January 30, 2010 - 8:03 PM
With my twenty-first birthday right around the corner, I've grown impatient and decided to take matters into my own hands: I'm brewing my own beer. My interest in home brewing has been growing over the last year, and I finally decided to pull the trigger and buy a beer making kit.
I preface this post to explain that my desire to brew goes beyond my bestial appetite for beer. As I've mentioned in previous posts, I enjoy cooking, so brewing is a great way to broaden my culinary expertise while gaining an appreciation for the art of brewing. In addition, the sustainability classes I'm taking instill in me a desire to understand my transportation, consumption, consumer habits, etc. Thus, brewing my own beer requires less transportation for materials, reuses bottles, and utilizes locally grown hops. For this reason, it has ecological benefits as well because I reduce my carbon footprint while learning about local agriculture and culture (microbrews are huge in Oregon). Finally, brewing my own beer is cost effective; now that I have the equipment, it only costs about $25-30 for the ingredients per brew. In other words, my beers will be about the half the price compared to buying six packs of microbrews from the store. For these reasons, brewing has many personal benefits, not to mention it's a fun, stress relieving activity.
Hence, I made my way down to Valley Vintner & Brewer today to pick up my supplies. Valley Vintner is located on 13th and specializes in home brewing and winemaking equipment and ingredients. My roommate Jeff and I browsed their recipes and settled on "Quaker's Revenge Oatmeal Stout." An employee helped us assemble the ingredients, and I was set to brew.
Once we returned home, I read some of the "Joy of Home Brewing" book that came with my kit, and figured out the steps needed to make my beer. I discovered that it's a fairly simple process that requires some careful attention. Essentially, the steps are as follows:
1. Steep the oatmeal and grains to bring out the sugars.
2. Add the "tea" of sorts (known as a wort) to water and the malt extracts and stir until dissolved.
3. Bring that all to a boil and add hops throughout the boil.
4. Let the wort cool and then put it into a sanitized fermenter.
5. Add yeast to the fermenter. The yeast goes to work eating the sugars and producing the alcohol.
6. Cap the fermenter with a sanitized blow-off tube to allow excess carbonation and fermentation to release.
I'll now let the beer ferment for a week or two, add sugar, and then bottle. The remaining yeast eats the sugar to give carbonation to each bottle, and then the beer is ready to drink after about two weeks. In other words, I will have beer in about three to four weeks; conveniently, just after my 21st birthday. I'll keep you posted as to how it turns out. Cheers!
January 25, 2010 - 2:14 PM
What a morning! Nothing gets the week started like a nice meeting with Department of Corrections people. No, I wasn't in trouble with the law this time, I was meeting with Inside-Out professors, alumni, and Corrections research people to discuss plans for the national organization and the Oregon division of Inside-Out. In a nutshell, the Inside-Out program is a nationwide organization that builds bonds between universities and prisons to have an exchange in which university students take classes in prisons with inmates. The class is in no way a mentorship or test of the inmates; rather, students (of which I was one) learn with and from our fellow classmates both college students and inmates. My fellow blogger and friend Katie Dwyer both experienced the Inside-Out class together, and she's put together a conference in which top Inside-Out representatives, including founder Lori Pompa, are in attendance. The conference also includes one of the preeminent anti-death penalty activists Sister Helen Prejean. I have yet to meet Sister Helen, but I am anxiously awaiting her talk tonight.
The meeting this morning was really enlightening to learn more about the penal system through different avenues of education, research, and government. It was encouraging to see the positive changes, programs, and research that is being done. Before the Inside-Out class I never really considered prisons or inmates too much in any respect, and it's easy to forget about them if you do not know anyone incarcerated. However, the class was a real eye opener for how bleak the prison system really is. Although prison is a form of rehabilitation for individuals back into society, it is a shame that they do not have the opportunities to learn or further their education because our nation has taken a "tough on crime" attitude that neglects inmates' intellectual capacity. Twenty years ago many prisons offered grants for inmates to work on university degrees and had full programs, but this is no longer the case thanks to legislation and political campaigns that play on voters' fears of crime to perpetuate a nonpartisan travesty against inmates. In this respect, education in prisons is somewhat disheartening.
Despite the odds, the Inside-Out program has given me new hope. I am part of a new focus group that hopes to form a national network of outside alumni, inside alumni that our now released from prison, and inside students as well to work together to address increasing educational opportunities in prisons. Furthermore, the Inside-Out program is testament to the positive impact education has in the prisons, and they are making a difference nationwide by educating people both inside and outside prisons. Perhaps the most positive takeaway from today came from Department of Corrections researchers that feel the same way. It was reassuring that government wants to work with us to affect positive change. One woman from Corrections explained that in their department it's easy to take a "business as usual approach," but she assured us that that is "not good enough for me." We may be headed in the right direction.
January 23, 2010 - 5:35 PM
I groggily opened my shutters this morning to be greeted by a beautiful sunny day. It's been rainy in Eugene the last couple weeks, and the west coast has been hit with record storms. My dad reported to me that back home Flagstaff, AZ has gotten four feet of snow in the last four days! Luckily for us, though, we were treated to blue sky.
I was bombarded with texts as soon as I climbed out of bed with offers to throw the football and go for a bike ride. It's beautiful that my friends (mostly native Oregonians) value good weather. Coming from Phoenix it's easy to take blue skies for granted, but in Eugene I've learned to appreciate and take full advantage of sunny days. There's always a sense of urgency to be outside when we're blessed with nice weather, especially on winter days.
Thus, it was not long before we decided to climb Spencer's Butte. My roommates, friends, and I piled into the car and sped off to the trailhead. Most people summit Spencer's from the west side of the Butte, but we prefer to do the longer 4-mile round trip hike from the east side (off of Fox Hollow Road). On this occasion we made the right choice because there were many folks climbing from the other side (we were greeted by a hoard of hikers as we scrambled up towards the summit). At last, we reached the summit and perched ourselves atop a rock that overlooked the entire Willamette Valley.
The valley was wonderfully clear, and we could see as far as the Three Sisters to the east, Albany to the north, and the Coastal Range to the west. Red Tailed hawks circled around us, adding to the picturesque natural scenery. We sat atop the Butte for a long while talking and enjoying the day, and finally we reluctantly made the descent back to the car.
As the sun sets the clouds slowly creep back over Eugene, but at least the day was a success. Though short lived, the day was just a taste of what's to come in the spring.
January 17, 2010 - 5:46 PM
"I bet you're excited for Tulsa weather," my girlfriend conjectured as raindrops pelted the windshield as we drove on the I-5.
I thought about it for a moment before answering, "not really." Mixed in my answer was a deeper love for the Eugene community, weather, and outdoor options year-round. Although it rained fairly hard this afternoon, Eugene winters are accommodating for an outdoorsy lifestyle. For example, just this morning I went on an hour long run (in shorts) in the misty morning. Eugene winter mornings actually provide my favorite running weather. Low clouds cling to Hendricks Park and Spencer's Butte, and the moist ground is spongy underfoot. After my body warms up, the low-50 degree weather is perfect, especially coupled with a light mist. Plus, many students are still recuperating from the night before, so I have the trails and streets to myself; it's a great side of Eugene that many people don't take advantage of.
Eugene winters are also beautiful because the town gains an earthy smell and appearance. Sidewalks are hidden under puddles and natural mulch; I appreciate nature reclaiming what's rightfully its own. The rain makes it difficult to mow lawns as well, so campus begins to look like college students' beards this time of year with shaggy, overgrown lawns.
Sure I spend more time indoors than I do in other seasons, but there's something about Eugene winters that make this place incredible year-round. Everyone remains friendly, though moist, and it seems like my house is always abuzz with friends because people don't want to spend as much time outside.
So, yes, I will admit that more sunshine will be nice, but gray Northwest weather's really grown on me. I've found a unique beauty in Eugene that exists year-round, and surprisingly I find myself depressed sometimes not because of the weather but because I have to leave it.
January 16, 2010 - 9:39 PM
The word "dessert" in Eugene is pretty much synonymous with Sweet Life Patisserie. This dessert haven and Eugene staple has been open since 1993 and has some of the best cakes and pies I've ever had.
I was first introduced to Sweet Life my freshmen year by of all people my parents (whom had never even been to the establishment). By chance they came across Sweet Life on the interwebs and ordered me a birthday cake. Leading up to my birthday they asked me cryptic questions like "when are you going to be in your room on your birthday?" Both fearing and anxiously awaiting the surprise, I was very pleasantly presented with a Sweet Life cake hand-delivered by one of their caterers. The delicious concoction consisted of mouthwatering butter cream frosting between rich layers of chocolate cake and a life changing peanut butter outer frosting. I was hooked.
Since my first experience, I have had another Sweet Life cake for my birthday (of the same persuasion as the one described above), and I occasionally make the pilgrimage to grab some phenomenal dessert with friends. Such was the case this evening.
My girlfriend Melissa and I drooled over the display case for several minutes before settling on a slice of tiramisu and marionberry cheesecake. We shoveled the rich, savory cakes into our faces in a manner that did not do their meticulous presentation justice.
Coincidentally, we were halfway through our cakes when my roommate Jamie and his girlfriend Jane walked through the door. They joined us with a slice of their own marionberry cheesecake, and we chatted and enjoyed the remainder of our desserts. It was a great way to end the night both full and happy.
Should you ever find yourself in the neighborhood, need a birthday or wedding cake, or just have a hankering for some great dessert, look no further than Sweet Life. It's truly remarkable.