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!


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!


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.

Blueberry bottled


Another busy weekend, with more wine action! Or bottling action, at least.  In addition to pulling up the tomatoes, planting garlic, getting a flu shot, making a big pot of chili, going to an excellent tasting at City Wine, seeing Rob Mies and his live bats at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, taking Rose for a haircut, and hitting the farmers’ market, I also bottled the blueberry wine.  I was actually in kind of a rush when I did it, and a little distracted, so the process wound up being quite messy, with lots of floor wine and be-speckled cabinets.  Lily was quite excited about that, but I didn’t let her clean up, because the last thing I needed was a drunk dog/trip to the emergency vet.  Anyway, because of that and loss from rackings, I had a little less than 5 full bottles, but fortunately I had saved an old half-sized store-bought (cherry) country wine bottle.  There was still a little wine left, so I swigged that, and it was pretty dang good.  I may have to repeat this one, even though it wasn’t with free fruit.

bottled blueberry


I like this picture because you can see the color of the wine, but I’m not sure what the heck is going on with the aspect ratio.  And you can only see three of the five bottles!  I guess that’s what I get for being primarily a phone photographer.

This one will be Electric Blueberry, probably my last Bowie-themed wine name, or at least the last one I can think of at the moment.

 electric blueberry

The other wines I racked last week have cast a bit of sediment, so not quite ready yet.  The crab apple is close, though.  And I may have to give up and get some bentonite for the dandelion, as it persists in its cloudiness, even after the racking.  The others I’ll give another couple of weeks and then re-rack– but I suspect this means I’ll need more half-sized bottles.  I may even have to buy some.  Rats.

Since I’d pulled up all those tomatoes, I also wanted to find something to do with all those green guys, so after some research, I found a recipe for green tomato-apple chutney.  (After all those buckets of free apples, I bought more at the farmers’ market!)  The recipe says it makes 7 pints, but I wound up with 8 pints, a full quart jar and half another pint (which I didn’t process– those are in the fridge):

chutney.  We tried some with cheese, and it’s quite nice but not at all spicy.  It has chili powder in it, and I picked a hot kind, but apparently it wasn’t quite hot enough.  Or maybe there just wasn’t enough to come through.  Anyway, it’s still quite nice, and will be good with curries and cheeses throughout the year.  I’ll serve some this week, when I host the women.  And I’ll give a couple away– a person doesn’t actually need 10 pints of chutney in a year.

Grape wine, for a change


Busy weekend!  It started with the picking of grapes, and it’s a good thing Jolyon was eager to help, because there were a lot of grapes to be had.  We wound up with 21 pounds, 15.4 ounces of mostly Concords and a few bunches of Leon Millot.

lots of grapes

There was much lifting of vines while the other person harvested.  I have renewed respect for the people who do this at commercial operations!  I think we got nearly all of them, but I’m sure there are hidden clusters still left for the birdies and beasties.  The dogs certainly keep managing to find bits that we then have to talk them out of eating. Since my recipe calls for 6 pounds of grapes per gallon of wine, I made the final not-quite-four-pounds into a disappointingly runny grape conserve, though it does taste good.  (I was apparently so disappointed, though, that I didn’t take a picture.)

The other 18 pounds will become 3 gallons of wine.  I’m doing single gallons at a time, since that’s what my recipe is for and I didn’t want to fuss about with multiplying quantities, so 12 pounds is now added to the Freezer of Insanity: freezer of insanity.  There’s still enough apple in there for another gallon of wine, too, plus some redcurrants, raspberries, pea pods, and probably some other stuff I can’t quite remember.  And that knob of ginger, which has nothing to do with wine.  It actually started out pretty tidy and organized in there, but now it’s enough to make professional organizers weep.

Anyway, so on Saturday, I also picked more raspberries and bought more cayenne peppers, so I canned up some goodness.

raspberry jam and sririacha

That’s chocolate-raspberry sundae topping on the left (we use it as jam, mostly) and more Sriracha on the right.  I’ll get a picture of the runny grape conserve, too.  It’s a lovely deep purple, but since it’s so thin, all the walnuts keep floating to the top.

Interestingly, all this made the kitchen so hot that I noticed the Peach Perfection started really actively fermenting again, bubbling and fizzing away, instead of the quiet swirl it’s been doing.  Once the temperature was back to normal, it resumed its slower ferment.  I’ve read that cooler, slower ferments are thought to make better-tasting wines, so I’ll try to keep it a bit cooler in there, or maybe move the carboy somewhere else.  It needs another pound of sugar soon, which will mean taking some liquid out.  Like I said, it’s a peculiar recipe.

After dinner and a few minutes’ rest (harvesting and canning is hard work!), I started my first gallon of non-country wine.  The grapes are mashed up a bit in the bag here, with the Campden, sugar, water, yeast nutrient, and pectic enzyme added. 



I was a little worried about the color, even though it ferments on for quite a while.  Jolyon reckons it looks like a dragon’s eye, especially with the reflection from the flash.  Anyway, I needn’t have worried.  24 hours later, I pitched the yeast (Montrachet– I will try other kinds for the other batches, for the sake of experimentation) and it was a much nicer color.


It is still a little punch-like, but I am reassured that the skins really are enough to color and flavor the wine.  Which, of course, is exactly how it happens with commercial wines, but I guess I feared there was something different about my grapes or my technique or whatever.  (You know, needless worrying about nothing.  It’s a great skill of mine.)  I’m enjoying the color change with this, so I’ll try to remember to keep documenting it.  

For some reason, I’m particularly anxious about this, my first batch of regular wine.  I shouldn’t be, really, since I have 2 more batches to do, and since this seems to be a fairly typical year for my lovely old established vine.  But I guess because it’s Real Wine, albeit of a bit less typical variety, it just feels different.

The apple wine is still fermenting pretty actively, so I’ll keep it in its primary for a while longer.  I may rack a few things that haven’t been racked for a while soon, too. Maybe that will encourage the dandelion to clear.  It’s taking forever!

I’m still slowly adding raspberries to the freezer.  I may never have enough for wine, since we keep eating them fresh and making them into jam.  (Okay, just that one batch, and that was only 4.5 cups, but still.)  Also, I’ve always told neighbors to help themselves to the fruit, and the wine calls for 4 pounds.  So I guess we’ll just have to see.  I’ll keep gathering, eating some and freezing others, and see where that gets me.  With everything I’ve got going, I guess you can’t say I’m hurting for wines.