Thursday, July 30, 2015

Fourth Annual Slip-N-Slide Party!

Now that we're in our fourth year, I think we've got this slip-n-slide party thing down.


The week before the party, Micah and I spent 45 minutes repairing any tears in the main slide and re-taping/re-grommeting any grommet areas that came loose (info on how we originally added the grommets here). Thankfully there were only a couple of small tears and grommets that needed replacing -- which means our grommet experience from last year passed with flying colors.

Since we had the same layers going down as last year, this year it took less than one hour to put up the entire slide. Shout-out to my family and friends who helped us set-up! You guys rock!

Micah had the genius idea of doing a time lapse of the day. With a little engineering and duct tape, Micah secured his phone to the grill and this was the outcome:



As for the food offerings, I threw around some different ideas but came back full circle to the same ol' nacho bar! I mean, it's just so easy... and I'm so lazy... and everyone loves queso... and everyone loves guacamole.

I did, however, add tacos to the menu. I needed something I could make in big batches and would keep well in crock pots. I ended up making 6 pounds of green chile chicken tacos and 8 pounds of pork tinga tacos. Both are from Rick Bayless' Mexican Everyday cookbook.

What I did the day before the party:
  • Roasted the pork for in a large roasting pan for three hours. Everything went into the fridge. 
  • Fire roasted and prepped the green chiles for the chicken
  • All the mise en place for pico de gallo and guacamole
  • Made salsa verde (recipe at the end)
  • Made 3 gallons of sangria (same one as mentioned here)
Since I had most of the food prep done, on the morning of the party all I had to do was pick up fresh tortillas and corn chips from the local tortilleria shop (on Rundberg, of course).

My sister helped with making the delicious guacamole (I bought 20 avocadoes for it) and the queso. 

Guests digging in... once again I fail to take real photos of the food.
A few hours before the party, I did cook the chicken and have it ready for the heating plate. Once the party started, I combined the chicken with the rest of the ingredients and everything was ready. I put all the pork tinga into a crock pot and voila!

All the food I made fed nearly 40 people, with pork tinga left to spare!

I didn't make any sweets so I'm glad several friends brought some cookies to share! 

Micah made three beers for the party: IPA, saison and a orange berlinerweisse. There was something for everyone!

Between the noshing, there was some sliding! 

Since we love a good game, we decided to add flippy cup to the mix. In actuality, we just want friends to stop posting this video to our FB pages. Slip and Flip was the perfect addition to the party! 

I would say this year's party is the best one yet! We even had folks from Cali fly in JUST FOR THIS PARTY. It's that legit. 

And no party would be complete without a montage of the day. Enjoy.



**Editor's note: "Drip Drop" is one of my favorite songs off the Empire 1st season soundtrack. Get it.

=================================================================

Salsa Verde Recipe:

  • 6-8 tomatillos, husks removed
  • 1 jalapeno, sliced in half
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 white onion cut into quarters
1. Put all the ingredients into a pot and fill with water.
2. Heat until boiling and then lower to a simmer for 5 minutes.
3. Remove all the solids and place into a blender.
4. Add a bunch of cilantro and juice of one lime.
5. Blend together. Season with salt and more lime if needed.


Friday, June 19, 2015

My Chickens Bring All the Boys to the Yard

Last I left you guys, we were deciding what kind of chickens to get. Micah said, "If we're going to have chickens, they're going to be cool chickens." 

With that in mind, I went to good old Craigslist and came across some Polish chickens. I was immediately smitten by their bouffant! I mean, it's absolutely ridiculous!

While they're not prolific egg layers, they are fun to look at. I found a lady in Leander who had several Polish hens to choose from and we settled on these two ladies.


We got them in early May and they were about 2.5 months old. They were rambunctious and the golden laced one (black top) was feisty and wanted to get out immediately. Don't they kind of resemble Big Bird? 

By June, the hens were getting a lot bigger. They started digging around the roosting box more so I figured they were going to start laying eggs within the next few weeks.


But an unfortunate thing happened in mid-June. While out at dinner, we let the dogs out in the backyard for a few hours and when Micah came home, he was greeted with nothing but feathers in the yard. 

Our dogs had slaughtered the hens. 

I'll spare you the gory details; but while the black chicken's carcass was found, the red one was nowhere to be found. Spark's (our corgi) belly on the other hand, was 3x it's regular size! That's where the red chick went. [cue sad face]. 

We think our dogs managed to push the gate in far enough to where the chickens got scared and made a run for it.

Both dogs slept outside that night. Even with her bloated tummy, Spark was probably the happiest Corgi in the whole wide world. 

After recuperating from the loss, Micah found a woman a few days ago who had numerous Polish hens to choose from. Micah was a trooper and picked these hens out (he said her backyard had 100 chickens and reeked!). 

This time, we got three hens. These fellas are bit younger than the ones we originally got, but they're still funny as hell.



There's a silver laced, gold laced (middle) and buff laced (white one). They were pretty timid when we first got them and they don't mind being handled at all, unlike our last two. Apparently these are "show" chickens because theire bouffant is larger than normal... which means I can barely see their eyes! IT CRACKS ME UP!


This lady says: Whatcha looking at homie?? 

To deter the dogs from ever feasting on our chickens again, we are trying to train them with a shock collar perimeter. We hope to only use it a few times before they learn not to go anywhere near the coop. 

With an egg shortage, I really need these hens to start laying eggs ASAP. 

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Chicken Coop for the Soul

It's official. After four years of living in Austin, we are now Austin hipsters (not East Austin), but close enough. Our yards are xeriscaped, I have a garden in the backyard, Micah brews (hobby prior to moving to Austin) and now we have a chicken coop!

I'm not even joking, a chicken coop -- sans chicken. 

We weren't planning on getting chickens, but this red beauty came into our life a few weeks ago.


Let me tell you how this all came about. On the Saturday before Easter, Micah's parents came to Austin for the weekend. Since his parents own several chickens, I figured it would be fun to go to the Funky Chicken Coop Tour (Yes, Austin has funky chicken coop tours, it's that kind of city). I bought 4 tickets online and off we went! The tour is actually really fun and informative. There were some homes that had a huge space for their chickens... and even turkeys and ducks!

At the end of the day, we were sitting at Meridian Hive Meadery tasting some meads when someone from the tour called my cellphone. I thought we had left something behind at one of the homes. The lady asked for Clyde (Micah's dad) and while he was speaking to her we realized we had won something.

What we didn't really grasp was that it was the GRAND PRIZE! I didn't even realize that when you bought tickets online, you're automatically entered into a raffle for various prizes. Apparently we won the grand prize! The grand prize was this red chicken coop.

They asked if they could deliver that evening. I looked at Micah and he wasn't amused. We made room for it in the driveway that night. 

Specs on the coop: 5' x 6', fiberglass composite construction, gelcoat surface, sliding windows, rear ventilation screens, built-in nesting boxes, chicken door and the lovely bright red paint! It really is well constructed. These types of coops are usually priced at $1,500! Crazy!


Inside the coop. It's a mansion!


The coop holds six chickens comfortably. Look at all these nesting boxes! 


You can tell by this photo that Micah is beyond thrilled this was sitting in our driveway. While we weren't 100 percent sure we were going to keep it, I wanted to sleep on it and see what to do with it. I offered it to Micah's parents but they already have a chicken coop so being their lovely selves, they told us to keep it! "It's a sign!" they said. A sign from the fresh egg gods.

After sleeping on it and talking it through, we decided to keep it. Micah and his dad took down a part of the back fence and we rolled it into the backyard.


After looking at various locations in the backyard, we decided on this spot. It's an area where the grass doesn't grow that well and we can cordon it off without too much effort. A lot of friends were worried this coop would take away the space for our slip-n-slide party, it doesn't. Calm down, friends.
To give the chickens good walking space, we put down a metal border and put down some rubber mulch. We also put in pavers set in concrete for a firm footing. 


Because we can't let the chickens have free range of the backyard, we had to find a way to fence it off. After spending $150 at Home Depot for fencing items, we came up with this plan.

Without much help from me, Micah put up the metal posts and built the gate frame! It's that engineering mind! I'm glad he's able to do that stuff, because I know I'm no good at that.


This gate will keep the chickens in and the doggies out. There's a latch on it so I can get in and clean out the area if need be.


View of the gated area from the terrace. I thought it wasn't going to be enough space for the chickens, but really is a large space. For a cover, we're going to use a bird netting to drape and secure over the top. Hopefully that'll keep out any other rascals.


And by rascal, I mean T-Rex. He wants chickens.

video

Not only does T-Rex wants chickens, so does our big dog, Porter. This video is of Porter running around the chicken coop at Micah's parents house.


Porter nearly lost his snout! The chickens didn't take it easy on him when he put his snout against the fencing. Hopefully he's learned his lesson and won't do that to our chickens.

Now that we have a chicken coop, the biggest decision is deciding which chickens I should get. There are several types out there. I think we're going to start with two chickens and go from there.

So a question for the folks who have chickens, what type should I get and why?

Other Chicken Thoughts

If you think it's cheaper to have chickens lay your fresh eggs, it's not. It's still cheaper to go to the grocery store. But, we will have a sustainable program going on because chickens love spent grain -- so when Micah brews, the chickens will have delicious spent grain to nibble on. We're living that sustainable life.

People also think farm fresh eggs taste better than caged, mass-produced eggs, but Serious Eats put that to the test and determined most people can't tell the difference when it comes to taste. But if eating "organic and free range" eggs make you feel better, than have at it!  I really just like the idea of colorful eggs and being able to go to my backyard for eggs!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Judging Blue Moon at NHC during SXSW

So we didn't judge Blue Moon beers, but all the things in the title did happen in the past 10 days.

The month of March has increasingly become a very busy month for us. While we don't get to partake in Spring Break (can I go back to being a student?), I am at least thankful the traffic is manageable during Spring Break week! 

National Homebrew Competition

For the past two years, Austin has been a judging site for the National Homebrew Competition (NHC). Austin is one of a dozen sites. This year, judging weekend fell smack dab during the first weekend of SXSW. Needless to say, we ended up helping with NHC most of that first weekend. 

serious judging going on 

While I am not BJCP certified, Micah is. Even if you're not certified but you want to learn about beer competitions and what off flavors there are in beer (there are many!), it's always a great learning experience to go help judge/steward! I usually help steward (taking care of score sheets, pulling beer, etc.), which still allows me to sample some of the brews.

The Austin location received around 600 entries, so it's imperative to have a great team get everything together. Thankfully, the Austin-area has a great homebrewing community so all that team work paid off! And a big round of applause for Neil who coordinated it all! 

SXSW 

After getting all that beer judging out of the way, we were finally able to get in some SXSW fun. 

Some highlights of the week:

1. Lil Bub: Everybody is familiar with Grumpy Cat, but did you know about Lil Bub? I didn't, until a friend dropped some cat knowledge on me. Lil Bub was born with several genetic defects (dwarfism, bone issues, to name a few). According to her website, her lower jaw is significantly shorter than her uppper jaw and her teeth never grew in which is why her tongue is always hanging out. 




Lil Bub and her owner also travel around the country raising money for various animal charities. At this event, she was also named the official cat of Animal Planet!


My friend, who is a huge cat lover, wanted to take one of these posters home. 




Legnard was at the various Rachael Ray parties since Blue Moon is one of the official sponsors at the events.


While everyone is familiar with their original Belgian wit, they are expanding their portfolio with a new White IPA, which will be available starting next month. Since I can drink this IPA, I would say it's not a traditional IPA. The hops (Simcoe, Citra and Cascade) are present but not overly bitter - it sits around 40-50 IBUs. This is definitely their gateway IPA for non-IPA drinkers. If you're a Pliny fan, I can't say this beer would quench your hop thirst. 

Interesting tidbits I learned about Blue Moon Brewing and Legnard:
  • The original Belgian White is made with only Valencia orange peel (no other types of peel) and it was originally named the Belly Slide Belgian White.
  • They make 18 beers a year, most of which are seasonals.
  • They make 100-250 test batches every year
  • Legrand has been with Blue Moon since the very beginning (20 years!). He was there at GABF in 1989, you know, when there were only a handful of brewers in play.
  • Blue Moon was never "bought out" by Coors. I always thought that was the case. Apparently, Coors started Blue Moon Brewing at the Coors Field in Denver in 1995. They were brewing their own brews to sell at the stadium and it's been there ever since. In a way, Coors was ahead of the times? 
  • A cappuccino stout is on the roster for release later this year.

3. Vibe/Axe White Label Collective Party



John Legend has the voice of an angel and he was less than 20 feet away from me! I was trying to find his wife, Chrissy Teigen (girl crush alert!) but she was no where to be found. I guess I'll keep stalking her on Twitter and Instagram. 

video 

John Legend did a quick set of four songs but there were some other fun artists on stage as well. Lenny Kravitz' daughter, Lolawolf, was a lot of fun as well as rapper YG! [video has Legend and YG]. While I didn't know who YG was while he was on stage, I did know his mix with Jeremih on "Don't Tell 'Em" when he started performing that song. West Coast rapper to the fullest.

Other Random Photos:


Trying to stay dry at the Rachael Ray Stubb's party. Thankfully the weekend wasn't a complete wash out!



The crowd at the RR Party. Slightly smaller crowd due to the rain.



The menu at the party: sliders, bbq chicken tacos and mexican corn in a cup.


Because flash mobs just happen in Downtown Austin.


It's the Biebs!


























Friday, January 30, 2015

Slurp it Up! Annual Pho Party!

10 pounds of fresh pho noodles, 22 pounds of beef bones, five gallons of pho broth, 75 tofu spring rolls, two pounds of turkey meatballs, three dozen banh pate chaud and three dozen guests. That all happened at our annual Pho Party last weekend. 

We host this party every winter and while it's a lot of work, it's always a good time! I started cooking at 8 a.m. and the kitchen was open for service at 6 p.m. 


I always forget to take photos of the food, but a friend did take this picture of me putting meatballs into the broth. Look at all that goodness! Along with the pho, In addition to the usual spring rolls and banh pate chaud, I also made Viet turkey meatballs. I used this recipe but instead of chicken, I used ground turkey.

Last year, I didn't have enough large Asian soup bowls so I had to wash bowls inbetween guests -- I had to avoid that this year. I can always buy more bowls at the Asian market, but the melamine bowls are expensive (usually around $5-$7/bowl depending on the size) and I don't need 40 bowls in the house.



So, I went to Amazon to see what disposable options were available. I came across these biodegradable bowls in various sizes. After a quick hot water test (Micah's my own personal America's Test Kitchen), we decided the 32 oz. bowls would hold up for our pho needs - we did ask guests to double up on the bowls just to make it sturdier. I wish they had a 40 oz. size, but the 32 oz. worked. Unfortunately, they only come in 500 packs so now I have 500 bowls sitting in the pantry!



A special thanks to Suz for helping be my sous chef a few hours before the party! I wouldn't have gotten everything done without her help! And thank you guys for coming up from San Antonio! She's also having twins, so I made sure to feed all three of them very well. 


Since we had so many guests coming, we made Micah's brew room our drink station. 


Guests at the main dining table.


More guests at our secondary table.


My friend, Adrienne, also made this awesome cherry pie! It was muy delicioso.


The next day, I ended up with about six quarts of pho broth. I gifted a couple of quarts and kept the rest for myself. I usually keep a quart in the freezer in case I have a hankering for some pho.


With all the leftovers, I had pho for breakfast the next morning. Breakfast of champions!

RSVP Rant

On a side note, as someone who hosts several large parties throughout the year, I really appreciate it when people RSVP. I need people to RSVP to know how much food to make. I was just thinking the other day that maybe Facebook invites are too casual. That maybe it's too easy to RSVP "yes" but don't actually show up. It's fine if you tell me you won't be able to make it or a last minute issue came up, that I get.

And then there are the "maybe" folks. I would say that most people who say "maybe" don't have any intention of coming anyway, so just say "no." If you have young kiddos, I understand the "maybe" because you never know when something comes up with your kiddo/babysitter/etc.

Do you think a more formal evite would eliminate those issues?
Do you have the same issues with RSVP's? What do you use (paperless post, Facebook, evite)?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Perfect Christmas Gift: Maine Winter Feast

As I walked down the stairs at 6:30 a.m. on Christmas morning to make my way into work, I came across the most awesome gifts waiting for me at the door: a full size Dyson animal vacuum cleaner and a printout for a Central Market cooking class!

The vacuum cleaner was an awesome joint gift from Micah and his mom! This was the second year I got a vacuum cleaner for Christmas, I think Micah is trying to tell me something. The first one he got me was the Dyson DC59 (cordless). This little guy is great for our wood and tile floors - it sucks up the dog fur like a dream! The one I got this year was the Dyson upright. It's a dream! I can't even imagine going back to a "regular" vacuum cleaner.


Anyhow, while I loved the vacuum cleaner, I was REALLY excited about the Central Market cooking class. Micah chose a class called "Maine Feast" which focuses on, you guessed it, Maine dishes. Since Micah doesn't eat red meat, this was the perfect menu because it had a lot of seafood, more specifically, LOBSTAH! 


The class was a perfect Saturday night date. The class is setup like a classroom. It's not a hands on class -- they don't have you helping with any of the cooking.



The instructor is up there going through the techniques with several other people prepping the rest of the food. 

To our surprise, the class comes with two glasses of wine. 



To start, we had corn chowder. A very simple dish that is made really rich with tons of butter. I've come to the conclusion that my homemade dishes are not nearly as delicious because I don't use enough butter! 

The chowder was served with these biscuits that use Bakewell cream, which is basically Maine's version of cream of tartar. The biscuits flake differently and have more a tinny quality.




After the soup, we dug into the lobster roll! They didn't skimp on the fresh lobster either! We were surprised by the full-sized serving because at a restaurant, it would easily cost $15-$20 for a lobster roll (the entire class was $50/person!). Oddly enough, someone in front of us ate the bread but left all the lobster meat! WTF? Why are you even in this class?



After lobster, we had baked haddock with roasted veggies. Pretty simple dish that uses one of my favorite items, panko bread crumbs. For some reason, I don't buy firm white fish very often but I really enjoy haddock and cod. I guess I always veer towards salmon, tuna and gulf fish.



For the finale, we had blueberry pie with vanilla ice cream. The perfect way to end a lovely dinner! 

The Central Market cooking classes vary by menu and pricing, but we thought our Maine class was well-priced for what you got. I would definitely sign-up for another class!




Thursday, January 15, 2015

NOLA for My Mom's Birthday!

While this post is a few weeks behind schedule, I figure it's never too late to talk about my mom (or me in Vietnamese)! The weekend after Christmas we celebrated my mom's birthday by going to New Orleans for the weekend! HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOM!

Me, Micah and my mom haven't been to NOLA since before Katrina -- that's too long of a time! 

My two cousins also joined us on this trip and it was fun to share the city with them since they've never been. I much prefer to visit NOLA during the winter time rather than the sticky stench that is summer.

In front of the Christmas tree across from Jackson Square
I made the biggest mistake on this trip: I forgot to bring my camera! I fail at life. Thankfully everyone else in my crew took some photos for me!


On our first night, we celebrated my mom's birthday with dinner at Jacques Imo's. My boss told me about this place and the 1000+ reviews on Yelp indicated this place would be a fun place for dinner. I made a reservation a few weeks in advance and the only time they had open on a Friday was at 5 p.m.! We showed up at 5 p.m. and it was already packed!


While our food was good, nothing was AMAZING, except for the cornbread. That cornbread must have a stick of butter in each bite! The watermelon mojito was also a treat -- I think I'm stealing this drink for my next summer party! For my mom's birthday, they brought out a fabulous bread pudding that had great texture and wasn't overly sweet (which some tend to be).

On the second night, we ate at Deanie's Seafood in Bucktown. I've actually been to this restaurant before and really enjoyed it. Their BBQ shrimp is so decadent and flavorful. My mom loved the sauce so much that she poured it over a bowl of white rice! So Asian.


We also had breakfast at the Ruby Slipper in Mid-City (food was good but the service was mediocre and slow)



Of course we had cafe au lait and beignets at Cafe Du Monde!

Cigar shop and a big ol' daiquiri
Walking around the mid-city area
Flight at NOLA Brewing. My face is not indicative of their beer offerings... it's just my face.
We were able to check out NOLA Brewing, which is in an industrial area southwest of the French Quarter. The NOLA beers we had at restaurants weren't very good but the selection at their actual taproom was great! We ordered 8 samples and settled in with some Jenga and Scrabble. Micah's fave brew was their Brettanomyces IPA. If you want a little dessert while you're there, they even have root beer floats!

We were also able to check out WINO, which was really close to our hotel. It's one of those self-serving wine bars (which we loved when we visited Paris). They have several dozen wines available and the prices are fairly reasonable. Unfortunately, we didn't love any of the wines they had on their roster.

Our favorite cocktails were had at Bar Tonique. Micah dragged us all the way over to this side of the FQ and I was going to be really annoyed if they didn't have good cocktails, but to my surprise, they had great cocktails at a very reasonable price! Everything we had was good: pimm's cup, moscow mule and several cocktails they made up on the fly! You can't beat that!


On our last day, Micah and I visited the Old New Orleans Rum Distillery. It's $10 per person for the tour and tasting. They start you off with a lovely rum tea cocktail while you wait for the tour to start. While I'm not a huge fan of rum, I thought it would be fun to check out what the place had to offer.


Their spiced rum is very popular and it is indeed spicy!


They also have this new product, Gingergoo which is a rum cocktail mixed with ginger. It's already premixed so just add ice! If you like ginger beer, you would love this product!

Walking along Magazine Street
After being away from NOLA for so long, it was a great weekend trip to celebrate my mom's birthday and to revisit the city that has so much to offer! 

Where We Stayed:

I booked the Le Meridien Hotel -- which used to be the W Hotel. They just went through a renovation and now the rooms are super modern and stylish. I got a deal during Cyber Week at $100/night! The hotel is right across the street from the Harrah's Casino. I knew my mom would find her way to the casino, so I figured I'd make that slightly easier for her (not sure that was the smartest idea).