St. Wenceslas Has Returned

Down boy!
Speaking of Christmas beverages, as Lauren mentioned in our previous post, I have been hard at work in the brewery...St. Wenceslas' Winter Warmer 2012 is happily bubbling away in our basement.

I think this has to be my favorite time of year, due in no small part to the multitude of drinking opportunities. Of course there is Oktoberfest, then we have the grape and hop harvests, all new seasonal beers, free-calorie day (aka Thanksgiving), and finally the king of all drinking holidays: Christmas. Well, for me anyway. I fully subscribe to Washington Irivng's (probably fabricated) historical view of Christmas being celebrated in the Victorian English countryside. Inviting strangers and friends alike to drink wassail and feast in front of the warm hearth. Wassailing used to even involve going door to door adult-Halloween-style demanding drink or threatening a curse.

More contemporary are the German Christmas markets, which solely exist to sell hand-made (maybe)  wooden ornaments, and to drink. Basically, these are open air markets in a city square that last for about a month, where you go and stand around in the freezing rain, sleet, or snow while eating half meter long bratwurst and drinking hot mead, hot grog (spiced rum and water), and/or Glühwein (hot mulled wine). I may have frequented the Braunschweig Weihnachtsmarkt on a pretty regular basis when I lived there.

Anyway, my point is, Christmas is for drinking by the fire (or outside if you are a masochist or German) and preferably with others, whether strangers or family. And aside from all the wine and spirits flowing around at Christmas time, beer is still my drink, so Christmas beer it is! And brewed just in time to be ready by Christmas Eve. You can even make my famous Christmas beer too if you want: just look below those pictures because hey, I just gave you my secret recipe! Don't you just love the giving spirit of the (almost) season?

Grains steeping away in the mash
Grains Steeping away in the mash
Look at that sweet electric brew kettle
Mmmm. Citra hops.
Ceylon Cinnamon, Star Anise, and Cloves

St. Wenceslas' Winter Warmer

Gravity: 1.080
Alcohol: 8.5% (abv)
IBU: 53 (Rager)
Color: Dark brown with ruby highlights

Ingredients (for 8 gal. batch):

15 lbs. Golden Promise
2 lbs. Munich II
2 lbs. Victory
2 lbs. Crystal 70-80
7 oz. Carafa

1 oz. Citra (15.6% AA), 75 minutes
0.5 oz. Citra (15.6% AA), 40 minutes
1 oz. Goldings (6.9% AA), 15 minutes
1 oz. Willamette (6.5% AA), 10 minutes
1 oz. Goldings (6.9% AA), after boil
0.5 oz. Citra (15.6% AA), after boil

3 Cinnamon Sticks, 10 minutes
2 Anise Stars, 10 minutes
6 Cloves, 10 minutes
2 tsp. Allspice (ground), after boil
3 tsp. Corriander (ground), after boil

Yeast: Wyeast 1469 - West Yorkshire (x2 smack packs)

Infusion mash for 90 minutes at 157 deg F and 1.25 qt./lb
Fly Sparge for 90 minutes with 7 gal. water at 170 deg F


Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time

What are we looking forward to most this Christmas?

The Christmas Eve pajama party in Emporia. Mom’s Christmas Day smorgasbord with Deuce “sitting pretty” hoping to get some scraps. Grandma Brown’s rendition of Silent Night on the electric keyboard with the brown family crooning in perfect harmony. The post meal nap in Grandpa and Grandma Chrisman’s basement with the football game on. Decorating cookies with Sarah and Rachel and the naughty Santa or reindeer that always sneaks into the bunch. Ellie’s beautiful buffet and Grandpa’s exquisitely stocked bar. The fabulous baking skills and old Mennonite recipes a la Amy. The expertly tinseled tree on Oak Street. The Kenny Loggins album cover at the Aber’s and his “Celebrate Me Home” blasting through the stereo at the Brown’s. The search for the pickle. Mom's perfect Christmas tree. All things canned or pickled courtesy of Tom and Beth. Food, drink, family, and fun.

To better enjoy what we love most about Christmas, we have decided to adopt a family in need instead of purchasing gifts for our friends and family this year. Also, as we prepare to pack our entire townhome into a storage unit, we don’t want the added material bulk that usually comes at Christmas time. While we appreciate the fun of presenting and opening presents we hope that everyone will share a delicious meal and make some memories with us instead of the usual gift exchange. With less time spent shopping for the masses I'm looking forwarding to experimenting with some new holiday recipes to try out at our family gatherings and Jay will be working hard in our brewery so that we can all imbibe in some holiday cheer.

We'll be adopting a family in need from the Don Bosco center this year and will have the opportunity to take wrapped gifts and a holiday meal directly to their home. We are really excited about participating in this program and encourage you all to do the same if you are able. If you wish to contribute to our adopted family to make their Christmas even more bountiful please let us know and we can pass along their wish list information or holiday meal menu.

Peace and love to you all this holiday season!


Camino Pictures!

So the moment has finally come that I'm sure you were all waiting for...we finally uploaded all of our pictures! So now you can see where we were walking all those days that I endlessly complained about feet, knees, showers, getting sick, etc. Although oddly enough, we seem to be smiling in most all of our pictures. Suck it up for the camera!

We tried to whittle them down pretty far, but there are still a whole bunch of them. Almost 1000 actually.... But come on, thats only 2 pictures per mile! And when you're wondering who is going to look through all of these, just think of the moms of the world who want to see all of your pictures. At least we split them up into different albums for your convenient viewing pleasure! So here we go, in chronological order on the trail (click on the title or picture to go to the album).

Pyrenees Mountains



Camino Roundup

Santiago! Wow. So here we are back at home, and how it is to be home again. I cant write enough about our last couple of days on the Camino. It was an amazing and bittersweet ending to the trip. We spent our last days with the Camino family and managed to stick together to walk into the cathedral square in Santiago together all holding hands. Some were crying, the rest smiling and laughing, and myself just kind of in an awestruck stupor. Its hard to describe my feelings when we walked into the square. I was partly elated and ecstatic, partly sad, and kind of numb just trying to comprehend what it meant to be done.

Cathedral of St. James

Just before getting to the cathedral

Making the ending even more amazing was that our German friend Marius appeared before us out of the crowd of hundreds of pilgrims in the square. He was supposed to have finished four days before us, and we had just been talking about how the only thing missing from our walking into the square was Marius being there with us. It was like a real miracle of St. James. (I also have to point out another miracle of St. James, or perhaps it was just due to always wearing two pairs of socks (polypropelene and wool), and my awesome AKU boots, I walked 500 miles without getting ONE SINGLE BLISTER. I love my feet!)

Killing some hierbas on the Monte de GozoThe elation of finishing the walk continued on to the pilgrims office where we received our Compostela (which, being all in Latin, I still need to figure out what it says) and on through the night, eating and drinking like we had just walked 500 miles. It was the next morning when we attended our final pilgrims' mass in the cathedral that the idea of our Camino coming to an end really took hold. It was quite depressing to realize that we weren't going to be walking, talking, and laughing with all of our new friends the next day.

It was really this point when I realized what the Camino is all about: people. I think before the Camino, I had really started to become very cynical about the world. Especially with the nonstop election year bullshit going on with all of the negativity being thrown around for nothing. I really came to realize on the Camino how important other people are in our lives. There were many times along the way that I don't think that I would have continued by myself. Of course, Lauren was always there to help me (and Lauren sitting here reading this as I write would like to point out that she also could not have done the Camino without me), and even beyond that, we always had a huge support group of people going through the same thing as us. I'm really going to miss that, but I come home knowing that we have so many family members and friends here at home that will always be there for us. It gives me great pride to call all of you my friends and family.

Beyond that, I come back home with a new perspective on other things. Since I studied abroad for a year in Germany, I've always loved the quote from Nelson Mandela's book A Long Walk to Freedom, "There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered." The title of that book never seemed more appropriate either, come to think of it. I come back from our long walk even more excited to downsize our lives over the next year. I look around at all of the things we have and think back about how great and free it felt to have everything on my back, just walking all day. That, and its so much easier to see what's important in life. Its not about acquiring things or wealth. So many people think that they must seem richer to other people through the show of wealth. That's no way to live a life. You should impress people with your generosity, kindness, and love. With less things in our lives, we will have so much more time to devote to this. I've never been more excited about the future!

Although some things are just so nice to have. For one, a shower with consistent temperature and pressure is awesome. Also, regular internet service is a bonus. Which is why we'll soon be uploading all of our pictures (well, not ALL of them, there's like 3000 somehow...), and our videos from the Camino. Stay tuned! (Also, since we haven't really gone through our pictures yet, I stole these pictures from Andy MacDonald on Facebook. Thanks in advance, Andy!)


Time Warp

Its totally crazy that I feel like I was just writing about having 100 miles left. That seemed like so much when I wrote it too! Well now we're going to be in Santiago in 2 days. Its like we've been accelerating through time and space. We have actually been accelerating though space somewhat. In the last 3 days we covered 58 miles. Never thought I would be able to do that. I think the most we ever covered in 3 days earlier in the Camino was maybe 45 miles. If you would have told me that I would be walking this much before the Camino, I wouldn't have even believed you. I knew it was like 500 miles to walk, but really had no idea what that meant. Now, only 25 miles shy of our goal, we have a little better idea. 

Our last days have been fun and not fun. Let's start with the not fun part first. We had heard that it rains a lot in Galicia. Well we stepped about 500 ft over the boarder and it started to rain. It hasn't really stopped since then. Not hard rain, but a solid on and off drizzle. We also haven't been feeling great. Lauren got all dizzy and disoriented on the trail yesterday. I think it was from a combination of taking Valerian root to try to sleep better and wine. Anyway, she felt better after a few hours. I've also not been feeling great. I would imagine it has something to do with walking 20 miles a day and wine. Too much wine! 

Which brings us to the fun part! Wine! And friends to drink with. Our walks have been a laugh a minute walking with our Camino family. Camino Clown, Dean, never let's it rest. We've also been playing "I've got a business." Which generally goes something like: 

"I've got a business."
"What's you're business?"
"I sell vacuum cleaners."
"How's that going for you?"
"It sucks."

Ha! Its basically a bad pun game that Tom of London taught us. It does get rather hilarious sometimes, but maybe that's just the haze of endorphins talking. We need to assemble all of our best ones to see what our masses of readers think. Its really been a lot of fun walking and drinking and joking together though. And in 2 days, the party is on for real in Santiago!


Only 100 to Go... Really?

We are rocking this Camino. Officially today we have less than 100 miles to walk. This sounds like a lot, but we have already walked 380 miles to put it in perspective. We're rolling now with our new Camino family which makes things even better. We have our Camino parents, Dean and Tracy, and our Camino sister Kaitlin (all formerly of the Utah 4, but the fellowship was broken. Although it may be reunited tomorrow, stay tuned for the next 4 hour movie installment.) We also have the quirky Uncle Undies, aka Crocodile Undies, aka Andy from Australia. He had some underwear issues a few days back, as in losing his underwear in the washing and going commando for a few days. We also have long lost Aunt Sherry, a newly discovered addition to the family.

I think the last installment we were still on the Meseta which is now a distant memory. We actually crested the highest point on the Camino at 1515 meters, which rose directly out of the Meseta. We were near the top as the sun rose and we saw the deep red ball of the sun rise through the haze of 100 miles of the Meseta. We stood there and thought: as far as you can see across the plains, we walked that.

At the top of that peak was the famous Iron Cross where you drop your rock (which has become a 20 ft high pile of rocks) to in load your burden. We dropped our rocks and had our moment and were glad we missed all the tourist busses that descend on the place later in the day. Then it was down to the business of walking down off the mount and into the Bierzo region.

Ponferrada was an awesome town in which we treated ourselves to a real hotel room! Our first private room in 4 weeks! Private shower! And the Discovery Channel inexplicably in English. All the show titles and ads were in Spanish but How Its Made commentary was totally in English. Now I know all about horseradish, buttons, and screwdrivers. But really it was pretty amazing to take a shower and dry off with a towel that I didn't have to pack up right away. It was hard going back into an albergue the next night.

We also hit up the bars American style (i.e. before 11pm) to drink wine and beer and eat tapas. Its pretty awesome that when you order a drink here, they give you a free tapa. Its not like peanuts or something either. You get ham, mussels, croquettes, cheeses, little sandwiches, whatever you want really. Also, when you order food for dinner you get free wine with your food. I'm trying to work out how I can lure a Spaniard into a feedback loop of giving me both free drinks and food. Anyways we spent a great night with our Camino family dinking and eating, pub crawling Ponferrada.

That was 2 days ago. The last two days we've had some great walks through the Bierzo with endless vegetable fields and vineyards. Today we climbed up out of the Bierzo at the end of the day to finish our hike. 17 miles total and 2000 ft elevation to finish off the day. I think I should be much more tired than I am. But I was able to enjoy the end of the day without much pain, drinking wine on the main "street" of Laguna de Castilla. We watched 4 herds of cattle be led through town on this street by farmers. Then we had some tripe soup for dinner! Yum.

Tomorrow will be a real test though. We've planned a monster because we're going to try to get to Santiago a day early and spend 2 days there. So tomorrow is going to be a 23 mile day with some serious elevation change, up and down. Right now it seems daunting, but I'm sure once its done, it won't seem to be that amazing of a feat. This seems to be the theme of our Camino. Doubting our abilities, then surprising ourselves when we complete whatever we were fretting about. I think if I'm changed in any way by this Camino, it will be the confidence that I can do much more than I believe I can.