Thursday, October 25, 2012

Fall Harvest Festival

Halloween.  It's my favorite time of year.  The air finally cools off and we can all get cozy, eat fun size candy bars, and watch 13 Nights of Halloween on ABC Family. 

Last year, my typical Halloween enthusiasm was hampered by third trimester malaise and it took everything I had in me just to carve up a few evil gourds.  But this year, much like every horror movie villain ever, I'm back... with a vengeance! I have unfinished business. I will own Halloween 2012.  Let the blogging begin!

First, our coverage of the Underwood Family Farms Fall Harvest Festival.

Fortyish miles northwest of Los Angeles is Underwood Family Farms, a big-little family operation that serves as the city mouse's one stop shop for all things country, with a year-long calendar of seasonal specific events, as well as weekend festivals for folk music, antique tractors and (for some reason) Civil War Reenactments.  (We all remember Col. Mulholland's historic victory in the battle of Simi Valley, right?) And of course they also rent out their land, equipment and animals for movie shoots.

The farm's Fall Harvest Festival has pretty much everything you'd want it to: a pumpkin patch, petting zoo, tractor rides, and corn maze.  And, I don't know why this thrills me to no end, but you get your very own wheel barrow to cart around your pumpkins, jackets, assorted purchases, or small children who are sturdier and more predictable than mine.

We lucked out the day we went because the weather -- which had been out of control hot in recent weeks -- took a turn and it was a cool, cloudy, decidedly more fall-like day.

We started at the petting zoo.  Oscar, who didn't seem to notice our pets for the first chunk of his life, is now infatuated and spends much of his energy chasing Midge the Cat and squealing.  You can imagine how much she enjoys that...

So my point is he loves animals. Here he is, meeting an Alpaca.

Then, we took our tractor ride around the grounds.  Free with admission! 

Then we wrapped up the day frolicking through the pumpkin patch, which was massive and sprawling and had all kinds of different colors and textures of pumpkin.

We claimed two pumpkins to take home and grabbed a carving kit from the country store on the way out.   (How do I buy one of those kits every year and immediately lose it come November?)   We also bought some Indian corn for decorating and fresh picked apples... for eating.

So take that, last year's Halloween.  I am back on top!  Of this giant pumpkin.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Matt Brewing Company

I remember once reading in a guidebook: "If you only have three days to spend in Italy, spend them all in Rome."

If the author of that book were to pen an article about Utica, New York, he or she would probably begin with: "If you only have three days to spend in Utica, you'll spend all of them at the Matt Brewing Company."

Founded in 1888 by F.X. Matt, a man with one of those "wait, is that your name?" names, the Matt brewery is home to the diverse array of Saranac beers.  And in the summer, it's Utica's nexus of society and commerce as it hosts a concert series, brewery tours and the finish line festivities for the Boilermaker 15k, previously explained here.

I don't think I stand alone in the belief that central New York is really good in the summer, which barely makes up for the rest of the year.  Summer is a short but glorious season, book-ended by unacceptable cold, cloud cover and snowfall.  Unlike my fellow Angelenos who are all, "Oh. It's sunny again," residents of CNY take full advantage of the outdoors while the gettin's good.  Devin and I have said we'd both spend our whole summer there if we could.

But we didn't have the whole summer to spare this year, so instead we crammed a lot of activity into one week in July, half of which was spent in Utica, doing brewery-related things.

First, we stopped for a a bite to eat with Devin's mom, during which Oscar fell madly in love with the restaurant's laminated specials men, and Devin fell equally in love with one of the beers on tap, Saranac's summer brew, Blueberry Blonde.

 Then, there was date night at Saranac Thursdays.

In the evening, the brewery opens its courtyard to thousands for live music and cheap beers, all in the name of charity.
I sampled the Blueberry Blonde and was relieved it didn't, as I'd feared, taste like blueberries.

As things wrapped up in the courtyard, we joined the masses who wandered to the many bars on neighboring Varick Street, where parking lots become patios for more live music, warm night air, and drinks in plastic cups.  I don't know who invented this whole scene, but good work.

Friday we found ourselves back at the brewery to take a tour.

It began in the dark lobby with a good deal of the brewery's history. Much of that got jumbled up in my brain, or possibly never processed in the first place because I was distracted sticking my hand in a barrel of chocolate malted hops.

One fact that did stand out was that an hour after the end of prohibition, the brewery began serving beer again.  Clearly beer takes more than an hour to make, so if you do the math, ol' F.X. was up to some tricky business.

The brewery is also home to an impressive collection of beer steins, many of which were put out as collectable items to market Utica Club ale.  We actually have the two main mascots, Schultz & Dooley, displayed on our bookcase at home.

After making our way through the dark lobby and hallways, we entered the guts of the brewery, where actual things take place.

There was something very Dr. Seussian about all this machinery.

The tour ended with the guide informing us that the tour used to end with a trolley ride around the outside of the brewery.  So that was pretty disappointing.  Apparently the trolley broke some years ago and that was that.  Someone, possibly even me, asked why they didn't just fix the trolley and she mumbled something about insurance and rare parts.  I would imagine a successful operation of their size could afford a whole fleet of trollies, so there's something fishy going on there.

Afterward, the whole group was led to the upstairs bar and invited to sample two pints from their large selection on tap.  Devin had about had his fill of blueberry, and opted for something dark and Guiness-like.  I don't recall the beer I had first, but I remember that the root beer I had second was amazing.  (After years of subjecting myself to an exclusive relationship with diet Coke, I happily re-discovered root beer during pregnancy.  Now there's no going back.)

Before leaving, we did a spent a little time in the gift shop, buying entirely too many souvenirs.  

Sunday we were back at the brewery for the Boilermaker.  Devin's two sisters were running, as well as my former running-mate Rachael.  We went to cheer them on and hang around the finish line for free beer.

So there you have it.  The F.X. Matt Brewing Co.  Fun for the whole family.  If your family likes beer.