Mead: What is it and how do you make it?

We got the Valley Cyzer Apple Honey Wine half-hiding there on the left side. Locally-made in Western Mass by Green River Ambrosia.

Mead! The ancient drink. One of the world’s oldest fermented beverages and the reason behind the word “honeymoon”—good thing Dave and I did not drink it after the wedding, if the mead had been “proper,” we’d currently have a bun in the oven! (Side reminder that Dave and I need to learn how to make our own bread).

So… What do I mean by all this nonsense? Let’s start from the beginning. Mead is an alcoholic beverage made by fermenting a mixture of honey and water, with at least 50 percent of the fermentable sugars coming from honey.[1][2]

And what was all that about the bun in the oven? Well,

“Mead was a part of the rituals of the Celts, AngloSaxons and Vikings. It was believed to have magical, healing powers even capable of increasing fertility. The word honeymoon is derived from the practice of the newlyweds drinking mead for one month (a moon) after the wedding. If the mead was “proper,” a son would be born nine months later.”[1]

If you would like to read further on the topic, you can read the rest of this cool article on the Art and Science Behind Making Mead. The article provides you a background on mead as well as (perhaps more importantly) a guide on how to brew it yourself for those enthusiastic home-brewers—we’re looking at you, Varun—including basic mead recipes/formulae and several variations with diversified flavors. Interestingly, mead-brewing equipment is similar to that used in brewing beer, even though the current licensing for brewing mead classifies it as a wine.[2]

We stopped by Nejaime’s Wine in Lenox last weekend and got some Valley Cyzer Apple Honey Wine. My first thought upon tasting mead: “This tastes like the best beer I’ve ever had!” Even though it’s obviously not beer per se, but that’s what my mind decided to feed me on instinct. The alcohol content felt comparably mild at first, though, and after a few sips it felt as strong as regular wine, and then as strong as vodka—you will not find a high tolerance to alcohol in this household… Mostly because we fall asleep before being able to “tolerate” it.

The labeling behind this sweet alcoholic nectar can spark a bit of controversy, though, since mead is often considered to be a specialty beer and there is some discrepancy between honey wine and mead, so that some consider them to be the same thing while others emphasize their differences, with mead having a higher percentage of honey, often having grain or herbs, and being aged longer than honey wine.[3] On a less technical note, Dave and I found that after leaving our honey wine open for a while and/or overnight in a mug in the fridge, the flavor of honey becomes a lot more prominent. (Not sure whether there were other factors—perhaps even involving perception—involved. Will have to further test this hypothesis.)

Found the National Honey Board site if you’d like to “Discover the natural wonders of honey”!

References

[1] “Making Mead: the Art and the Science” by the National Honey Board http://web.mit.edu/adorai/Public/makingmead.pdf
[2] “The Alchemy of Mead” by Dawn Hibbard at Kettering University, 2006  https://news.kettering.edu/news/alchemy-mead
[3] “What’s the Difference Between Mead and Honey Wine (T’ej)?” by Joel MacCharles of WellPreserved.ca http://www.wellpreserved.ca/whats-the-difference-between-mead-and-honey-wine-tej/

Fruity Smoothie: Attempts at Healthy Living

MangoMintGreenSmoothie
(Feeling healthier just looking at this picture)

Diary

Thursday August 4th, 2016.

I sat in my desk in anxious wait for the end of the work day. After coming across before-and-after pictures of K-Pop singer Park Boram, I was finally determined like never before to lose weight and strive for the life of health and fitness celebrities have bombarded me with. Dinnertime comes, and sure enough I fall victim to Wendy’s temptations and order a cheese and grease mini fest of fries smothered in cheese, spicy chicken nuggets, and a Jr. Cheeseburger.


Friday August 5th, 2016.

First day of attempting my “diet” of a smoothie for breakfast and lunch. I’m proud of myself, you see, because, overcoming my typical disdain for grocery shopping, I purchased nearly all of the ingredients for four different smoothie recipes on the phone app I recently installed, very simply called “Smoothie Recipes,” which parades a green icon with a mason jar.

“What ingredient(s) is/are missing?” Might you ask, enveloped in your rising fascination for my daily routine. I will tell you. It was only flax oil, which Dave and I were unable to find. Nevertheless, we got ahold of the well-renowned chia seeds, whose purpose eluded me until yesterday’s purchase, when Dave informed me of their usage as a dietary supplement. “Ahh, they’re not consumed in the hope that you might grow a well-trimmed topiary in the shape of a cartoon icon in your very own stomach,” I wish I had said. The rest of the list was comprised of rather typical smoothie ingredients, such as strawberries, bananas, blueberries, tropical fruits, citruses, spinach, beets, the Cali-worshipped kale, as well as both coconut milk and coconut water.

SmoothiesSetup
Smoothie supplies with bonus aloe vera (recipe inclusion pending)

Back to the “diet,” smoothies are rather delicious* and a source of nutrition I trust highly to extend—or at the very least not shorten—my lifetime, much unlike protein meals that require I drink them nearly-immediately after mixing with water. I soon found out that might be due to the terrifying odor of insecticide emanating from the drink when you leave it in the sink for about half a day, sitting in its container, nervous the stench might expose its devious plan to slowly assassinate unknowing fitness enthusiasts.

Smoothies on the other hand, I trust them. A few of the more new-age-fad-like ingredients might seem more suspicious, but for the most part, they’ve ascertained their place in our evolution and food chain. I even feel highly revitalized already. We live in the mountains, but I’d often turn and say to Dave, “Camping!? We’d die! There’s bears and wolves and coyotes and raccoons and fungi, Dave! It’s utter darkness against the elements and we’re original city [suburb] dwellers!” Even when Dave was perhaps sitting quietly staring at his phone screen.

There’s no way I would’ve considered camping previously without the presence of a well-trained, Rambo-like camp (…) man (?). Smoothies change things. I feel outdoorsy and near-instantaneously savvy in the workings of nature. Purchased fruits, veggies and seeds? Why not camping equipment? Scratch that, climbing equipment. If my exceedingly-fit cousin with an extensive side career as a rock climber in Colorado can do it, why can’t I? I will tell you, I can. I drink smoothies now. I will let nature guide me into becoming the nature guide that guides others away from their own demise. Health as my path, deliciousness as my sword.

All kidding aside, I have decent hopes for this new lifestyle—the one about drinking smoothies, not rock-climbing; we’ve established I’d die in that one.

*They can also be chewy, like today’s smoothie, made with beets that I liquified rather poorly in our Ninja brand blender. This chewiness makes it feel as if I was chewing on an actual breakfast, making me half-forget it is in fact a drink, and nulling my usual need for consumption of bread items. More typically, a toasted bagel** with everything.

** Unfortunately, toasting a bagel with everything burns the garlic bits, making it slightly more bitter, but which I found to be a necessary evil against New Yorkers’ wishes to not toast their bagels, (but then again, their bagels might be far different from the ones I get at work here in the Berkshires).


Saturday August 6th, 2016.

SmoothiesBlender
Mango Mint Green Smoothie prep. (Do not let the outside fruits deceive you, those were merely for decoration)

Dave and I had a Mango Mint Green Smoothie from the Smoothie Recipes app. I replaced a third of the mango portion with papaya and added the two [edit: Tbsp] of chia seeds. I poured mine into a mason jar based on pop culture traditions and Dave had his in a regular glass, due to his mild resistance to “Hipster” culture #Cristi. Dave said it was so delicious he’d be willing to pay a significant amount of money for this. I said, “How about $12?” to which he replied, “maybe $8 [for the glass].” Worth it.

MangoMintGreenSmoothie
$8-valued glasses of Mango Mint Green Smoothie with decorative fruit and aloe vera plant.

[Edit | Sunday, August 21st, 2016] : I would definitely recommend purchasing the ingredients listed for 4-5 recipes if you’re planning on making one a day, since some fruits can spoil rather quickly. (Made the mistake of purchasing 3 peaches and 3 pears without prior plans for them… Only one of the peaches made it in less than a week, hoping the pears will make it to tomorrow. Tragic). So yes, learning to be a responsible consumer of fresh produce is part of the process. Here are some of our favorite recipes so far:

  • Mango Mint Green Smoothie. Mild tweaks:
    • Mango: 1 Cup (instead of 1.5 Cups)
    • Papaya: 0.5 Cup
    • Chia Seeds: 2 Tbsp (which the author suggested as optional)
  • Blueberry & Mango Immune-Boosting Smoothie. We didn’t have baobab powder, so I didn’t use that, but added the following:
    • Chia Seeds: 1 Tbsp
    • Coconut Milk: 0.5 Cup
    • Papaya: 1 Cup
    • Kale: 1 Cup
  • Kiwi Mint Smoothie. Delicious, just a bit tart, so we added:
    • Banana: 1 whole one (if it’s a large banana, you can use half)