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.