Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Time to Eat ...

The sausages were the last ones. Not sure why, but mom and dad always made sausages at the very end of the cooking day. We lived in this 3 bedroom, maybe 1000 sqf apartment, on the 3rd floor of this high rise, with stores at the ground level – it’s what’s common back in Eastern Europe, I guess, for city living. And they would cook, every day, 365 days a year. Even when we went on vacation – it had to be somewhere with a kitchen.

Around Christmas, they would buy a whole pig, or maybe just half, whatever they could afford that year. And the animal came with everything – guts and feet and all. About two weeks before Christmas or so, they would stuff the intestines with ground meat and spices. And we, kids, helped. Mom and dad would spin the handle on the sausage making machine and my sister and I would form them, and twist the intestine at equal intervals. I remember this was always done at night. I think it might have been because it was such a messy job, the kitchen was unusable after this! But I could be wrong!

Then, we would dry the sausages in the cold winter air, on a laundry line, in our balcony, till right at Christmas, when we would fry them. But this is how the Christmas cooking marathon began!

Nowadays, although I shortened the cooking time, and I made a lot of adjustments to eat a bit lighter,  I still make what by American standards is considered a lot of food around The Holidays. I don’t buy a whole pig, or even half. Matter of fact, except for the HoneyBaked Ham, I don’t have any pig at all! But I still cook till the fridge looks lopsided. Mom and dad, however, are hardly impressed with my amounts! They have three fridges and a freezer, and they stuff them full around this time. They might make anywhere between 20 to 45 courses of food, for the whole week between Christmas and New Years – depending on how many people are announced to show up.

My “minimarathon” of cooking lasts for about 2-3 days, compared to their “weeks”. And this makes me feel lazy!

Following a suggestion of a dear friend (also Eastern European buddy who knows what I am talking about – maybe?!), I have written this post, to summarize at least my Christmas menu this year. There is a new one for New Year’s but let’s eat Christmas first!

It started on Saturday morning, on the 22. From back in the day of my single life, I have always had a get together for my friends the week before Christmas or so. I have no family around, usually, and I know everyone does, so I try to "see" them before their family obligations kidnap them "the day of". 

For this pre-Christmas gathering, I do try to make mostly "American friendly" foods. No pig's feet or guts in the menu. This time, it was not all homemade foods, either: I did get some help from the store, in the form of some mini-quiches that you just bake for 15 minutes or so to warm up! Those things are the best! Any store might have them, but I get the party size boxes, at Costco. 

Let's call this "semi-homemade" (sorry, Sandra Lee!): these are turkey smokies wrapped in turkey bacon. Yes, you can tell the difference, but they are delicious nonetheless! Took maybe 20 minutes to wrap these and another 20 to cook, maybe?!

A Christmas tradition: HoneyBaked Ham sandwiches, this time in croissants.
Need I say more?!  I believe that mustard, mayo or other condiments ruin this sandwich, so I serve it naked! You spoil at your own risk if you use all this other "stuff". 

Fingerling potatoes medley, with herbs, garlic, green onions and (turkey) bacon. All you do is wash the potatoes, cube them, toss them on a cookie sheet with the above ingredients and olive oil, salt and pepper, and roast them in the oven till the potatoes are soft. This was the side for the ham sammies. 

I had two pots of soup, too. They were both hearty, but very different: the first one was a Southern potato and bacon soup, which was passed on to me by my lovely Virginia best friend. She knows her recipes of slow cooking onions and bacon in the Dutch oven, let me tell you. This soup is a winner if you want sometime rich, starchy and comforting! It cures whatever ails you!
 The second one came from a former NC co-worker, and it was an Indian chili - almost at the other end of the spectrum from the potato soup: several kinds of beans, corn, ground meat, peppers and onions spiced up in tabasco sauce. So good for cold winters! 

The meal was complete with my husband's shortbread cookies, which, no matter what he says, they are delicious! No pictures of those ... but trust you me - they are insane! Also, what's a Christmas party without the eggnog?! It was delicious, if I say so myself. 

I seem to be copying recipes from everyone I know, and I make the eggnog somewhat similar to one of my NJ friends: I pour it in  a bowl and I mix in vanilla ice-cream and lots of nutmeg! I don't whip it, or anything - I just let the vanilla scoops float till they melt. Then, I add the rum right when I am getting ready to drink it, right in my glass! This way, the rum doesn't "evaporate". The richness of the ice-cream (like you needed more richness, right?!) makes it so smooth and warming ... just coats you inside. 

I have never seen this brand of eggnog till this year - but it is delicious. And no, you absolutely cannot tell it is low fat! No way! Absolutely recommend it! 

I took a break on Sunday, but then the cooking extravaganza continued on Monday, the 24th. A couple of people at work asked me whether I do Christmas breakfast or Christmas dinner. Well – I do both, and Christmas Eve dinner, too! But, again, this is nothing compared to how I grew up! Christmas is 3 full days back home, plus the Eve! So, we do three breakfasts and 4 dinners for Christmas, with some lunches thrown in between. Somewhat the same thing for New Years!

But let’s not digress!

So, on Monday (Christmas Eve, for those of you following), I cooked for “us” – meaning for my and my husband's Christmas Eve, Christmas breakfast and dinner. I'll have to warn you, though, this time things would get more adventuresome. I did squeeze in at least one Romanian mainstay or two! 

The day started with prepping for my Christmas breakfast casserole. This year, I made my bread - ground turkey - salsa - egg - and - cheese casserole. I always mix everything together the day before, and refrigerate it till before I put it in the oven. I always use my magic ingredient (coriander) for sauteing all my ground meats! 

This is the finished product, alongside a tomato and cucumber salad. It's a very, very simple recipe, but the salsa gives it the intricacies you'd least be expecting. 

One of the sides I made for the ham was my Romanian peas. The peas are fresh or frozen, and they saute in onion, olive oil and dill for a while. Then, I add tomato sauce and let them get soft. At the very end, I add crushed garlic and let them be, till they're ready to eat. They are very similar to Greek green beans, if you ever had those. 

This is the one dish I was craving painfully this year: turkey in aspic! I don't think there is one holiday, one birthday, one funeral, whatever ... in Romania without aspic on the table! This is just the turkey carcass boiling. The pot is full of water in the beginning. By the end of it all, it's about a third of the pot, and the meat comes easily off the bones. 

At the end of it all, you add a whole (peeled) onion and some chopped carrots to the pot, along with some extra non-flavored gelatin. You strain the soup through a colander in a Pyrex dish, and you pick just the meat and carrots from the pot, and add them to the soup. Put in the fridge (not freezer!) and in a couple of hours it looks like this. I forgot to say: at the very end of the cooking process you a add lot, and I repeat, an insane amount, of crushed up garlic to the mix! It needs to be supergarlicy - as garlicy as you can handle! 

I have this jar of crushed garlic in salty water on hand at all times in my fridge, because virtually every Romanian food except sugar cookies ask for garlic - I added about half of it to that third pot of turkey "soup". 

I try to make "something new" every year, and this was my new recipe, courtesy of Alton Brown, on Food Network: a "throw away" cheese dip. You look in your fridge for ANY kind of old cheeses. It could be aged, or fresh - it won't matter. Cut the rinds and old parts off the aged cheeses, and cube the good parts. Add any cheese, really (cream cheese, fresh goat cheese was OK for us!) and add butter, a clove of garlic, some fresh herbs if you have them and half of a cup (or whatever you think is right) glass of white wine. Mix everything in a food processor for about 2 whole minutes (needs to be really creamy!). Spread this on crackers and pass out! Let me tell you - Alton knows his stuff! 

Another tradition I copied from my NJ friends is mimosas on Christmas morning. We just cannot open presents without them! And really, with all this food and presents for excitement, no one will ever know how much you spent on that champagne! 

And what would Christmas, and any holiday, dinner or meal for that matter be without ... mashed potatoes! I can promise you, unless I have Alzheimer's, I will make these forever and again, right next to any meat, fake meat, non meat you can think of. This is an oath!  

After writing all these, I can tell you one thing: almost every person that has touched my life in any significant way, has left a food print in my kitchen! If you recognized yourself in any of these dishes it's because we shared a special time, and you will be with me, no matter how far I'll travel and no matter how long it'll be till you hear from me. 

Because of my family and their heritage of making not only food, but cooking such an intrinsic part of living, my heart will always be connected to those I love and those that love me back through the foods we share, on special times like Christmas.  

I hope you find some traditions of your own, in your immediate family, or even among your closest pals that you can enjoy, and share forward with those you love! 

Happy Eating Season, everyone. I hope everyone had a bountiful, flavorful weekend, and here's for more good food and good people, in the New Year, too! 

Sunday, December 09, 2012

A Multicultural Week

It started with Monday. As any new week would.
We had reservations for a food-and-wine pairing, at The Communal Restaurant   in downtown Provo. The winery that was featured was from Napa Valley, our favorite, and its name was Judd’s Hill . The wine maker was there, and it was a ton of fun to hear him energized about his juices! He should have been excited, too: they had indeed the first chardonnay that I didn’t hate, and that says something. Their reds were a bit way dry for me, however. But it is me, not them!  

The menu from our food and wine pairing

You’ll have to know a bit about the Communal. It’s this little, maybe 500 sqf place in downtown Provo, and all it has is three tables. Three huge tables, that accommodate oh, I don’t know between 10 and 20 people each. And you sit down right across and next to strangers and you feel just like you feel when you’re on a plane: stuck, that is: you’ve got a stranger; and some food, and two hours to spare. What are you going to do?! Ignore? Or participate?! 

The rabbit, cooked three ways, and the beef and beet dish. I had a hard time eating something as pretty as this!

We participated! We met some cool out-of-towners, in town for business, and some “neighbors” from Springville. Amazing that people who grew up around here would entertain the beautiful decadence of wine-and-good-food pairings. Thou shalt not judge.   

The food came in small portions, but it was so delicious. My favorite was the rabbit. Especially the roasted one. It reminded me of this rabbit onion stew mom used to make every fall when my dad’s uncle would bring us his hunted rabbits. So yum!

The beef was a bit … bloody for me, but then again, I am no good judge – I never eat it. The whole night was an experience – the food was gourmet and unusually delicious, not something you can get at any ol’ restaurant every day, and the wine was well paired and complemented it well. It felt like a trip to Europe for sure: good food, small portions, good wine and close encounters. Definitely not recommended if stepping out of your comfort zone is not your thing.

And then, there was Friday. We went out for my work team outing, to Texas Roadhouse. If there is such a thing as going to hell for killing beef, these people have the expressway ticket, let me tell you!

I know that for most Americans this is not a cultural experience, but it is for me. I have never seen this much steak on one table in my whole life! From our table top of 8 people, 6 got some form of steak, one got a form of burger, and I got the shrimp. I have no idea how people can eat enormous amounts of steak! I would want to look like Mr. Universe and demand my money back if it didn’t happen after so much red meat!

After the dinner, we went to the newest James Bond Movie, Skyfall. So, the evening ended nicely, with us being teleported from Texas, back to the Motherland, in England. It was one of the best Bond movies yet, according to the aficionados in the audience and … to my husband, too. It was really a lovely evening.

On Saturday, we first went to a traditional Italian pizzeria, Settebello in Salt Late City. I loved the pizza! I have never been to Italy, but it reminded me of Amsterdam Italian pizza – just thin crust and healthy tasting – chockfull of fresh cheese and tomatoes, with an aftertaste of burnt wood, from the real brick oven it just came out of . None of the goopiness and plasticness of the American pizzas. Mine was loaded with garlic. So much so that I had to chew some peppermint gum after it, so I won’t offend my concert neighbors! Pair that up with a nice, smoother than silk Italian pino grigio, and the dinner was amazing!

After dinner, we had tickets for the Utah Symphony, in Salt Lake City. I have not been to The Symphony for many, many, oh, too … many years. I enjoyed it like the fasting son enjoys the first sign of water after fasting for a long time in the desert! We watched a Debussy and Ravel concert, and it was amazing! I loved the fact that for two hours there were no violations by technology in the space of the elegant Abravanel Hall! No electronic instruments, not even the sight of an electronic panel monitoring the sound or the lights! Just pure music, old fashionedly played instruments and beautiful, masterful sounds. Just the way they have been doing it since … the invention of music, I guess! The piano player from France, played an entire piano and orchestra concerto from memory. No paper reminders! It was a beautiful and humbling escape. 

The gorgeous glass sculpture in the lobby of Abravanel Hall


Temple Square and the surrounding streets, as seen from inside Abravanel Hall


Waiting for the concert to start. 

When we got out, the city was wearing the winter coat. Snow, sleet and ice was frosting every corner of it! The usual 45 minute drive home expanded to 2 hours on Saturday night! The roads were slick and the traffic thick. (Rhyme not intended.) But laying down in bed, and looking back, we have no complaints. 

Welcome to Winter, and Happy Holidays, too, from SLC, UT!

I feel like I have traveled between California to France, and then England, back to Texas and yet back to Italy and France in the span of five days without moving so much more than 40 miles from where we live.
I love America. And the one thing I love her the most for is … that it allows for all of us, immigrants, to bring home to us, instead of make us travel to it. All this, while letting us explore what it has to generously offer on its own, too.  

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Hardest Trip

When you go through hell, keep going”. (Churchill)

14 years. I have been through losing a home, and gaining several others, marriage, and divorce, long relationships and short, loss of a job, another marriage, losing relatives I adored, watching my friend die of cancer, having two nephews, happiness beyond belief and sadness beyond words, too … But the one single thing that ripped my chest open, yanked my heart out, and threw it against the ground, reducing me to a big pile of nothing had to be a 5 pound cat.
But this is not about me and my grief. It is about the most loved and adored cat there was – my buddy cat, Fero.

I adopted him when he was 3 months old, when my former husband wanted a cat that behaves more like a dog. My husband was adamant about an Abyssinian. I didn’t care. I just wanted a cat. And a dog Fero was. But he was also a human, and a cat. And so much more. An angel, a total pig when it came to eating, and a motorboat, too.

Fero died this morning, after a long time of fighting whatever reduced him to 5 lbs (from 14) and about a month of fighting kidney failure. The way out was not his choice entirely, and I hope that one day I can forgive myself for making that choice. And I really wish dearly that people would stop telling me that I did the right thing!

I don’t think there ever was a person that ever, in 14 years, met him, even for one minute, that doesn’t remember him! His favorite thing in the whole world besides food was the doorbell. He loved to greet everyone when there was ever any movement at the door, and that included us, and the plumber, too. He talked to everyone. He asked them how they were, in his sweet growl and told them about his day, in his soft voice too. Someone who would only see him once, like an electrician or a contractor, would say, over years “oh, you have that cool cat”. They would not remember his name, or my name for that matter, but they would remember “that cool cat”. I have a coworker who only saw him once, but his son  picked him up and could not believe the friendliness. He calls him “the purple cat”, although he was not purple. But he was that unique.

Even when he was sicker than sick, the nurses would greet me at the door with “Oh, Ms. Wilson, he has been a chatter box. He has told us all about his life, and about how much he hates that IV, and he’s asking us about our days, too. He must be feeling better”. Yes, he was that friendly!

He had ticked brown hair, beautiful, clear, almond shaped eyes, gorgeous to the very end. He had a smile on his face and a happy outlook about him. A louder than loud purr, and a beautiful, kingly allure. He was royal, and he was what you call “a presence”. You were never not aware that Fero was in the room. He brightened it up and was the center of the conversation. He made sure of it. And he was so worth it! He would not live to be a bore.

Whoever said cats have no personality has never truly met a cat. And whoever said that cats are selfish creatures, independent and wanna be left alone has never met Fero! He was completely selfless. He was more in your business than he was in his. He was at the door when you walked in, next to your lap, when you were on the couch, on the spare dining room chair, at the dinner table, and right next to your pillow, when you laid down for a nap. 

This just in August - with my nephews, joining us for dinner and a movie, later. Always present. 

His biggest passion was food. He loved everything, or at least he thought he did. He begged for anything that came out of the fridge, and everything on the counter, or on your plate. He asked politely, with a tilt of the head, in a questioning growl that I will miss soooo much, if he could try anything you were having. Anything. He was always, and I mean always on the island stools when I prepped for cooking, just watching me carefully. He was always on the same chair as me, when I was having my breakfast. Even when he was sick last week, he carefully watched my husband mix the batter for the Thanksgiving pie. His favorite foods, beside any brand of cat canned food were ham, white chicken meat, popcorn and potato chips.

He was not ever a lap kitty. He was too much on alert for the doorbell for that. But he loved to cuddle. His favorite was to breathe hard in your ear while purring, or in the root of your hair. And he loved, loved, loved to have his tummy rubbed. My favorite mornings, here in Utah, were when I would find him in front of the hot vent in the winters, all stretched out asking for me to rub his tummy. He purred, forever and he would never get enough …

He always jumped and was present in the kitchen every single time the fridge opened, or the pantry door. He was so incredibly smart. They tell you that Abyssinians will learn words, just like dogs, and will respond to commands. I don’t like training pets to do things on command much, so I never took the time to train him. But he definitely learned the word “treats” on his very own!

He learned the Windows shutdown song, on my Dell laptop. Every time the song would come on (and he of course was right next to my wrist as I was typing), he jumped in the middle of the room, and headed for the kitchen. He knew it was time for a bedtime snack. And I mean, every single one time, in 14 years! Lately, I muted my laptop, in the hope that he would just chill. It took him probably about a month flat to figure out that the sound was gone, and he was now sitting perched over my shoulder on the back of the couch, just so he could watch my screen. When the screen would turn blue,  I was not even closing the lid, but when I pressed the shut down button and the pictures would disappear – he knew!

He loved to redecorate my house with his toys. I have a some cat toys, small, furry things I bought over the years, and people have given me, as gifts for all my cats, and I keep them in a plastic basket, out of the way. He would meticulously pull each one out, and spread them all over the dining room floor, where they would get premium visibility. I listened to him, and only put them away when I had guests.

I’ll miss his wet nose in my ears. And his jumping in the middle of the kitchen every time the laptop shuts off. And his bony fingers mashing and webbing into mine. I’ll miss the smell of his feet, and of his breath. I’ll miss sharing my meals with him, and especially the popcorn and my breakfast bar in the morning. I’ll miss his nose glued to my bedroom door in the morning and to my entrance door when I come home from work.

14 years. We have watched each other at our worst and our best. I have cradled him to sleep as a baby  and as an old sick kitty, and he has cradled me, through my many disappointments. At the end of the hardest day in my life, there was always his reassuring paw on my forearm, and his soft talk, and his deep, brown eyes, and his friendly tilt of his bony, earful head. He’s made me love cats more than I thought possible before, and he’s made me hate people more. I just hope I gave him at least an ounce of what he has given me.

When I adopted him 14 years ago, I signed a piece of paper that made me promise I would care for him, that I would not declaw him, and I would not allow flees, worms or any kind of parasites to live in or on his body. That I would not hurt him, or adopt him further to other people. I kept that promise religiously for every single day of every single one of those 14 years. Except … for the past months, where he’s been sick. I could not shield him from this one. The Big one! I could not. I did not know how. And I will never forgive myself for it, either!

Even skinny, he was still joyful, happy and communicative – till the kidney failure set in. And then, a week ago, he stopped eating. I knew he was near the end when my baby stopped eating. Stopped begging for food, and stopped jumping in the kitchen every time the silverware drawer would open. Then, two days ago, he stopped drinking. And then moving on his own.

I am not running through this to give myself absolution. This was also part of his life. The very sad, but fortunately, very short, part of his life. He trusted me blindly. I moved him across the country and I would crate him every single day in the car ride, and he never fought it. He talked and talked in the car, but I think he was asking for explanations. Oh, how I wish I could give those to him!

I am not quite sure how I’ll move on from here, but like Churchill said … I’ll have to just keep going. Blindly, and hurt, and down, I will keep crawling, and praying that my Fero is well and we shall meet again, on a sunny, beautiful pasture, somewhere.

They say kitties go to kitty heaven when they die, but I swear Fero would love a people heaven. Full of good hearted people that would listen to his stories and would feed him whatever they could spare.

Wherever he is now, I hope he’s free of pain, and there is plenty of foods and toys for him to enjoy. I hope it’s warm, and there is a vent he can purr by. I also hope they have a Windows, not a Mac, computer with a Windows XP song.

There is no way I could ever, in a million words, even begin to do justice to this amazing cat! I am just trying to leave a mark in time about his beautiful givings to us, and I am just trying to get this out of my chest, as it smothers me. As it should!

I am forever humbled that this unbelievable creature has spent most of his short life with me. I will never be the same because of his passing, but mostly because of his life and what he has taught me. Egyptians worshiped cats, and now I know why.

Rest in peace, little buddy. Until we shall meet again, momma loves you forever and always just the same.

June 1, 1998 - November 26, 2012 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Quiet Weekend under the First Snow

“It sifts from leaden sieves,
It powders all the wood,
It fills with alabaster wool
The wrinkles of the road.
It makes an even face
Of mountain and of plain, --
Unbroken forehead from the east
Unto the east again.”
(Emily Dickinson – The Snow)

Yes. It’s here. We did have a couple of flakes … sometime in October, I think – but the first true “dump” happened this weekend. The last tomatoes got chopped up and frozen for the winter, so, I guess fall is officially over.

We did miss putting all the patio furniture away yet. Our patio set and the grill are now sitting, desperately in awe, under a foot of snow, on the new patio. The last blooming roses are confused, too – and shivering. Oops! I guess it was unexpected. 

 Our laden with snow back patio
We were scheduled to go to an outdoor wedding this weekend, and we decided that would not be the right thing to do. Especially with Aa. still fighting a cold. Plus, the roads looked iffy on Saturday, still. 

One of my scared roses

Instead, we stayed in, watched the snow piling up after Friday dinner, and behaved like total pensioners: read, surfed, watched bad, way too early Christmas movies on TV, wrote, archived pictures, and ate creamy white, spicy sausage and corn soup with garlic toast. We are craving apple pie, too! We’ve been eating way too much. But I guess it’s just the body’s natural response to winter: we need to build up fat, for hibernation, right?! Right! 


Spicy sausage and corn soup with garlic toast.

Some people say this is too early. After all, my Canada sister has not seen snow this season yet! Neither has my Romania family. But it feels and looks fairy-like and gorgeous all around. 

A close up view of The Valley, from our dining room window
It feels like Christmas, without the tree. It really does. It’s a coziness and a familiarity in the air that we have craved for, all (crazy busy) year long! So, we’re enjoying it – even before its time.

And early or not, cold or not, one thing is for sure: it looks so beautiful! 

Our back door view: Mount Timpanogos

Saturday, November 10, 2012

My Ten Reasons to Move to Denver

I had been to Colorado before, but not to Denver. My previous love of the state was only enlarged when the love for its capital city was added to it!

We went there on a direct flight from the tiny town of Provo, UT, for an extended weekend, to partake in the Great Beer Festival of 2012. As it often happens with most travel, we went there to spend some time with a friend over beer tastings, and we came back much more rich in memories and experiences. 

Destination: beer! - with my tasting glass and pretzel necklace, all ready to go!

I have thought about this blog for a while now (we went there a month ago, or so), and I think the easiest way to describe the Denver experience is to say all the reasons why we were both in love with the city and now (semi)seriously consider to move there! Maybe this will give you all an idea what Denver is all about.
  1.  It’s a “walkable” city (I like this word better than “walking”). Or at least its downtown is. Streets are clearly marked, and numbered, for the most part. The downtown is buzzing with people, and you will not be a weirdo if anyone sees you walking instead of popping in and out of your car at every corner. 
  2.  Along these lines, it feels like a small city. It’s not rushed. Its downtown is cozy, and people are not in a hurry (like New York or Boston). They strut, and stop, and talk and clutch on cups of coffee, and take their time. Most of them look like they live in the swanky condos that line every street – new buildings and old, redone ones, as well.

    Condos along the water front ... 
  3. There are opportunities to get sidetracked and pop into a store, a mall, a park, river front, a book store (about which more, in a sec), a brew pub, a museum at every corner. We were there for three almost full days and we never rode the tram, or took a cab, but we filled the entire time with just walking and “store”-ing and eating and snacking and … Even if you’re not shopping, the architecture alone is beautiful, unique, a mixture of Old West meets 1800’s Old America, and 21st century svelte construction. A photo opp on every alley.

    The old and the new in downtown Denver
  4. In an area of about a quarter or a square mile, it has three huge book stores: two Barnes and Noble(s) and one local store (“The Tattered Cover”). And they don’t look like sad ghost towns inside, either. They’re full of people reading and buying books. (this comment will make my nephews chuckle 20 years from now. I just know it!)

    Beautiful mosaic murals in downtown Denver

    Cool street sculptures around The Capitol Park
  5. They have a Brueggers’ Bagels shop! Ever since I moved to Utah almost 3 years ago, I have missed this delicious place! ( if my husband were writing his blog, he would replace this one with “They have a Panera”).

    Fair warning on Brueggers's entrance 
  6. Wynkoop Brewery  is just one of the way many downtown brew joints. But its Two Guns Pilsner is the reason I wound move for: the best draft I have tasted in a long, long time.
  7. The Titled Kilt (just get over the skimpy outfits, please!) has the best garlic mashed potatoes in at least two continents that I know of! The garlic butter is oozing in plentifulness on top of creamy, lumpy mashed taters!

    The famous mashed potatoes at The Kilt - can you see the butter?!
  8. Where else in the world did I find fried trout for breakfast nonetheless, but Sam’s #3 on Curtis?! The place is almost as historic as the city itself, and the wait is long, but so worth it. It’s not just the food, it’s the whole sassy attitude of it that would probably bring me back every Sunday morning!
    Yeah - that's a WHOLE trout!
  9. Although in the heart of Western America, the city is very much connected to the world. It was the central bastion for the western railroads, back in the day, and today, its airport feels like it’s connecting people to any place in the nation and the world, as well. Everyone flies to and from Denver. Even if you need to go a tiny place like Provo, UT!

    The old heart of The West: Denver railway station
  10. For those of you who know me well, you know I cannot live far from mountains. So, the very last reason why I would love to move to Denver (but not the least) is that looking around town, you see the beautiful Rockies peeking up in the horizon at every step! You are in the Mile High City, after all, and gems like Breckenridge and Boulder and even Vail are only a short car ride away! The air is clear and fresh, like you would expect, too. None of the “inversion” mucky air we breathe in Salt Lake.

And a word or twelve about the beer. The Great American Beer Festival was one of the strangest (in mostly a good way) experiences I have ever had. I have been to wine festivals before, but they were in the open air. The beer festival was inside the Convention Center in Denver. After you waited for sometimes hours in the line that wrapped around The Center at least twice, you were inside the huge, main events hall. The air was infused with alcohol smell. It smelled like an old, old, old pub where the wooden floors have been imbued with spilled beer for decades! You could have gotten drunk from the smell in the air alone.

You got a plastic tasting glass (the wine festivals give you a real glass) and you started to walk around, elbowing the crowds, to visit every booth (if you could) and taste whatever beer sounded good by its description or name. The booths are laid out by region (Northwest, Midwest, Southeast, etc), and each brewery pours a taste of several (or just one) of their crafted beers from (plastic) pitchers.

Although all three of us have very different preferences in beers (our friend makes his own, so his palate is very sophisticated compared to ours), all three of us agreed that the most surprisingly good beer we found after two days of tasting was one called “Orange blossom” from the Papago Brewing in Scottsdale, AZ. It’s a vanilla and mandarin wheat ale – and it is just delicious!

We tasted everything! We tasted beer that had coffee in it, and beer that was brewed, it felt like, in an old meat smoker! Beer that tasted like hot chili peppers and some that tasted like coconut. We now know that you’re only limited by your imagination when you decide what to add in beer for flavor!

At the end of a couple of hours of tasting, I am not sure whether we wanted to leave because we were feeling too buzzed, or because we could not take the progressively louder and worse smelling crowd around us?! But about an hour and a half to two hours was my tolerance for the event.

And then, there was the pretzel necklace – for palate cleansing between tastings. And the cheese sampling table. My favorite part about the festival is how it transforms the city! Everyone you run into, in a restaurant waiting line, or in the elevator, or in the shuttle ride back to the airport is asking you if you’re here for The Festival. And then you end up exchanging experiences and “brew talk” about the beers you tasted and what you have “learned”. It gives the city a happy, familiar, friendly heart, even more so than its native, originally beautiful one.

...It was a beautiful October day, 2012 ...
Please click on the picture for the whole photo adventure ...