Category Archives: Life

Born to Run – Barefoot??

I am a barefoot runner.

There – I’ve said it.   Now some of you are scratching your heads, or asking ‘why?’  Or ‘what does that mean?’  Or even ‘Are you crazy?!’

Let’s go back to the beginning here.

You see, growing up I was fortunate enough to live near the woods and fields.  I can remember spending hours and days, and perhaps even a week, walking around barefoot in the summer.  We would run to our friends down the road, run to the pond through the fields, or even biking around the neighborhood.  All while wearing not a sock, shoe or flip-flop.  It was glorious.  Not much at the time, but looking back I loved it so much.  It was like a feeling of freedom.  Squishing through the mud.  Feeling the grass blades underfoot.  And I just… didn’t care to wear anything.  My parents left me well enough alone, so I pretty much was able to do what I wanted.

Years later, and just a few months ago, a friend on Facebook posted a picture of new shoes he had gotten.

The second I saw them, I had to ask what they were.  They seemed a bit bizarre, and yet made sense without knowing anything about them.  He tipped me off to a book he had been reading by Christopher McDougall, ‘Born to Run.’

I downloaded an audio copy (I listen to them while I’m driving to & from clients in the car).  But I didn’t have a chance to listen to it, but added it onto my own personal queue.  A few weeks later I got around to listening, and was completely engrossed.

In a nutshell he talks of how mankind’s natural instinct is to run barefoot.  All people all across the globe do it on a regular basis.  Some say that is why we were able to evolve as a species, and surpass the other mammals.  Not only that, but by wearing shoes it prevents a natural gait and stride, limits the arches our feet were designed for, and can typically cause more problems the shoes are meant to resolve by means of added support.

I was sold well before I reached the end.

I’ve had back problems for years.  Much of this stemmed from a snowboarding accident (Cernik!!)  Though I’ve been managing just fine with Chiropractic help.  But unfortunately it makes running difficult, and my back begins to hurt if I run further than 200 feet.  Not so with barefoot.

I decided to take the plunge last week.

The recommendations, more than anything else, are to ease into it.  If you’ve been running for some time, you’ve already got the stamina to keep going, but your arches and soles may not be quite so prepared.  Tales are common of people doubling over, miles into their run in pain.   My chiropractor was even less kind when I asked him for his opinion of it, and he dismissed it ‘as a passing fad.’

Having little running experience, other than those two months back in college, and my love of nature and hiking, I made sure to start off easy.

I stripped off my shoes, decided today was the day, and ran out the front door.

Next thing I know I’m at the end of the driveway, and I just kept going on the pavement down the road.  Now most people (myself included) think how painful this could be.  But you see that is also why you take it easy.  Your soles need time to toughen up, and your eyes can be your greatest asset as you dodge the rocks and pebbles that can cause the sharp quick stabs on your undersides.

Before I knew it, I was at the end of the road, and turned around and headed back home.  All in all, a short 1.2 miles per mapmyrun.com

The next day was Saturday.  Nico had his soccer practice, so I took it upon myself to scoot around the grassy fields.  Per the same site, my 5 laps equaled about 1.5 miles.  A little easier on my feet this time thanks to the comforting grass and cushioning soft earth.

And that brings us to today.  A run on main street with the kids on their bikes, and taking turns with Michelle holding the dog.  The time went by quickly, but I certainly felt it on my feet far more this time.  1.82 miles, per a new Android app EndoMundo (thanks Will)

3 days down, and I can feel the difference.  My toes have small blisters on them, and hurt for no less than 2 hours after finishing the runs.  To top it off, what I thought was a blister on one, turned out to be a rock embedded in my foot. But I haven’t given up hope.  McDougall’s book centers on people living in Mexico called the Tarahumara.  They run with thin soled sandals, that allow the natural feet to capably run, while protecting against small rocks and such.  Needless to say I’ve already ordered a pair at InvisibleShoe.com.

My hope is to run a 5K either barefoot or with the Tarahumara sandals.  Either way, I’m not only getting in shape, but able to enjoy it too.  For the first time in years, I’m really looking forward to running… barefoot :)

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Born Again Shaving – Week 4 update

So here we are.  4 weeks into spring, and 4 weeks into my latest hobby.

I’ve got some experience under my plate now, and a better handle on what I’m doing wrong, and what I’m doing right.

Probably the best thing I could recommend, is get some help!  There is a lot of resources out there, and I’m really starting to like the people at Badger & Blade the best.

One of the posts I came across was one of those time machine ones.  You know – the one where if you knew what you know now and could start over again – what would you do different?

Lots of good answers on this one here.  Check it out for yourself.

Along with those posts I also stopped by the only area shaving shop for some advice.  Gentlemans Best over in Southington CT.

After some talking with Ray (hell of a guy by the way,) I’ve decided to try a few things to make life better.

First tip – stop changing things around so much.  I’m hopping around from one soap to the next before I’ve gotten a handle on how to manuver the razor around my face.  Plus I’m still figuring out how to best gauge and build up the lather.  Best bet is to stick to the same soap for at least a week before I switch out.  I’m going to work my way through one whole sample to the next from now on, rather than one bit here and there.

Second tip – after shaving, splash a hot water rinse on and pat dry, apply Witch Hazel, then splash cold and pat dry again, then balm or aftershave.  The warmth helps sooth, the hazel tightens things up, and the cold makes it all close back up nice.  So far so good on that point.

Third tip – change up the razor blade once a week or every other week.  Not just to keep things sharp, but also change out the brand after 2-3 weeks.  After similar soaps at that point, you can get a better gauge on whether a new blade brand is working out or not.  So far my jump from the Merkur to Derby’s is one I should have done earlier.  Remember different blades work better or worse for different people.

Fourth tip – Lots o’ soap!  When you’re using shaving soap (as I’m leaning towards), let a tablespoon or so of water soak on top before you dip the brush.  It makes it much easier to load the brush, and easier in turn to lather it up.  You can always add water back in.

I think I’m ready to up my brush to a better quality one, and I’m working my way through the many samples.  I have to agree that Mama Bears Soaps are still pretty darn good, and my favorite brand thus far.  A nice smell, good lather if you soap the brush enough, and my face seems to like it too.

I’ll keep you posted as I learn more.  Know any good tips you’ve come across?  Share yours as well!

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Shaving Soaps And Creams – Ask And Ye Shall Receive

Samples Baby!

So now, at the 3 week mark since I’ve begun using a Double Edge Razor, its time to figure out what kind of soaps I should use.

It all comes down to personal preference in the end.  Some soaps and creams are easy to whip into a lather, while others have a great scent.  Some let the blade glide  on your face easily, and still more have quality oils and moisturizers to minimize razor burn and make your face feel as good as it looks.  Depending on what you really want, you’ve got lots of choices.

I’ve been reviewing some forums and sites including the comments at Amazon products, The Shave Den, Badger & Blade, Shave My Face, and The Shaving Room. There are your high end products, mid range, and inexpensive ones.  Now to be fair, you can get a great soap and lather with an inexpensive brand just as much as the expensive one.  Sometimes marketing plays a big role.   There are a number of fans of Mama Bears Soaps, yet her handmade soap pucks are just under $8 for 5oz.  On the other hand people also say that G.F.Trumpers Lime Cream is the best, yet that runs $17 for a 2oz tube.

Much as different people have different preferences, no brand can really fit everyone to a tee.  In a nutshell, use what you like.

I like a good strong scent.  But more importantly I need to have a lather that can glide over my face of coarser and thicker hair than most.  I’ve seen some people alluding that certain soaps work best with more pre-shave preparation such as using a facial oil or moisturizing cream just before applying the lather.  Or even mixing it in with the lather, but after having used a hot towel.   In my mind, the more you have to do in advance, the poorer the product.  By all accounts all that should be needed is a hot shower, or wrapping a hot towel around the face, and splashing additional water on just before you lather up.

So this was my perspective.  I had purchased my razor with some soap from Col Conks at Amazon right from the start, and later looked over the counter at the CVS and found some VanDerHagen Select soap as well.  A few reads later, and I’m over at the Crabtree & Evelyn at the mall, and find they sell out frequently.

Then, on the way out the door, the saleswoman hits me with inspiration – samples!

Why spend $8, $18, or $28 on soap you won’t like, or that won’t get it done the way you want it to?  I set my mind to it to get samples for $2 or less wherever I could (most were free.)  Crabtree & Evelyn couldn’t give me the hard soap sample, but I was able to get some of their shaving cream and some aftershave balm to boot.  Bath & Body Works?  No samples, but they did have a small tube of the C.O.Bigelow for $5, and they offer a money back guarantee that lets you try it at home and return the unused portion for a full refund.

In a mad rush I began emailing and visiting sites of all the brands I’ve read about.  Col Conks said ‘Sure!  Just send us your address!’  G.F.Trumpers said they don’t give away samples, but offer a whole pack including after shaves for about $5 shipped from the UK.  Mama Bears Soaps offers samples, but as she has so many scents, she charges a nominal dollar for a good sized soap chunk of the preferred type, enough for perhaps 2-3 shaves.  I heard back from Taylor of Old Bond St, but they don’t do samples at all.  ”Too much effort for such as small amount,” is what they said.  Well, that’s about all the effort I’m putting into getting some of their soaps then.  Paid, sample, full size or otherwise.Manly men use real shaving soap!

So now that I’ve begun receiving a few of these, I’ll be sure to let you know the results.  Hopefully I can better judge the quality and what works for me better, as my technique and experience improves.  If nothing else, the variety of scents has me more excited than ever, to grab that brush and shave away.

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Old School Shaving – A Lost Art

So now that we’re out of beard season, I’ve begun regular shaving once more.

I’ve never been a big fan –  always going for as many days as I can without looking too much of the caveman variety.  Besides which it was a pain.  Literally, when I went for more than 3 days, and the blades pulled more than sliced the hairs.

My Shaving GearI ran out of fresh blades so I went to the store to pick some up.  I know the prices have been heading north, but this time they’ve gone too far.  $22 for a 4 pack?!  I’ll be lucky if it lasts 2 months!  I had enough, and decided to go Old School.

I’ve been interested in straight edge and double edged razors in a nostalgic “how they used to do it” way, but it always seemed such as hassle to me on the surface.  After reading a few articles and watching some videos I finally decided to take the plunge (Mantic59 has some really good ones)

Going this route means an investment that can last years, and save you money in the end.  You’ll need a razor, a brush, some soap or cream, a bowl or mug, and probably a stand.

Most everyone likes the Merkur brand of razors, and other than a few variants the basic models come in a regular or long handled version.  You know what they say about big hands?  So I got the long handled model (180), along with 10 spare Merkur Double Edged (DE) blades.

The next big item is the brush.  Gotta go Badger on this one (check the link).  Authentic Badger hair brushes hold water very well, which helps hugely when you’re whipping up the froth.  FYI though they stink.  It smells like wet dog the first few times you use it, but it wears off eventually.  They range in type and prices from $13 on up to $150.  A really basic Boars hair brush can be picked up at your local pharmacy, but for just a few bucks more I got a very highly recommended Tweezerman “Best” Badger brush that ranks with ones 4X its price and has a lifetime warranty.   I’ve heard stories of guys getting high end Silvertip on eBay for less than $30 if you keep your eyes peeled.

I mentioned to my wife to be on the lookout for a thrift shop mug or bowl, and she surprized me with an equally inexpensive bowl she saw at the Christmas Tree Shoppe.  The lion faces on the side were what drew her in, but I appreciate the way the base can be held in one hand, and that the sides roll back in a bit keeping the lather contained.

A stand is pretty much optional, but if you’re looking to stick with this, I would recommend getting a decent one to keep the brush dry.  Metal ones work well, but I always like wood and found one on Amazon.  A little pricier than I would have liked, and doesn’t fit my razor too well, but a drill bit later to widen the handle channel and it works just fine.

Now the final choice – the soap or cream.  This is what really got me most excited once I got the process down.  The biggest difference between the canned stuff and this, is that these all have good moisturizers and make shaving faaaaaarrrrr better.  The choices are simply endless.  Sandalwood and Cinnamon or Musk with Tabac?  Citrus and Lime or Lavender?  Cream or soap?  Many of the soaps are purchased within a container or wooden bowl, but this is used for storage, while the mug or other bowl is used to prep the lather.  Initially I used some Colonel Conks Bay Rum soap, then some C.O. Bigelow shaving cream, and then some Van Der Hagen Select Shaving soap.  The Conks was my first batch, so while it worked out in the end, it was too runny and too watery due to my inexperience.  The C.O. Bigelow is loved by many people as the state side version of Poraso – a well respected Italian brand.   I thought as a cream it was easier to whip it up into a good lather.  The Bigelow has a decent scent with Eucalyptus, and tingles with Menthol.  As for the Van Der Hagen it is easily the cheapest at just $2 a puck, and whipped up just fine once I got the hang of it, but frankly it is bland compared to the others.  No tingle, no scent,no nothing – just gets the job done with a basic soap, and it looks like I would burn through it pretty quick too.

Now as for the shaving part, I seemed to do pretty well.  My problem was getting a decent lather up.  After 3 shaves and twice that in attempts to bring about a nice foam, the key I’m finding is to use just a bit of water, but not too much.  I start by soaking the brush in super hot water in the bowl for half a minute or so.  Then I dump the bowl, shake the water off the tip in a pumping action, and swirl the brush onto the soap puck until I get lather started (a minute or two).  Transfer this to the bowl and swirl away some more, and within a few minutes you’ll have a nice thick dense foam.  Add a little water if it seems difficult to whip away.

Keep going if you see bubbles, and you’ll go from this:

Loaded with Soap …To this: After a beating

Slap this on your face, while grinding it in circles.  This raises the hairs, preps and moisturizes the skin.  Let the razor glide on your face rather than pressing in, and work in sections.  Rinse with cool water to close up the pores and follow up with a decent aftershave or balm (no alcohol, read labels!)

Now it wasn’t an overnight transition.  I’ve read, and seen myself that it takes your face about 2 weeks to adjust.  You’re shaving the hairs now, not the skin on your face, but the razor is far sharper.  Expect a few scrapes, red streaks, and blood patches until you get the hang of it.  I would shave at night if I were you, otherwise your coworkers might wonder how the rest of the household survived the attacks.

After having toughed it out now though, I would have to admit it is indeed the best shave I was never looking for, nor expected.  But compared to the past, I now look forward to shaving, and seeing if I can improve my technique.

Go ahead – take the plunge!  Your manhood demands it!!  :)

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Making Maple Syrup

Maple buckets on the treesLate February into March…  what do you think of?

After getting the paper cuts and allergic sneezing fits on Valentines Day, and trying multiple times not to repeat Groundhog Day, I think of pending Spring and tapping the trees.

Now some people think of maple syrup as nothing more than a condiment you put on your baked goods.  Growing up however, it meant a whole process, that ended up a wonderfully thick, golden, sweet and tasty spread.  I grew up in North Salem NY.  It was known more for raising horses than raising children, but thankfully we were fortunate enough to be surrounded by open land and woods.  Right next to our home, was the biggest sugar Maple tree I have yet to see bested.  This, along with many others on property, were tapped and collected into buckets to make maple syrup.

So first, if you’ve never tasted real maple syrup, you’re in for an exquisite treat.  While similar to the fake stuff, it isn’t nearly as sickly sweet, but rolls with an undescribable warm goodness you have to try on your tongue, to understand.

The process is far simpler than most people realize.  Basically you drill a hole into the tree, hammer in a tap spigot (which you can get online or at area hardware stores), and hang a bucket off of it to collect it.  Of course you should put a top on, and drill a hole into the top to allow it to drip – otherwise you get too many bugs, or too much rainwater mixed in.  Once you have half a 5 gallon bucket or more, you strain it through some cheesecloth into whatever collection device you have.  I use a very basic, 30 gallon spare garbage bucket.  Now it sounds a bit nasty, but I make sure to clean it first, then line it with a new, also clean garbage bag.  Once you have a decent amount of time, pour it off into a big pot and boil away!  Any worries about bacteria or further nasties get scalded off with the water vapor.

Boiling the syrupNow the professionals use things called evaporators, that take the process to a highly efficient stage.  I myself however, use your basic lobster pot over a contained fire using spare fire bricks and the grate off my outdoor grill.  Not exactly pretty or highly efficient, but it certainly gets the job done.

So once you have it boiling, keep in mind, maple sap collected is little more than all natural mildly sugared water.  Somewhere in the neighborhood of 4% sugar content in the sugar maples and less content in others.  Boil it down at a 40:1 ratio and you get maple syrup (as in, 40 gallons of sap make 1 gallon of syrup).  The easiest way to tell when it is done, is to note how thick it is as it gets condensed and the water evaporates.  The other more accurate way, it to add 20 degrees onto the boiling point of water on any particular day.  This varies depending on air pressure and weather conditions, but generally it will be done once the sap/syrup reaches 120 degrees.

At our home we’ve collected the mason jars from pasta sauce, and use these to save the syrup.

This past weekend, since I’ve just begun collecting and it is relatively early in the season, I’ve tapped just 3 trees and gotten about 10 gallons of sap.  After an all day fire, and time spent chopping wood and keeping it roaring, we’ve ended up with about 1 and a half 32 ounce jars, or about 3 pints worth.

At every pouring stage you need to filter using cheesecloth and a mesh strainer, which complicates things, but makes it all the worth while when you got a full stack of homemade pancakes and a slow waterfall down the sides of the good stuff.

P.S. – Bite me Mrs Butterworth.

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A visit to Beer Nirvana (aka Halftime, my favorite beer store)

So while I typically am not a fan of driving an hour and a half away for work, every once in a while there are the perks.

For the few clients and times I head into Poughkeepsie NY, I get to go to Halftime Beverage.

To be honest I had never heard about the place until I happened to pass by it on a previous client visit into the area.  The enormous bottlecap logo was the draw, and I’m always on the lookout for a good beer store.

So what makes a good beer store in my mind?

A combination of selection, prices, options, and a staff that knows their beer.  At Halftime, they’ve got it covered.  You laugh at the door sign, until you’re hooked too :)

Halftime BeersNot only do they have a few thousand beer varieties available, you get it all for a decent price (not full retail).  They have the occasional sale, size options like a 6 pack or the big boy 22 ounce, but perhaps the best of all, is that you can get every bottle as a single.

I can’t say how many times I’ve just wanted to try a beer, without committing to the cost of a whole six pack.   Usually when I do it works out, but sometimes I get god awful stuff like the Blueberry Sour beer I got last summer – yeugh!  This way I get to try out the entire line of Dogfish Head, all at the price of a single six pack of theirs :)

Another topper is that they’ll give you a free beer glass if you spend somewhere north of $50 too.  Not sure of the exact amount, but lets just say I’ve gotten one every time…

So here was my shopping list this time around:

  • Affligem Tripel
  • Sly Fox Ibcubus
  • Sierra Nevada Glissade
  • Abita Abbey Ale
  • San Miguel Dark
  • Ayinger Celebrator Doppelbock
  • Ommegang Three Philosophers
  • Dogfish Head Indian Brown Ale
  • Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron
  • Dogfish Head Old School
  • Flying Dog Garde Dog Biere De Garde
  • Goose Island Pere Jacques
  • Goose Island Bourbon Stout
  • Goose Island Nut Brown
  • Goose Island Honkers Ale
  • Troegs Troegenator Doublebock
  • Troegs Hop Back Amber
  • Troegs Rugged Trail Brown

Can you tell I was on a brown ale kick this time? :)

I HIGHLY recommend the Goose Island Pere Jacques.  The one they have there is the Dubbel 2007 bottle, and having aged 2 1/2 years it is unbelieveable, complex, flavorful, and one tasty brew.

FYI, my other favorite stores are Stew Leonards Discount Liquor in Danbury CT, Mountview Wines in Naugatuck CT,  and Fairground Liquor by the airport in Danbury CT.

Any others you can recommend?  Share please!

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Ditching Cable – Part1

Broken Cable :(Or….  How I learned to love the Internet.

So after months and years of paying to the man for a decent picture, and 50,000 channels I never watch, I gave my $157 monthly bill a good hard look late last year.

I’ve found myself downloading more and more, and whenever I watched TV it was usually something I had taped with the DVR a few days earlier.  Whenever I watched through the channels, it was either for a show I would like to catch, usually after it had aired, or just random flipping.

So after much thought and a bit of research I decided to take the plunge as others had before me, drop cable television completely, and get everything online as much as possible.

Now, I could use my laptop, but I use this more for work than anything else.  I would also have to reconnect it every time I wanted to go online to view something.  My thought was to get a dedicated PC, and use this.

But I wanted to get a good PC.  Nothing too big like your average tower, or something that would suck my electricity bill dry, but also something that had enough horsepower to get the job done.

All this for under $500.Boxee on HTPC

After running past some reviews I settled on the Dell Zino, Acer Revo AR3610, or the Asrock HT330.  I was hoping to watch movies off DVD directly on the PC (so I could disconnect the DVD player as well), and that rules out the Acer as it doesn’t come with an optical drive (DVD).  I could always get an external one for USB, but that means more components, and more bucks.

So after much ado I order a Dell Zino on sale for around $450 shipped.  Of course, after I sent the order in, I receive a notice that it will ship nearly 3 weeks later.  That was just ridiculous to me.  I was a bit on the fence between the two remaining PCs, as Dell is more of a known brand, but the options were more limited with no optical audio port, a handful of USB ports, and only a single audio out.  Wheras the ASRock came with a DVD drive, 5.1 Dolby channel sound, optical sound out, plus options for HDMI, VGA, and 8 USB ports available (plus it included a remote).  Shortly thereafter I canceled the Dell order (with a 45 minute wait time on hold – ughhh), and ordered the ASRock.asrock_ion_330ht

It shipped out the next day, and arrived 4 days later.

The PC itself is about the size of a large hardcover, and uses just 65 watts while up and running.  It only comes with 2GB of RAM, but it is upgradable, and has decent sized HDD with 320GB of space.  The innards are tiny, and nearly all components come on board with an NVidia chipset and graphics, and a newer Intel Atom 330 dual-core processor.  Technically, this is not just a regular PC, but rather a NetTop.

So here I am, just over a month in, and while I’ve had some speed bumps, I would have to say it was a great choice.  So far, so good.

I am by nature a tinkerer.  I work in IT and I spend my days figuring things out.  The challenge it presents is not much for me, but rather just time.

Next post I’ll dive into the software options, streaming sites, and how to handle live TV.  Stay tuned!

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Make Hard Cider – Step 4 – Bottle It Baby!

Cleaning bottles againSo after roughly a month, I am back to the cider.

After having sat there in the chill of the garage, it looks to have cleared up really well.  All the particles from the pressed apple juice have fallen to the bottom, and I’m left with a clear amber liquid – yum!

From the tasting before I left it alone, I found it was a little dry, and more like wine than fermented apple juice.  To make it bubbly when you open the bottle, you’re supposed to add some sugar back in.

I figured, why not kick the flavor back in, which giving me the bubbles I’m looking for anyway?  So I went out to the store and got a can of apple juice concentrate (all natural).  The sugar content was near even with a measured cup, so for the 5.5 gallons I have, I added in just over a cup of concentrate.  Since you’re supposed to add about 1/4 cup of sugar per gallon to make it bubbly, I had the numbers just about right.

Cleaning the bottles twice!So I blended it all back into the 5 gallon carboy, which barely fit, but just enough.  Next step was to prep the bottles.

You have two options here.  Buy them new, or wash out ones you have.  I opted for the second, not just to save a few bucks, but I also figured it was a home brewing right of passage.

I started picking out bottles that looked in decent shape, and soaked them in a bathtub for 30 minutes or so.  After that I set to scraping off the labels, and quickly found some brewers use more glue than others.  If I had to recommend, I’d say to stick to Sam Adams or Dogfish brewery.  Both labels came off easy enough after a soaking.  Magic Hat however was a bear, and while I made do, I used different ones for the next batch.  After that I put them into the dishwasher, without soap, to rinse out any bacteria and reduce any odd flavors it would lend.

Then I used my siphoning wand once more to rack it out of the carboy and into the clean bottles.

Suck it Laverne & Shirley!A few spills here and there, and the thoughtful use of a catch basin helped a lot.  There was a little loss, but not too bad and nothing I couldn’t live with.  The floor might be a little sticky until I can bust out a mop though ;)

I put the last few overflow ounces into a bottle for tasting later on.

The day before I lucked out, as the brewing store was only open for a few hours on their holiday schedule.  Thankfully they had more than enough cappers and caps for me to pick up.  After getting the bottles ready, I learned on the fly and capped them off one by one.  I filled the bottles up 1-3 inches below the cap depending on the bottle, so we’ll see if the air, and how filled they are, makes any sort of difference.  My fear was that the carbonation would build too much and make the tops pop off well before I’d get a change to drink any of them.  So I thought to vary how filled they were in turn.

Bottles bottles everywhere!As with the labels I found some brands better than others.  Thankfully the Sam Adams held up well.  The Wychwood bottles that I was really keen on using (with the embossed witches on them), turned out to have bulby tops rather than the bulgy standard, and I nearly broke the capper trying to fit a cap on.  While moping about them I couraged up considering I hadn’t spilled a drop, and picked out another bottle instead.  I might need another capper, but it lasted through the rest regardless.

As for the taste test?  So far so good.  Definately a stronger brew, and still not quote as “apple-y” as I’d like (but closer), but that should  change once the bubbles kick in.  If you’ve ever tried a flat soda or beer, you know what I mean.

Overall I’m really enjoying the process.  Its nice to have a start and finish, and so long as I don’t take it too seriously I’m having fun learning it all too.  It seemed to make for a nice Christmas present for friends and family, so I have about 30 bottles now when all is said and done.  Perhaps this will help me get into brewing my own beers later on ;)

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Merry Christmas – Cut Your Own!

The Tree in the wildEvery Christmas growing up, we’ve always been a fan of real live Christmas trees.  Not the plastic ones, or the ones with the lights already setup, but the real pine smelling, finger pricking, always needs watering kind.  We’d take a hike over to a nursery, or over to where the Boy Scouts were selling them in some field, pick a nice one out and strap it to the car.

A few hours, and a few glass shards on the floor later, and we’d be all decorated up and in the holiday mood.

After we moved to Woodbury a few years ago, I began looking at cutting our own.  More because I wanted a good strong smell, but also because I heard the trees last longer.

Hauling it homeI always try to buy local when possible, so after some questions around town, we picked out a tree farm nearby.  I brought a saw, a pair of gloves, and a warm coat.  This farm, as do many of the tree farms, is setup on a hill – a few hills.  Naturally the ones closest to the parking lot get cut down first, so to get a decent one you have to trek around some.

Sooner or later you either get lucky, or settle on what appears to be the best available.  Both last year and this year, we found a tree larger than we wanted, and though the lower part was thinned out, the top was filled out really nicely.

A few cuts later at waist height, and we’ve got just the right sized tree!

Tree TrimmingSo then you grab hold around one of the branches, and drag it through the hill and dale back to the car.  Here’s to hoping you can avoid the mud or muster the strength to lift it over the puddles.

So while my lovely wife keeps the wolfish children at bay, I tie it onto the roof with some assistance from the Carhartt crew, and away we go.

Everyone has their own method for getting the tree into the house.  Ours is pretty basic.  I prep the tree trunk by fitting it into the stand before I carry it in, and cut off the lowest branches for a better fit and look.  Once that’s done, we clear the area, prop open the doors, and slide it through the doorway, beginning the needle drop right from the get go.

What a Beautiful Tree!After that, we bring out the boxes upon boxes, and bags, and wrappings that protected all our ornaments like little pieces of mummy antiquity the other 11 months of the year.  With children we’ve progressed from no ornaments below 2 feet, to only plastic ones below 4 feet.  At this point, whether an over excited hand or a sweep of the dogs tail knocks off one, we should be ok.  So they put it on, we adults move them off the one branch the 20 ornaments have been placed upon, and next thing you know we’ve got the Christmas spirit :)

Happy Holidays!

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Make Hard Cider – Step 3 – Secondary Fermentation

So the primary fermentation has stopped.  How do I know?

Simple.  No bubbles!  When I began it naturally foamed up like a bubble bath as the yeast chewed through the sugar, and shed gas and alcohol.  Now it looks flat with no bubbles on top.

Cleaning the equipmentAs with the other steps I began with a cleaning cycle.  I had picked up a long plastic wand, that I can use to siphon it out of the bottle (called racking).  You do this to filter out the drink from the yeast and whatever else has settled to the bottom of the bottle over time.

The gallon bottle I was going to use to set some aside.

Once that was done I headed down to the basement to begin racking it.

Racking from primary fermentationThe wand is nothing more than a tube and a plunger type thingy.  You move the plunger up and down a few times and it creates suction that pulls it out of the upper bottle and into wherever the hose is directed.

I managed to get the 1st bottle drained down ok.  I had to leave about 3/4 of an inch on the bottom, otherwise I would end up suctioning the yuck off the bottom that the racking was all about.

On the 2nd bottle, I tried to be trickier about it, moving the full bottle to a higher point first.  But all I did was end up pulling the hose out accidentally, and spilling some all over.  Not a huge loss, but enough that I spent some time on cleanup afterwards.  In the end I sloshed it around more than I wanted to also, so if I kept racking I would have brought over more of the yeast than I wanted to.  So I chalked up the remaining 2 inches (maybe a quart) to experience and pitched it.

I also siphoned some off into the gallon bottle for tasting, to see how it was coming along.

Once this was done, I refilled the airlocks and moved the bottles over into the garage where it is cooler and less apt to get bumped.

Primary CiderSo how has it turned out so far?

Well, lets just say I was hoping for a cider similar to what you’d buy in a store, like Woodchucks.  What I have so far though is more like a dry white wine.  Definately high in alcohol content, and drinkable, but no real apple taste to speak of.

I asked around as to what other people had done, and between this and online research it looks like my best bet is to mix in some concentrate and sugars just before bottling.  This will kick in the carbonation as well as bring back more flavor.  Supposedly, allowing it to sit a few weeks and months also brings out a stronger flavor.

So while it’s not exactly what I expected right now,  I’m pretty sure it will get there eventually.  Maybe I can make a Christmas gift out of it?

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