Saturday, November 14, 2009

Brew Meister Monica

I've drank my share of beer in my life. My first taste was when I was 7, and expressed curiosity when my uncle Mike Forrestall was drinking it, and he said "You want a taste?" I took a sip, wrinkled up my face in disgust, said "Ewwwwww" and didn't taste the stuff again...till high school.  For teens in Nova Scotia, it was the drink of choice: Alexander Keiths beer was brewed in my old home town. (Canadian beer on average has a higher alcohol content than US beer: Keiths is 5%.) And it was amazing how slack pubs were, back then about asking for ID. Me and my girlfriends, all 16 years old, had regular Friday nights at a bar a mile or so from our neighborhood.
But up till last week I'd never tried to make any. On my trip to Albuquerque, I visited Kelly's Brew Pub (an Albuquerque landmark)  on Route 66 to make a batch myself and learnt a lot. Love that the brewery is located in an old garage (below) The Old Jones Motor Company built in 1939. Lots of character, with old gas pumps out front, surrounded by tables and chairs.
Beer making central is down the hallway in the back. Here guests can sign on to make their own kegs, and it's where the in-house brew master makes beer for the restaurant. Today, he helped us make one of my favorite beers, Oatmeal Stout.
He pulled out the recipe, and we got started.
First step was measuring out all the grains. They are stored in big plastic bins and you scoop it out with a big scoop and then weigh it on a scale to make sure it's correct. Its very much a science, and too much of one grain will drastically effect the flavor.

Scooping out some of the grains for Oatmeal Stout.
After measuring out all the grains, we poured it into a grinder (that looked pretty homemade). This isn't to pulverize the grains, just to open up the husk, the beer master explained, so they can absorb water and ferment. 
Then the ground grains are poured into the copper tanks to begin the process. I stirred a bit, to speed up the soaking process with a big stainless paddle (below).

We added two large plastic pitchers of syrup (left) and then let it cook. The whole process in-house takes an hour and a half. Then there is a two-week aging in keg period, which are kept in a chilled room in another building behind the brewery.
Then, it's either put on tap at the brewery (like my batch will be) or it's bottled up, labelled with labels that are custom printed for visiting beer meisters, and picked up. It's a popular thing apparently to do for corporate events and weddings. That would make a fun take away gift for a bachelor, or bachelorette party!
                                                                  Stirring the mash.

Friday, November 6, 2009

SEE JANE (& Monica) COOK: New Mexico Cooking class

     Monica (right) and cookbook author Jane Butel 
in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Got to meet & cook with a very famous New Mexican chef, Jane Butel, while I was in Albuquerque. If the name's not ringing a bell, Jane is credited with starting the Tex-Mex trend, and she published her first book on New Mexican and American Mexican food in the 1960's. She taught me how to make Sopaipillas, a disturbingly delicious fried bread recipe that originated in Albuquerque, 300 years ago. (I admit when she first said fried bread, my mind was reeling...FRIED FOOD!?! But this was worth the calories. Jane greeted me at the door of her beautiful adobe-style home, with her frantic 7-month old daschaund lapping our ankles. After giving me some of her fascinating history, I watched as Jane expertly mixed up a dough recipe all by hand (after removing some of her beautiful turquoise rings). I took copious notes, wanting to try this back home in New York. When Jane was rolling out the smaller amounts of dough on her granite counter, she used a small wooden mini roller, which was the perfect size for the amount of dough she was rolling out. 

After cutting the dough into quarters, Jane slid the 
pieces straight down (so the oil wouldn't splash) into a pre-heated TeFal deep fryer. Jane's kitchen, where she has been teaching cooking classes for many years, is a dream spot for any cook. It opens up onto a large casual dining area with large windows that face the jaw dropingly beautiful Sandia Peak (part of The Sangre De Cristo mountain range). Jane's kitchen has everything, from two red KitchenAid standmixers to a garland stove to massive cookbook storage shelves---and more specifically everything she needed to create the thousands of New mexican recipes that have gone into her 18 cookbooks. 

As a New Yorker with a small kitchen/limited space and as someone obsessed with kitchen tools, I was having serious gadget envy. 
Jane kindly arranged to have her publisher send me her latest book "Real Women eat Chiles". And of course I splurged and bought 4 bags of the amazing chili spices she makes: Chipotle Chile, Pequin Quebrado, Caribe Chile and New Mexico Red Chili. I can't wait to try some of these recipes out on my chili-loving husband Kerry. 

For more details on Jane's books, spices, cooking classes etc..check out her website below. She's living the spicy life www.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Princess for a day...or two...

Among my people! The Irish I mean, not royalty.  A day at 12th century Ashford castle included a walk about the grounds, visiting the stables, a drive about past the road and house featured in the 1950's John Wayne movie The Quiet Man, tea with cucumber sandwiches (below) and riotously funny dinner in the dungeon with Paula, Gail, Mark and Nestro. 

Lamb, scalloped potatoes and plum crumble on the menu (below). Now dreamily sitting in the formal drawing room with a roaring fire in the fireplace, all quiet and a half moon peeks out from behind a cloud over the lake Pinkham-Ryder style. To bed , to bed, very sleepy head. A full day tomorrow of 40-greens and falconery.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A Sentimental Journey: Jerusalem

After a grueling overnight flight to Tel Aviv, and an hour drive, I began my visit to Jerusalem the next morning at the top---the Mount of Olives. The stunning view is a panoramic sweep of historic churches, the Old City and its ancient filled-to-capacity Jewish cemetery with olive trees. This burial site had always been a hot ticket because according to the prophet Zechariah on the day of Judgement, God would stand here before entering Jerusalem. The earliest tombs dating back 2000 years, are at the foot of the mount in the Kidron Valley. I scattered some of mom’s ashes down into this cemetery.

Coming down from the mount, and into the Old City, I immersed myself in its bustling sights and sounds. Built by King David in 1004 B.C.E., Jerusalem was considered the center of the world making it a desirable conquest for rulers and kings who tried to storm its four kilometer long walls and citadel. The city’s magical quality owes as much to this ancient architecture, as the sacred atmosphere that surrounds the holy sites. Its history is woven with war and peace, destruction and resurrection in this city where the Jews built the Temple, where Jesus was crucified, and where Mohammed rose to heaven. As I watched an Orthodox Jewish boy dragging his Razor scooter up ancient stone stairs and lnavigated around children playing soccer in a cobblestoned alleyway, the charm of the modern and ancient worlds living in harmony for the next generation was everywhere.

My first stop after entering the Jaffa Gate was the Tower of David, a restored citadel built 2000 years ago, which houses a museum of 4000 years of the history of Jerusalem. The scope of history here that you can still reach out and touch never ceased to amaze. A climb to the ramparts rewards you with a view of the distinctly different quarters of the Old City.
The most important visit in the Christian Quarter is to the holiest Christian site, the ancient Church of the Holy Sepulcher where the Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopian, and Syrian Orthodox orders have all carved out their own sections. The dusty church exterior offers no hints at the marvels of mosaics, altars, gilded chandeliers and famous religious artifacts inside. Legend says Jesus was buried here following his final walk, along the Via Dolorosa ( the Stations of the Cross). It was amazing to watch visitors come in and throw their bodies (and handbags) onto the Stone of the Annointment, where they say Jesus’ body was laid after he was taken down from the cross. 

In this quarter you’ll also find the famous market. Noisy, colorful and filled with souvenir shops selling everything from painted pottery and religious souvenirs, to ethnic costumes and rugs. Traditional haggling on prices is a must.
I made a beeline for The Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall, a famous holy site since it was part of the Temple and close to its Holy of Holies, believed to be the place the Divine Presence never departed. History buffs, who don’t suffer from claustrophobia, should reserve a tour of the Western Wall Tunnels at the Western Wall Heritage Foundation. There one discovers that the 180 feet long open-air section of the Western Wall is a small portion of the 1,700-foot original length beneath the city and one can touch the arches that supported Jerusalem’s streets over the millennia and the Western Wall itself.

Cross leaning against Church of Holy Sepulchur (above)

Another historical pit stop, the Cardo (a 6th century Roman street of stores situated between two rows of columns) where one can see the remains of the ancient columns, arches, stone floor and the day I visited, school kids enjoying a picnic.
Hungry? You can’t leave Israel without experiencing their famous street food; falafels. I stopped at My Burger next to the Cardo and dove into a delicious Middle Eastern fried chickpea ball sandwich. Here red cabbage, cucumbers and onions were stuffed with hand made French fries into the abundant creamy tahini sauce poured atop everything and oozing out of a thick and chewy pita-like pocket.

I took a quick walk through of The Armenian Quarter settled in the 4th century CE. to see St. James Cathedral, dating from the time of the Crusades, the12th century. Considered one of the most beautiful churches in Israel, it is dimly lit by oil lanterns, and at its center is a dome through which the sun shines lighting the paintings on the walls.
Finally, making my way to an area filled with churches, mosques and Yeshivas, the crown jewel of The Moslem Quarter is the shrine, the Dome of the Rock (below). It was built in 691 AD over a sacred stone believed to be the spot from which the Prophet Muhammad ascended into heaven. The dramatic, gold leafed dome is the most beautiful and visible architectural projections of Jerusalem’s landscape. My last stop before leaving Jerusalem was just outside of the Old City’s Damascus gate; The Garden Tomb. Believed by many to be the site where Jesus’ body was moved after his crucifixion and where he was resurrected, I arrived too early to get in, and my bus was leaving in a half hour, so I settled for a peek over the wall and a photo of the gate, this time. 

This story was published July 4th, 2009 in the provincial newspaper, The Chronicle Herald in Nova Scotia, Canada as the cover piece for the weekly travel section.