Thursday, April 17, 2014

Greenville Craft Beer Week: A great local celebration

Earlier this month, all us local beer lovers in Greenville got to celebrate the city's very first Craft Beer Week. I was able to make it out to several of the activities, including one of Thomas Creek's infamous keg tap nights, Quest's first Thursday Night Concert Series of the season, and The Community Tap Craft Beer Fest. In fact, both Thomas Creek and Quest had special beers that they released during the week, which made their events all the more exciting...but of course the Beer Fest was the crown jewel of it all.

Quest Brewing's Thursday Night Concert Series

I was lucky enough to meet Vance and Brook at the festival, and after speaking with them for a bit I asked if I could email them some questions about why and how they organized the week's activities. They were nice enough to oblige, and here are their answers!

Greenville Craft Beer Week Organizers

1) How and why did you decide to put together Greenville Craft Beer Week?

Vance: Brook and I started thinking about it while sharing a few beers sometime this past fall. We started putting down a few ideas just for fun because we honestly didn't think it would happen this soon. We'd talk about it here and there, but nothing serious. One Saturday in January, Andrew Watts from Quest Brewing Co. asked several of us on Facebook if we thought sometime in 2014 might be too early for a Greenville Craft Beer Week...there was so much support and excitement for the idea that we started thinking, "Hey, we might actually be able to do this." As to the "why", we really wanted a week that celebrated our local beer scene to actually come from the locals who are passionate about it. There is a huge focus on all things local in Greenville, so it just made sense.

Brook: Like many things, the conversation started over a beer. [Originally] the conversation was in regards to other cities' craft beer weeks, and eventually it turned into a discussion about how Greenville is in the evolution of its beer culture. Vance and I decided that we thought Greenville was probably ready, but we didn’t want to rush anything...we wanted to make sure that it was done right, with a local focus.

2) When did you first start planning it?

B: Believe it or not, although Vance and I discussed ideas last year, we started in January. The original plan was for a craft beer week in 2015...but then it turned into a “why not now?” type of thing, and everything came together seamlessly. 

V: Yeah, sometime around last fall we were talking about a few ideas for a possible craft beer week, but it wasn't until that week around mid-January where we started serious planning. We knew we wanted to tie it to The Community Tap Beer Fest, so we knew we had to work fast. It all came together pretty well though.

3) What was the most challenging thing about organizing it?

B: The most challenging thing about doing something that hasn’t been done before is knowing that it hasn’t been done before.  With no precedent to work off of, you’re constantly questioning whether something will work or not. Yes, we have the benefit of studying events and beer weeks in other cities, but what works in one place might not translate.

V: Agreed. That was always hanging over our heads. We wanted all of the events to be a success, but you just never know how it's going to work out. The time constraints were also an issue.. We had to try to put everything together in about 2 months. Luckily, everyone was on board and willing to do whatever it took make sure this week happened. It was still a bit of a whirlwind, though.

4) What was your favorite thing about organizing it/what did you feel was the most fun thing about doing so?

V: For me, the most fun part of all of this was seeing the events actually go well. With this being the first time any of us had done something like this, we didn't really know what to expect. We thought we had put together a pretty good week, but you never know until it's actually happening. It's just good to know that everyone enjoyed the week and that it went so smoothly.

B: It has to be the satisfaction of knowing that people were attending and enjoying the events.  I had plenty of people come up to me to say things like, "Thank you for helping grow the beer culture in Greenville".  That made it all worth it.

5) Will it be happening again next year? Will there be anything different or exciting for next year?

V: We're planning on it! We're going to try to sit down soon to discuss issues from this year and start looking towards next year. It's a little too early to know for sure about next year, but there were some ideas that couldn't work this year that we hope to add next year. We really wanted to do some sort of charity event as well as an outdoor activity (like a hike or bike event on the Swamp Rabbit Trail), so hopefully that will work out for next year. There are a couple of other things we've been thinking about, but I don't want to give away too much yet!

B: We just finished with craft beer week, so we haven't done any evaluation yet. There will most certainly be things that change. However, my expectation is that it will definitely be back next year, and better than ever.

6) Do you have any plans for similar activities throughout the year?

V: We honestly haven't thought that far ahead yet. We were so focused on just getting through this week that we haven't had time to think about anything else. If we do decide to do anything though, you'll probably hear about it first on our Facebook or Twitter pages.

B: It’s possible. I think once we turn the page from this year’s craft beer week, we can discuss that. I think that the week showed craft beer enthusiasts in this area that anyone can help grow our beer culture. I'm sure you'll see many events pop up whether Vance and I are working on them or not.

Anderson Valley pouring samples at The Community Tap Beer Fest. I just loved their weird tap!

I highly suggest liking/following the Greenville Craft Beer Week Facebook and Twitter pages. Keep an eye on them, because there are sure to be future events that you won't want to miss!
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Monday, April 14, 2014

The Lion and the Rose: One hell of a royal wedding

As I wrote in my article for The Geekiary, last week's episode was a great season premiere for Game of Thrones...but tonight was the one we've all been waiting for, really.

Of course, first we had to catch up on a few old friends...or in Ramsay Snow's case, enemies. I'm glad they seem to be done with the gratuitous Theon torture, but I for one am not going to be 'enjoying' Ramsay and/or Theon scenes any time soon. And who the heck is this 'Myranda' girl, anyway?

Every time they switched back to King's Landing, I swear my heart started pounding. Though I'm not quite sure how I feel about a lot of the changes that have been made from the books to the show, it was nice seeing Tyrion and Jaime interact, and the decision to have Bronn be involved in Jaime's training was interesting to say the least.

As for the Dreadfort, well, meh. I loved seeing Fat Walda, of course, but surprise surprise she wasn't wearing pink. That, and there was no snarky Ramsay/Walda banter, but hopefully I can tack a 'yet' onto the end of that observation in hopes that we'll get that soon ;)

Thankfully the wedding breakfast scene was nearly perfect. It was a lot shorter than the way it's described in the book, of course, but the way it was written and portrayed for the screen was really better than I could have hoped. One thing that really caught my attention was Cersei tattling on Tyrion and Shae, and Tywin ordering that Shae be brought to the Tower of the Hand. Even though Tyrion argued with/yelled at Shae in an attempt to get her to leave King's Landing, and even though Bronn insisted that she got on the ship to Pentos, I'm fairly certain that we'll see her again this season...and not in a posh ship's cabin or a comfortable home across the Narrow Sea.

The additions of some Dragonstone and north-of-the-wall action between Joffrey's breakfast and the Purple Wedding was probably necessary - I mean, we didn't see Stannis and Co. or Bran's little travel group at all in the season premiere - but again, I just kept waiting for the show to cut back to King's Landing. It probably didn't help that the Dragonstone bits consisted of burning people alive, an awkward family dinner, and Shireen putting Melisandre in her place...followed by show!Bran being way too old to act the way his character does in the books. I mean no offense to Isaac Hempstead-Wright - it's just that, in aging Bran up a lot of what he does and says in the show becomes far more annoying than it seems in the books.

Considering all the royal wedding hype, I was surprised that the actual ceremony was so short on screen. Not that I mind, per se...but for all Natalie Dormer's talk about this being the best on-screen wedding she's ever had, I guess I expected a bit more from the ceremony itself ;)

(p.s. most awkward kiss ever)

Of course, what we didn't get from the ceremony we got during the 'reception'. Some great Tywin/Olenna interaction, a bit of Loras vs. Jaime snark, and Cersei awkwardly calling out Brienne on her love for Jaime...not to mention a sort of mini Oberyn/Tywin confrontation.

A lot of that seemed at first glance to be filler, but at least it was interesting/amusing filler, I suppose...all leading up to, not two jousting dwarves, but five of them...the War of the Five Kings, in fact, and I'm still not sure how I feel about that. It's as if the writers weren't certain they'd really drilled it into us that Joffrey is an insane[ly awful] jerk, so they had to show him insulting not just Tyrion, but Margaery, Loras, and Sansa as well. It was nonsensical on several levels, including Loras' reaction considering just minutes before he'd been making eyes at Oberyn Martell.

That, and I just hate seeing my baby Sansa having to deal with things like this.

Side note: Tommen grew up just a little bit, didn't he? At first I didn't even understand who the blond kid next to Cersei was, and then it hit me about as hard as puberty apparently hit him.

Back on track, though. I'm not fond of Sansa helping Tyrion pick up Joffrey's cup; I suppose I can't help but feel as if they were trying to build on that relationship, but perhaps I'm just being paranoid - her handing Tyrion the cup is also a good way for them to implicate her in Joffrey's murder, after all.

Speaking of that murder not-so-foul, even knowing that it was going to happen didn't make waiting for it much easier. Seriously, the wedding reception seemed to drag on forever...and I was torn between being on the edge of my seat waiting for The Big Moment and groaning over how long they were taking to get there, and reminding myself that better this than having reason to complain about all the things they changed or left out ;)

And in the end, no matter how awful Joffrey was, it was still rough watching him die. I guess part of that was how great of a job Jack Gleeson did, but the creepy makeup job really put it over the top. Seeing not just Cersei, but Jaime and Cersei running to Joffrey's aid was heart-wrenching as well...though creepy dying Joffrey pointing at Tyrion - and Cersei insisting on his arrest - somehow didn't move me the way it did when I read it from Tyrion's point of view.

I'm not a wedding person, myself, but if I lived in Westeros I'd be wary as hell of them right now, that's for sure!

While I certainly enjoyed this episode (and it was far superior to the second installments in previous seasons), surprisingly it didn't quite draw me in as much as Two Swords did...and it leaves me wondering whether next week's Breaker of Chains has any chance of living up to the great pacing we've so far enjoyed in season four. Pin It

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Book Review: Mage's Blood by David Hair


First things first: I have to admit part of my reasoning for not being overly fond of this book is actually my own fault. I am a *huge* fan of George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice & Fire series, so when I saw Mage's Blood compared to that, I jumped on it without reading the rest of the blurb. Generally I prefer science fiction and historical literature to outright fantasy, and this is above all a fantasy novel - with a much heavier leaning on the story of a magical society than that in Martin's ASOIAF novels.

However, I'm still torn about rating it. Both the characters and the general writing style are exemplary - so much so, in fact, that if it weren't for several other major issues I would have been more inclined to give it a much higher rating. Those major issues are as follows:
  • If I wasn't the type of person who needs to finish any book I start reading, I would have given up on this one after a few hundred pages at most, because *nothing* - outside of descriptions of a ridiculous 'fantasy' world and character posturing - happens. For a very long time.
  • The 'rules' behind the magic in this book are some combination of confusing, maddening, and nonexistent. Things that the reader is told can't happen, later do. There needs to be this bridge that only appears every twelve years to connect the two continents, because the sea between them is impassable, yet after this is explained we find out that people are crossing that same sea on 'windships' left and right. If these were things that Hair planned on developing, he should have done a better job of explaining them.
  • And now my biggest gripe: While most fantasy novels take things from real life (sometimes outright and sometimes making them their own), the world of Mage's Blood is almost entirely derived from specific geographic locations and cultures that actually exist. Not only that, but most (if not all) of the badly (or barely) disguised races are pictured in extremely stereotypical manners. For an author to go through the hard work of plotting a series like this, and peopling it with some great main characters - only to throw all of that away by putting next to no effort into the fantasy world as a whole - is just sad.
Overall, I've settled on 2.5/5 stars for Mage's Blood. If you are into this style of fantasy - I'd compare it more to Steven Erickson's Malazan Book of the Fallen series than to ASOIAF - you may like it more than I did, but I definitely don't think it's all that impressive regardless.

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Thursday, April 10, 2014

Game of Thrones Season 4 Premiere: Part 3

As I mentioned in part 2 of my season 4 premiere posts, this day was almost all about food...and even though I was a bit lazy in regards to some of the offerings, one thing I took my time with was...


“She still remembered the innkeep, a fat woman named Masha Heddle who chewed sourleaf night and day and seemed to have an endless supply of smiles and sweet cakes for the children. The sweet cakes had been soaked with honey, rich and heavy on the tongue…” - A Game of Thrones

The recipe that I chose from Inn at the Crossroads is technically an Elizabethan Honeycake recipe. To be honest...the recipe itself wasn't one of their better-written one, and these are really more like biscuits or buns than cakes - they aren't overly sweet and the honey only does so much. Not terrible by any means - a good breakfast item perhaps - but I'm not sure if I'd make them again. Still, the recipe is worth a try, especially if you're one to play with recipes and try to make them better ;)

3 1/2 cups flour
3 Tbs. honey
2 tsp. sugar
3 Tbs. ground almonds
1 packet yeast (2 1/4 tsp minimum)
One 12 oz bottle beer (I used RJ Rocker's Son of a Peach - a wheat beer - and it gave the buns a bit of peach flavor, which was awesome)
pinch of salt
Honey for soaking, probably at least 1/2 cup

~ Dissolve the yeast in the warmed ale, and leave to froth up.  Grind the almonds and sugar in a food processor, then combine with the flour and salt in a large bowl. Make a small well in the mixture, and pour in the yeasty ale. Adding the flour a bit at a time, work everything all together until it is a nice smooth, pliable consistency  leave in a warm place until it has doubled in size.

~ After it has risen, knock it down and knead it for a few minutes before shaping it into around 10 small buns. *Note that you will likely need to flour a cutting board or whatever you use to knead it - my dough was EXTREMELY sticky and it took a lot of flour to keep it 'intact'.*
~ Allow the buns to rise again for at least 15 minutes, then bake in a preheated oven for 15-18 minutes at 375 degrees F. The buns should be just slightly golden.

~ Using a small paring knife, cut a small hole (about 1/2″) in the tops of the buns, poking well down into the cake, but taking care to not poke all the way through. Take a small spoon and carefully fill each hole with honey. You will need to do this several times as the honey soaks into the cake. Put at least one tablespoon of honey in each cake (I'm fairly certain I put in more than that).

Because of the time it took to get the dough right, the honeycakes ended up being dessert rather than a 'tea time' option like I'd planned...but they worked well with our main dinner course, which was...

Lamb with Lemon, Honey, & Fiery Peppers

 “The kid had been roasted with lemon and honey.  With it were grape leaves stuffed with a melange of raisins, onions, mushrooms, and fiery dragon peppers.  ’I am not hungry,’ Arianne said…After a while, hunger weakened her resolve, so she sat and ate.” - A Dance with Dragons

As you can probably see from the picture, we just stuck with the lamb (no pilav or stuffed grape leaves) because we'd eaten so. much. food. already that day ;) But I was VERY pleasantly surprised at how good the marinade was and how well the lamb turned out, period :)

Juice of 1 lemon
2 Tbs. olive oil
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes, or more to taste
2 Tbs. honey, plus extra to drizzle
1/2-3/4 lb. lamb, cut into 1″ chunks

~ Combine the first five ingredients in a bowl, making sure to mix thoroughly. Add the lamb, and allow to marinate for at least 4 hours. Preheat the oven to 400F, and place the lamb on skewers, leaving just the slightest bit of space between each piece. Cook for around 8 minutes, flipping once halfway through to ensure the meat cooks evenly.

~ When done, remove from heat and drizzle with honey, then stick the skewers under the broiler for 2 minutes to slightly caramelize the honey. Be careful not to overcook the lamb! These are best served on a bed of pilav.

Dinner was a late affair, and not long after it was done I finished up my last 'Red Wedding' and cracked open one of Ommegang's new Game of Thrones beers - rightfully dubbed 'Fire and Blood'.

Honestly I wasn't overly fond of this one - it's a bit too Belgian for my taste. I still think that the first Ommegang GoT beer (Iron Throne) has been the best, though I liked the Take the Black stout as well :) Regardless, Fire and Blood isn't a *bad* beer by any means, and if you like Belgians, you'll probably love it. And hey, it was - at the very least - the perfect thing to be drinking during episode one of season four!

I actually wrote a full review of this episode - which was called Two Swords - for The Geekiary, so check it out! I was actually extremely happy with it - in fact, I think it's probably one of the best season premieres of this show, ever. If not the best.

And yeah, I'm already thinking about my season finale marathon/party, which as always will be complete with themed food and drink ;)
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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Game of Thrones Season 4 Premiere: Part 2

Despite eating several hard-boiled eggs and way too much cantaloupe for breakfast, I was actually really hungry by mid-afternoon of GoT premiere day...even with all that lovely season three blood and gore. So instead of saving my Dornish side items for dinner, I pulled them out for a late lunch :)

Flatbread & Chickpea Paste
(a.k.a. Pita Bread & Hummus)

When the sun set the air grew cool and the children went inside in search of supper, still the prince remained beneath his orange trees, looking out over the still pools and the sea beyond. A serving man brought him a bowl of purple olives with flatbread, cheese, and chickpea paste. He ate a bit of it, and drank a cup of the sweet, heavy strongwine that he loved. - A Feast for Crows

I swear that I've *actually* made the pita bread and hummus recipes that you can find on Inn at the Crossroads, but considering the fact that I was already planning several recipes for my premiere day, I went the lazy store-bought route with these snacks this time around. But at least I can say that the recipes on the website are good, right? Haha.

And hey, Matt and I even got some Ice & Fire Con work done while we hung out and watched hours upon hours of Game of Thrones! We had plenty to eat while doing so, too, because even though we'd had our mid-afternoon Dornish snack, Steve decided we also needed to try a more show-themed dish...lunch at the Dreadfort, that is!

Matt attempting to recreate Ramsay Bolton's manic face

I swear, it's just a pork sausage! (Or rather, a bratwurst.) :D

And yes, eventually I did decide that it was time to suck it up and have a drink...or two...and of course they were at least *sort of* themed...

It may look like just another Bloody Mary, but hey, I was calling it a 'Red Wedding' - and I even cut my celery stick into the shape of a sword!

Really though, despite all of the fabulous themed meals I've cooked for past marathons, this day ended up being way more about the food than about drinking (for once). Part of that was my not feeling well, though I'm sure the icky gray weather we had for premiere day didn't help either ;) And on top of all that, I knew that I had to write the season 4 premiere review for The Geekiary, and I thought it was best that I be [at least mostly] sober for that.

Stay tuned for a couple more recipes, my first taste of Ommegang's new Game of Thrones beer, and of course, some of my thoughts on the episode!
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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Game of Thrones Season 4 Premiere: Part 1

It was a given this year that for the third year in a row I would be hosting a Game of Thrones season premiere day - complete with themed food and a season three marathon, of course!

Unfortunately, as I mentioned in yesterday's Monday Confessions...I was feeling a bit rough on Season 4 Premiere Day this year ;) Still, that didn't stop me from whipping up a quick Daenerys-themed was her turn, after all, considering last year I tried "Breakfast at the Wall", and the year before it was "Breakfast at Winterfell".

Melon & Hard-Cooked Eggs

“But the only sound was the wind in the fruit trees, and the only creatures in the gardens were a few pale moths. Missandei returned with a melon and a bowl of hard-cooked eggs, but Dany found she had no appetite.” A Dance with Dragons

The 'hard-cooked' eggs recipe can be found in the wonderful Feast of Ice & Fire cookbook (which is why I won't include the full recipe here on my blog) - they were a very interesting take on hard-boiled eggs, though to be honest I would have boiled the eggs with the spices they call for rather than following the recipe exactly ;) As for the melon, though, they used a 'Roman Melon' recipe, which I edited a bit because I couldn't find one ingredient, and another I simply don't care for ;)

1 cantaloupe, cubed
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup vinegar
1/4 tsp paprika

~ Combine all your ingredients together in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil then allow to simmer for around 5 minutes. Pour over the melons or serve as a dipping sauce on the side.

I settled in with my yummy (and fairly healthy, really!) breakfast and a cat in my lap and began my season three re-watch right at 11 AM...still in my PJs, mind you ;)

I even had several people who stopped by to watch this year's marathon with me - or at least parts of it ;) Steve was there, of course, and our friend and roommate Toby hung out and let us try to teach him the gist of the show as well. Soon enough Matt - my fellow Ice & Fire Con organizer - was there as well. The guys even enjoyed mimosas, though I decided to let my breakfast (and admittedly, lunch) settle before I imbibed ;) And speaking of 'lunch', well...I'll share that little adventure in my next premiere day update!
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Monday, April 7, 2014

Monday Confessions

I confess...the beer festival I attended on Saturday almost ruined me for my Game of Thrones marathon/viewing party yesterday...*almost*. I didn't have enough time to cook everything I wanted to cook, but overall it was a success and I can't wait to post about it (probably tomorrow or the next day).

I really irks me when people don't think I can take care of myself. (Monetarily etc.) I'm an adult and I've been doing it for many years now, thankyouverymuch.

I confess...there's almost nothing worse than a chilly Monday morning on which it's also pouring down rain :-/

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