Keeping busy with the Beef and Beer

Well I have to confess I have not had time to write a post for this week because my time has been taken up prepping for our parish Beef and Beer which is this Saturday.  Props to Jessica for the cool logo.  BnB_2014

This will be our fourth year with this fundraiser for the parish and we always take the time to brew a few special sixtels for the event.  This year we will be serving a Festbier and a wet-hopped IPA with Cascades and Centennials from my garden.   I wrote about picking them and brewing this particular brew in The Joy of the Harvest post last month.

If you are in Philly on Saturday I hope you can make it.  Advance tickets are $25 and $30 at the door.  All proceeds go to further our mission work in the local community, at our sister mission in Kentucky and around the world.  Hoping to see you.



What in the world are you doing here?

There is a certain serendipity when you unexpectedly bump into a friend.  You know what I mean- the chance encounter of pulling into the concert only you find you have parked next to someone you haven’t seen in months or looking across the restaurant to spot an old friend from high school.

Yet as cool as that coincidence or providence may be it become so much more amazing when it happens 4300 miles from home.  Not surprisingly it happened over a beer.

Last summer I was fortunate enough to go to Rome.  And while I fully expected to be Beer Week event 2013 (1)seeing some amazing sights, tasting awesome food and sampling all the Italian craft beer I could find I never expected to share some of those experiences with one of my favorite publicans, none other than Fergus Carey.  As you may remember, Fergie is the generous host of our A Priest, Minister and a Rabbi Walk into a Bar events.

While we didn’t randomly bump into one another on the street (it was actually through checking in on Facebook that we discovered that we were both in Rome) what are the odds of being there at the same time?  Needless to say we could not allow this opportunity pass so we arranged to meet for an afternoon beer.

20130709_184837We met at Piazza Navona  and then took the ten minute hike to Open Baladin.  We were later joined by my lovely wife who had been out for a walk around Trastevere.  Over several rounds we talked about our travels and families.

We had such a good time that we decided to meet up again later that night for an al fresco dinner.  This time we made sure everyone got in on the fun, including Fergie’s wonderful wife and all of our children.  Sitting together on a back street we watched the other diners and shoppers as we listened to an ever changing rota of street musicians.

While our conversation seldom turned back to our lives in Philadelphia (we were on Rome 2013_855vacation after all), there was still something reassuring and even grounding to find this tangible connection to home.  And maybe that is what lies at the heart of this kind of serendipitous encounter.  Not simply the chance to catch up with a friend, but the opportunity to rekindle that sense of connection to another time or place.

What chance encounters have you had?  Who have you run into at an unexpected time or place?  How far away have you been when you bumped into someone from home?  Please let us know.

Habaneros, Ghosts and Scorpions… Oh My!

I try to know my limits.  How much can I eat without feeling stuffed and immobile?  How much can I drink without getting schnocked and then waking up hung over? I have even allowed such better judgment to govern my hot pepper intake.  It used to be that I looked forward to eating food so hot that the sweat would be dripping off the end of my nose.  Although my mouth can still handle the heat, with each passing year the unfortunate truth is that my gut makes me pay dearly for the pleasure the next day.


Knowing this I have stayed away from the recent additions to the nuclear arsenal now embraced by extreme fire eaters, namely the Ghost and now the Scorpion peppers. If I have to be judicious with Habaneros (which clock in at 350,000 scovilles) what possible interest could I have in peppers that tip the scales at 1,000,000 and 1,500,000 respectively?


But on a beautiful September afternoon I threw all that caution to the wind and decided to make a hot pepper mash using all three members of the Holy (Shit That’s Hot) Trinity of hot peppers mentioned above.


Based on much previous experience the first thing to do was to make sure I could work DSC_3290outside using the side burner of my grill.  I made the mistake of making a mash using only habaneros indoors once.  If you have ever been pepper sprayed then you have an idea of what it was like trying to breathe in my kitchen once those peppers hit the hot oil in the pan.


DSC_3293With that object lesson firmly in mind I took my garlic, onion, peppers, salt and honey out into the garage.  From there I thought it would be simple.  Cook things down then puree.  I knew I did not want to lean too far over the pan because of the toxic fumes.  Little did I know what I was actually in for.


After five minutes of cooking I found I was coughing anytime I approached the pan.  Meanwhile, one floor above and inside what I thought was the relative safety of the house my wife had run around and frantically closed all the windows because even the trace amounts that blew in were making her quite unhappy.


By the time I transferred from pan to food processor my throat was tight and my cheeks were burning as if I had touched them after handling the peppers.  The sweat was dripping from my forehead and nose the way it does after eating a hot vindaloo curry.  If just being around this concoction has this effect I can only imagine what actually ingesting it will do. I tried the tiniest amount on a tortilla chip and it left my tongue happily burning for five minutes.


DSC_3302Since you may be wondering the same thing let me tell you what I have done with past (albeit it milder) batches.   I tend to use a teaspoon to tablespoon amount of the mash as an ingredient in making the sauce for my Ultimate Wings.  You can also use it to spice up chili or if you are daring use a little as a relish on a cheese steak or other sandwich.  The good news is that you don’t have to use it quickly.  Just store it in some tupperware in your fridge and it will last for a year or more.  I can only assume that it is so toxic that no bacteria can grow in it.


I look forward to testing my limits and trying my triple threat mash as part of some new daring dish.  I will post an update when I do.  If you make it for yourself  please let us know how you like it!  And whenever you do make sure you have a cold beer (or six) handy to quench the flames.

Pinewood Derby, Dark Tribe and Tigger

tigger_06176The guy in the Tigger suit walked up and down the street blowing a whistle.  As he went he  garnered high fives and was frequently stopped for selfies.   My own costume was not as elaborate and was mercifully much cooler than the plush fur the erstwhile Tigger had to endure.  However I received almost as many greetings.  Better yet I was offered more beers and with them invitations to stop and talk with the revelers.


Such was my annual pilgrimage at the Manayunk Bike Race this past June.   Each year bike raceI head out in my clericals with no other purpose than to mingle with the crowd.  Over the years the event has become a little less rowdy and, I am thankful to say, it is becoming easier to find decent beer at the average house party.  Above and beyond this I have to say that 2014 yielded some rather unique encounters.


The first started out in the usual way.  As I walked down Manayunk Avenue I was stopped by the perpetual question, “Are you really a priest?”  Yet my answer of, “Yes” generated an unusual reply.  On hearing that I was indeed clergy the young man grinned and said proudly, “Well I’m an atheist!”  His abashed friends scolded him, going so far as to smack him upside the head.  Yet I didn’t flinch or admonish as I am sure he hoped I would.  Instead I asked him what he believed in.  Enthusiastically he told me that he was, “Dark Tribe” which was a term I had never heard before.  So I asked him to explain.  I imagine the alcohol impacted his ability to explain this philosophy which seemed to be a combination of nihilism and anarchism (I am not sure how wide spread it actually is since there is no Wikipedia entry.  As best I can tell it has its origins in video games).  But his coherence, or lack of the same did not change the fact that this was an interesting and engaging start to my afternoon.  After chatting more with him and his friends I thanked them for the beer and went on my way.


My next stop took me off the race course down to meet friends at the Old Eagle.  The day featured a special appearance from Yards.  But there was more than just beer specials because they brought along their pinewood derby racing set.   After a while people got bored racing just the cars and started to construct their own racers out of hotdogs and who knows what else.  But what made the event even more enjoyable was the guys from the brewery who included some of the members of their own Yeast Factory band which plays at the now annual Band of Brewers event here in Philly.  It was a pleasant change to sip a cask pour of their IPA and discuss metal all the while enjoying the childhood pleasures of pine wood derby.


Bike Race 2Yet as much as I would have liked to while away my afternoon that was not strictly why I was out and about.  My job was to challenge, surprise and engage in the name of God.  As I hiked back up the race course, I chatted and waved until I had a conversation interrupted by a young woman who quizzed me about Hinduism.  She wanted to know what I knew about that religion.  When I confessed that I only knew a little she told me that she was Hindu and that I should go and learn more about it.  I asked her to explain to me what she thought I should know but she seemed to lose interest now that her confrontational mission had been accomplished.


It is hard to have these kind of encounters at church.  Yet what I found was that almost everyone I talked to, including the “Dark Tribe” guy and the Hindu gal was in fact willing to, or even longing to connect with the kind of meaning and purpose that comes as part of organized religion.  What we in the Church need to realize is that they are not going to come to us.  If we are going to connect with them we have to go to where they are.  Thank goodness I don’t have to dress like Tigger to do it.

Big News! We’re featured in All About Beer!

This is a special post to share some special news.  Food and beer writer Danya Henninger has been following the story of my collaborations with Rabbi Eli Freeman for a while now.  I am really excited to announce that she has gotten a piece published in All About Beer (one of the two major national magazines on the subject of our favorite beverage).  The issue is not yet online but it is at newsstands.  Below is picture (sent to me by Danya) of the article itself.


Check it out if you can and  let me know what you think.

The Joy of the Harvest

Making your own beer is one of the great joys in life.  Even if it never approaches the stuff you can buy, one’s own homebrew somehow always takes just a little better. Even a mediocre batch of homemade beer  with its slight funk still possesses that certain je ne sais qua that cannot be found anywhere else.


Yet  over the years I have found that this appreciation is magnified when you grow some of the ingredients yourself.  Now since most of us cannot grow, let alone malt the necessary amount of barely. nor do we keep and culture our own yeasts, the easiest way to do this is to grow your own hops.


For four years I have cultivated both Cascade and Centennial hops growing them on DSC_3220lines strung up the back of our church parish hall.  Although the first year yielded very little I am now getting two full harvests each year.  Of course while the vines are beautiful the only real use for them is brewing.  So when late August rolls around we have gotten into the habit of brewing a wet-hop or “harvest” beer.  One year we went so far as to collect and brew with  rain water from Hurricane Irene.


DSC_3225This year we decided to wait until we were actually brewing to go out and pick them.  So while the grains were steeping we went out to the garden to pick the flowers of aromatic, oily goodness.  It takes a surprising amount of hops to make the necessary weight  for the aroma stage and to have enough extra to dry hop the carboys.


DSC_3227While this beer has been consistently good I am under no illusions.  There are a lot of great wet-hopped beers out there.  Yet knowing that part of the beer came not from the supply store but as the fruit of my own labor makes our own beer taste that much better.


So what about you?  Do you grow your own hops?  If so, what variety?  How much use do you get out them?  Please let us know.

Beer Cocktails

I confess that I am rather skeptical when it comes to  beer based drinks.  Beer, be it a simple pilsner or a complex barrel aged stout, is best appreciated on its own.   Yet they seem to be growing in popularity.  From classic concoctions like the michelada to dreck like Bud Light’s Limearita and its ilk, there are many different cocktails out there that rely on beer for their flavor.  To date I have yet to find one I really liked, until this summer that is.


 That’s when I finally decided to try this recipe from Draft Magazine.  I find this magazine one of the best out there about beer since it includes more than just the usual assortment of brewer and style profiles, it also devotes many pages to food and recipes.  And so it was, not without some reluctance, that I decided to give this one a try.


I used a good resposado tequila and the same Cuvee Rene gueuze shown in the picture which I chose strictly because of the price point.  I sure didn’t want to use an expensive bottle only to find that I had wasted it on a dud recipe.  Given that there were only 4 ingredients it came together rather quickly.  One word of advice- don’t fill the shaker to the brim- the gueuze will foam up when you shake it!


The result was not just decent- it was excellent.  While it could never be mistaken from a traditional margarita the balance of flavors was wonderful.  Sour but just sweet enough it went down dangerously easy.


I liked it so much I have made it twice more using different gueuzes with equally good results.  In fact, I like it so much I plan to try my own variations using gose and Berliner Weisse beers instead of the gueuze.  The light sour, and in the case of the gose, the salt too, should stand in nicely.


The recipe and photos below come directly from the March/April 2014 issue.

How to: Make the ultimate beergarita

It doesn’t look like a bright yellow marg, but the flavors are dead-on, and the bubbles are a refreshing bonus! Here’s how to mix up a proper beer margarita:



2 ounces gueuze

1 ounce tequila

1 teaspoon agave nectar

squeeze of lime

A gueuze stands in for tart Triple Sec, and a little agave soothes the sour. Shake it up, salt your glass, pour over ice and serve.

To see the original article click here.


If you try it let us know how you like it!