Archive for category vida en la granja

coffee the fromsoiltosoul way


lessons on how NOT to make coffee, which lead to how to do it properly…


freshly made coffee

a beautiful cup of coffee that I made from scratch this morning, showing the harvest of beans that the coffee came from 


Today I spent the morning making coffee from scratch. I had harvested and sun dried some coffee beans from my last home-sit and this morning I was ready and determined to drink some coffee from my own micro-harvest. This is quite a long and involved process, not unlike making chocolate from scratch. These two processes have many similarities, since they both depend on fermenting the seeds/beans, drying them, shelling the beans and then roasting them to develop more flavour.


So, here’s a picture of what coffee berries look like in the different stages of the process (I’ll try to include a photo of what they look like on the bush, too):


coffee berries in their different processing stages

Clockwise from top left:

  1. ripe coffee berries
  2. whole dried ripe coffee berries (do NOT do this at home – details in text)
  3. crushed dried berries
  4. coffee beans with enclosing parchment
  5. clean-ish coffee beans
  6. roasted coffee beans

So, to make coffee from the coffee bean you basically harvest the ripe coffee berries, then dry them in full sunlight. I did this straight away, with the berries still whole, which was a bad idea. It turns out that the skin and pulp of the berries dry into a hard leather and make the extraction of the coffee beans quite a difficult process, the shelling of which took me the whole morning for less than half a pound of coffee. Not a very efficient way of making coffee, I guess… Another way of doing it is to break the berries when they are still whole and allowing them to dry broken up, thus making subsequent extraction slightly easier. You can find more information about coffee processing and about more sophisticated methods online, such as at the Paradise Coffee Roasters page.

During the drying stage the pulp also ferments, which gives the coffee beans a special aroma. Once fermented and dried you then shell the beans, which will show another thin layer of parchment coating each bean (of which there are usually 2 per berry), something like the almond or walnut skins you find after removing them from their larger outer fruits. These you must remove as well, which can be done by rubbing them against one another and blowing on them to winnow the chaff. Then you have some nice clean coffee beans to roast to your favourite darkness, ready to grind and brew. I ground the beans in a blender that a friend had just lent me in the morning, which didn’t give me the most even grind, but still, enough to keep experimenting with. I brought some water almost to the boil, until it started to send up tiny bubbles, poured the water into the cup of the blender to help wash out even the last little bit of coffee powder and let it stand until most of the bits settled in the bottom. Since I’ve only just moved in and I don’t even have a sieve or colander and didn’t want to use my socks as a filter, I had to then drink the coffee that way, spitting out the floating offenders, but it still made a nice cup of coffee that gave me a bit of a buzz and all! 😀

So, knowing that very few of you live in the appropriate climate to even be able to grow the bushes that provide us with this amazing beverage, I still hope that you may be slightly illuminated regarding the process required for you to be able to enjoy your morning brew. For more information about and from the producers themselves I’d recommend you to read when coffee speaks, by Rachel Northrop.

Wishing you all a very good and active day. 🙂

roasting coffee beans

roasting the beans in my oh-so-new aluminium pan


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rabbit roast night

Here are some photos of a self-sufficiency roast night that went down at the Yoga Forest, a yoga, meditation and Permaculture retreat in San Marcos. I’m posting only the photos of the rabbit roast, but there was also plenty of pizza to go around including vegetarian options.

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home-made mustard

home-made mustard

home-made mustard

Here’s a photo of my last experiment in the kitchen: home-made mustard!

I had a bag of mustard seeds that I had brought with me from Costa Rica which I was not really using a lot, neither in the kitchen or in the garden, until I thought of grinding them up to make mustard.

I first went about it by toasting them and grinding them up dry, but that just produced a very spicy but kind of disgusting paste that hastily made its way to the compost bin. So I researched the topic online and found quite a few recipes, which opened up the possibilities and showed me what was wrong in my approach. So I then proceeded to soak the seeds and then ground them wet, adding some of my also home-made pineapple vinegar, which gives it a lovely fruity aroma, and some extra garlic for flavour and added health benefits.

So, if you happen to have some extra mustard seeds lying about the pantry, don’t hesitate, grind them up into your own home-made mustard sauce and enjoy them in salad dressings, on steaks, or as I did on some Indian chickpea pancakes.

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chickpea pancakes – an Indian treat!

Chickpea pancake

Check out these pancakes I made with home-ground chickpea flour. I guess I could grind the flour finer to make it more digestible, but I actually like the crunchy texture of the coarse-ground flour how it is now.

Anyway, I encourage you to try these at home, they’re really tasty and easy to make. Try making a yoghurt-based dip or an Asian soy-based dipping sauce to go with it. I ate mine with a soy and vinegar scallion dipping sauce and some home-made mustard.

Here’s a link to a recipe in case you’re afraid to try without one: chickpea flour pancake

Happy cooking and enjoy!

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baking for a living

cloaking the oven beauty in weather-resistant lime

cloaking the oven beauty in weather-resistant lime

What do you do when your credit card decides that you are not worthy of its services any more?

Well, in my case I started baking! At first it was a matter of convenience and a bit of an emergency. My credit card stopped working in Costa Rica, the most expensive country in Central America, and I was already late for my volunteering position with the Return to the Forest Natural Building School in Guatemala. You never know how long it might take to receive a package in Central America, or even how many times you might have to try before you actually receive anything, and I didn’t want to be stuck in money-guzzling Costa Rica, so I quickly made my way to a safe haven of friends in Nicaragua, and from there started cooking to raise the funds to make it to Guatemala without getting stuck in Nicaragua either.

And so I made it to Guatemala, with Q15 to spare (about $2), but I had to find a way to make some kind of income without becoming a burden on anybody else, and since I had already built a cob floor and bench in Costa Rica and was here to do natural building anyway, I decided to build myself a cob oven to bake in.

So, about four weeks later and after a lot of hard work moving rocks for the base and lugging sand and clay from the riverbed and mixing it all up to build the oven itself, there it was! A beautiful, fresh and shiny clay oven. Now it was just a matter of letting it dry enough to be able to empty out the dome and start helping it dry with candles and small fires, which all happened within three days (it is usually recommended to wait much more than that…). 🙂

And with the oven dry or on its way to becoming so, I started baking banana bread and cinnamon rolls that I’ve been selling in the hostels around town, and I’ve even been using the low heat after baking to cure soap overnight! [You can get more information on soap making here]

It was a hard lesson to learn, though, because although the oven only cost me Q30 for the bricks that make up the floor, I still didn’t have any money for the ingredients that I needed for the baked goods themselves or for some food and drinks to provide for the different volunteers that showed up to help. I managed to borrow some money from the banks in the end with my old card and then the new one arrived within three weeks, but I still found it very hard in the meantime and learnt how difficult it can be to escape poverty, when you don’t even have the means to invest in something that you believe might bring you profit, and also how when you’re strapped for cash and you start something at a small scale, such as my little oven, it is difficult to grow from there, and I later found that I couldn’t really make big enough batches of goods to make it worth my time, and I’m therefore baking much less now.

But still, I keep on learning and enjoy having these opportunities to do so, despite getting stressed at times in the process! 🙂

Here are some photos for you to enjoy about how the oven went up.

the building crew

my best two helpers, Aidan and Nate, who had the patience to help build two different bases and were then lucky to be there to actually build the oven up. Thanks guys!

show of hands

a show of muddy hands

going for the second layer

building up the second, insulating, layer of cob with the door in place for a perfect fit later on

my true love

the finished beauty and a very happy me!

protecting the clay with lime plaster

Vicente, an experienced builder from the neighbouring town of San Pablo also came to help with the lime plaster. You can also see one of the first batches of cinnamon rolls that came out of the oven 🙂

the oven in context, at the back of the house

the oven in context, at the back of the house

baked goodies! cinnamon rolls and banana bread with cacao nibblets

baked goodies! cinnamon rolls and banana bread with cacao nibblets


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Taiwanese spring onion pancakes – Yum! :)

delicious to eat burrito-style, too! :)

delicious Taiwanese spring-onion pancakes, burrito-style!

My Taiwanese friend Ya Shuen, who I met in the streets of Pana (Panajachel, on Lake Atitlan in Guatemala), came to visit me last Tuesday to see the work I was doing and have a look at the bamboo buildings that I so raved about. We spent all day walking around three different villages looking at different natural buildings, and were so enthralled that we lost track of time and she missed her boat back to Pana (they stop running at 5 pm). So, having no other option she stayed for dinner, and prepared these delicious Taiwanese spring onion pancakes that I’ll show you here. These photos are of some others that I made myself later, with whole-wheat flour instead of white flour, which are healthier but much less tasty. I recommend you try making them at home though, because they’re not very difficult to make and they’re really yummy!
One of the things I love about this recipe is how it makes the most of the green onions, using the white bottoms for the dipping sauce and the green stalks for the pancakes. They are also different to most other pancakes in that they are actually made from dough and not from a batter, and you won’t believe how tasty they are! 🙂

Rather than repeat what others have said before me, I’ll just send you here for a recipe but I’ll share the photos of the process.

Hope you enjoy these Eastern treats!

resting the dough

resting the dough

double duty - chopping off the whites of the scallions

double duty – chopping off the whites of the scallions for the dipping sauce and keeping the greens for the pancakes. Asian elegance! 🙂

all ingredients are now chopped and ready

done chopping!

rolling the pancakes

rolling up the pancakes

rolling out the pancakes

rolling out the pancakes

frying 'em up!

frying ’em up!

delicious to eat burrito-style, too! :)

delicious to eat burrito-style, too! 🙂


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making dangerous soap!

My babies! (soap I made)

My babies!

Hand-made soap is hard to beat in creaminess and conditioning for the skin. That is why trying this soap if you never have before is extremely dangerous, because once you do you will never want to go back to your regular store-bought soaps again! 🙂

I’ve been interested in making soap ever since my stay at Finca Bona Fide on Ometepe lake. At Bona Fide we boiled beans twice every day over a wood fire, which gave us lots of ashes that we sifted and put in a little bowl next to the hand wash basin for us “hippies” to wash our hands with. We would even use it on our clothes when things were dire. This led me to think of using those ashes to make soap, the way it used to be done my mixing it with the leftover animal fats from slaughter (yes, people were barbaric during those times), and I started researching the subject. I’m now in San Marcos de Atitlán, in Guatemala, and almost a year has gone by, but I’ve finally started to make soap!

Soap is basically fat or oil that is made to react with a strong base or alkali (the lye), which gives us soap with all its cleaning properties and its natural glycerine. There are tons of websites already out there on making soap with information about the chemistry of the process and some wonderful artistic techniques, so I’m not going to repeat what’s already been said elsewhere (check out the Soap Queen blog, for example, for great techniques and a nice beginner’s guide to soap making that explains all the different technical jargon, what the terms mean and why they matter!). I’ll just give you some pointers to web pages that describe interesting parts and recommend a couple of books and useful tools, and mostly just let you know that despite all the warnings out there making soap is EASY, and if you haven’t tried making your own yet, you should start RIGHT NOW! 🙂

So, having already gone through the process of reading up on soap making and being utterly lost and confused when it came to formulating my first bar of soap (instead of just blindly following a recipe) I’ll tell you what I think are the basic steps to start thinking about when you come to formulating your first bar for yourself:

  1. Choose your oils. The oils you use will define the properties of your soap, more than any scent or extra additives you choose, so read up on the different properties of the oils and see which ones you want to use in your soap and then come back down to Earth and see which ones you can actually buy (without having to give up a month’s wages). To help you in this process, check out what David Fisher has to say in this post, which makes it easy to start thinking of different oils in terms of their properties by classifying them into only 4 easy-to-understand categories (and if you’d like more detailed information on the soap-making qualities of different oils check this detailed oil chart):

    Though you can make soap using only one oil, the best soap recipes have a balance of oils.
    Each oil will contribute a different quality to the final bar of soap. The qualities can be categorized in four ways:

    1. Hard, stable, long lasting – (palm oil, beef tallow, lard)
    2. Lathering – (coconut, castor, palm kernel)
    3. Moisturizing/Conditioning – (olive oil, canola, sunflower, soybean)
    4. Luxury/Super Moisturizing – (cocoa butter, shea butter, almond oil, hemp oil, jojoba)

    (Many oils will have multiple characteristics – e.g. shea butter is super moisturising and makes a very hard bar of soap as well. Coconut is primarily used because it makes great lather, but makes a super hard bar too. Tallow is primarily used as a base oil (hard), but it makes really creamy, moisturizing lather. Etc.)
    A basic balanced recipe should have some of at least the first three oil categories – hard, lathering, and moisturising.

  2. Once you’ve chosen the oils you want to have in your soap, now you have to try to figure out the percentage of each you want to have in your soap. The qualities of the different oils should help you determine this. You might want to read up on what the Soap Queen has to say on this here. Some good alternatives would be 66% Olive Oil and 34% Coconut Oil, which give the lovely moisturising properties of Olive Oil and the bubbly lather and hardening of the Coconut Oil.
  3. Now that you have chosen the oils you want to use in your soap and the percentage of each, you have to know how much lye you need to react with your oils to make your soap, and for that there are some very handy tools on the internet that come to our rescue. An easy one to start with is the Bramble Berry lye calculator, but for more control over what you are doing to your soap you should check out the Soap Calc lye calculator, a bit daunting at first but a really powerful tool that lets you tweak the different proportions of ingredients in your soap and has all the information you need on the different oils and their soap-making qualities. Lye can burn the skin, so you always want more oil in your soap than the lye can neutralise just to be on the safe side, and also because it makes the soap more moisturising! This is what in the soap making jargon is called superfatting or lye discounting, which is nicely explained in this post. Oils may change slightly from batch to batch and the lye calculators are based on average values, so a standard value to go by is 5% superfat.
  4. Choose a scent for your soap if you’d like to perfume it, maybe something for colour, and think of any other additives you’d like to incorporate in it, such as oats for a bit of a scrub, flowers as decoration over the top, aloe gel for its moisturising qualities… Figure out how to use your colouring (check here for a start), if you want to dissolve it in your lye solution or in the oils, and if you want to colour your whole batch or just half and then do some fun swirls… the sky is the limit!

So, you’ve figured out that you want to make a nice moisturising soap, for which you want to use olive oil with some added coconut oil for lathering and hardness, and thinking that it would come out slightly greenish you’ve decided that the lemon verbena scent that you adore would nicely match a soft green colour, and then you’ve gone all artistic thinking of a contrasting colour to swirl into the mix and you’ve settled on a light yellow swirl to match the citrus part of the oil. You’re going to use annatto seed to get that yellow colour since you’re fortunate enough to be in Central America and the seeds are all around you. Now you just need to gather your equipment and get soaping! 🙂

Here are some pictures of my own first attempt at soap making, for which I tried a recipe with 2/3 Olive Oil and 1/3 Coconut Oil, coloured with achiote (annatto seed) and with oats as an exfoliant. I have since made some batches with 100% coconut oil (see recipe here, there is also a good discussion on superfatting and on how the different properties of some oils allow you to break some of the soap making “rules”), but this one remains my favourite!

And for those of you still aching for more information on soap making, here’s a list of some great books on the subject:

  • The Natural Soap Book: Making Herbal and Vegetable-Based Soaps, by Susan Miller Cavitch – A great introduction to making soaps with natural ingredients.
  • Soap Crafting, by Anne-Marie Faiola – This book by the author of the SoapQueen blog is your best resource for getting creative with your soap making. It discusses all kinds of swirls, embeds and other colouring techniques that you should definitely check out if you want to take your soap that extra step further.
  • The Soapmaker’s Companion, also by Susan Miller Cavitch – Check out this book if you’re interested in making transparent soap! Advanced techniques and lots of in-depth information on everything including the actual chemistry involved in the soap making process.

So, I hope this helps you along on your exploration into soap making. For actual details on the process check any old page on Cold Process soap making (any of the blogs I’ve linked to in this post will do), and happy soaping! 🙂

Stirring the soap mixture for it to emulsify

Here I am mixing the lye solution with the oils and stirring until trace, which took over an hour. You can see the soap moulds in the background and the essential oils and oats ready to go into the soap at trace.

Unmoulding the soap

This is the soap after 1 day. I had used normal paper to line the moulds and had to break the first one to unmould the soap. I managed to save the other mould by waiting another day or two for the soap to harden a bit more before I could knock it out. I have since bought waxed paper to make the process easier.

My first soap. Olive and coconut oil with oats and a patchouli scent

My beautiful babies, with gift wrapping! 😉

Rosemary and mint-scented, all-coconut oil soap

These are from the second batch of soap I made, a 100% Coconut Oil soap scented with rosemary and mint.

old and new soaps together

Here they are all living happily together, curing in my bedroom.

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