Sep 092017
 


I had a lot of involvement in my sons scouting years. One of the big events was the Pinewood Derby. I was responsible for it several years back. I finally have recovered and wrote about it. Again I retro dated it so it fell in the proper timeline. You can read about it HERE.

 Posted by at 12:17 pm
Sep 042017
 


I stepped out of my comfort zone last night. I made (and ate) lobster. Aside from a small taste a few weeks ago, I haven’t eaten lobster since I was… oh 5 or 6… may be 8ish? Point being, a long long time. I had some sort of deep childhood assurance that I didn’t like it. When it comes to food, I will try almost anything. Even things which I don’t like just to see if my taste buds have come around. I have tried things like shrimp and scallops recently, and nope, still don’t like em. But the lobster? No, there’s no way I could like it. I tried it as a small child, and that was that. I am not sure what happened. I don’t even remember the experience, but clearly, something freaked me the heck out. I had a pretty solid wall up against it. I knew how I felt and there was no need to try it again.

While we were on vacation this year, I was mentioning it to the folks we were staying with (they deep dive and catch the lil critters themselves). They let me try some lobster salad. I was not real happy about trying it, but I did it (you know… trying to be a good guest n all that). Hey, this wasn’t bad. It wasn’t bad at all. Being that they had a freezer full, they sent us home with some freshly caught, direct to freezer lobster (stuff that they had personally caught). I have been a bit worried to try it for fear that I would 1. screw it up, and 2. not like it after all.

Well, it was time to move on… eat fish or cut bait, so to speak. I read up on it, and then I messaged the family we were staying with to see how this might be cooked. There really was not much to it… For 4 tails, Smash some fresh, finely chopped garlic (I used 3 cloves) into some butter making a thick paste, split and open the back of said tails “like a book”, spread the stuff inside, down the middle, then bake for 20 minutes at 350. I gave it a whirl and it couldn’t have been easier. How did it taste? MMMyess, The lobster was pretty dern’d impressive. A bit of lemon butter on top and life was good. It was surprisingly sweet.

A few things I am curious about. A couple of them had a really hard shell while the other 2 had a really soft shell. Different types? The meat was softer too.
And then the outer… skin? (No not the shell ;0) ) The orangish red covering. Is that to be eaten, or cut off? I eventually cut it off as it made things a little chewy.

The point of the title… Get over yourselves and go try stuff (and I am speaking to myself as much as you here). We get all boxed up about what we like and dislike. But sometimes we have to ask why we like and dislike, and more, push those boundaries to see if there’s some give. No, I still don’t like shrimp, and I certainly don’t like coffee (yeah, I know). But I have tested these things quite often, and know from the experience, not from some age reinforced concept that comes from… some unknown memory that you can’t even trace.

 Posted by at 2:34 pm
Aug 302017
 

Anti-Accented_A
If you have read my blog for any amount of time, you know that I tend to get long winded. I will skip the full story and just say… My original blog (the whole thing) was eradicated. I went to show someone something that I had posted, and when I pulled up the page I got the “Page can not be found” error. Not believing it I tried a number of different ways to hit it, but no, the whole site was gone. While I do do backups (I am sure that’s not the proper way to say it)(but…), I have just learned that the while WordPress back ups might be a wonderful thing, but the restore tool isn’t. I contacted my hosting company and again, long story short, they were able to restore it from some deep dark recess of the internetwebs. I then started a little fun battle with databases. I personally have never used databases, but apparently WordPress is all about databases. Who knew?. When I would access the site, I was met with “Database Error. Nothing Found”. Nothing? Well, nothing I did could get the site back up and functional again. So, another call into the hosting company to ask what was up. They looked and found that the restored database was not at all right. They (several people working on it) fought it for close to 20 minutes. “Check it now sir”. I opened a new tab and sure enough, the pages loaded. This was a beautiful thing. I could not imagine trying to start this over again. This has been many hours of my life writing it all up. Trying to remake it? Or even restoring from the WordPress back up and having to relink every image and whatnot. I am grateful for my restore. (Yeah, so what’s the point?) The point is, the restore is similar to Pet Cemetery. Once it comes back from the dead, it’s not quite the same. It looks like the old site, sort of, but it has a few issues. One of which (and something which is driving me batty) is that the restore has inserted a bajillion accented A’s (  ). They are everywhere, and for what I can tell, no good reason. The hosting company explained that while they can get it back, sometimes there will be… side effects. So, I get to go through all my posts, hunting down each blasted Â, one by one. I thought, well, I will just search the text and erase, click next, and erase. But no, that would be too easy. Putting  in the “Find” box returns every “a” on the page. Not good. Also, I have noticed that my colors are all off and there are some things missing. So, bear with me, it’s being worked on.

UPDATE: It turns out that I also have other contamination. It seems that I have â€œ, â€¦, and â€™ ‘s as well. The â€™ is showing up where apostrophes once were. 

UPDATE 2: I finished the first page of posts. What a pain in the butt. I am able to copy the text into TextEdit (Mac), and then do find and replace (it recognizes the Â), but being that I have a lot of photos scattered throughout the posts, I can’t take all the text at once, just the text between the images. So, it’s many trips back and forth. But there are SO many of the blasted things, I am bound to miss a few, so the automation helps.

UPDATE 3: If you ever find yourself in this same situation, instead of fixing it in the visual mode, switch to the all text side of things (where all the markup is shown), copy all of that into TextEdit (or word processor of choice), make changes, then copy / paste back into the blog. Check. Save.

UPDATE 4: 09-09-17 I have gone through about 70 posts. I still have about 30 posts to go. I am also fixing some issues with photos because of the formatting that WordPress stripped out of the software. This has caused a few of the older posts to spaz out.

Update 5: 09-18-17 I think I have all the nasty additions cleared. Like I said above, I am sure that there are a few random stragglers, but it’s far better than it was a few weeks ago.

 Posted by at 2:50 am
Apr 242017
 

Last_Plinian-4Yup!
I have gone and dunnit. While I can’t tell you how, or why… But the beer turned out awesome. Truly inspiring actually. It was good enough that I was inclined to make more. I have now made 4 different beers (The White House Honey Porter, A brown ale called Caribou Slobber, a double IPA called Plinian Legacy, a hazelnut amber ale, and 3 home made apple ciders. Each has been a lesson in how to do it better, and other things one perhaps shouldn’t do. But the flavors have been… 1. well way more impressive than I thought possible, 2. Flavors that are insanely close to commercially available, and 3. Can pack quite a wallop. BZZZzzzzzzzzzzz

No story would be any good if there weren’t also a wee bit -o- drama. When I cracked my first bottle, I got a little nervous. There was no crack. It was just sort of clink (the cap hitting the counter). Where the heck was the PSHHHT? Uh oh. I had waited the full 2 weeks after bottling to try the first one, but there was no pressure. I poured it into a 2 glasses for my wife and I. But… There was no head. Because??? there were no bubbles. It smelled sweet, and… and like beer. I slowly and somewhat hesitantly brought it up to my mouth and took a sip. It was sweet, very sweet, but really yummy all at the same time. The beer was cold, but I got a warming feeling from within. I would describe it as rich darkness, light hops, quite malty, molasses, brown sugar, honey. Wow. So I got on line to find out about where the bubbles might be. While I don’t want a lot of carbonation, I do want a little. The internet didn’t disappoint. What I learned is that when bottle conditioning, you want to let the temperature come up above fermenting temps. The first couple months of this year had several cold weather snaps, and their timing seemed to align with while I was brewing. From what I read, I wasn’t hosed at all. Low carbonation is very fixable as there is still yeast hanging around in the beer. They just need to be encouraged to eat. This can be done by bringing up the temperature. I got the rest of the beers and put them in our kitchen dining room as  it gets a lot of sun and is one of the warmer rooms in the house. I made sure to keep the beer out of direct sun because direct sunlight can ‘skunk’ your beer (hops hate sun). I let it sit for a week, and tested another bottle. This one had a weak ptssst, but it had ptssst!!! Hmmm ok. Lets try it. To my surprise, it had a lot of peppery little bubbles which played on and around my tongue. It was amazing how much the carbonation added to the flavor. This was exciting because I could see (taste) how it was forming and coming together. The carbonation was still a little weak for my tastes, so I let them sit for another week.
The next test… Wham! I had a full on BEER. Seeing how the temperature is critical at this stage, I have now made the kitchen dining room my conditioning room. Actually, it should be stated, temperature is critical throughout the whole process. The small kit instructions give some guidelines, but don’t speak about temperature in any great depth. I believe that this is because they are trying to get people brewing without throwing too many details to worry about.

Why was I surprised by the great flavor? I am not sure what I was expecting. I guess when you see things up close, and you realize that this… THING has been sitting without any refrigeration for over a month. It has made slime and sludge, and things one would consider really really gross. It had me wondering how it could possibly be any good. But over time, the beer clears up. Similar to children, it matures and becomes an adult beer. Instead of a beard, it grows bubbles and a foamy head. Bottom line, you just have to trust the process.

Cider_Apples

I have been learning about all sorts of adult beverages. One which inspired me quickly was apple cider. There seems to be some conflict naming. Some companies in the US call it “Hard Apple Cider” but apparently it’s just apple cider to the rest of the world.

StoneWell-1

I tried some amazing cider (Stonewell) the last time I was in Ireland which left a lasting impression. I tried to find it when I got back to the states, but found (sadly) it was only bottled in Ireland. Given that the home made beer was pretty tasty, I started reading about how to make cider, and it turns out that there’s really not much to it. You take apple juice, sprinkle yeast on it, let it sit, put it in bottles, wait a while, and drink it.

Some folks use the gold colored juice from the grocery as the base of their cider. Me being me,  I wasn’t about to use reincarnated apples. I have a Breville juicer  which I love and adore, so I decided that I was going to make mine from fresh apples. I bought 17 lbs. of apples. Brought them home, washed them, chopped them and removed as many stems and seeds as possible. Usually, when I make apple juice, I toss in a little lemon to get a bit of pucker in there. Figuring that this was a whole gallon, I added the juice of a whole lemon. Cider_CoverI have never made over a gallon of juice in one go. It was a mighty sight and the smell… Oh man, I wanted to drink it all up right there and then. I used one campden tablet (sodium metabisulfite) to kill off the natural yeast in the fruit. I needed to let it sit for about 36 hours as there’s a lot of sulfur in the campden tablets, and apparently quite a lot in apples as well. This sitting period was giving the juice the time it needed to ‘gas off’ the undesirable flavors. Otherwise the cider can taste and smell like rotten eggs, and that’s not the sort of thing I am in to. While the cider was sitting and awaiting yeast, I prepped a brown sugar simple syrup. This will add some sweetness as well as raising the original gravity of the cider. Most yeasts don’t like being smothered in their own waste (alcohol) and tend to die off, so it is recommended, and I used that which was formerly known as Champagne yeast, but you can’t call it Champagne yeast any longer (by law) because it wasn’t brewed in the Champagne region of France. But I digress… I added the ‘THE’ yeast and let it go. It took almost 2 days for the yeast to kick into gear, but once it did, bbLbbLbLbbLbbbLbb (< that there’z sum bubbles).  A couple of weeks later I bottled em up using priming sugars in half the bottles (for fiz), and left the other half to just be natural.

 

AppleWFizzCaps

Results? The lemon used to pucker up apple juice? Not a great idea. Sour minus sweet = bitter. That said though, the cider was really pretty good (the cider concept that is. you know, minus the lemon vibe). I could see that this could very easily become an amazing thing. Lessons learned? I only used 1 type of apple. It was semi sweet and while yes apple, it was sort of flat, or one dimensional. My next batch would need more flavors of apple to round out and add more depth to the cider. Second lesson? Bubbles! Bubbles are once again IMPORTANT! The bottles with bubbles helped fill out the missing flavor that the one variety of apples just did not. I un-capped all the non carb’d cider and added priming sugar. Sadly at this late in the game, it… sort of helped, but didn’t. The stuff which was originally carbonated worked quite well, the non carbs didn’t. But all that said, I could see the potential.

Bottles_01

A few weeks later I made a second batch. This was made up of 5 varieties of apples (Braeburn, Fuji, Gala, Granny Smith, and Red Delicious), I also added 1 lb. of strawberries, 2 cups of brown sugar, and .5 cup of white sugar (… because? dunno, just do it… right… okay). Same timings as last time. I put priming sugars in all bottles this time. How did it turn out? ABSOLUTELY BLEEPING SPECTACULAR!!! This is so on target. It looks great. It smells great. It makes my mouth happy. It bubbles perfectly in the mouth… Stinging and great fizzy sound you can hear rushing in the middle of your skull. And lastly… It tastes so good. I mean… Ohhhh mama… really really good.

I have a 3rd batch maturing in bottles right now. I wanted to make an apples to apples comparison (Yes, I know, and I am sorry). This one was made with a store bought “Just Juice” which was both labeled as ‘fresh pressed’, and made from fresh apples (not from concentrate). It’s the brown stuff, not the overly filtered gold. I can’t say anything about flavor yet, but if smell is any indication, it is not as fragrant. The fresh stuff’s smell is beautiful and intense. I wanted to know what extra couple of hours of work gets me. So far, I would say, a lot. But I am open to being pleasantly surprised.

The Brewing Future? All this time I have been brewing in single gallon batches. As I have been reading, for just a little more ingredients, and roughly the same amount of time, you can brew 5 gallons instead of 1 and most of the world deals in 5’s. A lot of work goes into a single gallon. Most of this time is spent cleaning, be it buckets, bottles, tubes… . I am in the saving stage to pick up the materials needed to make beer from all raw ingredients. This is called “All Grain”. In the past I have been using malt extract. In the future, all the fermentable sugars will be created from the actual malted barley. This will potentially (believe it or not), result in an equal or slightly lower cost depending on where it’s purchased. There’s a bit of a mark up for the convenience of the malt extract. There’s a few flavors I am prefer were not in the beer. Don’t get me wrong, they are still very good, but I guess I am dialing in to what I really want in MY beer. Stay tuned for future adventures in home brewing. Also, I am heavily considering making a video of the process once I upgrade.

Update 1: The store bought “Just Juice” turned out sour and unpleasant. It was the first batch which I considered not finishing. But it made for a great taste comparison when set side by side with the home made juice when I did some tastings for family and friends.

Update 2: With some birthday money, and some other saved funds, I have purchased the needed bits to brew 5 gallon batches. Expect another post about that soon.

Update 3: 09-07-17 I just finished the last of the fresh juice batch. For the first several months the flavor was outstanding. This last one I could detect a stronger bit of sour coming over it. It was still very tasty, but I could see that one might not want to let it go much further. This is good to know going forward.

 Posted by at 8:59 pm
Apr 192017
 

Finally!!! One of my bigger project write ups has been completed. It took a while to go back and figure out what I did and how I did it. But it’s done. This project never got the front page attention I feel it deserves, so I have posted this announcement (because it is a new post) along with the actual back dated post so it falls in line with when the build actually happened, not when I wrote it ( which was now). Click through to read all about it. 

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 Posted by at 10:56 pm
Jan 012017
 

ireland_guinness-1

guinness_smells-3I have never been much into beer. I had tried it a number of times but it never made sense to me. This all changed few years ago (2014) when we decided to travel to Ireland. I was not about to go to Ireland and not sit in a couple pubs and have a not few pints of Guinness. Sorry if that sounds a bit chiché, but I was going to have the full experience. So… I started training my tastebuds (at least that’s what I told my wife). I brought some Guinness home to get an idea what might be in store for us. To my surprise, it wasn’t bad.

When we got to Ireland, we went to the Guinness brewery. This was the eye opening experience I needed. It’s an excellent tour. They cover all aspects of the beer making process, but they go deeper. My ah Ha! moment came in their smelling room. It was a white room which had no apparent light source. It had various stations tubes which were emitting what looked like smoke. Each tube had a scent, a different aspect of the various smells and flavors in the beer. I got it. Ohhh this is what I am tasting.

 

northern_brewerSince then, Guinness has still been a favorite. I found that it’s not that I didn’t like beer so much as I didn’t like the watered down crap at the grocery store. I am learning that I like darker, more complex flavors. I like to cook and have a propensity towards layers and depth of flavor, so perhaps the beer thing is understandable. I seem to have settled into Stouts, Porters, and some IPAs. About a half year ago I came across Northern Brewer. They sell kits to make craft beers at home. They had a great set of videos explaining in great detail how to brew their beers. I was sold. I asked for the White House Honey Porter kit for Christmas, and my wife was kind enough to get it for me. My son-in-law got me a book called How to Brew. (update: A Very good book. I recommend it. It’s written in layers. He provides a base layer of information, then starts over and lays in more and more details. It’s nice because you get the process and which point one can get as deep as one wants by continuing through the rest of the book. 04-02-17).

I watched the Northern Brewer videos as well as read through the instructions several times. There is always a huge difference between book knowledge and doing knowledge. At some point, you just have to step off the ledge and give it a go.

The Experience:
beer_making_101_02
Similar to my Guinness experience, I wanted to get the full understanding of each character in play, so I took the time and smell and give some thought about what was going on. The specialty grains were nice. They smell sort of like a natural foods store sort of a sweet hay with hints of chocolate. My mother-in-law said it smelled like peanut butter (which I could smell once she said it). I put the grains in the muslin bag. This was then placed in the cool water. I started heating the water on full heading towards a boil. The warm water and grain smells a little bit like vegetable barley soup. It’s actually quite nice.

 

beer_making_101_04The water was getting warm and I was a couple minutes away from needing to remove the grains. I started prepping my next step which was the first layer of hops, and the malt. The initial hops Chinook had a crazy strong scent. It was strong, like an ipa on steroids. The malt didn’t have much of a smell at all. After the 10 minutes was up I pulled the grain bag and strained it (putting the drippings back into the boil pot). I reduced the heat and added the hops and malt. This made the mixture very thick for a few minutes until I got it all mixed together. I brought the mixture back up to a boil watching to make sure it did not boil over (which was warned about in the instructions). It came close to boiling over, but reducing the heat settled everything out. The hops smell was very intense for a couple minutes, at which point it relaxed into a sort of chocolate milkshake(ish) smell. I’m thinking the milkshake vibe comes from the malt. After roughly 5 minutes I reduced the heat to keep it at a boil, but not be so intense as to lose too much water (I do want some beer at the end of all of this).

 

beer_making_101_12I let it perk along for 40 minutes at which point the instructions had me remove the heat add the honey and a second hopping. This next batch of hops was a German Hallertau. It was very pleasant smell. Sort of like a more delicate hops decorated with a Christmas tree.

 

beer_making_101_13As I have been reading, one topic of which there has been a huge amount of emphasis, is sanitization, and it is the point where I nearly tripped up. The process of beer making is actually a war of micro organisms and their food supplies. You want certain things to grow but not others. I poured the honey into the boil pot, I then used some of the hot wart water to get the rest of the honey out. This would be fine in standard cooking, but the jar was not sanitized and some of the liquid touched the outside of the jar. I am sure it’s pretty clear at this point I am not an experienced brewer, and it’s possible this little of a slip may have been perfectly fine, but I didn’t want to take any chances and brought the wart back to a boil. I let it go for a couple of minutes, and then I put the pot into an ice water bath.

From this point I have no pictures of the transfer process and it requires a person with at least 4 or 5 hands. Having only 2 hands, I used both hands to pump the syphon, but I needed one hand to keep the hose in place, and another hand to keep the syphon roughly an inch off the bottom of liquid and out of the trub (all the beer makings which have settled to the bottom). The hose leads down to a Carboy (the vessel where the fermentation takes place). This sits on a chair in front of the counter top, so the gravity of the liquid forces the flow of the syphon. The length of the hose quickly became a problem. When I pumped the syphon, the hose lifted out of the carboy sending liquid onto the chair and floor. I grabbed a cardboard box as it was the only thing sitting close enough to help with my emergency. This helped but didn’t solve it completely. I had to keep a close eye on the hose so it wouldn’t hop out again. The other issue was the tip of the syphon dipping into the trub. Once a good portion of the wart was in the carboy, it’s hard to get enough depth to keep everything flowing. If you lift up, you get air which means the flow stops. If you have to pump to get it to flow again, you bounce the tip around a lot which means you are getting the trub nastiness in the beer it’s a fight at best.

Once all the wart was in the carboy, I added half the yeast package as per the instructions. It was a guesstimate as there’s not really a good way to measure it (as you could potentially add contaminants). You have to eyeball it. I am not too worried as this is what Norther Brewer does in their videos as well. I gave it a good shake. This adds a little extra oxygen to the wart as yeast needs oxygen to thrive. I then I put the lid and airlock on the carboy and set it in the corner of our kitchen.
The next morning, I checked it and sure enough, it was bubbling. Now it’s a waiting game. This is not an easy thing for me as I am a tweaker by nature. Hands off is not… well I am keeping my hands off. I will write more once I get into bottling.

 Posted by at 11:00 pm