Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Snow Day = Sugar Cookies

At 7:00 this morning, I received the phone call I'd been dreaming about all night: my office decided to close for the day. With a small cheer, I grabbed the dog and bounded downstairs to continue watching the news broadcast on this iteration of Snowmageddon. After about 30 minutes, it hit me. What, exactly, was I going to do all day?

After shuffling around the living room and brainstorming for a few minutes, I realized nothing could make the morning more complete than a batch of warm, fresh cookies. My only hurdle was a lack of ingredients. For the most part, I consider myself a cook and not a baker. I like the randomness of cooking - being able to take a few basic ingredients, throw in a few random ones and (for the most part) have it turn out. Baking is so...directions follow-y. I make cookies once every 2-3 years - the last time being in 2009 during that year's Storm of the Century. Luckily, I was able to scrounge up some sugar (lumpy, but workable), flour (I keep this on hand for lefse, duh) baking soda and vanilla. Bam! Sugar cookies were in my future.

Adam worked from home, but he managed to help me measure some ingredients before "clocking in"
Hard at work
Proof of our snow. It might not seem like a lot, but considering I saw facebook status updates such as "it's up to my knees!" while I had nothing, I felt pretty good about the 2-3" we accumulated today

Due to my previously mentioned lack of baking experience, putting the dough together took some time and pep talks on my part. An example conversation (with myself) went something like this:

"Combine butter and sugar and whip with a mixer until light and fluffy. Light and fluffy? How the h#ll do I know when it's fluffy? Alright, then. Batter, let's do this. Let's grab the mixer. Oh that's right. Let's turn it up a speed. You can do it. Fluff it up. Would you consider this fluffy? Who even knows. Keep mixing."

Adam considered it more of a trash talk to my dough. But hey - there was a large amount of uncertainty on my part and only so much lumpy sugar. I only had one shot.

After I successfully finished the dough, and let it sit in the fridge for an hour and a half, I started the rolling process. The first couple times I did it were sketchy at best, but after a few rounds of cutting out shapes and remixing the scraps, I got the hang of it. Thankfully I ransacked my parents' old kitchen in Everett years ago, and had in my possession all the cookie cutters from my childhood, plus a few I seemed to have collected over the years.
My first attempt at rolling the dough - not so great
First round of cookies in the oven. Yum!
I'm getting better at rolling, though making a huge mess
Once the cookies were out of the oven and cooling, I attempted some frosting. In my head, I was going to make 4 or 5 different colors, use my sprinkles, and get super creative. I quickly realized I was not making enough frosting to do more than 2, my feet hurt, and my sprinkles were somewhat lame. I chose what was supposed to be mint green and purple. 

A little treat for Adam and I once the cookies were complete

All in all, the cookies were a success. After all the rolling, mixing frosting and epic kitchen cleaning, I took a nap to celebrate. Happy Snow Day!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

My first shot at homebrewing

Making my own beer has always been a hobby that is in the back of my mind. I drink a lot of beer, why not make some myself? My friend Jon and my father-in-law Barry both homebrew regularly, and I've definitely drank more than my fair share of their labors. It's time to return the favor.

But, but... baby steps! Anything that has any sort of process (be it playing a game, building a Lego model, or cooking anything [yes, even ramen]) tends to lock me up. I look over the instructions numerous times before I feel like I'm ready, even if the smartest thing to do is to just dive in and learn as I go.

Thankfully, Woot put up a Mr. Beer kit a few weeks ago, and I took the bait. I like to think of it as a paint-by-numbers for making beer. A trial run at homebrewing, if you will.

I was kind of kicking around the house this morning, wondering what I was going to do with my afternoon. When I opened the door to go get the mail, the answer was sitting on my doorstep: Mr. Beer had arrived.

Included in the kit is a 2 gallon keg, 8 1-liter bottles, a bag of "booster" (which it turns out is just corn syrup solids), a can of hopped malt extract (West Coast Pale in this case), a little bag of yeast, a packet of sanitizing solution, some stickers, and my favorite: the instructions! The keg and bottles are all plastic to keep it simple and reusable.

Here's a few shots of me inspecting the kit. Nothing really exciting going on here.

First step: reading the instructions! Seems easy enough: sanitize your stuff, put some water in the keg, mix the booster with 4 cups water, boil it, add the HME, throw it in to the keg, add more water, add yeast, cap the keg, then wait two weeks.

Second step: sanitize your stuff. This involves putting water in the keg, dumping some powder in it, swirling it around, and putting all your brewing tools (measuring cup, can opener, whisk) on a plate that you also sanitized. Here's a couple of non-action shots of this step:

Third step: put some water in the keg and some water in a pot. Mix the booster with the water in the pot. This took forever, as the instructions say to pour & mix the booster SLOWLY (in scary capitalized and underlined text) in to the water. It didn't really clump up like other mixes do, but it took a long time to dissolve. After that, I cranked up the heat and waited for it to boil. The booster apparently adds both alcohol and body as its packaging states, which is what beer definitely does to you when you drink it.

Fourth step: juggle!

Fifth step: add the can of beer goop to the boiled boosted water. The can of beer goop, officially Hopped Malt Extract, looked and smelled like teriyaki sauce. I love me some teriyaki, but if my beer ends up tasting like it I'm not going to be thrilled. I put my trust in Mr. Beer to make my beer not taste like teriyaki.

Sixth step: throw the mixture into the keg, add more water, then add the yeast. Pouring the hot, goopy liquid into the small hole at the top of the keg was a bit tricky. I came this close to pouring the crap all over the kitchen. When I added the yeast it started to get all bubbly and looking like I actually made Real Beer.

Seventh step: wait a couple weeks, storing the keg out of direct sunlight in an area between 68-78 degrees. I opted to put it over by our fireplace, which has a little pilot light which tends to keep the area right around it a little warmer than the rest of the house. That spot is also shielded from sunlight, so it meets the criteria.

So there it will sit, for two weeks. At that point, I'll sanitize the bottles, add a bit of sugar to each bottle, then fill it with beer. Then I have to wait another two weeks to condition the beer (a.k.a. just wait more), which takes two more weeks! Mid-February is when I'll be enjoying this.

All in all, this process took me a little over an hour and I had as much fun as you can have stirring and boiling water. I've watched Jon do The Real Thing and it is much more exciting and of course you can improvise a lot more than you can when you are pouring a can of goop into a pot. If this works out okay, I'll get a few more kits from them. Then, I'll do it The Real Way, without all the weird, canned beer goop.

Here's a preemptive "Cheers!" for six weeks from now.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

2011 in review

Wow, what a year 2011 was. It was such a blur that I needed to look back through my various social networking sites to jog my memory. I won't bore you (and honestly, bore myself trying to write it) with all the details. But here's a list of highlights:

-January saw the return of Dana and Jon to Washington for a week. Dana came out to take care of some wedding planning, and Jon came because the flight was cheap and Dana was coming. The Group got together to hang out, catch up, celebrate January birthdays, and generally be awesome. 

-In April, Katie and I went to various places in Colorado. We went to Denver, Colorado Springs, and Boulder. All these places are places I could see myself living. Except for Colorado Springs: people get around from place to place there by running!

-Two of my best friends got married: Toby in April, then Dana in September. Both ceremonies were beautiful. I had the privilege of being a part of both of their bachelor parties: Toby's was up at our mutual friend Walker's family cabin in Roslyn, and Dana's I totally took over and made everyone go to the Penny Arcade Expo. Welcome to the club, guys.

-I took up two old hobbies that had long laid dormant. First was playing trumpet, which lasted about a month before it fell to the wayside. The second was playing Magic, which I've embarrassingly discussed here way too much. How can you tell if a post is authored by Katie or I? Does it mention Magic?

-We went to Sunriver, OR, with Katie's folks the last week of June. This was a trip they did pretty much every year when Katie was a kid, so seeing this place I've heard so much about was really fun.

-In late September, Katie and I took an impromptu road trip down to The Dalles, OR, to see Counting Crows play at Maryhill Winery. Not too impromptu, as she bought tickets a month or so before. But impromptu for me, since I forgot about it. Along the way, we stopped at Powell's in Portland, because That's What You Do When You Drive Through Portland. While at Powell's, I went off on my own to try and find something for myself. Five minutes later, I returned to Katie to find this. Now the reason why I parked in a 1 hour spot on the street became crystal clear.

I'm sure I missed a few things here and there, but so much happened that even stuff that happened last week feels like ages ago.

And what good is a year-in-review post without some forward-looking statements? Here are some of my personal goals for 2012. Call them resolutions if you want. Or "action-items," if you are in to corporate-speak.
-Lose some weight. It's not a New Year's Action Items list without it.
-Stay focused on whatever it is I'm doing. I switched browser tabs at least 100 times while writing this post alone
-Play more board games more often. I've played Catan and Pandemic dozens of times. It's time to dust off all those other games in my closet I've neglected.
-Participate in or run a tabletop game. This is in the same vein as the one above, but it's different enough to get it's own bullet point. I went to Crazy Town almost two years ago and got a bunch of D&D 4e materials and a pound of dice. Then to top it all off, I received the Pathfinder Beginner Box from this past Christmas. It's time to crack that nut.
-Be a more patient driver. I can be aggressive at times trying to get out of downtown. Katie would probably strike "at times" and replace it with "all the times."
-Be more patient in general. The last few months I've put on my grumpy pants a few too many times than I would care to admit. I can trace this to things going not-exactly-to-my-specifications. And it's not even stuff that anyone should get mad about ("What do you mean we are getting whole wheat bread?!"), it's just me being dumb.