friends and fun

Revolution Brewing Launch Party in Chicago

By some happy coincidence, our trip to Chicago just so happened to land during Chicago Craft Beer Week. I’m a moderator for the beer app Untappd, so decided to check in with the other moderators who were from the Chicago area to see if they had any suggestions on places and beers to try. I heard back right away from Sean, a fellow moderator, who had all sorts of advice and connections. He was amazing and totally got us hooked up to attend a really incredible event, the launch party for Revolution Brewing’s new brewhouse. The event sold out weeks before we even knew we’d be in Chicago during their Craft Beer Week and Sean was nice enough to search around to find us four tickets.

The event was absolutely packed with Revolution Brewing fans. There was live music, food trucks, a photo booth, a DJ, and tons of samples of different Revolution brews. We picked up our official Chicago Craft Beer Week lanyards earlier on in the trip and felt very official heading into the party.

We got right to business and started trying some of the beer. First up for me was the Anti-Hero IPA, which I loved. Jason and Dane tried the Eugene Porter and Sam went for the Bottom Up Wit. We were all very happy with our choices.

The lines did get pretty long, so after getting our first beer we hopped in line to try some of the barrel aged choices. While we were waiting in line I finally got to hang out with Sean in person who I had been talking to through email, Twitter, and text during our trip and only met up with quickly before then to get our tickets from him.

Just have to love good beer people. We got introduced to a whole bunch more people, including Jessica who has worked on Chicago Girls’ Pint Out. That was super exciting since I’m so involved with MA Girls’ Pint Out. And Ted, who was just awesome and told me all about Revolution Brewing and the beer scene in Chicago.

As the drinks kept flowing we decided we all needed a little bit more in our stomach. We headed back outside to try out a food truck and went with The Slide Ride, a gourmet food truck serving sliders. We were all pretty happy with the choice.

We got to head back into the brewhouse afterwards and finish out the night trying a few more styles, listening to the DJ, and talking to our new friends. Overall, amazing night that we are so lucky we got to attend. Super huge thanks to Sean again for making it happen!

Chicago Cupcakes

No trip is complete with cupcakes. We tried two cupcake bakeries on our trip to Chicago and I only wish we had had time to try more.

First up was Sprinkles. The location in Chicago is one of ten now around the country (including one cupcake ATM, seriously!). Sprinkles was definitely at the forefront of the cupcake bakery craze. I had made Sprinkles cupcakes before from the mix you can buy at Williams-Sonoma, which I bought almost purely because I loved the adorable packaging. Well, that and I just had a good feeling about a cupcake company named Sprinkles.

The store was modern and sleek. Flavor upon flavor of cupcake were beautiful to look at behind the big glass case. I didn’t even have to think about what my selection would be. Red velvet is a total no brainer for me. Dane went with the carrot cake. And the little take out box was cute too! A great presentation gets me every time.

We didn’t make it far with these cupcakes. The four of us walked outside the store, realized there was a bench right in front, and sat down to enjoy our mid-afternoon treats.

Yes, my shirt has a cupcake on it and says “love”. No, I actually didn’t plan that, but it worked out well. The cupcakes were moist and fluffy and the icing was perfect. Easy to see why Sprinkles is doing so well!

The last day in Chicago we visited More. Their tagline is “Forever More Cupcakes”, which is a philosophy I can fully support. Again, the shop was stylish and we were greeted by a huge glass display of all our options.

They had some really fun flavors and it took us a while to decide. Actually, it took three of us a little bit, but Dane decided immediately the second he saw a cupcake called Bacon Bacon Bacon. Then his mind was made up. Super cute packaging on these take out cupcakes too.

We found a little seating area right outside the shop so decided to sit at a table and eat our More selections in the sun. We tried totally different flavors than we had at Sprinkles and enjoyed them just as much.

What’s not to love about these? So yummy.

I love the popularity of cupcakes. Perfect portion size and cute presentation. Maybe the cupcake craze will wind down eventually, but I’m going to take advantage of it as long as I can and in whatever city I can!

Do you have a favorite cupcake bakery? How about a favorite cupcake flavor? Always looking for suggestions!

Experiencing Deep Dish Pizza in Chicago

I’m a self proclaimed pizza snob from NY. To me, the perfect crust is thin and crispy. The ratio of cheese to sauce needs to be just right. To eat a slice of pizza right you should be able to fold it in half and hold it in your hand. So you can imagine my hesitation at accepting deep dish pizza when Dane and I went on our recent trip to Chicago with our friends Sam and Jason. Dane was really excited to try two legendary deep dish places and so I went along with it, still emphasizing my belief that NY is the best when it comes to pizza.

First up was Lou Malnati’s. Lou Malnati opened his first location back in 1971 and is probably one of the best known names in deep dish pizza. There are now 34 locations in and around Chicago and the business is still family owned and operated. This was our first stop after getting to Chicago. We checked into our hotel, dropped off our things, and headed right back out to one of the locations that was only a few blocks from our hotel (which Dane had mapped out ahead of time).

We decided to go with one pizza to share between the four of us. We got some appetizers too, which we realized were really not needed once we saw our pizza come out. We ordered the Malnati Chicago Classic which had sausage, extra cheese, and sauce on their Buttercrust.

This was the densest, cheesiest, sausagiest (I had to make up a word to describe it) pizza I had ever tried. The waitress had an art to serving the pizza to get the cheese from oozing out too much.

Safe to say Jason liked it.

The sauce was a little chunky so you got bigger pieces of tomato like a hearty marinara. Fork and knife were very necessary but the crust was surprisingly crisp. I couldn’t do more than one slice, but it was very good. Thumbs up Lou Malnati’s!

On our third day in Chicago our stomachs had recovered from our first foray into deep dish and decided to try Giordano’s. Dane had this one mapped out too, so he knew just where to go and we headed there for lunch. Giordano’s was started by two brothers in 1974. Now they have 43 locations in and around Chicago and also in Florida.

Look at that cheese action! Again our waitress was obviously practiced in cutting and serving the pizza with all of it’s gooey cheesiness.

This time we went with just a regular cheese deep dish pizza. Giordano’s pizza has a double crust so they layers go (from bottom to top): crust, cheese (A LOT OF CHEESE), more crust, sauce.

I absolutely loved this pizza. I liked the sauce more and the ratio of cheese to sauce was better for me here than at Lou Malnati’s. Lou Malnati’s did win for me in the crust category though. I thought it was more flavorful and crispier there. Overall, the votes for our favorite were:

Me: Giordano’s
Dane: Giordano’s
Sam: Giordano’s
Jason: Giordano’s

Giordano’s unanimously wins with this group! We really enjoyed both places, but when you get the chance to try two very well-known deep dish pizza restaurants you just can’t help but pick a favorite. And for the record, even as a thin crust loving New Yorker at heart, I liked real Chicago style deep dish pizza. It’s a totally different food experience, but one that was worth having!

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!


Our Annual Apple Picking Trip

Since about 4 years ago Dane and I have enjoyed an apple picking trip at Honey Pot Hill Orchards in Stow, MA. This year was no exception and we were joined by my co-worker Carlton and his lovely fiance Felicia for a day of apple picking, apple cider donuts, and hayrides.

Normally we get a nice, crisp, slightly chilly fall day. Not this year. It was about 78 degrees with 90% humidity making it sweltering outside. I wore shorts and a tank top, which was definitely a first for me on an apple picking trip. Usually I have layers so I can add things as I go throughout the day.

I’m an apple perfectionist. Constantly on the hunt for the perfect, ripest, reddest apples I can find in the orchard. We had 4 bags of apples to fill (8 if you include Carlton and Felicia’s too), so I had my work cut out for me.

I trained Dane well. He’s become a great apple inspector.

And he has a good eye for the perfect apples at the top of the trees. Between the two of us we made short work of our 4 bags.

Come on, look at that apple. Shiny, red, and delicious. We really are an awesome apple picking team.

After we pretty much finished picking, the four of us headed over to the farm store for cider donuts, apple cider and caramel apples. Well, the caramel apple was only for me. I just can’t help myself in the fall. Caramel apples call to me.

Carlton and Felicia had no problem getting their bags filled up quickly too.  After our donuts and cider we have the energy to venture on a hayride over to the pear area. It was only a row or two, much less than the apples, and people had definitely picked the pears over. We did manage to find some good ones near the tops of the trees, which I climbed to make sure we got our choice.

We made the best of the heat and all our climbing during the day. We did go in late September, which is earlier than we normally would, but did not expect such a warm day. It felt amazing to turn on the a/c in the car when we got on the road home.

And at the end of the day we had a huge haul of apples and pears. Enough for plenty of pie and apple crisp!

Here’s hoping for a cooler day next year, still filled with our friends and fun!

Sam Adams December Open House

I think my love of Sam Adams and benefits of living so close to the Boston brewery have been well documented here, and one of the best parts is their monthly Open House. The invitation to the Open House goes out in the monthly What’s On Tap newsletter via email. You have to sign up really fast and spots go really quickly. When you sign up you can bring one guest (meaning you need a coordinated effort if you plan to go with a group). Dane and I both signed up so we could bring Sam & Jason, who would be up visiting and had never been to an Open House.

Each Open House usually has some type of theme to it. This time it was co-hosted by Dancing Deer Baking Company, and different beers were paired with their brownies and cookies. I was really excited about this.

Since it was December, the brewery also had a Toys for Tots toy drive. Each person who donated would get a special tasting – which I thought might be the new Infinium since it had been released a week earlier. We had a lot of fun picking out gifts to bring. I hope the kids enjoyed them as much as we enjoyed picking them out!

When we got in, we checked in to get our tasting tickets (3 free samples of your choice of the Sam Adams on tap at the brewery), and then made our toy donations. We were really surprised to find that our free tasting was for Sam Adams Utopias 2009! I honestly never thought I’d get to try this rare brew.

We started out with a sample. The brewery had their Holiday Kolsch on tap, which I had never heard of and figured I had to try. That’s another beauty of the brewery, sometimes you’ll get to try things that you will never find anywhere else. The Holiday Kolsch was light and refreshing. Wonder if they’ll release it on a larger scale.

After we had a sample, we ventured out to see what Dancing Deer Baking Company had to try. I wanted everything. I started out with the Snickerdoodle cookies, but gave the Peppermint Brownies a try too. OK, let’s be honest, I tried everything. So good, but the Snickerdoodles were my favorites.

There were pairing suggestions for everything that Dancing Deer had with them. Which of course we tried. Favorite pairing probably has to go to the Fezziwig Ale with the Snickerdoodle cookies.

Then we headed into the Barrel Room for our Utopias experience. We learned a bit more about the 2009 release, and found Dancing Deer even had a cookie to pair with the Utopias. Molasses cookies. Because we needed more of a reason to try the Utopias. I have a weakness for molasses cookies and these were among the best I’ve ever had.

Utopias are released every 2 years in a very limited quantity. The 2009 brew was a mix of different batches that were aged in barrels once used for brandy, sherry, cognac, and bourbon (some aged up to 16 years). This along with the addition of maple syrup, gives the beer a really interesting flavor, with 27% alcohol by volume. It really is meant to be consumed like a brandy, by sipping on a small serving. Oh, it also retails for anywhere from $150 on up. Probably the biggest reason I never thought I’d try it.

Oh, and I’m also the mayor of the Barrel Room. That’s right.

Do yourself a favor and sign up for the What’s On Tap newsletter so you can get in on these fun Open House events! Until next time, Sam Adams…

Sugar on Snow in Vermont

Right before Christmas, Dane and I went up to Vermont to visit with Sam and Jason and their families. There’s always something to do or a new Vermonty thing to try (yes, Vermonty – it’s a word now). We’re always open to trying things, even though we’re the “city friends”.

When we first met Sam and Jason a few years ago, they told us about sugar on snow, and we’ve wanted to try it ever since. We finally got our chance! After heating maple syrup, you pour it over packed snow, which cools it and creates a soft candy consistency. There was plenty of snow up in VT, and obviously plenty of maple syrup.

Sam started with heating the maple syrup.

You should heat it slowly, because I learned that once it boils the maple syrup begins to bubble up really fast and can boil over. Learned that the hard way. Scared me when it started growing uncontrollably and I had to yank it off the burner.

Then she went outside and got some snow and packed it into a pan.

I was told you could use a candy thermometer for the syrup to watch when it gets to the right temperature. But, that’s not what Sam’s family does. Instead she takes a cold cup of water, and drops a little bit of the syrup into it. When the syrup blob hardens and sinks to the bottom, you’re ready to pour it over the snow. If you’re wondering about the temperature, I looked it up and you have to heat the syrup to 255 Fahrenheit.

Then pour it over the snow!

The maple syrup starts to harden as soon as it hits the cold snow, turning it into a soft candy texture.

Now take a fork to pull up the syrup and twirl it around like so. Jason will demonstrate.

The snow and cold was really fun to eat with the warm and gooey maple syrup. It gave it a really fun texture and the temperature difference was fun to eat together.

I learned that some places also call this Maple Taffy, and it seems pretty obvious why. The syrup becomes a taffy-like texture, complete with the stretch of taffy.

We are so happy we finally got to try this Vermonty treat! Thanks to Sam’s mom for making this for us and having us as guests again. We are pretty easy to make happy, and this was definitely a great way to do just that!

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