Kombucha: Tea With A Pinch of Monsters

As far as tea goes, I prefer mine plain, without sugar or milk. At most, I’ll leave the teabag in the cup and allow the dark weedy flavors to permeate the water. As a beverage, it’s the living plant-like taste which draws me to tea and encourages my exploration of new varieties. Recently I had the opportunity to take my tea regiment in a new direction. At the UFM Community Learning Center of Manhattan, Kansas, I learned to develop Kombucha, a truly living drink. While some adhere medicinal-longevity qualities to this tea, I mostly like the flavor, which is similar to apple cider, and the idea of drinking millions of tiny yeasty breeding monsters. Details on making Kombucha follow.

1 two liter jar
1 coffee filter
1 tea kettle
1/2 cup white sugar
4 bags of black tea
1 1/2 liters water
Bring water to a boil. Pour water into a larger class jar. Add teabags and sugar. Mix well. Steep tea until water has cooled to room temperature. Discard teabags. Add SCOBY. Cover jar with coffee filter. Place in a cool dry dark place. Taste after 6-10 days or until desired flavor is reached. Pour most of the liquid into a new jar and place in the fridge. Drink tea until it tastes weird. The SCOBY can be reused to start a new batch.
Supposedly the variations in home-brewing greatly effect the final taste. My instructor said no two batches are the same, though hopefully they’re all drinkable enough. Enjoy!
Class notes available at ufmKombuchaClassNotes2011-03-05.

The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces

In The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces, William Whyte and The Street Life Project explore the sociability of urban spaces and try to determine the design elements and human characteristics that make spaces livable. Originally a project on urban overcrowding, Whyte and crew conclude that an abundance of people gathered together throughout the day is not necessarily a problem, but instead a healthy measure of a location’s vitality. Using a combination of time-lapse photography and inferences from direct observation, Whyte shows how architecture promotes chance encounters with friends, fosters communication among strangers, and stimulates communities.

For more information on William H. Whyte, and research on “What makes a place sittable,” check out the Project for Public Spaces.

The Science of Social Policy

If you’ve spoken with me lately (say within the last six months of this post) then you know I’ve been a buzz over policy research.   For those of you unaware of this field just take what you know of clinical trials but replace drugs with social programs.  In a TED talk titled ‘Social experiments to fight poverty’ Esther Duflo presents social policy as a science, revealing that our hunches on what’s ‘right for most people’ can be tested using the same rigorous techniques employed by the agriculture and pharmaceutical giants.  For a better idea of how this field makes life more livable, check out the video below.  I promise Esther Duflo makes ANOVA look cool.

Stats Plushies

My friend Nichole has been doing her part to make statistics a family friendly activity.  She sells stuffed distributions, embroidered bibs, and printed shirts guaranteed to make your child more statsy (looking).  Right now she’s running a contest on her etsy site for a chance to win a smiling statistical distribution.

A Chi-Squared distribution to warm your hearts and minds.

Feel That Oven Spring: Baking a French Style Loaf

Some breads just come naturally. Joan Nathan’s recipes for challah and rye are tractable and delicious. Other breads come not so naturally. Can bagels really be made outside of New York?  Now I don’t consider myself an expert on bread, but I dabble. Lately I’ve been looking into French bread. While I’ve played around with pain français before, both Julia Child and Danielle Forestier provide recipes which taste fine, I have yet to find instructions which yield a light loaf with a soft crumb, a crispy crust, a variety of hole sizes, and some real pop. Recently I found a recipe by Gontran Cherrier, which shows nice results and offers good tips on making baguettes, so I modified my standing recipe and baked some bread. [Update: steam technique adapted from Susan’s instructions at Wild Yeast].


Date: 2010-07-24

Location: Manhattan, KS, 66502

Ambient (City): 80°F, RealFeel 85°F, Humidity 66%, Pressure 29.95 in, Cloud Cover 40%, UV Index 3, Dew Point 68°F, Amount of Precipitation (1 Hr) 0.00 in, Visibility 10 Miles ~ accuweather.com

Ambient (room): 81°F ~ White-Rodgers thermostat


Scale, stick, measuring spoons (1 tsp, 1/4 tsp), 2 floured linen cloths (3×2 ft), 1/2 inch porcelain stone, 1×1 ft aluminum peel, oven thermometer, a razor blade, metal tray, watering can, and a dry brush.


Water: tap

Flour: Bob’s Red Mill enriched unbromated unbleached white flour in 5 lb bag

Yeast: Fleischmann’s active dry yeast in 4 oz jar

Salt: Hain iodide free sea salt in 26 oz cylinder


8 oz flour

8 oz water

1/16 tsp yeast

Mis En Place

17 oz flour

4 oz water 100-110°F

5 oz water 78°F

2 1/4 tsp yeast

2 1/4 tsp salt

All poolish


1. Combine 8 oz flour, 8 oz water, and 1/16 tsp yeast to form poolish. Let sit over night at room temperature for 12-15 hours.

2. Combine 2 1/4 tsp yeast, 4 oz warm water (100-110°F), and 1/16 tsp flour. Wait 10 minutes to proof.

3. Form 17 oz of flour into a volcano-like structure.

4. Combine yeast-water mixture with 5 oz water.

5. Add 1 oz drops of yeast-water mixture to center of flour structure, mix center with fingers to draw inner edge of barrier. Add all yeast-water to mixture.

6. Add all poolish and 2 1/4 tsp salt to center of the flour structure.

7. Mix ingredients until all flour is absorbed.  Smear dough on bench to mix. Rest dough for 30 minutes.

8. Knead dough until smooth. Form dough into a ball.

9. Place dough ball into a glass bowl and cover with a plastic bag. Rest for 40 to 50 minutes.

10. Dust top of dough ball with flour. Dust bench with flour. With a wet hand remove dough from bowl and place it onto the bench smooth side down.

11. Cut dough into four pieces. Join corners of dough pieces and place smooth side up on bench. Rest dough pieces for 3 minutes.

12. Place porcelain stone into oven. Place metal tray below stone.  Set oven to 500°F.

13. Preshape baguettes. Plop dough smooth side down onto bench. Pat dough. Fold top of dough to its middle. Fold bottom of dough to middle over previous fold. Place dough smooth side up and rest 15 minutes.

14. Postshape baguettes. Plop dough smooth side down onto bench. Pat dough. Fold top of dough to middle. Fold new top of dough to bottom. Seal dough. Roll and tapper ends.

15. Place formed dough onto floured linen cloth seam side up. Bunch cloth between each dough. Rest dough for 20 to 30 minutes.

16. Transfer dough to floured peel. Dough should be smooth side up. Flour and brush top of dough. Slash dough (make an odd number of long, and angled cuts).

17. Place formed dough into oven. Add 3/4 cup hot water to baking sheet in oven. Reduce heat to 450°F

18. Bake for 10 minutes.

19. Remove steam tray from oven. Bake until done.


I enjoyed this bread. I felt enthused watching it bake in the oven; seeing it rise off the porcelain stone and stretch open its lacerations. I thought to myself, ‘I could sell this bread.’ Out of the oven I heard a cheer of crackle as the bread contracted toward room temperature. I had to pick myself off the floor. After 20 minutes I cut them in half and took a bite. Taste-wise I wasn’t fanatic. I tend to Babbitt over salt. Maybe it could use a little less. Somewhere between 2 and 2 1/4 tsp? Texture-wise they weren’t bad. The crust had a nice crunch and the center a good fluff. The chewiness of the bread was satisfying. I would definitely bake this bread again, and more importantly give is away to friends.

Supplementary Notes

1. For a more rustic flavor I suggest extending the initial rise time to 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

2. I’m not bold enough to put more than two loaves in the oven at a time. Breadwise, this means the other loaves have more time to rise, which makes them soft and difficult to slash with a razor i.e. the razor sticks when cutting. I need to get past this inhibition. I will burn myself on the oven for better bread.

3. For fresh yeast start with the volcano of flour, crumble yeast in the center, then start adding 11 oz of 78°F water.

Special Thanks

I thank Erin Grotheer, Mary McGivern, and Evan Mitchell for determining the identity of Gontran Cherrier and for translating his recipe video. I’d also like to thank Andy Glaser for shooting and providing videos and stills, the better photos are his doing.