Our Hipster Fathers

Dad July 76

No, the above picture was not taken last week showcasing the spoils of dumpster diving behind the Salvation Army. This is a picture of my father taken in July of 1976.

Today is father’s day, and it caused me to reflect a little bit and dig up some old photos of my dad. He’s not dead or anything, it’s just that all the other hipsters were changing their facebook profile pictures to old pictures of their dad so I figured I better get to it. As I digitally flipped through my iPhoto library, I realized that my dad sure did look like a modern day hipster.

My dad isn’t a hipster, though. Sure, he wore horn-rimmed glasses; but he was active in the Marines at the time and didn’t really have a choice. Yes, he wore a big flat-brimmed baseball cap; but he liked to play baseball, so there was nothing ironic about it. See that mustache? Nothing hipster about that; it was the 80s: people actually liked mustaches. And yes, his child is running around in not but hand-me-down overalls; but I’ll take credit for that one.

IMG_0474My dad has taught me a lot over the years. He stayed at home and took care of the house, fixed the things that were broken, and built things that he needed to use. We gardened together, washed the cars together, cleaned the pool together, and mowed the lawn together. He taught me how to ride a bike, load a paint brush, hold a hammer, and use a power drill. While I use all of these skills to perform my daily hipster house husband tasks, my dad wasn’t a hipster, but his resourceful spirit and industrious nature continue to inspire me in my life.

I love you dad, and thanks for not being a hipster.

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What’s in my Window #5: Sage

There are many ways to hipsterfy yourself around a particular topic. The most common way to is to find obscure things and make them part of your everyday routine (such as mopeds and mustache wax). Alternately, you can use more common things in a very obscure ways (bicycle polo and stemmed beer glasses). For the very artful hipster, however, doing the obscure thing is way too hipster-mainstream.

Take for example the humble sage plant. Hipsters of course have found the most historic and obscure uses for this herb and made it part of their routine: brewing it in tea, burning it as incense, using it as a natural preservative, and even naming their babies after it. This is one instance where I like to pull a reverse-hipster: since any hipster can do something obscure; it’s even more hipster to do something absolutely common with sage. I like to cook with it.

Sage has been a staple in our garden since I first heard Simon and Garfunkel’s Scarborough Fair. Cut fresh, I’ll throw it into stews and soups. Fresh chopped sage mixed with a little olive oil and fresh cracked pepper makes an excellent wet rub for grilled chicken. In order to keep a ready supply of sage year-round, it’s important to be able to harvest and preserve sage properly. Because the sage leaf is more fibrous, I find that it takes a little extra effort to dry it out fully.

Fresh lungwort hangs between bunches of sage that have been hanging for a week or more.

Fresh lungwort hangs between bunches of sage that have been hanging for a week or more.

This year I did a two-step drying process. First, I tied bunches of larger branches to hang dry in the window until the leaves were mostly dry. Second, I removed the leaves from the stems and branches and allowed them to further dry by placing them in my Costa Rican seed-drying gourd and hanging it in my window for another week or so. This little gourd was a gift from my in-laws, bought from a farmers’ market in Costa Rica. (If you don’t have a Costa Rican seed-drying gourd, you can alternatively use a brown paper bag with holes poked in it).

Dried Sage

After further hanging in the drying gourd, this sage leaf is ready to be processed.

When I am convinced that the sage has dried sufficiently, it goes into the mortar and pestle. To maintain an even consistency, I push my crushed sage through a sieve before storing it in a spice jar (similar to the way I harvest basil).

Sure, I don’t do any of the most obscure things that you can do with sage, but that’s just fine. You’d expect every hipster to do that, so instead I use my hand-picked organically-grown sage for common culinary uses. If it’s not obscure, at least it’s ironic.

My Modular Rooftop Garden, Part 1

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One of my favorite parts about being an urban-dwelling hipster is being able to have a roof garden. Seeing as how hipsters are generally a self-aggrandizing group, I manage to work it into many of my conversations. Examples below:

Example 1:
Other person: I sure do love this spring weather.
Me: I just hope we don’t get a late frost again this year. My organic heirloom radishes have already begin to sprout on my rooftop garden.
Other person: Oh that’s cool! Rooftop gardens are really popular now.
Me: Well, I had a rooftop garden before it was mainstream. You’re just jumping on the bandwagon.

Example 2:
Other person: I’m thinking of getting a burger, what are you doing for lunch?
Me: I packed a salad with organically grown lettuce, tomatoes, radishes, and cucumbers. I grow my own salads at home in my roof garden since the produce they sell at the farmers’ market is never fresh enough for my refined vegetarian palate. Meat is murder, murderer.

These are extreme examples, surely. Especially considering that I don’t think I have ever turned down an offer to grab a well-made burger, and I am rarely that obviously vindictive about other people’s life choices. The point remains the same: I have a roof garden.

The truth is that everyone can grow stuff. As a matter of fact, stuff has been growing all by itself for a long time. Roof gardening only has a few adjustments to compensate for the fact that you’re on a roof instead of on the ground. The biggest adjustment I had to make is moisture control. Our garden is on a black rubber roof, and I have had to employ various strategies in order to keep my vegetables well-watered. I had read about self-watering containers in The Urban Homestead a while back, and tried them out for the first time last year. This year we went into high production and tripled the amount of self-watering containers we use.

Building a SWC is a fairly simple process, and consists of two nesting 5-gallon buckets, a wicking chamber, and a piece of PVC. I only caution you to make sure that you use food-grade plastics so as not to leach any harmful chemicals into the vegetables you are growing. I found old pickle or sauerkraut buckets from a local restaurant that didn’t charge me to take them off their hands. The smaller wicking chamber we made out of 32 oz yogurt and sour cream containers.

The way they work is really ingenious, and unfortunately I can’t even take credit. Between the two nesting buckets there forms an open reservoir. The smaller container, drilled with many holes, goes into that reservoir. When everything is put together, a PVC pipe goes from the top of the bucket lid down into the reservoir, allowing you to easily fill the reservoir with water. After filling the inner bucket with dirt, the smaller container acts as a wicking chamber, drawing the moisture up from the reservoir and delivering it to the growing vegetables. This closed system keeps evaporation to a minimum and an even moisture level in the soil throughout the hottest days of summer.

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This year we have six tomato plants, four pepper plants, and an eggplant all growing from SWCs. Since our roof gets so hot, we also put them on top of pallets to avoid heating the water unnecessarily. The best part about it all is that I didn’t spend a dime to build them!

What’s in my Window #4: Lungwort

When I finished hanging a fresh harvest of lungwort leaves in my kitchen window this week, I came to three telling realizations.

#1: I realized that I’ve posted a few things already about what’s hanging in my kitchen window. First, I talked about basil seed; next, basil leaf; then stevia.

#2: I also realized that I have hung many things in my kitchen window the past few months that haven’t received a post: sage, roses, and my all new Costa Rican seed-saving gourd (more on those later, no doubt).

#3: My third realization was more poetic: this kitchen window often acts as a window into the Hipsterly habits of this House Husband. There’s always a frugal/industrious/resourceful reason for my efforts to preserve the various things that hang in my window. I have an obligation to share these things.

So starts this recurring “series” in which I will detail the items in my window and the ways I plan to use them.

Back to the lungwort. Over the winter, I was looking up different kinds of teas that we could add to our little rooftop garden in the spring. I found some information on lungwort, which grows in large quantities in our backyard already. I was taken aback by all the benefits that this plant offers when dealing with the ailments of the lung: coughs, congestion, asthma, etc. It can also be used as a poultice on open wounds. This is a plant all hipsters should love: it’s European in origin, and you’ve probably never even heard of it. In fact lungwort is given credit for helping to curb the Black Plague in Europe in the 1300s. Who knew? I do, now.

Frankly, I was skeptical, but it wasn’t until late April when my wife and I both caught a springtime flu that we were able to put this to the test. Both of us suffered from the flu-induced cough and congested lungs. What a prime opportunity to give this lungwort tea a try. As soon as it had begun to grow back in early spring, I had harvested a few handfuls of leaves and let them dry. To make tea, simply steep in boiling water for 10 minutes. While the flavor is unique, it isn’t bad. Honey helps, or even stevia if you have any of that growing. More importantly, it really helps reduce the cough! Awesome, now I make my own medicine. (Also, I should probably put in a disclaimer about not being a doctor and how you should always consult with a physician, etc.)

Lungwort flowering in early April in my backyard.

Fast forward 30 days, and the lungwort in our backyard is loving life and growing like crazy. This week I harvested a huge amount of large leaves and tied them like a ristra of chiles to proudly hang in my window. Now I can’t wait to get a cough again…and that’s what’s hanging in my kitchen window.

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Tacos and Styrofoam

I like tacos. No, I really like tacos.

Reading this, you might think that we have something in common, but I’m still pretty sure that I like tacos more than you. This particular culinary curiosity has led me to be a bit of a taco snob. In terms of hipsterisms, being snobby isn’t something new. Lots of hipsters are beer snobs or coffee snobs or music snobs or technology snobs or bicycle snobs or etc etc. You get the point, right?

I’m going to say this here first: I am a taco snob before it is cool.

This taco snobbery has kept me in pursuit of the perfect taco: authentic, flavorful, meaty; juicy but not wet, loaded but not messy, soft but not chewy. I’m not talking about the kind wrapped in a Dorito shell or the “$1 taco Tuesdays” at the local pub. My taco has to have the right aroma, the right mouthfeel, the right finish.

The trouble is, all of the places where I have found the most flavorful and delicious tacos tend to be less environmentally minded and more focused on making great tacos. That’s all well and good until you order something To Go and you get a pile of styrofoam containers. As a responsible hipster, I can’t just throw a styrofoam container in the trash where it will end up in a landfill for thousands of years. My disdain for styrofoam even quashes my quest for taco goodness. And this is no isolated problem: gyros, falafels, curries, phos…all seem slated with the same styrofoam situation.

Worry no more, for this resourceful hipster has found a solution. Just because the curbside recycling won’t accept styrofoam doesn’t mean that I can’t recycle it. I just needed to put a little more effort into where I could go to get it recycled. After a little bit of research, I found a drop-off location not far from our apartment. In fact, the joy that I felt was so great, that I had to share this with the neighbors in our building. We printed out an announcement and distributed throughout our building. Now everyone recycles styrofoam!

My guilt-ridden taco-eating days are gone. I can enjoy my [warning: bad pun ahead] Hunt for Best Tacober free from the tyranny of the toxic container. Speaking of which, writing this post has made me really hungry for tacos. Gotta go.

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Close Encounter of the Hipster Kind

No offense to other hipsters, but sometimes you can be real jerks.

Last week at my retail job, I was helping a customer purchase an accessory. Being the ever observant hipster, I noticed that he was wearing a Dogfish Head Brewery hat. I love Dogfish Head Brewery. I’ve been there a few times, I drink their beer all the time, I’ve read the books written by the founder Sam Calagione, and last year I was even able to have Sam give a taste to one of my home brewed beers. All this to say that I was happy to see someone wearing a Dogfish Head hat.

Sam from Dogfish Head tries my home brewed Honey Hop Amber Ale.

Sam from Dogfish Head tries my home brewed Honey Hop Amber Ale.

As part of the ringing out process, we like to email receipts to the our customers. This hipster’s email had the phrase “hop head” in it, which is beer jargon that refers to a person’s love of extra hoppy beers (hops are the ingredient in beer that gives it a bitter finish, and as such it is somewhat of an acquired taste). In noticing his email, I asked him if he was a fan of Dogfish’s 90-Minute IPA (an extra hoppy beer).

His response was smug and indifferent: “Yeah I guess.”

I did not let this discourage my enthusiasm for beer. I continued with a simple question: “Do you brew?”

His response smacked with arrogance: “Well I brew professionally.”

My previous dealings with hipsters have allowed me to build a tolerance for such unnecessary arrogance. In fact, in the moment I thought it was pretty cool to perhaps have the chance to meet one of the masterminds behind a great local brew. So I asked: “Where at?”

“Three places…” and he listed off three local breweries, each of which indeed makes a good beer.

But that’s not the point anymore. If you “brew professionally” at three different places, it means you aren’t good enough for any of those places to hire you full time. It means you don’t do as much brewing as you do mopping. It means you do exactly as your told and nothing more and nothing less. It means you have nothing about which to be arrogant, rude, or condescending.

Sure, all hipsters are arrogant or rude or condescending about something. But most of them have at least some right to be so. If you shave with a straight razor: be proud of that. If you built your own fixed-gear bicycle: be proud of that. If you can taste the subtle notes of goji berry in your single origin french-pressed coffee: be proud of that. I brew my own beer, it tastes really good, and I’m proud of that.

I also notice (as I reread this post) that I am proud of my ability to spot jerks in the wild, and I do so with such arrogance and condescension that I have removed my ability to speak about the above-mentioned multi-tasking hop-loving brewer extraordinaire. So I’ll stop right here and give a half-hearted apology, knowing that somewhere someone will be writing a blog about a rude and arrogant hipster they met, and it might just be me.

Seed-Starting Terrarium, Part 2

Spring is certainly taking its time out here in Lancaster, PA. The temperatures at night still dip below freezing, and even the robins are shy to come out from hiding. But I’m not going to let a silly thing like the weather hold me back from starting my fun in the sun.

Last month I whipped up a little seed-starting terrarium to get a head-start on spring. The best place for growing things indoors is typically any south-facing window, but all of ours have a tree right in front of them. The next best thing for us was a window in our dining room, which unfortunately wasn’t good enough. Only one tomato seed managed to germinate in the few weeks that it sat by the window, and the way this little seedling stretched his neck up to the glass I could only surmise that it wasn’t getting enough sunlight.

I could have put a little lamp overhead, but by this time the weather was cooperating enough for me to place the terrarium outside in the real sun. Before I did so, I wanted to build out the glass into a dome. I found a couple of old windows and ripped two two-pane sections off with the table saw for the sides. This worked great except that they weren’t quite long enough. In order to complete the dome I had to carefully remove a few pains and use a glass cutter to resize them. Then I built a simple frame for each new pane. A little bit of fun with the nail gun and all done.

Terrarium

Now that my terrarium is getting lots of sun, my seedling is growing strong. In the day I keep the top pane open slightly to allow for ventilation, but even so I’ve got a warm and cozy little environment for my seedlings to do their germination thing.

Waiting for things to germinate

I added a few more seeds now that I have a little more room. I’ve been craving fresh basil for a while now, so I planted the basil seeds that I had saved. I also planted some more patio tomatoes and bell peppers that will go up on the roof in their self-watering containers when the weather allows it.

Spring may be a little shy this year, but not totally forgotten. Even last year’s thyme is starting to perk up, and the lungwort has already flowered. It won’t be long now until the roof garden is in full force. To think that soon I’ll be battling the heat of summer instead of the chill of winter only encourages my industrious side. Come on, little seedlings, time to grow up before summer is here!