Sunday, August 25, 2013

something's brewing.

This weekend, R and I tried our hand at something I think he's been wanting to do for a very long time: we home brewed our own beer! We are serious craft beer lovers around here. In fact as of this weekend, R has toured 27 breweries (he's been to more, that's just the official tour count!) and I've been to about a third of those. In addition to going to breweries and making pilgrimages to highly rated beer stores around the country, he also frequents beer rating sites to profile and rate the new beers he tries. Somewhere along the line, he lured me into the world of good beer and I've slowly been morphing into a bit of a beer nerd myself. 

So, making our own beer just seemed like the next logical step! R finally decided to take the plunge and get a home brew starter kit from Northern Brewer when we were visiting Milwaukee. The kit gives you everything you need to brew a five gallon batch of beer. You can choose from three different starter recipes and we chose the Irish Red Ale. So Friday afternoon, we put on some good music, poured ourselves a beer, and started brewing our very first batch! 

It all starts with some water. 

Some recipe kits come with specialty grain, which give the beer color and aroma. You steep the grain like tea in a mesh bag. 

R emptied the grain after steeping it and casually mentioned that there are all kinds of recipes for using the spent grain. I did a little research and came up with something. More on that later. Back to our beer! 

After steeping the grain, you add liquid malt extract. Beer is really only four basic ingredients; water, malt, hops, and yeast. (Remember this for your next beer tour, class!) People who know their stuff brew with all grain malt, but beginners tend to use the liquid malt extract as a way to cut down on equipment and steps. We are beginners, thus the jug full of liquid. 

Then comes the important addition of hops. Hops are what give beer it's distinctive taste and they are an important ingredient. This red ale isn't too hoppy, but R's next batch may be an IPA which is much hoppier. More hops usually equals more bitterness. After this, the young beer is called wort until you add yeast, then it gets to be called beer. (Feel free to write this down and impress the tour guide at your next brewery tour with all your knowledge. But if you get a free pint out of it, then you owe me one!) The wort has to boil, which gave me a little time to look up those spent grain recipes and play with the camera a little. 

I found a great recipe for spent grain dog treats on the blog 17 Apart, (which also had lots of other great recipes of all sorts and lots of beautiful photography and shots of their sweet Weimaraner, Basil, so check them out!) I love spoiling Beau and I had yet to try any homemade puppy treats. I figured since it was the weekend of Beer Firsts, I may as well make some spent beer grain treats. 

Speaking of Beau, this picture has absolutely nothing to do with beer, but I wanted to show the world one of Beau's weirdest/cutest little habits. Sometimes, if I'm just standing around, Beau will come stand in between my legs. He just calmly stands there for a few minutes between my knees, then walks away. It's weird and precious and it's why I love that dog. 

I think it's an unwritten rule that when you are making beer, you must also be drinking beer. We don't write 'em, we just follow 'em around here. 

This warning is on the side of the bottling bucket. Don't let your baby drink the beer? Don't get your baby drunk? Don't get drunk and brew your baby? 

Okay, so maybe Beau and I were relaxing on the job a bit. No worries though, I didn't get drunk and brew Beau. 

After the wort boil, the most important ingredient gets added: yeast! This is really where things get cool and science-y. (That's an insider term, class. Science-y!)

Once you add the wort and the yeast to the fermenter, all the magic happens. Basically, the brew you've created is just malted grain and hops; the yeast is what makes it beer. 

The beer magic happens when you hide the fermenter away in a cool, dark place for a few days. While it's hiding in your office closet underneath R's dress whites, the yeast wake up and eat all the sugars in the malt. They fart carbon dioxide and poop alcohol and voila! Beer is born! It's a little crass, but it's actually really cool to see the airlock on top start bubbling and foam form because millions of actual living organisms are hanging out in your closet making beer for you. Very science-y, indeed! 

After we finished brewing the red ale and it was safely in the closet, I made small one gallon recipe kit that we also picked up. This one is a honey ale, but not just any honey ale! It's the recipe used by the White House kitchen staff after President Obama asked them to try their hand at home brewing! The official White House release is really interesting and if you've got 5 minutes, watch the video, which shows the White House chef making the exact same beer I'm making in this picture! I mean, if that doesn't taste like sweet American freedom, I don't know what does! 

So I made my little batch and nestled it into the closet next to R's big batch and in a few weeks, we'll bottle. Home brewing is a test of patience because the bottles need to sit another couple of weeks before we're able to crack them open and drink the beer we worked so hard for. 

In the meantime though, I was able to use the spent grain from the big batch to make the dog treats! I dried the grain in the oven while we brewed, them mixed them up today with a little peanut butter, eggs, and flour. I rolled them out and cut them into hearts and baked them.

They're all natural and apparently, pups love the grain flavor. Beau tested some for quality before we packaged some up and tomorrow I'm shipping them off to some of his friends and cousins around the country. The spent grain from the little batch of honey ale is getting made into honey almond cranberry granola bars tomorrow. So, out of two batches of beer, we also get dog treats and people snacks. Not too bad for first timers!

I'll keep you updated on our first batches progress and other beer recipes we try. It was such a fun way to spend an afternoon and I think it's the beginning of a great new hobby for us!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

there was wisconsin.

This week we got back from my favorite place on Earth: Milwaukee. I haven't been to a lot of places, but I'm sure it's the best of them all. Because Milwaukee is where our families live and where we grew up and where it's perfectly acceptable to drink a beer at 11am. And all these things, plus a couple more, equal the best place on Earth. So this trip was filled with exactly those things; friends, family, and beer. 

There were a few other things as well. Here they are in no particular order.

There was the Wisconsin State Fair, an annual event that my family takes pretty seriously. I have chronicled our love of the Fair several times. This is R enjoying a butterflied pork sandwich, which is the Unofficial First Thing You Have To Eat As Soon As You Get To The Fair. (Yes, I make up these rules.) If you don't eat the pork sandwich when you first arrive at the fair, you'll jinx your whole day. All your fried foods will be soggy, the cream puff line will be too long, and it'll rain. Luckily, we are pros, so we shared a pork sandwich and the rest of the day went swimmingly!

There were baby animals. And sweet nephews who were enthralled by the baby animals. 

There was food on a stick. In this moment, there was candied bacon and a deep fried bratwurst. Which we washed down with a beer. Of course. 

There was Uncle R and another sweet nephew having a quiet moment in the DNR building. Because sometimes the Fair is a lot to take in if you're two, so Uncle R knows just the right quiet spots for two year olds. 

There was milk. Flavored milk to be exact. Chocolate, root beer, and cherry vanilla milk. And paired with beer flavored doughnuts, they were the quintessential ending to a perfect Wisconsin Fair day. (I know what you're thinking and the answer is yes, every stereotype you have ever heard about Wisconsin and beer is true.)

There were other things on our trip. There was a baby shower for one of my best girls, Megan. So naturally, there was baby shower preparations. 

And during those preparations, there was crafting, and champagne, and catching up on our lives because we are adults now and scattered all over the country. And in between the champagne and paper scraps, there were some girly tears because these are legit women and legit friendships and we all know how lucky we are to have this.

And for the very first time in our little circle, there is a baby! So there were sweet little moments of saying, "Here, put your hand here. Can you feel it?" And there were gasps and oohs as we felt that sweet little baby rocking and rolling around. And the conversation and laughter and champagne went long into the night because summer nights in Wisconsin with your best friends who are usually scattered all over the country are rare and precious and should be savored accordingly.

There was also more time with my brother and my sweet nephews. Uncle R found a cool little climbing rock in a local park, made specifically for working on technique. So there were boys of all ages testing their skills. 

And some had some impressive skills. 

There were triumphant summit bids. 

And while the big boys climbed, there was a date on the playground with this handsome guy who is just so cute I can't stand not to photograph him. 

And in between all the family and friends, there was a little time to get some coffee and take our camera out and photograph the city I love.

(And some other things I love.)

There was a cookout at R's parent's house with both families. And there were puppies who love licking the face of their favorite little messy eater.

There were cigars and bourbon and, yes, more beer. 

There was my sister's sweet Pit Bull Roxy who knows how to charm the fellas, like my father-in-law. 

There was wine and lots of conversation that, of course, went late into the night. Because, again, when you find yourself on a back porch, stuffed with a great meal, with all the family that you love so much, you just don't want to hurry those kinds of nights. 

There were quiet mornings of writing and drinking coffee on that same back porch with my favorite pup. 

And now we're home and there is our little family, avoiding unpacking and reluctantly getting back in to our routines... 

Until next time. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

pack your bags.

This is Beau. He likes to help me pack. 

I am packing for our trip to Wisconsin. The weather is supposed to be in the mid to high 70's the entire time. This means I basically need to pack everything I own because I could potentially wear every type of outfit. 

This frustrates me because I desperately wish I were the kind of girl who could pack light. I can pack efficiently. My Dad preached a kind of packing gospel and taught me his Jedi ways of packing a grocery bag or suitcase or the trunk for maximum loading capabilities. Efficient? Yes. Light? No. 

Beau understands, though. He's here to let me vent. 

Beau's only concern is not being left behind. He loves the dog sitter and her two Collies, especially Bonnie, who plays hide and seek with him around the pond in their back yard and who lays with him in the sun. But he he likes going on trips with us even more. Beau likes to be wherever his people are. That's why he lays on my clothes as I pack instead of the floor where normal dogs lay. 

He doesn't need to worry, though. He's coming with. 

Me and R and Beau are going to pack up all our many things (efficiently) and drive for lots of hours until we get to the Land of Beer and Cheese Curds and Packers Pre-Season and Both of Our Families and A Reunion with All My Best Friends and Lots of Good Food and Drinks and Mild Mid-70's Weather. 

And I'm not going to care how much I packed because I'm going to be so happy to be in that Land that I won't have a care in the world. 

See you then! 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

horsing around.

Every once in a while Pretty much on the daily, I am an awesome wife who does nice incredibly thoughtful things for the man I love. Last weekend was one of those times. 

After being gone for way too long, I figured R and I needed a little romantic retreat. I planned a surprise trip to Western Virginia for a couple nights in a mountain cabin and a day of hiking, then we'd drive down to Asheville, North Carolina for some beer tasting and some night life. My big surprise went off wonderfully and R was really excited. In addition to no cell service (which equals solitude), we had such a great time of reconnecting together. It's like we didn't know we needed a weekend away until we were there and it was JUST what we needed to really close the door on this deployment and start to feel like ourselves again. 

 Here are some of the other things that made our trip so awesome: 

The cabin we stayed at is owned by people who also run a horse rescue. The pastures where the horses graze came right up to the driveway of the cabin. Naturally, being this close to any animal that wasn't in a zoo was pretty exciting for me. I named the horses and kept tabs on them and frequently walked down to the driveway to make sure they were still okay. Yes. I am a little ridiculous when I am not in the city. 

Naturally, being this close to wine is something I feel much more comfortable with.

We also did a little playing with our fancy DSLR camera, which R knows much more about than I do, and he was showing me the basics. I think he makes a fantastic subject. 

After a gloriously lazy, rainy morning, we headed out to climb Mount Rogers, the highest point in Virginia. R has a goal of climbing the highest peaks in each of the 50 states. I accompanied him for a few of them, and some he's done on other trips. This was part of the surprise for him, so he could check another off his list. Mt. Rogers made Peak # 6. 

The summit was unfortunately entirely anticlimactic. It was a short, but tough hike up and the thick tree cover and muddy trails made for a depressing end point. We actually heard other hikers come up after us and miss the summit marker entirely, only to walk back and give a lack luster, "Oh. Here it is. We passed it." 

Some of the views at the top were worthwhile, though. 

However, we were rewarded on the way down with this little run in! The state park is known for wild ponies and signs at the trail head let people know the etiquette, (no feeding, no harassing. Who would harass a wild pony!?) On the way up we saw a few in the distance, but we didn't really get a close look at them. But on the way down, this mama and her colt were right on the trail!  

Mama was pretty aloof and minded her own business while she munched on grass, but baby was very curious about us. 

I thought getting up close to the horses by the cabin was pretty much the most amazing animal encounter I'd ever had. Well I just about lost my mind when this little baby girl let me pet her and she nibbled my hand looking for a treat. (I am probably breaking park rules by petting her, so please don't report me to the nature police...I did not feed her, though! And I didn't even think of harassing her. In fact, I probably made a fool of myself talking to her in baby talk and treating her like she was Black Beauty.) I was never a horse kid growing up, but I think I regressed to an 8 year old girl that afternoon. After we left, I just kept turning to R with a perma-grin and saying, "Did you see that?! Did you see me pet the baby pony!?" 

After our hike and pony adventure, we grilled out and sipped bourbon drinks while we watched the sun set. I mean, it really doesn't get much better than that. I'm pretty sure I dreamed of horses that night. 

The next day we left the cabin for Asheville, NC; a very cool city with a seriously cool craft beer scene. There are somewhere around 15 breweries in and around the city, and new ones are opening all the time. We did our best to visit as many as we could in a walking distance from our hotel downtown. We were pretty successful... which explains the lack of pictures. 

On the way out of Asheville, R said he had one quick stop to make. Turns out the highest point in North Carolina, Mount Mitchell, wasn't far off our route, and (lucky for me) it's a peak you can drive to! So, with almost no effort at all, R checked Peak #7 off the list. 

The view at the top of Mt. Mitchell was way more rewarding, even though it only cost us a lazy 100 yard walk. Although, sadly, there were no horses on this trail.

It was a wonderful, relaxing weekend filled with beautiful scenery, good drinks, and the very best company.