The Family Way

I mention my family from time to time on this blog. Whether it’s learning about my forbears while trying out life as a genealogist, or tagging along as my mother tends to wounded birds, you have gotten a taste of my family. Now you will get a slightly more literal “taste” of them. We’ll start at the beginning:

In 1939, my great-uncle Tom Kinnealey had just moved home to Boston after graduating from Notre Dame. At that time his brother, my grandfather Arthur, had a produce business in a stall at the Faneuil Hall Market Place. Arthur brokered an introduction for Tom with one of the nearby butchers. Tom apprenticed with this butcher, but soon realized he could do things better. With an investment from Arthur ($500, quite a sum in those days), Tom started T.F. Kinnealey Company. In the years to come, his brothers Joe, Frank and Bill joined him. The company grew from that small operation in Faneuil Hall, to supplying the Army with corned beef during World War II, and eventually providing the best quality meat to restaurants and hotels across New England.  The company outgrew Faneuil Hall, and then a series of other locations around Boston.

My great-uncles Tom and Joe ran the business throughout my childhood, and they have been succeeded by their sons. Tom and Joe were two of my favorites: Tom hosted and played in our annual Thanksgiving football game well into his 80’s, usually without gloves, despite freezing temperatures. I can remember him darting inside between plays to run his hands under hot water, before dashing back out as to not miss more than a few plays. After my own grandparents passed away Joe and his wife Harriet were like surrogate grandparents to me. To this day my holidays and family birthday dinners are spent with their children and grandchildren. I am a very lucky girl.

Today, located in Brockton, MA, T.F. Kinnealey’s serves some of the finest restaurants from Northern Connecticut to Maine and out to Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard.  Some of my very favorites spots in my South End neighborhood are Kinnealey customers. Cousins now run and work at the company (even more during vacations and breaks from college). I am not one of them, so when my cousin Joe suggested I “get bloody” for this blog, I jumped at the chance to get a first-hand look at what generations of my family have done. Besides, I suspected that I would look ravishing in a hairnet!

I arrived early one morning, although not as early as Joe who is up and at work well before the sun comes up. I had not been to the Brockton plant before, which they moved into in 2008 (although I remember my uncle Joe letting me play in the meat lockers on visits to the old plant on Mass Ave.), so cousin Joe gave me a tour and briefed me on the safety and health procedures before I got started. While keeping my coat on (it was chilly in there), I was outfitted in a white jacket, apron, gloves, plastic sleeves, and yes…that hair net I so badly wanted.

Katie Kinnealey, my mentor for the day

I joined my cousin Katie on the floor and was immediately grateful that I would be learning from someone I knew — and someone who couldn’t get that mad at me if I was really bad at this. Katie and I were working on vacuum packing meat that was headed out the door and would likely be on someone’s dinner plate that night or the next. This took some serious attention to detail in terms of setting all the meat in the machine correctly, and I also had to arrange that meat quickly as to not back up all the orders that were in line. Plus, while the machine was doing it’s thing (sealing) I was packing up more orders. Katie was so patient with me.  And I must admit, I felt a little bit like I got stuck in that chocolate factory episode of “I Love Lucy.” Please note, I did not eat any raw meat, nor did I stuff it down my shirt like Lucy did.

I also spent some time loading pieces of meat into a tenderizer, which uses tons of needles to tenderize meat all at once. After several minutes of layering the meat on a belt that took it into the machine, a kind cohort came gave me a very important tip: I didn’t have to be so careful. These truly are words (for me) to live by. I guess I had been taking a lot of time situating the meat on the belt just so to allow for equal surface area per piece. Who me? Imagine that.  After receiving that sage advice, I picked-up the pace and put the meat on the belt in a slightly less precious way.

Katie packing before we vacuum pack

Halfway though my day I realized that I was in the middle of my first day of real physical work. Ever. There was that one summer at The Top of the Hill Farmers Market, but carrying watermelons (and making a lot of “Dirty Dancing” jokes) does not a hard day of work make. All my jobs have been pretty cerebral, demanding mental push-ups, not physical ones. This was an interesting perspective to gain at this (relatively late) point in my life. It seems that a “hard day’s work” is often judged differently depending on where you’re coming from. My day working at Kinnealey’s was one of the most exhausting days I have ever had; demanding not only physical stamina, but also mental. The proof was in the pudding: the next day I was sore all over especially my back and arms.

Joe had wanted me to try all the aspects of the process, but I stayed with Katie the entire day because a piece of equipment was not working well, so I was actually useful. This made me feel amazing. Instead of being the weak link (well, let’s be honest, under any circumstances I was bound to be the weak link), I was a help. I was also working with a certain zeal because I was genuinely happy and excited to be there. Towards the end of the day, Wayne, the production manager, said he liked my work ethic. I took this as an extreme compliment seeing that I was doing something I had never done before and was taking a great deal of pride in it. He then asked me if I would be with them all week. I said that, sadly, I had to go back to my normal job the next day, but I told him I would come back. And I will, Theo still has to teach me how to cut!

After being elbow-deep in meat all day you would think I would want anything but steak for dinner, but as I drove back to Boston, that was exactly what I was craving. I stopped at the East Milton Market and picked up the makings for a perfect dinner: a Kinnealey steak.

Many thanks to my cousins Joe and John Kinnealey for letting me “get bloody,” with all the wonderful people at Kinnealey’s. Thanks also go out to Katie Kinnealey who showed me the ropes during my day in the meat locker. It’s likely that many of your favorite Boston-area restaurants serve Kinnealey Meats, but you can also visit their retail locations and cook up your own feast at home.  I was not compensated in any way for this post.

Theo, one of my new friends

Annie and Francis

Katie hard at work

On a Roll

One of the suggestions that came out of my beer tasting party was that I should try more food-orientated adventures. Because I always listen to the requests I receive (please take note and send your suggested adventures my way), I sought out what I thought would be a culinary challenge: learning to make sushi. I love to eat sushi, so at the very least I figured it was a good skill to have. I headed to Sea To You Sushi in Brookline, MA for a lesson on making what is arguably the first “fast food,” dating back to the 8th Century.

The class was packed and it seemed to be a date night for many of my classmates. Wrestling with raw fish doesn’t seem like the most romantic evening, but who am I to judge. Our teacher walked us though the process of rolling a typical inside-out roll a few times and then we grabbed our seaweed and got at it ourselves. For all you sushi lovers out there, here is a step-by-step guide from an (new) expert:

First, take a ball of rice (imagine a killer snow ball. I used roughly a grapefruit-sized ball for two rolls) and work it into a white layer covering one side of the seaweed. My teacher said that you don’t want it to be too think of a layer, so once you press the rice in, go back and pick the excess off if you have any spots of thick coverage.

My sushi ingredients including my snowball of rice

Next, flip your seaweed over and lay out your fish and vegetables of choice long ways on the naked side of the seaweed. I went with salmon and cucumber (there was raw fish available, but I played it safe and started out with the cooked option).

Next, line up your seaweed on a bamboo mat and roll it up. We used a technique that our teacher called “cat paws.” It’s a pretty self-explanatory way to illustrate how to wrap your hands around your rolls. Imagine a cat using their paws on your sushi (appetizing, I know).

And Voila! A beautiful and delicious sushi roll.

We learned some fancy cutting techniques, but I could not slice my rolls on a diagonal. I think if I used a more robust helping of rice it would have been easier to cut. As an alternative, I went for a straight cut.

We were able to eat what we made and it was yummy. Some of my classmates, those on dates, seemed to be making enough sushi to feed an army, or at least a large dinner party. I, on the other hand, quit after crafting three rolls; and I couldn’t even finish that much.

I thought making sushi was going to be really difficult, but in fact it was rather easy. Having said that, what I have to assume is the most critical factor in a sturdy sushi roll was created before we arrived for class. Namely, we did not make the rice! Sushi rice, or sticky rice as it is also known, has to be just right in order to be rolled into dinner.

While sushi rolling certainly takes some skill, it was a little anticlimactic for me (but I think would make a great evening activity with friends). I hypothesize that’s because my usual adventures have conditioned me to expect these new experiences to be tough! As a result, the fact that I caught on to rolling sushi rather quickly was somewhat of a let down. What does this tell me? No, not that I should up the ante and invest in a culinary torch, but that I really like a challenge. As uncomfortable as being bad at things makes me, I hate things to be easy even more. Please note, I promise to challenge myself more in the future — whether it is physically or emotionally — and share those experiences with you. I know that I am up to this challenge!

This post is not intended to knock sushi making as an activity. It’s certainly fun, and I repeat, easy! Anyone can do it. And I encourage you to give it a try at home with friends…and maybe even a date.

I paid for this sushi making class and was not compensated in any way for this post

I.P. YAY!

This past weekend I invited dozens of my closest friends, and some total strangers, over to taste the amber I.P.A. that Matt and I brewed (hopefully) to perfection.  The other goals of the soiree were to create some buzz around, and generate some new ideas for, this very blog. Mission accomplished on all fronts!

I had tried my brew a few weeks before the party, when I confirmed that it did indeed taste like beer, but I had not had an entire bottle yet. Even if I had, I’m not sure if I have a sensitive enough palate to tell if the I.P.A. was really any good. As a result I bought an extra case of beer, just in case.

Some of my satisfied customers
Photo courtesy of Erin Wilson

As people filtered in I served the beer in a custom-made koozie with the url for this blog on it (I claimed it was grassroots marketing,which it was of course, but in addition, I couldn’t figure out how to make labels for the bottles). When the first guest said they really liked the beer, I thought they were being polite.  As more people tried it, however, I saw the look of shock on their faces as they told me how great my beer was. It was at that point that I really started to believe that they actually liked it! I felt like Sally Field at the Oscars! I could not believe that it was actually good!  This tasty outcome may make me reconsider brewing again, despite the slow pace of the process.

“Fantastic,” my friend Pete texted the next day.  Another friend, a connoisseur of I.P.A.’s, picked up several undertones (such as florals, caramel and blackberry) that not only was my palate not sophisticated enough to sense, but I’m not even sure which ingredient I can attribute the tastes to.  But I will take all the compliments I can get!

Me and my I.P.A., in its custom koozie, of course
Photo courtesy of Kara Feigenbaum

In addition to drinking — and to my surprise — raving, about my beer, guests were also talking about this blog.  Some people had never met me, and had never read my blog, so it was wonderful to tell them how I embarked on this adventure to find my next passion.  To hear their reactions, observations and encouragement was fantastic. A new audience with fresh perspectives and ideas was exactly what I needed!

In preparation for this party I created a suggestion box. Yes, a good old middle school style, arts and crafty suggestion box.  I encouraged guests to help me brainstorm what I should try next and I got some great ideas…some off-color suggestions…but lots of good, clean ideas that I will pursue and hopefully you will read about on these pages over the next weeks and months.

You can find a sampling of the suggestions below. Boy, oh boy, is this going to be fun!

In addition to the suggestions I received in my nifty suggestion box, I always accept suggestions electronically.  Please feel free to leave a comment or email me your bright idea at thegreatwideopenblog(at)gmail(dot)com!

Brewmaster Part II

When we last saw our heroine she had left her glass jug full of beer in a dark corner to ferment, and ferment it did.  I checked on my beer several times over the two weeks it was fermenting, each time half expecting for something dramatic to have happen.  It did not.  It foamed at the top, then the foam dissipated.  One day it would seem to be darker in color, the next it would look lighter.  I had no idea what it was supposed to look like at this stage in the process, so when my friend Matt showed up and said it was “looking good,” I was relieved.  With him, Matt brought two bottling contraptions that would help me get my beer ready for mass consumption.

We transferred the beer from the glass jug into a plastic bucket with a spicket using a long piece of tubing. Then we added one of the most important ingredients: priming sugar.  This is what carbonates the beer once the bottle top is sealed shut. We added it to the nearly five gallons of beer we had brewed and started bottling.

Bottling contraption

I have to say, bottling is my favorite part of brewing, maybe it’s because it is the most active part of the process.  One by one we sterilized the new empty bottles I purchased (some people use empty bottles after they have drunk their store-bought beer, but because it was my first, and perhaps only batch, I wanted the bottles to be neat and free of label residue from their former life) and filled them up with my brew.  I then used a red bottler to seal the bottle top on. Using the bottler took a little bit of effort, but not enough to tire from (even when bottling two cases of beer). I got a huge sense of satisfaction with every “THWAMP” the red contraption made.

After we filled 50 bottles, the moment of truth had come… I was finally going to taste my I.P.A.  I was infinitely nervous about this.  What if I had over hopped my wort and it was too bitter?  What if the yeast didn’t get enough sugar and it had no bubbles?  I had talked a big game and invited dozens of people over to try my beer, what if it was disgusting? I took a slow sip…mind you, I am not a huge I.P.A. drinker, so I wasn’t exactly sure what it was supposed to taste like, but you know what?  It tasted like beer, and that was enough for me!  Matt, who does drink I.P.A.’s, said that it was good, it was at that point I breathed a huge sigh of relief.  At the very, very least I won’t poison anyone.

I am super excited to share my brew with my friends, I will report back after the mass taste-test!

Why yes, that is a custom koozie!

Aww Shucks!

All of the jobs I have ever held, apart from waitressing that one summer, have utilized my brain, not my (metaphoric) brawn. In this blog I have tried physical activities with a low-level of success.  I was a terrible trapeze artist and an even worse pole dancer.  Now, I am not bemoaning that fact; people have different strengths and mine are obviously not of the acrobatic variety. I am perfectly comfortable with that. This past weekend I decided to try something that, while not requiring a great deal of physical strength or flexibility, does require a little umph!

We are all concentrating very hard as we get instructions

I, along with two fabulous friends, headed to The North End Fish Market.  Every Saturday they offer oyster shucking classes from 1:00 to 3:00.  It is free, you only pay for the oysters you shuck and eat. Our instructor Liz said she had been shucking “for a long time” the way old curmudgeons describe their lives, as if they are looking back through a very long looking-glass.  But Liz looked too young to have been doing anything for all that long.

She walked us through the correct way to shuck: dig the tip of the knife into the hinge of the oyster, use your wrist to get some leverage to pop the hinge, run your knife the length of the right side of the oyster’s shell to detach the muscle from the top of the shell, open it up and then flip the meat inside to detach the muscle on the bottom.  Last step: enjoy!

Oysters

We tried it on our own, first with an Indian Neck from Wellfleet, then with the much trickier Conway Royal from PEI. After several warm-up oysters I asked Liz to challenge me, and boy did she deliver. The PEI oyster she handed me did not have the smooth lines of the others, it was bumpier and looked like a fossil from prehistoric times.  Most importantly, it was really hard to get a grip on.  I am not one to run away from a challenge (especially not one I requested), so I grabbed that sucker and got to it, digging my knife into the hinge like my life depending on it, and in some small way it did: I had talked myself up to our teacher and the rest of the class (note to self, anything new will be challenging enough, why up the ante with false bravado).

I had to trade the very challenging PEI in for a slightly easier one, but I did eventually get that darn oyster open and enjoyed every last bit of it.

Battling my oyster

The North End Fish Market is not accepting job applications at the moment so I will have to maintain my new-found skills at home. And I will, not only do I love oysters, this was really fun!  Tricky at first, but with near instant gratification.  What could be better?  While full-time employment there is not in my future, Liz did invite me back for an entire day, so stay tuned for an upcoming post about the joys, and challenges, of handling and cutting raw, dead fish. I can’t wait!

I had a great time at the North End Fish Market, but paid for all the oysters I shucked and was not compensated in any way for this post.

Brewmaster Part I

I have drunk my fair share of beer over the years, but usually it’s light in color and equally light on taste. So when my friend Matt Javitch, a fellow blogger and all-around great guy, told me that he had started brewing beer, I thought maybe I would actually enjoy drinking a beer if I tried – and tried to make – a dark craft beer.

So to honor my Irish heritage, and coinciding with St. Patrick’s Day, I set off on a brewing adventure!  I like to bake, how different would this be? If I really enjoy the process, I imagined mass producing my brew with a catchy name, like “Miss Type A IPA,” to something equally witty.

Matt gave me a shopping list and I picked up our supplies at a The Homebrew Emporium in Cambridge. On the day I was there the store was busier than the Apple store on the day the ipad 3 became available. I finally found someone to decipher my shopping list for me and help measure out all the ingredients which were organized in buckets, refrigerators, and on shelves in a system that resembled a small town library that still subscribes to the Dewey Decimal System.

Soaking the barley-filled cheesecloth

The next day Matt arrived at my place with a monstrously large stainless-steel pot, a glass jug, a plastic jug and a curly copper contraption. We started by packing cracked barley into cheese cloth and soaking it in boiling water. We transferred that to a larger pot, added more water and kept it at a rolling boil.  This concoction is not beer at this point, instead it is known as “wort.” Appetizing, I know. The brew is referred to as wort until yeast is added, and that is the very last step in the brewing process.

The copper chiller at work

As the wort boiled we added a thick goop that resembled — in both consistence and taste — maple syrup. Then came three rounds of hops, the first was to bitter the beer, 40 minutes later we added another dash to add flavor and a third to add aroma. Hops in this form look like the pellet food I used to feed to my guinea pig, Violet, circa 1989.  They dissolve in the wort and leave behind this greenish sludgy substance that stick to the sides of the pot. Once the hops are in we had to bring the temperature of the wort down.  That’s where the copper contraption came in. We moved our brewing operations to the laundry room (which had a more accessible plumbing) so we could pump cold water though the copper chiller. The chiller is similar to the medical device used to induce therapeutic hypothermia (I saw that on an episode of “Grey’s Anatomy”) circulating cold water through the wort so we could bring its temperature down to under 70 degrees.

We then strained the wort to remove all the sludge the hops left behind, poured into a glass jug, and added the yeast. I was thinking we were saving the best for last, but the addition of the yeast turned out to be somewhat anticlimactic. We just poured it in and put a stopper in the top and left it alone. Technically it was then beer, but it will take two weeks to ferment before we can bottle it.

Straining the hoppy sludge from the wort

If this sound to you like a lot of steps and a lot of time you would be correct. It seems to me that you have to really like the person you are brewing with because there is a lot of down time and chit-chat involved. With the wrong person that could be painful…even more painful than the pace of the brewing. I am more of a get up and go gal, so sitting around waiting for a pot to boil took a lot of patience, not to mention a lot of my Sunday afternoon.  At moments I was pretty antsy. I think as a society, and certainly me personally, we are used to a fast-pace, and certainly more interested in instant gratification than the alternative. Many of my previous adventures have been this way. I swung on the trapeze and then fell on my ass, but at least I knew I was a terrible trapeze artist in that moment.  Brewing beer is like the SATs, you do all this tedious work, and then you wait, and wait, and wait to see if it was a success or if you have to go through the torturous process again.

One important rule I learned was that when brewing beer you have to sterilize everything. This is because you are dealing with live bacteria. I never really thought of beer in this way before. If there is more bacteria than there should be in the wort than that bacteria will eat more of the sugar (in the syrup we added) and grow and grow. For some reason this reminded me of “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” and I became wary of trying my own beer. But I will…in a few short weeks! I am planning on bottling it and serving it at a re-launch party for this blog. I have purchased a new web address, one that is not quite as long and complicated as this one, and I am in the process of making it pretty for all of you.  Stay Tuned and get ready to drink up!

And it is beer! It will ferment for two weeks before we bottle it

Hey Bartender

Searching for direction in the dark corners of a bar may seem like a depressing scene from a movie featuring a down-and-out, alcoholic protagonist, but it was actually the way this blogger spent a giddy Thursday night.  As the name implies, The Corner Tavern is very much a neighborhood bar where everyone knows your name.  Literally.  When I walked in, Aldo (the Corner Tavern’s manager, and a great and patient teacher) introduced me to one of his regulars, Rocky.  I extended my hand and started to explain why exactly I was there…looking for my passion…I have spent a lot of time in bars…yada, yada, yada, but Rocky cut me off with a nod that simply and quickly informed me that he already knew why I was there.

I had done some research before arriving that night.  I was concerned that I may not know how to make a given drink if the ingredients didn’t double as its name.  But when I got behind the bar I realized that the ingredients are just half the battle.  Knowing how much of each mixer to include was another challenge.  I watched Adam, another bartender, easily flip a bottle of vodka until it was completely upside down, the alcohol seeped into the mountain of ice that filled the highball glass and then in one swift movement Adam flipped the bottle back right side up .  How did he know how long to pour?  Was he counting?  Was there a magical cut-off line in the glass?  Well, thankfully for me there were both.  But at first I started out even more remedially than that: I measured the alcohol in a shot glass then poured it into the highball glass. 
Some Last Minute Instruction

As the bar started to fill up Aldo armed me with a large bottle opener which I dutifully put in my back pocket as instructed by my Jager Bomb yoda then I got to work.  As the eyes of waiting customers met mine from across the bar I felt a wave of anxiety.  In my other adventures I never had to perform so directly and immediately.  But there I was, standing before these thirsty folks shaking in my boots (actually I was wearing Tory Burch Reva flats, I thought they would be most comfortable for a night spent on my feet).  Some rattled off their orders of up to five drinks so fast I couldn’t catch them all.  I will admit I pretended to be hard of hearing a few times; I needed the repetition in order to quickly memorize complete orders.

Both Aldo and I are Really Concentrating

The beers on tap were particularly popular, and that made me realize that — despite my experience with kegs on golf courses and in college dorms — I didn’t really know how to pour a good beer.  There were so many things to remember at one time: hold the glass at a 45 degree angle, pull the tap hard, stop the flow at the right time as not to spill beer everywhere.  I was getting it, but it wasn’t pretty.  It took a lot of concentration on my part.  Then Adam offered me the key, a manta: there is nothing worse than a tentative bartender.  As soon as he said that it clicked for me.  I started pulling hard on the tap, if there was too much foam; I just topped it off until the perfect amount remained.  I then managed to master the Guinness pourBlack and Tan: check.  Dark and Stormy: easy-peasy. I was on a roll and loving every minute of it.  Bar tending is so social and the customers at the Corner Tavern that night (many of whom were friends who cam out to support/heckle me) were great. 

At the end of the night Aldo asked me if I had ever worked in the bar or restaurant industry before.  Aside from one summer in high school spent as a waitress I was a novice.  Then I got the biggest, most unexpected compliment:  “You’re good at this,” Aldo said.  I am not sure who was more surprised, him or me.  I was on cloud nine.  Had I not been so nervous I would not have felt as triumphant as I marched out of the bar at the end of the night.  This was the first experience since I started this blog (and I hope not the last) when I felt totally out of my element and had to just suck it up and get to work…fast.  It was terrifying and exhilarating all at the same time.  And despite feeling like a failure in the first half hour, in the end I did a good job! 
Now, am I going to quite my job to become a bartender?  No.  But I will happily guest bar tend if the Corner Tavern — or another spot — will have me.

Many thanks to Aldo, Adam, Luke and all the regulars at The Corner Tavern who took such good care of me.