Ramble On

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Short Ribs

Ever since they were featured at the Page County Grown Farm-to-Table Dinner in 2012, I have wanted to learn how to cook short ribs.  They're just a tasty and satisfying cut of meat, very much a comfort food.  The challenge is cooking them low and slow to bring out the flavors.

I got a nice pack of short ribs from Skyline Premium Meats at the last farmers market in the fall.  With the weather staying in the frigid range this weekend, I decided to give them a try with our slow cooker in Alexandria.

After Googling a recipe, I braised the ribs.  Then I put them in the crook pot, cooking them on high for 7 hours.  Besides the local beef, I used a cup of home canned stewed tomatoes (I still can't remember who shared these with us, but they were delicious!), and two cups of Wisteria's Norton wine.  Any on-line recipe will list the other necessary ingredients.

They came out great - I plated them on some mashed potatoes and served brussel sprouts on the side.

Here's a link to that 2012 Farm-to-Table menu.  Just a reminder of great things to come next summer!

And hey, here are links to our two Page County Grown Farmers featured in this meal!


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Visiting the Pigs - T minus 19 days

Pigs rooting for spent grain.
A lot of home brewers use their spent grain as compost for their vegetable gardens, to bake with, or sometimes, depending where they live, they'll give it away to local farmer to supplement livestock feed.  I texted David and let him know I was planning to come by with a few pounds of spent grain and wanted to feed it to our pigs, if it was okay - he said it was.

His text ended with, "I'd be interested in your thoughts on the weight."

So, off we went to Public House Produce to check on the swine.  I knew I had a treat for them in the moist, sweet, cracked barley that is left after the mash.  They saw me drive up, and moved to the corner of the pasture where I would be coming from.

I walked up greeting them and they barked a little, I think because they realized at last that I wasn't David.  I held my buckets up close to the fence so they could get a whiff - and they were definitely interested.  I wanted to get them around to the other side of the pasture so I could work with the light to take a few photos to share, and they followed me around.

Fine swine.
When I dumped the grain out, they weren't sure about the fast movements I made, so they balked.  Soon enough they figured it out, and there was a smacking good time going on.  The sweets provoked a few tussles as well - so I was careful to dump the second bucket a little farther away and in two batches to give them all some room.

Once I reported back to David that they seemed to enjoy the treat, he asked again about the weight.  I told him I thought 220-230 pounds - these guys are pretty compact and muscular, it seemed to me.

Then he told me that Kevin Bacon is the smallest at 250 pounds (she is second from right in the first photos), and that the durocs (the two brown ones) are topping out at around 300 pounds!

Big pigs!

That's going to make for a tiring first day in a couple of weeks!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Dan's Double IPA

Here's the mash tun during the early stages.
We decided to take a three-day weekend out at Hawksbill Cabin.  There was an agenda, as we'd be meeting friends in Culpeper for dinner one of the days - and I needed to check on the pigs.  Then Dan told me he was planning to brew on Saturday, and that he'd be using a new recipe that involved 20 pounds of malt - a double IPA - so I decided I would make a stop over at Beaver Run Brewery and help out where I could.

Dan's been using the Beer Smith app to compile recipes - he has been brewing for years and the Flat Tale Ale recipe is pretty set.  Largely as a result of the brewers association, he has been adding a few ingredients to the mash, including rye, and using a step-mash technique to get as much out of the malt as possible.  This time, he was going for a double, and he queued up the app to list all the ingredients (I have a snap of that part of the recipe below).
Here's a portion of the recipe - hash marks are mine.

The step mash process is very effective, but there is a lot of extra time and detailed record-keeping involved.  It seems like, especially when you are brewing with this kind of quantity, you really do need a second set of hands in the brewery to help out with every thing.

We were checking mash temps and stirring the mash at intervals as everything progressed - it really was a demanding pace.  I know it will pay off with a high-quality brew though!

Since we are getting close to butcherin' season, I decided to save the spent grains for a trip to visit the hogs.  I'll post on that visit over to Public House Produce tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Home Brewery is Getting Out of Hand

My brew kitchen in the laundry room.  Such as it is.
Mary's been very tolerant of this brewing adventure.  She doesn't mind when I disappear for half a day when I go visit Dan's brew kitchen up the hill from Hawksbill Cabin.  She's gone so far as to buy me recipe books, or order gifts right from the Northern Brewer website.  And she doesn't mind that I have taken over half of the laundry room with equipment and supplies.

I should note that the beer shown in the photo is not all my product - only about half of what is on the counter there is beer, the rest are cleaned empties waiting for refills.  About half of the remainder is home brew, with the others there gifts from friends or neighbors or my own stash (I have hoarded a four-pack of Sierra's Hoptimum, for example).  There are also four cases of home brew bottle conditioning there on the floor below (along with four cases of new bottles).

For the first time since I started this hobby two years ago I have a brew calendar that stretches out to May - mostly still brewing extract kits, although I have begun piecing together my own recipes.  Here's what I have planned through May:

  • Super Saison - this is the Northern Brewer Saison de Noel, however, I am late for a holiday release and instead plan to release this in time for Super Bowl.
  • Honey Porter #4 - my fourth attempt at Honey Porter, this is the one I posted about yesterday.
  • Nut Brown Ale - I have been waiting for winter to brew this one, and it is next on my list.
  • Cascade IPA - I plan to brew a single-hopped IPA using Cascade hops.  Three ounces came from fellow brewer Bill out in Luray, grown in his backyard.  I'll dry-hop with an ounce of Willamette Cascade hops that Dan gave me.
  • Petit Honey Saison - Another variation on a Northern Brewer kit.
  • Honey Lavender Kolsch - I made this with the lavender tincture last year and it was very popular.  I'll brew it for an early May release this year.
  • Couer de Saison - this promises to be a light saison for June release.  It's a flyer for sure, as the kit includes the makings of a basic saison with grape juice added, to lighten it up and make it a beer-wine combo.  Skeptics get in line behind me.
Since this is getting out of hand, maybe it is time to think about moving on to all grain brewing.  That means I'll need to do most of the work outside on brew days, which is okay, but it also means I'll need more room, like the entire laundry room.  Mary and I talked about it, she wants a remodel.

Accompanying that move to all grain brewing will be an aggressive move to making my own recipes.  To help with that transition, I asked Mary to get me a book called Designing Great Beers (Amazon link below), to assist in the analysis and estimation of how ingredients will work together.  After the spring and summer brew calendar above is under my belt, I'll be ready for this next step.

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Second Porter

Here's a past batch of porter.
Nice traditional American dark beer!
Last month I wrote a post called “Two Porters” – I had bottled a version of honey porter and just brewed a second.  On Saturday, I bottled that second one, just in time as it turns out, because I have given away all of the other.  The brew cellar is still full, however; the batch of “Super Saison” is down there bottle conditioning as well.

In that post (dated 12/16/2013 if you’re interested in looking back for it) I mentioned that the second honey porter is actually an adjustment to a Pumpkin Spice Porter kit that I had bought in the fall and never brewed according to the recipe.  

Here’s a description:

This seasonal release autumn ale is the perfect companion to the changing season – from harvest to the holidays!  The recipe starts with Briess CBW Porter base extract partnered with caramel 90L, Carabrown and dark chocolate steeping grains.  To spice things up we added cinnamon, allspice and a hin of ginger.  The selected hop additions provide a mild balance in bitterness and this ale is fermented with Safale S-04 premium yeast.

Of course, I substituted Virginia Shenandoah Valley honey for the spice pack, following all the other directions in this kit.  The hops here are Northern Brewer and Willamette – these should combine for a mild hop flavor, although I read that the Northern Brewer may portend notes of black currant.  Oh, look at me ramblin’ again.

The recipe said this starts at approximately 1.060 O.G., and I read it as 1.019 when I bottled it Saturday.  That yields to 5.5% ABV, which is about where I like to see my beers come out.  So two weeks in the bottle and we’ll be ready to roll with this one!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

They're Omnivores Too, You Know

Sacked out pigs, all tucked in and warm out in the poke.
I was amused recently when a friend sent along a link to a New York Times article that featured Joel Salatin – he of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Food, Inc. fame – that described his new pork venture.  Mr. Salatin is famous because of his innovative, symbiotic approach to farming, which emphasizes the connections between the land and the animals.  To us city-folk, this is incredible, ground-breaking ag-science, but I suspect that if I were to head out to Page County and engage a friend or two on the topic they’d tell me this was just common sense.

Also, call it ironic or coincidental, I’d received an update on the status of our pigs earlier in the week.  The hogs are growing nicely, and putting about a pound on a week.  David’s had them out in pasture since October (I helped wrangle ‘em, by the way, link here:  http://hawksbillcabin.blogspot.com/search/label/Pig%20Wranglin%27).

So that is the point of my post – pasturing pigs isn’t new, but the popularity of this approach as a contrast to concentrated, industrial operations is.  My pig share is pastured, and I know those swine have a good life out there on the farm.  After three years of this, I’ve learned an element of the respect they deserve is to have a relationship with us – while I wouldn’t go as far as to climb in there and hug them (some do), I do enjoy seeing them in the field and am pretty happy to hear when they’ve been given names.

Incidentally, I’m told the four pigs this year are Kevin Bacon, Lucy, Stevie Yum Yum, and Jim Bacon. I’m not sure if that last one was named after me; if he was, I’m not sure I deserved the honor.  Their time is coming in a month or so, so they’ll continue living the good life out in their field for a little bit longer.

Now, Mr. Salatin’s strategy is to move herds of 50 or so pigs through his pastures and into the hardwood forests that he has retained on his 450 acres in the Shenandoah Valley.  If you want to know more about his methods, he’s got a video you can buy, although you have to get it directly from him – just search on “Polyface Farm” and “pigs.”

The New York Times story didn’t go so far as to talk about how he plans to process those herds of pigs, but for my pig share, I do know how that part of the story goes.  One cold February morning, a team of us will go out to the field and they’ll be dispatched.  Then we’ll haul them to the butchering shed and go to work on the carcasses for two days, emerging with all kinds of chops, roasts, sausage, ham, and bacon. 

That’ll be a fulfilling weekend, I don’t mind saying. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Seasonal "Super Saison"

Last year's batch.
Last year I brewed the Saison de Noel as my second or third batch of homebrew.  It’s an extract kit from Northern Brewer, designed to be a little stronger than some more typical Saisons, as described below:

Deceptively dark and beguilingly complex, this holiday specialty is brewed in the tradition of Belgian farmhouse ales.  Unlike most Saisons, intended to refresh and sustain farmers doing manual labor, this one is engineered to complement rich holiday fare and sustain you through long winter nights.  A generous malt bill with highlights of butter toffee, chocolate, dark fruit, and bread tangles with the earthy, spicy funk of Wyeast’s French Saison strain and a single addition of bittering hops to strike an evolving balance.

Now, it was an oversight on my part, but I used Safale S-04 instead of the Wyeast…I discovered my mistake after I transferred the beer into secondary and was recording the gravity reading.  I don't expect any poor effects, but it may have impacted how much fermentation occurred.  By the way:
  • O.G.:  1.070, 70 degrees
  • Interim:  1.020, 70 degrees
  • F.G.:  1.018, 68 degrees

I calculate approximately 7.1% ABV from this.

I bottled on Saturday, January 4, and plan to release this on January 24 – in time for the Super Bowl. 

And for that reason (not to mention the yeast oversight), I am calling it “Super Saison.”

Monday, January 6, 2014

Cabin Lore: Another Look at the Wirkkala Fixture

After the light fixture in our guestroom was featured in last month's Atomic Ranch, and I posted about it here, there were several requests for a better scan of the letter.  The purpose of this post is to oblige those requests - but I am also going to put up the scans from Mary's research into the auctions mentioned in Atomic Ranch's response to her letter. 
Here's the scan of Mary's letter to Atomic Ranch, and their response.
The response makes a reference to two auctions for similar fixtures, and Mary sleuthed them down.  I've taken the liberty of scanning her results and fusing them into images I can use on the blog.  The auctioneers' data is included for future reference - I know we get readers that share our interest in modern design, so these might be useful to them.

First, here is the Wright auction that was referenced:

The Wright auction features an image of a similar fixture, along with details of how they were signed.
We had a brief conversation with Kevin Thompson back in 2008 and asked him about the fixture.  He told us about his parent's enthusiasm for Scandinavian design, and thought they bought these from a Scan store in the 1960's.  He remembered the colored shades, and that the round bulb in ours was a replacement.

Here's the second auction from Quittenbaum:

Here's the Quittenbaum auction, which is probably a better depiction of what our fixture looked like.

It would be a real treat to see these in person - and it would be lovely if the original shades and all three bulbs had survived.  For one thing, they'd be valuable - since the auction estimates ranged from $600 to $3,000, back in 2008 and 2010.  

But that's how it goes.  Instead we have a great bit of Cabin Lore to enjoy!