laughing matters: cards against humanity at pale fire brewing.

burgIMG_0871Things That Make Me Laugh Until I’m Snorting and Wiping Mascara Off My Chin
1. The episode of Friends where Ross wears leather pants
2. “Celebrity Jeopardy” with Will Ferrell and Darrell Hammond on Saturday Night Live
3. The entire Cake Wrecks web site
4. Any instance of a person (or animal) falling down, even if it’s my own child
5. And now, Cards Against Humanity at Pale Fire Brewing!

We all love to laugh. Whether you’re hanging out with goofy little kids (nature’s clowns, as my mom would say), or watching stand-up on Comedy Central, or bingeing on You Tube blooper videos, it just feels good to come home from a long day at work and unwind with humor. In fact, just this week, my first week back at school, one of my colleagues gave a speech of sorts that had us all howling with laughter one minute and stifling tears the next… his words were inspiring and moving, laced with humor and raw sentiment. And I left that meeting feeling relaxed and renewed and emotionally massaged. Sometimes we forget — we NEED to laugh, every single day. There’s science behind this. You probably know that exercise causes your brain to release endorphins (endogenous morphine) which are actually your body’s naturally occurring pain relievers. But guess what? Laughing does the same thing! Laughter also helps you learn new skills or material, deepens social bonds, and boosts your immune system. So I think it’s time to add laughter to your wellness routine, right up there with exercise, drinking water, and all that jazz. Our Friendly City has lots of ways to help you achieve that goal, and you can start on Monday nights at Pale Fire Brewing.

burgIMG_0884Brandy and I were so excited when the Cards Against Humanity host (and owner of Midtowne Market and Midtowne Bottle Shop) Lauren Penrod asked us to serve as judges last Monday. Having never played the game before, I looked forward to seeing how it worked. I really wasn’t prepared for how funny it would be. If I’d known, I would’ve dug out the waterproof mascara and brought some tissues.

We arrived and got the scoop from Lauren: The game is like Apples to Apples, but for adults. And I mean, ADULTS. If it were a movie, it would be rated R. For that reason, you might want to consider not bringing impressionable youngsters. And for that same reason, I simply can’t include all the answers we judged that night!

So. People who want to play arrive at Pale Fire by 8pm. You can arrive with a team, you can play solo, you can try to join a team after you arrive… there’s no limit to the number of teams or the number of people on a team. Easy peasy. Then you decide a team name. The teams we judged were called The Wookie Squad, Plain Old Scorcerers, Monday Night Book Club, Spiteful Lady in the Hat, and Last Call. And of course every time we said the name of that team, Jared had to yell from behind the bar, “It’s not actually last call!”, which was funny, too.

burgIMG_0867After you’ve established your team and name, you come get ten cards and a sticky note. You write your team name on the sticky note so we (the judges) know who gave which answer. Then Lauren reads a prompt and teams choose one card from the ten in their hand that they think is the best/most clever/dirtiest/funniest/most bizarre/etc. and turn it in to us. We select what we feel is the winning answer, then see who the team is that supplied it and announce the winner. This goes on for several prompts; then there’s a break, followed by a second round. At the very end, Lauren adds up the points and announces the winner. Lots of great prizes are awarded, including rounds of beers, gift cards, and the right to create your own card to be used in the next week’s competition!

burgIMG_0877 burgIMG_0874For example, Lauren read the prompt, “The healing process began when I joined a support group for victims of __________.” Teams filled in that blank with answers like “Shaquille O’Neal’s acting career,” “my ex-wife,” and “yeast” (incidentally, that card had a little fleck of dirt on it, and SOMEONE at the judge’s table asked if it was a hyphen. Bahahaha!). Here’s another one:

“Puberty is a time of change. You might notice hair growing in new places. You might develop an interest in _____________. This is normal.”

I must censor all the answers we received to this one, but let me just say that it involved poop in a bucket, hair removal, and “jobs” for everyone. Then there’s this one:

“Don’t worry, kid. It gets better. I’ve been living with ____________ for 20 years.”

We received “waiting till marriage,” “women’s suffrage,” “an inability to form meaningful relationships,” and “special musical guest, Cher.”

The music was playing, the beer was pouring, the whole room was laughing in what was like a huge communal improv exercise, and the three of us were pretty much LOSING IT every two seconds. Plus we were all trying to use different accents while reading all of it out loud, and at one point Lauren mixed up “sushi burps” and said “surshi boops” instead, and I just didn’t think I’d be able to breathe again.

burgIMG_0843 burgIMG_0836 burgIMG_0831Then things got real because there was a tie. That means a sudden death situation. The two tied teams came to the table, chose two answer cards, and had to quickly apply only one of them to the tie breaking prompt. In the end we had a winner: Monday Night Book Club!

burgIMG_0881 burgIMG_0883I can’t think of a better way to end a crappy Monday than to go laugh my butt off with some buddies at Pale Fire. Go check your calendars, move a couple things around, make other plans for your children, and go get a healthy dose of funny! See you there!

burgIMG_0858 burgIMG_0861Copyright © 2012-16 · All Rights Reserved · ilovemyburg.com. Written content by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

be in the running: va momentum.

burgIMG_2848When Brandy and I started this blog, it was simply a way to preserve our memories and share with anyone out there, who might be remotely interested, what it’s like for ordinary people living in the Burg. And it still is that, generally speaking. But our outings have become much more. We realized, at some point, we didn’t want to keep reporting on the same places and events over and over… so we became purposeful about our plans. It went from “Jesus-I-need-a-beer-meet-me-at-Jack-Brown’s” to “Wow! This sounds cool. Let’s go!” And so over the last three and a half years (nearly 1400 days!), we’ve lived much more fully and richly than we might have if no one had been watching.

In that time, we’ve learned that Harrisonburg has some awesome people doing phenomenal work. But more than that, they have a spirit, an energy… a super power that turns ideas into action. We’ve seen this power first hand. We’ve seen it pouring out of 32 taps at a beer festival. We’ve seen it riding a bicycle in a ridiculous costume. We’ve seen it pacing in the back of a theater in the 23rd hour of a 24-hour project. And it has inspired us to create an award for people who live in that spirit on a daily basis.

We thought we thought of it about a year ago, when, at some function, we said, “Man, this person deserves an award!” But Brandy corrected me when she showed me this, from one of our earliest blog posts published in May of 2012:

actionfigures2actionfigures3Maybe I planted a subconscious seed that day three years ago that eventually grew into something, or maybe I thought of it and then forgot, because I have a raging case of CRS (Can’t Remember Squat). Either way, it feels serendipitous. And so on Friday, September 25, Brandy and I presented our very first Harrisonburg Action Figures™ award to Kevin Gibson and Alan Maynard of VA Momentum. We lied to Kevin in order to hijack the mic, telling him we needed to make a short announcement, and then runners patiently waited in the rain for me to choke out a speech held with a quivering hand and pronounced with a cotton mouth.

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photo by Danielle Campbell

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photo by Danielle Campbell

 

burgIMG_2857Fed up with their own unhealthy habits in college, Alan and Kevin decided to form VA Momentum as a way of sharing their new appreciation for wellness with their community. It started humbly with one race — the Valley 4th Run, where runners choose their distance and a charity to support — and it’s grown so much that Kevin ditched his job at JMU to pursue VA Momentum full time. Alan and Kevin’s wives, Kristin and Emma, have also worked their fingers to the bone to get the organization up and “running.” VA Momentum’s events, like the Diamond Dash, Pound the Peak, Valley Vines Twilight 5k, The Rocktown Turkey Trot, The Valley 4th Run, Brothers Craft Brewing Three-Miler, and Run, Sweat, and Beers, have raised more than $25,000 for local charities.

Their award consists of a sweet, one-of-a-kind trophy created by Harrisonburg artist Jeff Guinn and sponsored by Hello Harrisonburg Podcast and Beyond Restaurant and Lounge; gifts from Bella Luna, Midtowne Bottle Shop, and Court Square Theater; and an elegant certificate Brandy created.
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photo by Danielle Campbell

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photo by Ben Fraits

Harrisonburg has not become what it is by accident or by luck. It’s because of hard work. A desire to improve the community. A brilliant idea hatched between friends over a couple of beers that ultimately turns into action. This award celebrates behind-the-scenes heroes – people who have gone way, way beyond human limits to build something great for this town. People who have sacrificed in uncountable ways, who have lost sleep, time, money, their social lives, and possibly their minds to bring their idea to this side of reality, where all of us can enjoy it. These are Harrisonburg’s Action Figures. We’ll be memorializing all of them on this page of our web site. When you see Kevin and Alan at their next event, thank them. And stay tuned for our next recipient, whom we’ll announce in January!

burgIMG_2850bsomeIMG_4014Copyright © 2012-15 · All Rights Reserved · ilovemyburg.com. Written content by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

bite me… please: rocktown bites.

burgIMG_2897You know, I feel I know my city pretty well. I’ve been to lots and lots of local restaurants and businesses, many of which you’ve read about right here. But recently Brandy and I did something we hadn’t done before: we went on a culinary tour of our city. Hosted by Regina Hissong, Rocktown Bites conducts twice monthly walking tours to seven (!) local restaurants, shops, and businesses where you get to sample their best food and drink offerings, plus learn a LOT about those establishments and the history of the buildings they’re in. Back in January of this year, Harrisonburg became the FIRST city in Virginia to be designated a Downtown Culinary District! Rocktown Bites will show you exactly why.

We met at the Hardesty Higgins House, all twelve of us — Lindsey, Brandy, Blake, Ella, Ben, Heidi, Aiden, Cal, Bree, Denise, Sean, and me — plus our happy host, Regina. The kids enjoyed the gift shop and the 1862 model of Harrisonburg with all those teeny tiny animals. Once all assembled, we ventured out into the sunshine, a traffic-stopping pedestrian food procession.

burgIMG_2835Our first stop was the newly opened Midtowne Bottle Shop. Owner Lauren Penrod greeted us and quenched our thirst with two Brew Ridge Trail Collaborations — Moon (an India Pale Lager)  and her sister beer, Earth (a double IPA). The kiddos indulged in Flathead Lake Gourmet Soda in black raspberry and strawberry orange. I was kinda excited that Cal, my little soda virgin, had his first soda in my favorite new store. I see a tradition forming.

Not only does Midtowne Bottle Shop offer lots of bottles, but they also have eight taps. You can bring your growler or purchase one of theirs (1-pint, 2-pint, or standard size) for frequent fill ups with no trash. Regina’s husband has a growler holder on his BIKE. WHAT AN IDEA. Despite seeing him often, Lauren didn’t realize this… but she did say she notices he’s sweaty when he comes into the shop.

burgIMG_2855 burgIMG_2857 burgIMG_2852 burgIMG_2843Our next stop was just across the street and the site of the first ever Rocktown Bites love connection. Cuban Burger. Owner Steve Pizarro met his lovely lady when SHE was on a Rocktown Bites tour, and now a year later, they’re proud parents of cutie-pie Charles Harrison! At Cuban Burger we nibbled on… well, the Cuban Burger, and garlicky cuban toast with black bean dip, and we enjoyed Jupiña pineapple soda and a classic daiquiri.

burgIMG_2876 burgIMG_2871On to Clementine we went. If this stop is on your tour, come hungry. I was surprised (pleasantly, of course) at how many “samples” we got to try. First they served us homemade lemonade, which was a real treat for all of us on this warm, sunny day. They estimate that they squeeze 750 lemons per week to make their citrusy concoction, which also contains limes, sugar, water, and mint. Then we “sampled” some food… but really, it was a whole plate of food, including seared scallops with a saffron risotto and spinach pesto, served with roma tomatoes and A.M. Fog mushrooms in a balsamic drizzle. Drooling occurred. Also, I forget what we were talking about, but Denise was trying like the dickens to say “Snap, crackle, and pop,” and she kept stumbling over the words and burst forth with a “Crap Snackle!” which has become my new profanity replacement.

Next we meandered over to Jack Brown’s. We got to eat their AMAZING Wagyu beef cheeseburgers with their addictive special sauce, plus Sticky Nugs from Billy Jack’s, and we got to sample the Apocalypse Ale. We sat sorta near the back… usually when I’m in there I’m at the bar, at basically the first seat I can get my honey on.. but back there, near the back… is DONKEY KONG. As soon as I heard the sounds coming from the machine, my head turned as if in slow motion… I dropped everything I was eating and drinking and shoved the children outta the way: “Watch the master…!” And I saw something else I didn’t know about, too: Jack’s Hideaway.

burgIMG_2915cRemember the scene in Goodfellas, near the end, when DeNiro’s character tells Lorraine Bracco’s character to “go down there,” down the sidewalk to some door where there are some dresses she could have? And Deniro’s standing back there gesturing and looking around, and she’s looking around, and you get this bad feeling… and she does, too…? Well, I had a flash — just a flash! — of that when we were walking to the door of Jack’s Hideaway. It’s around the corner from Jack Brown’s, on Water Street, and it’s down the sidewalk, and it’s just this nondescript door you knock on. But no malevolent force will greet you, you won’t get “whacked” or anything; instead you’ll be escorted into a really, really cool space. It’s where Aaron and Patrice lived when they first opened Jack Brown’s. It’s another bar, quite lounge and swanky, with a lovely view of the street below, a bar, a menu, a second room, and restrooms. It’s open Thursday through Sunday, and I could see spending a lot of time in that secret little place. But the capacity is only a couple dozen, so it’s possible you’ll be turned away if it’s a busy night. Still, put on some fancy duds and knock on that door. It’s truly special, a Harrisonburg treasure.

burgIMG_2924There was more to see, and so we hit the pavement once again. Our pace, and especially the kids’, increased as we got closer to our next destination: Kline’s Dairy Bar. Yesssssss! Did you know they’ve been in business 71 years?? Regina told us that. Mr. Kline would hand frozen custard out the window of his home. The business is no longer owned by the Kline family, but the yumminess continues, as well as the tradition of passing frozen custard through a tiny window. On this day they had one of my favorites — Raspberry — plus the usual chocolate and vanilla.

burgIMG_2935 burgIMG_2929 burgIMG_2926 burgIMG_2928I thought for sure the tour had to be over since we’d had dessert… but no! There was more! We stopped in to Friendly City Food Co-op for a tour and samples of delicious peach poundcake made with local peaches. Steve Cook conducted the tour and told us all sorts of interesting info. For example, local products can be found in every department and on every aisle of the store, from Lucas Coffee to Polyface chicken, from maple syrup from Highland County to popcorn from Dayton, from milk from Mt. Crawford to soap from Charlottesville. They now sell beer and wine (no corporate beer!), and they’re planning a big expansion — the meat and produce areas will double in size and the kitchen will serve hot food. It’s a great place to shop, whether you need full-on groceries, or just lunch.

burgIMG_2949 burgIMG_2945And still, there was more. Regina was really wowing us today! Our last stop was Bella Luna, Harrisonburg’s fairly new wood-fired pizzeria. We ate ravioli with pork, peaches, jalapeño, lemon, and arugula (what a combination!) covered in a smoked paprika sauce, and THEN two kinds of pizza cooked in their 900-degree oven in just three minutes. Plus their chocolate torte — flourless and gluten free — with orange whipped cream and chocolate drizzle. Kate, the manager, talked to us at length about each dish and also about their effort to support local agriculture. They actually ask local farmers to produce certain foods. In fact, just that morning she’d bought grapes at the farmer’s market for that evenings specialty cocktail. The kids tried their vanilla cream soda, and the rest of us got to end our tour with Regina’s all-time favorite cocktail — the vanilla old fashioned. She certainly earned it! Lordy. This wasn’t the first time Brandy and I have been “full up to the collarbone,” as she says, but it was one of the best times, for sure.

burgIMG_2965 burgIMG_2961In summary (ha), you’ve got to go on this tour. The next one is October 25 — the Goons, Goblins, and Grub Tour, in honor of Halloween. It starts at 2pm at the Hardesty Higgins House. But, you have to get tickets in advance, so Regina can let the restaurants know how many to expect. To purchase tickets, just go to the web site and click on the Tickets tab at the top. You’d easily spend the cost of the ticket at just one restaurant; the tour is a great way to sample a bunch of different places, learn a lot, and enjoy the company of Regina, my favorite Harrisonburg ambassador! You’ll have a fine time!

See you out and about!

burgIMG_2886Copyright © 2012-14 · All Rights Reserved · ilovemyburg.com. Written content by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

hearts and crafts: from grain to growler, court square theater.

burgIMG_2359Beer entered the realm of human existence around the 5th century BC, roughly the same time as the invention/discovery of bread. One can only imagine it was some kind of heaven-sent happy accident. And we’ve been lucky to enjoy the beverage ever since. Several hundred years later, big corporations figured out how to manufacture huge quantities of beer very quickly, but the selection of beer – the types – remained relatively skimpy. I remember, for example, when Guinness was a luxury beer. And when, if the bar also had Bass on tap, you could get a Black and Tan. Guinness – and I still like it, don’t get me wrong – was this exotic, dark, mysterious, fancy beer consumed by college philosophy majors and poets. It wasn’t Keystone or Natty Light – the beer for everyone else.

I traveled overseas a lot during college, and I remember a youth hostel I stayed in that had a 24-hour bar downstairs. They served Guinness on tap and the most awesome grilled cheese sandwiches. I remember waking up at like two in the morning with a hankering, throwing on my bathrobe and slippers, and playing Rummy with a bunch of other Guinness-swilling cheese-munching revelers. I was in hog heaven. To this day, I want that. I want access to good beer, good food, and good people at any given time. I doubt with Virginia’s ABC laws that I’ll ever find such a paradise in this state, but who knows? Virginia’s been at the forefront of beer evolution, in case you didn’t know.

I learned this and other fascinating information about the craft beer movement when Brandy and I saw From Grain to Growler, a short-film documentary by Aaron Stanley and Megan Troy about independent beer brewers in the Old Dominion. Sometimes things come full circle: the whole craft beer phenomenon hearkens back to traditional breweries of yesteryear, with a modern technological sophistication. In other words, the “little beer guy” now has access to what the big beer companies have had for a long time: technology, equipment, reach, and ease of distribution. This is all due to a few passionate brewers who pushed for legislation that would open doors for the little guy.

I was so excited to see a movie about beer that I nailed down a babysitter like two weeks in advance. I made the kids do calisthenics and take extra vitamins to make sure they wouldn’t get sick that day. Okay, just kidding about that. But I did hound Brandy (“Can you go? can you go? can you go?”) about it til she was near the point of slapping me.

And so we went. Of course we had to swing by Capital Ale House first. Brandy’s got this new camera lens that doesn’t zoom, so she has to physically lean forward and back to get the right shot, and wouldntchaknowit, she knocked over her beer. I predict about twenty more spilled beers before she gets used to that thing.

burgIMG_2356 burgIMG_2347Then on the way into the theater, she banged her flash on the door frame, which is pretty much like banging YOUR CHILD’S HEAD. Thankfully we made it to the front row without injuring ourselves or anyone else and plopped down. The film started and I was taking notes like crazy: that short little thing contained TONS of information shared by TONS of beer experts. Following the film was a lively panel discussion that included representatives from Three Brothers, Midtowne Bottle Shop, Pale Fire Brewing, Champion Brewing, and Lickinghole Creek. Here’s what we learned during the film and the awesome panel discussion that followed:

burgIMG_2377Currently, Virginia is 4th in craft beer production. In 2010, there were about 40 brewpubs in Virginia. These were places that brewed their own beer but also sold food. They operated like a restaurant but sold their own beer. Everyone loves a brewpub, yes, but staffing and operating a full-on restaurant just to get to sell your craft beer is kinda expensive. So in 2012, the Virginia Senate passed SB 604, which essentially granted “vineyard rules” to breweries: brewers could sell their beer on site, but without having to provide a full food menu. Like at a vineyard, customers can buy snacks or bring in outside food, then enjoy freshly-brewed beer. With Harrisonburg’s outrageous food truck presence, we have a nice little set up: food trucks roll up to breweries like Three Brothers or Three Notch’d or (coming soon!!) Pale Fire, hungry patrons buy some grub to go with their suds, and everyone’s happy. So Yay! to everyone who lobbied for that bill. Because of it, it’s much easier for brewers to stay in business, hone their skills, and enjoy their passion.

During the panel discussion, several questions were answered. One was, “Who is your beer hero?” Answers ranged from craft beer pioneer Sierra Nevada to Russian River and something called Toad Spit. Panelists were asked what beer logo they’d have tattooed on themselves: Big Sky, Firestone Walker, anything by Flying Dog, and Tim chimed in with the original Calhoun’s logo. And when they’ve had a really rough day, which beer do they want the most? One panelist answered, “The one I can get in my mouth the fastest.” Amen, brother.

burgIMG_2375We learned a great deal about farming and beer, too. Apparently hops is very hard to grow in Virginia; still, our craft brewers try to use as many ingredients from local farmers as they can, which has led to some interesting collaborations. I have a sneaking suspicion that beer fanatics are just trying to get their daily fruit and veggie servings through their beer, what with blueberry beer and pumpkin beer and such… I don’t know… call me paranoid. But farmers have certainly inspired brewers. Which brings me to what I affectionately call Beer Porn. Get ready for these stimulating facts!

* One brewer named his new brew after Jerry Garcia because when he tasted it, “smoke came to mind.”
* Three Notch’d and Adroit collaborated on a Bloody Mary beer called Bloody Roots. Yes. A Sunday morning beer.
* Three Brothers’ Rum Barrel Aged Belgian Dubbel will remind you of Bananas Foster. And it’s won awards, people.
Port City Revival Stout contains oysters.
* The panel agreed that the weirdest name they’ve ever heard is the Woodbooger Belgian-style Brown Ale by Strangeways.
* Many of these ideas came to the brewers because they couldn’t sleep one night, or they dreamed it. So, no, you’re not the only one who wakes up in the middle of the night thinking about beer.

burgIMG_2384In short, it’s hard to brew a beer from start to finish with ingredients all from Virginia, but thanks to dedication, the willingness to sweat and lose sleep, hard-fought legislation, cooperative farmers, and just plain inspiration, we’re getting there. Let’s celebrate those victories, and all victories, and heck, let’s celebrate our troubles, too, at one of our local breweries: Three Brothers, Three Notch’d, and coming soon, Pale Fire and (rumor has it) Back Bay Brewing from Virginia Beach. Let’s face it: Harrisonburg loves beer. We have at least three big beer festivals each year, we were voted Best Beer Town by Blue Ridge Magazine for Pete’s sake, and we have beer-related events constantly, like this Tour and Taste one this Saturday, and now this Beer and Book Share (OMG I AM GOING TO FAINT)  on October 19. Thank you to Megan and Aaron for so eloquently conveying the evolution of craft beer in our state, and thank you to all our local craft brewers for being a HUGE part of that, and thank you, Beer, for ALWAYS BEING YOU, and always being there.

burgIMG_2388Copyright © 2012-14 · All Rights Reserved · ilovemyburg.com. Written content by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.