Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Mid-80s Training Montage: Ten Degrees

A few years ago, I found myself about 50 pounds overweight. I was looking down the barrel of high blood pressure and, potentially, diabetes. So, I started watching what I ate and took to the treadmill. Lost the weight over the course of about a year and a half. The motor eventually burned out, and I wound up joining the neighborhood association gyms. Although I’ve never been much of a runner, it’s feels nice to get on the treadmill once a week or so.

The wife and I drove to New York for a wedding last weekend. After six hours in the car, we needed some time to decompress. For her, that meant taking a nap and a hot shower. For me, that meant hitting the treadmill in the hotel gym (note: the hotel bar wasn’t open yet). I set my pace for 6.5 mph – my usual not-blistering-but-not-nothing run. The default was 60 minutes, which is 10-15 minutes longer than I usually run*, but I had an hour to kill and decided I should Man Up. Bold, red font and everything. This was, in hindsight, probably a bad idea.

After about 10 minutes, I had to jump off the treadmill to grab a towel. After half an hour, I had to slow down the pace twice (from 6.5 to 6). Finally, at 50 minutes, soaked through with sweat and feeling very nearly dead, I hit the Cool Down button and brought my run to a merciful end.   

It wasn’t until afterwards that I thought to check the thermostat: 82 degrees.
Results from the Heart Rate Monitor**:

Max HR
Avg HR
Warmup Zone
Fat Burn Zone
Aerobic Zone
Anaerobic Zone
Speed/Power Zone

This morning, I went back to the regular gym. Jumped on the regular machine, plugged in the usual numbers – 51 minutes, 6.5 mph. Felt good enough at the 45-minute mark to jump the speed up to 7 mph. Still felt good enough at the 10-minute mark to bump the timer up to a full hour.

Results from the Heart Rate Monitor:

Max HR
Avg HR
Warmup Zone
Fat Burn Zone
Aerobic Zone
Anaerobic Zone
Speed/Power Zone
So, I went at a higher pace for a longer time, burned 100 more calories, but my heart rate was lower and I felt pretty good afterwards. The thermostat in the gym was set to 72.

I have learned a thing today: Keep the room cool, and I can put up an hour without feeling like I'm about to die. 

*U16 and U18 hockey games run 45 or 51 minutes. Figured that’s a good target to aim for.

**It warrants mentioning that I have no idea what these numbers mean, or whether these numbers are "good" or "bad," or whether I should be on the phone with a cardiologist instead of writing this blog post.  

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Beer Mystery Status: Solved

The wife recently started a blog to talk about and share recipes from our CSA box, which made me think "hey I have one of those," which made me realize it's been almost a year since I've posted. So, from the "Better Late than Never" department, an update to The Mystery of Beer.

So, thusly informed, I put Batch 6 (an Octoberfest) in the much cooler basement. We’re bottling it next weekend, and should be able to tell whether we’ve solved our problem. 

Short answer: We solved our problem.

Long answer: The reason none of our beers tasted quite right was that we'd let the fermentation temperature get out of control. The yeasts we used liked to do their thing within a fairly narrow temperature range, generally between about 65 and 75 degrees. Conveniently, that's about room temperature, and the instruction kits said "put this in a dark place at room temperature." So, into the ~75-degree closet they went. Work complete!

The problem with that approach is that fermentation is exothermic. As the yeast get busy, they generate heat, much like I do when I get on the treadmill or that time I set my hair on fire. The upshot is that, while the room was right around 75 degrees, the beer was closer to 80 or even 85 degrees, which caused all sorts of unpleasantness.  

We put the Octoberfest (batch 6) in the basement, which is cooler than the upstairs closet. That beer turned out a little better, but still wasn't quite right. Turns out, we hit on the solution when we "built" the swamp cooler for the Steam beer (batch 7). Here's the very labor-intensive process we followed:

  1. Buy a sufficiently large tote from Target
  2. Place tote in a cool, dark place
  3. Put fermentor in tote
  4. Fill tote with Howard County's finest tap water
  5. Throw in a couple of frozen water bottles
  6. Periodically check the temperature and replace ice/bottles as needed

It winds up looking something like this
Deer Park: Damn, that's good water

The water in the cooler draws the heat out of the fermentor. Periodically adding ice/bottles keeps the temperature nice and low inside the fermentor and out, which keeps the yeast from causing off-flavors and unpleasantness. Science, bitches! The active fermentation  (read: the heat-generating bit) lasts a couple of days, after which you can get lazy about replacing the water bottles. If there's one thing I'm all about, it's being lazy.

Since that post, we've used the swamp cooler for the Steam Beer (batch 7), Brown (batches 8 & 10), Porter (batch 9), all with great success. I have an Amber Ale bubbling away in there now. Time will tell how that one turns out.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

On Nights, Sleepless

So I reckon that Dustin, more or less, has the market covered on clever fatherhood stories, but there I was just back from the beach with my two year old (and change) and wondering if I didn’t have a voice to add to the din.

And then the kid comes down with one of those colds that clogs you right up, so that you can’t breathe if you’re laying down, so you can’t sleep unless you’re sitting up, and so you can’t sleep if you’re two years old and change. I drove for four hours last night, midnight or thereabouts until four in the morning. Put about 100 miles on the car, and a GPS route like a Jackson Pollock painting. At the end of the day, you do what you’ve gotta do to get by.

Because Jill was sleeping, I sent a couple of e-mails to the wife along the way, reproduced in their entirety below:

1:30 AM 
She [the child] fell asleep about ten past 1. Have MapMyWalk recording this odyssey. Will keep circling a while, have some coffee. Need to stop for gas. Lot of cars in the Target parking lot off 100. Many zzs from the backseat.

2:23 AM
Maple Lawn Boulevard becomes Cedar Lane. *mind blown* 
She's snoozing in the back seat, little over an hour now. I'm in the parcel pickup lane at Giant by Goddard, full tank of gas, half a cup of coffee. 

3:16 AM
Costco parking lot, quarter past three. She stirred a bit about half an hour ago, but went back out. Nose is whistling. I got ass over tits lost in Columbia, wound up on route 1 by the flea market. I'm a regular Ferdinand Magellan. 
There was another father with a sleeping kid in the royal farm lot. I wanted to express solidarity, but didn't want to wake the baby.
I've seen as many deer as cops, and more of both than anyone else. 
Thinking I'll aim to get home around 4. 

To this, all I can add is thank God for the Ft. Meade Dunkin Donuts, a 24-hour drive-thru, a shining beacon in the darkness, an iced coffee from heaven and the stalest bagel I've ever had. We all do what we've got to to get by. 

Monday, April 01, 2013

The Great Robertus Style Update of 2013

The nice thing about being a (*cough*) professional writer is that I can come to work dressed like a bum, and nobody much cares because, hey, I’m a writer. I lost about 50 pounds over the last couple of years, so most of my clothes are big by an order of magnitude. But again, I’m a “writer,” so ill-fitting clothes come with the territory.

But recently, I’ve had to dress nicely for a few special events, and I’ve decided that I kind of like not looking like a hobo. Not that I’m longing for the days of button downs and slacks (i.e., high school), but it’s time to tighten things up a bit. Besides, I have to buy a new suit anyway. Thanks, moths.

Thus begins the Great Robertus Style Update of 2013.

I moseyed around the Columbia Mall for 45 minutes or so, hitting up the men's departments of the major anchors (except Lord & Taylor, which was out of the way). I didn't try anything on, though I did thumb through some stuff. Here's what I noticed:

I was only approached twice, both times in Nordstrom and both while in the ties section. Guess it helps that I look like a bum.

Pastels appear to be in, at least according to Penny's, Nordstrom, and Macy's. In particular, pastel blue, pink, and yellow. This is unfortunate news, as I look *really bad* in pastels. They suck the color right out of me, which is no small feat, because I'm not exactly overflowing with color as it is.

Pink in all forms appears to be a thing, which is likewise not so hot, because I, myself, am pink. If I want to look like a sunburned alcoholic battling a low-grade fever, I will wear the pink-on-white checkerboard shirt I saw at both Macy's and Nordstrom’s. I took a picture. I am not kidding.

No occifer, I don't have the flu

I *did* see a couple of pretty good looking checkerboard button-down shirts at Penny's and Macy's. Blue-on-white, black-on-white. I want to get my wife’s style opinion on them, though, because I don't have to look at me wearing these things. I don't really have to look at me at all, which is sort of the root of the problem.

Macys suits are on sale for 40-65% off. Everything is under $300 (Kors and Tasso Elba are $250, Trump is $270, Jones New York and Lauren are $279, and Tommy Hilfiger is $299.999). I'd spend the extra $9 just to not wear Trump, even though it's poor Ivanka Trump and not the Donald himself. Name association is a terrible thing. My previous suit (not this most recent one) was a JNY. I liked that suit.*

Nordstrom didn't have prices on the suits, which gave me the "if I have to ask, I can't afford it" and "I'll have to haggle with the salesman" vibes. Which is fine and all, except I have a photograph of the sales prices of suits at Macy's, which is like 100 yards away from the suits at Nordstrom.

Michael Kors must be going blind. I mean, apart from the whole "Gretchen over Mondo" thing that I'm never getting over. His men's watches are hyooge! Like, a small dinner plate on my wrist. I could see them from the sales counter in Macy's. The watch display was in Nordstrom's.

In Nordstrom’s, I briefly picked up an Armani men's watch before realizing it was Armani and probably more expensive than my car. Which says more about my car than about the watch.

They had a couple of extremely awesome neckties at Nordstrom’s, which made me briefly think I should wear ties more often. They also had pocket squares, which made me think I should wear pocket squares not at all.

Sears sells clothing under the Structure brand, which gave me flashbacks. I used to wear Structure in high school when they were a standalone brand (with their own store in the mall and everything) and were the only pants that would fit my previous, assless self. Seriously, I was 135 pounds as a freshman, and I was 6'1. You could wrap your arms around me twice.

*Jones New York didn't give me a free suit for this advertisement. Such a kickback deal would be wholly unethical if I had any influence over style, fashion, or purchasing trends. Which I don't. So, Jonesy baby, call me.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Robertus Cooks: Risotto!

Like a lot of families, one of our New Year’s resolutions was to cook more. Unfortunately, we haven’t yet gotten around to the “finding recipes” or “buying ingredients” portion, we were left with our staples: pasta, bean burrito, “Indian thing,” scrambled eggs, or risotto. We’ve been surviving on pasta and beans since Christmas (illness, rather than poverty), and so we decided risotto.

All I know about risotto is that Gordon Ramsay really gets salty when a contestant botches it on Hell’s Kitchen. I don’t blame him, I’d be sore if contestants on my cooking show didn’t watch my other cooking show before coming on. For that matter, so would any network executive that gave me a cooking show. But I digress. Suffice it to say that Jill usually cooks the risotto, so I was off the hook. Except that she had to call her mother.   

Jill explained thus:
1.     Dice up half an onion, throw it in a sauce pan with some olive oil.
1b. No, you fool! Not a pan! A saucepan! These are differen things! Words mean things!
1b. No, you fool! Not a pan! A saucepan! These are different things! Words mean things!

2.     Add a cup of arborio rice, make sure it gets coated in the oil
3.     Simmer a thing* of vegetable broth, add 1/3 to the rice
4.     Stir until your arm falls off and/or the broth is absorbed
5.     Add 1/3 of the remaining broth to the rice
6.     Stir until your other arm falls of and/or the broth is absorbed
Obviously, I am a professional food photographer.
Obviously, I am a professional food photographer.

7.     Add remaining broth, figure out how to stir with your feet.
8.     Add some frozen peas, or some parmesan, or whatever, just give me the damn phone already

 The Verdict:
It's edible!
Hey! It actually tastes like risotto!

Friday, November 02, 2012

E-Mails to Scott, Vol. 1

Scott Rappaport, a life-long friend of mine, passed away suddenly on September 10th, 2012. We’d often shoot e-mails back and forth, like friends do. Nothing terribly deep or philosophical, really, just a couple of schmucks shooting the shit. In the months since his passing, I’ve been finding stuff and thinking “Scott would’ve gotten a kick out of this. I should e-mail him.” Of course, he’s not there to answer (not that he was ever good about answering), and so the e-mails sat, taking up storage space in my brain. And then I thought hey, these are basically blog posts, and I basically have a blog. So there.

So the New York Islanders have finally abandoned Nassau County and have taken up residence in Brooklyn. They’re done with Hepmstead dicking them around over a new arena, the drama over the Lighthouse Project is finished once and for all. Your team is moving to my borough.

The Barclays Center wasn’t built with hockey in mind, and so the seating chart is a bit unusual. With the layout, the Islanders would have the smallest capacity in the league. But this is the Islanders we’re talking about. The smallest capacity in the league (14,500 people) is more than they drew on average last year (13,190). The Barclays Center is across the street from a LIRR terminal, and within spitting distance of Manhattan for weeknight games. It sure beats Kansas City.
I don’t expect the Islanders to go through a major rebranding like the Nets. Changes will be subtle. The logo will zoom out, the island will include Brooklyn and Queens. The “I” in Islanders will point to Prospect Heights. They’ll keep the orange, blue, and white, if only to contrast the Nets’ monochrome. I don’t think they’ll position themselves as “Brooklyn first, Islanders second.” There won’t be a billboard plastered with Rick DiPietro’s mug in black and white, and “Hello Brooklyn, I’m #39, Rick DiPietro. I once blew my knee out punching Brent Johnson in the face.” Or “Hello Brooklyn, I’m #20, Evgeni Nabokov. I fled to Russia for a year because I didn’t want to play for the Islanders.” Of course it isn’t personal. It’s the Isles. 

You know, subtle

They’ll maintain their history, and harken back to the glory days of Al Arbour and Mike Bossy, when they won championships. Or at least to the gory days of Mike Peca and Oleg Kvasha, when they won a game now and then. They will make no effort to forget.

You know, if the NHL deigns to play again.
Potvin sucks.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Mystery of Beer

This is going to be a bit of a long post, but I’m okay with that, since I haven’t posted in a year and a half, and it was a year between posts before that. I promise to be more frequent and less longwinded going forward.

A few of years ago, mrs. robertus got me a homebrew starter kit for my birthday. It was really basic set up – a 5-gallon pot, a couple of 5-gallon buckets, various assorted tubes and doodads, and a recipe kit with some powders, syrup, and steeping grains. It ran about 200 bucks, all told, from the homebrew store. Thus began Nolanbrau.
Check the mad phat photoshop skillz, yo!
Brewing, for all the mystery that surrounds it, is a pretty straightforward:
·      Bring a couple gallons of water up to about 155 degrees.
·      Put some crushed up grains into a cheesecloth bag, and steep it in the water for about half an hour, like you were making tea. Afterward, toss the bag.
·      Bring the liquid to a boil, and add your malt extract (the powders and syrup mentioned above). Boil that for an hour.
·      Add hops at various time points (usually right at the start, about halfway through, and with about 10 minutes left).
·      Use an ice bath to cool it down to about 75 degrees.
·      Pour into bucket. Add enough water to make 5 gallons.
·      Add yeast
·      Seal bucket, leave it in dark place
·      Wait
·      Explain to wife why the house smells like wet grass, and why there’s powder all over the stovetop, and that the organic chemistry experiment in the basement is a good thing.

We brewed a couple of batches from kits immediately. The first (an Irish Red) was okay, but our mistakes obvious (it took us a month to get the beer stains off the walls). The second was a much less dramatic affair that yielded a 9% Christmas ale, which we gave away at parties over the holidays.

The third, a porter (“Fat Boris,” after a character in a D&D game), was somehow also cidery. Which is odd for a drink that's supposed to taste like coffee. But, we figured that maybe it was off because we'd burned the bottom of the pot – we didn’t take the pot off the heat before pouring in the Liquid Malt Extract, which caramelized on the bottom of the pot instead of dissolving into the wort. These are rookie mistakes, but we were rookies.

I took a year and a half off after that. We needed a new brew pot, and mrs. robertus, pregnant with Claire, was hypersensitive to smells (like wet grass), and then we had a baby. Last November, I brewed my fourth and fifth batches, a Brown Ale from a kit and from the local homebrew store, respectively. The brown ale was yeasty, which was a terrible result for what should’ve been an easy drinker. The stout had some of the same characteristics, but less pronounced.

The Brown Ale was a kit, we reasoned, and like the kits before it was cidery, fizzy, and sharp. So, obviously, something must be wrong with the kits – old ingredients, maybe, or a bad yeast. But the stout wasn’t from a kit. I’d pulled all the ingredients off the shelf myself, and they were all reasonably fresh. Something else was going awry.

After spending entirely too much time on Homebrew Talk and reading up, we hit on the likely culprit. The instructions with the kit and from the homebrew store had told us to leave the bucket “at room temperature,” when “room temperature” was really 10 degrees warmer than it should have been.

So, thusly informed, I put Batch 6 (an Octoberfest) in the much cooler basement. We’re bottling it next weekend, and should be able to tell whether we’ve solved our problem. 

We’ve put together the materials for a swamp cooler for Batch 7, an Anchor Steam clone that we’re brewing as soon as Batch 6 gets bottled. But that’s a whole nother post.