Thursday, December 31, 2009

Merry Christmas 2009

This Christmas was our first as a family of three, and while a huge Christmas Day snowstorm changed our plans, we had a great Christmas this year.

Wednesday night (Dec 23) we had a bunch of our friends over for some pot luck dinner and treats. We've dubbed our little get-together as the "Christmas Soiree" and we'll have to do it again next year. Including us, we had 8 adults and 2 kids (Nathan at 6 weeks old and Mikey at 11 months) for dinner. Beth and I heated up some souffer's lasagna, and served up some of our homemade lefse and my apple wine. Our friends brought garlic bread, meatballs, salad, deserts, and other treats to enjoy. We had fun catching up with everyone and introducing them to Nathan.

Thursday was Christmas Eve, and the snow had started to fall. We had planned on going to Ben's Gramma's during the day, but the storm made that too difficult, so we got to stay home, get some extra sleep, and clear snow in the driveway. By lunchtime the roads weren't great, but were good enough to go visit the Hauglands. We spent the afternoon hanging out, eating some good junk food (cheese curds!), and watching movies. We had a good dinner and opened gifts, watched another movie, and went down the road to church for a Christmas Eve candlelight service which was very nice. Nathan slept through the entire service.

Nathan's cousins Payton & Alex crawling around on Christmas Eve:

Friday was Christmas Day and brought still more snow. We had planned on going to Ben's parents' that morning, but this was also cancelled due to all the snow. This however let us spend the entire day at home which was really relaxing. We slept late, and made waffles for breakfast. The rest of the day was pretty low-key while we lounged around the house, took care of Nathan, and cleared more snow from the driveway & sidewalks.

Our get-together with Ben's extended family at his grandma's house was re-scheduled for mid-day Saturday, and Nathan got to meet more of is extended family. We all got to exchange gifts and have some good food. It was to see everyone again.

Nathan with his Great-Grandma Helen, and everyone else:

From there it was off to his cousin Sammy's 2nd birthday party. Sammy celebrated his birthday in style, with a robot and space-themed party. While Nathan wasn't big enough to appreciate the party and the pinata, he got a goodie bag of stuff to bring home like the other kids. Nathan enjoyed being held by his grandpa Phil and watching the action:

Overall we had a great, busy, snow-filled Christmas. Once Nathan is old enough he'll really enjoy all his new stuff!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Ben's Nuts: A How-To Guide

For those of you who are not familiar, about 5 years ago I made a batch of sugar-coated roasted nuts to share at Christmas. I thought it would be fun to have a unique food gift to share with friends & family. I found a recipe that seemed simple and good, and tried it out. They were so popular I wasn't allowed to stop making them! As time went on I added a few more varieties of nuts to the mix, using two basic recipes which are simpler than you might think. I make the effort each year because it's fun to give them out, including the jokes about "Ben's Nuts" that come out every year, and never stop being funny!

With several years of nut-making experience, I figured it was a good time to document the recipe, the process, and some tips and tricks since I can't make nuts for everybody who may want them. Here's my how-to guide to Ben's Nuts:

Ben's Roasted Almonds/Pecans/Walnuts:
Yield: Approx 6 cups

4 cups Almonds, Pecans, or Walnuts (approx 1 lb)
1 egg white
1 tsp cold water
1 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 250°F. Lightly grease a roaster or cookie sheet with non-stick spray. I use large foil roaster pans. They're big and cheap, and they cool down faster than a heavy pan. I always line them with aluminum foil. The 18-inch wide heavy duty foil is worth it; it lines the entire roaster and doesn't rip when you're trying to stir the nuts, plus cleanup is easy.

2. Beat the egg white, water & vanilla, and beat until frothy but not stiff. I've tried a few egg separators, and I've found the "wire spiral" style egg separator from Pampered Chef to be the best for me.

3. Add the nuts and stir until well coated.

4. Mix the sugar, brown sugar, salt, and cinnamon in a separate dish, and then add this dry mixture to the coated nuts.

5. Toss to coat, and spread evenly in the prepared roaster or cookie sheet.

6. Bake at 250°F for 1 hour in the preheated oven, stirring every 15 minutes. The stirring prevents extra "clumping" of nuts & sugar and helps everything to cook evenly.

7. Allow nuts to cool, then store in airtight containers. Here's a photo of a finished batch of Pecans (usually the most popular nut):

Ben's Roasted Peanuts
Yield: Approx 7 cups

3 cups Unsalted Peanuts (approx 1 lb jar)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups water
3/4 cup brown sugar

1. Preheat oven to 300° F. Lightly grease a roaster or cookie sheet with non-stick spray.

2. Mix peanuts, sugar, and water in a skillet or pan. I usually start heating the water until it starts to bubble, then add the peanuts, and then add the sugar and stir. The hot water and the extra agitation of stirring peanuts helps the sugar dissolve.

3. Cook on Med/High heat until liquid is gone and mixture thickens. This is where you have to be careful. Stir occasionally and keep a close watch as it thickens. Once it starts putting off less steam, and the mixture doesn't "slosh around" as much when you stir, you can take it off the heat. If left too long, the sugar starts to burn and turns a darker color. If you take it off too early, some extra time in the oven can help cook off any extra water.

4. Remove from heat and stir the brown sugar into the mixture. This will mix with the thick sugar mixture and make a nice coating on the peanuts.

5. Spread evenly in the prepared roaster or cookie sheet.

6. Bake at 300°F for 30 minutes in the preheated oven, stirring at 15 minutes and again at the end. This will break up the thick sugar mixture before it hardens, keeping everything from sticking together too much.

7. Allow nuts to cool, then store in airtight containers.

Mass Production:
Granted, not everyone will be making as many, but when you make so many like I do you pick up a few things. The heavy duty foil comes in handy for cooling. I only have a few large foil roasters, so when a batch comes out of the oven, I can lift out the foil liner full of nuts and set it out to cool, leaving my roaster free for the next batch. Since they bake for a long time, I can start prepping the next batch about 20 minutes before the oven is done.

Once everything is done and cooled, mixing the nuts is the next challenge. In past years I would put them in a bag and attempt to toss them. However, as the amount grew the bag became very heavy, and the abrasive nature of the nuts led to rips in the plastic bag. This year I had used 6lbs of peanuts, 4lbs walnuts, 3lbs pecans, and 2lbs of almonds; 15lbs altogether. The finished batch weighed 25lbs (yes, that's 10lbs of sugar) and filled a volume of around 6 to 7 gallons. So this year I tracked down some new supplies from a restaurant supply store in the area: an 8-gallon heavy duty food-safe bucket for mixing, and an aluminum scoop for scooping and putting into containers. I was able to pour in portions of nuts into the bucket, cover it, and roll it back and forth and the mixture turned out great... much easier than years past.

The aluminum scoop made a big difference as well. I've tried scooping with bowls (which is awkward), and plastic cups/bowls (which really scratches the plastic). Having the right tools makes a big difference. We packed up the nuts in containers (bought on clearance after Christmas last year), put tags on, and now we get to enjoy giving them away! This year's batch yielded enough for 22 containers and some left over to serve to guests. Now I just have to pack away the bucket and scoop until next year.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Reddit Secret Santa 2009

When I sit down on the computer and catch up on things online, I have my usual stops... Yahoo email, blog subscriptions through my Google Reader, and usually after that I check The socially-driven site has helped me waste a lot of time and have some fun reading funny, interesting, and just random stuff online. Users submit links to other web pages they find worthy of sharing, and the Reddit community votes them up or down. Links with more votes get pushed to the front page of the website, while the less popular get voted down into obscurity. For those not familiar, this is not a new concept online. Reddit just happens to be one of those sites that I enjoy. The users there seem to be my kind of demographic, and the submissions and discussions are fun, even if I don't always agree with everything there.

Back in November, some of the users on Reddit suggested the idea of putting together a big Secret Santa with other members. When the suggestion was put out there the community responded with a big "yes!" and the project began. A website was put together ( along with a basic set of rules. This was going to be fun.

I finally signed up on the last day of signups. In all, 4,391 people from 54 countries signed up for what appears to be the biggest Secret Santa ever. The gift-giving statistics are staggering. Users who signed up had the opportunity to share a little about themselves and what they may want (or not want) from their secret santa. The Santas also knew their Santee's username on Reddit, and could browse their comments and postings to learn more about their recipient. Some people engaged in a little more research online to learn more about their assigned giftee to figure out the perfect gift. Since the gifts started shipping, the project has been getting attention from all around, including ABC News and the Washington Post. The folks at Reddit even offered to host on their servers because the site was getting so much traffic.

This has been a really fun project to be a part of. It's been interesting to see what people have gotten from their Secret Santas, as the website has a gallery where people can upload photos of their gifts and other members can discuss them. There have been some bad gifts, some extravagant ones, but overall people have come up with some unique and creative gifts within the suggested $15 limit. We've all enjoyed watching so much Christmas giving as new gifts appear on the site daily.

I was assigned a guy from Arkansas, and had an interesting (but not uncommon) challenge. He didn't tell me anything about himself, and he had not posted anything on reddit that I could go back and read. In addition, I couldn't dig up anything online. So I decided to give something creative, and something useful. For the creative gift, I broke out my painting supplies and painted a small 4" x 4" canvas painting of the Reddit alien logo, and a couple other Reddit things: the new message envelope and the voting arrows. For the useful gift, I gave a 22-piece precision ratcheting screwdriver set. After wrapping my items, I packed up the box and sent it on it's way. Thus far, I know it's been delivered based on package tracking, but he hasn't posted anything on the site to let me know if he opened it or liked it. We'll see.

I had been so engaged in putting together a gift of my own, I almost forgot I might be getting a gift myself. My Secret Santa turned out to be a girl from Washington. I told her about myself, and she made a "secret santa" account on Facebook to become my friend for a few days and learn more about me. As a result, she decided to give a little Christmas cheer to my whole family. A small package arrived one day, decorated with the Reddit alien and some other artwork. An early Christmas present, yay! Upon opening it, I found a letter and three packages with nametags made out to me, my wife & son.

The whole thing was wrapped nicely with the signature Reddit orange-red envelopes as tags, and came with a nice letter wishing us a merry Christmas and it included a short message (Hello World) to my son written in PHP code.

For me, "The Baby Owner's Manual: Operating Instructions, Trouble-Shooting Tips, and Advice on First-Year Maintenance." It's full of good info, but better yet it's written with a fun technical sense of humor and lots of "schematic" type drawings of all things baby. Fitting since I work in tech support and have an innate desire to diagnose & fix things. I was seriously laughing out loud flipping through this book.

For my son was a DVD of some old Christmas cartoons.

For my wife was a Buddha Board. It's meant to encourage mental relaxation/zen. You get the paintbrush wet, and the surface turns almost black with a little water from the brush, and it evaporates and disappears quickly. Very unique, and could be fun for our son and nieces & nephews as a simple, clean way to play with "painting". It was adorned with some Reddit Secret Santa alien labels.

This was fun, thank you Santa! And thank you to the dedicated people who helped put this all together. Nathan likes his new book:

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Nathan joins the family

On November 11th, we were blessed with a healthy baby boy. Nathan Benjamin was born at 7:51am November 11th, at 7lbs 4oz and 19 1/2 inches.

It all started on the evening of the 10th. We went into the hospital once contractions were frequent enough. We weren't dilated very far, so they had us take a walk around the hospital for an hour to see if things progressed. Unfortunately there had been no change in that hour, so they sent us home around midnight. We returned about 4am and got checked in and prepared for delivery. Beth got set up with an IV of antibiotics and they started the epidural, which relived her pain and gave her a chance to take a short nap. When our doctor arrived an hour later she was already fully dilated. Water broke shortly thereafter and after only 35 minutes of pushing, our son was born early Wednesday morning. The whole process went smoothly and both mother and baby did very well.

We stayed in the hospital for two days. Nathan picked up nursing fairly quickly and was a good sleeper. We had visits from our immediate family and our pastor; just enough visits so we didn't feel overwhelmed. I spent the first night in the hospital. The pull out bed wasn't very comfortable, but it worked, and I was glad I could be there for his first night. For the second night, I went home and Nathan went to the nursery so mom could get some good sleep. He slept for two four-hour stretches and had to be woken up each time to feed. By Friday afternoon we were able to go home, and as soon as Nathan was asleep, so were we! Everything else could wait.

I've been fortunate enough to be able to spend the last two weeks off work, and be home to adjust to life as a new dad. Being that Beth and I have had plenty of exposure to babies, everything has pretty much matched our expectations. There have been plenty of diaper changes, late nights, and changes to how we spend our time. Overall, he's been a wonderful baby. He feeds a lot during the day, but usually manages to sleep 3 to 4 hours at a stretch at night, so we've been able to get enough sleep so far.

We're also getting him used to going different places and being around people. He's a good traveler, falling asleep quickly in his car seat. We've taken him to grandparents' houses, some shopping trips, and a couple doctor visits. He's very healthy and is gaining weight quickly. We've also enjoyed having occasional visitors here at the house, and some generous gifts of meals. We had his first holiday get-together for Thanksgiving at my folks' house, and tonight we'll take him out for our first big dinner at a restaurant for Beth's sister's birthday.

Although Nathan doesn't do much these days, it's been great having all this time to get to know him and figure out our new life with him. Some of the best times I've had have been him sleeping on my chest while we lay on the couch or recliner. The time has flown by already. Even though it's been a big change, at the same time it all feels normal and the way it should be. Monday I'll be returning to work. It will be nice to go back to my regular routine, and interesting to see how I'll have to adjust. I expect I'll be more tired, and miss my family, but it should be good back to supporting our family again.

We're looking forward to watching him grow and develop, and see how are lives change along the way. Welcome to the family, Nathan!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Homebrew Demo at Barley John's

Saturday gave us a day of beautiful weather and sunshine, perfect for cleaning up leaves, taking a walk, and getting stuff done. Throw in a 4 hour get-together over lunch to learn about brewing beer and call it a day.

The Minnesota Homebrewers Association hosted an event from 10am to 2pm on Saturday for National Teach-A-Friend-To-Homebrew Day, held at Barley John's Brewpub in New Brighton.

The event started with a toast to Jimmy Carter, who legalized home brewing in 1979. We raised glasses of Barley John's beer, and commenced brewing. They brewed three different beers, taught use "newbies" and got everyone involved in the process. I got to see how to brew from grain extracts, and saw some of the equipment and process used in all-grain brewing. To sweeten the pot (or brew kettle?), three brewing equipment kits were given away by Brew & Grow, Northern Brewer, and Midwest Supplies.

As somebody who's gotten started with wine & mead, and who knows a lot of beer brewers, I was curious. Plus I do enjoy a unique beer from time to time myself. This event let me learn more, meet some cool people, and see how it's done. I have to say I had a great time. I don't think I'm ready to join the club, but they do seem like a fun laid back group. I don't have the equipment or the time to take it up just yet. For now I'll stick with my wine & mead. Thank you to the MN Brewers for the afternoon of fun & learning, and the tasty burger from Barley Johns.

2009 Pumpkin Carving at the Workbench

This Halloween I decided to tackle pumpkin carving with some serious tools. None of the flimsy plastic tools for me this year. Tools I was familiar with, that could easily handle a little pumpkin flesh. While these are not necessarily child-safe, it was much easier for me to be creative this year with tools from the workbench.

I had more ambitious plans since we had three pumpkins to start with, but a few cold nights froze two of them, so they were no good for carving. But we still had one!

After a light pencil sketch on the pumpkin, the carving began with a utility knife. I set the blade to a shallow cutting depth, and cut an outline of the shapes to be shaved down. This was enough to pierce the skin to make room for the next tool, the chisel:

With the eyes & mouth chiseled down smooth, next came the spade bits for two uniform pupils in the eyes:

To tackle the detail on the teeth I used a mini hack saw, designed so the blade protrudes outward. This makes it easy to stab, and the serrated edge cuts much better than an ordinary kitchen knife. The narrow but flexible blade also works well turning corners as you cut. It almost seems safer than a long sharp blade to me. This made it easy to cut out the gaps between teeth, as well as cutouts in the eyes:

Finishing touches to the teeth were added with the utility knife. A sharp blade made for easy shaving & smoothing of the corners of the teeth:

The finished pumpkin:

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The first attempt at Rhubarb Wine

Three months ago, my dad and I harvested the last 15 pounds of rhubarb from their garden. I spent much of the next night hunched over the sink washing & cutting all the stalks, and into the freezer they went.

Today, with some simpler wine & mead projects under my belt, I've decided to tackle the rhubarb. This is my first batch using actual fruit (or vegetables). I pulled all 15 pounds of rhubarb out of the freezer and into the nylon straining bag. Water & sugar was added in small batches. I boiled 1 gallon at a time, and dissolved 4 pounds of sugar into each gallon. With all the rhubarb in the fermentation bucket, there was only room for about 3 gallons of sugar water. I also decided to try one of the optional ingredients in the recipe: white grape juice as a substitute for some of the sugar.

After about 7 hours of cooling down, the tannin, yeast nutrient, and metabisulfite are added. Tomorrow morning Pectic Enzyme is added to help break down the rhubarb and keep the wine clear. Finally, yeast is added on Monday morning to start fermentation.

In a few days the bag of rhubarb is removed, and I can add more water and let the fermentation continue. So far it smells good. With any luck it will turn out tasting good too.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Baseball & Baby Showers

Here I am, relaxing at home on a Friday night, watching the Twins and assembling our son's new swing. This photo summarizes the last couple weeks of our lives.

Our friends and family have thrown us two baby showers the last two Saturdays, both hosted at our house. We've received a lot of nice new things for taking care of Nathan when he arrives, both useful and just plain cute stuff. We're definitely looking forward to getting use out of all this stuff, and at 35 weeks along, we're not too far away. All the little toys look like fun, and we have our baby photo book filled with family photos already. Tomorrow we'll have our third baby shower, from the Brandt side of the family.

We've also been having a blast following the Twins at the end of their season. Our group of friends shares a season ticket package each year, which let us secure tickets to what would have been the final game at the Metrodome. However, the Twins crept up on the Detroit Tigers, and the "final" game at the Metrodome tied up the AL standings. This led to an amazing tiebreaker game at the dome on Tuesday, where we got to watch the Twins pull off a 6 to 5 win in the 12th inning of a very intense game. Nathan didn't miss out either. He was awake and moving (and listening to record-breaking cheering crowds) during both games.

Tonight we watched the second game of the AL Division Series, but I'm sorry to report we lost to the New York Yankees. We have our tickets for Sunday's playoff game at the Dome, and if the Twins can win that one, we're guaranteed a second crazy playoff game at the dome on Monday.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Finishing & Bottling the Apple Wine

I'm happy to report my first wine experiment has successfully made it all the way to being bottled. The Apple Wine stopped fermenting while it was still a bit sweet, but I liked the flavor. Rather than ferment it out further, I decided to call it a Sweet Apple Wine and call it a day.

The wine had cleared up quite a bit while it sat in the carboy, but could have sat & aged longer. However, with our son's birth fast approaching, I wanted to bottle it before he came and life got busier. I borrowed my brother-in-law's Mini Jet wine filter to remove any remaining haze/particles from the wine, and the difference was impressive... crystal clear.

After collecting a surplus of bottles from craigslist, I was well stocked and ready to bottle. Bottles were washed & sanitized, I started the siphon from the 6-gallon carboy, and began filling bottles. I only spilled a little wine when the bottle filler bumped against the outside of a bottle; not too bad for my first try. All total, I got almost 31 bottles out of the 6 gallon batch. The last partial bottle was sacrificed for quality control purposes, so to speak. You can definitely taste the apple flavor. It still has some of the alcohol "burn," but that should mellow-out over time.

Corking went relatively well, considering I have the most basic corker available. I had to put a lot of force into it to cork each one. I can say now that I appreciate the mechanical advantage of a good corker. I may need to upgrade before bottling my next batch. I left the bottles standing upright for a couple days so the corks could expand and seal up, and then turned them on their sides for storage.

During the months the wine was in the carboy I was working out label designs in Photoshop and eventually arrived at the final design shown here. Just in case I decide to change label shapes in the future, I decided to use full-sheet label paper so I wasn't stuck with a fixed size. It's a bit more work to cut them out, but not too bad.

I've seen labels printed on inkjet printers before, and I know the ink can run & bleed when it gets wet... especially when the wine bottle gets some condensation on it. So I tried something a bit different. After finalizing my label design, I brought it over to FedEx Office (formerly Kinkos), and printed 6 sheets (36 labels) for less than $4. The key was printing in color laser-printing. This won't bleed when it gets wet, and as an added bonus, they have a nice shiny finish to them.

Now the wine can continue to age & improve in the bottles. It's been a fun project with results I can be proud of and enjoy. Maybe we'll break some out at Thanksgiving & Christmas, or maybe when our son is born! I'm sure we can find reasons.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

A Better Way to Toggle the Turtle

We've been having fun getting Nathan's room ready, including setting up the turtle motif. We found a small lamp from the same collection as the other items in the room, and it looks nice on the dresser. There was one problem though. The switch was located on the power cord, which hung behind the dresser. Every time we wanted to turn it on, we had to pull it out far enough to reach the switch.

Knowing how much I enjoy "projects," Beth suggested moving or replacing the switch. After trips to radio shack for the switch, Menards for a new cord, and a quick run to Ace for a washer or just the right size, we have a new switch, custom painted to match the room.

I cleared out some space with a spade bit and the dremel to make room for the base of the switch. The new cord was cut, stripped, and soldered to the contacts. The exposed contacts were insulated with some heat shrink tubing and hot glue, and covered up by the felt base of the lamp.

Here's the new switch. It was originally red plastic, and has since been painted blue to match the room. I made sure to find a switch that was rated for household AC current, that had a design that would be easy to paint.

The finished product:

Friday, August 28, 2009

Camping 2009 at Whitewater State Park

Friday night, August 15th, we set off down the road for Whitewater State park for our 5th annual camping trip. This year the group grew to 11 campers including our youngest addition, Mikey, at 7 months old.

We arrived before sunset, set up our tent and got settled while we hung out with Bill & Sara. We soon noticed that the park's claim of "no mosquitoes" was true, and very nice. The rest of the group arrived later and we begin to fill up our 3 campsites. The biggest challenge (and most entertaining) part of the evening was putting up Jean's new tent. She bought it after last summer's trip, and didn't open it until this year, only to find that all the elastic cords in the tent poles were cut or broken. It took everyone to hold lanterns and sort through 40+ pieces of tent poles, and figure out how to assemble the 5 different poles to make up the tent. We eventually got it up and Jean had a place to sleep!

Saturday we enjoyed some good hiking, good food as usual, and great time with friends. We tried making donuts for breakfast this year, but some of our cans of biscuit dough got too wet in the cooler and exploded... mental note for next year. Tacos in a bag for lunch, simple and tasty.

The afternoon hike took us up to a high point in the park where we could see for miles. The view was excellent and we got to see some cool rock formations. Beth took it a bit slower, but did very well on all the steps, rocks, and rough terrain for being about 7 months pregnant. After we got back she relaxed and some of us went to wade in the river and skip rocks.

Our foil dinners worked especially well this year. Nick found a local firewood supplier and we got some good hardwood that doesn't burn up too quickly, and our fires burned well and made a good bed of coals for dinner. We were actually eating our foil dinners before dark! That may have been a first, or at least the first time in a few years.

We also learned that camping is not the best experience for somebody who's 7 months pregnant. Sleeping on an air mattress is not very conducive to staying comfortable and sleeping on your side. Beth hadn't been comfortable on the mattress or the camp chairs, and had worked pretty hard on our afternoon hike. Having been through this unusual stress, Nathan wasn't moving as much as he normally did and didn't respond to the usual ways of getting him moving. Since we knew Beth wouldn't sleep well that night and we were concerned about Nathan, we decided to leave after dinner and s'mores. Thanks to everyone for helping us pack up so quickly.

Rochester happened to be on our way home, close to the state park. For our own peace of mind, we stopped at the emergency room at St Mary's hospital in Rochester. The staff was excellent and got us in and out quickly. They set up a monitor so we could hear (and measure) Nathan's heartbeat for 20 minutes of observation. Thankfully, Nathan was just fine. Once Beth was able to recline to a comfortable position and drink some cold water he started moving again like normal. The best part of the experience was when I started talking to him. We usually talk and/or sing to him at night, so when I talked to him at the hospital, his heart rate immediately slowed down. It's pretty amazing to see how your unborn son actually knows and recognizes you, even if it's such a simple level. We're excited for the day we get to meet him.

After leaving the hospital we sent messages to the rest of the group to let them know all was well, and headed for home. At about 1am we pulled into the garage, came inside, and headed right to bed. I slept until 11am the next morning. I guess I needed it. We got to enjoy the bulk of the trip, made sure Nathan was OK and got to spend some quality time with him, and got out of camp just before the rain came. Overall it was another great (and memorable) camping trip. Now we get to look forward to Nathan's first camping trip next year!

Monday, August 10, 2009

The First Batch of Mead

It's time to go back down to Pegboard Cellars (the workbench in my basement) to start a new brew. This time I'm taking my first stab at Mead. Since starting my wine, I've been reading and learning from The Compleat Meadmaker, a good book loaned to me by my dad. I also happen to work with a lot of home brewers and mead makers, so I've picked up information and advice for awhile from them.

This was also my first attempt at making a yeast starter culture. Using a recipe outlined in the book, I mixed up some water, honey, yeast energizer, yeast nutrient, and dry malt extract to make my starter. I put the mixture in a glass jug, added the yeast, and sealed it up with an airlock. From my [beginner's] perspective, the yeast starter gives the yeast a chance to grow and multiply, and get accustomed to the kind of liquid they'll be fermenting. In this case, a mixture of mainly water & honey. After about a day of fermenting the yeast starter, I had a healthy culture of yeast that was ready to take on 13-plus pounds of honey in a 5 gallon batch.

While I could make many kinds of mead just like I would make wine (adding fruit and other flavorings), I'm making a simple "Show Mead," meaning that it's only fermented honey and nothing else. The book had a Dry Show Mead, Medium Show Mead, and a Sweet Show Mead recipe. I opted for a Medium Show Mead, using just over 13 lbs of honey in a 5 gallon batch. Based on the advice of the book's author, and other meadmakers I know, I went with the "no heat" method, which makes the whole process much easier by not needing to heat anything up. Supposedly, this also preserves more of the honey's natural flavor. After sanitizing all the equipment, it was just a matter of pouring everything together (water, honey, yeast energizer, yeast nutrient), mixing it up, and adding some oxygen by stirring it up with a whisk.

Before adding the yeast, I dropped in my (sanitized) hydrometer to get a specific gravity reading. It looks like I have a starting gravity of about 1.092. This gives me an idea of how much sugar is in the mixture (water would be 1.000). As it ferments, I can take more readings to see how much sugar has been converted to alcohol, and estimate the alcohol percentage of the finished product.

Now the bucket has been sealed up with an airlock and it's bubbling like crazy. It should ferment pretty vigorously for about 2 weeks, and then I have to wait. They say mead isn't really good until at least 6 months to a year later. I guess I'll have to be patient. For now, it smells delicious.