I will blog more often this year...I promise.
Yesterday was a really good day. Didn't start out so auspiciously, though. Bro-in-law Carl Childs and I got up at 7:30 AM -- painful, but coffee helped -- strapped my new bike rack (thanks, Cathy!) to the Jetta and loaded our bikes, shoved our middle-aged bodies into spandex pants, and headed for Pennypack Trail to ride across Philly. I screwed up and we hit the trailhead at Lorimer Park...which meant we wound up wiggling our way down to Shady Lane and over roads to the trailhead in Fairmout Park I meant to start from! That wasn't so bad, though, and we rolled onto the paved trail, enjoying the warming day -- when we hit the first hill and Carl's chain popped. Not off the gears, he lost a pin! That's the end of that ride, so I turned around and rode back to the car, loaded up, came back and picked him up, and decided to go to Rieker's Meats (Hop Angel wasn't open yet). Carl went and got coffee, while I got some spätzel and Nürnberger bratwurst, some Ansbach Uralt brandy candy, and a link of pfefferwurst for the ride home.
We got home, got changed, and started chivvying everyone about for a run into Philly. Carl and bro-in-law Curt wanted to go to the Italian/9th Street Market, so we put our three families into two cars and did that trip. It was busy, but not crazy; hit Claudio's and DiBruno Brothers for cheese and stuff, Carl got some hot pepper shooters, and we chatted with vendors. I talked to DiBruno's manager Hunter Fike about getting something stinky and soft to add to a cheese array that included Prima Donna, Bruder Basil, Brie, chevre, a buttermilk blue (Roth Käse, and it's a very good blue for the price), and Delice de Bourgogne. He showed me two, and one of them popped for me: St. James, a washed rind sheep's milk cheese from England that had some unctuous and earthy notes of cauliflower; not your typical stinky cheese, but bold enough to stand up to whisky. I'm not sure, I said; I don't know if anyone else is going to like it. "They'll be eating the Prima Donna," he said, with a look of "Am I right, or am I right?" on his face. Done!
We realized we had to get Thomas home fairly soon -- he had to work scooping ice cream at Goodnoe's in Newtown last night -- so it was time for our late lunch at Memphis Taproom. It took almost 20 minutes to fight our way across town, but it was worth it: the draft list included two cask ales I'd been hunting for -- Marston's Pedigree and Ruddles County Ale. Excellent! They set up a table for ten in the back room, and I soon had my first Marston's: the freshness was clear as soon as I got a whiff of the legendary "Burton Snatch," a sulfury note in the aroma, followed by a clean, delicious malty beer. Awesome. My nephew Matt got a Ruddles on my advice (liked it so much he had another), and it was a sharper snap of a beer; still softly cask-conditioned (and both beers were brilliant, nicely cellared), but with a crisper flip of fruit and hops. Carl got a Firestone Union Jack (not done in their Burton Union system, which would have been a sweet synchronicity) that was eye-popping in hoppiness compared to the English cask beers; and his wife Joan got a Sam Smith cider, a delish example.
Food? Yum. I got the brisket sandwich, loving the cooked carrots that came with it. The rest of the table: pulled pork, fish & chips, Port Richmond Platter (kielbasa and pierogies and kraut), cheeseburgers, kielbasa grinder, and the smoked coconut club was enjoyed by our newly vegetarian niece, Abbey. She let me have a bite -- I'd always been intrigued by this sandwich, but not enough to order it -- and it was stunningly smokey, a wonderful impact of flavor and texture. More of the excellent veg cooking at Memphis. I grabbed another pint at the bar while the bill was being taken care of by Carl -- thanks, Carl, you didn't really have to! -- and downed it in a quick yet respectful manner.
We thanked the bartender and left, back home to Langhorne, where we sat down to watch Season One of Justified, the excellent FX series about US Marshall Raylan Givens -- we're hooked, and got the rest of the family going on it. We had a couple beers: Yards ESA (still a fave), Bend Brewery Hop Head (big, good, hoppy as promised), New Holland Dragon's Milk (woof: big old bourbony stout), New Belgium Snow Day (big and hoppy: new trend for New Belgium?), and Wolaver's Alta Gracia coffee stout (nicely understated vanilla bean effect; too many vanilla stouts overdo it). The cheeses were put out with sliced "baguette" (sorry, but anything that comes frozen and gets "baked" in a supermarket's bakery oven...gets "quotes") and crackers; we had a couple pounds of chilled shrimp, chips and dips, cookies, candy, pickled eggs and the pepper shooters, olives, pickled mushrooms, and peanuts -- this was a good six hours after the Memphis lunch by now!
Nora's friend Kate came over for the party and got wrapped up in Justified, Thomas came home from work with three friends from high school (all 20 now, and still drinking soda and "sparkling cider", our last non-worried NYE?), and they were watching it. The over-40 crowd were out back on the deck, around the blaze of wood in the firepit, drinking Apfelkorn schnapps and beers (and a little Jameson 18 for some of us), and wondering when they would let Dick Clark retire. When the ball dropped, we toasted with prosecco, hugged and kissed and wished each other a happy new year, then joined the neighborhood in making a lot of noise! Geese were circling overhead, woken and spooked into flight by the local fireworks; Maud and Penderyn were excited by the geese and the noise and the fire and the food; and the kids went back to Justified.
Around 1 AM, we were wondering what to do next when I remembered those bratwurst...and soon we had a big bowl of grilled bratwurst on the table, sliced into chunks and stirred up with spätzel and buttery caramelized onions. That disappeared in short order among agreement that we'd found a new tradition. Carl and I split one last beer: a Deschutes Black Butte XXIII, and it was tremendous. Chocolatey, orange notes, depth, and a compelling complexity that kept me mumbling under my breath; great end-of-the-night beer. Around 3 AM, we finally sent the boys home and everyone else to bed, shut down the TV, and called it a night. I was up at 8:45 this morning to start the pork and sauerkraut roasting and sing at 10:30 mass...and the year began again. Happy New Year!