Good afternoon, friends and neighbors! How did your mead turn out? Tasty, I hope!
I keep meaning to make this blog a bit more frequent than bi-weekly, and once my secret project finally unfolds, I think I'll have more than enough material to do that!
"Wait, what secret project?"
Oh, you'll see... In about two weeks.
Anyway, one clever segue later...
I don't exactly know when or how we got our brains around it, but whoever decided that the three-meals-a-day eating schedule most folks tend to live around? They had some bad information.
When I was growing up, snacking wasn't looked at as a bad thing so much- more like biting your nails- a silly habit that's probably harmless but shouldn't be encouraged. Unfortunately, with people becoming so diet and weight-conscious (often in very negative, even harmful ways,) snacking- and what we snack on- has changed in the public eye. I can really only speak to any of this as a white male American with a fraught but ultimately healthy relationship with food, but really-look at the vocabulary thrown around when describing "healthy" snacking:
What's the common theme here? That you're doing something naughty and getting away with it. That you shouldn't be enjoying "healthy" food, and that you're sneaking around snacking- like food is a dangerous affair and you're afraid that other people will find out you are cuckolding your lunch.
Then there's the one most absolutely miserable, self-damning phrase of them all- the one that I would love to have removed from the lexicon of anything to do with food, crafted into an effigy, and jammed up on a pillory as a warning to others-
I HATE this phrase. The notion of food as being a decadence, a pleasure, leading to poor moral fiber and bad life choices has been around for ages. It's common, classic, even cliché- but you know what? Food is FOOD. It is SUSTAINENCE. We have evolved to find the acquisition of food a pleasurable experience. If you get that thrill from eating filet mignon at a Michelin-starred restaurant, or a mystery-meat patty from a greasy-spoon diner, FINE. You do you.
Having a good relationship with your food- what it is, and how you eat it- is essential in feeling good about yourself and having the lifestyle you want to be happy and healthy in. If you feel like certain foods are "bad," or are "cheating" when you have them, that casts a pall over the feeling that eating the food you like gives you. As long as you know what you are doing, and are smart about it, there's no reason to feel guilty- ESPECIALLY for something like snacking.
I've written a lot about my weight loss, and a bit about what and how I eat. I don't think I've ever written about snacking before.
I am a snacking FIEND.
Okay, maybe NOT to the level of The Oatmeal there, but I snack a LOT.
I almost always have between-meal snacks, and absolutely when I'm out and about during the day- particularly if I have the opportunity to try something I never had before. New things excite and interest me.
"Skinny" doesn't get me.
A wrapper screaming "all-natural" doesn't get me.
"Guilt-free" DEFINITELY doesn't get me... and has earned me a series of odd looks when I'm caught growling profanities in a supermarket aisle.
What DOES get me is stuff in its most natural form possible- minimal processing, no preservatives, full fat. Fat, protein, and carbs are all necessary for your body to function right, and it's important to get enough of the right kind- which are most often found in real, unprocessed food.
So as a healthy-living, good-relationship-with-food-having guy on the go, what ARE my preferred snacks? Here's a short list- all of them include healthy fats, complex carbohydrates, and many other nutrients that make them a smarter choice for when you need a quick fix.
Here we go:
When I get a crunchy/salty or sweet craving, my go-to is just a handful of nuts. Almonds and cashews are my favorites, but with the climate problems in California, I've lately been turning to pistachios. Are nuts loaded with fat and calories? Hell yes- but they are also loaded with delicious protein- the stuff that will actually fill you AND give your body the nutrients it needs. Whether I get them in bulk and keep them in my kitchen, or I'm running into a rest stop really quick, when I need some clean protein I go with these.
Emily and I love watching movies together, and we like having popcorn available. No, NOT the super-buttery microwave stuff, or even the fancy flavored junk. Microwave popcorn is loaded down with salt, hydrogenated oils, sugars, and whatever other stuff they use to make something taste like butter or cheese but can sit on a shelf for a year.
What I do is I get a stove-top or hot air popcorn popper, get bags/ jars of loose corn (often, it's cheaper!) and then I do it up my way. On the stovetop, you DO need to use a little oil (I love using extra virgin olive oil) to make it work, but hot-air poppers don't. You get tasty popcorn, and then you can add the salt, herbs, spices, REAL butter and oil if you want it- all for cheaper and with less mysterious chemicals.
That sounds like a Hollywood happy ending if there ever was one.
3. Veggies and Hummus
Cliche? Yep- but for a reason.
Chopped up fresh veggies and hummus is an snacking two-fer. The veggies are obviously great for you, are refreshing and crunchy, and can offer hydration as well. The hummus, being made from chickpeas, is rich in protein, and can be easily made or bought in a variety of flavors to suit your fancy. My fridge almost always has some in it... Which reminds me: I need to get more on the way home.
4. Sunflower Seeds
My go-to road snack, and idle-snacking godsend. When I was in college, I would sometime find myself driving a 4-hour slog from South Jersey to Hartford, CT- rolling down long dull highways, and often jammed up in traffic. With an oral fixation habit that I'm not ashamed to own up to, sunflower seeds were both snack and entertainment. There was something wonderfully rewarding about jamming a small handful in one cheek, cracking them between my teeth, eating the seed, and then spitting the shells out the window, trying to hit the cars that were trying to cut me off earlier.
I'll confess that I tend to like the flavored ones, which have more salt and preservatives than is good for me. If you can develop a taste for plain, unsalted ones, good on you. As for me, though, the added flavor just makes it even better when I'm trying to hit the hood of that jackass yellow Hummer.
5. Fresh Fruit
Yes, it's cliche again, but for a reason. When the warm weather hits, and I'm walking around the city looking for trouble, I love stopping into a grocery store and picking up just some simple pieces of organic fruit. I especially love plums, peaches, and apricots for when I am walking around, but if I'm camped out on a park bench? I love whipping out my Scout knife and slicing off pieces of apple or pear. Sweet, refreshing, and convenient- you can't beat fresh fruit on a summer day.
Ok, so nuts, seeds, fruit, healthy crap.. Great- but what if you've got a craving for something? Not just a need for something crunchy, or something sweet- a craving for something SPECIFIC. A candy bar that you had as a kid... Delicious frosty ice cream, and the store has your favorite flavor.
WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN THE SNACKS ATTACK?!
Yes, you read that right. If you want a specific something THAT badly, just go ahead and have it, but BE SMART.
1. READ THE NUTRITION LABEL. Know how many servings are in the package, and what you are putting in your body.
2. GET AS LITTLE AS POSSIBLE. Realize you are feeding a moment, not forever. Get enough to enjoy NOW, and have a good time.
3. OWN IT. Yep, you like some junk food. Big deal- I love salt water taffy, gummies, and beef jerky myself. Just be aware of what you are doing, and that you don't want it to be a regular thing. Enjoy it, and then go on your way.
4. DON'T REGRET IT. You had a little something you wanted. The only regret you should ever have about food is if it wasn't what you remembered, or didn't taste as good as you hoped. Even then- you know not to do it again.
Go forth my friends, and eat well!
Good evening, friends and neighbors!
Actually, I told you how to how to get started brewing a simple mead at home. Here's what you do for when the 10 days- 2 week fermentation time is up!
Ok, not to curb your enthusiasm or anything, but just a quick note- this is only the PRIMARY fermentation. Today, we'll be getting your delicious mead off the dead cells, sediments and whatnot that might mess up the flavor if you let it sit there. Your mead will KEEP fermenting until either it runs out of sugar (which can take years) or you choose to kill it by boiling and filtering it.
Mead is interesting in that, in most cases, after it is bottled it can be cellared INDEFINITELY. You can drink this stuff in 5 years and see where the reaction and aging has taken it. If you just want a sweet, quick little drink, go ahead and enjoy now. Otherwise, hold off for a while- this is only a BABY mead at this point.
What To Do When Your Mead is Done
First of all, you might want to get some equipment from your local homebrew supply store:
A large tub for sanitzing everything (remember what I said about cleanliness?). This is a storage tub I got from Home Depot, filled up with about 10 gal. of water.
This is my preferred sanitizing agent, BTF Iodophor- an iodine-based cleaner. It's food-safe, doesn't require rinsing afterwards (even though I do anyway,) and doesn't leave a funky flavor on the stuff it cleans. Whatever you decide to get, pick something that won't leave weird flavors, and DEFINITELY won't mess with your equipment.
Just dump the appropriate amount in (following the sanitizer's instructions) and mix.
You'll also want a couple of tools to make this process a little easier for you. None of these things will break the bank, and in fact some homebrewing stores may include them in a "starter" kit.
This is an auto-siphon, an open-ended pump that'll make it super easy to get your mead from your big fermenting jug to smaller bottles. This one even has a special cap on the bottom to keep it from sucking up TOO much of the sediment.
You'll also need a length of food-safe tubing. I picked up a clamp for mine just to keep things neat.
This is a bottle filler, and it will prevent a LOT of cleanup later, trust me. The valve on the bottom only opens when pressed, so with your siphon and hose connected to this bad boy, your mead will go where you want it- as opposed to the floor.
Those are the basics. I also have a hydrometer, testing flask, capper and caps.
These are for if you are a super-nerd like me and really want to figure out the proof (alcohol content) of your mead. The capper and caps are only a must if you want to store it in bottles that don't have a swing or screw top, and it's cheaper than a corking machine.
At this point, you will want to chill your mead down as best you can. This will slow down the fermentation and it will gather most of your sediments to the bottom in a process called "clarifying."
This whole process is called "racking." In winemaking, this would be when the wine is pumped from steel fermentation containers to barrels so that it can sit and age. In my case, my big 3 gal. fermenter can't fit in my fridge, so I split it up between several smaller containers so I can clarify it more quickly and fully rack it later.
EVERYTHING that interacts with your mead must be cleaned, sanitized, drained, and air-dried. EVERYTHING.
Once you have your cleaning out of the way, it's time to set up your siphon and get things going!
Simply take your hose and connect your auto-siphon to one end, and your bottle filler to the other. Drop the business end of your siphon slowly into your mead so that it sits JUST ABOVE the sediment on the bottom. Yes, you will lose some mead to that. Sorry. :C
If you've ever filled up a fuel can or cleaned a pool, you know how a siphon works. Put simply, it's when water goes down a tube in such a way that it pulls more water with it. The pump on your auto-siphon will get your mead "up the hill" enough that it can fall and create the siphoning action. Since the end of your hose has your bottle filler on it, you might need someone to press that down into your first bottle while you pump. That'll get everything going.
From there... just fill up your bottles!
Cap them in whatever way pleases you. I love swing-top bottles just for this purpose.
Voila! You have bottled your first mead! Now label it, date it, and either drink it or store it!
Just remember, before you put all your equipment away...
Yeah, you weren't getting away from that one. Brewing is mostly cleaning.
At least you get booze out of it!
Good evening, friends and neighbors!
Like many good, honest souls across this great land of ours, indeed this whole wonderful world... I like my booze.
Wide and varied is the world of fermented portables, and I am very keen to try as many as I can from as far abroad as I can. Call it my humble task in bringing understanding and goodwill the world over... or I just want to get pickled in the tastiest ways possible. Whichever way is tax-deductible
That said, sometimes my financial situation is not exactly conductive to my altruistic bringing-peace-through-boozing desires. Being a bit of a do-it-yourselfer, though, makes that MUCH less of an obstacle.
With the recent rush toward everything being local, seasonal, homemade, small-batch, etcetera, the long-loved tradition of homebrewing in America has emboldened the "microbrewing" surge, and let humble beer and wine-lovers like myself not only embrace a new set of skills, but make the jump into entrepreneurship- bringing the taste of home and local flavor to the masses.
While most of these ambitious drinkers embrace the complexities of beer or austerity and mystery of wine, I have chosen a more simple, ancient, and no less wonderful beverage to bend my thirsty energies against.
The legendary drink of Vikings, and potentially the oldest fermented drink in history. Thick and sweet or light and refreshing, easy to make, and usually gluten-free.
Mead is little more than a fermentation of honey and water, sometimes with the addition of fruit, juices, spices, herbs, or any other conceivable flavoring. While beer and wine aficionados will argue to the end of time, throwing archaeological proof at each other over whether man fermented grain or grapes first, I make the humble assertion that only honey NATURALLY occurs in a fermentable state. Grapes must be crushed, and grain must be milled and steeped to make mash for beer or whiskey- raw honey only needs water and time. With Paleolithic evidence available for the gathering of honey from wild hives, I maintain that mead has a VERY strong case.
I started brewing my own mead about a year or so ago, after Emily's family gave me a copy of "The Art of Fermentation" for Chanukah. The book is a veritable encyclopedia for anyone who wishes to understand and control the forces of fermentation, pickling, canning, and pleasurable decomposition. Since then, I have made several brews ranging from the acrid to the pleasurable to the competition-worthy (one of which I have just recently entered into the Oregon Homebrewing Festival.)
Obviously, if homebrewing is something you wind up REALLY getting into, there are WAY more sources for you than my little blog, and a lot more details you can play around with. Online, you can get a lot of leads from the American Homebrewers Association. The books on homebrewing are numberless, but recently my go-to guide for how-tos and ideas is Ken Schramm's "The Compleat Meadmaker." If you have a homebrew supply store nearby, you can absolutely ask there or even see if they offer classes.
For the purposes of this blog, though, I'm just going to give you a quick how-to on an absolutely basic level spiced mead.
How to Get Hopped Up On Honey
YOU WILL NEED:
(All of this should be SANITIZED- you can use whatever means you like- steam, chemical, whatever. Just make sure they are really REALLY clean.)
At homebrew stores, there's a lot of other equipment you can get that can give you metrics on your mead- hydrometers, acid testers, flasks, and such. That stuff you might want to forego until you decide that homebrewing is something you are really into. Other stuff will make these steps a little easier, but aren't strictly necessary for what we are doing here- siphons, filters, and such.
Here's my set up for my next mead that I'm calling "Besamim," after the aromatic spices used to end the Jewish observance of Shabbat.
In case you're wondering, that thing down at the lower left corner is my preferred airlock, with a cork for the container. My container is a 3 gallon PET carboy, since I'm making a larger batch here.
Now, how do you get everything started?
Yup. That's really it.
"What happens now?"
Well, now your job is over for the time being. Inside that container, you've just diluted the honey enough that the live cultures trapped inside can get busy fermenting! Fermenting is when microorganisms (usually yeast) eating sugar, and excreting alcohol and CO2- and you just threw them into a Scrooge McDuck-style vault of their favorite food.
All you have to do, for at least the next 10 days or so, is put your mead (well, technically, "must" at this point. It's not mead yet) in a cool spot in your house, give it a little shake about twice a day, and let those little guys have fun. If you decided not to use a cork and airlock like I have here, you'll need to vent it about twice a day to let the CO2 out but just SLIGHTLY untwisting or opening the top and resealing it quickly- remember, you REALLY don't want outside air in there, with all the nasty stuff it carries.
That's all for the time being- stay tuned for Part 2 in a few days, for what to do when your mead is ready!
About the Author
The Black Hat Baker, a.k.a. Matt Strenger, lives in SE Portland, Oregon as a professional baker. Here, Matt bakes, cooks, exercises, and explores, returning to his wife and their hobbit hole up Mt. Tabor to write about all of it.
Email the BHB at blackhatbakery(at)gmail(dot)com
Want to support the BHB and On The Bench? Click here!
The BHB Instagram