SUI GENERIS punk rock bike shop home-brew art/craft love

America's Next Tat Model

I love watching shows where I get to pass judgment on people. Who saw the premiere of Top Model? Anyone? Just me then?

Last night's episode began with a larger pool of girls (around 20) and was whittled down to 12 over the course of two hours. The lady above was removed in the first round of cuts. I was not surprised, but somewhat confused why they bothered to introduce her in the first place. She would have been the most interesting contestant in the show. When she appeared on screen, I whispered, "she's my favorite." My wife glared at me.

As the only woman on the show with multiple tattoos, she's not only attractive, but very unique. I understand that beauty is not a prerequisite for modeling, and that being unique is actually a handicap (there was a big to-do about including two "plus-size" models among this season's participants). This makes sense. For practical reasons, it helps if all your models have approximately the same dimensions.

Of course, tattooed girls are not excluded for practical reasons. Tattoos don't interfere with your ability to wear a dress, but they might take the attention away from that dress and have people looking at the model instead. We can't have that! The model is a mannequin to display product. To the eye of a high fashion tastemaker, the difference between a size 6 and a size 14 is narrower than the gap between plainskins and those with decorated bodies.

The birds are back

photo from Flickr

My walks to work are so much more cheerful now that I'm hearing the calls of birds again. I don't mind winter so much, except for the cold, and the darkness, and the silence. Our part of the planet goes to sleep in winter. When the trees sing with a dozen different species of tiny feathered animals, it's like the world is saying, "good morning.

"The snow is still here, and there's more on the way, but it won't be cold forever. Chin up. The birds are making the best of it."

I heard a bunch of little chirping sparrows and parking-lot birds. I heard a woodpecker going "brtrtrtrtrtrt," and I think I saw it but I'm not totally sure what that thing was. I heard a flock of geese today for the first time this year, honking happily as they return from holiday. If it's good enough for the geese, it's good enough for me.

Beer with substance

I shoveled this weekend. Lots. I did some other stuff too, but mostly I shoveled. We knew when we bought a house on a corner that we'd have bunches of shoveling to do when the snow hit, so I'm not complaining. I kind of enjoy the forced exercise. I get a real feeling of accomplishment when I'm finished, too, even though the snow is still coming down and I keep going back outside to do it all over again.

Last night was our annual Sibley Bike Depot general meeting. Because of the blizzard, almost nobody came this year. I picked up nine pizzas and we split them among six people. The elections were brief. I stepped down from my role as treasurer and got elected secretary (unanimously, by all five people). As a reward, I got to take home two pizzas.

The former president gave our new president a ride home to Minneapolis, and then stopped at my house just as we were finishing another round of shoveling. He gave me four beers, including this bottle of Schell's Snowstorm. What a nice guy. I'm saving the other three for a special occasion, but I really felt I had earned this one.


I just spent the last six hours getting this to work. Behold! A web mp3 player with music samples by bands in the 2007 Craftstravaganza.

There are two more bands to come. For now, enjoy the soothing stylings of Bla Bla Blacksheep and Bridges Over Chamberlain.

Cider racking

Today I 'racked' my hard cider. Racking is a fancy brewing term for siphoning the juice through a tube from one bucket into another bucket. It's not very complicated, but I still prepared a multi-photo blog post to display the process.

It turns out that homebrewing is just a few simple activities, separated by long periods of waiting. Dump stuff into a bucket, wait; transfer it to another bucket, wait; open it up and drink it. In that framework, racking is an EVENT! and that makes it noteworthy by default. Nearly two full months after I started the process, I was very excited to pop open the airtight seal on my primary fermenting bucket, and see what was inside.
Before I got to that, though, my first step was sterilizing all the equipment I'd be using (we're at the first image now, if you would like to follow along). This is a very important step. It ensures that we don't get any crap into the cider and mess stuff up. Interestingly, I am doing some research at work that has to do with sterilization of medical equipment, so it's a topic that has been on my mind lately. For homebrewing, I fill the bucket with water and cleaning solution and just dump everything inside. It is clean like magic!

On the second photo, you can see my improvised mortar and pestle. I crushed 5 Campden tablets and put the powder into my secondary bucket. This stuff will help to kill bacteria and preserve the cider. If I was labeling my drinks, I would have to write 'contains preservatives' on the label.

Okay, time to open up the bucket and make the transfer! The third and fourth images show different stages of the racking process. The cider in the primary bucket (on the right) is a very deep color, kind of like, well, fresh apple cider. With only a little juice in the secondary bucket, it's very light and yellow. Once a gallon has been siphoned across, it has already darkened significantly.

When I got to the bottom of the bucket and took out the siphon, there was a layer of dark muck on the bottom. This sludge is full of the dead yeasts that fermented my cider for me. Their sacrifice was not in vain. But although we appreciate their contribution, we don't want to drink them, so they got left behind.

The lid goes on the secondary bucket, full of fermented apple juice (minus yeast). It was probably a bit lighter in color than the cloudy juice in the primary. I didn't take a picture, though, so the world may never know. Now that it's sealed around the rim and air-tight with a fancy airlock, I can forget about it again for several months. It's supposed to 'clarify' during that time, improving in taste and appearance. But... what does it taste like now? I was a little nervous to find out. Before we get to the tasting, let's have a Science Moment. Next slide, please.

In the second-to-last photo, you can see the bottom of a half gallon apple juice bottle. I was saving these on purpose. I planned to use them for storing the finished cider. I changed my mind about that, because I learned an important lesson today about cleaning: if you don't wash out all the juice from your bottles, you'll get to see the results of natural fermentation! That's two months' worth of mold and slime. Gross. But also kind of cool.

Finally, I worked up the nerve to actually taste my hard cider. The juice is cloudy, which should decrease over time. I tapped all my wine tasting experience, took a sip, and detected... a distinct taste of apples. It seems to be on the low end of ABV, somewhere around 5% alcohol, which would be about right. Next time I'll buy a hydrometer and find out for sure. Overall, it tastes pretty good, so I'm happy! It would probably be fine to drink it all now, but I've got five gallons of the stuff and besides, I'm eager to see how it changes with aging.

Short, but sweet

photo from Flickr

Today was a bright, warm, happy day. The sun was out and the temperature got up to 50 degrees by one account (this is about 70 degrees warmer than just a couple of weeks ago). It's like the world is waking up outside. Dogs emerge from hibernation, pulling people behind them. Summit Ave is surrounded with birdsong. The hardness of winter melts away, and retreating snow piles reveal strata of trash on the dead grass next to Clean Cuts. Cor blimey, I love the spring in Minnesota!

I know it's a trick of nature and we'll freeze again soon, probably tomorrow, but I can still enjoy it while it lasts. I have a trifecta of spring activities planned for my free day:
  1. Birdhouse making
  2. Cider racking
  3. Hair cutting

Lords of the Chain Ring

Warning: f-bombs! Also: possibly not safe for work (underwear-clad male crotches)? Otherwise, an awesome tale of vengeance against a car that decided to mess with the wrong bicycle. I'm not the biggest fan of the music in the last two thirds of the movie; it reminds me of a time when I was in high school, and the only rock group I knew of was the powerhouse of Christian 80's rock, Petra (incredibly, still making music that sounds exactly the same).

It's a cool short film, though. I'm guess I'm a sucker for movies about bikes and destroying things.

Chapter books

I am sporadically writing a novel again. I decided that it would be fun to start updating this blog with words again. Probably I'll get bored and give up quickly, but be prepared for links to mysterious and seemingly unconnected source materials until then. THIS novel I think is one that could turn out in the end and that other people can totally read if they want to, when it's finished. I'm inordinately proud of the one chapter I have completed so far.

Do you want to read about the New York City blackout of 1977? I know I do! It is scary to think about being in a big city with looting and violence and fires happening all around, but I always enjoy when the power goes out during a storm and I feel safe and cozy in the candle light with my family for a few hours.

Also in book-related news is this sad story about Dreamhaven Books in Minneapolis, via Neil Gaiman. Some jerk(s) stole money and made a mess of the store last weekend. As owner Greg Ketter points out, "Three bookstores have closed in the Twin Cities in the past two months and I don't want to make it four." I've never even been inside, but it was impossible to miss that purple facade across the street every time I went to Ink Lab for more tattoo work. Local book stores are in a sad state. You can help this one stay open by buying stuff! They are having a sale.