Of Madness & Reason: My Trip to Hill Farmstead Brewery

Greetings from Vermont! We are here this week on vacation, and even though we’ve been coming here for seventeen years, this beautiful state still enchants us. We love everything about you, Vermont!

Our friends are here with us this year, and while plotting out our week’s activities, they lobbied hard for a trip to the holy mecca of beer enthusiasts, Hill Farmstead Brewery. I was all set to sit this trip out and indulge in my favorite vacation activities of napping and reading rather than waiting in a long line for super special beer, but they appealed to my blogging sensibilities. They know I’m a sucker for hype and appreciate any hard to obtain food or beverage that inspires religious fervor, and who knows if I will have this opportunity again? So we set out on the 45 mile journey, growler in hand from our other friend who previously made the pilgrimage.

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The trip up to Greensboro, Vermont is every bit as picturesque as one might expect.

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When we finally arrived, the parking lot was pretty full, but we found a spot. The brewery itself is fairly utilitarian and rustic, without flashiness, bells or whistles. I found this refreshing, since they hold a boatload of prestigious awards, including Best Brewer in the World. THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD! Thank God I didn’t sit this trip out. What was I thinking? Their logo comes from the Hill family tavern in the early 1800s, part of a long tradition of providing quality libations.

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As usual, I was a little overwhelmed when faced with a beer choice, but lovely Kristin (pictured above) told me that the Madness and Reason #1 (Nitro) sounded like something I might enjoy: an Imperial Stout base with vanilla, cinnamon, cocoa nibs and chipotle.Well, I knew I loved the name, and it certainly sounded interesting, so we gave it a go.

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It’s not often I’m at a loss for words to describe food or beverage, but I was struck dumb. Dumb and in love. This was truly amazing. I needed Kristin to give me words besides sublime, the only word I kept uttering besides, “Yes. More.” Some of Kristin’s words about the sublime Madness and Reason: well-balanced, complex, having it all, sweet-bitter-spicy, rich, velvety, creamy, variegated, 5 star. Yes, more.

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Alas, there was no more. It was not available in a bottle or a growler, only in itty bitty 4 ounce tasting glasses. How disappointing for me!

Fortunately, everyone else managed to find beer that that they liked, and we brought some home. I personally enjoyed the Mary, a German style pilsner. Ed also bought the Arthur (saison) and Clara (grisette). And our friends bought…lots more!

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Before we departed, we got a quick bite to eat at the taco truck parked outside. We tried and enjoyed all three varieties of tacos offered (black bean with fried plantain, beef with crunchy jalapeno, and buffalo chicken). At four dollars a piece, they were the perfect compliment to our beer.

I’m glad I said yes to this journey. While I’ve always enjoyed an above-average beer, I’m just not part of the #beerculture in a way which the true enthusiasts are. However, I am a big fan of family businesses, high quality, limited supplies and true craftsmanship. Madness and Reason provided me with my first transcendental beer experience, and I finally understood why people get all worked up and travel many miles for the perfect beer.  It was definitely worth the trip.

 

 

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An Update: These Are the Days of Miracle and Wonder

As to me I know of nothing else but miracles. — Walt Whitman, Miracles

It is Sunday morning, and I am listening to the Paul Simon station on Pandora, always my go-to favorite. The Boy in the Bubble was just on (inspiring my title) and now a live version of Van Morrison’s Into the Mystic is playing. The boys and Ed are at church, and I just finished concocting a spice rub for tonight’s dinner. Dog Teddy is at my feet, waiting for bacon to magically fall from the sky, as sometimes it does. Logan is happily away at school, most likely still asleep at 10 am. I am wearing Mom Mom’s apron, because I always do when I’m making a mess in the kitchen. We’re all in our places with sunshiney faces, and for the first time in many, many weeks, I am feeling myself again.

It has been a difficult fall for our family. We attended two funerals for two wonderful men lost way too soon; one from a tragic car accident, and one from ALS. Two wives left without beloved husbands, five children left without a father. So much unexplainable sadness shakes one’s faith in the universe sometimes, and it has surely shaken mine in ways seen and unseen. I rather enjoyed my easy breezy life-is-a-bowl-of-cherries world view, and it’s unsettling to have that disrupted.

When you’re in a Slump
You’re not in for much fun
Un-slumping yourself
Is not easily done. — Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go

I have been earnestly reaching for people and things to bring me back from the slow hole I’ve been retreating into. My family, good friends, good books, good music, good food — thanks to all of you who, knowingly or unknowingly, have lifted me back up into the light. One thing I have learned is I need to tell all of the important people in my life just how important they are. I have not always been successful at this, but I’ll continue to try. Thank you for the small or large role you have played in enriching my world.

Aside from many exceptional people, here are a few things which have been making me happy.

1.) Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. Oh, the profound beauty and wisdom of this book! It brilliantly paints all of the darkness and all of the light of an ordinary life. I had my reservations about HBO turning it into a miniseries, but it was truly one of the best adaptations of great literature I’ve ever seen. Frances McDormand is the perfect Olive. Check out the trailer here, then do yourself a favor and watch this if you haven’t.

And then as the little plane climbed higher and Olive saw spread out below them fields of bright and tender green in this morning sun, farther out the coastline, the ocean shiny and almost flat, tiny white wakes behind a few lobster boats–then Olive felt something she had not expected to feel again: a sudden surging greediness for life. She leaned forward, peering out the window: sweet pale clouds, the sky as blue as your hat, the new green of the fields, the broad expanse of water–seen from up here it all appeared wondrous, amazing. She remembered what hope was, and this was it. That inner churning that moves you forward, plows you through life the way the boats below plowed the shiny water, the way the plane was plowing forward to a place new, and where she was needed. –Elizabeth Strout, Olive Kitteridge

2.) Glitter and Glue by Kelly Corrigan. I am a huge fan of former local girl Kelly Corrigan, and her latest memoir about mothers and daughters did not disappoint. It is a beautiful tribute to her mother, who once described her family by saying, “Your father’s the glitter but I’m the glue.” I grew up with a similar dynamic, and now that I’m a mother, I truly appreciate the not-always-glamorous job of the glue. This is a quick and easy read with surprising sweetness and depth.

3.) Annual limoncello making. This welcome holiday tradition takes a lot of vodka, a lot of sugar, a lot of lemons, and a lot of planning, but it’s always worth it. Yesterday I bottled our 2014 batch, and I can confirm it’s the best year ever. Like everything else, this production is always better with the help of a friend. Thanks, friend!

Finally, a recipe. Sorry, this is not much of a recipe, but I can vouch for its awesomeness.

Limoncello Martini
1 ounce vodka
1 ounce high quality limoncello
Shake with ice and pour into martini glass
Garnish with a twist

As always, thanks for reading. Slowly but surely, I will be back.

 

Favorite Fall Cocktail

Ah, autumn! A season where otherwise sane Americans stick pumpkin in every blessed thing <insert Forest Gump voice>:

Pumpkin coffee, pumpkin tea, pumpkin beer, pumpkin vodka, pumpkin Oreos, pumpkin Pop Tarts, pumpkin cereal, pumpkin waffles, pumpkin bagels, pumpkin cream cheese, pumpkin M & Ms, pumpkin gum, pumpkin peanut butter, pumpkin hummus, pumpkin nuts, pumpkin chips, pumpkin yogurt, pumpkin ice cream…Of course, pumpkin should usually be written as “pumpkin,” since frequently it’s pumpkin flavor and not real pumpkin being used.

Are you suffering from pumpkin fatigue? Has it become just a little too much of a good thing? If so, prepare for a delicious fall cocktail with not one single ounce of pumpkin or “pumpkin” in it. This is my favorite fall cocktail in the world, and I am resurrecting it from my archives to provide you with a delicious non-pumpkin alternative.

This drink was created by my incredibly fabulous friend Beth, cocktail genius and CEO of organic beverage company SIPP. I highly suggest you use SIPP Ginger Blossom soda if you are lucky enough to get your hands on some. It’s worth the effort and price, please believe me. However, you can also use a premium brand ginger ale with good results, too.

It has been almost twenty-one years since I’ve been a blushing bride, long before the days of wedding websites, Pinterest, and signature cocktails. I can only imagine how much fun I would have planning a wedding with all of today’s options available! The good people at Lover.ly approached me recently about sharing a favorite fall cocktail, and I was very happy to oblige. If you are looking for a wonderful wedding planning resource, I hope you will check them out.

Holiday Helper  (curious about the name? You can find the history of it here!)

1 oz. Vanilla Vodka

2 oz. Apple Cider

Dash of cinnamon

Dash of nutmeg

1/2 oz. of SIPP Ginger Blossom or other premium ginger ale

Combine vodka and apple cider in a cocktail shaker. Pour in glass. Top with sprinkle of cinnamon and nutmeg, then splash of ginger ale. Garnish with apple, if desired. Cheers, friends!

Whole Fruit Margarita

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Greetings from Hatteras Island, North Carolina, where I am vacationing with my favorite two sister-wives and their families. You can read all about these awesome women in my New Year’s Eve post here. While some people might think vacationing with fifteen people might not be relaxing, you haven’t met us! We have managed to spend a harmonious week together and also squeezed in a decent amount of activities (sure, my “activity” might be beach reading and online shopping while others chose kayaking to a remote island, but there is no judgement here). Preparing meals for fifteen people is surprisingly less daunting than it sounds if you have good helpers, good music, and good cocktails. Okay, that’s not true, exactly. The good cocktails may lead one to say, ehh, let’s skip dinner and just eat appetizers and ice cream and dance all night. But you will press on and feed the children anyway, since you are a responsible adult plus six of the children don’t belong to you.


Warning: These go down very easy.

This is my favorite margarita in the world. Its beauty is in its simplicity. This is so flavorful, refreshing, and somewhat virtuous/healthy feeling since there are three pieces of whole fruit in each pitcher. Nature’s scurvy fighter with a kick! I never really liked margaritas until I discovered “better” grade tequila and not the crap I drank in college, so I would suggest springing for halfway decent tequila if possible. Cheap triple sec is fine, though.

This is a Vitamix recipe, so if you don’t have a Vitamix, be sure to use another heavy duty blender that can easily handle the fruit (seeds included) and the ice. My only modification from the original recipe is that I use less ice; they call for six cups of ice, which is overkill and cannot really fit in the blender anyway. It’s also very good with “only” five tablespoons of sugar instead of six. Each pitcher serves four to six, depending on your glass size and need for strong drink. Cheers!

ingredients

Whole Fruit Margarita

  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) water
  • 6 ounces (180 ml) tequila
  • 2 ounces (60 ml) Grand Marnier or Triple Sec
  • 1 orange, peeled, halved
  • 1 lime, peeled, halved
  • 1 lemon, peeled, halved
  • 6 Tablespoons (75 g) granulated sugar
  • Ice cubes

Directions

  1. Place all ingredients into the Vitamix container in the order listed and secure lid.
  2. Select Variable 1.
  3. Turn machine on and slowly increase speed to Variable 10, then to High.
  4. Blend for 45 seconds, using the tamper to press the ingredients into the blades.
  5. Pour into salt-rimmed margarita glasses.

This recipe has been written for the Vitamix 5200 with Standard 64-ounce container. If you are using a different Vitamix machine or container size, you may need to make adjustments to the Variable Speed, processing time, and/or ingredient quantities.

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Dr. Rebecca Lancefield’s Eggnog Recipe

I love to find recipes from unlikely sources, but I never expected to find one on NPR’s Science Friday. If you’ve always wanted to make spiked eggnog, but you were afraid of wiping out your family with salmonella, do I have the recipe for you! The lab at The Rockefeller University has been making this recipe for forty years with happy results. Before embarking on your eggnog journey, please take a couple of minutes to review the video below.
You will need to get started soon if you want to serve this by Christmas or New Year’s Eve. The most important thing to remember is to give this eggnog three weeks to sit refrigerated before drinking. I know the original recipe below says two to three weeks, but the experiment posted above shows it 100% bacteria-free by week three, so let’s err on the side of caution, shall we? And moderation, of course. Cheers, friends!
Dr. Rebecca Lancefield’s Eggnog
1 dozen eggs
1 quart heavy cream
1 quart light cream
1 pint bourbon
1 quart rum
nutmeg
1/2 to 3/4 pound sugar

Beat eggs, add bourbon and rum slowly with stirring to prevent precipitation of egg proteins. Beat heavy cream separately until it peaks and add to the egg/bourbon/rum mix.

Add the light cream with stirring. Add the sugar, then add nutmeg to taste.

Leave standing overnight with lid slightly ajar in refrigerator, then seal with plastic or lid completely.  After three weeks, strain to remove any egg solids, then serve.

NOTE: If you are looking for an eggnog that has less of a kick (but why would you?) Cook’s Illustrated suggests following the recipe below and adding the cream right before serving:

Cook’s Illustrated Eggnog December 2013

1 dozen eggs
1 1/2 cups bourbon
1/2 cup cognac
1/2 cup dark rum
1 1/2 cup sugar
Refrigerate above in airtight container for three weeks, then strain. This mixture contains 18% alcohol.

Add to above mixture:
6 cups whole milk
1/2 cup cream

The mixture now contains 8% alcohol, according to Cook’s Illustrated. Their rule of thumb is to that for every egg, use 1 1/2 ounces of 80 proof liquor and leave out the dairy until serving time.

Two Holiday Helpers

If you, like me, sometimes browse through your holiday food magazines and find all of the choices a bit overwhelming and difficult to mentally organize, I am about to share with you a life changing gift. Zach and Clay of The Bitten Word have thoughtfully organized every Thanksgiving recipe from 2012’s Bon Appetit, Cook’s Illustrated, Cooking Light, Everyday Food, Fine Cooking, Food & Wine, Food Network Magazine, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Southern Living and Whole Living (that’s eleven magazines!) and with the exception of those snobs at Saveur and Cook’s Illustrated, every single recipe is linked online. Today I will be trying a yet-to-be-determined stuffing recipe from the index, and if it’s worthwhile, I promise I will share it. You can find The Bitten Word’s extremely helpful index here.

Speaking of Thanksgiving, did you know that Thanksgiving Eve is considered the biggest drinking day of the year in terms of liquor sales at bars and restaurants everywhere? I’ll let you draw your own conclusions as to why.

My extremely talented friend Beth, founder and CEO of SIPP, an organic soda company, is a true cocktail savant with genius instincts. She is always creating fabulous, original cocktails which she never bothers to write down, much to my dismay. Last night she whipped up a delicious, fragrant, goes-down-way-too-easy cocktail with apple cider and vanilla vodka, and I insisted she write it down so that I could hopefully serve it again. But what to name it? We had many ideas, ranging from Apple Crisp (too desserty) to Autumn Dream (too Glade air freshenery), and let’s just say the ideas did not improve with each subsequent cocktail. But in the middle of the night, like all good ideas, it suddenly came to me: Holiday Helper! I hope you will try this, and I hope this will help your holidays.

Holiday Helper

1 oz. Vanilla Vodka

2 oz. Apple Cider

Dash of cinnamon

Dash of nutmeg

1/2 oz. ginger ale (preferably SIPP ginger blossom if you can get your hands on some)

Combine vodka and apple cider in a cocktail shaker. Top with sprinkle of cinnamon and nutmeg, then splash of ginger ale. Garnish with apple, if desired. Cheers, friends!

p.s. I finally entered 2005 and created a Facebook page for Mom Mom’s Apron. You can like me by clicking the box in the right hand column. As always, thanks for your support!

p.p.s. If you are having a bit of a hostess meltdown, check out this.

The Devolution of My Coffee Consumption

When I was young and poor and beautiful, many moons ago, coffee played a major role in my daily life. I cared so much about it and elevated it to the highest status, right up there with shelter, good health, true love and a great handbag. Even though I was living with my mother, taking a bus and the Market-Frankford El into work, and earning less than $16,000 a year, I still wouldn’t dream of degrading myself by consuming the free coffee served in my office kitchen. I may have been poor, but I wasn’t a philistine.

Back in the day, we would all line up obediently like good little soldiers at Au Bon Pain every morning, ordering our caffe au laits and lattes. This was pre-Starbucks and Panera, of course. Au Bon Pain was the original aspirational coffee shop.

As I clawed my way up the corporate ladder (hear that, kids? graduating college in 1990 wasn’t a picnic in the job market either; I started at the bottom-of-the-bottom), both my coffee taste and consumption level seemed to grow proportionately. From Au Bon Pain, I moved to independent coffee shops, then to Dean and Deluca, then to this hot new company from Seattle called Starbucks, and finally to coffee purchased directly from Hawaii and shipped to me for $35 a pound. Yes, I was that person.

At the height of my addiction, I was probably drinking half a pot a day. It didn’t sound like that much back then, because like any proper addict, I comforted myself by knowing people who were worse off. I had plenty of friends who were just getting warmed up at half a pot.

I am not sure when things started to change. It was gradual, that much I know. Once I stopped working professionally, I still drank coffee, but as a nursing mother, not very much of it. Certainly not half a pot! We would buy bags of Starbucks, whatever variety struck our fancy on any given week (but never flavored), and I’m pretty sure one week I found a good sale on a different brand. That was the beginning of the end. I started to question the wisdom of spending so much money on coffee when, let’s face it, I really only wanted the caffeine.

My descent probably went something like this: Hawaiian Kona, Local Roaster, Starbucks, Green Mountain, Dunkin’ Donuts, Eight O’Clock, Wegmans Store Brand, Folgers and/or Maxwell House. But wait, it gets even worse! Last month I stumbled upon a small jar of Maxwell House instant coffee in my pantry, probably left over from some fancy-pants recipe of mine. Does anyone under the age of 70 admit to drinking instant coffee? But I decided to give it a try, and guess what? It was perfectly fine, as caffeine delivery systems go.

Just when I thought I couldn’t fall any lower, yesterday I was in the coffee aisle and right next to the Maxwell House instant, I saw the store brand instant for sixty whole cents less a jar and thought, “Sure, why not? Maxwell House, ha! Who do I think I am, Oprah?” I’m pretty sure the only place left to go at this point is a caffeine pill. Generic, of course.

Resentment Smoothie

I have a confession to make. Last week, I joined a competitive dieting team. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but now I am wondering what possessed me. Of course, all it takes is me walking into my closet to recall the answer. One good thing I will say about myself, however, is that when I make a commitment to other people, I always follow through, come hell or high water. It is only a four week program and week one ends tomorrow.

This is not a Biggest Loser style free for all. There are rules here — many, many, many rules, and lots of points to add and subtract. And spreadsheets. I would explain it, but if you’re truly interested, it’s probably easier to read the book: The Game On Diet by Krista Vernoff and Az Ferguson. At its heart, it’s a very sensible eating program. Very balanced, very reasonable, but a lot of thinking about food and careful planning of FIVE perfectly balanced meals a day is involved. Oh, and 3 liters of water a day. And alcohol only one day a week. Aren’t you all dying to try it now?

Not thinking about food is what got me here in the first place, so I am hoping four weeks of hyper vigilance helps me adopt some good lifelong habits. I definitely feel better, even if the scale isn’t exactly moving as enthusiastically as I’d have hoped. But I do have that virtuous self righteousness that comes from eating enough vegetables, and that has to count for something. I also have one full day off a week and one full meal off a week, so no worries, I will still be cooking and sharing some old and new favorites. Having a food blog and dieting are somewhat incompatible, so I apologize in advance if the next few weeks here are boring/grumpy/uninspired.

My loyal readers will know that I had high hopes for my Vita-Mix blender. Sadly, it has been in hibernation for quite a while, but this game has given me a new appreciation for my Rolls Royce of blenders. I have yet to get to a point where smoothies taste like anything other than slightly pleasant flavored medicine to me, but I am all for the efficiency of cramming all of my dietary requirements into one puke green colored concoction and drinking it down like a good little soldier.

If any of you have any favorite smoothie recipes which are low in fat, low in sugar, high in fiber, high in protein, and contain at least one serving of vegetables (preferably leafy greens), I hope you will share them with me. I’ve never come across one that I can declare anything other than “healthy” or “edible,” but I am ever the optimist.

My Easiest Recipe Yet: Hot Water in a Mug

Around 2 pm yesterday, I was so cold I could hardly stand it. The weather has been wacky here in the Northeast: unseasonably warm, then cold, then warm again, then REALLY cold. I think the fluctuation has made it seem colder than it actually is. I’m not normally one to yammer on about the weather; just setting up the story here.

A less lazy person would have found a sweater or turned up the heat, but not me. I suddenly had a memory of Mom Mom drinking hot water. Just plain hot water. Even as a child, that seemed…I don’t know? Odd? Wrong? Icky? “Depression Era” wasn’t in my vocabulary back then, although I suppose a part of me felt like drinking plain hot water with nothing else in it was probably a poor person’s drink.

But it was 2:00 pm and coffee was out of the question for me. Tea didn’t sound good, either, since I am trying to cut back on sugar. So that left me with the obvious choice: Hot water, straight up, Mom Mom style! I heated up my electric tea kettle and poured the water into one of my rarely used (but oh so cute) Fiestaware tea cups. The hot water instantly warmed me. Not only did it warm me, it soothed me. It felt good. It felt right. I should have known Mom Mom knew what she was doing.

Mom Mom wasn’t a doctor, but she was certainly ahead of her time when it came to alternative health practices, and most of her information was from AM talk-radio show doctors she listened to religiously. She and Pop Pop took vitamins and supplements years before anyone else I knew. I can still picture all the vitamins lined up like little soldiers at her kitchen table: small ones, big ones, clear ones, dark ones…so, so many!

I hesitate to repeat any medical claims, but if you Google “benefits of drinking hot water,” you will find dozens of reasons to give this a try. It is important to note that you should never drink hot water straight from the tap, as it is not properly purified. Boil the water first, and then enjoy. If nothing else, it’s a nice post-holiday detox. This is only my second day, so I can’t share any life-changing claims just yet, but I promise to keep you posted on any progress worth noting.

Mom Mom’s Health Drink

Ingredients:

Water

Directions:

Bring to full boil. Enjoy in a mug or cute tea cup.

The Limoncello Project: The Grand Finale

I want to thank my two buddies who cheerfully and enthusiastically joined me as I blindly bumbled my way through yet another one of my overly ambitious projects. Your friendship is every bit as wonderful as this limoncello, and as you learned today, that is high praise indeed. I had fun working with you and I’m already looking forward to next year’s batch, when we’re older and wiser limoncello makers.

I though this would be the easiest part, but it was actually a lot more challenging than expected. If I was flying solo, this would have been infinitely more difficult, so if you want to embark on this project, I highly suggest recruiting a friend or two.

Two essential things we used today are cheesecloth and a funnel. I initially poured it through a colander and the results were poor. The cheesecloth lining the colander made all the difference. Also, a large pot, a large (recently scrubbed) sink, and a large spouted container were needed. There was a lot of pouring back and forth, a lot of straining, and a lot of stickiness, but in the end, we each walked away with a nice batch of limincello just in time for the holiday season.

Cheers, friends!

See Also: Part One and Part Two