Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Sun Tea

I like using old-fashioned tricks in the kitchen and occasionally coming up with a few of my own.  One of the old ones I rediscovered from my childhood is sun tea.  It's tea brewed using the heat of the sun so it's perfect here in Arizona.  The recipe is super simple, too.

Utensils

For equipment, I use a translucent one gallon pitcher, but an opaque pitcher should still work if it's dark enough to absorb sunlight.  The only other piece of equipment is a patch of ground that stays sunny all day.  Moving the pitcher around to keep it in the sun through the day is also an option.  A spoon can help stir in sugar.

Ingredients

I use eight teabags and one cup of sugar for a one gallon pitcher.  Select an inexpensive generic black tea due to needing so many.  While I prefer eight teabags per gallon, the strength of the tea can easily be adjusted.  I also add one cup of sugar after the tea has brewed but that can also be adjusted for taste.
Oh yeah, making sun tea also needs a gallon of water.  Tap, filtered, or bottled is all fine.  Obviously, if your tap water is undrinkable you'll need a gallon of bottled water.

Process

Fill the pitcher with water and hang the teabags in the water.  Place the filled pitcher in direct sunlight.  If needed, move the pitcher throughout the day to keep it in the sun.  
In strong sunlight like summer in Arizona, the tea can brew in an hour.  In weaker sunlight, the tea may need to brew all day.  
After the tea has brewed, stir in sugar and put the tea away in a refrigerator.  Take it out and enjoy at regular intervals.  

Please drink responsibly.

Monday, November 10, 2014

(Mis) Adventures in Backyard Farming

I may not have a green thumb but I'm not the garden's grim reaper, either.  Last spring, I planted corn, beans, and squash together using "three sisters gardening."  It's the classic set-up of companion planting, using each plant's strengths to make a better yield.  The corn provides support for the pole beans which fix nutrients in the soil for the gourds which in turn provide ground cover.
All the seed packages said to plant right after the last chance of frost.  I'm in Arizona.  We almost never get frost here.  The problem for that time of year is that there's no water.  Because I'm in Arizona, I waited until the monsoon started in an attempt to reduce the irrigation needs.
It basically didn't work.

Waiting, I thought, left too little time for the crops to mature.  The corn never developed and there were no gourds.  As it turns out the pole beans did come in so I'll have fresh beans through the holidays and seed for next year.
Most of them are already dried, too.  Saves me that step.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Halloween 2014

Well, all the Halloween parties are over and it's time for my annual costuming article.  This year I went simple and formal, pairing a hooded cape and mask with my tuxedo.  Because of course I already had a tuxedo.  Like you do, you know.
The photo is blurry, not because it's a bad camera, but because it's a drunk photographer.

However, this year was a standout for great costumes.  Like this group of Disney villains.
Yes, Elsa.  We know which side she's on.
There's also this great Game of Thrones group.
George's next book is titled A Night of Booze and Vomit.
Books and movies with a large supporting cast make great group costumes.  Hunger Games is still a popular franchise with the next movie due out soon.
Again, it's not the camera, it's the photographer. 
But dressing as the main character can work if you do a good job of it like this maverick.
Nailed it.
There's also these folks.  I can't place where I know their costumes from.  Some old science fiction movie or something, I think.
Come to the Dark Side.  No reason.  Just, you know, if you want to hang out.
One last picture that wasn't too blurry to use.  I think Marvel needs to call him up.
Yes, that's Doctor Strange and Cleo.  Consider that movie advertised. 
Well, that's it for this holiday.  Next year's costume will either require a morphsuit or gundam armor; haven't decided yet.  Stay tuned to find out.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Blow Off

I said I'd be back with new homebrewing definitions and this situation brings on some very colorful vocabulary.
Let me set the scene.  You've just poured a batch of must into a carboy to ferment and gone off to do something else, like write articles on Blogger.  When you return to your brewery some time later, you discover that the fermenting process has knocked the airlock off the top of the carboy and spilled a peach concoction all over the kitchen floor.  Yeah, that just happened to me.
Sometimes yeast gets very active and the wort or must can expand in the early hours of fermentation.  It's a desired effect in its own way but it works better for rising bread than brewing beer, wine, or mead.  It signals that fermentation is happening and the yeast are awake and getting down to work.
There are a few methods for dealing with blow off.  To start with, leave some head space in the carboy.  Don't fill it too full with wort or must.  That will leave the brew some room to expand into before reaching the airlock.  Experience will tell you where the fill line is for a particular recipe in your equipment.  Additionally, most carboys come with both an airlock and blow off tubing.  To use the tubing, sanitize it with the rest of your brewery gear and install one end in the stopper in place of the airlock and sink the other end under water.  A reserve of sanitizing solution can be held back for this purpose or plain tap water can be used.  You just need to ensure that the hose acts like the airlock and only allows CO2 out, keeping out air and foreign bacteria.
Within a few days, the yeast will settle down and won't be forcing any more material out through the hose.  You can replace the hose with the airlock assembly at this point.  Good luck!

Please drink responsibly. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Peach Puree

I made up a new batch of mead.  My first batch, which was a short mead meant to be consumed right after brewing, was a melomel style, honey with any fruit, in this case oranges.  It just misses qualifying as a pyment, which is honey with white or red grapes; I used California raisins with the oranges.   Second batch used almost the same recipe as the first, just in larger quantity.  Actually, it ended up being almost a bochet, which uses caramelized honey.  You see, I had let the honey crystallize and had to turn it back into liquid in a double boiler; that almost didn't go well.  Also, I swapped out the raisins in favor of blackberries, pushing the recipe towards a bochetomel.
This new batch is a complete departure from the citrus-fed bread yeast of the past.  I am using real champagne yeast, for one thing.  That is definitely going to change the flavor of the end product.  It's still a melomel mead, using peaches as the fruit.
Oh, this one has been an adventure.  It takes a while to ship twelve pounds of honey anyway, but when your order also includes a new recipe kit by famous actor and internet personality Wil Wheaton, well, things get delayed.  Parallel to that, I had ordered 25 pounds of peaches from a food coop and when the honey and yeast didn't arrive alongside the peaches, I had to scramble to slice and freeze the fruit.  Eventually, all the ingredients were present but then thawing the peaches made a mess due to cheap plastic bags.
Here's where the title comes from.  In the middle of laying up the must, I decided to run the thawed peach slices through the blender to make them easier to pour into the carboy.  For next time, I think I'm going to puree the fruit first before freezing.  I could also can the slices to preserve them that way, in case I don't get all the ingredients together at the same time again.
Anyway, this peach melomel will be a short mead and I'll write a follow-up on my impressions when it's done fermenting in a few months.  There's a few other varieties I want to try out in the future.  Being so close to Hatch, N.M., a capsicumel is a definite must try.  I'd also like to try fermenting a braggot, a morat, and maybe even an intentional bochet.  I have a few rose bushes in the yard so a rhodomel is also an option.  Keep brewing.  Salud!

Trademarks are properties of their respective owners and are used as examples only, without endorsement or commercial consideration.  Please drink responsibly.  

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Must You

I've been brewing again recently, laying up a melomel.  That's a type of mead made with honey and fruit.  If I reserve some for aging, the aged mead is a great or long mead as opposed to the short mead consumed immediately after brewing.  That aging could be years.
Knowing some of the terminology lets you follow conversations and recipes a lot easier.  I've seen many recipes where they just assume you know all their jargon and use that to weed out the people who aren't "serious" about joining them.  I worked in IT so I've seen that garbage my entire career.  Here's some definitions to get you on top of the curve.
Malt is the roasted and boiled grains used to make beer.  Extract kits turn the malt into a syrup to make things easy for beginners.  I use extract kits and may never start brewing with all-grain recipes.
Hops are flowers that add spice and flavor to beer.  They also preserve beer which is why so many craft recipes and IPA style beers are so hoppy.  IPA was a style brewed in England and shipped to their colonies in India, hence the name India Pale Ale.
Wort is unfermented beer.  It's the malt, hops, water, and maybe spices but no alcohol because yeast hadn't worked on it yet.  Must is unfermented wine or mead.  Water, fruit and or honey but again no alcohol.
Yeast normally comes in packets of emulsified live yeast bacteria.  It looks like granules.  The granules are broken down and release the yeast by soaking in warm water.  This is called proofing and gets the yeast ready to turn wort or must into beer or wine.
Brewers need to ensure that only the yeast they've bought get to participate in fermentation.  They use special chemicals to wash and sterilize their equipment.  The washing process may be abbreviated as CIP, or clean in place.  Alternatively, the brewer could let wild bacteria ferment the wort or must and call the resulting product lambic but using unknown varieties of bacteria like that makes it hard to be consistent from batch to batch.
Lees are the tired and dead yeast plus fruit, hops, grain, or whatever left in the bottom of the carboy after fermentation.  The carboy is the glass or plastic jug that the fermentation happens in.  Racking moves the fermented product into another carboy and leaves the lees behind to be washed away or composted.
That's most of the jargon which slowed me down when I didn't know the definitions.  I'll bring you more definitions as I learn them.  Good luck!

Please drink responsibly. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Warband

Big Linux gaming news this weekend.  I turned on Steam to see a welcome announcement, that Mount & Blade: Warband is not only on sale right now, but also has a new Linux client and Workshop support.
A native Linux client for this popular Medieval RPG is great for Linux players like me.  Keeping the entire workflow of playing, recording, and editing on the same operating system should make things more stable.  I might use this as a launch point to begin recording and posting gameplay videos instead of just watching everyone else's and playing on my own.
Also, with Steam Workshop support in addition to the Linux client, players don't need to sort out mods with Wine anymore.  Players can just install compatible mods from the workshop.  
As these things usually go, I think we can expect Bannerlord, the sequel to Warband, to come out on multiple platforms when it is released.  That fraptious day may be a little further off, though.  I've heard the developer Taleworlds needs a new publisher after Paradox Interactive decided not to print this one.  
Regardless, this is a fun game and I look forward to conquering Calradia on my Linux gaming PC.