Friday, May 30, 2014

Teff Beer Attempt - Step 1

I'm finally doing it and making my own beer at home. I'm making a gallon just to see how its done. The preparation to get to this point has been a lot of reading, talking to some homebrewers and doing a lot at the local U-Brew-It. (Hi Fermentations!).

I'm fairly confident of doing a brew from malt extract or even malted grains. Mead was no problem to do, and neither is cider. So, why did I think that this was a good idea. Teff. From grain.


How did this come about?

I was talking to a few buddies about what the next recipe was going to be <aside> Making a recipe at a U-Brew-It! means choosing a style, choosing hops and some adjuncts -- except when it doesn't. Sometimes you can mix and match what they have at the shop and not worry about it too much. It's more like making a meal out of leftovers than cooking from scratch. It doesn't make it any less tasty or creative just a little less DIY. </aside> and he brought up the fact that he was having problems with gluten intolerance.

Wait, wait, I know that some of you are now going to point out a hypocrisy, especially if you read me regularly. You'll talk about how gluten allergies have been debunked or roll your eyes or whatever. Here is the truth about that. People eat a bunch of stuff and feel crappy afterwards. Eating a gluten free diet, has up until now, meant eating less processed food. The kid feels better not eating things with gluten like eating more veggies and stuff. It could be that veggies are better for you than processed food. As big business gets into the market, we will see what happens. There is no denying the GI problems that someone who is eating a diet that happens to have gluten along for the ride causes.

It could be that processed food and additives pile up and you don't feel well. It could be that when they eat all the carb rich foods, they ignore the other good for you stuff that may regulate their lovely stomach critters. If my friend believes it is the gluten then so be it. As long as he is willing to try my older wheat type of breads and less processed food then we can keep the scientific door open. Not everyone wants to go on some elimination diet to figure out what is really causing the problem.

I haven't tasted a really good gluten free beer. I know there are a lot stateside but I'm not setting out to make a gluten free beer. I am setting out to make a beer that hails from the cradle of civilization and one of the earliest grains. Teff is the smallest and one of the quickest germinating (36 hours) grains so that if I mess it up, it will be easy to do another batch. There are two Ethiopian drinks that are sometimes made with teff but those would qualify as a mead like substance and I make take a try at those later.

A lot of attention has been paid to hops over the past few years. Grain bills, the stuff that the malt is made out of, has been changing a little too but it is still largely barley due to have readily available sugars and proteins. Wheat is particular to a few styles and corn and rice are still (unjustly) four letter words for craft beer. Older grains that are less likely to be GMO and processed are still forgotten. If I'm going to make a beer at home from scratch then it has to be something quick, simple, historic and not solely steeped in scientific homebrew geekery. I'll get into that as I go along. I'm simply trying to make a good beer from a grain that is not a common grain that has a quick germination so that I don't feel like some hippie growing sprouts.

So, I've sprouted the grain and am now drying it. It unevenly germinated but I'm not going to fuss. What I hope to understand is the process of making beer and I am not so worried about being perfect this time out. If the resulting liquid even tastes remotely like a beer that I would like to drink, then I will do this again. I'll try to blog this process as I move along. So ends the first part of the program. I think the next part will be on Science versus Art.

Other posts in this series: Part 2: Recipe Selection, Part 3: Shopping, Part 4: Malting, and Part 5: Mash and Boil.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

For the Young and Old

Recently read a profile of the chef, Flynn McGarrie, in the New York Times magazine. Much was made of his age. He is fifteen years old. He is being hailed as a wunderkind.

Most of us have heard about dreaming Jiro and his sushi. He is the oldest Michelin three star chef at 82. This is also claimed as a miracle. We seem to live in the era of miracle children and never aging seniors. This could be a product of the baby boomers on both ends. As they age, the society switches it focus from boundless youth to the fountain of youth. The biggest bulk of North Americans self indulgent focus shows up in the reflections of the products and stories they consume. The advent of youth focus and teenagers grew with the baby boomers and now they turn to aging.

There is still a preciousness that is attached to young people. In the New York Times article, it is noted by one of the European chefs that this would not be such a big deal in Europe. Not that he is saying that this is a product of electronic media saturated USA nor that Flynn McGarrie isn't gifted but I feel that there is an unstated thought that this should not be as big of a surprise as it has been made out to be. As far as aging, it seems that we have forgotten that the concept of retirement for the masses is relatively new.

This attitude towards age extends to foodstuffs and beer. There is the exultation of fresh cheeses such as burrata and curds to the mature bleus and cloth bound aged cheddar. In the beer world, cask beers and real ale campaigns bracket the one side while sours and barrel aged beer squeeze the other.

There is a cost to age. Shelving, storage and the work required to ensure there is no spoilage make these expensive. The sales cycle is long. It can take years to finish the first sale and unless you are sure of your product, it is very hard to make changes. It takes a while for changes to happen. When you factor all these in, it is easy to see why these things cost money

Both artisianal cheese and craft beer are still fairly young industries in Ontario and I've noticed a trend. In cheese making it takes time to raise a herd. In beer, the sour lambics take time to age. I have recently tasted some noted Belgian lambics that have tasted thin and unaged. In a rush to meet the new demand for these products, not enough time is being spent waiting. A large brewery has recently bought many of these breweries for their portfolio and I wonder if profit is being put before product. We have isolated some of these yeasts and are now using innoculation methods that take the guessing about what critters are in the air and reducing risks for bad tasting ales. The traditional method means to expose the beer to the air and let wild yeast do the work.

Are we, as consumers, too impatient? I have tasted a cheese from a newer cheesemaker and can tell that the cheese still hasn't got there. It will. I'm not going to give up on these Ontario dairies just because their cheese doesn't have all the ripeness that is promised. It takes some years. In the meantime, I'll enjoy where they are in the process and support them when I can.

Producers risk new consumers tasting their products to be let down on what all the fuss is about. The producers are relying on the neophytes not knowing any better and leave old curmudgeons, like myself, sounding dated with 'they don't make it like they used to'. A funny thing though, this hypermediated environment may cause them to rethink their strategies. As more people get together in virtual bars and discuss relative merits of this over that, there will be a gravity towards clusters of products. They risk not being old enough or not popular enough. People will see through strategies that only serve the interest of the producer's pocketbook.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

What do Moms Eat?

When I was young, I remember Mother's Day gifts as being firstly, crafts from school but as we got older, it became oven mitts, tea towels, aprons and small kitchen appliances. For Father's Day, it was clothes, tools, and fishing gear.

If someone were to ask me what was my Mom's favourite foods, I would say well cooked pork chops and sweets, especially squares and cakes. My Dad's would be meat and potatoes, even though I remember rice pudding and bread pudding being things he liked.

I wonder how often food is still compartmentalized into the sexes? Ladies who lunch implies salads and teas while a businessman's lunch is often steak at a strip club. When I've talked to restaurant owners, there is still the idea that they have to have a salad on the menu for women who watch their weight, even though we have overall become a more body conscious society.

Ladies drink wine and men drink beer or scotch. Some of this might be biological, in that, women are more likely to be supertasters and therefore more sensitive to bitter flavours. So less beer, green tea, coffee and the whole brassica family. The popularity of kale salads may render that totally incorrect.

There is also the calorie requirements being different which may impact how we choose our food. If you have to eat more to maintain your equilibrium then choices for more efficient energy would be required. That doesn't explain the sexing of healthier foods nor the feminity attached to chocolates and candy. A way through a man's heart is through his stomach but a woman requires chocolates and flowers. Yes, these are tropes but they seem to be expected, even in less traditional households.

My wife's favourite is probably a steak or sweets. Emotionally, I feel that sweets would be her choice and only steak when she craves it. I'm not sure I would describe her or any woman's appetite that I know as feminine but for Mother's Day, there will be flowers and chocolates.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Mother's Day and Food

Many of us remember our mothers and grandmothers by the food they cooked. Even when we outgrow or become more "sophisticated" in our tastes, it is those supper dishes we remember. My Mom knew very little cooking when she and my father were married. She learned on the job.

While my father loved steaks rare, she needed them cooked quite done. Vegetables were always done past the current style of al dente. I've come to appreciate the value of a really well cooked vegetable as I age. There is a time for it.

Whatever she cooks, she cooks with love. Today, I can still see that she is cooking something that she thinks her family will love. She never wants to cook something that we will not like. This is a big deal in a family where some of us have strong likes and dislikes.

I can remember the first time that I made something at school for Mother's Day and felt embarrassed by giving it to her. It was a pipe cleaner flower. It just didn't seem to express how individual I felt my love for my mother was. My one son is getting to that age where you can see his feelings about making something in a class environment that doesn't reflect him. They are a mixture of feelings. Even his dad gets it wrong sometimes.

When the children were younger,  I wasn't sure whether we should brave the crowds for a restaurant meal on Mother's Day. It seemed too much for me. I assumed that it would be too much for the children and my wife. Big mistake. She had wanted to go out. So, we tried going to a restaurant that I mistakenly thought would be good. A ribs and barbeque joint, and I was sorely wrong. My wife said it was her worst Mother's Day ever. I felt the same embarrassment that I felt giving my mother the flower when I was younger. Thank goodness, our kids were too young to remember. I've felt that I could never make it up to my wife.

Every year since then, we have made her breakfast in bed. She gets this treat a minimum of twice a year. The other time is on her birthday. This year is the first year that instead of "helping" me make breakfast, my kids will be helping me. It does mean that we have to keep it simpler but you can tell this is something that they are putting their feelings into.  They are excited and keen on helping with the menu that is already loosely set. The kind of joy and love that they are putting in reflects how I feel most days when making meals for them and it is interesting to see it so unbridled and apparent. I only wish that I could show that same enthusiasm on the outside too.

I can see the toned down version in both my mother's and my cooking. Trying to cook something that I know my family will like but sometimes my worry gets in the way. I do remember my mother faking her delight at all the gifts but there was something genuine in the response as she realized where it was coming from. Sometimes, the reaction to what I have cooked is the same but most times, it is gratitude and happiness at being well fed and well served.

By the way, we will be going out for lunch afterwards but it is a surprise. Shhh!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Recipes for Sleep: Matrix Style

Insomnia. The inability to fall asleep or once attaining sleep, the inability to stay asleep. After days of being in this twilight world, things seem different. It is almost as if the world is finally exposed as the Matrix.

The Matrix abounds with reality/not reality, sleep/not sleep and drug like references. Being one of a few sufferers in my office, we have discussed home remedies that we have used. I wouldn't suggest using them but here is what we came up with.

2 packets of NeoCitran
225 mL boiling water

This is the unjacked version. Add two packets to the water and you will be meeting Morpheus, the god of dreams, soon.

The One shot of vodka
The One glass of prepared NeoCitran 

Add the vodka to the NeoCitran. Always use the one without acetaminophen in alcohol based stupor because you don't want to tax your organs.

There is no spoon.

3 shots of vodka
1 packet NeoCitran
225 mL boiling water

Add all to the boiling water. At this point, you may wish you trusted in the One instead of going with Trinity.

1 shot curacao
1 shot cherry brandy
1 packet NeoCitran
225 mL boiling water in a glass

Put all ingredients on a silver tray. Place it down and concentrate.
You take the blue pill - the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill - you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.
Now, I'm not a pharmacist nor a drug rep but I believe these remedies are not recommended. What I will say that as a long time sufferer of insomnia, sometimes this gives you a momentary respite from the daily grind of the Matrix. For a few hours, you can enjoy an alternate universe where movies happen in your head. They are not necessarily joyful and can sometimes be overlong. When you reach the point in you non sleeping cycle, sometimes, just sometimes you believe. Like Neo with your being at the computer every night, hardly sleeping, you want to believe in the Matrix.