Welcome to Green Gal's blog, where you'll find stories, recipes, gardening updates, and green tips related to nature, adventure, placemaking, and food systems. This blog is written by a young woman entrepreneur who is also a beginning farmer-gardener and seasoned sustainability educator who loves to grow, cook, ferment, and eat local and ecologically happy food.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Bottling five gallons of homebrewed American Pale Ale!

Today we bottled our first batch of homebrewed beer, an American Pale Ale. You can read about our experience brewing it a few weeks ago here.

The first thing we did was read the directions that came with our kit from Brewer's Best, which told us to boil two cups of water and then add the 5 oz of priming sugar that came with our kit. We boiled the sugar water for five minutes, and then added it to our bottling bucket, which we had sanitized with StarSan earlier. Everything has to be sanitary for brewing beer to go well, so we had Star San on hand throughout the entire bottling process. Priming sugar is used when bottling beer to create some fermentation to occur inside the capped bottle which causes the beer to become carbonated.

Then we popped the lid off of our fermenting bucket. The smell of beer emanated from this dark liquid--our beer! First we siphoned the beer from this fermenting bucket into our bottling bucket.
 We left behind the trub, or nasty hops and other gunk left behind from fermentation.
Then we siphoned the beer into sanitized bottles, which we'd cleaned and removed the labels from using OxyClean. The racking cane we have automatically stops allowing beer to flow when you lift it up from the bottom of the bottle, so it was pretty easy to get the right amount of liquid in each bottle and still leave room for air.

We did taste some beer directly from the bottling bucket, and although it was flat (since the priming sugar hadn't caused carbonation yet), it tasted like beer! It was decent tasting beer at that, and we jumped for joy that we had successfully made beer in our kitchen! Amazing!
Green Guy was on capping duty, and I filled the bottles will beer.

Here's all of the beer we bottled! Five gallons of delicious American Pale Ale, which should be ready in about two weeks. It's sitting in the hall closet, now covered with a beach towel, to keep it in the dark. Light can cause weird reactions in the beer that can make it go bad.

The plastic club soda bottle on the right will help us gauge when the carbonation pressure is sufficient. It's possible for beer bottles to burst when carbonation becomes too much for the glass to handle, so we want to avoid that. When it's ready, we are supposed to refrigerate it, which will be interesting since we only have one fridge. We'll certainly have to make room by sharing with friends and family!
Here's the un-carbonated beer, straight from the bottling bucket. Yum!

Thanks for reading! Tomorrow we are making our second batch of homebrew, a red ale. Photos and story coming soon...

P.S. Just a reminder that you can follow my posts on Facebook for even more photos, recipes, and thoughts about living a green life: https://www.facebook.com/greenbeangal/

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

My first sourdough from scratch experience

"We can become creators of a better world, of better and more sustainable food choices, of greater awareness of resources, and of community based upon sharing. For culture to be strong and resilient, it must be a creative realm in which skills, information, and values are engaged and transmitted; culture cannot thrive as a consumer paradise or a spectator sport. Daily life offers constant opportunities for participatory action. Seize them." - Sandor Katz, The Art of Fermentation

Last Monday evening, I combined equal parts flour and water into a bowl and mixed them into a thick paste. I knew they were equal parts because I weighed them on a small digital scale I recently purchased specifically for that purpose. I set the bowl's lid on top of its rim, slightly ajar so that air could get through, and placed it on the table near our home's central heater.

The next evening, around the same time, I weighed out equal parts water and flour, added them to the mixture, and stirred it up. For the next few days, I followed this routine and directions laid out on this website, observing that the mixture became looser some days, bubblier others.

I was creating my first sourdough bread starter, capturing wild yeast from within my home to ferment into a goopy concoction that smelled, well, like sourdough bread.

My plan was to make this starter and have it ready to go by Friday evening so that I could follow a recipe I found online and bake the bread all day Saturday. Friday night I checked the starter, testing its readiness for baking by dropping some into a cup of water. It sank. I tested it again, immediately, thinking maybe it would have a different result. That clump sank too.

So the starter wasn't ready, even if my plan said it should be. So I fed it with some more water and flour, set it next to the heater in its now familiar habitat, and went to bed, hoping that the next morning, it would float, meaning it was ready to raise some dough into bread.

Saturday morning, I woke up early to test the starter. I had come up with a new plan, all was well, I was sure it would float.

It sank.

But fortunately, I had Monday off, so not only did I have Sunday to test it, but I also had Monday. Every time I checked the starter, it sank. I began to wonder if I'd messed up. I told my friend, whom I'd given some of my starter to on Saturday morning, that perhaps it was doomed to failure and that she should not try to bake with it yet. Was it the chlorine in our municipal tap water? Perhaps there wasn't enough yeast floating around in my house? Maybe I messed up on measurements? All my plans and dreams for the long weekend to squish together dough and knead it and follow all of the directions exactly and miraculously create a perfect sourdough loaf on my first try--dashed by the yeast in my sourdough starter that weren't ready to party yet.

So Monday evening when I returned home from visiting my mom and sister, I casually checked the starter as I prepared to feed it. And it was frothy, just exactly like the photos I'd seen online of starter that is ready. I did the water test, and that little glob of yeasty wet flour floated on top of the water like a buoy! The yeast party had begun!

The frothy starter, ready to go. I transferred starter into some mason jars for sharing and so that I could refrigerate the extra starter that I wouldn't need for this recipe.

The starter floating at the top of a glass of water. Hurray!

Not wanting to wait until my day off on Friday to bake the starter into delicious bread, I woke up at 5:30 AM this morning as Green Guy was leaving for work. I tested the starter again and watched with awe as it floated again on the surface of the water. I ditched the original recipe I was going to do for a more simple one that had the word beginner in it.

And, I did it. I made dough and let it rise for 12 hours while I was at work. I wrapped it up tightly according to the instructions when I got home and then let it rise again. I should have used a bowl to proof it instead of setting it directly in the Dutch oven to rise a second time, but despite the slight flattening that occurred, I did it. I baked sourdough bread all on my own, thanks to the guidance, photos, and forum postings of many experienced bakers on the internet. This very evening, I have become part of the community of humans who have experienced the challenges and joys of sourdough bread making.

My beautiful first loaf of homemade sourdough bread!

I'm framing this post with two quotes from Sandor Katz's book The Art of Fermentation because they speak so deeply to the sense of empowerment, creativity, and joy that I've been experiencing throughout this sourdough making process. Rather than purchase bread from the store that has no connection to me personally, I decided to make my own this week, become attuned to a process dependent upon invisible yeast that co-exist in my world, and in doing so, learn a new skill that I can practice and develop. I just began reading his book, so both of these quotes I'm sharing are from the Introduction.

Already, through this experience and the words Katz uses to describe the history, power, and joy of fermentation, I am inspired to expand my fermenting horizons beyond beer and sourdough bread to other foods and drinks I love and might enjoy creating, like kombucha, kimchi, and more. I look forward to sharing my starter with more friends and hearing their stories of bread making, and I am eager to try other sourdough recipes and become more skilled at this art.

Before I leave you with this second quote, I encourage you to think about a time when you've explored a new activity, process, skill, or recipe and it inspired you to be more creative and engaged in the world around you simply through the process of learning something new. What are new experiences you can create for yourself this week by engaging in "participatory action" in your daily life? I'd love to read your thoughts in the comments section below!

"Reclaiming our food and our participation in cultivation is a means of cultural revival, taking action to break out of the confining and infantilizing dependency of the role of consumer (user), and taking back our dignity and power by becoming producers and creators." - Sandor Katz, The Art of Fermentation


Huge thanks to these awesome baking bloggers who shared their recipes and strategies for sourdough bread making--without them, I would have had no idea what I was doing!

Friday, January 15, 2016

Trying new things in a new year

This year's theme for me so far has been experimenting with new things, including making beer, growing my own sourdough starter for baking bread, and exploring new recipes for dinner! This week, I tried three new recipes and want to share them with you so you can try them, too!

Roasted Red Pepper Pasta
Original recipe is available here from Minimalist Baker.
I added a couple mini portabella mushrooms and used three small shallots instead of two regular sized ones. I also didn't add almond milk.
After I roasted the red peppers, they looked like this.
 So glad to have a Magic Bullet now so I can make sauces like this. Thanks Mom!
 Thanks also to my Mom for the spiral veggie peeler so I can make noodles out of veggies!
The pasta turned out really yummy! It would be delicious served in a bread bowl and with additional veggies. 

Sweet and Spicy Baked Honey Sriracha Chicken
Original recipe is available here from Chef Savvy.   

It was my first experience breading chicken, and I thought it went pretty smoothly!

The sauce was delicious! I had to double the recipe and ended up using a bit less sriracha than would have made it double, and I also added extra honey. In my opinion, I could have made it spicier, but Green Guy thought it was just right.
I served it on a bed of rice with sauteed greens from the garden + store-bought spinach on the side. Although I'm not a huge fan of chicken most of the time, I thought it was pretty tasty!

One Pot Spicy Thai Noodles
Original recipe available here from Domestic Superhero.
I used a heaping 1 tbsp instead of 1.5 tbsp of sriracha since Green Guy isn't as into spicy foods as me, and it was plenty spicy, so keep that in mind if you make this. It was my first time cooking with fresh ginger, and I decided to freeze the leftover ginger for next time. We used cashews instead of peanuts, we didn't cut the mushrooms, I forgot to add cilantro, and we added sesame seeds as garnish. This was my favorite of the three recipes listed on this post, but I would recommend all of them!

Thanks for reading! Tomorrow I'm baking sourdough bread for the first time, so I'll be sure to post photos and an update about how it goes...

Until then,
Green Gal

Friday, January 8, 2016

Brewing Beer & Baking Spent Barley Cookies

Yesterday, Green Guy and I embarked on a new adventure full of malted barley, gallons of water, hops, and yeast. We had our first beer brewing day and brewed up the ingredients to make an American Pale Ale from a Brewer's Best kit. I'd say the day was a success given that we did what we needed to do without too many egregious errors to create a wort and put it in a fermenter with yeast. It's sitting in the kitchen now, and I'm eagerly awaiting the first signs of fermentation in the airlock.

Our beer is inside this bucket, and carbon dioxide should begin bubbling through the airlock on top by tonight. We'll bottle the final product in 2-3 weeks. We'll probably do a bit more research before determining which week to bottle it. After it's bottled, it has to sit for at least two weeks to carbonate, which will happen because we'll add priming sugar.

Of course, success can be measured numerous ways, and we won't really know if our method created a drinkable beer until about a month from now once we crack open a beer. From what I've read online, though, most likely we'll end up with something drinkable even if we did make mistakes, and next time we can learn what we'd change to make it even better.

The beer brewing equipment was a gift from me to Green Guy for Christmas/our three-year anniversary, and I had chosen the equipment set based on suggestions from my cousin, who's been brewing since 2012. He shared advice with us after finding out we were interested in brewing, and fortunately he was available to answer a question we had yesterday about whether the water we added to the wort to bring the total to five gallons in the fermenter needed to be pre-boiled/sanitized. He said yes, unless we used bottled water, and that made us realize we'd made a mistake in not thinking that far ahead in advance. Rather than try to boil three gallons of water and then cool it down in a matter of twenty minutes, we broke our own sustainability rule and Green Guy ran out to the store for some gallons of clean water. We'll be better next time!

Green Guy pouring the malt extract into the brew pot.

Brewing beer is similar to following a recipe to bake cookies or anything that requires specific conditions to make the final product turn out exactly how you want it. Knowing what's coming up next is important, and keeping track of timing and temperature is crucial throughout. The other thing that's perhaps most important is keeping everything sanitized that will come into contact with the wort, or unfermented beer. It's easy to accidentally contaminate something without thinking, and fortunately people have invented sanitizer that doesn't have to be rinsed off and can be used to sanitize everything in advance relatively easily. There are numerous options and methods for sanitizing while brewing, and this variety of method seems to be true of most things in the brewing world.
Here's Green Guy taking the temperature of the brew pot at the beginning of the process before we added some caramel specialty grains (malted barley). You can see the various containers on the counter that have boiled water or sanitizer in them. This allowed us to place the thermometer and other instruments in sanitized water in between use. You can see the steps we took for this particular recipe on the Brewers Best website here.

In addition to having to buy gallon bottles of water to add to the fermenter, we also had trouble cooling down the wort quickly in the sink.

The wort has to cool down quickly to about 70° F from boiling before being added to the fermenter. It has to be quick to avoid bacteria growth and that temperature is the target because it's an ideal temperature for the yeast to survive. We only had two bags of ice, which wasn't enough to bring the temperature down before they all melted, so we were very wasteful, bad Californians and ran cold water in the plugged sink to circulate cooler water around the pot. More ice next time!

We also had a challenge in getting the water at the right temperature to rehydrate the yeast. More planning in advance as well as experience over time will be helpful in the future for all of these challenges.

The biggest bummers of the day, though, were breaking the hydrometer within the first few minutes and breaking the thermometer right before we could finish cooling the wort. The hydrometer was in the sanitizing bucket when I added some measuring cups, and I think they just crushed it in half as they floated down. It didn't look like any of the hydrometer minerals got into the bucket. This meant we didn't measure original gravity, which isn't the end of the world, but it means we don't know as much about our beer as we could/should.

The thermometer broke while I was measuring the temperature of water that the yeast would rehydrate in. It just broke at the tip and began oozing whatever the materials inside of it are. So much for using that cup for the yeast. Thus, we ended our brew day not knowing the exact temperature of the yeast rehydrating water or the wort. We knew we were close to 70° F for the wort, though, so hopefully it was cool enough when we added the yeast. 

Lesson here is to be more gentle with hydrometers and thermometers and also buy high quality ones for brewing--it's not like we were jamming them into cups so I'm not sure why they broke so easily. I got mine in the set from Austin Homebrew, and I'm sure there are higher quality versions out there.

Here are some other photos from our first brewing experience:
This is the used bag of specialty grains that we steeped in the brew pot before adding malt extract and hops. Later that evening, I made these spent malted barley grains into chocolate chip-barley cookies (see below for details).
 This is the brew pot on the stove around the time when we added bittering hops. 

I had a copy of John Palmer's How to Brew on the counter throughout the process. Thanks to my dad and stepmom for the book (and for the apron and hop earrings, pictured below)! I read all of the relevant chapters for this kind of brew process before we began, and even with all of that knowledge, we still had some challenges. The spray bottle to the right is filled with sanitized water and is there in case the brew pot began to boil over. It can be used to spray it down. We didn't have to use it this time around, which might have been because the water wasn't boiling enough. Next time we'll turn up the heat when boiling the hops to see if that makes a difference.

Two thumbs up for a fun brew day with Green Guy! It was really great to work on something together, problem solve when we ran into trouble, and feel accomplished at the end of the day that we had done what we could to create something that we can hopefully enjoy and share with our friends and family. Did I mention this will make nearly 50 bottles of beer? We'll definitely be sharing our homebrew when the time comes, as long as it's drinkable!

Spent Barley Chocolate Chip Cookies
As I was cleaning up last night, I remembered reading that some people bake their spent barley that steeped in their brew pot into cookies or other goodies. I found a forum posting that suggested using a food processor to grind them up more, but my new Magic Bullet isn't equipped to grind up soggy grains (I tried). Instead, I just used the barley at a one-to-one ratio for an oatmeal cookie recipe. Because the grains were still somewhat soggy even after squeezing the grain bag out and perhaps because I didn't follow the recipe exactly, the cookie consistency is more muffin-like than cookie-like. They're still delicious, though!

Here's a cup or so of malted barley in a bowl sitting next to the spent grain bag. I portioned out about three cups of the grain and then wrapped the rest in saran wrap, set it inside a tupperware, and put it in the freezer. I got the idea from this post on BeerAdvocate.

I based my recipe off of this one for soft oatmeal cookies. I didn't have baking soda, so I used some smaller amount of baking powder after reading the conversion online. I just looked again and realized that perhaps I should have used more baking powder than I did. Whoops!

I also added about a cup of chocolate chips and baked them for more like 12-14 minutes until the edges looked brown. They're pretty yummy, and in fact, I'm eating one right now for breakfast!

What an awesome day of new experiences, challenges to solve, and fun spent in the kitchen!

Thanks for reading this post, and if you are curious to learn more about brewing beer, I would recommend these links:

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Homegrown, home-roasted sunflower seeds

Happy New Year! When we returned home from our holiday travels on Friday, I noticed our sunflowers were looking very droopy and sad, so we went about cutting off the large flower heads and leaving the smaller flowers to keep growing. Only after cutting the heads did I think to look up a recipe for roasting sunflower seeds, and it was then that I realized we had cut the heads off a bit too soon. I could have let the heads sit and dry out to make shelling the seeds easier, but I was eager to try making the seeds right away. I didn't see anything online saying it was dangerous to eat unripe seeds or anything, so I set to work and followed this recipe.

You can view photos of the sunflowers before we cut their heads off on my Facebook page here.

Despite not being dry or mature enough, some of the seeds in the largest sunflower head seemed viable for roasting--they were hard, round, and entirely black. Others I had been plucking from the smaller sunflower heads were purple and squishy--definitely no seed in there. So I shelled only the largest sunflower and set about sorting the viable seeds from the less viable.

I removed any that were squishy, entirely white, or otherwise didn't seem to have a seed inside. Then I followed the recipe and boiled the good ones with salt water. Soon, the water turned purple-black and all of the seeds became dyed black. If they had been entirely dried, I don't think this would've happened. I wasn't quite sure if any of them would even turn out to be good, but I kept going because I figured I had gotten this far and should experiment.

After boiling and simmering, I strained the sunflower seeds through a colander and then set them out on a baking pan. I sprinkled half of them with Cajun seasoning and the other half with salt and pepper. We were heading out for New Years Day dinner, so I let them dry while we got sushi. When we got back, I put them in the oven at 400°F for 10 minutes. Some of them seemed not quite roasted, so I set it back in for another 3-4 minutes. They looked burned, but it was hard to tell because they had all turned black in the water.

I tried a few once they cooled off, and they actually tasted pretty good! Some don't have any seeds, but a good number of them do. Some got overly roasted, others didn't roast enough. I put them in a jar and have been munching on them as a snack.

Take aways: Wait until the sunflower head has dried out on the stalk and seeds are beginning to fall out by themselves before cutting off. To avoid birds getting to the seeds first, some people recommend tying a brown bag around the sunflower head. The indicator that the seeds are ready is when they are white with black stripes.

The remaining little flowers on the sunflowers outside probably won't yield many seeds, but I will see what happens if I let them dry out enough once they begin drooping.
 These are the ones remaining once we cut off the larger heads.

 And a quick garden update:
 The nasturtiums were badly affected by the cold weather, but other plants seem to be doing well. Look at that broccoli! I set the sunflower heads out so that birds could get the remaining seeds that I might have missed.

 I moved some plants from our sideyard to the back of the house because the rickety old desk on the side is leaning badly and will have to go soon. This little pine tree was our Christmas tree all throughout December.

This coming Thursday, Green Guy and I both have the day off, and it is going to be our first beer brewing day! Photos and stories to follow!

Thanks for reading,
Green Gal

Popular Posts