Monday, September 1, 2014

Sun-Brewed Coffee

Spotted in the garden: one gallon of the best coffee you'll ever taste.
Our path to sun-brewed coffee started about one month ago when our french press broke. I had recently finished reading a book called Plastic Free, where the author challenged readers to find ways to repair or make items rather than buy new ones.  Since we have a habit of breaking the glass beaker on our french presses, leaving the plastic handle and support base to the trash, it seemed wise to find a new way.

Kyle spent several days pondering how to make our cold brew coffee without a french press and finally came up with the following method.
  1. Grind the beans finely. We use a medium roast organic breakfast blend, but any kind of coffee should work.
  2. Add water. Stir. 
  3. Stir again about one hour later. Keep stirring until the grounds don't float to the top.
  4. Let sit for 24-48 hours. 
  5. Filter out the grounds. If you have a french press you can press the grounds an then pour them through a coffee filter. Since we don't have a french press anymore, Kyle pours them through a strainer lined with a pillow case or a tea towel.
We make our coffee in one gallon batches and then store it int the fridge. We drink more than a quart per day, so the brew is constantly working.

The sun-brewing step is completely optional, but it gives the coffee an even smoother, almost caramel flavor.

Kyle has also been adding one teaspoon of baking soda to the mix to make the water a bit more alkaline. It took me a few cups to mentally get past the baking soda idea, but once I forgot about it I was free to enjoy the best coffee I've ever had.

Seriously, best coffee ever.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Pears, Pears, Pears

There is a small Buddhist temple in our neighborhood. It was once a home and boasts a nice pear tree in the front yard. It's a throwback to a bygone era when every family had fruit-bearing tree in their yard. The monks don't harvest the pears, they simply rake them into a pile and let them rot.

Kyle recently happened to be driving past when one of the monks was outside. (This is the point in the story where I envision the car coming to a screeching halt.) When Kyle asked about the tree the monk told him he could pick "unlimited" pears.

So, while I was at work Kyle loaded up the girls and a bucket in the wagon and carried a step ladder over to the temple. The yield was about about five gallons of pears.
The girls snacked on a few of them, but they weren't great for eating whole. Kyle chopped up the lot of them and dumped them in the stock pot.
First he softened them in the pot for about twenty minutes before running them through the Kitchenaid fruit and vegetable strainer. Then it was back into the pot along with three cinnamon sticks. After about three or four hours of cooking on medium heat and we had pear sauce!
At the end of the day we had 9 quarts, one pint of super tasty pear sauce.
Kyle says we'll need a bit more pear sauce to compare to the volume of apple sauce the girls gobbled up last year, but for nearly zero dollars spent, I'd say we're off to a great start!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Peaches, Peaches, Peaches

This family has an insatiable appetite for fruit. Or, to be more accurate, I have an insatiable appetite I've passed on to the girls.

Kyle has a normal appetite for fruit, but he's a good sport about keeping up with the rest of us. I can easily take down a whole melon by myself and the girls can strip the blueberry bushes clean before Kyle has time to blink.

Between the three of us we could probably eat an entire tree worth of peaches in a few days and we might have one or two to share with Kyle. There is no question, peaches are the favorite, but three peach-crazy girls in the house means Kyle has to find a deal.
In the past Kyle has gotten you-pick peaches at a local farm, but they raised their prices this year from $1 per pound to $1.25 per pound. Kyle does not appreciate the novelty factor of you-pick. In Kyle's world the only reason to want to pick your own fruit is to save money. He  met someone recently who told him about you-pick peaches for $1.75 per pound and he nearly had a heart attack -- that's the price you pay in the store!

Thankfully the Farmers' Market came to the rescue. He found a stall at the market offering cling stone peaches (Red Havens) for about 50 cents per pound and freestone peaches for 80 cents per pound (not sure of the variety).

And away we go!
Three boxes of peaches cost us $48 and resulted in 10.5 pints of peach jam and 17 quarts of sliced peaches, plus nearly five pounds set aside for a peach-rye beer later this year. I can't wait to break in to this part of our winter food stash!
Well, look at that! I made it to the end of this post without a single reference to a certain song by the Presidents of the United States of America ...

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Front Yard to Table

So, I'm one of those people who takes pictures of their dinner and blogs about it.

Here it is.
This dinner is worth mentioning, photographing and blogging about because nearly the entire meal was grown in our front yard.

Garden salad, summer squash and fresh tomatoes with vegan sausage, plus sauteed green beans.

Almost every thing on my plate was picked fresh just hours (or less!) before I ate it. I have to say, that's a pretty incredible sensation. The vegan sausage did not come from the garden, and neither did the oil or some of the seasonings.

The salad features a nearly black tomato, which I'll share more about another day. I'll also see if Kyle is willing to share his vegan sausage secrets and other recipes.

This was an absolutely incredible dinner and totally justifies the gratuitous plate photographing/blogging.

Bon appetite!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Free Apple Rings

I mentioned in our crab apple jelly post that we used a few Gravenstein apples to make cider for the jelly. Those apples came to us for free courtesy of the vacant lot next door.

Kyle cleared his annual apple picking with the owners of the lot a few years ago and every year when the apples ripen he heads over and picks a haul. This year truly was a haul at 7.5 gallons, or according to Kyle, just shy of a bushel.
Gravensteins are a summer apple deemed good for cooking due to their tartness. They're quite old having been discovered in 1669 in Denmark. The tree next door is huge! They seem to bear fruit more heavily every other year and this year is a big year.
Kye had the dehydrator working over time for a few days. In hot weather he sets it out on the porch as not to heat up the house any further. Each batch took three to six hours to dehydrate.
The girls love dehydrated apple ring! We've got at least two pounds of dried apple rings stashed in the fridge. Eventually we'll move that to our second fridge or freezer (in the shop) for the winter, but right now the apple rings are novel and new and a fantastic easy snack option.

Kyle hasn't yet picked the tree clean, so there may be another story to tell about Gravenstein apple sauce. Stay tuned for that!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Crab Apple Jelly

Our property came with a crab apple tree on the front corner. We have a regular debate about whether it has any value. I frequently contend it should be chopped down to make way for something more useful. Kyle argues that it is useful as a pollinator for our other apple tree. This year it proved its worth as a producer of food.
Kyle harvested 3.5 pounds of these little guys. Each one was comparable to the tip of my thumb in size.
Kyle tossed the whole patch in a pot of apple cider. The cider was made from six whole Gravenstein apples. The concoction cooked for about 30 minutes covered on low heat. Then he ran the liquid and pulp through a jelly bag. We didn't have a commercially made jelly bag so he used a  bucket and a pillow case. It worked like a charm!
The resulting liquid was placed back on the stove on high heat. Once it hit a rolling boil, Kyle added sugar. Lots of sugar. He continued boiling it until it reached 225 degrees and it was thick to his liking on a cold spoon. Then it went into sterile mason jar and was processed in a water bath for five minutes. Ta da!
We now have three pints of simple crab apple jelly with no pectin needed. Normally we try to maintain a pretty low sugar diet, but we make an exception for jams and jellies. With two toddlers running about we find peanut butter and jelly to be on the menu fairly often.

Suffice to say, I'll have to officially admit defeat in the great crab apple tree debate. .. but, I'm too busy stuffing my face with toast with crab apple jelly at the moment ...

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Our Property

I was recently asked when we knew we wanted to center our lives around food. I struggled to find an answer because there was no singular moment of decision making, but rather a whole series of ideas and goals that culminated recently when we gained the ability to describe our lifestyle as "food-centered."

One such idea came just after we moved to the suburbs. We were renting then and I was reading Eat, Drink, and Weigh Less by Walter Willett.* In the book he describes using every square inch of his Boston property to grow food.

We were lucky to have the full support of our land lord in building out a garden at our rental and when it came time to buy a house, we prioritized garden space.

Once we owned our own dirt it took Kyle a few months to convince me the right spot for our garden was our front yard. With full sun and a good amount of space I will now admit it really is the best space. Here's a quick sketch of our homestead.
Everything green is a food-bearing plant. I forgot to include our wild plum tree, which is located on the southeast corner of the house. I also accidentally left out the bramble between the house and the driveway where we sometimes have untamed blackberries.
One of our biggest crops is usually tomatoes, which Kyle preserves as sauce, juice and salsa. He also usually puts up several pounds of dehydrated tomatoes. I'll share more on this as the season progresses. The noteworthy thing about our tomato crop is that we do not buy commercial tomatoes. Ever.
Another big crop that grows an impressive portion of the year is chard. We purchased some chard starts in 2010 and I think we're still benefiting from the progeny of those same starts.
We'll write more about all our crops, but I wanted to share the basics. Our lot is 7,782 square feet which is just shy of .18 acres. It's not one of those suburban lots with a monstrous house built to the set back lines, but it's also not huge.

Our house is on the small side at 1,400 square feet and two stories tall, which leaves us plenty of room for gardening and outdoor living.

We're lucky our house happens to be located in the Willamette Valley. This is the same dirt settlers risked life and limb to stake claim on in the 1800s. It's pretty worth it. We truly can throw seeds out the back door and find plants growing weeks later.

So that's our property and some basics about our garden. We'll share more details about each of our garden crops in future posts. Until then, we hope you can find some inspiration in our efforts to start growing your own food -- or grow more of it!

*If you haven't read this book yet, you must. Go immediately to your local library and check it out. You can learn more about Dr. Willett by clicking the links above, but I'll mention that our diet is pretty much based firmly on his wisdom.