Monthly Archives: August 2011

Bottling Day


It’s time to move the brew into its final home: forty seven sterilized amber bottles.

True to our form, we started the whole process at 8:30 pm on a Monday.

I baked the bottles again at 190 degrees to make sure they were dry and sterile. Then we brought the carboy and the bottling bucket into our kitchen, mixed up a sterilizing solution, and started wiping everything down.

The siphoning process went smoothly, giving us a great preview of the beer’s aroma. I followed my friend Paul’s advice to boil the priming sugar to sterilize and dissolve it before adding it to the bucket, which seemed to work great.

I’m not sure if it’s something we did wrong, but this is definitely looking more like a black ale. One reason might be from bottling straight from the primary fermentor, which increases the amount of Trub (pronounced troob) that gets into the bottles. Little taste tests, though still sweet from the priming sugar, were pretty awesome. Hoppy but smooth. With a little maturation, I think it’s going to be good stuff.

Once we had the bottling bucket filled, we attached the Bottling Wand and got to work; Kevin was the bottler, I was the capper.

We ran into some troubles with the modern capper once we got started…

So we traded out for the old one and we were in business!

Clean up went pretty smooth, except for the nightmares we might have given motorists as they caught passing flashes of us, barefoot and excited, violently shaking scummy water out of the carboy in our front yard at 9:30 at night.

Now we’re just soaking the remnants of the scum off the inside of the carboy. We did save some of the Trub, hearing that you can use it to make some really good soap. We’ll see, I guess.

Meanwhile we have three long weeks to admire the bottles before we can actually drink it.

And I’m coming to Vermont a week after that…


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Irene Day

Oh man, this is going to be a lot of information very quickly…

So, Hurricane Irene came. We got heavy rain that raised rivers, but nothing near what Vermont is having to deal with. All that it meant for us was releasing a bunch of craftiness while taking breaks to look at all the waterfalls in town.

Allison and Ariel kicked it off with a sewing project.

Luckily, Ariel had inherited a bunch of pretty sweet sewing gear from her mother. I only heard part of the story, but apparently her mother was ecstatic to find out that her daughter had a sewing project and could finally carry the torch.

The torch, as it turned out, was quite a thing.

A gorgeous singer sewing machine with an eternal motor. For the age and model, the thing ran beautifully. In about forty-five minutes, they’d finished a set of curtains to add color to their place.

Then, Kevin and I got mechanical.

This is the bottle capper that Kevin inherited. It was our job to figure out what was wrong with it. The screwdriver jammed in it was our first indication that there was something wrong. It turned out that the arm wouldn’t lock into place and couldn’t give enough leverage to actually cap a bottle. We took it apart, admired it, put it back together, and agreed that we had fixed it. In our defense, it stopped messing up as much. For our insurance, I bought an awesome looking antique capper for eight dollars that will fill in nicely if this thing needs to tap out.

The we got into bottling prep.

The siphon works, the bottle filler works, and the bottling bucket now has a neat little spigot on it.

We sorted the bottles to adjust to our non-adjustable capper.

We were now faced with a choice; do we go straight into bottling or do we make dinner?

We went for the second one in a big way.

I had gotten a bunch of apples for free at a recent market and was excited to add some serious value to that product. I had never made a pie from scratch and was excited to check that off the list. We made a simple crust and let it chill while we went to check out the river.

When we got back, we peeled, cored, and diced about five pounds of apples and boiled them in some lemon juice, butter, and brown sugar while Allison prepped some carrots. We set them aside to cool and started on the most exciting project of the evening.

You see, I’m scared of eggplant. I’ve only had one personal experience with it prior to this night and it ended with a sandwich of oil-soaked, almost raw eggplant covered in marinara and cheese. I really haven’t approached one since. Stronger than my fear of eggplant, though,  is my determination to never waste free food.

Some quick research, and we made up our minds to fry it. We just peeled it, sliced it into 1/4″ disks, salted it, let it sit for an hour under a weight, patted it dry, dredged in flour, soaked in egg (yes, in that order), and fried in a shallow pan. Simple enough.

Halfway through, we had decided not to bake it with sauce and cheese since that would take away any crispiness we’d worked so hard for. In hindsight, I wish I’d added some salt, pepper, and maybe garlic to the flour. I mean, it was just eggs, flour and eggplant. They were awesome, but some salt and pepper would’ve lit ’em up.

All the while, Allison was stealthily making this little piece of heaven! Maple glazed carrots! Boil carrots until tender enough to skewer, remove all but a cup of water, add a half stick of butter and a bunch of maple syrup and boil until the sauce is thick. It’s so awesome!

Then we ate dinner!

Fried eggplant, angel hair pasta with Homemade Sauce, fresh mesculun mix with Homemade Croutons, the maple glazed carrots, and a few beers.

Then we made pie!

Then we ate pie!

Contented, we went to bed with full bellies.

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God Resides in Cheese Shop!

At least I think so.

With the farmer’s markets gig, I’ve had a lot of opportunities to check out one specific block in Boston, but I still hadn’t seen much of the city until recently when Allison’s near-sister, Rachel, came to visit.

I was working the market by the Prudential center and Allison was picking up Rachel at the Boston airport. We didn’t think we’d ever have an opportunity to just hang around Boston for an evening again, so we made dinner plans at the north end.

Turns out, that was a really good idea.

Apart from hand made pasta, wood fired pizza, tarts, macaroons, and cupcakes, there was a small deli that i believe may be the coolest thing in the world. Like, out of every and any thing.

It’s dark, it’s small, and a couple of nice boys sell you fantastic smoked meats and cheeses.

These are two hunks of mozzarella, one hickory smoked and one plain. The shop was filled with things like this! Slabs of bacon! Salt-cured hams! Pickle Barrel! Baskets of bread! My jaw hurt from gaping after fifteen minutes. This experience confirmed two things for me:

  • I will never be Vegan.
  • I will learn how to cure meat and cheese.

Imagine! A room filled with salted hams, peppered salami, and smoked Gouda, all laced up in twine nets, patiently waiting for their calling. Just bake the bread and cancel every other plan.

Someday soon, I hope.

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Lessons about Salsa

I won’t say that it was heartbreaking, or even that surprising.

At first, it was a bit strange to hear. Hollow sounding, not in a terrifying way, but just that I hadn’t mentally prepared for it. Then I started laughing, realizing that it was exactly what I needed.

Ok, I’ll back up a bit.

Last Friday, Kevin and I finally took on what was to be the competition-grade batch of salsa for the much anticipated Wakefield Farmer’s Market.

We decided to go the scientific route again and make several batches. One was a fairly plain mix of tomatoes, onion, cilantro, lime, salt, nutritional yeast, and chili powder. We removed some of that mix and added avocados and cumin for the second batch. For the last batch, we took the original mix and added just a touch of apple cider vinegar to it. After much deliberation, we decided on the original mix as the best representation of a mild salsa.

So, day of the judging and I’m a little nervous. There are seven people total in the competition, and I’m frantically adding more fresh cilantro to make sure it has a good flavor. Finally, they call the salsas in and I have to let my baby go out into the world. The winner is announced and it’s a suave looking, mid twenties guy with a ponytail and aviator sunglasses. I probably would’ve blushed and giggled a lot if I’d tried to talk to him.

I took a look at the scoreboard later and found out that our salsa had gotten last place.

So, first all of that stuff in the introduction.

Then, Laughter.

I started chuckling, then wide mouth guffawing, at how much ego I had put into this salsa. “Man, this is so good! I’m gonna blow everyone away!” Now ere I was with my ego and a lot of left over salsa. It was actually a really peaceful moment. I had politely been nudged off a pedestal I was building for myself.

At the end of it all, I’m super happy to get schooled and I’m excited for making the next batch.

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Romertoptf Time!

I’ve been looking for one of these for a while.

“Well, good job. What is it?”

Oh, right.

This is a Romertopf Clay Roaster. According to my new favorite baking book, My Bread, these things help to make a fantastic chewy bread with a crisp crust. By putting it in the oven while pre-heating, then putting the dough into the hot roaster, it’s like baking your bread in a clay oven.

The only reason I haven’t used it yet is that I’ve been getting so much free bread from the markets that I’m nowhere near having to bake my own again. Luckily, though, it’s multi-functional.

Unlike the Bread Baker model, which is longer and more shallow, the roaster is a bit roomier on the inside. I’m looking forward to roasting small chickens and batches of root vegetables in this thing until market season is over.

Oh man, hiking around in the snow and coming home to a warm house with bread in the oven? It’s going to be a good year.

Shout out to Murray’s Home Again for giving me this for twenty dollars.

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Brown Ale Update

So, I’ve tried to avoid giving too many updates on the Brown Ale we started a while back since it’s just been hanging out for two weeks. For the first few days, the three of us checked the Carboy at least ten times each, squealing with joy every time a bubble appeared in the airlock.

Now it’s getting exciting, though.

We knew we would need bottles, so we started to talk about ways to get them. We asked bars, we thought about buying blanks, I even brought up asking my bottle-redemption obsessed friend Kyle for any of the garbage cans full of bottles that he always has on hand.

The best resource, though, happened to be the generous people of Peterborough. You see, we already have a recycling center where everyone brings their glass, paper, plastic, and whatnot so I figured, “Maybe we can set up something…”

I showed up the next day with a 55 Gallon trashcan and a sign asking for bottles. I cleared it with one of the workers and I let the town do its thing. I figured in a few days, me might get a handful of bottles.

Two days later, Kevin swings by to check on it.

It turns out that one of the other attendants at the center didn’t know what the barrel was for, so he dumped a days worth of bottles into the glass chute. “Bummer” I thought as Kevin told me.

“Actually, I think it’s a good thing.” He said, showing me our score.

In about eight hours, we had been given 96 perfect bottles.

Beyond worrying what to do with so many bottles, I’m now concerned with what other schemes I’ll hatch to get free stuff at the recycling center…

We set up three wash tubs and started removing labels. I was worried that this would be torture, but it actually was way smoother than I anticipated. Using a mix of dish soap and oxi-clean, the labels fell off in our hands and the adhesive scrubbed off with just a little effort. We rinsed everything out really well to make sure there was no soap scum left in the bottles.

Now we just had to dry them.

We threw out several ideas of how we could get this many bottles dry, none of them really sounding that good, until we thought about the oven. It has plenty of space and would be able to make sure that there was no leftover moisture in the bottles. We set it for 185 degrees so that it wouldn’t be too hot for the glass but would still sterilize the bottles while drying them out.

We were pretty proud of ourselves.

We still have a few days left before bottling, so we may have to do this sterilizing step again.

It’ll be in bottles so soon!

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Conviction Vs. Conversation

A lot of good conversations were had this weekend.

One that I came to several times on long rides was the idea of how one presents one’s opinion.

I’ve noticed that, no matter what the topic is, if a person is presenting their opinion as the verified, unquestionable truth, I have a really hard time not becoming really cynical. Whether or not I have any disagreements with the claims, I want there to be room for disagreement and discourse. I do this, too, and I’m sure one of the reason’s it bugs me so much is because it’s one of my faults that I’m confronted with through interactions with others. One particular conversation with one particular woodworker gave me some insight into what might be behind this conviction for a lot of people.

Lack of confidence.

If someone doesn’t feel confident in what they’re saying, they may feel a need to validate their statements by convincing other people. The fear of their own doubt so much that they need to convince themselves by gaining approval from others. Sometimes this can come through in intimidating ways, making the audience feel like they’ll be judged if they don’t agree. Sometimes it can be presented as a helping hand, reaching out to someone who is struggling by offering advice.  The second case can be especially toxic, since the advice in this case would be more about sorting out the first speaker’s personal issues that it is about actually helping the listener. I’m not saying that everyone needs to have the right answer to everyone else’s problem all the time. That’s impossible. I’m just pointing out that an awareness of whether you’re helping them to help them, or helping them to help you.

No one quite has it right and leaving room for discourse doesn’t mean abandoning your beliefs.

There’s only room for gain.

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