Thursday, February 24, 2011

Snow Day

I rarely get a day off, besides my usual Sunday & Monday. But today's winter snow storm gave me a real treat. A snow day! And I have been enjoying the heck out of it. Time to do some of those little chores that never get accomplished. Like cleaning out the kitchen junk drawer. The one you can hardly open because it's so packed full of clutter. I bet most of us have one. Today I sorted through mine, threw out 65% of what was in there, and now I can open the drawer, and even find what I'm searching for. What else did I get done? Well I finally gave away that broken "heater that looks like a wood stove". It has been taking up space in the basement for over a year, waiting for the husbeast to decide what he wanted to do with it. I finally realized what he wanted to do was leave it down in the basement forever. So I put it on Craigslist and now it is someone else's problem. I need the basement to! Speaking of which, I moved my wine and racks down there today, and have an instant wine cellar.

I better find more wine racks, quick, as I also started another 6 gallons of wine. This time it's Cranberry Chianti.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

That's A Whole Lotta Chianti

Yesterday I finally found the time (and worked up the nerve) to tackle bottling the huge 6 gallon carboy full of Chianti. I estimated I would need approximately 27 bottles and corks so got those prepared. I didn't really know how to get the corks ready so searched the Internet, and like many other things, there were 100 or so recommendations. Everything from "dip them in bleach water", "boil them for 20 minutes", to "whatever you to...don't get them wet". I decided to do what made sense to me, knowing that whatever I did would probably work just fine. I definitely don't want to soak them in any kind of chemical. But soaking them makes them easier to insert. Not possessing manly gorilla strength, soaking sounded like a good idea. And boiling water would kill most germs. So I brought some water to a boil, removed it from the heat, added the corks, stirred them around, and placed a lid on the pot. There. That should do it. Here are the cast of characters for today's drama. The Chianti carboy, the sanitized bottles, the corks, and the double lever corker.

I chose to fill the bottles inside a large Rubbermaid container, which was a good call as this is a messy job (at least the way I do it).

The part I was most worried about, seating the corks, was the easiest. You just place a cork into the slot on the corker, line it up over the top of the bottle and press down on the levers. I sat the bottles on the floor and steadied them between my feet. Really, really easy. And here are the fruits of my labor. I got about 29 bottles all told. 26 to store and 3 decanters worth to enjoy now. I'm sure it will be much better after aging a bit but it is totally drinkable now.

My husband designed the labels but I did the rest, start to finish. I'm quite proud of myself. The bottles have to remain upright for 3 days, then they need to be stored on their sides to keep the corks from drying out. I have 3 more wine kits to make, which means I'm gonna need LOTS more wine racks. I almost forgot, I racked the raspberry melomel this morning. This one is going to be high octane.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Getting Gardening Fever

The chives are sprouting, the camellias are blooming, the daffodils and tulips are sending up leaves and I am getting a serious case of spring fever. I have an overwhelming urge to go out and dig in the dirt. Unfortunately there is no time to do so this weekend. Yesterday was International Pipe Smoking Day and I spent most of it at Smokey Joe's, in Fife, WA, hanging with my homeboys. I did manage to get the hefeweizen bottled before celebrating, but not much else was accomplished besides drinking lots of beer and smoking lots of pipes. But hey, that's what the holiday was all about.

That left today to get most of my housework done. As of now I have done 6 loads of laundry, took the husbeast out to lunch (used my $20 of food for $8 Groupon), bought 2 books on gardening, and am in the process of baking some bread. Here are the 2 new books I picked up.

I used my $10 off Groupon. I probably could've got a better deal on Amazon but I wanted to be able to leaf through the books before buying. Still, 2 books for $25 is not too shabby. I was hoping they had a book on seed saving but no such luck.

Today is also "bread baking" day. I am trying something different. I ground the spent grains, then double sifted them to get most of the chaff out. Here is the chaff.

And here is the nice malted barley flour that went into today's loaves.

This is the bread dough before going into the warm oven to rise.

My friend Kristine came over to feed her bees today. The bees weren't all that keen on her poking around in their hive and are very active. Here is Singha sitting near the hive entrance watching "kitty TV".

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

More Racking

Today I racked the strawberry rhubarb wine into the secondary.

I also racked the orange banana and the apple raisin wines for the second time.

The orange wine still has a lot of sediment but the apple wine is getting clearer. It may need only one more racking before it's ready for bulk aging.

Speaking of bulk aging, the apple cyser mead is not dropping any more sediment so I have moved it to the bulk aging closet. It should be ready for bottling in June.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A Romantic Ocean Getaway

Rise and shine! It's time for a road trip.

The husbeast whisked me away to Moclips, WA, for a Valentine's Overnighter. A mini-vacation. An evening of peace and quiet, away from work, the house, kids, pets...all of that. We set off Monday morning and stopped at our usual place, the Coffee Coop in Elma, for an espresso. The Coffee Coop is just across the parking lot from Elma's famous restaurant, the Rusty Tractor. So named because the parking lot is filled with the rusty things. That's part of the charm. As is this exterior wall covered with jello molds.

The neon rooster is perched atop the roof. With a sufficient dose of caffeine it was back on the road and off to the ocean. Where it was storming like crazy. Which is why there aren't many pictures. I don't think my camera is waterproof. I did manage this one shot during a break in the downpour.

I love the ocean, no matter what the weather. We had a nice lunch at the Ocean Crest Resort and then dined on lobster & rib eyes at Lake Quinalt Lodge for dinner. The Mr. did manage a nice nap, mid day, while I relaxed and read through my wine making literature. Time to sit and read is a luxury I do not often enjoy. And I learned a lot about how to improve my wine making technique.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Hairy Porter: Dark Magic Ale

Today we bottled the Hairy Porter. Wow, it's REALLY dark. And it was delicious, even uncarbonated. Can't wait to try it again when it's all bubbly.

Here is a picture from when we were siphoning it into the bottling bucket.

I am especially proud of this batch as it's my husband's first "all on his own" recipe. Good job, honey! Oh, and he designed the label, too.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Visiting the Fermenting Closet

Yesterday I racked the raspberry apple wine into the secondary jug. Here is how it went. I rounded up the Mr. Wine, a clean jug and the various siphoning parts.

Then I had to remove the bag of must. All the deliciousness has been soaked out of the raspberries. There is absolutely nothing yummy about what is left.

I took an hydrometer reading, sampled a bit and finally it was time to begin siphoning.

And here is the wine in its new temporary home.

It is now ready to join the other occupants of the fermenting closet. Let's check in on a couple of them. Here's the apple raisin.

And the orange banana.

Both of which are sitting on a lot of lees and will be racked again next week. The apple raisin is taking on a nice, rich dark color. I am now glad that some of the raisin bits made it into the secondary. I love that deep color.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Mr. Wine II

I wanted to start a raspberry melomel today, but then realised I don't have any more small fermenters that have a wide enough opening for a straining bag. Darn it. I have been looking on Craigslist and Freecycle for an unwanted Mr. Beer but no luck yet.

This morning I was sifting through the junk mail, tossing things into the recycling, when I happened upon a coupon for Cost Plus World Market. My favorite! $10 off your $30 purchase. Hmmmmm...I wonder if they have any wine racks? I hurried on over there and, sure enough, they had a 20 bottle stacking wine rack in pine. The price? $34.99. I used my coupon and got it for $24.99 plus tax. Next time I get a coupon I'll pick up another.

After I dropped it off at home it was time to head in the opposite direction, to K-Mart, to pick up a couple of curtain rods and 4 shower curtain liners. I want 2 liners for each bathroom so when they need washing I can just hang up the second set. K-Mart had the rods, for $1.99 a set. But they had absolutely NO shower curtain liners. Are you kidding me? None? Nope. So I went next door to BigLots and got 2 each in cream and white. $2 per plus tax. While in that area I couldn't resist checking out the local thrift store, Thrift City. This is not the nicest or cleanest thrift shop. Kind of dicey. But I did manage to find a few bargains. And everything there was half off the sticker price. I found a cute sweater for Reggie for $1.50, 10 cotton appliance covers for $5, curtains for my bathroom for $2.50, a woven cotton throw rug for $1. Then, as I was wandering the aisles, I spotted it. Is that....A MR. BEER???? Sure was. For $1.50. Woot!!! And then, at the other end of the store, 8 Mr. Beer plastic bottles! At $.40 each. That means I grabbed all the important parts of a Deluxe Mr. Beer Kit for under $5. When I got it home I discovered that the tap on it has a leak, but I will just plug it with a rubber stopper as shown in the picture.

I now possess 16 of those plastic bottles. I don't want to put beer in them, but they are awesome for making sparkling hard cider and other quick, fruity summer beverages. You add sugar when you bottle and let it carbonate until you can no longer squeeze the bottle. That's how you know it's ready. Then you just pop it into the refrigerator to halt the carbonation. And you have a nice, cold, fizzy, alcoholic drink. I plan on putting them to work this summer.

This afternoon it was time to pitch the yeast into the strawberry rhubarb wine. I like to give the liquid a good stirring to get it oxygenated then just sprinkle the yeast on top. I store my bulk wine yeast in the freezer and by sprinkling it I let it take it's time getting used to the temperature. As it soaks up the liquid it adapts slowly.

I made this little fermenter out of a bucket that held some sort of grain. I had the husbeast drill a hole in the lid so I could fit it with a bubbler and I also made 1 and 2 gallon marks on the side with a magic marker.

Today was baking day and the husbeast suggested I grind some of that spent grain I dried, and add it to the bread. Sure, why not? Here is our grain mill. It's attached to a big, heavy old computer desk that we have in the brewing room.

Here is the dried grain in the hopper.

And here is the finished flour. I wanted it rather coarse so my bread can have some texture.

I plan to add 2 cups of this flour along with 12 cups of regular unbleached flour. That will make 4 loaves. Here's hoping they're GOOD loaves this time.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Beer & Wine Sunday

Today we had many beer and wine related chores to accomplish. We went out for our Sunday lunch date, to Vien Dong, then came home and racked the hefeweizen into the secondary carboy. Since the husbeast had to work today I wasn't in the mood to watch football all by my lonesome. So I used the time to finally rack my Chianti into the secondary, as well.

I had to add 4 different clearing agents which involved stirring like mad with a long spoon for 10 minutes. Apparently if you don't stir long enough or vigorously enough your wine won't clear properly. This batch should be ready for bottling in 2 weeks. I think I'm going to have to invest in a carboy dolly. I had to carry this 6 gallons of wine from one end of the house to the other, then back again. It's heavy! In the picture you can see the gallon of mead up on the counter, patiently awaiting its second racking. It's clearing nicely. After racking the mead it was time to start my next wine which is a strawberry rhubarb. I'll pitch the yeast in it tomorrow night.

I am trying to have very little waste from my beer making. I had been freezing the spent grains but am running out of freezer room. We are doing a LOT of brewing and each batch produces over 30 cups of spent grains. I've put them in bread, made dog cookies, fed them to my chickens (and a friend's chickens) but still I can't keep up. So I will attempt to dehydrate them for longer term storage. I've ordered up more racks and some liners for my dehydrator but they won't arrive until late next week. In the meantime I am drying a big batch of the grain in my oven, on cookie sheets.

We are also trying to use the trub (beer sludge) as slug bait. If it works I'll be freezing the trub until needed. I have a trap baited now so my fingers are crossed that this will take a dent out of the backyard slug population.

February's Expenditures

It looks like I spent just about $1,000 in January. We'll see if I can't do a bit better in February.

$37.28: Groceries - Safeway (2-1-11)
$32.84: Groceries - Safeway (2-3-11)
$52.58: 2 dehydrator trays/6 liners - (2-5-11)
$6.74: 2 Espressos - Perk Central (2-5-11)
$27.32: World Market - Wine Rack (2-7-11)
$15.91: Thrift City - Bargains (2-7-11)
$4.35: K-Mart - Curtain rods (2-7-11)
$8.74: BigLots - Shower Curtain Liners (2-7-11)
$101: Bee Suit and feed, etc.. - Mann Lake (2-9-11)
$19.81: Groceries - Safeway (2-10-11)
$6.74: Espressos - Perk Central (2-12-11)
$4.90: Breakfast - McDonalds (2-12-11)
This last half of the month I was a very good girl, preparing foods from the pantry and freezer, and not purchasing any extras for the house. I did lose track of the grocery and espresso spending, so am tacking on another $100 to this month's totals to cover those. But I have still kept my spending for February to under $500. Now on to March.
Grand Total = $418.21
Espressos = $13.48
Groceries = $189.93

Friday, February 4, 2011

Another Wine Started & Goodies In The Mail

I started another wine this morning. This one uses 1# of frozen raspberries from my garden. I am mixing them with some apple raspberry juice concentrate. Here are the berries steeping in boiling water. I placed the berries in a mesh bag, poured the boiling water over them, and mashed them really good with a ricer. Then I left them to cool.

Afterwards I placed them into the Mr. Wine along with the juice, crushed campden tablet, yeast nutrient, acid blend and pectic enzyme. I added enough water to make a gallon. Now I'll let it set for 24 hours before stirring it well and pitching the yeast.

This afternoon the mail lady brought me a few goodies. I got that cool wine rack I'd ordered through as well as this bee video from a local guy who runs a web site with an online bee forum, World of Beekeeping. He sells the video for $39.99 but had a special for the folks on the forum so I got it for $19.99. I learn better by "seeing" so can't wait to watch. Some things you just can't get from a book.

I also received this nice fabric that features a wine label print. I traded 1# of cotton spinning fiber for 5 yards of this fabric. I don't know what I'll make with it. Maybe some knitting needle cases?

Sorry I am not more talkative. My two youngest children are doing really stupid things and giving me fits. I feel more gray hairs coming on.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

I Racked The Fruit Wines

I still haven't gotten around to racking the Chianti. I figured I'd start with the smaller, one gallon sized wines, first. I think I'm just more excited about these two, as they're from my own recipes. The Chianti is a kit, and there really isn't a whole lot of challenge to that. I get much more enjoyment from playing mad scientist, and seeing if what I come up with is drinkable. These first two definitely are.

The Orange/Banana is on the left and the Apple/Raisin is on the right. I racked the apple wine first. This was the one with the questionable ferment. The ferment was just fine, in fact this one has an awesome alcohol content. It seems that the Mr. Beer fermenters have built in gas release by way of a groove on either side of the top opening. Even when the lid is screwed on tightly, the gas still escapes. Which makes sense since folks use these to ferment beer and there is no airlock in the kit. I had the husbeast drill the hole in the top of the lid for nothing. Now I get to find a plug for it. Live and learn. But I am happy to report that the Mr. Wine (his new name) is a dandy fermenter. So much so, I'll be looking for more of these.

This morning the husbeast woke up just as I was mid-racking. I couldn't wait for him to sample my apple raisin concoction. His verdict? "Tastes like alcoholic baby food." This from a man who swills gallons of apple juice. I guess he had on his cranky panties. More for me! I think it tastes like Wassail. All it needs is some cranberry juice, orange slices and cinnamon sticks. He declined my offer to sample the orange banana wine. That's OK. I understand that wine isn't his thing. And I really have no problem with not sharing it. The orange banana was tasty, too. This one has less alcohol, but then it started with less sugar. I am especially proud of this particular wine since it used actual fruits from my kitchen. Not just concentrated juice.

I learned a valuable lesson from these wines. A strainer bag for the must is essential. I used a bag for the orange wine and none for the apple. Can you see the raisin bits floating in the apple wine? See, I should've had those in a strainer bag. I will definitely use one from now on.