Monday, January 06, 2020

Where has the time gone?

After quite a long pause, I'm resolving in 2020 to get back to blogging about good old Foxcroft.

To say the least the last decade has been busy and eventful at our house. A major factor in my slowing down on posting was that from 2010 through 2017 I served on our local city council. That certainly cut down on my free time to write. In July I also retired from my day job. The last six months have been my "gap year" with a good deal of time spent:
  • Straightening the garage (AGAIN) see earlier post here
    sadly the pictures are lost...
  • Replacing the original roof on half of the garage 
  • Adding 2 inches to the bottom of 7 salvaged storm windows in order to finally have every window with a storm and screen
  • With storms in place I have begun to remove interior double hung windows and renovate them. These windows are now 91 years old and this is the first major attention they have ever received. 
So I don't know if any of the faithful readers from 10+ years are still around, but if so, I'll be publishing again.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Beer Update 2, and Home Improvements (Not at Our House)

Scott came over last night and we completed the next set of tasks in the creation of my "End of Term" beer to celebrate the completion of my tenure on city council.

Rather than work in the basement this time we worked in the kitchen. I set the carboy on the work table.
We had already sterilized 60 or so bottles, the bottling bucket, the siphon system and the bottle filler. This is done by washing them all in bleach water and the rinsing in clean water. Scott inserted the siphon system and we started to fill the bottling bucket.

 After we had started the siphon going we decided to have a little taste so we partially filled a mug and tried it. I don't want to jinx this process, with a rash prediction, but we were both pleased with what we had.
 After the bottling bucket was filled Scott attached the bottle filler to the siphon hose and started filling our sterilized bottles.
 My job was to take the full bottles and cap them. I bought my bottle capper in 1982, when as a first year teacher I made root beer with my 5th graders for our Halloween party, a tradition I carried on for three more years. Scott had never seen a capper like that so he wanted a turn at trying it out. So he capped our final bottle.
 In the end our batch made exactly 50 12 ounce bottles of beer.
 Youngest daughter saw my photo above and said it wasn't artsy enough so she shot a better version. Her's does a much better job of showing off the hops cone bottle caps I bought for our brew.

So despite working on our home at glacial pace, I've actually picked up a few jobs on the side. I finished one last weekend, so here are some shots from that. "Susan" (not her real name) is a new faculty member at the University of Iowa and has bought a nice bungalow on the east side of Iowa City. Over the summer I did some work in her kitchen and installed a correct period front door. She said that she wanted a tin ceiling in the kitchen to cover a not so great plaster job and I agreed to work on it with her.

First thing we needed to do was cover the ceiling in 3/8 inch plywood.
 After doing that I snapped out lines and started to install the ceiling panels.
 A couple weekends after finishing the ceiling panels I went back to install trim around the walls to make the project look "finished." In the shot below you can also see the paneled box I created last summer to hide the soil and water pipes that run to the upstairs bathroom. Originally this area, and the furnace chimney were covered by a plaster wall bump out. Susan wanted the get some exposed brick in the kitchen so she had the plaster removed, but wasn't expecting to see pipes. She is pretty handy herself and has been stripping the woodwork on the window and doors and will take them back to their original varnished condition.
 The kitchen is not big but it certainly had interesting challenges, working around the stairway to second floor led to some creative cutting but I think it looks quite good now.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Beer Update (and Thanksgiving)

Scott stopped over last night and we siphoned the beer out of the fermenting bucket and into a glass carboy. We will let it rest in the carboy for a week or so before bottling it. I had taken the fermenting bucket down to the basement on Sunday, so that sediment stirred up in moving would be settled back down before siphoning.

Here is the fermenting bucket after removing the lid. There was a very strong beer/hops/alcohol scent:
 Before we opened the fermenter we had already sterilized the carboy (again, since I had done it last week too) and the siphon tube and hose. We then started the beer into the carboy:
After it had run a bit we filled the beaker for the hygrometer so we could test specific gravity again. We tested it last week, and got 1.56:
 Now specific gravity was 1.011, with a quick calculation we know that the alcoholic content is almost 6%, which is right at the target for our recipe. We filled a mug and tried it. The taste is not overly “hoppy” and is very pleasant. We brewed using my hops that I transplanted to the back yard in 2011 from the ancestral family farm in NW Iowa.  Since the hops were likely a type of German Noble, they are relatively low in alpha acids, meaning they are not as bitter as many modern varieties. While the beer tastes and looks good, it does not have very much carbonation. That is what we will create when we bottle it, by adding just a bit more sugar to stimulate yeast activity.
So the beer is now in the carboy and in the back room upstairs to sit at a warmer temperature than the basement.

Besides beer activity, we hosted Thanksgiving as usual. We only had 10 on Thursday, the smallest group we have ever hosted. Several weeks ago, my Dad pointed out that the local grocery chain had a special of “buy a ham, get a turkey free.” I went and did that. The turkeys were small and the biggest I could find was 9 lbs.  While at the store, I noticed that they also had frozen goose, so I bought one of those too, and we are set for Christmas.

Imagine my surprise when I went to brine the turkey on Tuesday night and I discovered it was only half a turkey! The drumsticks and lower portion of the body weren’t there. If I hadn’t been so distracted by the goose, I might have noticed this when I bought it. So it was good we had the ham to go along with the white meat only turkey. Here it is before I put it in the basement oven:
While getting ready for Thanksgiving this year that I discovered that we have 4 turkey sized granite roasters, a smaller chicken sized granite roaster, and an aluminum rectangular roaster. I’d say we’re set for everything. I made one version of stuffing in the chicken roaster and used the most interesting looking turkey roaster for our half bird. Here it was after 2.5 hours of cooking:
And after carving:

We used our special Thanksgiving tablecloth and got out the good dishes and silver:
So the near record highs on Friday allowed me to get out while everyone else was shopping to put away all the summer porch furniture and rugs, and allowed me to even wash the porch floor before winter:

I even put up Christmas garlands on Sunday in my shirt sleeves, I’ll need to get a picture of them later.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Basement Shenanigans

Today I took the first major step in a plan I’ve been ruminating on for the past year or so.  Scott, one of my school district instructional coaching partners, came over with his beer making equipment. We went into the basement.

First we started 3 gallons of water to heat on the stove.
When the temp reached 172.5F we poured the water over 11.5 lbs. of varied malted grains that we had worked out in a recipe last week. Those grains were in a container with a spigot at the bottom. The malt had to steep at a temperature of 156F. If the temperature gets too hot the starches won’t convert to the correct sugars needed later when the yeast is added.

The malt needed to steep for about an hour, we added more hot water occasionally. Eventually we started draining the mix to reheat it on the stove and pour back over the top in order to release all the sugars from the grains.
Finally we had the liquid (roughly 5 gallons now since we’d been adding more) drained into the big pot and we turned up the heat to get it to boil. All that was left in the strainer was the wet malt.
Once the pot started to boil we added 4 ounces of hops. I picked these from my backyard in September. I planted these hops from shoots I’d gotten from a farm that goes back 6 generations in our family. They were likely brought by an ancestor who was a saloon keeper in Luxembourg. After half an hour we added more hops, and more again after 45 minutes, and finally again when the mix had boiled an hour. At this point we took our wort off the stove.
Now we need to lower the temperature of the liquid to 99F so that we can add yeast. Rather than wait for hours for this to happen we placed a pipe coil inside the pot and hooked it to the sink. We ran a slow stream of cold water through the pipes to lower the temperature.
When it reached 99F we spooned enough out to fill a graduated cylander later, when the mix reached room temperature we would be able to float a hygrometer to tell the density or specific gravity of the liquid. If we know the starting gravity we will be able to later measure and determine the alcohol content.  
Then we needed to pour the beer from the kettle into the fermenting bucket. We added the yeast mix to the bottom of the bucket before we started pouring. Since we had used my hops we needed to get them out of the mix as we poured. We used our old applesauce sieve to strain out the hops
Then we fastened down the top and put a vapor lock on it. That will allow the CO2 gas to escape as the yeast digests the sugar and turns it into alcohol.
I put the bucket in our back room upstairs since the basement is a little too cold for good fermentation. Next Sunday we will check it and probably move it to a 5 gallon carboy for further fermentation.
I checked the specific gravity later and the reading is 1.54 which is pretty darned close (1.58) where we need it in order to have a final alcohol content of 6%.
 So I never mentioned why I’m doing all this now. My goal is to have a beer to celebrate the end of my career in public office. My term as City Councilor ends 12/31/2017 at midnight. Out of Office Ale will be ready on 1/1/2018