Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Beer at The Farm

The Farm Artisan Foods in Redlands has been offering beer dinners about once a month for several years now. My husband Doug and I have attended one other in the fall of 2012 and were impressed by the wonderful flavors that were paired with the beer that came from Olive Ave. Market. This latest beer dinner on March 5, 2013 featured Avery Brewing Co. out of Boulder, Colorado.

Maureen Perez, the beer guru at Olive Ave. Market and now also at The Farm assisted in pairing the food and beer together. On this evening there were thirteen diners set to enjoy this meal of five courses each paired with a beer.

Our dinner began with penne with bacon and pork shoulder ragu. The penne did not have the usual homemade pasta taste that The Farm is known for, but it was tasty and perfectly cooked none the less. Now the sauce was a wonderful red sauce with nice chunks of the bacon and pork throughout. This was paired with Joe's Pilsner. This was an excellent pairing with the hops complimenting the sauce wonderfully.

Our next pairing was mushroom and barley soup paired with Salvation, a Belgian style strong pale ale. The soup had a luxurious broth filled with mushrooms, carrots, kale and barley. Being our second course we were served a full portion and not a tasting portion as we thought we would have. After having a full appetizer portion of the first course, we figured we needed to pace ourselves as we were already headed to being full.

Salvation comes in at around 10% alcohol and we were served a smaller pour that the pilsner as we would be bombed if we had full pours by the end of the night. Salvation has a slight sweetness that when paired with the mushroom and barley soup, as it cuts through the creaminess that comes from the texture of the barley. Another excellent pairing.

Course number three brought us lamb chops with mashed turnips over sautéed spinach. The portion of lamb was generous being that of two double chop pieces arranged artfully on the turnips. Once again, Chef Roberto outdid himself in the preparation of this dish. Because of the size of the portion I did concentrate on the lamb and enjoyed a little of the turnip and spinach garnish.

The lamb was expertly prepared with a wonderful crust and paired with The Reverend, a Belgian-Style Quadrupel Ale. The Reverend is seriously good. It has a sweet caramel taste that paired so nicely with the crust and flavor of the lamb. The Reverend is a grown-up version of Salvation that we previously tasted.

Our fourth course and final savory dish was a smoked beef cheek pot pie. This pot pie was encrusted in a homemade pastry that was light and tasty. The beef cheek entombed inside was tender and melts in your mouth good. Doug commented that the beef cheek reminded him of the one I make at home and I took that as a complement. 

We were really slowing down at this point. The food was so good, but having the full portions and the beer made it hard for us to find room. As with the prior dish I mainly concentrated on the meat and left a majority of the pastry. The beer pairing for this dish was Hog Heaven Barley Wine. This is an Imperial Red style ale. It is dry hopped and pairs well with food.

Fifth and final course, we were really hurting at this point and wish we could order another stomach to hold everything. For this last dish we had a warm strawberry cobbler paired with Ellie's Ale. Ellie's Ale is a brown ale that has the look of root beer when poured into a glass. It was one of my favorite beers of the night. The strawberry cobbler was the best strawberry dessert I have ever had. The problem with it was we had no room for it or the beer. We did however take the cobbler home for later.

Overall our experience was a great one. The Farm gave us great portions and was an excellent value for the price of $49 per person. In looking back we would have liked smaller portions as it would have left room for us to enjoy all of our food. We are not complaining too much as we left full and happy and with a handful of goodies that were given out throughout the dinner to take home. Upon the end of the dinner we each received a bottle of The Beast that comes in at 16%. The tasting of that is yet to come.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Madera Canyon

One of the cabins & gift shop
This post isn't about food as much as it is an experience. The experience I am talking about is Madera Canyon, Arizona. This is a beautiful place located about 45 minutes south east of Tucson and is a favorite spot or birdwatchers and nature lovers alike. The canyon takes you up to elevations over 5,000 feet on the main road and yet higher when you venture on many of the hiking trails.

My husband first brought us here in 2010 when we were traveling in the Southwest U.S. for vacation. We stopped at a couple of the B&B's in the canyon to look at the birds there. The owners put out seed and sugar water to attract some of the incredible species that pass through the area.

In March 2012 we decided to rent a cabin at the Madera  Kubo for 3 nights. There are four cabins to chose from we picked Cabin #3. This is a rustic cabin with a full kitchen, bath, one bedroom, a sleeper couch, and a wood stove for heat. The owner's supply you with milk, fruit, and cereals for breakfast, as well as basic cooking utensils and pans. There is also a small barbeque in the back for you to enjoy. Be prepared and bring your own charcoal if you want to use it.

Home Sweet Home Cabin #3
We enjoyed our first stay so much we decided to return at the end of June 2012 for a week and then again in March 2013 each time renting Cabin #3. There is something about the tranquility of this place that can recharge you. It can be pretty busy with hikers and birdwatchers on the nearby road, but there is privacy and they tend to blend into the place. 

At night it is a different story s the people leave and the wildlife comes out. What you mostly see here are squirrels, lizards, and birds with the occasional deer. The largest grouping of animals though are the flock of turkeys. The amount in the flock depend on the weather. We've had up to 25 roost at night in the tree next to our bedroom to as few as 12. We have heard that there are mountain lions and ring-tailed cats but have never seen them.

Back porch of Cabin #3
 Last June while I was sitting on the back porch overlooking the stream listening to the rain starting to fall I encountered a bear. Having heard the story of a mother and her cub causing a ruckus the day before for hours I was weary. I heard a sound to my left and looked that direction and was surprised to see a large black bear walking along the creek. Not sure at that point if it was the mother and cub I quietly and quickly went back inside to one grab my camera and two make sure I wasn't going to put myself in harm's way. After a few minutes and seeing that the bear was alone and walking away down the stream I decided it was safe enough to go back out on the porch. There I took a few pictures and watched this beautiful bear walk and mind his own business. Because it was so late in the day and the lighting was horrible, the pictures looked more like black blobs than a bear. But the experience was one I will not forget.
My favorite view

As for staying here at the Kubo life here is a simple one. I plan our meals out before hand and we bring most of our supplies from home, but for a few things we pick up in town before we head up. There is something about roughing it as I call it here. I come prepared with my knives, other kitchen essentials, and spices so we can have the best possible meals we can while we are here.
Dinners consist of steak and baked potatoes, chicken, broccoli, and rice, and hamburgers with homemade french fries. It's easy and we are happy to eat in style in this bare bones location. We also bring up some fantastic wines and beer to enjoy.

What do we spend our time doing? For my husband he goes off birding and the occasional hike. As for me, I take our daughter on hikes and I like to sit on the back porch and read. Today I am sitting on the porch writing for my blog. There is something about the fresh air and the sound of the streams on either side of the cabin that converge to one a few yards away that bring out the creative juices.
I forgot to mention, the internet does not exist here. They have no WIFI and you are lucky to get a cell phone signal. You can go down the canyon a few miles if you really need it. At times you are lucky to get a bit of a signal and email will come to your phone. Text messaging is the best way to communicate with the outside world if you really have to. 

The tree the turkeys roost in at night.
If you have time and want to get away and relax and re-energize yourself come out to Madera Canyon. Enjoy the little bit of Heaven in the Desert Southwest.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Quest for Pliny The Younger

What do you think of when you hear the name Pliny the Younger? For some it takes them back to history class and back 2000 years to the time of 79 AD when he wrote about his uncle and adopted father Pliny the Elder saving those from the destruction of Mt. Vesuvius. For other it brings to mind one of the top rated and one of the best beers in the world. For me this was a quest to taste one of the most sought after beers there is today.

I have only recently been into drinking beer. I was one that would have the occasional Coors Light and more recently Hangar 24's Orange Wheat. My husband decided to try beer again as he could taste some of the best beers in the world at a fraction of the price of the best wines in the world. We started attending beer and food pairings at our local craft brewery Hangar 24 located in Redlands, CA. In doing this my eyes and palate have been opened to a whole new world.

With the new knowledge and taste I became one to try some of the more unique and highly rated beers. We found a local market that would get small quantities of some of the great beers in the world such as Russian River's Pliny the Elder and Blind Pig as well as the genius creations of Mikkeller the nomad brewer. With these beers we would try out some of our own pairings. During this time we also started going to beer tasting parties where we would have anywhere from 20 to 40 beers to sample from all over the United States and the world.

This brings you up to date a little of my beer history. As you can see it is a very short one, but one of quick learning and appreciation of the fine crafted brews. I discovered during this time I like pilsner's, wheat beers, scotch and brown ales, boozy strong beers that taste more like liquor than a beer. I can appreciate a good IPA even a double IPA if it is paired well and not overly hoppy. I am not a fan of the overly bitter and hoppy tastes.

Through Facebook I had seen a posting from Eureka Burger, a local restaurant that brings in some of the finest beers, this simple message PTY. Having heard of the legendary beer I knew what they were saying and it was confirmed in later postings that Pliny the Younger would be coming to Redlands. They didn't say when other than soon. This posting was HUGE in the beer world especially in Redlands where the other known place to try PTY was in Northern California at the Russian River Brewery where this beer is created. The posting appeared toward the end of the week right before the President's Day holiday weekend.

A little history about PTY. Pliny the Younger is a triple IPA, yes I said TRIPLE! It got its name after the Double IPA Pliny the Elder. Pliny the Elder the man lived 23-79AD and in brewing notes is contributed for writing about hops and the brewers at Russian River sought it fitting to name the Double IPA they were creating after the man who wrote about such an important ingredient in the beer world. When they created this Triple IPA they could not name it anything but Pliny the Younger after the son of this man.

I continue now with my quest for PTY. My husband, who had wanted to try this beer, was out of town and I told him that The Younger was coming, when I did not know, but hopefully it would be after her returned on Monday, President's Day, from his trip. Facebook had been quiet about the PTY other than speculation on the postings when it would arrive all weekend. That takes us to Monday. Eureka Burger posted again. This time with the cryptic number 2. All the post was the number 2. What did that mean? Two hours, two days? WHAT???? Once gain the comments were nothing but speculations. Until, someone posted they called and were told 2 o'clock we would have PTY.
This left me with a dilemma; do I go without my husband or not go? I talked to Doug and he said for me to go. So our daughter and I went to Eureka Burger for a late lunch. We got there just before 2 and the place was packed. People inside jammed the bar area and every seat was taken. We put our name in and were told 60 to 75 minutes. Okay, I could do that. I'm starving, but I can do that, I just hope they don't run out the beer before I get in. 

We ran into friends outside while waiting and they told me to expect hoppy. Hoppy? Oh no I do not like hoppy beers, but I am here and I am going to do it anyways. We patiently waited and after 30 minutes our name was called. That wasn't so bad. First thing I did when the waitress came I told her I wanted the sampler. They were only pouring the beer in 5 ounce pours and in a 4 beer sampler. I can't honestly tell you if they were serving it alone since I never asked. In the sampler you received some of Russian River Brewery's finest beers, Pliny the Younger, Pliny the Elder, Blind Pig, and Damnation.

Russian River Brewery's PTY, PTE, Blind Pig, & Damnation
My sampler came well before our food did, but I dove right in. My first sip of Pliny the Younger was not what I was expecting. I did not know at the time that this beer was a Triple IPA, but I would never have known it was an IPA at all because it was creamy. Did I call a Triple IPA creamy? I did. It was so smooth and well balanced that it just glided over my tongue. And at that point I know I had done it. I had tasted one of the beers thought to be the best in the world. I also did this with a bit of sadness as I couldn't share this with my husband. 

The other three beers were good, but not as good as The Younger. Was it the hype that made it taste better or was it actually that good? I cannot tell you for sure, but I could taste the hops in The Elder and Blind Pig. I enjoyed Damnation more than the other two, but not as much as The Younger.
My husband got back the following day and we decided to head over to Eureka Burger just on the off chance that there was some left. Once seated and we talked to the waiter he told us the two kegs of PTY was gone in 5 hours. The Elder was also sold out. I felt a little regret that my husband missed such a chance, but he was happy that at least one of us got to try it and there will be another keg or two next year.

Pliny the Younger with it's father Pliny the Elder 
Here is to all of your beer drinkers out there. To the quest of great beers and bottoms up. Sláinte!