Saturday, December 26, 2009

Limoncello Redux

Well, I was unsatisfied with the quality of the ingredients for the batch I started a couple weeks ago. This is meant to be a birthday present for my Dad so it needs to be the best.

My friend Nicole sent me a facebook message the other day that a local grocery had gotten in some organic meyer lemons. I was there within an hour picking through the pile (and leaving no decent ones for Nicole!). I stopped by their liquor counter to see if they had the better 100 proof vodka and - lo and behold - 190 proof Everclear! Seems my info about not being able to get that in New Mexico was just plain wrong.

Yesterday, while waiting for my holiday carne adovada to cook, I started zesting the lemons. I didn't have another wide mouth jar big enough but it turned out to be fairly easy to poke the big pieces of zest through the mouth of a gallon jug.

Here's the thing, though. Meyer lemons, while quite nice, just don't smell as good to me as the regular lemons. I think I recall reading that they are a cross between a lemon and an orange. Sounds like a good thing but in practice, maybe not. I didn't like the juice as well either. I will say they were a lot easier to zest with the vegetable peeler. The skin isn't nearly as tough and the shape was also easier to handle.

Everclear is looking like it might just live up to it's rep for limoncello. After 24 hours, the color of the Everclear is as yellow as the vodka is after 2 weeks. Of course, it's twice as much volume of vodka so it may be illusion but I don't think so.

So the new plan is to eventually blend the two batches. Doing that, I can use the Everclear batch to boost the alcohol content of the vodka batch. I will keep them separate all the way through sweetening for comparison purposes. With a big disparity in alcohol content, I don't think a side-by-side taste test will work but a side-by-side aroma test ought to tell me something. Then, if I decide not to blend, I can just dilute the Everclear batch down to a more palatable level. I think I should shoot for an ABV of about 45%. That shouldn't go slushy in the freezer.

Boy, you'd think the only thing on my mind was alcoholic beverages. I'm sure my mind will turn to other things after I have a nip of this Bailey's a professor gave me.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Primitive Blackberry Melomel

The melomel may be in trouble and the Winepress forum is down. I could have a dozen good answers in an hour otherwise but I am just going to have to flail about on my own. I'm probably worrying too much but I thought I would document the process of worry, test, tinker, worry some more, tinker some more, etc. That's what makes wine making so dang fun!

I just got the first jug of Joe's Ancient Orange and Spice Mead bottled and it's really very good despite being quite sweet. Not enough spice, though. I decided to start two more jugs and up the spices, play with slightly reducing the honey.

After getting the first jug going, I recalled the pounds of Oregon blackberries in the freezer. Well, I know others have tinkered with Joe's recipe so I figured I'd try a blackberry melomel (mead with fruit) instead of the orange and spice. The forum was down then, too, but I figured I had a handle on things.

I thawed a pound of berries, put them in a nylon straining bag and mashed them up well in my small fermentor. I dissolved the honey in some warm water and poured it over the berries, adding a bit more than 3 pounds to get the specific gravity up to 1.114. That's a potential alcohol content of 16% but I'm using bread yeast and expecting it to finish lower than that and still sweet. That what makes it early-drinking. I left out Joe's raisins because I think they are meant as food for the yeast and the blackberries should fill that role. For some now unknown reason, I decide to wedge one quarter of a lemon and toss that in with the juice and zest of another quarter lemon. Well, lemon tastes nice. I think that's why. I don't think it'll need the acid because blackberries are acidic enough.

So I have this all in the fermentor. I whisk it up good to aerate, toss in a teaspoon of Fleishman's Rapid Rise and put the lid and airlock on. I left the bucket (that's the fermentor) in the kitchen next to the gas stove.

Next morning, the kitchen is maybe 60 degrees and of course, there's no activity. Too cold. I moved the bucket to the living room next to the electric heater where I can now get it up to 72 or even 75 degrees F. Pretty soon, we have bubbles through the airlock. Yay!

Next day - nothing. Well, that's not right! The jug of orange and spice right next to it is sputtering and gurgling constantly. I check the pH.: 3.67 - fine. I aerate some more and pitch in another teaspoon of yeast in the morning. 11 hours later - nothing.

Ok. Thinking. So maybe there isn't enough food for the yeast in the blackberries after all. I have yeast nutrient and yeast energizer. The little bottle of energizer specifically mentions stuck fermentations so I go for that one. Whisk it on in. This morning - nothing.

Hmm. Maybe I shouldn't have put in that lemon. Maybe it doesn't like being in the bucket. Maybe my pH meter needed calibrating and it's really below 3.00. Maybe it's just being a slow starter. Maybe any number of things, really.

I checked the SG this morning and it was at 1.099 but that doesn't tell me anything as it was fermenting for a little while. I'll check it again tonight. PH, too. If we still have nothing, I'll consider hydrating some Lalvin D47 and pitch it in. Most likely, that'll take it to full dry and I'll be looking at more than a year of aging time instead of three or four months but that's better than losing the batch. Rather not do it though. That takes it out of the realm of primitive.

It's such a pretty color and smells nice, too. One way or another, it's going to happen.

Update 6:30pm: The SG has dropped to 1.092. Though I thought the addition of fruit would cause vigorous foaming, this doesn't seem to be the case for me. It's fermenting just fine. I'm going to leave the fruit in there for a few days, then move everything else to a jug. The photo may not look pretty to some, but it's sure pretty to me!

Update 12/19: I just transferred everything but the fruit to a 4 liter jug and it's fizzing away with heavy bubble traffic through the airlock. My tentative conclusion is that the large headspace in the primary bucket combined with the quieter activity of bread yeast just made it hard to tell it was fermenting without the aid of my trusty hydrometer.

The berries had broken down to a mushy pulp. There's a lot of berry suspended in the mead so I imagine it'll take a while to fall clear. Or not. The experiment continues...

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Making Limoncello

The one and only time I had Limoncello (an Italian lemon liqueur) was a year and a half ago at a friend's house. About 3 months ago, though, my Dad starts raving about some he had. I'd seen several posts about it on the Winepress forum but it's not wine, so I wasn't overly interested.

But, if Dad wants Limoncello, I am by God going to make him some! Dad's 80-something now and complains he no longer can have anything but he admits to an occasional careful nip of this or that. I wish I'd started it right then; it'd almost be ready now but at least it'll be ready when the warmer weather comes.

2 evenings ago I find myself at the liquor store looking for 100 proof vodka. Almost all the vodka was 80 proof including (and especially!) the cheap huge bottles. I left with 1.75 liters of what I believe to the same stuff I often find empty in the alley behind my house. Might be prudent to use better quality vodka next time!

What is recommended is Everclear - pure grain alcohol (ethanol) at 151 or 190 proof. I know you can't buy the 190 proof here without a license. The school has one because they use ethanol in the labs but I'm pretty sure they'd frown on me ordering a couple liters for personal use. Too bad. If I ever see any anywhere, I'm getting it.

The reason for the high proof is that it is best kept in and served straight from the freezer. The lemon peel that is steeped in alcohol will get sweetened by using a sugar syrup which dilutes it. If the alcohol goes too low, the limoncello will freeze. Not as nice. Rock bottom final alcohol content is 30 percent and I'm only starting at 40 so I'll need to dissolve the sugar in as little water as possible. 50 percent would really be better. They (them that knows) say the color and flavor extraction is better with ethanol, too.

I think the nectar I made for the hummingbird feeder was 4 parts sugar, 1 part water. That's what I intend to try.

Yesterday I got 4 pounds of nice looking lemons. More than I needed but the loose lemons didn't look as nice so I ended up with two 2 pound bags. Lemon juice in and on everything for a while! I used a brand-new sharp vegetable peeler to remove the zest of 14 lemons without cutting into the pith. It took almost 2 hours plus I had to finish up the last 2 this morning. I have a blister but I also have nice big pieces of zest, not fine little grindings. Zest and vodka are in a sun tea jar and will be there for about 40 days before I strain it and sweeten it. Then another 40 days until I can bottle. That gives me plenty of time to locate a nice stoppered bottle for Dad.

Umm. I'm keeping some of it.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The more things change...

...well, the more they change! I can't think of a time when things ever stayed the same for long and that's just fine. That's interesting. Sure, also "challenging" but so what?

So the little ole Mountain Mail newspaper went down, then rose back up again. Still locally owned and operated - a rare and beautiful thing. The new owners have brought back color pages - I've missed that! New editor, new salesperson - both trying to learn the town but getting better all the time.

And the two out of state subscriptions I bought are being honored. Yay! And my husband has a job he loves. Double yay!

I just decided for sure that I am not going back to real estate and told my Broker yesterday to send my license back to the Commission. I suspect she was not too surprised. There's just no arguing with the relief I felt when I drove by a newly listed house in the area and knew I did NOT have to deal with it. Now I'm just into giving out free advice which is always worth exactly what you pay for it. (Bear that in mind.)

Although I am not done, the NMT Biology department website is shaping up nicely and I'm pretty proud of it. Do go see it here! (that's one end of my building in the photo.)

I've been very lucky in the places I've been in that, even if I wasn't thrilled about the actual job, I have have really liked and respected the people I worked with. Of course, I did seem to have a flair for working at places that were about to go bankrupt, sell out, get hostilely taken over or relocate out of state. I'm pretty sure none of those thing will happen to New Mexico Tech. Pretty sure. But I absolutely love it here and the only guarantee is that things will change.

So that's enough for the review. This week we go to Albuquerque where I finally get to visit the closest thing I have to a Local Home Brew Shop (LHBS) - Victor's Grape Arbor. Got my little list ready and we may come home with additional equipment and supplies to make our first batch of stout. I am crazy-excited!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Sad End of Another Independent Newspaper

The last regular issue of the Mountain Mail newspaper was uploaded to the printer tonight and will be distributed tomorrow.

I always thought I would talk more about the paper in this blog but I never could do it. Too distressing. My husband has been the main reporter - sometimes the only reporter - for five years. It was a huge part of our lives even before I started helping out up front twice a week back in November of last year. Accounts Receivable. Scary.

In fact, I just now realize I still can't say much except that it's tragic that newspapers can't make it in these times. A whole lot of people relied on it for local news, legal ads (who's going to take care of Catron County now? The Journal? Not hardly!), classifieds, free obituaries and birth announcements, a different perspective from the Chieftain, a way different perspective from T.V. "news".

Dammit, it was important! It made a difference. My husband made a difference. Even I, in my small way, made a difference. Most people had no idea just how small a staff produced that paper every week. Couldn't be just a couple full-timers, a couple part-timers and a few, mostly unpaid columnists and contributors. That's because it was good.

It's going to be missed. The void will soon be filled but we all see the trend toward the shallow, impersonal and bureaucratic. The good old days ended today. Time to start being nostalgic.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Save the Wine!

The bucket of incipient home-brew blueberry wine, that is.

I'd heard blueberry was tricky primarily because of the acid content. There were better recommended yeasts and more elaborate recipes to compensate but I blew all that off. I blew off all testing and correcting too - not out of confidence but to save a few bucks. I figured I'd follow the basic recipe and if it didn't work, no big deal to pitch it out and start over.

Wrong! This is only my third batch and it turned out to be emotionally a huge deal to give up when it stopped fermenting. This meant frantic internet research and the urgent order to the home-brew supplier for a Ph meter and potassium carbonate. Unfortunately, the supplier only ships FedEx ground and our delivery person never delivers the same day things are put on her truck. (I don't know why.)

I wasn't wrong to be optimistic with the basic recipe but I was wrong to not prepare for problems. See, the thing about living in Magdalena is that everything is FAR. You can get to Albuquerque in an hour and 45 minutes but when you factor getting around in Albuquerque, the day is gone. No popping to the wine store for a fresh packet of yeast. If I don't get it before I start, I don't have it.

It's not just wine-making supplies, of course. You can get the basics of life in Magdalena - food, if you're not too picky, gas, basic hardware. You have a few more choices in nearby Socorro (but clothing is limited to a couple specialty stores and Wal-Mart). If you want anything the least bit "exotic", your choices are mail order or spend a day in Albuquerque.

I'm just saying. I'm not complaining because I love it here and I can't see living anywhere else. I'm not especially material but I always seem to desire odd things and on-line shopping and home delivery (even a day late) make it possible to live way out here and still have my "stuff". I'm just kicking myself for forgetting the reality of life here and worried about my bucket of wine.

Since I took the lid off the primary fermentor yesterday, it has started very slowly fizzing. Occasionally it makes more encouraging sounds like "glorp" and "splocket". Maybe it'll recover or at least survive till my order gets here but I won't be caught like this again. Better get working on the next order.

Update 8/14/09 Never say never. The Fedex order of the pH meter arrived on time. The pH turned out to be within the acceptable range. Good - but now what? So I tested the specific gravity which was really low. That means a whole lotta sugar has converted to alcohol. I would say all those glorps mattered and the wine has recovered. Yay!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

New Dragonflies!

The dragonfly nymphs in the lotus pond have started to emerge. I'd read that some stay nymphs for years so I didn't know when to expect this but yesterday, on my morning tour of the gardens, this is what I found:

Brand-spankin new, still transparent and gorgeous! Well, in a scary sort of way. Of course, my attention drew the attention of the cats. I turned to check on some plants and when I turned back - dragonfly was gone and Stella, the orange cat was playing with something in the grass. Fortunately, I was able to rescue her (I think it's female) in time and relocate her to a safe spot. She was still changing colors, becoming tan with green bands, when I left for work and gone when I came home.

And another this morning! Look at those shining wings! They look healthy - probably all those spadefoot tadpoles they ate.

Stella is not allowed to play with this one.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Oh, hail!

The summer monsoons are here! Normally, that generates a "YAY!" but there is sure a notable exception. Hail.

It was bad enough last year when I just had my 8 foot stocktank water garden to worry about. Hail and lily pads do not mix! I recall shrieking for John to come help me fling a tarp over the tank. It was painful but we got the tank mostly covered and the damage wasn't too bad.

Earlier this spring, the very day after planting my new tomato plants, hail struck when I wasn't home shredding the poor tomatoes and puncturing all the lily pads. They've all pretty much recovered now.

Yesterday, I'm at the computer listening to the thunder get closer and wondering if I should shut down when I begin to hear hailstones plink off the attached greenhouse. A very distinct sound. I don't even wait for John. I'm shrieking "Hail!" as I run out the door to grab my tarps. One was flung over the stocktank. The second one - well, I found myself wandering around the garden in the driving hail with this blue, plastic tarp over my head. I'm panicked out of useful action because I can't decide where to put this thing. It was like choosing which child I was going to keep!

Should it be the lotus pond that also has the dwarf waterlily doing better than ever? What about my pretty little rock garden? And - oh no! The vineyard! 17 expensive vines just starting to climb onto the new trellis!

Finally, I realize the only thing this 12 foot square tarp has a chance of covering is the little rectangular bed of tomato plants. I drag the tarp over the horse-fence cages as fast as I can and dart back into the house to watch and wring my hands. (And take a picture.)
Almost immediately, the hail begins to slow and it's just a hard rain which also soon slows. The sun comes out, then another storm (no hail, this time), then one of the most gorgeous sunsets I've seen in a while. Oh, those monsoon sunsets can really make you forget the hail!
The vineyard and the lotus and the fame-flowers in the rock garden all survived pretty well. This time. Supposed to be storms again today. I'm going to need more tarps.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Bucket of Tadpoles

There are some things that, if you allow yourself to outgrow them - well, it's damn shame. Raising tadpoles is one of them.

So I have this sherbet tub on the back porch with 20 or 30 tadpoles in it.

My neighbor stopped me in the street to congratulate me for attracting frogs to my pond. I had no idea because they didn't start singing till about 10 pm and I couldn't hear them from the living room. I checked the lotus pond after work and there were thousands of eggs covering the leaf stalks. The next day they were starting to hatch. Two days later - not a tadpole to be found.

What I did find was A) baby minnows. What the...? I was keeping fish out of that pond! B) Lots of dragonfly nymphs. As I watched, I saw the nymphs lunging for the baby minnows. They missed then but dragonflies are serious predators. I don't think the tadpoles had a chance.

A couple days later the frogs laid eggs again. The next day the already wiggling eggs were being grazed on by my too many pond snails. Poor froggies! They weren't not going to be able to reproduce. I ran for the sherbet tub and good thing. No tadpoles in the pond again but I have them on the porch!

These are the Couch's Spadefoot frogs, I'm pretty sure. They bury themselves in the ground most of the year and come out to frantically breed only when the summer monsoons come. When it rained all night and into the morning, we were able to spot 3 adults in the pond still singing away with their pale throats bulging. Too cute!

The babies are clearly algae eaters and I've never been so glad for the wide assortment of algae in the ponds. I can't wait till they get legs but I'll be sad when they leave home. Nothing like a bucket of tadpoles!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

My new website

I'd built what I think is a really nice real estate informational site, I wanted to put on all the gizmos that I wanted on the main Old Westland Realty website but I had no control over it. Well, I guess it's mostly about control. I like it!

Still, it was limited because it was a free site through the local ISP and through the business account. If something happened to either of those things, I could lose all my hard work. Oh no! So I bit the bullet and bought my own domain - can you believe was available?

I just uploaded my website straight over but here's the plan:
My lovely and potentially profitable Real Estate site remains and gets better but I add a separate section for my artwork and perhaps another for the gardens and the adventures in winemaking. All of them linked but kind of separate. There's something about sub-domains I get to learn. Hoo-boy! I love to learn new stuff! Keeps you young, ya know.

Well, I'm excited. I haven't got a picture for this post so let's do some font colors!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Scammers targeting Rio Grande Estates?

I've gotten two calls in less than a month from out of state owners of lots at Rio Grande Estates. Granted, two isn't exactly a trend but I expect more.

First off, Rio Grande Estates (which I'll now call "RGE") is a development partly in Socorro County, partly in Valencia County that was platted and sold about 50 years ago. Hundreds of relatively tiny lots in the desert. Apparently, the developers sold their "New Mexico Ranches" mostly out of state, mostly sight unseen with promises of major infrastructure improvements and massive area growth that would make this the place to be. Didn't quite happen. I understand it still looks very much like it did 50 years ago. I've never been out there myself and don't plan to.

Back to my callers. Caller number one bought her acre or two with her husband when they got married 48 or 49 years ago. It was their first investment together. Last year, they had been contacted by a man who said he had a buyer for their lots. This buyer was going to give them many, many thousands for their little parcel. Man says buyer is out of the country and he just needs $300 or so to make the deal happen (Advertising? Mailing fees? My caller was unclear as to what this money was for.) They sent the money and sadly, the deal "fell through". The $300 is lost.

The man must have been a smooth talker because, months later he calls again. He has another buyer. Just needs that fee again. Ever-hopeful husband sends the check. Wife begins to worry and decides to see what she can find out. That's how I ended up talking to her. I don't know if she was able to stop-pay that check but if she didn't, that money is gone, too.

Caller number two hadn't gotten that far with the "deal" but he had been approached by a man who said he wanted to buy his couple acres for a similar price.

I can't say what these lots are worth because I am not a licensed appraiser. I'm also not comfortable saying what these people told me they were offered. I will say that anyone who owns lots at RGE or knows someone who does ought to read Fred Bernstein's article that was published in the New York Times in 2005. You can read it on Mr. Bernstein's website here . I believe someone is targeting owners of these lots who are out of state and have had them for decades and getting a few hundred bucks from each one they can hook. I don't believe there any buyers out there willing to pay what these people were "offered" when you can pick up lots at the county auction for minuscule back taxes.

I doubt if the owners will read this, mostly being of pre-internet age, but I do hope their concerned relatives will.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Party in the Hood

It's not uncommon for people to ask plaintively - "But what is there to DO in Magdalena?"

Well, if you're looking for the nightclub scene or pro-sports, you'd be better off elsewhere. We make our own fun here.

Last weekend Magdalena Steel (formerly Magdalena Steel Chicks but they have some roosters now) held a fundraiser party at the home of one of the organizers to send a promising young musician to a music school out of state. I don't have the details off the top of my head but here's how it all went down from my perspective.

Linda Mansell lives across the street from me. A few years ago, when the late and noted steel pan musician Bill Smiley moved to town, Linda learned to play the steel drum and organized a group of local girls and women to also learn and perform. Huge hit! Bill is gone now but he lives on in Magdalena Steel. Linda continues to work with young musicians (not just drums, there's singing, song-writing and guitar picking, too). Lots of other people are involved, too. I don't want to minimize them but Linda is the driving force and the P-A-R-T-Y was her doing.

Linda hosted a huge BBQ (she did all the cooking - fantastic!), talked another band , Liquid Cheese into playing later (for free or cheap, I'm sure) and set up a donation jar near the beer.

The front-runner for receiving the scholarship money is Lexy Pettis. She's a graduating senior here in Magdalena. She sang her own song "Missing You". Beautiful folky thing that made me mist up. Played the guitar better than I ever will, too and she's only a first year player. That's Lexy in the photo.

Anyway, I don't know what the take ended up being but the jar was looking pretty good when I walked back across the street early on. The party went on till the wee hours. Yeah, it was a tad noisy but all for a good cause. If I hadn't been so wiped out from the preceding week, I'd have gone back and danced...although the amount of Linda's Jungle Juice it would take to get my uncoordinated self to dance in public is perilously close to the amount it would take to get me passed out in a flower bed. Maybe it's better I didn't.

Actually quite a lot of stuff goes on in Magdalena but it's mostly us doing it. Once you get to know people - and that doesn't usually take long - you can easily end up trying to juggle multiple things on any given summer weekend. If you just want to veg out on the weekend, try Albuquerque.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Can You Have a Lawn in the Desert?

Well...depends. Do you want a golf course-like sea of fertilizer-enhanced emerald green that causes you to shriek at the neighbor kids for walking across your lawn? Then sure- if you’re insane. The amount of water and chemistry that requires is nothing short of irresponsible. And it’s futile, really. Our springs are amazingly sunny and dry. Kentucky bluegrass just won’t happen like it does in wetter places. Bermuda grass is used a lot but it really needs a crazy amount of water.

On the other hand, a little lawn goes a long way toward cooling around your home (those pebble yards are HOT!), creating a valuable fire break and giving your little ones a comfortable place to play. For that, I am a believer in native Buffalo grass. It’s extremely drought tolerant once established, grows so low you don’t really have to mow it and it thrives in some really bad soils.

It’s a warm-season grass which means it goes dormant after the first frost but you get used to that. It also doesn’t do well in shade so you might try something else under your trees (if you have any). Probably, the hardest part is site preparation. You really do need to get rid of as much of the weeds seeds as you can before you plant. Buffalo grass doesn’t compete well when just sprouting and the moisture it needs to sprout is used better and faster by the weeds. I have found that the best way is to dig the area you want your grass just a few inches down, water to sprout the weeds seeds, chop the sprouts back in and repeat. Don’t plant till you’ve sprouted the weeds at least twice. This only takes a couple weeks and avoids herbicides. You’ll still have to monitor and pick out weeds as you see them but it won’t be any where near as bad as if you didn’t do this. I speak from experience here.

I wouldn’t plant the whole back 40 this way, of course. This is best for areas nearest your house where you don’t have gardens or for a play area for the kids. We planted a tiny break area in the back yard of the Realty office. It’s on its third year and looking good. I have just seeded the aisle between my two rows of new grape vines, too. Besides holding moisture without competing with the vines, I expect it to encourage my kitties to find facilities elsewhere.

Photo: The Realty back 40 (square feet). Just starting to green up May 4th. The tall grasses in back are last years blue grama.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Getting lost in Tee Pee Ranches

Last summer I drove out to Tee Pee Ranches southwest of Datil to scope out a potential new listing. I thought SURELY I could find this lot - they're all numbered. Well, I couldn't even find the road. Actually, I do recall seeing it but it was so over-grown, I thought it was an unused driveway so I took a right instead and bottomed out the Corolla on the boulders. FYI: Avoid passenger cars in most of the rural subdivisions.

After I got the listing, I spent - I don't know - hours copying sections the big plat maps and taping them together trying to match up roads to create a usable map of the subdivision. Then I drove out with another broker, stopping at corners and signs trying to make sure my map matched reality (it didn't always). I was pretty proud of my map and we've been using it since.

Then Bev, my qualifying broker - also known facetiously as Boss-Lady starts laughing this morning and says "Look what I just got!" A lovely map of Tee Pee Ranches roads. Sigh. Where was that when I was lost in Tee Pee Ranches?

Theirs & mine. Theirs has phases but mine has lots. I'll use them both and between them and my old truck with the jumbo tires, I am invincible.