Wait As Long As You Can

This morning, I was standing in line at Food Lion with my four and one year old sons when the man in front of us turned and said hello to my oldest. He was young with a mesh trucker cap, jeans, boots, and scruffy facial hair, clearly on his way to a construction job or something of that sort. Then he smiled at baby G and turned to me. “How old are they?” he asked. I told him and he said he had a four year old, one that’s two, and another only one year old. “That’s a lot of kids,” I said. “It sure is,” he replied. “Especially if you’re only 22.” I nodded yeah as the man-child grabbed his bag and left the store.

I was  37 when my first son was born, 40 when the second came along, and I’ve always considered myself fortunate that I waited so long to have kids. I’m older, more experienced, and thus more equipped to be a father (at least that’s what I tell myself). I can’t imagine having three kids when I was in my 20s. I was so immature, so unprepared for life, but looking back on it I largely wasted that whole decade and parts of the next, and perhaps children would have sped the maturation process, giving me the sense of purpose my kids have all these years later.

That said, the 22-year-old this morning looked like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders and I’m kind of glad I had the luxury of wasting my twenties. I’ll stick to my guns and what I tell most people considering whether or not to have kids: wait as long as you can.

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How To Make San Quentin Sangria

Pruno is the official word for it, and it’s usually made in prison. It’s homemade alcohol from household items and I first heard of it from an old next door neighbor who happened to serve time in jail for breaking and entering. He and I became friends and I was able to experience his own version of it once–a weird combination of raisins and sugar and yeast that he brewed in an Igloo cooler and called Raisin Jack. That didn’t’ do much for me but making my own version’s been on my mind ever since and I finally decided I’d give it a try.

So about two weeks ago my old neighbor (in the role of consulting brewmaster) and I went to Food Lion to buy supplies. We got three 30 ounce–the biggest they had–cans of fruit cocktail, a bag of green seedless grapes, a 19 ounce container of powdered Kool-Aid (fruit punch in this instance, but it could have been any flavor), a 5 pound bag of sugar, and those small paper packets of baker’s yeast. At home on my back deck, I lined a five gallon plastic cooler with a couple of Hefty trash bags–for sanitation reasons, you don’t want any extra elements messing with the fermentation process–and poured in the fruit cocktail, then I mashed up the grapes–to go ahead and free their juices–in a plastic 2-liter pitcher, added about half of the container of Kool-Aid–this is simply for taste–and around 2 pounds of the sugar. This all went in the cooler, too, along with three or four more pitchers of water. I then emptied two of the packets of yeast into a coffee cup, filled it up with water and put it in the microwave for two minutes (this activates the yeast which initiates the fermentation).

After dumping the steaming hot cup of yeast into the mix I stirred it all up and then loosely tied both trash bags together before closing the cooler lid. Now it was just time to wait. Unfortunately it rained for much of the next few days and the temperature dipped at night. Ideally, you want sun beating down on the brewing beverage, as heat aids the fermentation. After three days I opened everything and stirred it. It didn’t taste too alcoholic to me so I dumped some sugar in–to aid the fermentation–and closed it all back up. Thankfully, the next day the sun finally came out and proceeded to beam for the next few days. Each day I opened the hobo wine, added some more sugar and stirred, and then moved the cooler around the deck so it received the most sun possible.

Finally, eight days after first putting it on, I cracked it all open. The fruit floated on top of the reddish-pink beverage and I dipped in a ladle and drank. There was definitely alcohol in there but I think I put in too much water (ideally it should be 12 or 13 proof). As a result I filled up half a glass with it and added beer on top and as the day went on–it was Memorial Day after all–I also added some Lemonade and Vodka to the mix. Tasty, but by itself the San Quentin Sangria–as the old lady dubbed it–was only a qualified success. I am going to try making hobo wine again when it gets warmer and will use less water, maybe cut out a pitcher full or even two.

Admittedly, this concoction is not for everyone. For instance, my children’s mother refused to even look at it, but if you’re like me–poor but thirsty and in need of something to help calm the nerves (especially after a day with the kids)–then homemade liquor is potentially a game changer. I’m not going to stop until I get it just right.

San Quentin Sangria Recipe:

Three 30 ounce cans fruit cocktail

1 bag green seedless grapes

10 ounces Kool-Aid powder mixed with 2 liters of water

5 pound bag of sugar

4 additional liters of water

.50 ounces active dry yeast (microwaved for two minutes in a coffee cup of water)

Two Hefty trash bags

One 5 gallon cooler


Things I Can’t Live Without #7: Crockpot

I am no cook and that goes double for the wife. However, I was given a 6-qt. crockpot a couple years ago, and then last year a 2-qt. one, and they have changed everything. All of a sudden I’m able to prepare dinner most nights of the week, and it’s really hard to imagine life without my crockpots.

The real genius of the crockpot is that it’s so easy and inexpensive. For instance, Mama’s sister gave me a beef barley bean stew mix for Christmas. I browned some stew beef I got on sale at Food Lion along with an onion and put that in the crockpot along with the mix and beef broth, plus some mushrooms and salt and pepper, six hours later I had a hearty, savory stew–the kind that might help you survive a frigid night in Alaska–that we ate for dinner the past two nights. I’ve got enough left over that I’ll freeze  the rest and dig it out later this winter.

Since the stew mix was a gift it was an exception to the recipes I generally use that are simpler and in smaller quantities. Often, I will look in the fridge and pantry to see what kind of ingredients we have and then simply Google that along with “crockpot” and some kind of suggestion will come up. For instance, I had a few slices of pork  in the freezer and after searching found a simple enough recipe. In the 2-qt. crockpot I added a can of baked beans and a little mustard and ketchup. Eight hours later, I had a surprisingly tasty pork and beans ready for dinner.

Occasionally I need a break from the crockpot fare–something that isn’t cooked for hours and hours and seeped in whatever it has brewed in–so we’ll have pasta or maybe carry out from a local eatery. I think that’s what we’ll do tonight, but then it’s back to the crockpot. Tomorrow, I think I’ll try some beans–perhaps Pinto, with some chili and garlic powder, an onion and a dash of red pepper. Too bad Mama won’t eat legumes, but we’ll figure out something, perhaps I’ll throw in a little sausage or ham to make it more appetizing. Voila!