60 sqm homestead

I’ve never been a very productive person, so I’m relishing my current spate of home-made produce, which I hope will only increase in future.

In the past I would have found any number of obstacles to every item I’ve thus far produced; even something as simple as not being able to find strong flour for bread-making at my local supermarket. You could say I was a little too easily defeated.

I’ve been reflecting on my progress thus far, and have to give credit to two elements that have inspired all the subsequent productivity. Firstly, my brother and his wife got me started on roasting coffee, which in many ways remains the easiest, quickest, and most rewarding activity. It meets the ideal of providing a high-quality product at or below commercial prices. Half an hour of roasting literally doubles the value of the coffee beans. Other adventures in home produce have followed this same goal – creating something that tastes as good as or better than anything I could afford, but at a much lower cost.

The second major element is all thanks to my friend J, over at Gray’s Brewing. J did everything to get me brewing, short of threatening physical violence: before heading overseas he showed us the process from start to finish, and left us with a cube of wort, a bunch of fermenters, a freezer, a sachet of yeast, and assorted bits and pieces in what is effectively the brewing equivalent of pre-chewing your child’s food so he doesn’t choke on it.

Brewing all-grain beer likewise produces a high quality product at much lower costs, but unlike my coffee roasting, it also introduced a number of basic technical skills and equipment that have lowered the cost of entry to other products.

For example, if it were not for brewing beer, I would never have tried brewing rice wine. If it were not for the rice wine, I would never have started brewing soy sauce (don’t worry J, I’m using my own fermenter for that). All three require fermenters, familiarity with yeast fermentation, and for the latter two a familiarity with Aspergillus oryzae.

Beer also required the use of a thermometer, which, as simple as it sounds, was otherwise an obstacle to producing yoghurt. Producing yoghurt led to simple mozzarella cheese (more complex cheese to follow). Cheese and yoghurt are both closely related to butter, with yoghurt providing cultures for both, and butter producing buttermilk as a by-product, which is (in name at least) in turn useful for the cultivation of a different variety of cheeses.

Making the soy sauce required a huge amount of brine, for which I used my brewing hydrometer to establish the specific gravity and hence salt-content of the brine. Having made so much brine for the soy sauce, making another brine to wash the butter was no obstacle.

Salt has been the common ingredient in both the soy sauce and the bacon, and with lemons coming into season we’ll likely be using it to preserve lemons as well. Preserving lemons will be easy now that we have the mason jars purchased for the sake of the pasta sauce; mason jars that turned out to be very handy for making and storing yoghurt, as well as for whipping cream into butter.

I even used a mason jar the other day to store cold-pressed coffee, an experiment which proved dangerously good for making impromptu iced-coffees.

If you’ve read this far, what I’m getting at is that there’s a basic knowledge and familiarity with these various ingredients, techniques, and skills that lowers the threshold to an array of wonderful products. They are interconnected in surprising ways, such that I could, in the near future, have a bread dough, yoghurt, cheese, beer, soy sauce, and rice wine in the one fridge, all undergoing varying permutations on the fermentation of yeast or culture of bacteria.

I’m struck by how limited my knowledge and skills were before, and how enriching by contrast this new-found productivity has already become.

Home-made update

Tis almost Christmas and I thought it fitting as I sit here consuming home-made rice wine to fill you in on the progress of my varied exploits in home economy.

Yogurt
I’ve never been a big fan of yogurt, but since I discovered I could make delicious fresh yogurt for $1 per litre, my consumption has dramatically increased to reach parity with production. It seems that the more yogurt I produce, the more I consume; and while part of me is curious to find just how far this relationship goes, the rest of me is a little scared.

At the same time, I discovered that leaving a 3 litre jar of yogurt lying on its side in the fridge is a good way to separate the whey, leaving us with extremely thick yogurt.

Given the dynamic relationship between brain and digestive tract, I’m also curious to see the long-term effects of increased yogurt consumption. Will eating yogurt make me a happier, nicer person?

Rice Wine
The rice wine is going strong. I pasteurised one bottle at 85 degrees for about 10 minutes which killed about half the flavour. Not a great move. The second bottle I heated to 70 for 10 minutes, and it retains most of its flavour. In fact it’s more drinkable than the unpasteurised bottle, which has too strong a flavour.

I have three batches of rice wine on the go: ten cups of rice in a fermenter, and five each in two large jars. The rice in the fermenter was soaked in water for a day before steaming in a bamboo steamer. The rice in the two jars was soaked for two days, at which point it turned sour and fearing the worst I washed it thoroughly and set it to ferment (after steaming) apart from the first batch.

Nonetheless both the fermenter and the two jars are doing well. The spread of the white mold is visible, and liquid is now forming, just over a week into the process.

Beer
My Bright Ale turned out too dilute due to an inexperienced error in the boil. I’ll adjust future recipes. Chilling the beer to near freezing, it is still quite enjoyable, especially after a night run, but the first few litres I was saddened at the thought of what might have been.

I’ll try to do a Golden Ale on Boxing Day, as my supply is running dangerously low!

Ginger Beer
I cooked up a batch of Ginger Beer for Christmas, and have yet to try it. I’ve been disappointed in the past at the inefficiency of the ginger extraction in the existing recipe we’re using, so in light of that and the exorbitant price of ginger, I used less of it but cooked it in a pressure cooker for about an hour.

Normally there’s enough flavour left in the ginger after boil to bake a cake or biscuits, but this time it was flavourless dross. Success! However, it’s possible that the high pressure/temperature might alter the flavour a little. Will have to wait and see.

In the meantime, I’ve found a reputable Ginger Beer recipe that starts from scratch so hopefully I’ll give that a go in the near future.

Coffee
We’ve had a couple of popcorn machines die on us. Could be bad luck or a change in the tolerances of the machine, but either way it might be time to look for an alternative brand of machine or failing that an alternative method of roasting beans. There are a few other cheap methods. If worst comes to worst a heat gun and a dog bowl will do.

That’s about all there is to report at present. Future experiments may include bread, limoncello, noodles and pasta sauce.

Home-roasted coffee

coffee1

I’ve bean busy…

With due credit to my brother and his wife for getting me started on this project…

I’ve been roasting my own coffee beans for almost a year now.  The procedure is very simple, and achieves the ideal of a high-quality product at far below the market cost.  I can spend 30-45mins roasting beans once every week or two weeks, and enjoy the satisfaction, the freedom, and the existential high of producing my own great-tasting coffee.

Instead of spending as much as $36/kg on fresh, good quality beans, I order green beans online for about $15/kg, including postage.  I roast the beans outdoors in small batches, in a pair of $12-15 popcorn machines.  There are plenty of other ways to roast coffee, and lots of ways to modify the ‘poppers’ for greater control and consistency, but I’m happy thus far with this entry-level approach, and you can read more about it here:

http://www.sweetmarias.com/airpop/airpopmethod.php

In practical terms I’m yet to find a downside to roasting my own coffee at home.  It has become my favourite example of pushing back a little against a purely consumerist lifestyle, and producing something of value for one’s own benefit.

It’s likewise an example of my broader theme of ‘richer on a lower income’, as my family moves slowly toward an improved quality of life on a much reduced income.

How many other things could we produce – not for the sake of self-sufficiency, but for the sake of enjoying higher quality products without having to spend more hours in a meaningless job just to pay for them?  How much autonomy could we regain by having in our own skills and possessions the ability to produce rather than merely consume?  How much more fulfilling is a life spent cultivating the knowledge and sufficiency that past generations took for granted, and which we have all but abandoned?

This tiny step of making (and then drinking) my own coffee is pure inspiration.  It symbolises knowledge, freedom, power, wealth, and principle.  It points the way to a better life in which we can break the ruling conventions of 9-5 jobs and supermarket trolleys.

This isn’t about self-sufficiency in the most literal and demanding sense, nor are we about to dig a bomb-shelter, stockpile weapons, or form a fringe religious cult (coffee-cult, maybe).  It fundamentally is not about making life more difficult, onerous, or weird.  Rather, it’s about the kinds of improvements that would be common-sense if so many of us weren’t alienated and estranged by the demands of mainstream employment, and a culture increasingly dependent on a false dichotomy of career and consumption.