Thursday, June 20, 2013

Spring Shenanigans

After every winter in NYC, there's always that one day where the sun is bright, semi-warm and you get a glimpse of Spring. Guys always look forward to this particular day because all the women of NYC come out in short skirts and tank tops, even if it's only 50 degrees. It's like New Yorkers have been craving the sun and Spring so much, they simply can't wait for an actual warm day to don their skimpy best. All of you New Yorkers, you know exactly what I'm talking about. It makes for tremendous people watching, I'll just say that.

Living through my first Denver winter has been a very interesting experience. Not only did I get to learn very quickly how to drive in snow during my commute to/from Boulder, but I also got to experience a snow storm in late April and cold temperatures into June! It's seriously insane here. It's also completely beautiful so it makes a late winter acceptable.

Now, I LOVE winter. It's my favorite time of year. However, I'm not sure anything can beat grilling, BBQs, fresh summer corn and time spent outside with friends. This year has a much different feel to it, as I'm spending my time with brand new friends in a brand new place, but there are some truly awesome people in Denver that I've met and I feel really lucky for that. I think things are just as they should be with all this "newness" as I move through the stages of a broken heart. It's sort of like looking at things with new eyes, fresh perspective and with unlimited hope of what the unknown future holds. It's exciting when you choose to look at it that way. That's just it though, you have to choose to see it that way and I am. Fully.

I've gone to lots of BBQs recently which have been so fun. Great outdoor spaces, wonderful people and awesome food. It's been the perfect way to welcome Spring and Summer (as of tomorrow!). A highlight at one of the BBQs was this:
As my culinary school chefs would tell you, I often have a problem with too much acidity in my food because, well, I love it. So, a drinking vinegar?! Um, yes. I do believe this stuff was made just for me.

I've also been trying out lots of new recipes lately and this strawberry-peach sangria was delicious:
It's dangerous, though. A lot of you asked me for my recipe, too! I used this base but modified it a bunch. I really dislike overly sweet sangria so I didn't use the pineapple juice, triple sec or peach puree. I did everything to taste and doubled the amount of brandy so you just have to play around with it some. Mine turned out awesome so I'll give any of you my pointers if you want.

I've also been bouncing around to all the breweries I can these days. I'm in heaven living in a place where beer is king. I kinda wish I'd taken a photo at each brewery I've gone to but I'm starting now with Left Hand up in Longmont: 
We spent the day there after a delicious picnic and had a blast. I don't see Megan and Tucker often so it really makes me smile when we can spend time together.

The most important thing I've been up to lately is crossing off restaurants from my list that I've been reading about and dying to try. Last night was by far the best dinner I've had yet in Denver and also one of the greatest experiences overall, too! Christina and I went to The Populist and it's hands down our new favorite place. We sat outside in their gorgeous garden and decided on the chef's tasting which couldn't have made us happier. I'm so mad that I didn't take more photos of the food but this was our celebration dessert:
Why celebration, you ask? Well, Christina is moving back to Denver (yeeeeeeeah!) and I'm new'ish here so our server decided we needed to celebrate. Who am I to argue? We ended up sitting next to a chef who's working with the guys opening Epic Brewing here on their gastropub menu so I may just be doing some beer interning with them soon. THAT, my friends, is exciting.

Lastly, I've been so fortunate to have some friends pass through town for work recently and that's been super awesome. From high school all the way back to childhood, seeing these dudes has kicked ass: 
So, despite the hard moments, I'm finding my way in Denver and building such a fun life for myself here. In time, I know that I'll feel much better and be far closer to who I really want to be. I'm focused on remembering that this is a good time in my life, albeit terribly challenging in some moments. So, cheers to kicking off summer and making it the best possible one I can!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Who Likes Whiskey?

I can't believe it but I do! I never thought I'd become a whiskey person but I'm well on my way. I guess when I'm drinking whiskey sodas out at the bar, that'll be the real determining factor, eh? For now, I'm working my way through different kinds and trying to find one that's 'me'.

During one of my recent trips back to NYC, we had a bunch of friends over to Allison's place and Lee Kwan brought a bottle of Redbreast, one of the smoothest, most delicious Irish whiskeys I've had yet so far in my path toward whiskey all-knowingness. It's made by the same folks who do Jameson but it's so much better, truly. Take a second to click that link and read the article, it's super interesting! It explains all the nuances that make Redbreast just a wee bit better than others.

One of my absolute favorite parts of living in Colorado is the wide array of beer and spirits that are locally made. People are very serious when it comes to brewing and distilling and I truly love the "small batch" mentality. If you can believe it, I owe this love to my sweet mom! She's one of the first people who ever got me into beer (good beer!) and, to this day, she and I exchange new finds as much as possible. She's so much fun to taste test with and, lucky for me, I'll get to do that with her in person come July! I can't think of a better person to brewery hop with me in Denver than mom. Does anyone realize how awesome that statement is?

Getting back to small batch talk, I was pretty stoked to do the Stranahan's tour this past weekend with my friend, Mindy. Stranahan's is the first ever Colorado-born whiskey and each batch is truly unique and different. While I can surely be a creature of habit and want things the same way sometimes, I unquestionably love the character and distinction that comes with something handmade that can never be done the same way twice. This is the gospel preached at Stranahan's and I loved it! I had no idea how small their distillery was and it made me like it even more. As an aside, they have a super fun bar area as well where Mindy and I waited and drank beers before the tour.

The cutest Irishman named Anthony led the tour and it was quick, informative and really fun! He explained how their wash stills worked and how the copper not only conducts the right electricity, but it holds onto any impurities that will pull away from the product itself:
That still holds 750 gallons. Traditional distilleries use stills that hold up to 31,000 gallons. "Small batch" has a whole new meaning for me now.

We got an unexpected treat on our tour, too! Twice every year, Stranahan's releases a very limited supply of their aged, reserve whiskey called Snowflake. People literally wait in line for a full day to buy it and we happened to be there on the day it went on sale. Just for fun, they allowed anyone on tours that day to sign the barrel that the batch for 2017 will be aged in. I totally love that kind of thing, it's just a neat, novelty kinda thing to do:
We visited the aging room afterward and it kinda brought me back to Italy in a way seeing all the barrels:
It was a happy day followed by more beers and laughs at Three Lions, my new favorite neighborhood spot. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday, friends. Not at all.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Allison Comes To Denver!

There's no greater feeling than time spent with someone you love. Like, really love. Someone who knows you like the back of their hand, can make you laugh harder than you thought possible and hold you up when you can't find your own strength to stand. Some of us in life are lucky enough to have those people be our sibling. Allison fits this role totally and she's been a rock for me over the years in ways too numerous to count. She's my sister but, more than that, she's my friend.

As mentioned in my last post, things haven't been so easy for me lately. Now, I know inside that I'm strong. I'm a tough, tough lady and I'm a fighter which I have to believe in my heart is part of why things happen the way they did to someone like me. My dear friend, Patrick, and I talk about this kind of thing all the time in regard to life throwing us hardship that maybe someone else may not be able to face. I find it complimentary that I can see qualities about myself like this and that I'm confident in them. It makes me a survivor and I'm proud to know that I can face pain and not crumble. Nevertheless, Allison's visit out to Denver couldn't have fallen at a better time for me. I was stumbling and needed someone to lean on. I didn't just get someone, I got my sister.

Allison came out over Memorial Day weekend and I just couldn't wait to show her my apartment and new life in Denver! I'd spent the week prior getting everything ready that I could. I was like a carpenter for a week building furniture and I loved every second of it. I got so many things for my place that I love and I finally began building a home! I totally got the stamp of approval too as soon as Allison walked in. :)

We spent the weekend simply 'being'. I wasn't sure how I'd feel or where my heart would be. I wanted Allison to have a wonderful weekend here but I also knew the gravity of the unexpected nature of a broken heart. Lucky for me, Allison wanted only to be there for me, whether that meant laughing or crying. When she arrived, we went straight up to Boulder so I could have her meet my Caffe family. It's funny how much I loved being there as a guest and not the manager... We had a nice glass of white wine, visited with my friends and went off in pursuit of the Boulder Wine Merchant, a fabulous wine store owned by Master Somm, Brett Zimmerman. Allison needed to do a blind tasting for school over the weekend so the guy picked four different bottles for her. We actually got to chatting with a couple of gals who work there who are doing the same program level Allison is right now! It's remarkable what camaraderie exists amongst this kind of program. It's like they're all in the very same boat learning how to stay afloat and steer the boat toward shore. It reminded me totally of when my culinary class got to Italy and we all faced our new home and school abroad together. It's so neat!

After chatting with the girls for a bit, we made our way back to Denver and went for a few drinks outside in the absolute perfect weather:
The rest of the weekend was literally spent eating and drinking. While I have no problem heading out to eat alone (um, I do a lot of that lately), I was so excited to try a couple of fabulous restaurants with Allison. We ran the gamut between upscale with restaurants like Luca d'Italia and Rioja and casual with the delectable Denver Biscuit Company and cozy Udi's. Let's just give DBC the respect it deserves in pausing for a moment of culinary silence:
No other words needed.

We took long walks, drank amazing wine (especially the wines from her blind tasting!), had brunch with friends and shared exactly the kind of quality time together that I would've hoped for. Allison was patient when my tears would fall and she'd listen when I needed an ear. She'd also help me laugh and see things with fresh perspective, something incredibly valuable to me right now. She let me be me as I needed tenderness and understanding and she allowed her time out here to be mostly about what I needed. For that, I'm so grateful.

Dropping her off at the airport was super painful and, once home in my apartment (that felt emptier than ever), I realized how special it is that she's in my life. I could not possibly make it through each day without her support and encouragement. From a broken heart comes valuable understanding of what's really important in life, something difficult to swallow at times but incredibly eye-opening. I hope that I can begin changing my life, owning my mistakes and becoming a better version of myself through this refining, growing time. May I use this time without the comfort of Allison physically here to better who I am, inside and out, and finally figure out who Valerie Albanese really is. Stay tuned...

Thanks for coming to see me, Allison. I treasure our time together and can't wait for round two with Camille!

PS - We seriously only took photos of food. It's disturbing how happy that makes us. I spared you in posting more.