Sunday, March 27, 2016

Volunteer Opportunity: End of Winter Fruit Gleaning

When I was looking for a home in Sacramento, I was touring the different neighborhoods in Midtown in December. I loved seeing the different homes and apartments with ripening citrus trees. As a girl from the East Coast, I remember looking forward to the winter months full of mandarin boxes lining the stairwell to our attic. Just like then, you can find me consuming three or more of these gems a day when they are in season.

After living in the City of Trees for two months, I began getting frustrated on my walk to the gym or the local cafe. Dotting the ground in a pool of sweet juice were once perfectly ripe oranges, lemons, and grapefruit. I could not stand the food waste that was happening in our community, and articulated my revulsion at any opportunity I could get at networking events. At this point, I was introduced to Soil Born Farms.

Soil Born Farms is a local agricultural organization dedicated to empowering youth and adults to create a sustainable urban food system through educational and volunteer opportunities. Harvest Sacramento is a gleaning project where volunteers pick fruit from neighborhood homes on Saturday morning and then donate the produce to a food bank in the area. One of the mornings I volunteered, my group of eight people collected over 600lbs of citrus in three hours. Not only was it fun seeing the exploring various yards of Sacramento, but I loved building a community with the other volunteers. The volunteers came from all different neighborhoods in and surrounding Sacramento as well as different cities. My favorite quality of the volunteer group was the range of ages. There are always young adults, professionals and retirees. I can't think of many other spaces where there is such age diversity.

In addition to gleaning fruit, one can also volunteer on Sunday morning and afternoons at the Sacramento Natural Co-op learning how to preserve the picked fruit.  A portion of the fruit is preserved and then sold at the Soil Born farm stand. The proceeds go to pay for the maintenance of gleaning equipment. I attended one of the jarring session where Janet from The Good Stuff  showed us how to make blood orange preserves and salted lemons. I worked during the morning shift where five other volunteers showed up. We first cleaned the jars and citrus. Then we chopped the blood oranges and combined them with sugar on a stove top. While waiting for the ruby sauce to boil, we prepared the lemons by cutting them into wedges and combing them with a spicy salt mixture. We then stuffed the salty lemons in and secured the jars. After the concoction came to a consistent boil and temperature, we could then jar the jam. Volunteers were able to take recipes and a jar of each with them home.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Coffee Culture is King: How to Home Brew

When I move to Sacramento, Californians frequently wanted to know the reason I was moving to 'cow-town.' Besides my internship, I had heard rumors of the food revolution that had hit the Farm-to-Fork capital. Unbeknownst to me, part of this movement included coffee.

Turn any corner in Midtown, and you will be face with a myriad of choices from single origin espresso to cafe sourced beans. There are seven coffee roasters in Midtown and East Sacramento alone! That isn't including the many roasters in the greater Sacramento region. When ordering a cup of dark liquid caffeine, your barista will gracefully unfold the story of the bean you are consuming from its nationality, the distance from sea level  of the soil in which it was grown, the predicted tastes on your palate, and the body features you should anticipate depending on your chosen preparation.

Like many labels of identity I held dear to me before living in California, my coffee connoisseur title was indeed challenged. Thus, I wholeheartedly appreciated Insight Coffee Roasters free educational classes held on the weekends. The classes are held once a month at their S/8th location on Saturday afternoon. Topics range from home roasting to home brewing to sourcing. Unfortunately, I couldn't make it to the sourcing seminar last month, but I did attend their home brewing course.

Personally, I usually prepare my coffee by pour over and drink it black. For me, it's a comforting morning ritual. That being said, I was impressed at the selection highlighted in the course, as well as helpful hints such as grind size and grounds to water ratios. Plus, did you know that you needed to wet the filter first?

To home brew, it was recommended that you have a scale, a bean grinder that can ground different sizes, a gooseneck kettle, and the preparation method of your choice. Why so many things?! I was a little put off at first too, but in search for the perfect 'joe' in the morning, all play a necessary role. For instance, each  preparation method requires a different precise pour method (too fast and you will have a weak brew); hence the gooseneck kettle will give you more precision. Additionally, each method needs a different grind size. Each type of bean has a different weight (as well as you will want to weigh the the amount of water); therefore, you will need a scale.

Finally, why does one have so many choices when preparing coffee? Well, the different methods give feature different elements of the coffee such as the acidity or oils. Below are my notes for each method:

French Press: Grounds brew for a period of time with only a screen to filter; thus high levels of oils are present in the coffee
Bonavita: A mixture between a French press and a pour over, so you get the infusion of a French press and the extraction of a pour over
Chemex: The filter is the most important element of this method. Be sure to wet the filter and pour out the water in the carafe before blooming the coffee. Once the grounds are added, create a vortex and pour at an angle
Metal Cone: This doesn't have as much resistance as the chimex, and has an awkward balance of high levels of acid and high levels of oil.
Pour Over: The pour over requires the same preparation as the chemex, however, you want to create a cone of grounds within the filter.
Vacuum Press: This one is best for travel. This will give you a smooth brew lacking bitterness

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Beer Week in Sacramento

Sacramento's Beer Week was from February 25th to March 6th. And today, it ended in a big festival on Capitol Mall. Due to the unpredictable rainy weather, I went on a brewery tour instead investigating Bike Dog Brewing Company, Oak Park Brewing Company, and ending at the Rind for a satisfying bowl of macaroni and cheese.  As I am identifying and refining my beer palate, I am realizing that I am not a fan of blondes, pale ales or saisons, but enjoy coffee stouts or ambers.

Bike Dog was packed to the brim with children, adults, and their dogs. It was a fun atmosphere with games, but little room to sit. To stave off hunger, I ordered 'Hulk fries' from the geek-pleasing food truck, The Culinerdy Cruzer. The truck was full of comics, figurines, and was complete with a wearable Darth Vador Mask. Our fries with pesto, artichoke hearts, and spicy roasted tomatoes doused in mayo (my choice) hit the spot. While I was waiting, the chef was experimenting with a stout and a dessert recipe.

At Oak Park Brewing Company I shared another flight of beers pictured above. From left to right is the Salty Dog Coffee Porter, the Joyland Imperial Red Ale, the Steampunk Farmhouse Saison, and the Neck Thumper Russian Imperial Ale. By far my favorite was the Salty Dog porter due to the strong coffee taste.