Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Midsummer ho-hum, and a few things on my mind

It’s midsummer, Chloe’s between camps, and I’ve been awake since 3:00 am worrying about the tile job in our upstairs bathroom.
Toilet in the tub. Don't panic.
Instead of tossing and turning over such things, I got up and made banana bread, like any sane person would do at 3:45 am.

Here are a few other things that are catching my attention this week:
  1. I’m ridiculously excited to escape this weekend to Providence, Rhode Island, for WaterFire, an evocative nighttime public art event that transforms the Woonasquatucket River with 100 fires floating on the water’s surface. Also on the agenda: An overnight stay at the Omni, cocktails with a view at Rooftop at the ProvidenceG, brunch at The Duck and Bunny (where my favorite meal is served every day!), and a few leisurely hours at the RISD Museum.
  2.  In my overnight bag will be The Iliad, Homer’s 3,000-year-old, epic, and stunningly violent story of the Trojan War. It’s been a bit surreal to read The Iliad against the backdrop of the Greek debt crisis. How to reconcile the poverty and struggles of modern-day Greece with the mythical land of Achilles, Zeus, and Athena?
  3. Homemade sage and rosemary cordials are in the making on my kitchen counter. I’ll blog about the herb cordial-making process when they’re done, but I haven’t been able to resist peeking at their progress every day.

  4. Reading the reviews of Go Set a Watchman has made me realize that pretty much the only thing I remember about reading To Kill a Mockingbird 20 years ago as a high school freshman was learning what morphine was. I guess I should re-read it, which is fitting since I recently decided to work my way through “the classics.” 
  5.  I’m feeling way existential about the 20th anniversary of Clueless, so it was really fun to read this Vanity Fair article filled with reminiscences and insider info from Amy Heckerling, Alicia Silverstone, Paul Rudd, and other Clueless cast members (did you know that they considered Ben Affleck for the part of Josh?). Clueless was released about a year after I read and forgot the plot of To Kill a Mockingbird, and I am looking forward to the day when I can ceremonially preside over Chloe’s first viewing. But watch it with her? As if! She’s got to watch it with her friends.
  6. The New York Times Magazine story, The Mixed-Up Brothers of Bogotá, got under my skin in a big way.
  7. Speaking of The New York Times, did you know its book review panned The Devil Wears Prada when the book came out? Just something I stumbled upon when I fell down the rabbit hole of the Internet at 4:30 am.
  8. A new Canon PowerShot SX520 arrived on my doorstep the other day, and I can’t wait to play with it in Providence this weekend. I send editors enough crappy iPhone pictures with my travel stories that I figured it was time to buy a decent point-and-shoot camera.

    My first picture with the new camera.
    Love the sharp colors! 
  9. And now that I have a camera, it’s time I learn a thing or two about photo composition. I found some basic tips for upping my photography game here.
  10. The incredibly charming 1634 Meadery in Ipswich, MA, makes lots of varieties of honey wines, like apple and strawberry, but I'm partial to the classic Orange Elation, made simply with orange blossom honey. It tastes like a sweet summer afternoon.
  11. If you haven't been to Applecrest Farm Bistro yet and live near the New Hampshire Seacoast, stop what you're doing and go! It's a brand-new concept that takes farm-to-table dining to the next level by putting a year-round restaurant right on the farm itself. Fresh, creative, and delicious dishes and cocktails like these...can't wait for a third visit next week.

    The Dixon Way: Fresh cider, Bulleit rye, orange bitters

    Just-picked asparagus and poached duck egg yolk. OMG

Monday, July 13, 2015

43 days left

In 43 days, my life is going to completely change.

For the past six years and five days, I have given myself over to my daughter’s care. As a work-at-home writer, I’ve been lucky to have the best of both worlds. I’ve been able to be at home with her, drive her to and from school, sneak off to the beach for the day, host playdates, be at every doctor’s appointment (and there have been a lot), bake cookies, take her to story time at the library, volunteer in her classroom, and make her breakfast, lunch, and dinner, every day. I’ve been able to do all this without giving up my career. I couldn’t afford not to work, but I wouldn’t have wanted to stop working anyhow.

I also couldn’t afford to put her in daycare, both from a financial perspective and a caring perspective, especially considering how much time we spent shuttling her back and forth to Boston Children’s Hospital during the first year of her life.

“It’s so short,” I remember my mom telling me when Chloe was a baby. There are only a few, short years between birth and full-time school. It’s such a small amount of time to give your child. A relatively small investment for an incredibly big return. I’m glad I was in such a position to give her those years. More than glad. I can’t describe what it’s meant to me, and I hope, to her, too.

And yet it hasn’t been easy or smooth. I might not have given up my career, but it certainly hasn’t come first. I’ve worked the equivalent of part-time for six years, squeezing in writing when I could, first during naps, then during the handful of hours she was in morning preschool and kindergarten. I'm in front of my laptop at 5:00 am and, too often, at midnight. I had help, thank God, a couple days a week, but I never had enough time to really work on my career, to do anything other than feel like I was just hanging on.

And in the summer? Things are even harder without those 2.5 hours of morning kindergarten. On busy summer days (like today) when I’m cramming to meet a deadline and don’t have childcare, Chloe will sit in front of the TV for hours while I crank out my work, always with the promise that we’ll do something fun when I’m finished. And we will—we’re going swimming later today—but still, there are summer days when Chloe is a straight-up couch potato, when I throw food at her and don’t even get her dressed or brush her teeth until I can come up for air.

“I hate Mondays!” she just told me, after I explained that I had too much work to play Hungry Hungry Hippos with her.

So as much as I have cherished these years with her, I know that this special time at home with my baby is coming to its needed end. Because she’s not a baby anymore. And I need to get back to me a little more, too. It’ll be better for both of us, I know this. I won’t have to neglect her for hours at a time or neglect my work, either. I can give 100% to each, and be all hers, totally hers, after school.

No more missed work deadlines and no more “I’m almost done!” promises when she begs to play with me. I will be able to ramp up my career in new ways, and I will give myself to her, every afternoon, maybe even more fully than I’ve been able to before.

I don’t want to wish this time away. The summer is already flying by. My time with her feels like it’s slipping out of my hands like water. And yet, I am excited for a new beginning.

Only 43 days left!

I only have 43 days left. 

How about you make pizza with your kid?

Making pizza might be the most fun and easy meal to make with your kids. We make this one, which we call “Rachael Ray pizza,” all the time. It's adapted from a recipe from Every Day With Rachael Ray Magazine.

We also make a quick (really!) homemade pizza dough using these steps:
  • Mix one cup of very hot (not boiling!) water, a packet of fast-acting yeast, and a teaspoon of sugar and let stand in a bowl for 10 minutes.
  • After 10 minutes, add 3 tablespoons of olive oil and a teaspoon of salt to the yeast mixture (which should look bubbly) and mix it around. 
  • Add 2 and 3/4 cups of flour and kneed it all together for a few minutes until it’s smooth. I do this right in the bowl. Add more flour if it’s too sticky. Substituting up to 1/2 cup whole wheat flour is yummy, too.
  • Rub all over with a bit of olive oil and cover with a towel for at least 10 minutes, but 20-30 would be better. 

Waiting for dough to rise is hard! 

In the meantime, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Mince a few cloves of garlic and mix with 5 tablespoons of olive oil, a big handful of dried parsley, salt and pepper. Toss the oil mixture with 2 cups of baby spinach and drained and chopped artichoke hearts. (I actually squeeze the extra water out of them, too, so the pizza isn’t soggy).

Now call your kid into help!

Look at that rise! 

When you’re ready, sprinkle some cornmeal on a cookie sheet that’s lined with foil, parchment, or a silicon pan liner.

Punch down the dough.

Turn the dough onto the pan and work it to the edges until it’s spread out. 
Doing this with olive-oiled hands helps

Sprinkle the dough with 1-2 cups grated mozzarella cheese (I like more cheese, but you might like less). Spread the spinach and artichoke mixture on top of the mozzarella, and sprinkle ¼-½ cup of grated Parmesan on top of that.

Don't forget to sample! 

Sampling is expected.

A lot of sampling! 

Feel pride in your creation! And bake pizza for 15 minutes. 


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Magic croutons, quarters, and the day-old bakery cart

In my grocery store, the day-old bakery cart is very sad and forlorn, pushed into a corner of the store against a wall and far away from the fresh breads that are so lovingly displayed in the center of the aisle. 

All breads baked here start their lives as equals, but some of them never get bought. Maybe they're smooshed in the middle, or ripped a little on the edge, but for whatever reason, they miss their chance at culinary usefulness and get passed over on a whim of the masses.

Then, a couple of days later, without warning, these unsuspecting loaves are whisked away from their pretty, cozy baskets and plopped onto a cold metal cart, away from the self-righteous just-baked breads that are still warm and smelling freshly of yeast. They're made to sit all by themselves in the corner, like the kid who just puked in the lunchroom. 

Well, day-old breads, I see you and I reclaim you, even though shopping at your cart makes me feel a little like a hobo. I don't care! I love you because you're usually still pretty fresh, and because you're so deeply discounted, and because you make the best damn croutons known to man. 

Actually these croutons have caused a couple of my friends to dissolve into a kind of rapture that I didn't realize crispy bread cubes could produce. One friend hoarded a bowl of them in her lap during brunch and ate every last one. 

These miracle croutons start with a loaf of bread that's gone slightly stale, which you could either achieve at home by waiting a few days before using the bread or by hitting up the day-old bakery cart at your own grocery store (and saving some money along the way). The loaf I used was marked down to just a quarter! I like using bread-bowl type bread, but anything like it--a baguette would be good--would work.

Can you believe this cost 25 cents? I love America.

Cut the bread into one-inch-ish cubes and drizzle the cubes with a couple tablespoons of olive oil. Toss them around to coat. I also like to sprinkle them with about a half-teaspoon of kosher salt and 1/4 or 1/2 teaspoon (ish) of garlic powder, but I don't really measure. Or try adding any herb you like, like sage or oregano. 

Do these look an inch wide? Or a half-inch? I can't decide. 

Bake on a cookie sheet in a single layer in a 350 degree oven. After about 10 minutes stir them around. Stir them again after another 10 minutes. Start testing them then, too. They should be mostly, if not totally crispy, although full croutony-ness will come after they cool. My last batch baked for 25 minutes.

Wait for them to cool completely before packing them in a container, or use immediately. 

Other recipes where day-old bread is best: Bread pudding, grilled cheese, and French toast. 

Homemade pickles for the lazy and cheap

Next time you eat the very last store-bought pickle, don't dump the juice or toss the jar. Instead, save it in the fridge until you've got something else you'd like to pickle.

In our case last week, it was the radishes in our CSA. I sliced them thinly and tossed them in the pickle juice, and in a few days we had funky-spicy radish pickles.

Ta-da! (Picture by Chloe)

The pickle possibilities are really endless: Cukes, of course would be great, but so would carrots, onions, garlic, green beans, beets, cauliflower, kohlrabi and on, and on....

Just don't forget that these are refrigerator pickles, meaning that you have to keep them in the--you guessed it--refrigerator, as opposed to the cabinet. But duh, right?

And the cool thing about the radish pickles is that in a few days, all of the red from their skins will soak off and color everything a light pinky-orange. Neat!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

A quick lesson in the difference between real and pretend

I LOVE Harry Potter.

I’m a full-on, total geek, would-wreck-anyone-in-trivia superfan. I read the books and watch the movies again and again, and may or may not have a teensy bit of a crush on Sirius Black. I have a JK Rowling autograph framed above my desk, have seen her speak at Radio City Music Hall, and was among the legions of fans waiting in line at midnight to buy the new books and see the movies the second they were released.

As much as I love the wizarding world, though, I understand that it’s pretend. I don’t pace in front of the mailbox waiting for my Hogwarts letter or try to perform summoning charms on my glasses from across the room. I don’t try to fly on a broomstick or attempt to apparate in and out of my house.

Like I said, I understand it’s not real. Therefore, I’m not aspiring to become a wizard.

But here’s something that many women and girls don’t understand isn’t real: Magazine covers. Over the past week, un-retouched images of two of the world’s most beautiful women—Cindy Crawford and Beyonce—have leaked online.

The images show things that are familiar to anyone with a face and skin: Pores, bumps, blemishes, stretch marks, sagging, lines. In other words, they show real human bodies (and the ladies still look gorgeous, BTW).

Unlike Harry Potter—which is clearly sold in the FICTION section of every bookstore—glossy magazines are sold as real, and the images in them are presented as real. Except they’re not real—no one looks like that! Even the people who look like that don’t look like that! No one’s skin is as smooth as plastic! It’s fake!

It’s all fake.

And because it’s fake—even fucking Beyonce doesn’t look like Beyonce!—it’s a ludicrous thing to aspire to. Just as it’s ludicrous for me wave a wand and expect magic to happen, it’s ludicrous to try to exercise or face cream or wax ourselves into magazine cover perfection. It’s a fight we will never win because—say it with me—it’s all pretend. Can we please stop aiming for the impossible?

There are no wizards. There are no perfect bodies. It’s all pretend.

Monday, February 9, 2015

10 more ways to make cooking suck less

A few weeks ago, I told you guys that being your own prep cook on Sunday is a great way to make weeknight meal prep a little easier.

Here are some more ways to make cooking suck a little less, with an eye toward the parts that everyone seems to hate the most: Planning, prepping, and cleanup:

1.       Think ahead: It might make for a painful half hour, but take the time each week before hitting the grocery store to meal plan. I usually plan for 5 nights, realizing that one night will probably be leftovers night and one night will we’ll get take out, go to a restaurant, order pizza, etc. If you’re the main chef for a family full of complainers, enlist their help. Ask for a meal request from everyone. And remember, as my friend Brianna pointed out, breakfast for dinner is always a crowd-pleaser.
2.       Drink: Pour yourself a glass of wine and relax.
3.       Use the oven when you can: The more you cook in the oven, the less you have to tend to on the stovetop.
4.       Use a single pan when you can: Roast a chicken in the same pan that you cook veggies in. Do the same for things like pork loin or pot roast, too. This works really well with harder veggies, like carrots, white and sweet potatoes, broccoli and cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts, and gives them a lot of extra flavor, too.
5.       And when cooking in a single pan in the oven, line that pan with aluminum foil, parchment paper, or a silicon baking mat: Avoid foods sticking to cookie sheets or roasting pans by using one of the above. I like silicon mats (available anywhere, but here they are on Amazon) because they’re reusable, can go in a dishwasher, can withstand crazy-high heat, and nothing—I mean nothing—ever sticks to them. Depending on what you cook, you might not have to wash the pans at all; just wait for the liner to cool and put the pan away (you'll have to wash the liner, though, lazybones!)
6.       Make a lot: Double recipes when you can and freeze the extras. I do this a lot with pancakes.
7.       Think tacos: Whether you have leftover roasted chicken, beef, pork, or veggies (or all four) make leftovers tacos part of your meal plan, and add taco shells and fixins to your weekly grocery list. On taco night, mix your leftovers with taco seasoning or salsa for more flavor.
8.       Learn to love eggs: Eggs are so versatile and easy. You can make everything-but-the-kitchen sink omelets, frittata, scrambled eggs, or quiche by adding whatever leftovers you’ve got hanging around into your egg dish. Throw in everything from leftover deli meat and cheese, veggies, bacon, etc. I sometimes also hard boil a shitload of eggs all at once and save them in the fridge for egg salad sandwiches for dinner (add some of your pre-prepped veggies for sides) or just for snacking.
9.       Screw cookbooks: If you hate to cook, don’t bother buying cookbooks or cooking magazines. Instead, buy a three-ring binder and hit the library. Bring home a couple of cookbooks and experiment. Before you return the books, use the library’s copy machine to make photocopies of the recipes you liked and store them in the three-ring binder.
10.   Embrace the staples: It’s super helpful to have a handful of easy, know-them-by heart, go-to staple recipes that you know your whole family likes for nights when you’re really tapped for ideas. In my house it’s ravioli with mushrooms and spinach; chicken pot pie; and breakfast for dinner!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Making cooking suck less, part one: Be Your Own Prep Cook

There are some fundamental truths in life, and one of them is this: If you never eat, you will quickly die. Even the dumbest dumbass you can think of has to figure out a way to feed himself.

It’s for this reason that cooking will be part of all of our adult lives. But contrary to what food porn would have you believe, not everyone orgasms at the sight of a perfectly seasoned cast iron skillet.

In fact, a lot of people really, really hate cooking. They find it stressful, boring, and tedious. All the planning and chopping and cleaning totally sucks. Although some people might enjoy parts of the chore, cooking is still a chore. But unlike doing laundry or cleaning the toilet, cooking isn’t a chore that can be put off for very long. True, if you never do laundry, you’ll eventually become Smelly Guy. But that’s small potatoes compared to the consequences of not eating. If you don’t eat, you’ll become Nutritional-Deficiency Guy and eventually Dead Guy.

I conducted a very scientific Facebook poll of my friends and found out there are three things that people who hate cooking (and even people who love cooking) hate the most: Planning, prepping, and cleanup.

My biggest tip for those people, and myself, is BYOPC: Be Your Own Prep Cook.

In a restaurant, the prep cook is the dude who does all of the suck work for the bigwig chef: Chops veggies, grates cheeses, etc., so the fancy chef can do the magic fun parts.

Do your weeknight self a favor and spend an hour or so on Sunday doing all the prep work for the week, since that’s the biggest time sucker for making meals. Grate all the cheese you’ll need for pizza or lasagna. Wash and cut all of the veggies. Chop onions and garlic and herbs. Do it all at once. Just power through it. It might be unfun in the moment, but you will thank yourself later in the week.

I did this last weekend and wanted to make out with my Sunday night self the entire rest of the week. When it was Monday at 6:00 pm and time to roast broccoli, I wasn’t wasting time chopping. I dumped the already washed and chopped broccoli onto a sheet pan, drizzled it with olive oil and salt, and roasted it in a 425-degree oven for 20 minutes. That weeknight veggie prep took 1 minute.

On Tuesday when I wanted to add carrots, onions, and bell peppers to black beans and rice, I took the already diced veggies out of containers and dumped them in the pan. This took 10 seconds.

I did the same thing later in the week for green beans, asparagus spears, Swish chard, sugar snap peas, garlic, rosemary, and thyme. Store your chopped, diced, and grated everything in plastic containers in the fridge. The only foods this doesn’t work for are fruits and veggies that will turn brown, like apples, pears, and white potatoes. It’s perfect for everything else.

If you can faithfully find the time to BYOPC every week, you’ll save yourself so much time when you’re hurrying to make dinner after work. The prep time will be less, and the cleanup time will be less, too.

Stay tuned later in the week for more ways to make cooking suck a little less, but until then, what are your favorite kitchen tips? Tell us in the comments below.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Deviled pompous ass eggs

I was at the grocery store the day after Christmas and saw the cutest stinking thing: A box of 18 teeny tiny speckled quail eggs! I floated over to them as if in a trance, wearing a foggy, dazed smile. Quail eggs! At the grocery store! It was a Christmas miracle.

I picked them up and hesitated: Why would I buy quail eggs?

Then, a better question occurred to me: Why wouldn’t I buy quail eggs?

I put them in my cart and skipped off to the register. So surprised, so happy. At home, I flourished them at Brian, Chloe, my grandmother, my sister-in-law, anyone who’d pay attention. Look at them! They’re so little! And speckly! My brother-in-law, Chris, accused me of buying them in the pompous ass section of the grocery store, and although that’s a good guess, no, no. They were just sitting there, looking so dang cute, among the regular ole’ eggs.

But what to do with them? It seemed a tease to fry them, a waste to simply scramble them. These little suckers needed to be showcased. I decided, then, to devil them for a belated Christmas party the next day.

Before I get to that, though, the basics: What the fuck is a quail?

Basically they’re just little birds, but don’t they sound so fancy? I imagine that they look—even in the wild—like 18th century zoological lithographs or Audubon prints, like something you’d see at the Harvard Museum of Natural History.

Also a few quail facts, too: Some quails have a feathery little flourish jutting out of their foreheads. Quails are found around the world, from California to New Zealand to India. A group of quails is called a flock, a covey, or a bevy. A bevy. Isn’t that delightful?

Now, a word on deviled eggs: As much as I love them, they present something of an eating conundrum: They’re a bit messy for two bites, but too big for one.

Deviled quail eggs present neither problem. They are one-bite wonders. Chloe and I popped toothpicks in each of them for easy eating.

Since quail eggs are half the size of chicken eggs, I boiled them for 7 minutes instead of 15. Next, I cooled them down in cold running water and peeled them. This was a little tricky; the quail eggshells weren’t as brittle and easy to peel as chicken egg shells. Instead, they felt a little more rubbery. They were also absurdly tiny in my hulking, giantess hands. Seriously, quail eggs will make you feel wild with power.

Once the eggs were all peeled, I cut them in half, wiping the yolk off of the knife blade after every egg to keep things tidy and clean. I gently popped out the yolks, and mashed and mixed them with mayo, salt, mustard powder, and a bit of apple cider vinegar (add what you like until it looks, feels, and tastes good to you), I put the yolk mixture into a homemade pastry bag (a gallon-sized zip-top bag with a teeny piece snipped off the corner) and filled the eggs. It was really easy. Chloe actually did a few of them, too.

Later, at the party, there were two reactions to the deviled quail eggs: “Cool!” or “Eeeewww!”

I can kind of understand both reactions, but in reality, there was nothing earth-shattering about the way they tasted: Like deviled eggs.

Which is to say delicious!  

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A field trip to the Anheuser-Busch Merrimack Brewery in which I become the pride of my family

At our Wilson family cookouts, there are two things that can always be counted on: Anheuser-Busch beers and the booming voices of my uncles.

You’d develop a booming voice, too, if you’d grown up in a family of five boys who were separated in age by just seven years. My dad and his four brothers must have felt the need to out-boom each other in order to be heard over the din of pretending to kill one other (a mother-torturing incident involving ketchup, a white t-shirt, a dart, and a little boy sprawled out on the floor) and actually almost killing themselves (metal toboggan runners to the face, a near-drowning in the Saco River, knocked out teeth, bike-riding wipeouts on railroad tracks, hockey pucks to the forehead…the list is a long one).

Five wild boys and their dad, 1965

Brothers and their Bud Light cups 47 years later

So I think the booming is an honest byproduct of that.

As familiar to me as my uncles’ voices—especially in the form of their joyful, unguarded laughter—are the Budweiser, Busch, and Michelob Ultra cans and bottles that are in their hands at every family event. For my Uncle John, it’s Budweiser in bottles; he’ll reputedly walk out of a restaurant that doesn’t serve it. For Uncle Paul it’s Michelob Ultra, and for Uncle Mike it’s Busch.

I admit that I didn’t inherit their affinity for light beer, or their booming voices, either. I’m a craft beer drinker (although not a beer snob) and am actually one of the more soft-spoken members of my family.

That’s why I wasn’t sure what to expect during a Beermaster Tour and food pairing at the Anheuser-Busch Merrimack Brewery in Southern New Hampshire. 

Brian gamely poses at the Anheuser-Busch Brewery

But I was immediately and pleasantly surprised when the tour began with a sample of Shock Top Chocolate Wheat, a beer that I didn’t know was brewed by Anheuser-Busch. We sipped the darkly colored beer, which had notes of vanilla mingled with chocolate, and heard from our tour guide, Chris, about the history of the 162-year-old brewery and the story behind its famous Clydesdales (they were a seriously ballsy gift from August and Adolphus Busch to their father to celebrate the repeal of Prohibition).

Next, we suited up like air traffic controllers in goggles, reflective vests, and headsets that allowed us to hear our tour guide in loud areas of the brewery—we were venturing into a busy factory, after all—and set off.

I think warning yellow is our color

On the tour with Brian and me were three other guests: Rob—sporting a “This Guys Needs A Beer” T-shirt with two cartoon thumbs pointing up at his head—his wife, Jennifer, and their friend, Valerie, all of whom were enthusiastic Budweiser drinkers and brewery tour regulars. In fact, Rob said he had “tears in his eyes” the first time he saw the massive Bud Light finishing tanks where the beer rests before being bottled and pasteurized.

This affable guy got a bunch of beer

I didn’t have tears in my eyes, but I was impressed by the precision and care that goes into ensuring that every single bottle of Budweiser tastes exactly like what my Uncle John expects it to taste like. We even got a peek into the mission-control-like room where wall-to-wall computers measure and calibrate every aspect of the brewing process.

The highlight of the tour was getting to sample Bud Light right from one of the finishing tanks, which Jennifer promised would be “the best beer you’ll ever taste.” Chris tapped the tank and gave us each a glass of the unpasteurized, super-cold beer, which was unbelievably crisp and even thirst-quenching.

Chris taps the Bud Light finishing tank

We toasted each other (Jennifer quickly handed her glass to Chris for a refill) and chatted for a while among the gleaming stainless steel finishing tanks before ending the tour by hearing about the 275,000 cases and 10,000 kegs that were stored in the warehouse.

“I know that sounds like a lot of beer, but that’s not even two days’ supply for the New England area,” Chris said.

Why does that not surprise me?

After doffing our protective gear, we were ushered to the hospitality room, where a bar, a crackling fireplace, couches, tables, and chairs welcomed people for a post-tour beer or two.

Get comfy with a beer in the hospitality room

We were greeted there by Otto Kuhn, the Merrimack brewery’s head brewmaster, a Purdue University-educated chemical engineer with an assertive handshake who’s brewed Budweiser everywhere from Argentina to England to Spain.

“When you make a clean, crisp beer like this, all the mistakes come out,” he said, explaining the meticulousness with which Budweiser is brewed. Therefore mistakes are not an option. For Budweiser, that results in a beer that, above all, is easily drinkable and has no lingering aftertaste. And the recipe is unchanged since the brewery’s founding.

“You have to be true to taste and true to style,” Kuhn said.

That’s not to say they can’t embrace the explosion of food and beer culture
, which is why the Anheuser-Busch Merrimack Brewery recently started offering “Brews & Bites,” which are monthly, themed food- and beer-pairing events.

We got a taste of the Thanksgiving-themed Brews & Bites, which included “Budweiser Biscuits” paired with Budweiser; a lovely pork loin stuffed with raisins, sage, and cloves that was paired with a roasty and caramel-noted Budweiser Black Crown; spicy mashed sweet potatoes spiked with Matilda pale ale and paired with Beck’s Oktoberfest; and rich and decadent pumpkin pie bars paired with Shock Top Pumpkin Wheat.

Stuffed pork loin roast paired with Budweiser Black Crown

The food was great, the beer was great, and together they were even better. Unlike wine dinners which come with an intimidation factor and the fear of somehow getting wine “wrong” (Only fools and losers drink White Zinfandel, you oaf!), beer dinners are so much easier and more accessible. Either you like a beer or you don’t, you taste what you taste, and it’s all totally OK. For me, the clove and shallot flavors in the pork loin really popped after a sip of the clean and pleasantly bitter Budweiser Black Crown, and the Shock Top Pumpkin Wheat echoed the flavors of the pumpkin pie bars beautifully. At a cost of $15 for advance tickets, a Brews & Bites event is definitely an easy, fun, and tasty experience that's worth making the short trek to Merrimack for.

Brian and I lingered around the brewery for a little while after the tour and tasting, visiting the enormous chestnut Clydesdales in their stables and buying a four-pack of the Shock Top Chocolate Wheat beer in the gift shop.

I'm deathly allergic to these steeds, so I booked it out of there pretty quickly

And when I posted a picture on Facebook of me and Brian in the hospitality room, my Auntie Jodi replied with a message from one of the guys I’d been thinking about all day: “Uncle John is proud!”

If You Go:

Free tours are offered at the Merrimack Brewery and include beer samples.

The two-hour long Beermaster Tour is a fun, in-depth, and intimate experience that delves deeper into the brewing process. The cost for Beermaster Tours is $25 for adults 21+ and $10 for kids aged 13-20. Reservations are required; call 603-595-1202 or email

To learn more about the complimentary and Beermaster Tours, visit and click on the Merrimack, New Hampshire tab.

Check the Merrimack Budweiser Tours Facebook page for information about upcoming events, including monthly Brews & Bites tours, as well as other events such as the annual Ribfest and the Merrrimack Bierfest.

If you make this for Thanksgiving, you'll be very happy

Tour, travel and other expenses provided by  Anheuser-Busch; all opinions are my own.