I have had the seed of an idea in my head after making a successful cider last year that I would love to try it again, I just need to secure some apples. I woke up in the morning with some spare time, and contacted DeVoe's Orchard to ask if they have apples for making cider available in winter. Much to my surprise they do! So I stopped by the orchard and within minutes had 2 bushels of "animal apples" (small apples, not great for eating) for 28 bucks! I cleaned and sterilized my equipment, then removed leaves from the stems, and rinsed the apples. I grinded 1 bushel, filling a 5-gallon bucket, then squeezed the cider through a nut filter bag (a slow and effort-filled task). Then did the same with the second bushel. After maybe 2-3 hours I had over 5 gallons of cider in the glass carboy. I ended up transferring it to a plastic fermentation bucket because it has more space than the glass carboy, and I was concerned that if there wasn't enough headroom during primary fermentation that the foaming cider would overflow. I added some campden tablets (sulfites) and waited 24 hours before sprinkling a packet of dry cider yeast (which comes with yeast nutrient) and putting under airlock in a lidded bucket.
Specific gravity: 1.06+
Alcohol potential: 7.5%+ (wow! previous cider potential has been more like 5.5%)
1/2 bushel = 1 giant metal bowlful (overflowing)
The plain cider tastes very sweet, and is not dropping nearly as much sediment as my previous apples. My current (probably wrong) theory is that the sediment is mostly starch, which, given enough time converts to sugar. So maybe these apples have been sitting for long enough to convert all the starch to sugar. I think I can test the sediment next time around using the old iodine trick from elementary school.
Oh, Netflix, you know me so well.
It was an interesting year for apples. In my neighborhood, none of the wild apple trees produced any apples at all. Luckily at my friends A and H's house, they have 3 beautiful apple trees that had plenty! They were kind enough to let me come by and fill up several giant bags, which I brought home and plopped onto a blanket in the chilly spare room of our house.
The first batch (C5)
After carefully cleaning half the apples, they were then grinded using an old garbage disposal and squeezed through a big nut filter bag to fill up a 3-gallon carboy. I added some sulfites to kill off any bacteria and natural yeasts, waited a day or so, then added some cider yeast. A few weeks later, I bottled half of it and transferred the other half to a 1-gallon jug to continue fermenting. The first preliminary batch was pretty good, but had a lot of sediment because of my sloppy bottling process. When the gallon jug finished fermenting, I roughly calculated how much honey to add to bottles to carbonate the cider, and poured (again very roughly) some honey into each bottle before bottling. After a few weeks, I ended up with this beautiful, clean, refreshing cider:
Time passed by quicker than I had control over, and eventually I was left with a pile of aged, softened apples in the spare room. I occasionally picked through them and tossed out any apples that had rotted. When I finally got around to it, there were still plenty of mediocre apples to experiment with. It seemed pretty hopeless, but I said screw it and got to work making a very bold batch of cider. Without really rinsing or cleaning, I grinded and squeezed the apples, half-filling the 3-gallon carboy. Before long, some black spots formed on the surface followed by a thick gelatinous skin. (The second picture shows the pellicle after bottling):
I had expected there to be a lot of natural yeast on the skin to help the fermentation process, however it really struggled to ferment, but did so slowly. The skin that formed is apparently called a pellicle, which I believe occurs when making sour beers where bacteria is intentionally included during brewing. I haven't found much information about this occuring when people make hard cider, so we are now in unknown territory.
After a few weeks, worried that this bottle of bacterial disgustingness was going to infect my house and family (like some of my over-ambitious cheese-making experiments have done in the past) it was time to take the next step and bottle the stuff.
I'm not sure I had the guts to taste this stuff, but in my half-assed bottling technique, I have to suck on the siphon to start the process, and my siphoning skills are atrocious (but improving), and I ended up swallowing several big gulps of the cider, and didn't die! Bonus!
After a few days and still not dying, I cracked open a bottle and pretended like it was an ok thing to drink. Much to my surprise it tasted amazing! It has an otherworldly sweetness. Much more intense and sweeter tasting than regular cider. (The second photo is backlit):
Because the cider is sweet, I expect it has the potential to continue to ferment quite a bit and create bottle bombs. Also, the lack of yeast-based fermentation likely really opens the door for bad things to take over. But so far, the cider is really really tasty in my opinion, and has barely started to carbonate in the bottles. The best bet might be not to let it sit for too long, but who knows?
Big ambitions swirl through my head as I hit the trail. Just five weeks ago this 12 mile mountainy loop was snowless and mostly runnable. How different could today be? Minimal racing snowshoes are strapped to my back just in case, but here at the bottom the snow is only 2-3 inches deep and tracked by a few footprints so I run in just my light trail runners with wool socks for insulation and plastic baggies to keep them watertight. At the first intersection, 2 sets of footprints head off to the right and a set of snowshoe tracks heads straight up the steepest and longest climb in the area. I follow the snowshoe tracks.
The climb is easy going, mostly a walk with a little bit of running mixed in. Everything is covered in snow, but there is no ice to speak of thankfully. Regardless, when I step on certain rocks, my sneaker instantly slides off. It is enough for me to decide to stop and spend several minutes switching to snowshoes, which have sharp metal crampons to prevent such sliding.
I make my way up and up. I'm a little annoyed with the snowshoes. I clumsily trip and fall on my face on occasion, and they constantly flip snow at my back. It's like having an annoying brat behind you laughing and jeering, throwing snowballs every second of the entire trip. I find myself wishing for something in between sneakers and snowshoes - maybe microspikes or crampons. After a while I take the snowshoes back off again, it just isn't worth it. So I stop and spend another several minutes fussing around, something I hate to do.
Three quarters of the way up the mountain, the man who created the snowshoe tracks I am following comes down the hill towards me. He climbed to the lean-to at Fifth Peak but now has to hurry back to regular life. I tell him I have big plans, but am already struggling a bit so I'm not sure if I'll follow through on them.
I continue up the hill for a while and notice that the scenery looks familiar but wrong. I realize I'm looking at the terrain surrounding the lean-to at the top, where I camped with friends one night several years ago. I must have blindly followed the snowshoe tracks and missed my turn. Sure enough, before long I reach the old encampment. I stand around in the lean-to to assess my situation. Over the last hour my optimism has turned to frustration, and I'm having second thoughts about the trip and hiking another 9 miles or more like this.
I explore the lean-to. On the indoor shelf along the wall stand various items including a whisk broom, a can of tuna, one unsmoked mini cigar with peculiar incisor bite marks on the filter, and a small bottle of whiskey, with only the last few ounces remaining.
My resourceful side kicks into gear. I'm not sure there's much I can do with that tuna. But not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I have a small taste of the whiskey, and dig through my bag of limited survival gear. Boy am I glad I brought these matches! There's just something about finding this little geocache in the middle of the cold, dismal wilderness that reawakens something inside me. I light up the cigar and bound down the trail with a renewed vigor, feeling a little less alone out here, with the taste of my rebellious Boy Scout days on my breath bringing an element of childhood nostalgia to the trip.
Before long I reach my missed turn, and head left. There are no tracks whatsover, so I will be breaking ground for the rest of the trip, until I meet up with those other tracks at the end of the loop. It's noticeably less pleasant without the luxury of snowshow tracks to follow. Rather than have my feet constantly under 5-6 inches of snow I stop and put the snowshoes back on again. They work well, and over the next few miles become very comfortable with them, they might be the ideal footwear for today's trekking.
On my legs I'm wearing wool tights and running shorts. With every single step, the small flip-flop-like snowshoe scoops up a big pile of snow and then catapults it right up my skirt (so to speak). Talk about snowballs. For this reason, during the trip, the coldest part of my body is my ass leaving me constantly wondering, 'Is this ok?', and, 'Should I put on the pants I have in my bag?'. I've never really dealt with this particular cold buttocks problem before. I end up just dealing with the cold butt for the rest of the trip. And also my knees. Snow sticks to my knees and melts, and at the tops of some of these peaks where the wind is howling, my kneecaps freeze. It's a little unnerving, is there such thing as frostbitten kneecaps? After a little research, it turns out that kneecaps (and elbows) have little blood flow and are in fact susceptible.
Along the way there are three short but very steep sections of the trail, and the ice and snow is a little sketchy with (or without) snowshoes. Each downward climb goes smoothly, I try to just get through them without any fuss, but those are the moments where I rely a little too much on luck. I think it might make more sense to follow the loop in the opposite direction, because those sections would be a lot easier to go up rather than down. They would also be easier with more snow to fill everything in and make any crash-landings softer.
After several hours of ups and downs, I reach the last peak from which I can see "The Point" at the end of the tongue with no more mountains between me and the point. This is another highlight of the trip where I am effortlessly jogging down the slope, excited to reach the flatter final section of the trip, happy that I won't need to deal with the mountain peaks in the dark. At the bottom is a sign which reports '5 miles to Clay Meadow'. That's on the way back to my car. Ouch! That sounds like a long way! I check my GPS watch which says I've gone 8 miles so far. The round trip is more like 12 miles, which means that I have walked an extra mile taking wrong turns and meandering around in search of the trail! It's after 3 o'clock, and at this moment it feels like forever before I will get done. I send a quick text message to M to let her know my status.
I might as well cover as much ground as I can before it gets dark. The snow cover is thin again, so I strap the snowshoes onto my back and jog along the trail when it's easy to. I'm a bit chilly all over, so it feels really good to warm up this way. I'm starving so I stop again to fill my pockets with food to munch as I move: some Boy Scout Trails End Trail Mix, and a pb&j english muffin. I quickly finish the sandwich, then eat trail mix to excess, cramming handful after handful into my mouth until well after I've had enough.
I am making my way on the trail alongside Lake George. It's a big lake and consists of completely unfrozen water. It's very disconcerting (and at first I can't really explain why) to be walking in icy, snowy, winter conditions with lots of pure, cold lake water lapping the nearby shore. Then, my foot slips on the trail, and there is nothing but a steep slippery 10-foot slope into the drink to the left. Aha, that's why it's disconcerting. As much as I love Lake George summer fun, I need to be careful and avoid taking a swim.
Roughly halfway along this last 5-mile leg, I encounter the 2 pairs of footprints of the hikers. At last! It is a big relief to have tracks to follow because I don't expect daylight to last much longer. The tracks make it easier to run because I don't need to stop at every trail marker in search of the trail hiding under the snow. After following the tracks for a bit, they descend to the ice-covered marshy area, and as always I mindlessly follow. The tracks make their way into the distance along the ice-covered area, and I think to myself, "Idiots! Do they even realize how unfrozen the rest of the lake is?". While the word "idiots" repeats in a loop in my head, I follow along, barely recognizing my own hypocrisy. My only saving grace is that they went first, have giant feet and are therefore much heavier than myself, and at 128 pounds I have never been the first one to break through the ice. And it's ok, I have a plan. If I fall through the ice, I will hold the snowshoes in my hands and use the crampons as ice-grabbers to pull myself out. What could possibly go wrong?
The snow-covered ice is so much faster than the trail! It's like running on the roads. I fancy myself setting land-speed records as I trot along, covering ground on this last leg of the hike faster than would be possible if it were any other season.
Within short minutes I am on the 0.2 mile trail back to the car. There is still a little daylight, I'm dry, warm and toasty, and will make it home by dinnertime!
It's 3:30pm on Monday. I'm sitting on a foot-high piling along a jetty surrounded by total chaos: fishermen casting over each other, birds attacking the water, baitfish spraying out of the surface, with big striped bass and bluefish breaking the surface all within an arms reach. This is the moment we have been searching for all these years, yet I can't lift my arms, my back is a crumpled mass of pure ache, my brain is fried. I'm staring into my lure bag, head spinning, moving slowly, a puzzled look on my face. I never saw this coming - feeling too warn out and exhausted to care about catching yet another giant fish from the surf. How did it all come to this?
Earlier that morning
The previous 2 days had called for pleasant weather and mediocre fishing at sunrise, which led us to not bother setting an alarm for pre-dawn. We slept in and took the day as it came. However Monday was calling for a perfect fish-catching combination: Simultaneous outgoing tide, sunrise, moonset, and "gale force winds" blowing out to sea so we made sure to wake up early so as not to miss our best opportunity. The first two days of scouting had given us a good idea for where to plan our stakeout: the north end of the boardwalk, where a nice sandbar revealed itself as the tide went out. I hiked out to the bar and took a few casts, and quickly made my way to the edge of the bar where I could cast to my left into a deep pool of water. The flat mirror-like surface of the predawn water reflected the foggy mist above, whose calmness was suddenly shattered by the violent splash of a feeding striped bass. I could hear J's voice in my head. "These are pencil poppin' conditions". I pulled out my new lucky pencil popper which I had found washed up on shore the day before. This is a style of lure I have never caught anything with, but I know many of J's most epic fish stories involve this magic lure so I am dying to catch a fish on this lure and discover the faith for myself. It's one of the most labor-intensive lures to use. It's big, heavy, and as legend has it, "if you're not making love to the pencil popper it's not going to have the right action". A saying which never made any sense to me until today with the fish crashing on the surface. Are you getting spastic? Make love to it... It's a rhythm thing. Like Isaac Hayes, smooth buttered soul. Ohhh yeah, there it is. WHAM! A big striped bass rose out of the water and nailed the pencil popper in plain site.
After a bit of a fight, the fish and I made our way to dry land. He measured just over 28 inches. A keeper! Losing my mind with excitement, I wanted to get back out there and catch some more. I carried the fish back to the surf and let him go free. As soon has he swam off, "stupid! why did I do that?" I thought. I don't have too many opportunities to keep a fish like that and I may have just blown it for the trip. Lucky for me, a few casts later, I caught his brother which was also over 28 inches. After a total of 3 fish, soaking wet in my leaking waders and the strong, chill wind, I went and found J. We returned to our hotel, and cooked up an early breakfast of fish. Yum!
Monday Afternoon - Round 2!
Tired by noon, conditions and reports were still looking good so we headed straight back out again. And that's when things really got intense! We made our way up the beach stopping every half mile or so to look around with the binoculars. We find a promising spot, and gear up and start fishing. Before long, J battles a gargantuan bluefish to shore! Followed by another!
I tossed a few lures into the lucky water, but quickly grew impatient as I saw excitement brewing in the area of jetties to our left. I made my way to the second jetty, and found a nice relaxed spot to take a few casts. Looking to my left, I notice several fishermen running at me. That's odd. I look in front of me and see what they are running for. At my feet is a massacre of baitfish (bunker) and bass! The tide has receded just enough so that the sand bar forms an outer wall and the jetty's block the side exits. Meanwhile the bass and bluefish were ready and waiting on the deep end of the sand bar to force the baitfish into this beautiful deathtrap!
I cast out a weighted treble hook and quickly snag a bunker and liveline the little guy. Wham! Fish on! I frantically pull a nice bass to shore, remove the hook, and by the time I return him to sea I am surrounded by countless fishermen. I switch lures to my new bomber - a big plastic fish covered with giant hooks. I cast and quickly latch on to another fish! Now that there are fishermen all around me I tighten the drag and land the fish as quickly as I can. Catch and release. I cast again into the fray and catch another nice bass! I reel him in and discover that this bass was foul-hooked, which means the hook was not hooked in it's mouth. I guiltily remove the hook and release him back into the water. I spend a few minutes to remove some of the extra hooks from the lure. I take a few more casts, but it this big lure just doesn't feel right. That's when I sit down on the jetty and take stock of my situation. I am completely worn out. The situation is dangerous with hooks flying everywhere. Nothing in my lure bag seems appropriate for this chaos. So I just sort of sit and try to come up with a plan but end up feeling pretty satisfied to numbly gaze out and watch the frenzy as it unfolds and eventually wraps up. I pack up my things and wander down to find J, whose giant fish count for the day has reached 8! That's 15 fish in one day between the two of us!
Here's a quick look at the lures that were successful for me on this trip (SP Minnow in bunker color, a bomber, a snag hook, and the pencil popper):
Today some friends and I ran the Seven Sisters Trail Race. It's a really tough race over 7 peaks (and back again) in the Holyoke Range near Amherst, Massachusetts. It's steep for the entire 10-12 miles, sometimes up, sometimes down.
Me, T, and S met up at 5:30am to drive east to Amherst. S had some pretty serious pnemonia as of yesterday, but has miraculously recovered and is ready to test out those fluid-filled lungs. T went for a long hike the day before and is feeling the burn. H has had a rough year and at the last minute decides to test his mettle. Me? I'm well rested, but more than a little nervous. I've been behaving myself and avoiding suicidal running for the better part of a year and I know that my "avoiding suicidal running" score is going to get reset back to zero momentarily. It feels like a 50% chance that I'll have a great race, a 50% chance my body will fall apart.
There is a bit of fussing over what to wear at the parking lot. It's dry now, but it's going to start raining pretty heavily really soon. I decide to just wear shorts and a t-shirt and accept the fact that it might get a little cold. It turned out to be the right choice, despite the cold rain I was very comfortable temperature-wise.
We line up in our corrals and the race starts. By the top of the first big climb, S has passed enough runners to be out of sight. It's a difficult race to pace in the beginning. I would like to take it easy and save my strength. But it's a tight single-track path and it's difficult to pass people. So the options are to either relax and get stuck at the pace the guy in front of you decides to go. Or, if you want to find your proper place in the race, you gotta go hard because everyone else is. Eventually you'll find your spot sandwiched between two runners, too tired to pass the guy in front of you, and too competitive to let the guy behind you catch up.
After the first few miles it's clear that this wheezing pace is too fast for the full course of the race. I take it a little easier and keep my breath at a nice huffing and puffing. It seems as though everyone else is thinking the same thing, because very little passing is going on. The up hills are steep. I try to approach them with speed and keep the momentum for a while before switching to a power walk/climb.
At first, descending means carefully picking a path down steep terrain. But once the leaping muscles warm up and the conscious part of the brain turns off, oh my god the story changes pretty quick. The terrain is coming at you fast and there is just a split second to decide how to deal with it. As you approach a horizon line on the trail at the crest of a hill, the eyes take in the scene in one quick flash and make an instant decision: steep drop off, I can see the bottom, leap, and mid-flight start planning how you're going to avoid splatting. Tap a few rocks with your feet on the way down, just enough to break your fall a little before hitting the ground running. You could put on the breaks but it turns out it's way easier to just pedal faster. As long as you don't die.
And that's where this event shines most brightly. A few minutes ago, we were normal people, nervous and prudent. But now through a steady process of testing limits one-by-one, the mind and body takes everything we throw at it and begs for more, confidence building until we are flying down the mountains like a super hero.
Sadly S's fluid-filled lungs veto his decision to race today. He wishes me luck as he makes his way back to the start.
There is a steady rainfall during most of the race. A giant fallen tree naturally bridges a steep section of trail. I can recall running down the log the previous year on the return trip. I promise myself not to do anything stupid on the way back: in these wet and muddy conditions, this log is off-limits.
A few runners go past me, running in the opposite direction. They have reached the halfway turnaround, and are on their way back. Counting runners, it looks like I am in roughly 9th place. One unfamiliar runner goes by and says, somewhat questioning, "Jake?". It's a fellow Strava runner (C) who I know well through his runs, but have never seen what he looks like.
A steady, long, not-too-steep descent leads to a big aid station at the halfway point. Between the rain and the mud, my sandals have a nasty case of mudfoot. Because my foot is sliding around the sandal, I am unable to turn, slow down, or speed up without major pain and difficulty. As I bomb down the hill, the aid station comes at me faster than I can handle. H's wife C yells my name and gives me a big pat on the back, and her friend is also cheering. We have gone way too long without seeing each other, but it's not a great time to catch up. I slip and slide uncontrollably into the aid station, bending like a spring to avoid knocking the table over. As I come to an awkward stop, I find one hand in a box of oranges, and the other in a box of granola bars. I close each fist around it's respective food item, and my body springs back onto the course, thus beginning the second half of the race. I cram the orange into my mouth and hook shot the peel into the garbage can and blast off back up the hill.
I haven't looked at my watch, not even once. This was a promise I made to myself long before starting the race. I am seriously proud of myself for this while I run because I usually have horrible self-control. On a trail run, the watch doesn't give any useful information, so it's best to ignore it. I just like to use the GPS watch to record the run so I can look at it later. At the halfway point I indulge in taking a look at my time. And. Realize. I never started the watch at the beginning of the race! D*mit! Oh well. I start the watch and continue on my way.
The first half of the race went spectacularly. I made great time, finishing in roughly 1 hour, without overdoing it so I felt I had a lot of energy for the return trip. However, by the second half, the affects of the rain and the hundreds of runners in the mud took their toll and made for a slow and messy return trip, particularly with the treadless and mudfooted sandals.
T ran by on his final approach to the turnaround. One of his old Vibram 5 Finger shoes came apart, and you could see the entire front of his bare foot sticking out the front of his shoe. Shortly after, I was excited to see H run by, I wasn't sure if he had decided to run or not.
I proceeded as best I could. Everyone was struggling with the slippery mud. I was sliding down one hill, precariously skiing down the mud with a runner directly behind me, when all of a sudden it shushed me right onto the log bridge I had promised not to run down. It was too perfect. Much to the surprise of the runner behind me, I ran along the log, with him down below on the trail, and made it back to the trail without losing my place.
I spent the rest of the race moving pretty slow on account of the mud. Lots of runners sped past me. It was a little disheartening on some of the most fun downhills to be more or less walking. And cursing. I was very happy to hear the sound of loud music in the distance, it meant I was almost done with a very tough run. I made my way down Bear Mountain to the road, and ran the last bit of pavement to the finish line.
While not quite as fast as I might have hoped, it was an absolute blast. Those guys really put together a top-notch race. I'm so glad to have run it again this year. And the best part? I have yet to run a solid Seven Sisters. Which means I'll need to return next year to take another crack at redeeming myself!
In other exciting news, a certificate for a pair of La Sportiva shoes was raffled off after the race. In a bizarrely canny twist of fate, I was the lucky winner! Maybe if it's rainy again next year I can shelve the sandals and dress up like one of the weird La Sportiva guys that show up to this race each year.
Full report coming soon.
Toss this ugly 3-pronged hook into a big school of 2-inch bunker ("peanut bunker"), snag a little fish, and let it drop down below the school where the hungry bass are waiting. The bass biting felt like a tiny little bump. Set the hook, and get ready for a fight.
Bass Sushi, Bass Sandwiches, Bass Tacos, Blackened Bass...
I had seen what I thought to be a small Hen of the Woods mushroom during the day, and went to fetch it at night. I reached down to pluck the mushroom in the darkness, and found that it was sort of buried in pine needles and leaves and was much bigger than I expected. Probably 10 pounds or so. I made dinner (a mushroom cream sauce with homemade salt and cider wine) and still had lots left over. I pickled some using this recipe.
It all started after M tasted some of the naturally sparkling Saratoga Springs mineral water and mentioned how salty it tastes. I boiled down some of the sulphury water to try and make salt. The long story is here. When the water first started boiling, a lot of calcium sank to the bottom, which I strained out. Luckily the sulfur smell went away as it boiled. The water tasted saltier and saltier as it reduced.
I boiled the water all the way down until nothing was left except a salty paste.
I suspect that the remaining 'salt' is half salt and half calcium judging by the taste and texture, but perfectly usable as a seasoning. A lot of the excess calcium probably could have been removed by straining later in the process. Here is the process, with the final product at the end:
Weird, I just noticed that calcium carbonate is a salt, too. I guess I have some learning to do about what exactly is a salt?
This got me thinking - what's the worst place you could make salt from? How about Coney Island sea water? Well, the folks from Urban Sproule tried it and are now in business making local NYC sea salt:
"At first, said Gallagher, they wanted to make salt from each of the five boroughs. “But we tried with Coney Island salt and it was just gray and gross,” chimed in Sproule. Eventually, using their Greenmarket connections, Glenn Bickleman and Charlie Corriss of American Seafood, agreed to fill five-gallon buckets with ocean water drawn 30 miles off the Montauk coast. “I want my salt,” says Gallagher, “to come from where my fish comes from.”"