to 5,372′; photos were snapped, but most importantly.. I stood. Not prepping gear, not eating nuts or drinking rusty water, I just stood absorbing the wind, letting it sway me around space momentarily. I stood staring back at Mount Washington in the far off distance, I had to take this time to sink into myself and just be, just taking up space; thinking about home, thinking about what it was like to be here in this very minute. Thinking of the decisions that I’d made which put me on this summit at 11:15am on January 18th.

The descent off of Monroe, again, reminded me that crampons would have performed ten-thousand times better than the mediocre spike depth that I had entrusted on my feet up to this point: the 6+ inches of snow atop ice flume on the slopes proved to be just a bit deeper than Hillsounds wanted to crunch into.. essentially, I had no traction.

I may have slipped around a bit, but eventually returned in one piece back to the hut below. Happy to see folks now making their way up in snowshoes, I hoped for a nice trek down – at least one devoid of postholes from the previous onslaught of crampons chewing up powder.

I also returned back to my state of snowshoe use, tipped my hat one last time at my friends the mountains, already eager to visit once again as I turned to take the Ammonoosuc Ravine trail down. The trees slumped over, still weighty with the recent snow clutching their boughs. This was postcard country. Possibly one of the most lovely winter scenes that I had hiked in yet, just what was needed to make this already epic day simply over the top, complete with a little bit of everything, now with all of the beauty!

Some ice, a bridge or two, some waterfall hopping, a lot of powder was what the ravine trail had in store for me on the descent. I assumed as a result of this amazing weather, that I would find a slow-moving highway of winter backpackers slogging their way up the hills; what I found to my surprise though were merely two men way down by the trail head, just beginning their adventure – packed to the gills, possibly in for an incredible winter camping experience! As usual, I wished them a fantastic time and scooted by with under a mile remaining.

All the while as I climbed down along the Ammonoosuc River, I couldn’t help but just stand in awe, once again staring – watching the clear water flow through partially frozen blue and green layers hidden in the depths of river water.

As I came out of the forest, I was immediately urged to return, to turn back and walk into the woods – I did not want to believe that my trek had come to a close already, such a perfect day could not be over so soon!

Another page of climbing had come to a close, this chapter of Mount Washington along with Mount Monroe in winter had

come to a close. I had learned so much all along this solo hike, from getting used to gear in winter conditions, becoming more comfortable with tools that I had at my disposal, to listening to my body, fueling it, pushing it, and resting as needed.

I hope this recount helped learn you a few things about winter conditions in the mountains, and with a bit of preparation, showed just how enjoyable life in the backcountry truly can be. While some would argue ascending in sub-zero temperatures could be too dangerous – I too agree, but we must take the knowledge and experience learned time after time, trek after trek into the wild and apply it to each new step in the forest. Learn to recognize what sounds daring in the mountains and dial it back just a notch or two; pushing one’s self in the hills while knowing what we are capable of, not comparing yourself to the dude in $700 mountaineering boots who, likely has not had the same experiences you have.

Be yourself in the mountains, climb strong, but always work at becoming stronger than the mountains will ever demand of you.

Strive to learn more than you will need to climb smart. Be stronger than you think you will need to be. Eat foods that your body can easily fuel itself on, decide to use real food, whole plant-based foods are without a doubt, better and richer for your body. Don’t think that because hiker dude over there slopping down a pouch of stale beef jerky that you too can excel with the same junk – be surprised with how far GORP (good ol’ raisins and peanuts) can take you, and bring a water filter.. always.

Did you enjoy my trip into the hills? Let me know!

Shoot a comment here or find me on good ol’ instagram for all the latest adventures!

Have an epic trek, learn to be safe, have fun always and Happy Climbing!

– Erik


Overall stats for the day:

Recorded with COROS Pace

  • 9.72 miles
  • 5hr 20 minutes
  • 4,721′ elevation gain
  • Mount Washington – 6,288″
  • Ball Crag – 6,106′
  • Mount Monroe – 5,372′

Refreshing Summer Sammies

Well summer is in full swing and what is the best thing to fuel yourself on in the warmer weather?

Watermelon – of course! But that would not result in a terribly exciting write up now would it? Let’s see… Step One: Cut watermelon in half, Step Two: Eat all of the watermelon, Step Three: Repeat – all day every day. The End.

Okay, well what about those days when you want something.. a little, perhaps.. more solid than watermelon? I have just the perfect summer treat to fuel your long runs, bike rides, frisbee golf, whatever your preferred warmer weather events may be!

Behold.. the Vegenaise and Tomato Sandwich!

While there are endless varieties of this sandwich – whatever you are in the mood for – just toss it right on that bread! Avocado works spectacularly well, cucumbers are cool, ever tried carrot bacon or sliced tempeh? Throw it on the sandwich too!

What makes up a Vegenaise and Tomato Sandwich anyway?

  • Let’s start with the base of it all: the bread. Ciara’s bread, simply put, is a culinary masterpiece – fluffiest and tastiest bread that I’ve ever sunk my chompers into – so obviously that would be my first choice! But when we aren’t in bread-making-mode, the next best option would have to be rye bread – we love the earthy, slightly sour, full-bodied spicy funk of rye bread. But of course if you have a longstanding personal fondness for pumpernickel or Ezekiel sprouted seed bread.. then by all means – use what you love (craving a whole wheat hot dog bun.. or gluten-free burrito wrap? ..use that, I suppose!)
  • The tomato will come next (kindly supplement ‘tomato’ with anything you are feeling more in the mood for at the time of making your sandwich.. ie cucumber, spinach, sprouts, tempeh, jackfruit, bell pepper, avocado.. get crazy with your cravings!). Roma tomatoes taste a little bland when compared to some cousin varieties, but retain their shape well once sliced, but still not my first choice (unless I am trying to dip the tomato.. then the Roma is first choice!). Golden tomatoes that I have tried have a very mellow to sweet hint – definitely a go to around here! Basically any tomato that has a good, crisp bit of flavor – give it a shot on the sammich.. it’s your funkadelic creation!
  • Vegenaise! Say.. Vege-what? This mayo substitute will absolutely make your summertime sammich! Produced by a growing company known as Follow Your Heart, Vegenaise is a tangy, mildly salty egg-free, dairy-free, non-GMO, vegan friendly – mayonnaise alternative. Follow Your Heart has been producing Vegenaise since the 1970s and is now made entirely with solar power! Sweet!

What can you do with Vegenaise?

This fluffy white stuff has been a staple in our pantry for quite a while now, why? Because it is so dang versatile! We have been known to add dollops of it into our blender to spice up aioli sauces, drop in a hint of hot sauce to make a fantastic dip for our homemade potato wedges, or spread it by itself onto bread for these wonderful mouth-watering summertime sammiches! I’ve heard of so many other uses for Vegenaise, such as adding into a plant powered brownie mix.. but I’m not much of a baker, so I cannot vouch for this.. yet!

The masterminds over at Follow Your Heart have come up with several varieties for anybody with a restrictive diet, or those who would simply like to try more amazing alternatives! The Original is by far my favorite, but has canola oil as it’s base. A second go-to would be the same recipe but swaps out the canola for grape-seed oil, it has been said around here that this version tastes more true to say.. a Hellmann’s mayo.

But is it more healthy than the authentic.. I mean, mayo is mayo.. right? Heck no! Just for starters.. one glimpse at the ingredient list sets my heart right at ease!

Straight off the back of the FYH Vegenaise label, you can find: Expeller-Pressed Canola Oil, Filtered Water, Brown Rice Syrup, Apple Cider Vinegar, Soy Protein, Sea Salt, Mustard Flour, Lemon Juice Concentrate – things that are easy to read and don’t tie your tongue all in a hot mess trying to pronounce!

When compared to a popular eggy “real deal” mayo we can also find the typical water, sugar, lemon juice, distilled vinegar, but then things start to get a bit outlandish.. “modified food starch”. I had to look into this one: it appears to be a combination of modified corn and potato starch.. more or less a thickener or ‘stabilizer’! “Natural flavor”.. could use a bit more lengthy description than this of course! And my favorite: Calcium disodium EDTA, or better known as the “white crystalline powder.. used as a preservative”. I’m not here to say what is good or bad for you, but when I see tests that indicate this ingredient is safe in ‘small amounts’, but has been known to cause liver damage when taken over a period of time, I’ll stick to my plant-friendly alternative, thank you!

Part of me wanted to include the fancy charts, graphs, slides, images – anything to show you how much more health-friendly the Vegenaise mayonnaise can be, when not eaten by the spoonful (which is how I would like to consume it some days after a long run or hike! ..don’t tell anyone though! 😉 ). I’ll compare it to the newer Vegan dressing put out by Hellmann’s.

First off, the serving size is recommended at 1 tablespoon – good place to start. Identical calories for this serving while FYH has less fat, less saturated fat, no polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fat to compare to what Hellmanns stuffs into their variety. Less cholesterol, a considerable amount of less sodium and a trace amount of calcium can be found dancing on your taste buds from the folks at Follow Your Heart. So while I’m not saying this should be consumed at every meal, or eaten by the spoonful when you do indulge – but quite simply that it is the alternative I’ll be going for – even if Hellmann’s can stuff the V-word onto their packaging!

While plant-based mayonnaise is an awesome starter and can be used to perfectify just about any condiment, dipping or dressing addition, please don’t think for a second that the friendly folks over at Follow Your Heart won’t have you covered for your other plant based cravings, you can amp up your kitchen creations with: cream cheese, yogurt, sour cream, gluten-free tortillas, and what’s this now… introducing.. vegan eggs!!

Back to these delightful sammiches!

Is two pieces of bread too much? Sometimes I say yes, in which case we implement simple results to this common problem: introducing the open-faced sandwich; one slice of bread making up the base of your sammich – and that is all! This way you can pile those veggies a mile high over the cloud-like Vegenaise layer!

I hope this helped make your sandwiches and sammiches a bit healthier, happier and heartier!

What’s your favorite veggie to put on your sammich? Send me a photo or let me know in the comments below!

I’m always amped to try something new!

Are you traveling? Don’t forget to look around as you shop for local companies putting out their take on plant-based condiments, mayo, dressings, sauces.. it is a growing ‘backyard’ hobby all over, resulting in some truly epic creations!

 

Have an epic day and enjoy your sammich!

Erik!

 

 

 

Brew your own: Kombucha

Kombucha.

The name rings of a particular blend of ancient alchemy mingled with medieval mystery. Some folks who are in the know will just simply call it ‘booch’, giving the image of a secretive bathtub brewed beverage that you don’t tell others where you found. Others overwhelm me with bewilderment, preferring to call it ‘kAhm-boocha’, leaving me scratching my head as to where they found the elusive extra A at the outset of its name. Even fewer, it seems, just simply say the word as it appears: Kombucha.

Now that we have you saying Kombucha without adding extra vowels all over its name, can I ask you what it is? Oh.. you don’t know? I’m sure that’s why you are here reading this! I’m supposed explain this mystery stuff to you, got it! Essentially, Kombucha is fermented tea. “Say Whaaaat?” That’s probably what you just said to yourself as you choked on your morning coffee. How do I know? Because there was a time when I had a similar response.

It is a ‘controlled’ fermentation of tea; typically the brewing begins with black tea, but I have been successful using green tea (white tea soon to come!) – just not artificially flavored or any tea varieties with added oils, that would destroy all of our hard work and make our SCOBY very sick!

Wait.. all these terms that I have never heard of! What the dickens is a SCOBY??!

Okay, well I don’t want to jump in too fast and overwhelm you already, but SCOBY is quite simply just an acronym. It stands for Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast. It’s a good thing, a friendly colony of allies all working together to create a delicious, super healthy, bubbly liquid for our taste buds! The SCOBY is something that I will break down a bit further and simplify real good for you in a bit – so hang on there..and put that tea on the back burner!

Like I said, this beverage is made with tea. Always, always, always tea, never coffee beans (unless you want to make coffee), never anything but tea – this is the base for kombucha (did I say always?). But how do they (as well as me and soon to be you..)get so many incredible flavors and varieties of this bubbly tea beverage? That all takes place in the second round of fermentation, once all of the creating as taken place. We get the base for the beverage, then we can get wild and wacky with fruits and other flavors. I say fruits because our friends in the yeast and bacteria department need sugar, they need a type of sugar to eat and they love real sugar (during the second fermentation, in the bottle!) that comes from fruits.

Have you ever homebrewed beer? If not then here is a quick background to show you I’m not crazy and not just getting my yeast all buzzed on added sugar for the fun of watching it: In beer making we boil water and grain, what is grain? Starch, carbs, sugars! The fermenting of the sugar extracted from the grain is consumed by the brewers yeast; the result? carbonation and alcohol. Similar here, Kombucha contains trace amounts of alcohol – honestly not even noticeable, but if you wanted to get crazy with your kombucha down the line.. there are ways to amp up the alcohol production, (look to GTs Black Edition of kombucha.. must be 21 or older to even buy!) but I’m not going to get into that here – I like my Kombucha tea plain or with fruit!

Alright, so now you know more than I did the first time that I made my first batch of Kombucha! Great! So let’s recap: Kombucha is a bubbly beverage made with tea, boiled water, and sugar added in. The sugary tea slurry is left for a given amount of time (or forgotten about as has been the case with some of my batches) for the SCOBY, which is a big ol’ disc of GOOD and HEALTHY bacteria and yeast that eats the sugar we provide after the boil and in return produces byproducts of carbon-dioxide and probiotic filled yummy beverage.

Then once you think the first round has had enough, we transfer (minus the SCOBY, save that for future batches in your “SCOBY Hotel”!) the young Kombucha into some type of bottle, we prefer swing top bottles, but it is totally eco-friendly to reuse any glass with a good sealing lid! (we have even used pasta jars on occasion!) 

As soon as your early Kombucha enters the bottle, this is called F2 – or Fermentation #2. What does that mean? Basically by process of elimination the entire stage from boil to bottle was known as F1, or the ‘initial fermentation’. F1 was more-or-less an open top fermentation where the off-gasses are free to escape into the atmosphere, however.. in F2 since the liquid is contained in a sealed bottle, it is either going to explode or the gas will get trapped in the liquid.. creating that bubbly, tongue tingling carbonation we all love and associate with Kombucha!

So when do I enjoy Kombucha tea? Anytime is always my response!

Since homebrewing our own batches and saving literally thousands of dollars this year alone, I find that I actually enjoy starting my morning routine with a bottle. Sometimes chilled, sometimes not – depending on the time of the year and what I’m in the mood for! But for the record – once the batch has been put into F2 and bottled, if you start noticing too many bubbles or you become suspicious of your batch, putting the bottles into the refrigerator will halt the fermentation process. So, as you will notice: opening a room temperature bottle of Kombucha may get messy on you and bubble over, rarely will a bottle straight out of the fridge, although it hopefully will still contain all of the carbonation that we do want!

Want to brew your own Kombucha tea and watch your creation come to life?

First of all – you will need a SCOBY to begin with. Where do you get a chunk of bacteria and yeast to add to your tea? A friend, of course! If you know someone who is already homebrewing Kombucha, ask them for a sliver of their SCOBY and in return help them bottle or brew – or later on, give them a few bottles of your brew when its ready! It really does not take much for a teeny-tiny SCOBY to grow, and it will grow to be as large around as the fermentation vessel you provide it.

Don’t have friends who are into this crazy alchemy game? No Problem!

You can also shop online, many websites are packing and shipping their ‘starter’ SCOBYs by now. OR..in the case of what I did, I wanted to start my homebrew and at the same time (of course!) drink the Kombucha! But how? Pick up a bottle of raw kombucha (completely unflavored and NO added fruits) – GTs is actually the route that I went, I find they are always reliable!

I drank all of the GTs Kombucha aside from the flemmy looking chunker, brewed a small batch of starter (F1 style) tea (listed below!) and added it in after the brew cooled. Starting with a small batch, two 32oz Ball jars with cloth (not paper towel or anything that frays apart!). I started with two jars in case anything catastrophic happened to the first jar, then I’d have my back up! Luckily they both propagated just perfectly and now I have TWO batches always going in rotation!

So let’s make this tea!

Let’s assume that you have your SCOBY, either from a friend, just received it in the mail, or you did what I outlined above and let it rest for 3-4 weeks until it covered the surface of the liquid in your starter jar.

Collect what you need before you start!

  • 1-5 gallon pot to boil water
  • 6-8 Tbsp loose leaf black tea
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 4 re-usable tea bags
  • 4 1/2 gallons filtered water

First things first, that water needs to boil, but make sure it’s just water to start. And if you need to boil your tea in multiple batches – that is A-okay! Just split the sugar and water.. might take a bit of math, but I’m sure you can do it!

While you wait add your loose leaf black tea (we love the way darjeeling tea turns out!) to your reusable tea bags and cap them off, set aside.

Got bubbles in that boil already? Turn it off and add your tea bags and sugar. Give it a stir every minute or so until the sugar is incorporated – you don’t want sugar to crystallize on the bottom of your pan (I’m telling you.. you just don’t!), and be sure to use wooden utensils on any metal pans. It sounds much more pleasant, plus you wouldn’t want to scratch your pans, that just provides bad bacteria a place to call home until it gets you sick! Yuck!

Really all there is now is to let it cool, you cannot add your SCOBY to the sweet tea until the tea is room temperature, after all – the SCOBY is living and breathing.. please don’t scorch the poor fella!

Let’s pretend that this isn’t your first go around with Kombucha – this is a perfect time to rinse your bottles, get your caps ready (unless they are swing tops, in which case just dust them off!), grab your cutting board, a knife, and your older batch of F1 tea. Depending on your level of patience, you may want to use a funnel and measuring cup with a spout for the bottling phase!

This step is where all of the fruit and experimentation comes into play. You can get creative, wacky and wild with your brews – just be warned though, if you do, be sure to keep an eye on your bottles for bubbles and activity! You can quickly “burp” the bottles if you want to see how they are coming along.. just break the seal, listen, and close it back up quickly! If your carbonation is off the charts.. toss it gently in the fridge until you are ready to consume!

We have found that always adding ginger to our kombucha while in F2 gives our tea just enough of the necessary sugars and gives the brew just a bit of zing that we enjoy!

Some fruits that we use regularly in addition to our ginger slices:

  • apple
  • mango
  • pineapple
  • beet
  • sliced grape
  • spirulina
  • peach
  • lavender

You’ll learn over a few batches what your SCOBY wants to eat, but we add in 3-4 thin slivers (thin to make it easy to get in and out of the bottles..what goes in, must come out!) of whatever fruit, and small pieces of ginger without the outer ‘skin’. I’d start by adding the fruit/ginger to your bottles (or nothing if you want to go the simple route!), set them aside and bottle all at once.

Got your fruit in the bottles? Great!

Like mentioned above, I like to use a ladle, scoop, or measuring cup – something that will fit into your F1 brewing vessel and a funnel that will fit neatly into the mouth of your bottles, I just like to keep it clean, especially when dealing with sugary tea that sticks and stains!

With clean, clean, clean hands (clean but free of soap!), gently pick your SCOBY up out of the F1 vessel, don’t freak out, even though you probably will initially at the sensation of picking up a SCOBY: soft, squishy yet rigid enough to be handled.. it’s one heck of a thing you’ve created! Set the SCOBY aside, in a bowl with about a cup of the F1 batch that you just removed it from. Also, I’d recommend not keeping the SCOBY out in the open unless you want to risk fruit flies laying eggs all over it! (again.. from experience, don’t do this, it is very gross a week later..crawling with larvae.. super gross!)

Fill your bottles with F1 kombucha (some bottles are pre-marked with a fill-line) bottles to about an inch from the top, whatever you do – NOT to the absolute top of the bottle.. gotta let your tea breathe, man!

Think they’re filled and ready to go? Seal ’em up and set them in a closet, or on a shelf, anywhere out of direct sunlight and preferably somewhere in the 50-65 degree range, the hotter the batch is, the faster it will ferment and you really start running the risk of bottles exploding on you!

Fast forward and your F1 is all bottled, your tea on the stove is sweetened, mixed, tea bags have been taken out (check how long it says to steep your tea, I leave mine in 10 minutes, 15 or so if I walked away and forgot it.. oh well, it always works out one way or another!).

Gently pour your fresh batch of cooled down sweet tea back into the F1 brewing vessel, gently add your SCOBY and that cup of older F1 fermented tea back in – the bacteria helps kick start the fermentation and creation of more awesome bacteria to eat up the new sugars you just fed them!

Lastly you will want to cover your F1 batch with something breathable that fruit flies cannot permeate. I have tried tripled over cheesecloth, I thought I had those fruit flies out-smarted, yikes was I wrong! I have heard horror stories from paper towels being used, fraying into the brew and contaminating the tea from the bleaches used to process the towels.

What does that leave you with? How about a t-shirt material? I ordered cloth covers with elastic bands that fit snuggly over various side jar mouths from Kombucha Kamp, which have worked amazingly – as they should! I just give them a rinse as I think they need between batches and they are good to go!

Keep a good eye, (especially in the early life of your SCOBY!) on your batches, check it every couple of days for signs of bubbles. The top may form a new layer of white-ish haze which is great, new SCOBY layers – your SCOBY is always evolving and growing, but if you ever see blue or something out of the ordinary.. it could be mold, in which case you will need to toss your batch and start fresh, unfortunately! Of all my batches over 1 1/2 years of brewing, this has never happened to me, fruit fly larvae, but never any mold, your SCOBY is in a good environment, resilient to many maladies!

Much like the bottles, you will want to keep your F1 brew in a dark, cooler, well ventilated area.

Most importantly, keep an eye on your brew, and if you have a glass or metal straw at home, I would encourage weekly tastings of your F1 brew – your tea is much more palatable if you bottle it before it becomes vinegary and too tart. We have two 5 gallon batches constantly going, alternating bi-weekly with bottling and brewing, almost more than we can drink – in which case, once you get consistent (don’t worry if it’s not “perfect” and bubbly as store bought, it took us about 1 full year of brewing kombucha to feel that we really have an excellent product!) share your batch with friends and folks who may not know what this beverage is, really “wow” them with your carbonated craftiness!

Much like our kombucha batches, the process is always changing, our craft is evolving. New ingredients are being tried, so we can always provide updates, but I believe I covered the basics on how you can get started for mere dollars!

Got a question? Let me know!

Either on here below, on Instagram or my email!

Am I doing something inefficiently? Let me know!

We love what we do, and what we make – and it works, but I’m no expert!

Follow along for any updates as I come across them..

But for now, it’s time to pop a bottle of bubbly brew and relax.

Thanks for reading along and best of luck with your Kombucha endevours!

Warm regards,

– Erik

 


Factoids!

  • Batches brewed: 37
  • Roughly $$ saved per batch: $75.81
  • Roughly $$ saved in the past year by homebrewing: $2,274.30
  • Favorite flavor brewed: lavender

Today’s Featured Ingredient! (yes.. this is the tea we use!)

 

Make Your Own: Oat Milk

Growing up in the early 90s I used to enjoy playing kickball or riding my BMX bike through the trails behind our house after school before the sun would set for the day, riding until my lungs burned and the sweat beads would sting my 6 year old eyes. At that time of my youth there was not much I enjoyed more than going home, tossing my bike off in the driveway anywhere (it may have gotten hit as a result of this on more than one occasion!), running into the house a sweaty mess and pouring a tall glass of milk, and then another tall glass of milk – it felt so refreshing and cold as it tumbled all the way down to my belly.

Later I would find out from friends that this was just weird, my friends did not drink milk the way I did – they would drink their Pepsi (yes..at that age..yuck!) or their Hawaiian Punch and be left with matching red lips. I just didn’t like sticky, sweet beverages like this, water was a strong runner-up in my glass during the summer months. I suppose I got into this habit because I would see my father with his tall glass of milk nightly at the dinner table, I didn’t care to be like him at the time, I just knew it was cold and I could drink a lot of it!

Fast forward a decade or so and I was still quenching my thirst with water primarily, but my milk consumption plummeted, choosing it only for my bowl of granola in the morning. I just grew tired of milk over time, it may be that my parents decided to switch fat percentages in the milk, opting for the paper-thin 1% milk that one could just about see through. It was just gross to me, I remember it not tasting good anymore, it was not the refreshing beverage I grew up with during the warm months of summer vacation from school. I had to pour it on some type of cereal just so it would absorb the sweetness and other flavors to be able to drink it down.

It was around the time that I finally moved out, had a refrigerator of my own and could finally buy whatever I wanted that I picked up some of that “fake” milk stuff – it was almond milk at the time, and it was soooooo good!!! It was everything that I remembered from my youth: full-bodied without being ‘heavy’, super tasty without the bitter/sour milk taste (if you don’t notice how sour cows milk is, try nut milk and then go back to dairy milk… just give it a try!). Recently these nut and other varieties of ‘alternative’ milk have taken on the lingo of “mylk” because the industry does not want the consumer to be confused and think these other choices are actually dairy, well I’ve always called it ‘nut milk’, so that’s what I’ll be sticking with for the remainder of this fun write-up!

So, are nut milks the only type of non-dairy, dreamy, delicious alternative?

Heck no! While cashews by far make up my favorite kind of nut milk, folks have also been milking their almonds, walnuts, pistachios (which I haven’t tried yet, but it’s high atop my list of to-do!), pecan, macadamia, hazelnut – even peanut milk exists out there, which is not actually a nut at all (but I’d bet it’s still deee-lish!).

So.. now with all that, are nuts the only things that can be used to make this amazing dairy alternative??

Once again, heck no! A strong runner-up in my favorites has always been coconut milk, but of course there are so many options! Folks have dabbled with soy beans, rice, quinoa, oats, even a vast majority of seeds can be made into milk (pumpkin, hemp, sesame, flax seed, etc), and pea protein – which makes me want to point out the one word there that may catch your eye here: protein. Yes, while all of these varieties vary in how much protein they contain, they all have protein (some nearly double the amount of plant-based protein when compared with regular dairy – and a fraction of the sugar as dairy! Wahoo!)

While I want to have fun here making oat milk – I would also first like to raise a bit of attention to a long believed myth about milk: that it is needed for strong bones. Just one article that has been published discusses studies where patients who drink more dairy milk are actually linked to premature death and did not actually help protect the bones from fracturing, and in several studies actually increased the aging process while the higher milk sugar content promoted inflammation in the body. I first read of these studies years ago, and have been fascinated by the stories of athletes cutting dairy from their diets to successfully reduce swelling and inflammation in the joints post-exercise; I have since turned myself into my own study and have nothing but positivity to report since cutting all dairy from my consumption back in 2016. 😉

Come on Erik.. You want me to drink my oats?

I knew that I loved cashew milk and coconut milk (still do.. can’t lie about that!), I would see the oat milk there in the refrigerator section and think “some day, oat milk.. some day..” but today never seemed to be oat milk’s day. Well today is the day for oat milk to shine brightly in my tall glass! Like any other dairy-free milk, it is super creamy and is best suited for cereal and granola bowls, straight up drinking, or for those fancy latte’s that so many people post on their Instagram pages displaying the decorative fern leaf of froth adorned atop!

Traditionally ‘oat milk’ is made with regular rolled oats, but can also be made with barley, groats or whatever else you can find in your local bulk department! For my oat milk, I opted for good ol’ fashioned conventional rolled oats which were $0.79 per pound at my local co-op. I can hear you cringe right now as you read this thinking “conventional oats..what about organic everything??” I have immersed myself into the pro’s and con’s regarding this subject and the studies that I have come across have shown higher ‘toxic residues’ in organic oats, but the conventional oats which had tested positive for toxicity measured higher concentrations. So I am neither for nor against organic in this instance, for me conventional rolled oats are about $1 less per pound so that is what I decide to use.

Now, how in fact do I “milk my oats”..?

A quick search on the internet will give you dozens of recipes for oat milk, but for this I’ll be using our Optimum 600 juicer, primarily because I don’t have the patience for filtering with cheese cloth or t-shirt scraps that I have read nightmares about. This technique really is not much different overall from the traditional filter method, we’ll still be soaking our oats – the only real difference is that we press the ‘milk’ out of the oat slurry instead of letting gravity work its magic over time using a filter (less waste this way too!).

So let’s get milking! What do I actually need?

With a quick search on the internet you can find varying recipes and ratios of water/oat depending on the viscosity of milk that you crave! But here is what I have come up with and is my go to for our oat milk:

  • 1 cup – Conventional Rolled Oats
  • 3 cup – Filtered Water
  • 3-6 – Medjool Dates

*Optional if you want to spice up your oat milk!*

  • Carob Powder (chocolate oat milk!! Yes!)
  • Cinnamon/Nutmeg (pumpkin spice?)
  • Maca Powder (a great superfood that gives the oat milk a graham cracker sweetness!)

While I am using our Optimum 600 juicer for this recipe, I have my doubts as to how well dates will work with cheese cloth, unless they are blended real well, otherwise I may recommend using something more like the carob powder for a cloth filter and saving the sticky, sweet dates for date balls or snacking on the side, with the oat milk!

We soaked our rolled oats in the filtered water for about 4 hours while we ran morning errands and went for a nice long run, then came back and rinsed the oats – which was more or less pouring the liquid off the top, I was surprised how much of the cloudy particles had settled, and then let the oats bathe in 3 cups of fresh water for another 4 hours or so; but you may find it easiest to be a bit less ‘hands-on’ with your oat milk – just soak them overnight, rinse once and toss them in your juicer in the morning – like fresh juice for breakfast .. oat juice!

Of course with any juicer, there is a somewhat dry combination of oats and date pulp that gets spit out (not bone dry by any means though!), what to do with this? Well, well, well.. I have some ideas for you! My initial thought was to add it to make banana pancakes after a run, or rejuvenate it for some date balls to create a nice energy packed on-the-go snack for your hiking or running adventures! If all else fails, and you make your own dog food/treats – go ahead and toss it into their puppy mix! (I recommend in moderation however, as dates do aid in digestion.. we don’t want an unnecessary mess on our hands while we are trying to enjoy our fresh oat milk!!). I’m sure the uses for the spent oat/date combo is just about endless, so if you would care to share what you enjoy adding your oats to – let me know! I’d love to hear your fresh, new ideas!

So that is how I make my oat milk, and like I mentioned earlier – I plan on adding in some carob powder and making chocolate milk real soon! I used to love, love, love chocolate milk growing up – but it was always so full of unneeded sugars, but by adding carob powder there will be no milk fats or unwanted sugars! I’ll follow up and let you know how it turns out.. but if it is anything like adding carob powder into dairy-free nicecream (frozen bananas + other frozen fruit as desired), it will be just downright dee-lightfully scrumptious!!

Follow along as I take you to other milk alternatives in the near future, what’s it going to be – the hemp heart superfood milk? The richest nut milk you have ever tasted? Milk straight from the rice fields to your frappa-latte-mocha-chino?

Dairy-free alternatives have never tasted so delicious!!

 

Enjoy and feel free to leave a comment or shoot me a message with tips, ideas or requests!

Thanks for reading and have some incredible Veggies, Vistas and Vert out there! 😉

– Erik

 

Portable Plant Based Nutrition: Muir Energy!

Have you ever been a few miles into a trail with a heavy pack on, maybe you found a way to strap your snowshoes onto your pack without them smacking your spine bones with every step, completely dreading the moment you have to stop and remove your pack just to get a snack? Or, perhaps you found yourself running through a zig-zag of mountainous single track, leaping like a gazelle over roots and My desk as I pack for my first full marathon Oct 2018rocks, dipping and dodging like a trained boxer to avoid those pesky tree limbs. When you finally come to a halt at the side of the cliff to take in some water, sustenance, and of course – those epic views, a friend offers up a pouch of birthday cake flavored energy to try, “thanks for the maltodextrin bro!”

I too, was consumed by the “energy-on-the-go” fad that over took the outdoor enthusiast world several years ago,

aimed at runners, hikers, bikers, anyone that moved their body and needed an extra jolt of energy. To me, it was frustrating shelling out so much money for such a little packet of sugary goo. While it is simple to argue that all of this added fructose, leucine and potassium citrate is essentially ‘plant derived’, all of these ingredients are so highly refined and processed that they don’t function the same as their friendly plant based cousins.

I never enjoyed reading what was actually stuffed into my gel packets, and honestly I consumed them extremely sparingly for this reason (I still had one of my original packets of GU in my hiking emergency first aid kit that I recently gave to a friend, sorry friend – but thanks for helping me not waste! 🙂 ). Initially I purchased these energy gels for hiking before the thought of running further than 15 miles had ever occurred to me – I actually don’t recall ever consuming a GU energy gel while on a long run for fear that the bright, artificially colored, highly processed,

sticky goo would immediately send me into the bushes, urgently needing to tear away my running shorts.

Taking a Muir Energy break on the ascent of Mount Adams 2018Every weekend as I repacked my gear, I remember discussing with Ciara how grand the day would be when we finally commit to making and packaging our own “all natural” source of energy, if even only for ourselves. We (she, with me trying to help in the kitchen) would make our date balls (dates, chia seeds, chopped cashews, maple syrup, coconut, etc.) but we always wanted something that we could keep in place of these gel packets for backup/“emergency situations”.

Thanks in part to the myriad of Instagram advertisements and my life-long desire to know all things outdoors, the purple packet displaying two-tone mountains and the bold, all caps word “Muir” caught my attention (ironically, I was reading The Life of John Muir by Donald Worster at the time!).

I had to discover why they named themselves after the same fine fellow that I envied so dearly.

I have to admit, I was a little skeptical when I navigated over to their flavors and saw what they use for ingredients, thinking all the while “hey man, this is exactly what I would use had I been making my own ‘on-the-go’ energy!!” We use Muir in all types of recipes, here are peanut butter balls with Red Raspberry Muir

Like most perishables out there (Muir claims 9mo shelf life), Muir Energy offers some excellent and unique seasonal flavors (until they enter their production lines full time!) with sustainable energy sourced from kale and sweet potato, combined with real nut butters made using almonds, hazelnuts, and the creamiest (if you can’t tell, also my favorite of nut butters!) of them all: cashews!!

The mad scientists tinkering away in the kitchens at Muir Energy use the most taste bud satisfying bananas and cacao, while other varieties feature the most mouth wateringly tart

(kind of like eating.. uhmm.. real fruit… because that’s what Muir specializes in!!)

red and black raspberries, pineapple and even a new addition to the year round Muir atop Hurricane Mountain in the NYS Adirondack Mountainsmenu: passion fruit! Even mixed in perfect harmony and delicacy are the essential oils of vanilla, peppermint, oregano and thyme (incredibly satiating when your mouth is dry and tasting like road dust at the 22mile mark of anything!!).

Every hand filled packet contains just the right amount of raw coconut nectar, which has a low glycemic index,

which is good news for us outdoorists and means that these ingredients will be absorbed and metabolized slower than other sugars out there, which may prevent that “shock” burst of energy we may be used to, also means that a crash later on may be avoided more easily! So not only does every packet make your taste buds tingle, performing a supercharged happy-dance, you can also sleep well (literally and figuratively!) knowing that you ate nothing but real ingredients while you busted out the best mileage yet!

With all these honest and raw ingredients in our hand, it is hard to say how our digestive tracts will react to such a delicious treat after being force-fed chemicals and being scolded to obey our commands with white-knuckled fists of ibuprofen. It is too easy to say “take one every hour and you will complete 100 miles, no worries”, I had to experiment with Muir before I trusted to take it on my first full marathon last October (I had never used anything while on a run in the past, swore for years that the only way I could run is in the morning, on an empty stomach after a bit of black coffee). My initial thought was “muscle it down and keep a slow, steady pace”, easier said than done; I was headed down a dirt road 10ish miles into my morning Taking a break in Acadia National Park - the location of my first ever full marathon, heck yeah I had some Muir in my vest!outing, so naturally my body wanted to jam out some effortless, free flowing miles! I had to slow way down, I wouldn’t say a full on cramp happened, but I felt the beginnings of doom brewing.

Next attempt was on the day I had trained for; race day.

Nervous for a repeat, I reminded myself to sip (literally a drop – increasing to a half mouthful) coconut water, priming my fuel tank slowly. Then, around mile 16 it became time for my first packet of Muir, I had stashed one of my savory favorites – Cacao Almond with Mate alongside one packet of Red Raspberry with Mate (more on this Mate deal soon!).

I had discovered during that first 26.2mi adventure just how to fuel myself with Muir, realizing all bodies are different, mine more accustomed to eating raw (<90% raw during the work week and more like 75% raw on weekends) and entirely plant based for quite some time now, I had to let the gooey Muir goodness dissolve in my mouth completely and consume it that way!! Muir helped fuel our long traverse along the Presidential's in July 2018Easy enough for me now that I found the magic sequence of events – my body craves routine!

So… yes yes! Like I mentioned previously, Muir Energy offers several of their recipes with the addition of a Yerba Mate boost, 90mg to each packet indeed! Some folks reading this might interject with “what’s with this hippy trash – give me all the Monster energy!” Well, good news! Not only does mate give you a boost of plant based caffeine, the tea supplement is also jam-packed with antioxidants which promotes a bad-ass immune system (needed when we are constantly suppressing our immune systems through the rigors of distance running!), mate has also been scientifically proven to improve mental focus (perfect for those monotonous miles we all encounter).

If you feel like I left anything out here, please let me know – questions, comments, or concerns!! But you’ll definitely want to scope out the real deal Muir Energy website.

But I am super stoked that Muir helped me run my best race during the Mount Desert Island full marathon and then two weeks later – I had Muir on deck again for the Nor’Witch (Vermont) 50K Ultra – no upset stomach, no crampy nonsense, no The crew, taken moments after I completed my first 33.5 mile ultra, fueled with the finest Muir Energy!regrets, nothing but real fuel in my belly!! I remember coming up to the course photographer at mile 33 (a 50K technically is 31.06 miles, but my GPS tracked me on this winding course at 33.5 miles) and yelling to me that the finish tent was just around the corner – to my delight, here I was thinking I had at least another 3 miles to go!

Muir Energy supplemented with coconut water in my hydration vest had given me more than enough sustainable energy to destroy my first 50K –

leaving me super stoked to run distance again soon (Runamuck 50K in Vermont with Ciara!!)

Muir Energy is a small nutrition company based out of California where their nutrient dense fuel is crafted and packaged all by hand, with love by a few rad folks!!

Keep your fuel tanks topped and keep doing what you love best!!

Much love and happy trails!

Erik