Category Archives: Hippie stuff

Beer in the woods

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This might be the best place in Southern Illinois.

Tucked away at the end of a back road outside Ava, Illinois, is a microbrewery so good, in such an idyllic setting, it has managed to elevate my entire perception of the region where I grew up.

We made a new friend on our last visit.
We made a new friend on our last visit.

I first learned about Scratch Brewing Company last fall, when I attended a friend’s birthday party at Hangar 9 in Carbondale, and his sister bought me a hickory-based sour beer from Scratch that was easily the most glorious thing I’d ever tasted.

The taps are made of sticks. So is some of the beer. And it is AMAZING.
The taps are made of sticks. So is some of the beer. And it is AMAZING.

Ron and I finally made it out to Scratch’s tasting room this summer and proceeded to fall in love with the brewery and its surroundings.

The garden surrounding the brewery blends seamlessly into the woods.
The garden surrounding the brewery blends seamlessly into the woods.

The first thing that delighted me about Scratch was the fact they make everything from seasonal, locally sourced ingredients, many of which they grow on-site or forage from the nearby forest. This practice leads to far more diverse and interesting flavors than you find at breweries that rely almost exclusively on hops to flavor their beer.

The menu changes constantly. Last Friday, we had this cheese platter with house-made crackers and a killer spreadable cheese from Bloomsdale, Missouri.
The menu changes constantly. Last Friday, we had this cheese platter with house-made crackers and a killer spreadable cheese from Bloomsdale, Missouri.

The second thing that delighted me about Scratch was the fact they aren’t afraid to experiment with less common types of beer. This means you’ll almost certainly find a sour or two on tap when you walk in, and they might have a rauchbier, a heavy or some other less-common variety available as well.

Everything on this menu is awesome. And odds are good none of it will be on the menu when you go, because the options change constantly.
Everything on this menu is awesome. And odds are good none of it will be on the menu when you go, because the options change constantly.

The brewers’ commitment to local ingredients extends to the yeasts they use: Instead of commercially produced yeasts, they use sourdough starter to ferment their beer and make their pizza crust rise. This not only guarantees a unique, hyperlocal flavor, but it allows me to drink Scratch products without triggering sinus headaches. (Apparently I’ve developed an allergy to certain strains of yeast in the past year or so, but I’ve been exposed to Southern Illinois’ indigenous yeasts for 41 years, so my immune system doesn’t freak out when it encounters them.)

This is what my dining room would look like most of the time if I didn't own a dehydrator.
This is what my dining room would look like most of the time if I didn’t own a dehydrator.

After three trips, however, I’ve found my favorite thing about Scratch might not be the excellent food or the world-class beer, but the surroundings. The tasting room is tucked into the woods, with a big, rambling herb garden out front and tiny lizards darting between the rocks in the retaining walls next to the walkway that leads into the building.

Here is most of the Piasa mural ...
Here is most of the Piasa mural …
... and here is the rest.
… and here is the rest.

Indoors, a beautifully rendered mural of a Piasa bird graces one wall, dried herbs hang from the rafters and fill jars lining another wall, and local artists’ influence can be seen everywhere.

This sort of reminds me of the golden years when Makanda Java carried bulk herbal tea in big jars.
This sort of reminds me of the golden years when Makanda Java carried bulk herbal tea in big jars.

It’s a remarkable place, and one that has the same effect on me as a trip to Dave Dardis’ not-so-secret garden in Makanda: It makes me more aware and more appreciative of what my home area has to offer. Between Scratch and a recent trip to Shawnee Trails in Carbondale, I’m just about ready to invest in a pair of trail shoes and let my next New Year’s resolution revolve around exploring the forests of Southern Illinois and Southeast Missouri every chance I get.

Emily

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Eco-Saturday: Vermicomposting

Redworms are excellent little gardeners.
Redworms are excellent little gardeners.

I built my first worm bin on New Year’s Eve in 1999. No, I wasn’t drunk; I was just bored at the office (holidays tend to be slow in a newsroom) and decided to kill time on the Cityfarmer website. I’d made a resolution to shrink my environmental footprint as much as possible while living in a second-story apartment in town, and when I ran across an article telling me I could install a functioning compost bin under my sink, I knew I needed one RIGHT THIS MINUTE.

One might reasonably question the feasibility of acquiring redworms at 10:30 p.m. on a holiday in the middle of winter, but at the time, I lived in Belleville, Illinois, where a nice older couple ran a 24-hour bait shop out of their house. I called, and the lady said of course I could stop by on my way home to pick up 200 red wigglers for my New Year’s Eve vermicomposting project.

Worm bins are an awesome winter project, because they allow you to do something nice for the garden without going out in the cold. Worm compost is great for starting tomatoes.

Here is what you need to construct your own worm bin:

Plastic storage tub with a lid
Container to use as a drip tray
Small blocks to elevate the tub
Drill
Shredded newspaper or wood shavings (don’t use cedar; worms hate it)
Water
Small handful of potting soil
Redworms, sometimes called “red wigglers”
Fruit or vegetable scraps

Any excuse to use power tools….
Any excuse to use power tools….

Drill holes in the sides and bottom of your plastic tub for drainage and aeration. I drilled about 50 holes in mine.

My drip tray is a storage basket with a solid bottom.
My drip tray is a storage basket with a solid bottom.

Put a couple of wood blocks in the drip tray and set the tub on top.

Get the worms' bedding wet.
Get the worms’ bedding wet.

Put the newspaper in the tub and douse it with water until it’s about as wet as a wrung-out washcloth. Add the worms at one end and the fruit or vegetables in the other. Don’t feed your worms anything too harsh, like citrus or hot peppers.

I fed my worms apple pulp leftover from making cider. Chopsticks are handy for moving things around.
I fed my worms apple pulp leftover from making cider. Chopsticks are handy for moving things around.

Don’t overload the bin. Start with a couple hundred worms (this should cost about $10 to $15 at the bait shop) and a handful of food. Check your worms once a day to make sure the bin is still damp inside and they have enough food. When the bin contains mostly castings (a fancy word for worm poop), shove all of it over to one side and put some food, fresh bedding and potting soil in the other. The worms will all go to the side with the food, so you can scoop out the castings the next day and use them in your garden or on your houseplants.

Ignore the scribbles on top. I used storage tubs as moving boxes.
Ignore the scribbles on top. I used storage tubs as packing crates when we moved.

Your worms will breed. If you end up with more than the bin can handle, you can build a bigger bin, start a second small bin, sell the excess worms to a bait shop, or put the worms in the garden and let them aerate the soil.

If your worm bin smells weird, it’s probably too wet, or you’ve put too much food in there.

Emily

Fall

Gratuitous lavender photo. Every time I think it's done blooming, it puts out another blossom or two.
Gratuitous lavender photo. Every time I think it’s done blooming, it puts out another blossom or two.

I spent part of today working on my pond filter and starting a few small indoor projects, including some sprouts and a worm bin.

While I was outside, I took a few pictures of the garden in its more-or-less dormant state. Fall and winter always make me sad, because I hate saying goodbye to the garden, but I’ve got a few projects planned out there for this winter, and I think we’ll be in good shape come spring.

These fire rings will spend the winter serving as compost bins before turning into raised beds in the spring.
These fire rings will spend the winter serving as compost bins before becoming raised beds next season.

So far, I’ve bought four 36-inch fire rings to use as compost bins this winter, with the intention of planting directly into the compost this spring to make incredibly rich, easy-to-manage raised beds for my tomatoes.

This pond has come SO far in the past year. It sheltered at least two rounds of tadpoles this summer.
This pond has come SO far in the past year. It sheltered at least two rounds of tadpoles this summer.

That pond filter I built out of an ice-cream bucket looks as if it’s going to work pretty well. Time will tell, of course, but so far, it seems to be working. I’ll have a tutorial for you in an upcoming Eco-Saturday entry. The picture above delights me; I can’t believe how big that lemon balm has gotten. The oregano, meanwhile, apparently thinks it’s an aquatic plant — I found some of it growing roots right down into the water. Leave it to a mint to be audacious enough to try to compete with water hyacinths on their own turf.

The arugula I allowed to bolt this summer has scattered seeds all over the small bed in the center of the yard and halfway across the yard around it, so I’ve got salad growing all over the place without having to do any late-season planting. The sage and chives are still hanging in there, too, although my Genovese basil succumbed to the light frost we had the other night. I’ll have an Eco-Saturday entry on Darwin gardening sometime in the next month or so. If you’re willing to let Mother Nature run the show, you can have a remarkably productive garden with virtually no effort.

Hope your day was good, wherever you are.

Emily

Fall chore

Ron picks the meat out of a cracked walnut.
Ron picks the meat out of a cracked walnut.

For the first time in about 30 years, I harvested black walnuts this weekend.

We had a tree in our yard when we were a kid. Mom and I used to go outside in old shoes we didn’t care about and stomp the soft outer hulls off of them so we could bring them in, crack them and pick out the meat. Then the tree died, and I didn’t have access to walnuts again until last year, when we moved here. The tree in the yard next door overhangs our driveway and throws sap and nuts all over our cars.

We didn’t get any walnuts last year, because the squirrels stole them. This year, we gathered the nuts as they fell and kept them in a basket in the garage.

Black walnuts with the outer hulls stripped from them. The nuts you see filled the basket before i removed the hulls.
Black walnuts with the outer hulls stripped from them. The nuts you see above filled that basket before I removed the hulls.
Hulls. Never put these in your compost or garden; they contain a natural herbicide that will kill anything you try to grow.
Hulls. Never put these in your compost or garden; they contain a natural herbicide that will kill anything you try to grow.
Here's all the nut meat we removed from the shells.
Here’s all the nut meat we removed from the shells.

Black walnuts are a pain to process — you have to stomp off the outer hulls, let them dry for a week or two, crack them with a hammer, and pick out all the meat, which takes foreeeeeeever — but the payoff is pretty good, as you know if you’ve ever had black walnut beer or chocolate-chip cookies with black walnuts in them, and it was kind of satisfying to do something I haven’t done since I was a kid. I might pay someone else to process them next time, though. We’ve got another 250 I stomped the other day, and I’m sure another 50 to 100 have fallen from the tree since then. There’s a limit to how long I’m willing to spend processing walnuts in one season.

Emily

Eco-Saturday: Canning salsa

canned
Homemade salsa makes a great Christmas gift, and it’s nice to have on hand for unexpected potlucks and such.

OK, so canning salsa isn’t really much different than canning pickles, which I showed you how to do a few weeks ago, but tomato season is winding down, and if your garden has been very successful at all, it’s really worth taking an afternoon to learn how to put up salsa so you can have a little taste of summer when the sleet starts coming down. (Alternately, you can buy tomatoes at your local farmer’s market or make friends with a gardener.)

This post is kind of long and detailed, so I’m putting the rest behind the jump to keep from scaring off the tl;dr crowd.

Continue reading Eco-Saturday: Canning salsa

Soap update

So my boss let me take today off because Labor Day fell on my regular day off, and we’re supposed to get an extra day off when that happens. You might think I’d spend the day relaxing, but you’d be wrong. Instead, I went out and got a kitchen scale and some olive and coconut oil and started a batch of soap. I managed to do it without maiming myself or damaging any kitchen surfaces, so we’ll put that in the win column. It’s in a cooler in the basement now, setting up overnight. I’ll check it tomorrow, and if it’s set up properly, I’ll slice it into bars, wrap it in waxed paper, and ignore it for a month and a half while it saponifies.

Once I finished my soap project and got the kitchen cleaned up, I brought in some tomatoes and pecans from the garden (the neighbor’s tree has thrown a few nuts into the far corner of the garden) and transcribed an interview for Zaphod before heading out to pick up groceries.

I really don’t understand the concept of rest, apparently.

In unrelated news, remind me next week, and I’ll post a different sort of Munchkin Tuesday. The kids redeemed some of their coupons the other day, and we did an awesome science project that needs to go at the top of your to-do list if you have any children in your life. If I still taught, I’d be finding an excuse to do this with my sophomores — possibly as a sensory-language exercise or something. It was that cool. 

Emily

On the Road

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Quick scene from the road. Ron took my picture looking competent with my guitar at the Rudolfo Anaya sculpture park on Route 66 in Santa Rosa, N.M., yesterday. The lighting was weird — hence the strange color — but I kind of like it. If you didn’t know better, you might almost be fooled into thinking I know what I’m doing. (You’d be wrong, but that’s why I’m posting a photo and not a video.)

If I ever get run over by a bus or come down with bubonic Ebola pox or something, go ahead and run this shot with my obit. It’s about the hippiest photo anybody has ever taken of me.

Emily