It looks like summer 2012 has had a heated effect on The Weblog. Whatever the future may behold for this beloved blog, I wanted to let those interested know about goings-on comparable with previous postings at Wednesday Food.
I’ve been off full-time, “real” work for about a month and am now throwing any resourcefulness I may possess into freelance writing. Since that is a growing but not-yet prosperous endeavor I wrangle and shuttle toddlers in the Santa Monica vicinity by night.
The daytime hours are comprised of scouring newsfeeds for any material that can be regurgitated, hassling beer business owners for updates and releases, and cold-pitching articles to publications I can only hope to contribute to at some future date. It’s an endeavor riddled with highs and lows: the unbearable self-loathing that marks an unproductive day is countered by an occasional validation (a PR lunch, a beer sample, a compliment from someone you admire.)
Writing for LAWeekly has been great fun with an exponential learning curve. My favorite pieces to date (not that I’m choosing from a vast array, or anything) are coverage of Rogue’s announcement to brew beer with beard yeast, my first interview with an amazing brewery in Torrance, and a round up of places for beer drinkers in the San Fernando Valley. You can also find my writing in print (!) in LA Weekly’s annual Best of LA issue. A complete list of musings on my author page.
Succumbing, oh so inevitably, to the plight of the modern self-publisher, I now have a twitter handle and can be followed @erikabolden. If twitter is for tweeting, joining six years late can only make me a twat. Not knowing what the hell to do with a hashtag is pretty grim, but what are you going to do?
Updates from the garden are in order. Remember when I was dumbfounded by what composting method to embrace? I ended up drilling holes in the bins I used to use for winter clothes and throwing in a package of red worms from a nursery. The dirt in in our yard is almost entirely sand so amendments have been necessary and using our own decomposed kitchen waste and a bag of chicken manure is most satisfying.
Tomato plants are huge and full of green fruit but it feels as though we’ve waited a month and nothing has ripened. The eggplants are days from being full-sized but are being destroyed by caterpillars. Green and yellow squash are doing well and finally producing adjacent to a baby fig tree. A bed dedicated to climbers has become a focal point, with Kentucky Wonder and Purple beans winding up two teepees, and Green Apple and English cucumbers on a tent lattice. Six corn plants went in a little late in the season, but show noticeable growth daily so we’re optimistic for a late summer/ early fall harvest. We’re currently amending soil for a pumpkin patch, late-season beans, potatoes, and kale and chard. It’s a lovely place to experience summer. Flip back to this post for the before pics.
A trip across the pond is in the works for Autumn, so I look forward to reporting back any and all information I may gain at a certain beer festival in Munich, and wherever else the beer may beckon me.
This week I brewed beer without training wheels. I had neither a pre-measured kit of ingredients nor the crutch of malt extract to ease and expedite the process. It was my first ever all-grain brew session.
Because it was the first all-grain for my cohorts as well, a few problems arose that we just had to work through. There was a bit of arguing over recipe augmentation (we used a 1 gallon recipe but brewed 5), last minute tool improvisation, and guestimated calculations for evaporation, but we didn’t kill one another and more importantly, the beer remained unharmed. In fact, it happily bubbles away in the primary fermenter sitting next to me.
The essential difference between a partial mash and all-grain is that the former uses a mix of malt syrup concentrate (malt extract) and grain, and the latter derives all its fermentable sugars from full grain mash. This means steeping 8-15 pounds of grain in your kitchen in a very, very large brew kettle. The only downside to partial mash, which I have long favored, is that recipes aren’t as easy to manipulate. But with a full mash you have a shit ton of grain to steep.
In the case of all-grain brewing, extra water is used to “sparge” the grains and release all their sugars, for this recipe 7.5 gallons were used for a 5 gallon batch. A substantial amount of excess liquid is absorbed by the grain, and the rest evaporates in the process of bringing the wort (unfermented beer juice) to a boil and adding hops. My pot wasn’t big enough for the extra liquid so we divided it, let it reduce a bit, recombined the liquids, and by the time all the hops had been added (60 minutes at a rolling boil) it was down to 5 gallons.
In retrospect it would have been wise to read this first, and attempt to understand the importance of pH and enzyme production, but I prefer to jump blindly into new projects… WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG? So now comes the very scientific part of crossing my fingers and praying I didn’t infect the Honey Oroblanco Ale I so look forward to enjoying in a few weeks. It’s been almost 2 1/2 years since I began brewing beer. The learning curve remains exponential.
This weekend my sister and I host our first homewarming party together (until this summer we hadn’t cohabited since 1998.) Preparations are afoot: flags are being made, recipes determined, seating possibilities drawn up, dignitaries contacted, etc.
While many of the fetes we’ve hosted have revolved loosely around a theme, I’m struggling now for something more than “uh, here’s our housewarming party.” A few children will be wandering around so ‘cocktail’ isn’t quite right; ‘barbecue’ is misleading as our grill is too small to accommodate the people we need to feed. My only interest in themes is that they help dictate a menu so you don’t end up with competing, unrelated items, i.e. lasagna, grilled fish, and beer can chicken. If beverages are in the works they are subjected to theme considerations as well– caipirinhas and grog are not going to be great friends.
There are a few things that are on my mind in anticipation of the weekend. I give you…
The Bolden Tenets of Hosting
Inclusive Repast: let no meateater, vegan, or sweet tooth search elsewhere for their heart’s delight.
In Beverages We Trust: create or find a recipe for a signature drink then show a few people how to make it, but supply provisions for equal-opportunity drinkers; this means wine keys, bottle openers, ice, and mixed stemware are important. It would behoove you to provide mixers, people are often generous enough to bring a bottle and you don’t want to be stuck sipping rum on ice.
Teetotalers Are People Too: offering a drink besides water or coke is good karma to those refraining.
Litterbugs Not Allowed: avoid real flatware if you are serving more than six and lack a dishwasher, but find recycled disposables or even better, use paper that can be thrown in your compost.
Contingency Chili: like in mountaineering, no one goes to bed hungry. Because then they will likely be hungover and hate you forever. If this happens to you, the host, and you only got a taste of the 12 pound pork butte you spent 9 hours smoking, self-loathing will ensue. Plug in the crock-pot and make a batch of chili that can feed the late night stragglers or be frozen for later.
Thus far we’ve determined a menu of…
- Rosemary and lavender lemonades
- Chorizo stuffed dates
- Mediterranean lentil and couscous salad, with herbs and feta
- Spring farro with asparagus, peas, meyer lemon vinaigrette (v)
- Home pickled veggies
- Grilled sausages with caramelized onions, sweet and hot peppers
- Strawberry handpies
No signature drink yet. If you have a Springtime cocktail recipe idea I would be eternally grateful.
I suppose the theme has determined itself. Springtime Rumpus sounds right. Check here for last year’s thoughts on hosting and shenanigans. If you’re in Santa Monica on Saturday, by all means, stop by.
I was lucky the child of progressive (non-native) Californian parents and grew up composting. It wasn’t until my teen years when we left a house with a yard that I put banana peels and coffee grounds in the trash. Recycling food waste back into the ground and eventually back into our plants was all a part of the game. It’s a lifestyle choice (is that the thing to call it?) that suits me and my ample compostable kitchen waste, and with a garden of my own I’m ready to return to it.
While I’ve maintained and turned many existing compost piles, I’ve never begun one. Do I go with the barrel drum method in which scraps pile inside a black plastic vessel and can be turned with a crank-like feature? No, one of the great pleasures of composting is turning the pile and witnessing the decomposition process and all its players (fingers crossed for ample wormage). Do I build a bin with stacked boxes like a beehive? Maybe, but the construction is a bit laborious. Perhaps I should turn to fermentation with the Bokashi system. Too expensive?
The method I’m most familiar with, as my father has employed it for some thirty years, simply involves three wooden pallets, placed vertically on a perpendicular angle against a solid wall. It allows for a pile of fresh scraps, which then move to the next section of rot, and then the final stage of break down where the compost is ready to use. This requires space, dirt, and a non-chalant attitude toward pests (especially rodents). As I have neither excessive space, dirt, or any tolerance for pests the box will have to be impenetrable and possibly raised.
I’ve really enjoyed Alys Fowler’s Garden Anywhere and accompanying BBC show for ideas, but nothing fits exactly right. In any case I need to decide soon, because every melon rind and onion skin that goes into plastic for the landfill adds weight to the pit feeling in my stomach.
Do you or have you composted? Have you thought of using a worm bin if you’re short on outdoor space?
This year has seen a balance shift from the beer-centric libations that have long anchored my evening hours, to cocktails. Gin and rye are the main players but we see appearances from vodka, scotch, tequila and campari. Tried and trusted combinations are great after a long day or when the booze muse is absent: old fashioneds or gin and tonics get high billing.
The real fun is when time and ingredients are on your side and you get to create something new and (potentially) delicious. Pictured is my Cucumber Hendrick’s, using the gin that lends itself especially well to the vegetable at hand.
While I have long believed that there had to be a hierarchy amongst alcoholic beverages, one in which beer is best, my view of the world is expanding. Gone are the days of trying to convince people that they’ve been disillusioned by beer’s so-called bloating effect and higher caloric bill. My knee-jerk default to beer, when offered a beverage, is tired and arthritic. Tolerance and open-mindedness have quieted the vicissitude of my desire.
It’s a new world, people. One where I may even wake up some day to see Two Hearted and Bulleit Rye in hand-to-hand combat, battling it out for my affections. Maybe I’ll be surprised and rye will triumph.
Ha. Now we’re just getting carried away.
Erika’s Cucumber Hendrick’s (makes 2 cocktails)
- 1/2 cucumber, peeled, seeded, chopped (plus slices/ spears to garnish)
- 2 sugar cubes
- juice of 1 lemon
- 3 oz. Hendrick’s Gin
- Club soda
Place a sugar cube in each of two rocks glasses. Distribute cucumber between glasses and muddle until sugar is broken down. Add a few cubes of ice to each glass, and squeeze the juice of one lemon between the two. Add 1.5 ounces gin to each cocktail, top with club soda, and garnish. For a smoother drink blend the first three ingredients and strain, before adding gin and soda.
After six months of drifting and out-of-suitcase living, I have a new home atop a hill in Santa Monica. Few places could possibly be more quirky or dated (cork and burlap walls courtesy of 1973) but a huge kitchen with an ocean view and built-in wall-to-wall bookshelves sold my sister and me on it. And one other thing– the garden.
Ample raised beds built of brick stand before a few shaggy citrus trees and overgrown hedging. Leggy radish pods are overdue for being pulled. A struggling strawberry patch out front will be moved to make room for cutting flowers.
Not only are we blessed with growing space and free reign to modify it as we see fit, but complete privacy (excepting the view out to Catalina Island), and existing walkways make it a natural atmosphere for hosting. I am struck with visions of lingering light at summer barbecues and full cocktail glasses enjoyed under the stars.
As I write this I’m rolling my eyes at my absurd train of thought, the overly romantic idea of it all– forgive me the indulgence. To be inspired by a space, truly engaged and thrilled by the potential, is a rare sentiment. There is an enormous amount of clearing and labor ahead, soil treatment and seeds to sow in order to make way for summer, but the prospect of biting into a fresh Chocolate Stripes Tomato is motivation enough.
I wanted to talk a little bit about edible winter gardening. One of the best ways to stay inspired and still get a little variety in your garden is to think in terms of texture and color. Go for height and ditch the rows. Cram every available space with new varieties of spicy greens, bitter chicories, or try growing kohlrabi and fennel. Grow vegetables that are difficult to find or expensive.
Winter can be a trying time in any garden, even one without snow. Every day is an exercise in patience– wandering between beds to check each small Brussels sprout and tiny head of cauliflower, or digging down to sneak a peek at the beetroots. It seems like forever since we planted those purple heads of cabbage and the tiny, hair-like leeks last November. Don’t be discouraged! There are dozens of varieties of greens to fill the space and bring color while you wait for larger vegetables to come to size. Think about bright pops of pink and orange Swiss chard stems, the silvery, blue-green leaves of dinosaur kale, even the deep purples of mustard help to keep our stews hearty and our stir-frys healthy.
To ensure your success in a winter garden, here are a few suggestions:
- plant in succession; keep sowing lettuces, spinach and scallions every two to three weeks and you’ll always have something to harvest, even if cold or pests get to your crops at some point
- space plants close together to help suppress weeds and maintain higher soil temperature
- plant in colors and intermix: red Russian kale with pink stems, rainbow Swiss chard, crimson lettuces, and mustard greens can be squeezed into open spaces between rows of cabbages and leeks, giving continuous cuttings of nutritious greens through the leaner growing months and will look beautiful all winter
- start sugar snap and English peas indoors as early as Christmas, and harvest some of the tender green vines once you plant out and they begin climbing– the sweet tendrils are tasty sauteed in olive oil and paired with salty cheeses
- after you harvest the main head of broccoli, let the side shoots continue to produce– the small, sprouting florets are even more tender and can be roasted and tossed with lemon
- experiment! look to your pantry– dried garbanzo beans will sprout within a week, and though they require 90-100 days to harvest (and far too many plants for a substantial crop) they will bring something new to your garden
- kale chips: roast at 400 degrees F with olive oil, salt and pepper until the edges are crispy
- sautee any Asian greens in a little sesame oil, then serve with soy and sweet chili sauce over rice (then top with a fried egg if you know what’s what)
- harvest the bottom leaves of Brussels sprouts, and use as you would collards– steam, stuff and bake or stew with bacon and black-eyed peas
- blanche Swiss chard leaves whole and layer into lasagna with lots of cheese, or stuff into enchiladas with pinto beans
On the road trip to Portland a few weeks back I learned the true value of a food podcast. Podcasts in general are a wonderful alternative to music when whiling away an arduous drive. Podcasts specifically about food have broad appeal, as most people like to eat, and like to eat well. Four of us happily idled hours of passing landscape with Lynne Rossetto Kasper.
I keep coming back to The Splendid Table because I usually gain practical information for kitchen use, and the guests often have something interesting to report (excluding the Road Food segment which makes me queasy– we get it, you like hot dogs.) I learned how to make better ice cream at home, that the happiest people in the world eat meals together, and that my goal in life is to become a personal friend of Amy Sedaris. That last one I already knew. Bonus: the archive is extensive.
For a laugh, or when I only have a few minutes of car time to kill, I love Spilled Milk with Molly Wizenberg (of Orangette blogging fame) and Matthew Amster-Burton. They have great chemistry, which is no small feat in a podcast, and often venture into generational nostalgia (see hard candy and cereal). Their side-by-side tastings constantly remind me that whatever I’m doing my time would be better spent sitting down with five brands of mac and cheese.
Although they get very girly and anecdotal, I like Whitney Adams and Christina Pickard on The Crush. Wine knowledge does not magically dispense itself upon my senses the way beer does, and hearing it from two women to whom I relate makes it less imposing.
Locally, I enjoy Good Food, though it can be dry and my attention dwindles.
And at this point, dear readers, you ask what else to listen for? With only that handful of favorites at my disposal, I offer that question back to you. Are there any podcasts (including video) loosely based on food, beer, wine, spirits, restaurants, recipes, or brief justifications of the ontological necessity of modern man’s existential dilemma, that you can recommend?
Please make your offerings in the comment section and be glad you’re not contemplating ditching your car (and your sanity) on the side of the I-405.
St. Patrick’s Day. What a weird remnant holiday of America’s once-lowliest immigrants. It may be joined in commercial exploitation by Valentine’s Day and Halloween, but it seems less centered around a cause than any other Hallmark celebration. There is no death-by-chocolate or botched zombie costume to justify its existence in the year 2012. There are no gifts. No pretending to be devout to satisfy a grandparent. No grand meals at which to awkwardly converse with distant relatives and overeat.
What is there? A lot of drunk people.
Take it from someone who enjoys beer so much as to first brew it (as an excuse to drink it?) then hassle others by chronicling it (as an excuse to drink it?) I haven’t distilled or made wine yet but you can imagine that is in the not-too-distant future.
As a certified lover of libations I am here to say a holiday that revolves around drinking doesn’t really work. The clever drinkers stay home or hole up in cool bars with imported beer signs and equally annoyed bartenders. The amateurs, the moonlighters of drink, the general teetotalers, and the under-agers are the ones buying green beer and car bombs, and yakking in the gutter at 2 pm.
So be a curmudgeon and enjoy your eye-rolling while drinking a decidedly not-Irish beer (as I will plan to do.)
Or join the infinite gullible people who need an excuse to celebrate in March, and do the following: throw back a shot of Jameson, dive into some corned beef and cabbage in hopes of settling your student debt with a pot of gold, hit yourself on the head with a shillelaugh stick and mutter ‘God Bless America” while you order that second Shamrock Shake (as I will probably do).
If your intended participation lies somewhere between try this corned beef cabbage pizza with a Guinness and call it an early night.
Yesterday, we returned. The only occasion was that two of the four had time, and the other two needed to take time away. Beyond that, a passion bordering on obsessive for all things beer brought four food and drink lovers together for an epic adventure. Luck was on our side as San Francisco was just beginning its beer week, Pliny the Younger was freshly tapped at Russian River, and the forecasted rain in Portland never arrived.
Highlights: an impromptu breakfast of half a pound of Cow Girl Creamery Cheese and baguette, served in the car; waking up to a lighthouse and impeccable mocha in isolated Shelter Cove; finding Michael Jackson’s out-of-print Beer Companion at Powell’s (for cheap).
Our places of respite and elation, by region: