Monthly Archives: December 2012

Favorites of the Year…

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If you are looking for some easy Sparkling Wine Cocktails for New Year’s Eve, click here. But because we are closing out one year and opening another, I thought it was only appropriate to recap my “best ofs” on New Year’s Eve. Above, you’ll find a few of my favorite photos of the year.

And soon, I’ll be adding a new tab to the blog. It’ll be one listing our favorite dishes/restaurants in the Twin Cities. However, I won’t put that up until I post Rob’s Top 10 Burger List, which will accompany the Top 10 Fries posted last week.

Until then, here is a list of some of my favorites for the year…

Fave Birch Box Sample: 

Stainiac 2-in-1 Lip & Cheek StainDual purpose – perfect for travel!

Fave New Breakfast:

Magic Smoothie inspired by Kim at Living, Laughing and Losing. Nothing fills me with fruit, veggies and protein so satisfyingly that I feel refreshed than this smoothie!

Magic Smoothie

Magic Smoothie ingredients

90 Second Breakfast Sandwich inspired by Lindsay at The Lean Green Bean. Every since I’ve discovered them, I’ve been devouring them on a Thomas Everything Bagel Thin.

After taking a bite of my 90-second breakfast sandwich, Benny Bear appeared.

After taking a bite of my 90-second breakfast sandwich, Benny Bear appeared.

Fave BarkBox Sample:

Fruitables Healthy Dog TreatsPumpkin & Blueberry Flavor – Really? Dog treats can smell this good? {For the record, the dogs loved them, too.}

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Fave Love with Food Box Sample:

San Franola Granola with Raisins – I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this stuff since I tried it. It wasn’t available on the LWF website the last time I checked. So I just checked now. It’s there and on sale! Yup. I bought some. Note: I’m not even a granola nor a raisin girl!

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Fave Goodies Box Sample:

Biscoff Spread – Just read my post to find out why I love this so much. Note: This does not pack the protein like peanut butter. It is truly an indulgent junk food to enjoy in moderation.

Fave Race:

Since I ran my very first race this year, it’s really tough to choose. While the races I did didn’t differ in length {all 5ks and one 5-miler}, I loved that the variety of locations, weather, styles and terrain kept things from getting boring. I loved all of the races that I did for different reasons. I can’t name one that I wouldn’t do again. But if I had to pick one that was a favorite, I guess it would be the Run for the Apples 5 mile race.

That’s right. My longest race was my favorite. Why? I have nothing else to compare it to! I didn’t fret about  my time. I took things slowly and just enjoyed the scenery. I had never run that far for a race. Getting a little cider afterward didn’t hurt either. 😉

I ran for these apples: Haralson Apple + cider

I ran for these apples: Haralson Apple + cider

Fave Restaurant I Tried in 2012:

Naha in Chicago – A real birthday treat.

Fave Local Brewery:

It’s a tie! This year I fell in love with Lucid Brewing out of Minnetonka and Steel Toe Brewing out of St. Louis Park. Check ’em out!

Fave Wine:

I’m still stuck on two faves and haven’t found anything to top them yet. {Feel free to send me some others if you think they will! 😉 }  Topping my list are Opolo Mountain Zinfandel from Paso Robles, California {Thank you, Madeline and Sally!} and Davis Family Vineyards Russian River Pinot Noir. Guy Davis knows his Pinot. Period.

Fave Traveling Vineyard Wine:

While there were so many good artisan wines that came and went this year, I’m basing this on what is currently in stock at the time of this writing. And I’m going to surprise those of you who know me well. The Traveling Vineyard has carried this wine before, but this vintage is exceptional:

I rarely drink white wine, nor Chardonnays... But when I do, this will be it!

I rarely drink white wine, nor Chardonnays… But when I do, this will be it!

Fave Liqueur:

This was an easy one! When ordering cocktails, I’ve never gone wrong if there’s some St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur in the glass. This liqueur is floral and fruity without being too sweet.

St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur

St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur

Worst Overused Word or Phrase in 2012 that Needs to be Retired:

EPIC – I’m so done with this word. If everything is “epic”, nothing is.

Fave Concert:

This is a tie between my first ever Shovels & Rope show at the 400 Bar and the 10th Anniversary Thanksgiving Eve concert by the Ike Reilly Assassination at First Ave, both in Minneapolis. I’ve been to many Ike shows, but he and his posse played more songs that I’ve never seen live before. This was one of their best performances yet. I will profess that both of these bands are some of the best music you are not listening to.

Best Dinner Out on a Budget:

Technique in Mendota Heights. Three to five-course meals made by Le Cordon Bleu Student Chefs for under $20 – $35 per person? No brainer.

What are your “best ofs” of 2012?

Feel free to use these categories or write your own.

Have a safe and Happy new Year!

Cheers~
Carrie

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SBS: Our Holiday BarkBox

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Here at Season It Already!, we’ve started something called Subscription Box Saturday. This is when I share with you the contents of my lovely subscription boxes and tell you what we think of what’s inside.

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I always open our subscription box for the pooches the moment I pick it up off the porch. However, this month’s BarkBox arrived just days before Christmas, so I decided to wrap it and put it under the tree instead.

Barkbox1

Benny: “Momma, I know you are wrapping something for me. What is it?”

The dogs waited patiently while everyone opened their gifts.

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When it was their turn, Sophie was anxious to get that box opened after the paper was discarded:

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Sophie: “Momma… Open it! Open it!”

So I did…

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BarkBox – December 2012 contents

Puppy CakeWhat? I’m so excited to make this cake into cute little cupcakes! I just might wait until Sophie’s birthday in January and have a little puppy party. {Okay, so she’ll be 8, so she isn’t exactly a puppy anymore.} I’m also happy to see human-grade ingredients: rice flour, evaporated cane juice, beet powder, baking powder and salt. Just add 1 egg, 3/4 cup water and 3 Tbsp vegetable oil. The frosting is made from unflavored yogurt. Do I dare take a taste myself?!

Simply Fido Organic Pet Toy – Forget about all of those cheap toys made with harsh fibers and who-knows-what chemicals in their dyes. This reindeer squeak toy is certified non-toxic with organic cotton fabric, made with a low eco impact dye process and filled with recycled fiber and cotton. Sophie loves toys that she can squeak. So it’s nice to find one that I know is safe and environmentally friendly. The fact that it was a reindeer toy this month – a nice touch!

Bocce’s Bakery Treats – Baked in NYC, these are made with chicken, pumpkin, cranberries and cinnamon. They smell so good {I find it’s rare I say that about dog treats!} and our dogs are gobbling them up.

Fresh Dog Oatmeal Shampoo – We have not tried this out yet, but I love the idea of aromatherapy for dogs. Sure, roll your eyes here, if you wish. But when you have a dog with a bit of anxiety like I do, these things matter.

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We Our dogs absolutely adore our their BarkBox. I love the fact that they give 10% of proceeds to shelter or animal rescue. Want to give it a try?

Well, to celebrate my 200th blog post

Click here for $5 off your first subscription!

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I read a statistic that 63% of owners get their dogs gifts for the holidays.

Do you buy/wrap gifts for your pet(s)?

If so, what did they get this year?

Cheers~

Carrie

Top 10 Fries in the Twin Cities {A Guest List}

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*This List was updated on 2/26/14*

My husband is a burgers and fries guy. I guess that just happens when you are allergic to anything with fins or feathers. This year, I asked him to give me a list of his Top Ten Burgers and Fries throughout the Twin Cities metro. He gave me the lists separately, because very rarely will the fries and burgers both be extraordinary. They deserve to stand on their own. This post is the edition on fries, as you may have guessed from the clever title.

For me, when it comes to French fries, I can take ’em or leave ’em.

Let me rephrase that.

If the fries are there, I will eat them. And I will eat too many of them. But I don’t ever crave fries. I don’t say to myself, “Oh… I sooooo want some fries tonight.” But if I did {and maybe you do}, I’d want them to be the best stinkin’ fries ever.

I’d want them to be worth it.

While I’m working on losing weight, ordering something at a restaurant sans fries is the way I tend to go. If I’m feeling that rare “need” for fries, I will steal a few of Rob’s. {I find it much easier not to eat too many if the fries are not mine or if it wasn’t established up front that I’d be sharing them with someone.}

When I received back the list of Rob’s Top 10 Fries in the Twin Cities, I got this as the number one answer:

Pops for Champagne – Chicago

“Words cannot do them justice.  Firm outside, soft inside, brown buttery, boiled goodness.”

Um… I’m sorry, honey. We can’t just get in the car and go there for dinner. I know you loved them beyond anything you’ve probably ever eaten, but they just don’t count! Still, I guess you win because they made it into the blog post anyway!

So here are my husband’s Top 10 favorites {with his descriptions!} within dinner-driving-distance of those of us in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Metro area. If we’ve written a Restaurant Impression on the restaurant, I’ve linked to it. Feel free to add your comments if you have enjoyed {or didn’t enjoy} fries at any of these establishments.

Rob’s Top 10 Fries in the Twin Cities – 2/26/14

2/26/14 – To be fair, restaurants with an * indicated that we haven’t had these fries in the past year.

1 ) Red Stag Supperclub* Minneapolis | Great local potatoes and the olive oil/rosemary seasoning works wonderfully.

2) Burger JonesBurnsville | Served in a cute tin, and not a small order, these are wonderfully cooked fries.  A side of chipotle aioli doesn’t’ hurt.

3) Dakota Jazz Club & Restaurant*Minneapolis | Perfect pomme frites served with bearnaise.

4) Harry’s CafeLakeville | A multi-stepped fry, Harry’s Angela Fries are terrific with their mozzarella drippings. A side of ranch dressing (the only fries on my list benefitting from ranch) sets them off!

5) Barbette*Uptown/Minneapolis | Wow!  FRENCH fries.

6) Groveland TapSt. Paul | Parmesan Garlic Fries…yummy slender little spuds.

7) Mosaic CafeMinneapolis | If you would have told me that I would have enjoyed BAKED Rosemary & Garlic Fries, I would have laughed at you. But then I did. We couldn’t finish them, so we actually took these home and rebaked them. Not kidding.

8) Vincent* Minneapolis | Funny. A French restaurant with fries patterned after McDonald’s. These are quite tasty.  But, not quite as good IMO.

9) Relevé Champagne Lounge Minneapolis | 🙂

10) Cavé Vin*Minneapolis | Happy fun time shoe-strings.

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What makes the perfect French fry for you?

At which restaurant in your neck of the woods would we find your favorite fries?

Cheers~

Carrie & Rob

Sparkling Wine Cocktails for New Year’s Eve

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Ahhh… The Bubbly. It makes every occasion more special. This Wine Wednesday, I’m offering up a few sparkling wine cocktails for the New Year! This will liven up your usual bubbly toast and offer some alternatives to those who don’t normally enjoy a dry bubbly.

Sparkling-Christmas-Champagne-wallpapers-488464

Remember, all Champagne must come from the Champagne region of France to be called such. However, it can be expensive. In all of the cocktail recipes below, feel free to substitute any sparkling white wine, as long as it is dry. {We’ll have a more in-depth lesson Champagne vs. Sparkling Wine at a later date.}

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KIR ROYALE

  • 1 part crème de cassis
  • 5 parts Champagne

Pour crème de cassis in a glass, gently pour Champagne on top.

Optional: Add a twist of lemon zest for garnish.

Variation: Substitute raspberry Chambord for the cassis.

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BLACK VELVET

  • 1 part Guinness (or other stout), slightly chilled
  • 1 part Champagne

Pour the Stout into a half-pint glass or flute. Carefully add the Champagne on top. When you sip, the heavier stout will slip under the wine, so you’ll enjoy a taste of both!

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POINSETTIA

Variation 1:

  • 1 oz Triple Sec
  • 4 oz Champagne
  • Splash of cranberry juice

Variation 2:

  • 1 oz cranberry juice (choose a brand with no sugar added)
  • 1 tbsp Grand Marnier
  • 4 oz Champagne

Add the cranberry juice and Triple Sec or Grand Marnier to a flute and top with Champagne.

Optional: Garnish with an orange slice or drop in a few frozen cranberries for fun.

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BELLINI

  • Splash of peach juice or peaches in simple syrup
  • 4 oz Champagne

Add the peach juice or peaches in simple syrup to the flute. Top with Champagne.

Optional: Garnish with a fresh peach slice.

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BERRY SPARKLER

  • Frozen strawberries or raspberries
  • 4 oz Champagne

Fill the bottom of the flute with frozen strawberries or raspberries. Top with Champagne.

Optional: Coat the frozen strawberries with sugar first and let sit for a while. Garnish with a ripe, fresh strawberry.

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NELSON’S BLOOD

  • 1 oz Ruby Red Port
  • 4 oz Champagne

Pour the port into a flute, then add the Champagne.

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FRENCH 75

  • ½ oz gin
  • ¼ oz lemon juice
  • 4 oz Champagne

Shake the gin and lemon juice with cracked ice; strain into a flute and top with Champagne.

Optional Variations: Add an orange slice for garnish, vary the amounts of the ingredients, add a bit or powdered sugar or a splash of Cointreau.

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CHAMPAGNE SUNSHINE/SUNSET

  • 2 oz orange juice
  • Splash crème de cassis (sunshine) or 1 oz grenadine (sunset)
  • 2 oz Champagne

Add the orange juice and cassis or grenadine to a flute. Top with Champagne.

Optional: Plop in a Maraschino Cherry.

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The two that I have not yet had are the Black Velvet and the Nelson’s Blood. I’m looking forward to trying them this New Year’s Eve!  Please give one or more of these a shot and come back to let me know your favorites.

What are your plans for New Year’s Eve?

Do you celebrate with any traditions?

Cheers~
Carrie

Mulled Wine & More Winter Warmers

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I’ve been making mulled wine for years now. Especially on days when we are snowed in.

In France, they call it vin chaud. {Literally, hot wine.We had a two-day {by design!} layover in Paris on our way home from Italy on our Honeymoon right around Halloween in 2010. We saw vin chaud advertised outside of cafés everywhere. It was the perfect comfort after walking the city in the chilly weather.

Vin Chaud & Espresso

Vin Chaud & Espresso at a cafe in Paris

This time of year, it’s especially festive, too.

There is really no way to go wrong making a mulled wine. There are hundreds of recipes. If you skim through a dozen, you come to realize that the basic ingredients are the same or similar and you can just tweak them to your liking.

Over the years, I’ve collected a few recipes for mulled wine and other winter warmers. For that reason, I can’t tell you where I got them and I apologize that I can’t give credit where it’s due. In any case, here are a few favorites:

Clarence’s Mulled Wine

2 bottles red wine
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
4 sticks cinnamon
5 whole cloves
1 orange
1 lemon

Zest the fruit, avoiding the white pith. Put this, the sugar, cinnamon and cloves into the water. Bring this to a slow boil for 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Now add the wine. Add in the actual orange and lemon fruit part, sliced up. Warm this on low heat for 40 minutes (do NOT boil). Strain out the wine and serve!

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Vin Brûlé

“This winter-evening cheer offers a bonus before & after drinking.  When touched with a match, it bursts briefly into a tall blue flame – worth extinguishing the lights for.  And the French say this grateful potion is better than aspirin to ward off the grip of cold as well as the night chill. Serves 4.”

Place the following a in a saucepan, covered over high heat:

  • 1 bottle dry red wine
  • 4 sticks cinnamon
  • Peel of one orange
  • 3 or 4 tablespoons of sugar

When the mixture comes to a boil, uncover and ignite.  When the flame has died down, remove mixture from heat and ladle at once into mugs.

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Hot Pineapple Wine Punch

1 (46 oz) can unsweetened pineapple juice
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
3 1/4 c. dry white wine
Cinnamon sticks (optional)

Combine pineapple juice, sugar, lime juice and nutmeg in large pot, mixing well. Bring to a boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat and stir in wine. Simmer until thoroughly heated. At this point, you can move to a crock pot to stay warm. Serve with cinnamon sticks, if desired.

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Okay, so this last one isn’t a wine warmer, but it is one I’ve been meaning to make for years. It sounds love since I just adore raspberries. It was stuck together with my list of winter wine warmers, so I just had to include it. Let me know what you think if you give it a try!

Raspberry Liqueur

  • 3 bags frozen strawberries
  • 1 bottle dry red wine
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup brandy

Take frozen raspberries, unsweetened, and place them in a bowl with one bottle of dry red wine. Let sit for a day or two. Strain the wine into a medium saucepan. Add the sugar and bring the mixture to a boil. Let simmer twenty minutes or so, until it thickens. Let cool. Add brandy. Bottle or serve. Lasts one year refrigerated. 

Makes a great gift!

What is your favorite winter warmer or holiday beverage and why?

Is there a tradition behind it?

Happy Holidays~

Carrie

Living Social Beer Trolley Tour

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Last night I spent the evening wrapping gifts and talking with my mom and my 5-year-old nephew on the phone. I wished I could hug him right then and not have to wait until Christmas when we go back to visit.

Although I mentioned it in my post on the Top 5 Gifts for the Hard-to-Buy-for Person Who Has Everything, I fell like that now, more than ever, giving the gift of your time is one of the most precious things you can give.

For my husband’s 40th birthday, I threw him a “40 days before your 40th” surprise party {time with friends}. Then, on his actual birthday, I had 40 little gifts wrapped. The first one was a timer set to 15 minutes because the intent was for him to open a gift every 15 minutes so that he’d be opening them all day long! I also gave him the freedom to watch football, uninterrupted, all day long {time for himself}, though it was nice to reconnect with him every 15 minutes so that he could unwrap the his next gift. “Hurray!” he’d shout. I’d swear this man had not just turned 40!

One of those gifts was a gift of experience, but he would have to do it by spending time with me!

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As I may have mentioned a time or two, we’ve been blessed with new craft and  micro breweries popping up all over the Twin Cities metro since the Surly bill was passed a little over a year ago. Having lived in Seattle for a good five years, my husband is a fan of such beers and has turned me into somewhat of a beer snob.

So when I received an email from LivingSocial with an offer for a Beer Tasting Trolley Tour, I knew I had to snatch up a couple of tickets and put them in Rob’s birthday box. I didn’t know how good the tour would actually be, but I thought getting him to Lucid Brewing {one of his faves} with perhaps an opportunity to talk with the brewers would be a gift in and of itself.

Our tour included:

  • Lunch at Pizza Lucé with a Pint of Beer
  • Guidance by LivingSocial Adventure Staff
  • 12 Tastings of Local Craft Beers
  • Tours of 4 Local Breweries
  • Take-home LivingSocial Pint Glass
  • Round-Trip Transportation Aboard Vintage Trolleys

There were 60 of us in our tour group, split up onto two trolleys.

Trolley

It didn’t feel like that many people; however, except at the beginning, while dining at Pizza Lucé. We sat there for a good 20 minutes or more before someone came to take our beer order. It was sort of frustrating because we knew that the pizza wouldn’t be out right away, but it would have been nice to have something to sip on while we were waiting.

On top of that, the server was so unfamiliar with the beer menu. He couldn’t tell the difference between an IPA and stout. When he finally came back to the table with our beer, he said that he had three Surly Furious IPAs, but it was obvious that two of the beers were darker and were the stouts Rob and I ordered. He was so confused and had to go back to the bar to find out what was wrong. Seriously, if you are going to serve good local brews at your restaurant, train your staff already. {He wasn’t the only one clueless.}

This was our first time enjoying Summit Oatmeal Stout on Nitro!

Rob and I have concluded that we aren’t fans of Pizza Lucé crust. There is just no flavor there. Season It Already!

But truly, that was really the only complaint of the 5 and half hour tour. There was much fun to come! Our first stop was at Excelsior Brewing Company in Excelsior, MN:

Soup of the Day = Beer & Jumbo Jenga at Excelsior Brewing

Soup of the Day = Beer & Jumbo Jenga at Excelsior Brewing

We really *wanted* to like this place. But we just weren’t that impressed with the beer. Their new Summer Solstice was very strange, too. It had an aftertaste that I couldn’t place. Later, I realized it reminded me of a wine I once had, with an overwhelming eucalyptus finish.

After our three tastes there, we bought a glass of their Porter. Even that fell flat for us. There were many people who enjoyed the beers, though, and even bought Growlers for the trolley ride. {Yes, we could drink on the trolley!}

Don’t worry, we’ll still give Excelsior Brewing a chance. They are still very new. I believe their opening week was only back in July. I still really want to like the place.

Our next stop was at Lucid Brewing where they also share the facility with Badger Hill.

Lucid & Badger Hills on tap from this cooler!

Lucid & Badger Hill beers on tap from this cooler!

As expected, Rob loved being able to talk with the brewers at Lucid. {Another gift SUCCESS!} We had time to chat with the gal who owns Badger Hill as well. We talked with them about our favorites and at what restaurants we like to enjoy a pint or two of their beers.

Our favorite samples:

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Lucid Foto IPA – The dry hoppiness is something we both love in our beer.

Badger Hill Foundation Stout

Badger Hill Foundation Stout

Rob emptying sample number, uh... ??? while sporting the pretzel necklace we were handed upon entry. GENIUS!

Rob emptying sample number, uh… ??? while sporting the pretzel necklace we were handed upon entry. Genius!

They even tapped a firkin for us!

They even tapped a firkin for us!

At this point, Rob could have cared less if we hit another brewery. He was content. However, the next stop was Steel Toe Brewing in St. Louis Park. We had just tried the brewery’s Dissent a couple weeks prior at the Pig & Fiddle and were quite impressed.

Steel Toe’s facility was small enough that they only wanted one trolley-full of people in their facility at a time. Our LivingSocial tour guides were fun and sociable. They had trivia and prizes prepared for us on the trolley while we waited for the first group to tour. I learned a thing or two! Like…

Did you the official national alcohol of the United States is Bourbon?!

I had no idea! It sounds like “they” are trying to get that changed to beer. The U.S. does has more craft breweries than any other country.

We loved the time we had talking with the brewer at Steel Toe. He was a laid-back-down-to-earth guy. But come to think about it, really, they all were. I think it’s a requirement to become a brewer.

Steel Toe Brewing.

Steel Toe Brewing

We came away from that place with two Growlers: one of the Dissent Darlk Ale {really, a stout} and another of the Steel Toe Size 7 IPA. Guess that means that we’ll be back! {Every time you purchase a Growler somewhere, you pay a deposit for the glass jug. You can come back for a refill any time!}

Upon arrival back at Pizza Lucé, the LivingSocial staff came around the trolley, offering to take our information down and call cabs for us. Talk about prepared! They wanted to make it very easy for us to get a ride if we needed one.

We had such a good time that we would highly recommend a beer tour with LivingSocial. In fact, I’d recommend any event they offer. Most people think about the half-price restaurant and salon deals, but they really do put together great events. {I did a Champagne pairing dinner once and the food and pairings were incredible!}

We thought that this would have been even more fun if we had invited friends to join us. However, I bought the tickets on a whim the week prior and had no idea that it would be as good as it was. Now we know!

It took one little email offer to find the perfect gift for my husband. One where we could spend time together enjoying a fun experience. Thank you, LivingSocial!

What is your current favorite local brew where you live?

Cheers~
Carrie