Monday, January 31, 2011

When The Going Gets Tough...

...I go shopping. Nothing relieves stress like some good old-fashioned retail therapy. And nothing makes this gal feel better than finding a bargain. I decided to head to my favorite shops, which happen to be thrift shops. I love the thrill of the hunt. You never know what treasures you might find. I did set out with a shopping list, of sorts. First on the list was a wine decanter. A friend recently gave me some of her apple wine in a pretty decanter. I returned the decanter to her but determined to find one of my own. And I hit the jackpot today. Two decanters exactly the same as the one she has (I'll have to dig corks out of one) and one that I think is lead glass. All four were $8.

The lead glass one was $4. But it is lovely.

Next on the list? Curtains for my bathroom. I found these cotton valances with crocheted trim. Now I just have to put up a curtain rod. These cost me $.98.

I was also on the prowl for cheap T-shirts for a project I want to do. They need to be colorful, and the bigger, the better. I found all these for $7.

I also found some knit fabric that should work for my purpose. All this for $4.

I managed to come home with a few things that weren't on my list. Here's a wrought iron wine rack and 2 pottery candlesticks. The wine rack was $1.99, the candle holders were $1 for the pair.

I was on the fence about getting the candle holders until I held them in my hands. Very ergonomic. They'll come in handy during a power outage as they are comfortable to carry around.

Another bargain was this set of 4 Williams-Sonoma cotton place mats. The regular retail was $10 each. I paid $1.98 for the set.

And here is another red neck coffee roaster. This one even has all its parts and isn't broken. For $3.99 (another thrift store had the same model for $7.99. They must be catching on to their worth).

Lastly we have this nice coffee pumper. This was $1.99. I'll use it at the yarn shop.

I visited a total of 3 thrift stores and spent less than $35. Not a bad price for some relaxing therapy, complete with bargains.

Friday, January 28, 2011

A Very Eventful Day

When I woke up this morning I had no idea the day would be so enjoyable. I bribed the husbeast, with an espresso, in return for his running me around on my errands. I had to go to the post office, to mail a couple of patterns, but I also wanted to go pick up a legless flamingo. Plastic, of course. It was offered on Freecycle and I've always wanted a plastic flamingo for my yard (Lord only knows why) so I jumped at the chance to add this poor amputee to my yard art menagerie. First order of business was to fashion him some proper legs. I found a wire hanger in the closet and, 3 snips of the wire cutter later, here he is.

Once at work things were pretty busy. Midway through the day a friend arrived with 3 boxes of wine bottles, some t-shirts, and a bar of her homemade soap. Sweet! As if that wasn't good enough, another friend arrived shortly after bearing a bag full of egg cartons, some empty jars with lids, and imported cookies from Deutschland. That's pretty wonderful, right? But there's more! The UPS man delivered my beekeeping supplies!!! Most of it is plastic frames and unassembled hive boxes and I won't get a chance to sort through it until Sunday. But here you can see the smoker, bee brush and hive tool on top of the middle box.

My bee mentor, Kristine, showed up and as we were hanging out who should waltz in? The Pipe Tart! A Facebook friend from Ohio. Now usually, if a female is into tobacco pipes, she's a character. And I adore characters. We had a nice visit. Before I knew it, it was time to head home. After I fed the cat I went in to check on my most recent wines. The apple wine is still not doing much (sigh). If it doesn't pick up in the next day or two I may just toss it. But the orange/banana wine is doing so well that I fear it may crawl out of the crock pot and attack me. It's a pretty robust ferment.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Homemade Lasagna Dinner

Today I tried my hand at lasagna, from scratch. I made the pasta, sauce (from my home grown tomatoes) and ground and seasoned the Italian sausage. My sons, Ian & Errol, stopped by for dinner. They enjoyed the home cooked meal and the home brewed beer that accompanied it. It was a damn good lasagna, if I do say so. Here it is before baking.

And after we had helped ourselves to some.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Cookies For My Best Friend

Now that we are venturing into all grain beer brewing we are going to have LOTS of spent grains left over. I hate to waste anything so will be looking for creative ways to use this malted barley. It makes great chicken food, and I've also added it to my bread. But I am looking for still more ways to use it to its best advantage. Today I decided to try out a recipe for dog treats. Reggie LOVES cookies but I'm sure the store bought dog treats contain things I'd rather he not ingest. There used to be a doggy bakery up on South Hill in Puyallup but sadly, it is now out of business. Time for momma to pick up the slack. For those of you who are wondering just what spent grains look like, here they are.

I had over 30 cups of this stuff left from the Harry Porter brewing. The recipe for the dog cookies is as follows:

4 cups spent grains
4 cups unbleached flour
1 cup peanut butter
2 eggs

I mixed this up with the help of Gladys, my Kitchen Aid Mixer. She had a tough time. This batter is DENSE, to say the least. Here is what I ended up with. Looks like something only a dog could love.

I divided it in half. The plan was to make 2 cookie sheets full. Trust me, it was not easy to spread into the cookie sheet. It took both the rolling pin, and my hands, to make it happen.

But we prevailed. Once spread evenly it had to be scored into the cookie shapes. I'm unimaginative, so opted for squares.

This was baked at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Then removed from the pan, broken into pieces, and allowed to cool. While this batch was cooling I baked the second pan full. Once they were both baked and cooled I loaded the cookies into the dehydrator.

The 2 cookie sheets filled all 4 trays. Now they were dried at 160 degrees for 8 hours. You need to remove all the moisture or else they will mold while being stored for the long term.

By the way, Reggie sampled them and he thinks they are DE-licious.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Free Fruit Means Cheap Wine

A friend stopped by the yarn shop with about a dozen "past their prime" satsuma oranges. She thought I might like them and I appreciate her thoughtfulness. There were a couple in there that were too squishy for wine making. The compost worms got those. I didn't take a bunch of pictures of this, because, quite frankly, it wasn't a pretty process. I had a couple of bananas that were really (no, I mean REALLY) over ripe. I decided to add those to the oranges and see what comes of it. I placed the cut up bananas into a pint of water and simmered them for 20 minutes. Then strained those into the primary fermenter. I added a 12 oz. can of frozen (thawed out) orange juice and 6 cups of sugar. Then I set about preparing the oranges. They had to be peeled and then I took my time and removed all that I could of the white pith from the segments. That part is bitter and will ruin your wine. Removing it was the most time consuming part of the process. Once they were cleaned up and segmented I put them through my juicer. The juice went straight into the primary. The pulp was placed into a nylon bag, along with 3 cups of chopped up golden raisins. That bag (the contents are called must) was closed and left to steep in the wine. I added some yeast nutrient and a crushed campden tablet. The tablet will kill off any wild yeasts that are present. Here is my wine in its fermenter (my largest crock pot).

Now the mixture needs to be covered and left to sit for 24 hours before the yeast can be pitched. The tablet will give off sulphur while it is working, so the fermenter needs to breath, but it must be covered to keep more wild yeasts (or other nasties) from entering the wine. I opted to use a kitchen towel and then set the crock pot lid on, at an angle, to keep the towel from slipping down into the juice.

Next up was an apple raisin wine. I had some frozen apple juice on hand. I defrosted that and put it into my Mr. Beer (Mr. Wine?).

I no longer intend to make beer in that, so I need to get my $5 worth. I added the juice, 3 cups of chopped dark raisins, 2 1/4 cups of sugar and 4 cloves (which I may later regret). To this I added the yeast nutrient and crushed campden tablet. It is also being covered by a kitchen towel.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Harry Porter: Dark Magic Ale

Yesterday we brewed our very first all grain beer. Rick is my personal brew master and he did a damn fine job. He built our lauter tun and wort chiller, did the research and came up with the recipe, bought all the grains, etc...and did the brewing. I was in charge of sanitizing everything and making sure all the tools were at the ready. Here are a couple of pictures of the lauter tun.

Here we are lautering. The second picture is after sparging. The third picture shows the spent grains in the bottom of the lauter tun. The chickens won't go hungry.

Now it was time to move the wort outdoors so the husbeast could try out his new propane burner. Here he's adding hops to the wort.

Lenny and Squiggy's abode is right next to where the burner was going. It was just warm enough to get their attention. I know they were enjoying their temporary hot tub because they kept hanging out on that side of the pond.

Now it was time to put Wortzilla through his paces. He is hooked up to the rain barrels with the longer hose. The used water is running out of the short hose end.

Once the wort is cooled the steam dissipates and you can see what's going on.

Time to cart the pot back into the house so we can strain the wort into the primary fermenter.

And here is a naked Wortzilla, the Wort Chilla, in all his glory.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Fun (?) With Grape Juice

Remember those 4 wine kits I bought at Homebrew Heaven? Yesterday I finally found the time to get the first one going. My plan was to get up early enough to sanitize everything and start the primary ferment. The morning started well. I got the equipment washed and sanitized. I had the directions and all the ingredients assembled.

The first step was to mix the bentonite with warm water and stir it well. No problems there. Next step, add the ginormous bag of grape juice.

I managed to wrangle the bag out of the box and into the fermenting room. But I had a hard time figuring out how to remove the cap. I was twisting and turning it every which way. Finally called the husbeast for help and he popped it right off. I'd still be trying to unscrew the damn thing. I thanked him for his assistance and then commenced to hefting the big, squishy bag up so I could pour it into the bucket. All went well, for a bit. Then the bag slipped and I managed to splash grape juice all over me....and a good portion of the room. Hearing me utter mass quantities of bad words, the husbeast peaked in. "Don't even look," I told him, and he knew enough to back away. It was ugly. And I was right in the middle of getting the batch going. Time for some speedy damage control. I stripped, changed, and tossed my clothes into the wash. Then I mixed up some soapy water and cleaned all the juice from my sheepskin slippers, the rug, the desk, various boxes, and anywhere else I noticed it. Once done, I turned my attention back to making my wine. The juice was now (mostly) in the fermenter. Next step was to rinse that accursed bag out with hot water and add that to the bucket, along with the oak saw dust. Then stir it like mad and add some cooler water to reach 6 gallons. Making sure it ended up at a temperature between 70 and 80 degrees. Finally the yeast was sprinkled over the top and the lid and bubbler put in place. Whew. Mission accomplished. We're making chianti. And with hardly any casualties. I did have to toss out one of my beer mirrors because some juice had seeped under the glass. But it was a yard sale find and I'm sure I'll run across another. Oh, and I did manage to stain this towel up nicely. Could of been lots worse.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Made A Trip To Marlene's

Today was bulk shopping day. We made the trek over to Costco to stock up on much used bulk items like flour, sugar, butter, corn oil, toilet paper, soy sauce, etc. All those items that we go through a lot of. Since we were in that general area we also stopped into Marlene's so I could get some more of my favorite hot cereal. This is called 7 Grain Flake and is located way in the back of the store, in their refrigerated room. The cost is $1.79 per pound and I bought 10 pounds. That should hold me for a while.

I think this cereal is much better than plain old oatmeal and it's super easy to cook. Just add 1 part cereal to 2 parts water. I add a little pinch of salt. Bring it all to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until the water is absorbed. Serve it up just like you would regular oatmeal.

Here's my tip of the day. It's an easy way to label bulk items (or your jugs of various wines). Break off a piece of cellophane tape. Fold under one end to make a tab (for easy lifting later). Put the tape label on your jar or lid to be marked and write on it with a sharpie marker.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Almost Ready To Order My Bees & Hive

I am reaching critical mass. After much back and forth, and mind changing, I am 99.9% sure I'll be going with a Langstroth hive, but will be buying 8 frame medium (6 5/8") boxes for both the hive bodies (brood chambers) and the honey supers. And I'll be buying the plastic ritecell frames. They look like the easiest choice and require no additional foundation. For a bee suit I am going to get an Alexander veil, some good quality gloves, and some leg straps. But instead of a full suit, I'm going to try to find a used pair of coveralls. I'll be doing some last minute research and then should be able to order up my bees and hive next weekend. I'm so excited.

Racked The Mead

Never you mind that I was supposed to do this 2 weeks ago. I read somewhere that mead actually benefits from a longer time on the lees. So this batch should be fabulous. Right?

I assembled all my needed tools and sanitized them. I was excited to use the easy siphon that the husbeast got me for Christmas. It didn't work very well when we used it to siphon beer, the last racking, so I was looking forward to giving it a chance to redeem itself. Unfortunately it was a massive FAIL. It couldn't fit into the jug. Oh well, maybe when I get my first wine kit going it will prove itself useful. Or not. I had to resort to my old method of priming the siphon, which is not my strongest suit. But, after 2 attempts, here is my newly racked Apple Cyser Mead.

Of course, in my haste to sample some, I completely forgot to check the specific gravity. However, I can assure you there is some alcohol in there.

And for those of you wondering why wine needs to be racked, here is a picture of the lees left behind after this initial racking (along with the raisins I added for tannin and yeast nutrient). That sludge is what dead yeast carcasses look like.

You don't want to drink that. It'll give you the runs, and besides, it's yucky.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Now That's Cereal!

My new infatuation. 7 grain hot cereal. I think I got this at Marlene's over a year ago. I recently had a craving for some hot cereal and found this in the cupboard. OMG! It's divine. I like it with a little half & half, butter, and real maple syrup. Nummy, nummy. Must get more.

My First Coffee Roasting Experience

Imagine the Talking Heads' "Burning Down the House" playing.

The coffee beans and grinder arrived on Tuesday. It was dark and snowing by the time I got home from work. Knowing that I would need to roast the beans outside, I decided to wait and be patient. Yesterday the snow was gone, replaced by lots of rain. Still not good roasting weather. My husband suggested I roast them in the basement, with the door open. When I got a break at work I ventured home and set about gathering all my equipment into the basement. The husband was busy on the computer, upstairs, so I didn’t bother him. I set up a table in the basement doorway, plugged in the popcorn popper, and added some raw beans. They were swirling away as I replaced the plastic top to the popper and set a bowl underneath to catch the chaff. Sure enough, after just a few minutes the chaff came flying out of the chute and landed (mostly) in the bowl. And still the beans swirled, getting steadily darker. Not long after, I heard the first crack. Pop, pop, pop. Similar to popcorn. I had my ear down next to the popper, trying to listen for the second crack. The beans were getting nice and dark and I was fearful of burning them. As I’m listening intently, suddenly the smoke detector goes off. There I am in the basement, at a crucial stage of the roasting. I don’t want to unplug the popper, and the smoke detector is steadily blaring, making it difficult to listen for the second crack. Then my husband makes his way to the basement, looking for the fire. I explain that I am just roasting these beans and can’t quit right now. Mind you I am in the basement doorway, with my little set up. He insists on squeezing past to reset the alarm. At this point I realize there is too much noise and commotion. I give up listening for that illusive second crack and unplug the popper. I remove the top and peer in at my newly roasted beans with slight disappointment. They don’t look nearly dark enough. Oh well, I’m sure they’ll be drinkable. I pour them into a metal colander and begin bouncing them around to bring them quickly to room temperature.

The following photos were taken in my kitchen, after the fact. Here is the redneck roaster and the bowl of chaff.

Much of the chaff swirled out when I was carrying the bowl from the basement into the house, but you get the idea.

And here are side by side comparisons of the beans, pre and post roasting. The beans swell up quite a bit during the roast.

Once cooled I placed them into a glass jar and set the lid on, loosely, to gas off overnight.

I couldn’t wait to grind some beans for today’s morning coffee. I lovingly washed the coffee pot, then got out my brand new Krups grinder. The moment of truth. But how much to grind?

I started with 3 scoops (regular coffee scoop) of the beans for my usual 10 cups of coffee. This is the amount I normally use with commercially purchased pre-ground coffee.

Unfortunately this was not enough coffee. My first batch was weak. But definitely drinkable. I am going down to prepare a second pot and will hope to present the husband with a nice cup of coffee when he wakes up.

Update: Just brewed a fresh pot while feeding the chickens. Much better. Still needs to be roasted more, though. Next time.