Eco-Saturday: Homebrewing

July 19, 2014
Home-brewed beer: more flavor, less unnecessary packaging.

Home-brewed beer: more flavor, less unnecessary packaging.

A few weeks ago, I bought Ron an early anniversary present: I got him a Mr. Beer homebrewing kit. He really likes craft beer, and I’ve gotten into making yogurt lately — and, to a lesser extent, cheese — so I figured I might as well buy a kit and start learning about the fermentation process before apple season. (I’m daydreaming about making my own hard cider if I can work up the nerve to try it.)

If you’re a beer drinker, I strongly encourage you to support local microbreweries, for all the environmental and economic reasons you’d support any other local business. If you enjoy cooking or have a bit of a DIY streak, you can take your efforts at sustainability another step by trying your hand at homebrewing.

The primary environmental advantage of homebrewing is that it reduces packaging. Our little kit requires one can of malt syrup, a small packet of yeast and a small packet of sanitizer to make about two gallons of beer. That’s the equivalent of just over 21 standard 12-ounce bottles or cans. The kit came with reusable bottles, which means we’ve just kept 21 bottles out of the waste stream. (Yes, I realize you can recycle glass and aluminum — and we do — but melting down containers and making new ones still requires way more energy than simply reusing an existing container.)

The second advantage is that it reduces the energy needed to ship ingredients. As anyone who’s paid attention to gas mileage on a road trip knows, extra weight requires extra fuel to haul around. Two gallons of liquid weigh a lot more than a pound or so of malt syrup, so by purchasing just the syrup and adding our own water, we’ve saved a little fossil fuel and kept a little carbon out of the atmosphere.

Anyway, on to the project. Ron wasn’t sure it would turn out well or be worth the effort, but it took me less than an hour of actual work to make the first batch — including the time it took to assemble and test the equipment — and between the printed instructions and the video on the company’s website, the whole process was virtually idiot-proof. Basically, if you can handle baking a cake from a mix, you can make a batch of beer.

This plastic keg holds the wort -- a mixture of malt syrup, yeast and water -- while it ferments.

This plastic keg holds the wort — a mixture of malt syrup, yeast and water — while it ferments.

The finished product, a Mexican-style beer that tastes a lot like Dos Equis, took a little over three weeks to ferment and carbonate. It turned out very well, and we’ve got a batch of Czech-style pilsner fermenting as we speak.

The kit cost just under $60 from a little homebrewing supply place in Ste. Genevieve. I’ve seen them as cheap as $40 at big-box stores. Refills run $15 to $20, which works out to about 71 to 95 cents for 12 ounces of fresh, unpasteurized beer.

As we get the hang of the process and gain a little confidence, I’ll start experimenting with making my own malt syrup from scratch, which will only increase the environmental benefits (and decrease the cost).


Vegan Friday: Sloppy Joes

July 18, 2014
Way better than Manwich.

Way better than Manwich.

We ate a LOT of sloppy Joes when I was a kid, but for some reason, I never really bothered to make them after I grew up — which is a shame, because they’re cheap, easy and good. I sort of forgot they existed until a colleague and I were out on assignment a couple of weeks ago, and we stopped at a small-town dairy bar whose specialty is sloppy Joes. I enjoyed mine thoroughly and decided to throw together a vegan version last week. I think it might have been better than the original.

Vegan Sloppy Joes

1 bag Boca crumbles (available in the freezer case at most grocery stores)
1/2 bunch green onions or 1/2 small yellow onion, chopped
About 1/2 c. chopped bell peppers (any color; frozen are fine)
Olive oil
Your favorite barbecue sauce
Margarine (optional)
Hamburger buns

Saute the peppers in olive oil until soft. Add onions and saute until tender. Add Boca crumbles and a little more oil, if necessary, and cook until heated through. Stir in ketchup, mustard and barbecue sauce to taste.

Melt a little margarine in a skillet and toast buns in it lightly if desired. Assemble sandwiches and serve. Makes about five sandwiches.

Folk Thursday: Ramblin’ Jack Elliott

July 17, 2014

Ramblin’ Jack covers one of the saddest things Woody Guthrie ever wrote.


Nature facts

July 16, 2014

Here are some facts about nature:

1. Tiger mosquitoes love hiding out under cucumber leaves.
2. Tiger mosquitoes can bite through denim.
3. Tiger mosquitoes are a-holes. I think the only part of my body that doesn’t itch at the moment is my pancreas. But I’m sure the little SOBs will find a way to bite all the way through my torso to get to that next.
4. Homegrown heirloom cucumbers are totally worth it.


Weekend projects

July 14, 2014
I used Valspar instead of Krylon this time, mainly because I couldn't find Krylon. We'll see how it weathers.

I used Valspar instead of Krylon this time, mainly because I couldn’t find Krylon. We’ll see how it weathers.

This weekend was all about clearing projects off my plate. Most of them were little projects (moving the quail, putting bird netting in the garden to protect my tomatoes, and starting a new batch of beer), but the big one I’d been meaning to finish involved the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcar.

I’ve been neglecting the car for about two years. Oh, not the mechanical stuff — I take it in to have the oil changed and the tires rotated and various belts and filters and things replaced at all the appropriate times — but what makes the Dreamcar the Dreamcar is its Amazing Technicolor paint job, which becomes decided less amazing and decidedly less technicolor after a few months in the sun. To look its best, it really needs to have its hood and roof repainted about once a year.

Last time I repainted it was a couple of days before we left for vacation in 2012.

After spending the brutal summer of 2012 in the Oklahoma sun, it was pretty faded out, but before I got a chance to repaint it, we moved, and I was too busy to mess with it. I also managed to leave all my leftover spraypaint behind when we moved, and I couldn’t really justify spending the better end of $50 on a glorified craft project while we were paying for two mortgages. By the time we sold the house in Tulsa, it was October, and then the holidays hit, followed by ice storms, a rainy spring and a stormy summer, and … well, yesterday was really the first opportunity I’ve had to do anything with the car, so I took advantage of it.

While I was working, I installed a few of my recent acquisitions on the dashboard:

On a recent trip to Memphis, I picked up some miniature rubber chickens at Schwab's. Because if there was one thing my dashboard needed, it was rubber chickens.

On a recent trip to Memphis, I picked up some miniature rubber chickens at Schwab’s. Because if there was one thing my dashboard needed, it was rubber chickens.

Is there a Doctor in the house? From right, the Seventh, Fourth and Second Doctors, accompanied by a Roman centurion auton.

Is there a Doctor in the house? From right, the Seventh, Fourth and Second Doctors, accompanied by a Roman centurion auton.

I painted a TARDIS on part of the car last night, but the sealer I used on it this afternoon interacted badly with the paint and ran all over the place, so I’ll have to sand that area off and start over as soon as I can shake free.


(Belated) Eco-Saturday: Dehydrating herbs

July 14, 2014
Basil is one of the easiest herbs to grow.

Basil is one of the easiest herbs to grow.

If you have a yard, a balcony or even a sunny window big enough for a flowerpot or two, you can grow your own culinary herbs.

Herbs are among the easiest plants to grow. My favorites are basil, dill and cilantro — all vigorous self-seeding annuals that will produce plenty of volunteer plants year after year — and peppermint, spearmint, oregano, rosemary, sage and chives, which are all reliable, productive perennials.

If you grow herbs, you’ll inevitably end up with far more than you can use in a season, so you’ll have plenty left to dry for winter use.

The fastest way to dry herbs is in a dehydrator. If you have more than a couple of plants, a cheap electric dehydrator is probably worth the investment. You can find a good one for $50 or less. I got mine in the hunting aisle at the feed store.

Dehydrating is easy. I’m using basil as an example here, but the same method works with pretty much any herb you can think of.

This is part of one plant.

This is part of one plant.

Start by harvesting as much as you plan to put up. A good pair of shears will speed the harvest along.

Ready to rinse.

Ready to rinse.

If using a dehydrator, snip the leaves from the stems. Put the leaves in a colander and rinse them off. (If you don’t have a dehydrator, just rinse the stems and leaves, tie them in bundles with string or rubber bands, and hang them upside-down to dry, checking them frequently to make sure they’re still bound tightly.)

The thinner the layer, the faster they'll dry.

The thinner the layer, the faster they’ll dry.

Arrange the leaves on your dehydrator trays. Try to keep them to a single layer per tray to allow them to dry quickly and evenly.

After dehydrating.

After dehydrating.

The leaves will shrink as they dry. Check them every half-hour or so until they are completely dry.

The finished product, ready to add to spaghetti sauce.

The finished product, ready to add to spaghetti sauce.

Put the dried herbs in a ziplock bag to keep them fresh, crush them and use a Sharpie to label the bag with the product and the date. Half-pint Mason jars are also excellent for storing dried herbs, or you can recycle old containers from storebought spices.






Technical difficulties

July 12, 2014

I had some intentions about blogging more this past week, but our Internet service went down after a storm, and it took nine days, umpteen phone calls and two Twitter conversations with AT&T’s customer service people to get somebody out here to fix it. In the meantime, we were reliant on our iPhones, and using the phone as a personal Wi-Fi hotspot is … well, let’s just say you don’t exactly get blazing Internet speeds with that approach.

I came back to discover something has gotten screwed up with WordPress, and for God alone knows what reason, the landing page for this site gives an error message (although it has no trouble displaying specific posts — it just can’t find its way home). Not sure what’s up with that, and I haven’t had time to find out, but hopefully I’ll get it sorted tomorrow.

In the meantime, I’ve been cooking a bit (which means I should be able to get a little ahead on Vegan Friday offerings); gardening a bit (I harvested 21 cucumbers yesterday, and may I just say that Miniature White is the greatest variety ever?); traveling a bit (bizarre Memphis pictures forthcoming); planning to travel a lot (Tulsa next weekend; Ludlow in the not-too-distant future); getting sick; getting better; battling the forces of evil (mainly preparing my friends for my impending departure from Facebook and figuring out how many art supplies I can get at the hardware store so I don’t have to drive to St. Louis to sustain my Hobby Lobby boycott); and bracing myself for the massive creative outburst I feel coming on.

I’ll have an Eco-Saturday entry for you tomorrow. It will involve either homebrewing or culinary herbs, depending on which project I feel like tackling first.



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