Archive for August, 2010

Hoot!

August 27, 2010

A couple of our World of Warcraft friends who are, like us, husband and wife in real life, just had a baby, so we’re sending them a little package. E. made a beautiful quillow (quilt that folds up into a pocket and makes a pillow) inspired by the board game Settlers of Catan, which we know they also play. I wanted to add something myself, but couldn’t think of anything for a long time, then I had an idea.

World of Warcraft uses lots of standard fantasy-type creatures– goblins, orcs, dragons, giants, and so on– but one of the game’s distinctive creatures is the moonkin, a sort of overgrown magical owl with antlers (yes, it is just as weird as it sounds). They look like this:

World of Warcraft moonkin

A few years ago, when I was learning to knit, I made a few kaulaliinakaneja (scarf rabbits) as silly little presents for E.’s sisters:

Kaulaliinakaneja / scarf rabbits

Using the same basic pattern, I knit a stuffed moonkin:

Stuffed moonkin

I hope they’ll like it.

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Closet upgrade

August 22, 2010

I was going to post something about the work that E. and I recently did in our bedroom closet, but her post about it is already much better than anything I could write, so I’m just going to send you over there:

Closet redo

A long swim

August 18, 2010

In the summer months, I often take a swim in the lake either before lunch or in the mid afternoon. Rock Pond is long and narrow and early in the summer I was swimming kind of diagonally across the width. Lately I’ve been swimming along the length. I have some landmarks that I track my progress by– a funny little squirt of a point on the north shore, a shoulder of land and some houses close to the water on the south. I usually swim about 2/3 to 3/4 of the way from where I get in to the farther end of the lake. Yesterday I went swimming before lunch after building up a sweat mowing the lawn and trimming some overgrowth. I meant to just swim my usual course, but when I got where I usually turn back I was still feeling energetic, so kept on going and for the first time swam all the way to the far end of the lake and back. That felt like a very good accomplishment.  Checking a map, it looks like I swam a little less than a mile altogether.

More about brewing

August 6, 2010

Since people seem interested, here’s more about my homebrewing experiments.

The basic process that I use is pretty simple. I started with a traditional Finnish recipe and refined it to my taste through trial and error.  Here’s the way I do it now:

First, I put 4 and a half liters (a little more than a gallon) of water in my big kettle, the one I use for canning, cooking lobsters, corn, etc.

To this I add 1 cup of malt. I’m currently using a light barley malt which I ordered from Amazon. When that runs out I may try ordering some different varieties of malt to see what effect that has on the results. It’s a thick, sticky liquid slightly more viscous than molasses, so measuring it out and getting it into the kettle is always tricky.

I bring this to a good rolling boil for a few minutes, then turn off the heat and let it cool down to lukewarm (takes an hour or two).

When it’s lukewarm, I stir in ¼ teaspoon of yeast and let it sit for a few minutes.

Meanwhile, I sterilize my four stoppered 1-liter glass bottles with boiling water, then pour off the brew into them through a funnel. I stopper them tight and let them sit out at room temperature for about 12 hours, after which I move them into the refrigerator.

So far, I’ve had inconsistent fermentation times. Some batches have been ready to drink after one night in the fridge; others have taken a week to mature. I’ve also been experimenting with slightly different processes and combinations of ingredients. Now that I’ve worked out the basic recipe described above the results will hopefully be a little more consistent from here on.

As I said, it’s a simple process, and I’ve kept it that way for a few reasons. For one thing, I didn’t know at first whether this would be any fun or the results any good, so I didn’t want to go investing in any special equipment. (As it turns out, it is fun and the results are good, so maybe one of these days I’ll look into some proper brewing equipment). The only gear I’ve bought so far specifically for brewing is the set of stoppered bottles (from Ikea). Also, this project was inspired by my interest in trying to recreate a historical beer from the Roman Iron Age, which was probably made using a similarly simple process– boiled in a bronze kettle and fermented in wooden barrels. In keeping with that spirit, I’ve tried to work in much the same way. The beer is made as one big batch, then fermented in the bottles, with the yeast staying in the bottles. The carbonation comes solely from the fermentation process. (For a real proper recreation, I would have to use a wood fire and wooden barrels, and probably rely on atmospheric yeasts rather than adding my own– to say nothing of malting the barley myself. Maybe someday if I really want a challenge; for now I’m content with trying for a rough approximation. And not everything I do is aimed at historical recreation; sometimes I just brew something I think I’ll enjoy drinking.)

Sometimes I just make the basic recipe above, which makes a slightly sweet brew, but I usually add something more to the brew for flavor. The flavoring typically goes in at the same time as the malt. The choices have come from historical inspirations or my own whimsy. Flavorings have included lemon juice (makes a nice, tart, sparkling brew), honey (adds a richness and sweet undertone), cocoa (not good– was just casting about for something bitter to try, won’t do that one again), cranberries (tart with a fruity flavor), and mint (was okay, but not something I’ll try again). Honey, cranberry, and mint are all attested as being used in brewing in the iron age and early medieval period; lemon and cocoa were just my experiments. I haven’t tried cherries before, so we will see how that one turns out. I have not so far used hops, partly because hops wasn’t widely used in brewing until the twelfth century, well after the period I’m interested in recreating, and partly just because I don’t like the taste of hops.

Future experiments may include trying different varieties of malt, different kinds of yeast, different flavorings, and maybe someday some proper brewing equipment. It’s been a fun project to play with and the results have (mostly) been good, so I expect it’s something I will keep at for the foreseeable future.

Brewing – cherry brew

August 5, 2010

For the past six months or so I’ve been experimenting with homebrewing beer, using an old Finnish recipe (talouskalja) as a basis. Some attempts have turned out well, other less so, but its been fun. I was inspired to attempt this by some of my dissertation research. One of the Roman artifacts found in northern Europe is a Roman kettle found in a grave in Jyllinge, Denmark, which when it was excavated contained some residue from the liquid it was buried holding. Analysis of the residue found barley, wild rosemary, cranberry, and lingonberry, which suggests a beer made using local plants. The interesting thing about this is that the beer was probably dark red in color, from the berries, which would have made it superficially resemble Roman wine.

One of my goals with this homebrewing project is to ultimately make a recreation of this ancient Danish beer, but mostly I’m just enjoying myself playing around in the kitchen and drinking the results.

Last night I made a batch of beer using ripe cherries for flavor. I haven’t tried this before, so in a few days we’ll see how the experiment turned out.

Cherry homebrew

Two bottles of cherry homebrew

Grass-fed and glass-bottled

August 3, 2010

E. and I recently went off on an excursion just to explore some of the local area. We went a little farther afield and wound up driving past the stand for a local farm that we’ve heard of but never visited. I went back a couple days later to check out what they had to offer and was very impressed. They have their own fruits and vegetables, as well as a wide selection of other produce. Even more intriguing to me, the sell their own local, grass-fed beef and pork as well as milk in glass bottles from a local dairy. I have fond memories of getting milk in glass bottles from a nearby dairy in the summertime at the old camp, and in our last year in New York there was an area dairy selling milk in glass bottles at the farmers’ market near Columbia.

I taste-tested the local milk beside my usual grocery store milk and could taste a real difference– the local dairy milk tasted better. The farmstand is a bit too far away to make it a regular shopping place, but I’m very happy to have found a good source for local grass-fed meats and I will take advantage of it for milk when I can as well.