Images of Arcadia

Occasionally, I get to stand in for my dad and play cowgirl on the family ranch. I love being outside, tending to the critters. When you are doing something, you usually can show something for it. Here are a few highlights from the last seven days. It demonstrates how extreme the weather cycle can be here in North Texas. 79 degrees down to 18 then back to 68, a dusting of snow, a light rain and one blustery day with winds gusting upwards to 40mph.

A week ago it was a very cold night on top of a light dusting of snow. The bitter cold nipped back even the hardiest of the winter vegetables.

 

A few days later it was sunny and 60 degrees. This is a funny picture of the cows at chow time.

A new baby in the pasture. It’s always so sweet to see a new calf, especially a pretty and healthy one like this. My boy named her Marney (like Barney but with an “M,” he says.)

 

Yesterday we got a little over an inch of desperately-needed rain. As soon as the rain stopped, the chickies went looking for waterlogged worms.

Advertisements

Sombrero Potato

A week ago (Feb. 21, 2013) Jdubs and I were out feeding the cattle.  As we were looking for our last herd, we came upon a momma cow that had just given birth to her calf. She hadn’t even delivered the placenta yet.

Momma cow just had this calf moments before we spotted her.

We approached the pair, very carefully, because you never really know how a new momma will react, even if you “know” the animal. Momma cow was looking a little nervous but settled quickly.  We sat close to the calf and watched him for a few moments. Then on occasion the Almighty lets us see a little miracle… This newborn calf stood up and took his first steps and we got to witness it.

A precious moment caught with my trusty iPhone. This baby calf took his first steps.
Just learning to stand up … I’ve probably seen thousands of first steps by newborn calves, but I’m always amazed, every time I see it.
Jdubs put his hand out and the calf came to him. Newborn calves don’t see well for a few days, until their eyes adjust to seeing light after nine months in total darkness.

A few minutes later he stumbled over to his momma and took his first suckle of colostrum. It was a precious moment and one that was worth a thousand hours in a classroom. These are the things that can’t be taught.  They have to be experienced, witnessed.

The first taste of milk … the hard-wired instincts are amazing to watch in nature.

We couldn’t stay long because the rest of the herd began to show up, which made momma cow really anxious. And she was hungry too. Momma cow and the rest of the herd haven’t had much grass to eat– we’re at the tail end of winter, just as the spring grasses begin to grow, not to mention the long-standing drought.  Our cattle really look forward to and rely on the high-protein cubes we feed daily.

We led and fed the herd a short distance from the pair. When we circled back around to count heads, momma cow and calf had rejoined the herd.

We departed the pasture double-time, no need to freak out the newborn calf, that can’t see with the loud feed truck and noisy, bawling herd.

I’m wondering what the conversation is going on between these two?

At the gate, I asked Jdubs if he had thought of a name for the calf. He very nonchalantly said, “his name should be Sombrero Potato.” I asked where that came from. He said, “the name comes from Mexico, mom. And he has a Mexican name.” And thus, we have Sombrero Potato. (I declined to point out that the Spanish word for potato is “papas.”)

Meet Sombrero Potato

Fun Photos from Arcadia

It’s been a very long time since I’ve posted fun photos from our life here in Arcadia.

Black eyed susans from my front flower bed. This is a perennial favorite of North Texas gardeners.

Jdubs on the “Fastcat.” His grandfather rigged up a stampede string from a left-over strip of leather.

The real deal.

Textbook wall cloud. A few minutes after I snapped this, the sky opened up and hail stones rained down.

This photo represents the “why” of living where I do.

Grilling A Proper Ribeye

As luck would have it, we just got a shipment of fresh beef from slaughter off the ranch. As a “quality control” measure, we try to reserve a steer a year to make sure the bloodline we are breeding is producing the highest quality beef. The standing beef is put into our own version of a feed lot, which is just one of our stalls in the barn where we can finish out the beef with 120 days of high corn feed without a lot of exercise by the steer. This builds nice marbled fat within the meat fibers, which will go a long way when we go to cook these bad boys.

If we look at the diagram of a beef:

You see the group of muscles along the back of the beef just below the shoulders labeled as “rib”. That’s where our ribeyes come from. It’s a long muscle that, when the beef is finished out, doesn’t get as much work as a cow or a steer that’s out roaming for grass to chew on. It’s the most flavorful cut of steak you can get while maintaining a tender chew.

Our steaks:

See all the white specks within the meat? That’s good…those bits of fat are going to melt and lubricate the meat fibers, which will make the steaks juicy and easy to masticate. There are a couple different muscles here, and the outside of the steak is just as good if not better than the inside.

Most people take these chunks of bovine heaven and throw them on a hot grill or a hot skillet, which usually sears the shit out of the outside but can make for an uneven cook as the inside of a thick steak can still be cold even if the surface is burned. Traditionally, the solution to this is to sear the outside and then finish off in an oven set at 400deg until the steaks are cooked to the desired temp. This is how I did it for years, but Cooks Illustrated proved that if you go the opposite way…bring the steaks to temp first then finish them off on a grill or skillet…then you get the perfect steak every time. EVERY. TIME. It’s foolproof, and it’s how I do my steaks now. However, a true Texas beef eater will tell you that the thing that beef needs to really be perfect is a little bit of wood underneath to give the beef just a little bit more rounded flavor. That means you finish out on a pit, with a bit of pecan/hickory or, preferably, mesquite. No oak is allowed around here unless it’s in the fireplace.

I recently acquired a kamado-style cooker, so I’m going to do the finish out on it. My first order of business: get a nice, rolling smoke going on the cooker.

Then, we want to lay the steaks out onto a cookie sheet and into a 150-170deg oven with the rack as far away from the heating elements as possible. We want to bring the steaks up to 90-100deg, but it doesn’t have to be exact. The least amount of pokes, the better, so leave the thermometers in the drawer and trust your eyes and your hands. If the red meat turns gray, it’s too hot. It’s not ruined, but that’s too hot. If you take your hands and cup them around the rim of the steak, you can squeeze the steaks together and see the muscles begin to separate.

The steaks are still raw, but what we’ve done is begin to melt the connective tissue between the muscles. THAT’S GOOD. Taking a closer look:

You can see little pockets or canyons where the meat pulls apart. THAT’S GOOD. Onto seasoning…

The great Joe Allen’s Steakhouse in Abilene uses three ingredients on their steaks: salt, pepper, and garlic powder. That’s all you need on your steaks. Dust the steaks with kosher salt evenly, and then scatter garlic powder right on top of the salt. You’ll want to press down just a bit to push the seasonings into the meat. Notice that I didn’t add pepper? That’s by design…if you cook pepper over open flame, it becomes bitter and loses its peppery punch, so let’s save the pepper until the very end.

Notice also that the steak is kinda round…that’s a tip I learned from a buddy of mine that runs a steakhouse. When you cup your hands around the steaks, you can simply form them into a round steak. Don’t get too rough…just press it together so it’s round.

Get your grill as hot as it will get, and throw the steaks on. After 3-4 minutes, turn them with tongs from 11o’clock to 2o’clock to get those neat diamond sear marks. After another 3-4 minutes, flip them and repeat. You can test how well done the steaks are by pressing the meat with your finger. If it feels like your cheek does right around your canine teeth, then it’s med-rare. Inflate your cheek with as much air as you can…that’s well-done. If you cook your ribeyes to well-done, leave your address so I can send you a bag of crap in the mail.

When finished, this is what you should have:

There’s a red tint to the steaks from the wood/smoke. Notice, also, that there’s just the smallest amount of char…that adds so much flavor to the steaks.

Pull them off the fire, add freshly cracked black pepper, and cover loosely with foil for 10 minutes. The rest is important to even the cook.

A closeup of the steak….see how the fat that was yellow before creates pools of liquid right on top of the steak? Sweet beautiful liquid.

I like my ribeyes medium-rare. Rare will give you stringy meat, and we don’t want that. At med-rare, you still get the juiciness of the fat with all the tender toothiness of the melted connective tissue.

 

Served with a baked potato, some fresh salad, and a dark beer or a super red wine, you’ve got the meal I’d request for my last if I get the chance.

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: 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 Golden Bitter Ale Part 1

I am a serial hobbyist. Admittedly. One of the things I love to do is learn how something works and/or take an interest in something that most people talk about but never do. In my lifetime, I’ve:

-had saltwater aquariums

-owned beehives for extracting honey

-collected sports cards, mainly hockey

-had a substantial MAD Magazine collection

-played in an acoustic guitar duo in bars

-own a full set of Callaway golf clubs in a leather tour bag

-have the best damn greenhouse in town

Those are just a few off the top of my head. At one point, I owned my own bowling ball and even have a Lionel trainset in my garage. They are all fun hobbies that there are tons of individuals out there in the world who devote their entire lives to. Now, I’ve never gone that far…most of my hobbies will either go on the back burner after a couple years or I’ll just lose interest. HOWEVER…the one thing that I love to do and have done for the better part of 20 years is:

Drink beer.

Oh, man. I’m the best beer drinker I know. I love different types of beers, from the heavy stuff that tastes like thick soy sauce to cheap Texas O.P. beer. The one hobby that I’ve often thought about but never got into was homebrewing. I have friends who have done it and have even tried homebrews. One or two were passable but the rest were downright awful. Terrible.

One night recently, I was watching Alton Brown’s Good Eats on tv, and his homebrew episode came on. Ever fascinated, I watched the whole thing and then turned to my wife and said, “I could totally do that.”

Now, normally when I come up with a new hobby, she just rolls her eyes because she knows it will either be something I forget about or it’s going to end up being something I spent time/money on. This was different. When I said it, she lit up and said, “We can totally do that.”

Bingo.

My next call was to Runnin’ Buddy. I told him my wacky idea, and he told me that he grew up with his dad homebrewing, and it just so happened that his father- in-law was a homebrewer years ago and gave him an entire set of gear to homebrew including carboy, cooker, bottles…everything. All we needed to do was clean it up, buy the ingredients, and get going.

My newest hobby was born:

Off to the big city to a local homebrew store, and we got not only the ingredients, but also some expert advice and recipes to make beer. We chose two different brews…one that should take about a month and another that will take nearly 7 months to completely age. The ingredient list:

-2lbs of milled grains

-a bucket of malt syrup

-0.5oz of Fuggles hops

-0.5oz of Hallterau hops (that’s one of the noble hops…more on that later)

-a packet of dry ale yeast (ale yeast ferments from the top down vs. lager yeast that ferments from the bottom up, so we don’t have to stir it in)

-corn sugar…looks like powdered sugar but tastes different. It’s a disaccharide, which means that we can add it directly to the wort after the primary fermentation)

-bottled drinking water (cheap stuff..not distilled)

-cheesecloth socks for the hops

-whirlflac tablets

Immediately, you are going to be overwhelmed because we are talking about ingredients and stuff that you’ve never heard of (probably). I know I was. Stick with it, though…it’s not as bad as you think. Your homebrew store will be able to provide all of this for you and explain what it all is. If not, then go find another homebrew store.

The gear:

-4-gallon, stainless steel stock pot with a glass lid

-7-gallon plastic bucket with a spigot and a sealable lid

-digital probe thermometer

-assorted other stuff. What? Yeah, keep trusting me on this and read the whole thing before you start.

The very first thing you do after inventory assessment is to sterilize everything. Even if you’ve washed and cleaned everything with hot water and soap, there still may be some bacteria floating around, and even the smallest amount of bacteria can turn the beer bad fast. We mixed 2 tablespoons of regular bleach with hot water in the primary fermenting bucket and shoved everything in there that we could…corks, burper, probe thermometer, metal whisk…anything we thought we might use at any point after the boil phase, we sterilized.

From up above:

While all that sat for 30 minutes, we started up our “brew tea”, which is a gallon of water with the milled grains seeping.

That has to simmer at 153 degrees F for 20 minutes. Why so precise? The whole grains have a lot of sugars and resins deep inside their kernels that will be really bitter if they are extracted, so if you keep the heat down they will not seep out. In addition, you CANNOT squeeze the bag they are in AT ALL or you’ll squeeze them out.

The mesh grain bag with the grains inside:

Do this over the sink our you’ll have this to clean up:

While the brew tea is making, I boiled another pot of water, then put a towel in the bottom so that the malt syrup could get hot and be easier to pour out. I’ll explain more in a bit, but the malt syrup is an extracted blend of grain sugars already pre-made by the brew store. Serious homebrewers will extract their own, but since this is our first time and since it takes about a day to extract them, we are going to just use the premade stuff. I don’t expect that to change.

Shangri-La Dog is there to help lick up anything that hits the floor.

After the water boils, turn it off and put the uncovered syrup bucket in, making sure you don’t overflow the water.

The malt is so sugary sweet, you can barely stand it. It looks like super thick honey and kinda tastes like honey a little bit, but the aftertaste is really potent. Not bad, but definitely a shock to the system when you taste it. It’s beautiful, though.

In goes the bag of milled grains.

We kept the water boiling at 153® for five minutes to make sure we could maintain the heat. As well, we gently stirred the tea from time to time to equalize the temp and make sure there wasn’t a build up of heat in one spot under the bag.

After 5 minutes, you can see the wort begin to take shape as the water turns a pretty blonde color.

Meanwhile, we took 1.5 quarts of water and heated it up to 170 degrees. We’ll use that to pour thru the tea to make sure we get all the goodies out when we are draining it.

After 20 minutes, we pulled the bag and drained it. Then, we poured the extra hot water thru it.

Top off to 3 gallons of water for the boil. We’ll bring this up to a boil…

The pour in the malt syrup. It’s so thick that you have to immediately start stirring it up or it will stick to the bottom of the pot. Why do I know this? you might inquire? Later.

After we bring that back to a boil we are going to had the hops. Remember up top, I mentioned we are using two different types of hops. “Hops” are the petals of a flower from a plant that is the same family as marijuana (no lie). Brewers have used the petals straight in for years, however they now concentrate them into pellets for homebrewers. I’m sure real beer makers do the same, but we for sure are going to. There are four types of “noble hops”; those are the original hops that were first used:

-Hallertau Hallertauer Mittelfruh

-Tettnanger Tettnang

Spalter Spalt

-Saaz

They are all grown in central Europe and are the standard for Bavarian style beer. Other hops varieties are grown all over, but the noble hops are considered the grandfathers of beer flavoring/finishing. Today, we are using a British hops called “fuggles” (leave it up to the Brits to come up with a goofy name) and the noble hops, Hallertau. We’ll do this in two stages: flavoring & finishing/aroma. The fuggles will boil for 75 minutes and add a big robust flowery flavor. The Halltertau will only be in for two minutes because we just need the aroma and oils to give a bitter punch that this recipe calls for.

We’ll put those into a cheesecloth sock, darned at one end and tied off at the other end. The pellets will swell up and expand pretty big as they cook, so we need to give them plenty of room to grow.

The boiling wort (which is what you call beer before it’s finished):

When the rolling boil begins, we throw in the fuggles and let them cook.

Now, I wish I could explain to you how great this smells. The malted barley and Munich grains that are in the bag smell like Grape Nuts if you’ve ever had them cooked. The hops smell so good…it’s like perfume, but with an anise kick. It’s so strong when you first open the bag that it takes you back, but you immediately get right back in for another whiff.

After 60 minutes of boiling on the flavoring fuggles hops, we need to add whirlfloc. Whirlfloc is a synthetic additive that doesn’t affect the smell, taste, or flavor of the beer at all. What it does is grab on to all the suspended particles in the beer and make them heavy enough to sink to the bottom of the primary fermenting bucket. If we were making a dark beer, then this isn’t an issue. However, with a lighter golden beer then we are probably going to see particles in the beer if we don’t filter it. Since we don’t want to filter, we use whirlfloc. Purists will use Irish Moss, but we’ll just use whirlfloc for ease of use.

After 13 more minutes, it’s time for our finishing or “aroma” hops. The first hopping gives flavor. We go with a more potent hops to add the smells of the hops only. For this, we are using the Hallertau:

Two bags of hops.

Notice the line on the inside of the pot where the original level of the wort started. We’ve reduced down considerably, concentrating the smells, sugars, and flavors of the wort.

The finishing hops stay in for two minutes, then we turn off the heat and pull the bags.

The wort will continue to churn for a bit with the carry-over heat. If you taste this now, it tastes like sweet bread that you’ve liquefied. Big flowery taste with a bit of bitterness on the back of your tongue from the hops.

We let this cool down for 15 minutes in the pot. Then, we took 8lbs of ice and put it into the sterilized primary fermenting bucket with the spigot turned off so it doesn’t run all over the floor.

For reference, by the way, we cut the hops socks open to take a look at the hops after the cook. The flavoring fuggles hops are on the bottom and are a noticeable browner color, as we’ve cooked a lot of the chlorophyll out of the flower. The aroma hops are on top and are still bright green.

The grains that we seeped for the brew tea look like cattle feed, and frankly kinda smell like cattle feed, too. We’ll set those out in the fancy greenhouse to dry and will put in the birdfeeder.

Pouring the wort into the fermenter…look how beautiful that is.

Pouring it over the ice will help melt it.

Remember what I said about having to stir the syrup well or it would stick to the bottom and burn?

Damn, I hope that doesn’t come back to bite us down the road.

Topping off with another gallon of water to make five gallons total in the fermenter (

The wort in the bucket:

We have to let this cool off to somewhere between 65-75 degrees before we “pitch” the packet of dry yeast. If it’s too hot, then the yeast will immediately die. If it’s too cold, the yeast could die or just be arrested and not bloom.

The packet of yeast

“Pitching” the yeast into the top of the bucket:

Now, we do NOT stir this up. Because we are using ale yeast, it needs to sit right on top to work. The yeast feeds on the sugars in the wort and craps out air and alcohol as a natural process. We need the air to escape in this portion of the process, but want to keep all the alcohol. We do this by sealing the top of the bucket except for a small hole with a “burper” or an “airlock”. This will slowly let air out while not letting any back in. Air has bacteria, and we don’t want that.

Alton Brown tells us to add water into the airlock to make bubbles, but the gearheads go one step further. If you use vodka in the airlock instead of water, then it keeps it extra disinfected. It just so happens that I keep vodka laying around for just such an occasion.

Carefully pouring it into the airlock chamber.

Upright.

Knucks for a finished wort

Here comes the tricky part. We’ve got to let this ferment for 10-20 days in a dark cool place, no hotter than 70 degrees and preferably around 60 degrees. It just so happens that we have a coat closet that stays at 62-65 degrees at all times

That’s our first part. There are two more parts on the way, but you’ll have to wait for a couple of weeks for the wort to ferment.

To be continued…