Nobody panic! We’re just making pasta.

When my sister Molly began to unpack the pasta maker from it’s unopened box, it became abundantly clear that perhaps our ambitions to make homemade Portobello mushroom raviolis with a squash sauce was slightly lofty. As Molly read over the directions, an “oh shit” look crept over her face. 

“We have to dry the raviolis for like an hour on each side before we can do anything with them!” She said, crinkling the paper instructions in her fingers.

We had gotten a late start to pasta making after a day of tromping through the woods, allowing my rambunctious dog to bound through the compacted snow with unabashed enthusiasm. It being the weekend of St. Patrick’s Day, we also made the necessary stop into Byrnes’ Irish Pub in downtown Bath for a few beers and a sandwich. 

Arriving at my mother’s house later than we’d anticipated, our pasta-making became fervent. We had no particular reason to rush. There was no dinner party or guests to entertain, just me, Molly, our mother (who was at a work event for several hours) and younger sister Katie (who knew well enough to avoid venturing into the kitchen while we were in there). Add to that a few ill-mannered cats and the aforementioned boisterous labrador, and there was our soiree. 

It was our desire not to eat at a ridiculously late hour that caused us to improvise, abandoning the ravioli. After somewhat panicked internet searching and a bit of compromise, we decided to take the mushrooms which had been pureed in the food processor in anticipation of being stuffed into doughy shells of ravioli and instead, mix them with some homemade linguine. 

IMG_1681Molly prepared the dough from semolina flour and began kneading it into submission. It was then pressed and passed through the pasta maker until doughy strands came creeping out like tentacles into my hands. As Molly pressed, I allowed the pasta to drape delicately over my fingers, then, pulling the sticky strands apart, I laid them gently over the wooden pasta drying apparatus that had come with the kit. We repeated the process again and again, the noodles becoming more uniform with each press. My mother came home and soon it was all hands on deck with all four of us draping pasta until it cascaded down the wooden structure like the arms of a weeping willow.

Molly sauteed the pureed mushrooms in a pan with onions until an almost meat-like paste was rendered. The pasta cooked quickly in boiling water and was sprained and added to the mushrooms. With a small dollop of ricotta cheese (originally intended for the ill-fated ravioli) and a side salad, the meal was complete. IMG_1688

The flavors were surprisingly complex and the earthiness of the mushrooms gave a deep richness to offset the ricotta. And as for the pasta, well, it turned out to be pretty damned delicious. 

The “other” Portland

Though some might suggest that Portland, Maine is the “other” Portland, for East Coasters the Oregon city better fits this classification. I recently had the opportunity to explore this Pacific Northwest gem and I fell in love with the overcast skies, clean and efficient public transportation system, cool urban vibe, but most of all, I fell in love with the food and drink.

This city doesn’t mess around when it comes to cuisine, which is apparent as soon as you walk into any restaurant or even stop by one of the quintessential food trucks that line the streets.

So, feast  your eyes on the bevy of food I consumed in Portland while I go try and work off some of this post-vacay weight before I visit my next destination…Chicago. (Gotta make room for deep dish pizza and hotdogs.)

Welcome to a Stumptown coffee house. Prepare to abandon all loyalty to your current favorite coffee roaster.

At Lardo, you can get lost in a stout and cup of signature fries and watch people in this bustling city (usually clad in Doc Martin's and oversized glasses) walk by.

At Lardo, you can get lost in a stout and cup of signature fries and people watch.

Food trucks line this busy street and customers patiently wait in line to be handed the cuisine of their choosing.

Georgian food? Why not!

Kinkalli is the Georgian dumpling. If trying a new world cuisine, I’ve found you generally can’t go wrong with tasty little pockets of meat.

At TarBoush on the East side of the city, you’re served authentic Lebanese food in a converted house.

Grilled prawns and pitas at TarBoush.

Some of the best sandwiches around can be found at Kenny and Zuke’s. Just make sure to bring your appetite if you plan to order the Reuben.

Better top off all that salty food with some lavender ice cream from Ruby Jewel.

Eating a salad (about damn time!) and taking advantage of live jazz at Jimmy Mak’s.

Last hurrah: indulging in bread pudding drizzled with caramel.

Goodbye Portland. I hope to see you again soon!
… But not too soon.
Sincerely,
My desire not to have a heart attack in my late 20’s.

Mantwo? Yes, please.

That walk from the subway to the restaurant was taxing. A light flurry of snow had begun to fall as we made our way to our destination: an Afghani restaurant in Cambridge. The pangs of hunger were beginning to become assaulting and the anticipation of trying a new type of cuisine had invaded my thoughts.

When my boyfriend Aamir and I finally reached Helmand Restaurant, a warm reddish-orange light filled the crowded dining room and the aromas of cumin and masala spices welcomed us.

To the left of the hostess, a man crouched behind the counter of a prep station, artfully sculpting bread, working with devoted concentration to palm the soft dough. Despite a packed house, we were in luck when a table was given to us without a reservation.

Our table was tucked in the back next to a wall with little cubbyholes for wine that reached to the ceiling. Waiters would intermittently extract bottles to view the labels and either put them back or bring them out and uncork them.

The menu was filled with so many enticing entrees, it was hard to know how to go about choosing. And while I’ve eaten my fair share of world cuisine, this was a first for me. I debated between several options:

  1. Aushak: Afghan ravioli filled with leeks. Served on yogurt and topped with ground beef and mint.
  2. Mourgh Challow: Chicken breast sauteed with spices and yellow split-peas, then sauteed with yogurt, cilantro and curry. Served with challow rice
  3. Mantwo: Homemade pastry shell filled with onions and beef. Served on yogurt and topped with carrots, yellow split peas, and beef sauce.

Though the decision was a difficult one, the Mantwo won.

We were served warm flatbread similar to focaccia from the artisan bread sculptor. The bread was accompanied by a trio of sweet and spicy sauces similar to what you’d find in Indian restaurant including a vibrant green mint, jalapeno and coriander dip, a spicy red pepper dip, and a smooth, rich yogurt sauce with small flecks of cucumber.

As the plate of Mantwo was placed before me, I took in the sights and smells before tasting it. Bright orange carrots and a deep red sauce were offset by a healthy serving of the raviolis. Toped with split peas and a yogurt sauce, each bite was robust yet delicate. The meat inside the lovely little pockets was earthy and flavorful, bursting with subtle yet resilient hints of coriander, cumin, and red pepper. I drizzled some of the sauces that came with the bread on top so that each bite was transformed, becoming increasingly more complex as I made my way through the dish.

Aamir ordered Lamb Lawand, a leg of lamb sauteed with onion and tomatoes, garlic, mushrooms, served alongside sauteed spinach and challow rice. The gaminess that often deters me from  lamb was not present in this dish. Instead, the meat was tender and flavorful, with subtle undertones of turmeric and cardamom. When topped with the yogurt dipping sauce, the slight spiciness of the meat was balanced by the smooth, creaminess of the dairy.

As we finished our meal and walked into the bitterly cold Boston night, the doors of the restaurant sealed shut behind us, trapping in the warmth, the noise of the crowded tables and the overwhelming, and the exuberant smells of spices. Taking one last look inside and wrapping my scarf around my neck to shield myself from the cold, I saw the bread maker still molding the dough: slowly, deliberately, and with purpose.

Yes, gluten free desserts still suck

Let out your pants, because holiday season is here! And you know what that means—lots of fatty, delicious, sumptuous desserts and lots of dry, sallow frauds trying to masquerade as their more luscious counterparts. Gluten free desserts, don’t try and fool us; don’t tart yourself up with applesauce or other “healthy sugar alternatives.” Don’t strut about saying you’re the best gluten-free muffin to walk this gluten-infested earth.

wonka

I know, I know, some gluten-free desserts don’t blow entirely. You know which ones those are? The ones that weren’t supposed to have much fucking gluten in the first place. Meringue, baked apples, that sort of crap. But gluten free cookies and cakes and pies? Why torture yourself with that abomination?

If you’re craving something sweet, go balls to the wall and just thrust yourself face first into that glorious sugar high then allow yourself to feel the sweet, sweet pain of the inevitable crash that follows. Stop denying yourself that simple, unadulterated pleasure.

Sure, Celiac disease (i.e. gluten intolerance) must suck—you know, for people who actually have it. For this small percentage of the population (read: small percentage of the population) substitutions are necessary. I’m not advocating denial of your holiday favorites, but let’s stop beating around the bush here. When you take a decadent apple pie and attempt to somehow substitute the crust with something other than flour, you are taking away the essence of that dessert’s being. The dessert’s joie de vivre, if you will.

And on that note, I leave you with one of my favorite delicious, gluten-loaded recipes, courtesy of foodandwine.com. Enjoy.

OLD FASHIONED APPLE PIE!!!!!!

Ingredients

CRUST

 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch dice and chilled
1/4 cup ice water 

FILLING

201111-r-old-fashioned-apple-pie

3 pounds apples, such as Pink Lady, Golden Delicious, Cortland or Jonathan—peeled, cored and sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 cup sugar1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small dice
1 large egg, beaten
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar, for sprinkling

Preparation

  1. In a food processor, combine the flour and salt. Add the butter and pulse in 1-second bursts until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Drizzle the ice water over the dough and pulse in 1-second bursts until it just comes together. Turn the dough out onto a work surface, gather any crumbs and pat it into 2 disks. Wrap the disks in plastic and refrigerate until chilled, about 30 minutes.
  2. Preheat the oven to 425°. On a floured work surface, roll out 1 disk of the dough to a 12-inch round, a scant 1/4 inch thick. Ease the dough into a 9- to 10-inch deep-dish glass pie plate. Roll out the second disk of dough to a 12-inch round. Transfer to a wax paper–lined baking sheet and refrigerate.
  3. In a bowl, combine the apples with the sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Add the lemon juice and toss well. Let stand for 10 minutes, until the sugar dissolves slightly.
  4. Scrape the apples and any juices into the pie plate and dot with the butter. Cover with the top crust and gently press the edges together. Trim the overhanging dough to about 1 inch and pinch to seal. Fold the dough rim under itself and crimp decoratively. Brush the pie with the beaten egg and sprinkle with the turbinado sugar. Cut 3 small gashes in the top of the pie to vent the steam.
  5. Bake the pie on the lowest shelf of the oven for 30 minutes. Lower the oven temperatureto 365° and bake the pie for 45 to 50 minutes longer, until the fruit juices are bubbling through the steam vents and the crust is deeply golden on the top and bottom; cover the pie loosely with foil halfway through baking to keep it from getting too dark. Transfer the pie to a rack and let cool for at least 2 hours before serving.Source: http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/old-fashioned-apple-pie

All hail the mighty pumpkin!

Well, it’s that time of year again where if it isn’t pumpkin-spiced, it isn’t worth God-damned talking about. From the highly anticipated Starbucks pumpkin-spiced latte that brings tears of joy to pseudo-coffee drinkers the world over, to pumpkin muffins, whoopie pies, cookies, and any other form of sugar-coma-inducing snacks, this year, the pumpkin is kicking ass and taking names. There are pumpkin-flavored marshmallows, chips, teas, and even maple syrups (yeah, ponder photo 3that one for a bit). 

But is the pumpkin really that awesome? Let’s explore.

What the hell is a pəm(p)kən?

Knowledge is power. In order to truly examine this subject and be anything but a novice gourd explorer, one must first interpret the pumpkin.

Merriam-Webster defines pumpkin (pəm(p)kən; ˈpə ng kən) as follows:

  • a fruit of any of various cultivars of herbaceous plants (Cucurbita pepo, C. maxima, C. moschata, and C. mixta syn. C. argyrosperma) of the gourd family
  • typically round and orange but may be another color or shape
  • a culinary marvel, the likes of which are unparalleled
  • may (or may not) turn into a unicorn at night and shoot rainbows out of its butt
  • not to be God-damned messed with

It’s a pumpkin-spiced miracle!

So, now that we know what a pumpkin is, let’s delve deeper into some analysis. When it comes to fall food cuisine, pumpkin repeatedly dominates the charts on vegetables lists (believe me, I’ve done the research). Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of these rotund orange marvels too, but pumpkins need to back the hell off for a second.

photo 5

No other vegetable (gourd or otherwise) has quite the stronghold on fall that pumpkin does. Squash, turnips, yams? Suckers. None of these veggies so rampantly deluge grocery aisles, coffee shops, and restaurant menus quite like the pumpkin. Why? Because this golden orb lends itself to both sweet and savory unlike any of its competitors. Ever tried sweet potato pie? Meh, it’s OK, but it’s no fucking pumpkin.

If a pumpkin were president and a Gallup Poll was run, it would have an approval rating of “100% awesome.” Slogans for presidency might include “be the pumpkin you want to see in the world,” or “pumpkins: change we can believe in.”

Pumpkin, will you go to prom with me…please?

So, think you’ve solved the mystery of the pumpkin? Think again. Pumpkins are the prom queens of the vegetable world. They will not say yes to your pathetic pleas to accompany them to the prom in a white stretch limo whilst drinking champagne. They have other “more promising” prospects.

But don’t give up hope yet. Have you considered asking one of those lesser known fall vegetables forced to go en masse on group dates? Don’t they deserve happiness and admiration too, despite their oblong or otherwise unattractive shapes and colors?

This next song goes out to you, Brussels sprouts, and eggplants, and radishes, and beats. I love you all.

Now, let me tell you a little something about apples…

Cooking on a rock or something

What’s more appetizing than a pre-packed ration of vegetarian lasagna? Nothing, I guess, if you’re really, really hungry. Picture this—it’s nine o’clock at night. You are in the dark. The slight illumination of a battery powered lantern is casting tall shadows across the picnic table where you are sitting. In the distance, a fire crackles, devouring several logs of seasoned wood and shooting intermediate sparks into the air. You are drenched in bug spray, which is doing a mediocre job of combatting the mosquitos that revolve around you in constant flight, like low-hanging hovercrafts waiting to set down on some distant planet. In the dark, it’s hard to tell what the components of said lasagna meal are exactly—was that a piece of broccoli, a wedge of carrot, a sliver of onion?

Recently, I had my first experience with MREs. On our way to Mount Desert Island for a weekend of camping, my boyfriend Aamir and I made a pit stop at the Army surplus store outside of Bangor (at his bequest and my acquiescence). As we sifted through the cartons of pre-packaged meals on the shelf, Aamir contemplated his decision carefully. What would it be chili with beans? Ratatouille? Beef stew? Chicken with dumplings?

mre

What I can tell you about MREs is this: they don’t taste like a four course meal, but they are still pretty cool. Here’s how they work: you put a small amount of water inside the pouch and fold the top back over, putting the whole thing back inside the carton. From here, you lay the carton on an incline against a “rock or something” (that’s literally what the instructions say) and wait for the water activated heaters to cook the contents. In about 10 to 15 minutes, you have your vegetarian lasagna!

I’m glad to have had the experience, but I was also glad we cooked up some fresh veggies, sausage, and baked beans on the fire. Because water activated heaters are cool and all, but you just can’t beat food cooked on an open flame.

SandBeach

The next morning, after making some fresh coffee on the small propane heater and eating the last of the MRE rations, we put on our hiking shoes and headed deeper into Acadia. From Sand Beach to Bubble Mountain to Thunder Hole, we spent our morning traversing the various terrain that one of the Nation’s smallest national parks has to offer.

Soon, it was time to eat some real food. After checking in with a friend about the best local spots in Bar Harbor, we decided on Gringos, a Tex Mex style café with gargantuan burritos and extremely strong margaritas, of which we drank a pitcher. We sat outside under the shade of an umbrella, people watching and discussing everything from tear-jerker cinema to strange technical inventions.

gringos

After finishing up, we made our way to the beautifully shaded Agamont Park for a brief siesta in the shade. Throngs of tourists were scattered around the greens, taking pictures and donning Bar Harbor shirts like overzealous sports fans wearing team jerseys. We spent the afternoon drinking Americanos and playing Trivial Pursuit (where I had my ass essentially handed to me).

Later that afternoon we headed to the other side of the island to Seawall campground. Once we had properly established camp, we went to Southwest Harbor where we sat on a dock and watched the sun begin its slow decent into the horizon. Later on, we popped into Little Notch Bakery and ordered a prosciutto, olive, and veggie pizza, devouring it in its entirety.

That night before bed, we made our way to the beach. As we parked and walked toward the shoreline, the sky seemed to swallow the world around us. When you live in the city (even a small one like Portland), you forget what stars look like when they come in this amount—so vast and expansive you can hardly feel your own body when thinking about that supreme magnitude of it all. Shooting stars and satellites darted across the sky like fireflies. The rhythmic crash of the waves and the croaking of frogs on the other side of the road served as a soundtrack to the night—a movie without words that somehow said everything.

JordanPond

The rest of the weekend was spent climbing Beech Cliffs, walking beside Jordan Pond, and eating pub food at the Thirsty Whale, but nothing could match that marvels I saw that night on the beach—not even self-cooking vegetarian lasagna.

The “right way” to eat Indian food

I thought I knew what good Indian food tasted like. I’ve been to numerous restaurants across the country and tried samosas and pakoras at each one. I’ve frequented vender stands at festivals, filling my plate with malai kofta and nan. But I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to eat commercially prepared Indian food again.

When my boyfriend, Aamir asked if I would like to try some of his mother’s homemade, Northern style Indian food, I said what any sane person would in that instance—hell-to-the-yeah. After hearing the amazing stories Aamir had recounted about his mother’s cooking, I was eager to try it. Would it really be that different than the Indian food I’d had before? Would I like it as much?

It was a hot Saturday afternoon in Portland as I walked the half mile or so from my apartment to Aamir’s, transporting some ice cold beers in my LL Bean backpack. Inside the smell of curry and other spices hung heavy in the air—sweet and fragrant. I walked in to see Aamir’s mom, Rafat stirring a bright red/orange pot of butter chicken on the stove. On the table was a bowl of perfectly cooked, fluffy rice adorned with peas and spices. A plate held a heap of perfectly cooked, warm nan.

Rafat transferred some of the chicken from the stove into a bowl and Aamir and I piled our plates high. I was shown the “right way” to eat Indian food—breaking off small pieces of bread and scooping up equal parts of rice and chicken. The sauce on the butter chicken was surprisingly light and tangy and the meat was tender without being mushy. The intense zap of flavor from the coriander was balanced by the cream sauce, making it increasingly more complex with each bite. The crisp taste of beer offset the heat of the spices (and the actual heat in the apartment).

naan

That experience alone was enough to change my perspective on Indian food, but the next morning, I was invited back to try an authentic Indian breakfast. On Sunday morning, Rafat was hard at work, preparing poori (a puffy bread that most closely resembles a cross between nan and fried dough). I watched as she placed the thin, round slices of white dough gently into the pan of oil. As the oil sputtered, the bread puffed up. It was then flipped over to cook on the other side until it was golden brown.

On the table there were several covered bowls. The first was a plate of aloo: pan fried, diced potatoes with whole flecks of coriander and other spices. The next bowl had chole, a type of curried, chickpea gravy. Halva, sweetened cream of wheat with butter, was also on the menu. Once the poori was done cooking, Rafat placed it on the table in front of us. Like the day before with the nan, Aamir showed me how to scoop everything up with the poori. The combination of textures and flavors was honestly one of the most amazing culinary experiences I have ever had: the crispy, somewhat salty poori was balanced by the sweetness of the halva and the spiciness of the chole. The potatoes were zesty and perfectly seasoned, adding a level of starch to complement the other textures of the meal. We ended the feast with homemade mango lassis (smoothies made with crushed ice, homemade plain yogurt, sugar, and bright yellow, ripe mangos).

mangolassi

Once we were all human again and had roused ourselves from our respective food comas, we ventured to Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth to spend the afternoon lounging on the grass and listening to the surf. When we got a burst of energy, Aamir and I climbed across the heaving, grey Maine rocks to the shoreline. I had taken off my shoes and could feel barnacles and smooth rock beneath my feet. It reminded me of when I was a kid, climbing over rocks on the Maine coastline. As the waves broke against the shore in front of me in what can only be described as the quintessential Maine scene, the faintest hint of curry burned on my lips, mixing with the salt from the sea air, tasting foreign and familiar and perfect at the same time.

Beach, beer, barbecue

When your weekend starts with going to the beach, sipping on a cocktail, and listening to the melodic crash of breaking surf, you know it’s going to be an awesome couple days.

20130624-161141.jpg

I headed to Higgins Beach after work on Friday to meet up with some friends. Higgins is one of the beaches that actually allows dogs, so I brought by five-year-old yellow lab, Sampson.  Sampson has played in every kind of body of water imaginable: from lakes, to streams, to coves, to puddles, but what he hasn’t experienced are decent sized waves. As we made our way to the water he was noticeably elated. And when I finally unleashed him (both literally and figuratively), he dove into the mini-whitecaps, looking more aquatic than terrestrial. Sipping gin and fresh grapefruit juice out of mason jars, my friend Miranda and I waded waist deep into the water, watching Sam frenetically bounding through the surf, his eyes practically bulging out of his head in joy.

As the sun began its decent, we made our separate ways back to Portland. A quick shower and I was off to meet back up with the crew at Novare Res Bier Café . As I walked from my apartment, a salty, ocean breeze followed me. It was a typical summer night in Portland and the streets were abuzz with activity: middle-aged couples locked hands, making their way back from Portland’s finest eateries; homeless people thrust empty coffee cups at passersby; art students who decided to stay in Portland through the summer were surrounded in clouds of smoke, sauntering lazily to Sonny’s and LFK (or perhaps some hole-in-the-wall underground brewery to which only they were privy).

Making my way down Middle Street toward the small, somewhat obscured pathway that leads to the main entrance of Novare, I could see the place was packed. People flocked to the patio, drinking beers and playing “cornhole,” a game that involves tossing small bean bags into wooden planks that have circular holes cut in the center. I jostled my way through the packed bar. The brewery list at that place will level even the most capable beer sommelier. With 25 rotating taps and a selection of more than 500 bottles, choosing a drink at Novare takes time and concentration.

I went with a medium-bodied, somewhat tangy, Smuttynose Pale Ale which was served up in a wide mouth mason jar. Nudging my way out to the deck, I found my friends absorbed in a gripping game of cornhole. Miranda and Alison held their own for a time, sinking several shots, but ultimately lost to their opponents. John and I played the winners. I had only played once before, but like any good drinking game, it requires little thought and is basically about mastering the art of aim. To my surprise (and to the surprise of the growing crowd of spectators), I sunk numerous bags into the hole with seemingly little effort. A guy next to me came over and said “Who are you?!” When I said I had only played once before, then quickly sunk another shot, another person from the crowd came over to me. “Oh,” he said, in the high pitched voice guys always make when impersonating girls, “What is that called … a swish?” We won that game but, alas, were outmatched in the next by a scrappy, overzealous player who had been quietly waiting in the wings. The night ended shortly thereafter at a very reasonable hour of one a.m.

The next day the sun blasted through my curtains, rousing me from a deep sleep. After walking my dog and nursing a slight hangover with some fresh squeezed orange-carrot juice, I made my way to Brunswick for a barbecue with some friends.

20130624-161226.jpg

When I arrived, cheeseburgers were being placed methodically onto the grill by Dave (known to his friends as “Cheesecake” for his uncanny ability to wield cream cheese and sugar into little slices of heaven). We ate burgers and ribs, coupled with pasta salad, talking about the obscure and absurd: from Dungeons and Dragons to laser hair removal. Per usual, Dave had brought an assortment of cheesecakes, this time specifically for our friend Mary to sample for her upcoming wedding. I dug into the Brandy and vanilla-chocolate swirl. The slight burn of alcohol cut through the chocolate, giving it an unexpected kick.

By the time we had finished our feast, the first raindrops of the impending storm had begun to fall. We made our way inside to the dining room where we grabbed drinks and played “Cards Against Humanity.” If you don’t know what this game is, Google it. Needless to say, it brings out the darkest, most disturbing sense of humor in anyone (a somewhat easy task to achieve with this group to begin with). After laughing for three hours straight, I made the rainy journey back to Portland.

The next morning brought more rain which was quickly replaced by sun. I geared up for my next adventure: the one hour drive to Georgetown for a day of lounging on the beach at Reid State Park with friends. It was a slow morning, but I eventually hit the road. Driving from 295 to Route 1 brought a noticeable shift in temperature. A cool sea breeze wafted into my Subaru windows as I listened to Iron and Wine and Wilco, rounding each arching curve on Route 127 with calculated purpose. When I arrived and finally found my crew of friends in the maze of this state park, I was starving. I was immediately directed to a giant spread of food: grilled meats, chips, cookies, watermelon and chocolate covered strawberries blanketed the picnic tables in our wooded barbecue site. I loaded up on food and then quickly made my way down to the gigantic rocks where half the group was sunbathing.

20130624-161309.jpg

After about twenty minutes I walked to the beach itself. The long, yellow sands of Reid stretch out endlessly until what appears to be the outermost corners of the world. Though some people in the group had made the plunge into the Arctic cold waters, my toes were the only appendages that would suffer that onslaught. Even though I pride myself on my ability to dive into almost any body of water, I have my limits. A little more snacking at the camp site and the group disbanded, heading home to our respective Sunday evenings.

That night after frying up some Panko breaded zucchini for dinner, I sat underneath the front stoop of my apartment building, a glass of white wine in my hand. As it began to downpour, steam crept off of the pavement, dissipating into the air like fading apparitions. For a moment before I ventured back inside, I stood in the rain, letting the droplets cool my sun-soaked skin.

After a weekend like that, what more could anyone ask for?

Monday pants: Voyage to Bangor

There’s something that happens on the weekend. I eat…a lot. As a result, I have this joke that I have designated “Monday Pants” to be worn to accommodate the invariable gluttony that results from these two and a half days of bliss. This weekend was no exception. Friday night I made the two hour trek from Portland to visit my boyfriend, Aamir, a med student completing a surgical rotation at a hospital in Bangor. When I arrived we made our way directly downtown in search of food. We agreed on a causal dining experience since the following night we would be eating a fancy, albeit free, dinner…I’ll explain later.

IMG_8256

We popped into Nocturnem Draft Haus, a high end beer bar on Main Street. For drinks, I ordered a Bunker Brewing Holdfast Black Ale and Aamir ordered a Berkshire Porter. They were both intensely dark and frothing. Mine was complex, hoppy and slightly bitter with subtle notes of citrus. Aamir’s was a bit smoother with a roasted aroma and notes of chocolate malt and coffee. For dinner, I ordered the Ahi Tuna sandwich and Aamir got the Buffalo chicken wrap. We split them both in half and shared. The chargrilled tuna steak was artfully cooked: pink and rare on the inside and accompanied by a light wasabi sauce. The Buffalo chicken wrap packed a bit of a punch that you’d expect from such a dish. The mini pickles (or “Gherkins” as we called them while speaking in horribly executed German accents) were as much a hit as anything else, so much so that we asked for a dish of them on the side. “Sure,” the waiter said, smirking, more amused than judgmental. We ended the meal with B Nektar Orange Blossom mead. It was intensely sweet and buttery, with light citrus and floral undertones. One glass between us was sufficient to satisfy any sweet tooth.

We left Bangor that night and spent the weekend in Old Town on Pushaw Lake at Aamir’s friends’ camp. They were out of town and let us stay in their rustic palace. The views, both inside and out, were amazing. Armed with gin and tonics, we basked in the cool summer air. It was dark out, but ahead of us the silhouette of a distant island was visible. The lake was choppy and waves broke continuously against the shore. I heard them throughout the night, a constant reminder that we were in this breathtaking place.

The next morning the sun cracked open behind the camp and we rose slowly, starting preparations on our breakfast. We had bought a few Ribeyes that we planned to eat for lunch. Instead, we decided a steak and eggs breakfast would be in order. Aamir worked his North Carolina seasoning magic on the meat while I prepared the pancakes…from a box (it’s clear who has the more advanced cooking skills in this relationship). Eggs were prepared two ways: scrambled and over easy. As we took our feast outside and sat on the picnic table overlooking the lake, the view was stunning in the subtle way that Maine can stop your heart. The small island that had been obscured in darkness the night before revealed itself that morning; a small but stoic mound of trees and brown rock.

After eating our meal, we moved on to drinks. When you’re at a camp, the rules of drinking don’t apply. “It’s five o’clock somewhere” is irrelevant on a beautiful Saturday morning at the lake. We drank gin and juice and rum and cokes, spending the day lounging in the sun and swimming in the choppy waves.

Image

After a day of laziness, we geared up for dinner. My father had done some advertising with Thistles, an international fine dining restaurant in Bangor. As a result, I had accumulated about $200 in gift certificates over the years. As we walked into the restaurant it was exactly how I remembered it from my last visit: quietly refined yet unpretentious. Soft overhead lighting and candlelit tables set the mood for a gourmet yet comfortable dinner. A lone jazz guitarist plucked quietly in the corner, nodding to us as we walked toward our table. We started off with drinks. Aamir chose a glass of Chardonnay and I ordered a light summer cocktail that was a combination of Brazilian rum, orange liqueur and topped with a Malbec floater. We kicked things off with some Argentinean empanadas. These juicy little pastry pockets of ground beef, olives and veggies served as the perfect teaser of the meal to come. The tangy Chimichurri sauce served alongside them added an intense zap of flavor. As we finished our appetizers, we brainstormed what type of wine would go best with our respective meals. After speaking with the waitress, we decided on a bottle of pinot noir. As our food arrived, the bottle was uncorked. The subtle and delicate flavors seemed fitting for what we ordered. Aamir chose the Gaucho style rack of lamb, marinated in a blend of Argentinean spices and accompanied by a reduction of Malbec wine. The dish was paired with potatoes and asparagus. I ordered the paella and the steaming pan was placed in front of me like a trophy. This blend of Spanish rice, chicken, pork, chorizo and a medley of seafood including scallops, shrimp and mussels was quite the eating venture: every time I went back for a forkful of food it was like finding buried treasure.

It was tempting to stop there, but as they brought out the dessert tray we both looked at each other and knew that the inevitable was about to happen. We ordered banana custard and crème brûlée. Hearing the quiet click of a spoon cracking open the crust of crème brûlée might make the list of best sounds in the world. And when it tastes as amazing as this one did, it completes the fantasy. The creamy, richness was offset by the slightly burnt taste of the sugary crust. Topped with homemade whipped cream, this dish became more amazing with every bite. The light graham cracker layer and slivers of fresh banana gave the banana custard an added level of texture, but it still came in second to the crème brûlée.

Our last morning on Pushaw Lake was spent looking at online video recipes on Chef John’s Food Wishes blog. Aamir attempted to make homemade hash browns, but we had bought the wrong kind of potatoes and they wouldn’t brown. It turned into a soggy mess. My horrid math skills were showcased when I attempted to halve the ingredients in the homemade pancake batter and ended up adding in the correct amount of everything, except salt. Salty pancake batter, as it turns out, is not so good. Instead of letting our breakfast defeat us, we rolled up our sleeves and tried again. Pancake batter was successfully prepared and steak was seasoned and grilled to perfection in lieu of potatoes. Cheesy, scrambled eggs brought the artery clogging breakfast into perfect balance: an epic close to an epic foodie weekend.

“Slow graze” brunch

Eggs, meat, bread, and tasty cocktails…is there anything better than Sunday brunch? In a city like Portland, Maine there are numerous locations to choose from to satisfy your taste buds; from the legendary Lost Bread at Caiola’s, to the rich, slow cooked Eggs Benedict at Hot Suppa!, finding good food in this city isn’t difficult. But for this wealth of Portland’s restaurant possibilities, there is something to be said about staying home and having brunch with friends.

In my last post I talked about ways to eat well “on the cheap.” One great way is to join forces with others and pool your culinary and economic resources. And when you know foodies, this can often lead to a pretty epic meal.

This Sunday I visited my friends Martha and Spencer in the West End. Having procured a bag of oranges and a cheap bottle of bubbly the day before, I decided to bust out my juicer and make fresh mimosas. It took some effort to peel back the tough skins of the fruit and orange pulp lodged itself beneath my fingernails for the duration of the day, but it was worth it. As the fruit was pulverized by the blades of my Waring Pro juicer, thick, white froth floated atop a sea of bright orange liquid. I transferred the juice into a giant mason jar and grabbed the bubbly and some blackberry jam that my brother-in-law had made the previous summer. Placing everything into a basket, I walked the three blocks from my place to Martha and Spencer’s.

Brunch

Inside their carriage house-style apartment, early brunch preparations had begun. Spencer was concocting a jug of homemade Bloody Mary mix, adding in pepper, Sriracha and fresh squeezed citrus. He suggested a “slow graze” eating option that would allow us to eat in waves throughout the afternoon. I was the first to arrive but soon more friends filtered in, bringing with them fresh meat and cheese filled croissants and bacon wrapped new potatoes punctured with toothpicks. After running out to the garden to snip some fresh dill, Martha started on the herb cream cheese which would be formed into small oblong mounds and wrapped in smoked salmon. These tasty little pockets gave a perfect punctuation of richness and protein to offset the heartier weight of the potatoes and croissants.

The ladies started brunch with mimosas while the gents went straight for the Bloody’s. We took the “slow graze” seriously, grabbing a potato here and a cream cheese salmon roll there, sipping on cocktails the entire afternoon.

Unlike brunch at a restaurant, brunch with friends can be a day-long event…and it can even come with a show. Martha’s seven year-old niece worked diligently, scrolling neat cursive Post-It note “tickets” to her trampoline show that would take place in the backyard. Tickets in hand, we made our way outside into the beautiful sunlit yard.

TrampolineExcitementParty

After a 90 degree weekend, the cool sea breeze that had begun to move in provided some much needed relief from the heat. Some of us sat on the grass, some us on the swings of the creaky jungle gym nearby but we all watched in rapt anticipation as Martha’s niece performed flips, cartwheels and somersaults on the trampoline while singing “Call Me Maybe.”

Once the show had ended and proper applause bestowed, we made our way indoors where Martha’s quiche was nearly done. The homemade crust was a traditional flour-based recipe with slivers of butter that had been cut in slowly. But the winning ingredient was the chilled vodka that was used in lieu of water.

“The vodka evaporates and gives the crust this flaky texture,” Martha said. “It’s amazing!”

And it was. The tomato, cheese and broccoli quiche was the showstopper of the afternoon. The light filling was perfectly encompassed by the airy crust and the dish elicited many a gratified exaltation. Thick cut bacon and French toast with melted butter and molasses ushered each of us slowly into the inevitable food coma that ensues from a brunch event such as this. One more mimosa each brought the afternoon to a slow yet satisfying close.

I walked the few blocks home feeling nourished, both from the food and from the company.