Sunday, December 31, 2006

Porter Fit For a Founding Father

I've just bottled my third five gallon batch of beer. Lest you think I'm going through an awful lot of beer since my birthday, let me point out a few things.
  1. A five gallon batch of beer usually works out to two cases plus up to six extra twelve ounce bottles. For some reason the Pumpkin Ale filled less than two cases, only about 20 24oz bottles instead of 24+. I think that I lost some of the nicest part of my wort by not draining the soggy pumpkin more thoroughly. Next time I will drain the pumpkin for an hour in the colander, then add that to the fermenter, then add the yeast. Yes, more time lapsed before adding the yeast can add to the possibility of contamination, but an hour isn't excessive, and I am good at working under sanitary conditions and avoiding cross contamination, probably because of my fiber dying and my science background. When you learn to cook from a father who's a chemistry teacher, you can't help but think to yourself "never return a re-agent to it's container" and resist putting the little bit of flour you didn't use to flour the cutting board and knead the dough back into the flour canister. But I digress.
  2. I need to start a new batch with enough of the old batch left to get me through two weeks or so of fermentation and up to two weeks of bottle conditioning before the new batch is ready to drink. I started the new porter when I still had a case or more left of the pumpkin ale. At this point I still have at least 6 24oz bottle of The Great Pumpkin Ale left. That's the equivalent of 2 six packs which would be enough beer for my consumption for at least 2 weeks.
  3. I have shared or given away a fair amount of homebrew. In fact, since I am finishing my fourth week of unemployment and have spent it going out to eat way too many times with out of town friends, I may be too broke to actually purchase ingredients for hummus or guacamole for the new years party we're going to tonight. Homebrew to the rescue!

So, on to the new brew! I love porters, which are rather hard to find. What better beer to brew than what you can't always buy? I do adore the new "Edmund Fitzgerald Porter" made by the Great Lakes Brewing Company but it's hard to find. They also make one called "Burning Lake" in honor of our own Lake Erie.

My very first one gallon batch of beer was a porter kit, and it was fantastic. It didn't list exact amounts of ingredients provided, or what kind of hops, so I found a recipe which used many of the same ingredients in an effort to come close.

The recipe, which I modified only a little from my recipe book, is for a molasses porter made in honor of a porter made by a Mister Hare of Philadelphia. The actual recipe does not seem to have been preserved, only the letter from George Washington requesting that there be some ready for his visit to that city. So the brewers who wrote the book took the liberty of making their own recipe and naming it in honor of Mister Hare.

I'm getting better at using the graphics programs on my computer, and for the first time have managed to put the computer lettering onto my scanned-in drawing. I swear this took me longer to accomplish than knocking off the Stuart painting with water color pencils at my kitchen table. I have renewed respect for Chris and what he does every day in his job. The help file for the paint program is written with the idea that the user already knows how to use a graphic design program, or may have used an earlier version of this one, so it only tells you what's new for this version. I can't find definitions for any of the terms it takes for granted. I know damn well what a vector is in the real world, but since nothing on my screen is in motion, and there are no x and y coordinates given, and there is no graph present with an arrow on it, and they refuse to give definitions, I have no idea what these fools think a vector is. Can you tell I hate when people in other fields think they can redefine scientific terms to mean what they want them to mean? It all depends who's in charge, you or the word. Don't even get me started on the way people use the word theory in the vernacular. It's completely opposite of its proper scientific definition. This is part of why so much of the American public still can't grasp the fairly simple theory of evolution. Science education in this country is terrible. Don't get me started!

Anyway, take a look at my lovely new beer label. I'm quite proud of it and think it's the best one so far. I have high hopes for the beer behind each label too.

Marvel especially at the computer generated text right there on the bottom of the picture in the space I left for it.

I've started drawing my labels while the wort is in it's initial one hour boil, so it's a good use of that time and I'm busing thinking about beer then anyway. I just have to remember to get up every few minutes and stir. Like the last batch, this batch also boiled over and made a huge mess and had to be split into two pots in order to finish the boil with no further incidents. Apparently my big soup pot is too small even for a partial boil if I use any more than 3 lbs of malt extract. Since that last batch included an entire pumpkin, and this one used twice that amount of extract plus a cup and a half of molasses, not to mention more than a pound of grain before the boil, I have come to the conclusion that my soup pot just ain't gonna cut it. Now I have a big canning pot I use for dying that would be perfect, but making beer in a dye pot is a good way to poison your family. Don't do it! If you do, don't you dare come sue me after you get your stomach pumped. I just told you in writing not to. So there.

Anyway, I checked a few thrift shops for more canning pots (that's where I originally got my dyepot) but there were none to be had. Then I went into Big Lots in kind of a funk after trying on bras (if I get the 34d, I have to make sure I don't accidentally buy a minimizer*, if I get the much easier to find and almost the same size 36c, I have to carefully search the rack to find one that's not a push-up bra. Can someone tell me why there's no inbetween? Why I can't buy a bra that provides support without the intention of changing size?) and there in Big Lots, with a sort of heavenly glow surrounding it, was a 20qrt stock pot for only $9. Now, I sometimes get a little lost in the English system of measure, but I can see that the 20qrt pot is almost twice as tall as my soup pot, and I'm pretty confident that I've calculated 20 qrts to be much bigger than 2 gallons, and therefore perfect for boiling two gallons or so of wort without boiling over. A 20 qrt pot should in fact be a 5 gallon pot if I'm right about the whole "quart" thing actually implying that a quart would be a quarter of a gallon. I'm still not sure about pints. If they're half a quart (which is what I'm pretty sure they are) why can't they be called an eighth? Ok, I've just remembered, in our system eighths are only for measuring pot, not pots, even though if I understand the Arlo Guthrie song correctly, really large quantities of pot are measured in kilos. Maybe because they come from countries that use the metric system? Glad I'm not a drug dealer, this is needlessly complex.

This is also the first time I've reused labeled bottles from previous batches. When I've reused bottles from commercial beer, it's been a real pain to soak off the labels--at least from the American beers. English beer labels come off more easily. Apparently American beer companies use stronger glue on their labels because Americans like to keep their beers ice cold in coolers full of ice at picnics. My homebrew labels came right off within 30 seconds of soaking in warm water and sanitzer because I applied them using a brilliant bit of advice, also from the recipe book--glue them on with milk. I brushed milk on the back of each label with a pastry brush and stuck it on the bottle. It stays on in the case and in the fridge, it comes off with no hassle when it's time to bottle the next batch. Brilliant!

That's what's in the little teacup, milk! I love little tricks like this. It's like when I learned you could spit-splice wool yarn to join a new ball. Brilliant, and less sewing in of ends when it's done.

There was one problem with the pumpkin ale, which I'd like to mention. The yeast seemed underactive. I didn't feel like the specific gravity was down as far as it should have been when fermentation was over, and even though I bottled over a month ago, the beer never fully carbonated. The first few bottles were hardly carbonated at all, so I put the remaining bottles on my radiator, thinking the process might just be going slowly in my 65 degree apartment. That did help, and I'll probably do it will any batch I brew in cold weather, but while the ale finally tastes right, it still doesn't pour with a head. I'd describe the few larger bubbles on top as looking more like dishwater bubbles. Now I opened one of the porters yesterday even though they were just bottled a few days ago, and it had a head! A nice creamy head with very small bubbles, much like what a Guinness draft has by the time it's been brought to your table. This leads me to believe that the problem with the pumpkin ale might not be temperature, or something wrong in the brewing process, but just a bum batch of yeast. I used a different brand for the porter to test if this was the case, and I think my results confirm that it was. I'll have to look at the bum yeast packet again at the brew store to see if it's meant for higher temperature summer brewing, but I think it may just have been a little old or otherwise flawed. They're living organisms, so of course yeast would vary from batch to batch, and lose quality over time. I may avoid that brand in the future.

I started keeping a beer journal as soon as I began this process, so that I can keep track of things like batches that don't carbonate. It's a good practice so I can look back over old recipes and use the information to improve future ones. I do the same thing with my dying. It's even easier with the dye book because I can keep a sample with the dye formula attached and use it for a launching point if I want to make a similar color later. And of course in both cases I can also keep track of mistakes or less successful outcomes with the hopes of avoiding them in the future.

Since Mr. Hare's Porter is already so well carbonated, I think I'll bring some of both it and The Great Pumpkin Ale to tonight's party. Drink up party goers, and Happy New Beer to all!

*When I spell-checked this entry, "minimizer" wasn't in the dictionary, so blogger suggested that I might have meant to write "moneymaker" instead. Definately changes the meaning.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Merry Christmas everyone! These are the only snow flakes we'll see in Buffalo this year, but we can still enjoy the feast!

Happy Christmas to you and yours, and a safe and happy new year!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Stuff's Getting Done

I've noticed that my interest in a project seems to peak somewhere in the middle, and then taper off drastically until at the end I never even mention what I'm finishing. So in an effort to show that I do finish what I start, I present to you an array of recent knitting, all finished.
I used to donate hats gloves and mittens to various charities through the Rochester knitting guild. The organizations that received these donations were always very grateful, but usually added a shy request, "The colorful hats you ladies knit are really very nice, but our male clients would really like just plain black." Every year I try to do at least one of these to donate. I always use superwash wool, because I know from my own experience walking around Buffalo in winter that wool is way warmer than acrylic, and I'm guessing that someone who's situation is less than ideal is pretty unlikely to be able to handwash their hat, mittens, etc. I love the technology of machine washable (superwash) wool, and can't understand why so few of my local yarn shops stock it.

The hat is a basic watch cap knit in brioche stitch. Usually brioche is knit flat, which is what was done in the original pattern I used, but I hate putting seams places where they're not needed, and in the case of a hat, the seam usually shows when the bottom is turned up. It's a little tricky to convert brioche to the round because of the odd sort of slip stitch it uses, but luckily someone published a pattern (in interweave knits, I think) in which they had modified it for stitching in the round, so I used their modification and made the hat.

Each Christmas the Salvation Army makes it possible for businesses and organizations to "adopt" a family whose circumstances have left them unable to afford Christmas presents for each other or a big Christmas dinner. This year the theatre adopted a family with four young children, so a co-worker and I decided to knit mittens for all of them. My two pair are for two boys, ages 3 and 5. I used a free mitten pattern I found at Afghans for Afghans. I like to use my full arsenal of knitting techniques to make each project, even the simple ones, as nicely made and finished as possible. Whenever I make something that starts with ribbing I always "cast on in rib" as I did here, which is why the bottom ribbing sits so nicely and does not flair. I also make sure that my ends are well worked in, especially in something like this which will be going through the washing machine (superwash wool again. I love that stuff!)
My pal Charlie Horse usually just wears a tee shirt, but when I saw him during our freak storm in October, he looked awfully cold, so I knit him a new football sweater. He plays for UB where he is currently a student.I finished Chris's scarf while we watched Donnie Darko together on his birthday. He has been wearing it constantly since then, although I don't seem to have any photographic proof of that, so you'll just have to take my word for it. I had gotten a fair amount knitted on my wedding stole before I had to put it down to do the Christmas and birthday knitting. This picture is a great illustration of why blocking is so important, especially with lace. Take a look at how wobbly and dimensional the unblocked knitting is. Also, the lace pattern is hard to make out. Now look back at the second picture in this post. It shows the same lace pattern after blocking. Not only is it flat, but the lace pattern has been opened up so that you can see it clearly. It's also quite a bit larger after blocking. Washing and blocking are what makes a knitted fabric stop acting like a bunch of stitches and start acting like fabric.

At the moment I'm working on Mom's red birthday socks, but on the off chance that she looks at the blog before her birthday next month, I won't be posting any pictures of them until after they've been given. All the knitting blogs seem to have that problem right now! Also finished are the tatted snow flakes for this year, which I'll post pictures of after they've been given as gifts for Christmas.

There's a new batch of beer in the fermenter that I can bottle in about a week. I'll be writing about my recent beer adventures in an upcoming blog. The Great Pumpkin Ale will be served with Christmas dinner this year.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Some Photos

I just got my film developed, so here are some photos relating to previous posts. Toronto's fabric/fashion district is marked by an interesting bit of sculpture. This giant thimble sits on the corner of Spadina and Queen St marking the beginning of the fabric district.

Back in September when we biked from Lockport to Rochester and back along the canal path, not only did we get to see the place where the canal goes over the road, but also the northernmost point of the canal. We plan to take a short honeymoon after getting married and before I go back to the opera for the summer riding another section of the canal. Maybe Rochester to Syracuse? Then after my contract is over we may have time to do Syracuse to Little Falls. That would leave Little Falls to Albany as the last leg.

An ice storm and power out are a good chance to figure out what you can do without electricity. We picked apples for Chris's Mom and myself. After the power came back on Chris and I baked pies.

Chris pealed, cored, and sliced the apples with the cool little gizmo while I made the crust and mixed the sliced apples with sugar and spices.

Rusty sat under Chris's chair waiting for fallen apple peels until we took pity on him and gave him his own bowl of peels.

Pontius Pilate

Here he is in all his evil Roman glory: Pontius Pilate. Don't think that the crowd forced some nice civil servant into crucifying Christ, from all other accounts of him, Pilate was brutal, even by Roman standards. According to James Carroll in Constantine's Sword: the Church and the Jews, "Even by the standards of brutal Rome, Pilate seems to have been savage. When, six or so years after the death of Jesus, he wantonly slaughtered Samaritans for gathering to venerate Moses on a sacred mountain they associated with him, Pilate was recalled to Rome."

The puppet really captures that, don't you think? His chest is hollow behind his gold decoration, and he is without arms until the puppeteer's bare arm slithers out to snatch the pearl Artaban offers him to free Shamir. He's all draping fabric, gold decoration, and hollow framework.

(Ok, I don't know why blogger is refusing to display the entire picture, but if you click on it you should be able to see it full sized in another window. Sorry about that.)


I don't often talk about work when I'm not there. I figure most folks aren't really interested in the nuts and bolts and dull details of making costumes when they could get a couple of tickets and see the finished product on stage being worn by actors who are talking about something much more interesting. The show I just finished building before Thanksgiving is an exception to that rule because, well, puppets!

Each December almost every Regional Theatre in America does a Christmas or holiday show. When I lived in Rochester that meant six consecutive years of Christmas Carol. Thankfully, when I moved to Buffalo I was saved from Dickens. Studio Arena picks a new play each December, and in fact couldn't do Christmas Carol if it wanted to, because another theatre down the street already does Christmas Carol every year, and well, what city needs two? On the same block? There are other community theatres, etc, that also produce it, but they're miles away.

This year's Christmas offering is based on the teleplay of a TV movie produced in the eighties which was based on a short story written by Henry Van Dyke over 100 years ago. In fact, you can read what is apparently the entire short story on the internet at this website, so I won't go into a synopsis. Just go read it. I'll wait here.

Ok, if that was too long, the gist of it is that Artaban was to set out with the other wise men in search of the messiah, but fell behind because he stopped to help someone, and spends the next thirty three years searching for Jesus, but missing him and using the jewels he had intended to give him helping the other people he finds in need along the way.

The adaptation written for Studio Arena is very theatrical in presentation. The story of Artaban is being told by peddlers, apparently recent converts to Christianity (then called "the way") in 68 AD. They tell it secretly because by this time The Way is seen by Rome as separate from Judaism, which was marginally protected, and Nero has just blamed the early Christians for the fires that ravaged Rome. Yes, those fires, the ones he fiddled through.

Anyway, the peddlers have traveled along the silk road through India and back , and use theatrical traditions they picked up along the way, including shadow puppets and almost life sized bunraku style puppets. These puppets are controlled by one to four puppeteers who are also visible behind them. The puppets were designed and built by Michele Costa, an amazing local puppeteer who has brought puppet shows to schools as well as art galleries and the Buffalo Fringe Festival. She received a Henson Award a few years ago. If you look down the listings of awards that year, all the other recipients are from New York City or L.A. and then there's Michele's listing for Buffalo NY. Here work is totally amazing and worth catching next time you see her listed here. I hear that she has a website but I can't for the life of me find it. If anyone else can, please let me know so that I can post a link to it here.

On to the puppets!

As I said, Michele designed and made all the puppets. My shop dressed the puppets, and built the costumes for the puppeteers and human actors in the rest of the show. These are some of the puppets whose costumes I draped.

Shamir, who Artaban saves from slavery. Her head and both arms are controlled by puppeteers. You can see the sticks that move her forearms and hands sticking out the back of her sleeves.

Ann and her baby, whom Artaban saves from the slaughtering of the innocents. My friend Tessa, who came in as a second first hand and ended up taking over for the second draper, is standing in for one of her puppeteers. In Ann's case the puppeteer's arms go through Ann's sleeves and the puppeteer's hands become Ann's hands. This is actually how most of the puppets are operated. The puppeteer who works Ann's right hand also operates the baby puppet, whose arms and head both move when he/she cries.

Tessa--I have magi photos for you!

Passhur is a blind man who can't be healed by Artaban ( a physician as well as magi) but comes back to Artaban after he has been healed by Jesus. This puppet has no legs because he is tied onto his puppeteer at the waist, so that the puppeteers legs become the puppet's legs.

Because blogger is consummately unhelpful, as I was deleting unwanted text, the photo of Pilate was also deleted, and apparently "undo" is a lie. Blogger has refused to reload the photo into this post, so the nasty Roman governor will have to have his own post. Also, I ran out of film before getting all of the puppets, and may post a few more after I get the next roll developed.

If you're in the area and want to see the show, it runs every day but Mondays through the 22nd. Check out Studio Arena's website for details.