Wednesday, November 19, 2008

After the reading

Don't think that I don't know that I do this. That I start things. That much, much later, as it turns out (as it will turn out), I will never finish said things. That I cut out pants that I translate from the Dutch that I bellydance on Wednesdays that I can my own sauce that I'm a blogger a knitter a salsera that I'm a crooner and a wife. That I am crooning. That eventually, like just now, between the third and the fourth poem, I'm not even listening anymore, that I've bored of my brewing my apples my half marathon in February. My stockings and my garter belt. The funny thing is that the people I like best tend to do the same things over and over. And over. I know. What can I say except that I'm sorry. Except that I'm here. Again. Now.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

still crazy

Awhile back, I wrote to tell my old friend D, himself known to wrap quiet desperation in some pretty darn elegant pop tunes, that there was a Paul Simon retrospective running that had brought him to mind, as had an accompanying review noting that Simon had tasked himself with using all 12 notes of the chromatic scale in each melody on Still Crazy.

"Ah," D. replied, "this explains why I can never play mid-70s Paul Simon on the dulcimer." (Dulcimers apparently are fretted on a diatonic scale. Now you know.) "This afternoon I finished a 1000-word (precisely, of course) essay on [X ]for our [Y] publication," D. continued. "I once wrote a course description for an academic catalog that was a pangram. At what point does it just become obsessiveness?"

My answer? That darlin', --and this goes for you too, dear reader, if try as you might, all you can see/think/do is one thing, or conversely, you've got yourself some attention deficit or a bad boggle habit--you've got it backwards. It's obsessiveness that sometimes blooms into genius; genius does not devolve, it only transcends. Your obsessiveness and your genius are one and the same real thing.

While I may not actually be doing much to exemplify my own insights these days, I have been enjoying a near-daily reminder in the form of a nearly life-sized coral reef fashioned from yarn and plastic.

Imagine this. Have you ever tried to knit/tat/crochet? Having grown up just one generation after the demise of the dowry, with my own mother's linen closet filled with handkerchiefs and crisp white sheets edged with lace whose makers she'd known all her life, I actually learned my grandmother's pattern and used to give pillowcases to friends on very, very special occasions. It was a labor of love that progressed at a maximum speed of 4 inches per hour.

Now imagine that there are ruffly little anenomes and mildly obscene sea cucumbers in a glass teaser case I pass on my way through the corporate turnstiles each morning, because there are. Think of their slow, practically geologic accretion into the room-sized exhibit we all snorkel past on our way to lunch. I think it's supposed to heighten awareness, but mostly it just makes me happy that that kind of crazy keeps cropping up, even here, even now.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

I think maybe we are the Man

Let me just state that I would get a lot more writing done if it weren't for Boggle, or more specifically, for the online version of the word game found on that social networking site that the kids are all on about these days and that I swore and swore I would never stoop to join because I didn't want my browsing habits traced, right up until the moment that I joined.

Before Boggle it was Scrabble, which just two months ago was blocked by our company servers but which is back now, in apparent recognition that it is far too antique and plodding to pose much of a distraction anymore. But this Boggle thing is a real time suck. My interest dipped after I managed to beat my niece M., who is a monster, in a single, glorious game, but really only enough to make my addiction more furtive. "Did you play your video game?" th'usband often asks after a night when I've once again begged off of some social event to do a little CPR on my inner life. I have no inner life.

To make things worse, I recently took my company up on its offer of a PDA. Now instead of looking out the window before I get dressed in the morning, I can check the weather on my personal hand-held device. Instead of reading a book on the train ride home, I can check to see if any e-mail has arrived since I left the office. When I'm not online, I'm worrying about the extent to which the Man might track my movements. The other day I IM'ed my friend G., who sits a few cubes over from me and who has the same PDA, to ask him if he also worried. There was a brief pause. "I think maybe we are the Man," he typed back.

And so, if you've been waiting for a letter for me, I'm sorry. If you've been waiting for an invitation for dinner or that case of beer or home-baked pie I promised you, I'm really sorry about that, too. I'm sorry about the state of my plans to visit Cooperstown or train for those half marathons or cut out the pants and the little Madmen jacket from the length of roasted pumpkin wool that I take out every few months to repin and set aside again. If you want to help, you could hack into my computer and redirect my browser to the Truth. Or you could challenge me to a word game. If you look hard enough, I'm sure you'll pick up on the white flags and bread crumbs I've scattered on the board.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

How to Homebrew event at Vox Pop

Sorry for the last minute notice, but if there's anyone reading this in Brooklyn, you're welcome to join me and a fellow Brooklyn brewer at Vox Pop at 7:30 tonight for a little How to Homebrew tutorial. Samples will be provided!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Don't rush the chiles

Q: I was wondering how your chili beer turned out since I am thinking about making a chili beer myself
Asked by Andy

A: Hi Andy,

I've actually just been thinking about that chile beer again. A family emergency brought us out to Fort Collins, CO last week, where after all was said and done we made our way down to Coopersmith's so I could have myself a glass of Sigda's Green Chili Ale--the very brew that inspired me last time. I have to say, it was much better than I remember mine being, and not just because it was properly aged. There was a very appealing smokiness to the heat, such that I think when I try it next I'll roast the fresh chiles first to convert them to chipotles.

Still and all, while I'm a big fan of flavored, spiced, and/or fruity beers in general, I think the single most important thing I've learned so far is that you've got to give them time to mellow or that flavor will hit you in the face and you won't even taste the beer. That chile beer was a relatively early effort, back before th'usband and I had learned some moderation and we were doing well if a given batch was in the keg for 10 days before we tapped it. I think we might have even wound up with pumpkin ale on one tap and the chile beer on the other, which embarassed me initially because both were very unbalanced when they were young. I know I whined about it to a brewing friend of mine, who consoled me with the story of a juniper beer he'd made one September, thinking it would be a great winter warmer for the holidays. In fact, it tasted roughly like turpentine that first year, and disappointed, he left the bottles under the steps or some such out of the way place, where they sat undisturbed until--I want to say nine months later, but that's probably just baby on the brain talking--I think he actually must have cracked them the next year, by which time he assured me they were great.

I still haven't done any bottling, though I picked up the stuff to do it and am working on a Belgian ale tonight that could probably really benefit from a nice long sit. I've also got the fixings in the house for a Shakemantle Ginger Ale clone (not that I've tried one--it just sounded interesting) and should get that started now if we want to drink it this summer. Fortunately I also recently was given a fifth keg by BrewUnc #1, and if I manage to keep them all full, I'll have a bit more lagering time built right in.

Good luck with your chile beer. It's definitely worth a try. Proost!

Ask The Huisvrouw a question.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Taking a stab at Bridgeport

Q: Hey Huisvrouw, welcome to Askablogr! I'm a lapsed homebrewer, but if you have one, I'd try a really good recipe for a small batch (5 gals) IPA in the spirit of Bridgeport Brewing Co's. Have one?
Posted by Chris DeVore

A: Hi Chris! Thanks for the link to your Askablogr widget and for this first question!

I'll do my best to answer, though I'm not a big hop head myself; you might have noticed that I'm most partial to yeast, and to fruity and/or spicy adjuncts that tend to make the big boys cry, or at least shake their heads. (I recently read an article about brewesses in Bust magazine supporting my theory that these preferences are typically pretty gendered.) I also must confess that I haven't tried Bridgeport IPA, though in my defense, I'm out of their distribution area.

So what did I do? I first consulted Beer Captured, my favorite recipe book of the moment, and then--both to get a second opinion and to respect their copyright--incorporated a couple of alternate ideas from another member who shares your love of the stuff. Finally, I made a tweak of my own to keep the total number of varieties to five, as per the description on the Bridgeport site. Since you said you're a lapsed brewer, I'm assuming that you are looking for a recipe using malt extracts as opposed to that all-grain hoo-ha. Here you go:

Mash (steep) 1 lb. 40L Crystal Malt for 30 minutes in 1 gallon of 150 degree water.

Strain this water into your brew pot and sparge (rinse) the malt with another 1 1/2 gallons water of the same temperature.

Add 4 lbs Alexanders Pale Malt Syrup and 3.5 lbs. Munton's Extra Light DME. Stir well to dissolve, then add 1 oz of Cascade hops and .5 oz of each of Williamette and Mt. Hood (substitute an equivalent amount of Chinook if any of these aren't available due to the hop shortage). Most recipes tell you to wait until the wort is boiling to add the hops, but this method--called first wort hopping--is purported to produce "a fine, unobtrusive hop aroma...(and) a more uniform bitterness."

Bring your wort to a boil and keep it there for 50 minutes. Throw in a Whirlfloc tablet to aid with clearing the beer and boil for another 8 minutes. Then add 1/2 oz. each of the following aroma hop varieties: Cascade, East Kent Goldings, and Crystal (or Hallertau Hersbruck or Liberty, depending on what's available).

Boil for two more minutes before you take the pot off the heat. Set it in a sink or two of ice water to chill it down to about 120 degrees in about 20 minutes. In the meantime, add 3 gallons of cold water to your sanitized fermentation bucket. Strain the chilled wort into this, snap the lid down, and shake it until your arms hurt to help aerate the wort. Rest for a couple of minutes and repeat the process.

(This shaking business is a refinement I've only recently learned to do myself, after watching a friend brew an all-grain batch a couple of weeks ago. I'm not ready to go all-grain or even convinced that it's worth it, but while I'm thinking that over I've been trying to improve my existing technique in a few key areas, mostly by making better use of the specialty grains through the mashing and sparging process I described above, and by working harder to ensure that my beloved yeasts have the oxygen they need to do their job.)

Hydrate and pitch some American Ale yeast--Safale 05 should be fine. Dry hop for 7 days with 3/4 oz. Cascade hops and either transfer to a secondary fermenter or bottle the stuff.

Good luck! Let me know how it goes!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

choose your poison.

OK, here's the deal. I have to post every once in awhile if I expect folks to read this. I get that, I really do. But you all need to throw me the occasional bone. Smile and nod your head. Ask me a question. What do you want this conversation to be about?

According to the blog cloud, it's mostly about beer, brewing and food...all well and good, except that I don't get the impression there are too many brewers among you. If I am wrong about that, or if you are at least favorably disposed towards brewing, speak up. I could have some rhizomes for you. Keep quiet and you risk more posts like the following, which basically amounts to What I Did Yesterday.

Wednesdays are my New Yorkiest day, hands down. I work from home, which is pretty New Yorky in and of itself, and sans the commute, I've usually got more time to walk the puppy to the park. While official sources say that "many consider Prospect Park to be the masterpiece of (Frederick Law) Olmsted and (Calvin) Vaux," the way any Brooklynite will tell it, that rating came straight from Olmsted himself as a comment on the relative poverty of Manhattanites who must content themselves with Central Park and who secretly take it hard. It was raining this Wednesday, big fat driving drops once we'd gotten to the farthest point from home without an umbrella, but then later there was long light stretched over the East River as I crossed it by Q train at 6 pm or thereabouts, and who can stay mad about something like spring?

I was headed to Union Square, where lately I've been taking belly dancing classes from a friend of a friend at a Japanese cultural center. Just last week I finally got a little hip skirt fringed with coins which swing and tinkle and are a tremendous help when it comes to telling my zigs from my zags. Imagine me there, an enormous white Calvinist, blocking the sight lines of a half dozen lithe and lovely Japanese women, swiveling my hips as hopefully as I can to the songs of the Near East. Can you do this in Akron? I didn't think so.

It's only because my friend Y. and all the others are so absurdly nice that I've persisted as long as I have, but finally this week I did something right. My arms were doing this kind of swan dive, spiraling in from the wrists and crossing my face defiantly like a bull fighter's, first one and then the other, a little something I picked up from a previous foray into flamenco dancing. I was bad at that, too, and before that in college at tap dancing, which I actually took two semesters of, the first one for the PE credit and the second one because I'd shown early promise that completely evaporated once it was revealed that our teacher could speed up all of our records with a twist of a knob on the phonograph. But last night there was hope for me again and my accumulated despair receded for a few glorious measures when Y. told me to keep dancing and the tiny, beautiful Japanese women to stop and observe my arms, which they did and then even graciously asked me later how I'd done it. That's how nice they are.

After that it was on to knit with the freaks a couple of blocks over towards the East Village. We've been meeting at Professor Thom's lately, and although their website advertises Bingo nights on Wednesdays, the real action is upstairs, where a group of boozy knitters casts on and catches up. This week a few among us had actually taken to hand spinning yarn with little weighted tops and great fuzzy hanks of wool and would have had the unspoken geek competition nailed down if it weren't for the Wii bowlers down on the other end of the bar. While I might otherwise have been tempted to scorn the hilarity of a whole bunch of women and two or three metrosexuals with specialized sensors strapped to their wrists that allow them to simulate a game that is tapped out in Milwaukee, they too were New York and New Yorky, swinging their arms at the projection screen and yawping for virtual joy.

That's it. That's what I did yesterday. What's new with you?

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

I feel flinty.

So let me tell you about where I'm at with the whole brewing-as-creative-outlet thing.

A couple of months ago (and you'll forgive me, please, if I repeat myself--it's been awhile since I've written here) I bought two brewing books, Designing Great Beers by Ray Daniels (the former Zymurgy editor and frequent For Geeks Only columnist), and Beer Captured by Tess and Mark Szamatulski, owners of the Maltose Express brewing supply store in Monroe, CT. I thought of these books, not-so-secretly, as Brewing for Poets Who Always Liked Chemistry and Brewing for Lazy Asses, respectively. I thought I knew where I'd shake out. I thought wrong.

Designing Great Beers is a beautiful book in theory, with the first half given over to chapter-length discussions of the basic elements of beer, and the second to detailed profiles of different styles of beer, from bock to bitters. The idea is that with a solid understanding of the elements and how they interact, and a clear picture in your mouth of the characteristics of the beer your wish to create, you don't need to rely on recipes.

My problem with Daniels, as it turns out, is one of intellectual orientation. Basically, he is a judge at the Westminster Dog Show and I am a girl who likes mutts. Or rather, I may happen to like a Weimaraner or an Apricot Poodle, but then mostly for reasons that transcend their adherence to breed standards. Daniels--who, to be fair, wrote this book as a distillation of what he learned from a formal diploma course in brewing, and often does serve as that judge at the Westminsters of the craft beer world--cares a lot not just about water quality (as in: what do I need to add to my tap water to most closely approximate the mineral profile in Burton-on-Trent?), but also about precise calculations of target gravity (chapter 6), Maillard browning reactions and Factors That Can Reduce Color Formation in Pale Beers (chapter 7), and Hop Varieties That Show Changes in Hop Aroma Potential During Aging (chapter 10). It's not that I don't care about these things so much as that I keep breaking my hydrometer and/or forgetting to take a reading on brew day, you know? And when it comes right down to it, how much more do I need to know about the alcohol content of my brews beyond what a sip or th'usband will tell me, i.e. that's a boozy one or a little anemic, hmm?

Anyhow, it turns out that I'm using Designing Great Brews mostly for reference, while my real go-to these past months has been Beer Captured, with its 150 good-to-go recipes that closely cop the moves and mojo of well-known craft beers. The truth is, I don't brew beer out of a burning desire to express the heretofore unexpressed. I just like the process, the smells and the stages and the suspense of that first taste. I like it when friends stop by for a pint and I like having one myself whenever I feel like it. It all makes me feel flinty and resourceful, like a pioneer. It is low-tech and elemental. If the world blows up and I survive it, I may not be able to help the next generation build a toaster, but I will see to it that there is beer.

I am still skill-building, though. These past 4 brews, I've paid particular attention to getting the full benefit from the grains I use in addition to malt extracts in the basic wort. I've been heating a gallon or so of water in a smaller pot on the side, and making sure that the grains spend at least 30 minutes steeping ("mashing") at 150 degrees before straining this water into my brew pot and rinsing ("sparging") the grain with enough 170 degree water to bring the total volume up to the standard 2.5-3 gallon range I use for brewing an eventual 5-gallon batch. This liquid smells nutty and has the rich color of sun tea before I even add in the DME (dried malt extract).

I'm also getting comfortable with improvising. I wound up buying a whole pound of this and two pounds of that on my last stock-up run because I didn't want to wait around for pre-measured kits to be made on my behalf. And due to the aforementioned hop shortage, I came home with what was available, as opposed to what each recipe might have specified. On brew days, I've bumped up or substituted quantities of malt or hops as whim or necessity dictated, and have found that I am as comfortable doing so as I am when cooking. I think that means that I've gotten the hang of it.

And finally, I'm trying new varieties of yeasts that have forced me to try new approaches. Daniels' book confirms that while packets of dry yeast typically yield bigger colonies of yeast cells than the liquid suspensions do, these aren't available in as many varieties. (I just saw that I even could have used NBB's proprietary yeast strain for my recent Fat Tire cloning attempt--dang it!) I got my first Wyeast smackpack when I brewed my Saison d'Etre last summer, and continue to be struck with each batch at how very differently yeasts behave, so I guess I just want to try as many kinds as possible. I've also started filling up Tupperwares with the magical sludge ("trub") left after primary fermentation and storing these in the fridge. What trub amounts to is a lot of fat, sleepy yeast cells that drifted to the bottom of the bucket when exhausted from their orgy of eating sugar and pooping CO2 and alcohol and reproducing like a bunch of drunk bunnies. They're sleepy but they're not dead.

Motivated again by a necessary substitution--I could only get the yeast I needed for a British pale ale recipe in a mini "propegator" pack instead of the full-sized "activator" pack--I made a starter today by boiling about 100 g of malt extract in a liter of water. After it cooled, I poured it into a sanitized growler (read that link--it's cool) and added the yeast. It's fermenting away on the kitchen counter, judging from the bready smell that's filling the apartment, and by tomorrow the colony should have grown enough that I can pitch it into my next brew. I consulted with BrewUnc #1 today, who assured me that I could make a starter from my sludge samples in just the same way. That's how breweries develop and maintain their own signature strains, and it's another very cool and elemental thing to love about brewing. I'll let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

voor wie ik lief heb wil ik heten

I've been brewing, four batches since the New Year.

I've been reading.

I've made it to the park with the dog 5 mornings in a row.

The other morning in the shower, I even knew what I would say here. What story I would tell. I was smiling at the time. I forgot.

I can't put off writing this any longer.

On January 6, my beloved grandmother died. We were very, very close.

I've told the story a hundred times already, and winced at how I keep telling it the same way. How she was 98, but still beating us at Scrabble. How she'd only just the day before got a hankering for Chex Mix, and made three ice cream buckets full with my uncle, her youngest son, who happened to be there visiting. How she had a little stomach bug, but urged everyone to go to church without her, then sat at the table while everyone had a little soup at noon because she'd be damned if she missed out on anything. How when they finished and she was too weak to walk, her youngest and her oldest carried her to the car, where she drifted off past Sedan, halfway to the hospital. How a letter came from her the day after she died, as I'd hoped and deep down knew it would, and how I laughed despite myself when th'usband read her words out loud to me, and finished with her blessing.

What I've really wanted to say is something about how she lived, but those words haven't come to me yet. The best gift I've received? A friend listened to all of the above and then asked me, so tenderly, "What was her name?" And let me say it. Her name was Helena Hillegonda Segaar TeBrake, and I loved her.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Make our love and talent manifest

Th'usband and I are just back from Fort Collins, CO, where we visited family and toured the New Belgium Brewery. If you live in NBB's mostly west-of-the-Mississippi distribution area, you are probably already familiar with Fat Tire, their flagship brew, and perhaps even with a bit of their story. It's a pretty inspiring one, particularly if you like it when conventional wisdom about the values and priorities that undergird a successful business turn out to be wrong. Just fifteen years after a talented couple of homebrewers took their beer to market and the resolve to "Make our love and talent manifest" to heart, New Belgium has grown to be the nation's 3rd largest craft brewery and 9th largest brewery overall. I particularly enjoyed learning about the ingenious ways they've made the brewing process more efficient and environmentally sustainable--from laying out the pipes to foster heat exchange between cool city water headed towards the brew kettles and the hot wort coming of them, to using methane captured in their own water treatment facility to offset their consumption of wind energy--and walking around in a space where the twin powers of form and function beautifully combine. I brewed a Fat Tire clone today, and will raise a glass in a proper salute a couple of months from now.

Looking for a few good hop growers

...actually, I'm looking for a whole bunch, preferably from an array of climate zones. There's a shortage of hops this year, one that will hit craft- (over 15,000 barrels per year) and microbrewers (fewer than 15,000 barrels per year) hard, and homebrewers the hardest. Maltose Express in Connecticut, where I went on Christmas Eve for a much needed stock-up, has had to impose a strict 4-oz. per customer limit, and is frankly out of the more popular varieties. In the coming batches, I'll be substituting Challenger for Yakima Magnum hops, Hallertau for Northern Brewer, and Willamette for almost everything. I'm not really that much of a hop-head (that Bust article I mentioned recently claimed that aggressively hopped beers are more of a guy thing than an American thing per se), but there's no getting around the fact that they are a key ingredient. According to uber brewgeek Ray Daniels,
(Hops) provide bitterness to counteract the sweetness of malt, thus making the beverage more palatable. They also provide some antibacterial properties that at one time increased the safety and potability of beer. Today this quality still aids in the preservation of beer....Hops contribute to head stabilization...(as well as to) appealing flavors and aromas.
Most recipes call for the addition of high alpha acid varieties, also referred to as bittering hops, at the beginning of the one-hour boil to establish the basic sweet/bitter balance of the brew; medium alpha acid varieties, or flavoring hops, about 15 minutes before the end of the boil to contribute to the beer's distinctive flavor profile; and medium-to-low alpha acid varieties, or aroma hops, in the last couple of minutes. Aroma hops can also be tossed in dry and allowed to soak for a week or more as the yeast ferments the wort. This technique is called dry-hopping and produces particularly pungent aromas. Using different varieties and strengths of hops and adding them at different times layers their impact and plays a key role in a beer's complexity.

Anyhow, that's why I need them--and while hop vines are reportedly quite hardy, their root systems are necessarily too big for me to try to grow them in planters on our fire escape. That's where you come in. If you have a fence, trellis, or pole and a place in your garden that gets at least a couple of hours of sun per day, have I got some rhizomes for you. Or more precisely, if you have a good heart and that sunny patch and are someone whom I know, drop me a line and I'll see to it that some suitable plants are delivered to your door in early spring. Some growing tips here. We'll figure out how to ship the cones later.

P.S. I'm serious.

crazy, the sequel

Yep, it was her--the Minneapolis girl and my alter ego. We've decided to keep each other.