Monday, June 29, 2009

Thoreau Mode

This weekend I went to a conference/camping in the mountains with some friends. I had a great time. I learned so much and shared some of the things I know. There was a huge and thrilling thunderstorm there while we were camping, with amazing clouds and thunder so loud it woke us up when it echoed through the mountains. It was dry most of the time though. I met some cool new people and really enjoyed getting to know some people I already knew better, like Richmond musician and ukulele enthusiast, Alison Self. You should get to know her too.

There were so many stars out there in the mountains of northern VA. We laid on a blanket just looking up into the dark for a while. We could see constellations and my friend Alex pointed out the Milky Way to me, though at the time it wasn't so clear. A few hours later it was so dark and clear that you could really see the Milky Way as an obvious wave of light and stars through the sky. I wish I had some means of astrophotography to capture what we saw.

Here is a picture of the Milky Way taken in Crockett Park in Fauquier County, VA on a clear, moonless night on August 31st, 2008. So that's not too far from where we were. That photo is from the Astronomy and Astrophotography Blog, who also informed me that the Milky Way Galaxy contains between 200-400 billion stars. Whew!

I (learned how) and then swam in the lake there too. It was totally fun, but the second day I got a wicked sunburn on my back and a little too much color on my face. It was my own fault because I didn't wear sunscreen despite being advised to do so. Man that sun is so hot it really burns you up quick!

There was also singing around the camp fire at this conference which was so adorable that even I participated. I sang some songs about coal miners and pirates because I don't really know any songs about pizza that are suitable for a campfire.

I helped to prepare several meals for the group at this conference and was hoping to find some way to make pizza. Most of the meals were prepared using found and donated items so everyone did what they could to get creative. Alex, my friend/sous chef, and I got bonus points for our creative use of bread in, French toast, bread pudding, and two different kinds of stuffing and Alex doesn't even eat bread. The closest I came to pizza was to make this bread casserole stuffing thing with tomato sauce and Parmesan cheese. Luckily for me after camping and conferencing was over some of us met up at a brewery for "some 'za and brewskinins, bro."

Perhaps you are unaware of this, but Charolttesville, VA and the surrounding counties host tons of booze tourism. There are several vineyards and breweries up there. Star Hill is a pretty good brewery and of course Mellow Mushroom is always worth the trip to C'Ville (to the only Mellow Mushroom in the state) for their awesome pizza, Esperanza dressing and very large beer selection. We stopped in to the Blue Mountain Brewery and I have to say, they had some excellent beers.

I certainly don't know as much about beer as I know about pizza, but I do know what I like. I love dark beers - so dark you can't even see your hand on the other side of the glass. Porters and stouts... all that liquid bread, gimmie! I also really like Belgian style beers because they are so sweet and gentle to me. Ha ha. I drank a glass of Blue Mountain's Evil 8° Belgian-Style Dubbel Ale (19.3° Plato, 50 IBUs and 7.7% alcohol by volume*) "Brewed in the Belgian Abbey style using caramelized Biscuit malt, Goldings hops and a unique strain of brewers' yeast." Delicious.

Some other favorites at the table were the Rockfish Wheat Ale and the I think the other favorite was the Dark Hollow Artisanal Ale, a bourbon barrel aged stout with a really sweet finish. It would have been good with a piece of chocolate. The Rockfish Wheat Ale (13° Plato, 20 IBU's, and 5.4% alcohol by volume*) is a Bavarian-style "Kristall Weizen" filtered wheat beer that had sort of a banana finish to it. It was really refreshing.

We also devoured some pizza there and I have to say the pizza is, unfortunately, not as good as the beer. Really it was more of a texture issue than taste. Half of the table got the Veggie Pizza with red sauce and no Cilantro the other half got the Veggie Pizza with the classic cilantro pesto sauce and the extra cilantro on top. Other toppings for both pizzas included, zucchini, yellow squash, mushrooms, garlic, red onions, goat cheese and mozzarella. This was beautifully piled on to what the menu referred to as an "all natural thin crust" and what I referred to as a tasty but wet cardboard crust.

Based on looks or taste, or good company alone, I would have given this pizza high scores, but there is more to pizza than just looks and taste and good friends to share it with. A good crust is absolutely crucial to a good pizza. A good crust is more than just a vehicle for toppings, it is the sturdy, delicious foundation on which a great pizza is built. You wouldn't build the Colosseum on a plot of quicksand would you? Pizza is the Colosseum and crust should not be quicksand! Take care! To be fair, it is really hard to find a tasty "all-natural" crust especially one made from whole wheat as this one appeared to be made from. That crust was soggier than my socks after it rained on our camping trip.
Blue Mountain Brewery, I implore you! Please put the same care and craft into pizza as you have put into your fine beers. Put a little research and effort into that crust and your pizza could be great. Get it together. I am available as a consultant and taste tester. :-P

*Plato: The Plato (oP) scale a measure of the sugar levels in the wort (the sweet liquid that comes from mashing grains) prior to fermentation. Due to the process of fermentation the sugars are then converted to alcohol.
*IBU: The International Bitterness Unit is a system indicating the hop bitterness in finished beer. An IBU is one part per million of isohumulone, an acid derived from hops. A typical light American lager may have around 10-15 IBU's, an English brown ale around 20, an India Pale Ale 40-60, and some barley wines reaching up towards the 100 mark.
*Alcohol By Volume: Most massed produced American beers weigh in around 5% alcohol by volume.

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