Foods & Brews from the East

Recently Mike & I went on a vacation out east. We flew down to Raleigh/Durham, NC, to visit friends & family, then rented a car and drove up the coast to Delaware, to spend some time with even more family. It was a whirlwind vacation, but needless to say, we wanted to make the most of our trip out there and sample the foods, flavors, and beverages of the areas we visited. Here are a few highlights from our trip:

Fullsteam Brewery in Durham, NC

Fullsteam Brewery in Durham, NC

Being homebrewers, we can never pass up an opportunity to support local breweries when we travel. We hit up Fullsteam Brewery in Durham, taking the bus from our hotel to get there (which apparently you never do in Durham, but we did, and survived). They had a nice selection of beers, and I know that Mike was very pleased with the quality. The highlight of the visit was splitting a bottle of their First Frost persimmon beer, aged. It was absolutely divine and probably a brew that will be very hard to find in the future, unless we head back down south.

Dane's Chicken & Waffles

Dame’s Chicken & Waffles

In planning for our trip, Mike mentioned to his stepbrother (he & his fiance live in Chapel Hill) that he really wanted to try chicken & waffles. So, he took us to this great place in Durham (Dame’s). It, in short, was awesome. You choose your dish based upon what kind of cut of chicken you want, then choose your waffle and ‘schmear’ (flavored butter. Genius). I chose the classic waffle, with a chicken cutlet and maple-pecan schmear. The flavor combination was so unique – sweet meets savory, but done right. When we head back to RDU next May for their wedding, we may have to drag some of the family back here. Yes, it’s that good.

The next portion of this post may make some people uncomfortable because it involves whole crab. If this is you, scroll down. You’ve been warned! No hate, please! 😉

Mike & I lived in southeastern Pennsylvania for the first 8 months that we were married; the 2008 crash moved us back to Ohio. We lived about an hour north of Baltimore, MD – a great place for fresh seafood. This is where my husband introduced me to the world of blue crab. He would have it when he’d go on vacation growing up – I on the other hand was a bit creeped out by the fact that it was a whole crab in front of you. I took him out to Baltimore for his birthday that year and he taught me how to eat blue crab. We both enjoyed ourselves immensely and remember that evening fondly; thus when we came back to the East Coast this past week, we had to find ourselves some crab. My father-in-law recommended Claws, a seafood place out in Rehoboth Beach.

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Please, disregard the carnage.

With blue crab, you eat all the meat in the claws & body; rarely do you get anything out of the rest of the legs because they’re so small. In short, the blue crab are steamed, covered with Old Bay, and dumped onto your table where you get crackin’ with some small wooden mallets & your fingers. The crab is delectable, and for many it takes a while to get all the meat out of the crab. As a person who got ‘turned on’ to seafood after graduating high school, I can say that it’s definitely well-worth the effort. Even if you cut both of your thumbs on the claws and they sting from Old Bay (sorry, Hubs ;-)) We had a great ‘date night’ on our vacation at Claws and walked off our crab coma on the beach.

End Whole Crab portion.

The last portion of our trip took us to Baltimore for the Indians vs. Orioles game. We went with Mike’s sister & brother-in-law, and had a fantastic time. Of course, we arrived in Baltimore that evening during a huge thunderstorm, and rush hour. We drove around and ended up at the Rusty Scupper, which happened to be one of the nicer places in town, but had wickedly awesome seafood. I believe really hit the spot for my sister-in-law, who was 8 months pregnant. 🙂 I had the shrimp scampi – a dish I probably could make at home, but really had a taste for since I was still a bit ‘hungover’ from crab.

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Shrimp Scampi

We had a wonderful vacation, and I had fun documenting some of the culinary adventures that I had. Maybe I’ll have to document more as we travel in the future!

Homebrewing 101

This post has been a work in progress for quite a while. And it’s long. But if you’re curious as to how beer is made, read on.

In case I didn’t mention it before, we are avid homebrewers – as in we brew our own beer. This tasty hobby started way back in 2009 when my husband was laid off; I bought him a Mr. Beer homebrewing kit for his birthday, just for fun. And boy, did he have a lot of fun…

…he began doing a lot of research on homebrewing. Buying lots of books, reading up on the internet, etc. Later that fall, happily employed, he upgraded his system to simply a 5-gallon bucket, kits with liquid malt, & bottling system. In 2010, we switched from bottling all our beer to kegging all our beer – quite a sight when you live in an apartment. In 2011 we moved into our house, and shortly after we moved from using beer kits to all-grain (making beer through the use of crushed grain). The amount of gadgets, books, tools and supplies that we’ve accumulated over the past 4 years is both impressive and mind-boggling. Yet, it’s a hobby I do not see us letting go of any time soon. With summer coming on, we are constantly brewing beer for gatherings to attend, and guests to entertain. Thus, we wanted to give you an inside look at how we brew.

Uncrushed grain

Uncrushed grain

Mike creates a recipe with the help of a beer brewing software he purchased. He determines the type of beer he wants to make, then calculates the ratios of grain/malt, hops, water, and special sugars, spices or other fun things to add. Sometimes Mike will come up with the recipe weeks in advance, so that he can order supplies from the internet and plan ahead for future brews.

We always start boiling about 6 gallons of water. Typical batches of homebrew yield 5 gallons;

you always want to have more just in case your batch cools off rapidly, it spills, and of course, evaporation. While you wait for your water to boil, you prepare the grain that you want to

mash. Mashing is where you break down the starch in your grain into fermentable and non-fermentable sugars.

Crushing the weighed grain (in the bucket)

Crushing the weighed grain (in the bucket)

Before you process your grain, you need to crush it with some sort of grain mill or grinder. Mike’s grain mill is operated via his cordless drill, which I have to admit is still kind of funny to watch. He weighs out exactly how many pounds he needs into a 5-gal bucket, processes it through the mill, and into the mash tun (the vessel we use for mashing.

Once all the grain has been, well, ground, it is time to add the hot water. The water needs to be at a specific temperature, depending on the type of beer you are

Sparging

Sparging

brewing. You add it a little bit at a time, stirring it constantly with a paddle to make sure all the water gets dispersed throughout the grain.

After that, you close the cooler and let the grain sit, periodically checking its temperature – which needs to be at a lower, specific temperature than the hot water you added. You always have a pot of hot water on the stove, though, to add to the grain if it cools off too much. You let the grain sit for at least an hour, so that the sugars are extracted from the grain.

photo (17)Once the grain has sat long enough, you drain it into the boiling pot. Because of our mash tun set up, we are able to drain the wort (liquid) via siphon into the brew pot. The leftover grains make great cow feed and/or compost.

The wort is now ready to brew. Instead of using our stove (which can be really obnoxious when you want to cook dinner, or it’s too hot to use the stove), we boil our wort on a propane turkey fryer. This system has worked very well for us, except with three feet of snow and negative temperatures outside (then I let my husband brew in the house ;-)) The boil process typically lasts an hour or more. During the boil process, you have to keep an eye on the temperature and the clock. If the temperature gets too high, you risk a boil over  – creating a loss of product and a huge mess. You need to watch the time, as there are certain points in the boil where hops, fruit peels, sugars, etc. need to be added.

The boil (after hops)

The boil (after hops)

After all hops & additives have been added, it’s time to cool the beer. We have a wort chiller (seen behind the brew pot) which attaches to a hose or kitchen sink & is placed inside the brew pot. When the water is turned on, it runs through the coils and helps cool the beer faster – a process that without a chiller can take several hours (unless, it’s winter, then you just sit the pot in the snow!).

Once the beer is cooled to the specific temperature needed (“room temperature”, so I’m told), you transfer it to either a 5-gal bucket, or a glass carboy to ferment. You then add the yeast. The yeast eat up the sugars and cause them to release carbon dioxide, thus creating alcohol. The more sugary the beer, the higher the alcohol content.

From there, you at least a week or two for the wort to ferment and the yeast to do their work. You then transfer the beer to a clean keg, or to a clean glass carboy if you want to do a secondary fermentation (that’s for another day, folks).

You then carbonate using priming sugar (bottles) or CO2 (kegs). And serve nice and cold.

AND THAT, MY FRIENDS, is how we homebrew.

Any questions and/or comments will be directed to the head homebrewer, my husband. 🙂

Blogging Against Hunger

Statistics currently state that 1 in 4 children in America right now are not sure of where their next meal where come from. Between rising poverty levels, unemployment, and rising food costs, more and more people (let alone children) struggle to get food on the table. Those families where the parent/guardian works multiple jobs to try and make ends meet.

While I have been sincerely blessed with never struggling with this problem, I am still humbled.  My job has me teaching in a very low-income, high-poverty area in rural Michigan; many of the students that I see everyday qualify for free & reduced breakfast/lunch.  On Fridays, the needier report down to the office, where they receive a bag of food items to get them through the weekend.

What concerns me most about this hunger crisis is the fact that healthy, wholesome food is often found to be more expensive. It’s cheaper to eat products laden with chemicals, sodium, and fats, or just to swing by the fast food joint on the way home.  Whatever will fill the belly, the most ‘bite for the buck’.

All this cheap, poor-quality food is a strong contributor to climbing obesity rates, and the lack of nutrition leads to poor health. How can a kid learn properly in school when they’re worrying about where their next meal is going to come from, or when they’re feeling absolutely awful from illness derived from poor nutrition? There has got to be a way out there to start turning the tables around.

What can we do to help?

My favorite budget-friendly meals include:

  • Red Beans & Rice – All you need is a can of kidney beans, and two cups of cooked rice. If you have spices or a half-eaten jar of salsa laying around, this makes a satisfying meal with great and plentiful leftovers.
  • Spaghetti – A jar of sauce and some pasta can go a long way.
  • Chili – If you can, buy a pound of ground meat. In a pot, brown it and add some diced tomatoes, an onion (diced), chili powder, salt & pepper, and some kidney beans if you’d like. If you also have it, corn. The  more vegetables you have laying around, the bigger the ‘batch’ will become. We like to stretch our pots of chili by serving it atop of spaghetti, rather than by itself alone.

Rachel over at Rachel’s Table has some great resources for recipes on her BAH post.

I Won A Giveaway!

I won a giveaway last week! I never win contests of any sort…until now 🙂

Bebe over at Life’s Little Epiphanies decided to hold a giveaway on her blog, giving away some of her favorite healthy snacks, as well as the book Working Out Sucks!. I’ve followed her blog for at least a year now and it’s packed with great musings about learning how to live a more healthy lifestyle – something that I’m slowly learning how to do. I follow her on Twitter also and she is a fun person to chat with during the day. When she writes, sometimes it feels like she’s writing out the thoughts/feelings in my head.

Needless to say, I was honored to win her giveaway!

Thank you, Bebe!

Thank you, Bebe!

I was pretty impressed that some of Bebe’s favorite snacks were some that I’ve either had before, or are right up my alley:

  • dried cranberries
  • organic peanut butter cups 😀
  • Two types of KIND bars (which I had to immediately hide from my husband)
  • Mario olives – packed without the juice!
  • The book Working Out Sucks!…I completely forgot that this book is supported by the gym I attend…I can’t wait to start reading it

So again, thank you, Bebe, for your wonderful giveaway! Thank you for motivating me 🙂

4 More Days!

I’m starting to bounce off the walls just a little bit, as my husband & I are gearing up for a long weekend mini-vacation. This is the first trip we’ve gone on since our honeymoon that is not for a) a wedding, or b) to visit family. It’s also to a location that we’ve both never been to before (unless, of course, you count the layover my husband had at DEN when traveling for his best friend’s bachelor party in Vegas). We love our friends and our families dearly, and love to visit our favorite destinations, but it’s time for a vacation!

This trip has been brewing, no pun intended, since February. Fall football & fate, even with teaching in two school districts, is permitting me to go on this trip. We’ve been saving extra spending money, and Hubs even requested that his birthday present be the purchase of tickets to the Great American Beer Festival (birthday is in May, tix went on sale in August).  We’ll be attending two evenings at GABF and thus these two homebrewers are stoked!

In case I haven’t mentioned, we homebrew. Or rather, my husband homebrews and I assist. We brew via all-grain style, and keg most of our batches. It is Hubs’ true hobby and he is really, really good at it. Since we’ve started on this adventure together, we’ve become somewhat of a pair of connoisseurs – drinking/brewing for the taste, and not the alcohol (even though you have to admit, some days it’s an added bonus). Thus, our trip to GABF is meant for us to be able to sample and experience some beers that we otherwise would not be exposed to in Ohio & Michigan, let alone the Midwest.

The Weather Channel is forecasting perfect weather for our excursion. My dear old friend Robin will be giving us a tour of Boulder during our trip as well. I’m hope to blog bits and pieces from our trip – especially restaurants and our GABF experience.  I have LOTS of lesson planning to do this week, but as of 3:05pm Wednesday, I’ll be off the school grid.

SO – for those of you who read this blog, who have ever been to Denver, or leave near Denver, etc. – what cool things are there to do out there? Any awesome must-sees? Great restaurants? Tourist traps to avoid?