Chocolate, Cheese & Beer – Recap

It has been too much lately, reading the exploits of my friends who only seem to frolic, never work. My old buddy Rodrigo reportedly has some sort of high-tech job, but all I see on Facebook are videos uploaded from his surfboard-mounted digital movie camera. Another friend, Phil, now living in Oregon goes snowboarding down Mt. Hood when he’s not doing… Come to think of it. What does he do?

Though I have been known to strap on snowshoes, I’m not too keen on drowning in the surf or ending up a crumpled pile of fleshy bones after suffering the effects of gravity. This week I goofed off in my own way. I cooked, I brewed, I ate, I laughed.

I even got in an argument with a drunk guy and called him by a piece of digestive system anatomy… to his face. I’m opinionated, but I rarely share that epithet in mixed company. We made up. He bought me beer. What will our next meeting bring?

It’s Sunday now and I’m basking in the success of being in my own, indefinable way, the champion of un-work.

Here is my nugatory rundown of the week.

  • Monday I ate lunch and contemplated Tuesday.

  • Tuesday was the day for the chocolate and beer. I kept my fingers crossed that chocolates would come from Lincoln’s Chocolatier Blue and they did! The beers were a variable bunch provided by a local distributor. By his own admission, the rep stated he hadn’t much experience with chocolate and beer – and it showed. But the deeper message that was planted in my brain had to do with the biases inherent in distributor-chosen selections. I feel a bitch session coming on that I’ll have to post in my Gripefruit section very soon! However, there were two delicious pairings, both with Weyerbacher beer (Easton, PA):
  1. Belgian-styled quadrupel Quad with the holiday spice chocolate (“You got your apricot in my custard!” “You got your cloves in my peaches!”)
  2. Rum Soaked Currant praline with Weyerbacher Tiny (“Bing, bang, bada bing bing bang.”)

  • Wednesday I brewed my traditional Baltic Porter,  a dark, potent lager that will cold condition towards perfection (what, can’t I aim high?) for a couple of months. Thanks to my new book Yeast (White and Zainasheff, Brewers Publications), my yeast cell counts were (say it like Carl Sagan) in the “billions and billions.” Within six hours of pitching the fermenters were rollicking and spewing stuff that only a homebrewer could love.

  • It was also a good time to save some spent grains from the brewing. I had an idea, actually I thought it to be a revelation, that I could make pumpernickel rye soft pretzels. The trick to using spent grains in bread is to purée them in a blender with some warm water. Otherwise you end up picking coarse grain husks from your teeth. The recipe included stone-ground rye flour, molasses, caraway seeds and a few standard bread ingredients. I won’t post a recipe here, not because the pretzels weren’t good – they were delicious – but because a black pretzel has a rather unappetizing appearance. Judge for yourself…

  • While the infamous pretzel dough was rising I met up with beer maestro Jason to try out a few more of our cheese pairings. We had settled on certain cheeses but were still searching for the specific beers to knock it out of the park. We settled on a date (March 4) and number of tickets to sell (50) and we are sure to sell out early. There is a practical size to a cheese-beer tasting; even this one will have 250 measured portions of cheese, the same number of beers to dispense, plus accouterments. Then everything has to be at the right temperature. I hope we’re getting prep help the day of…
  • Thursday rolled around and there were still pots and pans to clean from beer and pretzel operations. I put off the cheese making to Saturday. But I did stick with the plan to attend a six course beer dinner at a Greek restaurant called The Parthenon. If you read my previous thoughts on beer dinners, you know that I believe it is a good idea to have some moderate strength beers in the mix so you don’t turn into a “pod of beached whales by the fourth or fifth course.” What I failed to estimate were the portions of food. The first course of spice-rubbed chicken drumsticks pressure-cooked to fall-off-the-bone tenderness, sitting atop couscous flavored with lemon juice and blanched almonds was huge. What would pass for a chicken tagine entrée in some Moroccan restaurants was more food than an entire upscale beer dinner. By the fifth course, we were slung over the back of our chairs, our arms akimbo and eyes at half mast. Awesome, filling, soul-warming food. Then the soup bowl sized crème brulée, redolent with vanilla seeds. It had the consistency of melting ice cream. Here’s a similar recipe with a discussion on the key ingredient: vanilla bean paste. Oh mercy. Yes, if you’re wondering, we ate the whole thing.
  • Friday, is it Friday yet? Coasting just a bit. I spent most of the day researching an article for All About Beer magazine. Something about ancient beers and their cultural and ceremonial importance. Now, that is work. Sorry. Didn’t mean to mention the “w” word. I was trying to convince you that I am really just a professional goof-off. Back to being indolent… I made a batch of cider. Although I follow my own recipe, I’m going to let you in on a guilty little secret

  • Saturday – the Day of the Satur. I pause to imagine I know what a Satur is… some sort of man-beast mythic creature. Perhaps the body of a cow, a chalky green hide of lizard scales, angel wings, and man’s head that looks like Wallace. Or maybe I was channeling my inner cheese god. This day was for blue cow’s milk cheese in the British tradition, i.e. Stilton.

  • Saturday night it snowed again. A fair dose. After an hour and forty minutes of shoveling against the drifting snow, icicles on my eyebrows, I returned to the warm interior. No hot chocolate tonight. I have invented a new hot toddy that appeals to my woodland upbringing, my Scottish heritage, and, well, a desire to consume alcohol. I call my drink Woodsman’s Fly Dope because of its memorable aroma. First I make a big mug of strong tea using Lapsang Souchong tea. The tea has a huge pine/juniper smoke aroma and flavor. It brews a deep rust-colored tea with substantial body. So much body, in fact, that a wee dram of Scotch whisky is needed to lighten it up just a bit. The smoked tea and the peaty Scotch merge. Wisps of campfire memories wend their way through your skull like the figments they represent. Sleep will come, and dreams will weave my week into one confusing mural.

So, Rodrigo and Phil, right back atcha!

Cheers, TPJ.

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11 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Chris
    Jan 23, 2011 @ 16:50:56

    I think a wee dram of doublewood, single malt, Balvenie would lighten any tea 🙂

    Reply

  2. Rodrigo
    Jan 23, 2011 @ 17:50:58

    Whoa!… Easy there turbo!… Don’t know what you’re talkin’ about since you don’t seem to do much either!…. Now what happened with mt biking? Too old for that now?…. I’ve been way off on my brewing, hard to get good ingredients here in the middle of the pacific…. Perhaps should try a coconut ale?….. Anywhoo, stop spreading out lies about us hard working individuals….
    Cheers mate & a happy 2011

    Reply

    • palatejack
      Jan 23, 2011 @ 20:54:09

      Okay, “mountain biking in Nebraska” is oxymoronic. But, yes, I’m riding my MTB on ice-covered bikeways and looking forward to Spring so I can ride my new fixie!

      Yeah, brew some coconut ale! I want to try that. I’m working on an agave-only ale made with amber agave syrup. If you have any agave worms, send ’em over.

      Nice to hear from you old friend. Thanks for being my whipping boy for half a millisecond. TPJ

      Reply

  3. rodrigo
    Jan 23, 2011 @ 22:25:41

    Dude, those pretzels would sell really good at a joke shop!….what the heck are you doing in Nebraska!?….

    Reply

  4. palatejack
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 06:24:40

    Phil writes on Facebook:

    “Hahaha I dont have a blog do defend myself so all I can do is send you the pics.. today Jackson Hole Wyoming.. Actually more mountain than I am used to, insane chutes, powder and of course hot country girls that like to down shots and keep up with the guys!!

    Obviously my day job involves dropping gnarly chutes and ripping fat lines of pow..”

    Reply

  5. Darren
    Jan 31, 2011 @ 04:31:09

    That black pretzel is a hell of a thing

    Reply

    • palatejack
      Jan 31, 2011 @ 07:09:24

      Hey Darren – checked out your blog. You’re as big a goof-off as me. Good looking wit beer. Cheers! TPJ

      Reply

      • Darren
        Feb 01, 2011 @ 05:57:47

        Cheers TPJ, but WTF I’m dead serious about my beer and not making pretzels that look like dog shit. Ok I dont make pretzels.

        One of my main drivers for making wits is the 30 odd tonne of wheat sitting in the silo’s at the folks farm, you can take the tight arse out of the brewer or something like that. Next batch of whit is for my little sisters wedding, will be nice to have some beer grown by Dad in a beer made by me at my sisters wedding.

        Also I see you’ve read the Yeast book, have had beers with both Jamil and Mr White over the years and am looking forward to reading the book (its on the shelf) but think I will still be lazy and pitch by gut feel.

        Now less writing more brewing!

        Cheers D

  6. palatejack
    Feb 01, 2011 @ 09:26:01

    Darren, So long as your beer doesn’t taste like what my pretzels look like, you’re fine. You should read the yeast book – it’s excellent. TPJ

    Reply

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