Sunday, March 29, 2009

Our Family Garden Grows More Than Food

This picture doesn't look like much to most folks, but to our family it means soooo much. This land is where Sunny (and her two brothers grew up). To us, that garden patch -- especially the one to the right -- is healing ground. It is sacred. What grows there, grows more than food. It grows family.

That plot of soil is what remains of a nearly two-acre garden that grew on this land for almost a century in Dalton Gardens. Even that small plot went gardenless for nearly 20 years. Which began just about the time, I took my wife away from her parents.

But we got Sunny's parents to put it back into production last year. While it produced bumper crops of produce, it also helped to pull a family through the tragic loss of very close loved one. Before she passed, though, she got to help with the garden one last time; and one of her last full meals came from that right side of the garden.

It was such a healing force for my wife's side of the family, we decided to expand it this year. That is the patch to the left. We are going to put in two 12 x 4 foot raised beds behind the bean poles for salad greens, too. This is "Our Family Garden," but Sunny and I will also do one of our own at our place in Post Falls.
You can also see by the picture above that Sunny's father is putting up an electric fence to keep the deer out. We plan to get our cold crops in about mid-April this year. And Sunny is getting a jump start on the warm crops in her new green house this year, but I'll encourage her to blog about that later...

Until then, here is a quick picture to pique your interest.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Downside of Spring

Sorry about the crappy cell phone photos, but my kids killed the new camera batteries at a volley ball game last night. If you look hard though, you can see the down side of spring. Cars were filling up the parking lot of Black Bay Park this afternoon.

Yes, I know they pay taxes and it's there park too, but dang it sucks when the park gates swing open for the season. My dogs and I have the park pretty much to ourselves all winter except for a few sledders, but they never venture into the upper country. So that's where I take the pups to burn off some of their unbelievably high energy.

I just hate having to leash the dogs up while we are hiking up there. They hate it too, of course.
They especially hate it this time of the year when the marmots (not to be confused with a certain Brit that visits this blog) start coming out of hibernation. There were at least two of them in the rock slide to the left that kept the pups busy for awhile this afternoon. They don't harm them...they just chase them around like they chase our two house cats.

Last year the pups found a nest of baby marmots they were about four or five inches long and scurried all over the place. It drove the dogs crazy.

OK, now that I got the negative stuff off my chest, I have to admit that today was just beautiful. It was a perfect hiking day. There is hardly any lingering snow in the park. There was a little last weekend, but I hardly found any today. Finally, a little spring...

I think my pups felt the same way. It was all I could do to keep them out of the water. That's a picture of Buddy on the left. He kept running up the bank and finding sticks and pine cones for me to throw out in the water, but I didn't want him to get hypothermic he is still recovering from a poisoning last week, and he is doing great thank Goodness... but Vizsla short-haired pointers have virtually no insulation in their fur, and almost zero body fat, so they can get hypothermia much faster than most animals. Still, the way things looked today, it shouldn't be long until the dogs can get wet again.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Blow Off...

I promised to illustrate the power of beer gases in my blog post yesterday. Take a look at the picture on the left and then the picture that is under it. That is the fermentation process in action.

The top picture was shot right after I added the yeast to my Pilsner and Apple Lager (the half jug pictured on the far left was brewed last week and is in a secondary fermentation stage).
Those tubes you see are called "blow off tubes." One end is connected to the fermentation jugs, or carboys, and the other end is resting in a sterile iodine solution. Notice the dark color of the Pilsner in the top picture, and the amount of apples in the Lager.

Now check out the picture below. The blow off tubes are full of foam caused by the vast amount of CO2 that's generated at the beginning of the fermentation, and check out the color of the Pilsner about 6 hours later. That is the active yeast. Also notice the iodine solution is full of apples. That is the amount of force that is generated by the gases. It just blew those apples right out of the jug and into the bucket. It is a very aggressive process. The foam you see in the tubes is actually moving at about an inch per second, and that bucket is boiling with CO2 bubbles. Next time I'll try to shoot some video. It's pretty cool to watch.
You'll notice I put the Apple beer in a five-gallon oil pan just in case the tube gets clogged with apples and the pressure blows the tube out or breaks the glass container, which has been known to happen. I have never had a problem, but I don't want to be surprised, either.
I am excited about this Apple beer. The guy I bought a lot of my equipment from had an apple beer recipe that he wouldn't share. I found a bottle of it in a box of equipment he sold me and I gave it try. It was seriously out of this world. I would venture to say it was the best beer I have ever tasted.
Some of you have tried my Munich Lager, which is my attempt at a faux Stella Artois. It will be hard to imagine until you actually try an apple beer, but if can imagine a Fuji Apple flavor -- not like cider at all, but a crisp apple flavor -- on top of that faux Stella, but not over bearing at all. That's what I am going for.
I was trying to do the apple beer last weekend (that's what the jug on the far left is -- faux Stella without the apples), but I accidentally dumped my apples into a wheat beer that I was going infuse with Marion berries. Having already processed two pounds of berries, I went ahead and threw those into the wheat beer as well, so that will be an interesting beer. So far, I'm thinking it might be a wonderful mistake. It smells great. I just hope the flavors blend. I used a special yeast that should give the beer a ripe banana aroma and flavor, which I hope will compliment the berries... We'll see I guess.
I'll bottle those two beers this weekend, and a couple of weeks after that we should be good to go. Maybe we'll gather at Stickman's to try a couple.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

My first batch on the Blog...

I made another 10 gallons of beer this afternoon. Above, I am setup to start fermenting a nice European Pilsner. I have made this one many times. It's called Telepathy (that's a blog post for another time). It is my sister's favorite beer, and she doesn't drink beer. I hear that a lot when people first have the opportunity to try my beer. I get the usual: "I'm not really a beer drinker, so I'll pass, thanks."

But, if I can talk them into trying one glass of a handcrafted beer, they are always surprised by how much they enjoy it... I get a lot of credit, and sure I eat it up, but it's really not me that deserves the credit -- it is the yeast that doeth the works.

Sure, I pick the finest ingredients and follow a scientific process that provides the ultimate environment for yeast to do its thing, but when it's all said and done, it's the yeast that turned that water into beer -- not me.

That is the difference between a handcrafted beer and a can of Bud Light. Commercial processes for brewing beer in America have gotten away from the tradition of naturally fermenting beers. It's a shame because a handcrafted beer is alive with activity all of the time. Even after you have consumed the beer, the yeast is doing its thing. It is chock full of B-complex vitamins which I am convinced adds to the happiness of enjoying my beer...

But you have to be careful about eating fermentable sugars while consuming live beer, because within hours of ingestion, the yeast will start converting those sugars. When this occurs, the yeast produces CO2 in massive quantities. And that gas is going to to escape one way or another if you get my drift. My aunt Erma once ate a some blueberry pie after drinking a couple of a very young beers I made (young = very active yeast) and the result is legendary...

I'll post a couple of pictures to illustrate that effect later tonight... bet you can't wait for that one ;-)

I also did and apple-infused lager this afternoon. This is stepping a little outside of my comfort zone, but I did a lot of research. Hopefully it comes out OK. I haven't named it yet...any ideas?

This is a follow up to a mistake I made last weekend, but I blog more about that later as well.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The First Butter Cup

I shot this one on my cell phone this afternoon while walking the dogs at Black Bay Park. Spring is on. Next we'll be seeing the Osprey return.

I always look forward to the first butter cup. It's something that's hung with me from my childhood. The Cd'A Press used to have a tradition of running the a photo of the first buttercup, and I think they gave you a dollar, and coupon for a root beer float at A&W, or something like that.

When I was in fourth grade, my aunt Sandy got me hooked. She took me out hiking Best Hill in search of the the first buttercup. Sure enough, we found one and went down to the Cd'A Press to try and get our pictures in the paper, but we got beat by someone who came in that very same day.

So, I have been determined to find the first butter cup ever since. I think I won the Cd'A Press contest a couple of times over the years. I was paper boy, so I usually knew when the contest started before anyone else. I'd deliver my papers as early as possible and trek up to the top of the bald spot on Best Hill and get my flower.

Oh, and about the new blog. My wife and I are getting pretty serious about gardening, canning and brewing beer, and while we are not experts in any of those areas, we are actively studying to become experts, so we thought we would get out in the blogosphere and connect with others of similar interests.