The first spoonful of chicken chorizo vegetable stew tastes rich and savory, slightly smoky with a faint residual heat. Hard nuggets of potatoes and carrots have slowly cooked into creamy, grainy morsels, rising as mountain ranges just above a sea of sienna-colored broth in the bowl. Scattered dark green islands of poblano pepper and specks of oregano form an archipelago. The broth glistens from chicken fat and tomato-chorizo stock, making each slurp feel more indulgent than wholesome and nutritious. Chunks and shredded bits of meat from chicken legs, thighs, and backs are distributed throughout the earthy stew.
Earlier this evening, I debated what I should eat for dinner after waking from an afternoon nap. My head was still groggy. My muscles sore from work over the weekend. I thought about visiting the newly-opened Black Sheep + Market, a farm-to-table restaurant and market from chef Michael Foust and his partners at The Farmhouse. Or, perhaps I could head to The Rieger for the debut of their new fall menu.
Recently, someone had shared a photo of the gargantuan pork tenderloin sandwich at The Firehouse on 20th Bar and Grill The image inspired a craving for the tenderloin and cold, cheap beer. I wrote about that impressive made-from-scratch sandwich three years ago. The sandwich is big enough to constitute two meals. Customers often buy an extra bun for fifty cents and take home the leftovers for a second meal.
However, after splashing cold water on my face, I resorted to peering inside the refrigerator. As often as I open the fridge, you’d think I would have its contents classified and memorized like it was my social security number. Whether it is before midnight, first thing in the morning, or just as hunger pangs inspire action for supper, I often take a gander inside the fridge. Sometimes I’ll also peek in the freezer and then double back to the fridge in case I missed something. At first, I’m reacquainting myself with what’s there or, more often, not there. Other times I open the door and look inside. I’m full of hope as if I’m scratching away at a lottery ticket to score $500 or a beef Wellington. Usually, I’m either assessing leftovers or calculating ingredients and what can be composed into a meal.
I opted for the container of chicken chorizo vegetable stew. Technically, the food wasn’t leftover but instead a dish I prepared a few days ago from various ingredients lying around. I threw them in the crockpot, cooked and seasoned the stew, and then stored it for later in the week. I waited impatiently for the stew to reheat in a deep saucepan on the stove. I could have abandoned the preparation and easily bolted for a restaurant. There, I could sit, drink, and indulge in someone else’s cooking. Yet, I’m glad I didn’t tonight.
I don’t mind spending money on food and drink prepared and served at local restaurants. Not only does it support the local economy, but it also breaks up the monotony of cooking and eating my food daily and nightly. Eating out provides ideas, inspiration and social interaction, a chance to see the results of another cook’s labor and creativity.
Sometimes eating a home-cooked meal provides its own reward. The sensory payoff of a dish’s flavor, aroma, and presentation makes the effort worthwhile. Tonight, the decision to stay home and eat rustic, hearty chicken chorizo vegetable stew paid off.
Two days ago, the last day of summer ended and autumn began in the northern hemisphere. The stretch of daylight has regressed as evening grows dark earlier. It’s a time for festivals, harvest and rituals that prepare us for darkness, cold weather and a slower pace for some. Eating simple meals like stew prepared at home offers comfort and satisfaction. And opening the refrigerator door, a daily ritual to peer from the outside in, is a sort of kitchen equinox that observes a transition from dark to light, from indecision to inspiration. The possibility of hope and pleasure that awaits serves as a reminder that I can nourish myself no matter how many meals await elsewhere far beyond the refrigerator door.
Sloane Dominick got her dream job at Kansas City Bier Company in Kansas City, Missouri, on February 14, better known as Valentine’s Day. Less than four months later, she worried about how a major life change might affect her career.
Previously, Dominick worked as a beverage manager at World Market but sought a change.
“I wanted to be on the production side of brewing,” Dominick said. Even after Dominick landed the brewery job, she said, “I felt like I was missing something.”
Professionally, the job fulfilled Dominick’s goal. She was initially hired in 2017 to work as a bartender and server at Kansas City Bier Company. She worked on the brewery’s bottling line and volunteered for odd jobs as the brewery grew. As a draft technician, she cleaned lines and even devised a method that saved Kansas City Bier Company around $1,800 a year. Personally, Dominick had a long-buried secret hidden behind a wall of uncertainty.
Valentine’s Day is named after St. Valentine of third-century Rome. The name Valentinus is derived from the Latin word for worthy, strong, or powerful. Over time, Valentine has come to represent the patron saint of couples, marriages, and the romantic February holiday. For some, Valentine’s Day is celebrated with flowers, heart-filled greeting cards, chocolate, and expensive dinner. Others reject the day as a make-believe ritual of commercialized marketing or view it through the prism of heartbreak and longing.
After launching a brewing career on this day, Dominick faced a pending choice to be strong and powerful enough to disclose her secret, or she could maintain a make-believe way of life that had already taken a toll.
In June 2017, Dominick chose to come out as transgender with a new assumed name.
“I talked about it with a friend,” said Dominick. “We discussed it and decided that I would go forward with coming out. I came out with my name Sloane on Facebook. I was afraid.”
The announcement was a decision to finally and publicly part with her previous gender and step into her feminine identity. In a way, coming out was both a breakup and an embrace of a true self she always knew existed.
That same night, she also made the announcement to friends and brewery coworkers while attending a Dogfish Head Brewery event at Bier Station, a local craft beer taproom. However, she was unsure how her coworkers would respond.
“The next day I went into work and my new name was listed on the schedule. Everyone was accepting of me,” Dominick said. “I didn’t want to give up my dream job. I feel like I was Sloane since I began working at Kansas City Bier Company. They have been nothing but supportive.”
Dominick suffered from depression for years. After making the announcement and sharing her new name, Sloane, she felt relieved and knew it was the right decision.
“I’ve known my entire life. I’ve been working on this since I was a small child,” Dominick said. I tried to bury it and focus on other things. But it’s like putting the wrong fuel in the car. It won’t run right. For twenty years, I’ve known something wasn’t right.”
“I didn’t know that transgender was even a thing until I was 13 or 14,” Dominick said. “I had to find information on a computer and find out myself.”
Growing up, Dominick didn’t like to be made to play sports or placed into a male gender role.
“I just wanted to be me. I didn’t understand until I figured out the word for it,” Dominick said. “For ten years, I buried it. Bottled it up. Sometimes, something would trigger me and I would express it.”
Long before coming out as trans, Dominick saw a therapist to address her feelings.
“The therapist gave me bad advice,” Dominick said. “I went back in the closet. I kept it hidden as a teen. I felt guilty about what I was doing. I told my mom when I was around 22, but nothing came of it.”
Later, Dominick told her mother about being transgender a second time. “I told her that she knew. She did,” Dominick said. “She’s been accepting of me and uses my name and correct pronoun.”
Dominick explained that the pronouns “she” and “her” apply to her as a female. “I’ve never been anyone else.”
Dominick first took estrogen on September 8, 2017. Before taking the prescription, she was required to see a therapist. Then Dominick was referred to an endocrinologist.
“The whole process took three months,” Dominick said. “It was the hardest three months I’ve ever had.”
Initially, Dominick wasn’t sure how quickly the estrogen would affect her. She had planned to transition socially at first. The physical impact of the prescription would take time to manifest, but the psychological response was more sudden.
“Twenty years of depression were gone when I took estrogen,” Dominick said. “I thought, ‘This must be what normal people feel like.”
Dominick’s figure began to develop more curves. She said, “I began to see myself how I wanted to see myself. The depression was gone. I finally was allowed to be myself. My brain runs better on estrogen.”
To formalize the gender transition, she legally changed her name to Sloane Dominick.
Kansas City Bier Company continues to be the place where Dominick clocks into her dream job. She also works a second job as a draft technician at The Belfry taproom and helps owner Celina Tio with beer and spirit tastings, dinners, and events.
Naturally, she continues to be a fan of craft beer. “Beer is so interesting and enjoyable,” Dominick said. “It has so many flavors.”
Socially, Dominick feels at home within the craft beer community.
“The Kansas City community is cool and accepting,” Dominick said. “It’s good to feel part of it.”
Dominick actually didn’t drink until she was 23-years-old and started drinking vodka and whiskey.
“I caught onto craft beer about four years ago and got into it as a hobby,” Dominick said. “There’s so much to discover. It’s interesting. There’s a sense of community, where I can hang out. There’s always something going on.”
Now, Dominick favors saisons, wild ales, and sours. Lambics and brett.-based beers were some of the first she explored.
“Boulevard Brewing’s Spring Belle was a formative beer,” said Dominick, referring to a 2015 seasonal Belgian-style saison made with flowers.
Dominick continues to expand her role at Kansas City Bier Company. She proposed a collaboration beer with Bier Station dubbed Wrong Place Radler. The beer will feature two syrups made by Eric Jones of Bier Station that may be added to Kansas City Bier’s hefeweizen.
Dominick said, “I came up with the name and concept, then pitched the idea to John Couture at Bier Station.”
That’s the beauty and heart of craft beer. As one of mankind’s oldest beverages that predates even St. Valentine of Rome, beer is not trapped in traditional styles and roles. Craft beer continues to evolve and grow. The talent, creativity, and imagination of skilled brewers and collaborative partners defy limitations. Similarly, the community of craft beer grows stronger by resisting limits and being true to each other and to the social and inclusive nature of beer.
Dominick summed up her connection to craft brewing as a simple yet powerful statement.
“Craft beer is part of my life’s calling,” Dominick said. “I was meant to be in beer.”
To celebrate the release of Expedition of Thirst, author Pete Dulin contacted and collaborated with seven Kansas City breweries featured in the travel guidebook. Each brewery will make a limited-release beer and host a beer + book release party at their taproom this summer. Pete will be at the beer+book release events to sell and sign copies of the book. Drop by, pick up a signed copy of the book, try these unique beers, and say hello.
Expedition of Thirst: Exploring Breweries, Wineries, and Distilleries across the Heart of Kansas and Missouri
Crane Brewing Company
Style – Thai IPA with Thai basil, pineapple and Thai chili
Thursday, June 14 – Beer Release date – June 14
Friday, June 15, 4-7 PM – Book signing and beer release party
Martin City Brewing Company
Style – Confluence Belgian Saison with Local Barley
Wednesday, June 20, 4-7 PM – Beer release and book signing at original Martin City Brewing Pizza and Taproom
Thursday, June 21, 4-7 PM – Beer release and book signing at Martin City Brewing Pizza and Taproom – Mission Farms
Style – Uncharted Territory Pineapple-Pepper Ale with Lactose
Thursday, June 28, 4-7 PM – Beer release and book signing at Colony KC, plus a Beerded Man’s Kitchen food special
Stockyards Brewing Company
Style – Stockyards White Ale with Galangal and Toasted Jasmine Rice
Friday, June 29, 4-7 PM – Beer release and book signing
Cinder Block Brewery
Style: Coconut Hefeweizen
Wednesday, July 11, 4-7 PM – Beer release and book signing, brewery tour
Torn Label Brewing Company
Style – Rough Draught Series: Kansas Heirloom Wheat Wine
Thursday, July 19, 4-7 PM – Beer release and book signing
Double Shift Brewing Company
Style – Gully Towner Sour Grisette with Lemon Verbena, hopped with Blanc and local Chinook, with local oats, wheat and spelt.
Release date – Wednesday, July 25, 4-7 PM – Beer release and book signing
Thirty minutes past two in the birth of today. Unreal Ocean, a selection from a white noise generator app on my phone, fails to lull me to a deep sea sleep.
I stir and tumble out of bed like a clumsy gymnast impressing no one with my floor routine. Hunger tugs.
I scramble two eggs from Stanberry Community Farms. The eggs were nestled in a gray cardboard carrier. Each carton of eggs includes a slip of white paper eight-and-a-half inches wide and about an inch high. A handwritten message or poem is photocopied on the paper. The homespun message or observation bears a mark of humanity unlike any fortune cookie’s neat and pat wisdom printed in tiny typography.
Worry is a futile thing
It’s much like a rocking chair
although it keeps you occupied
It doesn’t get you anywhere
True enough. I save these slips of paper behind a magnet on the refrigerator. This lazy scrapbook reminds me that someone took the time to write and include a message in a carton of eggs produced by hens at a farm operated by a farmer an hour-and-a-half north of the bed where I can’t sleep.
I fold the scrambled egg whites and yolks into the blanket of a white flour tortilla, add yellow shredded cheese produced from some factory, and tuck the warm meal into a handheld roll. The morning breakfast doesn’t last long. It rouses hunger even more. I obey.
I hunt and peck in the refrigerator. Out comes a hunk of pork loin. Bunches of shiso mint, peppermint, and Italian parsley look like limp pom-poms from an underfunded junior high school in a town you’ve never heard of.
A black cast iron skillet is called up for duty. I slake its thirst with sunflower oil. Heat soaks into its dense hide.
I wash the herbs and cut a generous pinch from each bunch on a white cutting board. The nine-inch knife slices and minces the aromatic green leaves and stems like a scythe sails through stalks of wheat. I toss the herbs in a bowl.
The refrigerator is an easy jailbreak for a hunk of white onion and its partner, a lemon that’s been partially amputated. I liberate a narrow wedge of onion, mince it into a flash mob, and add the bits and pieces to the bowl of herbs. The amputated lemon cries a river after a rough squeeze. I lightly toss the mix with a fork, season it with a brief April snowstorm of kosher salt, and set it aside.
A single red baby potato doesn’t stand a chance against the knife. Sorry, babe. Slices lie flat, devoid of expression, still in shock.
The cast iron skillet is a teenage dragon, all fumes and attitude, smoking, just sitting there doing nothing.
Baby potato slices scream in the hot oil sauna. Sugars in the creamy white flesh slowly caramelize into golden brown.
I grab the pork loin and trim out an oval medallion about three-quarters of an inch think. Salt and pepper applies a tag-team seasoning whammy. One, two, pow, bang.
The potato slices are flipped, browned, removed, placed on a plate, and salted again for good measure.
The pork is presented as an offering to the dragon. It hisses with appreciation.
As the pork sears and sings one last song, I arrange six coins of browned potato in a circle on a white plate. I anoint the end of each slice with a dab of brown mustard.
I turn the pork cutlet over, sear it off, season it, and gently arrange it in the middle of the petals of potato. Next I spoon a generous amount of herb garnish atop the pork. The garnish adds much-needed color and a pop of savory mint-lemon flavor to each bite. The mustard’s sharpness offsets the light greasy potatoes and plays sidekick to juicy pork.
As I eat, deeper into the morning, I read a passage from “The Largesse of the Sea Maiden” by Denis Johnson, p. 40. The character Bill Whitman, who is “just shy of sixty-three,” muses in bed, unable to sleep.
“I note that I’ve lived longer in the past, now, than I can expect to live in the future. I have more to remember than I have to look forward to. Memory fades, not much of the past stays, and I wouldn’t mind forgetting a lot more of it.”