dining with friends

Vermont Winter Trip Highlights

Right before the holidays Dane and I took our annual trip up to Vermont to visit with our friends Sam and Jason (who we met in Boston, are both actually from Vermont, but live in Minnesota – we don’t get to see them nearly enough). As usual we had an amazing time with them and their welcoming families.

We started off with a trip to get a Christmas tree for Sam’s family. It was brutally cold and finding the right tree took a little more time than we thought. Luckily after the perfect one was found we got to warm up with some hot cocoa.

Absolutely beautiful views everywhere. Might have been cold, but it was lovely to see.

There’s a small building on the property at the Christmas tree farm (I guess that’s the best thing to call it?) where the owner always has free hot cocoa, snacks and candy canes. We went right inside the second the perfect tree was found and cut down, thankful for the warmth from the fire and the warm drinks.

Also I wondered what a Christmas tree felt like when it goes through this netting machine thing. So I wanted to try. Dane stopped me while Sam took pictures – that’s why she’s my best friend.

Of course the food highlight of any trip to VT is maple syrup. Sam’s parents started making their own syrup last year and we went up in March to see how sugaring works. This is the sign at the end of their driveway for Ledgeview Maple.

With all of this homemade, ready for consumption, delicious maple syrup we decided there was one thing we had to try.

Syrup on spaghetti.

Like in the movie Elf. Except we opted for plain spaghetti. No Poptarts and spaghetti sauce.

And the verdict? Pretty good actually! Not something I’d eat more than a bite of, but a food experience that we just had to have.

I also met a polar bear.

Dane decided he really wanted to try elk so Sam and Jason took us to the Cow Palace – the premiere elk burger spot around. That’s where the polar bear lives, along with a variety of other taxidermy animals. Dane enjoyed the burger but I opted out of trying the elk.

Another great trip to Vermont to see our great friends and their great families. And as always, some interesting new food experiences! Thanks for letting us visit!

 

Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery, Minnesota

Yes, I know. Tired of my Minneapolis trip yet? I feel like it sometimes takes me forever to get around to doing posts, so I’m still writing about my trip. But it was so awesome that I can’t just leave anything out!

My second night in visiting with Sam and Jason (right after leaving the MN State Fair for the second day in a row) we headed to the Town Hall Brewery, a brewpub in downtown Minneapolis. Sam found the place and loved their website so much that she decided we had to go. That and they have great beer. I was sold. Doesn’t take much.

Our main goals was to try a bunch of different beers. We had eaten so much at the fair that we didn’t need much in the way of food. Just some beer samples. The Town Hall Brewery made it really easy to try different styles with their different beer flights.

Sam went with a flight of their signature brews: Dortmunder Local, Masala Mama IPA, Hope and King, Black H2o Oatmeal, and West Bank Pub Ale. I decided to go with the seasonal flight: Smoked Hefe, Broken Paddle ESB, Tank Monkey Double IPA, Honey Storm, and a special infused beer.

There were some really interesting flavors between these 10 different beers. Some that stood out most to me were in the seasonal flight. The Smoked Hefe had some really intense smokey flavor, along the lines of a smokey bourbon or a whiskey. The Honey Storm was interesting too, with a sweet start and really oakey (is that a wordy? it is now.) finish.

All the signature brews were good, solid varieties. I especially liked the Hope and King Scotch Ale and the West Bank Pub Ale. To me, both were really drinkable and I could totally see them becoming a favorite for me with some growlers at home if I didn’t live so far away.

OK, and I know I said we weren’t really hungry, but somehow sampling 10 different types of beer makes you feel like you suddenly have an appetite again. So we ended up with the Spinach and Artichoke Dip and the Mashed Potato Pizza (!).

The dip was delish with the pita chips for dipping and the “pizza” was basically like potato skins on a pita. Carbs anyone? Perfect pub snacks for imbibing some delicious beer.

I would love to go back for an actual meal in the dining room. We sat near the bar since we weren’t planning on ordering much food, mostly just drinks. I loved that they had different flight options. The most appealing part of the Town Hall Brewery to me was their selection of in-house beer, so I was really happy that it was easy to try so many different kinds.

Thanks Town Hall Brewery for a lovely evening filled with 10 different styles of beer!

Minnesota State Fair Part II: Fair Food and Fun

With all the foods on sticks we ate, it’s kind of hard to believe we had enough room in our stomachs to have anything else. But somehow we did. I think we had a pretty good strategy with choosing those foods we would share, thereby saving stomach room for those things we just couldn’t pass up to eat on our own.

Since my birthday was the first day of the fair, I jokingly said to Sam at one point that I want to eat the fried pickles with birthday candles in them. She didn’t forget this and actually brought birthday candles and matches, put them in my fried pickles, and together Sam and Jason wished me a happy birthday.

I think people passing by were slightly confused by this, but it was probably the best birthday treat I ever had. These were the regular fried pickles, but I also had some of Sam’s which had cream cheese sandwiched in between two pickles, then each little sandwich is battered and deep fried. SO GOOD.

In the Agriculture building there was a section devoted to Minnesota wineries. I had no idea there were any wineries in MN, but we had to try some, so we ended up with this sampler of 6 kinds of wine. Obviously in a MN shaped holder.

Wines were:
1 - Potter John’s White from Falconer Vineyards
2 - Sippin from a Slipper from Glacier Ridge Vineyards
3 - The Wine-ing Farmer’s Wife from Fieldstone Vineyards
4 - Frontenac Gris from Parley Lake Winery
5 - Prairie Smoke from Northern Vineyards
12 - Raspberry Wine from WineHave Vineyards

You were able to pick the 6 wines you wanted to try with this sampler out of 13 different varieties. I just picked all the whites – there were five – and then a fun one for the sixth choice. It was really hot, so we went with the lighter varieties. The Frontenac Gris and The Wine-ing Farmer’s Wife were my favorites. I don’t like really sweet wines, so they were a little drier. The Raspberry Wine was super sweet, but fun to try because it was different than all the others.

It wouldn’t be a State Fair without giant vegetables. Here’s the 1st place pumpkin from this past year.

Then in the Dairy Building there was butter bust sculpting. Artist Linda Christensen sculpted 12 busts, one for each of the 11 Minnesota Dairy Princess of that year and 1 for Princess Kay of the Milky Way (title awarded to the winner of the MN Dairy Princess competition). Each bust starts with a 90 pound block of butter that takes hours to carve. One bust is created each day for the duration of the 12 day fair.

I had my first experience with fried cheese curds at the fair. Definitely a once in a while kind of food. So yummy. And so not good for you.

Then there was the MN State Fair legend, Sweet Martha’s. This booth has been at the fair for 25 years, and operates only out of the fair. Pretty impressive. They now have cookie dough you can purchase at the grocery store as well, but it’s amazing the business they do during this 12 day period each year. We got a bucket that was overflowing with 4 dozen chocolate chip cookies. After we just could not eat any more, we saved some and had them for breakfast the next morning.

My favorite picture, taken by Jason.

The fair overall was so much fun, so here are some highlights:

Pictures above clockwise from top left: Ducklings, just a few days old, in the birthing barn. Me with a cow that was walking down the street. Princess Kay of the Milky Way finished butter bust. Me and a giant pickle on the side of the fried pickle stand. Cheese curds sign in the food building. Jason and I supporting MN turkey by being some. Giant Sing Along that played every day, it was surrounded by groupings of microphones so you could just jump on and sing with everyone. Jason playing Wheel of Fortune in one of the arcades – he got a tootsie roll and a green crayoned shaped eraser with his ticket winnings.

Thanks to my awesome friends for taking me to the fair two days in a row when I visited! That about covers the fair, but more posts from my Minnesota trip are coming up!

Minnesota State Fair Part I: Food on a Stick

For my birthday a few weeks ago I went out to Minneapolis to visit my amazing friends, Sam and Jason, and their awesome pup Everett. One of my goals for this year was to get to the Minnesota State Fair, and it just so happened that the first day of the 12 day fair was on my birthday. Right after they picked me up from the airport, we were off to the fair.

I ate way too much delicious food to write about in just one post, so first up is foods on a stick. A major theme of the fair food was just about anything “on a stick”. You name it. Pickles, fruit, nuts, desserts, fried things, and even mashed potatoes. I feel pretty confident most foods taste better when they’re on a stick.

Pronto Pups were up first, hot dogs which are battered and fried. Similar to corn dogs, but the batter is totally different. I’m not a huge fan of corn dogs, so I wasn’t sure if I’d love these, but Pronto Pups definitely made me happy. There were 8 different Pronto Pup stands throughout the fair because it’s so big. No matter what section of the fair you were in, you were bound to be pretty close to a Pronto Pup stand.

Fudge Puppies are another fair favorite. Belgian waffles on a stick, coated in chocolate and topped with whipped cream and sprinkles. Granny’s Kitchen Fudge Puppies has been around for 21 years. We hit the stand at just the right time, when the line wasn’t bad at all. This was definitely a popular one and the line was crazy a few times when we passed by.

Big Fat Bacon, 1/4 pound of maple glazed bacon that’s seasoned and served on a stick. Probably the most unexpected thing I found on a stick at the fair. But one of the most delicious, if you could just put out of your mind that you’re eating a hunk of bacon that’s probably close to a billion calories. The things I do for my tastebuds.

Then we lightened it up a bit with chocolate covered fruit on a stick. It was smothered in chocolate, so not really healthy, but after Big Fat Bacon it did make me feel slightly better.

Totally milking the “on a stick” thing in the Agriculture building. No joke. Things on sticks were everywhere.

Jason just had to get a Nut Roll on a stick. Peanuts + Chocolate + Stick. He obviously enjoyed it.

And why not a pickle on a stick while we’re at it? It was actually kind of refreshing after all the fried food we had been eating. My stomach was beyond confused at this point.

And last, but certainly not least, beer on a stick! Summit Brewery, a local brewery near Minneapolis, had a sampler served on a stick. Had some Extra Pale Ale, Horizon Red Ale, and Oktoberfest and loved that I could just carry it around as I wanted on a stick. Best idea ever Summit.

Crazy enough, this was not even close to everything we ate and experienced at the fair so Part II will be coming in the next few days to highlight some more fair food. Two days at the fair definitely meant some major eating and drinking! More to come!

Redbones, Somerville

Man, I love barbeque. We went out with a group of Dane’s co-workers to Redbones in Somerville for some delicious meaty goodness and were not disappointed.

We started up at the bar while they figured out our seating for 11, which was just fine with us. To be adventurous I decided to spin the Wheel of Beer and have my beverage choice made for me.

I ended up with number 16, the Opa Opa IPA. Thank you Wheel of Beer, for making an excellent choice for me. Never had that brew before but I really enjoyed it and I don’t always love IPAs.

As soon as we were seated it was down to business. An order of fried pickles and jalepenos, stat.

I can’t look at this picture without thinking about how delicious this was and how much I want it right this very second. I don’t love the jalepenos, but Dane takes care of those for me, and they give the pickles a nice kick.

Then on to the meat smorgasbord. I went with my favorite, pulled pork sandwich and beans. Dane went straight for the ribs. The pulled pork is super juicy and slightly smokey, and clearly my love of pickles plays out here too with some on top of my sandwich. Nice saltiness to go with the lightly sweet BBQ sauce. Dane’s ribs basically fell off the bone. They were super tender. Just what you want (or at least what we want) in BBQ ribs.

When a very chatty group of 11 people go basically silent for the duration of a meal once the food comes out, that’s how you know it’s a seriously delicious meal. Except for the occasional invitation to share with others (and there was plenty to share) there wasn’t a peep out of us.

Then there was this beauty, the Combo. Described as “whatever ribs we have on hand at the time” along with a variety of other meats, this platter is definitely not for the faint of heart (or light of stomach). Disclaimer: We did NOT order this, it was one of Dane’s friends from work. I salute  him.

There aren’t really any words to describe this beast, so I’ll just let you soak it in via the picture.

Loved Redbones this time, just as I have all the others. It’s really fun with a group and if you’re open to trying some new things. Portion sizes are big, and I never end up being able to finish my entire meal despite my healthy appetite.

My love of craft beer was nurtured with the Wheel of Beer, and I don’t think I would ever order any other way again now that I’ve done it. Go get yourself a beer and some pulled pork. You’ll love it!

McGreevey’s, Boston

A lunch with friends is always fun, but recently I tried a new spot for a late lunch with some of my favorite people. With this group there’s always lots of laughs, catching up, and good food. But mainly, there’s lots of laughs.

McGreevey’s is on Boylston Street in Boston, right near some other notable night spots (Pour House – a personal favorite of mine, Dillon’s, Cactus Club, Whiskey’s, Lir). The bar has an interesting history, which you can find out about here, but the current reincarnation opened in 2008 and looks to stay as close to it’s namesake as possible. The walls are lined with Red Sox memorabilia and the layout is a replica of the originally McGreevey’s 3rd Base Saloon which opened way back in 1894.

We started with some classy beverages.

I was slightly disappointed with the beer selection on tap. There were a few good ones, but overall I had higher expectations for an Irish pub. Oh well, I was happy with my Gansett.

Then there was this face sitting next to me. Hence the abundance of laughing throughout our meal. Once we pulled it together, we all ordered food. I went with the macaroni and cheese which was good, not great. But the highlight of this meal was what Dane ordered.

The Beckett Burger.

The burger is named for Josh Beckett, #19 on the Red Sox. One pound and nine ounces of burger with cheese, lettuce, tomato, and pickle. Part of the proceeds go towards The Josh Beckett Foundation and if you finish you get a t-shirt to announce that you beat the Beckett burger. That was all Dane needed to take on the challenge.

When he ordered it, the waitress actually asked “Wait, are you serious?”. She’s only seen one other person order it, and they didn’t fare so well against it.

And there it is. Now, in this picture you can’t quite grasp the scale of this burger. It looks like it could almost be a normal size.

That’s better. It was pretty much bigger than Dane’s head. Oh, and it came with fries, in case you were wondering. Between the burger eating next to me, and this happening across the table…

… it’s safe to say it was an entertaining lunch. Seriously not sure what was happening here. Just normal time with this group.

And when all was said and done, Dane finished his burger (and I’m still grappling with whether to be proud of him or worried for him). This lovely t-shirt was his forever.

Such a happy man. Although not super blown away by the food, we definitely still had a great time. Always great to have good people to share a meal with!

Vee Vee, Jamaica Plain

Somehow after living in JP for almost 4 years, I had never heard of Vee Vee until recently. Thanks goodness Rebecca remedied this. As she swooned and was almost speechless over the sirloin she had had there, we decided it could not wait. We had to go to Vee Vee that night.

It was a Saturday night, and we knew it’d get busy so we made reservations for as soon as it opened. Why wait, right? We opened the place up.

Vee Vee serves modern American food that changes with the season. They have a nice selection of craft beer to go with their appetizers and entrees, as well as wine (but for me the beer selection always comes first). The staff was lovely and knowledgeable and the atmosphere perfectly relaxed, fitting well into the Jamaica Plain community.

We started out with some drinks, and I when I saw Pretty Things was on the menu I had to get it. Pretty Things is currently my favorite local brewery. I have yet to try a beer from Pretty Things that I haven’t fallen in love with. Vee Vee had bottles of Our Finest Regards, and with a name like that I knew I couldn’t go wrong.

Also, this little guy on the label at the top? I love him.

Now on to dinner. Since Becs gave the sirlion such breathtaking reviews, my mind was already made up. We both went for it. Dane mixed it up and went with the pollock.

The sirloin au poivre was served with hollandaise and a fried egg, with a side of blue cheese and bacon mashed potatoes. I had to look up what “au poivre” actually meant after I had it, and it’s a way of cooking a steak by coating it in cracked peppercorns then searing it to create a crust. In other words, just making it awesome. The egg on top of the steak is something I wouldn’t have necessarily imagined that I would have liked, but it was absolutely delicious. Both Becca and I devoured our meals.

Dane’s pollock was panko crusted, which I think is what sold it for him (he loves panko bread crumbs so much that he probably didn’t even read what came with the meal after he saw the word). Along with the pollock there was brussel sprouts, cabbage and a bacon (seriously!) aioli. Needless to say, we didn’t hear a peep out of Dane while he ate, a true sign of a delicious meal.

And although were were very full, we had to have a dessert. Pear gingerbread upside down cake.

Check out Vee Vee’s “Hood of the Week” for discounts depending on where you are coming from to have dinner. Each month another area is featured, and if you are from that town/neighborhood and come in you receive 25% off your bill. An AMAZING deal and great way to bring in new customers from outside of JP.

Bottom line? We loved Vee Vee and will absolutely be visiting again soon. It was a great place to relax with friends on a weekend evening and enjoy some great food and great company.

Vee Vee on Urbanspoon

Traditions: Pie in the Morning on Thanksgiving

This year we spent Thanksgiving in PA with Dane’s family. It was great to see everyone, and Dane & I were in charge of the Thanksgiving meal with his relatives and family friends.

Before we got started on dinner, we attending a Thanksgiving tradition at the home of Dane’s friends from college. Every year the family hosts a get-together on Thanksgiving morning. It’s the perfect chance to see everyone and catch up before things really get busy with family dinners. The centerpiece of this gathering is pie. Any kind will do.

We gather, we chat, we eat pie. It’s been an on-going tradition with the family for years. It was great to go and see friends who we probably wouldn’t have spent time with otherwise, because of how busy the holiday can be with family. I contributed some pumpkin chocolate chip cookies. Not pie, but everyone seemed totally OK with it.

Although we only planned to stay about an hour, we all know how timing goes when you start talking with friends you haven’t seen in awhile. We just enjoy their company too much to leave.

As if it could get any better with friends, family, and pie, it started to snow that morning. It was a light dusting, but just enough to really make it feel like the holidays had begun.

I just love this tradition. Family is incredibly important to both Dane and I, but our friends are just like extended family. We were so happy to spend some time together at the start of this holiday season!

What are some of your Thanksgiving traditions?

Fun with Kitchen Accessories

Show ‘em how it’s done guys…

Barrio, Minneapolis, MN

I really ate like a queen in Minneapolis. After our eventful dinner at the News Room, we went back to Minneapolis and decided to have lunch across the street at Barrio Tequila Bar. Yes, a tequila bar. For lunch. Don’t judge us.

Barrio has a really funky and fun energy. At around 1pm during the week it was packed with local professionals taking a time out for lunch on the patio and inside the restaurant (I happened to visit during a freakishly hot week in May so patio seating was in full effect). We waited about 10 minutes for a seat, which was well worth it.

We were seated upstairs, which was great because a) we were inside in the air conditioning while it was 90 degrees out with 100% humidity (maybe a slight exaggeration, but not by much); and b) we got this view of the restaurant:

First we ordered some margaritas. You can’t go to a tequila bar without ordering one. It’s basically a rule. I went with the Cesar Chavez, described as Barrio’s “Champion Margarita”. Sam ordered something equally delish, though to be honest I can’t remember which one she got. All I know is I tasted it and it was fabulous as well.

Barrio has 117 tequilas on hand. This was fascinating to me because although I love trying different beers and wines to enjoy the flavors, I had never actually thought about the differences in types of tequila. Each one has it’s own tasting notes and geographical region and you can order a shot of any of the 117 varieties. Barrio also gives suggestions on “compadres” (companions to the tequila, like different juices, beer, or soda) to pair with the tequila. Although we stuck with our margaritas for lunch, I’d love to learn a little more about the tequilas at Barrio.

We had a hard time choosing one thing to eat for lunch, so we ended up doing a couple of small plates. It was a great idea because the plates had about enough for the two of us to try, then we could have something new.

Things were super spicy, which made me thankful for my margarita. I’m not very brave when it comes to spicy food, but everything was so fresh and good that I kept eating even when my mouth felt like it was on fire. To a normal person, the level of spiciness would be fine. What can I say, I’m kind lame with that sort of thing.

Again, a Minneapolis restaurant really impressed me. Barrio was an awesome place to have lunch with my bestest, enjoy a cocktail, and take in some local city atmosphere. Cheers!

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