flwyd: (cthulhufruit citrus cephalopod)
Samhain seems like a good time to reflect on the last six months of biology hobbies. In April we moved into a house whose owner had invested a lot of time into gardening. We thus had free reign of a few raised garden beds and a modest harvest of some established plants. The mint patch had a great time, churning out stalk upon stalk of three varieties of mint. Aside from the stomach-comforting benefit of "Stroll in the back hard and nibble on the mint," we didn't take full advantage of this crop. Our first attempt at dried mint seemed a little off and the mint I added to a batch of beer was totally undetectable. We've got quite a bit drying now, we'll see how well that preserves.

The hawthorn trees produced a nice crop of berries that I've frozen with plans of a haw-mead. The pear tree produced a measly five or six pears, almost all on the branch leaning on the side of the house; perhaps it got enervated by the wacky late spring snows. I was looking forward to making something with the Oregon grapes in the front yard, but deer beat me to them. Four rhubarb plants were on overdrive, producing fodder for a couple pies, some stand-alone compote, and two gallons of chopped stalks for future use.

Of the crops we planted, tomatoes, chili peppers, and some tiny orange hot peppers did well. Our attempts at genus allium (onions, leeks, and maybe some shallots) did almost nothing. We got a few jalapeños, four small eggplants and two mystery gourdlike squashes, one of which the squirrels devoured. The tomatoes, peppers, and mint went into some excellent salsas. I'm mulling over plans for the chili peppers, maybe I'll use them for our office's annual chili contest.

Combining plants with microorganisms, I made two beers this year: a Belgian wit and a ginger juniper saison. The former involved a few mistakes, including turning down the heat when it boiled over and then forgetting to turn it back up. This led to a remarkably smooth beer without strong hop bitterness; several people who don't normally enjoy beer have expressed delight at it. The latter also came out quite well; despite my kitchen tendency to turn flavors up to eleven, the ginger isn't overpowering and the juniper is subtle. I used fresh juniper berries from the backyard tree and their flavor from the initial boil was basically undetectable. Just before bottling I added water boiled with juniper berries and mint leaves to just the right taste and aroma. The mint quickly disappeared, though.

The nice thing about homebrew and gardneing as hobbies is that non-human biological agents do most of the work. A weekend here and there of cleaning, cooking, and weeding lets the real work of converting sunlight to chlorophil and sugar to alcohol to entities which don't have to go to the office five days a week.

Active Vegitation

Sunday, May 31st, 2015 11:50 pm
flwyd: (red succulent)
Kelly and I are moved out of Outpost Cherryvale and have unpacked and organized a lot at Lucky Gin, so it looks much less like a box fort.

One of the exciting features of this house is a yard ringed with plants and a set of raised garden beds ready to grow our bidding. We hit up KGNU's annual [the frequency, not just the plant facet] plant sale this morning. We mostly got Allium, but also tomatoes, an eggplant, a jalapeño, and catnip. We turned soil and planted them, then wondered what to do with all the extra space.

Since that's not enough plant-based activity for the day, I took advantage of our gas stove, extensive counter space, and kitchen we don't have to share with roommates. I started my first batch of homebrew beer, having gone through the easier process of cider last fall. Brewing is roughly two parts cleaning and one part cooking. Since I tend to do both rather slowly, the process took on the order of eight hours. And I'm not quite done: I'm taking a break from scrubbing the malt off the bottom of the pot. It burned, I think, because I turned the heat down to avoid boiling over and forgot to turn it back up, so it spent over half an hour not at a rolling boil. Fortunately, the sage advice of my old friend Charlie Papazian comes in handy: Relax. Don't worry. Have a homebrew. I only followed the first 66% though, opting for cool water instead of homebrew to tide me over.

Now that I've made bread tea and mixed it with bread syrup, the five gallons in a bucket will quietly sit in the corner while the yeast turns it into bread soda. Which is a very different culinary output than soda bread.

We also harvested and prepared to dry a whole bunch of mint from the garden. I'm considering a mint ginger beer for my next homebrew sally.
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