Empyreal Brew Day

Empyrean Brewing Company in the Haymarket district of downtown Lincoln.

Empyrean is an old-fashioned word meaning ‘the heavens.’ I admit to having to look it up. Empyreal is the adjective meaning ‘heavenly.’ And heavenly was generally my experience, Thursday, while I was able to brew my Dark Horse Münchner Dunkel recipe with Empyrean brewmaster Rich Chapin.

The power of positive, peripheral thinking is what got me to this opportunity. The facts in the case are as follows: it was my first time entering the Empyrean Beer Quest competition. Being new to town, I was unfamiliar with Lincoln’s water chemistry. I did not have expectations about how wooing of the public vote took place, nor did I have very much time to make the beer. All entries had to be lagers and I only had five weeks.

I analyzed these facts while wearing dirty underwear. Though it may seem at least a non sequitur, if not a downright disgusting image, the underwear thing is symbolic of letting go of expectation. It comes from a long ago discovery that when I just went out with dirty clothes I was more likely to meet up with attractive, friendly ladies than when I bathed and primped. Maybe it was pheromones left unwashed. But I think it was likely due to opening up a well of possibility in the universe, rather than trying to constrain outcome. There was something about putting distance between me and success that actually brought me closer to it. This is the peripheral vision part of the philosophy… I mean, not looking straight ahead at the positive outcome I desired, but scanning the horizon, ready to notice that cosmic opportunity I had denied direct focus. Have you lost a contact lens, and after much searching given up, only to find the damn thing the moment you stopped looking for it. That’s the phenomenon.

So this is where I put myself as I considered the aforementioned facts.  It would be a beer best suited to using undoctored  Lincoln water, therefore a dark lager. It needed to be of average strength given the time available, but have a rich flavor attractive to all sorts of beer drinkers. That left me with either a schwarzbier or a Munich dunkel. The latter is a little sweeter and showcases decoction mashing, so that’s the beer I chose. In a sense, none of this was up to me, the facts put me there. Then again, I might have come to the same conclusion by just making an intuitive decision. We can never know.

I have heard a lot of stories about Beer Quest. They range from how the event is jury rigged to how the winning beer brewed on the 15 barrel system will never taste like the original. Axioms and idioms have appeared in the parlance of the local brewers. “You’re better to finish first or eleventh, than anywhere in between.” That’s because the winning brewer gets a free keg of the scaled-up beer, and brewers finishing out of the top ten don’t have to share their beer with anyone.

Based on this one experience, I can tell you that the contest has rules. Some are abided by hard and fast, others lack a referee. There are inequities and home field advantages. Like a political race, you can induce voters to vote for you, the brewer, rather than for the best beer. It is a real life contest. It is fallible. The frustrations it engenders are synonymous with those in everyday life: when your favorite team loses the homecoming game, when the wrong candidate gets elected, when every restaurant in town serves the same spinach and artichoke glop. You are not going to change the occurrence of these things, anymore than I could change the brewing system my double decoction dunkel was brewed on.

Base malt for the recipe was 588 pounds of Munich malt - toasty, bittersweet loveliness.

After a two-temperature mash program, the mash is transferred to the lauter tun.

The first runnings from the lauter tun enter the bottom of the kettle. The chestnut color and malty aroma were much like my homebrewed version.

Once all the sweet wort was in the kettle, Rich took a sample for measuring the sugar content with a refractometer. So far, so good. Looks like we'll hit our target gravity.

In go the hops - French Strisselspalt - just like my recipe called for. Soon a wonderful lemon aroma captured our imaginations.

The wort was whirlpooled, then chilled right to 55 degrees. It travelled underground to the adjacent building where the fermentation vessels are located. Here Rich pushes the beer, a sizable yeast pitch (in the keg), and adds oxygen.

Here's where the Dark Horse is now busily fermenting. In a few weeks I'll be sitting at the bar trying it out! Hope you will be, too.

If anything, the trials and tribulations of Beer Quest mimic real life. For me, it was a personal test of attitude and vector. For others it may be a frustrating series of hems and haws trying to get outside the box of expectation and entitlement they’ve constructed for themselves. I know only this: that the more I know about beer, the less I know, and that as I contemplate what to brew for the next Beer Quest I will burn my road map and start a new journey from scratch. Winning is not everything. I’ll settle for 2nd through 10th.

Cheers! TPJ

Getting Cheese Delirious

Chèvre interior, blue mold exterior! Served with a refresher from Leuven!

I’ve got a serious case of ‘ants in my pants.’ Look what UPS just delivered for Friday’s cheese and beer event! He was smirking as he bounced down the stairs. Was it the fact that I was caught listening to SOMA-FM’s Underground 80s music at a volume sufficient for a block party? I wouldn’t know, because I was momentarily distracted by the lyrics…

A little something to make me sweeter
Oh baby refrain from breaking my heart
I’m so in love with you
I’ll be forever blue
That you give me no reason
Why you’re making me work so hard

Erasure was the one-hit-wonder, in case you must know. Kismet, synchronicity, or just the hollow-graphic nature of New Wave? Dunno. As an old friend used to paraphrase from a very different band in the 80s “Nous sommes des fromages.” Cheers! TPJ

Cheese and Beer Runup

With just a couple of days before our inaugural cheese and beer event in Lincoln, we received a nice writeup from Star City Blog’s beverage reporter Alexis Abel.

You can link to it here. Oh yeah, that fellow Cory was a trip – hope we see him on Friday!

If you live in these parts and haven’t gotten tickets yet. Do it while they last. Cheers! TPJ

Cheese and Beer ~ Far and Near

It has taken long hours in planning, scheming, and tasting, and now we’re just two weeks away from an awesome event: Cheese and Beer ~ Far and Near.

From the Press Release:

The Derailleur Tap Room at the Bricktop pairs their exclusive craft beer selection with handpicked cheeses from around the world. Cheese and Beer – Far and Near is a guided tasting designed to astound Nebraskans with exciting flavor combinations.

Five substantial portions of cheese with snifters of fine beer will be provided. The fascinating origins of traditional cow, goat, and sheep milk products will be described for cheeses from Nebraska, Massachusetts, England and France. Special ales and lagers from sought-after breweries in the US, Belgium, and Norway will be expertly matched to the cheeses and interesting facts of each beer’s production, ingredients, aromas, and flavors will be given.

The cost is $45.00 per person for the event, expected to cost upwards of $65-70 in larger cities. Tickets go on sale at the Derailleur Tap Room at the Bricktop at 4 pm on Friday, February 18th. Tickets are limited to the first 50 persons and are expected to sell out quickly.

For the past several weeks, Craft Beer Manager Jason McLaughlin, organic cheese maker Krista Dittman, and I have been tasting various cheeses against special beer selections. We’ve been looking not only for solid pairings, but pairings with synergies that release hidden flavors and liberate nuances. If you’ve ever added a few drops of spring water to a single malt whisky, or combined vanilla with lobster, you know what we’re talking about.

As a preview, I thought I’d list the courses in general terms. Maybe as we get closer I’ll provide more specifics, but that might take some prodding!

  • French abbey cheese, pasteurized cow’s milk, lightly washed rind, served with an abbey quadrupel from Belgium.
  • Artisanal chèvre log, blue mold exterior, paired with a Belgian witbier.
  • Rustic Spanish cheese, raw ewe’s milk, quite surprising with a Belgo-IPA and side condiment.
  • ‘Swissy’ farmstead cheese, raw cow’s milk, with a malty, nutty doppelbock.
  • English farmstead cheddar, raw cow’s milk, dances with a resinous American double IPA.

Jason and I will MC the event. He will describe the beer we’ve chosen, after which I’ll outline the cheese and guide the pairing of the two. We also have two special guests: Marty Wells from The Saucy Cook and Krista from Branched Oak Farm.

This is a high energy event that will last about an hour and a half. Come with an appetite and be prepared to be wowed. There will be cheese drama. Yes, that’s what I said cheese drama!

Cheers! TPJ

Extreme Beer Fest Photolog

This weekend’s little trip down the road to Omaha was really rewarding. This coming from a guy jaded by so many beer fests that he sometimes goes begrudgingly. Not this one, though. Things were off on the right foot, soon after arriving at the Best Western Seville Plaza. It was cheap, located in a neighborHOOD a mile and a half from the venue, so the cab fare wouldn’t break the bank. Better than that, they had a free van driven by a cool old dude named Larry who not only dropped me right at the joint, but he picked me up within minutes of a phone call after dinner after the festival. Big tips for ole Larry, for sure. Plus, the place was home to these gentile old southern gals, “Okay sugga” this and “what can I gitcha hon” that.

As for the beer fest, no more effusing, just pictures and few captions. They say it all.

 

Love those old farmer dudes. They enjoy their beer, not to mention that New Year's Eve dance where I saw them all doing Y-M-C-A!

Upstream brought on the goods. And I learned that jockey boxes were "fer leanin'".

Pretzel paradox.

Odells bringing on the Avant Peche. Too cooked and jammy for me... maybe if they served it on toast.

Enthusiastic volunteers and thirsty pilgrims. Not too many dumbass cloggers, too. If you mutter 'clogger' under your breath, most people will apologize and move away, unless they're loaded, in which case they can no longer hear.

"Why am I smiling? Don't be silly. Look what I'm serving!" For the record: St. Bernardus Abt and Tripel, Aventinus, etc...

Good job organizing and supplying able volunteers and plenty of good brews. See you next year. Cheers! TPJ

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.

Chocolate, Cheese & Beer – What a Week!

What a Bohemian week it will be… I’m reminded just how cool Lincoln-town really is.

Thankfully a homebrewing homie turned me on to the Nebraska Beer Blog, maintained by a guy named Nick Spies. He keeps up on all the area events, of which there are many. I’m already in training for Omaha’s Extreme Beer Fest coming up next month.

Tonight I’ll be at one of the area’s best package stores, The Still, for a chocolate and beer tasting. It remains to be seen what beers and what chocolate. The distributor conducting the tasting is from Omaha, so the chocolates may not be coming from Lincoln’s newest treasure: Chocolatier Blue. I’ll keep my fingers crossed. CB’s chocolates rely on Italian dark chocolate and fresh, local fillings from organic cream to roasted filberts to pears and bay leaf… world class pralines and I can ride my bike there!

Exceptional cream is blended with organic butter and 70% dark chocolate for a rich ganache then encased with a dark chocolate shell. (Courtesy: Chocolatier Blue)

Then tomorrow, after an early start on brewing (I’m cooking up a baltic porter by double decoction), I’ll be heading out to Bricktop. Bricktop is a dance club at night, run by a cool guy who escaped from Patchogue, Long Island.

Bricktop owner Dave loves 80s music, beer, girls, and of course, the Huskers.

In the early evenings, before the doom-tah-doom-tah-doom-tah starts, the place is called the Derailleur Tap Room and caters to beer connoisseurs. DTR’s beer master of ceremonies, Jason McLaughlin, and I are planning a cheese-beer pairing event in the near future. We’re going over a few of the pairings with beer fresh from the taps.

I’ve been studiously developing pairings with imported cheeses sourced from The Saucy Cook and some local gems from nearby creamery Branched Oak Farm. Beer can pair magnificently with cheese – uh – much of the time. It is not as forgiving as some beer apostles may lead you to believe, however. Some of my attempts to date have brought out a stark metallic note in the cheese or accentuated oxidation in the beer. But many of the pairings exhibit dramatic synergies that release hidden flavors in both the beer and the cheese. Stay tuned for the specific pairings!

One cheese I know we will feature is this lovely sheep's milk cheese from the French side of the Pyrénées: Ossau-Iraty. Sweet, nutty, semi-hard with slight vesicles.

Thursday morning I’ll be making cheese – this time an enriched cow’s milk blue. I’m shooting for something like Saint Agur. Mine will be whole, vat pasteurized cow’s milk with some whole cream added. The blue mold (Penicillium roqueforti) is introduced during the acidification (the first step in cheese making) and will take off after the finished cheese is pierced with a sterile pick and matures for two to four months in a cool conditioning room.

The "melts-in-your-mouth" enriched cow's milk blue from france - Saint Agur. (Source: http://www.relishcaterers.co.uk)

Then in the evening I’ll be attending a six-course beer dinner at the area’s renowned Greek restaurant, The Parthenon. Thankfully we will not have to choke down salty, husky Greek beer. I look forward to meeting whoever masterminded this dinner because they have had the good sense not to choose a lineup of big beers. All too often, when strong beers are served at this sort of thing I have seen a group otherwise eager beer lovers turned into a pod of beached whales by the fourth or fifth course. Beers of modest strength with a good depth of flavor are what you need. That’s why I’m looking forward to the main course: grilled leg of lamb with ancho chile marinade and saffron orzo, served with Sprecher Black Bavarian-styled lager.

For Friday? I don’t know, might make a cider. Or if my venison connection comes in, it could be venison sausage with juniper and allspice.

Cheers! TPJ

Bose-Einstein Physics Meet BBQ

As is the way with great discoveries, scientific and otherwise, today I invented the Q-ball by combining essential tidbits from earlier enlightened philosophies. I employed Occam’s Razor, which as applied to food preparation can be interpreted as the “You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces – just good food from fresh ingredients” (Julia Child).

I also employed Quantum Physics by accepting the conundrum that while every electron lives at its own little orbit, these orbits are infinitesimally close to one another, and in fact, we never know if that little bugger is home or out gathering charge. In other words, everything is just a blob. (Matt to Dr. Scala: “You mean you’ve lied to us?” Professor: “Well, yes.”)

And then there is the third component: Tennessee Pork. Slow roasted natural pork butt, cooked overnight in the slow cooker with a bottle of rauchbier (smoked beer), ancho chilis, and beaucoup cumin, then shredded and mixed with chipotle BBQ sauce. Recipe follows.

So what happens when these concepts are synthesized? Do we get the next Halliburton loophole to shave more dough from the federal larder? No, this is much more world-changing. More precisely my invention is called a ‘Q-Ball (note the apostrophe – since it represents a contraction of BBQ). The ‘ball’ part will soon be self-evident, but let’s further describe this ball as a non-topological soliton.

One example of a soliton is a standing wave. (Source: botheredbybees)

BBQ, as we all know, is short for bar-be-que. But whatever that means is up for debate. I doubt I need define a soliton, but just in case you tuned in from a fermion universe, a soliton is a collection of bosonic particles in an equilibrium configuration, neither gaining or losing bosons. Solitons comprise constituents which are held together by weak forces and is envisioned as more or less, you guessed it, as a standing wave or a blob.

You probably remember from advanced statistical mechanics that there are five elementary bosons and my ‘Q-Balls use all five. (No quarks or leptons are required.) They are, in no apparent order:

  1. the gluon (also called gluten) is the elastic force that allows the ‘Q-Balls to expand during photonic irradiation and condense during cooling without disintegrating into fermions,
  2. the weak force Z (representing zweibel (DE) or in English: onion),
  3. the weak force W (it represents the energy of cabbage; we’re not sure why ‘W’ but then cabbage is a bit of a mystery, isn’t it?),
  4. the photon (this is how we cook the ‘Q-Balls for maximum enjoyment, and finally,
  5. the Higgs bosons, sometimes called the “god particle,” which due to a misspelling by an editor was actually supposed to be Pig’s bosons, often served with BBQ sauce. [Ed. it has recently been proposed that there are five different bosons of this type: 1) pork butt, 2) back ribs, 3) shoulder, 4) shank, and 5) bacon. Sausage is actually a composite boson made by a collision of any Higg’s boson with the strange quark, which itself is a fermion. Other physicists call the research into question. You don’t have to own a particle accelerator to own your very own boson.]

Although physicists can only theorize about the Q-Ball, you can easily make a ‘Q-Ball at home. The idea came to me because in Lincoln, Nebraska a similar construct, called a Runza, is available from fast-food chain restaurants throughout the city. Let me point out, and I make no apologies here, that a Runza is filled with fermions, not bosons, and therefor must comply with the Pauli Exclusion Principle (the theory states that it is impossible for one to be in the same room with a television playing Pauly Shore’s Bio-Dome). Fermions, remember, can only occupy one quantum state at a time. Thus, eating a Runza means that all other quanta cannot co-exist in your digestive tract, hence the rapid escape of other waves and particles. The name is a reference to this effect.

Wikipedia provides instructions on how to construct a Q-Ball, but since my calculus is rusty, I suggest you try my method instead. I think you will find that ‘Q-Balls illicit a much more sympathetic response from one’s body since the bosons can co-occupy the same quanta as the colon. Add to this the fact that left-handed fermions can interact with the W force (remember: the cabbage), so at least for southpaw fermions, eating ‘Q-Balls should have no adverse effect on digestion. Right-handed antifermions should have no problems either; right-handed leptons should take a Tums.

‘Q-Balls

Ingredients for 4 Blobs

  • 1 cup shredded cabbage
  • 1 med. onion, slivered
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp canola oil
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked, shredded pork BBQ (see below)
  • 1 lb of ready-made pizza dough

For the Shredded Pork

  • 3-4 lb pork butt
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 6 cloves
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 teas of peppercorns, cracked
  • 1 tbsp cumin, ground
  • 2 whole, dried ancho chilis
  • 1 12 0z bottle of rauchbier (smoked beer)
  • 1/3 cup your favorite BBQ sauce

Method

Place the pork, onion, spices and beer into the slow cooker. Cooked on low for 7-10 hours until pork falls apart on touch. Cool, remove pork to a plate. Sieve the liquid, discarding the cooked onions and spices and reserving the liquid. Place 1/2 cup of the reserved pork liquid in a small pan and cook with the BBQ sauce until reduced to a thick sauce. Shred the pork and add to the sauce, coating evenly. Correct for acidity, sweetness, and seasoning with cider vinegar, brown sugar, and salt & pepper, respectively. Set aside.

Meanwhile saute the shredded cabbage and onions with the oil. Add the garlic 5 minutes later. Cook the mixture down until limp and translucent. Cool, then combine with 1 1/2 cups of the shredded pork to complete the filling.

The 'Q-Ball

Divide the dough into four pieces. Using your hands or a rolling pin, make a 5-inch circle of one piece and place 1/4 of the pork cabbage mixture in the middle. Bring the sides of the dough up and across, sealing with the opposite side to make a leakproof bundle. (If it doesn’t stay altogether it can’t be a soliton.) Repeat for the remaining ingredients. Place apart from one another on a greased pan and allow to site in a warm place for 30 minutes to begin to rise again. Bake at 400ºF until the crust is golden and firm, approximately 25 minutes.

These are so good, they could win the Nobel Piece (sic) Prize. Enjoy! TPJ

Of Wild Hops and Zeal

Not much was calculated when I discovered abundant wild hops on a bike ride in Lincoln. It was all reflex and excitement. I stuffed a bountiful bine up my jersey and rode swiftly home. The aromas of hop and body making a heady cologne.

What I didn’t count on was another climbing plant that grows profusely in the soggy, temperate jungles of secondary growth weeds… poison ivy. But I would not know of my malfeasance until the hops were harvested, dried and packaged. This is the way I am with poison ivy, it takes a few days until the worst is known.

Regardless of the impending rain, tomorrow we were to return with knapsacks. The getting was good; most were ripe and some had started to just brown. And so we did return.

Each grouping seemed to be its own variety. The first were medium-sized and elongated. They smelled resinous and grapefruity. The bracts were the palest green with deep yellow deposits of essential oils tucked between.

Nearby, high in a scrub oak, grew small, round hops. These were faintly spicy and refined, suggesting cinnamon. They had little lupulin, though, and it would takes volumes of these fine friends to equate to just a handful of a more bitter hop. We moved on to fuller bunches.

By now one knapsack was nearly full. I saw some tempting large hops growing in prolific clusters. As nature would have it, they grew further and higher in the wet thicket. These large and elongated darlings had a fruity aroma, one we compared to cooked strawberry jam.

With a plastic grocery bag on one arm, I pushed my way down a short slope through a thicket of briars hiding amongst goldenrod and fall weeds. Above, intertwined with the hops, kudzu sprawled and offered its hair-like spines to my flesh. The hop harvest was in hostile territory – my socks full of burrs, my shins and arms impaled, and my fingers sticky with the waxy hop resins. We called it at one and half knapsacks full. Incoming rain and an accumulation of briary insults had taken their toll.

I had become exposed to poison ivy in my quest. Next year would call for long pants and shirt sleeves and a healthy scrub with Tecnu immediately after harvest.

Unless plunged directly into a “wet hop” beer, hops must be dried to prevent spoilage. Back at the house I was able to try out the dehydrate setting on my new Electrolux gas range. The problem was how to get all of the hops in the oven. I accomplished this with four baking sheets packed full. With the oven set at 120ºF, it would only take about 18 hours to dry them all.

Half went into airtight bags in the freezer. I’ll be using these this winter to make Found Hop Porter for my dear friends Kathryn and JD, to be served at their wedding reception. The rest were placed loose into a paper grocery bag and set in the cellar where they will remain for the next three years, oxidizing, loosing their bitter components, and slowly becoming ready for use in a future lambic beer episode.

Brewing with wild hops has its challenges. They don’t come from a hop producer with an assay of bitter acids considered essential for accurately formulating the bitterness of the beer. One can chew the raw hops or make a hop tea to estimate bitterness, or one can call upon intuition. When I’ve made beers with wild hops in the past, I’ve just relied on whimsy and aroma. Be sure to check out Jay Wilson’s beervana’s web log. He’s brewing with wild hops, too, in Corning, Iowa.

Cheers, TPJ

Summer Squash Enchiladas

The farmers market is a vicarious reminder of European travels.

In my new base-of-operations-slash-secret-hideout (Lincoln, NE) I can choose from many farmers markets. The biggest is the Saturday market in the old haymarket district. I start by cycling along the Rock Island bike trail to market, then I stuff my knapsack full of whatever strikes my fancy. It’s post modern hunting and gathering. When I get home I can put the puzzle pieces together into dinner and few meals for the week.

Last week I trundled off to market and stopped at a little hole in the wall place right along the bike path, Marlene’s Tortilleria. You know you’re in the right place when there are sacks of corn stacked halfway to the ceiling – you wouldn’t believe the smell! In the back room Marlene was operating the Dr. Seussian machine, which magically produced endless warm thick white corn tortillas. She came out to help me and saw the bag of tortillas I’d put on the counter. “Don’t you want them fresh?” she asked. Most certainly a rhetorical question! She grabbed a handful that she could barely hold and slipped them into the bag where they instantly steamed up. I had the cornerstone of today’s culinary puzzle!

At the market I daydreamed about vegetables and cheese and tomatoes and chilis. I picked up a summer squash and a zucchini, avoiding the giant ones of late summer. At Shadowbrook Farm I found delicious heirloom tomatoes and at my favorite chili farmer’s table, a box of bright orange habaneros and juicy looking serannos. But I couldn’t locate my usual cheese maker and decided to stop off at Ideal Grocery for cheese and a can of enchilada sauce. So there was the plan for squash enchiladas. What else to buy?

I had the fortune to find a Persian woman selling rose-scented baklava made with almonds, cardamom, and rose petals. I can die now a happy man. Let’s see, bread and pizza dough from Le Quartier, some nice leeks and tiny red onions from one farmer, and an earthy head of fresh cabbage from another, melt in your mouth peaches and pears along the way.  That was all for today – no more room!

All that cycling around can make a fellow mighty hungry. So here’s the answer:

Summer Squash Enchiladas!

Ingredients

  • 1 summer squash, medium-sized, diced
  • 1 zucchini, medium-sized, diced
  • 1 leek, cleaned, green top removed, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1-6 hot chilis, minced
  • 4 Tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 12 ounces cheese, shredded
  • 1/4 cup half-and-half
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon Mexican oregano, substitute Greek oregano or epazoté
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
  • salt & pepper, to suit taste
  • 8-12 corn tortillas
  • 1 can red enchilada sauce
  • black olives, sliced
  • green onions, sliced
  • tomato, chopped

Method

In a large sauté pan, heat two tablespoons of the oil over medium heat, then add diced squash, leeks, garlic, and chilis. Reserve a couple spoonfuls of chopped chilis for later. Lightly brown the squash mixture, then remove from the stove and allow to cool.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine 2/3 of the cheese, the egg, and the half-and-half. Mix in the dried oregano, cumin, cilantro, salt and pepper. When the squash mixture is cool, combine it with the cheese mixture.

Heat the enchilada sauce in a small saucepan until warmed through. Heat the remaining oil in the sauté pan. When the oil is hot, fry a tortilla lightly on both sides, then, using a spatula, place it into the warm enchilada sauce only to coat it. Place the tortilla on a plate, arrange a portion of squash filling, 2-3 tablespoonfuls, onto it and roll it up. Place it into a flat, non-reactive baking dish. Repeat until the tortillas and filling are used up. Pour the remaining enchilada sauce over the dish. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top. Decorate with your choice of toppings, perhaps sliced black olives, chopped green onion, chopped tomatoes, cilantro, chilis, etc.

Bake in a 325º oven until heated through and bubbling around the edges, 30-40 minutes. Serve with rice, a fresh cabbage salad, and a cold Pilsner. Enjoy! TPJ

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