Thursday, May 27, 2010

Cheesy update

My first block of cheese seems to be coming along nicely. It smells like cheese. It looks like cheese. It's forming a nice rind. I'll probably leave it out for one more day before I wax it and then let it age for a couple of months.

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Cheese making

So I've decided to try my hand at making cheese. So far I've made some ricotta, some cottage cheese and now I've got a block of farmhouse cheddar in a rigged up press. This cheese making page contains most of the info that you need to get started. I highly recommend it. One thing that isn't mentioned on that site is how to make a homemade mesophilic starter. It's pretty simple. Just get a small container of real buttermilk. Let it sit out overnight. Once it reaches the consistency of yogurt pour it into an ice tray and toss the tray in the freezer.

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After the cubes freeze you can dump them into a freezer bag. They'll last for at least a month or so.

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The only other special ingredients you need for most cheese recipes are milk and rennet. I picked up a small bottle of liquid rennet from a local homebrew store for $6.50. Junket Rennet tablets
are available from Amazon. They're cheaper up front but you don't get as much as you get from a bottle and I've heard that they don't work as well as liquid. It probably doesn't matter.

Anyway, here's my press. I ripped off the idea from the link that I posted above. He describes the whole basic cheese making process so well that it would be a waste of time for me to repost everything. So far so good. I made this first batch out of 1 gallon of store bought vitamin D milk. I should end up with a 1 lb block or so. It's firming up nicely.

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This is my second attempt at a hard cheese. The first try was a mess. Don't start with cheesecloth when you start pressing. Until the cheese gets relatively dry and firm you'll want to use a handkerchief or an old cotton tshirt. They hold everything together better and they absorb the excess way quite nicely. Switch to cheesecloth when it's a solid block. Once it's finished I'll be sure to post a pic.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The garden is starting up nicely

The arugula that I carried over from last year is doing OK. A few plants have sprouted. My other lettuces are doing well. The turnips are going nuts and I've got some beets and leeks starting nicely. What I thought was interesting were all of the plants from last year that started growing on their own this year. Apparently, some dill and kale got in the gravel and is growing really well.

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I'm going to let them go for a while until I feel like having a salad. One kale plant even popped up on the other side of my yard. I have no idea how it made it that far.

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I threw another tire and some dirt on my potatoes. They're doing very very well.

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One of my hops rhizomes is popping up. Hopefully, the other two will follow suit soon.

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The established plant from last year is going crazy.

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I haven't had a single sunchoke sprout yet. If they don't pop up soon I won't be expecting anything from them. I wouldn't be surprised if they show up from out of nowhere next year, though. I lost over half of my seedlings today. I had them on the balcony and didn't realize how windy it was until I went outside and saw most of them on the patio underneath. A few survived. Tomorrow the rest of the seed gets planted and I'll start planting my three sisters garden.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Rand Paul and Racism

Everyone's heard about Rand Paul's interview with Rachael Maddow. Now the media is dong their best to paint the guy as a racist. What kind of racist vitriol was he spewing? He said that the civil right's act should have only limited the government from discrimination. What all of these race baiters refuse to mention is that the reason for most of the discrimination in America before the civil rights act was due to the fact that the government supported it with laws and policies. The free market was starting to push back against the racists so the politicians of the time saw what was going on and decided that they had to do something to save face and claim credit for America "getting over" racial discrimination.

The pendulum has swung to the opposite extreme. Now if you don't think that things like affirmative action are good for this country then you're a racist. If you agree with the new Arizona law then you're a racist. If you don't agree with or you criticize the president you're a racist. Meanwhile, foreign leaders can come to the front lawn of America and criticize us.

Luckily, the pendulum is swinging back. I think that people are starting to wake up. They're not just putting their heads in the sand as soon as they hear a red herring that they don't think that they can argue with. Now people are recognizing the red herrings and they're calling people out on them. People realize that we don't need laws that tell us how to think or what to do. These days, without government laws to cement their position, a restaurant wouldn't survive if it had a sign on the door that said "we don't serve such and such race". Everyone with any common sense who doesn't spend all of their time apologizing for succeeding realizes this.

"Judge each man not by the color of his skin but by the content of his character." - MLK

I think about that quote every single day. The more I get racism shoved in my face the more it comes to mind. Martin Luther King must be rolling in his grave. The first thing we need to do to get this country back on track is to start ignoring the "race issue". Yes there are still racists out there. They're now in the minority. There are a lot more people who want to accuse people of racism to further their own agenda. If we start rolling our eyes at people who bring it up at all then it stops being an issue. If it remains an issue then the results could be very very scary. Just look at the video I posted a few days ago. That's what happens when you let racism take center stage.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Insuring your wealth against TEOTWAWKI

When you get on the topic of what you're going to need if TEOTAWKI ever comes around you get a lot of different answers. Some people just roll their eyes and call you crazy for even worrying about it (although those types seem to be less and less common lately). Some people think that their full gun safe and 15 thousand rounds of ammo is all they need. Still others talk about how gold will become the new money. Then there are the guys that think that as long as you have enough food and water you can survive anything. It amazes me how many people seem to be so one dimensional in their preps. Not everyone is like that but they seem to be among the most vocal on the net.

Gold and guns won't do you much good if you don't have a good stock of food. A food stash is the most likely insurance that you'll actually use. Whether you lose your job for a few months, a major disaster shuts everything down or whatever having a good supply of food ahead of time is the best way to ensure that you'll get through whatever situation that life throws at you. Having some seed and the knowhow to grow a garden is also prudent. Have alternative means to cook whatever you store. If the lights go out then the propane won't last long. Neither will the charcoal. Know how to build cheap, effective alternative fuel stoves. Keep as much water on hand as you have the room to store. Have a means to filter or purify it when your stored water runs out.

As long as you have guns then you can get anything else that you need! Find the biggest baddest gun that you can, buy ten of them and then get ten thousand rounds for each of them! Oddly enough there are a lot of people who seem to think like that. I'm of the opinion that just about everyone should be armed. I just don't think that you need a huge arsenal. If it makes you happy then more power to you. If I could afford it I'd have 50 tricked out ARs in a vault in my basement, too. As far as I'm concerned, firearms are just insurance against a situation where you have to fend for yourself. That could be anything from a thug threatening you in a dark alley (get a good handgun and a CCL) to someone breaking into your house to total SHTF where the police stop responding and law and order breaks down. Get what you can comfortably afford, get a respectable amount of ammo for what you have and train with it. If the end of the world really does come around and you survive long enough to actually fire 1000 rounds in self defense then you will probably end up with a lot more guns and ammo in the process.

Once you've got food storage and the means to defend it then it's time to consider storing your wealth. If you're buying gold as insurance against an economic collapse then you should also have some silver and other "small change" on hand. Before you ever buy a one ounce gold coin pick up a few rolls of silver eagles or a few hundred dollars face worth of US coins that are 1964 and older "junk silver". If you're like most people and you can't afford gold then just focus on silver. Find a local coin shop that you can trust or get on ebay and buy a few silver coins whenever you have a few extra bucks. Also, don't count out copper. It's the metal used in most of the lowest denomination coinage throughout history. You can still go to the bank and pick up a box of $25 worth of pennies and get a nice haul of 1982 and older copper coins if you don't mind sorting them. Don't spend your pocket change. Go through it when you get a nice pile and pick out the pre '82 pennies and the nickels. Take the rest of the change, cash it in and use that to buy your silver. When your silver stash starts to get sizable it's time to think about trading it in for some gold. Gold just happens to be one of the most concentrated, widely recognized tangible stores of wealth in the world. It's not just a paper promise. If the world is on fire and you need to get out of dodge asap having a pocket full of gold is the best way to ensure that you'll have something worthwhile when you finally find a place to land on your feet.

When the dollar becomes worthless you won't want to have to buy food and you probably won't want to sell your guns. On the other hand, storing a ton of food is great but if things get ugly then it will probably be the last thing that you want to get rid of. The same goes for your guns and bullets. If the authorities are having trouble keeping things under control then they might frown on you trading off the 50 ARs in your basement when you need something big. How are you going to take them with you if you have to get out of dodge? What about your year's supply of food? Even Rawles may someday regret his choice of locales if Yellowstone decides to blow. That's where the gold comes in. You might have to leave a lot behind if something forces you to move. In that case having a pocket full of gold can't hurt.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

JP Morgan manipulating silver market

Anyone heard about the alleged manipulation of silver prices by JP Morgan? It's not a big story but the info is out there. Here's a quote from the article that pretty much sums up what I've suspected has been going on.

"The investigations were sparked by allegations made by metals trader Andrew Maguire, who the Post interview last month. “JPMorgan acts as an agent for the Federal Reserve; they act to halt the rise of gold and silver against the U.S. dollar. JPMorgan is insulated from potential losses [on their short positions] by the Fed and/or the U.S. taxpayers,” said Maguire."

No evidence of wrongdoing will be found. This just confirms the theories out there of why precious metals prices don't have much rhyme or reason lately. They always seem to go down in the face of news that should send them soaring. Precious metals are thought by many people to be a barometer for the economy. When they go crazy it creates uncertainty and fear. As long as they're stable the experts can make the case that the economy is fine. JP Morgan isn't the only one doing this.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Tried my first all grain beer

I've been brewing extract beers and making all types of hooch and wine for years. I like my brews quick, easy and most importantly cheap. As much as I've always wanted to start making all grain beer the equipment necessary and the amount of grain needed was always a hurdle. There are also a lot of equations involved if you want any kind of consistency. All of these hurdles center around the mash which is basically the heart and soul of all grain brewing. You need to start with a lot of base malt which can get expensive. Well I was on a homebrew forum and there was a local group buy for bulk malted barley. $75 for 150 lbs of base malt was too good of a price to pass up.

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Now that I had the malt I needed a way to grind it. Like any good prepper I have a Corona mill. Once I got it dialed in it worked great. Here's a pic of my grain ready for the mash tun.

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You want the kernels to break up but you want the husks to remain intact. The husks create a filter that allows the water from the mash to flow through the grain bed. The broken grain fully absorbs the water so that sugars can be extracted. If the kernels are ground too fine or the husks are destroyed then you'll end up with malt o meal and your mash tun will get stuck. If you don't break up the grain then you won't extract nearly enough sugar from the malt. Either way your wort will be too thin and you'll end up with weakass beer and lots of wasted goodness left in your malt after the sparge. If you do it right you'll end up with wonderful, sweet wort that will make awesome beer exactly how you want it.

Before you can even think about mashing you'll need a mash tun. These can be as cheap or as complex as you want them to be. You'll need to be able to hold your mash at a specific temperature for at least an hour. That means you'll need some insulation. You'll want enough room to hold a lot of grain + water. That means volume. Luckily, there's a cheap and easy solution. Get a cooler. A cooler big enough to act as a mash tun already has a drain in it. It just takes a few parts to get it ready. Best of all, they're big enough to double as a lauter tun.

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I made mine out of a square 40 quart igloo cooler. I think I picked it up at Big Lots for $20. I ripped out the crappy, plastic drain and installed some brass plumbing in the hole. It's just a ball valve connected to a couple of nipples. The nipple on the outside has a vinyl hose attached to it for wort extraction. The nipple on the inside is attached to a stainless, braided water supply line that's had the plastic tubing gutted. The braided, stainless line makes an excellent filter. Once you have your mash tun assembled and your grain crushed then it's time to start making beer.

There isn't a whole lot to mashing. Once again, it can be as complicated as you want it to be. Some recipes call for multi step mashing. The easy ones that still result in fantastic beer call for one step mashing that's pretty simple. The important part is to make sure that your temperature is close to where you want it to be and that your mash tun can hold it there for at least an hour.

For the first part of your mash you need to dough your grain in. Pour some very hot water (I use boiling) into your mash tun and let it sit for a while. This tests the seals and it warms up the mash tun ahead of time so that your strike water doesn't have to be as hot. Pour the water out and pour your grain into it. Measure the temp to see how hot your strike water should be. You should use about 1.25 - 1.5 quarts of water per pound of grain. Your mash is where that calculation starts to come into play. Calculating how hot your strike water needs just takes a little bit of algebra. Here's the formula that I shamelessly ripped off from the greatest beer brewing resource that's free on the web: Tw = (.2/r)(T2 - T1) + T2

r = The ratio of water to grain in quarts per pound.
T1 = The initial temperature (¡F) of the mash.
T2 = The target temperature (¡F) of the mash.
Tw = The actual temperature (¡F) of the infusion water.

Usually your strike water temp will need to be about 20 degrees higher than what you want your mash temp to be. 153 degrees is a good temperature to shoot for no matter what you're brewing if you want to keep things simple. Pour in your strike water and mix it up so that all of the grain is saturated. Once you get your mash to the correct temperature just shut the lid and let it "cook" for an hour. If you're using a well insulated mash tun then you shouldn't lose more than a degree or two during that hour.

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After it cooks for an hour then it's time to start sparging. This part is easy. Attach a vinyl tube to the nipple. Use a pitcher to collect the first runnings.

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They'll be cloudy. Pour it back into your mash tun. Keep doing that until the wort is running clear. Once it's running clear start pouring it into your brew kettle. Once it stops running altogether then shut off your ball valve. Your ready for the sparge. This step will take twice as much water as the first step. Your water should be at around 170 degrees. Be very careful when you're pouring your sparge water. You don't want to disturb your grain bed. I just use a coffee can lid to disperse the water.

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Once you're finished carefully pouring in your sparge water shut the lid on your mash tun (now a lauter tun) again. Let it sit for about 10 minutes to let the grainbed settle.

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After you let it sit for 10 minutes finish collecting the rest of your wort. During this stage it should be running a lot clearer and you can collect it more quickly. Once you have all of your wort collected it's time to start your boil You'll want a pot that can hold 10-15 gallons for normal beer batches. For my first batch I used two turkey fryers and split my wort in half. The wort will boil down a bit during the boil which will concentrate it. You want this. Figure out a hops addition schedule before you start boiling. Adding different amounts of different hops varieties at different times will affect the bitterness, flavor and smell of your beer. Do some research and you can easily figure out what you need for the style that you want to brew. Hops bags make hops additions easier to clean up later.

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Once you're finished with the boil then you need to cool off the wort and get it into a fermenter as quickly as possible so that you can pitch the yeast. A great way to cool down wort fast is to get a copper coiled tube. Attach a tube that attaches to a faucet at one end. The other end can just empty into a drain or bucket. Put the coil into your wort, turn on the water and eventually it will cool off. Here's what I use:

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It cools 5 gallons of boiling wort down to close to room temperature in about 5 - 10 minutes. Fatter coils work a lot more quickly. Maybe they even work more efficiently. I just go with what I had to work with. It works so I can't complain. Once your wort is cooled then you just throw in your primary fermenter and add your yeast. After a week or so in the primary then you can transfer it to a secondary. Once that's conditioned for a couple of weeks then it should be OK to bottle or keg. Hopefully this breaks down all grain brewing simply enough that anyone can do it.

This is frightening

No wonder Arizona passed their immigration law and most American's support it. Anyone remember the Sotomayor La Raza controversy? This is the group that she sat on the board of. Yikes.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Quick, cheap and dirty wine

So out of boredom I decided to try to make wine out of grape juice. I found a recipe online that uses frozen grape juice and went to town. It does call for a few ingredients that you'll only find at a homebrew shop but those ingredients can be left out and the finished product will still be very drinkable. Here's the list of ingredients:

2 cans frozen grape juice concentrate
1 quart water
2 1/2 cups sugar
1 tbsp bread yeast
2 tsp acid blend
1 tsp pectic enzyme
1 tsp yeast nutrient
1 gallon glass or plastic jug
enough water to top off the jug after ingredients are combined

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This recipe is very easy and a good introduction to wine making. You should end up with a gallon of drinkable booze for just a few bucks. Just bring a quart of water to a boil and stir in the sugar. When the sugar is dissolved turn off the heat and stir in the frozen grape juice concentrate. It should be room temperature by the time the grape juice finishes melting. Now is the time to add the rest of the ingredients. The pectic enzyme is an enzyme that breaks down pectin. Pectin creates a cloudy haze in fruit wines. If you don't care about your wine having a cloudy haze then don't worry about this. If you do then add it just in case. The acid blend is a blend of tartaric, citric and malic acid. It adds to the flavor and character. I would consider this more important than the pectic enzyme. Again, though, you can skip it if you just want some cheap, easy hooch. The yeast nutrient is just there to get the yeast going strong. It really isn't that important if you're using bread yeast because it will most likely die off before the alcohol content gets too high no matter how good of a start it gets. If you replace the bread yeast with a real red wine yeast, though, then it will survive in greater concentrations of alcohol and result in a wine with higher alcohol content.

Anyway, once you have your booze to be ready then you need to pour it into your fermenter. The juice will only fill up about half of the gallon jug so add water to fill it so that you end up with a couple of inches of headspace. The resulting original gravity should be around 1.090 - 1.1 if you care. Add your yeast and rubber band a paper towel/napkin to the mouth of the jug. Once the fermentation settles down after a few days then attach a real air lock. Rack it to a secondary fermenter after a week or two. Let it sit for a few months before bottling. Once bottled, let it condition for a few months to a year.

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This recipe makes a dry, tart wine that will get the job done when you want to tie one on. Most importantly it's dirt cheap. Get this one down and you can make wine out of anything.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Get ready for those Obama commemeratives!

Every once in a while I have to throw something silly out there.

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