Friday, November 27, 2009

And We Gave Thanks....

And so it came to pass that Mom madeth the turkey and it was good. Oh hell, it was VERY good.

It came from the oven with a crisp, mahogany skin and was the stuff of a Gourmet magazine cover. And the sausage stuffing was good too, as was the gravy and mashed potatoes. We brought a huge bag of fresh-picked broccoli from the Honey Brook Organic Farm Pig-Out, and it was devoured so quickly we didn't even get a taste.

There was a kids' table, and the twins and my brother's three daughters all ate well, and were amazingly well-behaved, thanks in no small part to sister-in-law Claire's cool calm management style. She is amazing. There was some quiet discord: neice Laura definitely felt she had earned a graduation to the adult table, and ate in silence. In all there were 15 of us , with my godmother, Aunt Mary joining us for the first time. It was a bit cramped, but it was fun.

This year's Beaujolias Nouveau went really well with the feast, this year's dry finish to the wine brightened all the meal components; brother Bob poured a Hartwell Cab (from a decanter!) for himself, Claire and my sis Renee and brother-in-law John. It overpowered the meal to my taste, but they all seemed to enjoy it. Mom and Aunt Mary stuck with their white zin standby.

I brought up two sweet potato pies, my first-ever attempt at pie baking, and they went over ok, but everyone clammored to devour my mom's Chocolate Lush, a chilled graham cracker/custard concoction, pure Turkey Day crack.

The clean-up was daunting, but we got through it (mom is just a cleaning machine), and collapsed around the house before heading to cousin Sean's house for some family hanging and laughter. It was a perfect Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Today begins the second year of The Omnivore. Although I haven't been able to write and post at the pace and frequency I would have liked, it has been a tremendous experience so far, a great release from the challenges and stress in my life, and the kind of catharsis that keeps life in general as balanced and fresh as it has been.

I'm glad that I started this thing last year, at the persistent urging of one of my favorite writers and dear friends, Lew Bryson, whose blog, Seen Through a Glass, remains a true benchmark for me and my writing. I'm glad I also started it around Thanksgiving, because it reminds me to be most thankful for the folks that follow The Omnivore--not a lot of you---and keep me on my toes. And to be thankful for my kids, Ben and Sophie, who provide constant inspiration. And it also reminds me to be thankful for the family and friends whose warm embraces and positive energy keep me steady and humble and focused on the future.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

No "E" for Effort! No "E" for Effort!

After our afternoon "Pig Out" at Honey Brook Organic Farm on Friday, Ben and Sophie informed me that they were hungry and wanted "hamburgers and ice cream". So, muddy and tired, we made the quick drive from Pennington to Rocky Hill, NJ and the Rocky Hill Inn, a place I'd been wanting to revisit ever since it came under new ownership a couple of years ago. This historic Victorian building dates back to 1745, and is one of the many places in NJ that have laid claim to a "George Washington Slept Here" provenence.

Evan and Maria Blomgren own the place now, with Evan in the kitchen and Maria running the front of the house. Under their ownership, the Rocky Hill Inn now features "17 Craft Beers on Tap" with many of the usual suspects, but 7 taps eaten up by mega-brews like Guinness, Coors Light, Stella Artois, Amstel Light, Heineken, Corona and Pilsner Urquell. OK, so 10 taps of craft brew, not bad for the Princeton area, a relative beer wasteland. On the beer blackboard when we visited were Cricket Hill, Harpoon IPA, Flying Fish, Brooklyn, Ommegang, Sierra Nevada and something from Sly Fox. And this long-worded prelude brings me to my Pet Peeve Of The Year. With the exception of the Harpoon, only the brand names of the beers were listed, with a price after the name. Not a good sign. The Inn also offers a sampler of 3, 3.5 oz beers for $10. But when our young waiter came to our table to take our order, he knew nothing about the beers on his menu, nor did his fellow fresh-faced colleagues. Our dialogue went something like this:

"What's the Sierra Nevada tap?"
"Um, it's Sierra Nevada."
"Pale Ale?"
"I guess."
"OK, what is the Brooklyn?"
"It's the regular Brooklyn...."
"Which is..."
"Just regular Brooklyn."
"Can you find out?"
"Sure, any others you want to know about?"
"Yes, what's the Sly Fox?"
"Oh that's the regular Sly Fox."
"And what is THAT?"
"Well, I think they just make one beer."
"Uh huh. Could you find out?"
"Any others?"
"Yes, ask about the Cricket Hill."
"Oh that one is a lager, ya know, like Yuengling."
"I see. Could you find out about those?"
"Absolutely, sir."

If the kids weren't hungry and it wasn't dinner time, I would have walked right out of the joint.

I ordered a sampler, by the way, made up of Brooklyn Lager (it wasn't a lager), Harpoon IPA and Sly Fox Pikeland Pils. I was so frustrated by the above exchange, I didn't even bother asking the feckless waiter what the Brooklyn really was. Thank God the food was as good as it had been reported in the local press. The clever Kids Menu featured two cheeseburger sliders with really good french fries and a ramekin of ketchup; the twins really enjoyed their meal. I had to find some veggies to round out their dinner, something that the Inn should have included for the price. PEI mussels in white wine and shallots were also very good, as was a dinner salad that I ordered with my "Rocky Hill Inn" burger, topped with cheese, bacon, smothered onions and a fried egg. They also served an unusual but tasty gluten-free polenta "pizza" topped with broccoli rabe, cippolini onions and fontina (you can guess who ordered that), which was really soft polenta in a puddle of red sauce and topped with the veggies and cheese. Tasty, but nothing you could hold in your hand like an actual pizza. Prices were relatively high (mussels, $11, "pizza" $8, burger, $13) but again, the food quality was quite good. But my beer experience brought forth a huge pet peeve with me, and when the bill arrived, I stared at it for a while, my long-held gut-feeling indicator that I did not enjoy my time there.

Memo to the Rocky Hill Inn: If you're going to offer and advertise "17 Taps of Craft Beer", then offer 17 taps of craft beer! And if you can't be bothered to update a CHALKBOARD with the current beers on tap, craft or otherwise, at least start the day by educating your staff about WHAT KIND OF BEERS ARE ON TAP THAT DAY!!!! The "regular Brooklyn"? The "regular Sly Fox"? "A lager, ya know, like Yuengling"? Are you kidding me?!?!

I know I'm late to the party with this rant, but really, is it too much to ask that the people serving the beer knowing something about it? I don't think so.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Gleaning

We went to Honey Brook Organic Farm on Friday for the annual "Pig Out", whereby farm share members get the chance to troll the fields, following a detailed map, to "glean" the remaining crops there. It's a bit of a daunting task, involves a lot of walking in mud and brush, but the rewards can be considerable. Having just barely recovered from a very painful upper groin strain, I was probably doing more harm than good when I climbed through row after row of broccoli at just a slight incline. Oof. But the kids were along, and they seemed to be having fun.

The clouds were streaky in the sky as the afternoon waned and we trampled first through the broccoli, then toward some dill, celery and parsley. Ben and I clipped a lot of deep green bunches of parsley. Very little in the way of dill and celery.

We brought several large plastic bags of broccoli and parsley back to the SUV, and that's when we noticed the largely unnoticed field of romaine, red leaf and butter lettuces. We quickly filled two large plastic bags with baby romaine heads, even some wild romaine, dense heads of red leaf and a few picture-perfect heads of butter lettuce, as we raced the sun and pink sky toward sunset.

Across the road from where we parked lay fields of raddichio, cauliflower, carrots and beets. When Sophie discovered the short purple and green rows of radicchio, she yelled at the top of her lungs, "Look! Radicchio!" Ben chimed in, hearing the echoes bouncing off the trees, "Radicchio!" They did that for about five minutes, and it scattered the other gleaners to fields farther away. We picked about 18 heads of radicchio (I don't know why), and then Sophie and I retired to the SUV, the nearby porta-john, and a quick nap, while Ben and his mom continued on to the beet fields.

At 4:30 the farm staff began to close the gates to the fields, but there was no sign of any gleaners returning to their cars. I sized up the situation, drove the SUV out of the muddy parking area and headed up Wargo Rd. to look for survivors. I found a bundle of hardy pickers, ruddy-faced and red-nosed, marching toward a still-unlocked gate, and in the bunch were Ben and his mom.

Behind them followed a large tractor, in whose shovel rested a huge bag of dirt-caked beets.

"Too heavy to carry," I was told, so I met the tractor at the far gate and retrieved a heavy sack loaded with red and striped beauties.

We returned to the farm stand to donate a share of our haul back to the farm for donation to area food banks, as is required by the rules of the Pig Out, and they got a big bag of broccoli, the only veggie they were accepting by that late hour.

What we're gonna do with this haul, I don't know. So far I've washed all the beets, discovered not only red beets, but striped and golden ones as well. All the lettuces and broccoli and radicchio have been trimmed and bagged,and it's just overwhelming. Sure, some broccoli and lettuces will be headed north to Moosic, and my mom's for Thanksgiving, but I'm definitely in need of some good recipes for beets, broccoli and radicchio. Thanks in advance for your help!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

"Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé! "

When I lived near DC in the mid-80s, Beaujolais Nouveau Day, the third Thursday in November, was a heavily hyped, all-day party across the District, flowing from French bistros and wine bars in Georgetown and Capitol Hill. It really opened my eyes (and my young palate) to how much fun wine could be.
For a little while it was also a popular wine day in Philly, but that seems to have died down. I can remember trolling around town with friends (including wine saveur extraordinaire Katie Loeb!) sampling different Nouveaus on one very cold third Thursday in November, not too long ago. It was one of the most enjoyable wine experiences I've ever had.
Well, today is the day. And I have read in several places that this year's Nouveau may be the best vintage in 50 years. Yeah, I know, hype on top of hype. But I readily admit that I really enjoy this wine, especially on Thanksgiving, when its light, fruity, slightly vegetal taste and lightly fizzy mouthfeel pairs very well with all the foods on Turkey Day. I think of it like this: Session Wine. Light, quaffable, flavorful, bouncy, and very food-friendly, no different than the growing crop of session beers out there. It's a fun drink, nothing more, nothing less.
Now there's a huge history b
ehind all this hype. I found this on a website called
At one past midnight on the third Thursday of each November, from little villages and towns like Romanèche-Thorins, over a million cases of Beaujolais Nouveau begin their journey through a sleeping France to Paris for immediate shipment to all parts of the world. Banners proclaim the good news: "Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé!(The New Beaujolais has arrived!)" One of the most frivolous and animated rituals in the wine world has begun.

By the time it is over, over 65 million bottles, nearly half of the region's total annual production, will be distributed and drunk around the world. It has become a worldwide race to be the first to serve to this new wine of the harvest. In doing so, it has been carried by motorcycle, balloon, truck, helicopter, jet, elephant, runners and rickshaws to get it to its final destination. It is amazing to realize that just weeks before this wine was a cluster of grapes in a growers vineyard. But by an expeditious harvest, a rapid fermentation, and a speedy bottling, all is ready at the midnight hour.
Beaujolais Nouveau began as a local phenomenon in the local bars, cafes, and bistros of Beaujolais and Lyons. Each fall the new Beaujolais would arrive with much fanfare. In pitchers filled from the growers barrels, wine was drunk by an eager population. It was wine made fast to drink while the better Beaujolais was taking a more leisurely course. Eventually, the government stepped into regulate the sale of all this quickly transported, free-flowing wine. In 1938 regulations and restrictions were put in place to restrict the where, when, and how of all this carrying on. After the war years, in 1951, these regulations were revoked by the region's governing body, the Union Interprofessional des Vins de Beaujolais (UIVB), and the Beaujolais Nouveau was officially recognized. The official release date was set for November 15th. Beaujolais Nouveau was officially born. By this time, what was just a local tradition had gained so much popularity that the news of it reached Paris. The race was born. It wasn't long thereafter that the word spilled out of France and around the world. In 1985, the date was again changed, this time to the third Thursday of November tying it to a weekend and making the celebration complete. But wherever the new Beaujolais went, importers had to agree not to sell it before midnight on the third Thursday of November.
I hope you'll grab a bottle or two and post your thoughts on the wine here. I'll be doing that myself as soon as I get it home later today.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Farm Season Is Over. Almost.

Leeks. Broccoli. Beets. Carrots. Daikon radishes. Kohlrabi. Arugula. And that was it. The last pickup for the season at Honey Brook Organic Farm in Pennington, NJ, always a sad day for me.

Despite the soggy, rainy summer, it was a good season at the Farm, the largest CSA in the country, short on strawberries and spinach to start the season, but strong on lettuces, tomatoes, peppers, garlic, basils, parsley, eggplant, sweet potatoes and arugula. There was little to no pick-your-own tomatoes this summer, but the quality of what was harvested was exceptional. And the lettuce was better than ever, still the best I've ever tasted. The flowers bloomed seemingly endlessly. And the herbs were off the hook.

But now it's all done, and the harsh reality of supermarket lettuce and tomatoes, flavorless carrots and broccoli and scarce sightings of arugula will make for cold, cruel winter.

But not just yet.

At the end of the season, Honey Brook schedules what they call the "Pig Out", a final gleaning of the fields by anyone ambitious enough to canvass the farm for what remains to be harvested. That means one last dig for cauliflower, broccoli, beets, collards, lettuce and maybe more. It starts tomorrow and runs through Saturday. And I'll be there one last time, bright and early at noon tomorrow. It's gonna be fun playing farmer for a day.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Mickey Gets His Firkinteenth On

It's always something that makes a Friday The Firkinteenth at the Grey Lodge Pub in Philly something special. Usually it's the beers. Sometimes it's the people who show up, friends I haven't seen in a particularly long time. Stuff like that. This time around, I was thinking about our friend Gary Bredbenner, a fixture at almost every previous FTF. He and I had a habit of slipping out of the festivities for some fresh air and a bite to eat, always good times, checking out nearby cheesesteak joints or heading to Tony's a block away for some tomato pie . Yesterday I caught myself thinking, "Lemme check when Gary's getting there..." and, well, I caught myself. A terrible twinge of sadness.

Yesterday I also woke up with laryngitis.

I had been on a seemingly endless series of meetings and interviews last week, and I think I just plain talked myself out. I did the salt water thing, the hot tea thing, but to no avail. Getting the kids ready for school yesterday, they were chuckling at the breakfast table, because "Daddy, you sound like Mickey." Terrific. Glad I could entertain them.

So when I headed down to the Grey Lodge in mid-afternoon for Friday The Firkinteenth, I was actually wondering how I'd order a beer amid all the noise and laughter that an FTF brings. Hand signals? Pointing? Flash cards?

It was packed at 3:30 and boisterously loud when I made my way to a gathering of friends I spotted in a convenient curve of the bar. Good friends Eric and Cary were the first to greet me and they couldn't understand a word I whispered. Beer bloggers Dan Berger and Kevin Romer (the Big Beer Guy) approached next, and weren't anymore successful. Finally good beer buddy Jim Noone grabs me by the arm and says, "whatcha havin?" and out of my mouth came a full Mickey Mouse: "Victory Yakima Twilight," I moused. and the gang all laughed. "WTF?" said Eric. "Laryngitis," said I. More laughter. "You're gonna go nuts not being able to talk!" he responded. Shaddup already. So Mickey and his friends enjoyed a bunch of very good beers this time around at FTF:

The Victory Yakima was teeth-rattling hoppy, but with a nice malt balance and a crisp finish, reminding me of one of my favorite beers on earth, Deschutes Twilight;
Next up, Sly Fox Rte 113 IPA, another hopmonster, with a really bitey tart end. Nice, but the Victory blew it away in comparison;
Arcadia London Porter was next, recommended by Cary, and it was a lovely porter, deep, round, roasty, chocolatey;
Kevin the Big Beer Guy raved about the Nodding Head Anomaly, but it was gone by my arrival, so I went with his other strong rec, the Manayunk Old Ebenezer Barleywine, a magnificent beer, deep and caramel and nutty and very rich. I wish I had a cigar to enjoy with that one;
Weyerbacher Double Simcoe was my next buy, a big citrusy double IPA, all Simcoe hops, and it has a spicy finish that I kinda liked; it would be a great beer with hot wings or some spicy Asian food, like a Thai green curry;
I took a break from all the hoppiness and tried a Sixpoint Vienna Lager, and it was light and refreshing and pleasantly nutty after all those ballsy bitter beers;
But my favorite beer of the day was the Dogfish Head 75 min. IPA, a blend of their 60 min. and 90 min. IPAs. It had perfect balance, sweet and tart, grassy and citrusy, spice and honey. A brilliant beer. Blew away everything I had previously;
My final beer of the day was a Yards ESA, dry-hopped with East Kent Goldings, in the true British fashion of cask ale, and it was a terrific farewell beer, big, round and full, the best beer with which I could toast the portrait of our friend Gary that hangs on the 2nd floor of the Grey Lodge, and toast all my friends as I bid them goodnight, in my best Mickey voice: "See ya real sooooon!"

And lest you think I was leaving the Grey Lodge in a state of absolute blotto, I drank only small 7-ounce cups of the beers I tried, seperated for the most part with equal cups of ice water, over the course of my almost 3 hours at FTF. Clean palate, barely a buzz, no hangover in the morning.
When I left, there were only 7 firkins left to be tapped. The crowd had emptied 18 firkins in just 6 hours. I learned later from Dan Berger that all the firking were kicked by 7:30PM.

Amazing. There won't be another Friday The Firkinteenth until August of 2010. I can't wait.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


I'm willing to stick my neck out now and then with regard to various areas of contention and opinion (remember the World Series prediction of "Phillies in 6, maybe even 5"? Well, shaddup already, especially you obnoxious, finger-pointing Yankees fans), and in beer aficionado circles, the "best" beer festival is always fodder for serious suds talk. I rank the Oregon Brewers Festival in Portland and the Great American Beer Festival in Denver among the finest examples of beer festing in America and I'm still waiting to go to my first Toronado Barleywine Festival in San Francisco someday. But for 12 years I've been attending the best beer festival in America, and only in the past few years did I come to realize it.

I'm talking, of course, about Friday the Firkinteenth at the Grey Lodge Pub in Philly, the only beer celebration dictated by the calendar: it occurs only on Friday the 13th. 2009 has been a very good year for FTF; this Friday's FTF will be the THIRD one this year!

They start tapping the firkins at NOON this Friday. Here are the details, excerpted from the Grey Lodge's website:

Kitchen will open at 11am serving our full menu.
Number of firkins is still TBA. We expect 20+.
With 20+ firkins, we should have cask ale going until at least 9pm. Time permitting Scoats will be updating the
news page and tweeting throughout the day with cask status.
7 firkins will be pouring at any time (except when we get down to less than 7), tapping a new one as one kicks. The order of the casks will be random, but hey there should be no stinkers in the line-up.

Current Cask List (likely to change, it always does): more to come!

Arcadia London Porter, a robust London style porter 7.2% ABV
Clipper City Heavy Seas Loose Cannon, a triple hopped IPA 7.25% ABV.
Coronado Islander IPA, West coast IPA . 7% ABV
Cricket Hill Col. Blide's Bitter, 5.5% ABV
Dock Street Rye IPA, an aggressively hopped American Pale Ale 6.8% ABV
Dogfish Head 75 Minute IPA, a blend of its 60 and 90 Minute IPAs 7.5% ABV
Duck Rabbit double-dry-hopped Brown, 5.6% ABV.
Earth Tappist Pale Ale, ? ABV.
Flying Fish Grand Cru, strong golden ale. 6.8% ABV.
Iron Hill Totally Inappropriate. An Octoberfest primed with fermenting Quadruppel and dry hopped with American hops. 6% abv.
Iron Hill Hopzilla IPA. Classic rendition of an English IPA. 5.8% ABV
Lancaster Celtic Rose, traditional Irish Amber Ale. 5% ABV.
Manayunk Old Ebenezer Barley Wine, traditional English barley wine 9% ABV.
Nodding Head Anomaly, an unusual beer without any unusual ingredients… 5.25% ABV.
Philadelphia Brewing Co. Joe, brewed with locally-roasted, fair trade coffee, 5% ABV.
Sixpoint Otis, an accentuation of stout beer. 6% ABV.
Sixpoint Vienna Pale.
Sly Fox Chester County Bitter, dry -hopped, quaffable session ale. 4.5% ABV.
Sly Fox Rte 113 IPA, big, strong IPA for all the hopheads. 6.6% ABV.
Stoudts Winter Ale, a new version from Stoudts. 6.2% ABV.
Troegs Hopback Amber 5.6% ABV.
Victory Yakima Twilight, 8.7% ABV.
Weyerbacher Double Simcoe, a double IPA using exclusively Simcoe hops! 9% ABV.
Yards ESA dry hopped with East Kent Goldings True British cask conditioned flavor 6.3% ABV.

I expect to get there at the midway point. Hope to see you there!