Sunday, February 14, 2016

Pho for Pho-ty

While we haven't had any ice storms this winter (thank goodness), it was still cold enough for our annual Pho Party a few weeks ago.

This year's dinner party was the largest crowd yet! Around 40 people came for dinner, which meant it was a lively fun night. 
Since I knew it was going to be a larger crowd, I did get a few more pounds of extra beef bones and made an extra large pot on the stove to add to the large turkey fryer when I got low on broth. Since I was already at Sam's Club picking up brisket and eye of round, the store had some good looking ox tail so I grabbed a package of that and added it to the broth. 

I added pre-made veggie eggrolls to the apps roster this year. While I know how to make viet eggrolls, timing was an issue so I decided to cheat and get the Saigon Eggrolls. The Saigon Eggrolls are actually pretty legit and are a good option if you're in a hurry but still want quality. 

From left to right: banh pate chaud, veggie eggrolls, turkey meatballs, tofu spring rolls. (Photo Credit: Angi W.)
The other apps were the same: banh pate chaud, tofu spring rolls and turkey meatballs.

I also made 4 gallons of cider (recipe will be up later) and Micah made some tepache (pineapple wine) along with several other brews.

Manning the noodle line.
While it was a BUSY night, we had a great time and people left with full tummies. That's all a hostess can ask for. 

By the end of the night, I only had a few quarts of broth leftover. Success!

Previous Pho Parties

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Zoos and Brews in Sunny San Diego

The Germans discovered it in 1904, and they called it San Diego, which in German means “whale's vagina."

For Micah, quotes from Anchorman were his favorite past-time while we visited San Diego in early December. We decided to visit SD after we discussed other options and determined everything else was going to be too cold in December (Micah's a wuss when it comes to cold weather).

When planning trips, I always have to consider beer options... hence why SD was on this rotation. While I've been to SD before (a decade ago!), Micah had never been so we figured it'd be the perfect 4-night trip. And besides, the San Diego Zoo has been on my must-see list for a long time.

Once we had the flights booked, I went searching for our lodging. After searching around, I settled on staying in the North Park neighborhood (there's a crapload of brewpubs in the area) and this vacation rental. The bungalow was within walking distance to most of the brewpubs and plenty of restaurants.

Since there are so many breweries in the San Diego area, we narrowed it down to the ones we really wanted to visit and then added on from there if we had time. If you get a chance, grab the San Diego Craft Brewer's Guild map from the airport or you can check the online version here. I like having a real map with the guide that I can open and close and store in my purse... I blame it on loving key maps as an assignment editor.

So, this is a brief rundown of how our vacation played out.

Day 1

1. The Brew Project: Place only serves SD brews. Good way to get an idea of what breweries you like in the area.

2. La Jolla Cove: We had to see the seals, right?

3. Dinner at Underbelly (a ramen place on 30th Street and within walking distance to our rental)

4. Right next door to Underbelly is Modern Times Flavordome. We were going to initially go there first but when we got there the bartender said their CO2 tank had failed and they were waiting on a new one. That's the first time we've ever encountered anything like that! We were actually unimpressed with their beer, even though we've heard great things. We didn't really like anything on their December roster. 

They serve their beers in cigar boxes. Cute but not practical.

5. Mike Hess Brewing: We walked up 30th and made our way to this place. It's beautiful and clean and stark, but the beers were OK. Not bad but not great. 

6. Waypoint Public: We ended the night there with a few beers.

Day 2

1. We ate breakfast at Mission Restaurant to make sure we had enough food in our tummies to tackle the...

2. San Diego Zoo: It's pricey but worth it! We spent 4 hours there and it was fabulous. There were no lines on the Thursday and I enjoyed every moment of it. I highly recommend it!

3. Stone Brewing: We went to the location at Liberty Station. We didn't love anything they had on tap but Micah did pick up a few bottles to go.

4. White Labs Tasting Room: Learning while drinking. I can get behind that. If you brew, you're familiar with White Labs yeast and a few years ago they decided to open a taproom to showcase their yeast strains - genius! I thoroughly enjoyed the tour and it's fun to see how the yeast strains vary.

5. AleSmith Brewing: Since we were already in the Miramar area, we decided to check out this place. If you like big and boozy beers, this place is for you. Their new taproom/brewery is massive.

6. Ballast Point: Since it was right around the corner from AleSmith, we checked it out too. This place was hopping! CROWDED! I can see why they got bought out for a bajillion dollars. My least favorite drink there? A watermelon beer -- tasted like a jolly rancher. Gross.

Day 3

1. Breakfast Republic: Great breakfast joint in North Park!

2. San Clemente and time with childhood friends: A childhood friend of mine and his girlfriend were able to meet us halfway in San Clemente from L.A. We met up at Pizza Port in San Clemente. 

3. Artifex: We then moved over to Artifex, which I really enjoyed. The beers were solid and the price points were spot on for their samplers.

So glad to see familiar faces!
4. Left Coast Brewing: Nothing memorable at this brewery.

5. ToolBox: After saying by to Doug and MaiAnh, we headed back towards SD but made some stops in Vista. We heard that ToolBox had some good sours so it was a no-brainer. We chatted with the bartender, who happened to be the guy who helped them plumb the place and originally worked at Stone Brewing. We really liked the Autumn Bliss and took a bottle home.

6. Lost Abbey: We had less than one hour at Lost Abbey and we made it quick. Micah loves Lost Abbey so he would've loved a some more time to enjoy the beer there but they were kicking everyone right at closing time. We grabbed a few bottles to go and called it a night.

Lost Abbey
Day 4

1. Coronado Beach: Beautiful day for sun and beach! We spent some time just walking around the hotel and the area around the beach.

2. Coronado Brewing Company: The brewpub was so busy! After stalking the bar for a few minutes we were able to snag a seat for two at the bar. I didn't love any of their beers but none of them were bad either.

3. Half Door Brewing: Cute place in the downtown area. I liked the gose and the red they had on tap.

4. Hamilton's Tavern: Saw that they had Pliny on tap so we stopped there on the way back to the house. It's kind of divey but has a great beer selection and is well priced!

5. Oscar's Mexican Seafood: I didn't get to take any pictures (I was HONGRY), but the Mexican ceviche and seafood tacos here were fantastic. Get the grilled octopus - perfectly cooked but still chewy.

6. North Park Bar Crawl: Since there are so many brewpubs in the area, we decided to do a crawl on our last night. We went to Toronado (great beer bar!), Tiger Tiger (not as a great beer selection as Toronado, but good gastropub), Belching Beaver and the last stop was Rip Current Brewing.

Since we had to wake up early the next day for our flight, we called it a night and finished watching Master of None on Netflix! It was the perfect vacation!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Guinness Nitro IPA: Not your typical IPA

A few weeks ago, Micah and I attended an amazing beer dinner for the launch of Guinness Nitro IPA. I thought it was going to be a more casual party, with passed apps and snacks, but when we arrived at Fixe in Downtown Austin, it was an intimate sit-down dinner for two dozen.

When we arrived, we met with Ian Colgan, Guinness' Beer Ambassador, along with several other Guinness reps. We chatted with Ian about Ireland and beer places he should visit while he was in town (we told him to check out Jester King, obviously).

Before we even sat down at the table, the table was already full of delicious biscuits (served with andouille paste), deviled eggs and a beet salad. The biscuits were fluffy, buttery and everything you want in a biscuit!

If you haven't eaten at Fixe, you should. It's "new" southern and it's great! The space is best described as sophisticated, French country-ish. I also noticed that the male kitchen and wait staff were abnormally good-looking. Just an observation.

While we were snacking on the apps, Ian gave us the lowdown on the new IPA. The IPA is brewed in Dublin and contains five hop varieties: Admiral, Celeia, Topaz, Challenger and Cascade. I like that it is a mix of American and European hops. European hops are much more subdued than American, which I prefer. Guinness does use a similar "torpedo" system to run the beer through the hops so the hops don't clog the system and you get a fresher hop flavor. The beer is also brewed with the same yeast used to ferment their stouts.

Since IPAs are so popular in America, Guinness obviously wanted to add an IPA to their lineup to capture some of that audience and shelf space. The only problem is that the American IPA is so hop-forward that European IPAs have a hard time keeping up and this is true for the Guinness IPA.

When I cracked open up my can and poured it into the glass, it was a perfect swirl of nitro and caramel. Once the beer settled, it was a gorgeous reddish-brown color -- kind of reminiscent of a Kilkenny (my favorite Irish beer).


A pretty delicious pairing!
The nose has great hop smell, but once you taste the beer, you realize it is definitely not an American IPA. I actually really liked it, which means it's not an AIPA--I am not a fan of IPAs, which is odd, because I love bitter foods, just not bitter beers. The Nitro IPA has 44 IBUs, while most American IPAs hover around 70-80 (or higher!). While the IBUs in the Nitro IPA were lower than AIPAs, the maltiness and body were a hit for me. It is basically a hoppier Kilenney!

Micah thinks Guinness should really market it as a Pale Ale -- but the problem is nobody wants to buy pale ales! Everybody wants IPAs. But then Micah retorted that Sierra Nevada's Pale Ale is one of their best sellers... touche. I think marketing will be the biggest challenge for the Nitro IPA. People wanting an IPA will be surprised that it's not that hoppy and won't like it, and if you were to judge it in an IPA category, it would score really low. But as an overall beer, it is balanced, malty and just plain tasty!

The bottom line, would I buy this beer? Yes! I would gladly pick up a six-pack. And now you can! All the major grocery/liquor stores were stocked with the beer a few weeks ago. Just don't compare to an American IPA and you'll be fine.

And if you want to learn about how the nitrogen widget works, watch their video below. I ain't no scientist so I'm not going to explain to you how that thingamabob works. 

And because every time I hear an Irish accent it reminds me of my trip to Ireland, here are a couple of pics from our 2009 trip.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

DIY: Chicken water dispenser with nipples

It's been four months since we got our first set of chickens and I've yet to consume one egg from my urban farm. We're actually now on our third set of chickens. Yep, you heard that right. It's like the killing fields in our backyard. Even with a reinforced fencing, the dogs still managed to kill two of the chickens (one died of natural causes the week before the second massacre).

Before we got our third set, we reinforced the gate again! I ended up getting chickens from a person who was actually one of the homes we visited during the Chicken Coop Tour back in April. He had three black polish hens, so I got all three! They should start laying eggs in the next few weeks (fingers crossed).

In the past few weeks, we also decided to build a water feeder. I had been using something similar to this, which worked fine but the chickens would kick crap into it and I had to clean it out every day.

So, we decided to make our own water dispenser that would be clean and efficient.

Here are the items we used to make the dispenser, which ends up holding around 1.25 gallons of water and lasts about four days. The total cost of the dispenser? $45.

  • 4 inch PVC pipe
  • 4 inch PVC cap for the top
  • One cheap door handle for the cap
  • 4 inch to 2 inch reducer
  • 2 inch to 3/4 inch bushing
  • 3/4 inch pvc pipe
  • 3/4 inch 90 degree elbow
  • 3/4 inch pvc cap
  • -2 worm clamps
  • small worm clamp
  • 2 3/8inch spacers
  • pvc glue
  • water nipples

Breakdown of the items used and where they were used. Fancy captions, right?

We were able to put the water tube together in less than 1 hour. It was a lot faster than I thought. We had to cut down the 3/4 inch pvc pipe, but that's super easy with a saw and we drilled out the holes for the nipples, but that was quick and easy as well.

We drilled out a small hole out of the coop to insert the pvc pipe.

3 water nipples for 3 chickens!
And here are our new chickadees.

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.


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!