Thursday, May 31, 2007

help me figure out my pantry

I seem to be in the calm before the storm work-wise, so I'm using it today to organize an order of brew supplies. If there are any homebrewers who happen to be perusing this blog, I could really use your input. So far I've brewed 6 batches, all from kits. Now that I understand the basic process and have started to develop my beer palate a little bit, I'd like to move into recipes and eventually into improvisation. I cook by ear, as it were, consulting printed recipes as a starting point more than anything else; as soon as I am confident that I can more or less anticipate and describe the Z produced by a given X + Y, I'd like to play around with beer recipes and style variations of my own.

Anyhow, all of this means that I'm interested not just in ordering ingredients for a specific recipes or two, but in laying in a supply of staple yeasts, malts, hops, etc. that could form the start of a versatile brewing pantry. Now that this site is starting to get more traffic, I'm hoping you, dear casual Reader (or someone in your circle), might have some ideas about what my pantry should contain. Efficiency is going to be key here since the husband and I are both packrats and together with our livestock are wedged into a scant 900 sq. feet. We do have an awesome kitchen, though, and a two-tap kegerator that holds 5 gallon kegs, of which we currently have one spare. In the short term I am interested in brewing the creamiest, chocolatiest Porter recipe I can track down, and after that, a nice summery wheat beer or saison. Please send me your ideas!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Revolt of Guadalajara, Chapter 1 part 1 continued

But sometimes the desire for something else—for someone from the outside, whoever that might be, whoever can upset the lifeless balance of being—is so strong, that they surround him or comes out of the town to greet him, and he feels the feeling of welcome that is so appealing to a drifter or a traveler-over-great-distances. Then he is lost.

Sometimes in just these kinds of towns there abides a strong belief, like the last remaining vine on a ruin, that something is finally going to happen, that the sun is going to shine differently, that someone is going to come who will upend life in such a way that people will dance in the same otherwise quiet and vacuous streets. And every stranger who arrives in an uncommon manner is believed to be the one who will bring the turnaround. The wanderer thus endangered, crushed under the centuries-long hope of an entire people, can still sometimes save himself by means of a wild flight, across the plain, over hill and dale, until a fold of the earth shields him from the town and there are no villages left to obstruct and stare at him; then he collapses, leaning against a stone or a tree trunk, and falls into an exhausted sleep.

And the next morning, when the sun rises over an expansive plain and shimmers early in a salt flat or a shallow sea or on white spotted cattle, and he wakes up, stiff from sleep but still ready to keep walking, his first thought is of the oppressive dream of a town that was built of stone but wasn’t really there. Because space and the man that freely passes through it are the only truth, that is what life is, and everything frozen in place and gradually returning to dust is dead from the get-go.

But the drifter who is too weak for his calling, who nurtures a secret longing in a corner of his soul for a resting place, a community where even he can find a place, often is ambushed by a dead lonely town, in the middle of an abandoned plain or a harborless coast. He betrays his calling and it wreaks its revenge. The residents of the lifeless place think that he comes to bring life and when they realize that it’s rest that he wants, they drive him away or kill him.

Friday, May 25, 2007

The Revolt of Guadalajara, Chapter 1 part 1

Sometimes, on the shores of a shipless sea, at the foot of an uninhabited and bald-scraped mountain range or in the middle of a parched and arid plain inspiring little hope of a lone house, much less a cluster of them, there lies a town. Its raison d’etre—a rich mine, a good harbor—has long since been abandoned and still the town remains, the inhabitants breeding forth though starved of new blood or money, their line like that of the surrounding tribes growing meager and weak. The outside world does not begrudge this town her pinched existence and leaves her be; she is harmless.

Only for the lonely traveler bound for better places does she present any real danger. Tired from long journeys, seeing that town lying there now in the middle of nowhere, he wants to rest. The town juts out on the coast, on the foot of the mountain or in the middle of the plain like a reef that is hard to get around. If he risks getting too close to her, all the hope, all the longing for a new life and a better fate that exists in the people of the town and the plains as surely as it does in all mortals, is poured out upon him. He doesn’t notice it, he takes his feeling to be a heavy exhaustion after his long trek, such that he decides to stay on the plain or in the town for a few days to catch his breath. But a terror does seize him when he sees the hungry, hankering faces of the locals lifted up towards him, when he wanders through the alleys and streets and hesitates on a sunless square about where to go, when he reads a persistent inbreeding on the pallid faces and slack suffering of the inhabitants. And despite his exhaustion he runs faster and faster and, if he is lucky and his sense of direction doesn’t leave him in the lurch, he gets out of there, and stands in an hour on the other side facing the same plain, prostrate now and endless before him, wholly manageable, beckoning him to cross. And if, clammy with sweat, he should have the good fortune of a stream to bathe away his weariness and his brush with the town, then he’ll be saved.

Introducing Jan Jacob Slauerhoff

J.J. Slauerhoff was a ship's doctor-writer-translator (from Spanish, Portuguese, and French to Dutch) widely regarded as one of the greatest Dutch poets of the 20th century interbellum.

When I first moved to the Netherlands, I imagined that someday I would translate Dutch poetry into English. I'd had a course in 20th century poets during an undergraduate semester at Leiden University, but that was before I'd read much of anything beyond the Romantics in my own tradition, and I didn't realize that relative to American poets after Whitman, the Dutch had an incredibly stubborn penchant for formalism--let alone that this would piss me off. (I don't know about you, but not much of the world I live in lends itself to orderly sequences of weighty conclusions hammered home by rhyme.) So anyhow, that didn't work out.

Then just as I was leaving for Mexico, my friend J gave me a novella by Slauerhoff called De opstand van Guadalajara (The Revolt of Guadalajara). It is a misanthropic little melodrama, written in the last year of Slauerhoff's sickly, misanthropic little life, and I loved it. I've been talking about translating it for years, ever since I discovered that it's come out in translation in Germany, Indonesia, and Italy--as recently as 1999 in the latter--but never in the U.S. I've even done rough cuts of the first and last of ten chapters, and made my friends read them and tell me they'd like to read the rest.

. . . Fast forward to this morning, when I got it in my head yet again to work on it serially in this blog, where I hope to be buoyed along by the inevitable crush of readers clamoring for its completion. A girl's gotta dream. Anyhow, it had been quite awhile since I'd had this particular bug up my ass, so it took some time to even find the book. Then, scanning the back cover, something registered for the first time: Slauerhoff died in 1936 at just 38 years old.

It just so happens that I am turning 39 next month, and it bears stating outright that I identified from the get-go with Slauerhoff as a kindred vagabond/poet/translator crazy in love with the sound of Spanish but more properly at home among the Dutch. So this discovery was kind of fraught, an echo of a moment 11 years before when, walking past a record store in Leiden, I felt compelled--really, physically compelled--to go in there and buy a German edition of Janice Joplin's greatest hits. From the liner notes I learned that Janice died at 27, the age that I was just about to stop being, and though I've never been all that rock & roll and her music is a bit out of character for me, it seemed important that I do something in honor of our unlikely connection that day. Like dedicate this translation of Slauerhoff to her. So here it goes:

The Revolt of Guadalajara

by J. Slauerhoff
translated by Jenny Gage

for Janice.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

boozy knitters in the news.

Almost forgot: Booze & Yarn got some good press. Read it here.

Chicks Brew, Too

Several weeks back, I received a 52-lb. package from BrewUnc#1, containing almost 20 years of back issues of Zymurgy, the official magazine of the American Homebrewer's Association. One of Zymurgy's editors is Charlie Papazian, who founded the group and authored its Bible, and is pictured holding the plaque (to the left) and hanging out with Kathy Ireland (above). Admittedly, all of the pictures here came from the same 1988 issue, but brewing remains a demographic that gives facial hair a bad name (& I even like facial hair!). I wound up throwing out about half of the issues after discovering that a complete article cycle is about 8 years long and that the older issues are b&w and way too fascinated that Chicks Brew, Too. The Kathy Ireland cover story killed me, though, so I kept that one: just imagine how many mustaches twitched to learn that Kathy was 'a beer enthusiast with the same fantasies that inspire most brewers.' (Did you know about her line of home furnishings, btw? Me neither.)

Anyhow, I've got a lot of reading to do, and just in time: the last of my pre-packaged kits is in the fermenter and I'm fixing to move to the level of (other people's) recipes next. I'm browsing for a creamy, chocolaty Porter for th'husband, and a frisky Saison for me. Any suggestions?

you can get paid for that, you know

Wow. I really, really need to market myself better. Just got word from my friend J about Sweet Deliverance, a new business piggybacking on the CSA boom.

[A quick aside to all those editors who passed on my CSA diary pitch, apparently unconvinced that CSAs were poised to be the next Tickle Me Elmo: I told you so.]

Here's the deal. You sign up for a CSA share. Heck, sign up for the Mega Combo Share, which includes weekly fresh-from-the-farm vegetables, fruit, eggs, and flowers. You can afford it, you New Yorker, you . . . and that's the part that I really have to learn, because while it might cross my mind to offer a service like this, it would never occur to me that anyone would pay for it.

Now start writing checks. The first one for $925 is for the farmers. The subsequent $250 per week is for your own private chef to pick up your produce for you, wash the mesclun mix and make a vinaigrette, whip together a strawberry rhubarb cobbler, and deliver it to your door. Later it will be baba ganouj and pasta sauce, but it will still be $250. I have a hard time imagining that someone of your means eats too many family-style dinners at home, but it could be a nice change of pace. And you'll feel virtuous--not just on account of all that organic goodness coursing through your veins, but because you'll be providing an income for a chef who might otherwise be cooking 100 covers a night at $10/hour to pay off her culinary school debt.

The funny thing is that this whole national food moment we're in is about shortening the distance from the farm to the table, and here this woman comes with her enterprising little self so that you can have your cake and keep your oven clean, too.

God bless you, Chef Kelly Geary. I really hope it works.

Mohair for May

I made an unexpected trip to Minnesota this past weekend and couldn't put it off any longer. M. finally has her straightjacket. She was a very good sport.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Down to Pumpkin

I've been brewing a lot more than this blog reflects. After the Dubbel and the IPA came a Bock-style beer. It wasn't as dark as I thought was characteristic of the style--nor, for that matter, could the IPA fairly be described as a pale ale--but definitely malty, and an instructive contrast on tap next to the more bitter, hoppy IPA.

To my real surprise, I am starting to be able to make meaningful taste distinctions. Somewhere along the way at another Bierkraft tasting, I took a whiff of the proffered Saison (a Belgian farmhouse style that was brewed each winter for field hands, who were given a daily allotment of 5 liters when the sun got hot) and smelled lavender. Everyone agreed the beer was spicy, and some said cinnamon; but lavender won out when the night's presenter cast his vote with me. I felt very clever. And my education has been a lot more fun so far than sitting home with one of those little sets of essences that sommeliers use to train their noses.

Since that first silty batch of Belgian ale, I've also discovered that careful siphoning from the fermenting bucket into the keg is key to keeping the beer drinkable right down to the dregs. We were actually caught off guard last week--one moment there was a slightly heady IPA, the next there was only a tap sputtering foam--and then again a few days later when the Bock keg hit bottom too. The bummer was that my only backup, until the Red Hook ESB clone I've got kegged is ready in another 10 days or so, is a pretty disappointing pumpkin ale. I know, I know, it's May...but the husband and I love us some pumpkin ale--just unfortunately not this one.

Aside from the pumpkin puree, I was directed to put in an ounce of pie spices; somewhere either in the measuring or the relative proportions of cloves to cinnamon to ginger to nutmeg, things got out of hand. You just can't taste around the spices to the beer, which suggests that it's a bit flimsy anyhow. I'm really starting to crave something with serious body, like perhaps a porter.

We'll probably have to get a fourth keg before long, both to avoid a drought when two kegs run out more or less simultaneously, and to allow unbalanced beers to mellow awhile. Really, though, once we got over the shock of being down to pumpkin, we just started drinking the stuff--and it turns out to be not so bad. It's nothing I want to give to guests, but we're hardly suffering.

I'm also going to have to make some decisions very soon about what styles of beer I want to try next so that I can dig up some recipes and place an order for the ingredients. With the batch of imitation Sierra Celebration Ale I cooked up yesterday, I'm officially out of kits, and ready to start playing a more active role in the selection and crafting of my beer. Drink locally! Brew yer own!

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

What's on your exceptions list?

I have to say, I'm really excited (because I love it when the world spins the way I want it to) about the increasing degree to which our national conversation about food is one about ethics and politics and economics and conscience. I know that I can't go to the grocery store without a cause for soul searching. This latest time, though my cart was filled with unprocessed virtue from some angles, from where I was standing almost everything in it came from too far away. Mangoes. Coffee. Fresh raspberries (for the husband, who otherwise almost never asks for fruit), fennel.

I know you've read them too, the articles about the melamine, the formaldehyde in our tofu, the vanishing honeybees. "I'm not a vegetarian," my old friend N. said the other day, "I just don't really eat meat anymore." Even my neighborhood listserv is in a huff, the soon-to-be Fresh Directies defending their desire for canned goods and paper towels (and hey, they do have a 'Local Foods' category) from the disapproval of new CSA recruits.

The question is, what are you going to do? One option that I am close to adopting as my incremental paradigm shift for the summer is to take this year's Eat Local Challenge for the month of September. It will come as no surprise that the original organizer of this and like minded events hailed from the Bay Area, where they could probably define their foodshed in such as way as to include mangoes, avocados and lemons. But they also encourage people to make reasonable exceptions (coffee & spices are common, but anything you can't imagine living without qualifies) rather than dismiss the challenge out of hand. And by September we'll have our own fennel, tomatoes, and if not raspberries, at least apples and peaches.