What I Did on My Winter Break



Well, it’s finally winter break– a full week off!  It’s been a tough year, so I’m not sad to bring it to a close.  In addition to everything else, I’m still nursing my back injury (though it definitely is getting better, despite the neurosurgeon’s insistence that only surgery would fix it) and a weird cough that just won’t go away.  Above is the card Jolyon made for me this year, which I think sums things up nicely.

Despite all that, though, we did manage to have a perfectly lovely Christmas.  Jolyon made trifle trifle2015 using a strawberry vegetarian gelatin alternative I found online.  It’s every bit as delicious as it looks here, and also very boozy.  (That may be a large part of why it’s so good.)  The rest of Christmas dinner (guests: Mom, Gerry, us, Rose, Lily, Olive, Sapphire, Ruby) was another en croute Field Roast, scalloped potatoes, roasted Brussels sprouts, glazed carrots, and gravy.  Mom did the potatoes, and also our appetizers of spicy shrimp and cheese straws.

I got much good loot, too, including Thug Kitchen and Bittman’s new one, Kitchen Matrix.  With some of the money Gerry gave me, I also picked up Backyard Pharmacy, which has some interesting stuff I am excited to try.  I’m already steeping some thyme in honey to treat this cough, but it needs a week to be ready, so nothing to report yet.

Today being only the second day I feel energetic enough to do anything useful, I made a couple batches of muffins from TK (carrot-apple and peanut butter-banana; the lavender blueberry scones I made yesterday are delicious).  We’re dog-sitting Shiloh just for the day, while Kirsten and David move, which means we got up early, and I then felt the need to accomplish stuff.

So after the muffins, I figured it was time to bottle that elderberry wine:


19 bottles and the overflow


20 bottles of the 2nd run (which is made from reused fruit)

These are now sitting on the dining room table because I’m not quite sure where else to store them.  I’ve moved last year’s bottles to the more accessible wine racks between the kitchen and the back room.  I also rotated this year’s apple wine into the rack above the basement steps.  I’m currently keeping the dandelion upright, since it’s sparkling, but I may change my mind on that– the corks are held firmly in place with those tricky little wire cages and all.  There’s definitely not sufficient rack space for those and these 39 new guys, in any case. I guess I should have asked for more racks for Christmas!


Tasting the dandelion wine!



Christmas in January is a tradition that Kim, Jen, Kirsten and I have had for probably around a decade now, and it’s something we really love.  We either draw names or go around the table in some manner that seems sensible at the time.  This year, I bought for Kim, Jen bought for me, Kirsten bought for Jen, and Kim bought for Kirsten– we drew names, but it wound up being the order we sit in at my house, which is where we were when we chose this year.

Jen wanted to host the event this year, and do the wine pairings.  (Kirsten has usually done it in the past, and usually we each also bring a course.)  But also, everyone wanted to try the dandelion wine, so I brought that (and the chocolate-peppermint bath bombs you can see in the photo above for everyone), and we had the wine with our appetizers.  And it was a hit!  Hooray!  It was sparkling, which explains why I lost a bottle, but the fizziness was quite nice.  I may have to do it that way on purpose from here on out.  (This time was wholly accidental, a result of my anxiety to bottle it and make some room on the fermenting shelf.) 20150124_183219 The wine has a nice gentle back-note of bitterness from the flowers, and starts out with an immediate almost sweet flavor.  Beyond that, I fair at describing it– like wine but not.  And delicious, if I’m allowed to say that.  (I figure I am, since it was the yeast doing the work, not me.)  We finished the bottle with our appetizers (kale puffs and caramelized onion tartlets), though Kirsten did pour our the last of hers to make way for the soup wine.

So dandelion stays in the rotation.  In fact, I’ll probably be harvesting again soon!

The soup was a lovely acorn squash, topped with mushrooms.

20150124_185649  The wine was a rose, crisp and perfect with the sweetness of the soup.  The salad was topped with figs, garnished with goat cheese crostini, and paired with a lovely pinot noir, but I forgot pictures.20150124_201324The main course was arugula ravioli in a nice light tomato sauce and this nice Toscana.  Then Kirsten was so pleased with her little caramel-filled chocolate horses that we also shared one: 20150124_210724.  Dessert didn’t have a wine pairing, which was probably a mercy, though I’m always open for a nice port or an icewine.  It was a nice tiramisu cake, the leftovers of which I brought home for Jolyon. 20150124_210411 (He hasn’t had any yet, since he was in bed when I got home.)

So a lovely evening!  Also, I’ll be keeping those remaining bottles of dandelion wine upright, in case they lose their corks, too.

January 23, 2015


20150123_090115 A day off feels like a good day for wine tasks!  I have an acupuncture appointment later (my first– I’m kind of nervous!) but otherwise have no obligations, so after walking Lily this morning, I started on some overdue tasks.  I clarified the big carboys of peach and apple wine, plus the gallon of apple that appears to have stopped fermenting, and the apple cider.  I also racked all three gallons of Concord, the mead, and the melomel (both of which seem to have returned to their previous funky tastes).


Not sure why those two have gone funny again– they seemed to have lost that sort of strange mustiness last time.  Maybe I tasted them differently before.  I did just take a swig off the lees this time, which may be an unfair measure.

20150123_094041 (1)

Everything else tastes nice, though I didn’t sample the ones I just clarified.  Of the Concords, the Montrachet is the darkest, and also it has the best flavor, though it’s also the oldest, so the taste might be a function of the aging rather than the yeast.  20150123_110450 The Bourgovin batch has the strongest Concord taste, but it’s also still fairly young, so some of that might fade.  As one might expect, these taste more like regular ol’ wine than the non-grape kinds.

Later: So acupuncture is lovely!  I should have started going years ago.  A couple of spots ached while the needles were in, and my right  hand feels a little like an overworked muscle, but I feel relaxed and mellow, and kind of glad I did the wine stuff earlier.  Now I’m chilling out with the dogs, and I think I’ll go make myself a nice cup of tea.

Winding down the winter break


Just a few days left of my lovely winter break, so it’s time to get some final tasks done.  Happily, the tutti-fruti wine has continued to look quite nice!

tutti-fruti2 This is after I added the yeast– went with Champagne, after all.  I hope the final color is close to this.

And here’s day 7 in the primary:tutti-fruti3.  Love the red!  I let it ferment on the fruit for an extra day, hoping to get lots of fruit flavor.  This time, I’ve been tasting the mixture each day, which has been interesting.  On day one, it mostly tasted of raspberry, but by yesterday, it was getting to taste pretty complex.  It’s still quite sweet, of course, and it never quite tastes like what I thought initially.  But I liked observing the changes, so I think I’ll try to remember to give the spoon a lick after I stir each day.

And not that it’s wine-related, but I’ve also been making lots of bath bombs.


lemonrose_bathbombsThese are lemon-rose, and are quite nice.  Yesterday I tried full spheres, with some success (they’re in the photo below).  I made vanilla-cinnamon-clove (light yellow), sandalwood-vanilla  (green), and citrus-cassia (blue).  And today I put the wine into its carboy, and filled a pint jar with the overflow.


(I’ve also clearly become enamored of photographing things on these chairs.)  The wine is quite active and the carboy is very full.  With all the overflow, I hope that means I won’t have to top it off with anything else when I rack it.

I also think it’s about time to bottle the crab apple, finally!  And the first Concord is looking pretty close, as well.  The apple wine and cider are both still fermenting, and since I lost that bottle of dandelion, I’m opting to err on the side of caution for everything else.  No more bentonite unless absolutely necessary.

Finally, 2014 would not be complete without a cute photo of the dogs. LilyRose  Happy 2015!


New space for wines


A lovely 4-day weekend for Thanksgiving!  I don’t technically get the day after the holiday off, but I took it off because I wanted to get some things done, and also I wanted 4 days off in a row– who doesn’t?

One of my fun tasks was making shower discs, which make a lovely aromatic steam when you pop them in under the hot water.

shower discs  They’re dead simple to make: baking soda, a little water, and some essential oil, dried in the oven in a muffin tin.  I used a combination of eucalyptus, rosemary, and lavender oils.  Some of these will undoubtedly become Christmas present add-ons, since I got kind of excited (story of my life) and made 24.  I’m also thinking I’d like to try bath bombs and maybe even toilet-cleaning bombs, though I don’t know about giving anything toilet-related as a festive present.  (Though I’m tempted to do that and add a tag that says, “Yay, poo!”)

My biggest task, which I thought of in the small hours of Sunday morning, after Lily woke us with a howling dream, was cleaning out my new wine space:

new wine space.  This is a funny little area behind the kitchen and above the weird scary back stairs to the basement.  The wall on the right was the original back of the house, before the addition was somewhat randomly stuck on. The space had been a strange pile of junk, mostly canning jars and the like.  In fact, I see now that there’s a single leftover canning lid on the left, standing upright against the wooden wall. The black box on the right is a stackable wine rack.  Alas, it’s alone now, unstacked and slightly sad (possibly just because it’s empty), but I plan to ask for some more of them for Christmas– and, of course, to fill them as soon as I can.  The bottles here are the cleaned empties.  I have a few more out in the back shed, but it’s kind of amazing how many one needs.  Each US gallon fills five, and since I have so many wines going, it adds up!  In fact, here’s what I have going on right now.

bottles of lovely wineThese are the bottled wines so far: rhubarb, cherry, redcurrant, and dandelion, if memory serves.

November wines in carboysAnd these below are the ones still in their secondary fermentation– plus the 3 gallons of apple and the 5 of peach. Jolyon rightly points out that I should have taken this photo in the daytime, since the various colors are so pretty, but I didn’t think about a photo until last night.  Anyway, this is two Concords, a crab apple, two apples, a mead, a peach melomel, and an apple cider. I’ve also taken the last grapes out of the freezer for the third batch of Concord, using the third kind of yeast, which is one of those numbered ones I can’t remember.  Concord with Bourgovin  The Concord wines start out this sort of strangely lovely pink color, and then darken to the color of a light red wine, which you can kind of see in this picture, behind the crab apple.  And, somewhat charmingly, you can also see one of Rose’s kibble toys on the floor: a glow-in-the-dark ball that she pushes around with her nose to make it drop the bits of kibble.  (Lily has some too, but hers are harder to get the food out of, since she’s kind of violent with hers.)

Still waiting for the crab apple to clear sufficiently for bottling.  It’s getting there, though!


Finally bottled the dandelion!


snowy Funny weather for bottling my first wine of this last spring, but I did it anyway.  It’s lovely and clear with a pleasing yellow tinge, but I forgot to taste it as it went into the bottle.bottled dandelionI did give up on putting all the dandelion into clear glass– you can see the pair of green bottles in the back here.  I have three clear but full bottles, but I’d have been in no condition to bottle anything if I’d gotten through those first.  And it looks like I have a little time before the crab apple is ready, so maybe I’ll just make a concerted white- and rose-drinking effort for the next few weeks.

Got to a little more racking, too, because what else are snowy weekends for?  For some reason, I only did one of the two gallons of apple, so I’ll have to make sure to get to the other this coming weekend.  more racking  I thought to taste both the mead and the melomel, and I’m quite pleased that the funny musty taste seems to be gone.  The melomel is definitely brighter-tasting from the peaches, and I’ve lost quite a bit in the rackings, which is why there are so many marbles in the bottom of the growler.

Freezer space being at a premium, and some carboys now being available, I also started another batch of Concord.  thawing concords  I used Montrachet yeast in the last batch, so this will have Bourgovin RC 212.  (I may remember Bourgovin, but not RC 212!  What’s with the goofy yeast names?)  The grapes thawed overnight, and then Sunday they went into the bucket with the sugar, water, yeast nutrient, acid blend, and Campden.  I’ll pitch the yeast tonight, but I probably won’t take more photos, since it should look almost exactly like the first batch.

And since weekends are also for fun, Kim and I went to her uncle Kirk’s wine store, City Wine, for a pre-Thanksgiving tasting.  Alas, I did not come home with this bottle. Em_Kirk_wine



Weekend o’ tasks


I took Halloween off, not for any particular reason other than the fine suggestion to take a 3-day weekend every month.  This month, I opted to focus on lots of tasks: I painted my bat houses; had Gerry over for dinner and to take a look at the bat houses and help figure out how to hang them; got a long-overdue haircut; took down the raspberry canes (ouch); did some cooking for the week to come; spent a lovely time at the last farmers’ market of the season with Kim (and then went for drinks at a lovely little Francophilic art bar called La Cour), and, most importantly for the purposes of this here blog, bottled some wine.

bottled red currant2 bottled red currant

The red currant here is a really lovely color, so I put it in clear bottles.  I don’t have many , apparently because I drink a lot more red, so there was some rattling around to find enough.  You can see in the second photo that I over-filled one bottle and the cork wouldn’t go all the way in, so I had to take the cork out, pour off a little excess wine, and then re-cork.  I have a little set aside from the rackings, which was good because I was a little short on the final bottle, and also because I then had a place to put the excess from that over-full bottle– probably the final one, overfilled in my excitement to have a use for the excess.

I wasn’t entirely sure the cherry had actually cleared– it’s very dark red, but I didn’t SEE any sediment, so what the heck, right?  I had some left when I finished bottling, so I poured myself a big glass and had it as I cooked dinner for Gerry.  (I was trying to get the light through the bottles to show the color off here, not to be unnecessarily artsy in my photography.)

bottled cherry


Mom contributed Greek pizza, corn pudding, green beans, and sauteed cherry tomatoes, and I made sesame salmon and brownies, and also cooked the beans and tomatoes she brought down.  I think things went quite nicely for someone cooking on an empty stomach and a big glass of wine.  Said wine is still quite harsh, but the flavors are nice.  I don’t get much cherry taste from it, but we’ll see after it ages some more.  Gerry tried some and reckoned that it tasted like a nice dry red, though to be fair, the last time he had a glass of wine was probably 1987.  (He drinks alcohol-free beer.)  Half of this goes to Kim tonight, after I label and bottle, since she and I took the class in which we made this together. (We had to switch up our girls’ night this week– that starts happening a lot this time of year.)

I also racked the dandelion again, since the addition of bentonite made it clear up quite nicely.  Alas, I apparently forgot to take a picture.  I hope it’s ready to bottle soon, too!  It’s a lovely golden color but I think I only have 2 clear bottles left, so unless I can get through 3 more bottles of white or rose soon, it may have to go in green.  That said, I may bring a bottle of white tonight to help us along.  Kirsten usually brings a red or rose, though often those are in screw-top bottles that I can’t use.  Pictures for sure when I bottle, in any case.  I’ll also start a new gallon of Concord soon, since I finally have some growlers free, and am kind of desperately in need of freezer space.