Q: I bought light coffee beans but prefer the flavor of a darker roast. Can I reroast them myself?
A: Coffea robusta and Coffea arabica, small trees from which coffee berries are handpicked, grow in mountainous regions near the equator, such as Hawaii and Indonesia. Removing the berries' skin and pulp reveals the beans.
Fresh beans range from pea-green to muted yellow. When roasted, their color darkens and flavor develops. Italian roast (created for espresso) and French roast are blends made with deeply roasted beans, which have a robust flavor.
Roasting coffee is an art that requires careful timing and motion to achieve even results that are exactly as dark as you would like. You'll always get the best brew if you buy coffee from an expert roaster. In a pinch, you can roast the beans in your oven at home to further intensify their flavor.
The key is constant - or at least frequent - motion. Put the beans in a pie dish or other heatproof container with sides, sprinkle them with water and place them in an oven set at 300 degrees.
Turn the oven light on and observe the beans closely, watching for deepening color. Stir them every minute or two; they will scorch if you don't move them often.
Timing varies according to the darkness of the roast you desire and the type of bean. Some beans, such as Kenya and Kauai, are harder and therefore take longer to roast than others. Trust your eyes and pull the beans from the oven when they reach the color you want, or slightly before they do. If in doubt, err on the side of too light: You can always continue roasting, but burned coffee beans will be destined for the trash.
Q: How do I start seeds indoors for my vegetable garden?
A: Growing your own vegetables saves money and lets you try different varieties. Many popular vegetables, such as tomatoes, peppers and eggplants, can be started indoors to ensure an earlier crop in cold climates.
Seed packets provide much of the information you'll need, such as whether it's best to start the seeds indoors or out, and how deep to plant them. To determine when to sow, take your area's average last frost date (available through the cooperative extension service; in the U.S., find your local office at www.csrees.usda.gov/Extension) and count backward by the number of weeks recommended on the seed packet from sowing to transplanting. For instance, peppers generally need eight weeks. If the average last frost date is April 10, you should start the seeds on February 10 and move the plants outside about eight weeks later.
You will need clean containers with drainage holes, a soilless growing mix and a two-tube fluorescent fixture hung on adjustable chains.
Fill the containers with the mix. Tamp the surface to make it firm and level, and moisten thoroughly with warm water. Sow seeds one at a time, spreading them evenly over the surface. Press them down lightly. Tamp again. Use a spray bottle to spritz the seeds with water. Add a label with the plant name and sowing date.
Position the light one to two inches above the containers. Keep the light on for 12 to 16 hours each day, maintaining the one- to two-inch distance as the seedlings grow. Water as necessary; the mix must not dry out, nor should it become sodden. After the last frost, acclimate the plants to the outdoors by hardening them off: Place them outside in a shaded area during the day and move them back in at night for a week. After this period, transfer them to the garden for the season.
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