Saturday, May 26, 2007


My first homebrew.
At my home that is.
I cracked one open and poured myself a bit in honor of the new addition to our family. I figured he was a few days early, so why not try the beer a little early too?

You see, beer takes a certain amount of time to "condition" in the bottle, and at just under two weeks this one needed a bit more time. It was good and all, but even just a week later it's already better.

I wrote about making ginger ale a while back, but in retrospect, that was really just a dry run. No, make that wet. Whatever. What I mean is that this was my first attempt in the comfort of my own home at making an ale style beer that was from a recipe, had a more or less known alcohol content, and a preconceived notion of what it should taste like. All done with a few friends a family, under the supervision of myself. I like it that way.

With a borrowed 15 gallon pot on the stove and ingredients assembled, we got to boiling and mixing. The pot was muy enormo and nearly covered all four burners of my ancient stove. It appeared more efficient to just go with the front two, so away we went. We cracked grains, and sterilized stuff while enjoying a few rounds of......what else? Beer. You need inspiration while delving into such tasks.

The actual brewing part is much like making a gigantic cauldron of soup. Straightforward and pretty easy, with plenty of room for interpretation and lots of regional variations. Sounds to me like even a little kid could do that.

Well, really she's stirring it after the brew when it is crucial to cool the "wort" down quickly and get it bottled. Since monkey wanted to help, and there really isn't any alcohol involved yet (just boiling water, but she's pretty good around that) I figured why not. Tiny little idle hands cause trouble right?

With the wort cooled and the yeast "pitched" I transferred it to a few sterile glass carboys and brought it upstairs to place in the warmest part of the house. After a few brief hours, fermentation was going strong creating very active convection and causing copious amounts of foam to burble out. After getting the initial foamy burst on my bedroom floor, I decided it was time for the beer to sleep in the bath for the night.

The next morning it was still foaming, but not nearly as vigorously, so I cleaned out the air-lock valves and put them back on. It looked like around a gallon of beer had pumped itself out of each bottle. Note to self, plan accordingly next time and make even more.

Fast forward to two weeks later and many bottles collected, cleaned and sterilized. Now was the time to transfer the beer to bottles, adding a pinch of "priming" sugar to each and using a nifty capper.

It's the first moment of truth for the brew. You quiver and maybe even wince while cracking the seal on the carboy. You think: this for damn sure better be good and not skunky cause we cleaned everything like crazy good.

The first whif and........oh, that's good. You take a big swig while getting the siphon started for transferring to the bottles and halfway through the first, you realize that the growing warmth in your completely empty stomach is from alcohol that you made. Hell yeah!

You do a little happy dance, until you realize that it's gonna take well over an hour to let gravity do it's work. With any luck, the siphoning will have to be restarted, resulting in another gulp or two. Ah what am I talking about? I put some in a glass and we passed it around the bottling crew and agreed. It's gonna be a long few weeks until it's done.

Thank the goddess for early births, because we needed an excuse to fire up the grill, char some flesh, and crack open a bottle. Besides, Paul was having a burger thingy and I really wanted to participate, but my timing wasn't exactly great.

Wait! This just in.....maybe, maybe........oh hell, I guess not with that whole time difference and all. Damn!

Well, rest assured Paul, on the birthday of my son, while enjoying my first homebrew, I thought about you guys. I thought that you just might agree that what you need to ring in a new family member is a nice burger and a beer.

And for the record, that burger is grass fed local beef with tons of chopped onions, a few cloves of garlic and a dash of red pepper flakes, grilled up good over mesquite and served on a homemade english mufin. Served with a few Italian sausage and a salad made entirely from ingredients in my yard.

So, I might not have made the burger deadline, but I have a healthy beautiful newborn to take care of and a few more beers laying around to keep me busy. Wish me luck.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

hot potato

In the wee hours of Friday the 18th, the monkey ranch welcomed the arrival of this little spud. We are ecstatic!

Hot from the oven, I barehanded this little tyke and placed 'em on his mother's bosom. (Well attended by midwives and family, so calm down there pardner.) We had no idea it was a boy, until we flipped him over and took a look. You might think we're crazy, waiting until the arrival to find out, but we figure it's one of those mysteries of life that gets ruined by today's technology.

Monkey witnessed this gorgeous moment, acting as an integral part, squealing things like "Mommy he's almost here! I can see his head!" which was enormous comfort and encouragement for expediting the entire process. They say that second births can go rather quickly, and at under an hour and a half, it's good this was a planned homebirth or we might not have even made it to any hospital. Even with it only half a mile away.

So now the ranch will be configured a bit differently. I get promoted to executive kithchen manager with two to manage, and the monkey gets an apprentice. Mom retains her title of Superwoman, while we stand in awe.

I'll tell the whole story another time, when I'm rested enough to be cognizant of what I'm actually writing.

Peace and happiness,

Saturday, May 12, 2007

strawberry crack sauce

The front of our tiny abode, has the most light for growing things. But it also has the highest proportion of concrete. I try to pretty it up by putting out some of my larger rocks from places I love. Also this year (better than most, I'd say) I have spent more time gardening. I think I'm starting to see some results, because concrete or not, things like strawberries do just fine in a pot, as these humble beauties demonstrate. This picture was on Tuesday morning, before heading out.

We met our friend K and her monkey over at their home and then proceeded to the beach. It was low tide; fantastic fun for squiggly little toes. We ran around, looking at little coils of pasty yarn, extruded from the muddy sand by some tidal critter. While we romped around, my eye caught a glimpse of a marble sized thing. What that some kind of bubble? My big toe probed the area around it and gained confidence for a brief contact. It is glass! I should pick that up, so no one steps on it. I begin excavating around it. It is a thin glass sphere, almost an inch in diameter, with a hole in the side, and a glass stem attached to it. Oh, I get it. Some loadie left his pipe on the beach. But wait, this thing is pretty clean, and from what I learned in college, isn't for smoking Humboldt county tobacco products.

K takes a look at it: "Dude! Is that a crack pipe?"
Uh, I think so.
There is no trash can nearby, and I don't want to leave this to be trampled on, so I put it in my pocket to dispose of properly.

While packing up, and discussing K's latest ice cream experiment, she mentions a strawberry rhubarb sauce that goes nicely with it. Well, nicely with just about anything, she then admits. I think to myself about those strawberries at home. And the rhubarb that I recently trimmed while wrapping a few of my tomato cages in plastic a few days earlier. Hmmmm. Deadly combination of yummy ingredients from my yard. I simply must try this. We talk about more ingredients, and it turns out I really only need some citrus. I will await an email for the recipe and proceed later.

Two days later, with nearly all the ingredients assembled, I was moving toward the front door to pick the berries when I remembered the crack pipe. I better recycle that thing. No, wait.

Turns out there is no corresponding category of which to ascertain its level of recyclability. Even here in Oakland, with what the majority of the World perceives as crack central. Now, I don't really want to condone the use of crack, so I opted for tossing it in the trash instead. Is this bad? Should I have more compassion toward crack users here? Naw, I mean, just from the basic level of someone littering and the pipe ending up at the beach, or another way, being washed down the storm drain somewhere and ending up there, I want to take it out of the loop. This item is not being treated properly. I think, let the sorters at the local transfer station decide.

Well, I did manage to pick the berries. With them back inside and on the counter, it looked like a basket at least. I was so proud that such a score could be had. It was time to get out the rest of the ingredients and get on down to saucing.

I look at ingredients such as these, and I get a glimpse of the reasons behind the raw food movement. I could easily just throw these things together and serve. Although I might treat the ginger different and not leave it in such large, easily-fished-out kind of chunks.

I cooked everything together at a low simmer for nearly half an hour. The smell coming off the pot was intense. Sweet and heady strawberry, sour rhubarb, floral vanilla and citrus, with earthy carmel sugar. It was good. Very good. At times like these I have no patience and must risk burning myself while trying a bit. I've been stocking the freezer, in anticipation of the arrival of our newest monkey, and recently put in a loaf of sliced honey whole wheat and oatmeal. Some sauce on toast was inevitable.

Just a little piece.

The recipe ended up making about three cups. Enough to put on the ice cream K gave us and enough to bottle up into storage for a later date. Or maybe barter, I haven't decided. You see, this stuff, especially if you like rhubarb, is like crack. You will want more and more and the cravings will never stop. You just might run up enormous debt and a very unhealthy appearance pounding down pint after pint of vanilla ice cream with this on top. That kind of crack. I figure bartering this stuff would have a lot of repeat customers.

I really did throw away the crack pipe. But its fitting that it coincided with my harvest of the small red fruits that go so well with red stalks, that when treated correctly, become strawberry crack sauce.

Thanks K. Now I'm an addict.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

the golden state

There are many reasons to call my home state golden. Whether referring to the gold rush, the golden gate, the golden hills waving with dry grass, or the fields of eye candy that grace our outdoors this time of year. Like these ones:

Or maybe these. These were nice. It was taken from about the same spot, but looking up, back toward the road and it's destination farther uphill.

Both shots were on Hwy 180 this past friday, at about 3,500' on the way to Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park. The poppies were amazing. The lupine too, as well as countless others that I don't know the name of. I love flowers, so I stopped at a few points, got out of the car, and tried not to tumble down the hill while taking a few pics and beaming with happiness at being in a field of wildflowers.

In the park, I headed toward Grant Grove, to see one of the largest trees on earth. The third largest to be exact. With a base over 40 feet wide, and well over 300 feet tall, this tree is immense. Stop and think for a moment about how big that is. It's frickin' huge.

Remember how you do that calculation for circumference of a circle? C=∏d right?
Then that means that this tree is near 120' around!
At these dimensions it is a building. But a really cool one.
I like to think of it as a 1700 year old building that is nearly fire proof, solar heated, and home to an enormous community of critters. How's that for sustainability of a living community? I'd call that pretty golden too, wouldn't you?

I did say this was the third largest, not tallest, so that means it will help if we talk volume to wrap our heads around how hugemongous it is. Something like, if you stuffed the trunk with ping-pong balls, it wouild fit 37,000,000 of them. Or if you had a car that got 25 mpg, and started driving it using this tree as a gas tank, you could drive around the planet something like 350 times without refueling! That is one hell of a tank.

Now think about the reality of this community, and how being a living entity it's mainly water. Lots of players, but it's being managed by one living creature. Thriving. Did I mention it doesn't have a brain, or a nervous system? That some call it of a lower "order"? With considering all that, I just can't see them as lower, in any way. I'd call these giants smart. In fact, way smart. Smarter than you or I will ever be. It humbles me when I'm in the presence of such creatures. I have much to learn from them.

I know, this is primarily a food blog. And none of this is about food right?

But it is. It's about my food. It's about the food I share with others. It's about the things that inspire me. The entities that bowl me over with their very existence. Whether it's the intense golden hue in those flower petals or the enormity of such a single creature that functions as a sustainable high rise community. It's the micro and the macro and everything between. It's the images and sensations of living here, that are swirling through my mind as I create food for my family. To put it another way, if when you die, your life flashes before your eyes, then this is some of the stuff that I hope passes before mine as I check out.

Don't worry, I'm not going anywhere. I just had to share. In fact, when I was baking this bread last week, knowing I was going to my in-laws soon, I started getting images in my mind of what would be near their home. How within an hour, I could drive through the foothills awash in wildflowers, on my way to walking amongst true giants. I had imagined that I would see these very items before I did. I knew the redwoods would be there, and was pretty sure the flowers were too. Their colors inspired me to incorporate gold and red in bread.

So two of these loafs had the golden cheddar and red bacon combo. Really killer cheddar from Springhill Dairy, paired with super tasty bacon from Highland Hills, all wrapped up in dough that includes my favorite whole wheat from Full Belly Farms.

Cooked to a nice.......golden color.

I'm sure a few of you intuited that I'd eventually work that whole golden state thing into talking about sourdough. I may love them argonauts, and that big bridge thing that spans the gate. I love the sere hills of summer, and of course those poppies. All those things are wrapped up in my head. Which means they're wrapped up in the bread. The bread of my life.