Trying Out New Toys

We hosted Oktoberfest again this year after a hiatus in 2020 (for obvious reasons…). We had a good turnout and the weather turned out to be beautiful, albeit on the warm side. A couple of visitors came by to catch up and we had a lovely chat, but as part of our conversation, we found out they had a cider press they hadn’t used in years and Brooke had been in the market (passively…) for one for awhile.

A week later, they were kind enough to deliver it to us. We wanted to compensate them, of course, but they very graciously wanted to give it to us. We left as a “long-term loan,” just in case they find a buyer (besides us) that they want to sell it to.

We waited a few weekends for some solid weather to be outside all day, and thankfully it didn’t take long. Brooke picked up some cheap apples from Peter’s Market (two half-pecks…which I guess….is a peck…right?) and we prepped to use the press, while also setting up the chiminea for some warmth and roasted hot dogs and marshmallows.

After chatting with a few folks, we thought cutting the apples into quarters would be sufficient, but one run through the mill showed us that wouldn’t be sufficient. We pressed as best as we could, but the structure of the apples was simply too dense at that side. From there, Brooke tried slicing and dicing a bit more and that worked better. At one point, she went inside and brought out the food processor, but that didn’t work all that well, either. It wasn’t a bad idea, per se, but the processor only diced the bottom portion of the container and couldn’t get to the top, so it wasn’t any more efficient than simply chopping up the apples.

Ultimately, she ended up cutting the apples into sixteenths, and that was the most efficient we could get it.

The cider we got we filtered through a collander to catch any remnants of apple (or bugs…) that fell into the liquid. The good thing about cider is that it isn’t supposed to be perfectly “clean” or anything, so it isn’t like we were looking for much clarity. The flavor was surprisingly sweet to me, though I don’t tend to gravitate toward cider, personally. Brooke and Meg thought it was good, though, so I suppose it was a success!

Ultimately, we ended up with just under 3 gallons of cider from that peck of apples, working out to around $20/gallon. Is that “worth it?” I dunno. But we had fun working together and hanging out that afternoon in some beautiful Fall weather, so regardless of the end-product, “the journey” was worth it!


This is the second year I’ve tried my hand at making some Christmas “cookies.”  I always call them “cookies,” but there’s really no baking involved.  Still, these are treats that my Mom used to make when we were growing up, but when we were gone for college, she slowed down on her cookie making, largely because we weren’t around to help eat them.

Regardless, I missed them and I wanted my kids to get the same treatment, so I started to make them last year when I had off for Christmas break.  Thus, here we go again.

The ones pictured up top are almond bark-covered Oreos.  I also put some peanut butter between Ritz crackers and dipped those, as well.  The fun part about making both of them is that it can be challenging to figure out which is which, as they’re about the same size and shape.  

I actually dipped Oreos and pretzels a few years ago back in St. Louis, but ended up burning the almond bark by trying to microwave it.  I just couldn’t figure out the right settings to melt the chocolate without having to stir it every 30 seconds.  Then last year, I tried it using a double boiler method and believe you me, it works wonders.  I suppose it takes a little longer than it does in the microwave, but I have yet to burn anything, so I figure it’s worth it.  I used the double boiler for just about everything I made this year.

The holly candy (above) is corn flakes, marshmallow, corn syrup and green food coloring.  It isn’t too terribly hard to make, though getting the shape right can be a little tough.  I think I did a better job this year of mixing everything, so the candy held together a bit better rather than falling apart a flake at a time.

The chocolate-covered rice krispie treats are also a favorite of mine, though I always forget that they aren’t technically rice krispie treats, in the traditional sense.  Sure, they’ve got most of the hallmark ingredients (like, you know, rice krispies…), but they lack marshmallows, which ends up leaving them a bit drier.  The topping, though, mixes chocolate and butterscotch chips together (also in the double boiler).

This was my first year trying to make chow mein noodle candy.  These are similar to what Brooke’s family has (haystacks), but my family always put marshmallows in there.  I ended up adding a few extra noodles to the mix, as I thought they looked a bit over-marshmallow-y (sure, that’s a word…), so we’ll see in the finished product whether I got the mix right.  I haven’t tried them yet.  Brooke had me make some her way, but we’ll save those for next weekend when we head to Hannibal.

Anyway, it doesn’t take all that much time to make them and I certainly like eating them.  If anything, the cleanup takes longer than the “making” part takes. 

Meg’s been eyeing these treats for a few days now and I haven’t let her have any.  I’m terrible. ūüôā


15 gal, ready to go.
15 gal, ready to go.

As I mentioned last week, I wanted to make some beer for Kristen’s wedding, coming up in July. ¬†In order to ensure the beer gets produced on time¬†and that I can taste it and produce¬†more if the first batch doesn’t work out, then a February start-date for fermentation is required. ¬†Thus, with the help of Mom, Dad and Brooke, I set out this past Saturday to make lots o’ beer.

This is the first time I tried making this much in one day. ¬†I’ve tried two batches in a day before, but one of them didn’t work out as well (for various reasons, not just because I tried two in a day). ¬†Regardless, having all the additional help available to keep Meg occupied and watch the boiling kettle while I take care of cleaning the carboys, etc. is very useful and makes the day go more smoothly.

Overall, the day went pretty well. ¬†I used up one of the propane tanks I had, so Dad and I went and got another one mid-way through the day. ¬†Once the sun poked out, the weather got a bit more comfortable, though it was only out for a few hours before going behind the house, leaving us in the shade with a brisk, chilly wind. ¬†Dad assembled Brooke’s new IKEA 3-drawer dresser while we brewed the second batch later in the afternoon, so we kept ourselves busy.

After we went out to dinner, I went ahead and took care of the third brew on my own (though Brooke held the funnel for me so I could pour the wort into the second carboy). ¬†All in all, it ended up taking about 11 hrs, start to finish, to do the three beers with a few hour+ long breaks in there. ¬†I’d guess that the act of brewing, itself, “only” took 6-7 hrs.

Active fermentation warrants blow-off tubing, especially in carboys.

The beers were all pretty close to the target original gravity, so I expect the final alcohol content to arrive at a similar level to the first time I did these beers.  Fermentation began relatively quickly and, as you can see in the image above, the limited headspace in the carboys required the addition of blow-off tubing to allow the foam to escape.  I can probably remove the tubes in a few days.

In about two weeks, I’ll dry-hop the Chinook IPA, which was put in the bucket specifically so dry-hopping wouldn’t be a huge pain. ¬†It can be done in the carboys, but getting the hops in there, wrapped in cheesecloth, and then¬†removed again from the carboy can be difficult. ¬†After another week (so, 3 weeks total in the fermentation vessels), I’ll bottle the beer.

Now¬†that will be time-consuming. ¬†I’ll probably queue up something to watch on the Kindle while I take care of that.

Regardless, the day was a success! ¬†Hopefully the flavor reflects that in a few months. ūüôā



So, my little sister is getting married in July and I offered to make a contribution of homebrew to the festivities. ¬†She’s going to design labels for them and will make them available as people leave the reception, rather than making it available¬†during the reception, which would require us to deal with some logistical hurdles…and make a lot more…

Regardless, I picked two of the better varieties I’ve made before. ¬†The Cream Ale batch I made was light, highly drinkable, and can be enjoyed by folks with a range of tastes, including those with only a taste for yellow fizzy water (e.g. Bud Light). ¬†The Chinook IPA is something quite a bit different, as it is a hoppier pale ale. ¬†It probably won’t suit as many tastes, but will still allow for some variety between beer styles. ¬†Kristen’s fianc√©, Jake, who has also started homebrewing recently, will make a batch of something “in the middle,” so perhaps something like a honey brown, for example, or a wheat beer.

In total, we should end up producing around 20 gal of beer which, assuming we actually got that volume (and we won’t), would net 213 bottles. ¬†Not too shabby.

Part of doing the brewing¬†now, though, is to ensure the beer is actually somewhat decent. ¬†I’ll bottle it in early-March, and it can then condition and age into April. ¬†If it isn’t¬†great (or at least¬†good) by April, then I can brew some more and still have it ready by mid-July. ¬†I don’t want to take any chances in beer quality here: I don’t mind drinking my own batches I’ve screwed up, but I wouldn’t want to impart them upon others.

Still, this Saturday, I’ll brew 15 gal of beer, all in one day. ¬†I’ve done two batches in one day before, but this will be the first time I attempt three. ¬†Mom and Dad are going to drive in to help out (and by “help,” I mean entertain a certain almost-3-year-old so I can focus on making 15 gal of beer). ¬†The forecast says that it should be 47 F and partly cloudy, so likely a pretty good day for some outdoor brewing.

01.01.13 Breakfast

New Year’s Day dinner: black eyed peas and quiche. I have no evidence, but I’m pretty sure that quiche has become a New Year’s Day tradition in our house to use up Christmas leftovers.


12.09.12 Dinner

This is from mid-December, but fairly typical of the meals we’ve been having around our house recently. Add a bowl of soup, and you get the picture!

12.07.12 Dinner

A sort of Swiss Steak stew: stew meat, carrots, onions, green pepper, and tomato sauce cooked in the crock pot all day.

12.02.12 Dinner

Hamburger “steaks,” broccoli, and egg noodles. I still haven’t cleaned the cast iron skillet after this meal. Maybe that’s why I never have long-term success with cast iron? Also, probably the reason for the odd smell in our kitchen lately…

11.16.12 Breakfast

I started some sourdough a couple of months ago, so to mix things up, I made whole wheat chocolate chip sourdough, then French toasted it. Meg agreed that is was amazing! We repeated this meal the day before Thanksgiving, too!