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Archive for the ‘Winemaking’ Category

Hi, misfits!  Today I want to introduce you to an overlooked and underappreciated character on this blog.  Everyone?  Take a good look at those photos up there, and say hi to Crap Table.

Hi, Crap Table!

Crap table is old and rickety and faux-ish wooden and scratched-up and borrowed, but it’s quite the trooper and it does the job.  In fact, the half-Jew in your BMG might even go so far as to call it a Real Mensch.

Real Crap Mensch Table.

Well, now that you all know Real Crap Mensch Table, I’d like to get to the real reason I called you all here today…

Real Crap Mensch Table has a serious wood glue problem, and this is an intervention.

No, wait, that wasn’t right…why were we here again?

Oh, right, we’re moonshining again!  Twist your arms, why don’t I?

You just know you’ve got some melon on its last legs sitting in your fridge taking up valuable space.  And that unstoppable Robocop garden mint (unsurprisingly, not the first time I’ve compared a plant to Robocop) needs its ranks thinned out SOMEHOW since apparently the cold weather is doing NOTHING to dampen its spirits (GOD COLD WEATHER WHY YOU SO LAZY YOU NO HELP ME NONE).

So why not do what we always do in times like these, Pinky?

What is it we always do in times like these, you ask?

Why, we band together and we moonshine!  We moonshine for all we’re worth.  We moonshine to prove to the bad guys–NAY–to ourselves, that we will not be defeated.  Because united we stand, divided we fall, but when we come together to moonshine, we stand up and then fall and then repeat the process again and again!

Kinda makes me tear up just thinkin’ about it.

**I’m linking to a reliable source for any optional special equipment or ingredients, and am telling you when there’s a  free alternative. Before settling, though, consider that most of this stuff is surprisingly dirt-cheap, SIGNIFICANTLY easier, and will last you.  Why not invest in your future as a slutty moonshiner?**

Homemade Watermelon Mint Wine
Makes 1 Gallon

Go Get:
a buncha water
3 lbs. honey or 6 cups sugar
4 lbs. watermelon cubes, seeded (yes, I am ruining your whore-tastic manicure)
1 cup packed mint leaves
juice of 3 freshly-squeezed lemons (don’t use the preserved stuff in the bottle)
1/2 cup strong black tea
1 packet wine yeast
OPTIONAL: 1 tsp. yeast nutrient
OPTIONAL: 1/2 teaspoon pectic enzyme (gobbles up the suspended pectin to prevent the formation of snotty-looking ropes and haze in your wine)

Special Stuff you’ll want to have on hand:
*A primary fermenter: 1 gallon glass jug, crock, or food grade bucket–recycled wine jugs are, obviously, perfect for this
*An auto-siphon with tubing for transferring the wine from the fermenter to the bottles without kicking up sediment; you can also just use about 4 feet of clear, plastic tubing if you’re willing to siphon manually.  If you REALLY don’t care about wine clarity or the potential for off flavors, you can use a kitchen ladle to separate wine from sediment, but you’ll need a wide-mouthed fermenter, like a bucket or crock.
*Bottles for the finished wine: 5 750-ml wine bottles (recycled is fine), or a 1 gallon wine jug, or swing-top beer growlers; if you’re not using wine bottles fitted for a screw top, make sure you have the corks for sealing them.  Sanitized, plastic 2-liter soda bottles aren’t ideal, but they’ll also work as long as you cover them to keep out light–you’ll need about 2 2-liter bottles
*A fine mesh sieve for straining the pureed fruit
*OPTIONAL: A hydrometer (not necessary, but it’ll help you figure out how alcoholic your wine is and how far along the fermentation is)
*OPTIONAL: Airlock (this keeps air from getting to your wine while still letting CO2 from the fermentation escape–you can also use plastic wrap and a rubber band to seal, though results are not as secure
*OPTIONAL: Rubber bung (heh heh…bung) to seal the fermentation jug (if you’re using one) and have a place to stick the airlock-if you’re using a fermentation bucket, the airlock can go into a pre-drilled hole in the lid. If you’re not using an airlock, do that plastic wrap/rubber band thing.

*OPTIONAL: Candy or meat thermometer (highly recommended)

Go Do:


Clean, rinse, and sanitize all tools, spoons, etc.–basically anything that is going to be touching the wine and isn’t getting boiled needs to be cleaned, rinsed, and sanitized.  See my post on doing that for the products and processes you’ll want to use.

Puree watermelon and mint in batches in a food processor.  The resulting mixture will be thin and soupy (about 9 1/2 cups).  Put it in a large pot with 2 cups water and all the honey or sugar.

Heat until very hot, but not boiling (185 degrees), and hold it at that temp for half an hour, stirring occasionally.  Meanwhile, boil a second pot of water and let it cool down to room temperature (70 degrees F).

Pour the hot fruit mixture through the fine mesh sieve into a sanitized bowl or pot.

Toss the pulp into the compost heap, or find a fun use for it and share your idea with the class.  Now stir in the lemon juice, tea, yeast nutrient, and pectic enzyme, if using.

Cool the mixture to room temperature (you can set the mix over an ice water bath, as shown, to speed the cooling process), and pour into the fermenter.

If the wine doesn’t fill the 1 gallon fermenter to within a few inches of the top, add water from the spare water pot (the one you boiled and cooled) and stir.  Take a reading with your hydrometer if you’re using one–write the number down for later (mine was 1.113).

Now take a half cup of the spare pot water and sprinkle on the yeast packet.  Let it sit for ten minutes to allow the yeast to reacclimate.  Then throw the yeast mixture on top of the wine mixture.  No need to stir, the yeast does a good job of that.

Now put in the rubber bung (heh heh) and airlock (or put on the lid and airlock, or use some plastic wrap secured with a rubber band).  Make sure you half fill the airlock with water to make it effective.  You may want to set the fermenter in a larger bucket in case there’s spillover during fermentation.  Put the whole deal in a dark, room-temp location.

Now we wait.  We let the yeast do their thing, periodically checking to make sure there’s still water in the airlock.  Over the next week or two, you’ll hear lots of bubbling and gurgling going on and will see bubbles coming out the airlock.  It’s a beautiful thing.  Then things slow down and yeast die and drop to the bottom of the fermenter–ah, sediment, can’t live with you, can’t live withou–actually, I just can’t live with you.

Anyhow.  If you were an advanced winemaker, you’d transfer the wine to secondary and tertiary fermenters, but it’s not strictly necessary, and I’d like to keep things simple for you beginners.  Leave the wine in that fermenter for about 2 months–the wine should have stopped fermenting and will hopefully have cleared itself (if you didn’t use pectic enzyme, or let the mixture boil, it may never clear completely).

At this point, a hydrometer really comes in handy to know how much sugar, if any, is left in the wine.  If the yeast have eaten all the sugar, you can safely bottle your wine.  Use this handy online calculator to figure out the final alcohol percentage of your finished wine.  You can test-sample, but fair warning, IT WILL BE HARSH AND PUNISHING, MISFITS.  Worry not, it shall improve immeasurably with time.  Just.  Like.  Us.

Now use your sterilized auto-siphon to transfer the wine from the fermenter (on a table or counter) to your sanitized wine bottles (on the floor), being sure to leave the sediment in the bottom of the fermenter.  If you’re using plastic tubing, set one end in the primary fermenter, the other end in your mouth–suck until the wine siphons up into the tube and quickly stick it into the secondary fermenter to catch the wine in time.  Then send me a video of you sucking on the tube.  If you’re ladling, well, ladle away!  You’ll have to leave enough space at the top of the wine bottles for sealing, about 2 inches.

Now seal using a corker if you’re fancy or a rubber mallet and some bravery if you’re not, or just apply the swing tops or screw-tops.  Put the containers back into a cool, dark location, stored sideways if you used corks, and let your wine age for a minimum of six months–a year is even better.

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It’s like the friggin’ Basil-pocalypse around here, what with my Ungodly Popular Caprese Pasta Salad and pesto buttons.  But in case you haven’t had enough…

In case you love your basil so much you wanna drink it…

In case you love your basil SO much that you want it to make you drunk…

Strawberry Basil wine, bitches!

I sure hope you planted some late-season berries, and if not, I hope you’ve got some stowed in the freezer.  I plan on cleaning it out and getting you trashed.

You’re welcome!

Crank the stereo to 11 and join me on my journey to immortalize one of summer’s most fantastic flavor combinations in the most holy form known to mankind…

BOOZE.

**I’m linking to a reliable source for any optional special equipment or ingredients, and am telling you when there’s a  free alternative. Before settling, though, consider that most of this stuff is surprisingly dirt-cheap, SIGNIFICANTLY easier, and will last you.  Why not invest in your future as a slutty moonshiner?**

Homemade Strawberry Basil Wine
Makes 1 gallon

Go Get:
*a buncha water
*3 lbs. honey or 6 cups sugar
*4 lbs. strawberries, preferably organic or unsprayed (frozen works just fine, thaw ’em first)
*1 cup packed basil leaves
*juice of 1 lemon (don’t use the preserved stuff in the bottle)
*1/2 cup strong black tea
*1 packet wine yeast
*OPTIONAL: 1 tsp. yeast nutrient (makes stronger yeast and more problem-free fermentation)
*OPTIONAL: 1/2 teaspoon pectic enzyme  (gobbles up suspended pectin to prevent the formation of snotty-looking ropes and haze in your wine)

Special Stuff you’ll want to have on hand:
*A primary fermenter: 1 gallon glass jug, crock, or food grade bucket–recycled wine jugs are, obviously, perfect for this
*An auto-siphon with tubing for transferring the wine from the fermenter to the bottles without kicking up sediment; you can also just use about 4 feet of clear, plastic tubing if you’re willing to siphon manually.  If you REALLY don’t care about wine clarity or the potential for off flavors, you can use a kitchen ladle to separate wine from sediment, but you’ll need a wide-mouthed fermenter, like a bucket or crock.
*Bottles for the finished wine: 5 750-ml wine bottles (recycled is fine), or a 1 gallon wine jug, or swing-top beer growlers; if you’re not using wine bottles fitted for a screw top, make sure you have the corks for sealing them.  Sanitized, plastic 2-liter soda bottles aren’t ideal, but they’ll also work as long as you cover them to keep out light–you’ll need about 2 2-liter bottles
*A fine mesh sieve for straining the pureed fruit
*OPTIONAL: A hydrometer (not necessary, but it’ll help you figure out how alcoholic your wine is and how advanced the fermentation is)
*OPTIONAL: Airlock (this keeps air from getting to your wine while still letting CO2 from the fermentation escape–you can also use plastic wrap and a rubber band to seal, though results are not as secure
*OPTIONAL: Rubber bung (heh heh…bung) to seal the fermentation jug (if you’re using one) and have a place to stick the airlock-if you’re using a fermentation bucket, the airlock can go into a pre-drilled hole in the lid. If you’re not using an airlock, do that plastic wrap/rubber band thing.
*OPTIONAL: Candy or meat thermometer (highly recommended)

Go Do:
Clean, rinse, and sanitize all tools, spoons, etc.–basically anything that is going to be touching the wine and isn’t getting boiled needs to be cleaned, rinsed, and sanitized.  See my post on doing that for the products and processes you’ll want to use.

Puree the berries and the basil leaves in a food processor until it’s smoothie consistency (8 cups).

Put it in a large pot with 8 cups of water and all the honey or sugar.

Heat until very hot, but not boiling (185 degrees), and hold it at that temp for half an hour, stirring occasionally.  Meanwhile, boil a second pot of water and let it cool down to room temperature (70 degrees F).

Pour the hot fruit mixture through the fine mesh sieve into a sanitized bowl or pot.

Toss the pulp into the compost heap, or find a fun use for it and share your idea with the class.

Now stir in the lemon juice, tea, yeast nutrient, and pectic enzyme, if using.

Cool the mixture to room temperature and pour into the fermenter.

If the wine doesn’t fill the 1 gallon fermenter to within a few inches of the top, add water from the spare water pot (the one you boiled and cooled) and stir.  Take a reading with your hydrometer if you’re using one–write the number down for later (mine was 1.090, a little low for my liking, but then I accidentally dumped some of my wine stuff down the sink, and will pay the price in alcohol percentage points…crap!).

Now take a half cup of the spare pot water and sprinkle on the yeast packet.  Let it sit for ten minutes to allow the yeast to reacclimate.  Then throw the yeast mixture on top of the wine mixture.  No need to stir, the yeast does a good job of that.

Now put in the rubber bung (heh heh) and airlock (or put on the lid and airlock, or use some plastic wrap secured with a rubber band).  Make sure you half fill the airlock with water to make it effective.  You may want to set the fermenter in a larger bucket in case there’s spillover during fermentation.  Put the whole deal in a dark, room-temp location.

Now we wait.  We let the yeast do their thing, periodically checking to make sure there’s still water in the airlock.  Over the next week or two, you’ll hear lots of bubbling and gurgling going on and will see bubbles coming out the airlock.  It’s a beautiful thing.  Then things slow down and yeast die and drop to the bottom of the fermenter–ah, sediment, can’t live with you, can’t live withou–actually, I just can’t live with you.

Anyhow.  If you were an advanced winemaker, you’d transfer the wine to secondary and tertiary fermenters, but it’s not strictly necessary, and I’d like to keep things simple for you beginners.  Leave the wine in that fermenter for about 2 months–the wine should have stopped fermenting and will hopefully have cleared itself (if you didn’t use pectic enzyme, it may never clear completely).

At this point, a hydrometer really comes in handy to know how much sugar, if any, is left in the wine.  If the yeast have eaten all the sugar, you can safely bottle your wine.  Use this handy online calculator to figure out the final alcohol percentage of your finished wine.  You can test-sample, but fair warning, IT WILL BE HARSH AND PUNISHING, MISFITS.  Worry not, it shall improve immeasurably with time.  Just.  Like.  Us.

Now use your sterilized auto-siphon to transfer the wine from the fermenter (on a table or counter) to your sanitized wine bottles (on the floor), being sure to leave the sediment in the bottom of the fermenter.  (Here’s how to use an auto-siphon, if you’re not sure.  If you’re using plastic tubing, set one end in the primary fermenter, the other end in your mouth–suck until the wine siphons up into the tube and quickly stick it into the secondary fermenter to catch the wine in time.  Then send me a video of you sucking on the tube.  If you’re ladling, well, ladle away!)  You’ll have to leave enough space at the top of bottles for sealing, about 2 inches.

Now seal using a corker if you’re fancy or a rubber mallet and some bravery if you’re not, or just apply the swing tops or screw-tops.  Put the containers back into a cool, dark location, stored sideways if you used corks, and let your wine age for a minimum of six months–a year is even better.

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By Mila Zinkova. Edited by Alvesgaspar

Heya, moonshining misfits!

It’s time to hike up your fishnets and…

clean.

I know.  That doesn’t sound badass at all.  But if you want to make your own beer, wine, and spirits, you need to know how to do this stuff.  This post will be my resource for you

Whenever you’re making alcohol and dealing with the long-term process of fermentation, you’ll need to first cleanse, then rinse, then sanitize any equipment that isn’t getting boiled.  The results if you slack off could be grody, unsafe, and unpredictable.

Sometimes grody, unsafe, and unpredictable conditions make for good times!  Not in moonshining, though.

The Boy brews beer professionally, and he turned me onto a simple system that I love and use every time I make beer or wine.

Get three 5-gallon buckets from the hardware store.  Label the first “Cleansing,” the second “Rinsing,” and the third, “Sanitizing.”  Now let’s talk about the mixtures that go into each–you have “best” options, and you have “cheap-ass” options:

Cleansing
The best option: PBW or B-Brite diluted per the manufacturer’s instructions with HOT water.
The cheap-ass option: A bit of dish soap dissolved in HOT water, though it may leave a residue that can affect the finished product.

Rinsing
Fresh, HOT water.

Sanitizing
The best option: BTF Iodophor diluted per the manufacturer’s instructions with COLD water.
The cheap-ass option:  A mixture of unscented bleach and water –1 ounce bleach per 5 gallons of water.  After doing this, you should rinse with water again and again AND OH HOLY HELL AGAIN to eliminate any remaining chlorine smell.  For obvious reasons, I’m not a fan of the bleach method, but it works.

If filling buckets in your sink seems a bit unwieldy, do like we’ve done and buy a new garden hose and sink adaptor that you can attach to your faucet.  This gives you the flexibility to work anywhere in your kitchen, and prevents you from having to do so much lifting and spilling.

The Process (you may need to do this in batches):

1) Fill the three buckets with their appropriate mixtures (see above).

2) Put items into the cleanser solution, being sure to hold any hollow items under the surface until they expel enough air to sink.  For hoses and tubing, slowly insert one end into the mixture, then gradually drop its length into the bucket, snaking around the sides-this prevents air bubble formation and ensures proper coverage.  All sides of all pieces, including the insides, need to be in contact with the cleanser for at least a minute, 2-3 minutes being preferable.

3) Move the freshly cleansed items into the rinse bucket in the same thorough fashion, agitating the items until the cleanser is off (items won’t have that slippery soap feel anymore).

4) Drop the items into the sanitizer, again taking care to coat everything and prevent air bubbles, and leave them there for at least 3 minutes.

Whoohoo!  Now you’re about as clean as you dirty, dirty misfits are gonna get.  Who knew sanitizing could be such a turn-on?

Ready to make some booze-o-hol?  Okay!

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Hey there, pumpkin muffins.

I’ve only met one of my grandparents, and none of my great grandparents.  But according to the tale I’ve been told, a great grandfather on my mother’s side was quite the Moonshine makin’ man during Prohibition.  Bathtub gin was on the menu, oh, pretty much every night.  Until that fateful day.

(Asshat Neighbors pound on door.  Great grandpa swears under his breath, gets up slowly–his knees just ain’t what they used to be–and hobbles over.  He opens the door and sees Asshat Neighbors.  Criminy, what do they want?)

Asshat Neighbors were all, “Give us some of that bathtub gin you make, or we’ll tell on you!”

And my great-grandpa was all, “No deal, Asshats!  Make your own.”

Well, maybe he didn’t say “Asshats.”  But who knows, he could have.  He is related to me.

And do you know what the Asshat Family did?  They told on him!  To the cops!  Now, where I come from, you don’t go tattling on neighbors, but I implore you to remember, dear readers, that these people were Asshats to the 10th degree.  Maybe even the 11th degree.  I’m not really sure what level of Asshattery happens at the various degrees.  I’ve also never been too clear over what the various sexual courtship “bases” are.  Which, actually, explains a lot.

Anyhow, the cops came and took my sweet little great grandpa to the slammer for making his sweet little bathtub gin and let him make one sweet little phone call to my sweet little great grandma, who had to show up to post his sweet little bail.

Wait…from what I’ve heard, there was nothing sweet, nor little, about the bail she posted.  Great grandma be pissed at great grandpa.  Great grandpa be pissed at the world.  Great grandpa sweared on the family Bible that he would have his revenge, mwahahahHAHAHAHA!

Okay, that didn’t happen.  But the bail part did, and the getting pissed part did.  And you know what else happened?  My sweet little great grandpa kept making his sweet little bathtub gin.  ‘Cause you know what?  Eff The Man!  Who is he to come between me and my gin!?

I mean, between great grandpa and HIS gin.

Well, thankfully, Prohibition eventually ended (where alcohol is concerned at least.  Did you know that weed was wiped out with alcohol when Prohibition began, and that it was never allowed back?) and when Jimmy Carter was President (remember my thank you to Jimmy Carter?) he legalized home brewing, making adventures like these (and The Boy’s career) possible!

Now, remember when I was talking about how I’m saving the pods from shelling peas in the freezer for a batch of peapod wine?  Well, I also loaded up on beets when my CSA began trying to clear them out.  Really, you don’t need too many–about 3 1/2 pounds will do just fine for a gallon of wine.  AND you get to eat the beets after you’re done with the boil.  AND it’s a great way to use up the beet boiling water that you’d otherwise have thrown out or tossed in with the compost!

People, this is free wine.  FREE WINE.

Mostly free wine.  I had everything home for this, but I was out of wine yeast.  So The Boy picked up some wine yeast for me.  For $0.36.  Then came home.  And went, Oh.  I brewed all day.  And now we’re going to brew some more.  Okay.  It’s fine.  It’s not like I wanted to sit.  Or anything.

Actually, The Boy isn’t passive-aggressive at all, nor would he ever turn down a brew project.  In fact, I ordered him to the couch and slipped the remote into his hand, but he jumped back up to bring out his sanitizing buckets and fancy tools (which you will not need).

If ever you have lied to yourself and assumed that wine making would be, OMG like sooo hard!, you can forget it.  This will take you an hour of active time to get started, tops (not at all like making beer, which, admittedly, can take kind of a while).  Even less time than an hour if you count the beet boiling time as part of dinner prep.

Which I did.  Because I like cheating the system.  Also, because I forced mass quantities of beets down our throats last night and I feel like I should get some extra credit out of that.

In case you’re curious, the finished wine is like a deep, dry, earthy red.  Or more like fuschia.  I likeses that.  I want to go to there.  Do you want to go to there with me?

Then shut the blinds and cast a suspicious sideways glance at your neighbors!  Gather round, children!  It’s beet wine we be makin’ tonight!  Bathtub optional!

No Asshats allowed.

Beet Wine
Makes 1 gallon

Go Get:
3 1/2 to 4 pounds of beets, peeled, with the tops and a sliver of the bottoms cut off (I used a mix, which will influence the color somewhat.)
5 3/4 cups sugar (I myself think it would be kinda awesome to use beet sugar for this part.  Just for parallelism.  Or something.  Whatever, I used evaporated cane juice.  I’m betting you could also tweak this and use honey.)
Juice of 2 large lemons, or 3 small ones
1 1/2 cups strong, cold black tea
1 packet wine yeast
1 teaspoon yeast nutrient (not strictly necessary, but recommended.  Hit a home brewing store–I like Brew & Grow in Chicago.)

Stuff You Should Have on Hand:
1 gallon glass jug
Another glass jug or food-grade bucket
An airlock
A siphon (or a ladle)
Wine bottles and corks

Go Do:
Hi!

Cleanse, rinse, and sanitize any equipment that’ll be touching wine but that isn’t getting boiled.

Okay, so now you put those rough and ready beets into a pot, cover ’em with, oh, 12 cups of water or so, and bring it to a boil.  Then lower the heat and simmer the beets until they’re tender enough to eat (for me, this took about 30 minutes).  Take out the beets and eat ’em or save for another use.

Stir in the sugar until it’s completely dissolved.  Now cover it and let it all cool to somewhere in the area of 70 degrees F.  When this happens, stir in the tea, yeast nutrient, and lemon juice.

Pour the liquid into your bucket or first jug (use a funnel if you need to), and fill with enough filtered water to make a gallon (but leave some room for 1/4 cup liquid).  At this point you can take a hydrometer reading to determine the original gravity of your mix.  Why?  Well, ’cause if you know it, you can take a final gravity reading after fermentation and determine the exact alcohol percentage of your finished wine.  Click here to figure out how to use one properly.  But admittedly, this is a totally unnecessary step.  We have a hydrometer that gets pretty regular use around here, so I took a reading.  If all goes according to plan, my finished wine will be between 12 and 13 percent alcohol.  Sweet!

Now mix the packet of yeast into about 1/4 cup lukwarm water…around 100 degrees F.  Let it sit for 5 minutes and re-acclimate to the liquid world.  There’s a science-y reason we do this, but I won’t bore you with that now.  Scrape down the sides of the yeast bowl and pour it into the beet stuff.

Mmm…beet stuff.

Even Bad Mama Genny makes messes. It's okay. Calm down.

Stick a sterilized airlock (filled with a little water) into the jug’s neck or a tight hole in the lid of your bucket.  The airlock allows CO2 to get out without allowing bacteria in.  And you need to let CO2 out.  Otherwise, I hope you like exploded glass.

‘Cause I know I heart exploded glass!

Put your jug in a dark place that’s between 70 and 75 degrees.  Let the whole thing sit and ferment for about a week, or until activity slows down.  What activity? you might be asking.  Well, about 12 hours after the yeast is pitched, you’ll notice signs of fermentation.  The jug may produce a gurgling or bubbling sound, or a clicking from the airlock.  You’ll see lots of air bubbles moving around, perhaps some foaming up top, and lots of gas bubbles rising up out of the airlock.  Once the little yeasties have eaten lots of nommable sugars, though, they’ll get tired.  Their environment is full of alcoholic waste, and there’s no more food.  Man, this really sucks!  Fermentation slows.  Some of the yeast will drop to the bottom of the jug and die.

<Sad trombone sound>

So after fermentation has slowed to a stop, use a sterilized siphon or ladle to move the liquid from the first container into another sterilized jug.  Be careful to leave the yeast sediment and general STUFF on the bottom of the first container.  You’re going for a clear wine, and muddy stuff does not aid this process.  Stick that airlock back on top (again, with a little water inside), and put it back in its dark, happy place.  You’ll want to leave it until the wine clears itself.  If you’re not sure, there should be no signs of fermentation, and no air bubbles in the air lock.  This usually takes about 8 weeks.

Dios mio, you mean I have to wait to drink this wine?!

Yes, yes, I do mean that.  And you’ll have to wait longer:  After that 8 week thingy happens, use that sterilized siphon (or ladle and funnel) to transfer the wine into sterilized wine bottles.  Leave a little less than an inch of space at the top.  You can take another hydrometer reading now–click here to figure out how to use one properly.  Cork or seal the bottles and move them into a cool, dark place to age for ::drumroll::…

4 to 6 months!  I know, I know, waiting to get drunk is NO FUN, DUDES.  No fun at all.  So I recommend having other alcohol on hand to meet your party animal needs.  Don’t try to drink the beet wine before this time has elapsed, though, and leaving a little more time will generally make it even better.  Wine that’s way too young?  Not as tasty, my friends.  Not. As. Tasty.

So whaddya think?  Sure, it’s a wait, and sure you can buy wine, but this is fun!  It gives you bragging rights, and it will make people at BYOB places think you’re a total badass.  Not to mention it’s waste-preventing and almost free!  How can you turn down free wine?

I’ll tell you, my sweet little cucumbers–you can’t.  You just can’t.

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Hello, Greenie Beanies,

I recently got an email from another satisfied customer.  That is, someone who read and liked my regular column on Urban Homesteading, which runs in every issue of MaryJanesFarm Magazine.  Her name is Linda, and she wanted to pick my brain about urban homesteading.

Linda has been living in a rural home in California, and 2 years ago she moved into a city apartment with her adult daughter.  Linda is not used to cramped city apartments.  Linda does not like to feel cramped.

Oh, we can feel that pain, can’t we, sugar dumplings?

In any case, she’s having a hard time adjusting, and she’s finally looking for some ways to bring out her inner farmgirl.  But how to do it in the city?

Oh, sugar pies, YOU JUST KNOW she came to the right place!

Since I get questions like Linda’s fairly often via email or text message or Facebook nudge or secret message (seriously, people, if you have a question, ain’t no shame in postin’ it for all the guacamole-lovin’ world to see!  We won’t tease you!  And I kick jerks off my comments board, which makes “The Alchemist” the fun-lovin’, free spirited, totally tolerant, non-judgmental, warm and fuzzy, rolicking good time encouragin’, dictatorial palace of blogs.  Or something like that.).  Okay, I forgot what I was saying.

Oh, right.  Since I get questions like Linda’s fairy often, I’m going to print a piece of my response to her here.  Benefit from it, add to it, improvise, my sweet pets!

…It sounds like you’ve had to undergo quite the adjustment, you poor dear!  I was born and raised in Chicago, but have lived elsewhere–always in major cities, including Honolulu and New York.  So the crunch for space and land has always been an issue for me, and boy, do I sympathize.  I think one huge perk about city-living and small spaces is that they make you creative.  It is, of course, far easier to homestead on forty acres than it is in a 600 square foot apartment.  So you get plucky.  You get creative.  You become less wasteful and more ingenious.  You will, too!  Embrace it, and give it time, Linda.  But maybe I can help you to hurry things along….

Most of what I grow is in containers.  People have no. Idea. How. Easy. This. Is.  Really, I’m astounded at all the naysayers who will tell you vegetables can’t be grown in pots.  [Readers: remember when I showed you how easy it is?] Listen, you can grow colonnade apple trees in pots!  Almost any plant, given the proper space, soil, water, and nutrition, can be container-friendly.  A great beginner’s book I’d recommend is McGee & Stuckey’s The Bountiful Container. I’m not sure what kind of balcony space you have, but I say, load it up, girl!  A big part of urban homesteading is seeing what you can get away with.  The answer, in my experience:

a whole lot.

Think lettuce in window boxes that hang over your balcony railings.  Patio tomatoes in pots.  Strawberries in hanging baskets.  Peppers and eggplants are extremely container-friendly–mine are very productive in a mere 8-inch pot.  Zucchini are notorious for a reason–they are practically reproductive machines.  Though I’m a big fan of heirlooms, you might try the Raven Zucchini hybrid–it’s container-friendly and produces loads of fruit very quickly.  Tea gardens are a great offshoot of the herb gardening thing, and mint and chamomile do very well in confined spaces.  Make use of vertical space, too, with plants that climb.  Just be sure that your landlord is okay with all this, and that you’re following the necessary safety precautions for balcony weight limits and such.

The great thing is, I think city neighbors, while they may not know much about what you’re trying to do, are usually pretty receptive and curious.  You may have been no big deal to your far-off rural neighbors, but you’ll probably be a sensation when you cut pumpkins from a vine twirling around your fire escape.  Try to make friends with your new neighbors, if you haven’t already, and let your garden be the icebreaker if need be.  Share your produce, try not to drip water onto your neighbors below (I said “try”…it won’t always be possible), and if you make friends with people who don’t really use their space, go ahead and ask if you can put a box or two on their railing.

Remember, mushrooms are a great edible crop that you can grow indoors in low light–why not try a mushroom kit?  Several issues ago, I wrote about the process in my “Urban Homesteading” column in MaryJanesFarm Mag.  In another piece titled “Bunnies in ‘da Hood,” I wrote about raising indoor angora rabbits for their knitting fiber (they shed it naturally).  My very first article for that column was about community gardens and yard shares.  If your ambitions outstrip your land, you might try to find for-rent gardening plots nearby.  You’re likely to meet new neighbors who share your farm fantasies.  Try to cultivate online relationships, too–I like to do a little seed swapping on the forum at www.gardenweb.com.

Homesteading for me goes beyond gardening.  I cook, I bake, I sew, I knit, I ferment, I pickle (I’ll be teaching pickling and fermenting workshops during MaryJanesFarm Day at this event in St. Paul in September–why not attend?!), I bake my own bread, brew beer and wine, make cheese, and am generally engaged in any nonsense I can lay hands upon.  Now The Boy and I are getting into roasting coffee.  We also subscribe to a local CSA or farm share box, which connects us to great local produce that we can’t or don’t grow ourselves (try www.localharvest.com to find one near you).  It helps to make us feel like part of a community.  We satisfy this urge by visiting our local farmers markets, too.  Perhaps you could start a weekly farmers market habit and hobnob with farmers and foodie neighbors?  These little things can help to put you in touch with a local, land-loving community that you didn’t even know existed.

…Lotsa hugs,
Gen

Well, whaddya think, my little custard tarts?  Did I just about cover it?  Did I give you any fresh inspiration?  Can you add anything to help Linda’s transition go a little more smoothly?

Duh, you totally can!  Do so in

3…

2…

1…

GO TIME!

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"Sommer," by Leopold Karl Walter Graf von Kalckreuth

Let’s call it what it is, shall we?  Foodlust.

Nah, I’m not about to get all porny on you (though I sometimes, maybe sorta, okay fine pretty often like to do that with you.  It’s just who I am these days.)

What I would like to do is show you how I shop and eat, in the spirit of the food voyeurism about which I’m so public and, let’s face it, totally unashamed.  I’d also like to show you how you, YES YOU, can use all the produce in your CSA or farmshare box without going crazy or throwing anything out.

Really.  We don’t like to throw food out.  You probably don’t, either.  If I can’t find a use for something, I like to pickle or ferment it to extend its life and nutritional value.  And when something does go bad (like when our refrigerator stopped working and spoiled so much food I cried and told The Boy I couldn’t go on), we try to compost it.  It’s part of being a sparkly earth hippie person.

For a sparkly earth hippie person, I sure do run through a lot of do-me-red lipstick.

In any case, I’m going to show you what comes in our deliveries and how we use it.  This is something I typically know about a week ahead of time, as our wonderful CSA tells us what’s coming in advance.  Then I sit down and plan a menu around it.  The whole process, from clicking open my CSA’s site to closing my recipe windows and shutting down the text document that holds my menu, takes me half an hour.  It helps that I keep all the recipes that I want to try in the immediate future in a queue and ready to go.

This level of organization is pretty much the key, sugar babies.  Get there and you will be a produce samurai/money-saving, organic food eating, weight-losing, new recipe-trying, local and seasonal-eating, only once-weekly shopping, pogo-sticking (wait.  Not sure how that got in there.  I can’t pogo stick…can you?  ‘Cause that could totally make this list, it’s just not a requirement or anything) ass-kicking force to be reckoned with.

So onto the show:

Some stuff we’re getting: Blueberries, Honeydew Melon and Navel Oranges, plus LOCAL Eggs, bunched Green Garlic and Asparagus, and from outside the region, Broccoli, Celery, Cherry Tomatoes and Red Beets.

Some stuff we’re harvesting: Red and Green Leaf Lettuce from the garden, and some slammin’ Bok Choy.  And when I say slammin’, I mean slammin’.  Step off, bok choy haters!

Some stuff I’m making:

Fruit: eaten for breakfast each morning, plopped into The Boy’s lunches (yes, he packs lunches…and they’re almost always leftovers from the night before)
Eggs: some hard-boiled for breakfasts and snacks

Lake Superior Whitefish with Roasted Green Garlic
Buttered, Sauteed Asparagus and Peas
Orange Segments and Blueberries
Whites, Light Greens, Dark Greens, Vivid Oranges, Deep Blues

Spicy Sesame Bok Choy and Celery Stir Fry with Poached Eggs (ferment remaining celery with the carrots sitting in the fridge)
Brown Jasmine Rice
Strawberries I’ll have on hand
Beige-y Browns, Light Greens, Whites, Orangey-Yellows, Bright Reds…

Homemade Italian Sausage Lasagna (locally made, nitrate-free sausage from happy pigs)
Red and Green Leaf Lettuce Salad with Blueberries and Orange Segments
Reds, Greens, Beige-y Browns, Vivid Oranges, and Purply-Blues…

Broccoli Cheddar Soup
Salad with Cooked Beets (save cooking water for making beet wine)
Homemade Crusty Bread
Oranges, Light and Dark Greens, Bright Reds, Beige-y Browns…

Use Cherry Tomatoes in a Caprese Pasta Salad I’m bringing to my book club’s potluck, then GET REALLY DRUNK WITH A LOT OF BOOK NERDS

Leftover night

Date night

This dessert for us and to share with people at The Boy’s workplace

You’ll notice that I build leftover nights, eating out, and socialization into the calendar. This keeps us from wasting anything or having to run to the store last minute.  You’ll also notice that after each night, I’ve listed the color families present. This makes sure everything looks interesting and, let’s face it, is the easiest way to know we’re getting balanced nutrition.  ‘Cause imbalanced nutrition is, like, not sexy.  Plus, what girl doesn’t wanna play with rainbows?

And, uh, yes, I do plan a homemade dessert every single week (and sometimes more than one), whydoyouaskareyoujudgingme?

Do we deviate from the menu?  OF COURSE.  Occasionally what we get in the box is a little different, or I harvest something unexpected.  Sometimes I just have no desire to eat what I’d planned on making.  In that case, fine–I’ll reconfigure some things.  But if I don’t feel like thinking it through, the plan is there for me rely on and makes it easy to know what to defrost, bake, pre-prep, etc.

So what are you making for dinner this week?  What do you think of the meals I’ve planned, and what would you do with these ingredients if it were you?

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