Caribou Country Chamomile Wine

Making your own wine at home can be either intimidating or lots of fun. I like to make wine and I like to have fun. Most of the recipes and instructions on the internet are intimidating AND confusing.  And they try to convince you everything has to be perfect, and you have to use that floating thermometer thingydoodle to get your alcohol level just right.  Here’s a secret. I can’t get my floating thermometer thingydoodle to even float, not even a little, it just drops like an ironclad and doesn’t tell me anything useful. *whispers* So I stopped using it completely.

What follows is how I make wine. I break lots of rules, but if you don’t try to bottle it up too soon, just let everything age nice and slow, you won’t have an incident in the middle of the night where multiple corks explode out of bottles and wine flows across your nice kitchen floor in fanciful effervescent waterfalls.

Not that I know anything about that. Er, it happened to a friend once. Yeah, that’s what happened. Anyway. NO CORKING TILL IT’S DONE BOUNCING AROUND, YOU GOT THAT?  It’s no fun mopping up a foamy boozy mess, plus you have the sadness of less wine to drink later.  Again – happened to a friend, I’m just remembering the story. As far as you know.

For the brave and foolish fun lovers out there, here’s my favorite wine recipe. I grow and dry my own German chamomile flowers, and always have heaps more than I need for tea. The German variety of the flower is very sweet and fragrant and makes a yummy wine!

Have fun, and remember what I said about corks and explosions. Patience, grasshopper.

Caribou Country Chamomile Wine

18 cups water
4 cups white granulated sugar

1/4 cup dried chamomile flowers

3 tsp acid blend
1 tsp yeast nutrient
1/8 tsp tannin
1 crushed Campden tablet

1 packet Montrachet wine yeast

Mix sugar and water in a really big pot (I use my small hot water bath canner) and bring to boil, stirring frequently to dissolve. Put chamomile flowers in a doubled square of cheesecloth and tie closed. Put the bag of flowers into the primary (the ‘primary’ is wine-speak for a large, very clean rigid plastic bucket with a fitted lid, designed specifically for winemaking).

When the sugar is dissolved and the water comes to boil, pour the sugar water into the primary, over the bag of chamomile flowers. Drip drain the flower bag several times to allow the flavor to seep into the water. Taste. If flavor is not strong enough, make another bag of flowers and toss it in. Cover the primary with its vented lid and let the mixture cool down to room temperature.

While you wait, you can measure out the acid blend, yeast nutrient, tannin and crush up a Campden tablet, blending it all together in a small dish. When the mixture in the primary has cooled to room temperature, dump all the science-y stuff in the small dish into the mixture, then stir till all is dissolved.

Every few hours gently squeeze the flower bag(s) to continue extracting their flavor. After 24 hours, remove the flower bags and discard them, then add the packet of Montrachet wine yeast. Cover the primary, and stir the mixture daily for a week.

Behold the Wiggle Airlock Of Science, set atop a 5-gallon glass jug filled with new, still yeast-laden chamomile wine. It will slowly clear and the yeast will fall to the bottom, yay!

In about a week, or up to two weeks if you forget all about your gurgling bucket of fragrant boozy yeasty fun, as I often do, pour the wine slowly through a coffee filter set in a strainer set in a plastic pitcher.  Stick a funnel into a 5-gallon glass jug and pour the strained wine into it. You’ll have too much for one jug.  I usually use two and fill each one halfway. Use airlocks to vent the jugs. Ferment for a month. Your wine will probably look really nice and clear and sparkly, with a thick layer of dead yeasty sludge settled on the bottom of the jug.  Yuck. Once more, pour the wine slowly through a coffee filter set in a strainer set in a plastic pitcher and attempt not to rile that yeasty-yuck layer. Leave it behind! Funnel the strained wine into fresh, clean 5-gallon jugs. Filter-strain the wine every 2 months for 6 months (that’s three times for the math impaired like me). Let the wine rest for two weeks after the final straining, then funnel it into bottles and cork (you’ll need a corking machine, which are really fun to use. If you don’t have one, see if you can borrow one for the afternoon.) Lay the corked bottles on their sides and allow them to age in a dark place 6 months before tasting. Will improve with aging for about two years.


Review: Field Guide to the End of the World

This seems to be my month for reading new-old books. “S” by Doug Dorst and J.J. Abrams looks precisely like a 1949 well-worn library book and is filled with… well we don’t have time for that now. I’m setting it aside for the time being in favor of a new old favorite.

The end of the world is coming—ack, it’s here, and Jeannine Hall Gailey wants to help us find our way, via what looks to be a well-worn atomic age textbooky field guide.
Field Guide To The End Of The World Cover Art
Poet Jeannine Hall GaileyField Guide to the End of the World is Ms. Gailey’s fifth poetry book. I have read The Robot Scientist’s Daughter, and thought I knew what I was getting into with her newest (oldest?) book. Ah, but while there are similarities, the author has let her playful side out to romp through the debris of our final days.

The book sorts poems into groupings, which is nice for slipping into a frame of mind and lingering there a while. My favorite section, and I am pretty sure many readers will agree with this, is “Cultural Anthropology”.  It’s a bit like reading the literary version of a Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode, while watching the Food Channel on the side and sneaking peeks over to Netflix. The name that pops out of the poetry listings immediately, is, of course, Wile E. Coyote (super genius), who’s been living in a post-apocalypse world since most of us wore footed jammies. Who better to enlist than this ill-fed quasi-predator to be one of the guides on our journey? As it turns out, that guide is as lost as the rest of us, but we can take comfort in wandering in circles together.

My personal favorite is “Letter to John Cusack, Piloting a Plane in an Apocalypse Movie”. Take some time to linger on each phrase, and remember. As the saying goes, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, it will become a part of you. Actually, it already was, you just needed open eyes to see it.

But I didn’t simply hunker down (though hunkering down during the end days certainly has its merit) in the ‘funny’ chapter.  Emotionally, I am still returning often to the “End Times Eschatology” chapter to re-read and re-experience how the end of the world will feel for others. The practical ones, the romantics, the selfless and the selfish, the god-fearers, mistake makers, job hunters. As humanity shares a singular ultimate fate, we approach it from so many diverse roads. There are as many ways to face the end as there are quirks and differences between one person and the next.

I highly recommend you take a field guide with you on your own personal journey.  Buy your beat-up old-new copy at or the University of Arkansas Press.

Learn more about Jeannine Hall Gailey and her poetry at her website

My Influential Authors

Over in the Book of Faces, I was tagged by my delightful friend, author B.G. Thomas to play the Influential Authors Game. Basically, I am to list 15 authors who have influenced me. This doesn’t necessarily mean I enjoy these authors works – I’ll be listing at least one that I find highly disagreeable (I will leave it to you to figure out who that is!)  Being influenced by an author and liking their work does not always go hand in hand.

Rather than simply quick-listing 15 authors in Facebook in response to this meme, I decided to expand the concept here.  I hope you find my list interesting, and perhaps you’ll pause to think about the authors that have influenced your life, too.

1. Ray Bradbury
I discovered Ray Bradbury’s novels when I was quite young. I think I was in 5th grade when I started checking them out of my school’s library.  I’d been reading full-length novels since 3rd grade, ever since Dick and Jane’s adventures in my primers became boring.  Dandelion Wine was the first novel to really take my breath away.  Mr. Bradbury’s astounding talent for pulling me into a story, directly into a specific place in geography and time, taught me that readers can be placed emotionally into the writer’s memories or imagination. It is possible to cross that bridge. What a remarkable concept!

2. Tom Robbins
Dear, dear Tom. How I love him.  I read Jitterbug Perfume during my early 20s, at a time when I was struggling to live on my own and money was not just tight, but usually non-existent. My indulgences were few, but I always found books. Anyway, I was becoming enamoured by conceptual humor and wordplay, thanks to listening to lots of Firesign Theater, but Tom Robbins yanked me right off my feet and up to another level. I’d never read a book that treated words in such a lovingly irreverent manner. The day I finished the last page, I immediately checked out (yes I was still a library girl) Even Cowgirls Get The Blues. To my delight, Tom’s love affair with weaving concepts into his words continued to be astonishing.

3. Douglas Adams
The counterpart to Tom Robbins, for me, will always be Douglas Adams. He’s another wonderfully twisty wordsmith, who led me down a slightly more skewed garden path, via The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. I learned to appreciate humor with a decidedly British leaning through wonderfully absurd phrases such as “The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t.”

4. Carolyn Keene
Hopefully I’m not bursting a bubble by telling you that there really is no Carolyn Keene. The name is a pseudonym for the authors that wrote the Nancy Drew mystery series. I found a copy of The Secret Of The Old Clock at my grandparent’s house at about age 12, while spending a weekend there. I easily read the entire mystery in a day. Gramma explained that there were more books in the series. Many more, and new ones were still arriving quite often, a notion that delighted me!  The Nancy Drew books became the first series to hook me. I have fond memories of going to Sears with my parents, being treated to a small bag of popcorn or handful of candy from the in-store snack stand very near the books (an odd concept, in retrospect, to give popcorn to children about to handle book pages). I’d rush to the book shelves, crunching my treat and looking for my favorite series. Once a month I was allowed to have another book. I read them so fast – if I tried very hard I could make one of the stories last two whole days.  One book a month was excruciating torture!

5. Gail Carriger, Shelley Adina, Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris
I am now using a big fat CHEAT and sharing a group of writers who have all influenced my current writing and publishing goals. These are the authors I rely on to show me how it’s done, and done right. I write Young Adult Steampunk with humourous twists. These authors also write in my genre, and unlike me have become well-known and quite beloved. I read every word they write. I feel like a student sitting in the best lecture hall ever. I’m very grateful to have authors with such standards to try to live up to.

6. Robert Silverberg
The World Inside presented an interesting concept for providing housing to an overpopulated world. That seemed good enough, but what I didn’t exect was the level of sex, drugs and rock and roll I’d find in Silverberg’s Urban Monad world. He taught me that you can go a lot further within a storyline than I had realized up to that point. Yes, I was a bit of a prude even up into my late teens.  I made up for that later on, but that’s another story for another time.

7. Ayn Rand
Right. Let’s get this one over with. A guy I was dating for a while gave me a copy of Atlas Shrugged, demanded (yeah, he did) that I read it, and then ask him any questions about the concepts inside. Dutifully, I read the book, which effectively killed all my free time for two weeks. What I learned from this was that Ayn Rand was a genius-idiot of extremes who couldn’t conceive of a middle ground on anything, and that my soon-to-be ex-boyfriend was a jerk.

8. Thor Heyerdahl
The Kon-Tiki Expedition: By Raft Across the South Seas brought history to life in a way my schoolbooks never did.  The adventures of the Kon-Tiki expedition also influenced my dad, who designed and helped build a float for the Rose Parade held every New Year’s day in Pasadena, California. The float had rolling waves, playful dolphins, a well-done replica of the raft, and the gigantic face of the wind at the back of the float, filling the sails with wind-breath.  I helped glue flowers on the float, staying up all night under a tent in a parking lot with the rest of the crew. I marveled at how a book could inspire a small tent-crew to create magic for the Rose Parade!

9. William Speidel
Bill’s name may sound familiar to you if you’re interested in the history of Victorian era Seattle. He wrote a far-too-fun history book called Sons of the Profits about those early, bawdy days in my favorite city. I’ve always had a love of city history, and my move to Seattle threw gasoline on that fire in my mind, that’s for certain. Finding Bill Speidel’s underground tours, and buying this book at the gift shop at the end of the tour started me thinking about the possibilities of setting fictional stories within the already absurd history of Seattle. I have a feeling Cherie Priest might have had a similar experience. Go read her Boneshaker and see what you think.

10. Larry Niven
Ah, Ringworld. Mr. Niven taught me to Think Big! A ribbon in space, turned on edge and joined in a circle. Who knew this unnatural artifact could contain so much culture? So many civilizations?  Such a complex mythos? I can read and re-read this series over and over, and seem to glean something new from it every time.

11. Andrez Bergen
Andrez is a contemporary author and probably the newest to influence my way of thinking. I discovered his work through One Hundred Years of Vicissitude, which I found surreal, charming and shocking, all in a jumble. The universe must have owed me a favor, as I was able to strike up a very nice friendship with Andrez, which continues to this day. He’s taught me that there is no substitute for hard work and simply getting one’s butt into the chair and writing. I mean, the man has a day job, is the father of the world’s most amazing girl ever, maintains other careers as a musician and graphic novelist, and still finds time to stroll the streets of Tokyo taking wonderful photographs of a side of the city we rarely get to see. He’s written more books, each one not quite like the rest, and I would confidently recommend all of them. You’ll find some reviews of his work in this website, just hit the search box with his name.

12. Eleanor Gates
The Poor Little Rich Girl was written in 1912. It’s another of the books I found at my grandparent’s home (the bookshelf hidden behind the television was a treasure trove!) The book centers on a girl who is taken care of by the household servants, since her rich parents have no time for her. She’s accidentally over-medicated one night and falls into strange dreams. Simple sayings take on life in her dreams – for example, her mother really does have a bee in her bonnet, and her father burns his candle at both ends. You may be sensing a theme by now in my influential authors, and that’s okay. Eleanor Gates delighted me with her play of words, bringing hackneyed old cliches quite literally to life.

13. Terry Pratchett
What have I learned from Terry Pratchett, beyond the fact that I love him dearly and miss him horribly?  I’ve learned that rules are made to be broken. Adventures can be horribly politicial, self-centered and hilarious at the same time… er, wait, that sounds like non-fiction these days, sorry. But the main thing I learned from this fine Sir? Not to sweat the construction of chapters. In fact, feel free to chuck the notion of book chapters altogether! Such freedom!

14. Michael de Larrabeiti
As I was writing The Flight To Brassbright, a friend recommended a trilogy of books: The Borribles. I’d never heard of the series, which came as a huge shock to my friend who insisted I immediately fix this oversight. I zoomed through the books, eating them up as if they were candy. I was so impressed by the balance between joy and anguish in this quasi-post-apocaplyse series about children who could turn into little monsters (borribles). Rather than being a cautionary tale, though, I found myself wishing I could be a borrible, too! I also found myself wanting to write more stories set for a younger audience than I had been aiming for, and that I should add a bit more grit to my writing style.

15. Stephen King
While I don’t think I learned anything life-changing, and haven’t changed my writing habits due to his style… my life was influenced by the memories of all those long, solitary evenings, staying up stupidly late on work-nights, due to being held prisoner by a book I simply could *not* put down. I remember finishing Christine a mere two hours before I had to be at my desk at work. Ow! That was a long day. Was it worth it? To spend a long, dark night curled up in a huge leather chair, sipping tea and turning pages while fighting back the goosebumps?  Oh hell yes.

Review: The Opening Bell

The Opening BellAs a kid growing up on the outskirts of Los Angeles, I can’t say I ever watched wrestling, but I also didn’t *not* watch wrestling. It was often part of the background of my life, along with golf and roller derby.

I’d chosen to listen to the audio version of The Opening Bell, the first book in J.B. Garner’s “Three Seconds To Legend” series. I thought it would be a good companion for my 20 minutes of commuting twice a day to and from work. I’ll admit I wasn’t sure how well I’d resonate with a story set in the world of wrestling, but it didn’t take me very long to immerse. When I realized I was actually looking forward to my drives, I knew just why.

There’s plenty of action, of course, but it doesn’t take the place of a solid storyline with compelling, engaging characters. Leilani, our protagonist, must cope with being a rookie in the sport she loves, while dealing with co-worker rivalries, workplace politics, and multi-generational family situations. Is it all too much for the ‘Girl Hercules’ to handle?

James Garner weaves the elements of the story together, taking these disparate elements of Leilani’s world in hand, first as loose strands, but deftly, over the course of the story, weaving them together into a tightly told tale.

Mindy Grall was ideal as the story’s narrator, as she smoothly moved between character’s accents, as well as doing a fine job with male characters. She brought us venerable old men and teenage boys with apparent ease. A slight tough edge to her voice during fight scene exposition felt right.

And, by the end of the book, I realized Garner wasn’t going to let *me* off the hook without a fight. Those last few pages sealed the deal. I can’t help thinking that reading just one book in a J. B. Garner series is like eating *just one* potato chip!

Visit J.B. Garner’s website to browse his potato chips… er… books

Speaking of Disappointing Politics and Snowstorms

William Henry Harrison gave the longest damn inaugural speech any president’s ever given, on March 4th, 1841. For an hour and forty five minutes a 68 year old guy shouted at a crowd IN THE MIDDLE OF A SNOWSTORM without wearing a hat, gloves or coat. After that, rather than getting some rest in the white house, he headed out to whoop it up at *multiple* parties.

His speech ended with “I have this day given to discharge all the high duties of my exalted station according to the best of my ability, and I shall enter upon their performance with entire confidence in the support of a just and generous people.”

What he actually managed to accomplish was to catch a cold, which turned into pneumonia and he died on April 4, 1841 exactly one month after taking the oath of office.

(This is historical entertainment. Rare for me to talk about government. Posting this does not mean I’m open to debate about current events. History sometimes lends perspective when faced with challenges.)