Homebrewing Beer 101: Tire Biter Bitter Ale Part 2

If you remember the last time we met here, we were in stage one of our new project: homebrewing. It’s the essence of true Arcadia. Anyone crazy enough to move out to the country needs to pacify themselves somehow.

The last time we were here, we just finished up the wort for a bitter ale called “Tire Biter”, made with blonde malt syrup and blonde malt grains, seeped in a tea for a while, then all mixed together for an hour with noble hops, and then we cooled it off in our primary fermenter, primed the airlock with vodka and slid it into the hallway closet for the magical yeast to take it’s time to do what it do, baby. Next step: Bottling.

We always start with a little bit of hot water and some bleach. Not too much…just enough to kill stuff. Now, since this is our first time thru the beer making process, we were told to used diluted bleach. Since that time, we’ve met up with a couple different homebrew supply stores who think we are batshit crazy for using bleach. There’s some other stuff we are supposed to be using, so we’ll get some the next time we’re in. For now, it’s bleach.

All parts go in to the bleach soak:

We’ve got two cases of bottles washed and disinfected in the dishwasher. We’ve got a disinfecting cycle on our Bosch diswasher. Pretty damn handy for kids or beer.

The only ingredient we are using today is corn sugar. 3/4c is all we need to prime, which means we are going to add it to the wort to make the fizzy bubbles in the beer.

First thing, we have to take off the top of the primary bucket and prime the wort. I mixed up ¾c of corn sugar with enough water to make a pint. Then, I left it out for a bit to come up to room temp and swirled it into the wort, being careful not to upset the yeast on the side and bottom of the bucket.

Now, before we go any farther, let’s take a look at the wort so far:

I ran a little thru the bottle filler hose to flush out anything left from the rinsing stage. Gorgeous color, and the smell is divine. The yeast looks absolutely dreadful, but it smells like warm bread dough. We debated on uses for the left over gunk, but could only come up with “potential sourdough starter”.  In the end, we just washed it down the drain.

Gravity says we have to siphon from up above to down below, so we put the bucket up on the counter, attach the bottle filler, and open the valve. Since the top is open, we don’t have a problem with creating a vacuum.

The bottle filler is designed to go all the way to the bottom of the bottle and trigger to release the flow of beer into the bottles. When it gets to the top (maybe even overflowed a bit), then you pull it out and it’s ready to be capped. The extra space in the bottle helps age the beer, which it needs an additional 3 weeks still after this bottling to mellow the flavor and create the bubbles. The bubbles are made from the leftover yeast and the sugar we added to prime.  The yeast eats the sugar (which calms the flavor), and yeast expunges CO2 as its “waste” product.  That’s right, kids…beer is bubbled with yeast poop.

Our bottles are mottled this time around. We went heavy on the EZ-Cap style. I think we’ve decided to go with the EZ-Caps as much as possible in the future, but we also have about 50-60 regular bottles that require a metal cap. Since we are just starting out, we are just going to do both and see which one we like best.

With the bucket up on the counter and bottles in place, we are ready to go.

Top view before we start. The color is like a light orange honey.

This is about halfway thru with the bottling, but I wanted to show these two up next to each other for effect.

And of course, the bottom of the barrel

The bottom still sorta churns itself as the yeast are still somewhat active.

If you’ve ever had a bottle of Fischer’s Alsatian style beer or a Grolsch, then you know how easy the EZ-Caps are to open. They are just as easy to put on as they are to take off. When we ran out of EZ-caps we went to the old standard beer bottles and our analog bottlecapper.

We had some old unused bottlecaps that came from an old Sunkist bottling plant. We don’t give a shit what the caps say. All we care about is the beer. As long as they work, that’s all we care about. Plus, it will be a good conversation starter.

Another shot at the wort…maybe it is Sunkist afterall.

And when they are all finished, they go back into the hallway closet at 60deg F for another 3-4 weeks for bottle aging. We are a month away. Can’t wait.

Finale coming up shortly…

Caldo de Pollo

I recently spent a week with a stomach bug, which meant a lot of not eating. While my clothes were fitting better, it  wasn’t very fun. After a couple days of self-starvation I decided to go to an old faithful recipe to ease myself back into real food again. This is a favorite dish of mine that’s good for just about any occasion…cold Sunday mornings during the winter or hot summer days where a little fresh vege is all you need to relax.

Originally, this recipe came from someone I knew who grew up down in the south Texas valley. I have no idea if it’s authentic “Mexican” food or not, but it’s a damn good recipe and one that you’ll go back to when you get stuck for something to make in a pinch.

The mise:

-2 split chicken breasts

-four russet potatoes, peeled and rough chopped

-1 large yellow onion

-diced garlic, 3-4 cloves

-3 carrots, peeled and sliced

-3 chicken bouillon cubes

-a head of cabbage

-1 zucchini, halved and chopped

-chicken broth to fill in as needed

Start with a stock pot ½ full of water. Take it to a boil and throw in some salt. Not too much, but enough to soften the water.

Three bouillon cubes:

Concentrated flavor. Great for soups.

Take that up to a boil and make sure the cubes are dissolved.

Drop a couple of split chicken breasts in and let them cook. Should take 15min or so. No rush…all the fat from the skin and bone needs to melt off.

When they are good and cooked, drop them into an ice bath (makes them easier to handle).

Quarter an onion and chop the garlic.

Drop in the potatoes. Cut them big b/c they’ll cook down. You want bite sized chunks, and they will break up on their own in the soup.

Carrots go in, too. They bring an incredible sweetness to the soup.

Vege so far. Give it a taste to see if it needs some salt. I’d add a little pepper in as well, but not too much.

And drop in the zucchini.

At this point, you want to get the chicken out and start pulling it apart into shreds. Try to get as much meat and all that as possible. You can do this step at any point, really, but the chicken will be really hot and hard to pull apart when it’s really hot. I like to put the skin and fat back in to cook. You can remove it before you serve. Let it cook for 30min-hour or so on a low slow boil, covered.

Wash your cabbage down and then chop off the stem at the bottom.

Quarter that bad boy.

And then take out the bottom of the core on all the quarters. It’s tough to eat.

Do a rough chop on this….it will fall apart and go pretty limp, so no worries if you get some big slices in there.

Crumbled it on top of the soup (don’t stir it in). Sprinkle a pretty healthy amount of kosher salt on top of it, then cover for 10 minutes to let it wilt under the steam. This will preserve some of the green color in the leaves and the salt will push a lot of the water out of the cabbage. After it’s good and limp, stir it in.

This is what it should look like. Gorgeous color from the carrots, onion, chicken, and the cabbage. Give it a good taste and season it with more salt/pepper. If you want it hot, hit it with a couple shots of Cholula sauce or some clear pepper sauce. Not too much, though. I usually add just enough to give it a little spice and then serve it with the pepper sauce so people can adjust as they want.

Your potatoes should be reduced down to this:

Right before you serve, turn off the heat. Chop up a bunch of cilantro, and dump the cilantro on top.

Cover it for a couple minutes, then stir it in.

The cilantro adds such a big fresh taste to the soup, but you don’t want to add it until right before you serve. Plus, you don’t want to cook it or the leaves will lose their texture.

Garnish with some fresh lime a sprig of cilantro, and you’ve got a tasty afternoon soup. It’s a pretty good reheater for leftovers, but it’s best right out of the pot when the cilantro is still perfumey.

Caldo de Pollo. Get some.

Spring Critters in Photos

The birds of Spring have been here for about a month. I’m not a serious birdwatcher but I always have bird feeders out year round so I can watch them. I love birds in the wild but hate birds in cages. The bird society and pecking order among the different species is fascinating.

Our backyard has been abuzz with the activity of Spring. And occasionally you have a sweet surprise among the critters of Spring.

House sparrow

 

Carolina chickadee

 

 

Downy woodpecker

 

 

Grass lizard

 

The Golden Birthday: Five on the Fifth

I never really wanted to be a dad. Not that I wanted to NOT be a dad…it just didn’t really seem like the thing that fit me. Somehow, though, five years ago today Fate decided that it would send me down a new road that I’d never been down before and didn’t really set out to go down in the first place.

I’m not that good with kids. Not naturally, at least. I talk loudly and often, I tend to laugh loudly and often, and I slip in pretty salty language in between both. I’ve mellowed in my old age, but I can still pop off without realizing that I’ve got a two-legged tape recorder at my knees taking in everything that I say that just so happens to resonate above most of the other voices in the room.  I have learned to pretend to be fairly decent with kids, which is nothing short of a miracle if you ask any of my friends who knew me in a different life.

There are lots of things I wanted to “be” in life. At one time, I wanted to be either a doctor, a lawyer, or a singer in a heavy metal puke band. After life actually happened, turns out that I didn’t have the stomach to be a doctor, I’m nowhere near studious or smart enough to be a lawyer, and my heavy metal wail sounds more like an ambulance siren with a loose wire. Being an Aggie was what was most important to me, and it’s probably the thing I identify with most. However, I enjoy being a loyal friend, a doting husband, an archenemy ready to fight at all times, an underachieving son, an annoying brother, and sometimes just a guy that people are just a little bit wary or afraid of to really get too close to. It’s easier that way in most instances, but at times I need to be pretty good at all of those things. More often than not, I am not…I’m either marginally acceptable or even downright unacceptable.

The one thing I never really put much thought into “being” was a dad. But here I am, five years to the day when I got to “be” that very thing. It makes me laugh when people have kids and say something like “they don’t send these things home with instructions” or something pseudo-witty like that, but the truth is that Amazon.com is filled with all sorts of instruction books on babies, so the excuse is moot. Amazon.com might even know me by first name after all the purchases I made pre-birth, sometimes with determined agenda, sometimes in late night insomnia-induced panic in front of the computer wondering what my offspring would look like or if he/she would have an extra arm or an extra asshole or something that would take an extra-ordinary parenting effort that I wasn’t nearly prepared to tackle. After all the books and websites and magazines and blogs and articles, the only true way to comprehend something so unique as being wholly responsible for another sentient human is to just be given one and then have the helpful professional walk away and let you both ‘cut your teeth’ (so to speak) on your own. It’s amazing what you’ll learn when given the chance to fly and fall and break something. Admittedly, it helps to have a muted sense of smell when raising a baby, especially with the aforementioned career-determining weak stomach. Plus, it’s a damn good excuse for not changing a poop diaper. It really helps to have an equally-yoked partner with a coyote-keen sense of smell, almost comically.

Five years later, and I’ve learned a lot from this entire experience. I’ve learned what it’s like to go face to face with one of those poop diapers in the middle of the night, and I’ve even learned what it’s like to go face to face with the source from whence it came while trying to get a new diaper in place. I know what it sounds like to hear the F word, innocently repeated by the lips of an angel, and I know the feeling of absolute helplessness when you see blood pouring from a wound or hear the unmistakable sound of silence right before the soul-bending screech of sheer unadulterated pain from stubbing a toe or falling on the floor. I’ve never run so fast nor have stopped so suddenly as I have chasing a crawling 12-month old. I used to stare down parents in a restaurant with an infant for making noise, and now find myself so zoned out in a restaurant when my kiddo is acting like a damn monkey because of the spoonful of perspective I’ve taken for the past five years at least once a day. Being a dad makes me a better son. It makes me a better son-in-law. I think it makes me a better husband, but my wife might tell you that my superhero sense of ignoring is so powerful that it can leap tall buildings in a single bound. Some things are too far gone or even too far-fetched for my personality and/or hypocrisy, but those days of going and doing and seeing and experiencing all on my own are forever gone. Regardless of where I go or what I do or what I see, it will never be the same now that I see my own flesh and blood go thru the pain and struggle of everyday life that I went thru. It seemed hard at the time I was going thru it myself, but it’s so much harder now knowing what lies behind each corner for my little son. All these years of fighting my own dad mean so much more when I see that he was just doing the same thing I’m doing now. He’ll laugh about it now, and I’ll laugh about it someday too, but in the moment it scares me to even let myself ponder the possibilities of my might-have-been’s if not for such a great protector.

I’m much more keen to foul language or inappropriate content on tv. I can self-censor pretty well, but still have trouble not singing the bad words in songs mostly out of habit. Beer tastes good, but not nearly as good as when the house is totally silent during those moments when I know my little guy is safe in bed asleep. I check locked doors and windows and keep an eye out for sharp edges, but it’s second nature for me now. At one time, it was a struggle to perform these checks because I was having to think about them. I don’t have to think about them anymore…it’s like being Neo in the Matrix. The Patrix. You see the Patrix in lines of streaming code and milk after a certain point.

Five years in, and what I take from it all is that I’m still pretty loud and obnoxious, I still use salty language and still tend to be bigger than the room more than I should be. That’s just who I am, and it probably won’t change. What has changed is my perspective on how it affects everyone else in the room. For that reason, I both apologize to everyone I know as well as stand arms wide open in defiant confidence, knowing that I am what I am. For any other kid, I would be a terrible dad, and most kids annoy the hell out of me. Fortunately, I’m not a dad to all those other kids.

It wasn’t fate that I become a daddy…it was fate that I became my son’s daddy. And it’s the best thing I’ve ever “been” or probably will ever “be”, and at the end of my days I’ll die happy, knowing that I’ll be remembered merely as my son’s daddy, if not solely.

Bobby Swimmer

About 2 years ago Jdubs got a pet fish – just a beta fish from Walmart. This fish is the funniest critter.

Bobby Swimmer!

For starters, his name was concocted by Jdubs himself. We set the fish up in his new home and I asked Jdubs what he wanted to name his fish. He thought for a few minutes and declared “Bobby Swimmer.” And thus it was.

The shark is going to get Bobby Swimmer!

When you walk by his tank he flairs his fins. He acts like the cat with and empty food bowl when he swims to the surface practically asking for food.