Friday, October 28, 2011

Enological Adventures in the Garage

It is hard to pick a favorite of all the great aspects of living and working in the Northwest....but this particular possibility is fighting for a top spot!  This fall we started a new adventure, one that I've been pondering for a couple of seasons now - home winemaking!  Although the Yakima Valley has long been known as the Orchard of America (I don't think that's an official title, but it should be), and the Hopyard of the US (again, making this up....but we do produce most of the hops grown in the US) the region has also been producing some great wines over the last 30 years or so.  Vineyards cover much of the hillsides of the lower valley and I have been contemplating jumping into winemaking for some time.  In preparation of the adventure, I enrolled in an evening class at the local community college last year, The Essentials of Winemaking, and got familiar with the particulars of producing wine, focusing on reds in particular.  It was also a great opportunity to get to know some of the folks in the industry - this investment of time would pay dividends later!

This was to be the year for our first foray into winemaking and I contacted a local vineyard and winery to see about buying some grapes at picking time.  The cold spring we had this year delayed the ripening of every fruit produced in the region.  The grapes I was hoping for, local Cabernet Sauvignon, would normally have come off the vine in late September, but they needed more time to develop their sugars.  Harvest kept getting pushed back one week, then another, then another.....finally the e-mail notice arrived, on the 25th of October - it was go time!

Piper and I headed out to the spot in a borrowed truck with two 20 gallon food-grade containers that I had picked up earlier this fall, outfitted with drain spigots, marked for volume gradations and sanitized.  The grapes were in large bins, picked early in the morning and then collected at the winery.  I loaded 200lbs into a separate container and then those were loaded into the crusher/destemmer (this was a very nice added bonus, to have the grapes crushed).  The crushed grapes were pumped into our containers right in the back of the truck.  We strapped them down and went to pay for them - the vineyard owner and I had been chatting through the process and he waved me off as I reached for my wallet.  "They're on me, enjoy!"  Pretty amazing....we expressed our gratitude and I promised to bring some homebrewed beer in the future (one topic of our conversations) for his warehouse crew.

Winemaking is more complex than brewing beer, but it is also more forgiving in many respects.  Wine can be adjusted at multiple stages, right up until in goes into the bottle - the chemistry is a bit more complicated than I generally have to deal with when making beer, and one is presented from the start with a dizzying array of options for additives that can enhance the process and outcome for small-batch wine.  I leaned heavily on the fantastic information available from as well as everything I had picked up in my class last year.  It has all helped lend some confidence as we've launched into the experience in earnest.

The must was treated with SO2 to wipe the microbiological slate clean, then yeast was pitched about 24 hours after we got it home.  Also added was an enzyme to assist in the maceration process, the extraction of color and tannins from the skins.  Other additives included a fermentation tannin, an inactive yeast product meant to increase body and mouthfeel, and yeast nutrients to aid in fermentation.  Test were run on the pH, total acidity, and sugar levels of the must - the numbers came back solidly in the ballpark for proper fermentation....I'm learning a bunch of chemistry that I probably should have learned in high school if I'd paid more attention.

The wine is fermenting nicely already and the "cap" has already formed - this is the layer of skins and pulp that is pushed to the top of the fermenting vessel because of CO2 produced during fermentation.  That cap has to be punched down twice a day and the must stirred up vigorously to help in the extraction of color and body.  I also take measurements on the fermentation with a hydrometer each time I punch the cap in order to track the progress towards the finish.  Once it has fermented "dry" (meaning all the residual sugars have been converted), we will move to the press phase.  Very exciting!

Stay tuned for updates!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Seven Churches

I've recently begun a new preaching series at the church, a study of the Book of Revelation.  It's a difficult portion of scripture to teach through, for a lot of reasons, but it is also a book that invites reflection through the use of art.  John's letter to seven churches in Asia Minor is full of wild imagery and so it seemed appropriate to use a variety of mediums, apart from spoken word alone, to engage the material and the congregation.  I meet with a group of creative-subversives weekly to reflect and plan on the content and direction of the worship services at WestPres and this group conceived of the first project for the series, an installation I've taken to calling "Seven Churches."

I built seven large boxes, about 3'x4', which one of our team wrapped in black fabric, creating a shadow-box sort of effect.  These were hung on seven panels on the west side of the sanctuary, and will serve as our kind of gallery space for different reflection pieces during the course of the year.  Into these boxes we put seven churches.  These were created by taking line drawings of various churches (a lot of internet searching), reproducing those drawings on black-core photo matte material, cut to size.  People have said, "Wow!  Did you draw those?!?"  Um...well, yes....but.  After projecting the images onto the matte, tracing it out roughly, then using a sharpie to reproduce the drawing to the best of my limited ability.  They are not free-hand inspirations.

Those drawings were placed over smaller boxes, which I built to fit inside our large shadow boxes.  Each church was assigned a word, something that summed up something of the character of each of the seven churches that John wrote to in his letter.  Words like "faithful" and "corrupt", "persecuted" and "dead".  Each box was handed out to a contributing member of the team, they were tasked with creating an "interior" reality of their assigned church that reflected the word they were given.  We figured out a variety of ways to add lighting to the inside spaces, and cut out the windows in all of the drawings so that, if someone approaches the drawing, one can see inside the church, past the exterior.

The effect is pretty good - the churches are all "pretty", to choose one word, especially from afar.  They are nice to look at.  One has to get close to see that there is something going on "inside" the church, and one has to get really close to see exactly what that is.  The idea is that all churches....all individuals, for that matter....have an interior life beyond the facade that we project.  We are hard to know.  But we are known, by One who sees into all our intentions and thoughts, and John's challenge to the churches is to have the interior life and the exterior life both reflect the Way of the risen Christ.

These will remain up for the next two months or so, then we will use the "gallery" space for new works.  It is fun to work in this way - and especially fun to solicit the contributions and reflections of others.


Sunday, October 2, 2011

Sportsman's Paradise

Autumn is my favorite season for many reason - pumpkin spice lattes, cool mornings, changing colors, and for the past several years I have happily welcomed the arrival of the upland bird season.  I haven't always been an avid bird hunter, but the last several seasons I have pursued it with relish.  I had grown up hunting...well, to correct that a bit....I grew up walking along on hunts in Idaho as a kid.  We would tromp wearily through the fields, following after men and dogs, often asked to carry dead birds as part of our contribution to the effort.  I spent the school year, as I grew older, in Seattle with the city-side of the family, so bird season faded into memory.
John Napper and Stella - my quail-hunting instructors
in the Arizona high country.

Several years ago I was serving a church in the high desert mountains of Arizona and was re-introduced to bird hunting.  A friend in the church was pretty crazy for quail hunting in the badlands of Arizona, and he gave me a gun on loan for two seasons as I learned to chase Gambel's quail around the sage, cactus, and mesquite of the Prescott area.  For a variety of reasons, I found bird hunting to be the near-perfect way to soak in the local terrain and find rewarding respite from the various stresses of the job I had there.  I became one of the crazies chasing quail through the desert; in fact, I got pretty good at it.

Moving to the Yakima area was a dream come true for an upland bird hunter.  We have quail, chukar, and pheasant all available nearby and the weather in the fall is as close to perfect as one could ask for.  As the season drew closer this year, I decided to share the joy and arranged for a group of local pastors that I know to go clay shooting.  Most of the guys were very new to shooting, so I had to wrangle up a menagerie of borrowed weaponry, shotguns of all shapes and sizes.  I loaded up on ammo, taking advantage of a sale at a local sporting goods store - my cart looked like I was stocking up for a Zombie Apocalypse.  We took some time getting oriented, then ran the guys through several rounds of targets, enough to send them home with bruised shoulders and smelling of gunpowder.  A perfect day!

Dove season opens in September, but it is really just a warmup for the real deal: Opening Day!  This year, the state opened for quail and chukar on Saturday, October 1.  This is my third season here in Yakima and Opening Day has developed into something of a tradition, with a group of 4-5 hunters gathering to hunt quail at the  orchards of one of my congregants.  It is a social hunt, not too serious, but we always see plenty of birds and get a chance to shake the rust off.

This year we saw a ton of birds, and even brought a few to hand.  The dog (Simon) gave some good points, the quail were holding pretty well, an early-season trait that will wear off quite soon as they get more savvy to the hunting routine.  I hung back on some occasions, so I could get some pictures of the crew in action, but I did manage to bring home a half-dozen, and even managed a double on my first day out.  Not too shabby!  The Yakama Nation will open in two weeks, and with that comes access to some of my favorite spots as well as that king of upland hunting: the ringneck pheasant.  But, more than almost anything else, it is the long walks in the beautiful northwest setting that I like the most.  Another hunting season is here - and I couldn't be happier!

Friday, August 5, 2011

A Taste of Honey

After some weeks away on various adventures, it was time to check on the bees and see about harvesting a couple of bars of honey!  The weather has been hot, hot, hot in Yakima, and I had some concern that the hive would be full of collapsed comb and angry bees.  But the girls seem to be getting along well and it looks to me that the colony is quite healthy as we move into late summer.

I've been getting a bit more practiced at hive inspections, and this time I was able to put my new inspection stand to use, something I cobbled together from scraps in the garage.  It allows me to put a bar up for inspection and photos, which is handy when working alone.  My new smoker works like a champ, though I try to not overuse it since the girls seem not to like it much.

The colony has expanded mightily since their installation in May.  They have more than tripled in size, and now occupy 16-18 bars and have a very solid brood chamber clustered near the entrance.  I harvested one bar several weeks ago, when I took some junior high students from the church on a hive tour.  I had one student fully outfitted in a suit working in the hive right alongside me, which was fun for me and for him.  The honey is really, really good, and I am glad that top bars allow for the option of cutting out comb as well as the crush-and-strain harvest method.

They had been busy over the last several weeks, constructing several new bars of honey storage, which they are slowly filling up. After checking out their work, I decided to harvest two bars from near the entrance which had been capped for some time.  This is probably the last harvest I will make this year, focusing instead on arranging the colony to survive this winter so that they will have a strong start in the spring.

I brought the honey home to crush and strain, but Tavish was into it before I could even get the buckets set down.  He "yikes it, reewy reewy yikes it."  After straining it overnight, I took the bucket of wax back up to the hive so that the girls can clean out any excess honey.

Meanwhile, Evie and I have started gathering materials for a solar wax melter.  Our plan is to melt the wax, and then use the pure beeswax as a primary ingredient in a line of lip balms that Evie is jazzed about creating.  We went to the Habitat for Humanity Re-store today and picked up a glass window, some metal flashing and some hinges.  A solar melter is basically a box that uses the heat of the sun to bring the wax gently to melting temperature and then sifting it out from any debris it may contain.  The finished result is pure of that will follow, should we succeed!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A Flock of Roosters

It all started with a simple idea:  How about we get a few guys together for a poker game?  That first poker game, played in 2003 in the basement of one of the married-student housing apartments at Princeton Seminary, led to the creation of a noble institution - the Rooster Coop Poker Society.  Twelve original members signed the Coop Constitution, and began a worthy fraternal and philanthropic fellowship.  During our seminary years, the Coopers held semi-illicit poker games in mildewy basements and empty apartments and managed to raise more than $2000 dollars for charities like the Heifer Project, Tsunami Relief, and Hurricane Katrina relief.

In 2006 our great Diaspora occurred, as Coopmen were sent far and wide to pursue their various ministry callings, in both parish churches and the academy.  We determined to meet once annually to continue our fellowship, to support one another in our personal, professional, and spiritual lives, and to strive against one another for our various perpetual trophies, including Little Jerry and the Green Jacket.  For the last five years we have done just that, gathering from all corners of the nation to some new and exciting location.  This year we gathered at a secret mountain lodge high in the Colorado Rockies, deep in the Sangre de Cristo Range.

Our time together is marked by shared meals, worship, check-in and prayer time, golf, poker, and trips to local attractions.  This year I shared the kitchen duties with Prof. Brennan Breed, fellow foodie and Old Testament Scholar newly hired at Columbia Seminary.  The menu through the week included rack of lamb, bison sliders, stuffed pork roast, taco assortments (carne asada, battered fish, carnitas) and there were even some vegetables!

We played our annual golf game at Four Mile Ranch, near Canon City, CO.  The course was a "target golf" type of course, extremely challenging, and made more exciting by the presence of rattlesnakes.  Fetching an errant drive could have dire consequences.  We did run into one or two of those snakes, but managed to avoid any trips to the emergency room.  It was a beautiful day to play and the only downside was that the Green Jacket wound up on the shoulders of Scott Castleman, who managed to control his game on the back nine and seal his victory.  Congratulations Scott.  Jerk.

Since we were staying so close to my beloved Arkansas River, we decided to spend our local activity on a raft trip through the Royal Gorge.  I used to guide on this river many moons ago, so it was a particularly sweet visit for me.  We couldn't have asked for better weather, and the water was running at a decent level for the Gorge, 1400cfs.  Our guide was green as they come, we were his, two, third commercial trip on the Gorge.  Our run through Sunshine was illuminating - it was especially alarming that the guide was unaware that we had hit this rock until he saw the pictures after we got back to the lodge.  "Whoa, I didn't know we hit that!" kidding.

T-boning the rock was just the beginning of our adventure through Sunshine....we did a 270 degree spin off of that and slid sideways into a downstream hole, and I got sucked out as we low-sided in a rather alarming way.  I have swum in the Arkansas many times, never in Sunshine, though, so there's a first for everything.  The picture has a lot going on in it....Castleman is playing hero with Miller, while Breed points out the guy in the water to everyone else.  "That guy!  Right there!  He's right there!"

The jury is out on whether Patrick Vaughn's hand is
attempting to push Miller from the raft.

We made it down the rest of the stretch without too much undue adventure, and the Gorge is still as breathtaking a setting as I remember, the trip takes you directly beneath the Royal Gorge Bridge, where the tourists watch the rafters 1000ft. below.  The next day we drove down to Colorado Springs to drop two of our number at the airport, and then several of us drove to the top of Pike's Peak, where we got stranded for a couple of hours, enduring lightening and hail that kept us trapped in the gift shop.

Luckily they had donuts.

Our time together each year is extremely valuable to me and I am grateful for these guys and their place in my life.  This particular year I was able to spend a few more days in Colorado with a few of the guys, and we decided to take the adventure up a notch.  On Saturday we climbed and summited Mt. Quandary, one of Colorado's 54 14,000 ft. peaks.  The weather was perfect, and on the way up we came across a group of mountain goats.  They posed politely for our photos.  

Since it was a weekend day, there were many others climbing to the summit and a sort of party atmosphere prevailed at the top.
But our legs and feet were not enjoying a party, and

we were very glad for a hot-tub at the hotel in Breckenridge.

On Monday, it was down to Castleman and myself.  I had begged a favor out of an old friend, Jeff Hoffmeyer, and he met us way up in the high country on a stretch of a private-access trout stream called the Tarryall.  Scott was just learning to fly-fish and the setting was perfect. 
 The fish weren't so big here, but they were still fun to fish for and I think Scott may have caught  a bug for this refined sport.  I did manage to pull a rainbow of decent size out of the 
Arkansas earlier in the week, which was gratifying.  Our time on Monday was marked by the kind of tranquility one can only enjoy when you are outside of cell was good for the soul.

On Tuesday I enjoyed a solo visit to Boulder before catching a flight back home.  It was fun to walk Pearl Street again, to see the University where I had squandered time as a youth.  I shopped for souvenirs for the family and managed to catch up with Hoffmeyer one last time over a pint at the Walnut Brewery. Boulder is a special town and I hope to visit again soon, next time with the family.

In spite of....or probably because of....all of the crazy activities and adventures, I always come home refreshed and renewed, a little more focused for the many tasks and challenges that await.  Thanks, Coopmen, for your continued fellowship and for the chance to spend such a great week with you!