Vegetarian Beer Dinner

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You may recall that last year I set out to do my own vegetarian beer dinner. Three courses, three beers, two happy vegetarians. You can read about  what I served here on Vegology.

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Most beer or wine pairing dinners that I have seen are seriously lacking options for vegetarians. As much as I want to attend one, it seems like it would be a waste of money for a person who does not eat meat. Even if there were vegetarian options available, they most likely would not be paired as well with the beer as the meat dishes.

I do not expect a restaurant to accommodate my dietary restrictions, so I usually just skip out. The only exception would be the wine dinners at Secco, which always seem to have a great vegetarian option. Now I just have to rummage through the couch cushions and start saving my pennies so I can afford to attend one!

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This weekend I took matters into my own hands and hosted a potluck vegetarian beer dinner at my house. Some of my favorite food bloggers and beer geeks came together to throw one heck of a beer pairing party. Each guest was assigned a course and asked to select a beer pairing to bring along with his or her dish. I provided a long tasting table adorned with mini notebooks for taking tasting notes. The table was decorated with beautiful fresh flowers from Amy’s Garden placed in repurposed glass beer bottles.

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Guests used little placards to label their dishes and beer pairings. When each course came up, we shared what we brought, show-and-tell style, then everyone ooh’ed and ahh’ed at each other’s beer and food pairing innovation. Some people paired with complementary flavors and some with contrasting. Both approaches worked out great. We learned that we had a lot of beer and food knowledge in one room.

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The dinner felt really cozy (read: packed dining room), and rustic (read: haphazardly decorated). I think everyone learned a lot and made some friends. I was incredibly impressed with everyone’s pairings. It went better than I had imagined. So without further ado, I present to you the Summer 2012 Vegetarian Beer Dinner!

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Summertime Tomato Gazpacho with “Grilled Cheese” Straws by Sarah and Alex

Pairing: Bison Brewing Organic Honey Basil Beer

Sarah writes Smart Kitchen, and Alex writes I Eat Asphalt.

Recipe for cheese straws via smitten kitchen, with one modification: 1/2 cup whole wheat flour + 1/4 cup white flour.

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Bruschetta with Green Apple and Gorgonzola Spread by Adrienne and Al

Pairing: Hoegaarden Original White

Adrienne writes hippie itch and she and Al both love good beer.

Bruschetta recipe via MyRecipes.com.

Photo Credit: Brittany Mullins (EatingBirdFood.com)

Vegetable Tian by Brittany and Isaac

Pairing: Allagash Curieux

Brittany writes Eating Bird Food and Isaac is a legit home brewing beer geek.

Vegetable Tian recipe via Martha Stewart Living.

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Quinoa Tabbouleh by Bob

Pairing: *Home Brew!* Dirty Southside IPA, brewed by Bob and Kyle

Bob does not blog, but he knows more about beer than most people I know, and he is Kyle’s home brewing partner. We didn’t know the Dirty Southside was ready yet, so it was a real treat and a surprise that he brought some to share.

Recipe via Epicurious, substituting cilantro for parsley.

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Zucchini and Black Bean Enchiladas by Lauren (that’s me!) and Kyle

Pairing: Cigar City Maduro Brown Ale

The homemade sauce absolutely made the enchiladas. The recipe is by Emily from Daily Garnish and you must try it.

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Hardywood Blackberry Cupcakes with Lemon Buttercream Frosting by Shannon

Pairing: Hardywood Virginia Blackberry

These cupcakes were topped with a blackberry from Agriberry, the same farm that provided the blackberries for Hardywood’s beer!

Shannon writes Thirsty Richmond.

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As the sun went down, the volume in the room increased, and everyone’s notes got a little sloppy. Isaac brought out a sweet, dark, caramelly Southern Tier Creme Brulee stout. Most us us had just enough room left to taste it. There was talk of pumpkin beers and Fall home brews. A suggestion that we should do this again very soon. The beginning of a plan for a vegetarian beer dinner in the Fall?

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If I have anything to do with it, yes.

A Few of My (New) Favorite Things

First things first, I have to give a shout out to John Robinson of Robinson Imagery, who posted a preview of our engagement photos today. Kyle and I had a blast during our engagement session this weekend, and we can’t wait to see the rest of the photos soon. Thanks John!

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I treated myself to a little spring break last week and I had ten consecutive days off work. Please don’t tell my boss; the time off was legit, but I don’t think anyone had really counted it up yet. Ten days is a lot of time, so I avoided announcing the total, in an effort to keep from shocking him and thereby causing him to change his mind. Perhaps even more shocking is that until day one of vacation, I didn’t have many plans for my time off. For the first time ever, Kyle and I both took off work and did not plan a trip. We just kind of winged it. . . and it was fantastic! A ten-day long staycation allows for a great deal of thoughtful reflection and self-discovery. Also, it provides you the opportunity to do some exploring close to home and to try out things you never had before.

New favorite thing: yoga on mountaintops.

I thought it would be fun to share a few of the highlights, so that you locals may discover some new activities and places to visit in central Virginia. If you’re not local to central Virginia, either bookmark these for your next visit or use them as inspiration to find similar things near your own “close to home.”

The Monument Avenue 10K

You would have to be a real Eeyore to not feel encouraged during this race. I really don’t like running, but I loved doing this 10K. I walked most of the way, as planned, but even as a walker you feel like a rock star. There were so many clever signs like the one above, and tons of people cheering you on from the Monument Avenue median and sidewalks. The excitement and energy was inescapable the whole way. This race really was a party, and I am so glad I did it for the first time ever this year.

Patios South of the River

I have been to Legend’s deck before, but as a new resident of the Forest Hill area, I have developed a new appreciation for the space. In the Fan and Museum District, every other restaurant has outdoor seating, and nearly every residence has a porch or balcony. This is not the case south of the James. Legend Brewing Company is my new top choice for patio drinking and dining, for their delicious locally brewed beer and for their fantastic view of the downtown Richmond skyline. Also, this is a great spot for a little carbohydrate replenishment after the Monument Avenue 10K.

Crossroads Forest Hill is also a great happy hour spot with outdoor seating and live music on the weekends. Their beer list is so good that I often think I’m dreaming when I read over it. They have a consistently excellent selection of beers there. They also serve wine and small plates during their happy hour from 4:00 to 7:00 PM.

Flight Night at Secco Wine Bar

Right now you may be thinking this post is getting a little alcohol-heavy. And you would be right. It was vacation! I’m no saint! However I promise we will get to less alcohol-centric activities soon.

But first, allow me to introduce you to Flight Night at Secco Wine Bar. Every Monday, Secco features 3-glass flights of wine. I checked it out last week with some of the VAis4Bloggers crew. For $10 you could order Dealer’s Choice, which was a mixed bag of 3 random wines. For $11 you could get the Flight of the Week, which was Spanish Reds last week. That’s what I ordered and I was not disappointed. For $12 you could choose your own 3 wines off their extensive menu. They were pretty good sized pours and I had a great variety of wines to try. It was a wonderful way to start the week. Check it out!

Homemade Non-Dairy Milks at Para Coffee

After all that booze, shall we get a tad more wholesome? Nah, that’s impossible when you’re talking about nut milks. I had to title this section Non-Dairy Milks because Kyle chuckles every time I say “homemade nut milk.” But that’s what it is! Para Coffee in Charlottesville has started making their own nut milks from almonds, walnuts, pecans and pistachios, and they offer these non-dairy options in their lattes and other milk-based espresso drinks. I stopped in last week and had an iced pistachio milk latte and it was a real treat. I don’t even want to see the nutritional information, so please don’t tell me how much fat is in a cup of pistachio milk. I’m not interested. That said, I personally would not have one of these nut milk lattes every day, however this is something I will try again soon. It’s so different, you have to try it at least once.

Spice Diva

I have wanted to visit Spice Diva in Charlottesville for awhile and I finally got the opportunity last week. All the spices smell so good and they offer a wide variety of things that I hadn’t seen elsewhere. The blends are really unique too. I picked up an African style curry powder, applewood smoked sea salt, and a spice rub meant for meat that I want to try out in some vegetarian dishes soon. The owner couldn’t be more friendly, and I am excited to test out the exotic spices I picked up on my first trip there.

Hiking in Nelson County, VA

I already knew I loved hiking in this area, but recently I have found several more hikes that I want to try out. We have done Humpback Rocks (a few times), Crabtree Falls, and Spy Rock (as of last week). Next I want to do Cole Mountain and Mount Pleasant. I am addicted to the gorgeous mountain views that are your reward for making it to the top. What other hikes should I put on my list?

 

I have held back a few more food adventures and day trip activities that I plan to share in a separate post. My ten days off work were so packed with fun discoveries that it feels like my break was even longer than it was. We considered so many different vacation destinations before settling on staying close to home. I can’t believe I would have missed out on all the things our area has to offer, while in search of greener pastures, a plane or train ticket away from here.

Have you taken time lately to explore your own backyard?

Crabtree Falls Hike

This weekend, Kyle and I completed a hike that we had been meaning to do for a long time. When we first started hiking, we were quickly made aware of a few really popular Virginia hikes and we put them on our list. Over the last two years, we have hiked several trails in Virginia and North Carolina, yet we hadn’t made it to some of the most popular spots yet. It seems like every time I tell someone that we are into hiking, that person asks me, “have you hiked Crabtree Falls?” Until Saturday, the answer was No. And that was starting to get a little embarrassing. So we went for it.

We didn’t feel like making a 5-hour round-trip journey in one day, so we made a weekend of it. We drove out to Charlottesville on Friday evening, checked into a hotel, and had a tasty Italian dinner at a cozy spot called Fellini’s #9. We had been there before for the Bloody Mary bar at brunch, but we had never visited for dinner. The pasta was fresh, the focaccia was warm and garlicky, and pianist Bob Bennetta was fantastic. We retired to our hotel then got up for a Whole Foods breakfast before hitting the road.

Crabtree Falls is a little over an hour long drive from Charlottesville. We arrived at the $3 parking lot, layered up, and threw on our packs for a brisk hike up the falls. One of the reasons this hike is unique is that you hike up and back. Many of the waterfall hikes that we have done in Virginia have been a hike down the falls, followed by a strenuous hike back up to your car. It’s usually a nice easy stroll down to the reward, then you pay for it on the way back, as the sun gets higher in the sky and muscle fatigue starts to set in. That buy now, pay later situation is a bittersweet way to enjoy the natural beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Several warning signs dotted the trail up the falls. I read somewhere that over 25 people have fallen to their deaths after venturing off the trail and onto the slick, algae-covered rocks. Observation decks along the well-maintained trail offer photo opportunities such that you shouldn’t need to put yourself in danger to get a closer look. A beautiful feature of this hike is that there are great views of the falls all along the way. There are some switchbacks that take you away from the falls, but you only stray so far from them that the sound of rushing water becomes barely audible, and then you double back to another breathtaking view.

The trail itself is very rocky, although there are stairs and railings in several places. It had rained the day before so we encountered icy mud in some spots for an added challenge. There is a good mix of rocks, ground vegetation like ferns and moss, and deciduous trees to make for an interesting landscape even at the end of winter, when most everything is dead. I am sure that with all the moisture in this area, the trail becomes even more lush and beautiful at the end of Spring. However the absence of leaves on the trees made for gorgeous views of the 1000+ foot falls all along the way. We could see exactly how far we had been and how far we had left to go, so we paced ourselves and had a little fun along the way.

It is 1.7 miles to the top of the falls, and of course some of the best shots are along the way. We were rewarded with the picturesque scene below just before we hiked the final stretch.

At the top of the falls, we found the final milepost right before we came to a large, flat area with benches, an observation deck, and a retaining wall. We stretched, rested and had a snack while we took in the cool mountain air.

It must have been at least ten degrees cooler up there. We were damp with sweat and enveloped in an endorphin high, and we laughed at how I was shedding layers while I could see my breath. After resting for about ten minutes, I re-laced my shoes for the descent (and replaced a layer or two) and we hiked back down to the car. After another few stretches, we hopped back in the car and drove to Afton for our favorite post-hike ritual: pizza and beer!

Blue Mountain Brewery is one of our favorite stops in Afton. There are so many great places to visit and beautiful sights to see in that corner of Central Virginia. I am so excited to get married this year in the area we love so much! I am still trying to figure out how to incorporate BMB into our wedding weekend. We know we’ll be serving their beer at our wedding; we just have to figure out how to squeeze a visit there too.

As we contemplated this and other things, I caught two waving hands out of the corner of my eye. Of course as I am sitting at the brewery restaurant, looking a hot mess of disaster with my makeup-free face, a sweaty topknot on my head, and muddy workout gear on from head to toe, I ran into some Richmond friends! It turned out that Brittany and Isaac from Eating Bird Food had the same idea and were chowing down at BMB at the exact same time as us. Small world, right?

After a tasty Evan Altmighty, a refreshingly hoppy Blue Reserve, and a huge veggie pizza, we hit the road again. Kyle and I tumbled inside the door just minutes before his friends showed up for a guys’ night. Then Kyle got a taste of what hosting guys’ night might look like for a married man. Beers on the back porch as Lauren hides in the office, reading a book. Revelry with the boys in the living room, as wifey hangs out in the kitchen, trying to stay out of sight while stirring a big pot of chili. As much as I tried to remain unnoticed so as not to spoil his fun, when dinner was ready the party moved to the kitchen. If you build it, they will come.

And that is how I crashed guys’ night. With free chili. Not a bad deal, right?

And so we sat after the last guest had said goodbye, snuggled up on the couch with a shared bowl of three bean chili. Tranquility had been restored to the homestead. Perfect end to a beautiful day.

24 Hours in San Francisco, CA

I decided to stay in San Francisco an additional 24 hours after the official end of the Foodbuzz Blogger Festival so I could engage in a little sightseeing and shenanigans with my non-blogging friend Jess. There are a lot of ways you could spend 24 hours in San Francisco; here is one of them. If you’re looking for an “experience it like a local” itinerary like my post about Asheville, NC, you will be disappointed. However if you want to get in a little sightseeing, a little wandering, and a great deal of mayhem, I suggest you go down this path with me.

We started our day at La Boulange Bakery in the Financial District. That thing in the photo that looks like a bowl of espresso soup? That’s a soy latte. A soy latte that was larger than my head. I would show you a photo of that latte in front of Jess’s face to prove it to you, but I’m afraid that I would consequently lose a friend. Jess looks like she hasn’t had her coffee yet in that photo and it’s a little scary. She would never forgive me for posting that on the internet. (Scroll down to the kimono picture to see another photo of us that I’ve posted against my better judgment)

We had egg sandwiches for breakfast, hers with bacon on a croissant and mine with avocado on multigrain bread. The fresh fruit on the side was delicious and the sandwiches kept us full for hours of walking around the city.

Which is why a purchase of macarons was completely unnecessary. But we did it anyway. How could you pass up a pumpkin spice macaron on a brisk and beautiful day? So we picked up two, a pumpkin spice and a coconut, and held on to them for later.

Full of coffee and breakfast, we set out on a long uphill walk towards Chinatown. I struggled a little on the hills because I was still in a walking cast for my foot/ankle injury. We just took it slow and snapped photos along the way.

Finally we made it to Chinatown and immersed ourselves in the sights, sounds and smells of the Northwest corner of the neighborhood. Here there was less English being spoken and fewer tourists. There were a lot of locals picking up their groceries and perusing row after row of dried seafood products and countless varieties of exotic herbs like ginseng.

We walked eastward to a more crowded section of the neighborhood and ducked in and out of small gift shops and peered in the windows of Chinese restaurants.

My favorite discovery was the Wok Shop, a small store crammed full of inexpensive kitchen tools and equipment, cookware and tableware. I picked up ten pairs of acrylic chopsticks for $4 and a few tea strainers and accessories. If I hadn’t been limited by the size of my suitcase, I probably would have left with much more.

 


We continued to walk North and back West towards North Beach, the neighborhood that Jess’s family is from. Several generations of her Italian American ancestors lived and worked in this vibrant neighborhood between Downtown and Fisherman’s Wharf. We were in search of another tourist attraction: clam chowder by the bay. However we were sidetracked by a fortuitous discovery.

Tucked into a corner of North Beach is a Rogue Nation Ale House! One of only two Rogue Meeting Halls outside of Oregon, the San Francisco Rogue bar is a hidden gem that we had not planned on finding. Needless to say, we enjoyed a liquid lunch. I sampled Dead Guy Ale, John-John Whiskey Barrel Dead Guy Ale, Brutal Bitter IPA, Double Chocolate Stout, Mocha Porter, and Morimoto Soba Ale. The vibe was very laid back and the selection was incredible. Onward we stumbled marched in search of real food.

We finally made it to Fisherman’s Wharf, where we were assaulted by seagulls, tripped up by tourists, and nearly knocked over by the smell of fresh seafood and sourdough bread.

At Boudin Bakery, I had a personal pizza on sourdough crust and Jess had clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl. This place is crawling with people and birds and the food is mediocre but I recommend a visit anyway. The sights are so unique that, if you’re lucky enough to get to San Francisco, it’s just something you have to experience at least once.

From Fisherman’s Wharf we walked along the water towards the Presidio and took some photos of the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. Then we went up to Ghirardelli Square to check out Ghirardelli’s flagship chocolate shop. This is a great place to pick up souvenirs for friends back home. Jess and I picked up an 80-count bag of chocolate squares for our office. They lasted two days.

After all that walking, we decided to take a cab to our next adventure: 21st Amendment Brewery. I have been a fan of 21st Amendment since I first reviewed their watermelon wheat beer, Hell or High Watermelon. I have since become a fan of their Fireside Chat and Kyle enjoys their Brew Free or Die IPA. At the Foodbuzz Festival tasting pavilion, I tasted their brand new beer Allies Win the War. I wanted more. You may recall that the first time I had 21st Amendment’s beer, I drank it out of my Baltimore Ravens pint glass. So this was the natural choice for a bar to watch the Ravens beat the Steelers last Sunday night. It was a great bar and a beautiful experience.

And then it was time to celebrate.

At this point in our adventure, the details get a little fuzzy. Going out in San Francisco was weird. The bars close at strange times, the locals can’t seem to hold their liquor, and finding a decent place to have a drink and chat felt oddly like an episode of the Amazing Race. Or Survivor. We were in a foreign land, surrounded by strange intoxicated people (way too early for intoxication to be an acceptable physical state), in a race to get to the bars before they close. What resulted: closing three bars an hour apart each, and making friends with other out-of-towners who were equally perplexed by the social situation.

Here is my advice:

  1. Get ready in your brand new silk robes from Chinatown. You will feel pretty. Oh so pretty. Then change out of them into real clothes so as not to make it too weird.
  2. Create a gameplan and look up bar closing times before heading out.
  3. Do not follow the advice of the hotel concierge, who will send you to a strange dark bar with a live band playing Billy Joel’s greatest hits that is filled with men twice your age who want to watch you creepily.
  4. Head out early and pace yourself. Don’t be like a local.
  5. Find a group of people who are not native to San Francisco and are good at drinking without getting sloppy. A good place to find other people who can hang is kitschy touristy places like the Sir Francis Drake Hotel. (We found a group of Swedish pharmaceutical salesmen and executives that had not yet adjusted to the time difference. I think we should get extra points for that.)
  6. Make the most of the situation. If you are with awesome people, you will find a way to make a terrible bar situation an epic adventure.

I can’t recommend any good nightlife spots to you based on my lack of preparation on the subject. Maybe someone can point me in the right direction for next time. Although having wonderful bar and restaurant recommendations and a strict itinerary probably would not have been nearly as much fun as the 24 hours of spontaneous wandering that we experienced on this trip. Maybe the laid back west coast mentality rubbed off on us and led us on this adventure of randomness. I’m not really sure how it happened but I am glad it did.

If you would like a little more structure on your trip, maybe you could take some of my recommendations below. Here are all the places we hit in 24 hours (minus the margarita-driven ones that I’d rather not share with you).

La Boulange Bakery 222 Sutter Street, Financial District, Open Daily 7AM-7PM

The Wok Shop, 718 Grant Ave, Chinatown, Open Daily 10AM-6PM

Rogue Ales Public House, 673 Union Street, North Beach, Open Sun-Thurs 12PM-12AM, Fri-Sat 12PM-2AM

Boudin Bakery, 160 Jefferson Street, Fisherman’s Wharf, Open Sun-Thurs 8AM-9:30PM, Fri-Sat 8AM-10PM

Ghirardelli Square, 900 North Point Street, Fisherman’s Wharf, Chocolate shop open Sun-Thurs 9AM-11PM, Fri-Sat 9AM-12AM

21st Amendment Brewpub, 563 2nd Street, SOMA, Open Mon-Thurs 11:30AM-12:00AM, Fri-Sat 11:30AM-1:00AM, Sun 10:00AM-12:00AM

Harvest Quinoa Salad

Here in Central Virginia, we have been blessed with a funny in-between season this year that feels a lot like fall. Sure, it’s been a little rainy at times, and the temperatures have been all over the place as the mercury jumps up and down again every few days. Usually we have about three days of fall per year, but this year it feels like we have had fall for two or three day stretches every week or so for the last month and a half. Fall is my favorite season and I feel a little cheated every year in this climate. So this year, I have savored these spells when they come, and then I have tried to appreciate the warm sun or cool rain in between, knowing that fall will be right around the corner soon. . . once again.

There is something about fall that fills me with excitement. Maybe it’s the weather that keeps me on the edge of my seat. Or maybe it’s the great range of sensations that we get to experience during the transition to winter. The crackly crunch of leaves beneath my tennis shoes, then the slippery splash of my yellow rain boots in an unexpected downpour. Wrapping big soft scarves around my neck and buttoning up a cropped trench on a cool morning, then shedding my layers for a warm stroll on a sunny afternoon. The crisp crunch of a fresh apple, and the spicy smoothness of warm pumpkin pie.

This Harvest Quinoa Salad can be served warm or chilled and it offers both the sweetness and the spice that we love about this time of year. I hope it finds a place on your table while the apples are still perfectly ripe this autumn.

Harvest Quinoa Salad

Ingredients:

  • 2 ½ cups vegetable broth
  • 1 cup quinoa, rinsed
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder
  • 1 small apple, diced
  • ½ cup raisins
  • 1-15 oz. can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Optional Dressing:

  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Preparation:

  1. Bring vegetable broth to a boil in a saucepan over medium-high heat.
  2.  Add quinoa, curry powder, apple, and raisins to vegetable broth. Stir to combine. Cover and reduce heat. Simmer for 10 minutes.
  3. Stir in chickpeas, cover and cook for 5 more minutes.
  4. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Serve hot. For a chilled version, combine honey, lemon juice and olive oil and toss salad in dressing to coat. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours before serving.

 BONUS Beer Pairing

Serve with Sixpoint Sweet Action for a hoppy-malty-bitter-sweet experience you won’t soon forget. You’ll have the best of both worlds. . . all around!

Fall Preview in Virginia

Ever since the hurricane hit us, we have had cooler weather here in Virginia. It has been a little unpredictable but kind of nice to have cooler mornings and evenings right at the time that the canned pumpkin starts to fly off the grocery store shelves. Typically we Richmonders experience a long drawn-out end of summer, with high heat and humidity into October, then about a week of cool Fall temperatures before it starts to feel like winter. As a frizzy-haired lass, I have been very happy with the drop in humidity and the chill in the morning air.

Kyle and I took advantage of the nice weather last weekend and headed west to Charlottesville for some shopping, eating and beer drinking. We tried out a place in the downtown mall that we had never been to before, but had heard great things about.

The Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar is a local Charlottesville restaurant that serves dozens of hot and cold teas and a large selection of mostly vegetarian food. During the day, people gather there to study, meet with friends and play board games while enjoying the delicious teas. At night, the Tea Bazaar serves beer and wine, hosts music events and provides the area’s only hookah bar (according to their website). The laid back atmosphere was perfect for chatting over lunch.

After kicking back and relaxing at the tea lounge, Kyle and I did some shopping in the downtown mall. We love popping into the used bookstores, antique shops, and consignment boutiques and hunting for treasures. When we had done enough walking and shopping, we jumped back in the car and drove 20 miles west to Afton, VA. For us, no trip to Charlottesville is complete without a  stop at Blue Mountain Brewery so we decided to spend the late afternoon relaxing on their brand new patio and sampling their seasonal beers.

After a beautiful day in Albemarle and Nelson Counties, we spent Sunday in Richmond close to home. I played my first soccer game of the season (a sign that Fall is near), we watched the Ravens beat up on the Steelers (woo hoo!), and I made a fantastic pumpkin chili (recipe coming soon).

I ended the weekend with a baking adventure: pumpkin pie spice raisin bread. Yeast always presents a very challenging yet potentially rewarding experience for me, so I was happy this batch turned out well.

I know it’s going to get warmer again before it gets cold, but I am definitely enjoying this little taste of Fall and I plan to take full advantage while it lasts!

Happy Hour: Avery Brewing Company White Rascal

Remember this guy? You might recognize him from the Summer Solstice post. I think I can officially declare this my summer beer for 2011. I have been obsessed with this little gem ever since I first tried it back in May or June of this year.

It comes in a six pack of cans and it is super refreshing from the first “crack-pop-fizz” when you open the can to the last sip of spicy citrusy goodness. I poured into a glass once, but usually I drink it straight from the can (I’m one classy broad). It pours a pale yellow with a thin white head and there is a bit of white lacing on the glass when you finish, as long as you don’t gulp it down too fast. The mouthfeel is light and slightly bubbly, and it tastes just how it smells. You get a lot of orange peel, clove and coriander. If you like Hoegarden or Allagash wit, I think you should give it a try.

This white ale is a good interpretation of the style and a great one to have on hand for all your summer activities. I personally have found that this beer goes well with light meals on the porch, lounging at the river or beach, and post-hike summer picnics. It is so light and refreshing that I once brought some over to a friend’s house on a humid 90-degree night and unknowingly consumed five in the time that I thought I had had three. And that, my friends, is what I like to call instant personality. A term previously used only to describe strong coffee, the definition has now been adapted to include deliciously drinkable beers. Mainly because they too can turn me into the life of the party in less than 30 minutes.

Rascal indeed.

Cheers!

Vegetarian Beer Dinner for Two

Want to do something special for the vegetarian in your life? Does the vegetarian in your life love beer? Make him (or her) this meal!

We have all seen the beer dinners advertised at local bars and restaurants before. They promise a tasting menu of delicious dishes perfectly paired with a variety of beers. Unfortunately for vegetarians, most beer dinner menus include at least one meat course for which there are no meatless substitutions. For this reason, Kyle and I have never forked over the cash to attend a beer dinner. That changed on the 4th of July, 2011.

That’s right, I celebrated Independence Day by taking matters into my own hands. I planned and executed a three course vegetarian dinner complete with beer pairings. I used as many fresh, local and seasonal ingredients as possible. Sounds fancy, but it was relatively easy to pull off, and I could see you scaling this menu to serve 2, 4, or even 20. Although I hope you’re working with a larger kitchen and dining area than I am if you plan to serve 20.

First Course

Tomato Cucumber Gazpacho

Organic Ur Pils from Brauerei Pinkus Mueller, Germany

This unfiltered German pilsner is a pale straw-like yellow, which appears clear at first but the haziness comes out when you hold it up to the light. When you taste it, then it is definitely apparent that the beer is unfiltered, yet pleasantly effervescent. The taste is still crisp and light, with tart citrus notes and a slight breadiness from the yeast. This pairing was great, but it would have been outstanding if I had made some crostini for the soup. I suggest that you serve this with toast points or topped with croutons.

Soup recipe from Epicurious Tomato Cucumber Gazpacho (omit anchovy paste, substitute yellow onions for red)

Beer from Ellwood Thompson’s Natural Market. See other reviews for Organic Ur Pils here.

Second Course

Roasted poblano and spicy black bean tacos with chipotle sauce and cilantro lime sour cream

Wilco Tango Foxtrot from Lagunitas Brewing Company, CA, US

This pours a rich dark brown, and smells super malty and sweet, with a little pineyness in the background. Other reviewers have said the opposite, but I say caramel all the way. You can taste the caramel malts on the first sip and I thought it had a bit of a smoky character too. The slightly burnt sugar taste eventually gives way to a little hoppiness, although nothing overwhelming. Lagunitas calls this an American Strong Ale, and also a “Malty, Robust, Jobless Recovery Ale.” I thought this felt like a brown ale on steroids, which is why I was delighted to see a footnote on beer advocate describing this as an “Imperial Brown Ale.” The dark, smoky sweetness played well with the smoky spice and the fire-roasted poblanos in the tacos. I wonder if I picked up more smoke in the beer because of the food pairing, which wasn’t at all a bad thing. My only concern for you is whether you can still find this beer. It is a limited edition and I’ve been hanging on to mine for a few months. If you can get your hands on the Lagunitas WTF, pair it with these tacos and you won’t be disappointed.

Taco recipe original, coming soon!

Beer from Wine World in Bel Air, MD. See other reviews for Wilco Tango Foxtrot here.

Third Course

Bourbon Peach Cobbler

Bourbon Barrel Stout from Bluegrass Brewing Company, KY, US

So this beer tastes a little bit like bourbon, due to the fact that it is aged in bourbon barrels. It is dark in color, sweet, and smells and tastes like bourbon and vanilla. I personally really enjoy this beer, but enough about that. Because while the pairing was amazingly wonderful, the real highlight was this bourbon peach cobbler! I have been dreaming about this dessert. Made with juicy peaches fresh from the market, t is syrupy sweet with just a hint of bourbon, and the soft, buttery crumb of the dough topping is divine. It is especially good with the slight biscuitiness of the beer. I can’t believe I ever considered pairing this with Dogfish Head’s Festina Peche; the pairing of bourbon peach cobbler with bourbon barrel stout is almost perfect.

It’s like Georgia and Kentucky had a love child and it was conceived in my mouth.

. . . too much?

Dessert Recipe from Food Network’s Tyler Florence’s Bourbon Peach Cobbler

Beer from the Krog’s. Read more reviews of BBC Bourbon Barrel Stout here.

What Next?

The sky is the limit, my friends. A 5-course beer dinner? A 7-course wine dinner? A beer and cheese party for 12 of my closest friends? Who knows. Perhaps a throwdown. I challenge any Richmond chef to make a better seasonal vegetarian beer dinner (and please send me a free ticket or two when you do!). The thing is, I haven’t found anything quite like this yet in Richmond and I would love to see more of it. Until then, I’ll be whipping up my own versions to satisfy the cravings. And the beauty of that solution is that if I can do it, you can too!

Asheville-Like-A-Local in 36 Hours or Less

Kyle and I took a road trip last month to Asheville, NC and while we spent about 3 beautiful days there, I think you can get a great Asheville experience in 36 hours or less. Keep reading the longest post in vegology history below to see how to enjoy a weekend in Asheville like the locals do. If you want to read about our first 24 hours there, check out this post. For the story how of we got to Asheville on the beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway, read ­­­­Spring Road Trip and Road Tripping Roanoke to Asheville.

We woke up on Saturday morning, after a night of drinking and cheering on the Pittsburgh Penguins, to overcast skies. We had planned to go hiking that morning, but we were feeling the after-effects of all of the local beers we had sampled the night before and there was rain in the forecast, so we decided to check out another brunch spot instead.

We ventured on over to Sunny Point Café, where there was a very long wait. It wasn’t so bad though, because while we waited we enjoyed self-serve coffee on their garden patio. This was seriously such a good idea. You sign in to put your name in for a table and then grab a mug and help yourself to fresh brewed coffee. A sign on the coffee urn instructs you to notify your waiter when you are seated and they will add the bottomless coffee to your bill. Ingenious!

When we were finally seated, we enjoyed some awesome breakfast food. Sunny Point Café sources a lot of their ingredients locally and sustainably. Kyle ordered a breakfast sandwich on a croissant, with a side of stone ground chipotle cheese grits.

I ordered the MGB (mighty good breakfast), with two fried eggs, chipotle grits, vegetarian sausage, and a warm biscuit. Delish!

After brunch, we headed to nearby Black Mountain to check out Pisgah Brewing Company. Pisgah is an organic brewery with distribution only in western North Carolina. They have won a ton of awards for their beer and we were excited to see what they were all about. Our GPS took us to an industrial park hidden in the mountains off of a state road. We were wondering if we were in the right place when we parked in a gravel lot next to a commercial kitchen appliance distributor. We rounded the corner and saw this.

We found the brewery! After a quick tour and Q&A session with one of their marketing guys, Kyle and I hit up the on-site bar. This tasting was one of the highlights of our vacation.

If you are planning a visit, please taste some of their beer. A free tasting is not included in the tour, so you will have to purchase some beers at the bar. It is important to note that they accept cash only and they do not serve food, so have a snack before you arrive and bring cash. Pisgah offers pints, half-pints, and samplers that feature a 5 oz. sample of each of 4 beers – your choice. They also sell growlers of all of their draught beers, with varying prices depending on the beer. We ordered two samplers and got to taste eight beers. They were all delicious! I am so sad that we can’t buy Pisgah Brewing Company beer here in Richmond.

Beer tears aside, we had a great time and can’t wait to go back again in the future. At this point we had about 30 hours left in Asheville, so we had to boogie. Onward, my friends, to downtown Asheville! Downtown offers a collection of boutiques, restaurants, and coffee shops. There are cute little park areas with street performers, and there is endless free entertainment in the form of people watching. It started to drizzle so we ducked into World Coffee Cafe to grab an espresso con panna and a croissant.

I wouldn’t normally get whipped cream on my espresso AND get a buttery croissant on the side, but we were on vacation! Kyle and I sipped our espressos while watching the locals and tourists stroll by the front of the shop. Although it was raining, it was a beautiful 80 degrees. It was the kind of spring rain that was more a refreshment than a nuisance.

When the sun broke through the clouds, we walked over to the Grove Arcade, a large historic building filled with shops and cafes. The architecture was gorgeous but the stores left something to be desired. Many of the storefronts were closed (on a Saturday afternoon!) and the “farmer’s market” was a sparse array of prepackaged foods and produce from near and far. I am confident that the ramps were local, yet I have never seen an orange grove in North Carolina so I believe the fruits might have been shipped in. Although it is a grab bag of specialty shops, the Grove Arcade is worth a peek inside. And if you are interested in furniture, or men’s suits, or any of the random retail that the shopping destination offers, you might be in for a treat.

After wandering around for a bit, the buzz from both the Pisgah tasting and the doppio espressos had worn off, and we decided to move on to the next beer tasting opportunity. We walked to Jack of the Wood to try some more local beers. If there is one thing we learned about the people of Western North Carolina, it is that they love to brew beer. If there are two things we learned about the people of Western North Carolina, the second is that they love to bake. And I’m not talking about the kind of baking you do with flour and sugar. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, visit the hippie towns of Asheville and Boone, and you’ll soon catch on.

Where were we? Oh yes, Jack of the Wood Pub.

Here we tasted beers from the local Green Man Brewery. We had the ESB, IPA, Porter, Stout, and Cask Irish Stout. They were okay, not great. After the amazing experience we had at Pisgah, the Green Man beers couldn’t really compete. However the service and atmosphere at the bar were great, and if you’re looking for a dark, oaky, underground pub in downtown Asheville, definitely make a trip to Jack of the Wood.

You could have dinner at the pub, but we were looking for something a little more inspired than nachos or potato skins, we ducked out and walked to the other side of town, to one of the most renowned vegetarian restaurants in Asheville, Rosetta’s Kitchen. This place came highly recommended so we had to fit it in. When you enter the restaurant, you go immediately up a brightly painted flight of stairs, and turn left into the colorful dining room. Past the dining area is a chalkboard menu and counter where you can order your food.

love this poster!

There is also a case of baked goods that all look utterly delicious. I noticed several vegan options, and I loved that they included an ingredients list on most of the labels.

When your food is ready, the friendly staff brings it out to you. While you wait, you can sip a local beverage (the theme of the day was beer, okay?) and enjoy the scenery.

I ordered the Buddha Bowl,  “organic spring mix, organic brown basmati rice, sea veggie salad, tomatoes, avocado, mung bean sprouts, and grilled smoky tofu topped with our sweet tahini BBQ sauce.” Wow, amazing. Loved it.

Kyle ordered The Mountain, “layers of long grain brown rice, sautéed kale and fried local made tempeh topped with our sweet tahini BBQ sauce.” His was also fantastic, although a little simpler than mine.

Okay so here’s my take on the vegetarian food in Asheville. There were so many delicious options everywhere, that it really felt like I was dreaming. I loved the Laughing Seed, and Early Girl Eatery, and Sunny Point Café. I think you should try them all, and there were even more restaurants that we didn’t get to try that I would love to visit next time. However, if you are a vegetarian or vegan visiting Asheville, do not leave without going to Rosetta’s Kitchen. They have a great variety of dishes that are so difficult to choose from, and their creative menu will inspire you to cook more interesting food in your own kitchen. Vegetarian and comfort food are two terms that don’t usually go together, but at Rosetta’s they do. GO there!

At this point, we are about 14 hours into our 36 hour (or less) journey. You’re already downtown, so go visit a bar. If you’ve had enough beer (like we had), go to bed. But before you go to bed, run to the grocery store to get breakfast food because you’re going to need fuel in the morning. Kyle and I had postponed our hike until Sunday morning, so we stopped by the local grocery store, Ingles, to pick up pre-hike breakfast food and post-hike picnic lunch food.

When we woke up on Sunday morning, we assembled our fruit, yogurt and granola bowls and packed up our things to check out of the hotel room.

I was sad to say goodbye to our luxurious hotel.

Just kidding, we stayed at the Courtyard. Although the Mountaineer Inn might have truly been an unforgettable experience. At hour 24, we grabbed coffee on the way out of town and got back onto the Blue Ridge Parkway to drive to the Mount Pisgah Trail.

Well rested and excited for the views that the trek promised, Kyle and I slung our backpacks over our shoulders and started the climb.

The trail is definitely steep in spots, and most of it was rocky, which helped us get our footing. If the trail had been a dirt path, we probably would have slid back down it!

I made the mistake of forgetting my sunscreen, not realizing that most of the trail would be open overhead. I imagined the leaves on the trees would protect me, but we hiked most of the path in direct sunlight. I had some pretty adorable backpack and sports bra tan lines by the time we got to the top. After the climb back down, my shoulders were getting crispy. We had a perfectly clear day, so I could feel the strong sun on my face and shoulders as we rounded a corner and realized we were getting close.

About ten minutes later, we were at the top and enjoyed a 360-degree view from the octagonal observation deck that had been built by local Boy Scouts. It was quite a reward for one of the most strenuous hikes I have ever completed.

The views were breathtaking!

Okay, the hike was breathtaking. But once I got to the top, sat down, and caught my breath, the views were still pretty amazing. Kyle and I spent about 30 minutes at the top. We ran into a couple from Tennessee who had each hiked 500 miles last year. They offered some great suggestions for hikes in the South. When we felt like we had taken in enough of the landscape, Kyle and I trotted back down the mountain for a victory lunch at an overlook off the Blue Ridge Parkway.

That brings us to about 30 hours in Asheville. At this point, Kyle and I hit the road for a 6-hour drive back to Richmond. Overall it was a lovely vacation, and on the 5 year anniversary of falling in love with each other, we fell in love with Asheville, NC. We wish we could have stayed another week (or year!) but that wasn’t in the cards for this trip. If you are lucky enough to have more time in Asheville, check out my Travel page for more ideas on what to do while you are there.