Tag Archives: Alcofrolic beverages

A predilection for Ginger Beer

I like Ginger Beer, specifically the non-alcoholic kind, which is proving a little difficult to source here on Vancouver Island. Now let me explain that I’m not talking about Ginger Ale, which is a completely different beverage altogether, but real, firebomb your gullet Ginger Beer. This Summer, our local supermarkets bought in a job lot of a very fine example of non-alcoholic Ginger Beer called Old Tyme Jamaica Ginger Beer which I must confess I got quite partial to. Hint for the web site guys; list your stockists. Although at ten bucks for a six pack, I think it’s a bit on the pricey side. Nice though. I’ve tried Phillips and Crabbies, which are freely available, but they aren’t quite as gingery as I’d like. Which is a shame. That Old Tyme is non-alcoholic and has a better bite than a hungry Grizzly.

Now that it’s disappeared off the shelves, I decided to have a go at brewing my own since Ginger was under three bucks a pound a few days ago. I already had some yeast and sugar, so why not? Grate the Ginger, add the sugar, boil up a gallon, add the yeast and sugar mix and stick it in a big container. Dead simple. That was three days ago, and I’ve decanted the sieved mix into a four litre plastic milk carton three parts full of the sieved mixture. This mornings taste test of my murky brew told me I’m on the right track. Not too fizzy with only natural carbonation and a nice gingery bite, quite dry on the palate, but I do have to keep depressurising the fermenting mix at least three times a day to stop the container exploding.

Easing off the pressure can be a delicate job, as if I undo the cap too fast, pow! The cap shoots out from between my fingers and bounces around the laundry room. However, the milk carton was a good choice of container as there’s a fair bit of give in the plastic. Now I could of course spend a small fortune on brewing kit, but as this is by way of one of my culinary experiments, I don’t see the point.

Anyway, have picked up Youngest from airport, and she is visiting with the aunts and uncle up island for a few days until she’s down in the fleshpots of the provincial capital in our little domicile. I have to keep her entertained while Mrs S is in Seattle with sisters, so I’ll be setting up currys and cocktails so she doesn’t get homesick. Not that she ever does.

Update: I’ve just discovered that Wal-mart do something called ‘Grace Island Ginger Beer‘. Investigations have concluded that it has precisely the right heat in the back of the mouth, and it’s half the price of the alternatives. Our crew of Igors have given it three big thumbs up. Each. Heavy sigh. Looks like I’m going to have to buy a few caseloads then. Of such little things are the equations of happiness formed.

Succulents, Sunshine, Sangria and Sushi

Hangover cat Have been having a jolly nice time away from the keyboard, only visiting the Interwebs twice yesterday. Have been introducing Mrs S to the delights of Sangria after a day and a half (Seriously, it was worse than shoe shopping) looking for and poking around garden centres for the ‘right’ pots and compost for our increasing family of Succulent plants, specifically Jade plants, and more generally three other species. Our Jade plant was looking a little bit sad, having out-grown the pot it inhabited. Sangria is quite nice, and does tend to slip down the old throat without much of a moral struggle. The cat in the picture can be considered a clue to my current physical state.

Notwithstanding, I really am developing a serious taste for Sushi. Out here on the Pacific rim we get the some really top notch stuff. Yet if anyone asked me as recently as ten years ago, if I would eat raw fish, I would have laughed in their face. Now I respond with enthusiasm. Sushi, sure. Great stuff. Pass the Soy sauce.

Am further amusing myself watching the local squirrels raiding the last of the figs off the tree outside my window. Our local Raven population are now so officially full of the crop that they can no longer fly. Or is that the sunshine? Because it’s on days like these that you could almost believe in man made global warming. Gorgeous weather. Although I hear it’s not so hot in the UK, where the traditional British Summer (1 day of sunshine, six rain and gloom) is in full swing. Do I sound smug? Well, just a bit. Over here in BC the weather is the exact opposite. Ten days of sun, a day and a half of rain. Rinse, repeat until October.

While I’ve been away I see a lot of otherwise sensible people have been getting highly excised about the death of a wild predator at the hands of an otherwise inoffensive Dentist (All North American dentists are fundamentally inoffensive, it’s a prerequisite of their profession) from Minnesota. All I have to say is; what are you people on? It’s not okay to make death threats against people you disagree with. You don’t like hunting that helps pay for game conservation? Tough. Now build a fkucing bridge and get over it FFS! As for some of the sad stereotypes that were being bandied around by people who should really know better; call yourselves freedom loving seekers of truth? Really? As for the anthropomorphism, giving an animal a human name does not change its nature. As anyone who has invaded the zoo enclosure of a predator species will understand. Once their wounds have healed, if, of course they are lucky enough to survive the experience. Even the brightest domestic pet is not human, it does not think like a human, it’s needs and priorities are not human. Anyone thinking that non humans are simply fur covered people is more barking than the Yorkshire Terrier our landlady periodically plays host to. Yappy bloody thing.

Well, that’s it for now. I’m off to get a new 64Gb MicroSD card for my Samsung plus a few other office bits and pieces we’ve identified a need for. So TTFN. Have a truly great day. Possibly.

Dog days

Hot sunny days with nothing much happening at present. Mrs S is popping out for her weekly physio on her busted wing, which seems to be healing nicely. All our paperwork is up to date, the usual silly season stuff permeates the press, and various crises grumble on. I have little to contribute, so while the opportunity exists I’m going to do what my dog used to; lie down and enjoy the warmth now that the short spell of weekend rain has passed. Just listening to birdsong and chilling.

While it’s this warm there’s a knack to managing the airflow through our little apartment to keep it at a pleasant temperature. Other places we’ve lived have become stuffy and uncomfortable on days like these, but the natural breeze from leaving the north facing window in my office and the front window open makes for a very comfortable working environment.

As for news, I haven’t read a UK online newspaper properly for weeks, and to tell you the truth I think I’m happier for it. The British press do love to dramatise, don’t they? Hell, I’ve gotten to the point that if they state that the sky is blue, I’ll take a look out the window to check.

There are still figs on the tree outside my office window, which are nice when ripe and sweet, but there are so few of them left that we’re leaving them to the Ravens. My own experiment with processing the crop is now in its second phase, having scooped out the inner cores and added a little brown sugar and put them aside to steep for a few days before Vodka is added. So far it’s looking good. A report on taste and intoxicating effects may be forthcoming.


Working class hero

New year in a couple of hours. At least in this time zone – it’s already New years day in Oz. There’s also a curious sense of change in the wind. Although maybe not the ‘change’ those on the big government side were hoping for to keep them in their cosy sinecures. Or the ones Lennon hoped for. He forgot that class is a veneer, an illusion, which can be altered by anyone with a minor talent and will to change. It’s the secret of self made people all over the planet. Want to be working class? Dead easy; take on an accent, move to a new town, slip into that way of life and you’re there. Want to be upper class? More difficult as the credentials are harder to fake. Ask any con man. Better to be (the toughest option by far) your own person. Besides, the notion of class is merely a hangover from feudal times. You don’t have to be in any class if you don’t want to.

As far as this blog is concerned, I’m going to put a few things together and post them, just for fun. See what happens when lightning strikes. (Igor! Throw the switch! Not at me! You just can’t get the henchmen nowadays, I blame the media.) I’m sick of bitching about the ‘do as I tell you’ brigade. Fuck ’em. They don’t listen anyway, so I’ll be returning the compliment. Apart from sticking my oar in on the occasional blog post or lamestream comment thread. So, no change there then.

In future, I’ll be focusing a little more on the humorous, satirical, scatological and sarcastic. That and perfecting my Martini mixing technique. I’m developing quite the taste for them.

TTFN. See you next year.

Ten? reasons to hate and love Christmas (Redux)

I know I said I was gone forever, but the time of year has come when it must be said once more. Less than a month to go again and I’m seriously tempted to renew my membership of the Ebenezer Scrooge appreciation society. Bah! Humbug! If this offends, tough. Should objectors wish to drive a stake through my black and sardonic heart, I’d like to say the only steak I want anywhere near said muscular pump is a nice thick rib eye with a smidgeon of external charring and light pinkness enlightening its centre. Possibly even with a little Dijon Mustard. As it passes through the upper reaches of my digestive tract, having left fond memories with my taste buds, naturally.

The festival itself I have no quarrel with; good old hijacked midwinter solstice feast that it is. A time of good food, wine and forgiveness to celebrate survival for another year. Good will to all? Within reason, of course, and certainly not all of them. I’m not going to be nice to the cretinous, no matter the time of year. Heavens to Murgatroyd Cowboy, one has to maintain some form of consistency. What really turns my normal sunny disposition to that of lemon sucking misanthrope is the insistence that everyone has to join in the ‘fun’; when ‘fun’ entails leaving drunken saliva snail trails over the nearest total stranger. Good grief! If nothing else it’s all so damned unhygienic. Not to mention more than slightly creepy.

With this in mind I have compiled ten major issues about Christmas which every year threaten to turn Mr Nice Guy (Me) into a raging homicidal psychopath who’s just got his chainsaw out of the shed for a little pre-festive flesh trimming.

First; Date. The date and the association with Christianity is incorrect. 25th December is the wrong date for Christians to celebrate Christmas. It’s an historical fudge, a compromise between 6th December, 19th December, 22nd December, 7th January or 25th January depending upon which Christian / Pagan sect you belong to. As for the year, if you’re a Christian, about as close as you’ll get is six years either side of 0 AD; and that’s just from official sources.

Second; Presents and shopping. This asinine insistence that you have to drive yourself into near bankruptcy giving overpriced, unwanted gifts to everyone you know. This may sound like heresy and probably is; but I would rather have no gifts at all than a gift without a genuine kind thought behind it. I especially don’t like being dragged in and out of the same five or six stores four times each only to find that we could have bought everything on line. I could have been doing something interesting for heavens sake.

Third; Enforced jollity. There is no greater torture to a civilised mind than forcing another human to ‘enjoy’ themselves against their natural volition. My personal standpoint is that I am quite capable of being happy without outside interference thank you very much. My major dread is that in the near future the PC Thought Police will deem it a crime not to be smiling and joyful at mandatory times and places. Perhaps in this age of mass surveillance and facial recognition technology, such edicts may become camera enforced. Like with bus lanes. Not smiling enough? Your penalty notice is in the post. Ironically giving you less reason to be happy than before. Incidentally, has anyone tried to be artificially happy and smiling, at least for any length of time, when they really don’t want to be without extreme chemical assistance? That way lies madness. Horrified shudder.

Fourth; Inappropriate headgear. The wearing of fluorescent antlers, tinsel and artificial fur bobbled conical hats three sizes too small, not to mention those inane ‘jester’ style confections made of poor quality red, yellow and green felt with bells on. Apparently there’s some strange, arcane folk belief that wearing such headgear actually makes everything you say and do amusing. Such as telling unfunny jokes, committing random sexual assaults or urinating in the street. Trust me, it doesn’t work. Strangely enough, recent scholarly research has conclusively proven that the majority of people donning such headgear instantly turn into annoying pillocks. Forcing your dog / cat / pet tarantula to wear any such item should instantly engender an instant charge of animal cruelty punishable by thirty strokes of the cat (A bad tempered feral Tom, for preference. One tail, twenty claws.) Re the headgear, perhaps some sort of open season / bounty system could be arranged with local hunters.

Fifth; Alcohol. Actually this is a bit of a moot point. I am greatly in favour of some forms of alcohol as it is a great social lubricant (I said SOCIAL. Honestly, some people.). A good pint, bottle of wine, or warming Single Malt in good company is wonderfully relaxing. Sometimes I can be very friendly with an entire bottle of whiskey all to myself. This is something anyone can do anywhere. Sometimes its nice just to hide in the den with a good book, headphones on and some rock music blasting any potentially festive thoughts from seasonally stressed synapses. However be warned; excessive consumption not only damages your liver and wallet but may turn you into another dribbling maudlin festive idiot.

Sixth; Office / work related parties. Or as Oscar Wilde might have said had he ever been forced to attend; ‘The unattainable pursued by the unlovable’. Watching what you drink in case you say exactly what you feel to / about your boss or other influential colleague; no matter how incompetent / unpleasant / overbearing they might be. I detest such events and whenever invited to ‘socialise’ in this fashion with workmates make a creative and plausible excuse not to be there. Ones I’ve found that work very well are; Emergency engagement with family, as far from the event as possible; sick and very rich relatives are always a good one. Short and untraceable illness like a 24 hour dose of food poisoning. Domestic emergency requiring your urgent presence at home – all of these are good (Spousal corroboration is prerequisite for the last). One cautionary note, use a different excuse every year or be labelled ‘Anti Christmas’ and find all those more important invitations disappear. Unless you’re going to move on anyway. In which case – Just say no. What are they going to do in these circumstances? Fire you?

Seventh; Christmas lunch. All that hard work put in to produce a table groaning feast to be met by refusal. For example an announcement by your wife’s sister / daughter (insert own preference here) that she’s become a Vegan without telling anyone; then flounces off when you, quite reasonably, refuse to specially cook a nut roast for everyone at five minutes notice because she can’t bear to be within fifty yards of that poor murdered Turkey. Another might be the kids whinging that they want to go to Burger MacWossnames for a “double death by cholesterol and fries”; refusing to eat anything green that hasn’t got four kilogrammes of sugar in it. I think Christmas lunches should be all ticket, invitation only affairs. RSVP Like a posh dinner party. If you want to be there, be there. If you don’t – don’t, and no social stigma should attach.

Eighth; Christmas Television. Especially those vomit inducing saccharine Coca Cola adverts. The endless mind strangling TV repeats of Christmas specials of ‘Only Fools and Horses’, and what’s going on in Emmerdale Enders. ‘The Sound of Music’ again. ‘Celebrity’ Christmas specials. Thank God for DVD’s. Don’t even get me started about Hogmanay specials. All I want from New Years Eve is a hot toddy, an early night and a clear head on a crisp winters morning, enjoying the peace and quiet.

Ninth; Christmas Songs. All of them. Especially (In no particular order) Slade’s ‘So here it is Merry Christmas’, Band Aid’s ‘Do they know it’s Christmas time’ and Aled Jones ‘Walking in the air’. When you’ve heard them sung extremely badly four or five hundred times by drunken cracked voices at up to half past four in the morning, you’ll agree all modern Christmas tunes should be banned by international treaty. I maintain that Christmas songs are crimes against humanity, and perpetrators should be tried at the Hague before being imprisoned for mass musicide. This goes for New Year celebrations as well; if I had a time machine I’d go back and shoot Robbie Burns dead before he could pen the words to ‘Auld lang’s syne‘. Posterity forgives the odd dead poet.

Tenth; Carol Singers. Not proper Carol Singers like in church choirs, they’re actually fairly pleasant and welcome in small doses. I’m talking about the avaricious little sods who turn up on your doorstep for a quick bit of extortion a month before the official date. I think we’re all familiar with this subtype of troglodyte; expecting you to give them money for an abysmal and desultory one chorus rendition of ‘We wish you a Merry Christmas’ when half of them don’t know the words and the rest are miming. Some years ago I handed out some warmed over vegetarian mince pies to the last lot who dared darken my doorstep, and joy of joys, haven’t seen any since.

Eleventh: Christmas lights. Well this is more ambivalence than dislike. Done well, hey, fine. It’s your electricity bill. Done badly, with lots of cheesy illuminated Walmart Santas, Snowmen and Reindeer, urgh. Seriously. It’s embarrassing. Don’t do it. Likewise decorating things that aren’t yours. No please. If your sense of taste is that stunted, it’s wise not to show it off in public. People will only point and laugh.

The above list is nowhere near definitive as I’m sure many of you can come up with your own reasons for wanting to spend your midwinter holiday overseas. The nicest Christmas day I ever spent was alone with my wife in Barcelona. Messing around in near deserted streets like a couple of school kids and getting soaked in a torrential downpour. No cooking, no turkey, wonderful Irish coffee in a bar where the staff were grooving energetically to Ricky Martins ‘La vida loca’ full blast on the sound system. Ganneting a quarter kilo of ‘Chocolat Naranja’ between us while drying out, watching an unfestive CNN News in the Hotel room. No tinsel, no tackiness and a thoroughly civilised time was had by both of us. A close second was a Spa break in BC having a (Sort of) merry detox with several bottles of eminently quaffable 2009 Quails Gate Proprietors Reserve pinot noir. No TV, in room Jacuzzi and no bloody tinsel. Bliss.

Canadian wine

Sounds like a joke doesn’t it? Wine in the land of the frozen north? Bill, are you taking the piss? Oddly enough no. Mildly irreverent and contemptuous of fools as ever, but no piss taking.

When Mrs S and I first made the jump over to this side of the pond I secretly wondered if I would ever taste a reasonable wine vintage again. At least nothing that was not Australian, New Zealand, a Chardonnay, which is not my favourite grape variety, or hideously expensively imported French. However, it is with significant pleasure I can report that there are some quite reasonable, even remarkable, wines springing full blown from the Okanagan valley. Even at the budget end of the market ($14-20 a bottle).

Although I make no claims to have an educated wine tasters or epicures palate, I do know what is drinkable, and would like to share my top nine vineyards and most liked wines (in no particular order) with whomsoever cares to visit this blog. To set my baseline; I like wines with a pleasant bouquet and nicely rounded flavours that leave little or no aftertaste.

Mission Hill: 2010 Viognier, 2009 Pinot Noir
Quails Gate: 2009 Pinot Noir Stewart Family Special Reserve
Volcanic Hills: 2011 Gewurztraminer
Mt Boucherie: 2011 Pinot Gris, 2010 Gamay Noir
St Hubertus: 2010 Pinot Blanc
Cedar Creek: 2011 Pinot Gris
Gray Monk: 2011 Siegerrebe, 2010 Auxerrois
Intrigue: 2011 Gewurztraminer
Ex Nihilo: 2010 Pinot Noir

Best red: Quails Gate’s 2009 Pinot Noir Stewart Family Special Reserve. No question. By a country mile. Superb. Close second was Mt Boucherie’s 2010 Gamay Noir. Light and nicely balanced.
Best white: A tie between the subtly perfumed but eminently quaffable Gray Monk 2011 Siegerrebe, Cedar Creeks clean and rounded 2011 Pinot Gris and Mission Hill’s perfectly suppable 2010 Viognier. Honourable mention to St Hubertus Pinot Blanc.

We have tasted and purchased bottles of all the above wines and look forward to making suitable occasions to drink them. Did try an Ice Wine, but only one and did not purchase any so any comparison would not be fair. I would also like to mention that no Rose’s were tasted in the writing of this blog.

About the vineyards we visited: Some awards.

Bill Sticker Prize for most impressive goes without contest to Mission Hill. Their open air restaurant is superb and the staff a delight. Beautifully styled grounds. Architecturally stunning.
Bill Sticker Prize for most intimate: This is a toughie, but after due consideration I’d recommend Mt Boucherie. Smallest wine shop, but really worth a visit. Close run second; St Hubertus.
Bill Sticker Low Bullshit Quotient award: St Hubertus. No fancy talk. Small gift shop. Will go again. No question.

Downside: Being charged $5 for tasting three less than impressive wines.
Upside: Incredible views and some surprisingly sippable vintages.

We only managed to visit about sixteen vineyards, but were pleasantly surprised by the variety and quality of most. There were few disappointments (No names, no pack drill, but SBML knows who I mean), and places I wouldn’t visit again, but they are not mentioned in this post. As for the mentioned; fill your boots. They’re good. Even to a tyro with a Biryani ravaged palate like mine.

There are vineyards we didn’t visit simply because of time pressure. Which means, oh dearie me, heavy sigh, we’ve got to go back there at some stage. Life’s a bitch, eh?