kayaking on Loch Leven near Glencoe, Scotland, 2018

kayaking on Loch Leven near Glencoe, Scotland, 2018

Friday, September 27, 2013

McGuire's Irish Pub and Brewery, Pensacola, Florida

Feasting, Imbibery, and Debauchery  . . . oh yes we did! At McGuire’s Irish Pub in Pensacola, Florida.

This popular restaurant has a brewery onsite that makes a pretty good Irish Red Ale. Their website suggests you “stop in for a tour,” but don’t be fooled. This brewery gives new meaning to the word micro. (The beer that is sold outside of the restaurant is made off-site at a normal-size brewery.)When we asked these two brew masters for the advertised “tour,” they just looked at us like we were crazy. They said, “This is it,” with a sweep of their arms. After I pointed out that the website mentioned a tour, they invited us backstage, so to speak, to get a closer look. And they briefly explained the process.
Beer aside, it was Tuesday, and Tuesday is “half-price martini day” at McGuire’s. I couldn’t resist that offer, and had a chocolate martini. It was fabulous, with Bailey’s Irish Cream, a chocolate liquor, and a cinnamon stick.
I apologize for the poor photo quality. It’s a dark pub! Tough to take good pictures. That, and I probably had the camera on the wrong setting. It was so dark, I couldn’t see to set it.
Another unique feature and tourist attraction is the over one million dollar bills signed by patrons, stapled and dangling from the ceiling. I’m sure there was a reason as to why the tradition first started, but at this point, it’s just a curious gimmick.

And of course, there’s food. We tried a new-to-us appetizer called boxstys. I don’t get the name, but they are golf ball size orbs of mashed potatoes breaded and fried. Delicious! They must be quite important in Irish cuisine; the menu says, “Boxsty on the griddle, boxsty in the pan, if you can’t make boxsty, you’ll never get a man.” Okay . . .
And we ate what surely was the best Reuben sandwich either of us had ever enjoyed. And we love Reubens!

What’s your favorite Irish food?

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Schurr Sails, Pensacola, Florida

Have you ever wondered how they make those giant sails on sailboats? No, I hadn’t either, until I heard a recent conversation about a sail manufacturer, Schurr Sails, in Pensacola. Knowing that Bob and I would be staying in Pensacola for part of our vacation, I put a visit to Schurr Sails on our itinerary.

Schurr Sails is owned and operated by Hunter Riddle and his wife, who bought the business from Alfred Schurr in 1998.
The business is located in a quiet part of Pensacola, on L Street. It consists primarily of one very large room with a super large floor area. The floor is varnished every year so the sails glide over the floor easily. The floor is pockmarked with ice picks that hold a sail to the floor when necessary.

The most fascinating aspect of the process is the way the ladies sew the sails from inside a depressed “pit.” The sewing machine is flush with the floor, so the sail can spread out over the floor. Gina has been sewing sails for 30 years. Here, she sits in one of four pits and sews some large banners for the city.

Gina’s sister Sue also works at Schurr Sails. She’s been in the business since 1974.

The Riddle’s son Derek helps out by “plotting” the sails. Using the assistance of a computer, he draws diagrams of the sails and makes templates for the material, most often Dacron.

The company makes approximately 100 sails a year. They also do sail repairs. For more information, see their website here.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Gulf Coast Vacation

Bob and I recently went on a wonderful vacation to the panhandle of Florida. We wanted to celebrate – both our 21st wedding anniversary as well as our new status as “empty-nesters.”
I’d never been to this part of the country before. As a child growing up in Pennsylvania, our beach excursions were limited to the east coast. In my free and easy 20s, I made numerous trips to the Bahamas and other such islands. Since moving to southwest Louisiana, I’ve certainly heard much about the gulf coast, and the myriad of places one can go. Who from here doesn’t vacation in Destin, Florida? I wanted to see for myself what all the fuss is about. Could the beaches in Florida truly be that much better than closer Mississippi and Alabama?

Much to my surprise, I think the answer is yes. At least during the week we were there. To find out, we drove the back roads of Highway 90 between Gulfport, MS and Ft. Walton, FL, stopping here and there along the way to see the sights, enjoy a fresh peach milkshake, and check out the seashore. In Gulfport, the water was a rusty brown color with patches of tar residue on the sand. But farther east, away from that mighty muddy Mississippi River, the ocean becomes an azure turquoise, the “Emerald Coast,” its sand as white and fine as talcum powder. Why travel to the Caribbean when we have all this a mere handful of hours east?

I will say that, while the crowded hubbub and commercialization of Destin seems to be THE happenin’ place to go based on popular vacation choices, and there are fantastic restaurants there, (and putt-putt), Bob and I much preferred the peaceful less-populated beaches in and around the Pensacola area, especially Gulf Islands National Seashore.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll report on several interesting places we visited on our trip.
What is your favorite beach destination and why?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Saint Arnold's Brewery, Houston

Three things define a craft brewery. 1. The brewery can produce no more than 6 million barrels annually. 2. The brewery must be independently owned. 3. No corn or rice can be used in the process.

I learned all this during a recent tour of St. Arnold’s Brewery in Houston, Texas. 

When you enter the brewery, you are greeted by this image of St. Arnold, who is the patron saint of breweries. Way back in the late 500’s A.D., St. Arnold discovered that people who drank beer were healthier than people who drank only water. The fact that the water was contaminated with sewage may have had something to do with that, but nonetheless, dear Arnold encouraged people to imbibe liberally.

After you greet St. Arnold, you walk upstairs, and for an $8.00 fee, you receive four tokens, redeemable for four full-size samples of their beers, a souvenir glass, and an informative and entertaining tour of the brewery. (Good deal, in my estimation!) I don’t know if it is always this busy, but on the day I was there, the place was packed!

While you are sipping beer and waiting for your tour, peruse the murals on the wall, humorously depicting St. Arnold during the beer making process.

So, this is what I learned on the tour. St. Arnold’s Brewing Company is nineteen years old and is the oldest craft brewery in Texas. Which goes to show craft beers haven't been around all that long. They produce about 50,000 barrels a year, which sounds like a lot, but actually, it’s a small brewery. They focus on quality.

First, barley is malted – they stir it, dry it, roast it (levels of roasting determines flavor). Then crush it and mix with water at 150 degrees, called a mash. This converts the starch to sugar. Then they separate the liquid from the solids and send the solids to pig farmers and compost folks. They boil the liquid and add various types of hops at various points in the brew process. This also determines flavor. The mixture is sent to a whirlpool, spinning out particulates. Then the liquid is cooled. Next step is to add yeast, to begin the fermentation process. But what kind of yeast? Well, is it an ale or a lager? The difference (I did not know this prior to the tour) is that ales use yeasts which ferment at warmer temperatures and lagers use yeasts which ferment at much cooler temperatures, giving the beer a crisp clean finish.

During fermentation, the yeast eats the sugar, creating CO2 and alcohol. The beer is filtered and packaged into either kegs or bottles. And kept cold at all times, both while stored and shipped. And hopefully at the store. And certainly at your home. And never ever use a frosty mug! Craft beer, while chilled, should not be consumed at an overly cold temperature for best flavor.

I’m pretty picky when it comes to beers. I prefer a sweeter dark beer. My favorites at St. Arnold’s were Santo and Brown Ale. What’s your favorite beer?