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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Pitching Cider

Okay, this was a longer starter time than I usually do. Normally a starter gets 24 hours to get rocking, but if it ain't rocking, don't pitch it.

So much for the theory that the smack pack was sufficient to pitch into five gallons. Hah! It was scarcely sufficient for ONE gallon.

Well, in fairness, my basement floor is pretty fucking cold. Which is a good thing, because a cold, long ferment scrubs less of the apple character from the cider. Still, 72 hours is a long damn time to wait for it to get going.

Hopefully the cool basement temps will prevent airlocks from blowing. When a ferment gets out of hand, things get messy. And the heat generated by the yeast warms the must beyond healthy levels.

But my first batch of cider, the one that wone a blue ribbon, was fermented against this same cold floor. So I'll be patient. I'll even forgive airlocks being thrown into the space under the stairs where I put the carboys if I get half as good a cider.

I added grape tannin while I was at it. This is a trick I learned years ago. Traditional hard ciders are made with a substantial portion of crab apples to increase the bite. Tannin is the shit in wine that tastes bitter. You don't want too much of it, but you need some. The dessert apples Louisburg Cider Mill uses have plenty of acid but are way lacking in tannin.

I've heard people say you can overdo the tannin, but with the cider juice I've used, I haven't found that to be true. I use upwards of two tablespoons to five gallons. I boil it in a small amount of water to dissolve it thoroughly, then dump it in. Curiously, it enhances the perception of apple character, even though it's grape tannin.

Frazier Nash

I'm not really a car person. Or maybe I am and it's just that reality is repressing me.

But if I had money to blow on cars, no way would I be cruising around in a big SUV. There's the occasional new car that has some appeal, the Scion XB, the Mini Cooper, the FJ Cruiser, but mainly new cars suck. Hard.

Still, I had to take a picture of this car I saw on the way to a job interview.

Maybe new cars have always been horrible. Ignatius Reilly thought so back in the 60s, when so many classics were built:

“They would try to make me into a moron who liked television and new cars and frozen food. Don’t you understand? Psychiatry is worse than communism.”*

But if cars have always been lame as a group, the ones people preserve or duplicate with kit cars are the exceptions. The cars that rock. The ones that might not have been worth a year's salary and enslavement to usurious bankers, but at least gave you something for the misery they caused.

*That's a quote from one of my favorite novels,
A Confederacy of Dunces. If you haven't read it, get off the internet and get to turning pages.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Foot in Mouth

Last time I was out of work, I stumbled on a headhunter who got me the best job I've had in my life. I might be bitter about how I was let go—hell, if this wasn't a Right to Work state, I'd have a solid wrongful discharge case—but it was a great job.

The guy worked for a placement agency at the time, one I've got a resume in to in fact. But my first thought was not the agency, it was this guy in particular. I had his card. A couple years after I'd worked with him, I met him at a trade show, and he'd gone independent. He asked me if I was looking and I said no, which was true. I would have said no anyway because he asked me this right in front of my boss at the time.

But I kept that card.

My first impression was of a sleazy salesman. But he told it straight, said things that didn't fit the impression. In fact, he ultimately struck me as improbably decent for someone who's job included advertising and sales.

When I reached a crossroads in my great job, a time when it didn't seem so great and I had to decide if it was worth it to keep going, I called him. The job market was tight, brutally tight, at the time. This was the trough of the 2000-2001 stock market crash.

What did this headhunter say? A guy who stood to gain a commission if he could peddle me to a new employer, even if it was a worse deal for me than what I'd get staying put? What would you say?

"You got a job," he said. "Keep it."

I did, and I also kept him in mind as my first call if I was ever out of work or deeply unhappy with my job. And when the time came, I couldn't find his card. Or any other evidence of him in a Google search, a yellow pages search, etc.

I wondered if he'd moved to another market, or if the slump had been bad enough to push him into another line of work. Or maybe he got bought back into another recruiting agency.

So tonight I found out that he did indeed get out of headhunting because it got too lean for too long. I found out at a meeting of an organization he helped inspire, the founder of which told me she thought of him as a mentor.

So then I asked the worst possible question. "Is he even still alive?"

I meant this to be light. He wasn't particularly old, maybe early 50s by now. I meant it in the way you might tell a friend who's been scarce that you'd been checking car trunks for his body.

But no, he's not still alive. He died of esophageal cancer about a year ago. I feel like I should have kept in touch better. And like I should know better than to jest so morbidly.

And like any notion that I have troubles just because I need a job is just ridiculous.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Lighter Side of Alcoholism

Okay, I don't usually post YouTube crap,* but this warrants an exception.

The exception is because I have a story to add. I grew up hearing the tale of how my Mom laughed until she cried the first time she saw Foster Brooks on TV. It was a Tonight Show thing I can't seem to find on the 'net, and Foster was supposed to give Johnny an award. She thought he was actually drunk and even felt sorry for him when he broke the award.

Mom's not really the belly-laugh type, but he got to her. And to everyone, I think, who's seen him.

Foster also became the handle the artist formerly known as Frau Lobster used when she thought my judgment was degraded. As in:

Me (reaching for the bottle of Gilbey's in the freezer to pour over another pair of bleu cheese stuffed olives): I think the Marrou-Lord ticket would win if people would vote their consciences.
Ex: Whatever, Foster.

With humor when we still liked each other, with malice in later years. Not that she was uniformly wrong in this.

Still, watching this, I laugh until I cry like Dean Martin does.

*I have to credit Percy Trout for blogging this. He usually doesn't put YouTube crap up either, he usually confines himself to classic pulp and the occasional illustration. If you haven't checked out his blog, by the way, you gotta.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Drink Up the Cider

For those of you who didn't know me years before there was such a thing as a blog, I'm a homebrewer. Well, a lapsed homebrewer. My memberships in the American Homebrewers Association and the Kansas City Bier Meisters are lapsed, and my brew kettles have been dormant for about four years.

I'm still a National Rank BJCP judge. I've stayed moderately active in judging, lest you think my geek factor is really fading here.

About four years ago, the Artist Formerly Known as Frau Lobster and I tried to sell the house and build a new one. After walking away from one deal and signing a contract with another builder, we ultimately couldn't sell our house in time for the contingency and someone else moved into 'our house' with all our options and all that. So then we refinanced and hired a friend to fix some shit, and it was actually worse when he finished. Well, finished is a strong word: when he quit coming out and pretending he was going to finish.

Anyway, I had stored some of my brewing stuff at my Mom's (along with a bunch of other stuff) to make the house more spacious at our Realtor's suggestion, and then the driveway being wrecked and my fermentation fridge that let me ferment cool even in the summer crapped out and eventually I just hadn't gotten the shit out in a long damn time.

In the wake of the divorce, there was a lot of remedial housekeeping I needed to do before I could even consider brewing anyway, and I've been kinda busy with single fatherhood and working (until a month ago) and so on.

But it had been in my mind. Among the put aways is at least ten gallons of Louisburg Cider juice, my first choice in commercial juice to harden. I'd been thinking about getting this going, but I didn't want to spend a bunch of money at Bacchus & Barleycorn given my zero income.

Still, I thought, what would I need? A yeast culture? Maybe fresh siphon hose and a new racking cane? I still had iodophor, PBW, and what's this?

I found a gift certificate to Bacchus & Barleycorn from Christmas of 2002 in the homebrew gear closet.

So now there's no excuse. It wasn't enough to get the makings of a batch of beer, but for what I'd need to get some cider working, it was ample.

I used Wyeast's sweet mead yeast, one I've had good luck with in past ciders. The smack packets are bigger now, which is nice. They're trying to hit the larger market of homebrewers and winemakers who won't be bothered with a starter, so they label it as sufficient to pitch in 5 gallons once the packet has swollen up (three to six hours).

But in my extensive reading, every figure I've seen on pitching rates suggests that even the larger smack packs are ridiculously small. You want the culture you're pitching to take off before competing wild yeasts (or worse, bacteria) can get a foothold. You also don't want to stress the yeast, and a large, working culture means fewer funky byproducts of yeast metabolism in the glass. Some of these byproducts can be pretty obnoxious.

So I made a gallon starter, with a teaspoon of yeast nutrient and hit it with bottled oxygen (a stone on the end diffuses the 02, you give it 30 seconds, agitate for 20 minutes, hit it for 30 seconds again).

Tomorrow I'll pitch this into probably ten gallons. I've had good luck with half gallon starters for a five gallon batch, so that should be about right. And I've got some honey left from my beekeeping days to make a mead with later in the week. The lees of a batch of cider is the perfect starter for a mead: it amounts to a five gallon starter, and given the challenge of fermenting honey, a monster culture is the way to go.

In the process, I also found I had five gallons of cider I'd forgotten about. This is from late 2001, I believe. My friend Leo lived in Minnesota at the time, and his homebrew club did a field pressing in an orchard in the fall. He brought me five gallons of juice that was already going from spontaneous fermentation. This is the great unknown, where you just let the yeast and bacteria on the apples do the work like they would have in the days before Pasteur. Or the days after in a lot of places. But it's unpredictable: you could get great cider, you could get passable vinegar. It could be perfectly balanced, it could be battery acid sour.

In this case, I believe it's heavily oxidized. This is because when I tucked this carboy away four plus years ago and forgot it, the airlock went dry. The cider was well topped up, but I'm skeptical. Even sealed in a keg in the beer fridge, it would be heavily oxidized by now. It smells cidery, though, and I put a fresh airlock on it. I'm thinking tomorrow I'll keg it up and see what it's like once it's chilled and sparkling.

Oh, I did go to the liquor store. I needed airlock vodka. Some homebrewers use water, but I've never trusted that. If the barometric pressure shoots up, the airlock's contents can get sucked into the carboy. So if you've got stagnant water in the airlock, you're sucking anything that's growing in that water in. For $4, a pint of rot-gut vodka will fix you up with airlock liquid for batches and batches. If it gets sucked into a five gallon batch, it's insignificant and neutral. And nothing, absolutely nothing, biological is going to happen in the stuff.

It was good, too, to get out my old brewing log. This will be, according to the log, batch #88. The number surprised me, I thought I had made over a hundred batches.

It's so good to be back in the saddle with this stuff. When I get an income under me, I'll have to make me a batch of beer. Or two. Or two hundred.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Daddy Veto

Em has been wanting to watch The Amityville Horror. It had been a long, long time since I'd seen it, and I saw it was rated R.

I'm not one of those Dads who shows his eleven year olds R rated movies as a rule. But the ratings system is so ridiculous, I've seen PG movies (and, come to that, prime time TV commercials) that aren't appropriate for my kids. Yet a couple of boobs and the movie is rated R. I don't care if Em sees boobs. And in the 1970s, a topless scene for any attractive female star was de rigueur, something I appreciated greatly in my early adolescence.

I requested it from the library but said I'd have to preview it. My Dad used to do this same annoying thing. What I didn't realize was I'd gotten a remake.

It struck me that the women, especially Melissa George and Rachel Nichols, were dressed in styles that would fit with 1979 but would easily fly in 2007 as well. I had this little script about fashion repeating itself running through my head before I realized that the picture quality didn't say 1979.

I was also impressed by the special effects, there was a remarkable lack of cheesy, ill-defined effects. This movie, in fact, gave me the willies.

Big time. I mean, it was skillfully done, the kind of shit that makes you spill your drink.

Plus, I remember reading a critique of the 1979 film by Stephen King, where he talks about the resonance with the audience because they can relate to the financial stress angle. They kept that in the remake, the sense that they were getting in way over their heads even with the amazing discount a mass murder put on the asking price of the house.

In fact, debt is the monster of the house. It's what makes George say unconscionable things, it's what splits up the young couple. Only massive money fights would make a dude in the basement with Melissa George on the third floor.

Even the way George insists on toughing it out, both for his wife and to show her how wrong she was, the failure to cut and run, etc. Wow.

But Em doesn't need to watch this. It's way freaky, and it deals with more stepfather issues than would be healthy for a kid who just got a stepfather.

It's a solid reamke, though. Not sure if the 1979 one would hold up, but I'm not sure I'm willing to screen it to see if Em could watch THAT version.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Snowfolk From My Hood

I had to take snaps of these, I'm really impressed with my neighbors' creativity. These are all within about two blocks of my house.

I mean, we have the traditional snowmen, sure:

And the ones I can't tell if they're minimalist or if they got tired and cold before they finished:

We have the Snowgeezer:

And the Snowretiree:

The Snowlulu:

The Snowredneck:

Okay, more than one Snowredneck:


Snowfather and Snowson (I think at the Snowbeach):

And my favorite of all, the Snowskaterpunk:

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Snowchick & Slope Time

Without a neighbor's help, no way I could have gotten the middle section of this snowwoman up. Snowwoman is actually recognized by Word as a word, but you don't hear it. You also don't hear snowbabe, snowgal, snowchick, snowbroad...

Maybe it's good that snowbroad isn't a word.

Yes, it's a girl. Em is fed up with the cultural norm that says every stack of snowballs is a dude. Her name is Thora Louise, and she's a chef. Chef hats for snowfolk turn out to be one of the handier things to do with leftover yard signs from election season.

Thora Louise is a bit of an amazon, about my height not counting the hat.

The snow was so sticky, her branch fingers could hold a snowball.

But with a snow like this and a Sunday? We couldn't stop at that. Well, we could have, but I was reminded that these opportunities really shouldn't be let to go to waste.

So who's up for sledding?

Not Em. She insisted she was fed up with the cold, didn't enjoy sledding, and so on. So she stayed home while me and Mo hit the slope.

A bit of a mucky slope by the time we got to it, but plenty steep and plenty slick.

I can't believe Em wanted to miss out on this. There was a pretty good mogul at the bottom of the hill, one that looked innocent from above. I didn't mean to hit it on my first run, but I did. I didn't feel like I was going that fast, either, but it sure popped me up. I slammed down on an elbow. My chiropractor will be ecstatic about the general effects of the day.

Our boxes eventually fell apart, and I couldn't get Mo to quit eating muddy snow, so we had to pack it in. The boxes didn't run as good as trash can lids, and I wish I'd thought of those, because I've got several lids I never use.

Some of the folks even had proper sleds or tobagans. A parent noticed Mo eyeing their slick yellow jobby and gave her a shot on it. She went about twenty feet further after the hill flattened out on that. I don't know, though, she seemed to have a lot of fun with the boxes. Or even, a couple of runs, just sliding.

Mo also never really got the idea of going down to where the hill wasn't so steep to come back up. I swear I couldn't have come up some of the billy goat runs she made.

The bummer is, she got way tired way early tonight and I couldn't get her to take a shower before she crashed, and tomorrow is a school day. Hopefully most of the filth was on the clothes, which I've washed.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

A Big Fat Waste of Time

Okay, I normally don't 'game.' I play chess online, but that's it.

But this one is interesting. Up to a point, anyway. I showed it to Em, and she found it delightful. So if you have an eleven year old in you, this is your game.

It's an economics game, really. The less gold you spend on towers, the higher your score. It has some hints that help: the creeps coming into the maze, the bottom of the screen tells you how many 'hp' they are rated at. I think that's 'hit points,' because it relates to the 'damage points' your tower is rated at. So if your creeps are 100 hp, it would take two hits from a tower with a damage rating of 50 to get rid of the creep. If you use this to figure out how many towers to build and when to upgrade them, it makes a huge difference in the amount of gold you accumulate.

And the interest on that gold adds up in the later levels, so you can really go gonzo at the end when the creeps have 25001 hp and you need ten or fifteen upgraded rocket launchers.

The 'wood' you get every seven levels can be used either to 'research' more advanced towers or to increase the interest rate you earn on your unspent gold. It seems like if you use the first three wood to get to the most advanced tower, it's not too hard to finish the game. There might be an even trickier combination, I don't know. There's some ridiculous high scores listed when you finish, but the guy who wrote it says there's a hack some people have found to give themselves scores and 'levels' that don't exist.

39 is the last level. Finish level 39 and it gives you your score, tells you you're amazing (as in an amazing LOSER), and that's it.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Splain This

Okay, so I'm curious, how much driving could be done on the bed of this truck, that someone decided to stencil this on it?

Monday, January 15, 2007

Check Out The Big Brains on Em

I had a Rubik's Cube when I was a kid, but I never did figure out how to solve it without disassembling it. I even tried to fool my family that I'd solved it one day. They were running some errand and I asked to stay home alone. Mom thought it was me trying to be independent, but I just wanted the privacy to start prying it open.

During the Awake Over, someone (they all denied being the one, as if it was Serious Trouble, making me think they all took part) rearranged the stickers to try and solve it. Which is the one thing I'd have wished they hadn't tried because they never quite stick right again.

Today Em wanted my help solving the cube my way.

Which is fine with me. In the process of reassembling it, we discovered that the geniuses moving stickers had actually created a cube that didn't solve, so we unrearranged some of them.

On seeing it come apart, Em declared it the 'best toy ever.' When I told her that it was named for the Hungarian teacher, Erno Rubik, she said she wanted to meet him. I said that he sure seemed to be brilliant, had invented some similar puzzles to boot, and she said, 'He must be very rich.'

But I guess he's kind of a recleuse, and I don't know if you could get rich yet in the 1980s in Hungary. I seem to recall hearing that it was one of the first Soviet satellites to start gravitating to market reforms, but who knows?

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Awake Over

Em's eleventh birthday bash, wow. She got the day before covered at her Mom's, and the day of, the three grandparents and an aunt and uncle from my side came down for lunch, cake and ice cream.

The cake, my first from scratch (really my first cake, I don't think I've ever even done a box cake) was apparently edible. Actually, it got high marks and I can honestly say it did not suck. I need some practice writing with the frosting nozzle, but the cake itself was pretty much what I was aiming for, well risen and moist.

I'm still more of a pie guy.

Anyway, then we did the Big Awake Over. We called these affairs slumber parties when I was Em's age, but the term has lost currency. I remember one I went on when I was in third grade, when I stayed up past the others in the dark family room at a friend's house, watching the verboten HBO. Jaws was on, and that was exactly the kind of movie my parents did not want me watching.

I read the book that year, and I can't remember if I saw the movie first or if I'd already read the novel. I remember my oral book report on the novel almost got me kicked out of school. The teacher would say, 'That's enough,' when I'd get into some of the gory details or the marital infidelity, and she meant, 'Put a cork in it,' but it was too good a book: 'Wait, there's still more!'

Watching that flick alone in the dark at 2:00 a.m., I think that may be the only movie I've ever had actual nightmares from. It was great.

Anyway, Em's been begging to have a sleepover, and I talked to the parents of three of her most regular playmates in the neighborhood and they were all for it. Which kind of amazed me on some levels. Not that I think I'm all that deficient as a father, it's just that having someone else's child overnight, what a huge responsibility.

I made pizzas. I used red sauce for the plain cheese preferred by two of the girls. I never use red sauce because we all prefer Alfredo or olive oil instead in this house. But I didn't want to start the party off with kiddos theorizing that this was all a plot to poison them.

I did do a white pie (Alfredo) with prosciutto and black olives, and one of the guests tried it and loved it, but the plain cheese with tomato sauce was well received.

One of the kids declared that, 'Gambino's used to be my favorite pizza, but I think this is.' I'm like, yeah, this kid has my number.

One thing I found out I wasn't prepared for was just how much louder the house is with five girls instead of two. I'm talking loud like a Black Sabbath concert, except cheerful and well behaved. I might have doubts about my parent-ness, but these kids seemed to just assume that I'm actually an adult.

They played American Idol, and I got to be Simon. I don't watch TV much, and I've only seen the show in a second hand smoke sort of way, but it's easy enough to badmouth everything in a bad British accent. Except they tell me he says everything is 'appalling,' not 'excrementally bad.'

I wondered how Mo would do with the party. She doesn't relate to other kids quite the way you need to for some of the essential elements of a sleepover. She doesn't tell jokes or speculate about the relative sexiness of Orlando Bloom versus Johnny Depp. But she chatters excitedly sometimes, and you can't always make out the sentences but there are keywords to clue into what she's chattering about and I detected 'sleepover' clearly many times. And she turned out to be keen on the main element of a sleepover, which is to not sleep if you can help it. She only made it to ten, but for a kid that's normally zonked shortly after eight, not bad.

The second Pirates of the Caribbean was the movie choice. Well, we started What's Eating Gilbert Grape. It was the Birthday Girl's pick, and seconded by one of her guests who raved about it. The other two were dubious, and we gave it to the first water tower scene and chucked it for familiar ground.

It's easier to tell jokes over a movie you've all memorized.

I made popcorn for the movie, and before long, they wanted ice cream. Again.

Not a problem, but they'd just had ice cream with the cake like an hour before. This was the other thing that was kind of a shock about five girls versus two: I'm used to my two kiddos, and can anticipate a lot of their requests. They also know where to get a lot of stuff for themselves. And what to expect. They know I don't have red cream soda, they'd have seen it go into the grocery basket if I did, so they don't ask for it. The needs and wants of three kids from completely different homes keeps you on your toes.

But I didn't want them eating ice cream in the living room. The youngest is six, and I know my carpet is shot but I really don't need to beg for messes.

They didn't care about the movie, they gladly paused it to come eat ice cream. When they hit the movie again, and Mo was down, I snuck down to check my email and move in my chess games. When I came up a half hour later, the TV was off and they were back in Em's room. Doing something hilarious from the sound of it. Still, they were doing a great job of toning it down like I asked when Mo went to bed.

I told them about my sleepover memory, Jaws. Which led to a discussion of how sharks are really important, and maybe not so scary. And how wrong the fin harvesting boats out of China are, wasting entire animals that take decades to reproduce and grow those fins just for a bowl of status symbol. The six year old commented that 'you're not supposed to do that to God's creatures.' We decided that swimming in the ocean was taking a chance with sharks about like walking around a horse is taking a chance on having the daylights kicked out of you. Don't blame the animal, you're the one who walked behind it. Or swam in front of it with an open running sore or whatever.

About 1:00 a.m., I was too beat to stay up. I'd taken to reading in bed but I was staring at the same paragraph for untold minutes while the party giggled and shushed on the other side of the wall. At one point, I distinctly heard, 'It doesn't matter if her Dad is ciiidfasdf, you still can't, mmongahmpphff.'

Awhile later Em shook me to wake me up because one of the honyocks was nauseaus. I asked he she was okay, and she went to check. I had fallen back to sleep, but in any case the nausea had turned out to be a mere novelty. They got a big white bowl from the kitchen just in case and resumed staying up.

By one account, they made it to 3:50 a.m. They seemed about spent when I went down at one, but who knows?

They got up at 9:30 with screams and giggles. Which suprised me. Em will (if I let her) sleep until noon with a regular bedtime. If figured at anything past midnight she might sleep until the Martin Luther King holiday is over. When I asked them if Pop Tarts for breakfast might make them hyper, one told me, 'Too late!'

It was a gas. I've been bone tired all day, but it was worth it.