Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Have you tried cold-brew coffee?

I have!

One of my fantasy futures involves owning a coffeeshop / used bookstore, and I've recently become obsessed with all manner of teas and coffees. I love any form of tea, but coffee has taken some getting used to. At this point, I can only drink "frou-frou" coffee; i.e. lattes and mochas with lots of syrup and milk. My roommate likes the stuff, but she's recently suffered from some acid reflux and hasn't been drinking coffee much lately.

In my frenzy of coffee and tea research, I was interested to read that cold-brewed coffee has a much lower acidity than the traditionally brewed kind, and that many people with stomach problems have no problems drinking it. So, I decided to give it a whirl.

Most online recipes for cold-brewed coffee use a whole pound of coffee, but since it was my first time I didn't want to waste a whole pound if we didn't like it. I found a good article and recipe from the NY Times for only a few cups, and gave it a whirl!

It's amazingly easy, and takes no time at all to prepare. You just dump some medium-ground coffee into water... and wait. Most sources recommend at least 12 hours of brewing to allow the maximum flavor to develop. Some suggest up to 24 hours! For my small batch, I used 2/3 cup coffee and 3 cups of water.

After the steeping, the straining takes a bit more of a time investment. I used a sieve first, to get out the majority of the coffee-grounds sludge. Then I strained it through a regular coffee filter to remove the leftover silt, which takes a while! I only used one coffee filter for the small batch (3 cups), but I think it would have gone quicker if I had replaced it with a fresh one halfway through.

Here's a picture of all the silt the coffee filter pulled out:

After you've finished straining the coffee, it's ready to drink! Because granulated sugar doesn't dissolve well in cold drinks, I made some sugar syrup to use with my iced coffee (1:1 ratio of sugar and water, boil until dissolved, and cool.). Add some milk or cream and enjoy!

My roommate said it was great and immediately demanded that I make another batch for the next morning. Coming right up! (In 12 hours...)

Student Leadership

August 2008 marks the start of my third year as a campus minister at La Roche college. At this time two years ago, I remember being really excited and really apprehensive about what I had gotten myself into! Last fall, I was energized by knowing what to expect and what kinds of things were going to happen that year. This year, I’m even more excited to find out what God has planned for His students at La Roche!

As a part of our Tuesday night fellowship group, we have a team of student leaders, who I have talked about before with you. The effectiveness and success of the team has been hit or miss the past two years. This fall, we are introducing a restructured student leadership team that empowers students to lead in their own areas of giftedness.

Many of the students we know are leaders in other places on campus, but who consider their faith an important thing to preserve and cultivate. Instead of pressuring shy students to stand up and make announcements at our meetings, or asking an overcommitted student to send out a weekly email, we plan to approach students on an individual basis and ask them what they are interested in doing for Nine.Thirty.Seven Fellowship Group. We are anticipating student-created positions for everything from making announcements and running PowerPoint to prayer and hospitality. It is our prayer that this new approach will be more beneficial to the students and to the fellowship group. Please pray that God will prepare the students’ hearts for leadership this year.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Further Adventures in Preserving Herbs

After doing all the research I told you about in the previous post, I decided to try my hand at all three of the different methods of preserving herbs! Admittedly, I don't have that many plants to preserve, and so I don't know how worthy my efforts are. But it's fun trying!

As I said before, I have two different types of basil on the balcony: sweet basil, and summerlong basil. The sweet basil leaves are broad and glossy, dark green. Those I decided would be best suited for freezing. I don't have too many leaves yet, so I only picked half a dozen to freeze. I figure I can just keep picking them as they grow through the summer.

The summerlong basil, my other variety, has much smaller leaves and has branched out a bit more than the sweet basil. So those, I decided to dry. I know the material that I posted before recommended basil for freezing because of the high moisture content, but the differences in my two varieties made me think that the summerlong would be okay for drying. We shall see! I have two bundles of three branches each, and they're currently hanging in my closet. But I realized as I was hanging them up that I have no idea how long it will take for them to dry sufficiently! If they're not done in a month when I move, I suppose I'll just take them with me!

Since I'm growing everything in pots, and I grew many of them from seed, I put too many seeds in each pot because I was afraid some of them wouldn't grow. After they started growing, I thinned them out a bit, but I have a feeling they're still too close together. There were four individual plants in my summerlong basil pot, which I know is too many! One poor plant was dwarfed and hidden under/behind the other three, so I decided to just pull the whole thing up to give the other three more room to grow. Those leaves were too tiny to really do anything with -- except freezing them in ice cubes! It took me a while to tear all the itty-bitty leaves off, but I think the ice cube route will be ideal for them. (In the picture, three of the cubes are filled with water and the other three are waiting.)

Monday, July 14, 2008

Preserving Herbs

My research lead me to two different possibilities for preserving the herbs I'm growing on the balcony this summer. The traditional method is by drying herbs, which you can do in a variety of ways. The method with the quickest and best results is by using a food dehydrator, which circulates air through trays. A quick search on Craigslist found 3 different dehydrators for sale in my area, all under $20. However, since I am still living a fairly transient lifestyle (moving in a month, actually!), I don't think I'm going to rush out and buy a dehydrator. I remember my mom buying one when I was younger, determined to use it to create healthy, tasty snacks for us kids. I think she only used it a few times, and it sat gathering dust in a cupboard before a kitchen renovation sent it on its way. Since you can achieve satisfactory results without buying any special equipment, I plan to try drying them by hanging them.

Gather the herbs on their stems and strip the leaves off the bottom inch or two. Remove any dead or damaged leaves. Group the stems in small bunches and tie or rubber band them together. Then, hang the bundles upside down in a warm, dry place with lots of space between bundles to make sure the air circulates. Check on them periodically, because as the herbs dry the stems shrink, and you may need to re-tie the bundles so that none of your branches fall out. Another option for drying, if you have the space, is to lay the branches out on horizontal window screens (elevated so the air circulates). You will still need to rotate the stems periodically.

One of the main problem areas in preserving herbs is that they mold and rot before they dry. This happens when there is too much moisture in the herbs or on the outside of the herbs. When you harvest them, if they are clean, do not wet them. If they are dirty or dusty, rinse them under water, and shake or pat off excess water. Take the time to dry the stems off completely to prevent mold.

The success of your drying depends also on the types of herbs you are preserving. The method above works best for thin-leafed and delicate herbs such as Bay, Dill, Marjoram, Oregano, Rosemary, Summer Savory, or Thyme. However, herbs with thicker, more moisture-retaining leaves can also be frozen. Freezing herbs retains the same flavor that drying does, however, they won't be suitable for garnish, only for cooking. Freezing is recommended for things like Basil, Chives, Mint, Tarragon, Parsley, Fennel, or Chervil. Remove the stems, chop if you wish, or leave the leaves whole. Lay the dried herbs out in a single layer on cookie sheets or trays and place in the freezer. Once the herbs have completely frozen, place them in containers and store in the freezer. You can also freeze individual portions of herbs by making ice cubes out of them. Prepare your herbs by removing the stems and chopping, and then pack them into ice cube trays. Cover with water and freeze. When frozen, remove the cubes from the trays and store in freezer bags. When cooking with them, you can toss the whole ice cube right into the pot! A few sites I looked at recommended blanching the herbs before freezing to help retain color and flavor.

I found lots of good resources for preserving herbs. Much of the information above came from these sites! Please visit them for further reading and information.
Harvesting and Preserving Herbs for the Home Gardener
How to Preserve Herbs

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Growing, growing...

Well, the "garden" continues to grow and grow! Earlier in the summer, I planted 11 different varieties of vegetables, herbs, and flowers from seed. Only three of them didn't make it past the seedling stage, which I consider a very good ratio for my first time growing vegetables and herbs! Joining those plants out on our little balcony are some houseplants (who are very happy to be outdoors!) and a few more plants from my roommate's mom, who works at a garden shop. Our pot total is at 24 healthy, green (and pink and purple and yellow), growing things. I had no idea that growing things would bring me so much joy! When I saw the first tiny green tomatoes, I literally jumped up and down in excitement and screamed for my roommate to come look! The biggest one, pictured above, is about the size of a marble right now, but still growing.

I also discovered, thanks to my morning glory, that I have a strong attraction to vining/climbing plants. It's so cool that it just wraps itself around and around, stretching its tendrils out to anything it can get its little green fingers on! My mother for some reason decided to knock my excitement down a few notches by telling me that the reason the morning glory grew so large so quickly is that it's really a weed. Well, weed or not, I think it's cool! I'm still waiting for it to flower, though...

As for the vegetables in my little balcony garden, we still haven't actually tasted any of the fruits of my labor! The tomatoes are the closest, since I can actually see the fruit. I'm still waiting for the green peppers, eggplant, and celery to come to maturity. But my herbs have been doing remarkably well! My favorite is the basil, of which I have two varieties: sweet basil and summer-long basil. The sweet basil looks more like what you would buy in the produce section at the grocery store, with broad dark-green leaves. The summer-long basil has many more leaves per plant, but they're smaller, narrow, and more pointy than the sweet basil. I've used both in my cooking so far, but haven't decided if I prefer the flavor of one over the other.

I still have to do a little research for my gardening... My success thus far has been due to luck and not skill or knowledge! I've heard something about needing to tie celery, I still can't see any sign of fruiting or flowering on the eggplant, and I'm really hoping to be able to dry or preserve my herbs! Thank goodness for the World Wide Web! I'll let you know what I know when I know it! And if anyone has any tips or suggestions for me, I'd love to hear them! Happy gardening.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Share your life.

When I first began working in this position as a campus minister and a youth director, I have a couple passages of Scripture that I adopted as my "theme" verses, words that would communicate and inform what I do. It was over two years ago that I printed the verses out on neon-colored cardstock and stapled them to my bulletin board. They're still there, and although the edges are being covered bit-by-bit with mementos from my work, those words still mean something to me. One of them was so important that it became the title of my newsletter, and the tagline for this very blog.

And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses, entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others. 2 Timothy 2:2
We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us. 1 Thessalonians 2:8

Unfortunately, though, I have a tendency to get caught up in other things and forget the reasons that I was called into ministry in the first place. During those times, it seems that God is always there to give me a little nudge (sometimes it's more like a shove!) to remind me why I do what I do. I was just sending out some thank-you notes to supporters, and here is a part of what I wrote:
I love that I have the opportunity to spend time with these youth and college students. I am continually impressed with the urgency of sharing Christ's love with these young people! Thank you for making it possible for me to do so.
I do love that I get the chance to spend time with these youth and college students. But I should be doing more than just hanging out -- I should be sharing my life! That is what I've been called here to do! I'm too protective of "my" time. There are so many things that I do on "my" time that would be perfect opportunities to share Christ's love with students. I have too great a responsibility, as Christ's chosen minister, to be selfish with my time. Sharing the Gospel is easy. Sharing the Gospel with my life... Now that's something.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Coming Soon: Consistency

When I was in college, and blogging had just begun to be trendy, I posted practically every day. Much of what I was blogging about was silly and pointless, but I was amazingly consistent. (Anything to avoid studying!) Now that I'm in the "real world" with a real job, it is incredibly hard to keep up with the online world. However, I suspect that my blogging inconsistencies have less to do with my job than it does with my sporadic internet access. I don't have a connection at home, so my only web-surfing time happens when I am at my office, or when I have my laptop out at a coffee shop (my portable office). I will be moving in mid-August, though, and will have wireless at home, so hopefully I'll be back on track!

Periodically, I question the purpose of blogging. I enjoy writing and journaling, although I don't do it as regularly as I would like. But why do I feel the need to post my writing on the Web for all the world (theoretically) to read? I have a bound journal that I write and draw in, and the things that I put in there are completely different than the things that I post online. And, to top it off, I'm not sure that anyone actually reads this blog! I wish they would, and am working on how to get people interested in reading what I write. I'm guessing that consistency is a key!

Happy Fourth of July!