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Going ‘Bucha Bonkers with NOLA Kombucha Maker Alexis Korman

Long-time vegetarian and contributing editor to Wine Enthusiast Magazine, Alexis Korman is bonkers for ‘bucha. What’s ‘bucha? Short for Kombucha, it’s a fermented tea that’s this generation’s top avant-garde beverage. Alexis is co-owner of “Big Easy ‘Bucha,” a New Orleans-based Kombucha business, along with her fiancé, Austin Sherman, an experienced barman and cocktail expert.

Whether you’re already in the raw, vegan, or vegetarian communities or just Kombucha curious here’s Alexis’ take.

MPL: How did you get hooked on Kombucha?

We’re part of the yoga, vegan crowds and it’s been in our consciousness for over ten years. We brought the brand to NOLA this year.

MPL: What are the basics you always have on hand to make a batch that fits your brand?

Well for home kombucha makers, all you really need is a SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast), also known as a “mother,” starter fluid, filtered water, sugar and tea. That said, Kombucha brewing at home can be a tricky business. It sounds simple, but you have no idea how many people come up to us asking us what went wrong with a batch they tried to make at home.

MPL: What are the Fall trends in Kombucha?

I think commercial kombuchas, the ones like GTs and those you see on supermarket shelves, are trying to up the ante a bit with unique, almost cocktail-inspired combinations.

But in general I think that you’ll start to see more seasonal flavors take shape, especially as more artisanal kombucha makers take some of that market share.

MPL:  How does working in a  commercial kitchen change your maker lifestyle? 

We do 100% of the making ourselves. We would love to own our own kombucha brewery at some point! We’re not there yet, but we are a part of a commercial kitchen that operates like a co-op.

One of the most special things is that we serenade our tanks, which sounds crazy. But in my other life, when I’m not making kombucha, I’m an editor at wine enthusiast magazine. I once wrote a story about the positive effects that music had in the vineyard, and cellar room, on wine.

Actual studies have been done on this! So I thought, let’s try it. We play new orleans brass band and old timey jazz to our tanks and during bottling.

MPL: That’s so fun! How long does a batch jam out to jazz for?

It depends on the volume of the vessel! Typically, about two weeks We check on them all the time, the “mothers.” Change it up so they don’t get bored.

MPL: Ha! Now that’s an image: a pancake of bacteria asking for a music change. If “mothers” could talk, what do you think your mothers would say about how they’re treated?

I think they would say we respect the fact that they are a living entity. It’s amazing to see them change, and grow, and to consume raw ingredients and gift us with a healthy product.

We spend quite a bit of time with these mothers, so you know, we like to keep them happy.

MPL: What’s a big problem with the kombucha business? And how are you competing?

Being in small business is very rewarding but it is expensive. One way we are cutting down on waste, financial and literal, is by offering kegged kombucha, kombucha on tap.

MPL: Are you the only NOLA-made ‘bucha?

For those who “get” the kombucha maker lifestyle, I think they appreciate that we are taking a creative look at the category, and giving back to our community. We are, at least one that is available for sale anywhere.

There is no other one commercially available that’s made here in New Orleans that we can find or have ever heard of.

For more information about NOLA’s “first and only” small-batch Kombucha and how to get your hands on some, go to Big Easy ‘Bucha’s new website.

If you’re inspired to become a ‘bucha maker yourself, here’s a guide to making your own Kombucha mother. But if you’re feeling less adventurous, try one of these low-cost Kombucha starter kits which include the mother.

Interview By Jack Meyers

Beekeeper Ken Walters Says Keep It Raw

We are so anxious here at makerlifestyle.com to get our new queen for our hive. Last year Maureen harvested 5 gallons of the blackest sweetest honey and she is itching to get back into her beekeeper gear. Unfortunately her bees didn’t make it through this awful winter. So we met up with Ken Walters, fellow beekeeper and owner of New Jersey based Yellow Bee Honey to get some insight. Like us, Ken believes life could always be a little sweeter.

1.  Most people run away from bees. Why are you so drawn to them?

The lack of honey bees from the start got me thinking that I might not be able to fix the problem, but I sure can try to help make a change for the better.

2. How did you get started in the bee business?

I put my passion of beekeeping to work, and grew what once was my hobby into a family business.

3. It’s been snowing like crazy around here, how do your bees survive the winter?

The bees cluster in a ball in the hive to keep not only the queen warm  because she is central to the hive, but themselves too. They’re just amazing at everything they do. I do help them by blocking the wind with hay bails and I also make sure there is plenty of food for them during the winter months to keep them healthy. During the winter I feed the bees a “bee patty” that I make. It’s made up of fondant and vitamins to help keep them healthy & the bees just love it.

4. How many bees do you have working for you?

We have a number of hives located in Princeton, Pennington, Lawrenceville and now Robinsville, NJ. Each hive, when healthy, can have as many as 60,000 bees.

5. What are some of the pains of being a beekeeper?

It can be hard work at times wearing the suit in the hot sun but I enjoy it. I consider myself very lucky to be a part of it all. So I honestly don’t consider it a chore at all. .

6. Where do you see Yellow Bee heading in the future? Any goals you want to share with us?

My goals are to grow as a business, in not only the sale of honey and my products, but in the programs I teach in beekeeping and in the conversations I have with everyone I meet. Sustainability is what it’s all about.

7. Are there any insider tips you can share with us?

Always buy raw honey whether it’s Yellow Bee or someone else’s honey. Raw honey is better for you as it retains all of it’s nutritional value.

8. How many times have you been stung?

How many times have I been stung ?  – I’m asked that a lot …. Too many times to even remember quite frankly. I don’t enjoy being stung but I guess you “kind of” get used to it over time.

9. What’s your favorite thing to make with honey?

I love it all but I guess my favorite would be the honey comb and our honey butter with cinnamon that we now make. This was something my grandmother would make for me as a child and I enjoyed it very much. It brings back many fond memories.

10. Where can we find your honey?

I’m at a number of locations in New Jersey. For more info just head to my site yellowbeehoney.net  .We have raw honey in many size jars, honey comb, bee pollen, creamed honey, honey butter & cinnamon. Wedding and special event honey favors. We also have a “rent-a-hive” and an adopt a hive program for pollination as well as our very popular Yellow Bee 101 class.

Interview by Michael Nunes


Marisa McClellan on How to Really Jam

Think you know how to jam? Meet Marisa McClellan, writer, teacher, blogger, and master canner. She’s got all the canning tips and tricks you could need, and if you’re in Philly you can catch her this Saturday March 29  for a free demo and book signing at Reading Terminal Market, 10 a.m. to 2!

Until then here’s the scoop from Marisa on jamming:

1.     What’s your story? How’d you get to be the queen of jamming?

I grew up doing a little bit of canning. We always managed to live in houses with fruit trees or berry bushes and so my mom would make jam and can it.  It was something that I grew up knowing and liking. Then, when I was in my mid-twenties, I went blueberry picking with a friend and came home with 13 pounds of blueberries. I made a big batch of jam with some of my berries and was totally hooked. I started making more and more varieties of jam and then eventually started the blog as a way to document my projects. I had no idea when I was first starting that it would explode in such a dramatic fashion or that writing about and teaching canning would become my career.

2. What about canning really gets you going?

I love the fact that it lasts. When you make a meal, you get a relatively short amount of pleasure from it. But when you make jam or pickles or can tomatoes you get to enjoy that work for a year or more. I also love the alchemy of it. You take a few relatively simple ingredients and transform them into something that is truly more than the sum of those parts.

3. Do you think teaching was your calling?

Yes, absolutely. I knew from the time I was 13 years old that some part of my life’s work was going to involve speaking in front of groups of people. At that time, I had no idea I’d be speaking about canning, but this innate inclination to learn the minutia of something and then share it with people has always been in me.

4. Anything new from you that we should be on the look out for?

Yes! My new book just came out: Preserving by the Pint: Quick Seasonal Canning for Small Spaces. The book features lots of teeny tiny batches of preserves that are quick to make and use just a  pound or two of produce. My hope is that it will make canning accessible for people who have long believed it was too hard or messy.

5. Do you have a favorite preservation technique?

Well, a basic boiling water bath will always be my first love. That said, I’ve been getting more and more into fermentation lately and I’m finding it really satisfying.

6. Anything we should avoid preserving?

If you’re new to food preservation, the most important thing is to start with a reliable, tested recipe. Canning is both an art and a science and so you shouldn’t be inventing your own recipes. Stick with high acid foods like jams, chutneys and pickles.

7. How about a fool proof recipe for canning beginners?

As far as fool proof recipes go, there’s nothing easier than tomato jam. You just combine all the ingredients in a big pot and cook it down until it’s quite thick and sticky. It’s delicious with cheese, roasted meats or baked tofu. http://foodinjars.com/2010/09/tomato-jam/

8. What’s the dream?

The dream is to continue to do what I’m doing. I hope to start giving up some of my freelance work in order to concentrate more of my efforts on my own site. I also have plans to start making some videos and it would be cool if that led somewhere fun.

9. What’s your favorite thing to make?

That’s hard but when it comes to canning my favor thing it to go to a u- pick farm or farmers market and find a fruit or vegetable that’s in season and sparks an idea. I love the organic inspiration!

To find out where you can see Marisa live check out her upcoming canning classes.

The Eckhouses, Pork Perfectionists

After getting a taste of their award winning ‘nduja, we had to get the low down on La Quercia.  Luckily the couple that started it all, Herb and Kathy Eckhouse, were willing to dish on what makes their pork so perfect. 

Why pork? Why not wine? Why’d you pick the pig?  

Pretty simple– we have more pigs than people here in Iowa. It’s great for raising pigs here and not so great for growing grapes.  Being located here, it’s easier for us to access special meat–special breeds, special animal husbandry–and I think that’s worked well for us.

How did you get started in the pork business?

It wasn’t a straight path, that’s for sure.  We’d had the idea for making prosciutto when we moved back to Iowa from Italy (I was there on assignment for a company based here in Des Moines).  We felt that somebody should be making great food from the American prairie–one of the 2 most fertile places on the globe.  When we looked into it ten years later, it seemed that great American wines, cheeses, and beers were available, but that wasn’t so much the case for cured meats.  After studying it for 5 months, we decided to get in–not to jump, but to tiptoe.  We started by selling imports to see what people liked and didn’t like, to see if people were receptive to our concept, and to build some relationships with customers.  In 2001, we started making prosciutto at home to see if we’d learned anything through all that study, and it worked.  We only had one step left, and that was to jump in, so we did when we built our prosciuttificio in 2005.

What kind of secrets did you learn while you were in Italy?

When we lived there, we learned a lot about eating a lot of really good salumi.  That’s key–developing an experienced palate.  Later, when we decided to make salumi here, we developed a key relationship with a small producer who made the kind of prosciutto we wanted to make–there are many kinds and types.  He was very important in helping us make the transition from our basement to our prosciuttificio.  But no matter how many people you talk to or how many experts advise you, you have to draw your own conclusions and make your own decisions.

Do you have any advice for a newbie interested in getting in the charcuterie biz?

Plan for success, don’t protect against failure.  If you fail, you lose everything; if you succeed and haven’t planned for it, you lose the opportunity that you risked so much to create.

What makes you better than the other guys?

I like to think that we’re better than the other guys, but I never fully accept that we are.  We always strive to do better–to improve at every step.  We work on each piece of prosciutto 27 times.  We are always trying to improve the quality of the meat we buy and how we do each of those 27 steps.

What’s your most popular product and why?  

Prosciutto, specifically our Prosciutto Americano, because we make the most of it.  I think that our Acorn Edition Tamworth and Berkshire meats are clearly the best.

Any deep dark secrets of La Quercia we should know about?

We don’t make anything we don’t like to eat!

Favorite pig and wine pairing?  

I’m always happy to have a good sparkling wine or champagne with prosciutto–light, fresh, not too strongly flavored.  If I could afford it, I’d drink more Pol Roger champagne.

What is your favorite thing to make?  

Acorn Edition Prosciutto–it’s the most demanding and the most rewarding.

Where can people find your stuff?  

Check out our website.  We have a locator (very hard to keep up to date) and we partner with Murray’s and Zingerman’s for internet orders.

If you would like to try some for yourself, visit their website at laquercia.us

Interview by Michael Nunes

The Real Life Stay Puff Marshmallow Man- Mitch Greenberg

What do the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Clown College, and marshmallow making have in common?  

Mitch Greenberg, founder and owner of Mitchmallows, handmade marshmallows. We got to chat with Mitch, and here’ s what says about a “life in sugar.”

What exactly are Mitchmallows?

MG: Square-shaped, fat-free, gluten-free marshmallows.  We have three dozen different flavors that satisfy a sweet tooth, but aren’t overly sweet, so kids and adults can enjoy.

Martha Stewart Bridal Party

So how did you go from Clown College, to a career in marshmallows?

MG: I know it doesn’t seem like a logical progression!  But, since marshmallows are a kind of silly fun, the skills I learned in each of these careers have actually come in handy in the business

What draws you to the marshmallow business?

MG: I love being out in public, doing events and meeting people who all have instantaneous connections with marshmallows.

Marshmallows bring us back to childhood. Mitchmallows take the idea of these traditional marshmallows we all enjoyed as a child, but transform them like never before – and bring them into the new age.

I love meeting people who say they were “never fans of marshmallows,” but are suddenly converted once they try a Mitchmallow.  The best part for me is watching peoples’ reaction and seeing how much they enjoy the product.

How did you get started?

MG: Mitchmallows actually came about by accident.  I was no culinary wizard.  My kitchen specialty and sandwich of expertise was grilled cheese.  But I’ve always loved sweets and candy, and I was just looking for a change in scenery when I began looking online for homemade marshmallow recipes.  Soon, I became obsessed.  After consistent positive feedback from family and friends, I got more and more serious about my creations until one day I realized that these weren’t marshmallows I was making, but rather, Mitchmallows!

Tell us about some of your fantastic flavors!

BLT S'More

MG: Some of our hits include pretzels and beer, ginger wasabi, churro, merlot, mojito, and margarita mallows.  My personal favorite is the creamsicle flavor.  That one is close to my heart, because it was the first mallow we made to combine two flavors.  The banana split combines banana and chocolate, and now we’re breaking into mixing three flavors into one mallow, as in our newest release: the PB&J flavor.  We also make special holiday flavors: candy corn for Halloween, pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving, and candy cane and eggnog for Christmas.  The eggnog flavor contains a center filled with cinnamon sugar and nutmeg, and goes great in hot chocolate!

Any bloopers or deleted scenes you’d care to share with us?

MG: Of course there have been a few flavor failures along the way.  The chicken soup mallow came out too salty, and the onion rings mallow was just not good! We also know how everybody loves bacon, so we tried desperately to create a bacon flavored mallow, and that failed as well – but it sparked the idea for a BLT flavored mallow, with crostini, arugula, and bacon bits, and that one is actually quite delicious!

Where can I order my own Mitchmallows?

Check out Mitch’s website!  www.mitchmallows.com

Candy Cane Mallows

Interview by: Theresa Soya

Paul Hletko, A Man of Few Secrets

Maker, Paul Hletko, founder and master distiller at Few Spirits, based in Evanston, Illinois dished with Maureen Petrosky, while sipping some whiskey in Louisville, KY.  She discovered he makes really good stuff and had me track him down so you could get to know the man behind the booze. Here’s what Paul had to share…

What’s your story? How’d you get into the booze business?

PH: I’ve enjoyed creating new things for almost as long as I can remember. I’ve played music, cooked, made  beer, bacon, cheese, sausage, you name it.  I’ve had particular fondness for music and alcohol.  They do go rather well together.  I do have some family history in the beer business, but it disappeared, and when my grandfather died, I wanted to build on his family history but do so in a positive fashion.  Prior to WWII his family owned a major brewery in what is now the Czech Republic.  After the Nazis invaded, they no longer owned it, and his entire family was wiped out in the camps.  After the war, he was never able to secure ownership again, and after he died, I felt drawn to rebuild legacy.

What about whiskey/gin really gets you going?

PH: I love the character and flavor.  There is so much art in the creation of distilled spirits, and that gets me really excited.

Do you think making spirits was your calling?

PH: I’m starting to think so.  I’ve never done anything that I’ve found nearly as fulfilling or rewarding personally.  Financially, yeah, that’s a different story.  But I get to create and build and make something that’s new!

Anything new from you that we should be on the look out for?

PH: We’re always trying to create new spirits, and often release small batch releases – even as low as like 30-40 bottles.

Do you have a favorite in your portfolio?

PH: I do, but it tends to change every day!  Rather like asking which of my children I love the most – and each is convinced its them.

4 few  What’s your favorite cocktail?

  PH: The one in front of me, made with Few!

 Advice for a budding distiller?

PH: I’d really ask why.  There are an awful lot of people that find it glamorous or  a get-rich quick scheme, and it is neither.  I just wish I had a nickel for   everyone that tells me they  really want to distill gin “because I like to drink gin” or make whiskey “because I just love Jim Beam.”

What makes a great spirit?

PH:A great spirit goes somewhere that other spirits do not – there’s a uniqueness and an expression of the distillers taste.  One of the frustrating things about the spirits business is the sheer quality of most of the spirit out there – the “big boys” make some amazing products.  But, there’s so much room to make unique spirits that are an artistic expression of the distiller, that its just really exciting to experience the vision.

What’s your favorite drink to make?

PH: I’m currently obsessing over negronis with our Barrel Gin…

What’s the dream?

PH: The dream?  Make something new that is true to who we are as a team.  I’m surrounded by an amazing team of people, all working together to create something that has never existed, and build something we can all be proud of.

Why do you call it Few Spirits?

PH: We don’t make a lot, just a Few!  Making a good drink requires Few ingredients!  If you’re having one drink, you can make it a Few!  It would be sheer coincidence that a rather famous resident of our town was Frances Willard.  You can google her middle name…

Any deep dark secrets we should know about you or Few Spirits?

PH: One time, we listened to Air Supply while making bourbon whiskey.  We do feel shame, but it felt like the right thing to do.

Feel like having a few? Check them at  fewspirits.com

     few american gin

Interview by Theresa Soya

Michael Perisco, Eating Through the Looking Glass

Michael Perisco is a Philadelphia based photographer. We were lucky enough to meet him on a photo shoot for Philly Style Magazine, where he was shooting yours truly. He cooks, surfs, rides bikes (pedal and motor), and makes food look fabulous- even half eaten fried chicken. Meet this crazy talented picture maker……

MPL: How did you get started in photography?

MP: Originally the plan was to be an illustrator, I went on a kick where I would go out with an older canon film camera and shoot away all over the city.  I’d scan the film into photoshop, print on acetate and use the images in my illustration pieces, usually with a fair bit of over-painting.  There was the turning point.  I was much more excited about the photos, the finished illustration quickly took a back seat.  I think got addicted to exploring really, sticking with illustration would have meant a lot of limited environment studio time.   I saw photography as a way to get out and absorb as much as possible from the world around me.

MPL: What’s more fun for you to shoot – food or people?

MP: I go back and forth pretty often with this.  I don’t think I’ll ever choose one or the other, I’ll always need both to stay happy.

MPL: What makes somebody an exciting person to photograph?

MP: People are extremely interesting when they believe they are worth photographing.

MPL: Any tips for a budding photog?

MP: Somebody told me when I began that I should never stop exploring.  But I wish someone told me that it’s ok to be really passionate about more than one thing…or at least told me sooner.  I figured it out eventually.  When shooting at any point in time, try not to limit yourself by making rules that start with the words “I don’t shoot…..”  You never know when you’ll get inspired. I would have never began shooting food if I didn’t allow the opportunity in after being assigned a job that included “a few food shots to round out the story”.  I’m glad I had the where with all to accept.

MPL:  The best part about being a photographer?

MP: The best part is finding yourself being busy doing something you love.  Even when things are slow, the road to getting busy again is incredibly rewarding.  Rethinking what to show on the website or blog, deciding how to shoot in the future to change things up, it’s all a really great place to be.

MPL: What’s your favorite thing to make?

MP: Mark Bittman’s Sardine Pasta.  No question.

Find more about the man behind the camera here: www.persicophoto.com