Sam Adams, Porch Rocker

So why does this bottle of Sam Adams Porch Rocker beer have a bag over its head? Why do you think?

Remember way back in high school… I mean college when you had just turned 21. Remember Zima? Yeah, that. Imagine someone drank a lot of Zima, then grew up and wanted to make a beer that tasted like it. Yes, that’s a strange idea, but you can’t stop people from doing silly things. Like face tattoos.

Better yet, imagine a mild but acceptable beer had ‘maritals’ with a glass of off-brand country-style lemonade drink. Their child would be this beer. Not bad. Not actually bad. Just not… good.

I take that back. I’m going to hazard a guess that if you’re at the beach on a hot day, with sunblock smeared all over your sizzling skin, and you pop open a frosty bottle of Porch Rocker, you’re going to make those nom-nom-nom, lip smacking sounds of satisfaction. You might put the empty bottle in your neighbor’s recycling bin when you’re done, but that’s probably for the best.

If you drink this beer and you like this beer, I’m not judging. Really, I’m not. You have to drink what you like. And you have to like what you drink. It got a rating of 79% on BeerAdvocate.com, and a 39 on rateBeer.com (basically averaging 2.94 out of 5.0). So some people thought it was acceptable.

As for Zima and the like, a lovely term has been kicking around – malternatives. Nothing like beer, except in the eyes of a noob.

[Girl21]

P.S. Looking or a good read? Try this article: The Long, Slow, Torturous Death of Zima

Hogtown Craft Beer Festival 2012

It’s bad luck to call your event “1st Annual” but I hope that’s what this was. We look forward to the 2nd Annual Hogtown Craft Beer Festival at Kanapaha. Very much.

We’ve been attendees and fans of the Greater Gator Beer Fest for some time, but when faced with a choice, decided to try the new one at Kanapaha rather than the GGBF a few weeks earlier at Magnolia Park. Sorry, we did have to choose for financial reasons, and we’re glad we chose this one.

Not that it was perfect. Next year they’ve got to figure out the food situation. Guests were invited to buy a ‘Food Pairing’ ticket for an additional $15 (or purchase food separately), but at the end of the day the vendors were just giving their food away to anyone. The food area was also somewhat separated from the beer tasting field, so it was awkward. And the absolute worst offence was the choice of food vendors. There was a surprising list of out-of-town vendors, and an alarming vacuum of vegetarian options. So even though we brought cash to buy food, I ended up diving into the emergency crackers in my purse.

Other than that, and a few first-time kinks, the event was a lot of fun. Not only was it NOT in a parking lot, but it wasn’t saturated with Budweiser and Busch displays run by skinny girls in tube tops. There were plenty of craft breweries representing their art. There was shade to stand in, grass and chairs to sit on, and even live music off to the side. Some of the small breweries even had their actual staff (and brew masters) pouring the beer and talking about it like it was something they knew about.

It was nice to see some absolute favorites there, and we bee-lined for Victory Brewing’s table first thing, and then two steps over to Southern Tier. We stopped at Cigar City, SweetWater, and Swamp Head because we are fans. And we lingered at Mile Marker (wish they had the Coconut Porter), Stone Brewing (Levitation Ale was tasty), and Magic Hat (Elder Betty was interesting). That’s not to say it was all fun and games.

Cheers to Orlando Brewing Partners for their offering of organic brew, but there weren’t a lot of developed flavors to be found. With so many things to try, I can promise that the grass was watered with some unwanted beer from a few people drinking for quality rather than quantity.

Many of the breweries at the Festival are available at bars and pubs around town, so it wasn’t all new to the beer-lovers in our group. But there were smaller breweries that are up and comers. Mile Marker is a brewery in St. Augustine we never heard about and fully intend to visit on our next road trip. Not only were their brews intriguing and the team behind the table friendly, come on… it’s like an hour’s drive away. How could you not? Each of their offerings at the Festival were tasty.

Another note about the event was that instead of being jam-packed with college youths trying to get drunk, there were tons of locals and beer-lovers out an about. The Man and I generally run into a lot of people we know, but this was wall-to-wall locals. The event staff allowed designated drivers to pay the garden entry fee and get a DD bracelet so they could hang out with (and watch over) their friends. Plus it was Kanapaha for the love of god. How could you not have a good day?

Highly recommend you keep your ears to the ground for next year’s event and buy your tickets immediately.

Hogtown Craft Beer Festival
April 14th, 2012 | $35 General admission ticket
HogtownBeerFest.com
(let’s hope the prices don’t go up for next time!)

[Girl21]

Sexy Legumes

Well, what do you eat?

Growing up I had the fun, glamorous experience of being a vegetarian in the public school system. Whenever it came up (usually the first day in a new school, during lunch break), the other kids looked horrified and fascinated. From kindergarten through high school I got the same reactions. What do you eat?

It didn’t help that I was a bit chunky through high school. The general assumption was that vegetarians looked like waifs. Like starving heroin addicts. Oh, and that we supposedly smelled like vegetable soup. Huh?

The response of course was, “everything you eat except for the animal parts”. Often waving at my overly generous hips, I would elaborate on pizza, cookies, ice cream, and everything else that tastes yummy and can make you fat. To this day, I know some of those kids didn’t believe me.

Then I found a kid in high school that was trying to convert to being a vegetarian. He confided in me that he had only been eating rice and lettuce for a month and wasn’t sure he was going survive. Well, duh! We fellow vegetarians got together and gave him a quick education on nutrition. Maybe I’m biased, but I think that people with ‘alternative dietary habits’ tend to have a bigger education on nutrition than those ‘normal’ people. Survival skills.

The number one problem with being a vegetarian (besides the weird beliefs of the carnivores) is getting proper protein in your diet. There’s an ongoing argument about protein sources, so it’s a good idea to vary types of protein on a daily or weekly basis. And legumes are your BFF.

Legumes are peas, beans, soy, peanuts (no, they are not nuts), and lentils. There are many more that are not a common food source. They contain the essential amino acid lysine, but lack methionine. Which is nice because whole grains are rich in methionine and low in lysine. When you combine legumes and whole grains, you create the complete protein necessary to keep you going. This doesn’t mean you have to do this at every meal. Your liver stores various amino acids, so by keeping a balanced intake, your body can actually build protein as it gets the necessary parts.

If you look back at history and traditional meals of different cultures, you’ll see that meat at a meal was often a once-a-week thing (if at all, depending on wealth, the season, and environment). A lot of traditional meals already combined these two elements because people aren’t stupid and natural selection picks off the people that don’t eat properly.

In India there are a lot of rice and dahl combinations. Asian cuisine likes to combine soy with rice, and Indonesians like tempeh with rice. The Americas with a lot of Spanish and native influence combines beans with corn. Even kids like peanut butter sandwiches.

(Okay, don’t get all upset if I mention the word ‘tofu’. That’s another five-page essay in itself. People who don’t know it, think it’s like eating slugs. And people who know it too well, think it’s one of the worst things you can eat because it’s over processed. So we won’t even go into tofu right now.)

There’s always a lot of argument going on when you get people who feel passionately about eating ‘right’. So everyone has something to say about what the perfect diet is. I’m more of a moderation kind of person. The Man and I try to eat a wide variety of foods to not only fill our nutritional requirements, but to keep from getting bored, and learn to make different kinds of food. I feel like anything carried to an extreme is unhealthy. Whether that’s food, religion, politics, or even washing your hands.

Being a vegetarian is a challenge for many reasons. But like anything else, if you have a basic education in it, you can make good decisions. You know what GI Joe says about knowledge.

There are literally thousands of ways to bring legumes into your diet. And yes you can make it taste awesome. Don’t forget your whole grains along the way. When in doubt, put some cheese on it. That’s my usual M.O. Yummmmm!

[Girl21]

Ketchup and Cheese Sammies

Growing up, I had a friend who had those cool anything-goes parents. My friend got to play in her mom’s make up. The dad gave her brother a full case of Bazooka bubble gum for his birthday with the one rule that it all had to end up in the trash immediately post-chew. They had a black Lab mutt named Cucaracha that would climb the shed in the back and jump up on the house’s roof to bark at neighbors and buzzards. When I slept over there were no bed times, or rules about the TV (which was always on) or when to take a bath. It was very Pippi Longstocking.

On the other hand, there weren’t actual meal times, and no one claimed responsibility for grocery shopping regularly. And although I doubt we would get into trouble for using the stove, we didn’t know how to cook. To make matters worse, the dad was almost always out doing stuff or in his shop, and the mom often wasn’t feeling so good (in retrospect, the word would be ‘hangover’). So we were sometimes left to fend for ourselves in an empty kitchen.

This is the first place I ever experienced a ketchup and cheese sandwich. At six-years-old, it was love at first taste.

I am not talking about grilled cheese with ketchup. Just two slices of bread slathered in your standard ketchup, and then closed around whatever slices of cheese you have handy. I prefer a nice sharp cheddar or Swiss. That’s it.

Over the years, I also grew to love jelly and cheese. If brought to school and left in your backpack for the morning, the jelly soaked into the cheddar and crystallized a little. Or cream cheese and jelly. My sister went in the other direction and developed a life-long love of mustard and cheese sandwiches. And my brother went another route and does Sriracha and cheese.

I brought this up the other morning while The Man was getting his coffee and I was making his lunch for work. He was duly horrified at the thought of a ketchup and cheese sammie. After much dramatics, he allowed me my sandwich because he liked mustard and cream cheese on a bagel.

Not one to let something like that alone, I posted this on Facebook and got back a volley of other personal favorites which included PB&J with hot sauce, grilled cheese with jam, and avocado/cheese/honey. I think everyone has a secret comfort sammie. Something they eat that is fast, weird, and a little ghetto. But hits the spot and makes your belly purr.

My dad was a repair guy his whole life and every day he would take a PB&J to work and leave it in the sandwich baggie on his dash in the truck. It would sit in the sun and heat up and get all soggy and crusty. If he didn’t have time to break for lunch, or it was a particularly difficult afternoon, he would sit in his truck in the shade of a tree for a few minutes and eat that mangled, baked, dripping sammie like it was a cold beer and a pizza. Comfort food.

If you haven’t tried the ketchup and cheese version, I highly recommend it. Preferably at 2AM, in your PJs, leaning over the kitchen sink. Possibly while it’s raining. It’s awesome.

[Girl21]

A Little Too Civilized

We really wanted to like Civilization. Really. We tried.

But you know how you have that one friend that is super nice, and has never said a bitchy thing about anyone, ever. That girl that genuinely likes even the biggest ass in your circle of friends. The girl that’s probably not a virgin, but no one is quite sure. The one that you try to like because she is so sweet and truly nice, but you never know what to talk to her about because you’re afraid of offending her in some way. And she won’t laugh at juvenile jokes.

That’s how I felt about our time at Civilization. We wanted to like it. We tried very hard. But it just didn’t happen.

Months ago we had gone for the first time with two friends. I was still mourning the loss of 2nd Street Bakery. It was like driving past a house you lived in as a child and seeing the new owners painted it a really trendy shade of green. But I sucked it up and walked in there with my big girl panties on. We did have a decent meal there, and the neighborhood cat was panhandling nearby. But we weren’t impressed enough to go back.

Another friend absolutely adores the place with the zeal we adore The Top, and she begged us to give Civilization another try. There’s not much else open on a Monday night on the Northeast side of town, so finally we grudgingly wandered over there for dinner.

It was one of the first cool nights of the year, and the dining room was quite full (there’s a minor acoustic problem because of the one big room), so we asked to sit outside on the patio. The hostess clearly thought we were insane but was too gracious to let it show.

We started with some delish craft beer. Then the Utopian Salad; one to share between us because they are HUGE. I had the Fettuccine della Casa because the housemade pasta and creamy tomato sauce sounded yummy. The Man went for the Thai Shiitake Mushrooms w/Asian Greens. Nothing was particularly bad, although I was trying to get him to switch with me because I liked the flavors of the cilantro and scallions in his dish.

My dish was passable, except for the slightly gritty texture of the pasta and the over-abundance of roasted ‘in season’ veggies on top. This month ‘in season’ meant eggplant, zucchini, and yellow squash, all of which make me nervous. I couldn’t escape the heavy butter flavor in the creamy tomato sauce, which is what chefs use to punch up a weak sauce… add more butter. It wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t $14.00.

The Man had more to say about his dish. Some things I wouldn’t necessarily type here. I liked it better than mine, but again, it still wasn’t all that fabulous. The rice was a touch undercooked. The shiitakes were there but the flavor was not. The greens were nicely done, and again, I liked the balance of cilantro and scallions with the coconut milk. But it’s never a good sign when mere hours after eating out, your stomach starts to make sounds you only hear coming from the bathroom stalls at a booty dancing club after 1AM.

On the other hand, the salad was perfection. The dressing, the toppings, the flavors and textures. Possibly the best salad in G’ville. And of course it’s nice to get good beer with your meals.

This visit didn’t change our opinion of Civilization very much. Our first time there, the general consensus from the four of us was that the salads were perfect, appetizers were tasty, the desert was yummy, but the meals were questionable. Of the four of us, one had a special which was a weak thumbs-up, two were so-so, and my Stroganoff was far too oily to finish eating.

But the staff were painfully nice, knew the menu and the food, were gracious and timely, and obviously cared a great deal about their patrons. And Civilization is another of those true Gainesville businesses, where a lot of emphasis is put on the provenance of the ingredients, support of small business, and deep community roots.

So how could we feel so lukewarm about this place? The food just misses the mark. Punches are pulled. People are playing it safe. Everything is too nice. Aimed at being inoffensive to everyone. And you feel it. This vaguely nice personality that doesn’t seem quite real. A lack of depth or life experience that makes it uninteresting.

I’d rather sit next to that weird older guy at the bar that drinks Negronis and talks about his worst days as an EMT, than sit with the very nice girl who always smiles politely but refuses to laugh at fart jokes.

We’ll probably go to Civilization again. There’s not a lot of choices on a Monday and on the Northeast side of town. It wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t remarkably interesting. We’ve heard better things about the carnivore meals, but are not overly impressed with the veggie selections so far.

Civilization
1511 NW 2nd St
Gainesville FL 32601

352.380.0544

WelcomeToCivilization.com
(Okay… a pet peeve of mine is when restaurant websites have their menu only as a PDF download: Menu)

Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner Monday through Friday; Saturday brunch and dinner; closed Sunday. Also home of Terranova catering.

Our meal of two craft beers, a salad, and two entrees (plus tip) was about $60.

[Girl21]

No Shenanigans Mac & Cheese-off, 2011

No Shenanigans Mac & Cheese-offAs with most epic battles, it all started with two guys kicking dirt on each other. Somehow I got stuck in the middle, and innocent (okay, not so innocent) bystander.

I posted a link to a macaroni and cheese recipe to a friend on Google+ (the geeky version of Facebook). There was a bit of debate regarding the need for bacon, and amazement that Paula Deen’s recipe didn’t include mayonnaise (everything else she makes does). The Man got involved, being a back seat driver to my online conversation, and offering the opinion that his version was the best ever, end of story. That was the equivalent of a woman asking her friend to hold her purse and her earrings. The gloves were off.

Seeking further advice on the topic, I switched to Facebook and invited my foodie friends to weigh in on mac & cheese. I was surprised that everyone seemed to have the opinion that their mac & cheese was better than anyone else’s, and IT WAS ON!

Apparently there are very strong feelings about a dish that is basically noodles and cheese and a few other things. Screw politics and religion. Bring up mac & cheese among foodies and you’re going to have an argument on your hands. I suppose it’s because this is one of the most popular comfort foods in the US.

There are variations of macaroni and cheese around the world, including Switzerland (Älplermagronen, which includes potatoes), and the Caribbean (called macaroni pie). Even the French have a version, although they tend towards a traditional mornay sauce rather than our wacky cracky American cheesiness. And as always, the Italians take credit for inventing the whole concept.

Even among our friends, there was a vocal disagreement about what ‘real’ mac & cheese was. What shape pasta? What types of cheese? How many extra ingredients could go in before it was no longer mac & cheese? So many people were in on the pasta scuffle, we had to formalize the date and time, and fortunately friends at Loosey’s arranged for us to use the bar for neutral ground. The date was set for October 9th. A month of trash-talking, spying, comparing cheeses, and testing recipes gave way to the No-Shenanigans Mac & Cheese-off.

Seventeen versions of macaroni and cheese arrived to fight it out. There were a few ‘classic’ styles, but the rest were an amazing variety of flavors and ingredients, proving it’s not just cheese and noodles. Once the judges had waded through them all and gone into a back room to deliberate (and possibly throw up from that much mac & cheese), they arrived at winners for the veggie category and the carnivore category. And the best-in-show overall crown went to a version that incorporated lobster bisque into the cheesiness.

Of course the feeding frenzy after the judges were done was just as much fun. Competitors and bystanders devoured the entries, sharing foodie notes, drinking beer, and slowly clogging their arteries in a convivial atmosphere. Eventually everyone had to sit down or go home for a nap. That’s a lot of carbs and dairy.

The casserole dishes were barely being scraped clean when conversation turned to the next cook-off. The what? Yep, the general populace wanted another food fight. Sometime around the holidays. So stay tuned to see what the next competition is about. I’m thinking pie. I like pie.

Many thanks to Loosey’s for becoming our Mac & Cheese Thunderdome. 🙂

[Girl21]

Food DJ

I’m in love with a food DJ.

What? Yeah, I said it. A food DJ. He is the Ron Hardy or Frankie Knuckles of food remixing.

Hm… I could go on a not-so-clever tangent using all kinds of DJ slang, but that would be annoying. Let’s assume you even know what phasing, bubble scratching, and hamster-style is and move on to the food.

So what is a food DJ? We were at brunch last weekend with friends, all single guys, and the three of them look over at my DJ with the admiration guys have for the silverback male of the bunch. He had masterfully layered, condimented, and sliced his meal into a magical combination on one plate. We’re talking about a full Southern brunch pulled together into a delightful fusion of food. A single land mass. A Pangea of breakfast yumminess.

I’ve been watching out of the corner of my eye since. Every chance he gets, he brings together flavors and textures, a little here, a little something else there. Nothing is plain. Nothing is straight up and simple. Umeboshi vinegar is a favorite base track. Organic stone ground mustard. Pecorino or gorgonzola cheese. Dried cranberries, fresh ginger, lime zest. The little thrills that change the deep, predictable flavors of every-day meals.

He is a musician with the cutlery, the salt and pepper mills, the chilli sauce bottles. There is percussion and bass in the cheeses. High feathery notes in basil and parsley. Indistinct, intoxicating vocal samples of garlic. Long, low grooves mixed over the rhythmic breads. Slippery transitions in olive oil from sharp pasta sauce to mellow whole-grain cappellini. Scratch beats of chocolate. Zig zag beats of garam masala.

Our house is his night club. Our kitchen is his DJ booth. I am his number one fan, hovering at his elbow. He spins the plates and drops the tracks together. And he closes his eyes, lost in the moment. Enjoying the flavors.

[Girl21]