Tag Archives: party

A British Captain America tea party

Spread, lit candle

Our young nephew Ellis turned five on Monday. He’s a little bit obsessed with superheroes, particularly Captain America. He spends a lot of time in a Captain America outfit. He must be the only Captain America with an English (/slightly Welsh/slightly midwestern) accent.

Although I’m really not a cake decorator, and I really really really don’t like artificial food colourings, I couldn’t say no when sister-in-law Sharon said we had to make Ellis a Captain America birthday cake. Especially as I’m a big comics geek.

Captain America sugar paste figure

This involved a late-night session making one of those cake-dec bobble head figures. It was a collaborative effort: I did the head and some trimmings, Sharon the body, Fran the shield. We were all quite pleased with it. Partly as it was fun to do, but partly as our Captain America is amusingly portly, like he’s retired and taken to the beer. Even his belt and the stripey part of his costume looked more like a girdle or corset. Oh, and we’d had a little booze too: the girls on local Missouri wine from Pirtle in the historic town of Weston, me on beer from Boulevard Brewing Co in Kansas City (which is also in Missouri, mostly).

Really enjoying their bottle-conditioned beers. (I’m drinking one now too.) Like the sound of the brewery too. “Boulevard’s mission is simple: to produce fresh, flavorful [sic] beers using the finest traditional ingredients and the best of both old and new brewing techniques.” That’s what I like to hear.

Slightly bemused that US beers seem to have to carry the government health warning but don’t have to include the ABV on the bottle though.

We’ve tried Boulevard’s Unfiltered Wheat Beer, which is 4.4% according to the site, and surprisingly mellow for a wheat beer. Apparently it’s also the “best-selling craft beer in the Midwest.” Their 5.5% Pale Ale, meanwhile, is also pretty mellow, but with a really well balanced hoppy tang and caramel maltiness. As for what I’m drinking now – not sure. The brother-in-law said the label came off after a session in the chilly bin/eski/cooler/cool box (delete according to nationality) and he can’t remember; and I can’t find it on the brewery site.

Covering cake

Anyway.

The cake. Although I can’t really eat coloured sugar paste, I made a nice chocolate cake underneath. I used one of my favourite recipes. It’s originally based on a cardamom cake by Mollie Katzen of Moosewood, but it’s such a great recipe it can be varied according to inclination and occasion. Here’s a metric version of the original US recipe on Cake-off, a site I used to do with my friend Jo. The chocolate version I did left out the nut mix, and replaced about 50g of the flour with cocoa. I also added some finely chopped dark chocolate. It’s such a good cake: dense but moist.

Ellis Capt America

For the party we also did some pizza. This was an interesting challenge, as was making a loaf of bread later on. Like when I first moved to Italy, I find myself in a country where the types of flour, and their packaging, are entirely unfamiliar. And here a lot of the flour is made with GM grain. At least a badge that indicates the non-GMO options seems to be a legal requirement.

Heidi pizza

A lot of the flour, sadly, is also bleached, and packed with gratuitous additives. Still, there’s also some organic available – even in the dreaded Walmart, that poster child for the problems of the industrialised food chain and a place I visited for the first time this week.

Perhaps more problematic in practical, rather than ethical, terms, however, was the way the packages labelled protein content – there was no percentage. So I really couldn’t get a great sense of what was a high protein bread flour. Still, Fran did a sterling job of making pizza dough… until we baked it and managed to totally burn the bottom of one. Our oven in Rome similarly had very fierce bottom heat, but Sharon was possibly even worse; never mind any confusion from being faced with ye olde daffy Fahrenheit after years of using nice sane Celsius.

Still, it all went off well. The cake was a hit with Ellis and the kids; the (unburnt) pizza was avidly consumed, with several of the other ex-pats here being very appreciative of a freshly baked bread product; and me and Sharon even managed to make a decent wholewheat tin loaf too.

Oh cripes. Another rambly post. I’m sorry. I’m not sure I’ll get any structure or succinctness back into this site until I’m settled back in England at the end of the year…

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Filed under Cakes, Misc, Pizza

Post number 100, a celebration of Italian craft beer, and getting ready to leave Rome

Italian craft beers

According to WordPress’s strange date conventions I started this blog with a post published 2012/11/07. For most of the world1, this would otherwise be known as 07/11/2012, 7 November 2012.

It was started so I had a place to write about my baking experiments, my interest in the baked goods I encountered while living in Rome, where we moved in August 2011, and my burgeoning enthusiasm for Italian birre artigianali (artisan beers, craft beer).

Some Baladin beers

Leon, Wayan and Isaac from Baladin, the brewery that really kicked it all off in Italy and still produces many of the best, most intereting beers here.

Now, almost 11 months later, I’ve arrived at my 100th post…. just as we’re preparing to leave Rome after two roller-coaster years. These included:
difficult work (Fran);
unpaid work/unemployment (me; including one [dubious] SF-fantasy novel, an internship on the American Academy’s Sustainable Food Project, and this educating-myself-about beer and waffling on about baking project);
faltering attempts to learn Italian;
lots of baking (some great; some heavy; some that went mushy);
lots of food (some amazing, a lot mediocre);
lots of beer (mostly interesting);
bewilderment at the Italian ways of doing things (or not doing things; like having to wait five months to get our internet connected, or the post office that doesn’t sell stamps);
still no kids (sadly);
neighbours from hell (WTF!? It’s 4am! Again! Che cazzo state facendo?! Stiamo provando di dormire. Mortacci tua!);
zanzare;
some great new friends;
witnessing Palme d’Or winner Nanni Moretti move in next door;
and, overall, an incredible immersion in this bonkers, intoxicating, dilapidated, exasperating, traffic-choked, caffeine-fuelled, history-sozzled city.

Draco beer

Draco, from Birrificio Montegioco. Made with bilberry (aka blueberry) syrup, no less.

When I wrote the 99th post, I thought, “Accidenti! I better do something interesting for the arbitrary landmark of number 100″. But that stymied me.

So instead, here are a load of pictures of beer. They’re mostly from a party we had at the weekend that doubled tripled up as a goodbye, a free jumble sale, and a celebration of Italian craft beer. Although we had a great selection of fascinating brews, they are only the tip of the iceberg of the 500 or so birra artigianale breweries currently operating in Italy. I wish I could stay here and keep on drinking my way through them, but we need to return to Britain.

Noa Reserve

Noa Reserve – one of the strangest beers we had that evening. Aged in barrels, it basically tastes of whisky, brandy, or as our friend MM said, “a memory of foreign land you’ve never been too.”

I do hope any readers of this blog won’t be put off by the fact I won’t have the glamorous “I live in Rome” factor any more. For the next few months, we’ll be visiting friends and family in the US and NZ, before settling back home around Christmas. So the blog will change slightly – not its tone, but its context.

We’ll see how it goes.

I certainly have no intention of stopping baking and I’m really excited to get back to the real beer scene in the UK, which, like that of Italy, has grown exponentially the past few years, with 197 new breweries opening in the past year alone, while London alone has nearly 50, up from just two in 2006.

Ecco, more photos of beer:

Marche'l Re

Marchè’l Re from Loverbeer brewery. Possibly even stranger than Noa Reserve, me and chef Chris Behr concluded it was like “drinking fruit beer from an ashtray”.2

Gotica from Brasserie Lacu

Gotica from Brasserie Lacu, a light double malted Belgian abbey ale – made in Belgium for the Italian market.

Rubbiu MRL

Can’t really find out much about this one, Rubbiu, but it was a great gift – as it came from a small brewery in a friend’s small home town outside Rome.

Zagara beer from Barley brewery

Zagara beer, an orange blossom honey ale from Barley brewery in Sardinia. So the first Sardinian beer I’ve ever had.

Line-up left

Line-up, centre

Line-up, right

And finally, a bit of nocturnal ambience. Thanks to anti-mosquito candles.

Isaac, anti-mozzie candles

1 Except you contrarians in the US, of course, who would insist on confusing the rest of us by using putting 11/07/2012 for 7 November 2012.

2 We didn’t necessarily mean this in a bad sense. I wish I’d written about Loverbeer more in my time here, but I’ve only really discovered them fairly recently. (I did write about their Madamin.) As they really are producing some of the most interesting beers in Italy. They seem intent on combining the traditions and tastes of wine and beer. So their D’uva beer  is made with 20% grape must and tastes much more like a sparkling wine than a beer, not unlike say Birra del Borgo’s Rubus.

I’m increasingly interested in this whole area of making beer that doesn’t really taste of hops or malt. It’s fascinating, and I’m very divided. The above mentioned Noa Reserve, from Almond ’22 brewery, is another example, as is the fascinating Etrusca (which can be seen in one of the above pics), a beer made by three different breweries (Baladin and Borgo in Italy, and Dogfish Head in the US) according to an ancient recipe; it tastes much more like wine or mead than beer. I very much enjoyed experiencing the weirder beers we had, but I think my favourite of the evening was Ius Primae Noctis (“right of the first night”, Latin for “droit du seigneur”), a hoppy, citrussy Italian APA from Birrificio Aurelio, which is in Ladispoli, not far from Rome. So yes, I’m clearly not leaving behind hoppy beers any time soon.

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Filed under Ale, beer, Discussion, Italian beer