Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Kansas Travel - Free State Brewing Company

It's been 20 years since Free State Brewing Company, in Lawrence, became the first legal Kansas brewery, in more than 100 years. The thriving company crafts more than 20,000 barrels of beer, annually, in its 14-barrel brewhouse, and also has its own bottling facility. And customers can watch as brewers work behind two-story floor-to-ceiling windows of this one-time trolley barn while they sip brews over lunch or dinner. 

There are plenty of choices for beer lovers. In addition to the brewery's original Ad Astra beer visitors may enjoy Copperhead Pale Ale, Ironman Imperial Stout, Oatmeal Stout, Old Backus Barleywine, Wheat State Golden, Lovejoy IPA, Old Stormy and Walloon Gold. Not sure which one to pick? Try a few samples, at $1.35 a pour, and then order a full-sized serving of your favorite.  

Free State Brewing Company also has a large menu in which many healthy and locally produced items star. Flavorful and filling black bean quesadillas come with Spanish rice with loads of cheese, sour cream and salsa.  Hand-cut fries and a dill pickle spear accompany the thick turkey bacon sandwich served on ultra-fresh foccacia bread. 

Free State Brewing Company offers great beer and good food in historic surroundings, with a clear view of the brewery. And, if you want a souvenir of your visit, they'll even sell you a T-shirt or pint glass.

Becker Vineyards in Fredericksburg, TX

Located 70 miles west of Austin and 75 miles northwest of San Antonio, Becker Vineyards, of Fredericksburg, Texas, planted their first vines in 1992 and offered their first wines three years later. Then the vineyards opened their first tasting room in 1996. Fourteen grape varieties grow across 46 acres. Becker was the first winery in the state to make Viognier or Malbec.

With the third largest production yield in Texas, Becker crafted 56,000 cases of wine during 2006, and 65,000 in 2008. And the culinary world has taken notice. These wines have been praised in Food & Wine, Wine Spectator, Saveur and Decanter magazines, to name a few.

Owners and founders, Richard and Bunny Becker won't pour a wine they’re not proud of, and Richard believes that winemakers are like artists. Winemaker, Russell Smith, worked in Napa for nine years and then with other vineyards and wineries in Texas, and award-winning wines line a long display shelf in the winery's front lobby.

Becker Vineyards uses premium French and American oak  barrels for aging and only use each barrel twice. The winery rarely adds sugar or fruit concentrate to their wine; they also tell grape growers when to pick the grapes and what level of sugar goals are required. Visitors can find their favorite vintage while enjoying samples in the large new tasting room.

But more than grapes grow on Becker Vineyards acreage. Lavender fills a three-acre field behind the winery and infuses body care and other products with its heavenly scent, including Lavender Comfrey Salve, lotion, sea salt scrub, eye pillows, candles, room spray, sachets and bookmarks. Finally, each May, visitors can enjoy the annual Lavender Festival. The two-day event features cooking demonstrations, speakers, a luncheon and, of course, acres of fully blooming lavendar.

Wine lovers - and lavender lovers - will find a lot to like about Becker Vineyards.

Thanks, Joy (of Cooking) Redux

Last December, I introduced Visual Traveler readers to a Joy of Cooking cookie recipe that was a holiday tradition in both my childhood home and my husband's - Almond Crescents. Then I offered my variation on the theme, Walnut Crescents (http://visualtraveler.blogspot.com/2008/12/thanks-joy-of-cooking.html).
But, this year, I thought I'd also show you how to make these cookies that my older daughter recently said were 'so much better than the ones you made before you changed the recipe.' For instance, here are the cookies when half-baked. This version looks far more like crescents before they're fully baked (above) than after (below).

It's a good idea to place the finished cookies on parchment or waxed paper, atop foil, to completely cool. 'Rolling' each cookie in the powdered sugar/cinnamon mixture requires gentle handling to avoid breakage and a willingness to get your fingers totally covered with this sweet stuff (never a problem, in my case).

After you've coated all of the cookies thoroughly, put them back on the parchment paper for an hour or so, which will minimize them sticking together when you finally place them in an airtight container.

Then comes the best part - eating these Walnut Crescents - which are light and flaky with just the right amount of sweetness. And, if you use your imagination, you can pretend that the bits of powdered sugar landing on your shirt are the gentlest of snowflakes.

Happy Holidays!