beer soup for chilled bones

it feels like a very, very long time ago when i last posted, lamenting but also celebrating the finale of a really rad summer. when i wrote that (eep! over 2 months ago - sorry for the extended radio silence) autumn was just edging up against us, but now we're just full on in it: the late november cold rains and windy days. a mild day here and there helps to keep the spirits up, but soon we will have to accept the dawn of winter, which creeps a little closer with each day.

the only real respite from the hunched-shoulder, soggy boot trudge is a cheery yellow kitchen, with warm counter tops and sharp knives. dairy, dark beer, and vintage bowie are small but important accessories of comfort to usher in the premature evening without complaint. one recent particularly harsh weeknight, i decided to go all out and make a decadent recipe i'd been eying for awhile. this goldenrod soup - haughtier than pub grub but maintaining some working class charm - is a pretty quick dinner and you might already have all the ingredients nestled in your fridge. to our true vegan readers: i'm sorry, my more disciplined brethren, but this recipe is not for you.

a gently sauteed mirepoix creates a base for the vegetable broth, milk (heavy cream if you want to get real cray), and a medium bodied english beer. a literal heap of sharp cheddar cheese melts into something spectacular. the first bite of the finished product, silky and rich, is like a hug from the universe. hyperbole? make it yourself one night, as sharp rain pelts your window panes, and see if you don't agree.

Brawler Bisque extremely loosely adapted from a Gourmet recipe
~ takes about 40 minutes

1/4 stick of unsalted butter
1 medium white or yellow onion
2 carrots
2 stalks of celery
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 bay leaf
1/3 cup flour (all purpose, or any other kind to make it GF)
2 cups milk
2 cups vegetable stock (homemade is best)
1 12 oz bottle of english style ale (go local)
1 teaspoon mustard
4-8 ounces of shredded cheddar, totally depending on how cheese-ified you want the soup to be, plus the odds and ends of any forgotten cheeses in the drawer, also shredded
salt & pepper

- melt the butter in a soup pot over medium-low heat. dice up the onion, carrot, and celery and cook them in butter until tender and fragrant, about 5 minutes.

- add the bay leaf, garlic, salt and pepper. stir everything around in the butter for another minute or two. add the flour to the veg mix and try to coat everything in it. let it cook a bit more until the flour gets a bit golden. this is like making a little roux-on-the-fly.

- add the milk, veg stock, mustard and beer. simmer the pot, whisking from time to time. let the whole thing cook gently until the vegetables are softened and cooked all the way through. if you're using some carrots that have seen better days (like i did), they can be tough and might take a few extra minutes.

- turn off the heat and fish out the bay leaf. whizz up the beer-y soup with an immersion blender. if you need to use a regular blender, carefully transfer the soup in small batches, and may god have mercy on your soul.

- once the vegetables are well pulverized, turn the burner back on to a low flame. stirring all the while, add the shredded cheese one handful at a time. when all the cheese is melted, season with salt and pepper to taste.

pour yourself a glass of malty, strong beer to accompany your beer soup. i went with great lakes' edmund fitzgerald porter, a fine brew that fortifies the soul. the label on the bottle features a great ship battling a raging storm, not unlike us east coast kids battening down the hatches for the long winter ahead. i think if we can cook our way through it, we'll be just fine.



l'été does end

well, another glorious summer has come to an end. i know the season doesn't officially end until later in september, but it just kinda of feels over, right? little kiddies are going back to school, balmy afternoons are replaced with rainy ones, there is a tiny edge in the air. i even wore a hoodie today! better to embrace change than long for a stasis which can never be, but it's still hard to say goodbye to my favorite three months of the year.

i spent more of june, july and august working than lounging by the pool or the ocean, but i'm kind of okay with that. i spent a lot of my early 20's not working a whole lot, so it feels pretty satisfying (albeit, an exhausted kind of satisfaction) to be hustling while i still have the energy and time. one very small regret of my summer is not spending quite as much time in the kitchen as i would have liked. i do think we made the best of our CSA and farmer's market hauls, as dozens of ears of corn, countless salads, and a bushel of tender tomatoes crossed our cutting board and graced our plates.

one of my favorite salads of the summer was an unexpected combination of raw fennel slices, paper thin radish half moons, a sprinkling of blueberries, and a touch of firm goat cheese. something about the interplay of all the colors and textures came alive together. the fennel and blueberries have a casual vibe, like denim cut offs and a worn out v-neck. but then outta nowhere the sleek radishes are like a swipe of matte red lipstick to give the shorts and tee a glamorous pop. the goat cheese is the sexy lingerie no one knows is under that unassuming, bleached out cotton shirt.

plus, it's based on this recipe from food&wine, created by one of my all time most beloved top chef contestants, stephanie izard. i took some liberties with the ingredients of the original salad, but i made the lovely dressing obediently, and smiled a little more with each bite. at first, i straight up balked at the addition of mayo to the dressing, but its binding powers make the whole thing a dreamy, gingery delight. this smooth operator will certainly elevate any salad or vegetable to a sunny, happy place.

Creamy Ginger Dressing from the recipe linked above
~takes about 5 minutes

2 tablespoons minced, peeled fresh ginger root
2 tablespoons minced shallot
1 tablespoon white balsamic or champagne vinegar
1 tablespoon mayo or veganaise
1 and 1/2 teaspoon dijon or spicy brown mustard
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon maple syrup or agave nectar
1/4 cup grapeseed oil or XVO (maybe a little less if you want to keep it on the lighter side)

- no nonsense: combine all ingredients in a mini food processor. whir on high until well blended. season with salt and pepper. done, kind of like the summer of 2011.



hi ho cherry o

remember this board game from when we were little kids? it was always one of my favorites. i loved the smooth, spherical plastic cherries and the way they nested so gently in the holes cut out of the cardboard tree. i can't remember much about the rules or logistics of the game but the tactile pleasure of those tiny fake cherries has stayed with me for a long time.

i desperately love real cherries, too. up until a few years ago, i had only ever eaten your standard bing cherries (mostly from the regular grocery store and often lacking pizazz), but through my old job at capogiro, i was exposed to a nice array of local cherry varietals, usually in the form of perfect vegan sorbets. over the past few summers i have allowed myself to splurge on an organic quart or two from the farmer's market, and relish each bite into the taut skin of the fruit, and the adolescent fun of spitting the pit into the garden or out of the window of a moving car.

so what an unpleasant surprise it was when the heaping quart of blushing sour cherries from our CSA proved to be too sour to snack on! i wanted to buck up and make myself enjoy their intense mouth puckering tartness but i just couldn't force it. like in so many other desperate times, i called in for back up: butter and sugar to the rescue!

this cobbler, which is about a million times easier than making a pie, is everything i could have ever asked for out of these crimson beauts. seriously! the bright, piquant sourness of the raw cherries are tamed into a mysterious submission by the other ingredients and hang time in the oven. the topping, which is just the right amount of rich and sweet, keeps the whole thing from being too damn serious.

Sour Cherry Cobbler
adapted from an old ass Gourmet Magazine (RIP)
~takes about 1.5 hours, including baking time
4 cups of sour cherries, rinsed, drained and pitted - save any and all juices from the pitting process!
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons of sugar
1 tablespoon orange juice
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/4 teaspoon almond or vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour, or any other decent baking flour of your choosing (spelt might be nice!)
1 teaspoon double acting baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt (omit if using vegan margarine)
6 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter or Earth Balance
- preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

- combine the pitted cherries and their juices with the cornstarch, 2/3 cup sugar, orange and lime juices, and almond or vanilla extract. stir well to combine and set aside.

- in a mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and the 2 tablespoons sugar. add the butter or margarine by breaking it off into little pieces with your fingers and dropping it into the dry ingredients. using a pastry cutter, a fork, or just your fingers mix it all together until the dough is kind of coarse and sandy.

- add 1/4 cup boiling water to the dough and gently stir until it's just mixed. set aside.

- put the cherry mixture into a pot. bring it to a gentle boil over a medium flame. stir to dissolve any remaining sugar and take off the heat.

- pour the warm cherry mixture into a lightly greased oven proof pie plate, an 8-inch cast iron skillet, or any other baking vessel you like. drop the cobbler dough in small, rough pieces on top, covering as much of the cherry filling as possible (see image above).

- bake on the middle rack of the oven for 45-50 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the crimson insides are bubbling.

- allow it to cool a bit, then dish it up. a tiny scoop of ice cream sends you on a rocket ship to the planet Summertime. good for an indulgent breakfast, too!



flying vie

cruising down 38th street today after an extremely challenging hour at the gym, a bright green food truck, resplendent with photos of giant fruits, caught my attention. the clean sunlight was bouncing off this thing with such intensity, i had to shield my eyes.

around university city, shitty food trucks are ubiquitous and i usually pay them no mind (except for you, my beautiful magic carpet). so it doesn't quite surprise me that i hadn't ever noticed La Vie, boasting fresh juices and smoothies. i don't often spring for commercially made smoothies - so expensive!! - but my sore muscles immediately started screaming for some fresh carrot ginger juice. i wandered over to the truck to check out its offerings.

to my dismay, there was no evidence on the menu of fresh juices. their online menu lists them as an option but that wasn't clear in person. i suppose i could have asked the guy working, but...i didn't. anyway, what i saw were two menus: one for fruit smoothies (yawwwwn), and one for green smoothies. just when i was about to walk away, i read the "tropical green smoothie" description and was reeled right back in. avocado, broccoli, mango, orange, pineapple and ginger?! i relented. fine! fine. this will make my body feel so good, right? so i got in line, placed my order (extra ginger, please!) and waited. and waited. and waited.

for lack of nothing else to do, i took this photo of the cool orange wheel well of the truck. if you go to la vie, do not expect it to be a quick experience. it was kind of hard to see inside the truck, but i'm pretty sure the dude working in there was cutting everything to order. this is a nice touch that guarantees absolute freshness, but takes forever. also, he let everything whiz around in the blender for a very long time. the results, however, were rather magnificent.

this smoothie was truly blended to perfection, with nary one un-pulverized piece of broccoli or ginger! my request for extra ginger did not fall on deaf ears, either: the smoothie was as spicy as it was fruity. the avocado lent a nice creaminess, but a bit of a weird texture. if the idea of something resembling snot in even the tiniest way makes you uncomfortable, you might want to steer clear of the tropical green. maybe the sweet spinach (banana, blueberry and spinach) or the go green (broccoli, cucumber, pineapple, mango, orange and ginger) would be better choices? i thoroughly enjoyed it though, and had pretty much drank it all by the time i was back at my office. a small green smoothie set me back $3.75, which is too pricey for a daily treat. but, considering how often i shell out at least that much money for beer, ice cream, caffeinated beverages and the like, this is a totally worthy expenditure of four bucks. as hoped, it made me feel wonderful and i've been flying high all afternoon!



best coast // beast coast

well, by all accounts, the trip to san francisco was a raging success. we ate, we drank, we had extremely fun times with friends. we saw sights, relaxed, wrote postcards, ogled adorable dogs and their often adorable-r owners. the weather was sheer perfection: warm, breezy, humidity free. the kind of weather that just makes you super psyched on life; the kind of weather that allows you to eat a massive breakfast burrito and still feel energized and lusty. every day we woke up, walked outside and saw the cloudless sky, we'd giggle. "hey, look! another gorgeous day!!" no wonder californians generally seem more chilled out than most on the eastern seaboard.

it is also entirely possible that the deeply caffeinated, high quality coffee that these folks start their days with has something to do with all the good vibes, too.

if the caffeine gets on top of you, there's always a cold, hoppy beer just moments away from gently bringing you back down to earth.

can't even get into the breadth and depth of the amazingness of the food we consumed - that's fodder for another lengthy post entirely! you know, it's hard not to make east cost/west coast comparisons sometimes. by many accounts, the bay area is a nearly ideal city. there's just so much goodness there.

yes, it's expensive, and the economy is in major trouble. there are surely myriad social, political and practical problems that i'm not even remotely aware of, not being a resident of that city. but each day as i wandered around the mission taking it all in, i wondered to myself, "why is it again that i live in a gritty, troubled city full of hardened, pissed off people?" still, stumbling out of the philadelphia airport on thursday and taking in that first breath of dank, humid oxgyen, i felt the unspeakable joy of Coming Home. the feeling of home-ness is so hard to define that it's almost mystical. you just know it when you feel it...



vacay, it's ok

not much to report from the rest of beer week besides sipping on a few cans of this new beautiful canned beer, working my ass off, and trying to find a few hours here and there to take care of business and relax. what can i say? my beer week plans always seem to get away from me. i'm resolved to not care about it, though. there's always next year.

plus, i'm in full on, full swing (pre)vacation mode! ryan and i leave tomorrow for a week in san francisco and santa rosa. we'll put in some seriously necessary face time with brother steve, and BFF john s. i decided to celebrate my last day at work until next friday by spending my precious lunch hour watching a few innings of the phillies game and drinking a nice, crispy wheat beer at a local watering hole.

boulder sweaty betty - so good!

new shades

i hereby resolve to take tons of photos of all the food and drink awaiting me in northern california. expect a mega post upon my return!



beer wk: sunday boozy sunday

what better way to delay the consequences of a fun saturday night of beers and excessive high fiving, than a boozy brunch with a beautiful broad? that's how i started my sunday - met up with my friend D for the beer week special allagash brunch at the pope. over pancakes, tofu scramble and 2PM beers, we kicked off what would be the first of a multi-hour hang out sesh.

wish every brunch was an allagash brunch

D is a seasoned bartending veteran and a true beverage connoisseur , so i followed her lead when she ordered the allagash vrienden, which turned out to be a stunning ale in the flemish sour tradition. it was, we learned, an allagash collabo with new belgium brewery, brewed with dandelion greens and elderberries (the two breweries even blended their special yeast strains! isn't that cute?). the quiet amber liquid in this glass is the stuff beer week dreams are made of: tart, fruity, strong, and just the right amount of weird. i loved every little sip. i had hoped to catch a bit of the live set by our pals the glotones, but alas, they were breaking their gear down when we arrived.

after our plates were cleaned and cleared, D and i hightailed it over to her place of employ - and the only place in old city i'll regularly patronize - the khyber pass pub. they were in the midst of a supreme beer week jam: saison sunday! ten rare and immensely intriguing saisons on tap. oh dear.

the first of quite a few tulip glasses to grace the bar before us was la moneuse by the belgian brewery blaugies. malty, barn-y, aged to a nice warmth, but still wonderfully effervescent on the tongue, this was a classic saison. literally the perfect beer for a sunday afternoon, though perhaps a brasserie in belgium would have been a slightly more perfect place to be drinking it. no matter: a dim bar in philadelphia with D was a really good place to be, too.

i must confess that i forget which saison was second on my list. the sun was still shining a bit too brightly for the level of tips i was feeling, but our spirits were high, and we were deep in one of those great, rambling conversations. amongst a hundred other things, we talked about men and relationships, food and dietary choices, and going fishing as little kids. the third (and last?) saison i ordered was voodoo brewery's bitchin' camaro. this farmhouse ale is apparently a very new release from the brewery. so new, in fact, that there wasn't really a description for it on the draft list, and in the column listing abv there a mysterious "?." i distinctly remember that the last line of the description read something like, "any beer named after a dead kennedy's song can't be bad." though D wasn't crazy about it, i liked the hefty, malty, boozy kick in the teeth it gave me. if you're already getting loaded on super high quality beers on a sunday afternoon, why not go big?

after dutifully chugging some water, we called it a day, and headed home. woozily walking down walnut at sunset, we hugged on the corner of 6th street. D said she was going home to take a nap, but i was headed off to band practice in east falls. being tipsy on small quantity of good, strong beer is a distinctly light, energizing feeling, with 0% hangover. alright, alright...maybe just a 5% one.



beer wk, day II

philadelphians, rejoice! beer week is upon us. you may find yourself musing, a bit confusedly, "but isn't every week beer week?" if you partake in regular happy hours, distributor perusals, geek outs with the dudes at hawthorne's, backyard/park bottle top pops, etc. then the short answer is Yes. but capital B Beer Week offers hundreds (almost a thousand, some report) of special events across the city and the region in celebration of suds, the geniuses who craft it, and the nerds who love them. the past few annual Beer Weeks have expired with me consistently feeling like i didn't take advantage of enough of the awesome happenings, and this year i am determined to not let that happen. it's really too bad that i am as yet iPhone-less, because they've even rolled out a beer week app to help keep track of all the madness! seriously. dumb-phone laden as i may be, i won't let this one slip away without sampling at least half my weight in saisons, double IPAs and other such glorious libations.

so, i had to work on friday night, and thus missed the official first day of beer week. however, i did jam a few much needed pints of sixpoint at the abbaye afterward, so maybe that counts for something? last night, post-ballgame, ry and i decided to bike over to fishtown to the 'it's a firkin riot!' event at johnny brendas. the night air was cool enough to require a denim jacket, and the ride across town was just lovely. we rounded girard to frankford ave. to the familiar, fuzzy sight of this fine bar.

inside, our pal herbie was spinning all manner of british tunes, and hoisted above the bar in a purely brilliant set up (whoever built this thing deserves many accolades), was a row of the firkins, tapped and pouring beer like there was no tomorrow. for a quick and painless explanation of what a firkin is - by a badass bearded brewer dude no less - see here. the firkin loft was even outfitted with packs of dry ice (i think) to keep the beers mildly chilled. i can't get over how cool this apparatus was.

the $5, 10 ounce pours allowed for a wide variety of tastes, but i was most impressed by the weyerbacher verboten, a belgian style pale ale with all the crispy, clean, gentle fruity yeasty-ness i could ever ask for. these went down easy peasy. a little too easy...

i also tried the standard pils, a new local collabo beer that was a delightful quaff. as a few sweet friends joined us at the bar, our glasses were emptied and refilled as our tab did grow. herbie kept it solid at the turntables, and the place just got more and more packed out. i hazily realized that one potential down side of these beer week shenanigans is the increased presence of douchey dudes. i almost NEVER get approached by men at bars, but last night i was hit on by not one, but a handful of drunk, drunkie drunk drunk amateurs. i will give a certain red-cheeked young fellow credit for at least using "what beer should i order?" as a pick up line, instead of whatever other hack bullshit the ladies of the world must endure.

the bike ride home was punctuated by a stop at maoz, followed by an impromptu 2am viewing of the film indecent proposal. in a stroke of luck, i don't have to work my usual shift this morning, and so could sleep in, rock some brunch, and prepare for the day's beery activities...long live my liver!



tap that

it's proof that a place is special when you've been there countless times, and each visit renews your love tenfold. this is how i feel about the south philly taproom. yeah, the service might not always be at 100%, but i'm learning to chill out and slow down in my older age, and not get all annoyed when a server is sort of moseying around instead of hustling toward my table. the rest of sptr (or "spitter," as i sometimes call it) kicks so much ass that i can safely call it one of my favorite bars/restaurants in philadelphia.

the decor and layout of this joint are spot on. during the day with the windows open, the dining room is happy and breezy. at night, rustic vintage light fixtures keep the bar dim and cozy (but not too dark), good tunes float through the speakers (but not too loud), and you and whomever you're with can settle in for a real good time. the draft list consistently reads as a who's who of local craft beermakers with a few midwestern, west coast, and international brew dudes thrown in for good measure. i can always find something i'm stoked to sip on, and they have, like, a majillion bottles to choose from if you're not feeling draft-y.

the food menu is also simply stellar with clearly marked vegetarian options aplenty. vegans, fear not: the spitter has got you covered. there are some decent soups and salads, but their vegan hoagie - packed to the gills with savory tempeh, marinated mushrooms, lettuce, tomato and thinly sliced red onion - is not to be missed:

there is a wonderfully unconscionable amount of vegan mayo on this roll

sandwiches come with a side of thick cut fries, chopped salad, OR pasta salad. hooray for choices! to boot, $3 gets you a dish of bangin house made pickles and, according to the omnivores i know, they also prepare delicious meats. for brunch, the dairy-free inclined can rock a very interesting plate of mushroom studded tofu scramble that comes flanked with a watercress salad and hard-to-describe but FANtastic white rice dumplings.

it really does something for me when an establishment has different kinds of seating for different kinds of moods. the taproom offers lots of options: well worn stools at the long, curved bar, plenty of high top tables, intimate low round tables, and a big booth in the back by the windows, perfect for gathering with ten or so of your BFFs.

best seats in the house

south hicks & mifflin maybe used to seem like a random corner for a great lil pub, but the neighborhood has come a long way, and outside tables provide copious people and cute dog watching. they also frequently host cool events, including a well edited selection for the impending 2011 philly beer week (including a lagunitas "420" event on june 9th featuring stoner snacks - does it get any better?). sptr- what can i say but: i love you!