Wednesday, June 23, 2010


One of the projects I've been working on this summer is starting a garden. Two, actually. How is that possible for someone who lives in a city, and doesn't even have a fire escape for "land"? Well, my parents have a nice, big, mostly empty back yard, and Jeff and I were lucky enough to score a plot at the Fenway Victory Gardens.

Jeff and I built raised beds in my old back yard in early May. It was our first time doing it and we were on a fixed schedule. On Saturday we took a trip to the hardware store, coming home with almost half a ton of top soil, weighing down my mom's 10-year-old mini van. We also bought 6 pieces of 8' pressure treated lumber and lots of screws (it was almost impossible to find the right screws because apparently there are special screws for pressure treated lumber).

Armed with two cordless drills and a hand saw (although my dad did give Jeff a run down on how to use his chain saw and circular saw, just in case) we proceeded to build the raised beds, fill them with top soil, and plant dozens of veggies in less than 3 hours, meanwhile making some delicious beans for a dinner we had to be at that evening. (Hence the rush.)

My mom sent me photos of the garden that she took earlier this week (see above and directly below, click on them for a better view) and I can't believe how huge everything has gotten! Kale, peppers, tomatoes, beets, sage, peas, beans, chives, and I can't even remember what else we planted, are all flourishing. Several plants are flowering and fruiting, and I think the cherry tomatoes have started producing little green babies.

Meanwhile, Jeff and I have gotten to our Victory plot approximately twice. Once to put on a new lock, and the second time to get a start on the "weeds." I call them weeds, but the person who tended the plot before us probably thought otherwise about the lilies and rosebushes and 4-foot-high willow tree. After an hour of back breaking labor, we had managed to clear out a 4 or 5 foot strip (extending back about 25 feet) of old plants and sink two huge posts into the ground for a fence. (The water table is very high here, and it was funny to hear a splash as we sunk the posts.) Jeff and I, exhausted, dehydrated and burnt to a crisp (but only on our backs), decided to save the rest for another day.

That day hasn't come... yet. We plan to finish up what we've started with the help of a bunch of friends this weekend. It'll be nice to free up some space on my window sills, which are currently jam packed with veggies waiting to be planted in some real dirt. We have almost three dozen different tomatoes (three varieties), over a dozen peppers (some sweet, some hot), lots of cucumbers (which I think are starting to flower already), squash and chives. The plants get a ton of sunlight, because we have south-facing windows and get full sun in the morning. But they're not able to stretch out their roots as much as they'd like. I'm sure they'd be much bigger by now if only we'd gotten back to our plot sooner! (But it's been hard to find the time, what with being full time grad students, attending a wedding in Colorado, and dealing with "fun" back injuries.)

We're excited to finally get our own little garden going, and hopefully in the future we'll be posting back about the progress of our veggies, and all of the delicious things we'll be making from the results. (Tomato sauce, hot sauce, jalapeño wine, pickles, etc.) Also, I just purchased a new camera lens, so hopefully I won't be able to make any more excuses about not taking photos of recipes for this blog. Jeff has invented a delicious okara meatball, and once we can photograph them before devouring them, we'll post the recipe here. We've got a lot of other recipes on the back burner as well. Stay tuned!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Brewing Beer

I started brewing beer a few weeks ago and it was finally ready to drink today. Alyssa and I have been fermenting food and drink for a while now (see prior posts on wine, sauerkraut, sourdough, etc.) and beer was the next untouched frontier. I have friends who brew beer and I've been itching to try it out. All I needed was a pictographic step-by-step how-to guide to show me that it wasn't that hard. Luckily, Alyssa came across this article on brewing small batch beer from

Alyssa and I needed to pick up some supplies for our latest batch of wine, so we took a long trek across town to the Homebrew Emporium for beer ingredients, too. If you're in the Boston, Troy, or Worcester areas this is the place for all your homebrew needs. The employees at the Davis Square location might come across as a little snarky, but you have to remember that: 1. We're in Boston and 2. They're beer GEEKS. They really know their stuff and are really trying to be helpful. They want to make sure that your first few batches come out drinkable so that you keep coming back. Each employee also has a different method of brewing, and if you have time it can be fun to listen to their bickering discussions.

If you are going to brew beer, keep the time in mind. Don't be like me and start at 10PM, thinking it will only take an hour. It takes an hour just for the grains to soak! At that late hour you might even forget (like me) to add one of the grains!

The brewing process takes about 3 hours, depending on how fast you can cool down the wort. After that is a 2 week wait while it bubbles away in the carboys. Unlike wine, most of the work is finished when the brew is fermenting. The next steps are priming and bottling.

The recipe says that it makes about 1 gallon of beer to fit a 1 gallon carboy. I don't care for drinking a gallon all at once, so I bottled in 11 12oz. bottles. You might have done the math and realized that 11 * 12 = 132 and 1 gallon is 128 oz. One of the beers is a light beer.

With proper planning, the hardest part of brewing is waiting for the beer to be done. I set the bottles in a paper bag in the hallway for 2 weeks where the flavors had time to mix and mellow. I decided to try one tonight.


It was a little cloudier than I'm used to, but it tasted clean, light, and slightly hoppy. Luckily, it's too hoppy for Alyssa to drink right now. Maybe the batch will continue to mellow, or she might develop a taste for hops. Until then, it's all mine.

The next step is to get a larger brewing pot (8 qts is just large enough to make a 1 gallon batch) and a new primary to ramp up the volume. I see a nut brown ale on the horizon.