Letting Go…

I’ve come to terms with the fact that I need to let go of my Knitter’s Guide To Beer book concept. While I feel this book has good potential for success, and would be fun to write, my body’s ability to comfortably process more than a couple of pints of beer per week has declined noticeably in the past few years. Combine this with the fact that when people find out I’m writing a book about beer they want to have a beer with me – which is awesome! – and it becomes even more difficult to reduce my consumption for the sake of my health.

This problem would only escalate if I were to finish the book, and then attempt to promote and sell it. And so…I’m listening to my body and letting go.

Being a believer in cosmic forces, it’s clear to me that my writing efforts were meant for a different purpose. Something a bit deeper than matching knitting projects to beer styles.

Looking at all I’ve learned over the course of my life so far, I’ve found that my pursuit of passionate, hands-on inquiry and research into a variety of self-selected subjects has taught me far more than I ever learned sitting in a chair in a room answering questions posed by a teacher. Finding answers to one’s own questions, and sticking with a subject until one’s curiosity is satiated, is far more satisfying and productive.

While there are many subjects that have caught my attention and interest during my unschooled life, I’ve settled on four as the focus of my redesigned book project…Unschooled Path: Knitting, Medicine, Beer, and Bare Feet. What I’ve learned from each of these subjects goes far beyond what I expected to learn. In addition, I’ve found that when explored on a deeper level, the four subjects are connected and interdependent. The knowledge and skills I gained in one subject, helped to improve my understanding and abilities in all the others.

So what’s the most important thing I’ve learned from each of these four subjects? Well, I’ll tell ya…

  • Knitting The value of process. How we get there and what we learn along the way are far more important and valuable than achieving our preconceived goal. In other words, the books we read, the people we meet, the skills we struggle to improve, the choices we make, and the experiences we have that disrupt our progress…these are what life is all about.
  • MedicineThe health of the soil will determine the health of our bodies. When we deplete and impoverish our soil, we deplete and impoverish ourselves. Soil, terrain, terroir…these are what matter to our health, far more than bacteria, viruses, genetics, or even chemical exposure.
  • Beer Microbes should be respected as colleagues, as equals, rather than being feared. They are an essential part of our life and necessary for health. The more we understand and respect our microbe friends, the more we are able to assist in the maintenance of a balanced, stable, and healthy environment – for our own benefit, as well as for that of our microbe family.
  • Bare FeetHuman innovation cannot improve on nature. Certain tools and other human creations can make our lives easier, more predictable, and more satisfying, but we only create problems when we start to believe that we can improve nature. Or worse, that we are smarter than nature. When problems arise, we should always look first to a human action that needs to be undone, in order to make things better.

Through this book concept transition, writing, research and learning continue to happen. Sometimes an activity I take on or a book I choose to read seems like a distraction from my task at hand, and then I find that it’s absolutely related and helps in my understanding of the picture as a whole. As I learned from knitting, the process is where the value is.

With that in mind, yesterday I made cheese for the first time and then made these awesome No-Bake Cheese Tartlets. Way yum! And far easier than I thought it would be…even though my kitchen was a disaster when I was done.

Enjoy the journey!

-Jenne Hiigel

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The Concept Evolves…

My research over the past several months has been wandering into seemingly unrelated areas, but has brought me full circle back to this book project with increased determination to make it the book I really want to write.

Subjects I’ve been reading intensely about include:

  • Health and Medical Issues… Mainstream medicine causes more problems than it solves. Alternative medicine needs to play a stronger role. Each person needs to take responsibility for his/her own health and stop making the medical profession responsible. Since what we put in our mouths determines our level of wellness, diet and lifestyle changes have the potential to make the most difference.
  • Corporate Personhood… Corporations are not people. That seems obvious to me, but apparently not to the Supreme Court and the various corporate Boards of Directors. Corporations need to have LESS influence in our lives, not more. Fortunately corporations need money to survive, so if we want to limit their ability to manipulate us, all we have to do is stop giving them our money.
  • Compulsory Schooling… Forced government schooling needs to end. We don’t have to dismantle the public education system, but each person (I’m including children here as persons) should have the right to choose not to go. Every person should have the right to pursue their education in the manner that best meets their own needs.

Our country is facing significant challenges which have their roots in these three issues. So what do these things have to do with beer and knitting? Well, corporate influence combined with compulsory schooling has turned us into a society of consumers.

Most people no longer know how to make things. They just know how to buy things. Any knitter who has had someone oooh and aaah at their simple garter stitch scarf will understand what I’m talking about. Even the simplest skill seems out of reach for most Americans. Without the ability to produce things for ourselves, we become dependent on corporations to do it for us.

If we want to be rebels, the best way to do so is to become skilled. Learn how to do things. Learn how to make things. Learn so many skills that when you go into a store you start passing by more and more items for sale and think… “I can make that myself .” The more we as a society do this, the less control the corporations will have over us.

In John Taylor Gatto’s newest book “Weapons of Mass Instruction: A Schoolteacher’s Journey through the Dark World of Compulsory Schooling” he pulled everything together beautifully for me:

“What nineteenth century American experience demonstrated unmistakably is that an independent, resourceful, too-well educated common population has the irresistible urge to produce – and the ability to do so. … [In] Federal times and Colonial days … the common ideal was to produce your own food, your own clothing, your own shelter, your own education, your own medical care, your own entertainment, etc.”

As people become more capable of producing, they become more independent, resourceful and  self-sufficient. These are the qualities that used to be abundant in our citizens. It’s time to bring those qualities back.

Knitting and brewing are fundamental household skills. Both genders have history in both crafts, and it’s time to embrace those skills again. In order to build the desire to learn a craft, it helps to have a good understanding of the process and appreciate the end results.

That’s what “A Knitter’s Guide to Beer” will do for the craft of brewing. It will give the reader an understanding of the brewing process and an appreciation for the variety of beer styles that are possible. If we can start our rebel adventure with beer and knitting, then we’ve got to be on the right path!

-Jenne Hiigel

Refreshing My Book Concept…

Ever since I started teaching Beer & Knitting classes last October, it seems as if I’ve shelved progress on my book project and my homebrewing. In addition to the classes, my time has been filled with holiday activities, family issues, and trying to find a solution to my Rosacea… which is aggravated by alcohol consumption.  In hindsight, though, it turns that everything is related (isn’t it always!) and that the experience I’ve gained through the Beer & Knitting classes has helped me to see a better way to approach my book project.

Even my Rosacea has a connection to beer… and not just because it can aggravate my condition. I found an amazing line of skin care products by Googling “rosacea hops”. I did this after noticing that IPAs with a high hop content don’t aggravate my Rosacea nearly as much as some other beers. My proving beer for this is Firestone’s Union Jack. Darn awesome stuff. The product that turned up in my Google search was evanhealy’s Blue Lavender Cleansing Milk, designed specifically for Rosacea and includes hop extract in the ingredients. Pretty cool! And the stuff works amazingly well.

As I was planning my Beer & Knitting class offering through the end of the year, and thinking about what I’ve learned from my previous five classes, I realized that the way I’m approaching my Beer & Knitting classes is how I want to approach my book. I’ve revised my Table of Contents and am motivated to start writing again. I’ve also decided to include several of my own knitting patterns in the book.

I’m making progress on my Rosacea, and have found that I can have a half-bottle of beer now and then without much problem. I now have hope that these two things in my life (beer & Rosacea) will be able to find a way to work together.

-Jenne Hiigel

Beer & Knitting Classes…

People have been baffled by my idea of combining beer and knitting into a book. Well, it’s time to take them to the next level of baffle-dom. I’ve decided to teach Beer & Knitting Classes.They will take place at Yarns…at the Adobe on the 2nd Saturday of each month from 2-5pm beginning in November. Here’s the lineup:

  • Nov 8th… American Wheat Beers & Dishcloths
  • Dec 13th… Christmas Beers & Knitted Ornaments
  • Jan 10th… Finishing (finishing touches on your beer and your knitting)
  • Feb 14th… Fruit Beers & Knitted Hearts
  • Mar 14th… Stout & Mitered Square Afghan
  • Apr 11th… North Coast Brewing Co & Pattern Design

We’ll discuss the beers and start tasting at the start of the class, and then get our knitting going while we finish our beer discussion. I plan to focus primarily on three different beers at each class. The knitting side will be fun projects and/or a couple of key techniques.

The other advantage of the classes is that the research I do for each class will help my book progress a bit faster. These should be fun and are already generating some enthusiasm.

-Jenne Hiigel

Porter, Writers’ Conference and Classes…

Homebrewing continues. I’ve made a second batch of the Fuller’s London Porter clone recipe, which was quite timely as I only have one bottle left of the previous batch. This new batch will be ready to drink in about a month. In the meantime, I’ll continue to enjoy the Alaskan Smoked Porter clone recipe that I brewed. Now that I’m satisified with my Porter brewing, I’ll be moving on to another beer style. I’m thinking either wheat or extra hops. We’ll soon see which recipe grabs my interest next.

I still want to move on from extract/grain brewing into all-grain brewing, but I have to wait until I save enough money to buy a mash tun, lauter tun and sparging equipment. Hopefully I’ll have the funds set aside by early next year. I’m working on scheduling a few Beer & Knitting classes, so that may help with my homebrew equipment goals.

I was chatting with Anne at Yarns…at the Adobe recently and trying to come up with some knitting class ideas. Classes are always challenging, because people regularly ask for them but don’t always sign up when they’re finally scheduled. So I was trying to come up with some ideas that might spark a little more enthusiasm. That’s when I decided on Beer & Knitting classes. In these classes we’ll discuss and sample a specific group of beers, and knit a complementary project and/or learn a specific knitting technique. Here are the classes I’ve come up with so far:

  • American Wheat Beer & Dishcloths
  • Christmas Beers & Knitted Ornaments
  • Finishing (proper presentation of the beer and finishing techniques in knitting)
  • Fruit Beers & Knitted Hearts (this class is on Valentine’s Day)
  • Stout & Mitered Square Afghan
  • North Coast Brewing Company & Pattern Design

The first class will take place in November and they’ll continue monthly through April. We’ll soon see how people like the Beer & Knitting class idea.

We recently wrapped up this year’s Cuesta College Writers’ Conference. It went very well and, once again, got me inspired to work on my writing more diligently. Last year the message I got from the conference presenters was to make time to write and that the early morning hours tend to be the most productive. I gave it a try and found out that they were absolutely right. If I can get myself out of bed an hour earlier I can make significant progress with my writing. It’s the getting out of bed that is the hard part, though!

The message I got this year from the conference was to write what I know AND write what I’m passionate about. That seemed to confirm to me that I am on the right track with my book about beer and knitting. Enthusiasm for the combination of crafts continues to grow, which is pretty cool. Anne (at Yarns…at the Adobe) says she now gets people in her shop wanting to find out more about the Beer & Knitting group.

At our last Beer & Knitting gathering at Woodstone Market in Avila Beach we had a reporter from the New Times come out and interview our group. There were about 16 of us in attendance that day and it was a beautiful day on their patio overlooking the creek while we knitted and enjoyed our beer and lunch. In the not-too-distant future there should be an article about us appearing in that newspaper. I’ll keep you posted!

-Jenne Hiigel

The Fog Begins To Clear…

About a week after I came to the conclusion that I would be writing my book primarily for knitters, I had lunch with a co-worker of mine who is not a knitter. I started explaining to him what my book was about; what brewing and knitting have in common, that I would be explaining the flavor differences between beer styles to make it easier to select a beer you might like, the effect that age and mishandling of beer can have on flavor and aroma (he was not aware that beer is a perishable product), why it’s important to drink beer out of a proper glass, and so on. By the time our lunch break was over he was very enthusiastic. He said, “I want to read your book!”

So… after struggling for months and then finally finding an epiphany that seemed to hold my answer, it’s clear that things continue to evolve. My book will be for knitters… and for anyone else who wants to learn more about beer, increase their enjoyment of the beer they drink, and expand their horizons in new beer directions. My book will also be about knitting. Not in the how-to sense, but in the heart and soul sense.

Now that my audience has become even clearer, I’ll take another stab at the Concept Statement for my book. Here’s Concept Statement #4:

Which beers do you like? Which ones do you dislike? Do you know why?

Through the harmonious pairing of knitting and brewing, A Knitter’s Guide to Beer will help you understand the various flavor components of beer, how to match beer styles to your current preferences, the importance of considering your mood when selecting a beer, the benefits using the proper glassware, the effect of age and mishandling on flavor and aroma, and the joys of being adventurous and delving into new beer territory.

Jenne Hiigel combines her knowledge of beer with her skills in knitting and homebrewing to enhance your appreciation of both crafts. Pull up a chair, grab your yarn and needles, pour yourself a beer and let’s get started. And remember… when in doubt, drink Pale Ale when knitting socks.

My Alaskan Smoked Porter clone turned out quite nice. It took almost a month before the carbonation was worthy, but now it’s a beer I can be proud of. I’m down to just a handful of bottles of my Fuller’s London Porter clone, so I brewed another batch a few days ago. This could very well be my session beer.

Now that I’m satisfied with my Porter brewing, I’m ready to branch off into new territory. I think I need hops. Lots of hops. It’s time to look for some IPA recipes.

Our local Writer’s Conference is coming up in less than a month. That conference always inspires me to get serious about my writing… again. This time it could stick.

-Jenne Hiigel

Getting Distracted…

I haven’t been working on my book project as much as I would like to. Life has gotten in the way of my ability to get up at 5am and get some writing done before getting ready for work. I must admit, though, that a significant part of my problem is a website I’ve discovered that is causing me to become distracted from my project at hand. The website is BookMooch.

Innocently enough, this website was designed to allow people to trade books that they no longer need or want for books that might be of more interest to them. The trading is based on a point system. You earn points by listing books that you’re willing to give away, you earn more points by shipping your books to another person, and then you use points by mooching books from other BookMoochers. Your only cost is the postage to ship the books, and since they can be sent via Media Mail the shipping is darn reasonable.

I joined BookMooch at the end of January and in shortly over two months I have given away 52 books and mooched 32 of them. It’s one thing to spend time boxing up and mailing the books that others have mooched, but then you’ve accumulated quite a few points and you start browsing for books that you didn’t know existed that you desperately need. When the books start arriving, it’s time to start reading. I’ve even switched from knitting while I walk to reading while I walk!

Then while I’m reading about the health benefits of honey, past life regression, reincarnation, gardening, herbs, salem witch trials, traditional chinese medicine and a variety of other topics, my interest in certain subjects begins to peak and I start looking on amazon.com for more books related that topic! My focus has clearly now been diverted from my original task of writing my beer & knitting book. I know. It’s an old, sad story. The evils of the internet.

So I’m trying to get back on track with my book writing. I managed to mooch a beer-related book about the history of Guiness. When that arrives I’ll at least be back to reading about the proper subject. Then if I could just stop staying up late into the wee hours reading all my mooched books, I’d be able to wake up at 5am to write and still be awake at work at 3:00 in the afternoon. A lofty goal I know, but I’m going to give it my best effort.

Back on the Porter front, I’ve determined that my beer is as good as it’s going to get. It has aged in the bottle for six weeks now and the last couple of weeks have not made a big difference in flavor. Our neighbor two doors down gave me a bottle of his Vanilla Porter, so Chuck and I did a side by side taste test with his porter and mine. Both were made from the same recipe that we got from our local hombrew shop. The only differences were that he used a liquid yeast and I used a dry yeast, and he added vanilla bean.

The flavor differences between the two yeasts was quite noticeable. There’s an aroma in my beer that I’m not fond of and I can only attribute it to the yeast. Chuck has been helping me with the beer analysis as well, and he’s not tasting anything wildly off in the beer – and he’s quite good at identifying beer-gone-bad. Our neighbor’s beer didn’t have the same aroma. His was fruitier with a slight vanilla nose and flavor. This will be my one and only batch of beer with a dry yeast. From now on I’ll be brewing with liquid yeast. I’m looking forward to feeling confident enough with my brewing to want to start experimenting. I’m sure I’ll get there someday.

As much as I want to move to all-grain brewing, I am being advised that not only is it possible to make a perfectly good beer from extract, I should stick with extract brewing until I’ve got that wired. Then I’ll be ready to take on the additional complication of all-grain brewing. I can only mess up so many things with extract, but with all-grain you have so many more opportunities to screw up your beer if you don’t know what you’re doing. Okay, okay… I’ll brew some more extract beers.

So I asked my brother-in-law how I can make a better beer. He said to change the recipe. If I were cooking something and wasn’t happy with how it turned out, I would look for a different recipe. Brewing is no different he told me. A good recipe is the key to a good beer. Find a beer you like, look up the clone recipe for that beer, and start there. You can change it down the road or move on to an all-grain version of that recipe, but you have to start with a good foundation. And he told me to switch to liquid yeast. He said his beers improved immediately when he started using liquid yeast.

He gave me good advice about my brew kettle (told me to buy an 8-gallon kettle, and not a puny 5-gallon one), so I’m ready to take his advice about the recipe and yeast. My next beer will be a clone brew of Fuller’s London Porter. My May/June 2006 issue of Brew Your Own magazine is on its way with both an extract and all-grain clone recipe for this awesome porter. With any luck this batch of beer will be good enough to want to drink more than half a bottle!

-Jenne Hiigel