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July 3, 1998

We're Gonna Have Root Beer!

The other day I had a long rant about what made an interesting journal entry, and Tom Gryn had the appropriate response of saying that it was up to me, rather than up to the dictates and whims of my readers. The thing is that one of my preferences is to tell a good story. Cera once said that people didn't read my journal for the stories, but rather because they were interested in me. That shouldn't, however, keep me from telling the most interesting stories that I can.

Some days make better stories than others, and sometimes the structure of the day is like the structure of a story. Beginning with the slow movement and preparation of waking up, flowing into the middle of the day, and then slowing and gradually darkening to night and the blank page of sleep. Well, sometimes the not-so-blank page of sleep, with some of the dreams that I have. Some days, however, are much better bracketed by sleep without the dreams.

Yesterday was such a day. Go re-read it, as I've added a bunch to the entry to tell its story more clearly.

I keep debating changes in style. Telling of the day after it is over gives me some distance, and it is evident in what I write. It has more form, but also more emotional detachment. Which is both good and bad, and depends, mostly, on how much I wish or want others to see how my interior mind works or fails to work. Writing in the moment has the advantage of getting my present emotional state down and out and makes it easier for me to change my real-life behavior if I catch myself in a bad habit.

Today, this new page is much better. Pretty much everything has worked today, though we've had to deal with some of the emotional fallout of the yesterday's news. It's now yesterday's news and distance has its merits.

One of the things I've had to deal with is the simple fact that I'm not up to doing social anything today, needed to sort out internal thoughts and emotions and gain a feeling of some routine or something cool and wonderous in simple terms. So one of the things we tackled was something that John's been telling me about for years and years, but we never really had the gumption to actually do. That special and magical task was to brew and bottle our own root beer. <laughter>

The first fun started with two cases of beer bottles, the big 22 ounce puppies that we had caps for and would hold enough to make filling each one worth drinking. Filling something as small as a twelve ounce bottle would take forever for four gallons and it would be barely enough for a single drink. The 22 ouncers were hefty enough to share.

So we cleaned out all the bottles, then stuck 'em in a solution made to sterilize 'em completely. We filled them with the solution and set them up on the porch until we were ready to deal with 'em.

Next we heated up water, added more sugar than I ever thought possible, added a whole bottle of root beer extracts, and then dissolved and activated yeast by stirring champagne yeast into a cup of sugar water. We nearly put a pound of sugar into four gallons of water, so it was all sticky sweet, but most of the sugar is actually for the yeast, which will convert the sugar to carbon dioxide. Stirred with a plastic spoon and used John's brewing thermometer to make sure of the temperature. The yeast then went into the brew and it fizzed and foamed as it all hit all the sugar and warmth and water and started to multiply.

The sitting bottles were then emptied, a few at a time and set on the counter next to the great pot of yeasty syrup, it really smelled like root beer at that point.

We found out, about then, that we had no funnel. Oops. So I just took a Pyrex two-cup measure and started pouring the syrup into the bottles with a pie pan to catch the drippings. It worked out pretty well, and John capped 'em as I filled 'em and cleaned them off with a sponge. That took a while.

By the time we were done we had two cases of filled and capped bottles that are now resting on their sides in the laundry room. There is a tendency, if the bottles are filled too much or the yeast gets really rambunctious and they're left too long for the bottles to explode, and the laundry room floor is easier to clean than most our other floors. This should be fun. John's family used to do this every summer, every two or four weeks, as the family of four boys went through the root beer at a tremendous rate. I'm not entirely sure that I'll go through it all that fast, but it'll be fun to give the stuff away if it's any good and say we made it and that if they give the bottles back, we can make more.

That was cool. For a $2 bottle of extract, a $2 packet of yeast, and maybe a couple dollars of sugar we had two cases of homebrewed root beer when I'd likely have spent a good thirty dollars on that much.

But it'll be at least a week before it's done, and the peak flavor should be arrived at around two weeks from now. Then we can refrigerate it or something if we need to, and the yeast will have eaten enough of the sugar to make it drinkable. The syrup was amazingly thick.

The day was raining solidly this morning. So there really wasn't any way we were going to be able to ride to the Heritage Fair, not a bad thing, as I really didn't want to deal with people en mass or with much stress, especially the kinds of stress that would be likely from riding a bike again for the first time in a long time in nasty traffic. So, instead, we went shopping for the things we needed for tomorrow and did all the things we'd put off for weeks. Stuff like finding suitable framing for a painting that Mom did for us.

There was a short time when Mom's glaucoma threatened to take away her ability to paint forever. And the surgery she went through only seemed to make it worse, but then, when she had fully healed, it was far, far better than before. So she's painting again, beautifully. So we had one of her paintings from our visit, which she had given us as an early anniversary present. Pretty keen.

We got all kinds of small things done, including a vacuum part, espresso for making tiramisu, lots of bits and pieces of things for dinner, various pieces that the house needed, and ended up in a video game rental shop. But I needed to write this afternoon, so we didn't rent any right away, but did keep notes for future possibilities. One really funny thing was running into the co-workers of one of our friends at lunch and eating with them and talking with them for quite a while. That was pretty good.

So I may write more about the evening tomorrow, but this seems a solid day so far, and likely to remain that way. Jon Singer was a really, really nice and cool guy and phoned me about the Clarion West party tonight, and understood when I said that I just didn't want to deal with a party. He is sweet and cool and we promised to get together sometime. I may turn my last ripe mangos into a sorbet so that he can have some, as that would freeze well and keep a while.

Gonna try something that Charlie reminded me of how to make, which is a British Toad in the Hole, which is basically British sausages cooked and put in the bottom of a Yorkshire Pudding, which is the exact same thing as a savory version of a Dutch Baby or the Original Pancake House's baked pancakes. I think it's possible to use the drippings from the sausages' cooking to make a passable gravy, especially if I caramelize some onions in the pan after the sausage, add some wine or even just water to scrape up the good stuff and thicken it with a bit of flour or corn starch. Add peas and we'll actually have a meal.

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