Archive for January, 2011
When John and I were at 12th Night in Ann Arbor a couple of weeks ago, we attended a class on brewing root beer.
It turns out that brewing root beer is ridiculously easy (the “recipes” for root/birch/ginger beer are much more forgiving then most standard beer recipes) and if you already have all of the standard beer-brewing equipment (like we do) then you can make 4 gallons of root beer for about the cost of buying a single 12-pack.
The trial size batch that we participated in making at 12th night turned out well, so we decided to try a full-sized batch.
All you really need to make birch, root, or ginger beer is:
- The extract (which you can order from a number of locations online – such as Zatarain’s or FermentStation – or can get from your friendly neighborhood brewing supply store)
- Water. Distilled is best, but tap water, as long as it isn’t well water or water with commercial softeners in it, should also be fine.
- Sweetener. This can be cane sugar, brown sugar, or honey.
- Yeast. Either baking or brewer’s yeast is fine.
It is a pretty easy and short list of ingredients.
You start out by proofing the yeast. Take a nice, clean glass and add in a 1/2 cup of warm water and your yeast. Mix it until the yeast dissolves and then add in about a teaspoon of your sweetener. You will want to let it sit for 10-15 minutes, or until it has doubled in volume.
A very important word about the yeast: you want to use a complete 7g packet of baker’s yeast. If you use less yeast, your tasty beverage may be tasty, but it will not be carbonated. One of the extracts that we got came with a conflicting recipe that used a significantly smaller portion of yeast then the recipe that we tried with great success at 12th Night. My reaction to the smaller portion of yeast – “We use more yeast then that for bread!”. John responded by doubling the amount that the conflicting recipe called for, which turned out to still not be enough. The resulting birch beer was very tasty indeed (I am drinking some right now) but decidedly flat.
Okay… continuing on with the directions. While your yeast is proofing, add your sweetener (2 lbs of honey or 4 cups of sugar) to 2.5 gallons of water and stir until everything is all dissolved together. Add in the extract, and keep stirring. By this time, the yeast solution should have doubled in size and be good to go. Add that in as well and keep stirring for a few more minutes to make sure that everything is completely aerated.
Using a standard beer-brewing siphon, immeadietly bottle the root beer and cap the root beer. You should leave about 1.5 inches of headspace in the bottles to allow room for the gas to compress.
Let them sit for at least 72 hours (three full days) at standard room temperature. Any hotter or colder could interfere with the fermentation process.
At the end of the three days, the carbolic acid will have killed the yeast and stopped the fermentation process (the actual alcohol content of the root beer will be negligible – less then that of commercial orange juice) and the root beer will be ready to drink.
That’s it. Three days from start to finish and you will have almost 3 gallons of delicious root beer for about the cost of a 12-pack of commercial root beer.
I swear… John and I need a beer cellar like other people need a wine cellar. Between the hard cider (bottled in late September), the birch beer (bottled a few weeks ago), the double bock (bottled last week) and the coffee-chocolate stout (still bubbling away in the carboy) we have lots and lots of cases of stuff hanging out around here.
We don’t really want to label our stuff (unless we are giving it away as presents) because all of the bottles get washed out, sterilized, and reused, and it is a big pain in the ass to soak and scrub paper labels off of beer bottles… but we do need to work out some kind of better organizational system so that it is a little bit less of a guessing game as to which bottles contain what concoction.
DeForest was the one responsible for really getting both of us into fencing in the first place.
We took the decorations down last night and put the tree out by the curb for the garbagemen to take away this morning. The holidays are over, and it is time to get back to real life. There are still plenty of needles on the floor of the library as reminders of is passing, however.
New Year’s Resolutions, anyone? Let’s take a look at what I said I wanted to do this time last year. And then let’s see how I actually did!
- Since the garden was such a success last year, garden 2.0 will be twice as big and we will try some new vegetables. We will also be a little bit smarter about spacing the plants.
Nailed this one. Garden 2.0 was indeed bigger and better. I am not sure that we did a better job of spacing out the plants, though. Plus our zucchini were invaded by root-borers and died before we could get much out of them.
- We are going to build a boat (a small trimaran) and how to sail.
No… not quite. I think that we are about 2/3 the way there. Building the boat is taking a lot longer then we expected that it would.
- I also want us to strip and re-seal the bamboo flooring in the living room. We have been saying that we are going to do this for a couple of years now, and I want this year to be the year we actually do it. Hopefully.
Nope! This one is going to go right back on The List. One day!
- I want to learn how to drive a stick shift.
Again, not quite. I had John take me out for a few lessons to learn the basics, but then I dropped it pretty quickly and never practiced. I certainly would not be comfortable hopping in the stick-shift car and driving up the freeway to the airport, much less driving down the street to the mall or the grocery store.
- I want to clean and organize the storage in the basement.
Ohhh… no. Hahaha! Not even close. The whole basement is now John’s workshop and woodworking area and is covered in about an inch of sawdust on all surfaces. I don’t even dare go down there. Hmmm…. actually I don’t think that I have set foot in the basement since early last spring.
- I want to learn more about stocks and investing. I don’t think that it is ever a bad time to think about putting together a portfolio (separate from the 401K I get through work) that I can get some additional income off of.
No. This was a good idea that nothing whatsoever came of. I think that I was stymied by where to even start on this one, and I didn’t want to wuss out and get some kind of “stocks and investing for dummies” book.
- I would like to get more involved with my career outside of the confines of simply “work”. I think that I would like to try writing some articles, maybe contribute to one or more of the professional boards that I read.
I tried? I was actually solicited for a contribution to a book on the intersection of UX design and Agile development. And then once I had written and submitted my contribution I never heard from the editor again. (It was like all of my emails to her were falling down a black hole. I hope that she didn’t get hit by a bus or something.) I don’t think that the book ever made publication.
- I am going to get back on track with dance classes and gym workouts.
Yeah. Got this one. Though I substituted yoga classes for dance classes.
- I want to re-design and re-organize this site.
Been there, done that, and you are looking at the results right now. And I have to admit that I am feeling the itch to do some redesigning and content management stuff to it again.
- I want to learn Java. I have some ideas for apps that I would like to write for Google’s Android phones and need to have a working understanding of Java to do so.
Another good idea with a lack of follow-through.
Okay then! Not bad, I guess. So, what’s on tap for 2011? Let’s shoot for 11 things in 2011 since I had 10 things on my list for 2010.
- Keep going with the regular workouts. Weights/elliptical/stationary bike during the week, and yoga on the weekend.
- Garden 3.0! We should be able to get raspberries and blackberries this summer, since the bushes will have had a year to establish themselves. Also, I would like some squash.
- I want to be able to actually catch stuff when I go fishing.
- Finish the boat and learn how to sail.
- Strip and re-seal the bamboo flooring in the living room. ( Maybe this year will be the year we actually knock this one off. Maybe? Here’s hoping.)
- Train to go back-country backpacking with my folks. (Trip tentatively planned for September)
- Start to weed down my part of the library. Do I really need all of those textbooks from college and grad school still? I think not.
- Clean and organize my home office. And keep it that way. (Keeping it that way will be the hardest.)
- Mix up my wardrobe a little bit more. I don’t think that I will magically turn into a fashion plate, and I don’t really want to, but I do need to broaden my go-to clothing beyond jeans and a t-shirt all of the time. Also, maybe I should add color to my wardrobe beyond black, grey, and blue.
- Learn how to do my hair. I have great, short, easy-to-take-care-of hair, and all I really do with it is wash and comb it.
- Do regular training on longsword techniques outside of the group fencing practice.
We will see how I do this year.
Time to talk about Lori’s wedding.
Actually, first let me complain about Dallas. John and I disliked Dallas, specifically driving in Dallas, intensely. The signage is poor, there are no mile markers anywhere, half the roads are toll roads, every major freeway is flanked by at least one (and often several) service roads that parallel it (which make entering and exiting the freeways needlessly complex), and getting anywhere involves multiple U-turns because of the plethora of divided roads. Ugh. Also, the traffic was wretched.
The food, on the other hand, was great. On the way from the airport to the tux rental place we stopped at the Blue Mesa Grill for food, since it was well past lunchtime and we were both starving. Delicious tex-mex helped make us feel better so that we could deal with the roads and the traffic and our rental car in a calmer manner. More good food was had at Dickey’s Barbecue where we met up with Ted and John’s Dad for lunch before the ceremony. It turns out that I love Texas-style barbecue ribs where the meat is so tender that it falls right off the bone and into your mouth. Yum.
Our rental car. It was bottom-of the-rung economy and the seats were stained and dirty, but that was nothing to how it smelled. It smelled bad. Like rotting bananas and vomit. Like a durian in the sun. It was bad enough that John and I made jokes about checking the trunk for a corpse (the trunk was empty and actually smelled better then the car) and left the windows cracked open constantly in the hope that the car would air out a little. (We may have had a stinky car, but at least it didn’t break down on the freeway like John’s Dad’s rental car did.)
Unlike the rental car, our hotel room was possible one of the coolest that I have ever stayed in. On the 18th floor of the hotel, it was shaped like a quarter-circle, and the curved outer wall was all floor-to-ceiling windows. Amazing panoramic views.
The weather was great – nice and warm, and in the mid 60′s the whole time. And even though we never actually saw it rain, it perpetually looked as though it had just rained, possibly while we blinked or had our backs turned, as the ground was always damp and there were always puddles on the sidewalks.
The wedding was lovely – a brief, formal, wedding mass. Lori and Dan were married at the Lake Highlands Presbyterian Church, and had their reception immediately after in the church hall. The reception was catered by one of the restaurants that Dan manages, and the food was delicious.
Dan seems like he will fit in with the rest of the family nicely. He seems to have the correct geeky sense of humor at least.
There was a small hitch in the very beginning of the ceremony when the flower girl developed cold feet and flat-out refused to followed her ring-bearer brother down the aisle, if I hadn’t been sitting in the back of the church and looking toward the doors, I probably wouldn’t have noticed it as all.
Lori and Dan happened to get married on both Dan’s sister’s wedding anniversary, and on John’s Dad’s birthday. Both events were noted and honored (with cake!) during the reception. John’s Dad’s birthday cake was chocolate, and delicious.
I do have to take a moment out to complain about the lighting in the church and reception hall. Rather dim. Terrible for photography. I wish that I had a better low-light camera body and lens so that I could have gotten better photos. But c’est la vie. You work with what you have. I still got some nice pictures.
All in all it was a fun little jaunt, though John and I were both very glad to be home when we finally got back to Dayton on New Years Eve.
Anyway. All of the photos worth editing are here. Enjoy!
What can I say? They were very nice. I was off on vacation from Dec 22 onward. Most days the furthest that I got toward getting dressed was putting on a pair of flannel pajama pants (or yoga pants, to mix it up a little), a t-shirt, and slippers. It is going to be oh-so-difficult to land back in the routine of turning on the alarm clock and going to work again after two weeks of hardcore lounging.
While visiting relatives and being with extended family on the holidays is always very nice, there is something to be said for the quiet celebration at home. Because of the timing of Lori’s wedding (more on that later) holiday travel ended up being too difficult to arrange, so we stayed home with the cats.
One of John’s presents arrived early, and, when we opened the box, turned out to be unwrapped, so we decided to start enjoying it a bit in advance of the holiday. It was the full DVD set of the A&E series A Nero Wolf Mystery. I loved them, and now intend to read the novels by Rex Stout that the episodes were based on.
Christmas Eve we had Chinese take-out (from Nanking Inn, our favorite) and watched more Nero Wolf, then had dirty martinis and watched “The Thin Man”.
Present opening was on Christmas morning, after the first cup of coffee and before bagels and lox.
I got a very nice bathrobe from Pam (John’s stepmom), so now I can finally get rid of the green terrycloth one that I have had since college. It is about time, as the green one was getting really threadbare. I have already spilled coffee on the new robe.
Among other things (squishy bowls for backpacking, a pair of heavy plastic “training” longswords, and a USB-powered plasma globe for my desk) John got me a remote controlled helicopter. (He got himself one as well.) I love it (the cats waver between ignoring them, hating them, and being intrigued by them.) But of course loving the helicopter doesn’t mean that I am a very good pilot. I am not. The controls are rather delicate, and I have a tendency to over-correct, which means that my helicopter gets bounced off of the ceiling and floor a lot. I am still working on getting my helicopter to hover smoothly, let alone actually fly it somewhere with any degree of success.
The big present this year was the Kindles that I got for John and myself. They are wonderful because you can get so many out-of-copyright stuff for free from Amazon.com and the Gutenberg Project. They are also dangerous because you can get a lot of almost-out-of-copyright stuff and large collections for very cheap from Amazon.com, and those $.99 purchases do tend to add up after a while. I am currently working my way through the Complete Oz Series by L. Frank Baum (all 15 books for $.95 on Amazon.com) in between breaks for mid-1800 British humor writers (“Three Men and a Boat” by Jerome K. Jerome is a new favorite).
The Kindles will also make it easier for us to winnow our library down to a more manageable level (we currently have books stacked in every room except the laundry room), as we will be able to replace a lot of our trade paperbacks and hardcovers with Kindle editions. The old editions, out-of-print books, and antiques will not, of course, be subject to this.
After Christmas we flew down to Dallas, Texas, for Lori’s wedding. (more on this later)
We flew back home on New Years Eve. I had no interest in spending New Years in a hotel room (no matter now nice a hotel room it was) in Dallas, and once the wedding was over, there wasn’t much reason for us to stick around.
Last year we went to a friend’s New Years party. This year we had frozen pizzas and mixed drinks after a long day of airplanes and airports, and then went to sleep well before midnight because we were exhausted.
We did end up having the white Christmas that I wanted, but by New Years it had warmed up and rained several times, so we had a green (actually greyish brown and muddy) New Years.