Friday, December 21, 2007


Here is a story.

In my early-to-mid twenties, I became aware of another person with the same name as mine. I ordered a new pair of frames, and when I arrived to pick them up, the optometrist handed me the other girl's glasses. I'd call for a haircut appointment, and the receptionist at the salon would say, "Weren't you just here last week? No, wait, that must have been the other one." Once in a shi-shi stationery store, a saleswoman urged me to "sign the guest book"--and when I bent to comply, I saw that the name inked just above mine was, well, mine.

I got pretty paranoid about it. This was in Minnesota, where my family is from and where my parents had returned after a detour to the East that had taken up most of my kidhood. Minneapolis isn't a huge city, but it is funky and offbeat, and I thought of myself as funky and offbeat; and I'd just be there for a brief visit, seeing what there was to see, and not only was there someone running around with my name on, but we appeared to have similar tastes and habits. What if she's not as cool as I am and she's giving me a bad name? I worried. Or worse, what if she's way, way cooler than I am?

What our name is is not important. It could have been, it might have been you, you understand. Don't pretend you were any more secure back then. That's just not what those years were about.

Anyhow, time passed and Google was invented. If you type in our name today you get 5,910 hits. About 150 are for a real estate agent in Seattle, a chemist who works in the same general field as my brother, or a romance novelist. When th'usband and I first met, he dredged up maybe three or four that were about or by me; the other 5,756 or so are all Her. She's a well-known photographer with a show this week in the West Village. She's the type of artist that critics call a Beautiful Young Thing or a Glamour Puss when they're trying to be withering. Mostly they just can't stop talking about her.

I still get mistaken for her every once in awhile, because we are about the same age and both live in Brooklyn and although I'm no longer making art, I still really like the stuff. After I read--in an interview in my favorite magazine ever, naturally--that she suspects her "completely un-feminist" tendency to conflate the beautiful with the broken woman traces to the back brace she wore in junior high and high school, I knew I really wanted to meet her. "I think that that had a lot to do with the outside isn't what the inside looks like," she explained in the interview. "I didn't have the kind of brace you could see, it was under my clothes, but it was hard...." I nodded reflexively as I read. Me, too. That's how the one I wore was, that's the way I am, too.

I'd actually forgotten about the back brace thing when a package intended for her showed up at our apartment this week. It was full of DVDs about the 10th Mountain Division, soldiers who'd fought on skis in the Alps before coming home to found resorts like Aspen and Vail. The documentary makers shared our family name. "This is beyond coincidence," said th'usband, who is a aspiring documentary filmmaker and a World War II freak. He'd just been telling me about the 10th Mountain Division the other day.

I had to do a little bit of digging, but I found her number and gave her a call. The filmmakers were her parents, who live near my inlaws in Colorado. It turns out that she did live in Minneapolis for a little while, and that we live just a couple of neighborhoods away from each other now. "I know you're much cooler than I am," I told her, "but I'm OK with it." She laughed, protesting. Come to think of it, now I'm not even sure that's true--not because she didn't seem incredibly cool or because I'm still an insecure little wanna be, but because she seemed instantly familiar, like someone I've been friends with forever. In any case, we'll find out tomorrow, when we meet at last.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Ask the Huisvrouw: Hello? Hello?

so what's the deal? no time to blog while basking on a beach in mexico? or have you been stuck in a hotel room the whole time? we the readers need a beer, book, baking, beast update. at least copy in a letter to grandma so we know what's going on over there . . . .
No, no, I'm back. I'll get right on that. Soon. In the meantime, here are some things to read:

1. A long interview with my friend Alberto Blanco published serially. It's about poemas. I've been reading a new bilingual edition of his work put out by Bitter Oleander, and thinking a lot about the act of translation again: what I like, what I don't. So that's one thing.
2. Dorris Lessing's Nobel acceptance speech. Those are always good. Thanks, jvan.
3. Oh, yeah, read jvan's blog. It's pretty impressive, and besides, if we wear a groove into the links between the two pages my technorati rating might go up.
4. An article in the current issue of Bust about female beer makers that someone passed along to me and that doesn't seem to be online. Damn. I'll have to summarize that.
5. Further evidence of the unstoppable power of this wave we're on.
6. ....except that we postponed the How to Homebrew event, drank that whole keg of saffron tripel and I haven't been brewing. Gotta get on that. I think I'm going to check out these folks. Or these. Have I mentioned how ridiculous it is that there isn't a dedicated supply store in NYC? Gotta get on that, too.
7. We did go here and got whacked with oak leaves by Russians. Thanks, J.
8. I'm trying to do a Zen mental flip on a difficult acquaintance. It's, well, difficult, but she did point this out to me yesterday, which was great.
9. OK, and to make sure you don't get anything done at work today, check out this teapot video and feel your own dry, clenched little inner flower unfurl.

That oughtta keep you busy. Meantime, I've gotta go to work.

Ciao, bella/o

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Love chocolate? Thank beer!

I need to write a status update on the current batch, which I hope to keg tomorrow. In the meantime, there was an article in the NYTimes today reporting that research suggests that MesoAmericans probably first made beer from cacao pulp, and only later discovered the yumminess that could come from fermenting cacao seeds. It stands to reason that if you follow the family tree of good things back far enough, they'll prove to all come from the same place.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Free rice, for real

A couple of weeks ago th'usband sent me a link to a little vocabulary quiz site that promises to earmark 10 grains of rice for U.N. food programs for each obscure, scrabble-grade word you can correctly define.

I thought he was just trying to see if I could be distracted from my newfound corporate zeal, but I got so addicted to trying to push my "vocab level" up past a high of 43 or 44 that I managed to feed a village anyhow. A virtual village, I figured. After all, this is the same husband who is always finding my latest item of credulity listed on some killjoy urban legend-buster site, so I was careful not to let myself be too taken in.

It turns out that the rice game is for real, though, and generated enough rice to feed 50,000 people for a day in October. That's pretty cool, but I know we can do better than that. If me and you and everyone we know (to borrow a phrase) can just spend 5 concerted minutes a day slacking off with the rice game, I figure we can feed the world.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Onion Soup

I'm making onion soup. That's an excellent thing to do when you feel that there is nothing to eat at home, and it's the closest thing to feeding the masses with loaves and fishes that we mere mortals may ever know. All it takes is a pound or more of onions, sliced thinly and sprinkled with salt and sugar and left to brown in butter and oil over medium heat while you root around for the other things.

If you're like me, you've got all kinds of useful things stuck away in the freezer. Take out that old bread now, the loaf that was dry and just short of molding when you threw it in there for safekeeping or breadcrumbs, whichever came first; slice it into baguette-ish slices and brush each side with melted butter. Line these up on a baking sheet and stick the whole business in the oven, set at 350 degrees. Check back in 10 minutes to flip them, and take them out 10 minutes after that. When you do, have a garlic clove peeled and cut in half on hand, and rub it on the cut sides of your toasts. Leave the oven on for browning purposes later. Anyhow, baby, it's (finally) cold outside.

In the meantime, keep adding lots of salt. You'd be surprised how much it takes, especially when you're using homemade stock, which has no salt in it and which by this time you've taken out of the freezer too if you're lucky enough, like me, to have a husband who makes it and concentrates it and freezes it into little cubes for just these kinds of occasions.

When the onions are looking good and brown and nigh unto burnt, you can switch to flour and sprinkle a good couple of tablespoons over them. Then stir like crazy. After 3 or 4 minutes, pour in a half cup (ish) of a sweet, dark rich alcoholic little something-something. It's supposed to be vermouth, but if you happen to brew chocolate stout and have that on tap, I'm sure you won't mind if you do.

With the hooch to loosen things up, you'll be able to scrape most of that brown goodness off of the bottom and into your soup. To which you should now add about 6 cups of stock, more salt, a bay leaf or two, and any spices that come to mind. The dried thyme is good, and the fresh Italian parsley you bought for the dinner party but then forgot to use is perfect. Put a whole handful of stems in there, and crank up the heat. You're going to boil it first, then cut it back to a simmer and keep it there, covered, for a half hour.

Here's where I've gotten to now: I've just shut off the burner and ladled soup into two bowls and picked out the parsley stems. Th'usband is spending the evening with a friend whose father just died, so he won't be home for awhile and his bowl can wait. Mine I top with the aforementioned toasts and a good stiff layer of grated Gruyere left over from last week's fondue, even if Gourmet--on whose basic recipe all this is based--says I ought to feel relieved for the chance to escape the tyranny of overcheesed restaurant onion soup; I pile it on and stick the bowl in the oven. Whoops. I forgot the Worcestershire and the brandy. I just recently bought a quality bottle of brandy so you'd think I'd be putting it on my breakfast cereal. Oh, well. I pour th'usband's soup back into the pot--we've really got to stop eating so late, but I don't believe that he'll make it back from Long Island in an hour anyhow--and dose it with two capfuls of the Worcestershire and a huge salad tong-type spoon of brandy. This means that his will be better than mine later on tonight, and of course whatever is left will be even better tomorrow. That's the way soup is.

But by now, the cheese on mine has got to be melted and all that's left but the shouting is for me to put it under the broiler for a minute to brown it. Then lift my spoon to you, dear reader, and bid you smakelijk eten.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Brew day walk through

On Tuesday, I came home from work to find the smack pack of yeast I'd whacked on Sunday finally swollen to the requisite 2 or so inches, thick enough for the pouch to stand on its own. I haven't been working with liquid yeast for very long and my impression of it is that it's a little fussier and more fragile than dry yeast is--I'd probably still be choosing dry if it were as readily available in specialty varieties like the Belgian Ale yeast that this recipe requires--so I figured I'd brew right away rather than try to put it on hold in the refrigerator. I also figured this would be a good time to find out exactly how long the brew process takes. I estimated 3 hours, but called it about an hour and a half short. Then again, in an effort to continue improving beer quality with each successive batch, I spelled out a couple of steps that I'd abbreviated for many of my previous batches.

I have been brewing for about 8 months now at the rate of 2 or 3 batches a month until the recent career-induced slowdown, and have grown impatient with the kinds of kits that are available at homebrew supply shops. Some are definitely better than others; the good ones identify the hops, malts, and additives that go in at each stage of the boil, and although they rely on dried extracts for most of the malt sugars, they include specialty malts in the form of cracked grains that get soaked in the brewing water prior to the boil. That makes them "partial mash" recipes, and I've learned a lot about what contributes to the flavor profile of a given beer by paying close attention to those ingredients.

You can make very good beer from kits; and because of the exploding interest in brewing and consuming craftbeers, you can probably find a kit to approximate pretty much any beer you've ever heard of. But for me, there are a couple of problems with them. First of all, the whole DIY premise that underpins the hobby seems a bit shaky if someone else is doing all or most of the thinking for you. It's not that the not-so-great kits don't make fine beer--it's just that they have a nasty habit of packaging everything in unmarked foil bags so that when someone raves over your beer you are about as knowledgeable about what's in it as in that cake you made from a mix and frosted from a can. Second, I have the nasty habit of comparing myself to the kind of folks who contribute thousands of posts a year to their favorite brewing community: I don't actually want to be so obsessed with achieving the optimal fermenting temperature that I set up a mini AC system in my closet on brew day, and we'd have a rough time finding room in a New York apartment for the equipment that a truly "from scratch" all-grain operation would require, but secretly I am a bit of a geek. I want to ponder the nose and the optimum timing of the aroma hops, calculate the bitterness and characterize the hue of my finished beer; I want to lower my eyelids and smile modestly when that someone raves about my beer. I want to be able to give it a name, and in order to do that, it has to be mine first.

So I've begun the process of making my beer my own by moving into recipes found in Zymurgy or online and tweaking them ever-so-slightly with the addition of chocolate malt (as in the case of the stout currently on tap) or grains of paradise (as in the current batch I'm about to describe). I'm also trying to improve my technique, whether by adding a second fermenting vessel where the beer can hang out a little longer and clarify, or by adding in a mash phase on brew day, as I did this time.

Here's how brew night proceeded: at 9 p.m., I filled my 5 gallon brew pot about half way up with water and put it on the stove. (Geek option #1: you can get pH testing strips and a set of four chemicals and knock yourself out trying to approximate the well water favored by an ancient brew house. Brooklyn water is fine with me). While it was heating, I snipped open the bags of malted grains--in this case, 2 lbs. of Pilsner, 1 lb. of Cara-pils, 1/2 lb. of Belgian Aromatic, and 1/4 lb. Light Crystal--and poured them into two large muslin bags, knotting off the ends when filled. Malt is grain (usually barley) that was moistened so that it would germinate and the conversion of starch to sugar would begin. Before the seeds could actually sprout, the water was drained off and the barley was heated to dry and toast it. Light beers are made from lightly toasted malts that taste "biscuity," or more or less like grape nuts when you eat them raw; dark beers are made from super heated and caramelized grains that can taste like rich, bittersweet chocolate, caramel, or coffee. In an ideal all-grain world, you'd get all your malt sugars from these grains, crushing and breaking them first, then "mashing" them in a big vat of water maintained at about 150 degrees for an hour or more before "sparging" them with even hotter rinse water to extract every last bit of sweetness from them. Then you'd take the spent malt outside and feet it to your livestock, which would look adoringly at you and reward you with sweet butter and happy-tasting eggs.

Lacking the big huge mash vessel ('tun') and the barnyard, I just put these big muslin tea bags into the 150 degree water and let them soak there for about 30 minutes. I did get fancy and scoop out a 4 quart pot's worth of water, which I heated just short of boiling and used to sparge the bags as I lifted them out of the brew pot. These weighed considerably more than 3.75 lbs. following their soak, and the fact that my efforts to hold them with tongs while I poured scalding water over them didn't land me in a burn unit is something of a miracle. In the past I've just dumped these in at the same time as the malt extract and removed them when the water reached a boil, but higher temperatures can apparently cause bitterness or other off flavors. We'll see if this added step makes a discernible difference in the finished product.

Next came the extract sugars. I turned off the heat under my pot for just a minute to add them in and get them dissolved before bringing the water to a boil and throwing in the first addition of hops, which at this stage of the process add the bitter element that will balance the beer's sweetness. This recipe actually included 3 different kinds of sugar--4 if you make a distinction between the powdered and liquid malt extracts--and I'm hoping that these will add depth of flavor as well as boozy heft to the beer. These sugars are pictured along with a pound of Belgian candi (a.k.a. rock) sugar, a pound of honey, and an ounce each of Cascade and Hillertau Milfreu pellet hops.

After the future beer ("wort") had boiled for 30 minutes, I added a half ounce of Fuggle hops, which will have more of a flavoring effect due to their abbreviated brew time. At 45 minutes, I added some grains of paradise and sweet orange peel. I also put the strainer I'd need in the next step into the pot to boil and sterilize. At 55 minutes, I threw in a Whirlfloc tablet to help clarify the beer (the recipe called for Irish moss, but I've heard that Whirlfloc is more effective) and Czech Saaz hops to give the beer its bouquet. After an hour, I took the pot off the heat and transferred it to a sink of ice water.

I'd already sanitized the pot lid in the iodine solution I was using to prepare the fermenting bucket and a couple of other tools. This went on to the pot at this point to protect the cooling wort from airborne yeasts that could otherwise colonize it. (Note that the Belgian monks who invented the type of beer I was essentially trying to copy relied on wild yeasts alone, but while I'll vouch for Brooklyn water, I'm less sure about the quality of Brooklyn yeast.) For the same reason that you don't want to allow enough time for anything to grow in your nicely sterile pot of boiled wort, you want to cool it as quickly as possible (Geek option #2: you can buy or create a chilling system using a series of chest-sized coolers).

After about 40 minutes, when the wort was cool enough for me to touch (Geek option #3: you probably should use a thermometer a bit more assiduously than I do, but I've baked a lot of bread and know what temperatures make yeast happy), I strained it into my fermenting bucket. With the exception of the bittering hops that went in at the beginning of the boil, I didn't use little mesh bags for my hops this time, which was a mistake considering how messy and slow it made the straining process. I then topped off the wort with enough tap water (which comes pre-sanitized by the city of New York) to make 5 gallons, and would have gone so far as to measure the amount of suspended matter with a hydrometer at this point (so that I could have participated in Geek option #4, which is to compare this figure with the amount of suspended matter left after the yeast has fermented away all the sugar and calculate the percentage of alcohol from this difference) except that I'd managed to break my hydrometer on the counter while struggling to shift and strain the pot. Oh, well.

The last step was to snip open the bag of yeast, pour it in, snap on the lid and fill the attached airlock with enough water to make the little inner cap float. It was by this time about 1:30 in the morning, so I left the whole business in the sink and flopped into bed. In the morning, I tested the lid and saw that pressure was building, and by the time I came home from work that night, the air lock was bubbling and heaving like a lung. My beer was alive and well, and the primary fermenting stage had begun.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

consider this a placeholder for the brewing update that is to come....

You know, one of the most popular referrals to this blog is a google search for "straightjacket," "homemade straightjacket," "mohair straightjacket," or "straightjacket sewing pattern." What's wrong with you people?

Sunday, October 21, 2007

a little green goes a long way

I also want to share my joy with you about the fact that th'usband and I have a fully functioning toilet, just a year and a half after our original renovation was completed. It turns out the old bowl had a casting flaw that interfered with the air intake necessary for the thing to flush reliably. Th'usband persuaded the manufacturer to send us a replacement, and the old one is now in our living room, sporting a little clump of what looks like bamboo but is secretly a palm. It's amazing how a few plants can brighten a room, we agree--but the main thing I just can't stop grinning about is that we have a working bathroom!

How to Homebrew date slated

Hello, hello.

It's been awhile. I'm still adjusting to working a regular job after 4 years as a freelancer. Taking the train into Manhattan every day has made me feel much more like a real New Yorker, but it's eaten into my blog time a bit.

I haven't been brewing much lately, either, but all of that is about to change. I just smacked a smackpack of liquid Belgian ale yeast, releasing the contents of a nutritive pouch into a purported 100 million dormant yeast cells, and hope to be able to brew the Saffron Tripel you chose as this year's official holiday ale tomorrow. I've also been browsing a couple of awesome books with an eye towards lining up the next several batches. It may still be 80 degrees out there, but they tell me winter's coming, and that's the weather our little apartment is made for. I need to get busy if I'd like to have beer on tap throughout party season. And if you had my bar, wouldn't you want to?

Here's the cool news. I recently met S., chief instigator at neighborhood joint (for lack of a better all-encompassing word) Vox Pop, who invited me to dream up a homebrewing how-to talk, to presented con cerveza and a little manual, written by yours truly and produced on the Vox Pop printing presses. I figure I'll sketch and develop the contents of said book right here on this blog, which means I'll definitely be posting more, too. Mark your calendar for December 15 if you live in Brooklyn or thereabouts. If you are far, far away, we'll have to muddle along without you--but I'll welcome your comments and suggestions. Go ahead and Ask.the.Huisvrouw ( anything you ever wanted to know about homebrewing but were afraid to ask.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Make that a Tripel...and then a Quadrupel

Well, the masses have spoken. As there was a tie between candidates for my forthcoming holiday brew, I'll just have to make both the Saffron Tripel and the Caramel Quadrupel. I found a promising base recipe for the Tripel and the ingredients are already on their way; I'm not sure exactly what makes a quadrupel a quadrupel other than more sugar (caramel, anyone?) leading to a greater alcohol content, but I'll figure that out this weekend when none other than my three BrewUncs pay me a collective visit. These are going to be some boozy brews, so I need to get them bottled and aging as soon as I can. Ho ho ho.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

What's Fresh Now: Tomatoes

We are having the most heavenly growing season out here in NYC. Last week I showed up at my CSA pickup and was handed a 20 lb. box of tomatoes, which over the weekend turned into sauce. I then canned this sauce, because there was no way I was going to fit 6 quarts in the freezer.

The tricky part was that I don't have a canner--a big deep pot fitted with a wire rack so that the jars don't jostle and break as they're boiling--so I devised one out of my brew kettle and an old rubber bathmat that I scrubbed with bleach first. I actually wouldn't recommend any of this, because even when I'm not using bootleg equipment I worry about getting sloppy and flirting with death. Anyhow, I've decided to invest in a dedicated canner what with apple season just kicking in.

Th'usband rolled his eyes a little at this news given that this project took the better part of my weekend and saw me verging on a panic attack until he helped me figure out how I was going to get the finished jars out of the canner; if I was doing it to spare the cost of 6 industrially produced quarts of sauce, clearly I had lost my mind.

Fortunately for me, th'usband is himself a re-enactor, and understands that this kind of doing has its own satisfaction, and that even when I'm reaching into the boiling water wearing silicone oven mitts, what I'm really doing is a flawed but earnest impression of my grandmother, or yours, ca. 1940. I'm sure that they never saw a day coming when sewing, knitting, canning and suchlike would amount to costly acts of indulgence rather than necessary acts of thrift.

First I peeled the tomatoes (with an extra set of hands lent by J.) by immersing them in near-boiling water for about a minute, then transferring them into a waiting bowl of ice water. This made the skins crack and slip off like gloves.

Prior to canning, the jars and lids get sterilized in boiling water. I took this photo before turning on the gas so that you could appreciate the bathmat action.

I quartered the peeled tomatoes and used my thumbs (can you tell by looking at my pristine hands?) to open and empty the big pockets of seeds, then chopped them roughly. These were perfectly ripe and red to the core and required very little trimming.

So here's the drill: using sterilized equipment, you ladle the sauce into the jars, leaving about 1/2 inch for expansion. Then you put on the lids, screwing the rings down tight so that the sauce doesn't ooze out when you carefully lower the jars into boiling water. You let them boil for 10 minutes, long enough to get the sauce inside the jars boiling again to kill off any pathogens that might have sneaked in there. Heated stuff expands, so when you pull the jars out of the water at the end of the processing time, they look full to the brim; a few minutes later, though, you'll hear a noise as the contents cool and contract, drawing the lid down to make a tight seal. The rings will seem loose at this point, and you can certainly screw them down--but really, nothing's going in or out of that jar until the day you slide a knife blade or file under that metal lid to release the pressure.

The only problem with canning is that the finished jars are almost too pretty to open.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Brewing by committee

Someone did th'usband and me a tremendous kindness, and although we can't repay that individual, it was pointed out to me that beer is always welcome. Then it hit me that right about now would be the time to get some holiday brews going anyhow, and the next thing I knew, I was planning a big step backwards, as it were, from the spiffy keg system I started with into more portable and gift-worthy bottles. Now all that's left is to choose my recipe.

I've posted four possibilities for your polling pleasure, selected from a list of a delectable dozen holiday beers dreamed up by one Randy Mosher. If you'd be so kind as to vote (look up to the right for the poll) for the one you'd theoretically be happiest to receive a couple of months down the road (I'm not making any promises, but if you live & move in my world it's not at all out of the question), I'd be much obliged. Here are the descriptions and how-to's for the finalists:

1. Caramel Quadrupel. Gravity: 1100; color: deep reddish brown.

A caramelized sugar and malt mixture imparts a lingering toffee-like quality. Mix a pound each of light malt extract and white sugar in a heavy saucepan. Heat until the mixture melts; stir only enough to mix together and continue heating until it starts to darken. Use your judgment about when to stop. Once it starts to brown, things happen quickly, but it can get fairly dark before it will make the beer taste burnt. When done, remove from the stove and cool by lowering the pan into a larger pan of water. Once cooled, add brewing water and reheat to dissolve the caramel, then add to your brew in progress.

2. Saffron Tripel. Gravity: 1090; color: orange-gold.

Pick your favorite Belgian tripel recipe as a start. If there’s no sugar in it, substitute 20 percent of the base malt for some unrefined sugar, such as turbinado or piloncillo. Jaggery (Indian palm sugar) is lovely. Add the zest of one orange at the end of the boil, along with a pinch of crushed grains of paradise or black pepper. Ferment with Belgian ale yeast, and add 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads after transferring to the secondary.

3. Crabapple Lambicky Ale. Gravity: 1050; color: pale pink.

Crabapples add not only a festive touch, but tannins and acidity as well, which makes it easier to get that tart, champagne-like character without extended aging. Brew a simple pale wheat recipe. If mashing, go low (145 degrees) and long (2 hours). Ferment with ale yeast, Belgian or otherwise. Obtain 3 to 4 pounds of crabapples (cranberries work also), wash well, then freeze. Thaw and add to the beer when it is transferred to the secondary, along with a package of Wyeast mixed lambic culture. Allow to age on the fruit for two months, then rack, allow to clear, then bottle. Lambic character will continue to increase with time.

4. Spiced Bourbon Stout. Gravity: 1050; color: India ink.

Take your favorite stout recipe and dose it with a vodka infusion. Into 6 ounces of vodka and 2 ounces of bourbon (more if you wish), add 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1/4 teaspoon allspice, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 2 tablespoons crushed coriander, 1 whole star anise (or 1/4 teaspoon ground), 1/4 cup crushed juniper and a pinch of black pepper. When beer is ready to package, pull off some 1-ounce samples. Use a pipette or syringe to dose the samples with the strained infusion, increasing until you find the right dose. Then scale up and add an appropriate amount, plus a little extra to account for aging.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

social climbing

I just realized yesterday that I never posted the picture of our puppy (who's not really a puppy) at his grandfather's house with Biscuit Mondale. We went to a family reunion and left him (the puppy) behind with my friend M., who just happens to dog sit for the former vice presidential pooch. The two are now BFF, which would represent a significant social achievement for most dogs, I'd say; it's an even greater testament to his charm when you consider that just over three years ago, our little hooligan was waiting out the afternoon rain under a bench and subsisting on restaurant scraps in a (very nice, but still) Mexico City park.

Friday, September 14, 2007

What's Fresh Now: [Mostly] Local Meals

As I've mentioned before, September is this year's official Eat Local Challenge month. The organizers of this event, which is now in its 3rd year, are an incredibly encouraging bunch. If what you need is a good rational reason why eating locally produced food matters, they'll give you ten. Tips and guiding principles? Here are a nice even seven. Testimonials? Loads of them. Help with sourcing ingredients? Well, the Bay Area is this movement's spiritual home, but you might find a link to closer compadres here. Enough already and you'd like to sign up? Suit yourself.

While I hesitate to call th'usband and me full-fledged participants--on account of the fact that we haven't done anything in September so far that we didn't already have underway in June, July, or August--the good news is that simply by trying to make frugal use of our CSA produce, we've enjoyed one or more [mostly] local meals each week. I'll give you a few examples.
  1. The Red Meal: Th'usband and I are both going to start new jobs on the 24th. Cooking is going to have to get a lot more programmed without someone at home to run last-minute errands or speed-thaw something from the freezer, so we've cracked out the crockpot again. I had a roommate once who used one to make split pea soup, and th'usband is justifiably proud of his own slow-cooked barbeque chicken, but all I really know how to make it in so far is corned beef. Fortunately, I like corned beef a lot. This meal started out with a red onion, a bunch of red carrots, and some juicy red beets from our CSA layered under the corned beef and nice little red potatoes. Four or five hours later, after the meat was cooked, I took it out to make room for a red cabbage, cut into wedges. Nothing could be easier--and while it seems like wintery fare, when you use a crock pot, you don't even heat up the kitchen.
  2. Roast chicken and applesauce: Our friend A. was having a bad day. After we walked the dogs, I suggested that he come over for dinner and homebrew. That's the great thing about roasting a whole chicken--you can just spontaneously ask folks over, and there will be plenty to go around. I got our chicken from Dines Farms, of course, and brined it for a couple of hours in a mixture of salt, sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, and maybe a few other things like red pepper flakes, but don't quote me on it. After drying it thoroughly and hitting it with salt, I crammed whatever fresh herbs I had on hand--thyme, I think, and some basil--under the skin and popped it into a 450 degree oven for about an hour. In the meantime, I peeled some apples recently procured from my uncle's tree and sliced them into a pot along with a pinch of salt, a shake of hibiscus sugar that an acquaintance in Minneapolis makes (and that I imported to the state on my person when I moved here), a twist of lemon to keep everything from getting too brown, and some of that world-famous Brooklyn tap water. Covered and simmered for a half hour or so, this turned into applesauce, and freed me up to steam and saute veggie sides--a mess of green beans and some more of those red potatoes--courtesy of our very own Farmer Bill.
  3. Mmmm. Montauk: I really wish I'd taken a picture of this one, but our hunger got the best of us. Th'usband and I like to pick out fish when we go food shopping, and look forward to a fast, healthy meal just as soon as we get the other groceries put away. This week, we wound up with yellowfin tuna steaks, fresh caught on Montauk. As soon as we got home, I started heating up a half-inch or so of (non-local) canola oil in a cast iron skillet, and sliced six or eight medallions of (non-local) polenta to fry in it. After that was sizzling away, I turned to cleaning green beans and peeling and slicing some gorgeous little carrots that I had to clear out of the fridge to make way for this week's batch. I steamed the beans, but softened the carrots in butter while I made up a little marinade/sauce in another skillet. It's a favorite of ours ever since we came home from Vermont last fall with a very large and yummy jug of maple syrup. I start by melting a little bit of butter, then adding equal parts (non-local) soy sauce and syrup. When all was blended, I brushed a goodly amount onto the tuna steaks and popped them under the broiler. The rest of the sauce went into the carrots, and I smacked a lid down on top of them so as not to lose the moisture. Five minutes later, everything was done and so beautiful that I pulled out my favorite rectangular, terra cotta rimmed plates. I laid down a grid of 4 crispy polenta medallions on each plate, then topped this with a tuna steak. I heaped the carrots on top of the steaks, letting the sauce flow freely down, and finally, filled out each place with a great green swath of beans. I ain't even saying, I'm just saying: heerlijk!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

On tap: Saison d'etre

In the past month, I've made the decision to leave my freelance existence behind and give corporate life a whirl. I'm really excited about it, but all the interviewing and thinking it over and tying up of loose ends has left little room in my head for blogging or beer.

But if you could just taste what I've got on tap--the self-same saison, or Belgian farmhouse ale I cooked up with that groovy heat-loving yeast--you'd have figured out weeks ago that there must be some huge topsy-turvy something going on, or else I'd surely be bragging about it.

Quite simply, my Saison d'etre is perfect. Thanks to two-stage fermentation, it's crystal clear and deliriously amber in color; thanks to that yeast, it's complex and peppery and fruity but still dry. Saison d'etre is also quite boozy, th'usband has pointed out, though exactly how boozy I couldn't say...I only just this week got a hydrometer. Maybe 6%-7%. I might mellow it out a little bit next time to make it a lighter, more summery beer, but for now, I'm glad for anything that keeps us from swilling it down too quickly. I've just learned that my three Brewing Uncles are paying me a collective visit in a couple of weeks, and I'd love to have some left for them to try.

What's more likely is that we'll polish it off before then, and be down to what's been a rather disappointing batch of chili beer. I modeled it on a crisp and frisky brew I'd tried last summer in Fort Collins, CO, but while mine has some appreciable heat, there's really not enough beer behind it to make that interesting. I began scrambling around last week for ingredients for a new, more conventional seasonal beer, but wound up with a kit containing liquid yeast that is taking forever--2 days and counting--to reanimate. Even if I am able to brew tomorrow, the resulting beer will still be too young to drink by the time they get here.

Ah, well. Here's a picture to remember her by.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

What's fresh now: apples

I went apple picking with my friend S. on Sunday. I thought they'd give us a ladder, but instead we each got a long stick with a plunger on the end. S. laughed at me because I was wearing this stupid dress, and because I didn't understand how to use the plunger at first. I showed her, though, and pulled out three apples just as she was attempting to document my ineptitude. It was actually a bit hot and very humid out, which seemed wrong to both of us.

The apples were Jonamacs. Yesterday, I mixed these with some Wealthys I got from my uncle's tree when we went to Maine over Labor Day, and made apple crisp. You always get a better tasting pie or crisp when you use multiple apple varieties. I'm not giving this one rave reviews, but there's really no such thing as bad apple crisp.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Ask the Huisvrouw: Hefeweizen and Hangovers

Many thanks to a concerned citizen, who by directing said concern my way (see below) nudged me back into the blogosphere:

dear Huisvrouw:

you seem to have a preoccupation with yeast. interesting.

a question: what's this i hear about hefeweizen and its positive prophylactic qualities (in the matter of hangover avoidance)?

a concerned citizen

Dear concerned citizen:

I do indeed love yeast. I think that ultimately my love comes down to mystification, and that in this I share the awe that brewers, bakers, and vintners must have felt for hundreds and thousands of years prior to 1859, when Louis Pasteur traced the phenomenon of bread rising to the CO2 pooped out by happy, gluttonous colonies of yeast cells.

Think about it: completely oblivious to microscopic life that teemed about them, these people nonetheless trusted that if they exposed a flour-and-water sponge to air, it would start to bubble and they could look forward to a nice loaf of sourdough; or if they dipped a stick into a vat of particularly tasty beer, carried that stick to the next village and swished it around in their own vat, the resulting beer might share many of the same flavor characteristics of that first batch; or to go way back, or way deep into the present-day Amazon, womenfolk could spit into a cauldron of cassava mash and a few days later they'd have a drinkable brew. It must have felt like magic, or at the very least reinforced a belief in the universe as an overwhelmingly friendly place.

Even now that we can see the wizard behind the curtain, it's still pretty cool. Properly understood, the yeasts we use in baking and brewing are domesticated organisms. They're fungi, yes, but I still tend to think of them as little beasties, because the rhyme is endearing and because like us and unlike plants, they can't generate their own food out of solar energy but thrive by breaking that plant matter down.

But I digress. After creating this opening for me to natter on about yeast, you then asked about hefeweizen and hangovers, which makes me suspect you already have an inkling of the most scientific explanation for the hefeweizen effect. Hefeweizen is a style of deliberately unfiltered wheat beer that owes its cloudiness to suspended yeast. Yeast has a strong impact on the flavor profile of beer--which is to say that not all yeast poop tastes the same--and a good bartender will deliberately pour a bottle of hefeweizen to stir it up.

Binge drinking of alcohol--the kind of behavior that produces hangovers--not only dehydrates you, it impedes absorption of B vitamins, including vitamin B12 and folate. The resulting imbalance makes you tired and fuzzy-headed. But as many homebrewers will gleefully tell you, the yeasts contained in hefeweizen and their own imperfectly filtered brews are a great source of B vitamins: hence, hangover protection. This effect actually checks out with some actual studies, though I've heard a lot of chatter about B12, when the only B vitamin reputably traced to beer is folate; if I understand correctly, only meat, eggs, and dairy products supply B12.

[No, wait, hold the phone....I just ran a generic 12-oz. serving of BEER, ALE through My Pyramid Tracker (love it) and came up with 21.6 micrograms of folate, .2 mcg of B6, and .1 mcg of B12. Those are pretty trace amounts, but presumably they would be more substantial in an unfiltered beer like hefeweizen or homebrew.]

Craftbeers also tend to be more conducive to savoring than some of the more poundable commercial giants (and hefeweizen, like many other summery wheat styles, tries to be crisp and refreshing rather than big and boozy), so maybe moderation plays some role in the hefeweizen effect. I'd still drink a nice big glass of water before you go to bed--but then rest easy, because the beasties are your friends.

the Huisvrouw

Monday, August 6, 2007

Guest post: summer in Denver

My brother- and sister-in-law, B. & B., live in Colorado where they work as a cook and pastry chef, respectively. This spring, they vastly expanded the garden plot in their yard; since my own attempt to foster a modest herb garden in pots on my fire escape were foiled by one cheeky, persistent squirrel, I garden vicariously through reports like this one from B.

Disclaimer: our mother-in-law M. would like it to be known that her only involvement in the referenced drug bust was as a disappointed landlady. Those kids seemed like they were going to be great tenants....

The vegetable garden has been more of a success than we could have hoped for: we have an abundance of squash, yellow & green cucumbers, squash, cherry tomatoes, squash....I planted the yellow squash with the intentions of harvesting the blossoms. We soon found that squash blossoms are better when prepared by someone else's prep cook. We also learned that B. doesn't care for radish more than once a summer, S. can make radish flower arrangements, broccoli stems are for the cows, broccoli flowers are a waste of time (they rot quickly in salads), and Home Depot hybrid corn contains too much sugar and gets mushy.

My mother-in-law M. recently gave me some fertilizer leftover from her marijuana bust, so I dumped it around in the garden. I thought it was pretty tame stuff 5-4-3, until we returned from our camping trip to find squash and cucumbers the size of my thigh! We have been forced to eat our vegetables, at home with our friends or each other. This has be a pleasant by-product of gardening.

10 Ways to use Yellow squash:
- roast with tomatoes and toss with pesto for a quick side
- Grill
- sliced raw with hummus
- grilled blossoms with herbs and goat cheese
- gifts for neighbors
- alternative peg leg
- Leave it as a surprise gift over the neighbors' fence so they cannot refuse it [ed. note: This was my own dear mother's standard solution when we were little, but she always made us kids actually carry and dump the bags.]
- Saute with tomatoes, toss with pasta, pesto and fresh corn
- use it to scare off birds or neighbor children
- Bocce squash

The garden has had to go vertical. Due to first-timers planning problems, the cantelope, cukes, watermelon and tomatoes have taken over the walking paths. Tours are canceled. So I took an idea from the botanical gardens and have trained the vines to grow up trellis. The watermelon is also using the expired corn stalks as upright support. The unintentional overgrowth has its good points; I find a surprise bounty every time I weed. Just today I found another watermelon fruit, a radish, and a snap bean. We also had a surprise in the front flower garden. We used our compost dirt to fill in the new area, a patty pan squash seed survived and is invading the poppies and snapdragons.

Have any extra gardening stories and pictures of your own lying around? Send them to the huisvrouw! There are city folks all around who are starving for the experience of dirt under their fingernails, the stink of earthworms, and all other suchlike pleasures of summer in the exurbs.

Thursday, August 2, 2007


Hi everyone.

I was planning another post (or six) but got kind of sideswiped by the news from Minneapolis. That's where I'm from, and where I'm headed for a family reunion tomorrow. (All my peeps are fine.) I'll check back in with y'all in a few days.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Ask the Huisvrouw: DIY calcium intake boost

Dear Huisvrouw,

I've been reading your blog for a while now. I love the mix you have going on here--crafty stuff like writing and knitting, culture and the arts, and especially all your fantastic food content.

The question I'm writing to you about today has to do with that last, food, and I'm afraid it's a two-parter. It's recently come to my attention that I really need to increase my intake of calcium. Per my doctor's recommendation, I'm taking some very sciency, organic supplement, but she's been really stern with me about needing to incorporate more calcium-rich foods into my regular diet. So, part one of my question is, what should I be eating?

Part two: Here's the deal: I have a partner and a cat, but no kids, yet. I'm in my early thirties, and of modest, modest means. And I'm a bit of a food moron. I'm an awesome waitress, but my back-of-house knowledge set and self-efficacy is nill. I do, however, reallllllllly want to learn. I'm passionate about living healthier for myself and for my partner and the kids we might get lucky enough to have someday. So, and dumb it down for me, Huisvrouw, how do I eat the calcium-rich foods, once I get them home from the store?


Waitress Lost in the Kitchen
Dear WLitK,

I'm so flattered you asked. I've had calcium-boosting behavior drilled into me since birth, almost, given how many risk factors for osteoporosis (the brittle bone end game for insufficient calcium intake) I happen to embody: I'm female, white, thin, and have a family history of low bone density (dad, not mom). But I enjoyed doing a little research on the subject, primarily at the National Osteoporosis Foundation and the totally excellent, interactive, customizable new government food pyramid site (It's so nice to feel positively about something the feds have done in the past 5 years).

Let's talk first about the role of calcium in the body and what's behind your doctor's concern.

Calcium is an important structural component of healthy bones and teeth. In addition, calcium ions play a messenger role in all kinds of other cellular business, from the firing of muscles to the firing of synapses. A small amount is also excreted each day, mainly through the kidneys, and when women are breastfeeding, they secrete enough to meet the considerable needs of the little bone-growing machines that depend on them. If there doesn't happen to be enough calcium in circulation at the time that it is needed, your bones dispense it like an ATM. It just gets harder and harder to make compensatory deposits once bone growth has ended, so over time the bones can get porous and weak. A person with osteoporosis not only might fall down and break a hip, but she might spontaneously break a hip and fall down.

Women suffer from osteoporosis at higher rates than do men (20% of white and Asian women over the age of 50, vs. 7% of the corresponding demographic of men; for non-Hispanic blacks, 5% of women vs. 4% of men; and for Hispanics, 10% of women vs. 3% of men) not only because of the potential breastfeeding component, but because we generally have smaller, finer bones, which are the effective equivalents of smaller starting bank accounts. (The same thing goes for us skinny folks.) Also, estrogen levels drop precipitously with menopause, while testosterone production in men declines more gradually, and it turns out that these sex hormones help the body to retain calcium. It is possible for women to lose 20% of their bone mass in the first 5-7 years after menopause.

Smoking further leeches calcium out of your bones at whatever age you do it, as does an inactive lifestyle. On the positive side of the equation, stretching and weight-bearing exercise helps to build bone strength, as does an ample supply of vitamin D, which has to be present for bones to absorb and store calcium. Your skin actually makes vitamin D out of sunlight (which might have something to do with why pale whiteys like me who have to stay out of strong sun are at greater risk for osteoporosis than people of color are), so more and more doctors are starting to recommend that we allow ourselves 10-15 minutes of sunscreen-free exposure to the sun 3 or 4 times a week.

Now I know that you didn't really ask me for a whole science lesson, but I always find it easier to figure out the kinds of changes I'm willing and able to make when I also know the hows and whys involved. If you look in the paragraphs above, you can already see a number of things you can do to make maximum use of the calcium you're already taking in: stretch, exercise, spend a little time outside each day, and try to give up cigarettes if you smoke. The next step is to consider what kinds of foods you can eat to average about 1000 mg of dietary calcium a day.

We'll start with the easy stuff: dairy products. Everyone knows that milk has a lot of calcium, and now you know why; nature intended that milk for calves, which also need to build bone as they grow. One cup of milk provides about 300 mg, or 30% of your recommended daily allowance. You can get the equivalent amount of calcium from 1 1/2 ounces of hard cheese, 1/3 c. shredded cheese, 1/2 c. ricotta cheese, or 2 c. cottage cheese; or you could enjoy a single 8-ounce serving of yogurt. And here's another sneaky thing: there are about 52 mg of calcium per tablespoon of nonfat powdered milk, and you can add it into homemade baked goods at the rate of 2T per cup of flour.

But what about the majority of the world's population that is more or less lactose intolerant? (As a group, only Northern European peoples seem to retain the ability to digest milk after childhood.) And what about a balanced diet? Well, consider these other options:

Fish (especially whole or canned ocean fish with bones): A 3-oz serving of salmon, which realistically speaking is about half of an entree-sized portion, contains 180 mg of calcium. The same 3-oz. serving of trout has 146; sardines, 325 mg; ocean perch, 116; and even shrimp have 102.

Pretty much any fruit or vegetable you pick up contains 40-60 mg of calcium. The real heavy lifters, though, are dark green veggies. Consider how much calcium there is in one cup of each of these foods, and load up your plate: Spinach, 291 mg; collard greens, 266 mg; turnip greens, 246 mg; okra, 176 mg; broccoli, 188 mg; bok choi, 158 mg; okra, 176 mg; rhubarb, 348 mg.

Beans: A lot of the sources I consulted specified dried or canned beans; I doubt the preparation method has anything to do with calcium content. More likely this is just a reflection on our overall impatience with foods that take a long time to cook. At any rate, you should feel free to crack open a nice convenient, easy can now and again--just make sure it didn't come from China, and it's not on the current botulism recall list. One cup white beans, 192 mg; cowpeas, 212 mg; kidney beans, 80 mg; refried beans, 90 mg.

Soybeans are beans too, you know: 1 cup edamame provides 176 mg calcium, and there's also good calcium in soy derivatives: 3 oz. tofu, 150 mg; tempeh, 82 mg.

Miscellaneous: Nuts (1/4 c. almonds, 89 mg); Blackstrap molasses (1 T, 172 mg); and a few other things you can look up yourself at the sources I cited above. (If I could sneak in one more plug for the MyPyramid site, it would be that you can use the Tracker function to get both a broad view of the quality of your diet over time, and the specific nutritional content of almost any food you can think of.)

Whew. This is getting really long, so I'm just going to wind it up with a baker's dozen or so of calcium-rich meals or snack ideas to get you going.
  1. Spinach lasagna, made with tons of spinach, ricotta, and mozzarella cheese; you can really get a lot of servings out of a pan of lasagna, so this is a good, cheap meal
  2. Salmon steaks with something dark green on the side; season the fish with salt, pepper, and a little dill if you want to get fancy, then stick it under the broiler for about 5 minutes
  3. Raw broccoli dipped in a yogurt-based dip; add some instant onion soup mix to plain yogurt for an easy savory dip, or make a sweetened yogurt dip for fruit, which is always good, too
  4. Stir fry with bok choi and tofu; there's a Dutch saying (or maybe something that I just always have said) that is central to my stir fry logic--hoe kleurrijker hoe gezonder. The more colorful, the healthier it is. Saute a bunch of seasonal veggies on high heat, starting with the hardest vegetables and working your way down to the tender ones. Just make sure you've got one or more dark green things in there
  5. Plain yogurt on your baked potato (similar effect and much more calcium than sour cream)
  6. Molasses cookies, made from scratch with blackstrap molasses and powdered milk sifted into the flour
  7. Fruit parfaits made by layering yogurt, almond granola, and fresh fruit
  8. Keep almonds and cheese around for grab-it-and-go snacks
  9. Spinach salad
  10. Steamed soy beans with coarse salt, aka edamame; you can buy these frozen and then all you have to do is heat them up, sprinkle salt on them, and sit back and look fabulously cosmopolitan
  11. Soul food! Say yes to collard greens and baked beans, okra, and (yep) sneak some powdered milk into the flour you use to batter the chicken and/or green tomatoes
  12. Haute bourgeois tapas with sardines, garlicky white beans, and a wedge of Manchego cheese; considering that you can get the beans canned and just jazz them up a minute with some garlic and whatever fresh herbs are plentiful in the moment, this is remarkably easy, and with the possible exception of the cheese, pretty cheap. Actually almost anything, even the fancy looking stuff, is cheap if you are willing to do all or part of the preparation
  13. Caesar salad with fresh dressing: go heavy on the anchovies and parmesan cheese
  14. Rhubarb cobbler with ice cream

Friday, July 27, 2007

(botulism free) Chile beer: a recipe

Most of the cool farm wives and frugal huisvrouwen these days freeze rather than can, but I've always been fascinated with jars of preserves.

It's complicated. It's about going down into the dank, slightly scary basement at my grandparent's house in earliest memory to pick out a quart jar of beans or peas, and how much I would give to be standing there now. It's about the home ec barn at the Minnesota State Fair, where the colors and patterns of backlit preserves rival those of the quilt display. It's about a kitchen 10 miles out of Athens, OH, where A. and I put up apples and tomatoes, lining up the jars on shelves by a window that framed frosty laundry and a defunct pump in the yard.

And it's about botulism toxin, the stuff that stills the palsied and spastic and makes so many New Yorkers look smooth and impassive, that grows in oxygen-deprived spaces and that is lethal in in doses above one microgram. And that is potentially lurking in tens of millions of cans of chili sauces, hash, beans, and other meat- and chili-containing products made by Castleberry Food Co. for major store brands like Meijers, Krogers, Piggly Wiggly, Food Club over the past two years. (For a complete recall list, click here.)

All the more reason to cook up your own tasty chile products at home. Here's my recipe for chile beer, adapted from Shawn Davis and Fred Colby's 'Hot Chihuahua' Jalapeno and Santa Fe Chile Blonde Ale (Zymurgy Sept/Oct 2005) and originally inspired by Sigda's Green Chili Beer. I just cooked it up yesterday so I can't speak for the results yet, and honestly, several critical recipe alterations were the unintended consequences of mistakes. It is bubbling furiously right now, though, and you know how much I love that.

for 5 gallons/19 liters:
  • 7.5 lbs. (give or take) Cooper's Light malt extract
  • .5 lb 80L crystal malt
  • .5 lb clear candi sugar
  • 1 oz N. Brewer pellet hops, added at the start of the boil
  • 1.5 oz. Cascade flower hops, added with 15 minutes left on the boil
    • [This would also have been a great time to throw in an oz. of ground coriander seed to give the beer a little citrusy something something, but I forgot. On the other hand, it's deep summer and our apartment is never in the temperature range (70-75 degrees, tops) recommended to prevent 'fruity esters' from cropping up in my beer, so I guess I can just leave it to the little yeasties.]
  • Irish moss added in the last couple of minutes to clarify
    • [Usually I use Whirlfloc tabs, but dried seaweed seemed much more sporting.]
After the wort was cool, I pitched Windsor yeast. This was a mistake; I was supposed to use Doric Ale yeast, which apparently I must have thrown in my Irish red batch a couple of weeks ago, also by mistake. I haven't found a really detailed description of the flavors imparted by either one, but I have no complaints about the work ethic of the Windsor strain in this batch.

  • Dry hop with 3 oz. of dried Guajillo chiles and 3 oz. of dried New Mexico chiles.
  • Dry hop with .5 oz flower hops; I'll probably use Saaz.
Kegging/bottling day:
  • I plan to chop up 3 fresh serrano chiles--I like them better than Jalapenos and anyhow that's what's in Sigda's--boil them in 2 c. water, strain out the chiles and throw the cooled water in the keg along with the priming sugar.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Revolt of Guadalajara, installment 5

A couple of months ago I began the serial translation of a 1937 novella by Dutch writer Jan Jacob Slauerhoff called The Revolt of Guadalajara. I'm going to try to be more disciplined about hashing it out but would be grateful for any insistent clamoring you could muster to that effect.

Finally in today's installment, we get some characters:

Chapter 1, pp. 11-15

Besides the churches and banks, Guadalajara also had a Gobierno Central, a representation of the federal government, a municipality, three hospitals, a Supreme Court, a tax office, four convents, an Episcopal hall, some ten big houses belonging to rich landowners and industrialists that could be called palacios with a bit of good will, and beyond that the city that, other than a number of stores and warehouses, consisted of low huts. Almost all larger buildings lay on the Avenida Central and formed the drab stretched-out skyline that was visible from the far horizon above the bald brown or grey-red plain and most resembled the back of a prehistoric animal, a crocodile or iguanodon.

In keeping with an obvious and unspoken agreement with the authorities that dated back to the era of slavery and continued in effect long after emancipation, other than the livery-coated or uniformed or priestly garbed servants of church and state, the Indians never came into the Avenida Central, such that it almost always lay dead and abandoned both in the heat of the day and in the dusky night. Only in the brief twilight hour did the carriages of the more distinguished residents pass to and fro, or a few men walk and sit on the terraces of the two cafés. Only for processions and a few national holidays did the Indians enter the Avenida too. Processions took place quite often, as the church authorities knew from centuries of experience that every people, however humbled and oppressed, must have occasional opportunity to push themselves up, to experience themselves en masse, hearing each other’s shouts, filling their noses with each other’s reeking. Coming together in the Avenida didn’t stir up any kind of mass consciousness of power; to the contrary. Devoid of will, the stream flowed in a single direction between the lines of the big buildings and was dissipated by the gendarmes once the parade had run its course. Contented, tired and sleepy they go back to their houses and rest or drink the rest of the holiday away, and rebellious thoughts never take root: they are tired and hoarse from screaming.

With the examples of Christian humility borne on litters and flagstaffs before them, they could vent their suppressed lust for life through shocking dances done to a music gone gradually over from the plodding tempos of the church to a dance beat. The hubbub of the city, the high gables on either side, these overpower them and then suddenly it is all over, the parade disbands on a silent square and they head docilely for home.

The high church authorities made the occasional remark about what they termed the degenerative influence of processions in the otherwise tranquil Guadalajara. But Monseigneur Valdés, who’d sat in the bishop’s seat over Guadalajara for twenty years, took up the defense in an articulate hand. Monseigneur Valdés wrote gladly and copiously. How otherwise could he employ his great gifts of spirit and heart?

What was this talented priest still doing stuck out in Guadalajara? Was it because of a foreboding that precisely here, in this city, something big was sure to pass? Or had he simply been forgotten? Or does the consistory of cardinals secretly have it in for great talents? Or was Monseigneur Valdés not who he took himself to be?

He took the first solution to be correct. God’s ways were inscrutable, surely something big was going to happen in Guadalajara. He never spoke about these expectations with the dean or the canons of the diocese. They believed only what they saw happen. But he did with a young Indian priest, Tarabana, who served in the little church of the Sagrado Corazón, in the middle of the old Indian neighborhood, and who wrote with a very legible hand.

Tarabana was not a pale, docile, stunted youth, like so many of his associates, he was lively, walked tall, secretly believed in the rebirth of his race.

Really it was a wonder that the authoritarian and priestly Valdés could stand this young man; or did he see reflected something of himself that never had come into its own? In the end a certain kind of intimacy had developed between them. Tarabana could listen for hours to the orations of the bishop. Usually they began along these lines:

‘Don’t be unhappy, Tarabana, with your little wooden church, any more than I am with my meager and remote diocese, that really should have had its seat on the council by now, long before González and Machado, who are less talented than I am. Something big is going to happen in Guadalajara, otherwise I wouldn’t still be here, it must be for something. It should have happened a long time ago, but we never know what obstacles stand in God’s way. He also likes to write destiny along crooked lines. But something’s coming! Just look once at Saint Iago, who has the most prophetic spirit of all the saints. Hasn’t he on the occasional rainy day ever had an ominous feeling?’

In this way he got the young priest all wound up. Tarabana often really would have liked to ask just exactly what was going to happen but he didn’t dare; when he had it on the tip of his tongue the bishop looked vacantly past him or suddenly began writing as if in midstream on a sheet of parchment that always lay ready. He’d been working for years now on a church history of Mexico, on the description of miracles witnessed in the area. If nothing happened in Guadalajara, at least in the time that he was still there, then his name would still become famous through the publication of these works. The Holy Father would reproach himself for having left Valdés moldering his whole life in Guadalajara, instead of giving him a place where he could shine.

Tarabana then stood wavering at the other end of the table. Should he go away or stay? Sometimes Valdés looked at him with boredom and confusion, in which case he knew for certain. Sometimes he stopped looking up altogether and then he off he went, swearing to himself never to return. After these visits he didn’t go to his church, where malice and brooding made it hard to hold it together, but to the hut where his parents still lived. It stood on the outskirts of the Indian quarter by the steeply pitched river that dribbled one day and ran dry the next.

Tarabana’s parents were among the poorest, but they had the good fortune of having only had one child, and a son at that. For this rare dearth of offspring—most averaged ten or more children—they thanked the gods and saints regularly.

the importance of secondary fermentation: the jury is still out

This morning I moved the Irish red ale from my new secondary fermenter, a glass carboy, into a keg, and then the Saison that was the source of all that ruckus a couple of weeks ago from the plastic primary fermenting bucket into the glass carboy. This involved a considerable amount of washing and sanitizing, not to mention an episode of spatial impossibility when it came to extracting a muslin bag of hops from the carboy's 2-inch neck. It was floating at the top like a big tea bag, so it wasn't hard to snag it and pull the first couple of inches through, but eventually I had to cut the bag open and pull out successive wads of hops until finally I could wrest the rest out; it brought camels and eyes of needles to mind, and the certainty that there has to be a better way...right?

Two-stage brewing purportedly makes for clearer beer; sure enough, only a small amount of trub had collected following transfer from the primary fermenter, and it was easy to leave this behind when I siphoned the beer into a keg for the final conditioning phase. Worth the hassle? I'll let you know when we tap it.

The Saison continues to be a mystery. Fermentation had slowed but not entirely stopped, judging from the 2-3 lazy bubbles per minute still visible in the airlock this morning, 10 days after the batch was brewed. I wanted to get the beer into glass, though, to prevent it from oxidizing. I don't really know what that means in a beer quality sense, but it sounds bad; anyhow, I want to be able to keg it by the end of next week, when we're headed away for a few days, so there was no more time to delay. I heaved the bucket up onto the kitchen cabinet at the beginning of the whole process so it would have time to settle before siphoning. When I finally pulled off the lid, though, I saw evidence of the most cataclysmic fermentation my bucket has ever known. There was trub blown all the way to the top of its walls, trub caked and dried on the underside of the lid, trub creeping up the airlock's central tube, impossible to remove. I'm not sure what this means, if anything; I just know that it's as different from the scant inch or so of mayhem that I usually scrape off the fermenter as the 10 days were from the customary 2, and I'm really curious to taste the results in about a month.

If I have time tonight, I think I'll finally make that chile beer.

What's Fresh Now: CSA week 8

green beans
shelling peas
Swiss chard
cucumbers, lots of cucumbers

A few related comments:
1. I love beans.
2. No more lettuce!
3. This time I'm not screwing up the Swiss chard. At my brother-in-law-the-chef's advice I'm going to blanch it in some really salty water for a couple of minutes, then saute it (though I patently refuse to blanch or saute it "off" as current chef speak dictates--no offense, B., it's just my own little losing usage battle) in olive oil with a whole lot of garlic.
4. I will make some nutritious use out of the cucumbers. I will probably slice one up for a snack in a few minutes, for instance. But mostly I will make Cucumber Drinks, my summer cocktail of choice for 5 or 6 summers running, ever since my friend J. from Leipzig-by-way-of-Zipolite introduced me to them.

Cucumber drinks (snazzier names welcome):
If you're like me, you grew up thinking of cucumbers fondly enough maybe, but ultimately as vehicles for vinegar and/or salt. One sip of this cocktail will turn you on to a subtle but sensuous pleasure that's been right under your nose all this time.

1 bottle of seltzer
1 bottle of ginger ale
1 cucumber

  • Peel your cucumber if it's waxy; if it's not, leave it alone because it will make the finished product taste that much more green.
  • Next, using a slicer or a sharp knife and a steady hand, cut paper-thin cross sections. You'll need a quarter cup or so per serving. I like making up a whole pitcher at a time, but you can do it glass by glass if you don't mind having to keep going back to the kitchen as people try them and decide they want their own.
  • Combine the shaved cucumber with (per serving) a couple of fingers of vodka, ice, and more or less (depending on how sweet you like it) equal amounts ginger ale and seltzer.
  • Steep for about 5 minutes and serve. If it's really hot and you're worried about the ice melting and the fizz fizzling before they're ready to go, you could steep the cucumbers in just the vodka ahead of time. I'm just never that organized.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

in which she reasserts the enjoyment of naming

We took the Circle Line today. The loop around Manhattan took 3 hours, and our guide had very little to say about the Bronx, for instance, so parts of it got a little boring. But it is good, I think, or at least good for me, to cultivate a sense of being new to these parts, of wonder at wherever I happen to be.

I have been thinking about this a lot lately. Recently I passed my 4-year anniversary of becoming an ex-expat*. I have basically lived my adult life in 4-year chapters, so what this means to me looking out across the open sky of year 5 is that I have no idea how to proceed. In the past, I've staved off boredom by up & moving to a far-off land where I would proceed to expend my very last breath trying not to be an outsider, which I interminably was.

Still, I remember laughing once at a breathless someone who imagined my life to be incredibly exotic. I laughed because most of the time my life was a bag of papers that had to be graded by Monday. It was not exotic, I protested, not at all, but while that was true, it was also true that the littlest things that surrounded me all had different, new-to-me names, names that I was prone to repeat and savor in my mouth**. It simply was not possible for me not to pay attention.

New York is like that for a lot of people, I know, th'usband included. Everything that happens here is a bit more laden and/or fraught with meaning by sheer virtue of it having happened in New York. In subsequent retellings, the stage directions always specify the neighborhood(s) involved. There are accents and pushcarts and zany bystanders and local color. Everything is lit with heartbreakingly New Yorky light.

*Attempting to appear Interesting, I suppose, I commented to someone I've never met that I am an ex-expat. I said this because I'd been thinking about all of this, and feeling a bit beige, and because my earlier admission that I was an ex-poet had generated excitement and inspired a whole new category. It inspired; with it, I'd carved out a whole new plane of existence for myself. For a second there it was almost like up & moving. But this ex-expat business, while kindly received, turned out to be a statement of the obvious. "of course poets are ex-pats so an ex-poet would almost have to be an ex-expat," sed ryan.

Ouch. He's right, of course. An ex-pat is always finding out the word for something for the first time and cannot afford lapses of attention. At first it is about understanding and being understood and being able to participate in serious conversations without sounding like a six-year-old. Later it is about the pleasure of those words in your mouth, and that is poetry. **Gertrude Stein put it this way:
What is poetry.
Poetry has to do with vocabulary just as prose has not....
And what is the vocabulary of which poetry absolutely is. It is a vocabulary entirely based on the noun as prose is essentially and determinately and vigorously not based on the noun.
Poetry is concerned with using with abusing, with losing with wanting, with denying with avoiding with adoring with replacing the noun. It is doing that always doing that, doing that and doing nothing but that. Poetry is doing nothing but using losing refusing and pleasing and betraying and caressing nouns. That is what poetry does, that is what poetry has to do no matter what kind of poetry it is....
I have said that a noun is a name of anything by definition that is what it is and a name of anything is not interesting because once you know its name the enjoyment of naming it is over and therefore in writing prose names that is nouns are completely uninteresting. But and that is a thing to be remembered you can love a name and if you love a name then saying that name any number of times only makes you love it more, more violently more persistently more tormentedly. Anybody knows how anybody calls out the name of anybody one loves. And so that is poetry really loving the name of anything and that is not prose. Yes any of you can know that. (From "Poetry and Grammar," one of Stein's 1934 Lectures in America)
Look, all that happened today is that we took the Circle Line and I took about fifty pictures, and when we got off and we were walking towards our car on 46th St., a guy spotted the camera around my neck and asked if we needed a cab. And although my immediate response was to get all I'm-from-Brooklyn on him (because I am still always all about expending hasta el ultimo aliento trying not to be an outsider), in the seconds that followed I realized that it was a good thing to be taken as a tourist. If my project for year 5 is to learn how not to up & move it behooves me not to make myself too much at home. I need to look up from the sidewalk in front of me, ask people for the words for things, hear the accents, linger in the New Yorky light. I need to carry a camera and pay attention. That's all I'm saying.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

What's Fresh Now: CSA week 6 or 7

I've lost count how many weeks it's been, but we are now officially, as a newly favorite blogger of mine commented, in "a new spot in the summer....deep summer." It's made for a lot of bitching about the humidity, which I actually enjoy to a certain extent (the humidity, not the bitching), as well as for a whole lotta tasty veggies. Here's a picture of this week's haul (red lettuce, arugula, basil, broccoli, snap peas, carrots, squash).

I should also mention the deep summer flowers bought for a pittance at the market on Saturday: butterfly weed and some kind of brilliant little tiger lilies, a frenzy of red, yellow and orange in a vase.

After several weeks of killing everything by being just way too fancy, last night I finally cooked a good meal by simply steaming the broccoli and tossing it with bacon, yellow raisins, toasted pine nuts and some oil and vinegar; sauteeing the squash with some garlic and butter; and letting the thighs of a couple of happy, pasture-raised chickens testify to the beauty of their lives without much added hoopla.

Simplicity is the name of Marc Bittman (aka The Minimalist)'s game, and here in his list of 101 quick summer meals, he's dazzlingly prolific and inventive, too. No excuse not to cook now. I think I'm almost--but not quite, since I can't seem to resist including the link--ready to forgive him for once including a buddy's (Spanish) tapas bar as the final insult in an overwhelmingly sloppy review of regional Mexican restaurants in Mexico City.

Farm Bill time

Within the last several years that I've been living back in the U.S. as an ex-expat, I've discovered the simple pleasure of calling my representatives in Washington, and more recently, in New York. There is so much about the current governance of our country that does violence to my beliefs that if nothing else, calling up my elected officials and telling them that I'm cranked up or pissed off about something makes me feel slightly less powerless. It's amazingly easy to make an impact; when in D.C. for a few days last summer, I stopped by my House Representative's office, and the intern behind the desk claimed to recognize my name. The other day, when I called up my State Senator to register my disgust that a) the Democratic majority had failed to pass a congestion pricing measure in time to receive much-needed federal funds for public transportation and b) said SS had attributed the problem to Mayor Bloomberg's failure to adopt an "ingratiating" posture, I was pleased to hear from the haggard-sounding woman who took my call that the phone had been ringing off the hook.

If you'd like to try it out yourself, let me just remind you that every five years Farm Bill time rolls around, and that this is the week. The politics of food production are intimately involved in all kinds of commonly held concerns, including environmental protection, health, energy independence, trade deficits, labor rights, immigration, and social justice. Phone calls and letters have already helped remove a measure from an earlier draft of the current bill that was intended to preempt state laws or regulations beyond those mandated at the federal level. Here are some of the current provisions you could weigh in on with your Representative, particularly if s/he is on the House Agriculture Committee:
  • an amendment by Representative Goodlatte (R-VA) would gut COOL (country of origin labeling) mandates, making these voluntary and restricting them to the 20 most commonly consumed fruits and vegetables, capping potential fines at $1,000, and defining imported animals as domestic unless they did not pass Go and went straight to the slaughterhouse
  • in happier news, other amendments support:
    • organic conversion assistance (Rep. Gillibrand, D-NY)
    • "fair share" of USDA-ARS funding for organic research (Rep. Kagen, D-WI)
    • mandatory funding for organic research (Rep. Cardoza, D-CA
  • you could also express your views, among other issues, on:
    • increased funding for the Food Stamp and Nutrition program
    • mandatory funding for the Community Food Project Grant Program, the Organic Research and Extension program, the Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program and the Healthy Enterprise Development Program that would help small and mid-sized farmers distribute their products to local markets
    • changes to the Conservation Security Program to make it easier for organic producers to participate and receive on-going financial assistance rewarding the implementation of conservation practices on their farms
    • crop insurance equity, leveling the playing field for organic farmers who currently must pay a 5% surcharge on their crop insurance rates but are typically reimbursed for their losses according to conventional prices that don't take the greater value of their products into account
For more information or to sign and send a pre-fab letter instead, click here. To get contact information for your elected officials in Washington, click here.