• Category Archives pioneer arts
  • The old-timey things we do, like brewing, cooking in the wood-fired oven, or Anne’s spinning/knitting projects.

  • Brew Day, Soap Day

    Happy Birthday, Joni Mitchell! Seventy five years old today. WXPN has been playing her albums in full, along with singles and a bunch of covers.

    Meantime, today is brew day. We’re making a Roggenbier, a style of German rye beer that became extinct with the coming of the beer purity laws at the end of the Middle Ages, and has only been resurrected withinin the last few decades; we’re also kegging that Pale Ale we made a few weeks ago. There has been much heating and cooling of liquids, and much cleaning of pots, kegs, glassware and other items and, in the middle of all this, we also made laundry soap — we ran out yesterday.


  • Brew Day

    The Hershey Half Marathon is tomorrow. Neither of us is doing it, but a number of Anne’s nieces and nephews are, and Heather & Bruce are coming to visit today so they can be closer to Hershey for tomorrow morning’s drive. It’s still pretty far, they could have found somewhere closer I’m sure, but we’re also brewing today (we’re doing our Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale clone) and they want to learn the process. They should be here in about an hour, and the brew stuff is all set up in the backyard. Of course Anne is cooking up a storm.

  • Science!

    Morning weigh-in: 189.5#, 13.0% BF

    “Science!” — that’s what I yelled in the kitchen this morning, after taking the final gravity of our new brew. It came in at 1.006, which means that our beer is probably about 2.1% ABV. Not exactly deadly, but it definitely tastes good. It should be ready to drink within a few days.

    My next task is to clean up the brewing equipment in the basement, maybe do a trainer ride, and get the 5010 ready for a snow ride tomorrow.

  • Bad-Ass Brewing

    Morning weigh-in: 189.5#, 14.5% BF

    Anne asked me to use that title… We brewed yesterday, and since we brewed outside, and it still gets dark early, and we got a late start, we ended up brewing “into the night” last night. Not that deep into the night, we were done by 8:30 but the steam rising into the dark from our brew pot was pretty damn cool.

    We’re making an oatmeal stout, one we’ve made before, a clone of  “Navish’s Oatmeal Stout” from that Best of Brew Your Own compendium. I’d never even heard of this particular beer outside our recipe, so I don’t know how true to the original it really is, but we loved it when we made it last year for Christmas. We strayed this time from the recipe as written though, mainly by not following instructions closely enough — our oats went into the mash rather than the boil, oops — and we also deliberately hopped it up a bit more than the original recipe. The wort tasted great (if a bit hoppy, oops), and though the original gravity was only 1.022 (indicating to me either a lack of sugar, thus likely a low final alcohol content, or a mis-calibrated hydrometer), the beer is actively, happily fermenting  away just a few feet from me right now.

  • A Little Deeper Into The Process

    We just kegged our latest batch of beer, a rye IPA recipe called “Denny’s Favorite.”  It’s also one of mine…

    Listening: “Matty Groves” by Fairport Convention

    Anne and I have both become more interested in our brewing, and we broke out the hydrometer for this batch. This measures the specific gravity (density as compared to the density of water): you measure the specific gravity before and after fermenting, and the difference between original gravity (OG) and final gravity (FG) corresponds to the difference in density between the sugary pre-ferment wort, and the beer after the sugars have been converted to alcohol. Plug these into a formula to get the amount of alcohol in the beer: we got an OG of 1.040 when we brewed a few weeks ago, and today our FG was 1.006, so our new batch is about 6.5% alcohol by volume. It should be carbonated and ready to drink in about a week, but other than a taste test we’ll probably save it for Sarah’s birthday party.

    Listening: “Cello Song” by Nick Drake

    But that sent me on a voyage of Internet discovery, which led me to issues like calculated vs measured beer gravities — and how do you calculate the gravity? You do it by looking at the potential sugar supply of the malt in your recipe, adjusted for the efficiency of your brewing process, and the “attenuation,” or sugar-converting power of your yeast, and how do you do all those things?

    Listening: “Galileo” by the Indigo Girls

    Well, now I know how, but these all come more into play when you are trying to create a beer recipe; since we usually just follow recipes we don’t really need to know these things — measuredOG and FG are fine for our purposes, and that’s our one step deeper into the process.

    We are now waiting for Emmi & Kyle, and Ben (with possibly Candace) to arrive for our Christmas visit — we’ll be having the chili I made the other day, and tonight is the CAT Christmas Lights night ride, which had been rained out on Saturday.

    Listening: “Watershed” by Vienna Teng

  • A Thanksgiving Miracle

    So, flash back to several days ago: Anne was cooking things in the oven, and they were just going …wrong: bread was burning, cakes were coming out uneven, the oven was just acting funny. A quick check with the thermometer and she confirmed that the oven’s thermostat was malfunctioning, and a look inside the oven showed one side wasn’t even firing. Our oven was on the fritz.

    Our oven was on the fritz, that is, three days or so before we hosted Thanksgiving. Maybe it’s just the thermostat, but the last time the repairman came out (to fix the thermostat if I remember correctly), he said we needed a new oven — if we even got a repairman out before the holiday we would probably not be able to get parts,  much less a new oven, in time. A turkey, a ham, many side dishes and pies and cakes, and 17 guests coming — what to do?

    Well, first we panicked, but then Anne did a bit of research and we decided to cook the turkey in the wood-fired outdoor oven — the wonky indoor one, with some supervision, would work well enough for the (pre-cooked) ham as well as those side dishes that couldn’t be repurposed to range-top cooking, and guests would bring plenty of their own food. The only real hit would be the extra work of starting and running the fire.

    This mostly fell to me, and was a two day process. We got up early Wednesday and I got a fire going, and fed it periodically during the day while doing other prep chores. This fire was just a pre-heat to get some temperature into the core thermal ballast; all we cooked on Wednesday was the pizza we had for dinner. A little measurement told us the whole turkey, with a pan big enough to cook it, wouldn’t fit in the oven, so Anne split the bird in half as part of the prep, while I got the fire going again Thursday morning. At around 900 degrees we put the bird in to brown, then we put it back in again when the temperature was down around 500. It cooked in just under two hours, and it came out fabulous. Everything else was awesome too, and the whole day was a fun success.


  • From An Old Family Recipe

    I caught a cold in Canada, which seemed to be get better before it really settled in — D’oh! — so I’ve been indoors the past two days, just feeling out of sorts and sniffly. I spent most of yesterday studying up on graphing in R, but since we’re out of laundry soap I thought I’d go the other direction today and make a batch. (Anne left the ingredients in the kitchen, I took it as a hint.) Here is the recipe:

    DIY Laundry Soap Recipe

    • 2/3 of a bar Lye or Fels Naptha Soap
    • 1 cup Borax
    • 1 cup Washing Soda
    • Medium-sized pot or saucepan, and a 2-gallon (or bigger) bucket

    Grate the soap, then put it in the saucepan with 6 cups of water and heat it until it melts. Add the washing soda and the borax, keep heating until they dissolve, then remove from heat.

    Add 4 cups of hot water to the bucket, then add the soap mix and stir. Add another gallon plus 6 cups of water, stir again, and let it sit and gel for 24 hours.

    And… voilà! In basically the time it took to write this, I made a year’s supply of laundry soap for like two bucks.

    Note that this is double the concentration of the original recipe, so while it’s OK for HE washers (it contains no “sudsing agents”), you should only use the amount your washer recommends.

    So anyway, Musikfest starts tonight. We should be able to hear it happening from the porch, but we may also head down to check out the festivities if I’m feeling festive.

  • Dog Day

    Posted on by Don

    We’re in the middle of the first real heat wave of the season — we went from “you could probably get away without a light jacket, if you’re in full sunshine” last week, to our third day of cloudless upper nineties — so of course we’re spending the day brewing! Of course, we’re also doing it outside, so the house at least is not like an oven, but it still is a hot sweaty operation on a warm day.

    We are making a clone of Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale, one of our favorites and, strangely enough, one we brewed almost exactly one year ago today.

    Other than that, there’s not much else on the agenda. I’m about halfway through George Saunders’s Lincoln in the Bardo, which I started yesterday after Anne finished it (in two days). Really weird and intense, a compelling creepy page-turner and that’s all I’ll say about it now, except to say that you should also read it.


  • Captain Beefheart

    We were at the Allentown Farmer’s Market the other day, and Anne bought half of a beef heart.

    There was a heart for sale at the butcher shop a few weeks ago, and she was so intrigued she asked the butcher what you’d do with one (he recommended pickling it). She was going to buy it right then and there, but the look of horror on my face stopped her in her tracks. Fast forward a few weeks, and this time I guess I wasn’t paying close attention…

    beef heart
    Cleaning the heart before cooking.

    When we got home she washed the heart off and slow-cooked it for a few hours, letting it simmer with a bunch of spices — the house smelled awesome — and when it cooled she cut the heart into chunks, put it in a pickling brine, and put it in the fridge.

    Pickled Beef Heart
    Pickled Beef Heart

    It was ready to eat after a day or two, but we needed to work up our courage — we ended up trying it when we got home after an evening out. It was shockingly good, with a very strong steak taste behind the pickling, and a similarly steaklike texture (but no marbling). I think the both of us were surprised, and it’s now one of my favorite cuts of meat. Who knew?

    The ancient ones, that’s who…

    Sliced Pickled Beef Heart
    Sliced Pickled Beef Heart

  • Another Rest Day, Another Brew Day

    Posted on by Don
    Home-brew beer boils on outdoor burner.
    The second boil for our Berliner Weisse, on our new outdoor burner.

    Yesterday was another long ride, so today was another rest day, and today we did our second boil for the new batch of Berliner Weisse we’re brewing.

    (Our method: We do the mash as usual, e.g. strike and sparge, and after a very short boil we cool the wort and pitchLactobacillusfor a preliminary fermentation.Lactobacilluseats sugar and produces lactic acid; it’s the bug that turns milk into yogurt, and it gives a clean tart taste to sour beers. After a few days its job is done, and we perform a second, 60-minute boil, the “real boil” which in addition to killing the Lacto is where we toss in the hops. After that comes the regular yeast-based fermentation to convert the remaining sugar to alcohol.)

    We were a little surprised and disconcerted when we opened the pot with the wort: it had a nasty off-odor, very much like cooked corn, and it didn’t look as clean as the last batch. Fortunately, I’d read that this particular odor — an indicator of dimethyl sulfide — is common in certain types of beers if they’d been cooked but not thoroughly boiled, and is easily driven off with a longer boil. Like the one were about to do…

    We’d done the strike-and-sparge on Monday, along with making a batch of a Bell’s Two Hearted Ale clone, using an outdoor propane burner borrowed from Keystone Homebrew. That worked out so well that we bought our own on Tuesday when we returned the loaner, and today was our new toy’s maiden voyage. Everything worked out great, the off-odor was driven off pretty quickly, and after cooling the wort we pitched the yeast. Both beers are now in carboys in the kitchen.

    Homebrew beer ferments in jugs.
    Our latest brews fermenting away in the kitchen.