Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Match Made in Heaven

Ever heard of Farmers, Fishers, and Bakers? It's a restaurant on the Georgetown Waterfront known for fresh ingredients and that "farm to table" style that has become a major trend in the DC food scene the past few years.

I have unfortunately not been able to try it out yet, but I am on the email listserv for the restaurant group and got word a few months ago about a special "beer and food wine pairing dinner" they were offering. It sounded intriguing, but at around $75 a seemed a bit steep. But I sent the link to some friends of mine to see if they were interested in checking it out.

*enter Jon, Lis, and Scott, stage right*

I can't remember who came up with the suggestion, but after some discussion there was a general feeling of "hey, we can do better than that." So rather than blow a lot of money one a night out, we decided to make our own beer and food pairing and have a night in.

The menu planning was key. It turns out you can find a bunch of tools online to help you prepare a beer and food night. We decided to go with five courses and many MANY types of beers. If you're going to do something, do it right.

First course: Cheese and charcuterie platter.

We went with a variety of everything here. A quick trip to Cheesetique in Del Ray set us up well for the meats and Jon provided the cheese and crackers from another shop. Our cheeses ranged from soft to hard and from mild to flavorful: we had a Honey Goat (goat), a 3 cheddar blend, a Stilton blue cheese, and an unknown sheep's milk cheese. I forgot to write down the type of sheep's cheese when taking my notes. Deal with it. On the meat side, we went with mostly Italian meats (duh): a genoa salami, mortadella, garlic salami, and my personal favorite, prusciutto.

Jon was our beer master and carefully selected beers to go with each course, and in this case, each individual cheese. The goat was paired with a Belgian Saison, while the sheep's milk went nicely with Schlafly American Brown Ale. We needed something that could stand up to the flavorful blue cheese, and it was Stone Imperial Russian Stout (2014) to the rescue! Last (but not least) was a Stochasticity Project Grapefruit Slam IPA for the cheddar.

Honestly, the cheese, meat, and beer could have been a meal all on its own. But we still have four courses to go! As George Takei would say, "Oh, myyyyyyy."

Second course: Salad.

You might think salad is boring. You would be wrong. This one was fantastic--it was a mix of spinach and arugula with tomatoes, walnuts, and dried cranberries and topped off with a bright citrus poppyseed dressing. YUM! The beer pairing for this was also very good: a Bavarian-style German beer, a Weihenstephaner Hefe Weissbier.

Third Course: Spam fried rice.

Scott whipped this up for us and it was delicious. You might hear Spam and think "ew" and again, you would be wrong. Sure, it's a potted meat, but if utilized correctly, Spam can be fantastic. It's saltiness went really well in this rice dish which was itself excellently paired with an American Pilsner from Wild Wolf brewery right here in Virginia.

Fourth course: Baked (not fried!) chicken wings with kale.

Did you know that you can bake chicken wings? Did you know that they come out amazingly crispy and not greasy? WELL NOW YOU DO. And if you shake on some Old Bay seasoning like Scott did, it's like a flavor explosion. There was also buffalo sauce, but for my money, I'll take the Old Bay. Oh, and can you pass the Lickinghole Creek Four Pillars Imperial IPA, please? Thanks!

Fifth Course: Chocolate.

In a move that is a surprise to nobody, I selected a bunch of different types of chocolate for our dessert. If you're going to blow the calories, do it on something you love. Hence, chocolate. I visited a bunch of different shops in the area to seek out a selection of chocolates, some filled chocolates from Max Brenner in Bethesda, chocolate caramels from Chouquette Chocolates (also in Bethesda), a large Cadbury dairy milk bar, and a chocolate bar with maple bacon from Chuao chocolatier. You can find their bars in the fancy chocolate aisle of grocery stores and in cheese and wine shops.

On the beer side of things, Jon also brought us a selection to try with all the different chocolates. We had a couple of Belgian lambics: Lindemans Gueze Cuvee Rene and Hanssens Oude Geuze Lambic Ale. And my favorite beer of the night, Chocdale Ale from the Boulevard Brewing Company's Smokestack Series in Kansas City, Missouri.


We had made it through five courses, about 10 beers (though no promises on the math there) and were stuffed to the gills. There was nothing left to do but sit back and bask in the self-reflected glow of our own pleasure and victory.

....until next time. Though I'm not sure how we can top ourselves. Perhaps...ribs?

 Our beer and meat experts!

 The aftermath.

 And of course, Max the Beagle was on hand to catch any crumbs. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Big C

"Life is a pain in the ass. l´ll tell ya. You know? You work hard, try to provide for the family, and then, for one minute,everything´s good. Everyone´s well. Everyone´s happy. ln that one minute, you have peace."

"Pop, this isn´t that minute."             -

--While You Were Sleeping

I'm going to have to take a break from my usual coverage of food, travel adventures, parties, and other frivolous fun in the life of Maggie. Oh, and cupcakes. I unfortunately have to break from the usual cupcake coverage. 

Because right now there's actually real life stuff happening. And by "real life stuff," I mean the kind of stuff that completely changes the course of how you live, think, and look at the world.

Now that I have you on pins and needles I'll just spit it Mom has cancer.

I know, it sucks.

One day you're going about your life as usual, blogging about cupcakes, and then BAM. You get news that changes everything. For me, it was my Mom telling me that she had noticed a weird lump in her neck and had scheduled a biopsy. At this point, I did what most people would do. I freaked the fuck out. Kidding! I reassured myself that it was probably nothing and it was smart to get it checked out. Just in case.

I went with Mom to the biopsy and did my best to distract her with jokes and stories as I do. But in the back of my mind there was that tiny little voice that I do my best to ignore, "...what if it's something serious?"

And it turns out it was serious. I was on a work trip to West Virginia (ugh) when Mom called me with the biopsy results. I already knew it wasn't going to be good; I had emails from my friend Chris saying, "call your Mom as soon as you can" in addition to several missed calls from Mom on my cell phone. I looked at the phone before dialing it and thought, "this is the day I find out my Mom has cancer."

God, I hate being right all the time.

So, yes, the biopsy did not come back with good news. Basically, it indicated that the lump in Mom's neck was a mass on her lymph node consistent with metastasis from squamous cell carcinoma. That's skin cancer for all you science nerds out there. The next step is to figure out the primary site of the cancer. Even though it's technically skin cancer, SCC can actually occur almost anywhere in the body as epithelial cells are present all over. In cases like my Mom's, it's usually in the lungs or in some other chest or abdominal organ. But then her chest, abdominal, and pelvic CT came back normal.

This was not a good sign. If you can't locate the primary source of cancer it's known as "occult cancer." And it means that the doctors can't tailor the treatment to a specific area; they pretty much just have to zap your entire body with chemo and maybe radiation.

However, in the past week there have been positive developments. Mom had a PET scan that indicated the cancer was located in the throat. This area is very treatable and has an excellent prognosis. She is having an endoscopy later this week to confirm the location and then meeting with the oncologist later this month to figure out the next step. It's not a done deal until the endoscopy, but the PET scan/oncologist seemed pretty sure about the throat as the primary site so for now I am going to focus on the positive.

I think at this point though I am still working my way through all this. There's a long road ahead for sure and I need to focus on supporting Mom in whatever way I can. And while I have one of those feelings that everything is going to work out ok...this is all pretty scary. It makes you think thoughts like, "what would I do without my Mom?" and other terrible stuff that I am definitely not ready to handle. But thankfully I have an amazing group of friends and family who have already stepped up with love and support.

I'm trying to just focus on a "one step at a time" mode of attack. Though I know the coming weeks, months, and years are not going to be easy. But then, whoever said life was easy?

I will now return you to my usual nonsense blogging, because hey, who doesn't need a good distraction. And I will definitely keep you all updated on developments as they happen--but no news is good news as far as these things go.

And now here is a picture of my Mom with a beagle puppy. Because why not?