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It's a fine line between living for the moment and being a sociopath.

Patricia B McConnell: For The Love Of A Dog.

Pema Chodron: The Places That Scare You

Daniel Wallace: Mr Sebastian & the Negro Magician

All paths lead to the same goal: to convey to others what we are. --Pablo Neruda

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The bottles didn't happen, but the bread did

Today was supposed to be a day of beer and bread. Well, cider and bread.

I decided that moving to the UK should occasion some new hobby or avocation that would be typically English. I can't ever see myself becoming passionate about football/soccer, I don't like competitive gardening -- or any at all, for that matter -- and other typically English past-times like lawnmower racing and cheese tossing are best left to the professionals.

So, I decided to brew my own beer. Quickly ran into a snag: I don't like beer.

No problem. There's another typically English brew that is rather to my liking: cider. Or, as the North Americans call it, hard cider. Do the same thing to apples as you'd do to grapes to make wine, and you end up with cider. Bottle it like you bottle beer, and you end up with a damn fine thing: a drink like beer, but without the vile taste of an old pub. In fact, decent cider still has a good bit of the apple taste in it. And 5-7% alcohol. What's not to like?

So, a few weeks back, I sent off for my fermenting barrel and all the what-not I'd need. Today was the day the instructions said my cider would be ready to go in the bottles.

This was the moment I've been waiting for. Or, at least, the production moment I've been waiting for, in advance of the drinking moment I've been waiting for. Because it's at this stage that we make the critical judgment what will result in either wonderfully sparkling cider, or conceptual art made from glass shards embedded in the walls.

When the cider goes in the bottles, it's not fizzy. So, you put a little additional sugar in the bottles and then seal them with bottle caps. That additional sugar, is of course, the fuel for the bubbles. The yeast that caused the cider to ferment in the first place, starts chowing down on the new sugar, and, as part of its digestion, farts out CO2. Since the bottle is air-tight, thanks to the bottle cap, the gas dissolves into the liquid, and the pressure in the bottle increases.

Put in too much sugar, and the pressure in the bottle increases a lot.

Put in enough sugar -- and the differences we're talking about here are tiny fiddly little amounts -- and you have a glass bomb on a fuse of unknown length.

Now, all this is entirely controllable, predictable and safe if you know what you're doing.

I, however, am a complete novice. I have no idea what I'm doing. Bottling is going to be an exciting moment for me.

Today, however, it was not to be. When I lifted the lid and, after nearly choking on the heady mix of smells that have accumulated inside the sealed fermenter over the last week...think of what apple juice would smell like if you left it out on the counter for a week and encouraged it to be eaten by microscopic organisms who fart alcohol and CO2 -- I examined my brew with a hydrometer, which is a nifty little device that tells you how much dissolved sugar remains in the soup. (Or, more accurately, for the pedants, the density of the solution relative to water.)

Touch and go, as it turned out. So, I'm leaving it for another day.

Today hasn't been a total flop in the realm of yeast mastery, however. I finally baked a loaf of bread that had the exact consistency and texture of both the crust and the crumb (ie, bread-wanker word meaning the fluffy inside bit) that I've always wanted to bake.

I was ripping into this stuff and thinking, "I am the Yeast Master! The Master of the Yeasts!"

Then I saw this guy's blog.

Me, I bake. That guy? Mentally unstable obsessive with an oven.

I'm just gonna keep telling myself that.


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