Learning to Home Brew!

Hello again!

As you know we’re loving life here in Fort Collins, and Fort Collins is an amazing town. While here we’re trying to enjoy as much of the local experience as possible, and so we decided to give one of the major past-times a try – home brewing! Despite the fact that there are an insane number of local breweries lots of people also try their hand at brewing their own beer, as well as the occasional wine/ moonshine.

First things first, we had to buy the equipment. Not much is needed for home brewing since there are really just two main steps – boil it all up and then leave it to sit for a while 🙂 For the boiling we just needed to buy a large enough pot, and a thermometer to monitor everything; For the fermenting we needed a storage container, an airlock and a second thermometer. Finally, a siphon to move the beer between containers and sanitizer to keep everything nice and clean. Generally people make beer in five gallon batches, although we decided to just do little one gallon batches to start with. This is quicker so it lets us do more experimentation and means that we’re not spending lots of money on ingredients if our beer is going to taste weird 😉

This brings us to part two – buying the ingredients! Again, this is fairly straightforward. To make beer you need malt extract (or grain, if you’re feeling fancy), hops, yeast and water. We started off nice and easy using malt extract, which meant that we could skip the whole business of extracting malt extract directly from the grain. Don’t worry though, we have given that a go since.

And now for the hard part – actually making the beer! First things first, get a pot of water and get it boiling. While doing this you want to weight out your malt extract, which is kind of like treacle in consistency:

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Mix that into the boiling water, and make sure everything is nicely blended. This then boils away for an hour, and you add hops throughout the boil depending on what kind of flavor you’re going for. For this recipe, which is an Amber Ale, we need to add hops right at the start and then some more right at the end:

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Hops!

 

I wish I could somehow convey the smell of the hops through this blog, because they smell amazing. This made up for the fact that the hops look very much like rabbit pellets…

Once we’d thrown a few hops into the mixture and got the thermometer set up (all of which made my inner Chemist very happy) we left it to boil away for a little while:

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Again, this smelt truly amazing ❤

We start off with about two gallons of liquid boiling away, and this boils down to just one gallon over the hour. Once it’s all boiled down you throw in the rest of the hops, give it another five minutes and then move the whole thing over to some ice water to cool right down:

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The ice melted immediately, damn this heat

It’s kind of hard to see in the picture but the resulting liquid is now pretty cloudy and not looking that great. This is why you need to be careful while filtering, to make sure you don’t end up with an overly chewy beer…

Whilst the beer is filtering you get to sanitize everything else that is going to be used, since you definitely want to avoid getting any foreign bacteria in the mixture. These will result in a bad tasting final result, and if you’re very unlucky the extra gas production may cause the whole thing to explode. Not ideal in a rented apartment, so we sanitized hard! After that we siphoned the beer over to the container…

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The face of confidence…

We then checked the alcohol content to make sure that we weren’t going to accidentally blind ourselves, and continued to cool the whole thing:

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The beer really needs to be kept below about 25oC while fermenting so that the yeast doesn’t die, which is not that easy when the ambient temperature is 30oC…

Once the beer finally cooled down we put the airlock in and left it, and it now needs to sit in the dark for a few weeks to figure itself out! After two weeks fermenting we take the airlock out and replace it with a seal so that the beer can carbonate, and voila.

Fingers crossed we get a tasty final result, so watch this space!

 

 

Casa Bonita!

We’ve been very lucky that during our time in the States we’ve gotten to see some really amazing places, and some places that are truly unique. Casa Bonita was both, but also somehow a total mess… There really aren’t the words to describe the experience, but nonetheless we will do our best!

For those who don’t know Casa Bonita is a Mexican Restaurant for families near Denver that was made famous after it featured in an episode of South Park. It was already quite well known (for reasons that will become clear) but the South Park episode was extremely funny and portrayed it as a place of true lunacy. We’d been meaning to go for a while, despite the fact that the food is widely regarded as some of the worst in Colorado, so we mentioned it to Pete and Jonno who were both very excited to find out that it was a real place.

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Surely such a place can’t exist?

It does. It exists.

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As you can imagine we did not have a lot of trouble spotting it from the road, and we were impressed right away!

We’d read a little about Casa Bonita before going, and the first thing that was surprising was the capacity. Casa Bonita seats over 1000 people at once, and the entrance to Casa Bonita is not unlike a theme park. We walked a little way to the first till, and placed an order for our meal. We then walked even further in order to pick up our meal, and then carried that over to a server who told us where to sit. Strangely the advice we’d been given from friends was to avoid actually eating anything that you ordered, and to instead just consider it the price of entry into Casa Bonita. If we absolutely did want to eat they suggested either ordering something not-Mexican (odd, for a Mexican restaurant) or ordering something so cheap you wouldn’t be disappointed. It became clear why when we saw our food appear through what we named ‘the food hole’:

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Oh dear

Undeterred we carried our plates over to the server, and requested a table near the waterfall. Oh, did I mention? There is a freaking waterfall in the middle of the restaurant:

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?!

It’s no excuse for a waterfall either, it’s a ridiculous 30 foot high. The waterfall then leads into the diving pool, into which Cliff Divers jump every 15 minutes or so. Again, yes, you read that correctly.

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Woo!

We had a great timing watching Bo the cliff diver do his thing. There weren’t many people eating and Americans love participation so we had a great time yelling out our dive requests, although our lack of dive knowledge meant that the requests were generally either ‘front flip’ or ‘back flip’.

As promised the food was truly awful, and the very strong smell of chlorine from the pool wasn’t a big help. There was a lot of it though!

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Both at the start of the meal, and once we were done

The highlight was probably the Sopapillas, which are little pastry pillows that you eat with honey. The flag on the table was excellent – you raised it if you wanted attention, or if you needed anything refilled. Here is Rob using the flag to cover his mouth so that he’s not tempted to even try and eat any more:

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‘Server, please please take this food away’

After the food came the true treat, which was exploring the restaurant itself. As I mentioned it’s very big, but also very much compartmentalized. It’s split across many levels and each area is decorated with a different theme.

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We were in the island section, overlooking the waterfall
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Caverns…
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Caves…
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Mine Shaft…
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Fancy area?
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Even fancier area!

It was very confusing, and there was much weirdness along the way. Sights that we witnessed included this random fake(?) dead body hidden in the mines:

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AAH

This corridor, which had a list of previous employee names up on plaques:

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Pete suggested that these may be the names of people who died carrying out their Casa Bonita duties, and having tried the food that was definitely a possibility.

After that weirdness we were granted a wonder – the view from behind the waterfall!

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Magical!

Rob was very excited, although he’d forgotten to let his face know:

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He’s smiling on the inside, I swear it

After this brief flash of beauty we were treated to the true horrors of Casa Bonita, starting with the fortune teller!

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Possibly a real human woman once…

Pete and Jonno bravely put a quarter into the machine and received their fortunes, which surprisingly were not ‘you will get severe food poisoning’ or even ‘help me, my soul is trapped in here’…

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“When you speak honestly and openly others truly listen to you” – Nice!

We then moved on to the puppet show, which mercifully was not playing when we were there:

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Fun fact – his eyes follow you everywhere

This was next to this blatantly haunted, screaming tree

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I didn’t blame him, I too was screaming

This all lead up to Black Bart’s Cave, which was actually pretty fun. It’s basically a dark, enclosed cave filled with spooky stuff that jumps out at you or spits you with air. We genuinely did scream a few times, and I think as a child it probably would’ve broken my fragile mind forever.

By this point the mixture of strong chlorine smell and extremely salty food meant that we all had headaches, so we decided that it was probably time to head out! That said, it was an extremely exciting afternoon, and we definitely recommend visiting if you get the chance 🙂

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Truly

 

Wild Animals: Seeing and Eating!

Hi All,

Sorry or the delay since our last blog, we’ve been having a great time hosting more friends, the lovely Pete & Jonno! They’re exploring the area for 10 days, and we got to have a great time joining them in their adventures last weekend 🙂

Our fun times revolved mostly around experiencing various animals,  initially by eating several of them. Before you start to be concerned, rest assured that we haven’t gone insane! There is an amazing deli in Old Town Fort Collins called Choice City that does a range of tasty sausages, and we’ve had our eyes on them for a while now.

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Choice, indeed

We treated ourselves to a whole range of meats, and were very excited:

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Such colors!

Here are our tasty specimens up close:

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Sorry babies! We couldn’t pass up the chance to try Rattlesnake…

We were extremely lucky that the wonderful Pete offered to cook for us, and he decided to pair the sausages with some veg as well as mustard mashed potatoes ❤

We cooked up the tasty sausages, and all got very excited by the assorted meat smells:

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The sizzling sounds were also outstanding

We were very happy with the final result, beautifully plated up by yours truly:

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From top to bottom the final sausages are: Antelope, Boar, Bison, Duck, Rabbit & Rattlesnake.

They were all pretty great, so we were very satisfied by our assorted sausages! My favorite was probably the Antelope which was really nicely seasoned, and least favorite I think was the Duck. The Bison was super juicy which was really nice, and the Rattlesnake and Boar are definitely not to be sniffed at. All in all, our exotic meat meal was a success!

After this deplorable display, we decided to give the Wild Animal Sanctuary another visit, since it is an outstanding place. Happily it was still outstanding this visit, despite being almost impossibly windy!

All the regular favorite animals were there, so please enjoy the highlights of what we saw. There was some excellent camouflaging on display, so keep your eyes open!

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This stealthy leopard friend
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A sleepy wolf, pretending to be a log…
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This Arctic Fox (who I love so much!) blending nicely with the snow
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This Fox is not even trying to camouflage himself, but he did give us a smile ❤ 
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This guy was doing something very cool, which kind of surprised us. He was walking up and down the edge of the cage, but was taking care to step into his own footsteps every time he did so. You can see in this picture that he’s standing in previous imprints, which blew my mind
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This bear looks very sad that the snow hasn’t melted here yet…
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This very pretty white tiger is okay with it, and is making no effort to walk in his own footprints
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Fat tigers were OF COURSE the main attraction, they’re so chubby and I love them so much 🙂
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The lions were pretty great too though
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Especially this gal, who seems to be pretending to be a sausage 🙂

Finally, there was an unexpected treat with this visit! Not part of the sanctuary, we were lucky enough to see these two Bald Eagles hanging out together:

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I’m guessing the one on the bottom is a juvenile since he’s still very puffy, but despite his youth he still did a great job posing for photos:

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USA! USA!!

If you want to see 1000 more pictures of these two eagles just shoot me an email, I got extremely snap-happy when I saw them 🙂

That’s all for now, but part two coming up shortly where you’ll get to hear all about our amazing visit to the truly ridiculous place that is Casa Bonita…

Enjoy!

The Second Peckspedition

Back when I was in my first year at Warwick University (2007), two of my oldest friends came to visit me all the way from Birmingham and Southampton to meet my new girlfriend, known only to them as ‘Peck’. They called this trip the Peckspedition and came and surprised me and an unsuspecting Cat, who froze like a rabbit in headlights when two Bristol boys that she had never met ran up in public and bear-hugged her.
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Last week (or 10 years later than the first Peckspedition), Josh and his girlfriend Hannah came out to visit me and Cat in Fort Collins. We had a lovely time, not just for nostalgic reasons (I have known Josh for 19 years) but it’s always nice to be able to speak proper English and show off the best bits about FoCo (Fort Collins) and ‘Murica (the USA).
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Josh and Hannah made great use of their time and saw all the best bits including Estes park (picture above), New Belgium brewery, the Wild Animal Sanctuary,
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Fort Fun,
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They also took some artistic shots during the Arthurs Rock Hike around the foothills (Instagram much Josh?),
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did a hike around a river up in the Red Feather Lakes district,
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… and even saw a Buddhist Temple up in the mountains.
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We were very grateful to Josh and Hannah for coming and visiting, especially as Boston was under a foot of snow so adjusting to the warm, dry, high altitude Fort Collins climate was not straightforward. So, we decided to end their holiday with the most American thing we could think of: country line dancing
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Josh and Hannah are in the quite famous and semi-professional folk band Threepenny Bit (http://threepennybit.com/), so are very used to folk dancing and Cèilidhs, though are more accustomed to providing the music than the dancing. So, we did a couples line dancing class (learning the waltz) and had a great time, only crashing into each other about 5 times. Josh and Hannah were particularly impressed by “the wearing of cowboy boots and hats unironically” as well as the live country band playing a cover of the national anthem as their first song.

We had so much fun we had no time to take pictures, but I can assure everyone it’s one of the most fun things we have done in the US.

Finally, I am not one who likes being photographed, especially if I have to pose. But if I ever decide to record a country music album this picture is going in, thanks Josh for the awesome photographs!

Rob

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