Ever start an endeavor and in the process feel that you are hanging on the edge of your comfort zone? You see yourself standing at a precipice and wonder if you’ll make it, or the vision of the cat hanging by its claws comes to mind. There have been several times in my life when I have felt myself in this place.
In 1968 I traveled to Europe with a one way ticket, very little money, and after many months of travel I found myself in Algeria. America and Algeria had broken off diplomatic relations, the American ambassador was living in the Swiss embassy and left the country before I did. There were armed men on many corners of the city, and the social structure of the country was in transition as this was only six years after their war of independence. I stayed for three months living on the generosity of many people but my presence in the county was always on shaky ground and anyone who helped me was taking a risk. I worried for their safety and mine. There were a few days when I lay curled in a fetal position and wondered how this was going to turn out and if I would ever get back to the US. Being on the edge taught about my strengths in the face of uncertainty. Another memory is the birth of my son, Kris. He was breach. Most doctors wanted to do a C-section with a first time breach birth but I was determined to have a natural birth without drugs. I finally found a doctor at my due date whom I trusted. When I went into labor he was out of town and I would have his replacement. We meet when I was eight centimeters dilated. This was not a time to build a relationship and so when the contractions intensified I knew I was on my own. I remember how the contractions built and as I would get to the top it seemed like riding a huge wave. I felt stretched to my limit and there I teetering on the edge. Each time I wondered if I could keep relaxing, not resist, and let the wave pass. Birthing is like flying on the edge – one big surrender.
Some times the situation doesn’t have the visual drama of these two, yet the sense of being on the edge is still quite real. In the last years this experience has come when I’m experimenting with fermented food. The worry arises that I will grow botulism and kill either myself or many people. Botulism is tasteless, odorless, and has no color. It only grows in an alkaline environment which is why canning green beans has been the culprit throughout the ages. If you don’t pressure can the beans they can grow this deadly toxin. I only can acidic vegetable and freeze the rest of my produce from my garden for just this reason.
Then I decided to make sauerkraut, pickles, and my latest project: Kombucha tea. These are all acidic based foods and should not trigger my propensity to worry or my inclination to become excessively informed. But just the thought that something this lethal might happen can get me fretting and losing sleep. On some occasions I’ve just thrown my efforts away and started over when I wasn’t sure it was ok, or spent considerable time talking to someone whom I consider an authority to find reassurance. To date, my sauerkraut and dill pickles are a success and a family favorite. So I’ve calmed down in regards to these foods.
With those successes one would think that I would have confidence to forge ahead when I decided to make my own Kombucha tea, but the nagging concerns still linger: might I screw this up and make everyone sick? I combed the web reading numerous accounts of home brewing. I liked the sites that had great pictures and descriptions of what to expect at every stage. I tried to find a SCOBY (Serendipitous Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast) from local sources but eventually bought one and a brewing system from HappyHerbalist. I like to know I’m starting with the greatest chance of success. They sent an 80 page booklet on Kombucha as well, so I was sure any question I had would be addressed.
Right away there were ambiguities in the instructions which caused doubt. Then my spigot on the brewing container started to leak and I had to disturbed my mushroom as I solved the problem. One instruction is to not disturb the mushroom (I’d stuck my hand in the brew while fixing the leak). My mushroom sank to the bottom of the container and I thought it had self destructed. I took pictures of the surface of my brew, ready to send them off for confirmation that it was OK. “I don’t think that’s mold but what’s the white stuff?” I watched more YouTube videos. I saw the cavalier way that some made their tea and thought, “Anyone can and IS doing this, why do I think I’m failing?” I bought PH test strips and sought advise at a local beer brewing store. The guy there was the type of individual who just dives in and never worries. He didn’t brew Kombucha, but I envied his fearlessness. At the point where I felt certain I was destined to start over everything turned around. My mushroom resurfaced, the PH was in the right range, and the smell was semi-sweet with a cider aroma.
My biggest problem now was being patient enough to allow it to fully brew. In the mean time I connected with a friend who I hadn’t seen for many months. I told her of my latest adventure and she pulled out her bottle of Kombucha and said she had been brewing for about 8 months. She wasn’t dead! She came over with a new SCOBY just in case I needed to start afresh and checked my brew. I love it when I’m in the dark and feeling on the edge and someone shows up to offer a helping hand. She confirmed that all looked well. I used her SCOBY to start a second batch.
Several batches later I’m in full production. I have a continuous brew and a single brew batch. The benefit of a continuous brew is that the beneficial attributes of a long brew cycle develop and each day I can take off enough to drink. I like to add flavor to my Kombucha so I do what’s called a secondary fermentation. I add blueberries, mango, or ginger juice to a container of Kombucha tea and allow it to sit at room temperature for a few days in an airless bottle. This infuses the Kombucha with that flavor and develops carbonation.
Do I sound confident? I am, but I still check the PH on every batch just to be sure. I love making and drinking Kombucha tea. My friend Susan decided to make Kombucha after reading my post, Foodies Dilemma – Third Update. I gave her a SCOBY and we are weathering her ups and downs as she closes in on her first successful batch. If you’re interested and want a little hand holding I’m here for you too.
There are lots of situations where we can feel on the edge. Sometimes in retrospect it seems foolish to have been so concerned and other times we realize we might never have done that if we’d had any idea of what we were in for. For me, I tend to jump in and then worry. This is just my mode of operation. I’m not going to be different until I am – accept ‘what is’ as if I chose it. I can see my new resolution is perfect here too.
Is standing on the edge scary? Yes, and things don’t always turn out the way we would like. But I figure if I don’t walk to that edge sometimes, I just might miss a great view. As always, I’d love to hear your story. Make a comment and tell me about the times when you’ve felt – on the edge.