Sunday, December 4, 2011

Hey! Sorry I haven't updated in forever. I wish I had some excuse, like alien abduction, amnesia or winning the lottery... but I don't.  I've just been preoccupied with other things. So here's a quick update on what's new in my life.

 - Culinary school is wrapping up. I have just two weeks left in class, including finals.
 - As part of my practical exam for baking, I have entered into the NMC Gingerbread House Competition. I have been working on my house off and on for a week now, and I've still got a lot of work to go. I'll post pictures soon...

 - I haven't made any new beer recently... but I plan to soon!
 - The beer that I already made turned out well, for the most part.
 - Spiced Zmas Ale: brown ale with hops, ginger, orange peel, and nutmeg.
 - Coffee Pot Experiment #2: A SMaSH (Single Malt and Single Hop) beer, light in body and color. Could have used more hops in it, though.
 - Imperial Stout: Thick, chocolaty, and tasty, but I didn't add enough priming sugar, so it's a bit flat...

 - I have a gig! I'm gonna be working a New Years Eve gig at a near-by casino.  I'll give you more details when I get them...

 - I have a steady job! I'm working as a part-time projectionist at a local movie theatre.  It's super fun, and now I'll have more money to spend on beer supplies...

So, that's the last month-and-a-half, in a nutshell.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Coffee Pot Beer: Some notes.

Some thoughts on the whole "Coffee Pot Beer" thing:

 - It was a lot of work for about two pints of beer.  But, it was kinda fun, and if I can make it work so that it becomes a mostly hands-off process, it would make it a far more attractive option for making small batches of beer. So, I'm probably gonna try again.

 - The OG of the beer was 1.030.  This is pretty low, and means that at best, I will get a 4.0 ABV beer. At first, I was concerned that I had an incomplete mash, and because I topped off the fermenter with a bit of water to make up for lost wort.  But after crunching some numbers, it turns out that I just didn't use much grain.  So, the 1 1/4 cups (about 5 ounces) be increased.  There was definitely room in the lauter-tun (or coffee filter basket) for more grians.  

 - There was a huge drop in volume during the boil. A shorter boiling time could help solve this, as could having a lid on the pot during boil.  This guy got 3 bottles out of each batch, meaning he had at least 36 oz. of beer.

 - The recipe.  Let's face it... it was way too much chocolate malt.  Also, I may have put in too much hops... 

 - I don't like using an open fermenter... I've never used one before, and I don't like not having an airlock.  Partly, the risk of something getting into the beer concerns me (but it's not that likely).  mostly, I like to have an airlock going glug glug glug as a visual indicator of active fermentation.

So... definitely not a complete failure, but there is definitely room for improvement.  I'll try it again sometime soon, and I'll try to post pictures, too.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Coffee pot all-grain beer

Yes, you read the title correctly. I will attempt to brew a batch of all-grain beer in a coffee pot. No, I am not making this up. It has been done before. Yes, this is completely ridiculous.  I'm doing it anyways. Right now.

Now, regardless of how good or bad the beer may turn out, it at least demonstrates the 5 stages of all-grain beer brewing (mashing, lautering, boiling, fermenting, bottling), allowing you to see how the process works.  So... I'm gonna dive into it, and update as I go along.


What is mashing? Mashing is where we take malted barley (and possibly other grains) and convert it into sweet sugar-water (called wort (pronounded 'wert')) so that the yeast can eat it and make alcohol. You combine a measured amount of hot water and grains together and let them sit at about 150 - 158 degrees F for  an hour. At those temperatures, enzymes (pieces of protein that do stuff) break down the starches in the grains and turn it into sugars.

Here's what I did with the coffee pot:
 - Put 1 cup pale ale malt and 1/4 cup chocolate malt into the carafe.  (I didn't need to crack my grains before this. I had cracked them previously)
 - Added 2 cups (actual measuring cups, not the 'cup' measurement on the side of the carafe) in the water reservoir of the coffee maker.
 - Turned the pot on and let it run.
 - Once all the water was in the carafe, I stirred the grains and water with a wooden spoon. Leave the heater under the carafe on.

At first I was apprehensive about this.  If you mash too hot (over 158 deg.), you deactivate the enzymes, and you get no wert. If you mash too cold (below 150 deg.), the enzymes work really, really slowly, and mashing takes far longer than it should. But, 20 minutes in, the mash it holding at 154 deg... this may actually work.

UPDATE: The temperature is climbing... it's near 158 deg.  I'm gonna take it off the burner for 5 or 10 minutes, see if it cools down a few degrees.

UPDATE: Cooled down fast. It went down to 150 deg. in less than 5 minutes, so I put it back on the burner.  It's been there for 15 minutes and is only at 145 deg... I guess the burner can hold things at a temperature, but not bring them up? Anyways... it's a bit lower than it should be, but I'm gonna keep going anyways.


Lautering is where we seperate the wort from the grains.  We do this in several steps.  First, we strain the grains out.  Then, we pour the wort back through the grains (the grain act as a filter, and help remove small bits that may have been missed the first time.  After that, we rinse the grains with hot water, pulling every bit of sugary goodness out of the grains.

Doing this in a coffee pot is a bit tricky...

UPDATE: It worked.... after a few tweaks.  The original website called for pouring your mash through a coffee filter, collecting the wort, and then pouring the wort and 1 cup of water into the reservoir, repeating this 4 more times, adding a cup of water each time.  However, as soon as I
started filtering the mash through the coffee filter, I knew this was gonna take way too long.

Time for a different approach.  Screw coffee filter.  Get a mesh strainer, put it over your boiling pot (3 quart pot is a good size), and pour the mash into that.  Put all the grains into the filter basket (without a coffee filter), and put the filtered wort (plus 1 cup of water) into the reservoir. Run the pot.

While this is going, keep the lid of the coffee maker open, so you can watch the level of wort in the grains. The last thing you want is an overflow, making a sticky mess everywhere.

Once all the wort has filtered through, put it back in the reservoir, and add 2 cups of water (I know it says one cup at a time, but I'm impatient).  Run it again.  Repeat this one more time (you should have added a total of 5 cups of water, not counting the mash water at the start).

You should have about 11 'cups' of liquid in your coffee pot (remember, the markings on the carafe are not accurate cups.  They're actually about 6 oz servings...).  Go ahead and just top it off to the 12 'cup' mark, which is actually 2 quarts.  Go ahead and put this wort into the boiling pot, and get that on the stove.

Now, before you do anything else, CLEAN YOUR FUCKING COFFEE POT! Run a few cycles with new water and a new filter each time.  Wipe down anywhere you may have spilled wort.


Boiling is where we add things to our beer (usually). Things like hops, spices, and other additions take place.  We boil our beer for about an hour, because the hops that we add need time to release the alpha acids, which in turn give beer it's bitterness.

Put your wort on the stove, bring it to a boil, and add your hops (reserving one or two pellets).  If, like me, you're using dried hops, not pellet hops, drop me a line and let me know how much to use. I have no idea... I went with about 15 hop flowers.

Boil this for 45 minutes.  You don't need a rolling boil... somewhere between a simmer and a full boil should be ok.

UPDATE: At the end of the 45 minute, add you remaining hops and boil for 5 more minutes.  Then take it off the heat.


This is the step where you let your wort sit and let the yeast turn it into beer...

While the wort was boiling, you should have been sanitizing your fermenter(s).  For this experiment I am using two quart jars, one of which turned out to not be necessary.  Put a splash of bleach into the jars, added some water, put the lids on and shake them up.  After letting them sit for a few, rinse them out with tap water.

Carefully pour the wort into the jars.  I poured everything into one jar, then poured it into the other jar through a strainer to remove the hops.  In retrospect, this was a bad idea; once there were hops in the strainer, it made the wort splash all over, and I lost maybe half a cup (not good when you only have quart of wort at this point).

If you need to, top off the jar with water so you have at least 28oz of liquid.  Put the jar in a pot with cold water, and let is sit till it's near room temperature.  Once it's below 85deg., sprinkle in some yeast (i used a bit of champagne yeast I had in the fridge). Cover the top of the jar with a square of cheesecloth, put the ring of the lid on to hold it down, and then set the flat part of the lid on top of that. Put the jar somewhere dark and quiet, where it can sit undisturbed for about a week.

Now, some of you may be asking why the beer isn't sealed in some airtight container with an airlock to let out the excess CO2.  The type of fermenting we are doing is called open fermentation.  It relies on sanitary practices to keep the beer safe.  Once the yeast has taken hold, it will create a blanket of CO2 above the surface to help keep bad bacteria out.  The purpose of the lid on top is not to create a hermetic seal, but to just keep out dust and dirt.

However, if you wanted to put it in a growler or other fermenter, attatch an airlock, and ferment in a closes system, you're welcome to do that, too.

The final step, bottling, will have to wait until fermentation is complete.  I'll post about that when it happens.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

My first all-grain beer

About a month and a half ago, I decided to explore the deep end of beer brewing pool: all-grain brewing. To complicate things further, I decided to do this on a whim, at a friends house, with no-one else around who knew anything about brewing.  It was ugly.  Messes were made, curses were uttered, and more than one frantic phone call was made to an acquaintance who is far more knowledgeable about all-grain than I. But in the end, I prevailed, and had two gallons of  a strawberry wheat beer fermenting happily away.
It looks like beer...

Flash forward to last week, when I finally found the free time to bottle the beer (which had been sitting in secondary for several weeks).  Two gallons fit quite nicely into a dozen bottles and three bombers.

Cut to last night, where I opened the first bottle to give it a try. What is it like? Well...

First off, the title 'Strawberry Wheat Beer' is a bit misleading.  There is no hint of strawberry red in it's coloring.  There is no scent of fresh strawberries in the nose.  And, unless you're looking for it, you're not likely to notice the very, very faint strawberry note in the taste.  However, it is a damn fine wheat beer. It's quite light in body, with a subtle (almost too subtle) hop bite to balance things out.  I have no idea the alcohol content, but would guess about 4.5% based on the recipe. This would have been a great beer to have about two months ago to combat the August heat.

When I next get around to brewing a batch of beer (hopefully soon!) I'll post about the whole complicated process. Until then, cheers!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Starfish TC: First run-through

Woah... we did it. We got the children through the first run-through of the show. It was rough, but it actually way better than it could have gone, and far smoother than some past Starfish rehearsals. That being said, we still have tons of work to do before the show opens on Friday (eeek! less than 48 hours!). Tomorrow, we do a full dress rehearsal. It will likely go far rougher than I want it to, and far smoother than I fear it will go. 

Also, we will eat fire for the kids as a reward for working so hard tonight.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Starfish Update!

Woah! So much to write about, so little time!

The past week and a half have been super-busy and super-rewarding! Between classes and Starfish, I have had very little free time (hence, no blog updates... sorry).  Here's a quick taste of what been happening:

Audition day came and went.  It was not nearly as crazy as I had anticipated it to be, and we ended up casting most of the kids who auditioned.

I'm trying something completely new with poi. Choreography will be more than just spinning things in circles.

One of my students fell off of a rolling globe and broke his elbow. Even though it was just an accident, I feel really, really bad about this. Luckily, he's still in the show. We've made him a lion tamer, and he has become reasonable adept with a whip in almost no time at all.

All of he kids are working very hard, and it shows. We've had two more days to work with the kids than we usually do at Starfish gigs, and when you're only working for two weeks, the extra two days makes huge difference.  We're also working with a slightly smaller cast than usual. All we need to add to that is a few coaches (check!) some circus toys (check!) and a willingness to play (check!) and we have the makings of a spectacular show. I'm can't wait for opening night. See you there!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Starfish Circus in Traverse City!

Starfish Circus started yesterday and I couldn't  be happier!

What is Starfish Circus? Why, I'm glad you asked, dear anonymous reader.  Starfish Circus is a two-week long circus residency program for high-schools.  What this means is that a group of circus coaches (including me) shows up at a high-school, holds an audition, casts 50-80 kids, and then in just two weeks, teaches them enough circus skills to put on a full show.  

Yesterday was play day, the first part of this whole process.  I got out of baking class (where I made delicious choc. chip banana bread and raisin bran muffins), and went over to the high-school to meet up with the other coaches.  We spent most of the afternoon alternating between rigging gear in the auditorium, and going from class to class talking to the kids about the program.  We told them a little bit about ourselves and our circus backgrounds, what types of skills we would be teaching them, when the show is (Sept. 23rd and 24th.  Mark you calendars!), and what the time commitment would be. But, most importantly, we invited them to play day after school, where they can show up and try out all of the equipment! 

Play day is always fun for me. I get to meet new kids, let them try new things, and secretly scout for talent, which will come in handy today.  Today is auditions, and while we run things more like a workshop than a traditional audition, it is still stressful. I have to run a lot of kids through two different pieces of equipment (poi and rolla-bolla) in not a lot of time, so I often end up feeling rushed.  I also have to actually decide who makes the cut and who doesn't.  Having done this for over a year, I've gotten better at learning to be ruthless and selfish, thinking in terms of what will be best for the show, rather than what kid seems nice, or tried hard.  Yes, those personal qualities can made a difference, but come second to raw skill and natural aptitude.  So today will be the day of stress, where I might crush a few children's dreams, but will also get to pick the lucky bunch that I get to spend the next two weeks training with!

Friday, September 2, 2011

First week of classes

I have survived the first week of culinary school.  It was a bit rough, and it took a hearty amount of coffee, but I did it.  And despite the fast that I get up for class before the sun, I'm looking forward to the rest of the semester.  All three of my classes look like they're going to be really cool (or at least really interesting).

Professional Cookery is the big introductory class. It's where you learn what a kitchen looks like, how not to kill yourself while you're in there, and how to cook most types of foods. Also, we learn how to use knives. Even though I consider myself rather adept with a chef's knife or paring knife, I cannot wait to start chopping things in the kitchen. Chopping food makes me happy.  The only downside to the class it that it starts at 8:00AM, which is not cool. However, the early start time is balanced by the fact that we will basically get free lunch every day in class, because we get to eat what we've prepared that day in class.

Intro to Baking is, for now, my favorite class. I may be slightly biased in that opinion because it's the only class that I've actually prepared food in so far.  Professional Cookery will probably be a pretty cool class, but so far all we've covered is safety procedures and class organization.  We did that in Baking, too, but on Thursday we also got our hands dirty making muffins.  Specifically, we made big batches of pumpkin muffins.  And then we got to take them home and eat them.  They were delicious.  We're going to be making more quick breads over the next two weeks, and I can't wait to bring classwork home to share with everyone.

Safety and Sanitation doesn't sound like it would be that interesting of a class, but it actually looks like it'll be cool.  It's only once a week, and it starts at 1:00PM, so I get to sleep in on Fridays.  The geeky part of me is excited to learn the science side of food contamination and how it's prevented, and the practical side of me is happy to know that I get both CPR/First Aid and SafeServe certification by the end of the semester.

So, this semester looks like it'll be a fun couple of classes.  Also, I have a uniform that I have to wear for Intro to Baking and Professional Cookery. I'll post pictures of it later.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Baking Wednesday: Turbo Chocolate Chip Cookies

Baking Wednesday: The tradition that my friend and I started this summer.  It's pretty simple.  If the day of the week is Wednesday, you bake something. That's really it.

Being pressed for time, but not wanting to break tradition, I decided to make a quick batch of chocolate chip cookies.  How quick? From gathering ingredients to the last dish washed, cookies on the cooling rack: 30 minutes.  The trick is only baking one batch, and putting the rest of the dough in the fridge to bake later.  The recipe is basically the same as the one on the back of Tollhouse chocolate chip bags; I've had it memorized since I was 10.  The only difference is that I cut it in half tonight to save a bit of time on mixing, and I think I add a bit more flour than the original.

The cookies are not giant.  It's just a very, very small plate.
Turbo Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes: Cookies (probably 24-30 of them)

1 stick of butter, softened (not melted)
1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup chocolate chips

1. Pre-heat the oven to 375 F.
2. Get out all the ingredients, so you're not running all over the kitchen in a minute.  The point is to get this done fast, so we spend less time baking and more time eating cookies.
3. Cream the butter, sugar, and brown sugar. This means mix it until it's creamy.  No chunks of cold butter, no hard pieces of dried out brown sugar.
4. Add the egg and vanilla extract. Mix it all together.
5. Add the salt and baking soda.  Mix it all together.
6. Add 1/2 cup of flour.  Mix it all together.  Add another 1/2 cup of flour.  Mix.  Add the rest of the flour.  Mix.  Add chocolate chips.  Mix it all together.
7. Put spoonfuls of dough onto a baking sheet.  Only fill up one sheet. Bake it for 10 minutes.
8. Place extra dough in tupperware in the fridge.  Or eat it raw.  Whatever makes you happy.
9. Wash all your dishes while the cookies bake.
10. When the cookies are done, pull them out, let 'em cool for a minute, and then EAT THEM!

Seriously, if you don't dawdle while you make the dough and only bake one tray of cookies, this should take about 30 minutes.

Pull-up bars: They rock.

A few months ago, I made an impromptu decision to buy one of those in-door pull-up bars while shopping at a big box store. I try hard not to make last second purchases like this very often, but it was only $10. That was the best $10 ever spent.

Now, the type of pull-up bar I have is the kind that can be installed in like, 3.72 seconds (on average) because it just locks onto the door frame with some combination of physics and awesome. I'm sure it was designed like this so you can pull it out and install it whenever you want to work out, and then immediately take it down and put it away once you're all hot and sweaty. Don't do this. Put it up in a doorway and LEAVE IT THERE! Even if you still only do a full workout once a (week, month, year...), you will be inspired to do a few pull-ups here and there on a far more regular basis. I'm pretty sure I do at least one every day because, well, it's there. Why not play on it?

You may be wondering why I am writing about some piece of exercise equipment I purchased several months ago, or what it has to do with beer or circus. I'll tell you. Today, I discovered that I can thread my feet through the gap in between the door frame and the pull-up bar and hang from my knees. And then I can do inverted crunches from that position. Holy shit, I'm gonna get so ripped. Which is a good thing, because I have a circus gig coming up in about a week, and I'm kinda outta shape.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Ladies and Gentlemen...

...Welcome to the show!

I was recently asked by a friend to attempt to describe myself using five, and only five words. I took a minute, thought about it, and this is what I came up with:

"Domestic circus freak who brews."

We decided that, given the limitation, this was a fairly good fit for me. Let me see if I can explain why.

I can sew. I can cook. I can bake. I can (though often choose not to) clean. I keep house plants alive, play in gardens, paint houses, fix drains, and generally am not the worse person to have in your house. But the big one (two, really) is cooking and baking. As of yesterday, I started classes at the Great Lakes Culinary Institute, and will, in two years time, finish up with an Associated degree in Culinary Arts.

...circus freak...
I am one. I joined a circus club while enrolled at Kalamazoo College. We called ourselves Cirque du K. From them I learned all manner of circus skills: juggling, poi spinning, rolla-bolla, aerial silks, partner acrobatics, and a few other tricks. Now I work as a part time circus coach for a program called Starfish Circus. I use circus to teach children self-esteem and how to just play and have fun. While stressful at times, it is an incredibly rewarding job.

...who brews
This is my main hobby. I love brewing beer. I love reading about it, I love talking about it, I love doing it, and I enjoy drinking the finished product. Like so many hobbies, you can simply dabble in it, have some fun, and try something new, or you can geek out to the max, studying in-depth topics and advanced techniques, pushing consuming every bit of available knowledge and discovering completely new things. When it comes to beer, I venture down this second path.

So that's me in a nutshell. Also, that pretty much sums up the topics of this blog. I will try to keep posts limited to food, beer, and circus-related topics. I may even succeed.