Mile High Eats and “Experiences”

It’s been a bit of a crazy week in North Central Indiana. The National Weather Service confirmed that EF-2 tornadoes came through our county last Sunday, one less than two miles away from our home. Here was the cover of our city’s paper on Monday morning.

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I tried to buy a copy but they were sold out across town by the afternoon.

All week long we have heard stories of damage. Driving through town I have seen damage that I really had only seen in photos or on the news.

Fortunately, patio furniture strewn across the lawn was all the “damage” to our home and property.

We also heard stories of where people were during the storm.

Fortunately, we were not in town. (This is major good fortune for my sanity… I would have been freaked out.)

We had just arrived back to Indy from a long weekend in Denver when we heard on the radio that a tornado was on the ground and headed to our little town.

The trip was a bit of a celebration for the end of harvest for Adam, my new job (started this past Monday!), and just for fun!

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We chose Denver because it always seems like the spring board to the next place, be it the mountains, California, where ever. We had never really been to the city, so we decided to take a little time to enjoy it.

With nothing on the agenda to do but to be together and relax, we had a great time. In fact, my dear darling “country boy” said that he could live in the city of Denver multiple times throughout the long weekend.

We stayed at a hotel on 16th Street, a major business district downtown that had virtually every major restaurant and store you could think of. We also didn’t rent a car, but it worked out great. Denver has public transportation down. A free bus system runs up and down 16th Street for about two miles making it easy to get to different areas.

We also took the bus from the airport saving us an expensive cab ride. The timing was great and the trip to and from the city wasn’t too long. (We took the AF Bus that had a stop right at the ground transportation area of the airport. Round trip was $20 per person. A cab ride would have been a cool $50 each way.)

Denver gets a bad reputation for having killer winters because we all imagine the snow from the mountains. I was prepared for cold temps, but it turns out we were warm. We walked a lot and did not need a jacket until the evenings. Not bad for November.

Denver is actually similar to a micro climate, protected by the mountains, and boasts over three hundred days of sunshine each year.

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(… this alone is something to make a Midwesterner consider a cross county move. Case and point? Tornadoes in November.)

One big thing I really wanted to do while there was seek out a restaurant or two that is locally sourced. I have done enough research on the Farm to Table movement and knew that Denver was a town that values local growers and has proximity to ranches producing fabulous cuts of traditional and unique meats. Plus, I wanted something to write about…

What I didn’t realize was that nearly any restaurant in the city was onboard with the movement. Granted we weren’t going to big chains and did hop off the beaten path, but each restaurant we visited had a blurb on their menu sharing where they source local produce, eggs, poultry, beef, game, whatever, from.

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Here are a few of our favorite meals from the trip:

We began with lunch at Wynkoop Brewing Company, Denver’s first craft brewery, after checking into our hotel. Craft beers are now pretty much the heart beat of Denver, but in the eighties it all began here.

We started with a flight of the home brews as we couldn’t decide between all the IPA’s, lagers, and ale’s. My favorites were the Rail Yard Ale, one of the brewery’s best sellers and a seasonal peach wheat.

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Starving, as our stomachs were still on east coast time, we also ordered lunch. Adam had the Pork Bahn Mi, an Asian twist pulled pork. I know he choose it because sriracha was listed as a topping. The kid has a hard time saying “no” to anything with sriracha. I had a BLT with thick slices of Denver Bacon, juicy heirloom tomatoes and baby lettuces.

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Before going out west, I asked for some Facebook input on must see restaurants in Denver. The resounding recommendation was for a brunch spot called Snooze.

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Snooze really came into popularity thanks to MTV’s Real World Denver as the cast always ate there. All the recommendations included a warning that anytime of day you show up, there will be a wait.

And there was. A forty minute wait… for brunch… on a Friday morning. I could sense Adam’s patience, or lack there of, so I assured him that everyone said this would happen but it would be worth it.

… A bloody mary also helped my cause.

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The bloodys were made with house made bloody mary mix and different hot pepper infused vodkas. I ordered a gazpacho bloody mary and it was fabulous. Adam had a spicy one, of course.

We were made aware our table was nearly ready via text message and headed into the diner.

I think this is the best idea ever!

I think this is the best idea ever!

Looking around the restaurant I knew we were in for some good food. There were huge pancakes, egg plates and french toast that looked more like dessert. Adam and I both opted for savory options versus the sweets.

Chiciquilles for him.

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Italian style eggs Benedict for me complete with prosciutto, cheesy hollandaise topped with balsamic and peppery arugula.

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Phenomenal.

And totally worth the wait.

Our final night we had reservations at Buckhorn Exchange, per recommendation from my aunt claiming it is “an experience.” She also recommended the Brown Hotel as a great place for a cocktail so we decided to have a drink there before heading to dinner.

The Brown Palace is a one hundred and thirty year old hotel, rich with Denver history as it was one of the first buildings in the city. We took a seat in the lobby as a pianist serenaded the many couples cozied up with martini’s.

After a weekend full of beer, I was ready for a glass of champagne. Adam had a Manhattan.

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We had a great conversation about friendships and our good fortune with friends as we admired the exquisite architecture.

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As we left, the Brown’s driver insisted he take us to dinner as he was free. We didn’t object to the free ride. On the way he also mentioned that Buckhorn Exchange is “an experience.”

I got a little nervous… What did everyone mean by this?

“It’s just a little guy,” Adam announced as we pulled up to a maybe thirty foot wide building.

The driver agreed but said it was deep and that tables went way back into the restaurant.

This was true. As we followed a waitress back through the narrow restaurant, I began to understand why it was always described as “an experience.”

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It was like going back in time into the wild, wild west. The building was warm, tables had red checked table cloths, old framed black and white photos covered the walls… in addition to hundreds upon hundreds of mounted game heads and furs.

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A little crazy, yes. But, clearly part of “the experience.”

Our menu’s were designed like a newspaper, explaining the history of the restaurant.

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The Buckhorn Exchange opened in the late 1800’s and was a favorite of Teddy Rossevelt. There was even a story about a night in the year 1900 when a masked bad guy held everyone in the restaurant hostage, robbing them of any cash or valuables and injuring barmaids. It really was part of the Wild West!

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Entrees included beef and buffalo, like many other restaurants in Denver, but it also included all sorts of wild game including elk, quail, game hens, lamb and duck.

Adam and I both had the night’s special, buffalo with garlic butter and elk with a spiced cranberry sauce. Our meals were also served with a garden salad and starch. I chose smashed potatoes and Adam had a baked potato, two things we never do at home so it was a big treat.

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The meal was delish, but what was even better was that it was just a piece of a great night that capped off a memorable weekend together.

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Below are links to all the restaurants we tried. Loved everything, but couldn’t write about them all. Check them out on your visit to the Mile High City!

http://www.wynkoop.com/
http://www.lodosbarandgrill.com/ — Located right in the LoDo neighborhood. Great place for a game.
http://www.snoozeeatery.com/
http://www.breckbrew.com/ — Great Buffalo Burgers and Brews by Coors Field.
http://viewhouse.com/ — Awesome patio on top floor with great views of the city. Bottomless mimosas and Bloody Mary’s on Saturdays in addition to a brunch menu.
http://bravapizza.com/ — Similar to a food truck; Mobil stone pizza oven with a two tap kegerator. Great, quick flatbread pizza’s right on a patio on 16th Stree.
http://www.buckhorn.com/

Hotels:

http://www.brownpalace.com/
http://www.sheratondenverdowntown.com/

Transportation:

http://www.rtd-denver.com/

… when we go back I am DYING to try The Kitchen and Squeaky Bean! Have you been there?!

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End of the Season and So Much More

Autumn became a little aggressive last couple weeks bringing blustery wind, biting cold, and even flurries. Yuck.

This made me very glad that Adam and I had taken advantage of the sunshine the weekend before last and cleaned up the garden for the end of the season.

We tore out the remaining plants and tilled up the garden beds. All the herbs were pulled from their pots and composted; after trimming pieces we could still use.

Cleaning up a garden at the end of the season helps to make planting easier in the spring. You want to wait until the first frost, so that plants don’t grow back after removing them and trimming them back.

After a day of putting the garden to bed, I looked out at the empty piece of land.

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It was hard to imagine that just a couple months ago that same spot was booming with life and vibrancy.

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This brought on a little reflection.

The garden has given Adam and I so much more than produce. It has helped us grow. Learn. Expand who we are as individuals and together.

I read something somewhere that you should take time each day for your mind, body and soul.

And that is exactly what we did- without even knowing it- through this summer’s garden.

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Mind

Outside of a pathetic attempt at green beans and a couple cherry tomato plants, Adam and I had never gardened before this summer. We learned so much.

We learned how things grow. How to take care of plants. The benefits of eating food from a backyard garden.

This learning made us want to know more.

We were open to new concepts. Tried new things. Created new recipes with our veggies.

We read. We researched. We attended conferences. We listened to old pros. We Googled and Youtubed.

As a strong, yet apathic student in my younger years, I don’t know if I have been so interested, engaged and excited about learning ever.

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Body

First? The injuries.

Two bee stings. A sliced thumb when making cucumbers. One very, very bad sunburn when I thought it would be a good idea to pull weeds in a bikini top. And an unfortunate canning incident where boiling water poured down my right hand, branding the outline of my claddagh ring to my finger.

Don’t worry… Adam happened to make it out unscathed.

Second: A lot of people ask if we were doing it for the health benefits.

And I would be lying if I said, “No.” And we did see them.

We weren’t doing 4,000 calorie burning Cross Fit workouts, but we were outside and moving.

We didn’t feel like we were on a diet, but we were eating more vegetables than we had in the past.

I didn’t lose any noticeable weight, but I also didn’t gain any.

However, one thing that is fatter is our wallets. Grocery lists were shorter than ever. We also used to eat out at least once a week, but since June, we have maybe been out to eat just a handful of times.

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Soul

Tonight, I told Adam I was writing this post and asked him what he would say the garden gave us. Without hesitation, he said, “It has changed who we are.”

I smiled, because I couldn’t agree more.

As an individual, I felt like I gained a stronger definition of myself.

Ten months ago I was a young woman who worked hard trying to develop her career and liked to be with her friends. You might have gotten “shopping” out of me if you asked about my hobbies.

Kind of superficial. Very on the surface. Pretty boring.

Now, not only do I love working hard, being with my friends, and shopping, but I can go so much deeper than that.

There is so much more that makes me… me.

I love to spend time in the garden, getting dirt under my nails. I giggle with I have a gaggle of hens following me around the yard. I get so excited create something delicious with the fresh food from the backyard and share it with my friends and family. I like to learn more about local food growers, sustainable and self-sufficient living. I seek out hyper local restaurants and opportunities to share this new found passion.

I looked at Adam, who clearly was thinking of nearly the same things I was, and said, “But you know what was so great about all of this? What was at the core of everything? We did it together.”

Adam lit up and nodded.

Hours were spent working alongside each other outside in the garden with no other distractions. We laughed remembering the chicks when they were clumsy, little fluff balls that could entertain us more than any episode of Big Bang Theory. And the evenings in early June spent in the garden together catching up and checking out the changes in the growing plants with a glass of wine are memories that we both will carry with us for the rest of our lives.

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I don’t think we needed it, but the garden did make us closer. It made us stronger. It made us better.

And we both cannot wait to see what next year will bring.

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