Friday, July 30, 2010

Celebrations in Kansas City and St Louis!

As I sat down to write about our fun trip to St Louis last weekend, I made a discovery. On our camera were pictures from our other Missouri trip of the summer, when we went down to Kansas City at the beginning of June. So I'm going to make this a double trip post... these drives down to St Louis and Kansas City do tend to blend together, so it seems fitting. Also, I have to say it's funny how much I am connected to the state of Missouri at this point. Nine years ago I left home to attend the University of Missouri, looking for a journalism degree and a little space from the great state of Colorado. I'd never even been to the state before I drove through and toured the campus, but it just felt like the right fit. I didn't quite get that journalism degree, but I've ended up with so many ties to Missouri that it's almost funny. If I had to guess I would say we've been to Kansas City or St Louis at least 6 or 7 times in the last year!

So, first, our trip to Kansas City. Brian and Julie, Joe's brother and sister-in-law, are expecting their first child in August, and our whole family couldn't be more excited! Early in June we got the chance to drive down and help them celebrate at a baby shower. On Friday night we had a family dinner at Waldo Pizza, an excellent pizza place with a killer beer list. I also had a chance to hang out with Laura and Dan, who had moved to KC only days earlier. The next morning I joined the girls to ooh and ah over adorable baby boy gifts as the guys played golf and feasted at Oklahoma Joe's. That afternoon Julie and Brian hosted a cookout, with lots of tasty food, and cold beer for the non-pregnant folks. It was so fun to hang out and catch up with everyone! We are glad to be living in Chicago at this point, but do get nostalgic about how much fun we used to have in KC each time we visit. Lucky for us, we'll have to go down again in another few months, when their little guy makes his appearance. We're so excited for him to arrive!

We managed to stay around Chicago for a while after that trip, just working and enjoying the HOT summer weather. This past weekend we headed south again, this time to the eastern side of Missouri. We were there to celebrate two big occasions-- Dad's 60th birthday and Colleen's 18th! Of course, the weekend started off with pizza, which my family begs Joe to make every time we visit. We made 6 or 7 pizzas for the whole gang, and enjoyed just sitting around the kitchen hanging out and laughing more than we needed to :)
Saturday we had a small party to celebrate the two milestone birthdays. We ate and drank in true Haggerty fashion, and had such a great time! We did an Italian themed feast, with good Missouri beer to wash it down. We also sampled the Belgian double ale that Joe and I brewed for my dad, and he loved it! We had fun making a special batch of beer to comemorate his birthday, and I know he appreciated how he has passed his love of beer and brewing on to the next generation. It was wonderful to all be together again, and I know my Dad and Colleen felt very loved and celebrated. It felt like a quick weekend, and I'm already eager for the next time we'll all be together!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Intentional Happiness

Life has been a little frustrating around our house lately. Mostly, it's jobs. I can't even get a call or email about any of the teaching jobs I'm applying for, no matter how many times I update my applications. I'm not unhappy with my current jobs-- babysitting and The Chopping Block-- but in terms of schedule and pay, they are jobs I can't sustain on forever. We've been living pretty comfortably regardless of my minimal income, but after doing so for over a year, things are starting to get tighter. I won't bore you with all the details, my point is just that I'm frustrated. I want a real, "grown up" job again, and I want it to be in a school setting. Joe is also feeling a bit stuck at his job, with frustrating management and not any obvious place to get to. So between the two of us, there have been some crabby evenings around our house!

That's where intentional happiness comes in. I first saw the idea of it on my friend The Kitchen Witch's blog, and I commented on how I've been trying to pick out the positive aspects of my life recently. She sent me a !!! card to keep in my wallet, and I've been trying to actually pick out and document some of the !!! moments in my life. Here are just a few things that have made me stop and appreciate my life this week.

This year I have been growing some herbs and tomatoes on our back porch. Not only have I not killed the plants, but they're actually edible! These tomatoes were the first on the plant to turn red, and Joe and I were so excited to eat them. That's major !!!. I also had enough home grown basil to make a batch of pesto, which is now in cute little containers in my freezer, waiting to be eaten.

A great !!! for us is homebrewing. Making beer is a hobby that I am happy to share with Joe. We have so much fun working together to see the process from beginning to end. This is bottling day, which is always fun.

I've been cooking a lot of farm-fresh produce lately, from our CSA share and from farmer's markets. Cooking always brings some !!! into my life. No matter how broke we get, I have a hard time compromising on food. We're mostly eating vegetarian at the moment-- cheaper AND healthier for us and the earth. This was an amazing recipe I made up for grilled polenta squares with collard greens and spring onions, topped with zucchini and white bean tomato sauce.

My jobs have random hours and are low paying, but they allow me !!! like this. 3:00 pm, on the back porch... Get Up Kids on my ipod, homebrewed beer standing by, and a book to enjoy. Ok, so I didn't really enjoy the book (The Sun Also Rises), but I get to feel !!! for relaxing out back in the middle of the day :)

I'm sure I'll document some intentional happiness again. It's a good exercise in counting my blessings, which are many! What made you appreciate life this week?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Recent brewing experiments

I don't remember exactly when we brewed our first batch of beer, but it was sometime after Joe's birthday last summer. His birthday is towards the end of August, so we're still more than a month off from a year's worth of brewing. In the last eleven months, we've brewed 8 batches of beer. I'm proud of that fact, because it shows that we found a hobby we enjoy, and are really working on getting better at it. I've helped Joe with just about every batch, not only because it's easier with two people, but also because I really enjoy the process. It's so similar to cooking and baking, and I savor the end result with a sense of accomplishment. Within the next few months I would like to take the lead on a batch of beer, and to see it all the way from recipe selection to sanitation and bottling. Don't worry, I'll blog all about that experience!

We have gotten a little more bold with our beer making with recent batches, now that we're more comfortable with how the process works. We just tasted our "doctored up" IPA, which was a pale ale kit with our own hops added. I saw this as being similar to taking a boxed cake mix and adding ingredients to make it more gourmet, and I think this beer turned out a lot like that. It wasn't the best beer we've made, but it was not bad at all. When we went to bottle it, the fermented beer was very murky, which we attributed to the dry hop pellets. Next time, we'll use whole leaf hops or somehow contain the pellets before dropping them in. We attempted to filter the beer, which was a long and somewhat successful process. We were really cautious about avoiding contamination, but this was still a risky experiment. Thankfully, the first couple bottles we've tasted have been good. It's a very strong IPA, almost more than I can handle. But as a slow sipping beer, it's not bad. Nothing like the Dogfish Head IPA recipe from our Extreme Brewing recipe book, but not a bad attempt at adding our own touch to a recipe.

We also recently made a Belgian double that called for two pounds of honey along with the malt extract. We haven't tasted the final product yet, but the dark brown color and smell of honey and malt was pleasant and enticing when we were bottling it. I can't wait to taste this one!