December 9, 2015

More BBQ: Beef Brisket

Since my last post, I've exclusively given over to pork shoulder instead of ribs, and the snake method for easy slow-and-low instead of slaving over my huge and inefficient smoker. I don't think I've done ribs at all in that time.

I have, however, recently picked up on beef brisket. When done properly, beef brisket is DIVINE.. I've been trying to recreate Armadillo Willy's brisket, and I think I've gotten pretty close. I just completed my second brisket tonight and it's a winner. I took a few slices to some friends down the street and they seemed to really like it. I'm bringing the rest to work tomorrow for some coworkers who are in from out of the country.

The process for pork shoulder and beef brisket are very similar.

When doing pork, get a whole shoulder, about 8 to 10 pounds. Bone-in or boneless, which ever you prefer. Bone-in will likely be cheaper and arguably have a bit better flavor when smoked correctly. But then you have a huge bone to deal with when you're done.

When doing a beef brisket, I buy a whole brisket sealed in a pack. It's a HECK of a lot cheaper like this ($3.70/lb instead of $8/lb!) and, hey, left overs are good! If there is a huge knot of fat on one side, trim it down to about 1/4". But DO NOT trim off all the fat! You need this fat. Trust me. :-)

Brine the hunk of meat (either pork shoulder or beef brisket) for between 4 and 12 hours (more is better, but even 4 hours will be hugely beneficial). I use Alton Brown's brine recipe even for beef. Summary: 1.5c salt, 1c brown sugar, 6qt water. Ish. This is usually not quite enough to fully submerge the meat in my brine cooler (one of those 5 gallon drink coolers you see on the back of work trucks), so scale up the quantity of brine as needed.

Some beef recipes suggest using broth in the brine, or adding spices and other flavours. I suppose you could here, but I haven't bothered.

For pork, I go simple and just use the mix from my local butcher shop. It's very similar to Susie-Q's Santa Maria Style BBQ Seasoning. It's mostly salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and maybe a few other things.

For beef, that mix by itself is a little flat. So for 1/3c of the above mix, I add 1Tbsp paprika, 1Tbps cayenne pepper, and 1Tbsp cumin. I also add something a little unconventional: about 1/4c of Bob's Red Mill Cornmeal. (Any cornmeal will probably do, but I like Bob's for many reasons.) This is an idea I got while trying to reverse engineer my favourite restaurant brisket from Armadillo Willy's. I haven't verified with them that this is what makes their outside texture so course and tasty, but I'm pretty sure it is.

Smoke it: Snake Method
I'm completely sold on the snake method. I can set this thing up, light it at night, go to bed, and wake up to tasty tasty smoked meat.

Take the meat out of the brine, dry it off, rub it down, and put it on the Weber with a snake lit underneath.

A few things I've done differently that BBQ Like It's Hot:

  • I use paraffin wax BBQ starters instead of a chimney starter. I just bury a couple of those at the head of the snake and light them with a match when I'm ready to start.

  • A friend and I welded up a 13"-ish diameter ring of expanded steel, about 3" tall. I put this ring directly on the goal grill and line up the charcoal around the outside. It helps keep the charcoal and wood chips from falling over and ruining your snake. If you're cooking something that needs a higher temperature (turkey!), you can be lazy and just pour in the charcoal between the ring and the outer wall. But that's too much charcoal for pork shoulder. The round ring makes the rectangular water pan impractical. So I use a dog water bowl instead. I found a HUGE 13" water bowl this morning at the local pet store and it works great. :-)

  • If I put two rings of briquettes in the snake, it hovers around 180degF. If I put three rings of briquettes, it gets hotter and goes to around 250degF. I've been trying perfect a 2.5 ring snake. :-)

  • Use wood chunks not chips. The chips are small enough to fall through the cracks between the briquettes and down into the bottom of your BBQ where they do you no good. The chunks stay on top of the charcoal and smoulder nicely.

  • Use fruit or nut woods, or a hard wood like oak. DO NOT USE soft woods like pine, doug fir (no construction waste!), or mesquite (fine for grilling, not for smoking!)

A full snake around a Weber will last between 6 and 9 hours, depending on how hot and fast it goes. 3 rings burns hotter, and therefore faster, than 2 rings. Keep the meat in the smoker until it hits a reasonable internal temperature: About 160 for pork, 145 to 150 for beef.

The braise is the secret to fall-off-the-bone ribs, fork-pulled pork, and juicy tender brisket. Put the meat in a pan (I'm lazy and use disposable pans, a half pan for pork or a full pan for ribs or brisket) with about 1/4" of some sort of liquid (apple juice for pork shoulder and ribs, but I'm still looking for the right braise liquid for brisket), cover with foil, and put in the oven at 350degF for about 3 hours.

This will take whatever connective tissue is left over from the smoke process, and break it down. The higher temperature also renders fat out of the meat which collects in the pan and can be boiled down into a sauce (see my previous post on the subject)

That's about all there is to it. Once it's done braising, it should be about ready to fall apart. Literally. A pork shoulder will be no match for a couple forks, and a beef brisket should be trivially easy to slice.

October 24, 2014

New love: BBQ

Hijacking my long neglected blog for notes on BBQing.

My father-in-law helped me build a large steel smoker of his design, and modified by me, a few years ago. Ever since then, I've been working on a method of making ribs that I really enjoy. I've smoked ribs for many people and, either everyone is just being very polite, or they really like my ribs. I know I do.

One of the public-ish events I smoke for is our company BBQ, called OktoberFest, which is tomorrow. This will be my third year smoking for it. Historically, a couple coworkers also smoke ribs and we have a little friendly competition. They're both also very good at ribs, though they are different. I think we all win. :-)

Anyway. This year, the other two guys can't smoke because life. So I'm picking up some slack. I can only fit about 6 racks of ribs in my smoker at a time, so instead I'm trying pulled pork shoulder. This blog post is to write up my custom smoker, how I smoke ribs, and my experience with the shoulders I'm doing for tomorrow, the process, and the results.

My Smoker
The smoker is basically two metal boxes, each about 2ft square, one on top of the other, with a chimney connecting the two on the back. The bottom box has a couple inches of sand in the bottom on which you build a fire. Hot air goes out a large hole cut in the back of the fire box, up a 2 inch deep by 10 inch wide channel on the back of the BBQ, then in through another large hole cut in the back of the meat box. The holes are large so the airflow is slow and diffuse. We made smaller chimneys on earlier smokers and the fast moving hot air burnt whatever was in its way to a charcoal. Anyway. The hot air escapes out a 6 inch pipe in the front top of the meat box.

The front door on the fire box has a sliding vent you can open to allow more air, or close off to allow less. This is the primary temperature control mechanism.

There are two racks in the meat box. Thermodynamics being what it is, the bottom shelf stays cool, around 180 perfect for slow and low smoking, while the top gets nice and hot, above 225 perfect for moist braising.

The bottom shelf can comfortably fit 4 racks of ribs side by side, or up to 8 racks with racks to hold them vertically. However, I rarely do more than 6 at a time for reasons I'll go into more when I talk about the process below.

The whole thing leaks heat like a sive. It is horribly inefficient. It takes a fair bit of wood to keep at the right temp for ribs for 6 to 7 hours, nevermind a shoulder for 10 to 12 hours. And you have to keep your eye on it and adjust the vent on the firebox door and keep it fed with wood. You really can't leave it for more than about 15 to 30 minutes at a time.

This can be a good thing, if you want A Day Of Smoking(tm). It can also be a bad thing if you have to do something else while the smoker is going. For example, I can't just load it with wood and let it go over night with a shoulder or two while I sleep.

Beef vs Pork
First thing's first: For me, "ribs" means "pork ribs." I don't believe in beef ribs. Sorry Texans. I have never had a beef rib that was worth the effort. I'm willing to accept the possibility that I've never had a "good" beef rib, but I've had beef ribs that beef rib lovers have claimed were great ribs and I just couldn't get into them. So for the rest of this post, when I say "ribs" I mean either baby-back ribs or St. Louis cut ribs, but in both cases, I mean pork.

In defense of Texas BBQ, there are few things in this world more satisfying than a good beef brisket. I haven't found many, but a good beef brisket is a thing of beauty. I recommend Armadillo Willy's in the Bay Area.

BBQ Sauce
BBQ sauce is often used as a crutch. If your BBQ requires sauce, you're doing it wrong. If you serve your BBQ with sauce already on it, you're doing it wrong. If you cook your BBQ with sauce slathered on it, you're doing it wrong.

This is not to say that there is no place for a good sauce with BBQ, but not the sugary crap in the bottle you get at the store. Leave the bottles on the shelf and read below for how I make my own sauce from the rib drippings. You can thank me later.

Smoking Ribs
I hate connective tissue. With a firey passion, I hate connective tissue. Gets stuck in your teeth, it's chewy, tries to crack your teeth, and is NOT good eats. It has but one redeeming value: When you cook it slow and moist, the collagen in the connective tissue dissolves into gelatin leaving the meat juicy, tender, and lip smacking good.

Ribs are aproximately 97% connective tissue by weight... Ok, maybe not by weight, but by apparent edible meat on a rib that has not been properly cooked. So one of my main goals with ribs is to cook slow and moist for long enough that all the collagen in the connective tissue breaks down into gelatin. When I say "all," I do mean "all." The phrase "fall off the bone" is not figurative with my ribs.

If you're one of those (IMHO wrong) people who believe ribs should still have enough structural integrety that you have to work a little to get them off the bone, you can still have damn tasty ribs by just braising for half as long.

Rubs are a matter of taste. I happen to like the garlic/onion/salt/pepper mix from my local butcher shop. If you can get Santa Maria Style Seasoning (often made by a company called Suzie-Q's, but I think there are other brands), that's very similar to what I get. Many other BBQers will get very in-depth with the flavors in their rubs, and that's all very good. But I like keeping mine simple. The quantity of rub is a hard one. Too much, and things just get too salty and you pucker more than anything else. Too little, and it tastes flat. And everyone has different tastes here too, so you're on your own to figure out what works for you.

Smoking ribs is a three step process:

  • Step 1: Smoke at around 180 to 190 for 3 to 4 hours. (More time at a lower temp is better, but don't over cook the ribs.)

  • Step 2: Braise at around 230 to 250 for 2 to 2.5 hours.

  • Step 3: Caramelize at around 200 for 30 minutes, less if the ribs are looking done and tasty on the outside already.

  • Step 4 (of a 3 step process?): Boil down the rib drippings into a sauce.

Step 1: Smoke
Apply the dry rub to your ribs and give it a few minutes to .. well, it's not really soaking in, but I guess it's adhearing to the surface of the meat.

Lay the ribs out in the smoker in such a way that they get plenty of airflow. If your smoker has a hot and cold zone (like mine does), keep the ribs in the colder zone. 180 to 190 is ideal, but try to keep it below 200.

Every 15 to 30 minutes, give them a spritz from a spray bottle of apple juice. Get the good stuff, not from concentrate. I like the unfiltered organic juice. The chunky bits leave a nice glaze on the ribs. Anyway, the water in the juice evaporates and leaves all the tasty compounds behind. But more importantly, the evaporation process keeps the ribs cooler and prevents them from over cooking, while still exposing them to gobs and gobs of tasty tasty smoke.

Speaking of tasty smoke, use hard woods for this: oak, nut trees: walnut, maple, pecan, or fruit trees: apple, cherry, etc. They burn as coals for a long time with little soot. Perfect for what we're doing. The good stuff in smoke is clear, so don't worry if you don't see white billowing plumes of "smoke" coming from the chimney, you're still getting tastiness.

Do NOT use softer woods like mesquite (great for a grill, terrible for a smoker), pine or douglass fir (no construction scraps!), etc. These burn way too fast and hot, with a lot of solid compounds in the smoke that just leave your meat over-cooked and tasting like ash.

Step 2: Braise
This is the controversial step: Braise the ribs in apple juice for a couple hours. I put the ribs in disposable aluminum chaffing pans (no more than 2 or 3 racks per pan; try to over-lap them as little as possible), pour in about 1/4 inch of apple juice in the pan, cover the pan with foil, and put back into the smoker for another 2 to 2.5 hours. Crank the heat up to 230-ish for this. Make sure it's above boiling, you need the apple juice to create steam.

In my smoker, I can fit one pan on the top shelf and one on the bottom, which means have to keep rotating them from top to bottom during this process. I swap them about every 30 minutes to make sure they get roughly even heat.

This is where the magic happens. Before this, the ribs still had structural integrity. After this, you will have a hard time getting them out of the pan as a whole rack.

Don't bother using the good wood here; none of the smoke is getting to the meat anyway. Don't go to doug fir or pine, but leave the fancy fruit woods behind and go for the bulk oak or whatever you've got. Heck, even charcoal briquetes would do the trick, if you can get them hot enough.

Strictly speaking, you could take them inside to the oven. I haven't done this, but it might be easier.

Step 3: Caramelize
If you kept the temp low enough during step 1, they may not have looked "Done" after that. The braise will be moist enough that, even though the temp is higher, they won't caramelize anymore. If you want, take off the foil from the pan and leave in the smoker for another 30 minutes while the fire dies down, but is still warm, and let the outside of the ribs caramelize up some. This step is optional.

During this step, whatever apple juice is left over in the bottom of the pan will be boiling down, starting the sauce making process.

You COULD take the ribs out of the pan and put them back on the rack, but I don't recommend it. You'll have a hard time keeping them together.

Step 4: Sauce
After taking the ribs out of the pans and cutting up in pairs to serve, pour the dripping and left-over apple juice into a sauce pan and start boiling to reduce the apple juice down. Add lots of black pepper (because I'm me and I LOVES the black pepper), and, for every 2 cups of juice and drippings, add 1 Tbsp butter, and 2 Tbsp mustard (spicy if you like it, otherwise yellow will do). Whisk this together until it homogonizes. It will probably take a lot of whisking, and possibly more mustard (which acts here as an emulsifier). Honestly, I never measure this step, so these quantities are estimates.

Remember the collagen turned gelatin we discussed earlier? A bunch of it is here now. The goal is to reduce the apple juice into what effectively amounts to a syrup, and mix it in with the tasty tasty gelatiny drippings. The butter makes it a little smoother, the mustard gives it some spice and helps things homogenize.

Boil this and reduce until it gets thick. I've sometimes had to reduce it for over an hour to get the thickness I really like. But even as a looser "runny" sauce, it's still quite tasty.

Those are my ribs. I've done them probably 10 or more times now and always get great compliments. Today, I'm doing something new to me. It's getting late, and others have already documented it, so I'm just going to provide you with links.

Pork Shoulders, Snake Method
I'm cooking a couple pork shoulders for my company BBQ tomorrow using the snake method for slow and low smoking. I did one earlier today for 8.5 hours to get to an internal temp of 150, which is not quite done yet. I started the second at 9pm tonight, expecting to pull it off the grill tomorrow morning around 5 or 6am when I get up to start the ribs. I plan to put both in a chaffing dish on the top shelf of the smoker to braise for a few hours while the ribs are on the bottom shelf smoking. After about 8 to 9 hours in the smoke, followed by another 2 to 3 hours in an apple juice braise, these shoulders should be falling apart tomorrow late morning.

At least, that's the hope. I'll my results tomorrow. :-)

Thanks for reading!

February 22, 2011


As I mentioned on twitter earlier today, I had a bit of an adventure at the TSA today.

Short version: Nothing too exciting, but a few things of note. No, I didn't get arrested or detained. No, I wasn't wearing my kilt (I chickened out. Besides, it's in the 30s in Seattle...) I did opt out of the full-body scanner, AND my bag was tagged for additional screening; I don't believe these two are related. And, oh yeah, another girl going through the line was so fed up with the groping she got that she pulled up her shirt above her head and screamed "Can you see everything now?!" (Before you ask, yes she was wearing a bra.)

Long version:
My consideration whether to wear the kilt went as far as getting the kilt out of the closet, but it never made it into my bag; I chickened out that early. It's kinda a hassle anyway, and not warm enough for weather in the 30s. As much as I'd love for it to play a larger part in my story, this is likely all I'll say about it. :-(

My flight was at 8:45, which meant getting up at 5:45am, after getting to bed at about midnight. Even so, I didn't have time to get breakfast or my daily tea before hitting the airport. For some reason, I remember long term parking being in the garage in the middle of the terminals (this is SFO), but apparently, it's way the hell north involving a 15 minute shuttle ride to the International terminal, where Virgin America is. In any case, it took me a lot longer to get to the airport than I expected, so I was rather in a hurry to get through security.

There were two security lines: First Class (lots of pin stripes and expensive shoes), and Chumps (a mix of Uggs, hipsters, and old-lady-jewelry; I wasn't wearing any jewelry, and don't own any Uggs, so by process of elimination, I must have been one of the hipsters.) There were a few pin-stripes queued up most of the time I was in line, and the Uggs were stacked up 4 rows deep in the queue. The First Class row had one of those full-body back scatter X-ray machines, and the Chump line just had a metal detector, so I naturally assumed I would get to avoid the problem all together.

As luck would have it, just as I reached the end of the Chump queue and started taking my shoes off (my laces might be laced with barbed wire; that's why they're called laces!), one of the TSA goons noticed the First Class line was empty and started channeling a few Chumps over there; I was one of these chumps.

I got to the X-Ray and politely told the TSA agent that I Opt-Out. They stopped me, and the whole line behind me, and got on the radio to call for "Male Assistance, Opt Out." They walked me through the Chump line metal detector (which then held up BOTH lines), then had me wait another few minutes while the Male Assistance arrived.

They pulled me aside. I say "They" because there were two TSA agents. One was doing all the work, but occasionally looked back to the other for a prompt, as if he was being trained. (I view this as a good thing.)

The agent asked whether I wanted a private pat down, and I declined. I'm not ashamed of my body (neither was Topless Lady; more on that later), and part of my goal was to let other people see what's involved in this new procedure, so I let it happen in public.

He then proceeded to forcefully touch me on nearly every square inch of my body. Seriously. I don't think my colonoscopy was as thorough and comprehensive as this "pat down." The only part of me he didn't touch was my face and head (which were clearly exposed), and the bottoms of my feet (which were busy supporting the rest of me.) And we're not talking about light touches, we're talking full-on would-have-pushed-me-over-if-he-wasn't-pushing-on-the-other-side groping. I kinda enjoyed the part where he was checking out my upper back; I had to resist the urge to say "Ooo, a little higher.. Yeah, right there." All kidding aside, I'm serious, he was damn sure he felt my whole body and didn't miss anything. He checked my collar, my belt line, my frontal pubes, my lower pubes, and my crevasal cavities... He was comprehensive.

Through out the entire process, he was very clear about what he was going to do. At no point did he touch me without first telling me he was going to touch me there, whether it was a sensitive spot or not. (This is also good.)

When he was done, before I was allowed to start putting all my accouterments back together (belt and shoes on, laptop, CPAP, wallet and phone back into pockets and luggage, etc), the agent did a thorough wipe down of his gloves with the white circular pads of paper and put it in the machine to detect explosives. This struck me as interesting, though in hindsight I'm not sure why. I think I just wasn't expecting it. Part of me puts this in the Good Thing category, but a more cynical part of me lumps it together with all the others in the Security Theatre category. In any case...

Let me back up. About the same time I was pulled over to the side for my gate rape, my luggage was also tagged for a "random" search. So through out my groping, I was asked lots of "Is this yours?" type questions. They took my CPAP and suitcase through the X-Ray machine several times (I'm not sure what they were looking for the second and third times that they didn't see the first time) and gave them a good wipe down with the circular paper pads they use for detecting explosives. They pulled out the pack of baby wipes I now carry with me everywhere and ran THEM through by themselves (WTF?) I'm really not sure what got them in a tizzy about my stuff. They did it all in plain sight so I know they didn't do anything nefarious or inappropriate, just seemingly arbitrary and unnecessary.

They were different agents searching my body and my stuff, but they happened at about the same time. When the Stuff agent was looking for me to inform me it was flagged for further search, he seemed genuinely surprised to see me with the Body agent, so I'm confident they didn't flag my stuff because I opted-out.

Time to put on the tin-foil mind control prevention hat for a second and play a what-if game. I noticed today that the last few times I've flown, my luggage has been flagged for further search. Sometimes I know why (for example, I wasn't aware that crimp tools (or any non-blade tool for that matter) above a certain size weren't allowed), but other times, like today, I didn't have anything they don't allow, and I didn't forget to pull my laptop and CPAP out (like I have in the past.) I did everything right this time, and they still flagged me.

A security researcher name Moxie Marlinspike, and several others like him, have been tagged by DHS in some way that has cursed them to not just have their luggage checked every time they go through security, but to actually get pulled aside, detained, and questioned every damn time they fly. Moxie claims he has no idea why he's on any list.

It's obvious that he's on a list. It is far less obvious for me, but I'm beginning to wonder. Knowing that these lists exist, it's not too far of a stretch to consider that there are varying degrees of "pissed-off-an-agent-in-the-past" and that maybe attempting to carry a crimp tool through security put me on some list somewhere and that I will forever be pulled aside for my bag to be groped and x-rayed several times. I will report on my experience when coming back.

Now the part you've all been waiting for: TOPLESS GIRLS!

It's really not that exciting... While I was being groped, I was facing the lines of people as they were being herded through the machines. A middle aged woman (40s or 50s) was being groped and was obviously upset about it. At one point, she had one of those mental Fuck-It moments, pulled her top up over her head, screamed "NOW! CAN YOU SEE EVERYTHING?!" and flashed the several TSA agents who had all started collecting around the belligerent woman. Several "Oh!"s and "Ma'am!"s and "Uhh..."s came from the agents, and she put her shirt back down, but they continued their search, apparently didn't find anything, and let her on her way. I was still being violated, so I didn't see where she went, or if she made any phone calls or anything. I was, however, thankful that I was not the most annoying traveler there.

February 16, 2011


I just got finished watching Across The Universe, an interesting movie about a bunch of 20-something kids in 1968, dealing with the draft, the Viet Nam war, love, music, art, protest, revolution... in other words: Life. The movie was a musical using only the music of The Beatles.

Watching this movie has convinced me of a few things:
1) There is _NOT_ enough Beatles music in my collection. This must be corrected. I'm seriously about to drop $181.51 on the whole collection of studio recordings.

2) Our generation hasn't had its revolution yet, and I'm trying to figure out what it's going to be, and why it hasn't happened yet.

I have some very serious concerns about personal privacy, specifically about how it is being eroded today, primarily by my stock and trade: technology. Google, FaceBook, the RIAA, Apple, they're all taking your life-- no, we are GIVING IT TO THEM, and they are selling it to the highest bidder.

In the early 60s the Viet Nam war was slowly building up. There were a few people who were concerned and thought it was a bad idea, but on the whole, the country went along with it. It wasn't until tens of thousands of lives were being given up (for what? I'm not qualified to have that discussion; I'll leave it to those who are, but I think it's safe to say that it was pretty fucked up) and the protests turned violent at home, that the general populace started to take notice and question what was going on.

No one is likely to die because they told their friends on FaceBook that they like Cheese Sandwitches and then started seeing advertisements for Tillamook and Orowheat when searching Google for Ohm's law. But it isn't a zero cost, either.

Right now, everything is a What-If. The things that _ARE_ happening (at least, that we know of) sound, and honestly are, innocuous enough: targeted advertisement for a better CPM.

But "What-If" this data they're collecting starts being used for nefarious causes? "What-If" the government decides that people who wear fedora's are "suspicious characters." (if you think this is over the top, ask anyone trying to wear red or blue in LA during the 70s and 80s.) and has Flickr run some algorithms and provide the police with a list of people with pictures of them wearing a fedora. "What-If" your employer buys your "Social Report" during the interview process, like they can your Credit Report? Do you want them knowing everything you have EVER done on-line? "What-If" the police issue a subpoena (if they even BOTHER with the subpoena) to FourSquare for someone with your name and arrest you when you check-in to the corner Starbucks (no, the OTHER corner Starbucks...) because a SELECT query can't tell the difference?

I admit, there are a lot of What-Ifs, and they all sound pretty far fetched. Do I think the companies as they are today are doing this? Honestly, probably not.

My concern is this: Giving them your information now is a genie that can _NOT_ be put back in the bottle; they will have your information forever. So the question isn't "Do I think they're doing something nefarious with my information now?" The question is "Do I want to bet on them never doing anything with it in the future?"

And, for me, the answer to that is a resounding "Fuck no."

There are two problems (only two?) with this.

1: How can I convince people that this is a real problem that they need to concern themselves with right now?

2: How can I prevent this from happening?

The first one is something I'm not sure is possible. I think it'll take a 1968 (man, what a fucked up year) before people start seeing what's going on and get outraged and be willing to do something about it.

My goal is to address the second one and be ready with a solution when the public is ready for it.

To that end: I propose we take back the Internet and put people's data back into their own hands. I want a common, distributed name space (read: person@service (eg: instead of person-with-implied-service (eg: @SmittyHalibut)) that can be used for everything. I want all applications and data to be hostable by individuals (note: I said hostABLE, not hostED; more on this later.) And I want it all to interoperate. I want an individual to decide how to authenticate themselves to their services. I want it all to be secure by default.

And I want it to be an APPLIANCE so that ANYONE (think: your mother-in-law) can spend $100 on a box, plop it on their DSL or Cable modem at home (where sane search and seizure laws apply), and become the host of their own on-line life.

This is no small task, and is not one I'm going to be able to do by myself. But I have some ideas of how it could be done, and more importantly I have some friends with a similar vision who are more capable than me.

Will it happen? Can I change the world? Realistically, probably not. But someone has to, or we are all going to be fucked and we'll thank the corporations for it. I want to at least talk about it now.

Shout-outs to: Diaspora, Jabber, DNSSec, IPSec, IPv6, OpenID, GPG. and @namniart. Daniel Suarez (talk about vision... Boy howdy, this guy had it right.)

December 20, 2009

Batch 17 - Write-up. Ginger Ale Batch 2.

Batch 17 was GOOOOOOD. The strange mouth feel of the wintergreen was totally gone, though I do miss the flavor. I'll have to find some way of getting a wintergreen flavor without using wintergreen oil.

It was in the office keggerator and disappeared in about 1.5 weeks. I only had a few glasses of it, but it came out good. Got good responses from folks at work too.

It's been too long; I don't have any specific notes on what to do differently next time. I'll see about making another batch and asking folks to comment on it directly.

Speaking of which, I did a 3 gallon batch of ginger ale for the annual holiday party for the Halibutians which was last night. This morning, I went to bottle the remainder and got about 1.5 22oz bottles out of it. Apparently people liked it.

I used the same recipe I did last time I made ginger ale and it came out about as good. If the speed with which it disappeared is any indication, other folks liked it too.

Again, no specific notes on the making of this batch. Followed the recipe pretty closely (though, probably had closer to 3.5oz of ginger instead of the 2.5oz the recipe calls for).

September 7, 2009

Batch 16 - Write-up, Batch 17 (Updated)

Batch 16 ended up being better than "Meh" as I originally rated it, but it still had a bitter taste to it. I did end up taking it to work and it disappeared pretty quickly. When I first took it in and hooked everything up, it was _REALLY_ bitter; the sludge had gone back into suspension from the drive and hadn't had a chance to settle out again. But after a few days, it started drinking really well. Still more bitter than I would like, but not as bad as before.

I'm having a hard time figuring out what to do with it from here. There are two things I really want to address:

  1. The bitterness. I think I over brewed the last batch, though my instructions say I only brewed for 10 minutes, which doesn't seem like very long. I'm going to try only 5 minutes this time.
  2. Something is coating my tongue. I _THINK_ it's the wintergreen extract, which I think is oil based, meaning it doesn't really dissolve in the root beer like I'd like it to. This has been in most if not all of my batches, I just haven't talked about it. I'm considering leaving it out of this batch to see what difference it makes.

Oh! Add on top of that, I'm making a 5 gal batch today in the bigger keg to take to work. So I'm scaling up everything.

So, here's my plan for today (I'll come back and update the post with any variations):

  • 5c*5/3 ~= 8.5c 9c honey (4.5c5c buckwheat, 4c mesquite from Trader Joe's)
  • 6oz*5/3 ~= 10oz 9.5oz Sassafras
  • 1tsp*5/3 ~= 1.5tsp Anise (down from 2tsp in a 3 gal batch)
  • 2*5/3 ~= 4 Vanilla beans (The new beans I have are _WAY_ more potent than last batch)
  • 0 wintergreen (leaving it out this batch to see if the tongue feel goes away)
  • Water to make 5 gal

Steep time will be about 5 minutes, and I'm going to see if I can keep it just below a rolling boil.

UPDATED: 10:32pm
I did the batch about as listed above. Might have been closer to 9c of honey; I wasn't really all that precise. I do know that I only had 9.5oz of Sassafras; that's all that was left in the container, and I didn't want to open the next 2lb bag for just another .5oz. Eh, close enough. I did leave out the wintergreen.

As for procedure... I ended up steeping for about 7 minutes; 5 minutes just felt too short. And, I managed to keep it below a rolling boil, which will hopefully prevent it from pulling out some of the nastier bits.

Otherwise, pretty standard procedure.

As for hardware, my filter bags molded from not being tried out well enough last time I used them, so I sacrificed another clean tea towel to the cause (one that was already stained from use as a root beer filter) and sewed together another filter bag. This time, I just hose clamped it directly to the hose rather than using the wire mesh filter and the canning funnel, which were great when ladling, but kinda useless when siphoning. This way, the hose just empties directly into the filter bag, which is inside the keg. Works well.

This keg is heading to the office keggerator. Now the hard part: Keeping my office mates from drinking it before its ready. :-)

July 25, 2009

Batch 16 - Initial write-up

So, it's been a week. I poured a glass of Batch 16 and...

Meh... It's alright, I've brewed worse, but its got that astringency I really don't like. It's very clear, so I don't think it's a problem with filtering like it has been in the past. I suspect I either brewed it too long, _OR_ it's possible that it was just the first glass. I used this glass to empty the beer line of its cleaning solution and get the first spurt of sludge out of the keg. I poured that out into the sink, but I didn't really rinse it out. It's possible that some of that sludge stayed in the glass and tainted my first glass. Another possibility is the increase anise seed content; those can be kinda bitter.

So, initial thoughts for next time: shorter brew time, possibly less anise.

On the plus side, it definitely tastes more like root beer and less like honey or the other flavors. I had kinda lost the sassafras in recent batches; this gets that back. As Cindy likes to put it, the Lick-A-Tree flavor.

The sweetness is good. Not too sweet, but not undersweet. It could stand to be a little bit sweeter, but I kinda like it where it is now.

I think I might take this keg to work so people will stop bugging me to brew for the work keggerator. And, besides, it'll empty sooner so I can brew another batch again. :-D

July 19, 2009

Ginger Ale, Batch 1 - Write up. Root Beer, Batch 16

February 28th? Really? Has it been _THAT_ long? Wow. I'll try to keep this short.

Ginger Ale, Batch 1: Only one word for it: Effing Fantastic. The Ginger mellowed very nicely and became a wonderful crisp drink for a hot dog picnic in the back yard with the family. I'll ask Cindy to post her thoughts on the batch.

One of the two reasons it took me so long to brew another batch of root beer is that the Ginger Ale seemed to last for friggin' ever. We'd just keep pouring and pouring and it wouldn't stop... ...until one day, it did. Ahh, well. Such is life.

The other reason it took me so long is because... ...well, I'm just lazy... It's a lot of work to brew a batch of root beer and I haven't taken the time to make it happen...

...until yesterday! Batch 16 is in the keggerator now! Quick summary of recipe:

- 5c buckwheat honey (just went with normal buckwheat)
- 6oz Sassafras (up from 4oz)
- 2tsp Anise (up from 1tsp)
- 4 vanilla beans (up from 2 or 3; they were kinda old and dry so might have been light on flavor)
- 2tsp wintergreen I, uhh, forgot to add the wintergreen. Zoe woke up from her nap as I was filtering the brew into the keg and it just slipped my mind. See below.
- Water to make 3 gal about 2 gal.

Normal process: Boil water (about 1.5gal worth), dissolve honey stirring constantly so it doesn't burn on the bottom. Add sassafras, anise, and vanilla beans in a colander submerged in the water. Stir for about 10 minutes. Remove colander, and therefore the bulk of the solids. Use a small hand-held colander-on-a-steeeeek to remove any visible floating bits. Siphon brew through the Super Spiffy Filter-O-Matic(tm) into keg. Have daughter wake up and totally throw off your whole game and forget to top off with water to fill keg and add wintergreen. Add ice to cool off, then close up keg and stow in keggerator.

So, yeah. It's only about 2 gallons, but with full increased ingredient load right now, minus the wintergreen. I really wonder want opening up the keg, adding the rest of the water and wintergreen now, 36 hours later, will do. *sigh*

UPDATE: Just a few minutes later.
I went ahead and opened the keg, topped off with water (only took about a quart or two, actually) and added the wintergreen. I don't think it'll be too bad. So, aside from the strange process, this batch is "back to normal."

February 28, 2009

Batch 15: Write up, Ginger Ale - Batch 1!

It's been several months since I first brewed Batch 15, and I still have a few bottles left. What is WRONG with me!? I blame the weather. No, really. It's been raining, so the car is in the garage, between me and the keggerator. Really. That's my story and I'm stickin' to it.

The Good News(tm) about this is that I still have some to taste while writing up!

Its still good, but not very sassafrassy, still. The wintergreen has nearly completely dissipated. The remaining flavor mix is tasty, but not really root beer. For the next batch, I have plenty of sassafras, so I should be good on that front.

I also went to Farmer's Market in Mtn. View this past weekend. There is a honey vendor there that has several different flavors of honey, including my favorite: buckwheat! I picked up enough for two batches. They also have a dark buckwheat that tasted way too strong on the toothpick at the market, but is absolutely DIVINE on toast at home. I'm interested in trying a batch with 4C of normal buckwheat and 1C of the dark buckwheat. I think that would add a very nice flavor, and darken the final product quite a bit.

So, my next batch of root beer will be:

- 5c buckwheat honey (possibly 4c normal buckwheat, 1c dark buckwheat if I get some by then.)
- 4oz Sassafras (maybe 5 or 6oz? I really want to kick this up some.)
- 2tsp Anise (up from 1tsp; I'm still barely able to notice it)
- 3 vanilla beans
- 2tsp wintergreen
- Water to make 3 gal.

BUT! Before I do that! Cindy wanted me to make a batch of ginger ale from Dave's recipe. So I've just run a batch of Dave's Ginger Ale, pretty darn close to his recipe. Only difference is that I brewed at about 1.5 gal and topped off with water and ice in the keg. Otherwise, the ingredients were the same.

I'll have Cindy provide the write-up for the ginger ale; I'm not a fan of the super gingery ginger ales. Maybe after a week or two, I'll bottle Cindy's ginger ale and brew my root beer.

December 12, 2008

2 Years...

Two years ago right now, I think I had just crumpled into a useless ball of goo in the corner of the hallway outside the OR. The nurse put her arm around me and said nothing, which is precisely what I needed. Cindy was being prepped for an emergency C-Section 'cuz Zoe's heart rate was dropping with every contraction, all three of them; Doc didn't let that go on very long at all.

In just about 1 hour from now, I will have been a father to a very small, beautiful, floppy, wrinkly girl who has since changed my life in ways I could never have guessed.

The conception sucked (took 2 years). The pregnancy was normal until just before 36 weeks when preeclampsia hit, sending our world into an accelerated whirlwind: a sudden trip to the hospital from which I would not return without a daughter.

Somehow, I think it's appropriate that I be remembering this event having gotten only 4 hours of sleep last night. :-)

The memories aren't all fond, but the outcome is. It's true, what they say, that you tend to forget the bad parts over time. Now I only think about things like last night, Zoe putting her two dolls on my lap and laying a blanket over the three of us, then crawling in, looking up at me and smiling, waiting for me to start reading to her and her dolls. It's been a long road to hoe, but I wouldn't have it any other way.

Happy Birthday, Zoe. I love you more than you'll ever know.