Rudolph’s Red Nose Ale, the tasting

For those of you following my blog, you may be aware I put together a Christmas Ale I named “Rudolph’s Red Nose Ale“.  This was a play on words, since I designed it to be a Christmas spiced ale, but with a red tint and styled after Belgian Christmas ales.  It’s not a typical Belgian Red Ale, in that it is not aged in wood, and so doesn’t have the sour characteristic of that style, but it comes fairly close.  The red color comes from a certain type of “crystal” malt, Caramel 80, which gives the beer a slightly sweet flavor and brick red color.  The Belgian Abbey yeast was used to give it a fruity flavor, not too pronounced, but not requiring the actual addition of fruit.  The hops were meant to be in the background, providing bitterness and a bit of aromatic hop flavor, but this is a malty brew and so not meant to taste hoppy like an IPA.  So starting from this:

IMG_1836a

Partial Mash for Rudolph’s Red Nose Ale

We made it to this:

A Bottle of Rudolph's Red Nose Ale

A Bottle of Rudolph’s Red Nose Ale

The label was cleverly created by my daughter Katie, who seems to have a knack for design.

In the glass:

Glass of Rudolph's Red Nose Ale

Glass of Rudolph’s Red Nose Ale

The pour was very nice, a bit underwhelming for the head, which was thinner than I was expecting.  The final alcohol content was 7.35 % ABV, which is around where I was shooting, and appropriate for a Christmas Ale meant to dull the abrasive edges of family get-togethers.  It has a nice slightly fruity and slightly sweet taste, and the spices are also there but in the background.  Reading further, I could have added spices to the secondary fermentation to make them more pronounced, but alas, didn’t think of this or know I could until after it was already bottled.  It’s part of the learning process.  I like the way the reddish hue comes through.

It got a true test on New Year’s Eve.  A group of about fifteen from my running club went for a late afternoon run, then gathered at my house for a pre-New Year’s Eve celebration.  We had a real fire going in the fireplace, and a warm spinach and feta dip accompanied by thin slices of crusty french bread.  There were clementine oranges and some Manchego cheese.  Many of the gathered runners sampled the Rudolph’s, and reports from this discerning crowd were very favorable.

So now I have a great brew to keep me warm the next couple of months, while I come up with a recipe for a spring beer.

Frank

Resolutions versus Goals

Yes, 2013 has arrived, the ball in Times Square with a crystal remembrance of Dick Clark has dropped, and now what?  Did something change?  Have we arrived in a new time and place?  Not from what I’ve been reading in the press, and yes, I am one of those who still reads a newspaper.  I admit to reading a lot of it online, but still get the old fashioned paper delivered to my house.  Today, that feels like such an anachronism.  So, perhaps that is something that has changed.  From what I have read and listened to on TV, and also read in blogs, the latest message for the new year is that “I don’t make resolutions, I make goals”.  TV personalities have stated this as if they made up the phrase, although it has been everywhere of late.  What is the difference, and can one, or should one, have both?

From reading about the history of resolutions, it appears the first record of this practice was from the Babylonians, who celebrated the start of the new year around the time of the vernal equinox.  They had an eleven day celebration, and promised to return borrowed goods and repay debts.  The Romans moved the celebration of the new year to January 1, which was to honor the god Janus, whose two faces looked backwards and forwards and symbolized remembering the past but looking forward to the future.  Over time, resolutions have taken on religious and personal health themes, betterment of mankind and other noble features, but generally are intended to make things better in the new year, an erasing of the errors of the past.  A resolution starts at the time it is made.  We all know the most common resolutions.  Lose weight, go to the gym regularly, stop smoking, cut back on drinking, have better study habits, be more attentive to others, learn a new language, laugh more, stress less, attend church regularly, and one which is almost always successful, stop making resolutions.

It is well known that resolutions frequently are not kept.  This is  where goals come in to play.  Goals go hand in hand with resolutions.  If your resolution is to lose weight, set simple, attainable goals which can be kept.  For example: ” I resolve to lose weight, and I will lose one pound in two weeks”.  There!  Not too hard, but not insignificant.  Then you can build on your successes as they come.  Didn’t make your goal?  Not to fear, reset it and keep going.  If you made your goal, picture it going forward for twelve more weeks.  At a pound every two weeks, that amounts to six pounds.

But keeping resolutions is so difficult because we like the ruts we fall into.  The comfort of an extra helping of mac and cheese.  The calming effect of the draw on the cigarette.  The buzz from the second beer.  It takes, yes, resolve, to keep a resolution.

While the recidivism rate for new year’s resolutions is spectacularly high, it is definitely worth trying.  Otherwise, we wind up living exactly the same life year after year.  The calendar may as well have only months, no years listed.  How do we increase the chance that we will keep our resolutions?  One way is to inform your family or close friends of your resolution.  Then, you know they will be watching to see if you meant what you said.  This can backfire, though, if you didn’t really mean what you said, it just sounded good, and now your family is harping on you to put down the Xbox controller and go out for a jog.  Another method is to share a resolution with a group.  The group dynamic can work very well since everyone is working towards the same goals.  For something like learning a new language, this might mean joining a group lesson.  Even if you are the worst student in the group, you are going to learn something.

This leads nicely into running, and why it is good to join a running club.  It certainly is easy to go out and run by yourself.  It takes little in the way of equipment, you can set your time to run whenever you wish, and you are not beholden to someone else’s pace, schedule, or tendency to argue politics while running.  But a running club gives much more than it takes.  First, you are able to meet like-minded people with very similar goals in mind.  You will be introduced to activities you may not have thought you could do, such as running a half marathon, or doing a trail run.  Runners in my club are generally quite upbeat individuals with lots of personal goals in mind.  Once you feel part of the group, which really only takes being willing to show up, you will get a lot of encouragement from the other runners who will smile on your successes and share their own stories of setbacks.  You will have access to meetings where training plans are shared and speakers come to talk about coaching, stretching, yoga, racing experiences, avoiding injuries, and other topics.  You may find yourself taking on more challenging goals as you meet the first few easier ones, which will lead to other resolutions being met, such as weight loss, getting fit, and lessening the stress in your life.  You are not likely to learn a foreign language or attend church more regularly, if those are your resolutions, so those will need to be addressed in another forum.

I feel making resolutions is a good thing, and setting goals makes resolutions happen.  If one is not successful at keeping a resolution, here’s a tip:  many cultures around the world celebrate the new year at different times than January 1.  So, there are plenty of opportunities to re-declare resolutions throughout the year.  My personal resolutions I am willing to share with my close friends reading this blog.  I would like to eat more nutritiously, primarily by making meals from scratch rather than buying anything pre-processed, with the exception of Greek yogurt, which I think is pretty healthy.  I already started, by making pasta from scratch with my daughter the week after Christmas.  It was fun, was a bit of hard work, but tasted great.  I also resolve to read the books piling up on my bedside table, most of which I’ve started but not gotten very far into.  And finally, in the tradition of the Babylonians, I’m going to return books I borrowed from a friend about a year ago and are still on my shelf.

Frank

Chasing Reindeer

December is a hectic time of the year.  The sudden realization of how many days left before Christmas makes us a desperate lot, and then there’s all the great traditions of the season which must be carried out.  One, the annual hauling up out of the basement of the lights, ornaments, tree stand, fake garlands of spruce and pine, the statue of Father Christmas looking resplendent in fur collar and slightly scraggly white beard, sleigh bells to hang on the front door, and the stockings to hang over the fireplace.  I always seem to miss the mild days of opportunity to hang the lights outside, and wind up trying to get my hands to work on a cold, windy day, dangling dangerously under the eave of the porch to string the icicle lights.  First is the challenge of untangling the strings, which I was sure I put away last year in an orderly coil, but somehow, I suppose due to their boredom in the basement, become intricately woven together in a free=form, almost spiteful, version of macrame.  Having laid them out, finally, on the porch, tested them to be sure I have a live string, I pick out the working strands to hang.  Of course, I’ll spend thirty minutes with a strand that won’t work, trying to figure out which of the one thousand bulbs is out and needs replacing, only to fail completely, throw out that strand, and move on.  The “icicles” of the new replacement strand, fresh out of the box, are contracted up and won’t hang down naturally no matter how much I tug on them.  Hmmm…., anyway, I proceed to get them up on last years’ nails, starting at one side of the porch and making my way around the perimeter.  Then, there’s the moment I bring them to life, ala Chevy Chase in Christmas Vacation, with a little drum roll in my head, as I plug in the extension cord.  Yes!, I say to myself, they’re all working!  Not to last, though, as sure as reindeer can fly, one or more of those strands will fail, creating a dark space in the icicle light line up, giving the house a certain trailer park chic appeal.  Of special note, this year my son and daughter did the work, and somehow, they managed to get the lights up and working better than I’ve ever  been able.

The next major task involves finding a tree.  We can usually find a tree to our liking at any one of many spots selling them in our area.  We like  a nice, full spruce, tall to look proportional in our old house with the high ceilings.  I am amazed at how that tree can be forced through the chute with branches held in by the web of plastic around it, but it makes for easy transport.  We prepare a space for the tree in our parlor, rearranging the furniture to allow for this gargantuan icon of the season.  Getting it up in it’s stand is a bit of difficulty, although not too hard.  We then cut open the binding web and watch as the branches unfurl.  Hopefully, we’ve given adequate space to those branches, and they don’t take out any eyes or things hanging on the wall.  My wife is particularly good at taking out branches and trimming up the edges, to make it look just right without having been obviously altered.  If I were to try that, I know it would come out looking like a victim.  Putting up the lights and ornaments is certainly one of the most pleasurable things to do, although it doesn’t hurt to have some Christmas music playing and a steady flow of beer or enhanced eggnog to allow us to appreciate the moment.

Our gift buying is a combination of guesswork and direct grilling of the subject to see what we should wrap and put under the tree.  I’ve certainly turned to more on-line buying these last few years.  Nothing satisfies me more than to be able to avoid the mall parking lot.  I had the opportunity to visit a high-end purveyor of home goods a week ago, in Philadelphia, to return an unfortunate on-line purchase.  I thought I was getting a steal, paying $40 for a coffee maker of good name, good pedigree.  It turned out it made weak coffee much less flavorful than our old, ugly Mr. Coffee, so I took it to the “bricks and mortar” store to return it.  The store was filled with high-end Christmas shoppers, examining carefully a $35 set of ice tongs, or listening to a slick presentation of why they really need to spend upwards of $1200 to get that perfect cup of coffee Christmas morning.  No wonder my purchase was so incredibly wrong.  I misplaced the decimal point by two positions.  Regardless, and without shame, I brought that machine to the counter asked to return it.  “Had it been used?” the woman behind the counter asked.  “Yes, that’s how I know it makes bad coffee,” I replied.  With a dour look, and without even asking if everything was in the box, she took it back and gave me a refund.  I suspect it is going in the trash, as it can’t possibly be worthy of repackaging.  My favorite real shopping experience at Christmas time, though, is visiting Barnes and Noble.  It’s busy, but not so busy one can’t move about in the store, see what the new novels and biographies look like, pick up a real book and thumb through it, get a few laughs in the humor section, examine the games and puzzles, and look through the calendars.  I went yesterday, and was quite pleased to not only find the books I was looking for, but to have had an uplifting time doing so.

Another tradition is the annual office gift carousel.  I always give my secretary a nice, large spiral cut ham.  While this may seem a throwback to some industrial age era of Dickensian mindset, I see it as a true thank you for all she’s done for me this year.  She has my back, so to speak, and anticipates my daily struggles.  She fends off attacks from the flanks and calms worried callers.  There are a thousand things she does to make my life better, and I’d like her and her family to have a nice, tasty meal to show for it.  Perhaps originating with the writer Dorothy Parker, the definition of eternity is two people and a ham.  So that’s the best part of office gift giving.  We also give the rest of the office staff home-baked small cakes, lemon-poppy, pumpkin, pecan and apple, and they all seem to like them very much.  This year my daughter did the baking, and word at the office was, they couldn’t tell the difference from the ones my wife made in years past, so that is high praise.  For my partners, there is a tradition of trading wine bottles.  Not fancy wine, not special wine, just whatever is convenient to grab a case of at the moment.  It has become an obligatory, drab exercise, made slightly better by the underlying humor of seeing your name on a sticky note attached to the bottle in place of a real gift card.  Personally, I can’t just buy a cheap, mass produced bottle with a kangaroo on the label, so I do look for something unique and special, without spending a lot, but I’m not sure whether that translates to appreciation of the wine.

With all the rushing around trying to get things done in time to settle down and truly enjoy the holiday season, when do we run?  Well, there’s nothing wrong with backing off some of the intensity of training at this time of year to let the old bones and joints recover.  Yet, we still need to keep up with the base.  Running in the dark is challenging and dangerous, but there’s little daylight when one can run, especially since work doesn’t stop.  Dressed up for a run, I look like a miner, with my headlamp and reflective chest-wear.  When I see the rest of the runners in our Wednesday night run heading down the street, and see the reflection off the gear from a car’s headlight, they do stand out, though, as they should.

As this year closes, I’d like to thank my family for all their support in keeping me going in running and all my pursuits.  I’d like to thank the members of my running  club, South Jersey Athletic Club, for their terrific motivational support and companionship.  And, I’d like to thank my fellow bloggers, whose blogs I have been following, for their posts with clever writing, beautiful photos, and inspiration.  I hope you all have a wonderful holiday and we’ll catch up in the new year, when plans for our next marathon adventure will be laid out.

Frank

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