Every now and then I come across a meal that is, to my palate, a masterpiece. There have been two recently.

Beer & Beast at the Acadia: smoke Scotch egg and Oskar Blues Reeb Rye'd ale

Beer & Beast at the Acadia: smoke Scotch egg and Oskar Blues Reeb Rye’d ale

The first was a smoked scotch egg at one of my neighborhood joints, Acadia. Once a month they have what they call “Beer & Beast” for which they make a special meal, which usually involves the smoker out back, that they pair with a special beer. I was a little skeptical about a smoked scotch egg because breaded, fried food isn’t my bag, but they have a few hotshot young cooks in the kitchen and one bite in, my fears were allayed. The egg was excellent, the Oskar Blues Reeb Rye’d beer was excellent, and the two together sent me into nirvana.

Not too long after that, another neighborhood establishment, Town Hall Brewery, had their annual Barrel Aged Beer Week. They made some crazy and delicious fancy beers, releasing one per day throughout the week. I went in right away on Monday and learned that they developed some special food items to pair with the beers. I chose the seared scallops because I have a soft spot for scallops.

photo of scallops dinner

This was one amazing plate!

I’ll admit that I gave the plate a quite the side-eye when it arrived. The scallops with bacon-onion jam, farro with fire-roasted tomatoes, and grilled zucchini floated on a pool of white sauce. Okay. Maybe they wanted to visually fill out the plate or something. I reread the menu card. “Beurre blanc,” it said. “French for white sauce makes it sound fancier,” I interpreted.

My white-sauce snobbery quickly melted away as I tasted what an excellent carrier it was, helping to blend all of the the flavors together in a most excellent way. The tastes and textures balanced each other nicely, from the salt and crisp of the scallops and the sweet and smoke of the bacon-onion jam to the savory and chewy of the farro. Once again I found myself in my happy food place.

I had already been thinking that I’d try to return later in the week once more of the beers had been released. After eating I knew I would return, if only to have that delicious plate again!

In the meantime, I encountered a chef friend to whom I raved about this meal, including recounting my attitude about the “white sauce, well, beurre blanc.” What comes around goes around. He gave the side-eye right back to me without further explanation. After we parted, I became curious about this unfamiliar cooking term and looked it up. I stood corrected and publicly apologized to beurre blanc on social media. It is not white sauce. It is white, that’s true, but it’s actually an emulsification of butter in white wine that results in a sauce-like entity that is particularly complimentary to fish and seafood.

photo of beer flight

Town Hall Barrel Aged Week, flight 1: Foolish Angel, Buffalo Bock (2015), Twisted Trace (2015)

I went back to Town Hall on Thursday. That evening, there were enough of the special beers available so I ordered a flight. In case you’re wondering, the Foolish Angel was my favorite of the beers I tried. The general manager, Scot, who I got to know last year in a bowling league at one of Town Hall’s other locations, was flitting around so I was able to compliment him on it. He was pleased because it was a new beer this year.

photo of beer flight

Town Hall Barrel Aged Week, flight 2: Project 3106 (2015), Czar Jack (2015), Duke of Wallonia (2015)

But more importantly, I had the scallops dish again! Somebody different must have been in the kitchen, though, because the plate came out with at least twice as much beurre blanc, which was twice too much, and maybe a third less farro, which was a third too little. It was still as delicious as I remembered from three days earlier, though I did not come close to finishing all of the sauce. Then I decided to take the rest of it home with me for use at a later date, an endeavor made much easier by having exactly the right sized plastic container in my bag from my breakfast. (I always pack my breakfast and eat at my desk. Saves me fifteen to thirty minutes in the morning. Fifteen to thirty more minutes of sleep. But I digress.) I long ago got over feeling embarrassed about pulling out my own container at a restaurant in order to stow leftovers. Reduce, reuse, recycle.

That night as I lay in bed I had the ultimate brain wave. Along with the leftover beurre blanc, I had half of the ingredients necessary to recreate this meal at home. I had a zucchini, onions, bacon pieces, brown sugar, and sun-dried tomatoes. My mission was clear!

I located a recipe for bacon-onion jam that used only basic ingredients, read about how to pan-sear scallops, learned some more about beurre blanc, and purchased scallops and farro. I was ready to begin. The jam recipe is not at all fussy, it just needs and hour and a half of prep and cook time to get the reduction. I got that going first and enhanced the recipe with some dried currants for good measure. The farro was next. It needed about thirty minutes, and I included chopped sun-dried tomatoes. When the farro was done cooking, I finished it by frying it for a few minutes to crisp it up a bit; there had been something a little crispy about the Town Hall plate. As the jam and farro were finishing, I heated the pan for the scallops, getting the butter and oil nice and hot. While the scallops were searing, I reheated the leftover beurre blanc in the microwave, stirring frequently. I know, I know, I can hear you laughing from here. It was a visual disaster. The fat from the butter immediately separated into yellow oiliness, and the remaining part turned into a gloppy, viscous mess. But it still tasted heavenly and it all gets re-blended in your mouth, right?

photo of scallops dinner and beer

It doesn’t look the same as the professional version, but it tasted just about as delicious.

It was only after I had carefully plated my homemade meal with the goal of downplaying the physical appearance of the beurre blanc that I realized I had completely forgotten to make the zucchini. Oh well. With six rather than four scallops, it was plenty to consume.

The meal was delicious! I paired it with Summit Great Northern Porter. The bacon and the beer really brought out the smoky characteristics of each other.

I was very pleased with the effort!

photo of scallops dinner and beer

No Town Hall brews at home, but Summit Great Northern Porter was a fine stand-in.

Why do I torture myself year after year? I willingly go to a place where I get to hang out with 150,000 of my closest friends. I spend a hot summer day outside in the sun. I tolerate waiting in long lines for the ladies room. I eat battered, deep-fried, junky food. What is this torture? Why, the Great Minnesota Get-Together, of course!

Any self-respecting Minnesotan will trek to the Minnesota State Fair at least once each year. I have friends who go multiple times. Take my friend Jen A, for example, whose husband is in the Army. They got stationed in Guam for three years. A year ago he left a month before Jen. Jen waited until after the Fair. And when has she come back for a visit? To coincide with the Fair. She has been there just about every day. I don’t know how she does it. I go for a few hours and I’m done in. Think I’m joking about attendance of 150,000? Look at this. And I went on the last Sunday. The last Sunday usually goes over 200,000.

These just in:

Quotes from Jen (which I include because I truly am impressed by your desire, determination, and stamina, and I know you were doing what you love to do): 1) “After a 15.5 hour day yesterday, I’ve logged 67 hours at the fair this year. A record for me. One day to go. (Sunday).” 2) “My last day at the fair. 16 hours for a total of 83 hours over 6 days. That’ll do.”

2014 State Fair breaks all-time attendance record. Thank goodness I didn’t go on Saturday, attendance 252,092.

So this is the fun I had at the fair.

photo of overheated Kelly

When I bike to the fair, I am hot and miserable before I even pass through the gate.

Biking to the fair.

Just like going to the fair at all, biking to it always seems like a good idea before I do it. It’s a four-and-a-half-mile ride, most of which is on a dedicated bike- and busway. Easy route, but even if the temperature isn’t too hot, I get overheated. So I’m at a disadvantage before I even get through the gate.

I should also mention that the fair encourages you to not take your car. As could benefit me, there are three bike corrals. Unfortunately they are at the three corners of the grounds other than the one where the transitway spits me out. Getting to a bike corral adds a half-mile onto my ride. But I’m glad they have them because it takes a lot of the thinking out of arriving at the Fair.

Anyway, I had a couple of personal connections at the fair.

Personal connections and vegetables in general.

My coworker’s grandmother enters vegetables every year. And she wins every year. Look at those Yukon gold potatoes! Jen (a different Jen) helped harvest those winners. And since I love vegetables, you get a photo of the west wall of the Horticulture Building. And who wouldn’t be impressed by giant pumpkins, Charlie Brown?

photo of potatoes

Blue ribbon Yukon Gold potatoes dug up and sorted by my coworker, grown by her grandmother.

photo of giant pumpkin

It’s the Great Pumpkin!

panoramic photo of vegetables

These are a few of my favorite vegetables.

photo of Larry's painting

A little purple goes a long way.

I also managed to find my nextdoor neighbor Larry’s painting in the Fine Arts building. As my mentor Chris Gargan always said, a little purple goes a long way. Or was that John Ribble? It was twenty+ years ago.

photo of mini-donut beer

Mini-donuts! In beer form!


Natch, it didn’t take me long to acquire beer. Unlike last year, Lift Bridge Brewery made PLENTY of their Mini-Donut Brown Ale. It sounds so wrong, but it works. This year there was also a s’mores beer replete with a floating marshmallow, and a lager that came with blueberry frozen foam.

photo of Kelly with beer

Kelly visits a beer exhibit. Yes, a beer exhibit.

A great thing about the Minnesota State Fair is that it keeps up with the times. Whether it’s an evening of Minnesota bands, sponsored by The Current, or craft beer, the fair is all over it. Back by popular demand for the third year, was the Land of 10,000 Brews exhibit, also in the Horticulture Building. This is where there are six options for four-beer flight from Minnesota breweries. The selections vary daily. Sometimes there’s fancy stuff, but mostly it’s a way to support our burgeoning craft beer industry.

[Update from the interim between writing and posting: Some asshole robbed the exhibit at gunpoint a couple hours after the Fair closed for the year. Armed robbery of over $10,000.]

photo of double-wide stroller

Does she look like she’s actually having fun?

Major annoyances.

I’m pretty sure I ranted about this last year, too, and every year before that. If it’s not old enough to walk under its own power, it’s most likely not old enough to really comprehend, and therefore actually enjoy, what is going on at the fair, and should therefore be left at home. Your doublewide stroller isn’t doing anybody, and I mean anybody, least of all you, any favors. Tell the truth. Do you actually enjoy pushing that thing through the throng, having to constantly apologize to the crowd around you for needing non-standard space accommodation, the crowd which is already annoyed by the rest of the crowd? Are you having fun when the tot is screaming because it wants cotton candy, or is over-stimulated, or is over-tired? And when it falls asleep, well, what was the point anyway?

photo of parade float

It’s a parade. Yay.

While we’re on the subject of hindrances to the already crowd-hindering crowd, what about the daily parade? I guess some people watch it, but it seems like it’s mostly meaderers scattering to the curbs to make way. I find it particularly purturbing because on either side of the street it goes down are some of the things I’m most interested in, such as the aforementioned Horticulture Building and the abeermentioned Ballpark Cafe, from whence the Mini-Donut Brown Ale (and many other fine, Minnesota brews) is served, and because I always manage to encounter it. I just want to cross the damned street. Call me a chicken if you must, apropos to the fair.

photo of Kelly with a Pronto Pup

It’s a Pronto Pup. Or is it a corndog. Huh?

Fair food.

Unless you live in a cave, you’ve likely heard of all the any-state’s fair food you can get on a stick. Minnesota’s fair does food on a stick like no other. However, I mostly avoid it. Battered, deep-fried delights are so far from how I typically eat that it doesn’t take much of it to do me in. But I’ll always get a corndog. I don’t like weiners but I love me a corndog. I am a poor Minnesotan because I’m still not sure exactly what the difference is between a corndog and a Pronto Pup. What I do know is that this year I got a Pronto Pup rather than a corndog and I didn’t like it as well. I think a Pronto Pup is more of a batter batter while a corndog is more of a cornbread batter. Next year I shall go back to the corndog.

photo of Kelly eating corn on the cob


What never disappoints is the roasted corn on the cob. Minnesota sweetcorn, grilled in the husk. ’Nuff said. Oh, except for that they compost all the discarded cobs.


photo of weather radar progression

How much time do I have?

Weather, more beer, more food.

All afternoon I felt like I had blown it with regard to the weather. The day before, Saturday, was a little less warm, a little less humid, less unsettled. Sunday started out overcast and not-warm, but of course by the time I got pedaling the sun came out and the dewpoint started creeping up. The forecast was for a clear afternoon with rain and thunder likely in the evening. It approached more quickly.

photo of Kelly and cutout of Mark Stutrud

Hanging out with Summit Brewing founder, Mark Stutrud. Well, a reasonable facsimile of him, anyway.

I made my move in the direction of the exit when I figured, based on radar panel number three, that I had about forty-five minutes before the heavens would open. I need about twenty-five for the bike ride. Fortunately, the main Summit Brewing counter, in the International Bazaar, is right on the way to the entrance I use next to the bike corral. Summit had a fair-only brew this year, but it was not on offer on Sunday (unless it was at an auxiliary location). Nevertheless, I ordered one of the beers that was available and participated in what was their genius marketing ploy for the fair, taking a selfie with the life-sized cutout of founder Mark Stutrud. I have actually hung out with Mark several times in person, so this was a little weird, and yet, necessary.

photo of tacos

Tacos al pastore y asada.

I had just about decided that I was out of weather-time and had every intention of heading out, when I was dazzled again by what had caught my attention on the way in, tacos from Los Ocampo. I wasn’t exactly hungry, but wanted to eat, and figured that if I ate a little more at the fair, that would be enough for the day. I went for one each of the al pastore and the asada. The nice people sitting on the bench next to me approved of my choice (having vast, it seemed, experience at one of Los Ocampos’ restaurant locations) and gave me a piece of their fried plantains. It was all very good.

photo of approaching weather

Hopefully I’ll beat this home.

I finally, finally, uncorraled my bike and headed home, a little later than I meant to. On the other hand, it wasn’t already raining so I knew whatever happened, I wouldn’t get it too bad. As it was, I only got spritzed on during the second half of the ride. I got home and took my second full shower of the day. I tied my hair up in a different way that proved to be a beneficial way, but that doesn’t really have anything to do with the fair.

My history of beer

September 23, 2013

Kelly and Oberon

I’ve been asked by a couple people recently how I came to adore beer as I do. If those folks were curious, maybe you are, too.

I always liked beer well enough, I suppose. In my youth in the early 80s, I tended to favor Stroh’s and Michelob. You can’t judge me—craft beer as we think of it today didn’t exist. I probably favored mixed drinks at that point anyway; I remember being quite fond of brandy old fashioneds at one point. The college years saw me drinking whatever macro beer was in the house party keg. Even in my thirties, I liked vodka tonics best, but it is at that point that I had my first memorable beer experience.

Kelly and NewcastleIt was 1995 and I was spending a lot of time at Rosen’s, the bar next door to my office building. I had graduated to “dark beer” by that point which occasionally meant Guinness Draught, but Newcastle Brown Ale was far and away my favorite. My friends and I ordered some cheese sticks to accompany the beer. Rosen’s, like most places, served them with marinara sauce for dipping. I took a sip of my Newcastle to wash down the dressed cheese and was utterly gob smacked by the burst of cherry flavor that I suddenly detected in the beer. Where had that come from?! I tried the combination at other establishments, but nobody else’s marinara did that to the Newcastle. It was eye-opening in a way I didn’t yet have the knowledge to comprehend (I didn’t yet know of the concept of intentionally pairing drink flavors with food flavors beyond, you know, the basic red wine with meat, white wine with fish). But sitting here writing about it eighteen years later, I still remember the moment at the tall table in the front window like it was last week.

Kelly and Summit EPADuring the passing years I began to add Summit Extra Pale Ale to my “dark” beer repertoire, because that and Guinness were what my bowling alley had on offer. Because Summit was a nice caramelly, amber color as opposed to see-through yellow, it was considered ”dark.” This was still early craft days; I had no idea that Summit was a craft beer. This wasn’t one of my epiphanal beer moments but it bears mentioning, it think, because Summit EPA is the original craft beer in town and remains one of the best and one of my favorites, even with all the upstarts that have come onto the scene.

Fast forward to 2005. One of my bowling friends was well into wine, and invited me to a wine tasting on Nicollet Island. I dutifully tagged along, listening to him geek out on trying to learn things about wine. I enjoyed tasting different wines and gaining a little knowledge, and I really enjoyed the food samples from local restaurants and wished they served bigger bites. I eventually found myself wandering over to the side tent where there were a few brewery tables set up.

Thinking back, I suppose Summit had one of the tables, but it was the Bell’s Brewing beers that I was most interested in sampling. A coworker adored their Two Hearted Ale so I wanted to taste that one, though I hadn’t yet gone to the hop side (that could be a whole other post about me and beer!). I tried the three or four brews that they had there, and it was the Oberon wheat ale that tickled my fancy. I took my sample and went back into the main room.

The first food table I encountered was manned by the chef from Murray’s Steak House who was sautéing up some buttered steak and mushroom bites. I love steak. I love mushrooms. I love butter. I ate the sample. I washed it down with the last couple sips of Oberon. And that was when I had my beerpiphany.

Just as the Rosen’s marinara had done something to the Newcastle, so did the steak-mushroom-butter combination transform the Oberon into one of the most amazing taste moments I still have ever had. All the flavors complimented each other perfectly. That was when I realized that beer could be something special.

As I aged, I eased into hops, and focused my consumption on IPAs. The craft beer movement took off and there was more beer in more styles available. My same coworker who liked Bell’s Two Hearted also adored Chimay Rouge Belgian trippel. That was another style that I just didn’t like the taste of. Yet.

Three Philosophers ready to serveNow it’s 2009. Some friends of friends moved from California to Minneapolis and we became friends. They are foodies and drinkies. They invited me over for Thanksgiving dinner. They did the research and figured out that Ommegang Three Philosophers Belgian quad was just the right beer to serve with one of the courses. To me it didn’t taste as “Belgiany” as Chimay had when I had tried it. And again, it paired absolutely perfectly with the food. Are you noticing a trend yet? The Three Philosophers had a milder Belgian flavor along with prune and cherry (but there was no marinara in sight). I tried other Ommegang beers (which are mostly all Belgian-style of one sort or another) and found them all to be gentle versions of their styles. I decided maybe Belgian beers weren’t so bad after all.

By now, a couple of years ago in 2011, I had embraced the craft beer movement with full enthusiasm. I had beer geek friends and many acquaintances in the industry. I eagerly tried new, different beers whenever I could. I started attending beer classes. I was voluntarily ordering Belgian beers and liking them.


Within the Belgian genre live sour beers. And within sour are lambic and Flanders. I tried to wrap my taste buds around sours because many beer drinkers who knew far more than I really liked them and I wanted to be on par with my beer-smart friends. But I was struggling to get to a point where I could drink more than a sip or two.

Finally, one of the classes was about sour beers. We had samples of several of the major styles, including a Flanders. And then it happened again. As soon as the class leader described it as tasting like a barnyard or a horse blanket, I turned the corner. Now, those funky Flanders beers are my favorite of the sours. Horse blanket. HORSE BLANKET! What a fun way to think of a flavor! I’m glad I persisted in my effort.

I suppose the broad takeaway from this is that trying new things can lead to incredibly rewarding experiences. When you’re contemplating whether to go with something outside your comfort zone, remember, you’re not making a lifetime commitment and you might very well surprise yourself.

Horse blankets!

notes from the Belgian/sour beer class


This is one of those wonderful recipes that comes out fantastically no matter how hard you try to wreck it. If you broadly generalize, you only need three ingredients—2 cups cooked grain, 6 cups chopped/sliced vegetables, 3 ounces grated cheese—well, and seasoning. The beauty of it is you can use whatever you have lying around, as you will see below when you compare how I made it tonight with the original.


As are many of my favorite vegetables, tomatillos are currently in season and I wanted to get some at the farmer’s market this afternoon. I found an excellent tomatillo soup recipe (by the way, disregard the photo of the red soup that is the default and click through until you find the lovely photo of green soup in a square white bowl—that’s how it really is, and I pulled the chicken rather than diced it) but since we’ve been in the depths of the summer sauna for the last week, soup is kind of the last thing on my mind, delicious though that recipe is. Then I remembered the Cooking Light (magazine) roasted vegetable tart that I’ve been making for years and knew I could make a Southwestern version based around the tomatillos. I trotted over to the market and filled my bag up with the fixins, then quickly retreated back to the subpar air conditioning in the office.

Thursdays during the non-winter season (this is Minnesota, we were still having snow in April and May this year) the market happens downtown on Nicollet Mall. It’s an offshoot of the larger, daily market on the west edge of downtown. It’s pretty good, though I’d estimate that about half of the vendors don’t grow anything and peddle the B- or C-string commercial produce that stores and restaurants reject. I’m a little skeptical that those bananas were grown here in the northwoods.


For actual farmer-grown stock, it is my impression that the best bet is the stalls on the north end between 5th and 6th Streets. And if they don’t grow what they sell themselves, at least they have the courtesy to hide the commercial waxed cardboard boxes and remove the stickers from the items. But I’m confident that their offerings are homegrown. I remembered from a couple years ago that the one family had tomatillos—big, giant, fresh tomatillos. Tomatillos are one of my favorite, newer ingredient discoveries. I gave them a shout-out three years ago. You should try them if you are unfamiliar with them. My favorite way to use them is in my “Mexican” pizza—you can get the scoop on that under the third photo in this post.

Anyway, I’ve kept you long enough. Here’s the original recipe, and below is how I made it tonight. For simplicity’s sake I copied and pasted some of the instructions but that doesn’t mean I’m a plagiarist (erm…). I’m just lazy. You don’t be lazy and make this!


Southwestern Summer Vegetable Pie
(adapted from Cooking Light)

1/4 cup regular quinoa, cooked
1/4 cup red quinoa, cooked
1/4 cup black rice, cooked
2 large egg whites, lightly beaten
1/4 cup Swiss cheese, grated
1-1/2 cups sliced red bell pepper
1 cup sliced onion
2 cloves garlic, crushed/minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups sliced tomatillo
1 medium tomato, sliced
salt, pepper, oregano, crushed red peppers to taste
1/2 cup pepper Jack cheese, grated

Cook the grains according to package directions. Combine in a medium bowl and let cool.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 450°F. Toss the bell pepper, onion, garlic, and olive oil together in a bowl. Place mixture in a baking dish coated with cooking spray. Bake at 450°F for 15 minutes.

Because the tomatillos and tomatoes cook down and get watery, I did the following. Place the tomatillos in a second baking dish coated with cooking spray. Bake at 450°F for 10 minutes. You can do this concurrently with the peppers and onions. At the same time, sauté the tomatoes until their liquid is reduced, about 7 or 8 minutes. Combine all cooked vegetables in a bowl. Stir in seasoning.

Reduce the oven temperature to 400°F.

Combine the egg white and Swiss cheese with the quinoa mixture. Press into a 9-inch pie plate coated with cooking spray. Bake at 400°F for 10 minutes. Remove from oven.

Reduce oven temperature to 375°F.

Sprinkle 1/4 cup pepper Jack cheese over quinoa crust. Top with vegetable mixture. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup pepper Jack cheese. Bake at 375° for 30 minutes or until cheese is golden brown.


Make this soup, I command you

November 27, 2012


I’ve been eyeing up this recipe of Andrew Zimmern’s, ever since he posted it a day or two before Thanksgiving last week. And I thought, wouldn’t that be delicious as soup? Wild rice soup, in fact. Tonight I finally had time, well, took time because it was 7:30pm when I got started, due to working late. I thought, I’ll whip up the soup in no time (because it’s chopped and sautéed vegetables, white sauce, and meat), have a beer while I’m cooking, then have more beer while I’m eating and watching the last performance show for this season, 14, of Dancing with the Stars*. It will be a perfect evening. And it has been (other than the fact that none of the three different beers I enjoyed managed to get above 5.5% ABV, but at least I drank the tastiest one last). Okay, so the soup took an hour and fifteen minutes from the time I started boiling water for the wild rice until the time I was ladling the finished product into my maw but all in all, that was pretty quick, as cooking from complete scratch goes.

So here’s the link to AZ’s recipe on which I based my creation, and my version is below. I used what I used because that’s what I had lying around. Bon appétit!

Turkey Ham Wild Rice a la King Soup

4 Tbsp butter
1 cup each, chopped: red bell pepper, celery, zucchini, onion
1Tbsp dry tarragon
1Tbsp dry thyme
3 Tbsp flour
3 cups chicken broth
3/4 cup half and half
1 cup cooked turkey, diced
1/2 cup cooked ham, diced
1/2 cup dry wild rice, cooked
salt and pepper to taste
3 dashes of cayenne pepper

In a medium Dutch oven, melt the butter over medium high heat. Add the chopped vegetables and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.

Stir in the herbs and flour. Stir to mix well, then stir constantly and cook, for 2 minutes or until the flour starts to stick to the bottom of the pan.

Add the chicken broth, stir to mix well, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook, stirring constantly, until starting to thicken, about 2 minutes. Add the half and half and continue to cook, stirring constantly, until thickened.

Add the remaining ingredients and cook until heated. Serve and be amazed!

Makes 6 cups.

*DWTS performance finale thoughts (no spoilers):
1) Is Derek Hough the secret sixth member of the US Olympic gymnastics team? Splits, flips, drops into summersaults, crazy! And with a nagging neck injury.
2) Of course we all want to know if Kelly and Val are doing it. And I hope they are, because she’s about my age** and twice his, and that gives me hope!
3) But when it comes down to it, I want Melissa and Tony to win, because I want Tony to FFFFIIINNNNALLLLYYYYYY win.

**I stand corrected. Kelly is thirteen years younger than I. Oh well.

Travelogue: I go out walking

September 19, 2012


I spent an extra long weekend in the San Francisco area because my friend finally went and got married up. That leads me to believe that there might be hope for me yet. But already I digress.


The wedding on Saturday was a beautiful beach ceremony near Half Moon Bay and much fun was had by all. I got some ocean time as I arrived at the venue two hours early so as not to be late. The next day my ankles were sore from and hour and a half of walking in the sand. The ever-present waiting bank of fog-clouds obscured the sun for the most part, but that made for some beautiful colors—tan sand to ocean green to cool grey. The wedding party was accented in tealish-blue and it was all just lovely.


I spent Friday in San Francisco just walking around, from the Caltrain station to Union Square, through Chinatown to the Red Jack Saloon near Coit Tower, then along the Embarcadero back down to the Caltrain.


I had tried to find a few beer destinations such as brewpubs to visit, but that didn’t work out like I hoped. Why the Red Jack Saloon, you may wonder. Well, the last time I visited, that is where the groom and I ended up for a tasty adult beverage after an afternoon of wandering around. It was there that I had Lagunitas Maximus IPA, and it was the beer that set me on my craft beer journey. I wanted to go back and pay my respects. No Maximus this time, “only” the regular Lagunitas IPA, but it was fun and the bartender got a kick out of my story.


I got some food recommendations from a local for my walk back and indeed had a nice dinner at a place called the Delancey. Its story, apparently, is that it is staffed by people getting a second chance. The food is good and inexpensive. My food and beer came to about $15.


Sunday morning, there was a post-wedding brunch for us out-of-towners, which was a nice opportunity to chit chat with the newlyweds. Janeen and Rob, I knew I wouldn’t actually see much of you this weekend so I really thank you for doing that!

That left Sunday afternoon free, so continuing on the beer theme, since I did have a car (please see the other Travelogue entry), I decided to head north to Petaluma to visit the actual Lagunitas brewery. I wasn’t looking forward to traversing San Francisco in a car—there is no freeway through it, it’s all local streets, local streets with narrow lanes, jam-packed with traffic—but I knew I’d regret being so close and not making the effort. I suppose it could have been worse and I did get to drive across the Golden Gate Bridge.


Have you ever driven across the Golden Gate Bridge? I tell you, photos can’t prepare you for just how magnificent it is. Not awe-inspiring and breathtaking the way photos don’t prepare you for the Grand Canyon, but pretty damned splendid. I wonder how many accidents there are because drivers are gawking out the windshield instead of watching the traffic in front of them.


Anyway, it was a straight shot up to Lagunitas. They have a nice taproom and patio, decent food if my delicious salad was any indication, and live music. I couldn’t get too crazy because of the long drive, but it was still fun and I can say I did it!

Monday was another day in San Francisco. I got off the Caltrain at the 22nd Street Station and walked west to the Mission District.

San Francisco is a beautiful, interesting city, but what the heck were they thinking building it on all those hills?! My walking route took me up Potrero Hill, then down it, and then up and down a few other lesser—but still formidable—hills. I saw a some mail carriers out on the job—they must just be in fantastic shape. The vistas were beautiful.


A friend of a friend who also came for the wedding told her to track down Rosamunde Sausage Grill. She was unable to, so I went in her stead and did indeed have a delicious, say sausage. But the best part was that the place also had an excellent craft beer lineup. I dutifully enjoyed a Russian River Blind Pig IPA (Russian River is somewhat of a holy grail for us Minnesotans because they don’t distribute to our market).


I also was directed to visit Delores Park by my friend in London who feels about San Francisco the way I do about London.


From Delores Park, I headed back toward downtown. Along the way, I found the small Southern Pacific Brewing Company, one of my intended stops. The beer was okay and the bartender a little surly, but it was nice to sit for a while. I was also able to avail my iPhone of an outlet for a little charge-up.


It was about two miles or so back to my evening’s destinations, 21st Amendment Brewing and the San Francisco Giants baseball game. Before my trip I was advised that 21st Amendment beer is actually contract brewed elsewhere and shipped to the ”brewery” but I didn’t care. It was only a couple of blocks from the baseball stadium. The Giants’ ballpark is a nice, intimate one. I was completely neutral about the teams, other than the fact that one of the Minnesota Twins’ most beloved players now plays for the opposition, but he wasn’t in the lineup so, oh well.


According to Google maps, I walked about six miles on Friday (blue) and seven and a half miles on Monday (purple). Plus an extra mile walking back and forth twice from my hotel in San Carlos to its Caltrain station.

It was an easy train ride back to San Carlos and my hotel, and now here I am in the airplane on the way home, beginning our descent for landing.

Landlocked lobster love

July 17, 2012


We Minnesotans may be landlubbers but one thing is for certain—we have good food. I know there are many excellent restaurants around the area, but my personal focus on eating out for two and a half summers has been with our new industry of (mostly) high-end food trucks. Two summers ago there were just a handful on our streets. Last summer there were a few more. This summer there has an explosion of new food trucks, and I don’t mean in the combustible sense.

The chefs who run these trucks aren’t afraid to make good food. And I certainly am not afraid to enjoy it. In fact, in the last couple of weeks, I have had the pleasure of consuming three completely different lobster rolls. Yes, you heard me. Lobster rolls. Here in landlocked Minnesota. (I don’t count Lake Superior. There are no lobsters there. Delicious lake trout, yes. Lobsters, no.)

Here, then, is a round-up of the lobster rolls you could have been enjoying had you been around and, if you were around, chosen to eschew skyway chain restaurants and chew on some inspired food.



The original: Smack Shack

Smack Shack was one of the original food trucks in downtown Minneapolis, appearing on the scene that first summer of 2010. Lobster and seafood is what they do. If you observe their truck from above, say, in one of those skyways where you’re trolling for taco Tuesday, you’ll see the giant lobster painted on the top of the truck and perhaps be intrigued enough to leave your comfort zone and treat yourself to a truly spectacular sandwich. I don’t have the links to prove it, but Smack Shack’s lobster roll has been reviewed by many as rivaling anything found on the northeast coast. Chef Josh Thoma tosses globs of succulent lobster in a cucumber tarragon lemon dressing and stuffs it into tender griddled milk break made by local bakery star and bread provider to the food trucks, The Salty Tart. I can also personally attest that The Salty Tart’s beer bread is another amazing creation, especially if you toast it and slather it with fresh, local butter. But I digress.


Next up: Get Sauced

Chef Driven is the umbrella company for a few different food ventures, one of which is the Get Sauced truck. Get Sauced appeared on the scene late last season and made an immediate impact. Their menu is Latin-influenced and features amazing tacos and tortas made with seasonal and sustainable ingredients. Out of the blue last week, a Mexican lobster roll appeared as the special item. This version was a toasted bun (from the Salty Tart as well?) packed with more of a salady filling. There were nice, giant pieces of lobster mixed with shredded meat, sweetcorn kernels, cilantro, and spicy spices. Sweet, succulent, spicy, splendid. Chunky lobster, yes. Succulent, again yes. The same only different, definitely, deliciously!


Newcomers: SushiFix

This summer, 2012, has seen an exponential growth in the number of food trucks on the streets both in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Do I exaggerate about the exponential part? Of course. But as more trucks join the scene, it becomes harder to stand out from the crowd. SushiFix does not have that problem, because they are the first truck to serve fresh, amazing sushi. Or sushi of any kind. And while you’re finishing rolling your eyes about the notion of a mobile food truck serving sushi that’s anything less than disgusting, let me disabuse you of that notion. Food trucks are licensed and inspected like any fixed kitchen and, amazingly, they employ modern techniques such as—wait for it—refrigeration. The proprietor is a well-experienced sushi chef previously of a respected restaurant in town and I’m pretty sure that I read that the fish is overnighted daily from Japan (I’m not doing much research-linking tonight but I’m 97% sure I’ve read these things to which I’m referring). But if you’re still skeptical, hey, go back into the skyway and enjoy that sodium-bomb chemical sub. 

Today in the pre-lunch Twittersphere, SushiFix announced that their special was a lobster roll. A sushi lobster roll!  I suppose sushi is often made with lobster, but because we were dreading the forecast high temperature of 100°F/38°C, a fresh roll with lobster, tempura shrimp, avocado, and strawberries—strawberries!—seemed like just the thing. And so it was. My only “complaint”? The outer strawberries made the pieces a little slippery to pick up with my chopsticks. First world problem. And for the first time (except maybe that other time I had SushiFix’s spicy tuna roll) I didn’t even think about employing the soy sauce and wasabi. For the record though, I’m pretty sure the soy sauce is homemade or, as is currently the fashionable terminology, house made.

We are not deprived.

Zucchini zaniness!

July 17, 2012


I joined a CSA for this summer and I will eventually write about that specifically, but what that participation has done for me generally is reinforce my decision to go organic and local whenever possible and when I’m not too out of money at the end of a pay period. Following my farmers on Twitter and interacting with the outgoing Karla—from her updates about what’s going on at the farm to twitversations about issues related to all aspects of food—my appreciation for “know your farmer” has really grown. I’ve received four boxes thus far (I’m on the every other week plan) with recognizable things and, because I signed up for the “booyah” version rather than basic, many things that I haven’t had before, which was the idea.

This is a long-winded way of saying that on the off-weeks for the CSA I have been availing myself of the many excellent farmers markets in town. At the farmers market, I don’t necessarily try to buy weird stuff. In fact, I prefer to get things I know I like. I brought home a lot of zucchini last week.

Zucchini is just about my favorite vegetable. I love it any way there is. When I was a kid, my mom would slice it and sauté it with onions until it was well-done and carmelized. Sometimes I still make it that way. She also used to make a casserole that included ground beef, corn, tomato, and cheese. Ever so occasionally I try to recreate that. But most often these days, I just slice the zucchinis in half and broil them gently.

Today, though, I wanted to make a meatless main dish, with my goal being to use up most if not all of my current supply. I found this delicious-sounding zucchini pie recipe on about.com. It was pretty easy to make—and even harkened back a bit to my mom’s casserole—but unfortunately, it didn’t even take half of what I have on hand.

Here’s the recipe as I made it. You can find the original version here. Okay, it’s not so zany, but it is amazingly delicious! And proudly made with local and regional ingredients, except for the quinoa and the olive oil.

Cheesy Zucchini Pie

1-1/2 cup cooked quinoa
2 egg whites
2 egg yolks
2 tbsp non-fat dry milk plus enough water to make 1/4 cup milk
salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
2 tbsp chopped basil, divided
3 cups thin sliced zucchini
1/2 cup shredded Swiss cheese
1/2 cup shredded white cheddar cheese
1 cup red cherry tomatoes, halved
1 tsp olive oil

Preheat oven to 400°F. 

Gently beat eat whites. Mix in quinoa. Spread around a pie dish coated with cooking spray. Bake for 15 minutes; remove and set aside. 

Reduce oven to 375°F.

Whisk together the egg yolks, milk, salt, and pepper in a large mixing bowl. Place the half of the basil and the zucchini slices into the bowl and toss to coat with the milk mixture. 

Place one third of the zucchini into the prepared crust. Sprinkle on one third of the cheese. Repeat the layering, finishing with the last third of the cheese. Toss the tomato halves with the olive oil and spread on top. Sprinkle with the remaining basil.

Bake at 375°F degrees F. for 45–55 minutes, or until the zucchini is tender. Let stand for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

Pro tip: Pair with your favorite tasty beverage!


Important breakfast news

July 16, 2012


I just made a delicious breakfast for supper and that’s exciting! Not because I’m so clever for mixing up meals—I’m not, I know plenty of people who eat non-traditionally—but because it solves two “problems” I’ve been having.

I firmly believe that breakfast is, as is commonly touted, the most important meal of the day. I must eat it, particularly on workdays. On those rare mornings when I don’t eat something, I am pretty distracted until I can reasonably get an early lunch.

I don’t ask much of my breakfast. It involves an egg or two and some other stuff. And there’s the first thing I must deal with. No matter how delicious something is or how go-to a particular combination of ingredients is, every now and then you need something different. Variety is the spice of life.

I have a few go-to breakfasts that I employ. I used to always make the South Beach Cheesy Frittata, though these days, it’s more of a weekend treat because it takes a little more effort to prepare. Another standard is what I fondly call Egg McBread—a lightly scrambled egg, folded, put between the halves of a piece of toast with some sliced cheese. These days, it’s two lightly scrambled eggs topped with chèvre. I’m getting bored with that. I get a bagel and cream cheese more mornings than I should (because I try to limit my carbs).

I do have some favorite breakfasts out that I enjoy from time to time, especially when my beer intake the night before requests some carbohydrates the morning after (I am not consistent in my shunning of carbs). I love my everything bagel and cream cheese, and there’s a skyway deli that makes an economical and delicious scrambled eggs, bacon, and toast special. Bacon.

A particular favorite breakfast out that I used to enjoy was huevos rancheros—authentic huevos rancheros from the Mexican restaurant that used to be on the ground floor of my office building. And therein lies the second thing that thwarts my breakfast efforts. The restaurant went out of business half a year ago.

I really miss those huevos rancheros.

But what I did tonight for supper will, I believe, humor me on both counts for a while, because I made—wait for it—fake huevos rancheros. Fake for three reasons: there were no tortillas, there was no rice, and I used way too much of the wrong kind of cheese. Oh, and the egg was lightly scrambled, not over-easy. Four reasons. But it incorporated my favorite things about huevos rancheros and man, was it tasty!

I made one lightly scrambled egg in its usual small sauté pan, then spread 1/4 cup refried beans over the top and sprinkled it with 1 ounce shredded pepper jack cheese (Monterrey Jack with jalapeños and other hot peppers, fyi). I wrapped the pan handle in foil and put it under the broiler long enough to toast the cheese a little. I have found my new favorite breakfast, for a while anyway.

¡Muy delicioso!


Meatless March* was largely a success. I had intended to update weekly with what I ate, but what I ate turned out to be far less exciting than I hoped. I had had visions of amazing homemade creations involving quinoa and tofu, but in the end I was lazy and let someone else do the cooking most of the time.


Going into the month, I knew I would make an exception for the Lagunitas beer dinner that I had prepaid $65 for before I made the meatless decision. I also had prepaid for a sushi-making lesson. But fish and shellfish is a grey area for a lot of people (and even poultry), so I didn’t feel as “guilty” about that one. That was a lot of fun (sushi in the first two photos MADE BY ME!), except for what I should have realized would be the forced social, introduce-yourself-to-your-neighbor aspect, which I should have anticipated as it was a Living Social Adventure, but that’s a whole other tangent.


Anyway, other than the above two situations, my only “cheats” were with Smack Shack food truck Lobster Mac & Cheese mid-month (it’s my very favorite thing that they make), and a salmon burger a couple of days ago that was a photoshoot prop for a recipe book my work colleagues are producing.

I gave myself those two fish/shellfish items because at the Lagunitas beer dinner, I sat next to a self-professed “non-meat eater’ who does, in fact, eat birds and fish. Other than the welcome charcuterie (which involved beef tongue and pork “balls,” the content of which to this day remains ambiguous), the main courses were tuna and duck. So according to some sources, that was mostly not a cheat either. My mom never served asparagus or peas for texture reasons when I was a kid (asparagus is now just about my favorite vegetable), but we often had beef tongue and I view it as a treat.

But I digress.


Breakfast was usually two eggs, cheese (usually chevre), greens or tomato, and an orange. A couple of times a week, I got a Bruegger’s bagel and cream cheese, with my orange.


Lunch was more diverse, and yet not. Other than a few salads that I packed, some regulars developed. Chipotle veggie burrito bols appeared several times, as did the tasty Greekish concoctions from Trieste Café on the ground floor of my office building. Falafel Friday became a favorite theme, and Omar also makes the best chocolate cake in the world!


Supper often involved pizza because it’s easy to do meatlessly and still feel like you’re getting enough to eat. Supper also often involved black bean burgers. Let’s add this up, I think I had five different ones altogether. Republic, Acadia, Groveland Tap, Longfellow Grille. Hmm. Maybe there were only four. Acadia wins far and away, no competition, for best black bean burger. The right combination of moist, holds together, and flavor. Republic’s mushroom open-faced sandwich came in second, though I’d like to see about twice as much of it.



Honorable mention goes to Kieran’s Irish Pub, where I had some amazing wild rice and cheese stuffed mushrooms. The salted tofu was and wasn’t what I was expecting, and was really good with the spicy tomato jam.


I also survived a visit by my mother, who would never consider not having meat for the evening meal. I was a little disappointed that she only ate one of the Bruegger’s Everything bagels that I got specifically for our breakfasts. I, on the other hand, did not avoid the bagels. Lunches, I kind of sidestepped. Suppers I got through by going half-and-half on a pizza, and then by making a hotdish into which it was easy to add chicken and pasta for my mom and tofu for me, with plenty of leftovers for a subsequent meal.

So today, April 1st, I had initially thought I’d go out (to Butcher and the Boar, then to Saffron) to break my meat-fast. Then, the weather was supposed to be outstanding, so I thought I’d just grill a steak at home. Then my new stove was delivered and I decided to broil rather than grill, just to use it for the first time. I still included salad and vegetables. 

However it happened, I ate a chunk of meat today!

* I decided to do Meatless March for one reason which followed another: I often don’t eat meat for days at a time, unintentionally, because I like beans and tofu and stuff. When I heard some other people talking about giving up meat for March/Lent, I thought, Oh, I can do that, no prob.