Tuesday, February 27, 2018

DIY Coffee Harvesting and Roasting

Growing your own coffee is a rather formidable challenge, and, to be honest, not a particularly effective use of time if you live in an apartment.  But if you are like me, and you have a coffee tree, you might as well get some brew from it, right?

First things first; a coffee tree in a pot in your apartment takes about 3-4 years of growing before it will start to produce fruit, and maybe a couple more before it makes enough fruit that you can convince yourself you should try harvesting them.  

Your future coffee beans first appear as little white flowers, harbingers of caffeine and happiness.  

About a month later you will see little green fruit start to emerge where the flowers had been.  Now comes the hardest part; it takes up to 6 months for those green fruit to ripen into juicy red berries.  

Six.  Months. It's agonizing.

But if you are patient, 6 months later, you can harvest to fully ripened berries.  They should be a strong, deep red when you harvest them; if in doubt err on the side of waiting a little longer.  

So now that we've picked the berries, we can start making the coffee.  

First, open the berries.  A large, ripe berry will have two coffee beans inside.  Smaller berries may just have one. The beans will be nice and slimey when first removed.  

Next, wash the beans, then set them in a dish of water to ferment.  I've found this process takes about 3-4 days.  The beans should start to feel a bit gritty at the end of fermentation.  At this point you should throw out any floating beans.  

Now we dry the beans.  Outside people use the sun.  Inside an apartment, a desk lamp might be your best bet.  I used a lamp with a compact fluorescent bulb, so it produced fairly minimal heat, but just enough to speed up drying times.  Even under the lamp it still takes about 7 days.  To find out if they are dry enough, take one bean and open it up, revealing the green inner bean.  A sufficiently dry bean will snap in your mouth; if it is chewy then you need to keep drying.

Now that your beans are dry, shell them all, then remove the silvery parchment.  

What is left is the actual coffee bean that you consume.  They should be a greenish silver color.  

Finally it is time to roast the beans.  There are many great descriptions of using air-poppers (like for popcorn) to do this well in your house. I did no such thing.  The hardest option is to use a frying pan on a stove.  This is extra hard if you don't have enough beans to fill the pan, so you cannot stir them well.  This was my situation.  Again, I do not recommend this method, but it is technically possible.  Set the stove to a medium heat and start roasting.  It should take about 15-20 minutes if done right.  The first time I did this I set the stove to high and immediately burned my beans.  You are trying to heat them up, then caramelize the sugar inside.  Once the sugar is all caramelized you are done, and any further cooking will burn it.  Alternatively, if the pan is too hot they will burn immediately. 

This was my final product.  You can see how beautifully uneven I was able to roast the beans in a fry pan.  Definitely worth the wait!   


Sunday, December 3, 2017

DIY: Quick and Easy Glowing Window Decorations

Our newest 'Christmas' decoration this year; a glowing nerd symbol!

Total time to make: 10 minutes. Total happiness: Immeasurable.

Cardboard box
Duct tape
Marker or pencil
Tissue paper (like for presents, not for sneezing)


1) Cut down the cardboard box flat.  For my box I had to cut it in half, then tape the two parts together to make a big enough square.  (not pictured)

2) Draw your symbol/image/words of choice.  (not pictured)

3) Cut out your symbol/image/words of choice.  (not pictured, sorry! I forgot to take pictures until halfway through!)

4) Tape tissue paper to one side of the cardboard.  

5) BONUS: Use black duct tape to cover the cardboard and make the image stand out better

6) Place decoration in a window; tissue paper facing inward. Place a lamp next to the decoration.  NOTE: tissue paper is flammable! Keep a distance between the lamp and the decoration! I'm using a compact fluorescent which doesn't get quite as hot as an incandescent bulb AND the lamp is still a good distance from the decoration.  Don't set the house on fire!

7) Bask in the glory of your new home decoration!

Saturday, December 31, 2016

DIY Cigar Box Travel Board Game

For Christmas this year I made my brother a travel version of a board game I really like.  I used a balsa wood cigar box from a craft store, and little wooden dowels as pieces.  The board is painted on the top of the box, and the inside holds the game pieces, cards, and instructions.

This is a general outline for making a board game.  You can use this to make a wide variety of games which require a relatively simple board.

-Balsa wood box
-Acrylic craft paint
-White craft glue
-Balsa wood strips
-Wooden dowels (for game pieces)
-Wood stain
-Polyurethane (I used glossy)
-Water colors and water color paper (for game cards)
-Card stock (for printing instructions)

This project took awhile to complete.  The paint, wood stain, and polyurethane all need to dry for long periods of time, so make sure to plan ahead!  There is a list of mis-steps I made listed at the end to help your project go smoother.

Step one was finding supplies.  The box itself I chose because it was roughly square (the shape of the board) and shallow, which meant it wouldn't take up too much space.  I knew I needed two types of pieces for the game, so I bought large and small finished dowels at a craft store.  I also wanted to be able to partition off the inside of the box, so I needed some strips of balsa wood (same material as the box itself).

To frame the inside, I placed the pieces and cards into the empty box. I then cut out balsa wood segments to contain the pieces but still leave room so they can be picked up easily. I glued them down with white craft glue. See 'Things I should have done differently' (below) regarding balsa wood height!

Next I painted the board*.  Originally I had planned on painting the inside of the box as the board, but it was a pretty small space, and would have made playing the game frustrating.  Next I tried painting the top of the box but leaving an edge around the board.  This ended up still being too small of a board to be easy to use.  In the end I used the whole surface of the box top for the board to maximize space.  The top is painted with acrylic craft paint.  I drew the lines for the board after the underlying design was finished.  The bottom of the box I painted a solid white for symmetry.

*This was the wrong order; you should stain the box first! See below, and avoid my mistakes!

The pieces are colored with the same acrylic paint.  Because the pieces were already finished when I bought them, they did not take paint well.  The smaller pieces were semi-finished and so the paint ended up staining them in an interesting way.  The larger pieces were heavily lacquered, so paint did not stick to them at all.  I ended up dipping the tops of the large pieces into paint, which made for a solid shell around their tops.  The large and small pieces were then coated in polyurethane to protect them.

The inside and outside edges of the box were finished with a dark wood stain.  I unscrewed the hardware from the box prior to staining to keep it clean.  Once the stain was dry I then coated the inside and outside of the box with 2 coats of polyurethane.  See below regarding polyurethane and craft paint!

Once the polyurethane was dry I used felt in each compartment to reduce wear and tear on the pieces (and make the game quieter to carry around).  The felt was glued down with the white craft glue.

The cards used for the game I painted on water color paper which I had cut into 1/8ths.  First I did a very light brown watercolor wash over the entire card to give it a slightly aged look, then I drew the grids in ink.  I finished by watercoloring the name and squares.

The instruction cards I printed on card stock.  I cut out a small quarter circle in each corner to make them easier to pick up from inside the box.

And that was it!  I'm quite happy with how the box turned out, and the play-testing was a success!

Things I realize I should have done differently: 
1) The balsa wood pieces I used are too short, which allows the contents of the box to move around if the box is not kept upright.
2) The acrylic paint I used became slightly translucent with the polyurethane, so in some places you can see the original smaller board outline peaking through the white paint.
3) Staining the box is super messy! Do it BEFORE you paint the box or you will be doing Lots of touch-up work!

Saturday, November 12, 2016

DIY: Grow your own Pineapple plant

So about 3.5 years ago I was wondering if I could make a new pineapple plant from the top of a pineapple I had bought at the grocery store.  The answer, it turns out, was Yes.  It actually wasn't very hard, and now I have an enormous pineapple plant in the apartment.

I will note that my Pineapple has yet to flower and produce a new pineapple, but as I live pretty far north and do not really go out of my way to get it enough light I am not too surprised.  Mostly my pineapple plant just hangs out as an enormous bromeliad.

What you will need:
A pineapple
A glass of water
A pot of soil
2 years (or more)

Step 1: Buy a pineapple.  Make sure the leaves on top are green.  I've never seen a pineapple that didn't look like the leaves looked at least moderately healthy, but I assume it's possible.

Step 2: Cut the pineapple's top off.  Cut right where the leaves exit the fruit, or a bit lower.  

Step 3:  Take the top and slowly cut thin layers off until you see root nubs.

Step 4: Once you see the root nubs, start removing leaves from the base.  I removed about an inch of leaves total.

Step 5: Now that your pineapple top is ready, let it dry for 24 hours.  This is to prevent rot.  I cannot actually remember if I did this step (it's been 3.5 years), but it's what you are supposed to do.

Step 6: Place the top into a glass of water so the root nubs are submerged but the leaves are above the water. Put the glass somewhere it will receive light for the next 1-2 weeks.

Step 7: Watch the roots slowly grow.  It took about a week or so for the roots to grow to be an inch long.

Step 8:  Once the roots are an inch or so long, take the top out of the water and Very Gently plant in soil.  I just used the random garden soil I had lying around.

Step 9:  Place in a southern facing window and water regularly, but don't keep it soaked.  If in doubt the pineapple will do better with a little less water than too much.

Step 10: Slowly give up more and more of your house or apartment space to the monster you have created.  Mine is currently 4 feet across and harassing all the other house plants on its shelf.

In theory a pineapple can start to flower and bear fruit after ~2 years,  That has not been the case for me and I believe it is due to sub-par lighting, but it is still very much alive and kicking, so I have my fingers crossed that one day I may yet get a second pineapple from my original purchase.