Saturday, May 22, 2010

Nettle/dandelion beer tasting

The beer has been in bottles for a few days, so today was the time to taste the finished product. I imagine, as with all beers, it will only get better with a little aging in the bottles, but I don't have the patience of a wine maker, or a Scotch maker. As long as there is a little yeast sediment in the bottle, it's ready in my opinion.

I poured a well-chilled bottle into one of our best beer steins. Two things came to note right away: one, the beer is not clear. I'm not too particular about that, but some people are. Second, there is no head. The beer was carbonated enough, but it didn't have the proteins from malted barley that produce a head of foam. I have had home brews that are hard to pour because of all the foam, so I don't necessarily consider the head to be everything.

The first thing that comes to mind when tasting a home brew for the first time is: Is it drinkable? Drinkable meaning it is anything better than Budweiser. And yes, it was very drinkable, although if your taste buds are expecting a watered down malted beverage, this would be a shock.

The flavor is very complex. I don't know if my taste buds are sophisticated enough to know what the nettles or dandelion greens contribute, but there is a green depth there I cannot describe. Also a definite tartness from the lemons and lemon zest; I might cut back on those if I make this again. And the ginger shows up in a good way. So imagine drinking a spiked lemony ginger ale with green earthy undertones.

Alcohol content? I didn't go the scientific route and take a hygrometer reading before and after. So I can only guess. It is there, but not overpowering. It was like an average beer.

All in all, it goes down more like a champagne than a beer. It was very fizzy, which means I added enough sugar before bottling. It is very light bodied. It is a beer to be enjoyed in the shade after a hot day's work tilling garden beds (which I did). It was very refreshing, with probably less aftertaste than a Diet Coke. I would definitely make it again. I have plenty of nettles and dandelions around.

Friday, May 21, 2010

bike ride

I bought my bicycle in 1989, the year I graduated from college. I had had a succession of bikes before that, of course, but this was my first Serious Bike that cost around two hundred dollars. It's a Raleigh 12 speed with upright handlebars and semi-rugged tires.

That bike stayed locked to the porch outside my small apartment in a historical Classical house in Brookings, South Dakota where I attended graduate school. Except when I rode the bike daily to campus, a mere six blocks away, or took it on more adventurous outings, up to twenty miles and more.

Then there was the time in 1992 when a recently married couple drove nonstop from Minnesota to Telluride, Colorado for the Bluegrass Festival, and upon arriving in town, sleep deprived, 8500' altitude, hopped on the bikes and pedaled through town to festival headquarters. Major lightheaded rush!

Then I had kids. And it all kind of stopped there, with short interludes, much like my music playing. I am happy to have hopped back on the bike today, after getting it tuned up at a local shop. I rode a bit less than five miles, and found out bike riding is not much like running. I'll know more when I ascertain which muscles are sore tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

broad winged hawk?

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Sometimes a bad picture is better than no picture at all.

I saw this raptor two days ago when I was out on a lake about 20 miles north of St. Paul, MN, doing a vegetation survey. The trash barrel the bird is perched on is about 100 feet from the water's edge at a campground/marina. At first I thought it was one of those owl decoys people sometimes put on their docks to keep the gulls away, but a look through the binoculars confirmed it was a real live bird! I snapped this photo with the office camera, which only has about 4x optical zoom. Even so, the photo turned out good enough with some zooming and cropping.

I didn't have a field guide with me, and my first thought was Cooper's hawk. But after looking at the photo, and comparing it with Sibley's, I knew it had to be something different. The facial markings did not match those of a Cooper's, and although the size was within range this bird seemed chunkier, not very accipiter-like. For size perspective, those seams on the side of the barrel are probably 15 or 16 inches apart.

I didn't even think of looking at the broad winged hawk in the field guide; I had only seen them in flight. But when I saw the illustration in Sibley's I thought, "That's IT!"

What do you think?

By the way, the weather was just as sunny and gorgeous as it looks in the photo. It's 80 degrees today. I just put the snow shovel away last weekend. That's Minnesota in May!

Friday, May 14, 2010

radical simplicity

Life has been interesting this last week or so. I was going through a crisis period where I found myself wishing I had me a sugar daddy, that money would just fall out of the sky, and then BAM. We got what we needed, and I realized my longing for money, which I had initially dismissed as inherently evil, causing even greater tension within myself, was just a normal human thing, nothing to worry about.

I mean, I was chastising myself for wanting things like a house that looks somewhat finished! Hot and cold running water indoors! Money to pay off the last propane tank fill so we could get the next one! And maybe, just maybe, new running shoes. I'm a materialistic, greedy wench! ;)

It doesn't help that my spouse and I have entirely different attitudes towards money, and the handling of it. By most standards we should have been doomed a long time ago. But somehow through our differences we still see the value that lies within our family, and it is precious. But it ain't easy.

In the midst of it all I started reading Elaine St. James' book, Simplify Your Life. It came in a box of books I received from a local Facebook/Blogger friend (not the same one who brought the yeast; social media has been very good to me locally!) After the first few hints, I was almost laughing hysterically, while I realized "How could I simplify my life any further? If simplicity means getting rid of high heels and frequent restaurant dinners, I'm already way beyond there!"

I realize there are people out there living an overbooked, overly materialistic life. And the book was written in 1994, long before the bubble burst. But still...The Hermit and I were discussing the other day about bathroom plans, and we both decided why bother with an indoor toilet if we can get by (as we have, for seven years now) without one? Why defecate indoors? Why waste water flushing waste to a septic system? (we still will run washing and kitchen water to a graywater system)

I know, it sounds radical. But would it have sounded radical less than a hundred years ago, when outhouses were the norm and $20,000 mound septic systems were not required by law? Who decided we should not be able to make that choice? (Our township is one of the few where you can still make the choice in some circumstances)

Life as we know it is bound to get "simpler" whether we like it or not. For many of us, it's a paycheck away from involuntary simplicity. I don't have much time for magazines that preach simplicity but devote pages to expensive interior design and gadgets designed to help us "simplify" things. Real simplicity comes from living without, and making hard choices.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Nettle/dandelion beer


She's crazy, I tell ya,

Beer from NETTLES? And I've heard of dandelion wine, but BEER? From the GREENS?

I did it. Today, because I was fascinated with the idea that in other times, other cultures, people (especially women) brewed beer from ingredients other than malted barley and hops, I brewed a beer from stinging nettles. And dandelions.

Of course, dandelions are in no short supply. And on my 40 acres, I have a couple reliable sources of stinging nettles, one of them being a flower bed right outside the house. Why nettles choose to grow there I do not know.

I did add a few non-locally harvested ingredients, among them lemons and ginger root. I also added some lime basil, because I had it, and because I thought it would add a good flavor.

Nettles, dandelion leaves, dandelion root, ginger root, and lemon zest were boiled for about half an hour, or until the leaves barely retained any leaf structure. Meanwhile, two pounds of brown sugar (that's one whole bag), and cream of tartar and the juice from the lemons (4 of them) were mixed together. When the whole mess was done boiling, I strained the liquid into the pot with the sugar and stuff, and let the sugar dissolve before pouring it into the fermenter (the 5 gallon glass carboy in the top picture). After a couple of hours, when it had cooled to slightly warm to the touch, I added the yeast.

The yeast is a story of its own. You can buy bread yeast in any store, and it might work for brewing beer, but if you want the kind of yeast that works best for brewing beer, you generally have to buy it from home brew supply stores. Being short of cash and not wanting to drive 100 miles to a brew store last week, I made an appeal over Facebook to see if anyone in my area was keeping any yeast cultures and could spare some. To my great surprise, a local Facebook friend and musician, whom I had only just recently met in real life in a chance encounter in line at the grocery store, contacted another friend of his, who had a packet of yeast to spare. Say what you will about social media, but I have gotten to know a few people locally through Facebook whom otherwise I would not have met.

A few hours later, carbon dioxide is happily bubbling through the air lock, a sign that fermentation is well on its way. We'll see how this experiment tastes in a few days. I don't expect it to be like any beer I've tasted before, and that is part of the fun of this whole project! I like that I didn't spend about 30 bucks on a pre-assembled beer kit. This is far more adventurous.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Wildlife at Target Field

Thursday night's Twins game against Baltimore wasn't the most exciting game to watch on TV. A light rain was falling, and Joe Mauer was out of the lineup with a bruised heel. The Twins just couldn't seem to come through with hits when there were guys on base.

But there was one unlikely star of the show that night: a kestrel. Right in the heart of downtown Minneapolis. This bird decided the right field foul pole was a great place to hang out. After all, there were lights, and where there are lights, there are moths. And that means EASY DINNER!

The announcers and camera operators caught on to this spectacle in the middle of the game, and soon close ups of the kestrel were shown on the scoreboard and broadcast on TV. When the bird caught a large moth and started eating it (shown above), the crowd went wild.

Of course, birds and baseball are two of my favorite things, and I was thrilled to see the attention being given to an avian guest at a ball game. Actually, I am intrigued by the phenomenon. Maybe it's part of the novelty of outdoor baseball for a team that has played over 25 years indoors, under a dome on a sterile Astro Turf field. Baseball was meant to be played outside. People were meant to be outside. And if a small falcon can cause so much excitement, there is hope for humanity.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

national day of...

warning...semi rant ahead...

First of all, I will make myself clear. If you spent today in prayer, alone or in the community of others, I respect that. And in the U.S. and a lot of other nations, we are fortunate to live where the act of prayer is allowed, even encouraged, and not driven underground.

That said, I do not feel it is the business of our government to go about promoting prayer. As much as I feel it is not the business of our government to promote meditation, yoga, Tai Chi, reading "Chicken Soup for the Soul" books, dancing naked around a bonfire, or any other practice that suggests spirituality.

I am not a praying person. I always felt strange petitioning some father figure Up There, who already was supposed to know my needs and have some Divine Plan for me, with my own needs and wants of the day. I learned at an early age that we do not always get what we pray for. So why pray? But if it brings you peace, that is good.

I would rather see a "National Day of Reconciliation". "National Day of Talking To Your Neighbors". "National Day Where Hate Is Forbidden". "National Day of Tearing Down Walls". Prayer is easy. Action, not so much.

You may say I'm a dreamer... but am I the only one?

Tuesday, May 04, 2010


Mr. Attitude called me outside to see this extraordinary scene this evening.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

spring metamorphosis

The big burst of spring color is happening. I love this time of year perhaps even more than fall, because these colors represent new growth and rebirth. In the spirit of personal growth and rebirth, I convinced myself to go for a run this morning, and I even made it over four miles. I had not been running for a while; for some reason I was not excited about it this spring and the excuses were flying everywhere. So instead of fighting it I gave myself a break, with the promise that I would return to running...when I was good and ready.

It was one of those dramatic skies. Morning had dawned clear and blue and sunny, but the clouds started rolling in about the time I decided to go running. If I had waited ten minutes, I may have decided the wind was too much...which is of course another excuse. As it turned out, I had a great run despite the wind, and I even put up with holding the camera in one hand the entire way so I could take pictures of the ever changing skies and the spring color. These tamaracks are definitely a bit wind-tossed.

Marsh marigolds are blooming in profusion, a week or so earlier than normal. These were just up the road from my house, in an area where there are flowing springs in the ditches. I was wondering if that was watercress next to the marsh marigolds.

I have been feeling the spring metamorphosis in another aspect of life--my music. In the past month or so I have played my instruments more than in perhaps the last six months total. Sure I have talked a lot about my musical efforts on this blog, but until now something was missing, that personal commitment to make music a part of life rather than just a hobby I participated in once in a while. I always had reasons/excuses why I wasn't making it happen. But for whatever reason, that has changed. Yesterday I took the day off work and played guitar, banjo, and mandolin from about 9 AM-3 PM or longer. I worked through some fundamentals on guitar, learned some new chords and scale patterns, and learned another Greg Brown song (Billy From the Hills). I don't know where I'm going with this, but for now I don't care. I'm finally breaking down the personal barriers to doing what I love, and I think good things will happen with it.