Category Archives: Food and Drink

an update on the wheaton and son homebrewing experience

Today, Ryan and I racked (that's fancy homebrew language for "moved") our beer from its primary fermentation into its secondary fermentation. We know now that we probably moved it a little early, but since we're learning and everything, we'll just chalk it up to experience and hope for the best.

I've been worried about our beer (I know, I know, that's explicitly contraindicated by the system's operating instructions, but it's part of my firmware), because we made some mistakes: we didn't oxygenate it nearly enough after the coldbreak, we didn't rehydrate the yeast, and we forgot to put liquid into our fermentation lock for close to 24 hours.

Whoops. Kind of important things, there, it turns out. I understand that it isn't the biggest of deals, and we're going to learn from our mistakes for our next batch, but I still feel a little silly for making, well, rookie mistakes.

I never saw bubbles in the fermentation lock (our primary was a bucket), even after we put some vodak into the fermentation lock, but I just hoped for the best … and got a plesant surprise a few days ago when I bumped the lid and the lock bubbled, indicating positive pressure inside, and GOOD THINGS HAPPENING GO YEAST GO HUZZAH! This morning, we took a SG reading and saw that it had moved from 1.045 to 1.022 (temperature corrected). I couldn't find anything in our notes or on the recipe that told me when it was safe to rack it to secondary (which, I also know, isn't something you need to do with an APA, but a choice we made anyway) so I assumed that, since it was a bit more than a week later and the SG had fallen, we were safe to move it and let it keep fermenting in the carboy.

I think we may have racked it too soon, because I'm told by the Twitters that I should have waited until it was closer to 1.018 … and I may have screwed my FG if I didn't get enough active yeast into the secondary.

But even if we messed up, I'm not all that upset about it. It was still really fun and exciting to see and smell our beer for the first time since we locked it away in the fermentor. We're not giving up on this one, and we planned to do another batch pretty soon, anyway. In fact, I have two kits coming from the Brooklyn Brew Shop that we're going to make next week.

Question for the Homebrewers: did we screw up? If we did, how badly did we screw up? I don't think we got enough yeast into the secondary, because there was a huge yeastcake on the bottom of the primary when we were done. Can/should we pitch some more yeast into the carboy?

In which my son and I make our own beer

Ryan is going to be 22 at the end of the month. For those of you who have been here since I wrote the 13 on 31 post, you now know how I feel every single day. The rest of you can get off my lawn before I call your parents.

So the other day, he and I were having a beer together, and Ryan said, "We should make our own beer while I'm home this summer."

I tried homebrewing once when I was about Ryan's age, and it ended … poorly … I've wanted to try again, but I've always been intimidated by what I remembered was a complex and peril-fraught process. When Ryan suggested that we do this, though, the excitement and joy of doing something together gave me a natural 20 on my Save Versus Fear. Besides, even if it's a spectacular failure, it's still something we did together, something we can bond over, and something that will stay with us — success or failure — for the rest of our lives.

"That would be the most awesome father/son activity, ever," I said. "Plus, we get beer when we're finished!"

The next morning, we did a little research online, and the entire process actually looked a lot simpler and more straightforward that I remembered it being coughmumble years ago when I was 22. As long as we could follow a recipe and do our fermentation in a place that was temperature-controlled, we'd probably be able to make some beer that didn't suck.

We found a local homebrewing supply store, and went there yesterday to get our kit and ingredients.

The late afternoon had given way to early evening, but it was still 90 degrees as we parked the car and walked up the sidewalk toward the shop.

"I'm really excited about this," I said, partially because it was true, and partially because I needed to calm the nerves that were working themselves up. What if they laughed at us when we walked in? What if whoever worked there wasn't interested in helping a couple of noobs get started? What if I said something stupid and embarrassed my son?

"Yep," Ryan said.

'Yep'? That's it? 'Yep'? Not "Me too dad this will be awesome!" Not "Yeah, I'm looking forward to this, too." Not even, "Don't embarrass me, dude." Just 'yep'. Okay, Wil, don't blow this.

We walked into the store. It was cool inside, and smelled delightful from all the different types of grain that were in tubs along the walls. A man sat behind a counter at the far side of the room, reading a computer screen. I took a breath, and decided that it was go time.

"Hi," I said, "I tried homebreaing once about 15 years ago, and it was a disaster. My son's home for the summer, though, and we wanted to make our own beer together. Can you help us get started?"

He looked up at me, and smiled. "Sure, just give me one minute."

Awesome.

For the next twenty minutes or so, he literally and figuratively walked us through the entire process, showing us equipment and ingredients, and explaining in simple and precise terms exactly how the whole thing worked. I'm not entirely sure, but I think this guy could cast Dispel Fear as a free action, because by the time he was done, I felt like I was ready to go home and start brewing right away.

"Is there one type of beer that's more difficult than another?"

"Not really," he said. "Most of the beers you're going to make are pretty simple and forgiving. The hardest thing to make, honestly, is something like Budweiser."

Before I could say, "I said beer," he continued: "That's a very pale lager that doesn't leave much margin for error."

So they make that shit taste that way on purpose? And it's difficult? Wow, I learned something today.

"What about a California-style Pale Ale?" I asked, hopefully.

"That's very easy," he told us, "it's one of the most popular styles." He gave us a recipe to follow, and helped us pick out the various ingredients to make it. I thought it was really cool that he didn't just show us where things were, but also explained to us what made each specialty grain unique, how different types yeast worked, and the benefits and risks associated with each one. I never felt like he was trying to sell us anything, but that he was educating and truly helping us. It was really great.

Ryan and I gathered up all our individual ingredients, including Caramel 10L, Caramel 40L, and Columbus and Cascade hops. We paid for everything, and I thanked the guy on our way out.

The whole way home, we talked about what we'd just learned, and I may have repeated several times that I was excited to get started and do this together.

We're going to do our brewing on Sunday, so we can continue to research and learn about the proper way to make it go. I asked Twitter for advice on forums, and here are the most frequently-recommended sites:

Are you a homebrewer? I'd love to hear any advice/warnings/stories you have.

Soup. Black Bean. Hot.

"What are you making?" Anne asked.

I looked up from the cutting board, and put the knife down so I wouldn't somehow cut my hand off when I wasn't looking (yes, I am that clumsy). "Black bean soup," I said.

"Is it from a recipe, or are you winging it?"

"I've made so many different recipes from so many different places, I just looked through the pantry and refrigerator and wung it."

We looked at each other. "Wung it?" I said. "I think I mean I am winging it What's the past-tense of winging it? Wang it? Winged it?"

"I don't know, but it's not 'wung it,'" she said. I couldn't argue with her.

"Anyway, it's fun to feel confident enough in my limited cooking skills to pull together some ingredients and combine them in a way that seems to make sense, based on my previous experiences."

She nodded, and left me to my work.

That was about an hour ago. I'm currently sitting here, eating an absolutely delightful bowl of soup, that's a little sweet and spicy. I'm so proud of myself, I could fart a rainbow (and I probably will in a little while.)

Because I did this on my own, I think I can share the recipe without breaking any rules or stepping on any actual chef's toes, so here you go:

SOUP. BLACK BEAN. HOT.

You need:

1 can black beans

3 tomatoes (I used Romas)

2-3 cloves garlic

1 small yellow onion

1 chipotle chili (you can get these in the Hispanic foods section at the store for next to nothing and they make all sorts of recipes kick ass.)

1 Teaspoon dried oregano or 2 teaspoons fresh, chopped

1/2 Teaspoon cumin

2 Tablespoons olive oil.

Juice of one lime.

Salt and pepper.

OKAY GO!

Chop the onion and mince the garlic.

Heat the olive oil in a 3qt soup pot or similar-sized saucepan over medium high heat for a minute or so.

Sautee the onion until translucent, about 4 or 5 minutes. While it cooks, chop up the tomatoes into small chunks and chop the oregano if you're using fresh. When the onions are translucent, Add the garlic and cumin, stir it all around, and continue to sautee for about another 2 minutes. Be careful not to let the garlic burn.

Shake up the can of black beans, open it, and pour it all into the soup pot. Stir, and then add the tomatoes and oregano.

Chop up the chipotle chili (you can use more if you want, but be careful not to use too many or all you'll taste is the spiciness, and that's not fun.) Stir again, and then add the chopped chipotle.

Add the lime juice (if you're hardcore, just juice that little green bastard right over the simmering pot, and say some Bond Villain stuff about how you expect it to die.)

Add about 1/3 cup of water (more or less, just don't let it get too watery or too thick) and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 10 or 15 minutes, until the beans are tender. 

Add salt and pepper to taste. You can serve it with plan yogurt or sour cream to cut the spiciness if you want.

This recipe made enough to feed me and Anne, though I'm sure it could easily be doubled for more people.

[bee | pu]rrrrrrrrrrrrrr

I saw this image on Geekosystem yesterday. It made me smile, and I thought it was a good excuse to dig this out of the archives:

Snow Pants

You may note that, in the linked image, the adorable cat is sitting next to a "beer", unwilling to even consider drinking it (smart cat) but in this image, Freddy Snowpants (RIP) enjoyed his first Stone Pale Ale so much, he felt strange but also good and couldn't even open his second one.

good evening (and good night)

"I want to have a date tonight. Do you want to have a date tonight?" Maybe I should have passed her a note that said "check yes or no" but after fifteen years together, I often think of these cute and clever things hours after the fact.

Anne looked up from her magazine. "I like having dates with my husband," she said.

"Yeah, I was talking to him online earlier today, and he said that he likes having dates with you."

She closed her magazine and tossed it onto the coffee table. "Where do you want to go?"

"Someplace we haven't gone before. That'll be an adventure."

Yeah, I've been suburbanized so long, going to a restaurant I haven't been to before now qualifies as an adventure. Twenty-two year-old Wil just put down his copy of Naked Lunch long enough to shake his head in either sadness, or disgust, depending on what angle you're looking at him from.

"Let's try that cafe on Raymond," she said.

So we did, and it was amazing, and we'll be going back frequently in the weeks and months to come. 

(Parenthetical highlight: during our meal, a woman in her late 40s, wearing a fur leopard-print bucket hat and a shiny patent leather overcoat sat down next to us. It was such a stunning display of wrongness that I involuntarily stopped talking in mid word, and just stared at Anne. She looked back at me and very calmly said, "I have … comments." I laughed so hard, it must have looked like I was having a seizure.)

After dinner, we went to BevMo to get a present for one of our friends. While we were there, I picked up a Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale and a Rogue Chipotle Ale. 

"I thought we were just here to get [REDACTED BECAUSE OUR FRIEND READS MY BLOG]," Anne said.

"It's so weird when you talk in all caps like that," I said. She looked back at me, patiently.

"Well, we are … but if I don't buy these beers, the terrorists have won."

"What is this, 2003?"

"NEVER FORGET, ANNE."

She gave me a look that said Tired of Your Shenanigans, Next Exit.

I got the message and quietly took my place in line.

(Incidentally, our time in BevMo may not have transpired in precisely that manner, but as I found the creation/retelling of this experience entertaining, I hope you will indulge me this bit of creative memory.)

When we got home, the night was still young, so I suggested we watch a movie together.

"What did you have in mind?" Anne asked.

I turned on our Roku and went to my Netflix queue. "How about … Thank God It's Friday?"

"The Disney movie?"

"What?"

"… oh. That's Freaky Friday. Never mind."

We laughed together. "This is a disco movie that was made in 1978, and features Donna Summer and The Commodores, plus career performances from Debra Winger, Terri Nunn and Jeff Goldblum."

"You had me at 'disco movie,'" she said.

I was delighted to see that it was streaming in HD, thanks to my ISP temporarily forgetting to serve up about a quarter of the bandwidth I'm paying for, which is their custom.

The movie was just spectacular, and a ridiculous amount of fun. If you have 90 minutes and the means to view it, I highly recommend it.

About twenty minutes into the film, Anne paused it and looked at me. "You know what would make this movie even better?"

"Something I wouldn't want to recount on my blog?" I didn't actually say, but you must admit just made you giggle. 

"Scotchy scotch scotch."

"It goes down … down into my belly!"

I went to our liquor cabinet, and pulled out a bottle of Laphroaig. I poured two small glasses and gave her one of them.

"To cheesy 70s disco movies and dates together," I said.

Clink!

"I just love my husband," she said.

"I love you the most," I said.

Twenty-two year-old me turned up Chet Baker on the CD player, and sighed wistfully. He didn't have any idea that in less than a year, he would meet the girl of his dreams.

the frozen pretzel conundrum

I am slowly but steadily finding my way back to that mysterious land where I feel motivated and inspired to write something every day. I blame Fallout: New Vegas for wrapping me up in an interesting world every night, and a giant stack of comic books that reminded me how much I love superhero stories. I've been working on a short short story (about 2K words) that I hope to release soon, but holy shit is it kicking my ass. I have a ton of respect for authors who can stick with a full length (or even 10K or 15K) story, because I am having a very hard time getting out of the "well, this was a good idea, but the execution really sucks" part of the process.

Anyway, that's not why I sat down to write this post. This post is about this frozen box of pretzels I bought yesterday, which can allegedly be heated to perfection in the microwave, dusted with salt (that comes in a handy packet and everything) and then enjoyed the way one enjoys a pretzel that does not suck.

What. A. Load.

Seriously, I don't think there's enough beer and mustard on the planet to make this pretzel — which is more chewy unsatisfying lump of salty dough than what is traditionally understood to be a pretzel — enjoyable.

But it's sitting here, on my desk, looking all sad and lumpy and pathetic, one bite taken out of it, almost apologetic. If this pretzel-like thing could talk, it would probably say, "Hey, man, I'm sorry. When I was at the pretzel place where they make pretzels, I came out of the oven and I was perfect. I was warm, I had that pretzel thing going where the outside of me is slightly thicker than regular crust, so the inside of me was all soft and kind of lighter than regular bread, but when they froze me and put me into the box, well, something just died inside of me, man."

I feel like I should apologize to the pretzel for hating it so much — it's not entirely its fault that it sucks as much as it does — but unlike everything else that surrounds me, this particular inanimate object doesn't seem interested in having a conversation with me that I can transcribe. Uh, beyond the one prepared statement, I guess.

I guess it's my own fault for ignoring a lifetime of disappointing microwavable bread products and ignoring the sage advice of my wife, who said, "That's going to suck, and you're going to be pissed that you bought it, and you keep complaining about feeling tubby so why are you eating pretzels, anyway?"

I guess the moral of the story is: don't go shopping when you're hungry.

In happier news, I have three pretzel-shaped frozen hunks of bread to throw at the next group of surly kids who refuse to get off my lawn.

i really love trader joe’s

This week’s LA Daily is all about an awesome cookbook Anne and I discovered entirely by accident, and how it’s made cooking fun again:

When I was in my early twenties and had the dual luxuries of copious time and disposable income, I loved to cook. I cooked different things all the time, experimented with various styles of cooking and ingredients, and wasn’t afraid to take a chance on something exotic. “What’s the worst that could happen?” I thought. “I’ll just make something different if this doesn’t work out.”

Then I got married and had kids. My days got longer, my responsibilities grew exponentially, and the whole concept of free time became a memory so distant, I wondered if it had ever really existed at all.

I still cooked, but I had a new set of priorities. Instead of grabbing a cookbook and picking out a recipe that looked interesting, I had to ask myself: How long would this take to prepare? How much is it going to cost to feed two growing boys in addition to two adults? How likely is it that the kids I’m working so hard to feed are going to complain about the uniqueness of the meal I’ve prepared? Wouldn’t it just be easier to order take out or throw something in the microwave?

I had resigned myself to a lifetime of culinary boredom until last month, when my wife and I came across a cookbook that singlehandedly made cooking fun, easy, and affordable again. It’s called Cooking with All Things Trader Joe’s, and it is exactly what it sounds like: choose a recipe, head into your local Trader Joe’s to pick up the ingredients, and make your friends and family think you’re a hell of a chef.

We’ve been making something different every night since we got this book, and it’s just awesome. I wish I’d discovered it years ago.

highlights from my damn geeky weekend

So my geeky weekend was totally awesome, and there were a few moments I thought I’d share. Before I get there, though, I need to clear something up: On Friday, as I was running out of the house, I said "Go see Iron Man this weekend. It is awesome. I saw a preview screening on Monday, and other than
the score (which is absolute crap) the movie is damn near perfect. I
think it’s the best comic book movie since Sin City, and blows
Transformers and the last two X-Men movies into oblivion."

Uh. Yeah. I don’t know how, but I managed to leave Batman Begins and Ghost World out of that, which is further evidence that I am a complete moron. Lots of people disagree with me about Sin City and X-Men. Those people are all wrong, of course, but my leaving out Batman Begins and Ghost World is just inexcusable. I deeply regret the error, and hang my head in shame while I carefully fold up my nerd cape. I’ll be in the corner for a little bit, thinking about what I did.

Okay, now that we’re done with that, allow me to share some highlights from my weekend with you:

Friday night I said to Anne, "When I finish this martini, I’m going to think it’s a great idea to have another martini. It will, in fact, be a very bad idea for me to have another martini, and I’d appreciate it if you’d remind me of that fact when the time comes."

When the time came, she wasn’t at the table. Oops.

Saturday morning, we unsurprisingly slept too late to get breakfast at the hotel, so we went to a supermarket and got yogurt, bananas, juice and stuff. I think we ended up having a more healthy and less expensive breakfast than we would have had at the hotel.

I wasn’t nervous at all about my reading at Mysterious Galaxy, which was really weird. In fact, while we were driving there (Anne was driving, I was reading from my book because I got it into my head that it may be a good idea to try something new about 20 minutes before showtime) I said to Anne, "You know what’s weird? I’m not nervous at all." It was at that very moment that I got nervous.

There were more people at Mysterious Galaxy than I was expecting, and when I walked into the store, the whole place fell silent and everyone was staring at me. You know how you walk into a room and feel like everyone was just talking about you? It was like that. I mean, they probably were, but it was still weird. It didn’t do much for the nervousness.

When I started my reading, I heard words coming out of my mouth, but I didn’t know what they were. I do that when I’m nervous and haven’t prepared any introductory remarks. If you were there and noticed this, thank you for not booing me.

I usually read blue light special and maybe exactly what I wanted, but I thought the MG crowd would be entertained by and relate to beyond the realm of the starlight. It turns out that they liked it, so my last minute decision to change the usual program was rewarded. In the future, though, I think I’ll stick with the cards, lest I get a visit from Nick Fury when I’m done.

Unrelated to this post: Time Machine is making a backup right now, and it’s making my mouse jumpy. That is SO FUCKING IRRITATING.

Right. Back to business:

After I was finished reading, I took some questions. The thing about this is that nobody ever has questions when I say, "I’d be happy to entertain your questions," but when I’m signing their book, they have tons of questions, so instead of getting to tell my hilarious and charming jokes to everyone, I get to tell them to one person at a time. I must come up with some way of helping people not feel self conscious when it’s Q&A time. I should also clarify that I don’t mind answering questions or getting my geek on when I sign your book. In fact, I’ve noticed over the years that when I sign books for people, we almost always end up having some huge geek moment about movies or software or other geeky topics. I absolutely love that and hope it won’t ever go away.

While I was signing books, a girl about my age walked up to the table. She extended her hand and said, "Hi, I’m Gina."

"Hi Gina," I said. "It’s nice to meet you."

"I’m a blogger," she said.

"Oh? Cool!" I said. "What’s your blog?"

"It’s called ‘Lifehacker,’ and –"

It was at this point that I completely lost my shit and spent the next eleventy hundred minutes telling her how much I love Lifehacker. I think I slimed her pretty hard, but she wrote the nicest thing in the universe about me on Lifehacker today. Uh, wow. Thanks, Gina!

I also met a reader who nearly made me cry when she told me about her relationship with her stepdad, and how my books were a part of it. Stepkids: it means more than you’ll ever know when you tell your stepparents how much you love them, and when that moment finally comes where you accept how much we love you back, it’s the most cherished moment in our lives.

Saturday night was much more sedate and responsible than Friday night (and how lame and old am I that 3 martinis now qualifies as crazygonuts?)

Sunday morning, we got up early enough to eat breakfast in the hotel, and I wished that we hadn’t. I had a waffle with berries and maple syrup, but forgot to ensure that the "maple syrup" wasn’t that corn syrup bullshit that makes me sick to my stomach before I infected the entire waffle with it. I still ate about half of the waffle, though, because I was so hungry.

"I am really looking forward to eating lunch at Stone," I said to Anne, "because I’m seriously thinking about going all Karen Carpenter on this breakfast."

We eventually made our way up to Escondido, wandered around the beer garden (which is awesome and beautiful) and settled in for a nice long lunch.

It ended up being longer than I’d initially planned, because the restaurant was ridiculously busy yesterday, and we didn’t get our food until about 15 minutes before I was supposed to go read. As I watched tons of people stream in with my book in their hand, I got the nervous stomach and couldn’t eat. Awesome. Greg Koch, who is the co-founder of Stone and invited me, reminded me that, once people are in the beer garden, they relax and live on "beer time," which is much more laid back than real time. This actually put me at ease, which is very hard to do before I am about to perform.

Oh! Please enjoy this moment from lunch, which I sent to Twitter:
  Anne: It’s Jedi day! Me: What? Anne: May the Fourth be with you. Me: OMG I am so sending that to Twitter.

My reading was great. There were about 50 people there, and I felt like my introductory remarks were much better than they were at MG, probably because I spent some time really thinking about what I would say. Amazing how preparation helps me feel prepared, isn’t it?

There were lots of questions when I was done, and I had a good time answering them (some marginally inappropriate answers were brought to you by Oaked Arrogant Bastard Ale.) I think everyone had a good time, and Greg said that I could come back with future books, which I intend to do as long as I can keep coming up with stuff that’s worth reading.

After the reading, we had dessert, and I was finally able to enjoy a Ruination IPA. Anne drove us home in time to watch one of the funniest episodes of Family Guy I’ve ever seen, and I ended the night watching one of the most exciting NHL playoff games I’ve ever seen.

It was a fantastic weekend, and I want to thank everyone from Mysterious Galaxy (which has autographed copies of all my books, now, if you want to order them) as well as everyone from Stone who put on these events. Most importantly, though, I want to thank everyone who made the effort to come out and spend some time with me this weekend. I did my best not to suck, and I think I mostly succeeded.

I’m going to live forever

Well, it’s official: Guinness is good for you!

The old advertising slogan “Guinness is Good for You” may be true after all, according to researchers. A pint of the black stuff a day may work as well as an aspirin to prevent heart clots that raise the risk of heart attacks. Drinking lager does not yield the same benefits, experts from University of Wisconsin told a conference in the US.

[...]

The Wisconsin team tested the health-giving properties of stout against lager by giving it to dogs who had narrowed arteries similar to those in heart disease. They found that those given the Guinness had reduced clotting activity in their blood, but not those given lager.

There are, of course, some caveats:

A spokesman for Brewing Research International, which conducts research for the industry, said she would be “wary” of placing the health benefits of any alcohol brand above another.

She said: “We already know that most of the clotting effects are due to the alcohol itself, rather than any other ingredients. It is possible that there is an extra effect due to the antioxidants in Guinness – but I would like to see this research repeated.”

Clearly, this requires more research, for which I am happy to volunteer.

(via Propeller)