Monthly Archives: March 2009

The Great American Yeast Starter vs. Smack Pack Experiment

Yeast starters are widely advocated by homebrewers for all batches. The purported benefits include faster starts, quicker finishes, and more complete fermentations. This is a test to see if these benefits can be counted on for beers of normal strength and if the results are worth the additional work.

Yesterday, as planned, I made ten gallons of beer, which went into two separate fermenters. Both fermenters got exactly the same wort out of the same boiler, and both got the same yeast strain using two smack packs that were manufactured on the same day. OG was 1.056, which is toward the upper end of the range recommended by Wyeast for straight pitching of a smack pack. The date on the smack packs was March 3, several weeks prior to brew day. While I have occasionally found smack packs at my FLHBS that were only manufactured several days prior to purchase, several weeks seems pretty normal. Jamil’s starter calculator tells me that a smack pack of this age should have about 81% viability.

One fermenter got a smack pack that had been smacked at the start of the brew day. By pitching time about six hours later, it was good and puffy. I poured this directly into the fermenter and attached an airlock.

The other smack pack, though, I had smacked the night before and used to make a starter. I used 150g of light DME in 1500mL of water, boiled in a 2000mL flask and then cooled. I pitched the smack pack into this and placed the flask on my home made stir plate, where it spun until brew day was complete – about 20 hours. The entire contents of the flask were added to the fermenter, and an airlock attached.

This morning, about 16 hours after pitching, I checked the fermenters, which have been resting in my ferment fridge at 65 degrees. Both fermenters have a good solid inch of kraeusen, and both airlocks are bubbling actively. It seems like the airlock on the fermenter that got the starter may be bubbling a little more frequently than the other.

So, did one fermenter start more quickly than the other? Without having checked the fermenters hourly all night, I can’t say definitively that one started before the other. However, the lag time on both was short enough that they are well into high kraeusen the next morning. I would feel comfortable with the start time in either case.

I will continue to check the fermenters daily, and will report back on the questions of quicker completion and lower FG.


Fundamentals of Orchid Painting – Notes from The Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting, ii

Flower Petals, Flower Stems, and “Dotting the Heart”
Petals & Stems

According to The Mustard Seed Garden, each flower should have five petals. The smaller, narrow petals curl and the larger ones are broad and straight.  Stamens are indicated by dark dots of ink. When the flowers face the viewer, the dark dots are in the center. When the flower is viewed from the back, the stamens are seen on either side of the middle petal. When stamens are on the side, the flower is being viewed from the side.

As illustrated above, the flowers are in different positions – facing toward you, away from you, as well as to the side. In addition to different positions, the flowers are also seen in different degrees of development, from new flowers to older ones more fully opened.

Painting the orchid petals is a lot more difficult than it looks! A written description is not the best, but let me try:

  • Hold the brush upright,filled with light to medium ink.
  • If starting at the center of the flower, start with very gentle pressure, and then increase it slowly as you curve the brush a little, to curve the petal. Near the end of the petal, raise the brush up, and back over the petal you have just painted.
  • If starting at the the end of the petal and moving toward the heart of the flower, begin with pressing down and then curving toward the center, raising the brush as you move until the tip glides up off the paper in a gentle arc. You may want to retreat a little over the narrow part as you lift your brush.

Painting the stems is rather like dancing the waltz – a dip, a sway. If you look at the picture above, you will see that the stems have a bit of a bulge at either end. This is done with an upright brush put straight down on the paper, a little pause before moving it, and then a slight pause with light pressure at the end before lifting the brush from the paper. Do it to the beat of a waltz – a one, two, and a three – or to the equivalent of ONE (push brush down) two (pause and begin lifting brush and moving toward the end of the stem) THREE (push down, and lift, retreating over the painted area).

The fact is, describing how to use a brush for sumi-e is difficult. The only way to do it. If you have never taken a class where you can watch the instructor, the next best thing can be a video. There are a lot of good videos on You Tube and elsewhere on the net. Here are a few that came up when I put in “orchid painting” on Google, and chose video.

In particular, this one is good for how to paint the flowers themselves:

The painter is listed in YouTube as “yanghaiying” if you care to do a search for her.

Dotting the Heart

To “dot the heart” of the orchid is to bring the flower to bloom. To do this, dark ink is used. A brush that is relatively dry is also best, as then the ink will not bleed into the brush’s bristles nor onto the paper. Waiting until the petals have dried also helps.

To create the stroke, I begin with the brush upright, push the tip down gently, and then curve and lift the bush up at the same time. Observe some videos to see how the artist moves the brush – and watch it over and over to observe the movement of the artist, how the brush bristles are manipulated, how the brush is turned. Be patient – that little flick! is tricky! Once you accomplish that, you will be able to create some incredibly beautiful dots.

As can be seen in the above picture, there are all kinds of dots. Some begin with downward pressure, rise and push down again. Others are a dot, with a flick and a turn. Some curve, some are straighter, some are dots which are curvy – pressure and a turn – before the brush is slowly lifted up from the paper and turned as it leaves.

Just remember – it takes practice. People don’t “just paint”! Practicing all these little steps, leaves, petals, dots, and lines will give you the skill, knowledge and dexterity to create a seemingly simple painting.

Putting all these steps together will give you a lovely orchid!


Ah, the power of the state!  I’ve been working nearly every day in a desire to finish up the curriculum for the program I teach.  The state requested it, prior to renewing our permit.

My hours have been cut to 32 / week for the Spring term.  I have been working more than my allocated hours on the critter, at least it is getting done.  Until last night.

After 5 days (yes, that includes last Sunday), with many days going into the double-digits, I finally said enough!

My brain died.  And I said, “It is good!”

I lay on the couch until 11:30 p.m. last night, watching the DVD of the first season of “Damages.”  Do I like it?  Don’t know.  Seems sort of like a wanna-be “Boston Legal,” but without the humor.  Result?  A mystery which sort of intrigues, but not a lot of buy-in or sympathy for the characters.  There is the desire, though, to find out who all these evil people are, and that is where it is for now.

I am usually in bed at 9:00, and up at 5:30 at the latest.  Even today.  But I have a wierd thing – the later I go to bed, the earlier I get up.  This morning – 4:30.  Not something I would like to happen on a work day.  Fridays, now, are non-working days, unless I choose.  Up I came, and back to bed for a very nice nap at 9:30 a.m. until just after 11:00 a.m.

So, here I sit, drinking the second cup of coffee, knitting a pair of really cheery socks, in a patterned yarn sock yarn from Berocco – teals and greens and rather scrumptious colors.  Mindless knitting with delicious colors is great entertainment value.

And then I thought of knitting needles.  The self-indulgent moi gave in to deciding to order size 2, Signature Needle Arts, stilletto DPNs.  $45.00 for a set of 4 six-inch sock needles.  Will I like them?  Don’t know!  My favorite size for sock knitting (with sock yarn) is size 1 1/2 by Crystal Palace.  I knit loosely.  So, I chose size 2, in a cheery bright red.  When will they arrive?  They say 7-10 days for 5.99 shipping.  Let’s see when they get here, and then give them a test drive.

I don’t need more needles, but I am sure curious about these!  I like metal needles, but am allergic to nickel.  As long as I don’t touch the metal of the Addi turbos, I am okay.  All I get is a kind of tingling on my fingertips.  I love my old aluminum needles, and my bamboo, and my wooden ones.  So, let’s see what the needle fairy shall bring – and how soon!

And because, like Alice, I cannot see the value of a book without pictures, here are some pictures of the above-mentioned socks.  A blog without pictures is (methinks) also worthless.

BTW, I knit inside out, and am now decreasing for the toe. I’ll get a right-side-out picture later.

Fundamentals of Orchid Painting – Notes from The Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting, i

“In learning to write, one begins with simple characters made up of a few strokes and proceeds to complicated characters with several strokes. In the same way, in learning to paint flowers, one begins with those with few petals and proceeds to those with many petals, from small leaves to large, and from single stems to bunches. Each division of subject matter is classified here so that beginners may learn them thoroughly, not only beholding them with their eyes but retaining the impressions in their minds.” (p. 323, Sze, The Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting, 1963 The Bollingen Foundation).

There is a long tradition in painting the orchid in Asian art, and, according to The Mustard Seed, the painting of the leaves is of primary importance as the entire painting of the orchid is dependent on the execution of the leaves.

Strokes to be learned are the “nail end” stroke, the “rat’s tail” stroke, and the “belly of the mantis.”

Compositional elements include “eye of the phoenix” and “breaking the eye of the elephant.” Additionally, there is a need to understand the growth pattern of the orchid so that one may express in a stroke or two the way in which leaves wrap around the base of the orchid, as well as how the leaves form a sheath for the roots.

Leaves should cross, overlap, bend, and raise, yet “never repeat in a monotonous manner” (p. 325). Correct portrayal of orchid leaves, to show distinction between varieties, is extremely important.

Most of us will easily paint leaves left to right, but of equal importance is being able to paint them as dexterously right to left. Observation of how a plant grows upward, downward, how leaves twist and turn is all vital to successful painting. Reality and the artistic aesthetic may conflict, but the spirit of the plant is the essential component.

To paint these leaves, load your brush with light, medium, and then tip with dark ink. Hold your brush upright, and then pretend you are a leaf blowing in the wind. Your arm flows with the breeze, up and down, sideways right and left. The leaf then is painted – narrow, fat, rising up to the sky, and down to touch the earth.

To me, that is perhaps the most difficult element of a painting – the spirit, or chi. And yet, when I finally begin to connect with a plant, and a painting, the painting comes alive before my eyes. I can feel the leaves as they move in the wind. I can smell the fragrance of the flower. More, I can feel the energy of the entire plant, and my imagination moves beyond my senses and merges with more than the plant, more than the world, more than my mind’s eye – there is an altogether other world where everything merges and becomes more real than reality.

Lost at Sea

Every now and then, something just grabs you.  Two things did today.

Thanks to the info from Terry at – her link is on the right – I saw the newest Knitty edition.  And on the cover is a gorgeous shawl, Shipwrecked.

The above click came just shortly after reading about a project that has been going on in England since 2007 – the digitizing of over 20,000 (you got it, 20,000!) photographs of expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctica from the 1840s to the 1920s.  Not long ago I read the book, Endurance, which is about Shackelton’s wreck in the ice of Antarctica and how everyone returned alive after being stranded over a year.  The current Time website has pictures of this project, as well a link to, where pictures are posted.

There is something incredible about well-done black and white photos which has it all over most color photos.  There is a sense of drama, as well as an ability to focus on the subject in the picture.  No colors to distract, and so the eye finds shape, light, dark.

Such beauty!