Pickled Turnips and You

When my wife and I decided to join our local CSA, I knew that I would be able to score some hipster points. Not only has this CSA allowed me to be more frugal, but is has also given me many opportunities to mention offhandedly how I do my part to support local farmers, eat organically and seasonally, and stave off climate change by not needing to buy produce that is shipped using carbon fuels.

What I didn’t expect was all the roots. I’ve definitely made the most out of the situation over the past two months, being the good house husband and preparing all sorts of interesting dishes. This past week, though, I definitely earned some hipster bonus points. Hipsters have a weird thing about self-sustainability: I like to grow my own food, make my own cleaning products, brew my own beer, and build my own furniture. It’s as if every hipster is secretly or subconsciously preparing for Y2K to actually happen.

Of course, in order to survive more than just the summer months, hipsters must also master either the art of dumpster diving or the art of food preservation (or both). With my recent unexpected abundance of turnips, I knew I needed to find a way to make them last longer than their natural freshness. When it comes to food preservation, there are four basic ways to make your fresh food last longer: drying, freezing, fermenting, and canning. Of course, within each category there exists subcategories: smoking, curing, jamming, and our topic today: pickling. Pickling is an interesting mix between the disciplines of fermenting and canning, and is a great way to infuse your vegetables with new flavors while making them last past their local growing seasons.

When it comes to turnips, there are only so many turnips that one man and wife can eat within a two month period. I knew I needed to spread the turnip love throughout the year, and thus the google searching began. “Turnip recipes” turned to “what to do with turnips” turned to “preserving turnips” and eventually I stumbled upon this recipe for pickled turnips. I became inspired.

The only tweaks that I made to the recipe he lays out are threefold: I didn’t add a bay leaf (I didn’t have one); I added a lot more garlic; and I also added a few shallots that I happened to have on hand. Oh, and I threw in some peppercorns.

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It was difficult to let the week go by in which these white wonders turned to pink pretties, but it was well worth the wait. I figured that I’d be able to put a handful of these in my packed lunches every day for a couple of weeks, but as soon as the jar was open they were gone within a three day period. Besides all the hipster points earned in this endeavor, I now have a new favorite snack that I know is locally and organically grown!

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Winter Roots and Blues

As a hipster, I try to use those obscure words or pronunciations of words that allow me to seem smarter than other people without actually knowing anything more. I’ll call suspenders “braces,” use the British pronunciation of “perseverance,” and insist that, originally, the T in “often” is supposed to be silent. More recently, I’ve really been enjoying the word “locavore.”

A locavore is one of those people that is committed to eating locally and even seasonally in order to support the local economy and agriculture. It’s also great to not have to think about the thousands of miles a particular tomato traveled in order to arrive in your salad, when it was last “alive,” and how nutrient-starved it has become along its little journey.

Living in Lancaster Pennsylvania sure makes it easy to find fresh produce. In fact, it can be tough to avoid it in the summer. Fresh and locally grown vegetables are still here in the winter: you just have to know where to find them. This year, my wife and I were excited to join our first CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program through the Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative as a means to fulfilling our desire to maintain our locavore status (especially because I can’t survive solely on Thistle Finch).

We are now five weeks into the 15 week winter season, and I have to be honest, we have been eating a lot of roots. Yes, roots. Not the good kind of roots: the Americana music genre featured at Lancaster’s Roots and Blues festival this weekend. No, these roots are the kind that live underground all their lives until we get to eat them.

Potatoes, carrots, shallots, turnips, rutabagas, radishes, beets. It’s been an interesting month. I certainly have expanded my culinary boldness. I’ve mashed, roasted, juiced, fried, and baked these things into submission. I’ll be honest, after the first few weeks, I didn’t think I would be able to go the distance. But as I begin to push my palate to new places, I have started to see the beauty in the complexity of the root. While some offer smooth and mild flavors, others are sweet, and still others spicy. My taste for the tuber has grown to the point that I am no longer singing the blues over these roots. Now you’ll hear me singing the praises of the fruit that sun forgot.

So go ahead and enter into the life of the locavore. Because even if you think these roots taste like the dirt they’re grown in, at least you know that dirt is local.

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What’s in my Window #6: Woodruff

Preservation of the harvest is an important part of homesteading. Innovation in finding new things to harvest is also key to building hipster credibility. That’s why I have been drying wild-growing woodruff in my kitchen window. To fully understand the preservation and use of woodruff, I feel I need to back up and dive a little deeper into the makings of a hipster.

I have said before that a hipster makes you believe that he or she is an authority in just about any area of conversation. For those aspiring to become hipsters, this can seem like a daunting obstacle that would keep many from achieving hipster status. In reality, there are ways to skirt the actual knowledge needed for this and still retain an apparent level of conversational command. One way in particular that is used by many hipsters is to become well educated on a very niche subject. When you talk a lot about a subject that other people don’t really care about, then they will naturally assume that you know a lot about everything.

This rule applies especially to the topic of beer. Hipsters like to drink beer, but even more so we like to know a lot about beer. There’s a lot that goes into beer and beer-making, so instead of actually learning about beer, hipsters have gravitated towards knowing about very particular beers. I attribute the craft beer revival of recent years to highfalutin hipsters attempting to prove their beer knowledge by spouting off random facts about the then-small segment of beer manufacturing:

“I only drink craft beer. You probably don’t realize this, but to be a craft beer, it has to be made with only all-grain. The beer you’re drinking is made with all adjuncts and extracts.”

As craft beer (and the knowledge thereof) has become more ubiquitous, hipsters have struggled to retain their firm grip on this faux knowledge of the beer industry. This has led to the most obscure styles of beer becoming favorites of hipsters. Most notably, hipsters have espoused an enjoyment of sour beers to trump all other beer drinkers. Sour beers, such as the Berliner Weisse style, taste bad, and have a nose that reminds you of a rotting compost heap.

Here I admit my shortcomings as a hipster, since I like to drink beers that taste good. But oh the respect that is garnished upon the hipster that can proclaim “I love sour beers.” To the less learned beer drinker, this is thought of as an accomplishment and indication of a finer palate. However, these sour beers originally brewed centuries ago, were never meant to be served alone. Sweet syrups of sugary extract are added to take the edge off; usually the drinker is given a choice between raspberry or…wait for it…woodruff.

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And now we have circled back to what it is that has been drying in my kitchen window. Woodruff, or sometimes called Sweet Woodruff, is a traditional brewing ingredient that pre-dates hops. It happens to grow as a fairly common ground cover, and we found some in our backyard. Over the past years, I’ve been doing my best to propagate its growth to the point that I could begin to harvest it for brewing.

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As the woodruff dries, it gives off an almost unnaturally sweet vanilla scent. Just the small amount of clippings that I took filled our kitchen with its scent. I recently finished brewing a fall beer in which I added my dried woodruff at the end of the boil. After it dried, it weighed in at half an ounce, and yet it packed a powerful sweetness to the five gallon batch of beer I made. But even more amazing than the beer is my niche knowledge of the topic.IMG_0035

How to Make Potpourri

Hipsters have a bad reputation for smelling bad. Whether it’s the ironic love of cats, the homemade laundry detergent, or the refusal to have a personal hygiene regimen doesn’t matter: the reason for stinking may change from hipster to hipster, but all hipsters still share that same tendency for olfactory offense.

As a house husband, this is a difficult part of the hipster culture to fully embrace. It’s true that I only wear deodorant occasionally, but that’s mostly because I’m allergic to a lot of commercial underarm deodorants. Still, I am generally aware of the way our home smells when visitors come over. This became a more serious affair earlier this week when we noticed that the refrigerator in our apartment wasn’t working. A fridge that doesn’t keep things cold is like a hipster that doesn’t wear skinny jeans: it just doesn’t work.

All of our organic chicken breast, cage-free eggs, and locally-sourced milk had spoiled. It was in the disposing of the wasted food that I couldn’t ignore the stench of rotten food. The occasion was ripe (pun intended) to make use of the potpourri ingredients that I had been saving. Being resourceful often means planning ahead. Over the past year I have kept little tidbits of aromatic dried goods squirreled away in a coffee tin for just such an event as this.

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When I saved my basil seeds, I saved the dried basil stems. When I gave my wife roses, I dried and saved the rose petals. When I eat oranges or clementines, I dry and save the peel. Throw all of these things in a pot, cover with water, and turn the burner down to the lowest setting. Within 20 minutes, the whole house has a sweet aroma, and the only stench remaining is that of lost time and money.

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My Modular Rooftop Garden, Part 2

A lot of hipsters like to think of themselves as poor kids trying to scrape by. The reality is that most hipsters are twenty- and thirty-somethings that work enough to blow their money on craft beer, vinyl music, and custom moped parts. Because of this, you often see a hipster’s living conditions as either a run down row-home that was bought with friends as a communal living space, or an appropriately sized city apartment. My wife and I fall under the latter category, having lived in the same nice apartment for the past few years.

One of the favorite features of our apartment building is the flat rooftop. In fact, as soon as we moved in my resourceful mind went right to work devising ways to utilize that space as a garden. My industrious side had visions of building a deck over the black rubber roof, where we could create a green garden getaway in the middle of our little city. Incidentally, due to just another technicality in rental contract law, the roof is not actually part of our lease agreement. So instead of heading to Home Depot, I started by asking the permission of our landlords. It just so happens that the owners of our property are really great people, and they granted my request with only one caveat: every winter all garden-related materials should be removed from the rooftop.

There went my big vision, but my creativity was jump-started into action. I talked a lot about the self-watering containers that we use (originally described in The Urban Homestead), but the majority of what we grow is in pallets. A lot of people use pallets in the ground to garden in nice even rows, or stand them upright to put out on a patio. I use them because I can move them. Yes, they are heavy when they are full of dirt, but two people can carry a pallet down the stairs with a little effort. Over the winter, I can remove them from the roof and stack them on top of each other under our pergola.

Pallet gardening is a great way to organize your space. In choosing a pallet, I look for one that is in decent condition, and one that looks “fresh.” A lot of pallets are treated with chemicals so that they last longer, and the wood in these pallets has a distinct discoloration (similar to pressure-treated wood), so it’s easy enough to avoid. With a roll of fabric week-block and a staple gun, I go to town on the bottoms and sides of the pallets. Weed-block is perfect because it allows the water to drain so the plants do not get over-watered, but it also helps keep moisture in so the pallets don’t dry out as quickly.

The biggest downside to growing vegetables out of pallets is that you don’t have the “depth” that you typically would have in larger individual gardening containers. The upsides for using pallets vastly outweigh this: the larger square footage means that the soil doesn’t get as overheated from the black rubber roof, and the moisture retention is significantly better than even a large planter. This is only our second season using pallets, but we’ve seen good yields both years. All of my suspicions were confirmed about the ability to garden in shallow soil when I heard Mel Bartholomew on the radio talking about his book Square Foot Gardening, in which he says that all you really need is 6″ of perfect soil to grow a nice garden. Our “perfect soil” is a mix of potting soil and compost, and it’s only about 4″ deep, but we do pretty well nonetheless.

We garden out of two “types” of pallet gardens: standing pallets and flat pallets. The standing pallets are constructed by taking two pallets and fastening them at the top before weed-blocking them on the back. Flat pallets are simply single weed-blocked pallets laid flat on the rooftop. The standing pallets are of course lovely space-savers, and are perfect for climbing cucumbers, herbs, and lettuces. We’ve also had success in the flat pallets with squashes, radishes, and chards.

There’s something about a constant breeze that plants seem to love. I haven’t been able to scientifically quantify it, but up on the roof, our plants are happy. When I’m up on the roof, watering or weeding or harvesting, I’m happy. Not to get too meta or anything, but there’s a peace to helping and watching things grow. And when you live in a city, big or small, it’s good to have a place where you find peace in the midst of the busyness.

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Lettuce in a standing pallet. I angled the the boards on this pallet because I specifically knew I wanted to fill it with lettuce.

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Radishes ready to harvest in a flat pallet garden.

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A climbing cucumber uses the boards on this standing pallet to make her ascent.

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Ten kinds of our favorite herbs grow on the front side of this standing pallet.

How to Sew your Skinny Jeans

One of the great surprises of starting a blog is seeing which posts become popular. I wrote previously about how I fold my skinny jeans, and this has become by far the most popularly viewed single post of Hipster House Husband.

Why?” you ask? Yeah, I’ve asked myself that question a lot. The best answer that I can come up with is that people see the way hipsters cuff or roll the bottom of their jeans, and they want to learn how to do that. Now, I don’t mean to sound too stereotypically hipster, but for the record, I’ve been cuffing my jeans for the past 15 years. That’s right: before it was cool. For the life of me, I don’t know why you’d have to do a google search (or bing, if you’re that kind of hipster) just to find out how to fold the bottom of your jeans.

I was reflecting on such ponderances last night as I spent some time repairing a tear in one of my favorite pairs of jeans. My wife has been telling me for weeks that I need to stop wearing these jeans since there is a big tear in the butt area, but while I’m standing no one can see it. I didn’t want to have to buy new jeans just because of a little extra ventilation. Eventually this tear became big enough to demand my attention, which brings me to last night. In between loads of laundry I pulled out my wife’s sewing kit. One thing about being married to a highly trained ballet dancer: you always have a needle and thread laying around. You just have to dig through the pointe shoe elastics.

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My sewing skills are far from world class, but I’d rather add an ugly seam in an unseen area than throw away an otherwise perfectly good pair of pants. After I frankensteined the tears back together, I threw them into the wash. They came out of the wash just fine, and after following my particular folding method, they were ready to go back into the rotation.

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As a matter of fact, I’m wearing them right now.