Blog of an aspiring foodie

Archive for March, 2009

Talking with Brock about cask Christmas Ale

Posted by beer_chris on 12-March-2009

Had an interesting discussion with Brock Wagner at the Christmas ale pub crawl a few weeks ago related to the authenticity of Saint Arnold cask ale.

We spoke of the methods used to make cask Christmas and how it differs from authentic English ‘real ale’. Basically, Brock explained how he felt about cask ale and we talked about what made it unique. He explained how the hop flavor really comes through in the Christmas when it is dry hopped in the cask, and how the lower carbonation helps put those flavors together. He spoke about how much he loves the Christmas in the cask – and I completely agree. Cask Christmas is, in my opinion, the best cask aged ale Saint Arnold makes.

We went on to discuss the importance of the cellarman to so-called ‘real ale’. The Christmas Brock and I were drinking that night was really cloudy, because the cask (with all of it’s lovely active yeasties inside) had been moved around and shaken up quite a bit. The cellarman, in an authentic ‘real ale’ pub, is responsible for a number of things , all very important:
1 – keeping the kegs still – so that the yeast stay out of the beer and the pints are dispensed crystal clear.
2 – managing the spline – a porous wood spike pushed into the top of the cask. The spline allows a limited amount if air inside and helps the bar wench pull pints without (too much) effort
3 – priming the beer as it is dispensed to maintain appropriate carbonation. Unlike ‘normal’ draft beer, cask ale’ is naturally carbonated, which means that the yeast inside the cask consumes residual sugars and creates additional CO2. As beer is dispensed, the cellarman gas to make a judgment – add just enough sugar to the cask to feed the yeast and keep the beer carbonated without adulterating the flavor of the beer.

Bottom line – cask Christmas is pretty darn close to being ‘real ale’ – although not quite in style for a true English ale (it’s too darn strong!!), but we only have one pub in Houston that comes close to treating casks like they are treated in British ‘real ale’ pubs.

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Missing my Granny

Posted by beer_chris on 5-March-2009

I exchanged an email with my mother about this YouTube channel – DepressionCooking – featuring a 93 year old grandmother cooking the types of foods that she made for her family during the Great Depression. My mother’s email indicated how much she missed her mother (my Granny) while watching these.

Honestly, I expected to have the same reaction when I clicked on the link for the first time. However, it didn’t really strike me that way. What it reinforced to me is that my memories of my Granny are so wrapped up in specific types of food. Clara (the DepressionCook) is definitely infuenced by Italian ingredients. My Granny was born in far western Louisiana (her hometown, Rock, is now underneath Toledo Bend reservoir, if you know where that is). Her cooking was completely influenced by classic southern cooking techniques. Her primary utensils were an amazingly well seasoned cast iron skillet and a wooden spoon. She kept bacon drippings on the stove – kept warm by the pilot light – and cooked everything in them. She (and my mother) taught me to love grits with butter & salt, eggs over easy cooked in bacon grease, fried okra, cornbread, mustard greens, black eyed peas, and Totinos party pizza.

OK, that last one doesn’t really fit but I do have many memories of eating those things at her house as a kid, and even today I sometimes need a Totinos Combination party pizza in order to feel better after a long day.

So ultimately I didn’t have a very emotional reaction to Clara as she cooked lentils, fried beef cutlets in olive oil and dressed a salad in balsamic vinegar and salt and called it done. Those are all wonderful, but just didn’t ‘get’ me.

Here are the things that do ‘get’ me:

2 weeks ago I worked from home to be with some contractors that are doing some work in my home. For lunch I cooked up a can of black eyes and made jalapeno cornbread in my own well seasoned cast iron skillet. Just cutting into that cornbread and taking a bite nearly brought tears to my eyes – my Granny passed about 10 years ago – but the the way I was compelled to cut the first piece out of the skillet:  very carefully, taking care to start in the very center, the way I cut a pat of butter just to the right thickness and put it in a little pocket I made in that cornbread triangle, done so it melted just right. These simple things are things I learned from her, and  it just brought all the memories flooding back.

When I eat a bowl of grits in the morning, I immediately am transported back to her house, having breakfast with her before I headed off to class at the University of Houston. I often made a point to stop by her house before class, and some of my fondest memories are of those times together with her – just the two of us.

When I shop for okra and green beans at Caninos, I think about the innumerable times she took me up there when she was taking care of me while my Mom was in school. I wonder – honestly, I do – if she would pick the same just-right okra pods I pick out, or sift out the same undersized green beans I leave behind. I’m mental like that, I guess, wrapping up these really emotional memories with food. It makes it real for me, and is one of the ways I keep her memory – and I LOVE that this happens, as odd as that may sound.

I’m tearing up just writing this – that’s how compelling these memories are, and they are all wrapped up in these foods, tastes and recipes.

So, whether Clara’s postings touch me or not, I can certainly understand the power they may have over others, and I only wish I had YouTube about 10 years ago – I’d be making the damn best fried chicken you’ve ever tasted, cuz I’d have the recipe!

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