Monk and BeerHey, my name is Brian, and no, I’m not actually a monk.  I do, however, brew my own beer, an endeavor that makes me part of a tradition that that began at the dawn of civilization and has wended it’s way through the majority of human history.  Humans do like their beer.  But right now you’re probably asking yourself, “Self, what does this guy dressing up in robes and making beer have to do with local foods and why should I care?”   A valid question. 




Hard at Work Making Beer


If you were to come and visit my brewery (i.e. garage) on a brew day, you wouldn’t think the Haakon Brewers (i.e. myself and my friends) had very much to do with eating locally at all.  We use mostly barley malt extract as the base for our beer and we’d be unable to tell you where that barley was grown.  The historically accurate hops we use grow only in Europe and the Pacific North West, a bit far from Virginia.  It’s obviously not ingredients that link home brewing with eating locally.  What ties the two together is somewhat more complex: philosophy.  



Ingredients for a typical Batch

What local foods and home brewing have in common is the desire to be connected to what you’re eating (or in this case drinking). We live in a world where it is easy to be disconnected from our food and drink, unthinkingly slurping down Spaghetti O’s and Bud Light.  However, as anyone who has had fresh local meat and produce knows, there’s more to eat than what comes in a can.  The same is true for beer, and thankfully, the micro-brew revolution of recent decades has helped expand the options bottled at your local market and on tap at your favorite watering hole.  Taking that a step further, just as there is a great joy in taking fresh, local ingredients and preparing a delicious meal for you and your friends, there is joy in brewing your own beer.  

Why should you consider home brewing?  There are four main reasons:



Consulting the "holy text" where we keep track of our recipes.


Connection to what you Consume: Go to your fridge and pull out a bottle of beer and look at it, read the label.  You’ve probably noticed that there is no list of ingredients.  How do you know what’s in there? Now I’m not suggesting that there’s anything sinister afoot, but wouldn’t it be nice to know what you’re drinking? When you brew your own beer you know exactly what you’re putting in and have total control over production.   This lets you make a beer that is uniquely yours and enables you to know exactly what you’re drinking.



Medieval Woodcut depicting a Brewery


A Grand Tradition: As I mentioned above, beer goes back to the dawn of civilization.  The oldest surviving recipe comes from ancient Egypt.  By brewing beer you’re taking part in an activity woven into the very fabric of civilization and are connected in some small way to the thousands of people who’ve gone before you.  



Mmmmmmmm.... Delicious


 Beer without Compromise: Perfection is in the eye of the beholder.  One person’s perfect beer is another person’s complete swill.  This can make it very hard if not impossible to find your ideal beer commercially produced.  When I buy beer I often feel like I have to compromise between different aspects of flavor, but by brewing my own I can tweak the flavors to my personal taste and make a beer that is exactly what I want.


Haakon Brewers


It’s Fun: Last but certainly not least, home brewing is a very enjoyable hobby.  You get to enjoy both the process and the fruits of your labor.   

I’ve been asked to write a series of posts for Eat. Grow. Live. about beer and home brewing, so stay tuned for the next few weeks to read articles on:

2. A brief history of beer.

3. Home Brewing Basics

4. Advanced Home Brewing

5. Bringing it Full-Circle: What Home Brewing Can Teach Us

Until next time, remember…

                             life’s too short to drink bad beer.


Someone recently mentioned to me in passing that I should try the amazing cheese from Pure Luck Farm and Dairy, and I filed the information away in a back drawer in my brain labeled “maybe you’ll remember this if you’re lucky and the moon is in the right phase.” Luckily for me, the moon was apparently in the right phase last week as I stood in the cheese section of the Wheatsville Co-op in Austin, Texas. Little tubs of Pure Luck Goat Cheese called my name. I bought one flavored with honey and thyme.

photo courtesy of Blue Ridge Blog

Of course when I arrived home I had to immediately try a bite, and then had to immediately force my roommate to try it too. This is the real stuff folks. It pulls no punches. Really good goat cheese just melts in your mouth. This goat cheese has the usual goat cheese tang, but the honey and thyme make it even more interesting and delicious. I’ll admit, I wanted to do the When Harry Met SallyI’ll have what she’s having” scene after a few bites of this cheese.

So what to do with this manna from heaven? (Aside from spooning it directly onto my newly addicted tongue) I came up with two light sandwiches based on this cheese. Try these on for size:

Pear and Goat Cheese Wrap

1 Whole Wheat Wrap

Baby Spinach

1 Bartlett Pear

As much goat cheese as you want (suggested: Pure Luck Honey Thyme Goat Cheese)

Avocado Goat Cheese Cruncher

2 slices Oat Bread

1 small Avocado, sliced thinly

Handful of Sprouts

Crisp, crunchy Romaine Lettuce

2 slices Tomato (preferably an heirloom variety, such as German Johnson)

As much goat cheese as you want (suggested: Pure Luck Honey Thyme Goat Cheese)

Bon Appetit!

I’m really not too different from many other young people picking up the pitchfork and joining the ranks of the rapidly growing food movement … except that I seem to be the only person of color I know doing so.

As a highly educated, privileged, white-bread agriculturalist, I’ve so far avoided addressing the issue of bringing sustainable, personally-responsible agriculture into the minority communities that suffer worst from agribusiness’s two inevitable sidekicks: obesity and malnutrition. The back-to-farm movement so many of my contemporaries seem to be picking up doesn’t seem to be applicable to minority youth. Farming has ever been the province of the less-privileged classes, and although my own ancestors were blue-collar farmers through and through and it would be acceptable for me to eagerly grow radishes and heirloom chickens to my heart’s content, the struggle towards upward mobility still seems firmly entrenched in American minority societies. Farming simply isn’t an acceptable option. Natasha Bowens seems to be tackling this with a gently personal touch, and I’m eager to read more of her essays as she continues her journey.

The color of food
In search of black and Latino farmers in the sustainable food movement

Photos via Grist.


There’s a rumor going around my new Washington D.C. hometown, a malicious lie regarding the return of an Indian summer.  Who spreads these horrible speculations?  Who drips this poison into willing ears?  Find the bastards! String them up!  Death to such infidels!  No torture is too good for them!

Cooler weather means I can walk outside without melting, pull on lovely scarves and boots, and make soup.  Don’t you just love a big pot of soup simmering on the stove?  Who doesn’t, other than the bastard infidels spreading lies about the return of summer’s tortuous hot breath desiccating the landscape?  Forget those liars.  Let’s make soup.



  • 2 well-scrubbed medium parsnips (they’re the things that look like white carrots), cut into those ovally rounds (anyone know the name?)
  • 2 well-scrubbed large carrots, cut into ovally rounds
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (15 mL)
  • 4 shallots, rough diced
  • 4 cups dry white wine (approx 1 L)
  • 3 pint jars homemade canned diced tomatoes, including liquid (4.5 cups, or approx 1 L)
  • 6 tsp Better than Bouillon Vegetable Base (15 mL)
  • 1 pint jar homemade can corn, drained (approx same as commercial can, 1.5 cups undrained, or 475 mL)
  • 1/2 head savoy cabbage, chopped into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 largish summer squash (or zucchini), cut into rounds
  • 2 tbsp ground cumin
  • 2 tbsp ground coriander
  • 4 bay leaves
  • Pepper to taste
  • Salt to taste
Makes 18 servings of about 1 2/3 cups each.

Continue Reading »

Letter from an East Coast Transplant, learning to live out West:

Set in a green square the dusty but humid downtown of Austin, Texas, the Saturday farmer’s market presents a smorgasbord of peppers, squash, okra, and flavored water ice. Because what’s a farmer’s market without sugared up toddlers? Puppies pant in the heat while their owners relax in the shade of old pecan trees, listening to live bluegrass or folk or indie or bluegrass indie or folkgrass or blueindie. While the quantity of fresh vegetables can’t quite match the overflowing bounty found at east coast markets, Texans make up for this by supplying meat (pork, beef, rabbit, goat, charcuterie), pickled okra (delish), Czech-influenced kolaches (filled pastries), and exotic fruit drinks (last week: cantaloupe rosemary juice). In the unpasteurized department, cider, sauerkraut, and milk flagrantly defy Louis Pasteur’s legacy. And since this is Texas, tamales and tacos are never far away. Because the market is in Austin, where citizens strive to keep it not real, but weird, a shout out to a typical farmer’s market people watching scene is in order: A 4-inch high mohawker buys a cantaloupe drink from a man with a chest-length red beard, while nearby parents of east Asian origin dangle every toy ever made in front of their strollered baby, as a cowboy-hatted grandma makes a bee-line for the Brazilian men selling hot sauce, all over the background of a banjo playing the Bonanza theme.  Wandering here is always entertaining. My purchases: oat bread, persimmons, butternut squash, sauerkraut, and a kolache.  Delish.

Let’s also give a shout out to the market’s organizer, the Sustainable Food Center.

Happy Marketing!

So here’s something to ponder.

We’re all for regional and local eating, and supporting local economies in general. The community supports the farmland, which nutritionally and spiritually supports the community, and similar cycles apply to local businesses and artists and their communities.

Sold by Mélangerie Inc. on Etsy

If I buy a tote bag that emphasizes regional food specialties but it comes from 383 miles away, do I end up with a local food karma net neutrality?

Anyway, this is a NEAT tote bag, perfect for farmer’s marketing. Spotted at Design*Sponge, sold by Mélangerie Inc. on Etsy, $25.

The website says, “Our new State-By-Food Tote Bag features illustrations of food from each great United State. Ranging from the classic New York Bagel to Kuchen (what’s that?) from South Dakota, we’ve hand picked a true diversity of edibles to represent each locale.

This 10 oz. organic cotton tote bag is 15.5 ” tall x 16″ wide and has a 5″ gusseted bottom, making it perfectly sturdy for grocery shopping or other everyday use. Illustrations are silk-screened in black ink.”

I suggest that you use this tote bag to visit each of the 50 states plus the District and try the featured  specialties.  Road trip, anyone?  (For those interested, Virginia features a baked ham, Washington D.C. a half smoke hot dog, and Washington State an iconic cup of coffee 🙂

Have a great Memorial Day weekend, eat delicious foods and drink some local brews, and spend time with your loved ones!  What’s more supportive of your nation than appreciating its bounty?  Many thanks to our men and women in our armed forces and our honored veterans, including my mother, a retired Lieutenant Commander of the Navy.  Thank you for your service and your sacrifice in protecting us all back on the homestead.

Lavender Summer

It’s just about time to harvest lavender here in southern Virginia, which I noted to my dismay as I was running out the door to work this morning.  When lavender’s ready to be harvested, it needs to be done NOW.  Despite its demanding harvesting needs, in general, lavender is a fairly simple plant to grow, and mostly likes to be left alone. It’s a very romantic scent, used in the past by whores and spinsters to signify very different intentions, and it inevitably conjures up images of quiet English gardens or sweeping French Provençal fields under brilliant blue skies.

A whim struck me tonight as I was thinking up a title for this post, so I’m going to run with it, and be posting various articles about growing, harvesting, and cooking with lavender over the course of the summer. I might even go buck-wild and write about the lavender scented cleaning products I use! WHOA NOW.

Today we have a short introduction to lavender and its harvesting, and later this week, a recipe adapted from Sharon Shipley’s The Lavender Cookbook. Continue Reading »