In the county of Los Angeles, home to more than 10 million residents, is it still possible to live off the grid?
Daniel Kostiuk, known as @DadtheBaker on Instagram, thinks so. He and his wife, Caroline Kostiuk (who goes by @CarolineAdobo on Instagram) homeschool their three young boys and feed them almost nothing but food that they grow, smoke, ferment, milk, bake, and cook themselves.
"Quality, artisan food is very expensive, so I have to be the artisan, whether I like it or not," says Daniel very matter-of-factly.
The Kostiuks have invited me to break bread with them in their home in Claremont for their weekly tradition of Sunday Baguette. It is a lauded family brunch affair that involves everyone sitting around the table as Daniel slices organic sourdough baguettes (that he milled and baked himself, of course) and topping them with everything from homemade kimchi and home-churned, cultured butter to homemade cheddar (made from a cow that they share with other local families) and thick bacon rashers that Daniel cured and smoked earlier that morning.
"This lifestyle really started after we had kids. I used to be a mess before, but we wanted a better quality of life for them—not just the generic lifestyle where everybody eats the same things," Daniel tells me very sternly. Each of their teenage boys—who all have long, jet-black hair—is as busy as a server at a fine-tuned restaurant during an unexpected dinner rush. They shake my hand and make sure I am situated with everything I need. One pours organic tea into my teacup with a splash of raw cream, another helps Caroline with the last bit of brunch accoutrements, and the youngest sneaks in a crispy bacon piece while everyone is away.
"The cheddar is bitter. I think we used a little too much rennet on this batch," says the middle child, who is 13 years old. I ask if they use vegetable rennet or animal-sourced rennet for their cheese and he looks at me like I just asked the dumbest question imaginable. "I didn't even know there was such thing as vegetable rennet," he says with a laugh. "What is that? Like, lemon"
They obtain most of their vegetables, fruits, and dairy from Amy's Farm, an organic farm located about ten minutes away. "We love knowing where our food comes from. I even have the key to our farm, so I can go in there anytime I want. The sad thing is that this breed of local farmer is going away," Daniel shares with me.
As I stare in amazement at how in-tune these young men are with their food, Daniel chimes in. "Why have children only to send them away for another person to teach them about life? Don't have kids if you don't want to be with them all the time." Daniel tells me that he's committed his life to making sure he's always there for his kids when they need him. This means being a happy, stay-at-home dad who cooks three square organic meals a day for them—plus snacks. "You have to try my homemade saltines!" he tells me enthusiastically. "I use the egg yolks from my backyard chickens and they are addicting."
The kids are seemingly very aware and grateful of Daniel's selflessness. They carefully observe, analyze, and enjoy every single item on the table, especially the mulberry jam and pickled garlic that they all helped make.
As the lavish meal comes to an end, Daniel brings out a few mason jars and shows them to me in a show-and-tell fashion. The first one is a little moldy and filled with a green-colored young soy sauce that he is brewing himself; another is filled with pig tail feijoada that he canned himself (Daniel was born and raised in Brazil); another is filled with bagoong, an odorous, salty relish made from tiny fried shrimp (Caroline was born and raised in the Philippines); lastly, one is filled with a dark-brown liquid.
Daniel unscrews the cap of that last container and slides it across the table for me to take a whiff: I detect molasses, vanilla, and moist brown sugar. I gingerly take a sip and it tastes like buttery, smooth bourbon. "I can't drink the mass-produced stuff anymore because they all give me hangovers, so I built my own still and started distilling my own moonshine, where I make sure to not use any heads and tails."
This do-it-yourself philosophy is a way of life for them, and it has defined who they are as an American family—and it doesn't matter if they live in the outskirts of LA, in the middle of the mountains, or anywhere else.