[craft & craft] wine crate windowbox

Browsing farmer’s markets and garden shops makes me want to buy plants. As in, lots of them. I get nutty ideas about ways to keep plants happy and beautiful indoors, and become enchanted by the leafy green promises of growing things I can not only enjoy looking at but also eat.

For the most part, these ideas never pan out in my east-facing condo, and I end up with withered herbs at various stages along the way.

I’m actually on the landscaping committee at my building. Don’t tell them I kill plants.

N glarus crateAnyway, I occasionally have a more modest, practical idea, which leads to at least a few months of a living thing or two. This idea, the wine crate windowbox, comes from me wanting to essentially have indoor windowboxes with little upkeep and no huge mess.

Follow along. But first, grab a beer.

I suggest a New Glarus Berliner Weisse (more on that later) or a similar refreshing number with tart and dry elements.

Also grab a wine crate, any size, but deeper is better for root growth (or so I’m told). A staple gun will make this project terribly easy, too, and some heavy duty lawn bags to line the crate are a must.

seedlingsOptional – coat the crate with polyurethane or stain if desired. Sealing it will make it a bit more durable and protect against any misplaced drips of water on the exterior.

Oh, also, you need plants and potting soil – more soil than you may think. I chose four for a relatively small crate – rosemary, basil, habanero pepper, bell pepper. They by no means need to be edibles, that’s just my preference.

Take the crate and cut two pieces of the garbage bag to line the crate. I left the bag folded, so that there would be two layers within each piece. The first cut should be the width of one side and long enough to line down the side, across the bottom and up the other side (i.e., press it down into the crate to line it.) The second cut should be the same but in the other direction – the width of the other side.

When you’re done cutting, line them up accordingly and staple them along the top of the sides and at the corners of the box. Trim any excess. The entire interior of the box should be covered. I actually used packing tape in the bottom corners to keep the pieces from sliding on one another, just for insurance.

From there, it is quite simple. Some rocks in the bottom are a good idea for drainage. Fill with soil, add plants, and water generously!wine crate wndowboxThe New Glarus Berliner Weisse is an ideal beer for this project, especially if you are working outside. It is so refreshing and tart that it brightens up the act of digging in soggy soil. It would be an ideal Berliner for mixing with a fruit syrup, like raspberry or maybe even peach.

This Wisconsin take on a traditional German sour gets its punch from “Barrel fermentation, Riesling grapes and Wisconsin White Wheat” along with a bottle conditioning using five proprietary yeast strains.

plantsNew Glarus is not available in Minnesota, so feel free to reach for a Wolf Berlin Style Weisse from here in Minnesota, or try a traditional version from Germany. Thanks to my friend Josh for my New Glarus birthday beer.

This project was ideal for my space because I have these long window ledges that go from wall to wall in my condo, but I have no patio or deck. Try using your wine crate windowbox near a kitchen window or as a creative centerpiece on a porch table.

As for finding a crate to use, they are getting harder to get as more wineries move towards cardboard. Ask your local liquor or wine store. My most reliable source has been Haskell’s in Downtown Minneapolis or U.S. Liquor in Hopkins.

Love wine crates? Look forward to my next [craft & craft] edition – an entire wall bookshelf made of them. Can’t wait!


we need to talk about your everyday beer [soapbox sunday]

Yes I have a calendar. No it isn’t Sunday. But this soapbox can’t wait.

We have all heard a variation on this phrase: “Sometimes I just want a beer, you know?”

What an odd (yet ubiquitous) statement. It is especially confusing when I’m standing in a store full of beer when I overhear it. “Oh, you just want a beer?” I think to myself. “Okay. Here’s one.”

I have to assume that it means something different to everyone and depends on the setting: I just want [not a fancy cocktail], I just want [to not think about what I'm drinking], I just want [to be drunk already], I just want [cheap, shitty beer made with corn or, even better, rice].

cheap beer

Well, unless the real message happens to be “I just want to play beer pong,” I think this line of thinking is pretty poor.

This is like standing at the local butcher counter browsing hand-made sausages, free range pork tenderloin, a rack of lamb, some foie gras, and several types of steak and saying “I just want a hot dog.” And I don’t mean the butcher’s cheapest brat, I mean Oscar Meyer garbage.

So what beer falls between god-knows-what-parts-were-used-inside-a-casing and a T-bone? Actually, several.summit EPA

If “I just want a beer” means “I want cheap”, then try this alternative — buy beer by the 12-pack or case. For Minnesotans, try picking up a case of Summit EPA. The price goes down due to the quantity, just like the bulk foods aisle. In fact, Summit EPA can easily be found for less than a dollar a bottle. Is it going to be as cheap as Coors? No. But the upgrade is like choosing to put A/C in your new car – you shouldn’t even think twice. In fact, it should be standard.

When the “just a beer” means an easy-drinking, low alcohol beer, typically enjoyed by a wide range of family members, including non-beeries, try a summer beer or something labeled “session”. Here is a great article about the best summer seasonals available right now, many of which fall into the “easy drinking” arena. Or check out some of my “cabin beer“.

TG Pub Ale pourEveryday beer is different for everyone. My palate reads many British beers as comfortable and easygoing while Belgians make me want to think too much most of the time. I can’t simply sip while reading a book. Of course, the next beer blogger might feel completely the opposite. This isn’t to say that British beers are boring – they are often quite complex, especially in terms of the malt profile.

One everyday beer that I have come to enjoy is the Pub Ale by Tallgrass Brewing. Best known for their Buffalo Sweat – definitely not in the “I just want a beer” category – Tallgrass has a wide repertoire and is available in many states.

The Pub Ale is a multitasker, making a great pairing both for heavy pub fare and fancy amuse bouche. The mild caramel is not overwhelmingly sweet, but placates the majority of taste buds. It is darker and slightly less hoppy than a bitter and it fits somewhere between a traditional English brown and a mild.

In the past, even I have made statements such as “Sure, Budweiser has its place”, or “there is nothing wrong with the occasional Miller Lite.” But I am going to boldly assert that if you are a beer connoisseur, this isn’t really true. The place for macros like Bud, Miller, or Coors, is not in your fridge.

cabin drinking – mojito, cider, saison

Part of my stowaway cabin liquor supply consisted of choices other than traditional summer beer. I wanted to put a spin on my favorite cocktail (and the closest I get to a tiki drink): the mojito. I also threw in my favorite cider both for myself and my mom. Finally, I was truly looking forward to enjoying a hoppy saison given to me by one choice Texan.

so close to "gueuze" but no place to play it!

so close to “gueuze” but no place to play it!

I have never been able to re-create my favorite mixed drink to the level of that served to me in Freida’s Bar in Antigua, Guatemala. That mojito, overflowing with muddled mint and local sugar cane, will never be replicated, it seems. But I am pretty good at making my second favorite. In order to put a twist on the summery drink, try one of two variations – Joia Lime or jalapeno.

cabin joia mojitoTake Cat Cora’s classic Mojito recipe (makes 4) : 4 tablespoons cane sugar, plus more to rim glass / 4 cups ice / 6 ounces light rum / 10 to 12 mint sprigs / 6 tablespoons fresh lime juice / Club soda / 4 slices lime

Rim the glasses. Place ice in shaker and add the rum. Add half the mint, the lime juice and sugar to the shaker. Muddle the mint with the end of a wooden spoon. Shake well and serve over ice in a funky glass. Top off each glass with a splash of club soda, remaining mint, and garnish with lime slices.

I used the best-quality rum I could find in Northern Minnesota which was dark, but still tasty!

Now try taking a few julienned strips of jalapeno and mince them very finely (and throw in a half-dozen seeds if you like heat). Add while muddling the mint. Enjoy!

Or – sub out the the splash of club soda and half of the lime juice for the Joia Lime, Hibiscus and Clove soda pictured above. Reduce the sugar by about half or to taste. The clove is quite strong, so be sure not to add more than an ounce or two. Yum.

cabin schilling oak agedPerfectly paired with a light or substantial lunch is the Schilling Oak Aged Cider. For wine lovers and apple lovers alike, this cider delivers the perfect amount of flavor with refreshing crispness and lack of sweetness that plagues most American cider. The oak notes are just fascinating and so rarely found in cider.

It would pair beautifully with pork or grilled chicken, but cabin life is not always about perfect pairings. I also recommend this one while swimming or enjoying a rope swing.cabin ropeswing

Finally, don’t forget a treat beer while on vacation. Mine was the Prairie Standard, defined as a hoppy farmhouse ale. I was very pleased with this beer, which I admit I should have not waited so long to enjoy due to its hop component. The cloudy appearance alludes to the hazy, farmhouse characteristics and the aroma is very wild, almost barnyard. I did catch a whiff of bug spray, but I fear the environment was interfering.

I have never opened a Prairie bottle and had a mediocre experience, and this was no different. The emerging Motueka hop made its presence known, much more in the taste than the aroma – a fairly unique feature, in my opinion.

While it would play well with vast numbers of flavors, I suggest simply sitting on a porch, a deck, or most preferably, a hammock, and allowing yourself to appreciate this one, or whatever special vacation beer you have been holding out on.

Happy summer!
cabin prairie saison

cabin cheers saison