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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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

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.

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.

Have a Deep and Meaningless Conversation

Last week, I was using some reclaimed lumber to build a desk. Already this post is pretty hipster, but just wait.

I ripped my last piece of lumber through the table saw to square the edges. I used a belt sander to take down the rough patina of the lumber. I started cutting out a drawer face with my jigsaw. In doing these things, I would notice a stray and random carpenter ant appear on my work surface or on the floor of my workspace. This didn’t strike me as odd right away since I was in the old garage building.

When I completed cutting out the drawer face I found that I was cutting exactly through the center gallery of a carpenter ant nest. I found about a dozen hungry, confused, and shaken carpenter ants ambling about. While this clearly was not an active nest, it must have been six months ago in the porch from which I took this old lumber. Since removing it, these few remaining ants had been huddling in their homes…doing what?

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I started to ponder this and other questions in the classic hipster conversation method: too abstract to have practical application, just intelligent enough to make it sound like I know what I’m talking about. For the ants that were left behind when I removed the old lumber, was this some sort of ant apocalypse (“antocalypse” maybe)? Was this the promised and long-prophesied day that the old nest would be made new? I’m sure that’s what it must have seemed like. A terrible End of Days, a period of tribulation and unrest, followed by a glorious and pure new order being put into place for the 1000 year reign…just as it was foretold in the book of Revelantion. What about the ants that were taken away from the porch inside this old beam? Did they consider themselves to be the Dorothy in a new version of the 1939 classic The Wizant of Oz? On which set of feet do they wear the ruby slippers? Am I the wicked witch or the great and powerful Oz? One thing’s for sure, she can’t wait to get back to Ant Em. What would make a good Toto parallel? Probably a termite named Terter.

More AntsAnd just like that, I’ve had a deep and meaningless conversation. You can, too. Here’s how:

  1. Pick any topic. In this scenario, I chose “ants in wood.”
  2. Choose any other topic that you know a little about. In this scenario, I chose two: “end times” and “The Wizard of Oz.”
  3. Parallel the two topics.
  4. Use random facts about either topic. In this scenario, I chose to use the phrases “the old would be made new” and “1000 year reign” in regard to the end times, both taken from the book of Revelation in the Bible. I also used the date 1939 and the names of minor characters from The Wizard of Oz.
  5. For extra points, add puns.

Congratulations, you’ve just had your first deep and meaningless conversation!

How to Fold your Skinny Jeans

I have a particular way I fold my skinny jeans.

Okay…to be honest, I don’t wear skinny jeans. I also don’t wear V-Necks. Even so, I think my Credentials as a Hipster remain intact. I would even dare to say that this obligatory uniform of the contemporary nonconformist is not as obligatory as you would think.

There are exceptions to every rule. In the case of the skinny jeans, a hipster’s leg wear only need be skinny enough to be able to see the silhouette of an iPhone in the pocket of his/her choice. In the case of v-necks, they are only necessary if you have enough curious chest hair to peak out the V. I meet both exceptions: having the iPhone clearly visible and a lack of any chest hair (curious or otherwise).

But back to folding laundry. I’ve toyed with different ways to fold my jeans over the years, but have recently struck gold in terms of folding methods. What makes a folding method good? I have three basic criteria:

  1. Keeps clothes from wrinkling/unfriendly creasing in storage.
  2. Highlights the innate features of the material.
  3. Makes the garment easy to store.

So here’s my method:

IMG_2489I start by folding them lengthwise with the seams together, similar to the way I would hang a pair of slacks. Then I tuck in the zipper and the butt so that I get a mostly straight line up and down.

IMG_2490 Fold that in half.

IMG_2491 Fold that in half again. All done.

This nice square shape fits nicely into my closet, prevents any wrinkles from storage, and even gives a faux crease look along the front of my pants. My little piece of original denim origami isn’t really a big deal, but it helps me keep my hipster/house husband sides together and happy.

The Hutch Project and the Satisfaction of Action

As a hipster, I usually only talk about solutions to issues which I have no tangible ability or actual desire to implement.

“World peace would be so easy if everyone just read Three Cups of Tea.”

“This city will only be cool when every street and alleyway has a dedicated bike lane.”

“The problem with Starbucks is that they’ve lost the art of selling coffee.”

These ethereal solutions are themselves an art to produce. They must be obvious enough that a spectator should say “Why didn’t I think of that?” and far enough out of reach that you can continuously tout your solution without any fear that you will ever be called to act on it.

For a long time I had one of these sitting in my dining room: an old china hutch (circa 1930) that needed some very serious reworking. Structurally, the hutch was in decent shape. Aesthetically, it was in need of a lot of work. This was a piece of furniture we picked up with the intention that I would give it the makeover it needed. For five years it stood in our dining room issuing to me a license to sing my swan song about transforming the ugly duckling.

So what happened? My wife threatened to throw it away, and my house husband side kicked in. I too began to resent the wasted space and the sub-par appearance. You see, we don’t have any china to put into the china hutch, the rough nature of its finish made it difficult to dust, and everyone had already heard me talk about my grand plan.

So here’s what I did:

Unfinished hutch

I had two days off from my full-time job, and I wanted to industriously make the most of my time. So in-between loads of laundry, I dragged the hutch out to the garage and started by disassembling it. It was put together mostly with wood screws, so a flat head screwdriver and a soft mallet was all I needed.SandingI sanded down each panel individually, repaired any lifted veneer with wood glue and filler, and put a fresh coat of stain over everything. Polyurethane, sand, repeat.

IMG_2341IMG_2349I cut the middle section down considerably to make it more of a serving table than a hutch. Upon reassembly, I measured out the front opening and used one of the old shelves as a front hatch. This nice little serving table is a favorite hiding spot now for our dog Little Bit, and all of our cloth napkins and place mats live inside the hatch and out of sight.

It couldn’t be considered complete until it was decorated. On the wall, I used the old hutch door as a faux frame for a piece of fair trade Haitian metalwork. Add a plant and a bowl of wooden fruit and cross it off of my to-do list!

In total, the project cost me about $12:

  • Piece of veneer from the Habitat Re-Store: 80¢
  • Small can of stain: $4
  • Leftover polyurethane: free
  • Front panel hinges/magnetic catch: $7
  • 1930s era drawer pull: repurposed off another dilapidated piece…at least I still have another project about which I can ruminate.

Saving Basil Seeds

Are you curious if one of your odd activities can be considered hipster? Run it through this simple “yes or no” test by answering the question, “Was this activity a common/necessary part of life 100 years ago, but incredibly uncommon/unnecessary today?” If you answered yes to this question, then chances are you’re doing something a hipster would do. By that test, the practice of seed saving can be considered as hipster as “using a victrola” or “shaving with a straight razor” or “not showering.”

Seed saving is a great way to make you look like you know what you’re talking about, develop high-yielding plants that are better acclimated for your specific climate, and takes months longer and incredibly more effort than buying a packet of seeds for 89 cents at the grocery store. This is something I do to help exercise my frugality at the same time that I keep in touch with my industrious side. It’s something that takes little time during the harvest season of gardening, and gives you something to do in the off-season of winter. Different vegetable seeds go through different processes to harvest, but the other night I harvested a bunch of basil seeds and took some pictures of the way I did it. I always get confused as to whether or not Instagram is cool anymore for hipsters to use, so I’ll show them to you here instead.

Bag BasilAt the end of the growing season, I clipped all these seed heads from our basil crop and threw them into paper bags to allow them to dry out. The seed head on basil is the tall shoot above the edible leaves, and it flowers. Once the flowers begin to die,  clip that seed head off and save it for winter.

The paper bag is a magical place that will allow this harvest to dry out without getting moldy. Store this paper bag in a dry place for a few months.

Hanging BasilAn alternative to the paper bag method of drying is to hang your seed heads in a very visible window.  This method is much less efficient than the paper bag, but often preferred by the hipster that wants to show people that he/she is doing something that confuses ordinary people.

Separate the seeds from the chaff

Once they are thoroughly dry (I harvested in October so they have been in the paper bag for a few months), crush the seed heads between your fingers in a well-contained area. I simply reached into the bag and kept everything nice and tidy that way. Then I pour the crushings into a pie tin and separated out the seeds with a slight rocking motion that allowed the heavier seeds to fall to one side while leaving the chaff at the top. In this picture you can see the basil seeds as the larger black bits in the tin.

Seed packets!

After you get your seeds pretty well separated, put them away until it’s time to start your garden (don’t spend all winter trying to separate the seeds 100% from the chaff of the seed heads. It won’t hurt anything if it’s all in there together). For storing the saved seeds, I either make smaller envelopes by cutting and taping regular-sized envelopes envelopes, or I’ll repurpose an empty spice jar. In this case I opted for the little envelopes, and I always try to date my seeds as a good habit.

There you have it. Seed saving is probably one of the more useful things that hipsters can do, and as a house husband, it helps our little clan to have fresh herbs and vegetables during the growing season. Be daring; be hipster; be resourceful: save those seeds.

Frugal. Industrious. Resourceful.

Hipster Ben FranklinAre you ready for a history lesson? I read most of an iBook about Benjamin Franklin, so by hipster standards, I basically have my doctorate in American Revolutionary History.

Benjamin Franklin is given a lot of credit for helping promote the ideals of the middle class in the New World. These were ideals that he embodied as much as possible, and which he looked for in a spouse. Here comes Deborah Read. By most accounts, Deborah was not an exceptional beauty. There was not a lustful passion or physical attraction that drove them together. Rather, it was more a union of practicality. Deborah needed someone to take care of her, and Benjamin needed someone to take care of him. Benjamin Franklin was a very pragmatic person, you see. He didn’t like to get into things that had no practical application or benefit. That’s why he invented the lightning rod and bifocals and a weird stove and a bunch of other super practical stuff.

But I digress. I bring these things up to mention my House Husband motto: Frugal. Industrious. Resourceful. For these are things that Benjamin Franklin loved most about his Deborah. Not only did she clean the house, but she kept the finances for his printing business. Not only did she cook the meals, but she also helped to run the family business. When the people of Philadelphia mobbed their house on Market Street because they thought Benjamin to be a British loyalist, did Deborah grab a frying pan? No, she grabbed a rifle. And while I am wholly subscribed to pacifism and non-violent response, her resourcefulness cannot help but be admired.

Benjamin Franklin wrote and spoke in praise of these attributes of his wife often. Not only frugal, but also industrious. Not only industrious, but also resourceful.

As a House Husband, these words mean a lot to me. I keep track of our budget: frugal. I make the most of my time outside of my full-time job: industrious. I use what we already have to improve of our lot: resourceful. As a Hipster, these words give me license to do weird hipster things. I ride mopeds to save on gas: frugal. I make things by hand when they can easily be purchased: industrious. I repurpose trash into usable items: resourceful.

These words will come up often because I use them to help guide my days. They also make me look smart because I get to talk about Benjamin Franklin, a topic on which I am obviously very educated.