Won't You Be My Neighbor?

These are the things we do. My husband brewed 10 gallons of beer a couple of weeks ago. A byproduct of beer is a lot of wet, soggy grain. If you've been to any local breweries you've probably heard of the "spent grain" phenomenon, in breads and certain dishes. The grain is indeed mostly "spent" - sapped of it's primary nutrients - but not entirely. We could never make enough bread to keep up with production so in the past we've simply thrown away. But now that we have neighbors with chickens, we asked if they would like the spent grain for their chickens. Of course! So now, how to get that soggy mess into usable store-able grain? Dry it out of course. And how to do that? Spread it out on a giant painter's cloth in your backyard, but then the sun fades at the end of the day and the sky threatens to rain. Not to worry. We just so happen to have an awesome linoleum floor upstairs that is just dying to dry grain before it meets its ultimate demise in renovation Phase 3. Hello malted grain headquarters. I felt like a monk. Do monks malt grain? It just felt like a very medieval European thing to do. The rake on the left was used to stir it up once or twice a day, to make sure everything was airing out and drying evenly. After a few days it was all dry, I scooped it up into an old grain sack and delivered it to our neighbors. Done.

The "chicken neighbors" are the same neighbors who shoveled our walk back in January when my husband had sprained his ankle. Last week we also traded with another neighbor, Swiss chard and fennel from our garden for fresh eggs from their hens. Earlier in the week I sent a text to yet another neighbor to say I was craving chocolate chip cookies. She responded that she had some and I should come and get them! So I did, while she was gardening so I offered she take some mint plants that are growing rampant by our house. Her husband came over, and shovel poised stopped, looked up at the two flat next to him. "Is this your house?" I laughed, "No, but our neighbors have given us permission to use the spices as we please, so dig away."

That is a snapshot of a day in the life of our neighborhood. Perhaps this is normal? Growing up in a rural area with houses spread far apart it is not normal for me. It feels like we've stumbled into some kind of Mayberry, tucked into the heart of Chicago. And these are the things that make me smile.


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