December 21, 2009

"christmas dinner" cranberry porter

We started this beer around Thanksgiving. It's in bottles now and should be ready in time for Christmas! It's a cranberry porter roughly based on a recipe we found online. You may have already heard mention of this porter in Eric's spent grain bread and pancakes posts. I thought I would give it a formal introduction.

We came up with its name "Christmas Dinner" while boiling the wort. Here is the back story: do you remember in the Muppets/Sesame Street Christmas special when the Swedish Chef shows up to prepare Christmas dinner and mistakes Big Bird for the Christmas turkey? Swedish Chef tried to cook Big Bird! Luckily Big Bird won over the Swedish Chef with his charm and a gift of chocolate covered bird seed. They end up eating a vegetarian meal of shredded wheat and cranberry sauce.

So, yes, that's how our beer got its name. Who needs meat for Christmas dinner when you can have beer?

December 20, 2009

seeded wheat crackers

Eric made crackers. I don't know how. If you're curious, you'll have to ask him.

You: "Eric, how bout those crackers?"
Eric: "Okay, they were inspired by Chicago Green Roof Growers' homemade crackers. I just cut them with a pizza cutter halfway through baking."

December 19, 2009

laptop bag

I finally gave in and bought a sewing machine. I had been looking the past year at garage sales and on craigslist, but I couldn't find anything to my liking. Meanwhile, my list of clothes repairs and craft projects had been growing. So one cold and crafty afternoon I walked over to the fabric store where they were having holiday sales. I ended up walking home with a brand new sewing machine.

This laptop bag was at the top of my craft list. I had been transporting my laptop to cafes wrapped in a pillow case stuffed inside my backpack or purse. I mean, this method works fine, I just was getting a little tired of all of the extra pillow case fabric. Also, I was totally jealous of a friend's homemade courdoroy laptop bag... FYI, I love buttons. I have a small collection. I really like the one I picked out for this project.

December 18, 2009

miso mayo

We are big fans of Miso Mayo, a vegan mayonnaise alternative which, in my opinion, tastes a lot better than nayonaise or vegenaise or even real mayonnaise. It doesn't really taste like mayonnaise at all, but it is great for dipping steak fries and on sandwiches. And miso is like, really good for you, or something. But, it is a little pricey, so I wanted to try reverse-engineering the recipe so I could make it from scratch. It turned out to be really easy and tastes pretty true to the store-bought version.

8 T. canola oil
5 T. white/yellow miso
2 T. apple cider vinegar
1 t. onion powder
1 t. soy sauce

Mix all ingredients and it's done!

December 12, 2009

peanut butter rum balls

RUMBLE! RUMBLE! RUMBLE! What's that sound? It means I'm hungry for a RUMBALL!

1-1/2 cups vanilla wafer crumbs
1/4 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup good rum
1 cup ground walnuts
1/4 cup cocoa powder
powdered sugar

Combine all of the above ingredients except powdered sugar. Shape into small balls or whatever size you prefer. Roll in powdered sugar. Store in a tightly covered container.

December 9, 2009

homemade vanilla extract

When Eric was in San Francisco a couple of months ago, he stopped for ice cream at a shop that happened to be handing out free vanilla beans as a promotional thing. What do you do with vanilla beans??

Well, it's funny how things work... Around that same time I discovered that my coworker who had infused bacon in his vodka also makes homemade vanilla extract and it's surprisingly simple. Drop several vanilla beans into a bottle of rum or brandy or vodka (we did rum). Then let it infuse for several months. Et voila! You can even keep the bottle going. My coworker has been using the same bottle of vanilla extract for years by adding more vanilla beans and rum as necessary. I guess his bottle is pretty crammed with vanilla beans at this point. Side note, you should check out his blog: FlavorGeek.

December 6, 2009

bee documentary: sister bee

(photo from

I just watched "Sister Bee", a 30 minute documentary about bees and beekeepers. It was filmed in Boulder, CO and was recommended to me during my permaculture course. I enjoyed how "Sister Bee" showcased the passion of beekeepers, but otherwise it was pretty introductory. There is one woman, Julie Finley, who I wish I could have heard more from. The film ever so lightly touches on her top bar hives. And for serious, she works with the bees without a bee suit?! The film doesn't even get into how she is capable of that!

Julie Finley seemed to have a similar fringe approach to beekeeping as Kelly Simmons who taught the backyard beekeeping portion of my permaculture course. Since Sister Bee didn't get into fringe beekeeping, I will share my class notes:

Bees are pollinators originally from the tropics. Europeans eventually imported bees and decided that larger bees were better because the honeycombs would have larger spaces and thus hold more honey. Basically over the years, the European beekeepers selectively kept colonies based on bee size.

Have you heard that our honey bees are mysteriously dying? One theory out there is that there are mites that get to the bee larva. The European honey bees that everyone keeps are larger and take just a little bit longer to develop. That little bit longer might be the amount of time that the mites need to take control. Following that logic you might not want European honey bees for you backyard bees even though they are "more productive". Besides, if you're into caring for the earth and promoting species diversity, you wouldn't buy a white leghorn chicken when you could get an American Livestock Breed like houdan, would you?

Back to bee history. Originally to get honey from wild bees, a person would tear apart a bee hive, effectively killing the colony. Beekeepers devised a kinder method of taking honey from the bees. They created potentially removable building platforms by laying sticks along the top of a beekeeping basket. This rudimentary top bar method has been around for thousands of years. Beekeeping was made more precise and gentler for the bees by Langstroth in 1851. He made boxes with removable frames spaced bee width apart. Then to expidite the honey making process and ensure uniformity, people filled the frames with pre-formed honeycombs. The Langstroth hive is very common. If you meet someone who keeps bees, it's probably what they use. Only problem is that Langstroth is pretty pricey.

Top bar hives were modernized and brought to Kenya to empower the people there. Kenyans could construct the simple design on their own with scrap materials and quickly move into the business of beekeeping. The modern top bar design is a V shaped box with bars at the top. The bees go in and construct their own parabolic shaped combs and fill them with honey. To remove honey you simply take out a few bars, cut off the wax and honey, and return the bars. No special honey extracting equipment is needed and the colony is disturbed locally unlike in Lanstroth where you remove the entire lid off the box.

This actually relates back to the health of honey bees subject. Maybe our honey bees are dying because we stress them out all the time and they don't have the strength to overcome whatever is killing them. Instead of exposing them frequently to check on them and harvest as much honey as possible, we could let the bees do their thing and harvest once a year in late spring (after they've made it through the winter). Perhaps it's a matter of entering into beekeeping with a different agenda 1) to help out an awesome keystone species 2) to have your veggie garden (along with all of your neighbors' veggie gardens) pollinated 3) to occasionally get some honey.

As an apartment dweller I think, "Yeah yeah, our town has a beekeeper who sells his honey at the farmer's market. I'm covered for pollination and honey." The funny thing is that many local small business beekeepers earn their money more from renting out their little pollinators than from selling honey.

Sounds like a win win situation, right? The bees get to frequent orchards in the winter. The beekeeper gets plenty of nectar for his bees to make honey. Thing is, it's not that easy. The little pollinators are trucked great distances to massive agribusiness orchards. Imagine getting jostled around in a truck for days with your door locked, then blindly released into a pesticide filled orchard. These bees are stressed! The beekeepers, of course, care deeply about their bees so they aid with antibiotics. Sigh.

In conclusion, keeping your own bees and being "fringe" about it could really help. If you can't keep bees yet or you don't ever see yourself as a beekeeper, you could help the bees by planting bee forage!

December 5, 2009