Monday, May 28, 2012

Hard apple cider.

I started homebrewing hard cider in 2011, when I lived in Tempe and wanted to make a cheap source of cider. My method hasn't improved significantly as I've just added an airlock to control flavors and prevent a gooey cleanup every day the cider bubbles over.

The cider bubbling happily.
We started this batch two days ago and usually keep it going for a week. The organic, preservative-free cider we bought in the 1 gallon glass carboy sells for about $8 here in Albuquerque. Preservatives kill yeast and won't let the brew ferment properly. We picked up the airlock along with some Champagne yeast from my LHBS for $6. The airlock and yeast can be used indefinitely and it's such a low up-front cost that we felt like skimping really isn't worth it. The airlock beats the rubber balloon and hole method by a lot.

We didn't add sugar or honey to this batch because we're looking to see what a week is like for the unadulterated juice.  It's also been over six months since I've made a batch so we'll see what the flavor profile is like. Costco has a Sonoran honey jug for the cheapest price around so we may consider adding it if we feel like it's lacking enough tasting notes or alcohol. Though, living a mile up, we drink less because of the thinner air.

Anyhow, here's our extremely simple and frugal method:

1 gal Organic Apple Juice/Cider without preservatives, preferably pasteurized
1 packet of Champagne yeast (There are cider yeasts available also)
1 airlock with rubber stopper (Bring the vessel in question so that a diameter can be matched)
White vinegar

1. Clean the airlock with a vinegar and water solution and allow to air dry.
2. Pop open the glass jug and pitch the yeast. Our packet was intended for a 5 gal recipe so just put in less, in case something spoils the brew so you wouldn't have to buy yeast again.
3. Insert the sterilized airlock and fill it with water.
4. Wait! It took me anywhere from 4 days to several weeks to determine if my brew was ready. If you taste it, pour it out or use a sterilized baster. Every time you open it beyond the initial pitching, you allow bacteria to possibly infect and compete with the yeast. So, wait for the bubbles to slow significantly. The longer you wait, the fewer sugars that remain, unless you use maltodextrin or lactose which cannot be consumed by yeast, and the dryer the cider. YMMV, so if you feel like you have achieved the proper flavor, cold rack it!
5. Drink up, sucker! If you leave some yeast sediment at the bottom, you may use it to create the next batch. If you age it, 3-12 months will suffice and give it a flavor nearer to white wine. Pour it off of the sediment into a sterilized jar such as one from a previous batch.

There are countless additions to your brew, such as raisins, pectic enzymes, oak, bourbon, that you can mix in and many forums cite varied results. Your first batch and your last batch will never be the same using this method but the variety makes for entertaining experimentation. If you find that it tastes too much like hooch, age it. It will mellow out with time. But, we prefer nothing better than fresh cider with some friends!

Growing food.

As many people know, life gets in the way. But, Jordan and I have documented our gardening efforts on camera so even though we've neglected to post them, we do have some proof! We moved into a house with several priorities: wooden floors so the dog wouldn't shed into carpet, a large yard for gardening and letting the pooch run, and a decent neighborhood near the CBD of town. Amazingly, we found the perfect location within 24 hours of visiting Albuquerque. No thanks, Craigslist, though, as we used a copy of the Alibi we found at Tractor Brewing Co. our first night here. What follows are the episodes of gardening we've gotten involved in since we moved in.  So, I relieve my monologue to these photographs:
We brought home an SUV-full of composted donkey manure from a rescue out here.

Hauling manure is tiring work!

Greens and Radish bed.

Chinese Mustard Greens and the temporary compost heap.

An overview of the backyard with our nightshades and cucumber beds.

The original garden layout, now modified from seeds acquired.

Tree planting hole with a mound of steer manure for some nutrients.
We planted lentils to fix nitrogen into our cucumber bed. Later, we'd till them in.
The fruit trees are all planted. Santa Rosa plum, Moorpark apricot, and Redhaven peach are varieties sold here that we found could survive the frosts of ABQ.
The indoor seedlings we raised including heirloom tomatoes, watermelon, and toy peppers.
Yucca in bloom.

The front yard bed with rescued herbs and squash/melon mounds.

Our happily thriving flower bed out front. It's a bunch of dollar store flower mixes.

A transplanted Italian Heather.

The cyan Morning Glory stretching out its grasping arm.

Pots left over from the rescued herbs.

Mustard greens emerging.

Succulents we're trying to root.

Our greens bed thriving! Buttercrunch, slow-bolting Spinach and French Dwarf Marigolds galore.

This Salvia gregii was a disgusting motley of dead branches when we moved in. I pruned it and noticed some of the branches were still green inside. We left for a camping trip and came back to see these gorgeous blooms from what was assumed to be a dead plant! Identification took a few weeks of visiting Home Depots.

French Marigolds doing quite well. They repel certain insects from our beets and radishes.

Sweet Peas climbing quite gloriously on an existing chicken wire trellis.

A very satisfied Cherry Bell radish.

Our potato barrel experiment.

Cheap source of cloches.

Compost, from an earlier container (left) to one Jordan built (right).

Simply planting the bottoms of green onion bunches gives you healthy plants later.

Sprouting Tomatillos.

The sole surviving transplant from our starter seedlings. We lost nearly two dozen.

The sole leafing fruit tree we planted. Apricot, I think.

The cucumbers emerging their true leaves.

The peas are yielding!

A transplanted celery bottom.

The celery bottom is doing quite well! Easier than waiting for seeds, certainly.
I wanted to mention that we've done quite a bit of work to make some decent soil over the caliche present out here. Caliche retains salt and makes drainage very difficult. Luckily, we found plenty of opportunity to amend the soil. For one, we threw in shit tons (pardon the pun) of composted manure. We also put down cardboard boxes from when we moved in as a weed barrier and moisture retainer and they've broken down since from regular watering. We found an alley with rotting logs that we threw in for hugelkultur. We also found tons of chipped mulch sitting in an empty lot that we filled the car with, much like the manure; it had glass shards and cigarette butts that we picked out. I'm fine with that as it cost us nothing but time and a bit of gas. Lastly, we picked up ripped bags of various soils from Home Depot for a huge discount. It makes up the majority of our front bed.

Overall, we've spent little on our gardening, and growing from seeds is simply the more economical choice. We plan on letting successful plants go to seed so we can collect and store them. This is yet another reason why buying hybrid seedlings is unsustainable for the gardener. Plenty of decent seed catalogs exist (even eBay is a good choice), just googling some reviews is sufficient. We found that craigslist is a great source for free materials like wood and cinder for edging, manure, and even the occasional chicken wire or bamboo stakes for trellising. Driving through your alleys reveals much more than trash; it gives you an opportunity to make your garden flourish!

Do you have questions, suggestions, whine or wine to offer? We'd love to hear from you!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Making Yogurt

Making yogurt is stupid easy and cheap. You need milk and yogurt. Costco sells two gallons of full fat milk for about $5. I picked up a container of organic yogurt for less than a buck. You only need to buy the yogurt once, so opt for a variety with as many active cultures as possible. I found one with eight. 

The process: 

1. Heat up your milk to 160° F, or just until it's about to boil. I use a meat thermometer to measure the temperature.

2. Once the milk is hot enough, turn off the stove and let the milk cool to about 110°. It'll take a while.  

3. Add a tablespoon or so of your yogurt and mix it in.

4. Now you have to maintain this temperature, which is kind of tough. We have a gas oven with a pilot light, so it's always warm. Putting the lid on the pot and closing the oven door is enough for me. You might need to wrap the pot in a blanket for added insulation.

5. Keep your soon-to-be yogurt at 110° for 6-8 hours. The longer you let it sit, the more sour it will become.

6. And boom, you've got gallons of yogurt. Save some of your yogurt to use as a culture in the next batch. 

If you mess up and don't end up with yogurt, just squeeze a lemon into your milk mixture and stir until curds form. Drain off the liquid (or save it, I like whey) and you're left with farmer's cheese, essentially Indian paneer.

To make Greek yogurt, drain your yogurt through cheese cloth. I like to keep my yogurt relatively thin so it's drinkable. My favorite is to mix it with salt and ground cumin for a savory lassi.

Restoring Cast Iron

Cast iron lasts lifetimes and is readily available for next to nothing at thrift stores, or you can find it new for less than you'd spend on a non-stick that'd only last, if you're careful, for about a decade. We found an ugly, rusted, abused pan at a thrift store for a few bucks and decided to restore it. The process was a bit time-consuming and smoky, but we can now fry eggs and sear meat, which was impossible in the cast iron enamel cookware I'd brought with me. 

How to do it:

1. Scrub the cast iron with steel wool

2. Coat it with fat (we used leftover bacon fat)

3. Stick it in the oven on broil and let it heat up until it's smoking (open your windows and be prepared for everything to smell like bacon grease for a week)

4. Take out the pan and let it cool

 5. Repeat steps 2-4 until the cast iron has a silky black patina and is smooth, i.e., not sticky, to the touch

To clean, you just rinse and scrub without soap. Stick the pan on a hot stove to evaporate any excess liquid. Periodically rub it down with oil.

Free Furniture!

We relocated to Albuquerque with a carload each and a firm commitment to not plowing through our savings. We hauled kitchen equipment, clothes, spices, seeds, and critters. Everything else was scrounged or bargain hunted. Check out some of our finds:
Cat couch. We were driving through the neighborhood just as the previous owner was placing it on the curb. He also gave us a working printer, which we're using to print shipping labels for Ebay.

We found this fan on the curb while walking Margaux two nights ago. There's nothing wrong with it.

The TV's an alley find for Vadim's video game console. The flower's are Mother's Day leftovers.

Driving home from a dinner party, we spotted this hutch. With a coat of $1 oops paint from Lowe's, it's like new and serves as a perfect coffee station. We found the coffee maker for $5 from Goodwill. It retails new for $80.

The bed was a desperate situation for a bit. Initially, we were camping out on Vadim's crash pad. Soon after, we dumpster dived a very questionable mattress from the 70s, which took a half gallon of vinegar and a lot of elbow grease to make somewhat sanitary. A week later, we found a futon in someone's front yard. They didn't want it and we were more than happy to haul it away. The sketchy mattress serves as additional support beneath the futon's padding. Vadim, by the way, is compulsively researching knives in the background. Jordan chose an Opinel :)