Crabapple and apricot brandy, 90 days and relief at last

This post follows “Brandy swamp juice at day 60.”  To see that post, click here.

Wow, wow, and wow!  For the last 90 days, I have had two gallon jars of cheap vodka (the cheapest I could find) fermenting with fruit that was falling from the trees.  I have endured ridicule, taunting, threats of jail time if I poisoned anyone, and skepticism that the new “hobby” would be a disaster.  Now, the verdict is in.  I have had a chance to taste the wicked brew and, oh boy,  was I surprised!   Look who’s laughing now!

First, let me go back a little bit for those of you hitting this blog out of order from the first two.  I had two full trees full of fruit that were going to waste.  I had fed the family all the fruit products I could concoct, and needed another fresh usage.  I went online to get suggestions and found apricot leather (too much work with the risk of my kids hating it), cookies (didn’t use a tree full of fruit) and then I saw a homemade brandy site.  Hmph, I thought, I’m not much of a brandy drinker, but the labor looked easy – pick fruit, add sugar and cheap vodka, put in gallon jars and turn once a day for three months.  I could handle that – and the shelf-life was very good. 

Ten dollar half-gallon jars of vodka are not something to brag about.  The stuff is nasty.  I tasted a drop or two out of the jug and figured I was wasting my time, as nothing in my imagination could cut the harsh biting taste.  Regardless of my doubts, I vowed to continue the experiment, mainly because the web writer so convincingly said it would work.  After 30 days, the brew began to ferment and that looked even LESS appealing.  I plotted to feed it to the hubby and his football buddies because, after all, they’ll consume anything.  Little did I know, hubby was bracing for a strong defense as he was convinced the stuff was too vile even for football buddies.  Besides, he feared that serving brandy to beer-drinking football buddies could taint his reputation as a rough-n-tumble guy.

By day 60, the look had exceeded unappetizing and was well on the way to being classified as pollution.   The apricots had begun to disintegrate and the crabapples were not showing any sign of fermenting at all.  My husband got all huffy and began taking offensive measures to protect his buddies from death-by-brandy.  I remained weakly hopeful, though the project did not look promising.  He reminded me that this concoction looked a lot like the juice from a bag of lettuce that has been left in the refrigerator crisper drawer a month too long.

Adding to my discomfort, I had chosen to set the gallon jars where the family makes their breakfast toast, thereby assuring that the brandy would be turned daily.  This subjected me to near daily ridicule about taking up hobbies that are scary and deadly and why couldn’t I be like all the other wives and have a candle hobby, or buy myself a pet bird.  For 90 days, I suffered this daily taunting.  To my dismay, the football buddies all formed a contingent and were bringing their OWN drinks in tamper-proof containers.  Helmets, too,if necessary. 

Animal Control cartoon 010

By 90 days, the two jars full of brackish liquid were ready.  I had purchased a BRITA filter, but had not considered the straining process beforehand.  One must pre-soak the filter, but no site that I ran across said whether to soak it in water, or vodka.  I follwed the BRITA instructions and used water.  Then worried that I would further ruin 90 days of agony by watering down the brew. 

What I discovered the hard way is that, at least with the apricot mixture, one must strain it with a generously-holed strainer first, then with cheesecloth next.  The photo at right shows what you should not put in the BRITA!  This would be obvious to anyone who has ever used a water filter before.  It was NOT obvious to me.  (There went one filter.)  Filling it up with the raw glop only clogged the filter, stopping it almost immediately.  So, for those new to this process, strain the fruit mixture a couple times through cheese cloth before putting it into the filter.  Then, leave it overnight in the refrigerator.  The next day, you will have beautiful brandy. 

The crabapple brandy was a very different creature.  The fruit had not dissolved like the fragile apricots, so the liquid in the jar remained clear and clean for the entire 90 days.  I was more concerned that it might not have taken the flavor, or completed the process enough to produce a good flavor.  Straining it was not necessary, and filtering it was not necessary, either. 

The results?  The apricot was very good, but pretty sweet.  This was not like any brandy I’ve ever bought at the store, those being harsher with a strong alcohol taste to them.  This was very smooth, and I say this regretably but honestly – I think it would be amazing over pancakes.  It’s not undrinkable, but would make a good dessert drink. 

Now, the crabapple was a different story.  The color is a light yellowish-amber.  It blew me away.  Very smooth flavor, not as sweet, but this one left my husband’s jaw on the floor.  He could not believe we got that product out of some worm-riddled crabapples.  (I did remove the worms before making the batch, for those wondering.)  The crabapple brandy left us both speechless.  Next time we have a crabapple crop, I will definitely be cleaning off the tree and using this for gifts for friends.  It surpassed expectations by a landslide!

From there, it was a mad dash to protect the goods as one cannot afford to allow football buddies to consume exquisite products.  It’s cheap beer and brats for you guys!  I’ll take the “obnoxious, vile, liquid and dispose of it properly…up on the balcony with a girlfriend or two.

If you would like to see all the brandy posts, or more comical posts, click here for the index.

Brandy at day 60

This post follows “Brandy swamp juice at day 29.”  To see that post, click here.

On July 29, 2009, I forged ahead with an experiment, of sorts.  I had never tried to make brandy, but had a lot of fruit falling off the tree and decided to go online and get a recipe.  The recipe I found involved filling a glass gallon jar with fruit, adding three cups of sugar and approximately 26 ounces of cheap vodka.  The instructions said to turn the jar of brandy daily, from right side up to upside down for three months.  And so I have.

I’m now down to one month left on this experiment, ironically with it becoming ready near Halloween.  I say “ironically” because Ken maintains this “brew” is the scariest thing he has ever encountered.  He accused the apricot brandy of developing primordial life 30 days ago, and since then, he claims he heard it learning vowel sounds in harmony with whatever I have forgotten in the lettuce crisper drawer of the refrigerator.  Ken maintains the tune sounds somewhat like the Battle Hymn of the Republic, but that some of the apricots are uninspired and therefore are dragging down the entire apricot chorus.  He also complained that without an agreed upon director, their timing is off, but that as he makes his toast in the morning, some of the apricots swim to the side and look to him for direction.  So help me…Ken needs to get out more!

(Musical apricot brew, at left.  Notice how murky the liquid is compared to the crabapple brew below.)

Of course, I realize that Ken is lying.  I have checked that brandy daily – and there is no such thing going on.  Granted, the apricots have begun to dissolve – and aren’t very attractive, and a few of them do appear to be making faces on the sides of the jar, but as for musical talent, or the beginnings of a revolt?  Never.

If you read the last post, you probably learned that I intended to spring said concoction on Ken and his football buddies, despite his protests to the contrary.  Something about “No way would he or his friends be getting poisoned by his deranged wife.”  His support of this project is awe-inspiring.  (Not!)

At any rate, because I am the kind, considerate, sweet sort of wife, I purchased a Brita filter well in advance just to remove some of the less appetizing elements floating in the swampy apricot liquid.  My biggest worry is that there seems to be a BIG difference between the apricot and the crabapple brandies.  The apricot is admittedly gross, but the crabapple is gorgeous – very clear and yummy looking.  This difference makes me wonder if the crabapple might need more time – maybe even another month.  Perhaps I am mistaken because the two fruits are quite different in texture.  Additionally, the seal on the apricot brandy was difficult and resulted in opening the jar three times during the last 60 days.  Perhaps the air could make a difference?  (I’ll know in another 30 days – but if any of you readers know this, please leave a comment.)

The only other update is that while changing the lid on the apricot brandy – the aroma was unbelievable!  Wow, if it tastes half as good as it is beginning to smell, I’ll be thrilled – and might even recant my threat of feeding it to Ken and his football buddies.  Maybe I’ll give them the contents of the crisper drawer and keep the brandy for myself!

To see the next post, Brandy at 90 days, click here.  For a complete list of Her Side Funnies comical posts, click here.

Slipforming, part 8 – Successes and failures

This post follows “Slipforming, part 7 – Murphy’s Law, a constant companion.”  For a complete list of links to all slipforming posts on this blog, click here.

Any time one tries something brand new, it is unreasonable to expect only glowing success, but I did anyway.  Bolstered by the fact that I had read every article I could lay my hands upon, I was, after all, an expert.  (Heavy sarcasm here.)  Of course, the laws of the universe always have some humility lessons to offer.  And my rock laying was no different. 

I had (mostly) overcome doubt, hand pain, gravel quarry funny-men loading my truck to near un-drive-ability, and the lack of bathrooms.  I had successfully built some outstanding forms, and even layed my first rocks in cement.  The problem?  Well, I really had no idea how close to set the rocks to each other.  Tom Elpel mentioned in his book that one should grout the joints at some later point.  I went to neighboring rock buildings in the area, probably done a hundred years ago by masons who actually knew what they were doing, and they had small joints less than an inch in width.  The only way I could figure to achieve that end was to mash the rocks up very close to each other and then grout over the gaps.  That is probably one way to do it.  Fortunately, that is not the only way, and with hindsight, I do not believe it is the best way.  For our project, as I progressed, I got “looser” with the rocks.  I would leave bigger gaps between them and found that the result, to me, was both more eye-pleasing and much easier to clean. 

I want to note here – slipforming is different than stone masonry – with stone masonry, the strength of the wall is inherent in how the rocks rest atop one another and a great deal of skill, patience and forethought is necessary for the strength of the wall to stay in tact.  With slipforming, you are actually using the cement/rebar portion of the wall for the strength and using the rocks only as facing.  The home is not dependent on the rock setting for the entire load of structural strength.  This difference allows a novice, like me, to enjoy the stone home ”look” without having to spend years as an understudy to a genuine mason.  Secondly, much of the work is done blindly, i.e., one cannot see the rocks beneath cement to adequately assess if the new rocks are bridging gaps between rocks, or not. 

A fundamental lesson was determining how long to leave the forms in place.  Dad and I were eager to pull the first forms, to see the results.   After much waffling, we decided to leave the forms in place for six hours.  Wow!  We were stunned.  The relief, compounded by sheer joy, was palpable.  The “look” we were hoping for was there, all right.  What a relief! 

Here, a rare photo of Dad and I immediately after pulling forms off the rock wall.  If you look closely, you will see the small white chunks of foam in the photo.  These worked wonderfully as gap-fillers and reduced cleaning and spilled cement substantially. 

My husband Ken and I chipped out the unwanted cement and gloated over how beautiful the rock work looked.  Building on one another’s thrill, we quickly went from “Wow, it worked,” to “This was easy!” to “We could do this professionally!”  Then, we realized we needed to do it again, and our cockiness dissolved.  Could we?  Of course.  In fact, I thought we could do it with even less curing time.  

The next day, we tried three hours of cure time.  Oh my!  Three hours was not enough.  The rocks were not sufficiently adhered and quickly, a rock came tumbling out of the wall.  As I have mentioned, this has only happened about four times in the entire house, but this one was depressing since it was the first one to fall out, and I had no idea how to repair the problem. 

A quick phone call to my ex-boyfriend’s mother (the same one that helped me with the hand pain) eased my concerns.  “Oh honey,” she said.  “You just go buy some rock glue.  It’s at the lumber yard – they’ll have it.  It’s gray and you’ll frost (woman-t0-woman instruction coming back to cake decorating) the back of the rock.  If the cement on the wall is still soft, chip out a little more room so that your rock will not stick out too far.  Otherwise, this will work.”  She was right.  It did.

I got more guffaws when I went to the lumber store seeking rock glue.  It’s understandably not a big seller.  A couple of contractors ribbed me saying that if THEY were building my house, they wouldn’t be resorting to glue already!  At any rate, the pain of the experience was sufficient that I did NOT want to duplicate this error.  Toward that end, I thought we could make a thicker mix of cement.  The cement thus far had been fairly soupy, meaning it would pour out of the coffee can without much trouble.  I thought a little thicker cement mixture might be better, so the next day Dad mixed a thicker batch and I got sidetracked that afternoon with other important stuff.  The cement cured for nearly 10 hours.  Oh boy!  What a difference the added time and thicker consistency made. 

Ken and I each had a hammer and were pounding away at the excess cement on the seams, sometimes with not much success.  Sparks were flying from the ends of the hammers.  Our arms were exhausted.  “What did you leave it this long for?” he asked.  “Good grief, we’ll NEVER get this off!”  The seams were choppy and crude.  Any overconfidence I had gained from the first day was dashed by day two and then compounded on day three.  But, I had learned a very important lesson:  Consistency is a virtue in cement work.  Make the batches of cement the same way, leave them for the same amount of time, and you can expect a similar end result.  Do it any different, and you will be your own worst enemy.  With hindsight, four hours is a nice amount of time in moderately warm weather to let the cement cure. 

My lessons were not limited to cement.  I was pouring cement on one side of the house while still setting up the foam panels on the rest of the walls.  I had this great tool, a chalk line dispenser, which I thought was a wonderful invention.  Men reading this will wonder why I was so impressed with the chalk line, but in a woman’s world there is no need for such a tool.  You don’t use one to bake, sew, or clean.  You don’t need one to balance a checkbook, or get the family pets to the vet and you can get a child from kindergarten through graduation without EVER needing one.  Consequently, I adored my chalk line with it’s little pop-out lever for reeling the string back inside…until I ran it over with the truck.   

This was, indeed, unfortunate.  I grieved.  Knowing I could not continue my life without another, I bought a replacement and returned to the work site where I did not need it again until one afternoon while I was killing time awaiting the visit from a windshield repairman.  As I was waiting, I had extended the chalk line out to mark a foam panel for the next saw cut, and found, much to my horror, that this chalk line did not have a pop out lever to reel in the string.  I sat there, staring at the chalk line, cursing the fact that the string was now extended and I could not get it back inside when the repairman drove up. 

He fixed the windshield quickly enough and then saw me diddling with the chalk line and asked what the problem was.  I explained that this stupid chalk line was already broken and ranted that things today are certainly not made like they used to be, as this chalk line didn’t even have a lever!  What was it, I asked, a single-use chalk line?  Intrigued, he asked me to hand it to him.  Inserting his index finger into the circular inset finger hole, he effortlessly dialed the string back into the chalk line.  Boy, did I feel stupid!  And, boy did he get a big laugh out of it!  He was my mother’s cousin, so you can probably imagine how discreet he was with this finding.  (Not!)   He wondered what bank in their right mind would loan funds to a house builder who could not operate a chalk line.  He laughed even harder when I said that I had not borrowed on the project yet. 

He continued to laugh as he jumped into his truck and laughed the entire way back down the driveway.   It is a good thing I have a thick skin, or else that exchange might have shaken my confidence in attempting a house like this.  Instead, it fired me up to prove that even I, who could not figure out a stupid chalk line, could overcome absurd obstacles if I wanted to bad enough.

It is important to mention that with each setback, growth occurred.  As humiliating as it is to realize you are being stupid – it is equally heartening to find that there is one less area where you will ever be stupid again.   Though sometimes, that is an admittedly hollow comfort, especially from ground floor of a project like this one offering so MANY opportunities for embarrassment.

To see “Slipforming, part 9 – Some cool rock inspirations,” click here.

Slipforming, part 6 – The latest rock project

This post follows “Slipforming, part 5 – Dad’s initial view.”  For a complete list of links to all slipforming posts on this blog, click here.

Whenever cement was delivered for sidewalks, or a stairway, it always seems that there was cement left over.  In one case, the cement company had a full yard of extra cement that they would give me, if I could take it.  Of course I would take it, I said.  This meant quickly slapping together forms in a variety of places where cement would not be a regrettable addition.  Consequently, I ended up with an odd extra outbuilding that had cement walls around the exterior up to approximately five foot high.  The walls were ugly, as we were in a hurry to pour the cement and always had the other “original” project, which needed finishing with fresh cement, too.  No problem, I thought, I’ll just cover it with rock later. 

Well, later has arrived.  This spring, we had MRA Construction put a roof on the building and I am very, very pleased with it.  Milan, the owner, was also my drum instructor in high school, so he knew what to expect and was exceedingly patient as I explained that I wanted a special roof line.  We have double glass doors that view this shed, and I did not want to be looking out at an albatross every time I passed those doors.  The extra curve in the roof adds a whimsical detail that I am thrilled to see.  It was definitely worth the small bit of extra labor and materials.

So, with the roof completed, it was time to address the siding.  Ken suggested we try a different method of doing the rock work – namely by smoothing the joints of cement.  This is unlike the finishing technique I used on the main house.  On the main house, the joints are rough.  It’s not that I didn’t appreciate a more “polished” finish, it was that I had my plate full learning how to do the rockwork and anyone suggesting I not only learn it, but learn to do it beautifully on the very first project, would have been limping home…smarter for the experience. 

Ken, to his credit, was persistent.  He really, really, really wanted it to look good.  So, I opted to try smoothing the joints immediately after removal of the slip forms.  This proves to those of you trying this method that adding the extra finish is not only easy, but highly worth the extra trouble, because you will not have to revisit the joints later to grout them.

So, here’s the short sheet on this process.  1)  You pour the rock and cement in between the forms, with the rocks cinched up close to the leading edge, cement oozing behind and between the rocks.  2)  You leave the cement to cure for 4-5 hours (depending on the weather).  I’m talking about Rocky Mountain summers and falls.  I’m also talking about a medium-stiff batch of cement to begin with.  If you are pouring soup into the forms, it may take a little longer. 

3)  You remove the forms.  Your result will look very rough, like shown in this photo, at right.  Don’t panick.  At this point, you will scrape, with the back of a hammer, or with your husband’s new iPod (just kidding) the extra cement off the rocks. 

 4) You will leave a smooth joint that can then be left to finish curing.  You do not need to do anything else to this concrete if you are happy with the joints.  If they still appear rough, you can take a paint brush (a stiff one), add some water and paint over the joints. 

 When you finish, you will be left with joints that look beautiful and you will exclaim, “Wow!  That was easier than it looks!”

Out here, we are racing the weather.  It’s cooler each day as we approach winter.  I had high hopes of completing this shed before spring so that I can add a chicken pen to the north side of it and have fresh eggs soon.  I’m not sure that I will hit my marks on completion time.  I had counted on a teenage boy’s help.  That was my first mistake!  (Just kidding, again.  Ben has been a fine helper.  He’s just very busy in school, tennis, contemplating his navel,…you know, the hard life of being a teen. 

I keep telling him, this will be a GREAT skill to carry into his adult life.  He will be able to build his family a fabulous home with the knowledge he’s gained.  Instead, he’s still hoping to win the lottery and hire others to do such work.  Toward that end, I wish him luck.  It didn’t pan out for me and I ended up doing it myself.  But, if he can make it work, who am I to stop him?

Here’s a shot of Ben chipping off the unwanted cement.  The extra cement, which falls into his hands, is still wet enough to shove into gaps along the seams between the rocks.  The old saying, “Waste not, want not,” is true around here.  If you look below Ben, you will see the older, cured cement with the finished, smooth seams. 

Lastly, if you have the unfortunate experience of having any rocks pop out as you are removing the forms, don’t panick.  If it is just one rock, it can be re-glued into place using a masonry glue made for the purpose.  In all the rock work we have done, we have had less than three rocks pop out, and usually it was along the very top edge where I did not apply enough cement to adhere the rock into place.  Use the glue, replace the rock, let it cure properly and then mortar around it as usual.  *Save the rock that falls out.  It will fit the hole perfectly.  If you try to fit another rock, you might regret it later when the replacement sticks out of place and draws attention to your accident. 

Hope this helps on your wonderful projects!  I will try to post photos of the finished project once we have completed it, which does not look like it will be the fall of 2009!

To see “Slipforming, part 7 – “Murphy’s Law, a constant companion,” click here.

Brandy Swamp Juice at day 29

Evidence of primordial life? Poison? Or incredible football beverage?

This post follows “Brandy, the new hobby.”  To view that post, click here.

Well, I do believe I’ll be feeding the first batch of brandy to Ken and his football buddies.  To call this batch “unappetizing” would be an understatement.  It is a murky blend of decomposing apricots,   The poor apricots look like aging women in there…losing their perky forms and digressing into blobs of soft pulp.  Yes, AARP is not hiring me as a marketing rep.  And the brandy institute is not interested in my skills, either.

For those of you interested in following the brandy experiment, I guess it is important to know that the fruit supposedly begins to ferment at 28 days.  Hmmm.  28 days sounds familiar.  Oh, yes, that’s coincidentally the same length of time it takes women to develop a “change in character,” too.  You can disregard that last statement as brandy consumption and PMS are rarely related, except in extreme cases.

As I spin the gallon jar around, the bodies of the apricots look like lifeless eyeballs in a high school science teachers lab.  Mind you, this is in direct contrast to the crabapple brandy.  The crabapple brandy looks great!  Clear liquid, still perky bodies at 28 days – very tasty looking indeed.  (That’s the one I’ll try…three days after Ken and his buddies try batch number one. )  If Ken is grabbing his stomach and moaning in pain, I’ll blame it on the nachos, but I may delay drinking my portion…indefinitely.

Ken, I might add, views this concoction every morning as he makes his coffee.  In the last two days, he’s been eyeballing this “stew”  with concern, if not downright suspicion. 

“I’m not drinking that!” he said this morning. 

“It’s not ready yet,” I answered.  “It needs filtered, and, uh, well, strained, and,…”

“In two months, there will be primordial life in there!” he interrupted.  “There’s no way you’ll get a bunch of football guys to drink that!” 

Obviously, we have a difference of opinion on how much attention guys watching a football game pay to what they are drinking.    I will have reached a new high if I can command the attention away from a touchdown to the relative merits, or pitfalls, of this beverage.  Of course, if I do, Ken will have reached a new low, too, being fired as football host.  Hahaha!

Seriously, I am noticing a distinct downfall of the web…not having anyone close enough to look at this mess and tell me that 1) I’ve ruined it and it’s poisonous now; or 2) It’s supposed to look this way, and 3) to take the first sip as proof of their confidence.

For those of you entertaining making brandy, I would stress a couple things I have learned from this experiment the hard way.  First, I’ve never met a gallon jar full of liquid that one could seal sufficiently to turn upside down on a counter without regretting it later.  Second, covering the jar with plastic wrap before putting the lid on to seal it is an idea propped up by the plastic wrap industry.  They lie.  Of course, you can do it, and it may improve the seal…but it is – in no way – a guarantee that your syrupy, brandy mixture will not leak all over your counter, down your cabinets and onto the floor and cause your family dog to walk funny. (O.K., that last part was an exaggeration!  The dog was not that interested in my brandy mixture, either.  Hmmm, that’s perplexing.)

Also, there is another difference between the two batches.  Since the apricot brandy jar was leaking, I removed the lid and replaced the plastic wrap somewhere around day 20.  I was impressed by the smell, but perhaps the air tightness might have something to do with the development???  If any of you out there know, please add a comment onto this post.  Preferably before Ken’s football buddies arrive in late October/early November and start complaining about…the nachos. 

After that, just disregard the newspaper headlines….And in 10 years, that “Women in Prison” television show will present an episode with a woman who looks a lot like me.  Mere coincidence….I’ll be in Mexico hiding out.

To fast forward another 30 days in this experiment, click here.