Stuff

Photography has definitely taken a back seat lately. But I’ve also focused on other things that are creative…. well, at least somewhat.

I like to make stuff. It’s usually not fancy, and it’s almost always a home repair project or a quick DIY job.

I recently got a cheap cross slide vise for use on my drill press.

The vise needed a lot of fixing up despite being new. It was cheaply made, but with the right lube, cleaning, and adjusting, it actually works pretty well. I even added roller bearings on the crank stops so they would turn smoothly and easily.

Cooking is something else I enjoy, but I don’t do it very often. I don’t do fancy or gourmet necessarily. I just spend a lot of time chopping, cutting, and preparing. And it’s usually stuff packed with flavor, spice, and stuff that’s generally bad for you in large quantities. This was for Thanksgiving sides – stuffed mushrooms and bacon wrapped stuffed jalepenos.

Beer is still a great source of enjoyment. And I’m still trying new brews when I can.

A recent new one was Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA. It’s unlike anything I’ve had before. It’s expensive but a nice treat. At 18% alcohol it’s not a beer to drink in large quantities. It’s sweet and smooth and does not have a crisp hoppy taste. It’s just mellow liquid gold that smoothes out any hops that went into it.

And finally, the biggest time consuming activity in the past several weeks has been a total change in lifestyle. I turned 39 last month, and I’ve vowed to not reach 40 in the current shape that I’m in.

I’ve been exercising A LOT both biking and running. I’ve gotten on Weight Watchers, and I’m learning to eat right.

I’ve set two goals for a 365 day period:
1) Do Weight Watchers every day
2) Travel 1800 miles on foot or bike (combined)

I really don’t have any goals for my weight. I know I will lose weight, but I’m more concerned about eating right and getting healthy.

So it’s a big change. I can still eat and drink what I want, but I have to learn to do it in moderation. It’s occupying a lot more of my non-work time than I thought. However, it is important and I must make time to exercise.

Beer Review – Feb. 2010

Time for a beer review. These were my new selections from late last year.



Midas Touch by Dogfish Head Hugo, the “beer guy” at my local Specs (NW Houston), talked me into this one. Comes in 4-pack of 12 oz. bottles for about $13.

It’s somewhat light, a little sweet, and has a nice, well-rounded taste that is most pleasing. The 9% alcohol gives it a good push into being “serious” :-)

The label states that it’s made with barley, white muscat grapes, honey, and saffron. Don’t let the foo-foo sounding stuff scare you off, this is a mighty good beer… so nice that I’ve bought it several times.

It’s made from an ancient recipe, some 2700 years old.

More info here on Dogfish’s website.



The Beast by Avery Brewing Co. I love Avery’s beers. The Beast “Grand Cru” ale was a new one for me, and I was nicely surprised. It’s a Belgian style ale, and is on the strong and dark side of things. It’s very sweet, as most Avery’s beers are, but most excellent. It was not an assault on my mouth as the name suggested. I’m definitely going to try this one again.

Rouge Chipotle Ale Beers that have unique flavorings are rarely done well. This beer adds chipotle with the subtleness of a sledgehammer. Now I like hot and spicy, and perhaps that goes with beer, but this one is over the top.

It also has a sour/bitter taste that is a bit much. It was worth a try, but it’s not one that I’ll be getting again.



Mikkeller Santa’s Little Helper 2009 Oh the sweet goodness… this was awesome. This dark Belgian style ale was a treat. The lable claims it was “brewed with spices and cocoa powder”. It definitely had a nice spice and also a smoothness to it that was pleasant. This was my favorite Christmas beer for 2009. Drinking it reminded me of being a kid again with a mouthful of chocolate candy.

St. Bernardus Christmas Ale You can’t go wrong with St. Bernardus. This “liquid bread” type of beer is my favorite. The Christmas Ale was good, but not terribly outstanding. I can’t say that I enjoyed it any more than their duble or tripel ales. I guess I was expecting something a little more spiced-up, but this beer was pretty mellow. A good drink nonetheless!



Allagash Four Ale This one was good, but not better than other Allagash beers that I’ve tried (see my previous beer reviews).

The Four Ale (made with four malts, four hops, four sugars and four Belgian yeast strains) was very calm yet full bodied. It didn’t jump out with anything spectacular, rather it was behaved and some what subdued in taste. It was good, yes, but I enjoyed Allagash’s other beers more.

More info here about the 4-ale.

Beer Review 8

Wow, it’s been almost a year since my last beer review. If you’re new to following my blog, I offer simplistic reviews of better beer (or at least I used to).

My reviews are basic. I don’t get into dissecting flavors and pulling out whacky, obscure tastes that the average person wouldn’t care about. If you’ve ever read a beer or wine review that stated something like, “hints of fresh ground snot-grass seed on a warm summer day” along with the words aroma, palette, or bouquet and thought that sounded stupidly snobby, then you’re right with me.

I’ll definitely tell you if it tastes like ass or not. Not that I know what that tastes like, but I think it’s safe to say that isn’t very good, i.e. “I won’t be buying that ever again”.



First up, we have three from Avery Brewing Co.. I like their beers and have enjoyed trying the different varieties. One of my favorites from them is The Reverend (reviewed here, a hearty quadruple ale.

Kaiser (Imperial Oktoberfest Lager): Good, very good. This one has just a tiny bit of the heavy sweetness (the candy sugar heart as they describe it) found in The Reverend. Like a lot of breweries, each seems to have a signature flavor found in their offerings. I’m beginning to think that Avery’s is this sweetness. It’s darker, tastey (great, FULL taste), and just slightly hoppy.

Salvation (Belgian Strong Golden Ale): It’s been so long since I tried this one. Best I can remember, it was pretty good. It’s a lot lighter (taste and color) than The Reverend and the Kaiser in comparison. I’ll have to try this one again someday.

Hog Heaven (Barleywine Style Ale): This beer was interestingly different. It’s the hoppiest beer I’ve ever tasted (note that while I don’t really get into the different flavor descriptions typically seen in the “snob” reviews, the “hoppy taste” is one strong, prevalent flavor found in some beers, and a good beer drinker should recognize it :-) ). That being said, the intense hoppy flavor is incredibly well done and smooth. I don’t really like a strong hoppy taste in my beers, but this one does not leave your mouth in a bitter pucker. It’s quite good. Their website describes it as having a “caramel candy-like malt finish”. Sounds about right :-)



Saint Arnold is a local (Houston, TX) “craft” brewery. I’ve had a lot of their beers and have enjoyed most of them. I’m quite fond of wheat beers, so here ya go.

Texas Wheat: This has just a great, basic flavor. It’s simple. It’s good. Kinda like eating toast without the jam. It’s not made with any spices, so it’s completely different from other wheats (i.e. the citrusy ones like Sunshine (New Belgium) that go well with a slice of orange). It does not have a fruity taste. It’s pretty good!

Allagash is another one of these small breweries like Avery that I’m seeing more and more here in the liquor stores. I first tried their Triple Reserve (Belgian Style Ale) last year and really enjoyed it (see review here).

Allagash White (Belgian wheat beer): Smooth. Very smooth and very good. Here is their own description of it: “Our interpretation of a traditional Belgian wheat beer, Allagash White is unique and truly refreshing. Brewed with a generous portion of wheat and our own special blend of spices, this beer is light and slightly cloudy in appearance, with a spicy aroma. Overall, it is a beer that is very drinkable and smooth any time of the year.” Now that’s a review I can read and understand, and after actually drinking it, I agree 100%. The bottle even has directions for proper pouring printed on the side!



Chimay Ale Grande Réserve (aka Chimay Blue): A hearty, typical strong Belgian monk-brewed ale. I can’t really say much that distinguishes it from other beers of similar types (i.e. the liquid bread types, the doubles and triples) that I’ve had. But I really must try this again to fully appreciate it. It was good and worth getting again. (Chimay website)



Shiner is my favorite local brewery. They’re celebrating their 100th anniversary this year.

Commemorator (Shiner): Dark, smooth, and not hoppy. But it’s a different smoothness than their black lager. It’s almost like a Belgian ale. This one is extremely good!

Hefeweizen (Shiner): Interestingly tart and citrusy. Slightly hoppy. Cloudy and light in appearance. It’s pretty good, and is definitely a refreshing thrist-quencher if you really need a drink on a hot day.

The next beer, from Ommegang, was a wild pick from Specs. Just a guess to try something new. Came in a neat 4-pack.

Abbey Ale (Belgian Style Dubbel): The first sip stopped me for a second and my first thought was, “damn! this is good!”. Seems like a lot of good flavors going on (yeh, maybe some obscure fruit, nut, or berry, but definitely no ass) that all wrap up to a fresh, full flavor. It’s not too overpowering, and is one of the best doubles (dubbel) that I’ve had. Definitely in the “liquid bread” class, this beer is awesome. I’ve consumed two 4-packs now (not in the same weekend :-) ) and will definitely keep in high on my list.



And just for fun, here’s a mini-keg of Oktoberfest (Paulaner). I’ve reviewed their Oktoberfest before (see here). It’s good. All the Paulaner beers that I’ve had are quite good.

Unfortunately, the math doesn’t work out so well with this mini-keg. It’s only about a 10% advantage to buy this versus multiple 12-oz bottles. Plus, the keg isn’t pressurized, so you have to drink it right away or it will go flat quickly. But, despite the marginal economics involved, having beer in a larger quantity usually means it tastes better. I guess it stays fresher longer or there’s something about a larger volume that preserves the taste better.

Just for the record, I did share this keg. I didn’t attempt to drink it by myself (although the thought crossed my mind :-) ).

Happy New Years Eve

Greetings from the backyard. I’m currently sitting outside, watching Henry play and smoking some chickens.



Of course a good backyard cook-out isn’t complete without beer :-) I’m sipping on some Trippel from New Belgium Brewing Co. Good stuff!



And the chickens? Well, it’s pretty simple: three whole birds (two with sliced and pickled jalepenos stuffed under the skins) with salt, pepper, and a lot of Mesquite smoke :-) We’ll also have some pinto beans and potato salad later.

Hope you all have a fantastic and safe New Year’s Eve!

Campin’

While we were in Del Rio over the Christmas holiday, Henry and I went camping out at Lake Amistad one night. It was a daddy/son camping trip, our first real one since he and I camped in the backyard last year.

We passed a pretty good time. The weather wasn’t ideal – the skies were gray and the temps were pretty chilly (low 40′s, but the wind was blowing pretty good).

About 3am we both had enough of the cold (our tent was not blocking out the wind effectively, even with the rain fly on), and I put the air mattress in the back of our RAV4. We climbed inside and enjoyed a wind-less sleep the rest of the night.



Henry hunts for rocks to throw into the lake.


Henry and daddy kick back and enjoy a few cold ones (Capri Suns & Fat Tire)


Henry warms by the campfire and makes a good-night phone call to momma.

Many thanks to the kind rangers at the Amistad NRA headquarters. They were very helpful and friendly to us. They even gave Henry a Jr. Ranger badge, which he proudly wore. And thanks also to the camp host (at the San Pedro campground) and his lab (Montana). They were very kind as well and even checked up on us.

New Floor, New Beer (Beer Review 7)

Last weekend we installed laminate flooring in Henry’s new “big-boy” bedroom. We wanted to help keep his allergies down and also make the floor more “playable”. Try rolling your toy cars on carpet! :-)



carpet goes bye-bye

I’ll get to the beer in just a sec, but I just had to show you this. Yep, that’s the pile of dirt and crap that was living under the carpet in this relatively small and little-used bedroom of ours. Dirt, dust, dust mites, skin flakes, cat hair, pet dander, toe cheese… yep, it’s all in there. Yuck.



big pile of dirt

The place where we bought the laminate flooring was located close to downtown Houston. So on our way there, we made the pilgrimage to the Specs warehouse on Smith Street. Let’s just say that when my stomach and taste buds die and go to heaven, it will be the Specs warehouse :-)

I got two beers that I’ve never tried. Tanya bought them for me as sort of payment for installing the floor. (She’s 6-months pregnant, so she’s very limited in the work she can do; she also got some funny looks at Specs, but I won’t go into that.) I also picked up some very nice coffee beans, dark chocolate, and the best pastrami sandwich I’ve ever had.



beer & LEGO break

Allagash triple reserve Belgian style ale (Portland, Maine). Tanya picked this out for me. Perhaps my deer-in-headlights look suggested I needed help as I stared at the massive beer selection in Specs. It is massive. Did I mention their selection is quite large? :-)

The Allagash was excellent! It had a classic heavy liquid-bread type taste, characterisitc of quality triples. It was fresh tasting too. I think it was just as good as the Maredsous 10 or the St. Bernardus triple. I wouldn’t hesitate getting it again.



laying boards

The work spanned most of my long 3-day weekend. Laying this stuff was fairly easy. I didn’t have any serious problems, except for once mistaking my finger for the hammer-block thingy and smashing it pretty good with a sound blow. You know it’s bad when you don’t feel anything outright except numbness. Thankfully Henry wasn’t with me, or he would have learned a few new words.



beer break 2

St. Feuillien triple Belgian ale (from Belgium!). This was my pick. It was damn good. It carries all the full flavor of a triple but it has a subtlety… an extra smoothness. When I read the back of the label, I found the term “mellow” used to describe it. That’s exactly it – mellow. It’s slightly different from what I’m used to with these heavy Belgian ales (doubles, triples, etc.), but it’s very, very good. And it’s a bit sweeter than the others too. The mellowness and little extra sweetness make it all too easy to drink :-)

I’d say that my two new beers this past weekend were both top-notch. I’d place them up there on that imaginary top shelf of best beers.



done deal

If you look closely at the above photo, you’ll notice something on the window sill :-) That was the last of my Sunshine wheat beer (New Belgium Brewing Co.). I had a couple left over from the 4th of July weekend. It’s still damn good. Best wheat beer EVER!

Beer Review 6

Happy Fourth of July! Okay, I’m three days late. But the weekend was long and very tasty.



our sugar fix

We had BBQ (slow oven-cooked brisket, smoked venison sausage, venison summer sausage) complete with corn*, potato salad, and cake. My wife will kill me for posting a photo of her cake, but despite its slight unkempt appearance, it was very good. I thought it looked quite nice, more like a work of art than a machine-produced Walmart special.

* I’d much rather eat it than put it in my gas tank, if you know what I mean :-)



Sunshine

Sunshine Wheat beer (New Belgium Brewing Co.) BEST. WHEAT. BEER. EVER.

I started my long holiday (4th of July) weekend by picking up a 6-pack of this on my way home from work Thursday. It’s the best damn wheat beer I’ve had yet. What more can I say? Buy some. You won’t be disappointed. It tastes fresh and the flavors are bright.

This may sound weird, but it’s like taking in a mouthfull of ripe, fresh fruit. No, the beer does not taste fruity nor is it sweet like fruit. But the taste gives me the sensation of freshness and crisp, bright tastes that such fruit would.



Fullers 1845

Fuller’s 1845 Ale (imported from the UK) I have my father-in-law to thank for this beer. He left it at my house on Sunday, so knowing that he lives 350 miles away and won’t be back soon, I drank it :-) Why let it skunkify, right?

This is a good British ale. I enjoyed it. Memories of Bass ale floated back to me while drinking it. It’s smooth and has hints of typical Belgian ales, but has a hoppy aftertaste. It’s slightly sweet and started tasting pretty good as it warmed up a little (starting at a typical refridgerator temp.).



Maredsous & Duvel

Maredsous 8 Dubbel (Belgian Abbey Ale) Ah, an old favorite. I have my brother-in-law to thank for this one. We hit Spec’s again on Saturday (we ran out of beer :-) and had to buy some more). I’ve reviewed this already, but I’ll say it again. It’s the best of its kind – the “liquid bread” kinda heavy Belgian abby ale. It’s a double so, it’s not quite as heavy and sweet as a triple (e.g. the Maredsous 10).

Duvel (Belgian Golden Ale) Thought I’d give this one a try again. I first had Duvel several years ago and didn’t like it. I guess my tastes have changed, or I’ve learned how to drink beer correctly. It’s a great beer, it really is. It’s into the “liquid bread” category, but it’s much lighter than the heavy doubles and triples. It’s lighter but at the same time has a very full and wonderful taste.

The bottle states to “pour unhurriedly”. I think that’s wrong, as I had to start pouring the instant the cap came off. I guess the carbonation level was a bit high, and when exposed to the hot and soggy Houston air, this beer jumped right out the bottle and onto my counter :-) After the initial excitement, I did have to pour rather slowly to keep the head to a decent thickness. The first glass I poured ended up being about 80% foamy head :-)

(So, what do I mean about drinking beer correctly? It’s a no-brainer that things taste better when you’re hungry. Same goes for beer. I find that the best time to drink beer (especially strong-tasting beer like this) is late afternoon several hours after lunch. Also, don’t “color” your mouth with anything sweet or sour beforehand. If you have to eat a snack (and that’s me), go for something starchy and a little salty. Salted, roasted nuts is a good one. Cheese works pretty good too. If you want to really enjoy beer after dinner, don’t eat too much. Instead of “saving room for dessert”, “save room for BEER” :-) Also, just a few of these beers per day is enough. After you drink 3 or 4 of them, you’re done. They are strong tasting and potent, and your taste gets a little dulled after a while.)



Young’s Choc. Stout

Young’s Luxury Double Chocolate Stout (ale with natural chocolate flavor added) Thanks to Randell for this one. I’m not a fan of flavored beer(1). I’m not terribly partial to stouts either. But this beer was pretty good. Maybe it’s because I really like chocolate :-)

This stuff is smooooth. The chocolate flavor comes across strong but well done. It tastes full and balanced. Up front, it’s chocolatey and not too sweet. On the back end, it’s slightly hoppy and a little bit sweet. The flavoring is “integrated” well just like the cherry in Samual Adams’ cherry-wheat (another good beer that I’ve reviewed before).

(1) I know, flavored beer is a harsh term usually reserved for gimmicky crap beer that’s marketed to women(2) and people who don’t like beer. It brings up thoughts of raspberry or other fruit flavored syrup thrown into a mix of filtered water and beer-like flavor.

(2) Not saying that women don’t like beer, but marketed to women is a term frequently used to describe the lighter, kinder, foo-foo sort of food/merchandise. Now my wife really is going to hit me when I get home for being sexist(3).

(3) I’m not sexist, really. Maybe I’ll just stop talking…. now.

Beer Review No. 5

This beer review is roughly my fifth here on the blog, and it features five beers. I didn’t plan it that way :-)

First up is a nice selection from New Belgium Brewing Co. I’ve come to really, really enjoy beer from this brewer. There’s just something about the taste, in general, of all their beers. More about that later…



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(Just in case you’re wondering, those are LEGO parts in the photo :-) I’ve been building a lot lately, and nothing goes better with an afternoon of creative brick building than a quality beer)

Blue Paddle (pilsener lager) This was different from what I’m used to from NB. It’s got a very slight hoppy taste that hampers some of its smoothness, but it has that nice, NB base flavor*. There’s just something a bit different in the taste that I can’t pin down. I tried it for the first time last Saturday, and I wasn’t too impressed. But I tried it again on Sunday with a totally clean pallet and really enjoyed it. I think it’s a taste that doesn’t mix well with other beers (I’d been drinking a little 1554 on Sat.).

1554 (enlightened black ale) Wow, this was great. 1554 is a Guinness stout meets Fat Tire in a subdued and balanced mix. It is rich, but not too rich. It has awesome flavor that is just right. This was my first experience with this beer, and I’ll be drinking much more of it in the near future :-)

Abbey (Belgian style ale) Now we’re getting to my favorite beer type – Belgian Ale, and NB’s Abbey is good. It’s rich and tastey, having that full-flavored ale taste. It’s smooth and goes down well. And, best of all, it has hints of that classic “base” flavor*. If you’ve never tried a Belgian Ale, this is a good one to start with.

Trippel (Belgian style ale) NB’s Trippel is extremely full and has a bit of the “base” NB flavor*. It doesn’t have a very strong “sweet doughy” taste that other heavy trippels have (like Maredsous, St. Bernardus, etc.), thus earning them the nickname, “liquid bread”. But it’s still pretty darn good. I wouldn’t hesitate to buy it when in the mood for such a beer (which I frequently am :-) )

* All NB’s beers all have a little bit of that “base” flavor. This is the characteristic smokey, burned flavor that is so prevalent in Fat Tire (one of my favorites from NB). It’s a unique taste that I absolutely love, and one that keeps me coming back to NB’s fine beers. I cannot say enough good things about it – just get out and try some!

** Another side-note that I’d like to mention about NB’s beers is that they usually all taste pretty fresh. Well, no bottled beer is going to taste as good as draft, and some really suck in that respect, but NB’s beers capture a lot of that freshness and it comes through nicely once you’ve popped that cap off.



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Salvator (Double Bock; by Paulaner) I’ve reviewed this beer before, but I thought I’d mention it again since I just had some this past weekend :-) I picked up the Blue Paddle and 1554 at my local Specs (Houston) and couldn’t resist getting this little bottle. For $2-something, I just couldn’t pass it up.

I always get smiles from the folks at Specs when they see me there. It’s probably because I’m a frequent flyer and they recognize me, but I like to think that they’re pleased with my beer selection :-) The beer guy always smiles and nods his head. I guess I’m just a different customer than the beer posers that come in looking for beer-flavored-water, er… Coors Light. I guess I’d cringe too at the sight of Billy-Bob and Cletus bumbling in the store on a Friday afternoon, knowing that they’re going to stand at the cooler holding three doors open while debating over Miller or Bud or Coors and which gives the worst hangover.

Anyway, I love this thick, hearty beer. It has a strong “sweet doughy” taste that verges on being sour. It might be overpowering for some, and it’s not as well balanced as the grander beers made by Maredsous, St. Bernardus, etc., but the Salvator is still pretty darn good. If Maredsous were a 10, the Salvator would be a 9.

Mothership Wit

Beer Review: Mothership Wit (New Belgium Brewing Company)

Many thanks to my friend, James S., for bringing my attention to this lovely beer. He recently discovered it while he and his wife honeymooned in California.

I found it at my local Specs (NW Houston – Jones & 290). They seem to have just about everything. (FYI, if a local Specs doesn’t have something, then they’ll probably have it at their downtown “warehouse”, and if they don’t have it there, then they’ll order it for you).


Yes, that is fruit in my beer (an orange :-)  

Mothership Wit is a light (in color) wheat beer. It is lightly spiced and has hints of orange. This is the best tasting beer I’ve had in a long time. I could drink this stuff gallons at a time. And it tastes pretty damn good with an orange slice! :-)

It’s very similar to Belgian White (Blue Moon Brewing Company) but much better. Mothership Wit is fresher and brighter tasting (the flavors burst through like sharp, vivid colors in a nice photo). It is smooth, too smooth almost :-) because this stuff will easily slide down your throat several ounces at a time. The hints of orange and spices are well done – they are subtle but show up on your taste buds with pleasure. They compliment the beer ever so nicely.

If you like a smooth, full-tasting (yet still light and refreshing) beer, then give this a try. It’s a perfect thirst-quenching beer for a hot afternoon. I think I’ve found my favorite for the upcoming summer.

Fat Tire on Tap!

Been a while since my last beer post. I’ve just returned from a photography workshop in Death Valley. I’m happy to report that I found Fat Tire on tap!!! What a treat! This was at the restaurant in Panamint Springs, California.



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Fat Tire has a wonderful smokey and full-bodied taste. It’s one of my favorites. I asked for a “super grande” size and got this massive ~24-oz mug :-)