Monday, September 21, 2009
Sunday, September 20, 2009
Friday, June 19, 2009
Here's Alan's shiny new conical fermenter, in full swing during primary fermentation. It contains ten gallons of Summer Rye. Initial test pourings show promise of a lovely golden ale. Patience....
Sunday, June 14, 2009
It's been a while since the last update, mainly because I have been busy playing tour guide again - my Dad, Steve, came to visit for two weeks. Which was very splendid. So of course he needed the whistle-stop tour of Texas.
I picked him up from Austin Bergstrom airport on the afternoon of Thursday 28th, took him home, then once Alan was back we introduced him to Tex-Mex food at the Texican Cafe.
On Friday we started with Austin; went to Taco Deli for early lunch tacos, then downtown and had a mosey about. Looked in the Capitol Building. Went into the Chamber of Representatives and watched them conduct government. Here's a pic of the voting - all the green lights are votes for the motion, activated by buttons pressed by a few people who seem to run up and down empty desks, voting for those absent. It's a bit odd.
Diana had invited us to her house on Saturday for a pool party with Tamzin and the gang, so after a bit of shopping in the morning, we spent the afternoon splashing about which was good. Alan thoroughly enjoyed the water.
Sunday morning is shooting time, so we took Dad up to Capitol City Trap & Skeet where we normally shoot and met Larry for a round of sporting clays. This was (as always) a lot of fun and Dad shot pretty well, especially considering it's been years since he fired a shotgun. So here he is, obliterating a clay pigeon:
Monday morning saw us in Kerbey Lane Cafe on South Lamar, for a proper Austin breakfast. Here's Dad in the cafe:
After this, we went over to the LBJ Presidential Library to look around the museum there. This is always interesting but made more so right now as they have an exhibition relating to the space missions going on at the time of LBJ's Presidency.
We ate in Nonna Gina's Italian in Buda this night, which is one of our favourite places. The food is good, the portions sensibly sized and the place is friendly and local.
Tuesday was to be our jaunt into the Hill Country. We started at 7am in order to get over to Enchanted Rock early, before it got too hot. It takes a couple of hours to get there, so we enjoyed driving across country. The roads here stretch for miles and have almost no cars on them. It's still a place where other cars wave to you, simply because you're there.
Enchanted Rock was looking lovely. I'd been up there six weeks ago with Diane and the rock was looking very dry and barren. It had completely transformed during the intervening time, and was now covered with bright yellow flowers and lush grass in islands over the top, interspersed by rockpools with tiny creatures swimming inside. It was a beautiful day.
We spent the best part of two hours on the Rock before heading to Fredericksburg. I wanted to take Dad to the Airport Diner which is a fabulous 50's style diner, covered in chrome and colour, right at Gillespie County Airport. Unfortunately it was shut Mondays and Tuesdays. Here's an old DC-3 on the airport grounds:
So we repaired into town and got lunch in the Brewery; of course Dad took advantage of their flights of taster-size (2oz) beers so he could try them all :-)
Next up was the Admiral Nimitz Museum. This is supposed to be one of the best Pacific War museums in the country. Unfortunately they have closed off one of the biggest areas for renovation and expansion, which I'm sure will be a good thing in the long run, but meant Dad wasn't going to see their B-25 today. We did the rest of the museum though which was good and includes this Avenger:
Wednesday was forecast to be stormy but turned out into a lovely day again, which pleased me as I wanted Dad to see Kingsbury Aerodrome in the sun. This is where all the WW1-era aircraft live and Roger Freeman, who owns the place, was quite happy for us to come down and have a look around. He let us wander around the hangars so I gave Dad the tour, before Roger took us for lunch at the Chinese place in Seguin. Here's Dad outside one of the hangars:
Dad had made very good salad the night before, which we augmented with some extra veg. This was all we needed after eating well during the days.
Thursday took us down to San Antonio, as every guest has to go and see The Alamo. They don't let you leave Texas unless you've been there, you know. We stopped for breakfast on the way into town at a completely randomly-chosen Mexican cafe and had some really excellent breakfast tacos.
On we went, the Alamo has been seen and duly remembered. We then went into the Riverwalk and took a boat tour. This was quite amusing.
Next stop was on the south side of town, at Stinson Airfield. I'd not actually been to this airfield before. It is the second oldest airfield in the USA and is beautifully kept, with loads of GA aircraft about and a monument to the Stinson family who started it all. They also have a small museum at one end which was the object of our visit. Here is one of their two Curtiss Pusher aircraft, from the same era as the Wright Flyer and Bleriot:
We left there and managed to escape San Antonio before most of the rush hour traffic kicked in and got back in good time. Once Alan came home, we drove up to the Salt Lick and made sure Dad had some proper Texas barbeque while he was here.
Breakfast was taken in the Root Cellar Cafe in San Marcos on Friday. I'd spotted this place on the interweb and seen plenty of good reviews. We were not disappointed, the breakfast was really nice. This set us up for visiting San Marcos airport. This is a very nice airfield at which one may still walk on the live side amongst parked jets and turboprops without causing anyone to bat an eyelid, much to Dad's amazement and my delight. After examining the GA side, we drove round to the CAF hangar to look at the WW2 aircraft they keep inside; most of which are airworthy and appear at various shows in the region. This T-33 lives outside:
We continued south and visited the outlet mall, before going on to Gruene, a pretty town on the edge of New Braunfels.
After this, we headed back and boucned off the house to freshen up, before heading into Austin to meet Alan at the Ginger Man pub for a beer. It was very pleasant - and Dad was suitably impressed by the 150 or so beers on tap! - but it was heaving, so we walked over to Little Woodrow's where we were able to get a seat. Then it was only a short step to Hut's Hamburgers for dinner, where they serve onion rings so giant, they deserve to exist around planets.
That night, we got a huge thunderstorm in a cloud, although it didn't seem to quite reach us here. It looked good though:
Saturday was mostly spent shopping in preparation for the events of the weekend, although we did go up to Fry's Electronics via breakfast in Taco Deli North. We had been invited to a wedding on Saturday night; Phil and Renee from the balloon club got married. They held the ceremony on the front lawn at their house which was unusual but very pleasant. And then of course there was partying to be done!
We took Sunday morning slow, although we hadn't drunk a lot, but for some reason were very full. Eating catches up with you. Too bad we had to make a monster curry to feed the gang who were coming round later on! Tamzin, Diana and their families all descended on us about 3pm. Of course I had vastly underestimated the time it takes to make a curry for 12 people - I usually cook for two - so spent a lot of time having to finish that rather than be sociable, but hey ho. I made chicken tikka masala (we had marinaded the chicken the day before and Alan grilled it Sunday morning) and it turned out pretty good, everyone seemed to enjoy it.
(This photo © 2009 Steve Mitchell)
Monday was our last free day and we spent it fairly quietly; did some shopping for sports gear in Academy, looked at camping gear in REI. Alan had come home not feeling well so we came back to make sure he was OK. We did go out for tea but only locally, to the Galaxy Cafe for a light dinner. Alan went home again while Dad and I went into town, to Zilker Park, where the balloon club were doing a demo for anyone who cared to watch. Unfortunately not many general public folks turned out, and the winds were too high to properly inflate the balloons, so they were packed up again. The club tailgated but Dad and I went home to be with Alan.
Tuesday was very cool. Alan was feeling better so went off to work as normal. Dad and I met Diana and Tamzin in the Kyle HEB parking lot, before I tailed Diana down to Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio. Her brother, Col. Mike Kelley, flies F-16s for the Texas Air National Guard, and trains new F-16 pilots for the Air Force. He had invited Diana and the rest of us to the base for a visit. They got us on base and we had to wait a while during his briefing, and then we went for lunch in their BX. After this, we were bussed out to the flightline from where we could watch the F-16s taking off. There was also a huge C-5 Galaxy doing circuits. Mike flew for an hour but unfortunately we missed his landing as we were stuck in a traffic jam on base, trying to get to the other side of the airfield where the jets were parked. We had to return and have our guide grab a radio so she could drive us directly across the active runway. We arrived just in time for Mike to be walking away from his plane; he had just enough time to give us a close up look at the jets and a few quick photos before we all got on the bus with some other crew to be taken back to the squadron HQ. Thank you Col. Kelley, Diana and the 149th FW for our day out, it was fabulous!
Of course the pictures are on my main site, but here's Mike taking off:
The day was rounded off with a visit to Trattoria Lisina, a very nice Italian resturant alongside Mandola's Winery, out in Driftwood. We did the wine tasting and enjoyed a very splendid meal there.
We left on Wednesday morning at 6AM sharp, in order to drive to Houston and get to the Johnson Space Center by 10AM. This we did with no mishaps, stopping at a Whataburger for breakfast along the way (not great but it's fuel). Visits to NASA are always good. Dad enjoyed the tour greatly, in which you get to see the old control room:
Followed by the ISS training/mockup room which is huge, and finally a stop at the rocket park:
Back on site, you can wander around the spacecraft exhibits which for some reason are almost hidden behind the raucous children's area. Once inside, however, there are Mercury, Gemini and Apollo capsules to look at, spacesuits, equipment and moon rocks to examine. They have the old training simulator for Skylab which you can walk through; this is really quite big:
Following this, we drove over to the hotel. I'd chosen the same place as we stayed at when Diane was here, for the same good reason: you can walk to the Ginger Man Houston from it! This we did. Hot and humid as it was, we needed our beers by the time we got there, so plenty of Real Ale's finest Rio Blanco Pale Ale was consumed, before we left in search of food. The next block contained a very fine Vietnamese resturant in which we enjoyed a lovely meal and a TsingTao, before walking back to the hotel and one last beer (Chimay Red) before bed.
Next morning, we had breakfast at Einstein's Bagels, before I drove Dad to Houston International Airport for his flight home. It has been a wonderful two weeks.
Saturday, June 28, 2008
Thursday, November 22, 2007
of Flying and Brewing
At the top of this page, it says something about Alan and I wanting to find some interesting aeroplanes and beers. This post is to prove we're on the right track :-)
First up, some flying. It was Kingsbury Fly-in last weekend, at which we were looking forward to seeing some interesting vintage aircraft, both resident and visiting. Unfortunately the weather was decidedly iffy first thing and the clouds remained dull and overcast all day. However they did stay relatively high up which meant that flying could proceed, but visitor numbers were down nonetheless.
There's a nice chap with a Great Lakes who had promised me a flight in exchange for some pictures, so here's me in the front seat, about to enjoy half an hour of cruising over the Texas countryside with a couple of wingovers thrown in for good measure. We flew to Lockhart for some fuel and general adventure, then back to Kingsbury.
Once back on the ground, I was then bundled into a Cub with the intention of doing some air-to-air shots of a Rearwin Sportster. It was decided that I'd have much better camera range if I sat sideways, so here's me in a very unorthodox flying position!:
Yes, that is how we flew, with my legs dangling out. Cubs only go about 60 mph so it's just like driving my Jeep with the top down. (I do tend to stay inside the Jeep though) Click here to see the results.
So that was a fun day :-)
Right, I promised you brewing earlier so here we go. Alan has been making lots of tasty brews right here at home and yesterday saw the latest batch being created.
We start with a visit to Austin Homebrew Supply to buy a mini-mash kit. This consists of a big tub of malt extract, a bag of grain and some yeast and hops. The exact recipe will depend on the beer style that you're brewing but the actual brew is done in a big metal pot. You boil water with the grain in for an hour or so, then remove the grain and pour in the malt extract, then boil it for another hour or so, adding hops at various intervals as required.
Here's the brew pot assembly with the grain bag in place:
Note the attendant giant grasshopper just below the gas bottle. We had a group of these hanging around and watching us brew. They seem to like watching things happen; we went out later on and they'd all gone when we came back - obviously bored and gone to find something else to look at ;-) Here's a closer view:
The quarter next to it for scale is slightly bigger than a UK 10p, for our British readers.
Anyway, back to brewing. Once the boiling is done, you cool the wort (in the sink, with ice in water that you dunk the whole pot into) until it is down to 80F. Then you pour the whole lot into the brewing vessel. We use a 5-gallon plastic bucket. You attempt to measure the original gravity with a hygrometer. The one we brewed yesterday was a strong'un though and had way too many bubbles so too bad! Now we throw in the yeast (two phials this time, it's a doozer, this one - usually one phial is sufficient) and put the lid onto the bucket. The lid has an airlock to allow CO2 gas to escape. Stick it in the cupboard and wait for a day. By then you should see lots of bubbles rising through the airlock and then your beer is on the way!
After a week, the beer is siphoned into a secondary brewing vessel. In our case this is a plastic carboy bottle. It then sits for another couple of weeks.
Then it's time for kegging the beer! We use a keg rather than bottling it; much less hassle. In true Blue Peter tradition, here's one we prepared earlier (the blue topped cylinder; the smaller one is a CO2 cylinder):
This is one we just started drinking, that Alan made three weeks back. It's an IPA and is the best one Alan's done yet. Very nice it is! We decided to carbonate it naturally this time with extra sugar (the other way is to force-carbonate with the CO2) and it's worked very well.
And look, there's a few other bottles of tasty malt beverage in there too. How did they get in there, I wonder?
Sunday, July 01, 2007
Vegas and beer
In the last instalment of this meandering diatribe, we were just about to leave for Las Vegas. And so we did fly there, alongside a huge thunderstorm which was magnificent from the aircraft windows. Too bad it wasn't on our side of the aeroplane or I'd have tried to get some pictures. Bright white lightning on top, bright orange underneath the cloudbase.
We arrived in Vegas quite late and on arrival at our hotel, the Planet Hollywood, we found the hotel bar sorely lacking in proper beer. One of the staff told us of a small bar in the adjoining mall which we found - turned out to be a microbrewery, which was cool.
Next morning, we met Tracy and Paul at the crack of sparrowfart, in time to be picked up by a tour bus which whisked us to the Las Vegas North airport. We were bundled onto a Dornier 228 which seats about 16 people, and flew off towards the Hoover Dam (pretty impressive) and over the Grand Canyon. The scenery here is really very magnificent and better wordsmiths than I have done it due justice over the years. It's damn cool. It's funny, the last time we visited Vegas we flew over the canyon at 30,000 feet and it would have fitted in a single wide-angle shot, it didn't seem as big as people said it was. Flying over it at 2,000 feet made the whole place a LOT bigger - it goes on forever!
We landed at Bar 10 Ranch which is a working cattle ranch right next to the main canyon valley. They are a brief oasis in the Arizona desert - fed by a spring, they have grass and trees. Sticks out a mile.
The majority of our tour group had booked ATV-quad-bike things to ride, however we were in a minibus/van which was a lot less dusty and had air conditioning (woo!). We drove off and eight very slow, dusty, cactusy and rocky miles later, arrived at the viewpoint overlooking the valley.
Click to see a 360° panorama of the Grand Canyon north rim valley
Here's some aircraft-based pictures that show the Dornier aircraft we flew in. The helicopter is used by the ranch to ferry canoeists up from the river to stay in their lodge.
Unfortunately one of the other tourists managed to crash his quad bike on the way to the viewpoint. He was quite badly shaken up, maybe with some concussion, so he rode in the van. A Hummer was dispatched to collect him and one of his friends, which meant there was a spare quad bike that needed riding back. Paul chose to do so, which he seemed to enjoy.
Here's a few more Las Vegas pictures taken during our trip, of the old part of town in the day and the Bellagio Fountains at night. Always worth a look; we like those fountains.
On our return from Vegas, Alan's homebrew beer was about ready for drinking. Woo! He has started homebrewing again, now we have the space to do it. We got a kit for the first one to see if it worked OK with the heat. Seemed to be just fine :-)
Meanwhile, Alan decided to get a mini-mash kit for his second brew. This involves a bag of grain, and a big pot of wort to boil. Ah, how to boil it? Put it on the kitchen cooker. That got it warm, but took forever. Not enough horsepower. I was dispatched to Cabela's to buy a propane burner. Got it home, assembled it, set it up, moved the pot onto it. More horsepower but still slooooow. Eventually got it boiling but only very just. We need a turkey burner. Next time... We got the beer ready but it took six hours! It's currently brewed and has just been transferred into the pressure barrel, so we just need to wait a while now for it to clear.
Beer is being consumed elsewhere too. We stayed in the apartment last Saturday so we could go to the Drafthouse and the Parlor. We also stayed there last night, as one of Alan's buddies from the California office was in town this week with his wife and kids, so we went out with them for some beer at the new Brew & Que place on Barton Springs Road, which was cool.
Latest updates on Things In Our Garden:
Frogs! They seem to burrow down into the mulch in the flower beds in one part of the front garden, where it says damp under the trees.
Lizards! We finally saw one in our garden, a Six Lined Racerunner. Very handsome and cute. It leapt out of the way of the lawnmower today, and scurried off under the driveway. Here's one on the net, this is not my picture, it's from this page.
Talking of lawnmowers, we finally succumbed and bought a gas-powered one. The weather recently has been so wet that we haven't been able to cut the grass, and of course it got to being six feet high and way too much for the push reel mower. So Alan went shopping and we spent three hours cutting the lawn today. Gaah! Still, the new mower is easy to use and hopefully next time it will be a quick zap rather than wading through the jungles of Borneo as it was today.
We've also been bitten to death; all the rain has brought the mosquitos and the little bitey bastards are feasting. Both of us have shins that constantly itch with bites. The gits.
Finally, I went down to Kingsbury aerodrome yesterday to talk with them about photography. I think I'll be making a few more visits over the next few months :-)
Friday, April 20, 2007
Of Houses and Beer
House buying, part 3:
Wait and wait and wait for things to happen. Builder finally says he's about finished. Get the inspector out to examine the house. Inspector finds fault with item. Examine item information from any and all available sources, while builder fixes item. Decide it's probably fine. Second inspector gets brought in by the sellers to inspect, says first item is fine, finds a second item. Builder fixes everything.
Go on walkthrough around the house with builder and realtors. Place blue tape on every little blemish (actually that was more the realtors than us; they're picky!) for builder to finish off. Admire house.
Get closing date and HUD form from title company. Jump back in shock at how many things have appeared on the form that need paying for (courier fees, preparation fees, lawyer fees, property taxes, flood insurance, title insurance, escrow fees, guaranty fees, recording fees, survey fees and HOA fees, amongst others!) On said date, go to closing. The title company have a large stack of papers, which all need signing. A nice man from the bank and the realtor are also present so it all turns into a jolly session which involves us spending a lot of money.
But in return for the money, they give us a set of keys!
We are homeowners again :-)
As it happened, we'd already got tickets for last night's entertainment before our closing date was fixed, so we went to the Alamo Drafthouse with some guys from Alan's work. The Alamo Drafthouse is a wonderful place; a cinema in which every second row of seats is replaced by a long bench/table, to which servers bring food and drink while you watch the movie. There's four or five of these establishments around town now, each with its own excellent chef and selection of microbrewed beers.
Last night's movie was 'American Beer', which tells the story of five friends visiting 38 microbreweries across the US in 40 days. This was to co-incide with the American Craft Brewers Association's annual conference which happens to be in town this week, so in the audience of the movie we had not only the film's director, Paul Kermizian, but a dozen or so of the finest brewers in the USA!
Offerings from these included: Real Ale Full Moon Pale Rye (one of our regulars), New Belgium Mothership, Dogfish Head 90 Min IPA (Randalled and therefore ultra-hop-tastic *) and Red & White (fermented with grapes, very wine-y), Independence Bootlegger (brown ale but not heavy), Live Oak Pilz (another of our regulars) Avery Maharaja (a doozer!), St Arnolds Elissa IPA, Rogue Brew 10,000 (brewed only once, an honour to try this), Victory Golden Monkey, Allagash Curieux and Sam Adams Utopias (whoah!). Independence, Live Oak and Real Ale Brewing are all local to the Austin area.
This was all very fine beer, some of which had been brewed purely for this week's conference (Prickly Pear beer, anyone? Made at Real Ale as a collaboration between all the brewers and very delicious it was too) and the menu was suitably beer-themed:
# Smoked Ribs w/ Dubbel BBQ Sauce
# Roasted Pepper Chimay Cheese Rolls
# Aventinus Mousse Pate w/ Beer Bread Toast Points
# Goat Cheese Puffs w/ Raspberry Doppelbock Sauce
# Gueuze-Cured Tilapia Salad w/ Witbieraigrette
# Cascade Duck Breast a la Orange w/ Wild Mushroom Barley Risotto
# Malt Creme Caramel
Taken from the Alamo show page which goes into more detail.
They finished the evening with very small samples of the Sam Adams' Utopias, which they have only brewed three times. This batch was the 2003 vintage. They leave it in whisky barrels where it picks up the colour and flavour of whisky, in fact to taste this stuff you'd think it almost was whisky, and by the way it's 25.6% and around $120 per bottle!
It was indeed a damn fine evening :-)
* Randalling is the process of pouring beer through fresh hops at the time of serving it, so the alcohol in the beer strips the oil from the hops and massively intensifies the hoppy flavour and particularly the aroma. The container sits inline with the beer tap and is known as Randall the Enamel Animal :-) This is a Dogfish invention...
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Well now, a couple of weeks ago we were invited by one of Alan's colleagues, Mark, to see how he and his Dad did their homebrew beer. His parents live out by Lake Travis so we drove out there to see what was going on, and found them to be lovely people and generous hosts.
They can also brew a fine ale! We sampled a previous brew, an orange-peel beer which was delightful. And here's the homebrew kit - a bit further on from our plastic barrel:
Explanations (and better pictures) can be found at Mark's website.
I promised you Christmas lights, didn't I? We went down to 37th Street last week, where the whole street is known for putting on lots of lights. The kind of street that gets lots of visitors walking and driving by just to look at them. Here's a few pictures, not brilliant but you get the idea. I'm still hoping to get to Zilker Park for the lights down there.
Last Saturday night we held a small party. We spent the entirety of Saturday daytime preparing for it, then some friends who shall remain nameless (to protect their dignity) showed up. Slightly less people than we had anticipated, and the fridge was stocked altogether too healthily with Beer. So we drank it.
It was a very good evening!
Sunday was mostly spent recovering... ;-)
Last night I had a go at High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography for the first time. There's been some buzz about it on the forums I frequent so I thought I'd check it out. The basic idea is that you take several photos (3-5 or so) of the same scene at different exposures, then use some magic software to combine them, so you retain all the shadows and highlights and have detail in all of them, so nothing is all shadowed or all blown out.
Here's one I tried yesterday of the apartment. Notice how you can see outside the windows, where normally the windows would be bright white if I'd just exposed for the darker interior.
I'm hoping to get to the opening of a photo exhibition tomorrow night downtown, a chap called Trey Ratcliff has been doing this HDR stuff for a while and has some amazing stuff. Check it out here.
(Update) Here, I just tried another one, a scene from Las Vegas.
Now, I guess it's up to the subject matter of the picture as to whether this works or not for what you're trying to do. Some might argue in this case the silhouette is a more powerful frame. Either way, this is a great tool. I think I'm going to have some fun with this.
Monday, August 28, 2006
Just a quick update this time. We had our party at the Rugby Club on Saturday evening. It was actually really good; loads of friends turned up and it was great to see them again. Jill and Bobby couldn't make it but sent a fabulous cake for Alan's birthday, decorated with cars, aeroplanes and a signpost to Texas. It was an 80's night and those of us not living out of suitcases dressed accordingly, with some very mad costumes.
Early Sunday morning, Terry arrived and whisked me off to my last aviation event in the UK (for now, anyway). Alan stayed behind for a lazy day with Paul and Sarah. We headed north to Nottingham Tollerton airfield, where friends Steve and Andrew were at the fly-in there. About 120 aircraft showed up during the day. It was just very pleasant indeed to sit in the sun with friends surrounded by aircraft :-)
It's a bank holiday Monday today. We have timed this journey right as it's Labor Day in the States next week so we get two holidays in a row. We need to figure out what's going to fit in our cases and make a parcel to send ourselves tomorrow as we won't have room for everything. Tonight we are having a last gathering in the Masons' which will be very pleasant.
We're being picked up at 14:00 tomorrow by a car which will take us to Gatwick Holiday Inn. We'll stay there for one night so we can check in at sparrowfart a.m. the next morning before our flight. The next post should hopefully be written in Texas :-)