Monthly Archives: March 2011

Kombucha Me Baby


kombucha 001


Last summer I tried all sorts of lacto-fermented treats. I even started making beet kvass and milk kefir. But over this past winter I have discovered my favorite fermented beverage: kombucha.

I never caught on to the kombucha craze a couple of years ago. I thought it was just a hippie fad. But now that I have been making it and drinking it for the past few months, I am officially addicted.

Kombucha has all sorts of health benefits. It is made with a SCOBY-a Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeasts. These are the beneficial bugs that keep the harmful bugs-like e.coli and candida albicans-in their rightful place. Kombucha is also chock full of B vitamins as well as several acids that work to strengthen the body, most notably glucuronic acid, which is a natural detoxifier. Our bodies produce glucuronic acid in the liver to help flush toxins out, and it can be depleted by high levels of environmental toxins such as BPA, as well as alcohol consumption, so adding kombucha to your diet is one of the best ways to combat all the toxins in our modern environment.

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Kombucha scobies chillin’ like a villain


In order to brew kombucha, you need a scoby and some sweet tea. We got our scoby from a helpful craigslist poster-they reproduce quite readily, so if you find someone brewing it you can easily buy one off of them. Then make some strong black, green, or oolong tea. It can’t be a kind with essential oils, such as Earl Grey, and it can’t be herbal tea. The natural compounds and acidity of tea is what we want. I use plain black pekoe or a sencha green, or a mix of the two.

Steep your tea is boiling water for at least ten minutes. You want one tea bag (or one teaspoon loose-leaf tea) for each quart of water. After the tea has steeped, stir in 1/4 c of sugar per quart of water. Allow the tea to cool to body temp before adding the scoby. I have been using larger jars I got from goodwill that are 2-4 quarts each, so I will steep 2-3 tea bags in one quart of boiling water, then add 1/2 c sugar, then combine that with a quart of cold filtered water, which brings it to just the right temp and sweetness.

kombucha 002When you add the scoby, you will also need to add about 1/4 cup of kombucha from a previous batch. If you get a scoby from someone, they should have transported the scoby in some kombucha. If they neglected to do that, or you bought a dehydrated one, you can add raw apple cider vinegar. The important thing is to have the right acidity in the mix.

Now comes the hard part-you have to let the kombucha brew. Cover the jar with a thin towel and set in a warm dark place for 7-10 days. The scoby likes it around 72 degrees, so if you have a colder house, it may take longer to brew, or you might want to wrap the jar in a towel. A new scoby will begin to develop on the top of the kombucha. At first it will just look cloudy, and then a white film will form. This film will get thicker as the days pass, until it is a nice rubbery pancake floating on top of your tea goodness. When the brew is done, you can remove the new scoby and the old scoby (which will likely be stuck together) pour the finished kombucha into glass jars to be put in the fridge, and start the process again.

kombucha 001As you can see in the photo above, I like to put chunks of fruit in the bottom of my jars to flavor the kombucha. Here you see half a mango in a quart jar. I fill it with kombucha and then cap it tightly and allow it to sit out an extra day before moving it to the fridge. This intensifies the flavor and carbonates it slightly. The wait is well worth it. I’ve had fun with flavor combinations: berries, kiwi, mango, pear. You could even try some candied ginger or some fruit juice. Just don’t put more than an inch or so of fruit or juice in the bottom, to keep the ratios right.

Kombucha is refreshing, energizing, and most of all, delicious. It’s a fabulous alternative to all that HFCS-laden pop and juice drinks out there. The scoby eats up the sugar you feed it and gives you a tasty fizzy beverage in its place. I highly recommend adding it to your kitchen!


This post is part of Foodie Link Love


Posted by on March 26, 2011 in Things Edible


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Willows Inn

A few bites into our meal at Willows Inn, Jer said, “Food shouldn’t be allowed to taste that good.” We weren’t even to the first course; the chef started everyone out with a few little ‘bites’ of delectable goodness: a small wooden box with two bites of luscious smoked salmon, tiny plates with fresh potato chips topped with black cod and naturally fermented sauerkraut (I asked the chef who brought it to us, it had been started in October) a piece of herb toast with browned butter and plum blossoms, and best of all, a pickled oyster. It was literally the best oyster I have ever had. And the evening had only begun.

According to the New York Times, the restaurant at Willows Inn is one of “10 Restaurants Worth a Plane Ride”.  We didn’t know this when we found the coupon on an online deal site. I checked out the description and loved the sound of the focus on local, sustainable ingredients, and the description of the Farmhouse Suite, equipped with a full kitchen that included a Wood Stone oven. I knew Jer would love the opportunity to use that oven to make pizza or bread, and I thought it was a great deal for a romantic weekend to celebrate the second anniversary of the day we met. So we booked the trip, packed our sourdough starter, and set out for Lummi Island, only a couple hours away.

We settled in to our suite and wandered around Nettles Farm, where most of the produce for Willows Inn is grown. The chickens were happy to have visitors, and we could see that the greenhouse was in use, and so looked forward to our meal. After a delicious cocktail we were seated and served our complimentary prosecco and starters. The waitress asked if we preferred the juice pairing or the wine pairing, and we decided to go with one of each.  Best decision ever.

First course was simply tender young turnips in a pork jus. Oh, but the jus. It soaked into the breadcrumbs topping the turnips and exploded in your mouth, taking you by complete surprise with its delicate yet complex flavor. The Pinot Gris that accompanied mine was excellent, but the celery juice that Jer had was our first clue that this juice pairing idea was sheer brilliance. Somehow the flavor married perfectly, as did each successive juice-carrot with the scallops and cabbage, green apple with the winter squash and black truffle, lingonberry with the steelhead salmon, and elder flower with the apple sorbet (topped with buttermilk foam and slices of licorice root).

Each course built upon the last while being delicious in its own right. The man certainly knows his seafood-the scallops were perfect, and the steelhead was such a delicate piece of work, you almost forgot it was a salmon. At the end of that course, we thought that there was no way that any dessert could possibly follow up on the parade of dishes, but the intense yet perfectly balanced flavors of apple and licorice with the buttermilk and sprigs of dill was the perfect finish.

It is amazing that someone with such a command of flavor, technique, and presentation could be so young. The chef Blaine Wetzel, a native of Olympia, trained at Noma, named the best restaurant in the world for 2010, but he is completely approachable. We chatted with him afterwards about his technique with the bread served between courses, how much we like sourdough starters and hot ovens, and our mutual struggles using spelt. We even exchanged recipe ideas, with him giving me a technique for spelt rolls in a muffin tin, and me suggesting sourdough cookies, which he had never heard of before.

The next day, while eating a delicious sandwich at Taproot Café, the other excellent eatery at the inn, we overheard the proprietor explaining to another diner that while he “serves dinner, Blaine serves an experience.” Yes indeed-an amazing culinary experience that I will not soon forget.


Posted by on March 21, 2011 in Things Edible


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Get DragonAge Origins Toolset on 64-bit Windows 7, Steam, and SQL Express 2008

With the latest installment of the DragonAge series shipping soon (only 4 days from now… *wibble*), a resurgence of interest in Origins has gripped me. I’ve bee whiling away the odd hour here or there playing through the campaign again, with little hope that I’ll finish it this time either. There’s just so much to do and that’s without all the weight downloadable content (DLC) of the epic Awakenings or the character-specific adventures that have rolled out since then. But I digress…
I wanted to mess around with the Toolset again (which allows you to craft your own adventures if you’re willing to invest a lot of time, or to just poke around under the hood and see how BioWare crafted Origins) but as I was running the installer I realized that it wanted to install SQL Express 2005. 2005? That’s a bit out-dated, don’t you think? After all, I’ve already got a SQL Express engine running on my box to support my independent development initiatives with Microsoft Visual Studio 2010. Why on earth should I install another copy of SQL Server?
I knew from my own professional experience that SQL 2008 and 2005 are largely compatible for most databases (and 2008 even has a 2005-compatibility mode you can set should things go awry…), I thought “why not see if we can make this work with what i’ve got already?” So, I ran a few web queries to make sure I wasn’t setting out on a fool’s errand, and I ran across this wonderful blog post by a bloke named Evan. Evan probably saved me and others hours of time with those steps, but they didn’t quite work for me. Why, you ask? Well, it comes down to the fact that once again, he wants me to use SQL Express 2005. I figured “meh, skip that step, i’ve got 2008 installed…” and just tried to install the 64-bit SQL Server Management Studio (SSMS) Express package. No luck. For reasons unclear to me, it rolls itself back 75% of the way through the install claiming that it was “interrupted.” After trying twice in a row, I gave up on that and decided to use ply my sqlcmd-fu (that’s the special variant of kung fu SQL Server db admins are taught by the wisened sages of their art) and bend things to my will.
Sadly, his proffered advice about using SQL scripts he linked to was rather full of fail. While it gave me some (most? all?) of the DB schema, it didn’t give me nearly enough of the data. I kept getting errors about missing IDs and and other inaccessible data from the toolkit after running his scripts.  But a comment on the latter gave me exactly what I needed: the fact that BioWare shipped a full backup of the database with the toolkit. Well, of course they did. How much easier can installing a database get than to use restore a database backup (.bak) and call it a day?
The path to success for Win7 amd64, Steam, and SQL 2008 Express is as follows:
  1. SQL Server is installed, running, and responding to your queries. E.g: running:  sqlcmd -S .\SQLEXPRESS -q “select @@version” from a command/powershell prompt will yield:
    Microsoft SQL Server 2008 (SP2) – 10.0.4000.0 (X64)
    Sep 16 2010 19:43:16
    Copyright (c) 1988-2008 Microsoft Corporation
    Express Edition (64-bit) on Windows NT 6.1 <X64> (Build 7600: )
  2. You’ve got Dragon Age: Origins installed and you know where it lives. For example, my copy lives in ‘D:\Games\Steam\steamapps\common\dragon age origins\
  3. You’ve installed the Dragon Age Origins Toolset, but opted NOT to install the included 32-bit version of SQL Server 2005 Express.
SQLCMD to the rescue!
    1. Once you install the toolkit, you’ll find they’ve included the aforementioned SQL database backup file (bw_dragonage_content.bak) for you. For steam users, it resides in the tools\dbbak subfolder of your dragon age installation. Go search your computer for it and get a hold of the full path to that file. You’ll need it shortly.
    2. We’ll need to issue several commands to SQL Server, and we’ll use a console application called SQLCMD to do it. So open up an elevated command prompt or powershell prompt and execute the following command to connect to your local copy of SQL Server Express:
    1. Now, every database backup has a designated place in the file system where its data (files that usually end in .mdf) and possibly logs (files that end in .ldf) are stored. Most database restores assume that the files you’re restoring from the .bak should go back to where they were found originally, so we’re going to roll with that assumption. First, we need to see where those files are expected to be, without actually restoring anything. To do this, we’ll use a mode of the SQL “RESTORE” command called “FILELISTONLY” to get the logical and physical names of the mdf and ldf in the backup file:
RESTORE FILELISTONLY FROM DISK = ‘D:\Games\Steam\steamapps\common\dragon age origins\tools\dbbak\bw_dragonage_content.bak’
    1. You should see near the end the logical and physical filenames of the .mdf and .ldf in the file (after of a bunch of staggered “—–” characters … this is the pretty-printing that would make the data look like a table were your console window wide enough, or were you to output the query results to a text file), e.g.:
bw_dragonage_content C:\Program Files\DAODB\Data\bw_dragonage_content.mdf
bw_dragonage_content_log C:\Program Files\DAODB\Data\bw_dragonage_content.ldf
    1. The name without the path is the “logical” name. The fully-pathed file is… you guessed it, the filename. Once you are armed with these, you need to make sure the physical path this .bak file will expect actually exists. Since we’re running a 64-bit version of windows, chances are high that the Toolset installer created the “\DAODB\Data” folder in your Program Files (x86) folder (where all good little 32-bit programs go), not your Program Files folder (which houses the 64-bit ones). Fixing this is a simple matter of cutting and pasting the “DAODB” folder from your Program Files (x86) folder and pasting it in the Program Files folder. Once the folder C:\Program Files\DAODB\Data exists in your local filesystem, you’re golden. Use Windows Explorer to do this — far simpler and faster than aborting your SQLCMD session and then re-starting it later.
    2. Now we have to create the database so the backup will have a place to be restored to! Run these commands in your SQLCMD session (the color-coding is provided so you can visually map the values you got from FILELISTONLY above. If for some odd reason these have changed, you’ll know where to put the new values):
USE master;
CREATE DATABASE bw_dragonage_content
( NAME = bw_dragonage_content, FILENAME = ‘C:\Program Files\DAODB\Data\bw_dragonage_content.mdf‘)
( NAME = bw_dragonage_content_log, FILENAME = ‘C:\Program Files\DAODB\Data\bw_dragonage_content.ldf);
    1. You probably won’t get anything by way of a success message, but if you don’t get an error, you should be good to go.
    2. Now all we have to do is restore their database backup! Tweak the paths to match your system and then run this in your SQLCMD session:
RESTORE DATABASE bw_dragonage_content FROM DISK = ‘D:\Games\Steam\steamapps\common\dragon age origins\tools\dbbak\bw_dragonage_content.bak’ WITH REPLACE,RECOVERY
    1. This will take some time and you’ll see some output, and probably a few ‘upgrade schema’ comments, but at the end of it all you will have successfully created the database!
    2. That’s it for DB creation! Exit SQLCMD by typing:


    1. All that remains is to tell the Dragon Age Toolset how to find the database. (If you don’t, you’ll get an error that says it can’t connect. If you’re wondering why, it’s because when the Toolset installs itself, it installs a “named instance” of SQLEXPRESS that isn’t “SQLEXPRESS”that is To do this, run the “ConfigureToolset.exe” that is located in the tools directory (the parent folder of the ‘dbbak’ folder that houses the .bak file).
    2. It will open to the ‘Game Builds’ menu. That’s not what we want. Click [Next] to find the ‘Databases’ window. Once there, uncheck ‘Use the default database’ and then click the […] button. This will open the standard ‘Data Link Properties’ window that every Windows database admin knows and loves. Here, you will want to specify “.\SQLEXPRESS” for your server in #1, leave #2 alone (it should default to ‘Use Windows NT Integrated security’), and for #3, select the bw_dragonage_content database we just restored. Lastly, click [Test Connection] at the bottom and assuming all went well, you’re done!

What your settings should look like when you're done...

  1. Click [OK], then click [Next] in the ConfigureToolset UI, and lastly click [Finish].
  2. Now you should be able to use the Toolset to your heart’s content on Windows 7 64-bit with SQL Server 2008. Yay!
Caveat: I haven’t done extensive testing so I can’t vouch that running the Toolset on 2008 won’t cause some problems down the line. I’m a total n00b when it comes to the Toolset itself… I just happen to know a thing or two about Windows and SQL. 😉
Afterthought: More advanced / picky users might want to relocate the files from the DAODB directory to somewhere else. in that case you’ll want to create the DB with different filename specifications, and then restore with the MOVE directive as such:
RESTORE DATABASE bw_dragonage_content FROM DISK = ‘D:\Games\Steam\steamapps\common\dragon age origins\tools\dbbak\bw_dragonage_content.bak’ WITH REPLACE,RECOVERY,MOVE ‘bw_dragonage_content’ TO ‘[preffered path]\bw_dragonage_content.mdf’ , MOVE ‘bw_dragonage_content_log’ TO ‘[preferred_path]\bw_dragonage_content_log.ldf’
Happy modding!

Posted by on March 4, 2011 in Computational Engines, Things Geeky


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