Trav’s Corner: Cream of Hatch Chile Soup

First, assemble the ingredients:

1 cup Hatch chiles, roasted, peeled, seeded & diced

¾ cup chopped onion

3 cloves garlic, minced

3 roma tomatoes, diced

1 large avocado, diced

½ cup chopped cilantro

Juice of 1 lime

2 cups half & half

1 cup chicken broth

In a large saucepan, sauté the onion in some olive oil & butter until soft and translucent. Add the chiles and garlic and sauté briefly. Do not allow the garlic to brown. Add the chicken broth and bring to a rolling boil for two minutes. Add the half & half, lime juice, tomato, avocado, and ½ the cilantro. Bring to a simmer for 30 minutes. Put into bowls and serve with a sprinkle of cilantro and a twist of lime.

Homebrewing Beer 101: The Finale

For the past two months, almost two cases of beer were in my front hall closet going thru a process of fermentation, carbonation, and conditioning. If you’ve followed along with us so far, then you’ve seen the background of how we got to this point and why. You might have even seen the second batch we bottled.  Weeks of waiting and holding and damn near torture and we’ve arrived at Judgement Day…we’re going to uncork.

This beer is a clone of Tire Biter Bitter Ale. We used a blonde malt…

And steeped hops for 90 minutes:

This creates a “wort”. The wort is the beer before it starts beerifying itself. We left the beer in a primary fermenter for a month. NOW…we should have pulled this after the first 7 days and then moved into a secondary fermenter, but we didn’t. Also, we realized when we went to bottle that we left out a couple pounds of sugar on the recipe, so we added it posto facto. It couldn’t be that great of an idea, but it worked out pretty good, all things considered. The wort went for a second fermentation with the added sugar. Then we pulled it, bottled it, and let it sit for 3.5 weeks to condition perfectly.

And here we are.

We keep a stocked kegerator that has a freezer on top, perfect for keeping frosty mugs and p’s for the beer. Four friends, four frosty pubbers, four bottles of beer.

Let’s do this…

The immediate pop is a HUGE relief to us. You never know if the carbonation is going to really take place. As long as the sugars stay fermenting and the cap stays airtight, then we should be good on bubbles. If not…well, let’s not discuss the ‘if nots’ right now.

The pour is perfect…lots of air, lots of foam. Good head forms on the top of the golden elixir and tiny bubbles work their way up thru the now completed beer.

Tasting notes: I’ll admit…I expected this to kinda suck. The homebrews I’ve had in the past have sucked harder than anyone has ever sucked before. This got off on the right foot in the glass. It looked like beer. It smelled like beer. And by gawd, it TASTED LIKE BEER. And not just homemade beer…this tasted DAMN GOOD. Tons of hoppy flavor and bite, a very citrusy finish that didn’t linger as much as the hops. We didn’t take measurements on this one, but from the buzz we got right afterwards, we are guessing that the abv is quite high.

This was a really good beer. Not to brag, but we KILLED it the first time out. We all sat in awe of the process and the work we did, still not really sure if one or all but one of us got together and filled the glasses with real beer as a joke on one person. It was a very good beer, to the point that I’d take it over most commercially made beers. The body was deep; lots of character to it. The bubbles made a perfect head with creamy froth for your lips.

We call this one “Made In Voyage”.  It’s a play on words from “maiden voyage”, or our first time thru the process.  But mainly because we changed things up from the original recipe as we went, so we were literally making this in the voyage and making it up as we went.  We are still learning the rules, but so far our little maverick ways have paid off.

And after all this time, all it took was a little homebrew. I’m hooked. Can’t wait to get right back in and try another batch.

Homebrewing Beer 101: Editor’s Note – Big Jim’s Double Dark

As a quick aside from our beer chronicles, we went ahead and purchased the ingredients for a Double Bock (or a “Doppel Bock” as the purist say) the last time we were in the brewstore. This is made with DARK malts and dark roasted grains. The recipe is meant to be a clone of the delicious Paulaner Salvator Doppel. I’ll add more pictures down the road at some point, but this actually is worth a quick post just to tell the story of our first ‘big’ beer. We wanted one that would be ready in a couple months and a fun one. This one takes 6 months to finish off. That sounds long to the novice, but the masters will brew then cask in bourbon oak casks for a year at a time to mellow their wort.

We’re not waiting that long, at least not at first when we are still learning how to do this. Here’s the fun part, though….when we were bottling the bitter ale, we realized that we LEFT THE SUGAR OUT OF THE DOUBLE BOCK. That’s an issue. Without enough sugar, the yeasts can create enough alcohol and the flavor will be really weak. After some deliberation and a commercial beer or two, we decided to go ahead and mix in the sugar AFTER the initial fermentation to restart the yeasts for another fermentation before we bottled. The process would last 3days to a week until the sugar was devoured.

Now…was this a smart idea? Probably not. The risk of picking up mold spores or dust or anything bad in the transfer is really not something we want to do. However, spending 6 months on a beer that ends up tasting like something they sell in Oklahoma where they limit the beer abv to 3.9% is not something we’d rather do. So we mixed up the sugar with some of the wort we siphoned out of the carboy then funneled it back in. After a full week, the bubbles stopped and the beer was ready to bottle. We left it in an extra week. Why? Well, we were busy. That’s probably not that smart either, but hey…we are new to this.

Bottles, disinfected and dried

The glass carboy with the delicious double bock waiting inside. Notice the ring of yeast around the top. That’s where the wort was when we first put it in. The yeast ate it down that far.

The color is like cappuccino. Dark brown with a foamy crema on top.

I’m fast forwarding a bit, but this is what the carboy looks like after it’s drained. The bottom looks like saturated river bottom sand. Doesn’t smell like it, though…this smells like warm yeasty bread with a PUNGENT alcohol punch to it. Smells incredible.

This is the brew in the secondary fermenter that we are using for bottling b/c it’s the only bucket we have with a spigot. Forgive me for the heaven photo effect, but it’s the only one I could find that highlighted the brew and the crema without picking up any other colors. The texture is similar to a dark soy sauce. It’s a sweet flavor that’s definitely young and needs some time in the bottle. In a pinch, though, you could drink this right now. It would need to be in a pinch, though, because this needs some bottle lovin’ for a few months.

We used a couple oversized bottles that Runnin’ Buddy has been saving for a few years in case he ever picked up homebrewing. It’s almost destiny.

Some random shots of the bottles, filled with the sweet nectar of the double bock.

And there we have it…forty bottles of our double bock that we lovingly named Big Jim’s Double Dark. Check back in August when we get to open these.

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…

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.

One Day at a Time Another Month Flies by

I’ve been on my blogging odyssey for almost three months now. I started blogging every day on November 1, 2011. Today is January 18, 2012. That is 79 posts including tonight’s entry.

It has been an remarkable 79 days. Tonight I’m looking back over the last few weeks to do a “round-up” of favorite blog posts.

One month ago I posted about Jdub’s favorite tune: The Spanish Song That night seems so long ago, but it was just a month. Goes to show how time can stand still or fly depending on where your perspective is.

Thanksgiving and Christmas happened. And the wonderful Christmas Eve program at our church” Light of the World

My pets always provide good fodder for writing: If the Dog/Cat Could Sass

And there were several photo blog posts that were just a result of being in the moment with a camera (or iPhone) handy:

Winter Sunset Beauty

Beautiful Sky = Pretty Pictures

Stock Tank on a Still Day (My Favorite of the photo posts)

And the coolest, random photo that captured an optical illusion:

Do You See What I See? (It was a little more than a month ago)

Much has changed in my life in 79 days.

  • I’m about to make a major job transition.
  • I’m getting close to losing the 10 lbs I promised myself to lose by my next birthday (not so much because I’m eating better but more because I don’t have time to eat).
  • I’m about to conclude the last event I hope to ever do in a professional capacity.
  • I’ve been “ordained” at my church.
  • I read three 500-page books of fiction; six books of nonfiction.
  • I still have a library book out that is past due.
  • I’ve worn my pretty boots a lot.
  • I repainted/redecorated my home office.
  • I rearranged Jdub’s room to make it more spacious for him to play.
  • I almost had a panic attack in Ikea because it’s so overwhelming to me, (not really, but it did become time to “just go.”)
  • I got a fever blister (from stress, that’s what my body does).
  • And my little kid was sick for 5 days straight.

With a blog a day, I’m amazed at how much life actually happens in a relatively short span of time. It also shows that whatever you do, you have to do it a little at a time. When you pause to look back, the chronicle provides the proof that you’ve gone very far, just one day at a time.

Over the River and Through the Woods…

…to Grandma’s house we go

One of our family traditions is literally that song. Every year we head “down to the river” for our family Christmas gathering with my mother’s people. I live in rural Texas, and this is an hour out into the bush from where I live. It’s remote, really remote. Your cell phone won’t work and you had better have plenty of gas in your car in case you get caught down there when the river rises during a storm because you will have to take “the back way” out, which adds an extra hour to the trip.

“The River” is in Shackelford** County on the Brazos River. We drive until the pavement ends, then keep driving and driving and driving. This area is very much a part of the Frontier History of Texas. Some of the land was once a Comanche Indian reservation. It also had a civil war era medical station on it. We’ve seen all manner of skittish wildlife like mountain lions and bald eagles.

Sometimes it’s hard to imagine that most of Texas and the western U.S. were like this. You really are in the middle of nowhere.

We actually go through the woods before we cross the river.
Over the river ... This is Daws Crossing on the Brazos.
Comanche Indian Reserve.
This is Grandma's house.
No rare beasts today, just cattle and deer.
Beautiful sunset. Thank you handy iPhone camera.