Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Bean-Enriched Tomato Sauce

One of our kitchen staples here in Ireland is canned tomatoes.  We found a very inexpensive variety at our local supermarket and keep them in the pantry at all times.  Canned tomatoes make a great all-purpose ingredient for every kitchen, and one of the best uses is a classic (and classy) tomato sauce.

The meal-balancing issue with tomato sauce itself is the lack or protein to give the sauce that satisfying thickness and "belly-sticking" feeling.  Meat, of course, makes a great protein addition to tomato sauce anything.  For a while we were adding plain sausages to our sauces while cooking down the tomatoes.  The sausages would release their fat and salt into the sauce, giving a great, rich body and flavorful punch.  We wondered, after going through pack after pack of cheap sausage, if there was anything else we could do that might be cheaper and a bit healthier?

The stick blender made it a no-brainer.  We thought we could use cooked legumes (beans or lentils) to give the soup the protein kick we had been craving without the cost (in money and calories) of using sausage in every sauce recipe.  Since then we have made sauce with several different varieties of beans and red lentils, and we have been amazed with the results.

In this recipe, we used adzuki beans- a small red asian bean used in different Japanese and Thai recipes, usually in a pureed paste.  The beans have a nice meaty, nutty taste by themselves, and give same to recipes using the puree.

Adzuki Beans in the Bag
Adzuki Beans in the Bag

Cooked Adzuki Beans
Cooked Adzuki Beans

After cooking, draining, and rinsing the beans, we threw in our aromatics to sautee in our saucepan.  This day we used carrots, onion, and garlic.  If we'd had celery or another aromatic green on hand we'd have used it, but oh well.

Carrots, onion, and garlic chopped for sauce
Aromatics- Ok, no celery.

Cooking Down the Aromatics- Carrots, onion, garlic.
Cooking Down the Aromatics

After the onion and carrot were softened, we threw in the garlic just until fragrant- then dumped in the can of whole tomatoes.  Once the tomatoes were cooking down and condensing, we added the cooked and soft beans back into the mix to thicken with everything else.  We stay away from adding salt, seasonings, or herbs until the very last step.

Tomatoes and Beans with the Aromatics
Tomatoes and Beans with the Aromatics

Once things are thick enough to stick to the back of the spoon, it's time to pulverize.  Into the measuring cup the whole messy mix goes for a good blending.  At this stage, watch for thickness and add salt, pepper, and dried herbs to taste while blending.  If the mix gets too thick for the blender (this one did) add a little bit of water until the mix is just thick enough to make a nice vortex in the measuring cup (not pictured for safety's sake.)  

Tomato and bean sauce is blended and ready
Finished blended sauce

Once the sauce is well-blended and seasoned well, it's ready for nearly any application.  It makes a great pasta or pizza sauce for us, but the uses could go well beyond in the hands of a more creative (and less cheapskate) cook.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Northern Ireland Reflections

This blog has been known to be home to unsolicited and uncalled-for political commentary, often aimed unfairly at the modern-day British for deeds committed by British rulers decades and centuries ago.  I had a chance to really think about what these ignorant proclamations really meant when we traveled to and through the country of Northern Ireland.

Antrim Coast rocks and sea
Average Antrim Coast Scene

Crossing the international border between the Republic of Ireland (just Ireland from now on) and Northern Ireland was painless and invisible...mostly.  Our coach didn't stop at a checkpoint with machine-gun-armed soldiers.  We didn't have to present our "papers" to a scowling border patrol agent sizing us up like criminals.  We didn't have to fill out customs cards swearing we weren't transporting illegal breeding pairs of live koalas to release into the wilds of the new country.  All of which, by the way, we would have to do coming into the USA- especially if we were coming from one of an ever-growing list of "bad" countries, where people have darker skin and speak other languages...

Nope, crossing the border between County Louth in Ireland and County Armagh in Northern Ireland just meant a change in the color of road signs as we zipped by.  "It's just like goin' into Wisconsin!" as they said in Stripes of cold-war era Czechoslovakia.  The telltale signs of being in a new country were much more subtle, but we took notice.

From the bus, we could see the Union Jack flag of the UK flying at nearly every intersection in every city.  I commented here when we visited Belfast about the sorry state of the physical flags themselves.  Many of them were torn, tattered, and faded- but it would cost a fortune to replace them all and keep them looking new!  These flags have a much different meaning to some of the people here than a US flag does in the States.  In America, to most Americans today, a flying flag is a symbol of unity, something we can all stand by and identify with.  A flag in a land of conflict can be seen as a sign of dominance and power over others, especially by the newly defeated.  If America was fresh off the American Civil War, the Stars and Stripes flying in former Confederate lands would be seen in a similar light (and is seen that way by small groups of separatists today...)  The message would be clear: We won.  You lost.  In your face!  Since the 1998 peace agreement, flying the UK flag here actually means, "We are part of the UK because the majority of the citizens here democratically voted for it and any time a majority of citizens here democratically votes to approve a referendum this land will join the Republic of Ireland forever but until then- We won.  You lost.  In your face!"  My money is on Northern Ireland sticking with the UK as long as the UK has a stronger economy, lower unemployment, and stronger currency (G.B. Pound) than the rest of the European Union.  For more ignorant complaints about Britain, the Monarchy, and all things English-y, see the Belfast post.

But peace has thankfully gained a foothold here.  I can't claim to understand what it means to live here, being an outsider.  I can't ever really understand the feelings of the people, especially during the worst days of The Troubles- which are in the disturbingly recent past.  As a young boy in America, I understood in a vague sense that Northern Ireland was a place with fighting.  Northern Ireland, Bosnia, and Kuwait.  Places with fighting.  That was it.  Faraway places with no real connection or meaning to me.  I felt nothing of the pain, suffering, and fear that gripped this part of the world for so long.

Thankful we were for the peace here because the land is beautiful and the people welcoming and kind.  Belfast was a typical modern European city.  Traffic bustled through busy streets.  Art, culture, and historical points of interest were well-marketed.  Gone were the signs of conflict and we had a fun time pointing out the most British of things in Belfast like black taxis and red (not green) mailboxes on the corners.

Driving from Belfast along the coast was memorable and rewarding.  Road sign markings and posted speed limits were given in miles and miles per hour (UK style) while our car only used kilometers to measure speed and distance (Irish style), so we had to rely heavily on our GPS unit.  The coast was beautifully maintained, and all signs of Irish/English human difference melted away in the rocky beaches and craggy cliffs.  We forgot all about the conflict as we enjoyed the preserved natural and human-made spectacles of the Rope Bridge, Giant's Causeway, Bushmills Distillery, and Dunluce Castle.

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, County Antrim, Northern Ireland
Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge

Old Bushmills Distillery, Northern Ireland
Old Bushmills

Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland
Giant's Causeway

Dunluce Castle, Northern Ireland
Dunluce Castle

In our hostel in Portrush, we were lucky enough to have a conversation with a Northern Irish citizen about growing up in the time of The Troubles.  We are always hesitant to ask about this sensitive and personal issue, but our hostess offered her perspective and opinion about the political and religious divides in this beautiful part of the world.  She told us about being nervous to visit the conflict-heavy cities of Belfast and Derry in her youth, but she always felt safe in her relatively small town, where Irish Catholics and British Protestants lived together and fearfully watched the news of the fighting.  Today, she proudly told us that families are raised to respect and accept everyone, no matter their personal politics or religion.  Good thinking, as new generations are always the best hope for bright futures.

Was this trip rewarding?  It was that and more for me.  It was perspective-altering.  In one trip we were able to see the healing scars of human conflict and some of the most breathtaking natural beauty on Earth.  Travel is the best way to open the eyes and the mind.  After seeing this land and meeting the people there, I can no longer ignorantly slander and slam the British and the Monarchy. ...I can do so with full knowledge and confidence!  I will be thoughtful of the people involved and impacted by political decisions and political declarations.  I will try to stay away from wild generalizations and blanket slamming of entire countries and cultures.

If only more world leaders would get out and travel to places like this...

A rainbow in Antrim, Northern Ireland
Hope for a bright future

Saturday, December 28, 2013

I'll Play Batman: Gotham City and Axis Chemical

Well, we've finished off Dr.Wily (for now) and now we'll begin our trek to take on The Joker.  The classic Batman NES game brings back fond memories of wall-jumping and gun-shooting... because we all know how much Batman likes to shoot guns...

Anyway, Christmas 2013 is over and we're preparing for the New Year here in Dublin with some Bat-Manny action!

Friday, December 27, 2013

InterNations Network Featured Blog

Internations expats

We are proud to be a featured blog on the InterNations network.  Our blog will be listed and recommended by InterNations as a top expat blog for Ireland.  We hope this blog will always be a place to find light-hearted but heart-felt and honest content for all of our visitors.

InterNations is a comprehensive expat networking community.  Expats around the world make connections through forums, news feeds, local scouts, meetups, and more.  We will be keeping a presence on this great service to meet new people and offer (and ask for) advice.  Expats from any country need local support and services like this offer a safe place to establish these connections.

The slogan of InterNations is, "Connecting Global Minds."  As part of the profile, users are asked to include a short answer to the following question:  What makes me a global mind?  Upon reflection, I thought the simple fact that I was able to pack up my life in Iowa and commit to living in a different country without even visiting was uncommon at best.  Since arriving in Dublin, I have sincerely enjoyed observing the many ways my life has changed, even when those changes are frustrating and difficult.  I boiled all this reflection into one simple sentence and one very long sentence.  My answer follows.

I lived in Iowa for 29 years before making the blind jump with my wife to Dublin.  I have ever since been absorbed in noticing, reflecting upon, and sharing the subtle-but-tangible difference in people, buildings, food, wildlife, geography, and everything else.

Thank you, InterNations, for featuring our blog.  We look forward to being members of and contributors to your organization.  See our InterNations Blog profile here.  

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Lunch out at The Porterhouse

When we take our weekend rambles through Dublin exploring, we always end up hungry.  Is this because City Centre is a full hour's walk each way from our home?  Is this because Dublin is densely packed with an endless variety of restaurant choices, each wafting fragrant smells into the streets?  Is this because we intentionally plan our meal schedule to "force" ourselves to stop for lunch?

Whatever the reason, we received a hot tip from our friends about The Porterhouse near Temple Bar in Dublin.  We all know about Ireland's National Beer, Guinness, brewed right here in Dublin.  Guinness, as we all know, is the champion of international marketing, distribution, and advertising.  Guinny does make a good stout, beyond question, but what other beers might be made here in Dublin on a smaller scale?  The Porterhouse is known through the city as a top-choice microbrewery, and these two foodies Beeries (hopophiles?  Malt-jockeys?  Yeast heads?) were in for a treat.

Porterhouse Hop Head IPA, Oyster Stout, Plain Porter
Hop head IPA, Oyster Stout, Plain Porter
We heard they served good food, but our first priority was those beers.  We ordered up a sample tray with their Hop Head Pale Ale, Oyster Stout, and their most famous, award-winning beer, Plain Porter.  They did offer more than a dozen beers, so we were spoiled for choice.  We are both darker ale fans, leaning away from the light Pilsner lagers available in large inexpensive quantities on American grocery store shelves.  We would been just peachy ordering a full sample tray of stouts, but decided to vary our sample just slightly with the Hop Head Pale Ale.  

The Plain Porter is a technically a light stout (hence the name Porter) but I'm no beer style judge.  It was dark, malty, smooth, and just slightly sweet.  Wonderful stuff.  One of our pints would be this award-winner for sure.  

The Hop Head delivered on its promised name- a powerful fruity-green-balanced hop smack.  I'm not experienced in describing complex beer flavors in words, but I know what a good hoppy beer tastes like, and this is one of them.  

The Oyster Stout was just a bit darker than the Plain Porter when held up to light.  Its character was a bit dryer (less sweet) than the Porter, and there was more roasted flavor with a hint of bitterness.

We ordered a pint of Plain Porter and a pint of the Oyster Stout to go with our pub meal.

Fish and Chips and Steak Sandwich from The Porterhouse Temple Bar
Fish and chip and steak sandwich
One of my favorite UK-influenced meals is fish and chips.  The very best for me usually come from cheap, greasy takeaway joints as it was originally served.  Pubs all include their own take on this classic, and it is always a good fall back.  In the States, I would almost always order the burger- here, I go for the chips!  Cheap takeaway chippers usually serve it with tartar sauce, vinegar, lemon, and lots of salt.  Nicer pubs and restaurants almost always include mushy peas and some fancy salad to dress it up.  Sara dug into a steak sandwich sagging under the weight of a mound of grilled onions.

Ice Cream and Waffles from The Porterhouse Temple Bar
Ice cream and waffles
Dessert menu?  Look no further than the chocolate mint ice cream served over a crispy waffle.  Why have we been wasting all these years eating waffles for breakfast with maple syrup!?  

Now, sagging ourselves with food, ice cream, and beer, we faced the unhappy circumstance of a three-mile walk home.  Good thing we didn't have any evening plans...

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Happy Christmas and Nollaig Shona!

A very Merry Christmas Day to anyone checking in on us here.  The blog will be dark today as we celebrate family, friends, and good cheer all around.  What are you doing on the internet, anyway?  It's Christmas!  Go watch the NBA games, or spend time with your families... or something!

More blog fun coming tomorrow, Boxing Day St. Stephen's Day!

Merry WWE Christmas
Merry WWE Christmas!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Dublin Christmas Markets

One very European activity we wanted to try this year was Christmas Market shopping.  Dublin (and many other European cities) has a tradition of setting up street markets all over town at Christmastime.  The Dublin Event Guide had a special section devoted to the various Christmas markets and their hours around town.  On the same rainy Saturday we saw the Dublin Christmas displays, we visited the Christmas markets for some local goodies.  

Gummies and candy on display at the Christmas Market
Mmmmm... Gummies
Our first market was the Dame Street Market.  This market was set up near City Centre on the South side of the River Liffey.  Stalls sold Christmas crafts and foods on the open street.  We Cory couldn't resist getting some huge gummi cola bottles at one all-candy stall.

Fudge at the Dame Street Market
Mmmmmmm.... Fudge
Irish Food Board Christmas Market
Indoor Irish Food Board Market
After Dame Street, we went North of the River to a larger indoor market.  On the square outside the market, a carnival atmosphere had been set up with rides, games, and food tents.  Inside, there was a crafty market and a food market, sponsored by the Irish Food Board.  We didn't find anything jumping out at us at the craft market, but we did fall to temptation at the Irish Food Board market and its dizzying variety of locally grown and produced foods.

Christmas Market Carousel in Dublin
Christmas Market Carousel
Among the food displays outside the market was a chestnut cart.  People lined up to buy a paper sack of fresh, hot chestnuts from the roaster.  We got in line and got ours for a snack for the walk back to City Centre to see the Christmas lights.

A roasted chestnut cart in Dublin
Chestnut Cart

Chestnuts in baskets in a chestnut cart
Roasted Chestnuts on Display

Our chestnuts in a paper sack in Dublin
Our chestnuts in a bag
Our timing on the Christmas markets wasn't quite perfect, and there was a little bit of daylight left after our shopping.  We needed a way to kill some time in Dublin... hmmm... How about a visit to the Brew Dock Pub serving locally brewed Galway Bay beers?  We got a pint of Full Sail IPA and Buried at Sea Chocolate Milk Stout to help us pass the last hour of daylight.

Beers before

Beers after
When we got home, we unpacked our Irish Food Board market goodies.  The market had a great selection of Irish cheese, meats, breads, candies, desserts, and more.  We saw, smelled, and sampled the lot of them. We settled on some Irish Brie cheese, locally made fudge, the chestnuts, and Keogh's artisan potato crisps (chips.)  All of this with some crackers, cider, wine, and pasta made a great meal when we got home after a long, cold day out.

The full spread of cheese, fudge, crackers, wine, cider, pasta, chestnuts, and potato crisps
The Spread

Keogh's crisps and Irish fudge
Crisps and Fudge

Irish Brie Cheese
Irish Brie Cheese

Monday, December 23, 2013

Dunluce Castle

On our way back to Portrush from Giant's Causeway, we paid a visit to another famous site on the Antrim Coast, Dunluce Castle.

The castle sits on a volcanic stone outcropping protected by high, steep cliffs.  These natural stone faces make the site highly defensible, and as such the site was home to centers of military and political power for centuries.  

Dunluce Castle seen from the mainland
Castle from the Mainland

The ruined walls and floor of Dunluce Castle
Ruined Walls and Floor
The Castle here was constructed (and deconstructed) in stages dating back to the early sixteenth century.  Clan MacDonnall defeated the original Clan McQuillan in the late sixteenth century and took hold of the castle.  Both of these families were of Scots-Irish descent, as were many families in this Northern region.  Scotland is visible from the Castle, and a sea voyage from Dunluce to Scotland would have been faster and easier than an overland journey from Dunluce to the neighboring trading villages.

Intact Floor and Hallway in Dunluce Castle
Intact Floor and Hallway
In the late seventeenth century, the kitchen of the castle collapsed into the sea (!) and the MacDonnell family fell from power.  Since that time, the castle has been deteriorating and the building stones were scavenged by builders for nearby buildings.  Sad, but interesting.  North America has so few durable structures as old as this, mainly because many Native American tribes did not build large stone buildings and settlements.  As Americans, seeing a building as old as this being looted for building materials brings a sad smile.  The British Isles seem to have more durable history than they know what to do with!

View of the Cliffs from Dunluce Castle
View of the Cliffs
Dunluce Castle seen from the East
Dunluce Castle from the East
Smiles aside, the castle is now protected and under the excellent management of Northern Ireland Environment Agency.  The staff and the visitor's center are excellent.  Admission is reasonable and the free audio tour gives a great room-by-room description of the castle and historical context.  The archaeological center displays artifacts from the castle and the recently discovered (and still under excavation) Dunluce Village nearby.

Totally unsolicited travel tips:

  1. This is a castle, but would not be considered an 'indoor' site.  As always in Ireland, be ready for the weather.  The rocks and grass can be slippery on these slopes, so think of this as more of a hike than a tour.  See this site on the same day as the nearby Giant's Causeway, and wear the same clothes and shoes.
  2. Admission prices are modest (check for the current rate and hours) and the maps and audio guides are free and very informative.  The staff are friendly and eager to answer questions about the site and the nearby country.
  3. Allow an hour or two for the site, depending on your pace.  The strict room-by-room audio tour won't take long if you keep moving, but if you are the sort who likes to climb into old fireplaces, look out arrow-slits to fend off imaginary raiders, and climb down the steep trails to the sea cave beneath the castle, leave a little extra time.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

I'll Play Mega Man 2: The End

Happy Winter Solstice, everyone!  We've fought our way through the Fortress of Dr. Wily, and now we've reached the final showdown.  In this video, we face each of the eight robot masters (again) before fighting the alien illusion conjured by the evil Doctor himself.  Next week, we will begin a new NES classic!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Living with the Latitude

Tomorrow, December 21st, is the Winter Solstice.  The shortest day of the year for the most of the Northern Hemisphere, Planet Earth.  The higher latitude has been one of the sneakiest changes we've noticed in our move.

Europe is located surprisingly far North to many Americans, myself included.  When we were planning our European vacation last summer, I took a look at the map and was taken aback by the position of this continent.  I had always heard about Western Europe having such a temperate climate, and the Mediterranean countries feel downright tropical in the summer.

When we arrived in Dublin in the high summer of July, it was immediately apparent that we were not in Kansas Iowa any more.  The sun stayed up well into the "night" hours, keeping the sky lit well past our regular bedtime.  I had of course heard of baseball games played at midnight in Alaska and the six-month cycle of light and dark at the poles, but I didn't realize, until checking, that Ireland (and the rest of Europe) sits much closer to the North Pole than any of the continental United States.  With the upcoming Winter Solstice, I hit the internet and did some latitudinal research.  Per timeanddate.com:

Dublin: approximately 53 Degrees N latitude.  Length of day on December 21- 7h:29m:55s

Calgary, Alberta, Canada:  approximately 51 Degrees N latitude.  Length of day on December 21- 7h:54m:17s

Rome, Italy:  approximately 41 Degrees N latitude.  Length of day on December 21- 9h:07m:38s

Iowa City, Iowa: approximately 41 Degrees N latitude.  Length of day on December 21-  9h:07m:09s

Lesson here- climate is connected much more with geography than with latitude.  Dublin's winter is certainly nothing compared to what our friends in Calgary will see.  Likewise, Southern Iowa and Southern Italy share very little but a love of good food and good wine.

Dublin, with 90 fewer minutes of daylight on the solstice than our Iowan and Italian friends will see really shows the impact of the latitude.  I tried to capture with our camera the different...look... of everything with the sun so low in the sky.

Long shadows are cast near midday in December in Dublin
Midday Shadows
It's difficult to describe in text and even more difficult to capture with a camera, but I have and will try.  The photos in this post were taken near midday about a week before the solstice.  I went out to the garden of our building on a sunny day to capture the angle and color of the light on the green grass and trees here.  Notice in the above photo just one splash of sunlight on the brown leaves of the hedge.  All the other grass (still brilliantly green, unlike Iowa or Calgary) is in shadow.

Weak winter sunshine colors the South side of the hedge in Dublin
Sunshine on the South facing hedge
This photo of the garden trellis was taken on the South facing hedges.  Notice the sunlight on the vertical hedges but not on the green grass.  That grass is shaded by a fence several yards to the South.  Notice just a little bit of the orange sunset-like hue on the leaves and hedges?  Gone is the harsh white sunlight of high summer.  Again, the camera doesn't capture it as well as the human eye.

Midday Sun in Dublin is low in the sky
Midday Sun

After photographing the South side of the hedge, I simply turned around to face the sun from that same place.  Normally one would not point a camera directly at the sun to snap a photo, but I wanted to record how low to the horizon the sun passes in the winter.  In the above photo, the sun is partly shaded by a tree but can be clearly seen.  Even just after midday, the sun passes lower to the horizon than I have ever seen at this time of day.  

Contributing to the shorter days, I believe, is the presence of the Dublin Mountains just to the South and West of the city.  These modest peaks cast their shadow over the city, blocking part of the already low trajectory of the sun across the Southern sky in winter.  In the above photo, the top peaks can be seen over the green hedge.  Certainly the higher elevations have slightly longer days and more white sunlight during the day.

The golden color and Southern angle of the winter sun give everything a fresh and pleasing look.  The greens of the grass and leaves appear brighter and more vibrant.  The brown and red colors of the maple and oak leaves are naturally accented and matched by the fiery orange of the sun.  Drawbacks?  Well, seven hours of sunlight isn't much in the dead of winter.  Daytime plans must be made carefully and finish early.  Motivation to complete evening errands or chores drops with the sun.  That is to say, at 4:30 p.m.  Also, North facing indoor windows get very little natural sunlight in the winter, and South facing windows get burning orange sun all day long.

We were used to varying hours of daylight in Iowa, which is considered a Northern State in America, but the change wasn't quite as stark as we've seen here.  At least we aren't dealing with the snow, ice, wind, and bone-numbing temperatures with our short days.  I guess we should consider ourselves lucky to be here.

...And we do.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Brupaks Craftsman Irish Stout Kit

After months of making apple cider from store-bought juice, I finally caved and put together an order for my first shipment of brewing supplies.  I had been terrified of paying the (minimal and flat) shipping charge for the few little piddly-peddly pieces I needed to start.  Now, I was ready to make an order for a few batches.

Order from Homebrew West Ireland
Order is in!
I visited the user friendly and highly recommended site for Homebrew West in Galway, Ireland.  I picked out ingredients for a Cooper's IPA kit, a Cooper's Stout kit, a hydrometer (finally!  I can now measure my fermentation and alcohol percent) three packs of cider yeast, and a Brupaks Craftsman Irish Stout partial extract kit on clearance.

Cardboard packaging ready to burn
Cardboard for the Fireplace!
The Brupaks partial extract kit came with a pouch of roasted and crushed grain for flavor and color, vacuum-dried leaf hops for boiling, and two cans of liquid malt extract for fermentable sugars.  These ingredients (especially the already crushed grains) have the shortest shelf life, so this kit was up first.

Crushed dark roasted grain in a mesh steeping bag
Grain steeping bag
I put the crushed grains in the big muslin sleeve given to me by Lord Stilton (thanks again!) while the water heated up for steeping.  The dried yeast is being hydrated and kick-started in a brown sugar and water solution in the jar.

Water and malt extract on the stove
Beginning the Boil
For this extract batch, I did a small volume boil to fit in the saucepan on the stove.  I did receive two boiling elements along with my plastic fermenter, but I haven't taken the jump to the full-bucket boil yet.  That will be down the road.  I added part of the liquid malt extract to the saucepan, mixed in as much water as I dared, and brought it to a boil.

Steeping the grains in the fermenter
Steeping in the bucket
While the water came to a boil on the stove, I added some hot water to the fermenter with the crushed grains.  These were left to steep for 45 minutes while the hops boiled on the stove nearby.

Dried leaf hops ready for boil
It's not what it looks like...
When the stove boiled, we were ready to add the boiling hops.  According to package directions, 7g went in at the beginning of the boil for 45 minutes, with the remaining 3g to go in for the last 5 minutes.

Hops boiling on the stove
Hop Soup
I know, experienced brewers will not like my boil volume here.  I think I'll be ready to try my full bucket boil for the next partial extract batch and for all grains down the road.  In Iowa, I had a 5 gallon stock pot with enough volume to hold and boil half-batches, but I still had an electric cooktop.  They just don't have enough power to get and keep that much water boiling.

A glass of homemade cider enjoyed while brewing
Home Brewing has one rule, and it is unflinchingly rigid
Of course, I have one self-imposed brewing rule that I absolutely do not break.  I cannot be working with homebrew unless I am also enjoying a homebrew.  Whatever steps I am taking- mixing, boiling, measuring, bottling, no matter.  If I'm working on the hobby, I am enjoying the fruits of my labor.  For this reason I almost never brew in the morning...

I poured a tall glass of my last batch of cider, chilled in the freezer.

Fermenter is filled and sealed for fermentation
Fermenter topped up
After the steeping and boiling, I mixed in the rest of the malt extract and topped the fermenter up to 23L.  The original gravity (sugar level) was 1.040, just about where I wanted it for this lighter stout.  It should finish out a bit under 4% alcohol is everything ferments out just right.

Once fermentation was started up, I moved the fermenter out of the water heater closet to keep it just a bit cooler and slow things down a bit.  Check back for the final bottled result after the new year.

Note:  With my next brew order, I'll be getting some Star-San sanitizer for easier no-rinse sanitation.  I'm also in the market for a nice digital thermometer so I can properly record temperatures in my brewing logbook.  I should have brought the hydrometer, bottling wand, auto-siphon, and thermometer with me when I moved.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Dublin at Christmastime

Welcome to Dublin at Christmastime!  The temperatures are hovering near freezing at night but the days have been tolerably warm and dry.  Said we, "Let's go out on Saturday and enjoy the Christmas sights of the city!"  Saturday arrived and the forecast was in:  Rain and winds gusting up to gale-force.  Shucks.  "Well, guess we'll have to bundle up!"

We took the bus into town to avoid some of the rain slogging.  We walked around familiar places in the city and finished some shopping while we waited for the sun to go down.  After a pint at the Brew Dock pub, it was dark, we were warm, and our camera was ready.

Christmas lights spell out Baile Atha Cliath or Dublin City
Christmas lights in Dublin
Many of the busy shopping streets are decorated with various lights and decorations.  In the above photo, Baile Atha Cliath (town at the hurdled ford or river crossing) is the modern Irish language word for Dublin City.

 These next photos were taken from O'Connell Street looking down both sides of Henry Street.  Henry is one of the busiest shopping districts on the North side of the River Liffey.  Stalls are set up selling cheap gifties like One Direction stockings and knock-off perfume and cologne gift boxes.

Wreaths of Christmas lights on Henry Street in Dublin
Henry Street
One Direction Christmas Stocking
OMG!!!  It's 1-D!!!

Sparkling Dublin Lights
More sparkling lights
Thanks to Google Auto-Awesome for the added twinkling effect on these photos.  Farther down O'Connell Street, a huge real evergreen tree was set up with a nativity scene in the median of this busy thoroughfare.  Seen on the next photo is a large department store with a red, lighted gift bow.

The Christmas tree and nativity scene in Dublin 2013
O'Connell Street Tree

A red bow on a department store in Dublin
Department Store Bow

Christmas lights spell out Nollaig Shona Duit in Dublin 2013
Nollaig Shona Duit- Happy Christmas to You!
On the North tip of Grafton Street, the busier and more posh shopping street on the South side of the River Liffey, lit chandeliers hang above the street.  Upon entering Grafton, the Irish Christmas greeting Nollaig Shona Duit welcomes tourists and shoppers.  Notice the crowds in the photos.  These photos were taken just after 5:00 p.m. local time here on a Saturday night.  Apparently the travel off-season isn't so off after all!

As Americans, we notice comparatively few private homes are decorated with lights here in Dublin.  Some families have decorated the roof and windows with modest and tasteful lighting, but we have yet to see the garish and over-the-top American-style Christmas lighting with inflatable characters, plastic models, and rotating animated projections on garage doors.  Each neighborhood around Dublin has its own Christmas lighting plan and ceremony.  The community contributes to the holiday spirit instead of individual families competing for the neighborhood Christmas-Light Cup.  We're planning to visit (and share!) more holiday displays as we close in on Christmas.

Happy Holidays!