Food and Beer Pairing Challenges and Wins

I was somewhat impulsive when I put up my Homebrew and Home-Cooking Giveaway a couple of months ago. Not that I did it completely without thought; I certainly considered if I wanted to open our home up to total strangers and I asked Bill about the same. I considered what sorts of preparation it might take for us, in terms of around the house cleaning and furniture or feeding that many people. I even considered, and appreciated, that it would stretch my food and beer pairing skills, even if I failed at creating a delicious pairing.

I didn’t consider, however, how much it might stretch those pairing skills. You see, I didn’t truly consider the possibility of certain dietary restrictions.

Oh, I gave some thought to the possibility that someone might have a nut allergy or even be gluten-free. It’s not that I didn’t consider dietary restrictions at all. It’s that I didn’t consider that my tendency is to pair a porter either with dessert (which wasn’t my plan) or red meat. And when I started getting the emails back from my guests with statements like, “No allergies or other food restrictions. I’m generally adverse to offal/organs/tongue…” or “No restrictions except raw onions”? I was puttering along quite excitedly considering what I might do. Like a beef stew. And then I got the last response, “I am not a red meat or poultry eater, but I do fish/seafood.”

You could hear a pin drop in my brain.

I’ll be honest. I spent weeks fretting about what to do. Weeks that did not include tasting the beer in question, because I couldn’t even wrap my brain around the idea of fish + porter. I asked friends. I think I asked Bill about 17 times. I stressed.

And then, in a completely unrelated effort, I started inventorying my freezers. This got me thinking about my pantry and how I’d like to be using things up out of both the pantry and the freezers. Then there was the conversation going on in the comments on my post about what “well-stocked” means as well as the comments on the following post about what I’m cooking from the house this week. And, of course, I tasted the damn beer. It’s good I waited until all of this was going on to taste the beer, I think.

See, really trying to focus in on what I had as I planned other meals got my brain working on how to use up food in our house. And, apparently, the back of my brain was thinking about the kinds of flavors that can be show up in porters. So when my eyes landed on a jar of dried white beans, it suddenly hit me that a vegetarian version of baked beans was the answer I had been looking for. The pairing would be anywhere from decent to stellar AND it would mostly require ingredients I already had on hand. Double win. Tasting the beer confirmed it. This was a pairing that would work.

I had to drop the idea of meat in my meal for this to work1. I had to get past my reliance pairings that come easily. I had to get creative. And I simply wouldn’t have gotten creative if I hadn’t been challenged, even if inadvertently.

I’m very grateful for the challenge, even if it did cause a bit of panic at first. It’s exactly the kind of situation that brings out the best in people, and forces that growth. And, frankly, I suspect it’s the kind of growth that only happens when it’s forced. Thus, at this point, I feel lucky and grateful.

Thanks, my new pescatarian friend. Please come over again. Often.

fn1. Some of you may remember my discovery that I didn’t know how long I’d gone without eating meat, but I was pretty sure it was no more than two days. It’s still a struggle. Honestly, that struggle made this meal something of a triple win. One in succeeding, two in mostly cooking out of my pantry and three in making another awesome vegetarian meal, so having it to fall back on again later.